Happy Holidays to all my virtual friends!

As I sit at my desk and strike the keys on my laptop, I’m never sure who’ll take the time to read my musings. I’m always humbled that some in virtual land will. I’m especially grateful that there are some who regularly read my thoughts.

We’ve all had a challenging time over the last two years. A little cheer is needed by us all.

To all of you who read my blogs regularly and to those who don’t: Happy Holidays to all of you!

I’m old and blessed…hope you will be too.

      Sometimes, we must move on

Remember back in January/February 2020 when the coronavirus first showed up on the scene. I remember the middle of March, it seemed like the entire world was placed on pause. The streets in Little Rock were almost void of activity during the latter part of March. People were hunkering down, not knowing what was going to happen. We were a long way from having a vaccine back then, so staying away from others was part of our arsenal for protecting ourselves.

There were certain things we did in our household, and I’m sure households everywhere did much the same. Here are just a few of the measures we took to protect ourselves from the plague which seems like an escapee from the Old Testament: purchases of groceries were wiped down with sanitizer before being stored away; gloves were worn when we ventured out, especially when handling spouts at the gas station; no trips were made anywhere except for groceries; attending church in person was out of the question; any visitors to our home were greeted outside; we purchased a supply of masks from Amazon.

Now, we’re almost two years out from the initial shock of the corona virus visiting us, and we seem to have adjusted to a new normal. The streets of my hometown are busy with traffic, grocery stores are filled with shoppers 24/7; houses of worship are open, with safety measures in place; schools are open. The list of things we wouldn’t have dreamed of doing back in March 2020 are being performed without thought.

We’re moving on. But wait, the coronavirus isn’t giving up the fight just yet. It has regrouped twice since March 2020 and attacked with two variants. Seven Hundred thousand people in the United States have died from the virus. In the face of this menacing reality, we are still out and about, many of us without masks.

Moving on seems to be the human way of doing things. Time moves on and we find ourselves caught up in the stream produced by it; a stream that can never be damned up, redirected, or changed in any manner. My prayer is that we will soon see the adage, this too shall pass, come to light.

I’m old and blessed…hope you will be too.

Surprise!

First row from left: Cecily, Felicia, Terri (Felicia’s cousin); Second row from left: Hal, me, Chris, Jerry, Michael, Terri, Reggie

Around the end of November, my eldest child, Felicia called me and asked what Chris and I were doing for Christmas. I must admit, I hadn’t given much thought to traveling or doing too much of anything except staying home. The last couple of years have put a damper on my outlook for traveling or looking forward to traditional gatherings to celebrate Christmas. I live in Little Rock and Felicia lives in Jonesboro, a two-hour drive away. For some reason, Felicia was insistent that Chris and I try to gather with her and her husband, Jerry, during this holiday season. Felicia is a successful real-estate broker, selling real-state, managing properties, and arranging financing for home buyers. She also owns an Airbnb, which is adjacent to their home.

Recently, my brother, Larry and his wife, who also live in Little Rock, drove up to Jonesboro and spent a couple of days in Felicias’ Airbnb. They enjoyed their stay. Felicia suggested we do the same. She suggested we come up December 12 and spend two nights. Two days in Jonesboro, in an Airbnb is far shy of the holiday we, including Felicia and two of my cousins, enjoyed last year. If you follow my blog, you know we spent last Christmas and New Year’s Day in Ghana, West Africa. I agreed to make the trip to Jonesboro. I should have suspected something was up, but I can be as naïve as a two-year old.

From left: Jerry, Felicia and Chris. Christmas light show in Jonesboro

The twelfth of December falls on a Sunday this year, so Chris and I masked up for church and headed out for Jonesboro afterwards. About halfway on our trip, Felicia called and asked how far out we were from Jonesboro. I hadn’t been paying attention because I was asleep with Ari, our little ball of energy Shih Tzu sitting on my lap. A short while later, Felicia called again and told me that we would be staying at an Airbnb, which isn’t hers. She gave me the address, so I could put it in my GPS. To be honest, if we hadn’t been more than halfway to Jonesboro, we would have considered turning around. Felicia was waiting outside the Airbnb when we arrived. The place was nice and cozy, two bedrooms, two baths. It did have a no-pets policy. We decided Ari would spend the two nights in Jonesboro with Felicia and Jerry.

After we brought our luggage in, we sat for a while to rest and chat. As the afternoon advanced to early evening, we asked Felicia about a place to have dinner. She mentioned that Jerry was working on a project and that we would go out to eat when he finished. Later we gathered Ari’s things and went by Felicia and Jerry’s place to drop off Ari and pick up Jerry.

Although I haven’t spent a lot of time in Jonesboro, I did recognize the restaurant when we arrived. It’s a place Felicia and Jerry frequents. As we entered the place, Jerry ushered us around a corner, and then: Surprise! There was a gathering of friends and family sitting around a large table. They were there to celebrate our thirty-sixth-year wedding anniversary. You’re asking why thirty-six. Felicia had wanted to celebrate our thirty-fifth; however, we were in Ghana last year.

More Christmas lights in Jonesboro

Seated around the table were Cecily, our middle child, who had driven up from Little Rock; my sister Terri and her husband Reggie from Wynne, about 45 minutes from Jonesboro; one of my cousins Michael, who lives in Jonesboro; Felicia’s cousin Terri, a Jonesboro resident; a friend of mine Hal, who I hadn’t seen in over ten years, also a resident of Jonesboro.

With the gang all gathered, we had a wonderful time eating, talking, and celebrating thirty-six years of marriage! In addition to the dinner, Felicia surprised us with an eleven-day trip to South Africa which will cover Johannesburg, Cape Town, a safari and number of other sights and sounds. Felicia knows I have a love of all things Africa, which makes this a fantastic gift. We’ll have the entire year of 2022 to plan the trip.

Felicia, thank you so much. I love you all the way to the moon and back! And much love to my Chris. Our union of thirty-six years has generated many wonderful memories. I pray that we’ll have many more years to create an unforgettable legacy for our children and grandchildren to talk about for years to come.

I’m old and blessed…hope you will be too.

               Dogs: No better friends

Obviously, I need to get out more. I know we’re in the times of covid; however, I can take precautions to protect myself and others. As a blogger of my blessings, it’s important that I observe the world around me. Sure, I can observe a lot of what’s happening by watching the news and reading alerts on the various news services I have on my computer. All of this is fine; however, personal, face-to-face observations can’t be beat. Case and point, while sitting in my automobile service center waiting room this recently, I encountered a lady and her dog. I didn’t have an appointment for service, so I knew I would have long wait. Because of this, I took and few other things to occupy my time. I didn’t need them as much because I encountered the lady and her dog.

The lady and her dog

The lady and her dog captured my attention. I noticed the dog ahead of her, entering the room. I wasn’t sure of the breed, but the little critter was white and fluffy. The lady made her way to an empty seat and invited the dog to lie down on the floor beside her. Of course, the dog was curious, as dogs usually are. Before lying down, it took a quick sniff of another customer who was sitting next to it and its master.

The little dog seemed comfortable there in the customer service waiting room. It didn’t appear to be intimidated or fearful of being in what would have been foreign surroundings to my dog. It wasn’t long before the dog signaled to its master that it wanted to be near her. The lady was quick to respond by sliding to one side of her seat, allowing a small space for the dog to jump up into the seat beside her. This reminded me of my four-legged friend, who routinely jumps up in my chair. As I write this piece she’s lying in my chair between the back of the chair and me, one of her favorite spots. I must admit whenever it’s a bit chilly, her little warm body feels good. Her routine is to get comfortable behind me and take a nap, snoring all the while.

Our critter, Ari

I couldn’t help but approach the lady and her dog. Before approaching, I had already begun to write this blog on my iPhone. I excused myself for any bother I might present. Once I explained that I was a blogger and that I was quite taken by her dog, the lady was quick to demonstrate a friendly attitude that made for a pleasant, brief conversation. I showed her one of the pictures I keep of my dog on my iPhone and asked if she would mind if I took a picture of her little companion. She didn’t hesitate at all. She did ask me what a blog was. I gave her the link to my blog, she accessed it on her phone, and I invited her to keep an eye out for a blog about our encounter, which would contain a picture of her dog.

Our grandcat, (Scout) over for a visit

Although I was somewhat intrusive, at least I think so, the lady did ask me for my name. I told her it was old and blessed. I think she realized that wasn’t my Christian name. I gave her my name.

My encounter with the lady and her dog (her no better friend) made my two-hour wait for my car to be serviced a pleasant visit to my auto service center. If you read this, the kind lady with the dog, thanks for the conversation and for giving me something to write about.

I’m old and blessed…hope you will be too.

    My heart feels different this year

Recently, I posted a blog about the death of my last aunt; it was titled The Last layer of the Onion. We had my aunt’s funeral two weeks before Thanksgiving. It was a beautiful, yet sad event. Of course, there were the tributes you would expect. Many people made comments about how my aunt made a substantial difference in their lives; they wouldn’t be the same person if it hadn’t been for her. I wholeheartedly agree with those comment because she had influence in my life, too. I still recall the first summer I spent in Memphis, Tennessee. Memphis is about forty-five miles east of where I grew up in the country outside of Wynne, Arkansas. Aunt Mary moved to Memphis in her early twenties and lived there until her death.

That summer of 1968 I spent in Memphis was the first I had spent time in a place with a population considered to be a big city. I was seventeen years old, and I wanted to work at doing something other than working on somebody’s farm. Aunt Mary was gracious enough to let me spend the summer with her and her family. I was fortunate to find a job working as a customer service representative at an EXXON service station. My job was to provide full service to customers when they drove up to the gas pumps. Besides checking oil, tire pressure and pumping gas, I was also responsible for selling batteries, tires, and other automobile accessories. There were four of us working this job. We were dressed in uniforms, and we provided a level of service you don’t get at the self-service gas stations we see today. The summer of 1968 was just a few months after the assassination of Martin Luther King, at the Loraine Motel in Memphis. As I recall things were calm in Memphis during that summer. I also recall that I was the only African American working at this EXXON service station.

I’ve written a bit about Aunt Mary because I wanted to tell of just one instance where she provided help for me when I needed it. I’ve had other members of my family, aunts, and uncles to do likewise through the years. As I’ve grown older, there have been other people who have stopped along their journey to help me in ways that only they could have. I think most of us can say, especially when you reach my age, that we wouldn’t be who we are today had it not been for people who gave of themselves to help us. Countless numbers those personal game changers are gone now. But you know, they’re still coming. Often, they’re younger now.

This covid-19 year (2021) has been a remarkable one. I could list several things that have defined this year for me: however, I’m not going to. Rather, I would like to ask that you take my assertion at face value and think about the noteworthy things that have happened in your life. As you engage the image-making equipment in your mind, I have no doubt that you’ll understand what I mean. I also think you’ll understand what I mean when I say that my heart feels different this year. I’ll bet yours does, too.

I’m old and blessed…hope you will be too.

The Power of Self Belief

I love this blog. It not only contains some excellent content; it also shows how wisdom comes in all ages. I appreciate the wisdom of this 16-year-old. I invite you to read her insight.

Theodore Roosevelt famously said, “believe you can and you’re halfway there”.

Self confidence is all about trusting our abilities and believing that we can do what we set our minds to. I’d say I am quite an ambitious person and am grateful for all my achievements – big or small. However, self-belief is also about thinking that our ideas, feelings, and opinions have worth. Here, I find that I often lack belief in my intelligence and always seem to worry about receiving validation and encouragement from other people.

A couple of days ago at school, in English class, we were talking about current global issues. And my teacher said how veganism is the next “global issue” and how it is completely pointless and stupid. This man had zero respect for people like me who are trying to make a lifestyle change – even though I’m not entirely vegan, I hold…

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You never know

I’m going to try not to ramble, but I can’t promise that I won’t. We just got some devastating news: a young friend of ours committed suicide. We have no details at this point. I was hesitant to write anything so soon; however, I have these feelings that are bouncing around in my soul and I must get them out.

I won’t name any names here, because I want to respect the privacy of our friend’s family. For those of you who read my musings, you can tell that I’m a person of faith. I don’t write with too much of an evangelical bent, and I do that intentionally. I am however an active member in my church and the natural extension (through service) from those four walls that define my faith community. Our friend was a member of that community, too.

I can hear the questions already from many. I’m asking them myself: Why would he do this? He had it all together. He was a preacher; he was well educated; he had a well-paying professional job; he had a network of friends that obviously loved him; he was a person who served his community; he had a lovely family, nuclear and extended. Yes. He had it altogether, but did he? Something was amiss somewhere. I can’t help but wonder if someone saw something but was too afraid to approach our beloved friend.

I’m trying my best to not appear to be selfish. When someone dies from some reason other than suicide, we naturally think about ourselves and how much we’re going to miss them. In this case, it’s important to know, if possible, what led our friend to commit such an irreversible act. It’s important to be available to the lovely wife and children who have been left behind. They will have to deal with this tragedy of death, not by natural causes, not by accident, but by the hands of their loved one. This is the first time I’ve had someone in my network commit suicide; something tells me that this will be a unique grieving experience for our friend’s family.

Please pardon me; however, I redundantly proclaim that I’m trying my best to not be selfish. It’s hard for me to do so. This has been a rough end of the year (from October until now). I’ve lost several people who meant a lot to me. I often wonder why this happens during this time of year, when we want to mark the times with festivities, not visits by the grim reaper.

I can’t help but wonder if our friend felt the love that, by my observation, that many had for him. Our faith community and the community at-large has lost a lovely person. One can’t help but wonder what will go undone, as the result of our friend’s passing.

And so, I’ve taken several minutes to jot down a few thoughts about our friend. I don’t feel any better. I have more thoughts; however, I think I’ll leave it here.

You never know, and you never will by looking at the outside only.

I’m old and blessed…hope you will be too.

                  It’s been a bad year

It’s November 21, the year of our Lord, 2021. I’m reviewing the year and it’s been a bad one. For a while, the covid-19 pandemic seemed to have lessened its grip. I saw a bright light at the end of the tunnel with the rollout of the vaccines. With my underlying health conditions, I was one of the first to get the shot. I’ve also had the booster. There are yet hot spots around the globe, where surges in new infections are having their way. I can’t help but wonder if some of this increase could’ve been prevented if people would just take the shot. A lot of the infections are of people who’ve not been vaccinated. As much as I hate to admit it, I find it difficult to feel compassion for those who have not had the shot then find themselves suffering from some of the worst symptoms, in a hospital ICU ward. I’ve seen many news reports of interviews from patients who didn’t get the shot, extolling the importance of getting vaccinated. These folks usually make some comment to the effect that if they had known what they know now, they would’ve gotten the shot.

Do you buy groceries and gasoline (petrel to my friends east of the pond)? I buy them both, and I’m wondering when the prices of these essentials will level off. Inflation is the culprit. We need these items, so we’re so we suck it up and make these necessary purchases.

Politicians are just as crazy as ever. They find the most mundane of things to politicize. Who would’ve thought a small piece of cloth that doesn’t even move the numbers on a scale, would be one of the most controversial items of the year? A face mask is just that, a face mask. Most of us wear it without too much difficulty. The medical experts have told us that wearing a face mask is an effectual method for preventing the spread of the coronavirus. Some people just don’t want anyone telling them what to do; they don’t seem to want to be bothered by sound facts surrounding the benefits of wearing a mask. And so, some politicians react to that sentiment and run to the public square to speak loudly in support of the folks who can vote them out of office.

We continue to see lady justice meting out her worst by peeking through the so-called blindfold she wears and shaving off a few ounces on one side of her scale. The Rittenhouse verdict is a perfect example of that. How can a jury not find anyone innocent of murder, manslaughter, or something unlawful when they’ve crossed state lines, armed illegally with a weapon, shot, and killed a couple of folks and claim they were defending themselves?

Politics. I think I ‘ve mentioned enough about that already. Let’s just say, things would be a whole lot better for all of us if politicians would reason together and come to the wise conclusion that they are in office to serve, not be served.

Wait a minute, this year hasn’t been any worse than most. What’s that old saying about this too shall pass? Despite it all, I’m still blessed. If you’re reading this and you’re honest with yourself, so are you.

I’m old and blessed…hope you will be too.

            Am I too dependent?

I started my morning early today, as I normally do. I was out of bed at 5:00 this morning to take my bicycle ride. This is an important start to my day that I’ve been doing for over twenty years. It was a bit cool, 45 degrees Fahrenheit but that’s not too cool to stop me. I simply bundled up in clothing that’s good at blocking the effects of the wind beating against me. My fingers usually suffer the most when the temperature is below 50. After my one-hour ride, I came back to the house where Ari, my faithful Shi-Tzu was waiting for me to let her outside to do her business and to serve her breakfast. After that bit of business, I went back outside to the back deck to finish my cooldown with a few calisthenics and a little weightlifting. I won’t share any more of the boring details of my morning constitutional. I ended with entering my office.

As I entered my office, I picked up my iPad, which is just to the right charging up, waiting for me to click on the icon to read my local newspaper. Well, I clicked the icon and the only thing to happen was the annoying little circle. You know the circle that tells you the device is working its little heart out to connect to the site you want. The circle never stopped. I picked up my iPhone, thinking I could read my newspaper there. The same little circle was there also. I turned on my laptop and there was no WI-FI symbol in the ribbon at the bottom of the screen. After tinkering in that space for a while, I checked my cable connections to the modem, still nothing.

To say the least, I was sufficiently frustrated at this point. I had no connection to the outside world. I had no access to the plethora of useful and useless information that I fuel myself with to prepare me for withstanding the slings and arrows that are bound to come my way each day. I tried to sign on to the internet at reasonable intervals of time for the next two hours with no success.

After three hours and more coffee than I normally consume, I decided to call my internet service provider (ISP). I rarely call any organization that provides services to my home. I have little love for the recorded voices that efficiently and coldly tell me to enter this or that number. After experiencing disconnection with the outside world for three hours, you would think a warm-blooded human being would be the least my ISP could offer. The efficient recorded voice identified my house address and asked me why I was calling, offering several options from which I could choose. I chose technical support. The voice, in quick response, informed me that there was maintenance work being done in my service area and that I wouldn’t have access to the internet until 4:00 pm. Although efficient, the recorded voice offered no sympathy, no apology for my plight.

Lack of access to the internet, forced me to write this blog and to notice a couple of books I picked up recently while browsing at a local bookstore. Reading seemed like a decent pastime since I couldn’t post this blog until the internet was up and running.

Am I too dependent (on the internet)? I ask you to think before answering that question.

I’m old and blessed…hope you will be too.

One layer of the onion is all gone

Imagine each generation of your family represented by layers of an onion. I know you don’t have a clue of where I’m going with this. Please humor me for a short while I promise you, I’ll make my point, at least I hope to. For months now, I’ve been thinking about writing a blog that metaphorically presents the extended family as an onion, with each generation that still exists as layer of the onion.

I got news this morning that has caused my heart to be heavy. My mother’s baby sister, one of a set of twins, died peacefully in her sleep last night. She was the last in her generation who was born to the union of my maternal grandparents, grandpa and Sweet. If you are a follower of my blog, you may know who grandpa and Sweet are. I wrote about them in a series I did awhile back titled “From what I can remember.”

The last family reunion we had, where representation of all the generations that stemmed from grandpa and Sweet, was in 2019. The total number of generations represented at that wonderful gathering was five. I found myself sitting amongst it all, watching young ones running about my first cousin’s nice property, not knowing who all these kids were. I do remember that family gathering gave me an opportunity to become acquainted with these relatives. I was looking forward to seeing them at the next reunion in 2020, but you know what happened. Covid-19 put a hold on that.

Family reunion 2019. My aunt is the distinguished one to the left, white hair in blue and white top.

Chris and I were preparing to sit down and watch our churches Sunday morning service on YouTube this morning. We’re still staying at home because of covid-19. Our church has become quite skilled at producing and presenting services virtually. Although it is having services where members of the congregation are meeting in person, some of us are still hesitant about returning to the brick-and-mortar location for now. My phone rang. The display indicated that it was my sister. I hesitated to answer the call because I know my sister wouldn’t be calling me at this time on a Sunday morning unless something was wrong. Something in fact was wrong. My aunt, my mother’s baby sister had made her exit to be with her Lord, whom she loves dearly.

News of a loved one dying is difficult to accept, especially in the case of my mother’s sister. I just had a telephone conversation with her two days ago. She had been calling over the last year or so to check up on me. It’s funny how she would begin each conversation with, “I thought I needed to check on the old folks.” I never argued that point with her, since was only sixteen years older than I. We had an exceptionally lengthy conversation, talking about topics that harkened back to when I was a child to today. She sounded very vibrant and mentally sharp as always. She was anxious to attend another family reunion as soon as we could have one without fear of covid-19. I remember getting off the call and thinking how great it will be to see my aunt again.

The next layer in the onion is my generation. I’m seventy-one. I have a cousin who’s a few months older than I. We are the oldest members of this layer. From my last inventory, there are many members to our layer of the onion. I do pray that this layer will be in place for a long, enjoyable time to come.

We need a family reunion. We need the onion to be all in one place at one time. God, please hear my prayer and thank you for this onion.

I’m old and blessed…hope you will be too.