Points of Pride

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December 27, 2019-

I am in the process of looking back, at the year, and at the decade.  Some things, like saying farewells to those who left this life, and listing the Top Ten things that occurred in my small universe, are best left until the last day or so, of any given year.

Today, though, with four days left of the year, and decade, it’s fairly safe to talk about those in whom I feel the most pride.  There are, as it happens, ten such people.

In reverse order:

10.  A friend, Judy, always generous with her support of those who are struggling, emotionally, and with help for those who have a particular short-term need.  She’s not neglectful of herself, either, facing a health challenge that she’s found concerning, with consistent and carefully-planned progress.

9.  Another friend, Jenn, a born decorator and entertainer, who never tires of giving to our community, in both small and large ways. Suffice it to say, she has to do this work, even in the face of personal challenges.

8.  Cati, also a friend, who has realized the value of self-love and taking on life, with the support of strong friends and her true love.  May her strength long continue to grow.

7. Glenn, my brother, who casts a light before him, several miles long, leading us with a road map of facing what is , literally, the darkest of personal challenges:  Blindness.  He was Man of the Year, named by the Carroll Center for the Blind, a few years back.  The Carroll has served him well, but nowhere near as much as he has served himself, constantly moving forward on his own power.

6.  Friend, Monica, also dealing full-on with a severe personal health challenge, yet rarely without a smile and a kind word for friends and family.

5 and 4 .  Lexi and Austin, a young couple who have stepped forward together, and will leave an indelible mark on the world around them.

3. Friend, Melissa, who has faced every challenge in front of her, relying some on her Faith, yet not shrinking from dealing with unexpected challenges.

2 and 1-  My son and daughter-in-law, Aram and Yunhee, leaving behind a life of relative comfort, confident in their abilities, singly and together, to build a new life in a community unfamiliar to either of them.

There are many others, of whom I’m proud.  Some would never want to be publicly mentioned-and I’m sure that is a bit true of those above.  Regardless, to the extent that each of us throws ourselves into both the harshness and the solace afforded by this life, we can take a measure of self-pride.

 

Not A Grey Week

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December 26, 2019-

It was one of the nicest Christmas gatherings I’ve attended, in many years.  The weather was spotty, with flakes flying through the air, but not sticking.  We did wake up to a smidgen of snow on the ground, but it quickly dissolved into the dry soil.  Nonetheless, it’s always the camaraderie that makes the difference, regardless of weather, and  those of us who knew each other beforehand, quickly found even more friends, yesterday evening.

Today was similar, weatherwise, but different in focus.  I took care of a couple of errands, in Scottsdale and in Phoenix, while Yunhee checked an outlet mall, north of town.  We headed back before the predicted snow got going, and made it back with no issues.  She got to enjoy another of my favourite local eateries:  Bill’s Grill, before we went back to our respective lairs.

The days after Christmas, when I was growing up, were either our time to get into the toys and games we received, and learn their rules and proper usage.  I also spent a goodly amount of time with the Connect-the-Dots and colouring books that came in my Christmas stocking.  Sometimes, life seemed to get under our parents’ skin, in the last week of the year, and I began to be concerned, especially as a teen, that maybe all this holiday business was taking on the trappings of a second full-time job, for  Mom especially, when in my opinion, she worked hard enough, during the rest of the year.  It struck me that this greyness was the cost of all the Reds and Greens, even the White.

Time has gone by,  and the greyness no longer much registers.  Instead, there is this  sense that each day, having within itself a kernel of brightness, transcends whatever dullness is outwardly covering our midst.  So, whatever the humdrum rigmarole that must be settled, in the last few business days of the year, it can carry with it a portion of the joy, that the day which immediately preceded it, has imparted to us all, even if we accept it grudgingly.  Ebenezer learned this, and so have countless others.

How This Christmas Happened

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December 25, 2019-

There was a thin coating of snow, greeting us in Prescott, as the sun rose this morning.  A few more flakes fell from the sky, throughout the day.  Across the continent, a similar light snow fell in my home town of Saugus.

The day was quiet for many in my extended family, and for much of the day, it was quiet for me as well.  At 2:45, Yunhee and I headed over to the home of  a steadfast and enduring friend.  I brought my signature lasagna, though in retrospect, it could have used more sauce.   Yunhee brought her own creation, an applesauce pie-and I looked at it and saw that it was good.

Well, after about thirty minutes of banter, during which it was pointed out, by one of those present, that both major political extremist movements of the 1930’s and ’40’s used the word “Socialist” in their official titles, I was reminded again of the old saw that extreme right and extreme left will bump into each other on the bottom part of the political ellipse.  Then, the conversation drifted back to how we’re all in this together.

We started with too much food and not that many people.  God provides what Man needs, though, and along came five more guests.  It was perfect- not quite a “Loaves and Fishes” moment, but a definite example of how the Universe and the Spirit bring need and provision together.

The conversation flowed beautifully, in the dining area, and the antics of the youths played out just as smoothly, in the front room.  Yes, a good time was had by all-even the dog, a “pet-sat” addition to the mix.  We had mini-lessons on phrases of four languages:  Mandarin, Korean, Thai – and German.

This is as Christmas should be- a time of unity and fellowship, without regard for the illusion of the Chasm.

On The Cusp of Yule

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December 24, 2019-

It’s raining, it’s pouring, but this older man is not snoring.  There is much to get done today, including a haircut.  There will also be drop-ins at a few of my favourite shops downtown, to wish all a Merry Christmas.  For many, the day before Christmas tends to be THE time to get together with friends and family, for revelry and perhaps some of the gift giving that comes with the season, as we know it.  This aspect of Christmas is derived from the pre-Christian Yule, a staple of ancient Western and Northern Europe, and itself a brightening of dreary winter days.

Tomorrow, the true spiritual essence of the day will have a special significance, as I will celebrate with one of my best friends, and my daughter-in-law will be there for the occasion.  Those who know me at all, know that while I live alone, the importance of family and friends in my life can never be minimized.  Son would be here, but he is tending to separation from active duty, and that brief sacrifice of time with his loved ones will come to an end, in a week’s time.

There will also be time spent on the phone, starting with  a call to an ailing cousin, this afternoon, and to my mother, siblings and in-laws tomorrow.  Cards are a fading tradition, for many, so we find other ways to connect.  Gifts, at least from yours truly, have been given or sent- or are ready to be given in person, tomorrow.

Finally, there is this:  In the core of my being, I know that the Creator never has left us alone and never will.  It is constant, daily remembrance of His love for us, which brings hope and joy, even in what is, outwardly, the darkest of days.  Today will sparkle, in spite of the grey skies and rainfall.  So, too, will tomorrow.

 

Solstice to Christmas

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December 22, 2019- 

Last night marked the December Solstice, and though I didn’t do anything special to mark the passing of the shortest amount of sunlight, I felt the energy.  I call this  the December Solstice, being mindful that as we in the North experience cold and darkness, our brothers and sisters in the South have heat and light in their midst.  In June, of course, we trade places.  Many of us will enjoy a White Christmas, and my hope is that those in the Antipodes will find respite from the fires which have plagued Australia, Africa and the Amazon region, for much of this year.

This evening, Hanukkah begins at sunset, marking the eight days which commemorate the re-dedication of the second Temple of Jerusalem, following its profaning at the hands of the Seleucids (a dynasty of the Persian Empire).  The Judean commander, Judah Maccabee, ordered this celebration, so that none would forget the degradation that was followed by resilience.  My late wife, our son and I would light the menorah, a candelabrum that is used to hold nine candles, a central one called shamash, or “attendant”, from which the eight other candles are lit, one each evening of the festival.  Penny would recite the blessing, in Hebrew, before we lit each candle.

Gold-wrapped candies, called gelt, are often given each night and small gifts may  be exchanged, among those celebrating the Festival.  It may be that this is the basis for the gift-giving which accompanies the celebration of Christmas, as December 25 either falls within the Hanukkah celebration, or immediately follows it.  The rest of what we, in Western civilization and its offshoots, have come to associate with Christmas, largely comes from having adapted the traditions of others, first the Yule tree and its trimmings,  along with robust feasting, from the pre-Christian cultures of northern and western Europe, then a host of others:  Communal singing, special foods from various cultures which have adopted Christianity and alms for the poor.

The basis of all these holiday traditions, underneath all  the pomp and camaraderie, remains spiritual.  It was  awe, at changes in the celestial realm, that prompted the Druids and their followers to observe Yule.  It was the resurgence of Judaism, which inspired Hanukkah.  It was the reverence which Christ’s first followers had for His birth, and for His life, which brought about the first Christmas.  That it should have taken on elements of the two other great end-of-year celebrations, as well as modern commercialism,does not negate the spiritual basis for the near-universal appeal of Christmas.  This is solely owing to the greatness and universality of the character of Jesus the Christ- His love of humanity, His fealty to the Creator and His inherent wisdom.

So, for me, for my family and for all humanity- Let this be, as Judah Maccabee decreed, in the days of resilience after the overthrow of tyranny:  A Season of Light.

 

New Beginnings

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December 21, 2019-

I am a late viewer of “Game of Thrones, Season 8”.  Although not knowing quite what  the author of  the series, “A Song of Ice and Fire”, will have to say in the last two books in that series, the television adaptation covered some basic themes, albeit in a modest way.

One of the themes mirrored the plight of the United Kingdom, which has chosen to leave the European Union.  In the program, the leaders of the northern sector, on the fictional continent of Westeros, chose to leave a continental political union, even though one of their own was chosen king, when the union faced a political vacuum.

Another was the matter of loyalty, and how easily it can shift, in uncertain times.  I’ve seen much of what passes for loyalty depend on how closely the views of the loyalist dovetail with those of the one being supported.   In the program, loyalty was a fleeting thing, at best.

The greatest theme, though, was that of new beginnings. The capital city, in the story, was nearly obliterated, by days of brutal warfare.  In the early days of the new regime, following continued carnage, there was squabbling about which projects would begin the reconstruction.  This is, of course, universal to our day and age, as well.

I have a simple idea about such reconstruction, though.  That is, whatever area is given priority should have the support of the community, state or nation, as long as the project will be of demonstrable benefit to those who have been left behind, in the prior progress of the political unit or community.  It is not a matter of mutual backscratching, per se, but a case of a new start being consistent and incremental, in the progress of the realm.

While each of us is headed forward, in one way or another, it’s a good thing if there is a network of support.

 

On Unity

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December 16, 2019-

The subjects of who is responsible and of how much should we, as a human race, be working together, have resurfaced, in response to TIME’s selection of its 2019 Person of the Year.   I have discussed that particular matter, in an earlier post, and so will not belabour the point.

Conservatives are incensed that seemingly irresponsible progressives are in the ascendancy, with regard to environmental matters.  Those on the Left, likewise, regard ANY involvement by large business interests and nationalist groups, in the environmental movement, as suspect.

The facts, as always, paint a more complex picture.  A politically conservative team, led by Scott Presler, has made its way around the United States, cleaning up mounds of trash and debris in places like Newark,Baltimore, Los Angeles and Chicago.  One of the most reliable environmental disaster response teams on the planet is Team Rubicon,  made up largely of political conservatives, who also happen to have a solid combination of heart and disaster recovery expertise.   I have been part of a local group, here in Prescott, who cleaned up an abandoned homeless people’s camp, in early Fall of this year.  While they didn’t appreciate my political views, they did appreciate the help.

There are no shortage of people on the Left who help clean up the detritus, as well.  Indeed, Team Rubicon and Mr. Presler’s group hardly conduct political litmus tests of their volunteers.  Politics, simply put, should not be a distraction.  In the end, the Creator put us all here and we all have to live with what is.

There are as many ways to face our planet’s changing climate-which is a cycle, and no more a myth than the cycle which eliminated so much life during the Cambrian and Cretaceous Periods.  Mankind will not be eliminated by this cycle.  We do, however, have the responsibility of stewardship for our world, and there as many ways to respond to the challenge, as there are points of view.  All are needed here.

Two responses that will not accomplish what is needed are: 1. Doing nothing and 2. Throwing money, willy-nilly, at the events. Indeed, the controversial Ms. Thunberg has herself cautioned against a Green New Deal, in the sense that rushing into responding may cause more harm than good.  Plans must be made, and they need to consider as many possible outcomes in advance as is humanly possible.  Conservatives, with their command of Outcomes-based Models, can help greatly in this regard.  Progressives, with their commitment to social justice, can provide the psychological and emotional heft, as well as a fair share of intellectual awareness, to the process.

We can, moreover, do without the divisive extremism-that, “if THOSE people are involved, then count me out. ”   I would have strongly advised Greta Thunberg to so sit down with President Trump (or any other critic she may encounter) and explain her views, as clearly as possible, whilst giving him an opportunity to explain his, in a coherent manner. Neither of them are responsible for the other’s reaction, so it does not strike me as a fool’s errand.  For my part, I do not approach my own critics with anything less than dignified respect.

Unity requires no less.

 

The Real Story of Santa Claus and Coal

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December 15, 2019-

Legend has it that Santa Claus sends his snarky sidekick, Black Piet, to put a lump of coal in the stockings of children who have been naughty,during the year.  I learned, this evening, that this is just not so.

The Big Guy and his Missus put in an early appearance this evening, at a Red Cross gathering.  He told a young man who complained of having received coal in his stocking, whilst he was a young street ruffian, in Chicago.  The young man did tell St. Nick that he had mended his ways, and Santa acknowledged that this was the case.

Santa went on to explain, about the coal.   “I don’t always give children what they want, but I do give them what they need.”, he offered, “When people needed coal to heat their homes, I made sure they got several lumps.”  Children living under hard circumstances, frequently act out, and Santa said he takes care of their home life, first.

That did my heart good, and shows that Santa Claus is not just a purveyor of belly laughs and trips down the chimney.  He really does look out for our best interests.  Black Piet? Why, he is a Red Cross volunteer, who goes down each chimney, to make sure it is firewise.

Rotating the Plates

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December 14, 2019-

In the late 1940’s, a man named Preston Tucker conceived and produced a modest number of innovative automobiles, bearing his name.  The attitude of the United States government towards entrepreneurs, in the 1950’s, was a far cry from what it is in this century.  Tucker was harassed by the Eisenhower administration, on charges of stock fraud and false advertising, though he was eventually exonerated.  Today, many of his innovations, from disc brakes to air-cooled engines,  are standard features in many lines of cars.

For many of us, change is most easily accepted if it is piecemeal, and even more so  if it mainly involves re-arranging the chairs on the deck, or rotating the plates on a table.  Preston Tucker, with Steve Jobs, Elon Musk, Stanley Kubrick, Jackson Pollock and Joe Sample, among many others, challenged the way people thought about everything in our society.  How can machines be made in a different manner and serve mankind more efficiently?  How can music and art be wildly innovative, even whimsical, and still have deep meaning?  The powers that be are averse to asking these questions, even in this national unity,age of deep change.

We are finding this in public service, as well.  Those who propose large scale changes in the way public affairs are conducted, primarily with a view towards bridging gaps, are dismissed by both the nation’s leadership and the mass media as Lost Causes or Just Plain Weird.  The idea that people with liberal viewpoints can find common ground with those of conservative bent has led many with a conventional frame of mind to publicly retch.  The “ruffle no feathers” crowd almost prefers widespread incompetence to warm and vibrant appeals to national unity.  Thus, “minor” candidates are shut out of the process by clever, but putrid, political machinations.

It is thus in business and industry, in the arts and in the halls of government.  It would be refreshing to see the popular will resist these incessant appeals to mediocrity.

 

When Light Seems Dark

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December 13, 2019-

Jack was right, to an extent.

The selection, by TIME Magazine, of Greta Thunberg as its “Person of the Year” comes as no surprise.  The attacks heaped on her, by people of a certain age, also come as no surprise.  It’s hard to face up to one’s failings, and even more so, to face up to collective failings.

There is no figure in human history who had escaped the wrath of the froward and despicable.  It’s human nature to despise being reminded of what one has done wrong.  It is human responsibility, however, to address shortcomings and make an effort to correct them.

Jack, of whom I know little, wrote a scathing letter, some five years ago, warning me that my attitudes on inter-gender relations were passe’, and that I would know no peace with women, until I recognized it and changed some aspects of my mindset.  Time has passed and I have meditated, continuously, on this matter, gradually weaning myself of exactly the shopworn attitudes of which he was talking.

There is, however, a greater sense of obfuscation and gaslighting afoot, when critics of not only the great Divine Educators, from Noah to Christ to Baha’u’llah, but also more ordinary people, from the Founding Fathers of the United States, through Abraham Lincoln, to Mohandas Gandhi, Mother Theresa and Fred Rogers, try to focus attention on the flaws, both real and perceived, of such great souls.  The Divine Educators were perfect Beings, so any disparagement of  Them is a pack of lies.  Those who are people of vision and fortitude will always incite anger and attract disparagement from those who prefer to wallow in self-pity.  Light, to such people, is to be shadowed, made to seem like darkness.

There is a difference between the Jacks of the world, who speak truth even when it may be unpalatable, and the minions of moroseness (to quote Spiro T. Agnew, of all people).  Those who wish to redress the wrongs of society are only too happy to see those wrongs corrected.  Those who hate the great figures of the past, or the minor heroes of the present, are banking on the lower aspects of human nature to vindicate their own self-loathing.

Greta Thunberg, at her young age, ought continue to grow physically and intellectually, but ought never shrink from speaking truth-even when it may be unpalatable.