Reflections about Learning and Vision

Carol A. Hand

Last night before I fell asleep, I did what I usually do. Solved a cryptogram puzzle or two. Often the quotes in the puzzle books are silly, but on rare occasions they inspire deeper reflection like the one below.



“Our grand business undoubtedly is, not to see what lies dimly at a distance, but to do what lies clearly at hand.” (Thomas Carlyle)

I have always loved solving puzzles and studying things around me. I didn’t realize, though, that the way I saw the world was different than the view others had. By the time I was in third grade, I couldn’t see what was written on the blackboard unless I leaned forward with my face cradled on my open palms with the outer edges of my eyes pulled taught by my fingers. By narrowing my visual field, I was able to see a little further. I thought that was “normal.”

A Myopic View

Sadly, that automatic adaptation stopped working. I learned after a visit to an ophthalmologist that I had a case of rapidly advancing myopia. Until that visit, I didn’t realize that others could see individual leaves on the tops of trees, or stars in the night sky. The things I could see needed to be close at hand. Instead of looking through a telescope at the sky, I explored the wonder of life in the local pond through my microscope.

Daphnia pulix – Wikimedia –
Photo by Paul Hebert


Microscopic Movie Stars


Myopia has taught me that I need to focus more intensely to see things. I’m reminded of the moral from a Sufi story told by John McKnight. “You will only learn what you already know.” As I listen to the obfuscating main-stream news reports, I wonder what is beneath the surface of the swampy non-issues that fill headlines, and then I let it go. I see it as “what lies dimly at a distance,” and focus on what I can do here and now.

The answer at the moment includes gardening, teaching, and writing among other things. Gardening has fed me during lean winters in the past and will hopefully do so in the future. Gardens have also provided a sanctuary for me and others throughout the years. It’s not something I “know” as an expert, but I do know the value of learning, sometimes through trial and error. Variable, unpredictable weather patterns and conditions make growing healthy plants a never-ending learning endeavor.

I work part-time as an educator. I’ve not been “trained” as a teacher, but from a framework of liberatory praxis, I know that having all of the answers, even if it were possible, would be of little real value to others. Without curiosity, I’m not sure learning is possible. Educators just need to be fully present to help people uncover who they are and what they already know, and encourage them to ignite their curiosity so they can continue learning – always.

And I write. The words that flow through me come from a source I can’t control or reach with my intellectual capacities. All I can say is that sometimes I am compelled to record what I see, hear, think or feel. And sometimes, like today, I feel compelled to share what I write.

Perhaps the answer to breaking the cycle of only learning what we already know is simply to admit what we don’t know. Perhaps we also need to let go of the illusion that we can ever know anything definitively. At some point we have to take the risk to do what we can anyway, even if we don’t know all of the answers. We’re bound to learn something in the process if we try things we’ve never done before, just as I did when I donned my first pair of thick coke-bottle lenses as a child. I already knew that pond-life was fascinating, but I learned that there millions and millions of stars in the night sky. Stars were here before humans and may well be here long after we’re gone.

Our insignificant lives will probably have little effect on how brilliantly the stars shine, although it will undoubtedly affect our ability to see them. But our actions do directly affect the life of all that surrounds us close “at hand.” Hopefully we will not be myopic in the choices we make about how we live with all the other beings who share our one precious planet.

I’ll leave you with a puzzle to solve if you are interested. I hope you enjoy the challenge and the message.


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May Moon

Carol A. Hand

Sometimes, on the darkest night

the moon appears, a guiding light

shining on the world below

a reminder of our inner glow

urging us to do the same for others


Moon on May 12, 2017


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Sometimes I Just Don’t Understand

Carol A. Hand

Sometimes I wonder if I’ll ever understand

why people in power seem to care so little

about the suffering and destruction

they leave in their (una)wake(ning)


Microsoft WORD Clip Art – Sometimes I just can’t take a photo


Robin wings and bloodied backbone lying in the grass

A gift from my neighbors’ roaming cat?

It breaks my heart although they don’t seem to care

Sometimes I wonder if I’ll ever understand


Neighborhood – May 10, 2017


Garbage strewn across from

the neighborhood school

cluttering the little wooded stream

an elder’s shopping cart now inaccessible

Sometimes I wonder if I’ll ever understand


Neighborhood – May 10, 2017


Still, I will tend gardens, teach, and write about possibilities

even as I mourn while picking up the wings and sending love

I will clean up the little wooded area although others may laugh

because caring about the earth and others matters

Maybe it will inspire some to care

even though I may never understand


Blooming Bleeding Hearts – May 10, 2017


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Learning and Celebratory Joy

Carol A. Hand

In the bleakest of times

with the most mundane tasks

transformation is possible

It’s what life sometimes asks

us to do


Fern Unfurling – May 7, 2017


Holding focus on celebratory joy

opens up sacred heart spaces

where deeper lessons are discovered

and shared perhaps tearfully from inner places

revealing what is true


An Early Blooming Gift, Scilla siberica ( Siberian Squill) – May 7, 2017


The threads of our kinship to all

strengthened anew

Our unique connecting patterns

in the tapestry of life

shining through


Blooming Pulmonaria ( Lungwort) – May 7, 2017



In honor of the colleagues and students who continue to make teaching and learning sacred endeavors. And in gratitude to the computer and cable technicians who made it possible for me to continue writing despite a malfunctioning anti-virus program.


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Time Travel?

Carol A. Hand

One moment, I’m reliving memories of the past, driving through a snowstorm on an October night.

After eating, I go to the small gas station next door to ask directions to the address Ward Wright gave me for tonight’s interview.

By the time I leave my motel, it’s dark, windy, and snowy. As I try to find the roadway beneath the blowing snow, I realize how anxious I’m feeling about going to a stranger’s house alone. I drive along the blustery west-shore road that hugs the lake, trying to find the address Ward gave me through the foggy car windows. Finally, I notice a house on a hill with a wall of lighted windows on the west side of the road. I turn into the steep driveway hoping I’ve arrived at the right place.

As I approach the house through swirling snow, buffeted myself by the strong winds, I see a tall, lean man through the walls of glass. He motions to me, pointing to a door on the back porch. I enter and walk through the porch into the brightly lit kitchen. I introduce myself to the self-assured handsome man in his mid-50’s who greets me. He has the aristocratic demeanor of someone accustomed to being in charge. I’m surprised when he asks me where I would like to sit. I wonder if this is a test to find out something about the strange woman who has shown up on his doorstep.

“We should sit wherever you feel most comfortable,” I reply….

The next moment, I look up from my computer and gaze out the living room window at the sunny April landscape. I take a few sips of cold coffee and peek out the kitchen window as I gently part the curtain. I’m grateful to see that the little mother bird is back in her nest to feed her babies.

Shared housing – April 27, 2017

I disturbed her yesterday when I opened the curtain and tried to take her picture, so I won’t try again. You’ll have to trust my words. A bird family really does live in this creative repurposed nest abandoned by the wasps that called it home last summer.


Creative repurposing

Satisfied, I return to the past.

The wind grows stronger as we speak, propelling snow against the windows. The lights begin to flicker and I realize that I’m very cold – more from fatigue than from the room temperature. It seems wise to end our meeting. It’s late, after 9 p.m., and the weather is deteriorating. I thank Ward and we say our goodbyes.

As I drive through the blowing snow, gripping the steering wheel tightly, I think about the interview. It was intense and I often felt uncomfortable…. 


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April’s Icing

Carol A. Hand


Returning to boots and yaktrax

for April’s final days


April’s Icing – April 26, 2017


Watching with curiosity

to see how long ice stays


Yesterday’s blooming flower

the promise of coming spring


Blooming Pulmonaria (lungwort) – April 25 2017


Today encased in ice

as seagulls circle, crows call, and hopeful robins sing


April Icing – April 26, 2017



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Celebrating Possibilities

Carol A. Hand

Who would believe it’s possible
to witness lives transformed
in the span of a mere 2 years
by working together on a vision
of what could be?

Skills, knowledge and lasting bonds are built
when everyone shows up
graciously offering open minds and hearts
contributing their critical creativity to overcome challenges.

Divisions between teachers, learners, and cultures dissolve
expanding inclusive caring communities
empowered by life-long liberatory curiosity and compassion.


Students sharing what they learned to open up new possibilities and help create healthier communities

Celebrating Accomplishments –
April 21, 2017

Promoting restorative justice as an alternative to juvenile corrections

Celebrating Accomplishments –
April 21, 2017

Preserving culture and language by bringing generations together through storytelling circles

Celebrating Accomplishments –
April 21, 2017

Using research to involve youth in diverse communities to improve education

Celebrating Accomplishments –
April 21, 2017

Using skills to build programs to improve services for people who are homeless
and inspiring the next generation

Celebrating Accomplishments –
April 21, 2017

Celebrating connections and accomplishments


In gratitude to colleagues and graduating students who make liberatory learning possible, and a special thank you to MJ for inspiring others by sharing her exceptional scholarship, tenacity, and wisdom.

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History Keeps Repeating

Carol A. Hand

I wonder how many have experienced being a sensitive child born into a world of chaos and abuse. Perhaps your first memories are similar to the ones described in a post I wrote years ago for a friend’s blog.

My first memory as a child is so clear in my mind even though experts in brain development say it is not possible. It was my first Christmas. A February baby born on the cusp of Pisces and Aquarius, I lay in my crib as the winter sun streamed through the window. My mother and father stood on opposite sides of my crib, arguing. The personal pain and insecurities that led to their argument were so clear to me. But more compelling were the strengths and beauty I saw in both of them. I struggled helplessly in a body that could not give voice to what I saw. All I could do was cry.

Thus began a life lived in the tragic gap between what is and what could be. A life straddling cultures, socio-economic classes, and religious beliefs. Surviving childhood abuse and rape as a sensitive soul brings powerful insights and abilities as well as deep wounds that may take more than one lifetime to heal. Compassion, sorrow, and rage at callous injustice compete in ongoing inner struggles. “Breathe. Detach. Reflect. Do what you can to inspire others to see their own beauty and create new possibilities even though you know it’s not an easy journey. Try anyway, even though you don’t always see yourself worthy of walking this path.”

Events like the bombing of Afghanistan – again – remind me why it’s important to try anyway. History keeps repeating itself. Maybe this time I’ll be able to communicate the message in a way that can be heard.

In 2001-2002, I conducted a critical ethnographic study of child welfare in a rural Ojibwe community. The topic was important to me because Native American children continue to be removed from families and communities in disproportionate numbers. Removing children is a continuing form of cultural genocide. Many previous studies of Native Americans offered justification for this practice. They portrayed Native communities as though they were isolated from the rest of the world, and cultures as if frozen in the long ago past destined to inevitably disappear. I still wonder how anyone could ignore the obvious and profound effects that colonial subjugation has continued to have for Indigenous communities and cultures.

Carlisle Indian Industrial School, Wikipedia photo

The past and present socio-political context of U.S. Indian and child welfare policies were an important part of my research. I wanted to understand the community and culture from as many different vantage points as possible during my time “in the field.” My first week, I was lucky. An Ojibwe elder shared a story about his childhood that provided a crucial framework and foundation for my study. The information would have remained significant in any case. But the date of our conversation, September 10, 2001, made it clear that even in remote areas global issues have profound effects.

As I work on editing the book manuscript I wrote about my research, I can’t help reflecting on our inability as a nation to learn from history. Two weeks ago, I edited and revised the following excerpt.


Research Fieldnotes: Monday, October 8, 2001

I’m eager to return to the border town and reservation. The morning is cool and clear as I set out for the long drive. But my heart is heavy with news from the world far from the ceded territories of the Ojibwe. The U.S. invasion of Afghanistan began yesterday as the U.S. and its ally, Great Britain, launched an intensive bombing campaign. Retaliation against a poor nation that is not responsible for 911 is so senseless. There will be no positive outcomes for killing other innocent people. “Operation Enduring Freedom,” as the invasion is named, will not bring freedom. I fear it will only result in more death and suffering.

As I drive, I remember President Eisenhower’s observations from so many years ago.

Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired, signifies, in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed. The world in arms is not spending money alone. It is spending the sweat of its laborers, the genius of its scientists, the hopes of its children. (Chance of Peace speech delivered to the American Society of Newspaper Editors in Washington, DC on April 16, 1953)

War will affect the hopes of all of the children in the U.S. and Afghanistan. I have no words to express the deep sadness I feel. So I sing, belting out verses of songs and prayers for peace as tears stream from my eyes. I notice the bald-headed eagle flying above my car, circling overhead as I pray and sing. I wonder. “Is the eagle’s presence merely a coincidence? Or is it a sign that what I’m doing will forge a path to build understanding and peace?


Present-day Reflections. I don’t remember ever learning anything about Afghanistan in school, even though it’s been inhabited for at least 50,000 years and is the location of some the oldest farming communities in the world. It has been a predominantly Muslim country since 882 CE comprised of diverse indigenous tribes ruled by a central monarchy. Despite its land-locked location, Afghanistan has remained an important connecting point between the Middle East, Asia, and Europe.

In recent history it once again became the site of competing interests. In the mid-1800s, Great Britain imposed colonial rule over Afghanistan’s neighbor, India, leading to an ongoing struggle between Britain and the Soviet Union for control of the area. Internal conflicts within Afghanistan between those with differing views of governance, monarchy versus communism, erupted into civil war. Both the Soviet Union and United States provided cash and weapons to aid and arm competing armies. In 1979, the Soviet Union finally sent in troops and took control of the country. It’s estimated that 1 million Afghan people were killed by Soviet troops and their Afghan allies. Many more Afghan people fled to other nations before the Soviet Union withdrew their forces in 1989 (Admin, PBS, 2006).

During the 1980s in the U.S., funding was significantly reduced for the social welfare safety net programs intended to help poor families and children with access to health care, education, housing, income security, and nutrition (Karger & Stoesz, 2010). At the same time, billions of dollars flowed into Afghanistan to arm and support insurgent anti-communist forces that were fighting against Soviet occupation (Coll, 2005).

Due to ongoing wars, Afghanistan was one of the poorest countries in the world when Operation Enduring Freedom began in 2001. Between October 7, 2001 and January 1, 2002, an estimated 1,000 to 1,300 civilians were killed as a direct result of bombing (Conetta, 2002a). By mid-January, 2002, another 3,200 had died of starvation, exposure, illness or injuries related to invasive bombing by the U.S. and Great Britain (Conetta, 2002b).

Eisenhower’s warning proved to be true. Children and families in both nations have continued to be affected by the costs of war on many levels.


Research Fieldnotes: Monday, October 8, 2001 (continued)

The eagle and long drive give me a chance to compose myself before I reach the reservation.

I arrive at Henry’s house at about 10:40, only ten minutes late for our scheduled meeting….

Community members gathered at the elder’s center the next day for lunch, as they did most weekdays. “I can’t understand why the Afghani people don’t like us,” Maymie says. The elders talk of anthrax, gardens, and making apple cider. They don’t seem to be concerned about the threat of terrorism here, but they do express their confusion about why others in the world seem to hate Americans.


A few days ago, the U.S bombed Afghanistan again with “the mother of all bombs.” Operation Enduring Freedom? Other choices are possible and far more likely to be successful if that really is the goal of U.S. international actions.

I honestly don’t know how to effectively communicate with those who don’t seem to be able to listen or hear. Sometimes all I can do is find moments of beauty despite the deep sorrow I feel. Other times, I just cry, as I did on my first Christmas. Today, I choose to share this message along with my prayers for peace despite the risk of being ignored, criticized or misunderstood.

My Grandson, Ojibwe Ceded Territory, Spring 2001


Works Cited:

Admin (2006, October 10). The Soviet occupation of Afghanistan. PBS Newshour. Retrieved on April 19, 2017 from

Coll, Steve (1005). Ghost wars: The secret history of the CIA, Afghanistan, and Bin Laden, from the Soviet invasion to September 10, 2001. New York, NY: Penguin Books.

Conetta, Carl. (24 January, 2002a). Operation Enduring Freedom: Why a higher rate of civilian bombing casualties. PDA: Project on Defense Alternatives. Retrieved on April 19, 2017 from .

Conetta, Carl. (30 January, 2002). Strange victory: A critical appraisal of Operation Enduring Freedom and the Afghanistan war. PDA: Project on Defense Alternatives. Retrieved on April 19, 2017 from

Eisenhower, Dwight D. (1953, April 16). Chance of Peace. Speech delivered to the American Society of Newspaper Editors in Washington, DC. Retrieved from on March 15, 2015.

Karger, Howard Jacob & Stoesz, David (2010). American social welfare policy: A pluralist approach, 6th ed. Boston, MA: Allyn & Bacon.

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Contemplating Impermanence

Carol A. Hand

Morning Moon – April 14, 2017


Awakening to bird song just before sunrise

Heart touched with a mixture of deep awe and sorrow

Aware of the impermanence of life and beauty

Wondering how many song birds will survive ‘til tomorrow

In a world where cats and sleep-walkers roam free and kill


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Snapshot of an April Evening

Carol A. Hand

A rainy night – April 9, 2017


Clouds briefly parting on the rainy night

allowing Grandmother Moon momentarily to reveal her light

ship horns trumpeting from the nearby bay

pulsating winds humming as budding branches sway


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