Category Archives: personal testimony

history of personal belief and transformation

“Blessed Assurance”.

 

The boy had a mouth on him.

He was the shortest, darkest, angriest trumpet player I had ever seen. Furthermore, his embouchure (through no fault of his own) had never been properly set and his tone, well, that’s what happens when your embouchure hasn’t been set right.

But, there was something in him. He had a deep, inborn sense of the good. He had principle. And, this combination produced a student of such determined commitment, a young man who put forth with every cell in his body to produce. I was merely the music teacher – a scant, 29 year old, belated second year fledgling – and this guy had convinced his impassioned concoction of underprivileged, underserved, and undertrained in the East High marching band to vote “Yes” to compete. I had my work literally cut out for me – by John Jefferson.

The first solution seemed to be a transfer to the F horn. This instrument’s conical bore mouthpiece would allow an easier tone production, in an alto range. John took to it. He learned the solo. I felt my first small triumph.

But, this, of course, was short lived. John spoke out. From the top tier of the bandroom at the end of the annex, he’d answer me back, in full on challenge, and loud enough for the whole room to hear. He was the alpha male, and I needed to know my place.

As for the next decision, I can remember neither the day nor the hour. I only knew that John needed to be out front. He needed to lead. And, that is exactly where I put him. By the end of his first season as a sophomore, John Jefferson was East High drum major.

The whole uniform fit him like the glove on his right hand. The epaulets were never more proud to grace any shoulder. But, most of all, John could finally assume the position he was born to take. John Willis Jefferson could stand, stock still – chin up, eyes fixed – at attention. And, John Willis Jefferson could salute.

The band did their absolute best. I always regretted that the association in charge of the competitions never produced a trophy for Most Developed Ensemble, because my kids deserved a big one. Nevertheless, led by John and his cohorts Shawn and Melanie, the students faltered not once. They just held up their heads .

John graduated from public education during my final year at his high school. The district would move me, against my will, across town to fill a vacancy, and I would never see either him or the rest of the students who would call me “mom” again.

That is, not until one, singular occasion.

Via the blessing of social media, I had been reunited with several former students. Naturally, one of the first to find me was John. Except that he had produced quite a life story – married, to Mindy, and the father of at least two of his three boys. But, about to realize more of that story, quite without warning I received news of an upcoming event: a 20th Class Reunion.

I’d been to several. In fact, every five years, my classmates from Academy High had dutifully taken on the enormous task of bringing us all together for dinner and more.

But, John.

John didn’t just tell me about his. John invited Miss Scanzillo to the East High 20th Reunion of the Class of 1990.

He was hosting, he said. Would I please come? They would be honored by my presence.

To my memory, no teacher had ever attended a high school class reunion. Certainly none of my former teachers were ever present at any of mine – not the 5th, the 10th, the 15th….you get the picture.

The night of the event, I thought perhaps I should appear low key. Clad in a casual, soft summer top and capris, I slipped into Calamari’s Squid Row. The doors opened into a full diningroom draped in white linen. A grand buffet spread across the front, covered in decorative stainless steel. And, presiding at the head of the long, formal room was: John Jefferson.

Master Sergeant John Jefferson, US Air Force.

In full dress.

The red and grey drum major’s costume had been replaced by the dark woolens of the United States Military, Sgt Jefferson’s chest emblazoned with three rows of colored ribbon and precious medals. I was beyond stunned.

Finding a discreet seat at one of the table rounds, I set my gaze on our John. He spoke as loudly as ever before, but with a refined speech, a grace, and a carriage that made my heart well up. I couldn’t take my eyes off of him.

We kept in touch, after that. Facebook chat was a great place to convene, no matter where he was deployed. He’d check in, from Iraq, Afghanistan….and, always, the sign off: “I love you!”

See, something else had happened to John.

During the first year he and Mindy became a couple, they had both committed their lives to Jesus Christ. Now, not everyone will know what that means to those about whom such an act bespeaks. But, to the faithful, becoming a born-again Christian is what happened to John. This meant that, like my father before him, John accepted a life changing force into his heart. They called this the Holy Spirit, and to this Spirit’s direction and counsel both men would vow to remain true.

John and I continued, now familiar references to prayer and faith peppering his dialogue.

Life marched on, past another decade of Veteran’s Days. Twenty five more years, to be nearly precise. My adored father passed on into eternity, age 95, and I retired from public school music education. Then, word came to me that John and his family were coming back to Erie for another visit. Would I please join them all, for dinner?

Overjoyed, I met the entire family – at Chic-Fil-A. The boys were sweet, quiet (like their mother!) and polite. John talked of his travels and experiences, of meeting President George W Bush; I marveled. Mindy and I met, for the first time, that day – and, before we ate, John bowed his head and publicly asked the blessing for our food.

Last October, (could it be?) John had reached a life milestone. Now Senior Master Sergeant, he was set to retire from the US Air Force. Twenty six years of devoted service to his God and country. A full military ceremony was scheduled, at Scott Air Force Base in Illinois. On Facebook, the word went out as an open invitation.

It only took me a couple days to decide.

I flew in. Mindy met me, at the gate, to grant guest of family passage. High security, all around. Miles of real estate, devoted to air power, air men and women, and their commander. I was introduced to the latter, in the office where SMSgt Jefferson had been spending most of his time. A gracious civilian base employee chauffeured me all around the grounds, allowing me a few select photos.

And, then the ceremony. Getting a bear hug from John was the icing on the cake, or so I thought. But, then John’s colleague, a Major, stepped to the podium.

What followed was a litany of awards and accomplishments so vast that I could not contain the realization. John hadn’t just devoted his life to service; he had positively excelled. Officer of the Year. Medals for this, and medals for that. A contract officer, SMSgt Jefferson had, near as I could tell, managed millions of dollars of military monies over two decades of military action across the globe.

The celebration was surreal, a fascinating trek through life passing before one’s eyes. His insisting that I sit “with the family”, me stubbornly resisting that “order” so as to get my choice photos, I sat on the officers’ side. The formal presentation was followed by John’s individualized “thank you’s”. I received the final, single red rose, and words of gratitude which could only be overtaken by those of my own; this old music teacher just had to make sure everyone in the room knew that John had begun his career out front, directing the East High Marching Band. Always a leader, always an outstanding man, from the beginning.

Then, the final occasion.

Last week, I would receive the last of so many words on my beloved student, the boy who came closer to being my own son than any other child I would ever know. Inexplicably, after a mere two months of retired bliss and following a statistically innocuous routine medical procedure, John would cease breathing; efforts to revive him failing, his brain would swell; by sundown the same day, those in power would declare his brain death and, only hours thereafter on a vent and then off, at the age of only 45 his body would give up its ghost to the God of all believers.

This time, I could not attend.

John’s had been a life so worth celebrating; how could I even acknowledge his untimely and unacceptable death? My best effort was to sit, holding the single rose he’d presented to me, and weep.

The world had become, in large, increasing part, a frightening and sinister place for humans to reside. Nations, rising up against nations; holy wars fast becoming the order of the day. Addiction and apathy, married; deceit and treachery, lurching into the limelight; and, all efforts to revive hope, faith, and charity met by the darkest of demons.

Today, many a Scripture verse from the Book of my childhood speaks to me in solitude, along with the memes on my grandmother’s wall:

“For if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved.”

I hope to God it’s all true.

Because, if ever there were a voice on earth deserving of the realization of its passionately held convictions, that voice belongs to the soul of SMSgt John Jefferson.

And, I can still hear him.

SMSgtJohnJeffersonFinalSalute2018

© photo by Ruth Ann Scanzillo 10/17.

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© 3/9/18   Ruth Ann Scanzillo.  This piece dedicated to the life and memory of SMSgt John Willis Jefferson, of Erie PA. All rights to its contents the strict property of the author, copied only by the author and shared with those who carry respect for its subject.

littlebarefeetblog.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Perfection.

 

Perfection.

We all think we know what it is. For the artists and designers, it’s all about symmetry – balance, equal emphasis on all sides. Others envision an absence of flaw, neither errant marking nor crooked cut.

But, all of us know one thing: perfection ain’t us.

Nope. Those angelic beings on the Hallmark Channel who gaze deeply into the souls of the downtrodden and despondent, assuring them of that which God sees in each one are the only ones convinced. We already know, full well, that they are likely full of the old, well meaning Welbutrin of life.

We know our every stumble, each faltering uncertainty a reflection of that profound propensity for fallibility.

One equally well-meaning fellow told me recently, in the form of a compliment, that he loved my vocal style as solo cellist. That particular performance, by my own assessment, had been plagued by inaccuracies, provoked by hasty rehearsal and general physical discomfort with the surroundings. But, momentarily, I’d been taken aback in a sort of reassured fashion, concluding that said “vocal” style so described was both pleasing and somehow elevated in value above the usual critique – at least, to his ears.

But, more to the intended point, that moment gave me further pause to consider. To what end do we recognize the distinction between both that which is flawless and that which is both worthy and beautiful?

Much like a white patch on a black cat, a well-placed mole can render a human face visually balanced and lovely; whereas, the bridge of a certain nose can interrupt the flow of an entire profile, tossing the whole impression into that familiar pile, the “plain” face.

Now, take the Creator. If God had wanted to reveal Omnipotence to the human race, might the Almighty have appeared in some daunting, looming, larger than life presentation, commanding our immediate subjection and pronouncing upon us, the created collective, one sweeping absolution?

And, how might we have responded?

Rather, the inconspicuous, messy fragility of childbirth, followed by growth to maturity – this manifestation coming upon the clear midnight with us almost entirely, save a handful of lowly onlookers, unawares.

How many of us have been, through the ages, then found to be drawn in by this, as if to a mystery, compelling our best intuitive, analytical and reactive efforts – and, our recognition?

That which is just beyond our reach and experience is ever of pre-eminent value.

Better to be persuaded to ponder perfection.

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© 12/22/17  Ruth Ann Scanzillo      All rights those of the author, whose lowly name appears above this line. Be human, but good. There’s the challenge.

littlebarefeetblog.com

 

 

How Shall We Know?

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Michael Gerson has an established history as a public commentator – most notably, as George W. Bush’s speech writer throughout said President’s administration. But, Gerson’s most recent article appears in The Washington Post. Its subject: Julian Assange.

Over the past couple of months, much has appeared in the publications of virtually every source of news and opinion available in print regarding the integrity, the credibility, even the veracity of the WikiLeaks founder and editor.

Until the week before the Presidential election, I had barely even heard of Julian Assange. I certainly had never been to WikiLeaks, and I knew absolutely nothing about its editor. My introduction came in the form of a Facebook post, shared by someone only known to a mutual friend; the post, a video, contained an entire interview given by Assange to Australian journalist and published author, John Pilger.

As soon as I viewed that video, my comments regarding its contents were posted into the political discussion already in play. What followed, almost immediately, were multiple entries by trusted friends. Two of them, both female, were particularly negative in their commentary; they did not like Assange, they did not trust him, and one concluded that a mere “gift of gab” drove his persona. Via their posts, I would be further informed that Assange stood accused of rape, living in seclusion at the Ecuadorian embassy because he was awaiting either trial, or extradition, or both.

In spite of this, I was compelled. The demeanor of this man as he sat answering John Pilger’s gentle, noticeably open and accepting queries, was sober, apparently humble, at times almost contrite. He spoke in measured phrases, with care to make only statements which were both clear, concise, and fact based. Furthermore, nothing he said by way of reply seemed to render him suspect, in my observation; rather, he seemed intent upon declaring the purpose of his every act, and that with an objectivity which centered around a search for the truth.

This central point spoke volumes. Dare I use a buzzword – yes; it resonated with me. Friends of longest standing knew me to be a clarion for the truth; and, as time had aged me, I had become more passionate about its value.

I researched this man. Dug into everything I could find online about him. Viewed nearly every interview, listened to every audio, and read as many of his words as were available to me in print.

What continues to strike me is this glaring reality: every news outlet, every publication intended to affect public opinion seems determined to malign, condemn, and pigeon-hole his efforts through a process of both conflation and grande accusation, the latter largely unsubstantiated. By contrast, Assange seems to provide substantive defense for everything about which he has been accused, the strongest of which is the declaration that none of the legion of Wikileaks’ posts over the past ten years has ever caved to scrutiny or been proven unverifiable. In fact, if he succeeds in protecting the integrity of his publication, WikiLeaks may very well rise to the level of the last truly independent counsel left on the world stage.

Yet, what of its founder?

In 2014, The New Republic released a detailed historical documentation of the rise of Assange relative to that of both Snowden and Greenwald. Its article painted Assange as an anti-authoritarianism subversive whose view of the world as “individual against institution” was informed by his personal history. And, that is the characterization which has pervaded the press, ever since. He is to be regarded as the enemy of our state.

Most recently, Assange agreed to a Reddit AMA(“Ask Me Anything”) online “press conference”. WikiLeaks offered a Twitter link to transcripts from that AMA, but hardly anyone has defended its contents. Instead, we have Michael Gerson, who now portrays Assange as an enemy of the “tribe”, one having caused threat to the lives of Americans. And, any American who takes an objective position with regard to him is being made to feel as if such objectivity is somehow akin to treason.

This is serious allegation.

I am an American. Born in the town wherein I have spent my entire life as a working professional, I remain committed to the ideals of our Republic. Humbled to own my home, to live responsibly, to maintain a lifestyle above reproach, and to owe no one, I do not take kindly to any suggestion that my honest investigation of Assange or anyone, however radical or challenging, represents lack of patriotism. I remain a defender of the freedoms of both speech and thought, and intend to devote the rest of my days to that which I have built – one life, lived with integrity. Perhaps I see myself as a lone individualist, powerless against institutionalized control; to this end, my world view may be akin to that of Assange. This does not translate as treason against the government of the United States.

Tonight, President Obama commuted the 35 year sentence of former Private Chelsea Manning, whose 700,000 leaked documents published by Assange at WikiLeaks disclosed human atrocities committed in the name of war. And, there are still those who believe that the act of releasing these “secrets” was a sin more grave than the very atrocities, themselves.

I will trust anyone who proves trustworthy. If Julian Assange can be proven guilty of anything by anyone, I will not sit as his judge; if, however, he is now extradited to our shores, given a fair trial, and proven innocent, I will stand in his support just as I stand with anyone who speaks and lives in truth. As Americans, we should set about to do just that for everyone; aligning, to any degree, with the alternative is to risk everything for which life is worth.

What say you, Mr. Gerson?

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© Ruth Ann Scanzillo  1/17/17     All rights those of the author, whose name appears above this line. Thank you for your respect.

littlebarefeetblog.com