The now normal

Recently, I sat in on a zoom meeting where one of the participants used the term now normal several times. She made the point that we’re in a time when we can forget about how things were last year, whatever we’re doing now and how we’re doing it is normal. I got the distinct impression from listening to her that we do whatever we have to, during now, to get things done. I would say it’s all about adaptation. Adaption is a uniquely human skill that history shows we’re good at when circumstances dictate.

The now normal may be the reality; however, accepting that reality doesn’t make life any easier. Case in point, while pushing my grocery cart through the supermarket yesterday, a total stranger interrupted my agonizing experience of looking at the now normal prices on the shelves. He said with seemingly much disgust that,” These prices are ridiculous!” He said he’d seen a report on the news indicating that we’re going to be seeing fewer items on the shelves, while simultaneously seeing prices rise. I told him that I certainly felt his pain, and that prices are rising weekly. He respectfully corrected me by saying that prices are rising daily, at least it seemed that way.

I majored in sociology, with a minor in history for my undergraduate degree. Economics were a part of my studies. I must admit, I never fully comprehended the principles presented in those studies. For example, why doesn’t the humungous industrial complex prepare for those global rainy days like the ones the pandemic has presented? Common sense should tell us that production could be interrupted at any given time, affecting supply chains, and offering fewer finished products to the consumer. Remember the supply shortage of paper products we had to deal with early into the pandemic? I’m sure you’re more astute at understanding all of this than I, so forgive my ignorance.

We’re entering the third year of the pandemic, and there have been innumerable changes to occur in terms of how we do business, how we worship, how we live from one day to the next. Our ability to keep up attempts to squeeze the best life we can out of whatever comes our way continues. This penchant for keeping on keeping on reminds me of the Borg. Excuse my science fiction metaphor. Please, let me explain. The Borg are a cybernetic group of creatures who are part of the Star Trek franchise. They improve their race by acquiring other beings from different worlds, implanting them with technologies to increase their physical abilities, and making them part of a larger singularly operating group. Whenever a Borg is attacked, it automatically goes into a mode which allows it to adapt, preventing, for example, the beam of subatomic particles shot from a phaser weapon to harm them. In other words, they go with the flow, as most of us have done over the last two years. To keep a Borg down, your weapon must continually rotate frequencies, preventing the Borg from adapting. That sounds like the covid-19 virus, rotating from one variant to the next, trying to take us out.

Normality is continually changing. You’re changing to keep up because you must survive and thrive. It doesn’t make it any less stressful, does it?

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

And so, 2021 is about over

I just looked at the time on my laptop. We’re seven hours and thirty-four minutes away from the start of the new year. If there’s one-point 2021 has driven home very strongly for me it’s that I’m an exceedingly small grain of sand in an ocean of 7.8 billion people (according to U.S. Census Bureau). Far be it from me to think that anything revolves around me.

Sometimes I think blogging is one of the most self-absorbed activities in which anyone could be involved. However, when I start thinking that way, I remind myself that the human experience is universal and that when I write, I’m often, if not all the time expressing thoughts, experiences, stories that tens of thousands on our planet find familiar. My followers far from the shores of the United States have convinced me of that. My reading their musings convince me even further. We’re all cut from the same cloth, and each of us has been blessed to display individual designs.

And so, 2021 is about over, and I’ll keep blogging. I still have a lot of our stories to tell.

I’m old and blessed, an African born in the United States.

Note: I wrote this on New Year’s Eve. I had it tucked away on my laptop…forget to post it.

Just be yourself: That’s more than enough

I just finished reading an article in my daily newspaper, the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. It was titled Anchor criticized for being “very Asian.”An anchor with a Saint Louis, Missouri tv station had wrapped up a report she was doing about food people eat to celebrate New Year’s Day, by saying that she ate dumpling soup like many Koreans do. The reporter is of Korean ancestry, raised by white parents.

The reporter’s comment rubbed a good, upstanding American the wrong way. The offended person left a message expressing her discontent by saying a white anchor would have been fired if they had made a comment about what white people eat on New Year’s Day. I’m trying to restrain myself from saying something uncouth, but I must be honest. That’s got to be one of the dumbest things I’ve ever heard. The comment was in no way derogatory to anyone. It was inline with the content of the reporter’s intent, getting her viewers thinking about the diversity of foods people might consume during the holiday season.

The newspaper article goes on to say that the reporter had reconnected with her Korean family in 1998 and has incorporated Korean culture into her life since then. I for one, think that’s wonderful. Although the article makes no mention of the love shared between the reporter and her white parents, I’m sure it’s powerful. My oldest child isn’t of another ethnicity, but she is adopted. We’ve always celebrated her very existence and the fact that she’s a part of our family. Heck, she even looks like us. I’ve always felt that an adopted child is blessed in ways that only the child can appreciate. Someone has assumed the honor of loving them and providing them a comfortable space in the universe, which otherwise might not have happened. (Please excuse the meandering thoughts about adoption. I just had to get them out.)

The reporter was being herself and demonstrating a celebratory attitude that she is proud of who she is and happy about it. How dare a troll rain on her parade.

We all have a God-given right to be ourselves in as much of a positive way as possible. I have no idea what the troll was thinking or why she was offended. Her comments marked just one in innumerable sad days when someone hasn’t the heart to vicariously experience someone else’s joy.

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

Operating in our place is best

Have you ever given thought to how wonderfully built things are in their natural state? When we look at what’s now called the United States, we see a network of rivers, streams, forests, mountains that is in place to nourish the land. Every piece has its place. Amazingly, some pieces were created to ramble and roam, for example, the Mississippi river. It journeys from the northern tip of the country to the point where it drains into the Gulf of Mexico. Even though it encroaches on the territories of other geographical pieces, it does so as if it were invited to do so to bring its nourishment to those areas. The river’s trek from north to south is by no means an intrusion at any point along its carved path.

All pieces, all parts of nature have their place, a place divinely appointed for them. These pieces bring balance to the whole, a natural balance. Then there’s humankind. Humankind steps onto a stage of perfect balance and tries with its presumed intelligence, superiority to shift the natural balance, seeking a new balance designed to satisfy our needs and desires.

The recent climate change conference in Glasgow on 31 October through 12 November, where far too little was accomplished is evidence that we haven’t been operating in our place. I want to be clear. I do believe the earth and all her resources are here for us to harvest in our quest to improve the quality of life on the planet; however, we should be doing so in concert with nature. If we look back at the 20th Century, we see more technological advances than at any century prior. There was also more damage to our global environment than at any point in history. Oftentimes, we think climate change is a recent phenomenon, raising its ugly head during the last century, but climate change was one of the factors that contributed to the fall of the Roman, according to: Dr. Kyle Harper, Vox: Six ways climate change and disease helped topple the Roman Empire, November 4, 2017. Rome as it trapsed around the world, adding territory and citizens to boot, operated outside of its place. I suppose there’s no such thing as harmonious colonization. Look at the mess the Europeans and American left on the African continent over a four-hundred-year period.

Operating in our place doesn’t mean that we can’t go into another neighborhood, another state, another country, another continent. The challenge for us (humankind) is can we do so like the Mississippi River before we engineered it to meet our needs. Can we gently go into a place, not like a steamroller, and operate under a win-win scenario, getting and giving while ensuring that all things are left in balance. Shouldn’t our place be to epitomize good stewardship, not create disaster that wreaks havoc on all that we touch?

We’re all blessed to be living during a time when the world has gotten much smaller. As soon as I post this blog, it will be available for anyone who wants to read it, anywhere in the world. We are now in the infant stages of stretching our hands into space with visions of colonizing Mars sooner than most of us can fathom. Technology has given us an enormous increase in our quality of life, but at what cost to the generations that are already here to receive its inheritance.

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

Spending more time in my head

I can recall a time when I was more interested in receiving than giving.  The prospect of getting things for Christmas, things as reward for a good deed, things for the variety of holidays that capitalism seems to have established to feed itself. In retrospect, I started to move away from that failed formula for fulfillment during my years in college. The latest gadget, the most stylish attire started to become less of a driving force for enhancing my sense of self-worth. Mind you, I didn’t become a died-in-the wool minimalist, but I did start to realize that dissipating all my cash on things that only had value for a season, in the eyes of others, was a complete waste of time.

The internal motivation that persuaded me to be less of a consumer in college manifested itself in my childhood. Being poor had its privileges, for me anyway. Not having more than I needed freed me from devoting ridiculous amounts of time taking care of stuff. Stuff, you know, clothing, shoes and other accoutrements that adorn the outside, but add no value to the real persona. I can remember when I was as young as ten years old, I used to regularly make time to be by myself. At that age, I discovered the benefits of spending time in my head. Of course, I had no idea that I was meditating, or getting close to it anyway.

Spending time in our heads is a good place to be. It’s there that we connect with things that are waiting to greet us, to commune with us, to assist us in understanding our position in relation to what we encounter in life. If you’re a spiritual person, haven’t you had some of your best experiences alone, in the quiet focusing absent the noise the world produces? Although you might enjoy corporate worship, don’t you have a stronger connection with your universal spirit while you’re spending time in your head? It’s in our heads that we solve problems, design plans for success, have conversations that can’t be had in any other venue.

The last two years have presented unprecedented challenges for people worldwide. Covid-19 and its off springs (Delta and Omicron) have frightened us, confused us, left us dangling in the wind. There’s information overload in the media. Each day numbers are reported about new cases, numbers of hospitalizations, numbers of dead. Oftentimes, these reports take on the quality of all the other noise that permeates the atmosphere. I must spend time in my head to maintain my sanity. With all the talk about normalcy being absent around the world, I’ve found that keeping my mental and emotional self in balance is the kind of normalcy that’s more important than any other barometric reading. I must spend time working in my head. I venture to say that even folk, who seek the services of a counselor, discover that such professionals are coaching them on how to spend quality time in their heads.

I didn’t make a New Year’s resolution for 2022. I discovered years ago that these never work; I’ll just spend more time in my head, the place where reality is formed.

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

13 – From what I can remember: I didn’t develop the tough stuff

I’m continuing to find it therapeutic to recall experiences of my past life. Why should I wait for that moment of crisis when my life flashes before my eyes?

I’ve been thinking about my life as a young boy growing up in rural Cross County, Arkansas. The happiness I reveled in playing in grandpa’s fields, exploring the best of nature that left me with several layers of grime at the end of the day, is fresh in my mind. I enjoyed being outside, which was good for me, since parents back then preferred kids be outside, not inside making a mess of everything.

I don’t remember exactly when grandpa introduce me to his 22-caliber rifle. He only had two guns: his 22 and a 10-gauge shotgun that had a rough hand-carved stock. As I recall, the weapon had been damaged in some manner and grandpa had replaced the stock with something he hewed. The thing had a recoil that kicked like a mule. I do remember asking grandpa to teach me how to shoot. After firing the shotgun once, I chose to stick with the twenty-two from that point on. Grandpa wasn’t an educated man, but he did teach me about gun safety: never keep a loaded gun in the house, always keep the barrel pointed downwards unless you’re aiming at game, always hand a gun off to someone else stock first. I don’t remember ever shooting anything, rabbits, squirrels, or any of the little creatures grandpa would venture into the woods to kill, bring home, skin, and prepare for Sweet (my grandma) to miraculously turn into some good vittles.

There was something missing in me that prevented me from shooting animals, slaughtering hogs, or taking the lives of wild or domesticated creatures. To this day, I don’t have the intestinal fortitude to gut fish. I think my powerful desire to turn farm animals into pets developed in me an inability to take the life of any animal. In case you’re wondering, no, I’m not a vegetarian. I just don’t like killing animals.

I remember a traumatizing experience I had when I was around ten years old. Grandpa had given me a pig to play with. I named it, played with it, led it about everywhere I went. The pig grew up into a hog, and I’m sure you can guess what happened to it. I refused to eat any of the meat produced from my friend. I remember all the adults telling me that hogs are raised for food not for pets. At the time, I couldn’t comprehend why grandpa and my uncles had to kill my friend, even though poor folks like us needed the meat from the animals we raised for food.

Yep! I was a country-raised kid with no stomach for shooting Bambi, any of his friend, wild or domesticated. Strange. Isn’t it?

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

12 – Weather and a few related things: From what I can remember

Example of the quality of house we lived in when I was growing up

As I write this piece, it’s 8:21 in the morning, December 28, 2021. The temperature outside is 68 degrees (20 degree for my friends who live beyond the border of the U.S.). This weather has prompted me to jot down a few thoughts about weather when I was a kid growing up in rural, Cross County, Arkansas.

If you follow my blog, you might remember a series I started back in August of 2020, where I shared a few stories about growing up in poverty yet supported by strong family and community. This will be my 12th contribution to this series. I stopped writing posts to the series in October 2020. I’m going to try my best to pick up more memories from decades gone by and share them in my little comfy space I’ve purchased in the blogosphere.

The weather in Arkansas has been strange this December. Three days ago, it was Christmas, and the temperature was 80 degrees. I won’t convert this to Celsius. If you’re used to metric methods of measuring temperature, take my word, it was hot! Anyone used to the weather in Arkansas, knows that it’s common for temperatures to rise occasionally to a comfortable early spring level, for a day or two. However, this December has been uncommon, in my non-meteorological opinion.

Sitting in my humble abode on Christmas day, feeling discomfort from the unusual heat, I simply pressed the button on my thermostat to activate the air conditioner. Yes. I turned on the air conditioner in December. What a difference six decades or so make. From what I can remember, we never experienced warm spells of the length we’ve had this December back in the 1950s and 60s. We started wearing winter outerwear during the first of October and wore it regularly until the last part of March. It also snowed more back then, too. Snow brought with it challenges, trying to stay warm, and joyful experiences, making, and eating snow ice cream. We weren’t concerned about environmental impurities in snow as today. A little bit of powdered sugar and vanilla extract mixed with snow was quite tasty.

On the issue of trying to stay warm. We lived in houses that were more appropriate for living in a tropical climate, no insulation, no central heat, no environmental-altering technology, except for a wood-burning stove in the living room. The cold, northern winds were successful in finding their way through each crack between the clapboards. I don’t remember any Christmases with temperatures akin to the kind we had three days ago. When there was a white Christmas, we all sat snuggled by the wood-burning stove, but not too close. The heat from the stove would slowly burn you if you didn’t pay attention.

Type of wood burning stove we used for warmth when I was a child

What a contrast, back when I was a kid, we would’ve loved central heat to protect us from the winter chill, which seemed colder than what we experience now. Now, we find ourselves turning on the air conditioner in December. We now have the financial resources to afford contraptions to cool in summer and het in winter. Not to sound too much like a complainer, but it would be nice to use each contraption for the season for which it’s intended.

Oh, the weather forecast calls for the possibility of snow in five days.

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

The Christmas Story

Luke 2:1-21King James Version

And it came to pass in those days, that there went out a decree from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be taxed.

(And this taxing was first made when Cyrenius was governor of Syria.)

And all went to be taxed, every one into his own city.

And Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth, into Judaea, unto the city of David, which is called Bethlehem; (because he was of the house and lineage of David:)

To be taxed with Mary his espoused wife, being great with child.

And so it was, that, while they were there, the days were accomplished that she should be delivered.

And she brought forth her firstborn son, and wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger; because there was no room for them in the inn.

And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night.

And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid.

10 And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people.

11 For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord.

12 And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.

13 And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying,

14 Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.

15 And it came to pass, as the angels were gone away from them into heaven, the shepherds said one to another, Let us now go even unto Bethlehem, and see this thing which is come to pass, which the Lord hath made known unto us.

16 And they came with haste, and found Mary, and Joseph, and the babe lying in a manger.

17 And when they had seen it, they made known abroad the saying which was told them concerning this child.

18 And all they that heard it wondered at those things which were told them by the shepherds.

19 But Mary kept all these things, and pondered them in her heart.

20 And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things that they had heard and seen, as it was told unto them.

21 And when eight days were accomplished for the circumcising of the child, his name was called Jesus, which was so named of the angel before he was conceived in the womb.

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

          I’m not sure what spirit this is?

I’m at a point in my life where I don’t purchase the biggest, most expensive, hard-to-find Christmas gift for anyone. I think I’ve come to realize that being thoughtful about what you give a person is more important that what the price tags says. With that thought out of the way, I bought gifts for everyone on my Christmas shopping list early this year. Getting out a few weeks before Christmas, evading the hustle and bustle, which isn’t good for my old, easily frayed nerves.

Although my Christmas shopping has been done, I still find that I must get out to run an errand or two. A couple of days ago I took to the streets to do just that. I must have been out of my mind. I could have sworn there were people out there whose mission it was to ruin my Christmas spirit, and they all were driving.

Of course, there are people meandering recklessly during every major holiday season; however, there’s something distinctly different about the mad crowd that takes to the streets this time of year. This trip I took a couple of days ago, was a perfect example of why I should stay home during the week leading up to Christmas. One lady, I’m being presumptive here, was following me so close I could have seen whether she was wearing eye shadow. The only reason I couldn’t is because I’ve been suffering from severe dry-eye syndrome. I saw two drivers navigate their way around long lines of traffic by illegally using the left-turn lane way before they should have, and they made no effort to make a left turn. Do you know those red, octagonal traffic signs with the word stop on them? The last I heard they were strategically placed where they are for drivers to stop. I didn’t get the memo advising everyone during the Christmas holiday season that you can simply ignore these. My little trip afforded me the opportunity to stop counting the number of drivers I saw ignore stop signs.

And then there are the speed freaks. I have a habit of saying a driver must be rushing to put out a fire whenever I feel as though I’m standing still when passed. This is especially the case when I’m driving five miles above the speed limit, and my fellow denizens are passing me doing at least fifteen miles faster than I. I can only assume this time of year that the reason for such speed is they’ve received word that the store is about to run out of that most popular toy; the one their kid has been bombarded with in tv commercials since before Thanksgiving.

I’m sure you have crazy shopping and driving stories to share for Christmas Holiday season, and I’m sure you do the same as I. You keep your spirits bright and with the greatest of intentions, keep in mind the real reason for this season.

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

The flow

Recently, as I was driving to my destination, I took notice of the rain and the steams in which it was falling. Most of us who live in Little Rock know that all creeks, streams flow, no matter how circuitously, into the Arkansas River. This natural activity is an example of how things work in the universe. I’m not an astrophysicist by any stretch of the imagination, however, I do know that there is movement of the universe. Descending from that macro perspective, even the molecules in this laptop I’m pecking on aren’t as solid as my eyes perceive them to be. There’s a flow to the universe, there’s a flow to all its components; a flow, construction that keeps everything in place as the Creator intended.

What happens when we behave in ways that are counter to the flow? History provides us with countless examples: War, political strife, crime, family discord. The list of consequences resulting from ignoring the flow, and more so, buttressing against it are too many to list. Suffice it to say, if you take stock to meditate on this issue for a little time, you’ll began to recognize things in your life that have gone awry due to yours or someone else’s disregard for the flow.

If you’re of the Judeo-Christian faith as I, you may recall ancient scripture that says: “Genesis1: 31a- And God saw everything that He had made, and behold, it was very good; Genesis 2: 15 – The Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to work and keep it.”  These are but two references to the flow, the reverence the Creator has for His creation and the reverence He intended for us to have for it, too. We should collaborate with each other, not seek ways for contention; we should look for ways to serve, not be served; we should look for the spirit within each of us, not outside differences that can draw criticism among us; we should always look for ways to celebrate our God-given differences, as if they were the blossoms of a beautifully arrange bouquet.

The flow is there for us to exist harmoniously and thrive within. Life for you, me and everyone would be grand beyond imagination, if we just lived with all the flow provides.

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