The Bible states we should be thankful in all things, which is darned hard to do. It is easy to be thankful when you hit the nail on the head, but when you hammer your thumb thanks is harder to find, and instead other things tend to drift to the tip of your tongue.
Consequently people tend to attempt to repress the unpleasant and cultivate amnesia about the awful, and instead to selectively recall the rainbows it is easy to be thankful for. Unfortunately this can make people, if not liars, then less than honest about life and life’s troubles.
Art, on the other hand, has a strange ability to see beauty in the blues. The second movement of Beethoven’s seventh symphony is all about grief, but makes grief so ravishingly beautiful one (almost) wishes they could be sorry more often.
I suppose the simple fact is that God is everywhere. There is no place where God is not. We may feel terribly separated from God, (one definition of hell), but God is even in that separation. It is in the definition of “omnipresent”.
Therefore it follows that love is everywhere as well, which, when we become aware of it, can lead us to sing in the rain.
This not to say we have to always be smiling, though I once knew a woman who made a splendid effort. I really put her to the test, by reading her some of the most awful poems I’ve ever written. When I was done I’d look at her with my face full of hope, and she’d be smiling with her teeth, but I could see from the rest of her face she’d just hit her thumb with a hammer.
Consequently I believe one doesn’t need to smile all the time, to be thankful. One can even be grumpy, but one must be grumpy with panache. Be grumpy as if performing before God; add verve; do it with vivacity. There is nothing worse than a lukewarm grump. If you’re going to be grumpy, make it a real grumpsgiving
A man’s home is his castle; and his dog Is his best friend, and his mother-in-law Had best understand that. Don’t gape agog Should my pet turn on her, nor express awe should I smirk when my meek cur sinks swift teeth Into her posterior. How dare she scold my sleeping dog, knocking my laurel wreath Of poetry askew? Home’s where I flee When all the world’s gone mad, but a harpy Has invaded. I want to swat my brain. She’s so blind I note with a fat sharpie Memos she will too soon forget. The strain Of being pleasant makes me want to scream. Who chose this loser to sit on my team?
There is no holiday called Grumpsgiving Which is a pity; I’d be good at it. When I crab people want to stop living. I’m full of stinking stuff that rhymes with “wit”. I’m so sick of this world I want to leave; To go where people know how to behave But gates stay locked. Unless seers deceive, The key’s to be kind; you can’t growl or rave, But how am I to thank a world of woe? My art’s swiftly torn up, crumpled and tossed. There is nowhere to flee; nowhere to go That isn’t a crown of thorns; a cross. Weeds swiftly make my best garden a dump And rather than thankful, make me a grump.
The fraudulent election has usurped the interest of nearly all; in the woods even the deer are puzzled, for hunters neglect to stalk them. Therefore I wondered if any would show up at a meeting of an odd collection of old fossils I belong to, called a “prayer group”, the days after the election.
This group consists of a small bunch of grumps past retirement age who still work every day, but who, one day a week, find time to gather before work, (during winter, long before dawn), to drink coffee and to talk, and then to pray.
Our talk tends to move along the lines you’d expect from grumpy old men: Mostly conservative, but sprinkled with tales that are usually very funny, though sometimes poignant, about what we did when we were not so conservative. But after the coffee comes the prayer, where, man by man, each prays aloud, and I find this creates something I wish I had discovered fifty years ago.
In some ways it reminds me of something which I did discover fifty years ago: The “men’s groups” which, back then, psychologists used to create for themselves, in a cultish sort of way, with the psychologist himself ensconced as the guru.
Back then the “men’s groups” I attended basically involved young, tough, lantern-jawed guys attempting to be wimps, and to cry their precious, little eyes out, about how their feelings got hurt, (in an effort to become more “sensitive”).
Hopefully we grumpy old men aren’t ever quite so absurd as that. For one thing, there is no cult-leader-psychologist in our grumpy-old-men prayer group, unless you call God the psychologist. Second, among old men a young man’s interest in self-improvement has largely faded away, replaced by an interest in slowing the process of self-deterioration.
I like being among men who are exposing deeper parts of themselves. Not that we are always deep. Partly our prayers involve the trivial; things such as a wife’s toothache or daughter’s speeding ticket, but prayers also move on to whatever the opposite of “trivial” is.
This makes me wonder about what the opposite of “trivial” actually is. So I use a search engine (never Google) and arrive at a long list of antonyms, none of which satisfies me. But perhaps the best opposite-of-trivial is not a word, but a string-of-words which admits there is no word; namely the string-of-words, “life-and-death”.
The problem is that “life-and-death” tends to be very subjective. For example, when a toothache is at its height, it seems very important, and you might resent very much anyone telling you it was “trivial”. However should you, in your desperation, rummage about in your kitchen, locate some clove oil, and administer that burning oil to the gums around the roots of the hurting tooth, the pain might swiftly shrink and fade, until what was “life-and-death” became “trivial”.
In like manner, on a hot day in a desert, water may become a true, honest-to-God matter of “life-and-death”, but, as soon as you arrive at a well and drink deeply, you don’t think so much of water. “Life-and-death” has become “trivial.”
Also in like manner, naming no names, lust can become a thirst, and one can write ardent sonnets about how gratification is a matter of “life-and-death”, however, should gratification occur, the object of desire may no longer be so desirable, and some mighty fine sonnets may be crumpled up and thrown away.
For these reasons I think a good opposite to the word “trivial” is the word “momentous”, because too often what seems important is a fleeting thing which soon, after a “moment”, becomes unimportant.
When young I often ran into people who scorned my suggestions that what I desired was “momentous”, and who were all too eager to inform me that what I cared about was “trivial.” In the face of such sneering, belittling and bullying I developed a sort of fax-humbleness wherein I felt my concerns were too trivial, too downright petty, to bring before God in prayer. In my mind God was the only truly “momentous” thing, and all things that I myself cared about, when analyzed, were “trivial”. I didn’t want to bother God with my petty banality, and in a sense I made God become like the elders I knew, an authority full of scorn. Then I was introduced to some gospel (which means “good news”): The gospel was, “God is Love.”
The idea that One as infinite as God is could be interested in a speck of dust like myself was beyond my comprehension. It seems such an outlandish proposition that I think God Himself doesn’t ask anyone to believe such a preposterous thing. Therefore, to the sincerely curious, God seems to offer proof He is Preposterous. It is not a scientific proof that can be replicated, but rather is an intimate and usually secretive kiss: Perhaps some inconsequential event, such as a passing butterfly swerving to land on the tip of one’s nose. It is hard to scientifically replicate such an occurrence, let alone describe the way that it happens at the perfect time and place, and dissolves even a stolid individual to tears.
Of course, while a butterfly landing on the tip of their nose may have meant a great deal to the individual, it will not do for that individual to share such intimacy with scoffers. They will roll their eyes and do what they always do, which is to call what you feel is “momentous”, “trivial.”
I am perfectly willing to admit I am trivial. However I have learned that, to have any sort of civil discussion, the person I am talking with must also confess they are to some degree trivial. Scoffers can seldom do so. Sadly, the reason they scoff at others is often to boost themselves, to puff up their own already-obese egos with further flatulence. They have the odd belief that, in dismissing others as trivial, they somehow assert that they themselves matter. Apparently they are very insecure, and fear they don’t matter, and fight this fear by proving they do matter, using a bizarre technique wherein they behave as if others don’t. To wit: A bully sees a happy sissy, walks up to him, and punches him in the nose.
If there is anyone who can say they matter, and the rest of us don’t, it would be God. He is the Creator, and we are merely the scribble on the pages of a novel He is writing. He is omniscient, which means He knows the end of the novel before He begins. Time itself is His creation, an unwritten book He pulped wood to make the paper of, and bound, even before writing the first Word. He is also omnipotent, which means He is both sides of His pencil; besides creating us He can erase us, which is disconcerting to contemplate, for it emphasizes how trivial we are: Besides creating us He can rub us out.
I imagine what matters to God is that his novel arrives at the happy-ending He sees, and we can’t imagine; all we call momentous is trivial compared to the infinite Bliss He aims his creation towards. From time to time, to people as witless as sheep, God appears cruel, like a stern shepherd with a prodding, hooking crook. But God is Truth which is Love, sometimes soft as butter, but other times steel, a stern Love that must be tough: Pushing us away from bad water and poisonous herbs towards crystal streams and greener pastures may involve driving us across parched deserts.
Sometimes beautiful people enter our lives and we want them to be with us every day, but it cannot be. This seems cruel; it seems life would be so much better if it went as we wished. But perhaps in such situations God, who knows the happy-ending, needs to rub out a character who distracts us from His plot, the way Shakespeare rubs out the dazzling, scene-stealer Mercutio, when he threatens to turn “Romeo and Juliet” into a play called “Mercutio.”
(And yes, to reply to scoffers, even a tear-jerking tragedy like “Romeo and Juliet” does have a “happy-ending”, because the Montagues and Capulets come to understand the monstrous futility and stupidity of their feuding.)
Sometimes I think God snatches beautiful people from our lives to increase our thirst for beauty. If life was too pleasant we’d lose our desire to move on. Where even turtles and snails know their houses must be portable, we might stagnate, basking on some perfect Polynesian island, immobile to our dying day, unaware we were marooned. Therefore God sends us a tsunami.
This thought is emphasized by the fact that the people who tend to be most sensitive to beauty are those who have suffered loss. The wealthy like to think that it is they who create beauty, when they patronize art, but you very seldom see a wealthy man write a symphony, nor grow a single rose in their gardener’s gardens. The wealthy are incapable. In fact they all too often serve the purpose of making the misery which makes the art. The wealthy have no cause for vainglory when they look in a mirror and (perhaps) see they sometimes make the ugly wounds which make the beauty of healing possible.
It is a glorious defiance, (to the so-called logic of many wealthy men and women), to accept loss the way a starving poet accepts it. The wealthy scoff that loss is for losers. Their mindset makes them incapable of seeing beyond the material stuff they accumulate, until they are “given” to behavior which actually blinds them to the doorway to richness beyond riches. Where a poet will “pay the dues to sing the blues”, the wealthy think, “I’ll avoid the blues and pay no dues,” and the wealthy sadly then live nasal, tone-deaf lives with little music, (which may explain their sense of emptiness and thirst, which often causes a few wealthy people to patronize musicians. Such patrons tend to straddle a fence, seeking to gain the benefits of poetry without enduring the suffering.)
In the end we are all basically faced with a choice. What matters to us? Things of this world? Or things beyond this world? To try to have both is like standing with one foot in a rowboat and one on a dock. Eventually one needs to chose; otherwise one is all wet.
Sometimes the choice comes through circumstances. Beethoven lost his hearing, which was a thing of this world, without losing his music, which was otherworldly. He stated something along the lines of, “Those who understand my music are not troubled by the woes of this world.” Yet he himself had trouble enduring a woe of the world called “royalty”, a wealthy elite who felt he should consider them his “betters”, and accept their patronizing attitudes.
Too often the so-called “elite” were prone to inflating their own importance, while putting the gifts of others down, saying things such as, “Without me there would be no Beethoven,” which belittled Beethoven. It did not do for such royalty to brag; even deafness could say the same: “Without me there would be no Beethoven.”
For me the puffed egos of the elite seem absurd, for, when I look about, there is plenty to be humble about: Without farmers I’d starve; without garbage men I’d live in filth; without garment-makers working in Asian sweat-shops I’d be naked. It would take a certain sort of hutzpah for me to put on airs, and, rather than gratitude, to call myself a “better” who was “in charge”, and who deserved the credit for other’s gifts. (This is not to say “administration” is not also a gift, but it is no reason to put on airs.)
I believe God has blessed all of us with gifts, which are likely as varied as our fingerprints, and I also believe that, if we could only think, speak and act according to His will, our path towards the happy-ending of creation would be heaven on earth. Sadly, speaking only for myself, I have a problem with keeping the path smooth, due to the fact I also have a gift called “free will”, which causes me to be deaf to God’s will. I may preach that we should all appreciate each other’s gifts, but some people…….well, I have trouble appreciating them. Be this as it may be, I still believe we all have gifts, and that we should respect others even if we have no clue what the heck their gift is, and even if they appear utterly worthless.
In order to achieve a heaven-on-earth, God has given us handy rules which allow us be more harmonious and to evolve away from discord. Such laws are woven into the very tapestry of creation. We may not like such laws, but there is no way around them. I myself love freedom, and bristle at the slightest whiff of bossiness, but even I have to admit that, as much as I would like to levitate, I’m bossed by the Law Of Gravity (so far). In like manner there are all sorts of other laws concerning action and reaction, called Karma, basically stating that if you sow thistles you shouldn’t expect to reap oats. The only one independent of such law is God, who is above the law because He created it.
Therefore, because God is enthroned above the law, it follows that grumpy old men should go to God, if we find ourselves in trouble with the law, (which is trouble we mortals tend to find ourselves in, on a daily basis, as we are all imperfect). Despite the fact we are mere specks of dust, God’s omniscience allows Him to know us better than we know ourselves, and to see our path out of discord and towards harmony more clearly than we ourselves can envision. Furthermore God apparently likes seeing specks of dust turn towards Him, perhaps because it is a sign specks of His creation are moving in the right direction, to arrive at the happy-ending He has planned. (And even crooked lawyers, with sleazy flattery, have the good sense to attempt to please any judge they approach, and therefore grumpy old men should do the same.)
Yet mortals display an ambiguity when they approach God in prayer: In seeking escape from the law, they often ask for further laws. The simple question, “What should I do?” is a request for an order. We ask for a boss. Then, if we are given any sort of commandment, we mortals tend to complain worse than children do, when told to do a task, but there can be no getting around the fact we do ask.
When Jesus was asked, concerning the subject of rules and laws, what the most important rule of all was, He stated it was to love God with all your might. (Therefore approaching God in a prayerful way seems a good place to start.) But then Jesus went on. He stated the second-greatest commandment was to love your neighbor as much as you love yourself (which admittedly is not very much, in some cases.)
This steers me back to the start of this essay, when I was discussing the word “trivial”, and whatever its opposite might be. Seen in the context of the greatest and second-greatest commandments, the opposite of “trivial” seems to be the mysterious word “love”, especially when used in the context of “love thy neighbor”, which in the case of some neighbors involves “loving thy enemy.”
How important is this? Jesus stated it was the firm foundation upon which all other natural laws were built. Any lawyer’s law that strays from such a firm foundation is in essence founded on shifting sand, and is heading towards collapse.
Mortals usually want a firm foundation, and something they can count on. Even wild-eyed pirates upon pitching decks on the bounding sea count on a ship that won’t sink. Even vicious communists, while killing millions, dream of the stability of the strange utopia they never achieve.
Gentler individuals seek procedures more civil than piracy and killing, and one such group of individuals, very mortal and flawed, thought long and hard, argued long and hard, researched every example they could find in history books of how civilizations sought to create situations where neighbors loved neighbors, and discussed why such civilizations succeeded and why they failed. We call this group of individuals the “Founding Fathers” of the United States, and the documents they produced include the “Declaration of Independence”, “Constitution” and “Bill of Rights”. They themselves admitted what they were proposing was an experiment, and that they were in essence stating, “We know tyranny sucks; let’s give this other, experimental way a try.” In many ways many outsiders, onlooking, (the politically-correct “experts” of that time), were full of scorn, and quite certain the experiment would never work.
The democratic experiment the Founding Fathers came up with involved each responsible citizen having the same one vote every other responsible citizen had. (There was a lot of discussion about the definition of the word “responsible”. There always is. For example, why should a man, as head of a household, go to jail for debts; shouldn’t his wife and kids go to jail if they were responsible for the debt?) Over the years the definition of “responsible” has changed so that women and former slaves could vote, but one principle has endured: One person gets one vote. No man is deemed more responsible and more gifted than any other, to a degree where he gets ten votes to his neighbor’s one.
This is very much aligned with the second-greatest commandment of loving-thy-neighbor-as-thyself. We are not to stand in judgement of who is superior and who is inferior. Just because we are tone-deaf while Beethoven is a musical genius is no reason for him to get ten votes while we only get one. In like manner, you would not have to be very good at managing money to be superior to Beethoven; (he wrote an excellent piece called, “Rage Over A Misplaced Penny”), but just because you are gifted in a way that lets you manage money better than Beethoven, and results in you being richer where Beethoven was poorer, is no reason for you to get ten votes while Beethoven only gets one.
And this brings me to the subject of the fraudulent election.
In my view even a single fraudulent vote spits in the face of a neighbor. In negating their vote with a fake voter, it disenfranchises them. It takes away their right to vote, which is not loving your neighbor. Therefore it is also spitting on God, if He truly advises us to love our neighbors and even our enemies.
Personally, just guessing, I don’t think it is all that wise to spit on God, even if you are an Atheist. Anyway, if you are an Atheist you don’t believe in God, so what are you spitting on? If you are an Atheist it’s likely best to just not spit, just in case you’re wrong.
If Atheists are wrong, and if Jesus actually was God’s infinity taking physical form, then He has already been spat upon, as well as brutally beaten and crucified and punctured with a spear, and He is said to have arisen unharmed. I doubt God feels any need to prove his authority the same way twice. Been there; done that. Next time will be different.
It seems very clear (to me at least) the last election didn’t involve a few nasty people spitting on their neighbors by casting a few fraudulent votes, but a concerted effort to cast absurd numbers of fraudulent votes, numbers exceeding a hundred thousand in a few cities, which would change the outcome of the entire election. A landslide majority might approve of Donald Trump, but the minority that detest him would “win”.
The people behind this effort are in essence spitting on all that the United States stands for. And this includes God, and the motto “In God We Trust.” The effort is so bald-faced, and done with such a smug assurance that it cannot be stopped, that it it utterly appalls most Americans. Many are stunned stupid. It is utterly horrific, as if a Madonna’s nipple turned into a snake that ate the baby.
This brings me back to where I began, which, in case you have forgotten, was describing a group of grumpy old men gathering to drink coffee, chat, and then pray. How do old men pray, when everything they have stood for their entire lives has been befouled by cheats and thieves?
Would you believe me if I told you there were prayers for Joe and Hunter Biden? Those two are up to their necks in corruption, and dealing with corrupt people is like dealing with gangsters; chit-chat is not a nice experience; the people who grin at you may slit your pretty, little throat. (Some beer steins have glass bottoms so you can watch the pirates you drink with, for in raising the stein you expose your throat.) In such a society even to “win” is not a nice thing, and may even be a death warrant.
It is said, “Cheaters never prosper”, and, “Evil eats it’s own”, and history is full of examples: Stalin was a “comrade” to many when communists were “winners” of the Russian Revolution, but nearly every single one of Stalin’s contemporary “comrades” was “liquidated” by Stalin, within nineteen years. Those who live by the sword die by the sword, and most of Stalin’s communist, “winner” “comrades” saw this was true, but did not live to tell us about it. (And in the end Stalin himself may have been poisoned.)
For some perverse reason Stalin extracted signed “confessions” from those he purged, to provide evidence for “show trials”. No one dared point out that the signed confession of one of his best generals, during a show trial, was spattered with blood. (Last I knew, that blood-spattered document still exists in Russian archives.) Such a horrible society is nothing we should wish on anyone, and we should pray to God it doesn’t happen here in the United States.
One of the saddest elements of the Russian Revolution was the bewilderment of those Russians with an entrepreneurial nature, who had worked hard to improve their lot in life and, in the process, to make Russia a better place. For example, former slaves (called “serfs”) worked hard to improve their soil’s fertility, and their little farm’s productivity, and had succeeded, to a small degree. They were called the Kulak, and Stalin despised them, as they suggested something besides central authority might be good. He accused the Kulak of “hoarding” the grain they themselves grew, and “purged” between a quarter and half million small farmers, sending them off to “reeducation” in Siberia. A suspiciously large number of the Kulak, roughly 50,000, died before they even got to the reeducation camps in Siberia.
But what is saddest to see, through the fog of history books, is how baffled such people were to be facing such wrath, when all they had ever done was to work hard. Is hard work a sin? If so, it was a sin seldom seen in the government “collectives”, the utopian state-run farms which replaced the Kulak on the land the Kulak cherished and suffered to improve. The collectives produced far less than the Kulak had, and the famine Russia then experienced was horrific, and only exceeded by the famine China experienced, when Mao “reformed” China’s farmers.
How communist leaders can do such horrible things to their people, (people they claim they love), is beyond me. As best as I can tell, they convince themselves they are removing some sort of societal “cancer” for the betterment of all. The problem is that the “betterment” never appears, except for a few people in power, and even those powerful people live degraded lives of eating pork with the grease dripping from their mustache down their jowls, lives which lacks the music Beethoven heard in his head while eating plain, black bread, while going deaf, yet which manifested (in the Ninth Symphony) as “kissing the whole world”, (words from the Ninth Symphony).
Admittedly my summation of who is happier, a hungry Beethoven or a slobbering Stalin, is subjective, and likely offensive to some. But if I am going to be offensive I might as well go the whole mile, and subjectively summarize which women are happier, those who have babies or those who have abortions.
For women the “neighbor” they should love is sometimes a unwelcome proliferation of cells in their own womb. Some women deem such cells a “cancer” which must be aborted for the “betterment” of their own life, while others call the pregnancy a gift from God, and accept all the sacrifice involved.
After fifty years of watching from afar, (as I’m male and can’t imagine the level of responsibility that femininity entails), I am very subjective when I state the women who chose personal “betterment” appear worse off, in the long run of fifty years, whereas the women who chose to “love their neighbor” and raise babies, (often as impoverished single Moms, and often seeing cute babies turn into ungrateful brats), in the end look richer. Mind you, they are not richer in terms of coins, but in terms of richness beyond riches. Why? Well, they now fondle grandchildren, whereas the women who chose personal “betterment” seem to live in plush mansions with plush carpets even in the hallways, but the carpets seem just a bit musty and spongey, and the hallways seem haunted by the voices of small ghosts who wonder, “What might I now be, if you had not decided I was better off never suffering the experience of life?”
One problem I have, when it comes to my faith in God, is that He allows our failures, (such as the extermination of innocents), to occur. Why doesn’t He step in to save the unborn babies? Why didn’t He step in to save the Kulak from Stalin? Why didn’t He step in to save six million Jews and a million Roma and millions of Slavs and others from Hitler? And will He step in to save the people of the United States from the minority now using election-fraud to bully the majority of Americans? If this God is a God who can care to a degree where He may direct a butterfly to land on your nose, why doesn’t He zap bad people with thunderbolts and leave them as a pile of ashes?
Stop. What did I just say? Did I just wish my neighbor be reduced to a heap of ashes? Hmm. Is that loving my neighbor?
Perhaps I am not as loving as God. Perhaps His love sees in ways I can’t. Where I only see six million Jews going into gas chambers, and six million corpses, he sees beyond the corpses and sees six million souls rejoicing on the streets of heaven. And perhaps He understands Karma in ways I can’t: Prior generations sowed thistles, so we must reap thorns.
OK, OK. I confess I’m not God. But the fact of the matter is I do not intend to be exiled to Siberia like the Kulak or herded into gas chambers like the Jews, just because some harebrained leftist has the crackpot desire to improve the “herd” by “culling”. And they have made it quite clear they think I should be culled: I’m a “deplorable” and a “bitter clinger”, and even this obscure blog you are now reading is (rather splendid) writing they itch to see censored.
Where I have been loving, seeing them as my neighbor, they have been nasty. In terms of “science”, I have patiently explained the science that refutes Global Warming, the Ozone Hole, the “Arctic Death Spiral”, and even the uselessness of using masks to halt the spread of coronavirus, but they refuse the pleasantries of civil discourse, as well as the goodly sharing involved in scientific debate (basically excited observers exchanging differing (and seemingly conflicting) wonders they’ve witnessed). In essence they refuse to respond, to even talk, and spurn my friendship, basically stonewalling all discussion with insults, such as calling me a “denier”. Such people are one of the main reasons that, rather than a kindly old man, I am a grumpy old man.
So what do I do with them? I pray for them, and for their enlightenment. They need not do the evil they do. Even a person committing genocide against spiritual people can be redeemed. After all, one of the worst persecutors of the first Christians, (a people who had actually seen Jesus), was Saul, a man ardent in his belief Christians were evil and that all good Jews should seek to eradicate Christians from the face of the earth, but then Saul got knocked off his high horse on the road to Damascus, and became Saint Paul, one of the most effective promoters of Christianity ever.
It is interesting to compare Saul with Stalin, considering they started on the same page, seeking to overpower those with differing views. In some ways Stalin was loyal, while Saul was a traitor to his original power-centric cause. Stalin accumulated power, while Saul renounced overpowering. People bowed and scraped, walking on eggs, around Stalin, while Saul, as Saint Paul, wrote letters wearing chains, down in the sewers of Rome (where the prisoners were kept). Stalin saw the city of Tsaritsyn renamed Stalingrad, as Saint Paul received no such honor, nor Pulitzers for his letters. If towns were to be renamed around Rome they would be named for the emperor Nero, and when Nero (who killed his own mother) decided Saint Paul should be executed, (basically for saying Someone besides Nero should be worshipped), Saint Paul had no indication his letters ( a major part of the New Testament) would be remembered, and likely felt his death would not mean much to the world and the worldly, yet, as the preacher Andy Stanley points out, ” ‘Saint Paul’s‘ is now the name of a huge cathedral in Rome, whereas ‘Nero‘ and ‘Caesar‘ are names we give to our dogs “.
And Stalingrad? Very quickly after Stalin died it became “Volgograd.”
As a person who will likely never have a city named for me, or a statue raised, or a statue later torn down, the whole business of how people remember us seems ludicrous. What a worthless sidetrack! What a fluff of ego! How did it help the citizens of Tsaritsyn to change their name to Stalingrad and then Volgograd? Did it make burdens lighter, work less hard, winter less biting, summer less hot, water less wet? Of course not. Such name-changing is the idiocy of intellectuals who would not know what actual work was if it bit them on the leg. God forbid that I ever live in a land like Russia, where such lunacy was (for a time) allowed to reign.
But my own homeland now seems willing to fall to such a disgraceful state! This past summer saw statues torn down and places renamed.
As a grumpy old man I am currently depressed, outraged, upset, angry, and in some ways terrified (which is what terrorists want), and for the life of me can’t understand why President Trump hasn’t declared a State Of Emergency. An insurrection is occurring! We need to stand up and fight back! (Good thing I’m not President, because, if I was, the battle would be begun, and there might be slaughter in the streets.) However instead President Trump has retreated into a thing he is not known for: relative Silence.
The silence is unnerving. I have the sense we are amidst a calm before a great storm. A sort of distant rumbling trembles on the horizon. The shit is about to hit the fan.
The most aggravating (to me) thing about the current situation is that grumpy old men like myself are made so powerless. Google has “disappeared” my writings about Arctic Sea-ice, which not only violates the commandment about loving your neighbor, (me), but violates the commandment about honoring grumpy old fathers. I am in essence gagged. Even my vote doesn’t matter, if hundreds of fraudulent votes are created out of thin air by evil people, to negate my voice. I feel distained, cast down, even a bit like the prophet Jerimiah must have felt when all his efforts to spare the inhabitants of Jerusalem got him thrown into a city-cistern, where he sank into the mud at the bottom, up to his armpits. He couldn’t move, and when they put the cover back on the cistern he was in complete darkness. Later he was rescued, but for a time things must have looked pretty black.
Things also looked very bleak for the United States when it was only five months old. The British had sent a huge fleet and landed a huge army, and Washington had lost battle after battle, and had been driven from New York and battered clear across New Jersey into Pennsylvania. His army of 20,000 had been reduced to barely 2,000 under his direct control, and most of these men were only enlisted for a time period which would end in a couple weeks. It was at that time Thomas Paine wrote “The Crisis”, which began,
“These are the times that try men’s souls; the summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of his country; but he that stands it now, deserves the love and thanks of man and woman…”
Paine was a journalist who spent time with the troops, and Washington asked that Paine’s freshly printed pamphlet “The Crisis” be read to his troops, before he himself pleaded that they commit themselves to the cause just a little longer. But there can be little doubt that, right then, prospects did not look good. Now we know about the two electrifying victories Washington won just afterwards, but at the time electricity seemed in short supply. Words were mere words, and talk is cheap.
Any words I now write are the same; mere words. In the end grumpy old men do what Washington did:
And in the current situation, we are similar to Washington’s troops, in a situation very unlike the palm trees of Polynesia.
Things do not look good, and indeed these again are times that try men’s souls. I may not be in the position to judge my homeland’s soul, or even the souls of a group of grumpy old men, but I can tell you many are praying in the desperate manner Washington prayed.
One gift I lack is the gift of prophesy. (This seems to be a shortcoming common to all who study meteorology.) For all I know I may be an American version of Russia’s Kulak, and will end up despised for being honest and for working hard. If so, I will likely wind up like one of the 50,000 Kulak who the heartless “disappeared” between the time they were torn from their farms, and the time they were scheduled to arrive in Siberia. The motto of New Hampshire is “Live free or Die”, and there is certain treatment I feel cannot be borne. Maybe fifty years ago I could have endured with the tenacious will of a Solzhenitsyn, (and, in my own way, I did), but when you get old, endurance is in short supply. Not that you are not tenacious, but some days your tenacity get used up just getting out of bed.
Though I lack the gift of prophesy, one gift I have is the ability to create tales, which can be absurd but which make people laugh. Among the grumpy old men of my “prayer group” I confess my lack of spirituality, by telling them what impossible things I daydream I might do. I tell them that if someone slapped my cheek I might fail to be spiritual, and fail to turn the other cheek. Instead I’d brawl like I was twenty, (which is absurd, when you consider carrying an armload of wood up the front steps leaves me winded). In an actual brawl I might throw one or two punches, but then swiftly sue for peace. That is reality. But my fantasies ignore reality.
Surely my fantasies qualify as delusions of grandeur. An old fossil like myself would be unwise to take on a mob ruled by Antifa, but when I see video of such a mob assaulting a elderly woman sipping a tea at a sidewalk restaurant, I’m infuriated, and my imagination seems to automatically put myself into that situation, and I see myself, an old man with a long white beard and a cane, leap to the lady’s defense. I become a super-hero, “The Ninja Fossil”, and teach those Antifa whippersnappers to mind their manners, wading into the mob with a flailing cane. I create many versions of my heroics, and all are unlikely, but speaking such a fantasy aloud does seem to have benefits; it expresses my indignation, and also makes the other grouchy old men sipping coffee with me chuckle.
In one version my trick is to dodder into a position between two big thugs, offend both, and then, just when they throw a punch, to duck, so they punch each other. Then I nimbly back out of the escalating brawl, as Antifa fights Antifa. (This is not an original delusion of grandeur. I read of it in the Old Testament, 3000 years old, which describes a time three kings brought three big armies to crush a small Jewish force, but the the night before the battle the three armies fought among themselves to such a degree that when the small Jewish force set out to do battle at dawn all they found were heaps of corpses). (God knows evil eats its own, and can arrange such events.)
Such daydreams may entertain grumpy old men, but the fact of the matter is that such a confrontations are unlikely in my old age. I am powerless, beyond the lone vote I cast. And my vote is negated by fraudulent ballots. I, and perhaps a majority of other Americans, have been “disappeared”, by evil. So we turn to prayer.
The scoffers sneer. What power has prayer?
We are about to find out.
I wonder what God will do. Despite all our mistakes and shortcomings, America is not entirely a fallen people who has chosen evil, and who deserve the tough love Jerimiah warned the Jews they’d earn, which later manifested in the destruction of their holy temple and their exile from Jerusalem to Babylon. Instead America consists of a people who (I believe) by a landslide chose a praying president over a party which has mocked God, but the mockers mocked fair play to such a degree that they have stolen an election from the people who believe in fair play. And now God sees the good people turn to him in prayer. Not a few good people; apparently it is millions.
I have faith God won’t stand idly by. Nor do other grumpy old men, who I listen to in my prayer groups, and also listen to on other obscure sites on the internet. There seems to be a sort of consensus that we have done all that frail mortals can do, yet evil is out to get us, and in such situations God helps the hapless, especially when they turn to him in prayer. He will manifest His might.
One way God formerly manifested His will was through free and fair elections. True democracy has God in its guts. This seems true despite the fact we, as mortals, do make mistakes, and democracy has been called, “the worst form of government, with the exception of all the others”.
The reason democracy bungles to better results than other forms of government is because flawed mortals, despite making mistakes, learn from their mistakes. And replace them. Which people in power don’t like. They don’t like being replaced.
The working people of America have created all the money politicians play with. People, as voters, have approved of their tax-dollars being sent by their elected politicians to third world countries, and to the children in inner city schools, because Americans are generous people with good hearts. But then Americans saw the results of their generosity were fat dictators in third world countries, as the third world poor remained poor, and Americans also saw fat schoolmarms in the inner city, as schoolchildren became more illiterate than ever before. Seeing such evidence, people suspected the money was not being wisely spent, which the politicians playing with the money didn’t like. Politicians were enamored with dealing with shuffling money, and with dealing with other politicians shuffling money, even if they were dictators and wicked schoolmarms, even when such dictators and schoolmarms bullied and exploited the poor. American generosity felt especially abused, when it witnessed schoolmarms send their own children to private schools as poor, inner city children went without. The generous American tax-payers knew that having politicians and schoolmarms act in this way was a form of madness, as it can only come to a very bad end.
How so? Allow me to use a baseball analogy, where the pitcher symbolizes the politician, and the manager symbolizes the voters who send the pitcher to the mound.
Now suppose it was the seventh game of the World Series, the most important baseball game of the entire year, and a pitcher was sent to the mound. It would be a great honor. But, supposing he did a bad job, the manager would want to replace the pitcher with a relief-pitcher. But suppose the pitcher refused to obey the manager, and instead insisted upon keeping the position of great honor, even though he did a bad job. Would it help his team win, or would it guarantee loss?
Perhaps it is because they want to keep receiving the tax dollars, and to continue misusing them, and also to continue hobnobbing with dictators and sending their children to private schools as inner city children are left illiterate, that some politicians corrupt a free and fair election with fraudulent votes. They are like a pitcher who so delights in being the center of attention that they tell their manager (the voters) to go to hell.
At some point such a selfish pitcher starts to notice the crowd has stopped cheering, and that even teammates have started to glower. But this only makes him increasingly desperate to retain his position, and increasingly desperate to resort to desperate deeds.
This seems to be the corner the Washington elite have painted themselves into. With increasing desperation they violate the American code of honor, a code for which they once placed their hand on the Bible for, and swore to uphold.
No good can come of this. They have already seen the backlash manifest in the votes of the American people, but now they are seeking to ignore the voters, which leaves God no alternative but to seek a different way of manifesting.
Actually, I think we have something to look forward to, in these dark days. God is not called the “Almighty” without reason, and the different way of manifesting, which he now may be forced to employ, could be an utterly amazing manifestation and knock our socks off.
The funny thing is that the scoffers, who ordinarily dismiss all I call “momentous” as being “trivial”, seem to be expecting the same thing. Not that they have renounced Atheism, but they seem to be looking over their shoulders in an odd manner, as if they are wondering, “Are we actually going to get away with this?” They think what they are “getting away with” is a small thing, “stealing an election”, and they have no idea of the magnitude of the affairs they are involved with. The unease in their hearts bothers them, for it doesn’t fit in with their idea that they are “winners”. They are like a wealthy man sitting down to a delicious dinner, assured he is a winner, who is made uneasy by a faint crunching noise he has just heard in the background, and the way the crystal chandeliers have tinkled slightly, (as he happens to be aboard the winner’s ship, called the “Titanic”). Some inner voice is whispering to him that he will not get to gratify his gluttony and finish his dinner, and instead soon will be treading water.
The Titanic is a good analogy, for the politically correct were assured in 1912 the Titanic was “unsinkable.” This pseudofact was proven by “authorities” who spoke what they called “science.” And everyone nodded and agreed. Then God stepped in, taking the unlikely form of an iceberg.
Currently we are under the oppression of those who believe they are the “authorities” who understand better than we do what they call “science”, but I fear they are about to be greatly humbled.
When envisioning God stepping in to fix the messes we have made, people tend to envision God as a warrior king abruptly manifesting in darkness and riding down from above the midnight stars on a white horse. As much as I enjoy envisioning that, I also sometimes fret such an image is the power-centric thinking of the power-mad. God is equally able to manifest in other ways, even as an iceberg.
In the current situation, I do not think God will manifest as an iceberg that will sink the United States, but rather as an iceberg that will sink those who seek to destroy the United States.
Of course, when I use the word “iceberg” I am not talking about an actual iceberg. It is a symbol of however God choses to manifest, to sink an unsinkable Titanic of evil. God is above all law, and utterly amazing in the ways He works.
Personally I feel Donald Trump was an iceberg sent by God to sink the Titanic of “The Swamp.” But this only makes Trump an instrument of God, not God. If The Swamp throws all its energy into destroying Trump, they are too occupied to notice God is uplifting another individual, another “iceburg”, which will puncture the “Titanic Swamp” from astern, as it backs away from the Trumpian iceberg dead ahead.
Also, personally, as a person who has lived among the gruff sorts who feed, clothe and shelter the effete elite, I was never all that bothered by Trump’s “political-incorrectness”, and even enjoyed his unorthodox honesty, and I think the majority of America felt the same way. It was a nasty flock of shrill swamp-harpies who attacked him non-stop, from day one. Therefore I would very much like to see God grant him the power to defeat the fraud, and somehow legally contest and win the election he in fact has already won.
However, even if Trump can’t overcome the screeching harpies, he has already forced “The Swamp” to show its true nature. Before he appeared, many still felt the harpies of “The Swamp” were fellow Americans, who carefully considered both sides of an issue. This delusion has been shattered. Trump has exposed the selfish and one-sided and downright Unamerican behavior of The Swamp’s “elite.” And, if that was what God intended, I think Trump has done his job superbly, and deserves a retirement in some safe space, free from those who smolder revenge.
But even if that were the case, I believe another Donald would promptly appear. Why? Because God opposes the proud, the elite, the “Swamp”. Why? Because He is the only One worthy of worship, and knows that worship of the Swamp is a distraction from the happy-ending He aims His creation towards. Therefore he constantly undermines the efforts of the Swamp’s elite to set themselves up as gods.
This has been a quiet and private conviction of mine for a long time. Some people are simply “cruising for a bruising”. I don’t have to supply the bruising with my knuckles, they will find it all by themselves. I don’t have to supply the bruising with my eloquent pen, though my pen is mightier than their sword. They will get the point, for those who live by the sword get the point in the end. Even if I am gagged and can’t utter a peep, I’ve got an invisible Power on my side.
Some chose selfishness over Love, lying over Truth, darkness over Light, but in the end can’t avoid a tidbit of common sense. The common sense is this: We can project a beam of light with a flashlight, but there is no such thing as a “darklight”, which can project a beam of darkness. Light can do what darkness cannot.
Therefore all darkness can do is to put up umbrellas to create shadows, so it can hide from the Light like a worm under a rock. In the shadows it spins webs of doubt, as doubt is its only defense; it has no positive arguments against the existence of Light, so it merely does a lot of doubting in the shade, digging a hole for itself deeper and deeper, seeking to herd all humanity into a bunker miles underground, where darkness could rule and feel safe from Light, but even in such a enormous cavern, filled with ultimately inky darkness, a tiny scratch could defeat darkness: The scratch of a match being struck. With the flaring of that single match the entire cavern’s darkness would be defeated. And if darkness can’t even stand up to a tiny match, how can it stand up to God?
This assuredness is something I smiled at hearing, in the prayers of other grumpy old men. Somehow they have learned over the years, through bangs and bruises in the School of Hard Knocks, that resistance to the Light is futile, and that certain behavior is “cruising for a bruising.”
Sitting about with these grumpy, old men I reminisce about how I myself suffered bruises, learning in the School of Hard Knocks. One series of tales involves a time I actually quit being fully self-employed, and instead worked for an amazing, record-setting two entire years at a Real Job. I had a wife and five kids, and bills were through the roof, so I had to sacrifice my independence, and punch a timeclock day after day, week after week, month after month. I felt I deserved a chapter in the next “Profiles In Courage.”
The pay was good as it was a Union Job. We made nails and pins and also those copper rivets you sometimes see on blue jeans. It was incredibly noisy, but I could handle that. I found it far harder to endure the strange babble you hear in union-shops, where workers consider their employer their enemy. I felt grateful my employer gave me such high pay, and was constantly overstepping the union rules, innocently and accidentally, by doing things which might help the boss, such as working too hard or innovating improvements or suggesting changes which might elevate our efficiency. When rebuked, I constantly felt like telling people to shove impossibly large objects into impossibly small orifices, but managed to bite my tongue because I had a wife and five kids, and needed the job. I had to kowtow to the Union as much as the boss. But observing silence was like salt on a wound, at times.
I found a strange ally in an old man I worked with, who was mere months away from his retirement. I had the sense he had been biting his tongue for decades. Not that he ever said a word in opposition to the younger worker’s ravings. But he did sigh, and look away at the sky out the window, when they backbit the boss. Only once did he confide to me.
It occurred before second shift one grim Monday evening, as I took a deep breath, gritted my teeth, and forced myself to approach the awful entrance and yet again punch in. Others were crowding in to punch in, and one hungover, young redhead was ventilating about the boss’s outrages and how revolution now simply had to happen. (I think he was offended that the stripes painted in the employee’s parking lot were too close together, and that it was Monday, and also that his wife had told him he drank too much and he’d better shape up or ship out.) What I remember is the redhead pointed east and, with great drama, stated, “Look at those purple storm clouds rising! The moment is upon us! The time is at hand!”
Due to my interest in meteorology, and the fact there was no forecast for storm, I paused to look east, as did the old man approaching retirement age, who happened to be beside me. More to myself than to the old man, I muttered, “That isn’t storm clouds. That is the earth’s shadow, rising as the sun sinks below the horizon. I think they call it the ‘twilight wedge’. Folk have seen that forever. The Romans called it ‘The girdle of Jove’ and that pink band of sky above it was called ‘The belt of Venus.'”
To my surprise the old man actually responded. He chuckled, heaved his shoulders in an exaggerated manner, and then sighed, “These young fellows! They simply will have to learn.” And then he stepped inside to punch in.
What struck me at the time was that the old man apparently felt no obligation to teach the young whippersnappers they were in error. He was perfectly willing to let them be fools and learn the hard way. Perhaps he long ago had attempted to offer advice, but was told to shut up, so now he no longer had the slightest desire to reform society. At the same time, he seemed very aware they would be reformed. The statement, “They simply will have to learn”, implies they were “cruising for a bruising”.
(As an aside, I’ll mention that young fellow did get bruised. Roughly two months later, shortly after the old man retired, when I had at long last paid off my debts and was relatively solvent, I was offered a chance to work in a non-union position at the nail-factory, but at the same time I received roughly two-years-income from my mother’s estate. After prayer and long talks with my wife, I chose to bail out from further involvement with the nail-factory, though I lost benefits and received no unemployment because I was quitting voluntarily. (I’m not certain it was a financially wise choice, for within weeks after I quit the union went on strike; even though my promotion would have meant I would have lost my union strike-benefits, I might have collected unemployment at a higher rate of pay.)
The Union went on strike because the boss had dared ask them to pay part of their health insurance, stating he could no longer afford to pay for it all. When the workers were outraged and went on strike the boss responded by closing the factory. Why run a place if you couldn’t make money? That noisy, bustling building, once a thriving part of a small community, stood silent. The derelict building still stands empty, twenty years later. That is the sort of bruising that Union cruising can get you.) (The Union did seek to find new Union jobs for its members, but in some cases the jobs were hundreds or even thousands of miles away, and some of the workers at the nail factory were “local boys” who didn’t like driving even five miles to work, let alone uprooting their family and transplanting to Texas or California, where nobody knew them.)
I think I brought this story up to my “prayer group” of grumpy old men to emphasis this point: You don’t have to be rich to fail to love your neighbor. You don’t have to drink tea in the day and champagne at night. Union beer-drinkers can manifest a hoity-toity attitude, smearing and backstabbing the best bosses, or even ordinary bosses who are not always the best, and such people are “cruising for a bruising.”
In more ordinary times we tend to learn from our mistakes. The old song sings, “Don’t it always seem to go that you don’t know what you got till its gone.” The job at the noisy factory in your home town doesn’t look so bad, when the alternative is moving to a town with reeking air near a refinery in Louisiana. Hindsight is 20-20, and all too often we learn to love our neighbors in the small window of a rear view mirror. This happens over and over, until, when you get to be a grumpy old man, you are far less liable to denounce your boss, or employees, or anyone at all. It is for this reason old fossils like myself should be respected, even honored, for we have done the cruising and endured the bruising, and know better.
But these are not ordinary times. Creatures of “The Swamp” have not the slightest desire to know better. They already think they know better, and call better, “it all.” They imagine they have “it all” and want to keep “it all,” and even that they know “it all”.
Sadly, they have neglected to think deeply about what the “it all” they cling to actually is. Often it is an illusion, a wraith they eventually find out is mere mist, a bridge made of vapor that cannot support them when they attempt to cross it, and which always lets them down.
“It all” tends to be an illusion of power. You think you can swagger, but the carpet gets yanked out from under your feet. You may be a boss who thinks he has power over his employees, or a union which thinks it has power over the boss, but the boss discovers he is powerless when his workers all leave, and the union discovers it is powerless when the boss choses the shop.
The business of yanking the carpet from under another’s feet is prevalent among those caught up by the illusion of power, but is most definitely not an example of loving your neighbor. It is the antithesis. Sadly, too often people see “winning” as, in some way, shape or form, causing their neighbor to fall. Bosses sometimes want their employees to fall, and employees sometimes want their bosses to fall, In the end both sides discover a greater truth: “Divided we fall”, as the entire business goes belly-up.
The illusion of power is seen in its most naked form in communism, which worships power on the level of pigs. One of the saddest things to see is people seduced by such craven ignorance, renouncing religion for what will eventually turn on them like wheedling wolves do the day the leader of their pack has a limp.
This is especially sad to witness in the case of schoolmarms, who are essential to the promotion of communism, yet who history shows are among the first to be purged. If you believe in toppling statues and burning the books, can the schoolmarms be far behind? Look what happened to the educators under Stalin, or what Mao did to all teachers and professors during the “Cultural Revolution”. To free themselves of “old, outdated ideas” even teachers were sent to farms to learn “new ideas,” and many never returned. In Cambodia, Pol Pot skipped the bother of “reeducation”: If you had a writer’s callus on your middle finger you were were summarily executed.
As a young writer I collided with such schoolmarms on a regular, even daily, basis. I confess it was difficult to love my neighbor. It was even more difficult for them to love me, and some loathed me, for I would expose their ignorance, their idea they had “it all” and could keep “it all”, with innocent questions. Some would have whipped me for asking, but whipping had just gone out of fashion, and these same schoolmarms would have drugged me, but drugging children hadn’t come into fashion yet. I was spared in an eddy of time called by some “permissiveness”, but I assure you, even without whips or drugs, I caught hell just the same. For what? For asking questions.
What sort of schoolmarm would not invite the questions of an inquisitive child? Only a Leninist, or Stalinist, or Maoist, or Pol-Pot-ist. Yet what happens to children in our schools if they question Global Warming?
In like manner, what sort of public would not invite the questions asked by grumpy old men, (instead censoring obscure blogs like this one?) Only Leninists, Stalinists. Maoists, or Pol-Pot-ists. After all, grumpy old men represent no great threat, for they are declining into their second childhoods.
What is it about childhood, whether it be the first or the second, that threatens people in power? Can it be a reality hidden in the statement, “Unless you become as a little child, you cannot enter the kingdom of heaven?”
In other words, in my first childhood I could go places the schoolmarms were banned from going, and now, in my second childhood, I get to wander heavenly realms of thought the politically-correct are banned from entering. But it is not my fault I am rich and they are poor. They chose to live in the filthy slum they abide within, called by common people, “The Swamp.”
I think one of the chief delights of my life has been to gain first-hand experience that the poor are rich, and the rich are impoverished. Rather than making me get political and angry, it makes me chuckle. I may not be a kindly old man, but one reason I’m merely a grumpy old man, but not a truly nasty old man, is due to the ability to chuckle.
It is such a joke! That those who think they are so rich live in a filthy slum!
But what will happen if those in the slum wake up? Even if they don’t open their eyes they may open their nostrils. What if they suddenly understand the mire they are in stinks?
I like to think that might be the way God manifests. That might be the “iceberg” that sinks the Swamp-Titanic. People would simply get “sick of it.” Even Atheists could handle that sort of revelation.
What would be nice is that it need not involve riots and bloodshed, and all the ugliness of civil war. Listening to the prayers of grumpy old men, I note a lot of hope that slaughter and purges are averted. And behavior can be changed when people are “sick of it.” Even those who live for the adulation of others, such as Hollywood stars, change when in the eyes of others they see others are “sick of it.” So the revelation that changes mankind might not be thunder and aurora in the midnight skies, but rather a quiet and simple dawning of understanding.
I sure hope so. It beats being struck by a thunderbolt and turned to ashes!
I’m so depressed and disgusted by the fraud involved in our election, and the threat to the very fabric of America, that I plunged myself into Bluegrass to drown my sorrows. Born of hard times and honed by the hardship of the Dust Bowl and Great Depression, Bluegrass is full of a spirit that refuses to accept despair.
To the tune of “Little Maggie”.
I am right where You want me midst this Veil of tears; although devils taunt me I shake off all fears. I await Your sweet kiss; I await the dawn. You will make me happy; Make my pain be gone. This trail is a hard one; I’ll make people grin. I’ll show folk I’m plucky Like a mandolin. Music sets our hearts free Though the night is cold. Music’s always struck me As a sort of gold hidden in a ruin; Hidden in the night: Leaps up like a campfire Warming all with light. That is why I make tunes. That is why I’m here, hoping I inspire Chasing off all fear. Keep the faith, my dear, For Love stays near though the path’s unclear.
Here’s an example of “Little Maggie”, showing Bluegrass transferred to a new generation.
The moon stooped and peered in to my pillow Like a dear friend I hadn’t seen in years, An angel who children talk to, but grow To forget. Not druid, beyond all fears, A power acquainted with the King’s court And yet at home with urchins on the street, The moon dropped in to see me, and report That nothing had changed, and all is still sweet In heaven. The King is still King. The world In all its madness may say otherwise, But the King is still King. So I then curled And could have slept in a child’s peace, but my eyes Were filled with moonlight, so I arose To spread the news to you, as others doze.
The coronavirus has killed some who my friends know, but hasn’t hurt anyone I myself actually know. Yet the political response has hurt just about everybody. Hardworking people who were gainfully employed have been abruptly unemployed, as small businesses have been ruined. Those of us who have been lucky enough to keep our small businesses functioning have had to do what we can, to help the less fortunate.
You may ask, “Why bother?” After all, it is not my problem. If the government wants to destroy the middle class, and make them all dependent on government assistance, is it not the government’s job to provide welfare? Why should I help, if the government is so determined to destroy self-resiliency and create a welfare state?
The answer seems to be that governments stink, when it comes to caring. I’m not exactly sure why they stink, but it seems to have something to do with actually caring for the people they claim they care for. I have a suspicion many bureaucrats are more selfish than selfless, and care more for themselves than those they are suppose to help, but, for whatever reason, it always takes me around ten phone-calls to find that rare and wonderful individual who works for the public and actually cares for the public, which suggests 90% don’t. What this means is that eventually you find yourself faced with a person the government is suppose to care for, but has failed to care for. At that point it is up to you. You, and not the government, must provide the welfare.
It would be easy to refuse to care if, like the government, you didn’t know the people you were dealing with, but we do know people. Some aspect of knowing a person involves caring. This is most obvious when it is an actual family member.
Some in government like to say we should be equal, and should care for all equally, but in fact many of them care more for their job than the people they supposedly serve. They may look down a long nose and say that if you care for your family you are guilty of nepotism, but they themselves are guilty of selfism. Their selfism is why you, and not the government, must provide the welfare.
This is not to say a person can’t exhaust even their own family’s patience, if they mooch too much. I know this because I did it. When in my twenties I was so dedicated to poetry that I put writing before working, and people got fed up with funding a person who wanted to sit about nibbling an eraser all the time. They wouldn’t loan me a single penny more, which forced me to compromise and get a Real Job. It was humiliating for a great, 29-year-old poet like myself to go work with teenagers in a California burger joint, but I was out of cigarettes, and it is amazing what an addict will do for a smoke.
It turned out to be great fun to work with teenagers, and my poetry benefitted rather than being crushed, (which would have been a self-fulfilling fate, the demolition of poetry, a “burying of talents”, which I dreaded and I warned against.) Not that I had time to write much, but in actual fact rather than dried up I was like an old-fashioned pen sucking up ink from an inkwell. I sponged up information for future tales (including this one).
I could make you laugh with tales about the antics of California teenagers, but the person I worked with at the burger joint, who I choose to use for this essay, was seventy-six years old. He was fat, had a bulbous nose, a rather expressionless face (most of the time), pale blue eyes which were usually non-committal but could abruptly twinkle, wisps of thinning gray hair swept back in a comb-over, had to wear the same silly, checkered shirt and hat of the fast-food place that I wore, and looked as ridiculous as I looked. I imagined some sad tale must lie behind an old man like him landing himself in such a humiliating situation, and like a good reporter I started questioning, to see if I could dig up the details of what I assumed must be a tragedy.
He was a retired steel worker from Pittsburg, from a large Polish family that immigrated to the United States in 1908 when he was two. He started working at the steel mills at age sixteen in 1922, and retired in 1972 after fifty years, at age sixty-six. He had savings and a healthy pension, and he and his wife had spent the last decade doing all the things they dreamed of, until they were all done and just wanted to stay “home”, which they had moved from Pittsburg to California, but then he got bored, and his restlessness was driving his wife nuts, so he decided to get a job at a burger joint for the fun of it.
I was incredulous, for a number of reasons. For one thing, I could not imagine getting a job for the fun of it, because, even though I enjoyed the teenagers at the burger joint, walking through the door each day was like walking through the door of a dentist’s office to have a tooth pulled. Fun? After the eternity of six weeks I felt like I was at my limit. I was gasping for escape. The idea of working the same job for fifty years was utterly beyond my comprehension.
Usually I try to flatter the people I interview, but some of my incredulity must have leaked out. Perhaps I said something like, “Fifty years! That’s amazing! Didn’t you ever get bored?” The old man’s answer surprised me.
He told me his hard-working Polish family didn’t approve of him sticking with a blue collar job, though his steel-worker’s pay was decent for 1922. They felt he should show more initiative. One brother had started picking rags and selling second-hand clothes, and now owned a store that sold fine jackets to the rich. Another began by banging nails and now was a house builder with an entire crew of workers. A sister began as a waitress and now owned her own coffee shop and bakery. Three other siblings began as tellers and a janitor at a bank but proved so honest, intelligent and trustworthy they had climbed to positions in offices of the bank. But he liked the steel work. He said the molten steel was like being in a fireworks display inside a volcano, and he just plain liked the grit and grime of it all, and knowing he was part of what built battleships and skyscrapers.
Then the year 1929 came around, and the market crashed. Banks closed and businesses went under, and one by one his siblings lost their businesses and jobs, until he was the only one left working. The bank repossessed houses, and his siblings moved in with him, until his house was a crowded Polish commune, with many looking for work, and some finding brief jobs, but him as the central pillar. For almost a decade he was the rock that held the rest up. The unemployment rate in Pittsburg rose past 25%, but he kept right on working at the steel mill right through the Great Depression. Then World War Two came, and steel became very important, and he got many in his family jobs at the mill for the duration. Then the war was over, and the family spread out and moved away, but no one ever mocked him ever again, for being the one who worked in a mill.
I remember looking at his face as he told me this tale, as we mass-produced several hundred hamburgers and cheeseburgers, side by side during a lunch rush. His gnarled hands worked swiftly, on a sort of automatic pilot, as his blue eyes looked far away, but what struck me most was the serenity in his face. It was the look of a man who knows he has done good.
As I slouched home from work that day I had the feeling God put that unlikely old man into a burger joint full of teenager’s, just to humble me. After all, formerly I felt people who worked for a pension were “selling out.” They lacked the nerve I imagined I had, when I sacrificed the security of a steady paycheck for “art”. However, when I came right down to it, could I say I had done good, like the old Polish steel worker had done good? How had I helped my family, by mooching off them?
The best I could do was grumble, “Some day I’ll be famous, and then they’ll be sorry.” But what about the old man? Was he ever famous? Not beyond his own home. But he had something I lacked.
Now it is thirty-eight years later, and, unless that steelworker has lived to a robust age of one-hundred-fourteen, he is long gone, but he has come ghosting back through my mind because I’m getting a hint of his serenity. Due to the financial ruin caused by the coronavirus I find myself put in shoes where I must supply the caring. I give to three churches, and also to two daughters, a son-in-law, three grandchildren, and a mother-in-law, who are in need. At a time when I thought my house would be getting quiet with everyone moving out, everyone seems to be moving back in. I remember the old Polish steel worker, and a smile twitches irony on the corners of my lips, because of something he forgot to tell me: Sometimes serenity can get pretty noisy.
Irony has a delicious aspect, when karma is involved. There is something downright hilarious about a notorious moocher like myself finding himself mooched-upon in his old age. Turn-about is fair play.
I keep telling myself there is something very cool about having four generations in the same house, but at times it is something like saying “I don’t believe in ghosts” while walking through a graveyard at midnight. The racket can reach ridiculous levels. (Did I mention that my mother-in-law brought her dog. A small dog. A talkative dog.)
Because I run a Childcare, and work with small children, a normal day can involve distractions which make it hard to have a train-of-thought more than fifteen seconds long. I have a need for peace when I get home, and once upon a time I was able to sit in quiet and enjoy trains-of-thought hours long. No longer. They say a man’s home is his castle, but coronavirus has made my home a refugee camp.
Some wonder why I do not post as much about arctic sea-ice. It boils down to the ability to concentrate. When I have a map of sea-ice-thickness on my computer screen, and am sagely stroking my chin contemplating the map, a six-year-old is prone to come bounding in and plop herself in my lap and state, “I want to see the YouTube about the elephants saving the wildebeest from the crocodile.” It does little good to say, in such situations, “Wouldn’t you rather see some arctic sea-ice?” Concentration on the topic you planned to focus on is impossible.
The Good Lord helps us, when it comes to suffering the slings and arrows of small children, with a wonderful defense children have. It is difficult to strangle them even when they deserve it, for they are cute. Sadly, a little girl has no such defense when she is eighty-two.
My mother-in-law is only fifteen years older than me, because my wife is so young, which makes her close enough to being-a-peer to be interesting. Part of my concentration is displaced into wondering, “Not many years from now I may be in her shoes; how will I behave?”
She has always been a very independent and active woman, which has its bad side. She tends to do what she wants without deeply considering the feelings of other. In a sort of reaction, my wife is amazing, when it comes to considering the feelings of others. If you punch your fist into your palm, my mother-in-law is the fist and my wife is the palm.
Not that the two don’t share some attributes. My wife can be a bulldozer, when it comes to being independent and active in a caring way. And my mother-in-law is caring in that she never forgot to send a family member a card on their birthday, often from some exotic place where she was hiking or kayaking.
She was definitely enjoying her retirement to the hilt. How active was she? Well, she didn’t just wear out her hips and require two hip replacements, but she wore out her hip replacements and had to have them replaced as well. (She had excellent health insurance that paid for it all). She never actually paddled a kayak up Niagara Falls, but she was having a grand old time with her retirement, asking us to be amazed over all the wonderful fun she was having, but never expressing much interest in my struggles. (Part of being independent and active involved minding your own business).
Then fate became cruel, and something broke down which cannot be replaced like a hip (yet). It was her eyesight, due to what is called “macular degeneration”. She was just as strong, and just as vigorous, and just as independent and active, but was less and less able to see what she what she was doing. Against her own will, this independent woman had to depend on others for more and more. Could fate be more cruel?
Of course, a fiercely independent woman fights such dependence. She drove long after it was wise, one time describing to me how driving down a shady avenue was mostly blackness with a few light places she could see. But eventually even she had to admit she should give up her driver’s license, and lose all the independence involved with such a privilege.
Skipping soap-operatic details, eventually this old lady arrived at my doorstep. I attempt to display the fruits of the spirit, but it is difficult, and I have to fight the urge to be crabby.
For example, as an active woman my mother in law likes to go for a walk with her yappy dog, even though she can barely see. She thinks she is walking along the line at the side of the highway. It is actually the line down the middle of the highway. In a small town, such news gets back to me. What am I to say?
I say nothing. I don’t want trouble. I work behind the scenes, and it is my daughter, who has the knack of being forthright with her grandmother, who tells the old woman townsfolk are talking about her walking down the middle of the state highway with her dog, and that perhaps she should stick to the side roads. After much grumbling, the old matriarch concedes.
But even though I say nothing to her face, I get they feeling I am part of a ruthless Gestapo the poor old lady is up against, called “reality”. It is reality that is oppressing her independence, and telling her she can’t even walk her dog as she’d like.
I resent being associated with the Gestapo. I am far more tollerant than the Gestapo was prone to be. I am just an old fellow who is trying to concentrate on arctic sea-ice, distracted by an old lady in the background who is having long conversations with her yappy dog.
She also has conversations with herself, which I try not to listen to. It is rude to eavesdrop. But it is hard not to hear. Especially when she is talking to herself about my shortcomings. For example, because she finds it harder and harder to see, she tends to crash-into and trip-over things, and may mutter, “What a stupid place to leave boots.”
Those boots are my boots. I become indignant, because I am not a wicked Gestapo snickering as he leaves boots about to trip up old matriarchs with. In fact I take off my boots and leave them beside the door because I am considerate towards my wife. But I bite my tongue and resolve to find a better place for boots. Then I wonder, “Where was I? Oh, yes. Arctic sea-ice.” But just then I hear a loud splanging sound, and she says, “What a stupid place for a piano.”
I keep telling myself to have compassion, because it must be a living hell to go blind, but being compassionate makes it hard to sit and concentrate. Sometimes I’ve even heard breaking glass in the distance. At that point I have to leave the subject of arctic sea-ice and go to see what is going on.
Sometimes her coffee cup gets pushed from where it usually is, beside her personal coffee maker, to a point eighteen inches back. But she can’t find it. Rather than asking for help she walks back and forth, back and forth, back and forth, rummaging with her hands and occasionally knocking things over, muttering to herself, until I helpfully ask, “Looking for something?” and then find her coffee cup for her. But in some ways I am the Gestapo even then, because I am embarrassing her by finding the cup eighteen inches from where she thought she left it.
At some point I am pushed past my breaking point, and tire of being tolerant. After all, it is my house, and a man should not be be accused of being the Gestapo for wanting to be at home. A man’s home is his castle. And, in the madness of an election year, I don’t even want to hear pro-Trump propaganda, (though I’ll vote for him), especially when I am trying to concentrate on arctic sea-ice. I want silence, and peace, and quiet.
My mother-in-law wants noise in the background. Maybe she’s lonely. But she likes her TV blaring, and usually has it on programs (CNN or “The View”) which spew anti-Trump election-year propaganda, which (in my humble opinion) contain such immoral misinformation and rot they seem designed to reduce minds to cesspools. How am I to concentrate on arctic sea-ice?
If I was the Gestapo I’d shoot her TV. (In actual fact I helped her set up the accursed TV, because I quit watching such rot ten years ago.) But I am so rude as to politely ask her to turn it down, and close the door. I do so over and over, because she forgets, and opens the door, walking back and forth, back and forth, back and forth, restlessly looking for something.
I suppose I come across as intolerant. And a nag. She has long been free and independent, and is unaccustomed to anyone assuming they have power over her TV. So, like it or not, I am oppressive, and the Gestapo.
My granddaughter also deems me the Gestapo, though she does not know the word. She scowls at me when I lay down the law. For example, one rule I have stated, as autocratic patriarch of the household, is, “Thou shalt play in the yard, and never in the house”. (Admittedly dogma, but it avoids broken vases.) When I state this decree, I get pouted at.
Now, If I was respected, such a rule would be respected, and you might think my mother-in-law would approve of a elder, a grandfather, such as I am, being respected. However, apparently because she herself in some ways sees me as the Gestapo, my mother-in-law decided it would be noble behavior, like the French Underground’s, to break such an oppressive rule, and she set about corrupting my granddaughter, by getting her to play in the house.
At this point it gets very hard to concentrate on arctic sea-ice. Instead it becomes very interesting to just sit back and listen to the conspiracy to undermine my authority, going on in a way I can overhear.
Mind you, my mother-in-law should know better. She already undermined my authority by seducing my dog. My dog is quite spoiled to begin with, (fed more than people in Africa with two meals a day), but my mother in law decided I was abusing her and my dog needed extra treats. My dog agreed. Soon my dog wouldn’t leave her alone. In the background, as I tried to write about arctic sea-ice, I could hear her tell my dog to leave her alone, and quit stealing her little, yappy dog’s food. Only when my dog snarled at her little yappy dog did I arise from my serenity of arctic sea-ice and become the Gestapo, (in my dog’s opinion), by exiling the faithful cur to a chain in the back yard. She gave me a very hurt look. After all, it was her house first.
So of course I was interested when I overheard the same corruption of my authority begin with my granddaughter. I knew from the start the results would not be good, but sometimes you need to allow others the freedom to learn for themselves.
As I attempted to concentrate on arctic sea-ice I overheard my mother-in-law inform her great-granddaughter, “Did you know you can make a hula hoop be a jump rope”?
This is a wonderful transmission of information between generations, when done outside. But within a cramped cottage it is less than wise. I found it interesting to sit back and, rather than concentrating on arctic sea-ice, to concentrate how my mother-in-law saw the rot setting in.
It happened like this: When my granddaughter made a hula hoop be jump rope, my dog found it exciting, and began barking. This prompted my mother-in-law to order my dog to be silent, which caused her little cur to start yapping, at which point my granddaughter decided a hula hoop could also be a lasso to control dogs with. The dogs did not approve, nor did my mother-in-law, at which point my granddaughter decided a hula hoop could be a lasso used to control great-grandmothers. Deciding enough was enough, I, as patriarch, arose from my view of arctic sea-ice, took three steps to the next room, and cleared my throat with the great word, “Ahem.”
All involved immediately looked very guilty. I wondered, why should they, when all I said was, “Ahem”? I was not wearing my Halloween wig, nor my best look of outrage:
Come to think of it, my granddaughter’s expression was similar, even though I had caught her red-handed lassoing her great-grandmother with a hula hoop. But most amusing to me was how my mother-in-law responded. Even though she herself had created the chaos, she, with a hula hoop behind her neck tugging her forward, and making her hunchback, seemed to think she could pretend she played no part in the ruination they had made of the room. She turned to her great-granddaughter, raised her index finger, and scolded, “No rough housing! You should only play with hula hoops outside.”
I hope this fully explains why I haven’t concentrated on sea-ice in a while. I blame the coronavirus, and think back to the old Polish steel worker I worked with in the burger joint in California. If he looked back to his chaotic household in Pittsburg with serenity, I can imagine looking back the same way, at my current situation. In some ways the coronavirus is a modern version of the Great Depression, (albeit far more artificial, and likely to end with the election.)
When we first married my wife and I shared a coffee cup with a cartoon on it that portrayed two sad-looking kittens sharing an umbrella in pouring rain, with the motto, “This too will pass.” A day will come when my house is quiet once more.
In fact it may come sooner than I expect, for I notice a young (to me) man seems interested in my daughter, and she has a certain smile on the corner of her lips, and a softer light in her eyes.
This morning the first thing I thought about Was the way I’d chuckled in the corner Of a dream of a daughter. “I should shout, Or at the very least I should warn her” I yawned to myself, but instead was happy. Just let others live lives that are free. If I must slap, my fingers should slap me, For I’m not being the way I could be. The first thing I should do, waking from sleep, Is to worship the Lord, but my mind drifts To a dream’s corner, and into some deep Contemplation about how chuckling shifts My glacial heart. My eyes lift above And pray for God’s grace; my daughter’s in love.
When your house gets noisy, be careful about praying for silence. Your prayer may get answered. The young (to me) man swooped in and took my daughter and granddaughter north to pick apples and carve pumpkins and listen to a band play in the crisp autumn air.
My granddaughter’s gone. Now I get quiet I yearned for, but find I miss the imp. How often we desire, but soon sigh it Wasn’t what we thought. Logic seems to skimp Concerning essentials. Our foolish brains Are no good handling matters of the heart. I want the imp back. What old fart complains When given such bounding laughter to start A day with? Disruption’s a good thing. Being annoyed is actually a tonic. What poet wants a dawn where no birds sing? Such silence can make even sweet dawn sick. A poet’s most sad when he faces a dawn Missing the noise that he wished would be gone.
Also, at age 82, my mother-in-law is at a point where on any given morning she might not be down for breakfast. The fact of the matter is my situation of having four generations living in the same household is very tenuous. Therefore I try to see all the chaos as a rarity, and something to be cherished rather than loathed.
The coronavirus is apparently causing similar domestic chaos all over the country. The media like to focus on increases in domestic abuse and drunkenness, but I wonder if there might also be an increase in family bonding. While I will confess a slight uptick in my consumption of beer, and in my fits of crotchety behavior, I also notice a certain softening of my heart. Who knows? Perhaps the coronavirus may prove a blessing in disguise, in certain ways.
(At the very least it has increased my appreciation of peace and quiet, and the maxim, “Silence is golden.”)