The Tendrils Do Not Fade

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January 14, 2022- The gentlemen and lady came onto a Zoom session, this evening, to speak of the history of Baha’i in their land, as the centennial of its arrival there had just been celebrated. I have alluded to our time there as well, on several occasions.

The influence of South Korea on my life cannot be minimized-especially given Aram’s birth there and his lifelong ties to both Korean and Japanese culture-accented by his marriage to Yunhee. I last went there, in 2019, for the religious ceremony that helped cement that marriage. The country has done quite well, materially, and has had a considerable influence, as well, on the the burgeoning global culture.

Connections I made there, had for the most part, seemed to have faded over the years. It was almost symbolic, when the plaque that Penny and I had been given, at the end of our work in Jeju, in 1992, fell off its stand and irreparably shattered, in 2017. It was not long after that, though, that Aram and Yunhee met. A more formidable, enduring bond was created.

The tendrils that remain between the Korean people and me are thus not going to be broken-and if anything, are one of the strongest threads that are connecting this one’s world. From those threads came ties to Hawaii, Taiwan, all parts of the U.S, and now to Albania, of all places, where a friend from our Jeju days has settled.

There are ties that keep me here-and those that will serve as a safety net, in many places far afield. It all started with a chance move to Korea, thirty-six years ago.

Uncrossing Wires

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January 13, 2022- I found myself carrying two rectangular baskets of groceries a short distance, to a friend who was down with a cold and thus away from her work. This small act, at the behest of her mother, who is also a good friend, took less than five minutes-but made her week food secure.

Earlier, the focus was different. Three missed phone calls had to be resolved. One was easy-corrected by an e-mail thread. A second, which took a bit longer, was necessitated by someone, in the phone queue ahead of me, dealing with the passing of a loved one. That is not at all hard for me to comprehend. Anyone dealing with grief needs wide latitude and a ton of compassion. The third, variously involving a robot greeter; two answering services-one Indian, the other Australian; and the actual scheduler, took five tries-before we managed to connect and get the task accomplished.

That brings me to the substance of the task. I had cleared my calendar for the month of March, and was in the planning stages of a trip to the Deep South. The schedule will be adjusted: Mid-March to mid-April, in order to tend to three very small procedures, each taking less than an hour, but spaced over a three-week period, by insurance regulations. Those three dates are a week apart, in the first half of March.

It is my one duty to self and family to tend to any health hiccups, early and systematically. The wires need to remain uncrossed.

Overthinking

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January 12, 2022- Perfect tries its hardest to be the enemy of good. One of our highest public officials is always warning us that any efforts to improve the access of citizens, to the mechanism of voting, will only draw the wrath of “the other side”, when they “inevitably” return to power, in an undesignated future time. Therefore, in the view of this individual, things should be kept as they are. This is unlikely, as there are many ways to secure voting rights for all legal citizens, which do not require said public official’s approval.

Yesterday, I was cautioned to not let a certain child anywhere near me, as I would be sure to get bitten. This never happened, as my advance caution to her, even with regard to herself, “No biting”, was enough.

For several years, I also held back from taking action on certain matters, with the idea that more harm would come to me and my loved ones, should I take any action. The stagnation that resulted has spoken for itself.

Measured and well-considered action, on the other hand, has brought far greater benefits, and lessons learned from the occasional flub have been invaluable. The old saw, “You could die while crossing the street”, has always been my fallback, when choosing to take reasonable risks.

Fever Dreams

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January 11, 2021- An African-Canadian, of indeterminate political stance, has posted a statement that “slavery….probably never existed”. His statement seems to be based on a thread on the website Quora, which includes claims, by someone with a Nordic-sounding name, that people working on plantations in the antebellum South were actually treated rather well, were educated by their masters and were more like friends with the plantation owners. He, in turn, bases his claims on old textbooks from Virginia and other Southern states, which paint enslavement in rather benign terms.

In any system, there are relationships which are brutal and others which are mild, by comparison. There were a fair number of educated slave owners who selectively educated male house servants, to read Scripture and to conduct some plantation business, on behalf of their masters. This was especially true during the Civil War, when many White family members and regular paid employees of the plantations were off serving in the Confederate Armed Forces. While it was a breach of the law, in most Confederate states, the fog of war let the practice slide.

On balance, however, enslaved people were treated harshly, were not taught to read and write, and were infantilized; the men being emasculated and the women treated like playthings. The residue of enslavement lingers today, in too many families and in too many communities, large and small-in all parts of this country, in some parts of the above-mentioned commenter’s native Canada, and in both European and Latin American countries.

People will often go to great lengths to legitimize their fanciful beliefs about times past-or even recent events (Accounts of January 6, 2021-and the summer of 2020, for that matter, often depend for their justification on outlandish theories, which demonize those seen as in opposition to those accounts. ) Many of these beliefs are made up of whole cloth, and may be honestly viewed as little more than fever dreams. The Enslavement Deniers take their place among others of their ilk: “There were no Jews killed in Nazi Germany”; “9/11 was an inside job”; “NASA is a hoax”; “School shooting victims are crisis actors”; “FDR staged Pearl Harbor”-and on down the rabbit hole.

It matters little, that the face of enslavement denial is himself of African ancestry. Such people have been rather commonly used by those with more of a stake in revisionist history, to say: “See! That person doesn’t believe the historical narrative and s(he’s) (Black, Jewish, Asian….)!” A lie is still a lie.

Six Identities

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January 9, 2022- No, I am not confused as to who I am. There are, however, six elements to a person’s identity-as I learned in a most instructive session, this afternoon. Each person has genetic, socioeconomic, training, gender, spiritual and cultural identities, which make up the whole self.

My genetic identity confers German, French, English, Irish, and Penobscot (Penawapskewi) ancestry. I may have residual Sorb, Polish, Roma and Jewish elements in my lineage, as well. Much remains to be learned about this aspect of my identity.

My socioeconomic heritage is lower middle class, conferring a strong work ethic and sense of integrity. My father had worked his way up to middle management, by the time of his death. Both sides of my family had agricultural roots, with both of my grandfathers maintaining small farm holdings, whilst still working in factory jobs. My mother had cosmetology training and cut women’s hair, in our home, when we were young. I am now in the middle ranks of the middle class, as it were, through a combination of earnings and investment income.

My training identity is as an educator, counselor, and school administrator. I have a Bachelor of Arts in Psychology, a Master of Arts in Education, with an emphasis in Counseling, and additional credentials in School Administration and Community College Instruction. It’s ironic that the last two have been Achilles heels, in my professional life.

In terms of gender, I am unreservedly, comfortably male. I feel passionately loving towards girls and women, with a parental and brotherly orientation, these days. I have no antipathy towards anyone of other orientations or gender identities.

My spiritual background was Roman Catholic, and I was raised to have an ecumenical view of other Christian denominations and the Jewish Faith. I have long felt that there is no true separation between people, based on religious or philosophical practices. This last made my acceptance and practice of the Baha’i Faith a very easy step, when I reached the age of thirty. I maintain that there is but one Human Race and that all religions are part of the same spiritual flow, from the dawn of humanity.

My cultural identity is varied. I could say that I practice “Baha’i culture”, yet that is something that will be long evolving. I could say I adhere to “American” culture, yet there is scant agreement on what that even is. My cultural influences have been cards dealt me, where I have lived. Coastal New England has a distinct culture. So do the interior of Maine, the Navajo (Dineh) Nation, the Hopi lands, Jeju Island (Korea), the western Arizona desert, and the central Arizona Highlands. I have learned important lessons in each of these locales-and in places I have merely visited for a short time, from southeast Alaska, to Israel and Guyana-and so many places in between.

The last two elements, of who Gary is, are works in progress. I can only say that the goal of the end product is for a soul who is worthy of his Creator’s mercy and love, at the end of this earthly trail.

Just Cause

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January 7, 2022- An infringement on the right of a child to a safe learning environment led me to try and summon an administrator, with the response that someone would be right along. Several minutes went by, and I was perfectly content to wait-knowing full well that dozens of other matters could interfere with anyone getting to our room. Another student began to complain, after a half hour of inaction, so I made a second call-again knowing that we would make sure the matter was resolved by day’s end, yet wanting all concerned to know that the administration wasn’t just bluffing. The matter was resolved in due course and the guilty party called to account.

Life brings both small and great challenges to peace and order, oftentimes because one group or another feels rightfully aggrieved, without knowing the best way to get resolution. Litigation can bring monetary compensation for wrongs done, but there is likely to be a goodly amount of resentment left over. Legislation can bring changes to social systems and practices, often merely tipping the balance of power from one group to another-leaving those who are in neither group feeling, again, left in the cold.

True jurisprudence puts an equal emphasis on both parts of the word- “juris”- legal structure and “prudentia”-practical knowledge”. Any decision that is not based on current information is bound to boomerang. In the above incident, the administrator focused on the wrongdoer-and left several cases of side drama that emerged to the discretion of the classroom teacher. This is as it should be. Too often, legislators or public safety officers set out to resolve one issue, only to be sidetracked or stampeded into covering a host of other matters-often in the same piece of legislation or investigation, in the name of equanimity. Thence, comes the social phenomenon of “whataboutism”, or false equivalancy.

Everything deserves consideration-in its time.

One Year Later

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January 6, 2022- Epiphany, the recognition of Christ by the Three Magi-or kings from the East, if you wish, either is commemorated today only-or is a season of commemoration unto itself-lasting from today until Ash Wednesday. I stick with the former.

I wonder what we recognize, about our country today- a full year after what, to me, was a reckless, misguided attempt to begin solving deep-seated problems in our society by unilaterally installing-not electing- a claque of self-appointed experts who are used to making executive decisions on important matters. Sometimes, they get it right. Other times, the results, from unintended consequences, are catastrophic.

The delusion is the same, whether the oligarchs rule from the right-or from the left. The nomenclature itself, taken from the French Parlements’ practice of conservatives sitting on the right hand side of the chamber, with liberals sitting on the left hand side, is tellingly simplistic. The very idea, of people who posit opposing ideas being one’s mortal enemies, is so ludicrous as to give ridiculous a good name-but here we are.

A conservative friend did ridicule the comparison of 1-6-21 to the Holocaust, the Pearl Harbor attack and 9-11-01. He’s right, in terms solely of human casualties. He’s wrong, in terms of long-term effect on the democratic process. In each case, authoritarian forces tried to undermine American participatory democracy. Each attack is one in a string of a thousand cuts-regardless of the surface ideology of the assailants. In real terms, authoritarianism is a complete circle; there is no difference between Right and Left, if in each case the boss is always correct. In each case, the attackers draw-and are buttressed by, those on the ground whose grievances are given surface recognition by the wirepullers of the attacks.

The sole antidote to such attacks is for those on the ground to recognize that both sides of the continuum offer solutions to some problems and exacerbate others. This is why we need both sides to hear one another out and think their respective opinions over.

The main entrance to a building is most often in the center of the frame-not tucked away in a corner.

The Pain at the Edge of Town

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January 4, 2021-

The phone call detailed things that I can only imagine: A roof leak, which nearly eight attempts to fix have failed, and made worse by the landlord “testing” sealant, by hosing it to see whether it leaked. (Voila! La deluge!!); damage to at least half of everything the tenants own, because of the ongoing roof leaks; water seeping into the electric grid of the house-thus putting the tenants (trailer-bound, outside the house, for now)- at risk of being burned to death, from having to run extension cords from the house.

All this, with a rental market that is non-existent for anyone in their situation, at least in this area. No one wants to let out a house, or even apartment, without a year’s lease, least of all to a dog owner. Yet, the bottom line is, it is the dead of winter, and only by Divine Grace is the weather moderating to dry, mild conditions, at least for the next two weeks. That could turn on a dime.

If I thought anyone reading this would know the people of whom I speak, I would never have written of the situation here. I will do what I can to help, though, through contacting friends of other friends-and being a constant listening ear, praying voice, until this whole thing is resolved. Somehow, the pain on the edge of town can be relieved.

The Team Option

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January 3, 2022- I sit here in my living room, and think that a year ago I was in the company, of first a pack of coyotes, howling and warning me not to go any further east-then amongst a small family of cattle, who let me pass after I spoke to the bull, in a low and steady tone. I was then alone, wandering steadily south and west, through the night-until eventually I reached the highway-and by 9 a.m., the following morning, I was back here in Home Base.

That was one struggle made in solitude. I did not have the same experience today-as I was pitching in with the first day back, at our local middle school. Today, and tomorrow, my charge is a young man with whom I have worked on several occasions before. His inherent, and infectious, blithe spirit is coupled with an intense work ethic-so we got much accomplished today and will do so again tomorrow. Besides, the students collectively are glad that I am here, sharing their morning cold and gradual return to a structured environment-after the two weeks of time off, that brought varying degrees of happiness and cheer.

I also talk with my colleagues, and hear stories with a common thread-Stress, leading to burnout and the departures of many who started the academic year. I could, very easily, jump back in and be on the job more or less fulltime, thus chucking the messages I receive from my spirit guides- and the plans emanating from that counsel. I would then be one finger in the dike. Such false egotism is not the answer to the larger problem, however- and is barely a bandaid, no matter how much the kids and I love one another.

Classroom teaching, especially in the Special Needs classes, must be reworked. High stress situations-with much of the stress caused by Federal and state reporting requirements, and by the egos of those who enforce these mandates, call out for teaching to be accomplished by two certified instructors in EVERY class. There also need to be paraprofessionals, as there are now-but these individuals also deserve both continuous training opportunities and a serious upgrade in pay. Even when, as in this school, the students respond quite respectfully and consistently to a grounded, well-organized learning program, the team approach allows for due attention to be paid to extrapedagogical concerns-like record-keeping for the powers that be, without the least jeopardy to the students’ well-being.

For now, I will help out in certain schools and classrooms, in the months and days when I am called to stay close to Home Base. Enough other people are doing this, around the county, that most classrooms have one form of coverage or another, on most days. The long term, though, calls for a serious reworking of the classroom format.

A Brief Look Backward

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December 31, 2021- Betty White chose an awkward time to leave, but it was her time. It was almost a fitting end to a year that took us up, down and sideways-and turned us every which way but loose. I don’t want to say that last one too loudly. We could use a few more years of Clint Eastwood being among us.

As it was, there were a number of people dear to my heart, some of renown and some not, who left this earthly plane in this year now itself winding down. My extended family whittled down, just a tad: My aunts-by-marriage-Sabina Kusch and Dorothy Madigan; Aunt Dorothy’s stepson, John-one of the cousins closest to me, over the years; Charlie Kusch, Jr., another cousin who made his friends and family laugh, much as his father did before him. Diane “Dee Dee” Bean- was the first girl I ever dated-not that it ever worked out. Richard “Dick” Dow, was a next door neighbour, from childhood, who kept his family home and his father’s business running, until he could scarcely move, himself. Two educators from my scholastic past, Anthony Struzziero and Eugene Hughes, both of whom I knew as fair-minded administrators. The bulk of the losses were fellows in Faith, Baha’i teachers, one and all: Val Latham, Jr., Gisela McCormick, John Eichenauer III, John Kolstoe, Joel Oron’a, Ethelene Crawford, Wilfred Smallwood, Donald Streets and Dwight Allen. I lost a car, and gained an SUV.

It was not a year defined by loss alone. A grand nephew, named Liam, came into our lives, early on. Strong new friendships emerged. I was able to return to California and Nevada, after a year’s hiatus. I made two long trips across country, both largely around the sale of our family home, and mother’s voluntary relocation. A week spent in Texas was a perfect springboard for my seventy-second year. I was able to pay respects to those fallen in the name of freedom, though not to the extent I might have. Still, time spent in north Tulsa and in Minneapolis was a step forward, for this one who preferred solitude, for so many years.

Our community has held its own against one or another viruses. As if to seem a strange return of normalcy-the flu is back. The nation resisted the temptation to default on democracy. Both major parties are learning that complacency is dying out among the masses-and a moribund attitude will not fly. We Baha’is paid homage to ‘Abdu’l-Baha, marking one hundred years since His passing-and renewing our commitments to live as He did. That renewed spark of Faith is finding its way to friends of other religious traditions as well-as witness the Baptism, on Christmas Eve, of a man who had found his fortunes sinking.

We did not master disaster, and there were far too many lives lost-in California, the Pacific Northwest, western Canada, Montana, Louisiana, Kentucky and Illinois. The latest conflagration, in Colorado, took no lives, but left another pair of communities with scenes out of a war movie. Two dozen other countries, from Mexico and Peru to Kenya and Indonesia, saw tragic losses in both infrastructure collapse and from the forces of nature. Then, there was/is Ethiopia, a country I only recently was hoping to visit in a year or two. Now, it is riven in pain, and we can only pray for sane attitudes to rise to the fore.

2021 will be history, in short order. How different the year that is thirteen minutes away will be, depends largely on how many of us have absorbed this year’s lessons-and to what degree.