coming out of my shell

coming out of my shell

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Fitting the Crime

It is hard being surrounded by the pain, hardship and hatred that is rampant in this old world.  I notice the wrongness of it even more since my life has slowed down.  I am often crippled by despair when faced with cruelty and injustice.  The recent murders in Charleston have been a struggle to process.  I must say, the young man who committed those atrocities seems less than human to me. There is something sadly rotten about his inner core. Not only do I grieve for those innocent people who were murdered, I grieve for the death of the murderer's humanity.  That he sat through that peaceful time with those good people, found it hard to perform his evil deeds because the people "were so nice to him," and then to have still killed them for the sake of ideological hatred and divisiveness, that is pure evil.  There is no getting around it. 

His crimes are extreme.  He wants to incite a race war.  He wants to turn humanity upside down and in his bizarre notion of reality he wants us all to behave like sick, rabid animals. 

His are crimes against humanity.
All crimes are, actually, because we are a community.  When crimes are committed within our community all of our humanity is diminished.  We all suffer.
Crimes have that ripple effect.  Some crimes are worse and more far-reaching than others.  And that is why it is important that the punishment fits the crime.  

I wonder what the best and most effective punishment for this particular young man might be?  What might best benefit the community - the entire country?  Let us assume that he is neither mentally ill nor of subhuman intelligence.  If he is simply an evil man who committed a heinous atrocity, what is the best way for him to atone for his sins?  Is it even possible? 

It is easy to fantasize in anger and imagine him being executed in pain, or to have him spend his entire life in solitary confinement.  But what is appropriate punishment for someone like him, someone who wanted to plunge an entire country into "race war?"  Remember, he is someone who wants evil to triumph over good, for ignorance to be valued over intellect. This is heady stuff!  

Punishment is supposed to provide a means for a criminal to atone for a crime so s/he can be forgiven and reintegrated into the community.  Sometimes we lose sight of the rehabilitation aspect of imprisonment.  But what would it take to rehabilitate a man like this?  Could something clear this murderer's mind of hatred, jealousy, and fear? What would enable him to think instead of just feel? How could he begin to understand exactly what he has done? If only he could begin to comprehend the vast and terrifying repercussions of his crime, victim by victim.  He would experience the overwhelming sadness and loss his actions engendered in each family member and friend. He would see clearly how his actions fanned the flames of hatred and distrust in both the bad people and in the good people throughout this troubled country. Let's face it, making bad people more hateful is like taking a day off; but doing something so terrible that it makes good people begin to hate is a sincerely horrifying transgression.

Is there any possible way for him to atone for his actions beyond understanding what he did and then suffering endless regret?  And if understanding and regret are not possible, is there really any reason for this young man to continue to live?  I hate asking that question.  I do not have an answer. 

However, I do know this.  Those family members who stood up and forgave him the very day after the murders are the heroes of humanity.  They stand as an example for every person who ever wanted to be more fully human.  Why?  Because they are good people who refused to hate.  In doing so, they triumphed over evil and their actions are our hope for the future.

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Affinity as a euphemism for belonging

A friend sent me the following poem. She knows I miss the trees that grew on our land when we lived in Upstate NY. 

The Mangroves
by Mary Oliver

As I said before, I am living now
in a warm place, surrounded by
mangroves.  Mostly I walk beside
them, they discourage entrance.
The black oaks and the pines
of my northern home are in my heart,
even as I hear them whisper, “Listen,
we are trees too.”  Okay, I’m trying.  They
certainly put on an endless performance
of leaves.  Admiring is easy, but affinity,
that does take some time.  So many
and so leggy and all of them rising as if
attempting to escape this world which, don’t
they know it, can’t be done.  “Are you
trying to fly or what?”  I ask, and they
answer back, “We are what we are, you
are what you are, love us if you can.”

I think about trees a lot.  I am thinking increasingly more about Central Florida trees.  I love the big shade trees that provide the forest canopy:  American Sycamores, Live Oaks, Laurel Oaks, Cabbage Palms, Southern Magnolias, Bald Cypress, and whatever the hell kind of pine trees those are.  There are many more. Unfortunately, I do not know what most of these native trees are called and it is frustrating to not know their names. 

I also think about the understory in natural areas; the smaller trees, palms, and shrubs that grow below the canopy trees providing the deep, dark, wild feeling to the woods.  Without the understory there would be no snakes, no lizards, no fairies!  Anyway, I especially want to thank who or whatever is in charge of creation for Saw Palmetto, Beautyberry, and Firebush.  Nice job!

We live near a really nice, long bike trail.  My husband, T, and I both have Electra Townie bikes.  I have heard them referred to as city bikes, or cruisers.  You can sit up fairly straight as you ride.  They are oldster bikes, and we love them. Mine has black and tan Hawaiian print plastic fenders.  I also have brown leather hand grips and seat, and a black mesh market basket for the front.  The basket comes off easily when we go to the Farmer's Market.  My bike is
très chic

The younger bikers speed past me on the left, hunched over on their sleek, fast bikes with uncomfortable seats.  They are going places, I can see that.  I am simply meandering along with the trail. 

At what point did I go from being a dynamic youngster to a daydreaming oldster?  I don't remember.  Age snuck up on me.  However, by the time I noticed, I was ready to slow down.  So far I am reasonably happy with aging, except for this unfortunate thing that has become my neck.  I am definitely happy with retirement.  I do not miss being in a hurry.  I enjoy having time to think.  As long as we both stay healthy and active it is a pretty good gig.

Occasionally someone on a fast bike will yell "nice bike!" as they whizz by.  I have to confess; sometimes I wonder if they are laughing at me.  That's OK, sometimes I laugh at what they look like in their biking costumes.  Nevertheless, I admire their energy.  I hope they get wherever they are going on time and I send loving and encouraging thoughts their way 'cause, you know, they are the future and all that.  I prefer to believe they are happy to see older people still active on the bike trail.  If they are lucky, someday it could be them on the trail riding an Electra Townie with Hawaiian print fenders.  Maybe they are lusting after my bike!  Yeah, that's probably it.  Bikers, for the most part, seem like a pretty decent bunch.

On our morning bike rides we go through beautiful natural areas that are being bulldozed and razed for new housing developments.  There are more and more of them.  It scares me.  I fear someday there will no longer be a canopy or an understory surrounding any part of the trail.  The large, old trees are the first to come down.  They once shaded the trail. Now more and more of the trail is open to the blazing sun because of the developers' lack of vision.  It is hotter than hell down here, we NEED some shade.  I do not understand people who only care about making a profit.

I guess a developer can make more money if s/he eliminates all the mature trees on the site.  That way they can lay out the ever bigger houses closer and closer together, without regard for trees or tree roots, which are just an obstacle to development if you think about it... 

The newer subdivisions have huge houses that are unbelievably close together with virtually no back yard.  There is no way they can have pools, or trampolines, or swing sets out back.  There is no room.  Oh Gee, now I am filled with anxiety about the future of humanity.  I need to take a pill, and quick.

When you have a very tiny yard you cannot plant large shade trees to replace the ones that were destroyed when the house was built. Not only is there not enough space for them to grow, it would take 20 - 30 years for them to reach a decent size.  Instead, the developers "landscape" by sticking in spindly palms here and there.  I like palms but a single palm tree provides virtually no shade and anyway, most people trim them to look like trees that belong in a Dr. Seuss landscape.  I would laugh if it didn't make me want to cry.  It cannot be good for a palm tree to be over-manicured like that.  They are trees, too.

If only it WAS mangroves I was seeing when I walked outside my house in this damn Central Florida subdivision! Mangroves are seriously interesting trees. W
hy couldn't our daughter, M, and her family have moved to the Florida Keys so we could have followed them there to be near the grandkids?  I could have passed as normal in the Conch Republic.  Plus, I always figured retirement would be my last chance to be an outlaw.  Yet another dream deferred.

Friday, June 12, 2015

Fury Road

T and I finally went to see the new Mad Max movie (Fury Road) the other night.  Fury Road was not nearly as good as the gloriously futuristic Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior, from 1981.  Fury Road fell short because it has a few of the corn-ball, Disneyesque elements that ruined Beyond Thunderdome for me.  

OK, I realize I am probably losing my audience right now.  Yes, this is a 63 year old woman writing a review of a post apocalyptic action movie.  Let me ask you to keep an open mind for a few moments, though. I am trying to figure out WHY I liked Fury Road.  If you have any sense of the absurd at all, the fact that a 63 year old woman can like a movie like this is weird enough that it justifies further consideration.
  • It was fun, fast paced, and loud
  • I like it when the bad guys get blown up
  • The bad guys looked like neo-nazi skin heads, making it even more satisfying to see them get blown up
  • The skinheads go into battle with a heavy metal music war-vehicle featuring skin head drummers on back and a headbanger guitar player tied to the front playing a huge red electric guitar
  • The skin head army is motivated to fight and die in battle by their leader's exhortation that dying in battle is the price they must pay for entrance into paradise, Valhalla (giving even Vikings a bad name!). 
Gotta love all that!  Most compelling for me, Fury Road includes a story line wherein women are trying to help each other.  Women are trying to be heroic.  It alluded to actual female culture (a rarity in any kind of movie) and there was no great romance.  Post apocalyptic, indeed!

Fury Road's good guys included women of various ages, including multiple gray haired women. I liked that, too; although they most certainly did not develop the characters for the old women.  Come on, it is a pop culture movie and it is NEVER going to get it right or be great art.  But at least they acknowledged the older women as courageous and worthy human beings. They also put them on motorcycles and gave them guns. That's new.

Monday, June 1, 2015

Deep Thought

The other morning I almost made pasta sauce with peppermint instead of oregano.

I decided to make red sauce in the slow cooker for a change.  I have two friends who are sisters.  I have known them since high school.  Their Italian mother used to make a memorable sauce wherein she simmered it all day.  It was the best thing I had ever tasted when I was 16.  They keep telling me her sauce only consisted of tomato paste and veal, but I cannot bring myself to cook with calf meat; it is too sad.  I wondered if I could get a similar intensity of flavor with my own red sauce if I used the slow cooker for, say, 7 hours?  I figured while it cooked I could go to the Farmer's Market and buy veggies, and perhaps even purchase the Gardenia I have been dreaming about.  Maybe two.

I had just finished watching a 20 minute long YouTube video of Oprah interviewing the Vietnamese Zen Buddhist monk,
Thích Nhất Hạnh.  Just to give you an idea about how special this guy is, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. nominated him for the Nobel Peace Prize in 1967.  His thoughts on suffering and compassion, anger and love are pretty logical; not the least bit goofy.  I was feeling kind of spiritual, hopeful even, after watching the video.  Considering my nearly constant struggles with the issues he raised, I was a bit preoccupied as I subsequently started to make the red sauce. I was deep in thought.

We have both oregano and basil in large pots on our lanai, as well as spearmint and peppermint, cilantro, and thyme.  I need some dill.  I am trying to grow tarragon from seed, but I am not having any luck.  I know it is because tarragon cannot grow here; they don't even sell it at Lowe's.  What is wrong with me that I cannot surrender to reality?  Even though Lowe's does not sell French Tarragon, they do sell something called Mexican Tarragon.  I imagine it is
really Mexican Marigold Mint.  I should stop being so damned stubborn and give it a try. 

I am usually too lazy to cook with fresh herbs.  T is the master cook around here.  But I just had my mind blown by a holy man and I was determined to be uber-cool and make dinner with fresh herbs.  Yeah - "cool."  I got it all wrong as usual.  I am not bragging.  Sometimes I cannot stand myself.

Anyway, I was deep in thought about issues of great spiritual import while I was harvesting herbs.  Thinking does not make for mindfulness, by the way.  The peppermint is right next to the oregano.  I happily snipped peppermint sprigs and brought them into the house to clean them alongside the basil.   Luckily they did not smell right when I washed them and my olfactory senses brought me back to reality.  I thought, "Wow, this is really odd oregano" before recognizing it for what it was, reliving the snipping experience in my mind, and realizing I had been hacking away at the wrong herb.  Sometimes I forget that I need to pull my head out of the sand once in awhile and come up for air. 

I am almost sure I don't have dementia, nor was it a Senior Moment.  I have always been like this.  I can be a very sloppy thinker.  On the road of life I am more of a daydreaming passenger than a focused driver.

I took a break from writing and went to the Farmer's Market to buy that Gardenia.  I am sad to say the Gardenia vendor was not there.  It was disappointing; however, I will try again next week.

The best part of my trek to the market was stumbling upon a new vendor, a lovely middle-aged, red-headed Belgian woman.  Her red hair was pulled up in back and she had long, straight bangs.  She was elegantly slender, as so many of those Northern European women are, and she was wearing a simple, sleeveless white cotton dress with a nice, tasteful green design that looked to be stamped on the fabric.  I want straight hair.  I want that dress.  I wonder if they make it in a size 14, petite?

She was selling French Madeleines, Dutch Specaloos, and Belgian Waffles.  I was beside myself with joy.  Her accent was heavy and her command of English was weak.  Still, I persisted in engaging her in conversation.  I discovered she had only been in the States for 5 weeks.  She had a French/English dictionary lying on the counter in case she could not remember a word in English.  That just about broke my heart. T and I did a stint at the Farmer's Market last winter selling homemade candles.  I know how rough some of those customers can be, even when English is your first language.  I was a little in awe of her courage in managing the kiosk alone.

She was a stranger in a strange land and by all that is holy I wanted to make her feel welcome.
Talking to her reminded me of the multicultural landscape I used to inhabit over the 37 years I worked at Cornell. 

Getting to interact with people from all over the world was the very best part of my working years.  I was a staff member, not an academic.  Being in a place where I could actually interact with people from other countries was heady stuff for a working stiff like me.  I often shepherded new and confused foreign faculty or graduate students through the workings of a complex university bureaucracy. I always felt honored to help them. 

Like me, the pastry vendor had recently left her home, a place she loved, to move to this strange place called Central Florida to be near her grown child.  Unlike me, she has two other children.  One still lives in Belgium, and the other lives in Vietnam.  She will be visiting her son in Vietnam this summer.  What a brave soul she seemed to be.  It is interesting, living a life.  When you live for love you never know where life might take you. 

Speaking of which, I bought a bag of madeleines and a bag of specaloos and I drove home.  When I got inside I wondered why I had not bought the Belgian waffles, too?  She had told me she made with Belgian Chocolate chips!  I got back in the car, drove back down to the Farmer's Market and bought the waffles. Good thing, too, because those were T's favorite.

Our tween granddaughter, E The Magnificent, was spending the night with us that night.  She imagines herself a foodie.  I looked forward to sharing them with her and T.  Perhaps someday, many years from now, she will be eating a madeleine and will suddenly, inexplicably remember her dear old grandparents.  I understand eating madeleines with a hot beverage can invoke these special powers.  Of course, I forgot the tea!

I recently started counting calories again.  I rode my bike in advance to make room on my balance sheet for pastry.