It wouldn’t be Christmas without U2’s Bono rocking out to this Darlene Love original!
We hear it all the time: “In order for kids to be college and career ready, they need to use rigor and grit.” No they don’t. They need the fighting anthems of the 1980s. The music nowadays just doesn’t carry that “stir your soul” kind of feeling like we got way back when. Take this for example:
Just once in his life a man has his time
And my time is now, and I’m coming alive
I can hear the music playin’, I can see the banners fly
Feel like you’re back again, and hope ridin’ high
Gonna be your man in motion, all I need is a pair of wheels
Take me where the future’s lyin’, St. Elmo’s fire
I can see a new horizon underneath the blazin’ sky
I’ll be where the eagle’s flying higher and higher
Gonna be your man in motion, all I need is a pair of wheels
Take me where the future’s lyin’, St. Elmo’s fire
The title track by John Parr from the 1985 movie, St. Elmo’s Fire, is all about the spirit kids needed thirty years ago. There is all this talk about “growth”, but the people saying that fail to realize these kids are growing up all by themselves. True growth comes from within. Not from a standardized test. Even Dexy’s Midnight Runners knew this, with their one-hot wonder Come On Eileen:
These people round here
Wear beaten down eyes sunk in smoke dried faces;
So resigned to what their fate is
But not us, no never, no not us, no never
We are far too young and clever
Now people don’t smoke like they did back in 1983, but we see a lot of beat down eyes sunk in faces. I usually see them at the Delaware State Board of Education meetings. Some of the music back then can actually flip on itself, and apply to the people sitting at that table down in the Townsend Building in Dover:
What you gonna do when things go wrong?
What you gonna do when it all cracks up?
What you gonna do when the love burns down?
What you gonna do when the flames go up?
Who is gonna come and turn the tide?
What’s it gonna take to make a dream survive?
Who’s got the touch to calm the storm inside?
Don’t say goodbye, don’t say goodbye
In the final seconds who’s gonna save you?
Alive and Kicking
Simple Minds indeed! Whereas students are Alive and Kicking, just like the kids were in 1985, our State Board needs to wake up! Kids have way too much pressure nowadays. So did Queen and David Bowie back in 1982, but they found a way to turn into one of the best songs ever written!
Insanity laughs under pressure we’re breaking
Can’t we give ourselves one more chance
Why can’t we give love that one more chance
Why can’t we give love give love give love give love
Give love give love give love give love give love
‘Cause love’s such an old fashioned word
And love dares you to care for
The people on the (People on streets) edge of the night
And love (People on streets) dares you to change our way of
Caring about ourselves
This is our last dance
This is our last dance
This is ourselves
The pressure kids are under these days between just growing up, and starting in Kindergarten, this need to constantly improve under the lens of proficiency is sheer madness! Kids need Dreams:
So baby, dry your eyes, save all the tears you’ve cried
Oh, that’s what dreams are made of
Oh baby, we belong in a world that must be strong
Oh, that’s what dreams are made of
And in the end on dreams we will depend
‘Cause that’s what love is made
How is today’s youth going to be able to burst into this Common Core world and be able to strategically think on their own if they are programmed to think the same as everyone else? They need to aspire to their own dreams. Not the ones designed to make education reformers filthy rich. I can picture Jack Markell and Paul Herdman playing this next song when they were planning their 20 year vision ten years ago:
You can tell I’m educated, I studied at the Sorbonne
Doctored in mathematics, I could have been a don
I can program a computer, choose the perfect time
If you’ve got the inclination, I have got the crime
Oh, there’s a lot of opportunities
If you know when to take them, you know?
There’s a lot of opportunities
If there aren’t, you can make them
Make or break them
Yeah, you’re definitely trying to break them. Especially with your latest Annual Measurable Objectives that are NEVER going to be met. Kids need real heroes nowadays. They need someone like Martin Luther King to rise them out of the high-stakes testing stupor as U2 glorified him like no other back in 1984:
One man come in the name of love
One man come and go
One man come he to justify
One man to overthrow
In the name of love
What more in the name of love
In the name of love
What more in the name of love
But instead, Moms and Dads coming home from work dread going over the latest batch of Common Core math homework. I think the Police predicted the future with Synchronicity II:
Daddy grips the wheel and stares alone into the distance
He knows that something somewhere has to break
He sees the family home now, looming in his headlights
The pain upstairs that makes his eyeballs ache
Many miles away there’s a shadow on the door
Of a cottage on the shore
Of a dark Scottish lake
Even more frightening is the fear kids must have when they think about actually taking the Smarter Balanced Assessment. It is pounded into them from day one, and it has to be a lot like the things that scared us when we were kids. They probably have nightmares and start to plan how they can get out of it. Maybe a fever? Are they feeling Hot Hot Hot? The Cure thought so:
Hey, hey, hey
Yes, I’m jumping like a jumping jack
I’m dancing, screaming, itching, squealing
Fevered, feeling, hot, hot, hot
Children and teenagers instinctively know when something isn’t right. They need to question things, just as parents need to as well. Even the German band Alphaville called it thirty years before the Smarter Balanced Assessment:
Can you imagine when this race is won?
Turn our golden faces into the sun,
Praising our leaders, we’re getting in tune
The music’s played by the, the madman.
I want to be forever young.
Do you really want to live forever?
Forever, and ever
The generation that belongs to this toxic testing in education is in severe psychological danger. Longer hours at school, being taught to a test that is absolutely horrible, and parents feeling intimidated by schools. They want to do the right thing, but some are too frightened of the consequences for their kids. The cold hard reality is this: there are no consequences for their children except the imaginary ones the Delaware DOE and Governor Markell want to impose on them. But no song exemplifies the glory of the ’80s more than the original Vision song: Journey’s Only The Young!
They’re seein’ through the promises
And all the lies they dare to tell
Is it heaven or hell?
They know very well
Only the young can say
They’re free to fly away
Sharing the same desire
Burnin’ like wildfire
The only way to help the children of today be unique and individual is to say NO! Parents need to rise. The most frightening part is that many of the people making the decisions nowadays are the same ones who used to be unique individuals thirty years ago. Now, they are just common. The same. Don’t let your child be the same. Opt your child out today. Let your young children play and love them with everything you are. Help them learn at their own pace and not within the confines of proficiency models and growth methodology. Don’t let their youth drift by at the hands of these education monsters.
Read more: Queen – Under Pressure Lyrics | MetroLyrics
Read more: Van Halen – Dreams Lyrics | MetroLyrics
Read more: The Cure – Hot Hot Hot Lyrics | MetroLyrics
One friend. Just one. Sometimes that’s all we need. Just one, in a lifetime of people that pass through.
In 1981, I moved from Roanoke, VA to South Salem, NY. Entering 6th grade, I was scared and nervous. I was an okay student, but I had some minor disabilities in the form of attention deficit with a touch of hyperactivity. When we moved that May, our new house wasn’t finished yet, but we sold the prior house so we had to rent a home for about three months. For a month and a half, I went to an elementary school in Chappaqua, NY. For about three weeks in July, we moved in with my Aunt and Uncle in Brookfield, CT, on the shores of Candlewood Lake. Finally, in the beginning of August we moved to our new home in a small residential neighborhood in the bottom southwest corner of NY state. If you walked through the woods about 1/2 a mile, you would be in Connecticut.
Within days of moving in, I met the Eds. Two boys, my age and in the same grade, both named Ed. All three of us had a love of comic books, so the first day we met, we were trading comics left and right. Both of them played soccer, but I wasn’t interested in the game having done horrible a year prior.
I had a very difficult time making friends at my new school. I had a southern accent, and it quickly became apparent I was a little different. As well, I stupidly asked a question in 6th grade math when talking about rocks. “Are rocks alive?” branded me for a few months as the village idiot. And a month into school, when we could run for town positions, I decided to run for town clerk. I had to give a speech at an assembly, and after uttering the words “My name is Kevin Ohlandt, and I’m running for town clerk”, most of the school was heard repeating these words when I would walk by. My reaction was fierce! I started talking back to those who taunted and teased me, and threats of “kicking my ass” soon followed. It became a vicious cycle of taunt & tease, react, threats, and then me backing down and often crying or running away from the situation.
The two Eds though, they never joined the crowd. After school, I would often hang out with them, usually exploring the vast amount of woods behind our houses. Sometimes a bunch of neighborhood kids would play football or baseball, or in the summer, very large games of Flashlight Tag at night. We would ride our bikes, go to new houses being built, or throw rocks on a frozen pond in the winter. Eddie and I would walk to the bus stop almost every day.
As sixth grade led to junior high school, things got progressively worse for me. Instead of battling one school, it was now four rolled into one. More enemies. Fights happened, usually with my “ass getting kicked”, but I still reacted without thinking. Before too long, I was the one starting things. But through it all, every day, I would sit at lunch eating with the two Eds and some other kids. After school, more of the same.
During 7th and 8th grade, with my obnoxious big mouth and instigating tactics, I was often told to sit at the front of the bus. Usually one of the Eds would sit with me. He was called Eddie by most. Eddie was the tallest of the three of us. He was a gentle soul, always smiling. He could be quiet and reserved at times, but for the most part we would talk and joke around. I nicknamed him Smiley the Terrible. I can’t for the life of me remember the context of the nickname, but terrible is the last adjective I would ever use to think of Eddie.
In 9th grade, still in Junior High School in our district, Eddie would share stories he wrote. For a 14-15 year old, he wrote some very intelligent, well thought-out stories. It was better than a lot of the stuff I had to read at school! His imagination knew no bounds, even getting into some physics stuff before our time.
Things started to change when we entered high school. Our interests changed. The two Eds were heavily involved in soccer or other sports, and our four years of shared CCD classes ended after we were all confirmed. I was still into comic books, even working at a comic book store over the border in Connecticut on Saturdays. As friends tend to do at different points in our lives, we drifted apart. I was very involved in youth groups and church activities, but that was in Connecticut. We still talked, all three of us, but the conversations were more about what was going on or what girls we liked.
When I was in 11th grade, in 1987, I participated in a large church retreat called Emmaus. For first-time participants, we were called candidates. Emmaus was essentially an unconditional love fest retreat from Friday evening to Sunday evening. Prior attendees, both teenagers and adults, would work the retreat. As part of Emmaus, parents were encouraged to reach out to their teenager’s friends to write letters to the candidates. I received letters from the two Eds. Eddie wrote the following:
Many people used to ask me why I was your friend. “Why not?” was my usual response. Perhaps they understood, perhaps they didn’t.
Eddie went on to write about some other things, but he concluded with this:
I’m glad you are my friend just because you are.
I received many letters from friends and family that weekend, but this was one of the ones that touched me the most. No matter what, even if I embarrassed him with my actions, Eddie was committed to being my friend. I had other friends, but it’s rare to have a friend that goes back years as a kid with disabilities.
Towards the end of our Senior year, Eddie and I talked a bit more. Perhaps it was nostalgia creeping in as we prepared to embark on the next chapter of our sheltered lives, or maybe we found common ground. Whatever it was, it culminated at a party at my house a month after graduation. My parents were away, and my two older brothers and I had a huge party. The two Eds came, and I remember the three of us talking in my backyard. We made a toast to the past and to the future. To my recollection, it was the last time all three of us were together.
After a year of trying to “find myself”, I moved to Pennsylvania with my parents and attended community college. The first few years there were very rough for me. Transition and I have never been good friends. In the Fall of 1992 I would transfer to Cabrini College in Radnor, PA as a junior. The summer before, I had the coolest job ever. I was an editor for a magazine called Comics Values Monthly. The owner of the comic book store I worked for back in 1985 started this magazine a year later after he closed the shop. I continued to work for him throughout high school. In 1991, his magazine was really taking off, and I offered to help. Once a month, I would go up to Connecticut and New York during weekends and submit freelance work I did for the magazine throughout the month. I went over to Eddie’s house one night during the summer, and we chatted a bit. He was attending Washington College in Chestertown, MD.
On October 16th, 1992, a friend was driving me to a party. A wicked storm came in, thunder and lightning all over the place. As we were driving, I felt something. I knew something happened. My heart felt a sudden emptiness, a vacancy. I didn’t know what it was, and it scared the hell out of me. All I knew was that someone, somewhere, that I was once close to died. I knew it in my conscious mind and I was sad. By the time we got to the party, I put it out of my mind and had the kind of fun you can only have in college!
The next day, I felt a need to go home. I was at Cabrini for a month and a half, and it was a whirlwind of studies, partying, working on the school newspaper, and working for the magazine. I needed a break. My parents had gone away that weekend, so I had the house to myself. Early that Sunday morning, I received a phone call. It was the other Ed’s mother. I will never forget the words. “I hate to tell you this, Eddie died Friday night.”
Eddie became involved in theater at Washington College. While working on lighting for an upcoming play, he was electrocuted. He died instantly. The horrible loss I felt that Friday evening, over 100 miles away from Chestertown, MD, was Eddie passing away. I found out later it was the exact same time of his death.
The next few days were a blur. The following Wednesday was Eddie’s funeral. I was unable to attend the wake the night before. In Pennsylvania, it was raining non-stop. I left very early, at 5:30am in the morning. As I drove along the Delaware River on the New Jersey side, I put a tape on of U2’s Unforgettable Fire. The title track of the album was playing and I felt Eddie’s loss more than I had at any other moment. After the song finished, I put on a tape by a singer called Michael W. Smith. He is a Christian singer who had some moderate mainstream success in the early 1990s. He had just come out with a new album, and one of the songs was called “Friends”. Another singer released this song years prior, and the first time I heard it was on my Emmaus weekend back in 1987. As the song played driving up to Eddie’s funeral, I thought of his letter and the words he wrote.
Packing up the dreams God planted, in the fertile soil of you. Can’t believe the hopes He’s granted, means a chapter in your life is through. But we’ll keep you close as always. It won’t even seem you’ve gone. Cause our hearts, in big and small ways, will keep the love that keeps us strong. And friends are friends forever, if the Lord’s the Lord of them. And a friend will not say never, and the welcome will not end. Though it’s hard to let you go, in the Father’s hands we know, that a lifetime’s not too long to live as friends.”
While the words gave me comfort, I was also angry. How could God strike someone down in the prime of his youth. 22 years old. He had a whole lifetime ahead of him. I regretted losing touch with him over the years. I didn’t realize it at the time, but he inspired me to write. He got me to take a journalism class in high school, and his many stories spurred my own creativity. But somewhere along the way, the focus shifted between us. When I was in high school, I was very involved in theater, whether it was bit parts in plays, or helping to be stage manager during our high school’s variety shows. This extended into community college for many years as well. Even after college, I still got parts at my old community college. But this evolved into writing. Eddie went from writing to theater. He was one of those guys who really didn’t have a hateful bone in his body.
As I was writing this, I decided to Google Eddie and Washington College. I knew he had been electrocuted while working on lighting. But I didn’t realize he was working on a particular chandelier in the auditorium as part of his drama thesis. Something about this gnawed at me. Being the packrat I am, I tend to keep everything. When I pulled out Eddie’s old Emmaus letter, I remembered he wrote me a letter when he was at Washington College. There was something about a light in the letter. I pulled it out of the dusty bin, and read it…
There’s a neat light in the theater that I was shown my freshman year here, it’s kinda like a night light, but it isn’t. It’s really peaceful though and if you ever get a chance to get down here, I’ll show you it.
I wish I would have taken him up on his offer. It’s been 23 years since Eddie died. Whenever I used to go up to our old town, I would always make it a point to visit him at his grave. In the year after he passed, sometimes I would spend hours there, talking to him, or just thinking, or praying. I haven’t been up in that area in a long, long time. The last time I was there, I was married and had my son for quite a while. Gone were the days of my youth. This was before I knew of my son’s disabilities and the battles ahead. Before a blog even entered my mind. I was just a dad, struggling with myself during those transition years.
A couple years after I moved to Delaware, I played hookie from work one day. I went for a long drive, not sure where I was going. I just went where my car took me. I found myself in Maryland, in a place called Chestertown. I drove past an old college, but I didn’t make the connection. This was where Eddie breathed his last. Even after I left this town and the beautiful river that went into the Chesapeake Bay, I didn’t know. It wasn’t until years later when Facebook took off and I reconnected with old friends, that I found out. Someone said Washington College when talking about Eddie, and my answer about why I found myself at Washington College was answered. I suppose my subconscious knew.
I think about Eddie from time to time. If I hear mention of Chestertown or Washington College, his smiling face appears in my mind. Recently, a friend of mine was telling me about how her daughter goes to Washington College, and I started thinking about Eddie again. I wanted to write about him, and honor my friend. My friend who was there for me when so many others weren’t. When peers were saying why and he didn’t care. Everyone needs a friend like that. Everyone needs that one person they can turn to, no matter how bad it is, and just knowing they care makes all the difference.
Sometimes I wonder about how I find the things I do with this blog. How I find the strength to keep going, to put something up on here every day. The little things, like looking for an answer to a question, never finding it, but the seeking opens up a door to something else. I’ve written before about how another person in my life gave me inspiration when I first started this journey. We have no idea how much the departed can impact us, how they push us in certain directions if we are open to it. If we listen. Sometimes, when I write, I go back and read it months later and wonder where I got those words. I like to think Eddie, and others gone before and since, are guiding me under the watchful eye of God, who I have never given enough credit for the wonderful things in my life: my wife, my son, my friends, my family. The sunset that stretches across the sky at night on my way home from work. The moments of absolute stillness when you feel like you are one with the world. The nights when you are alone with nothing but the stars and you get lost in the vastness of it all. That’s all God. Something I need to remember.
It was so long ago, when my friend was in my life. But he is still here, in my heart and even in my words. He reminds me that God is still a part of my life, even when I don’t think He is there. Part of the reason I stand up for children with disabilities is because long ago, Eddie stood up for me. Eddie may be gone from this world, but he still burns brightly in my mind. A light that he found, an unforgettable fire.
Flashback: September, 1986. The three of us go to a movie in New Canaan, CT. It’s a movie about a group of friends who have a moment in their lives when they have to make a journey to find a dead body. But like most things in life, it doesn’t go the way they planned.
I never had any friends like the ones I had when I was twelve. Jesus, does anyone?
I cry every time I see the end of Stand By Me now. Every single time. I think of Eddie, and what he meant to me, and still does. Thank you Stephen King, for writing those words in your original short story called “The Body”, adapted into Stand By Me. Just seventeen words to encapsulate a time when one person made a difference.
I wrote this many years ago on my older blog, Tales From Another Time, but I still believe in these words. 14 years later, when I really remember, I can still vividly recall every second of that horrible day.
Those four key strokes bring back so many memories for so many. For me, it reminds me of the darkest day I have ever known. Full of death, and fear, and tragedy. Any innocence I may have had, any idealistic hope I had for world peace, it died that day. I saw the face of hatred. I felt the fear the word terror brings. We all did. We cried. We prayed. We sat in front of our television sets and watched horror unfold before our eyes. We looked at an empty sky with a mind-numbing feeling of disbelief. We were in shock for weeks after. We knew there wouldn’t be many survivors. We wanted to close our eyes and pretend it didn’t happen, that people didn’t die that day, and yet, we couldn’t. We knew.
Every year, on that day, I try to remember it. I firmly believe it should be a national day of mourning. Not a holiday. A holiday is a day of celebration. This day should be a somber day. A day of remembrance. A day of solitude.
I honestly don’t think there has been a day since that I haven’t thought of it. It still makes me sad and angry. I think about my son, who will be five next week. And how he didn’t have to live on that day. He was born more than two and a half years later. For him, it will be a very important chapter in a history book. He will ask me what happened that day, and I will tell him. He will ask why, and whose fault it was. And I really don’t know what I will tell him. You can blame Al Qaeda and Osama Bin Laden. You can blame the agencies that could have prevented it had they simply communicated with each other. But at the end of the day, what will that change? What happened, happened.
I think about the jumpers from time to time. And that painful choice they must have had. Die of fire and smoke or leap to certain death. For those who chose to look in pictures and on tv, those images will stay with us forever. I was raised Catholic. To me, suicide is not an option under any circumstances. But what do you call that choice? You know you are going to die. You won’t be saved. What do you do? I pray to God no one ever has to make that choice again.
Since that fateful day, the world has become a chaotic place. It has always been that way, but the mask was torn off that day. What we hoped and prayed wasn’t the case turned out to be very real. Wars have been fought, greed has elevated, and the world’s economy is the worst since the pre World War II years. I believe what we are looking at is evil run rampant. There is no black and white, or even gray areas. It is what it is and it is called chaos.
In the coming years, we will negotiate with fundamentalists who destroy lives. We will see the seeds of greed in our own homes, as the economic meltdown gets worse and every single household is affected. We will see uglier terroristic attacks and somewhere someone will die because of it. We will see the world reject us more and more as our environment is changed in ways we never imagined or in ways we didn’t want to see. We will see areas of the world once vibrant with life turned into desserts.
And yet, we will survive. We will do what we did in those days and weeks after 9/11. We will pick up the pieces of our shattered lives, and look for hope. I pray we will unite and conquer these problems together. Not by electing someone to lead us, but by truly coming together and defeating the evils that plague us. We need to stop blaming others for the shape of the world and form new shapes. We need to recognize that what someone believes in isn’t always wrong, but their own point of view. We need to walk on.
*Editor’s note: The original version of this appeared a year ago today. I have added the U2 video and changed the number of years.
I remember watching U2 perform at Live Aid thirty years ago today. I saw their concert in Hartford, CT a few months earlier but I was a new fan then. When I saw them perform “Bad” at Live Aid it catapulted them in my mind to a new level. This was a band that was going to last for the ages. When Bono reached out to the crowd, it was like nothing I had ever seen before. This is a singer who doesn’t just touch an audience, they become one.