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Popular Content

Showing content with the highest reputation since 09/28/2021 in Blog Entries

  1. 5 points
    There was a coyote in my yard this morning. It was sniffing the air and searching for breakfast in the pre-dawn light. I’ve never before seen a coyote so close to my house, but I think I’ll be seeing more of them soon: I’ve changed my diet to include rotisserie chicken from Walmart. Lunch or dinner might be half a chicken, a handful of Triscuits, and a sliced apple. Easy and cheap, but healthy. I always share my leftovers with the raccoons. I take the chicken bones outside to the cement sidewalk that leads to my gravel driveway, and usually by morning the bones have completely vanished. But I made a mistake last night. There was a lot of chicken fat in the bottom of the plastic container, and I thought the raccoons might enjoy the extra treat. Well, they certainly did. They woke me up about five times during the night trying to salvage every last drop of grease. I don’t know why, but that plastic container scraping across the cement sounded like fingernails on a chalkboard in the middle of the night. I’m thinking the chicken fat is what attracted the coyote. The human equivalent is like when you drive past a bakery and then turn the car around to go back and buy a donut. The aroma just draws you in.
  2. 2 points
    No one is unloved To love ourselves is a command given by Christ Jesus. You are not an accident, God created you on purpose, and for a purpose. He loves you and created you to be in a relationship with him. It demands faith to trust in God and to love ourselves enough to continue on our journey in spite of the failures and roadblocks we often face.-Br.MD
  3. 2 points
    It takes self-reflection and prayer It is easy for me to spout off pious sayings, or quotes from the bible without taking in what it is really implying. For instance the ‘Golden Rule”. Sounds nice, and may even come across as something easy to do, once one’s mind is made up. So do I “love my neighbor as myself”? I can honestly say I do not know, but I strive for that reality. Yet, if I do not know actually how I want to be treated, or do not ponder it, how can I really treat others as myself? It takes self-reflection, and prayer to go deeper into what the Golden Rule is asking of me. I would say, I often fail in this regard, since it is very easy to simply react, which comes from a place of my desire to manipulate others so that I can be happy and at peace. Of course, the old saying is true, ‘cats and people can’t be herded’. So it can become a vicious cycle with no end. Prayer for patience Lord, help me not to lose patience with myself, for I am slow in learning to love, for fear and anxiety still have a hold on me, not to mention anger, and yes even rage, for my inner life is often irrational, like the raging storm on the sea, so again help me to get out of the boat, to walk on the waters into your loving embrace, never taking my eyes off of you.-Br.MD
  4. 2 points
    Enlightenment All people who are on a spiritual path need to work together and not against each other. While it is true that not all paths seek the same thing, yet the deeper you go in seeking understanding, the closer we seem to get. I am a Christian; Jesus is the Word become flesh, a special revelation of the Father for mankind. The Word is God, and I guess if there is one word that may sum up God’s Word to us, is “BE”. Perhaps if another Word is needed it could be “LOVE”. Both I believe convey the same meaning. If a third Word is needed perhaps “YES” would be a good one. All represent life to its fullest. So all those who seek truth, love, and union with the Infinite, or with others, I believe operate from one of the above words. It is there that we can speak to one another with reverence, respect, and love. Those who are on a path and stick to it, know that each moment is a new beginning, for the realm we live in is one of choice. Small choices are very important, for they lead to larger ones. Many will choose a place that they will consider to be holy ground. It can be a home altar, a place in one's garden, a church, temple, or synagogue…just about anywhere that is set apart. It could be a place where people gather, a park for instance. A little place, that one can make a small pilgrimage towards, a holy place of rest, struggle, and of dying to self. Of praying for one's enemies and loved ones. A place where the seed of self-love; love of others and love of God deepens over time, often in secret, for that is how grace works. This small sacred place, slowly over time grows, until the day one wakes up to the reality that what is considered sacred space has grown. Eventually, all space will become sacred, and people are seen as the most sacred. To be before another is to be before holy ground. When we wake up or become enlightened, it is not the end of the road, but the beginning of a new one. A road that leads us into deeper joy, peace, love, and yes… into deeper suffering and solidarity with others; there is no other way. Suffering seems to be the goad that keeps us moving, searching, and growing in that much-needed attribute… humility. To be a pilgrim is to never be at rest for long, for the journey, the inner journey is an eternal one. It is good to study other traditions, to ask questions of followers of other paths. It is then that our narrow, idol-worshiping ideas are shattered. We can be confounded by the love and goodness of those who follow other traditions. Why is this? I think it is because we believe that God is somehow an idea that we can own, which we can’t. All are beloved; we are called to love all, even those whom we think are our enemies. Why? Well because they are loved into existence by a God who has revealed himself for Christians as a loving Father. Those who love God love others. It can’t be helped. Those who seek truth will also grow in the love of others. For the truth will lead to deeper truth, which at bottom is the revelation of Love. It is easy for us to understand rage, anger, punishment, and revenge. So to place these human ‘emotions’ onto God relieves us of the burden and necessity to grow deeper into the mystery of God. The more we find ourselves loving others, because this is grace flowing from the Infinite Heart, we begin to understand how deep the mystery, and how little we know of how God works in the world and in the hearts of all men and women. Do not judge, does not mean that we don’t speak up against evil, it is about not taking upon oneself the heavy burden of judging whether a human being is worthy or not…judging another being made in God’s image and likeness is perhaps a greater evil than we know. Only God sees the heart. I do know that all have to be answered to, for the nature of love I believe, or an aspect of Infinite Love, is to bring us into our own complicity with evil, in how we treat others, in what we failed to do… we have to experience it all. We have to experience what Christ experienced on the Cross. For to seek mercy, to receive this free gift, we have to understand at ever deeper levels what was actually forgiven. Tolerance is not indifference, it is about listening and respecting others, treating them as we want to be treated.-Br.MD
  5. 2 points
    Inner stormy seas Lord, help me to keep it simple, to simply get through this day, embracing all that comes my way, and try to become a little more loving by day's end. If not, to begin again in hope, trust, and love. To look to you, and not myself, O Lord as I walk the often inner stormy seas. Keeping it simple is often difficult for one such as me-Br.MD
  6. 2 points
    Our prayer changes as we age I of course can only speak from my experience when it comes to prayer, but I believe that the inner life as we age takes on a new dimension that is unknown by most people before they reach what we called ‘old age’. People who have a chronic disease from a young age or of course an exception in many cases, as can be seen in the numerous stories about the journey of children and young adults with their struggle. I believe that one reason old age is often feared is that many illusions are taken away from us which can often be frightening, at least in the beginning. My first thirty years flowed by slowly compared to how I experience time now. When in my twenties, when I looked at older people, I sensed that they were at a place I was not at, and to tell you the truth on an emotional level, I never expected to become ‘one of them’. I was strong, in control, or so I thought but who I am now and who I was then is vastly different. It is not because of anything I have done on my own, it is just life, and it hones us, taking away what is no longer necessary for our journey. As we age, it is learned (hopefully) that the word ‘pilgrim’ actually does pertain to us. We are in movement, never really finding a place of rest, for we are on a journey toward what we don’t know. Yet we long for something deeper and all the years we have lived have only deepened that thirst. We often forget that our spiritual life is what feeds our relationship with the world around us. Christians are called to know themselves. The whole splinter in the eye of my neighbor and the log in mine cover that pretty clearly for me. To not judge also points to the reality of how we project our hidden aspects of ourselves and like a movie it is projected on those around us. The less we know ourselves the more we will fight, hate and belittle others……when in fact it is fed by our own self-loathing and hatred. So to love our neighbor as ourselves takes on a whole different meaning if pondered. To be forgiven of sin, of an actual act that was caused by our will, something strong and free, is not magic. Just join a 12 step program if you want to know what purgatory is. We are forgiven, yet the habits are still three, the self-wounding still festers and our need to make amends is also needed…..all or forms of purification. To be forgiven, to convert, to allow the grace of God to do its work is a dance, a difficult one, that only becomes easier as we grow in the love and grace and healing bestow on us by grace. The gift of mercy is free, yet the healing takes time and yes the willingness to be open the healing fire of the Holy Spirit.-BrMD
  7. 2 points
    I was feeling very unsettled, in a very bad mood One day I was in the retreat house doing dishes. This was 30 years ago. I was feeling very unsettled, in a very bad mood, and struggling not to take it out on anyone. As I was fuming, doing dishes, one of the young monks came up to me and said: “Brother Mark, why is it you are always so peaceful and centered?” I was shocked that he would say something like that to me when in my interior it felt like I was in the midst of an internal earthquake. He smiled at me and then left. As I continued to do dishes, I thought to myself how is it he would see me as peaceful and centered when in fact the opposite was going on? I was not trying to be disingenuous; I was only seeking to not spread my mood out to others, or to punish because I was out of sorts. I never thought that would make me look like I was peaceful and centered. Perhaps if we are aware of what we struggle with, we do not unconsciously show it to others, or take it out on them. I am not sure, but it was a valuable lesson for me. Self-knowledge frees the one who possesses it from becoming a ‘victim’. Moods can be detrimental to our relationships with others if we do repress them. By seeking to avoid our interiority, we color the world with its behind-the-scenes control….we can become puppets, being moved here and there by our inner chaos without even knowing it. It is a form of sleep, though in that sleep it can easily become a nightmare. Humility can slowly free us from this cycle of moods swings and struggling with others in ways that are really frivolous and a waste of time. We can only deal with ourselves. This is a form of waking up from a deep slumber. When we don’t, it is everyone else who gets our undivided attention. The real struggle When I seek to love and not to judge, I learn that the problem with the world is my often conflicted heart.-Br.MD
  8. 1 point
    Monastery Retreat House Newsletter November 2021 Life at the Monastery “Grace is not part of consciousness; it is the amount of light in our souls, not knowledge nor reason.” — Pope Francis “Everything is Grace” St. Therese of Lisieux I have to say, that November is my favorite month. There is a deep peace that descends on me this time of the year. I guess one reason comes from childhood when anticipation for the holiday was so strong. Then there was Thanksgiving Day, a quiet holiday spent with family and yes, eating way too much. It was low-key, something nice before the hectic days of the secular Christmas season. While the excitement of the secular season of Christmas has gone, the peace remains. I think one reason for the peace is that because of the weather, the beauty of nature, at least for me, I simply become more aware of the workings of grace in my life, as well as in the lives of others. I have found that being thankful really does increase the light in my soul. It brings to mind the beauty of ‘things’, ‘nature’ and yes most importantly ‘people’. Because it is in the fall, it brings to mind also of the fleeting nature of our lives, on how fast time goes by. This points out to me the importance of seeking to understand what the nature of our lives is about. What the secular world wants us to live out, and much of it good, in the end, does not last. What last, endures, is the seed of grace in our hearts, which allows us to see all of our lives as a gift. Though there are times when we have to make this assent with willpower only, grace often being the hidden factor. For in the time of suffering, it is hard to see the workings of grace. We all have our dark valleys that we must traverse in our pilgrimage through life. So today, we are still in a very fluid situation and must find ways to live with it. The new variant (Delta) has started to hit close to home and I am sure that is true for many people. Many have died, and perhaps, hopefully, I am wrong, many more will also make their exit during the pandemic. So yes, this is a collective situation we are all walking through. It is now that we must live out our faith. This is not a time to get involved in useless arguments with those who disagree with us. It is better to listen, and then move on. It would seem that the so-called ‘divorce’ the country is going through is getting worse. Who knows, perhaps we have to ride this out to the end. In any case, our faith, if we understand it properly is asking all of us to deepen our love and trust in the Lord, and to pray instead of arguing, to try to be agents of peace instead of warriors of the so-called cultural wars. Yes, much is wrong. It can only help if we back away from useless confrontation with others around us. Best to speak calmly, to live out our faith, and to seek to forgive and heal. Not an easy thing to do. Yet ‘All is a Grace’ is true, all we need do is to look deeper, and step back and pray. The community is doing well, and those in the infirmary are stable, happy, and involved. Fr. Tom Francis is a true inspiration to all of us. Fr. Matt is getting through each day with grace, and Fr. Eduardo still has his sense of humor and can laugh at himself when needed. We are blessed to have them all. Br. Mario is in the Infirmary temporarily and is doing well. The situation with Covid-19 is so fluid we really do not know what we are going to do in the near future. We have plans, hopefully they will come to fruition. We will keep you posted on that. In the meantime, try to enjoy the weather, the season, and most of all, find time to become more deeply rooted in our faith, in our love for Christ Jesus, which can only lead to a deeper love and compassion for others. Those who disagree with us are not our enemies, unless we make them so. –Br. MD Highlight – Br. Mario Joseph Schemel Br. Mario Joseph Schemel was born December 11, 1951, he spent most of his growing up years in the Maryland suburbs of Washington D.C. After completing a doctorate in adult education at Columbia University, he accepted a position in the Business Administration Department of Middle East Technical University in Ankara, Turkey. Br. Mario remarks, "I went to teach in Turkey because I wanted to build bridges between the Islamic world and the Christian world. Br. Mario returned to the United States and accepted a position at a small college in South Carolina, where he was appointed Dean of Academic Affairs. He later attended a retreat and felt called to join a Trappist community. Brother Mario joined the Conyers monastic community about 12 years ago. He has worked in the Monastery bakery, glass shop, and the Abbey Store. Brother Mario is now getting ready for a new adventure, he will be starting our candle making industry in the next few months. He loves his new assignment, it brings back fond memories of his Dad, who took up the hobby of candle making when he was a child. Br. Mario is a kind person and always ready to help, we are so blessed to have him as part of our community. Reflections All Souls Day We will celebrate All Souls Day this month. Once a year, the day is set aside by the church to remember all those who have gone before us. A list of names of those we knew and loved who have passed away during the last year will be read at Mass. After Mass, the abbot will lead us to the cemetery where he will bless the grave of each monk and intone their names. It is a very moving ceremony and one that brings to mind the inevitability of our own deaths. Sooner or later, we all have to move on. Twenty-five monks have passed on since I came here in 1994. In some ways, they are still quite present to me. I remember their voices, their mannerisms, their particular likes, and dislikes. Each was a gifted and special life here. They all left their mark, left some good things behind. I think they all moved on with a sense of having lived good and meaningful lives. The brief ceremony is sobering. I am always reminded of the brevity of life, how quickly the years pass. And I wonder as to what we truly accomplish in our time here. We occupy a very small place on this big earth and we do not move around all that much during our lives here. In a culture that so prizes the accomplishment of major things in a truly big and magnificent way, our lives seem quite paltry. Big things have passed us by. I suspect that every monk here has, at least on some occasions, second-guessed their move here. There are down days when we wonder if we could be doing something more for the world in terms of making that one major contribution. But those days pass and we find that we are here, that we remain. I will look back on the lives I knew here. And I will remember small acts of kindness, words of encouragement, and a friendly hello on a day when I especially needed it. All these and more that had to be given in the limited span of a few seconds but which made a lasting and graced impression. Lives well-lived are like the handwriting of God. And we can read his lines, his script, in the lives of those who are near us and who live simple, good lives. Greatness is born of the small, barely noticeable gestures that make up the small threads of gold each day, threads that eventually form a wondrous and living tapestry of a life well chosen, well-spoken, and well-loved. People come here looking for something of God. Many of them come, weary of all the claims of the big and allegedly important in life. They come to this small place and hopefully, they leave refreshed with a sense of what really matters in life. The monks who have gone before passed on quite happily – I think that they discovered the secret of life and knew the wisdom of sharing it without guests. It is very simple, but hard to find, a challenge to live. A prayer I once read says it all: “Dear God, be kind to me and help me to be kind to others. Thy sea is so vast, and my boat is so small.” +++James Stephen Behrens, OCSO Honey Creek Woodlands – A Natural Burial Ground At the Monastery of the Holy Spirit The Monastery community offers a quiet and beautiful resting place for people of all faiths, as well as those who have struggled to find faith. We are pleased to provide our land and promise to reverently protect it for those who share it with us. If you have any questions or would like to set up a tour, please call 770-483-7535. Our hours are 9:00 AM – 5:00 PM Monday-Sunday. .
  9. 1 point
    Our paths go forward only To pass from estrangement from God to be a son of God is the basic fact of conversion. That altered relationship with God gives you an altered relationship with yourself, with your brother man, with nature, with the universe. --E. Stanley Joy Jones Many people believe in God, perhaps most. For many God is an afterthought, something to deal with on a Sunday or possibly not at all. That which brought all into being “The Word” can be regulated to a place in life so low as to be really non-existent. This is called being a “Practical Atheist”. A stance that is often thoughtless and then passed on to their children. True atheists are often thoughtful about their stance, while practical atheists are often too busy to even consider the more important questions of life. Once the reality of God becomes concrete, everything changes, for the center is now the ‘True Center’, the place where all creativity flows from. This ‘True-Center; is “The Word” that which is often overlooked and forgotten. To serve and love the Lord or not to, does have deep repercussions on one's life the further in one goes in either direction. The path we trod does not go back, we can only go forward. Conversion is the only way to change one's path on the level that faith operates from. Once the reality of life and death and God becomes real, we see differently and our hearts open up to receive grace and love. Life is the same, how we experience it and react however is not.-Br.MD
  10. 1 point
    No one is exempt My whole body hurts today, Lord, it is ok, for there is also such beauty in my life as well. Teach me not to fear pain, whether from my soul, heart, in my thoughts, my feelings and emotions, knowing that all passes, yet your love is eternal. No one is exempt from life's vicissitudes, yet how we respond is perhaps one of the most important choices of our lives. Helps us Lord to never lose hope, to be deeply rooted in your love, and to not fear the storms we all must go through.-Br.MD
  11. 1 point
    The stranger's touch, Written on 08 Oct 2006 She walked in pushing a wheelchair slowly, looking tired and a little worn out, the man in the chair perhaps her father, old, and sickly, his arm in a cast acting confused. She walked with a slight limp with stingy blond hair, her face looked as if she had not smiled in a while. Her voice was strong and intelligent yet gentle, conversing patiently with the man she cared for. As I observed her from across the room, perhaps not really seeing her at all, but nonetheless, my reactions intrigued me, in the way, I was touched by her presence. Compassion, empathy, and pity are often mixed, so what I felt I am not sure, though I hope it was not pity, a form of benign contempt, for she deserved better than that, respect, and so much more. She seemed so lonely in my eyes, maybe this was true, perhaps not, I just wanted to go and hold her, telling her that things would turn out all right. What I did was nothing, not even a word or a smile, not that it would have mattered in any way, Since I did not know her at all, I was just a stranger in her eyes. Yet I am often touched by strangers in ways I don’t understand yet wounded still Later as I prayed, I held her, and brought her with me before the light, praying for all the lonely ones, the unattractive ones ignored, though their souls burn bright. Perhaps this woman seemingly gentle in her ways, shines back on me my own loneliness hidden from view, reflected back through her countenance in ways unforeseen, and in that situation allowing empathy to arise, a sharing of human experience. Each has something to teach along the pilgrimage we are on, we all lead each other on the way, sometimes the teacher, at others the student, interplay in the complexity of human relationships. BrMD
  12. 1 point
    It is no small thing To trust is no small thing. For fear can build up high walls, seemingly impossible to climb, yet we are called to trust God, stepping over those high walls on the wings of grace. Our emotions and feelings can be untrue, God's love and Word are always trustworthy, we can entrust ourselves into the arms of our Loving Father, as revealed in Jesus Christ-Br.MD
  13. 1 point
    Human situation “Love to be blind, since it is I who am leading you if you really want to put your hand in Mine. Don’t you think fathers are happy when their little girls leave everything to them in simple tenderness?” Bossis, Gabrielle. He and I (Kindle Locations 1356-1357). Pauline Books and Media. Kindle Edition. ++++++++++ There are many impossible human situations, where the only thing one can do is show compassion, and simply be present in the path that has no signposts. Sometimes all one can do is to pray, understanding that what cannot be understood, has a deeper meaning that only God can deal with. Not always an answer many are looking for. The hard truth is that we understand little, yet we live out a mystery that has so much depth that we will never reach the end of it. Jesus, in the chaos of his last hours, in his crying out on the cross to the father "Why have you abandoned me", still, never lost hope. On the cross, we see our own souls, our pain, and yes, often, our feeling of loss and despair. .....yet we like Jesus, are asked to abandon ourselves into the hands of the Father. "Father, into your hands I commend my spirit" One day each of us will face that moment, our death,, let us prepare now by living out of our faith, seeking to become more loving even in the midst of the suffering that is so much a part of life.-Br.MD
  14. 1 point
    There is always struggle 4. “Jesus: ‘My child, life on earth is a struggle indeed; a great struggle for my kingdom. But fear not, because you are not alone. I am always supporting you, so lean on Me as you struggle, fearing nothing. Take the vessel of trust and draw from the fountain of life – for yourself, but also for other souls, especially such as are distrustful of My goodness.’” (No. 1488) Divine Mercy Diary ++++++++++ I learned, and I guess we all do, very early, that life is often a struggle of one kind or another. Being knocked around is not a rare event. Even those we may think have it easy, probably do not. I have never met anyone who has had it easy. Yes, there are some who seem weighed down more than others. I have met them, yet in their struggles, they do get through each day. Comparisons do not work. More than once, people have told me that they should not even speak of their problems when so many suffer so much more. The problem with this statement is that if taken to its absurd conclusion, there would only be one person in the world who could actually speak of their sufferings, and that would be the ‘one’ who suffers more than anyone else. Love and suffering go together. Having a cold, hard, unfeeling heart does protect from the pain that love brings. Yet, the lifeless cold of isolation, in the end, I feel would be much worse. For our deepest longings seem to be connected firmly to the reality of the thirst for love. In that, we bear the image of Christ Jesus. If anyone suffers more than all others combined, it would be Jesus. Our eternal High Priest. His Heart (Sacred Heart), never closes, but embraces all of His children with a love that is beyond our reach, and yes, understanding. At least it is for me. There are many souls who are way beyond my experience of the embrace of Infinite Love. I do believe, that God is always at work in our hearts, and it may be that it is only at our deaths that we come to understand all that we have had to go through. Life usually does not go the way we would want it to. Yet we continue to seek to consummate our deepest longing, which is to love, and be loved, totally without limit. No human can give that, though personal relationships are healing and important. Yet even the deepest, most loving, and trusting relationship can only take us so far. The more we love, truly, the deeper we see the other, yet being finite we can only do so much for one another. Until one learns of the reality of God’s presence, even in the midst of deep pain and struggle, and the existential experiences of loneliness, can our deepest inner thirst be assuaged. Those who love God, and grow into loving God, for God’s sake experience this presence even in the worst of times. The freedom grows not to withdraw when life does not go the way we would want it to. Compassion is needed for all. The more we understand our longing, and face our own inner pain and struggles, the easier it is to understand others. It is the key, empathy, to enter into the lives of others so deeply, that judgment is not part of the equation, but only a desire to love and to help, and yes to learn to forgive by the grace of God. It is a long slow process. It is trust that allows us to continue. These are three quotes from Sister Faustina: 20. “All grace flows from mercy, and the last hour abounds with mercy for us. Let no one doubt concerning the goodness of God; even if a person’s sins were as dark as night, God’s mercy is stronger than our misery.” - St. Faustina. 21. "I received a deeper understanding of divine mercy. Only that soul who wants it will be damned, for God condemns no one." - St. Faustina. 22. "Help me O Lord, that my hands may be merciful and filled with good deeds, so that I may do only good to my neighbors." 23.There is no one beyond God’s mercy unless the soul freely rejects it. This reality is perhaps one of the deepest mysteries to ponder upon. When saying the Chaplet of Mercy, remember, we are praying for everyone, without regard to what the person believes, or what that individual is to us, or even our feelings positive or negative. In that, we are healed of many wounds. To show mercy for others is to, in the end, allow God’s mercy to wound us so as to heal us more deeply.-Br.MD
  15. 1 point
    My struggle with tenderness and mercy “You remember, when Mary Magdalene had told Me of her sins, she stopped to ask, ‘After that, can I be forgiven?’ I assured her and she went on. But once again she stopped and asked, ‘For this too, may I still hope to be forgiven?’ ‘Yes,’ I assured her. Then when all her past had been laid at My feet, she wept from pure love-gratitude, understanding My infinite compassion. Understanding a little, that is. For it is not in you to grasp the infinite. “Love to be blind, since it is I who am leading you.” Bossis, Gabrielle. He and I (Kindle Locations 1352-1356). Pauline Books and Media. Kindle Edition. ++++++++++ I am neither a man who is naturally tender, nor compassionate. I have often spoken of how I feel that my heart is more stone-like than fleshy. That is because love heals the heart, hence, I can just by some misplaced instinct, protect myself from this pain that love brings with it. Sometimes I just want to give up, but grace will not let me. While it is true that we are always free to choose our path, it can become harder to go against grace than to actually refuse it. That is because of the Lord’s compassion for all of us. When I read the above quote from the book “He and I”, something broke in me, but even then I did not know what to do with it. I think my problem, well one of them, is that I still have not learned to simply let it be. Over the many decades of my life, with its up and downs, and turns around (sounds like a square dance), the Lord has always known when to actually ‘force’ tenderness upon me, as if I am a really stubborn child, fearful, and in need of a gentle reminder of whom I am dealing with. I do not understand the mercy of God, since I am not merciful, towards myself, nor others. It is grace that allows this when over and over again the Lord wounds my heart with a gentle touch of tenderness. I am hungry for the Lord’s touch, yet fearful at the same time. My inner life is a Gordian-Knot that only the Lord can untangle from a deep hidden place. All I need do is to keep open and to put it bluntly, just get through the day. The quote/cliché “One day at a time” can actually be a powerful tool to stay on the path. It can also be helpful when the path is walked away from. All we need do is to get back up and continue. Why? Because we do not understand, nor comprehend, the mercy and compassion of God. He fills in for my every lacking with his gift of Infinite-Tenderness-and Love. I have slowly over the years learned not to believe my negative personalities that live in my unconscious. Nor my angry voices, or vengeful ones. I place them all in the Heart of our God. One day I was having an unusual strong inner storm, and fighting deep anger that comes from deep within, with all of the images. So I got out of the boat, stepped on the waves, and just looked to Jesus. He is always there with arms open welcoming me. When I sink, he brings me back up. This time, it became very obvious that what I needed to do is in this inner landscape, with all of the tapes, with people in them, with all the pain that they bring, is to bring the compassion of Christ into my inner world. All the people there need my compassion, and in that, I will heal quicker, for self-love and compassion, which comes through the mercy of Christ, needs to be consciously applied. Yes, I had to choose. Compassion towards self, leads to deeper compassion for others, for while each of is unique, we have the commonality of these painful experiences. When St. Paul said that “It is not I, but Christ who lives in me” he was speaking of reality, not some abstract theological idea, but something incarnational, real. All that is needed is a seeking heart, no matter who one is, or what they believe, just have an open seeking heart. My biggest temptation is to give up out of being weary, but again the Lord steps in and picks me up. I can still choose, but as the journey continues, my trust in the Lord deepens, and ever so slowly I am starting to understanding, a little, the compassion and love of God. We Christians, I believe, do not yet understand the fullness, the depth of God’s love for all. Though there are no doubt many exception. I not being one of them. So friends, never give up, no matter how deep you think you have fallen, the Lord is always there giving encouragement, hope, and with us in our struggles and sufferings.-Br.MD
  16. 1 point
    Staying open to the gift I was walking slowly doing my mediation; it was the softest evening, the sun setting, long beautiful shadows gracing the fields, with barn swallows flying, zigging and zagging the way barn swallows do joyful in their flight, allowing joy to become conscious then, a tree standing quiet, I stopped observed, then without warning silence enveloped me, a quiet without strain, no anxiety, no fear, just an all-encompassing peace. I stopped stunned, waited in the silence then; out of the deep peace a voice, or was it I do not know, the message was gentle in its teaching it said; "how can you be fearful when surrounded by so much beauty" it lifted, the strain, anxiety, fear returned. I walked on, changed in my depth if not on the surface, I am still changing slowly afraid to accept the freedom of such love. why (?) I ask myself, perhaps fear still has a hold, less yes but I am still chained waiting in silence and faith staying open to the gift.-Br.MD
  17. 1 point
    Every platform on the internet has its own trolls. I usually don't get hurt by trolls, but I can get annoyed. One day trolling will be considered a crime - and the people who had the power to stop it, but didn't, will be regarded as accomplices! Humanity lives and learns, and humans have finally realized that mental abuse is just as bad as physical abuse (or maybe worse because you can't see the wounds with your eyes). You have to look with your mind to see them. Trolling needs to stop - not only because of the victims but also for the trolls themselves because they need help to deal with their unresolved trauma. Trolling is a disease, and we should treat it that way.
  18. 1 point
    I've done a lot of volunteer work over the years. And sometimes humorous things happen at volunteer jobs. One time I was working as a volunteer dealing with the public. And every person that morning that I had dealt with were all men. So when I finally had a female customer that day, I accidentally called her, "Sir." How embarrassing! She didn't look masculine at all. It's just that I was so used to saying the word "Sir" that morning that I impulsively blurted out that word instead of calling her "Ma'am." I explained that to her. And fortunately she didn't get mad at me. Sometimes we all make mistakes...lol.
  19. 1 point
    The Deeper the Trust, Greater the Depth “You understand—in Me you can find everything: all the love you need to help you. So don’t be afraid of making use of the one who loves you so. Unfold your trust like silk to clothe your request, and you will vanquish Me. My heart is easily taken captive by My little children. And you are all My little children. Any humble tenderness disarms Me. Bossis, Gabrielle. He and I (Kindle Locations 1349-1351). Pauline Books and Media. Kindle Edition. ++++++++++ One day about three years ago, a retreatant came to me and shared some of his frustrations “I work hard”, he began, “I toiled for a few years to save up for a Canary Yellow Porsche. A car I have always wanted. I would often think of how happy I would be once I was able to save up enough money to be able to acquire one.” I of course knew where this was going. I guess anyone who reads this most likely has heard this story, with varied themes over the course of their lives. Or perhaps you dear reader have experienced it. So he continued: “then the day came when I could afford to get the car of my dreams. It was a great day when I bought it, I was so excited, like a kid on Christmas.” Then he stopped, looked at me, and said in a voice that was bordering on anger: “Then after I bought it, after just a few weeks, I began to feel a deep disappointment. I actually felt worse than before”. As we talked for a while, he said, “I guess once you own ‘something’, you no longer desire it, and it loses its luster and becomes just another ‘object’ that I own. I kind of knew that before I bought the car because all the ‘things I have, even though I do appreciate them, they do nothing for my inner restlessness!” It is kind of sad that ‘things can’t fill up our inner void. It is common knowledge that ownership does not promise happiness in the way that many desire. I love cars. Many cars are for me, great art, especially the classics. My brother Skip loved cars, and he used to sell classics. I guess his favorite car would be the Thunderbird. He had one that was made in 1956 I believe. He loved the car. However, I do not think he thought any car would make him happy, or fulfilled. He did sell it many years ago. The man who bought it, totaled it the next weekend. To say my brother was upset is an understatement. Luckily the man paid cash for it. Yes, he was very rich the buyer. In the end, what is necessary to find inner joy, peace, and happiness, is the one thing that many ignore, or if sought after, is often done slipshod. It is easy to forget that we have an aspect of ourselves that is eternal, self-aware, and sorrowful if our deepest inner longing is not fulfilled. Loved ones, lovers, friends, family, as important as they are for human happiness cannot reach the depth that we truly wished to be seen and loved. Trust is very difficult when a relationship reaches a certain depth. Most of us have a line of some sort that we will not allow others to cross. Even our closest friends cannot know everything about us. Perhaps one reason is that we ourselves may be closed off to inner levels that are cut off from us. Levels that if we were aware of them, would never be exposed. There is a great deal in us that keeps us moving so that we do not have to face what sleeps beneath. I am not being dramatic, all one has to do is to look at the news, or to read good literature to see what we are capable of if things get rough enough. Many times these experiences surprise the one who acts out, often saying: “I did not know what overcame me”. To truly trust God is not as easy as it sounds. To truly open one's heart to God, there is a certain amount of inner silence that is needed. To do that life has to slow down a bit, at least during certain times of the day or night. Over time, once the silence starts to deepen, we began the inner journey, which is not always pleasant, and at times very painful because the death of the Ego, or aspects of the Ego, is painful. Jesus told us to love ourselves, commanded it because it is difficult. Once we start on our journey in earnest, we begin to see how it is grace that does keep us afloat, encourages us to continue and to not allow our bruised ego to withdraw from the fray. We no longer stay victims, but learn that we need to own up to what is inside of us, our failures, and to do what is necessary to grow into a deeper more loving humanity. It can be difficult to believe that God exists, and to embrace that God is ‘love’, can even be more difficult. I know this from experience. Yet faith, at bottom, is a choice, and a rational one. Jesus is the revelation of God that could not be figured out by philosophy. Stoicism is a good way of life, but it is far different than what a Christian is called to do. There are many deep thinkers who can help people get through the day, and live a balanced life if practiced. However, no philosophy can touch the soul at the depth that Jesus Christ does. I am not putting down seekers who are the way, hopefully, that is the majority of mankind. Christians are also seekers. Delving into the mystery of God’s intimacy with our race is what we are questing to understand, experience, and live out in our day-to-day lives. I guess my mantra is this: “Trust is a choice”, and so is faith. Understand that we choose, and each choice is made in faith, no matter what path is chosen. Also, no path is easy, but a loving relationship with God, brings out joy even in the midst of suffering, if not lived in a slipshod manner. Each day is a new beginning, and each day we can grow in trust, and if we find we are slipshod in our faith, we can change that over time with some discipline.—Br.MD
  20. 1 point
    We are not to judge, we are to heal, lift up and love “When God comes, he always calls us out of our house. We are visited so that we can visit others; we are encountered so as to encounter others; we receive love in order to give love.” --Pope Francis When Jesus healed it was always a call to reenter society, to not withdraw out of fear but to seek to share their healing. No matter where one lives, in a city, a small town, on a farm, or in a Monastery, others will be encountered. How we relate to those around us can be a mirror for us to grow in self-knowledge and humility. Both go hand in hand. If one or the other is missing, both are impossible. God calls us to see the dignity of all of his children and by extension all of creation. People are not objects, things, consumers, or part of the ‘masses’. No, before God each is seen for who they are in His light. We are called to grow in the love of God and by doing so we begin to see all peoples as our brothers and sisters, and all of creation as well. No one is left out, we do that, not God, and it often twists our theology into something self-serving and harmful to others. Salvation is a gift; who accepts our rejects is known only to the Father. We are not to judge, we are to heal, lift up, and love. Never easy, it is a lifelong project. It is by our failures and our receiving of mercy, that we grow in self-knowledge and humility. –Br.MD
  21. 1 point
    A fragment of our October 2021 Newsletter for the Monastery Retreat House Hello everyone, I am not in the best of moods as I write our October Newsletter. It almost seems like we are back at square one in the ongoing saga of the present pandemic. The reality of the times is becoming more real every day as many of us learn about the death of family members, friends, classmates, and just the rising numbers of deaths not only in the United States but worldwide. I would be lying if I said that my level of anxiety is not going up a bit. What with the weather, the volcanoes, and yes earthquakes it would seem like we are in an end of the world movie. Of course, it is not the end, but our situation is grave on many levels. Then the seeming ever-widening rift between opposing political persuasions only adds to the tension. Yet, we are told to ‘Trust’. I harp all the time on how trust is a choice, and now I am seeing how difficult that can be. The Lord is calling all of us to keep growing in trust, to seek in the midst of the chaos, turmoil, and cultural agitation, to be centers of peace, compassion, and hope. It is a time of deep reflection, of facing our fears knowing that we need the grace of the Lord to do so. Our false conceits are being stripped away. We are seeing more than ever the corruption of almost all of our establishments on many levels. The Church has not been spared, and all we can do is to hold on in faith, and actually see the good that can come out of this. I guess the church is always in need of healing since it is made up of people just like us. I will not allow the failures of men to deflect me from my faith in Jesus Christ, nor in the reality of the Church, which at its center sits the Lord of Hosts, as revealed to us in Christ Jesus. In order to truly trust, one’s fears must be faced. Even with the many different failures that can come into our lives, we must still continue on our journey, conversion is a lifelong process. At this time, I believe that the process has been speeded up for most of us. For now, it is hard to simply float, but to be ever more conscious of our fragility, as well as our dignity that comes from our being children of God. For all that, the community is doing well. It is a big disappointment that we have to postpone our opening of the retreat-house, as well as our store. Some of our friends are upset about this, for they feel that we are failing in our responsibility towards those we know and love, and simply for those who come here for a retreat. Yet I feel that if we had stayed open, our numbers would have greatly decreased. Not to mention the safety for those who would stay in our retreat house. I believe that our abbot is very wise in the measures that he wishes to be implemented. We are all called, I believe, to become more conscious of what we believe, and why, and to bring it more deeply into how we live our lives and treat those around us. We are all called as followers of Christ Jesus to be centers of faith, hope, love, and yes healing in a world that sorely needs it. Pray and don’t worry—Br.MD
  22. 1 point
    I got my first Covid vaccine shot today at the Hy-Vee pharmacy. They’re very efficient, and they answered all of my questions. Afterwards, I rushed over to Lake Anita for a long, strenuous walk to get my heart pumping to evenly distribute the tracking chips. I wouldn’t want a nanochip pileup in my Parietal Lobe. (JK) It was a beautiful day for a walk: Windy, 75 degrees, partly cloudy. I took a detour onto the Junior Karns Trail for a different assortment of photos.
  23. 1 point
    Last night I woke up around 2:00 AM to the sound of something scratching behind my bedroom wall. I thought it might be a mouse, but the noise was much louder than the scratching noises that the mice usually make. I turned on the bedside lamp, and suddenly there was a large bat flying in circles right above my head. I mentally reviewed my Emergency Bat Protocols, then jumped out of bed, grabbed my pillow, and ran across the hall to the other bedroom to open the big window that doesn’t have a window screen on it. And then back into the hallway, where the bat was swooping and diving, and I was ducking and weaving, almost like Muhammad Ali’s rope-a-dope tactic, though this time I was on the losing end. My mind was racing with thoughts of rabies, and painful rabies shots, and there may even have been a few thoughts about vampires, but I strengthened my resolve, and slowed my breathing, and prepared my heart for battle. As the bat spun around and dove at me, I lifted up my pillow and, using his own sonar abilities against him, maneuvered him into the bedroom and out through the open window. I felt victorious, and relieved, and a bit winded. I don’t know how that bat got inside my house, but I’m thinking it may have made a hole in the wire mesh that’s inside the roof vent. If that’s the case, then the bat will likely round up his bat friends and begin colonizing my bedroom walls. This could be a long, drawn-out battle.
  24. 1 point
    I had my 2nd Covid vaccine shot today. It went well, and I made an interesting observation: when the pharm tech did the inoculation, I barely felt the needle. But four weeks ago, when I got my first inoculation, a different pharm tech practically shoved that needle into my right clavicle. Conclusion: when it comes to inoculations, some pharm techs are more aggressive than others. Just before leaving, I happened to glance at my paperwork and notice they’d misspelled the name of the street I live on. Somehow, instead of Union Avenue, they had me living on Ybuib Avenue. I mean, that’s gotta be a World Champion typo. I pointed it out to a staff member, and she corrected my computer records. I had planned another long walk at Lake Anita to elevate my heart rate and insure the nanochips were evenly distributed, but first I stopped at McDonald’s for a Double Quarter-Pounder with cheese. Mmm... I don’t know what it is about those big greasy cheeseburgers, but they’re seriously the high point of my culinary week. It was a beautiful day at Lake Anita: partly cloudy skies, light breeze, low 70s. While walking the trail, I crossed paths with an elderly woman walking a beautiful dog: a black pitbull mix with brown stripes running through his fur. I stopped and said to the lady, “Beautiful dog!” She was delighted. Apparently, I hadn’t washed all the cheeseburger grease off my hands because when I reached out my hand to pet the dog his eyes lit up and he started licking my fingers just like I do when I’m eating fried chicken. It was hilarious, but maybe a bit embarrassing too. In the future, I’ll take greater care in washing my hands thoroughly with soap and water instead of those flimsy McDonald’s napkins.
  25. 1 point
    Ever since I retired last August, my brain seems to be operating in neutral. Today I committed two very serious faux pas’ while grocery shopping. I went to the local market to stock up on steaks and pork chops at their awesome meat counter. The two employees were very friendly, and wished me a nice day as I left. I noticed that their black masks matched their black aprons. Very sharp, very professional. Then I approached the deli counter in hopes of scoring two pounds of their delicious homemade Deviled Egg Salad. I mean, I can make a meal of that Deviled Egg Salad and a few crackers. It’s that good. Alas, they’re remodeling the deli counter, and have a very limited menu for a while. But a friendly deli worker walked out from behind the counter to talk face-to-face and reassure me that my beloved Deviled Egg Salad would soon be back on the menu. I noticed she was wearing a dark red face mask. Suddenly, the alarm sirens inside my head began blaring: I had left my face mask outside in my pickup!!! Have you ever had that dream where you’re at school and you’re wearing your pajamas? That’s exactly how I felt. I covered my mouth with my hand, and apologized profusely (well, maybe not profusely, but I did kinda make an apology). As I walked outside to my pickup, I started thinking, “I wonder why they didn’t put my stuff in a grocery bag?” Well duh. In my shameful retreat from the store, I had forgotten to pay for my steaks and chops!!! I got very worried that a store detective would dash out of the store and tackle me to the ground or something. I grabbed my mask out of my pickup and hurried back into the store to pay for my stuff. Whew...close call. Maybe I need to ratchet up my caffeine consumption.
  26. 1 point
    This popped up in my Facebook “Memories” this morning. I posted it 5 years ago, but the actual “memory” is from 50 years ago. ————————————————————— I once knew a man who slapped Adolph Hitler. I met him back in the 1960s, during my high school years when I stayed a few weekends at the Catholic monastery in Colfax, Iowa, doing chores and spending time with Father Sean and the Brothers. Brother Stanislaus was old and small and thin, and he was very quiet, almost invisible. He raised pigeons in a large pigeon coop behind the monastery. The only conversation I remember having with him was on the summer afternoon when he gave me the grand tour of his pigeon coop. He pointed out individual pigeons and told me how they’d come to be in his care. His quiet humility made me feel as though I was in the presence of a modern-day St. Francis of Assisi. A couple of years later, I turned on the television at home and saw Brother Stanislaus being interviewed on a local news program. I was surprised to see him on television, and even more surprised by the story he told. During WWI, Hitler joined the Bavarian Army, serving as an infantryman and messenger. Stanislaus, as Hitler’s superior officer, had a confrontation with Hitler which resulted in him slapping Hitler across the face. It was odd picturing that quiet, serene Catholic monk, Brother Stanislaus, dressed in a military uniform in the midst of one of the most horrific battles in the history of the world. The 16th Bavarian Reserve Regiment fought in the First Battle of Ypres, known in Germany as the “Kindermord bei Ypern,” the “Massacre of the Innocents”. In twenty days time, 40,000 newly-enlisted soldiers died in battle against Allied forces. Think of the paths that those two men took in their lives: one rose to power and waged a war against the world and his own people, resulting in millions of lives lost, while the other became a servant to the people who came to the monastery for spiritual counsel and quiet meditation. “….put on a heart of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience….” Colossians 3:12
  27. 1 point
    I had a funny experience a few days before Christmas. It was one of those experiences that I think I’ll always remember, but it’s safer to write it down now rather than trust my memory. I sometimes don’t even remember what I had for lunch: Ham sandwich? Salami sandwich? Sardines & crackers? Well, my old high school friend Luke who lives in Nebraska texted that he’d be driving to Des Moines to deliver Christmas presents, and asked if I wanted to meet him for lunch at the Wagon Wheel Restaurant next to the Interstate. I said “Sure!” seeing as how I’m retired now and my social interactions are fewer and far in between. He suggested we meet at 12:00 noon. So I arrived at the Wagon Wheel, and a young hostess seated me in the big room in the back that has a nice view of a grassy hillside that slopes down to the Interstate. As I perused the menu, I started to worry that Luke hadn’t arrived yet, and I glanced at my phone to check the time. It was exactly 11:00 AM. From the corner of my eye, I saw the waitress approaching with a glass of water. I’m not sure what kind of confused, painful look I had on my face, but when she asked, “How are you today?” I slowly looked up at her and very seriously said, “I just realized I’m an hour early.” Well, that’s all it took. She completely lost her composure. She laughed out loud and kept repeating, “That’s so funny! That’s so funny!”. It wasn’t just a little ‘tee-hee’ kind of laugh. That woman was turning from side-to-side and shaking her head and guffawing loud enough for everyone in the restaurant to hear. Eventually she regained her composure enough to ask, “Would you like some coffee while you’re waiting?”. I was still a bit shell-shocked over my faux pas, and I meekly replied, “I think I’m going to drive back home for now.” So, I slowly drove back home on my lonely gravel road. I checked the mailbox, read through the ads, looked at the electric bill, and walked around inside the house for a little while. Then I went back outside to my pickup and got back on the road. I got to the restaurant parking lot about the same time Luke did. We walked in the door, and the same hostess that seated me earlier grabbed some menus and smiled and said, “Shall we try this again?” (Oh look! It’s that funny old man...haha). Then the same waitress from before walked up to our table and said, “Welcome back!”. I wanted to say something clever, but all I could come up with was, “Hey, I remember you!”. Well, Luke and I had a good lunch and a good talk, then we went to the register to pay. As the cashier rang up our bill our waitress was standing on one side of her, and another random employee was standing on the other side. The three of them were smiling at us. I’m pretty sure that the next time I go to the Wagon Wheel Restaurant my photo will be on the wall with ‘Customer Of The Month’ underneath in big letters. It was a very memorable experience.
  28. 1 point
    I have to remind myself of this often. It’s an admonition that crosses all political boundaries, as well as a reminder that, regardless of who’s in power, our peace and tranquillity come from God. Bringing our concerns to Him instead of social media (or the dinner table) leads to peace rather than division. May God bless America and our new President, Joseph Biden. “First of all, then, I urge that requests, prayers, intercession, and thanksgiving be made in behalf of all people, for kings and all who are in authority, so that we may lead a tranquil and quiet life in all godliness and dignity.” (1st Timothy 2:1)
  29. 1 point
    I just found a snake in my basement. I’d gone downstairs to the basement to turn off the ceiling fan, when I heard a rattling sound coming from my water heater. The water heater is under the stairs, in a small area without much light, so I got up close to the heater and peered into the darkness to see if one of the pipes coming out of the top had sprung a leak. It was too dark to see much, so I got a flashlight from the kitchen upstairs, and went back down to the basement. I turned on the flashlight and....there was a four-foot snake coiled up on top of the water heater, just a few inches from where my face had been a few moments before. Well, that was a surprise. Living in the country in an old farmhouse I get mice in my house regularly, and lots of crickets, but this was my first time hosting a four-foot snake. I recognized it as a Fox Snake, which normally aren’t aggressive, but he got a bit angry when I bonked him on the head with a wooden dowel and he fell off the heater and onto the floor. Now this got me worried, because I was afraid he’d slither off and hide somewhere and I’d wake up some night with a snake coiled up on my chest. (I’ve heard of that happening to backpackers who like to sleep outside under the stars.) Fortunately, he just slithered under the water heater, and I was able to prod him with the wooden dowel until he moved out into the open. But boy, was he angry! He was hissing VERY loudly, and raising his head and striking at the dowel, and just being uncooperative. I went outdoors to the shed and got a shovel, thinking my only choice was to chop the little fellow in half, but then I picked up a rake also, and I brought them both downstairs to the basement. As I looked at that poor snake, my heart melted. The nights are getting colder here in Iowa, and I realized he was just looking for a warm place to spend the night. I leaned the shovel up against the washing machine, picked up the rake, and maneuvered it around the snake until he was wrapped around the tines. We were good to go. I very carefully walked him up the stairs, turning the rake around and around to keep him entwined in the tines as he continued hissing and striking out. I walked him outside, down the driveway, and across the gravel road to the ditch on the other side where he untangled himself and slithered away. So I’m feeling pretty good about myself now. The whole situation could have ended badly in so many ways, but I kept my cool and both me and the snake can sleep in peace tonight. Unless, of course, he decides to come back.
  30. 1 point
    I drove to the Old Stone Arch Trail this afternoon for a long walk and some IPhone photos. Much cooler weather than my walk earlier this week: 72 degrees vs. 92 degrees. It was like a walk in the park. Or the trail. I began thinking about a couple of conversations I’ve had recently that I thought were unusual enough to write down for safekeeping. One happened in Walmart, back in the Electronics Dept. where I always check the $5 DVD bin for new movies. Up until recently, the DVDs were thrown helter-skelter into the bin, all jumbled together and piled on top of one another. But then, about a month ago, someone started arranging them neatly in rows, like a line of books in a library. I wondered who the employee was that was so meticulous in their work. As I was scanning the movies, a young masked employee walked up to me and asked, “Can I help you find anything?” I thought it was an odd question, since I was leaning over the movie bin and not wandering the aisles with a confused look on my face. I responded, “No, just looking for a movie. I see you have some new titles”. He pointed and said, “We have some more $5 movies back there”. I could tell he wanted to talk, so I followed along as he showed me the other $5 movies among the shelves that held the new releases, or the family films, or the animated features. I was curious why the $5 movies weren’t all in the movie bin. He said, “It depends on the bar code. Different bar code, different location. I’ll show you.” He unholstered a small electronic device from his belt, picked up a movie, and scanned the bar code. He looked at the screen for a long moment, then said, “Actually, this one is in the wrong location.” I was happy to be wearing a mask, because I didn’t want him to see me grinning at his seriousness, but then his seriousness became fascinating as we started discussing the Batman movies on the shelf in front of us. He was like a Batman encyclopedia, telling me about the original name of the Joker (the ‘Red’ something?) and about an online discussion of “Who came first, Batman or the Joker?” It was starting to add up: the neatly-arranged movie bin, the Batman fixation... I tried one more test: I looked him directly in the eyes as he was talking. He made eye contact for two seconds and quickly looked away. Bingo. He’s on the autism spectrum, and he’s found a job where his particular set of skills are put to good use. I’m looking forward to talking to him again on my next shopping trip. The other conversation happened at the quarry lakes in Atlantic. A mom and her very young daughter (maybe 5-years-old) were walking towards me. The little girl was carefully scanning the grass alongside the trail, with her head swiveling around and a look of concern on her face. When they were still about 40 feet distant from me, the little girl looked at me and yelled: DO YOU KNOW WHAT A SNAKE IS? Well, I assumed she was worried about seeing a snake, so I replied, “Yes, but I haven’t seen any today!” That seemed to reassure her, and she smiled as we passed each other. It was kind of a heartwarming encounter. Anyway, it was a beautiful day today and I got some semi-good photos.
  31. 1 point
    Today I started to feel like a retired person, though I’m technically not retired until August 31st. No sense waitin’ til it’s official! I was up at 6:00 AM, ran downstairs (I’m not sure if it was my bones creaking or the stairs), started the coffeemaker, tossed some birdseed on the ground outside, then sat down in my bentwood rocking chair and waited by an open window for the critters to show up for breakfast. I shot a squirrel (with my camera) and that’s about it. The other critters didn’t cooperate. Three mugs of coffee later, I packed some water and PowerAde, a Snickers bar, and my camera in my ‘small-adventures’ backpack, and drove to Shelby, Iowa for lunch at the Cornstalk Cafe and a hike on the Old Stone Arch Trail. The modern day gravel-and-asphalt trail replaced the steel rails of the Chicago, Rock Island & Pacific Railroad line that crossed between farm fields, underneath forests of overhanging trees, and through the small town of Shelby. I tried to imagine what it would’ve been like to be a train engineer back then, nearly 140 years ago, sweeping across the Iowa prairie in a steam locomotive. I think I would’ve applied for that job if I were alive back then. I had my good camera with me, and I learned something new: it’s really, really hard to photograph butterflies on wildflowers when the wind is blowing. You basically set the focus and fire away, hoping to get one or two good shots. It was kind of fun though, like playing an arcade game. The hike, out-and-back, was 7.62 miles (12.26 km.). I was ready for that PowerAde by the time I got back to my pickup. I think I’m going to like being retired.
  32. 1 point
    I wrote this for my Facebook friends about two years ago. It’s very long, so I’ve divided it into seven chapters that I’ll spread out over seven days. With so many people isolating during the C-19 event, I thought it might relieve some of the boredom. (Hopefully it doesn’t add to your boredom!) I’ve changed names and descriptions of some people to protect their identities. —————————————————————————————— Vietnam, 1993 - Part 1 A couple of Sundays ago I went with my sister’s family to her church in Perry, a small town in central Iowa. We arrived early for the pre-service coffee and pastries (one of my favorite church functions). A guy named Richard introduced himself, we shook hands, and he began telling me about himself. I suppose he sensed a camaraderie between us because we both have white hair, although his hair is much thicker than mine even though he’s in his 70’s. He’s an energetic man who likes to talk, and his stories were fascinating to listen to. Richard is a Vietnam veteran. I told him I’d driven through Vietnam in 1993, and I asked where he was stationed. He asked me if I’d seen the Mel Gibson movie, ’We Were Soldiers’ and he said, “That was us. We were the 1st Battalion, 7th Cavalry Regiment.” I was a bit awed. Richard had survived one of the worst battles of the Vietnam War. The Battle of Ia Drang Valley was the first major engagement between U.S. forces and the North Vietnamese Regular Army. The top brass had seriously underestimated the number of NVRA troops and their location, and the U.S. troops soon found themselves surrounded by 4000 war-hardened enemy combatants. The NVRA quickly attacked. The American troops began running out of ammunition on the first day of the battle, and had to resort to hand-to-hand combat. Reinforcements and ammunition were rushed by helicopter into the chaotic war zone, and the American troops somehow miraculously defeated the much larger NVRA force. So I’ve been thinking about my trip to Vietnam. My Vietnamese friend, Mai, was returning home to visit the family she had to leave behind when she was evacuated by helicopter from the roof of the American Embassy during the fall of Saigon (renamed Ho Chi Minh City by the Communist Party). Mai asked me and another co-worker, Barbara, to accompany her, because she was concerned the Government might detain her. We arrived at Tan Son Nhat International Airport in Ho Chi Minh City, collected our luggage and walked outside. There was a tall wrought-iron fence alongside the walkway, which separated us from the thousands of Vietnamese people pressed up against the fence, searching for long-lost relatives returning to their homeland for the 25th anniversary of the Tet Offensive. There were literally thousands of people, every one of them very thin, with thick, black hair, staring into every face in hopes of identifying family members they hadn’t seen in almost two decades. At the end of the walkway, we had to slowly weave our way through that sea of bodies. A woman in front of me suddenly let out an anguished scream, forced to her knees by the crush. I stopped next to her, shielding her from the crowd, and giving her some space to struggle back to her feet. She looked up at me startled; Americans were a rare sight in Vietnam, and at a mere 6-feet-tall I was a head taller than nearly everyone else in the country. From ground level, I probably appeared to be a giant. Mai spotted a sign with her name on it, and was reunited with her brother, Tam, whom she hadn’t seen since she was 12 years old. Tam, not knowing the exact day or time of our arrival, had spent two days at the airport with his sign, meeting every flight. After checking into a small hotel in the city, we all boarded pedicabs (a combination of rickshaw and bicycle). Being the most densely populated country in Southeast Asia, the streets are crowded with pedestrians, bicycles, pedicabs, and small Honda scooters, all moving and merging and turning in a continuous flow of movement. Scooters carrying entire families: Mom, Dad, little brother and sister, weave in and out of the stream as though on a Sunday afternoon drive. Pedicabs burdened with impossible loads of firewood or furniture or vegetables are driven by men whose rail-thin legs belie the strength needed to pedal through the dense traffic. There appeared to be only two traffic rules: the biggest vehicle has the right-of-way, and whoever gets there first wins! One of our first stops was at a large hospital that was probably built during the last years of the French Colonial Era: a very austere building with peeling paint on the walls, and rooms without doors (no privacy!). We were there to deliver a bottle of extra-strength Excedrin to a young man, a distant relative of Mai, who had been struck by a van while driving his scooter. When we arrived, the man’s wife and infant daughter were sitting silently next to his bed. He was lying on a small, uncomfortable-looking cot, with both of his arms in bulky casts, and one leg in traction to alleviate pressure on the dislocated discs in his back. The Excedrin was a welcome sight to them, as pain medication was a luxury in the financially-strapped hospitals of Vietnam in 1993, even for someone in as bad of shape as he was. Food was another luxury: relatives and friends of the patients were expected to bring food from home, or the hapless patient was fed a meager diet consisting mostly of plain rice. We were told that due to the lack of facilities at the hospital, the surgeons were considering amputating his damaged limbs. Indeed, throughout our travels in Vietnam, we saw many men on crutches, with missing feet or legs or arms, holding out cups, consigned to a lifetime of begging. These were ordinary men, who in the States would be back to work in a couple of months; in 1990’s Vietnam, a minor traffic accident could result in lifelong poverty. Fortunately, for his sake and our own peace of mind, we learned before leaving the country that the doctors felt confident they could save all of his limbs. I still wonder though, what would’ve happened if we Americans hadn’t shown up at the hospital that day? Would the doctors have felt compelled to save face, and put more effort into properly treating their patient? Or would he have become another broken man on the streets of Saigon? To be continued....
  33. 1 point
    I had my annual physical today. This may sound crazy, but I think of my health statistics in the same way that athletes think of their sports statistics: I try to show improvement in each category. Today was my best yet: My weight was down 5 lbs. from last year. Blood Pressure: 122/82 (lower than last year). Triglycerides: This year: 185. Last year: Over 300! Cholesterol levels: within the healthy range. In my opinion, I deserve at least a Bronze medal. And, I finally got the pneumonia vaccine. I don’t know why I’ve been putting it off. Maybe because Bill Gates is making me nervous with all that talk about forcing everybody to get a Coronavirus vaccine. I’ve seen enough science fiction movies to know that he’s probably going to inject us all with tracking nanotechnology. (JK) I was feeling at the top of my game, so I went to a hiking trail and walked for three hours instead of my usual two hours. It was hotter’n blazes out there, hot enough that I had a fanny pack loaded with Powerade and camping ice. Boy did I need it. I’m training for a three-day hiking trip in the southern Utah desert, that’s why I’ve been hiking during the hottest time of the day here in Iowa. The trip keeps getting postponed, first by a snowstorm on Christmas Day that stretched from California to Colorado, and then the lockdown closure of the National Parks. But that’s okay, because I really needed more training time. My skinny legs needed some beefing up, as I’ll be carrying a minimum of three gallons of water for three days in the desert. That’s 25 pounds (about 11.5 kilograms) of weight added to all the other equipment. I may have to leave my tent at home and hope that the rattlesnakes don’t crawl into my sleeping bag.
  34. 1 point
    Lots of excitement around the lake today. I got a good photo of a mama turtle digging a hole in the ground to lay her eggs, and then I almost walked right into a skunk. When the skunk saw me, it went on high alert and raised its tail. I made an abrupt u-turn and let him carry on with his grub-hunting. I startled a flock of vultures out of the trees as I quietly passed underneath them. I counted fifteen vultures, all circling above me, watching me like a little kid opening the oven door to see if the cookies are done. Yes, I probably looked like I was about done, out there walking around in that hot, humid air. One of them left his calling card: a nice-looking wing feather about 15 inches long. I used it as a photo prop next to a bottle of Powerade, with the trees and the trail in the background. I think I might be underestimating how much water I’ll need for my upcoming trip. I was figuring one gallon per day, but today I drank 65 ounces of water and 28 ounces of Powerade. That’s almost 1-1/2 gallons for a three-hour walk. So now I’m thinking I’ll need no less than six gallons of water/Powerade for a three-day trip. I may have to rent a donkey.
  35. 1 point
    I don’t know why, but nowadays, when I go for a walk, I feel an obligation to post photos on Facebook of the little distractions that catch my eye as I’m walking. I’ll be the first to admit that my photos aren’t Pulitzer Prize-worthy, especially using my antiquated iPhone 6s, but I normally walk for two hours and I think that having my good camera swinging back and forth around my neck would soon become an annoyance. And yet, I feel badly when I encounter a wonderful photo op and I’m standing there feeling like I’m severely underpowered. Today, for example, I was walking a trail that wound around several small lakes and through a wooded area alongside a gently-flowing creek. I looked up and saw a mama deer with two tiny fawns on the path just a few yards ahead. They were intently focused on me, their ears twitching, wide-eyed and curious, making several false starts to run away and then hesitating again. It was as though I was the first human they’d ever encountered, a strange two-legged beast from the Twilight Zone. A few moments later they dashed away into the forest, glancing back over their shoulders to be sure I wasn’t in pursuit. Well, the trail curved at that point, and the three deer happened to curve also and they crossed the path ahead of me a second time. They stood there, stunned, unbelieving, having encountered an alien creature in their forest neighborhood two times in one day. I could almost hear the little ones saying, “Mom! Mom! What is that thing?!” Again they plunged into the undergrowth beneath the trees, leaping high into the air with each step. Now I don’t know if having my good camera would’ve made a difference during that encounter, as I would have had to turn it on, remove the lens cap, focus, and hit the shutter button. That may have been too much activity for them to stand and watch, not knowing if I was a friendly monster or not.
  36. 1 point
    Part 7: Revelation We ate like kings in Vietnam. Mai’s mother and sisters cooked homemade meals outdoors over a wood fire beside a low, L-shaped wall that served as the kitchen and protected the food from wind and dust. After the daily early-morning trip to the farmer’s market to buy fresh produce and freshly-butchered meat, the food was prepared and put into large pots where it simmered for hours over the flames, carefully watched from midmorning until late afternoon. Most of the time I had no idea what we were eating, but everything was delicious, having flavors and aromas that slowly blended together throughout the day. At every meal, I ate until I couldn’t eat anything more, and yet I lost eight pounds during the 13 days we were in Vietnam (I wish I had brought home some of those recipes). Many of our meals were eaten in restaurants. The family, knowing that the ‘wealthy’ Americans were buying, ordered multiple entrees that were served on large plates. Every inch of our table was covered with plates of exotic foods, and bowls of rice and noodles and cups of tea. When the check came, it was usually around seven or eight dollars in American money, or about 70 cents per person. There was always food left over, though no one asked for a to-go box because no one had a refrigerator at home to store the leftovers in. And just like what happened at the Palace, I walked into a restaurant one day and a middle-aged man jumped out of his chair and offered me his seat. I didn’t know how to react, so I politely bowed and indicated with sign language that I was with a group of people. It was nice to be treated with so much respect, but I had no idea why I was being respected. In between the sightseeing and the feasting, we spent a lot of time visiting Mai’s aunts and uncles and cousins. As in many Asian homes, it was customary for visiting relatives to light incense and stand in reverence before a small altar dedicated to an honored relative who had passed on. The altar (usually a shelf, or the top of a credenza) held a picture of the person and some personal items such as a watch or a pocket comb that they’d used during their lifetime. It was a solemn moment; everyone in the room waited quietly as Mai paid her respects, and then the conversations started up again where they left off. Our visit to Mai’s grandmother’s house was an interesting cultural experience. She lived alone in a small house that was just up the hill from the family home. Quiet, serene, dignified, she sat on a wooden chair as Mai and her cousins shouted into her ear (Grandmother was hard-of-hearing). And right there in the sparsely-furnished living room, leaning against the wall, was a wooden coffin. Barbara and I, not used to seeing that kind of home decor, discreetly asked Mai why there was a coffin in the house. Mai shrugged her shoulders and replied, “They got a good deal on it, and, you know, it‘s inevitable.” I’m not sure what Grandmother thought about her family’s thriftiness, but she probably approved. Thriftiness is an admired trait in Vietnam. We went to an Uncle’s home, where I finally understood the respect we were given by so many people in South Vietnam. One wall held a framed picture of a young man in his military uniform. Like military photos the world over, he was standing in front of his country’s flag, looking serious and brave, just out of training and eager to serve his country. The young man’s mother stood and watched me from a few feet away as I gazed at the picture. I sensed that this was an important moment for her. I suddenly understood that this was her son who had died in the war. I was almost overcome by emotion. Fighting back tears, I turned and looked at the soldier’s mother and nodded my head. I couldn’t speak her language, but I hoped that my tears and my respect conveyed the words that the mother of every fallen soldier needs to hear: “Your son is a hero”. I realized then that the people who had been showing us so much respect thought that I was a US military Veteran. And, just like the relatives who are honored and remembered with altars and incense long after they’ve passed on, the American soldiers who sacrificed their lives for the people of South Vietnam are remembered with a respect that has been nurtured for years. I’m certain there are many South Vietnamese people who would stand before our own veterans who fought in the Vietnam War and say to them, “Thank you for your service to our country.” When it was time for us to leave the Imperial City and return to Ho Chi Minh City for our flight home, the family gathered at the bottom of the hill so we could all say goodbyes. Looking around, I saw that Mai’s father was missing. I asked where he was, and she replied, “He’s on the roof. That’s where he goes when he needs to be alone.” This wasn’t an everyday goodbye for Mai’s parents. The family whose lives were torn apart in April of 1975 was separating again. For 13 days, the wounds were healed and joy was shared with neighbors and relatives, and now it was ending. Mr. Nguyen, proud father of nine children, the former entrepreneur, the family sensei, needed some time alone to compose himself. We waited for her father. After he arrived and we'd shared hugs and handshakes, we got into our rented van and drove away. Mai remained silent for most of the long journey home. In the years since, Mai has returned with her husband and son to visit her family in Vietnam. With Mai’s help, her parents moved to America for two years and lived with Mai and her new family. Some of Mai’s brothers and sisters have applied for U.S. citizenship, but not too enthusiastically. After all, home is where the heart is. The End.
  37. 1 point
    Vietnam Part 6: Emperor Gia Long and Napoleon Bonaparte On our second morning after arriving at the family home, we went to the local Police station to officially present our paperwork. Mai handed our documents to a uniformed officer. He looked them over, and began questioning Mai in a not-too-friendly tone of voice. Then, to my dismay, Mai began arguing with him. Barbara and I exchanged glances. We’d both known Mai for quite some time, and we knew she wasn’t one to back down from a fight, even if we were standing in a police station in one of the most repressive regimes in the world and she was arguing with a very stern-looking uniformed officer right there in the middle of Vietnam. As the argument turned into a stare-down between our friend and the officer, I began picturing myself with long hair and a scraggly beard and living on bread and water in a crowded jail cell. In the calmest voice I could muster, I said to Mai, “So, what’s going on?” Mai replied through gritted teeth: “Foreigners aren’t allowed to stay overnight in Vietnamese homes. He wants you and Barbara to go to a hotel.” Bear in mind, I had slept on a wooden bed for two nights. My thoughts immediately switched from ‘jail cell’ to ‘beds with mattresses’. I didn’t want to hurt Mai’s feelings by running over and high-fiving the police officer, so I paused for a few moments as though taken aback by the terrible news, and I replied with something like, “Oh, that’s awful. But I suppose we better do as they say.” Our small, no-frills hotel was inexpensive: Barbara’s room was $4 a night, and mine was $5 because it had a ceiling fan. There was no air conditioning, though it wasn’t needed that time of year when the nights are comfortably cool. The windows had no glass, but were secured with ornamental ironwork and wooden shutters. The bed was twin-size with a thick, comfortable foam mattress, surrounded by mosquito netting hanging from rails that encircled the bed. The bathroom was fit for Elvis Presley, with a sink and a flushing toilet, though the shower was the usual bucket of water and plastic cup. I was content. We set out to go sightseeing in the Imperial City. It was a lesson in history at it’s finest, and totalitarianism at it’s worst. In times past the Citadel on the banks of the Perfume River, the Imperial Palace of Emperor Gia Long, and the tomb of Emperor Tu Duc had been the pride of Vietnam, but under Communism the ‘old ways’ were scorned and ignored, and the magnificent palaces were severely neglected. Ironically, this was what made our self-guided ’tours’ so fascinating to me: we were the only people there. After paying a small fee (about one dollar per person) we entered Gia Long’s Imperial Palace and walked through the gardens, up and down wide staircases that led to huge reception rooms, and stood on balconies overlooking the Imperial lands. We had the whole place to ourselves. In one of the reception rooms there was a gigantic mirror, about 20 x 15 feet in size, that was a gift to the emperor from Napoleon Bonaparte in the early 1800’s. Emperor Gia Long, with the support of the French government, succeeded in uniting the feudal kingdoms of Vietnam into one country. It was probably that meeting between Napoleon and the Emperor that cemented the relationship between France and Vietnam. I stood mesmerized in front of the mirror, thinking of all those years of State ceremonies and Imperial banquets and Napoleon Bonaparte admiring the reflection of himself in his military uniform (he had a reputation for being a bit vain). Not wanting to miss my place in history, I pulled my comb from my back pocket, stepped up to the mirror, and combed my hair. (I suppose gigantic mirrors have a way of bringing out the vanity in people.) Also in that room was a small, wrinkled, elderly man sitting on a small wooden stool, hands folded on his lap, with a blanket on the floor in front of him that held various tourist-type trinkets and figurines. As we entered the room, he looked up at us in surprise and immediately jumped up and offered me his seat. I was stunned by his show of respect. It wasn’t until later that I really understood what it was that earned that respect. To be continued...
  38. 1 point
    Part 5: A Parade I survived. I spoke quietly to the dogs, and they let me pass by unharmed. It wasn’t until later that I realized they may have stationed themselves by that particular door on purpose, to guard the family home against critters looking for a new den. The following morning, we walked to the bottom of the hill where our driver was waiting for us. He drove us into town to what must have been a favorite breakfast place for the family: a tiny storefront cafe on a narrow, busy street filled with people and pedicabs. We sat on wooden chairs at a table on the sidewalk and watched the throngs of people passing by. Mai spoke to our waiter in Vietnamese as she ordered breakfast. I was expecting eggs and bacon, or French pastries, so I was really surprised when our waiter delivered huge bowls of steaming-hot soup to our table. Now THAT was a cultural difference that I didn’t see coming! The soup was wonderful, made of vegetables with just enough meat to add some flavor. When we returned to the family home, Mai went inside to spend time with her parents while Barbara and I and a few of the brothers sat on the front porch to watch the slow parade of people and livestock passing by on the footpath. Every few minutes, someone walked by with a heavy load of rice or vegetables carried by yokes on their shoulders. Water buffalo slowly lumbered up and down the hillside, led by farmers dressed in their pajamas and coolie hats. People would often stop and stare at us for a few minutes, and then ask one of the brothers, “Nhung nguoi này là ai?” “Who are these people?” The brothers proudly announced that their American sister had come home to visit, and we were her American friends. Up to this point, I’d been wondering how we would be received by the Vietnamese people. I didn’t know if there would be animosity left over from the war, or at best, indifference; but we were treated like celebrities everywhere we went. It wasn’t the reaction that I was expecting. I discovered the reason for our popularity a few days later while visiting Mai’s uncle’s home. I’ll tell that story later. Before long, groups of little kids began gathering in front of the house. After staring at us for a while, one of the kids would yell “HELLO!“. And then the others, one after another, would smile and yell “Hello!”, over and over again. This happened whenever we Americans were sitting outside on the porch. The children would quietly follow Barbara and me as we walked on the footpath. If we smiled at them, they’d immediately run up and hold our hands and walk beside us. Barbara has red hair, and my hair was turning gray. If we sat down, the kids would reach up and touch our hair and marvel at the color, fascinated to meet someone who didn’t have the thick black hair they’d seen on every other person they’d ever known. One day an elderly woman, probably in her 80’s, walked past us on the footpath carrying a load of scrap metal on her shoulder. I asked if I could try out her yoke, and she handed it over to me, smiling and shy that the American dude was paying her so much attention. I hefted the load onto my shoulder and slowly walked a few feet, struggling to stay balanced. I was amazed at how heavy the load was, and how the hard wood of the yoke dug into my soft American shoulder. I knew immediately that I wouldn’t last a hundred feet carrying that heavy load, and yet here was an elderly woman who probably carried heavy loads up and down the hillsides on dirt paths every day of her life. I stood there in awe as she continued down the path with her yoke on her shoulder. To be continued...
  39. 1 point
    Vietnam Part 4: A Night to Remember Before the Communist invasion of South Vietnam in 1975, Mai’s family was affluent by Vietnamese standards, even having a car and a driver to escort them around the small city of Hue. After serving in the Vietnamese Army for several years, Mr. Nguyen became an entrepreneur, eventually owning three successful grocery stores. Being a loving but strict father, he taught his military martial arts skills to his children from the time they were toddlers. All of Mai’s siblings were skilled in the use of nunchakus and long-poles. I once watched a documentary about martial arts styles around the world. Still today, in some Asian dojos the floor is made of wood, not thickly-padded as are the floors of dojos in most Western studios. In other words, when practicing judo, one lands on a hard wooden floor instead of a soft, comfortable mat. After the celebration of our arrival at the family home, we were shown to the rooms we’d be sleeping in. I was given a small room to myself, furnished only with a small bed….a wooden bed. A flat, hard wooden bed with a small pillow and a sheet, but no mattress. I was beginning to realize that the Vietnamese don’t think of ‘comfort’ in the same way that we Westerners do: the hard metal seats in our van, the lack of upholstered furniture, the wooden-floored dojos…at my first sight of that wooden bed after our 28-hour road trip, I knew I was truly learning about Vietnamese culture. In the violent aftermath following the 1975 invasion, the Communists seized the family home, the car, and the three grocery stores. For a time, the family disappeared into the chaos, yet somehow remained alive and together. Eventually, after communication was reestablished between families in Vietnam and refugees in America, Mai was able to offer financial help. The family moved into their humble home on the hillside. The government, not concerned about traditional values or family ties, had divided a cemetery into lots. The ‘yard’ behind the family home was a mix of small trees, overgrown grass, and small, sun-weathered headstones. Also in the backyard was a hole in the ground that served as the toilet facilities. In respect for our Western modesty, Mai’s father had added a three-sided ’wall’ made of tree limbs and plastic wrap. There was no indoor plumbing in the home, other than the bucket of water and plastic cup that served as a shower. Mai’s older sister, Lom, had the daily chore of filling buckets of water from the community well at the bottom of the hill. She transported the 5-gallon buckets of water with a yoke on her shoulder, stopping every few steps to steady the buckets so the water wouldn’t slosh out on her way home. Vietnam boasts the highest number of venomous snakes per-square-foot in the entire world. Normally this wouldn’t concern me too much, but the room I was assigned to had a small, narrow, wooden door leading out to the backyard. There was a 4-inch gap at the bottom of the door. The door may have prevented a blind sheep from entering my room, but snakes and small mammals probably saw that 4-inch gap as a welcome mat. The family owned two small, terrier-like dogs that wandered around the house eating table scraps and the occasional bowl of leftover rice. They were semi-feral, never an object of affection, treated more like furry vacuum cleaners than pets. I’ve told you all of that to set up the crisis I encountered that night: At three in the morning I was awakened from slumber by an urgent need to use the bathroom. There was no electricity for electric lights, no streetlights, no moon in the sky. I arose from my wooden bed, opened the narrow door, and stepped out into the darkness. There was enough light from the stars to search the ground for snakes, but we had arrived at the home after sunset, and I didn’t know if there were any other houses nearby. I greatly feared…no, I was sweating bullets…that a neighbor would see me in the yard, and, thinking I was desecrating an honored relative’s grave, come running down the hill with samurai sword in hand, screaming Vietnamese curses. I hurriedly used the facilities and turned around to reenter my room, and then I saw those two little dogs lying on the ground right next to my door. Of course they didn’t know me. They started growling. I stood there in the darkness, already beset with paranoid fears of venomous snakes and angry neighbors, and I thought to myself, “I’m going to be torn to pieces by little dogs in Vietnam.” To be continued...
  40. 1 point
    Part 3: Arrival Hue, the one-time Imperial City located in the center of the ’ox-bow’ country of Vietnam, is full of history. Established as the capital of Vietnam by the Nguyen Dynasty in the early 17th century, Hue remained the seat of the Imperial Palace until 1945 when political divisions led to Hanoi becoming the capital of North Vietnam, followed a few years later by Saigon becoming the capital of South Vietnam. We arrived in Hue after sunset, around 8:30 at night. Mai’s parents lived outside of town on a hillside overlooking pastures and rice paddies, on a dirt path that wasn’t wide enough for motor vehicles. Our driver parked at the bottom of the hill, and we waited in the dark as Tuy-Van’s brother ran to the home to notify everyone that we’d arrived. A group of people came down the hillside, opened the van doors, and took all of our luggage. Hmm…Barbara and I looked at each other, then we looked at Mai and asked, “Uhhh, Mai, where’s our luggage going?” She assured us that her family and their friends were showing us respect by carrying everything up the hillside for us. I actually wasn’t completely reassured, knowing that most of Mai’s eight siblings were born after she escaped in 1975, and I wasn’t confident she could distinguish her siblings from the potential highway robbers that may have infiltrated the crowd. (No doubt my paranoia was fueled by the fatigue caused from sitting on a metal seat in a rickety old van on a bumpy road for 28 hours). We walked up the hillside in the dark, our path illuminated by the flashlights of our luggage porters. We were met by a crowd of fifty or more people who gave us a small-scale Imperial welcome. After everyone had gathered inside the house, on the porch, and on the path outside, someone lit a string of firecrackers. These weren’t the tiny Black Cats or Ladyfingers that American kids set off in the driveway on the 4th of July. There were a hundred or so M-80 sized firecrackers in a two-foot-diameter coil that exploded continuously for about a full minute. Mai, Barbara and I were standing in the candle-lit main room of the house, surrounded by dozens of people smiling at us with Mona Lisa smiles as the room filled with billowing smoke from the eardrum-numbing explosions. A small breath would send the smoke billowing across the room like fog on a windy day. It was quite an experience. Introductions followed, as Mai met the brothers and sisters that she’d never seen before. It wasn’t emotional at first. Vietnamese stoicism held back the tears, though it was obvious that emotions and tears were just below the surface. But how does one react to a seventeen-year separation caused by war and fear and sadness? A 12-year-old daughter escaping to a strange country with a strange culture, and a family who lost everything when the Communists overran South Vietnam in a fury of revenge and retribution; I’m sure there were emotions present that I’ve never experienced. Someone brought out pastries, and the dozens of friends and neighbors that had gathered for the reunion became more animated, and even joyful. It became a party. Mai, dressed in stylish Western clothes, was like a movie star: the young girl who had escaped from the fallen country had returned home educated, successful and confident. Then, in the midst of the celebration, the spectre of totalitarianism arrived in the form of a single policeman. He came walking up the footpath in the dark, said a few words to Mai’s father, then took a seat at a table on the front porch. The crowd went silent as Mai and Barbara and I presented our passports and visas to the officer. He wrote everything down in a small logbook, and reminded us that we had 48 hours to register at the Police Station in town. When he was finished he returned our paperwork, said his goodbyes, and walked back into the darkness. To be continued...
  41. 1 point
    Part 2: The Road to Hue Mai’s family lived in Hue, the former Imperial City of Vietnam 600 miles north of Ho Chi Minh City. Mai had made it clear that she wouldn't step foot on Vietnam Airlines, the country's flagship airline that consisted mostly of Russian-built Tupolev Tu-134s and French-built Airbuses. I don't know if the airline's safety reputation was as bad as the rumors said it was, but considering that the Russian airline, Aeroflot, once had the worst safety record in the world, perhaps her fears were justified. So, the family hired a van and a driver to be our transportation for the 13 days we were in the country. It was an odd arrangement: the van’s owner didn’t have a driver’s license, so he had to hire someone to drive his own van whenever he used it. Highway One stretches the length of the country from Ho Chi Minh City in the south to Hanoi in the north. Built by the French during the Colonial Era, the road fell into disrepair soon after the Americans left in 1975. The road is scarred not with potholes, but with what might be described as 'bathtub-holes' that could have easily broken an axle if our driver hadn’t remained alert by chain-smoking industrial-strength Vietnamese cigarettes. We shared the highway with teams of oxen, bicycles, and yoke-laden farmers carrying their produce to the market. The locals used the pavement to dry out banana leaves and grain, and planted gardens in the ditch that separated the lanes. On the busier stretches of the highway there were people at the side of the road posed like runners, waiting for a break in traffic to sprint across the road to tend their gardens. It seemed that many people didn’t bother with tow trucks when their vehicles broke down; they merely gathered up their belongings and walked away. We passed buses and trucks that had probably sat on the road for decades: windowless, rusting hulks stripped of everything valuable and left to rot right where they’d stopped running. So, we swerved. Every few seconds, the van swerved around derelict vehicles, giant potholes, piles of grain, water buffalo, and washouts where the road had been swept away by flood waters. With all these mini-detours, the 600-mile drive from Ho Chi Minh City to Hue took 28 hours. The Russian-built van we were traveling in was a story in itself: the metal seats were upholstered with a towel-thin fabric that did little to cushion the bouncing from the numerous bumps on the road. We Americans exchanged alarmed glances now and then as the van started to go airborne, while our Vietnamese van-mates remained stoic and uncomplaining the entire time. There was an exhaust leak where the gear shift lever met the floor. The air flowing under the van pushed the fumes into the cabin and out the windows, which remained open in the 90-degree heat. It wasn’t too bad, until we slowed down while passing through the small villages along our route and the noxious fumes settled inside the van. However, in a cruel twist of fate, Mai bought two jugs of Fish Sauce to give to her parents. One of the jugs fell over on the floor and leaked, mixing the pungent fumes of fermented anchovies with the ever-present exhaust fumes. Away from the hustle and bustle of Ho Chi Minh City, the countryside and the people take on a different look. Life here is lived as it was hundreds of years ago. Rice paddies, looking like a patchwork quilt of green footpaths and shimmering water, stretch to the Annamese Mountains on the eastern horizon. ‘Pajama‘-clad peasant farmers, wearing coolie hats made of straw or bamboo walk alongside water buffalo pulling wooden carts. Barefoot children watch over younger children or chop firewood for the women tending to pots of soup simmering over cooking fires placed a safe distance away from their thatch-roofed huts. These are hard-working, diligent people, lean and weathered, immune to the quibbles and complaints of ordinary folks. As the road began climbing up into the mountains, the temperature began to drop. Dressed in our sweatshirts and blue jeans, we Americans shivered in the cool air as Vietnamese women toiled knee-deep in water in the rice paddies, bent over, planting and harvesting their life-sustaining crops. It was a humbling experience for me. One experience from that long journey to Hue stands out in my memory. At 2:00 o’clock in the morning, high up in the mountains under a starlit sky, we stopped at a tiny roadside restaurant. I’m pretty sure the husband-wife team who ran the restaurant were awakened by the sound of our van doors being slammed shut, but they hustled out of their sleeping quarters to serve us. I was wearing a fanny pack that held my wallet and passport and a Sony Walkman. Remember, this was 1993, long before smartphones and Bluetooth. I was curious to see the reaction of our waitress to the Walkman, something that must have seemed very strange and modern in their isolated mountain home. I handed her the Walkman, showed her how to don the headphones, and hit the play button. Her eyes lit up and she smiled as Michael Bolton began singing his love ballads in that dimly-lit cafe in the mountains of Vietnam. It was a heartwarming cross-cultural moment.