Category Archives: Quotes

Maggie Kuhn

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In the third post about the Play Me, I’m Yours piano installation in Mesa, AZ, I mentioned one of the reasons for writing given on the piano presented by Phonetic Spit was this: I write to speak my mind, even when my voice shakes.

I knew I’d seen some variation of the quote before, but who’d said it? Audre Lorde? Alice Walker? I did a Google search and found Maggie Kuhn was the woman who gave us those words.

Who’s Maggie Kuhn? I didn’t know either, until I did a little reading up on her.

According to http://womenshistory.about.com/cs/quotes/a/maggie_kuhn.htm,

Maggie Kuhn is best known for founding the organization often called the Gray Panthers [officially known at first as the Consultation of Older and Younger Adults for Social Change], a social activist organization raising issues of justice and fairness for older Americans…

The Wikipedia article about Kuhn tells more about the work she and the Gray Panthers did.

In 1970, although [Kuhn] was working at a job she loved with the Presbyterian Church, she was forced to retire the day she turned 65 because of the mandatory retirement law then in effect. That year, she banded together with other retirees and formed the Gray Panthers movement. Seeing all issues of injustice as inevitably linked, they refused to restrict themselves to elder rights activism, but focused also on peace, presidential elections, poverty, and civil liberties. Their first big issue was opposition to the Vietnam War.

Kuhn raised controversy by openly discussing the sexuality of older people, and shocked the public with her assertion that older women, who outlive men by an average of 8 years, could develop sexual relationships with younger men or each other.

I couldn’t find any information about when or where Kuhn said or wrote her famous words advising us to speak our minds, but I did find the longer quote of which these words are part. The Presbyterian Historical Society gives the longer quote as

Leave safety behind. Put your body on the line. Stand before the people you fear and speak your mind–even if your voice shakes. When you least expect it, someone may actually listen to what you have to say. Well-aimed slingshots can topple giants.

I suspect Maggie Kuhn would be quite pleased to know young people remembered her sentiment and wrote it on a piano in an Arizona town for all to see.

Go to the Poor People

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If you’re in trouble, or hurt or need–go to the poor people. They’re the only ones that’ll help–the only ones.”

–John Steinbeck

I agree with Mr. Steinbeck on this one. When I was on the road with nothing–no food, no money, no gas–it was often the people who seemed poor who helped me. I was always touched when people who seemed to have very little shared what they did have with me.

One day I got an object lesson in the generosity of the poor and the stinginess of the rich.

I was in Bakersfield, California (population approximately 350,000) with Mr. Carolina, Lil C, and the Okie. I was flying a sign that read “Traveling, Broke & Hungry” at the main Wal-Mart exit. We were trying to get money for some dinner and enough gas to at least get out of town.

I’d been standing there with my sign for a while when I saw a Hummer approaching the exit. No one in a Hummer had ever given me so much as a dime before, so I resigned myself to getting nothing from this driver. But a miracle happened! The Hummer stopped next to me, and the passenger side window slid down. I could see the woman in the driver’s seat rummaging in her purse. She pulled out a bill and leaned across the seat to hand it to me out of the passenger window. I reached for the bill, and there was a moment when both my benefactor and I had our hands on it.

We realized at the same moment that the bill was a twenty. I let out a little noise of joy, and the woman let out a little noise of consternation. Just as I was saying, Oh! Thank you!, the woman pulled the bill out of my hand. Apparently the woman driving the vehicle that cost at least $30,000 new could not afford to give away $20. She ended up giving me $5, and I was grateful for it, although not as grateful as I would have been for that $20 bill I’d briefly had my fingers on.

Some time later, a young guy road up behind me on a bicycle. He asked me about my sign. I told him my friends and I were trying to get out of Bakersfield, trying to get out of California, heading to Oklahoma so one the the friends could get home in time for his mother’s birthday, all of which was true. I told him the four of us were hoping to get some money to buy some dinner and gasoline.

The young man reached into his pocket and pulled out two or three crumpled $1 bills and handed them to me. I thanked him, knowing this was probably quite a generous contribution from someone getting around on a bicycle. I watched him ride off, then turn the bike around and ride back to me.

You know what, he said, you should just take all the money I have in my pockets.

He pulled out a few more crumpled $1 bills. In all, I think he gave me $7.

After I thanked him again, he told me he was giving me the money in Jesus’ name. He told me he felt very fortunate to have a job and his bicycle, things he’d gotten through Jesus, and he felt like Jesus would want him to give me all the money in his pockets.

I felt like I had just witnessed a Biblical parable. The rich lady driving the Hummer had a $20 bill, but decided after I had my hand on it that she needed it more than I did. The poor boy riding a bicycle, however, saw my need as greater than his, so he emptied his pockets and gave the contents to me.

I don’t think Mr. Steinbeck would have been surprised.

 

We Create the World

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However unimportant our little lives may be, however invisible we may sometimes feel, we create the world around us just by being in it.

–Katie Haegele

Katie Haegele used to be a pen pal of mine, but we haven’t been in touch in many years.

At the end of 2014 I entered a giveaway on GoodReads for a book called Slip of the Tongue that sounded interesting. I didn’t realize at the time that the book was written by someone I knew. When I received notification that I’d won the book, I still didn’t realize that I knew the author. It was only when I found the book in my mailbox and tore off the wrapping and saw Katie’s name written in that font she used in her zines that I made the connection.

It’s a great book. It’s about language and Katie’s life and the role language plays in shaping Katie’s life. I recommend it to all you word geeks out there.

My favorite part of the whole book is the one sentence I used to open this post. It’s from the essay “Invisible Weaver.” That one sentence gives me hope. Sometimes I feel so useless. What am I creating that will outlast me? Am I doing anything that will live on after I am dead? Sometimes I feel my life is a complete and utter waste. But maybe, if as Katie says, I am creating the world just by being in it, maybe I’m doing ok.