I don’t get much time to watch some of the television shows that are recommended to me, but recently, because I have been working with and teaching my friend’s bright, eleven-year-old young grandson who has exceptional needs and gifts, I decided to watch a few episodes of the FOX series, “Touch” which I watched on Netflix.
The program opens each episode with the narration of a young boy who is talking about how people across the world are interconnected in ways they would never venture to guess, one man’s mistake becoming the opening of a door for another, one person’s loss carried by a friend who had just been strengthened by the letter from across the ocean that he had finally received from a long-lost friend. As the boy describes the way we touch each other’s lives, scenes of people in several parts of the world are shown. The camera pulls out, showing the several places simultaneously, and lines begin to connect them, building strand upon strand into an intricate web.
The plot of each episode revolves around this hyper-sensitive, child (autistic in nature) who is psychically sensitive to the pain and suffering of others, often people half-way around the world. His father begins to understand that his mute child is talking to him through numbers that lead the father to be in the places and to help people who the boy has a strong feeling are in peril. A cell phone number leads to an address, to a shipping crate where illegal refugees have been hidden in a container box and are about to perish, one number leading him on a treasure-hunt of human connections.
In my own life, I have also followed a treasure-hunt of inter-connectivity, and I can see the strands of folks who have been central to me and to my journey as an environmental educator and activist.
The first treasure was my high school English teacher, Christina Bolin, who became my spiritual mentor and mother-figure friend, and who led me through the thinking, values, and insights of Henry David Thoreau’s reverence for nature, his choice to live with integrity and economy (not just for two years at Walden Pond), and for his commitment to justice through non-violent civil-disobedience.
We studied Thoreau’s On the Duty of Civil Disobedience for nearly six-weeks of the spring of my senior year in high school that 1970 when half of our English class was cutting first-period English to join Vietnam protesters at the nearby Ohio State University campus.
The nation was in an incendiary state because of the Vietnam War and because of civil rights injustices; also, environmental protection was also becoming a pressing issue. Mrs. Bolin explained that most of the delinquent students from her class were “ninnies,” not because they were joining the college protests, but because they were doing it for the wrong reasons — to get out of class and to do something that seemed exciting. Mrs. Bolin said that they really had no understanding of why they were out there protesting and that she was going to spend the
For weeks that spring, page by page, Mrs. Bolin helped deconstruct the meaning of Thoreau’s Civil Disobedience, using the Socratic method of learning through questioning us and letting us discover our own thoughts. We discussed Thoreau’s values and our own values, and we considered what he had to say, such as in the two quotations below, about our responsibilities as patriots to oppose unjust laws. She spent the rest of the semester helping us to understand Thoreau’s philosophy of nonviolent civil disobedience that had been used as a political tool by social change leaders Mahatma Gandhi and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
“Those who, while they disapprove of the character and measures of a government, yield to it their allegiance and support are undoubtedly its most conscientious supporters and so frequently the most serious obstacles to reform.”
“Unjust laws exist: shall we be content to obey them, or shall we endeavor to amend them, and obey them until we have succeeded, or shall we transgress them at once? Men generally, under such a government as this think that they ought to wait until they have persuaded the majority to alter them. They think that, if they should resist, the remedy would be worse than the evil. But it is the fault of the government itself that the remedy is worse than the evil. It makes it worse. Why is it not more apt to anticipate and provide for the reform? Why does it not cherish its wise minority? Why does it cry and resist before it is hurt? Why does it not encourage its citizens to put out its faults, and do better than it would have them? Why does it is always crucify Christ and excommunicate Copernicus and Luther, and pronounce Washington and Franklin rebels?”
The summer after my English-class immersion into the rationale behind civil disobedience, I spent several weeks with Mrs. Bolin and her husband, Don, at a cabin they rented in Spearfish, South Dakota. There, in the majesty of the Black Hills, I met Thoreau when I was in the stream angling for rainbow trout. I met him in the magnificent vista from the top of Bear Butte, as sacred Sioux prayer cloths flapped in the wind. I met him in the quiet of my mind on solitary hikes.
I didn’t know until nearly a decade later how I had been touched by Mrs. Bolin and Henry David Thoreau, how they had dug up my soils, how they had planted, fertilized, and watered environmental justice and pollution prevention seeds that would grow in me.
The connectivity that helped shape by life continued that fall. After being closed out of the one freshman English class I had wanted, which was an honor’s class devoted entirely to Henry David Thoreau, I met Ken Ferruccio, a graduate student working on his doctorate in English whose passion for literature mesmerized me from the start, so much so that when the professor of the Thoreau class called me two weeks into the semester to inform me that there was now an opening in his class, I had to contritely tell him that I was sorry to have bothered begging to get in his class because now I wanted to stay with my English instructor, Mr. Ken Ferruccio.
Two years later, Ken and I were married.
In tomorrow’s blog, I will further explain how our mutual connectivity led to our life’s choices, to people who would be central to these choices, people such as Vicki Wesen, who led us to Episcopal Diocese Christian Social Ministries Director, Jim Lewis, who led us to funding through Bishop Estill and Bishop Johnson that supported our work as environmental educators, activists, and watchdogs and as adamant advocates of pollution prevention through environmental justice.