I'm a retiree in his seventies. That may not be significant to many, since there is a bunch of us Baby Boomers around. However, in the year 2,000, when I received a diagnosis of Multiple Myeloma, I expected to be dead in three to five years.
I just walked out of the living room, after watching a special TV broadcast of the arrival of the thirteen young warriors who lost their lives to a suicide bomber in Kabul, Afghanistan. President Biden, First Lady Biden and a host of other older dignitaries were there to great the remains of these willing sacrifices, as their caskets were rolled off the aircraft that brought them to Dover Airforce Base.
The broadcast was just another special news report until pictures of the thirteen were shown on my TV screen. The oldest was only thirty-one years of age with the lowest end of the range ending at twenty. Understandably, the images showed no wrinkles, no gray hair, no outward signs of bountiful wisdom that oftentimes come with age. These weren’t seasoned warriors who had been hardened like iron against iron. Even so, as the reporter shared some biographical information about them, there was a common theme that applied to all: They were anxious to serve their country.
Many will reflect on this atrocity and ask themselves why. I wish I could come up with an answer to that question other than that they answered the call to serve, but maybe that’s answer enough. I still can’t excise the feeling from my gut that this is the senselessness of war: We invest our most valuable resource somewhere over there, rather than in the future that’s closer to home. The world is a complicated place. I realize that and my wonderings are limited in their ability to comprehend it all.
I grew up in the 1950s and 60s. Times were slower then. We had time to think about things, to meditate, to make sure our move was the right one. Things would happen just across the state line, and we wouldn’t here about it, sometimes, for several days. I dreamed about a lot of stuff back then. Analog allows one to dream in great, deliberate detail.
I dreamed about flying cars; we have them now. I dreamed about watch phones; we have them now. I dreamed about humankind going to the moon, we’ve done that. I dreamed about self-driving cars; we have them now. I dreamed about robots; we have them now. I dreamed about video calling; we have it now.
I dreamed about a lot of things during my first twenty years of life on the planet. With what seemed to have been lightning speed developments in technology, many of the things I dreamed about have come to pass. We have seamlessly adopted many of these technological developments into our everyday lives, taking all of them for granted. We never really miss them until there’s a power outage on the grid somewhere, or the batteries that power them run dry.
There is one thing I did dreamed about when I was younger, and it seems to be more alluding as time progresses. That thing is peace. We have been our own friend, our own enemy since time immemorial. The higher-level creatures that we are, we’ll never be able to look each other in the eye and see ourselves. As did Martin Luther King, I have a dream and I will keep dreaming. Someone else will do the same long after I’m gone.
I got out of bed this morning, as usual. Well, as usual for someone seventy-one years of age does. Forty years or so ago, I used to spring out of bed. Now, I pay homage to three fellows who adorn the front of a cereal box. You know those guys: Snap, Crackle and Pop. They’re the ones who make the sound from which their names come when you pour milk over Rice Krispies cereal. Who would’ve known that my body could make such sounds?
After taking my daily bicycle ride, my other exercises, my shower, and preparing breakfast, I picked up my iPad. It provides a window to the world that lets me know what bad stuff has happened while I slumbered overnight. Rarely do the front pages of my electronic daily newspaper show anything positive. Reports of all manner of violence, political squabbling, and other disruptive acts are there to greet me after I click the app that opens the news. If you’re reading this, there’s a good bet that you have a similar experience. Sometimes when I’m greeted with these perfect examples of poor behavior presented by others, I feel my attitude shifting into a depressive state. However, there’s one personal preservation skill I developed a long time ago: Don’t fret about it too long. It took me a while to get there; however, I’ve arrived and I’m not going back to worry land.
When I first gave thought to penning this piece, I found myself thinking about some of those old country songs where the guy talks about his girlfriend has left him; his pickup just broke down; and his dog has gone on to the kennel in the sky. You know the tunes. The music is twangy, and the vocals are so sad you can almost feel the blues coming on. I tend to have the same experience whenever I listen to some of the old school blues songs from the greats like B.B. King, Howlin’ Wolf, Muddy Waters, and some others. When I was much younger, I couldn’t understand why anyone would listen to any of these songs. Weren’t the people who listened to them experiencing enough blues-producing events in their own lives? Later, I came to realize these music genres had their own special appeal, and you didn’t have to commiserate with the lyrics to enjoy to artistry of the presentation.
Yes. There are plenty of things going on in our times that can bring on the blues. Just sit for a minute and think about what’s going on in the world; what’s going on in your own life; however, we all have a choice. Choosing not to sing the blues is a better choice, isn’t it?
In our times, blogs are being written, books are being published, talk shows are being produced in what seems to be enumerable measure. Most, if not all, of these public presentations are touting aspects of someone’s story. Have you ever thought about why someone’s story is worthy of publication, and another person investing time to soak it in? It would seem obvious; however, I don’t think most of us give much thought to the fact that that’s one of the most valuable commodities we have, our stories. Have you ever found yourself mesmerized as you listen to someone share details of some dramatic moment in their life?
There was a time, before our digitized age, when people sat around some point of reference: a fireplace, the city gate, the dinner table to share stories. Stories carried valuable information. They gave people a sense of belonging…
There’s an epidemic in America right now. It comes and goes. Currently, it has gripped too many neighborhoods around the country. Community leaders and politicians are shaking their heads, trying to develop a strategy to combat its effects. If you’re thinking I’ve made a mistake by referring to an epidemic, after all the world is suffering from the ravages of a pandemic right now. You heard me right; I said an epidemic. The epidemic is violence. People are taking the lives of each other as if they were disposable. Politicians and community leaders are scrambling about, trying to develop strategies to deal with this issue, which isn’t new.
In my hometown, which has had a relationship with violence for quite some time, we never seem to be able to develop a long-lasting strategy for dealing with this darkest of human behaviors. I can’t think of anything too much darker than hearing a TV news anchor reporting that a toddler has been killed on the expressway by a stray bullet while riding with her family in the back seat. Whenever I hear such a story on the news, I wonder how many people who saw it were touched in a way that made their heart ache, if for only a short while.
Is there something deep within our souls that’s underdeveloped to the point that we can’t look at another human being and stop ourselves from taking a life? Can we not see ourselves in each other? Why doesn’t the image of us committing an act of violence flash before us and cause us to see the various consequences that might result? This should be enough to stop us before doing anything that we might regret. Unfortunately, emotions heated to the boiling point inhibit the workings of a sound mind and dark behavior prevails. Of course, in some cases premeditated behavior is the case where a cold heart is at work. Whatever the motivating factor, a reduction in violence in our land would be a welcomed condition.
How many times have you heard the phrase, we’re better than that? I used to be touched by that phrase, thinking that indeed we are better than the horrific event I just heard on the news; however, I’m not so sure anymore. Whenever I pose the question: If we’re better than that, why has this happened? I don’t think we’re better than what I just heard. I question whether all the shouts in the public square about how much lives matter really amount to too much of anything.
I know this piece probably doesn’t seem to support my handle: old and blessed. To the contrary, I think it does, because I’m convinced of my blessed state despite all that’s unfolding around me. I just pray that we begin to show that we are indeed better than that…
Recently, our governor called for a special session of our legislators to adjust a ban they enacted, which prevents public entities from requiring anyone from wearing a mask. Our governor, faced with the reality of our children going back to school shortly, during the surge of the coronavirus fueled by the delta variant, felt it important to do something to protect our most valuable resource. This wisdom, from on low, is just one of several legislative actions our duly elected keepers of the government hardly worked at to put in place during their biannual legislative session a few months ago.
News headlines have announced that three children have succumb to the effects of the coronavirus. I won’t go into very many details here about all that’s occurring in our state with our politicians that positions us as far from a good light as many of us wish to be, because this piece isn’t primarily about our state. It’s about what I perceive to be a detached attitude pervasive in our political leaders across America when compassion is most needed.
Wherever you may reside on the globe, you have some level of awareness about America’s affinity for guns. Death from gun violence seems as American as apple pie and baseball. Since the Columbine school incident April 20, 1999, when twelve students and one teacher were murdered in a school shooting and attempted bombing, over 300 people have died in school shootings. It was shocking to America that twelfth graders Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold had perpetrated such a horrific act. Since Columbine, there have been 231 school shootings. One would think that statistics like this would incentivize most of our law makers around the country to speedily draft legislation to address gun violence squarely in its face. Of course, there are many more instances of gun violence in our great country that have added to the abysmal picture of slain bodies and disrupted families and communities, which doesn’t seem to make that much of an impact on the powers that be to do something.
I was watching an old black and white western movie the other night, High Noon, starring Gary Cooper. As I watched it, I thought of how Hollywood has promoted the romanticized notion of guns playing an important part in the lives of people. Not only guns, but the unbridled instances of violence that accompany their presence in society.
Now we find ourselves deeply buried in an onslaught like none other I’ve seen in my lifetime, the coronavirus. I know people are fatigued by the absence of normality that has overtaken us all during the last year and a half or so. People are fighting over many of the recommendation medical/scientific experts are saying we need to have in place to keep everyone safe. Mask wearing is front and center of what’s being politicize to the point of insanity. The public refrain loudly proclaiming that no one has a right to tell me to wear a mask makes little sense. Some parents would be just fine with not having their kids wear a mask while attending school. It’s that sentiment that caused many of our legislators to ignore the governor’s wishes and refuse to amend the ridiculous law they put in place. Fortunately, a circuit judge has issued a preliminary injunction against the mask-wearing ban.
In the face of death, the health and safety of our most precious resource falls prey to craziness. There’s a famous quote attributed to the preacher John Bradford who died in 1555, “But for the grace of God go I.” I for one believe this is a truism that has kept us from the looking into the face of death countless times.
Recently, I did something I don’t do enough. I sat on our back deck in an Adirondack chair (not a real one, one of those plastic things) in the cool of the morning. If you don’t know anything about the weather in the middle of July in Arkansas, you don’t know what the cool of the morning means. It was around 8:00 or so, and I must admit, it was a bit cooler than what we often experience in our fine state this time of day. It’s not uncommon to be searching for the shade at 8:00 in the morning, as the mercury starts early on its journey for that 90-degree (32 for you Celsius folks) spot before noon. I’m writing this piece to tell you about some of the things I noticed while sitting and watching, the weather is the least of them.
I have probably described the scene on the backside of our house before, so forgive me if this is a bit redundant. Let me begin by asking you a question: When was the last time you sat quietly in an outdoor location and simply allowed nature to show its stuff? Although we live within the city limits, it sometimes seems as though there’s a competition between, we civilized types and the wild creatures that don’t want to give up their territory.
My faithful, Velcro Sitz-Shu, Ari was with me. She’s always with me. This little critter bonded with me when she first saw me five and a half years ago, and she hasn’t left my side since. I think she was observant, to a lesser degree than I, of all the things that were happening. We noticed birds. Yes birds. I’m not a bird watcher, so I can’t name all the species of gravity-defying creatures we saw. We saw cardinals, an abundance of sparrows frolicking about the back yard, landing on the top of our privacy fence and for some reason, playing in the two rose bushes we have. While these creatures were flying in short spurts at low levels, crows were flying about at higher altitudes, catching the thermal drafts, and spreading their wings to float about effortlessly in what seem to be a circus act just for us.
High above the crows, we (or at least I) saw steaks of condensation from jets in the sky. The planes were traversing the skies from their original location to wherever their destinations were at altitudes almost to distant for me to see them, but their white steaks marked their presence. The clouds even performed for me, slowly reshaping themselves into the likes of creatures great and small, as they drifted slowly from west to east.
Back down closer to the level that bipeds such as I roam, a variety of insects flew and ambulated about doing something important to them, I’m sure what that would be. They can certainly do whatever comes naturally to them, if they do it outside and don’t take a detour into our house, where their glory will be even shorter lived than the Creator intends.
Nature was alive and well this fine morning and seemingly happy to let Ari and I know it has a lot to say. Many of its most eloquent messages are subtle and can be heard best when we are still and receptive to its gentle calling.
The first time I heard the question: What is your dream; what do you want to do in life? I was in high school. My school counselor asked me that question. I must admit I didn’t know how to answer it. Looking back, I had never given any real thought to what I wanted to do. I only knew what I didn’t want to do. I didn’t want to work on some white guys farm, making wages that wouldn’t even provide me with enough money to afford a pint of dirt from the farmland he owned or leased to raise his crops. I had not even the minutest amount of desire to drive a tractor or to operate any farm equipment that many young Black boys in Cross county, Arkansas saw learning how to do as some rite of passage. When I was eight years old, my father was killed in a farming accident. As for as my mom was concerned that sealed it for me, no working on a farm, especially driving a tractor. My dad was killed driving a tractor.
When my high school counselor asked me that question, I didn’t realize at the time that what he was asking was a bit different from dreaming. No. I didn’t have a dream. I had many dreams. I don’t remember exactly when, but dreaming has been a big part of my life. I dream of living in a society where nothing negative happens; I dream of living a life where everyone acts right all the time; I dream of Nirvana. I’ve written before about not knowing we were poor until we got a television. The dumb box showed me how people lived in a world that was far different than the one in which I survived each day. The dumb box sparked something in me that still exists today. Something that I’ve never shared with anyone, except you. Dreaming has been a way of life for me. It has provided a safe harbor from the tsunami we all know as life. I dream continually. Some might call these daydreams; however, my dreams encompass all stations on the clock.
I’ve come to realize in my latter years that this dreamstate is more than simply dreaming. I think it might be more appropriate to call it meditation, deep thinking, maybe even living gloriously despite the problems of the world. This mental gymnastics helps me navigate things that often seem non-navigable in the so-called real world. If you think this sounds much like fantasy, you’re right. Furthermore, your judgment doesn’t offend me in the least bit. I can honestly say this personal ability to drift off into a land of experiences I might never find myself has kept me from harms way in a lot of ways. It has presented me with the gift of serenity when a respite from disturbing stuff has been raging unfettered.
At the age of seventy-one, I still dream. I dream of heroes and heroines; of waking up one morning and finding all weapons on the planet mysteriously gone; of being the smartest person on the planet, responsible for scientific inventions that would advance the condition of us all to an immeasurable state.
OOPs, my dog just jumped into my chair and landed between my lower back and the back of the chair. This is one of her favorite spots. She’s not a dream, at least I don’t think so. Dreaming is taking a break for a while.