Channeling Flannery

Last night I watched a documentary on PBS about the life of the writer, Flannery O’Connor. I read a number of her writings while I was in graduate school. They are often macabre and a bit weird but they were written out of her experience as a woman and a Southerner. She had lived during the era when segregation was the rule of the day and she had learned to accept it and not try to change it. She did believe in rights for all persons but she had decided that she could live within the culture that excluded black persons from sharing equally in society. I do not agree with her thinking on those societal issues but do find her writings to be interesting from both a psychological and theological standpoint.

Ms. O’Connor wrote about the misfits of society and how they found correction from others in society because of the way society reacted to them. She was a devout Catholic and her writings were shaped by the beliefs that she had received as a child at the school and church she attended. Her thinking was ahead of her time in many ways but she lived in an era in which a woman could not speak out boldly because of the risk of being ostracized or persecuted. She wrote anyway using people she knew as the role models for characters in her stories. Her mother was one that she used in a story about immigrants from Poland who came to Georgia after WWII and began to help farm the land of some needy Southerners. They allowed them to settle on their land but when they began to be viewed as wanting to “take over” then a tractor was allowed to come lose and run over the father of the family killing him and ending their venture into society that seen as a threat to those already there. The mother in the story is described as hard hearted and critical and may have been based on O’Connor’s own mother.

In another story, a man whom she had a crush on and rejected her seemed to be role model for a traveling bible salesman who mistreats a woman whose leg prothesis he steals and leaves her stranded in the hayloft of a barn. O’Connor had such a crush on a man visiting from Denmark and she was devastated when he returned to his country and married someone else. She made his character the villain in the story although she denied it when the man wrote to her after reading her story.

I have been writing short stories for as long as I can remember and sometimes have used people from my life experiences as characters in the stories I have written. I have never been happy with them because they seem too matter of fact and a bit stilted perhaps because I have been trying to write the stories from an historical perspective using actual experiences that I have described rather than simply using the persons I know as characters in the stories and then allow the fiction to work with the character rather than the experience carry the story.

Flannery O’Connor may have used actual persons to be models for characters in stories but she allowed the stories to take twists and turns that those real persons would have never taken. She includes violence as part of the stories that she must have imagined the characters could have done even if the real person she based them on would have never done such things. She allowed the character to take on a life that went beyond the life of the real person she knew and then used their actions to make a point that needed to be made about the world around her.

I think I am going to try to do a similar thing in the writing that I am doing, allowing the people I have known in life to act in the stories but to go beyond anything they may have done in life. Even describing scenes that may be shocking to readers allows the writer to venture into areas that need depth without trying to be historic or realistic in nature. People may shape our thinking even if they did not actually venture into the depths of our imaginations. It is those ideas that bring about stories that can be salvific and grace filled for the writer if not for the reader.

Flinging Worms

A strange phenomenon happens now and then where earthworms decide that they need to cross the road to get to the other side. Much like the proverbial chickens, these long skinny guys begin their journey across a road where cars routinely pass. Many of them meet their demise in their trek, being splatted and squished so they are no use to any creature, except for a lucky robin or blackbird that may come upon them while they are still edible to make a tasty breakfast or lunch.

When we walk in our neighborhood we come upon these little creatures trying to make it from one side of the road to the other and I, being a kind and compassionate person, have begun picking up the wiggly slimy guys and tossing them into the closest lawn so that they may become reunited with their natural habitat and perhaps live a while longer. I really feel sorry for these little creatures. They do serve a purpose in the ecosystem, feeding birds and enriching our lawns and gardens. Some people, such as my wife, remember the good ole days when they used them for bait on fishhooks to try to lure fishes to bite and provide a good meal for a human. I do not fish but I do care about the little guys so I have begun flinging them to what I perceive is safety for them.

I do not know what happens to them after I throw them into the closest grassy place I can find. I want to imagine that they begin to tunnel into the earth and find a new place to live and begin to eat whatever worms eat so they can continue their journey of life. It may be that they begin to migrate toward the road again because that is their purpose on some mystic journey that I know nothing about. If that is true, then I have simply delayed the ultimate thing from happening to them. They may still become lunch for a bird or get run over by a vehicle. My act of tossing them to soft green and sometimes moist grass is an act of charity on their behalf but my compassion for them does not eliminate any threat that still may exist for them.

This musing has made me think about how we perform acts of charity for others with the intention that it will make their lives better. We all know people who have little personal motivation to better themselves. They seem to live in a constant state of turmoil or discontent. Some live in substandard housing. Some exist in drug or alcoholic stupors. Some are constantly in poverty. Many of us want to assist such persons and hope that if we give them a “fling” into better surroundings or circumstances or provide a job for them then perhaps they will experience an epiphany and will be turned toward a better way of living.

I know several people personally who live in ways that are counterproductive to their well being. Two young men I know are addicted to drugs and cannot rid themselves of their malady and, frankly, do not seem motivated to do so. One of these was left a sizeable inheritance by his parents when they passed away and within a short time period he had squandered all the money and sold all the property and vehicles and goods he had and had nowhere to go or any way to support himself. Even when a well meaning relative took him in and provided room and board for him, he stole from her and pawned things from her house in order to support his drug habit. He lied constantly and skipped bail after being arrested for a drug crime. He finally went into hiding rather then face up to his circumstances. The other young man earned a degree from a college but never has used it, living instead on couches of friends and bumming off of everyone he can as he enjoys the high life with his friends, or people who are his friends until they have used him for their purposes and then they discard him after they use him up, leaving him homeless and hungry.

People in need often approach us when we are in cities and ask us for cash. We want to help them but we are afraid that any money we give them will only subsidize their lifestyle. Many times I see people on corners with cardboard signs begging for assistance and they look strong in body and ought to be able to have a job and make a living. Their outward appearance, however, may disguise an inward condition that fools us. Just as the long slimy worms that I throw look like strong little guys when I finally round them up and give them a toss into the grass, they are actually very fragile creatures and open to attack from many sources around them. People who are at the end of their ropes are desperate people. They does not mean that they are necessarily dangerous people. It just means they have used all their ideas and resources that they have and do not know where else to turn. They put themselves out there for all to see hoping that people will have enough pity and compassion to meet their daily needs.

Those needs may be real necessities, such as food and shelter, but they many think they have other necessities which overwhelm them because of addiction or inward pain. They may not know where to turn or even how to turn toward intervention. They only know that they are trying to cross the road to a new place in hope that it will provide an answer to help them in their confused state. Giving them money does not always help them out because they will soon squander it or spend it on things that will only make their situation worse. Giving them food is often better because it is an act of charity and they can rarely sell it to get cash to buy other things. Some keep paper bags with food items in their cars to give to persons who are in need so they can give them something to eat and not give them cash. We have to be creative if we want to assist others but know we must do it in a way that will benefit them in the long run.

I do not have an answer to solving the problem that afflicts such persons. I only know that when we have compassion in our hearts for God’s creatures and our fellow humans, we will think of some way to assist them, even if it is just flinging them into a better place for the time being. They may regress and begin to crawl back into the place where we found them to begin with but at least we will know that we tried to do something out of a heart of compassion.

There is a character who appears in the Greater Tuna plays that were produced in past years who is called Petey Fisk. Petey is an employee of the Greater Tuna Humane Society and is devoted to improving the lives of animals around him. He cares about animals and in one of his monologues he encourages people not to adopt exotic animals because they are a lot of trouble and responsibility. He gives examples of myna birds taught to curse and baby alligators who hiss at relatives. He says that leaving them in their natural habitat is the best thing for them. Petey is one of those who can work wonders with stray dogs and cats but even he knows his limitations when it comes to difficult animals, ones whose lives cannot be easily tamed. We may mean well but sometimes we have to know who or how we can help and how we must remain uninvolved otherwise, even for the sake of someone we may want to help but know that we really cannot.

Cabin Fever!!!

Cooped up! Stuck inside! Snowbound! Words that describe desperation as we are forced to leave our routine, our normal way of being, and exist in a place where we cannot move about except for the four walls in which we dwell. We often call it “Cabin Fever” named after people who have found themselves in such a place, such as a cabin, and the walls seem to be closing in on them. This word is one we use synonymously with the idea that we have to escape to preserve our mental sanity.

I must admit that I have had a bit of this malady since last weekend when the snow began falling and the streets became icy and the temperatures began to plummet. I walk for exercise daily and I am usually out on the streets as the sun is coming up. I love to walk and look around the neighborhood, watching the birds and the squirrels and people going and coming. I have not been able to walk since the snow set in and feel like my legs are getting stiff from lack of exercise. I ventured out onto the street yesterday to see if it was safe to walk and returned home after just a half block when I recognized that street was icier than I imagined it would be.

So, today the temperature is supposed to reach the high 30s and hopefully the thaw will begin. Later today I need to go to the grocery store and see what is available and restock our pantry and refrigerator. I have seen reports that the stores are short on many supplies as people have bought up whatever was available. Panic buying set in as well as people stocking up on the basics and the trucks have been unable to get to stores because of the weather so it may be a few days before we can actually buy much.

I try to “live in the moment” as a good friend taught me years ago and try to accept the situation as it is but it is difficult at times to not yearn for something one cannot have. That is true in many situations in life but when we have unexpected circumstances that confine us we often find ourselves ill equipped to deal with what has come to visit us. Severe weather is not rare anywhere we may live but coping with it is a case of regional differences. Both our children live in areas where extreme snowfall is common in the winter. In those places, many people go about their business despite knee deep snow and businesses operate as usual. Texas is not one of those places, however. We are accustomed to balmy temperatures and snowfall that we have seen three times now in two months is as rare as the cuckoo. We close schools and stay home if an inch or less of snow falls but when 9 inches comes at one time we freak out.

Luckily, most people have obeyed the warnings and are staying at home. Staying at home is the easy part. Being happy in a confined location is another thing. For those of us who enjoy being physically active winter may be the most trying part of our year. It is as if we are on a ship in an ocean and we can venture as far as the walls of the ship but we cannot go beyond them because of the danger we would encounter in the deep. Ice and snow are similar circumstances. Water in its purest form which is pleasant to behold but difficult to navigate. Sitting still is the difficult part. Not moving but staying in place is a challenge. Having the capacity to just stay put….at least until the passage is safe.

Winter Wonderland

Record breaking! Unbelievable! Those are words used to describe our current snow situation in Texas. We Texans do not get a lot of snow usually. It normally stays pretty far north of us or takes a swing northeast just as it is about to get to us. We rarely get snow and we do not know what to do when it does snow. So, when we began to have snow on Sunday and woke up on Monday to 9 inches of snow and a temperature of about 10 degrees, we wondered where we were. This is the kind of weather we expect our Colorado neighbors to get or the kind that we read about happening to Bostonians but we Texans are usually basking in the warm sun of winter days.

Today we began the day with a low temperature of -1, yes that is -1 Fahrenheit, which means it is so cold that we cannot even put it on a graph with a positive number. It is currently at 8 degrees at nearly 10 a.m. and our high temperature is supposed to be a balmy 23. But we are not finished with this influx of Arctic air. No, tomorrow is bringing round two with more snow expected and another round of subfreezing temperatures. What is wrong with this picture? We do not like it. We want it to end. We want things to return to normal, at least to what we think is normal for us.

This kind of weather is called an “anomaly” which is a word that means something “deviates from the standard or norm.” That word may describe this situation well. This is far from the norm for us. Such a weather scenario is so rare that the last time I can remember such a set of weather factors in Texas was back in the mid-1980s. That was a time when the temperatures did reach zero in south Texas and even colder in north Texas and snow blanketed much of the region. So, if we have it every thirty years or so, we should not complain. After all, many in our country and world have this kind of weather each year for many days.

Personally, I think that we hate such weather because we dread being unable to control what is happening to us. We dread having to deal with the unknown and then when it happens we feel at a loss because we have such little experience dealing with such situations that we are filled with fear about what could possibly happen to us. We are told to let faucets drip to avoid frozen pipes, to wrap exposed pipes outdoors, to not venture out onto the highways because of dangerous road conditions, and to curtail our use of electricity and gas so as to have enough to last everyone through the crisis. It reminds me of what our son was told when he became an engineering student at MIT. During orientation, he and the other incoming freshmen were told, “You can study, sleep, or have a social life, choose two.” He and other students had to decide what the most important things were in their lives if they were going to have success and graduate from this prestigious institution.

We are given many things to do in a crisis and have to decide what is the most important ones to achieve if we think we cannot do them all. Letting faucets drip seems to be a waste of water to me but if it is important so that the water continues to flow, then we will do that. Wrapping the outside pipes is important unless one wants to have to replace them or call a repairman to do it for you. Staying home and not driving is not a hard thing if one is retired and really has no place one HAS to go. I feel sorry for those with jobs who have to decide whether or not to venture out so as to keep their employment. Responsible employers would not require attendance during such a storm but some do.

The final thing we were asked to do was to conserve electricity and gas so as to have enough for all. That means to not have excessive lights on and to turn the thermostat down a few degrees and be a little chilly rather than toasty warm. Luckily, we are people who like it to be a bit cooler and we are not toasty warm at any time. We keep the thermostat on 68 during the day and on 65 at night as a routine so maintaining that is not hard. Going below 68 during the day would be a bit chilly but we try to dress warm and cook frequently using the oven to supplement the gas heat. Some have experienced rolling blackouts from the electric company but we have not had them yet. It still may happen.

So, all of us doing our part to be safe and warm and stay well and also to help others to do the same is the key to making it through this odd time in history. We have been asked to do such things as a way of life for the past year. Wear the mask. Use the hand sanitizer. Don’t get too close to others. Stay home most of the time. We have done these things and now we have the vaccine working in our bodies and we are filled with hope that soon life may be in a better routine as we once thought we had for both the short time and the longer term. May it be so. Until then, we continue to think positive thoughts or as Scarlett O’Hara said, “Tomorrow is another day.”

Longing for Spring

Many recent gray days have left me longing for spring. We are officially halfway through the winter season but there are days when I just want it to be over and for spring to come. We have three bird feeders so we have a host of visitors to our backyard daily. We have birdbaths also and keep water in them so that the birds will be able to stay around for a while with their needs met. We have two bird houses, specifically bluebird houses and we have bluebirds nesting there. That is a gift because bluebirds must be among the fussiest birds there are. One has to have their houses set just right for them to inhabit them. So, hopefully we have done everything according to their preferences in order for them to raise a new family.

Our house has been in remodel stage since October and it seems to be in the final stretch of the project. That also has me longing for spring because once they are through with their work and we have our new sunroom to begin to decorate and fill with the furniture and belongings we wish to be there, we can also begin to fix the outside area around the new room. Construction crews come and go and with each new visit something is changed or broken that was part of the backyard before it began. So far, two flower pots have suffered because of accidents and the ground around the area was dug up and must be reordered once again. We have plans that will require physical labor on our parts but we think we can do it in order for the yard to look as beautiful as the new room will look.

I guess I am longing for spring also because winter brings with it a feeling of cabin fever. With travel restrictions in place because of the virus, it is difficult to go anywhere that is of interest and I see videos or read articles about places where the sun is shining and people are enjoying the weather and the beauty of the place and I long to be there. The world is under some stage of lockdown and until enough people have been vaccinated travel to other countries is out of the question. Travel to other US states is out also because of quarantine rules there. So, this is the first time in my life that I have not been able to do some travel planning to be able to schedule an adventure for us to have soon.

I feel stuck in so many ways because of all these complications. Even the escape that comes with going to the movie theater has been taken away from us because the theaters are not operating. Restaurants here are as normal as they can be and shopping is an option if one wears a mask and does not interact with others. Taking a drive in the country and having a picnic is a good idea too if the weather cooperates, and that brings us back to the topic of weather which is also the topic of winter.

We had a snow event the first full weekend in January and another is being forecast for a week from today, maybe not as much snow as the first one but an inch or so is being forecast for now. That will be a record of some sort for this part of the nation. We hardly ever get snow and two snows in one winter would be something I have never experienced here. We are so wimpy here in comparison to those in northern and western states. We basically shut down most services, schools, and businesses when even an inch of snow happens. We know little about driving in snow conditions so it is probably for the best.

Winter helps us appreciate the spring when it comes. Without the gloomy days of winter we would not even notice spring when it finally arrives, but when the flowers begin to bloom in the fields and the birds sing joyfully in the sunshine, then we will rejoice in heart because we survived and a new season of hope has arrived. Isn’t that just what life is about when you think of it?

Groundhog Day

Yesterday was Groundhog Day, February 2, the day when Punxsutawney Phil comes out of his burrow to look around. According to legend, if he sees his shadow he goes back inside and that means we have six more weeks of winter. If he does not see his shadow then he stays outside to indicate that spring will be earlier than usual. February 2 is the date for this observance because it is exactly midway between the end of autumn and the beginning of spring. Six weeks into winter, the little mammal comes out to help us know how to think about the season so we can have hope that winter will soon end or we can resign ourselves to enduring the winter with its cold and snow.

In 1993, a film with the same name as this observance was released starring Bill Murray and Andie MacDowell. It was about a weatherman from the city who was sent to the small town in Pennsylvania to cover the story of the groundhog and his forecast. The man was a cynic and considered the assignment to be beneath him. He was grump and miserable and wanted to be sure that everyone he met knew he was miserable. There was a female newscaster along for the same assignment and he soon took a liking to her and wanted to impress her in many ways. He did not achieve his goal, however, because his bad attitude turned her off and made him dislike him instead.

Each morning when he woke up, his radio alarm clock was playing the old song by Sonny and Cher, “I’ve Got You, Babe”. He was puzzled why the woman he liked did not like him so he decided to change his ways, after waking up every day and reliving the same day again and again. At first, he thought he could get away with doing things that were antisocial, such as robbing a bank or causing people harm, but he just woke up the next day stuck in Groundhog Day over and over again. He finally figured it out. The only way to get out of the cycle he was in was to become a better person. He began to change for the better. He took music and art lessons. He learned to cook. He became a kinder, gentler man. And then, one day he woke up and the music on the radio was not the same. He had done it. He had outlived Groundhog Day and the woman he cared about suddenly cared about him also.

Groundhog Day, the movie, is a metaphor for being stuck in ways of life that are detrimental to our emotional or physical health. We sometimes do not even recognize those habits or ways that make us less than we could be. We just go along on “autopilot” so often that we do not even recognize that we are doing things that we need to stop.

When I was out for my afternoon walk two days ago in my neighborhood, I suddenly found myself witnessing a woman coming out of her house to a car driven by a younger woman. I know that the older woman is the mother of the younger woman. The older woman must have been angry with her daughter because as she came out of the house and walked toward the car, she began to project in a loud enough voice that all could hear her a string of profanities that would make a sailor blush. She obviously must speak that way most of the time because she made no effort to be quiet about the way she talked or to change the language she used. That language must be natural for her and it is not very helpful language. She no doubt does not recognize that she is speaking in this way and exhibiting behavior that is not helpful to her or others.

So many people are so casual about their speech pattern and what they say and they assume that everyone else must speak in the same way. I do not speak in such a way and find such speech offensive. I could not, of course, reprimand this woman for what she said because she was in her yard and addressing her daughter and I just happened to be walking by as she did. I tried to just look forward and pretend that I never heard it. It was very sad for me to see someone so out of control, though.

As we seek ways to be different people, we will find them. We have to want to change if we want to see changes in our lives for the better. Some people have serious problems that would benefit from receiving personal counseling. They often do not receive the counseling because they refuse to go to a counselor. They fear that such intervention may reveal things they would rather keep to themselves. They would prefer to hide their actions and fears and feelings that are not beneficial to them and hope that they will go away. Those things never do, though. They are a part of us and will not get better until we decide to take a course of action to make them better.

I am an advocate of personal counseling, having been a recipient of it over the years. It is a very helpful process if one finds a counselor with whom one can be totally comfortable and one can reveal all one’s inner thoughts and feelings that cause them distress. Having a counselor to talk to is like having a friend whom one can be sure will never reveal what one has told them because they promise to be that confidante and have that trust between two people that is dependable. I found such a person twice in my life and at both times they were helpful in making my life much better.

Another Friendship Musing

I wrote yesterday some thoughts regarding my ideas about friendship and after I finished I thought about other ideas I should have included, so this is another dialogue concerning friendship and what makes it so fragile and so meaningful. We have just concluded an election that was perhaps the ugliest and most mean spirited election in the history of the United States. Besides the fact that the Republican candidate constantly lied and said many mean spirited things again and again, the conservative media gave him a forum to spread those lies and insults. Talk radio and conservative television made it possible for his message to spread throughout the globe at all times of the day and night. Even mainstream media covered every message he wrote and said and made sure that we all know more than we wanted to know. I have not watched the evening news for the past four years because I could not stomach hearing his voice or the lies he was telling once again.

I did not think that an election would cause true friends to part company but recently a dear friend whom I have know for almost two decades sent me a cryptic text message in which he used profanity and accused me of pushing a liberal agenda that he could not agree with. His text message was so shocking and out of character for him that I thought his phone had been hacked. So, I called him to see what he would say. He refused to talk to me and hung up on me but did say the text was from him. I called his wife to ask her what was going on and she said that he had become so possessed by the election and by conservative television that he watched it constantly when he did not have work to do and that he was getting very irate by what they told him on that telecast. She was very embarrassed by his texting me in that way and apologized profusely.

I did not try to call this friend again but we exchanged text messages and he made it clear that he blamed me for pushing a liberal agenda and for trying to bring this country to a socialist state. After several texts were traded it became clear that I was not making headway with him so I stopped and he did too. Now, we are at a stalemate and not communicating.

Politics….why has it become divisive to the point that friends and family members would rather forsake one another than to allow people to “live and let live” in their ways of thinking. We can certainly blame this man who stirred up the sentiments of many with his racist and radical thinking but we can also be assured that these negative sentiments lived inside those we know who have adopted his way of thinking long before he came on the scene. It is very sad to think but we all have friends who most likely have racist tendencies but just have never been bold in putting them out in the open where all can see it.

I have another friend whom I went to school with and we have known each other for sixty plus years. We played together as children and did school projects together. We went to each other’s homes and ran and frolicked and got sweaty and had snacks. We graduated from high school and pursued our goals as adults and after we both married and had children, we stayed in the home of our friends as they did ours and enjoyed their company. Somewhere in the past decade however, he changed. He became involved with the conservative faction of the Republican party and became very anti-immigrant. He could not hold a conversation without detailing how vile immigrants were and how we needed to stop the flow of immigrants in order to save our country. His agenda became such a divisive tool that we could no longer have any socialization with him or his family. I still love him as my friend but he is no longer the friend I once had. He is a different man.

Politics was once just a designation of candidates that one would support in an election. Now it is a mantra that must be repeated if one is going to align oneself with a certain political party. It has become the litmus test that decides if we can be social with one another or have a relationship with one another. It has become a god to some who avow allegiance to party over country or even religion. It has become the shade of an evil stigma and stain on society.

Do friends have to think alike about politics or religion or other areas of life? Can they be good friends and not agree on such issues? I think so. I have other friends with whom I disagree concerning the ways we think about social issues and we continue to be good friends. Making it a requirement that people think alike in order to have a friendship limits our interaction in the world with many with whom we could enjoy richer and more satisfying lives.

The Meaning of Friendship

Choosing friends in life is a thing we do almost without thinking about what we are doing. We meet people and become acquaintances and sometimes those relationships turn into friendships. Sometimes the friendships become very close, life long friendships that last all our days. Sometimes the friendships are temporary and are based strictly upon geography or necessity. I have known people over the years whom I assumed would be my friends throughout my life, for that is how close I felt to them, only to discover that once I moved to another city their friendship with me waned and then soon vanished.

I once took those ends to friendships very hard. I often blamed myself and wondered why our closeness disappeared, but as is often said in movies and books, it’s not me, it’s them. They are at fault. They did not value the friendship enough for it to continue despite geography or circumstances. Sometimes a job change is necessary for our economic or psychological well-being and we are forced to move to another location in order to have the job. Friends understand these things and accept that someone has to move but even as they move the friendship will continue and ways will be found to make it endure.

Years ago, when I was an educator and we lived in a town just outside of Houston, I had a friend with whom I shared many happy experiences. We got together and talked and laughed and dined out as families and friends. Our families became close and I thought they thought of us, and he thought of me, as valued friends to enjoy into the future. I took a job elsewhere that required that we move and I would write letters (real letters on paper sent in the mail with the use of a stamp) to keep in touch. Rarely did my friend send a letter in response. After a while the job I had ended and we moved back to where these friends lived and I worked there again. I soon learned that new friends had taken our places, and that our friends had moved on to other friendships. We were indeed not that important to them.

I mourned the loss of his friendship and felt betrayed and isolated for a while. Then, we moved once again, this time even farther away to take another job and soon I became involved in new activities and this lack of friendship left my mind. I found new friends, even as he had, and those friendships also were temporary, just for the time of our living in that vicinity. I began to examine the meaning of friendship subconsciously and discovered that friendships do indeed take many forms and have many meanings to people. The friendships that I felt were eternal were actually more like acquaintances rather than friendships. I underwent years of counseling to discover about myself that I get close to people quickly because I had such a shallow relationship with the people I should have been close to early on, my family. I essentially did not have family relationships so I began to choose people to take the place of my family that I did not have. I drew close to them psychologically and needed their friendship to make me feel whole.

Life has a way of bringing us changes, transitions, ways to make us understand what is important in life. As we live and experience these transitions, we discover that we cannot cling to others because we have to value ourselves enough to do what is necessary to endure and not depend upon another human being to care for us because they may not be there when we need them.

I have had two other men with whom I have shared close friendships during my adult life, one of whom is still as close to me as a brother. He and I have had a friendship that has lasted for almost three decades. He has been a big brother to me and a hero to me, a protector and confidante. I would trust him with any big secret I had to share because I know he would keep it and would do what is best for me to help me as he could. He truly is a life-long friend and I know we can depend upon each other for whatever life may bring our way. He does not live near to where we live but I can call him and say we need to have lunch and one of us will drive to see the other and enjoy being together for a short time, as we recently did.

The other friend I have known just as long. He and I have been close friends throughout all the years and he and his wife were close friends to my wife and me and we socialized and shared many good times together. Then, his wife became very ill and died. He mourned and grieved and we talked many times as he needed someone to be vulnerable with and I was honored that he chose me to be there for him during that rough time in life. Then, he fell in love and married once more and we were there to celebrate his new relationship and accept his new wife as we did his first wife, whom we dearly loved. We soon learned, however, that this second wife was nothing like his first one. She is jealous and suspicious and not above fabricating stories to convince my friend that she decides with whom he can and cannot be friends. Suffice it to say that she prefers that he not be in my company as he and I were once prone to be. There is no reasoning to this, just that she now decides and he allows her to make those decisions for him. I still love him as my friend but no longer is there the closeness we once shared. It is a sad and regrettable situation that seems to have no solution.

I would literally do anything for either of these men. They both know that. One friend I know would confide in me if I could do what he needed from me. The other would have to be discreet, surreptitious about even communicating with me. He cannot even let his wife know that he talks with me or she becomes upset at him. Keeping peace with her is the most important part of his life now. I would still do anything he asked of me even with this new dynamic to our friendship but only the future will reveal how this may play out.

“Friends are the family you choose…” That has been my motto throughout my life. I have chosen many people to be my friends. They have been very important to me. Today, those friendships are at various levels….former friends, former co-workers, acquaintances, ghostly remembrances. Some, thankfully, are jewels and precious to me, people I value and love and want them near to me as often as I can have them. I chose them because they filled a void in my life. They completed a part of the puzzle that is myself. They were there when I needed them most and hopefully I was like all that to them too.

Frederic Buechner, a writer and theologian, was wrote that “For as long as you remember me, I am never entirely lost. When I am feeling most ghost-like, it’s your remembering me that helps remind me that I really exist.” (Whistling in the Dark) Friendships live in the soul. As long as we remember who our friends are, even if they are not present with us, then they and the meaning we gave to them when we were in their presence still exists. They endure and so does the value we gave them as we shared life with them.

Snow—Friend or Foe?

Snow is so beautiful to see as it falls. The flaky white droplets float down to the earth and begin to cover everything below them. They pile up and provide the means to make snowmen and to have snowball fights and to paint the town with scenes that look like they are out of a Currier and Ives in New England. Walking down our street yesterday morning early, I saw the sun illuminate the trees and they sparkled with the moisture contained in the snow. It was a beautiful sight.

Ah, but then there is the other side of snow. Heavy, wet snow, it weighs down the power lines and tree branches and causes us to lose the electrical power to our homes. Limbs break and trees that have been so helpful to provide shade in the hot summertime suddenly have less shrubbery to devote to that task. We curse the darkness as we bundle up in blankets and extra clothes and hope that our fireplaces will warm us and our gas grills will feed us.

Snow is a treat to those of us who live in areas where we rarely have it. We live in an area where snowfall is rare. It happens maybe once in a decade, if then. So, to have 3 inches of snow suddenly descend upon us, we go into alert mode. Schools and businesses close. People stay home because they do not know how to drive in snow since we do not get to practice doing it. When we hear of the promise of snow, we raid the supermarkets for every conceivable item to tide us over to the time when the natural dry order will be restored.

When we had our snow this past weekend, the power in our neighborhood went off and stayed off for over a day. We were so fortunate because the owner of our house before us had invested in buying a generator and it kicked in 30 seconds after the power stopped so we functioned the same as if we had power. Our generator is one of those behemoth brands that operates everything in the house. Heat or air conditioning, appliances, even the garage door works as normal because this large machine runs off of natural gas and supplies everything we need to be safe and cozy. What a blessing it is to have it.

Life is full of experiences that are not just good or bad but they are a combination of both. Life is full of pain but in the midst of the pain is often found experiences that teach or surprise us. Men cannot understand how women can be willing to have the pain associated with childbirth, knowing that it will hurt much more than they think is possible to bear, but after the pain subsides and they hold that newborn in their arms, they often say the birth of the baby outweighed the pain they had.

People often push themselves and test their limits athletically so that they can accomplish a goal, perhaps running a marathon or walking a long trek for a purpose. There is pain along the way but they endure it because they see something at the finish of the pain that is worth enduring what they must. I was a runner for 20 years and remember what it was like as I first began running. I could only run 1/4 of a mile and then had to walk. Then, I boosted it to half a mile and then a full mile and then two miles and I trained to run even longer and entered fun runs and longer runs. I always thought I could accomplish the goal and I did. I was not always the fastest in the competitions but I endured and finished every one of them. Sometimes as the time went on and I counted down the miles until the finish, I felt pain in my body somewhere but never enough to make me want to stop and now complete the race. The goal was worth the effort.

Snow is a beautiful metaphor for life in this way. Many times, things of beauty also have an edge to them that challenge us. We may experience discomfort or even pain in the midst of observing the beauty of the moment but as we look at it overall, the outcome is worth the discomfort. We live and move and have our being in this life and we see the long view ahead, one that makes life worth living throughout all the experiences we have.

Why is There Such a Divide?

Are people really that different from one another? Do people really have huge differences that cause ideological divisions that are difficult to heal? Is this strictly an American characteristic or is it common everywhere? Can those who are divided find common ground or is the chasm too wide and deep?

As we think about the events of yesterday, January 6, 2021, when a mob of terrorists, violent supporters of Trump, stormed our national capitol and took control of the building for a few hours, we wonder why such a thing happened or how it could happen. We also think that everyone should be revolted by this invasion of our capitol building but strangely today a poll of Republicans said that 45 percent of them approved of these illegal acts. Almost half of those who claim to be Republicans think that trespassing into a building where you don’t belong and smashing things and stealing things and vandalizing is acceptable behavior. Is it because it is governmental property and citizens pay for those properties through their taxes that acceptance of the actions was given? Is it because these respondents lack a certain moral compass that the rest of us have which causes us to be repulsed but for them to think it is okay? Or is it because that is the percentage of Republicans who joined the Trump Cult and pledged their loyalty to Trump and will support and defend him even over the love of their country?

I believe that the answer is the latter choice. I think that some people’s lives are so empty and meaningless that they found their meaning by listening to the rantings of a crazy old man who also had little meaning in his life (even though he had all the worldly goods one could desire) so he spread his message of hate and oppression of minorities to this audience of people who were seeking some kind of meaning in life and they responded with loyalty to the one they considered to be their new prophet. I think that their devotion to him that caused them to put aside their own needs in order to attend his rallies and buy his materials to display in their homes and yards and on their cars was done out of a yearning to find meaning in life and since they could not find it in any other source they had explored they found it in the void of meaning expressed by this madman.

This is not a new reality. It has been one that others have chosen to follow in the past. David Koresh took such a group to Waco and they chose to die in a fire rather than to come out and have life. Jim Jones took a group of followers to South America and they drank the infamous kool-aid rather than leave and have a new start. Adolph Hitler preached to the masses in Germany that the Jews were to blame for all the social evils of Germany and the masses followed him to do the evil deeds he wanted done.

There have always been people who have had a lack of meaning in their lives and they have listened to voices that described how they could bring them meaning if they would just follow them. Religious leaders are too numerous to name but each gives people with little meaning a vision of what life could be like if they just follow their commands. Prophets, Seers, Teachers have all led followers and students into paths based upon their ideology. The difference between whether or not the teachings have been instructive has to do with what is being taught. If the thesis is that people should work together, serve each other, love one another, do good deeds for others, then the lives of the followers most often reflect the teachings of the teacher. If, however, the instruction given is to hate those who are different and to oppress the weak and to deny rights to others, then the result is discord and the spread of evil deeds in society.

We have a new start in the United States soon, hopefully. We have a new leader to lead our country in ways that we have not experienced in the last four years. If the majority of Americans can reject the ideology of the past, then perhaps we can turn things around for our country and our world. If those who cannot agree with the new administration can just live their lives in peace and silence then the rest of us can let them be and ignore their continual harping on how they do not agree. We must begin again and let the light shine in the darkness, because only them will evil be overcome. Let the lives of good people be united in a family of hope and kindness and healing for our world and its inhabitants.