Saturday, June 9, 2018

Torah Thoughts on Shelach Lecha

As the Israelites make their way through the wilderness, Moses sends out twelve spies, one from each tribe, to scout out the land of Canaan.  When they return, the report is at first reasonable – it is a good land but well-defended, and the inhabitants are strong and it will require an effort to overcome them.  But as they speak, ten of the twelve lose faith and begin to exaggerate the situation.  “They were so big, we looked like grasshoppers in our own eyes, and so we must have looked to them”, they report.  The people panic, and the two good spies, Joshua and Caleb, cannot convince them to give up their fear and go about the task that God has given them.   Midrash Tanhuma (Shelach §7) adds a commentary to the text.  God says to the evil spies, “You looked like grasshoppers in your own eyes; that I can forgive.  But how do you know how you looked in their eyes?  Perhaps I made you appear like angels to them!” 

I think it is good for us to be reminded that the way we feel about ourselves does not necessarily correspond to the way we are seen by others.  We may feel inadequate, but to our loved ones, we are precious, as they are to us.  Perhaps we did something kind for someone a long time ago which we may have forgotten, but they never have.  We are made in God’s image, so each one of us is a reflection of God, and to others, we may well appear like angels.

Friday, May 18, 2018

This time, the Fool Killer isn't walking away

Tom Wolfe

People have been digging up their favorite Tom Wolfe quotes since his death May 14. Here’s mine, from The Right Stuff: 
  “It was the kind of crowd that would have made the Fool Killer lower his club and shake his head and walk away, frustrated by the magnitude of the opportunity.”
  Wolfe was writing about the media mob on the lawn of John Glenn’s house on Feb. 20, 1962, waiting for Glenn to be either hurled into space or explode in a giant fireball on the Cape Canaveral launching pad.
  Now, it seems the situation has been reversed. The “Fool Killers” are the media. And they have some rich opportunities for their shillelaghs. Just to name a few:
   --  Michael Flynn.
   -- Paul Manafort.
   -- Michael Cohen.
   -- Rudy Giuliani.
   -- Scott Pruitt.
   -- Donald Trump Jr.
   -- Jared Kushner.
  -- And Kelly Sadler, a nobody Trump staffer who became instantly famous for dismissing John McCain: “he’s dying anyway.” (As a hospice patient myself, I found Sadler’s remark particularly galling.)
  -- And, of course, the Commander in Chief Fool, who makes all this happen, like a mad wizard flinging poisonous flowers from his fingertips.
  Special counsel Robert Mueller and his team are doing an excellent job of chopping through the underbrush in search of fools that need cudgeling. Let’s hope they’re allowed to continue their work unimpeded by the Chief Fool.
  And let’s also hope the Fool Killer doesn’t become overwhelmed by his opportunities, as Wolfe says he did back in the beginning of the Space Age.
  There’s much more at stake now. Our democracy, for example.

Monday, May 7, 2018

Watching Life Through My Window

During my childhood I never lived in a town.  We never had a street address. While our house did have windows what we saw through them was nature in all its glories.  We never saw people except on the rare occasions when we had visitors.  I'm an adult now and I work from home.  The isolation or seclusion feels familiar and comfortable. There's a big difference, though, between the isolation of my youth and my current because I work from home isolation.  We live on a street and our living room and dining room windows look out on that street.  Just about every morning I drink my coffee on the living room couch looking at our street.  Life pretty much progresses though that window.  I've seen deer in our front yard.  I've watched blizzards drop mountains of snow.  Almost every morning people walk their dogs.  And for the last four years I've watched the children of our next door neighbors grow and gain independence.  When we first moved here only the little boy went to school.  Every morning his mother walked him to the school bus which picked him up on a nearby corner.  His little sister got pushed in a stroller.  Sometimes they were all bundled up and other times they wore less constricting clothing.  And suddenly before I knew it both children were getting on the school bus still walked to the corner by their mother.  Lately the mother has been walking several yards behind the siblings.  Clearly there's an understanding of an increased need for independence.  Once when the sister did not go to school the mother only walked part way to the bus.  Then all of a sudden she started running toward it, shouting and waving her arms.  The little boy, possibly, had asked or informed that he would get off the bus by himself.  He then became confused and wandered into the middle of the street.  Luckily our street isn't busy and no passing cars came even close to being a danger.  However, when she got to him and hustled him out of the street and onto the sidewalk they hugged and comforted each other and finally, still embracing, walked back down the street to their home. I watch dogs on leashes grow from puppy to middle age, from out of control to greater obedience.  I think I'm lucky for a work schedule that allows me time to watch through my window life progress and pass. And maybe someday I'll find out the names of the family living next door to me.

Tuesday, May 1, 2018

Sometimes Life Just Takes Time

About a year ago my grandson and I planted an apple tree and a pear tree.  You may recall reading about that adventure on this blog.  While the apple tree thrived, the pear tree didn't do so well.  In fact, I was pretty sure it had died or if it hadn't died by fall it would surely not survive the winter.  My grandson was upset and wanted to keep checking on the pear tree just in case.  He's a bit of a worrier that way but no more so than I.  We were both pretty concerned about the little baby pear tree.  This winter was particularly long and incredibly cold.  And then spring crept in and the pear tree has leaves and possibly even some flowers.  There are a couple of dead branches but the tree itself is obviously alive.  I was never tempted to declare it dead and I certainly never considered pulling it out of the ground.  Sometimes it just seems to take some of us a little longer to get started.

Friday, April 27, 2018

We got by ... with a lot of help from our friends

Odysseus and Argos

It was a time of perpetual strangeness, like Odysseus in his long attempt to get back home to Penelope. And of course, his faithful dog, Argos.

First, there was the flood. Early one Sunday morning, my wife, Linda, woke me crying: “Tom, we have a problem – the hall bathroom is flooded.”
The fates had conspired to make this problem worse than it had to be. Linda recently had hip replacement surgery and couldn’t reach down to turn off the spigot to the bathroom toilet. And I had a number of health woes that made springing into action impossible. By the time I sloshed down the hall and into the bathroom, several rooms were flooded.
Since then, we’ve had many visitors at our house. Plumbers. Water damage restoration companies. Insurance adjusters. Carpet installers. It seemed like half the subcontractors in Tucson visited our house at various times.
The roaring of the dozen blowers and dehumidifiers drying out our place made sleeping there impossible, so we had to stay in a hotel for a week. Then, we were able to return to a dry home while the restoration and carpet installers did their things.  
Meanwhile, friends had to help Linda get to her rehab treatments, and keep us supplied with groceries and other necessities. Fortunately, we had a lot of help, because of our wonderful and caring congregation, St. Mark’s United Methodist Church.
 I’m going to name those helpers here, feeling like an Oscar winner trying to thank everybody before they run out breath or time: Chris Bahnson, Kathie Barrett, Jeff Blackburn, Susan Gerstad, Linda Girard, Sandi Heilman, Martha Mazzolini, Sally Mettler, Vicki Minger, Maryanne Nucholls,  Gil and Kathy Parrish, Marcia Rostad, Connie White and Marlyce Wright.
By now I’m gasping for breath, but there are still more. Our neighbors, Maryannette Bednar and Jim Lopez, who help us every day. And my Hospice Family Care team: my nurse , Angela Lineberger and her husband, Mike, who does volunteer work for us; and my wonderful hospice assistant, Blanca MontaƱo.
And finally, our grown children, Michael Walker and his wife, Remy; and Christina Walker Rowden. And, of course, our grandchildren, Niko Walker and Cait Rowden. I also want to say a special thank you to Michael Schapker, the Tucson claims adjuster for USAA, our insurance company.
Meanwhile, the strangeness has continued. Gnawing into a slice of stiff-crust bread, I managed to break a front tooth at the root. Fortunately, I didn’t swallow the tooth. Also fortunately, the broken tooth doesn’t hurt at all; it probably had been root-canalled-out long ago. So right now, I have a serious gap in my smile. Maybe I'll say that I've joined the Tucson Roadrunners Hockey team. Or maybe I just won’t smile very much anymore.                                                               
Robert Reich, former U.S. Secretary of Labor, doesn’t find very much to smile about either, these days. In a column that ran April 10 in the Arizona Daily Star, Reich warned that, under President Trump, our country may be tweeting toward a dictatorship.
Trump recently noted that Chinese President Xi Jinping was now president for life. “Maybe we’ll have to give that a shot someday.”’
“Some thought Trump was joking,” Reich says. “I’m not so sure.”
I’m not so sure, either. All the checks and balances seem to be crumbling, except for the Fourth Estate. And Trump has it under siege, too.
Argos? Good boy. Our poor old blind, flea infested press may be our best hope in this strange time of flooded houses, missing teeth and wanta-be dictators. That, and our network of friends, businesses and agencies like Medicare and Hospice Family Care.
Long may they run.

Thursday, April 26, 2018

Right now there's a hole in my heart.

Nikola Trumbo
She died on April 23, 2018.  I found out about her death just as I was sitting down to write her an email.  She started out as my therapist and eventually I was honored to call her my friend.  She and her partner moved from Pasadena to Seattle and I clearly understood that we could have no contact for two years because that's the way it has to be between therapist and client.  However, she did give me her address and a photograph to serve as transitional objects and to be available in case of emergency primarily because during the several years I was her client I had quite a few emergencies.   I also understood that she would not contact me.  If contact were to be made, it would necessarily come from me.  I didn't contact her for over two years and then I reached out just to say hello.  She responded just to say hello back and then we began to correspond.  She commented on my writing and so it went until the morning I sat down to write what would have been my last email.  Maybe I should have sent it anyway because I don't really understand how these things work - these life and death things.  Niki Trumbo stood for things and spoke out on behalf of things.  She was a fierce advocate for social justice.  It seemed logical that she would be because her father, the writer Dalton Trumbo, was blacklisted during the McCarthy era and spent time in prison. She knew first hand the price paid for political gain. She also knew first hand that this country has been through hard times before.  She consulted on the recent film "Trumbo" and ultimately felt pleased with the result.  She was also a fierce advocate for saving the planet because, after all, it's the only home we've got.  I learned so much from her  and hopefully I have been able to share some of those learnings with the people who come to me for help.  And in the words of Niki Trumbo, what's the use of learning something if we don't share it.  Just knowing she existed was a comfort.  After the sadness leaves and the hole in my heart fills with all the joy surrounding me, I will take comfort in remembering her voice and the wisdom given to me by that voice.

Sunday, April 22, 2018

Double Clutching

It's true.  I still drive my 1996 Jeep Cherokee.  It has almost 300,000 miles on it. I'm hoping to get it to at least 400,000 miles or more.  It doesn't like to get into second gear. It's  made one cross country trip and after Arkansas carried the our wheel drive shaft with the rest of the luggage.  I see no reason to replace it with something new.  I only get one radio station but that's okay.  I can always sing my own songs if that station stops coming in.  I'm good.  So is the Jeep.