November 17, 2013 · 12:12 am
Generally, as most of us get older, we have a very good idea of what our likes and dislikes are. Recently, though, I have been thinking about doing some things that I know I do not enjoy or usually want to do. It’s an odd feeling.
As I wrote before, I don’t like to be outdoors. Maybe I spent too much time outside when I was growing up, but the great outdoors has far too many hazards and discomforts for me to want to spend hours there. I know there are people who love the outdoors and spend a lot of time there, and that’s all right. They can have my share.
The odd thing is, I’ve been thinking about aboriginal Americans who lived very close to nature. Whether their shelter was a lodge or teepee or pueblo, they had to have been aware of the elements. With a fire for heating and breezes for cooling they were right in the midst of nature.
I have been camping exactly once in my life. I was ten years old, and I remember not sleeping much and just about starving since each of us was responsible for his own food. Lately, though, I been wondering what it would be like to stay outside in a tent. I could pitch one in my back yard and not be that far away from the comforts of the indoors. Of course, I’d have to buy almost everything I need, including a tent. I do have a sleeping bag from my daughters’ Girl Scout days. It’s a thought, but a strange one for me. Still, I find myself thinking that being outside with nothing but a thin nylon wall between me and the outdoors would be intriguing, although I’d probably wait until spring to try it.
Then there’s traveling. I’ve decided I don’t like to travel. Oh, I like to see different places, particularly places with history and good restaurants and good bookstores, but actually getting there is pain. I don’t care for driving, which is mostly monotonous and occasionally terrifying. My wife is a great driver (and a wizard parallel parker, even left-handed), so she does most of the driving when we go somewhere. I do the navigating, and I’m good at that, except when I’m not. That’s a subject for an entire column, but not just now. Anyhow, if there were a Star Trek-style transporter available, I’d use one, even at the risk of scrambling my molecules. To be able to be some place instantly has a huge appeal for me. And don’t even think about flying. That used to be fun and an adventure, but I don’t have to tell you what a pain it has become. No, I’m comfortable where I am, with everything I need right here. That’s why my travel impulse is a strange one. I’d like to fly around the world. I’m not talking about flying around the world non-stop on one tank of gas. What I’m thinking would be fun would be to fly around the world using scheduled flights. I’ve checked and it’s possible. It would take about three days. I think I would like to go business class since I would plan to be on an airplane most of the time. I wouldn’t even leave the airports or clear customs—I would just go right on to the next flight. This is even crazier when I consider that I am mildly claustrophobic. That’s why business class. I could leave on a Friday and be back Monday if my calculations are correct. It would be cool to say I had done it.
Then, I’ve been having an impulse lately to have another career. That’s not that unusual for an early retiree like me, but I’m talking about an entirely different career. When I was in my early teens I wanted to be a rocket scientist. (I was too tall to be an astronaut then.) What dissuaded me from this career path was the sad reality that I was not very good at math, and math is important to being rocket scientists. My impulse is to take science and math classes and earn a degree in astronautical engineering. I figure with the coursework I’ve done already I can skip the core classes and things like phys ed. and go right on to advanced science classes. It would be a whole lot easier for me to earn an M.F.A. in creative writing, but becoming a rocket scientist in my 60’s sounds much more appealing, even if I am probably worse at math than I was in high school. Grandma Moses started painting when she was in her 80’s, so maybe I do have a future with NASA.
So I have these random impulses, but I’ve found if I lie down for a while, they soon pass. Thank goodness for small favors.
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Tagged as aerospace engineering, airplanes, being outdoors, Biscuit City, blogs, camping, courage, Grandma Moses, NASAS, native Americans, nature, outdoors, poetry, Prince William County, random impulses, reading, school, spring, transportation, words, work, writing
November 1, 2013 · 3:05 pm
The World Series is over (how ’bout them Red Sox?!?), and the long drought sets in. Sure, there is what’s called the Hot Stove League where aficionados can sit around and talk about games past and speculate on the future of their teams (the Nats have a new manager! Yay! Hope for the future!), and we can watch replays of Nats games all winter, but it’s not the same as live baseball. This dearth of action on the diamond will last until about the middle of February, when pitchers and catchers report. Still, that’s three and a half months away. It’s going to be a long, cold winter.
So, friends, stock up on some good reads, build a fire in the fireplace, and settle in. Baseball is about hope and expectation. True, it will break your heart, but there’s always next year. And, in the words of the poet Shelley, If Winter comes, can Spring be far behind?
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Tagged as baseball, broken heart, courage, end of season, good reads, hope and expectation, hot stove league, long winter, Nationals, Ode to the West Wind, pitchers and catchers report, reading, Red Sox, replays, Shelley, spring training, there's always next year, Washington Nationals, words, World Series
October 28, 2013 · 11:40 pm
Good advice for all of us!
I was thinking about rules the other day, for some reason, and I was minded of a quotation from Oliver Wendell Holmes, the great jurist, who declared, “The young man knows the rules, but the old man knows the exceptions.”
At an early age, we learn rules and consequences when we follow them and when we break them. I asked my daughter Amy, who is an ace fourth grade teacher if her students were big on following rules. Here is what she wrote:
Yes, unfortunately I am quite familiar with children who are big on following rules.
Mostly the kids get very upset if they think others aren’t following the rules. One example is the “calculator police” in my room. The kids haven’t really used calculators before this year, and get all upset if they think someone is using a calculator and they’re not supposed to be. We had to have a chat about how some people need the calculator and I’ve given them permission to use it. I said that fairness isn’t giving everyone the same thing: it’s giving everyone what they need to be successful!
They aren’t as bad about tattling as the younger grades are, but if they’re a little less mature, they do get upset when others don’t follow the rules!
Of course, rules and laws apply to us as we grow older and woe unto us if we disobey the rules and get caught. Traffic laws provide a nearly universal and daily example. Most drivers tend to driver a little faster than the speed limit, and most police tend to tolerate that as long as it’s not dangerous or what is called “too fast for road conditions.” There is an element of judgment in applying the law. When I got a speeding ticket a few years ago for going 40 in a 25-mph school zone (the lights weren’t flashing, honest), the judge dismissed the charge because of my good driving record. I had a social studies teacher back in the day who told us, “There is a reason for the law and reason within the law.” My experience in traffic court was a perfect example of this principle.
Baseball rules (of which there are many) are famously open to interpretation and can differ from day to day in their application. A young player who “shows up” an umpire by protesting strikes is likely to find himself not getting the close calls. There are consequences. Some people have asked why the game doesn’t use a Pitch-Trak to call balls and strikes. There are entirely too many variables, especially in close plays on the bases. There is a reason for the rule, and reason within the rules indeed.
Human relationships are perhaps the most important arena where grace and judgment must be used. We hurt each other, mess up, and generally make a hash of things. All this is going to happen and when it does, it can destroy a relationship–or we can offer each other grace, understanding, compassion and empathy and go on together. Holding grudges, as someone wisely said, hurts us more than it hurt the person we hold a grudge against.
I pray for each of us that we are familiar with the rules, and, more importantly, how to use them to build others and ourselves up and not to tear down and destroy.
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Tagged as baseball rules, breaking rules, building up, children and rules, compassion, consequences, courage, destroying, empathy, fairness, forgiveness, grace, grudges, human relationships, humility, interpretation, judgment, rules, school house rules, tearing down, traffic laws, transgression, understanding
October 21, 2013 · 9:06 pm
Today, I’m wishing,
Not on a star, but just plain old
Wishing. And so,
I wish I had
A nimbus of hair like
The ability to
Touch hearts and minds
With words and music like
The style and intelligence 0f
The courage and perseverance of
The eloquence and grace of
Martin Luther King, Jr.,
The gentle spirit and insight of
The genius and quiet passion of
The strength and holiness of
Joan of Arc,
And the determination and fortitude of
As the saying goes,
“If wishes were horses,
Then beggars would ride,”
And I’d have enough mounts
To start a cavalry regiment.
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Tagged as Art Garfunkel, beggars, courage, determination, eloquence, Emily Dickinson, fortitude, genius, gentle spirit, Gordon Lightfoot, grace, hearts, holiness, horses, insight, intelligence, Joan of Arc, Jr., Madame Curie, Martin Luther King, Maya Angelou, minds, music, Nelson Mandela, nimbus, perseverance, quiet passion, riding, star, strength, style, Touch hearts and minds, Wendell Berry, wishing, words
September 11, 2013 · 2:25 pm
It has been twelve years, but the memories of that day are still fresh in my mind. We had been in school for about week. Mid-way through the second period of the day, our principal Ann Monday came over the PA system to say that an airplane had crashed into one of the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center. We had been atop one of the Towers just three weeks earlier, and I remember looking down and seeing a Cessna flying along the Hudson below us. I figured it was a light aircraft, and that couldn’t do much damage. My students were working on an assignment, and I looked quickly at my computer for a news feed. What I saw were the shocking images we are all too familiar with from that day.
The students finished their assignment, and were curious to see what was happening. We had a news feed on the classroom television, so I turned that on, telling them that they probably didn’t want to see it. They didn’t react much, but left in silence. Then, chaos ensued as students gathered, hugging and crying, especially as news leaked out of the attack on the Pentagon where some of their parents worked. I remember especially one of my students who had come from Afghanistan holding another student whose father worked at the Pentagon.
Parents began arriving in droves to pick up their students because the phone lines were tied up. Classes were clearly done for the day, so I helped parents find classrooms. The buses came early, and soon the school was deserted. The teachers went to their cars and left.
I drove home listening to the news on the radio, thinking that the brother of one of our daughter Amy’s college friends worked on the 101st floor of one of the towers. Matthew Horning did not survive. We remember him every year with a donation to Heifer, International, which provides families around the world with livestock to allow them to improve their lives.
Everything was canceled that dark day, and our daughters joined us for dinner. There was no school the next day, and with all flights cancelled, an odd silence in the skies as no giant airliners came above our house on their way to land at Dulles Airport.
And so we remember…sacrifice and courage, and the day that “the world stopped turning.” May we never forget.
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Tagged as "When the world stopped turning", cancelled flights, courage, daughters, Dulles Airport, Heifer International, Matthew Horning, memories, Pentagon, sacrifice, school, September 11, students
June 7, 2013 · 12:26 pm
A day in late spring
In which I did a little painting of part of a cinder block wall
Wrote on the computer for several hours
Had three good meals
Listened to the radio
And took a nap
But I was thinking
Of June 6 sixty-nine years before
And a place an ocean removed from my comfortable home.
And of the thousands of men and women involved in the greatest invasion in history
Dropping into danger, coming ashore under murderous fire, scaling high cliffs,
Dying, wounded, striving and finally prevailing on that day,
The beginning of the end for the Thousand-Year Reich.
My mother talked of ironing and listening to the news on the radio
My father was somewhere in Burma or China or India
(He said they often didn’t know where they were)
And I am right here, musing that there was so little notice of the sacrifices made on this day
And thinking that there needs to be some kind of notice.
And so, brave soldiers, sailors, airmen, people on the home front, here is your notice:
On this day I salute you and I thank you, living and dead, for your sacrifice
That gave me this peaceful day
On June 6
So many years