Years ago, when I was a research assistant at a university in Chicago, I worked in this old building. The long hours there had one saving grace — my adviser's piano in the library. I had never seen one before, let alone know how to play it. But it sure sounded grand when people played it for relaxation.

One late Saturday night, I was in the library when one of the graduate students tiptoed in. Now this student was a man well into his 30s and in serious trouble. His research was at a dead end, and after six long years he was at risk of being kicked out of school with nothing to show for it. With a large family to support and zero prospects for a good job, he was understandably at his wit's end. He walked around the whole day extremely nervous, expecting the axe to fall sooner rather than later.

That night, this man first peeked into our adviser's office to ensure it was empty and then sat down at the piano to play. His eyes closed and his head bent low, his thin long fingers flew over the keys as the beautiful, magical music of Beethoven's Moonlight Sonata filled the room. With all the turmoil in his life, the last thing I expected to hear was the lilting melody of this particular piece. But it was the most glorious and uplifting music I had heard in a long time. It was as though he was musically calming himself, "It’s ok. I can do this." When he was done, he got up and quietly left the room. I never saw him play again.

Now there is every need to say that he worked very hard and turned things around. He graduated a year later. I like to think that I was lucky enough to have a front row seat to that turning point in his life.

Now, years later, I still don't know much about music. But I feel the same rush of energy and soaring hope whenever I hear that sonata. I catch myself thinking that even when times are tough, I can turn things around with perseverance. Life, as is music, is what you make of it.

With a Perspective, this is Bhaskar Sompalli.

Bhaskar Sompalli is a scientist. He lives in the East Bay.

I’ve been glued to the news since the events in Charlottesville. When my source of information is on cable TV, I flip between the big three networks to get a sense of what all sides are saying. Many of the pundits have little in common except for a sentiment I’ve heard several times over the past few days. It goes something like, “What happened in Charlottesville is un-American.”

I was admittedly a mediocre student, but even I’ve read enough history books to know that the Nazi-flag-waving Ku Klux Klansmen marching through the streets of Charlottesville last week are totally American. We fought a war over slavery, the quintessential form of institutionalized racism. Later, and really not so long ago, we found new ways of institutionalizing racism, by mandating what drinking fountains people of color could use or where they were allowed to eat lunch. Some white people strung black people from trees, brutally murdering them. Through the eugenics movement, which began in the early 20th century, white people found creative ways of showing that people who were different from them were less smart and capable.

The mistake I made is assuming that those events and others were gathering dust in history books. Black Lives Matter and similar movements have been trying to tell me, as a white person, that racism is alive and well and that I’m not doing enough to stop it.

I’m ashamed that it took Charlottesville for me to realize that venting my frustrations to friends and family and yelling at the TV from the comfort of my living room is not good enough. As a white person I have power and access to institutions that people of color do not. I have a responsibility to help them.

Similarly, as a woman, I have less power and access to the same institutions than a white man does. I need him to help me.

Our country is a reflection of us. The things we say and do can only be called “American.” What happened in Charlottesville was not un-American. It’s just not the America so many of us aspire to.

With a Perspective, I’m Kate Levin.

Kate Levin works in the non-profit sector and lives in San Jose.

When I described our journey to the upcoming solar eclipse’s path of totality to my sister, she questioned why we are driving 20 hours round trip and spending two nights in a dusty, crowded Eastern Oregon campground for two minutes of darkness in the middle of the day. It does sound crazy, but I yearn to see what I’ve studied in textbooks and shone students with Styrofoam balls and flashlights for the last 30 years.

Earth’s solar eclipses are unique among the planets and moons of our solar system. The moon is 1/400th of the diameter of the sun, but it is 400 times closer, so it appears to be the same size. I have no doubt that intelligent beings from other planets would delight in seeing one celestial body completely covering the other in Earth’s sky. Astronomers calculate that the moon will cover the sun at 10:22 AM Pacific time on August 21st in the town of John Day, Oregon. Unlike the scientific predictions related to human emissions causing climate change or cigarette smoking causing cancer, everyone accepts eclipse forecasts.

At totality, the brightest stars and planets will be revealed. It will not be a mid-day glimpse of the summer’s constellations, which come into view when my side of the Earth rotates away from the sun. Instead, the blocking moon will reveal the stars behind the sun, which we normally see in winter. I hope to see Orion’s Belt in the middle of the day, while I am wearing a tank top and shorts. I want to feel how the air changes when the sun disappears. I want to see how wildlife responds to the unexpected darkness. Afterward, will the birds start singing like it is dawn again? Will I feel the same gratitude for sunlight as I do after spending time in a dark cave?

I intellectually know how the Earth and Moon circle around the Sun and each other, but I anticipate that after being immersed in the shadow of the moon, I will feel more nested in the smoothly rotating and revolving solar system, and I hope I will worry less about the erratic jolts of human society. It will be worth the drive.

With a Perspective, I am Beth Touchette

Beth Touchette teaches science in the North Bay.

Recently I became a calendar girl. That’s right – I’m Miss November in the San Francisco Department of Public Health’s photo contest celebrating World Breastfeeding Week. Standing with the other finalists at San Francisco City Hall was the official victory. Submitting the photo in the first place was a personal victory.

When I became a mom, I was grateful that breastfeeding worked out. Nothing matches the awe of providing your child the exact nutrition he needs, locking eyes with that toothless grin. Not to mention, research shows the lasting benefits. I was sad when I thought we had to stop. Only when my son turned one did I learn the little known fact that the World Health Organization champions breastfeeding to age two, so we kept going.

But it’s not always easy. What if your maternity leave is too short to establish breastfeeding? Pumping at work requires perseverance. And a hungry cry means ‘now’. I’ve nursed everywhere – buses, museums, groceries, restaurants, parks, church. Some might say I was shameless. The cover I brandished constantly around my neck seemed to help.

However, public breastfeeding, with the real possibility of exposing myself to strangers, triggered painful memories of the time in my early 20s, when my powerful boss requested to photograph me naked, quote “just from the neck down,” so no one would know it was me. I declined, and lost my job. Luckily, my passion for nutrition trumped shame. I studied the history of infant feeding and learned that it was in the pin-up calendar era that culture turned to shaming breastfeeding out of sight, even though it’s the most natural thing our breasts were meant to do. Adults don’t eat shamed under cover, and neither should our babies.

My grandfather remembers a childhood when it was natural for women to breastfeed openly in public. Why not today? In my photographic attempt to normalize this beautiful gift of nature, I’m seated on a toddler bed nursing in striped PJs, raw with morning glasses and no make-up. Yet I wear a huge smile, babe on breast – a calendar girl in the proudest sense.

With a Perspective, I’m Laura Elbogen.

Laura Elbogen is an artist and illustrator living in San Francisco’s Hayes Valley.

It starts in kindergarten. The flag in the corner. You place your little hand over your heart and — even if the words are too daunting — attempt to recite the Pledge of Allegiance. To live in the United States is a privilege, and soon you learn about the three branches of government. Then, in high school civics, you begin to see shades of gray: that the government, much like your teenage classmates, is imperfect, and that perhaps the flag represents more than just Uncle Sam and the Fourth of July.

In college, you indulge and explore the evils of the overlords, corporate greed and social injustice. You wonder how things could be so unfair, and why no one is willing to stand up for the truth. You’ve been given the right to vote, and you wield it like a club, bashing down the ignorance and injustice with energy and a spirit of invincibility. You are here to change the world, and it will change because you will make it so.

And then, like a stone that comes to rest after its journey down a raging river, you stop. You settle in. You start to look at the government, at your parents, at the talking heads on TV, at the people around you at this very dinner party, and you marvel. How does it all work? How does America, with all its technology, diversity and distractions, come together at all? How can it be, that each American takes this journey and lands in a different place, each of us perceiving a government that controls us with its laws, with our money, with our time and hard work, and spits out this — a life our forefathers would find confusing, frenetic and overwhelming?

This thing, a creature of insightful and imperfect men, is absorbed into us all.  We are products of our government and culture, a people who have mutated and adjusted in ways our framers could never have imagined. The threads of this process, the tendrils of our collective mind, have slowly changed us from then until now, almost imperceptibly, like that same cloudy stone crystallizing towards clarity. That flag in the corner of the room is made of these threads, and now you’re a child again, filled with a different kind of wonder.

With a Perspective, I’m Les Bloch.

Les Bloch is a writer and construction manager.

Trying to reconnect with my teenage sons, I decided to take them on a two-week volunteer program to Antigua, Guatemala. We were placed in a home stay and our volunteer site was an after-school program for disadvantaged youth. The school had few resources, but provided a safe place for the kids to do homework and play sports.

By trade, I am a teacher, and naturally like to be front and center. But not this time. This experience was for my sons. They led the activities, solved the homework problems, played in the soccer games. I made it a point to hold back. As a result, my sons’ Spanish and confidence improved exponentially.

At dinnertime, we exchanged both humorous and sad stories with fellow housemates. We heard about giving door-to-door vaccinations, working at a 500-child orphanage, rocking babies at an HIV clinic, repairing walls at the elderly home. At times I felt like complaining. Most of the trip we were without Wi-Fi. The showers were usually freezing cold, occasionally scalding hot. The family’s pit-bull made a mess in my sons’ bedroom and barked well into the night. The overloaded bus packed us three to a seat, as I felt the sweat from the stranger beside me as well as the one standing over me.

I refrained from complaining. In all these situations my company of three teenage boys had not complained once. They were laughing, finding humor in our inconveniences. The boys regularly dropped their spare change into the bowl of a crippled man we passed daily on the street. Yes, a dose of the underdeveloped world is maturing for teenagers, but for me as well. Just observing my sons, I was reminded and humbled: I had nothing to complain about.

With a Perspective, this is Anne Monty Zhang.

Anne Monty Zhang is a high school teacher in Morgan Hill.

I love beautiful things, and my house is full of them; paintings, sculpture, musical instruments, and art books to rival any library. I’m a painter and my studio is at my home, so much of the inventory of my life’s work is also here.

I live surrounded by vineyards and trees in a pastoral and soul satisfying setting. I don’t know how I got so lucky, but hardly a day goes by that I don’t kiss the ground.

Recently, I was driving on a twisty back road when suddenly, fire trucks and emergency vehicles were screeching by. I was 10 minutes from my house, and the air was rapidly filling with smoke. I turned around to race home. The fire was on the next ridge sirens were blaring and Cal Fire planes were crossing the sky. Although the wind was blowing in the other direction, I knew that if they changed my house could be gone, just like that.

In that moment all I cared about was saving my cat, Lila, and my dog, Moe. I knew I couldn’t save my work; so in an instant I let it all go. I thought of those people you see on the news after a devastating fire takes everything they own, yet they seem grateful and calm, which always mystified me. But on this day I completely got it: nothing mattered, not even my work, only my animals. Only life mattered. No things mattered. None of the irreplaceable objects I cherish couldn’t be replaced.

All I wanted was a guitar, so that if I did lose everything at least I could play the blues. So I threw a guitar and a computer in my car, and got my animals and was ready to drive off and watch my house burn. I felt so peaceful and focused and free. Although there was time, I didn’t load up suitcases with as much stuff as I could grab. I just let it all go.

Fortunately, this turned out to be just an exercise, because thanks to the incredible work of Cal Fire and the local firefighters here in the Valley, the fire was soon completely contained, not even a blip on the radar of all the devastating fires that rage through California.

But for me, this is the day I became a monk. And a blues man.

With a Perspective, I’m Adam Shaw.

Adam Shaw is an artist living in Sonoma County.

I do not want to make a big deal of the memo. The memo does not define the company whose employee commented on women’s ability to excel in tech industry. It is one individual’s perspective at a point in time as this piece is mine.

But it did bring back memory of comments heard tens of years ago while growing up about 8,000 miles away from here. The things I heard defined me in a lot of ways. I wondered why could not people see my strong brain as easily as they could see my full bosom covered carefully with a shawl. My mother, who knew a thing or two about survival, advised me to develop fit-in techniques. But the fire in my belly would not let me.

I arrived in the U.S. 20 years ago: Became the first person ever from my family to work overseas. Relatives and colleagues finally went wow. They finally saw my strong brain. Since then, my brain has grown stronger in a country that worships merit regardless of the body — black, white, brown, male, female — from prime meridian back to prime meridian, and everything in between.

I have a good sense of what America really is about or so I thought until I moved to the Bay Area. I noticed for the first time the salad bowl instead of the melting pot, the clusters of ethnicities that seem intimidating to break into, sort of like sororities and fraternities. And I noticed the workplace. I was conscious, again, of my being a woman. I was told again that men define themselves by their jobs and women don’t. I was told again – 20 years later and 8,000 miles apart — to be submissive. I wanted to fly away, just as I had done 20 years ago. Except this time I had more luggage than the two suitcases I came with and perhaps stronger roots. So I just moved on. My strong mind could fight bias but not the negativity and the toxicity.

But my fire is alive. I am more ambitious than ever. My ambition now includes raising two Americans capable of seeing strong brains, not just their mother’s but everybody – black, white, brown, male, female — from prime meridian back to prime meridian and everything in between.

With a Perspective, I’m Shubha Sinha.

Shubha Sinha lives in the East Bay and is active in youth leadership development.

The Band-Aid was invented in 1920. It did not become popular until World War II, when we sent millions of sterilized pads overseas. The first decorative Band-Aids appeared in 1951. But as to when it became a metaphor is lost among the untreated wounds of time. From my extensive research, however, I do know that it is a much-despised metaphor, especially by those frustrated by some problem. It signifies a stop-gap measure plus the pain of removing something that has gone on too long, unless ’twere done quickly.

The word “Band-Aid” often appears in the same sentence as “cure,” the one representing an unacceptable reality and the other an unattainable ideal. Cartoon politicos often sport multiple patches and a dazed, post-accident look. This is to some extent, unfair. Whether the problem is immigration, financial or personal, all solutions are Band-Aids.

In politics, Winston Churchill didn’t call democracy a good form of government, just the best we had come up with in 2,500 years. The far-seeing framers of our Constitution limited their aim to creating a more perfect union, not a perfect one.

In economics, capitalism for the moment is in charge, but for those not at the top of the food chain, it’s hardly The Cure.

We solve marriages with insoluble problems by dissolution…until the next time.  Particular diseases come and go, but the common cold remains. There are no cures for war or a broken heart, for political stupidity or greed, for bigotry and intolerance. No one in the history of the world has found a cure for the human condition.

And yet, the quest goes on, as futile and relentless as the search for the Holy Grail or the Fountain of Youth, or belief in the South Sea Bubble, the Housing Bubble and the orgone box. Everyone is looking for the perfect adhesive, the perfect solvent, the thing that will take the life out of life, the unexpected and the expected.

Let’s be thankful for band-aids, of many different sizes and colors. They may provide only temporary relief, but they let us know we still bleed. And there are always more where they came from.

With a Perspective, I’m Richard Friedlander.

Richard Friedlander is a mediator.  He lives in the East Bay.

Every week, I go to the gym with Edivan. Over the past year, we’ve developed a routine: Edivan’s wife will pull to the curb and he’ll open the door. Face the curb. Left foot down. Right foot down. Stand up straight. Right foot onto the sidewalk. Left foot onto the sidewalk.

Two years ago, Edivan was attacked and suffered severe brain damage. Doctors didn’t think he would live, but he did. Then they said he would never walk, but he did that too. Before he got hurt, Edivan played semi-pro soccer, running, jumping and doing backflips.

These days, our celebrations are rather mundane in comparison: “Last week at the park, Edivan jumped!” or “Edivan stood on one foot for two seconds today!” The humor that Edivan and I share is often bittersweet: “I’m getting fat,” he’ll joke. “Yeah, when are you gonna get your six-pack back?” I’ll ask. “One day…”

He says that sometimes. When we watch people lifting weights, he’ll point at them: “One day.” “When are you gonna do a backflip again Edivan?” “One day.”

Most weeks, I don’t really think about these things, about Edivan lying in a coma or relearning how to walk and swallow or how long it will take for him to play soccer again. Usually all I think about on Fridays is how early I have to wake up and whether or not Edivan is leaning too far to his left when he walks. But every once in awhile, I step back and think about the man in front of me and it hits me: what a miracle it is to simply walk, breathe and swallow, what a joy it is to be alive. But those moments fade. And eventually I get back on the eternal treadmill of to-do lists and emails and somehow creating more clutter trying to unclutter my life.

I hope that one day I’ll be able to find joy in every step, to celebrate things like standing on one foot for two seconds, to be present to every one of God’s miracles.

I hope one day I am as alive as Edivan is.

One day.

With a Perspective, I’m Nate Lee.

Nate Lee is currently a Chaplain at UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospital.

I turn on my computer, pretending to read the New York Times. My husband Andy sits in his favorite chair reading the print copy. Little does he know as I nod my head to his rants about the country’s latest political disasters that I’m actually staring at puppies.

We lost our beloved Golden Retriever three months ago. She was near 11 and dying from lymphoma. The treatment would have made her suffer more and would have added only a few months to her life, if that. At her age we were not going to put her through that. So, we made that horrible decision we pet owners are forced to make from time to time. We had her put to sleep. My husband cuddled her while I wailed in the waiting room. I have been with all my pets when they died but this one was my heart dog. I couldn’t bear it.

We’ve been grieving for weeks, convinced we’ll never get over it. We go to parks for dog fixes. The house is too quiet, the sofa too cold, the bed too roomy, the hall too empty, the carpet too clean. I can get in the car without sitting on a ball. All wrong.

This isn’t a good time for us to get another dog, Andy says. We are still grieving. We have serious things to deal with – medical issues, financial decisions, possible travel. We should put it off awhile he says. I know he’s right.

Reason vs instinct. I try to balance those opposing forces in my brain all the time and it usually works pretty well. But this time, as I steal another peek at a floppy-eared mutt, my reasoning goes packing. I know I shouldn’t be tempting myself, but what can I do? Devour the paper’s numerous scandals? My heart sinks.

Andy gets up from his chair and I click off the SPCA web site, but page after page of wiggly critters hide underneath. Andy walks by and I feel sneaky, like I’ve been looking at porn. Puppy porn.

“That Trump,” Andy says.

Yep, I say. “That Trump.”

With a Perspective, I’m Carol Arnold.

Carol Arnold is a retired environmental planner. She lives in San Francisco.

It’s summer, and San Francisco is filled with tourists. In line for coffee, I got to chatting with a visitor from Europe. I asked him what he found surprising about the United States.

The food, he told me.

Because it’s so good, I asked, or because it’s so bad?

No, he answered, because it’s so much. Visiting the Midwest, he’d been shocked by portions in restaurants. 32-ounce steaks, 20 silver dollar pancakes, two-pound burritos. One meal could feed a family of four in his country, he told me. He had started ordering from the children’s menu.

Listening, I quickly changed my order from a 31-oz Trenta to a 12-oz Grande. But looking around, I decided he had a point. With statistics showing half of Americans overweight, and 30% obese, maybe we are all stuffing ourselves silly. But if we’re addicts to huge portions, restaurants are the enablers. A study analyzed 123 menu items from restaurants and found some contained more calories than the total daily amount for an adult.

America is the land of bigger is better. We love huge helpings. And restaurants are happy to sell it. The names alone are gluttonous: supersize, Triple Triple Triple Burgers, mega-size ice cream sundaes, Big Gulp.

A diner near Sacramento features a dish of a, yes, five- pound hot dog, If you’re still hungry, it comes with a side of one pound of fries. Not to mention those all-you-can-eat buffets. Ours must be one of the few nations with actual eating contests, where competitors win by gorging the most pies or hot dogs.

I’m not the most careful eater, and I’ve been digesting that traveler’s observations. Now I’m making an effort to eat not only better, but to eat less. Cooking smaller portions, bringing home half of restaurant meals, not eating because I’m bored or because it looks good, though I’m not hungry.

So a supersize thank you to that unknown tourist who pointed it out. He’s probably back in his country by now, where he can he can dine out and his meal won’t be served on a plate the size of a pizza pan.

Hmmm – pizza – now that sounds good.

With a Perspective, I’m Richard Swerdlow.

Richard Swerdlow teaches in the San Francisco Unified School District.

While you were adjusting to the changing climate or catching up on the latest White House scandal, the state Assembly, once again, considered scrapping daylight time. After all, Arizona and Hawaii don’t have it. Springing forward in March and falling back in November is disruptive: traffic accidents and heart attacks go up, productivity dips.

But … it turns out getting rid of an hour of light at the end of the day is wildly unpopular with parks and rec departments, Little League, surfers, runners and other casual exercisers, and the Facebook group “Save the Light.” Contrary to folklore, farmers don’t care one way or another.

So the latest proposal is permanent daylight time for California.
Seriously. That’s about as likely to happen as Calexit, the on-again, off-again idea for California to secede from the U.S. Did state Assembly members consider the complications before voting in favor of Assembly Bill 807 and sending it on to the state Senate?

Let’s stop for a moment. Under permanent daylight time, the sun wouldn’t rise till 8:25 AM in January when kids go back to school in the dark after winter break. Also, imagine being in a different time zone than Oregon and Washington – but only from the first Sunday in November to the second Sunday in March. Heck, most people now don’t realize it’s PDT, not PST, until November 5th.

California operates in a global economy. Do we really want to make it harder for the rest of the world to do business with us in order to have everlasting daylight saving time?

For this goofy idea to become reality, the bill needs approval by the state Senate. Then it would go on the ballot because Californians can always use another issue to vote on. If that passed, Congress would need to approve the change. And we all know how much the U.S. Congress loves California. I don’t know whether it’s time to shake my head or laugh.

I think I’ll laugh.

With a Perspective, I’m Debbie Duncan.

Debbie Duncan writes and reviews children’s books from her home on the Peninsula.

When I opened the jury duty summons, I cringed. I recalled times I’d been summoned to just wait around for days, or answer personal questions in front of strangers.

I arrived on July 3, as work colleagues enjoyed a day off. In the courtroom, a young man sat stoically next to his young public defender. And I was struck by the weight of this task to decide someone’s freedom. But I knew that I could weigh facts and come to a reasoned conclusion. Soon, I joined 11 other men and women in the jury box. We were young and old, and many races. Some were retired; several had high-powered jobs.

After days of testimony, we gathered in the jury room. The case was complicated, and we carefully reviewed the judge’s instructions. It was stressful but there was tremendous goodwill. One juror, an ER doctor, baked cookies. We were almost unanimous in finding the defendant not guilty on four charges: Almost, because one person vehemently disagreed. I couldn’t understand why he came to a different conclusion. We made reasoned appeals. It was frustrating but the next day, we voted again. On two charges, we voted unanimously not guilty. Our careful conversations had shifted this person’s views. We wished the defendant well, then scattered.

I was proud that people plucked from busy lives and thrown together to determine the fate of a stranger could be so thoughtful. I know people groan when they get their summons, and try to shirk what feels like a huge imposition. For me, as the country was celebrating its birth, it was the most patriotic act that I could undertake.

With a Perspective, I’m Stephanie Rapp.

Stephanie Rapp works in philanthropy in San Francisco.

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