On a Path Unknown

Mimsy and I  are pretty boring. There is not a lot of variety to our walks. We reach the end of our driveway and go left or right, maybe throw in the occasional side-street, but we stick to the familiar routes … and that’s okay. There is a comfort in traveling known paths. Mimsy knows the telephone poles and tree trunks that yield the best scents, which dogs have come and gone along this way. I think about my neighbors as we pass their houses. I know where to watch for uneven slabs of sidewalk and fallen sweet-gum balls. Everything does not have to be an adventure. For that we have life.

You don’t have to walk this planet very long before you understand that (in spite of our best intentions and plans) life just rolls our in front of you. It’s as if you have stepped on a moving sidewalk that has lost all its safety mechanisms. We wonder whose hand is on the control as the path speeds past vacations and slows to a crawl during difficult times.

We don’t move down the path as ballet dancers or figure skaters. We bumble. We stumble. We fall on our asses … a lot. But we pick ourselves up and keep going. We rinse and repeat and if we are paying attention, we learn something along the way. We learn that we have no control over the events that sweep by us, we only have control on how we respond to those events. We learn that we fail in that regard too. We learn that we are not saints, asking for forgiveness and resolving to do better the next time. Life rolls out in front of us.

It is a very messy pilgrimage.

We look at other travelers and try to gauge their journey … is it smoother than ours, is it rougher? We see people win the lottery, and others get cancer. We see bad things happen to good people, good things happen to bad people and vice-versa.

Our inclination is to channel our inner five-year-old, cross our arms, stamp our feet, and yell as loudly as we can, “IT’S NOT FAIR!”

Life is not fair. If you are a parent, chances are you have used that phrase with your children. Chances are, they looked at you having no perspective of what you were taking about. Give them a few years.

Life is not fair, and that’s okay.

Fairness implies justice. Justice is harsh, absolute and unforgiving. I know myself too well, I don’t want justice.

I much prefer grace and mercy.

Poppy

A Cartoon Monday

It was a “cartoon Monday.”

It’s a phrase I use, but frequently find myself having to explain.

If you were to draw a single frame cartoon that exemplified a “Monday,” what would it look like? Since we are dealing with clichés, this drawing would not depict a bright sunshiny day filled with singing bluebirds, beds of blooming flowers and smiling bunnies. This illustration would show grey skies, clouds, muted colors and a slight drizzle if not a steady rain.

Today was a cartoon Monday. It was not a bad day, nothing tragic occurred, but it was most certainly a cartoon Monday.

Mimsy was not in the least bit upset with the weather. For the first time in days, it was above freezing and unlike last night, she did not balk at going outside. In the spirit of full disclosure, Mimsy can be a little prissy. Bred to be a companion dog, all she wants is to be with her humans … as long as her humans are in a warm, dry location. Last night this human had to take her out in a very cold and persistent rain. Mimsy can’t speak in the traditional sense, but she can make her feelings known. We negotiated about walking in the freezing rain. She communicated that this journey was unnecessary, she would be willing to stay inside, spare both of us from getting wet, and just pee on the carpet. I told her, while I was not keen about going out in the rain, peeing on the carpet was not an option. Since Mimsy weighs all of 12 pounds, I won that debate.

Tonight though, she had no such qualms. It was a very pleasant walk.

I could see my breath hanging in the air, but it was not the bitter cold from the previous week. It’s this time of year that I promise myself never to complain about the heat in July and August. Those months can be sweltering and hot, but they don’t hurt. When it gets down to 0°, it just plain hurts. But that was not the case tonight. After the prior week, 36° felt positively balmy.

We ambled down the side-streets near our house. There was a slight mist in the air, not quite fog, maybe fog-light would be the best description. It softened the edges of everything it touched, placing a slight glow around the street lamps, creating a nocturnal impressionistic streetscape.

Mimsy and I have experienced better and worse strolls. As with most things in life, it’s a matter of perspective. It was a cartoon Monday, but that’s not always bad.

Mimsy and I Get Our Wish

Mimsy and I are in agreement about most things, admittedly we don’t talk politics much, though I would value her opinion over some humans I know.  Our point of contention the last two days has been the recent snowfall. I thought it just about the perfect kind of snow, it stuck to the ground, but not the streets. But the best part, from my perspective, it provided us with a “White Christmas.”

Mimsy is not concerned with “atmosphere” or Christmas tradition, all she knows is that she has to go out and wade through the cold stuff to do her business. I guess I understand her viewpoint, 3 inches of snow is 1/4th her height, that would be like me going out barefoot in snow up to my knees. And as she reminds me, I get to stay inside where it’s warm to do my business. Fair enough.

Mimsy and I did share one common Christmas wish though, and it had nothing to do with snow.

Mrs. Poppy and myself host Christmas dinner. We have the room, Mrs. Poppy can do Christmas decorations suitable for a Norman Rockwell painting, and I love to cook. It’s an arrangement that no one has complained about. This year our entire family (plus) was in attendance, two daughters, two grand-kids, one son-in-law, one boyfriend and two parents belonging to the boyfriend.

We tried to institute a new rule about gift-giving this year. The terms were simple and easy to understand, or at least I thought so; No presents were to be exchanged between adults, only the grand-kids would receive presents. I thought this was a swell idea. It would save everyone money and shopping hassles. I certainly didn’t need anything and I’m pretty sure neither did any of the other adults. My plan did have a massive loop-hole that I didn’t foresee.  Playing by the rules, my daughters should not have been able to get me or Mrs. Poppy any gifts, but that did not stop them from having the grand-kids from buying presents for us. No grandchildren have ever given so many gifts that they were so blissfully unaware of.

In spite of the loop-hole (I will tighten that up next year), it was a wonderful Christmas.

Banished to Mrs. Poppy’s studio during dinner, Mimsy did not think it so wonderful, and she let her displeasure be known. Weighing all of twelve pounds, she does not have the lung capacity of a German Shepherd, something we and our guests were thankful for. Still she managed to be heard. Mimsy is the lowest maintenance dog we have ever owned, but the breed is known for having separation anxiety, and she has that in spades. We received Mimsy as a rescue, she was only two when we adopted her, but she had already had two families, plus the foster parents. Perhaps that plays a part in her anxiety, I need to talk to her about that.

Half-way through dinner we decided to liberate her. She flew down the stairs, made a few laps around the dining room table, did a little sniffing and snuffling, bounced around like a wind-up toy for a few moments, then settled down. She was content.

Loop-holes or temporary banishment to an upstairs room, Mimsy and I received our one Christmas wish. It’s simple and it’s perfect … just being with family.

Merry Christmas

 

I Live on a Big Round Ball

To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven.

Mimsy and I stepped out for our evening walk. For the first time this season, I noticed my breath coming out in whispy, white vapors. I had already grabbed a coat, one that hadn’t been worn for eight months. At least for now Mimsy was going to have to do with her natural fur coat. She didn’t mind. The crisp air seemed to invigorate her, she sniffed deeply before jumping and prancing around, crashing noisily through the fallen leaves. A month earlier, the dominant sounds would have been of crickets, katydids, cicadas and tree frogs. They are dormant, silent now, waiting patiently as our planet makes its yearly circuit around the sun.

It’s a transitional season. The trees around us are in the process of a wardrobe change. The lawn is still green and what little can be seen of it contrasts sharply against the fallen leaves. Most of the leaves are of brilliant hues. Even on this cloudy day at dusk they seem to glow as if powered by leftover energy from the sun, gathered throughout the summer and saved for this moment.

Our house is 127 years old, ancient by some standards, young by other standards. Much like myself. My grandchildren consider me old, while my mother considers me young. My aging is different from the trees, we both add a little girth each year, but my body doesn’t change with the seasons. Regardless of their age, and many are older than our house, the trees follow an ordained sequence as our planet circles and tilts closer and further from the sun. In a few weeks most of the leaves will have fallen, leaving the tree limbs bare against the ultramarine winter skies. But they are not dead, they are resting, waiting until our globe circles a little further around the sun.

The next season will bring new life, the trees will be maids again, donning brilliant, fresh spring greens. They will call to the birds, “Come build your nests in my branches, as your parents and the parents before them have done.” The tree frogs will find crevices and nooks, safe places, shaded from the sun in the same trees. New generations of cicadas and katydids will join them and again fill the neighborhood with joyful choruses.

A few months later, the maids will become dowagers. They will wear clothes of dark green, sliding toward browns before autumn calls once again and they shed their garments in luminous shades of yellow and gold.

Mimsy and I walk down the sidewalk. I think of seasons, of cycles, of rhythms. Mimsy thinks mostly of squirrels and of scents hidden under the fallen leaves, the origins of which I prefer to be left undiscovered.

I think again of turnings and rotations. In just a few weeks we will celebrate another cycle around the sun. We will throw parties. We will look backward and recall the events of the past year. We will raise a glass in memory of those we have lost. For some we will say, “Good riddance,” and to others we will say, “How will we go on without them,” and we resolve to one day be in the latter group. We will attempt to look forward, wondering what the new year will bring. And we will make grand resolutions.

These turnings are a part of our existence. They bring new life and death. The cycles will continue, I have no say in the matter. I am just along for the ride, an observer. We have the big ones, the yearly circle around the sun, but we also have ones that occur every day.

Every twenty-four hours we have a cycle, a turning. It is so common that we forget its miracle. Each day we have a new beginning, a new opportunity. An opportunity to be that person of whom it will be said, “How will we go on without them.”

For some reason we save our resolutions for the big, once-a-year rotation. We make New Year’s resolutions based on grand, ambitious, but often un-achievable goals.

What if instead, we made 365 micro-resolutions. A daily declaration to do something small but attainable.  Learning a new word, walking past the food-table at the office without picking up a cookie, making the effort to show an unexpected kindness.

Mimsy and I head home. I’m pretty sure she is focused on the treat that awaits her upon our return. I’m focused on my micro-resolution. Let’s see if I can get through my commute tomorrow without hitting the horn … not even once. That seems doable. Check back later.

Poppy

I live on a big round ball
I never do dream I may fall
And even one day if I do
Well, I’ll jump off and smile back at you.

I don’t even know where we are
They tell you we’re circling a star
Well, I’ll take their word, I don’t know
But I’m dizzy so it may be so.

I’m riding a big round ball
I never do dream I may fall
And even the high must lay low
But when I do fall I’ll be glad to go
Yeah, when I do fall I’ll be glad to go.

 
Songwriter: Jesse Winchester
Defying Gravity lyrics © Warner/Chappell Music, Inc

A Beginner’s Guide to Successful Hating

 

… I hate people now. Well, not all people, of course. Just people who voted for Trump  … Actually, Trump voters are not the only people I hate. I also hate Jill Stein voters and Gary Johnson voters and Bernie deadenders with their ridiculous delegates math … Looking at you, Susan Sarandon and Slavoj Zizek! You are idiots and my heart seethes with wrath against you. And of course, I hate myself, too. That’s how hate works.” (Year One: My Anger Management by Katha Pollitt)

I read the entire article by Ms. Pollitt. By the time I finished, and it wasn’t that long, I was emotionally drained. We have never met, but she obviously hates me on any number of levels. I wondered if I should find a way to hate her back, that seemed like the appropriate respond, but the only emotion I could muster was pity. If she knew I pitied her, I’m pretty sure she would become even more enraged. In some perverse way, hate has become a virtue (if you hate the “right” people).

If you hate that much, then what brings you joy? I’m not sure I want to know. Is happiness considered a weakness?

Of course, Ms. Pollitt hardly has the monopoly on hate. If you read the comments thread of any, even slightly controversial news article you will understand that. The main purpose of social media in general is to provide the opportunity to post cute cat videos and engage each other in heated and often hateful debates over extremely trivial subjects.

I’m no saint, ask my family. I get mad. I’ve been known to lose my temper and slam inanimate objects around. I’m not proud of that and I always feel very silly and juvenile when I cool off. But that’s not hate, that’s just me channeling my inner two-year-old.

After reading her article I tried to find someone to hate. In my mind I ran through the entire catalog of everyone I know or have ever known, but couldn’t come up with anyone truly hate-worthy. Maybe I don’t know enough people. Maybe I’m emotionally deficient, somehow lacking in the full range of feelings I should possess. I’m pretty sure if someone deliberately harmed a member of my family I could hate them, but I don’t want to test that theory for obvious reasons.

Maybe I’m starting too big, perhaps I should bring it down a notch. Mosquitos … poison ivy … people who throw trash out of their car?

I’m getting closer but still haven’t achieved the right level of vitriol.

Wait a minute … I think I’ve got it.

It’s that stuff in the aerosol can that is passed off as cheese. Yes! I’m calling you out, Cheese Whiz! Even the name is an abomination. It contains no real cheese, manufactured of various chemicals, has no redeeming value. Did I mention it’s squirted out of an aerosol can?

I hate you Cheese Whiz!

I’m not sure I feel any better, but at least it’s a start down the path of hate.

Poppy

Tonight, I Sliced a Tomato …

Tonight, I sliced a tomato. It may have been the most important thing I’ve done all day. You see, it didn’t involve Harvey Weinstein, Donald Trump, Kevin Spacey or Hillary Clinton.

Tomatoes, like people, are ubiquitous, easily found but for the most part bland and sometimes rotten. My go-to source for good tomatoes, the Ferguson Farmer’s Market has closed for the year. I was left with only grocery store options. If you are thinking, what’s the big deal, then you don’t understand tomatoes.

Like you, I am bombarded with news and information to the point I don’t know what to believe. This is when I narrow the focus of my thoughts. There are few things that I know for sure, but one of them is the love of my family, and darn it, they are going to get the best tomato I can find!

I seriously debated just skipping the tomato, a tasteless tomato is worse than no tomato at all. But I was on a mission, and I was in a mood … this was for family and I was going to give it my best.

I paced in front of the produce section. The options were limited, hot-house beefsteak tomatoes, Roma tomatoes, and tomatoes pitched as still being attached to the vine. Looking them over, if I were a tomato, I would not have dated any of them. Thankfully, I am not a tomato.

I was preparing dinner for 3 members of my family. It was a simple menu of roasted potatoes and onions and a sandwich constructed of good deli turkey, mayo mixed with a few shakes of Frank’s Hot Sauce to spread over the brioche bun, a slice of provolone cheese melted on top with a garnish of avocado and tomato slices. Can’t miss!

I made the mistake of turning on my iPhone right after sliding the potatoes into the oven to roast. I had a few moments to kill, so I thought I would catch up on the news … big mistake. There was nothing that I needed (or wanted) to know, there were descriptions of things I really didn’t want bouncing around in my head, so I turned it off.

I grabbed the tomato I selected, peeled off the little sticker with the price code, ran my thumb across it’s surface, laid it on my cutting board and raised my chef’s knife. The slices needed to be thick enough to taste but nor so thick as to make eating difficult. A gentle sprinkle of sea salt compensated for any lack of flavor.

There are moments when things come into focus, when it’s easy to separate the wheat from the chaff. It’s rarely big events … most of the time it’s the ordinary, the common. The trick is learning how to spot them.

Screw you Harvey, Donald, Kevin and Hillary, tonight I’m slicing a tomato for my family!

Poppy

 


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The Last Cowboy and when Politics became Religion

As Americans, we entertain a romantic notion that we are a group of rugged individualists. We imagine ourselves as the cowboy sitting astride his horse in a driving blizzard, hat pulled low, coat collar turned high as he watches over the herd. We have visions of life on the prairie, the pioneer wife, busting through the sod to plant a crop to feed her family, or the rugged New Englander, launching his hand-made wooden craft into the stormy Atlantic in pursuit of lobster or cod.

That individualism may be a part of our national gene pool, but if we’re honest, we are mostly a nation of joiners. We join the Lions Club, Kiwanis or Masons, we become Catholics, Methodists, Baptists, or Pentecostals. We sign up for book clubs and knitting groups, identify ourselves as Cubs, Cardinals, Red Sox or Yankee fans. And of course we align ourselves as Democrats or Republicans.

There is value and comfort in joining with others of like interests. It provides a common bond, a baseline of communication and a sense of belonging. It allows us to relax, knowing that we are with others of same beliefs. That group becomes our community, more than our neighbors or the residents of the town we live in. They become our tribe.

But humans are an inherently flawed species, and all this joining carries with it a dark side. Somehow we understand that our tribe is made up of a collection of individuals, we are willing to cut each other some slack for our idiosyncrasies, for our differences, for our humanity. But that other tribe, the group that we don’t belong too, we paint with a broad brush. We use terms like, “those people.”

And then we have politics.

Somewhere along the way, politics ceased to be a preference of one policy over another. We no longer debate the merits of the New Deal or the Truman Doctrine. Economic and foreign policy issues have been relegated to lessor importance than social issues, and with the focus on social issues, political debate has become very personal and very divisive. National politics has become our national religion, an unholy alliance of church and state.

To know God’s love and grace is a wonderful thing.

To believe that God is aligned with your political party is a scary and dangerous thing.

Once you make the leap that God is on the side of your political party then there is just one answer as to who the other political party serves. If your party is good and the other party evil, then there is no reason to communicate, there is no need for compromise because who would want to compromise with evil. The result is vote after vote divided strictly along party lines.

Once you decide that God is on your side, then every action, every attitude, no matter how cruel or vicious is justified. We know that God hates evil, therefore it is perfectly permissible to hate members of the other party. We become crusaders, fighting a new holy war.

The irony is that this religion doesn’t even require a belief in God.

No matter, because we can make one in our own image. Sometimes he appears as a white, middle-aged, Republican living in the mid west. Other times she takes the image of an east coast Democrat, a vegan hipster, espousing radical environmentalist views. This is a God of our own construct, miraculously aligning with our party’s platform.

Our sacred texts are no longer delivered on tablets of stone, but flow daily in no more than 140 characters from Mount Hollywood or the white marble temples of Washington D. C.

If we need more motivation than tweets can provide, there is always Facebook. Our need for periodic outrage can be satisfied by selecting from an endless smorgasbord of questionable news sources.

The high priests and priestesses of these national religions tolerate no heresy within their own ranks, only true believers will be accepted.  Any Democrat who entertains thoughts of being pro-life or any Republican considering gun control is shunned and removed from meaningful committees.

Marie Newman, a long-time Democratic activist said in an recent interview. “No matter how you feel personally, you have to vote to support the Democratic Party values. We have all looked at the 90-page document that is the Democratic Party platform that was created last year.”

Individual thought is discouraged while “groupthink” is praised.

Wikipedia offers this description of groupthink: Groupthink is a psychological phenomenon that occurs within a group of people in which the desire for harmony or conformity in the group results in an irrational or dysfunctional decision-making outcome. Group members try to minimize conflict and reach a consensus decision without critical evaluation of alternative viewpoints by actively suppressing dissenting viewpoints, and by isolating themselves from outside influences.


Somewhere on a high mountain sits a cowboy.  He looks down into the valleys below and sees a string of towns and cities, glittering in the night. He can see the twinkling lights, but they do not compete with the canopy of stars above him. He has been to the city. He knows that the lights they have created block from view the constellations and galaxies that form the roof over his head.

By their measure he is uneducated, but he can tell the weather by watching the skies, and knows when a storm is brewing. He is comfortable with himself, he needs no titles or trophies.

The cowboy appreciates that the constellations he now enjoys will slowly shift over the horizon as the seasons change and smiles knowingly that herdsman in other countries will soon view the same stars. The stars create a perspective that can’t be denied. The heavens above remind him that he is just one small person in God’s creation. God’s creation illuminates the slums of Haiti, the sidewalk cafes of Paris, the villages of China, the high-rise apartments in New York, around the globe the light of the stars and sun shine on all the world. God recognizes no political parties, no sports teams and no organizations, he only knows his children, which is to say, all of us.

The cowboy whistles softly to his dog and they trot slowly back to the herd, leaving the glitter behind.

Be the cowboy … Poppy