Thursday, August 31, 2017

Black Holes

The quieter you become, the more you can hear. Anonymous

I read a report the other day that suggests there are more black holes in the universe than was previously thought. For those who are as scientifically non compos mentis as I am, a black hole is simply what’s left when a star of a certain size and mass explodes and collapses in on itself. I suspect there are Hollywood types who fit this description, but what I am talking about are the ones far, far away.

From what I understand, the nearest black hole to earth is about 1,600 light years away, so the odds of getting sucked in anytime soon are astronomically small.

The interesting thing about a black hole is that it is so dense even light cannot escape it’s gravitational pull. Hey, I’ve preached sermons that remarkably resemble that remark! Scientists cannot actually observe black holes (because of the aforementioned gravity problem). According to a NASA website, scientists infer their existence from “the effect they have on other matter nearby.”

Isn’t that a great description? I believe there are more black holes on earth than people realize. I suspect each of us is a complex assortment of black holes in motion. There are things in our lives that have collapsed in on themselves and become invisible to the naked eye, and yet they’re still there manifesting their effects in a variety of ways.

Some problems are fairly inconsequential and leave hardly any signs behind. There was the papier mâché cow I made in second grade and of which I was especially proud. After all, it’s not unusual for me to have a cow every now and then, but this was the real thing and quite accurate in its depiction of a real life Guernsey. It had a prominent place on display atop the refrigerator, and must have sat there for months. It served as a reminder to drink milk for strong bones.

One day I came home and noticed the cow was missing. Not just “the” cow, but MY cow. I asked my mother where it went and she told me, “I threw it away.” Unspoken, but in the silence I could hear her add, “it was ugly.” She often tossed out my sacred cows without discussing it first.

Now, on a scale ranging from being pelted by marshmallows to being nuked, this was definitely on the marshmallow end of the scale, and yet it is a pin-head sized black hole in my heart. I know, because of the way it affects me.

I snarl at people that ask to borrow a pen. It’s not like I don’t already have about half a million pens of every size and sort scattered around the house (half of which quit working some time last century).

Notice I said “that ask …” instead of “who ask …” That tiny detail tells the careful reader that I have depersonalized the beggar. It was a subconscious choice I made.

I take full responsibility for the choice, by the way, but I also know that tiny black hole was the proximate cause of both snarl and word-choice. There is a gravitational pull at work; one may not see the darkness, but the effect is readily available to those with eyes to see and ears to hear.

The fabric of our lives is covered with many events like that. None of this is unique to any of us, but common to all of us.

I think Jesus knew that. “Let the one who is without sin (i.e. a black hole) cast the first stone.” He became a human shield for a woman with plenty of holes in her life and invited the community to look at their own lives first.

The solution to so many problems, you see, is to acknowledge there’s a problem to deal with in the first place, and the source of the problem isn’t what we see, hear, feel, or experience around us, but the constellation of black holes swirling in our heads, hearts, and memories.

“Let go and let God,” says the happy twelve-stepper, but it is easier said than done. Like scientists, we need to quietly examine the effect the black holes are having on us and those around us and accept there is a solution in this, our valley. I’ll talk about that next time.

Thursday, August 24, 2017

Day of the Triffids

“We should learn to enjoy our own company. Tell yourself cool stuff, about exciting things you’re going to do, about how you will turn your mistakes into victories, how the future will turn out just fine. If you don’t tell yourself positive stuff, who will?” Sereno Sky, “Lonely Traveller”

It’s a jungle out there.

No, really. It’s a jungle.

When we bought our home, it had a beautifully manicured and landscaped yard, and it had all the appearances of being relatively low-maintenance which, if anyone knows me, that’s a good thing.

My thumb is anything but green and I’ve been known to kill artificial plants with my tender loving care, so buying a home with a nice-looking yard was really an invitation to disaster, but we went for the gusto anyway.

Of course, we couldn’t do anything for a while when we were engaged in the process of negotiating for the purchase, jumping through hoops with the bank, and all that assorted nonsense. Then there was the month we had to wait to take occupancy because I was still heavily involved in that thing … Oh, gee, what was it called? Oh, right, work. I was still working then.

I always suspected work could interfere with life in the worse way possible, and this proved it.

I say that because when we finally got to our new home, the garden gnomes has transformed the yard significantly. In fact, one could say it was more terraformed than transformed. The bushes had all gone hippy on us with tangled leaves and branches flying in all directions; the grass had gone dormant while the dandelions had been busy making baby dandelions (proving walls don’t work, by the way, but that’s a subject for another column for some other time); and someone had apparently left their copy of Jumanji open as the blackberries had begun their efforts to turn our yard from something to look at to a Garden of Eatin’ – Holy Triffids, Batman!

For those who may not be all that familiar with the Pacific Northwest, Blackberries are an invasive species of deliciousness. As we toured the house and property back before even considering making an offer, our realtor pointed out these tiny baby creepers here and there and with a faint look of horror written on her face; she uttered words of grave concern through trembling lips in a prophetic Jeremiad: “Th … th … those are (dramatic pause) … Blackberries! You’re going to want to get rid of those as quickly as you can!!!”

Well, when it comes to gardens, although I am more horror-culturist that horticulturist, if there is one thing I know it is this: If I am going to spend time tending a garden, it darn-well better be producing something I can eat.

Don’t get me wrong. I have nothing against beauty, flowers, and artistic arrangements (either outside or inside). Beauty has its place, but what good is it if you can’t run it past your taste buds?

Still, it seems there is a well-known story of a couple who lived in a garden who had a similar attitude about it, and they got kicked out as a consequence of their gluttony, greed, and idolatry. I may be slow on the uptake, but I’ve been known to catch the point of a story that’s been sharply told, and so Barb and I heeded the words of the oracle and began the process of cutting back and digging up all the little blackberry bushes that were trying to take root in our yard – as painful as it is (did I mention how thorny blackberry vines are?).

I know we will never truly eradicate the tentacled invaders as they wend their way through our yard here and there, but the upside of all this is that our neighbor’s vines are doing fine, and we’ve managed to collect some of the crop that is beginning to ripen along the fence – “The harvest is plentiful,” said Jesus. He was right.

I have also come to appreciate how carefully one must work to collect those black morsels of deliciosity from the fence-line. Over time, I have no doubt I will collect the scars of battle that come from this War of the Blackberry Brambles, but trust me: a blackberry cobbler’s got magical healing powers here in this, our valley.

Friday, August 11, 2017

The Boxer rebellion

It’s not the load that breaks you down. It’s the way you carry it. CS Lewis.

Oh my aching back.

I fought the law and the law won. At least that’s true with regards to the Law of Gravity!

We completed the “moving” portion of our move the other day, and are now left with the task of unpacking all our worldly goods. I am beginning to believe it is incorrect to identify such things as “goods” as they seem to be having a bad effect on me.

The worst part is that I wasn’t all that involved in the heavy lifting. We had “relocation specialists” do much of the heaving and hoeing, and all we needed to do was mark off the boxes on the inventory sheet and direct them to their various destinations, but that was enough so set me to wheezing and hacking externally (with accompanying panic attacks internally).

Part of the problem we face is transitioning to a house half the size of the one we left. We didn’t down-size enough before we moved (although we tried). Also, we needed to pack up and leave a month before I was scheduled to retire, so our goods went into storage for a month – and our memories of packing details faded exponentially with each passing day. And finally, we had a mix of boxes that included old boxes from previous moves, borrowed boxes from friends, and gifted boxes from the moving company – each with its own label or marks of contents past, so not all cartons contain what they say they do.

Good heavens; isn’t that a picture of the human condition?

The result could be a lot of confusion and frustrations, of course, but life is full of those sorts of issues, so it is easier to simply work our way through our items one by one, eliminate the debris as quickly and efficiently as we can, and know that eventually it will all be taken care of. We have the essentials; that’s what’s important (and each other).

As CS Lewis reminded us, it isn’t the load we carry, but the way we carry it that breaks us down.

I find the load lightened significantly by simply being thankful each and every day for each and every blessing that comes our way.

I can too easily complain about mis-steps (and there were certainly a few of those); I could also grump about the mess, disorganization, or chaos we face. But the fact is our goods arrived. That’s a good thing. We have our essentials. That’s a good thing. The weather is warm (not hot), and dry (not raining). My back hurts (it’s true) but I have pain relievers our ancestors could only dream about. Everything in the house works (after I replaced all the worn-out outlets) and we were able to paint the interior more easily having no furniture to move out of the way; so what is there for which to be ungrateful?

I got up this morning and there was food in the refrigerator. There was coffee in the pot. There was hot water for a shower. There were clean clothes to put on. There was the world-wide web to explore. For which of these blessings should I wear a frown?

Life is good, even if messy – so I give thanks. There is none of this I deserve; there is none of this I have earned. I just happen to have been born in a world where anything short of awe and wonder would be an insult to the Creator.

So, like Paul and Silas in the days of yore, I am learning to give thanks for all things, good and ill, for that which does not kill us (we’re told) makes us stronger.

In the end, that’s good news; that’s good news for my retirement; that’s good news for my life; ultimately, that’s good news for my back!

Maybe giving away excess baggage is a good thing to do in this, our valley. It might turn out to be the best (and cheapest) medicine of all.