Remembering Jan Palach

jan_palach_foto_z_průkazu50 years ago today, on January 16, 1969, Jan Palach, a 20-year-old university student in Prague, set himself on fire in Wenceslas Square. His suicide by self-immolation was not only a protest against the Soviet Union’s invasion of Czechoslovakia the previous summer, but more immediately at the time, it was a cry to awaken the Czech people from their apathy, post invasion. (The Soviet invasion of 1/2 million troops in 1968 was to squelch the “Prague Spring,” a movement that had been growing to secure some freedoms of speech, travel and the media.) Palach believed that the people had become complacent with the occupation and no longer had the will to resist.

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Site in Wenceslas Square that is a memorial

Although Palac was hailed as a hero (some 200,000 people attended his funeral), and his death sparked further protests, the occupation was quite effective at silencing the people. But he was not forgotten, nor was his death in vain. 20 years later, on January 15, 1989, a new protest movement brought demonstrators to Wenceslas Square to commemorate Palach’s sacrifice to the cause of freedom. They came every day for a week, which later became known as “Palach Week.”

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Palach’s funeral march: photo courtesy of Praha T.V. archive

 

If you know your history, you will recall that by the end of that same year, in November 1989, all of the resistance energy that had been building across the country, culminated in a massive occupation of Wenceslas Square, this time by the Czech people themselves. Their Velvet Revolution brought down a Soviet controlled government and ushered in their first democratically elected post-war president.

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Photo courtesy of Prague Daily Monitor

I wish I had been there. I can only imagine the electric thrill of people realizing their freedom for the first time. Oh, if only Jan Palach could have been there to see it!  His sacrifice to sting the conscience of his people, reminded me that our freedoms are not a guarantee. We must be vigilant to protect them. They can be taken away, and they can disappear in the most insidious way possible, chipped away at little by little while we are “asleep.” Usurping of our freedoms cannot be checked or changed if we are apathetic.

Honestly, I cannot begin to imagine doing what Jan Palach did for the sake of my beliefs but history has proven that his actions were instrumental to a greater good than his own. Today all across the Czech Republic he is being honored and remembered through exhibitions, programs and ceremonies and by a candlelight march at 6:00 p.m. from Wenceslas Square to Old Town Square. As Americans who say we value our freedom, we would be good to pause and remember him too.

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Palach’s memorial Wenceslas Square: photo courtesy Praha T.V.

Soon

My last post, “When Time Stands Still,” about the difference between perceived time and real-time, prompted Reader, Marie-Claire to share with me her brilliant poem entitled “Soon.” It speaks to our very human ambivalence regarding time, and I’m delighted to share it below.

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by Marie-Claire Lander

Soon, but no sooner,
As soon as we can.
We’re trying our best.
Sorry for the delays.

Soon teeters on the brink of now…
And retreats once more
Into the past and future
Soon, a broken chain link of promises…

For some soon is never enough

But for others, soon half rhymes with doom.

Soon is a ball you want to kick forever
Forward, as long as you can
As hard as you can
As far as you can.

Nobody wants to hear the diagnostic,
The prognosis, the uncertainty.
Soon is always too soon.
And later becomes a cherished word. 

And so it goes.
We bargain with time,
Plead, cajole it into action
Or inaction.

Soon,
Is a balloon
Floating,
Hovering in wishful skies.kyle-hinkson-498968-unsplash

A native of Anjou, France, Mrs. Lander received her Bachelor of Arts in English from the Université Catholique de l’Ouest. Her sense of adventure led her to New Zealand where she studied at Auckland Teachers College and began teaching French in high schools. It was while in New Zealand, that her first poems were published in the University Journal.
She now resides with her husband Hal in Wilmington, NC where she continues to pursue her life long passions of poetry, nature photography, and French translation.

All poetry copyright Marie-Claire Lander 2018. All rights reserved.

 

 

When Time Stands Still

photo-1501139083538-0139583c060fWhere did the time go? Everyone asks this question as we contemplate the expiring year and the emerging new one. Especially as we get older, we shake our heads in disbelief that another year has passed. But today I want to talk about the opposite feeling- the feeling that time is standing still. That feeling when the hours, days and weeks seem to drag by. Have you ever had periods in your life when you felt just like that?

A week or two before Christmas I found myself standing in a long line at the post office in order to mail a package. When I took my place at the back of the line I was just barely inside the door. Ahead of me stood the many disgruntled postal patrons whose body language telegraphed their irritation and frustration about the interminably long wait. But were they correct in their assumptions?63573912516014049828182771_long

I too used to enter the post office, see the long line, and feel my mood sink in a kind of despair over the anticipated wait. In that moment I would experience a sudden suspension of time. But one day I decided to “test” that reality and time my actual wait. This I did on numerous occasions, and always I was surprised by how short the wait was. I found that there was a big gap between my perceived wait time and my actual wait time. I had to confess that my perception was actually based not in reality but in a preconceived idea about postal lines. In spite of all the people in line with all their packages and envelopes, the line moved surprisingly quickly.

photo-1518729371765-043e54eb5674This little anecdote has a parallel to another perceived passage of time that I’m experiencing right now. As I prepare and plan to make my move to teach overseas, the waiting seems interminably slow. Will it ever happen I wonder? Time seems to be standing still or at best inching forward toward a day of departure that can be marked on a calendar. Again and again a sense of anxious impatience rises within me that needs a reality check.

Although I can’t calculate my wait time in minutes as at the post office, I need to put this waiting period in proper perspective so as to minimize my discouragement. The best way to do that I’ve found is two-fold. First of all I look back at all that I’ve accomplished since making the determination to move. By volunteer teaching I have gained 11 months of classroom teaching experience and have created numerous lesson plans that I can use in a future classroom. I also completed my TEFL certification and created a new targeted resume. I started studying Czech with materials sent to me by my cousin in Prague and she and I Skype every two weeks. photo-1518975775530-f4dcbbee9672

The second thing I do is look ahead and make a list of all the things that will have to be put in place in order to go. It is a very long list: research potential employers, make preliminary contact with those employers, sell my house, put furniture in storage, buy a new laptop, arrange for banking, phone service etc. etc. etc. Contemplating this list is sobering and makes the waiting time seem very short indeed. 

Please don’t imagine that I’ve only had to process through this cycle only once. I do it on a regular basis and each time that I regain clarity on my perspective I realize that things will unfold as they are meant to unfold. I cannot speed up or slow down time. I can only put one foot in front of the other, tackle the task at hand and believe that eventually I’ll be at the front of the line.photo-1528387810833-7b46bb8e8778

Dear Readers: Are you in a place of impatience for something to begin (or end) in your life? Was there a period of time in your life when waiting made the time stand still? How did you get through it? Please share in the comments.

A Renaissance Woman

“You know if you are born a Renaissance Woman, or have met a Renaissance Woman, because: You/She can mix the knowledge of what is considered disparate spheres into a new whole…”    _____ Urban Dictionary

UnknownHave you ever asked yourself the question, “What’s wrong with me?” I have. Usually I ask it while reflecting on something really dumb or unkind that I’ve thought, done or said. But there are also times when I ponder this question when comparing myself to other people. In particular, their career path compared to mine. How my jobs seem to have randomly wandered from field to field while other peoples’ seem to have been targeted toward a known end and stayed the course. 

This self-doubt resurfaced recently while preparing my resume for potential English teaching jobs. For those of you who have been following me, you know that I am hoping to teach in the Czech Republic sometime next year, now that I have my TEFL certification. Until that day comes, I hope to land a job teaching online starting the first of the year, this, in addition to my volunteer teaching at the Literacy Council. 

GW145H209Just as in the past, when I got my resume all organized and looked it over, I saw this meandering, very nonlinear work history that made me pause and say “What’s wrong with me?”  How I envy those people who I imagine to have always known what they wanted to do and where they wanted to go, and so, have very linear, logically progressing work histories! “Why can’t I be like everyone else,” I wonder?

In a world that tends to reward and more readily validate those who have climbed a logically progressing career ladder with aplomb, its easy to feel like you’ve missed the boat or failed somehow if your career path looks more like mine- a sailboat tacking across a tempestuous sea. After-all I have been a travel agent, environmental educator, musician/song-writer, legal assistant, and hospital chaplain, just to name a few.

imagesBut I’ve learned, (and truthfully, I’m still learning,) to embrace this uniqueness about myself. To see it as an asset and not a liability. To not ask, “what’s wrong with me?” but instead, “what’s right?” I have always been driven to explore, inquire, and learn in many fields, which has led me to multiple proficiencies. This is who I am, a Renaissance Woman. 

The better question to ask now is, “how can I use this to my advantage?” Quite honestly, I can hardly imagine a better field than teaching to bring a broad base of knowledge to bear. Maybe not having a specific trajectory has allowed me to arrive at this moment in time. Maybe now I’ll have the opportunity to coalesce my “disparate spheres” into a greater whole to the benefit of my current students and to my potential future ones. I’m hoping that employers will feel the same way as I move forward with my dream.

Dear Readers: Are you a Renaissance man or woman? Have you ever struggled with a similar view of your life’s path and wondered what it all meant? How have you, or haven’t you reconciled yourself to it? Please feel free to share.

Leaving Home

Photo by Mantas Hesthaven on UnsplashThe essence of leaving home is change. Change brings the excitement of new adventure as well as fear of the unknown and the unfamiliar. As children going away to camp, or as young adults going off to college, many of us have felt the temporary, but very real pangs of homesickness. Those times when loss of the familiar feels like a trap door has opened beneath our feet. But eventually we embrace leaving as a part of natural growth.

Photo by Nils Nedel on UnsplashAnd then something happens over time. We work hard to create a comfortable world around us that is to our liking; our home, friends, activities, the work we do- they all become part of a rhythm of days that flows like a well-worn river bed. Life becomes more complicated too, and entangled with responsibilities. No longer can we simply “pack up and go.” Sometimes there is so much effort involved in getting away that we simply don’t. Pretty soon complacency begets inertia. And once again, we find that leaving home is not so easy to do for a whole new set of reasons.Photo by Erik Odiin on Unsplash

As I contemplate moving to Prague, I wonder if I will be able to leave home when the time comes. The immensity of leaving all that is comfortable and familiar to me; my great little house, my routine, my senior pets, for a place that is entirely foreign sometimes overwhelms me. How will it all get sorted out? Physical aging too has shown me just how easy it is to succumb to inertia. It brings new meaning to the law of physics that states “a body at rest, tends to stay at rest.”

I assure you that my decision to go has not been taken lightly. I believe that acknowledging doubts and fears is not a defeatist attitude, it’s just being honest. Even with all the uncertainty and complications known, and yet to be discovered, I’m still going to continue to work toward my goal in the coming year- because, of one thing I am certain. Just like exercising your body to keep it able to exercise, change is a muscle that must be flexed in order to keep it loose and limber. Remaining flexible and open to change are what keep us young as we age. Leaving home and moving overseas to an unfamiliar place is a big and scary thing, but oh, the possibilities!Photo by Josh Couch on Unsplash

Dear Readers: Have you experienced the inertia of complaceny? Resistance to change? Maybe it was a time when you too were leaving the familiarity of home. How did you, or are you dealing with your fear? Please share.

 

 

 

 

Sometimes a Door Opens…..

Sometimes a door opens in front of you that you did not anticipate, but seems so right to walk through. That is exactly what happened to me in January. I went to an informational workshop at The Literacy Council to learn about volunteer opportunities. While there, I was invited to take part in their one week English as a Second Language (ESL) program that was starting the next day. I took the training and by February I was teaching the advanced class two mornings a week.BEST

I knew immediately that the job was a perfect fit. My students are a joy, and I love helping them to progress and be successful. My own success as their teacher led me to complete a certification course this past summer that will allow me to teach English overseas. 

What began as a desire to volunteer, opened a door onto a new path that has the potential to lead me into a whole new world of experience. But isn’t that the way it is most of the time when we volunteer? We come willing to give and to help others, and yet we seem to be the ones who benefit the most. We walk away with a full heart, amazed at all we’ve been given.

Dear Readers, Has this ever happened to you? Please share about a volunteer experience in which you gained as much as you gave.

New Beginnings- Taking Chances

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“For our country- we endure to the end”

OCTOBER 18, 1918- OCTOBER 28, 2018

Today marks the 100th birthday of Czechoslovakia. On October 28, 1918, after centuries of oppression under Austro-Hungarian rule, the Czech people realized their dream of freedom and self-governance.  Although other dictatorial rulers tried to squash their independence, (Nazis from 1939-1945 and the Soviets from 1945-1992), the Czech people and their spirit have risen above every obstacle. Centennial celebrations have been occurring throughout the year, culminating in this weekend’s events which include parades, fireworks, and an open air concert by the Czech Philharmonic. IMG_0091

This seems an appropriate moment to share with you, faithful readers, that I too am embarking on a new beginning. The Bohemian Freethinker is making preparations with the hope of moving to Prague, where I will teach English for a year. My anticipated departure is in the summer of 2019, to begin their school term in September.IMG_0089

It is not too common for someone 59 years old to uproot and move to a foreign country, and it will certainly not be a “walk in the park” to do so. But I am going to give it my best shot and I will be journaling my experiences along the route over the next year. My hope is that if there is anyone out there reading this who thinks it is too late to try to make a dream a reality- please, think again. It is never too late to become the person you were meant to be. 

p.s. Dear Readers, what new beginnings have you embarked upon lately? Please share in the comments!

 

Swing to the Jazz of Spring

With Spring just arrived, and in honor of National Poetry Month, The BohemianFreethinker is delighted to introduce Wilmington poet and photographer Marie-Claire Lander, and to share with you a selection of her previously unpublished poems and photos.

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Swing to the Jazz of Spring

Rouge, blush, orange…
Tousled petals
Jostle in the breeze
Cheek to cheek.

Swing to the jazz
Of spring, heads bowed
To the rhythm of the wind,
Tulips dance, lanky and tall.

Crowned heads will soon shed
Their lipstick red,
Gushing yellow,
Brazen pink, and pious purple…

But for now
They can rest easy
On their green sepals,
Pedestal of spring

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First in Bloom

Ah, the honor
Of being first
To bloom!
The first splash
Of blush
In the whole drab world.
Cleome Hassleriana,
Can I call you Spider Flower?

Your sisters will join you soon,
But for now, you swoon
And caress the air
With your smug pink corolla
Just because…
You know that only the first
Bloom counts,
Like the first kiss
Of spring.

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Petal Alphabet

I don’t speak daffodils
Or dogwood.
I’ve never learned
The petal alphabet.

Would it go something like this?
Azaleas
Blooms
Chrysalis
Daffodils
Elderflowers
Fields
Garnered
Hills
Jasmine
Kniphofia
Lantana
Magnolia…
All the way to…
Zinnia, Elegant Liliput Mix.

I am not fluent by any means
But I speak bud a little,
Blossom occasionally,
Delight, always.

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Heron

Still,
In the presence of the wind,
Cold
But stoic.
Life as a heron
Is heroic.
When the only defense
Is mere fluff and feathers,
A passive wait is the only way.
Still,
You remain,
Let the air ruffle you at will
As if it didn’t matter,
As if warmth came
From a wisp of hope
And wishful thoughts.
Still,
You remain tranquil
For so long the wind winds down
to the occasional ripple
and deserts the creek.
The taunting is over.
Still,
You stand your muddy ground,
One stalk-like leg steeped in muck,
The other tucked in.
Acrobatic feat,
Singular triangle-like stance,
A balancing act
Stilled to perfection.

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Airlie Gardens, Wilmington, NC

A native of Anjou, France, Mrs. Lander received her Bachelor of Arts in English from the Université Catholique de l’Ouest. Her sense of adventure led her to New Zealand where she studied at Auckland Teachers College and began teaching French in high schools. It was while in New Zealand, that her first poems were published in the University Journal.
She now resides with her husband Hal in Wilmington, NC where she continues to pursue her life long passions of poetry, nature photography, and French translation.

All photography and poetry copyright Marie-Claire Lander 2018. All rights reserved.

 

 

 

 

Beware The Assassin

Beware the Assassination of Your Dreams!
“Beware the Ides of March” was good advice once, though it fell on the deaf ears of the unsuspecting Julius Caesar that fateful March day in 44 BC. Of course we all know, (either from history books or movies,) what those words were to portend; the assassination of Caesar by members of the Roman Senate. In Caesar’s defense however, the warning he received was from an unreliable source, and was rather vague in detail, and therefore, difficult to act upon.512px-Vincenzo_Camuccini_-_La_morte_di_Cesare

Consider first of all that there was nothing inherently sinister about the Ides of March. The ancient Romans followed a lunar calendar. Like the Nones and the Kalends, the Ides were simply markers in the month that corresponded to phases of the moon. The Ides marked the full moon which fell in the middle of the month, specifically the 15th during the months of March, May, July, and October. The Nones marked the 5th or 7th, and the Kalends the 1st of the following month.

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Photo by Gianni Zanato on Unsplash

Now consider what we know of the source. According to the Greek biographer, Plutarch, (who later became a Roman citizen,) these cryptic words of warning were spoken by a soothsayer whom Caesar passed on his way to the Forum on the Ides of March. The account is recorded in Plutarch’s “Life of Caesar” from his Parallel Lives anthology written sometime in the early 2nd century AD. It must be remembered that in ancient times, factual history was often altered and embellished to suit a writer’s purpose of moralizing, or creating a more engaging story.Brutus_Eid_Mar

Accurate or no, Parallel Lives influenced and informed the writing of numerous authors for centuries to come, perhaps most notably, the writings of William Shakespeare. It is his play, “Julius Caesar,” that immortalized the expression “Beware the Ides of March” and so put it on the lips of people everywhere ever since. It soon fell into the vernacular as a kind of nonspecific ominous warning about an equally nonspecific threat that people still speak today whether they know of its origin or not.

This got me thinking. Is Caesar’s warning good advice today? Might we benefit from the advantage of hindsight that Caesar did not have? Do we have cause to “Beware the Assassin?”

When I think about my own life as a writer and musician, I realize that I sometimes play the role of assassin to my creative ambition. I do this primarily by listening to various lies about my abilities and by comparing myself to others. Nothing kills motivation faster than pondering the mind-boggling number of talented writers and musicians who already exist, and then imagining that I have anything worthwhile to contribute to this cacophony of voices already over-taxing the ears of the world. I mean, honestly, what could I possibly add?

Luckily, before I stab my creativity to death, I usually remember the truth that this kind of thinking is a lie. As a unique individual I have something original to say that only I can say. My job is to be busy about doing the work knowing that with every word written, every note explored, I am strengthening and validating my voice. I am compelled to create regardless of any reward or notoriety for doing so.green-chameleon-21532-unsplash

While it is highly unlikely that anyone reading this will be a target of assassination, it is possible that you yourself are playing the role of assassin to your own dreams.  Listening to lies that you aren’t talented enough or that you are too old to follow your dreams will surely wield the mortal blow to that creative part of your soul. Instead, why not heed the warning that circulates on this day and unlike the hapless Caesar be on the lookout for anyone or anything that is conspiring to destroy what is uniquely you, and go another way.

 

 

A Thing of Beauty

Confucious said:

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Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash

“Please select a photo from the magazine that you think is beautiful and then write a paragraph, in English, explaining why it’s beautiful to you.” That was the assignment I gave my advanced ESOL (English as a Second/Other Language) class during our one and a half hours together on a recent Tuesday morning. We had been exploring the broad topics of health and beauty for several weeks. In the previous class I had taught a vocabulary building lesson on the many synonyms for the word beautiful, such as captivating, stunning, and alluring. I explained the more finely nuanced connotations evoked by the use of these alternative adjectives to help them better convey a more precise emotion.

“Beauty is not caused. It is.”—-Emily Dickinson

And so they got busy with heads bent, as they thumbed through the magazines and began to write. After sufficient time, I went around the room asking each student to show the class the picture they had selected and to share what they had written. As you might expect, their selections were quite diverse, reflective of beauty’s many incarnations: a water garden, a mother fox with her kits, Olympic athletes, a kitchen interior, a gold watch, the ocean, a turned wooden bowl, a plate of pasta, the hand of a small child in the secure clasp of a grandparent’s aged hand.

“Youth is happy because it has the capacity to see beauty. Anyone who keeps the ability to see beauty never grows old.”—- Franz Kafka

Likewise, their responses revealed the many factors that combine to create a definition of beauty, unique to the eye of each beholder: emotions, memories, and the senses. The kitchen and the food recalled the warmth of fellowship with family and friends around the table. The athletes exemplified noble attributes of character like courage and humility as well as awe at the grace and agility of the human body. The water garden and the ocean spoke to their hearts’ yearning for peace, tranquility, and union with nature.

“The best and most beautiful things in the world cannot be seen or even touched. They must be felt with the heart.”  —-  Helen Keller

We all agreed that there are as many dimensions to beauty as there are words to describe it. What we found universal is the joy and appreciation that come from noticing the beauty that surrounds us in everyday life. For me, as their teacher, my students are a thing of beauty. Each week a group of ten to thirteen adults gather together, representing almost as many different countries, all with the same desire and commitment to learn English. In each class I am in awe of their fearlessness. It is no small thing to struggle publicly to find the right words to express your feelings in a foreign language. But this they do, always striving to improve. Not just trying to get by, but to excel. And that is a very beautiful thing indeed.

“Dwell on the beauty of life. Watch the stars, and see yourself running with them.”—– Marcus Aurelius 

Dear Readers, What is a thing of beauty to you? Please share!