King Tut meets 2020 (and what I’ve learned)

I really wanted to write something wise and insightful about 2020. I would like to be that guy, you know the guy who people read and think, “Gee, I wish I was as wise and insightful.”

If you’ve made it past the first paragraph and still looking for something wise and insightful, you might want to jump back to the last site you were on and click on the link that says, “You won’t believe number 12” or “Gut Doctor says to throw out this vegetable immediately.” I got nothing, well pretty much nothing except for this flashback …


It was 1977, Tutmania was in full swing at the Field Museum in Chicago, as “The Treasures of King Tutankhamun” (the boy king of Egypt 3000 years earlier) came through town, breaking attendance records and adding millions of dollars to the city’s tourist trade and Mrs. Poppy and I were there to contribute our few dollars. We were newly married, we were naive, did not have much money, but we were on a mission to see the King Tut exhibit. Mind you, this was pre-internet, pre-GPS, we headed to Chicago without much of a plan, but armed with a AAA roadmap, some cash in my wallet, and cruising up I-55 in a lime-green AMC Gremlin …what could go wrong?


Not having reservations was a big mistake and not arriving until after dark didn’t help. After multiple failed attempts and many “No Vacancy” signs later we ended up at a luxury high-rise hotel on Lakeshore Drive.

We got a room.

It was a fabulous room with an incredible view of downtown Chicago. It also used up half of our budget for the entire trip. We retreated the next morning to a seedy little motel in a less than desirable part of town, but we persevered, toured other museums, and prepared for our date with King Tut.

We got up early and headed to the Field Museum, waited in our first line to get a number and approximate time for the second line (four or five hours later). Don’t remember what we did during those waiting hours, but I’m pretty sure my bladder was a lot stronger back then. Our time finally came and we were ushered in. It was worth the wait. The artistry, the engineering, the craftsmanship, the beauty of each ancient artifact was incredible. And I had a minor epiphany.

Those ancient Egyptians were just as intelligent as we were in 1977 (or now), maybe even more intelligent in some cases. We are all on version “Humanity 1.0,” sure our technology has changed, modern humanity does most things a lot faster, but not necessarily better. Humanity as an aggregate does not change that much over the millenniums. We have our up years and our down years. 2020 seems like a big deal to us now, because we are living it, it’s on our doorstep. I believe history will weigh 2020 as a middling year, certainly not our best and certainly not our worst.

I do believe though that 2020 gave us a little dose of steroids that amplified our personalities and natures. The politicians who were power-hungry and over-reaching in 2019 became just a little more power-hungry and over-reaching in 2020. The first responders who put their lives on the line last year, did so again this year, but with the added threat of an unseen enemy. Those humans who were prone to be selfish and self-centered the year before now had a horde of toilet paper in their basement. Fortunately, I believe those who were selfless and self-sacrificing also got a little boost this year.

Where does this leave us in 2021?

The transition from 2020 to 2021 is just another rotation of our planet, not much will change. A different year, a different U.S. president will not change us. And if you are looking to politicians, celebrities, and social media influencers for guidance, you are looking in all the wrong places, because they will always be working under the same operating system of “Humanity 1.0.”

If you are looking for guidance, if you are looking for hope, look to the One who wrote the software. Over the millenniums, despite our best attempts at self-destruction, we continue to bumble along, covered by Grace … and that won’t change in 2021.

Peace Poppy

A Gentle Storm

SAMSUNG CSC

I love to see a storm roll in.

In my opinion, the best experience is to see a storm build over the Gulf of Mexico off the coast of Sanibel Island. Clouds morph in the distance, twisting … contorting … shifting colors from blue-grey to charcoal, building an internal light show with flashes of lightning. Standing on the beach you can feel the temperature drop as the winds pick up. Soon you are pelted with drops of rain flung at you horizontally. Stinging rain mixed with a grains of sand pelts you as the storm moves across the beach. I grab Mrs. Poppy’s hand and we run laughing toward shelter.

Tonight we are not on Sanibel Island but our new home in Imperial Missouri. It has been a year of chapter turnings, two house moves, moving from a vocation of many years to retirement. Pages flip, chapters turn, some things change, some things stay constant … faith and family.

It’s been weeks since we have had a decent rain here in the heartland. The ground was starting to crack, even my weeds are becoming withered. Tonight that is changing. It started with a cold front moving in, winds whipping as we struggled to lower the patio umbrella. The scent of the early autumn rain mixed with the anxious damp earth rose through the night.

Mimsy and I take a quick stroll before the rains became heavier.

The wind has died down, the rain falls gently as the sound of a locomotive sounds softly in the distance.

2020 is not over, more storms are likely to come, but faith and family will remain strong.

Peace, Poppy

Where I Attempt to Explain Humanity to a Dog

Mimsy is only truly content when she knows her humans are nearby. She doesn’t feel the need to be right next to you, she’s not a velcro dog but wants to know that you are nearby. Mimsy is a Japanese Chin. They were bred to be companion dogs and Mimsy is true to breed.

My daughter was gifted an Australian Shepherd puppy. The dog was beautiful and smart, but my daughter had to find a new home for it because it kept trying to herd the kids by nipping at their heels. This dog had never seen a sheep and I’m willing to bet that you would have to go back generations and generation in this dog’s linage to find an ancestor who actually herded sheep, yet she was hard-wired to herd. She was true to breed.

Humans don’t come in breeds. We come in different sizes, colors, and shapes, but we don’t come in breeds, we are not hard-wired to any behavior. Instead, we are given this terrifying thing called free will. We can be taught behaviors and attitudes directly and by example, but we have the choice to keep or abandon those behaviors and attitudes. There are individuals who were taught to be racist and intolerant, but have abandoned those attitudes and chosen to be tolerant and loving. It works the other way also. You may have been taught to be generous and caring, but make the decision to be selfish and self-centered.

We humans have a tremendous range in which we can operate, we float between angels and demons. No one is 100% good or 100% evil, but history provides examples of those who have gotten pretty close to either extreme. We have examples of those who have sacrificed their lives to save others and examples of those who have destroyed lives with no thought given to their victims.

Every day we are provided opportunities and scenarios, interactions with other travelers where we make decisions which direction on that angel-demon scale we want to move. Most of us will never come close to either extreme, but there is a lot of latitude in which to engage. We can respond to a sleight or insult with equal rudeness or choose to offer forgiveness and care.

Terriers were bred to hunt and chase vermin, they are true to breed. If I see an Airdale terrier, with good accuracy I can predict how that dog will respond if a rabbit runs across its path. I can identify most dog breeds on sight and knowing the characteristics of that breed can make predictions on how that dog will respond to certain situations.

Since humans don’t come in breeds, I can’t predict any potential behaviors based on how someone looks. I have to get to know them. After time spent with them, I may discover that they are much closer to the angel side of things than I am, or I may discover the converse, but I can’t tell on sight.

In the beginning, God made one version of humans and we are still on 1.0, you will find no examples of people operating on Humanity 2.0 or even 1.3, we are all equal and operating on the original software, no one has gotten an upgrade that others haven’t. Some of us are smarter or dumber than others. Some are more caring and giving than others. Some are crueler than others, but in God’s eyes, we are all equal and all his children. I would be well served if I could get to the point where my first thought, upon seeing a fellow human, is to think, “Oh look, another child of God.”

Mimsy quivers with excitement when she sees someone coming toward us on our walks. Bred as a companion dog, Mimsy loves everyone she sees and assumes that they will return that feeling in kind. I can’t explain to Mimsy the complexity of humanity. I can’t explain that while most people will pet her and tell her how pretty she is, there will be others who will view her as a dirty animal, a carrier of germs and dander.  I can’t explain to Mimsy, though as small as she is, there will be people genuinely afraid of her.

I can’t explain humanity to Mimsy and in truth, I don’t understand us myself.

Poppy

 

End of Day

Without fanfare, almost apologetically the sun retreated to another hemisphere. Tonight there would be no dramatic sunsets, no palettes of gold and magenta, just cool shades of grey and blue. The beauty was there, just understated and that’s okay, if every evening produced a dramatic sunset it would become common, even forgettable.

Our little family … Mrs. Poppy, myself, my grandson, and of course Mimsy went for an evening stroll. Though not in a traditional sanctuary, I believe it could qualify as Vespers. Vespers is sometimes referred to as “Evensong,” and that was the case tonight. The cumulus clouds billowed and the distant rolls of thunder played the part of the pipe organ, the night birds called back and forth as violins and violas. The frogs could only be the piccolos, raising in chorus then suddenly quieting to the wand of an unseen conductor. The sound of a train in the distance was the only mechanical contribution but somehow fit as the bass drum in this concerto.

It may be the curmudgeon in me, but I fear we are losing the art of being still. Somethings can only be discovered and appreciated by becoming quiet. It is against our nature to reduce and become small, but I believe our God-given senses (touch, taste, smell, sight, hearing) need as much exercise as our muscles.

I have discovered that I’m most at peace when I’ve distanced myself from my electron driven devices (and yes, I understand the irony that I’m posting this on social media).

It’s easy to be anxious. Media outlets still need clicks to survive and fearmongering seems to have replaced the merely sensational. Pundits, talking heads and experts offer their opinions, which shift and change from day-to-day.

I’m reminded of this verse from an old Gospel song …

Many things about tomorrow
I don’t seem to understand
But I know who holds tomorrow
And I know who holds my hand

The rest of the family has gone to bed. I step outside one last time. The temperature has dropped, the sky has cleared, revealing just a sliver of the waning moon. The birds are silent, leaving only a few insects and the frogs to carry on nature’s symphony. I turn and go back inside to things I know to be true.

Poppy

A Cleansing Rain and Remembering Jackie

I started recording this brief video clip 30 seconds too late.

April 2020 was close to a conclusion. The evening brought a prototypical spring shower, no blowing wind, thunder, or lightning, just a good steady rain. I sat on the first concrete step of the narrow porch, “soaking” in the view before me. I had completed a few small landscaping projects earlier in the day and was grateful for the precipitation.

If I had started recording earlier you would have heard the sound of a locomotive’s horn in the distance. The train must have been going through a series of intersections because the mournful blast sounded, again and again, reverberating through the rain-sodden air, each wail becoming a little fainter until it finally faded away. The last notes left only the rain rushing down the aluminum gutters and the chorus of frogs competing in the soundscape.

The damp soil exuded the scent of fertility and new growth. The rinse cycle of spring had washed away any dust or detritus from the previous day. It was a season of new beginnings, rebirth, a season of hope and promise.

I needed this rain as much as the flowers, trees, and shrubs in front of me. I felt the stress, cares, and tears of the day melt away as if they had joined the rain gushing into the drainpipe, swept away into streams, creeks, and rivers to eventually join the sea.

We lost a valuable and much-loved member of our design team this week. Jackie had begun her service at Concordia Publishing House on July 24, 1967. I started to refer to her as a matriarch, but that would be inaccurate. Matriarch implies someone in a position of power and control. Jackie was none of those things. She possessed the quintessential servant’s heart.  With Jackie, it was all about the mission.  Her dedication to Concordia Publishing House, The Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod, and her local congregation, Trinity Soulard was the driving force in her life.

In her almost 53 years of service, Jackie had witnessed multiple revolutions in the publishing industry; hot type, phototypesetting, desktop publishing. Through each phase she adapted, she learned, and she kept up. I believe it was her desire to always learn new things that kept her young at heart. She knew she was not as fast as some of the “whippersnappers,” but she was more than willing to work long days or weekends to make up the difference … its that dedication thing.

We are working from home these days. The technology makes it doable, but we are reminded at times like this that we were not designed for social distancing. We bounced memories and stories back-and-forth about Jackie as best we could through chat channels, but there is a need for physical hugs and shared tears.

Jackie died by herself, but she was not alone. Never married, she had few blood relatives, but she was part of a large family.

I was not able to record the horn of the locomotive as it rumbled down the tracks, but the memory is clear and sharp in my mind. My memories of Jackie are equally clear; her hearty laugh and mighty sneeze. Her recollection of past projects, illustrators, and fonts that we all relied on. Her quick wit and dry humor. She took pride in her craft without any self-pride. She possessed the perfect balance of spunk, humor, work ethic and humility to be the perfect coworker.

‘Well done, good and faithful servant! …”

Everyone loves the sound of a train in the distance.
Poppy

Mimsy and I Walk a New Path

We are walking new paths these days, literally and metaphorically.

Three weeks ago we moved from our beloved house where our family lived for 27 years, and the town of Ferguson where we lived for 35 years. Toss in a little Corona-virus, shake well, and March-April 2020 became months to remember.

Walking a Japanese Chin will never be aerobic exercise … at best we amble. That pace is not without its benefits. Mimsy has endless opportunities to stop and sniff out new and exotic smells, I have plenty of time for thinking and reflection. Mimsy does not watch any cable news networks and has no Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram accounts (at least not that I know of). But Mimsy knows as much about the prospects of Covid-19 as I, and after a brief period of self-flagellation flipping between Fox News and CNN (which could be reporting from two different planets), she may know as much as any of the talking heads and experts.

What is certain is that the natural world is proceeding exactly as designed with no regard for the Corona-virus or what we silly humans are doing. A slight tilt of the earth’s axis and for those of us in the Northern hemisphere the days become longer and the temperatures start to rise. Each walk reveals a slow motion shift in nature’s color palette. Three weeks ago the trees reached heavenward with limbs and barren fingers of twig and branch. Today  a haze of yellow-green new foliage softens the skyline.

A male cardinal in the tree ahead of us is belting out his spring-time mating song. I don’t speak Cardinal, but have a pretty good idea what he is saying.

“Hey ladies, look at me, I’ve got brightest plumage of any bird around. I can help you build the strongest and biggest nest in the county. Pay no attention to that guy down the road, I’m much better looking!”

A sudden gust of wind loosens the last of this mornings shower trapped in new leaves above us. For a few seconds we are baptized with cold, fresh droplets. The rain dampened earth below carries the scent of fertility and the promise of new growth.

Spring blossoms make their appearance and strut down natures fashion runway. Some fade quickly, others last for weeks, but all attract the attention of the bees and bumblebees, who go about their busyness oblivious to their role in this divine design.

Seasons change.

The pace of that change depends on your perspective and experience. I have seen 65 springs come and go and hope to see many more. Time will tell if we have over-reacted or under-reacted to the Corona-virus, but the spring of 2020 will be one that we all remember.

Mimsy and I will continue to take our walks and we will continue to hold onto our core values of faith, family, and friends.

Peace, Poppy

A few snapshots from our spring walks:

Signs of Spring (and Hope)

Spring has arrived and my weeds are coming back strong. Mrs. G is once again hunting field mice. Taking out the trash I may have seen the first mosquito of the year. God in his wisdom has given the gift of survival to the common, the ordinary, and yes, the annoying. This gives me hope as I often qualify for all three of those attributes.

In spite of our best attempts to destroy ourselves at times, I believe God has also given the gift of survival to humanity. This does not mean our journey will always be pleasant or easy. Viewed objectively we are a silly species. I can find no scripture that speaks to God’s sense of humor, but the evidence leads me to believe he must have a great sense of humor to put up with our arrogance, self-importance, and hubris. This may be sacrilegious but I have this picture of God sitting back with a big bowl of popcorn, laughing, as he scrolls through our Facebook posts.

The news today is filled with nothing but articles about the Coronavirus or Covid-19, often accompanied by this phrase or something similar, “We are in uncharted territory.” … Newsflash! … Every day of our life is uncharted territory. Humanities’ very existence is uncharted territory.

I’ve thought about my mom and dad a lot this past week. They were married during the great depression (the real one) and went through the turmoils of World War II. I’ve wondered how they would have responded to our current crisis. They were part of the “The Greatest Generation,” an attribute not to be taken lightly.

I know the first thing they would tell me would be to quote the scripture that defined their lives, “… seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness.” If I heard that scripture from Matthew 6:33, once growing up, I’ve heard it a thousand times. Putting God first was the North Star of their lives. It was a fixed destination that stayed constant as the world around them changed.

They would have told me about their life as newlyweds in 1933. They lived with my dad’s parents in a four-room house in Sherman, Texas. They had chickens and a garden and were thankful for their “riches.” My dad scraped floors before electric sanders were invented for 10 cents a day, and was thankful.

At the onset of World War II, my mother assumed that her husband would serve in the military and in a romantic notion became a volunteer nurse’s aide, thinking that if something happened to him, perhaps she would be able to care for him. My dad failed his physical and managed grocery stores during the war while my mother rolled bandages and gave sponge baths to wounded soldiers, not exactly what she expected.

Unknown to them at the time, on the other side of the world was a horror of unprecedented proportions … the Holocaust!

Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn wrote, “What seems to us more important, more painful, and more unendurable is really not what is more important, more painful and more unendurable, but merely that which is closer to home. Everything distant which for all its moans and muffled cries, its ruined lives and millions of victims, that does not threaten to come rolling up to our threshold today, we consider endurable and of tolerable dimensions.”

What will roll up to our threshold with this crisis?

At it’s worst it will mean the death of a loved one and all the pain that accompanies that. At the least, it will mean a shortage of toilet paper and a lot of bitching and moaning. Yes, we are all in uncharted territory, but the constant is that we are God’s children, His love is unconditional … and spring is coming.

The Last Paintbrush and the Lifetime Guarantee

“Can you use these?” my father held out an array of paintbrushes, ranging in size from petite angled devices to wide, stout brushes. Decades removed from Texas, he retained a trademark slow Texan drawl that extended beyond his speech to his movements and demeanor. “I’ll be 96 next birthday,” he continued, “I reckon my painting days are over.” It was an admission of diminished abilities that came reluctantly, but honestly.

Some of the brushes were new, the ones that had been used were in like-new condition. My father took care of his things. As newlyweds during the Great Depression (the real one), my parents lived by the motto, “make do, make it last, wear it out.”

Pictured above is the last survivor of that group. It’s a sturdy brush, four inches wide and an inch thick. Fully loaded with paint, it’s a wrist-buster. I didn’t have to ask where it came from, like many men of his generation when it came to tools, tires, paint, and brushes, his go-to source was Sears & Roebuck. Embossed on the ferrule are the words, “LIFETIME GUARANTEE.”

In my hands, it did not last a lifetime.


There are few advantages to maturing (I refuse to call it getting old), but they do exist. Chief among those is perspective. If you are paying attention at all as you notch years in your belt, you will learn to separate the wheat from the chaff, you will learn the difference between the insignificant and those things that truly matter, you learn that things are just things, no matter their cost, even if they have “Lifetime Guarantee” stamped on them.


Looking back, the things I really needed to know in life I learned from my father. Any knowledge of the Pythagorean theorem or the Magna Carta has sadly disappeared, but I am left with my father’s examples of how to take care of things, and it extends far beyond paintbrushes. Taught by example, the hierarchy was very clear; Your relationship with God, your relationship with your spouse, your relationship with your family, your relationship with your friends.

Taking care of a paintbrush requires work. After a day of painting, I’m tempted just to chuck the thing into the trash because I’m not in the mood to care of it properly. Maintaining relationships requires a lot more work than maintaining a brush. Being a good spouse is work. Being a good parent is work. Being a good friend is work. There are days when it’s tempting just to throw that relationship onto the scrap heap, but a relationship is not a paintbrush, it has lifetime implications. While there are no guarantees with relationships, their successes or failures will last throughout your life and deserve our best efforts. There are no magic formulas or easy answers. Life is messy, families can be messy on steroids.

Listen – Give – Take – Speak – Respect – Value – Honor – Stand Your Ground – Defer – Communicate – Love – Listen Again


I played out a scenario where I walked into the last remaining Sears store, laid the paintbrush on the counter and demanded my money back. The clerk would look at the paintbrush, then look at me and say, “Sir, if you had taken better care of this brush, we would have honored the guarantee.”

Peace, Poppy
(and take care of those closest to you)

Faith like old jeans …

I woke up this morning and slipped into my faith. The anxiety and worries of the coming day faded.

The weather channel informed me there was a 50% chance of rain today. I checked the chances of me screwing something up … 100%, the same forecast every-single-day. No worries, I thought as I pointed skyward, you’ve got this.

I’ve had some designer jeans with logos predominately displayed, but they were never this comfortable. I always felt like a poser, pretending to be something I wasn’t, plus they were ridiculously expensive. What I put on this morning didn’t cost me anything … not that they were cheap, quite the contrary. The purchase price was beyond my imaging, beyond measure. Hand-me-downs to be sure, over two thousand years old I’m told. They are old, worn, blood-stained, tear-stained, the knees are threadbare, and I wouldn’t trade them for anything. Sadly they are becoming out of fashion. A strong belief system today can get you labeled as intolerant, even hateful.

It’s said that a critic is one who knows the price of everything, and the value of nothing. In my opinion, things of real value are rarely new things. Puppies are cute but give me an old dog any day. My decades-old Sears Craftsman drill requires a chuck-key to tighten the drill bit and by modern standards is too heavy, but the solid metal case and the over-built motor has held up through much abuse and has never failed me. It reminds me of the great Guy Clark tune, Stuff that Works, if you’re not familiar with the song, it may be the best 5 minutes of your day. The chorus goes like this:

Stuff that works, stuff that holds up
The kind of stuff you don’ hang on the wall
Stuff that’s real, stuff you feel
The kind of stuff you reach for when you fall

The last line, in particular, resonates with me. I fall (or fail) a lot, but my faith is always within reach. It’s taken me a while to get to this point. I’ve spent too long worrying that I wasn’t doing enough of something or doing too much of something else. Eventually, the beautiful simplicity of the Gospel smacked me upside the head and I finally understood that I was never going to be good enough. I realized that every day I will mess something up, 100% of the time … and that’s okay because I don’t have to be perfect. I just have to understand the price paid by the one who was perfect.

I’m no theologian and comparing Christianity to old jeans, or a Sears Craftsman drill will no doubt permanently exclude me from their ranks … I can live with that.