A SIX-MEMBER TROUPE FROM OKC IMPROV PERFORMED at McAlester Public Library Thursday night, June 6, and wowed the crowd with an evening of improv scenes and games. Members performing were: Buck Vrazel, Clint Vrazel, Phil Geurin, Kristy Boone, Sue Ellen Reiman and Kellen Hodgeson. OKC Improv can be seen at the Broadway Theater in Oklahoma City, with more information at okcimprov.com. Buck and Clint Vrazel will return to the library Thursday, June 20 for a another free improv performance at 6:30 p.m. They will also teach a free improv workshop to anyone who wishes to participate.
COMING UP FROM UNDERGROUND to announce all the Summer Reading Program activities at McAlester Public Library are (l-r) Summer Reading Aide Laurissa Wilson, Children’s Librarian Anita Ross, Teen Librarian Erin Austin and Assistant Librarian Kathy McGilberry.
It’s Summer Reading Program time once again at McAlester Public Library.
The 2013 theme is “Underground” and in the first week alone, McAlester children, teens and adults can participate in cave painting, learn about archaeology, see “beneath your feet” live animals from the Oklahoma City Zoo and enjoy groundbreaking improv comedy from a six-person professional troupe.
All these special activities are in addition to many regularly-scheduled story times, book clubs, movie screenings, game times and classes. Calendars and catalogs at the library’s front desk have all the details.
“We hope readers of all ages will explore all things underground this summer,” said Head Librarian Christine Sauro. “It’s important for children to keep up their reading skills.”
Once again this year, free lunches will be available to anyone under age 18 Monday-Friday at noon in the Whiteacre Room, says Children’s Librarian Anita Ross. Sack lunches are provided by the Summer Food Service Program of the McAlester Public School Child Nutrition Office.
Children are urged to “Dig into Reading” with a variety of special programs each Wednesday at 10 a.m. and 1 p.m. After the big Oklahoma City Zoo kickoff shows on June 5, other children’s performances will include: Professor B. Looney, with a program about worms; a Science Safari with Susan Campbell, along with “Franklin the Corn Snake;” storyteller Michael Corley, with tales of Magic Rocks; puppeteer Joann McMillan, with stories of dragons, bats and buried treasure; Extreme Animals; Steve Crawford the “Magic Archaeologist,” asking “What’s Underfoot?”; a “Mad Science” Journey to the Center of the Earth; and a big concluding show with Native American storyteller Will Hill.
In other special children’s activities, Congressman MarkWayne Mullin will be at the library to read to children on Monday, June 10 at 10 a.m. and the annual Babysitting Workshop will be from 1-3 p.m. July 15-16 and July 18-19.
Laurissa Wilson, Summer Reading Aide, will present outreach programs at Savanna and Crowder. Children’s books for checkout, stories, activities, songs and prizes will be part of the programs. At Savanna, programs will be at 1 p.m. Mondays June 17-July 22 in the Family Living Room of Savanna Public Schools. At Crowder, programs will be at 1 p.m. Thursdays June 20-July 25, except on July 4, at the Choctaw Community Center.
The theme for teens this year is “Beneath the Surface.” Teen Librarian Erin Austin leads off summer activities with a “Cave Painting” session for teens at 2 p.m. June 5. Other activities set throughout the summer include: Teen Challenges, game times, a Steampunk Jewelry-Making session, a “Hobbit Afternoon,” cooking classes, origami classes and a big Harry Potter afternoon, complete with costume contest.
Teens can earn points for prizes and a chance to win an iPad Mini by reading and participating in programs.
“Groundbreaking Reads” is the adult theme. For adults and families, Assistant Librarian Kathy McGilberry has scheduled the first big program for “Family Fun Night,” with a presentation by the McAlester Archaeology Society Tuesday, June 4 at 6:30 p.m. in the Whiteacre Room. Presenters currently have a display in the library lobby showing artifacts taken from a Cherokee County archaeology dig. They will show more tools and artifacts in their program, titled “What Is Archaeology?”
Then on Thursday night at 6:30 p.m., a group of performers from OKC Improv will put on a big, free show in the Whiteacre Room. The touring company consists of improvisers from many separate groups, all trained in both long form scenes improv and short form games improv. During a show, they will perform scenes and games using audience suggestions and ask audience volunteers to join in the fun.
The group, which includes McAlester’s Kellen Hodgeson and Haywood’s Jacklyn Cosgrove, is now in its fourth year of performance. Two troupe members will return June 20 to teach a free improv workshop to those who register.
Other adult/family activities scheduled throughout the summer include: an Audience Participation Princess Bride event June 8, with free toys and favors for all who attend; a free five-week genealogy course taught by David Beall, Robert and Diane Pulse and George Scott; a talk from Oklahoma Geological Survey hydrogeologist Kyle Murray on Oklahoma’s water future; Southeast Oklahoma Mining History with Ron Cunningham; a talk on the Butterfield Stagecoach Line by author Lois Edington; a “living history” performance by McAlester’s Lois Phifer, portraying Harriet Tubman, Conductor of the Underground Railroad; and, in August, a performance and poetry workshop by Nathan Brown, newly-named State Poet Laureate of Oklahoma.
Throughout the entire Summer Reading Program, participants will have the opportunity to take home free reading kits, register to win prizes, including a Kindle Fire, and get familiar with the library and the many services it offers.
For more information on these or any other library program, call 918-426-0930. The library is located at 401 N. 2nd and is open Monday-Thursday 9 a.m. to 8 p.m., Friday 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. and Saturday 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Southeastern Public Library System One of 77 Organizations Nationwide to Receive ‘Big Read’ Grant
May 29, 2013 — The Southeastern Public Library System of Oklahoma (SEPLSO) today announced that it has received a grant of $13,125 to host The Big Read in all fifteen of its libraries, including the McAlester Public Library. The Big Read is a program of the National Endowment for the Arts, designed to revitalize the role of literature in American culture and to encourage citizens to read for pleasure and enlightenment. The Big Read is managed by Arts Midwest. The Southeastern Public Library System is one of 77 nonprofit organizations to receive a grant to host a Big Read project between September 2013 and June 2014. The Big Read in SEPLSO’s libraries will focus on True Grit, by Charles Portis. Activities will take place starting October 5 through November 16, 2013.
“All of our libraries are excited to be part of the celebration of Charles Portis’s classic tale of how a 14-year-old girl seeks a man with ‘true grit’ to help bring to justice the man who killed her father and shows she has ‘true grit’ herself,” said Wayne Hanway, Executive Director of SEPLSO. “Not only is it a great story, the action takes place right here in southeast Oklahoma. This is an important book about a colorful time in our local history, and it’s so good that it has been made into two movies.”
NEA Acting Chairman Joan Shigekawa said, “It’s wonderful to see that these 77 communities are making reading and the celebration of books a priority. I look forward to seeing the innovative ways they find to engage their communities in these great works of classic and contemporary literature.”
The Big Read provides communities nationwide with the opportunity to read, discuss, and celebrate one of 31 selections from U.S. and world literature. The 77 selected organizations will receive Big Read grants to promote and carry out community-based reading programs featuring activities such as read-a-thons, book discussions, lectures, movie screenings, and performing arts events. Participating communities also receive high-quality, free-of-charge educational materials to supplement each title, including Reader’s, Teacher’s, and Audio Guides, which also are available for download on neabigread.org.
For more information about The Big Read please visit neabigread.org.
The Southeastern Public Library System of Oklahoma is a multi-county public library district serving the residents of Choctaw, Coal, Haskell, Latimer, LeFlore, McCurtain, and Pittsburg Counties through libraries in Arkoma, Broken Bow, Coalgate, Hartshorne, Heavener, Hugo, Idabel, McAlester, Poteau, Spiro, Stigler, Talihina, Valliant, Wilburton, and Wister, and through various online and outreach services.
The National Endowment for the Arts was established by Congress in 1965 as an independent agency of the federal government. To date, the NEA has awarded more than $4 billion to support artistic excellence, creativity, and innovation for the benefit of individuals and communities. The NEA extends its work through partnerships with state arts agencies, local leaders, other federal agencies, and the philanthropic sector. To join the discussion on how art works, visit the NEA at arts.gov.
Arts Midwest promotes creativity, nurtures cultural leadership, and engages people in meaningful arts experiences, bringing vitality to Midwest communities and enriching people’s lives. Based in Minneapolis, Arts Midwest connects the arts to audiences throughout the nine-state region of Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, North Dakota, Ohio, South Dakota, and Wisconsin. One of six non-profit regional arts organizations in the United States, Arts Midwest’s history spans more than 25 years. For more information, please visit artsmidwest.org.
A GROUP OF FILMMAKERS worked at McAlester Public Library Saturday on a video about the history of trolley system in McAlester. Sam Swinnea, in the red shirt, conceived the project for the Pittsburg County Genealogical and Historical Society and is doing the research. It is, he says, “a hobby that got totally out of control.” Others working on the project Saturday were Mother Stephanie Swinnea (in hat), actor Erik Swinnea (in blue shirt, with backpack), Devon Lewis, makeup artist and production assistant, and cinematographer George Tirl. Tirl is best known for his work on the Left Behind movies and more about him can be found here: http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0864250/filmogenre . Once completed, the film, about McAlester’s 1903-1946 trolley system, will be submitted to OETA and will be available as a resource at the local historical society. The group is trying to “make something outside the bland and historical,” Sam Swinnea said.
RUTH BRELSFORD, the recipient of a 2013 Oklahoma Foundation for Excellence award, accepts writing awards recently won by her students. Brelsford, the winner of the Oklahoma Medal for Excellence in Teaching at a Regional University/Community College, is a professor, department chair in speech and theatre, and Honors Program coordinator at Eastern Oklahoma State College in Wilburton. As part of her 26-year career as an educator she has taught in middle school, high school and university settings, as well as in a college creative writing program for inmates at a local prison. Students in her creative writing class at Jackie Brannon Correctional Center in McAlester were among the winners of the annual McAlester Public Library Essay and Short Story Writing Contest, concluded during National Library Week in April. Brelsford is shown with the certificates won by her students. The contest is funded through a grant from the J.G. Puterbaugh Foundation. “My teaching techniques are based on listening to students and then introducing them to that really huge world out there, reminding them that they have every right to succeed in it – and can – but they have to think critically and communicate effectively,” said Brelsford, who also teaches Eastern Oklahoma’s introductory speech course. As the Honors Program director, Brelsford also teaches an Honors Seminar each semester that challenges students not only to read and write about great social and political issues, but also to take action in their community.Their projects have included launching a campuswide recycling program; developing an anti-bullying workshop to serve local youth; and making 1,000 paper cranes and raising $1,000 for tsunami relief. Brelsford is also an adviser to many international students, inviting them to her home for meals, taking them on outings to attend cultural events and involving them in community projects. Outside the classroom, Brelsford and her students have co-led voter registration drives, coordinated a Constitution Day forum and organized Veteran’s Day observances on campus. She will be honored at the Oklahoma Foundation for Excellence awards dinner Saturday, May 18. The event will later be televised on OETA.
(NOTE: The following short story was written by Carl Gerard Luft and was the first-place winner in the recent McAlester Public Library Essay and Short Story Contest. Readers might remember the characters from last year’s contest.)
“Excalibur, this is Admiral Mike Hawkins aboard Merlin’s ship,” I called through the
speaker mounted amidst the anachronistic controls around the time machine’s power shaft.
“Merlin needs immediate medical attention. Have Dr. Winfield standing by on the hanger deck.
We’ll be materializing soon…I hope.”
“Oh, God, Mike, he’s burning up!” cried my golden-haired fiancé, Robin, on the other
side of the control platform.
“I hope the Excalibur got my message,” I mumbled as I went over to Robin. “I have no
idea how this ridiculous machine works.”
Robin was wiping sweat from the very young face of our millenniums-old friend. He was
shivering, clutching his tweed jacket closed, and sick from fever. Robin’s blue eyes looked up at
me, pleading. “We’ve got to help him, Mike! He’s delirious…”
A gong came from the time machine’s controls and the lights in the power shaft
noticeably dimmed. “I think we’ve landed,” I announced.
I took Merlin by the shoulders and Robin took his legs. We carried him down the
companion way to the deck of the massive, hemispherical engine room and out the
dimensional causeway. We emerged from the cabinet-sized white monolith which was the only
extension of Merlin’s time capsule in our four-dimensional universe.
We materialized on the hanger deck of the Asteroid Breaker Excalibur, just as we had
hoped. Several Space Guards were assembled there, including Dr. Emily Winfield with a
stretcher. “Emily, get Merlin to sick bay on the double.” I ordered. “If he gains consciousness,
do whatever he tells you, no matter how strange it may seem.”
“I’m not used to taking orders from a patient…” complained Emily.
“Emily, you were there when we first met Merlin on the moon base. He saved us from
those cyborgs and their mind control devices. Remember when the Outer Ones invaded Mars
Colony? Who bought the fleet time to evacuate?”
“Sorry, Admiral!” Emily apologized. “I’m well aware of all Merlin has done for this crew.
What happened to him?”
“He absorbed the radioactive output of a fission reactor.”
“He shouldn’t be alive!”
“He’s alien, Emily! Now, help him!”
As Emily and her medics rolled Merlin away, the very young Navigating Captain of my
Flag ship, Christopher Rogers, approached me out of the crowd. “Admiral, Commander. It’s
good to have you two back,” Chris nodded to my tearful fiancée and myself.
“What’s with Emily?” I asked. “She didn’t used to argue with me.”
“You and Commander Brady have been gone for over a year, sir,” explained Chris.
“It’s been that long?” asked Robin. “We landed correctly in space, but we mis-jumped
by a year in time!”
“It can’t be changed now,” I replied.
“Admiral, when we got your call, we were already responding to a distress signal,”
explained Chris as he beckoned us to follow him. “It’s a ship that broke away from the fleet in
orbit of Earth.”
We followed Chris through the ship’s passageways and companionways into the
compact, hemispherical bridge. On the forward view screen was the image of a late-model
spaceship adrift in space.
“Admiral!” cried a delighted Diane Carpenter at her commstation. “It’s good to see you.
The ship on screen is hailing us.”
“On screen!” I ordered.
A man in an all too familiar grey uniform appeared on screen. “General Quarters!” I
ordered at the sight of the enemy. “Arm missiles!”
“We have you outgunned, Admiral,” explained the enemy captain.
“The ship’s powering up, Admiral,” Executive Officer Elliot announced.
“Your ship was built for destroying asteroids,” continued the enemy. “Ours was built to
destroy you! We want the Atlantean. We know he’s aboard your ship. Surrender him and
we’ll let you go.”
“And if we don’t?” I asked.
“Then we’ll blow you out of space and pick Merlin’s remains out of the debris. We don’t
need him alive. You have fifteen minutes to respond.”
As the image of the enemy captain blinked off the screen, I turned to Robin and asked,
“What does the Institute for Coordinated Experiments want with Merlin’s body?”
“An Atlantean’s body is a miracle,” Robin explained. “The amoral scientists of I.C.E. will
dissect every cell of Merlin’s body to learn the secret of Atlantean immortality. An Atlantean
can live forever, barring accidents.”
“We can’t let them have Merlin,” I concluded. All the bridge crew expressed their
agreement, save one.
“Admiral, there are sixty people aboard this ship,” said an ensign at the pilot’s station.
“You can’t sacrifice them all for one man.”
“Who the hell are you?” I demanded.
“Ensign Sussie Brooke.”
“Do you know who Merlin is?”
“I know he’s not Space Guard and that he’s not human.” she replied.
I took a step forward, brought my face a few inches from hers, and growled, “In 2086,
shortly after the Outer Ones invaded Earth and took our home planet from us, while the
Excalibur was refueling at Moon Base Tranquility, the entire crew, save Robin, fell under the
power of mind-controlling cyborgs. Merlin turns up and saves us.
In 2087, when the Outer Ones invaded Mars colony, Merlin shows up again and saves
half of humanity’s refugee fleet. Later that year, Merlin brought us Captain Rogers from the
57th century to destroy an Outer One base on Pluto, preventing an invasion…”
“I’m sorry, Admiral,” Brooke stammered. “I’m new to the Excalibur. I hadn’t realized
what he means to this ship.”
“Take my word on it, Ensign,” I said. “Merlin matters.”
“But the crew of the Excalibur matters more, Mike.” It was Merlin’s voice. I turned
towards the bridge’s hatch. There stood Merlin leaning against the bulkhead with a warm smile
on his “twenty-something” face.
Dr. Winfield, beside him, said, “You told me to do whatever he asked. He asked for a
hot dog, and then promptly vomited it up!”
“I needed something to purge the radiation from my biomass,” explained Merlin.
“Radioactive puke!” Robin laughed, giving our time-travelling friend a big hug.
“Thank you all for making me feel like I matter,” said Merlin, “But you matter more.
Since Atlantis was destroyed, I’ve spent the last couple of centuries as a homeless wanderer
floating around time and space. But you, the crew of the Excalibur have given me a place to
come home to. You’re worth the danger and risk to defend. You’re my home, my community,
now, and you matter!”
Merlin approached the forward view screen and said to Carpenter, “Diane, hail that ship
for me, please.”
As the I.C.E. captain appeared; on screen, a broad smile spread across his face, and he
asked, “Merlin, I presume?”
“You know who and what I am. I’m giving you one warning: Surrender!” his face
suddenly grim and hostile, Merlin commanded.
“Fire a warning shot along their bow!” shouted the I.C.E. captain. A second later, the
Excalibur lurched and an explosion boomed through the ship.
“I’ll take that as your answer. I’ll be in the forward airlock.” Merlin replied gravely.
The screen returned to a view of the I.C.E. ship as it moved into dock.
“Merlin, you can’t!” Robin sobbed as she blocked his way to the hatch.
“Mike, please hold on to your wife-to-be,” said Merlin as his brilliant green eyes looked
deep into Robin’s. In a voice as warm as a summer’s breeze, our friend said, “You have to let
me do this, Robin. Trust me.”
As I wrapped my arms tightly around Robin, Merlin stepped around us and said, “I’ll
need a space suit. The airlock’s not cycling.”
“There’s nothing wrong with the forward airlock,” objected Engineering Officer Ling.
“I need an excuse to be wearing a space suit,” winked Merlin.
“Oh!” replied Mr. Ling. “Looks like the forward airlock’s not cycling.”
“Good man!” Merlin cried as he left.
“Mike, you can’t let him do this,” Robin pleaded.
“There’s no stopping Merlin when his mind is made up,” I replied as I kissed her
forehead. “You know that, sweetheart.”
“Merlin’s aboard the enemy vessel,” Brooke reported. “They’re pulling away. Orders,
“Wait,” I ordered. “Sweetie, look at the screen! Everyone, look!”
Explosions were erupting all over the surface of the retreating ship as it began to
“I’m picking up a directional transponder amidst the debris,” announced Carpenter.
“It’s from a Space Guard space suit.”
“Zoom in on it!” I ordered.
The image magnified on to a space-suited figure madly waving its arms. As the image
focused in on the face plate, Merlin’s smiling face filled the view screen!
“He did warn them!” I laughed. “Let’s bring him home!”
WILL ROGERS, as portrayed by Dr. Doug Watson of Shawnee, performed at McAlester Public Library Thursday night,
talking about the life of Oklahoma’s favorite son, perusing the local newspaper and doing a variety of rope tricks. Watson is
affiliated with the Will Rogers Memorial of Claremore.
Dr. Doug Watson, the “official Will Rogers” of the Will Rogers Memorial in Claremore, will present his nationally-known portrayal of Oklahoma’s favorite son in a special show at McAlester Public Library Thursday, May 9.
Watson will present a program in character as Rogers, and will answer questions from the audience about current topics, using his extensive knowledge of Rogers’s works. The show begins at 6:30 p.m. in the Whiteacre Room.
Watson is a retired English professor from Oklahoma Baptist University, where he taught poetry, American literature, Western and world civilization, children’s literature, classical literature and composition. During the 1988-89 school year, he was a Fulbright lecturer in Nigeria, West Africa. He was been a frequent presenter at the library’s Let’s Talk About It, Oklahoma book series.
He has been involved in historical characterization since 1991, traveling with the Great Plains Chautauqua as Nathaniel Hawthorne and Stephen Crane from 1991-97. He has performed as Will Rogers more than 500 times nationwide since 1997, in schools, theaters, libraries, retirement centers and Chautauqua series.
“Having done a pessimist and a cynic, I have thoroughly enjoyed being tied to a humorist like Will Rogers,” Watson said. “It’s a great joy to help people laugh, and it feels good to speak words that seem like common sense wisdom, even today.
“I know you don’t have to like the characters you portray in Chautauqua, but when you do, it transforms the relationship you have with the character, the history, and perhaps the audience as well.”
Since 2005, the professor has worked for the Will Rogers Memorial Museums, presenting “Will Rogers in Schools” in and beyond Oklahoma. He was born and reared in the Texas Panhandle, and is at home in the small towns of the Great Plains. He attended Baylor, West Texas State (Now West Texas A&M), Middlebury College and Texas Tech. His wife Kay is a retired public school English teacher and master gardener. Their daughter works for a San Diego music publisher and studies music therapy at Kansas University.
Watson enjoys fly-fishing, gardening and working for the international development organization World Neighbors, on whose board he serves. In the past year he has become interested in the policies of food and food security. But, he says, given a choice, he prefer to be on the golf course.
(NOTE: The following short story was written by Ryan Williams and was the second-place winner in the recent McAlester Public Library Essay and Short Story Contest.)
I have been known by many names, many that are too difficult to pronounce, but you can call me Astrid. I have been around since the beginning of time. I am not considered alive because I was never born, I was created. I was not meant to be around for so long. I was meant to disappear when the humans realized the danger they were in and took the efforts to fix the problem. I was not created to solve any problems; that is the human’s job. The world that you live in today is not the world that you are meant to live in. The world that is supposed to exist depends on working together.
I have been giving you a glimpse of the danger you are all in. I have shown you what will happen if you continue in your selfish ways. The volcanoes, hurricanes, floods, fires, and droughts are all due to your inability t0 realize that you must not take the world and all the life forms for granted.
Many centuries ago, before your kind existed on this planet, the human race lived on a distant plant called Jurthis. For some centuries you lived in harmony with the other life forms that coexisted with you. However, the humans soon learned that they were more powerful and smarter than the other life forms. The humans decided that instead of living simply and peacefully, they would strive to be better and do whatever they could to get more. The humans became greedy and always wanted more. As their world began to crumble I was created. It was believed that once the humans realized that they were causing the world to deteriorate around them they would return to their peaceful ways. The humans, unfortunately, did not understand. Within 3 centuries Jurthis was completely destroyed, along with all the humans.
Soon enough the humans were ruling again on another planet. And soon enough they had destroyed a second planet.
The humans are now living on Earth and close to destroying it as well. There is too much greed and not enough compassion. If there is not change the humans will destroy a third planet.
I have returned to the human race to decide if I will take matters into my own hands and destroy the planet before the humans do any more damage. I have been traveling to different communities to see how the humans are living. I have been disappointed with every city. People are robbing their neighbors, abusing their children, children are killing their peers; people are caring more about their own superficial and selfish needs then the wellbeing of their neighbors.
As I was about to destroy the community I was currently in, I came across a young child. I told her why I there and asked why her community was in such a terrible mess. She looked at me with her big, beautiful, brown eyes and said, “What do you mean? This is a wonderful place. The people are great. They are my friends and family.” I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. A wonderful place?!? I looked at her and told her that she was wrong and the community needed to be destroyed before more evil was created.
Rebecca, the name of the young child, said, “I don’t believe you; you are wrong.” I told her I would prove it to yer. “Come with me,” I said to Rebecca.
The next moment we came across a local highway. “What are we doing here?” she asked. “Just wait.” I replied.
Soon we saw a tan minivan drivne by a woman with her young child strapped in the backseat. Behind her a speeding sports car started to blare its horn at her. The driver came up close to the van and went to pass the woman and child. Due to the driver’s recklessness the van was forced off the road and into a ditch. The sports car continued speeding down the highway without a second thought about who may be injured in the van.
“Do you understand?” I ask Rebecca. I looked at her and she had tears in her soft brown eyes.
I was not yet done showing her the cruelty of her community. I take her to a home which is engulfed in flames. An elderly woman is crying on the street clutching her heart. The firemen are trying to save the home, but they were too late. The woman’s home burns to the ground with all of her belongings and memories. A teenager sits in the back of a police car. The teen had previously broken into the woman’s home and later set fire to the home as part of a gang initiation.
“Do you understand?” I ask Rebecca. I looked again at her and saw shock and sadness in her eyes.
The next moment we were again on a road. This time, however, it was a dark and deserted country back road. Rebecca looked at me expectantly. I told her to wait. We saw a large truck coming down the road and stop near a ditch. We see a bag being thrown out the driver’s window. The truck speeds off leaving only a tornado of rock and dust. Rebecca looks at the bag and cries when she sees 3 young puppies yelping with fear and hunger.
“Do you understand?” I ask. She doesn’t answer my question. She makes a request. “Before you destroy my community I would like to show you a few things.” I agree even though I don’t believe it will change my mind.
She brings me back to the highway where the mother and child are trapped in a ditch. I ask why we are here. “Just wait,” she says. Soon the highway was full of parked cars. Drivers of passing vehicles who had seen the accident immediately pulled over to help the woman and her child. Before the ambulance and police had even arrived 15 people were on the side of the road giving the woman and child blankets, water and support.
She looked at me and said, “It is not about the one driver who thoughtlessly ran them off the road and didn’t stop. It is about the 15 people who did stop.”
Next she brought me to the home of the woman who lost her home in a fire set by a cruel and callous teen. We see 100 people working to rebuild the home. Rebecca explains, “These are friends, family, neighbors, members of her church, and complete strangers; they are here because they want to help another member of their community who needs help.”
Next Rebecca takes me to a home where we see a young child playing with three puppies. The little boy is laughing and rolling around on the floor while the pupplies lick at his face. Rebecca speaks, “After the puppies were left a man found them whimpering and took them to his local veterinary clinic. The vet and his team all worked together to help the puppies and found a good home for them. They didn’t do this because they had to; they did it because they wanted to.”
She looks into my eyes and asks, “Do you understand?”
And I did.
I couldn’t believe how wrong I had been. I had spent thousands of years believing that all communities were full of only hate and evil. It only took a little girl to make me understand that there is cruelty and sorrow and ruthlessness everywhere; but, every community has thousands more people who are willing to do whatever they need to help out friends, neighbors, and strangers not because they have to, but because they care so much about their community and all those apart of it.
(NOTE: The following essay was written by Dustin Langston and was the third-place winner in the recent McAlester Public Library Essay and Short Story Contest.)
Community. What is community? What does community mean to me? Most
importantly, does community matter?
Common definitions of community are: 1) a group of people living in the same locality,
under the same government 2) the locality in which such a group lives 3) a group of people with
common interests 4) society as a whole 5) common possession or participation.
To me, a community is more than that. To me, it’s more personal. It is a group of
people who come together to support one another, to celebrate together, to mourn together.
A group of people who care about each other, who celebrate their differences and cherish what
each individual offers to the community as a whole. People who lift one another up, who
provide their strength where another is weak, who are there to pick each other up when they
I believe a community is also a set of values. Some of these values come straight
out of the Bible: to love your neighbor, to not bear false witness, to care for the widows and
the fatherless, to give to the poor, honesty, integrity, caring about your fellow man, forgiving
those who have hurt you and setting aside your differences to come together for the greater
good. These are all keys to a good community.
When I look back on my life, I begin to realize how much community matters to me. I
have so many memories that help to define community. Some of the best times of my
life were when my friends and family would come together: barbeques on
Memorial Day and the Fourth of July, family dinners on Easter, Thanksgiving
and Christmas, and birthday parties. We didn’t always see eye to eye on everything, but we
cherished one another’s differences. It took each one of us and our differences to make us
whole. That’s community!
When I was a child, my family suffered through two house fires in two years, both
during the holiday seasons. The first fire happened when we were on vacation during
Thanksgiving. Someone had robbed our house and then set it on fire.
I remember coming home to find our home of almost ten years in total ruin. Unfortunately, we
had no insurance. It was a terrible experience. But from that tragedy came the biggest
blessing. The support we received was amazing. People we didn’t even know gave us more
than we could ever ask for: food, furniture, clothing, toys, and so much more were donated.
Two years later, two weeks before Christmas, the unthinkable happened again. Our
new home and everything in it went up in flames. This time we were at home, asleep in our
beds. By some miracle we all made it out safe, but for the second time
in two years, everything was gone and we were homeless again. Thankfully, we had insurance
this time. Still, our Christmas was surely ruined. No house; no Christmas tree; the presents
were all destroyed. The insurance wouldn’t come in time for Christmas. When people heard
our story, the blessings began to pour in. Christmas that year was provided by the generous
people and organizations who stepped up in our greatest time of need. That’s community!
I went to high school in a small town in north Texas. In the fall, Friday night
was the best night of the week. You knew where most of the town was going to be, at the
football stadium, cheering their team on to victory. People arranged their schedules around the
football schedule. The stands were full of happy kids and content parents all enjoying each
other’s company. Even when our team was losing, the stands were full of people cheering
them on. That’s community!
When someone we knew passed away, we all came together to support the family. We
brought food and refreshments to ease their burden. We gave a kind word of encouragement
or just sat with them, knowing that no words can help. That’s community!
When I was seventeen, I worked as a waiter at a retirement home. It was a job I truly
enjoyed. I loved to give that kind word or gesture that would turn
someone’s day around and put a smile on their face. One day as I was working, I noticed a
little old lady who was usually pretty grumpy. She appeared to be choking on something.
Without even thinking, I jumped into action and ran to her. She wasn’t breathing. I pulled her
up and began to perform the Heimlich maneuver. I’m sure I saved a life that
day. After that, the woman was more pleasant to be around and I was always able to put a
smile on her face. My employer wasn’t as happy. To them, I broke the rules because I wasn’t
certified and they were worried about being sued. I was almost fired. The risk of losing my job
was worth the life that was saved. That’s community!
I recently saw a news report that shocked me. It was about a nurse in California who
worked at an assisted living facility. She apparently found a woman unresponsive. The nurse
called 911 and the operator asked her to give the woman CPR. She said she could not, due to
company policy. She was afraid of losing her job. The 911 operator asked her to pull any one
off the streets saying that she would walk them through the process. Still the nurse refused.
The woman died. When did a person’s life become so unimportant? That’s NOT community!
When you turn on the news today, most of what you hear is negative. Murders,
robberies, thefts, abuse have become everyday situations. What was once considered
unimaginable has become normal. Our society has stopped caring about one another. People
only seem to care about themselves. Crime rates continue to climb and our prisons are
overcrowded. We have allowed our sense of community to be taken from us. It can happen to
anyone. That’s NOT community!
I am an example of how easily you can be robbed of your sense of community. I didn’t
even realize it was happening until it was too late. I had turned away from everything I knew
was right. I stopped worrying about others and started worrying only about myself. Next thing
I knew I was sitting in prison, wondering how I had fallen so far. Without community we
become a bunch of little people lost without meaning in a big world. We start to do things that
we never thought imaginable. We stop caring how our actions affect not just ourselves, but
everyone around us as well.
We must end this cycle. We need to take back our sense of community. Our children
need to be taught community values. Maybe one day, if we can accomplish this, we can live in
a better place.
You can find a community in some of the most unlikely places. I did not think I would
find community in prison. The community I have found myself in was a surprise and a huge
blessing. We work hard to support one another, keeping one another accountable, praying for
each other and the ones who have no one. That’s community.
So I ask you, does community matter? It mattered to the little boy who lost his home
and everything he had, not once, but twice, the little boy who thought Christmas was ruined
and was sure future Christmases would mean bad memories, the little boy who learned a
valuable lesson from the worst of tragedies. What seemed to him to be the end of life as he
knew it turned out to be a blessing he has cherished.
It mattered to the family who lost a loved one only to make a new friendship that lasted
a life time. It mattered to the little old lady whose life was saved by a young man who cared
more about her life than the possibility of losing his job. It matters to the man sitting in prison
hoping that he can be forgiven for his past mistakes and be able, once again, to be part of the
Yes! Community does matter!