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.

Godot, and Other No-Shows

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March 30, 2021– Today was spent supervising high school students in Online Learning. The students are, in the words of David Bowie, “quite aware of what they are going through”, and stuck to the tasks at hand, which have the common goal of recovering academic credit. There was just one hitch, the Internet was down, for at least part of the day, leaving most of the students in two class periods to use their cellular hotspots.

While this ingenuity played out, I was reminded of the Samuel Beckett play, “Waiting for Godot”. Those who are familiar with the play know that Godot, whoever he is, sends a messenger to announce his non-appearance, a day in advance, but never does show up himself. The main characters, Vladimir and Estragon, continue waiting for him, nonetheless.

The students in the latter three classes were able to pursue their work, without resorting to personal devices alone, as the Internet, unlike Godot, made good on its appearance. There were, most likely, a few no-shows among the student populace. There always are.

I have experienced a fair number of absentees, over the years. Usually, when I’ve been patient, the person shows up, eventually, and has a credible story to tell. Sometimes it pans out and sometimes, it doesn’t. Each time, though, my only thought has been: “Make sure you are not following their example.” My parents were always true to their word-Mom still is. The people who matter most in my life are similarly trustworthy.

While being all things to all people is a mathematical and practical impossibility, I would hope that reducing absenteeism, and broken promises, becomes a more widespread goal.

The Wealth of Characters

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, March 27, 2021- As long as I have been an educator, the antics of Beatrice (Beezus) and Ramona Quimby have been a staple of my after lunch read-alouds, to children from 6 to 10 years of age. “Lonesome Dove” was both a favoured read and good television viewing, in the mid- to -late 1980s.

Beverly Cleary and Larry Mc Murtry, two beloved American writers, died a day apart, each leaving a legacy of work that will sound like clarions, for generations yet unborn. Mrs. Cleary’s work was drawn from her own childhood experiences, in the Portland of the 1920s and 30s, a time of rambunctious personal freedom, followed by harrowing economic ills-all playing out in an undercurrent of Victorian attitudes towards children, which would fuel young Beverly’s rebellious anger. An only child, she determined that her characters would have at least one sibling and a number of both friendly and adversarial contemporaries. Henry Huggins, his dog Ribsy, his friends Robert, Murph and Beatrice (Beezus), all characters from the 1950s, are sensible, but get into their share of mischief. Beatrice’s younger sister, Ramona, tops them all in the mischief department, constantly getting into tiffs with “That Grace”, her schoolyard rival.

There was, likewise, all manner of mischief to be had in the world of Lonesome Dove, which was the Texas-Mexico border of the 1870s to 90s. There were cattle drives, going from Texas to Montana, thus giving us a picture, through Larry Mc Murtry’s eyes, of the Great Plains in both tradition and transition. Mc Murtry, in reviewing the public response to his opus, referred to the Old West as “the phantom leg of the American psyche”. The Eighties were a time when many people were still mourning the passing of John Wayne, and with him, the Old West of mythology. Indeed, the original game plan of Larry McMurtry was to cast John Wayne in the role that eventually went to Robert Duvall. John Ford, with whom “The Duke” is closely associated in the Western movie genre, opposed the project, which languished for twelve years, making it to the small screen in 1989.

The characters remain memorable: Duvall’s Gus McRae; Tommy Lee Jones’ Woodrow Call; Danny Glover’s Joshua Deets; Diane Lane’s Lorena Wood; Robert Urich’s Jake Spoon and, in the sequel, Frederic Forrest’s Blue Duck. There is a coming of age element, with Rick Schroeder as Newt Dobbs. The series did not, as is America’s wont, portray the Old West as it really was, brutal to the core-and in an equal opportunity way, to people of all ethnicities. It is said that Larry McMurtry got deeper into that aspect, in his screenplay for “Brokeback Mountain”, which I have never seen.

Thus, as we bid farewell to two authors who were memorable characters, in and of themselves, let us bear in mind just how close their concocted people are to some of us, or to all of us. That, the mirror, is the true value of fiction, across genres.

The Pain Next Door

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March 21, 2021- I happened by two very different friends’ shops, last night. One, which features coffee, wine, olive oil and balsamics, with a small sampling of fresh-baked breads and scones, had a musical trio playing for a couple of hours. I have been a friend to the owner and her family, for about five years. In the course of our conversation, the topic of inflation and its effect on small businesses, arose. There are the obvious concerns that would need to be considered: Wage increases, rental costs, insurance premiums, maintenance of facilities and equipment, pricing, housing and transportation-for both the owners and employees. There are as yet unseen factors, such as the cost of keeping up with business-related technology and of environmental events, which will impact the enterprise.

The second place I visited is a vegetarian/vegan coffee, tea and chocolate cafe, which also offers CBD Oil, herbs and medicinal compounds. It is a hangout for musicians who like to jam, on Saturday nights. I brought my hand drum and a couple of rattles, and joined a small group of guitar players, flautists and a didgeridoo master. As the manager was solo, behind the counter, a couple of us pitched in and helped clean some drinking vessels and steamers. The owner of this enterprise is less concerned about inflation, which she approaches by keeping a communal mindset, with regard to staffing, maintenance and supply chain. The “tribe” man the counter (for reasonable wages, of course), help keep equipment in working order and grow much of what goes into the cafe’s fare.

There are similarities and differences, in the realities faced by both owners. Both are single adults, who recently lost their life partners. Both have a strong work ethic and a sense of entrepreneurship. Both are what may be called “Compassionate Conservative”, with a strong sense of tradition and self-reliance. The main difference lies in their view of community. One has a strong circle of friends, who keep her buoyant, and know that she has a solid commitment to their well-being, as they do to hers. The other has the potential for growing into a similar place, but has been a bit more sheltered, and is still honing her sense of trust, as well as being in a newer community, which is itself still evolving.

I began to feel the pain of the latter friend, and while not being in a place to offer long-term, day-to-day assistance, in resolving her difficulties, I will at least lend a shoulder and pair of hands to help her get organized for the challenges that are anticipated.

Each of us encounters the pain next door, in some form or another. As one who has often lived in “islander” status, during this pandemic year, I can see, going forward, that being hands on, in helping to relieve at least some of that pain, is the only recourse.

Confirmation Bias

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March 13, 2021- During the McCarthy Hearings, in the 1950s, there was enormous pressure put on both investigators and witnesses to take any smidgen of evidence of Communist sympathy, on the part of suspects, and blow it up at least ten fold. Senator Joseph McCarthy had everything riding on conflating social Liberalism with Stalinism.

The term confirmation bias is used to describe a situation in which evidence that leads to a desired outcome is placed prominently in the investigator’s or prosecutor’s case file, while exculpatory evidence is filtered out and other evidence, contributing to a reasonable doubt, is overlooked. McCarthy and his associates reveled in confirmation bias, until it led them over the cliff of disrepute.

These days, I see confirmation bias used, with abandon, by several groups. Those on the Left go back in history, being willing to erase historical accounts which show any degree of complexity in the leaders of various historical periods. Those on the Right, conversely, reject any criticism of the same historical figures. The recent controversy over Theodore Seuss Geisel is certainly the latest such case, of both sides ignoring or discounting the very features of Dr. Seuss’s personality, which the man himself spent countless hours working to refine, to bring up to date with the times. A careful study of his work’s progress shows a fundamentally decent man moving on, from caricatures that clearly show a prejudiced bent to depictions of people that more accurately reflected changes in public opinion. Neither the Right, with its insistence that NOTHING he wrote was wrong, nor the Left, some of whom want a wholesale destruction of his catalog, are showing any degree of academic rigour in their posturing.

We are at the cusp of a public arena, in which stridency commands absolute fealty and careful discernment, in the course of assessing the march of history, is deemed a feckless approach. I will, however, maintain the latter course of action.

No one, save the Messengers of God, walks on water. No one, conversely, deserves to have even the smallest amount of merit discounted. Most of us are very much in the middle.

The Little Truths

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March 12, 2021- In the course of becoming a better person, there is an ongoing process of uncovering, remembering small incidents and minor actions that form patterns over time. It is in the burial of those details, that growth becomes stunted, difficult- if not impossible. It is in their acknowledgement, that incremental changes can take place and growth suddenly takes off.

I have experienced both, in this fairly long life. It took a lot of introspection, and even more forgiveness, of both myself and others, to reach a relatively strong level of equilibrium, enhanced intuition and ability to recognize who is truly in my corner-and who is best cut out of my life.

Fortunately, no family members are in the last category. There are some, who I trusted- in some cases for years, who are in my rear view mirror. There are others, a few of whom are members of my Faith, who are more or less in a state of suspended animation-so as to let me have time and space to work through those parts of myself that have been triggered by their mannerisms, jabs and ability to find my weak spots.

I am reminded of this aspect of my persona, by certain events of the past week, especially last weekend. Thus, I know what I must continue to do, to strengthen myself and shed even more of those aspects of myself that bring about limitations-while keeping a distance from those who would drag me down.

Little truths can be positive, shiny and growth-enhancing. It is better to find, and promulgate them, than to wallow in their opposites.

Threads

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March 9, 2021-

The thread of enjoyment extended out, as a friend took in one of my favourite restaurants, on her own, and found it good.

The thread of caring got a little longer, as the powers that be offered more assistance to a long-neglected teen, and it will be good.

The thread of preparation is getting clearer, as a storm approaches us, and people mentally get ready for winter’s last gasp. It will be okay.

The thread of assurance is getting stronger, as there is some enticement to return to an untenable situation, which it is best to resist. I will be fine.

International Women’s Day

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March 8, 2021- I look out the window, this lovely afternoon, and see buds tentatively clinging to the trees. They seem to sense that the late winter storm, forecast for Thursday through Saturday, is on its way. They will survive, and will show themselves more fully with the warming temperatures of next week.

Women, worldwide, face the tempests of lingering resistance by many men-and some women, to the recognition that there is nothing to fear from assertive womanhood. There is always a residual feeling, among some of my fellows, that if power is shared, then power is lost. This impacts everything from voter registration among people of colour to the presence of women in fields of work traditionally set aside for men. There is nothing wrong with a woman choosing to fulfill the traditional role of stay-at-home mother, as long as it is her choice.

On this International Women’s Day, we see that just about every field of endeavour is now open to all, regardless of sex. Women in firefighting, auto mechanics, the building trades and in a variety of sports have had tough rows to hoe. Male physicians have even put up some resistance to regarding female colleagues as equals, as have men engaged throughout the sciences.

The bar of performance is sometimes raised higher for women, in nontraditional fields, as a passive- aggressive way of discouraging their participation. Thankfully, it has by and large not worked. Women, in any given profession and trade, are as competent as men-and do their level best to contribute meaningfully to their chosen field. There are always those not individually suited to a particular job, but this has nothing inherently to do with gender.

May the advancement of women, in all fields, long continue.

The Gullah Land

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February 28, 2021-

One of my favourite areas of the South is coastal Georgia and South Carolina-particularly the Sea Islands. This is largely due to the presence, both physically and spiritually of the Gullah-the descendants of enslaved people, who largely kept their ancestral African culture and language.

While much of the Sea Islands region has been taken over by large hospitality and golfing interests, the flavour of the area has largely been impacted by Gullah cultural features. The Low Country Boil, a popular meal of seafood, greens and fresh corn, is a gift of the enslaved. So, too, are the products brought from Africa, by those carried here against their will. Africans brought rice, okra, coffee, cotton, indigo, and cassava to the Americas, as well as net fishing and even the use of poison to trap large numbers of fish. This last has, thankfully, been shown to be of no benefit to human health-and was abandoned in the Southeast, a long time ago.

The enslaved people showed their captors the techniques of rice, cotton and coffee cultivation. Africans, then as now, knew nothing other than sharing-and at least initially, showing love even in the face of harshness and brutality. Besides, they needed elements of their homeland, in order to maintain sanity, and a sense of purpose. A good source for understanding the complexity of Gullah culture and language is William S. Pollitzer’s “The Gullah People and Their African Heritage”, University of Georgia Press, Athens (GA), 1999, which I have just finished reading. Dr. Pollitzer grew up in the Sea Islands region and was immersed in Gullah culture.

Here is a more audiovisual description of Gullah life, from a story teller on Edisto Island: Theresa Jenkins Hilliard. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=R0DGijYiGQU

Loyalty and Ego

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February 25, 2021– I spent parts of the past couple of days watching a series that dealt with issue sof loyalty, betrayal and role switching. The show, called “Luna Nera”, is an Italian SyFy drama, set in the 17th Century. It is rather Byzantine, in its plot sequences, being all over the place.

It outwardly features conflicts between the mainstream Catholic Church, of the post-Inquisition era, and a small group of Wiccans. There is plenty of virtue and vice, loyalty and betrayal, transparency and deception on both sides, sometimes with all of it coming from the same characters. In other words, it’s hard to tell the good guys from the villains.

Life can be like that, especially if those of a certain mindset see only themselves, and those who agree with them, as good and all others as bad-even making the distinction, as a priest in the show did, between those who say what’s evil is virtue and what’s virtue is evil. Thus, their basis for determining virtue wells up from each one’s ego. That, and the inability to forgive slights, leads to even more pain and suffering, for all concerned.

The parallels between the main characters in the series, and the present American sociopolitical climate are so telling, that Luna Nera could be just as easily set in Washington and Mar-a-Lago, as in the north of Italy. The Bishop/Warlock is a wirepuller of the first order and the Wiccan/Demoness has an ego that spills over into even the acts of decency that she tries to pull off. There is a pure Saviour character, who has to disguise herself, for most of the series. The rest of the cast could pass for the “Sheeples”, who makie decisions based on whatever they are told by whoever is in charge at the moment.

It still strikes me that independent thinking depends upon not being willing to have one’s ego stroked-but maybe that’s MY ego talking.