The Tendrils Do Not Fade

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January 14, 2022- The gentlemen and lady came onto a Zoom session, this evening, to speak of the history of Baha’i in their land, as the centennial of its arrival there had just been celebrated. I have alluded to our time there as well, on several occasions.

The influence of South Korea on my life cannot be minimized-especially given Aram’s birth there and his lifelong ties to both Korean and Japanese culture-accented by his marriage to Yunhee. I last went there, in 2019, for the religious ceremony that helped cement that marriage. The country has done quite well, materially, and has had a considerable influence, as well, on the the burgeoning global culture.

Connections I made there, had for the most part, seemed to have faded over the years. It was almost symbolic, when the plaque that Penny and I had been given, at the end of our work in Jeju, in 1992, fell off its stand and irreparably shattered, in 2017. It was not long after that, though, that Aram and Yunhee met. A more formidable, enduring bond was created.

The tendrils that remain between the Korean people and me are thus not going to be broken-and if anything, are one of the strongest threads that are connecting this one’s world. From those threads came ties to Hawaii, Taiwan, all parts of the U.S, and now to Albania, of all places, where a friend from our Jeju days has settled.

There are ties that keep me here-and those that will serve as a safety net, in many places far afield. It all started with a chance move to Korea, thirty-six years ago.

Uncrossing Wires

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January 13, 2022- I found myself carrying two rectangular baskets of groceries a short distance, to a friend who was down with a cold and thus away from her work. This small act, at the behest of her mother, who is also a good friend, took less than five minutes-but made her week food secure.

Earlier, the focus was different. Three missed phone calls had to be resolved. One was easy-corrected by an e-mail thread. A second, which took a bit longer, was necessitated by someone, in the phone queue ahead of me, dealing with the passing of a loved one. That is not at all hard for me to comprehend. Anyone dealing with grief needs wide latitude and a ton of compassion. The third, variously involving a robot greeter; two answering services-one Indian, the other Australian; and the actual scheduler, took five tries-before we managed to connect and get the task accomplished.

That brings me to the substance of the task. I had cleared my calendar for the month of March, and was in the planning stages of a trip to the Deep South. The schedule will be adjusted: Mid-March to mid-April, in order to tend to three very small procedures, each taking less than an hour, but spaced over a three-week period, by insurance regulations. Those three dates are a week apart, in the first half of March.

It is my one duty to self and family to tend to any health hiccups, early and systematically. The wires need to remain uncrossed.

Overthinking

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January 12, 2022- Perfect tries its hardest to be the enemy of good. One of our highest public officials is always warning us that any efforts to improve the access of citizens, to the mechanism of voting, will only draw the wrath of “the other side”, when they “inevitably” return to power, in an undesignated future time. Therefore, in the view of this individual, things should be kept as they are. This is unlikely, as there are many ways to secure voting rights for all legal citizens, which do not require said public official’s approval.

Yesterday, I was cautioned to not let a certain child anywhere near me, as I would be sure to get bitten. This never happened, as my advance caution to her, even with regard to herself, “No biting”, was enough.

For several years, I also held back from taking action on certain matters, with the idea that more harm would come to me and my loved ones, should I take any action. The stagnation that resulted has spoken for itself.

Measured and well-considered action, on the other hand, has brought far greater benefits, and lessons learned from the occasional flub have been invaluable. The old saw, “You could die while crossing the street”, has always been my fallback, when choosing to take reasonable risks.

Six Identities

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January 9, 2022- No, I am not confused as to who I am. There are, however, six elements to a person’s identity-as I learned in a most instructive session, this afternoon. Each person has genetic, socioeconomic, training, gender, spiritual and cultural identities, which make up the whole self.

My genetic identity confers German, French, English, Irish, and Penobscot (Penawapskewi) ancestry. I may have residual Sorb, Polish, Roma and Jewish elements in my lineage, as well. Much remains to be learned about this aspect of my identity.

My socioeconomic heritage is lower middle class, conferring a strong work ethic and sense of integrity. My father had worked his way up to middle management, by the time of his death. Both sides of my family had agricultural roots, with both of my grandfathers maintaining small farm holdings, whilst still working in factory jobs. My mother had cosmetology training and cut women’s hair, in our home, when we were young. I am now in the middle ranks of the middle class, as it were, through a combination of earnings and investment income.

My training identity is as an educator, counselor, and school administrator. I have a Bachelor of Arts in Psychology, a Master of Arts in Education, with an emphasis in Counseling, and additional credentials in School Administration and Community College Instruction. It’s ironic that the last two have been Achilles heels, in my professional life.

In terms of gender, I am unreservedly, comfortably male. I feel passionately loving towards girls and women, with a parental and brotherly orientation, these days. I have no antipathy towards anyone of other orientations or gender identities.

My spiritual background was Roman Catholic, and I was raised to have an ecumenical view of other Christian denominations and the Jewish Faith. I have long felt that there is no true separation between people, based on religious or philosophical practices. This last made my acceptance and practice of the Baha’i Faith a very easy step, when I reached the age of thirty. I maintain that there is but one Human Race and that all religions are part of the same spiritual flow, from the dawn of humanity.

My cultural identity is varied. I could say that I practice “Baha’i culture”, yet that is something that will be long evolving. I could say I adhere to “American” culture, yet there is scant agreement on what that even is. My cultural influences have been cards dealt me, where I have lived. Coastal New England has a distinct culture. So do the interior of Maine, the Navajo (Dineh) Nation, the Hopi lands, Jeju Island (Korea), the western Arizona desert, and the central Arizona Highlands. I have learned important lessons in each of these locales-and in places I have merely visited for a short time, from southeast Alaska, to Israel and Guyana-and so many places in between.

The last two elements, of who Gary is, are works in progress. I can only say that the goal of the end product is for a soul who is worthy of his Creator’s mercy and love, at the end of this earthly trail.

Flex Time

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January 8, 2022- This was one of the weekends in January, when I was planning to be away from Home Base. The schedules of those I had planned to visit changed, and made any visiting inopportune, so this time is being used to tend to matters closer to home. I am also using a couple of meditation Zoom calls to consider the course of future journeys planned for this year and next. Things became clearer to me, during the meditations. Making initial practical information checks, on a couple of aspects of these journeys, made things clearer still.

There is always a way to make good use of time, when plans have to change. Even being mostly in retirement mode, I find there are not enough hours in a day for everything that might be accomplished. Flexibility also seems to be the order of the Universe, at least in terms of how elements of Creation interact with one another. The fact that the Universe is unlimited, infinite, helps with that flexibility. Besides, that infinitude means there are far too many variables for one to go about life in a rigid manner.

In the end, I actually was glad to be finishing the day by completing a reading of “White Fragility”-coming to the conclusion that I am not fragile, in my ethnic and racial identity, and can learn from others about microaggressions and other elements of my own thoughts and actions that might drive a wedge between me and those around me.

No time need be wasted.

Ringing In The New

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January 2, 2022- Like 5 p.m., it’s always New Year somewhere. Once the Gregorian New Year is dusty and worn out, it’s time for Lunar New Year-the start of a new calendar year for many people in eastern Asia-particularly China, Korea and VietNam. We Baha’is start our year with Naw-Ruz, which emanates from the ancient Zoroastrian Era festival in Iran, that coincides with the March Equinox, and is thus celebrated on March 21. Thais observe New Years Day (Songkran) in mid-April. People in India observe the day in either April or May, depending on the year. Similarly, Muslims begin their year in either July or August, with the first day of Muharram, the first month on the Islamic calendar. Many of us are familiar with the Jewish New Year, which comes in September or October, and lasts for ten days.

With that, it’s time to focus on what a new year really means for the individual. Each of us has a life plan, largely something we devise ourselves, with help from our personal inclinations, social circumstances and immune systems. Each of us has challenges to overcome and other people to consider, but in the end, it is what one really wants out of life that has to be the prime impetus for the changes made and practices continued, from year to year.

It was quite heartening to listen to two young ladies talk of their plans for the future, in a couple of situations today. A teenaged girl explained, to a much younger child, why she wanted to be a dental hygienist-and was giving the little one instructions on proper teeth-brushing and flossing. A server in a local restaurant, this evening, was expressing her pondering of careers in holistic health. Her co-worker, in turn, has landed a job in resort management.

No one need stand still, without reason. What are your plans for the future-especially if you are just starting out?

Who Adds Meaning?

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December 16,2021- Every so often, someone has tried to insert self-or someone else- into my life, with the expectation that I will meet the part of themselves that is somehow lacking. The part of myself that felt I owed a measure to those less fortunate has made an effort to fulfill that expectation.

Guess what? Three very different people have tried to take over my life, with various tactics-including playing the “Family Card”-even though that person and I have never met. That each time ended in a crash and burn did not surprise my heart of hearts. I am the sort who loves easily, but becomes intimate only with time.

Conversely, there are those whom I genuinely love, and from whom I want nothing, who just can’t bring themselves to accept a person like me, for whatever reason within themselves. Some are biological family and others in my adopted community, who are vociferous about loving mankind, yet have odd boundaries-which I must respect and from whom I keep a certain distance.

I have long felt that the “Flower Power” movement of the ’60s and ’70s, and all it subsequent offshoots, are a collective chimera. No one can wave a magic wand and love everyone unconditionally-without first loving self, unconditionally. No one can really reach fulfillment by pursuing a cause, unless the seeds of fulfillment within oneself are being assiduously watered and nourished.

Likewise, no one who looks to someone else to meet their needs, abandonment in childhood aside, can possibly expect to not accept the brunt of that fulfillment themselves. Baha’u’llah tells us not to support beggars, and to cast a discerning eye on grifters and liars.

It is my task, first and foremost, to add value (not necessarily monetary) to my life and to as many lives as I encounter. In these days of darkness before the Light of Solstice, Christmas and New Year’s Day; days of natural disasters, stubborn disease, feckless financial sectors and benighted politicians who work to deprive the citizenry of its due-for the sake of upholding enshrined privilege, I ask each reader-who adds value to your life? You should be at the top of that list. Those who suck the life out of you should be at the bottom-if they even remain in your life at all.

Please give this song by Rachael Schroeder a listen.

Unlimited

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December 15,2021- When I was much younger, I walked just about everywhere. Balance issues and impatience with myself kept me off bicycles, until I was about 32. Peddling uphill is still problematic. When I was much younger, impatience and fear kept me from swimming with my head above water. To this day, I content myself with navigating a pool, by swimming underwater, end to end. When I was much younger, self-consciousness and a self-imposed stiffness made my dancing look foolish. Practice helped me get over that, and now, even though I am over a few hills, it’s a pleasure to join in group dances at music festivals, now and then.

I learned, somewhat from Penny and somewhat by watching others who are more unfettered than I, that the human spirit is unlimited-and that by both playing to my strengths and not being concerned with anything that transpired in the past, especially the distant past, I create both a wholesome future for myself-in the decades that remain here in the flesh and in the spirit realms to follow, and I create a bank of energy that will hopefully be transferred to those I love most-and those I will love when they arrive.

These things occurred to me, after having to own up to a couple of errors I made recently, which affected a few other people. Thankfully, this was discussed with a loving group of people.

“We are the messengers now.”

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December 12, 2021- Those words were spoken by actor Jonathan Roumie, who plays the role of Jesus the Christ, in the ongoing series “The Chosen”, in his commentary on the series’ Christmas special. He spoke, of course, as to the responsibility of Christians to bear witness to their Faith, in word and deed.

I extend that further, to all people of Faith. We Baha’is recently commemorated the Centenary of the Passing of ‘Abdu’l-Baha, the only perfect exemplar we had, other than Baha’u’llah Himself-in terms of living our Faith, day to day. Every other person, in living memory, has their own struggles and challenges. That, however, can never be an excuse for lack of striving.

Like it or not, everything one does reflects on her/his professed creed. Even atheists, relying on Ethics as their credo, have a standard to uphold. I think of this each day, bringing myself to account-as to who I have helped and from whom I have turned aside. No one person can meet the needs of every outstretched hand, but there is the matter of at least showing them the Light.

If I am not growing, day by day, then what?

Valley of the Shadow

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December 11, 2021- The workers were making and packaging candles and their accessories, following protocol for producing one of the season’s most popular gift items. It was the nightshift. 196 miles to the northwest, workers at a night shift in an Amazon distribution center were preparing various parcels for transport on the logistical giant’s fleet of trucks and planes.

It is a given, in most lines of work, that the employee will likely make it home, at the end of a shift. The workers at these two facilities most likely bid their loved ones good night, perhaps tucking their children into bed and kissing their significant others, before heading out.

Perhaps unknown to both crews, two lines of deadly storms, one tracking north east and the other, due east, had the buildings in their sights. In the early morning hours, in the middle of the shifts, tornadoes pummeled the communities of Edwardsville, IL, Bowling Green and Mayfied, KY. At both facilities, it became graveyard shift for one too many.

As is now known, the roof and at least one long wall of the Amazon facility, in Edwardsville, were shorn by one of the deadliest tornadoes ever to strike Illinois. It had already wreaked havoc on communities in southern Missouri. In the more southerly band of storms, another horrific twister slammed into a nursing home, in Monett, AR and leveled the hamlet of Samburg, TN. The tornado was far from spent. Veering north from Samburg, it pummeled Mayfield, the site of the candle factory, dealt glancing blows to Hopkinsville and Cadiz, Ky and bore down on Bowling Green. The death toll from the aggregate of the storms may well exceed 100.

This is not the time of year when people in our nation’s heartland normally live in dread of twisters. Normalcy with respect to climatic events has, however, gone on extended hiatus. There is no time of year when one may let down guard, no time of year when families can bid farewell to their loved ones, expecting a humdrum work shift followed by their safe return.

This will be a strange Christmas, as survivors inch their way forward, through the Valley of the Shadow. Let us fear no evil, and let us stand together. (I may very well make my way to one of the affected areas, as a Red Cross Disaster Relief Team volunteer, after the end of this week of local obligations. It will be a time of muted colours, of quiet thanks to our Creator, whilst appealing to His good graces towards the suffering.)