Saturday, July 18, 2015

To those who fell

 As my wife and I drove though Chattanooga this past Thursday, just after 11:00 o'clock on a muggy July morning, I was completely unaware of the level of terror and mayhem being dispensed with fury that very moment.  While we skirted the east side of town, on our way to Roanoke, bedlam erupted some ten miles away,  as four unarmed marines were being murdered while three other men sustained wounds.  One of the three wounded, Petty Officer Randall Smith, died this morning.  A police officer and a marine recruiter are expected to recover.  So, in addition to the twenty-three year old father of three, Petty Officer Smith,  the following men are no longer with us on this earthly plane:  Gunnery Sergeant Thomas Sullivan, Lance Corporal Skip Wells, Staff Sergeant David Wyatt, and Sergeant Carson Holmquist.

I didn't know them but my heart aches.  Like the nine innocent beings who were shot to death in Charleston, South Carolina just a month before, these young men got up on the morning of the last day of their lives with death not even a thought.

Kids, jobs, grocery lists, birthdays, lunch destinations, weekend plans, God, friends - yes.

Death at the hands of consummate evil in the flesh - no.

But don't let me digress into that soul-less, pit-bound, grisly, rotten evil and the so-called human being who breathed and bled that evil.  The so-called human being whose name I refuse to type in the same space as five American heroes.  There's another time and place for that.  And a wise and loving Power beyond my comprehension will handle that issue in good time.

I also don't want to allow my mind to wander to how horrific it must have been for those tried and trained soldiers, including a two-time purple heart recipient, to be in the position of facing an armed enemy with no weapons with which to protect themselves.  How absolutely mind-blowing to try to comprehend that after tours in battle zones, after learning how to counter-attack, how to fight fire with fire - in their last battle on this earth, they were left to face death without a fighting chance.  To slap at their sides and find nothing there.  To be empty handed in the face of mortal conflict.

No I don't want to do that.

What I really want to do here is something personal and self-serving.  I want to acknowledge the five men by name, thank God for their lives and service to this country, and rejoice in the knowledge that they have been welcomed with  great joy and celebration into the heavenly realm.  I want to send bear hugs and love to their families and loved ones.  I want to wish them comfort and healing.

I want to pray for the wounded to recover.

And, if I could, one more thing, please.

 I want to ask God to instill fresh courage, insight, and wisdom into the elected leadership of this great country, even as it staggers and reels from cancerous divisiveness.  Even as it shows the weakening of spirit brought about by too many years of real and hypothetical enemy fire and friendly fire.  Even as the cracks widen and deepen in its aging foundation for our lack of strong craftsmen to render repairs.  Even as the absolute fiber of this nation unravels because we don't have leadership in place at any level capable of stemming the unraveling and managing the repair.

Some twenty-four hours after the first four young men lost their lives, four sleek black hearses led by state troopers, winded their way north in the inside lane of I-81,  along the exact path my wife and I traveled the day before.  Just as I had no idea of what was unfolding in Chattanooga as we passed through Thursday morning, I had no idea that we were traveling what would become, at least for some time, hallowed ground.  If I had known, I might have found even greater glory in the Blue Ridge mountains ahead of us as they pushed their way through the clouds toward heaven.  I might have perceived the green of the endless forests to be a little greener and the blue of the sharp Virginia sky to be a little bluer.  For there were, after all, heroes on the way.

So when I pray to God for divine guidance out of this sinkhole we seem to be trapped in, I'm not just doing it for me - or for you.   And I'm not just doing for the five most recent casualties of our national illness.  I'm praying for our children and their children.  And for the children beyond that.  I'm praying for our future.   I want them to have a better and braver nation than we have.   Because, let's face it, we need a better an braver nation.  A good deal better and braver.

And, dear God, we need it fast.

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

You go, Pluto!

I wanted to re-share this post I did in March of 2014.  Looking at it now, in concert with all the hype that Pluto has gotten over the past couple of days, I think I may have taken a pretty good swing at the head of the nail.  If you google Pluto, you get over 56 million results.  Not bad for a planet delegated to dwarf status.  John Grunsfeld, NASA's science chief, has been quoted:  "Pluto is an extraordinarily complex and interesting world."

Take that, you eight full-sized planets!

Stand by.  I think the accolades have just begun.

From March 13, 2014

Shakespeare might have written:

Alas, poor Pluto, we knew him Horatio; when he was a planet full; though tiny icy sphere he had pedigree in the Heavens.  Though flung furtherest afar, a simple dot, a flea on Neptune's knee, nonetheless we paid homage to him and his five moons.  Now, Horatio, he dons the dress of the dwarf, a cuckolded planet, a plutoid if you dare, while us poor mortals who once claimed nine, must now make do with eight.

Sorry, Will.  I know you could have done a much better job giving notice of Pluto's ignominious delegation to a dwarf planet.  I'm not certain why we felt it necessary to strip Pluto of planet status.  You'd think the guy would have been grandfathered in after all these years.  Let's face it, he'd been around since 1930 and we were all quite content as fifth graders to triumphantly name him last as we recited the nine planets in our solar system.  Maybe it's just me, but there was something magic about nine.  (I've always been partial to anything divisible by three.)  Eight planets and the sun just doesn't do it for me.  And honestly, he was one of the easiest to remember in order of distance from the sun.  I always got hung up around Neptune and Saturn.

But I digress.

What we did to Pluto would be akin to removing Doc from Dwarf status just because he was the only dwarf who had a name that didn't describe a disposition or mood.  The original Snow White movie was released in 1938, so Pluto had seniority on Doc.  I happen to think that Walt Disney had better judgement and a much higher degree of emotional intelligence than the International Astronomical Union.  He knew that "Snow White and the Six Dwarfs" would be a day late and a dwarf short.  (Oooooh...that was bad...real bad.)

That said, Pluto will soon have a visitor.  The space probe New Horizons will reach Pluto in 2015.  July 14, 2015 if all goes as planned.  Interestingly, New Horizons was launched in 2006, just before the IAU decided to embarrass Pluto, and has zipped along at the pace of just over 36,000 miles per hour since launch.  Sort of a long way and a short time to get there, at least from the perspective of our 13.2 billion year old galaxy. I wonder if NASA had waited a few months to when Pluto was canned as a planet if they would have spent those billions of dollars to visit a plutoid.  I wonder if maybe they might have had New Horizons dip and weave through the belt of Saturn, do a quick flyover of Neptune, and then pull a u-ey and head back home?

We will never know.  I think it would be great if the probe got to Pluto and discovered that though it was small, the dwarf formally known as a planet had more character than Venus and more spunk than Mercury, hidden attributes to the point that it deserved to be reinstated to full planet status.  A formal apology would be issued by the IAU guys and NASA would be exonerated in its decision to send a probe about three billion miles to inspect a chunk of dirty ice.

I think that would be neat, don't you?  Exactly what the Doc ordered.

Monday, July 13, 2015

This morning

This morning, I don't care about the Confederate flag.  Or that the fleur-di-lis is now being investigated as a potential symbol of racism.  I don't care that the umpteenth Republican has thrown his hat or her scarf into the ring.  I'm not concerned about Greece's debt or  which food group Ariana Grande is going to lick with her careless tongue.

I do care about the little four-year-old from down the road who got tangled up with a bulldozer this past weekend and is now hospitalized and struggling through the pain of recovery.  My thoughts have traveled this July morning to many people I know who are personally waging battles against injury, disease, or grief or those who are hunkered down in the bunkers on behalf of those in the thick of the battle.  This morning, those who I am close to on a daily basis or those who I tend at a distance, or even through social media, are on my mind.  They are in my heart as I ponder my own way through life's journey on the roadbed of God's plan.

I covet, on their behalf, the blessings that await them just around the next sharp corner.

At the same time, I always try to remain mindful of the simple pleasures of life that surround and envelop me:  the amazing greens of this summer landscape; the piercing blue sky, finger-smudged by clouds; the insistent and incessant buzz and rattle of July flies.  Even the dream-induced whimpers of two, lazy black cats, stretched out on the shady floor of the screened-in porch.  I even try to find pleasure in heat so humid and thick it permeates the rich bottom soil of the old homeplace, then arises to be stirred and lifted by the occasional breeze, prompting that full, fertile smell to wing its way into my senses.

And I see that life is good.

Life is good because it is life.  I think the parents of that little cast-imprisoned four-year-old would tell us, as bad as it is today and with a long road ahead, life is good because their son lives.

In all the current divisiveness that infects us like a mental and emotional plague - like a germ for which there is no antibiotic -  we must step away for just a minute and be thankful for a heart that beats strongly every second or so, for the ability to breathe the next  breath, for eyes that can choose to see the beauty, ears that can choose to hear the blessings, and mouths that can choose to sing the glory and speak the good news.

This morning, I choose no flag, I claim no politics, I have no soapbox, and  commit to nothing more than the commandment to love my neighbor as myself.  This morning, I give my heart to all who need it in a way that is good and kind.  This morning, I share a smile.

If anyone needs anything else...check with me tomorrow.