Slow Down

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If the pandemic has done nothing else of a positive nature, it has helped me to finally become a patient person. I have actually learned how to wait gracefully and to appreciate people’s efforts in trying to help me get things done. When the people of the world finally began to emerge from our homes in mass, there was a great deal of need to catch up with repairs, health screenings, even travel. I found out rather quickly that everyone seemed to be on the same page and that meant waiting for weeks and even months for things to happen. There was very little instant gratification on the horizon.

The rush for vaccines was the first obstacle that I encountered. I behaved badly that task. When I had difficulty finding an appointment for my jab, I became anxious and at times even angry. My little fits did absolutely nothing to speed up the process, so before long I realized that I simply needed to wait my turn and I too would eventually find an opening for getting the shot. I saw that my turn would come to pass whether or not I stayed calm or pitched a hissy fit. Because I actually angered some long time friends over my initial theatrical panic attacks, I learned how to control my need to be in charge and get quick responses to all of my demands. It turned out the be the best thing that might have ever happened to me. 

I began to empathize with service people who wanted to help me but scheduled repairs weeks and even months from my requests. I assured them that I understood their dilemmas in attempting to fulfill all of the demands for their help. Getting a chimney repaired took three months, but the completed project was perfection. Having a generator installed required a wait of almost a full year, but now I hear it running each Wednesday as the weekly test, and I smile. It was January before our trailer was put back together after an accident in July. Appointments with doctors sometimes took months to procure. Somehow I found myself smiling peacefully and reassuring the people who were apologizing for delays that I was perfectly willing to wait as long as needed. I knew that sooner or later everything would begin to fall into place. 

This new attitude is so contrary to my usual personality. I am a go getter who wants everything set right yesterday. For most of my life waiting has been annoying to me. I tend to take charge of situations before any grass grows under my feet. I’m the kind of person who will work into the early morning hours getting things done and I usually expect others to be as reliable as I am in meeting deadlines. Somehow in the past year I have made a one hundred eighty degree transformation. It’s not important to me to race to the finish line like a rabbit anymore. I’m content to approach life with a casual stroll and support those who need to go even slower than I am moving. I have learned to admire the tortoise.

The world has been through a great trauma that was not caused by any particular humans, but by a microscopic virus. We attacked it with everything we had, but it was a mysterious critter and so we made many false starts along the way. That’s how it usually goes when we are faced with a mystery. We try a bit of this and that hoping that the route we have chosen will be the right one. Along the way we may have to change our course or rethink our hypotheses. It’s all part of anatomy of living in a pandemic. 

I now laugh at ever demanding a set answer, a certain time frame. I know that I can rant all that I want, but the virus and its collateral damage does not and will not march to my drumbeat or that of anyone else. It will do what it is going to do and hopefully we will find tools to deal with the fallout. My response has been to just go with the flow. I expected to have problems re-adjusting, so inflation and gas prices seem to just be part of the process of returning to normal. I adapt to this bump in the road and have no desire to blame any single person. The fact is that the whole world is hurting in one way or another. Why should I be immune to the pain? My mantra these days is, “This too shall pass.”

At the same time I try to find ways of helping those who are really in need. I’ve weathered the Covid storm relatively well. I’ve managed to stay healthy and keep teaching and writing. I’ve enjoyed the quiet times in my home and the precious reunions with family and friends. I use less gasoline by planning my errands strategically and I find myself eating less food and liking the idea that I may get lucky and shed those extra pounds that crept in over the last two years. I try to portion my own good fortune with people who have been brutalized by the pandemic. It’s something that I think would be good for all of us to do rather than complaining and pointing fingers to find scapegoats for all that has happened. 

This should be a time for healing and that process often comes slowly. I learned from an injury to my arm last summer that it would take many months of physical therapy, home exercises and much time before I was once again pain free. So it is with all of the world trying to adjust to the harsh effects of two years of pandemic. It won’t be a quick fix, but it will be a more pleasant process if we approach it with patience and understanding. 

We have a large number of people who deserve our gratitude. There are doctors and nurses and even staff members of hospitals and medical clinics who sacrificed so much for us. We can’t forget the teachers who have dedicated themselves to keeping our children learning under the most difficult conditions imaginable. Now should not be a time to attack such people, but a moment to be profusely thankful that they were willing to carry on while the war with Covid was raging. We can’t forget the folks who kept our grocery stores and service stations running or the owners of restaurants who struggled to stay afloat. It’s time that we stop demanding and accusing and agreed to work on our patience and our consideration. 

We are all tired. We’d do well to just float for a time. There is no hurry. We will reach better days just as the blooms of spring come back at their own pace after the freezes of winter. It feels good for me to have finally and truly learned how to do this. For now I plan to look to the tortoise.

It Is Time

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My grandson, Jack, is a deep thinker. It’s rather appropriate that he was named after my father because the two of them would have been shown to have very similar personalities and interests. Since my dad died when I was a child few people will ever be able to observe the likenesses of these two. My father enjoyed humor as much as Jack does. Daddy was a sports fan to the max and so is Jack. My dad was brilliant and in many ways a Renaissance Man. Jack is also wicked smart and interested in a vast array of subjects. Both of them received their college educations at Texas A&M University and majored in engineering. For Daddy it was Mechanical for Jack is was Computer. 

From the time he was a little boy Jack was an observer of the world. He quietly noticed things that most children would not have seen. He was filled with joy but also asked questions that seemed serious and advanced for his age. When we took him on a vacation trip to the Bay area and Yosemite National Park he engaged us in long discussions about the meaning of life and how to live well while also honoring the rest of the world. He fell in love with Yosemite just as my dad had decades before.

Jack  loves music, also like my father, and enjoys playing many different instruments. He does not spend money on four dollar cups of coffee or clothes or luxuries of any kind. He is frugal, a saver and at this moment in his life he is focused on wanting to help to prevent the destruction of our planet. He is incredibly knowledgeable and earnest about this cause. He has engaged me in multiple conversations about the damage that fossil fuels have done to our earth and he has been sounding alarms since he was a young boy. Now in his twenties the subject of climate change has become his passion. For his birthday recently he only wanted to talk with me about how anxious we should all be that the world is mostly ignoring the problem and to discuss how he and I might help to make a difference. He was thrilled when I donated in his name to the Sunrise Movement, a youth group dedicated to educating communities about climate change and providing guidance on how each of us can help.  

I used to think that Jack was a bit hyperbolic with his warnings about what is happening to our earth, but events like fires in my favorite parts of Colorado and the unbelievable floods of hurricane Harvey in my own city have shaken my conviction that we have plenty of time to figure out what to do. The destruction of our planet caused by climate change is happening with increasing frequency and at never before seen or even imagined levels of damage. At the rate we are going we will soon run out of funding to help those affected by weather disasters.

Because of my many talks with Jack I have done research of my own and what I have discovered is shocking. It seems that as far back as the nineteen seventies scientific studies at major oil companies like Exxon warned of the detrimental effects of fossil fuels. Instead of taking heed of the findings, a concerted effort was made to bury the reports and push a campaign of misinformation instead. Millions were spent spreading the gospel that climate change was unproven science even though documents show that the companies’ own scientists were predicting exactly what has unfolded. They spent huge amounts lobbying politicians and influencing decisions. 

When Bill Clinton began to tackle climate change his efforts were thwarted. Since that time companies have spread the myth that we will be able to quickly turn to new technologies that will fix the problems when and if they occur. Now we are on the brink of reaching increases in temperature that will make parts of the world uninhabitable. There are rivers and dams in parts of that are drying up. We see these things but somehow we convince ourselves to look the other way. Sadly we might have begun earnest work on this problem more than four decades ago, but the cover up and ridiculing of those who were warning us worked and now it seems to be too late to prevent the kind of recurring natural disasters that are tearing up communities at an alarming rate. 

Some like to make fun of Greta Thornberg and accuse her of being an insolent child who does not know what she is doing, but her passion for saving the earth is real. Some look at the New Green Deal and roll their eyes, but the reality is that waiting to do something will ultimately cost us more. It’s like keeping up a house. If we repair and maintain things all along we rarely face a huge unexpected bill. If we neglect our homes they rapidly fall apart and bringing them back to a state of working order can be incredibly expensive. We have to join together with the rest of the world and get really serious. We must abandon anti-science attitudes that have become so prevalent and begin attentively listening to the researchers who understand what we must do. 

There is so much frustration among those who have analyzed climate change and its effects that thousands of them joined together recently to protest around the world. They complained that nobody seems willing to pay attention to what they have to say. They feel like the boy who sees quite well that the Emperor has no clothes, but when they point it out they are ignored. Like my grandson they worry that the world of the future will be a difficult place to live if we continue to ignore their warnings.

I’m older. At best I probably have twenty to twenty five years of life ahead of me. If nothing is done to address the rising temperatures, the growing amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, the mounting disasters, the droughts, the killing of wildlife, the destruction of forests those may be some of the most difficult years of my lifetime. For those who are young it might mean a world with fewer of the wonders that we have all taken for granted for far too long. We need to choose to begin acting now, not tomorrow. We should not base our own actions on whether or not other people or nations react. We are past the having the luxury of dragging our feet because we do not want to make the necessary sacrifices. The time is now. 

Jack has opened my eyes and I do not think we need hysteria, but we can begin the process of enacting the changes that scientists believe will help. Hopefully we still have some time to prevent the worst case scenarios but our time is running out.  

Climbing Mountains

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When i was in high school one of my teachers gave us a personality test for fun. It was short and to the point. It asked if we would rather live in a cabin in the mountains or in a home at the beach. I had no problem answering. I would always prefer living in the mountains. I find them to be majestically beautiful and soothing to my soul. I was stunned to learn from the results that my answer indicated that I was a close-minded person who does not enjoy being with people. How choosing the mountains over the ocean might signify something like that is beyond me, so I totally disregarded the analysis as being poppycock. 

I have always loved the mountains. They are like a stairway to heaven, a miraculous place that is both challenging and humbling. Most of our family vacations were spent camping in a tent near a mountain. When I was strong and fit the mountains called me to hike to their summits. I would spend entire days walking higher and higher on switchbacks that tested my endurance and strength. My lungs would sometimes gasp for air as I rose higher and higher and the air became thin. I pushed myself to keep going even when I felt exhausted and ready to quit. Making it to the summit was undeniably rewarding with vistas that seemed to continue past the horizon. I always felt that I had achieved something worthwhile and important as I shared my victory with others who had walked with me along the paths to the top. 

Even in the toughest of times I am able to mentally return to those grueling walks and realize that I have much more determination inside me than I ever dreamed. I know that I am able to endure challenges and emerge tired but victorious. The mountains made me feel alive and part of something way bigger than myself. They helped me to realize that I have mastery over myself but that I am little more than a speck in the grand scheme of things. 

Looking down from the top of a mountain I realized the importance of working together with my fellow humans. I would not have finished many of those journeys without the company and encouragement of others who came with me. I might have become too weary to continue alone. With the help of others I was unafraid because we shared the experience together. 

Life is so much like climbing a mountain. There are times that are so difficult that we look up and feel certain that we can’t succeed. We have to force ourselves to begin the journey by taking one small step and then another. If we have people who care about us, urging us on, we suddenly realize that we have made progress even though it is incredibly slow. We feel encouraged to keep pushing onward and upward, sometimes with an aching in our bodies and souls that threatens to defeat us. We see the summit ahead and we tell ourselves that we can do just a bit more and then some more. Eventually we realize that we have almost reached the peak and so we find the energy that we need to take the final steps. We rejoice that we have overcome our worries, our problems, the voices that hold us back and make us fearful. There are few better feelings.

Just as I have journeyed to the top of many mountains, so too has my life been beset by challenges that at first seemed daunting. I could not imagine growing up without a father, but I did. I wanted to run away from my mother’s mental illness, but instead I stayed and helped her. In the early years of marriage my husband developed a rare disease that often kills the people who contract it. I hated what was happening to my young family and did not think that I would make it alone while my husband was in the hospital. With the help of countless friends, I managed and my husband became well with the expertise of doctors. I worked full time while studying for a master’s degree. There came a time when I was exhausted and wanted to quit. My brother was a cheerleader who urged me to keep going. I got my degree and felt so proud. I never thought I would be able to quench my long held desire to write, and yet I have found time to tap the keys on my laptop and share my stories with an audience of people that I know and some that I have never met. The mountains taught me that with determination I can push myself through moments of discouragement and exhaustion. They showed me that I can accomplish my dreams.

I must admit that these tumultuous times are making me anxious. There is too much anger and division and hate in the world at a time when I would be content to just lead a quiet life. I find the mountains calling me but I am no longer able to hike to the top. My knees are worn, my bones are more fragile, my back has a tendency to ache. Now I can only sit at the bottom and gaze upward, remembering how glorious it was to feel as one with the power of the steep prominence. I have to imagine myself overcoming my own shortcomings and finding an inner strength that I did not know was there. As I think on such things I remember that there is great glory in the world, but we have to fight for it together. We are unlikely to get anywhere alone. 

I am hopeful that we humans will relearn how to work together again. I know how important it is for us to value each other and work in a spirit of cooperation. I will do my own part to tone down the anger and devote my energy to bringing people together. No person, group or nation has ever succeeded by constantly fighting and insulting one another. Progress only happens when we respect our differences and use our talents together for the betterment of all. The mountain that we all now climb is in our hearts. One step at a time we should begin the approach to the summit where hopefully we will find that the rhetoric and discord of the past few years is gone. The mountains are calling us to work toward achieving a world of cooperation for the betterment of all. We will need all of our strength along with the help of our fellow travelers to get there. We’ve done it before. We can do it again.

Attention

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My mother grew up in a big family of ten people. It was almost a foregone conclusion that having that many individuals crowded into a very small house would end up being raucous. They each learned how to talk with loud booming voices just to be heard. Whenever they got together it was almost impossible for anyone to get in a word without screaming. Since I was born with a very soft way of speaking I learned very early to just listen to the cacophony of voices when I visited with my extended family. There were times when I felt like a fly on the wall as I observed the loud conversations. I suppose that I first began to develop my observational skills with that wild and rowdy group because it was easier to watch and learn from them than to enter the fray. 

It is not in my nature to attempt to talk over people because I am rarely successful in gaining their attention that way. As a teacher I developed a methodology that mostly worked. When my students became too loud I would stand quietly before them staring with a stern expression on my face until they quieted down. Somehow it always worked so I never had to decide what I would do if they just kept chattering. I suppose that I could have forced myself to yell at them, but I never cared much for that when I was a student, so I did not want to inflict a strident voice on them when I was their teacher. 

When I am out and about I tend to be someone that nobody notices. Sometimes that is to my advantage, but there have been times when I was attempting to get waited on by a clerk and I felt as though I must surely be invisible as other people pushed in front of me as though I was not even there. Even if I mumbled in dismay nobody seemed to care that I had been ignored. 

When I visited London a couple of years ago it was the first time in my life that I did not need to assert myself to get help or have a question answered. In fact, the people were so polite and deferential that I was initially stunned. I felt that somehow I had finally found a place where my quiet ways were actually appreciated. 

Some of my friends have encountered my rowdy family and felt overwhelmed by their exuberance. I suppose that I adapted to them long ago and find no particular need to push myself into their tumultuous discussions. I usually find a kindred spirit who is sitting off to the side with whom I manage to have a wonderfully uplifting conversation. I know that the rest of the crew does not mean anything insulting about their head-splitting noisiness. It is simply the way they grew up. They celebrate life with gusto and voices that would wake the dead. 

I actually have fun sitting in the midst of them and listening to their interactions. I know that if I needed help any one of them would come to my aid and they would be able to garner the attention that it is sometimes difficult for me to gain. In truth I prefer not being the center of attention. I can’t imagine being so famous that I would never be able to escape the limelight. There is something rather comforting about being able to stroll quietly and unobserved through life. I am able to see so much more than if I were always engaged in conversation. Watching the world is exciting. 

As a teacher I found that the most egregious attention seekers were usually the ones who felt the most insecure. They were often hiding hurts and abuse and sorrows. Bullies tended to be the worst. They seemed to be trying to prove something to themselves and by extension to everyone around them. They were constantly in need of reassurances that they thought they were getting by being the overbearing center of the classroom. On the other hand, some of the quietest students that I encountered were pillars of strength who were so confident that they had no need to force others to notice them. They possessed a kind of dignity that told me that they did not need the limelight, but somehow they often ended up there because people were drawn to them. 

My family members were loud, including my mother, but always very kind and thoughtful. The exception in the terms of the way he spoke was my Uncle William who was the eldest of the siblings, the patriarch of the family if you will. I have never met a stronger more compassionate human and yet at first sight he appeared to be rather ordinary because he was exceedingly quiet. He was so sweet and accommodating that one might have viewed him as a pushover, but nothing was further from the truth. He was a rock on whom everyone of his siblings depended for wisdom and strength. With a single comment expressed in a low but commanding voice he was always able to calm them. His power always amazed me. 

These days we seem to equate authority with rudeness and hurtful commentaries. Instead, the strong among us cannot be measured by the decibel of their voices or the insults that they hurl. Standing up for what is right and demonstrating kindness is a much better sign of greatness than being dominating and frightening. Kindness ultimately gets attention faster than being a boor. Just watch quietly and you will soon learn who to trust. Often the sidelines are the very best place to be. Just pay attention and you will see.

My Hero

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I grew up in a time when television was in its infancy and comic books were so popular that even grocery stores featured shelves of them. My mother was rather selective in what she allowed me and my brothers to watch and read. She limited the number of hours that we could sit in front of the t.v. and took us regularly to the library to borrow educational books. We mostly sated our taste for adventurous programing on Saturday mornings when when we watched the programs that we preferred while our mother slept longer than on the other days of the week. 

We became familiar with all of the fictional heroes of the era and marveled at characters like Tarzan and Superman and the Lone Ranger. We mostly surreptitiously learned about the superheroes of comic books from our cousins and friends because Mama thought it was a waste of time and money to purchase the pulpy magazines designed for lovers of imagined adventures and prowess. Surprisingly my grandmother kept a stock of comics on a bookshelf in her home. I would sneak into the room where they were stored and devour them each time I visited. Even though I never told her what I was doing she somehow knew to regularly purchase the latest editions and set them out in view so that I would find them. In retrospect I wonder if she liked the comics because of their illustrations that allowed her to “read” them even though she was illiterate or perhaps it was a habit that she developed for my father who was quite a fan of comic book humor and stories of fantastic worlds. 

I had a cousin who collected comic books like some people collect stamps or coins. There were stacks and stacks of them in his home and I have to admit to being somewhat envious that he had so much exciting reading matter at his fingertips. I too enjoyed the adventures of the great superheroes, bu it was not a well known comic book superhero who caught my fancy when I was young, but a silly cartoon squirrel named Rocky and his sidekick, Bullwinkle. 

In 1959, Rocky and Bullwinkle premiered on television. I would have been around ten years old when I first saw the show and I was immediately taken by its satirical stories that poked fun at the world of spies and Cold War intrigue. Rocky, aka Rocket J. Squirrel, was a flying squirrel who always wore World War I type flight goggles and seemed to have more common sense than most humans. His best friend was Bullwinkle J. Moose who always appeared to be confused by whatever he encountered in the world, but he was a loyal and affable sidekick who did his best to help with the cause. Together they fought the evil spies Boris Badenov and Natasha Fatale who had infiltrated their once peaceful town of Frostbite Falls. Week after week they foiled the nefarious plots of this often frustrated couple who seemed overwhelmed by the superior intellect of Rocky.

The show began each episode with a little ditty that seemed to sum up the both ridiculousness and delightfulness of the plot,

“A thunder of jets and an open sky,

A streak of gray and a cheerful “Hi!”

A loop, a whirl, a vertical climb

And once again you know it’s time

For the adventures of Rocky and Bullwinkle and Friends”

Whenever I heard that silly rhyme I knew that I would be transported to an hilarious world that would leave me laughing and wondering if everyone else understood the jokes that tumbled out so quickly that it was difficult to keep up with them. I so loved the stories and the characters that I would continue following them long after I was grown whenever I found them being rerun on some channel that featured old programs from my youth. 

The best thing about Rocky and Bullwinkle was that my mother liked it as well. She somehow viewed it as being a cut above ordinary cartoons and she shared our delight in the stories. Rocky became our family favorite and we still marvel at how intelligently creative it was. I suppose that I was even impressed when I found out that my husband was a fan as well. Sometimes we would laugh about our favorite moments on the cartoon and even fake accents to become silly versions of Boris and Natasha. We would both laugh at the very adult jokes that we heard on the program and wonder if our mothers had thought that we had been too young and inexperienced to understand the double entendres that slipped into the script. It was a closely guarded secret among kids that Rocky and Bullwinkle introduced us to a very intellectual and daring kind of humor. 

My father loved comedy and he even had a number of books in his collection that featured illustrated comic strips. If he had lived long enough I suspect that he would have been guffawing at Rocky and Bullwinkle along with me and the rest of my family. While I’m a huge fan of Batman and I really enjoy Iron Man, Rocket J. Squirrel will always be my favorite superhero. Who wouldn’t love a flying squirrel who constantly saved the world from horrible fates in a time when we were still climbing under our tasks to practice duck and cover lest the Soviet Union bomb or nation? Somehow Rocky seems as relevant now as he was back then.