Stay on Game

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October 10. 2021, Gallup- Today is Double Tenth, the popular name for the National Day of Taiwan. The country is on watch, as it has been since 1949. Taiwan is staying vigilant, on game.

On a smaller scale, I, too, have to remain vigilant, on game-for a different reason. Life is getting more frenetic, I’ve noticed. More people are casting discernment to the wind, with me being one of them, for a split second too long, on September 23. The lesson was to not take eyes off my surroundings-in any situation.

After a morning that became whirlwind-a breakfast at Post 6, delayed a bit by human error (not mine), I hosted an online meeting-starting on time, but with seconds to spare. It all worked out, very nicely. A phone call to my mother, before all that, soothed any concerns I had about her well-being. She was more concerned that I was recovering from 9/23. I am, and just about completely.

Packing was fairly light, though I am ready for the vagaries of October-winter gear is mixed with near summer wear. I set out a bit after noon, noticing that there was a huge volume of traffic headed from Payson to the Phoenix area, for some reason going west to the Verde Valley, then south on I-17. I was headed in the opposite direction, but found it took seven minutes to be cleared for turning left so as to head north to Winslow.

There was no further delay in moving towards Gallup. I did stop for coffee, in the small Navajo Nation border town of Chambers, AZ. The restaurant attached to Days Inn was closed, but the convenience store had coffee. A well-meaning lady brought a stray dog into the store, pleading with the attendant to find a place for the scared puppy. Apparently, the finder was from Phoenix and had no way to care for the dog, which she said had been wandering around near the large semi-trailer trucks parked nearby. It being Sunday, and Chambers being a good hour from the animal shelter in Ganado, there wasn’t much the attendant could do, save put the dog outside and tend to her at shift’s end. Me? I am driving a rental car, have no pet carrier and would not be able to keep the animal at Home Base. I left a small group of people there to sort it out as best they could.

Once here, in western New Mexico’s regional commercial hub, I found no fewer than four motels closed for renovation. All can definitely use a world-class makeover, including the Lariat, where I stayed the last time I was here. El Capitan Motel is open for business and is definitely of recent renovation. The place is at least as good as a Motel 6, if not better. Who says Mom & Pop have nothing on the chains?

I am modifying my itinerary a bit, foregoing a drive into Chaco Culture National Historical Park, as the skinny on the roads into the park says there are very rough sections of the dirt roads, just before the park entrances, on either side. I am driving someone else’s vehicle and discernment precludes taking it on a rough route. I can drive a paved road, along the periphery of Chaco, which will suffice for now. Monday will thus be a day of familiarizing myself with the edges of the Bisti Badlands and the areas around the towns of Farmington, Bloomfield and Cuba.

My vigilance, in several instances of craziness, mostly pertaining to traffic, was much sharper today. I find that most reassuring.

None Are Better Than….

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October 8, 2021- This afternoon, as a foreshortened school day was in its final half hour, I greeted two classrooms of 10-11 year-olds, several of whom were full of piss and vinegar, and all too eager to push the limits with one whom they saw as a dotty old man.

I set them straight, in short order, by giving a young man, who was posing as ringleader, some gratuitous time out of the room. He came back about three minutes later, and proceeded to follow the directions for the activity.

My parents told us that no one is inherently better than anyone else. I was never favoured over any of my siblings, and vice versa. My youngest brother was cut more slack, because he had more special needs than the rest of us. He was though, generally speaking, held to the same core expectations. The same ethic was dominant in our neighbourhood, in the schools and, as I experienced it, in my Army basic training and Advanced Individual Training units.

My experiences with artificial pecking orders came with active duty at Fort Myer, and more so, in deployment to Long Binh and Cholon, VietNam. I was dubbed one of the lower caste members, owing to my autism-and found myself feeling more empathy with the Black, Latino and Pacific Islander members of our units. The mantra in my head remained the same-“None are better than the rest.” I had a select job, handling accountable mail, and I did it to the best of my ability. That didn’t make me above it all, and when the bulk mail truck pulled up, in Long Binh, the lock went on the AM cage and my hands were emptying that truck, along with everyone else’s.

In the years since I was honorably discharged, every situation has also had its pecking order. Sometimes, the elitism was codified: Students answered to professors and professors, to Deans; Teachers answered to Principals and principals, to superintendents and Governing Boards; Volunteers answered to paid staff and paid staff, to administrators.

In other situations, the waters were muddier. It was then that the human animal’s penchant for an alpha to lead rose to the fore. Ad hoc authority figures have inserted themselves into my life, or tried to, at several junctures. American expatriates in Korea, retired military (whites and blacks) on the Navajo Nation, and authoritarian personalities, without portfolio, in several of the schools in which I’ve worked as a substitute teacher, have presented themselves as plenipotentiaries. In each case, my response has been: “I am not at your beck and call.”

So, in advising, admonishing or instructing the rising generations, my mantra is that of Mom and Dad: Regard yourselves as good as the rest, neither above nor beneath.

Due Respect

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October 4, 2021- Some one of these days, the old man (me) will take a hike from one rim of the Grand Canyon to the other. Someone I love dearly just accomplished the feat, and as proud as I am of that adventurous soul, I know it will not be her last time doing this. One time or another, I will manage it as well. I may even make it part of an Arizona Trail trek.

I started reading a couple of books dealing with the respect that people ought to inherently have for one another. One is written by a young woman, essentially pointing out what my mother said when we were kids- “A human being is not a toy!” I personally think that everyone ever born has had or has a life plan. Many of the people are physically attractive, one attribute among dozens that a person may incorporate. I hold that everyone is to be educated and guided to make informed choices. The woman who wrote this book chose to place a photo of herself on the back cover. She has a beautiful face and svelte physique-and chose to feature these, while making the point that she will neither hide herself, nor flaunt her attributes. They are part of who she is, and nothing more.

The other book, dealing with subconscious racism and the fear that those who have it-have of it, is written by a woman who faces and is dealing with this phenomenon, as she is experiencing it within herself. I have had to do the same, over the years, in rooting out such biases. Thankfully, people of colour have been forthcoming, and the vast majority have been kind about pointing out how unnecessary such microaggressions and awkward behaviours are. With those encounters, the baggage has been shed.

The point of all this is-I am, and you are, going to keep meeting comely members of the opposite sex, and of own gender, for that matter. We are going to encounter people of other ethnicities and skin tones. The point of most such meetings is in the course of something each is doing, that has nothing to do with romantic exchange, finding a mate or establishing one’s superiority over other people. It has everything to do with being as supportive as possible, of the other person’s hopes and dreams-and their being as supportive as possible of yours.

Friendship is the best, the finest, possible outcome of our random daily encounters. I treasure each such outcome, every chance to support a fellow human in the legitimate elements of her/his life plan.

Old Dreams, New Paths

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September 28, 2021- Yesterday, thoughts of new bullet points, on a well-worn path, started to materialize. Today, things became clearer.

It is ever more likely that I will have a replacement for my road warrior, soon. When that vehicle arrives, it will be exclusively for work and for journeys within the Southwest and southern California. Travels further afield will be by train or bus, with car rentals taking up the slack, in visits off the beaten track. There will be an occasional airplane flight, as with this coming Thanksgiving, but mostly I will stay earthbound.

Working with children will be a part of life, as long as I am of sound mind and body. The assignments, though, are becoming more selective. No longer will I sign on for work with those whose style is controlling, manipulating or degrading. I’m not talking about students, but about adults.

The same holds for volunteer work. It requires a bit more forbearance, as people in crisis are often at their worst. Nonetheless, I will expect the communication to be clear and will not indulge anyone in games of “gotcha”. Power and control have no place in a healing environment.

The most important aspect of all this is self-care, and towards this end, maintaining my current regimen of natural supplements, as organic a diet as possible, regular exercise and rest when needed is one bullet point that will not change.

The other aspect of self-care is the use of time. I find that I am less oriented towards mandatory attendance at gatherings, lest the organizer be woefully offended, and more towards joining those gatherings at which I am moved to be present, out of genuine interest. Recently, those have included both long-planned events and those more of an impromptu, spontaneous nature.

I fully plan to make my journeys abroad, over the next four or five years, as conditions allow. Most ocean crossings will probably involve air travel, but I am open to journeying by boat or ship, as well. Again, in the spirit of the above paragraph, I make no commitments to being somewhere, out of an odd sense of obligation to online correspondents. Lord knows, COVID has disrupted that whole process, as has the occasional hyperintensity with which some have tried to get my attention.

The whole process is just becoming less frenetic and more organic.

Full Circle

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September 25, 2021- In September, 2011, I returned from a cross-country journey that was soothing in some ways and difficult in others. The stretch of a week or so that followed was a period of waiting for certain payments to be cleared for deposit into my bank account. I was also the owner of two cars: A 2007 Saturn Vue and a 2005 Kia Optima. I chose to keep the Kia, as it was a gift from my father-in-law, and so I sold the Saturn.

Fast forward ten years, almost to the day, and I found myself looking at a 2007 Saturn Vue, in good condition, whose owner is making preliminary moves towards selling it, in advance of a cross-country move. Having, ensured that parts and maintenance are actively available for the vehicle, I am first in line to purchase, once the present owner has no further need of it, come mid-October. Thus, automobile-wise, I will have come full-circle.

There were several “explanations” that come my way, regarding Thursday’s accident: Two workers getting overly concerned about getting to their next jobs; sun glare limiting the vision of both of us; several vehicles converging on the scene at once; a voodoo curse thrown out by someone whose request for monetary assistance was recently turned down. The speculation could go on for a long time, to no avail. My own view is that I should have looked to my left again, and waited a few seconds longer.

The upshot, though, is that once again I am being given a chance to make a certain situation right. I will keep my end of the handshaken agreement and get where I need to go, in the meantime, with a rental car. There are still ‘promises to keep, and miles to go…..’

Four Courses of Love

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September 12, 2021- A longtime friend, a few years my senior, has taken to posting photos of a newborn child, whom he has nicknamed after himself, her mother and a mutual friend of theirs, in hybrid fashion. He is clearly proud of the infant girl. My hope is that he can be there for her, through her teenage years, when the voice of a good man is as valuable to a young girl as is that of her mother. Without a parent, or parent-figure, of the opposite sex, a teenager is likely to drift emotionally. This takes nothing away from the efforts of those of the same sex as the youth, but it is an essential adjunct to those efforts.

There are several girls and young women whom I love as if they were my own daughters. I had the honour of working with two of them this evening, as Prescott Farmers’ Market put on its annual Farm-to-Table Dinner. I was a server, helped by two food runners and a busser. One of the ladies to whom I referred is the Executive Director of the Farmers’ Market, and can pretty much ask anything of me, in terms of service to the Market. The other is a tireless worker in the field of sustainability, and likewise devotes her energies to the Market’s success.

The dinner was served in four courses: Soup, salad, entree and dessert. Initially, each course was served by the designated team for two tables, with a total of seven crews. Four Chefs and a sous chef carefully and lovingly plated each course, and two complimentary courses for sponsoring VIPs. We on the serving crews brought each course to the patrons, with about twenty minutes between courses.

By the time the desserts were ready to be served, the Dinner was some minutes behind schedule. It was then that the teams combined and served all tables, allowing a half-hour for dessert, coffee, aperitifs and post-meal chitchat. It is never a good idea to jump out of one’s seat in a rush, though a few patrons did (“The dog is alone”; “I need to take my meds”; “It’s past my bedtime”). The high schoolers also had to leave. Those of us who stayed until the end continued the swarming behaviour, giving the dishwashing crew and the breakdown crew a boost, mindful that those teams of two have been stuck, in past years, when the high school age workers have had to leave, due to curfew. That is how I am used to volunteering-being one of the last to leave. No less really seems fair.

So went the second day of a most fruitful weekend. I am taking tomorrow “off”, focusing on training materials for a Blood Drive on Wednesday, but otherwise staying in a state of relaxation.

How I Overcame Self-Absorption

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August 27, 2021-

There was a time when I bumped into a clearly visible barrier pole, whilst backing my car out of a space, at Breakheart Reservation, in my hometown of Saugus. My head was so far into a matter of such earthshaking importance, that I can’t even vaguely recall what it was. I remember the fender bender, though, and the mildly amused twelve-year-old kid who chuckled at my ignorance.

Mom and Dad didn’t raise us to ignore our surroundings, and I caught more than a few rounds of indignation, when I turned too far inward. Gradually, in the wider world, the core of my being, which loved my family and those around us, took focus. Penny came into my life, and we helped each other break out of our respective shells. Students, clients, by the hundreds, became my focus and between wife and children, I realized that my life actually mattered far more than I had thought. Aram became our responsibility and made sure, in turn, that I didn’t lapse into my former bubble.

There was a long eleven years, in which my wife was my primary responsibility. In the end, son and his crew, Penny’s family and my brothers were our primary support group. The cackling crows who castigated me for using the adjective “my”, when I referred to Penny, offered absolutely nothing in the way of help-save their mealy-mouthed ideological puffery. There were also the masses, who went about their business, but at least didn’t get in my way.

On my own, I had choices to make, and slowly shed the residue of self-absorption, once again. A few women came to me, hoping that perhaps they would be the next Penny. It didn’t happen, and life took a far wider turn. I almost deluded myself into thinking that one or two others might be the next Penny. That didn’t happen, either, and life took a wider turn, still. There were three things that propelled me out of my bubble, altogether.

The first was dealing with five people who were/are so intensely self-absorbed, in their own right, that I was constantly wondering what, if any, place there was in the world for me, or any other good soul who was just trying to live a good life. Four of these five are gone from my world now, banned for constantly magnifying every single mistake I made, ignoring any good thing I did and yet clawing at me for attention. The fifth at least thanks me for what has already been done. I thank them, though, for making me aware of all the times I was the same towards others.

Secondly, I found myself largely responsible, for the well-being of over 80 people in a storm shelter, in Alexandria, Louisiana, late last summer, during the daylight hours of a Red Cross operation. That is when my work never stopped, until wiser heads pointed out that the opposite of self-absorption is not complete other-immersion. Then came a more balanced view, that both my personal needs and those of others had equal importance. I also realized that being too deeply in the business of other people robs them of dignity.

Third, the full acceptance of others as complete human beings, beyond their physical trappings and even their personalities, has come about from our collective dealing with COVID and all the climate change-based events that we have faced, and will continue to face, long after I myself have left this earthly life. It takes me three to five seconds to recognize that a woman has pleasing features, that a child is precious, that anyone has an engaging nature.

There are things that are about to happen in this life, that make such an emergence from self-absorption more essential than ever. I look forward to them all.

Evers, and Nevers

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August 19, 2021- The woman I trust as Cosmic Advisor correctly stated that this week would bring events, fast and furious, which would underscore the powerlessness of those who hold stature. The forces of nature, of baseness and of frenzy have combined to show us that the only real power is that of the Spirit.

I have made a good effort to keep order and help advance learning, in a place I’ve long felt at home. I have not sought, nor have I held, power at an official level. No matter; in any school, the real power is held by those who lead their students to believe in themselves and in one another. Tomorrow, I will spend the day with First Graders, fulfilling a promise made at the beginning of this academic year, and imparting self-confidence to people who are at a very basic level.

I left the high school today, reviewing those things I will ever do, consistently and those things I will NEVER do. One might say, “Never say never”, but I have held, for seventy years, that:

I will ever strive to stand behind anyone acting from a place of truth-so long as that truth is not twisted or distorted, in a way that hurts others.

I will ever trust in the Spirit, that which speaks to me in moments of quiet solitude, and at times when I must decide a course of action.

I will ever hold that there is no nation or ethnicity that is inherently inferior to any other, and that the strength of Woman, however different in the way it is manifested from that of Man, is equal to that masculinity.

I will ever hold to the sanctity of life and that to oppose abortion, but then readily abandon the right to life of people, at any of its later stages, is a false narrative.

I will never join in an attack on a person or group of people who are different from me, in countenance, thought, or mode of living.

I will never seek to deceive even the meanest of creatures. My big mouth will always speak with integrity.

I will never again walk past a person who is injured or fallen, without seeking to offer or obtain help. (This last was a lesson I learned fifty years ago, and my shame stayed with me for a long time.)

Many years ago, I was told never to marry a person of a different race, as society would make life miserable for any children who came from such a union. When it was my turn to take a stance on that matter, approving the marriage was the easiest decision I ever had to make, and the happiness of my child and his wife is an eternal reward. Their offspring, when they come into this life, will be blessed beyond measure.

I have learned that embracing others of varying belief systems does nothing to weaken my own dearly-held tenets.

Hot Spots

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August 16, 2021- I was originally supposed to spend today hiking along a road, to commemorate a friend’s passing, 37 years ago, Wednesday. The person who proposed this originally backed out, over the weekend, citing other obligations. It worked out fine for me, as I got to be with the groups of students with whom I will be working, for the most part, probably well into September.

The weekend brought hard news: There is a new Taliban government in Afghanistan, boding God knows what for women and girls; Haiti was clobbered by yet another severe earthquake, to be followed by a Tropical Storm, of as yet indeterminate strength; Delta continued on its merry path of death and destruction; the Sierra Nevada foothills continue to face the rapacious Dixie Fire. Here at Home Base, I can only continue to do what I’ve been doing- small charity here and there; safe hygiene and honouring the requests of businesses and institutions; promoting fire-safe spaces here and being ready, in case the call comes to go on Red Cross deployment.

We choose what hot spots in which we offer our services. With 7.6 billion people on the planet, there is no reason for any one person to have to do the lion’s share of relief work. I am constantly on the move, as it is, and have no feelings of regret for what I do. Learning to set boundaries, however, has been a most gratifying result of the struggles of the past three years.

First Class

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August 13, 2021- I finished reading “Caste”, by Isabel Wilkerson, this evening: A magnificent work, by a stellar human being. For the first time in my adult life, if not the entirety of my life span, I felt that here is someone who understands my point of view-that there is, simply put, no group of people, anywhere, who deserve to be cast aside (pun intended) or downtrodden, so that others may rise to the top-either through privilege or through through benefitting from the efforts of those held lower than themselves.

It is human nature to want to pull the wagons in a circle; to exclude those one dislikes or whom one sees as a threat. It is spiritual nature, more reflective of the higher self, what Abraham Lincoln called “the better angels of our nature”, to at some level, at least, regard others as equanimical to oneself; to keep the wagon secure, but somewhat ready to receive the visitor.

Let me take stock, of just who could be a second class citizen, given what is apparent in the Divine Teachings, and in the common origins of humanity. No European person is a second class citizen; no person of East Asian or South Asian ancestry can reasonably be seen as such; no person of Indigenous American (North or South) or Pacific Islander descent, nor any person of African or Caribbean ancestry; no Jews, Arabs, Turks, Persians, Afghans, Australian Aboriginals, Central Asians, Saami, Finns, Estonians, or their cousins, the Magyars (Hungarians) who even claim to “whiteness”. None warrant second (or lesser) class status.

There are other classes of people, sometimes regarded as children of a lesser god. People who are unable to walk, speak, hear, see, think clearly; men who are attracted to other men, women who are drawn to other women, people who are drawn to both sexes; people who have undergone gender transition, or who just like to wear the clothing of their opposite gender; people who are mentally ill; those who prefer to live in tents or those who feel the need to live in mansions; one-time law breakers who have served their time and are making a bona fide effort at living a righteous life; ectomorphs or endomorphs; conservatives, liberals, reactionaries or progressives; Christians, Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus, Wiccans, Sikhs, atheists, agnostics, Naturists, Baha’is; NONE of these deserve to be placed in the “also ran” category.

So, it appears that there is, in the end, no one who warrants less than first class status- in terms of citizenship and access to opportunity. We can’t all be financially wealthy or all be in charge of the community. We can’t all do the same work.

We do, however, deserve a shot at realizing our dreams.