Just Call Me Solomon

[A repeat from December 21, 2017] In my post of April 2, 2017, I discussed the gift of colorful and quirky “Happy Socks” that my granddaughters gave me last Christmas.  I have more than a dozen pair and I now wear them every day.  But as in all cases, the past is prologue. . . .   

My granddaughters had a sleepover at our house earlier this week.  I got dressed and then called out the door offering Eve and Elin the option of selecting the Happy Socks that I would wear to work.  The two of them (ages 3 and 6) bolted in, pulled open my sock drawer and began perusing the choices.  Each held up a different pair.  And insisted that I wear “their” pair.  I asked that they confer (something like the U.S. Congress) to come up with one pair that I ought wear.  No deal.  Each wanted me to wear “their” pair. . . . .

Please understand that I am not as dumb as I look.  So we reached a compromise.  For the first time in my life — I agreed to wear two highly different colorful socks to work.   My granddaughters looked at each other like – he really is as dumb as he looks.  And squealed.  Each peeled off one sock and handed it to me.  I sat down and put them on.   The good news is that I told no one else about my wardrobe issue.  No one looked at my feet.  And no one (that I could tell) noticed during the day.  I arrived home unscathed from my Solomonic decision.   That said – I tossed the two socks down the laundry chute for washing.  And I will await their delivery — to reunite them with their rightful partner. . . . .   

I Don’t Like Anybody Very Much

“They’re Rioting in Africa” – also called “The Merry Minuet” – was written by Tom Lehrer in 1958. It was first sung that year by Ellie Stone. It was later recorded by Harry Belafonte in a performance at The Greek Theatre in Washington. And it was popularized by the Kingston Trio in the early 1960’s (see https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MCTdfo6T-u8 ). Great tune – which I remember well.

In less than 2 minutes, the Kingston Trio has summarized the state of our world, most countries, many towns, families and even friendships. And it sums up the attitude of many otherwise intelligent people – about anyone who disagrees with them on any issue, topic, subject or political affiliation. If you are on the wrong side of someone’s cause celebre, you may be thrown under the bus. And the door will be slammed shut. Isn’t that just ducky?

This is no longer funny. It is serious. And it is painfully sad. Can we do anything about this troubling situation? You can. I know you can. So can I.

What nature doesn’t do to us – will be done by our fellow man. . . . .

Brothers

Behold how good and how pleasant it is for brothers to dwell together in unity.  It is like the precious ointment upon the head . . . . and as the dew that descended upon the mountains of Zion . . . .”  Psalm 133

In July 2015, I posted on attending the 100th anniversary of the Gamma Alpha Beta fraternity at Augustana College.   Many of the brothers from my era showed up.  We have remained a close-knit group since graduation.  On this September 11, 2021, we had a GAB golf outing – with about 50 brothers from across classes.

I wasn’t destined for college (see post of October 13, 2013).  My future was to work (assistant plumber) after high school.  Frankly, it’s a fluke that I even applied (after h.s. graduation) and got in to “college.”  And that I came to know my brothers. 

There are amazing memories and stories (most of which are gladly remembered — and a few that shall not be repeated).  One I personally relish is the dark night when my entire pledge class was corralled by police and taken off to jail (it was nothing serious).  One quick-witted pledge escaped detention by launching himself over a window well and clambering up onto a fire escape.   Yeah.  That was me. . . . 

The GAB’s won the Homecoming Sing with the ballad I sang to Lauren every night when she was little — “Oh Shenendoah.”   It was that song I picked for the Father-Daughter dance at her wedding (see post of August 14, 2011).  We had tears in our eyes as the music played.  It’s interesting how when you meet old friends, you pick up where you left off.    It’s as if time stands still and you’re back being 19 years old again.  In my brain, I’m still 19.  Now if only my body would cooperate . . . . .        

Afghanistan

The United States has more than 500 military bases in more than 50 countries around the world. These bases are intended for logistical purpose, communications, intelligence gathering and as staging areas for actions in defense of allies or America. Lest you think America is alone in this regard, Canada, France, the UK, Australia, India and other allies have numerous bases on foreign soil. And of course Russia and China have many.

I am saddened by America’s catastrophic departure from Afghanistan. I’m not sure I would have called our presence a “war” per se. It was a strategic hub intended to maintain the dignity of the Afghan people. And to destroy the Taliban, ISIS and other terrorist groups whose evil and savage butchery have victimized the people of many nations – including America. In 20 years of presence, 2,430 American military personnel have been killed. None had been killed (until two weeks ago) in the last year and a half. While each life is sacred, the number of American military personnel killed in 20 years is just a whisper higher than the 2,000 American servicemen killed every single week during the nearly four years of World War II. Those men and women died to protect America and the world from the same kind of tyranny.

The sudden and precipitous withdrawal from Afghanistan has unlatched the door to a darkness and cruelty that is quickly descending on Afghanistan. We have callously ignored the lives and dignity of the Afghan people and unlatched the door to a future investment of human capital around the world that could massively eclipse the investment to date.

The end is still not in sight. 

Henry Nouwen

(A summer repeat from July 12, 2012)
One of the great inspirational/spiritual writers of all time was Henri Nouwen (1932-1996). Henri Nouwen was born in Holland. At an early age, he felt a call to the priesthood. He was ordained as a diocesan priest in 1957 and studied at the Menninger Clinic in Topeka, KS. Henri went on to teach at Notre Dame, the Divinity School at Yale University and Harvard University. He died suddenly — and all too early — in 1996.

For several months in the 1970’s, Henri lived in a Trappist community at the Genesee Abbey in New York. In the early ’80’s, he lived in Peru among the desperately poor. After a time of contemplation, he left the seemingly bright world of academia — to go and work with mentally handicapped adults at L’Arche Daybreak in Toronto. It was at L’Arche that Henri felt his greatest fulfillment. He was a prolific writer and in 2003, a Christian Century survey rated his works number one among Catholic and mainline Christian clergy.

I was referred to Henri some years ago by my dear friend David. On his recommendation, I have read most of Henri’s works. Wow! Spiritual. Inspirational. Moving. And somewhat melancholy – knowing that Henri died at such a young age. Return of the Prodigal Son is one of his most famous – and probably my favorite. I was given a copy by my friend and priest – Fr. Bob. Return is worth a second read. . . . which I’m planning. . . . . If you have to pick one of Henri’s books to read — this is the one.

[Afterword – I read it a second time.  It is now on the shelf for a third]

The Decline and Fall. . . .

[A repeat from March 29, 2018] Between 1776 and 1788, English historian (and Member of Parliament) Edward Gibbon published his classic 6 volume work The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire.   It is interesting to examine the causes of the decline – and fall – of the grand Roman Empire which expired in about 476 A.D. — not with a bang but a whimper.  Reasons for decline?  

Ongoing wars and heavy military spending

Failing economy and high inflation — and high unemployment among the working classes

Declining morals, ethics and values

Demand for blood and violence in entertainment (Gladitorial “games”)

Antagonism between the Emperor and the Senate

Political corruption

Hero worship of athletes and actors

Dilution of the Roman language

Look at America.   Frankly, look at the world.  The qualities listed above are present.  In abundance.  George Santayana in The Life of Reason commented “Those who ignore history are doomed to repeat it.”  Is anyone surprised?  Is it too late?      

Lawrence of Arabia

[A hot weather repeat – from July 2, 2015] Having visited Wadi Rum in Jordan (enduring a sandstorm), Donna and I put Lawrence of Arabia at the top of our Netflix list.  And we watched.  All 3 hours and 36 minutes.  Wow!  Hard to believe the movie was filmed in 1962.   The cast was a “who’s who” of Hollywood:  Anthony Quayle, Alec Guinness, Claude Rains, Jose Ferrer, Jack Hawkins — and introducing Omar Sharif and Peter O’Toole.  The story is historically accurate though it doesn’t tell all of it.

Thomas Edward Lawrence (1888-1935) was a British archeologist, army officer and diplomat.  He is best known for his liaison role during the Sinai and Palestine Campaign in World War I and the Arab Revolt against the Ottoman Turks (1916-18).  He was born out of wedlock to Sir Thomas Chapman and Sarah Junner – a governess.  Chapman left his first wife and family to live with Sarah under the name “Mr. & Mrs. Lawrence.”  And had 5 sons.     

The movie begins with Lawrence’s motorcycle accident – trying to avoid two bicyclists (which is what happened).  And then forwards to Lawrence as a soldier working in the Army’s Cairo office during the First World War.  What you don’t learn is that Lawrence was an archeologist who in 1909 spent 3 months in Syria mapping Crusader castles.  From 1910 to 1914, he spent a great deal of time in the Middle East — on digs and learning Arabic.  His language skills made him a natural to send to Cairo (in the Intelligence Unit) when the War began.  Because of his fluency and keen knowledge of the area, he was tasked to liase with the Arabs.   And he did — in the manner that legends – and movies – are made. 

After the War, he returned to London.  He basked in but then shunned the publicity.  In 1922, he tried to enlist in the Royal Air Force under the name John Hume Ross.  But his true identity was discovered.  He then changed his name to T.E. Shaw.  He ended his formal military career in 1928 after a 3 year posting at a remote base in India.  He did, however, continue an enlistment with the RAF until 1935. 

Lawrence authored two books on his experiences:  Seven Pillars of Wisdom (1926) and Revolt in the Desert (1927).  Both are on my “to read” list.  If you want some armchair adventure, get the movie.  It’s fascinating.  And the music is stirring.  Director David Lean blacks out the screen for the beginning, middle and end while the music plays.  There’s nothing wrong with your television. . . .           

The Turtle in the Tire Track

(A summer repeat from 2/13/2012; published in the Quay County Sun – August 3, 2016)   In 1969 I was in Tucumcari, NM. I’ve always been interested in Indian artifacts so I took a drive to “look around.” Outside of town, I took the long road of the Chappell Spade Ranch along the Canadian River. I pulled up to the ranch house where a man was standing. I asked if there was a place one might find Indian artifacts and was told “Mr. Griggs” might help but he was out walking. “Out there” the man pointed. I was driving my 1964 Ford Falcon Sprint – ragtop. Top down. So I headed off into the desert — driving on a two tire track “road.”

I bounced along and found Mr. Griggs about 2 miles out walking with a young girl who was on horseback.   I asked about artifacts and he shrugged. “You just have to look.” Big help he was. He asked if I’d drive him back to the ranch – so I said “sure” and he hopped in.

We came to the top of a rise. Below, the two tire track ruts were full of water from rain the night before. He said “you better gun it or we’ll get stuck.” So I did. Whoosh! Down the hill. And then I suddenly jammed on the brakes – skidding and splashing to a stop with water up to my hubcaps. He said “what the. . .” I got out of the car and about 20 feet in front of us a big turtle was cooling himself. In the water. In the tire track. If I’d continued, I would have crushed him. I held up the turtle to show Mr. Griggs. I set the turtle on the side and got back in the car. He stared at me. I looked at him somewhat defensively and said “I didn’t want to kill the turtle.” He nodded and thought a moment “You did the right thing. You want Indian artifacts? Go that way” – he pointed.  

I slushed out of the water and we lurched across the desert in another 2 tire track “road.” And we stopped, climbed to the top of a butte and he showed me an Indian burial ground. He told me the story of the Anasazis who had lived there. I found some neat things – some of which I took. Today, I have in my office a well-used mano (corn grinding stone) – one of three I found that day along with a metate (the stone on which corn was ground). Every time I walk in my office – and glance at the mano – I think of the turtle in the tire track . . . . and that very special day.

Character

[A summer repeat from January 26, 2012]

Each day when I tutor for the Chicago Lights Tutoring Program http://www.chicagolights.org  (see posts of August 8 and 9, 2011), I try to give my student a 3″ x 5″ card with a quotation on it. Usually the quote relates to character, integrity, hard work and achievement. I’m partial to the wisdom of John Wooden (winningest coach in NCAA basketball) but I offer the words of others as well.

Character is doing what’s right – when no one is looking.” J.C. Watts

Character is higher than intellect.” Ralph Waldo Emerson

You can easily judge the character of a man by how he treats those who can do nothing for him.” James D. Miles

Nearly all men can stand adversity. But if you want to test a man’s character, give him power.” Abraham Lincoln

Character is much easier kept than recovered.” Thomas Paine

The measure of true character is what a man would do if he knew he would never be found out.” Thomas Babington Macaulay

Ability may get you to the top but it takes character to keep you there.” John Wooden

In each human heart are a tiger, a pig, an ass and a nightengale. Diversity of character is due to their unequal activity.” Ambrose Bierce

Education” is not just reading and math. It’s learning about tenacity, grit, hard work, civility and character.

IPCC

On August 9th, The United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) issued its latest findings. The report remains serious though it downgrades several points (there is “low confidence” that the Antarctic sea ice will melt; “low confidence” in all-category tropical cyclones; there remain questions on direct linkage of warming to catastrophic weather events; etc.).

Notwithstanding, it is imperative that we address water shortages, rising temperatures, wildfires, suffocating pollution, greenhouse gasses, deforestation, habitat destruction and storms that breach the barriers or break the power grid.  

And whatever your position on climate change, it is incumbent for each one of us to be diligent about recycling, conserving water and energy (“Just Turn it Off”®), limiting carbon emissions, being frugal about using and scrapping disposable products (like plastic water bottles), conscientious use of food products and being attentive to the fact that voices yet unheard will soon inherit our precious planet.  I’ve addressed environmental issues in the past (e.g. 11/29/18 – water; and 12/16/18 – energy; and the very first post- 7/23/11).

Each one of us has the capability to make a difference on protecting our planet.  Just think if everyone felt this way.