Coercion

6

January 12, 2020-

It’s easy to imagine

that one is on the right track,

and that everyone ought

follow suit.

The Jesuits and Dominicans

thought the use of force

would make the world Catholic.

The Umayyads felt the same

would work for Islam.

Conquerors of legend,

and of infamy,

swore they would

either rule the Earth

or scorch it.

Where are they now?

Remember,

when an idea of yours,

of ours,

sounds like an absolute must,

for all to follow:

What if it strikes some as

inappropriate,

irrelevant,

or just beyond their understanding?

Coercion,

pressure,

shaming

belong in the past.

 

 

Open Letter

6

January 11, 2020-

Dear Son,

I have watched you struggle with so much of life,

including matters which you should not have had to face,

at least not at the age at which life brought them to your doorstep.

I’ve done my level best, most of the time, to help you along.

There were times when that best was not sufficient.

There were the times when we both flailed,

and others, fortunately, came to our aid.

You made a wise choice,

as I did before you,

to seek the structure of the military,

in establishing a sense of priority,

and beginning to sort out a life plan.

That plan led you through the vagaries,

and sometimes disordered process,

of service to our country.

It also led you back to the land of your birth.

You found a home for your heart,

and brought your true love back,

to unite two families.

Now, you are back with our families,

and I trust you are being received well.

I also trust that,

whoever joins our family,

in the years ahead,

will also find a warm welcome,

with no conditions attached.

You have a bright future ahead,

my most precious son.

Choose carefully, and wisely,

never acting out of spite,

malice, or hurt feelings.

It is a tall order,

and you were raised

to stand tall.

I look forward

to many years

of standing wherever

you need me to stand.

You will always be treasured.

Authenticity

6

January 5, 2020-

In all the debate about sin, evil and the unfortunate events of life, there is a place for consideration of being real versus living in what one knows, deep down, to be a fallacy; of being authentic versus being inauthentic.

Jordan Peterson, in Twelve Rules for Life, points to the allegories of Lucifer, and of the Egyptian demon-figure, Set, as illustrations of the dangers posed by over-rationalization.  It is, in effect, the opposite of taking ownership of one’s life, responsibility for one’s actions.  Satan always comes up with an excuse for what he’s done-and it’s always someone else’s fault-even God’s fault.  This allegorical depiction of wickedness lays it out straight,though.  Only integrity, ownership of one’s behaviours-and of their outcomes, will serve to bring about a life well-lived.

I had to learn that the hard way.  Losing a spouse brings a person to account, faster than just about anything, even if-as in my case- it isn’t directly one’s fault.  I could not, however, blame anyone for Penny’s passing.  Hereditary disease would have struck her down, at some point, regardless, and all I can do is learn from the experiences of care-taking and of widowhood.  I have taken the lesson that a life of integrity may only be lived if the person living it  maintains authenticity.

Deceit erodes that integrity, first within one’s own heart, then gradually outwardly through one’s circle of friends, one’s family, one’s tribe.  A life without trust is a life of emptiness.

I am fortunate, to have reached a point where authenticity is something of which I am no longer ashamed or embarrassed.

 

2010-19: How I’ve Changed

4

December 30, 2019-

It’s said that nothing in the Universe remains static for long. Even inanimate objects experience molecular change.  Of course, it’s been a while since I’ve been likened to a piece of furniture, and the blessed soul who made that comparison is himself long departed from our midst.

The decade now ending has been, in many ways, the most seismic in my life, since the 1980’s. In that decade, the changes were commensurate with full adulthood:  Finding spiritual footing, courting and marriage, solidifying of a career, loss of a parent, and  my own parenthood.

The changes that have come in the 2010s have been more in keeping with true maturity.  I’m not altogether there yet.  Few of us ever are.  The process has been in fits and starts, and suitably so, as everyone’s late middle age is unique.

So:

Losing a spouse– This was a long haul, and arguably something about which Penny warned me, several times throughout our wedlock..  It was the culmination of a lifelong, hereditary disease, that had come for a reckoning.  It made me responsible for the care of a vulnerable adult, at a time when a burgeoning adult needed us both.  There was always a balance to be struck.  The biggest lesson in this, was that never again could I indulge in the slightest amount of self-pity.  Buus Huus, the imaginary Roman patron of the woebegone, had taken his flight.

Altering my sense of community– I left Phoenix, after ten years, being alternately comforted in my sorrow and admonished about abandoning my duty to the community.  I found the latter ironic, as the West, especially in its urban and suburban contexts, has relied, to a great extent on the safety to be found in maintaining anonymity, in entering and exiting one’s residence, through the garage and inside a vehicle.

Prescott became my community, but it was, and is, more Home Base than castle.  I have dear friends here, who are never far from my mind.  Yet, the closest of them, even my best friend, know and accept that I have concern with people far afield.  Part of this is my Sagittarian being, part is boundless love.

Connecting with people– It’s become far easier for my mildly Asperger’s/autistic self to reach out to those not previously known to me, and to engage in meaningful conversation.  That has made both quotidian life and novel experiences more meaningful.  Largely gone is the concern with rejection.

Shedding long-held shackles– Subconscious  and  self-limiting views onto which I held, about women, people of colour and just about anyone different from me, have fallen away.  I’ve long known that overarching prejudice is wrong and have managed my behaviour accordingly.  In 2014, I was reproached regarding the residual bias, the microprejudices which, in retrospect, were continuing to cause difficulties in life.  Things like subtly expecting less of someone, because of gender, ethnicity or physical status constitute a forest that is hard to see for its trees-until someone comes along and blows the wake-up dog whistle.  Now, it is not possible for me to regard anyone solely on anything other than his or her merits.

Finally, self-acceptance– With all of these other changes comes a view of myself as fully worthy of taking my place in society.  There are few people, in Prescott and elsewhere, who choose to show me disrespect, and I know to disengage myself from such people, unless and until they change their attitudes.  Fall, 2018 was a litmus test of that practice, and was the first time, in many years,  that I totally blocked someone from my life.  The roof didn’t cave and life has proceeded just fine.

The changes that accompanied this decade are sure to have import for the years to come.  It’ll be fascinating to live.

How This Christmas Happened

8

December 25, 2019-

There was a thin coating of snow, greeting us in Prescott, as the sun rose this morning.  A few more flakes fell from the sky, throughout the day.  Across the continent, a similar light snow fell in my home town of Saugus.

The day was quiet for many in my extended family, and for much of the day, it was quiet for me as well.  At 2:45, Yunhee and I headed over to the home of  a steadfast and enduring friend.  I brought my signature lasagna, though in retrospect, it could have used more sauce.   Yunhee brought her own creation, an applesauce pie-and I looked at it and saw that it was good.

Well, after about thirty minutes of banter, during which it was pointed out, by one of those present, that both major political extremist movements of the 1930’s and ’40’s used the word “Socialist” in their official titles, I was reminded again of the old saw that extreme right and extreme left will bump into each other on the bottom part of the political ellipse.  Then, the conversation drifted back to how we’re all in this together.

We started with too much food and not that many people.  God provides what Man needs, though, and along came five more guests.  It was perfect- not quite a “Loaves and Fishes” moment, but a definite example of how the Universe and the Spirit bring need and provision together.

The conversation flowed beautifully, in the dining area, and the antics of the youths played out just as smoothly, in the front room.  Yes, a good time was had by all-even the dog, a “pet-sat” addition to the mix.  We had mini-lessons on phrases of four languages:  Mandarin, Korean, Thai – and German.

This is as Christmas should be- a time of unity and fellowship, without regard for the illusion of the Chasm.

Family

6

December 25, 2019-

There is no group of people in all the world,

who matter more, than those called family.

As far back as I can remember,

there were four of us,

my sister always being in my memory bank.

One grandfather existed only in my subconscious,

as a spirit guide, who never left me,

even though I was willful,

and selective about hearing

what he was telling me.

My paternal grandfather was

all too fleeting a presence,

but his lesson was

to enjoy life to the fullest,

even as he had to leave

too soon.

Nana and Gramma though,

were solid presences,

both farm women,

who had to settle

for a more citified life,

in their later years.

My birth family

peaked at seven.

David’s first steps

on his own,

greeted me one day,

when I came home from school.

I’ve been proud of him

ever since.

Glenn has led a masterful,

ever forward-looking life.

He will always be

the sailor, the golfer,

the Man of the Year.

Cheryl has survived

so much of life’s challenges,

raised the strongest of families,

and is the most beloved of Nanas.

Brian taught us, me most of all,

to have patience and to see

the world through eternally

innocent eyes.

He left us, too soon,

but much the better

for having lived in his midst.

Dad also left, way too soon.

I like to think,

that in the end,

I have made him proud.

Through all life’s struggles,

I have always followed

his admonition:

“Land on your feet!

That’s why the Good Lord

gave them to you.”

Mom is still here,

the beloved matriarch,

having proven.

time and again,

that there is nothing

a man can do,

that a determined woman

cannot equal.

Time  passed,

and each of us raised

families of our own.

Penny was by my side,

teaching me that there were,

and will ever be,

people who love me

for myself.

She also passed beyond

a lifetime of suffering,

and is foremost in the firmament

of those who urge me forward.

Now, it’s my turn,

to be something of  a mentor,

as my son and his beloved

begin their life,

in the private sector.

I would enjoy being

a grandfather, but

that’s not my decision to make.

I love those whom God has

brought into my life,

always on their own merits.

I can hear the voice of my youngest brother,

telling me: “Leave them alone,

and it’ll be alright.”

Finally, there is the family of choice:

My indomitable sisters-in-law,

whose parents gave from the very core of their being;

The many friends and extended family,

many of whom are still in this world,

and whose sometimes daily messages

and acts of kindness,

remind me that God never has,

and never will, leave Man alone.

On this 2019th commemoration

of the Birth of Christ,

no more powerful message can be shared.

On The Cusp of Yule

2

December 24, 2019-

It’s raining, it’s pouring, but this older man is not snoring.  There is much to get done today, including a haircut.  There will also be drop-ins at a few of my favourite shops downtown, to wish all a Merry Christmas.  For many, the day before Christmas tends to be THE time to get together with friends and family, for revelry and perhaps some of the gift giving that comes with the season, as we know it.  This aspect of Christmas is derived from the pre-Christian Yule, a staple of ancient Western and Northern Europe, and itself a brightening of dreary winter days.

Tomorrow, the true spiritual essence of the day will have a special significance, as I will celebrate with one of my best friends, and my daughter-in-law will be there for the occasion.  Those who know me at all, know that while I live alone, the importance of family and friends in my life can never be minimized.  Son would be here, but he is tending to separation from active duty, and that brief sacrifice of time with his loved ones will come to an end, in a week’s time.

There will also be time spent on the phone, starting with  a call to an ailing cousin, this afternoon, and to my mother, siblings and in-laws tomorrow.  Cards are a fading tradition, for many, so we find other ways to connect.  Gifts, at least from yours truly, have been given or sent- or are ready to be given in person, tomorrow.

Finally, there is this:  In the core of my being, I know that the Creator never has left us alone and never will.  It is constant, daily remembrance of His love for us, which brings hope and joy, even in what is, outwardly, the darkest of days.  Today will sparkle, in spite of the grey skies and rainfall.  So, too, will tomorrow.

 

Solstice to Christmas

9

December 22, 2019- 

Last night marked the December Solstice, and though I didn’t do anything special to mark the passing of the shortest amount of sunlight, I felt the energy.  I call this  the December Solstice, being mindful that as we in the North experience cold and darkness, our brothers and sisters in the South have heat and light in their midst.  In June, of course, we trade places.  Many of us will enjoy a White Christmas, and my hope is that those in the Antipodes will find respite from the fires which have plagued Australia, Africa and the Amazon region, for much of this year.

This evening, Hanukkah begins at sunset, marking the eight days which commemorate the re-dedication of the second Temple of Jerusalem, following its profaning at the hands of the Seleucids (a dynasty of the Persian Empire).  The Judean commander, Judah Maccabee, ordered this celebration, so that none would forget the degradation that was followed by resilience.  My late wife, our son and I would light the menorah, a candelabrum that is used to hold nine candles, a central one called shamash, or “attendant”, from which the eight other candles are lit, one each evening of the festival.  Penny would recite the blessing, in Hebrew, before we lit each candle.

Gold-wrapped candies, called gelt, are often given each night and small gifts may  be exchanged, among those celebrating the Festival.  It may be that this is the basis for the gift-giving which accompanies the celebration of Christmas, as December 25 either falls within the Hanukkah celebration, or immediately follows it.  The rest of what we, in Western civilization and its offshoots, have come to associate with Christmas, largely comes from having adapted the traditions of others, first the Yule tree and its trimmings,  along with robust feasting, from the pre-Christian cultures of northern and western Europe, then a host of others:  Communal singing, special foods from various cultures which have adopted Christianity and alms for the poor.

The basis of all these holiday traditions, underneath all  the pomp and camaraderie, remains spiritual.  It was  awe, at changes in the celestial realm, that prompted the Druids and their followers to observe Yule.  It was the resurgence of Judaism, which inspired Hanukkah.  It was the reverence which Christ’s first followers had for His birth, and for His life, which brought about the first Christmas.  That it should have taken on elements of the two other great end-of-year celebrations, as well as modern commercialism,does not negate the spiritual basis for the near-universal appeal of Christmas.  This is solely owing to the greatness and universality of the character of Jesus the Christ- His love of humanity, His fealty to the Creator and His inherent wisdom.

So, for me, for my family and for all humanity- Let this be, as Judah Maccabee decreed, in the days of resilience after the overthrow of tyranny:  A Season of Light.

 

Losing Love

6

December 15, 2019-

A couple of things reminded me of the line in Paul Simon’s song, “Graceland”:                    “My traveling companion is nine years old. She said she’s losing love.”

I received several frantic messages, this morning, from someone who feared a family member was messing with him.  The more direct thing, that reminded me of the song, was a paraphrase of that line, in another friend’s online post.

In the first case above, it’s unlikely that the person is living without love.  It’s more a difference in communication styles.  In the second case, the child is very much loved, by two generations of family.

It is terrifying to lose love, especially for a child.  I know people who have themselves never known at least one of their parents.  Some have gone on and made great examples of themselves, with or without the love of the remaining parent.  Others have not thrived, and have grown, physically, while remaining emotionally stunted and listless.

In my case, I was never without love, from the time I was born until the day I left home to make my way in life.  The times since, that I felt I’d lost love, were figments of my imagination and were more a deficit, on my part , of reflecting love.  I’ve since learned how to be consistent, in that regard.  God’s grace  always mirrors itself in those who love us.

These thoughts just came into my mind, as I get ready for the last big event before Christmas.

 

 

Schisms and -isms

4

December 12, 2019-

A participant in a recent Baha’i Studies Conference, in Ottawa, Ontario, made the case for a movement she called “womanism”.  The gist of this movement’s philosophy is similar to to the campaign message of the American politician, Tulsi Gabbard:  Bring forward a true ethic of inclusion; the practice of not shutting anyone out, on the basis of their stated beliefs.  The premise here is inclusion, not opposition.

I favour such a movement, as I believe that everyone has a grain of truth to bring to the table.  That does not mean that someone who regards others as inferior should remain unchallenged in her/his pronouncements and certainly, actions that take away someone else’s rights or extinguish viewpoints, contrary to what one believes, are to be seen as counterproductive.  Repressed thoughts and opinions will never disappear.  They may even return, with a vengeance, in the form of counter-revolution.

It also does not sanction violence against one’s philosophical opponents, if for no other reason than to preclude their being seen as martyrs.   I much prefer to maintain appropriate dialogue, with its inherent boundaries, than to shut a person out in perpetuity.  Again, I draw the line at those who threaten violence or demand that I “toe the line.”

Many movements end their names with the suffix, “-ism”.  To wit, besides the above-mentioned womanism, we have “feminism”, “Islamism”, “supremacism” and the more conventional nationalism and sectarianism.  Such -isms, especially the last four mentioned, seem to lead to schism.  The founders of such movements may, or may not, have envisioned such divides, and thus incorporated them in their planning.    Nonetheless, any time one sets out to make a difference, if there is a pre-conceived Other, there is a potential schism.  Even a term as seemingly benign as non- (insert your identity group), is inherently creating a division in society.

It’s time to seriously work on abandoning the concept of “Other.”  Our self-concepts do not need it, in order to appreciate our uniqueness.