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Thursday, July 31, 2014

Please! Give Me A Person!

Sometimes I wonder about automation. Doing business by telephone or on line can be frustrating, especially to one like myself who does very little of it that way. Even to people who are experienced it can be time-consuming and irritating to wend a way through the maze of recorded voices to find, at last, a person, an intelligent human being, to talk to. And, if you get one, consider yourself lucky if that person doesn’t say something like, “Oh, I’m sorry; I don’t handle questions like that. Would you like to call another department? I can give you their number. Or, I can also give you their website. It’s www....”  

I understand that in today’s world answering machines and computers save money for businesses, but they also deprive many people of jobs. People who should be capable of reasoning and responding intelligently to simple, direct questions. 

Some years ago Robby and I bought a vacation time-share. Every time I attempt to arrange for the use of it I have to work for hours on the telephone or computer to make a simple reservation. Once that is successfully accomplished and I have refrained from anger and insult I feel so proud of myself! 

But, seriously, haven’t you wondered if the money saved by automation might be better spent to train a mellow-voiced person with a background of knowledge? Even if a number of people answering phones would be required, the good will and patience of business contacts should be worth it. And why wouldn’t any business be happier hiring smart young people than cheating them out of entry jobs so necessary to launch them on careers? Even single parents need jobs. 

I own a time-share vacation condo with the largest company of its kind in America. It’s been a joy to spend vacations with it but an absolute pain to make a reservation.  I get shuttled back and forth from one web-site to another, one department to another. It can take literally days to arrange for a place. 

“I’m sorry, but due to the overload of calls received, please leave your phone number and we’ll get back to you as soon as possible.” So I wait and wait and wait. And I try again.

Automation is no way to do business, I say. For sheer friendliness and cooperation and good will give me a person and don’t do business with recorded messages! 

P.S. Anyone out there who wants to buy my time-share? No? Well, I thought not. When and if this vacation goes through I’ll let you know if it was worth it.

Sunday, July 27, 2014

What To Do On Sundays?

What do you do on Sundays? My grandmother told me that when she was a child she was allowed to hold her dolly on her lap but not to play with it. On Sundays when she was a young mother of four she prepared a roaster pan full of the Sunday dinner on Saturday night so all she had to do was light a fire under it early Sunday morning and by the time they got home from church it would be ready to eat. I’m not sure what she did about washing the dishes. Sunday school and church for everyone, then home to dine, rest and read the Bible. A day of quiet reflection. Are there some who still observe the Sabbath like that? 

Things have changed today but I think I have found a good way to spend Sunday, especially if it’s spent alone. Try to think things out. Today we had a hymn sing in the Garden Room here at The Willows. After church and a delicious noon meal in the dining room, singing hymns seemed to cap off my Sunday worship. At home I did a little reading and then turned on the TV to watch “60 Minutes.” It featured a segment about a coal mining disaster. Then another about homeless families and children who feel the shame of being homeless and the pain of seeing their parents suffer. After it was over I felt a cloud of sorrow settling over my day.

I got to thinking then. This human experiment of life on earth leaves a lot to be improved upon. This man made out of the dust has come a long way, but he has an even longer way to go. I think it would be profitable to keep the first chapter of Genesis and the first three verses of the second as a “let’s start from the beginning” contemplation of life.   

In Genesis I the light was called Day and the dark was called Night. Have you ever sat down and tried to think the first chapter of Genesis through? I’ve often wondered if the whole secret of life could be packed into that one statement. We could add the phrase from the book of Revelation in our considerations too. You know, the one that says, speaking of the kingdom of heaven, “...there shall be no night there.” 

The Night and Day idea seems to indicate that life is in the way we see it. And how can we see it better? With more light, of course. Seeing also requires intelligence, perception, facts. If that first record of creation in the Bible is to be believed then all we need to see things as “very good,” the way God sees them, is to be what the greatest teachers of the world tell us we are, children of light. 

Really, can’t you or I or anyone do better at thinking up a better man than the one we see? Imagine the kind of man who is not sentenced to death the minute he is born. Imagine one who is complete, who doesn’t need to procreate because his own Creator does that job. Imagine not needing to grub in the dirt or constantly feed appetites of one sort or another. Imagine the kind of man-woman who does not get old and feeble, one who is uniquely and individually beautiful, one who is talented, lovable, generous and kind. Imagine the joy of lacking nothing that is good, of never being sick, never having accidents, never knowing evil or being wrong. Imagine life as one grand adventure where all we need to do is look, listen, and live in harmony.

Sound boring? Then just go on living in the dark as we appear to be doing now. Nothing boring about that! I know most people subscribe to the belief that without evil we wouldn’t know how to define good, but a few do not. These few see glimpses of a perfect creation which needs only the light of Love and Truth to illumine it. They see that as their purpose, to see and be children of light. 

There’s a lot to do along this line. It may take us an eternity of Sundays, but I’ll bet we can make the grade if we don’t give up trying. Would that be working on the Sabbath? No, I think God would let me play with that doll!

Friday, July 25, 2014

Walk On Through - Only Good Lies Ahead

A friend of mine used to like to quote something she’d heard. It went like this: “Don’t try to outline good; you can’t outline good enough.”

As I grow older, or to put it a better way, as I grow, I learn more the truth behind that saying. I used to love writing New Year’s Eve resolutions. Aim high, I thought, and in my best penmanship those resolutions looked lofty and artistic hanging on my kitchen cupboard door all numbered and neat. By March the whole thing would have gone into the recycling bin. Spontaneity felt shorted; she took up arms and won the battle. 

You see, I can’t say I’ve really finished any pursuit. I chose marriage and a honeymoon over completing my college education. Marriage plus motherhood presented another kind of school and I can say I never gave up on these, although the marriage I’m working on now is with God, our Maker. (The Bible says, “Thy Maker is thy husband.”)  

I’ve written about this before but it still haunts me that I seem to fall short of a successful end, a sense of deserving the lovely retirement I’m enjoying. I don’t think I’m alone in this. Does anyone really think they’ve been totally successful enough to rest on his or her laurels? When you’re watching the years go by you get to wondering how you can finish up with a feeling of having done your best, having won the inner satisfaction of a life lived to the fullest. 

Many have worked their way through severe trials and I am one of them, but I suppose the nagging feeling that we could have done better is part of our advancing years. With me I’m learning not to judge myself for not earning a perfect report card or reaching a grand finish line. Infinity won’t allow that anyway. Life’s school has its little graduations but they’re only resting places to sit a spell and enjoy the scenery without undo self-criticism or self-acclaim. I love the idea the Bible brings out so frequently that it is God’s righteousness, not our own, that carries us onward. 

As for the fear of old age ailments and eventual death, we can avoid facing up to them or we can choose to treat them like the “water” on a desert highway by just smiling because we know the truth about such things. And we can prove it by walking right on through! 

We’re still, and perhaps always will be, like the children of Israel, walking through the desert of human perplexities. We keep yearning for the Promised Land where only divine goodness reigns. Getting glimpses of it we find oases on our way and drink from clear fountains. I feel I’m in an oasis now and I love it but there’s a greater good ahead. I may not move again but my spiritual path goes on and on and I feel a kinship with all my fellows as we explore the way to finding only Good.  

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Dreams of Country Living

My grandmother’s friend whom we called “Auntie Blanche” lent us her small apartment in Laguna Beach for our honeymoon back in 1945. Only two blocks from the beach, it was an idyllic place to start our married life. Wally was back from his second tour in the Pacific war zone. This time as a fighter pilot on the carrier Ben Franklin.  Before he'd left, in his proposal to me he had said, “If I make it back from the war zone alive, will you marry me?”

Neither of us knew at the time how prophetic those words were. He was in the air over Japan when his carrier was hit by an enemy aerial attack. The decks had been loaded with fighter planes armed with bombs and ready for take-off. The enemy had picked a good time, for them. Sixty percent of the personnel aboard perished in the fiery catastrophe and The Ben had to list its way back to the States. Wally and his wing mates were ordered to land on another carrier. Their planes had to be dumped after landing, and the pilots were sent home. 

Laguna was a good place to step into married life but I was young (19) and didn’t know about post traumatic stress. Wally didn’t talk about it but losing some of his best friends and the fate of the carrier must have affected him deeply. We got married on April 25 at the Mission Inn Flyers’ Chapel in Riverside. Someone lent us a record player and we bought a stack of classical records which we played over and over in Auntie Blanche's place. We spent time at the beach too and read books aloud to each other. One was a new best seller called “The Egg and I” by Betty MacDonald. In spite of the trials of country life we read about in that book we agreed that sometime in our life ahead we’d want to have a country experience. We promised ourselves that.

Exactly thirty years later our time came. We moved onto a sixty acre ranch in Southern Oregon. The place looked like a picture from a storybook when we first laid eyes on it from the road across the river. Red farmhouse, red barn, red chicken coop, red woodshed and red workshop, nestled back from the bend in the Upper Applegate River amidst the green woods of the Siskiyou foothills. It looked like a corner of Heaven itself. 

A chapter in my only book, Claudia’s Home, tells about that. Suffice it to say the realities of country living were not totally idyllic although I felt these were worth it. Wally did not. He sadly opined, “I thought we’d just be sitting on the front porch looking out over our little spread, but you had to populate the place with chickens, ducks, a cow, a pair of sheep that turned into fifteen, and those horrid guinea hens who screech. We have to pull weeds and rocks out of the pasture, plant hay and alfalfa, and water the whole works by setting irrigation pipes.  This is definitely not the way I thought I’d be spending my retirement!”

I stood my ground though and Wally agreed to stay on. After about eight years we sold my little Paradise and moved on. We sold it for a hefty profit and that sweetened the experience for Wally but I cried as we drove out for the last time. Would I be glad to be there today? No, I guess not.

Not long after we left some friends of ours told us of their country experience too. It was to have been the fulfillment of a honeymoon dream like ours, a small ranch in Southern California, but they only lasted two years before becoming disenchanted and selling out. No one came to even look at their place until finally one day as he was painting the house an agent brought three or four clients in business suits to see the place. The lookers walked briskly through the house, glanced around at the property and said, “We’ll take it.” No dickering. Full price. When they left our friends hugged each other and yelled, “Whoopee!” Two weeks after the closing of escrow and their moving out they heard on the radio that an amusement park called Disneyland was going in there! 

Well, Betty MacDonald’s book about her country life was a huge success. We made a big profit on our ranch, and our friends escaped their bonanza. I guess country life is for pioneers. I love those books that tell about the early settlers. I love the special memories I gleaned when I washed clothes with an old-fashioned Maytag washer, hung them on the line and milked a cow for homemade churned butter. I see in my mind's eye the free range chickens, gather their eggs, the ones that don’t get hidden by a broody hen, and turn into baby chicks. 

There’s a little video about the ranch in my brain that can be played at odd moments when I review my life. In it I sit by a cozy Franklin fireplace watching snow fall on the big Sequoia tree in the front yard. I see the pond where we swam and watched little yellow ducklings follow their mama on a summer’s eve. I walk with Wally along the creek that makes a waterfall into the river. I smile when the baby lambs come out the barn door and frolic like jumping jacks. I climb the apple tree and pick enough for a pie. I get the water pot ready for fresh sweet corn on the cob. I churn the cream from Nambi my Guernsey milk cow to make the best butter in the whole wide world and lather it onto freshly baked homemade bread. I pet our little Border Collie dog when she comes in for a treat. I do countless little and large chores again and take walks through the woods and talk with wild birds and gaze at trees dripping with Spanish moss. I swing on the rope swing that sends me flying out toward the Siskiyou mountain called Old Brushy. I go to bed and hear the frogs croaking out by the pond and in the morning I look out over the land I can call mine again in memory. 

And I remember that man of mine who gave up several years of leisure to fulfill a promise we made on our honeymoon. I think the war and the ranch contributed to his demise at the age of sixty-six. It was our honeymoon promise, a dream come true, but like all dreams you never know how they’ll turn out.

Friday, July 18, 2014

Going Home, One Way or Another

Years ago I saw the insides of a computer. What would you call them? Components?  All I remember is how tiny the parts seemed, so intricate and complicated. It was hard to believe that all those delicate innards of a computer could do what they did. I could not understand it. As for the human brain and body, forget it. I’m just not the kind of a technician it takes to investigate such things, let alone carry on the development of them. It’s hard enough for me to use a computer for my own simple purposes.  

I remember my dad’s old Underwood typewriter though and in a pinch I might be able to invent one if some unnatural disaster should finish off everyone but me in this world, or if I’d be catapulted to some earth-like planet as yet uninhabited. I’d have a lot to learn and reinvent but I’d definitely know how to use the principles of the inclined plane, the hammer, gravity, the pulley, the screw driver and, of course, the wheel. 

So, what got me started on this line of thought today? The fact that I thought today was Saturday, the day my friend, Joan, is coming from St. Louis to spend a few days of her vacation with me. I’m ready for her  now and that means I have a day to twiddle my thumbs, day dream or take a nap. Or write a blog about a better world, one of peace and invention. A world like the one an old song describes in these words: “...there’s no sickness, toil or danger in that sweet land to which I go.”

And then there’s the suggestion of a land we may have come from. Was it better than this one or worse? Does this “land of woe,” as the song calls it, resemble the one we came from or the one we’re headed for? What’s our purpose in being here? Is it to take charge and create a better world or to simply let the powers that be have their way? Are we here to participate in invention or to work our way back to the recollection of a perfect world where all we needed to do was discover, employ and enjoy?

Are the vicissitudes of this world a kind of testing ground or school in which we learn by trial and error, or are they simply guideposts saying "Do Not Enter?" I’m contemplating these questions because I want to know so I can understand and act correctly. 

I think that there must be a way to get around the computers of life. Even the brain, blood and bones body may someday become antiquated, obsolete, with the discovery of a better body that could prove to be our original form.

I suspect we’ll all have to be both dreamers and workers in the new world. In this world and in our own ways I think we’re all, as the song says, “just a-goin‘ over home.”   

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Vacationing At Home

In many days gone by I used to dread getting ready for company. For some reason, probably financial, I didn’t have household help then and procrastination was hard to resist. I’d say to myself, Wait until a day or so before they come or you’ll just have to do it all again. Then it never failed to be one gigantic job and I’d be still sweeping the doorstep or taking a bath right up to the doorbell’s ring.

Today is different. My elder son, Wally and his wife, Nancy, are coming from Virginia tomorrow and it just happens that Maria, my housecleaner, is scheduled for today. Maria always does a great job. Things will be spic and span. There will be family gatherings and outings and guess what? I won’t be preparing a single meal for a week! I won’t be driving people here and there or even paying for tickets to plays and art shows and other outings. Just you wait, dear readers, your day will come too when you’ll be the matriarch or patriarch of your family and will only need to think about two things, - looking your best and enjoying the company.

I’ve given away my luggage because I don’t expect to be traveling any more. I was nearly sixty before I ever set foot on another continent and made up for it by taking three or four tours abroad starting with three weeks in China when the country had only been opened up to Westerners a few years. What an out-of-this-world trip that was! I wouldn’t recognize the new China. Then I took tours in the British Isles and Europe. Always with a group, never alone. With Dr. Robby, my second husband, I took several ocean cruises, Hawaii, the Mediterranean, the Panama Canal, Mexican Pacific and the Caribbean. 

All traveling is fun and pleasant to remember, but now? Now I’m hoping to live long enough to take “virtual” tours where I can sit at home and enjoy them on a wrap-around screen that will fall from the ceiling with the push of a button. It’s not that I am lazy. Well, I confess I am lazy. No apology for that. When you’re a senior-senior you don’t need to apologize. You just wear a sweet smile and sit back to enjoy each day like a big picture show.

Being at home these days is like a vacation to me. I’ve done most of the things I might have put on a “Bucket List.” Got a bucketful of memories to last like chocolates do when you’ve learned to keep them cool and savor them slowly and sparingly. I’m no angel and my world has not always been sweetness and light, but here’s one of the many Bible citations I’ve loved on this life-trip:

“Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life...” (Psalms 23) I looked that passage up in a Bible commentary once and it said, “Goodness and mercy are like pursuing angels, and they’ll run you down!” Gloryosky! I think they did it already!  

Friday, July 4, 2014

Land Of The Free

In America we often take freedom of religion and speech for granted. We do not worry that we’ll be punished if we’ve criticized our government leaders openly or dared to question religious practices. 

As I grew up I loved to read. I soaked up the printed page like a sponge and believed most of what I read if it sounded authoritative. Then it hit me one day like a burst of light, - I don’t have to believe this just because somebody managed to get it published! I also learned to be selective in what I read. In the college library I came across a book I’d heard of that contradicted my religion. I even started to pull it off the shelf when I said to myself, “I don’t need to read this.” And I slipped it back in.

But there came a day when I had to read another book condemning my church. I’d started dating a young man who seemed to be wise in his choices. He didn’t drink or smoke or gamble. I was curious about his religion but didn’t ask, and he didn’t ask me about mine. When things began to be serious between us I finally told him, “I am a student of Christian Science." Then quickly I said, "My grandmother was healed of frequent migraine headaches through the prayers of a C.S. practitioner. They were so severe she couldn’t eat and she was down to 85 pounds. She and Grandpa had been active in the Congregational church and it was hard to leave because their friends and the minister tried to convince them they’d be 'going to the devil.'”

This little disclosure seemed to offer him an excuse to leave on some errand, but he didn’t say anything about my announcement except, “Let’s get together and talk about this soon. If we’re going to get married it might help to be on the same page. You see, I’m a member of the Congregational church.”

The next time I saw him he came to have dinner with my grandmother and me. (I was living with her while going to college then.) After the meal Grandmother left us in the living room and retired to her bedroom. She didn’t know what was about to transpire that evening. Nor did I.

Presently my young suitor pulled out a book and handed it to me. “I got this from my minister,” he said.

 I must have winced when I read the title, “The Non-Sense of Christian Science,” but I opened it and began to read. Soon I could see that it was mostly a compilation of citations removed from the textbook of Christian Science, Science & Health with Key to the Scriptures by Mary Baker Eddy. Each citation had been taken out of context and made to look ridiculous. 

That’s when I went to get my copy of the textbook to show him how important it is to put the citations into their context in order to see the rationality of them. We spent hours sitting on the sofa going through his book and mine. He was not convinced by my book and I was not convinced by his. Soon after we went our separate ways. 

Now I don’t believe two people can’t marry if they’re not adherents of the same religion. I have some good friends who have had a good marriage even though he is a minister of an orthodox church and she is an active member of The Christian Science church. The children were exposed to both churches early on and their daughter chose to attend the C.S. Sunday school while the son chose his father’s church. What has held them all together? Love, no doubt, and the allowance for each member of the family to believe as his or her conscience dictates. This little family didn’t quarrel over differences, they were too busy living their similarities.

Wouldn’t it be great if we could all do that? If we could agree that divine Love is, even now, working out the truth of things we could wisely let Love solve our differences or live with them peaceably. So, what should we do about glaring errors such as the stoning of people, the execution of those who do not believe our way? What should we do when someone chooses to rely on prayer, not to go to a doctor, and he subsequently dies? 

I believe that prayer should be our first resort, but I also believe anyone else should be free to choose his or her first resort. Humanity has made some significant headway in human behavior but it has a long way to go. As for the latter instance where one chooses to rely on prayer instead of medical means we might, in fairness, explore the instances where healing has resulted through prayer, even when these cases have been given up by the medical profession. This was true of my grandmother when nothing the doctors could do for her helped and, after her healing through prayer suffered not even one headache, even slightly, the rest of her 90 years. 

As I thought about this today, this Independence Day of 2014, and of the freedoms we enjoy in this country, I can’t help remembering too that our founding fathers were, for the most part, God-fearing men. It is heartwarming to me to see on our currency a reminder, “In God We Trust.” The separation of church and state protects religious freedom but does not mean our country is godless. Atheists are free to preach but should they succeed in stripping all mention of God in the halls of government we shall no longer be the land of the free. 

A little flag is waving by my front door and I’ll soon be going to a 4th of July party. It’s no doubt good that fire crackers have been outlawed but I’m glad I can remember the smell of them. As a child I thought this was my favorite holiday. Now? Christmas, then New Year’s Day, Thanksgiving, of course, to name a few. No country’s government is 100% good but I’m glad to have a day to remember the beginnings of the U.S.A., and pray that there will be no ending to this land of the free!

Happy 4th of July!