Lola, 2004-2009, beloved friend

Lola, our five year old golden retriever, died yesterday. She was a chubby little thing and we took a walk in the too-hot midday sun. While it was a walk we had taken many times before, this time she could not catch her breath and we were not near enough to cooling water. I carried her, tried to revive her, but I was unable to help. She tried, she died. Hopefully, I will one day be able to stop second guessing myself because I loved Lola . She loved everybody. Her physical absence is today excruciating.

I wrote an article for the emailed version of “The First Morning” in October of 2006.  I reprint it today because I am unable right now to write what I will write later about Lola.

IMG_0192 Lola is our three year old yellow Lab. She is sweet in every sense of that word which humans overuse when they’re talking about their pets. She will fetch, over and over, any ball that fits into her mouth, until she is exhausted from running. At almost 80 pounds, she still stands by the chair I’m sitting in waiting for me to pat my lap as a signal to her to “crawl on up here.”

Last night, I was outside, it was about 10:00. I was reading and Lola was sitting beside me, her head resting on my knee. As happens once in a while, in a field across the highway, about ¾ of a mile from our backyard, a pack of coyotes began howling and barking. Now that’s always a remarkable sound, which usually goes on for several minutes. Perhaps a hunt has been consummated, maybe females are being called, or some danger is near. Whatever the cause, it is a sound of wildness that calls to my imagination.

And this night, Lola heard that call, too. She left my side when it began and walked to the middle of the yard and sat down, her attention fully focused in the direction of the coyotes’ howls and barks. She was alert, but relaxed- not tense and on edge the way a noisy truck on “her” street causes her to be. She was so relaxed, as the coyote chorus continued, that she laid down sphinx-like, very still and totally concentrating on the not-so-faraway sounds.

What was she hearing? This was a sound from far beyond the normal barking she hears when we take our dogs on walks and dachshunds, pit bulls, or other retrievers bark at our trespassing. Nor did Lola react to the sounds of these coyotes like she does when dogs behind fences bark at us on our walks. Fence-barkers are reacted to by Lola with much false bravado and silly gnashing of teeth. Lola is pretty much a sissy, though, and runs the other way if she perceives in any way that the fence protecting her has a weak link somewhere.

As I watched Lola listening to the coyotes, I believe I was watching her responding to the eons of DNA wound through every one of her bodily cells. Retrievers, as a breed of dog, have only been around for several hundred years. But they, like every Chihuahua, Great Dane, Pit Bull, and new little Foo-Foo of the month, have ancient common ancestors among the wolves of Northern Europe and Asia, and more recent ancestral cousins among the dingoes of Australia and the coyotes of North America. I think; no, I know, that Lola was hearing a real call of the wild. It was a call to the wild in her that she has, through breeding and spoiling, no idea how to respond to. But she can hear it. She can feel it.

clip_image004When the barking and howling stopped, Lola sat back up. She looked back at me, as her ‘real world’ was coming back into focus. I went over and hugged and ‘talked dog’ to her. It just felt to me- maybe I’m making all this up, but I don’t think so- it felt to me like there was a longing in Lola that could never, would never, be able to be expressed. The life of the pack, as her 1000X great-grandmothers knew that pack life, will never be part of Lola’s experience. But I could see that some deep and real genetic chord in her had been sounded. And she had enjoyed it.

I often wonder how many of those ancient and genetically ripe moments catch our own human attentions. Most people respond to the seashore in ways which cause them to describe it as “beautiful” or “awesome.” But those words, they also know, even as they are saying them, do little to describe what the ocean is really making them feel. That feeling is the real response to the ancient, genetically sensitive, call which the ocean makes on most people.

Most, but not all. While significant and numerous communities of humans lived over hundreds of generations by ocean shores, their DNA codes being sculpted by the foods, winds, and climates there, there were other communities with ancient histories living inland. Some people today are affected by mountains or deep forests in the same way as others are affected by the oceans. Some communities, many of them around the world, never left the base of the mountains where life-giving streams full of fish and clams were present. Others hunted and gathered in the forests and the edges of forests. Their present day descendents might feel their calls to the wild in the scent of pine, the taste of wild onions, or, in ways very different from the way Lola heard them, the howls of wolves, dingoes, or coyotes. (“Run!”)

Something which all humans in all places seem to share is a fascination with fire. In a shared setting especially, where the fire is purposefully built and controlled, the fire-fascination of people is that same kind of fascination which comes from beyond words, beyond the need for language. Fire, shared and communal, is always quieting, always a cause for reflection and wonder. It is settling. That kind of shared, life-enhancing fire is something which the majority of persons in everyone’s family trees depended on, gathered around, slept near, and were made warm by. Our genetic, human DNA was shaped by that warmth; it is not serendipity or even mere coincidence that we are, as humans, attracted to it. It is inevitable. We can’t stay away from it.

On beyond the campfires, mountain streams, forest glens, ocean waves, and calls of the coyote, there is another even more ancient and powerful call. All humans have that call in common, too. The Apostle Paul said that even the trees and rocks hear it. I’ll write about that call later in the week.

Thoughts on the 60th Anniversary of D-Day

Thoughts on the 60th Anniversary of D-Day
(to Ike, written 2004))

I wish they had talked more, And I wish we’d have asked more.
They were our fathers, uncles, teachers, and neighbors,
And that one guy who sat at the park by himself.
They were men, then, and we couldn’t imagine they had been soldiers.

We played in the dirt with our plastic soldiers
and mimicked machine guns in the woods:
Eh-eh-eh-eh-eh-eh…
then spun to the ground in death throes we knew nothing of.
They didn’t tell us how to play, or how men really died…screaming sometimes.
They kept those thoughts to themselves,
sitting on them in a silence which their children did not need to hear about,
because nothing could be that terrible.
Ever again.

Maybe it was a matter of time:
A time when tears did not signal doors opening to what really mattered;
A time when it was best to be busy with the yard, the car, the other thousand tasks which mattered to them but have never mattered to me.
A time when sitting next to others at Rotary or Kiwanis who shared those memories was enough.
Even when we wanted them, so we could compare my dad and your dad, to talk,
they would answer questions, without elaboration, a sentence or two,
then back to the yard or car.

Al hid in a haystack in France for months. Then left for the garage.
Fred’s brother died in a tree, shot while he parachuted. But he’s gotta change the oil today.
Dick was in a POW camp for a year. He ate mice. That damn yard’s getting out of hand.
Dad saw Japanese skulls bobbing in the water but didn’t know what to do about them. And he had to go down to the cellar.

We didn’t know how to ask; and they didn’t know how to tell us, anyway.
So we all got older together during quiet baseball games in the back yard.

When we came back, they’d gotten very old. Dad did, too.
Sometimes he would just sit. I remember him the summer before he died, sitting by the back porch crushing sweat bees with the handle of a hoe.
Maybe I should have asked him then.

The guy in the park shot himself years before he’d gotten old.
And now the rest, all of them that I knew while they worked on their cars or in their yards, or who sat at Rotary meetings each week, and who needed stuff from the cellar, the barn, town… they’ve joined that first one.

Maybe they had all died back then and gone to hell on the shores of France, or on some jungle island, or behind the barbed wire of a camp somewhere in Germany.
Maybe these new lives had so little to do with where they’d been that the silence had to be.
Maybe they simply could not go back there while their kids were playing war in the woods,
because they might have had to die all over again.

Requiescat in pace.
We just didn’t know. .

by David Weber, 2004

Real heroes. Tiananmen Square, June 4, 1989

 

There are heroes- real ones, the kind that risk their lives without a thought toward who’s watching. They don’t have to do what they do. Nobody would fault them for taking the easier way. But they do what they do because they must- if not for themselves, then for those who will follow.
Today is the 20th anniversary of the invasion of Tiananmen Square in Beijing by the Chinese government. The invasion- with tanks and other armored personnel- effectively ended a several week student-led protest which had been taking place in the square. On the first day of the invasion, two heroes emerged and they are both here, in the same picture. See them?

tiananmen-square-tank1-1808

There is, first, the young man who took a position in front of the first of four tanks. He didn’t have to do that. He could have watched, and hollered, and thrown debris from  the sidelines. He would not have risked his life doing that, and there’s no one who would have blamed him for not staying still and protesting that way. But he didn’t stay still. He risked being squashed. He is a hero.

But there is another hero in the picture, too. The driver of the tank acted extraordinarily that day, too. He could have done the job he was expected to do and driven over the protesting student. The army was there to break up the student protest by killing some of the students if necessary, and that is what happened over the next several days. Many times.

No one  would have questioned the tank driver for squashing the student. He would have been doing his job. And the best way to stay out of trouble in any military operation is to do exactly as your superiors have ordered you to do. But the tank operator was a hero that day. He drove around the student. He broke ranks and disobeyed. The student stayed alive.

It is unknown what happened to the soldier in the tank for his act of disobedience. But he and the student birthed a whole new wave of hope in the world that day. It takes a hero to stand up to oppression. And it also, more frequently than we might think, takes a hero to back down.  Their actions, together,  set off a wave of hope which continues to inspire even today, 20 years later. You can feel it right now, yes?

Pass it on. In honor of a student and a tank operator, pass it on.

Abortion. It’s the thoughts that count..

From the Psychology Today blogs, Christopher Ryan, Ph.D., psychologist, June 1, 2009:

“If human life is so sacred, why not protest avoidable poverty, tens of thousands of unnecessary infant deaths due to lack of water purification that costs pennies? Why not work to support anti-malaria measures that would save millions of sacred human lives? Why not work to end war or to protect children from environmental contaminants that kill thousands every year? Why not oppose capital punishment that kills innocents or long prison sentences for victimless crimes?

“Those who claim they oppose abortion in defense of the sacredness of human life (and don’t devote energy and passion to any of these other causes) are speaking non-sense.”

Indeed. There is something about life on “that side of the womb” which makes it easy to talk about for those on both sides of the argument. It is easy to love- in theory- someone else’s baby- a baby you won’t have to feed, pick up, clean up after, spend money on, go to the school of, or drive to pre-school, kindergarten,  band practice, choir practice, Sunday school, or to the baby sitter when there is no babysitter and no money to pay one anyway and the car won’t start and food stamps have run out and if I miss one more class I fail this course and that’s the end of this semester.

For those who sit in support of the mother’s right to end the life of the fetus/baby/child/human growing inside of her, it is also pretty easy to ignore (because you’ll never have to see, and you know it) the eyes that will see, the lips that will smile, the hair which will curl amazingly, and the first chubby steps across the living room floor.

Look, can we agree- for God’s sake of course we can!- that abortion is something we wish would go away because only married twenty and thirty somethings with decent incomes and good family support systems have babies, and then no more than two? NOBODY WANTS ABORTIONS to have to be. NOBODY! We’d all like there to be some other way. Trouble is, that “other way” will happen right about the time that Jews and Muslims are turning their swords into plowshares and just a few months after Christians begin genuinely loving their neighbors and blessing those who curse them.   

Here’s a heads-up: it ain’t gonna happen. Not the way either side would like it to happen. Abortions are going to keep happening, just like they happened before 1972. Instead of happening in clinics, though, they will happen in motels and bedrooms, with butter knives, slippery elm (google it), sponges, and lemonade douches. Women- lots of them, will die. And no one, no matter how the “uterine growth” is depersonalized, no one will ever be able to stop most aborted mothers from marking birthdays, first days of school, and the pretend births of pretend grandchildren. (“She’d be 16 this October.”)

Given the fact that abortions are not going to stop happening, they must remain available and safe. That should be a given. Those opposed to abortions should have all the opportunities they can muster to win the hearts and minds of the potentially aborting mothers, including bribing, contracting to help them raise their children, provide housing, and/or some semblance of life enhancements- i.e., dance lessons, piano lessons, day care, or college.

And I, for one, hope you are able to dissuade many, many women from making the decision to abort through your generosity and graciousness. Being a real hands-on part of the village it takes to raise a child will be a good experience for you.  You could, once your own children leave home, maybe even open up those newly vacant bedrooms for pregnant mothers, then allow them to live with you while their children (now your children, too) are growing up!

The children are worth it, aren’t they?

This is the way Jesus would do it, isn’t it?

Every child should enjoy the life your child enjoyed, yes?

Yes?

Hello?

Is anyone listening? Hello?

The Rapture- if you’re reading this, you missed it..!

Whoops !

rapture

It really is easier to read a novel- or a series of novels – about the Rapture, than it is to read a critical history of Rapture theology. Just as it is easier to “believe” in Creationism than it is to study and understand Evolution. Just as it is easier to maintain a fatalistic view of every single thing that happens (“God did it!”) than it is to face the random nature of many (most?) human and physical events, or to accept an iota of personal responsibility when things go wrong. 

Faith has become a short cut around thinking. The words “I believe” have come to mean that whatever pronouncement follows those words is off-limits in terms of criticism. (Although you are allowed, encouraged even, to verbally punctuate such statements with a hearty “Amen!”)

But is being faithful, toward anything, a legitimate excuse for not thinking? Is thinking about faith a forbidden activity? Personally, I don’t think so. I don’t like dead ends in thought, where questions are no longer welcomed, because then the only thing left to do is to build a fort and be defensive about that arrived-at place of thinking.  And that’s also where Inquisitions and Jihads are conceived.

The theology of the rapture is relatively recent, beginning in the early 19th Century. It was an odd interpretation of scripture which found wide acceptance in the reactionary intellectual atmosphere of the time. Times were, in 19th century Great Britain (where the rapture story began), a’changing. Pastoral countrysides were seeing, with greater and greater frequency, the smokestacks of nearby cities rising in ugly industrial salute to the Coal and Iron being burned and formed in a revolution of manufacturing. Urban areas were growing, along with the attendant urban problems of bad housing, crime, and alcoholism. The rich grew richer as the poor grew poorer. As Charles Dickens wrote of what was happening, “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.” Some people were feeling left out, and powerless, and in need of a “way out.”

And the Rapture is the ultimate Way Out! Every year for the past two centuries someone, somewhere has claimed that this is the year:  This is the year that the Lord returns for his own!  It’s an appealing hope for many people: it costs nothing, it could happen any moment, and it makes those who know they’re ‘going’ better than those who don’t know they’re not going!

The popularity of the Rapture grows wherever people feel out of control. It gives people who believe they will not be left behind, a sense of power- perhaps even, a sense of superiority, over those who will not make the cut. As the doctrine’s popularity has grown, it has become more complex. Schools of thinking have grown about when the rapture will occur in relation to perceived timetables they are able to find in the books of Daniel and Revelation.  On-line resources are available for wills to be read and messages to be sent to relatives and friends who are left here after the rapture to face the horrors of Armageddon, or not.

When Jesus said, on the cross, “It is finished,” little did he know that 1800 years later the rest of the story would be uncovered. Nor did he know it would all be over in 1992, or not.

Battles

I dreamt, after wakening, that there really are prophets who can hear the One Sound- the music of Creation as it battles Death.

It is the Sound of the Ocean and of Blood, the rhythm of the Moon and the response of our Pulse in a saltwater symphony. It is the voice, not of the god of our imagined fears, but of the triumphal entry of All That Is into the squalor of Jerusalem.

It is the music that proclaims, “it is finished,” even as crabs scurry across the sand and even as ocean waves spread New Life in metered rhythms of New Beginnings.

There are prophets who hear that terrible Harmony even as they are crushed by its Beauty.They laugh and they cry at once for the horror behind them and the hope in which they are wetly standing.

And they must tell others- those few others who can hear the music wherever they, too, are wetly standing. So that they know their feet are not wet in vain, and so they know their always breaking hearts are vital to the continuing Music.