Sane and Intelligent

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April 13, 2021- I watched a small segment of a newsreel from the World War II era, which included a Disney cartoon, promoting payment of taxes as an act of patriotism-one of many ways in which the average citizen of that time could support the war effort, through personal sacrifice. Along with dehumanizing the opposing forces of the Axis (Germany, Italy and Japan), the appeal to acceptance of taxation, recycling, conservation and not spending on oneself was made so that the bulk of the nation’s resources would go towards support for the Armed Forces.

Defeating the most formidable opponents the forces of democracy had yet known required a fair amount of such sacrifice-and the burden was shared by Britain, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and several smaller nations. The Soviet Union was our ally, but its citizens were already living under onerous conditions-and knew little of personal freedom. Stalin’s sole recognition of individual dignity came in his decrees that men and women were equal under the law and that every child was entitled to a free education.

We, on the other hand, found some of our freedoms temporarily curtailed-as a means to focus the nation’s energy on defeat of the totalitarian enemy. That presented a conundrum to some people. As the bulk of the opposition to this temporary halt of free expression came from people who were not altogether opposed to the Fascist cause, it gained little traction. Besides, President Truman restored civil liberties, once the war was over.

Baha’u’llah teaches that the practice of a sane and intelligent patriotism is essential, for avoiding the evils of excessive centralization. This makes such a practice all the more vital, for the time, in the distant future, when a system of international governance becomes established. The Baha’i view of such a system is that it is built from the ground up-and thus, the more basic units of social structure: Family, community, city/town, county, state/province/prefecture, nation never lose their legitimate powers. The governance of the planet as a whole depends on the strength of the layers of society on which it is built.

There will always be times when temporary sacrifice is needed, in order to defeat a common threat. Certainly, the current fight against Coronavirusdisease2019 is such a time. That we are learning to make these sacrifices, and are making slow headway in overcoming this threat to public health, is a good lesson in learning what is sane and intelligent, in terms of patriotism.

Narrow Passages

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April 11, 2021- This afternoon, one of my friends and I were hiking in a park in Prescott Valley, which is one of Prescott’s sibling communities. We took a trail less trodden and found ourselves, briefly, in a slot canyon. This is a narrow passage, in which it is okay to walk when there is absolutely no precipitation, even remotely in the forecast. Rain and snow can turn even the dustiest creek or river bed into a deathly torrent, for anyone in a slot canyon. We got through the slot canyon and back onto the main trail, with no threat of water overtaking us.

This evening, a group of Baha’is presented an update on conditions on the Navajo Nation, which has had an especially difficult row to hoe, even before the pandemic hit. There is progress being made, in terms of infrastructure (Roads, running water, utilities and technology), but we are talking a decade or two, even with systematic dedication, before the Dineh (Navajo) can emerge from this narrow passage. COVID19 is a torrent that is slowing down their walk, and which has taken too many people downstream.

Indeed, far too many communities are finding themselves in similar slot canyons. We, as a species, and as a planet, are in a collective narrow passage, and vacillate between thinking we can inch our way out of it, by just going on as usual and flailing through the waters of tests and difficulties. There are too many who think this is something that can be negotiated individually-and too many who think that they can just appeal to others to solve the problems.

The fact is, we all are needed to think globally and act locally. Only then will the passage be widened and, with more room to walk ahead, the human race can bring the gifts of each and every soul to bear on the ills that have arisen because of the neglect and misfeasance of the past.

Fluidity

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April 10, 2021- In the past five years or so, I have found myself establishing one after another of close friendships with women of maturity. These have been what I regard as fraternal-sororal, with no hidden agenda on either side.

That this could change, over time, is not lost on me, but the sense that I have now is that my friendships remain fluid. I am happy with the state of each friendship, and that I am doing for each person what she needs from a true friend. Male/female friendships thrive best, when there is a clear and present understanding between both, as to what each other’s needs and expectations are. That makes them no different than fraternal or sororal friendships between those of the same sex.

My life, like those of most others, is also fluid right now, with the status of many societies around the world remaining upended by COVID19 and the various degrees to which each society is responding to the disease. We’re doing better here, and several states are making progress, as well. So, as life slowly and steadily develops a post-pandemic regimen-not necessarily a return to the “good old days” (which weren’t all that great), I am keeping my face masks at the ready (still required for work and some shopping), still offering physical distance from those whose body language seems to want it, and keeping my six-month plan for the first half of 2021 mostly focused on Arizona and the Southwest-with tentative second-half plans for further afield.

Fluidity remains the best policy.

Samaritans

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April 9, 2021- There is a story of a man from Samaria, a region of what is now Syria and known for its enmity with Judea. The story goes that he stopped to help an injured man, on the side of the road, after the man had been left to die, by bandits. From his kind actions, we get the term Good Samaritan. Over time, “samaritan” has come to mean someone who helps strangers who are in difficulty, often stranded in a remote area.

There are many stories of people coming to the aid of the unfortunate. There are all kinds of samaritans: Some, with low self-esteem, seek praise, adulation, recognition and even a reward of some sort. Others may keep a tally sheet, and while paying it forward, seek recompense later. There is the “no-good-deed-goes unpunished” crowd-wanting any misdeeds to be overlooked, just because “on balance” they have helped some people, sometimes. The key to authenticity is knowing just how well one accounts for transgressions, without falling back on what one might have done for others.

I can only make sense of one course for my own state of being. Yes, I know there have been times when I have done good for people, without being asked. There have also been times when people have been hurt, on my account. The one good thing about “samaritan” acts is that no one needs to know about them, other than the recipients of such help. They need not speak of it.

The Power of Observation

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April 8, 2021- When I was about nine years old, I climbed up into a tree across the street from my house. One of my afflictions, over the years, has been getting so deeply into my own thoughts that occasionally I would imagine myself in conversation with others. Yes, that is one of the bigger drawbacks of autism. Unbeknownst to me, another neighbourhood boy was higher up in the tree, for whatever reason, and sat silently, watching my fantasy conversation. It was a shock to me, at the time, that someone I had known for four years would amuse himself, climbing down the tree and gleefully saying I’d been caught.

No matter where I’ve been, these many years, and noticing others- perhaps on the job, like the plainclothes cop who would sit in his car, in the outer edges of the parking lot at the grocery store where I once worked or the random individuals I have encountered, deep in the woods, some sitting and meditating-others taking photos of people on the trail, it strikes me very intensely that we are ever monitoring one another.

I have been more present and focused, as the years have rolled on-and haven’t been nearly as off-track, even when completely alone. Certainly, being a husband, parent and school official, responsible for the well-being of vulnerable people, has brought the necessity of such focus vividly home.

If nothing else, one accomplishes more, when in touch with physical reality. Friendships are also deeper, both when one is being observed and is being observant. This all may seem self-evident to the neurotypical, but it is quite striking to someone like me.

Quantum Leaps

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April 5, 2021- It was the joy of a lifetime to see the University of Arizona Women’s Basketball team advance to the NCAA Finals, with a solid victory over a formidable University of Connecticut team. It was disappointing to see the Wildcats lose, by one point, to Stanford University, two days later-yet heartening that both teams gave 100%, and there was, as it were, no subsequent animosity or rancor, from either side. The NCAA itself took a self-imposed black eye from its earlier refusal to acknowledge Arizona’s presence in its own tournament, but I see that more as part of the growing pains that are part of college sports’, and society’s, maturing attitude towards women’s sports.

The health, stamina and well-being of both male and female human beings is one of the most basic interests of a fully-functioning society. I was one of the most uncoordinated of children and young adults, but have always recognized the role that sports, especially team sports, have in the maintenance of good physical and emotional health, as well as their role in building character. Youth, high school and college level athletics, at their best, provide the most reliable vehicle for character-building. When adult egos and remuneration get involved, that character-building can be tarnished-and granted, I have seen “Youth Leagues” turn into mechanisms for burnout of otherwise promising young athletes.

I fully expect that the quantum leaps that we have seen, in the progress of sports for girls and women, will long continue-and have the effect of elevating all athletic endeavours-for boys and men, and co-educational teams, as well. Congratulations again to the University of Arizona Wildcats, and to the Stanford Cardinal, for jobs well done. (Here’s to you, also, Baylor Bears.)

Rising and Renewal

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April 5, 2021- As many are aware, today is Easter Sunday (Resurrection Sunday). The day was first intended to celebrate the Resurrection of Jesu the Christ from the dead, three days after His Crucifixion and death, at the hands of Roman soldiers acting at the behest of two Jewish Zealot leaders, Annas and Caiaphas.

Jesus’ disciples were understandably despondent, feeling as if their faith was shaken and not knowing in which direction to go from that low point in their fortunes. There was just one fly in the Zealots’ ointment: They were not acting according to the Will of God, but according to their own craving for power. What is willed by the Creator, whether we think it is coming from the Universe, or from God’s Messenger (Divine Teacher) for the day in which that Messenger makes Self known, is what will happen-maybe sooner, or maybe later-but in any case, in God’s own time.

Three days after He was killed, Christ appeared to His Disciples, even allowing one of them, Thomas, to put his hand in His side. Spiritual Beings can do whatever God wants Them to do-especially if They have been teaching humanity in His Name. So, it is not hard to understand the appearance of Jesus the Christ before His Disciples, three days postmortem.

In July, 1850, Baha’u’llah’s Herald, al-Bab, did the same thing, albeit for a much shorter period of time. When He was first executed by a firing squad, in Tabriz, Persia, al-Bab was not to be found, when the smoke had cleared. He was subsequently found in a small room at the prison, dictating some business to an associate. Once He had completed His business, al-Bab consented to be brought back to the execution court. There, He was again the target of a firing squad, which this time completed its mission.

The Creator does not abandon us, nor does He prevent us from making our own choices, both good and bad, based on free will. The decisions Man makes which are counterproductive do not hurt God in any way. In the two cases cited above, Christ and al-Bab returned to Their Father, Who sent Them. People were left to do the hard work of interpreting Their guidance, on our own. Those who truly loved their Teachers followed those instructions. Others followed the whims of their own fancies and imaginations-as the Zealots had before them.

Resurrection Sunday thus celebrates the undying Power of the Creator, to renew the Message He sends us, and to renew our Faith in His Guidance, which is, as Baha’u’llah said, “Eternal in the past, eternal in the future.”

What It Usually Means

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April 3, 32021-

Most times, a hug is a hug-and nothing more. A handshake is a handshake, no more and no less. A warm smile is not especially an invitation, but more an expression of appreciation. A gentle touch is a reassurance of caring. Eye contact, likewise, means “I see you. You matter to me”.

Interest in your day means there is a connection. It is not an invitation to anything more. Expressing interest in doing things together is not an open door to doing just anything at all.

A friendship between mature adults is devoid of assumptions, of unilateral expectations and wishful thinking. It is full of plans made together, of honest conversation, of trusting disclosures, knowing that what is shared is respected, and kept in confidence.

These facets of my friendships, with woman and man alike steer me gently into that good night and its subsequent bright day.

Alpha/Omega

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April 2, 2021- Every so often, I get a reminder about the commitment that I, as “an American of some affluence”, must have towards the poor of other parts of the world. It usually comes in the form of a veiled demand, but is at least offered with good wishes for my health and well-being. That stands to reason, as a sick person would hardly be able to offer anything to others.

My dealings with people who primarily view the world through a transactional lens are, of necessity, getting more and more limited. Even among those businesses I frequent, I regard the people therein as friends first, and means to an end second. One example is a local family restaurant, Zeke’s, where I sit at the counter, gab with the wait staff and other patrons, and comment freely on goings on. The same is true of Rafter Eleven, Synergy and, to a lesser extent, The Raven Cafe. It is increasingly true in the schools where I am taking on special assignments until the end of May.

My circle of friends trends larger these days, even with-and in some cases because of-virtual connections. The first and last, alpha/omega if you will, is compassion based on love. Those whose primary focus is transactional have a hard time seeing this-and there was a time when part of me was there. Much of my standoffishness had to do with lack of self-confidence, and a degree of self-loathing, as if I were not “good enough” for others. I suspect that is true of those who behave in this manner now. More’s the pity.

There is, to a good extent, the notion that failure to thrive is a Catch 22, a vicious circle. That realization came to me, about four months after I met Penny, back in 1981. Gradually, over several decades, the self-doubt has fallen away-so that even in the most harrowing of circumstances, the faint light has been in view.

I thought of this today, as the Mystery of Alpha/Omega from 33 A.D.: The Passion of Jesus the Christ, plays out in the minds and hearts of millions across the planet. His basis for everything was compassion, rooted in love.

No Fooling

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April 1, 2021- I’ve learned a few things about levity, over the years. There is a time when it is the best course of action, at a party or when someone could use lightening up. There is then a time for vigilance, such as this morning, when a small child was near flowing water and his mother needed a second pair of eyes. Splashing about, in the river, might have been fun otherwise, but no matter. Keeping people safe is a vital task for any of us.

There is a wider application to discerning between seriousness and tomfoolery. Anything that diminishes the dignity or humanity of another human being, or involves cruelty-either physical or emotional, needs to be off the table-no matter how “witty” it appears at the time. It is hard for some, if they are “on a roll” in terms of amusing self and others or are using humour as a means to increase social standing.

We are, however, as a species, raising consciousness and maturity levels. Meanness to children and small animals is being, thankfully, increasingly called out. People are consulting more about what might be acceptable or unacceptable. Someone’s name is less and less being made the brunt of jokes. There is much left to be done, yet with increasing acceptance of diversity, across all areas of human interaction, we can look forward more to a healthy style of humour.

Hope all had a pleasant All Fool’s Day.