Thursday, May 3, 2018

One Christian Woman’s View on the Outlander Series

(Originally posted June of 2015, I will leave it up this time despite the controversy.)

  Two years ago a neighbor of mine named Pamela was excited to discover that I was a writer. She knew I was of Scots-Irish descent and that I like strong female lead characters in the books I write as well as those that I read. She asked me if I had time to read just one more book. I flatly told her that I didn’t have time. I had my own novels to complete. She insisted, and handed me a paperback. I sat in her living room and contemplated the thick blue book she’d reverently placed in my hands, an almost worshipful look in her eyes. I handed it back to her and said, “I can’t take your book, it must mean a lot to you.”

  “That’s quite all right,” she insisted. “The author signed the entire series for me, in hardback! You can keep this copy.”

  Then Pam began to tell me the tale of Claire Randall, an army nurse enjoying her first real vacation just after World War Two. She is on her second honeymoon with her beloved husband Frank, a man she knows very little about because their respective assignments with the British army had separated them shortly after their wedding.  She and Frank are attempting to rekindle their love in Scotland, enjoying the countryside when Claire finds herself at a small version of Stonehenge. She is transported back two hundred years, but in her disorientation doesn’t realize the full impact of her journey. At first she thinks she’s found herself in the middle of a historical reenactment.

  Claire thinks she sees Frank, but the man before her is actually a distant relative of his, serving in the army of King George. Clad in full redcoated malevolence, “Black Jack” Randall will take advantage of any situation. Usually Randall’s favorite prey is young men, but Claire is alone and he is a cruel, mean opportunist. He seizes Claire, about to have his way with the helpless time traveler, when a Scotsman takes her captive, in essence saving her. She later meets a wounded Scot named Jamie, a chieftain of the Clan MacKenzie. During their Journey to a stark grey castle, Claire tends to Jamie’s bullet wound and resets a dislocated shoulder. She later becomes a healer to the people at Castle Leoch. (Thus begins an adventure that I later discovered contains eight books with more to come.)

  Pamela spent at least a half hour telling me what I summed up in the synopsis above. She smiled, showed me her hardback copies signed by author Diana Gabaldon, then handed me the paperback once more. “. . And I hear that casting has begun to make a movie of the first book! Here, give Outlander a chance.” Her dogs were panting. It was a hot, humid July evening. I was literally itching to leave at this point. She looked at me, imploring me to read the story. “It’s historical fiction.”

  I, like most Mormons, participate in genealogy and love history, so I acquiesced and told her I would read the novel. I took it home and never opened it. In the winter I returned to the desert and placed the paperback on a shelf, where it remained unopened. The following spring, my daughter and I both began to read Outlander and I even listened to it on a CD borrowed from the library. I was in for a surprise, led into a very sensual, well written story. The plot, subplots and scenes sometimes left me shaken. Many times I felt like I was alongside Claire in her harrowing adventures.

  My daughter later found out that a television series was in the works, more than just the movie that Pam had gushed about. I had so much to share with my Outlander-loving friend! I called Pam’s phone, left messages and also texted to tell her how exciting the book was, but never heard from her. I found it strange, but I knew she had a horse and was busy with grooming and riding, so when I returned to Michigan I knocked on Pam’s door. She didn’t answer. I tried a few days later. Still no answer. I found it strange that her dogs weren’t barking like they usually did whenever I knocked.  Pam wasn’t one to hang out on Facebook, but when she didn’t even respond to the birthday wishes left on her timeline, I began to worry. I found out from a young lady later that month that Pam had suddenly moved away. She’d had terminal cancer and hadn’t told anyone except those closest to her. My friend was gone; taken from this earth. I was in a momentary state of shock. My mind was floating in a purgatory-like frame-of-mind, I had nobody that I could share the Outlander adventure with.

  Later in August, the real adventure began. I was heart-sick that Pam couldn’t share in it. Producer Ron Moore and the STARZ Channel gave Outlander fans what they’d been waiting for, the series “Outlander,” an epic drama combining romance, history, science fiction and very realistic battle scenes. The cinematography and score are beautiful in their own right, braiding and knotting Diana Gabaldon’s stories into a beautiful, gripping saga. . .and there is controversy, at least among Americans.

  The show is European in style and most of us are not used to nudity. Let me point out to those of you reading my blog, this is not pornography. It may be classified as erotica, but even then I personally would not call it that. The episodes feature nudity, but the love-making is between a husband and his wife. Without giving all plotlines away and spoiling the stories for potential viewers, the groom is a virgin man, a Catholic, who honors the virtue of womanhood. It is better explained in the novels, but he will not take advantage of a woman’s heart. There are a couple episodes dealing with rape and an honorable young man is tortured and sodomized by Black Jack Randall, the previously mentioned sadistic Redcoat. The poor lad is violated both body and soul. Former military nurse Claire is the only one who has 20th Century knowledge of how to heal his wounds, but how will she mend his soul? She confesses her plight to a robed man of God in a monastery that she and her Scottish rebels have taken shelter in. The monk gently listens to her tale of time travel and calls it a miracle. He urges her to bring the sexually abused Scottish warrior back to the light. I found this refreshing. Many times Christian beliefs are maligned in our modern media.

  Bringing her beloved patient back to what is light and good and Holy prove to be a challenge as the lad has pledged his soul and body to the Redcoat devil, Black Jack. The victim’s God-father suggests that Claire may have to step into the darkness herself to bring the scarred and branded man back into the light.  The poor youth’s mind is so broken from the cruel psychological games and alcohol that the he partially blames himself for being repeatedly violated by Black Jack. The Redcoat had already attempted to rape both the man’s sister and spouse. Claire must bring the lad back to his senses and make him believe that none of this was his fault.

  I will admit, although I am only part way through the book series and I just watched the last episode of the first season, there are times I just have to step away. Due to my own life experience and trauma, the last things I want to witness are violence, battles, blood and psycho-sexual torture; but I want to read the entire series. I’m also considering the companion books in the Lord John Grey Series.

  As much as I love “Outlander” on STARZ I will warn you, my readers, this show is not for the faint of heart. It is rated for Mature Audiences.  The scenes can be gory and heart wrenching. Seeing a man die after a boar hunt was perhaps the most heartbreaking episode in the first season for me, next to the scenes where Black Jack Randall takes a mallet to his current prisoner’s hand, delivering powerful, repeated blows meant to cripple the victim. There is full frontal nudity, both male and female. The sexual scenes, while not meant to arouse, may do just that. The aforementioned young couple is newly married and very much in love. I personally would have preferred a version that would leave more to the imagination.

  The bottom line is this:  author Diana Gabaldon has weaved a tale that, although it begins in Scotland and contains the supernatural, tells the story of why there was an American Revolution. The wild, freedom-loving Scots were denied their culture, their local government and the man they believed was king was replaced by a false king—George the Second. He was later succeeded by his grandson George the Third (the King of England during the American Revolutionary War). The Scots, many of whom were shipped to the American Colonies and then sold into indentured slavery following Culloden, were not about to live under tyranny again.

  To me, the Outlander series tells the story of freedom and America. The show is igniting and reigniting people to think about what freedom means. It goes beyond fireworks and a weekend off work. It is the right to think and believe and survive without being compelled by a king or any government. It reminds us that we the people make and keep the laws, not a king or a few people in a central government. It means that the citizens will make their own informed decisions and rule themselves by the laws of God despite power-hungry politicians that believe they know better than free-minded individuals. 

  If the series encourages viewers to think about where their ancestors came from and what they ultimately fought for then that’s only the beginning. I hope that Ron Moore’s television series based on Diana Gabaldon’s book will never sanitize the horrors of war or become politically correct. History is history, something to learn from, a launching point to discuss political issues, not gloss them over. Romance and a little divine intervention are interwoven into this tale to make it sell, of course. In the meantime, I fully intend to enjoy the scenery.  While I’m at it, I’ll have a Scotch on the rocks.

See the source image

Saturday, April 21, 2018

Me? Me, too? Originally Titled "Swimming with Has-beens"

(I had such a weird experience some time ago and posted it, but then quickly took it off of this blog. That was before the "Me Too" movement. I wanted to post this again, at that time, but then realized that some people would view my comments as wanting to jump on the band-wagon. I've actually had worse experiences that I won't get into. The reason that I share this story is that I've always been strong enough to say ,"No!"  In this case, the Neanderthal-perp actually tried to shame me as not being a real woman when I backed away from him. So, month after month, I've hesitated to tell my story. It's been a year, almost, since I've added anything to my blog.  I had a busy summer of editing and writing another book. In Autumn life got in the way of my creativity. Yet, my story needed to be told.  I finally decided that there is no time like the present to finally be brave and post to my blog, warts-and-all. Here is my story.)

I get into a pool in an undisclosed desert-area resort (for those of you who don’t know where I live and/or visit in the winter months, I’m not telling.) I make innocent small-talk with an elderly fellow. I noticed earlier he had a lot of chutzpah and carried himself confidently like he owns the place.  A lot of people there know him. He looks very familiar and I recognize him from somewhere, something.

Well, he swims over to me after commenting that some old geezer coming out of the hot-tub had white, see-through swim trunks. (Why, yes he did and my eyes are still in pain.) Mr. Chutzpah keeps getting closer and I realize nobody else is in the pool at that moment. He is an arm’s length away and notifies me that his wife is out of town.  I use my water weights to subtly swim away all the while keeping eye contact. I realize this guy was a well-known entity in the 1970s, a singer and actor. (I’ve seen other celebrities at this athletic club. It’s known for its discretion and privacy.) He wants me to see how big his thumbs are. I see where this situation is going and back away as courteously as I can. He asks if I’m married and I say, “Yes,” to which he replies that he just wants to be friends and that he hates the word, “Maybe”. I get major creep-factor vibes by this time and tell him that I grew up in Detroit and know how to defend myself; that I can and will hurt guys that get too close. He stops his advance and yells, “I bet you think all men have the same thoughts and want the same things, don’t you?” I say, “Yes, they all do but most know how to control themselves.” I swim to the other side of the pool close to the hot-tub where another bather is relaxing. He asks if he can use my towel because he doesn’t have one. I say, “NO!”

"What's wrong with you?" he gripes. The creep gets out muttering something about lesbians, gives me a sideways glance and grabs a towel out of his gym bag. He leaves the pool and says “Arrivederci, Bitch!” I was incredibly relieved that he left.

(Hey, Dude, I don’t care if you were a big deal in music and on the big-screen forty years ago. Now, you are a dirty, itty-bitty old man that doesn't respect personal space or your wife’s feelings. Stay away, you little nerd, because I might have looked vulnerable in the water, but I'm Hell-on-land and know how to fight. I don’t want to, but I can. I’ve been through Hades and back in my life and I will not tolerate your creepy behavior. I don’t care if someone whistles. That is a compliment. If someone holds a door open for me I say “Thank you,” to the gentleman. If someone says, “Hey, baby,” I am flattered -- but "nobody" violates my space even if he thinks he is some big-deal. Get stuffed, you old has-been.)

Sunday, May 28, 2017

Have We as a Nation Lost our Perspective?

I have a view. You have a view. We all have views. I look into the wild blue yonder and see a cloud. To me it is a castle. You see a fortress. Someone else sees the New York City skyline. I see a whale. You see a shark. Those other people see a seal, yet we are all looking at the same sky!

Matthew, Mark and John all knew Jesus. Their recollections of our Savior are the beginning of the New Testament. We also have Luke’s beautiful narrative that tells us of the Nativity, which the other Gospels do not have. Matthew, Mark, Luke and John all shared the same story about the greatest man who ever lived. Each individual shares another detail, a different perspective, and they are all right.

Yes, there are things that are clearly black and white, wrong and right—that’s obvious. Yet, grey areas are all around us. Stealing is wrong, but who would begrudge a child inside of a refugee camp a crust of bread that he snatches from a kitchen? Committing a robbery and shooting the victim is wrong. However, using a gun to save your family’s life if a bad man is trying to assault your children is justifiable.

I like to give to causes. I tithe to my church. The church then distributes the money to hungry families and hurricane victims, etc. I would feel differently if a hurricane survivor forcibly demanded that I hand over what little I have when I myself am struggling. I like to give, willingly. I don’t like to be coerced and robbed. It’s all a matter of perspective.

Some of you supported the candidates that ran in last year’s elections. Many saw saviors that had the potential to put our nation back on the right path. From my point of view not one of them was truly worthy of the office of president. From my view, they had no real direction. Of those that courted the voting masses, some were well-meaning. Others were self-serving. They each had a viewpoint that in some portion was right, but to me as a whole, was wrong. With all the confusion, and fighting, I’m afraid that our voters lost their perspective of what is good for our entire country, for everyone.

Getting back to the story I mentioned a couple posts back, about the elephant, I feel I need to ask if we are all blind. Are some of us grasping a trunk and others a tail? Can we not see what is best, not for just one group but for all Americans? Can we once again have a nation that is for the people, by the people, of the people?

Sadly, from my perspective, the answer is, “No”.

Sunday, April 23, 2017

Holocaust Remembrance Day

Zachor  זכור  -- Let Us Not Forget.

Recently I went to a talk by Ben Lesser, a survivor of the Nazi Death Camps. I listened to his story of beatings and hunger, the wailing of burning children, and ashes that fell like snowflakes. His speaking engagement preceded Holocaust Remembrance Day, which corresponds to the 27th day of Nisan on the Hebrew calendar—April 24, 2017 this year for many in the western world. It commemorates Shoah, an era when the Nazis displaced and murdered millions of Jews. The Nazis continued the carnage when they exterminated the disabled. They also snuffed out the lives of countless Gypsies and some sects of Christians. They permanently silenced those that disagreed with them. They invaded neighboring countries and also killed their Jews, disabled, Gypsies and those that attempted to fight them physically or ideologically.

Forty years ago when I first heard about Shoah I asked my German-born mother Ann, who was a child during World War Two, “Why did the soldiers starve the prisoners? Why did the soldiers shave their captives’ heads?” As my mother gently told me about World War Two era Germany, she dug deep into her soul, to try to give life to memories that she’d buried deep inside.

Both my mother and grandmother had what would now be called “post-traumatic stress disorder” or PTSD. My grandmother Karola disliked Adolf Hitler and despite Der Führer’s hypnotizing voice, she said, in essence, that the man was insane. Before my grandfather went off to war, he cautioned Karola to never speak out loud against Hitler—ever. It wasn’t that my grandfather was a big fan of the German Chancellor; it was that he knew speaking out could lead to death and imprisonment.  Another instance that led to my mother’s PTSD was the horrific rape and murder of her cousin by Russian soldiers.

Frequently my mother had to take cover in bomb shelters.  One time, she was visiting relatives in Mannheim. My grandparents felt that Mannheim was a safe place since it was known for its culture and arts and beautiful palace. Nonetheless, British war-planes dropped bombs, explosives, and incendiaries on the city.  My relatives sought shelter. There were people still outside the door, pounding and pleading to be let inside, and with every bomb, the structure shook as if it was inside a thundercloud. Once the “All Clear” was given, the door was opened. Some of the people were still alive. The relatives found one of my mother’s cousins outside of the shelter; the young woman’s head had been so traumatized that her eyes had hemorrhaged and the sclera surrounding her pupils were blood read. She’d also been trampled and was barely alive. There are far too many instances of air-raids and running for cover for me to remember or list. After one such night, as my mother left the shelter the next morning, she looked around in horror: people and animals hung in pieces from the shattered tree limbs.

During this era, my great uncle was arrested by SS agents after he’d gotten into an argument with them. He’d been drinking, and as he wheeled his bike shakily from the biergarten, the agents were waiting for him. They beat the poor man and put him into a concentration camp. This is just one instance of what the German government did to its own Christian citizens.  What they did to Jewish citizens was savagely cruel—but it happened.

My mother went on to tell me that during the war, there was very little to eat, sometimes no food at all for the common German citizen. Oh, most likely top Nazis fed on the best sausages and pastries, but every-day people were starving. For a time her family had rabbits. Mother and her young brother Heinz gathered weeds and grass for the little animals. Sometimes her father would cook a couple rabbits, preparing a special meal steeped in a rich cream sauce; but after a bomb fell on their apartment, there was no more fresh meat.

“None of us had food. Not even a potato. If the government couldn’t find food for its people, if markets were rubble, if there was no way for us to work and obtain food, how were the soldiers expected to feed the people in the concentration camps? I’m sure the commanders and big shots in the offices ate like kings, but do you think they would share with the Jews? NO!”

Mother continued, quietly “To answer your other question, heads were shaved because of the lice. Everyone had them back then. One time we lined up for a bath-house. It was a common practice. Many people did not have plumbing, but we were allowed to bathe sometimes in these showers; women and small children in one line and men in the other. Once, a woman in front of me let her pretty, long dark hair down. She shook it loose and I could see the nits and lice on her! Then we went through the doors to shower. After that, I had lice too, as did my brother!”  The shower could not wash off what had dropped on her body and belongings. Until the day she died, my mother could not stand the smell of hair, especially unwashed tresses.

Her stories gave me a different perspective.

Once, my mother told me of the time when she was a young adolescent. She was deathly ill from diphtheria and nearly died. In Ann’s young life, she had suffered every childhood illness known at that time, and this one was closing off her throat. Karola left the bedroom and my mother resolved to die. She closed her eyes, but opened them again. There at the edge of Ann’s bed sat “Death”. Through blurred vision she stared at him in disbelief. He was not dressed in a black robe, but wore clothes that were barely rags.  The specter gazed down upon her with pity. He looked like a skeleton. Ann could see ribs through his thin clothing. She couldn’t be sure—did the monster even have eyeballs? All she could see were black rimmed, hollow orbs where the eyes should be. Ann covered her face and peeked once more, yet there it remained, that dark angel. Death was now sitting closer to her, staring down. Ann squeezed her eyes tightly. When she looked again the apparition had disappeared. Karola was there about to spoon something into Ann’s throat. My mother tried to explain that the Angel of Death almost took her soul, but was unable to speak. Karola soothed the frightened girl and forced the medicine upon her child.

My mother told the story to only her family and closest friends. She opened up a little more in the decades following the war. In the late 1980s, Mother made one of her last trips back to Germany. She was at a party and saw a very old man she used to know and almost did not recognize him. He asked her to dance and she said, “I have not seen you since I was very little, before the war!”

The man said, “Anneliese, we saw each other afterwards, but maybe you do not remember? You were so very sick. I’d just gotten out of a concentration camp. I found your family somehow, before I even found my own. Karola asked me inside and made a special request: would I watch you while she went to get some medicine. I sat at the edge of your bed and you stared at me for a long time, then drifted off to sleep. I was not sure if you were alive until you struggled for a breath or two. When you awoke again, you couldn’t take your gaze from me. You fell asleep and soon your mother returned with the medicine.”

Ann, at that time nearing sixty herself, hugged the old man and told him her story. “I thought you were the Angel of Death! I told people that Death had come for me, but it was you!”

In her mind and from her perspective, Death was an actual creature that truly had a face. Until her eyes were truly opened to the facts, she insisted this “angel” had come to take her life.

When I was a child, I did not know that most people in Europe were starving and infested with parasites and disease–that is, until my mother told me. Again, what the Nazis did to their own citizens was unconscionable. What they did to the people of the surrounding countries was amoral. What they did to the Jewish people is truly unbelievable. Ben Lesser himself said that he and many of his fellow prisoners could not believe that a civilized, cultured people could do this to their fellow humans in the 20th Century.

I will add perspective is one thing; complete denial is another. Many people can have a shared experience and come out of it with a different story or nuance of it. Yet, there are those that deny that the Holocaust even happened. There are photographs of the dying, the dead, and the walking dead. These snapshots came from many sources: the German government, the allied soldiers that liberated the prisoners etc. There were plans and blueprints of the death camps discovered after the Allies arrived. There were the personal narratives of Nazi soldiers, American soldiers and the people that somehow survived places like Dachau, Auschwitz, Chelmno, Bergen-Belsen and others.

Yet, there are individuals and groups that state, as fact, that there was no wholesale slaughter of eleven million people. They deny that there were gas chambers, ovens, mass graves, starvation and forced labor. They do not acknowledge that there are buildings that still stand as a testament to mankind’s cruelty to man. Whatever the reason, they deny the truth. Their argument is not a “perspective” or a subjective deliberation of who actually died. These people discredit the evidence altogether. Those soldiers that liberated the victims are dying. The individuals that survived the horrors are perishing. All that is left are their stories, pictures and memorials. Please, take a moment to visit these online tributes. If you ever get the chance to see one of the many death camps that is open to the public as a standing, interactive testimony to the mass carnage and systematic execution of millions of people, I urge you to do so –
lest we forget. 

Zachor זכור . Remember.


Tuesday, April 11, 2017

A Matter of Perspective

     More than a decade ago, March 15, 2006, my two daughters and their friend Jessica accompanied me down to Yuma. Arizona. It was their Spring Break, and we left a couple days after their school let out. The night was full dark since we were still north of Yuma’s city lights. Up ahead in the distance we saw an object, an orb of some sort.  We slowed for just a moment to look, and I rolled down my car window. The object that we saw in the night sky didn’t make a sound. It was not a plane nor was in a helicopter. “That, young ladies, is a UFO,” I said to them, a growing trickle of dread slowly moving down my spine. I felt very uneasy as we stared at the unmoving contraption, which was low to the ground, yet high enough that it was obviously not a child’s toy. This was long before drones. We agreed to leave the area and made a quick dash for Yuma.

(Thirty Years Previous)

     “The moon’s upside down!” Uncle Gene insisted. “Whoever sold you that there telescope is a crook. You got taken!”
     “This is a good telescope, one of the best a man can buy,” Papa retorted. “Besides, there is no such thing as upside down in outer space!”
     “What I see standing off my porch,” my uncle gasped in exasperation.  “The way I see it, the moon has a face! With your scope, it’s upside down!”
     It was the 1970s and my family was visiting Uncle Gene and his kids. My dad tried to tell his older brother that in the vastness of space there really is no up or down, but Gene would have no part of that line of thinking. From his perspective, the moon was not smiling. Nobody was smiling by that time. Both men thought of themselves as intellectuals, and they were both right. For all my uncle’s life, the moon had never been upside down! From North Carolina, to Georgia, to Guadalcanal, to Michigan, that beautiful orb of the night had always looked the same. From the perspective of Gene’s porch in Pinkney, Michigan, United States, Earth, Miss Luna continued to look down upon him, despite her moody phases, and when full, she looked down with benevolence at Gene’s family. From outer space (and Papa’s telescope) position didn’t matter. The alignment of the planets, constellations and galaxies that stretched forth for eternity, started with a big bang. Since that great event, up and down only make sense from the standards of things living on earth: the people, animals and even the plants that dig their roots into the soil and reach out to the sky for warmth and rain.

     Big bang. That was the jolt that I first felt June 24, 2011 when the train that I was a passenger on outside of Reno, Nevada was T-boned by a semi-truck. There were other lurches in the moments after the first impact and once the train finally stopped about a mile from the intersection, my family made it off. There was smoke entering our car and eventually it was consumed by a quick-moving blaze. I mentioned that a couple days after the collision and my oldest daughter insisted our train car was not on fire. From her perspective, it was never aflame. Before being ushered into an ambulance, my eldest child was laid out flat, under a blanket, looking skyward. From where I stood, I saw the roaring flames consuming the box on wheels that had carried us west only an hour before. We were both right.

    Many of you have heard of the story of the four blind men that had to describe a large animal, using only their hands. They did not know as yet that it was an elephant. One felt the tail and said “I have a rope”.  Another felt the front legs and said he was standing before trees. The third person felt wind blowing through his hair so he reached high above his head. Touching one of the pachyderm’s ears, he claimed that someone was fanning him. Yet another man holding the animal’s trunk described a large snake! They were all correct, but still didn’t know the whole truth.

     In Sunday School recently, our teacher, Brother MacArthur, told us a story about a scope that he purchased through a hunting store. It was top of the line. He’d saved for it and looked forward to seeing wildlife in detail. He lined it up and. . . there was a smear or a cloud in the way. He carefully cleaned the surface of the lens with the recommended items that were supplied with his new scope. Once again, the occlusion was there. Figuring there was a defect inside of the lens, he took it back to the store. The saleslady agreed there might be a smudge somewhere inside, but they couldn’t replace the scope on site. His guarantee covered replacement and service only if he would send it back to the manufacturer.

     A few days later, Brother MacArthur was contacted by the manufacturer who said his scope was just fine. He asked that the head of the company take a look at it and the man on the phone insisted that the CEO himself had given it a try. In the face of claims that they had sold a defective instrument, they sent out a new scope in the name of good customer relations.

     Brother MacArthur received his new scope and could hardly wait to take it out to the mountains. He unwrapped the brand new contents of his package, wiped it clean, put it up to his eyes and was treated to a view of:  scenery with the same smudge. Normally a patient man, he angrily wrapped up the scope and went home. He’d spent thousands of dollars on worthless metal, glass and jointed parts.

     The following Monday he called the company, insisted on talking to the head-honcho himself and got ahold of the man. He explained his problem and said he’d be sending the worthless instrument back as soon as he could.

     Weeks later, Brother MacArthur was at a routine eye exam and the doctor informed him that he was developing the beginnings of a cataract.  My teacher felt terrible, recalling the words that he volleyed at the manufacturer just a month earlier.

     Brother MacArthur was right; he could see a smudge. It was obscuring his view. The CEO was right, the lens was a good product and he stood proudly by his product.

     March 19, 2006 – We were leaving Yuma. It was late morning and our brief stay was at its end. Driving north as we left the outskirts of the city, we saw it, the UFO! It was a real Unidentified Flying Object, as we still did not know what it was, exactly. Yet, this time, we had no doubt it was earthly. The thing was still in the sky, tethered to a rope and was some kind of huge, lofty advertisement. It was just as real, but not so intimidating and frightening. We continued on our way and laughed at ourselves.

     We all travel different roads and live different lives. Our parents teach us wisdom and we still see things in our own way. Even though we may not have all things in perspective, I hope we may all get along and agree to disagree.

Please, Note:  In the weeks to come I hope to discuss perspective and individual beliefs in a few more posts. Until then, try to see the world from someone else’s eyes for a couple days. You may learn something about them. . . and yourself.

Sunday, March 12, 2017

Death Valley, Coyotes and Snake Oil

I like to camp about twice a year. I think I’m getting too old for this torture, but inevitably I plan another trip, pack up my little Saturn and I’m on my way again. For the past couple years my daughter and I thought that Death Valley in the winter time would be a good choice.  Let me tell you, it’s still more than 80 degrees Fahrenheit during early March – and I hate the desert. 

The stars at night more than make up for the dry, over-powering heat of the day. After the sun goes down, Death Valley is a great place to see meteor showers, comets and reckless lovers. Note to couples: in the evening, sounds and sights carry in the desert. I’d like to add, that bush you’re under carries an assortment of scorpions and flea-infested, plague carrying rodents, so please, for the sake of all that is decent, go back to your tent. NOW!

The highlight for me, during our winter excursions is the group of musicians that gather at the same time every year to play music around the campfire. Mostly, there are the usual guitarists, banjo pickers, accordion players and fiddlers. The performers say that the original troupers began the tradition in the 1950s. The ones that assemble now have been convening regularly since the 1970s. This eclectic bunch comes from all walks of life. One claims to be a physician, but since the beer and vodka are flowing amongst the majority of performers, I have my doubts. Anybody present can share their musical talents. All are invited. Someday I hope to bring my electric piano, stuffed with batteries and a prayer, since my playing is child-like at best. In the past, the musicians have hosted people like the ukulele playing students who only picked up their instruments six months before joining the melody-filled evenings. The best I could do the first time we sat around their circle is give out copies of my books and read a brief passage or two. Last year we were joined by a fire dancer. The dramatic look of firelight reflecting up through the branches of the taller mesquite and salt cedar trees was magical. During those kinds of evenings I’d like to imagine that I’m at a gypsy camp. It’s a wonderful feeling.

The musicians always wind up just before 10 pm. One evening two years ago, my daughter and I went back to our tent around nine. We listened to the music, hypnotic in a way, the guitars strumming and low voices singing. Then some guy yelled at the top of his lungs, “Shut that music down!” The melodies continued, the night wind rustled a little. During pauses, coyotes could be heard singing their own songs of loving and feasting. Then a fiddle began a lonesome Irish ballad. “Shut it down already!” I was jolted awake again. This continued until ten. I guess the old grouch didn’t realize that his barking was creating more of a disturbance than this traditional, decades old jam session (music’s version of a pick-up game). Lights out. Ten PM. The coyotes were closer and they began their nightly serenade. I waited anxiously for Mr. Grouch to yell at our howling, furry neighbors, but by then I think he’d given up hope for a good night’s rest. Do what the rest of us do:  gaze up to the sky and let the blanket of stars dazzle your senses.

In October 2015, historic flooding damaged many roads and made last year’s planned trips to a couple tourist areas, including the famous Scotty’s Castle, impossible. The rain also created optimal conditions for desert wildflowers to bloom in abundance. Mostly gold greeted us on our excursions, but there were splashes of pink and purple along the way.

Most of the other roads had been fixed since the storms had washed them away, but a few were down to one lane. That gave us passengers time to reflect and talk. The subject of health came up and I said that I was a believer in the power of vitamin-C. I take it every day for six weeks during flu season and I have not caught the flu or pneumonia like other members of my family have. At one washed out path, in the back of our vehicle, one of the campers with us took the opportunity to whip out a catalogue of the health supplements that she sells. There was a parade of cars ahead of us and a line of cars behind us at least a mile long. We were surrounded by construction vehicles, and the potential of traffic heading our way until we could take our turn on the fragile pavement. I could have tried to make a run for it, but the heat and dehydration would kill me eventually unless a rattle snake struck me first. As the young lady introduced her line of vitamins, my eyes scanned the road for a poisonous snake. “Oh, Lawd, give me patience,” I thought. The young woman knew she had a captive audience, literally. A half hour later, we were on our way again to Stovepipe Wells.  Bless her heart for trying.

Days later, I was back at work with my seniors. I had a great morning with one of my favorite ladies. I fed her some breakfast and folded her laundry while we chatted. Before long, Luzi had me cornered in her kitchen, extolling the benefits of the supplements she was taking. I was blocked in by her motorized scooter, while she held up a bottle of the same brand that the young saleslady introduced to me. I couldn’t go left, I couldn’t go right. I was backed up to a cabinet as Luzi shook the container at me insisting that it was a lifesaving libation. At that point all I could hear were the yelps of coyotes. I looked at the floor and prayed for a snake.

Friday, January 20, 2017

Uncle Trump

It felt really good to be an American today. I will admit that I didn’t vote for Donald Trump. He sometimes shoots off his mouth, says the wrong things. He reminds me of that uncle. You know the one. He is always at the family reunions, or maybe sits at the far corner of the table. He tells a few off-color jokes or asks the younger kids to pull his finger. You know the man has good intentions and you love him despite all his crassness. Donald Trump has promised to bring jobs back to the USA by taxing those companies that abandoned their domestic factories and American workers. He wants to do away with the North American Free Trade Agreement. That should help. I still remember the marches against NAFTA and the WTO a couple decades ago. Trump wants to replace the flawed Affordable Care Act (Obama Care) with one that is more on par with Europe (which by the way, grates the nerves of many ultra-conservatives).  If you are reading this and hope that “The Don” doesn’t keep his word, you can find comfort in the fact that most politicians fail to keep their promises to the voters; sometimes, even covenants to their own spouses. No, I did not vote for the man, but I will be praying for him. I am an American. I believe in the American process. I see facts before me, not innuendos and speculations or even false accusations that fade away as fast as their accusers.

I actually enjoyed the closing prayer given by Rabbi Marvin Hier. I’ll admit, it was more of a statement than a communication with God, but the words were heart-felt, true and factual. I am certain that many people were offended by them because they spoke of hard-work, pride and ethics. I was delighted to see Franklin Graham, son of the Reverend Billy Graham, speaking. For generations Billy Graham led our nation in prayer and advised our leaders. For eight years President Obama turned his back on Billy Graham. Listening to spiritual leaders’ advice does not mean that any particular religion is favored over another. It means the words of a reasonable man, close to God the Father, are heeded. Instead of comfort and words of wisdom, these past eight years, too many people became divided and learned to hate. I look forward to a spiritual awakening to take place once again. Maybe we can set aside our so-called differences and remember that we are Americans first. (I would like to remind some of you before you say, “White Bread has no idea what she’s talking about,” that I come from a rainbow family in every sense of the word.)

I actually support President Trump’s selection of Betsy DeVos as Education Secretary. I was aware of her before the election. DeVos believes that all children are entitled to the same educational opportunities regardless of income or neighborhood. She and her family have given a lifetime total of 1 billion dollars to charities and foundations in and around Michigan. At least forty percent went to educational causes. A large portion went to health services. Her family built the DeVos Learning Center in Grand Rapids. It’s like a field trip for the mind. I also am overjoyed that Dr. Benjamin Carson was selected to serve as the secretary for Housing and Urban Development. I knew of this great man for a few decades. He was a child in the same part of Detroit that I was born in, Delray. You can’t get much more urban than that. The appointment of at least two people from Michigan, I hope, will influence some decisions to bring jobs back to my home state.

Donald Trump is my president. He is America’s president. I will not protest. I will not whine and cry. I will support and pray for him as I have for all the presidents since I was old enough to vote, in 1982. God, bless Donald Trump. Please, bless our nation. Please guide the leaders of our world. Amen

A Sideshow Journey by Liesa Swejkoski

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