August Reflections – 2019

Carol A. Hand


Pinto, Queenie (my parakeet), and I
survived another summer July
this one challenging, hot, and dry
Trying to encourage Pinto to eat – July 23, 2019


Garden washouts a yearly event
strategically planned with malicious intent
perhaps police intervention this year will lead to an offender’s lament
Garden Waterslide Washout: Neighbor’s Annual Birthday Event – July 20, 2019


Backyard visitors coming down from the wood
does with their fawns grazing in my urban neighborhood
bunnies galore and a stout raccoon roam
while paper wasps build a new home


Bees and butterflies feast on flowers
during pleasant, sunny afternoon hours
Transitioning to teaching the next onerous process
while bountiful gardens and harvests proceed nonetheless


Wishing you all bountiful harvests and mild beginnings of seasonal transitions

Reflections – Monday, June 6, 2016

Carol A. Hand

When you don’t’ realize I’m looking – on our peaceful days
I see your bright inner beauty momentarily shining through
It clouds over in an instant when you sense my gaze
transforming into fierce self-loathing, fear, and anger anew

You can’t see the gifts you carry – an invaluable treasure
You strike out at those who have something you want or think you lack
It seems to bring you gratification and pleasure
Yet, the cost for destroying others’ sense of peace and happiness
cuts most deeply in your own heart and spirit
I wish I could be a mirror to reflect the beauty I see and understand
But I’ve learned that you cannot hear it

You need to find it for yourself, or not, and give it voice
My heart breaks as I detach and grow silent – my loving choice
The gifts I would give you I must share from afar
because they only seem to deepen your disappointment
with what you have and who you are

clown me

Photo: Celebrating Life a Long Time Ago

for those who need to silence truth and oppress others


 Copyright Notice: © Carol A. Hand and carolahand, 2013-2016. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Carol A. Hand and carolahand with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Reflections about Research and Gossip

Carol A. Hand

Standing in the shower, eyes closed
Rinsing off soap and shampoo
Thinking about gossip gathered in research
And wondering what to do

What roles do tales told about others
Play in preserving the social order
My thoughts taking me to other times
Momentarily dissolving time’s border


Image: Microsoft Word Clipart

What value do such utterings carry
What heuristic goals are served
By repeating words that disparage others
Even when critiques appear to be deserved

Spreading gossip says much about the teller
So I’ll make the choice that’s best
Leaving hurtful words buried in old research notes
Until consigned to flames, their final prayerful rest


Image: Microsoft Word Clipart

Copyright Notice: © Carol A. Hand and carolahand, 2013-2016. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Carol A. Hand and carolahand with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Greeting the Morning with Thoughts about Gatekeepers?

Carol A. Hand

It’s already late when I awake this morning, but it’s hard to kick off the comfort of the pile of warm blankets to greet the day. I can feel the cool air on my face. Yes, it’s that time of year. My room upstairs will be at least ten degrees cooler than the downstairs in this old house with rickety windows and no insulation in the walls. But it really is warmer than my bedroom in a cabin with no heat that I once lived in. I survived with a bigger pile of blankets, gloves, and a winter hat, being grateful for my relative comfort as I remembered the stores of elders. They needed to brush off the snow that covered beds in the drafty attics, hoping their parents had started a fire to thaw out the water so they could wash after they trudged to the outhouse through deep snow. (I’ve done that, too but that’s another story.)

I realize it’s the first morning that I didn’t automatically reach for the clip to hold my back my hair, forgetting that I cut it a couple weeks ago. Maybe it’s because I’m still lost in the first thoughts that were running through my mind as I awoke. Academia and the trauma wrought by gatekeepers! I’m not sure I will ever understand why some instructors feel it is their duty to protect the world from the dangerous classes – those who see the world differently and express themselves in unique ways.


Photo: Ava, Pinto, and Me – October 2015 (with shorter hair)

I had hoped that cutting my hair would reduce not only the physical weight of a heavy burden of hair I carried everywhere, but also would put to rest the memories my hair carried from the past challenges I encountered when I tried to buffer students from this particularly destructive academic trend. Yet today I find myself once again working through anger and disappointment as I prepare to meet with a former student who is dealing with a gatekeeper who seems determined to prevent degree completion.

What makes me both angry and disappointed is the failure of institutions to be honest about what they really value – graduating students who dutifully conform to standards that will make them docile workers incapable of critical thought and creativity. Those who will never question the legitimacy of authority or social conventions. Instead, these are the values the academic institution proclaims to the world as their foundation in their never-ending advertisements on the classical public radio station I listen to every day.

benedictine values

Image: Benedictine Values (Source)

I’m not a religious person. If I need to label myself, perhaps it would be as an eccentrically spiritual humanist. Nonetheless, these are certainly values that I can agree with outside of the narrow confines of religious doxology. There are many differences between this student and me, yet I respect her many gifts and in the past, worked with her to help her succeed with the tasks that she found difficult. I took time to get to know how far she traveled in life before she found the courage and passion to return to school in order to help others who were still struggling with challenges she had been able to overcome. My job as an educator was to help her discover and express her potential, not dressage her to fit into society’s notions or mine about what she should be.

When my former student and I met later, I discovered that the gatekeepers had eroded her passion and belief in herself. It’s how the gatekeepers remain in power. There was a time in my life not too long ago when I would feel the need to enter oppressive settings to try to model another path.

Now, I realize I did so at great peril, and I think about the symbolism of names. My name, carol, at least in my mother’s mind, meant “song of joy,” “the one bright light in her life.” There are few things that frighten gatekeepers more than kindness and joy. They form alliances to eliminate this threat to their control. I remember the “magic chair” I had in one university where students learned to laugh again. In another university, it was a hall of laughter that I was able to create with my friend Cheryl Bates, a “safe zone” in many regards where students could come for mentoring and advice.

Now, I write about oppression and possibilities, remembering the importance of modeling hope and joy especially in places and times of darkness. Joy and gratitude are states of being I need to cultivate within myself, but I feel the need now to surround myself with people who keep compassion and joy alive in their work. Thank you, my virtual friends. Your work gives me hope.

Copyright Notice: © Carol A. Hand and carolahand, 2013-2016. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Carol A. Hand and carolahand with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Reflections about Being Honest and Fair

Carol A. Hand

Working on my mother’s story sometimes dredges up memories that I would prefer to forget. I don’t often speak of my father, but he’s an important part of her story. They were together for 51 years.

Wedding Photo

Photo: My Mother and Father’s Wedding – December 1943

I really know very little about him because I always tried to avoid him as much as possible – to steel my heart and shield my body from his emotional and physical abuse. I decided to see what I would find if I googled his name – an odd one – and much to my surprise I discovered personal details about him and his family here, including social security numbers! Looking through the documents my mother saved has stirred up a lot of memories and ambivalent, unresolved feelings. The following poem is an attempt to remember and make sense of past events. A warning – it’s not a light-hearted read.


I rarely write about my father – It’s not a topic that’s appealing
It’s fraught with memories of abuse and the nauseated feeling
At every meal when he was present and every time when he was around
Never knowing what would trigger his yelling or being thrown to the ground.

Although I understood him – the deep insecurity caused by his class and size
His bullying and aggression didn’t earn respect in other people’s eyes.
One moment he was charming, the next holding an unraveled belt or later, a gun
For some imagined slight in a war that must be fought – a war that must be won.

It was twenty-one years ago when he died all alone
On a veterans’ psych ward that became his final home
It was my document that placed him there – a promise I made long ago
If you raise your hand and strike again, you’ll be on a psych ward quicker than you know.”

I didn’t do it out of anger – I forgave you so may years ago
But you forced me to stand up to bullies – to learn how to deal with pain
To speak truth to power and protect those who didn’t know
That they deserved more than to be hurt again and again.

I always wished there were a treatment to help you quell your inner agony,
It was your right to refuse, you had a right to make a choice – but others paid the fee,
Perhaps your fear was too great or your delusions of grandeur too overblown
I hope your suffering has ended, that you finally found peace, even though you died alone.


Photo Credit: Public Domain Pictures

Writing accounts of other people’s lives is not an easy task for me. I feel the need to be honest and to look for everybody’s strengths at the same time. Yet I wonder what to do if, in balance, it would be dishonest to gloss over the deep legacy of harm others have done, just as it would be for me to stand by as a silent witness to abuse. The fear and abuse my mother lived through in her personal life was much like the historical trauma her ancestors experienced. Imagine feeling helpless as you stand by as a witness while your little children offer themselves up to take your beatings? How does one write about this in a way that will be read and, more importantly, be understood? How does one see the humanity and pain of those who are abusive and represent them with compassion, regardless of their past and present actions, but still hold them accountable for the harm they’ve done? How does one make clear connections to the violence embedded in the decisions politicians, corporate decision makers, and bankers make every day, the same kinds of decisions that killed millions of my indigenous ancestors and will kill millions today? Are they just really insecure people like my father who have more power to do far greater harm?

Today, I hesitated to publish this. I don’t have answers to these questions, but they are crucial and central to the work I have begun… As always, I welcome your thoughts.

Copyright Notice: © Carol A. Hand and carolahand, 2013-2016. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Carol A. Hand and carolahand with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.


Carol A. Hand

“Be moderate in all things; watch, listen, and consider, your deeds will be prudent.”
(Midewewin Code, the Ojibwe “Path of Life,” Basil Johnston, Ojibway Heritage, 1976, p. 93)

forgiveness medinalmeadows dot com

Photo Credit:

This morning I was reflecting on the dynamics of forgiving. I remember the first time I consciously moved beyond merely reacting to bullying and began to explore the ways in which I escalated other’s behavior through my own actions. I was a senior in high school. One of my former friends suddenly organized a group of other girls to begin making disparaging remarks about me as we stood in line to get lunch in the cafeteria. Their comments were loud enough for everyone to hear. I have long forgotten most, but the one that comes to mind, hardest to bear as a teenager, was a precursor of cyber bulling. “There she is, that arrogant slut.” The group followed me into classes and in the hallways as a chorus of unrelenting harpies.

Why, I wondered, are they behaving this way? I had never done them any harm. I believe it started as a result of a dispute between my father and the father of the girl who began the taunting. Her family needed access across land my family owned to get to their house on the top of a mountain in northwestern Pennsylvania, which my family granted. But when they wanted to widen and pave the road through the middle of the farm, a battle ensued between my father and my classmate’s father that reminded me of the Hatfields and McCoys. The conflict escalated from shouting to fistfights to an attack on my father with a road-grading tractor that left him bleeding on the road from a partially-severed leg. I knew the conflict was a two-way “pissing match” between two men who were not able to back down and appear “weak” in front of others.

I refused to engage in the conflict even though it angered the rest of my family. I also refused to move from the hilltop home when my family moved to an apartment in town. Although it was sometimes a frightening, I lived alone. I drove the one-lane dirt road around the winding turns up the mountain to my house knowing that I would be able to deal with any challenges on my own. But there were none, at least not at home. The challenges came at school from the neighbor’s daughter, also a senior who was in some of my classes. We had been friends before the conflict, but as it escalated, she stopped talking to me and then began organizing her group of friends to make my life in school hell.

So far, I sound like the virtuous victim, and in my own mind I know I thought of myself that way. I didn’t respond to the nastiness in a like manner. I remained stoic and reserved – “cool.” But I also used abilities I developed to cope with, and then end, my father’s abuse. I learned to read people’s greatest insecurities and fears. For my father, it was being diagnosed as “crazy,” a word he would have used to describe his uncontrollable bouts of depression and violent outbursts.  For my neighbor, it fear was being seen as “lower class” and not as smart as others. She tried to hide her family’s limited income by dressing in expensive clothes, and enrolled in the advanced classes because she was very bright.

I didn’t need to say a word to make her feel bad. I simply had to outshine her as a student and as someone whose family could afford things hers could not. And I could do it in a way that others didn’t think was intentional or mean. I could even fool myself into believing that it was fair to deal with a bully by making her feel small and insignificant. And then, one day, I woke up. I realized what I had done to hurt her, and I knew it was far more harmful than anything she had ever done to me. Waves of grief passed through me for the harm I had caused. There was no way to undo the hurt. I did try to apologize at the time and again years later, but I could never heal the harm that I had done.

Decades later, I had another opportunity to understand lessons about forgiveness more deeply. I accepted a position as a faculty member with a school of social work that prided itself on its unique approach to social justice as the foundation for its new master’s program. What I quickly discovered, however, was that the program was really no different than other social work programs. At first, some of my colleagues welcomed me as an innovative, compassionate critical thinker, but that changed when I didn’t engage in conversations that disparaged vulnerable students or colleagues. The tenured faculty with power functioned as the guardians and enforcers of the status quo, and they did so in ways that left lasting wounds for the most vulnerable and gifted of students and colleagues. When I began to speak in defense of colleagues and students, I was definitely no longer seen as desirable. It didn’t take long for me to realize that they saw me as a threat that needed to be silenced and neutralized because I could effectively buffer many of their targets from their bullying.

Although the four faculty members with the most power often bickered and jostled for power amongst themselves, they quickly created a united front against the threat to their unquestioned hegemony. As a new faculty member, an Ojibwe with a different set of values and approaches for teaching and doing research, I was an easy target. They used the most minor excuses to discredit my teaching skills despite student evaluations that documented otherwise, my scholarship despite publications and new research, and community service despite an overwhelming load of committee work and students advisees. And they got nasty. Again, I sound virtuous, but not necessarily blameless this time because I did serve as an effective advocate where there had been none before.

So they piled extra work on me, belittled me in front of their classes, and tried to force students who were my advisees to falsify my evaluations by fabricating deficiencies in my performance. I still sound like the victim, and I honestly saw myself that way. Going to work became increasingly more painful, and in my mind, I characterized my colleagues as evil incarnate. So I began to use the same defensive skills I had used in high school. I knew that the most frightening thing in academia is to feel you are not as smart as others and to have others find you out. In the midst of personal attacks, I knew how to use my voice, facial expressions, body language, words, and actions to play on those fears. It was clear that I won the popularity contest with students, not because I was easier, but because I was compassionate, supportive of students, and still expected excellence and authenticity. Although my scholarship was not as voluminous as that of some of my colleagues, it was nationally acclaimed. And although I tried to stay away from the spotlight, it’s impossible to do if you’re one of the very few Native American faculty in an institution that purports to serve Native communities.

It was easy to win over student loyalty and community support just by being myself. As individuals, my colleagues were intimidated by my graciousness, intelligence, and dogged refusal to falsely massage their egos by complimenting them on their skills or cultural competence. (I didn’t see any at the time.) I demonized them in my thoughts while I concomitantly struggled with the question of how to create world peace when I couldn’t even live in harmony with my colleagues. They weren’t invading countries or murdering children. Yet I resisted the growing awareness that I needed to forgive them. Then, in a moment of overwhelming grief, resignation, and despair, I realized it was not my colleagues I needed to forgive, it was myself. I needed to forgive myself for transgressing my own values and ethics. Just as I had years before, I had used my defensive skills to wound others in the areas where they were most vulnerable. I had escalated their violence by making them feel they were somewhat dull and uncreative, small and insignificant.

lady justice

Photo Credit: Google lady justice images

It is true that they did this to others, often to those who were the most vulnerable, and their actions left lasting harm. It is also true that they tried to make me feel small and insignificant as a human being, and did their best to destroy my career. But I realized that there was no excuse I could use to justify the way I treated them. I knew that whatever gifts I have been given are meant to lift others up, not to oppress or harm them. I learned that I really need to always remember a universal truth my culture has taught me about moderation and mindful actions.

I am sharing these memories with tears in my eyes in hope they will help others. I cannot undo the harm I have caused others. I could continue to cling to the illusion that my actions were justified, but I know that’s not true. This doesn’t mean that I feel I should ever accept oppression and violence as universal and unchangeable. What it does mean for me is the need to shift my focus from resisting or unseating “oppressors” to one of compassion, seeing individuals who have strengths as well as weaknesses, gifts as well as faults, and relating to them with hope and kindness. I need to work from the same foundation with those who oppress others as I do with those who are oppressed, to try to raise awareness about the systems that oppress us all, to help them see and unlock their potential rather than respond with reifying judgment that locks them more firmly into an identity as the “deficient” or “evil” other.

compassion greatergood dot berkeley dot edu

Photo Credit:

There are no guarantees that this will work. I can only try to be more vigilant and mindful in the future as I remember the deep wounds in my own heart, not from the actions of others, but from my own.



Reflections on River Teeth

Carol A. Hand

Recently, I have been reflecting on what I would identify as the “river teeth” of my life thus far. River teeth, according to David James Duncan (2006), are the hard resinous knots that are all that remain after the softer wooden fibers of pine trees have been dissolved by the river waters into which they have fallen. Applied to life, they are the memories that remain decades later as transformative experiences and epiphanies.

This morning, I awoke with gratitude to Frank Bates, an elder and neighbor from my New Jersey childhood who literally gave me a reason to live. I no longer remember exactly what led to the profound sadness I felt by the age of 4. Perhaps it was the absence of peace, joy, and love in my family. Perhaps it was because of my mother’s emotional distance and disapproval of anything I did. When I was born, my father’s white family in New Jersey commented on the “lovely dark child” my mother gave birth to because of my straight dark hair and dark brown eyes. It reminded my mother of the shame she carried from her years in a Catholic Indian boarding school where she was constantly told that she was inferior to white children and faculty because of her Ojibwe heritage. She preferred to “pass” as white, so my younger brother, with his curly light brown hair and hazel-colored eyes was more acceptable. Perhaps it was because of my father’s emotional volatility, charming to strangers, abusive to family, and sometimes deeply depressed and suicidal, a legacy of childhood abuse and PTSD from his Korean War experiences. Or perhaps it was because of the cruelty and bullying of other children in my neighborhood. When the little white boys beat me up, I would run home crying. My father would kick me out of the house and lock the door, telling me not to come home again until I made the bullies cry. Perhaps all of these cumulative sorrows were too much for me to bear as a 4-year-old.

I only know that by the age of 4, I no longer wished to live, so I stopped eating. I understand from what my mother told me years later that she tried everything to encourage me to eat, but nothing she did worked. I became so weak that she had to carry me everywhere. It was my next door neighbor who worked a miracle.

My special connection with Frank Bates began because of an apple tree that grew just inside our side of the property line, with branches that hung heavy with fruit over his yard. One day, as he was picking an apple from an overhanging branch, I confronted him. “You can’t do that. It’s my “pop-a-tee.” He laughed and acknowledged that I was correct, it was my property, and from that moment on, we became friends. When Frank later learned that I was not eating, he and his wife, Grace, invited me over to their house. I sat at their kitchen table as Frank prepared a special “feast” for me. He peeled the skin from an apple from the disputed tree and placed the spiraling peel in a clear glass of water. I drank it, and the subtle taste of apple flavored the water. During the weeks that followed, I drank many other glasses of this apple water prepared with love and kindness.

Frank then learned that my favorite food was pickles, so his next feast consisted of mashed potatoes filled with slices of pickles. I ate the feast, and many more. As I regained my strength, Frank lost his. He died from stomach cancer soon after saving me from starvation. I never had a chance to thank him while he was alive. (My tears are flowing as I write this.)

This morning I awoke pondering what type of picture I would draw to illustrate this special river tooth from my childhood. Perhaps the branch of an apple tree reaching down from the left corner of the page, a glass of water in the center with its spiraling peel, a cored apple and a peeler below. So, I took my camera out to capture apple tree branches in the morning sunlight… Even if I never have a chance to draw this picture, I am writing to thank my friend from 6 decades ago for the gift of life.

After writing this essay and remembering a river tooth from my past, I found the courage to draw the picture I envisioned. I do not claim to be an artist, but I believe that the act of remembering our river teeth gives us the courage to challenge the socially constructed rules of “good” art, freeing us to express deep gratitude authentically in our own ways.

river teeth (3)

Chi miigwetch, Mr. Bates, for the kindness and compassion that gave me a reason to live. (Chi miigwetch means thank you very much in the Ojibwe language.) I am sorry I never had a chance to thank you in person. I am also grateful to my parents, now deceased, who did the best they could, and better by far than their own parents and caregivers. They gave me the strength to be independent and the opportunity to learn how to stand up to bullies, not by returning their violence but by using intelligence, creativity, and humor.

Author Cited

Duncan, J. D. (2006). River Teeth: Stories and writings. New York, NY: Dial Press Trade Paperbacks.


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