Tuesday, November 11, 2014

On Veterans and Service

I have come to realize something, as I've progressed well into my 4th decade... And it's a frightening realization, a sobering one: I almost became a liberal.

Yes, it's true. I was wooed by their idealistic, unsupported course for awhile in my blooming youth; I flirted with the possibility of heading down that circuitous path. I'm not proud of this. I admit it. But that was the greatest threat to me in my post-high-school and early working years. It was not my parents' fear that in college, I was becoming a pothead (I wasn't even close) or that I was having a bit too much fun (well, that one was sort of true)—no, the greatest threat was that I'd go over to the dark side.

Then I spent a few years maturing. I gained a bit more knowledge about history; learned the difference between rights and privileges, and became more adept at managing money responsibly; and I figured out, with help, that true charity doesn't come from government, but from individuals and faith in God. I even spent some time discussing military service and the philosophies behind it with people in the know. Eventually, I straightened out. Becoming a Christian secured cautious conservatism for me... which is odd, because for some people, that same act ensures their liberalism. Weird.

Anyway. I wanted to take a moment to ponder the symbolic veteran of any armed service. There was a recent article on Facebook (why do I even bother with FB?) about how we Americans are over-revering our servicemen and women, people in uniform everywhere, and how those folks are actually terrible people who harm civilians for fun, take advantage of their power, and sexually abuse each other with abandon. And this article made me livid.

People are people, not black and white but all of us gray, and of course there are those among every rank, everywhere, who will wield their power for evil purposes. But people—isn't that the very reason we need armed services? Because sometimes, those people who allow themselves to be ruled by evil instincts are quite attractive? Charismatic? Great speakers and motivators? Don't you think Osama bin Laden had some charms about him? How else would he have inspired such evil acts in his name and the name of his cause? How about Hitler?

People are low-down and messed-up. That's why I became a Christian: because we desperately need a savior to stand in our lowly place come judgement. And when there's a void in a soul, something will always fill the void. Just like the story in the Bible, about the freshly swept out little home that was quickly re-infested because it stood empty (Matthew 11:24-26), desperate people, even well-intentioned ones, will join up with insanity to fill their void. Gangs are popular for this reason; there is even a handful of completely foolish youth from around the globe who are going to stand with ISIS for likely this same reason. There's a void, and they'll fill it with something that gives them purpose, even if there's a chance down the road that they might be asked to behead someone...

Long story short? There will always be people who choose to do bad, and they will often amass a huge crowd of [weak-minded] people to help them. For that wrong force, we need an opposing force of good. And people? A good majority of military people and police officers is good enough for me. There will be exceptions; I can live with that, much more easily than I can live with the ostrich mentality of "can't happen here." WWI and WWII happened. Ho Chi Minh, Rwanda, Darfur—they aren't made up. They're real. Terrible things happen, because of bad people, when good people permit the terrible things. If movers and shakers of those terrible things are unchecked, they will become stronger and even more terrible. Then, if they're not already there, they will visit you at your home.

I do believe that God can change hearts, but only if and when they are willing to be changed. Man has been given free will, and honestly, we do an awfully inept job of employing it wisely. Enter the soldier for the side of what is right. And even if they're not all perfect, American soldiers (and domestic law enforcement, too) of recent history have done a lot to check and/or stop evil people from doing more harm. They've suffered, died, fought, been injured and maimed and mentally haunted for life. They have preserved rights and freedoms by accepting unspeakable assignments. Anyone who sits in a peaceful country, in relative wealth, who's never set foot in danger for the sake of others they probably don't even know—that person does not have the right to speak ill of a soldier. If they sit drinking fancy coffee and typing their litany of complaints on their laptop, while scrolling through messages on their highfalutin phone, that's even more annoying. The "flag burners" need to put up or shut up. Or, they can go live in those places where they tell us our soldiers aren't needed, or are perceived as invading disrespectfully.

The sad truth is that there are bullies in this world of ours. And for the bullies who can't and won't allow their hearts to be changed, there is the American soldier. If I sound patriotic, I'm all right with that; I understand that the word patriot isn't synonymous with terrorist OR idiot. Thank you, veterans, for doing the dirty work so I don't have to.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Quiet madness

That title doesn't really cover it, though. I'm trying to capture what happens most nights for me, sometime around 3 or 4:30am. That's the time I usually jerk awake. The house is still, my husband is breathing slowly and evenly next to me—and like an unwitting inverse correlation to his calm, I can barely catch my breath. I wake from bad dreams at times, but most often I simply open my eyes, feeling immediately anxious, worried about everything under the sun.

Why do I worry? It's pointless. It's unbiblical. It's a sign of weak or absent faith. I know all these things, consider them truths, yet there I lie, silently freaking out. Ebola will continue to spread thanks to unpreparedness in the United States, my family will be struck, some of us will die too soon... ISIS, having penetrated our borders, will begin systematically killing and capturing Americans in random places and the culture of sheep will permit it out of fear of offending someone... Our government will become even more corrupt and the society will crumble into martial law when bankruptcy must be faced and handouts are ended... And those are just the outside-of-our-home concerns. That's not even touching on the hours of darkness spent agonizing over illnesses and injuries, poor decisions and resulting chaos, and general mayhem and angst in the lives of people we care about. Not to mention the fear about my husband's job disappearing, the position replaced by a smaller team or simply deleted because the work has become obsolete, and then I will find that too many years out of the professional realm have rendered me stupid and archaic and worthy of only menial positions... (Thankfully, my dreams about my son disappearing seem to be diminishing.)

I'm driven by logic and reality. I know better, now, than to fill my mind with creepy books and movies about killers, and monsters, and sick-minded individuals—when I used to do that, I had awful thought and visions about those stories. Since I've sworn off that sort of thing for the most part, though, now my fears are always real. I can't easily discount them, especially not after midnight when there is no distraction from my own busy, disturbed brain. I pray, try to focus on other things, try to go back to sleep, and many nights it's all in vain.

I wish I could find solace and escape more easily. At least I think I do. Maybe I choose to be this way. Do we all choose to be the way we are? Happy? Somber? Thoughtful? Selfish? I do believe that sometimes we can influence our focus, but can I ever become a woman who wakes in the night and feels only peace? I want to be that woman. God wants me to be that woman. Becoming that woman is so much more challenging.

That's why I haven't written much lately. My skittering thoughts are still ponderous, albeit fast-moving. I don't know how that's even possible, but it is. And the older I get, the less important it feels to share them. To say anything, really, seems more and more futile.

Sorry for the downward spiral; it's fall, leaves are spinning down on my head, a harsh winter awaits, and I'm just being real. To quote a good friend, "it's part of my charm," you know. Carry on.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Spoiled, and lazy

I haven't posted anything for awhile. To be quite candid, this time of year is a bit of a downer for me. I love summer, love the simplicity of it, love the long days. School starts, and I suddenly find myself drowning in a deep pool of melancholia. The kid's getting older. I'm getting older. The world is in sorry shape, the economy continues to founder in spite of what MSM tells you, and I'm pretty much expecting that in my lifetime, my homeland will be overtaken by hostile forces.

So. You'll see why I've been biting my tongue. Nobody wants to read that sort of thing. I'm the kind of person who sends others scurrying away from the water cooler when I approach.

I'm still in that low place some days, but I had an enjoyable moment recently when I was re-reading an old classic from high school. George Orwell's 1984 is just as appalling and brilliant as it was when I was 16. I was inspired to read it again, along with some other old titles, because I've run into some pretty common, unimpressive books lately. Some have been freebies on my Kindle, so I guess I should have expected substandard sentence structures and flat characters. But still... Somebody, somewhere, published these books. They can't all have been self-published. One of them was so flagrantly incoherent and non-cohesive that I was tempted to look up the author—and was smacked in the face by review after review (by readers, for what those are worth) that sang the praises of this particular woman and her various self-centered, narcissistic memoirs.

Really? I mean, she wasn't absolutely terrible, but she skipped around, she didn't develop anything fully, the order of events was difficult to follow and often left matters unresolved... It wasn't good writing.

I started dissecting other recent books that had disappointed me... and then I gave up because I'd figured out the problem: I'm a former English major. I have taught some of the most amazing authors, after having been immersed in them, and likely because of that I began years ago to expect greatness from the written word. That's not to say I loved all of them, but constant exposure to true talent caused me to raise my standards across the board, regardless of writing style, point of view, or syntax. I'm not a fan of Tolkien, but I can appreciate his flair for description. I never liked Poe, but he could create a macabre setting better than almost anyone. Steinbeck's characters have stayed strong in my mind for decades. Welty painted a warm, slightly uncomfortable picture of the South.

My point is that the classics have become classic for good reason—at least most of them. Those guys and gals could write. They were masters of the language, and they understood that every aspect of writing matters. It isn't enough to be emotive; fantastic word choices won't save a poor plot. Characters I find to be unbelievable will become characters I don't care about enough to finish reading the book.

So you see why I've been spoiled. Poor literature is beneath me. Life is too short. And the lazy part of the post title? I've reached middle age now, and I've grown more choosey about how I spend my time. I've always been a believer in reading a book I love many times instead of trying to read as many different books as possible. These days, I feel even more strongly about that. My favorites? I've revisited them over and over. Some of those more recent releases? There are some great ones, but a whole lot of them are pretty shallow and temporary, and I'm decided that I don't have the energy to bother finishing them once I've determined that they're lacking. Which, according to my way of thinking, doesn't make me truly lazy—just discerning and decisive.

I suppose if I'm going to be spoiled, then this is a more desirable form of it than most.

Monday, July 28, 2014

Thoughts that crawl and climb like ivy

I have been a terrible blogger this summer. Appointments have cropped up, weddings and parties, weird weather, visits with friends and family—all have been speeding past me until my head is spinning a tad.

Then last week, somehow, I was struck by dreaded poison ivy. And I don't just get a happy patch or two, heck NO—I get bumpy, itchy rashes all over my body. Apparently my skin reacts to the oil, then all the rest of my body reacts to that bit of skin... Fun stuff. And then, the rash stays, and stays. Sometimes the redness dies down, and I get excited and think that perhaps, the urushiol oil is finished binding to the proteins in my skin and has begun to break down. But then, as I said, white bumps start to show up everywhere else... and I realize that the suffering isn't over yet.

Knowing this pattern, and my skin, I gave up fairly quickly after discerning the problem and I made a doctor appointment. I alternately scratched and applied calamine lotions for 36 hours, then drove to the doc to beg and weep for a steroid of some kind. I hate to be a quitter, but honestly, I'm going to let myself off the hook this time. I have washed every item that could possibly have housed the awful oil. I have threatened husband and son who may have brought it into the house. I have directed countless hairy eyeballs at the neighbor's side yard, which was littered with the stuff until just a few days ago. And I've been taking steroids, which are working, although not without other issues: sleepless nights, restless days, fingers and toes I can't keep still, stomach yuck. But I'm not scratching myself raw, so that's something. Right?

I keep thinking about the experience, though, and a few thoughts stand out. I think, not for the first time, of how different this rash might have looked for some poor pioneers who set out and had to clear trees and woods in order to do pretty much anything else, even just move forward. If I've been miserable, I with my lotions and air conditioning and comfy light fabrics—then how much more must they have suffered with long, heavy clothes, perspiration, and relentless heat beating on them. I wonder if they knew of the devilish green poison, if perhaps some of them knew where to find aloe or jewel weed to ease the irritation. I wonder if any ignorant newcomers, city-folk perhaps, touched the terrible plant, or (worse) burned it... and then scratched every part of themselves, thus spreading the horror. I wonder how long it took for people to get smart and recognize the cause. Or give their oil-bearing dog a bath. Or whatever.

(I think about older cultures often; I thought of them constantly after having a baby. I think of them when I do laundry in my easy-peasey washing machine. I think of them when I drive a car and arrive in minutes instead of hours. How lazy they would likely think us all. No wonder there's an obesity epidemic.)

I've been pondering, too, just how remarkably easy it is to be unaware of suffering and torment unless it is your own. I know other people with skin issues, far more serious conditions than a temporary redness. With constant pain, even. So I itch for a couple of days and have a mini-breakdown... Pretty pathetic. Our son woke up last week with a pinched nerve in his neck, and for a day had trouble turning his head one way, and it was so awful—yet we know someone who has that trouble daily, and on a much more serious scale. Even my 9-year-old recognized the teachable moment by commenting that now he understood better what life must be like for that friend of ours.

We are all such self-centered creatures for the most part, and then our shallow, me-first culture further ingrains that sort of thinking until it is quite easy to avoid considering, especially in depth, what others around us are suffering. My prayer today is not just to be grateful, but also to have more sensitivity to whatever the people around me are enduring. Whatever their troubles are, I know that to each of them who carry the burden, that trouble is heaviest. We are all shouldering something, but we can help each other, notice each other, connect personally, and most of all? We can take our burdens to the Savior. The Holy Spirit opens our eyes and hearts, and Jesus invites us to accept His mercy and share it with all.

This was a rather meandering post, wasn't it? Back to the rash, I think this is officially an item on my "questions to ask God someday" list. Why poison ivy? It'll show up slightly above or below the "why mosquitos?" question, depending on the timing of my most recent ivy outbreak.

Wear gloves and spray on some Deet, then go in peace.
Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you: not as the world giveth, give I unto you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid. -John 14:27 (KJV)

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Diatribe, or die tryin'

My goodness, I certainly have been an absentee blogger, haven't I?! I didn't realize just how many days had passed since my last post. It's been a loooong time. This might be my new record for blog neglect. Alas, the hiatus has ended because I am moved to write.

I finally caved and became a Facebook member; I'm sad to report that it is often as pathetic and pointless as I feared. Yet. It seems to invite people to become at least partially informed, if you happen to be friendly with informed people who post meaningful links to factual information. Facebook is responsible, at least in part, for my need to express myself today.

Why am I writing? I suppose that I'm at my wit's end with clueless people. I'm frustrated by the general lack of interest most Americans display. I'm embarrassed that my fellows would rather follow the World Cup than the immigration crisis and its mealy-mouthed managers. I want to shout at the masses, to expound upon the reasons why we even had all those picnics and fireworks last weekend. Did you know that an alarming amount of Americans don't understand the point of Independence Day, let alone how and when it came to exist? They know the finalists on the latest television talent show, but they don't know about the recent Supreme Court rulings that had conservatives celebrating a tad.

When did apathy become fashionable? And more importantly, when did the land of the free become the land of free? How quickly we choose to be distracted from bad news, from violence and murdered children, from evil marching across a country with intent to destroy good. If it's not our country, or our children, we turn the channel. It's disheartening how quickly we disconnect from everything that does not directly affect us.

But what happens here will affect us, you see. Because we're a united group of states, under Oblamma's inept leadership and tutelage. We're like the separate systems of the body, which also function to create one large being. And we all end up impacting each other—just like all the water eventually gets mixed with all the other water, rain and storm drain and purified sewage and chemical run-off. One drop must be affected by the rest. We are not exclusive.

And what happens in our high levels of government affects us all, in time. What happens in other countries and their economies affects us, in time. We're all globally interconnected. But I can't even touch on that whole mishmash of ignorance about world affairs. I'm too concerned about ignorance at home.

People came to this country years and years ago because they were desperate. They wanted freedom to pursue the things they valued: God, jobs, family, community, food and homes. They wanted to start fresh in a place where your rank in society paled in comparison to your work ethic. Equal opportunity was intended to mean access to opportunities, not assured success and acceptance. The home of the free was aptly named because people exchanged tyranny and control for opportunities to work and earn, to climb from poverty on a sturdy ladder that would not sway or snap when the government changed hands.

The land of the free isn't supposed to offer everything for free. Capitalism believes in competition. That is where opportunity truly lies. And everybody in America will never all be completely equal. Some people are smarter or richer, some are destitute or unattractive, some had a great childhood while other scraped a living out of garbage. But the opportunities still exist for everyone to grow, to learn, to change their story. That's freedom. It's not government-dictated equality. People will share when they have enough to do so, or when they are moved by their faith in someone bigger than themselves to help them multiply what they have to help take care for others. Charity and generosity of spirit can't be mandated without resulting bitterness and hard feelings.

Hobby Lobby is not telling its employees they cannot seek an abortion. Hobby Lobby is not denying its employees the opportunity to end an unborn life. It's not even forbidding them to use birth control; in fact, it's still paying for some of those prescriptions. Hobby Lobby's offense? It's simply not interested in paying for the more gruesome forms of that "choice" to terminate a pregnancy. Isn't that the right of the employer? If I owned a business, and had an employee who drank loads of hard liquor daily, then came to me and wanted me to pay for a life-or-death kidney transplant, I'd have a problem with that. The condition, after all, was caused by choices that person made. That's why people created this country—to have choices. Isn't it? Why is a bakery being forced to bake a wedding cake for a same-sex couple? Isn't that the choice of the bakery? It's certainly the choice of the people in love who are shopping for a cake to go where they want. That's why competition works, people. Because there are choices. If someone bakes horrid cakes, no one goes there. If someone bakes great gay cakes, then word gets out. Right?

Choices. We must uphold the ability to choose in this country. To choose. Period. Our self-appointed king and his big-mouthed wife can tell their own children what to eat for lunch; I'll make that decision for myself and my own family. And citizenship? Yes, it's a choice, and an opportunity. We will never be able to make all those helpless children into comfortable citizens. Even if we do? By the time they're grown, the term "citizen" will have no meaning, and the greatness of the country that drew those people will have fallen to unrecognizable standards that no longer even resemble our forefathers' Republic.

Those first true Americans weren't perfect. They were determined, and they had an opportunity... and ultimately those were worth more than any hand-out. Don't let their hard work slip away. Watch, read, learn, and speak when informed. It's still your choice.

For now, at least.

Monday, May 19, 2014

The place to be

Last Saturday, I fought the road construction, the latest "fundraising walk of the week" road closures, and the general mayhem and confusion that is driving in downtown Pittsburgh. I fought it because by God, the kid and I had decided we were going to visit the Ft. Pitt museum and learn about old-fashioned Pittsburgh leisure activities.

We headed toward town, ended up being forced off the parkway thanks to lane restrictions, then (thanks to stadium lot closures) found ourselves in a no-way-back trek northward in the HOV lane (no, we did not want or intend to head north), and then finally came back down to town... where we paid too much to park near Point State Park. In addition to Ft. Pitt Museum's throwback leisure day (where I kicked my child's butt at lawn bowling), there was an outdoor festival happening simultaneously—lots of kiosks and stands dedicated to encouraging people and families to get outdoors and climb, hike, ride, explore, etc. It was quite inspiring, and less than stellar weather did not slow anyone down. Youngsters climbed a wall, my son tried out a 3-wheeler intended to rehabilitate folks with lower-body injuries, and we indulged in the most expensive soft pretzel ever. (Luckily, it wasn't bad...)

But we were at the Point. And short of a torrential downpour, floods, tornadoes, or black ice, one simply cannot visit the Point without making the walk to the Big Fountain. It's impossible to resist. The foaming tower of water, the hordes of humans milling around its base, the fantastic scene that unfolds before you in every direction—it's a favorite destination for a reason. Everybody loves it. You feel bigger there, and yet smaller, too. You are surrounded by manmade grandeur, yet also steeped in history. You're not far from that primitive little blockhouse, oldest structure in the 'burgh, but you're also staring across the water at a submarine, a football stadium, the science center cone, and one of the two inclines that crawl up and down the face of Mt. Washington. You're standing where original city settlers stood, where Frenchmen made a stand, where native Americans came aground. You're positioned right in the midst of Lewis and Clark's starting point.

A lot has happened on that piece of property.

And a lot is still happening there, albeit perhaps on a different scale. As we walked toward the fount, a park worker offered to take our photo. (He must have pitied us, as we attempted a somewhat-centered dual selfie while perched on a rock.) We accepted his kindness, posing, then chatted with him. He shared a funny story about a recent visitor to the park. A smallish fellow had come walking on the very same path we were exploring, had struck up a conversation with this gardener. They'd talked about how the fellow was staying uptown near the Consol Center, and eventually the visitor's identity became clear: Kenny G. Yep, the Kenny G. He was strolling anonymously through the park before his big concert performance. How cool is that? Our new friend shared how friendly and unassuming Kenny had been, how'd he'd laughed at the suggestion that he should be exploring the fair city with an entourage.

Even Kenny G likes Point State Park, and wanders through the shady greenery while gazing out at the massive waters that flow past.

If you can make your way around that vast fountain, and observe children giggling in the spray, and watch lovers adoring each other as they whisper sweet nothings in the clamor of the tumbling waters... If you can hear the tugboats alert each other as they pass, and trains send their high-pitched whistle skyward—if you can take all that in without smiling, then you're a rare human being... and quite possibly a joyless one.

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Yellow car syndrome

Someone came up with this funny phrase to describe a sudden hyper-awareness of something that you really hadn't much noticed before. For example, you buy a yellow car—and then, over and over, you are amazed at how many other people drive yellow vehicles, too. (We here in our home call it the "super-old Chevy Cavalier station wagon" syndrome... Or, we would call it that if we ever saw any other old Chevy wagons...)

I'm experiencing the yellow car syndrome myself these days; in the past few months, I've become extremely sensitive to the aging, frail population around me. I had already known that Pittsburgh was way up there on the list of cities with unusually high numbers of oldsters; I remember fretting about it in my single days. Yet suddenly, everywhere I look, I am visually accosted by the elderly, many of them struggling to complete simple daily tasks.

Now, I realize that this is partly because I have free time during weekday mornings in which to run errands, do shopping, and complete other household tasks. Of course I'm going to see more retired and infirm people then. (Weekends, on the other hand, are the time when you are inundated with babies and toddlers being dragged from place to place.) But my awareness isn't just age-related—it goes deeper. I am noticing crippled and gnarled fingers, bent-over spines, and people with walkers and canes. I even find myself counting the walkers, noting without trying just how many people around me require walking assistance. I am frequently arrested by just how many of the handicapped spaces are taken—sometimes all of them. Without trying, I notice a delicate white-haired lady at the grocery, trying desperately, with swollen, bent fingers, to open the clear plastic bag in which to put her produce. (Yes, I helped her.) It seems that everywhere, overnight, people have begun moving slowly, painstakingly, with difficulty.

And it's not just the older folks. I am suddenly, by way of association, aware of young people with physical limitations,too. We know a few people who have ongoing physical conditions, and now I find myself making note of similar symptoms and movements that would indicate that same or a related condition. I recognize the expression of pain on someone's face, the stiffness of joints that necessitates careful, gradual movements.

I'm sure my heightened sensitivity is related to my mother's failing health. I'm equally certain that my own advancing age, well into middle years at this point, might also be bringing home the point that these bodies of ours aren't meant to last forever. They are weak, and breakable. They can mend themselves in our youth and well beyond. But then? Those so-called golden years? Nature demands that we begin to deteriorate.

The most heartbreaking scene for me lately was a perky older woman pushing a younger lady in a wheelchair through Michaels craft store. There I was, inwardly kvetching about the traffic, and how I wasn't getting everything done that I'd hope to do, and how the sun wasn't out, grouch, groan. At that moment, the woman rolled her wheelchair-bound companion slowly past me, talking gently as she went. She reached for something on the shelf for her friend, placed it in her lap, and the recipient offered a barely audible, hardly decipherable word of thanks. I noticed how lovingly the elder woman responded, the kindness in her voice, the unhurried way she helped the other. I felt very small, and spoiled, and shallow.

It is good to be aware of this sort of thing. Good, because I can act when I see a need. Good, because I will appreciate my health, my body that still mostly does what I ask it to do. Good, because God has opened my eyes. I pray I will remember to be His hands to this growing number of opportunities. I hope I will remember to be thankful, and to act with gladness and obedience. Any of the folks I've been noticing could be, likely will be, me.