The Big Eraser

It seems like the first things you learn when you start school become the bedrock upon which all future learning rests. Maybe Robert Fulghum was right when he wrote, “All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten.” Paper, pencils, desks, etc. are things you will use all your life. Learning to read and write are foundational to all future communication.

That’s why it was so hard on me in Miss Montgomery’s 1st grade class at Woodmore Elementary School in Chattanooga, TN. I had trouble with the concept of writing one answer on the first line of my paper, then going to the line just below it to answer the next question. Stacking things in this order made no sense to me; I wanted to write in a “run on” style, I suppose. Thankfully, Miss Montgomery had also introduced me to one of the greatest tools in all of schooldom: the eraser!

Erasers are the greatest, aren’t they? You can make a mistake, a misjudgment, a miscalculation of some kind . . . then make it as if it WAS NEVER THERE! You simply rub the mark that needs to be expunged and presto – it is gone forever, never existed, totally eradicated.

Well . . . not always totally, right? Sometimes I found that a residue remained. Like a scar from the previous pencil mark . . . and often, an indentation in the paper itself caused by the force of the pencil as it was pushed onto the paper. But for general observation – gone. Right? What a great tool!

As I got older in school we began to use ink pens. Hmmmm. I wondered how mistakes could be remedied with that more indelible instrument. Then voila! They started to make ball point ink pens with white erasers on top. That’s right! Saved again! Errors vanquished. Mistakes excised. Simply cut out of existence. What could be better?

Of course, the erasing wasn’t perfect. You could still often see a shadow of what had been there before. And the surface of the paper was a bit torn, defaced, ragged. But the main evidence of your error would not be very visible, at least not without close inspection. For all practical appearances . . . it was as if nothing amiss had ever happened.

Except, that is . . . when I had to rub really hard on the paper. Especially if the ink had had time to dry. Because then I would scrub harder to get out the ink stain and invariably . . . the paper would tear. Doggone it!

I learned early on in the 2nd grade (especially after one traumatic visit to Principal Johnson’s office) that you certainly don’t want anything bad to go on “your permanent record.” To me that was kind of like putting indelible ink on your paper: it would never come off! And I’d made enough mistakes already in my short life to know I didn’t want THAT!

Now, as I approach 69 years of age this fall, I look back over my life and see LOTS and LOTS of things I’d love to use that eraser to erase. Trouble is, they aren’t on paper. They’re on my Permanent Record. Oh, I have a pardon for those things BTW. And that is priceless. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t still ramifications, consequences, lasting results from my previous words, actions, and inactions.

Erasers are great, aren’t they? And in grammar school they can be quite useful as one learns. But if we take them with us into adulthood the stakes grow higher. Ultimately, torn pages from our tireless efforts to expunge our guilt will result in more than just an effacement of wood pulp.

“Now we have computers,” one might say. Nobody much uses paper anymore. “And if you make a mistake . . . you just hit delete.”

But . . . a history remains in that machine. Doesn’t it?

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This Is Us

Pittsburgh Steelers

Finally watched the final show in the sixth and final season of This Is Us last night; I rank this series up there with the series, LOST, in terms of cinematography, acting, and story line. Excellent stuff!

One of the prominent features of this series is its realistic portrayal of a family comprised of one adopted child and two of natural birth. Back stories of the parents, grandparents, and extended family combine to present a true-to-life, messy, complex, sometimes combative, other times jovial journey from birth to midlife for the three siblings.

Topics such as body image, racism, sibling rivalry, alcoholism, sexual promiscuity, and divorce, and death, as well as true love, forgiveness, straight talk, perseverance, and the hereafter, run throughout the series, making it into an emotional ride that rings true with life as I have lived it, seen it, and read about it lived. I highly recommend it!

As I examine my own little world today, I have: friends suffering with addictions, family members in the process of divorce, others coping with dementia, cancer ravaging a good friend’s family, incidents of neighborhood theft, troublesome health issues, as well as delightful times with my grandchildren, a daughter expecting a child, adequate security in retirement, and a loving wife who has put up with me for over 46 years.

Life is indeed a potpourri of events, feelings, educational experiences, mysteries, agonies, and moments of great exhilaration.

Sometimes we grow up thinking that the goal in life is the absence of conflict, the defeat of all things evil, the eradication of all disease, the financial security of the masses, and the establishment of justice and fairness, i.e. a “level playing field” for all persons on the planet.

Then . . . as time goes on (and sometimes it comes quickly) we see these very things have not been realized in our own family, among our friends, and every place we look in the world. Discouragement meets disillusionment; we are first confused, flummoxed . . . then, hardened, cynical. We long for the Utopia we believed existed somewhere, but disheartened that we cannot seem to attain it . . . even in our own lives.

One day . . . hopefully, we come to accept the failures in our human nature, and if we are persons of spiritual and metaphysical awareness we acknowledge that the Source of our troubles is not one we will one day defeat on this earth; we cannot eradicate it. Going further in our quest we also arrive at the belief that our love for one another is, in fact, the only glue that keeps us bound to one another. And interestingly, it alone is powerful enough to withstand the onslaught of discouragement and disillusionment.

“Love launches us to heights and perspectives that alone give us not only tolerance of the troubles in the world, but the ability to see beyond the failures and embrace the persons involved in them – unequivocally.”

Ivan Benson

Your family is like this, isn’t it? It is a microcosm of the whole world and everyone in it. The struggles and failures, followed by renewed aspirations and successes; the agony of sickness and death, followed by the exquisite and incomparable beauty and promise of a newborn child. All of it encompassed in a blanket of familial love where the all drastic contradictions are melded into an inseparable unit, unassailable to any outside force or entity.

Or . . . such is the dream. Right?

That dream has the ring of truth (in my experience).

That’s why I love This Is Us so much. Broken persons portrayed in a broken world, raised by broken parents in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania find a way to overcome the onslaught we all face. That way is LOVE.

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Playing Favorites

The last few days I’ve been pondering an odd question: “What’s the best water you’ve ever tasted?”

Funny, isn’t it, where the mind goes sometimes? I was remembering a hike in Southern Arizona, one I repeated several times with various people (the Harlan’s, my neighbors; my cousin, John; my friend, Larry Stark; and others). We called it “Mount Baldy,” but it’s given name is Mount Wrightson in the Santa Rita Mountains of the Coronado National Forest just south of Tucson, Arizona.

Currently I read on the internet that the climb is supposed to be about 11.5 miles roundtrip, a challenging hike where you rise about 4,000 feet in elevation, and take approximately 6 and 1/2 hours to complete. Larry and I got to the peak in about an hour and a half as I recall (we were young, crazy teens, and motivated to set a record if we could). The best water I’ve ever tasted was at “Bellows Spring” which is part way up the mountain.

For many years now I’ve mistakenly remembered it as “Belle” Spring, and the mountain as Mount “Wrightston” (with the added T). I guess nobody’s perfect, right? But it’s odd how sometimes things are larger when you’re young than when you visit them as an adult. Or how the names of things are either learned incorrectly from the outset and never corrected, or they just morph over time into something different.

The water at Bellows Spring comes out of a metal pipe, nothing fancy, or picturesque . . . . But by the time you reach that point in the long trail the cool water from the spring takes on a beauty of its own. As I said, my memory is that it’s the best water I’ve ever tasted. I wonder why.

If you ask me about the best steak I’ve ever had I’d say without hesitation: “Charlie’s Steak House in Hopkinsville, Kentucky.” If you ask me about my favorite scenery in this country, I’d have to say: “The West” (both northwest, and southwest). If you ask me about my favorite car I’d say: “Corvette.” My favorite meal? “The One I’m Having right NOW!” Ha! Actually, I’m partial to “hamburgers,” but find I can enjoy lots of other things with more prestige, too.

The best breakfast I ever had was on an overnight camping trip; the “bacon and eggs” the next morning were exquisite. But I’m sure that wouldn’t have been true if the setting and the hunger level had been different. The coldest I’ve ever been was on an overnight camping trip in Montana, at the foot of Mt. Haggin, wet from a fitful overnight in a soaked cloth sleeping bag (and a second to that would be after sinking hip deep in a snow drift near the foot of Mt. Baboquivari on New Year’s Day, 1968).

But the best water? Without a doubt. Bellows Spring. But why?

Sometimes . . . to get at the truth about something . . . you have to go back and recreate the events that surrounded the point in question. And when I do that in this instance I get the following:

1. I was always with people I loved when I drank from this spring.
2. I was always very thirsty and tired when I drank from this spring.
3. I was always accomplishing an arduous task (hiking) when I drank from this spring.
4. I was nearing the last segment of the hike when I drank from this spring; victory was close.

As I recall, the final portion of the trail to “the peak” (the place where you get to sign your name in a notebook, date the event, and place the notebook back into the metal ammo box in which it resides) was covered with large rocks, and cumbersome. But the view from the peak (9,456 feet) was awesome, allowing you to see into Mexico as well as much of Southern Arizona.

And all of that, including (no doubt) many things of which I’m unaware, contribute to my evaluation of the water. The who, the where, the why, etc. of something you do . . . these things can color the scenery, enhance the taste, and produce the quality you remember for a lifetime. Your hunger and thirst, i.e. your need can contribute to the quality imbued in a memory as much as anything.

So, try playing “favorites” today. What’s the best water you’ve tasted? Your favorite meal? Try naming your … ests and ask yourself, “Why?”

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The Vicissitudes of Life

My father loved vocabulary, and he encouraged us to learn words, too. One way he did this was to use words unknown to us, so that we would have to look them up to find their definition. At the time it seemed oppressive and punitive, but in retrospect I must say it helped me to love words, too. My mother was a lover of words, too, just not so provocative with the way she taught them to us.

One of the words I learned from my father long ago was the word “vicissitudes.” To me it always held a negative connotation, but in actuality it just refers to changes or alterations in life. Of course, changes can sometimes be troublesome, especially for those of us who like most things to remain as they are.

I am reflecting today on “the vicissitudes of life,” the changes that have occurred over the past few years for me and for many that I love. You, too, may identify with these vicissitudes for you and/or those closest to you. Looking in retrospect at the vicissitudes of your life can sometimes give you gratitude for the unwanted changes; that is, you might decide that what happened really made things turn out better than they would have otherwise. Other times . . . not so much.

Many stories about innovative inventions are like this: penicillin; plastic; the pacemaker. Of course, to be honest, many mistakes do not turn into inventions; rather, they destroy, maim, or kill (just to give equal time to the possible detractors in the audience).

But in your life’s experience . . . what would you say?

I know my near fatal heart attack in October 2016 was nothing but an unexpected disaster when it happened. And the resulting irreversible damage it caused seemed to confirm that assessment. But looking back on it now . . . it was one of the best things that ever happened to me. How can such a vicissitude be viewed in two such diametrically opposed positions?

Sometimes a vicissitude can be a catalyst for more change. It can cause one to “rise to the occasion” (so to speak) as it did after the disaster at Pearl Harbor. It can unite a whole nation as it did after 9/11. Often, struggle (a vicissitude which is almost always unwanted) can catapult you into a more honest, genuine and authentic relationship with those you love.

And so, the object is not to find any way possible to avoid, or block, or prohibit the vicissitude (if that were even possible); rather, the object is to embrace it . . . even reluctantly (since none of is an expert at this) as soon as possible, then look for the resulting benefit on the horizon. [NOTE TO SELF: horizons can sometimes be pretty far away]

Over the past two years families have suffered from many vicissitudes heretofore unknown (or at best, infrequent), and this has taken a toll the proportion of which is unparalleled in modern times (at least in the USA). These vicissitudes have split families, severed marriages, exacerbated the incidence of mental illness, and left an emotional pallor on the faces of untold millions. If you can identify with this resulting depression and discouragement, you are not alone.

However, I for one am trying to look to the horizon for a coming benefit. At least I am trying to do so. Because I am learning (slowly, mind you) that when the challenges of change arise I have a decision to make: I can either embrace the change (as quickly as possible) and arrive at its benefit, or I can resist/deny the change and suffer even more fallout and pain before I embrace it. It’s my choice. And yours.

So, if you find yourself in the midst of turmoil, be it family, personal, national, social, etc. do not lose heart. Get honest, Be genuine. Let authenticity do its cleansing work.

The sun will rise again.

[Thank you, Dad, for that good word. Rest in peace. You didn’t waste it on children who didn’t pay any attention. We have seen the horizon you wanted us to see. And it is beautiful!]

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The Gift of Memory

A tattered and worn out teddy bear named “Teddy” stands guard near our bedroom window on this cold December morning, awaiting his 64th Christmas morning this year. He is surrounded by other ancients: the Chattanooga Lookouts baseball given to me by the team pitcher when I was three years old, my favorite childhood books, and a copy of the New Testament given to me by my Aunt Sarah in 1964. He wears the Army jacket made by my mother. But he shows his age, doesn’t he?

Along with many stuffed animal fights in his past where he lost red glass eyes and lots of body hair, he also went through outpatient surgery performed by my older brother and me (I am sure it was an idea of his; I was merely a nurse standing by to help monitor anesthesia and vitals). You see, we thought his metal internal growling box needed removal; his back still bears the brown threaded stitches used to sew him back together.

He was the highlight of my Christmas as a four-year-old in December 1957, sitting atop a stack of variously sized, beautifully colored and decorated cardboard boxes in the wee hours of that morning. My brother and I had awakened early (3:30 AM as I recall), and Dad gave us permission to emerge from our tiny bedroom in the 600 square foot house (formally a chicken house) in which we dwelt until 1963. The moment was magical for me; I have never forgotten it!

Memory is amazing, isn’t it? For the things we forget as well as the things we recall. Some with uncanny clarity and emotion.

Mom and Dad are both gone from this life as our family prepares to celebrate Xmas 2021. Twelve years gone for Dad, nine years gone for Mom. But they are still in my heart. Dad never met any of my four grandchildren; mother, only the first (for a brief time).

But Teddy is still with me. The company in England that made him did an amazing job. I wonder if they expected him to live this long. One day, he too will fall to pieces, I suppose. Fabric, stuffing, thread; these things don’t last forever. But I digress.

What interests me today . . . the thing I wanted to share with you . . . is the amazing longevity of a gift. Teddy sitting atop those cardboard boxes 64 years ago thrilled a little boy in a way he has never forgotten. Hopefully, you will give gifts to your children (and others) this Christmas that will be treasured for a lifetime. Blessed keepsakes.

My oldest granddaughter (7 years old) was visiting several weeks ago. She saw Teddy sitting in our bedroom and we started a discussion of his origins, etc. Finally she said to me: “When you die will we get him?” I smiled, thoughtfully, and said: “I suppose you will.”

Of course, wherever Teddy goes to live out his final days there is no way his new caretakers will ever treasure him the way I did. The way I do.

The thing is, you never know which specific gifts will give the recipient a tug in his/her heart years hence. Frankly, you never know which gifts will survive the passage of time. What relics of your past do you still possess? Gifts from your younger life, keepsakes from your family? Sets of china dishes? Dolls? Other toys? Furniture? Consider them this Christmas, gaze at them, handle them, share the stories, and . . . remember.

Merry Christmas! Make this one unforgettable!

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The Impossible Dream

It was a great honor to be asked to sing “The Impossible Dream” (1965, music by Mitch Leigh, lyrics by Joe Darion) at my high school graduation in May 1971. Along with an amphitheater filled with parents and students, another individual was present, a representative from the University of Arizona department of music. I planned to attend there in the Fall of 1971 and major in vocal education. So, this man’s presence was quite important to me.

When nervousness from singing “under the stars” in front of a multitude of people caused me to sing very flat on the final note of the crucial phrase, “This is my QUEST,” I was devastated. But there was little I could do. Because at that moment, compounded with the nervousness of singing to such a large audience, I had added a vocal blunder to the mix. Ugh!

At that moment my rendition of “The Impossible Dream” was rendered truly impossible to me.

I loved the Man of La Mancha, and had enjoyed singing songs from the score; the lyrics to “The Impossible Dream” were almost magical in their appeal to a young man:

To dream the impossible dream,
To fight the unbeatable foe,
To bear with unbearable sorrow,
To run where the brave dare not go.

To have a quest, a goal in life, a purpose, and be undaunted by forces outside of you, indomitable in spirit, matchless in courage. It is virtually every young man’s dream.

Then later, the memorable refrain which seals the pledge:

This is my quest,
To follow that star,
No matter how hopeless,
No matter how far;
To fight for the right
Without question or pause,
To be willing to march into hell
For a heavenly cause.

By the way, this was not the last time I sang flat in front of an audience, or allowed nervousness to interfere with my singing or speaking. You would need a notebook to record all the various occasions I could list. But you see, that’s part of the beauty of it: I have never stopped singing or performing since that night.

The thing about a quest, a heartfelt conviction, a spirit of determination, an indefatigable drive . . . is that the bearer is not deterred by apparent impossibility. For he or she looks beyond what is visible, sees the invisible, then makes the invisible visible.

Now he or she may do so while trembling, hands shaking, knees knocking, voice quivering, etc. The goal is not to become unflappable (although that would be nice); rather, to never quit on the dream. Any real “dream” has an element of impossibility to it.

As December 2021 rolls onto the scene, today, I am reminded of a “dream” that buoyed the spirits of ancient Jews for generations: the coming of a Savior, a Messiah, a Deliverer who would right all political wrongs, restore peace to a troubled populace, and reign with unprecedented aplomb. The “Christ” part of Christmas.

But that did not happen. At least, not in the way they had hoped and dreamed.

What did occur was even more impossible than the anticipated military coup of which they dreamt.

A teenage girl, living her ordinary life, became pregnant in a truly impossible way. But the male child she delivered months later came in the most ordinary way. He was raised by ordinary parents, people like you and me, who made child rearing mistakes and sometimes exhibited less than lofty attitudes. He was like us in every way. Not regal. Not wealthy. Not particularly handsome.

Very possible . . . on the surface.

The announcement of angels around his humble birth was witnessed by only a handful of shepherds, their glorious singing heard only by a few. Nothing worldwide. No regional significance. Almost unnoticed. The visit of the Magi when he was young was known only to them, the stargazers, and a few prognosticators. The King’s fear of possible competition from him caused a violent local stir for a bit, but eventually subsided. His wisdom in the temple at age 12 was remarkable, but . . . nothing earth shattering, apparently.

When he finally began to teach and gather disciples his intentions began to unfold. But not clearly to most; they were still expecting the regal, the political, the matchless rule of a man in Judea who would right all wrongs done to his people.

But he had an even more impossible dream: to deal with the sin of the whole world, to reign in heaven, and to hobble the power of the Evil One until his ultimate demise once and for all at the END of all things.

And he did not stop. Nervousness did not deter him; fear did not win the day. He followed his quest even when those closest to him did not agree with him, or understand him. Then he literally “marched into hell for a heavenly cause.”

Overthrowing the Roman Empire would have been possible. Making a way for forgiveness of sin, impossible. Coming to earth in a chariot of fire with angels blazing the way would have been possible (although an amazing sight to see). Being born an ostensibly bastard male child to a lowly teenage girl, yet destined to lead others in unprecedented spiritual renewal, impossible.

Christmas is the reminder that impossible dreams are the best gifts to give and receive in this season. When you unwrap them, rest assured they will set a new course for your life. So, “follow that star” that led wise men to Jesus so many centuries ago. Then pledge to never forsake the quest to:

Right the unwritable wrong,
To love pure and chaste from afar,
To try when your arms are too weary,
To reach the unreachable star.”

As we look at the shape of our country, our world, we can easily be discouraged. Most of us only see the visible. In fact, many would say that is all any sensible person can see. As a result we hunker down in fear, self preservation, and defensiveness; we wear anger like a suit of clothes.

But some things are invisible. Like impossible things. To be seen . . . they require a quest.

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Electric Trains

If you were a boy like me, growing up (initially) in the South in the early 1950s, then you probably like trains as much as I do. There is both a mystique and an irresistible call in the air when you talk about railroads with little boys. And not just little boys. Big ones, too!

My father was a steward for a while with Southern Railroad out of Chattanooga, Tennessee. That fact lent itself beautifully to my fascination with trains. My next door neighbor, Mickey, had a father who worked in the rail yard, and once gave us a ride on his engine. So exciting!

So, when Dad one day went out to the garage, reached up to the planks that held storage above the spot where you’d park your car, and came down with a cardboard box that contained an old electric train set (possibly Lionel, but I don’t recall) that had once belonged to his nephew, Edward, my brother and I were beside ourselves.

There was a transformer that went with the set, a heavy, square black box that was probably about 10 inches wide. When you ran the engine you could smell the electricity surging through it, and it smelled like it was mixed with oil. It was probably a fire hazard, but we didn’t know that, so . . . .

We would take our time setting up the track, sending it under chairs and winding here and there. Then we’d turn off the lights so we could see the bright headlight on the engine as it made its way through our makeshift hill and dale. The sights and smells were nothing short of captivating.

Then in 1963 when we moved to Tucson, Arizona that box never surfaced again; I guess it didn’t make the proverbial “cut.” I wish I had it now.

What DID stay with me, however, was a fascination with trains. Every time since as early as I can remember I have been captivated by railroad tracks. Even in college in Arkansas one time I walked the railroad tracks all the way from Searcy to Kinsett. I didn’t know it was against the law. I took a girl named Melinda on a date one night, and after the show we saw (The Don Cossack Choir) I asked her if she’d like to walk on the railroad tracks with me. She gave me a weird look; I had no clue what was wrong. To me, it seemed a perfectly natural thing to do.

Now as I approach 68 years old I find I am still enthralled with railroad tracks and trains, and I’d like very much to have another electric train in the house. I actually built a table for an HO gauge train years ago, then sold it to a neighbor. Now I fantasize about having one encircle the room where we keep computers, guitars, etc.; I’d put it above the door, up high, so it wouldn’t take up any needed space. Pipe dream? Perhaps. But it would be fun to share with the grandkids.

What intrigues me is my fascination with small lifelike things: trains and tracks, buildings with small lights, miniature people doing realistic tasks. As I blogged several years ago about this I commented about this desire to have a small world at my fingertips, one where I was large and in charge, and all that occurred was in my purview and in my control. Maybe you’re not so different from me.

There would be no viruses in my little world, no serious illness or death, no impoliteness or unresolved anger. It would be idyllic, with a bucolic countryside and a small town full of pleasant, industrious, happy folks, friendly pets, and well behaved children. There would be harmony.

The ancient Hebrew writer, Isaiah, spoke of a time to come when wolves would lie down with lambs, and carnivores would eat straw. That sounds like a pretty safe place to live.

This world, of course, is not like the little town I describe. Maybe that’s why we are drawn sometimes to the “Mayberry” kind of existence, where peacefulness is rarely interrupted by anything more serious than jaywalking or a flat tire. I’ve written about our desire to create Utopia before, and I suppose this is just another way of achieving that same thing. It’s a bit of a conundrum as to why that desire is in us, when there is no way it will ever come about. But that’s a subject for another time, in another blog.

As good as our life is down here, it is far from idyllic. Perhaps the desire to have a diminutive world in the form of a train set is not a bad thing. In fact, it might be “just the ticket” helping us retreat from time to time to an existence over which we have more control. Of course, we must return to “the real world” and learn how to navigate reality. But who couldn’t use a little break from the drama now and then?

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Times are hard right now. In addition to the usual concerns of the day (the economy, the healthcare system, political rivalries, etc.) there are any number of thorny issues that are pressing on the populace, demanding attention and threatening our demise.

Is this a harbinger of our END?

I do not want to be blindsided, or bushwhacked. And I’m sure you do not either. But how many times in your life have you felt things were about to come unglued? Personally. Socially. Nationally. Internationally.

We are told that history repeats itself; that nothing lasts forever. And those things are indeed true. But there is an innate capacity in the human spirit, one of resilience, the God-given drive to bounce back, to reestablish, to redeem.

It’s called HOPE.

You cannot live long without it. Life is merely a drudgery traversing a landscape of barren, worthlessness without hope.

Relationships require hope to survive. Nations are skeletons of rudderless, seafaring vessels without hope. Our world with all its diversity and multifarious cultures only thrives if there is hope. But . . . with hope . . . even broken relationships can be redeemed, nations can grow eagle’s wings, and our world . . . can be reestablished.

Now, I am not so naive as to present to you dreams of Utopia; I do not believe that is possible in this world. That is not the goal. If it is, then it is a foolhardy goal. But what I do believe is that within each of us, in the midst of the battle that our dark side promotes, is a life-giving desire to do right, to promote wellness, to establish goodness. I call this the Imago Dei; you may call it something else. Nevertheless, it is present, even if you have no name for it whatsoever.

And we are in dire need of calling on it in these hard times.

Look deep inside. If you have struggled with depression over these last many months, if you have become disillusioned with the state of the world or the country, if you have been disappointed in the political, medical, or social answers that have been touted as panaceas to our ills . . . refuse to give up the one, innate attribute you most need: HOPE.

It has carried us through difficult times in the past, and it will do so again. This is not our first rodeo. We have been here before. Time tends to erase part of our memory, doesn’t it?

Whether you prefer to quote Winston Churchill’s “Never, never, never, never, never give up!” or Jesus’s “In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world,” it is right to cling to hope.

Are you angry? That is understandable.

Are you depressed? So are many of us.

Are you discouraged, disillusioned, disappointed? There are many who are.

Are you frightened? Only fools would not be.

But the real question is this: are you able to sit quietly, reflect on your life, and allow a tiny molecule of hope to rise to the surface?

If so . . . even if the hope is in embryonic form . . . you will begin to kindle the resilience needed to weather the current storm.

Hope refuses to be defeated. And the fallout from hope is always kindness, empathy, goodness, and a heart more-than-ready for hard work.

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R.I.P. Mawmaw

We called her “Mawmaw” (with an accent on both syllables) after the grandkids came along (“Mamaw” was an alternate pronunciation, emphasizing the first syllable), but she was always “Mom” to my wife, and “Mary” to her husband, Marty. Born in Globe, KY on May 18, 1928, she was raised as a young girl in a log cabin along with brothers and sisters (who eventually numbered 9) until moving to Portsmouth, OH sometime around age 9.

Her family was very poor; her father became blind early in his marriage and so her mother became the bread winner (what little bread there was) doing chores for other families until some of her children were old enough to be farmed out to be live-in housekeepers themselves in order to support the family. Interestingly enough, most all of those kids did quite well financially in life, no doubt spurred on by the poverty they experienced early on. Mawmaw certainly identified with Dolly Parton’s “Coat of Many Colors” – in fact, she loved it, because it described her early life perfectly.

Her mother was a Christian unafraid of sharing her faith, passing out tracts and talking with folks whenever she had the opportunity. In fact, one of the reasons I married the woman I did was because of the legacy left by her mother, Florence, passed on to Mary, then on to my wife. I thought I was getting a prize. But I had no idea how great a prize until years later. [I chose well].

Mary Grace Thompson became a Glynn when she married Marty Glynn in Flatwoods, KY in 1949. She had two daughters, Marta and Monica. She was skilled in arithmetic and spelling, and knew how to work hard. In fact, there were few tasks she was afraid to try be they “men’s work” or not; she was fearless. She became an asset at the State Unemployment Office in Portsmouth, OH for many years.

But to know her . . . you must know SHE WAS FAST! I’m talking about moving like lightning. Once with a friend at a restaurant she returned to the table with a long train of toilet paper hanging from her clothing; she had gotten up from the toilet and pulled her panties up so fast the paper didn’t have time to fall to its intended place. On another occasion a friend came to visit their house, removed his jacket and sat down. But when he got up to leave his jacket was nowhere in sight. After investigation it was revealed that while he was there she scanned the house for clothes to wash, and his jacket was scooped up as part of the load.

She was funny, without trying to be. Her husband was the comedian, and she was often the Ed McMahon to his Johnny Carson. But some of the zany situations she would get into seem almost orchestrated (but they weren’t): (1) waiting for her husband to pick her up after work, but thinking the person she saw in the car at the curb was his brother, so she just waved at him; (2) scooping everything on the top of our dresser into her purse once when she was visiting us (this included my wallet), thereby causing me to cancel all my credit cards one Sunday morning and miss my job at the church since I assumed I must have lost it at a truck stop on a trip I had just returned from the night before.

The stories are endless.

She suffered a brain aneurysm in her late forties, breast cancer years later, then Guillian-Barre syndrome, and finally dementia began to take its toll over the last few years. She passed from this life into the next, peacefully, on the night of July 8, 2021.

She loved to sing alto at church, and was as faithful a member as her mother had been. She taught her girls Bible stories at home, and raised them to love God, honor their husbands, and care well for their children. They are both faithful followers today, and have trained up their children to be as well. The legacy continues.

There was always a pot of coffee brewing at her house, and what we always called a “tete-a-tete” (though we pronounced it tater tay) every night around the kitchen table with chips and drinks and lots of story telling. Everyone was always welcome. I dare say, a stranger off the street would have been welcomed in, too.

She was forever a romantic (her favorite was movie “Gone With the Wind”), but she understood the harsh realities of life, too, and rose to the occasion in her marriage (which was sometimes tumultuous, especially early on), her child rearing, and her job. Her generosity was great, giving financially as well as baking for and serving others in need. She never forgot the poverty she had come from, and vowed to shield her girls from that kind of life. Although, as she reminisced in the year 2000, she was “happy” in those early years of her life, too.

There is no way to appropriately summarize a life well lived. It’s probably not measured in the amount of tears you see cried when one passes, nor the work they might have done (books written, buildings constructed, rooms cleaned, etc.). But listen to the stories. Ah yes, the stories. And look at the people affected by that life. That is certainly a measurement that comes close to accuracy.

And that being the measure . . . Mary Grace Thompson Glynn’s life was indeed . . . rich.

Now the shackles of disease and frailty no longer hamper her; she can speak again, dance again, and entertain the angels along with her brothers and sisters who have departed.

“He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak . . . those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.”

Isaiah 40:29, 31
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Too Late to Change?

I started counseling again in January 2021. No, not me counseling others; rather, me being counseled. It has been many years since I have been on the proverbial “couch,” 21 years in fact.

I am a retired 67 year old male, a heart patient who has to watch his glucose levels, take his pills every day, and get his afternoon nap almost every day. I have been married 45 years, have two delightful children in their 30s, and the finest wife a man could have. But . . . clearly I still need outside help.

But why, you ask, after all these years? Isn’t there a point at which someone elderly just needs to say, “This is just the way I am!”

I have heard that said many times, as I’m sure you have. But no . . . it’s never too late to change.

Clearly, I have learned much in my life. The trouble is most of what I’ve learned has been information, and not things that greatly advance my relationships with others. My shyness hides a sense of superiority and judgment, and many of the caustic thoughts in my head never make it to the surface for others to see.

So, I am back in therapy, journaling my deepest thoughts and shining a light on my greatest weaknesses. And you know what?

It doesn’t bother me to air my dirty laundry (in front of a friend of mine, no less). That’s one thing that age and experience have given me: a confidence and assurance that no matter how dark and sinister some of my thoughts may be, hiding them only gives them a power I do not want them to have.

You see, even at this age, I do want to be better, and do better. I do not want resentment and fear to have the final word in my life. No indeed. Honesty has always been, and will continue to be the key that unlocks the door to freedom.

Turn that key.

I haven’t blogged since the fall of 2020, and I’ve wondered why I’ve seemed so “dry” as a writer. I have been officially retired for a year (come June 7, 2021), and I thought I’d be writing avidly all during this time. But viruses and other issues took their emotional toll on us all, and I was not the exception I thought I was.

I’m not saying, “I’m back! Full speed ahead!” I am just saying, “I’m on the therapist’s couch right now.” Resumption of blogging is pending. You will have to wait and see just like me.

In the meantime, if you have some personal issues . . . don’t sweep them under the carpet. Get up, get in your car, go into the therapist’s lair and lie down on that couch. It just might give you the freedom you’ve been looking for. And deserve. No matter your age.

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