Thursday, March 15, 2018

Meeting the Challenge of Lent

We are approaching Holy Week, the home stretch of Lent.
Lent is the Christian season of anticipating the
promise of Easter with prayer, sacrifice, and good works. Lent is always a challenge to become a better person, to be more like the best person ever, Jesus Christ. Lent is noted for "giving up" something--smoking, drinking, eating ice cream, chewing gum--some treasured habit or special treat that one enjoys. But equally important is the Lenten call to step up and do more--increased charitable giving, additional prayer, more reaching out to one's neighbors.

I'm afraid I haven't had a very good run at Lent this year. I haven't given up anything. I'm not doing measurably more praying than I usually do. Thus far I haven't made any extra monetary donations to my favorite charities (although I will, I promise!). I missed the Community Penance at my parish church this week. I'm just not very energized towards any of my usual Lenten routines, except for one--spiritual reading.

About ten years ago I began the practice of reading at least one spiritual or religious-themed book during Lent. I've read more excellent books than I can count over the past decade--lives of the saints, histories of Christianity and Catholicism, anthologies of prayers and spiritual writings. I look forward to my Lenten reading so much that it can hardly be called a sacrifice. Until this year.

This year, I'm reading The Confessions by St. Augustine. At least, I'm trying to read it. Having started the book countless times since college days, only to quit in discouragement a few pages in, I decided this would be the year that I slog through to completion. Confessions often appears on lists with titles such as "the best books ever written" or "books you must read before you die" (which makes sense, since it would be quite difficult to read it after the fact). The premise of the book is simple enough. It's the introspective outpourings of the famous bishop, saint, and Doctor of the Church who frittered away his youth as a dissolute playboy. But reading the fourth century classic is a tough go. Not only does the reader have all those "Thees," "Thous" and "dosts" to deal with, Augustine's writing is quite deep, intellectually demanding, and philosophically daunting. (Maybe he's just too smart for me.)

I'm sticking with it, however, and tonight my e-reader tells me I've finished 39% of the book. That challenges me to finish 61% of The Confessions in the next sixteen days. I'll be up late tonight, and probably every night before Easter, fighting off sleep as I battle my way to the final period. When I think of it that way, I suppose that maybe I am doing something for Lent this year, after all.

Sunday, March 04, 2018

Out of the Ashes


All men are created equal... then, a few become firefighters.

Photo: Redbox
I watched Only the Brave this weekend. It's the story of the Granite Mountain Hotshots, nineteen of whom died fighting the Yarnell Hill Fire in 2013--the greatest number of firefighters killed in a single incident since September 11, 2001. It's the kind of movie that stays with you, especially since it is based on such dramatic and affecting actual events.

Barnes & Noble website
This link to Ouside Online provides a lengthy, detailed, thoroughly riveting account by Kyle Dickman of what happened to those nineteen doomed heroes, including a documentary interviewing family members and the lone survivor of the Granite Mountain Hotshot crew, Brendan "Donut" McDonough. He was pulled from the line to serve as a scout on a lookout point, but that's no comfort to a surviving firefighter. There can't be very many crosses more heavy to bear than that of losing all of your brothers to the fire and being left to soldier on alone with the memories--and the guilt of being alive. I, for one, plan to read McDonough's book, My Lost Brothers.

Saturday, February 24, 2018

Dark History Remembered

Finding this article was a pleasant surprise: "CNN thinks that socialism is cool. My grandparents from the USSR would disagree."

It's quite rare for a mainstream media outlet to highlight the horrors of Soviet communism. Because of its epic failure decades ago, the oppressive cruelty of communist totalitarianism has largely faded from modern memory. But my late husband's family had firsthand experience with its terrors, thankfully escaping with the clothes on their backs. Many of their close relatives were not so fortunate, being either rounded up and executed or shipped off to Siberia for long prison terms in hard labor camps. The stories around my in-laws' Sunday dinner table were not for the faint of heart.

After the Berlin wall came down and the Soviet Union disintegrated, family members came to visit my in-laws in New York. They were spellbound by our quality of life. One of Pete's visiting uncles brought a lawn chair to the neighborhood supermarket parking lot and sat for hours, just watching people steering grocery-laden carts out of the store. He was incredulous at the bounty of food and other goods so readily available to us. His fascination with our prosperity brought new meaning to the expression "land of plenty."

Today's left-leaning "cool crowd" in media, academia, and Hollywood seems to have no knowledge or understanding of the brutally cruel regime that was the Soviet Union. When dire warnings about our "authoritarian" president are sounded, I have to chuckle. How many towns has he rounded up and slaughtered, as Josef Stalin routinely did? How many people have been hauled off to labor camps in the dead of night, never to be heard from again? How many "enemies of the state" have been dragged off to prison for criticizing the U.S. president?

We are so fortunate in our country to be able to think, to write, and to speak in freedom. All of us should pause to be grateful for such a gift, and to think before we speak.

Saturday, February 17, 2018

Ten Thoughts on Parkland, Florida

  1. Grieving parents and students can say whatever they want to say. There are no rules.
  2. This country has a Constitution that allows gun ownership.
  3. We citizens can change the Constitution, but it's a long and complicated process.
  4. Gun control laws do exist. They need to be strengthened, expanded, and strictly enforced. 
  5. In the meantime, every school should have an armed guard on duty, all day long.
  6. The guard could be a retired military member or police officer, or a newly created and trained security position. The extra taxes are worth it.
  7. Also, arming qualified and trained teachers with guns makes sense.
  8. If there's a concern about mental health or violent tendencies, it should be reported--no matter what race, creed, or nationality is involved. Political correctness has no place here.
  9. To ensure better success of "see something, say something," there should be no penalty attached to a report that proves unfounded.
  10. Any FBI employee who had any knowledge of and authority to act upon the specific complaints called in prior to the Parkland massacre, but who did not act, should be fired. Immediately.

Thursday, February 08, 2018

Winter's Dawn
Upon reaching my stage of life, one grows philosophical about the fact that time is very limited. There is a sense of gratitude for continuing good health, gainful employment, and the blessings of friends and family. A certain serenity settles in, keeping one centered in the now and welcoming of whatever days remain. At least, that has been my own comfortable path into maturity.

Then suddenly, I've learned that a long-ago friend has died and I've been plunged into a roiling sea of emotional memories. Events and occasions that haven’t crossed my mind in years, perhaps decades, have come crashing in powerful waves as I remember happy times long past.

Steve Kasold was a college classmate. During our senior year, Steve and Pete carpooled for a semester of student teaching, and our school friendship took firm root. Pete and I were already married; Steve was dating his future wife, Lorraine. Our social get-togethers began in my tiny, off-campus apartment in rural Pennsylvania. The year after graduation, Pete and I danced at Steve and Lorraine’s wedding. We visited each other’s homes often in New York, where we had all returned after college to begin our fledgling adult lives.

A few years later, Pete and I moved to California, and Steve and Lorraine moved to various states throughout the years. We kept in touch through letters, cards, (Steve wrote me a beautiful note after Pete died), and a couple of rare reunions on the East or West coast. Over the decades, the recollections of our good times together shifted quietly to the background of my mind; but they were not forgotten. My current tsunami of memories are as clear and vivid as though they had happened yesterday instead of more than forty years ago.

I'm remembering afternoons and evenings of cold beer and warm conversation, limitless laughter and shared jokes, thoughtful discussions and teasing banter. I recall support and encouragement, kindness and generosity, helpfulness and concern—all the stuff of true friendship, those precious qualities that endure beyond and outside of time.

Like the early winds of winter, the season of goodbyes has enfolded me with cold reality. None of us knows the future; I may be the next in our circle to follow Steve. But if I’m blessed with a long life, I know I will need to withstand more chilling gusts of sorrow as cherished friends pass on. I trust that, as Steve did, they will leave behind the bright glow of joyful memories, those warm remembrances that will help to melt even the most bitter snows of sadness.

Monday, February 05, 2018

A Story in Stone

My lands are where my dead lie buried. 

~ Crazy Horse, Oglala Lakota chief

Let's take a break, shall we, from the frantic, partisan hyperventilation of Washington DC politicians and their media minions. There's so much else to see, do, enjoy, and experience in our country. Take, for example, Crazy Horse Memorial in South Dakota.

I was there once, as a young woman, and it made an impression upon me as deep and permanent as the rock carvings that have now revealed the great chief's face in the mountainside. The sculpture is a monumental undertaking, begun in 1948 and continuing today until who knows when.

In 1977, there wasn't too much to see.
Nearly eighty years ago, Chief Henry Standing Bear, of Crazy Horse's Oglala Lakota tribe, commissioned Polish-American sculptor Korczak Ziolkowski to build the Crazy Horse Memorial in the Black Hills of South Dakota.  "My fellow chiefs and I would like the white man to know that the red man has great heroes, too," Standing Bear informed Ziolkowski, who had worked on Mount Rushmore. Although the federal government offered grant money, Standing Bear chose not to accept any funds from the U.S.A. To this day, the memorial is non-profit and receives no state or federal funding.

Of course, this wouldn't be modern day America without controversy. Although the project was started at the specific request of an Oglala Lakota chief, ironically enough many Native American organizations today vigorously oppose the memorial, claiming it is a "pollution" upon the land. To me, these protests fall into the category of "no good deed goes unpunished."

I can remember the chills I felt from head to toe as I looked at the gleaming white model, then  beyond to the rough-hewn edges of the massive rocky peak towering above. The crews were working on that long-ago day, and the muffled thunder of explosions echoed down the mountainside. I thought of Michelangelo, who could look at a chunk of marble and visualize the figure within, awaiting the artist's hand to set it free. I also remember hoping that I would live to see the memorial finished, in all its majestic power.

If and when it is completed, Crazy Horse Memorial will be the largest sculpture in the world. It will take decades more to finish; I won't live to see it completed. Even so, I would like to see it one more time. I want to stand again, encircled by the pure splendor of the Black Hills, in the shadow of the mountain that honors a great Native American leader as his image bursts proudly through the rock.

By 2017, Crazy Horse's face had emerged from the mountain.

Saturday, January 27, 2018

"12 Strong" ~ The Story of The Horse Soldiers

From "12 Strong" ~ now playing in theatres
There's a movie out as of yesterday, "12 Strong," that depicts the story of the horse soldiers in Afghanistan following September 11, 2001. I wrote a post about these heroes in December 2011, and I'm definitely planning to see the film.

It doesn't happen often, but when it does,
I love being ahead of the wave. Thank you to all our military service men and women, past and present.

Statue honoring the Horse Soldiers - NYC

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

FULL: White House Press Briefing on President Trump Health Exam by Dr. R...

The White House media characters are unintentionally hilarious.

For almost one solid hour, they posed one repetitive, boring, tasteless question after another to the president's physician, the gist of each one being "Is he going to die soon?" The White House press corps is obviously unable and totally unwilling to accept the doctor's repeated pronouncement that President Donald Trump is "in excellent health." This unwelcome conclusion is the very essence of "bad news" for the left wing media. They seemed to really come unglued at the doctor's suggestion that the president is healthy enough to serve two terms.

Dr. Jackson was instructed by the president to answer any and all inquiries regarding his health. There were constant questions on whether or not President Trump suffers health issues from dementia, heart disease, obesity, high cholesterol, mental problems, and/or (my personal favorite) drug addiction. There was one particularly ridiculous question about his life expectancy (back to "is he going to die soon?"). I don't know how Dr. Jackson had the patience and good nature to entertain so many continuously stupid questions, but he did so very competently and with good grace. The press just wouldn't take "YES" for an answer to the question of President Trump's excellent health.

I watched all of the tedious, inadvertently funny press conference. It could have been ten minutes in length if all the repetition had been removed. It is highly amusing in a pathetic way that the reporters were desperate to find a "health loophole" that could take Trump out of the presidency. At the risk of being repetitive, I'll say it again--the press just wouldn't take "YES" for an answer to the question of President Trump's excellent health.

Thursday, January 04, 2018

Ten Random New Year Observations

1.  Influenza:
It's a very bad bug this year. Hospital beds and emergency rooms are overflowing, Tamiflu is scarce, and this year's highly promoted flu shot is about ten percent effective. Evidently we don't have everything figured out quite yet.

2.  Weather:
The "bomb cyclone" seems to have replaced the "polar vortex" as the meteorological catastrophe of the millennium. When I was a kid, we called it "a blizzard."

3.  Sports:
Now that no one in San Diego cares about the Chargers anymore, they are having a decent season. Unfortunately, no one in Los Angeles seems to care, either.

4.  Movies:
For the first time since I was thirteen years old, I'm going to skip the Academy Awards telecast. At the moment, I just can't take these people seriously.

5.  Television:
I'm hooked on Netflix's "The Crown;" "The Walking Dead" is getting far too silly; and after all this time I still love "Blue Bloods" and "NCIS."

6.  Books:
I"m reading about half a dozen of them right now. That's what happens when you own a Kindle, receive Book Bub email notices, and still long to hold hard copy books.

7.  Stock Market:
It's way up. That fact makes me happy and nervous simultaneously.

8.  Travel:
I remember when flying was considered a glamorous, enviable activity, a leisurely stretch of time to be pampered and waited upon. Today flying feels as special as being loaded into a standing cattle box car and feels about as comfortable.

9.  Politics:
Sometimes you win, sometimes you lose. I don't know when about half of America stopped understanding that fact of life, but the past year has established that the losers don't get it.

10.  Life:
In the words of the great poet Robert Frost, "In three words I can sum up everything I've learned about life: it goes on."