Thoughts on Memorial Day

5-26-2020

          Yesterday, Memorial Day marked one more day in this sad and uncertain time for our country. In Arizona where I live, it was a sunny, hot, and glorious morning. I spent part of the day wandering around a large Catholic Cemetery. Yes, it may sound an odd thing to do, but for some unknown reason it seemed comforting to me.

          After leaving the burial grounds and for the rest of the day, I continued to think about what I’d seen and felt. Because it was Memorial Day, there were many people visiting. Most solemn, respectful of the moment. Some stood quietly, looking down at a specific grave, others like Suzanne and I, moving about looking at names, photographs, and the mementos placed on the tombstones. Several giant pine trees are spread around the grounds. Each casting vast shadows over several graves. I thought what a beautiful spot to be. Shaded from the hot Arizona sun and serenaded by happy Spring birds hopping about in the branches. A good place for a final rest.

 I was particularly interested in the graves of military veterans. Most of the markers identifying the final resting spot of veterans told of the branch of service, the rank of the person and in those cases where the man or woman served in a war, the specific war was named. One man had been involved in what was noted as the “Mexican War.” Many markers showed service in World War I, World War II, Korea, Vietnam and one or two in our most recent wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Privates and Majors lay silently beside each other. Small flags waved near many of the markers.

          I was moved to tears in reading about and considering the sacrifices made by so many since the inception of this country. And I admit, some of my tears were shed in my sadness for the current state of our nation and the rest of the world. Millions around the planet are ill, starving, displaced from their homeland and dying. Collectively it seems what we are doing about these tragedies is making little impact. My intent in these words is not political, it is realistic. And yet, the political divide in this country is immense, and I fear for our future.

          Many of the graves were those of people of Hispanic descent. In part I suppose because it is a Catholic cemetery. I was struck by two things. A great number of the Mexican American men buried were young. I counted a dozen or more where the man was only twenty or twenty-one years old when he died. Why, I questioned. In a perfect world there should not be such disparity in deaths at such an early age. I also saw a large family, also Hispanic, having what looked and sounded like a party. The group had set up chairs around a grave and were talking, laughing, and had music playing. I’m reasonably certain there was some sadness, but it was clearly a celebration. And as I thought about it, I knew it was exactly what it should be. I’m not sure who they were visiting, but I would have bet the person would have been happy in knowing how they were being remembered.

          We left after an hour or so of walking. Many people were still tending the grave of a loved one, the family laughing and enjoying the beautiful day and the sweet chirping of birds. I’m not the praying kind, but I left my highest thoughts for all who rested there. I felt I owed a special thanks yesterday to those men and women who have served and died for this country. And again I say, thank you.

“In peace, sons bury their fathers. In war, fathers bury their sons.”    Herodotus.

“The Earth laughs in flowers.”    Ralph Waldo Emerson.

Go well, David

Unlikely Heroes

5-21-2020

Last night I watched the finals of American Idol. I wasn’t particularly interested, but I watched. Then Kelly Clarkson sang a new song, and my interest changed. As they say on NPR, in full disclosure, I’m not a big Clarkson fan. It was two lines to the song I Dare You that sealed the deal.

You may not have the stage, but you still have a voice

You may not have the strength, but if you have a choice

I, like most people, have been watching far more news about the pandemic than is good for my mental health. I obsessively watch as the number of cases and death toll rises daily.

There has been something other than the grim statistics and the freely expressed political side taking, where I’ve paid attention. I’ve watched, listened, and cried with the stories of the superhuman bravery of those who are without visible power and yet have stood tall to the challenge. Thanks, has been said many times to the health care workers, food production workers, bus drivers and countless others. An honest out-pouring of gratitude can never be overdone. It needs to be honestly repeated millions more times. Beyond thanks, I believe we also have a responsibility to learn from, and act upon that bravery. We all want this country to thrive. It is not the proprietorship of one political party over another. We all want the United States to be the country in which we are proud, and to know in our hearts it is a place where compassion, honesty, and good will is the norm rather than what sometimes seems to be the exception.

In a few days we will recognize another Memorial Day. I read a Facebook posting today from another vet that said something like this, “Memorial Day is not a day of celebration or a holiday that lets us go to the beach and party. Memorial Day is a day to stop and remember the millions of lives that have been lost in war. A day to mark the sacrifices of the men and women who have given their lives for this country.” I agree completely with this idea.

I would hope that not only on Memorial Day we acknowledge those brave men and women but also stop and honor all who work, suffer and in all too many cases die for their efforts. As Kelly Clarkson sings, “You may not have the stage, but you still have a voice.” We all have a voice, no matter how large or small our stage, to speak truth, compassion and understanding.

I try each day to practice those thoughts, often I fail. I find it difficult to express compassion and understanding towards those in which I sometimes adamantly disagree. I bristle when someone throws out a “Thank you for your service,” like a passer-by mouthing a quick hi and then rushes on to get a Starbucks latte. I know in my heart that it is meant at some level, but there are many times it still stings and rings hollow. Some of the most profound moments in my life have been when I’ve stopped to pay attention and chatted, even if briefly, with a stranger. Some have been vets, many have not.

So, I hope that this horrible disease passes soon. I hope our lives resume to a more normal stance. But just as 9/11, Katrina, the Sandy Hook murders and so many other events have altered our lives, this too will remain forever in our hearts. I also hope that we will stop and pay attention to others, to show a moment of kindness and to thank others for their efforts to make this a better world.

Go well, David

How Would You Vote?

4-7-2020

            Have you noticed more kindness, more tolerance lately? No, it’s not a seismic shift, maybe more like a soft breeze that feels refreshing. I’ve felt it, not always, but it’s there if you watch and listen for it. At the grocery store, “You go in front of me, you only have a couple of items.” It’s happened on desert trails while I’m hiking. “Great day to be outside, stay safe.” There’s no question it’s something I need and desire. That symbol we often see on bumper stickers in Tucson says it all–BE KIND.

            I wonder if this phenomenon is enduring, or if after this strange and trying period has ended, we will return to our “I was here first, tough luck buddy,” posture. I hope not. We have a national election coming up in November. I believe it will be one of the most important in my lifetime. But maybe we could consider a different election. One that is not partisan, one that does not require hateful bickering and boasting of I’m better at this or that than you. I’m thinking a more private, personal election that involves everyone.

            What if we held an election that had our citizens vote YES or NO to one simple basic concept? Something to the effect of this statement:

I am voting Yes ______ or No______ to the United States being

a more kind, forgiving, less materialistic, less greedy, less polluting,

and less competitive country. I’m voting that we actually view and treat

all people as equal. I’m voting that we treat the planet respectfully.

I’m voting that we have a Department of Peace.

I’m voting that a smile and a have a nice day my friend, have a

higher value than a new Porsche or diamond ring.

I’m voting that equality for all means equality for all.

I’m voting that our power comes from unity and not from division.

I’m voting that there is enough for all if we only take our equal share.

            Pie in the sky, you might say. Perhaps I am naïve. Perhaps we are too far gone down the road to turn back. I’ve seen and felt changes in my life and in the lives of others since we’ve become swept into this crisis. I’ve found that having a new shirt is far less important than a quick note to my sons or friends. I’ve found that a home-made meal tastes better than a quickly eaten meal at Chilis. I haven’t suffered any by using far less gas than I did before this happened. I have good books on my shelves that now are being read. I really didn’t need to drive to the library five or six times a week. Watching a funny program on TV with Suzanne and Denni on the sofa with me is just as much fun as a $8.00 cup of popcorn at the theater. Seeing a rattlesnake, a wild turkey or a Bobcat during a walk in the desert is more rewarding than obsessively watching the news.

            So, I wish we would hold this special election. Not in November, but maybe tomorrow and no later than next week. I know how I would vote. Maybe we should hold a national protest demanding that we want a kinder country. If the powers that be resist, then maybe we just do it, anyway.

Take care my friends, be safe and go well.

David

As Things Seem Today

3-31-2020

I’ve found during the past few weeks that it’s been harder to focus, to stay connected as close to things as it was before. Life at times seems a blur, or perhaps it’s more like a vague dream that I want to forget. But when I stop to mindfully consider other matters, they stand out crystal clear.

A week back, I wrote about the sight and sounds of two small birds that had latched onto my brain and glued my attention tightly to them. They seemed to have no cares other than filling their part of the world with the joy of a beautiful song. Then there was a second event of serendipity. I came upon a YouTube video of a Nurnberg flashmob in 2014 playing Beethoven’s Ode to Joy. I remembered back to 1971 when I first heard the beautiful piece just after returning from Vietnam. My happiness at being home with my family and hearing that music had made me cry. Today in these trying times, each night before I retire, I put on my headphones, watch and listen to that YouTube video. Yes, each time I watch it, I again cry. I cry because of the joy of the music, but also at the joy of seeing the musicians and the crowd gathered to witness it. There is no other word to describe it other than JOY.

Yesterday Suzanne and I hiked at Catalina State Park. Hiking is something we’ve taken to doing twice a week as this self-imposed isolation has become our routine. Only after the first few yards of our hike, I spotted a bobcat making its way through a field. He or she seemed to have no concern about us or Coronavirus. The animal seemed to be only enjoying the warmth of the sun and softness of the earth beneath its paws. The animal stopped a couple of times to glance back at us as it made its way to its desired destination.

Later I wondered why we seem to live our lives as we do. Why do we fret, complain, curse and rage against those things we cannot change? Why do we pay more attention to a fancy $100,000 sports car than we do to a desert poppy? Why do we whine about not being able to go into Chili’s and have a steak when millions go to bed each night with nothing to eat? Why do we wait until we fear possible impending death before we decide to live?

I have come to better see the value of my friends and family. I must confess that in part it’s because I suddenly can’t be close to them. I can’t hug them or shake their hands. When millions now worry about jobs and paying rent, I catch myself being grateful that I don’t have that worry. The little dog that I love seems more friendly today. The sky seems more open and spacious. The touch of Suzanne’s hand on my shoulder seems more precious. The sight of a hawk more exciting.

Take care, be safe and the best to all.  David.

The Tiny Bird

3-25/2020

I like the sun and the quiet, I can think. The little finch didn’t care about the calm. He wanted to sing. No worry, no concern with this tedious life. No disease. No cares. He began, not timidly, but cheerfully, with much to say. Laying aside my book, I nodded, giving my attention. But the song was not intended for my ears. I was but spying. It was a friend, a mate, or perhaps only a chat about the weather. Quick, sharp exuberance regarding the sun, the blue sky or simply I’m happy to see you my friend. And the companion, yes, ever so willing to pause and agree. Call and response, no, call and consent. Life is not about worry, fret or fuss; life is about trust. Life is about today. Life is about this moment. The conversation ended, they flew away. I sit again with my book. The quiet, now a distraction. Come back, I need to hear more.

I wish safety and peace for all. Go well, David.

Trying Times

3-17-2020

We are without question living in trying times. The most obvious issue on the minds of the world’s population is the coronavirus. Each of us is dealing with it in our own way. I’ve heard people dismiss it with a casual, “the flu kills many more people each year, I’m not worried.” I’ve seen people with grocery baskets filled with toilet paper. I know I’ve watched too much news, I have fretted to where I know it’s not healthy. I’ve cursed the President, the stock market, and the selfishness I have witnessed.

I now know I have to try something else. Here it is.

David’s Top Ten List.

10. Go outdoors and experience nature each day.

9.   Eat healthy food.

8.   Read a good book that I’ve always wanted to read.

7.   Paint some rocks and leave others to find them.

6.   Write something every day.

5.   Stay connected to friends.

4.   Worry less.

3.   Be kinder to others and to myself.

2.   Pay more attention to what’s important and less to what is not.

1.   Follow the Unicorn’s advice.

Go well and be safe – David.

Serenity Prayer – Act Two

Primitives by Kathy Classic Box Sign, 8 x 12-Inches, Serenity Prayer

March 6, 2020

              How many of us have read and memorized this brief prayer? Be it God, Buddha, the universe or simply to ourselves that we repeat the words. They are important. Twenty-six simple words with the power to change our lives.

          I suspect many people respond to this poem like so many other things in their lives. A “That’s nice, I should follow it, now what’s for lunch?” attitude.

          A quick look at what’s going on in the world today. Today–March 6, 2020. The Coronavirus dominates the world’s headlines. Are you a Bernie supporter, a Biden supporter or a Trump supporter? There’s plenty to consider in politics and plenty more people willing to tell you what to consider. The market falls a thousand points, rises a thousand points, falls a thousand points and people fret. A real estate person told me this morning they’d lost a deal an hour before it was to be finalized, on a one-point-three-million-dollar home. Fear of the market she said. If I could afford a $1,300.000 home, I might worry about that too. Thank goodness for being independently poor. Millions of people around the world are fleeing slaughter, starvation and murderous political corruption. Climate change may very well make the other issues moot. What can one do to change the world? Alone, probably very little.

          I watch far too much news. I have my political leaning, but it doesn’t really matter if I lean left or right. There are more than sufficient numbers on TV willing to tell me to hate the other side. I say with some grain of truth that I wouldn’t care if the world went to hell in a hand basket if I didn’t have children and grandchildren. I mostly mean it when I say I like animals more than people. My dogs Louie and Denni have never called me a nasty name and they both seek nothing more than an occasional pat on the head. They don’t worry about what they can’t change.

          Lord grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change. Enough said about those issues. The courage to change those I can. I can’t change the big ones, but I can help change them. I can participate. I can do my part. We all can do our parts. Give me the wisdom to know the difference. When I stop and think about it, I know the difference. An example you say. I can’t elect the next President. I can support and vote for who I want to win. Not a big deal, not a flash of secret wisdom. It’s a simple fact. But how many hours have I, have others, spent discussing, arguing, watching news reports, cursed, ruminated, fretted, debated, speculated and worried about who will be the next President? When I look at Louie and Denni, they seem to ignore the world chaos and be content with a soft place to sleep and a hope that  they get a bite of our next pizza.

          Buddhists speak of a mindful practice in life. To pay attention. It’s a simple way of practicing the serenity prayer. Maybe turning off the TV at the news hour (which we all know is now twenty-four hours a day). A simple mindful thing – walking out the front door and taking a stroll. There are millions of desert poppies blooming today, a testy Cactus Wren warning me to stay away from its hidden nest. Brilliant warm sun and a beautiful warm sky. There are thousands of books to read, music to hear and dances to dance. There are far more good things to concentrate on than bad news.

          I’ve written my own Serenity Prayer.

          Whoever is listening, grant me the power to not be dumb. To change my ways when I’m being dumb. To stop and listen to the wise voice telling me to keep my mouth shut and my ears open. Most importantly, grant me the ability to put my dumbness in a box, tape it shut, leave it packed away and to realize the difference between truth and bullshit. (Note to self, repeat often.)

Go well, David

What?

2/03/2020

By what intervention was I born?

Luck, I suppose, maybe not, maybe by design.

What, or is it who, said he will be male?

It gave advantages not earned.

What gave me abundance?

I have no right to much, when others have little.

What providence gave me America?

I with no desperation to cross borders.

What destiny determined my skin be white?

Black, brown, red and yellow were available.

What fate allowed me to return from war?

With so many others dead and gone.

What gives us the right to demand how others must live?

I’ve yet to know how I should live.

What authority allows us to chain and imprison?

While we love our liberty and live so freely.

What demon teaches us hated and distrust?

What wisdom guides our respect and tolerance?

What insanity will destroy that which we love?

What prophet will teach that which we need?

The answers need come quickly.

I’m running out of time.

Go Well , David

I Need Mary Oliver’s Words

01-20-2020

Today marks the celebration of the birthday of Martin Luther King Jr. He would have been 91 years old.

Although I have a guess, I wonder what he would think about this country, about today’s world, were he still alive? Black Lives Matter–Resurgence of anti-Semitic violence–World climate change–Millions starving and in poverty–Donald Trump–War. I wonder where MLK would find hope.

It was one of those happenstance moments, a bit of luck. I came upon the poetry of Mary Oliver, who died in January 2019. She once said, “I don’t want to end up simply having visited this world.” If you spend fifteen or twenty minutes reading her poetry, you will know she did not spend her life just visiting. She took huge bites out of life and wrote about them with quiet grace and beauty. Another of her quotes tells us to “pay attention, this is our endless and proper work.” Mary Oliver paid attention.

I don’t know what Mary would say about what’s happening today. Somehow, I imagine her softly smiling, whisking the tiny crumbs of worry off her lap and kindly telling us to listen to the song of the mockingbird. I don’t believe she lived her life with her head in the clouds, not paying attention to that other side of life. Read the words of her poem The Fourth Sign of the Zodiac.

Why should I have been surprised?
Hunters walk the forest
without a sound.
The hunter, strapped to his rifle,
the fox on his feet of silk,
the serpent on his empire of muscles — all move in a stillness,
hungry, careful, intent.
Just as the cancer entered the forest of my body,
without a sound.

I think this poet lived her life with both feet firmly planted on the ground. There is a wide gulf between the way she lived and the way many of us live. I think and want to believe she paid attention to the good, the beauty, and the grace that life offers. I imagine her softly scolding me for my worry. And in that gentle scolding, she would be right–worry changes nothing. Unlike the life of Martin Luther King, we live in a world of instant everything. It is a huge burden to carry, that of having every problem in the world accessible in an instant. I can almost hear Martin saying, “Don’t fuss–DO!”

This would probably be the point that Mary would also chime in, telling me to do what is possible to make a better world. Do something! Try, don’t just show up. Don’t just visit.

So, I guess I better do something. I need to worry, fret and yes hatefully argue less. I need to follow more of Mary’s advice. “Keep some room in your head for the unimaginable.” Maybe it’s possible to stop catastrophic climate change. To reverse such political discord. To feed and house all. To speak with kindness and compassion rather than with blame and hatred. Perhaps the unimaginable is imaginable. Maybe Martin would nod his approval. Maybe he would remind me that “the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.”

Today I will stop and take a moment to consider the words and lives of these two people. I will stop and thank them for their efforts to make this world a more beautiful and just place to call home.

One last quote from Mary Oliver, spoken as a question.

 “Tell me what it is you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?”

Go well – David

2020

It is 5:54 a.m. on the first day of the new year and I write this first blog posting with hope.

The following thoughts came to me last night as I lay in a warm bath reading beautiful poetry by Mary Oliver. I was thinking how a countries traits, values and behaviors mimic those of its people. Perhaps they could (or do) serve as a guidepost for what a country is, and maybe more importantly, what it could be.

My maternal grandmother and my former father-in-law have been the two people I’ve most admired. My grandmother, a mother to eleven children and a grandmother to countless others, was an amazing person. I don’t use the word amazing in the casual way it’s thrown around today. She was amazing. She lived to be 103 years old, quite a feat on its own. What made my granny amazing, was who she was, not what she had. She was kind, patient and accepting of everyone. She had little in the way of money or possessions, yet she was generous beyond measure. She knew love was an endless treasure she could freely give with no fear of running out. I never heard her utter a negative word about anyone. Never, not one word. I believe she never wanted for anything she didn’t already possess. Her life lived in simplicity was a blessing in her mind. Her name was Annie.

My father-in-law was a gentle man in the truest sense of the term. Soft spoken (in all the five languages he spoke fluently), he knew how to listen and not pass judgement on what he heard or the person who said it. A pharmacist by training, was an immigrant to this country. His daughter once mistook a customer (who was Japanese) for being Chinese. After the customer was out of the store, he gave this gentle reprimand to his daughter. “Never out of ignorance stand on another man’s neck to make yourself taller.” He, like my grandmother took pleasure in simple matters. I recall him saying when he’d come home after midnight, from his long day at the pharmacy–“I sit and pet Babar before I go to bed, because he enjoys it, and so do I.” Babar was our dog that he and my mother-in-law cared for when we were out of town. A simple gesture of kindness to an animal. My youngest son proudly carries on his name – Gregory.

I could go on endlessly about Annie and Gregory.

          Now we enter a new decade. What shall we do as a country during the next ten years? Will our past national behavior, our current national behavior reflect what we’ve been, or what we could be? The President of this country ran on a slogan of Make America Great Again. Now the slogan is Keep America Great. So, I ask for a clearer answer. Were we not great? What has changed? Is this country now what we want it to be?

          I believe a country is great because of what it does, not what it says. There is little purpose in re-calling the prejudice and greed that brought genocide to a people who first inhabited this country. Not if we today, honestly work to ensure genocide never occurs anywhere in the world. There is no need to recall the slavery of three million people in this country, if we never again allow slavery to occur anywhere in the world. There is no reason to question business and profit if we work to ensure everyone has what they need. Can we honestly say we love nature and animals, while we refuse to do anything to stop the destruction of our planet, the extinction of thousands of species? Can we hate war and still carry it on for twenty years?

          Who do you admire most? Who would you most trust to care for your children and grandchildren? What qualities do they show you every day? Do you admire them because they are rich? Because they are arrogant? Do they demean others, or do they respect others? Are they grateful and generous with what they have, or do they hoard their riches and only strive for more? Do they love, or do they lust?

          My grandmother Annie and my father-in-law Gregory are my heroes. They lived their lives on their own terms. They lived lives of gratitude, compassion, love and gentleness. They lived their lives like I want to live mine.

“I’d rather be in the mountains thinking about God, than be in church thinking about the mountains.” John Muir

I recently saw this quote and again fell in love with the wisdom of Muir.

I wish all a safe and gentle New Year. Go well, David