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Thursday, October 24, 2013

Where Was I When...?

Back in 1940 at the dinner table one night we’d been talking about a family picnic some years back. My little brother, Kenny, listened as names of people he knew came into the discussion. “Uncle Earl, Aunt Ida, Grandpa and Grandma,” and cousins “Harriet and Dean,”  I could see something was troubling the little fellow. Finally it came out. We hadn’t mentioned his name. 

“Was I there, Mama?”  Sometimes the high pitch of a child’s voice can arrest other voices. We all listened to hear what Mother would say.

“No, dearie, you weren’t born yet.”

His face looked puzzled while he thought about that, and then he asked, “But where was I?” There was a kind of desperation in his voice.  

“You were only a twinkle in your daddy’s eye then, Kenny.” Her answer didn’t satisfy him.  His little face began to crinkle and tears welled up in his big brown eyes. “But where was I? he insisted. 

I don’t know what was said then to comfort the little guy, but as I was remembering this the other day it got me to thinking. Why do most people believe more in a hereafter than in a heretofore? Is it because they believe life starts in the womb?

When I discovered the art of journaling I found my Muse to be the perfect one to turn to for answers.  Muse would say, “I’m sure I don’t know the answer to that, but let’s think about it. Maybe we’ll stumble on one.” And, whatever the question, I’d find a satisfying dialogue in my own mind and on paper, even if no plausible answer came.  The question could be tabled for another day. Then Muse and I would turn to less nebulous things like, “What’s on your calendar for today, my friend?” Muse always focuses on me and that’s why he’s such a good friend, for I, like most, find there are few more interesting than myself. Who we are and what we believe can show up on paper and surprise us. Like pre-existence and post-existence.

I remember hearing a professor at the University of California, Irvine, begin a talk on the subject "Science and Religion." His opening remarks still reverberate in my mind. As I recall, they went something like this: “Here we all are,” (arms outstretched and eyes looking over the entire audience,) “here on this ship of life together. Those among us who favor religion go to the bow of the ship and look out saying, ‘Where are we going?’ Then they go to the stern and ask, ‘Where did we come from?’” He paused, then went on. “The scientists aboard ship do the same and come back saying, ‘We can’t see anything out there. Let’s examine the walls of this ship.’”

Now doesn’t this give a person something to turn over in his mind? It shows that however essential the solid means and ends of life, these can only pale in light of the larger questions of whether or not we've known life before birth and will also know it after death. These questions are valid and worth pondering now and then but the answers can wait. They always do.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Another Title?

I picked the title for my blog hastily. Robin helped me to set it up and then asked, “What title shall I give it, Mom?” The first one that came to mind was “Getting Older is Getting Better.” I’ve often regretted putting my thoughts in print under that title because it is flawed.

First, what I’m learning about Life (capital L) tells me that “older” and “better” are destined to become obsolete terms. Both imply the validity of time, and I’m beginning to see that time can only be what its name implies, temporary. Ideas or things that are temporary can preempt ideas and things that are eternal if we let them. And in this present human state we do. 

The term “older” would preempt “infinite being.” The word “better” would preempt “perfection.” Older and better are relative. Infinite being and perfection are absolute. You can’t add to infinity or improve upon perfection. Subscribing to infinity and perfection offers no admission of an element called time, no relative, progressive or regressive sense of life and being.

“Older,” in its human connotation, includes a deteriorating condition of body and mind. It has little to go on when calling itself “Better.” Since it’s a little late to change my title, I’ll try to put a better spin on it here.

Humanly, we all are growing older. We concede the better part to a nebulous center called maturity. From then on it’s a downhill ride for most of us. Downhill in that fleshly thing called the body. 

Is there any way out of this bodily sense of being? I say, Yes. Not through death’s door, however, but through gaining a better sense of Life, the Life that is eternal, timeless, harmonious and joyful adventure. But there is a first step to the discovery of this Life and the pursuit of it, that is the acknowledgment that it exists. Even as a figment of one’s imagination at first, it certainly beats the birth, development and decay sense of life! Joy in birth, sorrow in death, and anybody’s guess as to what comes in between. 

If we’ve given little time in our lives to gaining a more spiritual sense of things, perhaps old age is a kind of last chance to do so. If we’re not too burdened and entrapped in aches and pains to give attention to a better idea of life, or even if we are, the seeking of it now is a way out.

For the time being, we oldsters can use our days of leisure or retirement to finding out more about a perfect sense of Life. I find that among my lighter forms of entertainment and superficial pleasures the most satisfying activity is discovering more of the truth of being. “Fun,” as we call it, can be defined as seeking first the “Kingdom of Heaven.” It’s a way to climb out of the ditch and get onto the highway. Do it any way that you wish, the pure desire to do it will lead you in the right direction. 

There’s a way to grow “in stature and in wisdom and in favor with God and man” at any age and it’s never too late or too early to get started! On second thought, my title is not so bad after all if I keep in mind that it can be a doorway through which we pass from dreams to awakening.

Get older, get better, and then open that door and walk through!

Saturday, October 19, 2013

One God We Can All Agree Upon

Who is it we can count on 
through every day and night?
Who will never leave us 
or go too far from sight?

Who is our most reliable
yet oft neglected friend?
Who always lives with all of us
and will until the end?

Who offers us the most in life 
of choices never ceasing?
Who walks beside us all the way
And gives us hope increasing?

What is Her one demand of us
exchanged for endless good?
To be your best, to live and love. 
Even when not understood.

What's that? you say, you're no believer?
Oh, this god you surely must avow.
She's one you've known throughout your life.
Her name is old, familiar NOW.

Friday, October 18, 2013

In the Still of the Night

It's one a.m. I woke up about an hour ago struggling with fear and doubt and distrust. Plenty of problems but one in particular. (You don’t need to know it, you have enough problems of your own, I’m sure.) So, I got up to write. I nearly always find peace in writing. It seems to tap me into the veins of pure gold. 

At times like this I often recall what my mother used to say to me when I was troubled. “Just know the truth about it, dear,” and somehow even those words that had little meaning to me then would calm my mind and relieve me from distress. In my childlike way I’d say, “Know the truth, know the truth, know the truth.”

Error and truth are the tares and the wheat of our lives. They grow side by side but until the harvest, the time when both are ripe enough to be clearly distinguishable from each other and reaped, it is best not to try to separate them. From small quarrels to world wide wars, men suffer by imposing immature concepts of truth if not bald-faced lies on one another. 

So, how can we know truth from error? “By their fruits ye shall know them,” is the answer we find in most religions, philosophies and plain common sense. Nowadays it’s becoming more reasonable to leave the question of truth to the ages. “Don’t fight over it, children,” we say. But on the other hand as adults we see the necessity to rise in opposition to what is patently wrong, even if it means treating violence with violence, cruelty with cruelty. It is hard to trust in the power of right when wrong goes rampant but when we resort to using the enemy’s weapons it’s anyone’s guess who will win. 

The common enemy mankind has is ignorance. Just as children, we grab and hit, yell profanities and kick, complain and cry because we don’t know any better. In the middle of the night if I awake and some problem or problems keep troubling me, I find peace in the thought that there’s an answer to everything bad in the world. That answer is good and good does not need our defense of it, only our acknowledgment that it, good, is the only real. The power that good wields needs only to be recognized. The mere faith that for every wrong there is a right, for every pain there is comfort, for every threat there is safety, brings us to a first step in solving all problems. 

Thanks to the powers that be we can at least begin to distinguish what is good and what is not. Now the job is to recognize which, good or bad, has all-power and which has none. We need to stop giving equal rights to both truth and the lies about it. If good is real, then bad must be unreal, no matter how aggressively it appears real. They say, "Get real," when they mean "believe what you see." Truth says, "Get real" when it means, "between opposites there can be only one real. Which is it, good or evil?"  

Here in my quiet little home this person I call me can get up in the middle of the night and declare with absolute certainty that good will win. Why? Because good is true and evil is its opposite, therefore unreal no matter how terrible and aggressive it pretends to be. 

Do I need to prove this? No, I just need to open my eyes and my heart to see it working. I’ve seen it before and I can see it again. Knowing the truth is the same as to stop believing lies such as sin, disease and death. Take away belief in limitation too and you can have the rest. If this isn’t the truth, then pity us all, but I’ll wager my all on it. 

Now my “problem” has lost its sting because I’m giving it no power. If I can know the truth more and trust in it in the middle of the night surely the day will bring its proof. I don't doubt it will take a few more nights and a few more days, but although this path is narrow, it is leading me home.


Tuesday, October 15, 2013

My Bucket List

Some time ago I saw the movie The Bucket List. You probably did too. Jack Nicholson and Morgan Freeman play the parts of two elderly guys, terminal patients sharing a hospital room, who decide to set about doing the things they’d had hopes of doing but didn't before they died. It made a good movie. Lately I’ve been thinking I’d like to make a bucket list of the things I’d hoped for when I was young and didn’t get to do. 

1. I’ve spoken fondly about the country gas station where I grew up with cousins on farms nearby, but in my youth my dream was to live in downtown Minneapolis. I'd have chosen a high-rise apartment, chic and glamourous. Never did, but wouldn't put it on my bucket list now. 

2. I loved going to school so naturally my dream was to go to college. And I got to do that for the first two years. Living with my grandmother in her little Riverside California adobe home while going to college had been something I’d dreamed of ever since my mother died when I was fourteen and that dream came true. Missed the last two years of under graduate school but that's not going on my bucket list either.  

3. Getting married and having babies came sooner than I'd expected, but I'm glad they did. I could have had a completely different kind of life then, but I can't imagine a better one. Frankly, being on my own scared me. Being a new Marine officer’s wife scared me too, but at least I was not alone. I had my ultimate goal, a loving husband, at age nineteen. 

4. Seeing the world had never been my goal so it was all right with me that the Marines didn’t take their wives abroad. Moving from one military base to another all over the USA was adventure enough for me. Later in life I got to travel to England, France, Germany, Austria, Portugal, Spain, Italy, Monte Carlo, Switzerland and even Lichtenstein. Robby and I had six cruises. Travel may yet come, but it's not on my list. Almost forgot about my first trip abroad. Three weeks in China in 1983. The "Central Kingdom," Zhongguo, was truly another world then.

5. Having two boys a couple of years apart and a baby girl several years later was something we’d settled on early in our marriage and it worked out just like that. A family makes life interesting and our children have given us pride and joy. All three have turned out to be good, decent, honorable and successful. Best of all, our children are our best friends. They love us.

6. On our honeymoon we discussed what we’d like to do after Wally G. retired and one of the things was to have a country home at some point where we could raise chickens, have a dog and cat and a milk cow. Add a few sheep, some ducks. We had it all, along with some struggles but a lot of the best on a 60 acre ranch in Southern Oregon. No need to add it to my list.

7. Forty years of a happy marriage with Wally G and only a few bumps in the road. We’d hoped for at least fifty, but he went on ahead to the great Hereafter the day after the Christmas of 1985. I hadn’t expected a second marriage but I got one with another good man, Forbes Robertson, and had eight years of happiness with him. A lovely second family too.

In reviewing all this I think I’ll not make out a bucket list, after all. What would I put on it? Most of my life there’s been so much to enjoy in the present I haven’t spent much time thinking about the future or its wants and goals. There are few regrets about the past.

I’m heading into unknown territory now but I’m not scared. It’s been alarmingly joyous to see how the family is growing! Little ones, five great grandies so far. I hope to watch them grow up, but if I don’t live that long it’s all right. Nowadays I think not too far ahead. I’ve got a bucket full of good living behind me. The present is looking good. As for the Hereafter, that's got to be a surprise! 


Friday, October 11, 2013

Never a Worry

Yesterday I worried about something all day long. What it was is not relevant here. What is relevant is that today I came to a good decision: From now on I shall never worry about anything. Never, never, never! I have racked my brain and not been able to come up with one single positive aspect to worry, but there are tons of reasons why worry is not good. It wrinkles your face. It causes your heart to bleed.  It’s a total waste of time. It makes you a social leper. That’s for beginners.

You can argue all day. You might say, “But worry is often a good thing. It gets your attention to things that need correction, it leads to solutions.” Well, here’s my answer to that, - If worry causes you to pinch yourself in order to wake up to the need to do something if you can and leave it to destiny if you can’t, OK. You can answer the doorbell but if Worry is standing out there don’t let it get its toe in the door! To continue worrying is like saying,  Keep pinching yourself to see how good it feels when you quit! 

I like to say, with Robert Browning, “God’s in His heaven - All’s right with the world.”  Of course, the loved poet was describing a beautiful day. Not all days are beautiful. Longfellow had it right, too, when he wrote,.“Behind the clouds the sun is shining. Thy fate is the common fate of all. Into each life a little rain must fall.” 

Rain or shine, we can give ourselves less cause for worry by doing our best and improving each day, helping others when we can, but remembering that charity begins at home. I really believe that last part. I’ve learned to treat myself well and not worrying is, from now on, a cardinal rule. 

Today is starting out to be beautiful. The sun is not hiding, the temps are perfect, and my unfinished business of yesterday which worried me to distraction will be taken care of at the right time and in the right way, maybe today, maybe tomorrow. Without my worry! Already I can see how things are turning out to be just right.

So, that’s my little sermon du jour. I’ll keep it to remind myself the next time worry comes a-knockin’ at my door. I'll be quick to say thanks but shut the door before that old tormenter gets his toe in it. If this blog helps anyone else today that will be just one more reason that getting older is getting better. What I hadn't proved yesterday I have today to prove it. Grow old gracefully, I say. The alternative, not growing older, may be bad or it may be good, but it can wait for its time to come. And there's no use in worrying about it!

Sunday, October 6, 2013

My Political Persuasion

I just read a political piece someone sent me. I agree with most of it, but I’d like to hear a rebuttal. I try to keep up with what’s going on in the world and see the best of it, but I certainly don’t turn a blind eye to evil. I’m grateful for those who work to make our world better, our governments better. There are good people on most sides of the political spectrum, so I try to listen and see from others’ viewpoints before making up my own mind.

The trouble with trying to be objective about politics is that it’s hard to stay objective. Naturally we all think we’re right, politically. The picture looks dim when you’re on the losing side, but I think I’ve found a way to be a winner, a way that makes a winner out of everyone in the long run.

It’s been said that God gave us two ears and one mouth and we should therefore use our ears twice as much as our mouths. Listen to debates, read the Opinion page in newspapers, hear the endless arguments that precede elections, keep up with the daily news, and finally form an opinion of your own. Then keep on doing all those things over, again and again right from the start. The more advanced you become in years, if you do this the less you may be inclined to be certain you’re totally right politically.

When I was in high school I was for Franklin D. Roosevelt and ready to argue for him at every opportunity. Later I became sure of the Republican party views and argued adamantly for them. I might consider myself a Libertarian now but I have no intention of joining the party. I’m really not any of these, not even an Independent. 

Now I’ve decided there’s only one kind of government for me. I’d like to live under the rule of a beneficent King, and I actually believe I do! What's more I believe we all live in the kingdom of heaven. We just don’t know it yet. The more I acquaint myself with this kingdom, the more I see it in operation, but I still see it “through a glass darkly,” as St. Paul put it. Much as I love my own country and the principles on which it was founded, I’m inclined to believe in democracy as Churchill is said to have described it: “...the worst form of government on the face of the earth.” Then he added, “except every other one.” (loosely quoted)

And so, I’m not very political these days. Human governments reflect their citizens as a whole. I’ll try to do my part by being my best. I'll go with the Biblical words, “The kingdom of heaven is within you.” That’s where I expect we can all find peace and a King who can give each of us undivided attention, instruction and tender loving care. But that’s only the beginning. The kingdom of heaven is infinite I’m told, and so I intend to keep on exploring new vistas every day. Forever.

Am I persuaded politically? No, but I think I’ll keep looking for that kingdom inside me!

Friday, October 4, 2013

A Lesson from Trees

Trees. The subject has been nagging me for a while. It came up the other day in my blog with Joyce Kilmer’s poem. Before that I stumbled (on U tube) a piece about an obscure religion that teaches the degrees of intelligence on earth. Its theory is that among all of creation the most highly intelligent are trees. Next are dogs and third, mankind.

Of course, I couldn’t agree. My religion places man at the top, the last of all to be created, and man that is given dominion over all the earth, and “every creeping thing that creepeth upon the face of the earth.” Of course, this satisfies the human ego, but it shouldn’t. Not, that is, until the ego has learned something of what trees and dogs know.

We’ve all been blessed by trees. How? Well, they take up little space at their base and their tops shade us. They mind their own business but if anyone decides to trim them or even cut them down they submit without a word. They don’t resist the inevitable and often their bodies go to make fine furniture or build houses or end up in particle board or get burned in furnaces. If they cry out in sorrow or pain no one hears. They don’t retaliate in anger. That would only demean themselves.  Perhaps they know that angels will lead them to a better life and their loss turns out to be gain. 

You may ask, Is that good? Should we be so submissive to our enemies? Ask yourself, Where have wars gotten us? Where has it helped to kill others in retaliation to man’s inhumanity? Is it intelligent to fight back, or should we leave judgment to God? 

Pacifism has been discredited. That’s because we don’t know the power of goodness and love that knows no fear. A tree does. It lives each day to grow. What it learns in its growth is given out in beauty, stillness, peace, meekness, and survival. In storms it holds up bravely but if the storm is stronger, then so be it. 

If a tree lives by certain principles it might include the following:
  1. Be what you are and be the best you can under all circumstances.
  2. Don’t  concern yourself with what you can’t do, like walking, talking, understanding everything. Do what you can.
  3. Keep growing under all circumstances.
  4. Put on a thick skin (bark) to protect yourself but if it’s not in your genes to do this, be strong and pure in your innocent smooth trunk.
  5. Look kindly on the world around and don’t judge people for their foolishness.
  6. Since you can’t dance with feet, dance with the music of birds in your branches.
  7. Be still and listen. You really surpass humans in this wisdom!
  8. Be kind, hurt no one if you can help it.
  9. Live to enjoy yourself and give pleasure to other creatures.
  10. Love who you are, where you are, however much or little you have, and when you speak, speak softly like the wind in your branches.
That’s enough of a lesson for me and I can’t deny the superiority of trees in many respects, can you? The first runner up in intelligence is, according to this religion, dogs. I’m not going to tackle that because I’m sure my readers know as much and more about the intelligence of dogs as I do.

When I compare mankind to trees and dogs, I have to admit that we’re not so smart, especially when you consider how much we’ve been given. We’re beginning to learn from nature. The American Indians could teach us about that. Mankind has learned something about decency, love, courtesy, honesty, etc. but we have yet to conquer the base and inhumane elements that a tree knows nothing of and a dog has overcome through love. 

Time to get busy now and sift the chaff from the wheat of our earthly sojourn. And before we casually condemn or deny another’s religion we might give it a closer look. I probably won’t pursue this one further, but I certainly learned something from trees. 

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Learning by Rote, A Thing of the Past?

As far back as my childhood school days I can’t recall being given an assignment to memorize anything except the Pledge of Allegiance to the flag and the multiplication table. Not so, my parents’ generation and their parents’. I used to love hearing one of them spontaneously start to recite a poem. Not just a part of it either, but the whole long thing! Then I’d listen on a deeper level and the rhyming words would become a gentle pulsation behind the ideas set forth. I’d marvel at my elders’ ability to remember all those lines and let them flow out fluently like another language. Not all were profound. My father used to charm us by reciting the narrative poem, Rip Van Winkle, but his mother, my Grandma Hattie, could recite the the whole Sermon on the Mount. She had memorized it while washing dishes by her kitchen window where she pinned to the curtain one passage at a time on a paper in her handwriting. At night if I was staying at her house she might sit on the bed silhouetted by candlelight and recite Longfellow’s poem about Hiawatha's mother.

By the shores of Gitche Gumee, By the shining Big-Sea-Water, Stood the wigwam of Nokomis, Daughter of the Moon, Nikomis. 

All you had to do was start the first lines of Paul Revere's Ride in those days and anyone could go on with them. My Auntie Dorris surprised us one day after dinner by reciting this poem called Invictus byWilliam Ernest Henley:

Out of the night that covers me,
 Black as the Pit from pole to pole, 
 I thank whatever gods may be 
 For my unconquerable soul.
 In the fell clutch of circumstance 
 I have not winced nor cried aloud. 
 Under the bludgeonings of chance
 My head is bloody, but unbowed. 
 Beyond this place of wrath and tears 
 Looms but the Horror of the shade, 
 And yet the menace of the years 
 Finds, and shall find, me unafraid. 
 It matters not how strait the gate, 
 How charged with punishments the scroll, 
 I am the master of my fate: 
 I am the captain of my soul.

 I was amazed. Auntie read mystery books by the dozens, but here was something she’d kept inside all those years.

My own education wasn’t without poetry. It just wasn’t required of us to memorize it. I found this one to be a favorite, not just because of the sentiment but because a man with my name had written it.

 I think that I shall never see  
A poem lovely as a tree.  
A tree whose hungry mouth is prest  
Against the sweet earth's flowing breast;  
A tree that looks at God all day, 
And lifts her leafy arms to pray;  
A tree that may in summer wear  
A nest of robins in her hair;  
Upon whose bosom snow has lain;  
Who intimately lives with rain.   
Poems are made by fools like me,  
But only God can make a tree.

 by Joyce Kilmer. 1886–1918

 I love the old school where poems rhymed although I can enjoy free verse too. The poems of James Whitcomb Riley and Robert Louis Stevenson were childhood favorites. Later I enjoyed John Greenleaf Whittier and Robert Frost, Carl Sandberg and others. But to tell the truth, I rarely sit down to read poetry, though I am now enjoying a copy of a fellow classmate's new book called Notes on Napkins, on paper napkins in coffee houses. He could be a poet laureate someday and I might say, "I knew him when..."

Why don’t we teach by rote anymore? I suppose the sparks of our own creativity could become dimmed by too much of it. We learn where to find the classics and that seems enough, but if we were stranded on a desert island? A lecturer I once heard who had been a prisoner of war for several years had, as a child, been required to memorize a poem of his dad’s choosing every week. Not just memorize it, but keep it in his memory by constant rehearsal. He was relieved of this when he left home, but later in that prisoners’ camp without anything to read he found comfort in remembering those poems and shared them with his neighbor in the next cell.The neighbor wanted to memorize them too and he shared them with his neighbor on the other side. This went on down the line and in this way they all became close friends. The poems helped them to rise above their boredom and homesickness. They helped to preserve their sanity.

Well, there’s one plaudit for learning by rote. I think a little of it would go a long way in today’s school curriculum. Maybe even impress our own grandchildren someday.