Restitutions and Return Visits

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March 6, 2022- I was quite gratified this morning, to be given a complementary breakfast, in view of the two such meals which I had to speak out in order to receive, after paying in advance. Good will means a lot at the Legion, so when the servers mess up, the host steps up. After I was finished eating, one of our regular table mates who usually helps serve the other diners had just been given his own breakfast. So, I took a turn at service for a bit-and saw where some of the confusion may have arisen over the past few weeks. There is a tendency to write first names and family initials. There are four “Garys”, myself included and two of us have the last initial “B”. There are six “Steves”, five “Bobs” and three “Terris”. I called out the people’s names and got it done. The problem, thus, seems to be shy servers.

After my weekly Zoom devotional, the day looked open-ended, and the Agua Fria River was calling, so I made a return hike along the Badger Springs Trail, this time focusing on the section that passes by two frames of petroglyphs. The glyphs are visible to the naked eye, but don’t photograph well in a casual manner. Could it be that the spirits are protecting them from casual photographers? We’ll have to see, on future visits.

The river itself is not so coy. It does seem to be down a bit, but since it is largely dependent on snow melt, the level may yet rise, over the next month or so.

Return visits to local natural scenes are increasingly important, if for no other reason than rootedness. They also figure in acts of completion. A few days ago, I finished hiking the Lime Kiln Trail, which runs between Cottonwood and Sedona. The final segment is but 1 1/2 miles, from one segment of the Red Rock State Park access road, over Scheuerman (SHOY-er man) Mountain Ridge, across a forested valley and on to the entrance to the state park. It was a fitting end to a segmented hike that had been in abeyance for over a year.

So the cementing of returns dovetails with the strengthening that comes from new discoveries.

Finally, because we need it in the face of both real and imagined tyranny: A return to the most stirring song from Les Miserables (2012). Let us neither be deluded or complacent, in the weeks, months and possibly years ahead. Every nation, every people, deserve to be free of rule from without.

Smoothing Rough Edges

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February 13, 2022- The kitchen forgot my order, and was busily going about serving the rest of the patrons, when I went to the window and lodged my complaint. I don’t often do that, but there are limits. Having overdone it, timewise, last night, and facing a 10 a.m. Faith meeting, I had no other recourse, as we pay in advance at the Legion, and walking out was not seemly. My plate was brought, five minutes later, by a rather miffed server, but no matter. I thanked the server, and was told by the manager that my next breakfast would be on the house. Again, ordinarily, I would hold my tongue and wait, but not keeping other people waiting, on the other end, is still important.

As it happened, I had to wait a few extra minutes to be admitted to the meeting, for whatever reason (I doubt being two minutes late had much to do with it.) The meeting was detailed and productive, and I felt my grumpiness fading, early into the discussion. It was a good reminder that one always needs to smooth out the rough edges-even if dealing with a surly individual. The buck has to stop somewhere.

The rest of the day offered an opportunity to relax a bit, then spend an hour or so over coffee with my Hiking Buddy and her house guest from Massachusetts. They arrived a bit late, but I had recharged my well of patience and had an enjoyable visit, in a welcoming coffee house setting.

The next time I go to the jam session, I will stay overnight and tend to my meetings from my lodging. Rough edges don’t need sharpening.

Fragile Trust

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December 26, 2021, Holbrook- The words came, swiftly, and with the harshness of those who have seemingly felt misunderstood and unappreciated, for a good many years. In each case, they were heard by people of good heart, and we at least know how to respond in a fairly positive manner.

The days after Christmas are frequently a time for harshness between intimates, or even between long-time friends. It is best to not put too much stock in them, if it is just a natural reaction to having felt forced to be on one’s best behaviour for the previous few days. Such lashing out is also a result of having been under the stress of staging holiday gatherings, trying to please everyone and perhaps not getting enough rest. Then, there is the Omicron factor and all the back and forth between those who favour public restrictions and those who want to tough it out on their own-or for it just to go away (which will happen, but in Mother Nature’s time.)

It’s generally been a good day, though, with another well-prepared and well-attended breakfast at the Prescott American Legion Post, a pleasant and re-assuring phone chat with Mom and my brother, Dave, seeing pictures of the remodeled house of my youth and enjoying a smooth drive from Prescott to this high desert town, in northeastern Arizona. 66 Motel is a clean and comfortable place for the night and Mesa Italian Restaurant compares well with ristorantes in Phoenix and Prescott.

Tomorrow, I will make a brief visit to Petrified Forest National Park, then head east to Albuquerque-and Old Town, before spending a couple of days in Santa Fe and vicinity. A ticket to the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum is the impetus for this trip. There are, of course, other places that will emerge on the itinerary- weather-permitting.

To those who are keeping track, today is the first day of Kwanzaa, and celebrates umoja, or unity. It is also Boxing Day, a British holiday that traditionally entailed giving Christmas boxes to servants, postmen and errand runners.

The Realization Road

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December 3, 2021- The three ten-year old girls giggled and smiled at me, whispering, while going about their work, in the minutes before it was time for the class to be dismissed for lunch. This has been part and parcel of many preteens’ growing into a world where they must size up even those furthest from them in age, getting a sense of whether theirs is a safe environment or their guard needs to be raised up. I have seen it for nearly five decades now.

It was more uncertain, when I was younger-and in the years before I was married. Throughout, however, my main concern with all students has been to keep them focused on acquiring thinking skills and making sense of what they might want to do as adults. The process starts, really, when a person masters mobility, then speech. However nebulous it seems to both the little one and to those around her/him-basic interests and skills can be ascertained from the child’s play habits and choice of activities. My son was interested in motorized earth movers, even before his dinosaur phase. His 4-year-old second cousin alternates between building things and driving his Tonka truck around. Another second cousin is strictly into his drivable toy truck. The girl second cousins have a wide range of interests, from chess and the ecology of construction work (an eight-year-old) to ecofriendly farming practices (a ten-year-old).

The students with whom I worked today are well-spoken, very much into independent learning and still keep the spunkiness of preteens. They are at once capable of handling a lot more responsibility than many of us Boomers were given at their age and remain very much in need of respectfully offered adult supervision. There will always be a need for this last, no matter how empowered and enlightened a person is in middle childhood, or adolescence, for that matter.

On this fifth day of “Seventy-One and Counting”, I felt equally valued by both the kids and by the mostly contemporary adults with whom I enjoyed a pre-Christmas Dinner, at the American Legion Post. It was our first such dinner in two years, and all the stops were pulled out. The Prime Rib and fixings were well-prepared by a seasoned chef and her 22-year-old sous chef. The pianist played tunes designed for relaxation and the sometimes raucous conversation just added to the enjoyment of the evening.

I can envision a similar gathering, maybe sixty years hence, of those who sat in the classroom today, maybe not under the same auspices, but in celebration of their camaraderie and a shared joie de vivre.

May they long walk the Realization Road.

Bookends

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November 13, 2021- The day began and ended with friends named Lisa. One can never tell where even the most seemingly quotidian act can lead. After breakfast, I got a message from the first Lisa, asking me to get her some crayons, for an event in which she was a participant. Crayons being one of the items not yet hit by the current bout of inflation, this was easy enough. When I delivered them to Lisa, at the event site, she asked my help in one other errand, which was easy enough-though involving a bit of time.

Once that was done, and Lisa in good shape, it was time for my main meeting of the day-a 1 3/4 hour American Legion Post meeting, for which I stood the duration. Yes, this was a rare Post meeting which was standing room only. I began to understand how Congressional staffers might feel, as the meeting entailed a reading of a lengthy document. Verbose attendees added to the length of the session, but that comes with the territory.

Later came a run out to Rafter Eleven, and an interesting discussion of olive oil blends, with a foodie named Linda. When it was time for my own dinner, I headed back to Prescott and The Raven. The ordering line almost always results in light conversation with those around me, and this evening was no exception. A large family had gathered, with matriarch, her sons and their wives, along with several grandchildren. Another party of four was behind me, and while deciding my order, I bade them go ahead. Noting an empty table next to theirs, they set it aside for my use. The large family, including their little pug in a stroller, was directly behind my table.

Thus, I made the acquaintance of the second Lisa. She had lived for many years in Prescott, but now lived in southern California. By turns, she was chatty and withdrawn, as we all listened to a duo playing music of the 1920s and’30s. This brought to mind the dictum: Never make assumptions about a person, based on their demeanour. After forty minutes or so, Lisa turned to me and told of her husband’s recent death and that today, the family had laid him to rest. Condolences and a gentle hug ensued, I was introduced to her family and bade them a safe trip back to their homes in California.

Even the most seemingly quotidian of activities can lead to unexpected places. Sometimes, a day brings bookends.

It So Happens

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October 31, 2021-

Tonight was one of the mildest, and nicest Hallowe’en nights in quite some time. I set out a table with candy in a bowl, and a lit Jack-o’-lantern, in front of Home Base, and ten people took from the bowl. I was also helping out at the American Legion post’s treat distribution, which saw about 60 people and 3 service dogs come through. This is the kind of community we have, where a neighbour watching through a window can monitor treats set outside, while the host is able to offer greater services, in a different location.

There is also the matter of sixty people, lined up on either side of the entrance to our major hospital, engaging in protests against any vaccine mandate. They drew the Far Right “Let’s go, Brandon” crowd, which is distracting from the basic message of letting people decide for themselves, as to their health regimen. I have mixed feelings about the vaccine mandate. I was allowed to decide for myself, and made the informed decision to take Moderna’s vaccine, because I was working around children, in fairly close quarters. I do believe others should have the same latitude, while acknowledging that not everyone takes the time to learn for themselves about this very complex matter. The conservatives are not the only antagonists here. Shaming people, rather than educating them, may be an understandable reaction of frustrated officials-but it is not working and not helping. The only effective tool, at the disposal of those trying to bring the pandemic to heel, is education. That takes time, especially when so much misinformation and distraction is being thrown out by those whose sole intent is to divide and rule.

Then, there is the poison bait of “Let’s blame parents”, also originally tossed out to the frustrated officials, by those same controlling forces-who then turn around and present themselves as advocates for the parents. Parents are partners, not adversaries, of educators. They are not terrorists, even when they lose their tempers. Parenting is the greatest influence on a child’s life. Education is the second greatest.

There is the red herring of “Critical Race Theory”, which is not even a real thing, anymore. I was present when it was being bandied about, in the universities of the 1970s. I have heard threads of it being discussed, in incoherent and disconnected ways, as part of the general effort to tell history in all its messy completeness. That overall mission is laudable-and long overdue. “Old times there are not forgotten”, nor should they be-but they need to be understood in their true light: An economically expedient and morally putrid system, that bankrupted the souls of the ruling class in the South, their economic partners in the North, and all their immediate underlings, as well as terrorizing and debilitating the enslaved. Listen, however, to the demagogues, and you would think that CRT is ubiquitous in middle schools and high schools. I work in some of those schools, talk to others who work in others of those schools and IT IS NOT.

It so happens that, when people at the ground level talk with one another and listen with both ears, they figure out that the demagogues are duping them. They figure out that Demagogue A is more interested in getting rid of Demagogue B, and vice versa, than in really solving problems-which in many cases is akin to making sausage. Thus, the obfuscation, the name-calling, the blamecasting that has come to characterize politics, worldwide. Thus, does it fall to us to start making informed decisions, for (and with) our children, for our communities, for our country and for our planet. We, on the ground, whether “liberal”, “conservative” or “progressive” have more in common than we have different. We need to remind those engaged in the art of distract and rule of that basic fact.

I am no fan of J.P. Morgan, but his tactic of locking discordant people in a room, until they found a common purpose, merits investigation. I’d like to see that done with the demagogues.

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.

Reflections on A Day Taken Off

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June 6, 2021- Thirty-nine years ago, today, Penny and I formalized our commitment to one another-and the marriage would last, through thick and thin, for twenty-nine years. I was hoping for at least forty, but we take what we are given. Some people are married for fifty years plus, and are inwardly miserable. We were not either. Speaking of which, as an aside, an indie artist, at a gathering on Saturday night, played a clip of his, on which a local philosopher opined: “”One who claims to be miserable, and at the same time insists he is right, is stating the impossible. It can never happen.”

Processing the loss of one of my closest cousins, I received word that a fellow member of the American Legion Post to which I belong had suffered a heart attack and is in hospital, facing the now de rigeur bypass surgery. He is one of the regulars, at our Sunday morning breakfasts, holding court and waxing eloquent about everything under the sun, in the style of an English aristocrat. That he is of Sicilian descent matters not. T’s heart and soul are rooted in the Merry Old Isle.

My day was otherwise occupied with the mundane-getting laundry done, gluing the front right quarter panel of my Hyundai, with the same substance that’s kept the back left in place, for nearly three years and watching episodes of “The Underground Railroad” and “Peaky Blinders”. Five of us pondered another set of quotes from the Universal House of Justice’s (Baha’i Governing Body) compilation on Social Action. I got in another workout.

In all this, I am looking at what is going on in the wider world, and just shaking my head, keeping up with it all, yet feeling as if it’s all a dream. The most important things in my life are all revolving around family, friends and the children-always, the children.

One of the traits that my cousin, John, had was presence, centering on who was in front of him, for as long as the person needed. That has not been my strong suit, though I am getting better at it. I am still not great at the perfunctory- greetings or conversation for their own sakes, especially online or long-distance. Birthdays and anniversaries are different; they draw my attention, because they matter so much. The rest of it-well, maybe my agenda is too broad and the next thing is always on my horizon. Still, I am making progress at being present, with someone who is in front of me, at any given time.

Twenty-nine years did teach me something.

Dreams Not Deferred

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May 21, 2020-

After visiting the newly reopened American Legion Post 6 and stopping by Bill’s Pizza for a couple of slices, which I then enjoyed at a park bench, in Courthouse Square, I headed along North Cortez Street, and made note of more places re-opening, this coming weekend.

It was another of life’s sublime pleasures, to see a fairly good cross section of our area’s graduating high school seniors, lining up in their vehicles-sedans, trucks, SUVs and Jeeps, preparing for a motorcade through downtown, after which they would go to Pioneer Park, on the north side, for a group celebration. I stayed around and cheered all of the grads, as they drove by my perch on the outside of a long-defunct Chinese restaurant.

This group has been challenged to complete their course of study, in ways not seen since World War II. People of my parents’ generation may well identify, yet at least they got to finish school in their buildings. This spring semester, at all schools, has been an intense swirl of innovation-much of it accomplished on the spur of the moment. The best of it has relied on inquiry and discussion, followed by students coming up with solid new ways to accomplish things that had relied on formula, for far too long.

I had little to do with the achievements of this class of seniors, but I did cheer one young lady, a special needs person, who learned the value of setting personal boundaries and safeguarding herself, without, thankfully, having to undergo trauma. She can now take her place among those pursuing, and realizing, their dreams-hers being to work as a cosmetologist.

May each of these remarkable souls make their mark, not waylaid by any future misfortune-either greater or lesser than the one that interrupted, but did not dismantle, their last year of high school.

Light, Out of Calamity

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March 27, 2020-

In some of mankind’s darkest moments,  advances have come from the suffering, like small mammals coming forth after the Age of Dinosaurs.  These advances, in short order, became a part of the fabric of human culture.

After the Great Plague, of the Fourteenth Century, Europeans began to return to embracing science, rather than superstition, in treating illnesses.  The primacy of Cardinals and Bishops began to face widespread scrutiny, and the stirrings of Protestantism were felt.  The Catholic Church itself had to make changes, under Ignatius Loyola.  Advances in scientific discovery came, as a result of these trends.

After the American Civil War, the Red Cross was started, by Clara Barton, as a means of assisting soldiers, in time of calamity.  It quickly expanded to help society at large, in times of disaster.

After World War I, movements to assist disabled and unassisted veterans, in returning to civilian life began, with the American Legion and Disabled American Veterans. These organizations still make large scale efforts to assist those who suffer from dislocation, or from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.

After World War II, mass production of houses, the science of rocketry, television and large computers became part of the civilian world, having been first advanced within the military sphere.  From large, room-sized computers have come hundreds of technological products, many of them falling into the realm of nanotechnology.

Now, we will await the advances coming out of the struggle against Coronavirus Disease 2019.  Teleconferencing, already available for business, government and limited conversations between family members and other small groups, has exploded in use, as nearly every group, which conducted its business in person, has found ways to meet virtually. Even when the crisis has ended, I can see the sheer range of teleconferencing leading to its continued wide use among the public at large.  It will also greatly modify the educational process, even more than it has to date.

The retrofitting of factories that produce a wide variety of products, from airplanes to distilled spirits, are now also producing items that will help face the virus.  Ventilators, medical-grade masks and hand sanitizer will still need to be stockpiled, even after this virus has spent its rampage.  Preparedness will not soon, if ever, be relegated to the realm of memory.

There will be many tasks, which the technology and skill sets coming out of the current crisis will need to be called to perform. Not the least of these is completing the still gargantuan effort to provide all homes with clean, running water and reliable heat or cooling.  This work will occupy post-pandemic humanity for years, if not decades.

Out of  the darkness comes a greater light.  Baha’u’llah teaches:

“O SON OF MAN! My calamity is My providence, outwardly it is fire and vengeance, but inwardly it is light and mercy. Hasten thereunto that thou mayest become an eternal light and an immortal spirit. This is My command unto thee, do thou observe it.”