A Brief Look Backward

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December 31, 2021- Betty White chose an awkward time to leave, but it was her time. It was almost a fitting end to a year that took us up, down and sideways-and turned us every which way but loose. I don’t want to say that last one too loudly. We could use a few more years of Clint Eastwood being among us.

As it was, there were a number of people dear to my heart, some of renown and some not, who left this earthly plane in this year now itself winding down. My extended family whittled down, just a tad: My aunts-by-marriage-Sabina Kusch and Dorothy Madigan; Aunt Dorothy’s stepson, John-one of the cousins closest to me, over the years; Charlie Kusch, Jr., another cousin who made his friends and family laugh, much as his father did before him. Diane “Dee Dee” Bean- was the first girl I ever dated-not that it ever worked out. Richard “Dick” Dow, was a next door neighbour, from childhood, who kept his family home and his father’s business running, until he could scarcely move, himself. Two educators from my scholastic past, Anthony Struzziero and Eugene Hughes, both of whom I knew as fair-minded administrators. The bulk of the losses were fellows in Faith, Baha’i teachers, one and all: Val Latham, Jr., Gisela McCormick, John Eichenauer III, John Kolstoe, Joel Oron’a, Ethelene Crawford, Wilfred Smallwood, Donald Streets and Dwight Allen. I lost a car, and gained an SUV.

It was not a year defined by loss alone. A grand nephew, named Liam, came into our lives, early on. Strong new friendships emerged. I was able to return to California and Nevada, after a year’s hiatus. I made two long trips across country, both largely around the sale of our family home, and mother’s voluntary relocation. A week spent in Texas was a perfect springboard for my seventy-second year. I was able to pay respects to those fallen in the name of freedom, though not to the extent I might have. Still, time spent in north Tulsa and in Minneapolis was a step forward, for this one who preferred solitude, for so many years.

Our community has held its own against one or another viruses. As if to seem a strange return of normalcy-the flu is back. The nation resisted the temptation to default on democracy. Both major parties are learning that complacency is dying out among the masses-and a moribund attitude will not fly. We Baha’is paid homage to ‘Abdu’l-Baha, marking one hundred years since His passing-and renewing our commitments to live as He did. That renewed spark of Faith is finding its way to friends of other religious traditions as well-as witness the Baptism, on Christmas Eve, of a man who had found his fortunes sinking.

We did not master disaster, and there were far too many lives lost-in California, the Pacific Northwest, western Canada, Montana, Louisiana, Kentucky and Illinois. The latest conflagration, in Colorado, took no lives, but left another pair of communities with scenes out of a war movie. Two dozen other countries, from Mexico and Peru to Kenya and Indonesia, saw tragic losses in both infrastructure collapse and from the forces of nature. Then, there was/is Ethiopia, a country I only recently was hoping to visit in a year or two. Now, it is riven in pain, and we can only pray for sane attitudes to rise to the fore.

2021 will be history, in short order. How different the year that is thirteen minutes away will be, depends largely on how many of us have absorbed this year’s lessons-and to what degree.

“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?

Musings On A Day of Rest

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November 18, 2021- As I was leaving the clinic yesterday, the nurse responsible for wrapping the stitched area with gauze and bandages had done a seamless, excellent job. She gave me instructions for carefully showering, not exercising or doing anything strenuous and leaving the covering on for at least 48 hours.

As I had more or less cleared my calendar of work, for today and tomorrow, this set of instructions seemed fortuitous. Although I tend to march to my own drummer, when it comes to following a regimen prescribed by a health professional, there is no question of adherence. It’s just nicer to be around, and fully functioning, for a while longer.

So, I sat inside most of the day, moving around enough so that I stayed relevant. There was the simple task of putting the trash barrels back. There was light food preparation. There was making sure the temperature on my water heater was raised (so that showers are no longer tepid). Most every other activity was mental: Planning Thanksgiving and the days around it, with my little family; sending out notifications for activities this weekend; watching a commemorative video about ‘Abdu’l-Baha, as the Centenary of His passing approaches (November 27).

Life is ever a trade-off. Tomorrow, at 4 p.m., the bandages will be carefully removed, and I will look to be the walking wounded for a week or two. That’s okay. The seasoned doctors and the nurses who tend, very carefully, to the varied needs of their patients deserve nothing but respect and appreciation, the kind that comes from following instructions; the kind that comes from not second-guessing and casting aspersions on their motivation. It’s all just another variation on the conviction that every person, from a student to a retired volunteer, who lives and works honestly, will have my support and encouragement.

Tomorrow will see a bit more activity, but this day was a good one-and productively healing.

The Struggle Was/Is No Hoax

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October 14, 2021, Albuquerque- The themes expressed in the New Mexico History Museum are common, in their presentation of the call for rectification of all that has been done wrong, between one group of people towards another, over the centuries. Simply put, there is no person, group of people, ethnicity or nation that has a corner on purity, kindness, love for the Earth, etc. Any time people feel backed into a corner, they lash out.

This is true, no matter how privileged and well-off people are, in actuality. “The reality of man is his thought”, said ‘Abdu’l-Baha, on His visit to Paris, in 1911. If a person feels that he is a victim, then no amount of explaining from someone else, even grounded in real time, will change the afflicted one’s perspective. it has to come from within. Before Europeans came to the Americas, there were times when the various Indigenous nations would quarrel and wage war. Usually, this was sparked by natural disaster, combined with population growth, resulting in scarcity. The influx of large numbers of people who came from other parts of the world, and who had different values and practices, did not exactly ease the situation.

The solution, though, is never to deny another person’s reality, as some intellectuals are trying to do with regard to social justice movements. The conservative who refers to the claims of a progressive as “that hoax”, and vice versa, brings no peace. Everyone has a piece of the truth, and deserves to at least be heard, so that the feeling of being backed into a corner does not arise. I came to this realization, again, after visiting the section of the New Mexico History Museum that deals with the Pueblo Revolt of 1680. The rebellion succeeded, initially, because there was unity of purpose across the various Indigenous nations. It failed, in the end, both because that unity did not hold and because the victors did not see fit to treat Spanish civilians, especially women and children, in a humane manner. It was the generating of extreme negativity that sucked the energy out of the otherwise worthy campaign for relief and equanimity for maltreated Indigenous people.

The songwriter Pete Townshend warned, after experiencing callous behaviour from some attendees at the Woodstock Music Festival, in 1969, that “parting on the Left” could change to “parting on the Right”, in his song “We Won’t Get Fooled Again”. It happens when, as the initially victorious have so often found, their views on holding power turn out to be unimaginative, merely copying the practices of their former oppressors-and thus either paving the way for the return of those oppressors, as happened in the late Seventeenth Century, or worse, hard-wiring the succeeding generations in patterns of socially maladaptive behaviour.

I have paid close attention, especially lately, to the interactions of people, across ages and ethnicities, in the latest stages of COVID19. I have heard of incidents of line jumping and people flailing at each other, over masks vs. no masks. I saw nothing of the sort, anywhere in mask-mandated New Mexico, these past four days. People appear to be making an effort to get along, on a very basic level. even when, as one conservative friend said, they regard the mask mandate as inane.

Everyone’s struggle is real, and though that struggle does not become everyone else’s God-given burden, we can at least wish the bedraggled soul the best, and not actively make the onus heavier, by denying that it exists.

I left Santa Fe, around noon, after the museum visit, making brief stops in the artistic havens of Galisteo and Madrid, before settling in at the avant-garde, minimalist Monterey Motel, near Old Town, in this sprawling, but still rather charming metropolis on the Rio Grande.

Here are a few scenes of the day.

Learning, with some satisfaction, that the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum has sufficient rock star status as to require a fair amount of advance planning, before a visit, I made a note to wait until next time.

After leaving Santa Fe, a drive to quiet, artistic Galisteo introduced this adobe church: Our Lady of the Cures.

En route from Galisteo to the artist community of Madrid, I drove past some badlands.

Once in Madrid, I found this little gem, in the Gypsy Plaza. Mr. Shugarman carefully packaged two of his signature chocolate bark squares, for my gradual enjoyment. He also ships his wares, so some beloved friends may expect an occasional surprise, direct from Madrid.

Madrid, on the east side of Sandia Crest, is another reason for me to return to northern New Mexico, soon. After tending to a critical business matter in uptown Albuquerque, I settled into Monterey Motel, about two blocks west of Old Town. The avant-garde ambiance was welcome this evening.

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.

The Past Prologue and The Fulfillment Ahead

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January 1, 2021

The year just passed has given us a few gifts, as well as having taken some treasures from us. Chief among the gifts is the ability to conduct mass meetings online. This will ease active participation in Baha’i activities, regardless of where I happen to be.

It is a poorly-kept secret that, if it be the will of God (and the creek stays within its banks), I will be back on the road, and in the air, for a fair portion of the next four years. Prescott will remain Home Base, at least for this year. There is much for me to do here, and in the Southwest at large, between now and the middle of May. The stage was set, as it were, by callings I received and followed in the 2010s.

So 2021, any larger issues notwithstanding, is looking like this:

January– The agenda set by response to the pandemic will probably find me continuing to help out in the schools on a fair number of days. Involvement with a regional sustainability group will also be a priority. Then, there is a little group that meets each Wednesday at 1 p.m. (MST), and which has my heart’s attention. I will be on the trail, looking at a couple of extensions of Black Canyon Trail, northward from the original trailhead, outside Mayer; finishing Limekiln Trail, with the Sedona segments; and spending time in Scottsdale’s McDowell Mountain Desert Preserve. There is also the homefront downsizing: Paper-shredding and discarding of unnecessary belongings will begin this month and extend into next.

February- It’s likely that COVID-19 will factor into this month as well, in terms of being asked to help out in the schools. I already have agreed to a four-day stint, in mid-month. Hiking will take me to the Hualapai Mountains, of northwest Arizona and to Picketpost Mountain, outside Superior. Ayyam-i-Ha, the Baha’i Intercalary Days, will find me preparing hand-made gifts, for the first time since I made a bird house in Grade 8. These won’t be that elaborate, but will be done carefully, and from the heart.

March- It will have been ten years, since Penny passed on, March 5. I will invite other friends to join me at graveside, on that day. This is also the month of the Baha’i Nineteen Day Fast, and although I am no longer required ot abstain from food and drink during daylight hours, having reached the age of 70, my thoughts and actions will be in support of those who are abstaining. I will also make a road trip to Texas, in the middle of the month. Hiking will include a first visit to Phoenix’s South Mountain Park.

April- The Festival of Ridvan marks the twelve days of Baha’u’llah’s preparation for His second exile-from Baghdad to Istanbul (then called Constantinople) and His Declaration of Mission, during that twelve-day period. It also ends a Five-Year Plan we have been following, and begins a twelve-month celebration of the life of ‘Abdu’l-Baha, as November will mark the Centenary of His Ascension. Much of my activity, this month, will revolve around these events. Hiking will take in the Hermit’s Rest area of the Grand Canyon’s South Rim and parts of Sycamore Canyon, which runs south of Flagstaff and east of Sedona.

May- Preparations for the summer and autumn will occupy much of this month. Hopefully, New Mexico will re-open itself to us Arizonans, and I will spend a few days at Chaco Culture Historical Park. If California is open, and safe, by then, a visit to the coast will be in order,

June- If Bellemont Baha’i School is open for in-person groups, I will devote this month to that endeavour. If not, then I will make an early drive northwest-to my soul families in Nevada and Oregon, as well as to Vancouver Island, Haida Gwai’i (The one place Penny wanted to visit together, that has not happened yet) and British Columbia’s Sunshine Coast-north of the City of Vancouver.

July- The Plan B for June will fall into this month, if Bellemont is open. Otherwise, I will head east through Canada, and visit as many family members and friends, en route to and around Boston, as have time.

August– Atlantic Canada will take up part of this month, then it’s back southward and westward, again visiting family and friends along the way.

September and October– Take care of some necessary business in Arizona, spend quality time with Texas family and then off to Europe, with Iceland a first stop. This journey will also be oriented towards the ancestral home of my mother’s family, in what is now western Poland, with other stops in Germany, Czech Republic, Croatia, Romania, northern Italy and France. A few stops in the British Isles are also possible.

November- This month will be devoted to specific community and regional celebrations, in Arizona, of Abdu’l-Baha’s life.

December- This will be whatever my family wants it to be.

These plans are what my meditations have told me, as of today. Recalling that last January, I was fully intending to do a cross-Canada journey in the summer, I will simply accomplish as much as reality on the ground allows.

May all have a Happier 2021!

Deep Dish

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December 19, 2020, Phoenix-

Last night, whilst visiting with some new friends, at Sedona’s Synergy Cafe, I got a call for which I’d been waiting. Aram was en route here, to retrieve a few personal possessions that had been stored by one of his closest friends. So, I made plans to zip down to this desert metropolis, masked and covered, to join him and another friend, for Deep-Dish Pizza, at a place called Lou Malnati’s.

We had a bit of a wait for the pizza itself, and so our conversation took off, on several topics, the common thread of which was the need for universal compulsory education. Given the current state of affairs, in which ignorance is prized, in some circles, on an equal level with empirical knowledge, the need for carefully guided enquiry is that much more evident.

‘Abdu’l-Baha advocated a system whereby a child would pose a question and another child would give the answer, thus establishing a discourse-related system of learning. It would thus become far more natural for independent investigation of truth to take root. I regret having largely adhered to a “top-down” imparting of knowledge, for much of my own teaching career. That system would do well to be consigned to the scrapheap of outmoded practices. The teacher-as -guide concept has found welcome acceptance, in many quarters of modern society.

Deep engagement of learning is fostered much more strongly, when learners take prime responsibility for its acquisition.

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.

Fortnight of Transition, Day 7: Evolution

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September 15, 2020-

Today marks the midpoint of September and the midpoint of this fortnight. My mood has been, variously, one of gratitude, at having been given another day’s work, which was not strenuous-just being present for three classes of college-level students and a forty-minute lunch monitoring; then, a bit of befuddlement, at reading an e-mail from someone who is of the opinion that the Baha’i Faith does not allow for human evolution.

In fact, human evolution is one of the cornerstones of our Faith. Without knowing what the individual’s definition of evolution is, I can’t rightly respond, but ‘Abdu’l-Baha points out: “Man is endowed with an outer or physical reality. It belongs to the material realm, the animal kingdom, because it has sprung from the material world. This animalistic reality of man he shares in common with the animals. The human body is like animals subject to nature’s laws. But man is endowed with a second reality, the rational or intellectual reality; and the intellectual reality of man predominates over nature. . . . Yet there is a third reality in man, the spiritual reality.” (`Abdu’l-Bahá, Foundations of World Unity, 51)

So, feeling better after a pleasant dinner and a bit of exercise, I leave the questioning soul to self and ask God to be their guide. I do feel that our third, spiritual, reality is coming that much more to the fore. Some call it the Fifth Dimension and I can sense a much stronger connection with people, in a purely “thought-wave” manner, these days.

May the second half of September, and this fortnight of transition, bring more of a modicum of peace to more people.

Little Stuff

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May 16, 2020-

As I have thrown some very lengthy “shares” on my other social medium, I will keep this brief and just mention a few things that come to mind, as the night progresses.

I haven’t seen the Moon, in its waning phase, this month.  Turns out, it rises at 2 a.m. and sets when it’s mid-afternoon.  I do, however, go outside and meditate under the stars, before calling it a night.

My computer desk is something of an altar.  Penny appears in three photos. My singing bowl is right in front of me.  A family heirloom Buddha, which my father-in-law brought back from Paris, in 1945, sits atop the mantle, next to a hand-carved wooden soldier, modeled after the ones in Nutcracker Suite.   A photo of ‘Abdu’l-Baha and one of our son bookend the mantle.

I planted my four vegetables, this afternoon, adding  granulated organic food scraps to the soil and spraying animal repellent around the area.  Javelina tend to come in the yard, during the night, so I want to get them accustomed to not liking the scent of the yard.

Now, it’s time to change course and say goodnight to the laptop.  Books have their turn, in my wind-down.