To Cherish the Silence

In my last post, I confessed to not knowing enough about history. But one historical event I learned a fair bit about returned to me as I watched “Profound Silence”— a recent episode of QuakerSpeak—featuring Jane Fernandes, President of Guilford College. Guilford, in Greensboro, NC, is a liberal arts college guided by Quaker testimonies. FernandesWhen Jane, who is deaf, became Guilford’s ninth president in 2014, she had the distinction of being the first woman to hold the post. She also was the first deaf woman to lead an American college or university.

In the interview, Jane speaks and signs about her introduction to Quakerism. Although she was raised a Catholic, when she attended an unprogrammed Quaker meeting for the first time, she loved it. “For me, as a deaf person,” Jane says, “it’s rare when a group of people wants to cherish silence. It is rare.”

Jane was born deaf, to a mother who was also deaf, so she knows a great deal about silence. But her encounters with Quaker worship led to new awareness about her experience of being silent with others. “I’ve not been in a group of people that understands that, and a group of hearing people who strive to be in that state that I was born in.”

There’s a great deal that hearing people don’t understand about deafness, and that’s where Jane’s story and my history lesson intersect.

My husband is a sign language interpreter and has worked for over twenty years with children and adults who are deaf. He first started in the field at Seattle Central Community College’s Interpreter Training Program in 1981. Between his studies and work, he became friends with many people in Seattle’s large deaf community. I tagged along to social gatherings, fumbling with limited signing skills and relying on him to interpret. Along the way, I learned about some of the civil rights struggles of people who are deaf. One of them centered on a renowned school for deaf students, Gallaudet University in Washington, DC.Gallaudet

In March 1988, when the University’s Board of Trustees announced that a hearing person had been selected as Gallaudet’s seventh president, many Gallaudet students, alumni, staff, and faculty organized a protest. Their “Deaf President Now” campaign shut down the campus and raised awareness about the injustice of selecting the lone hearing candidate, Elisabeth A. Zinser, from a field of three finalists, two of whom were deaf. The protesters also presented four demands to the Board of Trustees:

  1. Elisabeth Zinser must resign and a deaf person selected president;
  2. Jane Spilman must step down as chairperson of the Board of Trustees;
  3. Deaf people must constitute a 51% majority on the Board; and
  4. There would no reprisals against any student or employee involved in the protest.

By the end of the week, the students ended their protest; all their demands had been met, Dr. I. King Jordan was named Gallaudet’s eighth- and first-deaf president, and Philip Bravin was selected at the Board of Trustees’ first deaf chairperson. Since Jordan’s selection, all subsequent presidents have been deaf. Incidentally, prior to her appointment at Guilford, Jane Fernandes was found to be “not deaf enough” to serve at Gallaudet. She was raised orally and didn’t learn sign language until she was in graduate school.

And here’s another interesting twist in history’s cycle. Gallaudet’s current president, Roberta J. Cordano, assumed her position January 1, 2016, making her Gallaudet’s first deaf woman president—and likely the second deaf woman (after Jane Fernandes) to lead an American university or college.

I’m grateful that I can hear and that I haven’t suffered the same effects of being silenced that deaf folks have (though I know something of the ways women continue to be muted). But when I quiet myself and sit with others doing the same, I’m most open to the Divine. Along with Jane, I cherish the silence.

Don’t Know Enough About History

I can easily recall a scene played out many afternoons when I was in elementary school. I’d sway forward and backward on the porch swing, my feet pushing off against the wood deck. A classmate sat in a lawn chair facing me, quizzing me on dates and battles for an upcoming history test. Forward, then back, the rhythm helping me lodge facts in my brain, at least long enough to pass the test.

sam cookeThat’s how I remember history classes in elementary and high school—memorizing dates, mostly of wars, and the names of men who led those wars. No analysis, few references to women, and no questions about whether anything was left out. To paraphrase Sam Cooke in “What a Wonderful World,” I don’t know much about history.

 

Kenneth C. Davis, author of Don’t Know Much books for adults and children, has written for more than twenty-five years out of the belief that Americans don’t hate history, they just experience a dull version of it in school. While that is true for me, I’ve been aware for too long that what I DO know about history isn’t enough for me to be a responsive and responsible citizen.

history (1)Longer ago than I care to admit, I resolved to fill some of the gaps in my knowledge of U.S. history. I haven’t read Davis’s numerous “don’t know much about…” history books, but this claim makes them sound engaging: “…busting myths, setting the record straight, and always remembering that fun is not a four-word letter word.”

historyWhat I am making my way through—slowly—is A People’s History of the United States by Howard Zinn. At nearly 700 pages, the latest edition covers 1492 through President Clinton’s first term. Zinn’s approach, however, is different from any of the history books I studied in school. He tells America’s story from the point of view of—and in the words of—America’s women, factory workers, African-Americans, Native Americans, the working poor, and immigrant laborers. The battles he researched and wrote about include the fights for a fair wage, an eight-hour workday, child-labor laws, health and safety standards, universal suffrage, women’s rights, and racial equality.

Historian David McCullough describes history as “an aid to navigation in such troubled uncertain times. … All problems have histories and the wisest route to a successful solution to nearly any problem begins with understanding its history. Indeed, almost any attempt to solve a problem without an understanding of its history is to court failure — an example, our tragic plunge into Vietnam with hardly a notion of its past.” When John Avlon recently wrote about McCullough in The Daily Beast, he suggested that, “reading American history is an act of resistance.” I agree, and I have a lot of reading to do. I believe that if we all knew more about history, what a wonderful world it would be.

zinn (1)

 

*Afterthought #63: Quakers in Politics

As a newly-elected public official, I’m reflecting on the long history of Quakers involved in politics. As Marge Abbott explains in a recent QuakerSpeak episode,

Friends have always been very active in addressing our government and its rule. They had started out in the earliest days having to try and change laws that were affecting them directly. As time went by a century later they were among the most active lobbyists to end slavery, active in women’s suffrage, in temperance movements… many, many places where they were lobbying over the centuries.”

Quakers in the World is another source about Friends’ “long tradition of being active in, and seeking to make a difference to, the world in which they find themselves. In their actions they seek to put Quaker testimonies such as equality, peace and integrity into practice, as best they can.” The site’s overview of Quakers in Politics is good grounding for me as I serve my community as a commissioner for our new Public Hospital District.

alice paul

Suffragist Alice Paul is one of those Quakers who worked diligently for equal rights for women. I don’t expect my entry into politics to be anywhere as demanding as Alice Paul’s efforts, but I look to her as an example of service.

 

 

*Afterthoughts are my blog version of a practice followed in some Quaker meetings. After meeting for worship ends, people continue in silence for a few more minutes during which they’re invited to share thoughts or reflect on the morning’s worship. I’ve adopted the form here for last-day-of-the-month brief reflections on headlines, quotes, books, previous posts, maybe even bumper stickers.

Yes, I Ran

work-that-reconnects-pngAfter a sleepless night following the 2016 presidential election, I awoke the next morning with many questions: How? Why? What will happen? A few days later, I carried one with me to a workshop about active hope. That question was directed at me: What am I to do?

In January, I continued to grapple with the question in the online course We Were Made for This Moment, taught by Quaker teacher, writer, and activist Eileen Flanagan. In the company of 100 other participants, and with Eileen’s knowledge and skills with social change, clarity, and empowerment, I felt strengthened and heartened to discern and offer the skills and gifts we have to offer.

For me, that discernment took some time.

rally-on-stepsAs I tried to remain open to direction about how to respond to the election of Donald Trump, I tested out a few actions. In the first three months of 2017, I sent more letters, postcards, and emails to state and federal representatives than I had in the previous, oh, twenty years. For the first time in decades, I lobbied state legislators and rallied at the state capitol for the Salish Sea, the water that surrounds my home and is threatened by increased oil transport between the U.S. and Canada.

SheShouldRun_Logo_CMYKI watched and listened to the ways the election energized people all over the country to speak out and become more politically involved. Some responded to the election results by urging people (particularly women) to run for office. Two such efforts that offer support and direction are She Should Run and Emily’s List. 1985-ellen_updateAccording to a Feb. 9, 2017 article in New York Magazine, those efforts have worked—13,000 women are planning to run for office.

I never dreamed I’d be one of them.

clinicentry-500And then, in March, I learned that the rural health clinic in my community was in danger of closing. The hospital that the clinic had partnered with for nearly thirty years had decided to end the relationship, an action that would significantly decrease financial resources needed to keep it in operation. The nonprofit (Catherine Washburn Medical Association) that owns and maintains the clinic building and equipment went to work to find a solution and learned that if the voters approved creation of a Public Hospital District, the district could levy a property tax to help fund the clinic.

In Washington State, Public Hospital Districts are community-created, governmental entities authorized by state law to deliver health services. An elected Board of Commissioners governs such districts. Believing that the creation of a Public Hospital District was a sound and wise approach to preserve the outstanding health care available in my community, I wanted to do my part to assure that care continues. So, having recently retired from a forty-year nursing career, I threw my nurse’s cap into the ring to serve as one of five commissioners.

yesThe first hurdle was to gain community approval of creation of the Public Hospital District. Clearly, I’m not the only one who values the clinic’s services. We needed 749 votes for the election to be valid, and then a simple majority of those votes for the measure to pass. The election result this week was stunning.Screen Shot 2017-04-25 at 10.27.46 PMAs an unopposed candidate, I was voted in. Four other commissioners were elected, too, and all of them bring the kind of expertise the district needs to assure that the tax money is spent appropriately. Once we’re sworn in, we’ll be hard at work to assure a smooth transition from the current partnership to a new structure.

I know that my candidacy for elected office won’t impact the dangerous and harmful repercussions of the Trump administration. But, it will affect my family, friends, and neighbors, and those are mighty good reasons to run.