Penultime

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December 3, 2020- The next-to-last part, of virtually any series of events, casts a glimpse of what will succeed the present series. So it has been, these past several days, as what may well have been a comfortable series of routine events turned into the first ripples of a coming flood tide of unexpected change and calls for adaptation.

I learned early on, even as an autistic youth who liked things to stay the same, that flexibility made the difference between long-term serenity and collapse. I learned that failure to adapt was a guarantee of misery. I learned that nothing could possibly remain the same-the old French bromide notwithstanding.

Coronavirus has brought about a larger number of transitions among my wider circle, a few childhood friends and some extended family members. That, alone, has reinforced a more flexible view of life-and a sharper appreciation for what each and every one of them meant in my life. It has also brought a greater number of tasks to those of us who have thus far escaped its talons and thorns.

With the knowledge that every day could bring unforeseen challenges, both great and small, I still wake, glad that the new day is here. For, all that is may bring both surges forward and setbacks. I have learned to treasure the former and forge through the latter. This brings a sense of reinforcement to me and inspiration to my younger friends.

So, the extra work given me, due to a co-worker’s sudden illness was my honour to accept. To much is given, much is expected.

Sudden Shifts

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December 2, 2020- As the time for my retirement (more or less) gets closer, there is still no end to the surprises and shifts that continue in the conduct of public education. I no sooner was told my scheduled assignment for today had been canceled, than I got a call for three days-thus taking me through this week.

The next surprise: Friday will most likely be my last day of work for the calendar year. This is due to the school districts going online again, beginning Monday. I am strictly an in-person educator, as far as public schools are concerned. I helped a few children when attempting online instruction, but it was tough, which is likely one reason why the previous assignment was canceled-as online instruction was part of it.

This will prompt a re-assessment of my schedule for the next two weeks, but change is a constant. There is always a lot to do. For tomorrow and Friday, my young charges are glad that I came back. They are not thrilled about going back to online learning, so I hope that streaming technology, at least, can make things vivid for them. The chances of them going back to in-person learning, in January, will depend on COVID levels at that time. I will be taking on only special assignments, in the new calendar year, in any event.

Staying personally disciplined is, and will be, the only thing that will keep me standing-regardless of the swiftness or degree of changes. So, it will remain- Rise early, keep serving and stay steadfast in both exercise and faith. That, and be discerning with regard to the claims to reality, of disparate groups.

Vicarious vs. Hands-on

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December 1, 2020-

I have reached the point, in my teaching career, where I can readily spot when people have had enough of theory and book learning, and really need to have the rubber hit the road. Today, covering for a Culinary Arts class, I saw that many students had reached this point.

Of course, COVID alters the manner in which food preparation can be done and there would need to be smocks and gloves worn, as well as face masks. The students, while making their concerns known, were gracious to a one and applied hemselves to the reading and writing lesson. Still, I’m an empath and felt their ennui. I wish to keep the learning process as hands-on as possible and that may require thinking out of the box.

It is a fine line that any of us walks, keeping in-person learning going, in this second wave of the disease. I will go into school, when I’m called, these next three weeks or so. I trust that most others will do the same-staff and students alike.

Speaking of hands-on, I am getting plenty of indicators that it’s time to up my exercise game. So, any day that I don’t work will mean either a robust hike or two hours at Planet Fitness, instead of the 30-45, that I’ve been doing. The squeaky wheels need plenty of grease.

Filling Needs

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November 30, 2020-

The little boy rested his head on the sleeve of my sweater shirt, dozing off the minute our flight lifted off the ground. His apologetic grandmother was assured that there was no need to waken and admonish him. Sleep so often comes in short supply, these days. The right arm remained perfectly still, while the child-my child for an hour or so, caught up with the rest that had been interrupted by God knows what.

So often, we have no understanding of backgrounds or antecedents, preferring to stand on ceremony, or rest on principle. It can go both ways: I know people in need, real or perceived, who constantly badger and cajole their would-be helpers. It’s the adult version of “Are we there yet?”, and it betrays a lack of understanding, as to the complexities of process. I will have to so advise one such person, before heading for bed, tonight.

I have said previously that children and their well-being are my top priority. That remains very much so. My love and commitment extend outward to all ages, certainly, and will no doubt find expression in further acts of service-both planned and random. The New Heaven and the New Earth foretold by Saint John, in the Book of Revelation, will come about-but one step at a time, and with all of us pitching in.

So let the month ahead see an uptick in recognizing what can be done in the moment, what needs more time to accomplish, commitment to both-with the wisdom of knowing the difference.

Neptune Direct

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November 28, 2020, Plano-

Seventy, as I expected, feels no different than sixty, or sixty-five. The day passed with a variety of activities: Joining a global Zoom gathering, hosted by a longtime friend from Phoenix; picking up another pair of dress casual shoes; munching on burger and fries for lunch and a delectable Pho (Vietnamese soup) and spring rolls for dinner; and exploring parts of Grapevine, TX (photos tomorrow), where Aram and Yunhee will live, come the end of January.

It has been a time of both taking stock of how things have changed, as I mentioned yesterday, and of projecting ahead. I have a sense of what I hope to accomplish in 2021 and beyond. Right now, I am focusing mostly on December, and being there for any children and youth who need me, between now and the Christmas/New Year’s Break. I had planned on taking three days off, to mark the fortieth anniversary of Penny and I having met. That would have taken me to a couple of places in New Mexico that are associated with our first encounter.

New Mexico, though, remains closed to people from most states, including Arizona and there are relatively few substitutes working with my employer, so I will be making myself available from December 1-18, straight through. With any interstate road trip over the holidays looking increasingly ludicrous, I will have plenty of time to check out places in other parts of Arizona, as well as relax with friends, during the Break.

Planet Neptune ends its retrograde, relative to Earth, tomorrow. This sort of event exhausts a lot of people, but generally focuses my attention more sharply and lets me sleep more deeply through the night. That will make it a lot easier both to give my attention where it is needed and to plan realistically for the weeks and months ahead.

Decade of Change, Decade of Growing

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November 27, 2020, Plano-

Ten years ago, I was saying goodbye-and in many ways, good riddance, to my Fifties-seemingly a time when I was largely all thumbs, but a time when I extended every ounce of caring and compassion towards keeping a dying woman, the love of my life, alive-until the day she was ready to transition to the Spiritual Realm.

The next day, I became the first of my parents’ children to reach the age of sixty, celebrating that evening, with two pizzas delivered by the nearby Papa John’s, and shared with Aram and four of his friends. Penny was not eating much, by then. A week later, my wife, son and I would be joined by my two brothers and a sister-in-law, more fully marking my 60th, at a fine dining establishment, in downtown Phoenix.

Durant’s is still in business, my three living siblings have each reached the age of sixty, Penny has been one of my Spirit Guides for nearly ten years, and Aram has grown into a level-headed, more focused man, with a wife of his own, and a promising future.

What of me, as the start of my eighth decade of earthly life beckons, in a few short hours? How have I spent this decade? I have faced the demons which taunted me, most of my life. I have learned to focus on my work, in a way that I seldom did while I was struggling as a caretaker. I have taken initiatives in serving my Faith, in ways that my younger, more confused self found daunting. I have traveled some, both domestically and internationally, facing my own foibles and overcoming several of them. I have reached out to more people, in more authentic ways, than I ever did as an awkward, introverted soul.

I have learned to embrace growth. When I wake up tomorrow, it will not feel “terribly strange to be seventy”. There are many miles left ahead.

Forging Ahead

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November 25,2020, Plano-

On a fine and comfortable late November morning, it’s a nice touch to hit the trail, even if the trail in question happens to be paved. So it was that the three of us headed over to Spring Creek Recreation Area, in neighbouring Richardson.

November, in the northern hemisphere, is something of a shoulder month, with leaves having mostly fallen (the cottonwoods of the Southwest, in their golden glory, are an exception). Nonetheless, Nature is healing, sustaining, even in its time of faded glory.

So it was, this morning, at Spring Creek.

This ramp leads down onto the trail.
Most of the trail is flat. This is, after all, a forest situated in a prairie.
Spring Creek, a small stream, is muddy in times of low precipitation.

There were relatively few people on the trail with us. A family of five, with a mildly mischievous adolescent boy teasing his older sister, and a couple of loud younger boys from another family, punctuated an otherwise quiet, self-absorbed coterie of joggers and T’ai-Chi practitioners, who wanted nothing but privacy.

Returning back to Plano Home, Yunhee treated Aram and me to freshly- made bowls of bibimbap, a Korean dish in which is placed rice, ground meat, leafy greens, shredded carrots, mushrooms and, if one wishes, either hard-boiled or over-easy egg in an individual bowl. The diner mixes the ingredients to own satisfaction. Often, the ceramic bowl is heated, so that a raw egg will cook as it is mixed with the other contents. Today, though, all was cooked in advance. It was, nonetheless, delectable-along with her home-made kimchi and seasoned dried minnows.

Bibimbap

As will be occasional, throughout this week’s visit, I felt it proper to join a couple of Zoom calls. One was with a small group of kindred spirits, in a guided meditation. The other, celebrating the life of ‘Abdu’l-Baha, was based in Prescott. Today is observed as the Day of the Covenant, which was the wish of ‘Abdu’l-Baha for those who expressed a desire to celebrate His birthday. As He was born on the very day that al-Bab proclaimed His Mission to humanity, ‘Abdu’l-Baha randomly selected this day (November 25 or 26, depending on the lunar calendar) as a day during which Baha’is could celebrate His life, and Baha’u’llah’s Covenant with His followers.

As it happens, November 28, 1921 was the day on which ‘Abdu’l-Baha ascended to the Spiritual Realm. Thus, in a short span of days, we honour His life and commemorate His passing. Next year, as you might imagine, our focus will be on that extraordinary life and legacy.

So it is, that the governing body of the Baha’i Faith, the Universal House of Justice, has given us a rough outline of the decade ahead- a One -Year Plan, focusing on the above-mentioned life and legacy of ‘Abdu’l-Baha, and a subsequent nine years of helping to build a more sustainable and peace-focused society. So it is, that we forge ahead.

Threading the Needle

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November 24, 2020, Plano-

I set out, early this morning, for Phoenix, then by air to Dallas and on to this home away from home, just north of the Big D. My son and daughter-in-law live here, and it is the logical place to mark my coming seventieth birthday.

The flight, and its preceding and subsequent drives, went very smoothly. Although it was a full flight, I was masked from the time I left my car in Long-term Parking at Phoenix Sky Harbor Airport until the time I got in Aram’s car at DFW-and I was seated with two young boys on the plane, thus encountering minimal risk (Yes, they, too, wore masks).

This trip flies in the face of the demands of many public health officials, that everyone stay home and meet virtually, over both Thanksgiving and Christmas. There is one caveat: I will be spending most of the next five days in this apartment. Travelers, like myself, have a responsibility to thread the needle of any departure from our primary homes in a very careful manner.

Thus, I am wearing filtered face masks, sanitizing my hands and keeping the prescribed six-foot distance in public places= as I have been doing since March. Thus, I am avoiding being in a ridiculously crowded indoor space. No, the airport was not so crowded that I could not maintain physical distance.

In a few short days, as indicated above, I will enter my eighth decade on this planet. I intend to continue most, if not all, of my acts of service and, when a modicum of success in counteracting Coronavirusdisease 2019 is reached, to resume planned travels, furhter afield.

For now, I am fotunate to be with my little family.

Small Audience Auditions

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November 23, 2020-

As near-milestones fall, I look for the special bounty that comes with a day, regardless of what lies ahead. Today, my last teaching assignment as a sixty-something was with a couple of sonnet-writing classes and three levels of drama class.

I am not much at writing sonnets, so thankfully, the students were all well along. in their own writing. The Beginning Drama class was studying silhouettes, throughout history, so we had a fine discussion on the appearance of women, and men, through the ages. Most said they are glad to have not been around when full corsets were in vogue. One objected to the very idea of what he called “grotesque exaggeration” of female body parts-such as the Victorian-era depiction of the buttocks, all by way of hyper-couture. I share his disdain; women are given to a variety of types of beauty. Putting one’s body through torture, in order to meet someone else’s expectations, is never an even trade. Ladies, you are just fine, the way you are.

The next class, consisting of four people, saw each student present a particular sonnet that had been individually assigned. I have never assessed a dramatic presentation before, but using a clear rubric, the students could not tell that I was a novice. Much depends on intuition and presence. There was some embarassment, on their part, at auditioning to a small audience, yet one pulled self together nicely, infusing a perfect blend of emotion and enunciation. Even reading off a page, a gifted actor can stir deep feelings.

Lastly, the set-builders came in, and showed finesse with carpentry and prop painting. Their work was simple, yet wondrous. I see no “trade deficit”, in the sense of young people taking to crafts and the building professions, despite anecdotes of older contractors bemoaning the lack of ambition among the rising generations.

I value in-person education, and getting in there and working WITH the kids seems to build their self-confidence and drive, more than just reading instructions aloud, and retreating to the isolation of a desk-or an office.

The East Wing

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November 22, 2020-

On this day, fifty-seven years ago, the trigger was pulled on hope and change in America, as fleeting as it seemed to be under John F. Kennedy. Too many who flew the banner of progress, in the 1960s and ’70s, had their lives cut short by those who had much invested in the status quo.

On that day, I remember sitting in a middle-of-the room seat, in a Study Hall, in the East Wing of Saugus High School. We were attending afternoon sessions, as eighth graders, as our Junior High School had been torched by a disturbed individual, several weeks before. Thus, the high school was the site of double sessions, with the upper level students taking classes in the morning, so as to be able to go their jobs, in the afternoon.

A classmate, who was sitting behind me, asked “Why did you kill the President?” I turned around and looked at him curiously, then noted he was listening to his transistor radio (the predecessor to a cell phone, for the disaffected of our adolescence), through ear buds. All the same, I went back to my reading material.

Several minutes later, the School Counselor came on the Intercom and informed us that President Kennedy had been shot and that classes were being dismissed for the day. I walked home, somberly, and found my sobbing mother, saying he had died in hospital.

The East Wing was itself torched, by the same individual, who was eventually caught by a vigilant school custodian, at our third venue of that year. 1963-64 was, for me, the 2020 of virulent mayhem. There was no microbial pandemic, but I began to wonder who, and what, were next. Five years later, we had our answer.

I will always be fond, though, of the East Wing. All the schools we used that year are now gone, replaced by consolidated school buildings, which the present administration of Saugus Public Schools regards as more efficient. For the sake of the children and youth who depend on that school system, I trust it works out well.