Heaven On Earth

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When I was just a tad older than forty my husband and I decided to attempt a climb of Long’s Peak in Rocky Mountain National Park along with our two daughters. We camped a little way up the trail and rose in the dark of the early morning hours to begin our trek. There was a silence between the four of us and our fellow adventurers who moved patiently up the mountain with only the illumination of flashlights to guide the way. Around five in the morning we stopped to gaze at the lights of the town of Estes Park far below where humanity was just waking up for a new day. It felt like looking at a little fairy village in a scene inside a snow globe.

By the time the sun rose above our heads we had reached the Boulder Field, an outcropping of massive rocks over which we would have to climb to get to the final stages of our journey. As I stood there with a brisk wind blowing across my face I looked all around and down below experiencing an other worldly sensation. It was as if I had somehow found a slice of heaven on earth, a vision that stays with me and soothes my soul to this very day.

I was unable to continue the trek to the summit because one of my daughters became quite ill with mountain sickness. I knew that I had to get her to a lower altitude where the air was more rich with oxygen. I might have been disappointed in coming that far and not being able to continue to the to the end of the trail but for the fact that I felt such serenity in the place that I had already encountered. I literally was aware of God’s presence in the world and it was not necessary to go any farther to feel a sense of divine ecstasy.

There have been other times when I believed that I was in a heavenly place and each of those moments were defined by the people with whom I had shared the experience and the magnificence of the scene before me. Last year I traveled to a quaint little town near York in England. It was called Robin Hood’s Bay and the combination of sharing fun times with my brothers and sisters-in-law along with a spectacular view made me once again feel as though heaven had somehow come to earth.

Robin Hood’s Bay is a seaside town rumored to have once been an outpost for pirates. It is now a sleepy fishing village with a passage to the North Sea and from there to distant shores like Norway. It is built on rugged cliffs and the wind seems to whisper the stories of the valiant people who once lived and worked. It’s main street features shops and buildings sitting precariously on steep hills that meander up and down while sea laden breezes fill the air. The whole place appears to have come from a fantasy with its quaintness, but in truth life was once very hard there. Somehow now the people have settled into a slow pace of living and being there was quite glorious. Sitting with the people I love while laughing and looking into the eternity of the horizon brought me a heavenly peace.   

Heaven on earth has meant holding my babies, first my daughters and then my grandchildren. There is a hopefulness about being near little ones. Their innocence makes them seem like tiny cherubs. They remind me that there is still pure unadulterated goodness in the world. A baby sleeping on my chest brings me a calmness that only paradise itself might otherwise provide.

I have found heaven on earth in the most unexpected ways like sitting in the bough of a tree, watching the sunset in Grand Canyon, hearing the haunting cry of a loon. Sometimes relaxing in the quiet of my living room while listening to the laughter of the neighborhood children fills me with so much joy that I think this must surely be what heaven is like.

Each day I draw closer to the inevitable end of life here on earth that each of us will face. I sometimes wonder what heaven will actually be like. Will I get to choose what makes me happiest or is it so unimaginably special that my own images of it fall short of the reality? Will I once again see all of the people that I have known and loved? How will they appear? If I want to see Abraham Lincoln will that be possible? I’d like to believe that the contentment that I have felt on that mountain top and in that village will be mine for eternity but will it take a form that is more special even than my own thoughts?

Heaven is ethereal. How is it possible that we might get a glimpse of it even for a second here on earth? Somehow I believe that the glory of the best moments of my life will be magnified a thousand fold when I finally see my divine reward, but for now I am here and I want to find more of those times when the earth itself has felt so perfect. I think of a rainbow over the winding road of Glacier National Park, the first kiss from my husband, my mother’s smile, my father reading to me, my little girls kicking me from inside the womb. Surely heaven must be even more wonderful. 

Let’s Get Real

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Photo by Nandhu Kumar on Pexels.com

Let’s get real for a moment:

  • Nobody likes to wear a mask. They are uncomfortable and hot, especially in the humid summertime of Houston, Texas. We wear masks not because some lawmaker is mandating us to do so, but because it is the right thing to do. Our mask wearing insures a less likely or rapid spread of Covid-19. Sometimes the good of the people as a whole should be more important than our personal desires. We should all mask up and do so because it shows consideration for the people around us.
  • Our medical community is working hard to keep us safe and to provide care for anyone who contracts the virus. Neither they nor hospitals are in cahoots to keep certain medicines or therapies from us nor are they simply attempting to make more money off of our fears of the virus. In fact, they are continually communicating with one another to find the best procedures that appear to work. The fact that our numbers of dying are slowing compared to the numbers of positive cases is a clear indication that they are more and more often winning the battle with Covid-19. To insinuate that they are somehow complicit in a plot to deceive us is not just absurd, but incredibly insulting.
  • We are long past the moment to point fingers and lay blame for the destruction that Covid-19 has caused in our country. At this point who cares if China hid the truth about the virus? What does it matter if we did this or that wrong? We have to begin again from where we are. We need to look forward not backward. We must focus our efforts on finding solutions rather than making accusations. 
  • Anyone who thinks that face to face schooling will be anything like normal is living in a dream world. There will be much ado about masks and social distancing. It will become the new battle between students who push the envelope and teachers who want to protect them. Children will not be able to hug and gather in groups but you bet they will want to try. Just moving groups from one classroom to another will become a difficult endeavor. It is going to be a bumpy ride for sure.
  • Those of us who are making every possible attempt to help keep the level of contagion down get quite frustrated when we see images of people gathering in large groups without masks. We have grown weary of those who continually demand their rights without any concern for those of us who want to get out and about as much as they do. We sense that each time a beach is crowded or a huge party is held the goal of getting Covid 19 under control slips away just a bit more. Those photos of people smiling while crowded together do not delight us. They frighten us into thinking that we will never reach a point of  being able to feel comfortable with them again.
  • There are people in our midst who lost their jobs as a direct result of Covid 19. Most of them were hard working individuals before all of this happened. They went to work each day for the good of their families and they had wonderful plans for the future. Now they sit at home vying for job after job only to learn that they are in competition with hundreds of others. They are not enjoying their new found freedom from lack of employment. They are not thinking how much better it has been to get checks from the government than having to actually work. They have watched their savings dwindle and the bills piling up. They worry that they may lose their cars or their homes. The rest of us should be just as concerned about their security as we are about our own.
  • Every single death anywhere in the world is a tragedy. Just because it does not affect us personally does not in any way make it less horrific. The elderly person who dies will be missed by someone as much as the forty year old who leaves behind a family. The Hispanic who does not make it should cause us to grieve even if his immigration status was illegal. Those numbers that we see represent real people who walked among us and were loved. If we are lucky enough not to be touched by Covid 19 we should be grateful, not uncaring. We should be dedicated to doing whatever it takes to lessen the likelihood of spreading contagion.
  • We need to be willing to be creative in our usual celebrations. That child of ours can have a happy birthday without a big party. I’ve “attended” a virtual baby shower. I’ve witnessed Happy Birthday parades in my neighborhood. I’ve seen images of friends visiting elderly loved ones through glass doors and windows. I have friends who have taken RV vacation trips without gathering in crowded places. I’ve been on Zoom conferences for Easter and Father’s Day. I have “attended” mass every Sunday via YouTube. I’ve received cancellations of parties for graduates of medical school and for future weddings. I have managed to exercise every single day without going to a crowded gym. We can still find ways to be “together” without risking infection.
  • We need to spend less time listening to people running for political offices and more hearing from medical and economic experts who have nothing to lose in speaking the truth.
  • We should avoid theories of hoaxes and attempts to create a fairytale vision of the pandemic. The likelihood that the entire world has joined to make trouble for a single person is incredibly low.
  • We need to support anyone who must return to work by insuring their safety and by doing our utmost to follow guidelines that will help to slow down the spread of the virus. If we really don’t need to do something that involves taking risks, we should consider just staying home. We can do many things to support our local businesses and the economy without setting up situations that have the potential to become virus spreading incidents.
  • We all miss the world as is was five months ago. We all watched that ball drop in Times Square on New Year’s Day and made wonderful plans for 2020. We have lost many things like trips, graduations, time with friends and family, freedoms. When all is said and done nothing compares to the loss of health or life or economic security. If we can’t work together to get through this unprecedented time then we are surely doomed.
  • It’s time to get real.

We Will Meet Again

Happy Plates

I do my best to be upbeat. I try to look for the silver lining in almost everything. I suppose it never dawned on me that our national ordeal would last as long as it has even as my daughters attempted to bring down to reality. I’ve made the best of my 20 weeks in isolation and even created a game out of the whole thing but I think I need to up my persistence because I’ve wavered a bit this past week.

I’ve found great solace working in my yard but as August dawns the heat is making it more and more difficult to get excited about being out in the jungle like atmosphere of Houston, Texas humidity. With the most recent rains that have kept the grass uncut for two weeks it feels like being in a swamp. I would not be at all surprised to find an alligator sunning in my flowerbed. Still I perform the tasks of weeding and trimming in fifteen minute increments which is akin to emptying the ocean of water one teaspoon at a time.

I’ve given up on the vegetable garden I planted. I usually have a green thumb but not so with the raised bed that I created to provide me with fresh tomatoes, squash, cucumbers and peppers. So far the insects have devoured the pepper plants in spite of my efforts to discourage them and the squash plants died. The cucumber plants were prolific and seemed to have so much promise with the profusion of blooms that popped out. Unfortunately not a single one of those blossoms bore fruit. The tomato plants were much the same. I’ll soon be dismantling the whole experiment and using the rich soil that I purchased to give my flowers and shrubs a little treat.

I started a project of relearning Calculus but frankly there is a bit too much going on in the world for me to concentrate. I’m moving so slowly through the lessons that I’ll still be in the process a year from now. Since I never like to cry “uncle” I may continue my pursuit but it’s not at the top of my list of daily routines. I find myself asking, “What will I use this for?” It makes me feel like a traitor to all mathematics teachers in the world.

I’ve made great use of my treadmill and stationary bike but I really look forward to outdoor strolls again. For now I’m not ready to brave the heat. Until it is cool again walks through the neighborhood won’t be any more pleasurable than thirty minutes of jaunting to nowhere in air conditioned comfort while solving puzzles on my phone. Last week I was number one in a competition and it all began with my daily exercise routine so it’s not all bad.

When I was still working I often dreamed of how wonderful it would be to have all the time in the world to binge watch movies and television programs. Now that I am living that reality I am growing bored of the routine of searching for new entertainment each night. I’ve watched Tiger King and all of the Granchester episodes. I’ve gone through most of what is good on Britbox and Netflix and Amazon Prime. I’ve watched The Phantom of the Opera and Hamilton. It’s all good but I’ve had my fill and can’t imagine ever wishing to binge watch again. I do however believe that Carol killed her husband.

I read a great deal. Books and newspapers and magazines always seem to be better than television. I glory in the words that take me on adventures or teach me new ideas. I have an endless supply of material to read and if I add a cup of tea to the mix I am quite content. Sadly so much sitting has led to the possibility of outgrowing my clothing so I need to be a bit more careful of that. 

Sometimes I splurge on a bit of happiness. I purchased some colorful dishes that I saw on Amazon. I delighted in the vibrance of the different hues and patterns. They look quite nice on my dining table set for a shared feast with six of my family members or friends. They provide me with an optimistic hope that one day my kitchen will again be filled with the laughter of guests.

My husband Mike and I joke a great deal. We lean toward the kind of humor that would delight the creators of Monty Python. We find laughter in the oddest things and crack ourselves up with inside jokes. I’ve always believed that a good belly laugh is the best medicine around and I rarely go a day without a dose of satire that makes me howl. I don’t expect however to be peddling my medical advice in front of the White House anytime soon. 

My most favorite activity is writing. As a young girl I always thought that I would become an author or a journalist. I went for steady work instead and became a teacher. I worry for my fellow educators because they are most certainly in for a very bumpy ride. As for myself, I’m looking forward to reconnecting with my little band of homeschooled students. I’ll be meeting with them remotely for now so I’m eagerly preparing. I’m giddy over the supplies that keep arriving at my doorstep. I have a magnetic Cartesian plane that fits nicely on my white board. I’ve found magnetic money to use with my little ones and a large protractor for my middle school students. You would think that Santa Claus had come if you saw how joyful all of this is making me. I don’t need much to get very excited.

I suppose that more and more people will attempt to get back to work. Nonetheless I don’t expect to see anything even remotely appearing normal for a time but we will get there. I’ve got my masks and my determination to be as upbeat as I can for the duration. I hope to contribute a bit of joy or humor or compassion or information to help with the cause. One day this will be but a memory and the world will find a way to move forward. That’s when my happy dishes will be waiting for my guests. We will meet again.

Truth Is Beautiful

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Photo by Felix Mittermeier on Pexels.com

 

I want to be left alone. I want to fix things that are broken. I want to just be happy. I want to express my anger about the state of the world. I want to turn away from conflict. I want to have the courage to stand firmly with my principles. I want to get along with everyone. I want to speak out when I see injustice. I am caught in a conundrum, a moment in time when I might cling to wishful thinking or face the realities that I witness happening around me. It would be so much easier to turn off the news, ignore my Facebook and Twitter accounts and just live peacefully in my home blissfully unaware of any difficulties stalking humanity. Unfortunately my curiosity would no doubt get the best of me if I were to make such a choice and ultimately I would be compelled to seek information and truth. My delightful ignorance would be interrupted and once again I would begin thinking about the actual complexities of life.

I’ve been watching the bots and the trolls at work on social media and on YouTube and Internet sites that purport to speak the unvarnished truth. They rile us up with doctored images and false stories. I often wonder from what hole in the ground they operate. They take many forms and present themselves with many names and faces and then spread their poisonous ideas like a virus. I wonder if they are laughing at us as we accept their premises. Do they take delight in watching us turn on one another as we share and discuss their often outrageous posts?

Much of our thinking these days is being directed by anonymous souls who live in faraway places. They purposely want to pull us apart and sadly they are quite good at what they do. It does not help at all that even some of our leaders are as addicted to their devious propaganda as we are. Instead of seeking accurate sources of information we too often find it easier to just cling to a single phrase to sum up the knotty realities that daunt us. We prefer quick fixes and quick answers and then divide ourselves into warring camps when there is a strong probability that there is a much better middle ground. We do not have to settle for “either/or” anymore than I must choose to be either uninformed and content or knowledgable and dissatisfied with the status quo.

We rarely have honest discussions anymore. Each side is busily planning a response to conflicting points of view rather than carefully listening to the other side. It is as though we are engaged in a national debate competition designed to find winners and losers rather than to determine ways to find answers. We see ourselves as opponents rather than understanding that we are all engaged in an attempt to make the world a better place. One side is demanding change and the other is worried that change will cause loss of some kind. One side is revealing uncomfortable truths about history and the other is concerned that talking about such things is hateful.

By now my readers know that my mother suffered from mental illness as did her mother. It was a carefully guarded secret in the family with much denial defining the reaction to what had taken place. Since I was the person first charged with getting help for my mom I had to face truths that were painful. For more than a decade I hid my mother’s situation from the outside, pretending that all was well. Whenever my mother needed care I called in sick to my jobs and told my bosses that I had a very bad bug. Nobody beyond my closest family members and confidants had any idea of my mother’s chronic cycle of bipolar disorder. We tiptoed around the truth of the situation.

It was not until I finally hit a concrete wall that I blurted out my story to a random coworker and finally received the understanding that I needed. I no longer had to hide my secret in the shadows and with my openness came valuable information and comfort. While some people looked askance at my new found honesty most began recounting their own experiences with mental illness. I soon learned that I was not alone and I began to develop a network of individuals who supported me in the care of my mother. I doubt that I would have been capable of dealing with her sometimes frightening behavior for decades had I kept the situation under wraps. My openness and the willingness of others to hear me even when it felt uncomfortable gave me the strength to care for my mother for over forty years.

Sadly there were still those who squirmed when hearing about my mother’s situation. They chose to ignore her symptoms and to engage in a game of pretense. They even believed that I was in some ways dishonest and hateful for talking of my mom’s illness. They could not understand what they saw as my betrayal. They preferred to act as though the great big elephant in the room was only my imagination.

In many ways this is what I see happening today. There are many who are unwilling to discuss and tackle harsh realities and others who would rather cling to a rosy picture even if that image is not true. They worry incessantly about changes that will require sacrifices and do not want to hear of skeletons in the closet of history. They simply want to be left alone, be happy, turn away from conflict, just get along in a superficial manner.

Sadly we would all love a utopian way of existence but since Adam and Eve sinned in the Garden of Eden we humans have had to endure more difficulties and unhappiness. Nonetheless whenever we pause long enough to actually work together everyone improves just a bit more. Even baby steps can make a difference. Perhaps the pandemic and the Black Lives Matter movement are the concrete walls that have hit us all in the collective face. They are urging us to begin the process of hearing what we need to hear and not just what we want to hear. Even seemingly ugly truths can become beautiful when we use them to make the changes we have needed all along. Truth is beautiful.

Do the Research and Be Open Minded

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My father gave me the gift of reading. When I think of him I only have the memories of an eight year old child and yet what I recall is profound. My clearest images of him all involve books and newspapers, libraries and bookstores. Even on vacations we would visit little shops filled with volumes of every sort and our souvenirs would be books. My father not only read every book that he owned but he discussed what was inside with a kind of encyclopedic knowledge. His depth of information ran the gamut from humor to sports to science to history to poetry. He was a renaissance man in his tastes and his modeling lead me to also enjoy the search for beauty and truth in the written word. After he died so unexpectedly I suppose that I clung to his legacy by avidly devouring any written material I encountered.

My grandfather gave me the gift of understanding history. Like my father he read all the time but his favorite topics were historical tracts and biographies of great men and women. When I graduated from junior high school he gave me a volume of short vignettes of individuals whose lives had changed the world for the good. He inscribed the book with the suggestion that I should seek to learn from people whose courage lead them to upend the status quo when such actions were needed. He encouraged me to ask questions and have a willingness to stand up for justice.

My debate teacher gave me the gift of open-mindedness. She showed me how to view both the pros and cons of an argument. She taught me to use data and facts to support a declaration. She helped me to be objective and unbiased. She also introduced me to the tools used in the art of persuasion. She helped me to realize that I must carefully unpack any assertion in a search for truth.

My seventh grade English teacher gave me the gift of awareness. She alerted me to the use of propaganda and the rhetorical devices that are designed to create emotional rather than rational responses to events and problems. She helped me to understand how we are often manipulated by the way issues are presented with the purpose of making us angry or afraid.

My college professors gave me the gift of knowledge about things that I had never before known. They taught me to be analytical and showed me the value of asking questions before buying into any theory. They widened my horizons and provided me with tools for rationally parsing and investigating ideas.

All of these people taught me the importance of thinking, testing, verifying. Because of them I am wary of any person who tempts me with emotional group think. I require proof before accepting something as factual and I want that proof from the proper sources, experts. I broker little patience with wild ideas that reek of rhetorical excess. I cringe when I hear ridiculous phrases being repeated like the chirping of parrots. I abhor hoaxes proclaimed as legitimate theories. I demand concrete substantiation.

When our current president was gaining fame and a following for demanding to see a birth certificate from President Obama I thought that we were being duped by theater of the absurd. Somehow Donald Trump made large numbers of people believe that Obama was not born in the United States and was therefore unqualified to be president. In truth the Constitution makes it very clear that if an individual has one parent who is a citizen of the United States then that person is by default also a citizen as well. Since there was no denying that President Obama’s mother was a born and raised in the USA it really did not matter where he was born, but with rhetorical relish Trump made it seem so. His technique was so successful that he has since created one ridiculous hoax after another to seal the support of his followers.

I spend a great deal of time unraveling fact from fiction. Most of the time if something sounds audaciously absurd it is. Some ideas are trickier and more difficult to analyze. When there is confusions even among the experts the ground is fertile for misrepresentation. In such cases I find it useful to tread with caution and follow the science of the information.

Such it is with Covid-19. I do not get my information and form my conclusions from lay people. Instead I look to the scientists and the doctors and then listen to their suggestions for being safe. If the information changes as the knowledge of the virus increases I don’t resent being conservative in my approach to staying well. I wear my mask. I stay home as much as possible. I social distance. I wash my hands. None of those things hurt me but it may be that they have helped someone else. I do not consider it an infringement of my freedoms to care about someone other than myself. I do not believe that the virus was purposely created nor do I think that it will miraculously go away the day after the elections in November. My background and those who have gifted me with a rational approach to the world serve me well but frighten me when I see how many actually believe in the disinformation being perpetrated by trolls and bad actors.

The world is quite complex and we have to be careful of being taken in by individuals whose only purpose is self aggrandizement. We need an educated citizenry if we are to have the leadership that we need. Bear in mind that if something appears audacious, it probably is. Take the time to find the truth. Don’t be tied to a single television network or talk radio show or political ideology. Be open minded. Seek the truth.