Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Memorial Day 2011

This Memorial Day afternoon Cindy Lou and I trekked over to the National Cemetery at the Veterans Administration in Dayton to visit with her buried father and place an American flag at his headstone.  It just seemed like the right thing to do.  I stopped by my father’s place at Calvary Cemetery late last week to place a World War II marker with a flag at his place.  I was too late, though.  One of my sibs beat me to it.  Thanks to whoever that was.  
Yesterday at the National Cemetery was particularly special because lots of folks were there to appreciate the place dressed up for the patriotic occasion.  Every grave on the property had a flag already in place which, according to the newspaper, totaled 46,000 Old Glories.  Impressive, indeed.  And to make the grounds even more lovely, larger American flags mounted on poles were erected every 50 feet or so along both sides of every road in the cemetery.   
It is duly important to remember our fathers and mothers and friends who served our nation on Memorial Day.  It is good to remember all our dead, to be sure, but especially those who gave up a chunk of their lives for lousy pay and a dangerous gig to keep all of us at home safe and able to practice a life with the freedoms we have come to expect.
I was lucky not to have to serve in the military.  I’m sure that sounds self-serving, and I guess it is.  It’s not that I didn’t want to serve when my time came.  Dad told plenty of stories that made me proud of his service, and hailing from the Birthplace of Aviation, I suppose in different circumstances, I would have been damned excited to do time with the United States Air Force.  It’s just that for me the Vietnam war was going on, and by the time I signed up for my draft card, I had a very bad feeling about that conflict.  Instead, I went to college and got my degree and went on to serve my time as a public school educator.  I’ve always hoped my dad understood.  
I write this today because it is, indeed, important to remember our veterans and celebrate their sacrifice.  But something else happened at the National Cemetery yesterday that moved me deeply.  
As we pulled up to the corner of Kansas and Texas avenues, which is where we park to visit Cindy’s dad, I noticed a guy, probably about my age, standing back on the other side of the street taking a picture.  If I had kept going, my car very easily could have screwed up his photograph.  So we waited.  
He took a long time composing a seemingly easy landscape shot, but no problem.  We weren’t in any big hurry.  He didn’t even seem to notice us.  When he finished, we pulled around the corner, parked, and then walked up under the big spruce tree that provides the former First Lieutenant Ralph Thomas Cooke with shade on a sunny day.  
A young woman was standing there under the tree, talking with an older man not far from where Cindy’s dad is interred.  They were not distracted by our searching for the right headstone, as they were deep in storytelling about the one fallen and buried there.  Cindy placed a second flag at her dad’s place and stood there a while in thought.  After a couple of minutes, she was ready to leave.  
On the short walk back to the car, I felt odd walking over the headstones of fallen soldiers.  As soon as we reached a wider easement between the stones, we followed it to stay out of other’s sacred space.  
Just as we got to the road, I noticed the guy who had taken the landscape shot of the headstones a few minutes earlier.  He was hovering over a marker with a few keepsakes, trying to take a close-up shot.  As I often do when I notice a person taking a picture he or she should be in, too, I walked over and asked if I could take a picture with him in the shot.  He was grateful.  
He smiled at me a bit sheepishly when I recognized one of the memory pieces he brought to his dad’s grave site was roll of toilet paper inscribed with ‘RIP.‘  He grinned and said his father had died on the toilet and that he would appreciate the tp since he always had such a great sense of humor.  We both laughed easily.
The guy hunched down over his father’s stone and I snapped off a couple of quick pics for him.  I couldn’t tell what his expression was since the sun was so bright.  I could hardly make out anything in the viewfinder.  But I could tell the shot was pretty balanced and knew whatever I got would be okay.  
When the man approached to reclaim his camera, he gave me the biggest bearhug I’ve had in a while.  I never got his name.  I never got his father’s name.  All I know is he was grateful to be there with his dad and pleased that he had a picture of it.  He gave Cindy a big hug, too.
I’ve been through many Memorial Days in my 61 years.  I’ve listened to plenty of Indianapolis 500s on the radio as a kid on family picnics at Lake Loramie or at a cookout in our family’s backyard.  But this year I got a hug from a very moved stranger I’ll never see again, coming from however far away to be at his father’s grave site on Memorial Day.  It’s a memory I’ll treasure for as long as I can. 
Today’s elder idea:  There are those, I know, who will say that the liberation of humanity, the freedom of man and mind, is nothing but a dream.  They are right.  It is the American dream.  
American poet Archibald MacLeish
image:  Monument at Dayton’s National Cemetery

Thursday, May 26, 2011

The feel of America

I started this entry earlier today, then trashed it.  I began trying to explain how I don’t understand what the GOP/Tea Partiers/Libertarians have against most of America. 
You know, take workplace power away from public employees, privatize Medicare, further restrict access to abortion, cut taxes for the rich, expect the middle and lower echelons of earners to pay more, and whatever you do, DON’T RAISE TAXES, even if state and federal budgets require it.  See, there I go again.  I just don’t understand it. 
The kernel of the idea for this entry came a few days ago in quiet response to a conservative Facebook post from a friend who celebrated something about the sanctity of the US Constitution. 
And I thought, “You know, I love the Constitution.  It was a beautiful idea whose time had come.  It is a tribute to Enlightenment thinkers in the ‘old country’ and our very own founding fathers.  It has been copied by so many nations around the world.  We should be proud!’ 
And I am.  Still, I thought, it isn’t the Constitution that lights me up about this place.  It’s something else.  It’s something somehow richer.
First, the Constitution is a flawed document.  Looking at the original with the clauses struck out through amendments, shows how much actually has been changed.  I mean, those guys back then counted black folks as two-thirds of a white American.  I’m sure most of them thought that was a revolutionary liberal accomplishment.  
For me, America is something beyond a document.  America, for me, has a certain feel.  It’s a feel that anybody can be anything she or he wants.  It’s a feel that kids won’t go to bed hungry and that anybody who wants to go to college can.  It’s a feel that everybody ought to have a good job.  Everybody ought to vote.  We all should pull together to be sure even the least among us has opportunity.  
Maybe those ideas are glorified in the Declaration of Independence, but they don’t really come through in the Constitution.  The Constitution is about law, as it should be.  My America is about fairness and doing what’s best for the people. 
America today, I am sorry to say, is really run by global corporations.  Bernie Sanders (I-VT) said just this week that the business of Congress is controlled by corporate money.  In another day we said, “What’s good for General Motors is good for America.”  Now it’s more like what’s good for GE, Mobile-Exxon, and Bank of America is good for America.  Legislation comes to be because some corporation wants a favor from the government:  a tax break, a tax loophole, an angle on a growing market, reduction of competition, taking power away from workers.  
I don’t like it.  It doesn’t seem fair.  And I’m amazed at the ability of newly elected folks to get their agenda going.  
I just want to know how much of this is what Americans want and how much of this is what the folks who lobby politicians want?  They are not mutually compatible.    
America for me isn’t the Constitution, though it is surely important. 
America for me is the place where people are treated fairly and with respect and can achieve impossible dreams.  
I get the feeling that in today’s political climate, some very important impossible dreams achieved by our foremothers and forefathers are being reduced to make life more profitable for corporations.  
And I find that damned depressing.  
Today’s elder idea:
O, let America be America again--
The land that never has been yet--
And yet must be--the land where every man is free.
The land that's mine--the poor man's, Indian's, 
Negro's, ME--
Who made America,
Whose sweat and blood, whose faith and pain,
Whose hand at the foundry, whose plow in the rain,
Must bring back our mighty dream again.
excerpt from Langston Hughes
“Let America Be America Again”
image:  stolen off the internet

Monday, May 16, 2011

NASA and Dayton

I’ve had notes on my desk for the last couple of weeks for a blog entry on NASA and the end of space shuttle flights.  Then just an hour ago this morning, Endeavour blasted off on its last voyage, piloted by Fairborn’s own Greg Johnson.  So I guess there’s no time like the present for a few remarks about NASA -- and Dayton. 
1.  First, a beautiful launch today of STS-134 Endeavour even on a rather cloudy Florida morning.  When Cindy and I were in Florida for the February 2010 Endeavour launch, weather was clear as a bell for the second launch attempt.  Story was orbiter engine glow was visible over 700 miles downrange, which put the spaceship and its crew on an east-west line with Cape Hatteras.  That was impressive!  Today, however, the ship disappeared into a low cloud cover within a few seconds of lift-off.  I hope the estimated 400,000 witnesses gathered to watch weren’t too disappointed with the view.
The commander of this voyage, as you probably know, is Mark Kelly, husband of Arizona U.S Representative Gabrielle Giffords.  Story was Ms. Giffords was able to travel to the Kennedy Space Center from her rehab work Houston yesterday to witness her husband and crew ride the space shuttle ‘candle’ on the fleet’s penultimate voyage.  I hear she was accompanied by Greg Johnson’s family and others on the flight from Texas.  
Best of luck to the Endeavour crew.  They have a few spacewalks to perform to outfit the International Space Station for the long haul, and the super-snazzy Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer to install on the station.  The AMS will measure space particles that we never see on earth because our atmosphere eradicates ‘em on the way down.  Some cool science should come from this experiment, maybe even some new data on mysterious ‘dark energy.’  Some folks say what the AMS will show us might be comparable to what Hubble has done.  Now that’s a tall order!  We’ll just have to wait and see.
 2.  It’s an old topic now, but the National Museum of the United States Air Force here in Dayton was not awarded one of the orbiters going into retirement this summer.  Damn.  Sure was hoping for one of those, especially Atlantis, which has flown more Air Force payloads than either Discovery or Endeavour.   Sure would have been good to have had her in a hanger over at the Springfield Street museum.  Not to be, though.  
Ohio Senator Sherrod Brown was very unhappy with the decision to pass on Dayton, to instead locate all four retired vehicles in facilities on an American coast (Washington DC, New York City, Kennedy Space Center, and Los Angeles).  I’m disappointed, too.  Too bad.  Senator Brown is asking for an investigation.  
Still, the AF Museum will get some engines, tires, and some trainer equipment.  If we had gotten Atlantis, as cool as that would have been, we would have been able to only stand and look at it, like so many other static exhibits at the museum.  This way, I’m hoping we’ll all get a chance to interact with shuttle apparatus when it gets here.  Besides, placing shuttles where they are going gives us Midwesterners other good destinations to visit on trips to the space coast of Florida, the Big Apple, the nation’s capital, and the City of Angels.  We’ll survive.  
 3.  It has always bothered me that Time Warner Cable, the cable monopoly that services Dayton, never offered NASA TV.  I mean, the government feed is free, for pete’s sake, and Dayton is the home of aviation, after all.  With all the junk on cable, I could never figure out why Time Warner opted not to offer NASA TV in this market.  An Air Force friend told me Time Warner didn’t even offer NASA TV in Houston.  Who knew?  
So for a year or so, Cindy let me acquire our home television signal from Dish Network, which offered NASA TV.  I want to tell you, I’d spend most days eating my lunch in front of the set getting caught up on whatever NASA wanted to show me.  Every day at 11 am Eastern, we’d get an hour update from the ISS, as well as getting a number of good science programs for kids.  And when a shuttle was in orbit, we’d get 24/7 coverage.  Very cool.  
But whenever it rained or snowed heavily, we’d lose the satellite signal and be without the Dish feed.  Seemed pretty goofy to lose the television feed when the weather got bad.  So back to Time Warner we went last summer. 
But I wrote Time Warner a letter, telling them what they were missing by not offering NASA TV.  A couple of times a got a person on the phone and I complained.  
‘Did you say, Nascar?  We offer Nascar,’  I heard more than once.  No, not Nascar.  NASA.  
Then one day just a month ago, we got a knock on the front door from a local Time Warner employee who wanted to stop by to tell us that NASA TV was now offered in the Dayton market.  It must have been his wife, also a company employee, who heard one of my complaints.  When she heard the company expanded offerings to include NASA TV, she wanted to be sure we got word personally. 
I was duly impressed.  I take back all the nasty stuff I’ve said about Time Warner not offering NASA for all these years.  True, we get charged an additional five bucks a month for NASA and the other few channels offered on that ‘tier,’ but I’ll take it!  
An extra special thanks, too, to those couple of Dayton neighbors working for Time Warner who went the extra mile to tell me personally about the new offering.  Who says big companies have to be impersonal?  Thanks again.
Today’s elder idea:  ...three, two, one, zero -- and liftoff for the final launch of Endeavour, expanding our knowledge and expanding our lives in space. 
NASA Television announcer
16 May 2011

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Personal epiphany

Last Sunday at church the gospel for 3 Easter was the famous story known as “The Road to Emmaus.”  While listening, it brought to mind a movie scene that for years has been a special one for me, one I consider a personal epiphany. 
The Third Sunday of Easter gospel this year, recorded by the writer known as Luke, retells a real-time Easter day event of a couple of very depressed disciples of Jesus walking to Emmaus, a town not too far from Jerusalem, the city in which Jesus had been executed just days before.  These two disciples were not of the eleven remaining Apostles, but associate followers of Jesus, one going by the name of Cleopas. 
The story goes that while the two were on their way, a stranger joined in their journey.  I imagine such an occasion was not unusual for the time.  No busy highways here, just folks ambling along a dirt road in need of reaching a destination.  We don’t know why these two were going to Emmaus, though the writer wants us to know right away that the “stranger” was, in fact, Jesus, though as Luke tells the tale the disciples’ “eyes were kept from recognizing him.”  
I imagine I was a kid in elementary school when I first heard this story.  At that point in my life Easter was a mighty big deal, though the Lenten period preceding was one that bothered me just about as much as it does today.  I was glad Jesus had resurrected himself and all, but the whole violent scene of his being punished for speaking truth to power frankly pissed me off.  My awareness of the Emmaus story most probably happened in the 1960s, during those difficult yet brilliant Civil Rights days.  I watched the evening news with my parents and knew what civil injustice looked like in America at the time, and it depressed me that in the 2,000 years following the death of Christ, civilization hadn’t found a way to hear the truth and act upon it.  
I found it very odd, too, that these followers of Jesus did not recognize him.  I mean, really?  It’s one thing to have Lois Lane look at Clark Kent and be thrown off from recognizing him because of a suit and those goofy glasses, but followers of Jesus not recognizing him?  Of course, the guy did die just a couple days before.  Surely they wouldn’t be looking for him on the road to Emmaus.  Still, according to Luke’s story, these men were aware of the three day thing.  If it really were Jesus, wouldn’t they have recognized his face?    
The disciples even took their newly acquired traveling companion to task for not knowing about the death of Jesus.  When asked by the stranger why they looked so sad, Cleopas popped off, “Are you the only stranger in Jerusalem who does not know the things that have taken place there in these days?”  Then he goes on to describe how the chief priests handed over what believers thought was the the best hope of Israel’s new day to the Romans for execution.  To be sure it was a depressing time for believers.  
And that’s what brings me to Jesus of Montreal.  This movie retells the tale of an outdoor Canadian passion play that seasonally commemorates the death of Jesus.  When they get to the Road to Emmaus part of the story, it is obvious to everybody that the stranger on the road is not, in fact, the same actor who played Jesus.  He is a reasonably unrecognizable character wearing a hoodie, with his face in deep shadow.  
But when the stranger took bread and wine, blessed it, and offered it to them, the disciples saw something different.  Something hopeful.  They recognized Jesus in the person of this actual stranger.  
And therein I found my own epiphany.  
I don’t know if Jesus is/was really God or not.  I believe he was a very good dude who promoted community unified amid a universal spirit.  He talked about the Father and the Spirit a lot.  I recognize both Father and Spirit as code for something that connects us all.  Jesus taught followers, after all, to take care of each other.  That surely wasn’t the Roman message of the day.  Jesus, instead, promoted personal behavior that was beyond the political or legal.  In the simple act of sharing bread and wine, a community of caring people developed and is celebrated.  
I don’t mean to overstate my sense that I’m a Christian agnostic, something I’ve mentioned here on The Back Porch a couple of times already.  Truth is, though, if a body is an agnostic, why in the heck does he still practice religion and go to church?  
For me, it’s because I feel we’re all part of something bigger -- something beyond religion.  We are all part of a human family who needs to be caring about each other.  Lots of teachers, including Jesus and Buddha, promoted the idea. 
And on those dark days when we think we’ve been abandoned and are alone, we find strangers who talk to our hearts about the solidarity of taking care of each other that connects us to something so much greater than ourselves.
I hope you get a chance to watch Jesus of Montreal.  It surely meant a lot to me.  I’ve got a VHS copy and just ordered one in DVD format.  Let me know if you want to borrow either. 
Today’s elder idea:  When he was at the table with them, he took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them.  Then their eyes were opened and they recognized him; and he vanished from their sight.  
from Luke 24

Monday, May 9, 2011

A note to self

Good morning.  I hope you had a good night.  I know you’ve had a tough time keeping up with writing projects lately for various reasons.  Perhaps you’ve had a couple good days and the book project looks like it might actually get someplace this week.  Hopefully.  If not, fear not.  Good work can be accomplished today.  There is hope with application of focus and energy.
Thoughts here were suggested by you at a somewhat lucid time hoping you might actually help yourself stay on track on some distant morning.  
It’s time to get to work.   I know you’re retired, but still:  It’s time to get productive.      
Today’s work should consist of some positive accomplishment on the Todd project.  
That could be reading, outlining, data gathering, revising, drafting, setting up photography, emailing, or some other job directly related to The Dressy Adventuress.  
Three days a week minimum / 3 hours a day suggested.
On other days and at other times, the following projects should be considered:  
Ideas to be listened to and developed. 
√  The Back Porch blog entries
√  original poetry construction/revising
√  syncing original photography to poetry 
•  tj originals or cover [i.e. Emily Dickinson]
√  essay development
√  short story development
√  earthspeaks.org development
•  redesign as Home of Wild Grace
•  original images, poems, essays, links
•  ekphrasis exercises
•  earthspeaks.org podcast:
    Wild Grace:  Giving voice to nature’s people
√  Spiral Nebula:  New poems by Tom Schaefer 
•  include digital imagery
√  playlist/jewel box content development
Be aware of time spent surfing.  Data gathering, I know, but remember focus and energy.
Try to keep computer entertainment and smoke until afternoon, preferably late afternoon.   
Get something done today.  You’ll be glad you did.  The people you live with will love you for it.  
Be mindful.  
Praise the Spirit of the Universe