March 25, 2005: Headlines: Coyne Column: COS - Ethiopia: COS - Uruguay: Writing - Uruguay: Secondary Education: PCOL Exclusive: The Coyne Column: A Good Friday Message

Peace Corps Online: Directory: Ethiopia: Special Report: Ethiopia RPCV and Author/Editor John Coyne: March 25, 2005: Headlines: Coyne Column: COS - Ethiopia: COS - Uruguay: Writing - Uruguay: Secondary Education: PCOL Exclusive: The Coyne Column: A Good Friday Message

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The Coyne Column: A Good Friday Message

The Coyne Column: A Good Friday Message

The Coyne Column: A Good Friday Message

A Good Friday Message

John P. Coyne

From 1984 - 1992 Dr. John Eggers (Uruguay 1965-67) was principal at Red Lake High School, the school in northern Minnesota where the recent shooting took place. He knew the families of the victims; many were his students at the high school. Red Lake High School is the largest totally American Indian school in Minnesota. While there his programs on two occasions won Governor Star awards for the most innovative programs in Minnesota. Among his most successful programs at Red Lake was the Four Winds Alternative School, which graduated over 90% of its students before he left in 1992. This was a significant achievement for American Indian schools.

For the general student population, his staff helped increase the graduation rate by more than 30%. The school has an enrollment of about 300 students in grades 7 - 12. The Red Lake Reservation is a bit larger than Rhode Island. It is located on the shores of Red Lake, one of the largest fresh water lakes located totally within one state and is about two hours from the Canadian border.

Since serving as principal, he has worked on the reservation as a consultant/teacher/writer at various times. This is a short piece he wrote for his weekly newspaper column about the recent tragedy at Red Lake High School.

Don’t Forget to Color the Sky Blue

 Red Lake High School

Caption: Twelve-year-old Rodney White Jr., left and his cousin Bryan Stately place flowers on a makeshift memorial outside the Red Lake Senior High School in Red Lake, Minn., Friday, March 25, 2005. Jeff Weise, a 16-year-old student at Red Lake High School killed ten people including himself in a shooting spree Monday. Rodney's sister, Alicia White was one of the five students killed by Weise at the high school AP Photo/Ann Heisenfelt

Did your teachers tell you to color the sky blue? There was a time when many elementary teachers would give specific directions to their students about what colors to use. They would tell students to “be sure and color the grass green and the apples red and the sun yellow. Of most importance, don’t forget to color the sky blue.”

Teachers were not out to limit the creativity in children, they just wanted to make sure they got things right—at least according to their thinking. With regards to the “blue sky,” I would like to think that teachers wanted their students to always look at the brighter side of things depicted by the blue sky with the bright yellow sun and its glorious rays placed in the top right corner of the page shining down on a little farm with horses in the pasture.

When we get into deep despair, when we feel we can sink no lower, when we experience life at its worst, we need to remember to always color our sky blue and to help others do the same.

It was Christmas of 1977. Former Vice President Hubert Humphrey had less than two weeks to live. During the holidays he had his entire family around him in Waverly, Minnesota. Edgar Berman, Humphrey’s personal physician, writes in his book, “Hubert,” that Humphrey was thinking a lot about Richard Nixon. He felt he needed to phone him to see how he was doing.

You might recall that Nixon narrowly defeated Humphrey in the 1968 election. They were not friends by any stretch of the imagination. Yet, here was a dying Humphrey calling Nixon to see how he was doing. He asked him if his family was celebrating the holidays with him. Nixon said that his daughters were with the other relatives and that it was a quiet Christmas. His wife, Pat, was also not feeling well.

A week or so later when Humphrey phoned him again to wish him a happy birthday, Nixon told Humphrey that he had felt a lot better after his call. In his own way Humphrey helped color the sky blue for Nixon.

For Humphrey, coloring the sky blue meant that he would not allow tragedy and despair to do him in. For Humphrey, coloring the sky blue meant helping others and allowing others to help him.

My mother in law is someone who colors the sky blue and continues to fight the good fight. You would think that someone with Alzheimer's would be the last one who would or even could look for a silver lining. Yet, she seems to find it within her to smile, to feel the warmth given to her by her two daughters, and to look forward to eating the next meal however meager and unappealing it may be. I always find it up-lifting whenever I visit her. She helps me color my sky blue.

Coloring the sky blue is not easy. How could anyone possibly remember to color the sky blue after the recent tragic events in Red Lake? All of us should first understand that the events in Red Lake should be as much of a concern for all of society as they are for the Red Lake Band of Chippewa. Let’s face it, our society is not well and some major fixing and healing needs to occur.

During my first years while serving as principal of Red Lake High School in the late 1980’s, the father of one our cheerleaders had drowned while fishing. It was early in the week and the daughter came into my office and said that she would be out the remainder of the week but that she might be able to be at Friday’s football game. I thanked her for telling me, offered my sympathy and said there was no need to worry about the game. I wondered how she would be able to pull herself together by Friday. Yet, when Friday came, there she was on the sidelines in her cheerleading outfit.

The Red Lake Band of Chippewa are a strong and proud people. They have experienced pain before and have always used it as a catalyst to strengthen their ties with each other and their culture and to bring about positive change within their society. If anyone can survive a tragedy of this magnitude, it is the Red Lake people.

Faith has a lot to do with coloring our sky blue. When Rosa Parks decided not to give her bus seat to a white person in Montgomery, Alabama, she knew things would be initially worse because of her action but things would eventually get better. Of course, we know the rest of the story. Rosa Parks was a very religious person and had it not been for the strength that she obtained from her connection to her church, she probably would have given up her seat. Faith and hope are undoubtedly our greatest assets in overcoming adversity.

As difficult as it is at times, coloring the sky blue means remembering that there is always a tomorrow and that life goes on. It is important that we show strength and resilience not only for ourselves but for our young people who are just now learning the importance of what it means to color their sky blue.

March 24, 2005

 Paint the Sky Blue

John Coyne is the Editor of the Peace Corps Writers web site.

Hugh Pickens contributed the visual design.

When this story was posted in March 2005, this was on the front page of PCOL:

Peace Corps Online The Independent News Forum serving Returned Peace Corps Volunteers

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RPCVs: Post your stories or press releases here for inclusion next week.

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This story has been posted in the following forums: : Headlines; Coyne Column; COS - Ethiopia; COS - Uruguay; Writing - Uruguay; Secondary Education



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