Searching For New Profiles In Courage

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I am independent by nature. I follow rules when they make sense but question them when they do not appear to be needed or if they seem to actually hurt a group of people. In politics I’ve never been swayed by the platform of a particular party. I tend to vote for the individual, none of whom ever seem to completely conform to my way of thinking. I look for candidates who appear to be mostly rational, well spoken, dedicated to working for all of the people, not just a particular base. For that matter I’ve never been part of a base for either of our two big political parties. I almost always find areas of disagreement with both the big tent of the group and the leanings of the individual. 

I suppose I am a free thinker and I really do contemplate each issue individually. Most of the time I have to find a compromise candidate for whom to vote because I literally abhor the idea of blind loyalty to one person or party. I look for people who appear to really care about our democracy and its processes even if now and again they support some idea with which I do not concur. Over the years my voting record has included an incredible variety of individuals and has rarely been based on a single issue. 

I did a bit of protesting in my college years but I always left the scene if it became too rowdy. It was not my style to become abusive in either words or actions. I was a student and a fan of passive resistance. I wanted to make my concerns heard but I was unwilling to do so in an aggressive or hurtful way. This is why the leaders of the fifties and sixties civil rights movement like Rosa Parks, and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. were my heroes both then and now. 

Of late the tenor of politics has morphed into a more rabid form. It almost seems passé for some of our leaders to be honest, soft spoken, willing to see differing points of view and then compromise. Washington D.C. is the center of a kind of “my way or the highway” form of thinking that is often eagerly supported by the electorate. In the process Congress has come to more closely resemble a standoff between the Hatfields and McCoys than a legislative body. Issues languish in limbo because so few of our elected officials are willing to work together to do the things that we all know must be accomplished. Instead Congressional sessions have become little more than opportunities to stump for the next election down the road. Our legislators no longer work to get things done for the country but more often turn their work into political rallies designed to please some base or power broker rather than the vast diversity of people that is America. 

Democracy itself is being threatened by a kind of bullying designed to keep all of the political players in line. Voting by conscience is considered a breach of trust. When John McCain gave a thumbs down to attempts to abolish the Affordable Care Act without a reasonable replacement this once revered war hero suddenly became a pariah. When Mitt Romney voted to impeach the former president because he deeply believed that it was the right thing to do for the country he was greeted with boos from his party rather than respect for his courage. When former president Trump continues to insist that the election of 2020 was a big lie even after mountains of evidence has proven the contrary anyone in his party who insists that he is wrong is all but tarred and feathered and run out of town rather than being allowed the freedom of speech that our Constitution is supposed to protect. 

Enter Liz Chaney, the daughter of a former Vice President of the United States. A woman with a conservative Republican pedigree that reaches back years, she is now being threatened with the loss of her number three spot in the House of Representatives only because she has been willing to push back on the absurd idea that Joe Biden and the Democrats stole the election. She has been brave enough to face reality and refuse to blindly bow in adoration to Donald Trump. She is willing to risk losing her career as a lawmaker to protect our democracy and its processes. The reward for her love of America has been bullying and disdain. I for one believe that she is in fact the best hope for the Republican party to remain viable in our country. We need her and others like her who are willing to alert us when the emperor has no clothes.

In truth I prefer not discussing political issues. I know that I have never changed a single mind by outlining my views. I generally find conversations about the big challenges of our time to be somewhat circular these days, but it has not always been so. I recall a time when the people we sent to Washington D.C. were willing to work with President Lyndon Johnson to carve out the Civil Rights Act. It was an imperfect document but it was a start, much better than nothing at all. Congress used to provide solutions like sending an immigration reform bill to President Ronald Reagan that may not have solved every problem but certainly tackled many of the main challenges. Now it seems that our lawmakers are so afraid of losing votes by using common sense compromise that they simply snipe at each other for the duration of their terms. When one of their members gets out of line they make a big show of shunning that individual lest the voters take our their revenge in the voting booth.

I firmly believe that our beloved country with all of its flaws and sometimes questionable history is wonderful but right now is more fragile than it has been since the Civil War. We the people have created an echo chamber of no value with our votes for only a certain kind of person who is willing to follow the party line like a lemming jumping from a cliff. Until we send a message of support for those who actually have convictions rather than soundbites ruling their comments and their votes we will continue hurtling toward unresolved and insurmountable problems. 

We have to tone down the rhetoric and partisanship. We should be embracing those whose courage demonstrates their willingness to sacrifice for the good of the nation. We the people have the power to demand that our elected officials quit preening and arguing and get down to the business of healing our country. Let us hope that we can somehow find the new profiles in courage because we most surely need them if democracy is to survive.

Being Our Best Selves

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I have the highest regard for athletes. I am someone who has always struggled in that arena so I marvel at those who have honed their motor skills to the point of greatness. Just as with intellect some individuals seem to be born with athleticism but the true giants in any field have dedicated themselves to perfecting their abilities. Great athletes work as hard as someone earning a medical degree. I am in awe of anyone willing to push themselves beyond the ordinary. 

The closest I ever came to developing the more activity oriented aspect of my humanity came with running and twirling a baton. The running was something that was easy for me and I loved feeling the wind on my face as I sprinted like a gazelle. It never occurred to me to join a track team because I was such a late bloomer who was far smaller than my peers until my junior year in high school. I nonetheless felt incredibly comfortable whenever I ran. Sadly those days of dashing freely are long gone. My arthritic knees prohibit me from pounding my full weight onto the balls of my feet. I feel a great sadness in no longer being able to use the one physical talent that came so naturally to me. It makes me think of older athletes riddled with pain from the abuses their bodies have endured and I somehow understand the sorrow that they must feel in losing their abilities. It would be like losing my ability to read or write a coherent sentence. 

I generally struggled with any motor skills that required me to coordinate my eyes with my limbs. All forms of sports using balls were painfully difficult for me. It was as though my brain refused to connect with my hands and my feet. My lack of motor skills made me a very empathetic mathematics teacher because I fully understood the frustration of being unable to perform a particular task and then being ridiculed for my ineptness. There was only one thing that I somehow managed to do well in the physical realm besides running and that was to twirl a baton. Because I was good at manipulating that metal shaft through my fingers I became passionate about perfecting my craft and spent long hours in my backyard practicing until I was able to toss my baton high into the air and catch it easily. Of course along the way to perfection I received many bumps on the head as the instrument came careening from space like a rocket programed to hit me on the top of my skull. My impish brothers enjoyed laughing at those moments and teasing me that I would surely sustain brain damage, a family joke that endures to this day. 

Athletes indeed punish their bodies beyond anything that the rest of us ever endure. The stresses that they place on their bones and organs ultimately end their careers far sooner than they would like. Sports are wonderful until a bone breaks one time too many or a brain takes too many shocks. There is nothing more beautiful to me than an athlete at the peak of his or her career but also nothing more sad than a former great dealing with chronic pain. I do not begrudge the incredible salaries of professionals because the shelf life of an athlete is far shorter than in any other career. If they are wise they invest their income well because it is unlikely to endure past their thirties in most cases. 

I have to admit that I prefer high school athletics far more than college or professional teams. Sports at that level have a kind of purity that is missing as the culling process progresses to the best of the best. In high school there are still possibilities for those who enjoy the games that use their talents. There may be that one triumphant moment of greatness that will always be remembered even if the glory ends at graduation. There is a kind of simple joy at that level when hopes and dreams of continuing forward are still alive. 

I marvel at the dedication of athletes. They arise in the dark to attend practices before the school day even begins. Every moment of their daily schedules is filled. They not only must attend their academic classes and fulfill all of the demands therein but they also find themselves playing on weekends or during the school week long after their classmates have gone home to study. Their routines are brutal and demand organizational skills and a willingness to work as a member of a team. Little wonder that even athletes who end their sports careers in college go on to excel in their chosen fields of work because of the discipline that they have learned to apply to their lives.

I have to admit that I don’t really follow professional sports. I’ll watch a football game now and again but I’m not a season ticket kind of gal. I like baseball but the game is a bit slow for me and the season a bit too long. I enjoy the pace of basketball and feel most inclined to give my attention to those contests. Golf puts me to sleep but I marvel at swimmers and often feel as though theirs is a highly underrated and under-appreciated skill. To me the most beautiful athlete though is the runner. I love watching someone who has elevated his or her innate ability to flee into a kind of art. A great runner seems to epitomize the perfection of the human body. 

I admire anyone who is athletic. I believe in the need to cultivate and exercise every aspect of our human abilities. Being our best selves demands that we develop our bodies, our minds and our souls. Athletics are but one aspect of being human and pushing the envelope of who we are.

Healing Without Being Sick

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Many of us in the over sixty five demographic have been slowly transitioning back into a pre-pandemic way of life. Our children and grandchildren old enough to receive the vaccine have endured the injections not just to make themselves safer but to be certain that they will not somehow endanger us. We have been able to meet with them post vaccine without masks. We’ve embraced in long bear hugs that have been sorely missing for over a year. We’ve spent hours visiting and talking and realizing how much we had taken such moments for granted in the past. 

Very cautiously we have gone back to stores, watching for places that still require those dreaded masks and appreciating companies that are continue to be firmly dedicated to expanded cleanliness and social distancing procedures. We smile when we see queues at the Apple store limiting the number of customers allowed inside at any given time and taking temperatures at the head of the line. Somehow we feel personally honored when we see such things. We like the idea of corporate America demonstrating concern for good practices designed not to take away our freedoms but to protect us all.

A couple of weekends ago my husband and I finally ventured inside two different restaurants for the first time since the end of February in 2020. Both of the places were going out of their way to demonstrate continued caution. Tables were much farther apart than they might ordinarily have been. All of the employees wore masks and spoke of having been vaccinated as requirements for working. We felt as safe as if we were in our own kitchen dining alone. Best of all we were with other people who had also been vaccinated and we experiences a sense of joy that was indescribable. I suppose I babbled far too much on those evenings but nobody seemed to notice or even care that I could not stop talking. 

We’ve once again gone to get haircuts instead of butchering our locks with ill chosen unprofessional snips to keep them in control. I sat in a mostly empty nail salon getting my first pedicure in over a year and a half. We are happily planning to attend pared down versions of graduations for three of our grandsons while also regretting that such a wonderful occasion was denied a fourth who matriculated during the height of Covid-19 deaths in the country back in December. 

My doctor guides me in deciding what to do now and what to avoid. He feels certain that the fall will bring us back to a sense of full return to the way things once were. He believes that if people continue to get vaccinations and follow guidelines that will be loosened a bit at a time we will surely get to a place that will feel somewhat normal. He hopes that Christmas will be a glorious celebration with very few restrictions. His optimism keeps me from sliding into a state of worry and despair. I am convinced that the nightmare we have shared will slowly but surely fade into the past but there are things that I learned about living during the long quiet year of mostly being alone that may actually change the way I do things forever. 

I can’t imagine ever again taking anything or anyone for granted. I’ve always chosen people over all other rewards but like everyone I sometimes grew weary of my human responsibilities and even found myself lacking in the level of empathy that every person deserves. I did not fully appreciate each person’s contribution to the functioning of our society and family and friendships. I’ve realized how important the people who support us in hundreds of sometimes unseen ways are for keeping us healthy and safe and happy. I hope that I never again lose the enormous sense of gratitude that I feel for cashiers, delivery people, the medical community, the media that kept us informed, the artists who entertained us, the ministers who kept us close to God from the comfort of our living rooms, the workers who kept things running while we hunkered down, the friends who regularly checked to be certain that we were doing well. 

Yes, there have been people who have made recovery from the pandemic more difficult but they are vastly outnumbered by good decent souls who have been willing to sacrifice and honor each and every human. I don’t want to forget the compassion and flexibility and resilience that I have witnessed over and over again. Some have callously accused many of us of being afraid and shouted for us to stay home but most have been kind and understanding. When I become anxious or cynical about the future I hope that I remember the good people and the helpers. 

I have learned how much I do not need. I have not worn makeup more than a couple of times in the past year. I used to worry and fret over my appearance but somehow that no longer seems to matter as much as the fact that I am still here and still able to contribute to the betterment of the world. The students that I Zoomed for mathematics lessons never appeared to mind that I was wearing comfy clothes rather than stylish outfits or that I had gone full natural with my clean face and long hair lacking in style. I don’t think that I will return to primping and preening every single day but instead will focus my time on worthier tasks.

I learned how to visit with friends and family through the magnificence of technology. My nephews in Chicago came into my living room as surely as if they had driven down to my house. I had evenings with women friends while sipping on my favorite wine. My daughters and I checked on each other every single day via pithy texts in which we were able to laugh and vent and feel as though we we all together again. We even spent one Saturday evening encouraging one daughter who was having a scary time with Covid-19. I realize now that just a short text or a few minutes on Zoom or FaceTime can be as meaningful as an old fashioned in person visit. I hope we never give up the contacts that we so often used to get us through the long isolation brought on by the virus.

I have become more and more content with simply being in my home. I enjoy writing and reading and working in my yard. An evening spent on my patio among the birds and flowers and plants has been as enjoyable as time at an expensive venue. I’ve become more and more appreciative of an uncomplicated lifestyle. I have literally learned how to better distinguish between what I want and what I actually need. I have generally become more and more content even as so many of my routines had to change. 

I have tried in the past to follow the counsel of Thoreau to simplify, simplify, simplify. I have often gone off course as I rushed from one moment to the next, driving here, touching down there, feeling exhausted at the end of the day. My forced change of lifestyle during the pandemic has cleared my mind and brought me more joy than I have felt in years. As I venture into a post pandemic future I hope that I temper my actions with a dose of joy and appreciation along with a sense of gratitude for what I already have. In some ways I think that I have healed without ever being sick. My worldview has changed and the road ahead looks delightful.   

The Last Resort

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I definitely should not be in charge of designing a vacation resort. I suspect that few would want to go to the kind of place that would be nirvana for me. Unlike so many people I am not a fan of spending time anywhere that attracts crowds of people. I’ve never been on a cruise and really don’t want to try one unless it is one that takes me to the wilds of Alaska or floats down the Danube with the sole purpose of dropping me off to explore different cities and towns by myself. Leave me out of anything that has even a hint of party time. 

I’ve been to Las Vegas and I’m happy that I have seen it but nothing there has the power to lure me back. Gambling to me is like flushing money down the toilet. Those big buffets leave me cold. If I want to see a big show I don’t have to travel far from my city of Houston where all kinds of entertainment is available in normal times. 

I had a great deal of fun at an all inclusive resort in Cancun but I spent most of my time sitting quietly on the balcony of my room just watching the waves and enjoying the tropical breezes. The dining was exceptional but I mostly went to eat at the slowest time of day to ensure that the atmosphere would be quiet. The crowds around the pool did nothing for me but I enjoyed strolling through the nearby sights. 

Getting away means just that for me. I want quiet, nature, solitude. The most incredible moments of my travels have always been those when I found a spot where it felt as though only God and I were present. A less traveled area of Yosemite did that for me as I walked with my grandson through ancient trees. A seaside town in northern England where I gazed from the bay toward the North Sea was so wonderful that I wanted to linger there forever. A Pacific Ocean view in Washington State on a drizzly day made me feel as though I was discovering a place where no one had walked before. Mountain views in Colorado and a cloudy prairies in Wyoming were exhilarating. I felt as one with something more powerful and wonderful than myself. 

My resort would offer such opportunities to people like myself be they introverts or just persons who need to escape from the hustle and bustle of daily life. It would have to be set in a beautiful area perhaps with little cabins far enough removed from one another that there would be no signs of other people. The rooms would look out on vistas of mountains or oceans or forests. Nature would be the main attraction and walking would be the only exercise. Trails would lead to incredible views or interesting habitats for flora or fauna.

There would be fire pits stocked with enough wood for stays of many nights. Bookshelves would hold volumes based on the interests of the guests staying there. Meals would be quietly delivered without need to sit in a dining room filled with other people. Perhaps there would be a hot tub and a nice selection of wine in each room. I might even stock each cabin with a telescope for gazing at the stars and the planets at night and a pair of binoculars for watching the wildlife. The whole idea would be to kick back and totally relax. 

In the event that there are actually other souls like me who might enjoy such a calm adventure I would eventually create locales all over the world in remote locations. I call them The Last Resort. Of course given that most of humanity has been in a state of forced isolation for many months due to COVID 19 I suspect that very few people will be even remotely interested in my ideas for a resort. I mean who is actually in need of a quiet place with no people right now? Sadly my idea may have been a hit a couple of years ago but my timing is off at the moment which is nothing unusual for me. 

I always laugh because I am so much like my grandfather. He used to get an amused expression on his face whenever he spoke of the how he just missed making a killing with an idea or a piece of property. He said that if he had found exactly the right moment for hawking his business acumen he would have been a millionaire many times over. I suspect that the difference between the mega rich and those of us who are ordinary is often about knowing when to hold em and when to fold em. Like Grandpa I always appear to be just a bit too early or too late in my attempts to sell a concept. It is no doubt a very good thing that I never even considered a career in sales. I’ll leave that sort of thing to better souls who are more charming and persuasive than I am.

In some ways I wish there were indeed a resort like the one I have described. Who knows? Maybe there actually is and I just don’t know about it. I’d like to go there right now. I need a reprieve from all of the craziness of the last many years. I want to just enjoy a week or a couple of days without knowing the latest news or having to be perky when I don’t feel like being so. Nature has always been a panacea for me and the farther away from the madding crowd it is the better. I think I’ll go find someplace like that right now.

What I Hope To Avoid

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I like to make lists: groceries, places to visit, books to read, things to do, topics to tackle with my writing. Such inventories provide me with a visual outline of what I hope to accomplish and sadly now that I grow older a way of actually remembering ideas that pop into my mind and then evaporate all too soon. I don’t think I’ve ever considered making an accounting of things that I will never ever do but people like to challenge me with wild ideas for my blogs. Recently someone asked me to compile such a catalog, no doubt out of curiosity regarding what kind of crazy ideas lurk  in my psyche. I suppose that whatever we avoid says as much about us as what we actually do. So just for fun here is my tally of twenty five things I never want to do.

  1. I’ve heard that snakes hang out in fields of bluebonnets so I won’t be lying down amid the flowers to take a lovely photograph any time soon.
  2. I saw images of a friend skydiving. Since I’ve had to work very hard to make my fragile bones stronger it is highly doubtful that I will test my progress in that regard by jumping out of a plane.
  3. I refused to eat liver and onions as a child and I see no reason whatsoever to try that noxious dish after seventy two years of successfully avoiding it.
  4. I can’t imagine reaching a point at which I am ln longer learning just a little bit more each day.
  5. I refuse to turn on a friend or family member over politics. We may differ wildly in our beliefs about issues but our divergences will never change my personal feelings for them.
  6. I have no desire to travel in a boat. I become seasick at the drop of a hat. My landlubber genes must be quite powerful.
  7. I will never abandon my relationship with God. I don’t always get what I think I want from the heavenly power but I always get what I need.
  8. I will never stop traveling even if I become so frail that my journeys must become virtual. 
  9. I cannot imagine giving up the hard copies of my books. Touching the paper and even smelling the ink is part of the sensual experience of reading.
  10. I will never again mow a lawn. I used to do so every weekend from April through November. Then I found a most wonderful helper named Jose who does a far better job of trimming my lawn and he does it in under an hour. Why would I want to return to doing such a thing myself?
  11. In that same spirit I do not even attempt to undertake any tasks related to plumbing when I have Big John and his crew just a phone call away. I’ve got some great stories about do it yourself plumbing projects that turned into disasters.
  12. My life has improved exponentially with technology and I cannot even consider the idea of one day giving up my laptop, my smart phone or any of the other appliance that make life easier than it has ever before been. I used to just want my MTV but now I am greedy about by Netflix and Amazon and Hulu and Britbox as well.
  13. I will never take my freedoms and privileges for granted. I know full well that by pure happenstance I ended up in a world of opportunity and promise.
  14. I will not listen to nor support individuals who take joy in denigrating or bullying others. I have no time nor desire to encourage them with any form of acceptance.
  15. I will never leave my teaching roots. Somehow I will find a way to help others to learn no matter what my own condition may be. There is no greater joy that passing information from one person to another and watching the seeds of knowledge grow and multiply.
  16. I refuse to puff myself up with so much arrogance that I believe that I have somehow found the secret to life to which others are not privy. There are many different ways to life gloriously.
  17. I don’t want to ever grow up completely. Everyone has a bit of Peter Pan in them and I cherish that part of who I am. Being young at heart is wonderful.
  18. I won’t go to bed angry. I try to resolve conflicts as quickly as possible.
  19. I won’t forget to say my prayers each morning when I rise. They set a positive tone for the coming day.
  20. I’ll do my best never to hurt anyone either with my words or my actions.
  21. I’ll try not to forget kindnesses that people have showered on me. I do remember all of the times that individuals have offered a helping hand or an understanding shoulder on which to lean.
  22. I will never underestimate the sacrifices that my parents and grandparents and ancestors made for me. I am who I am because of them.
  23. I want to try not to dwell as much on the problems that challenge me as the blessings that seem to always come my way. It’s often too easy to get mired in the muck.
  24. I won’t forget that very little that is worthwhile comes easily. I will put forth the efforts I need to continually improve myself as a person.
  25. I will not worry as much as I always seem to do. After seventy two years I should surely know that things always have a way of working themselves out if I curb my control freak tendencies and just go with the flow. I need to keep reminding myself that it is always easier to list my hopes and dreams and optimism than to come up with a rendering of things that I want to avoid. That is the real wonder of life.