Though I didn't know exactly what to expect, it was a wonderful opportunity to be invited to speak at Barnes & Noble Book Store on the topic of homeschooling. I was pleasantly surprised to see a large poster with the enlarged cover of my book HOMESCHOOLING: A PATCHWORK OF DAYS, my name, the date and the message "signing and discussion." I have been to many talks, readings and discussions there and knew that I would be speaking next to the children's section, a very familiar and comfortable place for me to be. The coordinator and I had had some interesting and inspirational discussions about homeschooling and how we could build a bridge between homeschoolers and the book store to benefit us all. After all, we are good library people, so why would we make good book store people? We would start off with my talk that night.
I came in early to meet her, set up, and find a place to store my coat with its pockets full of change, two one dollar bills, rubber bands, three plastic kittens, a throat lozenge, keys, a stubby pencil and wrinkled up pad of paper. Items too valuable to leave just anywhere! She then showed me the area, all set up with a table to display various other homeschool books, some of my books, the hand out information I had brought and a cup of water which I hoped I wouldn't need. There was also a microphone, which definitely gave an appearance of importance I wasn't sure I liked.
With my nesting instincts, I had brought the quilt along that is featured on the cover of my book where each family designed their own unique patch as part of the quilt. We covered over a free-standing display and rolled it next to the table. I duly noted the dozen metal folding chairs set up in front of the table and microphone. In a flash, I decided to place on each chair a copy of Pennsylvania Homeschoolers newsletter, a homeschool order form, and a pretty pink sheet I'd put together for those thinking of getting started in homeschooling and various Internet sites to visit. No cushions or curtains, but hey . . . . Then I took the stack of my books that were neatly piled on the front table and placed them on the chairs, thinking my visitors were probably used to having books on their chairs and would appreciate having a chance to peruse them and see what was really in them.
By now, my 7:30 pm starting time was approaching and a few people were beginning to appear. Among those first visitors were some I knew already and was glad to see. I was standing off to the side, wondering whether I would be introduced or not. While waiting, several more people came and most of them brought their children. Rapidly, the chairs were filled. I suggested that the young children might enjoy sitting at the children's table behind me to look at books during the talk.
I saw the coordinator counting the number of people now pouring in as she began pulling over chairs from all corners of the store. She also mentioned that they usually discouraged children from sitting at the little table when speakers were scheduled, as speakers found it rather distracting and hard to concentrate. I laughed. No problem for a homeschooling mom, I said, I won't even NOTICE them. I'm used to working with all sorts of noise and children's activities going on all around me. After all, how do you think I worked on the book??? She agreed, as books were being pulled off the shelves by eager little hands.
At 7:30, it was time to just jump in and start. Now, that I think of it, I don't even recall if I mentioned my name or the name of my book! I did notice that I'd forgotten the short list of notes of topics I might want to cover. Oh, well, if you know me or have read my chapter in the book, you will know that organization it not one of my best assets!
I started by relating people's responses when they find out that we homeschool: 1. open mouth with quiet stare. 2. Oh, I know a neighbor's aunt whose cousin homeschools her children. 3. How can you stand being home with your children all day? 4. Well, it sounds like a good idea, but my children would never listen to me. 5. You're brave and I'm not. 6. (And this is my favorite one . . .) Well, if your children don't go to school, how do they get sick? I could see heads nodding with knowing smiles. It turned out that about half of the crowd was already homeschooling and had traveled from all parts of the city. The others were thinking of homeschooling or curious about what it entailed. It was a sea of friendly, caring faces--comfortable.
By now we were off and running. The talk went well, covered many aspects of homeschooling and parenting, I read a few excerpts from my book and answered lots of very good and thoughtful questions. But the thing that amazed me most was not so much the discussion, but how CHANGED the book store seemed--it had become very different from it's rather fluorescent atmosphere and had taken on a warm glow. There were well over fifty people, so obviously not enough chairs could be found and parents and children sat casually scattered on the floor. Coats were on the backs of chairs, piled on the floor, hanging on the edge of bookshelves. Older children sat or stood, quietly listening and answering some questions themselves. Smaller children were reading away and looking at the picture books behind me at the table and seated all over the floor (after all, there were only four little chairs for about fifteen small children). Toddlers sat on laps, babies were bundled up in slings or wrapped in arms, some being gently swayed back and forth by parents who have forgotten how to stand still anyway with a babe in arms. While to some order had become chaos, to me, a store had become a home.
After a fleeting hour and a half, it seemed time to close the discussion. Unlike most other talks I have been to at various book stores, universities, museums, etc, where people get up, put on coats and leave afterward, families stayed around (still sitting in small groups on the floor) talking to each other, sharing information and phone numbers. The homeschoolers and maybe-homeschoolers found each other and made connections.The children kept on reading, with the older children answering questions and overseeing the younger children. As everyone finally strolled out at about 9:45 pm, the coordinator that slight look somewhere between consternation and surprise. I asked her if all the people taking up so much space had been an obstruction. No. Had the children in the children's section been a noisy.? No. Had the fact that I'd passed out all the books made it difficult to keep track of them? No. Was the presence of several babies distracting? No, but here's a pacifier someone left behind. She was surprised at the turnout. She was amazed at how well behaved and quiet ALL the children were. She was pleased at how smoothly we all functioned together as a large group. She was happy that her manager saw the fruitful efforts of her planning. Most of all, though, what really bewildered her was that ALL THE BUNCHES OF CHILDREN'S BOOKS HAD BEEN PUT BACK PROPERLY ON THE SHELVES!!! Surprise. Children don't usually put away the books, she told me.
It really heartened me and warmed me to see this home-like feel in the book store. I was grateful that Barnes & Noble extended itself to host a homeschool discussion and to open the door to future events or activities for homeschooling families. I was pleased that they agreed extend their 20% teacher's discount to homeschooling families who turned in a copy of their affidavit I suggest that you inquire at your local book store for a similar discount arrangement. It has been very useful to my family over the years and several book stores have honored the request. The coordinator and I have even spoken about a book club for older children, topic-related talks accompanied by an assortment of relevant books, or even some workshops. That will all evolve as we build our relationship.
I know that I am not the first homeschooling parent to ever speak at a book store, nor will I be the last, but I'd like to encourage the rest of you to think about offering to speak at your local book store. I think families are curious to hear about any topic concerning homeschooling and perhaps you would suggest that they stock several books you'll be recommending to your audience for purchase and have them "at the table" with you. After all, they do wish to sell books and who are better readers than homeschoolers? I think that the more we have WELL-BEHAVED, interested, friendly groups of homeschoolers integrated into business and the community, more opportunities and liaisons will be formed, improving homeschooling for all of us.
How forgetful I can be. I forget to turn off the oven, to get milk when that's what I went grocery shopping for in the first place, to wish my mother- and father-in-law happy anniversary. I forget to notice the fierce determination of my child to grow stronger while he is trying my patience. I forget to love my husband to the very depth of our binding relationship and forgive small injustices. I forget God.
Lately, I have been doing some very important personal remembering, though. With God's fine grace, I have been putting aside very long-lasting remnants of being cheated of enough love in my life, of having made unthoughtful decisions, of inadequacies and shameful deeds, and feelings of loneliness in the Temple of God--and have recently realized that I have begun replacing them with remembering. I go to my husband, put my arms around him and whisper that I remember with delight our most intimate moments. I look at my children and remember that a warm hug is always welcome in their gentle hearts. I remember that I am not the one who needs to correct all the little misdeeds in life. I remember to pray and, most of all, I have begun to really remember that it is God who is in the center of my life and that I cannot begin to give Him enough praise for the struggles he has brought to strengthen me.
Since this is my first real reading of Deuteronomy, I had a lot to learn, think about and absorb. Deuteronomy, as a whole, reminds me of all the goodness that has come my way, and I realize that each bit of it has come through the process of often intense struggle. I think that the bulk of Deuteronomy is aimed to remind us to keep up the struggle to remember God. Not just to remember, but to struggle to remember. I think that our daily doubts, resistance, obstinance and downright rebelliousness is linked to that struggle that is inherent in working out any intimate relationship, whether with another person or with God. How can we truly know our spouse if we do not rub against sore spots, reveal our anger and shame, and make amends to heal and strengthen our capacity to love. Our relationship with the Lord must also be made stronger and more binding through the powers of struggle and reconciliation. Moses tells us that God wants us to remember Him and the covenant vows He had made with us. That's all. But how can I, who forgets to buy milk, keep focused on the most awesome Presence without the struggle of forgetting. Over and over, we are told "do not forget" or you will lose Me. Even those who traversed the deserts from Egypt couldn't remember. Those who actually saw and heard God, forgot. God tells us to remember Him everywhere with all our heart, soul and strength, when we walk, lie down, go grocery shopping, clean the kitchen, teach patience to an impatient child, and when we doubt. Love Him. Love each other. Just remember!
I often believe that God sends us angels as His messengers for this struggle: my neighbor who plays loud music, an acquaintance with an irritating whistle, my friend who is dying of cancer, the stranger I find myself smiling at; they all give me the opportunity to remember God. Reading Deuteronomy reminded me that the first thing God gave us was free choice. Choices: having to make hard decisions often makes us uncomfortable and hateful toward God. Why can't He just tell us what to do, how to love deeply, to be thoughtful and helpful, to live right? The act of having to make confusing choices can make us hate God for allowing us ambivalences and makes us want to forget Him in this uncertain and unjust world. We would rather be consoled and distracted from our discomforts than struggle to remember.
But God implores us over and over that He will fondly welcome us each time we remember to come back to Him. It is a welcome fit for Kings. When we feel God's great sorrow at our forgetfulness, and are lucky enough to be caught in the act of our own willfulness, shame and terror, we can only feel stunned at our inability to act alone in life. Once stunned into that quiet moment of terrible awareness, we can open our heart to His presence and once again remember. For God has put a small, deeply deserving desire to remember Him in our heart and soul that cannot be extinguished or changed. Every time I coldly suffer to forget Him, or act out the lukewarm falsities of life, He pulls me from cool indifference and icy rebellion to the great warmth of His heart. He wants my heart and I cannot escape Him. How much clearer can Moses's message in Deuteronomy be? Do not forget Me. Remember Me and I will be yours always. Forget me and you will be lost. This is something to fear, to long for and to remember.
January 31, 1997
Dear Mr. Charles R. Darwin, IV,
You won't know me but I felt I really must write you. You see, I was going through my great grandfather's belongings in the attic last week before painting our family home. There, I found in a dusty and dark corner, his trunk that was filled with old military uniforms and items, documents and letters. Between two well-worn and treasured books of his, mingled in with letters to my great-grandmother Grace, I came across an unusual and surprising find. Within crumpled and yellowed envelopes were two letters-- one a draft from my great grandfather Edward to a Mr. Charles Robert Darwin and also the reply!! There is discussion between my great-grandfather and yours about the process and the theories of evolution. I am somewhat doubtful of their authenticity as there are no other letters in what seemed to be a close relationship.
After reading them and thinking about them during this past week, I feel compelled to write you. I am sending this letter to the address listed on the century old envelope in hopes of finding you still at your ancestral home or hoping the letter will be forwarded to you.
Enclosed, please find the letters and inform me if they are indeed authentic and if your are the great-grandson of one of the greatest scientists ever, Charles Robert Darwin.
Mr. Ezra M. Lande
6 March, 1860
My dear friend Charles,
I was so happy to receive the carved ivory pipe you sent in thanks for the carriage wheel I fixed for you which unexpectedly split apart during your last visit to our home. It was my pleasure and I truly enjoyed taking tea with your lovely wife, Emma, and yourself.
While taking a stroll on my grounds earlier this forenoon, I got to thinking about your newly published book, The Origin of the Species that you so thoughtfully gave to me and I read this past week. Although I was engrossed by your ideas, I truly must confess that I don't know what to think! After all, I have learned all my life in Church, schooling and otherwise that it was our good Lord who created us in a unique manner as it is said in the Bible: "Let us make man in our image, in our likeness..." Gn 1:26. There can be no question, therefore, that man is very much different from that of the animal kingdom and not merely something that developed gradually from other life forms by some ungodly process of natural selection. The people in this fine and religious town are having quite some trouble accepting your ideas and, I must admit, I too am having uncertainties.. I can truly say that the many religious people in this world will not take your theories lightly but perhaps more like an insult to the human race. Did you really mean to imply that we humans are no better than common plants or animals?
Your voyage on the H. M. S Beagle must have been quite an unusual one indeed. You mention that tortoises, lizards, and finches differed slightly, but noticeably, from island to island. You thought that the varying population of the species on the islands was forceful evidence of biological differences. I must say, my dear friend, that this scientific explanation is blasphemy in light of the six day progression of Creation. You must be careful and take caution for your well-being! Are you not afraid that religious leaders will turn against you and that the people will shun you for saying that God did not determine the exactness of His very own little creations? You also mentioned that gardeners and farmers often develop special kinds of plants and animals by selecting and breeding organisms that have the traits they want to keep. Then you said that you believe that a similar kind of selective process takes place in nature. You called this process "natural selection" and I have heard my countrymen also calling it the "survival of the fittest." Again, my friend, I think very possibly that you are going against what is written in the Good Book. After all, God has His plan for each of us, doesn't He?
I suppose you know that many people think that you have implied that human beings have descended from monkeys and they are angrily criticizing your revolutionary ideas. Perhaps these confounded theories and the facts that support them will give biologists new insights into the origin of living things and the relationship of various species, but I feel that public outcry will destroy your every thought. The entire public is talking, arguing, reading, and exploring your unusual ideas. It has been several months now and there is still no quieting of the intellectual arousal of our good citizens.
Please, dear friend, let me know that you are safe and rethinking your far-fetched ideas. I hope that you and lovely Emma will take tea with Grace and me soon, if it suits your liberty and inclination.
Your sincere and caring friend,
Edward C. Lande
25 September, 1860
My Kind Friend Ezra,
It has taken me quite some time to respond to your thoughtful letter of February last. Though my ideas are new to you and our fellow citizens, I have had leisure to ponder my findings for twenty-three years before setting them before society. I feared for my career and rank in life and was unsure whether to take the dangerous steps in doing so. However, I felt it my duty to lay out my discoveries and scientific journals for the public to discuss. Though you are highly distressed over the disagreements between our religious friends and those few scientists (such as Mr. Thomas H. Huxley and Alfred R. Wallace) who are willing to accept and work with my theories), I am quite heartened by the intellectual arousal throughout the country. It is my hope for both the clergy and the scientists, to have a productive dialog and to see that my recent discoveries do not necessarily contradict our religious beliefs. I, however, shall refrain from entering such discussions myself as I do not want to become involved in the struggle for power among social classes.
While I do not want to join in the public discussions on these issues, I feel that I owe it to you as a dear friend to confide some of my musings on these controversial issues. Let me start out by saying that my theory of natural selection does not question God the Creator. I have just reported to the great public of a mechanism that I have found, but not the origin of the mechanism. Who are we to say that God cannot create in any way that He chooses? I know that my claim of gradual and constant change seems to some to contradict the Bible, but this is not necessarily so. In the Bible, God created vegetation on the third day, "Every living and moving thing" on the fifth day, and livestock, wild animals, and man on the sixth day. How are we to know how long each day was in the time that our great Lord created the earth, the sky, and everything in it? Who is to say that a day in the bible is not a million years for those us us now living in this nineteenth century?
But, in truth, my dear friend, I too am bothered by implications of my theory. For, in my claim that life must change in order to keep surviving in a changing world, I have indeed discovered that random variation among species occurs and, that in a struggle for existence, the most adapted individuals survive so as to pass on their own characteristics. What leaves me most troubled is my realization that as grand as man is, his very existence may just only be a matter of chance. How I can reconcile this with "crowned him with glory and honor" Ps 8:5, I do not know. I, as well, must continue my intellectual search for the implications of my own theories!
I hope you will have the heart to keep our friendship solid, as Emma and I have deeply valued your company and forthrightness. We therefore hope to accept your invitation to tea in the near future. Emma sends her greeting to Grace and we both hope to find you in good health and spirit.
Your everlasting friend,
Charles R. Darwin
February 2, 1997
Thank you kindly for the letters that you have sent to me to read that were long hidden in your attic. It is a funny thing because about two years ago, as we were packing the last of our bags to move to a new (and I might add) splendid house, I found some letters from the later years between our great-grandfathers!! Indeed, they are authentic! I had been wondering if there were any living relatives of your great-grandfather and,if so, if there were any more letters to accompany the ones I have in my possession. I was about to hire a detective to determine your existence, buy my great curiosity has now been confirmed in a most surprising and timely manner.
You are probably now wondering what is contained in the later letters between our dear ancestors that I dearly treasure. Fret not, for they are mostly commenting on other books that my great grandfather later published and other aspects of the idea of evolution. There are also some more invitations back and forth about tea and carriage rides. The two families even had the privilege to vacation together on several occasions, to the great delight of all.
One interesting point that my now famous great-grandfather later made clearly known to yours was that he never used the word "evolution" except for once and that was not until his second book The Decent of Man and can be found in chapter 21. Another disheartening point was that our society so confused the meaning of "evolution" to understand it to be "progress" rather than a change of "difference," and not necessarily meaning that new species are better than the previous, just "better" adapted". After all, he reasoned to your great-grandfather, if insects are the sole survivors of a century-long heat spell, does it follow that they are better than other species, or are just more suited to the current environment surrounding them?
Also, if you have noticed, people use the words "survival of the fittest" instead of natural selection. In fact, when people say survival of the fittest, they are talking about the richest people surviving and not the poor. They are using my great grandfather's theories and turning them into a thought that God made the rich richer on purpose, and the poor poorer on purpose. You will probably recognize this notion as "social Darwinism." Human intelligence, wealth, physique, or social standing are not at all connected to the discoveries of my great-grandfather. He would be mortified to think of the Nazi era!
I feel certain that my great-grandfather would be pleased to know that his greatest contribution to society has been that his ideas are still being explored, argued, greatly researched and that the controversy has not yet been resolved even after 100 years have elapsed. He would probably be rather amused to know that much of the world has embraced his ideas, even at great peril to a united religious agreement about the creation of our great earth. He so appreciated intellectual sparring as a means of uncovering truth. I wonder if he would view the long term more recent religious/scientific battles over the controversy of abortion to be a worthwhile challenge to know truth.
Well, I presume that you would be interested to know more about our common histories and I hope to correspond with you further to discuss the letters that we have both discovered. I am desiring that our two families will some day meet and share the precious letters for a more comprehensive reading. We must think about how to preserve them and offer them to the public.Thank you again for contacting me at my ancestral home,
A grateful friend,
Chuck Darwin, 4th