March 18, 2012

What a truly beautiful day.  I spent the better part of my day out in the sun and gorgeous weather knocking on doors and handing out literature in the Military Ridge and East View Heights area today.   I was out with some friends who also happen to be working on behalf of Erika Hotchkiss, hopefully our next county board supervisor.   I had a good day meeting people and introducing myself as a school board candidate.  But all day long there was something in the back of my head.  There was a song that was speaking out to me in the back of my head.  It was a song that really doesn’t embody me or my campaign, but yet it was there and I couldn’t stop thinking about it.

The song was “Where the Streets Have No Name” by U2.   It may have been the gorgeous weather that prompted it, but I know better.  See, today is the day that I celebrate my sister’s birthday.   If she were alive, she would be 43 today.  U2 was her favorite band.  They were a favorite for her way before they became popular and mainstream here in the US.  I never understood the draw or the passion she had for U2, but today as the lyrics to that song ran through my head I began to get it.  “I want to run. I want to hide.”  My sister was an introvert, way more than me.  She always had her head buried in a book and while she was extremely smart, she struggled with a lot of things girls do.  She had insecurity about her looks, her weight, and her intelligence.  Books were her safe place; they were her equalizer, her way to drown out the rest of life for just a little while.

We grew up in a small community and we attended a catholic grade school.   Some of the nuns that taught her weren’t prepared for the questions she asked about life, about the patriarchy that is the church and so on.  In fact our priest would give sermons about parents needing to be wary about sending their children to UW Madison because of the teachings and “free thinking” that went on there.  I think those sermons drove my sister to UW more than anything.   She knew from early on, attending UW-Madison was her goal.  She completed a degree in English.  After completing her Bachelor’s degree she thought about going to law school but put her education on the back burner for a while.

“I want to tear down the walls that hold me inside.”   My sister really believed in the power of books.  More specifically, she believed in the power that reading provided people.  Reading allows people to do their own research on a specific subject.   More importantly reading opened your mind to new adventures.  Despite the family troubles we experienced growing up, reading opened our imaginations to think about places we wanted to see and things that we never thought about doing before.  Education through reading, through books, opens up so many possibilities to children, whose families may not have the best home life, but through books, a child can build knowledge that will eventually lead them to college, a degree, and a career so far removed from what was once a troubled existence.

It was only fitting that she eventually returned to UW-Madison to attend the graduate program for Library Science.  A library and all of its books were like the fortress of solitude for my sister.  The rise of the internet was actually very troubling for her, because she feared it would lead to the end of free thinking and true research as kids just settled for cliffs notes versions of things found online rather than reading for themselves the wonders and beauty of literary works.   Somehow I think she would have found a way to continue to connect people to books.   As much as I hate to say it, my interest in research, especially when it comes to educational issues, has really become more evident over the past few years and especially as do my research preparing for a seat on the Verona Area school board.

One of my sister’s last jobs at the time of her passing was a role she started in as part of her grad program.   She took the library truck to the prison/correctional facilities in Dane County and took books to the inmates.  Me, I’m 6’1” and about 250 pounds and I am not sure if I would feel comfortable doing so, yet all 5’1” of my sister made this route every week.  You could tell how much she liked it and how excited she would get because she felt it really did some good.  My sister had compassion for the inmates.  She wanted to see them read for the same reason she encouraged me to read when I was a kid.  It was to empower me to better and greater things, but also to provide me an escape from the world when things weren’t always the best.

As the song goes on it becomes abundantly clear the lyrics refer to going to a place away from the noise, the hassle, and the pettiness that the world has become.  There are some that believe U2 was referring to heaven.  Maybe?  If so, then I hope that she is there and she had a hand in the gorgeous weather we had today.  However, when I think of my sister, I think of a good book that allows one to get lost in life for a while and be someone or something else that my current life doesn’t allow for.  So the song may be about finding that place whether through books, education, physical activity, or whatever it is that helps us find calm in life.  I wouldn’t trade my life or change it one bit.  Well, there is one change I would make.  I would still have my sister here to talk with, to discuss life and the challenges we face, and to appreciate and acknowledge all of the good she brought to my life.  Despite the fighting that we did, she always was in my corner and I will never forget that.

So in memory of Jill Marie McCulley who passed away on June 22, 1999, I ask the following:

1) If you haven’t been to your local library in a while, go.

2) If you haven’t donated to your local library, donate.

3) Spend time with your kids and encourage them to read and explore their imaginations.

4) Click here and take 6:44 to watch the video and think about people who you may have lost in this lifetime.   It is a combination of Amazing Grace/Where the Streets Have No Name.

Thanks to everyone who has been supportive of me during my campaign.  And thank you to you sis, for encouraging me to read and pursue my education all those years ago.  I miss you.

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About johnmmcculley

Father of three, currently serving in my first term on the Verona Area School Board. Hoping to help foster more open discussions about the future of education in my community.
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