July Road Notes, Day 21: What Matters Most

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July 25, 2021, Fairmont, MN- The passing driver fairly screamed at me, through a closed car window, as I stood on the grassy median of the quiet secondary road, waiting for the traffic light to turn in my favour, as I brought breakfast back to my motel room. I could see his scrunched up face, long after his car had passed by. An old veteran, sitting outside the motel, witnessed the whole thing and muttered something about some people not having enough to do with themselves. Such was the morning in Hudson, Wisconsin, where “morning people” seemed to consist of the energetic truck stop counterman, the cheerful motel owners, said old veteran and yours truly. Everyone else I met was either strung out about something, or just not ready to wake up fully.

Once I got on the road again, it was with a plan to visit the Minnesota State Capitol, in St. Paul, then go to George Floyd Square, in Minneapolis, and connect with a second cousin who lives in the area. I drove to the Capitol area, finding Minnesota has kept pace with its eastern neighbour, in terms of the majesty of its seat of government.

The Minnesota State Capitol, St. Paul
The Quadriga, or Progress of the State

https://www.mnhs.org/capitol/learn/art/8857

The above link describes the gilded copper figures shown above, and called The Quadriga. The four-horse chariot is driven by the male figure, who represents the State. The female figures represent Minnesota’s agriculture and industry. The four horses represent earth, fire, water and wind.

“Winter” garden, east side of Minnesota State Capitol
Minnesota State Capitol, viewed from State Veteran’s Memorial
Cathedral of St. Paul

It was upon driving to the majestic Cathedral of St. Paul, some six blocks southeast of the Capitol, that I got a call from my cousin. She and family live on the St. Paul side of the Twin Cities, so my visit with them was moved up. What a delightful group! They met me at an area coffee house and spent about thirty-five minutes, before we all had to move on with our days. I’m ever grateful to be able to connect with far-flung family. D and her mate have each done well in life. Their daughters will follow suit, from all I noted this morning. Teenagers often go through periods of self-doubt (as do the rest of us), and their feelings deserve to be taken seriously, yet I see a very solid drive in both girls. This little unit is going to be just fine.

Gathering at a Caribou Coffee Shop (above and below)

From family reunion of sorts to honouring sacrifice, I drove to George Floyd Square, on Minneapolis’ south side. Parking well away from the square, I spent about an hour in prayer, listening and carefully contemplating the faces and descriptions of each shooting victim whose death is commemorated there. There was only concern and compassion being shown, by both those visiting and those who are tending the site.

The late John Lewis called for “Good trouble”.
Amanda Gorman had it nailed.

George Floyd Square, Minneapolis

Call it untidy, messy, or even inconvenient, if you will. I would say the events that led to this site’s establishment were very untidy, extremely messy and most inconvenient-for the people who have suffered, and, ultimately, for those who brought about their suffering.

Say Their Names Memorial Cemetery, 37th Street, south of Chicago Avenue, Minneapolis

A dedicated crew of volunteers was busy, at this collective memorial for African-American people of colour killed, under questionable or objectionable circumstances, over the past sixty-six years. One of the earliest such victims, Emmett Till, would have turned eighty years of age today. When he was killed, I was four years old, and he was fourteen. I barely remember, the very next day, one of my cousins mentioned that a “coloured boy”, not much older than he, had been killed by “some crazy people” in a place called Mississippi. I didn’t know who coloured people were, nor where Mississippi even was, but I knew it was wrong for one person to kill another. It was also strange to me that a child should have died. Death was for old people, like my paternal grandfather, who had recently passed away-and he was not all that old.

It is still strange, and I still regard such atrocities as crazy. It would be the same, were any group of people to be subjected to such treatment-regardless of age, or of “race”.

July Road Notes, Day 19: Slow Slogs and A Road Mis-taken

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July 23, 2021, Mishawaka- There is something about ending up in a state that was not on the itinerary. One learns, anew, that basic goodness transcends any physical boundary. Another lesson is that, by turning off and restarting one’s phone, the annoying “You’re offline!” message from GPS disappears, and the more sensible Google map (or WAZE) pops up and gets the job done.

I enjoyed a comfortable shower, at Du Bois Manor, then a simple, delightful breakfast at the Hitching Post, one of two dining establishments on Du Bois’ east side. It is comforting to be among locals, at a morning meal in a small city.

The road west, through Ohio, was fairly straightforward, but very slow in places. One Service Area, just west of the Pennsylvania state line, appeared to be a work in progress. There were none of the usual restaurants, and no WiFi. I kept on going, and thankfully did not run into REALLY slow traffic, until just shy of the Indiana state line. We sat, about 200 in number, for almost an hour, though we did inch forward-usually at about the time my GPS tried to kick in, for directions to my friends’ house in Mishawaka.

By the time I reached the Mishawaka exit, the GPS had decided to call it a day. Heading somewhat blindly north, it was not long before I found myself at a corner gas station-in Niles, Michigan. As that little town was not on the itinerary, I got re-oriented southbound, with help from a very detail-oriented local resident. Calling my friends, the rest of the route came through, very clearly. By now, though, I was in downtown South Bend, and was not accepting the “You’re offline!” nonsense- in a Free WiFi zone, no less. So, restart the phone, it was- and a scant two minutes later, I was en route, directly, to Mishawaka.

Val and Sparky are always gracious hosts, cordially waiting for my arrival, before dinner became a fait accompli. A summer salad is always welcome, even at a later hour than usual. So, here I am, enjoying the last scheduled visit with friends, as my trip westward will gear towards the Baha’i House of Worship, in Wilmette, newly re-opened, after a year’s pandemic protocol.

There is always a positive lesson, even when it looks as if misfortune chuckles.

July Road Notes, Day 17: Long Trails Winding

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July 21, 2021, Concord, NH- Sam sensed my solemn mood, and honoured my relative silence. It was partly due to where I had just been, and partly due to being a bit worn, by the full day I had just enjoyed. The effervescent young lady continued to make sure I was well-served, while engaging more cheerful patrons in banter and laughter. Thus went my third meal, in five days, at a Ninety-Nine Restaurant. This one was in Augusta, Maine’s capital city, where I had just visited the gravesites of a paternal aunt and uncle, along with the as yet unmarked grave of their eldest son, in Central Maine Veterans Memorial Cemetery.

I left Saugus, the town of my formative years, around 8 in the morning, heading up towards Maine, via I-95. It was a smooth enough drive, near the coastal regions of New Hampshire and southern Maine. I first stopped at Stonewall Kitchen, in York, to pick up gifts for the cousins I would visit first and for friends I will see on Friday evening. Next came the drive, past Portland and its exquisite Casco Bay, to Boothbay Harbor, home to a paternal cousin and his family. I hadn’t seen Tom in nearly 35 years, but had communicated with him recently, about a matter of mutual interest.

Tom and Jamie seem to be doing well, have wonderful children and grandchildren, and a lovely home.

View of one of Boothbay Harbor’s many coves

We talked of each other’s families, for about 1 1/2 hours, over lunch and photo albums. Both of our family branches have had their share of triumphs and tragedies. Both have had wondrous people enter their lives and share all they have-and then some. Tom and Jamie are solid people, who have served children, over the years, on paths similar to those that Penny and I took.

Extended family, Boothbay Harbor, ME

I left the family to their afternoon, which included a well-crafted blanket fort, that the little boys had made, as part of their imaginative use of the living room, and headed towards Augusta, where I would pay my respects to our departed aunt, uncle and cousin. A brief stop in Boothbay Harbor’s west side was in order, for ice cream and a few photos.

Boothbay Harbor
View of Harbormaster’s House, Boothbay Harbor

The drive to Augusta was fairly short, but it took stopping at two places to get directions to the cemetery, as my GPS was pulling its “You’re offline!” tantrum. Once there, I found a well-tended expanse of lawn, with year-by-year indicators of who is laid to rest, and where. I spent about twenty minutes at the gravesites of my family members.

Central Maine Veterans Memorial Cemetery, Augusta

Almost on cue, after twenty minutes, a cold wind whipped up and the dark clouds gathered. I got into the Ninety-Nine, just outside the cemetery gates, just before the rain started. Samantha, the server, kept watch on the skies, as well as on us patrons, and noted after fifteen minutes that the sun was coming back out. She seemed quite intently watching over us all, which I like in a public servant.

I spent about an hour after dinner, walking about downtown Augusta. The city has made great strides in celebrating the Kennebec River and its own heritage, since I was last here, in the late 1970s. Here are some of the scenes, therein.

Olde Federal Building, Augusta, ME
Kennebec Riverwalk, Augusta
Old Fort Western, Augusta

Old Fort Western tells the story of early Augusta and its environs. https://www.augustamaine.gov/old_fort_western/292_years_of_maine___new_england_history.php.

It was closed, and I needed to make further progress westward, so as to not overload myself tomorrow, so after a brief visit to the grounds of Maine’s State Capitol, where I took a few photos, under the watchful eyes of the Capitol Police, onward it was.

Maine State House, Augusta
West entrance, Maine State House, Augusta

Along US 202, I passed through the fields and cities of central and southwest Maine: Winthrop, Lewiston, Auburn, Gray and Sanford, before crossing into New Hampshire, at Rochester, then over to this fair place- New Hampshire’s capital city, which has two motels, cityside. Thus, I stopped into my first Holiday Inn, in over thirty-five years. (I am usually one for the Mom & Pop establishments, but in New Hampshire, those are limited to resort areas.)

After looking around Concord a bit, tomorrow, the itinerary is to cross western New Hampshire, southern Vermont and New York’s southern tier.

July Road Notes, Day 16: Family Never Fades

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July 20, 2021, Saugus- “It takes more muscles to frown than it does to smile.” This was an admonition that my mother gave to anyone whose cup was always half empty. Now that she is ensconced in an Assisted Living facility, in a comfortable apartment, with caring souls looking after her, 24 hours a day-but not overbearingly so, I came back here for a few days, to ascertain her well-being. She’s doing very well-just being herself and either staying in the apartment or going out, as she sees fit. My mother will never be anyone’s fool.

I spent a few hours, this afternoon, with a cousin and his wife, having not seen them in person, since March, 1994. I keep up with their lives, via Facebook, but it is hardly the same. Family never fades, though, even as some choose to differ in their view of society or of their concept of faith. The people with whom I spent the afternoon are of fine character, and have no insuperable animosity towards those of like character, who see the world differently.

Nonetheless, we chose to focus mainly on catching up with family stories and our memories of the generation who raised us. It is always instructive to hear different accounts about people whom you thought you knew well. In the end, it was also reassuring to hear that “the world is a better place, with you in it.” It had been a tough day or so, with regard to how some view my position, on how best to fight poverty, with disdain. Family, though, is bedrock, a foundation, which the criticism of relative strangers cannot shake.

I spent one last evening with Mom, before I head north, and then west, tomorrow- visiting briefly with a cousin who is family historian, paying respects to another, recently-departed cousin and possibly visiting an aunt. I gave Mom two bouquets of roses, and placed each bouquet in it sown vase, trimming the stems of the longer flowers. Keeping her company, while she enjoyed dinner, and covering her with a blanket, afterward, were payback for a lifetime of love. Family never fades.

Extended family, in Lynn, MA

July Road Notes, Day 5: Radiant Energy

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July 9, 2021, Grapevine- Al-Bab, the Herald of Baha’u’llah, was executed by firing squad, in Tabriz, Iran, 131 years ago today. It took two tries, for the deed to be done-simply because it was God’s will, in my view, that the Blessed Herald complete certain business, before His time on Earth was to end. Once that business was completed, Man, in his ignorance, was permitted to have his way. The same thing was true, with regard to Jesus the Christ, to Moses, to Muhammad, to Krishna, to Gautama Siddhartha-and to Baha’u’llah Himself. Each Messenger of the Creator -and a good number of His followers, has endured indignities and suffering, at the hands of those who don’t understand the reason for His appearance.

Each time such a Messenger appears, radiant energy is set in motion. Those with eyes to see and ears to hear will pick up on this energy, and become the Messenger’s most fervent followers. Those who oppose the Messenger also sense the energy, and are alarmed at what they know is the threat to their positions, their privilege and their preconceived notions of how the world should unfold.

Nonetheless, the radiant energy will spread-and its effects have always been two-pronged. In the cases of both the crucifixion of Christ and the execution of al-Bab, there were severe earthquakes, within three days of the events. In addition, those soldiers who participated in the second firing squad, which killed al-Bab, were subjected to a terrible earthquake, within a year of His execution and 250 of them died. Later that year, the remaining 500 members of the regiment mutinied and were summarily executed by order of the Army Commander.

The positive radiant energy plays out, in both long and short-term effects. In each spiritual dispensation, advances in knowledge, in a wide variety of areas, occur at a very fast pace. We saw this in the Greek Golden Age, which followed the Dispensations of both Moses and Buddha-as did the first Golden Age in India. Pax Romana was contemporary with the Ministry of Christ. The appearance of Muhammad led to a period of High Civilization around the Mediterranean region, which later spread across western Europe and Sub-Saharan Africa, in what we know as the Renaissance. Following the Declaration of al-Bab, advances in technology began to outpace all that had occurred in the previous 500 years. This has only been magnified 100-fold, since the Ministry of Baha’u’llah, though I invite each of you to investigate these matters for yourself.

The presence of radiant energy is something that bears careful watching.

The Slow Healing

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June 24, 2021, Carson City- Several years ago a person, who claimed to be an adherent to the belief in Progressive Revelation, nonetheless made comments about people needing to be “in their place”. At the time, I just agreed to disagree, quietly sensing that time and circumstance would change that person’s heart.

My father, a fervent believer in the free enterprise system and in the right of individuals to make, and live with, their own choices in life, passed those beliefs on to the four of us who were of competence. I give a bit more leeway to non-capitalist systems, provided they avoid the top-down authoritarianism, to which most Marxist nations have subscribed; but I digress.

At the meeting I attended today, the very same group, who years ago acquiesced to the notion described in the first paragraph, had advanced, by leaps and bounds, to a place of broader mindedness-recognizing the imperative that society embrace all of its ethnicities and show more compassion towards immigrants.

Thus is the way of healing. Thus goes the path to true reconciliation. As a kindergartner cannot, customarily, comprehend calculus, so can a person raised in a largely homogeneous environment not, without a full-range of life experiences, comprehend the vastness of humanity’s variations. A well-read person can appreciate this multivariance, to some degree, and one who is truly well-traveled, who has mingled with many different nations and ethnicities, can appreciate it even more. The basis, the foundation, for such understanding, however, is set in childhood and cemented by experiences in adolescence and young adulthood. It requires a solid spirituality, albeit of the person’s own choosing. Otherwise, the healing that one must undergo, later in life, is a slow, tortuous and sometimes painful path.

The gathering this evening was a vindication of all that Baha’u’llah teaches us, in His Writings, and all that ‘Abdu’l-Baha showed us, by the example of His life. The group will now find its way to a very special place, as will any person, or group of people, who embrace the healing.

Predisposition

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June 7, 2021- I read an article, in the current issue of National Geographic Magazine, about a sizable number of Old Colony Mennonites, settling in rural, forested areas of Mexico, and clearing huge swaths of the forest, so that they could plant Transgenic (GMO) soybeans. The process includes aerial spraying of glysophate-a poison that has been shown to lead to metastasized cancer, when ingested through air and water. There has been conflict with the indigenous people of the region, the Maya, who have used the land for small farming and to raise bees. The Mayan bees have been dying off, since aerial spraying of glysophate began. The Mennonites say they have bees that can thrive, despite the presence of glysophate.

I have friends in Pennsylvania who are Mennonites, and who are committed to keeping the Earth both productive and in a relatively pristine condition. They are horticulturists, and much of their produce is raised in greenhouses. I am not aware of any widespread use of glysophate in their operation. So, the NGS account set me to thinking: Why are the settlers in Mexico so adamant about their mission?

People being creatures of habit, with deeply engrained genetic memory, it helps to trace the residential patterns of a group. The Old Colony Mennonites came from grasslands of central Europe and Russia, via Germany, and settled in the prairies of central and western Canada. They are accustomed to large farming operations, worked by large families. They are also given to hard work, relying on Biblical Scripture for guidance and practicing prudent business. A treeless prairie is turned into productive cropland, with relative ease, compared with the forest-which, whether tropical or temperate, is alien land. Thus, with no regard for any value the rainforest may have, the trees are cleared. The land becomes grassland, or cropland.

This has been repeated since the first nomads emerged from the steppes of Central Asia, millennia ago. The treeless land of their origins formed both their mindset, as to the status of the environment and as to the approach that should be taken towards any environment that differed from their native grasslands. Forests were meant to be cleared; deserts were meant to be irrigated; mountains were meant to be either terraced or laid low. The Old Colony Mennonites are no different, in that respect, from all who migrated before them.

That said, there remains the one thing that could lay both them, and their neighbours, low: The poison, that their interpretation of Scripture says is essential to maintaining their way of life. Glysophate has been shown to lead to several cancers, most commonly Non-Hodgkins Lymphoma. While only a longitudinal study, of the people of Campeche and Tabasco, will likely convince the leadership of Old Colony that this practice is dangerous, such intransigence is going to cause harm to the very people for whom the leaders say they are engaging in large-scale farming: Their children and grandchildren. Even if the leaders can claim to be unconcerned about their neighbours, an unlikely scenario, for them to be blithely placing crop yield, profit and Manifest Destiny over their own families’ lives, proceeds from sublime to ridiculous.

We can debate the merits and pitfalls of transgenic farming for days on end, but the use of pesticides that are deadly to all life should no longer be up for discussion: Mexico, along with most other civilized nations, has banned the use of glysophate. Predisposition to dominance aside, it is time for the Old Colony members to stop its use, and seek to use methods of crop protection that are not lethal to humans, or bees.

Reflections on A Day Taken Off

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June 6, 2021- Thirty-nine years ago, today, Penny and I formalized our commitment to one another-and the marriage would last, through thick and thin, for twenty-nine years. I was hoping for at least forty, but we take what we are given. Some people are married for fifty years plus, and are inwardly miserable. We were not either. Speaking of which, as an aside, an indie artist, at a gathering on Saturday night, played a clip of his, on which a local philosopher opined: “”One who claims to be miserable, and at the same time insists he is right, is stating the impossible. It can never happen.”

Processing the loss of one of my closest cousins, I received word that a fellow member of the American Legion Post to which I belong had suffered a heart attack and is in hospital, facing the now de rigeur bypass surgery. He is one of the regulars, at our Sunday morning breakfasts, holding court and waxing eloquent about everything under the sun, in the style of an English aristocrat. That he is of Sicilian descent matters not. T’s heart and soul are rooted in the Merry Old Isle.

My day was otherwise occupied with the mundane-getting laundry done, gluing the front right quarter panel of my Hyundai, with the same substance that’s kept the back left in place, for nearly three years and watching episodes of “The Underground Railroad” and “Peaky Blinders”. Five of us pondered another set of quotes from the Universal House of Justice’s (Baha’i Governing Body) compilation on Social Action. I got in another workout.

In all this, I am looking at what is going on in the wider world, and just shaking my head, keeping up with it all, yet feeling as if it’s all a dream. The most important things in my life are all revolving around family, friends and the children-always, the children.

One of the traits that my cousin, John, had was presence, centering on who was in front of him, for as long as the person needed. That has not been my strong suit, though I am getting better at it. I am still not great at the perfunctory- greetings or conversation for their own sakes, especially online or long-distance. Birthdays and anniversaries are different; they draw my attention, because they matter so much. The rest of it-well, maybe my agenda is too broad and the next thing is always on my horizon. Still, I am making progress at being present, with someone who is in front of me, at any given time.

Twenty-nine years did teach me something.

What John Built

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June 5, 2021- The man in full sat in a lawn chair, next to his wife of 46 years, and enjoyed being surrounded by their seven children and twenty-three grandchildren. This was the type of family gathering to which he, and the other forty-seven of his maternal grandmother’s “babies”, had grown accustomed.

He grew into manhood by becoming a diver in the United States Army, which included service in the Mekong Delta of Vietnam. One sultry afternoon, he paid a call on one of his cousins, who was also stationed in Vietnam, showing that there were still means for soldiers and family members to find one another-even in a war zone.

In civilian life, he distinguished himself by earning his degree in Business Administration, and using it in a variety of ways- serving as a civic administrator in six communities, across his adopted state of Maine and building his own contracting business, all of which kept home and hearth in good stead, as his seven children grew into adulthood.

He was the second born of seven, and kept his siblings close, especially in the dark days of 2006, when four family members passed on, within months of one another. He kept some of his cousins close, too, even as our lives diverged. When I was tossed out of my apartment, under what turned out to be false pretenses, in February, 1977, I had a place to sleep for a few days, until the next more permanent residence presented itself. He and his wife kept my excess possessions for a year, when it was time for me to move, of a sudden, from Maine to Arizona.

That was who John Edward Madigan, Jr., one of my closest paternal cousins, was. He built a solid family, alongside his darling Mary; built much of the house in which they raised their family; built trust and confidence, even among those with whom he disagreed, socially and politically; built a successful contracting business, from scratch. He even began to build a place for himself in the Maine State Legislature, before cancer and COVID-19 muddied the political waters.

The greatest thing John built, though, was his heart. He seldom, if ever, missed a child’s or grandchild’s special event, whether religious, athletic, scholastic or any of the once-in-a-lifetime keepsakes. There is no life he touched that wasn’t the better for his having been there. When, on June 2, 2021, he went to be with his Lord, and to rejoin his parents, brother, sister-in-law and nephew who preceded him in death, John would surely have entered their presence with his shining eyes and mischievous grin.

John built a palace of love.

Stability

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May 29, 2021- There have been many times in my life, when I felt the ground was caving in beneath my feet. Somehow, I have always managed to recover. Sometimes, it has been because of help from family or friends. Other times, it has been because of my own stubbornness and refusal to accept the status quo, or settle for just any set of circumstances.

Now is a time when I have achieved stability, with no clouds on the horizon. The caveats are that I must be willing to share, to a reasonable and markedly-limited degree, and to do so in a way that will not make me a ward of someone else.

I credit both my upbringing and the Baha’i Faith for this basic sense of stability, having absorbed some lessons right away, and others over a period of time. My yardstick for the strength of stability is mainly the avoidance of capricious and ill-considered decisions. I am much better, in that regard, than even seven years ago. It took bouncing back from losing Penny and recognizing that I have far more worth than any naysayers have led me to believe, at certain periods of this life.

This same message is what I impart to anyone who approaches with a tale of woe. In the long run, stability only comes from doing what one’s inner essence advises- and never kowtowing to someone else’s dictates, no matter how loud and forceful their voice.