Category Archives: Fear

Dan Patrick may be “All In,” But This Granny is NOT!

        DSC_0019I am a grandmother, and despite our Lt. Governor Dan Patrick’s claims, I am NOT willing to sacrifice my life for the economy so that my grandchildren, whom I love dearly, can keep “the America that all America loves.”  My unwillingness is not due to a fear of death; however, as my longtime friend, Father Tom Jackson, says, “I am not afraid to die; it’s the dying that scares the hell out of me!”  If the situation were a matter of true life or death, of course I would stand in for my grandchildren. But for the economy – no way! Patrick’s comments are abhorrent from the mere perspective of placing greater priority and value on the economy over the value of life and family. I get what the coronavirus is doing to our economy. The impact on the marketplace, our means of livelihood, and our workers is and will continue to be calamitous creating hardships for millions of folks, in some cases dire hardships.

          We, as a people and a nation, have endured periods of difficulty and hardship throughout our history and have come out on the other side stronger, i.e. the Great Depression, 1918 flu pandemic, two world wars, 9/11. There is no reason to think differently in this instance, unless years of relative ease have weakened our resolve and warped our individual and national character. Moreover, were us grannies willing to be sacrificed to save the economy, “the America that all America loves,” what would our grandchildren miss out on. For some reason Mark 8:36 comes to mind: What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul?

          Now I don’t know that our grandchildren would lose their souls, but I do believe they would stand to lose a lot. One loss, definitely the presence of loving grandparents. Granny and Pawpaw (or whatever you call them) offer wisdom, stability, safety, and fun. Some research indicates that children who have an emotional closeness to grandparents are happier and less prone to depression as adults. There is a reason that humans are the only species (a few whales excepted) that have grandparents.IMG_0098 2

          What else might our grandchildren lose if they were to live undaunted in the economy, consumerism, and comfort of “the America that all America loves.”  Opportunity, perhaps? Opportunity that often comes in the disguise of adversity. Though hardship is difficult, I hope with the encouragement, guidance, and love of parents, grandparents, and a supportive community that my grandchildren would be able to endure the hardship and rise above it through perseverance, sacrifice, and a strong work ethic. I like what Washington Irving has said:

          “There is in every true woman’s (man’s) heart, a spark of heavenly fire, which lies dormant in the broad daylight of prosperity, but which kindles up and beams and blazes in the dark hour of adversity.”

           My hopes and prayers are that our grandchildren’s hearts would “beam and blaze” courage, tenacity, ingenuity, compassion, honesty, and integrity in the midst of any future adversity.  Billy Graham reminds us that “Comfort and prosperity have never enriched the world as much as adversity has.” To shield our grandchildren from hardships robs them of opportunities – for loving, for learning, for character growth – opportunities to enrich their lives and the world.  I don’t want my grandchildren to miss any opportunities!  

            Lt. Governor Dan Patrick may be “All in.” with risking Granny and Pawpaw’s lives to keep the economy from falling, but this granny is most definitely NOT — especially for the sake of the grandkids. 

Disgruntled and Out-of-Sorts!

1f4a6d6536793f713367d9e2a70cf8dcI found myself feeling a bit out-of-sorts, disgruntled, unsettled this morning. Maybe it’s cabin fever after eleven days at home trying to do my part to “flatten the curve” on this COVID-19.  Perhaps it’s the general uncertainty and angst surrounding this public health crisis, or it could be my incredulity regarding the remarks made yesterday by one of our state leaders. My plans were to clean out the pantry closet. Nah! It’s a pretty day outside, so I opted for yard work. Nope! The wind is blowing the pollen around like crazy – an allergy/sinus event just waiting to happen – and the ground is very wet. I wanted to work in the yard not play in the mud and get sick. So back inside. Maybe I just need to be still and quiet!

I did just that, closed my door and settled into my comfy reading chair. After some quite, focused breathing, and meditation I picked up A Year with Thomas Merton. Turning to my marked spot, I read:

“Silence, then, is the adoration of His truth, Work is the expression of our humility, and suffering is born of the love that seeks one thing alone: that God’s will be done.”

This was in the chapter entitled “Truth is Formed in Silence, Work, and Suffering” written in Merton’s journal on November 12, 1952.  I suppose I needed that reminder in these uncertain times. Now on to my humble work. The sun has come out so perhaps the ground is dryer and more amenable to the spade.

 

“. . . reverence humming in me.”

photo-1520637388405-3a2a895efd2a I recently started participating in a book study.  It is a diverse group of good folks –christian, atheist, agnostic, whatever — each on a journey of personal spiritual growth. Like me, they seem to be pilgrims, seekers, and heretics – awash in questions and doubts, deconstructing former concepts and beliefs, constructing personal truths and unique spiritual paths, — staying the course with authenticity and integrity in our often chaotic intersections with the world we live in, the life inhabiting that world, and the Spirit/God embodied in both the world and its inhabitants.

We are studying Rob Bell’s What We Talk About When We Talk About God. Much of our first discussion centered around Jane Fonda’s remarks made during a 2007 interview with Rolling Stonemagazine, “I could feel reverence humming in me.” Do you have a sense of “reverence humming” and “What is it?” My response to that question was to share a bit of my winter hike expereince. Hiking along an ice and snow laden trail I was bent, literally and figuratively, on keeping my eyes on the trail, following exactly in my hiking buddy’s footprints, and cautiously testing every step for firmness. I finally had to stop and straighten my aching, bent back.

As I looked up, my breath caught. The towering, red-rock canyon walls glistened in the bright, cold afternoon sun. They jutted straight up into a flawless, cobalt blue sky. “Wow, look at that!” was all I could utter. As I stood there taking it all in, I was overwhelmed with feelings of wonder, awe, gratitude, humility, and reverence. My heart was full and overflowed as tears filled my eyes. That, for me, was “reverence humming in me.” It was an experience I will never forget, and one which I frequently recall on hiking trails and elsewhere as I remind myself to “look up.”

Since that experience 28 years ago, I have (I think, I hope, but maybe not?) become more open, receptive, and settled to and into the various sounds, rhythms and vibrations of “the hum.” Never used the word “humming” to describe it, but I like Ms. Fonda’s analogy. “Hum” seems to give some substance to an otherwise intangible, indescribable feeling.

Where does the “humming” come from? For me, at this point in my journey, it comes from a sense of awareness, connection, and gratitude. A keen awareness of the mystery, the miracle, the love, the grace, the wisdom and truth of the of Spirit of God present in our world. A profound sense that I am connected to it all — a part of it, a product of it, a participant in it. And grateful for it all!

Here’s and idea!  Let’s all “hum” in concert!!

A New Tempo?

It is January 3, 2020, and I can’t seem to get started in this new year. Perhaps this is due to my still processing the last of 2019. I checked my sister out of the hospital on August 19, 2019 and took her to our family home (where our parents once lived) located on Big Cypress Bayou outside of Jefferson, TX. The plan was to spend about three weeks there caring for her as she recovered from a partial foot amputation. Unfortunately, the healing did not go as well as hoped and three weeks turned into three months!

Outside of her foot not healing and my missing my home and wife, who did come and stay a few days a couple of times, it was a different and mostly good three months for me. We visited, reminisced, watched television, and each had ample time to ourselves. I spent a lot of my free time on the porch rocking, reading, journaling, writing poetry, and simply watching in awe the natural world surrounding me. My journal entry from October 14th sheds a bit more light on the experience:

I’ve chopped and diced vegetables and the soup is simmering in the pot. It is marvelous sitting on the porch. The heat has finally – I hope – moved away and the cool air is welcomed.  Actually, it is raining with a steady chorus of drops making their “pits, pats, plops” on the tin roof. Drips are becoming steady ropes of water running off the roof’s edge. The river is pelted and puckered with raindrops. The rain and gray sky meld to form a haze surrounding the trees across the water. Quite calming and restful!

Yet, I feel a bit anxious and unsettled.  Perhaps ambivalence might be a more apt description. I have been here for almost two months caring for my sister following a partial foot amputation.  The healing has not gone as well as hoped, and she is still under doctor’s orders to put no weight on the foot. I have kept busy with her care, meal preparations, laundry, cleaning, and mowing. I have pressure washed a 10’ X 60’ porch and the front of the house. I have dusted, vacuumed, or mopped everything in the house. I have cleaned and reorganized much of the huge pantry and the bedroom walk-in closet. I have taken down, washed, and replaced every curtain and drape in the house – at least all those that could be removed.

I have rewired and configured the TV antennae and cables.  We now get 25+ channels instead of the previous eight to ten. And, yes, I must admit that I have watched more TV in the last two months than I have in the last two years. I have played too numerous to count solitaire games on my computer (no internet or cell service down here) to the point I believe the program is duplicating games. I have mowed two acres of grass sometimes going over the taller areas two to three times. I have used the weed eater trimming the tall grass on the riverbank until my elbow hurts.

I have made four trips home to Tyler for personal appointments and commitments and two trips to Henderson for doctor appointments. All totally about 1000 miles on the road. I just returned from three days at home catching up on paying bills, household concerns, and social and civic commitments.

Why the ambivalence? Using Brother Lawrence’s words, “to chop wood, and carry water” along with the quiet, serenity, and solitude of the surroundings seems to have precipitated some shift within my being as I feel more centered and settled. As I ponder on that for a bit, my thoughts return to my reading of October 3rd:

I find more and more the power—the dangerous power—of solitude working in me. The easiness of wide error. The power of one’s own inner ambivalence, the pull of inner contradictions.  How little I know myself really. How weak and tepid I am. . . . Everything has meaning, dire meanings, in solitude. And one can easily lose it all in following the habits one has brought out of common life (the daily round). One has to start over and receive (in meekness) a new awareness of work, time, prayer, oneself. A new tempo—it has to be in one’s very system (and it is not in mine, I see).

And what I do not have I must pray for and wait for.

from A Year with Thomas Merton: Daily Meditations from His Journals (October 25 and 30, 1965, V.309-10)

Perhaps therein lies the basis for my ambivalence. Perhaps I fear losing it all upon returning to “common life (my daily round).” Perhaps my 2020 is to be a time for “a new tempo.”

Garbage, Gardening, and Violence

Note: In light of the violent events of this past week, my thoughts have returned to the subject of violence in our society and this post that I wrote months ago but never published.

It is odd indeed that though I sit here in the peace of my private sanctuary, the quiet disturbed only by the hum of the ancient furnace and the tick of the clock, my thoughts keep going to “Violence.”  Now why is that? I know, yet I have not succumbed and given “power and time” to my experience and restive thoughts on the subject. I suppose I must do that now if I am to know the peace of this place.

Several weeks ago I went to the movies. I rarely go to the movies, but I wanted to see “On the Basis of Sex,” the dramatization of Ruth Bader Ginsberg’s journey into law and the beginning of her herculean efforts toward securing gender equality in our society. The movie was good; I highly recommend it. However, before I could watch the movie I was subject to a barrage of awful, loud previews full of angry, hateful, vindictive, and violent characters in multiple scenes of gun battles, fiery bomb explosions, sinister death plots, and human hurt and tragedy. “Cold Pursuit” is cold indeed, and “Serenity” is anything but serene. I was particularly aghast with the final words of the female lead in “Miss Bala.” She said as she cocked her gun, “in the end the bullet settles everything.” REALLY!! 

It would appear that evil, crime, and subsequent violence are ever more the focus of our entertainment avenues regardless of modality—film, the printed word, video games. I could site a few James Patterson or David Baldacci works, but I won’t right now. I ponder the oft-posed conundrum, “Do our movies and literature (I use that term loosely and hesitantly.) reflect our society’s ways and mores, or do they influence and direct them? Yep, it’s the chicken and the egg question –which comes first? 

Maybe it’s like garbage? For example: There is some garbage on the street, and we fail to pick it up and post “No Littering” signs to let everyone know that littering is not congruent with our values. Consequently, the littering continues and the garbage piles up.  We become accustomed to the garbage – it’s unsightly mess, it’s putrid stench. It’s now the norm. Everyone expects it.  What is there to do? Well, thankfully we saw the inherent harm in open garbage piles/pits and collectively sought to finds ways to safely dispose of it. Kinda, sorta! It is still an issue we must continue to address. 

Just like our garbage, our societal violence is a moral issue complicated even more so by issues of mental health, socio-economic status, race, and stunted emotional growth and expression just to name a few. We seek to stem the tide with police action, punishment, and some limitations on guns and gun ownership, yet the incidence of violence continues to be alarming in our country. According to the Gun Violence Archives, in 2018 in the US alone there were 57,084 incidents of gun violence resulting in 14,712 deaths and 28,170 injuries. Of this total 3,501 were children and teens under 17 years old. Not included in these numbers are the 22,000 suicides by gun in 2018.

Back to the movies! I don’t think debate or a philosophical ponderance over what came first societal violence or movie violence is particularly helpful at this point. More important questions are Where do we want to go from here? and How do we get there?  I think we all know what we want, at least I hope we all want it, and that is a peaceful society where differences are settled through understanding by way of conversation and compromise.  Sorry, “Miss Bala.” We want words and moral action, not bullets, to have the last word. That’s the end game. Maybe a first play would be taking a moral stand against violent entertainment. Yes, violence is present in our society, but does that mean we want it reflected and glorified in our movies and literature.  And what does it say about our society when we turn to violence for entertainment? With our violent “entertainment” are we flirting with the old acumen, “garbage in-garbage out,” and contributing to the perpetuation of that which we do not want?

I know our movies are not the root of our violence problems, but couldn’t we do something to start shoveling up the “garbage” and posting “No Littering” signs? Maybe some violence pruning? In gardening we know that if too much is pruned off the top of a plant, the system is disturbed and it will die if not tended to properly. Let’s prune some things — our violent entertainment — off the top. Maybe the pruning will weaken our system of societal violence while we continue working to remedy the root causes of our violence problem.  Let’s use our words to speak up about and against specific media—movies, books, video games – that portray and glorify violence. Cast your protest against violence at the cash register and ticket booth. Refuse to partake of the “garbage” and encourage others not to. Let your local cinemas know of your opposition to violent movies. Use your social media – Facebook pages, Twitter feeds, etc. – to broadcast information on unacceptable violent content and urge “friends” to join you in protest. Organize a flash mob during the local screening of a violent movie. Call your governmental representatives and urge them to pass sensible gun legislation. 

Above all, let’s practice non-violence in our daily walk treating everyone with dignity and respect. 

Turn This World Around

I tugged several of my old college literature anthologies from the bottom bookshelf yesterday. No, not to do any serious study, but to use as weight for a gluing project! A paper filled with my handwriting fell from one of the books. The writing was in verse form, so I thought perhaps an old poem I had written and tucked away.  I have a tendency to do that – start a writing project and put it away not to be found until years later, if at all. But this was not my “writing.” It was the lyrics to an old Amy Grant song, “Turn This World Around.” Apparently the song had some special meaning for me in 1997 since I had taken the time and effort to record the lyrics. The song was included in her Behind The Eyes album released in September 1997 and written by Amy Grant, Beverly Darnall, and Keith Thomas.

Reflecting back on my 1997, in and of itself, it was not a good year, and September was particularly difficult. It was a year of losses and reversals in every area of life – professional, relationship, financial, and health. I could certainly relate to the melancholic melody and many passages in the lyrics of “Turn This World Around.” I was living in the midst of “broken promises and dreams” even as I struggled to carry on “in good disguise.” I needed “somewhere safe and warm” and was thankful for the shelter of friends during this stormy time in my life. I had to “turn and face (my) fears”– the fear of more losses and rejection from family, friends, and the church as I began to acknowledge my same-sex orientation after decades of living in hiding and pretense. I learned to “reach out through (my) tears” and discovered “it’s really not that far to where Hope can be found.”

After finding the paper I dug through my old CD’s. I found it! I had bought it which was something I rarely did. As I listened I recalled the solace and encouragement I had found in other songs in the album such as “I Will Be Your Friend,” “It Takes a Little Time,” Missing You,” and “Somewhere Down the Road.” Today I look at this decades old piece of paper, read these words, and am thankful for how my world was turned around in 1997, albeit after it was turned upside down. Today I hear a more universal and much needed message for our world. The message that behind our eyes “we are all the same it seems.” We all want to be safe and warm and find shelter with others through the storms of our lives. We all need to face our fears and reach out to the other in the midst of suffering—ours and theirs. It is the reaching out and acknowledging the “hunger and longing” that we all know inside that “could be the bridge between us if we tried.”

We all know our world needs to turn around. We are headed in the wrong direction. Look no further than the death and destruction resulting from the numerous and lengthy armed conflicts throughout the world. Grasp the magnitude  of gun violence, the global refugee crisis, increased human trafficking, and world hunger levels rising. We are the world! Only we, working individually and corporately with one another throughout our communities, cities, states, provinces, districts and countries, can turn this world around. Maybe one day we will turn and see behind the eyes of all our brothers and sisters regardless of race, religion, culture, nationality, sexual orientation or gender identity and see our sameness, reach out to one another, and experience the will and kingdom of God “on earth as it is in heaven.” Yes, maybe one day – maybe in this New Year!

When Nothing (Else) Seems to Matter!

I had projects waiting to be completed, letters to write, and activities to plan. I was eager to get started or get back at them. Today, I don’t seem to care. They are trivial and seemingly unimportant. What has changed?

I got the call a week ago on Thursday evening. I had waited for it all day. After nearly two weeks of symptoms—headache, vomiting, and general fatigue and feel bad—numerous doctor’s appointments, and countless medical tests, we were waiting to hear the results from the MRI. The ENT doctor had discovered the nystagmus, uncontrolled eye movements, Tuesday afternoon and immediately set up an appointment with the pediatric neurologist for Wednesday afternoon. The neurologist saying, “Let’s not wait until tomorrow,” scheduled the MRI for 9:30 that night. Prayer mode kicked into higher gear!

After learning of the nystagmus, I did some googling—not necessarily a good thing to do. While praying for the best outcome, an old “what if,” worst-case scenario habit, kept haunting me. She, my ten-year-od great niece, was exhibiting five of the six symptoms of a brain tumor! The call came. “It’s a brain tumor.” Okay, I was somewhat prepared for that. What came next had never entered my mind. “It is inoperable, on the brain stem and too large and entangled with other tissue. They will do some radiation to hopefully shrink and stop the tumors growth.” The projected prognosis is the worst imaginable. The emotions came quick and hard even while I said my goodbyes, “We are praying. Keep in touch. I love you,” and clicked off the phone.

I fell into the sofa crying. I wailed, “Oh, God, no!” I cried more. My wife held me. We held each other. We cried. My chest hurts, I can’t get my breath. Am I having a heart attack? The sobs and pain lessened momentarily only to come roaring back again and again. It felt like a vise was tightening around my chest. Just breathe. Just breathe! Is this what a broken heart feels like?  My heart breaks for my sweet little niece and her family—her mama, daddy, big brother and big sister. My heart breaks for her grandmother, my sister. I am heartbroken.

In the week since the call, I am not crying as much, but there are still times that I feel myself “going down” and tears welling up. I have asked “Why, God!” No answers other than we live in a fallen imperfect world in flesh and bone imperfect bodies. Don’t know if that is God’s answer or mine. I haven’t been able to focus on much other than staying in touch with the family, keeping others posted on what is happening, joining the wonderful “tribe” of folks who have come together to support my niece and her family, and reaching out to friends asking their prayers. I have learned a lot—more than I would want to know–about Diffuse Intrinsic Pontine Glioma (DIPG), a rare and the most devastating pediatric brain tumor. I have researched numerous clinical trials. We are hopeful and thankful that she has seen the doctors at MD Anderson, St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital has called, and there seem to be some options for clinical trial participation. Outside physical labor has provided some respite and distraction. I have weeded and spread 60+ bags of mulch in various beds this week. Good sleep seems to only come with total exhaustion. I could retreat into total aloneness. I know that would not be a healthy choice for me so I try to balance alone time and being with friends that I care about and I know care for me. I continue to pray even as I have no words. I am reminded of James Montgomery’s hymn “Prayer is the Soul’s Sincere Desire.”

 Prayer is the soul’s sincere desire
     Uttered or unexpressed
The motion of a hidden fire
    That trembles in the breast
Prayer is the burden of a sigh,
   The falling of a tear;
The upward glancing of an eye
   When none but God is near.

Yet, every time I turn to other interest that I have been passionate about—social justice issues, civic organizations, ministry and advocacy work—they just don’t seem to be important or matter anymore. My head tells me they are important and maybe the passion will return in time, or maybe not.

In my heart right now, nothing else matters!

 

 

REL Name Change – I Get it! (Updated)

Through these past months I have listened carefully to all those speaking and sharing their opinions and positions on the issue of changing the name of Robert E. Lee High School. I wanted to hear what those opposing the change are saying and thinking. I wanted to hear what they are feeling. I wanted to hear from those in favor of the change. What are they feeling and what are their motives for change? I have stated earlier what my initial thoughts and feelings were on this issue, and I was struggling. I was not “on the bandwagon” for changing the name!
     Through my personal processes of questioning and consideration, I have moved to a position supporting the name change. As I have listened to the speakers opposing the name change,I consistently hear arguments defending the traditions of REL High School and how important those traditions are to its alumni – in some cases two to three family generations of alumni. I hear defenses of the life, legacy, and character of General Robert E. Lee. I hear admonitions that we can’t erase or forget our history. And, I hear the often-used “slippery-slope” defense. “If we change Lee’s name, what’s next – John Tyler, the City of Tyler, Hubbard Middle School, etc.? Where does it stop?” Amidst all the words I hear feelings of loss, fear, and anger. And, you know what, I get that! I hear and understand those feelings.
      For now, let’s consider the feelings of loss-an intense core emotion that can fuel fear and anger. Robert E. Lee High School has a storied history that has often been stellar even though dogged at times by the legacy and accouterments of its namesake.images-1

But more importantly, tens of thousands of students have walked it corridors and filled its classrooms. They played on athletic teams, marched and performed with the band, sang in the choirs, participated on debate teams, performed in dramatic productions, danced with the drill team, cheered in the cheer squad, and so much more.They made friends and sometimes enemies. They excelled academically, and they sometimes faltered.

 

They made memories. Maybe that first kiss came while secreted in a hallway corner or leaning against SMIL_090613_REL_Lufkin_02-Sa locker. Maybe that high school sweetheart is now one’s spouse. Who ever forgets the first Belles Dance, Junior-Senior Prom, or the excitement of Homecoming Week? Yes, Robert E Lee High School is a place that has molded and influenced so many young lives, and the traditions and stalwart school spirit lives on in each of these lives even if they are not so young anymore.

So I think I get it! I understand that sense of loss that might come with a name change. The sense of losing a place that holds memories and so much of what was our youth. I get it! I understand! I started my teaching career at REL. I have two sons who graduated from Lee. I have albums of photos and mementos recalling Belle Dances, band performances, choir concerts, and certificates of achievement. I get it! My question is — At this pivotal point in time, and given the current context of our school and community, can we acknowledge our feelings of loss, move through them, and focus on the future of our students, school, and community? What is best for the common good, today? What is best for our future tomorrow and in the years ahead.maxresdefault

      REL High School is no longer about us, the middle-aged plus folks. We will always have our traditions and history with REL. It is true! We cannot erase our history. We carry it with us. Hopefully, we learn from it. Sometimes we love it, sometimes we don’t. We decide, individually, and subsequently corporately, what we do with our history and whether we remain steadfastly stuck in it or allow it to guide us into new eras, new beginnings, and new possibilities. Most histories I have read are written in chapters. What will be the next chapter for our school and our Tyler community?
      Changing the name of Robert E. Lee High School could be like finishing a chapter in a good book. The information and events in this chapter are vital in giving context to what comes next. Hopefully, the reader is excited and eager to keep reading and discover what the next chapter holds. Or, we might want to think in terms of those inevitable “chapters of our lives.” We know them because we have lived them! Some of our life chapters are natural ends followed by new beginnings – CPUR_060217_Robert_E_Lee_Graduation_008-Mhigh school graduation, college perhaps, entering the work force, career moves, getting married, having kids, the empty nest. It is my experience that coming to the close of a life chapter brings some natural feelings of loss and accompanying sorrow. Yet, I move to the next chapter with hope and anticipating the new.
      In moving forward, it is the desire of my heart that all of us with meaningful ties to REL hold on to our personal memories and recall with fondness the traditions we enjoyed even while moving beyond them and focusing on our present and future young folks and our best hopes for our community. We are in a different time and place than we were in 1958. Robert E. Lee is a different school. Tyler is a different, growing, and diverse community.  Can we focus on what is best for our future-for the school and our community? Can we feel our loss and move forward in support of our new school with a new name and all the new possibilities that brings to our community.
      It is my hope and prayer moving forward that our sense of loss will be softened by the promise of a new beginning, a new era, a new chapter for our beloved school and our community.

Late to the Party! A More Perfect Union

     quad-patriotic-democratic-160516-v2 I am a little late to the party with this commentary! I have been caught up in my own ruminating, reflection, and recovery from the last eighteen months of our horrific, unprecedented presidential campaign and election trying to get my perspective and stability refocused and centered. I am not completely there yet, but moving forward. Upfront! I voted for Hillary. Both candidates were/are flawed as all human beings are with some being more so than others. Given Hillary’s upbringing in middle-class America, her decades of national and global public service in both domestic and foreign affairs, her heart for and demonstrated efforts on behalf of all families and children, I truly believe she was, and still is, the most experienced and best qualified person to serve as President of the United States. That being said, Donald Trump is our President-Elect. And, in all honesty, I believe it is a travesty that in our “alleged” democratic nation someone who did not win the popular vote will be elevated to the highest office in the land. Barring defections during the Electoral College vote, that is what will happen on December 19. There are rumblings of such a defection; however, we all know that is unlikely. Yet, given the history of this election – never say never! In the meantime, let us resolve and hear Mr. Trump’s pledge “to be President for all Americans” and remember Hillary’s gracious words and move forward giving Mr. Trump “an open mind and a chance to lead.” I intend to do just that even as I continue to speak out for the values I hold dear, the values our nation was founded upon — justice for all, domestic peace, our common defense, our common good, the blessings of liberty for all, and a more perfect union.

     A more perfect union! Of all the flaws, both individual and as a nation, illuminated by this campaign and election none are more glaring than the deep divides among our people. We (and the media and pollsters) have sliced and diced ourselves into such varied social, racial, cultural, economic, religious, etc. groups that one might ask, “Where are the Americans?” That’s a good question, but an even better question might be “Who are the diverse American people?” If we are to find that “more perfect union,” we must reach out and seek to know one another. We are allowing our “tribalism” and suspicions of the “others” to destroy us – our families, our communities, our nation, and ultimately, ourselves – our souls. We rally around candidates and causes. We protest policy and positions. Yet, we fail when it comes to reaching beyond our tribal groups to embrace, know, understand, and respect those of other groups. When will we learn that foremost we are all of one “tribe,” and at our most basic level need and want the same things – respect, love and acceptance, peace, safety, liberty, happiness, and opportunities for prosperity.

     What are we called to do to seek and nurture that more perfect union? Though admittedly an idealist, I am not naïve enough to believe that a “perfect” union is possible, and if so, it might be a bit boring, but I do believe we can do better. We must do better if we hope to avert greater division and civil disturbances among our people. Maybe we could reach out to one other person outside of our routine tribe and seek to know them better, listen, try to understand and walk in their shoes, build a relationship. Maybe we could begin to speak up when we see or hear someone being ridiculed or demeaned. Let them know that they are worthy of respect. Let the offender know that his/her actions are not acceptable. Or, maybe we could open our homes and host some “get to know you” gatherings. I am sure there are many things that we could do to foster unity among us all. The question I must ask and answer is, “What will I do?” And you, “What will you do?” Let’s do something so we can all enjoy that “more perfect union” and enjoy the party!

Rock Springs Run! I Almost Missed It!!

0924150939-00Since our arrival at Wekiwa Springs State Park in Apopka, FL my desire and intent was to kayak down the Rock Springs Run Paddle Trail, which is touted as the number one paddle trail in Central Florida. I must admit that even with my desire and intent, I felt a nagging anxiety. Yes, I felt nervous, uncertain, scared, and fearful of doing what I wanted to do. I suppose my anxiety was rooted in several things. First, I have never kayaked this particular paddle trail. I would literally be entering unknown and uncharted waters — at least for me. Second, I would be doing the paddle alone. I know, the “rules” of kayaking urge us not to go it alone, but in this instance, I have no choice. Do it alone, or don’t do it at all! Third, it is a long paddle — 8.5 miles — requiring four to five hours minimum paddle time. Fourth, Rock Springs Run is on the Wekiva River which is designated a National Wild and Scenic River. Now, I am fine with scenic. It is the “wild” that causes me pause. In this case one might translate “wild” into alligators. Also, I had been told that the current in the upper run was fairly swift, and the river was definitely not straight — lots of crooks and turns. This combination can be difficult and even treacherous. So, I was anxious. Bottom line – I was scared!

I knew that if I didn’t push through the fear and do the paddle that I would be disappointed with myself and with not getting to experience the river up close. So I shared my feelings with Lou Anne which actually made me feel better and decided that I would go to the launch point, King’s Landing, talk with the folks there about the river conditions, take a look at the water, and then make my decision. Which is exactly what I did and launched the kayak at 9:30 am. I would paddle the 8.5 miles to Wekiva Island, and Lou Anne would meet me at the take-out there at 1:00 – 1:30 pm. I set the launch location as a waypoint on my GPS, set the trip odometer, and paddled out. Still a bit anxious, but ready for the challenge!

I entered the main channel and was greeted by dense water lilies with a paddle trail snaking through their midst. There were also a couple of houses on the right — nothing wild about that. The river was wide bank-to-bank, but the water lilies made the paddling trail much narrower. This was the case intermittently throughout the trail. Toward the end of the trail these plants were blooming a colorful red and blue. When I was not traversing the lilies, the banks were lush and green with large towering oaks, palms (the short, bushy saw palmetto as well as the cabbage palm tree), and the occasional cypress. It was a jungle out there – really!!

0924151012-00 I wasn’t far into the paddle when I spotted my first alligator. It was swimming parallel to the kayak about 8-10 feet to my right. With him being in the water, it was difficult to gauge his size. Given the distance between his eyes (sometimes this is all you see of them) and his wake in the water, I guessed him to be about 4-5 feet. Sorry, no photos! For me, the right action when spotting a gator in the water is to keep moving and not do anything to draw attention to myself.   The presence of alligators in the river forced me to change my paddling patterns. I normally enjoy paddling close to the riverbanks just to get a closer look at the plants and critters. However, with the gators as often-unseen companions and with their propensity to lie quietly in the vegetation along the banks, I opted to keep my paddling path in the middle of the river. This was my first of four alligator sightings this day. All were quite similar, with the exception of one in which the gator was swimming across the river. He spotted me and went under the water. If he stayed on the same path underwater, I floated over him. My only thought was, “I hope he doesn’t come up while under me!” I moved forward with short, quick paddle strokes in hopes of not disturbing him!

About thirty minutes into the paddle, I had a definite decision to make. I came to a sign reading: King’s Landing Blue Band Turn Around. I knew that my destination was still at least eight miles down river. Yet, I launched from King’s Landing and the attendant had placed a blue band on my wrist. Does that sign apply to me? I decided it did not and continued down the river, which became much narrower with more obstructions, fallen trees or branches, in or over the water. I was paddling deeper into the jungle! As the river narrowed, the current was more noticeable, and my river trail became one crook and turn after another. The wild had now merged with the scenic! I had to pay attention and be intentional with my paddle. It became a challenge to place the paddle in the water at the right time and rudder angle to make the upcoming turn, and to make it before the current carried the kayak into the oncoming bank. I maneuvered the kayak left, then right, then right again, then left again consistently. Only once did I have to dig myself out of the bank. No, you won’t see photos of these sections of the river, as I was too busy with the paddle!

0924151030-00  I was enjoying the paddle and the challenge of the crooks, turns, and the fallen trees and branches even as I felt I was going “deeper into the jungle.” Maybe an hour to an hour and half in, I encountered an obstacle that would require much more strategy and maneuvering than any of my previous encounters. A large tree, probably 18-24 inches in trunk diameter, had fallen and was blocking the entire span of the river. I considered going to the right, but the still green branches filled the river and even lay upon the bank. The left option looked a bit more promising. The base of the tree was high enough up on the bank that with my 5’ 3” stature there was a possibility of going under the fallen trunk albeit a “duck” would be needed. This plan was complicated by the fact that the tree had fallen across another large tree trunk that obviously had been in the water much longer. The resulting trunk configuration looked like a slightly squeezed “X” lying on its side. The water level barely covered the lower cross trunk, but there was enough for me to push my kayak over it. Actually, as I started the crossing, the current pushed the kayak and me laterally over the lower trunk. Luckily, I was still in the kayak. The next step was to push and paddle the kayak along the trunks toward the bank, make a right turn at the opening, duck, and go under the upper trunk. I did it! My heart was pounding and my hands shaking, no doubt, the result of both the exertion and the fear. I must admit that there was a moment as I struggled to push and paddle the kayak up and through the opening that I thought, “Am I going to make it!”

I relaxed for a bit, basking in the excitement of having met the challenge. As the trail continued to be littered with obstacles and having encountered the large tree blockage, I suddenly recalled something I had read previous to launching to the effect that the staff of King’s Landing does a good job of keeping the Rock Springs Run free of obstacles. Hgh!   I was not experiencing a run “free of obstacles!” I then remembered, “King’s Landing Blue Band Turn Around.” Whoa! My heart was not pounding. It had been grabbed and caught tight in the vise of FEAR. Where am I? Am I lost? Should I have turned around? Do I need to turn around now? I don’t know that I can paddle two hours against this current? How will I get around that tree again?

To counter these questions, my first response was to tell myself, “Just breath, Brenda, just breath.” Is it really possible that I had turned the wrong direction? I kept visualizing a map of the river that did have a side stream; maybe I had turned down that stream. I dug in my wet sack and pulled out a simple map of the paddling trail. No, that side stream was off the lower section of the river. I was in the upper part of the river. I felt somewhat better. I then remembered that the day before when I left Wekiwa Springs for a short paddle I had set a waypoint on my GPS. I also knew that today’s paddle would take me toward Wekiwa Springs and less than a quarter of a mile from that waypoint. I pulled the GPS out. I had traveled almost three miles today already. I located the Wekiwa Springs waypoint and programed the GPS to “Go To” that waypoint. When the screen popped up, I felt a wave of relief. My current location was on the track between this morning’s King’s Landing waypoint and yesterday’s Wekiwa Springs waypoint. I was headed in the right direction! I just needed to keep paddling.

And paddle I did with even greater enjoyment and confidence. My confidence was bolstered even more when I saw the brown state park sign that read, “You are halfway.” I had reached that part of the run within the bounds of Wekiwa Springs State Park. Eventually I passed Otter, Big Buck, and Indian Mound Campsites maintained by the state park. I knew I was doing well on my time so I parked the kayak – lodged it against a tree trunk – pulled out my snacks, rested, and ate a bite of lunch consisting of an apple and mixed nuts. As I sat in the kayak, I remembered my fear and being scared about doing the run. Just think! I almost missed it! I almost missed this adventure – the alligators, the lily pads, the narrow twisting, turning river, the jungle, the heart stopping fear, the satisfaction of rising to the occasion and meeting the challenges.

I finished the run. The river widened. The jungle disappeared – so much so I had to break out the sunscreen. The lily pads returned sporting gorgeous red blooms and so thick they brushed the sides of the kayak as I maneuvered the trail. I saw another alligator or two. They kept moving and so did I. The last half hour or so I actually met some other folks making their way upstream. Not what I would want to do! I arrived at Wekiva Island around 1:30 pm pretty much on schedule feeling both very tired and very content. Lou Anne was walking down to the landing to meet me. What an adventure I had to share! Just think, I almost missed it!        September 24, 2015

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