Romeo & Juliet redux

Most would immediately consider the story of Romeo & Juliet as depicting a love that is so deep, that the lovers (un-wittingly) die for each other. It’s also a tragedy as Romeo was not aware that Juliet had faked her death, and he then committed suicide by drinking poison at her tomb. She wakes up, discovers Romeo dead at her side, and in turn, commits suicide with his dagger. This Shakespearean story has a happy ending as the two feuding families reconcile through these deaths.

We are witnessing a modern tragedy involving love. 19 elementary school, 4th grade children and two adult teachers were killed yesterday (May 24, 2022) in Uvalde, Texas by a 18 year old armed with an AR-15. 19 innocent lives that had more years of living. 2 dedicated teachers. No society can afford to experience such periodic losses without losing its own innocence. It’s foolish to brush this aside as though it’s an inevitable part of our nation’s story, to let a minority have its way.

What is the “love” that’s tied to this tragedy? It’s the love of an unfettered 2nd Amendment Rights that currently allows a 18 year old to buy a military style assault rifle.

History books tell of ancient (uncivilized) societies and tribes who offer children, virgins, etc. at their altars to appease their gods, to secure blessings for their tribe.

Can Americans recognize by allowing such mass killings to persist without doing anything, we in effect, are allowing the High Priests of the 2nd Amendment Right to continue such sacrifices in this modern day and age?

Consider the plight of parents now and tomorrow, as they send their school children off to school. How can normalcy be wondering if they will come back safely at the end of the school day?

As we look into the mirror, who will we see? Someone who has become inured into helplessness and hopelessness, or someone who will no longer allow a minority to out-shout and over-rule a majority.

How will we work towards our own happy ending from this tragedy? A journey starts with a single step.

Darkness can lead somewhere good

Darkness can be suffocating. There’s much turmoil in our heads and hearts. We curl up in bed, we crawl under the blanket.

Curling up is instinctual; it is a healing move. We physically turn inward. And that awakens our inner spirituality.

Our fetal submission is our humble acceptance of God’s embrace of love and peace. We wait and wait, till God’s time arrives.

The Shortest Day

Dec 21, 2021. This is the Winter Solstice, when it’s the shortest day time and also signifies the start of winter. A rapidly darkening day, when our bodies are not yet tired out by the day’s activities, sends conflicting signals. Did my day just speed by without me noticing since it’s dark? Or, even when it’s dark, I seem to feel that I can go on like the Energizer bunny and accomplish more in the day? Which way are you [psychologically] inclined to?

In reality, the number of seconds, minutes and hours in the day hasn’t changed, despite the change in the number of day light hours. Perhaps what’s being contemplated is, “What is my relationship to time?” regardless of the amount of sun light hours.

We affectionately use Mother Nature, and we intuitively relate to nature, acknowleding the nourishing rest She provides. Being with Mother Nature restores us to our wholeness.

But what about Father Time?

An Allegory of Truth and Time by Annibale Carrac

The winged figure of Time has brought his daughter, Truth, from the depths of a well to reveal her to the light of day. Truth radiates light and looks in a mirror, while two-faced Deceit is trampled under Truth’s feet. Framing the scene on the right is Happy Ending and on the left, Good Luck or Happiness. The moral seems to be both ‘all’s well that ends well’ and ‘the truth will out’.

Father figures are a bit complicated, which may be an understatement for some. On one hand, some associate fathers with being the disciplinatarian, on the other hand, others associate fathers with protection and provision. Regardless, Father Time is undoubtedly most generous to us. Like the air we breathe, we expect an endless supply of His gift of seconds, minutes and hours.

So, how do we treat these gifts of seconds, minutes and hours? Does taking these for granted diminish our capacity to fully harvest every drop of it? Should I agonize over the buckets that slip [un-noticed] through my hands? Or do I even notice or care?

The movie, Dead Poets Society is one of my favorite. Robin Williams play maverick English teacher John Keating with the immortal line, “Carpe Diem, seize the day, make your lives extraordinary!”

There’s wisdom too in the Book of Ecclesiastes, “For everything, there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven.”

Unfortunately for all of us, Father Time’s largesse will run out before Mother Nature’s bounty. And so, we must make best of His largesse. And many of us, find that when we consciously relate to Father Time in Mother Nature, we come to rest in ourselves. Which takes us back to, there’s a season for everything.

Finally, may we realize the wisdom of “vanity of vanities, all is vanity” to spur us to plant our gifts from Father Time as seeds of love, in the lives of all around us.

p/s. A secret to internalize – Be in the present.

Surviving vs Thriving

In Alexander Solzhenitsyn’s book, “Warning to the West”, in his first speech to the West, he expressed hope that the West would learn from the Russians’ experience. This was when Solzhenitsyn was released from the Gulag, and had commenced a speaking tour to share his experiences. As time progressed, and the West started bending backwards as a result of détente, Solzhenitsyn pulled back on that optimistic expectation, and expressed doubt that human experiences could be transferred, that it seemed to be part of human nature to only learn first-hand. And thus, history does repeat itself.

On the COVID pandemic front, we are seeing this play out as un-vaccinated patients are hospitalized with the Delta variant. Mostly, they offer excuses for their vaccination hesitancy, with a handful still hanging onto their delusions as they are put on ventilators. Fortunately, the vaccination rate increases though the level of objection to proven masking tactics is stupefying this late in the pandemic; namely, this is the FOURTH wave, with several localities hitting all time records in ICU ward occupancies.

It appears there’s a lesson in this. That we can go through life solely based on our experiences, or taking in informed experiences of others. Clearly, we have to develop and exercise a critical discernment faculty when we start scanning and absorbing what is beyond our personal experiences. Perhaps that is the difference between surviving vs thriving.

Wicked men will be wrathful. Their anger we must endure as the badge of our calling, the token of our separation from them: if we were of the world the world would love its own. Our comfort is that the wrath of man shall be made to redound to the glory of GOD.

Charles H Spurgeon (on Psalm 76:10)

After mastering the 3 R’s, isn’t the next primary task of getting an education, the inculcation of a critical thinking/discernment ability? If so, how has America’s education system performed?

But there’s a critical assumption, that facts and logic will win out. Unfortunately, some are willing to bet their lives on deeply held convictions. This would be noble when a loving God was involved, not so when it’s self-centered values of individual liberty without regard to the common good.

And so, this generation will learn through their first hand experience. Perhaps the scars and trauma will serve the next generation(s) better. But unfortunately, our track record isn’t promising.

Reflecting Back to Journey Forward

A year unlike any, must surely be handled with care. Brought out the instruments, the special scopes, the probing devices because there’s much to discern. For to slumber through this reflection will surely result in fool’s gold being mistakenly added to my treasure store.


It was a year when I judged less, but discerned more. Judging matters in courts of law, but discernment triumphs in the court of life.


Blessings came disguised, sometimes wrapped initially as losses. The closure in cinemas consigned our annual unlimited movie pass into the back of our drawers. But the hours freed up enrich us beyond expectation. We cannot buy Time, so price-less is it.


Being scammed of a minor amount turned out to be another blessing in disguise. Anger at being fooled, a disruption in inner peace, an internal seething – all never made an appearance. What joy to know that this no longer troubled me. What joy to see it as God helping someone else, with what He blessed me with. Or what He consented to have me steward.


Walks, near and far, fair weather or drizzling rain was nature’s therapy to our souls. Conversations could not but work to bond us, as we employed our hearts more. Growing in the companionship, giving and receiving the simple joy of walking together, in the presence of each other. Aren’t these ingredients for love?


Friendships deepen, friendships die. A mere handful blossom into fellowship. Giving up others un-burdens both, as growth requires different.
As the exterior distractions shrinks, the interior opens up. Wisdom is so accessible and available, not requiring one to seek and visit sages in person like of old. My birthday gift of bookshelves are rapidly filling up. Perspectives change. Hearts softened. Hands reach out.


Pain and hurts arose. But not a few are due to internal expectations. And when I examined latter closely, I realized that it was much easier to re-calibrate those expectations than to manage or bury the pain and hurts. It’s like kicking the soccer ball first, and then, putting up the goal posts after the kick. How sweet.
Oh, I have taken a step forward and two steps back. It happens. Crying over split milk doesn’t do any good. What does good is knowing the motivation/trigger for the different steps. And making sure the feet is pointed in the right direction when moving forward.


The year in reflection is not so much the changing scenery outside my cabin window as I traveled from January to December. It’s more about the changes in me. And for that, there’s only One to thank.


“What is grace?” I asked God.

And He said, “All that happens.”


Then He added, when I looked perplexed,

“Could not lovers say that every moment in their Beloved’s arms was grace?”


Existence is my arms, though I well understand how one can turn away from me, until the heart has wisdom.

(St John the Cross / Daniel Ladinsky)

Coping

It has been a tumultuous 2020, with several more weeks to go. The news here in USA from the Covid-19 battle front are grim, with all time highs in various measures, be they daily infections, daily deaths, total hospitalizations and total infections. Within our own households, we have our own unique circumstances and challenges. Much has been communicated about the anticipated dangers in the winter months ahead. We are fatigued. How can we continue to cope?

How did generations before us cope during the multi-year world wars? There was “hope” that people clung to. Hope that appeared time and again. Man is a persistent species. In this pandemic period, the vaccine beckons as hope, that immunization will allow (adapted) life to continue. It matters not if others do not vaccinate, what matters is our own decision.

How should we then wait before mass vaccinations? Perhaps the first step is to examine the label we are now using, namely, “coping.” This label implies we are in a situation where there’s an externality that has disrupted our usual patterns, our lives. And we yearn for said externality to no longer pose a threat, to go away, so that we can resume our usual patterns and lives.

So, is there a better label than “coping?” What about “metamorphosizing”? Can this curtailed period be one in which like the caterpillar, we become convicted of what matters in life, and resolved to carve more time, more energy, more resources for it, post-curtailment? So that life after vaccination is one that no longer mirrors pre-pandemic life?

But what if this externality (i.e. pandemic) has a silver lining that we have overlooked? While the disruptions had real adverse impacts on our lives, many have gained precious time that was wasted in rush hour commutes, in mindless window-shopping excursions, etc. Time was given back to us. But if our mindset, our expectations is to cope, and we are anxious to resume our usual patterns and lives, then, this time given was likely squandered. A quick self-test is whether one can fill more than a few pages to share with grandchildren in the future how such time yielded un-planned blooms in one’s life.

Perhaps this quote from Bruce Lee, the famous martial artist actor can help with that inner metamorphosis:

“Be like water making its way through cracks. Do not be assertive, but adjust to the object, and you shall find a way around or through it. If nothing within you stays rigid, outward things will disclose themselves.

Empty your mind, be formless. Shapeless, like water. If you put water into a cup, it becomes the cup. You put water into a bottle and it becomes the bottle. You put it in a teapot, it becomes the teapot. Now, water can flow or it can crash. Be water, my friend.”

I recognize some are struggling mightily with the pandemic-related impositions and adversities. That there are severe psychological, emotional and mental struggles. Hopefully, they have loved ones who are supporting them. If nothing else, this pandemic has revealed that without love, one has nothing, one has gained nothing (1 Cor 13:2-3). And with that insight, if all we can do post-pandemic is to sow abundant love, we have lived a rich life indeed.

Self Actualization

I recall my idealistic genes kicked in real hard during my mid-teen years, when I was 17 years old. There was a not-brief interlude when I fell head over heels in love, but these genes kept on plugging away.

That period was colored by a greater awareness of the social and global issues prevalent then, and continues in one form or another to this day. It was augmented by respected teachers who broadened one’s awareness beyond the formal school curriculum. It was sharpened by student leadership courses and late discourses with those of like mind.

In hindsight, it seemed natural, not unexpected, when those idealistic genes turned its focus to the question of one’s own potential. After all, didn’t Michael Jackson sing that change started with the “man in the mirror”?

Thus, there was quite a prolonged period during my career when I devoured self-improvement books like cereal in the morning. It was all about self mastery, uncovering and honing one’s strengths and potential, and cultivating new mindsets and habits. I found this cool label, “self-actualization” that appealed to my evolving consciousness. As I was also attempting to climb the corporate ladder, there was a healthy mix of management, leadership and organizational reading thrown into the blender. I probably accumulated more than 150 books, if not more. I never did an exact count and many were left behind as I made the trans-pacific journey Stateside.

So, how has this worked out for me? There has been no regrets. I feel strongly grounded, confident and self-assured. There’s no doubt that this internal work has positioned me for career opportunities that I was able to take advantage of. There’s also no doubt that this “self-actualization engine” will not take me where I want to go in this next phase of life. What do I mean?

Life is never a straight climb upwards. Life provides us plateaus. As the commercial goes, the “pause that refreshes.” Plateaus allow us to cast our eyes ahead in time. To discern if the anticipated (future) outcome of our current trajectory remains our desire now that we are further in our journey. To ask if success is still the aim, or if significance and legacy is the new aim. Some fortuitously perceive a ‘better’ path ahead. They become self-aware, and paradoxically, adjust that internal engine, from self-actualization to other-actualization. The “other” can be children, grand-children or even a larger community. Those of us familiar with William Shakespeare’s notable quotes will recognize this, “A rose by any other name would smell as sweet“. And thus, “other-actualization” is the same as Christ’s Second Commandment.

For me, the plateau involved an awakening of my spiritual self. The new self was stirring itself. And I threw off my self-actualization totally with these Scripture from Isaiah 64:8.

But now, O Lord, you are our Father;

    we are the clay, and you are our potter;

    we are all the work of your hand.

How wonderful the thought, that all we have to do is yield, be pliant and God will wrought His goodness according to His will. I can rest in Him and cease all my striving.

Humility

Understanding the origins of this word provides additional lenses into its power. The one that resonates deeply with me, and tends to be used in church sermons, is the root word, “humus” (or earth). The earth that we walk on, the earth which grows plants and vegetables, which in turn forms the first link in the food chain for land creatures.

There’s a peace and serenity when one meets a holy person. Imagine meeting the Dalai Lama or even Mother Theresa, when she was alive. One is seemingly ‘transported’ into a different plane/dimension. The holy person’s focus is all on you. They speak at a level that touches you. We experience an authentic encounter. The holy person radiates humility by psychically / spiritually connecting to us, in accepting our own value without any pre-conceptions or judgment. We experience and know, deep down, that the other person, cares for our well being. Wow, imagine if we have that power impact on others that we meet! What a way to live.

Our humility is in-born in us as we intuitively recognize forces greater than us. For us Christians, we have God. Unfortunately, our educational system, our self-promoting culture (‘blow your own horn’) etc slowly but surely grounds down our humility core, like waves wearing down the coastline. But, as long as we recognize that humility is greater and of lasting significance than its anti-thesis, pride, we have a lifeline.

I have read several books on humility. The one that stands out for me, that speaks to me as a Christian, is ‘Humility’ by Andrew Murray. Pastor Murray lived from 1828 – 1917, and pastored in South Africa. How does Pastor Murray make his case that humility is the Christian’s key to God’s abiding, to experiencing His blessings and the favor of His Spirit?

In Phil 2:8, Christ “humbled himself, and became obedient unto death.” Christ’s humility is our salvation. His salvation is our humility.

Humility is not something we bring to God, or something He bestows. Rather, humility is simply the sense of utter nothingness, which comes when we see how truly God is ALL, and in which we make way for God to be ALL.

Humility will not come by and of itself, but it must be made the object of intense desire and prayer and faith and practice.

Absorbing and accepting this intellectually was all well and good. But how does this translate into life, when the rubber hits the road? Not surprisingly, simple virtues are extremely difficult to execute. You see, I was participating in a Church Zoom on the Parable of the Talents. I had prepared some additional insights that were atypical. There was an inner sense of pride, recall this is the antithesis of humility, that managed to hide itself from me. I ended ‘presenting’ it versus ‘sharing’ it. If I had done the latter, there would have been more “I” statements, my own challenges and struggles. Rather, in the former approach, I “showed off” my more developed spiritual insights. ARGH!

But the realization dawned on me where I had veered off the path I was striving for. This is largely due to the consistent spiritual time I had invested. It (divine prompt) came on me and readings affirmed the way/truth. I recorded in my journal, so that this self-realization becomes a self-purification as I continue my journey.

Postscript: Andrew Murray is one of my favorite spiritual authors. I have read and am reading several of his books, with a couple more on the bookcase to get around to. He wrote 240 books! I will read the handful that I need at this stage of my journey. 😊

Perseverance

The online dictionary indicated that perseverance means “persistence in doing something despite difficulty or delay in achieving success.”

We all have built up varying capabilities of perseverance through life experiences. Perhaps perseverance capabilities differ depending on the activity, task or objective in mind. My wife reminds me that a man will never understand the pain threshold that needs to be borne during child birth. I will grant and tip my hat to all mothers. Especially my mother!

Rather than starting from a person’s perspective, I wanted to start from an animal’s perspective. What can an animal teach us about perseverance?

This story begins with the bird feeder that we hung on our back fence since last winter. It turned out to be a hit as all species of birds dropped by to feed. Everything went well until September this year. One squirrel appeared, and it was the vanguard, as another two appeared later.

There are legendary videos on Youtube on obstacle courses that have been designed to outwit and outplay squirrels (use search term, ‘squirrel obstacle course’). It’s delightful to see how these squirrels are initially stumped, falling off said obstacles, and then, figuring out how to overcome and get at the tasty treats. Perseverance in action!

Well, my backyard squirrels were showing me their perseverance, and in turn, caused me to ‘up’ my own perseverance (and determination). After all, how can I “lose” to this animal? No matter how cuddly it may look. By golly, I am not going to let my bird seed be hijacked by these squirrels.

Firstly, I observed how they got to my bird feeder. They were dropping onto the roof of the bird feeder, and then, lowering themselves onto the feeder trough. Hmm…why don’t I extend the roof with cut off plastic sheets so that the overhang edges of said plastic sheets will not allow them to lower themselves? Oops…they got through the gaps between the two sheets. Ok, let me tape it up. Oops…they bit through the tape.

Alright, let me check what they have on Amazon.com Ah…a dome-shaped squirrel baffle. That should work. And it did for a couple of days. It was fun while it lasted as we say a squirrel fall about three times as every time it tried to reach below the dome onto the bird feeder, the baffle tilted under its weight and it dropped to the ground.

Until one of these pesky squirrels figured out how to reach the bird feeder roof via the pole/hook that the baffle/bird feeder was hung on. Ok, let me grease the pole/hook. That worked again for a couple of days. The squirrel was persistent, as eventually the grease wore off, and they were able to grip the pole, and got onto the bird feeder roof.

OK. My final attempt this time round, is to hang the squirrel baffle lower down, so that it’s not near the pole/hook and thus, the squirrel cannot swing from latter onto the bird feeder roof. Let’s see how this goes as the squirrel scorecard is something like 5-0. This is probably an understatement too, to salve some ego!

So, what did I learn about perseverance? Being tested (and bested) by an animal does wonders for one’s perseverance. This personal challenge, when taken in the right spirit, does wonders. It inculcates respect for the other opponent. It pushes one to think outside the box, and literally, anticipate the moves of the other. Perseverance brings along other pleasant companions when approached with the right attitude.

Postscript: The picture shows plastic sheets nailed to the fence post and top of fence. This is to deter them from having a foothold near the baffle/bird feeder. The nuclear option is to purchase another baffle and have a double layer baffle to outwit the squirrels!

6 weeks later (Dec 27)

After the original post in mid Nov, there were probably 8-10 adjustments I had to make in terms of the set up. From lengthening (twice) the pole, taping cardboard/plastic sheets, etc. Finally, I decided to acquire a second baffle, to make it a double layer. This seems to have done the trick for the past week!

F a l l

A friend told me that her favorite season was fall. I intuitively understand why winter sports fans would opt for their season. Likewise, the horticulturally inclined will prefer spring. And then, the majority would opt for summer, given the longer days and warmer weather that facilitates outdoor parties/picnics, BBQ get-togethers, sports, outdoor recreation, etc. So, the fall response was un-usual.

But as we started walking daily this summer, typically for an hour, the walks in early fall have been serene and colorful. The air is much brisker, and reinvigorates the body. There’s also a stillness in the air, as the summer noise has dissipated.

The falling leaves that clutter our backyard lawn does send a powerful reminder of the changing over. The need to periodically rake these leaves is off-set by the lengthening frequency required to mow the lawns. Various preparation activities are needed, so that ‘things’ are prepared to weather the winter, be it fertilizing the lawn, prepping fruit trees from diseases, etc.

For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven:

a time to be born, and a time to die;
a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted;
a time to kill, and a time to heal;
a time to break down, and a time to build up;
 a time to weep, and a time to laugh;
a time to mourn, and a time to dance;
 a time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together;
a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing;
a time to seek, and a time to lose;
a time to keep, and a time to cast away;
 a time to tear, and a time to sew;
a time to keep silence, and a time to speak;
 a time to love, and a time to hate;
a time for war, and a time for peace.

As I glance at the above verses, some call to me more than others. Definitely, as we near the end of the calendar year, there is a reflection of what must be put to death (“time to die”). The Covid-19 pandemic wrote quite a list for us given the restrictions and shut downs that have resulted. The vast majority on the list are actually beneficial as they were a short term gratification of senses. Thus, we have no regrets that we were unable to use our unlimited movie pass. For those activities that fall on the other side of the ledger, like the inability to socialize or hug others, there are creative alternatives that force us to be more expressive when we have the opportunity. It doesn’t totally make up, but as they say, the wait intensifies the hunger and greater will be the satisfaction.

But the interesting equation of that phrase is a “time to be born.” What should be born as we enter into a season of preparation, a season when most of nature and the animal kingdom slow down? How should we think about this? The breadth of possibilities is endless, and perhaps a guiding light might be, how would one’s joy or peace (or whatever quality is your priority) be enhanced in the new year through the birth of something new.

In that regard, for us personally, it has to be our closest circle of relationships. For after all, who will visit us when we are in need? Who will share a shoulder when we are in need? And thus, shedding any hurts or grudges (“time to die”) is a necessary step to renewing any strained relationships. And if fortune is such that all relationships are healthy, why not figure out how to draw the circle closer in, through more authentic sharing of persons, dreams and values?

Part of the new birth this year has been sharing our values and spiritual beliefs. It would be truly sad if at the end of our lives, friends who thought they knew us well, expressed that they never witnessed those aspects of our persons.

Do I have a favorite season? I would like to say ‘No’, as I want to relish the uniqueness of each season. Though I’ll admit that I tolerate the heat much better than the cold. But as they say, it’s “all in the mind.” 😊

On the fun side, we bought new waterproof boots and snow shoes, as we are looking forward to traipsing through the winter land trails. Nature beckons, and fall and winter are truly lovely seasons.

What will make this Fall be a better one for you?