When Impatience Pays

“Impatience is the cardinal sin of youth.” ― M.T. Bass

I don’t know as I would necessarily call impatience a “sin”. A weakness, perhaps and, with youth, an understandable one. And, sometimes, with the not-so-young.

The Jedi Master, Yoda, obviously understood this weakness of the young when he said to his impetuous novice, Luke Skywalker, in George Lucas’ Star Wars: Episode III – Revenge of the Sith (2005), “Patience you must have my young padawan” when Luke was hell-bent on seeking revenge on Darth Vader for killing his family and bristled at the idea that he needed to first learn all he would need to know before he tried to do so.

I was reflecting on Yoda’s wisdom this past week in an on-going, daily-by-text messaging and phone call, discussion with a near-and-dear-to-my-heart fourteen year-old. He is an avid (and quite skilled) online gamer who is using an aged computer that barely allows him to be competitive. Last Saturday, as he was helping me work around the yard, we talked about his “needs”. He said he “needs” a new motherboard to house the better graphics card he has, he needs a faster processor, a larger disc drive, better/more cooling fans. He bemoaned the expense of a new pre-built system that he could never afford, even though I pay him to help around the yard, and there is nothing he could do at his age to make more.

I pointed out the lesser cost of building a system piecemeal himself, and that there is a lot of work around my place he can do and get paid to buy what he needs. I employed all the trite adages (Rome wasn’t built in a day; The longest book is written one word at a time; Life isn’t fair, if you want something you have to work for it; etc.), all interspersed with “Have patience!”

He just looked at me as if I was speaking a foreign language.

And I realized, I was. I was speaking the language of a seventy year-old, with the understanding taught by experience over years. He hasn’t the experience. He hasn’t had the time to learn self-imposed patience. He’s only fourteen, for crying out loud. The only times he’s had to be patient was when it was forced on him by others who had the power to give or deny. And, at his age, there is nothing he can do about it. I felt for him.

His angst was palpable. I remembered how I felt at his age, when I wanted to do something and it felt like everything was in league to deny me my dream. As I took him home, I asked him what would be a starting point, what could he get – now – that would make at least a modest improvement over what he has now, that would add to his competitiveness. I told him to think about it.

Not to my surprise, he did (he’s one of those quiet, introspective types) – a couple of days later, he texted me that he’d thought about it and that a new keyboard, a mechanical gaming one, would increase the speed he needs to game faster. He’d done some research, found a good one he could afford, and with a “Oh, and I’ve made some more money by doing yard work for (the other grandparents)! With that and what you said you owe me, I can afford it. Will you order it for me? Pleeez?!” I was proud of him. Despite what he really wanted, he knew he couldn’t have it just now, but he could start on it. He did his research. And he found another way to help make it happen.

How could I say no? Instead of just whining and feeling sorry for himself, he listened, thought about it, worked it out, found a solution – even if only a partial one. A sign of growth. A hint of maturity.

And yes, I ordered it. And two days later when it came late in the evening, I called him it was here. His excitement was, as you can imagine, loud. Told him he could get it in four days (when he was due to come over and cut my grass again). “Can you bring it here, now? Please, please?!” His impatience, wanting immediate, instant gratification, was again manifest.

Yet, how could I say no? His enthusiasm infected me. And as a grandfather, it is in my job description to spoil my grandchildren. I immediately took it to him.

Because I, also, was impatient. Impatient, as always, to make him happy. Impatient, as always, to see joy in his face. Impatient, as always, to get the bone-breaking hug I knew I’d get, the love I’m given. And my impatience, as always, was rewarded as hoped for, just as his was. It’s a give-and-get thing, a symbiotic relationship between a grandparent and grandchild.

I don’t see impatience as always a bad thing. Or restricted to the young.

And if it be sin…then I guess I’m just damned. But I don’t give a damn.

Because I love the love it sometimes brings my way.

– Bill

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A Veteran’s Musings on Friends, Veteran’s Day and War

“Many people will walk in and out of your life, but only true friends will leave footprints in your heart.” ― Eleanor Roosevelt

This past Monday was Veteran’s Day here in the U.S., the day we as a nation set aside to give honor to our service members past and present for their sacrifices paid to our nation in times of war. As a military veteran (four years Navy, Viet Nam War), I guess that includes me.

But I have purposefully eschewed participating in or celebrating the day (I have my reasons why) and have made it a point over the years to unabashedly explain to anyone who wanted to know why. So, I was unexpectedly surprised when our oldest friends (of over 30 years), invited us to their home for dinner that night, only (once there) to find it their way of thanking me for my service.

I was – am – taken aback. It was like when you adamantly tell everyone you don’t want any birthday celebration or presents and, yet, you walk into a room to “Surprise!” and find yourself celebrated and present-ed, nonetheless. How to respond? Graciously and with heartfelt thanks, recognizing that in spite of one’s own wants, that one must yet yield to the wants of others who feel they need to tell you that you are special to them. It is a need not to be taken lightly. Therefore, in turn, you accept it, because you truly treasure their affection for you, as they are also special to you.

So (you may well ask), what’s my issue with Veteran’s Day? Well, if it was just linked to wars of national survival – oh, say, WWII – I wouldn’t complain. But, arguably, all the other wars we as a people have fought have not been for the issue of survival, per se, they have been for ideological (political) reasons, or for profit (economic gains), or for territorial expansion (hubris). The Revolutionary War and our Civil War were for both political and economic reasons; the War of 1812 was political, and territorial; the Indian Wars were territorial and for profit; the Spanish American War was territorial and for profit; WWI was political (we wanted to be seen as a player in the international arena); the Korean “War” was purely ideological; the Viet Nam conflict was both ideological and for profit; and the various wars, conflicts and interventions since, principally in the Middle East, have been political and for profit.

We, that is, the United States, were born in war and have waged war endlessly to this very day. Who can say what we – or the world – would be like if we hadn’t? Maybe more the worse-off if we hadn’t. Maybe better-off. There’s no way of telling, there’s no way to go back, try a different approach, to find out.

Yet, I find war very off-putting. Abhorrent. Especially if it’s waged for any reason other than pure survival.

“Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed. This world in arms is not spending money alone. It is spending the sweat of its laborers, the genius of its scientists, the hopes of its children. This is not a way of life at all in any true sense. Under the clouds of war, it is humanity hanging on a cross of iron.”

― Dwight D. Eisenhower

Just think about what we humans could have – could still – achieve if we – collectively – put our resources to people, science, industry instead of war.

Because, with war it’s five steps back for every one forward. And there’s a moral issue in that, as well.

“A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual doom.” ― Martin Luther King Jr.

Money better spent not on just our own domestic needs, but also foreign-aid programs that help stabilize peoples and nations that, in extremis, feel their only recourse is to go to war if they are to survive. But we can’t do that, can we?

That’s why I haven’t been able to give myself to Veteran’s Day. While I honor the men and women who have given their time and service, even lives…to honor Veteran’s Day I’ve felt is to give my tacit and overt approval to war and it’s self-centeredness and ego-centrism. That I haven’t felt I could do.

But I can be thankful to my friends, in spite of it all. As Mennonite-raised, they were reared in the belief that war is an ultimate evil, something to be avoided (if possible). But those that (for whatever reasons) found themselves fighting in war are not to be judged. By my friend’s example, I might have to rethink my position on Veteran’s Day.

My friends have left footprints in my heart.

– Bill

A Life Lesson: The Wisdom Of A Woman

“There are moments when troubles enter our lives and we can do nothing to avoid them. But they are there for a reason. Only when we have overcome them will we understand why they were there.”

― Paulo Coelho

“A wise man once said…” How many times have you heard that expression? Quite often, I imagine. How many times have you heard, “A wise woman once said…”? Probably never.

Are women less wise then men, then? It’s been my experience that the opposite is generally true, it’s just that men tend to listen more to men then to women – probably because men tend to think alike, they mentally process things similarly – it’s that old “Men are from Mars, women are from Venus” thing (from the book by that name, by John Gray, that explains how and why women and men deal with life in distinctly different ways.)

And that explanation is generally true. For example, when a stressful occasion arises, men tend to react aggressively with speech or action to resolve the issue, whereas women tend to react quietly and passively with contemplation to understand it. Case in point:

This past weekend the wife and I celebrated our 45th wedding anniversary in Monterey, California, one of our favorite haunts. As we left our hotel to return home, we activated our GPS – don’t really know why, we’ve been there so often we know the way out of town, back to the freeway and to home. But when we reached where we would normally turn, that bossy female GPS voice instructed us to continue straight. Now, I’m want to disregard her when I’m sure she’s wrong, but this time I listened.

It only took me five minutes or so, as she led us miles away from the freeway, through rolling farmland and pastures – quite picturesque, I admit – when it wasn’t where I wanted to be, to become stressed (and quite vocal – “Why, Why?!!” I kept repeating) over how this winding route could possibly (at 25 mph down a two lane stretch of miles of switchbacks) be a faster route (that I’d programmed the GPS to provide) than a 65 mph freeway.

The wife, ever the more calmest of we two, just kept telling me to relax, there had to be a reason why.

Which became apparent after some 30 minutes when the GPS lady steered us onto an overpass above the freeway we wanted originally and to the on ramp. Looking down, we could see miles of backed up traffic in all three lanes in the direction we wanted, bumper to bumper, because of road construction. Had we disregarded her in the beginning and followed our instincts to do as we’ve always done, we’d have been somewhere at the end of that mess and who knows how much time (and stress) it would have added to our trip (and my patience)?

“That’s why”, my wife observed. I told her I was sorry for my rant, and I apologized to the GPS lady, as well.

I learned a life lesson there – trust the GPS lady in the future. But that wasn’t the real wisdom I was to learn; that came from my wife a day later as we talked about it.

She told me that what had happened just illustrated that everything in life happens for a good reason, even if at the time we can’t see why or how, and we just need to accept it, ride it out, and in the end the reason will become apparent. We just need to be patient; getting stressed and angry is just wasted energy.

A wise observation from an uncannily, often very wise woman. My wife.

Another life lesson: I would be wise to listen to her more often.

– Bill

Musings On Gender

“Our generation is becoming so busy trying to prove that women can do what men can do that women are losing their uniqueness. Women weren’t created to do everything a man can do. Women were created to do everything a man can’t do.”

– (unknown author, posted on Facebook)

For whatever reason, this quote piqued my curiosity, me wondering, “Ah, I see, women are unique, but men aren’t? A woman must have wrote it.”

Or maybe not, maybe it was a man who has some kind of a Madonna complex. I mean, it was a little sassy.

I saw a single comment with a woman’s name that I would have bet said something (cutting through all the verbiage) like, “You go, girl!” I was surprised to read:

“Women (and men for that matter) were created to do what they have a talent for and not what society says they should do. So if a woman can do what a man can do that’s great. And if a man can do what a woman can do that’s great. The only complication is the uniqueness that biology has assigned the sexes (e.g., childbearing).”

I thought that sentiment had value and commented in return:

“Well said and absolutely correct. Instead of the focus of some (or society at large) on what a person (regardless of sex) can’t do (or shouldn’t do, and placing artificial barriers in their way), we should focus on what a person wants to do and encourage them to try. And, if they’re capable, get out of their way and let them do it.”

And then I decided that this whole issue we have in our society about sex, sexuality, sexual identity, what is considered sexual assault, and especially sexual roles – all of some importance – is totally out of control. We Americans are so hung up on matters sexual that we are starting to make mountains out of mole hills and taking the focus off the so many, many more important things that we should apply the same energy to if we want to work ourselves up in a lather over something. Things like hunger, poverty, the environment, crime, war (to name a few).

All this sex stuff is a tempest in a teapot by comparison. But back to the quote.

We are all aware of the differences between men and women in their strengths and how they perceive and interact with each other and life. Stereotypically, for examples, men look at the big picture, women the details; men value logical solutions, women look at the emotional impact; men want a workable quick fix, women the best fix. In each case there is value, and depending on the circumstances, either way may be a better approach than the other. But it is almost always better if both ways are taken together as a whole.

And that’s where the above cited quote falls short.

We shouldn’t look at how or why men and women are different (not that they are in most ways, it’s just a matter of degree), but that it’s precisely in those differences that we need to recognize that together they make a whole, where the best happens. Instead of celebrating the differences, emphasizing and demanding deference to them, we should be working on blending them to make a whole being.

Other than bearing and giving birth, there is nothing a woman can do that a man can’t; other than brute strength, there is nothing a man can do that a woman can’t. Or shouldn’t.

I wonder, if it were men who gave birth, would men be demanding deference in attitude and treatment from women?

Probably.

Still, I don’t want my grandsons and granddaughters to grow up in a world where the way they think, or what they do or the way they act, is limited or scrutinized or judged, predicated strictly on their biological gender.

Be they boy or girl, woman or man, whatever they are, we should affirm and celebrate who they are, and not what they are.

– Bill

What’s New At The Zoo?

“People forget the good that zoos do. If it weren’t for zoos, we would have so many species that would be extinct today.”

– Betty White

[I haven’t written on this blog for the last two months as I’ve been very busy otherwise engaged in a new undertaking, to do something constructive with my retirement days. I have undergone some 80 hours of classroom lectures at Fresno Chaffee Zoo in biology, zoology, taxonomy, ecosystems and habitats and more, done labs, and as many or more hours in homework readings and on-site familiarization of the zoo’s veterinary hospital and (animal) commissary facilities and the zoo and its inhabitants, and observing the keepers at their duties, to graduate as a zoo docent – who will now be guiding tours and giving fact-filled informative talks to visitors about our zoo, our guests (the animals), the environment and habitats and conservation and, with further training, to handle some of the animals (for show and tell up close with the visitors). And to continue, I’ll need additional class-hours every year to be recertified a docent, in addition to undertaking continuing education “credits” during the year. (I cite the depth of this training, as it is not common for most zoos to train their docents thus – many zoo’s docents are nothing more than Walmart-like meeters-and-greeters inside the entrance, handing out site maps and directing visitors to the location of the gift shop, food courts, and bathroom facilities.) Never in my imagination did I realize what I would be taught, what I would learn, and it changed my concept of zoos totally.]

If you google what people have to say about zoos, you’ll mostly find negative comments denigrating them in the harshest of terms, deploring the inhumane caging of wild animals, etc.

I’m not sure that “inhumane” is a proper descriptive term here, I’ve never seen a human caged in a zoo; a better word, to coin a phrase (so to speak), might be “inanimal”?

And in many cases, those critical of zoos – at first blush – have a point; it is inanimal to just take an animal out of its natural, wild and free, habitat and confine it in a barred cage for we humans to simply gawk at for our own amusement, especially those animals that have higher intelligence and self-awareness that come damn close to being human – like the great apes and elephants, and dolphins (the lesser brained reptiles, fish, and most birds haven’t a mental clue about what’s happened to them or where they are). I say, “at first blush”, because if that is all a zoo does then the critics would be right.

But, I wonder if the critics haven’t been to the zoo lately. Especially a modern zoo, and one that is accredited by the Association of Zoos & Aquariums (AZA). There are approximately 180 zoos in the US, but only about 140 are recognized as worthy of accreditation. Accredited zoos are:

• Reimaging animal enclosures, getting rid of cages or small enclosures and creating large open spaces for the animals to freely roam in a natural-like environment.
• Dedicated to saving species from total extinction (of some 6,000 species in all AZA zoos, 1,000 are endangered).
• Establishing breeding programs for those in danger of extinction and reintroducing as many as possible back into the wild (successes include the black footed ferret, sea otter, California condor, among many others).
• Educating the general public of the need to reorient mankind’s thinking and practices that have resulted in loss of animal habitats, that will result in extinctions if such practices go unchecked and habitats are not restored (in some cases, the animals seen in the zoo today are the only living examples of their species, none exist in the wild any longer due to human predation or degradation or destruction of their habitat and/or interconnected biosystem), and how they can personally get involved and help.

So, if you haven’t been to the zoo in a while…go. Take the kids or grandkids. Talk to the staff docents and keepers. Ask if it’s a AZA accredited zoo. If the answer is no, ask why not. If you’re put off, go public.

You just might find that a zoo is no longer a cruel show for our amusement. They are now sanctuaries, true animal rescues, and an educational experience.

You just might find that it’s now nothing like what you remember a zoo being.

– Bill

For Want Of A Modern-Day Knight

“In medieval times, contrary to popular belief, most knights were bandits, mercenaries, lawless brigands, skinners, highwaymen, and thieves. The supposed chivalry of Charlemagne and Roland had as much to do with the majority of medieval knights as the historical Jesus with the temporal riches and hypocrisy of the Catholic Church, or any church for that matter. Generally accompanied by their immoral entourage of servants, priests, and whores, they went from tourney to tourney like a touring rock and roll band, sports team, or gang of South Sea pirates. Court to court, skirmish to skirmish, rape to rape. Fighting as the noble’s substitution for work.”

– Tod Wodicka

That image of knighthood is factual.

Few conformed to the image we have been conditioned to think of when we think of the knights of old – King Arthur and his Round Table for instance – for the most part, most historians tell us, knights were in fact soldiers of fortune, hired “guns”, thugs, that enforced the edicts (taxes, etc.) of the lords they served (and from whom they were paid to do so) upon the peasants. Not noble, not honoring the vows they took when anointed and dubbed a knight.

When so named, dubbed a knight, after years – from about six to twenty-one years of age, learning in an all-male environment (they were removed from their mothers), how to think and behave righteously (by the church), and how to be masters of the art of combat, and taking an oath to personal honor, sexual purity, and the defense of the downtrodden – most found it experientially impracticable; for all the hype and it’s worthy ideals, it simply wasn’t profitable – to be a knight was monetarily costly, what with needing weapons, armor, steeds (more than one) and retainers (pages, etc.) that they needed and had to pay for (including upkeep). They needed the income. In wartime, these costs were covered by the lords or king they fought under, but in times of peace they were on their own – little more than highwaymen – or if lucky managed to hire themselves out to the highest bidder and did what was required to survive in the field they’d chosen (or had been assigned to them), a warrior.

Like the lyrics of Merle Travis’ song, Sixteen Tons (popularized by Tennessee Ernie Ford), “ Saint Peter don’t call me ‘cause I can’t go, I owe my soul to the company store.”

So much for history. Except what was originally meant to be a knight. A true knight had a code of honor, to do what was morally and ethically right and to do no harm; a knight had a mission, to protect the innocent and to right wrongs; a knight respected and fought to uphold the dignity of women; a knight did what was just and fair; a knight self-sacrificed his own wants for the needs for those less fortunate; a knight passed these virtues down to the upcoming generation.

Characteristics wanting in our leaders (as the White Knights we hoped they’d be, as we wish they were).

Be they clergy, politicians (Congress people, in particular), Supreme Court justices, or President of the United States.

Or, fathers.

It is our wish, our will, that they embody and practice the same requirements of a knight of old – to be honorable (your word is your bond), to do what is right, to be morally upstanding, to see to the needs of those less fortunate than yourself, and to leave the world a better place than you found it.

The nexus of this post is the book, Raising A Modern-Day Knight, by Robert Lewis. Admittedly, it is heavily based on Christian scripture. But you shouldn’t dismiss it merely for that reason – its precepts can be found in almost any religion. Even if you don’t hold to any religious doctrine, I challenge you to find fault with it’s basic premise. Which is, a boy needs a man in his life, to observe and learn from what it means to be a man.

A real man, one that embodies the classical meaning of knighthood.

When I think of what that means, I think of two of actor John Wayne’s movies, The Cowboys and The Quiet Man. I’m not a great fan of him, but these are two of his best; the first in how he influences a group of boys of a naive and tender pre- and post- adolescent age, introducing them into what it means to be a real man; and the second on how he treats the woman he loves, and then learns what true love means and how a real man acts with a woman.

I tried to do that to my two sons. You’ll have to ask them if I succeeded. I’m trying my best with my three grandsons. Time will tell. As well as my three grandgirls. Will they see me as a “real man”? An example they look to (in addition to their dad)?

So, be you father, step-dad, uncle or grandfather, or really close family friend…if there is a boy in your life…step up and be a man. Be his knight in shining armor. Show him the path to real manhood.

Not the self-centered, selfish gang-like “us against them” crap, or the not-helpful “find your own path and good luck to you”; rather, show him how best he can be and at the same time helping others to be their best.

And by doing so, also showing the girls and women in your life what a real man is.

Even if your armor could use a little burnishing and your sword a little sharpening – at least show that you’re fighting the good fight.

Show them what it means to be a knight.

– Bill

It’s The Truth – Except When It’s A Lie

“If you tell a big enough lie and tell it frequently enough, it will be believed.”

― Adolf Hitler

A rephrasing of the German philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer’s (opposite) observation about the truth: “A lie passes through three stages. First, it is rejected. Second, it is considered. Third, it is accepted as being self-evident.” If he read Schopenhauer (as he may well have), this may well have been the basis of Hitler’s quote above seventy years after Schopenhauer’s death.

It is truly amazing what some people believe, especially due to what is being called the “Info Wars”, about everything today – it’s difficult (at best) to discern what is fact from fiction, what is truth or lie.

One could blame unscrupulous trolls or manipulative “foreign agents” on the Internet or on Social Media, or statements by self-aggrandizing politicians or preachers, or family/tribal lore. One could blame some people for merely being trusting but gullible fools, or the educated who simply lack the time or means to do the required diligent research on their own to find what is true or lie.

And one would be right. All that is to a lesser or greater share for the reason why so many people just don’t know what’s true anymore. Especially when it comes to politics.

An interesting study and experiment was done at Yale, to see if conservatives could be turned into liberals. Apparently, they can be. The results say a lot about our political divisions (https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/inspired-life/wp/2017/11/22/at-yale-we-conducted-an-experiment-to-turn-conservatives-into-liberals-the-results-say-a-lot-about-our-political-divisions/?utm_term=.1f8af09c0744).

My citing this study is not meant to pick on conservatives (I’m sure that a study and experiment to see if liberals could be turned into conservatives would yield similar results) any more than it’s my intent in citing another piece that helps explain why conservatives react to certain “hot button” issues, like immigration (https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2018/jul/14/identity-politics-right-left-trump-racism?) Of course, again, the opposite findings would be equally apparent if applied to a study of liberals – there surely are some things that are their “hot buttons” that are equally misguided.

The point I’m attempting to make is that the truth is subjective – we believe what we want to believe – especially when our belief is reinforced by others who tell us we’re right to believe it.

The bottom line here – my message today – is, don’t believe and accept as factual and true whatever you see or hear, and to always challenge – with an open mind, putting aside any preconceived biases you may have picked up or been indoctrinated in – what the truth really is. Because what you think is the truth might just be a lie.

I’m just sorry I can’t offer an easy fool-proof way that could prove it.

But that doesn’t mean we individually and collectively should ever give up trying, and just accept what we are told, regardless of the source.

– Bill