I am a Teacher

I’ve been asked many times over the years why I don’t teach. And what they’re referring to, is teaching in a formal educational institute. A teacher at a school. A teacher who gets paid to school pupils on subjects like English, history, politics. I would be good at it, they say. And they’re right. I would be. I have taught–I have been a teacher in formal educational environments. I started teaching at a much younger age than the vast majority of teachers.

I was nine when I became a teacher. My mother chose to homeschool my younger brother and I when I started the fourth grade. But soon after that, there was an accident. My mother was trampled by a horse, and her back was broken. She was bedridden for months, and in addition to being her caretaker during the day, I also took over homeschooling my younger brother. I was good at it, considering my age, maturity, other responsibilities, and the limitations imposed by age, lack of resources, and other responsibilities.

I taught at church–Vacation Bible School during the summers. The four and five year olds were put together in one class, and I was in charge of the four year olds.

I taught in Civil Air Patrol–training cadets in leadership, drill and ceremonies, military customs and courtesies, military history, and other subjects.

By the time I gained my majority, before many of my peers who are now professional teachers began their education and training to become teachers, I had been a teacher for many years.

When people ask me that question–why don’t I teach–I usually brush it off with a joke, along the lines of it not being my thing, or that I had already had my fill of teaching. It’s simpler that way.

But the truth is, I am a teacher. I learned many, many lessons in my time as a cadet in Civil Air Patrol, but one of the lessons that I have carried with me is this: I am a leader. I am a representative [of Civil Air Patrol]. People are always watching, whether or not you are formally representing [Civil Air Patrol]. People will judge the merits and value of [Civil Air Patrol] by your speech, your behavior, and your values.

I am no longer a member of Civil Air Patrol (for now) but I am a leader. I represent my values, my beliefs, my education by my speech and actions.

There are two kinds of leaders: what I call “go ahead” leaders, and “follow me” leaders. I am a “follow me” leader. I lead by example. I don’t expect anything from others that I don’t also expect from myself. I don’t give myself passes or empathy that I wouldn’t also give to others.

I am also a teacher. At the moment, I do not teach in any formal environment, but I will always be a teacher. Teachers and leaders are one and the same.

The only difference is, some of us get paid to do so, and others don’t.

Search Engine Questions: Civil Air Patrol Membership

I’ve seen this feature on a number of blogs I frequent, and I always enjoy them. I hadn’t planned on adding it to my own. However, one query caught my eye.

“can you join civil air patrol if you’re gay”

Yes. Yes, you can join Civil Air Patrol if you’re gay. And please, do. It is the best organization I have had the honor to be a part of, in my life. I have met many amazing people, and experienced many wonderful things. I have no doubt it would be the same for you.

While CAP is affiliated with the United States Air Force, it is a civilian organization based around love of aviation, community, and volunteerism. Anyone is welcome, no matter what the state of the political climate.

Whoever you are, if you have any more questions about CAP–or if you’d like to talk, about anything, my e-mail is in the sidebar to your right. Feel free to contact me anytime.

How I Left Christianity Part Eight: Civil Air Patrol

In the midst of my parents’ divorce, and my ensuing alienation at church, I joined an organization called Civil Air Patrol.

Civil Air Patrol is an amazing organization with a rich history–it was founded just one week before the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, by citizens who saw that the United States was vulnerable to an attack, and wanted to do something to protect the country. Its role during WWII consisted of coastal patrols, looking for German submarines, but has evolved to its current three missions: emergency services, aerospace education, and the cadet program.

I wanted to join the Air Force and become an F-15E pilot, and I decided that CAP would help me along the way. It took me some time to convince my parents–my mother, in the way that only mothers can, worried that I’d be sent off to Iraq, and my father wasn’t convinced that I’d be able to take orders and handle a strict chain of command.

Needless to say, I surprised them both.

I rose quickly through the ranks in the cadet program. I joined my squadron’s Color Guard team, increasing my commitment from one day a week and an occasional weekend to three days a week, and many more weekends. I began training to join the squadron’s search and rescue team.

CAP was my rock. It was my one thing, in all my life, that was mine, and only mine. In Civil Air Patrol, I had a purpose. I had potential. I was a good follower, and had the makings of a good leader. I was serving my country. I was surrounded by like-minded people–driven and devoted, and many of my fellow cadets wanted to join the military. Many of the senior members were veterans.

I was closest with the Color Guard team. We practiced several times a week. We were a competitive team–we were aiming for Nationals. The previous year’s team lost at Region, and we were determined to go farther than they had.

These bonds were unlike anything I’d experienced before–they showed in sharp contrast to my relationships with the people at church. Let me explain:

Our Color Guard team won Wing (state) competition. We traveled to Dayton, Ohio, to Wright-Patterson AFB and Wright State University for Region. We won. Nationals were going to be in Dayton. We were so excited.

We made the drive, settled in, and the competition began. One of the first events, the written exam, was my best. We were sitting outside the building…

and I had a seizure. It was my first, since I was a child and it was thought that I had juvenile epilepsy. No one expected it, not the least of all me. One of my teammates remembered my telling her of my childhood disease, and realized what was going on. I busted open my head, bled all over my uniform and the sidewalk. An ambulance was called, and I was taken to the hospital. My team was left behind, to take the exam without me.

I had no idea what was going on–only that I wasn’t with my team anymore, and my head hurt. A lot. I didn’t care–I just wanted to go back to my team and compete. The doctors, Papa Beemer, and one of the senior members in charge of the Color Guard tried to convince to take it easy, to rest, to recover. We had an alternate. He could take over for me, they said.

I was having none of it. We worked too hard to get here. My team needed me. I was going back. I was competing. The doctors were frustrated with me, but Papa Beemer and the Colonel understood. The Colonel called the NCC staff and explained the situation. I had a stitch to close up the wound in my head. I couldn’t wash the blood out for a couple of days. The judges for inspection weren’t to subtract points for the blood. I was going to take the exam as soon as possible.

It was nearing midnight by the time I returned to the dorm on the Wright-State campus where we were staying. My team was watching for me–they met me in the stairwell. They surrounded me, hugging me. Was I okay? They told me what happened. How the drill team from Puerto Rico were the first to respond to their calls for help. How they held me and watched me bleed, and watched me be taken away from them. How they wanted to drop out of the competition to come with me to the hospital.

Wait–drop out of the competition? I was stunned. No way! You didn’t! No, we didn’t, they said. The other senior member that was in charge of our team had convinced them not to–telling them that that’s not what I would have wanted. Damn skippy! They went in for the exam–and did awfully. They couldn’t concentrate, they were too worried about me, and the image of me lying on the ground, unconscious and bleeding, was too fresh in their minds.

Tears were falling all around, by this time. We’re so glad you’re back, they told me. We’re so glad you’re okay. The teammate who would have taken over for me told me it would have felt so wrong, to be standing in my spot. Finally, we were ushered into one of the rooms. We’d been standing in the stairwell the whole time.

It was a long time before I went back to my room, which I shared with a member of the Ohio drill team. We represented the same region, and so shared rooms, meals, and event times. She was waiting up for me. We talked while I got ready for bed. I found out later she checked on me periodically throughout the night while I slept.

The support I received throughout the next couple of days was overwhelming. Cadets that we were competing against, that our Region’s drill team was competing against, it didn’t matter. The Puerto Rico drill team stuck close. We became fast friends. The Ohio drill team shared the Ale 8 we’d brought for them as a present.

We tied for third place overall. We heard over and over that it should have been ours. I knew it would have been, if it hadn’t been for my seizure. There were no regrets, however. We’d placed. We’d stuck it through. We’d made it through some very hard times.

That experience will stay with me for the rest of my life. True friends. True comrades, true teammates.

My NCC challenge coin

Taxes: I Still Don’t Mind Paying Them

Last year, I wrote this post, explaining why I don’t mind paying taxes. A year later, I’m employed full-time, thereby paying taxes full-time. My stance hasn’t changed. Taxes are the price I pay to participate in an advanced society. I may not agree with every way taxes are used, but looking at the big picture, we are better off as a society.

A year later, I’m still grateful for federal student loans–I wouldn’t have been able to attend university without them. If I hadn’t, I wouldn’t have met, befriended, and loved the many people I met during my time at WKU. I wouldn’t have gotten the chance to study abroad and see a good chunk of Central Europe. And of course, I wouldn’t have learned everything that I did.

A year later, I’m still grateful for police, fire, and especially EMS–my mother might not be alive if these services didn’t exist–and I would be very lost indeed without Momma Beemer. I’d give more than the paltry amount I pay in taxes for my mother’s life. This reason alone makes paying taxes more than worth it. But there’s much more.

Taxes pay the salaries for many, many of my dear friends who serve in the Armed Services–and I’m more than glad that every one of them is employed doing something that they love–flying, missile maintenance, infantry, and more. Not to mention, I wouldn’t be employed without the federal contracts that the government has with my employers.  Nor would my sister.

Civil Air Patrol, an amazing organization in which I was an active member for more than five years, would also not be able to exist on the level that it does without taxes. Its thousands of volunteers across the country better their communities, while at the same time giving its teenaged members leadership training and fostering a love for aviation that will endure for a lifetime. I love CAP, the people within its ranks, and the experiences that it gave me more than I can say. Without CAP, I’m not sure where I’d be right now.

I cannot summarize my feelings better than I did last year, so I will simply restate my closing paragraph:

“As a community, we can’t decide who to help, who deserves to benefit from the things taxes give us, or who should pay more or less depending on some arbitrary judgment of “goodness” or “worthiness.” Our neighborhoods are communities which are part of the city’s community, which is part of the state’s community, which is part of the nation’s community. Each individual is one of many, and unless we pool our resources, very few of us will succeed. Very few. Those who currently do not need “help” cannot stand in judgment of those who do. We have pooled our resources for a reason–because we are all equal. We are all equal, we are different, but the same, and we are part of the same community.

We think a lot about how taxes hurt; but how do they help?”

Traveling While Differently-Abled

As I write this I’m in the backseat of a friend’s SUV, somewhere on the coast of California. I love traveling. I love that feeling of “Wow. I’m in [place] right now” and looking at the mountains, the ocean, the restaurants, and man-made sights. Traveling is a huge privilege, class-wise and abled-bodied wise. The extra things the differently abled have to consider living day-to-day obviously extends to travel as well, though, persons with abled-bodied don’t even consider it.

Plenty of medication has to be packed, the traveling/touring schedule has to be accommodated to fit certain needs, and environmental factors have to be considered. If your traveling partners are all abled-bodied, there’s also the burden of their perceived burden of having to accommodate your needs. All of these things take the whimsical, carefree nature out of traveling. They add stress.

Part of the fun of traveling is seeing new places, but for the differently-abled, that has a downside. At home, we know which places are friendly to our needs, and which places are not. Our doctors are close at hand, as are our pharmacies. Our living spaces at home are already suited to our needs. We have a support system of family, friends, loved ones at home. None of this is so when you go out of town.

When traveling with companions that are all visibly different from you, locals (or other travelers) want to know why. People like to hear the traveler’s story—where you’re from and why you’re there. When you’re visibly different (in my case the only civilian) they want to know why you’re different (why I’m not in the military). And it hurts. We are constantly reminded of our difference, and these questions are only another slap in the face. These questioners are genuinely curious, but that doesn’t change the feeling one gets when you have to endure these questions. I was already very acutely aware of my civilian status. When my traveling companions are in uniform it is all the more so.

See, I desperately wanted to be in the military. My dream, from the age of thirteen, was to join the Air Force and become a pilot. I wanted to wear the uniform. I wanted to serve my country. I joined Civil Air Patrol at the age of fourteen to better my chances, and I loved it. I loved the military culture. I loved how the uniform made me feel. I love the feeling of serving. I loved that respect (that a woman, and a differently-abled one, gets all too rarely). The uniform masked my womanness, the things that signaled my second-class status, and my accomplishments were born right on my uniform, unable to be disputed by others. My accomplishments were the first thing others saw.

So when I was asked about my difference, it was a crushing blow. I had to, again, for the thousandth time, decide if I was going to be “polite” aka a dutiful broken body and disclose my disability, or if I was going to be “rude,” and not satisfy the local’s curiosity, and therefore be an uppity broken body instead. Making that decision at home, in my comfort zone, is one thing. Making it in a new place, where I am merely a visitor and am completely unfamiliar with, is entirely another. It reminded me that my body can’t do the things I want to do, and that my dream is forever taken from me. They tell you as a child you can be anything you want to be, do anything you want to do. For the differently-abled, our disability tells us, each minute of every day: NO YOU CAN’T.

I’m having a wonderful time. I celebrated my birthday here yesterday, and I did not regret being away from home. But for me, and others like me, there’s always something lurking at the back of the mind.