Saturday, May 26, 2018

Death Be Not Proud

I realize I haven't been blogging a whole lot lately, but that doesn't mean I haven't been thinking. In fact, I have..been thinking, thinking, thinking.

It is difficult for me these days to contemplate the world that is being remade. The U.S. has gone from a leader of the free world, to a near pariah. Leadership displayed as bluster, ignorance, prejudice and just plain nastiness holds the center stage. 


Of late, I find I can barely listen to the news. When I drive, I frequently have on satellite radio--NPR, or MSNBC, or CNN. But of late I can't bear to hear the drumbeat of destruction and the endless panel conversations about what it all means.  What does it mean anyway?


OK--so why the title of my post?  Death be not proud. Of course, the line is the opening for John Donne's Holy Sonnet 10.*  You can read the whole poem at the close of this entry.


So, what do I do instead of listen to the depressing news of the day?  I sometimes think about death. Lest you think me morbid or focused on a depressing subject, not so.  Every day, when I walk our dog, we go to a cemetery two blocks away from where we live. As I walk along, I frequently read the grave markers. I find myself doing the math of a lifespan in my head. Some are very short--mere weeks for babies who are born and then die. Some are several years--I do not know the circumstances, but there are possible explanations--a childhood disease, or maybe an accident.  Others that are several decades long--say in the 20s or 30s--offer another set of possibilities: killed in combat maybe.  Finally, there are the markers that denote a long life span. The common element for all, of course, is the inevitability of death.


So, why has this subject seized my mind? Well, perhaps it is because a friend of mine is dying. She is not a close friend, but a friend nevertheless.  She reached a point in her treatment for cancer when medicine could no longer "cure" her. So, she returned home and has been put on a diet which includes NO solids. Understandably, her death is imminent, even though she does not know the day.


Several days ago she posted on FaceBook "I'm still alive today... Friends visited so we have had a lovely day of conversations and a lot of puking actually. But it beats the alternative and we are laughing a lot."


Three weeks ago she posted this: "Sunday I had a very small group of close friends from church and other venues in my home for a Service of Transition, Anointing, and Healing. Padre did a service that was beautiful and so helpful for me as I was anointed like the dead are for burial and friends laid hands on me to pray. They covered me first in a funeral pall. Afterwards we celebrated the eucharist together. I wanted this particular blessing to mark that my upcoming death will be a sacred and holy transition. . .These past two weeks have been filled with notes of affirmation and wonderful shared memories helping me understand that I have lived my life as faithfully as I could, and spent myself in service to others as much as I could. I am rich in memories and friends around the world. Thanks be to God."


Clearly, this woman' approach to death is very much in keeping with the sentiment of John Donne's Holy Sonnet 10. 


And how does it connect in any way to the news of the day?  Just this. Nothing is eternal in this world. Powers and rulers and kingdoms all pass. History shows us that no human effort has lasted forever. Empires rise, empires fall. Rulers come, rulers go.  However, John Donne's assertion is that even though death rules over all, death itself cannot destroy eternity.


Heavy thoughts, indeed.  OK--time for my daily walk with our dog to the cemetery.

------------------------


Death, be not proud, though some have called thee
Mighty and dreadful, for thou are not so;
For those whom thou think’st thou dost overthrow
Die not, poor Death, nor yet canst thou kill me.
From rest and sleep, which but thy pictures be,
Much pleasure; then from thee much more must flow,
And soonest our best men with thee do go,
Rest of their bones, and soul’s delivery.
Thou’art slave to fate, chance, kings, and desperate men,
And dost with poison, war, and sickness dwell,
And poppy’or charms can make us sleep as well
And better than thy stroke; why swell’st thou then?
One short sleep past, we wake eternally,
And death shall be no more; Death, thou shalt die.

by John Donne, 1572 - 1631


Sunday, March 25, 2018

Solutions

I am thinking about solutions--to the horrific problem of extreme gun violence in our country.

My primary interest is not the right to possess guns. Actually, the Second Amendment says--keep and bear arms. And in that amendment ARMS are not defined. There are some weapons you can't have--NCBR weapons (yes, I had to look it up; it means Nuclear, Chemical, Biological and Radiation).

So right there a limitation has been made.

What I want to offer brief comments on some of the types of solutions that have been advanced to solve the problem of gun massacres in schools.

Here's a sampling:
Stockpile rocks in classrooms so if a shooter bursts into the room, students can throw rocks at him (or her) rather than passively waiting to be shot.I am speechless at this suggestion. If someone held a gun and was intent on killing people and someone threw a rock, what do you think the shooter would do? 

Teach students first aid, so they can spring to the rescue of their fallen classmates and teachers.  And do what? Recent articles have detailed the horrific internal damage an AR-15 wreaks on the human body. The Atlantic magazine described it this way: "One of the trauma surgeons opened a young victim in the operating room, and found only shreds of the organ that had been hit by a bullet from an AR-15, a semiautomatic rifle that delivers a devastatingly lethal, high-velocity bullet to the victim. Nothing was left to repair—and utterly, devastatingly, nothing could be done to fix the problem."

But, sure, go ahead, teach first aid.

Arm teachers. A proposal has been widely floated to arm teachers--maybe every teacher or some teachers specially trained. So they could?  So they could return fire.In a wonderfully delicious ironic way, there have been a few recent incidents where teachers DID have a gun in the classroom.  And... (drum roll) ... in one instance the teacher inadvertently shot himself; in another the gun accidentally discharged, hitting the ceiling and dislodging some tile which fell on a student below, thereby injuring that student.

Yeah, arming teachers sounds like a terrific idea. Oh, do you want teachers to also -- teach?  baby-sit your children at times? make sure the children learn everything? prep the students for mandatory test?  buy school supplies because public school funding is diminishing? work long hours at school and then long hours at home, prepping or grading papers? 

Improve security in schools presumably so that EVERYONE entering a school has to go through security including metal detectors.  I can understand why this suggestion has appeal. In fact one of those recommending it was the father of a Parkland student who was killed.  But I think we need to examine the sheer numbers.

Well, now--let's see: in 2013-14 there were 98,271 public schools in the U.S. (In a delicious irony, that stat comes from the U.S. Department of Education website...but don't tell Betsy DeVos...)

How many public school students are there? Again, thanks to the U.S. Department of Education we know there are 50.7 million students who enrolled in the fall of 2017.  So, let's see--using airport security as a model, for improved security in public schools you would need metal detectors in every school, and at every entrance if the school has more than one entrance. You would need trained security personnel to screen the backpacks that are being put through scanners.  You would need to keep that security in place ALL DAY LONG, and evenings too when there are after school activities.    

Oh, what about outdoor athletic events?  

Do you want to hazard a guess as to how much time would be chewed up just getting kids into school?  If you assume that each student can be cleared in 5 minutes (how long does it take you to get through airport security?) then the total time would be 5,700,000 minutes or 95,000 hours.  Obviously that's not every school, but if you know the number of students in your public schools in elementary and secondary schools, you can do your own multiplier.  The school district where I live has 11,059 students. So each day, assuming a 5 minutes clearance time, my school district would be using 95,000 minutes to make schools more secure.
-----------------------------------

Food for thought--how much less complicated would gun control be? (Please note the phrase is CONTROL, not BAN.)

Sunday, March 18, 2018

Two More! (Movies, that is)

We may have started late, but we have now watched two more...

  • Darkest Hour
  • The Shape of Water

The nominees for best picture are--The Shape of Water; Darkest Hour; Dunkirk; Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri; Get Out; The Post; Call Me By Your Name; Phantom Thread and Lady Bird. As you know The Shape of Water won.

The ones in bold are the ones we saw.

Here's my rundown on which I thought was the best picture.  In order of best, better, good...

  • Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
  • Call Me By Your Name
  • Dunkirk
  • The Shape of Water
  • Darkest Hour
  • The Post

Of course, this ranking is forced and COMPLETELY unfair. I loved each of these movies--for different reasons.

The Post was like watching the history that shaped my formative years in terms of my political sensitivities. I would be curious to know how Gen Xers of Millenials reacted to this movie. For me it was like watching history unfold. And it was painfully apropos to the madness coming out of Washington, DC these days.

The Shape of Water was fascinating, creative, dreamy, a touch scary (not really for me), and a touch historical as it invokes the Soviet arms race of the Cold War. I loved the characters--especially Maude, the lead female character who is mute, and the creature. As some friends of mine who had seen the movie indicated--it is a very sensual movie. Please note that is not the same as sexual...unless you are attracted to inter-species sex.

Dunkirk was a tour-de-force movie, capturing and recreating with a critical moment in the early days of World War II. The evacuation at Dunkirk is told in a chaotic way, focusing on various characters to highlight the complexity and sweep of the evacuation.  Our daughter, who lives in London, told me that this moment in British history is still one recalled with pride.  The movie helps you see why.

Darkest Hour also draws on a moment in British history, also in the early days of World War II. Watching this movie and Dunkirk would give you a primer on how grave the situation was at the outset of the war. Darkest Hour centers on Winston Churchill's becoming prime minister, and some of the internal battles that were raging as he began to lead. Since we know how things turned (hint: the Allies won) it might be tempting to think the outcome was never in doubt. Darkest Hour and Dunkirk help you see how tenuous the outcome was. And how grateful we all should be that the Allies prevailed. And how cautious we should be before throwing our liberty away. (Hint: think the current enamorment with Russia exhibited by certain politicians.)

Call Me By Your Name is an achingly sweet story of first romance. I can only speak for myself--but I can vividly recall a "summer romance" I had when was a teen. It was the most important thing in my life...up to that point..and I thought I would not survive the romance ending. Call Me By Your Name captures that and adds to it the dimension of a young boy coming to terms with his own sexuality. The movie ends with the camera focused on the face of Elio, the young boy. No words are spoken, but his face registers all the emotions. It is a haunting scene.

Finally, my vote for best movie would go to Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri.  The movie tells a compelling multi-layered story. The characters are complex. The acting is superb. This movie gets my vote for best movie of 2018 because it gets SO many elements right. In my opinion, of course.  AND I don't get to vote.

P.S. In fairness, I know there are three movies we did not see...so my opinion is just that--an opinion.




Sunday, March 04, 2018

FOUR--I'm up to four!

Make that four of the movies nominated for best picture for the 2018 Academy Awards...aka the Oscar.

Last time I wrote about "the movies" I had only seen Dunkirk.

Well, with the televised Oscars tonight (March 4, 2018)--we suddenly got busy. And over the space of two days, we saw three movies.

First we watched (via satellite) Three Billboards Outside Ebbing. Wonderfully acted.
The story line is coherent--you understand what is happening, and as the movie goes along--why.
Frances McDormand is utterly believable as a mother consumed with rage and grief after her daughter has been killed, and the crime not yet solved. It's no secret to tell you that she expresses this rage by having three billboards that stand just outside of town covered with a sequence of signs challenging the town police chief for his failure.

Woody Harrelson is the police chief. He is flummoxed, at first seems ineffective, and nasty. But you soon learn he has his own troubles--which play a significant part in the story.

Finally, there is Sam Rockwell who is a dumb-ass policeman--at least that's how he starts out. And then...
Nope, not gonna tell you. Go see the movie! 
It's a tour de force of good acting, compelling story, and deeply felt human emotion.

Next we went to the movie theater--you know, that old fashioned place where you pay exorbitant prices to be overwhelmed with a popcorn smell for which you pay prices WAY too high, and then get to sit in comfy seats, watch 15 minutes of commercials, a few previews of movies you wouldn't want to see--and THEN the feature.
This one was The Post

This movie is SO topical, even though it is about the publishing of the Pentagon papers during the Vietnam war. That was in 1971, so that was 47 years ago! And the events may likely not even be known about by Gen X or Millenials. But those of us who lived through the years of Vietnam, and were part of the Baby Boomers certainly remember.

What is at stake in the movie is not only abrogation of power in the most arrogant and tragic ways, but also what it means to have a First Amendment, and what it takes to preserve freedom of speech.

It is impossible to cover everything the movie covers--but with two sterling actors--Meryl Streep and Tom Hanks heading up an equally sterling cast--the movie is a sheer joy to watch. And at the same time a cautionary tale. Timely, eh?

Finally, last evening we watched (via a download on to a computer) Call Me By Your Name
I have had some friends tell me how much they loved this movie--how beautiful a movie it is.
And it is.

The scenery alone is worth watching.  Northern Italy--charming towns, lovely countryside, breathtaking mountains. But the scenery is only a backdrop to an achingly wonderful story of a young man's coming of age. 

The young man is played by Timothée Hal Chalamet. His performance as Elio is so perfect. At times awkward, at times obnoxious, at times deeply enamored, and at times fully sexual.
The other lead part of a young university intern, Oliver, is played by Armie Hammer.

The plot--well, a few words summarize it...the two of them have a summer affair--but that is NOT nearly adequate as a description of this complex, multi-layered, singular story.

My advice--go see it. Go see all of these.

Now, on to more viewing...

Friday, February 16, 2018

Going to the Movies

I know, I know...every year along about this time, I am writing about my observations on the year's crop of Academy Award nominees.

But, not this year. Why? you might ask. Simple answer--because we haven't gone to see any. We've only seen one: Dunkirk.

Yes, there are ones I would like to see--The Post, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Call Me by Your Name.

And there are ones I don't care to see--The Shape of Water, or Get Out, for example.

I applaud the creativity of all the movies nominated for best picture of the year. And I am pleased with some of the breakthrough offerings--Get Out directed by Jordan Peele, or Lady Bird directed by Greta Gerwig.

But there's little that draws my interest. The ones on the list above of "would like to see" are the only ones that do.

So come Academy Awards night, I will be watching actors and actresses (why do we still insist on a feminine version???) as they receive awards. And as directors claim reward for their efforts. And as one movie is declared the TOP movie of the year. (I trust this year there won't be a mishap in that announcement, although the outcome of the eventual awarding of "best movie"** was well-deserved..)

Then, maybe after Academy Awards night I will resolve to see a few movies.

This year, in addition to my diminished interest in the offerings, I am suffering from grieving. Grieving at what our country is going through, grieving at the diminution of working for the common good, grieving for the rise of animus against our fellow humans. Maybe I do need the movies to distract me...

Or maybe I can just watch classy television series: The Crown, Victoria, Godless as examples.
---------------

** Moonlight won, in case you can't remember.

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Cleaning out the Clutter

Last year, I took as a new year's resolution to "clean out the clutter."  In fact, I wrote this limerick last year and posted it on my Facebook page.

Each year I make new resolutions
I think that may be my solution
To all of the clutter
That just makes me mutter
If I fail—I’ll request absolution.


Nothing like announcing something on Facebook to give you motivation...actually, not. The world of Facebook is so fleeting that, a day after posting something, you have forgotten. And then when Facebook gives you those reminders--a year ago you posted this or that--I stop and think: did I say that?

But I digress.

Suffice it to say, I did NOT make a rousing start on that resolution. From time to time I would bemoan my lack of initiative--which all of you will recognize as not being the SAME as actually doing something.

Then as autumn arrived, I finally started on the basement (aka where the clutter lives). Half-heartedly, nothing too strenuous. Then our Christmas plans began to turn into shape. Our children and their children would be here with us for 4 days before Christmas.

OH JOY!  Seriously, great great joy.

But, with our house being small-ish, where would everyone sleep? One solution--clean out the basement enough to put our inflatable air mattress there, and my husband and I could sleep there*.

MOTIVATION!

I got moving. And within 3 days I had cleared enough space for an air mattress.
That meant making decisions about things LONG stored in the basement...example: the Victorian style doll house we had assembled years ago when our daughter was around 8 years old. In fact, you can still find the same doll house on E-bay, selling for several hundred dollars. We had kept it because our daughter asked us to.


(photo taken before we began to disassemble the house)

And now the time had come to figure out how to get it to her (she lives in England). She indicated they would pack it and take it along home when they left after staying here.  Problem solved--mostly. We still had to disassemble it, label the pieces, pack them in bags, find a suitcase in which to pack them, etc.

In addition to packing up the dollhouse, I filled several trash bags.
If an item was worth offering to someone--I put many offers on our local Freecycle. And all of the items were picked up.  I am loathe to throw things away--no sense in filling our already over-filled garbage dumps.

Finally, not only was there space for an air mattress, you could actually move around in the basement.

After all the children had returned to their own homes, the basement was reassembled as a space where we store things BUT now there was space for me to have a craft table (once a desk for our daughter while she was in college). And since then, I have painted one of the little bisque village buildings that go along with the rest of the set that I had painted more than 20 years ago. 

Cleaning out the clutter--actually, even though it was hard work, it was also fun. And now, I have that great feeling of accomplishment.

This year's resolution? Still thinking. I want to be careful--who knows where the next resolution could lead?

Tuesday, July 04, 2017

Remembering My Father

Composed by me, his eldest child, and read at his funeral June 30, 2017  

When someone dies, among the things that people recall are some of the last things said by that person.
  • ·      When I visited him in the hospital, he said “Boy, are you a sight for sore eyes.”
  • ·      when I visited him in nursing care after he was out of the hospital, he opened his eyes and said “Hi sweetheart.”
  • ·      Two days before he died, he said “I loved your mother very deeply, and could not have been the man I was without her.  And then when she died, Verna Mae came into my life, and she was the right one for me at that time.  I love them both very dearly.”
  • ·      Without any preamble, he said “Give my computer to ______ Mission when I am gone.”
  • ·      And then, he said—“make sure you take everything off of the computer before you give it away.”
  • ·      He also told me a joke—two days before he died.  Out of the blue…and even though I had heard it before, I marveled at the humor in him.
  • ·      Finally he said—“I am so ready to die.  I wish the Lord would take me home. I want to go.” 

Here are a few of the things my dad said to me in his last days:
  
But words are not all that I remember about my father. These are some of my remembrances—

  • ·      My dad taught me how to ride a bicycle. Of course, many dads do that, but mine taught me by walking along behind me, holding the bike (in the absence of training wheels), urging me to peddle, steadying the bike. Then when I got the bike going nicely along, he let go. Of course, I didn't know it, but I was peddling on my own. When I looked back, I wobbled and crashed, but a couple repeats--and I had learned to ride.
  • ·      My dad always had time for me to crawl up on his lap. And he always had hugs for me (and my brother and sister, too).
  • ·      When I was a small girl, my dad let me play with his hair. When he was tired in the evenings, he would sit down, and lean back. His eyes shut, he let me (perhaps even encouraged me) to comb his hair every which way. I had lots of fun, and I suspect he enjoyed the relaxation.
  • ·      My dad let me play his 45 rpm records of classical recordings. He had a set of Beethoven's string quartets, and I asked to play them. My dad said--go ahead. That experience, along with some others, encouraged my love of classical music. My dad could have said--no, those records are too valuable. But he said--go ahead, and encouraged a musical taste in me.
  • ·      My dad allowed me to make my own way. I remember a specific episode--we were on board ship crossing back to America, and the entertainment was a kind of gambling. Another passenger offered to let me play with $5--I asked my dad what to do. My dad said "you know what your mother and I think, but you decide for yourself." The message was--we don't approve of gambling, but you decide. Well, I did decide to use the money to play. And I didn't feel any regret, but the important thing was that my dad said--you decide.


A number of people have remarked to me, after reading my father’s obituary, “my, what a full, rich and interesting life your father had.” Well, that he did.

Many of you know the basics about his life. So, I won’t repeat that here.  I will, however, share a few stories.

When he was 18, his parents told him it was “time to move out.” They simply could not afford to feed three younger children and my dad.  Dad needed to keep working to gather enough funds to go to college. So Dad first worked on a farm in Lancaster County. Then he found a job as a butler in a wealthy home just outside of Philadelphia. Things did not go well—and he was dismissed from that job.  (It’s a long story…)

Then, in 1940, my father found work as a houseman, one of a number of servants, in the summer home of Henry McCormick. The McCormicks were a prominent family in Harrisburg.  My father’s duties included pressing Mr. McCormick’s suit daily, polishing his shoes, wet mopping the front porch weekly, and cranking ice cream weekly. My father also occasionally served as a driver to help with transportation. He even had a slight accident while driving one of these cars, but Mr. McCormick was a kindly soul and nothing came of the incident.

Dad was always interested in things mechanical—cars, machines, even in his later years, computers.  He told the story of a time that the two dignitaries came to visit the churches in southern Africa. Graybill Wolgemuth was a Mission Board member who came to visit Sikalongo and David wanted to take him to an out-station. He chose a school south of Sikalongo Mission, down the escarpment towards the Zambezi Valley, where road conditions were very poor and the road quite steep. The vehicle they had was an older one, and the brakes were in bad shape. Even with David using the foot brake and the hand brake, it was all he could do hold the car on the steep decline. David instructed the African helper who was along to find a big rock, and then get on the running board of the car. He then instructed the helper that if the car would start going too fast, David would call out, the helper should jump off and quickly put the rock under the front of the rear wheel to help stop the car. Graybill Wolgemuth was duly impressed with the conditions under which the missionaries worked.
In 1987, Dad and Mother moved to Messiah Village. Mother was insistent that they move there, rather than buy a house in the area. She had a sense that Dad might need the support that a place like Messiah Village could affort. And she was right. When she died unexpectedly in 1991, the Village and the people there helped my dad through that time.

But the other support that he received was marrying Verna Mae. About two years after Mother’s death, people began suggesting women who might be “approachable.” Truth is—Dad had his own ideas. He decided on someone he had known through her work in the BinC Missions Office—Verna Mae Ressler. He told me about her as he courted her. And, one day, as he got ready to go and see her, he said—well, he wasn’t sure that she was the one, maybe he should tell her so.  That evening when he got back from their “date,” he called me and said—well, we are engaged!

What a blessing Verna Mae has been.  All of us in the family can attest to that.


Now, he is gone. No more stories, but many memories. Thanks be to God for his life of service.