Sunday, July 28, 2013

Weddings and Funerals

Remember some years back when a surprise hit movie came out?  Four Weddings and A Funeral.  Such a fun movie, even though it was yet another vehicle for Hugh Grant to do his amiable bumbling routine.  

Of course we do love weddings, and even funerals.  These celebrations--of love, of life--give us an excuse, a reason to gather as family and friends.

Sometimes we go through spates of nothing but funerals.  For a time, it seemed our families--the families into which my husband and I were born--had nothing but funerals.  Grandparents died, and then my father-in-law.  So in a very short time, we had three family funerals.  That's a lot of sadness and grieving.  BUT it was also a lot of family gathering and reminiscing.

This summer, we have had two family weddings in two weeks.  The first was a Mennonite wedding, the second a Roman Catholic wedding.  Quite a difference in setting--one outdoors, the other in a church; in mood--one filled with congregational singing, the other with no congregation singing at all; one simple, the other a bit more ornate.  But both were filled with joy.  Children reveling in the occasion, the permission to dance all around.  Young people laughing, dancing, full of the promise of a future unruffled by life's complications.  Middle-aged and senior folks sitting, talking, catching up, watching young people.  All filled with the joy of family and friends.

It is tempting to think that weddings are better than funerals, but I don't feel that way.  They both provide times for people to gather and celebrate.  



Thursday, July 18, 2013

Lazy hazy days of summer

As we in the northeast U.S. swelter under an oppressive heat wave--almost a week of over 90 degree F temperature--I am so grateful for central air-conditioning.  Our house has a heat pump, which heats in cold weather and cools in hot weather.  So, the sweltering heat is bearable, because we are cool inside.

But it wasn't always so--and in many parts of the world it is not so.  Our daughter living in London knows that central air-conditioning is a rarity in homes.  Most of the time, the weather cooperates, but when it does heat up--well, obviously things get hot.

The advent of air-conditioning in the modern era occurred at the outset of the 20th century when Willis Carrier (yes, that's why there is a brand of air-conditioners named Carrier), who had recently graduated from Cornell University, set about to solve the problem for a printing company in Brooklyn, New York.  For several decades, air-conditioning was used in commercial settings, but not private homes.

Not doubt, many of you readers can recall a time without air-conditioning in your homes.  So, what did we do to stay cool?

Swimming--I have previously written about my memories of swimming in an old swimming hole.  Just as with little access to home air-conditioning, most people did not have access to private swimming pools.  So, off we went to municipal pools, or to swimming holes, or to creeks.  Nothing better on a steamy hot summer day than a swim in a bone-chilling creek.

Drinking Coca-cola--I spent one summer with my mother's sister, my aunt, and her family.  My cousin and I would walk a half a mile from the house to the corner grocery store in the little village where we lived.  Once inside, we would immediately head for the cooler for a bottled soda...or, I should say, pop.  Reaching around in the cooler, hands in the watery ice mix, selecting our choice, pulling it out, removing the cap on the bottle opener attached to the side of the cooler, paying for our prize, and then walking back home--ahhh!  That's the way to beat the summer time heat.

Sitting on the porch swing--wonderful old houses always had wide porches with overhanging roofs, and a swing hanging from the rafters.  Even on a hot day, you could always sit on the swing, gently rocking back and forth, creating your own breeze if there were no other breeze around.  For a time, porches (or verandas) went out of favor, but--thank goodness--they are back.  That's one feature I could wish our home had--a lovely porch.  With a swing, of course.

I am sure there were other ways we beat the heat.  Or, if we didn't, we just put up with it.  We sweated, we fanned, we rolled the windows down on our cars and let the hot wind evaporate our sweat.  We slept without any covers.  We managed.

Enough of this stroll down memory lane.  Frankly, as fond as these memories are, I think I'll stay inside on these lazy hazy days of summer....and enjoy our central air-conditioning.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

So, What's Different

Along with many other folks this morning, I am pondering the significance of the "not guilty" verdict in the George Zimmerman trial.

First, I must say that I wholeheartedly wish the news' fascination with this story would be focused elsewhere.  There are so many topics around the world far more worthy of laser focus than the story of one misguided "citizen" who patrolled his neighborhood on the lookout for "punks." 

But, we all know that the 24/7 news cycle simply needs, make that creates, these stories--or else the perpetual breathless approach to news might shrivel up and go away.  Oh, there's a thought.

Back to this trial and its perhaps all-too-predictable verdict.

I have been puzzling over the details of this story ever since it first emerged.  I have tried to understand what kind of neighborhood George Zimmerman lived in that he saw himself as the last bastion of civilization.  There he was, patrolling the streets of his neighborhood trying to keep the barbarians at bay.  And when he failed--after all, a young man still walked through that gated community for all Zimmerman's watchfulness--he decided he had to take "the law" into his own hands.  And since he was armed, he felt invincible.  

So, what's different about our neighborhood--the place where we live?

Perhaps we have not had break-ins.  That was part of the dynamic that George Zimmerman perceived that gave rise to his determination to patrol the neighborhood.  But, no, we too have had break-ins in our neighborhood.

We have had several break-ins.  At least one included a young man knocking on the door of one house in our neighborhood and, flashing a gun, demanding money.  Another break-in occurred while neighbors were at a family funeral (which alerted us to the fact that some people are so coldly opportunistic that they read obituary notices to see who won't be home). 

Perhaps we don't have young men walking through our neighborhood.  That too was part of the dynamic for George Zimmerman.  But we have young people, mostly young men, some of whom are white and some of whom are black.  So, in George Zimmerman's parlance, we too have "punks."

So what is different?

Well, for one thing we do not have a gated community.  We are bounded on two sides by apartment complexes, which makes our neighborhood seem like a convenient short-cut path.  Not being a gated community is just a small difference.

What really sets us apart, I believe, is the fact that we FEEL like a neighborhood.  I don't know everyone by name, but I know many people.  So, when I see someone walking through the neighborhood, I say "hi."  I realize I don't know everyone I talk to, but I want to be friendly in a non-threatening way, which carries its own message.  The message is "I am paying attention to you, and to who is here in my neighborhood."

When someone is away from his or her home in our neighborhood, we watch each other's houses.  In fact, for immediate neighbors, we frequently make a lap around the outside of the house, just checking to make sure all is in order. 

I am not naive.  Being neighborly doesn't shield our neighborhood from petty crime.  But not assuming that anyone who walks through our neighborhood is intent of committing a crime--well, that helps to keep things from escalating out of control, until someone arms himself, decides he can determine a passer-by's motivation, and with a side-arm to trail that person, and eventually "defend" himself.  That's what is different.

Might it just be that a mind-set of violence leads to a culture of violence which results in a commission of violence?

Wednesday, July 03, 2013

We, the People

Watching the news from Egypt, where a duly elected government has been deposed, we should be thankful—on this eve of the Fourth of July—that our founding leaders took care to enshrine some bedrock rights.

Herewith, the ten Amendments to the Constitution of the United States--these ten form our Bill of Rights.  Taken all together they have helped provide us with stable governments over our more than 200 years of history. 

These amendments are all important—there is not one that should overpower the others.  I could wish for greater clarity of construction—just look at the Second Amendment—so that subsequent interpretation would not be so difficult.  But, in the main, these ten statements capture the essence our the genius of our democracy. 

Would you vote for these today?  When the “man on the street” is asked about these rights, there are times when those who are ignorant that these rights are already secured sometimes answer in the negative to some of them.

Shame on us if we forget what these statements mean.  So on this Fourth of July, contemplate their meaning—all of them.  And be grateful.

First Amendment
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.
Second Amendment
A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.[54]
Third Amendment
No Soldier shall, in time of peace be quartered in any house, without the consent of the Owner, nor in time of war, but in a manner to be prescribed by law.
Fourth Amendment
The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.
Fifth Amendment
No person shall be held to answer for a capital, or otherwise infamous crime, unless on a presentment or indictment of a Grand Jury, except in cases arising in the land or naval forces, or in the Militia, when in actual service in time of War or public danger; nor shall any person be subject for the same offence to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb; nor shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself, nor be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation.
Sixth Amendment
In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury of the State and district wherein the crime shall have been committed, which district shall have been previously ascertained by law, and to be informed of the nature and cause of the accusation; to be confronted with the witnesses against him; to have compulsory process for obtaining witnesses in his favor, and to have the Assistance of Counsel for his defence.
Seventh Amendment
In suits at common law, where the value in controversy shall exceed twenty dollars, the right of trial by jury shall be preserved, and no fact tried by a jury, shall be otherwise re-examined in any court of the United States, than according to the rules of the common law.
Eighth Amendment
Excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted.
Ninth Amendment
The enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people.
Tenth Amendment
The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.