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

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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.

Life Blood

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September 15, 2021- It has taken a long time, but I think a contact in another country far from here has finally mustered the self-confidence to advocate for his children. Strong parenthood is one of the life bloods of a child who grows ready to face a life of challenges. The other key elements are strong will, a sense of humour and an inborn love for humanity.

I spent a good part of today greeting people at a Red Cross Blood Drive. 27 people donated one blood product or another-a good effort that matters in the current environment of disease, fire and flood. Blood, both actual and allegorical, is what drives human life and its various efforts.

I have had good friends tell me that money is the life blood of society. It has a key role to play, certainly, as there isn’t a whole lot of physical progress that can take place, over time, without some medium of exchange. Even a hermit farmer has to buy seeds, at least initially. I also recognize that water, which is after all the primary medium of blood, is then the “blood” of all life. Then, too, humaneness is the social life blood. No one can really thrive, unless treated humanely, over time.

Finally, though, I recognize that love is the ultimate life blood. Nothing can exist for long without it.

The Healing Garden

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September 13, 2021- With no agenda for today, other than a load of laundry and a look at the protocol for the Red Cross Blood Drive, in which I will assist on Wednesday, the morning rolled out blissfully quiet.

I revisited Crossroads Cafe, which is Prescott College’s eatery, and the place where I first connected with the Sustainability Club. The interior is still off-limits, but the patio is lovely and relaxing, so I enjoyed Breakfast Quesadilla as a few groups of students ruminated aloud, about everything from sexual identity to the stresses of just getting out of bed on a Monday morning.

Just past the patio lies a Healing and Meditation Garden, which in the future will be my favoured place to enjoy breakfast or lunch, on a Crossroads visit. Gardens have vied with the wilderness as places for me to recharge- so long as there are not loud and boisterous souls about, who don’t seem to realize what salubrious means.

Don’t get me wrong-the energy of youth, however noisome, is a major source of regeneration. Several of the most treasured, beloved young people in my life are effervescent enough to power a freight train, figuratively speaking. It is the balance of the calm and the hard-charging that has gotten me to this point in life.

The quiet, though, was much-needed, after two very intense days of service, with a cast of collaborators ranging from those who are elated at my presence to those for whom five minutes of that presence is about all they can handle. It may well be that solitude becomes ever more rare, in the coming months of Autumn and early Winter. Thus will the Healing Garden, along with Acker Park, a few select trails in Prescott National Forest and in Sedona, and the gurgling coolness of the Agua Fria, at Badger Springs, be ever more precious.

Each day and hour have their indelible places in my soul.

Re-Communicado

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September 7, 2021- A call came, out of the blue, and in short order, a bit of unfinished business was re-scheduled. The medical procedures that I had to cancel earlier, will now be a fait accompli before Thanksgiving, which seems appropriate.

The friend for whom I am covering, for a few more days, will be back soon. I’m sure the next chapter of needful things will be very clear, shortly after I finish this effort, on Friday. Whether this involves the Red Cross, and disaster relief, remains to be seen.

The tie between these three is that there was a fair degree of lack of communication. It was only this morning that the school situation became clear. The medical business was resolved this afternoon. Red Cross gives hints of when I might be called, but that will depend entirely on the situation on the ground, in northern California and in the areas affected by Hurricane/Tropical Depression Ida. Then, there are Larry, which may hit parts of New England, as yet and an unnamed depression that is taking aim at central and northeast Florida.

I mention these, in owning up to a fair degree of difficulty that I still have, with being held in abeyance. The lesson is to do better at contemplating the whole picture. Dozens, if not hundreds of factors can enter into any one series of events.

In the end, I always find out things when I am meant to find out.

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.