The Year of Living Furtively

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December 31, 2020-

Some of the hardest losses of this voracious year were two of the last. It pains me, especially, when two people who are meant to be together are separated by death, however temporarily. Perhaps because I know, so well, how it feels. I know the self-doubts, the second guessing, the “if only” moments that dog the surviving spouse. I also know that the way to resilience, for the one left behind, is to embrace that which makes one special, as an individual, with double the intensity.

I learned, only this afternoon, of the passing of one half of such a pair. Jeff had struggled with his cancer, constantly surrounded, enveloped with the love that only his indomitable wife and daughters could offer. Others among us tried to help, some offering respite care; some, like myself, offering remedies and a listening ear for our friends, whose shop has become such a vibrant gathering place, in a town that is still in the throes of becoming a community.

Thirty-six friends and family members, ranging in age from 21 to 100, have passed to the next realm, in this year of living furtively, Some were fixtures of my childhood; others, I had the pleasure of knowing for only a few years. Some, I only met once or twice, but the empath in me let them make an indelible impression. That impression will last long. It comes with the nature of my beast.

It is now 6:15 p.m. , and it is still twilight. Solstice being past for over a week, daylight lengthens a smidgen at a time. That is fitting; this year has seemed at times to be made of a darkness that is interminable. Coronavirusdisease 2019 has dominated much of the time and energy of the vast majority of people across the globe. Most of us have not been stricken with the ailment, but far too many others have. Those who have not actually contracted it, have been suspect of such-every time we sneeze, or emit a wet cough, into the crook of our elbow, or appear somewhere without a face mask. All but four of those friends and family, to whom I alluded above, died of COVID-related factors-especially pneumonia.

Dealing with the pandemic became complicated, with racial incidents, some of which were exacerbated by crimes of ignorance and by people continuing to talk past one another. Demonstrations muddied the water of our national response to the pandemic, especially in light of bans on gatherings for worship or for bidding loved ones farewell. Too many of those loved ones died alone, after having spent their last days and months in solitude. Demonstrations were, in most cases, necessary to the public weal. So, too, however, were gatherings of worship, so deeply-rooted in the American psyche-and not just in Christian communities. Dineh and Hopi friends missed their traditional ceremonial gatherings. We Baha’is also have made do with virtual connection.

The two demonstrations upon which I happened, featured participants who were uniformly masked-even among counterprotestors. The two church-based memorial services I attended featured physical distancing and/or uniform face masking. In these instances, subsequent infection was either minimal or nonexistent. Needless to say, I have exercised extreme caution when out of Home Base, since having had bronchitis (non-COVID), in mid-February.

My usual taking to the open road took a back seat, for the most part, in 2020. There were two deployments with the Red Cross, to Louisiana and Dallas. Another journey took me back to the Dallas area, for Thanksgiving and my 70th Birthday, with care taken in airports and elsewhere, to not become part of the problem. The joy of just being with my small family unit was worth the trip, as was the drive to Phoenix, three weeks later, for a mini-visit.

Equally salubrious, however, has been the use of technology, in connecting with my Faith community, with the Red Cross community and with wider spiritual gatherings. I have learned much and shared much. This aspect of technology can only serve to enhance our direct physical encounters, post-pandemic. I know that I need not be isolated from those in this community, when further afield again, towards summer and autumn of the coming year.

Finally, in reaching seventy, I reached full social security, and look at the culmination of my teaching career. Five days a week, out of personal necessity, is in my rear view mirror. Work in the coming Spring semester, will be in view of service to the schools and more discretionary, in terms of schedule.

This year, now grumbling to a close, has accented the small-How needful it is to revitalize memory, when it comes to the humble password or the most routine of courtesies! How crucial it is, to rekindle acceptance of differences, reminding ourselves how dull it would be for everyone to be forced into the same train of thought or the same world view. Exclusivity, as much as its proponents tell themselves it is necessary, is a dead end.

Let not one’s conservatism, or progressivism, lead to that dead end. Let 2020 be what comes to an end, without one’s viewpoint joining it.

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.

Autumn’s End

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December 20, 2020-

The season of my birth

once again draws to a close.

Three consecutive twenties tell me

it’s also time to embrace life

with renewed vigour.

It is also, as always,

time to be prepared

for what’s coming.

Some astrologers made mistakes

about this year,

missing the pandemic completely

and cheerfully predicting

the Tokyo Olympics.

People other than astrologers

predict an unforeseen catastrophic event.

What do I see coming?

Nothing.

I’m not one to dabble in psychic phenomenon.

Neither am I one to concern myself

with interpretation of Scripture.

I see only the need to ready myself,

to steady myself,

to be able to help those around me

those I love,

through any form the darkness

may take.

Autumn has ended.

Solstice is here,

and with it,

the hidden blessings

that come

with Winter.

The Summer of the Rising Tides, Day 18: Ring of Fire

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June 18, 2020-

Today was a low-key day, with no outside commitments, or Zoom calls. So, I checked over some work i was to do for a friend, and found-I’d already done it! I completed anothe rbit of study for a Red Cross credentials update, and spent a while at Planet Fitness.

Today was a suitably relaxing day, as the next three days: Juneteenth, Solstice and Father’s Day, have their expectations and the certitude of intensity. Topping it all off is the Ring of Fire Solar Eclipse, with a New Moon as the catalyst. It won’t be visible, in this neck of the woods, but I am sure we’ll feel its effects.

I am encouraged, even while posting on another medium as to what I would like to see gone, to post what I would like to see come to pass. Here is a short list:

“Physical Distancing”, as the term used for keeping people safe.

Adoption, instead of abortion.

Hands across the ideology divide, so people see clearly where their true friends are.

Universal free access to information.

A collaboration between naturopathic, homeopathic and allopathic medicine, with a de-emphasis on the profit motive.

A public safety system, in which there is transparency and consistency of communication as the baseline.

The Ring of Fire now being witnessed, across the globe, represents a cry of people who have been discounted and dismissed, for too long a time. I have learned that it is not entirely race-based. It is primarily rooted in economic eleitism and opportunism.

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.

 

Longest, Hottest

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June 21, 2017, Prescott-

I tend to disregard the temperature, to an extent..

When we lived in Phoenix, I did what I needed to do,

indoors or out, even in summer.

It just was done in smaller increments.

Today, the solstice, was the longest day,

north of the Equator,

and the shortest day, to its south.

What was necessary, here, got done.

Stepping Stones has more cards,

stationery, an egg beater

and a couple of old, professional-type books.

Days for Girls has several more covers

for the washable products they offer

to disadvantaged girls and women.

I have more space,

in the dining area closet,

in the tall kitchen cupboards

and atop the refrigerator.

Solstice is also a time of accounting.

We friends talked, first of what is pure

and later, of what is really sweet,

in terms of deeds,

as opposed to silver-tongued promises.

Solstice is a time for gathering.

So, the neighbours are outside,

enjoying the coolness.

Solstice is a time for reflecting,

so, after a hearty day,

I am thinking,

how fortunate I am,

to have friends in

just about every community

I’ve ever visited.