Hope for the world

TIME Magazine’s February 3, 2020, issue included a quote from Michelle Bachelet that encouraged me. I want to share some of her words with you:

“…Hatred is not baked into human nature. It can be healed.… Remember this: no matter how grave and tangled the crisis, core values will steer you to the path of solutions. We are not alone. Other people matter. Justice matters.” *

When I’m tempted to be discouraged and to lose hope, I’m recalled to my core belief: i.e., that we each are called into this life to become the best person we are capable of being so that together we can heal the world. From the time we draw breath, this is our primary work. Nobody said it would be easy. But as the author George Eliot wrote, “What do we live for if not to make the world less difficult for each other?”

*Michelle Bachelet is the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights and a former President of Chile.

Hello again…

I didn’t realize how long I’ve been silent. I’ve been a little overwhelmed by the rapid pace of the news out there and the challenges (health-wise) to my family. I’ve also gone quiet (as I sometimes do) because there’s a hermit’s instinct in me that occasionally takes over.

I don’t have to say it — we all know it — but I’ll say it anyway: these are emotionally exhausting, difficult and trying times for everyone all around the world. Here at home in America we’re being hit with a “perfect storm” of triple crises, and I constantly wonder, how much can I add to the relentless efforts of the best journalists to tell us the truths we need to hear and to encourage us to endure patiently and to act faithfully? I’ve been discouraged, praying for God daily to save our nation and restore us after all this, purged and renewed, “a more perfect union.” But I’ve also lately been thrilled to sense that some sea-tide is turning in our national life; my hope is quickened, my heart lifted.

I thought I’d share with you today my prayer (which is pretty much what I ask for every day, though with different nuances as they come to me):

Our Father in heaven, hallowed be thy Name.

Thy kingdom come.  Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.

Give us today the nourishment we need, the Bread of Life, for body and soul.

Forgive us our sins, as we forgive those who’ve transgressed against us. Forgive, and send your Spirit to help us amend our lives.

Do not lead us into times of trial, nor let us fall into temptation, but rescue us. Rescue us from the evil that lurks within and the evil that assaults from without.

Rescue our nation from the greed, corruption, cowardice, willful blindness, and power-lust that have beset us so strongly, and re-form us into the nation we aspire to be. Bring forth justice and peace in our day.

Good and gracious Lord, deliver us all from anxiety and distress. Bless with your consoling grace those who languish in pain or suffer from disease, hunger, oppression, loneliness, or despair. In your merciful love, bless the dying and comfort the bereaved.

Help us to see clearly as we look on one another, and keep our eyes open to your presence among us. May we honor you in all that we do. For the kingdom, the power, and the glory are yours and yours alone, now and forever.  Amen.

Keep trying…

Unless you try to do something beyond what you have already mastered, you will never grow. (Ralph Waldo Emerson)

These days I’m stretching beyond anything I’ve ever done, chasing a life-long desire to write a work of literary fiction and feeling like I’m back in kindergarten — or even younger: a toddler just learning to walk. I’m fighting the writer’s chief (erroneous) defense against failure: i.e., procrastination: organizing and researching instead of writing, or writing blogs and essays (a more familiar genre for me) because I dread to write and read my feeble attempts to tell a story.  

So that’s why I’m sharing here a collection of other people’s thoughts that I hope will inspire me to keep doggedly pursuing my dream. Here goes:

Let me tell you the secret that has led to my goal. My strength lies solely
in my tenacity.  (Louis Pasteur)

The most essential factor is persistence –  the determination never to allow your energy or enthusiasm to be dampened by the discouragement that must inevitably come.  (James Whitcomb Riley)

You only fail when you stop trying.  (Wachabuy.com)

If you can’t fly then run, if you can’t run then walk, if you can’t walk then crawl, but whatever you do you have to keep moving forward. 
(Martin Luther King, Jr.)

It always seems impossible until it’s done. (Nelson Mandela)

Let’s talk about bullies

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I’m not a psychiatrist but I am a student of human life and motivations, and I’ve been thinking about bullies. Who is guilty of abusing power and using it to diminish others? Surely not just the bully, but also those who prop him up and cheer him on.

We’ve all seen bullies at work in schoolyards. They feed off the fear they can produce in others. They’re emboldened by both the cheering crowds that stand around egging him (or her) on and the silent ones who only stand and watch, saying nothing. They don’t care about doing good for anyone, but only in propping up themselves by diminishing others.

Bully-followers enable the bully’s abusive behavior and, even worse, echo and amplify the nastiness he or she employs. We often give the followers the benefit of the doubt by attributing their behavior to fear and weakness. But for some I think it may be more sinister than that. For some it isn’t just cowardice that keeps them supporting the bully. It’s complicity in the meanness. There is something about seeing others bullied while they remain “safe” and unassailed that I suspect satisfies their own lust for the same kind of power. Watching a bully diminish someone else makes the followers feel less small, more powerful themselves.

It’s possible such followers don’t see their own sin. It’s all too easy for us to compartmentalize our behavior and not see the repercussions of it. But even if our blindness is from ignorance, we have a responsibility to examine and own up to our part in supporting bad behavior. If we don’t see because we don’t want to see clearly, we bear the greater responsibility.

I once worked with a woman who would commiserate with me about two people who were bullying me with false complaints and nasty words. When they criticized and complained about me to the management, she joined them in their accusations and complaints. Then she’d come to me privately later and, in an aggrieved way, ask me why I lumped her in with them – how could I do that to her? So one day I told her: I don’t lump you in with them. You do that when you join in their criticism and complaints. She seemed genuinely surprised. She thought that if she supported me behind closed doors it somehow erased her publicly siding with them. It didn’t.

Whatever the motivations of bully-followers – weakness, cowardice, love of vicarious power, or their own need to diminish others, to stand tall on their pain – I believe they carry the same guilt that the bully does. Whether with cheers or silence, they are supporting the abuse of power that ends in the damage of others, and it’s reprehensible.

These days, we have a bully in the White House and bully-followers in the Administration and Congress. It’s time they were dispossessed of their power.

Our beautiful blue Earth

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As I walk my dog at night I usually gaze at the sky while he sniffs and explores the ground. On these walks I’ve fallen in love with the lucent, ethereal beauty of the moon. One night it hung full and low, softly shining against the night sky, and I thought of the Apollo 11 astronauts’ reflections on their experience during their trip to the moon, how they saw Earthrise.

There was Earth floating like a living jewel in the black expanse of space. a beautiful blue planet alive with visible activity: shifting atmosphere, storms and lightning strikes, volcanic eruptions, seeming vividly alive, as of course it is. It occurred to me that, from the moon, our Earth must have appeared much larger than the moon appears to us. How stunning that sight must be! We’ve seen the pictures of Earth floating in deep space, but how much greater is the eyes’ direct vision compared to the view through a camera’s lens. 

All that was my first thought. Then followed sadness, that we have brought so much destruction and disfigurement to this beauty. We’ve polluted Earth’s once pristine rivers, filled her atmosphere with smog and the stench of burning fossil fuels, scraped her lush valleys and hills clear of vegetation, filled her oceans with plastic waste, ripped up forests and laid down cement.  It’s hard to consider the many ways we’ve managed to devastate our spinning blue home, our greatest treasure.  Earth contains more beauty than we can even begin to see, much less have the wisdom to mourn as it passes away.

Science tells us that human activity, especially our activity since the dawn of the industrial age, has been mindlessly accelerating the destruction of life as we know it on this planet. Extinction of life-forms has been accelerating, Earth is heating up, its carefully calibrated ecosystem shifting, its climate changing, habitats disappearing, polar ice caps melting and seas rising. More and more people are sickened and dying from respiratory diseases, polluted water, famine, and natural catastrophes. It’s distressing to ponder.

Then I found a place on the internet that traces how Earth has changed over the millennia, offering a stunning visual representation and a record that eases my distress. Check it out; it’s worth a visit:  http://dinosaurpictures.org/ancient-earth .  I quote below from this website, naming just a few of the crises through which Earth has survived and evolved:

430 million years ago: Silurian Period. A mass extinction took place, wiping out nearly half of marine invertebrate species. The first land plants emerge, starting at the edge of the ocean. Plants evolve vascularity, the ability to transport water and nutrients through their tissues. Ocean life becomes larger and more complex, and some creatures venture out of reefs and onto land.

340 million years ago: Carboniferous Period. A mass extinction harmed marine life, but land organisms adapted. Plants are developing root systems that allowed them to grow larger and move inland. Environments are evolving below tree canopies. Atmospheric oxygen increases as plants spread on land. Early reptiles are evolving.

260 million years ago: Late Permian. The greatest mass extinction in history is about to take place, driving 90% of species extinct. The extinction of plants reduced food supply for large herbivorous reptiles, and removed habitat for insects.

200 million years ago: Late Triassic. An extinction event is about to happen, resulting in the disappearance of 76% of all terrestrial and marine life species and greatly reducing surviving populations…The first true dinosaurs emerge.

90 million years ago: Cretaceous Period. … dinosaurs evolve. Modern mammal, bird, and insect groups emerge.

66 million years: Late Cretaceous. A mass extinction occurs, leading to the extinction of dinosaurs, many marine reptiles, all flying reptiles, and many marine invertebrates and other species.

35 million years ago: Mid Tertiary. Mammals have evolved from small, simple forms to a diverse group. Primates, cetaceans, and other groups evolve. The Earth cools and deciduous plants become more common

20 million years ago: Neocene Period. Mammals and birds continue to evolve into modern forms. Early hominids emerge in Africa.

Today we are experiencing the beginning of what may become another mass extinction. It’s we who are at risk, not the planet. Our beautiful, self-renewing, evolving Earth will recover. We may not.  We are standing at the threshold of a hell on earth that is of our own making, at least for our species and for those creatures whose lives we are destroying along with our own. These frightening, chastening words from scripture come to my mind:  “They sow the wind and reap the whirlwind.” (Hosea 8:7)  

When we have destroyed the delicate balance of life in which we’ve flourished here, another life form will likely emerge. Maybe it will be the insects that take over. Maybe some creature we can’t imagine yet will appear. But the human species could disappear if we continue to wreck our own habitat and wage endless wars. 

Some people are already suggesting we should plan to escape to the moon and set up residence there. But have you seen pictures of the surface of the moon?!  On that desolate wasteland that looks so beautiful in the Sun’s reflected light, yet is so barren and cold on its surface, a few of us – very few — may one day stand. Then I imagine that whoever they are, the remnant of our civilization will stare up at Earth hanging low in the moon’s endless sky and mourn our exile from this beautiful blue planet, our Eden, our home.