Disgruntled

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January 23, 2023- I awoke this morning, preparing to head for the second of ten consecutive workdays. Opening the shades, after completing my early morning routine, I saw-a light blanket of snow! This led to a check of the website of the school district, where I am assigned this week, and revealed a two-hour delay in the school day, followed 30 minutes later by the school closure announcement. We do not mix icy roads and school buses, whenever it can be avoided.

I thus had ample time to reflect on the events of the weekend-four sets of mass shootings: Two in Louisiana and one each in California and in Arizona, causing a total of 21 innocent deaths and at least 20 more injuries. Today brought 9 more dead- Seven in Half Moon Bay, CA and two in Des Moines, IA. The Half Moon Bay shooter was said to be “disgruntled”.

In all the back and forth between “sides”, as to how to address the mass killings, there are salient points made about the ease with which firearms may be obtained, by someone with a deadly agenda-which is almost always of fairly long standing. There are equally salient points made about mental illness attending these events. No one who is right of mind is going to shoot, stab, poison or run over another human being. There are few points being made about the spiritual aspects of the problem.

Most of us have been disgruntled with others, or with the “system”, at one time or another. Those who have been disgruntled with me, of late, have chosen to either use their words or distance themselves. Ditto for my being upset at other people. Fair enough; who among us can please everyone, all the time. There is a reasonable expectation that being upset at another person does NOT mean that person should forfeit life and limb. Those of us with a spiritual grounding, a belief in the Eternal, tend to pull back from our worst impulses-to the extent we entertain them at all.

Motor vehicles, firearms, ordnance, bladed implements and toxins are all readily available in our society. Regulating them, especially hand-held weaponry, would likely help some, in reducing the death toll-as it has in Australia and some European countries. More fully focusing on the many aspects of the mental health issue will take a plethora of resources-and if done correctly will vindicate those expenditures.

Yet, one thing and one thing only will put our society over the barrier that keeps matters uncivil: There must be encouragement of spiritual education-as parents, children and communities see fit, so that each human life is viewed in the manner with which it is endowed by the Eternal. Emotional release that is achieved by ad hominem or heterogeneous attacks needs to be discouraged. This does not mean a Kumbaya Nation; it means that, despite how some people aggravate one another, it does not end in death or dismemberment.

It means a retreat from fatalism.

Roots of My Being

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January 20, 2023- Mother never took a day off. She was never gone in the night. Dad was not so fortunate. He worked whatever shift he needed to, in order that we would have what we needed. When he was off work, he was with us. Mom, though, was never without us. I, the satellite, much of the time, wanting to make sure everything was okay when Dad was at work. I would invent my detailed stories, play 45 rpm records, even wrote a “newspaper”, for visitors to read and pretend to be impressed, by words describing things about which most of them could have cared less.

I was interested in “boy” things, like Lincoln logs, toy trucks and road equipment, playing with whoever came along, in our sandbox. I was clumsy, according to an older cousin because of the circumstances of my birth-I was very nearly breech. That impacted my hand-eye coordination, and athletic skills, even my balance. It would take me until near adulthood, before I could stay upright on a bicycle. It wasn’t until it came time to show my son how to play baseball, that I could even hit the darned thing. Maybe much of this was mind over matter, but it was a steep uphill.

I loved the woods and the marsh, though, and spent as much time as I could in either one-whether with other kids or alone. There was a nook, along a creek, where I would sit and think about life. One day, crews appeared, across the creek, and began building new homes, where the woods had been. I silently welcomed the people who would live across from my nook, and bid farewell to the little spot.

Before that, there were great woods in the first neighbourhood I remember, where we lived alongside an uncle aunt and three cousins. Grandma lived up the hill, and I would roam the woods with a neighbour boy and a couple of girls-playing pirates, or cowboys. When we moved into our own house, there were the woods I mentioned first, a hill with rock ledges, where I would sit and tell wild stories to anyone who would listen-even when they rolled their eyes. Sister and I would walk with Dad, after supper, in the summertime-and go see the horses at one or another of the ill-fated farms which became housing developments. Dad told me early on, that house building was an industry, and it would never go away. He even had a side hustle-paperhanging, which he taught me when I was ten.

Mom was always around for us, even when Dad had to work overtime-or graveyard. She’s still with us, having re-made her life, in a home with other women-and so thriving, at 94. I thought of all this, after reading of the Prime Minister of New Zealand, the youngest person ever to hold that post. She is stepping down, deciding to focus on her child, after giving 5 1/2 years of her life to her country. A group of us had a brief discussion on the matter, this afternoon, and though I was the only male in the group, we were of one mind in stating that nurturance is of paramount importance to any child-and is most naturally provided by a mother.

It is the background of Mother’s “smotherly love” (her term) that made my own feelings towards women to be so strong. Her personal strength of character and perseverance contributed to my sense that every person’s dreams deserve a shot at success, and the support of anyone who claims to love that person.

I haven’t done everything she ever hoped for me to do, but I’m still in the game.

Things I’ve Learned

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December 31, 2022– As another Gregorian calendar year heads to the history books and memory n, what is most important, for an individual, are the lessons brought forward over the twelve months now past.

So, here are twelve things I’ve learned, some cogent, others banal-but all useful.

January- The border between the United States and Mexico is neither as chaotic as politicians away the border claim it is nor as smoothly functioning as it might be. I saw many content, focused people at the station in Douglas, AZ and no evidence of hordes of people sneaking through, at Coronado National Monument, a rural station, south of Sierra Vista.

February- Human beings, regardless of how they come to identify themselves, deserve the respect of those around them-and a keen listening ear. Losing someone who has not been completely understood by some of those around her was both unsettling and cautionary. Rest in Peace, Salem Hand.

March- Most of Man’s inhumanity to Man stems from insecurity. Andersonville showed the historical proof of that, both through its physical remnants and through the exhibits on Prisoners-of-War, both within this country and around the world. A more benign case occurred, in Miami Beach, stemming from a middle-aged man, having designs upon much younger women and threatening violence when I cautioned them about one aspect of his proposal.

April- There is no foolproof means of transport. Taking a train, when the route is secure, is a marvelous way to both see the countryside and to make good friends. The system is not without flaws, though, and a fire at a remote bridge resulted in my taking a Greyhound bus, between San Antonio and Tucson.

May- It is never too late in life for people to connect. An odd proposition was made to me, by someone much younger-and was quickly, if politely, deferred. On the other hand, two people who had been alone for several years, found each other and had a lovely garden wedding, making for several years of a solid bond.

June- There are still places where even brief inattention to surroundings can lead to discomfort, even momentarily. I found one briefly “wet” situation, checking out the depth of a bog. Fortunately, it was an “oops” moment, and caused no difficulty to me or anyone else.

July- You can go home again, but family is often going to be swamped with schedules, plans made at the last minute by spouses and friends, or just the crush of dealing with one of the greatest of American holidays.

August- No matter how well a car is maintained, the aftermath of a chain-reaction accident can lead to a total loss being declared, even 1.5 months after it occurs. So it was, for the vehicle that took me across seemingly ridiculous distances, with nary a squeak. Another person’s health issues led to Saturn Vue’s demise.

September- Not all Baha’i school events need include a heavy dose of scholarly presentations. Just being with children and youth, in crafting, dancing and fellowship, is as much a tonic for the soul as any engagement with intellectuals.

October- New friends, made in the wake of a bureaucratic flub, and clear across the continent, to boot, are as fine a result of a mistake as I can imagine. Three Bears Inn will be a place where I could definitely stay for several days, especially en route to the great mountain parks of the northern Rockies. It is all the sweeter when followed by a visit with dearly beloved friends, themselves so much like family.

November- Speaking of family, it is never necessary for my biological family to expend energy on my entertainment. They do so anyway, but just reveling in their presence and celebrating their achievements, is the finest way to spend any time-especially a holiday.

December- As an Old Guard increasingly passes from the scene, among my cohort of veterans, younger people are arising, in service to those who served our nation. I am also re-learning the rewards of patience, with those around me, as we all face increasing uncertainty. They need me, as much as I need them. I also need to be patient with myself.

Still A Tenderfoot Scout

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December 28, 2022- When I was in Boy Scouts, from ages 10 to 12, I started out, as all did, a tenderfoot. Eventually, I made it up to First Class, with only a lingering fear of deep water keeping me from the mandatory Swimming and Lifesaving merit badges that would have advanced me to Star, Life and Eagle Scouts. To this day, I don’t swim well with my head above water, but can do about 2 laps underneath.

Shyness still makes itself known in friendships as well. There are people I consider friends, who I am a bit reticent about visiting, mainly because they are reticent about being visited, even though when I have seen them, they wax poetic about my loving nature or gentle energy. Of course, this is on them, but it does bring back old insecurities.

I count people as friends, who are from ages 2 1/2 to 91. Each has a connection that is indelible and each brings a particular quality to the table. Children and seniors bring an unfiltered wisdom. All those in between have character qualities that may not be unfiltered, but are worth encouraging. Some of these friends are only reachable online. Others could not be bothered with cyberspace. Some are quite well-known; others are people most could not tell apart from Adam or Eve. Some are people with whom I have had only a few encounters; others have been my friends since childhood. They run the gamut from students to retired executives; from the kids across the street to my financial advisor, who lives in Florida, and the couple who run a seaside bistro in Brittany.

Only a few people, who chose to dwell on my negative qualities, because that’s all they could see, have had to be cut loose. In every other case, my loyalty remains firm-even if a friend comes up with excuses, every time I ask to visit with them, or is surrounded by “protectors”, who make it clear I am not welcome there. I am still something of a shy tenderfoot, yet feel much blessed in the friend department, as has been said several times.

As We Go

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December 25, 2022- It’s quiet, this morning, as it often is around here, on any given Sunday. Occasional cars go by, but most people in the neighbourhood are either busy with their worship services or are opening and enjoying their gifts from each other.

My gifts are more of the heart variety, this year. Just having family and friends is always a blessing, whether they are those who include me in everything, or are more selective in their invitations. All are appreciated and loved. It was an unexpected honour to help a former student’s family by transporting aod single gift to their home, yesterday. Being able to finally connect with an old friend who experienced horrific loss, earlier this year, was a bonus. On the way back, it was also a joy to find Sizzler Steakhouse open, get a good sirloin & shrimp combo, and be served by an angel of a young woman. There is a gold mine, in the ordinary.

I have no idea how this Christmas Day will pan out. Siblings are silent, probably busy with a dozen things. Friends nearby are struggling, and need space. After a devotional, later this morning, the whole of Prescott’s outdoors is waiting, along with a likely visit to Prescott Resort’s always scintillating Holiday Display. As with any organic day, I suspect it will turn out magically.

So, no matter where you find yourselves, on this special day, look to the angels in your midst, and to the better angels of your nature, and know that things will turn out for the best, even if they take lots of time.

Merry Christmas, one and all!

Seventy-One: The Wrap

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November 27, 2022, Grapevine- The dignified, courteous waiter brought the courses in order: Fresh bread; stuffed mushrooms, sitting atop a bed of cream sauce; garden salads; pasta dishes (Chicken Jerusalem; Rigatoni and, for me, Lasagna). The last was not the common, 3-5 layers stuffed with ricotta, spinach and ground beef/succhini. This was a delicate, two-layered lasagne, an elongated, open ravioli-type pasta with a sublime filling of ground beef and mozarella, covered, but not swimming, in sumptuous marinara. Another variation of one of my favourite Italian dishes-and heaven on a fork. Spumoni and Italian coffee topped off this day-early birthday meal, taken at Grapevine’s Cafe Italia, truly a hidden gem.

Tomorrow, when I actually turn 72, is a back-to-work day for Yunhee and. in the evening, a service time for me, so a Sunday celebration it was. For now, though, having followed the epicurean meal with a walk along Mill Creek, which is flowing at quite a robust level today, it is time to reflect on the past twelve months.

This was a year of catching cold, but not COVID. It was a year of planes, trains, ferries, two SUVs and a pair of Greyhound buses. Key West was followed,three months later, by L’Anse aux Meadows. A pair of drunkards, six months apart, tried to devalue me as a human being, and failed, in both cases. A couple of young ladies, two weeks apart, pointed out a blind spot in my own character-and provided a goal for the coming year: Use words, as well as expressions and gestures.

It was a year of Andersonville and the Tuskegee Airmen; Seminoles and Micmaqs; Astronauts and Vikings; down-home cooking in Whycocomagh, Crossville, Mishawaka & Oley; upscale fare at Cooks & Soldiers-and at Farm Provisions. (All of it prepared with love, so to my palate, there is no difference in satisfaction.) It was a year of Sonesta Midtown and Casa Remuda; of House of Trestles, Bikini Hostel, Gram’s Place, Quisby House; of Auberge St.Lo, Blueberry Patch Cabins, Three Bears Inn, Fair Isle Motel and Abbie’s Garden. Within the last twelve months, there appeared before me the Parthenon of Nashville, Natchez Trace, Cape Breton Highlands, Gros Morne, Big Cypress, Lake Ontario, the Overseas Highway, Marland Mansion, Craters of the Moon-and the Amitabha Stupa.

Friends came and went, but most stayed. I will miss Dharma Farm and Synergy Cafe, at least for a while-but Hiking Buddy, the Pieper family, the Prescott Cluster Baha’is, and my extended family from California to Florida, on up to Nova Scotia and Newfoundland, pinging back to Idaho and Nevada-and all points in between, are a core of my being.

Of those who left this year, Kevin Locke, Jim Seals and Thich Nhat Hanh enkindled the spirit; watching Yvette Mimieux, when I was only nine, affirmed that my heart would always be drawn to girls and women, first and foremost; Nichelle Nichols and Sacheen Littlefeather showed that any typecasting of a talented human being is a fool’s errand; Mikhail Gorbachev showed that a person can redeem himself, by embracing a wider view.

There were those whose departure shrank the window on my childhood and adolescence: Harry and Gisele Surabian, Carmine Moschella, Philomena Mattei, George McCarrier. Jr., Chuck Shipulski, Danny Rossetti, Bill Warren, Ron Napolitano, Uncle Tim Lynch and Aunt Helen Connolly. Of more recent vintage, Gene Gertler, Gregory Gooch, Mona Gilstrap and my last living father figure, Jarrod Fellman each left their mark on my psyche.

There were also the hallmarks of continuity: Two friends were married on Memorial Day and a tough little boy made it into this world on November 9. I took on more crucial roles at Baha’i Unit Convention and with the Red Cross. With those, I am reminded that life surges on, and in the end, it merely changes form.

There Are Oils for This

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November 18, 2022- I got sick, in the process of working in a Special Needs class, the previous two days, most likely a result of going full-speed ahead on other projects, earlier in the week and the ubiquity of sick children, sent to school for any of a number of reasons.

The treatments (self-administered) came hard and heavy. Following the guidance in do Terra’s “Modern Essentials”, a regimen of Oregano Oil in water, a mix of digestive blend and cellular complex blend in another glass of water, Life-long Vitality Supplements, Red Yeast Rice, ProstaStrong and Lutein, separately taken over the course of the day, has helped knock out the Nasty ( bad cold, and definitely not showing up as COVID).

Essential oils, used properly, have enhanced my overall health and have made my early 70s a lot more life-affirming and engaged than might otherwise be the case. There are also the examples of my parents, who did not avoid work because of illness. This was true of them, to a fault, and the same shows up in me. This bout of common cold is one of those 4-or 5-year things, but as always it is a sign telling me to slow down. By the time Tuesday’s flight to DFW is imminent, I fully expect the cold to be done and over with-so the regimen goes on, in the interim- as does a good night’s sleep.

There are essential oils for just about any ailment.

The Red Bear

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November 4, 2022- A small red ceramic bear, with a salmon wrapped around its neck, stands on my computer table. It’s kept me company for eleven years, along with a small praying angel figurine. Overlooking us, from the vantage point of the work desk, left me by my late father-in-law, are a red-haired cloth doll, in a full-length, felt Christmas green gown with white ruffle and a red cape in back. It bears a resemblance to Penny. To its left is a hand-made Nutcracker soldier, bearing a staff and given me by a beloved child, in 2015. Next left is a ceramic Buddha, which Norm got in Paris, in 1945, and is a family heirloom. The figurines are flanked by a framed photo of ‘Abdu’l-Baha, on the right and one of Aram, in Navy seaman garb, on the left.

My parents are in a framed photo, atop a white book shelf to the right of the desk. A small wedding photo of Aram and Yunhee sits next to that photo, and in between them is a paving stone from Boston’s Scollay Square renovation project, of the 1950s, given me by my late Uncle George. The U.S. flag is mounted on the left of that bookshelf. On the shelves underneath are a couple of gourds, a green decorative plate, with a Nine-pointed star in the middle, photos of Aram and his male cousins, and of my brother, Dave, his wife, Deb and their adult children. On the lower shelves are a painted rock, a dreamcatcher, a photo of Aram with Yunhee, in a lighter moment on their wedding day and another of the Shrine of al-Bab. A picture of a lotus flower and a hanging Peace flag round out the second shelf. Finally, a wooden water buffalo, from my VietNam days stands to the left of a small photo of Lori Ann Piestewa, a soldier killed in Iraq, who I knew as a child on the Hopi Reservation. A small piece of basalt sits on the far right corner of that third shelf.

Directly across from where I sit, on the surface of the desk, are a pair of silver dolphins, which I painted for Penny, when she was in hospital, in 2010; an incense bowl; a singing bowl and pestle; and a small metal baleen whale next to a miniature Hopi ceramic bowl.

These are what keep me company, when I choose to sit at Home Base, conserving energy and money for the activities that lie ahead, over the next three weeks.

Centeredness

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October 26, 2022- Buddha’s smiling countenance greets all who walk into the sanctuary. The door to the large and welcoming home is open. I quietly enter and take the most obvious seat, as the reader of a sacred verse intones his selection. Other readers of sacred verses follow. Then we have a discourse, on the life and legacy of al-Bab. A delectable repast does not interrupt the flow of this discussion. Ice cream and cake guide us out of the session, though, as they remind us that this is a birthday celebration, albeit in honour of a Being Who left this Earth 172 years ago. The event is a testimony to the centeredness of the hosts.

The delighted twelve-year-old shows her increasingly organized and comfortable new home. It is probably the best residence she has ever known. It is, above all else, proof of the diligence and fortitude of her grandmother, who will never give up on her, or on her brother. Only the centeredness of that indomitable woman, and her own mother, both of whom I have known for over thirty-five years, makes things like this happen.

The tall, well-groomed gentleman takes his place as a senior non-commissioned officer, in the reserves of his branch of service. His wife of nearly four years stands proudly at his side. His father, far off in a different state, nonetheless reflects on the success of his only child. It is the centeredness of the family, especially of the young man’s grandparents,that transferred to him, and saw him through one of the toughest challenges he has had to face, in a good many years.

The little girl, in a far-off theater of combat, asks her father if all will be well for them. He stifles tears, and assures her that no harm will come her way, as long as he draws breath. The occupying soldiers look at the two of them, and are somehow reminded of their own children, in a more peaceful place. They let the two of them pass, and the father remains centered on the safety of the most important person in his life.

Centeredness, presence are far more basic gifts to any one of us, than we sometimes recognize. They are what truly connect us to the rest of the Universe. They are the true manifestations of this thing called love.

Smooth Ride, Small Tremors

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October 25, 2022- I slipped out of Carson City in the early morning darkness, around 5:15, hoping to catch breakfast at a small bakery in Yerington, about an hour away, as Carson’s eateries don’t open until around 7. Alas, neither does the bakery in Yerington. It did give me a good start on the long ride back to Prescott, which I was determined to complete, so as to attend a celebration of the Birth of al-Bab, with my Faith Community.

This is the week when Baha’is observe the births of both al-Bab and of Baha’u’llah, as the days occur consecutively, on the Islamic calendar, which of course was the determinant of their birth dates. We use a calendar with similar reckoning, for determining the dates of Holy Days, such as these birthdays. So, this year, al-Bab’s Birth is celebrated after sundown on October 25, or during the day on October 26. Baha’u’llah’s Birth is celebrated after sundown on October 26 or during the day on October 27.

The drive itself was steady and smooth. I got breakfast at Beans and Brews, in Tonopah, and learned it is one of about two dozen branches of a Utah-based enterprise. The workers seem very happy, and they serve good coffee and food, so it is always worth a stop, when in Tonopah. Traffic was not heavy, even in Las Vegas. I was back in Arizona by 2 p.m., stopping only for gas and a light lunch, at “Last Stop in AZ”, which is ironically on the southbound side of US 93. Drowsiness started to kick in, as I approached Jolly Road, near Seligman, so I pulled off and rested for about fifteen minutes. It was there that I felt the unmistakable tremors. Sure enough, there was a shaking, 5.1, though in Silicon Valley, a distance of 647 miles. I still felt it, when I got back to Prescott, so there must have been a few aftershocks.

The gathering for the Birth of al-Bab was large and joyful. Someone who had recently been on Pilgrimage to the Holy Land gave each of us a rose petal and small card with a prayer on it. A nice, light meal was provided by the hosts and we caught up with what each of us had been doing, over the past two weeks. Later, I got a message from the Carson City family, saying I was already missed. This is ever sweet, and I know this: So many friends, far and wide, generate strong feelings of love in my heart. I will always do what I can to have their backs, whether they are in Prescott, Carson City, Phoenix, Grapevine, Georgia, Pennsylvania, Massachusetts-or any of over a hundred locations, where a warm reception awaits.