No Limits

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August 19, 2022- Four of us spent a couple of hours, this afternoon, going over the process of evaluating buildings as potential Red Cross shelters. Most of our area’s needs, in that regard, stem from wildfire; but there are times when floods and snowstorms create sheltering needs. Flagstaff, some ninety miles northeast of us, is experiencing flood emergencies, often several times a week, due to this year’s bountiful rains-which were preceded by harrowing fires. Prescott has had its share of both, in years past, as well.

I have been asked, by concerned friends and family, WHEN I will devote myself to full retirement. The answer probably lies in my health and clear-mindedness. When those fade, so will my activity. Until then, I enjoy the presence of children, helping out in the community and learning new skills-such as the above-mentioned logistics. So I will continue helping out in classrooms and working in the community, on a regular basis. Besides, now I have an auto loan to pay down.

The late Carmine Moschella, a fixture in the hometown of my youth for well over seventy years, was a prime example of working at something of benefit to self and others, nearly to the time of his death. So was A.C. Fellman, Penny’s paternal grandfather, inventor of the Fellman Boot, a staple of the U. S. Navy’s World War II maritime uniform. Countless others, many still living, have remained productive and in a learning mode, well into their 90s, if not into their second century.

Now I want to flip this post a bit, and give a shout out to all girls and young women who are taking up the study and practice of trades like aviation, carpentry, electricity, plumbing, welding and automotive mechanics. There is nothing that says a person with good eye-hand coordination, a keen attention span, and pride in work has to be limited in field of endeavour. If there are male nurses, flight attendants, fashion models and office workers, so there can, and should, be female tradespeople.

I once had the opportunity to foster a young woman’s interest in the building trades. It came down to spending money on renovating a house, in which she would be a key worker, or using the funds to help someone get surgery. I chose the latter, and as much good as that did for my friend, I have regrets at not having been able to help the lady get practical experience in several trades. Somehow, I sense that she has gone on, and done quite well in that regard.

Age and sex are not intended to be limits a human’s progress.

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.

The Quiet Moon

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August 1, 2022- Waking this morning to a sunny and quiet Home Base, there was not a whole lot ahead of me for the day. Two routine tasks did end up rewarding my inner peace and patience. There is only Bank of America in our metro area, so depositing my rent check meant standing in line for nearly a half hour. At the laundromat I use, half of the washing machines were out of order, so I put everything in one machine, which was okay, as it was not overloaded. While at the laundry, the 15% chance of rain turned into a forty-minute full on monsoon storm, the power went out twice and there was a cozy crowd watching “Abducted: The Jocelyn Shaker Story”, until the first power outage cut the cable service, right at the predictable “Lifetime” movie’s ending.

For all that, August is looking, initially, to be much quieter than June or July. I had two conflicting activities set for the first half of the month, Both, as it happens, will go on without me-as they, in turn, each conflict with a faith-based meeting that can only take place on Friday mornings. Saturn will get its rear bumper repaired, in the latter part of next week, and that is as far as I have planned for the bulk of the month. Sub calls will likely come, at least a few days this month, and there is a chance of local Red Cross activity-especially if we continue to have an active monsoon. This is the most rain I’ve seen here in several years, and I’ll not complain, as long as there is the balance between wet and dry.

The new moon promises to come in quietly, and to reward patience with sustenance. This will be a month for nurturing my little family, from a distance, and local friendships, in occasional gatherings. It’ll be a fine month to be low key and gather energy for September and October, which will see a somewhat more robust schedule.

Now, we’ll see how long the quietude lasts.

Not A Hard Dog Day

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July 23, 2022- Beauty thought she would like to go out and smell the rain. So, I put on her harness and attached her leash, then got on my shoes and cap. We walked a short distance, up to a patio near where some kids live and she stood still, waiting for someone to come out. A nice lady came out and greeted the little dog. A boy came out, but not to greet Beauty. He had a household chore to do. We headed back towards the apartment where I am minding her. Then, the skies opened up. She got wet, and tried to shake it off, as is customary for dogs, but her curly hair just held the water. I dried her off with a towel and put a comfort shirt over her upper torso, which calmed her down. She was done smelling the rain.

Beauty is a friend’s dog, and has been acquainted with me for several months now. So, when friend wanted to go on a brief visit out of town, I was asked to stay with her for a day or so. This did not really conflict with anything, so I was glad to oblige. All in all, she is an easy animal to “pet-sit”. We went on three walks, including the wet one. She ate voraciously, then went back to gazing out the window. She fell asleep awhile ago, so here I am, contemplating what dogs dream. I sense that the process includes which of their people are kind to them and which ones are better off out of their lives. There are, no doubt, smells that get remembered, just as humans recall sights and sounds. There may even be a hope or two, who knows?

I was asked, this morning, whether I would be sticking around here for a while. Yes, in fact, I am, barring any family emergencies. There is work to be done, for most of August until Thanksgiving, with a few days in Colorado and northern New Mexico at some point in August or September and a trip up to St. Anthony, Idaho (long story), with a possible stop to visit friends en route (have yet to hear back from them), in mid-October, also in the mix. There are other matters, elsewhere in Arizona, to honour as well. Basically, though, the next few months look, right now, to be on a fairly even keel.

Work to be done? I keep hearing that I am supposed to be retired. Well, there are substitute assignments for which I will make myself available; Red Cross activities, here and there; Hope Fest, on September 10 and, most likely, Farm-to-Table Dinner on September 11. Then, there is always work on behalf of my Faith. Those who wish to see me cease and desist are free to stop working themselves, when the time comes-no pressure from this end.

It may be a dog’s life, for Beauty et al, but I’m glad for that which I’ve been given.

Light Beyond Fire

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April 28, 2022- Four groups of high school freshmen watched a video on the “True Story of King Arthur”, voiced in monotone, by an English actor. Some gave it a fair amount of attention, some fell asleep and others vacillated, between checking their messages and looking at the screen. I have the video pretty much memorized, after four straight viewings. Those who are concerned about the assignment that they face next week, will no doubt go on You Tube and check the film in snippets.

On the other side of our county, the fire that got me serving in a Red Cross shelter, last weekend and on Monday, is still raging, albeit being more contained than a few days ago. Being with youth, on the other hand, gives me a sense of the light that truly overcomes the fires of ignorance, destructiveness and imposition of suffering. The teens look out for one another, far more than they are sometimes credited with doing.

These classes are engaged in the study of a project far more cogent than the examination of King Arthur. In the 1990s and early 2000s, a young teacher undertook work with young people who others had written off. At first, any attempt she made to help them was stymied by jealous and insecure traditionalists, who thought that giving her only freshmen students would make her give up and leave the school.

The incompetents lost. Even hardcore youth have an eye for someone who actually cares for them, and gradually, the freshmen made the transition, grade by grade, to being graduating seniors-and many went on to higher learning. This teacher has extended her work to that of Visiting Professor at a university near her high school. She continues to effect change in the hearts and minds of people who might otherwise have been cast off.

This is not lost on the largely lower middle class youth at the high school where I worked today. They, too, are engaged in a journaling project that will be a saving grace for a good many of them. They, too, have experienced being written off by some in their lives-though thankfully not by many in this school.

The light that rises beyond fire is the light of the heart. It can change lives, and communities.

So Onward It Is

2

January 1, 2022- We received our first, and possibly only snow of this new month, right about the time that the Boot dropped and the fireworks went off. It was also the time that I called it a night, as well as a year.

People have been wishing for 2022 to arrive since a) the inauguration of President Biden; b) the Delta variant started worming its way around; c) New Year’s Day of 2020. I personally adopted the time-honoured practice of taking one day at a time-back in 2002, when Penny first began showing real signs of decline. I have seen no reason to change that practice, since. Still, life does require some sort of planning.

So, today prompted me to think, first, about this day-which has ended up being largely a restful Saturday, aside from going to Farmers’ Market and helping scrape some of the ice off the asphalt in front of a good friend’s stall, and picking up a few items-including a beeswax candle. Then came a stop at Peregrine Books, for a journal, wall calendar and a copy of Carlos Ruiz Zafon’s “The City of Mist”. The laundromat was closed, so that’s put off until tomorrow, as is the carwash.

Then, I thought about this month. Visiting with Baha’i friends in western and southern Arizona will take up the second and fifth weekends. There are commitments here at Home Base, the third and fourth weekends. Work? I will choose my assignments carefully. After this past week’s fires in Colorado, I am also leaving myself open to Red Cross activity.

February looks quiet, right now. March will find me hopping on a train, a bus or some combination of the two-plus spot car rentals, and visiting family and friends in the Southeast, particularly Georgia and Florida. April and May will be a bit less frenetic, though visits to southern California Nevada are likely during that time. June and the first part of July will see a train trip up the West Coast, to several places in Canada and back across the U.S. The rest of July, August and September are open, and will be quiet, unless duty calls. October hopefully means Europe (Iceland, Sweden, Poland, Croatia, Bosnia, Germany and France-with a bit of Scotland possible). November and December will also be open. All of this depends on God being willing and the creek staying in its bed. After all, the last two journeys have been postponed twice. The postponements are probably a good thing. We Baha’is have received important guidance on the nine year spiritual plan that will certainly determine the basis for many, if not most, of my activities going forward. A spiritual element is present, whether I am at Home Base or going about the wider world. It is not, as someone once remarked, a simple matter of “going about here and there, taking photographs”. God knows, I could rent a drone to do that.

Having covered the “What” and “Where”, it’s time for the “Why”. Basically, I thrive on both connections with people-and on those connections being both virtual and real time. Rudimentary networks were established in 2014 and 2015, which I want to strengthen-along with making new connections, this year and in the four years to follow. This is how, to my mind and heart, the planet may be unified- with my doing a small but worthwhile part.

Happy 2022, and as another friend said yesterday, it’ll be a year-no promises, either way. We just set our courses and do our level best.

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.)

Remembrance

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November 11, 2021- Today being Veteran’s Day, across the United States and Remembrance Day in Canada and elsewhere, there were large parades in a number of cities and towns. Prescott’s parade lasted 1 1/2 hours. All the branches of the Armed Services, service organizations, politicians of various stripes, high school marching bands and ROTC units, the Scouts, the Young Marines, service dogs and horses, the usual classic cars-and one clown car were on hand. There was a Red Cross contingent. I brought my RC apparel, but never found the group-until the end of the parade. It was alright being a spectator, though. The weather was mild and I got to talk with other veterans.

The grifters came back, momentarily. This time, I had an incoming phone call, which was dropped and the number blocked. There was a text message, urging me to let them back on my e-mail feed. That, too, was deleted. For a few minutes, guilt was processed and I remembered part of my conversation with my friend in Dana Point-about how much progress I had made, in not feeling responsible for saving people from their own laziness and indolence. In the end, the decision was to not give in-ever- to the renewed attempts at extracting money from me. I have said before, that poor areas in Africa, and every other suffering place in the world, can only be elevated by collective action-not from abroad, but by the local citizenry themselves. That remains so.

I am living a better life now; making room for other people to be more spontaneously let into my world; being neither selfish nor a doormat. This is the best way I can remember all who sacrificed-and who still live honourable lives.

Summer’s End

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September 20, 2021- This has been a strange eight days. I chalk most of it up to the change of seasons, which often finds me out of sorts and seeing darkness where none is intended. That, in turn, leads to trusted friends drawing back a bit and my being in a somewhat isolated state, for a few days. Taking the hint, this year, it’s a time to take care of a few things that have gone neglected for a while, today, and be in nature tomorrow-the day of Equinox.

It didn’t help matters any, that a planned deployment with the Red Cross fell through-only because I didn’t make a second consecutive phone call to the dispatcher-when I was expecting a confirmation call from that individual. Funny, how the protocol from last year has changed. At any rate, given my emotional state, I would not have been on game and mistakes may have happened, that would not have served well. Things, no matter how confusing, happen for the general good.

Today begins a second series of September birthdays (Mom’s and my middle brother’s being the first set, earlier this month). This one starts with the birthday of someone with whom I have had scant contact, in this life, but an inexplicable bond from some other realm of existence. It includes the birthday of my sister and ends with the commemoration of Penny’s birthday, both next week.

Summer’s end caps a season that took in a second cross-country journey, saw some friendships start to fade, others generate and renewed my bonds with good-hearted people. It included a longer work project than I had planned, but the results were fairly successful. It is now time to look towards Autumn-the season of harvest, and of my own birth. It will bring me to southern California, for a few days next week; complete Red Cross training that I feel is needed, in early October; and make a journey to places in New Mexico that have longed called out. Fall will also bring a couple more sessions with the dermatology team and hopefully see my little family come out here for Thanksgiving. I may yet also go on deployment for a couple of weeks.

“Every new beginning comes from some other beginning’s end.” – Dan Wilson, “Closing Time”

Now, for another song, from a master songwriter:

Little Ado, Almost Nothing

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September 18, 2021- The call, for which I waited all day, never came. There was a flurry of phone activity on Thursday, with Red Cross dispatchers asking me, first to go to Louisiana to work as a computer operator, then deciding I might be better at supervising a shelter. Since I couldn’t go there immediately, owing to faith-based commitments, it was agreed I would go on Sunday-with documents to be handed me today.

Today has come, and is almost gone. With no word from RC, (and yes, the ball is in their court), I have concluded, from checking the weather forecast for Baton Rouge, that the need is fading. Bright sunshine lies ahead, after Monday, and good on the folks of Louisiana, who have been much put upon, again this summer.

We had a final monsoon storm here, this evening, as the major faith-based activity of the weekend was playing out. The rain was welcome, and did not interrupt our Zoom activity. Afterward, I felt the need to go across the mountain to Synergy Cafe, so off to Sedona it was. A two-hour visit with a mostly male troupe of musicians and a lengthy conversation with a spiritually-awakened lady made the evening worth the drive, as it usually is. The lady came here from Russia, as an adolescent, some twenty years ago, still retaining the more global view that many from that part of the world seem to embody.

Remembering that a meeting for tomorrow still had not been set up on my laptop, I made exit earlier than planned, but not before our little drum, guitar(electric and acoustic) and didgeridoo set of tunes had inspired the lady and her husband to dance in slow embrace. Romantic couples always make me smile.

I did learn one thing from today- don’t speak of service online, before boots are on the ground.