In my first year as a camp counselor, I taught an elective course right after rest hour. This period was typically a nonsports activity like arts and crafts, archery, or waterfront. I was in the camp craft department (camping/rock climbing and ropes course), but asked to create a slightly different experience for the kids.
I pitched the class, “Philosophical Ramblings,” to my friend and owner of the camp, Eric Scoblionko, who said, “sure, go for it.”
We had 3 kids from my bunk, all 8 year olds, sign up for the first class. We laid on the grass and looked at the sky. We discussed whether they would rather be a blade of grass in the field or a singular cloud floating overhead. I’d ask if they thought there was life on other planets and if they wanted to live forever. They asked me questions too which I answered honestly. Their minds were open, thoughtful, and curious.
It’s funny that these exact questions are still some of the ones I find interesting to ask myself and friends today. It’s also interesting to realize that even if the questions don’t change, the answers do.
I was a different person at 17 than I am today. I was more impatient. I was more self-centered. I was certainly more insecure. But then, as I do now, I liked to question things. Curiosity mixed with a scientific skepticism has always been my way.
Now, however, it takes a little more effort to challenge my beliefs, world view and sense of reality and purpose. I probably need to spend some more time lying on the grass and looking at the clouds.
Philosophical Ramblings never got more than 8 kids, and I was just fine with that. I’d rather connect with a few minds deeply than just scratch the surface with many.
If you want to connect with me, I’ll be in the park today after nap time.
“Is it worth it?” the woman asks me as she and her companion make way for our group to pass up the hill. She was only about ten minutes into the 30-minute hike to the top of the Airport Mesa Vortex in Sedona. We were at the tail end of the little trek as she queried my opinion if the journey is deserving of the effort.
“Yes,” I say, “it’s beautiful.”
She sighed and smiled and continued on her way needing only a little encouragement from a stranger who had traveled the same road she was on.
This particular hike is one of the shortest in all of Sedona and like most of the hikes there, it is spectacular. I’m quite certain that my passing trail inquisitor was most pleased she didn’t abandon the path.
On another hike outside Flagstaff, we came upon a young man and his grandfather struggling up a steep dusty rocky trail. The grandfather was wearing worn leather loafers – definitely not the proper shoes for the job. He joked that his grandson “got him into this.” The grandson sheepishly told us that the trail was “supposed to be ‘easy.’” We knew that the hike, Fat Man’s Loop, was “moderate.” That said, the grandfather looked very pleased to be on this little adventure with his grandson. I’m sure his heels were going to be badly blistered and he’d be sore for days, but if asked, I’m also sure he would say, “it was worth it.”
Sometimes we have to search for the meaning and the worth. And sometimes, it’s as clear as a magical view from a mystical vortex.
This poem was inspired by a small pale yellow butterfly I watched fight its way up a steep cliff a few years ago. The winds were brisk with downdrafts and updrafts sweeping the small creature to their will.
But my butterfly hero was undeterred.
I watched this brave creature fight forces it seemed so powerless against. After a long fight, it finally made its way up. It didn’t tary or do a celebratory circle or fly by. It just continued on its journey.
For many of us, 2020 was a year like that and I think we’re almost up the cliff.
We can’t control the winds or the rocks, but we can certainly control our wings.
Don't Blame the Wind
Don’t blame the wind for it blows with no care.
Don’t blame the rocks for the flesh they would tear.
Don’t blame your wings for the strength they must find.
Don’t blame the sun for the eyes it does blind.
Don’t see the course as too long or too sheer.
Don’t see the drop as penance to fear.
Don’t see the ridge as the end of the road.
Don’t see the flowers as a jealousy to goad.
Look to the wind for the lift it provides.
Look to the rocks for the boundary to glide.
Look to your wings for the power they possess.
Look to the sun for the warmth it begets.
Do see the course for a path to reveal.
Do see the drop for motivating appeal.
Do see the ridge as a link in the chain.
Do see the flowers as friends on the way.
Some loops bring you forward
Some swerves set you back.
The journey’s rarely straight lines
We must be ready to tack.
So drink in the sun
Make the toil delight.
Keep beating your wings
And your life will take flight.
On a few of my first trips to see the sunrise, I was a little disappointed. I had it in my head that the morning display would always be this big perfect circle of thermonuclear fire rising majestically from the cool blue sea. However, I have learned that quite often, it’s not like that at all.
Frequently, clouds and mist obscure the horizon. I know the exact time of the sunrise since Siri tells me. Although I don’t doubt her accuracy, minutes after that time has passed, there is no sun to be seen. Instead, all you’ll see is an almost begrudging purpling, then graying, then an amber pinkening.
As you listen to the waves consistently inconsistent percussion of the Earth’s heartbeat, you may be fortunate to see a cumulus cloud’s sharp outline glowing brightly like the yellow almost white hot edge of a dead leaf alighting its silhouette in a bonfire. The sun is there, but we can’t see it. We see evidence of it, but it is not quite… self evident.
So much of what we strive for – love, joy, recognition, affection, acceptance, success, peace, satisfaction, friendship, validation, strength, wisdom, excitement, adventure, contentment, health, creativity… is there for us. The clues are all around, but they are obscured by the clouds of our own making.
We say sun “rise,” but it’s really us riding atop the Earth spinning down toward the relatively stationary sun. So too must we spin our minds to see our larger truths. The hazy mist of confusion, the drenching rain of despair, the suffocating darkness of loneliness, the thick clouds of doubt – there are a thousand obstacles that float in our way, but our truths are there. The goal is to make them obvious… to you. It may not be swift or easy, yet that should not be a deterrent. Frequently, the rewards we receive with no great effort are valued very little in the end. Contrarily, the most satisfying goals achieved are the ones that required the most work.
Over these early mornings, I have learned lessons of patience. Lessons of appreciating subtle change. Lessons of valuing what is there, rather than lamenting what is not. The clouds have taught me that in addition to Jefferson’s self evident truths of the equality of all people and our unalienable rights of “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness,” there are so many more relative truths out there waiting for me to become aware of them.
I went to the beach to seek the sun, but have also become so very thankful for the clouds.
“Have we no sense decency, sir?” Twenty-five thousand troops to protect ourselves from ourselves during our “peaceful” transfer of power ceremony is so very sad. We can do better. We must do better.
I had an invigorating conversation with one of my most favorite people, Rabbi Dan Levin, senior rabbi at Temple Beth-El in Boca Raton. We discussed the polarization this country faces caused in large part by politicians and the media, along with the loss of community and personal interaction that COVID accelerated.
We discussed his idea of creating a Political Action Committee that demands decency. The Decency PAC could be funded by some thoughtful billionaires who want their resources to towards American society’s betterment. This would have to be nonpartisan and nondenominational. Perhaps the Koch Brothers, Elon Musk, and Michael Bloomberg can partner together to support this project to have our politicians agree on some fundamental parameters of behavior.
Even a “life begins at conception” conservative and a “green new deal flag-waving” liberal will agree on 95% of what they believe to be a sense of fairness and decency.
To get the PAC’s support, politicians would have to agree to some wild things, like:
Tell the truth (silence is complicity)
If politicians are found to violate these basic rules, they’ll lose their good standing and financial support from the PAC, which will then support other candidates that do.
I know this is oversimplistic and begs dozens of other questions, like “who’s truth,” “what does it mean to be just,” but I do think these are solvable hurdles for our powerful and thoughtful PAC.
OK. So, anyone know some thoughtful billionaires to start up the Decency PAC?
One of the positives to come out of the pandemic for us was that we got a few more weeks at home with Hannah. Our beautiful daughter came home for Thanksgiving break from her freshman year and didn’t go back until today.
Interestingly, it was almost harder for Hannah and Susan to say goodbye this time, then it was sending her off to school for the first time. Perhaps, with so much craziness going on in the world, it was comforting to see her smiling face every day. It used to make us nuts how late she would sleep, but at least we knew where she was and that she was safe.
But, she’s back to where she belongs right now. She’ll quickly be busy with school and rush, and that she is there will feel normal soon enough.
I don’t pretend to understand the special mother-daughter bond completely, but I honor it. They can have their secrets and their complex communication they transmit in a glance, and that’s just fine with me.
I love them both, and I cherish them both, but tonight I’ll only be able to hold one.
I’m challenging myself to find a good story to tell about the terribly sad day this country suffered yesterday. In trying to explain what was happening to my daughter, I said, “it’s like after you flush the toilet, the most violent and furious activity occurs just before its contents disappear down the drain.” I’m not sure she found that comforting or truly illuminating, yet yesterday is what I hope to be one of the final acts of this challenging chapter in our country’s history.
I’m using all my empathetic skills to feel the “patriots’,” who stormed our nation’s capitol, pain and frustration. Their story’s main narrator will soon be out of power and I’m hopeful they will find a new station to listen to or at least add to their media mix. Their pain and fear are real. We must listen and stive to understand them. They are Americans and we will be stronger together than divided.
I’m not a democrat and I’m not a republican. I’m a fiscally conservative, socially liberal, rational middle, love my country kind of person. I don’t need everyone to agree with my views. I just want them be respected as I promise to do to with theirs. FYI, I don’t plan on writing too many political posts, but as I was starting my blog today, this is what was on my mind.
2021 has begun with a pandemic raging, political conflict and economic uncertainty. I am an optomist. I have faith in the American spirit and our communal wisdom. We have a vaccine rolling out. We have a new administration rolling in. We have each other to hold on to.
Yesterday was a dark day. There will be brighter days ahead that may be even brighter as a reaction to the tragedy of yesterday’s actions. That is a story I look forward to telling. So, to end my first blog post, thank you for reading and may peace be with you.