Thursday, June 23, 2016

The sands of community...

Imagine a cup of sand - any color you like. That color is you.
And then in each hand you hold a cup of white sand and a cup of black sand.

Imagine the people you meet - imagine the color of their sand. Their color. Some red, some yellow, some blue, some green... And each holds a cup of white sand and a cup of black sand.

Each time we meet, we add a little color of ourselves in a larger container. That larger container is community. As we come together - as we interact - we leave something of ourselves. A part of that first cup of sand that is uniquely us.

And sometimes when we meet, we add a little white or a little black. The white represents our connection to the divine - that "something" that is beyond us. If we are connected to it, we cannot help but spread a little of it when we are in community.

The black represents our struggles and our connection to those struggles. We all have them and we all carry them in some form. It may be a weakness, an illness, or a burden we carry. We cannot help but spread a little of it when we are in community.

Now imagine all of our colors coming together in one large fish bowl of community. Beautiful layers of colors including a little white and a little black.

Now try pulling your sand out.

You cannot. And you cannot separate anyone else's sand. That's community.
We are not separate and can never be. We cannot remove all weakness, all illness, all burden. We cannot remove the divine. We cannot remove the beautiful colors that are unique.

There is beauty - even in the struggle - that black sand. We grow from struggle. My grandmother cautioned me when she was raising peeps that they needed to peck their way out the egg themselves so they would grow strong enough to survive. That was truth. But a friend recently told me that sometimes the shell is too hard for the peep to break through alone. If no one helps, they will die. We need to know when struggle is too great to carry alone.

Now imagine your cup of colored sand - your cup of white sand - your cup of black sand. This day, what did you spill into community?

Thursday, June 16, 2016

An Ax with a name attached

In 1997 I was living on a farm about 6 miles from Townville. On my way to work one morning, something caught my eye in front of Hannah's Hardware store. It was an old TV console with an AX through the front tube and a sign that simply said "ELLEN". Those moments, driving past - the meaning sinking in - still feel like slow motion to me.
It was the morning after Ellen Degeneres came out on her sitcom. This was a hardware store I patronized regularly. They always seemed like nice people. They put an AX through a television and put it in front of their store with a person's name on it! What would they do to me? I stopped shopping there and began thinking about moving somewhere else. Within a few years I did, but the fear went with me. So did the nightmares.
A person could seem quite nice. Maybe seem to be a friend. There may be an AX hidden with my name on it. Terrorism comes in many forms. It's based in hatred and can be a thinly veiled rage that will burst out without warning. I'm very distrusting of anyone who exhibits any form of "we" versus "them" mentality. "Them"? There but for the grace of god, go I.
When there's talk of walls - I understand walls. Once the "right" "we" are contained within them, who's the next "them" to turn on? A sorting mentality does not stop. Hatred does not suddenly end. It simply finds a new target. A person can seem quite nice until their ax has your name on it. If we look at anyone - ANYONE - and allow ourselves to fill with rage, we need to take a good hard look at ourselves. The world is full of broken souls and some seem so badly broken that there is no repair. Rage will not fix that. Rage will not change that. We need to find a better way and not allow our soul to be broken.
I no longer harbor those fears and the nightmares are gone. Today I wonder what has happened to the person who placed that TV, ax and sign back in 1997. My hope is that they have found peace and no longer feel such rage.

Sunday, June 12, 2016

A healthy tree....E pluribus Unum

E pluribus unum

"Out of many - one" was adopted by our founders as that national motto. At the time, they were thinking of the diverse needs and interests of the various states converging into the collaborative effort of a nation.
It was a grand ideal. It was founded in the ideal of the power of collaborative effort - the ideal that the foundation of this country was a strength of common ground. There were certain "unalienable rights" that they could agree upon and draw strength in collective effort. While that great ideal was eloquently expressed in the bill of rights, it's reality has been a long struggle. The man who penned the words "all men are created equal" held slaves who were defined as less than equal to a white "man". And women were not considered equal at all - still are not.
We cannot comprehend the notion of "Out of many - one." We cannot accept the responsibility of it. We are one. We are tied to - connected to - every person and every thing around us. We are not separate from the prisoner or addicted - the poor - the rich - they are part of the one, out of many. When we cannot see that one - when we cannot connect ourselves in some way - when we cannot find common ground - we injure ourselves. "Out of Many - ONE." We are branches of the same tree. If you choose to cut off all the other branches, keeping just yours and one next to you - you will kill the tree. You will kill your own life blood.
"Out of many - one." That ONE is not complete without the many. Until we understand that, we will fall short and the tree will not flourish.

Saturday, June 11, 2016

About that wall.....

Does anyone remember the Secure Fence Act of 2006? With some bi-partisan support, Congress passed a law authorizing construction of a double fence with high tech security features that would stretch the length of the US-Mexican border. Estimated at a cost of 1.4 Billion dollars, the actual cost to complete it ballooned to over $4 Billion and congress never authorized the funds to finish it. The construction cost would be more than the entire Border Patrol budget.
I wondered then, and wonder now with all the "wall" talk, if anyone thought about preventing tunnels? And what about the thousands of miles of coast line on the Atlantic and in the Gulf? What's to prevent someone from making a hot air balloon and crossing by air?
This country is really good at treating symptoms but unbelievably inept at solving problems. We're also very good at magnifying issues out of proportion largely because we don't think past soundbites.
The United States is descending into a pit of ignorance and drowning in twisted fears.
Perhaps we need to build a dome over the country. Or perhaps just dome off a part of the country and let the "wall" people live together for a while. Make sure it's bullet proof and no one can get in EVER. Let them take as many guns and as much ammo as they want. They can feel very safe together, right?
I'd feel much safer on the other side and I would not be looking in. I hate horror movies.

Thursday, June 2, 2016

About being a Veteran....

One of the best decisions I ever made, whether by accident or not, was to serve in the Air Force. But I am often left feeling humbled and embarrassed if someone thanks me for my service. As part of Armed Services Radio and Television and serving in Public Affairs at the Survival School Headquarters, I met many soldiers, airmen and marines who served in tougher times. I served on the heels of the Vietnam Era. I met former POW's. I sat in the mountains with combat veterans who were survival instructors and heard about their experiences. I was an entertainer and their story teller. That was my service.
Service - any form of service - evokes thoughts of sacrifice. I was an entertainer and story teller. Any story I have to tell about personal sacrifice is tiny compared to many I heard. As a result, these many years, I have been shy to talk about being a veteran and to take advantage of the VA benefits.
I was not eligible for the GI Bill because I was post Vietnam era by a year or so but could contribute to the Montgomery Bill to help fund future education. Thankfully, I took advantage of that and every dollar I saved was matched. I also took college classes during my time in the Air Force. While funding wasn't enough to pay for my first choice, SRU provided a solid education and opportunity to work my way through those college years. There were times my sister, Alice, helped keep me fed and I graduated debt free -,except my debt of gratitude to both Alice and my country.
From there, it took years to build a career in Communications. Working at minimum wage entry level jobs, as a freelancer, in my own fledgling business, part time gigs - finally led to full time work as an instructor and then 21 years in corporate video production.
If I had been saddled with education debt, I'm not sure what would have happened. Because of my service and taking advantage of the Montgomery Bill, I graduated debt free. But I was shy to take advantage of other Veterans Programs. I did not try to get a VA loan for my home. I did not realize I could have taken advantage of VA health care in the times I had no health care.
Today, as a veteran, I am thankful that VA health care is an option for me. There are stories about long wait times for care, but every vet I know who has taken advantage of this benefit has great things to say about the care they receive. As an aging veteran who may need to rely on this system, I am thankful to know it is there.
There is talk about privatizing the VA system - a push to "VA choice". If the ultimate result is that it will cost us all more and provide less, it's not the right answer. I'm still feeling shy and humbled by the men and women who perhaps need the services more than I do, but feeling a bit protective of my own interests. Those who served - especially in big ways - deserve our care and consideration.

Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Marching steadily toward ONE

Once someone told me that one major goal in life was to have less distance between our lowest lows and our greatest highs. I've pondered that for decades. Life is full of peaks and valleys. We will have lows. We will experience highs.
Did she mean that there should be greater distance in terms of time? Did she mean that the lows should not be so low and the peaks should not be so high? Was it about the separation of joy and pain? Did she mean that a steady and slow ascent would prevent a crash?
She also gave me a scale on which to measure events. It was a life pain scale - 1 to 10 - ten being death. If something hurt or upset me, where did it fall on that scale? That scale held even greater meaning. Ten - I understood. Ten - gone - I understood. Still, in the middle of stress, it's hard to use the scale to sort things.
Ten - gone - is going to happen in our lives. We cannot stop that. It's the cycle of life. It's most painful because we have no choice about it. Gone is really gone. Death.
Perhaps my friends point was not to make 10's out of fives in our life. And don't expect every part of life to be stress free or pain free. Perhaps she meant that we should savor those moments of joy and let them carry us. Let those moment of joy lift us and sustain us past any potential lows. Instead of going from 10 to 1, we can be carried by those better times and know that there's more to build.
As we build more care free times, the lows turn into only the things we cannot control. They become less frequent. They are isolated and are only counted when they are truly those 10 moments - those things we cannot prevent. We experience, anticipate and live in greater joy. Our steps are steady in a gradual accent. If we can do that, we will be surrounded by others who will cushion us and prevent our falling into the greatest depths. We will experience pain but we will not be allowed to fall endlessly. There will be less distance from the peak and we will ultimately experience something much greater than we would have imagined. Perhaps it is about the view. If we spend more time closer to ONE, ten is not the norm. ONE transcends and carries us above all else. The more we live, the closer we are to one, the less we experience a sense of permanence with 10. Death does not define, nor does it hold us. It cannot hold us because we have become more grounded and much closer to ONE.

Sunday, May 22, 2016

What are you growing?

It's rather amazing that 3 little packets of seeds can result in hundreds of plants. Each of those plants will have seeds that can yield hundreds of plants. And on and on. Just one seed can eventually create an entire forest if given a chance to grow and flourish.
It's a miraculous example of the circle of life. It's an example of how very small things can create enormous impact if they grow and flourish.
Everyday, often without purpose or great thought, we all plant seeds through our thoughts, words and deeds. We hope that our negative thoughts, words and deeds don't take hold and grow. We hope that our positive ones grow and flourish.
The negative ones are weeds that choke out the positive. It's important to realize that. Those weeds can take over our life and leave no room for the seeds we want to grow. We would not fertilize and water the weeds in the garden. We would fertilize and water the good plants and eliminate the weeds. We put our time and energy into what we want to grow in our garden. Get rid of the weeds early and it's not so hard to keep them from taking over. If we let them grow, we've got a tougher job to do.
We should give more thought to the types of seeds we are planting every day. Be focused on the reminders of how our seeds are growing. Reminders are all around us if we become aware.
Have you heard yourself say "I'll never forget what xxxx did?" It may be good or it may be bad. It's a seed that person planted and it grew with you. How many people did you tell how that person made you feel? The seed grew with you and you planted more seed from it. A forest grows just like that.
When someone takes time to tell you they appreciate and enjoy something you do, it's a reminder of a seed you planted with them. Be joyful in that reminder. Let that be a seed that grows your determination to tell someone else how you appreciate and enjoy them. That's how a forest grows.
Every once in a while, we do need to caution friends and neighbors about an invasive weed. We want to be cautious not to give it a kind of energy that could actually help it grow.
Over the course of time, you'll begin to notice there are fewer weeds as you grow the positive. You will attract positive people. You will experience positive growth. As you become more aware of the seeds you're planting, you will see that even the smallest, seemingly insignificant thoughts, words and deeds are growing something. Tend the seeds you want to grow.