Best Efforts

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August 10, 2022- In the midst of the confluence between the first COVID outbreak and the hurricane season, two years ago, I found myself on the floor of a large congregate hurricane shelter, in Alexandria, LA. I had been getting messages about that city, for about two months, so it came as no surprise that the Red Cross sent me there. What was surprising was that I managed to be on the floor, in constant motion, helping a variety of people with sometimes complicated concerns, for up to nine hours-and being able to wind down, getting enough sleep for the next day’s activities. There were no full days of rest allowed, though we did get up to three hours off, on one day of our choice during this two-week period. This was mainly because of the Shelter Manager’s assessment of the situation, which was not all that far off the mark. It was probably the most physically intense event that any of us had worked.

I was given a high rating on performance of duties, for that assignment. Even if that had not been the case, it would not have mattered much. I did my level best and felt that I had. No one else’s opinion really mattered, though the clients, who were mostly lower middle class people, of white, black and Hispanic descent, gave me a hearty thanks. That felt good.

Don Miguel Ruiz, in the fifth chapter of “The Four Agreements”, casts the agreement to do one’s best, across situations and physical states, as the prerequisite to overcoming the failure to keep one’s word, the tendency to take things personally and the making of assumptions. Since the latter three are themselves derived from self-doubt, and are only fed by the negative energy of others, the mindset that one has done one’s best diverts from such self-defeating practices. It sets the stage for a new set of agreements, which are proactive in building a world based on true personal inner peace and positive relationships.

The Universe, almost in keeping with the spirit that welled up in me, after I read that chapter, provided work for tomorrow, three substitute assignments for next week and a social gathering, across the state, on Saturday evening. The respite of about ten days has been sufficient and it will be reaffirming to be back in service.

Now, I need to put the trash out.

Glimpses of Shutdowns

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July 16, 2022- The lines of traffic on I-40, east of Gallup and again, west of Holbrook, as I went along in the opposite direction, were apocalyptic. Even my own many forays along Chicago’s I-94 seemed like a Sunday drive, in comparison. There was little information about the New Mexico tie-up, though it was likely due to an accident relative to a construction project. The Arizona snag was due to police activity. I noted several patrol cars blocking the road, and despite the inconvenience of the heat, it was no doubt for the best. There didn’t appear to have been any accident, so my guess is someone was up to no good-and got caught.

This has been a hard year, indeed, a hard decade for many. The ongoing outbreaks of COVID remind me of the three major outbreaks of bubonic plague, which occurred generations apart from one another, and were equally global in impact. It is best to keep this in mind, when expressing “being tired of restrictions”. No one is presently being “restricted”, by the government or private enterprises, but there are occasions when even those of us who have been vaccinated and boosted, but not infected, deem it prudent to put on a face mask. I did so, on several occasions during my just-concluded journey to and from Atlantic Canada. I will again, around Home Base and when going up to Bellemont Baha’i School, on a couple of occasions, during the next two weeks, as prudence dictates.

The costs of fuel and other staples are stuck at high levels, with many predicting that, with industry smelling record profits, these costs are unlikely to go down much, if at all. This places a serious burden on those who commute to work, or who depend on their vehicles in the course of their work. Other than promoting telecommuting, I don’t have any snap answers to this dilemma. My own vehicle has maximized fuel efficiency, thanks to having good mechanics available, both here and in other parts of the country. Even so, gas is sky-high in price, and diesel, for those who depend on it, is downright astronomical.

My only personal recourse, in all this, is to maintain my daily life and continue to follow those guides, visible and invisible, who provide me with a course of action, both short and long-term. Our parents and grandparents made it through equally difficult, if not worse, times. We can do the same, by sticking together.

Bouncing Back

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April 29, 2022- April is the antipode of October, so it was no surprise to me that there was a mini-crash on Wall Street today, the first such event since the Covid Crash of March, 2020. Chances are, it’ll also be a short-lived slump, unlike that of October 29, 1929. There were several reasons for today’s downturn, the simplest being that it was the last trading day of the month, and even high rollers like their payday. The rest of the causes would take someone much smarter than me to explain.

My energy level was a bit lower today, as well, and it took me a bit longer to feel ready for the various activities, most of which were faith-based and on Zoom. Eventually, thanks to a nice breakfast at Zeke’s and the company of good friends (virtual, but no matter) through the day, I got errands done, and affirmed hostel reservations for my short jaunt to SoCal, in a few weeks. I also completed a long-running task that had started back in October.

There is seldom any end to either opportunities or challenges. The trick is to not let the latter upend the former. Thus, my work projects here and my travels are not going to be waylaid by temporary setbacks in the financial sector, though I promise not to be reckless in that regard. One can always truncate, without too much dismay.

It has always been the lot of May, in any case, to be a time for bouncing back from April’s scolding misfortunes. Besides, having completed a three-week journey without committing any faux pas, my confidence level is quite a bit stronger. Having overcome minor health challenges, I look forward to some finer days ahead.

Hypocrisy? or Just Being Inconsistent?

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February 28, 2022- The just-concluded Conservative Political Action Conference featured several speakers with a similar message: The Far Left is a dictatorial entity. Many on the Left, citing the fear that so many of their opposite numbers seem to have of former President Trump, claim that the Right is the autocratic force.

Both are correct, insofar as each side practices intolerance and outright anathema towards those with whom they disagree. The calls for the imprisonment of people who express an opposing point of view have increased dramatically, since 2016, and all the more since the onset of the COVID pandemic. I have heard calls for the executions of various figures on the Left, and there are the rabbit-hole dwellers who say that this has already happened! Conversely, there are thousands of comments on posts, each day, wondering when the participants in all aspects of the January 6th events will be punished.

So, we have each group calling out the other for hypocrisy. I have a slightly different take on the matter. For decades, society has subconsciously pushed the idea that the way to get out of a bind is to distract, to engage in false equivalency, to muddy the waters. People my age have made a fine art out of looking under rocks to find fault with those whom they themselves wrong-as if the actual victims brought it on themselves. Those in subsequent generations have astutely taken note.

Since the last Perfect Being ascended in 1892, and the last Perfect Exemplar, in 1921, it stands to reason that anyone can be taken to task, for one thing or another. I have experienced plenty of table turning, over the years, and probably have done the same to others, at one time or another. Yet, I think there is a subtle difference between hypocrisy and inconsistency of conduct. A true hypocrite builds a brand, career or reputation around consistently throwing stones at others, while knowingly doing the exact same thing to which (s)he objects in others. Occasional inconsistency, or even past behaviours which one has overcome, do not constitute hypocrisy, IF one owns the faux pas and is actively making amends.

We are all works in progress.

How I Overcame Self-Absorption

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August 27, 2021-

There was a time when I bumped into a clearly visible barrier pole, whilst backing my car out of a space, at Breakheart Reservation, in my hometown of Saugus. My head was so far into a matter of such earthshaking importance, that I can’t even vaguely recall what it was. I remember the fender bender, though, and the mildly amused twelve-year-old kid who chuckled at my ignorance.

Mom and Dad didn’t raise us to ignore our surroundings, and I caught more than a few rounds of indignation, when I turned too far inward. Gradually, in the wider world, the core of my being, which loved my family and those around us, took focus. Penny came into my life, and we helped each other break out of our respective shells. Students, clients, by the hundreds, became my focus and between wife and children, I realized that my life actually mattered far more than I had thought. Aram became our responsibility and made sure, in turn, that I didn’t lapse into my former bubble.

There was a long eleven years, in which my wife was my primary responsibility. In the end, son and his crew, Penny’s family and my brothers were our primary support group. The cackling crows who castigated me for using the adjective “my”, when I referred to Penny, offered absolutely nothing in the way of help-save their mealy-mouthed ideological puffery. There were also the masses, who went about their business, but at least didn’t get in my way.

On my own, I had choices to make, and slowly shed the residue of self-absorption, once again. A few women came to me, hoping that perhaps they would be the next Penny. It didn’t happen, and life took a far wider turn. I almost deluded myself into thinking that one or two others might be the next Penny. That didn’t happen, either, and life took a wider turn, still. There were three things that propelled me out of my bubble, altogether.

The first was dealing with five people who were/are so intensely self-absorbed, in their own right, that I was constantly wondering what, if any, place there was in the world for me, or any other good soul who was just trying to live a good life. Four of these five are gone from my world now, banned for constantly magnifying every single mistake I made, ignoring any good thing I did and yet clawing at me for attention. The fifth at least thanks me for what has already been done. I thank them, though, for making me aware of all the times I was the same towards others.

Secondly, I found myself largely responsible, for the well-being of over 80 people in a storm shelter, in Alexandria, Louisiana, late last summer, during the daylight hours of a Red Cross operation. That is when my work never stopped, until wiser heads pointed out that the opposite of self-absorption is not complete other-immersion. Then came a more balanced view, that both my personal needs and those of others had equal importance. I also realized that being too deeply in the business of other people robs them of dignity.

Third, the full acceptance of others as complete human beings, beyond their physical trappings and even their personalities, has come about from our collective dealing with COVID and all the climate change-based events that we have faced, and will continue to face, long after I myself have left this earthly life. It takes me three to five seconds to recognize that a woman has pleasing features, that a child is precious, that anyone has an engaging nature.

There are things that are about to happen in this life, that make such an emergence from self-absorption more essential than ever. I look forward to them all.

Heart of the Matter

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November 3, 2020-

By one metric, my heart health is fairly good. By another, it needs a fair amount of attention. I am already moving away from a meat-happy diet, towards one that is more plant-based. That comes with the territory, and as I have left processed, fast foods behind, this is the logical next step. Very rare, anymore, are donuts and cake. Coffee is, generally, one cup in the morning.

Lavender and marjoram are looking to be a morning and evening application. More exercise is also in the mix-four days a week at PF. Fewer Zoom calls and more time outside- COVID or no COVID. I would wager that many people are losing ground in heart health, because of the pull of sedentary. Zoom is good for communicating with people far afield, but there was this wake-up call today, and I need to get on the stick.

Like Robert Frost, I have promises to keep and miles to go, before I sleep.

Fortnight of Transition, Day 3: Keeping the Door Ajar

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September 11, 2020-

Much, rightfully, has been said today about the attacks of 19 years ago, and how eerily similar things feel-as cities are continuing to feel the effects of discord and an entire region of the country is reeling from fire.

We, in northern Arizona, are seeing climatic effects of the fires to the west, as smoky air has kept temperatures down and those with breathing issues indoors. Stories of people struggling, of those who have lost loved ones and of others who have lost everything, keep multiplying. COVID is practically an afterthought, though it could burst through and cause additional mayhem, as it did during the ship fire in San Diego, earlier this summer.

Now, the Pacific Coast is seeing something unprecedented-an early fire season, with no indication that it can be brought to heel. People in the large cities are even on a fair alert. Those of us to the east must get ready, then, for an influx of refugees-much as we would if the great faults were to buckle, or the Cascades erupt in fury.

It’s not quite that bad, yet, but mental preparedness is best begun, weeks ahead of a potential mass evacuation. In the meantime, let us also direct our positive energy towards an end to the firestorm and form a plan for bringing our western neighbours to a safe haven.

I say this, having seen a minor version of chaos, when people fled the Louisiana coast, during Hurricane Laura, and safe havens became overwhelmed, within a few hours.