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Have Maps, Will Travel

I am on the road this week, making a journey through both space and time. The space component is easy to chart. I have maps to consult for plotting a general course between my home and my destination. This aspect of my journey has a distant horizon determined by the breadth of states to be traversed for my arriving. I also have a phone to help me judge more discreet distances when the time comes to gauge the distance to the next relief station. Siri speaks kindly to me to help me effectively and efficiently find my way.

The time aspect of my travels is a little more daunting. Its maps consist of memory and memories, as many of my fellow travelers eventually come to realize, can be faulty. There is no Siri for navigating the pathway back from adulthood to childhood and that is the route I must take in fulfilling the true purpose for my journey.  We are gathering to eulogize the lost; lover, children, extended family, friends and the sole surviving member of my nuclear family, which is me.

My thoughts are not theirs. My perception of how a life was lived is distorted with those sinister moments the others cannot and likely should not know. Why disturb their search for solace by summoning up the demons that time alone has attempted to dispel? Limit truth and allow love to do its best work in covering a vast multitude of sins and sorrows and hopeless aspirations. Let delusion bury the dead once again.

I have maps and am willing to travel, just not this way again. There are places which exist expressly for me to locate with a passionate fascination among their vibrantly illustrated musings, while I dare to allow the unrepentant past to disappear in the rearview mirror. My only reservations will be those for securing another night’s lodging, with comfort in mind for body as well as soul. Life’s lessons cannot displace the past merely redeem it as long as our gaze is on the road before us with a determination to finish well by arriving safely.

Losing Walter Cronkite

One of the most enduring myths of the Viet Nam era is the role CBS newsman Walter Cronkite played in bringing about America’s disillusionment regarding the nature of the war. His February 1968 special report on conditions in South Viet Nam following the Tet Offensive questioned our ability to win the war, stating that we were “mired in a stalemate.” In response President Johnson supposedly told an aide that if he lost Walter Cronkite, then he would lose the support of Middle America.

W. Joseph Campbell, American University professor in the School of Communications, debunked the myth of Cronkite’s clout and the impact he had on both the nation and the president in his 2010 book Getting it Wrong: ten of the greatest misreported stories in American journalism. (If you don’t have time to read the book then do an internet search for “Q&A: W. Joseph Campbell” to see his C-SPAN interview with host Brian Lamb. He makes his case quite succinctly about the phenomena of the Cronkite Moment).

I was an avid watcher of the evening news with Walter Cronkite. I still hold a grudge against Dan Rather for forcing the most trusted man in America into early retirement. But I would not be surprised if Campbell wrote a sequel to Getting it Wrong, which would debunk the Rather myth of sending Cronkite packing. Still, my point here is to be very candid with anyone reading this message about my own investment of trust in Walter Cronkite as a source for all the news fit to broadcast. There is a corollary here that I must also acknowledge for the sake of full disclosure. I believe we were better served when news was limited to 30 – 60 minutes each evening instead of the current litany of opinions plaguing us 24/7/365.

I do have my own opinion, though, about what it means to lose Walter Cronkite. It concerns trust and over reporting over an extended period of time. Once it became known that America had “advisors” in Viet Nam, the Gallup folks annually asked people if they thought our intervention was a mistake. Survey results showed the nation strongly behind the Johnson administration in 1964. But the level of support gradually diminished until the nation was shown to be evenly divided (much as it is now) by the fall of 1967.

Cronkite’s special report in February 1968 was a latecomer to the growth of dissention concerning our involvement in Viet Nam. His influence was no doubt bolstered, however, by Johnson’s announcement one month later that he would not seek reelection to the presidency. Johnson’s decision was triggered by other events and other people. And what we tend to forget in our interpretation of those events all these years later is that we were well into the Nixon administration before the war was brought to an end.

With all due respect to Professor Campbell I think there is a place for accepting the thought of losing Walter Cronkite as a symbol of the change that takes place in public sentiment, which is often referred to as a paradigm shift (rightly or wrongly). We don’t handle depth and breadth too well. We need a defining moment, which can be expressed in a sound bite such as, “If I’ve lost Walter Cronkite, then I’ve lost Middle America.”  The Cronkite Moment, then, is not a matter of a single sentence in a television broadcast. Its significance must be seen as the culmination of a much longer process involving many more people, who never want or warrant an on-air interview, yet still have a role in forging policy and performance. We just need a certain someone, of hopefully indisputable trustworthiness, to tell us it is so. The Cronkites of the world serve that purpose, likely unintentionally.

I bring this up now as an uninformed but bemused observer of the current political scene. For the damage the Democrats are attempting to do to the current president’s political future, it seems to me that more attention should be paid to what is taking place at FOX News. From time to time one of their own makes a statement exposing a gaff, an exaggeration, a misrepresentation, a lie or a clearly defaming rant coming from the President for what it is, inexcusable.

As these pronouncements continue to take place I am wondering if Chris Wallace, Judge Napolitano or even Brett Baier is about the have a Cronkite Moment of their own and get credit for achieving what the Democrats can only contentiously dream of. There is plenty of time, after all, for the President to shock the nation, as LBJ did in 1968, by announcing his decision not to seek reelection in 2020. The true motivation behind just such a turn of events will likely take place because of the legal proceedings taking place in New York and not Washington, DC.

Forgiveness Is Not Access

I love history. There is no surprise in that for anyone who has followed my blog posts. Historic events, writings and even historically based novels have informed the content of these messages from time to time. This week’s message is another case in point.

I just finished watching the second season of The Crown miniseries. It has been available for a while, but I was reluctant to watch it due to the rather negative portrayal of the Kennedys prominently featured in the publicity prior to the second season’s premiere. When the message is potentially negative, I prefer to ease into it without surrendering to absolute denial. And since our nation did not crumble in light of the revelations of this patently British production, I finally tuned in. I actually binged watch, if the truth be told.

To my surprise it was not the Kennedy episode that troubled me but the one relating Queen Elizabeth’s fascination with Billy Graham’s Greater London Crusade, which took place in 1954. This was placed in juxtaposition to her quandary about allowing her uncle an opportunity to return to some form of public service, her uncle being the former King Edward VIII, who abdicated the throne reportedly for the sake of the woman he loved. The focus of The Crown’s storyline, however, was his Nazi sympathies expressed prior to World War II and the Queen’s dilemma about whether or not to forgive him in allowing his return in an official capacity.

I cannot attest to the historical accuracy of how this was all presented. Commercial productions of any kind, purported to be based on true stories still take great liberties with the truth for the sake of drama. To me such a maneuver is an admission that the people involved with the production lack faith, pun intended, in the importance and dramatic appeal of the truth. You can guess, therefore, by this diatribe that I was not pleased with the handling of this particular episode. All the personalities involved deserve an accurate portrayal of their character if not the factual basis of their behavior and words.

Of greatest concern to me was the scene in which Graham was summoned to the palace to advise Queen Elizabeth on the nature of forgiveness. She did not say who she had in mind to forgive or the details of the person’s offense. So any reply Graham could give would have to be of the generic sort. Christian doctrine is clear that generally withholding forgiveness is not an option and that is essentially the point mouthed by the actor portraying Graham. I found his response generically weak in keeping with the vagueness of the question presented to the young evangelist. This may be attributed to the script writer’s ignorance of Christian doctrine rather than the lack of insight and meaning offered by Graham if such an encounter ever took place.

To me movies and television programs are fantasy. You don’t go to them for a history lesson. But in keeping with their nebulous (and potentially nefarious) qualities, allow me to do a little time travel, mentally transporting myself back to that questionable encounter about forgiveness as the mans to provide my own opinion on forgiveness – had it been sought –  in service to Her Majesty.

I would first want to know, without the need to divulge the details, whether this was a personal matter or a matter of state. Not that it would change my answer necessarily, but it would likely impact the wording and tone of my reply. You can do a lot of verbal handholding as a form of comfort when given permission to discuss matters on a personal level. The alternative is to speak in a cold, academic manner, as if one were lecturing seminary students by relying on the meaning of words in the original language and the cultural context in which the words were written. But the subject of forgiveness deserves a better, more humane and compassionate presentation than the cold economy of intellectual discourse.

Forgiveness is a hallmark of the Christian faith, although it is not to be presumed that it is our exclusive domain. Forgiveness generally follows a person’s repentance and request for mercy, but even that simple form of process is not always the case. Forgiveness defies the scope of the transgression. Magnitude is not a prohibitive obstacle to redemption. But not all who are forgiven are to be trusted! My basis for such a sentiment rests on a little scrutinized statement written by the Apostle John contained in his second epistle.

Appropriately it was written to a chosen lady, befitting the status of someone like Elizabeth, chosen by right of birth as England’s queen. John acknowledged the woman’s children, implying that there was no husband at hand to provide the much needed care, comfort and protection in a society divided by ethnic, religious and political factions. His counsel to her was to continue loving everyone in truth, indicative of someone who understood the power inherent in the self-denying aspect of forgiveness. But he also counseled her with a qualifying factor I would want the Queen of England or anyone else struggling to understand their obligations when it comes to forgiving an offense.

John wrote, If anyone comes to you and does not bring this teaching (loving in truth), do not take him into your house or welcome him. Anyone who welcomes him shares in his wicked work (II John, verses 10-11).

The situation shown in The Crown involved the Queen’s decision about whether or not to assent to her uncle’s request to be granted a position in which he would be viewed as a representative of England’s commercial and political interests. He had sinned by placating Adolf Hitler and his Nazi party, when der Fuhrer’s intent was yet to be fully realized for its diabolical means and goals. The question posed in the dramatization of his quest asked if the Duke of Windsor, the former King Edward VIII, should be forgiven for his folly as a proponent of appeasement in the build-up leading to World war II. The answer on strictly religious grounds is of course! But should he bet let back into the house? The answer is emphatically no! He exhibited no sense of repentance and doubtless was clueless about the extent of his gullibility and stupidity. To have granted him a place of responsibility would have been to accept a share of his form of wickedness.

If we were to search the historical records, we would no doubt find that denying the Duke a place of public prominence was a political decision and not a matter of Christian doctrine. But by invoking a role for Graham in the decision making process muddies both the history and the truth of what it means to forgive in light of those nuances which accompany it. Forgiveness is not access. Protecting the house and all of its members is sound doctrine.

To ignore this aspect of biblical teaching is to leave the rest of us at the mercy of the King Edwards of our lives, for we do have them. Just ask the people who have shared their stories as part of the Me Too movement. The alternative is to allow the serpent back into the garden.

A Different Kind of Music Lesson

When I was very young I wanted to take piano lessons. My older brother was doing it and I enjoyed imitating everything he did even though there was a six year difference in our ages. Besides the obvious advantage he had by virtue of being more mature and disciplined, he also by nature was more of a studious person, comfortable staying indoors for long periods of time, while I was the outdoor type. Every minute of my day was dedicated to playing outside, which is not remotely conducive to becoming a competent pianist.

Much later I did learn to strum a guitar and finger the major chords plus a few minor ones. That allowed me to be part of our impromptu folk groups, not just to harmonize vocally, but to be a player in real terms, a musician if only at the most elementary level.

I must thank my competitive nature for this accomplishment, engendered from all those prior years of playing outside games since competition was my motivation for learning to play the guitar in the first place. A girl I met during my college years could play and I was not about to let her show me up, at least not in this area. She has subsequently found many other ways to do so during the 40-plus years of our marriage.

Still, I love music and am disheartened at this late stage of my life by the awareness that I never developed the proper discipline to read and interpret music the way I can words. A large part of my management career required some fluency in communicating with others of differing interests, whether they be clients, staff, supervisors or peers. But had I been as fluent with musical notations as I was with blog posts, news releases and promotional talking points, I would have been in league with those who can speak the language of angels.

One of my recent reads is a book published in 2016 entitled Absolutely on Music. It consists primarily of a sequence of discussions between the celebrated conductor Seiji Ozawa and novelist Haruki Murakami. I honestly understood very little of it. I simply lack the knowledge of the classical music they discussed in order to capture the nuances of the points they were making about composers and the challenges of leading others in creating inspiring performances on an orchestral scale. But Ozawa did make a few statements, which I found both intriguing and applicable to my own professional experiences and therefore came away with an awareness of having enjoyed a music lesson of a different kind.

When asked if he spent his time preparing for a performance by memorizing the score, Ozawa said no. A conductor, after all, has the score in front of him when he conducts the orchestra. Rather what was of the utmost concern was his ability to understand the score. And this is where I felt that being a manager and being a music conductor crossed paths, sharing a common perspective. A large part of my time was spent presenting my organization to customers, members and donors, which required me to have the most complete understanding of the organization possible. No one would acknowledge me as being an artist or call me maestro, no matter how effective my informed presentation might be. But I do believe that my compatriot, conductor Ozawa, would understand and offer a respectful nod of affirmation.

A True Son of Adam

Anyone familiar with the story of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden likely knows that a serpent enticed Eve into eating the forbidden fruit. She in turn convinced her chump of a husband to do the same. One of the lesser elements of this story, which many people may not know, is that when asked by God why he, Adam, ate what Eve had offered replied that, “The woman you put here with me  – she gave me some fruit from the tree, and I ate it.” In essence Adam’s defense was that the woman, not the devil, made him do it and indirectly it was God’s fault for making the woman in the first place.

Like a true son of Adam I am prepared to make the same assertion as my forebear. In my case, however, the excuse needs to be stated in the plural. It’s the women’s fault! And what in heaven’s name is my offense? I have given in to an insatiable gluttony of watching all of those athletically gifted daughters of Eve who are competing in the World Cup.

I have yet to miss a game other than when the Fox network simulcast two games a day during the group stage. Otherwise my calendar has been loaded with the start times and opponents engaged in soccer combat that has come to dictate my daily regimen. My obsession with the tournament has completely obliterated my previous discipline of writing, including posting this belated web log message. Saturday was my self-imposed deadline, but this fall from grace in my daily productivity is the best indication I can offer of my inclination towards the deadly sin of sloth.

I know that you will think that lust should be included in my explanation of why I am doing little more than sitting in my recliner for several hours a day. But I plead an interest in watching a sport I could never master being played by my fellow exiles from the Garden in a way that the testosterone charged bad boys of soccer cannot. I can envy the abilities of the female combatants precisely because of their natural allure whereas the athletic prowess of the elite men in the international world of football, aka soccer to those of us in the US, produces a wrath born of competitive impotence by comparison.

My sense of greed fuels my desire for the US women’s team to be the ones to hoist the World Cup trophy when the final whistle blows. And the pride I will feel at witnessing their achievement can only be equaled by seeing them do it again four years from now. I will be watching, Lord willing.

Whose Past? Whose Path?

One of my addictions is my walk to the library on a Saturday afternoon to read the weekend edition of the Wall Street Journal. The addiction stems from my reliance on their Review section to let me know if there is a new book of inordinate promise for my reading interests and pleasure. In case this seems like a source for capitalist consumption only, I must point out now that I learned about George R. R. Martin through WSJ long before Game of Thrones was a mega hit for HBO as well as the works of Bernard Cornwell without the knowledge of Sharp’s Rifles having been a popular series of lesser status on the more cultured PBS network.

I mention this as the setup for the articles which absorbed my attention in the June 1-2 edition of the paper. Front page and occupying a large part of the Review section was a group of articles about the 30th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square demonstrations for democracy, which prompted the brutal crackdown by the Chinese ruling party. This was at a time when the mainstream news outlets in America were still committed to reporting the news and those of us old enough to cherish those times of a reputable free press remember the televised image of a single man confronting a line of tanks. The exhilarating promise of the birth of democracy within a totalitarian regime gave way to censorship during a bloody repression tantamount to a botched abortion.

This being the first weekend in June 2019, space was also made available for reviews of five new books about the 1944 D-Day invasion of the Normandy coast in France, which ultimately led to the defeat of the German army the following year. As something of a sidebar there was also a review of a book entitled The Washington War by James Lacey about the inner workings of President Roosevelt’s administration during the entire conflict. The timing of the books’ release is easily understandable since this is the 75th anniversary of the allied armies establishing the much hoped for western front by the launching the most complex logistical invasion ever undertaken in human history. The result bequeathed to the world a largely free and independent Western Europe. Those nations liberated by Russia didn’t fare so well.

The contrast between the two anniversaries can only be described in polar opposite terms. If there be any point of commonality between them it is only in the bloody nature of the fighting which accompanied the clash between ideologies on the shores of the French coastline and later in the streets of Tiananmen. The absence of events commemorating the sacrifices made by the exuberant Chinese students who launched a peaceful protest for democracy thirty years ago gives silent testimony, mercilessly enforced, to the basic contrast between the two events. We cannot say enough often enough to memorialize what was done seventy-five years ago, hence the issue of new books about a day in the life of freedom.

There is much about Chinese culture that we praise, sometimes to the point of envy. The ancient nation’s achievements in the arts and sciences dwarf American aspirations when the comparison is based on their longevity. But the disparate legacies of a June day in 1944 and that of one in April 1989 should tell us about whose path we wish to take based on whose history portends the greatest promise for a free and prosperous future. America the upstart is still the beautiful and sometimes wonderfully boastful to the point of national arrogance. But as long as our good intentions continue to let freedom ring, then I can join in with a little flag waving and even dare to kneel at the sound of our national anthem in prayerful gratitude for the time and place of my birth.

Prisoners of Hope

I am drawn to statements which turn our perspective from the obvious to what we often regard as being counterintuitive. It intrigues me that someone has the gift to see below the surface of our conditions and experiences to recognize an opportunity we would otherwise miss as the result of being mesmerized by the reflection of a glistening facade. We bestow on such people a mystic quality denied the rest of us held captive by the ordinary vistas of plain sight. We even revere them or sometimes fear them based upon our own emotional strengths and weaknesses.

One such person was an Old Testament prophet by the name of Zechariah. He appeared among the Hebrew people at a time when they were attempting to rebuild their culture following their return from an forced exile imposed on them by the Babylonian King, Nebuchadnezzar. The duration of their captivity was approximately seventy years, a type of statute of limitations foretold by another prophet named Jeremiah. He also advised them to pursue an industrious life while in exile. His rationale was that while their labor would benefit their captors, they would also be benefitting themselves, acquiring skills and wealth in preparation for their ultimate return to the land of promise.

Upon their arrival they did start to construct the foundation for a new temple, the central component of their national identity. They also built an altar on which to resume their practice of animal sacrifices to symbolically bring cleansing to the people. But then a form of apathy set in and all progress stopped. They regressed into a form of self-aggrandizement, which produced a negative return. Their resources were dwindling and all the promises inherent in a sense of restoration became seemingly ethereal. This denouement in their return was the cue for Zechariah to take center stage and convince them otherwise.

Bible scholars debate the credibility of his message. But what else is new? All the books contained within the cover of the Bible, especially those which claim prophetic privilege, are critiqued for time, place, and authorship based on the internal evidence of the writer’s syntax and historic references. Regardless of the efficacy of these critiques, students committed to puzzling through Zechariah’s sequence of visions have identified eight key pieces in the peoples’ spiritual heritage, which he used as the means for inspiring them to resume their labors in constructing the temple and abiding by the rules of sacrifice to and worship of the Maker of heaven and earth.

What certain scholars claim to see in his eschatology is: 1) the people of Israel were God’s chosen for whom he cared deeply; 2)  their foes had been completely destroyed; 3) God’s blessings would follow the completion of the temple; 4) Joshua, the high priest, was symbolic of the coming messiah; 5) the work would be done “not by might” but by the invigorating power of God’s spirit; 6) the land would be purified of all wickedness with the teaching of the law; 7) wickedness, itself, would be banished to the land of Israel’s former captors; and 8) the end result would be the kingdom’s perpetual security.

I must acknowledge that the preceding paragraph is simply a theological freebie. Such conclusions are beyond by capabilities to discern from my casual reading of the text and is offered here as a surrender to substance before getting to my own point for this message. By comparison to what Biblical scholars may offer, my own dalliance with a single phrase lifted from Zechariah’s writing might best be viewed in keeping with the proverbial phrase plucked from the pages of the New Testament in which the Apostle Paul admitted to looking through a glass darkly. I am not of the time or culture in which Zechariah made his prophetic statements. Yet echoing down through the long ages (another borrowed sentiment) Z’s words do have a pleasant, perhaps even pertinent, implication for our own particular time and place.

Zechariah said of these returnees from seventy years of captivity in Babylonia that they were prisoners of hope. Here, then, is that counter-intuitive insight of which I am enamored. The young prophet turned the political aspects of their enslavement into a moral and emotional one. Building on the foundation laid by his revered predecessor, Jeremiah, he was able to upend the peoples’ popular concept of their troubles by interpreting their captivity as a time of hope. During their years in exile they had anticipated their own return to the land of their origin due to Jeremiah’s promise of a time limit to their exile, which would also prove to be a time of spiritual and temporal growth. The people had lived with hope despite the restraints on their movements and what we term their civil liberties.

Given the malaise in which Zechariah found them, this was like a splash of cold water tossed in the face of their despair. His wakeup call to their true status may have damaged his credibility given the all too apparent harsh reality of the circumstances, which kept the people focused solely on their subsistence. So Zechariah urged them on to something greater than themselves by changing their perspective about those circumstances supported by a vision for Israel’s future. He was vindicated in his strategy when the people renewed their avowed purpose and finished the temple’s construction.

If we are to be captives, what better jailer could we have than the positive outlook that overrides every situation in the anticipation that something good will happen? This is not in spite of the circumstances, but because of them; good emerging in the midst of oppressive conditions because of what we make of them. Otherwise we let circumstances define us and yield to the chorus of woes, which reinforce the tendency to do little or nothing at all.

Prisoners are people, who are denied the liberty of movement by a force more powerful than themselves.   Hope is an attitude, which seeks the perfect expression of liberty. To be a prisoner of hope, therefore, is to be controlled by an overwhelming force, which empowers us without deviation to pursue the goals which give life meaning. Let us choose in this day and age to heed Zechariah’s words and be prisoners of hope rather than prisoners of an all-consuming hopelessness.

Whistling In The Dark

Part of the dinner conversation I had the other night with someone close to me concerned one of the most common dilemmas we face when working for any hierarchical organization; the abuses a subordinate sees taking place yet has no bestowed authority by which they can mandate a remedy. What is left to them is either silence, which is a distasteful form of collaboration, or what we term whistle blowing.

If a person takes the latter path, they do so without really knowing how high up in the organization the moral corruption exists. In any entity where this kind of behavior persists long enough to be considered the norm, you can be assured that the sky is the limit when it comes to the lack of the courage and integrity amongst the leadership to address the abuses. The whistle blower is then literally as well as figuratively whistling in the dark.

Another undesirable aspect we must confront within the confines of whistle blowing is that it is a decision taken in admission that we can never be part of the solution. It is an act of surrender since the unstated aspect of this tactic is the implicit acknowledgement that changes from within is beyond one’s capabilities to implement. Heads may roll, but the avalanche is just as likely to include the bearer of bad news as well as the culprits we wish to bring to some sort of justice.

The sad news is that there is rarely any justice within the framework of human operations. Human nature assigns blame to all who are involved in any investigation. And there is a certain stigma attached to the whistle blower for being another kind of offender, a stooge or a snitch if you will, a person who has violated the trust of everyone else affiliated with the organization in question. For when the whistle is blown even the innocent will bear the mark of guilt by association if only for being blind to what the rest of us now know to be obviously true thanks to the superiority invested in us by hindsight.

My sympathies are with the person of integrity, who knows that there is something wrong with the system, which fails to serve the people who are supposed to be the beneficiaries of the organization’s reason for existence. There is no easy solution for how to act on such knowledge. The analogy I have often employed when attempting to address any type of abuse is that it is like striking the tar baby; even if you can subsequently extricate yourself from the offender, you will still come away with some measure of stain from the experience. Hopefully a measure of wisdom also ensues as experience is credited with being our best teacher.

Despite my occasional susceptibility to cynicism, I am an optimist. I can honestly campaign for the premise that right makes might, with the caveat that might in this case is the struggle to maintain one’s own good name in pursuit of a worthy cause. Success for correcting the abuses cannot be guaranteed. Success, however, in emerging with one’s soul intact is a given.

My suggested solution is to personify right behavior and always ask – especially in the presence of others – if the correct tactic can be implemented. Then be prepared to illustrate how this can be done to achieve the best result. The why is less important than the how as abuses often arise because a supervisor has been elevated to a position of authority beyond their means to perform, not because they are congenitally immoral.

A credible solution, which you will help to implement, has its own appeal, especially if you do not care who gets the credit for its success. Applaud the work of everyone involved and give your supervisor the necessary accolades for choosing the best path. Maintain a modicum of humility in order to position yourself for the next opportunity to amend a deficiency and then act once again with the same resolution.

I do have an ulterior motive for suggesting this strategy as an alternative to whistle blowing. The advantage here is that it creates its own form of accountability. The “A” word for the incompetent creates discomfort, which in turn can lead to early retirement or a late in life career change. Ultimately abuses are corrected with personnel changes, not adjustments to policies and procedures. Being the good and faithful servant to an abusive leader means having one eye on the benefits bestowed on those you serve and one eye on the abusers eventual exit – peacefully achieved. When successfully done, you can whistle a happy tune resonating with a clear conscience.

The Eyes Of The Heart

There is a line in a prayer which intrigues me. Actually there is more than one, but this particular line or phrase is beguiling enough to become the subject of this week’s message. It tells us of a person’s earnest request that the eyes of the heart be enlightened. The intent of this illumination is that the heart may come to gain certain insights exclusive to its inherent ability to comprehend and employ such revelations as a mitigating factor in our behavior.

For the heart to have eyes which need to be enlightened, implies first of all that the core of our feelings generally abides in a darkness imposed by ignorance. The eternal command spoken at the creation to allow the light to shine resonates here in the pleading of one whose supplication was for the benefit of others.

Second, it asserts the belief that certain knowledge must be felt as well as thought. More than just an attainment of verifiable facts, this concept of knowledge uses informed emotions to fashion our capacity for understanding. It foresees how knowledge requires the presence of compassion to soften the blows from the blunt force trauma of naked truth or mercy overruling the cold calculation of results.

We attribute knowledge to the mind, emotions to the heart. Both are needed. The soul in balance is a prerequisite for delving into the deeper meanings of such essentials as hope, contentment and security. This, at least, was the passionate opinion of the supplicant, whose meditation and writings inspired my own brief message. My trust is in the efficacy of another’s prayer to produce more in me than the mere fulfillment of a writing assignment. My mind is skeptical, my heart reassuring.

Questions From Answers

I took advantage of the inclement weather during my visit to my daughter’s farm as the reason to stay indoors away from the outside work of clearing more pasture land on which her horses can graze. Inside is something of a euphemism as it includes being inside a car for a reasonably short drive to the small Oklahoma town where my family resided in the early 1900s. The balance of my inside time was in the Genealogy Room of the Okmulgee Public Library, my interest being the discovery of information about my maternal grandmother in order to resolve some of the mysteries about her quiet life.

Everyone who knew her loved her. Sher was a major player in my young life as she would stay with us during the school year in order to help my mother, her only daughter, manage three young school-aged boys. We were a trial, but not an ordeal. From oldest to youngest there was an eleven year span of time, which means our interests and activities were as unique to us individually as they were varied when taken as a whole. My scholarly older brother excelled in school activities while my childish younger brother was too small to do anything without adult supervision. Me, I majored in play, which included every sport and every juvenile game as long as it took place outside despite the weather.

These memories are of a time when we lived in Southern California, the Promised Land of the continental U.S. My grandmother’s heart, however, was in her small town, Oklahoma home. Summers she would take the train “back east” to my young way of thinking, and live with her oldest son and be accessible to her female grandchildren of much gentler pursuits.

All of us, regardless of the location of our homestead, remember our grandmother as a kind, caring, quietly helping and supportive soul. We loved her then and love her memory still. It is her quiet nature, though, that causes me keen displeasure in my own old age. She did not talk much about her young life, which has created many a mystery about her. Before my mom’s passing I asked her what I regarded to be simple questions about her mother, but was amazed that she often answered “I don’t know. I never asked.” It seems we all took grandma’s compassionate qualities for granted. We absorbed her love like a gathering of sponges and rested secure in her ability to leave us satiated with the joy of her presence.

Grandma, I have since come to appreciate, was something of an illusion. Her life with us was real enough. Her past, however, was left where she once lived it, seemingly content with the knowledge that she did her best to handle the pain of life’s challenges and willing to leave it all behind, where it could no longer hurt anyone she loved. There were some good times, no doubt, but what we know based on family lore and legend is that the pain was likely greater than the joy one associates with one’s childhood. It seems that Grandma intentionally forged for her children and her grandchildren the kind of life she did not know when she was young.

Grandma never spoke about her father. He disappeared from the family records without a trace other than leaving behind a wife, a daughter and two dead infant sons. This part of her history is so shrouded in mystery that we do not even know where grandma was born. She always claimed Missouri as her state of origin, but the specific location remains unknown. I have a copy of her obituary (an answer of sorts), but the community named as her birthplace never existed (leaving me with further questions). We know Grandma’s birthday and the year, 1888, but the U.S. census for 1890 (a potential source of answers) was destroyed in a fire (leaving me with questions once again).

My great grandmother remarried. Her second husband was a widower with seven children and their own union contributed three more daughters to the expansive household. Family legend (a source of answers) says that Grandma pleaded with her mom not to marry the man. But women alone in that day were bound for hardship. And my guess is that great grandmother Mollie was not well educated and therefore not very well suited for any other life than that of being a wife and mother (a guess and therefore an unresolved question).

During my trip to that small Oklahoma town where Grandma spent most of her adult life and where my own mother was born, uncovered some good documentary evidence about her life (answers). She worked as a checker in Cowden’s Laundry and lived with her Aunt Lizzie and Uncle Bart. Their obituaries disclosed that they made the trip from Missouri to Oklahoma with their two daughters in 1901. Did Grandma make the journey with them or arrive at a later date (a question)? I know from an ad in an old directory that the laundry was founded in 1906 (an answer), but the earliest edition of that directory listing all the residence of the town and their occupations was 1909. That is where I learned that Grandma was one of their employees. It would be nice to think that she was an original employee of Cowden’s, but that is just a guess (another question).

I asked my mother once if Grandma ever talked about her wedding to my grandfather. She said no. All she knew is that his family, a prominent one in that small Oklahoma town, opposed his marriage to a lowly laundress. I found a copy of their marriage license (an answer). It was issued on the same day their wedding ceremony took place before a justice of the peace and not the church wedding one would anticipate Grandma desired. But then the young couple disappeared from all documentary evidence until grandfather’s death just eight and a half years later. The cause of his death is unknown (a question).

Family lore says it was due to typhoid fever, but his death occurred at a time when the Spanish influenza carried away many. He left Grandma with three young sons, a daughter to be born five months later, and me with a lot of questions about their life together during the brief time they had. From his death on the story is pretty clear. Grandma went back to working at the laundry and remained there until she retired in the late 1940s. Photos and personal memories abound, all of them good and well cherished by those of us who knew her. I could only wish my own children had the opportunity to experience the love, which pervaded my childhood home due to her wonderful presence.

I am committed to finding out more about her as the opportunity arises to visit places where the evidence might linger. Grandma was born into a time and place that did not easily submit itself to paper. There is no birth certificate for her and no death certificate for her father. They were not prominent enough to make the news reported in the short-lived newspapers of those days. Then, as now, politics dominated the press coverage. Murders made the grade as did the chicanery of those in the east, who connived to keep prices for crops and livestock sales low. Widows and their children were of little concern. They were too plentiful and lacked the voting power sufficient to be anything other than a nuisance.

My hope is to do Lula’s story justice, even if its publication remains confined to family members, even though questions arise from every answer I find. Love wills out. And I have the time in my retirement days to pursue my investigations, when not helping my children cope with their own challenges in life like expanding pasture land. Grandma would be pleased with my attempts and would have a wonderful dinner waiting for us, when our labors were through. It is what I know about her life that suggests this would be true.