Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Ordinary Life?

Many times I consider my life completely ordinary--I imagine we all do. Then, there are moments like this morning.... Sitting, having a coffee at the Texas Cafe, I look out the window to see the palm trees rustling in the winds that make their way from the coast some 100 miles to the east; I overhear some 'old timers,' speaking in slurred Spanish, trading stories about rattlesnakes; at another table, a 'gringito,' architect, pours over drawings of some local project; the coffee I drink--beans from Colombia, sugar from Mexico--is hot, smooth, enlivening...and I realize that life is anything but ordinary. Life is amazing....

Saturday, October 17, 2015

After a While....

After way too long, I’m back.

In the last three years, I pretty much exchanged the world of words, ideas and thoughts for a world of pictures, memes, pithy sayings and ‘likes.’ No more. There is no less.

The world in which I wish to live is a world of words and ideas, of thoughts and musings. I want to live in a more meaningful world, a thoughtful world, a purposefully expressed world. If there are pictures, I want to share pictures that have meaning, that capture more than breakfast omelets, that will have meaning and purpose and arouse feelings and thoughts long after I am gone. I want what I write to be accessible again and again…and to have meaning, to invite people to think, to capture moments, ideas and events that merit remembrance.

May I find myself a part of a growing community of like-minded, mindful, mind-enriching men and women who want their lives to matter, who want their thoughts to be heard and remembered, who live beyond ‘8hrs ago.’

So, I return to the world of writing. It’s good to be home.


Friday, June 26, 2015

An Underlying Sense of Urgency

I feel it all around me.  When I’m at the college, I feel it.  When I’m at the grocery store, I feel it.  When I’m at church, I feel it.  I speak of that underlying sense of urgency that seems to permeate so many parts of our lives, that subsonic, subliminal message of “hurry, hurry; do it now; let’s get it done….”  Perhaps I show my West Indian hand here.  But, if that is the case, then we here in North America have something to learn from the West Indies…and much of Latin America, Africa and Asia.  Okay…we have something to learn from most of the rest of the world!

Why the urgency?  Perhaps it has something to do with our American perception that we must be “first” in the world.  Biggest, best, fastest, strongest…pick the superlative adjective, and we want to apply it to ourselves here in the US.  On a local level, apply these same superlatives to individual companies, schools, etc.  And, if we’re going to be the best, first, biggest, etc., I imagine that would indicate a certain sense of urgency.  Because if we sit back and move slowly, someone else just might get ‘there’ first…and then we won’t be the best, first, biggest, etc. 

Now, what does being the best, first, biggest mean?  Well, for a business, it can mean a lot.  The race to produce the ‘pad’ device was quite a heated competition…and the company that got it out first…and did it best…was going to make the most money.  And, there was “space race” back during the “Cold War”—the race to see who would reach the moon first.  Well, we did.  And, now, we can say we were first.  That, my friends, may be the most important thing about being superlative—being able to “SAY” that one is superlative.

Does it really matter if we have the strongest economy in the world?  Is it not okay to simply have a strong economy?  Does it really matter if one owns the newest model of a car?  Is it not perfectly fine to own a reliable, proven car that is not the newest?  Does it really matter if our school is the most innovative school for Hispanic students?  Is it not okay to be merely ‘innovative’ and successful at educating Hispanic students?  Does it matter if our company is the number one company in pad sales?  Is it not enough to provide a good product for our customers at a good price so that we provide a good living for our employees?  Does it really matter if we’re the best, first, biggest, etc?  Is it not okay to be good, to be in the mix, to be the size we are?

Some are already bowing up their backs ready to call me lazy, ‘the problem with our nation today,’ and perhaps worse.  That’s okay…those who are reacting like that have simply been conditioned by that underlying message that calls, demands!, that we be best, first, biggest, etc.

So, back to that urgency.  I think it’s a bad thing.  That urgency translates into what I call ‘low frequency stress’…that underlying, slowly murderous stress that affects our muscles, our minds, gives us cancers and ulcers…and permeates our society, slowly killing us through its unceasing demand that we do more, faster, now, better, to win…to be the best, to be first, to be the biggest.  That’s bad stuff.  And, I don’t want it.

Rome went that route…and they’re gone.  The Byzantines went that route…and they’re gone.  The Ottoman Empire went that route…and they’re gone.  Spain went that route…and they’re a mere shadow of what they were—and so went Holland, Portugal and England.  Are we so arrogant as to think that the US is somehow immune to cycles of empires?

When I sit back and think of Italy, Spain and other former world powers, I see a people who now are not moved by a current of urgency.  I see countries that are content to do well, to carry on, to be who they are…and not to be best, fastest, biggest.  I see the Italians in film and book enjoying long lunches…extended summer vacations…coffee and pasta and gelato.  I see the Brits even enjoying the twilight of their empire—they’re slowing down and learning not be to so uptight.  And, I must admit, I look forward to the day when we are able to reach that coveted place in life…to the time when we can rest a bit, enjoy life a bit more. 

Meanwhile, there’s that urgency…that low frequency ‘call to arms’ that underlies too much of our lives here.  I’m going to fight it.  I’m going to say “no.”  I’m going to slow myself down, grab on to some limb hanging over the waters of life and let the waters rush past if they want to.  As I hold on to that limb, I’m going to enjoy the feel of the waters, watch the shoreline for any animals that may need to stop and drink.  I’m going to talk to others on the river…even invite them to join me.  But, they’ll probably be in a hurry…rushing on down the river to some unknown something that promises more than it can really offer.  Yes, then I’ll pull myself onto the shore…and there I’ll sit in the sun, enjoying the moment of the day…and dream of gelato.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Simple Joys

An empty cup sits before me, a gift from friends…given to me when I was in Prague, Czech Republic, in October 2008, a small token of remembrance on my birthday while I was away from home. That cup is now my espresso cup, filled and drained daily…much to my mind’s content.

I keep learning that the greatest joy and contentment usually comes from the simple things in life. I think back to the really expensive gifts I’ve received or even the expensive things I’ve bought…and I struggle to bring them to mind; they’re all but forgotten. But those simple things that brought and bring such joy? They are there at the mere thought:

My espresso cup. A small fire on a cool, Fall evening. Sitting on a beach, shore or rocky edge overlooking a bay or the sea. The smell of cookies in the oven. Reading through “The Sermon on the Mount”…again. My old copies of Orthodoxy (G.K. Chesterton) and Mere Christianity (C.S.Lewis). My children laughing together as they tell a tale from days past. A nap sitting in my favorite chair. An old t-shirt that has seen three continents and stains from even more cuisines. The sight of a cross—wooden or brass, old or new--it matters not. Watching the wind bend and bow the trees on a summer afternoon. Sitting in the evening with my wife, both of us reading novels, her feet propped in my lap, my hand stretched over the back of the sofa…my hand just brushing her shoulder.

Imagining these, peace washes over me. Such simple things…things that money really cannot buy (even the books—so marked and annotated over the years…irreplaceable). Yet, we’re told to buy, to better, to bigger...and if we do, happiness awaits us. We already have the simple joys of life all around us, and each of us finds joy in unique moments, things and experiences. My espresso cup means nothing to you; your favorite around-the-house shoes do nothing for me. We each find our joy, our peace, where we find it. And that is as it should be.

Look around you. Think only a few moments. You, too, will see that the simple things of life, the lasting joys, are around you, in your memories—no matter where, they are still yours. Breathe deeply, count these simple blessings, enjoy…and allow the peace to wash over you again.


Friday, April 18, 2014

Good Friday - 2014

Good Friday…. Darkness covers the land. Despair covers the disciples. We see the walk to Golgotha, that place of death, of crucifixion. We see Jesus and others whipped, beaten…and finally nailed to rough wooden beams. They are lifted, exposed to the crowds…jeered at, laughed, wept for. Jesus...King of the Jews? Son of God? He asks His Father to forgive them…offers some words of consolation to those around…and breathes His last. It is finished. …Or is it?

Viernes Santo... La oscuridad cubre la tierra. Desesperación cubre a los discípulos. Vemos el camino al Gólgota, el lugar de la muerte, de la crucifixión. Vemos a Jesús y otros azotado, golpeado... y finalmente clavados a las vigas de madera duros. Ellos se levantan, expuestos a las multitudes... burlas, risas, lágrimas. ¿Jesús, rey de los judíos? ¿Hijo de Dios? Pide a su padre a perdonarlos... ofrece algunas palabras de consuelo a quienes lo rodean... y respira su última.  Se acabó. ¿O no?

Friday, October 18, 2013

Who Stole "Halloween" from Whom?

Finally, a voice of reason: “The idea that Christians “stole” [Halloween] from pagans, therefore, seems pretty far-fetched. In fact the evidence seems to point the other way: the neopagans seem to have unintentionally “stolen” it from the Christians….”

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Lunch in the Park

I’ve started taking my lunch in Retama Park on Maple Avenue.  It’s a three minute walk from my office…and few people are ever there in the middle of day.  This park has become a delightful escape from the technology, air-conditioning, and straight lines of the office.

Today, as in other days, I sit on a bench towards the center of the park, the only bench that’s actually in the shade.   A large water-oak spreads it limbs to block the harsh south Texas sun.  In the shade, the constant breezes making their way from the Gulf make the spot perfect for reading, thinking…or dozing.

I’m reading a novel—Tony Hillerman (The Walking Wind).  Out of the corner of my eye, a person comes into view…a boy…a young boy…a BIG boy…maybe 10-years-old?  He has his basketball.  He makes his way onto the concrete courts where the netting is half torn away from the baskets.  He begins to dribble and shoot—duip, duip, duip, duip….plunk!...duip, duip, duip….

I return to my novel.  Shortly, my mind begins to wander…and the sun is slipping through the leaves making the pages bright…hurting my eyes.  I lay the book down, lean my elbows on my knees to escape the sun, and rest my chin on my loosely balled fists.  About 25 feet away, a Mexican ground squirrel scurries, haltingly, through the scrubby grass.

“You bored?”

I hadn’t noticed that the dribbling had stopped.  Turning to the voice, the lad stands ten feet away looking at me, ball in hand.

“No, not bored…just sitting here thinking.”

“I’m bored.”

“Well, at least you have a park to play some basketball in.  Do you live close by?”

He points across the street to the public housing for the elderly.

“So, you get to come over anytime you want.  That’s cool.”

“Yeah…but I’m bored…I’m SO bored.  I can’t wait for school to start back.”

“Well, don’t wish away these summers!  I remember when I was your age that summers dragged on forever.  Now, I don’t get summer breaks…and I miss those days."

“Well, I just know I’m bored."

“What grade are you in?”

“I’m going into sixth grade!”

“Oh…so, is that middle school?”

“I’m not from around here.  I’m just visiting my grandma.  I live in Elsa” (a small, rural town some 45 minutes from where we are.)

Not really an answer to my question…but, I guess he thought ahead to cut off the next inevitable question.

“Ah…just spending some time with Grandma?”

“Yeah.  You wanna play some ball?”

Laughing a bit, “Uh…well, I have to go back to the office here in a minute, and in this heat, I’d be a sweaty mess if I played ball.  So, I can’t this time….”

“Oh…yeah, okay.  You work at STC?”

“Yes, I work at STC.”

“What do you do?”

“I work in Institutional Effectiveness.”

“What’s that?”

“Well, I make sure everyone in all the programs and departments stay on track.”

“Oh…sort of like ‘school monitor’?”

“Yeah…kind of like a ‘school monitor’.”  I laugh.

My lunch hour really is up, so I stand.

“Well, I need to get back to work.  Have a good time shootin’ hoops.”

“Okay…I will.  See you later.”

“See you….”  And, off I go, back towards the office.

There are good kids in this world.  He talked easily with me, an adult.  He allowed himself to be curious, to ask questions.  He was kind…and didn’t cuss (kind of rare for our neck of the woods.)  He had no devices visible of any kind—no phone, no tablet—nothing to distract him from his surroundings…or from our conversation.

Next time, I’m going to shoot some hoops.  And, I plan to have a book to give him in his season of boredom.  Next time, if God gives me a next time….