Defying Gravity from the musical, Wicked…Song #14/250: The Stars of Stage and Screen.

The stories behind the most memorable songs from Hollywood movies and Broadway musicals.

The classic children’s novel, The Wizard of Oz by Frank Baum.

In 1900, Frank Baum published a children’s novel entitled, The Wizard of Oz. In the century and a bit that has followed, The Wizard of Oz has gone on to become one of the most highly regarded and bestselling children’s novels of all time. By now, the characters are all fairly familiar with Dorothy and her dog, Toto arriving in Oz because of a tornado only to encounter munchkins, a scarecrow, a cowardly lion and a tin man, along with several witches and the Wizard of Oz, himself. The ruby red slippers that Dorothy finds and that the Wicked Witch of the West covets have taken their places among the most iconic movie props in Hollywood history. When Frank Baum published his book, his story was built upon a foundation of advice for children. This advice centered upon such fundamental things as always believing in yourself and staying true to your friends. But, as time has progressed, The Wizard of Oz book came to symbolize something else…something more grown up in nature. In time, adults came to realize that Frank Baum was also making a political statement with his book. That statement had to do with the nature of politics and of governing and how, as citizens, you shouldn’t always believe what you are being told by your leaders because what you are being told is not always the truth. The Wizard of Oz became a bestselling book. Then, it became an award-winning movie starring Judy Garland as Dorothy. It wasn’t until the 1990s that the story of Oz became a musical. This post is about that musical, which came to be called Wicked and how the appearance of truth can be deceptive, as Frank Baum had postulated over a century ago.

The musical, Wicked, is based upon a 1995 book by author Gregory Maguire called, Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West. In his book, Maguire tells the familiar Oz story from the perspective of Elphaba (the real name of the Wicked Witch of the West). Maguire’s ability to present the story from the point of view of one of literature’s most famous villains is an important one because it allows us to understand the need for critical thinking with regard to our history and the stories about our lives that we all believe to be true. One of the great truisms regarding our civilization is that its history is written by the victors. A simple example of this in Canada is how, for so many high school students, Canadian history has come to be stories of how people like Champlain and Cartier sailed across the ocean from Europe and conquered the land now known as Canada. Not much is ever said about the perspective of the Indigenous Peoples of this land who would, not surprisingly, take a much different and dimmer view of Champlain and these other explorers and colonizers. So, it has come to be accepted that those in power get to create the narrative by which we view ourselves and those around us who share our stories. Believe me when I tell you that there are whole libraries filled with books about the impact of our cultural stories on the lives of marginalized groups in our society. For the sake of a specific example, I present the story of Wicked.

Wicked’s storyline begins before the arrival of Dorothy and Toto in the Land of Oz. It starts out with the story of a woman who has an affair during which she gleefully drinks a green elixir. Out of this romantic tryst a baby girl is born. However, she was born with green skin. Needless to say, the colour of her skin has a big impact on how she is viewed by others and how she comes to view herself. The baby girl is named Elphaba. As she grows up, she comes in contact with another girl named Galinda. Galinda is everything that Elphaba feels she is not: she is cute, she is socially popular and all of the adults seem to dote upon her. As Elphaba and Galinda grow up together, the world of politics enters their lives in the form of an organized campaign to cage and imprison animals. In the Land of Oz, many animals are endowed with human-like qualities. In Wicked, one of Elphaba’s favourite professors is a goat who, one day, informs the class that his time as their teacher is drawing to a close because of new laws being passed against animals who can speak aloud. Not long after hearing this news, Elphaba’s teacher is replaced. This new teacher starts her first lesson by parading a caged lion cub in front of the class. The lesson being given is all about power and superiority but, to Elphaba, what she sees horrifies her. In her anger, she discovers that she has the ability to cast a spell. In doing so, she is able to put everyone in her class to sleep while she frees the lion cub. But, by doing so, Elphaba comes to the attention of the headmistress of her school who agrees to instruct her in the art of sorcery. Not long after, Elphaba asks that Galinda also be given the same lessons. Elphaba does this in the hope that she and Galinda can become true friends. Galinda agrees but does not view Elphaba with gratitude. Instead, as a “thank you”, she gifts Elphaba with a pointy black hat for her to wear at a party they are all going to. When Elphaba shows up wearing her stylish new hat, she finds herself mocked and ridiculed…which is the first step toward creating her identity as a black-hatted wicked witch. In time, the headmistress tells Elphaba that she believes in her and thinks she is ready to take her concerns about animal rights to the great Wizard of Oz, himself. Elphaba is thrilled and nervous, at the same time. Upon arrival in the Wizard’s palace, Elphaba and Galinda (who has accompanied her) discover what we all know about the Wizard of Oz and that he is just a puffed up phony with no real magical powers nor legal authority. This disillusionment causes Elphaba and Galinda both to see their world differently. Elphaba dedicates herself to opposing the Wizard’s regime and becoming someone who refuses to “play by the rules” that govern her and society. Thus, she becomes a rebel.

Idina Menzel, as Elphaba, sings, “Defying Gravity”.

At this stage in the musical, Idina Menzel (who played Elphaba) and Kristin Chenoweth (who plays Galinda) sing the song, “Defying Gravity”. This song is designed to be a show-stopper and is packed with many moments in which Menzel, in particular, gets to show off her vocal range. The song depicts a pivotal moment in the lives of both characters. In it, Elphaba declares herself a free person and promises to go out into the world on her own terms. She offers a seat on her broom to her “friend” Galinda but Galinda turns her down and allows Elphaba to defy gravity and fly away. This song ends Act #1. As Act #2 unfolds, we see that Glinda, the Good Witch, as she is now called, has become the public face of those in charge of the Land of Oz. Meanwhile, Elphaba has fled to the west to Munchkinland and is being called The Wicked Witch of the West by those in charge. There are love stories interwoven within this storyline and other plot developments, too. But, everything else that happens in Act #2 leads us to the climax of the story. Because you know the book, you know what happens in the end. Wicked does not alter the ending. But now, because the story of Oz has been told from a different perspective, we are left to wonder if the death of Elphaba is actually the cause for celebration that it has always been portrayed. Wicked asks us, as an audience, to revisit our preconceived ideas about what we believe to be true and re-examine if, in fact, the truth is real. Wicked leads us to question whether Elphaba was actually ever really wicked in the first place and whether her characterization as such was simply a political move by those in power to cause public opinion to sway against someone that they may have viewed as a threat. Conversely, was Glinda the Good Witch actually the good person she was always portrayed as being?

When I was still a teacher, I often led the children through a unit on Fairy Tales. I always found Fairy Tales to be a great way to introduce the elements of story writing to young children. Most Fairy Tales have well-defined beginnings, middles and ends. Most Fairy Tales have well-defined “good” and “evil” characters, too. However, a great thing used to happen as this unit moved along. As we made lists of the various characters who populated these stories, we would divide them up into charts of “good” and “evil” characters. At that point, I would help the kids describe the character traits that helped to make a character “good” or “evil”. If I did my job properly, at some point during this discussion, the kids would realize that most fairy tales are sexist as all get out. Almost all of the heroic characters are Princes and Kings. Almost all the helpless characters in need of being saved are beautiful females. Almost all of the truly nasty characters are strong women. Again, if I played my cards correctly, without having to say anything myself, one of the girls in the class would raise her hand and say, “Hey! Wait a minute!” because she was seeing these stories for what they were for the first time in her life. Because I took the kids through this unit, I always went out of my way to have books in the classroom in which some of the heroes were female (such as Paperbag Princess by Robert Munsch or even Hansel and Gretel) or were Black-skinned or that had male characters in non-masculine roles and so on. Unfortunately, our world is far more complex and nuanced than many wish for it to be. But, our discomfort at having our life stories revealed to be false is no reason not to become critical thinkers. Whether it is school curriculum or the leadlines in our local newspapers, on TV or online, it behooves us to question what we are being told by those in positions of authority. As Frank Baum stated over a century ago, be a good friend to others, believe in the strength of your own character and always be willing to pull back the curtain on those in power. That’s what the Wizard of Oz was about. That’s what the musical, Wicked is about. Like it or not, that is what life is about, too.

The link to the video for the song, “Defying Gravity” from the musical, Wicked can be found here.

The link to the official website for the musical, Wicked can be found here.

***As always, all original content found in this post remains the sole property of the author. No portion of this post may be reblogged, copied or shared in any manner without the express written consent of the author. ©2022 tommacinneswriter.com

KTOM: The Top 500 Songs in Modern Music History…Song #1: Abbey Road Medley by The Beatles.

This list of songs is inspired by a list published by radio station, KEXP, from Seattle in 2010, as well as, the latest poll taken in 2021 by Rolling Stone Magazine. For the most part, I will faithfully countdown from their lists, from Song #500 to Song #1. So, when you see the song title listed as something like: “KEXP: Song #XXX”….it means that I am working off of the official KEXP list. “RS: Song XXX” means the song is coming from the Rolling Stone list. If I post the song title as being: “KTOM: Song #xxx”….it means I have gone rogue and am inserting a song choice from my own personal list of tunes I really like. In either case, you are going to get to hear a great song and learn the story behind it. Finally, I am not a music critic nor a musician. I am a music fan and an armchair storyteller. Enough said! Let’s get on to today’s song.

KTOM: The Top 500 Songs in Modern Music History.

Song #1: Abbey Road Medley by The Beatles.

It feels very much like the last day of school. For thirty years, I had the absolute pleasure of being a classroom teacher and of spending a year of my life surrounded by tiny humans, all members of an extended family, affectionately known as “my kids”. Every year was special and every year was different and yet, every year was the same because our time together always ended on the last day of school. This day feels like those days. Our journey has come to an end and it has done so after fourteen months together. Fourteen months of celebrating the very best music, in multiple genres, from multiple eras. I wouldn’t have wanted to have spent these past fourteen months in the company of any other humans than all of you. But, like all things in life, everything comes to an end eventually. And so, our musical countdown list must come to an end, too. It does so with a suite of songs that have come to be called, “The Abbey Road Medley” by The Beatles. I will talk a bit more about these songs and why they were chosen, in a moment. But first, let’s talk about the nature of “Best of-” titles and why that doesn’t really apply to songs.

If we were all being honest, we’d know that there is no such thing as one perfect song. If this countdown has proven anything, it is that there is a vast wealth of incredible music out there and, more importantly, that music means different things to each of us. You have to look no further than to our Honourable Mention songs…which came from all of you and which held meaning for all of you…..to recognize the diversity of important music out there in the world. From that small list of 24 songs, we had Punk music, Pop ballads, a song from WWII, a Blues song, several classic rock songs, a Folk song and on and on it goes. Who am I to select one song from amid such a smorgasbord and proclaim that as being the “real” best song. All throughout this countdown, my goal was inclusionary, not exclusionary. The most important music in the world is that which makes your heart happy. There is no one anywhere that should ever tell you that what makes your heart happy has less value than something else. Who cares?! Enjoy what makes you smile. Life is too short to do otherwise.

So, if there is no definitive “Best of-” song, how did I go about choosing how to end this project? Well, let me tell ya…..it wasn’t easy. However, as soon as I came to understand the story behind the Abbey Road Medley, I immediately knew it was the right choice for me. I knew it in the same way that I knew my wife, Keri, was the right one for me when we first met. Sometimes, everything just all falls into place and you just know……ya know? So, here is why I changed my #1 choice from “Imagine” by John Lennon to the “Abbey Road Medley” with over 200 songs still to go in this countdown.

Several times over the course of this countdown, I have mentioned the TV documentary about The Beatles that aired on the Disney Channel, called, “Get Back”. Watching that documentary was a transformative experience for me. First of all, coming into it, I knew of The Beatles as much as one could, I suppose. I knew their discography. I knew the basic timeline of their career. I knew the biographies of the main players and so on. But, up until “Get Back” aired, The Beatles were always two-dimensional figures in my mind. But, the documentary changed that for me. One of the great pleasures I had watching it was that it unfolded over the course of four or five weeks of real time. Thus, we were all given the luxury of watching things unfold slowly. We live in an age of instant gratification so, to suddenly be able to watch a creative process at play that was not working magically and that was, in fact, strained and floundering, at times, and that had to keep going, regardless….well, that was incredible to watch. As I watched it all unfold, the members of The Beatles all became humanized. They turned into real people who were, by turns, bored, frustrated, relaxed and sipping tea and so on. There were glimpses of the magic that had always been there, as well as, the joy of the camaraderie that they always shared (especially when they played together on the rooftop). All four members also had lives that existed beyond the studio walls; factors that seemingly accelerated the demise of the band and served as distractions while the recording process was going on.

But, as I watched it all, I couldn’t help but reflect on my own experiences as a classroom teacher. Watching The Beatles in studio was exactly like watching the kids in my class: how they interacted with each other, were distracted by events in their own lives and how they enjoyed the magic that happens, every once and awhile, when it all comes together and good work is done by all and everyone feels great. In a classroom, given the luxury of time over the course of an entire school year, you build routines and expose the students to skill-building opportunities every day; day after day, until growth occurs. The same process took place with The Beatles on screen. They went round and round on some of those songs. For awhile, I thought to myself if I heard fragments of “Get Back” one more time, I was going to scream. But, that is how the creative process works. It is work. It doesn’t come out in finished form, all at once, very often. And it didn’t for The Beatles then, either. The grand experiment that was their band was coming to an end in front of our eyes. It was beautiful to see those happy moments, when they occurred but, the magnitude of the loss that was coming was more emotional than I was prepared for. I saw it most in Ringo’s puppy dog eyes that seemed to mirror his heart which beat for a shared past that was slipping away.

When the “Let It Be” album was finished (that was what The Beatles were working on in the documentary, by the way), the band went their separate ways and that appeared to be it. However, from those recording sessions, there were scraps and fragments of several other songs that were laying around and in need of attention. So, despite all of the acrimony, the band reassembled one last time…..to “play like we used to”, as Paul said. That last time together….when was spread over several weeks, was their last time together as a band and out of those sessions came the “Abbey Road” album. “Abbey Road” is known for George Harrison’s break out songs, “Something” and “Here Comes The Sun”. The album, also featured the songs, “Come Together”, “Maxwell’s Silver Hammer” and Ringo’s contribution, “Octopus’ Garden”. But, “Abbey Road” is, also, known for how it closes on Side #2. On that side of the album, there exists a seven-song medley that is simply known as the “Abbey Road Medley” or “The Long One”, as it was nicknamed during the recording process. What is noteworthy about this medley is how seven song fragments were able to be lovingly stitched together to form a musical tapestry, of sorts. The songs in the medley are: “You Never Give Me Your Money”…..which was about manager Allan Klein, “Sun King”, “Mean Mr. Mustard”, Polythene Pam”, “She Came In Through The Bathroom Window”, “Golden Slumbers”, “Carry That Weight”, “The End”….which contains one of the most iconic lyric lines in the entire Beatles canon and then, a gap of twenty seconds, followed by “Her Majesty”, which was a song cut out of the middle of the medley and then saved and re-inserted as a “hidden track” at the very end.

This “Abbey Road Medley” has been described as a “Hymn to Love”. Ringo Starr is on record as stating that he felt it was a masterpiece and the best thing they had ever done. What the Medley really is, is a snapshot of those things that the band held dear. It is about compassion and empathy and sharing but, most of all, it is about Love and Brotherhood. If you exclude the “Hidden track”….”Her Majesty” for a moment….the Medley ends with a snippet of music called, appropriately enough, “The End”. That song fragment contains the line that comes from my heart to all of yours…….”In the end, the Love you take is equal to the Love you make“.

Those were the final words of the final song that The Beatles ever recorded and released. When I heard those words and, the story behind them, I knew I had found the closer to this countdown. If the “Abbey Road Medley” is good enough to speak for The Beatles then, it is good enough to speak for me, too.

In the video for this song, you will see the shorter, abridged version of the Medley. It is from a concert put on my George Martin and Paul McCartney a few years ago. One of the things that makes the “Abbey Road Medley” a bit magical is that, despite their differences, John, Paul and George still concluded their career together in a show of solidarity. As the Medley progresses, there are sections where all three members trade off guitar solos. So, in the video, watch for this. George and John are dead and gone by the time this concert was held so, in their places are the Devil incarnate, himself, Eric Clapton, standing in for his friend, George Harrison….along with, Mark Knopfler, from Dire Straits, standing in for John…Phil Collins sits in for Ringo. The entire Medley is glorious and joy-filled and wonderful to watch. It fills me up. I trust it will for you, too.

And when it ends and the applause dies down……our musical countdown journey ends, too. As all things in life do. This is it. Just like on the final day of school, when that bell rings at the end of that day and the kids all head for the door that one last time, a chapter in all of our lives closes. So, as I type these last few words, know that I am grateful for having spent this time with each of you. It has been very satisfying to share this celebration of music together and being able to watch you grow. Now off into the sunshine you go. It is time.

The link to the video for the song, “Abbey Road Medley” by The Beatles, can be found here.

The link to the official website for The Beatles, can be found here.

KTOM: The Top 500 Songs in Modern Music History…Honourable Mention Song #9: Truly by Lionel Richie (as Nominated By Bonnie McQuarrie).

This list of songs is inspired by a list published by radio station, KEXP, from Seattle in 2010, as well as, the latest poll taken in 2021 by Rolling Stone Magazine. For the most part, I will faithfully countdown from their lists, from Song #500 to Song #1. So, when you see the song title listed as something like: “KEXP: Song #XXX”….it means that I am working off of the official KEXP list. “RS: Song XXX” means the song is coming from the Rolling Stone list. If I post the song title as being: “KTOM: Song #xxx”….it means I have gone rogue and am inserting a song choice from my own personal list of tunes I really like. In either case, you are going to get to hear a great song and learn the story behind it. Finally, I am not a music critic nor a musician. I am a music fan and an armchair storyteller. Enough said! Let’s get on to today’s song.

KTOM: The Top 500 Songs in Modern Music History.

Honourable Mention Song #9: Truly by Lionel Richie (as Nominated by Bonnie McQuarrie).

You know how there are some people who are part of you life for only a short while but, in that time, they end up making a lasting impact for years to come? Well, Bonnie McQuarrie is someone who is like that for me. I met Bonnie during my second year of teaching. I started off in downtown Toronto but, I had dreams of being a homeowner and having a nice yard, etc., and knew that wasn’t going to happen in downtown Toronto. So, I joined a new school board an hour or so to the east and went to work at a little Jk-3 school in Courtice, Ontario. I was hired to teach a Grade 2 class. To be honest, at that stage of my career, I was not yet a good teacher. Not many brand new teachers are. But, I had two things going for me that saved me in the end. First of all, I had some really sweet kids in my class…..kids who put a smile on my face and helped give me the courage to keep fighting my way through it all each day. Secondly, I was surrounded by good colleagues, like Bonnie. Teaching can feel like a lonely profession, at times but, in a good school, you are never truly alone. For me, I got to watch a whole group of excellent role-models, like Bonnie, practise their craft. Because of their professionalism, I grew as a teacher. Because of their calmness, I steadied myself. Because of their friendship, I felt not so alone and, moreso, I felt welcome and included. Bonnie was a big part of helping that to happen. My gratitude to her and to everyone else is infinite.

The funny thing about it was that, all throughout that year, in the background, was the fact that a brand new school was being built and that all of us, as staff, were going to be divided up among three schools for the following year. Bonnie and I ended up going different ways after that one year. In due time, I got my act together and turned into a reasonably competent teacher. But, the kindnesses shown toward me that second year of my career saved me and made all else that followed possible. In subsequent years, my involvement as a Union Steward, as well as, being a Mentor for teacher candidates by hosting them in my classroom, were all activities that developed as a direct result of my gratitude to my profession and my desire to give back to it now that I was in a better position to do so. So, Bonnie McQuarrie, it may have only been one year of time together as colleagues but, it was a lifetime of respect earned. Thanks for being there when I needed you to be. It gives me tremendous pleasure to share your favourite song with everyone today.

Bonnie has nominated the song, “Truly” by Lionel Richie. Lionel Richie has enjoyed one of the most successful careers ever. He has sold over 100 million albums, placing him in the Top Ten all-time for album sales by a solo artist. But, Lionel Richie was not always a solo artist. He has enjoyed two distinct phases to his career. He first came to my attention as a member of the Funk/Soul/R&B group known as The Commodores. They started out with Funky hits like, “Brick House” but really found fame and fortune with ballads such as “Sailing” and “Three Times a Lady”. Lionel Richie left the group and embarked on a solo career that saw him continue to release ballads such as “Truly” and “Hello”, along with dance-oriented Pop songs such as “Dancing on the Ceiling” and “All Night Long”. He has won numerous Grammy Awards, had many #1 songs and has settled into latest phase of his career by being a judge of music reality shows such as American Idol. In fact, there are also a whole generation of folks who know him more for being Nicole Richie’s adoptive father than as a singer. *(Nicole Richie gained fame being the partner of Paris Hilton in the reality/comedy series, “The Simple Life”. When Nicole was a toddler, she was adopted by Lionel Richie and his wife).

In any case, the song, “Truly” was Lionel Richie’s first song that he released as a solo artist and it went straight to #1 on the charts. It is a very romantic ballad about a man committing himself to loving his partner “Truly” and forever. It is a song that has been at the centre of many a romantic moment between couples, such as being played with proposals of marriage are being offered…..as was the case when Bonnie’s husband, Ian, proposed to her. So, as it turns out, “Truly” has become one of those songs that, long ago, ceased being a Lionel Richie song and has, instead, become a Bonnie McQuarrie song. It has often been said that one of the prime reasons we have music in the first place is to have stories that touch our hearts and change our lives. Sometimes, we have people to do that for us, as Bonnie and the staff at Courtice South Public School did for me. At other times, we have Pop superstars like Lionel Richie to do it for us with their heartfelt melodies and lyrics, as he ….and Ian….did for Bonnie. I am happy, either way.

Thank you, Bonnie, for trusting me to share your story. I also wish to thank you for all of your comments, shared stories and general support of this countdown project since Day #1 when it all began with Song #500: “I Shot the Sheriff” by Bob Marley and the Wailers. But, most of all, thanks for throwing me that lifeline of friendship, along with all of the others, when I was so very much in need of support back in those early days. It meant the world.

So, without further delay, here is a song that has touched a great many hearts along the way, “Truly” by Lionel Richie. Enjoy.

The link to the video for the song, “Truly” by Lionel Richie, can be found here.

The link to the official website for Lionel Richie, can be found here.

KTOM: The Top 500 Songs in Modern Music History…Song #300: Count On Me by Bruno Mars.

This list of songs is inspired by a list published by radio station, KEXP, from Seattle in 2010. For the most part, I will faithfully countdown from their list, from Song #500 to Song #1. So, when you see the song title listed as something like: “KEXP: Song #XXX”….it means that I am working off of the official KEXP list. If I post the song title as being: “KTOM: Song #xxx”….it means I have gone rogue and am inserting a song choice from my own personal list of tunes I really like. In either case, you are going to get to hear a great song and learn the story behind it. Finally, I am not a music critic nor a musician. I am a music fan and an armchair storyteller. Enough said! Let’s get on to today’s song.

KTOM: The Top 500 Songs in Modern Music History.

Song #300: Count On Me by Bruno Mars.

Well now! We are 200 song posts into the journey as of today! Thank you to everyone who has been following along, commenting and sharing your own stories and songs along the way. This is all so much more enjoyable when you guys play along. 🙂

As you may know by now, every 25th song goes to one of my girls. Today, it is Sophie’s turn again. The seventh song on her Top Ten Song List is “Count On Me” by Bruno Mars. So, let’s meet one of the most successful entertainers of this past decade and learn why his song means so much to Sophie.

Sophie was born in 2009. As if to celebrate, Bruno Mars released his debut album, “Doo-Wops and Hooligans” in 2010. “Doo-Wops and Hooligans” turned out to be one of the most successful debuts of all-time. It sold over ten million copies worldwide and spawned multiple hit singles such as “Grenade”, “Just the Way You Are”, “The Lazy Song”, “Marry You” and “Count On Me”. Even if these titles don’t jump out at you as being songs you recognize, I guarantee that you have heard them all if you listen to radio at all. These songs were all over Pop radio in the decade of 2010 and are instantly recognizable Pop gems.

Bruno Mars (Born Peter Gene Hernandez) won the Grammy Award for Best Male Pop Vocal Performance for “Just the Way You Are”. The album, itself, received numerous nominations at The Grammy Awards, The Billboard Music Awards and so on. In the years that have followed, Bruno Mars has cemented his status as one of Pop’s heavyweight performers with classic songs such as “Uptown Funk”, “24K Magic”, “That’s What I Like” and many more. While Bruno Mars regularly collaborates with popular female singers such as Cardi B. and Dua Lipa, it is because of a song that has been likened to “Over the Rainbow” that Sophie became a fan. When I asked Sophie what special meaning the song, “Count On Me” held for her, she told me tales of being in school, with her friends, having lunch in her classroom and having her teacher put on YouTube music videos (lyric-versions) of hit songs, and then, the whole class would sing along while they ate. “Count On Me” was one of the songs she and her friends sang to. *As a former teacher, I applaud using technology this way because, in essence, it is a sneaky way to get the kids to practise their reading skills without them realizing they are doing it. To them, they aren’t working to read. Instead, they are having fun and singing with their besties and it is all good. I know many schools use this song with their students because the message of the song is so uplifting and wholesome. “Count On Me” is a song about being a true friend and/or having a true friend who always has your back. The song is so squeaky clean that Bruno Mars even got to appear on Sesame Street because of it! A sample of the lyrics goes like this:

“If you ever find yourself, stuck, in the middle of the sea

I’ll sail the world, to find you.

If you ever find yourself, lost in the dark, and you can’t see

I’ll be the light, to guide you.”

Not everybody can sing professionally, on a stage, like the Bruno Mars of the world. But, just the same, there are thousands of folks, the world over, for whom singing aloud brings them pleasure. Sophie enjoys singing. She sings in the shower. She sings as she spends time outside, in our gardens and yard. She sings with people she is comfortable singing in the presence of, such as her sister or her best friends. Singing makes her happy. One of the songs that she sings that makes her smile is “Count On Me” by Bruno Mars. I hope that it makes you smile, too. If there are any particular songs that you like to sing while no one is looking then, feel free to let us all know in the comments below. In the meantime, here is Bruno Mars with “Count On Me”. Enjoy.

The link to the video for the song, “Count On Me” by Bruno Mars, can be found here.

The link to the video of Bruno Mars as he appeared on the TV show, Sesame Street, can be found here.

The link to the official website for Bruno Mars can be found here.

Voices Carry

All of my life I have been a quiet person. Some of us are just that way. But even though I may not be the best at starting conversations in social settings, I do have stories to tell and ideas to share. The trick for me in this life has been discovering the best way to make my voice heard.

I have been thinking a lot about this lately because I have discovered a new book. I know I am biased in this regard but, I think Children’s Picture Books are an art form and contain some of the best storytelling you are likely to find anywhere. I Go Quiet by David Ouimet is a book that I wish I had written. It is about me and those of you out there like me. It is about the quiet ones, the introverts and our place in this loud, noisy, busy world of ours. It is about those of us who paint pictures with silence and raise choirs of concerns within our minds. It is for everyone who has a song to sing but prefers doing so in the shower rather than on stage in front of an audience. This book is a wonderful affirmation that it is ok to look for comfort and inspiration from within and that learning to trust the voice you discover there is one of the greatest gifts you can give to yourself.

When I was still a teacher, I always had a soft spot for students whose social presence was whisper light. I made it my mission to find out what made these kids tick and then, guide them to the place where their inner voice resided. Some of the best moments I ever experienced as teacher came from children who wrapped themselves in the safety of our classroom environment and found the courage to be their true selves. This manifested itself in many ways. Some children found their voice in Art. Some found their voice in Athletics. Some found their identity via books and stories. It never mattered to me what form this awakening took, as long as it happened for that child; especially, that child who may have felt that they didn’t matter because they never had an avenue to make themselves heard. Self-expression is very important, as is believing that what you have to say has merit. Helping children to learn to trust in the value of their thoughts, feelings and ideas is of immeasurable importance because when children learn to believe in the power of their own voice, they can change the world.

The most famous recent example of a child having a message to share with the world and having the courage of her convictions to deliver it is Swedish teenager, Greta Thunberg. A little over a year ago, Greta begun a public protest regarding the dangers posed by Climate Change. She started a movement for young people that came to be known as #FridaysForFuture. What she did was to go out on Strike from school each Friday. While being on Strike, she sat quietly in front the legislative building in Sweden and demanded politicians take action. Initially, she was ignored by passersby. But, eventually, over time, people began to question why this girl in the yellow jacket, with the pony tails was sitting there, holding her signs. Greta found her voice and helped raise the alarm regarding the precarious nature of the state of our world. She promoted the scientific fact that our planet is approaching a very real “tipping point” of climate-inspired catastrophes that soon we will be unable to reverse. Our very existence is at stake and time is running out. So, Greta left school on Fridays and spoke for all of us.

In time, word of Greta’s School Strike for Climate got out, via news reports and on social media. Other like-minded students, such as 13-year old Alexandria Villasenor, shared Greta’s view that, while going to school is important, it is not important if there is no future for young people. Alexandria began her School Strike 4 Climate in front of the UN building in New York. Like Greta Thunberg, Ms. Villasenor looked within herself and followed the courage of her own convictions. She sat alone on the bench you see in this photo for weeks and weeks. Eventually, the positive power of social media helped propel the School Strike for Climate message so that it reached a wider, more mainstream audience. Climate scientists from around the world loaned their knowledge and credibility to this cause. Soon, local politicians in cities and countries around the world began declaring “Climate Emergencies” in their jurisdictions. Policies have started to be enacted in some countries such as the phasing out of gas-powered automobiles by the mid-2020s. Because quiet children have found their voices, a choir of concern regarding Climate Change is beginning to spread around the world.

It isn’t easy being brave when you feel as though your words are mere dandelion puffs scattered by the slightest of breezes. But, if there is anything that I have learned over the course of my thirty years hanging out with children it is this…….they have ideas that have value and they are worthy of respect from the adults in their world. I am not just referring to the Greta Thunbergs and Alexandria Villasenors of the world, either. Children, everywhere, have beliefs that are valid. They wish for safety and friendship and love and clean water and good food to eat and share together. Children espouse many of the core values that we, as adults, sometimes forget about, as we busy ourselves with things that often don’t matter. We exist on a planet where many adults strive for material gain and personal power. None of that will matter when our world burns beneath our feet. We will all be equally powerless when extreme climate disasters strike. Our money will not help us when the end is about to come and, as the old song says, “All we are is dust in the wind.” If only the adults would listen to the voices of our children.

Getting adults in positions of power to listen to the voices of children is why the School Strike for Climate movement is holding Global Strikes tomorrow (September 20) and next Friday (September 27) in cities all around the world. My daughter, Leah, and I will be attending the march being held in Toronto on the 27th. Greta Thunberg will be leading the march in Montreal that same day. She is marching with Alexandria Villasenor in NYC tomorrow. Tens of thousands of children and adults are expected to march for a better future for our planet and for us. Please feel free to find out more about these marches and about our Climate emergency by clicking on the link www.fridaysforfuture.org

We ignore the quiet ones at our peril. Those of us who are comfortable living, for the most part, within the confines of our own minds, still have a role to play on society’s stage. We don’t all have to lead the march, as the Greta Thunberg’s of the world do but, by lending our presence to the unfolding drama, we give strength to our message and allow our voices to carry. It is easy for some of us to exist, unnoticed. But, there are times when it is too important to remain quiet. The world needs us to all to speak up. Being quiet is no longer an option……even for folks like me.

***Author’s note: I am super-excited to publish this particular post today because it was created in partnership with a former student of mine, Erin Cutler. Waaaaay back in the day, Erin was a sweet, young girl in our Grade 2 class in Bowmanville, Ontario. Erin was always a hard worker and a good friend to others. But, what I always remember about her is the relationship we struck up because of an in-class activity called Journal writing. In her journal book, I would ask Erin to write a letter to me about anything she wanted to talk about and then, I would write back. On the surface, this was an exercise in writing and reading for the child. But, the deeper benefit is that it allowed a private conversation to take place, parallel to what everyone else saw in public. Whenever I wrote back to a student, I always tried to incorporate an illustration to accompany my words. Erin really liked that aspect of our journal conversations and, over time, began responding back with her own Art to go along with her questions and stories. Well, I am happy to report that Erin has grown up to be a lovely young lady who makes her living through Art. Erin specifically created two pieces of original Art for this post; the first is what I call Portrait of Greta and the second is A Choir of Concern. I am humbled beyond measure to have Erin’s great work adorning my words on this post. She is terrific in all regards. Thank you, Erin, for your hard work for this post. Hopefully, we can do this again sometime.

If you wish to see more of her work, please click on the following two links: www.illustrationsbyerin.com and www.instagram.com/illustrationsbyerin .

My Second Tuesday

Happy Anniversary to me! It’s my Second Tuesday. That makes today very special and noteworthy. For it was exactly one year ago today, after an absence of several years, that I re-started my blog. I re-started my blog on my First Tuesday. My First Tuesday was the first day of my retirement from teaching. It was, also, the first day of a new school year for my wife and two daughters which meant, for me, that it was the first time I was truly alone with my thoughts. I wrote my first post that day. It was called “The Brightness of the Light” and can be read here. That post talked about the joy I was feeling at being free to chart my own course in life. No more bells to answer to. No more bosses telling me what to do or when to do it. I could go where I wanted, when I wanted. I was free.

So, what did I decide to do on this, my Second Tuesday, you ask? Well, I am not sure if you will be surprised at my decision or not but, after dropping my youngest daughter off at her school for her first day of the new school year, I hopped in my car and drove………straight back to my old school!

I didn’t go there because I was having pangs of regret or longing for the teaching career that I had left behind. I went back to my old school to repay a debt of kindness. Let me explain. Tuesday, September 5, 2017 was my Final Tuesday. It was the last “First Day” of school for me as a teacher. When I arrived at school that day and entered my classroom, I was greeted by the sight of a jar of jellybeans on my desk. There was a note that accompanied the jar. The note said that there were 190 jellybeans in that jar; one for each day of my final school year. As each day passed, I was to remove one jellybean. As the school year progressed, the jar became emptier and emptier until, on the last day of school in June, 2018, I ate the final jellybean. The jar was now empty. My teaching career was now over. It was time to leave. The last thing I did on that final day in June was to take my name plate off of my classroom door. I put that name plate into the empty jellybean jar, walked out of the school, got in my car and drove away to a whole new life.

Before my final year of teaching began, I has suspected that there would be special and/or emotional moments along the way. When I saw that jellybean jar on the first day of school, I knew I was right. The funny thing about it was that the gesture was completely unexpected. The lady who gave me the jar of jellybeans is named Annette. While we had worked together for several years, I am sure we would both describe our relationship as being more acquaintances than dear friends. But yet, it was Annette and her act of kindness that started my final year off on such a wonderful note. And that, in and of itself, was an important lesson for me that year because it showed that my world was actually broader and deeper than I had imagined it to be. So many people did and said so many amazing things over the course of that year. I was truly and sincerely touched by it all. I will always remember my final year of teaching and those who were a part of it. And, it all started off with a jar of jellybeans upon my desk.

Well, as it turns out, this is Annette’s Final Tuesday. So today, I brought her a jar of 190 jellybeans. As I placed the jar on her desk, she asked me if I still found retirement to be fulfilling. I told her that I did. But then, I reminded her that she should treasure each jellybean and not wish her year away because being a teacher is as noble and special and important a role as any of us who have done it will ever play. I told her she was lucky to be doing what she was doing. Hopefully, today will be the start of a wonderful year in her life. Come next September, if Annette wants to share her First Tuesday with me, having coffee and ringing a bell downtown, I am up for that. But that will be her choice because, by then, she, too, will be free.

I got to see some of my former students before leaving the school. That was nice. Warm hugs and high fives were always the hallmarks of the best part of being a teacher; the relationships you form with the kids. But now, on my Second Tuesday, I got to experience the best of all worlds. I got to have the hugs and high fives and then, I got to drive away. No opening day speeches. No messes to clean up. No wondering where my summer vacation went an hour into the day. The sun is shining where I am. It is quiet and peaceful enough that I can hear the sound of the wind gently rustling the leaves of the tree in my backyard. I remain relaxed and at ease. It is my Second Tuesday and I am free.

The Gift of Encouragement

We are all human. We all appreciate being told, once and awhile, that we are doing a good job, that we are a nice person or that we are important.  In today’s frantic, multi-tasking society, it is easy to lose sight of the right path as we struggle to maintain our sanity, let alone, live a life of character and integrity. So, hearing words of encouragement is important. They not only nourish our souls but, they act as an affirmation that maybe, just maybe, we are actually on that correct path in Life.

In Ontario, Canada, where I taught, we are no more immune from Life’s pressures and stresses than anyone else in any other walk of life.  Most teachers care deeply about their profession and try their best to do right by the students entrusted into their care each day.  Most parents seem to understand this. My experience working in partnership with parents has, almost completely and totally, been positive and respectful. Being a parent has helped me appreciate the hard work that goes on in the homes of my students. Watching their children grow more knowledgable and skilled, while enjoying their school experience, has caused parents to respect who I am and how I conducted my classroom affairs.

Ordinarily, a heartfelt hand shake at the end of the school year between parent and teacher should be sufficient to recognize the contribution both have made to the life of the child in question. However, in Ontario,  a tradition has taken root that sees the parent bestow a gift upon the teacher during the final day of school.  In my career, I started many a final day of school surrounded by smiling students, arms outstretched, all holding a gift bag or an envelop and begging me to please, “open mine first, Mr. MacInnes! Open mine first!” Those gifts of mugs, boxes of chocolates, gift cards for coffee shops and crafts made with care and love from home, all were appreciated and all were displayed and/or well used once taken home.

However, there is one gift that I have gotten many times over the years and, in my eyes, it is the most important gift any parent could give to their child’s teacher……..it is the gift of encouragement that comes in the form of a simple card or letter.  Having a parent take a few moments to write that they appreciated the time I had spent with their child and that they believed it had made a positive difference, is like gold to me.

In my bedroom, on a shelf in my closet, I have a photo box.  In that photo box, I have EVERY card, letter and note of encouragement I have ever received throughout the entire course of my 30 year career.  Each letter is precious to me and each serves to remind me that, yes, I did, indeed, have a purpose in life that was worthy and that, indeed, I was making a positive difference in the lives of children.  I can’t ask for more than that.  Whenever I find myself feeling down, for whatever reason, I haul out that photo box and bask in the warm glow of the affirmations it contains.  

In most cases, regardless of the state of education in the public school your child attends, you can count on them being cared for by a teacher who is working harder than you may realize to help their students be the best people they can be.  However, there are times, in the course of their busy days, when teachers can become just as frustrated and discouraged as the students that they teach.  If you ever want to make your child’s teacher’s day, I humbly suggest that you write a simple note.  Your words of encouragement and appreciation will turn out to be the best part of that teacher’s day….guaranteed!

And, maybe, just maybe, your words will help fill that teacher’s photo box of memories, too.  🙂

We all appreciate hearing a kind word from someone else.  Have you ever written a card of thanks to your child’s teacher?  Have you ever received such a note or card from someone else, telling you that who you are or, what you do, matters?  If so, I’d love to hear about it in the comment section below.  Thanks for reading. 🙂

Of Things Lost and Those Still Around

I was recently asked to pen a speech to be read at a rally to commemorate/protest the one-year anniversary of the election of the Progressive Conservative Government in Ontario. I was asked to make the speech into a eulogy for all that has been lost during this past year. Believe me, the list of what has been lost is quite extensive. Anyway, the rally was held this past Friday, outside the local constituency office of our PC MPP, David Piccinni. Needless to say, Mr. Piccinni did not appear at the rally to listen to the concerns being expressed.

I was not, initially, going to post this eulogy but, the response to it from those in attendance was very positive and it was suggested it would be beneficial for a wider audience to read it for themselves. So, here comes the eulogy. At the rally, the eulogy was read by Sarah Whalen, who is a teacher and a member of the Kawartha Pine Ridge District Local of the Elementary Teachers Federation of Ontario. **All photos that appear in this post are from my good friend, Wendy Goodes, who helped organize the rally.

Ladies and gentlemen, we are gathered here, together, to mark a solemn anniversary in our Province’s history. For it was on this date, one year ago today, that a minority of our fellow citizens voted in a Majority Government for Doug Ford and the Progressive Conservative Party of Ontario. Since that election day in 2018, much has changed in Ontario but still, much has stayed the same. Let’s, first, take a look at the latter.

Please take a moment and look at your fellow mourners who have gathered along side you today. Look at the banners they wave, the signs that they hold, the buttons and t-shirts they wear; their hearts on their sleeves, quite literally and figuratively. You are here today because you care. No matter what has been lost this past year in Ontario, you have not lapsed into defeat or self-interest. You still care. That is your superpower. You are an army of compassionate warriors and your unwavering belief in goodness, kindness and social justice for all makes you the truly worthy defenders of the slogan, “For The People”. For if there is anyone in this province capable of restoring hope to those parents of autistic children, it is you. If there is anyone capable of speaking up for the trees, as Dr. Seuss might say and, protecting our environment in a time of crisis, it is you! If there is anyone capable of maintaining our systems of Health care and Public Education for the common good of everyone, as opposed to the bottom lines of anyone, it is you. You are here today because you still believe in a better province for us all. There is power in believing in something greater than yourselves. In your belief, there is Hope. And when there is Hope, we fight on and we never give up.But, as proud and strong-minded as we all are, we have not gathered here today to celebrate but, instead, to mourn our losses, of which there are many. The minority of citizens who have elected a majority of PC MPPs have unleashed a terracotta army upon the province. They are an intimidating-looking force, filling over half of the seats in the Legislature, drowning out all inquiries with jeers, catcalls and mocking laughter. Like Siri and Alexa, these MPPs know how to retrieve their talking points well. But, don’t you dare try to strike up a conversation. They are a confederacy, not of dunces but, instead, of submissives; all standing up and sitting down on command, all speaking words that have been put into their mouths for them, all promoting ideas that are not necessarily their own. It is easy to be judgemental of people who so willingly subjugate themselves at the altar of another but, to do so would be to under-estimate the damage they are capable of creating.

It seems as if @Fordnation is attacking everything, everywhere, all of the time. Like a cruel game of real-life whack-a-mole, we are forced to battle back on multiple fronts at the same time. Our outrage, perpetual. But, while we fight to preserve our libraries, our Legal Aid system, our Greenbelt areas, our schools and hospitals, to broaden and strengthen our bonds with the Indigenous Peoples of Ontario and to protect the sanctity of a woman’s right to choose what happens to her body and so much more, an insidious and troubling battle is going on that could, when all is said and done, be the biggest loss of all and that is the War on Truthfulness.

For most of us, we have been raised to believe that “Honesty is the best policy”. We have held this belief as one of the foundations of living in a democratic society. We have grown accustomed to holding our politicians to certain standards of accountability, all built upon the premise that we expect them to tell us the truth. But, with this new Government, truthfulness is rarely a consideration in anything they do. In fact, it could be argued that lying is what Doug Ford and his minions do best. They lie about anything and everything. They lie even when they don’t even have to. They lie about the price of gas on holiday weekends. They lie about job security in a time of massive cuts. They lie about not opening debates on abortion, even as their MPPs give speeches at Pro-Life rallies. They lie with the ease that most of us breathe. The ability of PC MPPs to lie is breathless in its audacity. I am sure that they laugh about it all behind the closed doors that they tend to stay. @FordNation is not at all acting “for the people”, of that I am sure we can all agree. The lie that this government cares about the common citizen is among the most fundamental of all the lies they tell. They do not care in the least about any of us standing here today. We are not profiteers or privatizers of the public good. We do not have their ear for an airing of our concerns. They have no time for us, as seen in how hard it is to get an appointment with your local MPP, have a question answered to a phone call or email. They are their own social network and they have stopped answering to us. It is almost as if democracy doesn’t matter anymore.

But, as long as we have hearts that beat in our chests and minds that see through the rhetoric being served then, the fight must go on because democracy does matter. It isn’t a perfect system of living but, it is worth fighting to protect. Truthfulness and honesty do matter. Words matter. The integrity of those who serve our society matters, still. And so, we stand here today, one year in on the most profound and fundamentally important challenge our province has ever faced.

I stand here today, with you, filled with the conviction that our Ontario is not lost yet. That there is still Hope for a return to those days, just 365 days ago, when beer cost more than a buck and nobody really cared about that, anyway. I long for time when our leaders recognized that Love is Love and parades are fun for everyone. I believe in an Ontario where reading and books are valued and Grandparents are venerated, not incarcerated. I believe in an Ontario where compassion and empathy are not just words but mindsets and that our everyday heroes have the resources and time to help those most in need. I believe in protecting our children not profiting from them. More than anything, I believe there is still time and that there is still Hope. Much has been lost but all is not lost yet. So, wave your banners high, hoist your signs into the air and join me in the greatest battle of our lives; the fight for democracy in Ontario……for the people of Ontario……our Ontario……..ours to re-discover.

Thank you very much.

A Forest of Gratitude and Remembrance

I got to go back to my school yesterday. It was the third time I had seen my colleagues this school year. The first time was around Christmas time, when a dear soul sent up a Facebook SOS looking for resources for a special needs child she was working with. I knew where to get these resources so, I bundled them up and delivered them to her at school. It was nice to have a brief chat before bells rang and she had to leave to start her work day. The second time I saw my staff was at a retirement party for our secretary who was leaving mid-year. This time, I had the luxury of having longer chats with more people and was able to catch up with everyone in greater detail. It was a lovely time. Yesterday, I was invited back to the school by a dear friend named Deb. This time, I got to be with the kids again, too. It was a special time and served to remind me of the good that comes when we care about things greater than ourselves.

This story begins in September of 2017. That was the beginning of my final year of teaching. Among the students on my class list was a special needs child. I knew him from his days in Kindergarten, in a classroom across the hall from mine. He was a lovely boy but he required help to successfully navigate his way through his school day so, he was assigned an Educational Assistant to help him. That E.A. turned out to be a lady named Deb. A few years earlier, Deb had worked, side-by-side, with my wife in her classroom in the neighbouring town of Port Hope. So, even though this was my first taste of working professionally with Deb, it was not my first experience of knowing the wonderful person Deb is.

The best way I can describe Deb is to say that she is like a sunbeam; all light and energy and warmth. Deb has a heart as big as the universe and makes those in her orbit feel wonderful about themselves. And, for my final year as a teacher, I got to share my classroom with her. What a gift from the Gods to me. Some teachers feel threatened by having another adult in the room with them. After all, being control freaks is part and parcel of doing the job. But, that was never the case with Deb. We were partners in the education of our students that year. It wasn’t my classroom; it became our classroom and that was something that made our space that much better for everyone.

As mentioned earlier, Deb’s official reason for being in our classroom was to work with a boy who had special needs. We worked closely together to tailor an academic and social programme that he warmed to over time. He was a fairly smart boy so it was a pleasure to see how quickly he adapted to his new schedule and work tasks. Gaining social independence was one of his goals so, at times, I would teach a lesson, Deb would help him get started and then, in order to foster independence, she would move away from him for awhile. Deb, being Deb, never took these “breaks” from her assigned student for herself; instead, in those moments not dedicated to her young man, she always made herself available to help other students in the classroom. I never had to speak to her about doing this. She willingly became a second resource that any student could access, as long as she was free to help. What a huge help that was to me.

Now, one of the things that helped create such a strong bond between us was that we shared a fundamental belief that being a kind and compassionate person was important in life. Being grateful to those who work on your behalf and expressing that gratitude was important in life, too. So, as we worked our way through all of the lessons that the curriculum documents required us to teach, we always did so in combination with lessons in how to be a good person. We treated each other with great respect in front of the students so that they could see how two adults act in a healthy relationship. We always treated our students with kindness, patience and respect because we wanted them to see how adults and children act in a healthy relationship. Finally, we established our clear expectation that we wanted the children to treat each other with kindness and respect, too. We were a classroom family…..and that comes with responsibilities; one of the biggest and most basic being, treat each other nicely.

Every class has its own personality. After all, a class list is more than just names on a page. Every class is populated by individual human beings; each with their own life story. As the adults in the room, one of the most important aspects of our role is to understand how the different personalities and learning styles of our students colour the tone of our learning space. Because children come to school with unique life experiences and academic development points, there are times when the standard lesson format doesn’t always work. Not every child is a paper/pencil learner. That doesn’t make them bad kids or poor students. They are simply children/learners who require a different approach. Well, as the second half of our school year came to pass, we began to find ourselves increasingly dealing with social disputes among students, much to our chagrin. As Deb and I talked, we came to be convinced that several of our boys were becoming frustrated with their classroom experience based on having to meet the expectations that come with a rising level of academic difficulty that occurs as a school year unfolds. This frustration was taking the form of socially-inappropriate interactions with their peers. These boys were increasingly off-task, they were becoming argumentative and the tone of our classroom was quickly becoming toxic. Something had to be done. So, this is what we did.

One of the things we noticed about all of the boys was a high degree of ego-centricity. There were all about themselves. “I don’t like this work!”, “I don’t want to sit by so-and-so!”, “I hate school!” Me! Me! Me! All of the time. These boys hadn’t been like this at the start of the school year but, they were now. Deb and I agreed that academic success was going to continue to be elusive for these gentlemen as long as they remained emotionally invested only in their own self-interest. So, as Winter warmed into Spring, Deb and I decided to try something bold; we wanted these boys to learn to care about something greater than themselves so, we formed a Garden Club and informed these boys that they were its first members.

So, each day during our Reading time (which was always a difficult time for the boys), Deb would gather up the Club members and they would head outside. We were able to do this because our reading time included a fifteen-twenty minute independent reading component to it. Deb’s special needs student loved to read and did not require Deb’s help for that segment of the day; thus, freeing Deb up. For the Garden Club members, it was a chance to take a break from the rigours of our classroom, get some fresh air into their lungs and to be able to channel some of their energy into something constructive such as digging in the soil of the gardens. There were three or four raised beds at a far end of the school yard. The beds were in a neglected state when the Garden Club first arrived so, there was lots of weeding and digging and planting of seeds and the hauling of water from a great distance away. And Deb, being Deb, always managed to include some Art or Poetry or Science into whatever physical labour was on-going so that, without the boys even realizing it, they were getting fully-integrated lessons, while the rest of their peers read in peace in the classroom.

As many of you know, a growing garden does not need the help of five boys for twenty minutes a day, every day of the week. So, Deb decided to expand the reach of the Garden Club and soon, Club members could be seen running the recycling programme in our school, building/fixing things in our MakerSpace or cleaning up litter from our school yard. It was during one of the school yard clean-ups that Deb and the guys noticed that two trees had been damaged in our yard due to vandalism or rough school play. This made Deb sad because she is a firm believer in the inter-connectivity of all living things in our world. She expressed her sorrow to the boys and, because it came straight from her heart, some of her emotions went into their hearts. The group decided that something must be done. So, it was agreed that new trees should be purchased to replace the broken ones and that, in order to raise the funds to do this, the Club would move into the school kitchen and start selling hot dogs!

Trees are important for the health of our planet, as you know. They act as the lungs of the Earth so, ensuring that these trees were replaced would be important, simply from an environmental point of view. But, these trees weren’t just ordinary trees. These trees were special trees. These trees were Highway of Heroes trees. Let me explain.

Canada is known throughout the world as a peaceful nation. For most of our recent history, our soldiers have served mainly as peacekeepers in foreign lands. While not as dangerous as being a combatant in a real war, our soldiers still face danger in their attempt to keep the peace and, unfortunately, some pay the ultimate price with their lives. When such a tragedy happens, that soldier’s body is re-patriated back home to Canada. When a soldier is re-patriated, their body is flown to Trenton Air Force base. Trenton is located about 30 minutes east of our school. Once the body is removed from the plane and placed in a waiting hearse, a journey begins that sees the soldier’s body, as well as, their family members, travel down a highway called The 401. This highway runs directly by our school. On the overpasses on this highway, people gather to salute the soldier and to let the family members know that their loved one’s sacrifice was not in vain. The journey from Trenton to Toronto (where an autopsy is performed on the body before it is released to the family) takes about 90 minutes. The entire route is filled with people, all caring about something greater than themselves. Over time, this stretch of highway has been officially renamed as The Highway of Heroes.

The original trees in our school yard had been placed there as part of a much larger initiative to honour all fallen soldiers and those who survived, too. Thousands and thousands of trees have been planted along The Highway of Heroes and in neighbouring communities; each one a reminder of those who cared for something greater than themselves. Once completed, this project will have resulted in the creation of a forest of gratitude and remembrance, the likes of which has never been seen before in this country.

So, needless to say, the hot dog sales at our school took on an added urgency and importance. Again, Deb being Deb, she took the opportunity of having a captive audience of wienie workers, to tell the boys stories about the fight for peace and the nobility of channeling physical energy for a cause that helps others. She did this as the water boiled and the wieners plumped. The boys then got to deliver the finished hot dogs to each classroom. Deb always made sure to have the kids in the classrooms thank “her boys” for having worked so hard on their behalf. Gratitude expressed. Gratitude received. This is how the seeds of change are planted in the increasingly fertile minds of these young boys.

And then, just like that, the school year ended. The handful of hot dog sales had managed to raise only a fraction of the cost of replacing two trees. I retired and left the school at this point. But, Deb stayed. Her energy and commitment and determination stayed and continued on during this past school year. So, as I sat home in comfy clothes, Deb and her remaining Garden Club members boiled hot dogs. While I worked on my own gardens, Deb and her boys worked on the school gardens again. Work went on in my absence because, that is what happens in life, things continue. But, I was not forgotten.

Two weeks ago, I received an e-mail from Deb. In it, she spoke of having finally raised enough funds to replace the trees. She was so excited! But then, she told me the really grand and glorious news. She had contacted the folks running the tree programme for the Highway of Heroes Organization and had told them of the need for the two new trees. They were so impressed with what she had to say about the involvement of the boys and of the lessons they were learning about caring for things greater than themselves that, the Organization generously offered to dramatically reduce the price for Ten trees, not just two! The School Council was equally impressed and helped pay for all ten trees. So, in her email to me, she asked if I was free to attend the ceremonial tree planting. Of course I was free, I am retired!!!! LOL! But, even if I had something going on, I would have cleared my schedule for this.

The date of the tree-planting was June 6….the date of the 75th Anniversary of D-Day. There was a full-school assembly. Our anthem was sung by a choir. Primary students sang a song about the soldiers who, on D-Day, gave everything they had in the fight for freedom. “In Flanders Fields” was read aloud by members of our school’s Shakespeare Club (which Deb runs). Mr. David Turnbull (the gentleman in sunglasses in the above photo) spoke to the students about the Highway of Heroes tree planting project and how each tree stood for a life given by a soldier in a foreign land. The Deputy-Mayor of Cobourg, Suzanne Seguin (in the red blazer in this photo) brought greetings from the Town and offered congratulations on raising the money to acquire the trees. Pam Lancaster from the Ganaraska Regional Conservation Authority (the area group responsible for the health of the Highway of Heroes trees) spoke about the importance of protecting these trees; especially in their early stages of growth. Finally, *two boys from the Garden Club (one has since moved away and two others were on a class trip during the assembly) got to present a school cheque for an amount equal to the price of two trees to Mr. Hurley. The whole school applauded. Gratitude expressed. Gratitude received.

Outside, in the schoolyard, the two trees were already in holes in the ground. The boys got to fill in the holes with fresh soil. Kindergarten students got the chance to protect the new soil with fresh mulch. They saw worms and bugs in the soil and were fascinated in a way that only the very young can be at such moments. Deb managed to extract a promise from all who came outside that these trees would be protected by all because of their role in helping our climate and because of what they represent as Highway of Heroes trees. News reporters took photos, like the one above, which appeared in Northumberland Snap’d newspaper. If you look carefully at that photo, you will see a sunbeam holding a shovel…..that is Deb.

The ceremony concluded with cake inside the school. I got the chance to sit with my guys and catch up. I enjoyed hearing their voices again. Those boys are growing up, literally and figuratively. It brought me a great deal of satisfaction to watch them have such a positive moment in the spotlight. After the boys returned to class, I got the chance to thank Deb for the invitation and to catch up a bit with her. She was, somewhat, emotionally-spent, as most educators are at the end of a school year. But, she still had the humility to speak of the good that can come from simple acts of kindness. A year ago, we responded to inappropriate behaviour in our classroom, not with punishments, detentions, loud voices of condemnation or exile to the Principal’s Office but, instead, with an opportunity for five young lads to experience a different way of learning…..in a garden……where seeds are planted and the best things get to grow by those who care about something greater than themselves.

Love, Mr. MacInnes

June has been deemed as Pride month in Ontario. Many communities are celebrating by hosting festivals or holding conferences that include topics such as inclusion, equity and anti-bullying and, as well, many communities are installing symbols of support and acceptance in the form of such things as Pride crosswalks. My town of Cobourg, Ontario, is unveiling their Pride crosswalk on June 3rd. I will be in attendance at the ceremony, as will our Mayor, the Chief of Police and many other prominent citizens of our town. I am attending this ceremony in my role as an ally to those in the LGBTQ Community. However, I must confess, I was not always such an ally. While I never actively campaigned against those who followed their hearts in a different manner than my parents did, I, also, never sought to educate myself about different lifestyle choices, either. This post is the story of my growth as a person when it comes to matters of the heart.

I grew up in a coal mining/fishing town on the east coast of Cape Breton Island called Glace Bay, Nova Scotia. I could see the Atlantic Ocean from the window of our living room. The squawks of the seagulls seeking dinner, mingled with the foghorn’s lullaby as we played outside on our streets or in our yards. Many of the men in town smelled of fish or were blackened by coal dust that found its way into every wrinkle and crevice. I grew up at a time before the existence of the Internet. My worldview was formed by the people I knew, the places I visited and the things I did in my home town. And, in the 1970s, all of my friends had a mom and a dad. Every one. That was what I knew family structures to be.

Because I had no access to the waves of information that wash over our children today, I only knew a derogatory term such as “fag” in the context of how and when I heard it used. For me, a “fag” was what you called someone you didn’t like. It was a putdown and meant that you thought the other fellow was weak or a sissy. “Fag” was always directed at other boys, never at girls. Girls were called “sluts” or “skanks” if they ever found themselves in line for an insult.

It took awhile before the sexual connotation behind terms such as “Fag” or “Slut” became clear to me and, even then, my own innocence and/or lack of worldly experience precluded me from fully appreciating the conversations that were going on around me. The first time I ever truly thought about alternative lifestyles to my own came in high school. It all started off innocently enough, with me and some friends of mine all talking about Rock n’ Roll and our favourite songs and bands. Eventually, the group Queen was mentioned and I distinctly remember someone making a comment about the sound of Freddy Mercury’s voice being the way it was because his “stomach is filled with cum”. The guys laughed at a reference that I didn’t understand. Peer pressure being what it is, I didn’t ask for clarification or to seek enlightenment. Instead, I did what many guys would do, I suppose, I smiled and chuckled, too.

My high school education ended in 1982 and my real world education began in the Fall of that same year, as I left Glace Bay and moved to Toronto, the biggest city in Canada, to attend university. As I left my train at Union Station and walked out into the Toronto sunshine, across from the grand Royal York Hotel, I did so as someone who never equated people with sexuality. People were people to me. But, as I settled into my new city, I saw right away that many of the people there were different from me; they had different coloured skin, they spoke different languages, they wore different types of clothing, they ate different types of food and so on. But, what I soon came to learn and to appreciate was that, even though they were different from me on the surface, they were still awesome people. I enjoyed their friendships and I was able to broaden my cultural base because of their patience and guidance. I was growing and maturing but, I was only turning 20 years old and I remained very “young” when it came to understanding the role sexuality plays in our society.

However, as luck would have it, one of the best things to ever happen to me in my life occurred just as my university years were winding down. I met my first girlfriend. We ended up being together for slightly over three years. We broke up for reasons that are neither, here nor there but, for the most part, we were just too young and immature to start out on LIfe’s journey at that time, But, because of that relationship, I learned one of the most important lessons of my life and that was, that Love is the best thing a person can experience. That I had a loving relationship right out of the gate influenced how I interacted with every subsequent female I met socially. I never viewed potential dates as sexual conquests, as many men do. Instead, I always went on a first date hoping that this particular girl was going to be “the one” whose heartbeat would match mine and that we would hold hands and walk through Life together, side-by-side, until we were old and that golden sunset beckoned.

A funny thing happened as I became an adult and entered my professional teaching years. I continued to meet people different than I was. For the first time that I became aware of, I started meeting people who identified as being Gay or Lesbian. Whether through work or through social contacts, I became friends with some of the most wonderful people I have had the privilege to know. People who were funny and kind and creative and passionate about life. My relationships were never sexual with these pals of mine and that was just fine with us, both. If I have learned anything in Life, it is that good people are good people regardless of how they dress, speak or who they may care to love. I believe in the power of Love and I have learned that Love conquers fear; especially, fear of those who have taken a different path in life than I have.

It may be a naive assumption but, I wish that everyone would allow themselves to be more open to the word, “different” and all that it entails. I am glad that we, humans, are not all the same. How boring and bland our world would be. I have changed a lot since I was a child who clung to the notion of familiarity of ideals being of paramount importance. I now embrace the potential for growth and for fun and for adventure that exists when you travel to countries different that yours, for instance. Or, when you study the history of another culture or eat foods that your Momma didn’t cook when you were growing up such as pirogies or curry. Change and personal growth should be a good and welcome part of everyone’s life. I know it has become so in my life. For that, I believe I am a better person.

I will close with a short story from my teaching career. For most of my thirty year career, I taught in the Primary grades (children 6-8 years old). In those grades, one of the most important responsibilities I had as a teacher was helping children learn to become good readers. There are many, many strategies that Primary teachers use to expose their students to language and to the conventions of reading. One of the ways I attempted to help children learn to read was by writing a daily message for them on chart paper. The content of the message could be about our schedule that day or about what we were learning about or it could be about the kids themselves; praising them for a job well done the previous day or taking them to task if I had a concern in need of being addressed. Anyway, regardless of what I wrote about each day, I always..always…always signed my message of the day, “Love, Mr. MacInnes”. ***If you expand the photo above, pay attention to the chart stand behind the four students (who were building a structure that could hold a heavy weight for sixty seconds). If you look carefully at the daily message, you will see where I signed it, “Love, Mr. MacInnes”.

Anyway, with every single Primary class I ever taught, the same thing would happen…some time after the first week or so went by, with the kids tee-heeing when they got to the word, “Love”, someone would muster up the courage to ask, “Why do you say, “Love, Mr. MacInnes” at the end of our letters? You’re not our Dad or anything!” The rest of the kids would hold their breath in anticipation of my reply which always was, as follows. I would tell the kids that, no, I was not their father. But, I was someone who cared about them all. And, because I cared about them all, I wanted to share something with them that was important to me….my favourite word. I would ask the kids what they thought my favourite word was. They would correctly guess that it was Love. I would go on to tell them that Love was my favourite word because it stood for things that made me happy such as kindness and friendship. I told them that Love was the best thing I had ever found in my life and that I felt I was the luckiest man in the world to have Mrs. MacInnes to love and to have her love me back. I finished by saying that I thought Love was better than money or power or being famous and that I hoped each one of them would find Love in their lifetime. Then I would end by saying that because Love is my favourite word and because I care about all of you, I want you to start every school day reading and hearing and seeing the word Love. Love is the best word there is and I want to share it with you. That’s why I sign all of my daily messages, “Love, Mr. MacInnes”.

To me, in the classroom, as well as, in life, Love is always the answer. So, when I see my friends in happy, loving relationships, it makes me happy in my heart. I never stop to create a hierarchy of what a loving relationship is. Love is Love. If you are fortunate enough to have found someone whose heart beats in time with yours, you have won the lottery of life. Two men. Two women. A man and a woman. Love is Love. It is all good in my eyes.

And so, on Monday, June 3rd, I will head downtown to watch the powers that be in my town unveil our Pride crosswalk. I will cheer and clap as an ally of those in the LGBTQ community and I will always view that rainbow of vibrant colours as a symbol of the acceptance of Love, regardless of the form that it comes in. I hope that, by being there on Monday, my presence brings comfort or reassurance to those for whom Pride is not just a time of good tunes and flashy colours but, instead, is a declaration of the validity of their life choices in a world that still, to this day, often retreats into the comfort of things familiar and safe. The world is not yet a safe place for everyone who follows their heart down a different path but, hopefully, on Monday, Cobourg’ s own Pride crosswalk will, literally, be a step in the right direction.

Love is Love is Love. Always and forever.

Love, Mr. MacInnes