Friday, August 31, 2012

My Teddy Bear Story

I was stationed in Sondrestrom Greenland as an Armed Forces Radio and Television (AFRTS) broadcaster in 1979.  It was like being thrown on an island for a year with 1000 people - 800 of which spoke a different language.  Only 10% of the population were women.  When the series MASH came out later, I could really identify with many of the situations and characters on the show, especially Klinger.
Military bearing was pretty lax.  We weren't required to be in uniform, didn't salute and usually called officers by their first names.  What are they going to do to you - send you to Greenland?
We could make one phone call a week back to the states via MARS - Military Affiliated Radio Station - which was routed through McConnell AFB in Kansas.  From there it was a collect call so you didn't just call anyone.  And it wasn't always the best connection.  There was no Internet and of course, no cell phones.
Besides a few USO shows, a gym, a theatre, a bowling alley, the club and our own shenanigans, AFRTS was the main entertainment.  We actually broadcast the shaving of someones head when they lost a bet.  Radio broadcasted 24 hours a day and we did about 12 hours of television broadcasting each day.  I was first assigned the night shift doing a 3 hour radio show in the wee hours, a few hours of canned shows and then the wake up show 6-8. 
"Big Jim's Country Hour" followed, hosted by Colonel Gallaway with his long deep Texas drawl.  He was like everyone's favorite Uncle with a great sense of humor and calm manner.  Greenland was his last assignment before retiring.
We had to drive across the fjord and 3 miles up a dirt road to the station which sat overlooking a beautiful, deep, clear glacier lake.  The only other building up there was the Danish row club which was, of course, inactive most of the year.
The landscape was rather barren - glacier cut and tundra.  At the time, the longest paved road in all of Greenland led from Sondrestom base to the port.  Nine miles with a speed limit of 35 mph.  A runway split the American side and the Danish side.  The only civilian air carrier there, even today, comes from Denmark.  The nearest town was 4 hours by plane and I'm not sure how long it would take on dogsled.  I saw a few but didn't think to ask.
When I arrived in Greenland in October the days were already growing short.  By Christmas, there was almost no sunlight at all.  Besides a few evergreens flown in for the Holidays, the only tree around was in a pot in the backyard of the Danish Royal Air Force Commander's residence.  These were dreary days, a long way from home.
Then I heard that someone before my time had been sent back to the states on psychiatric evaluation.  That set my mind in motion and I hatched a plan.  I began to carry my Teddy Bear - Little O-Veee - everywhere I went.  At the dinning hall, I collect meals for us both and scolded her for not eating.  'There are hungry children in Greenland...' I said.  We danced together at the NCO club where many ordered her favorite drink - Fuzzy bears.  She did not drink them and they lined the table.  I took her to the radio station and put her in a chair with a mic - morning after morning - she refused to speak.  People began driving up to the station to look into the window to see if she was really sitting there.  I was VERY serious about Little O-Vee.  She was always with me and often scolded for making me look foolish.
After a month or so I received notice to report to the Commander - Colonel Gallaway's office.  I happily polished my shoes, dusted off my dress blues, put Little O-Vee under my arm and promptly reported in - for both of us, of course. 
With his long Texas drawl, Big Jim said, "Linda, I really want to thank you for what you have done for moral in the last month.  This time last year, there were 4 attempted suicides and this year there were none.  I think it is directly attributable to you and that bear.  I'm recommending you for the Air Force Commendation Medal."
And sure enough, he did.  At my next assignment in Torrejon, Spain, my Commander pinned me with one of the highest peace time honors.  When he read the citation, Little O-Vee was not mentioned.  Later that day, I pinned her with medal and she has been wearing it ever since.

Friday, August 24, 2012

That space

I like the shelves dusted and the floors swept,
But you will remember me with my feet in the water,
Staring at the stars.

I like the dishes done and in place
But you will remember me wondering about life.
The place for every one.

I like the pruning, mowing and weeding,
But you will remember me seeking the simpler life,
That place of harmony.

I like the laundry done and folded neatly.
But you will remember me asking where it all belongs.
The space for you and me

The space for everyone.

Change the world - with you!

One thing that can keep me up at night is trying to figure out why someone has behaved outside of what I would expect them to behave.  More specifically, outside of how I thought their values would lead them to behave.  More specifically, why would they hurt a friend?
Luckily I don't loose much sleep these days as I don't spend time with people whom I know intentionally  hurt people.  But once in a while one slips in.  I analyze and try to understand why they have done what they have done.  Nearly always these words surface:  "desperate people, do desperate things".
I believe everything we do has a motive - both good and bad.  Those motives may be simple.  I'm hungry - I eat.  The motive is to not feel hungry.  The motive may be complex.  I befriend someone I really don't care for because they serve another purpose that is equally as complex.
I really struggle to understand complexities in motives.  It's the undoing of relationships - societies, international relations...   Complexity of motives is the failing of the human race.  The more complex anything becomes, the more difficult it becomes to manage.  As the complexity builds, justifications get deeper and deeper - adding more layers of complexity.  Everything and everyone surrounding it spirals in the whirlpool the complexity has created.
My personal and spiritual goals are to keep life simple. I'm learning - perhaps slowly - that the requirement is to deal with issues before they become complex.  Face the difficult issues before they grow too large.  Most importantly - be in touch with my own motives in all I do.  Then assess what my motives are in relationship with those affected. 
We do not live on islands where our decisions only impact us.  Everything we do - everything we think - everything we say - is part of something much larger than we know.  We need to act responsibly, think responsibly and speak responsibly with a deep understanding that we are all connected in exquisite ways.  That is how we change the world.  One act - one thought - one word at a time.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Higher Ground

When I first started writing this blog 3 years ago, a friend said it would be a kind of journal.  And the first few posts were about a trip out west for work - what it was like to work underground in a mine.  Since then my posts have more often been about general thoughts at the moment; sometimes specific to events, sometimes not.
Mindful that it is my public face, I've tried to be careful while sometimes venting about issues that concern me.  Sometimes people close to me were well aware and grew concerned about the tone.  I'm glad they noticed and value their insights.
I check the stats on this blog and am often surprised to see someone read a post from long ago.  My first thought is 'uh oh, what was that post about'?.  In re-reading it, there's no cause for alarm.  While it may not speak of a certain event, it does act as a journal for me and jogs the memory of events happening that inspired the writing.
I've tried keeping personal journals at times in my life.  Re-reading them much later, I hated what I had written.  They were too raw and emotionally charged.  With time and perspective, my views about events softened or changed entirely.  I burned most of them.
Blogging works much better for me.  I'm mindful that whatever I write could be seen by anyone.  It still serves as a sort of journal, but it keeps me on higher ground.  It's the higher ground I want to apply to all parts of my life.  I want my thoughts, actions and words to always be mindful that they could be known by anyone and I would not regret them.
The measure is not what everyone else thinks but rather that I will still agree with myself in what I thought, acted on and said as years pass and I gain greater understanding and perspective.

Sunday, August 5, 2012

In Search of Universal Truth

Our views on spirituality and how to practice our beliefs are so deeply personal.  An assignment for my intercultural communication class years ago had an impact on me that I carry still.  In studying the Japanese culture of the day, I learned that it was bad manners to ask about a person's religious beliefs.
What they believe to be bad manners is an expectation in our western churches.  We should not only ask but work to convert anyone who doesn't believe the same thing.  I can see how this western approach to such things can be hugely offensive.
As I considered how different the Japanese culture's approach is, I recalled my bold encounters with friends who did not believe the same as I.  Suddenly I felt myself in the shoes of my high school friend who was an atheist and my earlier college friend who was Jewish.  As I relived the words I had spoken to them, I felt embarrassed for my rudeness.
The focus on proclamation and conversion provides excuse to poke one another in the eye.  We can never find internal peace, harmony and wisdom with an external spiritual focus.  Understanding God, I believe, is in discovering universal truths.  The devil is in the details.  God is the bigger picture - the connectedness of all events and all things.  The perfect cycles of life.  The never ending spirit.  The continuation of all that ever has been and ever will be.
I failed to understand that my atheist friend and my Jewish friend had much to teach me.  I missed an opportunity.  Our western religious teachers have taught us to fear hearing those messages.  I believed I must try to make them like me. No wonder people think we are getting further and further away from God.  God is everywhere.  In all people.  In all things.
God is universal truth which means if it is from God, everyone and every thing is lifted to a better state.  The picture is bigger, interwoven and interconnected in ways that are far beyond our comprehension.  Our detailed beliefs are small crumbs that are sometimes quite spoiled and should be left as fertilizer for growth.  We sometimes hold those crumbs so tightly that they stunt our growth.
The greatest gift I have had this year is from friends with vastly different spiritual beliefs who have taught me not to fear them.  One universal truth I am certain about is that our spiritual journey cannot be fear driven.
I now look at all people and all things as interconnected and marvel in those thoughts.  How do I apply those understandings to the things I do every day?