Thursday, November 13, 2014

An American Thanksgiving

A Thanksgiving Story
By Brenda Duffey © November 5, 2014

I wish I had died in England. At least there I could have been on familiar streets knowing where to scourge for food and shelter. This miserable hell hole is far worse than anything I knew in England. The worst part is never being able to get out! The foul smells of human excrement and disease fill what little breathing space there is. Like many around me, the constant pitching and rolling of the ship has caused a sickness in my stomach like nothing I have ever known.
When it first hit me, I couldn’t get to the ladder in time to climb upstairs and, like many others, soiled the cabin floor with a stink so vile it made me even sicker. I spent many hours standing in the rain and wind that blew across the main deck as I heaved up my vittles until there was nothing left to heave, but I kept heavin’. My stomach has finally adjusted to the rollin’ but now I am weak from lack of water, food and fresh air.  I want to go back to England! Why did I have to come on this journey with this family that took me on to be an indentured servant?  How long has it been?
It was July of 1620 when four of us “bastards” were rounded up in London and
indentured to four families of “Puritans” sailing on a journey to Jamestown Colony in the New World. My birth mother called me Dorothy, but I had neither proper christening nor last name because of my illegitimacy. Although bound by indenture to the John Billington family, I still had no legal surname.
My most prominent feature is my curly, red hair like my mother’s. I also have her creamy white skin that is translucent when not smeared with the grime of London’s dirty streets and air. These Puritans in their plain black and white with high collars and plain sleeves seemed dull and boring.
 For most of my sixteen years, I never knew a home. My birth mother provided what she could until she died when I was seven. Then, I roamed the streets during the day avoiding the enforcers and takin’ what I needed to survive. At night the four of us found a spot near the London Bridge on the Thames where we made our sleepin’ quarters and shared the day’s money and vittles. Didn’t see the need to be sent out on this journey with people I didn’t know who really didn’t care about me.
There were 65 of us on a ship called The Mayflower. We sailed down the Thames into what I heard was the English Channel. There we met a ship called the Speedwell carrying 35 “Separatists” from Delfshaven, Holland. In August we set sail for Plymouth but had to stop in Dartmouth when the Speedwell developed a leak.
Eventually, the 35 passengers on the Speedwell transferred to our ship at Plymouth when the captain declared his ship to be unseaworthy. On September 6, 1620, the Mayflower set sail from Plymouth for the northern reaches of the Jamestown Colony with 102 “pilgrims” sharing a space meant for 65. The journey has been fraught with danger and problems, the least of which is the cramped quarters.
 Not long after we sailed from Plymouth, we entered an ocean that was as angry as the God these pilgrims worshipped. The air turned freezin’ cold on the main deck and for days it seemed as though we were moving backwards and crosswise instead of forward. Mistress Jane, the lady I’m bound to, says we have to stay strong and believe in God’s intervention to get us to the land He has waiting for us. My Mistress also says God made a “covenant” with His people. I didn’t make a covenant. I don’t even know much about what that is. All I know is that I am sick and weak and don’t like this idea of “fasting” to gain God’s good will.
One of the thunder and wind storms tore the front bow apart yesterday and Master John and other men on board took their building tools to the main deck to help the captain and crew in its repair. Without the repair we would have been lost for sure. Young Samuel Eaton was blown off the ship whilst helping with repairs but “thanks be to God” as Humility says, he was spared being lost at sea.
Humility, the Chilton’s daughter, said her people don’t “hold much to any celebrations ‘cept fasting and giving thanks for Divine intervention.” Humility is three years younger than I am. She has blue eyes that send out an aura of warmth to soften a mouth that doesn’t know how to smile and a face that lacks the fresh, exuberant glow of youth. Even if we weren’t in such a harsh predicament, I don’t think there would be many smiles or much laughter. O, how I miss those smiles and laughter that filled our “wretched” hovel in London!
 I hear muffled voices: Brother John, the Mistress’ husband, grabs his musket and shot and climbs the ladder to the main deck. I can hear the Captain speaking.
“I think we are close to Hudson Bay at the northernmost reaches of the Colony.
Here, there is a tip of land that is on the lee side of the harbor where we can anchor. Bring four men who are handy with musket and shot and I will go with you to find what stores of supplies or camps may be here.”
Before Brother John can speak, Brothers John, Samuel, William and Henry are ready at the base of the ladder. Everyone congregates to say a prayer as they get ready to leave the ship.
Master William Bradford prays: “O Lord God and heavenly Father, which of Thy unspeakable mercy towards us hast granted us safe passage thus far. Grant us strength and peace to find food to restore our weak bodies so that we may continue in Your work to build Your colony in this New World.”

As bowed heads are raised the entire group says, “Amen.”
It is quite a relief to be anchored in this harbor away from the rough winds. We can move about more freely and take in fresh air on the main deck. It is much colder here in November than it is in London at this time of year. The view from the ship reveals a barren and rocky shore with what appears to be abandoned corn fields in the distance. Do people inhabit this place? Will the men return with food or fresh water? Our stores of food have dwindled to almost nothing. One of the women has given birth to a son during this time – another sign that God has blessed this pilgrimage. I would have preferred to have some food myself.
After a few days the men returned with news of what they found as well as stores of corn and beans. The seed corn they found cannot be used until the frozen ground thaws in the spring. The men reported that the island had appeared to be deserted, but they had found stores of corn and beans buried in soft mounds about six miles inland. There was also a spring nearby covered with ice, but the men were able to melt the ice into fresh drinking water. We feast on the corn and beans and water and will save the seeds for planting in the spring. The captain has decided we need to head for the mainland as the winds have calmed. The captain says there may be Indian settlements there. 
December 21, 1620, we have landed safely and the men have gathered to sign a covenant with God about the purpose of the colony we will start here and its governance. Master William Bradford has been named the leader of the colony. We have unloaded our tools and set about finding timber for the cabins. The work is arduous. We are cold and malnourished, but we must build our shelters for the air is bitter cold. In addition, we are poorly dressed and fed.
A bitter, unforgiving cold that kills all life has made its winter home here. There are no signs of other inhabitants and our food as well as our health and stamina decline more each day.  In addition to malnourishment, people are dying from scurvy and tuberculosis. We have finished the cabins and now our days are filled exploring and digging for winter roots and herbs to make thin soups and teas. I am amazed that the pilgrims show no signs of desperation. Their countenances reflect the same solemn expression I noticed from the first day. Every day begins with the same prayers.
 “O Heavenly Father, we pray for your mercy and Divine intervention to bring us through this time of testing in the fulfillment of our covenant with you.” How long before that happens?
The men leave each morning to hunt for any ground animals that can be used in the soups. Hunger gnaws like a rat on the insides of my stomach and we pray for the return of warm weather reflecting God’s mercy upon us. The graves of the dead grow in number as each day passes. After each burial I wonder who will be next. Will it be me?
 It’s strange but these religious people who do not smile also do not grieve. Their faces show little emotion at all – no sign of grief, sadness or pain. When Humility’s fever broke and she took some hot soup and tea, there was no outpouring of joy – only a solemn prayer of gratitude delivered in a monotone voice thanking God for his mercy and saving of this one young soul. Maybe the joy and celebration will come with the spring – if it ever comes.
Life has finally returned to this region but the deaths have been many. Of the 100 who survived the journey here, there are only 51 still alive. Prayers of gratitude have been said for God’s mercy as we hear the animal sounds throughout the surrounding woods portending the beginning of the return of warmth and light. The men are bringing home deer, turkey, quail and pigeons. Still no laughter or singing joyful praises.
Trees are beginning to blossom and there are signs that this frozen wilderness will grow into a virtual Garden of Eden as the earth awakens to the gentle forces of warm sun and rain. Soon the trees and bushes will blossom and ripen to provide nuts and berries of all types to fill our ravenous stomachs. It is April, 1621 and we now know that we have landed far away from the Jamestown Colony. We can now venture from our cabins to explore. Today, an Indian named Samoset came to visit us.
As we saw this strange figure approaching our village apprehension filled the room like the shroud of death approaching.  We had heard reports that the Indians were friendly and peaceful, but this man was half naked and wearing ornamentation that looked to be of Lucifer. This man was not Lucifer, however.
 Samoset was a tall, dark skinned Native who spoke English. Everyone was amazed to hear his first word, “Welcome.”  Samoset told us he was from the Abenaki tribe that had lived and hunted in these forests in peace since the time of The Peacemaker. We later learned this time was around the 12th Century by the European calendar.
The Abenaki knew the land and traveled by birch bark canoe along the abundant rivers and streams to hunt and trade. During Samoset’s travels he had traded with inhabitants of the Jamestown Colony and that was how he had learned English. Samoset and his tribe members were to prove invaluable to us that first summer in what we called the Plymouth Colony.
A group of women known as Klan mothers came with Samoset the next day with baskets of food containing corn, squash and beans. These baskets were shaped like a funnel with a small hole at the top growing and expanding to a large opening at the end which contained the glorious bounty being given to us. We called these the Horn of Plenty.
 Samoset explained that these baskets were symbols of the way the Great Mystery who lived in the sky supplied food to the humans below. The Great Mystery sent food through a funnel cloud that worked like a vacuum pulling all his rich bounty through the small opening to spill into the larger opening on the end.  So long as the Horn of Plenty
was kept empty the supply would continue. No one needed to be hungry if this principle of sharing continued.
We were grateful for the food as well as the Klan mother’s help in showing us how to grow Indian corn, squash and beans by using the companion gardening method. These plants were called the Three Sisters because they were grown together; each supplying shade or nutrients to the other for maximum growth and soil fertilization.
The Klan mothers took the women of our colony into the forests as the summer progressed to show us edible as well as poisonous plants. I was especially interested in the roots and herbs they taught us to grow not only to season our food but for use in healing.
I remember the first day I ventured into the forests with the Klan mothers. As we left the open field of the village and walked into the shade of the deep forests, I took off my bonnet and began to sing a bawdy tune I had learned while living on the streets in London. Suddenly, I saw a shadow in front of me. As I approached I saw a native warrior dressed in the same manner as Samoset, albeit somewhat younger. I stopped singing and froze in place. My eyes met his and I noticed a warm smile and a nod of his head as if to say, “Please, continue.”
I walked past, returning his smile and started to swing my basket joyfully until we reached the place where we were to collect fruits, nuts and berries. The smile lasted most of the day only diminishing as I approached the village near sunset and once again tied my curls in the bonnet that covered my head.
Samoset spent time with the men that summer showing them some of the ways of hunting in the forest and explaining that some areas of land were “game preserves” protected from settlement and only used for hunting and foraging. Samoset shared another principle of the Peacemaker “Take only what you need and show gratitude at all times. Scrape the bark of the trees and chew it for keeping the mouth clean and gums healthy,” said Samoset. The pilgrims also discovered that the tree bark was as helpful in preventing scurvy as the limes the sailors had carried aboard The Mayflower.
  As spring turned into summer I found myself creating a special bond with these joyful, loving people and began daydreaming about the handsome young warrior a lot.  I felt as though I were with my London friends living free and enjoying the earth’s great bounty. We laughed and played as we worked. I began to wish I could give up the plain, black and white garments for the colorful clothing worn by the Native women.
One day one of the Klan mothers brought me a beautiful beaded cap to wear in place of the white bonnet I wore over my thick, red curls. I loved it! When I returned to the cabin, Mistress Jane took it from me and told me scarlet was the color of Lucifer, and I needed to keep my hair inside my bonnet so as to cover my shame. The chains of my servitude extended far beyond the obligations of work and service. I was beginning to feel as trapped as I had felt in the stifling confines of the cramped Mayflower. I longed to be free!
Throughout the spring, we prepared our cabins for shelter for the coming winter. Those who had survived the winter felt their health and stamina returning. The women worked in the gardens and collected stores of berries, fruits and nuts to save for the coming winter. Some men focused on fishing then trading the fish for trade goods from surrounding Native settlements. In addition, the men found great flocks of water fowl, geese, quail, partridge and wild turkeys. Venison was also in great supply. All summer there was no more want. As the colony progressed, I kept asking myself, where are the smiles? Where is the joy? Will there ever be time for play and celebration?
At the beginning of November, almost one year to the day we landed at what we now call Cape Cod, it was time for the harvest. William Bradford, the governor of our colony decided that there should be a special rejoicing after we gathered in the fruits of our labors. He sent four men from the colony to find as much fowl as would serve the colony for a week. During that week, the men practiced their shooting skills and many Indians from the surrounding forests came to join in our celebration because they, too, had a similar harvest celebration at this time of year.
King Massasoit and several of his men came to join the celebration bringing enough venison for the entire colony. Klan mothers came with Horns of Plenty filled with corn, beans and squash to add to our portions. We feasted for three days. Before the feast, Governor Bradford offered forth this Thanksgiving prayer:
“O, Lord our God and heavenly Father, which of Thy unspeakable mercy towards
Us, hast provided meat and drink for the nourishment of our weak bodies. Grant
Us peace to use them reverently, as from Thy hands, with thankful hearts: Let Thy  
Blessing rest upon these Thy good creatures, to our comfort and sustenation: and
Grant we humbly beseech Thee, good Lord, that as we doe hunger and thirst for
food for our bodies, so our soules may earnestly long after the food of eternal life,
through Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior, Amen.”

As Governor Bradford offered the prayer, all heads were bowed and eyes closed. I opened mine and caught sight of the young warrior whom I had brushed past in the forest. He was smiling that beautiful smile again. I retuned the smile in a coquettish manner and then quickly closed my eyes and bowed my head in preparation for the “Amen.”
            With winter came the isolation in the cabins once more, but we enjoyed warmth and proper sustenance thanks to the help of the Native Americans. Although it was winter, there was little rest, for, “Idleness is the work of the devil,” said Mistress Jane. During the day, six days a week, the men worked on caulking holes in the cabin, repairing roofs and keeping a good store of wood.
When weather permitted, the men also worked on storehouses and barns for grain and animals and building the church meeting house. Sundays were days of rest to honor God and his mercy. I longed for the lighthearted chatter and music that filled the small hovel I called home with my four friends in London. I also longed for the freedom of the woods and the chance to meet my handsome friend whose smile and good nature filled my adolescent daydreams.
At last, warm weather returned and I was anxious for the visits of our neighboring friends. After finishing the breakfast chores, I heard sounds of activity outside and was certain the time of their return had come. I walked outside and saw the men of the community busily digging post holes and sawing wood. I walked up to Master John and said, “What art thou doing?”
“It is time to claim God’s land for our colony, and we are building fences around the village to protect it from marauding thieves and wild animals.”
“What about the Abenaki?” I asked.
            “These people are not part of God’s colony,” he said. “They are not pleasing to our Creator neither in dress nor speech. We must separate ourselves from them. You must also stay away and turn your thoughts to God’s work in this colony given to us.”
            “I shan’t do that,” I said. “These people befriended us and helped us. It is wrong to do this!”
            “What is this blasphemy!” shouted Master John. “Jane, come get this young one and give her mouth a thorough cleaning and proper instruction so that she will never do this again. You are also forbidden to leave the confines of this village!”
            Mistress Jane came for me and scrubbed my tongue and mouth with lye soap. The blisters that formed lasted for two weeks and made it painful for me to eat or even speak. I went into a dark depression and my days were filled with unending work and prayer. I finally knew why these people never smiled. During this time, the men of Plymouth Colony completed the walls of my prison.
Throughout the summer I could hear birds singing with other lively animals accompanied by the echoes of laughter, and I longed to be part of that. I soon developed a plan. I was not afraid. The people and the forests were my friends – not these people who had brought me here without a name and forced me into servitude to them and a God I did not understand. I knew I could live in the forests until I found a home with these loving, peaceful people. Escape was easy.
In the wee hours of the morning when everyone was asleep, I slipped from my feather bed next to the fireplace in the kitchen and quietly opened the door. I returned the latch and walked like the Indians making no sound until I reached the gate. Once through the gate I ran as fast as I could into the forest. I ran until I could run no more. Feeling safe in the deep confines of the forest, I found some water and feasted on berries and nuts as I listened to the sounds of an awakening forest. Soon, I heard the sounds of the pilgrim men coming to look for me. I found a thicket for cover and made myself invisible as I heard the whacking of bushes and cracking of twigs being broken. Then I heard voices.
“She must be with the savages across this crick. We have to get her!” Heavy footed men walked past and I held my breath, afraid to make a sound. The sounds soon started to dissipate, but I was still afraid. Was it safe to get up? Were they gone? What was that? Someone coming! This sound was lighter than the others - the sound of moccasins, not heavy boots. I made a tiny opening in the leaves through which to look. I was startled by the face of my daydream lover smiling down at me!
Am I really safe? Has he just found me for the others? What will he do to me? I am sure he can hear the pounding of my heart. I see his hand reach out to me and I grasp it. He gently pulls me up and looks in a questioning manner in the direction the men have gone. I shake my head vigorously with eyes full of fear. The young warrior knows instinctively what to do. He takes my hand and we walk swiftly and quietly in the other direction. I am no longer afraid. He knows the forest. I would follow him anywhere. He stops suddenly and listens. I don’t hear anything, but he obviously has heard something.
He quickly creates a place in a thicket of leaves and motions for me to hide there. He then turns and walks in the direction of the sound he hears. Soon, I hear it – heavy boots, voices speaking English. “Have you seen a young woman pass this way?” I don’t dare look to see what is happening although I am assuming he is nodding as if to say, “no.”
“No, we aren’t interested in hunting. No, we don’t want your birds. This is useless; we must return to the colony. She is a lost soul that never was one of the chosen anyway. Let’s go back.”
Sounds of heavy boots walking away, but there are also lighter sounds walking in the other direction. Have I been abandoned by everyone? Maybe I am damned. I start to cry with muffled sobs. Suddenly, I hear a sound of footsteps, light like those of moccasins. The thicket opens and I see the face of my dream lover once again. I smile as he offers me his hand. As I stand up I see a young woman with him who holds a basket of fruit which she offers to me. I feel safe at last.
There is much celebration as I am welcomed to the Abenaki village. There are rows and rows of cedar bark longhouses with a palisade (fence) surrounding it, but there is a welcoming aura pervading the air. The storehouses are filled with corn, beans and squash and the women are busy grinding flour and making beautiful leather clothes and moccasins. Samoset’s wife – the Klan mother – steps forward to offer me a beautiful beaded dress and moccasins with a hat to match. The handsome warrior – her son- steps out of the longhouse. Although the Klan mother speaks her native language, Abenaki translates.
“Running Deer, our son, has reached the age of maturity and would take a wife. When he heard you singing and saw you in the forest clearing during the time of the Green Corn Moon, it was as though a red bird (cardinal) stepped in front of him. In our culture, when a red bird appears before someone single, it is a sign of love and romance. Running Deer has spoken of no other since that day.”
Samoset looked at his smiling son then turned once again to me and continued, “We would like for you to join our Klan of the Turtle and live in the longhouse with my wife, Corn Mother, and the rest of our family. You will have a special place as one who sustains love and good relationships in the tribe and will travel with me, Corn Mother and Running Deer to Council meetings as a sign of good will.”
I ran toward Corn Mother and hugged her as a sign of acceptance. That night, Running Deer and I became one under the light of the Green Corn Moon. Before we left the village for our wedding bower nestled in a clearing away from the bright moonlight, Samoset said, “Tomorrow, there will be a naming ceremony for all the children born since the time of the last Green Corn Moon. Your wedding to Running Deer will be blessed and you will receive your family name ‘Little Red Bird,’ reflecting your place in our tribe.”
My heart was filled with love and gratitude as I walked with my husband to our wedding bower, dreaming of that night and the day to come. Finally, I had a name. I belonged and I had a place and role to fulfill in life. I couldn’t stop smiling.

Sunday, November 9, 2014

November 11th - A Day to Celebrate Peace or War?

Armistice Day - When I was in school we celebrated Armistice Day. We celebrated on November 11th for a reason. It was on this day in 1918 that the "war to end all wars ended." "On the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month, the Allies and Axis powers both laid down their arms and the fighting ceased. The world had never known such bloodletting and killing that had continued for 4 years draining all the resources of the major European powers as well as killing an entire generation of young men. The massive famine that followed killed even more millions of civilians.The gratitude the world felt when World War I ended was expressed in setting aside November 11th as a day to honor peace and celebrate the fact that the world was now ready to lay aside war as a method of solving international disputes.  Everyone wanted peace.

This attitude was so strong that in 1928 the major world powers signed a treaty that would ban the use of war as a method of solving conflict. That treaty was known as The Kellog-Briand Pact. In essence that treaty signed in Paris on August 27, 1928 and ratified by the United States Senate and signed by the President in January of 1929 renounced war as an instrument of national policy. Other countries signing the pact were: Australia, Canada, Czechoslovakia, Germany, Great Britain, India, Irish Free State, Italy, New Zealand, Union of South Africa, Poland, Belgium, France and Japan. That Treaty has never been revoked, but it certainly has been disregarded by the United States just as the Constitutional requirement that only Congress has the power to declare war.

Not only was the Pact ignored, but the victorious allies continued with their arms buildup while denying that Germany had the right to any weapons. We know how that ended. Since World War II and the introduction of the ultimate weapon of mass destruction, the major powers of the world have continued - with the United States in the lead - in an never ending arms race holding the people of the globe captive with their stockpiles of weapons and increasing military budgets while all the while proclaiming each side wants peace. Peace is not achieved with the the power of a gun. That is only subjugation of people under the idea that "might makes right." That is still the attitude about the way to peace in the 21st Century.

Today, we have generations of young adults who only remember November 11th as a celebration of victory in war. We wave the flag and bow and honor those "heroes" who have made our world peaceful. I am not here to judge the veterans who go off to fight in the wars and come home physical and emotionally damaged. What I am judging is the attitude that sends off its young people to kill and maim or to kill and maim others until one side can claim "victory" and then the war ends and the "heroes" return home until called again to "serve." Those young men who fought in World War I and the people who lived through that horror finally understood "at the 11th hour on the 11th day of  the 11th month" that guns do not make peace. The world readily accepted the proclamation of a day set aside on November 11 to honor the laying down of weapons and fully supported the Kellog-Briand Pact. How did we lose sight of this very important principle and when will it return? I have compassion for our veterans and the losses they suffered trying to support their individual countries, but I think we can do more good for our veterans and our country alike if we start to think more about how to prevent war in the first place and rename November 11th for what it meant originally - a day to honor peace.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Those Who Don't Learn the Lessons of History are Doomed to Repeat It.

In 2009 I published my first novel "The Peacemaker." During the years I spent teaching American history in states across this nation, I learned an important lesson - the cycles of war, environmental damage and recurring destructive poverty that now affects the whole planet have continued because we have not addressed the root causes prevalent in our history that keep us mired in these events. I went into teaching because I wanted to help young people make a better life for themselves by helping them read to promote knowledge instead of ignorance, to learn to think critically and learn the lessons of cause and effect and also to help them become productive members of society by helping them get in touch with not only their ethnic background but those of the myriad of cultures that represent the United States of America. What I discovered during my years as a teacher was that in order for my work to have an impact, I needed to write something that would reach not only those students I was currently teaching but the large numbers of Americans who were ignorant of the true story of American history and how our supposed free Republic failed to meet its responsibly to those it governed from its inception. Writing "The Peacemaker" was my effort to tell in fictional form the "true" story of American history - all the stories of our culture that were left out of the textbooks I studied when I was in school and college and how this has affected the current state of affairs in the 21st Century.

Since 2009, I have devoted my efforts to promoting "The Peacemaker" - not to become a rich, famous author, but to challenge people to come from a place of ignorance and spouting of propaganda of the tycoons (both military and corporate) who now control the media and our government and thus control the thinking of Americans to one of understanding and compassion.

 There is no such thing as community in our country anymore and the only government most citizens have any concern with is the federal government now controlled by lobbyists who control the Democratic and Republican parties. American citizens somehow think all the problems we have can be solved by this huge entity that has grown far too big and, as history teaches us, has always been corrupt and controlled by the party bosses, oil, steel, timber and railroad magnets of the early 20th Century and the big oil, insurance and pharmaceutical industries and social media of the 21st Century. It's time for people to step outside their doors, meet their neighbors where they are and learn compassion by studying the progression of history and how we arrived at this state of constant global war, genocide, famine and climate change and begin addressing these issues from "their own backyards."

One of the things I am concerned with now is to try to keep our country from another useless war. Yes, there are humanitarian issues of suffering brought about by a radical group that is using past atrocities by the Western world in their countries to foment hate and abhorrent treatment of innocent people. This is no different from the way Adolph Hitler waived the Treaty of Versailles and inhuman treatment of the Germans by the Allies after World War I to begin his evil campaign against the Jewish people. American people need to do some research to understand the complex role of the West in the Middle East since the days of Marco Polo and the discovery of the riches of China and the South Pacific wanted by westerners and, in the 2oth and 21st Centuries - oil.

 In my opinion, we cannot begin to rid the suffering in the Middle East by using the same tactics used by ISIS. Americans need to demand that Congress do its research and ask tough questions that we would want answered before voting whether to support yet another war, or any military action in the Middle East. History teaches us that "military actions" become full fledged wars. We have been in a continual state of war since the foundation of this Republic. Indeed, the approach taken to teach about our history is to teach about war - we've never taught students why these wars really started or what happened as  a result other than the United States won - more land and more natural resources to build our economy and promote our culture.

Besides the huge cost to our economy, these wars have also produced returning heroes debilitated by the horrors they experienced and unable to really reintegrate into society. In addition, we have killed millions in order to build this gigantic economy that is fast becoming one of haves and have nots- just like those in these Third World Countries we purport to help.

While our own infrastructure deteriorates and our cities are no more than microscopic battle zones of poverty, violence, and drug dealing controlled by organized crime and slum landlords, we allow the federal government to continue to build up the military industrial complex as we arm the world and then send our soldiers off to "make it peaceful." The federal government is in charge of international affairs and has the power to maintain an armed force for our national and international defense. There were, however, several checks and balances put into play by our nation's founders to make sure that power is not abused thereby turning our country into one like the absolute monarchy we fought in 1776. Since the days of World War I, we have begun moving closer and closer not only into a military dictatorship here but have sent our military machines into all corners of this planet to "promote peace."

It is not my intention to create a debate as to the "right or wrong" of our military interventions, but to challenge Americans to demand that those who would fund another war do their research and report to their constituents reasons for their vote one way or another.  It is the duty of every American to contact their federal representatives who will vote to fund this war and make sure their representatives give them a satisfactory answer not some political rhetoric based on political surveys run by those funding their campaigns. Learn the lessons of history that come from the Bush Administration. Obviously, Americans were angry over that war; that's why the Republicans lost in 2008. Make your Congressional Representatives do their job. Before voting to fund another military action (war) in the Middle East ask them to find out:

  • Are there any other viable alternatives to military action to stop ISIS?
  • If we go to war, what is the exit strategy once we are on the ground fighting?
  • How will we know when it is time to stop AND
  • THE MOST IMPORTANT - what does victory look like?
It appears from current reports that our leaders are set for military action. It is up to the voters now to take action to prevent the senseless cycle of hatred and call to arms without thinking if any of us want to learn our lessons from history and really stop this inhumane suffering that has become a global epidemic. As residents of the so called greatest free country on earth, you owe it to the rest of the world.

Check out "The Peacemaker" at

Monday, September 8, 2014

What Would Jesus Do?

I am a Christian and a follower of Christ. All of my moral instruction during my formative years was centered on the Bible - especially the teachings of Christ. I was fortunate to have parents who taught me the spiritual lessons I needed as a basis for moral living while supporting a secular education.

 I graduated second in my class at Shawnee High School and received a full tuition scholarship to Kentucky Southern College (now a part of the University of Louisville System). I graduated after three years with honors and a secondary teaching certificate with endorsements in history and English. I went on to get my MSW from the Kent School of Social Work in 1986 with a 4.0 cumulative grade point average and induction into Phi Kappa Beta as a result. I had a distinguished teaching career as well as rearing two successful biological daughters and working with four adolescent girls to advocate for them to help them achieve a better life for themselves than the hand they were dealt. Much of this was because of the lessons I remembered from my Sunday School training.

In "Ethics for a New Millennium" the Dali Lama speaks of the need for a spiritual revolution in the world. He thinks the decline in church involvement, especially in the United States, has led to a decline in the moral life taught by the various religious movements. He sees this as a prime reason for the continual warfare in the world. Believing this, I have returned to a study of the lessons I learned in Sunday School as I try to understand and advocate for an end to war. My current concern is America's continual involvement in supporting both with weapons and soldiers the constant killing in the Middle East. Since I grew up with Jesus as my role model, I have looked for answers into what he would suggest we do there to bring an end to the violence and promote peace.

When I delve into the Bible I try to understand what Jesus taught his disciples about why he came into the world.In Chapter 5, verse 17 of Matthew, Jesus is reported to have said "I did not come to abolish the laws of Moses or the writings of the prophets. No, I came to accomplish their purpose. . . not even the smallest detail of God's law will disappear until its purpose is achieved. . . the Kingdom of Heaven."

 The apostles were charged with bringing his message to the Jewish leaders after his death. The apostle Matthew records not only Jesus' birth and life but also his message from his oral teachings to his followers. In Chapter 5 of Matthew he takes the commandments issued under the old laws (before Christ) and explains a new morality based on love and forgiveness - which is the message of the cross and why Christ died. Christ died not so soldiers would rise up and overthrow the Roman Empire, rather the apostles were to go and bring the Good News to the people of Rome about a new way of living based on love and forgiveness.

In my Sunday school lessons, I remember studying the "new law" that Christ taught which was to put an end to the law put down by Hammurabi and was used as the system of justice that led to the beheadings and stonings so prevalent during his time. It was "an eye for an eye." Matthew wrote in Chapter 5 Verse 28 "Ye have heard it said, 'an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth. But I say, do not resist an evil person. If someone slaps you on the right cheek, offer the other cheek also. If you are sued in court and your shirt is taken from you, give your coat too. If a soldier demands you carry his gear for a mile, carry it two miles. Give to those who ask, and don't turn away from those who want to borrow."

In Verses 43 and 44 of Chapter 5 "You have heard the law that says, 'Love your neighbor and hate your enemy. But I say 'love your enemies.' Pray for those who persecute you! In that way you will be acting as your Father in heaven. If you love only those who love you, what reward is there for that? Even corrupt tax collectors do that much. If you are kind only to your friends, how are you different from anyone else? Even pagans do that."

I realize we have separation of church and state in this country, but there are many who proclaim "one nation under God" and go off to war to defend God and country." If we proclaim "God is on our side" then we must adhere to the laws we believe in. Using the same techniques as those who kill and maim will not promote the "kingdom of heaven on earth." I am a Christian, I am a follower of Christ. I abhor bombings and slaughter everywhere. If God's kingdom is to be on earth then we must follow God's laws. We must be the peace we want to see. It begins with us. That is a difficult challenge for me and I have learned the only way I can do that is to surrender to God's grace and love those who are hard to love and forgive.

An urban myth tells of an African American woman in court. A racist teenager killed her twelve year old son. The evidence was overwhelming so the defendant's lawyer placed the murderer on the stand to tell of his life in the hope that he would receive life in prison rather than the death sentence.

At first the teenager was composed and spoke without emotion, the same emotionless state he was in when he pulled the trigger. But when he said that no one wanted him, that he had no mother, he began to cry saying how sorry he was for what he had done. His only excuse was that no one wanted him, and that he had no mother. From the back of the courtroom a voice could be heard over his sobs. "I will be your mother." The people in the courtroom turned to see the mother of the dead child facing his killer.

"I will be your mother. Until I die, I will be your mother. My son is gone, and so I ask you, will you be my son now?"

A simple "yes" transformed a courtroom that had previously been filled with hate. I want to say "yes" to love, to forgiveness and strive very hard to "love my neighbor as myself" whether it be the person next door to me or those across the world. I pray that love will replace hate and forgiveness replace revenge. When that happens, I believe the world will experience the second coming of Christ.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Federalism, the Constitution, Secession, Texas v. White and "The Lincoln Myth"

Someone asked James Michener once, “With all the research you do on your books, why do you write fiction?” His answer “So I can tell the truth.” In 2003 after a forced retirement from my job as a teacher of history and English due to whistle blowing, I embarked on a new career. With all doors to teaching closed to me, I decided to self-publish a book that would tell the “true” story of American history in fictional form. In 2009 I released the first edition of “The Peacemaker” a generational saga of American history that told a story of an American family from 1720 through 2001. The story is based on stories of disenfranchised Americans since the founding of this so called republic. Since its publication, I have spent countless hours traveling thousands of miles to carry the message of this book to the American reading public. I have continued reading and studying current as well as past stories of the progression of disenfranchised Americans and their lack of participation in building a legitimate republic that would make the great words of our documents of freedom ring true for everyone except the very small group of white, Christian, males over the age of 21 who became known as the Founding Fathers. This group controlled all the property taken over through annihilation of the legitimate cultures living in North America when they arrived. Recently, I discovered a new, as yet untold story about President Lincoln, the Civil War and why it was really fought. The name of the book is “The Lincoln Myth” by Steve Berry. The myth of the Civil War being fought to free the slaves was covered in that section of “The Peacemaker,” but Mr. Berry goes even further in his story. Using actual notes from the Constitutional Convention and correspondence from Abraham Lincoln to Joseph Smith, Mr. Berry weaves a story of a modern day plot by members of the Mormon faith in Utah to secede from the Union as they had tried to do during the Civil War and connects it with the current situation of states like Texas trying to secede from the Union today. Using quotations from James Madison and various members of the Constitutional Convention, Mr. Berry intimates that the Founding Fathers followed an agenda in writing the Constitution that was not only contrary to what their states had sent them to do, it was, in fact, something about which even the delegates attending the secret meeting had reservations. Setting up a Union with no right of secession for the states violated the very foundation of the Declaration of Independence that had justified America’s right to dissolve its connection with Great Britain. As the story develops, Mr. Berry uses President Lincoln’s own words to prove the Civil War was not about ending slavery. In fact, his book substantiates the claim made in “The Peacemaker” that the Emancipation Proclamation was no more than a political move to bring the South back into the Union. If the South had not continued fighting, slavery would have continued. The Civil War was about setting up an arbitrary perpetual union from which no state could secede despite perceived abuses. According to Mr. Berry, the Civil War and 600,000 deaths did nothing to settle any issue. This is why we are still fighting the Civil War today. The federal government has continued to get bigger and bigger and intrude into every area of American life. We are not a free people. We have built the most powerful war machine in the world. Ironically, the President of the United States is the most powerful commander-in-chief in the world. If Thomas Jefferson were alive today, he would be calling upon the American people to once again stand up to an abusive government run by a absolute monarch and “alter it and abolish it” and institute a new one.

Friday, June 13, 2014

James Puckett Criswell of Leitchfield, KY - My Dad
September 12, 1913 - July, 1972

Dark skinned with the raven, curly hair that spoke of his Native and African American heritage, my dad was a handsome man despite his small stature. An extremely malnourished and difficult youth left him bald and without teeth before I was born. That's why I never remember seeing him outside without a hat - a straw one in summer and a felt one in winter. 

My dad's maternal great-grandmother was a member of the Blackfeet Tribe according to family stories. My research into the Criswell side of the family led me to a free black named "Sally" who evidently was an ancestor of James Criswell who migrated from Pennsylvania to Kentucky in the early 1800's denying his African ancestry and passing as white throughout the generations of my particular geneology. My dad's father, Andrew Jackson Criswell, was born to James Criswell and his English wife who had no knowledge of the African-American genes and were, in fact, quite dedicated to the work of Indian fighter and early settler of the Northwest Territory, Andrew Jackson.

Andrew Jackson married a woman named Annie Puckett who was thirty years his junior and already the mother of a small boy. Annie and Andrew had three children, James, Alice and Georgina who died at age five from a bad walnut. Annie had an affair while married to Andrew and had a mulatto son that she sent to live with the black community around Leitchfield. She now added a "Scarlett Letter" to her and her family's reputation. Her children bore the burden of that shame. 

When Andrew Jackson died in 1933, young James was left to work to support the family in any way he could. There was no work and his older half-brother was in prison for stealing a loaf of bread. The New Deal and Franklin Delano Roosevelt's Civilian Conservation Corps provided relief for my father and his family. As a result, my father worshiped FDR and became a life long Democrat. 

When his time in the CCC ended there was still no decent work other than the backbreaking work in the rock quarries around town, so my father supplemented his income by running moonshine in the dry counties surrounding Leitchfield. Like most backwoodsmen of his time, he hunted and knew how to use a shotgun. He added skill with a handgun at this time.

In 1939, James met the love of his life, a strawberry blonde, full-figured woman by the name of Pauline. They eloped in December of 1939 to avoid the wrath of Pauline's father who also knew how to use a shotgun. In August of 1940, James and Pauline had a son that they named after both grandfathers, Roy Jackson - my older brother Jack. Five more children followed, another son, James Ronald in 1942, a daughter Janice Marie in 1944, Brenda Sue in 1946, Lydia Faye in 1951 and Debra Kay in 1955. These children became the center of their universe and Daddy's primary thought was always about loving and protecting us. When he found his God sometime before I was born, his love for this God filtered down to us in every way humanly possible. I never knew until I became a grown woman how lucky my mom was to have a husband like my dad and how lucky we children were to have him as a father.

Mom and Dad were "soul mates" and inseparable. They worked and loved each other and their children unconditionally. Emotionally and physically challenged by his hard youth, Daddy worked when he could and we never were without the necessities, but, more important, we always felt loved and important despite our lack of material goods. Daddy was always home every evening for dinner and was there during the middle of the night if I had a nightmare or felt ill. I still remember his "mustard and garlic" poultices to sooth any chest or throat congestion. I also remember the night he chased away a burglar with his shotgun that he had ready for protection. After that, he bought a hand gun and kept it under the mattress of the bed always loaded and ready. I was always scared when I had to make up their bed for fear it might go off.

Daddy was an avid reader and loved learning. He had only a sixth grade education, but he passed this love of learning to me through his habit of reading the daily newspaper - the Pulitzer Prize winning "Courier-Journal." I first became interested in the paper through the comic section and I remember fighting with my brothers and sisters over who would get them right after Daddy was finished. I usually won being my dad's favorite. I looked exactly like my mom and Daddy also knew I shared his passion for knowledge and education. School was very important. Using schoolwork got me out of a lot of other chores but I really didn't use it as an excuse. I loved learning. We didn't have books or magazines, but there was never a time I asked to go to the library that I was ever refused.

After God and family came my education. Daddy would often give me his last dollar for pencils and notebook paper. He would take my dull pencils, pull his pocket knife from his pocket and sharpen them perfectly for me. I never could do that.I still remember how proud my dad was when I graduated from high school second in a class of 415 with a full tuition scholarship to a local college. Daddy helped me provide the transportation I needed to get to my classes and made sure my car was always running. I never knew a man could be so happy as the day I graduated with honors from Kentucky Southern College and began my teaching career. I know I fulfilled his dream and I'm glad he lived long enough to see that and see me married and off to a good start in life. I am sad that he never knew my children.

Daddy was never healthy and he compounded that with a lifestyle that included a poor diet and no exercise. He was obese and developed Type II Diabetes in the spring of 1972. Instead of helping my dad deal with the disease through proper diet and losing weight, his physicians gave him an experimental drug that exacerbated his heart condition resulting in a massive stroke and his death in July of 1972. We were too ignorant at the time to pursue any recourse against a pharmaceutical industry that has since become far too powerful in producing nothing but "sick cure" and drug dependence in the name of "health care."

Living with the grief of losing my father before his "natural passing" has created in me a desire to live a full, vibrant life that includes prevention of illness and creation of a strong, healthy immune system through a responsible diet and exercise. I enjoy a healthy, active life and although I know we never really know how long we have on this earth, living each day joyfully to its fullest fills me with great inner peace.

I was well into my sixties when my mom "went home" knowing not only her grandchildren but many great and great-great grandchildren. We all accepted that it was "her time" and that made it a lot easier. I don't live a life of anger and regret and am over the grieving of the loss of my dad and the manner in which he died. I am happy that I had him in my life for twenty-six years, long enough for him to influence the direction that my life took which has been one of the greatest joys of my life and a tribute to him.

Monday, April 28, 2014

Freedom of Speech, Whistle Blowing and Democracy

     In recent years, Americans have had the opportunity to learn about the
mysterious culture of Persia, Iran, due to the stories of individuals who
immigrated to the United States after the Revolution that have served to
enlighten Americans about what really happened during the Shah’s reign
and why a country whose traditions go back to one of respecting religious
freedom of all groups would turn against their Constitutional Monarchy
and establish a repressive religious Islamic Republic. As more information
about what it was really like under the rule of the Shah becomes available,
a sense of perspective about what happened begins to emerge.
      One of the most comprehensive stories in this collection of books is the memoir written by Sattarah Farman-Farmaian entitled “Daughter of Persia.” Ms. Farman-Famaian was the daughter of a Persian prince who ruled over vast lands much like a feudal lord during the early part of the Twentieth Century. Her father lost power after the creation of a Constitutional Monarchy in 1906. The backdrop for “Satti’s” formative years saw the first overthrow of this democracy and the rise of the first Shah with the help of Great Britain after World War I in an effort to seize control of Persia’s most valuable asset –oil. Satti was sent to the United States to go to school during World War II and then returned to what was now Iran (land of the Aryans) under the rule of the second Shah who rose to power with the help of the United States in 1953.
                While in the United States, Satti discovered what she believed to be the key to changing the deplorable conditions of poverty she knew existed in her country and had existed for centuries. The power of free speech.  She had experienced a university education where people were talking openly about social problems and dialoguing with one another to find a workable solution. Satti states that she learned …”if you could talk openly, you could discover what to do about a problem.” She saw this as the way people developed initiative in order to solve their own problems. This was the way to creating a stable, successful Iran. She set about establishing her school of social work and while trying to help alleviate poverty, she also worked toward instilling initiative and creative dialogue among the students she served in the School of Social Work. The thing that worked against her and led to the collapse of her school and her flight from Iran in 1979 was the repressive nature of the Shah’s so called rebuilding of Iran.
                While the Shah was touting all the wonderful achievements of the westernization of Iran, his secret police (SAVAK), whose members were trained by the United States CIA and Israel’s MOSSAD were watching trade unions to prevent strikes. SAVAK members also monitored the universities and publications critical of the Shah and some of his policies. Many fled to London but weren’t safe even there. A vocal Islamic cleric named Ayatollah Khomeini was also exiled for his criticisms of the Shah’s regime.  Free speech was non-existent and in the end everything fell apart and chaos ruled allowing an even more repressive regime to take over Iran. The right of free speech cannot be denied if a society is to move forward and create meaningful, lasting change.
                The whistleblower’s law passed near the end of the Twentieth Century was recognition in this country that even without a secret police to murder and torture, free speech can be inhibited by those who don’t have military power (yet), but those who control the economy and the delivery of goods and services in this country. I became familiar with this law in 2003 when I naively took on this role in my I position as a teacher at Camp Florence in Florence, OR.
     I had moved to Florence in 1998 after being hired as a classroom teacher for this small, transitional facility that served adjudicated males ready to move back into society. I was eager to take on this challenge after teaching in a middle school in Albuquerque, NM for ten years and being part of a dedicated team of professionals who were making a difference in the barrio school on the West Mesa. Although I received numerous awards and acclaim from my colleagues as well as the community, my biggest reward was knowing that I had been a part of a team that was making a difference. We talked; we communicated. We listened to one another with respect and encouraged each other and never sacrificed the benefit of the community we served just for the ego’s satisfaction of being right. Our team leader never listened to gossip generated from unhappy students or other teachers, but brought people together to talk openly to discover the root of the problem and how to handle it. It was my stellar resume along with enthusiastic recommendations that made me the candidate selected for this challenging position.
      After the passage of Measure 11 in Oregon a new educational paradigm was being established. For the first time, juveniles were now spending most of their high school years incarcerated so detention facilities were now creating schools that were accredited by the state to issue diplomas. I couldn’t have been more excited about being a part of this, and had a wealth of ideas and expertise to bring to the job.
     For three years ideas flowed freely and programs were created. I joined the Alternative Educators Association and began to be asked to speak and do workshops at professional meetings. Our program that tied vocational training to the classroom was written up in the Eugene “Register Guard.” I wrote a lesson plan that was incorporated into a text entitled “Powerful Teaching”  published by the – a forerunner in the use of Asset Based (instead of  problem based) approach to teaching youth.
     Beginning in 2001, I began to notice some disturbing methods being used by my teaching partner. I started to speak out first to my direct supervisor, my principal who was based in Albany and then, at her request to the Director of Camp Florence who worked for Oregon Youth Authority – the agency that held the contract with the ESD that I worked for.  I never dreamed the two year nightmare that ensued that would lead to my resignation under duress. There are more ways to get rid of someone than actually firing them, I learned.
     All communication stopped. I was isolated, my character was questioned and I felt totally alone and unable to trust no one. When the decision was made to transfer me to another location that might suit my rigid personality better and be placed on a Plan of Assistance, I obtained a lawyer. After that, I had a racial harassment complaint brought against me for singing “La Bamba” at a professional in- service, was relegated to teaching computer classes, taken from the Independent Study Program, denied attendance at IEP (Individual Educational Planning meetings for students in special education) and virtually any contact with students that was not monitored by other classroom teachers or Oregon Youth Authority Staff who reported anything they believed I said that was “out of line” and causing the dangerous situation among the student population at Camp Florence.
      When I protested through my attorneys once again, I was placed on paid administrative leave while these charges were being investigated. For one entire semester I sat at home with no one contacting me for lessons plans, etc. to direct the student activity for the substitute hired to fill in for me. At the beginning of the semester when the “investigation” was complete, I was called back to work under a “letter of reprimand,” the first step toward  a disciplinary action that would lead to firing. The next was to put the results  in my personnel file – another step toward firing. I resigned under duress and exercised my right of free speech and filed a lawsuit against Linn-Benton Lincoln ESD and the Oregon Youth Authority. The only thing that gave me the courage to do this was that I believed, given my professional history, I could find another job with no problem at all. I had an emotional breakdown and serious illness after learning that if I resigned without a sixty day notice, I would lose my teacher’s license. After twelve weeks of medical leave and lots of therapy, I negotiated with the school district to allow me to keep my teaching license and resign.
                I felt invigorated and renewed. I knew I would find a job by the fall of the year and that would sustain me through the difficult court process that lay ahead for me for the next four years.  During this time, I found out what others who weren’t so na├»ve as I already knew and learned the reason for their lack of support – my teaching career was over the minute I spoke out against the “system.” 
     Today, I don’t consider myself a “victim” and I have forgiven everyone involved in what happened.  Although I lost my house, my retirement and almost my health, I would still do the same thing today that I did before. I write this story now at the urging of my conscious that has learned to see a bigger picture and friends associated with two other people in the community who have spoken out about problems in their work environment and have suffered much the same consequences. The most recent was a good friend of mine, Dr. John Egar. I cannot sit back and hear what has happened to him without offering my insights about the overall world situation and its connection to what happens on an individual level too often in the workplace and communities throughout this country.
                Dr. John, as we lovingly call this physician who worked at Peace Health and had over 1,000 patients, was recently fired for writing letters to the editor informing the local community about the way medical costs were handled in Florence as opposed to Eugene. In speaking with John, that is what I understand. I was appalled to learn that Peace Health, which controls the medical services in Florence, can fire their employees for “no cause.” As I understand it, there is a shortage of medical doctors in Lane County that is affecting the service to the sick here, despite the fact of the supposed success of Obamacare giving people a way to pay for their care. Now, because a corporate monopoly does not want their “dirty laundry” questioned by the professionals who take their roles seriously, 1000 people in need of services are out of luck. Not only that, in this writer’s opinion, we have lost a caring professional because he thought transparency and sharing information is a step toward improving a system that is not functioning to serve the people who use it.  I offer my personal gratitude and support to Dr. John and have decided to share my story once again for all those who may feel caught in the same situation and are fearful to speak up even though in this country we have “freedom of speech” without reprisal either by government or those corporate entities whose economic power can be as dangerous as that of an absolute monarch.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Thoughts Inspired by the movie "Dallas Buyer's Club"

It has been quite a while since I have seen a movie that has been so thought provoking and inspirational. Usually, I reserve Hollywood for the times that I want to be entertained without a lot of thinking. That’s not to insult Hollywood; I have enjoyed thousands of movies over the years but usually go to books for helping me gain perspective about a situation or current political issue. This movie, however, actually penetrated my subconscious causing me to have a dream that I remembered enough to analyze this morning.

The dream and a Hindu scripture that I read in the Peace Bible this morning helped focus the deeper message of this movie aside from the obvious political issues having to do with a person’s freedom to choose the type and kind of medical treatment he wants, especially for illnesses that the current medical community is unable to treat successfully, and his/her sexual orientation. The dream does not require a particular discussion because its message was purely a personal one for me to use what I had seen to become a better person. The Hindu Scripture bears repeating though, because what it says about hate and its elimination are exactly what I saw in the movie.

Ron Woodruff, the main character is a homophobic drug addict who lives a life whose only purpose is to ride the bulls and spend the money he makes as an electrician for an oil company on alcohol, drugs and sex. That lifestyle eventually leads to contracting the AIDS virus. At this time, the disease was still very much connected to the male gay community reviving the already deeply implanted hate that Ron had for the community. His situation unites him with that group as Ron chooses to disassociate with the “guinea pig” treatment of the doctors he sees and finds help in Mexico. Bringing the “illegal” drugs consisting primarily of non-toxic vitamins, proteins and medications pulls him into an intimate relationship with the very community he so hated. His resulting love for his fellow sufferers is very apparent when his bi-sexual business partner succumbs to the disease and the community comes together to support Ron when he loses his fight with the FDA and IRS. Based on a true story, the movie documents that Ron Woodruff lived for seven years with a disease the doctors told him was going to kill him in 30 days. Who knows how long he might have lived if he had been able to give up drinking? For seven years Ron Woodruff worked alongside the gay community that he had once despised, proving the lesson I read in the following Hindu Scripture.

            Whoever sees all being in himself and himself in all beings does not, by virtue of 
             realization, hate anyone . . .When to that wise sage all beings are realized as
             existing in his own self, then what illusion, what sorrow, can afflict him,
            perceiving as he does the Unity?
Ism Upsanids

In 12 step groups there is a saying, “There but for the grace of God, go I.” In the Christian Scriptures, the prophets caution against judgment –“Judge not, lest ye be judged.”                                    

Friday, February 7, 2014

Life is a Journey Not a Guided Tour

My husband Tom wore a hat that said "Life is a Journey not a Guided Tour." Those words resonated with me after his untimely, sudden death just after we moved to Oregon on our great adventure that would end with our retirement to our home secluded in Ocean Woodlands, a half-acre filled with wild Rhododendron, salal, myrtle wood  trees, huckleberry and blackberry bushes. I had a teaching position at Camp Florence and had intended on working there until retirement while we remodeled our beach cottage and expanded Tom's business idea - Naturally Wild. Nine months after we moved to Florence, Tom was dead at age 55. I had a struggling business, a home with a lot of potential and a job which I dearly loved. Family wanted me to come back to Kentucky but I couldn't leave the job and Tom's unfulfilled dream, so I refinanced the home, surrendered the business, dedicated myself to my career and started building a life for myself in Florence based on my passions and dreams alone for the first time in my life. These were singing, dancing, teaching and writing. I bought a bike and a kayak and found a "home" here until suddenly my whole career and retirement ended when I lost a job due to becoming a whistle blower.

Robert Burns wrote "The best laid plans of mice and men gang aft aglee (often go astray). As I entered one of the darkest periods of my life, I kept rehashing how my plans had always crashed and burned and fell into quite a victim mode that threatened not only my financial well being, but my health as well. During a dark morning on a secluded part of my paper route around Siltcoos Lake as I listened to the natural world coming to life and greeting the sunrise, I remembered the words on Tom's hat and the following poem was the result.

                                                               Hills of Home ©

In the summers of her youthful past,
She walked barefoot through the long bladed grass
That grew along the honey-suckled hills of
Her Old Kentucky Home.

And the perfumed air that filled her lungs
Brought a spark of life into her infant soul
Nourished by the wild berries she watched ripen and grow
Into cobblers and homemade ice cream
For summers’ eves with lightening bugs aglow.

But the robin in spring and red bird in winter,
Chirped a call heard deep within her,
To trade her Sunday shoes that walked the straight and narrow path
For sparkling, glass slippers that yearned to roam
In search of love and adventure far from her Old Kentucky Home.

And romance blossomed among the garden paths of Versailles
And the Left Bank of Paris.
But the slippers faded into shimmering moonlight on the Seine,
So she found garden clogs to work the terrain
To build love and contentment with a home of her own
Amid the honey-suckled vines of her Old Kentucky Home.

But the robin in spring and red bird in winter
Chirped a call heard deep within her,
To follow her love to Eldorado and the Seven Cities of Gold
Promised in stories and myths of old.

When that love withered and died in the desert heat,
She donned hiking boots to retreat
With her new love to the lush, green woodlands aside ocean dunes
 Amid quiet streams filled with salmon and the call of the loon.

Left alone in Eden by death’s early knell,
She felt her paradise turning to hell.
But she found solace for her soul biking the salty sea shore
And donned dancing shoes for music and loved once more.

But the strong winds in summer and heavy rains in winter,
Drowned love once more and sent her
Back to the rooted vines that climbed high on the hills
Of her Old Kentucky Home.

Now, in the autumn of her years she roams barefoot once more,
To the song of the robin in spring and red bird in winter
That chirp the secret of unconditional love rooted deep within her
                                  And spreading wide across the hills of her Old Kentucky Home.

After writing the poem, I knew what I wanted to do. I wanted to sell my house and move back to Kentucky. The housing market was booming and I stood to make quite a profit but for me, the universe was not ready for the move. I still had some karma - both good and bad - to complete so I took the house off the market, refinanced once again so I could do the final work that needed to be done in order to sell and write a book. The result was "The Peacemaker." Then the housing bubble burst and when I was ready to sell again I was completely under water with my mortgage. I continued to struggle to keep the house by free lance writing to add to my retirement income which was affected by the whistle blowing activity.

 After completion of a ghost writing project and a trip to Hawaii with family in 2012, I made the difficult decision to free myself of the house so that I could move back to the "Hills of Home." While I was waiting for that to happen, I decided to write for myself again. Although free lance writing had paid the bills for me, I had more to create myself - the result was "A Squeaky Wheel Gets Oiled - The Musical" and a short story called "The Season." It is now time for me to move and I know where that will be.

 Although I will probably be in Florence through the summer because of my play, I will be spending a lot of time investigating the purchase of a small plot of land somewhere in the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains so that I can put a small log cabin with a loft on it where I can retreat to continue to write and explore the hills of home when I am not traveling. I have learned to set my thoughts and visions around what "feels right" along my journey and follow my heart. As I look back on my journey, I know that everything I experienced along the way was just a building block to where I am today. I no longer feel a victim to the strong winds and currents that come my way because I have learned to "go with the flow" listen to the "call of the robin in spring and red bird in winter" and embrace them as part of what has been the rich experience of my life. As the man was heard saying while falling from a skyscraper "so far so good."