Sunday, June 27, 2010

Washington, D.C., one of the world's great cities

This is one of those cities that is simply life-changing to visit. There is so much history, and so much national pride, presence, and meaning. The architecture is magnificent. Everything is imbued with significance. I remember the last time I felt this way -- amazed and awestruck at every turn -- was when I visited New York City as a college student. No wonder these two cities were targeted by terrorists. They are wellsprings of the American experience.

We got an amazing amount accomplished, much of it during long days that started early and ended late. It was all good, though the heat was terribly reminiscent of home, too much so. It hit 98 degrees one day, a record high for this area. This after the huge snowstorm here over the winter.

There is such a wealth of information here. In every museum, you spend hours and feel you still missed so much. It's hard to determine what pace to have. There are areas of each museum which captivated different members of our family. For Dwaine, it was gems in Natural History. For Andrew, the ocean room. Austin, probably the Air and Space museum (he seemed to enjoy most everything). For me, the Holocaust Museum was unexpected. So meaningful and historically significant, and critical for our modern-day understanding. It turned out I already knew the grimmest things, so it was not the visceral shock I had feared. It was such a great learning opportunity. Andrew was fascinated by its many powerful exhibits as well. He read a wonderful children's book, "Milkweed," by Jerry Spinelli, that I'm now reading. It is about a gypsy boy who winds up in the Warsaw Ghetto, so he had learned many things about the Holocaust before visiting the museum.

We missed seeing the Supreme Court; the White House visitors center; the Library of Congress; among many other things. But we saw everything else on our must-see list, and several things that had not been on it till we arrived. We were very fortunate in our timing. It really was as though angels were guiding us. Our "big ticket day" was Thursday, by coincidence, just before the crowds rushed in on Friday. We got tickets to go to the top of the Washington Monument, to tour the Bureau of Engraving and Printing, and to tour the Holocaust Museum. We saved Arlington National Cemetery for Saturday, which turned out to be a brilliant choice as everything else was mobbed. Our 15 minutes viewing the House of Representatives in session turned out to be during a vote on a resolution -- so we got to see a hubbub of activity as representatives flooded in to cast their votes. We were in the National Cathedral during a wedding (again, by chance) and heard the organ play the wedding march, and heard a saintly choir sing a hymn. Unbelievable!

My sister and her husband drove out for the weekend, and we got to spend time with them and enjoy some great meals together, my favorite being an Italian restaurant where we kicked back and talked and laughed together.

Visitors from around the world were here touring. The variety of ethnic restaurants is unlike anything I've experienced in any other town. We ate in the Old Post Office food court, after stumbling upon it (again, the angel thing). My sister, a vegetarian, and I discovered an Indian, vegetarian, and non-flaming-hot eatery there, and both of us enjoyed the food immensely. We ate in the Union Station food court and crossed paths with John and Camille, from none other than Floresville, Texas. We actually knew two families from Floresville traveling here at the same time as us; they were one.

How many degrees of separation are there supposed to be between every living thing? What were the chances of us running across each other like that? The coincidences we encountered ("where God chooses to remain anonymous," my friend Karen says) were more than a little eerie.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Celebrating the senses

I listened to NPR's "The Splendid Table" today, midway through, and the topic was quite interesting. A cook and author of "Remembering Smell" named Bonnie Blodgett was on the show. She had an accident that caused her to lose her sense of smell for many months (fortunately, her brain "regrew" her olfactory senses and she recovered).

Blodgett is a cook, so you might expect that her loss of smell would be especially difficult. But it made me think about how essential all of our senses are to our experience of life, and how disabling it is (or can be) to lose any sense. I don't mean to say that people who are blind or deaf have a less rich experience of life, but they certainly are aware of being profoundly different from those who have that sense. They do need to compensate for its loss, and the brain has amazing ways of accomplishing that.

We seem to take our senses for granted. If you had to pick one to lose, of the five -- sight, hearing, touch, smell, and taste -- wouldn't we all be willing to lose our taste buds? I don't know how that would be, truly. The taste buds seem almost like the planet that was de-planetized, Pluto -- not quite a legitimate sense because they are so relatively minor. The sense of smell seems to play such a major role in tasting food that losing the taste buds might not be so devastating. But losing any other sense would cause a major disconnect from the physical world that a person would need to work to overcome.

For example, in losing the sense of smell, Blodgett recounted times when it was an unexpected loss: no longer being able to smell the unique scent of her grandfather's clothing, or a library. She said the whole experience was devastating. She no longer wanted to cook, of course, and the pleasure of eating was largely gone. It would be like having a terrible, permanent cold, and we all know how miserable that is. Smell is closely linked to memory. We've all had the experience of smelling something that instantly recalled a different place and time, or a loved one.

Our senses connect us to this world, as I've said, and as we age, they grow dull. The elderly often suffer a partial or complete loss of vision and/or hearing, and you can see how, often, they drift more away from this world and existence when it happens.I wonder why many of us suffer so many losses as we age. Perhaps it gets us ready to leave entirely, and softens that blow.

So, part of being in touch with moment-to-moment existence is quite literally being "in touch" through the senses, fully aware of the amazing sights, sounds, smells, feelings, and even the salty, sweet, sour, and bitter tastes. Every day brings with it new wonders.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Science and religion

Listening to "Speaking of Faith" on a topic that fascinates me, juxtaposing science and religion. Especially cosmic science and physics, and religion. It's interesting because someone who is a scientist and not religious really refuses to be pinned down about the whole "God" question, except in the most general way: that the universe does seem to have been made in quite an amazingly organized fashion, and that we seem hard-wired to tune into that organization through disciplines like mathematics. This remote God that set everything in motion is Einstein's God.

I read a book by Carl Sagan that I could not finish, where he used his brilliant, logical mind to deconstruct the whole human concept of God, brick by brick. (The book was actually a series of lectures he had presented on the topic of God and science, I believe.) I had to leave it behind without finishing it. I found it deeply depressing. I think I had just arrived at the point where he was ready to make an important concession, that the way the universe is so strongly tilted toward life strongly implies the presence of an intelligent creator. But that wasn't enough consolation for me.

Likewise, the religious person refuses to believe where plain science seems to point -- that any higher consciousness planned it all out long ago, set it in motion, and left the universe to its own devices. No personal, daily God meddling in human or any other affairs. This makes sense in explaining why bad things happen; there's no device to prevent bad things, as well as good things. But the universe seems to favor order over chaos, on balance, and it seems to lean heavily in favor of life proliferating and becoming more complex.

So, these different human disciplines -- religion, science, and the arts -- do they actually overlap at all? It's hard to tell. How strange that people can exist entirely in one orbit without conceiving of the others. Or people do seem to be able to get into different orbits, i.e., scientists who love art or are musicians, but I'm not sure that those different pursuits really inform one another or guide one another. They are such different languages; yet, they are all human conventions, in a way, shaped by the creativity of the human mind itself. Even God is measured by human language and worship forms. A different creation would need a different conception of God. Our God is a reflection of our own image. (Or does that really mean that we make God in our image?)

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Goodbye, anxiety, I won't miss you

I have 10 "wise sayings" of Thomas Jefferson in my office that I got while visiting Monticello. One near the bottom says, "How much pain have cost us the evils that never happened!" I know he had people like me in mind when he came up with that one.

Being anxious seems to run in my family, at least on my mom's side. I have an aunt who would get frantic if she was expecting someone and did not hear from them. (This happened one time when we were traveling to visit her.)

I have this free-floating anxiety that tends to attach itself at night, especially when I'm lying in bed trying to sleep. I guess my normal defenses against it are at a low ebb at that time, and it can get a foothold into my psyche.

This condition has been part of my existence for a very long time, since my early childhood. Back then, I had some things to legitimately be anxious about, and so this condition has just followed me ever since, though it has become increasingly inappropriate and out of place in my life.

I was so strongly drawn to Buddhism because of this shadow side of me, anxiety. The Buddhist practice is so helpful, in a practical way, in alleviating anxiety. Christianity, too, warns against anxiety -- Do not worry about tomorrow, today has enough troubles of its own. But it doesn't give a road map of what to do when you have it.

Buddhism does, and it is quite simple. Whatever the trouble, you face it full on and stare it in the face. You say, "Hello, trouble." You investigate. How does this trouble feel? You detach from the wandering, anxious mind, but attach to the body and its physical sensations. This is amazingly helpful in the face of any crisis. The mind tends to start running around to random places, screaming in terror, and the body reacts by winding up into a knot. Calm the mind, and you can at least focus on the tension building in your body.

It's like one of my favorite Dilbert comics. Someone asks if the company has a disaster plan. The answer is, of course, yes! The next frame shows what the plan is: employees dashing around frantically, hands waving in the air, shouting for help.

"Calming" may not be the right word for what to do with the mind as it starts spitting out random scary thoughts faster and faster. Detach and just watch it doing its crazy dance. Realize how insane it is, and how unhelpful. For instance ... when I am faced with a negative thought or potentially bad news, my mind takes off and multiplies the horror.

My child has a fever? Oh NO! It must be something really bad like meningitis. We'll have to go to the ER. Or, if I happen to fall asleep, at that exact moment, my child's fever will spike, and he will be too sick to even cry out, and by the time I discover him, he will be a dead, withered husk! There's nothing I can do about it! I knew this would happen, that my child would be taken away from me! yada, yada, yada.

Since I am a Christian, I also push these thoughts away with the statement, "Get behind me, Satan!" These are the times that my mind is my worst enemy and is the devil's playground.

When my kids are physically far away from me, it is an opportune time for a panic attack, and I was feeling one coming on last evening.

I can see that I have made a lot of progress, because it came and then went. It did not have sticking power the way it would have in the past. I slept well and peacefully. I listened to the air conditioning, and tried to be like a newborn listening, without attaching meaning to the sound. The whoosh of air was so powerful, like it was going to blow me away. It wasn't a frightening noise, but a powerful one. And then there were the crickets and frogs outside, and they were pulsating with a rhythm that was calming. Funny how we all pulsate and vibe with our breathing, and our heartbeats. We are creatures of rhythm.Living is a rhythmic activity.

I wish I could help other people who have this type of problem. Thinking about it makes it worse. It is best to just be in the body, listening and aware of all physical sensations. It takes practice -- a lifetime of bad habits won't go away overnight.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Agape letters

Who knows what an agape letter is? You do if you have been on a Walk to Emmaus or ACTS retreat. If you are familiar with the Greek word “agape,” then you can guess what such a letter would be. It is the deepest and most compassionate expression of positive regard (love) toward someone, put in a letter. It could be to your closest friend. Could be a mere acquaintance. Or (this is the biggest challenge) a close family member. Could be your boss, your coworker, the widow who goes to your church, or the person who fixes your lawn mower.
You should be able to write an agape letter to anyone, even someone you do not get along with. Even someone who is an enemy. The letter would be absent of barbs, of revenge, of hidden agendas. If you can’t visualize doing such a thing, might I suggest an attitude adjustment. I guess it could be really short: “I’m praying for you!”
Maybe not everyone feels comfortable with a written format, so you can also deliver an agape letter verbally. You would need to be prepared, and I think it would be so much tougher to do it face-to-face. But one way or another, it’s important to let the most special people in your life know just how important they are to you. You never know how much time you will have with them: “This very day, your life may be demanded of you!” I say this, not having written a letter to my father, sister, or children yet. Or at least, not the end-all letter that I could point to and say, “done.”
I have heard that Jews have a concept of a will that is not financial. Aargh, I can’t look up what it is called, but perhaps it’s a “legacy will” -- the spiritual values they wish to pass along to their descendants. Isn’t it strange that we know we need a financial will, but we overlook the far more important thing, what legacy we leave?
I have been blessed to receive many agape letters in my life, not just from the Walk to Emmaus (and those, I will keep forever, no matter how much other decluttering I may do). I have received several agape letters recently, because it dawned on me that there is another form of letter that really is an agape letter, just dressed differently. That form, I will share with you at a later date when it is more convenient to do so, if I remember.
Such a letter describes two things: the personality of the sender, and the perceived attributes of the recipient. It is the intersection of two souls, and it results in a curious meld that is unique to that relationship. So, I always knew that each person was a unique creation, just like a fingerprint – no two alike. But consider the possible permutations and combinations when you start scrambling people into relationships and families and communities. It results in an exponential multiplication of uniqueness, even while we share the vast majority of everything in common.
Interaction with others changes us and makes us a new creation. Some people are a force for positive change and bring out the best in others, or seek to. Others seem to thrive on chaos, drama, and confusion, and either deliberately or not, cause those results in their relationships. Most of us are dappled things, and our interactions with others are unpredictable. Some relationships make people better, others don’t, and it is somewhat of a mystery why. Longtime friendships usually have good, bad, and downright ugly memories. This is most true of relationships with our parents, our siblings, our spouses, and our children.
The agape letters I have received are so descriptive of the senders that it’s almost incidental that the recipient in each case was the same person, me. If you put them together, it’s not at all obvious that they are addressed to one person. It struck me what a wonderful blessing each of these people has been in my life, and how their words of encouragement sustain me, even (in some cases) years after we last saw one another on a regular basis.
I want you to think about that in your own life. You know that you have a lot of influence with close relatives and friends. At least, I hope you know! –  But did you realize that your influence is pervasive, widespread, and stretches back through your entire lifetime? You are leaving an enormous wake that just keeps rippling outward! (kinda like a carbon footprint – that, too.) I know it often does not seem to be the case, but life is tricky that way. I believe that you can alter even a lifetime of bad choices – it is never too late – and that a huge magnitude of change in the right direction produces an equally impressive effect on others. This is one lesson of the prodigal son.
People you knew years ago may still be greatly influenced by something you said or did to them. I have an example from college. I knew a girl named Susie, barely knew her. We were walking together on campus one day and I popped a stick of gum in my mouth and tossed the wrapper to the wind. Gasp, choke! I used to litter?? My kids would swoon if they found out.
One big reason I stopped is the response she had. She stopped and gave me a tongue-lashing for what I had just done! One that I have never forgotten, obviously. It was not pleasant at all. I was trying to defend myself, and later realized that my action was indefensible. (That’s never something you are willing to admit at the moment you’re confronted.) I simply had never given it much thought before.
Of course, you know I am not advocating that we all get in each other’s faces about what we think is wrong with everybody else. Sometimes that approach works, if you’ve got that kind of personality. I don’t.
Part of living intentionally, and wisely, is to be more aware of the way we influence everyone we meet in every detail of daily life. The influence we exert on others is powerful beyond our wildest dreams, and with that power comes great responsibility. So go forth and do some good now! There is a hurting, needy world out there that desperately needs your special brand of TLC.

This post from another blog I am following speaks about showing compassion for others by asking for their best: "Idiot Compassion"

P.S. The Internet is down again, about four days after the big storms, so I am forced to write in Word and then post to my blog later. I’ve done it before, but it always has a different feel than blogging live. I don’t like it. Also, copying and pasting the text always brings with it some bizarre HTML characters and I have to somehow remove those. I haven’t figured out how to paste text-only for my blog. I don’t think my blog site is the best. Either it’s not user-friendly, or it just doesn’t do a bunch of stuff I want to do. I suppose I need to learn HTML programming. *Sigh*

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Vocation: undecided; women and their choices

Here's an interesting third-hand quote I heard attributed to Luciano Pavarotti, or actually, his father. Along the lines of "most brilliant career advice, ever."

Young Luciano couldn't decide what to do for a career, and he had two distinct choices in mind: singing or teaching. His father told him, so the story goes: "You cannot sit in two chairs, or you will fall between them. Make one choice for your life, and devote your complete energy to it." Thus was born a great tenor. The moral of this story is be completely committed to a single path in life, never wavering from it, and you, too, will be famous and win many accolades.

My dad never gave me such sage advice, and so I suppose a metaphor for my life thus far would be that I've stumbled among countless chairs, weaving and bobbing like a drunken sailor, never settling on just one. But how could you choose unless you first found out more information about each choice? Tried it on for size? Gave it a few months, or years? I plead insufficient information to make a firm decision, even now. About anything. The jury's out. And, had I chosen just one chair, I yawn to think what the journey would have been like.

I also wonder if women are able to glide into one vocation so seamlessly. Women still keep the hearth, and raise the children ... not because they have to, but because those are also their vocations. A few of many that span a single lifetime. Women still tend to be the nurturers, and less interested in pursuing ambition and the prizes that attend it. I know I describe myself accurately.

Women still tend to be defined by their relationships with others, not because we are second-class citizens, but because our own value system defines relationships as paramount -- more important than a self-definition. This is a generalization, but my women friends who seem the most satisfied and complete are the ones who are not on a hard-line vocational track. It's still relatively rare to find a woman who is blazing a professional trail and seems completely at ease doing so. Instead, I have observed in my limited experience that such a woman seems quite isolated.

I am not trying to throw daggers at successful career women or discourage anyone, but to explain my own perceptions. I cheer the women who hold important, high-profile positions in businesses and the political realm. Women need to have a voice at the top ranks of every organization. If this were true, I think we would be much more hesitant to declare war or to wreak destruction on one another in other ways, as well. I think nations might find it more possible to work cooperatively, not combatively, using a more feminine leadership style. Perhaps.

If I had a choice, I would always prefer to be a woman than a man. We have emotional and lifestyle freedoms that continue to elude men. We (women) are the creators, we are Mother Earth, and we are also Mother Nature. Wily, unpredictable, bearers of supreme power over life and death. There's some potent stuff going on there. Who needs a stupid career, anyhow? I am WOMAN!

Sunday, June 6, 2010

When we all get to heaven

I have so many things I'd like to accomplish! For one, I would love to learn every human language. I think human languages are encapsulations of the great variety of human thought and culture. It is fascinating to see how we are all so alike, but yet uniquely different.

I would like to read all the books that have been written. Well, not all of them! All the good ones, let's say.

I would like to sit and watch the waves move the sands of time, and see the winds ebb and flow, and the seasons swirl around. Where do the winds come from? And where do they go?

I want to learn to love all of creation with a love that is deep and genuine, and filled with understanding.

I would love to be an accomplished ... athlete, parent, writer, artist, lover, spiritual leader. Yes, maybe even an accomplished cook! Gardener. Healer.

I would like to genuinely help another person, and by extension, to help all of creation.

Yet life is too fleeting for most of these pursuits. So I long for more. I wish for an end of time, so that there may be space for all worthy desires.

Added later: I forgot an important addition to this list. I would like to have time to read everyone else's blog and leave encouraging comments on them. I wonder how many blogs are out there these days?

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

As the Gulf lay dying

I can’t help but think that the condition of our world today is due to many people making unethical decisions in their career choices, as well as their personal lives. Wake up, everybody!

For instance, I was listening to one of my podcasts, NPR’s Your Health, about how bad sodas are for health. They found a “scientist” working for the American Beverage Association who was defending the drinking of sodas, saying they weren’t responsible for the surge in obesity – it’s too much consumption of all foods, and not enough exercise. This, though there is a direct correlation between being overweight and drinking sodas. This so-called scientist explained that sodas are 99 percent water, which is completely natural and healthful. Yeah, supposedly, our bodies are also 99-percent water, but we all have very different body types, nonetheless. So, how does this representative for the soda industry live with her choices? This is just a small example of how people's choices can be ethically bankrupt.

Recently, I have wondered how so many people can line their pockets from the oil and gas industry, whether as employees or investors, when there are such horrible disasters, at times, where huge amounts of oil are spilled. It’s like working in the nuclear industry. Is it ethical to work for a company that has the potential to cause great harm to the environment, and in the case of O&G, has historically been responsible for so much global pollution?

Most Americans are focused on profit, regardless of the human or environmental costs. It’s like people are unable to take these other costs into account, if they are not being hit directly in the pocketbook with them. We haven’t evolved enough to care about much beyond ourselves. What a pity. How are we made in God’s image, when we are so short-sighted and seemed so determined to find new sources of self-destruction?

This latest oil disaster unfurls, and people seem to be more concerned about the latest winner of “American Idol” or the final episode of “Lost.” Perhaps that is because we all feel lost in the face of monumental disaster; we feel overwhelmed and hopeless, so we turn to feel-good activities instead.
Everyone is making many choices in their everyday lives that, in aggregate, have a profound effect on other people and the condition of the world. It’s not that hard to move incrementally toward more informed choices. But first we must be better informed. That, in itself, is a challenge. It requires a sustained mental effort that many people seem to lack.

It seems that in this partisan corner of the globe, where so many reports are produced by lobbyists representing special interests, good information has become scarcer than ever. I’ve decided that I cannot believe the “facts” if they are presented by any partisan organization, whether it’s one I personally agree with or not. I am desperate for a good, reliable, unbiased news source that seeks to really represent the multiple facets of every major problem we face as a human species. There has been an explosion of information, much of it with so much spin it makes my head hurt.

I like to believe that NPR is a source that seeks both (or many) sides of the story, but certain programs have such an obvious liberal bias that I can’t rely on them – Fresh Air and the Diane Reem show, to name a couple.

The shape of the news media reflects our larger human condition. We each have tunnel vision, and it’s so hard to break away from that to a broader, more inclusive and compassionate vision that includes a great concern for the welfare of others.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

In sickness ... and in sickness

I've got some catching up to do here. Being sick just saps my creative energy, not to mention every other type of energy~. Other than posting here, I am attempting to preserve some plums, and I hung some laundry out to dry, and that's about all I'm good for today. The laundry part, in the heat, almost did me in!

By the way, read the posting below this one (Saving Private Ryan) if you only have time for one. It's far more important.

This odyssey through sickness started out as a sore throat, which was chronicled in a recent posting ... then progressed to a bad cold, the "cold from hell" as I affectionately call it. Then to bronchitis. Now I'm on the downward slope of an antibiotic course plus steroids now kicked in to try to get rid of the inflammation (translation: too much exhausting coughing, along with an excess of grotesque bodily fluids seeping from various places in supernatural quantities). I haven't quite perfected that hocking up a wad of phlegm the way my hubby can, and regularly does, with noisy abandon. It's so un-ladylike. And yet, my mother's advice haunts me still -- don't snuff it in! Blow it out!

Of course, steroids are scary things. I read all the warnings and wonder why I'm taking them, anyhow. Will the cure be worse than the disease?

I'm a bad patient, because I'm not used to feeling bad. I whine and complain about feeling yucky. I get something like this, oh, less than once a year. Thankfully. I really look to people with chronic debilitating illnesses for inspiration on how to live with pain and fatigue, which are so hard for me to handle for even a few days. Olga comes to mind -- she is just a saint. She always has a positive word and a smile, even on her worst days when you can see how much she's dragging. I feel so fortunate to know her.

I know I'm not well yet, and I am so sick and tired of being sick! I haven't run, I haven't lifted weights, and I really don't know when I will feel strong enough to start back up. (whine, gripe) I still have no energy, and very little interest in food. I'm trying to keep from losing weight, because I've apparently racked up my metabolism with my normally health-nut ways and it is going a bit faster than I can keep it fed. I really shouldn't worry about just lopping off five pounds. It is ridiculously easy to gain weight, I know!

I don't have an answer for why I have never had to struggle with weight issues. Both my parents were overweight. Lord knows, I love food. But I have trained myself over years to eat healthier. I still eat way too much junky sweet stuff, though. I have a love affair with sugar that is hard to break.

It's deeply unfair to the majority of American women that I have never shared their struggle, I know. I know! I'm sorry. Not sorry enough to voluntarily pack on pounds, if I can help it, but I am sympathetic to those who are trying to lose them.

Perhaps the magical answer is because ... I've never had to struggle with weight issues. That really sucks for those who have. I hear that the body is amazingly adept at keeping the excess weight on, once it's there. It fights mightily to go back to that new-normal high weight.

When someone overweight diets, it triggers a starvation response and hoarding of the body's calories, as well as extreme urges to eat. This has been shown by a number of scientific studies (several are quoted in the article I refer to below). It's due to our history as underfed hunter-gatherer types, where those who could hoard calories most effectively tended to survive. Survival of the fittest: That would be part of the great theory of evolution, which becomes more and more robust as time passes.

My favorite health-nut reader, Nutrition Action Healthletter, talks about this phenomenon in its May 2010 cover story, "In your face: how the food industry drives us to eat." This article talks about the toxic food environment we Americans have created for ourselves, that is being exported to the world, with an overabundance of garbage-food, priced cheap, in portions that are not just lavish, they're deadly! Not coincidentally, a record-high number of people of all ages are overweight. Read some other sample articles, courtesy of the Center for Science in the Public Interest, here.

Now that I know how to do that cool imbedded-link thing, look out! Anyhow, to anyone who wants a monthly motivation to eat healthier, and to be more knowledgeable about good and bad food choices, I highly recommend Nutrition Action Healthletter. It's really hard to enjoy junk food in its presence. I recommend keeping one issue in every room of the house, especially the dining room and kitchen, to kind of look over your shoulder, and remind you of who you want to be.

Saving Private Ryan

We started watching this movie last evening to commemorate Memorial Day. The early sequences of the invasion of Normandy Beach, D-Day, World War II, are stark and unforgettable. It's a miracle that the Allies won this long and costly war. It is amazing that D-Day was June 6, 1944, more than a year before the war finally ended with the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in August, 1945.

My children have to see these war movies, read horrific novels like "All Quiet on the Western Front" and "Night" (a book I have avoided successfully, so far). They need to know all they can about war and the depths of human evil, so they can live with eyes open.

I believe Austin is seriously considering a career in the military. He doesn't talk to me much about it, because of my intensely mixed emotions about either of my boys giving up their lives in that way. Is that selfish of me, to want them to have more control of their destiny? My husband is enamored of people in the military, so it's only natural that our oldest son would seriously consider such a career.

It is intensely painful for me to watch this type of realistic war movie. When the mother learns of the death of three of her four sons in the movie, collapsing with grief as she sees the official car pulling up in her driveway, I am that mother, and I weep for her loss. When I hear Abraham Lincoln's beautiful, elegiac letter to a mother whose five sons were all lost in the Civil War, I think --- just for an instant -- that receiving this letter, this thing of unspeakable beauty, somehow could make such a loss bearable. Of course, it couldn't. Read President Lincoln's letter to Mrs. Bixby here.

Wow, I posted an internal link in my blog! I have never, ever done that before. So, apparently there is debate about whether Lincoln actually wrote the letter. Based on his brief, glorious speech at Gettysburg, he certainly could have. Thomas Jefferson had nothing on Lincoln as a wordsmith.

Since I only had 20 minutes to write here before the awards ceremony at school, this post will also be blessedly brief.

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