Some Gave All

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February 5, 2023- On February 3, 1943, four brave men stood, arm-in-arm, on the deck of an Army Troop Transport vessel, as it was sinking after having been hit by a German torpedo. They were military chaplains, who had given their own life jackets to four scared young men and seen to it that those men went onto a life raft. The four chaplains died, along with over 200 others, for whom there was no room on the rescue rafts. They died praying with those men.

I had the honour, for a second time, of reading the biography of one of the chaplains, as our American Legion Post held its Four Chaplains ceremony, this afternoon. All gave some; some gave all. This ceremony reduces grown, hardened men to tears-proof of what I mentioned in the last post. To respond to one of my critics, the fact that some women engage in dissolute behaviour has nothing to do with the presence of nurturing energy in men, nor is it proof of gender equality. The actions of the four chaplains, and of countless men who have engaged in similar acts of love for their fellows, are the definitive proof.

All gave some; some gave all. I can only hope that, if I am called to such an action, that I will find the strength to carry it forward. Some gave all.

Apollo Slew The Serpent

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February 4, 2023- The legend has it that the Greek god Apollo, following orders from Zeus and his paramour, Leto (who was Apollo’s mother), pursued the serpent, Pytho, from Mount Parnassus to the temple at Delphi, and slew the beast, because of a rivalry. Apollo then built his own temple, over the original oracular sacred spot.

Those who presently honour the oracle as a place of sacred femininity interpret the legend as one powerful entity controlling the flow of information from one source, and replacing it with their own. The serpent, here, as in the Book of Genesis, is a conduit to knowledge, the use of which was to enable humans to solve problems. So it has gone. The problems arising from facing life on Earth, which an innocent person cannot necessarily fathom, require the knowledge that only a mature soul can put to use. Thus, we have the concept of Progressive Revelation of Divine Truth, given mankind as we are able to comprehend it and put it to use.

Those gathered this evening, via Zoom, for a Full Moon ceremony, come from a variety of faith traditions, from Wiccan to Baha’i. The common thread is a recognition of the spiritual forces that exist, and emanate from, the Enuarth itself. The planet is known to many as Gaia, its original Greek name, recognizing pure maternal energy. Such a philosophy is known in indigenous societiesm the world over-for example the Incan PachaMama. It essentially speaks to the nurturing force that is present in all life, and even in the “pre-life” chemicals and basic elements (Fire, Water, Mineral and Air). Nurturance, the feminine force, is present in even the most “macho” of men, even if it is deeply buried in their psyche.

Personally, I find this to be an affirmation of my own tendency to favour nurturance over force and understanding over assumption. Granted, it’s been a long haul, in some ways, but I find life is better when the feminine energy is allowed to be in balance with its masculine counterpart.

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.

The Colour of Fear

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January 18, 2023– There is no such thing as a “White Nation”. Caucasians, by my humble count, consist of no fewer than 67 ethnic groups-if one counts Arabs, Berbers and Jews, along with the ethnic groups of Europe and the Caucasus. Most, if not all, of those groups are represented in the populations of settled countries, like Canada, Australia, New Zealand and the United States. Immigrants from most, if not all, of the other nations of the world are also represented in the settler populations of these countries.

I had the privilege, this evening, of watching much of a film called “The Colour of Fear”. In it, eight men, representing the White, Black, Hispanic and Asian communities, spent a weekend sharing their thoughts about race and about their perceptions of their roles in American society. As one might expect, there were some very strong statements made, by each of the participants. The messages were instructive: The men of colour stating all the occasions when they felt invisible, unheard or infantilized; the white men stating their contention that people should “pull themselves up by their own bootstraps”. One of the Hispanic men retorted, “There are plenty of times that those ‘bootstraps’ break off. Then, what are we supposed to do?”

I have mentioned before that I am not given to fear of other people. Perhaps it is because those of colour have not physically harmed me and in moments of tension between us (long ago, actually), the communication has been direct-almost searingly so. As I sat in the room and watched the discourse, I almost wished Wayne Jefferson, Lavern Bartley, Larry Grinston, Lionel Emilien and my buddy Anthony Banks could have been there-and said, with one voice, “Remember the time…..”. I thought of Lynwood Nichols, and his cogent, very early assessment of “White Privilege”, and of Clinton Bird Hat, who taught me how to carefully and sensitively interact with Native Americans. That those life lessons occurred early on has come to be an eternal blessing.

I am proud of my heritage- the German, French, Penobscot, English, Irish and whatever other ethnicities who have contributed to my whole. I am equally proud, and honoured, by the presence of all those who have helped refine that whole person.

“All Means All”

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January 16, 2023- The process tends to loop around in circles, sometimes spiraling forward and other times heading back the other way.

April, 1959- A tough-looking boy, a bit older than me, rode up on his bike as I was walking back from the south side of town. He said his name was Richard; that he was a Creole from New Orleans and that I looked like a money man. I was eight, Richard was probably ten. I showed my empty pockets and he sniffed and rode off. “Next time, Money Man!” I didn’t see him again until we were in Junior High. He was into other things by then, and never bothered me. I later learned, from another Black child, that Richard no one in his life, except his Grandma, who was a custodian at the high school.

June, 1963- A seasoned jazz saxophonist, named Wilton Felder, sat down and recorded a re-arrangement of “Lullaby by JS Brahms”. It was nothing close to a lullaby, when he was finished. Mr. Felder was expressing his rage-at the murder, in 1956, of Emmett Till; at the murder, a few days before the recording, of Medgar Evers; at the many instances of cruelty towards people who looked like him . He was in no mood to offer gentle comfort-and so he made the piece soar to the heavens-loud and angry. The performance was terribly prescient. Three months later, four young girls, dressed in their Sunday finest, were blown to bits by a crazed bomber, as they waited in a Birmingham church.

April, 1968- Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. spoke to a group of sanitation workers and others who were gathered in their support. He remarked that the people were “headed to the Promised Land”, and that he “may not get there with you”. That night, as he took in the night air of a Memphis spring, he was sent to the hereafter. Far to the north, in the mostly white town where I was coming of age, a few of my friends mused aloud, about going over to a black neighbourhood in the next town, and stirring things up. The father who overheard those remarks forbade his son from taking part-as my father would have, if I had even wanted to be part of such a thing. As it was, I only wanted to see black people treated fairly and my heart was broken. I went on home.

June, 1969- Communication was not my strong suit, as I entered Basic Training in the U.S. Army. Having had little direct experience with African-Americans, I found that I had committed a few faux pas. Lavern was already a beaten-down, world-weary soul, at age 19. He desperately wanted to be understood, and had a hard time expressing the ways in which people like me had hurt him. A sharp-eyed friend advised me that some other black trainees were talking with Lavern, and looking my way. I spoke with a mutual friend, who was also black; the two of us sat down with Lavern, and got things amicably settled.

September, 1969- One cold morning, at Advanced Individual Training, in Indianapolis, I was having a hard time waking up and must have had a sour expression on my face, as we gathered at the latrine sinks, to shave our faces. Wayne was spring-loaded and outspoken. He thought my scowl was directed at him-and put me on notice that this was not acceptable. A more even-tempered black colleague explained that this was how African-American men communicated with one another-direct, full-in-the-face. In this way, I was being let inside. I had no further issues with Wayne, or with any other person of colour, the rest of the time I was in the Army. Direct, and to the point, always worked.

July, 1995- I was getting ready to cross a busy street, in St. Louis, with my wife, son and our hosts. Of a sudden, a hand grabbed my arm and pulled me back-just as a car came speeding along in the inside lane. The man who saved me had appeared to be on drugs-but he was aware enough to keep a stranger safe. This gave the lie to our hosts’ musings about black people being worthless. There was no further racist talk coming out of their mouths during our visit.

All these years later, one of the main speakers at today’s Martin Luther King, Jr. Day of Service asked, among other things, how many friends of colour each of us had. It was a rhetorical query, intended to get us thinking. My unspoken answer is, “Many, but nowhere near enough”. The keynote speaker then underscored this question, saying that ALL people’s lives indeed mattered. To that African-American, female pastor, everyone was due respect and accordance of dignity-even if they act despicably.

All people means all people.

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Treasure Vases

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January 5, 2023- The prayers went up, the meditation was focused and the didgeridoo sounded, long and with urgency-in the mournful way that only a “didge” can sound.

An Earth Treasure Vase can be placed anywhere, and many have, over the past several years. The focus is on setting peaceful energy in a given space, on fostering both resilience and a renewed spirit of co-operation, across all manner of divides.

It strikes me as less than coincidental, that a 36-hour truce has been called, between Russia and Ukraine, ostensibly for the Eastern Orthodox Christmas holiday. Fatigue, on both sides, is surely a factor, as much as the holiday itself and the energy set forth by gatherings such as this. There are thousands of such meetings, large and small, in-person and online, as we the people, globally, are increasingly sick and tired of conflict-and are seeking ways to move past its root causes.

There are Earth Treasure Vases placed in Utqiagvik, AK; Antarctica; Argentine Patagonia; southern Sweden; the Outer Hebrides; the Swiss Alps; the Bay Area; northwest Australia; in the waters off the Trobriand Islands of Papua-New Guinea; in the mountains above Fukushima; South Island, NZ; New York City; the Flint Hills, KS; Liberia; Palestine; Hiroshima; various points in New Mexico (where the first Treasure Vase was placed) and the Demilitarized Zone of Korea-among dozens of places, worldwide. More will be dedicated and stewarded to other places across the globe.

Concrete action, of course, will be the only real guarantor of peace on Earth, yet let us remember that action rises from radiant energy.

Mind and Spirit, 2023

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January 3, 2023– I spent three hours or so, this afternoon, watching the film, Babylon, which deals with the experiences of four main characters, who are all linked by way of the debauchery of early Hollywood and the transition from silent film to “talkies”. It has a long time span, stretching from 1926 to 1952, and by the time one of the main characters dispatches his listless wife and daughter back to their hotel, choosing to himself take in Gene Kelly’s “Singing In The Rain” in a crowded cinema, his head is spinning from the memories that one film generates-as he had had a hand in trying to promote a talkie that featured the title song, in the early Thirties.

Babylon does not skimp on details of the Bohemian culture of the Roaring Twenties, nor on the hardheaded business culture that funded the fun and games-especially the drug trade which, then as now, was the means to mindlessness. With that I was again mindful that, in every age, each human soul must choose whether to follow the promptings of the body or to center thoughts and actions on the guidance of the Spirit, a guidance based in genuine love.

A few days ago, a correspondent asked of my goals for spiritual and intellectual growth for this Gregorian year. Three main goals, in each area, come to mind.

Spiritually, I will first continue attending and facilitating study circles that focus on personal and community development, based on Baha’i principles. My second goal is to maintain and extend spiritual ties to those in my personal network. Thirdly, I will continue and expand studies of Baha’i and older Scriptural writings.

Intellectually, my first goal is to actively read each day, outside of Scriptural study. My current pile of books consists of :”The Lost World of the Old Ones”, a study of southwest anthropology by David Roberts; “Prairie Erth”, William Least Heat Moon’s lengthy study of life in Chase County, Kansas; “John Adams”, by David McCullough. As I finish each book, another is added to the pile-and immediately waiting are “EcoVillages”, by Karen Litfin; “The Four Agreements”, by Alberto Villoldo; and a re-reading of “The Fifth Sacred Thing”, by Star Hawk.

Secondly, increasing the quality of my dialogues and other conversations with those in my network is a key goal. I recall the tiredness implied in the 1980s book “What Do You Say, After You Say Hello”, and how I bought into the notion that, particularly in interactions between males and females, there is a short leash of sorts which, Eric Berne rightly pointed out, deserves to be severed and a saner appeal to wider shared interests and explorations be the modus operandi in its place. One of my greatest regrets is letting that one-dimensional outlook guide me in my teens and twenties-and re-emerge, in a sense, after Penny’s death. Thankfully, my present network of friends is way past that mentality.

Thirdly, I will focus more, in my activities both here and further afield, taking more interest in intellectual community events, in this area, and spending more time in selected places, when on the road. I am reading, in this month’s National Geographic Magazine, that increasing the quality of intellectual activity does have a positive effect on limiting, even counteracting, dementia and other cerebral impairments.

As with other aspects of my life, specifics will ensue, as the year rolls on. It’ll be a rich one, for sure.

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.

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.