Who Adds Meaning?

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December 16,2021- Every so often, someone has tried to insert self-or someone else- into my life, with the expectation that I will meet the part of themselves that is somehow lacking. The part of myself that felt I owed a measure to those less fortunate has made an effort to fulfill that expectation.

Guess what? Three very different people have tried to take over my life, with various tactics-including playing the “Family Card”-even though that person and I have never met. That each time ended in a crash and burn did not surprise my heart of hearts. I am the sort who loves easily, but becomes intimate only with time.

Conversely, there are those whom I genuinely love, and from whom I want nothing, who just can’t bring themselves to accept a person like me, for whatever reason within themselves. Some are biological family and others in my adopted community, who are vociferous about loving mankind, yet have odd boundaries-which I must respect and from whom I keep a certain distance.

I have long felt that the “Flower Power” movement of the ’60s and ’70s, and all it subsequent offshoots, are a collective chimera. No one can wave a magic wand and love everyone unconditionally-without first loving self, unconditionally. No one can really reach fulfillment by pursuing a cause, unless the seeds of fulfillment within oneself are being assiduously watered and nourished.

Likewise, no one who looks to someone else to meet their needs, abandonment in childhood aside, can possibly expect to not accept the brunt of that fulfillment themselves. Baha’u’llah tells us not to support beggars, and to cast a discerning eye on grifters and liars.

It is my task, first and foremost, to add value (not necessarily monetary) to my life and to as many lives as I encounter. In these days of darkness before the Light of Solstice, Christmas and New Year’s Day; days of natural disasters, stubborn disease, feckless financial sectors and benighted politicians who work to deprive the citizenry of its due-for the sake of upholding enshrined privilege, I ask each reader-who adds value to your life? You should be at the top of that list. Those who suck the life out of you should be at the bottom-if they even remain in your life at all.

Please give this song by Rachael Schroeder a listen.

Valley of the Shadow

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December 11, 2021- The workers were making and packaging candles and their accessories, following protocol for producing one of the season’s most popular gift items. It was the nightshift. 196 miles to the northwest, workers at a night shift in an Amazon distribution center were preparing various parcels for transport on the logistical giant’s fleet of trucks and planes.

It is a given, in most lines of work, that the employee will likely make it home, at the end of a shift. The workers at these two facilities most likely bid their loved ones good night, perhaps tucking their children into bed and kissing their significant others, before heading out.

Perhaps unknown to both crews, two lines of deadly storms, one tracking north east and the other, due east, had the buildings in their sights. In the early morning hours, in the middle of the shifts, tornadoes pummeled the communities of Edwardsville, IL, Bowling Green and Mayfied, KY. At both facilities, it became graveyard shift for one too many.

As is now known, the roof and at least one long wall of the Amazon facility, in Edwardsville, were shorn by one of the deadliest tornadoes ever to strike Illinois. It had already wreaked havoc on communities in southern Missouri. In the more southerly band of storms, another horrific twister slammed into a nursing home, in Monett, AR and leveled the hamlet of Samburg, TN. The tornado was far from spent. Veering north from Samburg, it pummeled Mayfield, the site of the candle factory, dealt glancing blows to Hopkinsville and Cadiz, Ky and bore down on Bowling Green. The death toll from the aggregate of the storms may well exceed 100.

This is not the time of year when people in our nation’s heartland normally live in dread of twisters. Normalcy with respect to climatic events has, however, gone on extended hiatus. There is no time of year when one may let down guard, no time of year when families can bid farewell to their loved ones, expecting a humdrum work shift followed by their safe return.

This will be a strange Christmas, as survivors inch their way forward, through the Valley of the Shadow. Let us fear no evil, and let us stand together. (I may very well make my way to one of the affected areas, as a Red Cross Disaster Relief Team volunteer, after the end of this week of local obligations. It will be a time of muted colours, of quiet thanks to our Creator, whilst appealing to His good graces towards the suffering.)

The Process of the Procession

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December 23, 2020-

Most of us are aware, by now, of the initial celestial and spiritual steps towards the establishment of a truly peaceful world, one based on universally-recognized principles, which may be equitably applied across a plethora of situations.

The process of that world’s unfoldment, however, will be both steady-and very slow. In a few days’ time, humanity will, to varying degrees, honour the Birth of Jesus the Christ-on the date arbitrarily chosen, ages ago, for its celebration. We will also be remembering the period of time when Nazi Germany, acting the part of wounded bear, struck back at its democratically-ruled foes, with deadly force.

The interplay of Light and Darkness, coming at one of the two periods of great discrepancy between North and South, in terms of daylight, is a unique reminder of the nature of both solar light and human decency. The Sun cannot light an entire planet all at once. Nearly eight billion people cannot move together in perfect harmony, all at once.

There needs to be a means for those whose portion of the globe is experiencing night, to remain safe and warm. There needs to be a mechanism for enlightening those whose recognition of change is either slower than others’, or both listening to and encouraging those whose mindset is rooted in the philosophies and dictates of the past.

There are people of goodwill, who simply cannot see the necessity for change in the way that mankind approaches the formidable tasks which lie ahead. There are others, similarly benevolent, who cannot see the value of adhering to ANY of the practices that are honoured by time. Only education, in a sincere and equitably applied system, can bridge the gap between these two camps. Only education can stem the human tendency to believe whatever notions and pronouncements come forth and verify even the most inane and fear-based of one’s own beliefs.

The procession will go on, but it may, of necessity, be a slow one.

The Christmas Star

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December 21, 2020-

Today being the start of winter, north of the Equator, we look to the days getting longer-a minute at a time. The entire planet also has the bonus of seeing Jupiter and Saturn, still discernable as separate planets, but close enough to one another to complement one another’s light, from this Earthly naked eye’s vantage point. Legend has it that the three Magi regarded the convergence of the two planets, in the night sky of 2020 years ago, as sign of great portent, thus giving rise to the term “Christmas Star”.

I will take anything that lifts people’s spirits, and besides, there are no mistakes in God’s Plan, which includes the orbits of planets around stars. It is no concidence that we honour Jesus the Christ’s arrival in this world, right around the time of Solstice and that the convergence of these two planetary giants in the evening sky should happen right about now, as well. Christmas is rightfully a celebration of Light, as was Hanukkah, earlier this month, and Diwali, in mid-November.

I spent the afternoon of Solstice outside, visiting Prescott’s unsung treasure. Covered in quartz crystal, and thus named Quartz Mountain, the peak of modest height is reachable from either of two trailheads-Aspen Creek, on the north and White Spar, on the south. I took Copper Basin Road to Aspen Creek trailhead, and hiked the three miles each way.

Quartz Mountain, from the Wolverton Trail

I had been here once before. On that Sunday afternoon, four years ago, a family of four was gathering pieces of quartz. I was told by a Forest Service ranger, after the fact, that this was illegal. Since it occurred to me to not remove quartz, myself, well enough was left alone, that day and today. It was enough for me to be in this inspiring setting, during a bright and mild Solstice afternoon.

There was a fair amount of company, in the area today. On the way to the trailhead, I stopped as a family of five deer crossed the highway, single file. The last animal hesitated, then crossed after apparently getting my message that it was safe. On the trail itself were five bicyclists and six hikers, though none were at Quartz Mountain at the same time as me.

So, there was solitude, enveloped by fellowship, as so often has been my experience on these trails.

West face of Quartz Mountain summit
West face of Quartz Mountain summit

I got back to the car, just as it was starting to get dark. After dinner at the Raven Cafe, I went back to Home Base, in time to catch the two points of light that made up the Christmas Star. Sorry, my camera does not take detailed photos of distant orbs.

Not A Grey Week

2

December 26, 2019-

It was one of the nicest Christmas gatherings I’ve attended, in many years.  The weather was spotty, with flakes flying through the air, but not sticking.  We did wake up to a smidgen of snow on the ground, but it quickly dissolved into the dry soil.  Nonetheless, it’s always the camaraderie that makes the difference, regardless of weather, and  those of us who knew each other beforehand, quickly found even more friends, yesterday evening.

Today was similar, weatherwise, but different in focus.  I took care of a couple of errands, in Scottsdale and in Phoenix, while Yunhee checked an outlet mall, north of town.  We headed back before the predicted snow got going, and made it back with no issues.  She got to enjoy another of my favourite local eateries:  Bill’s Grill, before we went back to our respective lairs.

The days after Christmas, when I was growing up, were either our time to get into the toys and games we received, and learn their rules and proper usage.  I also spent a goodly amount of time with the Connect-the-Dots and colouring books that came in my Christmas stocking.  Sometimes, life seemed to get under our parents’ skin, in the last week of the year, and I began to be concerned, especially as a teen, that maybe all this holiday business was taking on the trappings of a second full-time job, for  Mom especially, when in my opinion, she worked hard enough, during the rest of the year.  It struck me that this greyness was the cost of all the Reds and Greens, even the White.

Time has gone by,  and the greyness no longer much registers.  Instead, there is this  sense that each day, having within itself a kernel of brightness, transcends whatever dullness is outwardly covering our midst.  So, whatever the humdrum rigmarole that must be settled, in the last few business days of the year, it can carry with it a portion of the joy, that the day which immediately preceded it, has imparted to us all, even if we accept it grudgingly.  Ebenezer learned this, and so have countless others.

Solstice to Christmas

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December 22, 2019- 

Last night marked the December Solstice, and though I didn’t do anything special to mark the passing of the shortest amount of sunlight, I felt the energy.  I call this  the December Solstice, being mindful that as we in the North experience cold and darkness, our brothers and sisters in the South have heat and light in their midst.  In June, of course, we trade places.  Many of us will enjoy a White Christmas, and my hope is that those in the Antipodes will find respite from the fires which have plagued Australia, Africa and the Amazon region, for much of this year.

This evening, Hanukkah begins at sunset, marking the eight days which commemorate the re-dedication of the second Temple of Jerusalem, following its profaning at the hands of the Seleucids (a dynasty of the Persian Empire).  The Judean commander, Judah Maccabee, ordered this celebration, so that none would forget the degradation that was followed by resilience.  My late wife, our son and I would light the menorah, a candelabrum that is used to hold nine candles, a central one called shamash, or “attendant”, from which the eight other candles are lit, one each evening of the festival.  Penny would recite the blessing, in Hebrew, before we lit each candle.

Gold-wrapped candies, called gelt, are often given each night and small gifts may  be exchanged, among those celebrating the Festival.  It may be that this is the basis for the gift-giving which accompanies the celebration of Christmas, as December 25 either falls within the Hanukkah celebration, or immediately follows it.  The rest of what we, in Western civilization and its offshoots, have come to associate with Christmas, largely comes from having adapted the traditions of others, first the Yule tree and its trimmings,  along with robust feasting, from the pre-Christian cultures of northern and western Europe, then a host of others:  Communal singing, special foods from various cultures which have adopted Christianity and alms for the poor.

The basis of all these holiday traditions, underneath all  the pomp and camaraderie, remains spiritual.  It was  awe, at changes in the celestial realm, that prompted the Druids and their followers to observe Yule.  It was the resurgence of Judaism, which inspired Hanukkah.  It was the reverence which Christ’s first followers had for His birth, and for His life, which brought about the first Christmas.  That it should have taken on elements of the two other great end-of-year celebrations, as well as modern commercialism,does not negate the spiritual basis for the near-universal appeal of Christmas.  This is solely owing to the greatness and universality of the character of Jesus the Christ- His love of humanity, His fealty to the Creator and His inherent wisdom.

So, for me, for my family and for all humanity- Let this be, as Judah Maccabee decreed, in the days of resilience after the overthrow of tyranny:  A Season of Light.

 

No Pause Button

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December 1, 2019-

This holiday weekend, now drawing to a close, reminded me that even in the midst of a wonderful celebration, there may come the cry of the needy.  I tended to that, as best I could, without besmirching the kindness of one of my dearest friends and members of her family.  I was honoured, beyond measure, on Thursday afternoon and evening.  It doesn’t take much, anymore, for me to feel that.  I go forward, at age 69, with a continued sense of personal worth.  Thanksgiving, 2019 was the sixth straight year at table with this wonderful family that has found its way into my heart.

Friday was, of course, our first real bout of winter weather, one month ahead of the actual season.  Shoveling a path to the street was followed by a night manning a shelter, which no one needed.  That is beside the point, though, as shelters are, by definition, designed to be manned proactively.  I have to say, the large Arizona Republic Thanksgiving Crossword kept me  very well-occupied, nearly until morning.

Saturday, I finally answered the figurative tapping on the window, and hopefully have drawn the right attention to the issues that were raised by an online correspondent.  The rest of the day, though, was spent catching up on the sleep I forewent, whilst manning the shelter.  Being up most of Friday night, though, showed that I still have stamina.  The evening was graced by the megaton voice of one Jacqui Foreman, who showed both vocal range and mastery of two types of guitar, in a concert at The Raven Cafe. She and her two accompanists delivered a solid three hours of a range of music, from soft rock ballads to acoustic jazz; Ma Rainey, through Frank Sinatra, to The Cranberries and Metallica, all find a spot in Sister Jackson’s repertoire. Among the people who I encountered there were a veteran musical arranger, a little boy who was somehow fascinated by my presence and a young lady who waved at me, from across the room- a case of mistaken identity.  It’s always colourful at The Raven.

Today, the last month of a decade of growth launched itself.  I tidied up my driveway, which had still been laden with ice and snow.  The sun was a big helper, and now the driveway is mostly clear.  The breakfast meeting at the Legion was cancelled, so I went down to Cupper’s, for an order of skinny pancakes, with melon on the side.  Several transient men were there, warming themselves, waiting for a Salvation Army service, across the street.  They had a very sobering account of the snowstorm just passed.  At least, there was an active shelter-not the one I manned, but the regular overnight shelter that SA provides, on below-freezing nights.  The day ended with a short Baha’i meeting, and now I look forward to a fruitful December.

Work will likely still be slow, but I will be mainly concerned with my dear daughter-in-law, who arrives  next Sunday, for nearly a month.  Aram will be back, after New Year’s and his last days with the regular Navy.  It’ll give me a chance to introduce Yunhee to our fair state and to several of my dear friends.  Then, too, is everything that has to do with Christmas time in Prescott, and around the state.

Cleaning Up Ashes

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December 26, 2018, Prescott-

There is always a reckoning,

when one fails to heed the inner voice.

Christmas, 2018 will be remembered

as much for what I lost,

as for what I received.

There will be a reckoning,

sometime this week,

in one part of my life.

Then, I will go on,

though thankfully,

not without a job.

I may have one less friend,

and one less close relative,

in my life.

I will go on, though,

because there is no other way.

On the other hand,

I have a little family,

who  bring me joy,

and will continue,

for a good many years to come.

Prescott may not be the same.

after this week,

but I have my work,

my team,

and my students.

Family may not be the same,

in terms of its extension,

but I have my son,

my daughter-in-law,

and my siblings.

I have my Faith,

my co-worshipers

and my own determination,

to just be a better soul.

His Timeless Love

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December 25, 2018, Prescott-

The conference over, it is back to Christmas City.  Two gatherings graced me with their invitations today.  A small group of friends has taken to observing special holidays, with a noon meal, sparing no celebratory detail.  On Thanksgiving, it was a full-on turkey dinner.  Today, it was ham; broccoli and kale salad, in poppy seed dressing; sweet potatoes and acorn squash.  Homemade fudge and chocolate chip cookies were the desserts. We watched a fresh performance of “The Nutcracker Suite”, on PBS.  It got Christmas off to a fine start.

In the late afternoon, I headed to another gathering of friends; family members who have been consistent friends of mine for the past five years.  We enjoyed four kinds of homemade pizza, then watched a segment of “Bolt”, followed by a Hallmark love story-much needed by some, after the intensity of the holiday.

Two things jumped out at me about the day.  First, I encountered a part of myself that needed to be let go.  Without going into detail, one of my friends let me know, very subtly, that this unattractive aspect of my personality had worn out its welcome.  I also recognize that a small leap needed to be made, in my personal growth- so here goes another small step for a man.

Second, and most importantly, the day may have had Wiccan roots, centered on the Winter Solstice and acknowledgement of nature’s rhythms, but it has long become a universal recognition of the power of Divine Love.  We can say, with some assurance, that Jesus the Christ was actually born closer to the coming of Spring, perhaps late March or early April, yet here we celebrate love and the work of peace.  Once again, it’s obvious that peace is messy, at first, and comes hard.  So, Christmas can be tortuous for those who feel unappreciated or shut-out.  I have been there, in my youth, and fortunately had family members who knew how to assuage my fears and anxieties.  I will do what I can for those who are going through that now.

I hope all have a blessed Christmas season- clear to New Year’s, and beyond.

A War On Main Street?

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December 20, 2018, Prescott-

Is there a war against Main Street?

I have read some commentaries to that effect.

The financial sector is headed towards a period of decline.

This always gets turned into “The Big Boys are out to get us,

and right in time for Christmas, yet!!”

It happened in 2008,

and many small investors lost a fair amount.

This largely was blamed on the Federal Reserve Bank,

and on fearful large investors,

who took their money and ran.

It happened in 1929,

and everyone got clobbered.

This one will likely last two or three years,

and so I will keep on working,

for two of those years,

and will largely behave,

as if I have nary a dime.

Behind the scenes,

many people,

including me,

will be working with people

smarter in these matters than I,

and safeguarding our portfolios.

Money is like water.

It seems to disappear,

but where does it actually go?

I will find out,

and get my foot in that door.

Money is like water.

It never really dissipates.

It just shifts form,

and changes locations.

This, too, shall pass.

Open your eyes,

Main Street,

and don’t worry

about the Big Dogs.

You can beat them,

at their own game.