6.03.2017

LOOKING FOR THE HELPERS

June 1, 2017: We awakened to a beautiful morning. In our part of the world, the earliest hours of the day still carry a tinge of coolness and, if we concentrate, we can sense a hint of moisture in the air. These mornings are numbered, however. They will not last more than another week or two. We live in a desert after all, and according to recent records and heat maps, our temps have risen over 1.5 degrees in the past 22 years. I live here. I believe it.

A little after noon today, the White House rolled out a modicum of pomp and circumstance related to President Trump's announced speech on the Paris Climate Accords. Would we stay in? Would we leave? The President enjoys creating a certain amount of suspense and uncertainty, but today he ran late, and by the time the wayward teleprompter cables were fully functioning, word was out. He was withdrawing the United States from the climate accord. We would join Syria (as someone said, they're rather busy right now) and Nicaragua (who felt the accords were not strict enough) as the only three countries not participating.

A bit of history: 198 "Parties" participated in the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change which was adopted in 1992 and entered into force in 1994. The ultimate goal at the time was "to prevent dangerous human interference with the climate system...including greenhouse gas concentration."

In December 2015, the original parties to the UNFCCC met in Paris to update the 1992 agreement. The resultant Paris Agreement sought to strengthen the global response to the threat of climate change. The objective now was to hold the increase in global average temperature well below 2 degrees Celsius above its pre-industrial levels.

Per a Scientific American repost of a Climate Central article dated 04-20-2016, the pre-industrial temperature data from 1881 to 1910 is considered the most reliable. It is those baseline temperatures we reference as NASA and NOAA monitor today's temps. Whereas the Paris Agreement specified a rise of 2 degree Celsius, scientists are working to limit the increase to 1.5 degrees. At that level, they feel a relatively stable climate, to which humans and other species can adapt, can be maintained. The 1.5 degree goal should also minimize the worst impacts of climate change such as drought, heat waves, heavy rain, flooding and sea level rise.

If current trends continue, scientists believe the world will cross that 1.5 degree threshold in ten to fifteen years. Around 2025-2030. Whereas, I may have shuffled off this mortal coil before then, I expect that my children and their children, not to mention those adorable great-grand babies just now beginning to put their feet on the ground, will still be calling this planet "home."

I hope.

I wish I were more optimistic. I wish even more that President Trump was optimistic and positive and innovative and had written his 30 minute speech to encourage us all to join hands and hearts and minds across borders and seas and cultures and, together, address our climate issue. I know it's an extremely complicated one, but why did we throw up our hands, walk away, and decide to go it alone?  If we're not in the room, we're not in the discussion. If we're not in the discussion, we're shortchanging all those who follow. And if we're shortchanging all who follow, we've failed.

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June 2, 2017: Yesterday was not a happy day at our house. We both were disappointed with President Trump's decision and declaration on the Paris Accords and the questionable facts and figures he threw out so easily. Politifact  has published numerous tweets in which he uses the word "hoax" to describe climate change, but he contends those are jokes. His exact words in a November 16, 2012, tweet are: "The concept of global warming was created by and for the Chinese in order to make U.S. manufacturing non-competitive." I don't believe he was joking that time. And certainly not joking yesterday when manufacturing, mining and coal seemed to be writ large. Wind and sun and forward thinking had been left behind.

I hope you all remember Mr. Rogers and his calm and peaceful neighborhood filled with love and kindness. I loved Mr. Rogers, and often watched with my small daughter. I needed Mr. Rogers yesterday. And then I remembered a recent PBS Newshour segment in which we were reminded of Mr. Rogers' advice for times when we were frightened or worried. We were to "Always Look for the Helpers." That phrase had come from Mr. Rogers' mother. I told my Babboo, "We'll look for the helpers."

And, this morning? When I began to read the newspaper and, later, follow up with NPR morning news, I found them. The Helpers. They were all around us. Our Phoenix mayor, Greg Stanton, announced the city would continue to honor the Paris Climate Agreement. Soon, Tucson, Tempe and Flagstaff followed suit. By noon, 30 mayors, 3 governors, 80 university presidents and 100 businesses had announced their continued support of the Agreement. More followed. I learned that the northeastern states had already reduced their carbon emissions by 37% since 2008. There were helpers all across the country.

And then, the absolute highlight when it came to helpers:  Dale Ross, mayor of Georgetown, TX, population 50,000. I might describe him as quintessential Texas. Unassuming, genuine, and good-old-boy (in the best sense of the phrase.) And...for purposes of this post, a Republican who proudly wears his lapel pin from President Trump's inauguration. His interview was all about the fact that Georgetown, TX, located an easy distance from Austin (but conservative to the core) is powered 100% by renewable energy. Ross is fairly blase about that, considering it simply an economic decision. In his words, "...sign today and know what the bill will be in 25 years," as opposed to oil and gas. Although Texas is rich in fossil fuels, Ross looked to its other natural resources, wind and sun. He looks at it as a "no-brainer." He contends the wind always blows in the Panhandle while the sun always shines in West Texas. Why waste that? He also praises our Secretary of Energy, Rick Perry who, as Texas Governor, vastly improved the state's electrical grid, thus making Georgetown's independence possible.

I think I'm beginning to feel a bit better. Still disappointed in our president, of course, but sensing a certain optimism. A budding certainty that our imaginations don't have to be stifled just because President Trump's seems to be. A firm certainty that our world is one, and together we can keep this beautiful blue ball alive and healthy and circling our far away sun. As long as we look for The Helpers and join hands with them, we'll be all right.        

5.15.2017

WHOSE KIDS?

Per Merriam-Webster, "empathy" is defined as: "The action of understanding, being aware of, being sensitive to, and vicariously experiencing the feelings, thoughts, and experience of another of either the past or present without having the feelings, thoughts and experience fully communicated in an objectively explicit manner." Whew...

The English Oxford Dictionary, less elegant but more to the point states: "Empathy is the ability to understand and share the feelings of another."

Obviously, it makes no real difference which of the definitions you prefer. What does make a difference, at least in my book, is the ever-increasing and oh so unwelcome feeling that, in our 2017 America, empathy may be getting short shrift.

Nearly three weeks ago, a letter appeared on the opinion page of my beloved "Arizona Republic." It began: "Mothers on the radio are praising a local food bank because the food bank provides all the food they need." The writer continues: "Come on, when did we tell mothers that it is the community's responsibility to feed, clothe, house and provide health care for their children. It is no one's job to raise those kids. If you can't feed and provide for a child, don't have one."

Unfortunately, that wasn't the end of the letter, but it's enough.

A few days later, this letter appeared: "Kudos...Have you ever noticed that many a mother in a food line with her children could stand to lose anywhere from 150-200 pounds..."

And one more: "This is so true...these ladies have kids with no husband and we...have to feed these children...I see them all the time...pulling out their food stamps...dressed up with gold around them..."

Assuming that the editor of the Opinion page prints letters in rough proportion to those he receives, it would appear the negative comments out-numbered those which expressed some understanding of the difficulty of raising a child(ren) in poverty. One writer, after agreeing with the original letter, added: "...I would not want a child to go without because of poor decisions by the parents..." but even that moderating thought implies parental fault.

Only one letter, written by a Social Worker, tried to explain why a family might turn to a Food Bank from time to time. She tells about the difficulty of her clients working for minimum wage (recently raised to $10 per hour in Arizona), while paying rent, buying food, and paying for transportation. Don't forget the other necessities...clothing, school supplies, toiletries, and the list goes on. At most, minimum wage will gross $400 per week...if you work full time. Significantly less if you miss a day because you or your child is too ill for school or work.

A famous man once said: "The poor will always be with us," and, as usual, he was right. But, I also wonder why, if he said it, he didn't correct the problem? God knows, he had the power. Could it be because he was counting on us to fix it? Day by day, person by person? I used to think that he might be challenging us, but I think not. I believe he was trusting us. Trusting us to look after one another. Trusting us to look into another's heart and see (and feel) their hopes and dreams and fears. Because we all have hopes and dreams and fears, and I believe they're remarkably the same everywhere in the world.

I'm worried that in the past few months "different" has become "less than" or "dangerous" or "scary" or "bad" or...just not worth the time and effort. We cling to ourselves, gathering our flock close, and fencing out those who differ from us physically, financially or politically. "We have ours," we seem to be saying. "Let the others get theirs..." forgetting that we all have differing abilities, circumstances, and environments. Unfortunately, it is those very differences that guarantee far too many in this world can not and will never get theirs no matter how hard they try.

Like it or not, I believe that we've been charged to be our brother's keeper. If you read the bible, you may remember that references to our brotherly obligations begin early in Genesis and don't end until the fifth chapter of James, when he reminds us, "...pray for one another..."

So, there it is. A little prayer is a great start...good for the giver as well as the receiver. Then, perhaps, a little gift of food for the shelves of your nearest food bank and, if you can afford it, a financial gift goes a long way. And, over time, a gentle word to your state legislators as they debate Medicaid, and Education, and Minimum Wages plus Sick Leave and all those things that so affect us all. I keep reading that small changes can make big differences. I think I'm going to give it a try!

3.13.2017

LIFE IS NOW. SEIZE IT & MAKE IT AMAZING

One doesn't have to live in an Arizona retirement community to fully grasp that Life Is Now, but the nature of that choice brings a great deal of reality to that somewhat poetic thought. Years ago, when we were virtual newcomers here and living on the Main Street of SCG, we became inured to the flashing lights and screaming sirens of emergency vehicles racing past nearly every morning. We generally spotted them sometime between 9:00 a.m. and noon.

Did you know, it's a fact that older people die most often in the morning? When we wake, our body temperature rises, our respiration picks up, our heart rates and blood pressures rise and digestion begins. That is a lot of systems coming back on line, and the stress of those activities can be enough to set off an "acute health event." More specifically, we are most likely to die at 11:00 a.m. If we somehow  make it to noon, the next most popular time of death is 6:00 p.m. Per The Atlantic, it's a matter of genetics and statistics. In other words, every day is a crap shoot.

2017 has not turned out to be one of my better years. January, February and now, a third of March, have simply come and gone and I have no sense of when they were here nor where they went. I used to live like that and wasted complete decades worrying about tomorrow, regretting yesterday, and letting today slip out the back door when I wasn't paying attention. I blame Donald Trump for it, but I think I'm giving him much more credit than he is due.

Because it's me. It's really all  me. I let the election take over my world and began to view each day as one more to live through. One more campaign speech to parse. One more outrageous statement to criticize. One more TV editorial to fact check. And then? It was over. And I was on the losing end, not handling it well. Yesterday, I looked up--just above my desk--and read: "Your Life is Now. Seize It and Make It Amazing." I always imagine that God will sound exactly like James Earl Jones. I'm not sure which one of them spoke yesterday afternoon at about 4:00 p.m., but whoever it was caught my attention.

And so, as with all my crises, it's simply time to: A--Begin to meditate again, and B--Work my way through the appropriate quote. I call it "tapping away" on my laptop, but my Coach describes it as "unfolding my narrative." Isn't that a wonderful image? Unfolding my narrative. That's why everyone needs a Coach. To help us unfold our narrative. I just can't say that enough!

Here we go: I know that I spent the months of 2015 and 2016 concentrating on Mindfulness, and those months moved forward day by day with stately grace. I realized the differences between one day and the next, and remembered those days. Sometimes in detail. I didn't feel rushed and I didn't feel lost. Time wasn't wasted. Time, as a matter of fact, was often wrapped with silk ribbons and treasured. It was never ignored.

Now, right this minute I'm glancing at my watch. It's 3:51 p.m. It's one of those days that makes me remember why we moved to Arizona. BC is fishing with his friends somewhere near Reno, Nevada. He calls daily to let me know he's fine and the fishing is wonderful. They've had a bit of snow, but more of sun. He will bring home stories that will not end, and he'll grin that fishing grin of his that tells me life just couldn't be any better.

And, I'll reciprocate. I love sitting on our patio as the evening sun dips below what we call McMicken Dam--a relatively low earthen dam designed to collect run-off water from the desert that stretches to our northwest. It was built in 1956 and protects Luke Air Force Base (and us) from a catastrophic flood. When the sun finally disappears just below the dam, our palm trees and fencepost cactus become silhouetted against the night sky which, itself, has just begun to bloom with stars and the brighter planets. The breeze cools the slightest bit and, sometimes, even carries the tiniest scent of moisture with it. I'll tell BC what it looked like and felt like and sounded like. And we'll be happy, and mindful for this minute and this hour and this day. For Life and Love and Now.  

2.06.2017

MY QUEST FOR COURAGE

Just when I began to feel that I could sleep again; that, perhaps, the world wouldn't end sometime next week; and, that someone...anyone, would finally shout "NO" to Donald Trump (and mean it), my hopes and dreams were crushed because I discovered that Courage has been banned in Washington, DC.

Yes, I believe Courage has been outlawed. Probably erased from the dictionary and ripped from the Thesaurus. And, most alarming of all, I fear it is missing from the souls of all 100 U.S. Senators and 435 Representatives. Missing. Gone. Disappeared. And just when we are in the midst of accepting or rejecting Cabinet Nominees. The very people who will have the greatest effect on our day to day lives and those of our children and grandchildren as they grow older.

Now, I would be the first to say that I, myself, am not very Courageous. It is easy for me to simply remain silent when someone makes a statement I disagree with or don't believe is true. It's easy for me to remain silent during an entire discussion because I want people to like me, and people will like me if I remain quiet and let them assume I'm in agreement with them. Every single one of them.

But all of that carefully crafted non-courageous  passivity kicked me smack in the face a few weeks ago. I attended a gathering of friends...I assumed. But, the friends weren't really friends and, I discovered, neither was I. We weren't each other's people. I had tried to be their people, but I wasn't their people. Actually, not even close. I hadn't been true to them and I hadn't been true to me. But, my feelings were hurt, and I felt lost. I whined a little to my coach, told him my story, and waited for him to pat me on the head. But he didn't. Not even close. I think that's how coaches are.

He assigned me a project. It's called inquiry, and it means I had to begin digging into this whole years-long situation. Digging deep with excruciating honesty dripping from every pore. And I did. I started slowly, but gained a bit of strength and speed as my thoughts grew and matured. And, the end result? I realized how I honestly believed and felt and I suddenly was empowered. Really! Frankly, if you want to meet someone who has spent most of her rather long life terrified to disagree or question, or wander from the norm of the moment, it would be me. Yes, me. I found courage this past Friday and it felt good. It felt really good. I was energized all day yesterday, and I'm still doing pretty darned well this afternoon.

My discovery wasn't  Big Courage--Not the kind I'm hoping our Senators will exhibit as each Cabinet Nominee's name comes before the full Senate. But, for me, it was just as scary. The stakes were high and the quality of my life was in question. But today? Today, I could conquer the world. But I don't really need to do that. Today, I just need to be true to myself and everyone I'm around. Today, I will hope that someone else discovers that bit of courage. That empowerment that proves it's OK to disagree. The empowerment that demonstrates this is who I am. This is what I believe. This is what I must do to be true to us all. That, my friends, is so much better in the long run. Amen.

"COURAGE IS A KIND OF SALVATION"
Plato  

1.23.2017

WATCHING AFTER ALL

On Friday morning, January 20th, 2017, I decided that I would not watch the Inauguration. My mental health had been a little shaky since November 8th, and I had some concerns that Donald Trump's hand on two bibles (one of which had belonged to Abraham Lincoln) might be just enough to pull me right over the edge. I was a little afraid to risk it.

As consolation, I planned to listen to the Inauguration on NPR. You see, I have never missed watching an Inauguration--either as grainy newsreel footage on TV or more recently, actual live minute by minute coverage. And that statement dates back to 1957...Dwight Eisenhower's Second Inauguration. I was twelve years old.

As Americans, I believe we have a very real responsibility to pay attention to all governmental activities that might take place on any given day. So, I tuned into KJZZ, our local NPR affiliate at exactly 10:00 a.m. our time. That, in itself was a break in tradition, because I always start an Inauguration at the very beginning. The oath would be administered at 10:00 a.m., our time, and I felt strong enough to handle that, but I would turn it off as soon as Donald Trump returned to his seat.

Listening rather than watching really isn't too bad. I was surprised, actually, at the fullness of the experience. This time, Chief Justice Roberts administered the oath perfectly (in contrast to 2008--his first time--when he muffed his lines so badly, he and President Obama repeated it at the White House the next day.) Despite my intentions, when President Trump began his Inaugural Address, and as he continued to speak, I knew I needed a 55 inch screen to be sure I was hearing exactly what he was saying. I wondered if he'd picked up one of his old campaign speeches as he rushed out the door of Blair House that morning? But, no. He was saying exactly what he intended to say. He was reading intently from his teleprompters. He was earnest. He was real.

In only 17 minutes and 17 seconds, President Trump had created the picture of a bleak and despairing America. Not only were the inner cities "trapped in poverty," but wealth had been "ripped from the middle class" only to be "redistributed across the entire world."  We had "made other countries rich while the wealth, strength, and confidence of our country had disappeared over the horizon."  We had "subsidized the armies of other countries," "depleted our military," "spent trillions overseas... while America's infrastructure had fallen into disrepair and decay."

And then he announced: "From this day forward, it's going to be America First." And, yes, "First" was capitalized in the transcript of his speech. Sometimes, a presidential candidate really should read an American history primer before jumping into the ring.*

I believe we're all rooting for America. It's our home and our heritage and, at its best, it's the greatest country in the world, but the tone (at this point in the speech) began to harden: "protect our borders from the ravages of other countries making our products, stealing our companies and destroying our jobs...unite the civilized world against...at the bedrock of our politics will be a total allegiance to the United States of America..."

Then, "...most importantly, we are protected by God." I'm actually OK with being protected, and I like to feel protected. But I do not want to be so bold as to suggest that God protects the United States just a little bit more than other countries because we are a favored nation. I'd rather believe that God is watching over all of our world, our solar system and the universe--continually hoping and praying that we learn to live with one another in peace and harmony. We are not alone on this beautiful blue ball we call the earth. There are 7.5 billion of us breathing the same air, drinking the same water, and harvesting the same foods. I believe God's love and protection is given to all, we just have to reach out and accept it.

Actually, as I began to examine the transcript of his speech this afternoon, some of it could have been uplifting. A sentence here and there: "We must think big and dream even bigger...When America is united, America is...unstoppable..." And there are more. But, sadly, not enough. Both tenor and tone denote anger, hatred, fear and distrust. Long time themes of Donald Trump. None of which gives me much hope. SAD.


*America First: The"America First" Committee was founded in 1940 by prominent Americans, many of whom, years later, served in government. Those associated with America First were opponents of the United States entering World War II. America First was seen as an anti-Semitic group. Charles Lindbergh may be the person most closely associated with the Committee. He "expressed sympathy for the persecution Jews faced in Germany but suggested that they were advocating for the United States to enter a war that was not in our own national interest." In a speech dated September 11, 1941, he threatened that Jews would be the first to suffer the consequences of the U.S. going into war. "Tolerance," he said "could not survive war and devastation." Lindbergh also noted that the Jews had too much influence because of their significant ownership of the motion picture industry, the press and their presence in the government. Three months later, our ships were hit at Pearl Harbor and, within days, the America First Committee disbanded. Pat Buchanan briefly revived  "America First" during his abbreviated run for President in 2000.
 

1.16.2017

HELLO GOD...

"Are you there, God? It's me, Margaret." Really...it's Margaret.  I know I call myself Margie now, but you might remember me as Margaret. Margaret Elizabeth Catherine. Yes, the Dodge City girl. The Dodge City Sacred Heart Cathedral Grade School girl.

For those of you who may not be of the Catholic faith, let me explain that extra name tacked on behind Margaret Elizabeth. Good Catholic children choose an additional name when they are confirmed in the Catholic Church. In my era, we were in the Fourth Grade when we were confirmed. The name we chose must be a Saint's name. In my school, a Very Saintly Saint's name. I chose Catherine, partly because my Mother was named Catherine and partly because I was rather taken with St. Catherine of Sienna. I always connected her with St. Francis, a person full of goodness, but in reality she lived a century later than he. They are, however, Co-Patron Saints of Italy. Practically speaking, Confirmation is a means of having one more Saint in your arsenal to call on in times of trouble, because you can never have too many saints. Especially now.

I've been writing in a Gratitude Journal for fourteen months now. It's a good exercise during my early morning quiet time. I've loved my Gratitude Journal, and I'm more than a bit pleased that I've stayed with it this long. But, lately, I've been running into a Gratitude Drought.

It was still dark on the morning of January 7th, 2017, when I settled myself into my  early-morning soft and cozy chair. I had read my Personal Development chapter, read and absorbed my "Daily Word" message, and it was time to record a bit of gratitude:

"Dear Lord," I wrote. "Today it is hard for me to muster up heartfelt sincere gratitude. I know I owe you more gratitude than I have room for in this little book, but I can't seem to find it because of my worries about Donald Trump..."

On January 10: "Dear Lord, I should probably be reading Pam Grout's new book right now and learning how to live gratefully, because I am not waking up with gratitude in my heart...just worry. And, this is a year in which love and gratitude will be sorely needed. I don't feel charged with leading the way, but I do feel I need to find some positive among all the negative. That will be a worthy search. Thank you for the idea..."

On January 13: "I think, Dear Lord, that I might have been drinking decaf coffee yesterday morning and that was the reason everything was so blah and discouraging. Today, I double-checked, and I have caffeine. I feel much better. I hate to sound like a broken record, but I hope you understand that it is very hard for me to deal with Donald Trump being in charge of this country. Please, St. Margaret, St. Elizabeth, St. Catherine and you too, God--Please try to override the worst of his instincts, and help me as I search for my Highest and Best Self. Amen."

P.S. Sooner might be better than later. Thank you..

1.09.2017

WORD OF THE YEAR

"Now is the accepted time to make your regular annual good resolutions. Next week you can begin paving hell with them as usual."         
                                                                                                                Mark Twain

I do love Mark Twain, although I have to admit I never made it all the way through either Tom Sawyer or Huckleberry Finn, and I feel badly about that.  I did, however, watch the PBS-Ken Burns documentary on Twain a year or two ago and stayed awake though the whole thing.

When I posted last week, I was a little distracted by the nation's current state of affairs, and let the actual New Year's Day just pass by. Nonetheless, I hope I've caught you early enough in the year that you still might be considering your list of resolutions and good intentions. If you, like me, really do sit down, pencil in hand, and vow to exercise more, eat less, dust twice a week, and clean out the garage, then what I'm proposing may actually be just the ticket for us both.

Let me reach back to December of 2014. Shortly before Christmas of that year, I was charged with choosing a "Word Of The Year" for 2015. It would be my word (I would have to consider it seriously) and it would be meaningful to me...a relationship (so to speak) with my special word.

I chose the word "Accept." Sometimes I would change it to "Acceptance," depending on the situation and sentence structure. Because I was a total rookie when it came to "Word of the Year," I often skipped right over it and missed it completely. But as the months marched on, I found myself more conscious of the role of Accepting or Acceptance in various situations. Some of those were inter-personal, others could be weather-related, a few were tied to scheduling and, surprise, some were just totally me.  By the end of the year, I had learned to breathe quietly and visualize what "Accept" meant in most instances. The exercise wasn't awkward any more. It had become quite natural and I had become just a bit calmer.

Shortly before 2016 came racing through the door, I chose the word "Connect" to define that year. I definitely share characteristics that lean toward shyness, if not introversion, and connection with others does not come easily or naturally to me. I chose "Connect" because I had learned in 2015 that my Word of the Year would become front and center of my conscious moments and tap me on the shoulder every time an opportunity to connect with someone presented itself. And it has. Fortunately, my Coach has convinced me that Life is Progress and not Perfection, because Connection is, and may continue for years, to be a work in progress. But, I've learned that progress can feel pretty darned good and I'm celebrating my successes.

STRETCH is my word for 2017, chosen because I want to hold onto all the good things I've learned and practiced and promoted. But now, I want to be alerted to the fact that I can reach even farther and dig a little deeper and expand my reach just the tiniest bit. You get the idea. So, as of today I don't have a long list of New Year resolutions. I have my Word, which I know will subtly weave its way into everything I think and do.

For example--I didn't write "DIET" on a list. I'm stretching by eating a little less (100 calories or so per day) and eating better. The cookies I just baked? They're whole wheat and slightly smaller than normal, but they're Chocolate Chip and freeze really well.

I didn't write "EXERCISE" either. This time I'll do the Stretch by adding a block or two to my walk, and scheduling an additional morning to my normal three times a week. I love the STRETCH because it makes me look at everything I do and pause for just a few seconds to figure out how to make it better.

I didn't write "ACCEPT" nor "CONNECT", but they're still front and center. My job is simply to remember that slight pause, then Stretch that Acceptance a millimeter or two, and widen those Connections just a bit more.  I liken it to "Eating the Elephant One Bite at a Time." I've always been good with that.  Happy 2017!