Remembering

Everything changes and nothing remains still. You cannot step twice into the same stream.
— Heraclitus

LAST AUTUMN, my Amazing-Missus and I attended her high school class reunion. I wrote a bit about it.

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While at the reunion I was visiting with a lady who had been married to one of my schoolmates. As we visited I was struck with a spell of melancholy. For some reason I have no connections with anyone that I went to school with. It’s not that I didn’t have friends; maybe I’m just not a good cultivator, which is a little weird to me because a role I truly cherish is that of being a creative catalyst—one who brings creative people together in collaboration.

But then a pop on Facebook, the social media thing. Maybe you’ve heard of it, maybe you’ve been politically manipulated by it. A name I recognized was there on the FB, the name of a girl that I considered to be a friend in grade school, junior high and high school. Not a “girlfriend” though. Her sights were set much higher.

One thing lead to another and a few weeks ago, we met for lunch. Karla, Arlene and me. What a gift it was. She was able to tell me about many of our classmates. I felt reconnected somehow. And at the same time I realized that Heraclitus was right. You cannot step twice into the same stream. 

Karla told us there was a group of Trojan alum having a meet-up at the Methodist church if we wanted to stop by. So we did. We walked into the church and followed the signs to the Fellowship Hall. We could see through the open doors the group gathered. “This isn’t them”, I thought. “This is the church’s senior adult group.” And then it dawned on me. All these people other than me have aged, and come to find out, many are gone.

I dug out my old yearbook, from my junior year 1968, and scanned the pictures of my classmates, pausing on some to recall a memory or two. Some of these, I realized, I had sat in class with year after year and I knew very little about them. Missed opportunities no doubt.

The tradition back then, when the yearbooks were handed out at the end of the school year was to hand your book to others for them to sign. I read the entries in my book through a much older lens. For the most part, we didn’t look to far ahead: “Hope you have a great summer!” Some entries were nostalgic: “Well another year is behind us…” Some prophetic: “Stay just the way you are and you’ll go far,” words I’ve never seen on one of those motivational posters.

We didn’t know it at the time but things were simpler and yet they weren’t. 1968 is notorius for riots, protests, and culture quaking moments. But without the WWW, 24-hour news outlets, a strange innocence prevailed; or at least that’s the way I remember it.

On the 50th anniversary of my senior year, I wonder about the Senior Class of 2019. Are they having a good summer? Are they aware of the crap-storm in Washington D.C.? Do they care? Have the active-shooter drills at their school become as common place as the atomic bomb drills did for us? Is there a thread or two of innocence left? Is there someone writing words of encouragement on the flyleaf of their yearbook? 

If I could write a prelude of sorts in their yearbook, I might say something like this:

Make a new friend this year. Not one of those social media “friends”, but a real one, maybe one that is different from you: race-wise, sex-wise, faith-wise—you know, different. When you get together with your new friend, put away the phones and talk. Talk about the future, your fears, your faith.

Be creative. Make a contribution. Express gratitude. Do something that makes your palms sweaty. Pay attention—not just in class but to what is happening around you. Remember: “Everything changes and nothing remains still. You cannot step twice into the same stream.” — Heraclitus


Just a note: I attended school at Jenks Public Schools through my Junior year, but transferred and graduated from Will Rogers High School in Tulsa, Oklahoma.

P.S.: Thank you Karla Newman Taber for being a friend.

At the Heart of Town

WHAT IS THERE ABOUT THOSE ROADS that meander through the countryside in and out of small town after small town? I don’t know that my aversion to interstate highway travel is all poetic and Robert Frost-y in the sense of choosing a less-traveled road, if that’s even what the poem is about. But, I do like those roads.

Recently, My Amazing-Missus and I towed our little shiny Airstream through the “hill country” of Texas. Our first stop was in Waco, where we paid homage to the high priest and prietess of house re-doing. It’s a bit astonishing to see people come by the hundreds from hundreds of miles away to see the wonder that is Chip & Joanna. They do seem to bring a sort of beauty to the world; in more ways than just fixing-upping.

I remember hearing a speaker at a banking convention proclaim that when a small town loses its local bank, it is on its way to ghost town status. I remain skeptical of that opinion, but it did start me to thinking: what is vital to the beating heart of a  town or village?

We drove through one wide-spot in the road whose better days were behind it. On a large piece of land in the heart of the little town, where its school once stood, was a marker, reminding the few people left in the town that there was once a school with teachers and kids and sounds and smells and energy.

Maybe they were the Eagles, or Bulldogs, or Terrapins. Their “colors” might have been green & white, or blue & gold, but probably they were red & white.

So, what is it that makes the difference between a community having a pulse and being a ghost town?

Bank?
School?
Church?
Post Office?
Bar?
Barber shop / Beauty Parlor?

Or, one of those places when you can get gas, bread, milk, beer,  and lunch from a greasy, steamy glass case filled with fried stuff like okra, gizzards, potato wedges, and such; plus a 32 oz. plastic vessel of some soft drink to wash it all down?

As our trip through rural America continued, I may have discovered what it is that most every small town seemed to have. It was easy to spot them. Many are brightly painted and gaudily adorned. The local flower shop. Think about it. If the town still has one of these, not only do you have a vibrant business still left on main street, but you’re also likely to have its effervescent and flamboyant proprieter. You also have a place to buy a balloon for a birthday, a gift for graduation, Father’s Day, and a baby shower. After all what is a community if not a place to celebrate and make memories together. 

I haven’t forgotten the obvious: the flowers. How could we be a community without flowers? There will be Mother’s Days and Valentines Days. Oh, and the weddings.

And while there may not be ballgames, and school dances on the town calendar anymore, there will undoubtedly be the next funeral. You need community to bring flowers and a covered dish to the house to remind you that in the midst of deepest grief, there is a tomorrow and your community is with you.

While I’m on the subject of the essential role of beauty in the midst of despair, let me beg you to contact your congresspersons and implore them to not buy in to the ill-informed, misguided, ill-conceived, near-sighted and selfish scheme to strip funding for the National Endowment for The Arts and the National Endowment for The Humanities. It would be like burning down the flower shop of a small town, or telling Chip and Joanna they can’t fix-up anymore ugly houses, turning them into someone’s dream home.

If you don’t believe the arts are critical to our national well-being, go see this exhibit at the Oklahoma City Museum of Art. You only have until July 2, 2017. If you want to go with someone, call me. I’ll join you and even buy your ticket.

Here’s another idea. Click here and Watch this. https://vimeo.com/194276412 

Beauty and Pain

THIS MORNING OUR SEVEN YEAR OLD GRAND-GIRL KARLEE was standing in the middle of our living room, pulling up her tights. “That looks like a lot of work!” I observed.

Then she explained, “Sometimes beauty is painful.” A lesson, she shared with me in great detail, was from Hans Christian Anderson’s “The Little Mermaid”.

I’ve been thinking this season about the Christmas story, you know the one we’ve heard so many times; this being my sixty-fifth Christmas. I thought about G.K. Chesterton’s quote I shared in the previous post, about adulthood and our loss of wonder which causes us to experience monotony. So I started reading Matthew’s account of the story, and truthfully, almost gave out halfway through the genealogy monologue. But wait… What’s up with these five women?

One of them is obvious: Mary, the mother of Jesus. Of course she deserves to be listed, but these other four? I wonder if there was ever a time when the Disciples were gathered around the campfire waiting for the fish to cook, that maybe Jesus asked Matthew, “Hey, Matt, I get why you mentioned my mom and maybe Ruth; but Tamar, Rahab The Prostitute, and Bathsheba?!”

Of course he never asked Matthew about that. My guess is that Jesus was not at all embarrassed to have listed in his public record women like Tamar, who pretended to be a hooker so she could trick her father-in-law in to having sex with her, or Rahab The Prostitute, a real prostitute, or Bathsheba (mentioned only as the wife of her husband) who had an adulterous affair with the king (David) and then the king had her husband moved to the front line of the war so that he would surely be killed.

Maybe WE’VE made the story monotonous by making sure that it’s all cleaned up and sanitized. We want to make sure that Jesus complies with our politics and religiousity. And in making him like us, we’ve made him boring.

From the Daily Artifact Project by Corey Lee Fuller.

From the Daily Artifact Project by Corey Lee Fuller.

I hope if you were planning to get a “caucasian” nativty set from Sam’s Club, you didn’t wait to late, because they are sold out. What’s even more sad is that some company felt compelled to make a “caucasian” nativity set in the first place, and Sam’s Club knew they would sell like enormous plastic bottles of puffed cheese balls.

Another thing about those “other” women that Matthew mentioned: not all of them were Jews, most were Gentiles, Moabites, Hittites and such. So there’s that.

I’ve never given birth, but I have been present. I know this: in the experience, there was both beauty and pain. Like Jesus, we all have a family tree. In those trees are stories of both beauty and pain.

In Jesus’ life there are two tableaux we remember more than any others. One we see so much this season, with a little baby in a manger. The other is of a cross on a hill. In both there is pain and beauty; and stories that never grow old.

Marker Rendering of The Nativity by Corey Lee Fuller (at a much younger age)

Marker Rendering of The Nativity by Corey Lee Fuller (at a much younger age)

The Prom & Taxes

"March Madness" is near completion. Judging from the wailing and gnashing of teeth from people carrying their "brackets" through the halls at work, "mad" is apt.

The Scream. Edvard Munch

The Scream. Edvard Munch

Does March mind being Mad? What if every month had an emotion, feeling or sentiment attached to it. The little month of February certainly does.

If I were King for a day, or the Pope, or Oprah... I would proclaim: ANGST APRIL!

The thought first hit me as my Amazing-Missus and I strolled the huckster-lined aisles of the OKC Home & Garden Show. I tried to make the occasion more romantic than it could ever be by imagining it is an old street market, but instead of vendors at their carts selling fruit, flowers or fish, they were proclaiming the virtues of vinyl siding, waterless cookware and something called a "Sham-Wow."

They were using marketing tricks older than Freud's "Pleasure Principle. I mentioned it a few blog posts back. The thought is, that for us mortals it all comes down to instinctively seeking pleasure and avoiding pain. Jeremy Bentham agreed, "Nature has placed mankind under the governance of two sovereign masters, pain and pleasure".

Few places can you see it side-by-side better than at this show. Littered throughout were displays of hot tubs and spas with posters depicting a viagra-gorged guy with at least two former Miss-Somethings, lounging joyously with glasses of wine sitting in built in cup holders. And then, in the very next display, storm shelters with large posters of bedraggled people combing through the wreckage of the Moore and El Reno tornados.

Few things motivate like the promise of pleasure and the potential in fear. Remember the videos of car wrecks they made us watch in Driver's Ed. I still have nightmares about the pictures that were in the textbook for the scuba diving class I took in college. And who can forget revival time at church when we were kids. They would entice us all to come for "Children's Night" with all-you-can-eat hot dogs. Then they would march us to the service where the evangelist would scare us into submission by "holding us over hell like one of those weenies on a stick."

So what is angst? From www.urbandictionary.com:

Angst, often confused with anxiety, is a transcendent emotion in that it combines the unbearable anguish of life with the hopes of overcoming this seemingly impossible situation. Without the important element of hope, the emotion is anxiety, not angst. Angst denotes the constant struggle one has with the burdens of life that weighs on the dispossessed and not knowing when the salvation will appear.

To me, April brings more angst than any other month. I'll prove it with two words: April Fifteenth! Angst is right for April because, in the eye of it's threatening storm, is the hopeful promise of new buds and fresh starts.

April has always been ominous. Seriously; what life event packs more angst (and we're talking teen angst now; the worst kind) than the high school prom. The whole thing: finding a date, that corsage, the expense, the tux, the picking her up, the dancing, did I mention the expense? Then there's the whole angst-filled after-prom thing. It's all sweaty pits and palms and potential-where does the relationship go from here.

How powerful is angst? just think how much of our music is dedicated to it. Here's a sample. And while this is not a prom scenario per se; well you get the point.

IT'S MY PARTY
By Lesley Gore

Nobody knows where my Johnny has gone
Judy left the same time
Why was he holding her hand
When he's supposed to be mine

It's my party, and I'll cry if I want to
Cry if I want to, cry if I want to
You would cry too if it happened to you

Playin' my records, keep dancin' all night
Leave me alone for a while
'Till Johnny's dancin' with me
I've got no reason to smile

Judy and Johnny just walked through the door
Like a queen with her king
Oh what a birthday surprise
Judy's wearin' his ring

It's my party, and I'll cry if I want to
Cry if I want to, cry if I want to
You would cry too if it happened to you 

HAPPY ANGST APRIL EVERYONE!