Friday, September 17, 2010
“Now when he saw the crowds, he went up on a mountainside and sat down. His disciples came to him, and he began to teach them saying: Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven….” (from the Sermon on the Mount in the Gospel of Matthew; also told in the Sermon on the Plain in the Gospel of Luke).
The gospels go on to tell us that those who mourn will be comforted, that the meek will inherit the earth, that those who hunger and thirst for righteousness will be filled, that the merciful will be shown mercy, that the pure in heart will see God, that the peacemakers will be called the sons (and daughters) of God, and that the righteous will live in the kingdom of heaven.
In the last few years we have all received too many of the messages that seem to fly as if they were witches through cyberspace, and we have witnessed more than we would choose of people who somehow believe that they are justified to stand in judgment and cast the metaphorical stone. Let’s face it—judging others is something most of us know first hand. But I am reminded that in the gospels, Jesus is recorded as having said, "If any one of you is without sin, let him be the first to throw a stone [at her]." (John 8:7) Some places today the stone is still very real. Even in those places, though, such utterly cruel behavior of human against human is not the sentiment of the majority, nor is it historically part of the faith roots of these places. It is instead an extremist corruption of these teachings. It is indeed a matter of power with its foot on the necks of those who feel powerless. In these places, fear reigns supreme.
Earlier in the summer I read an excessively long but nonetheless engaging novel set in the Carolinas in the late 17th century. Although according to documented history, trials of so-called witches were confined mostly to Puritan New England, nonetheless, accusations of witchcraft is at the heart of this story. Underlying these accusations is greed, playing on the fears of the masses. Fear was the weapon that dealt the blow, destroying lives in every way imaginable as people were falsely accused and condemned to die—in this story, to be burned at the stake. And in this story, all of this madness led to the death of the fledgling community where the plot unfolds.
In an article I read this morning, one writer calls forth the compassion that is at the heart of every God tradition. He has this to say about the absence of compassion as expressed in our judgment of one another: “Strangely enough, stoning for adultery isn't even mentioned in the Quran. The practice was common in the Middle East because it is the prescribed punishment in both the Jewish Torah and the Christian Bible in Leviticus 20:10 and Deuteronomy 22:22.
“Modern day Christians like to pretend otherwise, but Jesus didn't change that, either. In fact, he told his followers that every law on the books would remain there until the end of time.” ("Huffington Post", posted September 13, 2010, by Dr. David Liepert)
I just celebrated my 67th birthday on September 16. When a friend from Albuquerque called me the evening before to ask about my plans, all I could say is that they are simple. Early in the day I did 30 minutes on the treadmill at the gym 20-plus miles from this home in rural Leon County. I had to work at not letting either the right-of-center cable news channel that runs on both flat screen televisions in this gym or the too-loud claims of local “boys” about the “socialist direction” of our country spoil my modest workout. Later in the morning my sister, Joan, and I went “to town” 35 miles in a different direction with a list of things to-do. It was my list, and my sister did the driving. The outing ended with a lunch treat in glorious air conditioning, on a mid-September day that peaked out at 95 degrees. The night before I had said to my friend that the best birthday gift I could get is the temperatures dropping below 90 degrees. Somehow the persistent heat seems to make things seem a little worse than they actually might be. I’m waiting. I am waiting somewhat impatiently, but I know a change will come.
September 16, 2010—Normangee, Texas (September 17, 2010)
R. Harold Hollis
Tuesday, September 14, 2010
You can never change the way they feel
Better let them do just what they will
For they will…”
(lyrics from “Kissing a Fool” by George Michael)
In a message to a friend this morning, I described some part of my extended blood family as a bunch of angry, selfish, greedy, spiteful and prideful people. “Do you think I got enough adjectives in there,” I asked rhetorically. Then I added that the same blood runs in my veins. Having acknowledged this, today I am even more mindful about my own potential to be any and all of that list of adjectives. I also realize that I can choose to be the polar opposite of any of these woeful human traits. May it be so.
Sunday, September 12, 2010
Friday, September 10, 2010
“Well you see, Jane, it just goes to show you, it's always something….” Or something like that was the intro to the response of Gilda Radner’s Roseanne Roseannadanna when asked to explain the relevancy of her weekly monologue to Jane Curtin’s news anchor on “Saturday Night Live”. I have not been a regular viewer of the show since that time in the late 70s, which, by the way, has nothing to do with the shows wildly funny energy for close to four decades. It’s just not one of my habits. Like Radner’s other characters, Roseannadanna was “wild and crazy”. And so it can seem with life. Cause and effect? I know it’s there even though at times I’m challenged to figure out this relationship.
My right hand is just about healed from the dog bite I received a week ago. For seven days, I soaked this hand in Betadine solution twice daily, put triple antibiotic ointment on the wounds, and bandaged the hand to keep it clean and protected. During that time, my left hand had to carry the load of any work I tried to do, including the dishes or cleaning the commode or connecting the water hose. With my right hand on the mend, two days ago the pinky finger of my left hand erupted in angry red blisters, the same breaking out that I have experienced periodically on that hand over the last 10 years. My doctor’s PA told me not long after I started experiencing the problem that it was an allergic reaction to something I’m coming into contact with. I guess that would be life, since it seems to happen without apparent provocation. “Just put some hydrocortisone on it,” she advised. How simple, I thought, over the counter hydrocortisone, simple, inexpensive. I have decided it is just another way that stress manifests itself in my life. Dog bite, one week later the recurring breaking out on my life hand, go figure. I’m no doctor.
As I lay in bed at 4:30 this morning, awake really early compared to the previous days on this fall trip to Texas, as I lay awake trying to focus my groggy but pestered brain on giving thanks for this day, this life, I thought about my irritated-feeling left pinky finger. Finally, my feet hit the floor shortly after 5 a.m. and I made my way to the kitchen. Hmm, I guess I’ll go ahead and shower, I thought. Dried off and dressed, I headed toward to the kitchen sink, to the rinsed but not washed dishes from last night’s batch of Texas chili, and the coffee pot that had not been cleaned from yesterday morning. I had put some hydrocortisone on my left pinky and quickly realized that I had now traded a compromised right hand for a compromised left hand. I shook my head in dismay, but I had to smile over life’s crazy, connected ways.
So today, as I make a mark on the list of things to do, I am thankful that a generous rain two days ago has watered my native garden. The first of two batches of laundry is underway. A couple of guys I engaged will be here this morning to load the furniture into the trailer my neighbors are generously providing for the transport of goods and merchandise to my antiques show in two weeks (another thank you). These guys will also man handle some other furniture that I want moved around inside this barn house. My back, compromised over years of lugging around stuff, says thank you. Percolating in the back of my mind, immersing my pinky in dishwater is only one of the things to avoid. My list goes on, but it doesn’t have to be documented.
Today will be a day of moving forward. The laundry will get done. The first push at loading the trailer will be accomplished, and maybe I will begin reviewing stored boxes from previous antiques markets, picking candidates for “another day in the sunshine” at this fall outing. I will use the broom—with both hands. The almost endless list of things that can benefit from the use of both of my hands will amaze me as the day progresses. And just to be nice to myself, I will continue reading the third in the series of Stieg Larsson’s engaging trilogy of crime stoppers in 21st century Stockholm. Ah, it will be a good day. One thing or the other has an upside as well.
It Just Goes to Show You—Normangee, Texas (September 10, 2010)
R. Harold Hollis
Tuesday, September 7, 2010
I guess my contemporaries and I are finally at the place in life where we take up the habit of looking at the obituaries. I don’t do it, but I have a couple of friends who have this habit. As I passed through north Texas the other day on the way to my home in east Texas, I had coffee with one of these guys. As we talked, I remembered to tell him that I had heard a couple of weeks ago of the death of an elderly woman from the small community where he had lived for close to 30 years. I was too late. He already knew because he subscribes to the local rag so that he can keep up with such comings and goings.
We come and we go, and especially as we get older, we wonder about what we are going to. “We believe in the eternality, the immortality, and the continuity of the individual soul, forever and ever expanding.” So reads one of the statements of belief from the United Centers for Spiritual Living.
For me, I’m not talking about heaven and hell, as those brought up in fear of God are taught. I remember as I child being a little preoccupied with the end of the world. At that point, I had heard enough hellfire and brimstone from the Baptist preacher to at least have a concept of beginnings and endings, rewards and punishments, and had developed a fairly healthy concern for the seeming nothingness that death brings. I realized at a young age that I didn’t want anything to do with those Baptist Sunday mornings. When I was in my early 30s, my Daddy overhead a conversation between my middle sister and me, where she asked if I believed in the devil. “You mean the devil with horns, cloven hooves, tail and pitchfork,” I asked. “Yes,” she replied, and “no,” I answered. “Well, you’re going to hell,” my daddy insisted from his chair at the breakfast table. So he had been taught, and so he believed. I give thanks that my mother, who had somehow evolved beyond her conservative Lutheran upbringing, never spent her time talking about hell.
At that point, Daddy was only three years from his own death from congestive heart failure, although we didn’t even know he was sick. I can only wonder now what he felt in the days leading up to his death. I know that he wanted to get well enough to make a trip to the country—the place where Joan, my oldest sister, now owns the house that was a retirement home to our parents and the place where the barn that was our Daddy’s refuge in the four short years he got to live here became my home more than 10 years ago. As I recall, he might have gotten to make one trip, but I remember clearly that only a few days before he died he longed to make his own “trip to Bountiful”. Whether our Daddy was afraid of death I cannot answer. The only clue we have is what middle sister Sue and I heard Daddy say as he lay in his hospital bed only minutes before he died.
Daddy was in ICU for several days on his last trip to the hospital, and we had become accustomed to visiting him at appointed times. On that late Saturday afternoon, when we arrived at the hospital we found that he had been moved to a room, without our having been notified. He was no longer hooked up to any monitoring devices. He simply lay in the bed. Because we were naïve in some ways and laboring more than a little from denial, the meaning of this move didn’t register with us. As Sue and I stood at Daddy’s bedside, we thought we understood him to say that he wanted to pee. So Mother, Sue’s husband, Henry, and I helped Daddy to the commode, where he died, looking straight at me, his bluer than blue eyes locked onto me, as I squatted in front of the commode and Mother and Henry braced him from either side. Later Sue and I agreed that Daddy was no doubt saying, “Peace, peace.”
On the day that Mother died, almost 26 years later, she awoke restless, lying in the hospital bed she had occupied for less than a week at the house here in the country. On this last day of her time here, she registered no blood pressure when the hospice nurse arrived late in the morning. For several days, we had wondered how she could look at us with her penetrating dark brown eyes—the same eyes shared by Sue and me—and not respond to our attempts to talk to her. “Keep talking to her,” we had been advised by hospice, informing us that hearing is the last sense to leave us. “She is crossing over,” was the explanation for how she could seem to be awake and aware, but at the same time not answering in the voice we longed to hear one more time.
The morning of Mother’s death, after the hospice nurse had gotten a blood pressure reading, she positioned Mother so that she was sitting up against the pillows of her bed. The den was filled with family and friends. With those penetrating brown eyes open wide, Mother looked around the entire room, smiling. “In recognition,” I ask, I wonder, I hope. “This is a gift,” the nurse said—to me, it seemed, although she might have said it loud enough for everyone in the room to hear her. Yes, it was a gift. Mother died six hours later, as she slept quietly.
For three years now, I have thought about the gift from our mother on the day of her death. And I think of it each time I have cause to consider the departure from this life of family or friend or myself. I have thought about the so-called “crossing over” explained to us by the nurse and chaplain. How privileged we were to have been there and to have experienced first-hand this gift—and not to have simply heard about it later on. And now, as I reflect on the words of our daddy on the first day of spring 1981—the word “peace” that my sister and I have chosen to take as our witness of that brief but huge moment in our lives—I can only shake my head in acknowledgement. How do we wrap our hearts and minds around this frightening yet ever beckoning mystery? September 9th would have been my mother’s 93rd birthday. Amazing as it seems, my 67th birthday is one week later. The journey continues.
Beginnings and Endings and Beginnings—Normangee, TX (September 7, 2010)
R. Harold Hollis
Sunday, September 5, 2010
As I finished my shower this morning, wincing in anticipation that my right hand continues to feel sore and weak, I made to wring out my washcloth. And to my delight, I realized that the strength is already returning to the hand that was bitten less than 72 hours ago by an adult male German Shepherd that belongs to a long-time friend. That frightening event, another story that doesn’t really need to be retold, is behind me. The good news is that I am healing.
As I continued to get ready for my first day of feeling stronger and ready for the challenges ahead of me on this fall visit to my Texas home, I picked up the deodorant spray—and bam—my right forefinger pushed the plunger. I am still a little compromised, but then guess what, my right hand is nimbly pressing without pause the keys on this keyboard. I am so blessed.
Give thanks for the things we take for granted—the things we take for granted, like gripping the handle of the front door, wrapping our hands around the broom handle to sweep up the mass of bugs that have built up on the floor of a barn house during three months of absence, the prospect of soon immersing both our hands in the dish water, the ability to cup a pencil in our dominant hand and write a shopping list, the joy of clapping our hands in response to, well, joy.
I’m looking out the door leading into the place in this barn that I call an office, where lots of treasure, and lots of wonderful books, along with my computer printer—and for the winter a small wood-burning stove—live without thought of compromise, even when I am absent. An adult male cardinal pecks at the seeds in the grass just outside the door. Maybe he’s the same one that was just perched on a blooming limb of the Desert Willow planted farther over, just east of the barbed wire fence. I have noticed that the cardinals are indeed in residence of the somewhat weary summer garden that fronts my barn home. A summer that I am told began with ample rains has given way to the annual cycle of triple-digit days and infrequent showers.
We are thirsty, and while I can’t speak for anyone else, I am optimistic that soon the ground and flora will smile as fall showers make a difference. There will be a bounce in our step, and the conversation will shift, even if only slightly. I smile at the prospect of putting on my buckskin gloves, grabbing the rake, the pruners, the loppers, and with both hands firmly fixed on the handles of the wheelbarrow that I haven’t pushed forward since spring, do some fall gardening. Everything has changed, but then it hasn’t. My eyes and ears and spirit are ready.
Change—Normangee, Texas (September 5, 2010)
R. Harold Hollis