The Next Needful Steps

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November 25, 2022, Grapevine- I). In mid-1984, while Penny and I were presenting on a Baha’i theme, at a diverse gathering of people, in Spring, TX, northwest of Houston, we were interrupted by an indignant person, who wanted to know by what authority any white people could recommend such simplistic actions as we were describing to a largely black audience.

The articulate, lovely Sharon made several valid points, not the least of which was that people become “schooled” in the experiences of their audience, before addressing issues through a lens that is not necessarily applicable to said audience. That we were taken aback by “hostility” to “a loving message” seems quaint now-after Rodney King, James Byrd, Jr., Tamir Rice, Trayvon Martin, Breanna Taylor, George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery and countless other victims, beaten or killed while in various degrees of doing daily activities-and all because others were addressing issues through a lens not applicable to the presenting situation.

Penny later taught children several lessons that involved seeing through different coloured lenses. That was a good first step, and I have been left to take further steps in gaining increased awareness, applying lessons imparted in books to my daily life. As with any other aspect of life, through which I’ve stumbled, understanding and embracing people of colour is an exercise in mindfulness, translated to action.

II.) The good-natured, playful girls saw me watching their activity, in the afternoon classroom, and decided to teach a lesson of their own, by staging a staring contest. I “blinked” first, and gave them the “win”. A few weeks earlier, similar vigilance, at a different school, was described as discomfiting, by the young woman who was clearly trying to get out of doing her assignment, though for valid personal reasons.

A residual aspect of my autism leads me to observe people in a situation, often not speaking at first. This has, as indicated above, landed me in hot water, to a limited extent, over the years-with women, girls, interracial couples, gay people. I have set two goals, to be achieved sooner, rather than later: 1. Engage such people in conversation, immediately, rather than stare at them for even a few seconds. 2. Make my purpose in attending to them clear, in an articulate manner. There is nothing to be gained from being tentative or hesitant. People are not zoo animals.

Approaching the start of my seventy-third year, the next needful steps in improving my interactions with others are crystal clear. Everyone deserves to know my heart, not misinterpret my mind.

Thankfulness Is A Heart Song

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November 24, 2022, Grapevine- I remember, in years that my parents deemed “lean”, being quite happy with what had been given me on Christmas of those years. I recall being puzzled at Mom’s dismay about the quality of the gifts they had given. Life itself was quite enough, actually. All the things besides it were gravy. I told her as much.

Speaking of which, Thanksgiving 2022 is a wrap, at least the dinner part, here in DFW’s shadow. Yunhee made her first traditional American dinner, and it was stellar. Turkey, peppered mashed potatoes, cornbread dressing and cranberry sauce were a grand first effort. Korean sticky puffed rice replaced pumpkin pie and whipped cream, and is actually better for early afternoon.

I have read a couple of articles on “how to be grateful”, this morning. I most definitely agree with friend Andrea Cagan’s synopsis of gratitude (See Andrea Cagan, “Gratitude Shmatitude”, Andrea’s Writings, Thoughts and Inspiration) as best being more spontaneous, definitely not forced, or even rehearsed. Missing out on the tiny delights, from a small plant first shooting up through the soil to a child’s first steps or on the grander, a recovering patient’s doing, tentatively, what had been de rigeur prior to their mishap, is disaffirming. It is vital to one’s well-being to notice and appreciate all that life brings to the table.

When I was young, the usual lessons of “Please, Thank You and You’re Welcome” were imparted to us. One of my maternal aunts offered what I thought was a refreshing caveat- “Don’t ever fake being thankful. I, for one, will see right through it.” Therein lies the heart of true gratitude. Like love, on which it is based, gratitude is never vain or false; it is neither snide nor self-deprecating. It cannot be feigned. The flip side is, approaching life with a loving heart, one can see the value in just about anything, endure it and thus feel grateful for some element contained within it.

Life, even recovering from an illness or mourning the senseless losses of innocents to war and personal rage, contains within it the admonition to do better, to break out of the prison of self. Therein lies the greater blessing, that true thankfulness is a heart song.

Happy Thanksgiving, one and all!

The Break Room

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November 23, 2022, Grapevine– There was no solace, no room to sit and get a few minutes’ rest, after standing at a register, or stocking shelves, or moving boxes from the back room. It was not to be, on that painful Tuesday night, in one of the largest cities in Virginia. It was not so, because a supervisor snapped, and forgot that his mission statement-his “job description”, the words in a manual that were supposed to give direction, no longer mattered-if they ever did.

Forgive me, if I have no sympathy for someone who takes own life, after slaughtering so many others. Murder is a choice-and one of the most heinous of choices, but you knew that. Whatever the person may have meant to others, prior to the bloodbath,has likely changed. All their loved ones’ impressions, memories and good feelings of the wanton killer are relegated to the past.

No, all of my heart goes to the victims in Chesapeake, in Colorado Springs, in Kellogg (ID) and in each of the nearly 500 other locations where MASS MURDER has taken place since the Texas Towers, in 1966. Part of the blame can go to those who closed mental health facilities (to save money-never mind the lives lost), to those who fight back against keeping weapons out of the hands of the mentally ill. In the end, though, killing is a choice. A better choice is always talking; a better choice is always pursuing one’s legitimate grievances in a non-lethal manner; a better choice is always looking, under rocks if necessary, for an advocate. None of those other choices dehumanizes or ends the life of another person.

Murder is a choice.

Cactus Flower to Yellow Rose

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November 22, 2022, Grapevine- A 1:45 a.m. wake-up, for a 3:15 shuttle, leading to a 7:15 flight from Phoenix to Dallas-Fort Worth, is not on my frequent travel schedule. It is also far from the hardest of itineraries, as I imagine any veteran of a Belem to Manaus to Leticia packet boat trip along the Amazon, or a joyride from Punta Arenas to the Ross Peninsula, or even a trek to the summit of one of the great peaks of the Himalaya, Andes or Northern Rockies, would attest.

It is, however, something I have mastered, along with nine other travelers, who joined me in packing a van that made it in perfect time, from the campus of Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University (where a twenty-minute search of three stops yielded the two travelers sought.) There was scant traffic, once two more passengers boarded the shuttle, in Prescott Valley and Groome’s driver got us to Sky Harbor on time.

Other than a few uptight, suspicious people in an airport coffee shop, and in my row on the plane itself, there were no hiccups between Phoenix and my secondary home. I retrieved my luggage fairly quickly and took my first ride in a Tesla. The car is not quirky; I’ll say that much, and the time may well come when the brand has no more association with Fascism than does a Volkswagen. It rides very smoothly.

Now it’s time to relax, get rid of the rest of the cold that has bothered me-along with 3/4 of the people I know in Arizona- and bask in my little family’s presence.

Thunderbird

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November 20, 2022- As I sat with two young siblings, in a friend’s apartment, they began drawing and then painting, images on cloth canvas squares. The kids did marvelous depictions of Pokemon characters and yin/yang symbols. My friend asked if I wanted to do a canvas of my own, which sounded like fun. I did a free-style depiction of a prehistoric bird, using a few colours: Red torso, black beak and legs, yellow tuft and green head. I would be surprised if any actual bird looked like that, but it was a nice, light activity.

It did get me thinking about the thunderbird, a common mythological creature of North America, ascribed by Algonquian-speaking peoples in the Pacific Northwest, eastern Canada, the northeast United States and the Great Lakes region, with thunderous wing-flapping and the ability to hurl lightning at giant serpents and other underwater creatures. It was said that thunderbirds ruled the land and sky, whilst serpents and underwater panthers shared the underworld. I heard about thunderbirds, growing up, and while they remain fanciful, the colour scheme has a polyglot, rainbow quality (Northwest) or has blue-black feathers.

The mythological nature of the beast, in turn, reminded me of the superhuman powers that we sometimes ascribe to actual creatures-even to the microbial level. I have fought a hard, but somewhat manageable, cold, over the past four days. It is at the point now, where it is subsiding and there is only a smidgen of mucous, itself clear. This is what I refer to as change-of-seasonitis, and it has usually showed up, around late October. My ailment has none of the symptoms attributed to COVID-19, and does remind me, pure and simple , of other bad colds I’ve had this time of year. The thunder is subsiding now,thankfully, and with a good rest and hydration, I will be fine for Tuesday’s flight.

Delivering, not Sniveling

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November 19, 2022- I walked carefully into the American Legion Post general meeting, about 15 minutes before it actually started. Wearing my face mask, as vestiges of my cold could put others at risk, I took my usual seat, and was surprised, though hardly discomfited, to find every other seat at the normally half-empty table well-occupied. The full hall meant that there would be a fairly intense discussion of various items, and there was. My voice being still scratchy, I spared the gathering of my opinions, agreeing with much of what others said, anyway. At the end, all were treated to a rich and flavourful home-baked enchilada pie and salad items.

Though I missed Farmers Market and Zeke’s, this week, also due to wanting to heal as completely as possible, before Tuesday’s flight and out of consideration for those in fairly crowded situations, the day was busier than I had initially planned. The ton of laundry, including the bed linens, finally was properly washed and dried. That took close to three hours. A hokey version of “Van Helsing’ palye din the background, with the vampire slayer taking on a Man-Fish (or a man in silly fish mask, with a Central Casting monster voice), and freeing the young adult daughter of a distraught couple, from Fishy Boy’s grasp (all this, despite VH’s having been skewered, at least three times, by Mr. Fish, or one of his minions).

In the early evening, I returned to Rafter Eleven, for the first time in about five weeks, to find that Dawn & crew have added lunch and dinner items to their Bill of Fare. It was a great delight to my palate, to have Chicken Pot Pie for an actual solid dinner. This brings Rafter into the “Dinner and A Show” level, and made listening to the jazz trio that much more enjoyable. I will be over there more regularly, once back from Dallas.

Back to Basics

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November 15, 2022- I set out from Tomahawk Motel, around 11 a.m., with no sense of how a visit with long-ago friends would go. They were happy to have me stop by, though, and after a simple but satisfying breakfast at Pippo’s, a small cafe on Cortez’s Main Street, I was up for whatever the day brought.

I got a text message to”Just come in the front door”, but spotting the couple in the back yard, I went around to greet them and we gathered for a while in the living room. Conversation ran the gamut from “Do you remember ___________ and ___________, to what the husband viewed as the breakdown of our country’s social order. I did not find any of it unpleasant, certainly, as we need to consider all points of view, in dealing with what IS going wrong. We prayed together, shared our experiences in the military (both of us are Vietnam -Era Army veterans), and I was offered a light, delicious lunch, which I thoroughly enjoyed.

Heading steadily south and west, after bidding my friends farewell, and having no incidents similar to the back-up of yesterday, I drove clear to the small Dineh settlement of Cameron. It has a lovely old trading post, which has expanded into a fine-dining restaurant, hotel and gift shop. I felt the need for Green Chili Stew, which came with fry bread and honey-itself a perfect dessert. The Green Chili Stew helped brace my system for the unusually cold weather permeating the Mountain West. I got stuffed potato skins, as well, eating half as an appetizer and keeping half for tomorrow’s lunch-as a two-day work assignment awaits.

The best things in life are often simple-and predictable.

Healing Energy

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November 13, 2022- I felt some change-of-seasonsitis coming on, last night, so I did what I always do in such cases. I took a spoonful of elderberry syrup and crawled underneath a bundle of covers. The covers helped me sweat whatever it was out. In turn, this allowed me to attend breakfast at the Legion Post, host a Zoom call and join another, work out at Planet Fitness and enjoy a fine meal with my Hiking Buddy.

It’s been worse, in the past. Some years, change-of-seasonitis kept me in bed, for 24 hours. If it were COVID, I’d probably be in bed for a week to ten days. So far, though, that hasn’t happened. Having O+ Blood may be responsible for that good fortune, though that immunity may be an old wives’ tale.

Mostly, though, I credit healing energy for the relatively good track record. Part of it comes from doing devotions every day and the other part comes from acting on those devotions. We talked about that in the first Zoom meeting, this morning. Thanksgiving, gratitude, has to be sincere-not perfunctory, if one wishes to genuinely partake of what is good in life. This sincerity should be in place for everything from answering a daily “Good morning, have a nice day”, on social media to paying one’s fair share of taxes, when the time comes.

It also involves being patient and flexible-things which have attached themselves to me, over the past three decades or so. After all, everyone, in their own space, is facing challenges that have nothing to do with what anyone else is facing. So, we can all send out healing energy and adjust our schedules to help others, when the occasion merits.

I’m grateful for each person in my life, even if I can’t give certain people what they seem to want of me. I am appreciative of what they give to me.

Perhaps That’s Why….

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November 12, 2022- “What we’ve got here is failure to communicate….”-Strother Martin, as Captain, in “Cool Hand Luke”.

I was raised to be clear in my communication with others, to not be ambiguous. As long as I have been faithful to that childhood teaching, things have gone quite well. I have, in all honesty, only been deeply, viscerally hated by someone, three times in my life. All three came from lapses of communication-either failure to listen, from stubbornness despite getting the message or from not being direct in my messaging.

I thought of this, while having lunch at a local diner, and hearing a familiar litany of complaints about our state’s leadership. It occurs to me that, while the goal of many is to increase inclusivity in the life of the community, the process is missing its target-either because the reformers are still playing the same zero sum game that got us into trouble in the first place or because they have something to hide. I am not much for conspiracy theories, so my money is on the former.

The zero sum gambit, in this case, is that conservatives have to give up something so that the historically marginalized, the cast-offs, can get what’s theirs. Zero sum games, whether played by the Right or by the Left, generate push back from those left out.

What if there is actually enough to go around? What if the problem is one of distribution, and not one of supply? The answers to these questions do not fall on the descendants of the enslaved, the small farmers, the overseers or the middle class townspeople. They do not fall to the First Nations people who were driven before the homesteaders, nor to the homesteaders themselves. They do not fall to the immigrants and their descendants. They fall instead to those who devised the system based on zero sum philosophy. Was their goal, is their goal still, to build a society that will primarily benefit the few? There are those who will freely admit that is the case, while chortling at how good their lot in life is, as a result. There are still others who nervously, even heatedly, deny any ill intent. Yet, those who are hearing them are not fooled. Some feel powerless; others feel a need to lash out and attack-even physically. Yet, there are those of us who see through all of it and know who the wire pullers are.

What we have here is failure to honestly communicate. The time when that tactic stops working is close at hand. People across the spectrum are learning to speak with one another, civilly and honestly. They are comparing notes and building plans that will benefit one and all, not just a few.

Perhaps that’s why we can trust in an optimistic view.

No Isolation

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November 10, 2022- The sometimes rambunctious child sat by himself, without anything to occupy him, while a couple of other staff members were called to tend to an emergency, elsewhere on campus. I went over and sat with him for twenty minutes, drilling him on colour and shape flashcards, until his regular paraprofessional returned. No one deserves isolation, save for a limited period of “reflect and correct”. He did well on the cards and was grateful for the attention.

In thinking about prisoners, it was noteworthy that in Tuesday’s election, clauses to the State Constitutions of Alabama, Tennessee and Oregon, which acquiesced to slavery, were removed by a wide majority of the voters. A similar, but poorly-worded, proposition in Louisiana was defeated, but with the understanding that a much-clearer proposition would be put before the voters, as part of the gubernatorial and legislative election, next Fall. Groups don’t deserve extended isolation, any more than individuals do. Incarceration is frequently necessary, yet solitary confinement should be a rarity.

Pariahs have been a feature of the human condition, and some say the animal condition, as far back as observation itself began. Many, myself included, have experienced a limited, short-term shunning, for violating group norms at one time or another. Other times, it’s not even the group which was offended, but an influential person or two. In the latter cases, the isolation has not lasted long at all, as others got under the influencers’ skin and members of the group began to see who was at fault. In time, the shunning usually wears out, in any case, and a new group of friends and associates takes the place of the former group. Even Napoleon had an entourage, when he was sent to St. Helena.

I am grateful, these days, that any seclusion I am put into is of my own volition.