What Makes Me Proud

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February 8, 2022-

What makes me proud of the man I helped raise? His work ethic, independent frame of mind, commitment to the well-being of humanity, love for his wife and maintaining self-care. What makes me proud of the young people I help educate? Their day-to-day enthusiasm, even when it is a bit loud; concern for one another and for the adults who show them respect; open-mindedness, even towards those whose beliefs seem antiquated; dogged pursuit of truth; gradual and steady outreach to those who are marginalized. What makes me proud of my community? The commitment to virtuous behaviour, even when it flies in the face of demands made by those towards whom some feel obligated to show fealty; the standing up for what one believes, whilst for the most part letting opposite points of view be openly expressed; the commitment to open space and increasing willingness to conserve resources. What makes me proud to bear witness to my Faith? It is based on the oneness of humanity; owning up to, and working to shed, prejudices and other flaws; independent investigation of truth, not dependent on group pressure or self-aggrandizement; the equality of women to men.

I am proud to be part of a world where the best among us work to empower one another, to show respect, even to those who disrespect us.

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.

Unstuck

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August 31, 2021- I was given to a bit of a rant, yesterday, none of which I regret. I still stand for the betterment of the lives of people, through networking, consistent effort, perseverance. I will never subscribe to the quick fixes of begging, unilateral solving of other peoples’ problems, exclusion of certain groups for the benefit of the relative few.

A student asked today, whether it was to be the norm for people to be expected to hate being White. It should never be, that anyone be made to hate who he or she is. I stand, foursquare, for inclusion-of everyone, regardless of their falling into any category. It is violence, deluded thinking, taking advantage of others and actively working to deprive others of their God-given rights, which I oppose. The student in question should certainly, always, love who he is.

Many around the world are, simply put, “stuck in second gear”, to quote the theme song of the old TV show, “Friends”. I have gone through periods of such a state of mind and body. The Baha’i Faith helped me get unstuck, but I had to make the consistent, persevering effort to overcome that state of mind completely. Only then could the balance between conservative and progressive, rational and emotional, decisive and contemplative be established.

Being unstuck brings greater responsibility, as well as greater reward, and I look forward to being, more and more, part of the solution, not part of the problem.

Stability

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May 29, 2021- There have been many times in my life, when I felt the ground was caving in beneath my feet. Somehow, I have always managed to recover. Sometimes, it has been because of help from family or friends. Other times, it has been because of my own stubbornness and refusal to accept the status quo, or settle for just any set of circumstances.

Now is a time when I have achieved stability, with no clouds on the horizon. The caveats are that I must be willing to share, to a reasonable and markedly-limited degree, and to do so in a way that will not make me a ward of someone else.

I credit both my upbringing and the Baha’i Faith for this basic sense of stability, having absorbed some lessons right away, and others over a period of time. My yardstick for the strength of stability is mainly the avoidance of capricious and ill-considered decisions. I am much better, in that regard, than even seven years ago. It took bouncing back from losing Penny and recognizing that I have far more worth than any naysayers have led me to believe, at certain periods of this life.

This same message is what I impart to anyone who approaches with a tale of woe. In the long run, stability only comes from doing what one’s inner essence advises- and never kowtowing to someone else’s dictates, no matter how loud and forceful their voice.

Priorities, and Mayhem

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October 14, 2020-

Some have watched the hearings on Judge Barrett’s nomination to the Supreme Court. Others actually bothered to read the New York Post’s alarm-bell piece about Hunter Biden (who would NOT likely have any role in his father’s still-possible presidential administration). Then, there is the back and forth, in our Arizona state government, about when would be a good date to end voter registration for the upcoming election.

None of these three processes are near the top of my attention focus, right now. I would have a huge problem with the Roberts Court curtailing any of the civil rights given us, by its predecessor courts, to wit: The tenures of Chief Justices Warren, Burger and Rehnquist, as well as, to a limited degree, Mr. Roberts himself. Amy Barrett reminds me of former Justice Anthony Kennedy-with a lot of Justice Scalia thrown in-so we all need to be vigilant, about both the appeal of judicial backsliding on human rights (The Koch Manifesto is likely on her shelf) and taking her at her word about keeping the Law above her personal predilictions. My fervent hope is that she keeps, front and center, what kind of world she wants for all five of the children she and her husband are raising. They may not fare all that well, in a world dominated by the mayhem of One-Percenters Gone Wild.

The less said about Hunter Biden, the better. At the very least, it is a case of Pots calling Kettles black, writ large. I wish everyone well, so long as they are playing by the rules of the game, but being the flip side of the same coin does not afford the Trumps the right to throw shade on their opposite numbers.

States where elected officials see the handwriting on the wall have made various efforts at voter suppression. There has been scuttlebutt about ballot harvesting, and thus far, little fire has been detected under that smoke. Setting a registration deadline of 2 1/2 weeks before an election, as our Secretary of State has done, seems reasonable. A month ahead, as is supposedly “written into the Arizona Revised Statutes”, would seem to be unnecessarily restrictive, in a state that is experiencing legal population growth on a daily basis. Besides, even the conservative State Court of Appeals sees no problem with the 2 1/2 weeks-out deadline (which is tomorrow). My prediction: People will brave long lines and vote in droves.

In my little world, the focus is on a Zoom’ed spiritual gathering, this evening; a memorial service, tomorrow morning; a trip, tomorrow afternoon, up to Valle, AZ for a hike, Friday morning and four different Zoom calls, over the next two days. The weekend will be what it is and next week, I will be at a work site every day. The Farmer’s Market will be open, we Baha’is will celebrate the Birthdays of our Faith’s Founder and His Herald and we will be one week closer to decision day.

Let’s keep mayhem to a dull roar.

The Hotel Project, Day 6

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September 30, 2020, Dallas-

Today would have been Penny’s sixty-sixth birthday. There was no extended warranty to her lease on life, so it’s been ten years since she was here to celebrate.

I have done something of service, either directly to the Baha’i Faith or to the community- at- large, each year since her passing. This year, the ongoing relief project, for the victims of the three hurricanes that have hit southern Louisiana, has found me in Dallas- with the bonus of being able to spend time with my son and daughter-in-law, if only for a day-this coming Saturday.

While it is an honour to be asked to stay on, past October 7, I have promises to keep in the Prescott area and I think balance is very important. The Red Cross can have more of my time, after the close of 2020, but for now, I will finish out my substitute teaching and the community work that also makes a difference.

The Summer of the Rising Tides, Day 63: Mental Health

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August 2, 2020-

It turns out that the individual who torched the Arizona Democratic Headquarters, over a week ago, is mentally ill. Republicans, and others, who read only the part about his being a member of the Democratic Party are, predictably, chortling about how this just goes to show that it’s a big farce, orchestrated to bring down President Trump-because, hey, what else is there in the world?

The individual is mentally ill. I know, firsthand, how that feels. Everything is about “MEEE”. Imagined slights take on a reality that knows no bounds. Good people become viewed as monsters-for any number of reasons-most of which are contrived by a mind in pain. So, it came about, that an individual acted to destroy that which he deemed inperfect, and, thus, expendable.

There were all those times, in my distant past, and in more recent years, when autism led to the bouts of self-centeredness, mild delusion and not a little paranoia. It took a good deal of self-work to separate my mother’s high bar of expectations, itself grounded in love, from the blistering criticisms of some of my peers, who left no room for error-or in a few instances, even humanness. Through meditation, correcting my diet, my wife’s love, and adoption of a Faith that actually lived the love prescribed by Jesus the Christ, but ignored by so many of His followers, I achieved a sense of equilibrium.

There have been relapses, and setbacks, mostly in times of high stress. There are those who were present during those times-and who remember, all too well, how things went down. I am grateful that forgiveness, and securing my word that such behaviours will not be repeated, were their responses.

Conversely, I have striven, when confronted with other mentally-ill people, to do right by them. In one case, the person was able to get a leg up and straighten out his life. In two other cases, that was not the result, as of the last time I heard from either one. I felt the need to cut one loose, for personal safety reasons and the other, because of an increasing stridency and level of verbal harassment on his part.

It’s taken time to begin to overcome the tension I have felt, when seeing a small, older model of RV driving around or when starting up my phone, and getting more than one Instant Messenger “ping”. Realizing that these are left-over post-traumatic reactions has helped greatly.

I am ever grateful to all who have, either consciously or unconsciously, helped me put my own demons to bed. In all this time of relative aloneness, I have been able to soothe those ills, and make myself a far more useful person, amenable to this comforting society around me.

The Summer of the Rising Tides, Day 19: Juneteenth

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June 19, 2020-

I relaxed, this evening, with a group of African-American entertainers and public figures, presenting a Facebook Live performance called Black Wave 2020. There were a wide variety of musical styles and civil presentations by competing office seekers. There was no vitriol, no cussing, and no displays of rage.

There was a very up front, definite commitment to acting towards justice, towards the systemic changes that need to be brought to bear. There was also the understanding that there will be resistance to such changes, and a few racists did show up in the comments section, to spew their nonsense. All in all, though, we who were watching were genuinely interested and appreciative of the show.

Change has to be made, and it has to be deliberate and transparent. We cannot have the history of THIS day and age presented to the people of the Twenty-second Century, in a sanitized form. That will take fortitude, and commitment. There are those who don’t understand the Oneness of the Human Race. I heard from one such individual today-with regard to the rights of unborn children, in his view, not mattering to anyone other than religious zealots. There are others who, don’t understand that People of Colour don’t want to be regarded with special treatment-just regarded with dignity and respect.

Growing up in a lily-white town, albeit in suburban Boston, I had to learn the reality of People of Colour, piecemeal: The African-Americans in my childhood and adolescence were authority figures: The cafeteria monitors in our Junior High and the first police officer to give me a speeding ticket. I’d have been punished, very swiftly, once I got home, if I ever gave them any lip. That told me that real African-Americans were not any different, to my parents, than anyone else.

Indeed, watching Saturday morning cartoons, one day, when I was about eight, a character who was supposed to be Stepin Fetchit came out with “Everything I do is always wrong.” That cut through me like a switchblade. I asked my father why anyone would say such a thing. He told me that Black folks were conditioned to act that way, having been enslaved for over 200 years. He also told me to show all people kindness and treat them fairly. I often thought that if I ever met the actor who played Stepin Fetchit, that I would shake his hand and tell him he was a wonderful person.

There were, though, some tough conversations, awkwardness and hard lessons, that came my way, in young adulthood particularly, in learning the nuances and basic decencies of overcoming some very deep-seated social beliefs. I am glad for all of them.

The Baha’i Faith lends spiritual weight to the notion that all people are created equal-All ethnicities, male & female, all age groups, both neurotypical and disabled, all points of view-so long as they don’t preach exclusion of others. We view all life as sacred,from conception to death. Independent investigation of truth is the bottom line.

Juneteenth, with all this being considered, merits being made a National Holiday- a paid National Holiday. Let it continue to spark thoughts, words and action, to advance the cause of justice- and the increased equality of all people.

Nine Years On

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March 5, 2020-

As my dear love got ready to go on to her next spiritual journey, I was driving with our son to her hospice.  Random road construction set us back, about three minutes.  As we got to the door of the facility, a slight spiral of air brought leaves and dust upward, on an otherwise still morning. I knew she was not able to hang on, any longer.

It’s been nine years, since that hard March morning.  Each anniversary since, I’ve taken stock of where I am.  The bottom line is that I am able, in general, to do what she and my other spirit guides tell me is necessary.  I feel her presence, constantly.

There has been a fair amount of travel involved, to accomplish the goals that she and I had set for our later years.  There are both family (biological and extended) visits and journeys on behalf of our shared Baha’i Faith.  There are acts of service to the developmentally disabled, whose education was Penny’s life’s work.  There is embracing  a community, in its pursuit of sustainable culture.  There is facing down all the negative forces that threaten the lives, and livelihoods, of so many-from the capriciousness of politics and finance, to the mind games that play out in interpersonal relationships.

These things always concerned Penny and sometimes “drove her nuts”.  There was one thing that kept her steady, even in the darkest of days:  Her faith in God and a knowledge that Creation, in its many forms, was eternal.  No corrupt financier, feckless school administrator or greedy medical practitioner ever kept her from realizing her goals.

To this day, I hold all the lessons of her life, dear to my heart.

Growing My Vision, Part II

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October 24, 2019-

I’ve had a fair amount of time to reflect on how life has been, and where it’s going.  An online purveyor of life coaching is claiming I will “stagnate”, if I don’t pay for his coaching method, as opposed to The Law of Attraction and its 11 corollary laws, which he says “fail”.

Well, so far, since I studied and implemented these twelve laws, my life has, for the most part, worked out in a satisfying way.  He sees me as stagnating, because my nest egg is modest, I don’t have one special significant other, and my travel plans don’t involve expensive resorts.  Sound familiar?

I live in a small apartment-true, but it’s comfortable.  I live in a town where I am, for the most part, loved and respected.  I would only move, if it seemed like my family needed me to be closer.  So far, I have seen no indication of that.  I do plan on a more fluid schedule,  even more of being on the move, after next year-but that’s also contingent on whether I am needed by anyone.  Family will always trump journeys of discovery.

There is also the slim possibility of serving at the Baha’i World Centre, in Israel, for 12-18 months, in a couple of years.  It would be strictly dependent on that institution’s needs.

My vision, regardless, will continue to grow.  There are always new things to learn about the nature of the soul, about quantum physics and the vastness of the Universe, both macro and micro.  There are always new friends to make and new things to learn about those in my life at present.

The old dog is up for learning new tricks.  Just don’t ask me to jump out of a plane, unless the thing is going down.