Much Obliged?

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March 6, 2021- This morning, one of my dearest friends invited me to a small gathering, set for tomorrow afternoon, with the caveat that I should not feel an obligation to attend. I am delighted to receive the invitation, and the last thing I think is that it is an imperative.

This set me to thinking: How many actual things in life are an obligation? There are relatively few, and virtually all are role-dependent. Many of us have heard it said, “The only things sure in this life are death and taxes.” For some, only the first is regarded as certain.

The word obligation often brings the image of something one does only while kicking and screaming. I will have to say this, with regard to my own life, at present: I do what I do, only out of love-Love of God. If one loves God, then one loves His creatures. So, as a parent-I take whatever time my son, and by extension my daughter-in-law (and in the future, their children) ask of me. As a citizen, I obey the laws of any community, state(province) or nation in which I find myself. As a member of any group, I contribute to the ideas, needs and agendas of the gathering-whether it is family, Faith-based, civic or charitable.

All of what I am presently doing is something of my choice. So, there is only one “obligation”, if you will. That is to keep my word. That said, I am going to bring this post to a close, as I have promised another friend that I will visit her shop, for a special event. It will also be a delightful time.

Transitions

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March 5, 2021, Phoenix- She took her last breath, ten years ago this morning. She was still warm to the touch, as I walked to the side of her bed, having arrived three minutes too late for a real-time goodbye. Yet, when I had awakened, an hour before, in our home of eight years, the bedroom we had shared was filled with a very heavy energy, the likes of which I have not experienced before or since. At the hospice site, our son and I were greeted by an upwardly swirling of dust, on an otherwise still morning.

Today, I returned to the gravesite I have visited so many times, this past decade. This time, I sat for the better part of an hour, praying and meditating. There was a couple looking for a loved one’s grave, which turned out to be on the other side of the cemetery. Otherwise, I was in solitude with the spirit of my spouse of twenty-nine years.

Penny has long since transitioned to a better place. I am still in transition to being a better person. In this past ten years, I have broken trust three times, been called out for it, almost immediately and learned to do better. I have had my integrity, with regards to how I view women, called into question and after initially taking umbrage at the criticism, done a deep dive into exactly how change was in order. It has been well worth the soul search. While I am still peripatetic at my core, being part of a community is more essential to me, than it had been in years past.

I had a groundswell of support, during the five months after Penny’s transition. It was ironic that some of those who were warm with their words, immediately afterward, were later so vicious in their attacks. They have long since vanished from my life. Family members are there, when I need them, and I, when they need me, Mostly, though, the contacts are short and sweet-and their lives don’t intertwine with mine so much any more. It is partly physical distance; partly the fullness of each others’ lives-and it may well change, as time goes on and disease abates. It is my core of friends, who also ebb and flow with their presence, who keep me honest and forging onward.

Today ends one decade of living transition and begins another. I wonder, as to how it might feel to be an octogenarian, in 2031. In the meantime, there is much on which to work and life from which to learn.

Madame Curie

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March 4, 2021- In all the annals of the accomplishments of women in the scientific community, Marie Sklodowska Curie, (1867-1934), stands tall-as both the first woman ever to win a Nobel Prize and in two fields, yet: Physics (shared with her husband, Pierre, and Henri Becquerel) and Chemistry. The Physics Prize stemmed from the trio’s work in the field of radioactivity, which is a term coined by Marie. The Chemistry Prize came in 1911, for her discovery of the elements Polonium and Radium, using her own techniques for isolating radioactive isotopes. Madame Curie established the Curie Institute in Paris (1920) and in Warsaw (1932). She would eventually die from the effects of exposure to radiation, in 1934, at the age of 66.

Marie’s father, Wladyslaw Sklodowski, was a gifted educator in mathematics and physics-and imparted a love of those subjects to his five children, especially to Marie and her older sister, Bronislawa. He insisted that his daughters get a solid university education. Madame Curie took this knowledge to a higher level, but never lost her gentility and modesty. She remains a beacon to all, men and women alike, who find themselves drawn to the Physical Sciences.

Dance The Moon

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March 3, 2021-

Dance the Moon, my diligent friend. Your work is, and will be, reaping grand rewards. You have a magnificent mind, with heart to match and a drive that will bring sustenance to many.

Dance Mars, my solitary chum. We may walk many miles together, amongst the red rocks. You will heal many, also, through careful measure of l that which brings salubrity.

Dance Venus, oh sad, yet resilient blessing to my soul. I hear your heart’s every palpitation, and know that the warmth of your heart will sustain you, through all grief.

Dance the stars, my eternally best beloved. Dance, sing, and guide us who stayed behind. We have many who look to us in wonder, and can not afford to skip a beat.

Women’s Inventiveness

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March 2, 2021- Mother always chortled at the notion that women were anything less than inventive. She essentially told us, “Anyone who thinks, for a minute, that a person can raise children without being the paragon of inventiveness, is nuts.

March is Women’s History Month, so I’d like to note the hugeness of this topic underscores the fact that men, by themselves, can only do a percentage of what needs doing, in moving the human race forward. Here are the stories of two women who invented objects that are today seen as ordinary, but which made a huge difference in everyone’s life.

Margaret E. Knight (1838-1914) was the inventor of the machine that produced the flat-bottomed paper bag, of lid-removing pliers, of a safety device for mechanical looms, of a numbering machine, of a window frame and sash, and of several devices related to the operation of rotary engines. Ms. Knight never married, regarding her inventions as her children. The flat-bottomed paper bag, alone, saved people from the carpal tunnel that resulted from dealing with envelope-style paper bags, day after day. The safety guard for mechanical looms, her earliest invention (at age 12), undoubtedly saved many people from being stabbed by sharp looming threaders and industrial-sized needles which could otherwise be jarred loose and become projectiles.

Bette Nesmith Graham (1924-1980) was the inventor of Liquid Paper, the first commercially successful correctional fluid. Her idea came from the remembrance that artists routinely paint over their mistakes, usually with white paint. Adapting this technique to the common business office, she managed to market correctional fluid, first for typewritten error correction, then for mistakes made using pen and ink. Liquid Paper remains useful in the latter instance, even in these days of largely computerized printing. Fun Fact: Bette Nesmith Graham was the mother of the musician Michael Nesmith, who performed as a member of The Monkees, a 1960s pop music group.

There are ever more far-reaching fruits coming from the human mind, which can never truly be compartmentalized according to physical gender, much less to the circumstances of one’s birth. I will continue, throughout March, to underscore the value of recognizing women’s contributions to our heritage.

Lions at Leisure

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March 1, 2021- Contrary to popular wisdom, there were no signs of this new month “coming in like a lion”, although my special assignment included treating some special needs students to a viewing of the “Live Action” (CGI) version of “The Lion King”. Faithful to the plot line of the original Disney cartoon, there was a darker element to both the wayward Uncle Scar and his frenemies, the hyena pack; but, I digress.

March, like September, is a month for either beginning a new season of life or for reaping the harvest of the growing season. It is either a time for taking stock of a season of intense action or for adjusting one’s plans for the coming season of intense action, in light of the reality emanating from the prior season of rest.

There are few lions on the public stage these days. There are those who continue to plot, to blame others for their failings and are very clever at manipulating the fears and biases of those who feel powerless. There are those who mean well, but give too much leeway to others who, under the guise of “freedom of choice”, advance a dystopian, eugenic agenda. Neither group is particularly leonine. The real lions seem to be either quietly working behind the scenes, or are at leisure.

We will see how March plays out. I continue to support the efforts of long-time friends, whilst also helping newer friends with their concerns. I will spend some time hiking in areas that had been on the agenda, earlier this year, as well as for this month, and hopefully get out to see my geographically closest relatives, during the last week of March-and will be inteersted in just how “lamb-like” things are, around then.

The Gullah Land

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February 28, 2021-

One of my favourite areas of the South is coastal Georgia and South Carolina-particularly the Sea Islands. This is largely due to the presence, both physically and spiritually of the Gullah-the descendants of enslaved people, who largely kept their ancestral African culture and language.

While much of the Sea Islands region has been taken over by large hospitality and golfing interests, the flavour of the area has largely been impacted by Gullah cultural features. The Low Country Boil, a popular meal of seafood, greens and fresh corn, is a gift of the enslaved. So, too, are the products brought from Africa, by those carried here against their will. Africans brought rice, okra, coffee, cotton, indigo, and cassava to the Americas, as well as net fishing and even the use of poison to trap large numbers of fish. This last has, thankfully, been shown to be of no benefit to human health-and was abandoned in the Southeast, a long time ago.

The enslaved people showed their captors the techniques of rice, cotton and coffee cultivation. Africans, then as now, knew nothing other than sharing-and at least initially, showing love even in the face of harshness and brutality. Besides, they needed elements of their homeland, in order to maintain sanity, and a sense of purpose. A good source for understanding the complexity of Gullah culture and language is William S. Pollitzer’s “The Gullah People and Their African Heritage”, University of Georgia Press, Athens (GA), 1999, which I have just finished reading. Dr. Pollitzer grew up in the Sea Islands region and was immersed in Gullah culture.

Here is a more audiovisual description of Gullah life, from a story teller on Edisto Island: Theresa Jenkins Hilliard. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=R0DGijYiGQU

Season’s Change

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February 27, 2021-

Often, around these parts, the approach of March brings somewhat warmer temperatures. This year, while the days are mostly comfortable-almost shirtsleeve weather, there is a cold tinge when the sun goes down. Maybe I am just too used to the warming phenomenon, of the past three decades, but I am feeling a throwback to the four seasons of my childhood- in which winter lasted until April and summer came in mid-June. Conversely, wearing a Halloween mask meant sweating profusely, even after dark.

The two times a year that I would get sick, and have to stay in bed for a day or so, were October into November and right about now. Bed rest and hot tea with honey and lemon did the trick, and it was back to business, the following day. This year, I had a half day of ennui and feel that tomorrow will be a lot more on an even keel. The hardest part is not being up to interacting with my friends, in a coherent way. Brain fog always accompanies change-of-seasonitis. So it was, earlier today.

I can only be grateful for the genes I was given, and the community that surrounds me-offering regular exercise options, wellness care and solid, caring friendships-for which I am honoured to reciprocate.

The Middle Passage of Robert Hayden

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February 26, 2021-

In drawing to a close Black History Month, it is critical to remember that no people’s story is ever confined to a month, or even a year. The endurance of the history of any given segment of a society,of any part of humanity, is ever worth drawing to ourselves. In a few days, I will look at the Gullah people, of the Sea Islands along the coasts of Georgia and South Carolina-arguably the most enduring African-American group, managing to maintain key aspects of their culture, even whilst living among well-heeled vacationers who have been drawn to the Sea Islands, over the past 50 years.

The Gullah are, of course, one group of descendants of the enslaved people brought from Africa, most via the route known as The Middle Passage. The late, great former United StatesPoet Laureate Robert Hayden (1913-1980), first African-American to hold this honour, and a member of the Baha’i Faith, depicted the experience of those brought along this treacherous route on the Amistad, a Portuguese-owned slave ship,which had been the scene of a slave rebellion led by Sengbe Pieh, also knoiwn as Cinque. The rebels eventually won their freedom, courtesy of a vigourous defense before the US Supreme Court, by John Quincy Adams and 34 of them returned to Africa, with help from American Abolitionists.

Let Robert Hayden tell their story, in his own voice. Let us always remember that all human beings are created equal, in the sight of God.

Loyalty and Ego

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February 25, 2021– I spent parts of the past couple of days watching a series that dealt with issue sof loyalty, betrayal and role switching. The show, called “Luna Nera”, is an Italian SyFy drama, set in the 17th Century. It is rather Byzantine, in its plot sequences, being all over the place.

It outwardly features conflicts between the mainstream Catholic Church, of the post-Inquisition era, and a small group of Wiccans. There is plenty of virtue and vice, loyalty and betrayal, transparency and deception on both sides, sometimes with all of it coming from the same characters. In other words, it’s hard to tell the good guys from the villains.

Life can be like that, especially if those of a certain mindset see only themselves, and those who agree with them, as good and all others as bad-even making the distinction, as a priest in the show did, between those who say what’s evil is virtue and what’s virtue is evil. Thus, their basis for determining virtue wells up from each one’s ego. That, and the inability to forgive slights, leads to even more pain and suffering, for all concerned.

The parallels between the main characters in the series, and the present American sociopolitical climate are so telling, that Luna Nera could be just as easily set in Washington and Mar-a-Lago, as in the north of Italy. The Bishop/Warlock is a wirepuller of the first order and the Wiccan/Demoness has an ego that spills over into even the acts of decency that she tries to pull off. There is a pure Saviour character, who has to disguise herself, for most of the series. The rest of the cast could pass for the “Sheeples”, who makie decisions based on whatever they are told by whoever is in charge at the moment.

It still strikes me that independent thinking depends upon not being willing to have one’s ego stroked-but maybe that’s MY ego talking.