Friday, December 30, 2016

URBAN OUTDOORSMAN


Urban Outdoorsman, Chicago, IL

It’s that winter holiday time of the year and summer vacation camping trips are becoming a distant memory. Families are gathering near and pleasant music emanates from carolers, choirs, and electronics everywhere. Just about everyone we meet and greet is filled with good cheer.

As I rode in the back of a warm taxi driving into downtown Chicago from O’Hare airport, the driver suddenly swung out into the right lane on our turn off the interstate. The cabbie behind us had the same idea at the same time and we clipped bumpers. We only drove down the exit ramp a short while until traffic was stopped and the offended cabbie swung out onto the shoulder and unloaded a tirade of four letter words. My driver responded in kind and the testosterone had now kicked into overdrive! I had my smart phone in hand and momentarily considered videoing the drama, but the possibility of gun play immediately shut down that thought. My next thought was to place my hand on the seat belt release so that I could hit the floor! Fortunately, the light changed and we moved on out of harm’s way. City streets can be welcoming, but we should always be aware of its dangers as well.

Another traffic light turned red as we drove under an overpass bridge. The Christmas weather was turning predictably below freezing and the ubiquitous Chicago winds were swirling through the overpass in typical Bernoulli speeds, scattering the freshly fallen snow. I glanced out the back window to spy a small pup tent erected in this somewhat sheltered but sketchy location. There was no sign of life, but the presence of boxes and trash outside indicated the tent was occupied.

I’ve heard of a homeless man on the streets of Chicago who people buy coffee for every morning that calls himself the Urban Outdoorsman. He’s a man that has maintained a sense of humor despite his circumstances. I wondered if this could be him. I wondered if he was a homeless veteran or someone with a mental illness that has been turned out by our healthcare system or someone that is simply a victim of circumstances. We all seem to be more aware of these disadvantaged people during the Christmas holidays, but many of these folks desperately need aid once the harsh reality of January arrives.

It’s been said that “the only time we should be looking down on another human being is when we’re helping them up”.

Thursday, December 29, 2016

CHRISTMAS EVE GIGGLES


First Christmas, Chicago, IL

The late comedian George Carlin had a comedy routine about his early start in school as the “class clown”. He had observed early on that it’s much easier to get humans to giggle if they’re in a “suppressed situation” such as a classroom, funeral or church. Mary Tyler Moore had a classic TV episode that featured her attempting to suppress the giggles during the funeral service of Chuckes the Clown. And most of us have experienced the real-life phenomenon of just how much the giggles can be utterly contagious and impossible to suppress!

Our family had gathered at church on Christmas Eve to continue a tradition that had been established for all of us since early childhood. The pews were soon filled to capacity as other families joined us, including a young family of four with a five-year old little girl and her small brother behind us. A cute company of little shepherds, wise men, angels, and the holy family recounted the Christmas story. As the very young virgin Mary held up the baby Jesus doll, another little girl had to be removed from the sanctuary by her distraught mother as she reached out yelling, “Baby Doll, Baby Doll!” A few giggles echoed through the pews from knowing parents as the restless little girl behind us was overheard telling her daddy that he was being mean to her, presumably by asking her to remain silent and still.

The priest’s Christmas message was a timely one concerning the reality that he, we, the church, the community, and the world were all imperfect in the light of that perfect birth those two thousand years ago. He encouraged all of us to come to the Christ child as little children, remembering a time before we adults acquired all the baggage of biases and filters that stripped us of our innocence. A time when we were more inclusive and accepting of all people and our defensive shields were not deployed so often. The relevant message resonated with the people and everyone was left standing for the closing prayer in reverent silence.

Then in the stillness as we all stood contemplating the dark night of our souls, there emitted a sharp passing of gas followed by a longer crescendo stretching out to what must have been an interminable amount of time for the young parents behind us. The cringe-worthy, unmistakable sound was within ear-shot of a radius of at least three pews within the circle of embarrassment. I and my unknown "pewmates" immediately began to cast curious glances to locate the uncomfortable source. And then a very sweet voice softly said “Sorry”. The red-faced mother behind us matter-of-factly remarked, “Well, after all, we’re all imperfect!”

That was enough to begin a mounting wave of addictive giggles emanating from the innocent epi-center following the sermon’s climax. The priest must have been completely befuddled about the strange reaction of our section in the back and quickly asked everyone to "pass the peace". As I shook the young father’s hand I assured him that timing is everything! He responded by announcing that "at least everyone will have a story to tell around the Christmas table tomorrow" (or perhaps a blog post). The young mother passed along peace to my pregnant daughter and reminded her of things to come with a child. And for that short period of time, we were all openly celebrating one another in the true spirit of the child we had come to worship.

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

WINTER SOLSTICE HAIKU


STONEHENGE SOLSTICE, Internet Domain

The Earth tilts away,
withdrawing warmth and sunshine.
Dark night of the soul.

A time of stillness.
A stirring of inner strength.
A transition time.

Embrace the darkness!
Let die those parts of ourselves,
that do not serve us.

Embrace the bright light!
Welcome the new light within.
Plant new seeds that serve.

Nurture healthy growth.
Light is ascendant again.
Hope springs eternal!

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

DECEMBER MOON HAIKU


December Moon, Jamestown, NC

The December moon,
slowly rises in the east,
among pastel skies.

The lunar halo,
symbolizes divine life,
the light of the world.

The December sun,
slowly descends in the west,
as day yields to night.

The full harvest moon,
reflects the sun’s light,
as a reminder.

The Christmas Christ child,
shines light into all the world,
and never leaves us.

Sunday, December 11, 2016

CHRISTMAS MANNA


Mother and Child, Chapel of the Angels, Shepherd's Field, Israel

During this Christmas season, it’s intriguing to ponder that the man who self-identified as “the bread of life” was born in a town whose name means “the house of bread”. His anointed young mother, whose ancestors were saved with the gift of daily manna, laid him in a manger, a feeding trough, and tenderly, lovingly, kissed the face of God.

Saturday, December 10, 2016

RATIONALIZING


Angry Birds, Wrightsville Beach, NC

Years ago, I was familiar with a situation where a man embezzled from his company. I remember a conversation with the man before he was exposed which involved him vehemently bad mouthing the company. Many folks have issues with their employer and occasionally voice those problems. But this man impressed me with the angry passion of his rhetoric. I didn’t hear a lot of facts supporting his emotional outbursts, just a litany of complaints about how oppressing it was to him. I remember thinking to myself that the guy needed to quit his job if he was that dissatisfied. Reflecting on his behavior after his dismissal, it was finally apparent to me why this man was rationalizing his disdain for his employer. It was he that was involved in negative criminal behavior, not the company that was providing his family with a paycheck.

I’ve also listened to folks who don’t want to always follow their conscience and do the right thing. It’s been said that if people want to do something they’ll find a way. If not, they’ll find an excuse. And excuses are generally much easier to come up with compared to actions. Sometimes complaints and negative conversation camouflage those excuses. As the adage goes, actions speak louder than words. It’s also been my observation over the years that it’s very easy to find fault in any endeavor, but it takes some serious effort to find solutions.

An ol' country preacher once remarked that in his experience many of the folks that complained most about the expenses and fund raising at charitable organizations were usually the least generous. Perhaps that also goes along with the way we human beings rationalize our dubious behavior.

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

A ROMANTICIZED SILENCE


GOLAN HEIGHTS SNOW, ISRAEL

There is a great sense of peace when you find yourself safely within the warmth of home while snow is gently falling outside the frosted windows. As the snowflakes gently settle on every inert and living form, they morph into one of nature’s best sound absorbers. The winter moonlight sparkles over the ice crystals and even the persistent falling of these crystalline visitors is muffled by the white landscape.

The lyrics to the classic song, Silent Night, were composed by a young priest prior to his arrival at the St. Nicolas parish church in the Austrian village of Obemdorf. A blizzard had stranded the tiny village the same day the church discovered that their organ was broken. He took the lyrics to the schoolmaster and organist in a nearby village to compose a melody for guitar accompaniment. They performed the song for the first time on Christmas Eve in 1818 in the quiet aftermath of the blizzard.

The first stanza perfectly sets the mood for the lullaby we all know and sing on Christmas Eve today:

Silent night, holy night!
All is calm, all is bright.
Round yon Virgin, Mother and Child.
Holy infant so tender and mild,
Sleep in heavenly peace,
Sleep in heavenly peace.

Our February trip into the Holy Land included a drive up into the legendary Golan Heights. The mountains were covered in fresh snow, somewhat camouflaging the defensive radar installations and the United Nations camp in the valley below. The scene from the warm comfort of our tour bus belied the tensions and conflict just across the Syrian border and not all that far from the place of this holy birth.

I recently learned that this song was sung simultaneously by the German and English troops during the World War I Christmas truce of 1914. The soldiers on both sides of the trenches knew the song and undoubtedly had sung it on many Christmas Eve services in a more peaceful past. And here we are one hundred years later in the midst of another war still romanticizing a night that was not so peaceful for those young soldiers and was quite probably not so peaceful for the young family on that night two thousand years ago.

Thursday, December 1, 2016

THAT’S LIFE



Arnie's Army, Blue Hills CC, MO

That’s Life was a big hit for Frank Sinatra in the sixties. Its brash lyrics suited his style well:

“I said that’s life and as funny as it may seem,
Some people get their kicks
Stompin’ on a dream.
But I don’t let it , let it get me down,
‘Cause this fine old world it keeps spinnin’ around.

I’ve been up and down and over and out,
And I know one thing.
Each time I find myself layin’ flat on my face,
I just pick myself up and get back in the race.”

This could have been the theme song for Arnold Palmer’s life as well. Life isn’t so much about how many times you’ve been knocked down as about how many times you get back up! In his last book, A Life Well Played, Arnold writes that “I suppose the honest truth is that my playing style probably caused me to lose as many majors as I won. But putting the control of a tournament into someone else’s hands and not taking the action of being in control of the situation is much more of a gamble to me. I would rather risk losing any day than lay up and hope for the best. You either go for the cup or you crawl to it…Even when the game gets frustrating, there is absolutely no reason not to remain positive. Because the things we get to do, the opportunities that we have, are tremendous. They are the stuff of our dreams.”

These thoughts took me back to a moment in time thirty years after Sinatra recorded That’s Life. I had taken a Friday vacation day to drive outside Winston-Salem to the Vantage Seniors Tournament where my sole intent was to join Arnie’s Army one last time. Arnie was nearing the twilight of his competitive golfing years and I wanted to just walk the course with him outside the ropes and take in the experience. After walking the front nine it was apparent that one of the young ladies in the small army was Arnie’s daughter who he took time to talk with between holes.

The small army dwindled to just a few of us as we neared the end of the round. But Arnie’s presence spoke volumes about his passion for the game and his desire to promote it. I know he was aware that I was one of the few along with his daughter that continued to follow him in spite of the fact that he was well out of contention. Arnie had lined up a right to left breaking putt of considerable length and he gave it a charge. The putt had just a little too much speed and passed over the cup on the “pro side”. There was still a spark of competitiveness in his reaction to the miss as he looked up into my view. I instinctively reacted by shrugging my shoulders and pursing my lips in a “That’s Life” gesture. Surprisingly, Arnie made eye contact and returned the same response. He gave that putt his best shot and there was no looking back. His legacy was already secure. And that’s an uncompromised life well lived.

(And I was in a much better position to relate to a missed putt than if Arnie had made it!)