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Cultural heritage may be a large component in telling a life story, but the core of an individual is the human aspect – sorrow and joy, fear and courage, adversity and triumph, grief and healing, etc.  It is that aspect that is relatable, regardless of passage of time and cross-cultural differences.

Stories, music and art offer common human spirit denominators.  These two videos became viral, because they created a global resonance:

Where the Hell is Matt?

Eric Whitacre’s Virtual Choir – “Lux Aurumque”

A good biographer understands that telling a life story should be holistic, non-judgmental and balanced – culture, friendship, loss, adventures, growth, faith, wisdom, lessons, etc. 

Every person’s life story, without exception, will affect every person who reads it. 

Tell your story.  Affect the world.

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“You will always find an answer in the sound of water.”     Chuang-Tse

Water can be transparent or murky, cold or warm, can bring tragedy or joy.

This morning, as I listened to the rhythmic jerk of the sprinkler’s water spray, I was transported back in time when my girlfriends and I giggled running through sprinklers to escape the heat.

I considered other sounds of water that evoke memories for me:

  • Ocean waves building strength and momentum before crashing to the shore, smoothing out sandcastles, and burying our feet deeper in the sand as the water receded.
  • The splat as water balloons hit their marks – whether human targets or the sidewalk from the top of building.
  • Cannonballs into swimming pools trying to make the biggest splash. Ever.
  • “Marco!” “Polo!”
  • The quiet lapping of water on the lakeshore, subtly and gently massing the soul.
  • Jostling and clinking of ice cubes in a summer beverage invited relief to parched throats.

Rafting. Kayaking. Waterfalls. Fountains. Creeks. Squirt guns.

What memories do the sounds of water conjure up for you?

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Children should be seen and not heard.”

Children definitely did not have a voice. The April 1874 case of Mary Ellen Wilson illustrates this point:

A charity worker was alerted to the severe abuse eight year old Mary Ellen was suffering in the home of her “stepmother.” The charity worker could not have Mary Ellen removed from the home, as there was no existing legal means to do so. The only alternative left to the charity worker was to have Mary Ellen’s stepmother prosecuted for abuse under existing laws prohibiting cruelty to animals. In effect, Mary Ellen had to be classified as an animal before any existing legislation could be used to protect her from the abuse she was suffering at the hands of her stepmother. As a result, the first child abuse case in New York City was prosecuted under cruelty to animal laws. It would appear that animals were deemed worthy of protection in nineteenth century society, yet children were not. This situation was remedied in December 1874 with the establishment of the New York Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children.”

During the late 1800s and early 1900s, homeless and orphaned children on the east coast were “placed out” to families across the country and into Canada. Many were immigrant families and could neither speak or write English. Some were treated like slaves, being forced to work in factories and on farms. Historically, the practice was commonplace, going back to ancient Jewish and early Christian cultures. English practiced it routinely. Following World War II, approximately 2,000 British war orphans were shipped to the United States and Canada.

Several organizations were actually involved in the “placing out” of children. In addition to New York, Boston was a source of the “orphan train” as well. The majority of the children were sent to the west, many were also sent to New England, the south, and the eastern seaboard.

Considering recent legal immigration events, it is interesting to note that no children were placed in Arizona.

In 1853, Charles Loring Brace founded the Children’s Aid Society, which placed out over 150,000 children and young adults over a 75 year span , transporting them via train from the east coast to predominately Midwest destinations. The overriding focus of the CAS was to remove large numbers of children from the city. Many of the children who participated in the program were not orphans, but had living family members.

While many applaud the efforts of placing these children in loving and supportive homes, critics claim that although the program was promoted as a humanitarian effort, it was, in reality, an employment service for cheap labor. Farmers did, in fact, use the CAS as a labor source and, in many instances, children were placed in abusive situations.

The last “orphan train” ran in 1929, when focus had, finally, segued into the care and protection of children.

Is there a member of your family who was a rider of the orphan train?

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