Sunday, November 15, 2015

New Location

My friends,  I have recently been involved in starting up a non-profit organization, called Kinship Place.  It will be a sanctuary for pets and a residence for their people.  I have been putting a large part of my energy into this project which has been a dream of mine for several decades.

Lately I have been posting the byrd's words at the web page for Kinship.  I invite you to this new location for byrd's words.  You can find it at:  https://kinshipplace.wordpress.com/

Enjoy.

Sunday, November 8, 2015

    This is not the Usual Byrd's Words.  This is series of events I have been following for the last few years and I believe it has to be shared.  Please feel free to share this story, just tell me when you do.
  - byrd





                                               Miriam
                                         by rev byrd tetzlaff

Chapter One

This is a story that needs to be told.  It’s not my story, but I am the only one that can tell it.  It is a true story, and it has not ended.  It is ongoing, right now.  It sounds like a badly-plotted soap opera, but I swear to you, it is happened and is happening.  The names of the people and places have been changed, for the sake of safety.

It began several years ago when a friend, named George, was still traveling about in the world.  He loved to travel and to meet people in their own lands, to learn about them and their history.  When he returned to the United States, he kept in contact with many of them, via letters, phone calls and e-mail.  Some of them were behind what was then the Iron Curtain.  He saw and heard many things that most people never even dream of.   His interest was wide-reaching, and after he returned, He still wanted to expand his horizons.

One of his friends asked if he would like to be pen pals with an Israeli woman who wanted to improve her English.  He said sure, and thus he met Miriam. 

They began their friendship via mail and phone calls, because this was before the internet had really gotten started.  They became fast friends.  She was not particularly interested in politics, which disappointed George, who is very politically oriented, but they found many other things in common.  He was delighted with her friendship, in part because she had, as he put it, such a beautiful soul.  He just liked talking with her.  She seemed to have no negative feelings towards anyone, not even towards the Palestinians who were not popular in Israel at the time.  George, who always championed the underdog, was quite aware of the politics within Israel, but he respected her wishes and they seldom even mentioned what was going on in her country.

Miriam was an only child of an upper middle-class Israeli family.   Miriam was, when their correspondence began, in her late twenties and unmarried.  She was a good daughter and lived at home with her parents, who were very conservative.   Miriam was very well-educated.  She spoke several languages and taught in a local school.  As far as George could tell, Miriam did not even date.  She was pretty much caught up with her family and her work.  

Miriam and George talked fairly often, and George would hear about all her little adventures.  Miriam would tell him about her students and daily life in Israel.  As their friendship grew, George found he looked forward to hearing from her.  It was not a romantic relationship, but it was a very real friendship.

For several years they corresponded fairly regularly.  Then, as things progressed, they graduated to e-mail and phones.   But one day Miriam sounded different.   George asked what was going on?  Slowly, she confessed.  She was dating someone.  She was excited about it, but had not yet told her parents.  She was not sure they would approve.  

Her new boyfriend was a Palestinian.

Chapter Two

George was concerned.  He had heard how difficult it was for Palestinians in Israel and thought it might be very difficult for Miriam if they were to get married.  But Miriam was in love.

For some time, George heard about Miriam’s growing relationship with El-Amer.  Seems that El-Amer was an educated person.  He had a degree in Engineering, but as a Palestinian, he was not allowed to work in his field.  So he worked as a laborer, digging ditches.  He had an extended family in Israel and some of them were dependent on him for support.  He had two nephews that were eight and ten years old, respectively.  Both of them had been crippled because when they were younger, the Israeli army caught them throwing rocks at tanks.  As per custom, the army broke both elbows on both boys and did not let them go to a doctor, so the kids arms healed without being set properly.  Neither boy had use of his arms.  El-Amer took care of the family as best he could.

Actions like this are not uncommon in areas of the world where people live under constant fear.  And in Israel, both Israelis and Palestinians live with fear all the time.  Consequently, they do horrible things to each other.
Miriam had been almost completely unaware of the plight of Palestinians in her country.  But as she got to know El-Amer, she also became aware of what was happening to his people.  And slowly, she began to speak out, first to her friends, and then to her parents.  Sadly, her friends and family did not want to hear.  In fact they were horrified that she would speak in understanding terms about the Palestinians.  Miriam was somewhat confused, because she could not understand why such hatred existed.

Then, she became pregnant.  El-Amer and she planned to get married, but disaster struck.  Miriam’s own mother turned her in. 

It is illegal in Israel for a Palestinian and an Israeli to marry.  Miriam was taken by the authorities and told that she should have an immediate abortion and what was the name of her Lover?  Not wanted to get him in trouble, Miriam refused to tell them who the father was.  And she did not want an abortion, she wanted the baby.  Her family coldly informed her that if she were to be so ill-advised as to have the child, it would be taken from her and placed in an orphanage.

For the first time in her life, Miriam was faced with just how bad things were for some people in her country.  She decided to flee.  She quietly gathered up a small suitcase, took her meager savings and bought a ticket to Syria.  She left alone, because it was not safe to contact El-Amer - he would be arrested. 

She traveled to Syria.  But as she disembarked, the authorities there grabbed her and put her in prison.  Her mother had reported her flight and the Israeli government had put out a warrant for her arrest.  Because of her ties with Palestinian persons, she was labeled a suspected terrorist.

Prison was horrendous.  Because she was an Israeli who had been with a Palestinian, the other women in the prison hated her, and she was viciously attacked by them several times.  Badly beaten, she lost the baby – and with it, her ability to have other children.

Chapter Three

Syria has no real love for Israel and after a while the courts of Syria set her free because there was no evidence that she had actually plotted any terrorist activities.

Alone, in a foreign country, Miriam was devastated.  She had lost her baby, her own family had turned her in -- knowing full well what would happen to her -- and she had no money.   She was afraid to get in touch with El-Amer, because he would immediately be arrested and most probably disappear.  She did the only thing she could think of to do: she contacted George.   George immediately wired her funds.  Reluctantly, she took a few dollars to keep herself alive, the rest she put into a bank for safe-keeping.  She vowed to pay George back, every penny, even though that was not what he wanted.  And she managed to get word to El-Amer where she was.

Meantime, El-Amer had been nearly frantic trying to find out what happened to Miriam. He had been allowed no information about Miriam or her whereabouts.  When she finally managed to contact him, he rushed to her side, knowing full well that by fleeing Israel, he would never be allowed back into the country.  He and Miriam were now refugees.  They were like so many in this day and age, landless people, with no papers, because now they belonged to no country that would admit they used to be citizens.  Legally, they ceased to exist.

They traveled together to Lebanon, where they joined other refugees.  Miriam was now an Israeli, surrounded by Palestinians, a Jew surrounded by Muslims.  Not all were accepting of her, but to her surprise, some were.  She was greeted with reservation, but kindness.  She talked with El-Amer about converting to Islam so that she would fit in better.  He shook his head and told her that she was Jewish and that was OK by him.  He did not think she should convert for political reasons, she should convert only if she truly believed. 

That started Miriam thinking about her own life and her cultural heritage.  She had always been proud of being a Jew, but now, she hated what Israel had done to the Palestinian people.  From her fellow refugees, she heard horror story after horror story about what has happened to so many Palestinians at the hands of the Israeli government.  She, personally, renounced her country's actions and became quite bitter towards Israel.  She began to wear the habib as a gesture of respect to her Muslim neighbors, and gradually she was more and more accepted.  

Eventually, her neighbors came to her to ask if she would teach their children different languages.  She agreed, so while El-Amer was out doing whatever work he could find, she taught Palestinian children how to speak Hebrew and English. And slowly, they began to build a life together.

Chapter Four

Miriam and El-Amer lived in a tiny place amidst the refugee struggle.  

While Miriam’s heart had hardened against Israel, her natural generosity could not be restrained.  She adopted a stray dog, and then later added a stray cat.  This put a huge burden on their finances, because they were poor beyond what most Americans can understand and these new mouths to feed often cut into their own food supplies.  Even under these conditions, they would not touch the money that George had sent them.  (In fact, El-Amer sends George a small payment every month to reimburse him for the money they have already used to get Miriam out of Syria.  George protests, but to no avail.)

I should mention here that the entire time all of this was going on, Miriam did keep in touch with George as best she could.  He set up a bank account (‘just in case of emergency’)  with the remaining funds for Miriam - which she never touched.  They would arrange for certain times that he would be home when she could go to an aid station and call him collect.  He did not dare tell her how much it cost him, because she would have insisted on paying for the calls.  He simply told her that his cell phone included the calls for no extra charge.

But the flood of new refugees to Lebanon is ongoing.  Every day, more refugees pour into Lebanon, and not in an orderly fashion.  Crowds of people, walking slowly with little hope in their steps, fill the streets. Some carry small bags or suitcases filled with their pathetically small hoard of belongings.  Others have no such wealth, but travel only with the clothing on their backs.  And each of them has a story, and each tale is worse than the next tale.    

There was one young mother with two small children, a girl almost three years old and a boy of around a year.  She was fleeing because her husband had gone to work and had never returned, so she had no means of feeding her children.   That is all too common an occurrence.  People disappear in countries where they are not wanted.  As the small family trudged along the road, some tanks pushed their way through the crowd.  People who did not move out of the way fast enough got hurt.  The young mother with two children was shot and as she lay dying, her belongings were looted.  No one picked up the children. 

I am not clear on how Miriam found out about the children.  I don’t know if she witnessed the attack, or if she heard about it later, but by some means, she found out about the children and she grabbed them. 

If Miriam had not taken the children, one of several fates awaited the kids.  
 - They might have died by the side of the road with no one to feed them.   - They might have been caught up to be sold into slavery.  The boy probably would not have lasted very long, but the girl would have become a prostitute.  Young children are eagerly awaited by predators from every county.  
 -Or if they were very lucky, they might have been taken to an orphanage where hundreds of children are taken care of by dedicated but vastly over-worked caretakers.

But these children were lucky.  They ended up with Miriam and El-Amer.  Miriam, who had lost her own child, El-Amer who was a caring and responsible person, the two of them took in these children as their own, despite the hardships and poverty they faced. 

For a long time, Miriam was afraid the children would be removed from her care.  She spoke with the social workers in the camps about the children.  There was a long time of silence with no word about the children’s fate.  Then one day a social worker dropped by to say the children were theirs to keep.  Miriam cried out in relief, but then asked, if anyone should come looking for the children, what should she do?  The social worker lifted an eyebrow and said “But who would care?”

That night, Miriam cried for the children, because it was true.  Who would care for them?  These beautiful children, lost because of hatred, prejudice and war.  Who would care for them?  Who would care for any of the children caught up in conflicts they had no part in?

Chapter Five

That is the latest I have heard from George about Miriam, El-Amer and their two children, a dog and a cat.  They live as refugees, a family, doing the best they can in an ungodly situation not of their making.

Miriam calls George periodically and lets him know what is happening.  He looks forward to their conversations.  And he keeps the money El-Amer sends him in a special account, hoping to someday be able to return it to them when they live in a free country.

El-Amer and Miriam celebrate Christmas, because it is such a lovely Holiday, but Miriam confesses that she does not understand how the Americans celebrate.  She cannot fathom the amount of money that Americans spend on a holiday that celebrates the birth of one who was so poor. 

George wants to send the children some gifts for Christmas, but being a bachelor, he has little idea of what would be age-appropriate.  Plus he has no idea what could get by the censors.  He is fully aware that any package he might send will be opened and inspected, and very possible confiscated and possibly even used as evidence against Miriam and El-Amer.  So George has to be very careful in what he might send them.

George would like to travel over to Lebanon to see them in person, but he has been told it would not be wise, for him or for the small refugee family.  Both could get into big trouble for their connections with each other.

I await updates from George about Miriam and her family.  It links me to a part of the world that is very real but beyond my personal experiences.   It reminds me how lucky I am to live in a part of the world that is relatively safe.  It makes me pray for the people who are caught up in ugly political battles that result in violence and crimes against humanity. And it makes me want to Do Something for that little family.

But all I can do is to get the word out, because so little information in American gives any real insight into what is happening over there.  We Americans are told that the Palestinians are the Bad Guys.  We don’t hear about the Palestinian homes that are bulldozed while they owners are away at work during the day.  We don’t hear about the water and electricity that are turned off permanently in the desert areas where the Palestinians live.  We do not hear about the Palestinians that are displaced from their homes because of Israel's insatiable hunger for land.  We are not told about the people who disappear and are never heard from again.

Despite what is happening, I want the Israeli State to thrive.  I want it to prosper and to create positive relations with its neighbors.  I want all that -- but I am opposed to Zionism.  

The Palestinians have just as much a right to a peaceful life in a safe homeland as do the Israelis.  I don’t know how that can be accomplished, given the current statement of affairs.  I don’t know if it should be one state or two.  I don’t know if it needs to be mandated by an outside authority or if they themselves can somehow put aside the wrongs that Both Sides have perpetuated. 

But I do know that all the Children of Abraham should have the right to live in peace, safety and religious freedom.  All the Children of the Earth should have the opportunity to create a Good Life for themselves and for their children, regardless of race, religion, national origin, sexual orientation or cultural status.


 Anything less is unacceptable. 

Sunday, October 4, 2015

Undocumented


Undocumented
by rev byrd tetzlaff

Take what you like and leave the rest.  Or don’t.

I am an American Citizen, not because I have earned it, but simply because I was born here.  Both my parents were born here.  Three out of four of my grandparents were born here, but my grandfather came over from Germany to avoid the Kaiser’s draft.  I am not certain if he had papers.  He married someone who was part Native American, but that fact puts my citizenship in doubt, rather than solidify it.

I tell you this because the rest of this article is about undocumented persons in this country and I want you to know who is speaking.

I am a citizen and I personally want to welcome the undocumented people that are living here.  It is you and folks like you who have built this country.  It is you and folks like you that most of the rest of us are descended from.  

And I want to apologize to you for all the bad things that this country does to you in my name.

You add to our strength and you will do work that me and my fellow countryman will not do.  You will put food on our tables for a reasonable price.  The people who hire you will take advantage of you and have you working for slave wages with no health care, no decent place to rest when the day is done, no bathroom breaks or chances to rest.  They will work you until you are almost dead, and then they will ship you off, saying how terrible it is that you have taken advantage of our generosity.

If you have children while here, they may be citizens, but many will hate you for having “Anchor Babies” even though those children will not give you any measure whatsoever of safety.  In fact, those children may even cause you great sorrow, because if you are deported, they may be taken away from you and put into foster care rather than return with you to a country that is as foreign to them as it would be to me. 

All your life here, you will live in fear of the shadow of deportation, knowing full well that your family could be torn apart.  You need not commit any sort of crime, you can be perfectly law abiding, church-going, volunteering,  putting your children through school while working for far less than minimum wages, even paying taxes - and you can still be shipped off.

You will not be able to drive legally, nor will you be able to take advantage of any of the many benefits you be accused of using.   You will not be able to take better-paying jobs even if you are qualified, because you do not have a social security number.  You will not be able to buy a home, even if you could pay for it outright, because, again, those pesky papers you do not have.

True, you may not be paying taxes on your wages, but that is not your fault, that is the fault of the people who hire you, because they are saving themselves money twice:  once by not paying you living wages and once by cheating the government when they choose not to pay taxes on the little you do make.

If you decide to try to become a legal immigrant, you will be stopped by the fact that we still have racist quotas here about who can or cannot apply for citizenship.  And your country will probably already have the quota filled up for many years yet to come – unless you are from Western Europe or England.  If your skin is even the tiniest bit brown or yellow, we will make is very difficult, if not impossible, for you to take the proper legal steps – and then we will blame you for not taking those steps.

It does not matter that the country you fled from has become war-torn because of politics that you have nothing to do with.  It does not matter that your country has become a living hell because of drug lords that are funded by Americans.  It does not matter if your life is in danger because of your sexual orientation, the hatred of which has been fanned by American ‘Missionaries’.  It does not matter if you fleeing from religious oppression (unless you are a fundamentalist Christian), because much of that oppression is funded and/or encouraged by Americans anyway.  Even though we claim to be a country with freedom of religion, many of my fellow citizens will gladly persecute you in your home country and then refuse you asylum here.  As a country, we don’t care.  That is your problem, not ours.

The vast majority of my fellow citizens have no concept of the issues you have faced and no idea of what really goes on in the world.  Most of them have done nothing to earn the right to live here and over half of them do not understand the structure of how our government works or the rights that we all have under the Constitution.  The vast majority of them are descendants of undocumented immigrants, but since they were from Europe, that makes it OK.   The fact that they stole the land from the original inhabitants – and usually murdered them in the process -  does not bother them in the least.

In spite of all this, I still want to say Welcome to you, the undocumented people.  I hope you do well and prosper as so many of you have done, through your own hard work and effort.  

I hope you find friends, because in spite of all the bad things I have told you about this country, there are good and decent people here too, people with loving hearts and open minds, people that are capable of putting themselves in another’s shoes and not judge, people who actually occasionally try to live the principles of the religions they say they believe.

Welcome.  I hope you find peace and safety.  I personally am glad you are here.  I hope you get to stay.

So Be It
Namaste
Amen





Thursday, July 16, 2015

Ongoing Feral Saga

her Highness, Lady Pearl

Ongoing Feral Saga

The Ferals are an ongoing tale of Sorrow  and Delight. 

The sorrow, of course, is when one disappears and you never know what happened to them.  Also, often I’ll see a cat with a freshly-killed bird in its mouth.  I’m glad they are eating well, but I love birds and am sorrowful for them.

But not all cats are good hunters.  Just the other day I saw Zeena looking very unhappy at a slow-moving spot in the road.  I walked quietly over to where she was and saw that there was a mole creeping towards Zeena.  She was scared of it and was backing away.  The mole, being blind, had no idea it was going right towards a terrifying predator.  Zeena, however, was no threat to this mole. He calmly kept up his pace until he reached the side of the road and got lost in the tall grass.  Zeena just looked at me and cried.  Then she took off in the other direction, just in case the mole might change his mind and come back.

I feed the Ferals twice a day, between 7 and 8 o’clock.  Every morning and night, they get fed.  They are pretty much used to it by now and are usually hanging out in the front yard, waiting for me to dish out the goodies.  I do a quick head count and then leave out one more pile of food than there are cats.  That way there is little waste.  But sometimes a cat will be busy elsewhere and get to the yard too late.

I don’t want to be running outside to feed them every ten minutes, so I would prefer it if they would show up on time for dinner.  But how to insure that everyone knows it's feeding time?

Then it occurred to me that I needed to call them to dinner.  I looked around and found an old bell, the kind that hotels used to use.   You hit it on the top and it dings rather loudly.  

I started ringing the bell once when I get to the porch to gather up the food.  Then after I have dished up all the food and am about to go out in the yard to give it to them, I hit the bell twice more.  It Works!  When I first hit the bell, cats come running from all corners of the mobile home park.  By the time I get to the yard, I can get an accurate reading of how many cats get fed that particular feeding time.

But the other day, I was inside when I heard the bell ring.  Curious, I went out to see what it was.  Lo, there was a cat (Pearl ,I think), sitting on the gate, reaching over with her paw to hit the dinner bell.


Yes, they did get an extra treat that day – but then I moved the bell to another, less accessible, location.

Monday, May 18, 2015

Understandings

(written by someone who is chronically disabled, but might well be around for another 20 years or so)

I consider myself a deeply Spiritual and somewhat Religious person.  For me, Religion has to do with History and Dogma.  I have no Dogma for anyone to follow, nor do I follow anyone else’s dogma, but I do love the history of my church.  I identify with the movement and consider myself to be a tiny part of it.  I support it and want it to continue.  
So, that makes me Religious.

But as to Spirituality, aye, there’s the rub. 

You see, I think that Atheists might be right.  If you look at science, Atheists may well be correct that there is no ‘Creator’ or ‘Prime Mover’.  It doesn’t make sense when you think of how vast the universe is, when you think of billions of galaxies colliding into each other, when you think of the vast expansion of time just on our own planet.  No, God doesn’t make sense.

But when I watch the hummingbird at my feeder, when the feral cat comes into my home and fearfully, hesitatingly, trusts me enough to ask for food, when my own cat comes to me - sure that he will be welcome - and curls up under my arm before he purrs himself to sleep, I cannot help but feel as if I have been Blessed.  Sometimes, I feel that power, feel it as if it had form and substance.  It is a Presence.  It is just. . .There.

I truly think that the Agnostics have it right.  The idea that we cannot say, that it is not possible to know, whether or not there is a God or whether we go on after this life has ended – that is reality.  We cannot say.  We do not know.  Whatever we think we know is simply a matter of faith, either way.  So I often wish I were an Agnostic.  But I am not.

Sadly, I am a confirmed Theist. 

I don’t want to be a Theist.  And I don’t mean the same thing that other people mean when they say they are Theists.  I truly do not think of God as an old man in a long white beard.  Whatever created the universe is female, but I don’t really think of God as a woman either.

When I think of God, I think of a warm, loving wind that wraps itself around me, gently, very gently.  I think of a soft but powerful voice that speaks to my heart and my head at the same time.  I am not protected by it.  It is not the Cause of whatever happens.   I can still experience anything, for good or ill.  But I am not alone and whatever It is, cares for me.  Sometimes, It helps me with answers.  Sometimes It just waits for me to catch up.   I don’t think of that warmth as being the Grand Creator of all things.  I don’t know what It is.   And I’m not sure that it matters.  It’s enough that It is just what walks with me, to witness and to care. 

I do not believe in Heaven or Hell.  Those concepts have no meaning for me at all.  I think they are strange constructions that humans have put in place to justify their actions.  The idea of Heaven and Hell?  Very foreign to me.  I wasn’t even raised with those ideas.

Most everyone I know wants to go on after this life.  They are terrified of Ending.  I don’t really understand, but I accept that they feel this way.  I just don’t happen to feel the same.

I do believe that we go on.  Just, I don’t want to believe that.  When this life is over, I want it to end.  I don’t want Me to continue – but I think I will.

Now, you have to understand that I like myself.  I am really quite happy with the person I have become.  I love my humor, my ability to see beauty, my patience, my love of animals and movies and history and other people’s stories.  I like so very much about me.   My hopes and dreams. My wisdom and awareness.  I think I am pretty wonderful and I am so glad I have lived long enough to have a chance to appreciate what I have made of myself.

And I truly like my current life.  I probably shouldn’t.  I do have some guilt about that.  I don’t think I am supposed to be happy when I have don’t have the energy to do more than turn my head to watch the hummingbird feeder.  I don’t think I am supposed to be happy when almost to the last person my friends are gone and I often go several days without seeing another live human face.  I don’t think I am supposed to be happy when my body is hurting or when I look around and see so much chaos because I don’t have the energy to clean or the money to hire someone to do it for me.

But I am happy, most of the time.  I am happy because I have my animals beside me.  I have books I haven’t read, movies I haven’t seen.  I have more artwork to do when I have the energy.  I can see trees from my window and watch the wind playing with the leaves.  I have a water fountain on the porch, close to the French doors so that when the doors are open, I can hear the water splashing.  I have a blind dog that trusts me.  I have music.  And in all probability, I won’t live long enough to see the coming destruction of my country and of the planet.  I am so very glad I won’t see that.  Most of the time I am at Peace, with myself and with the world.

But with all this quiet joy, I still don’t want to go on.  I have had a good life, but when it comes for me to die, I just want it all to stop.  I am ready for whatever comes, but a part of me hopes that I will simply sleep, dreamless, and never wake up.  That will be enough.

Peace be yours.



Some of my Feral family


Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Papa Memories

(this is rather long, but you might find it worth the read)

Memories of Papa

Papa always claimed he could remember the celebrations that heralded the end of WWI.  He was only a little tyke at the time, but he swore it was true.  And he claimed that it was during those celebrations that he saw his very first automobile.  It began a life-long fascination with mechanical things.

Many decades later, after his children were mostly grown, Papa started buying very old vehicles and fixing them up.  His first was a 1911 Maxwell touring car, with a large back seat.  He fixed it so the motor was humming, the lights were shinning and the paint job?  Well, he painted it a lovely blue.  It ran like a dream.  Next, he purchased a 1923 Ford and fixed that up.  The old car bug had gotten to him.  So he went on to purchase a 1909 Maxwell with a mother-in-law seat in the back, and another ford and finally he got a hold of a 1902 Oldsmobile, complete with a place for the buggy whip on the front of the chasis.

He would spend many happy hours back in the old garage fixing up the cars til they worked like a charm.

But that was not enough for Papa.  He was also a bit of a showman.  He loved to grab one of us kids – along with our friends - and put us in the front seat.  Then he would crank up the car, jump in, and we would ride out onto the country roads.  He would honk the horn and children would come running out as we passed.  Women who were outside hanging up their laundry would stand there, open-mouthed watching us.  Dogs would go crazy because they could almost catch the vehicle which was running at the dizzying speed of 15 miles per hour!   Papa loved it.

After a while, word got around and Papa got invites to parades for his marvelous cars, and he eagerly took them up on it.  When the first Milwaukee Fourth of July Parade happened, they put four of Papa’s cars right up front.  There was only one car ahead of him, an 1898 Olds.   Only, the Oldsmobile broke down half-way through the Parade, but all of Papa’s cars made it for the entire length of the Parade.

Word continued to spread about Papa’s genius with old-time mechanics.

One day, someone showed up at our door and asked for Papa.  He and Papa started talking and they walked out together to the old garage to look at his old cars.  Some time later, Papa came back alone, his face bright with a grin that threatened to stay.  “Avis, Avis,” He excited called to Mother, “You’ll never guess what!”   No, we could not have guessed.

It seems that Papa’s visitor was from the circus, and the circus Calliope needed fixing.   Now a Calliope is the really loud instrument you always associate with the magic of a circus.  It has a keyboard like a piano but has pipes like an organ.  You would pump it up and shove up the lever.  Then you could either play it by hand, or you could set up the rollers to have it play itself.   It had been very popular to call folks to come and see the wondering circuses as they passed through small Midwestern towns during the Great Depression.  But decades later, by the time Papa got a hold of it, not a lot of folks knew much about Calliopes.

Sure enough, it was delivered a short time later, a beautiful Calliope that lived on an open-air brightly-colored circus wagon.  This one had several different rollers to play a ton of different songs.  But just then, it couldn’t make a peep.

Papa got to work on it.  He spent hours figuring out the mechanics and all the details that went into making it run smoothly.  Every once in a while, he would test it, turning on the player rolls.  When he did, the noise was deafening.  We got reports that you could hear it all the way across the lake.

There was only one problem with the Calliope, the fellow who left it forgot to leave his name or address, or maybe, as a true circus person, he did not have a permanent address.  Whatever the reason, Papa had the calliope for years to come and it was added to the list of vehicles that we put in all the various parades and celebrations.

But Papa had other interests as well.  He and Mother were very interested in other cultures.  They travel quite a bit, but they were also very interested in having folks from other countries come into their home so they could share American culture with them.  One Christmas, Itsoko Katsubi came to our home and showed us how to do Origami, another Thanksgiving, someone from Israel came and spent a lot of time with Mother, going over little-know details about the understanding of the Torah.  We had guests from Mexico to Japan who were welcomed to join us for many major Holidays.  So it was not surprising that eventually we ended up with a foreign exchange student from Turkey. 

His name was Suleymon and he was a devout Muslim.  Mother, who was a devout Christian, used to get together with him and they would compare notes about their various religions.  But instead of trying to convert one another, Mother and Suleymon both used the experience to teach one another about the beauties and intricacies of their respective religions.  They loved it and really enjoyed their time together.

By that time, Papa’s boys were long grown and gone, so I suspect he was feeling a little sad that he had missed so much of their childhood, because he had been working so much.  Now that he had a little more time, he loved to spend it with Suleymon, teaching him all sorts of American idiosyncrasies.  Especially, they loved to learn the meaning of American phrases, such as “Low Man on the Totem Pole” or “Getting caught with your pants down”.    Suleymon and Papa would laugh for hours together over the silliness of American language and culture.  Then, Suleymon would share similar things with Papa about Turkish culture.

Over the months, Suleymon and my folks became very close and really enjoyed one another.

One day towards the end of Suleymon’s time with us, Suleymon walked into the living room to see Papa, sitting in the big chair, looking very sad.  “What’s wrong, Papa?” Suleymon inquired.  Papa looked up at him a sighed. Then he motioned for Suleymon to sit sit, and Papa told him a story.

It seems that Papa and Mother had a neighbor by the name of Alice.  Now Alice and her husband were wonderful, gregarious people who loved to laugh.  After a short time being neighbors, they found out that Alice and Papa shared a birthday.  The first year after that discovery, Alice and Mother sent out invitations to all Papa’s friends, inviting them to celebrate his birthday, only they had signed the invitations with Papa’s name and added “P.S., please bring Expensive Gifts.”  

Amazingly, not one of Papa’s friends said anything to him about it, so it came as a complete surprise to Papa when the party happened.  He got all sorts of wonderful gifts, like a fur-lined (fake) toothbrush, and a diamond (also fake) studded toothpick.  And Alice baked him a cake – made of mud – and sprinkled with little candies all over the frosting. (Papa mention how hard the cake was to cut, never suspecting why, because Mother had temporarily purloined his glasses for the event) 

That began a practical Joke war between them.   Every year on their mutual birthday, Papa and Alice would play jokes on one another and both families would get together to help in the fun.

But now, Alice and her husband had moved into town and Papa missed them.  Their birthday was coming up and Papa was feeling sad.  It would be their first year apart for the birthdays.  Suleymon nodded and they talked for a long time about friends and how important friends are. 

Then one of them, not sure which, came up with an idea.

Immediately, Papa got Mother to run into town to buy a roll of newsprint, then we all got together and rolled out the paper and began to paint wonderful things on it.  As we were painting, Suleymon stopped for a moment and looked at Papa.  “How old is Alice going to be this birthday”  “Um, 49, I think.” Papa answered.  “49.  You sure?”  Papa nodded and we all continued our paintings.

The next day was a Sunday, a beautiful clear crisp early spring day, perfect for a birthday celebration.  As the sun was starting its climb, Papa went outside and hooked everything up, then we all climbed into the truck and Papa drove slowly into town.  The sky was a lovely bright blue and the trees had frost delicately reflecting the pink of the early morning sun.  It was so peaceful and calm.

Slowly, and with great care, Papa drove up to Alice’s new home.  Gently, he backed up into the driveway.  Then he unhooked the Calliope wagon from the back of the truck.  He got into the circus wagon, cranked up the Calliope, then turned it at full volume and let it rip!  

The sound shrieked throughout the neighborhood, waking up everyone within miles!  The circus music filled the town, calling to children of all ages to come and see the spectacle.  But before anyone could stop him, Papa jumped out of the wagon, ran to the truck, and drove off to the nearest pay phone, where he made a call to the police complaining about the noise.

The next day, on the front page of the Delavan Enterprise was a full color picture of Alice, standing in her driveway, pink curlers in her hair, fluffy slippers on her feet, helpless, looking at the circus wagon that blocked her driveway, complete with brightly painted banners that read

”Happy Birthday, Alice!  59 Today!”


(Final Note:  When I used to tell this story as part of a sermon, I would always end it with a long pause, waiting for folks to stop laughing.  Then I would say

 “They are gone now, Papa, Mother and Alice.  But they left behind them a legacy of love, friendship, and laughter.  I invite you now to think of your legacy and what you leave in the way of memories to those who come after you.” 


Then I would play the folk song “Where are our Dear Fathers?”   It always ended up with a lot of watery eyes and a lot of smiles.  Lots of sharing afterwards.)

Monday, February 2, 2015

Chronic Philosophical Ramblings




I just saw a documentary that gave me a piece of the puzzle.

It was about Sharon Stone.  She is not a great favorite of mine, but she’s certainly OK (I like her better since seeing this show).  I like some of her work, not so much other parts.  Anyway, this was Oprah Winfrey’s Master Class.  Talking about using your own life as a classroom for yourself.  And Sharon was sharing her insights of what her life has taught her.

She said one thing that really caught me.  She said that at one point, she knew that she was enough.

That hit Hard.  Imagine thinking “I am enough”.  No outside validation is needed.  No extra props are needed.  Not to be LACKING anything.
I am enough.  

For those of us who are Chronic, this is Mind-blowing.  For so many of us, the main battle we fight, even more than our disabilities,  even more than for survival sometimes, what we fight for most  is MEANING.  That We have Meaning.  That our Lives have Meaning.

But that’s just it.  We ARE meaningful.

WE ARE ENOUGH.

We are complete, just as we are.  We are full human beings.  Our lives are meaningful, partly because they have to be, partly because we make them so.

The stereotype of a Chronically Ill person is that they are drab and dreary and boring.  Many of us are fairly isolated, so you might think we are unhappy.  But that is not necessarily true.  Many of us have chosen to be otherwise.  We have chosen to be meaningful with our lives.  And sometimes that’s easy for others to miss.    

But allow me to enlighten you about the majority of Chronically Ill folks.
We are wise.  We are funny.  We have marvelous insights.  We see things in a different light.  We love to laugh with others, not at them.  Because of our disabilities, many of us are forced to look at the minutiae of life with new eyes.  We know what it takes to wash a dish, to make a bed, to keep a job, to raise healthy & loving children.   And even if we ourselves cannot do such things, we respect and honor those who do.

Because of what we have faced, we value kindness, thoughtfulness and consideration.  We value things that make the world a better place without taking away from others.  In fact, what we value Adds to others.

Yes, having money would be nice. Having the freedom that money can bring would be lovely.

But I don’t really care if my friends have money, it makes no difference to me.  I don’t value anyone because of their incomes.  I don’t think better of someone because they have cash to spare.   I don’t think their opinions are more valid, their thoughts are higher or their way of life is more fulfilling.    I don’t think they are better people, just because they have Money or Health or both.  And I don’t think they are any the less, either.   They just are.  They exist, like poor people do, like middle-class folks do, like the educated do, like the uneducated do, like the very talented, like the very humble.  We all just are people.  No one group is more valuable than another.

No, I take that back.  There are those whom I value very highly.  And valuable folks come from all of the above-mentioned groups.

I value the person who laughs in delight at sunrises, who marvels at waterfalls creating rainbows, who giggles at hummingbirds flying backwards.  I value the person who is thoughtful and sincere and honest.  I value the person who cares about others.  I value the person who tries to be the best that they can be, regardless of their abilities or disabilities.  I value the person who wants to be happy, who wants to be happy so much that they actually take the steps to enjoy life wherever they are.

And because I can no longer work, because most of my life is spent in bed, I have the time to appreciate others.  I have the time to listen to their stories, to hear their struggles and laugh with them at their foibles.   And it doesn’t stop there.  I have the time to realize how amazing trees are when the wind is fluffing up their leaves.  I get to experience how beautiful moss is when a rock gets adorned by it.  I get to enjoy the antics of squirrels as they play tag within tree branches.   I get to open my doors and watch Feral kittens explore my room and find out the joys of soft pillows and bouncy sofas.

As I lie here, I am listening to the snoring of two small dogs, and I can hear the Feral kittens who have just discovered catnip mice.  The sun has snuck through the window and is fingering the pattern on the mock oriental rug.  The blind dog is trying to ignore the wild kittens playing with his tail.  I get to notice that, because I am bed-bound and I am here.
I’m not saying this is The Way to live.  There are millions of ways to live that give meaning and worth to who we are.

I’m just saying that this way of living also has value, it has meaning.   Someone should See and Notice wonderful things.  Someone should have the job of marveling at friendship, at beauty, at Peace.  It adds to the world when we see these things.  It creates the possibility/probability for more.
And anyone can do that.

We are complete.