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Thanking Christmas volunteers

‘Tis the season for festive merry-making and family memory-making, and the busy event-makers in our town didn’t disappoint!  If, like me, you’ve adopted Gettysburg as your home because of its history, you likely know that walking on the fields and among the monuments is when that history speaks most deeply to your soul. Similarly, when you are out walking on the streets and among the residents and visitors in the present is when this small town speaks most intensely to your heart.  This was our town this past weekend, made possible by the talents and undertakings of the Gettysburg Christmas Festival planners who worked countless hours organizing and implementing activities, the Gettysburg Garden Club members who furnished the town with beautiful festive greenery, the individual businesses who were decked out with welcoming holiday adornment, and all of the civic entities who provided support.  As a result of their efforts, I spent a combined ten hours enjoying plentiful and fun activities with my family. My grandsons met live reindeer, rode a mechanical reindeer, ate donuts, decorated sugar cookies, had a photo taken with Santa, watched live foosball, romped with joy in a variety of bounce-houses, and listened with me as wonderful musicians played, and school choruses sang, some of our favorite holiday songs.  Most importantly, we shared time and made memories. This is what the Christmas season is all about, and there’s more to come. Gettysburg Connection’s “Gettysburg Go!” newsletter provides an excellent online calendar of upcoming events. Take a look, then take a walk, and enjoy a truly meaningful holiday season in Gettysburg.

Faith

 Perhaps it’s because we are approaching the shortest day of the year, but the evenings seem excessively long and lonely.  While I am discovering many advantages to living alone, the house sometimes feels achingly empty.  I miss him.  God, but I miss him.  However,  instead of focusing on what’s no more, I am determined to meet the challenge of this new life I’ve been given, praying only for the serenity to accept the things I can’t change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.       It’s been said that “Beautiful light is born of darkness, so the faith that is born from conflict is often the strongest and best.”   That sums up these past months. I, at least, learn best from dealing with conflict and stressful situations. Those of us who have lived long enough have discovered for ourselves that a truly nurturing faith doesn’t come from gaining power, prestige, or possessions.  A faith born of suffering and challenge is a faith rooted from accepting the divine paradox:  it is by losing that we win and by letting go that we receive.        It took my husband’s dying to make me appreciate the truly good life we had. It is so easy to take something, someone for granted,  It was the tough times, rubbing against his stubbornness, his all too frequent “no’s,” our family addictions and illness,  that helped me develop a greater sense of self, the determination to pursue my path while respecting our family’s needs, that I was able to gain the awareness of what was truly important:  loving and being loved.   Looking back,  the times of greatest friction and struggle were also the times of greatest growth and insight.  Those were the times our combined determination to honor our marriage vows and each other motivated us to find ways to honor our differences and find better ways to meet our individual differences and needs.  Ours was definitely not a fairy tale marriage. There were times of togetherness and times of anger and aching separateness.  We were like two jagged stones having a mountain stream smooth away our rough edges.       Looking back,  I wouldn’t have it any other way. We learned so much from each other.  We helped each other grow and face times of darkness.  We discovered that love is more than romance.   Beautiful light was born of our times of conflict,  and the faith that helped him embrace his death and continues to sustain me,  was the gift of our shared conflicts and challenges.   Joyce Shutt is the author of Steps to Hope and is a veteran 12 stepper.

The Good, The Bad and The Zucky

There are piles of books in the Messeder residence, as the Resident Home Decorator often reminds me, especially when she enters my atelier – which is a French word for “studio,” itself a fancified substitute for “office,” which, to me, sounds too darned, well, officious. I’d much rather sit in my studio with a drink and my books, and maybe … But I digress. Some of our books have not been looked at for a while. One of them arrived in the mail yesterday. Others had been in the attic and not boxed for discard or library donation when the lady of the house took her desire for order to the floor beneath the roof. I love books. Some more than others, but in principle, all of them. As I occasionally told my son, who came up before the current Internet was the overflowing repository of knowledge it has become, “Everything that’s ever been known is in a book somewhere.” In high school, I read about a kid about my age who learned to drive an MG-TD really fast and drift it through corners with just the right combination of speed, gas, and brakes. I got a little older and tried it; with a little practice, I found it worked really well. James A. Michener has taken me through the generations of history of South Africa, the American West, and the Eastern Shore of the Chesapeake Bay, and this month introduced me to Diane Les Becquets, whose 2016 novel took me on a search for a lost hunter in Montana. It is one of the few tales to have made me cry. I wish I’d known of her sooner. “The Last Woman in the Forest” so far promises to be just as good. Back in the day, the “Encyclopaedia Britannica” was a wondrous library in its own right, containing in about 30-40 books a little bit about nearly everything then known about nearly everything, with maps and color pictures and information about stuff a 16-year-old had never even thought of existing. The latest crop of high schoolers has the penultimate encyclopedia, the Internet. Google a phrase from a song accompanying a TV show or ask it how high is Engineer Pass, and the Internet delivers the entire song and the how long it’ll take to from the paved road to the 12,800-foot summit of Engineer. It’s in the Rocky Mountains near Ouray, Colorado, by the way, and I drove a Jeep within about 800 feet of that summit one spring before the snow had melted enough to unblock that last few feet of two-track road. Daughter and I once waded online through a portion of the U.S. Constitution to discover for a paper in her master’s degree studies, whether the federal government had authority to establish gun-free zones around schools. Our granddaughter, then eight years old, came home one evening to look up Frederick Douglass and was amazed to see how much the live one she’d just met looked like the dead one the live one pretended to be. Like the encyclopedia of my youth, the Internet is a passport to nearly everything one could possibly want to know — or at least it’s a pointer to where that knowledge can be found. The Internet also has Mark Zuckerberg’s most famous creation. Zuck invented Facebook while in college as a device to catalog girls. The platform has made him very wealthy on its way to becoming eminently useful for spreading information about all manner of organization, mayhem and outright lies. I do not spend much time on Facebook, though I pay close attention to a half dozen of them. I am bothered to discover that because I didn’t comment on a friend’s post, Zuck hasn’t shown me anything the friend has posted since before Covid. And I announce my weekly column on Facebook where, with a little luck, my friends will “Share” my posts with their friends. But the platform’s “feature” allows a truckload of false information to be passed around while blocking information that might actually be helpful. For that reason, many people report emphatically that they do not “do” Twitter or Facebook. I wonder how many of my readers regularly inhabit the Facebook Interverse, and for what reasons.

Mass shootings prompt new calls for assault weapons ban. Will it happen?

by John L. Micek, Pennsylvania Capital-StarNovember 28, 2022 There was no mistaking the anger in President Joe Biden’s voice on Thanksgiving Day as he once again decried America’s fatal love affair with guns. “The idea we still allow semi-automatic weapons to be purchased is sick. Just sick,” Biden said, according to the Associated Press. In the wake of deadly shootings in Colorado, Virginia, Philadelphia, and North Carolina in the days leading up to, and just after, Thanksgiving, Biden and other pols spoke anew of cracking down on the semiautomatic weapons that can fire up to 30 rounds without reloading (By comparison, most New York City Police officers carry semi-automatic handguns that can fire up to 15 rounds without reloading, according to the AP). “Four Pennsylvania students were just shot on their way home for Thanksgiving break,” Wolf tweeted in the wake of a drive-by shooting outside a Philadelphia high school last week. Four students were wounded shortly after being dismissed early for the holiday, NBC News and other outlets reported. “We live in a country where our children can’t walk home from school. Our neighbors can’t go to the grocery store. Our friends can’t gather without bloodshed,” the Democratic governor, who will leave office in January, continued. “Recent shootings across the U.S. have left empty seats at the Thanksgiving dinner table. We need more commonsense gun laws,” Wolf concluded, noting that gun safety legislation passed by Congress, and signed by Biden earlier this year, was a good start. But, he added, “we need Pennsylvania’s General Assembly to act now.” Given the opportunity to act on commonsense gun laws, including an assault weapons ban and a ‘red flag’ law statute aimed at preventing violence before it happens, Republicans in the General Assembly buried the bills in committee earlier this year. Lawmakers did approve, and Wolf signed, money in this year’s state budget for a raft of gun violence prevention initiatives, but none move to reduce the ease of access to weapons. This year’s legislative session ends on Wednesday. The bills buried in committee will die and will need to be reintroduced anew when the new legislative session begins in January. The math remains just as daunting. Colorado state Rep. Leslie Herod speaks at a Nov. 21, 2022, vigil honoring the victims of the Club Q shooting (Sara Wilson / Colorado Newsline). Democrats are expected to take control of the state House in January. But their narrow majority, complicated by vacancies prompted by resignations and one death, will make it difficult — but not impossible — to pass bills without cooperation from the chamber’s Republicans. That means it is theoretically possible for Democrats to pass gun violence reduction bills on a party-line vote. But they will run into a brick wall in the state Senate, which remains squarely in Republican hands. One variable: Democratic Gov.-elect Josh Shapiro, a deal-maker who remains fluent in legislativese from his tenure in the state House, could bridge the gap between the two chambers. But the odds remain long. On the campaign trail, Shapiro spoke of increased mental health services for students, strengthening background checks, and enacting a red flag statute, according to NBC-10 in Philadelphia. “I refuse to accept a reality where our children have to fear for their lives every time they go into the classroom. Every Pennsylvanian deserves to feel safe at home, at school, and in their community – and I know we can achieve that while upholding Pennsylvanians’ rights and traditions,” Shapiro said, leaving just enough wiggle room for the possibility (however slender) for bipartisan agreement. An average of 1,628 people die every year by guns in Pennsylvania, according to a report by Everytown For Gun Safety, a nonprofit working to raise awareness about gun violence across the country. This was a 15 percent increase from 2010 to 2019 and ranks Pennsylvania number 27 for the highest rate of gun violence in the country. CHESAPEAKE, VA – NOVEMBER 23: Members of the FBI and other law enforcement investigate the site of a fatal shooting in a Walmart on November 23, 2022 in Chesapeake, Virginia. Following the Tuesday night shooting, six people were killed, including the suspected gunman. (Photo by Nathan Howard/Getty Images) While Republicans at the state and national level have resisted tougher gun laws, some law enforcement officials have called for such reforms, arguing that they only make sense. “This isn’t a one-and-done,” Los Angeles Police Chief Mike Moore told the AP, referring to this month’s shooting Colorado. “These things are evolving all the time; in other cities, at any moment, another incident happens. It’s crying out for the federal government, for our legislators, to go out and make this change,” he said. The odds of additional congressional action on guns, especially after the gun safety bill signed into law earlier this year, also seem daunting — but not impossible. Republicans will go into the New Year with a narrow majority. Democrats only would have to nab the votes of five Republicans to send a bill to the U.S. Senate, which will have a strengthened Democratic majority. Such was the case in June when the House approved a gun violence reduction bill that would have, among other things, prohibit the sale or transfer of semiautomatic firearms to anyone aged 21 and younger, according to the Bucks County Courier-Times. Democrats would still, however, have to overcome the chamber’s 60-vote threshold, which would require the votes of some Republicans, who remain opposed, the AP noted. “I’d rather not try to define a whole group of guns as being no longer available to the American public,” U.S. Sen. Mike Rounds, R-S.D, a gun owner and hunter, told the AP. “For those of us who have grown up with guns as part of our culture, and we use them as tools — there’s millions of us, there’s hundreds of millions of us — that use them lawfully.” While it has softened some, public opinion remains on the side of stricter guns laws. According to Gallup data released earlier this month, 57 percent of Americans want stricter U.S. gun laws, down from 66 percent in June. Support remains strongest among Democrats (86 percent) followed by independents (60 percent) and Republicans (27 percent). A stable 46 percent of U.S. adults say there is a gun in their household, according to Gallup. Gun safety advocates, meanwhile, remain undaunted, and are committed to keeping the pressure on lawmakers, especially in the wake of electoral wins that sent some of their number to Washington. “With some votes still being counted, the tally of [our] volunteers who won election for office up and down the ballot across the US this week stands at 125, highlighting the political power of our volunteers as candidates for office,” Shannon Watts, the founder of the advocacy group, Moms Demand Action, tweeted on Nov. 12. Pennsylvania Capital-Star is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Pennsylvania Capital-Star maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor John Micek for questions: info@penncapital-star.com. Follow Pennsylvania Capital-Star on Facebook and Twitter.

A Season for Depression

black ceramic mug with liquid close up photo

According to the National Weather Service, the winter solstice, or the shortest day of the year, will be on Wednesday, December 21st. Other meteorologists will cite the first day of December as the first day of meteorologic winter. Either way, individuals who experience a seasonal pattern of depression already know that the days have become much shorter, and they are well into a bout of recurring depression popularly referred to as “Seasonal Affective Disorder” or SAD. Their symptoms of depression most likely began to increase in late September or early October, with the shortening of the days moving into autumn. What is depression affected by seasonal changes exactly, and what can be done to reduce its effect is important to know this time of year. Here is a deeper dive into this kind of depression. First, let’s be clear about what is clinical depression or Major Depressive Disorder. According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders 5 (DSM-5), the guide published by the American Psychiatric Association that therapists use to make a diagnosis, depression may be diagnosed if at least five symptoms have been present for a period of two consecutive weeks. Symptoms may include a down, depressed mood, a decrease of interest in previously enjoyable activities, feelings of worthlessness and guilt, along with problems sleeping that could be either too much sleep or an inability to sleep. Sometimes a depressed person may experience weight gain or weight loss as well. A very troubling symptom is recurrent thoughts of death. This last symptom is of great concern and highlights the seriousness of depression in general. The bottom line is that when major depression is present, there is significant impairment or distress. The second set of criteria to consider in determining if someone might be experiencing major depression begins with the lack of a medical condition or lack of substance abuse. Additionally, if the person has had a recent significant loss, such as the loss of a job or the death of a loved one.  This would include seasonal loss of employment. It is also important to note the absence as well of ever having a period of very high energy, also called a manic episode. Some health conditions can mimic depression, so it is important to see your primary care provider to get a clear diagnosis.    The final diagnostic feature for differentiating a seasonal depression pattern from clinical depression, therapists do not actually use the term “Seasonal Affective Disorder”, is that the depression has occurred over a period of two years with the symptoms subsiding or going away when the seasons change. Most often, the season pattern is over the winter months, with symptoms of depression going away when spring and summer arrive. However, sometimes it can also appear in summer for some individuals, and the depression is reduced with the beginning of autumn. To fully observe if there is a seasonal pattern to a person’s depression may require looking at a person’s whole life and not just the past year or two. Once it is certain that the diagnosis is major depression with a seasonal pattern, there are steps that can be taken to help reduce or manage the depression. Going to see the doctor is an important first step. Medications can help reduce the effects of depression for many people. Increasing exposure to light can also help. Light bulbs or a “lightbox” that mimics outdoor light used for a period of time daily throughout the winter months may cause changes in the brain that can assist in elevating the depressed mood. Of course, just getting outside when the weather permits and being physically active can also help. Seeking out a therapist who can assist in managing depression is also advised. Although it may be difficult, it is important to seek out activities that are positive and enjoyable. Working to build a positive lifestyle, including spending time with people you enjoy and getting routine exercise, are also basics to managing depression in general. Finally, once it is clear there is a reoccurring seasonal pattern to the depression, then plans can be made for how to cope with future bouts of depression by noting what does help and having a way to implement the plans when needed in future years. Whenever someone is depressed, the risk of suicide may increase. Help can be reached by going to any hospital emergency department or by calling the 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline. Margaret H. Swartz, PsyD is a Licensed Psychologist in private practice at Yorlan Psychological Associates. She is also an active member of the Healthy Adams County Behavioral Health Taskforce.

Little Things

Sun streaming through the bedroom window called me awake this morning. Not ready to get up, I snuggled deeper into my bed and began listing all the little things welcoming me into this new day.  The feel of crisp clean sheets.  Sunshine.  A warm bedroom.  Being able to wiggle my toes.  The luxury of rolling over in my bed.  Comfortable clothes. Being able to walk to the bathroom.  An indoor bathroom.  Looking forward to my morning coffee.        Life, I find, is made up of a myriad of little things.  Over time, I’ve found that giving attention to minute details helps me focus on the bigger things, just as it’s the details that point to the central focus in a great painting.        Coming in from my walk I brewed another cup of coffee and reached into the refrigerator for some left-overs for my breakfast.  My living alone menu and routine has certainly shifted since he died. My breakfast is often left-overs while my evening meal may be two pieces of toast and an apple.  Who says we have to eat certain things at certain times?  The importance, I find, lies in appreciating my amazing luck in having any food at all.        It’s been two days since we celebrated Thanksgiving.  Cleaning up after the meal,  we divided up the left-overs. What a blessing to have enough for several more meals.  Perhaps it was feeling his loss so acutely on Thanksgiving evening, but I’ve become  aware of all the little things that fill each day, just as they did when he was alive;  those not so little little things that reassure me that life is still worth living, .such  as being blessed with family, friends, adequate resources, my church community, activities and hobbies I enjoy doing, responsibilities that tie me to the larger community.        Years of practicing gratitude are paying off now that I don’t have my partner to fill empty moments.  It’s a rare day that I find  the details of daily living meaningless.   Heating water for a cup of tea, a few minutes ago, I found myself remembering Kitty Kallen’s once popular:  “Blow me a kiss from across the room Say I look nice when I’m not Touch my hair as you pass my chair Little things mean a lot Give me your arm as we cross the street Call me at six on the dot A line a day when you’re far away Little things mean a lot Don’t have to buy me diamonds and pearls Champagne, sables and such I never cared much for diamonds and pearls But honestly honey, they just cost money Give me your hand when I’ve lost the way Give me your shoulder to cry on Whether the day is bright or gray give me your heart to rely on Send me the warmth of a secret smile To show me you haven’t forgot Now and forever, that always and ever Little things mean a lot.” Joyce Shutt is the author of Steps to Hope and is a veteran 12 stepper

How undocumented immigrants contribute to the economy

Undocumented immigrants pay federal taxes. Undocumented immigrants pay state taxes. Undocumented immigrants pay local taxes. Undocumented immigrants pay sales taxes. To know the above information is to accept boring truths – that people who live among us in the 13th Congressional District and pick our fruit, staff our tourism industry, prepare our food, maintain our yards, and whose labor we rely on in so many ways , contribute to our society. And like generations of huddled masses before them, these taxpayers work hard and nurture families, supporting and sustaining America, all while denied a path to legal residency and its benefits. According to The American Immigration Council, “Undocumented immigrants in Pennsylvania paid an estimated $418.1 million in federal taxes and $238.3 million in state and local taxes in 2018. Pennsylvania DACA recipients and DACA-eligible individuals paid an estimated $17.4 million in state and local taxes in 2018.” That’s right, undocumented immigrants in Pennsylvania paid hundreds of millions of dollars in federal and state taxes in 2018 alone. Since then, estimates of taxes paid by undocumented immigrants have only grown larger, but to swallow the dehumanizing and Republican lie of “Illegals don’t pay taxes” is to be ignorant of this truth. In fact, Republican leadership has gone further to dupe their constituency by peddling the falsehood that US citizens must hand over their hard-earned money to pay for a wall that will keep “the illegals” out, when in recent years the largest group of undocumented laborers have simply overstayed their legal visas. That thousands of Americans have handily been defrauded of millions of dollars for “Build the Wall” grifts is no coincidence. People who believe hateful lies about immigrants are easily suckered into schemes that empty their pockets. Meanwhile, researchers at the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy estimated that if undocumented immigrants had been granted legal status, they might have paid $51 million more in Pennsylvania state and local taxes in 2017 alone. In other words, a potential solution to our undocumented immigrant “problem” is to providethem a realistic route to achieve legal status. But you won’t hear this from any Republican who wants to trick Americans into filling the coffers of Trump’s cronies, and that includes Trumpian sycophant John Joyce. While no one person or organization has the perfect answer to immigration reform, we must start with the truth to move toward a solution. Who knows? We might be richer for it.

Gettysburg College cowers to media pressure over student project

Webster’s Dictionary defines liberal arts as “college or university studies (such as language, philosophy, literature, abstract science) intended to provide chiefly general knowledge and to develop general intellectual capacities (such as reason and judgement) as opposed to professional or vocational skills.” Gettysburg College has long defined itself as such an institution. It was a liberal arts education that I received from that very institution in 1997. In the current political climate, institutions of higher learning – particularly those who teach liberal arts —  have found themselves under constant attack. Last week the college found itself, once again, embroiled in a national scandal, defending itself. In 2019, it was the surfaced yearbook photo of a Board of Trustees member dressed as a Nazi television character. Now, it is a flyer for a peace and justice student project that invited students to participate in an event where they would write and paint about how tired they were of cisgender White men. FOX News and other conservative media outlets ran with this story all week. That’s not at all shocking, and here is why: Right wing news outlets like to paint the left as being divisive and playing identity politics. And the left has allowed the right to run with and control this narrative. This needs to change and here is why: There are about 72 million registered Democrats in the US. Those 72 million Americans come from all walks of life, are of various shades, and live diverse lifestyles. To govern such an eclectic mix of people requires acceptance, embracing, and celebration of differences. So, yes, the Democrats do play identity politics. If they didn’t, the Democratic Party would look like… the Republican Party. But what the Democrats aren’t is divisive. Being divisive is these same news pundits not reporting that just a few weeks ago, Young America’s Foundation (YAF), a right wing student group, brought the right wing author, Ryan Anderson, to campus. Anderson is nationally known for his opposition to same-sex marriage. I didn’t see left wing news media outlets running that story. And the students and alumni who were interviewed in the conservative media failed to mention the continued harassing and threatening behaviors displayed towards minority students by cisgender, white, male students who ride around campus hurling racial epithets at minority students. I, myself, was verbally assaulted by a cisgender White male student in 2019. Of course, none of that is newsworthy. What is newsworthy is the right wing attempting to use identity politics against the left. The humorous part of this is that in their defense of cisgender White men they are validating the very need for the canceled event. Would they still be defending if the event had been for a women’s domestic violence shelter? Or a bachelorette party? Doubtful. Will my alma mater cower to social pressure, like it did over a 30 year old yearbook picture, or will it defend itself and its reputation as a liberal arts institution? Will it speak truth to power or will it bow down to the dollar? Will Gettysburg College defend and prioritize the “development of general intellectual capacities” promised in their liberal arts curriculum?

Stories

I’ve been reading Erica Bauermeister’s delightful book, The Lost Art of Mixing.   It’s not the greatest piece of literature ever written.  The storyline is simple and uncomplicated, but her use of language and word pictures are heartwarming and vivid.  The Lost Art of Mixing is one of those books that leaves you feeling hopeful about the future and people in general.  It reminds us we can live happily within the confines of our brokenness as we come to know and love ourselves and others by sharing and listening to each other’s stories.         I’m sure it doesn’t come as a surprise that I love words.  Nothing brings me more pleasure than a well-written book.  I can get lost in the dance of words, discussions in which big words shoot across my mind like stars lighting up the sky.  I can get lost in descriptions so vivid I paint pictures in my mind.  Words will sneak past my defenses, touching something so deep I find tears streaming down my cheeks.       No matter how commonplace or exciting, everyone’s life is filled with unique and amazing stories.  Nothing makes us feel more loved than having another welcome and affirm our stories.  Far too often, life has made us feel as if our lives are not as exciting or interesting as others …  which then causes us to negate our experiences and feelings.  Yesterday’s birthday party was such a high for me primarily because we found ourselves telling stories about how we met our husbands, how we host family gatherings, how we feel about growing old. Just by sharing our stories, invisible walls crumbled, and we experienced a new closeness.  It no longer mattered that we didn’t go to the same church, voted for the same political candidates, or had the same life experiences.  We were joined by common threads in our stories.         My sister-in-law said her children gave her a long list of questions related to her growing up, family history, world events, etc.  They asked her to write down her responses to one question each week. She is finding joy in remembering and sharing her stories with her children and grandchildren.  She is finding comfort in, knowing they will better understand who she is and was through her stories which will not just give them a historical and emotional record of their family history but it is helping her know and better understand herself.       Joyce Shutt is the author of Steps to Hope and is a veteran 12 stepper.

Asks more from legislators

Our nation is divided.  The PA House/Senate, the Federal House/Senate.  The remarkable turnout in the midterms shows this clearly.  This gives us (the people) two choices: 1.  Let the leaders we elected continue to be middle school children and insult and score political points against the other party.  Nothing will be done that will benefit us (the people) but on a daily basis, we will get to rejoice in the best insult of the day. 2.  Decide that in spite of our differences, we are more alike than our political parties.  I believe we all see the same problems in America.  I believe that our solutions are different, however they can be resolved through compromise. (Note: compromise is not a weakness) Were there something as rare as 10 reasonable, rational, thoughtful Republicans that met with something equally as rare as 10 reasonable, rational, thoughtful Democrats in a room.  Tell them to list out the problems facing ordinary people and come up with a solution.  I would wager that problems could have an agreed solution in a couple of days. The Pennsylvania legislators make $90,000 a year. The Federal legislators make $174,000 a year.  We should make them earn their salaries by identifying problems, coming up with solutions, and implementing them for the good of the Commonwealth/Nation.

On Being Thankful

“Here we go again,” Granddaughter Kass said one Thanksgiving mealtime as I prepared to “say Grace.” She knew I didn’t normally subscribe to the pre-formatted version of my childhood: “Bless us, Oh Lord, and these thy gifts which we are about to receive from thy bounty, through Christ Our Lord, amen.” Past are the days when Mr. and Mrs. and Four Little Messeders sat every evening at the dinner table. This branch of the family now sits mostly in the living room and watches TV while we eat. On the other hand, now there are only two of us – except for Thanksgiving and the occasional visit from one or two of the offspring. When those opportunities do arise, we sit around the large table, and on special occasions, such as this one, I tend to ramble a bit about a few of those things for which I am most grateful. I had the privilege of helping raise two babies to become pretty OK adults. There were times when we joked that one of them, or his parents, might not live to see his next birthday. He and we did, and his three young’uns – my first three grandchildren, have turned out very well, indeed. The other became a teacher – a calling second only to parenthood. Her children are the thousands of middle schoolers to whom she helps pass on the tribal lore. I sit at the table beside a special lady who, after more than 20 years, still allows me to sleep indoors when it rains. There is the aforementioned slightly disrespectful granddaughter, who turned two the day her grandma and I went on our first date. She’s 20-something now, grown into a fine partner for the young man she has attracted to our menagerie. I’m thankful I can enjoy walking barefoot in the snow rather than being forced by lack of a pair of shoes. I’m thankful that I live where I can travel freely in relative safety, where there is no roadblock at the state line asking for, “Your papers, please.” I’m thankful for the opportunity I’ve had to visit other cultures, experience that all of us bleed red when we’re cut, and wish at the end of a day for a relaxing beverage and someone warm with whom to share it. I’m thankful I live in a nation which, for all its foibles, is an envied destination for millions of people who would happily live here with at least a chance to provide their children with freedoms and opportunities we take for granted. I’m thankful for so many of my brothers and sisters who have volunteered to serve on distant battlefields so that I may stay home and enjoy turkey dinner about which they can only fantasize. I’m thankful for medical providers who chase away the cancer, help us through heart attacks, and generally extend our tenure on the planet. I’m thankful for readers who continue to think my mental meanderings are worth reading, even though some readers occasionally disagree with what I have set down. I remind myself of these things from time to time, and especially on this holiday, remind myself not to feel too sorry for me when things don’t go as I’d like. I don’t plan to leave any time soon, but my time here has not been, I hope, and barring a few errors, in vain. I hope you all have your own list to ponder before the time arrives to give gifts to all those who are part of your own infinite memory-beam of starlight and memories.

Seeing through caregiving

In view of November being National Caregivers Month, I respectfully submit the following letter.  My Sweet Donna has dementia.  In the last five years this condition has progressed to where I am unrecognized.  But I don’t need Donna to know who I am.  My reward comes when I am told, “You are the nicest man I ever met” or “You helped me so much today”. Yes, caregiving is a 24×7 endeavor.  Yes, you need to find resources and ask for help.  Yes, to cope you must develop skills.  And no, I don’t think everyone can do this.  But I can.  What I’ve discovered is this is a situation where “You grow or you go.”  Therein, however, lie the “hidden gifts”. I would never think of yelling angrily at Donna today.  I used to think addiction was the only disease you could be yelled at for having.  But that’s where I started.  So, I overcame believing the lie that everyone is entitled to sporadic bouts of anger and these are justified by life’s conditions, because anger is so destructive to Donna.  Then I find I’ve overcome that behavior everywhere. I no longer have to be right, judge others, or always be in charge.  Everything I’ve done to help Donna has benefited me across the board.  Today, I am happier and more at peace.  I’m a 72 year old dog learning new tricks! Here’s another hidden gift – I used to be quite a time traveler, constantly projecting future scenarios (so I’d always be prepared, right?) or just plain living in the past.  Today, for the first time in my life, my head is where my body is.  I’m finally “on location” and that presence I experience has skyrocketed my availability quotient.  I’m now & here.  That used to be one word, nowhere.  Did I play a lot of games in my relationship?  I didn’t think so, until the games died for lack of another player.  How about, “I got you now you SOB”?  Counting the score?  Thinking, “All I do for you”?  I used to think and ran my whole life on the premise that happiness came from achieving the “I wants”.  Today, that’s a red flag.  One of my brothers lost his son to addiction.  He has taken that tragedy and created a life purpose of being there for others, especially his wife and daughters,”his girls”.  When I first heard that I thought, “that’s great for you brother, I’m so glad you’ve found this special purpose.”  I was happy for him, but I didn’t get it.  Sometimes, I think it’s all about “seeing”.  If I can’t see it, then I just don’t get it.  But once I  see it, I’ve got it – forever.  I got to see the real joy that comes from service to others.  The “I wants”, the anger, the fear have all just slid off of me.  I even figured out that behind all of my anger was fear.  The question is not, “What are you mad at?”, rather it’s “What are you afraid of?”  That puts something completely different up on the table.  Fear?  I get that.  I’m a little scared everywhere.  Today, as opposed to when I was a kid, I’ve got tools to help me.  “Take my hand little man” I say to the child inside myself.  I can help you today.  And when I ask for help, things change, instantly.  If the bottom line is quality of life, then we’re hitting a home run here.  What could take me out is the associated stress or “friction”. A group of Generals in our Armed Services were attending the US Army War College in Carlisle where an instructor demonstrated the old adage that plans disintegrate after the first shot fired by showing … a Wile Coyote cartoon.  Let go of your confidence in through planning and try to see the value of living a day at a time.  My difficulties are not my failures but my process. Some people measure their lives in their accomplishments.  Some people measure their lives in their sacrifices.  I’ve learned to measure my life in moments.  Featured image caption: “And stay silly (it’s an art!)”

Step 11 and Gratitude

The older I get, the more grateful I become.  The other night our little CoDa group worked on the 11th step.  “Sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God as we understood God, praying only for God’s will for our lives and the courage to carry that out.”   When I was younger, my prayers were mostly gimme prayers.  I thought that Jesus’ “whatever you ask for in my name,”  meant I was supposed to tell God what I wanted and needed to be happy and fulfilled.   World peace, for instance, or being accepted in the college of my choice or making the kids be more obedient.  With the passage of time and years in the program, I’ve come to understand that praying for God’s will for my life means letting go of the kite strings.  Nor does “God’s will” imply I will live happily ever or that bad things won’t happen to me.  God’s will for our lives, I believe,  means that we will find the inner resources we need to deal with what is happening, be that good or challenging.  It is experiencing gratitude and joy in the midst of pain and suffering.  It’s learning how to love rather than hate. Life happens.  My husband died.  My friend’s house burned down.  We both were battered and broken by our traumas, but it’s precisely because my husband died and her house burned down that we discovered each other as walking partners.  And, because we walk together each morning, we’re able to appreciate and share the beauty of our village and rural surroundings.  We’ve learned to encourage each other and experience the joy of a deepening friendship.  It’s stepping back so that someone else can flourish.  It is being grateful in and for all things. At this stage of my life, I see gratitude and resurrection as Siamese twins.  I don’t understand resurrection as so much about life after death, though it may be.  Resurrection, for me,  is the assurance that in spite of how it feels, there are no real endings, only beginnings; that pain is the prelude to joy; that death and rebirth is the essence of life.  Yes, I still find letting go to be a struggle.  My letting go is never a once-and-done, I find, but when I can finally let go of this or that piece, I always discover something new and beautiful taking its place.  I would give anything to have my husband back.  I miss him and the life we shared.  His absence leaves a big hole, but as I am able to say, “thy will be done”  each day brings me something new and beautiful…not to replace him, but to enhance this new stage of my journey.   Yesterday, for example, I noticed a budding cyclamen peeping out from under a frost-killed plant.  I quickly repotted it and brought it inside.  Today, an exceptionally dark and dreary November day,  that little plant is smiling at me, filling me with gratitude’s sunshine.  

Breaking The Silence

woman in black and white long sleeve shirt holding white paper bag

Thursday, November 17, at 7 PM two members of the group Breaking the Silence will speak in Valentine Hall at United Lutheran Seminary in Gettysburg. This free event is sponsored by the Middle East Justice and Peace Group of South Central PA. Come to hear former Israeli soldiers Becca and Amir share their experience of enforcing the Israeli military occupation of Palestine and begin to ponder their thoughts about how to end the occupation peacefully. The event is free and open to the public. Parking is free and available in front of Valentine Hall, please enter from Springs Ave. Breaking the Silence is a group of former Israeli soldiers who are taking the harsh truth about the Israeli occupation of Palestine to the world. These former soldiers support an end to Israel’s military occupation and support human rights for Palestinian people as a necessary part of a peaceful solution. American news media outlets pick and choose what they report to the public and how they report it. If one listens to Fox News and then turns to MSNBC, one might think that the news is being reported from two different planets. News about complex issues that impact our everyday lives is often reported in a couple of lines and with no background to inform taxpayers whether taxpayer dollars are being used for a positive outcome around the world. This is a particularly relevant subject for American taxpayers since $4B of our taxpayer money is given in military aid to Israel each year. This event offers an opportunity to learn a perspective not normally heard on American news outlets.

Dogs Who Have Owned Me

One thing I’ve learned about dogs is, “don’t buy one.” The first dog to occupy my life was my mom’s, an English Setter named Devil, short for JAM’s Devil Dog (a story that is a dog for another bone.) I was about 12 when Devil came into my life. We romped and swam, and on hot summer days, he was a great pillow for a youngster taking a break from sweating chores. Several years later, I was visiting a new friend on Adak. An Irish-Lab named Dutch lived there and found he could get and keep my attention. At the end of the visit, the human lord of the house asked if I would like to take Dutch to live with me; there would still be too many dogs in residence, he said, and it appeared Dutch and I had bonded. “You want to go with me,” I asked the dog, who immediately jumped into the Datsun pickup. For the next two years, except for when I was at work, if you saw one of us, the other was not far away. Like many people who ended their Navy-mandated sojourn on the island, when we left, Dutch took up residence with new arrivals. I’ve often wondered how many other families loved him as much as ours did. Fast forward a few years to a new abode in Hampton, Virginia, and the only dog to ever live with me that I paid. Unfortunately, though I do like beagles, this one did not stay long enough to imprint his name. Someone stole him, probably to hunt deer – you could hunt with dogs in Virginia when I lived there. I bet he didn’t object when the dognapper promised a life in the woods. I don’t blame him. Another press on the Fast-Forward button, and there was Fred the Famous Female Collie, who came with my wife to Gettysburg about three months after I did. The first night they were here, Wife Sandy and I went out to dinner. When we got home, a bag of knitting was strewn around the living room – but not taken apart. Fred just lay there. Not particularly proud, but not guilty; she’d made a statement and left it for us to translate. A couple of nights later, Sandy and I again went out without Fred. When we returned, the knitting was again scattered across the apartment floor, but this time it was completely disassembled. The huge plastic knitting needles had been crunched and tossed in pieces. Even a shoe, a cheap summer sandal of womanly design, had been nibbled upon.  Fred was OK sharing the house with another woman but was absolutely unwilling to be left at home alone while the other woman went to the town with the man. Sandy died a year later, followed nearly two years later by Fred. One of the nice things about being a human is our approximately 80-or-so-year life expectancy. Unfortunately, dogs age about a week for every day they’re with us. Then came a rescued Golden Retriever named Grady, who had been chained outside by his previous owner. We were introduced by the veterinarian who had surgically removed his collar. I normally eschew violence, but had I been the person who rescued Grady, I might have made an exception. Grady was my new lady’s dog when we were home and mine when the mountains called. Thus, he divided his time between mooching Oreo cookies at home and teaching me about the forest on our wanders around the South Mountains. Dogs keep an amazing catalog of places they’ve been, with notes about whether they want to go back. That even includes things they found to eat and drink. I’ve been out with Grady when he discovered something interesting, then stopped on the next trip at the exact spot to sniff around and, sometimes, dig a little. I don’t know what was there, but he clearly remembered it had been at least interesting. Occasionally, he would turn his nose up at water he found uninteresting. Or hazardous – he never said which, but I decided if he didn’t want to drink it, neither did I. Occasionally, he would take a taste, decide it was unfavorable, and next time we went by there, he would simply sniff: “Yup, same water. Let’s go” he seemed to say. I visited my niece last weekend. We fell asleep visiting and watching TV. A couple of hours later, I woke with one of her pups using my leg for a pillow and the other asleep between us. For a few moments, I flirted with jealousy. My spouse and I have come close a few times to inviting another pup to join the household, but situations change and it just hasn’t been workable. That’s OK, though. Whenever I hear a little snuffle in the weeds and turn to find Devil, Dutch, Fred and Grady – and several others – leading, following, or simply using my leg for a pillow. I’d wager I’m not the only one with such memories. Please share a note in the comments.

Farnham wraps up her write-in campaign

Democrat Beth Farnham ran a write-in campaign against incumbent Representative in Congress for the 13th District, Republican John Joyce.  Preliminary numbers suggest she received about 3,000 votes although Joyce won the contest. This write-in campaign was always a long shot since its inception three weeks ago. However, my numbers would not be where they are today without the fantastic support that propelled it early on. From members of the Adams County Democratic Committee and its supporters, to friends old and new, near and far, across District 13, everyone who shared the campaign made the difference in the number of votes accrued. Not only does this speak to how hard people worked to get the word out, it reflects our deep desire to have a Democratic candidate in this race. During this whirlwind of a campaign, I ran across several voters who expressed relief at having an alternative to an election-denying, anti-choice Republican, as is incumbent John Joyce. Even though many understood the odds, the issues were too precious to voters to simply relinquish to John Joyce without a fight. Like me, many voters will not hand over our precious democracy, nor our bodily autonomy. Considering their divorce from reality, rejection of accountability,  and aversion to democracy as they slide further into conspiracy theories, Republicans are not only failing to draw inmore voters, but beginning to alienate their own. This is evidenced by the Republican inability to predict the landslide win of governor-elect Josh Shapiro, and the victory for senator-elect John Fetterman as Republicans foolishly kept proclaiming a “Red Wave” that didn’t happen. For the future, Democrats need only to improve our underlying committee structure and use it to keep reaching younger and newer voters. If this is what our party can achieve in a last minute write-in campaign, imagine what we will accomplish with a well-organized one over two years. Democrats already have Truth, Justice, and the American Way on our side. We just have to keep reminding folks.

STILL PONDERING

I’m still pondering the who or whose “I am” question.   Descartes said, “I think, therefore, I am.”  I have no idea what that means. To be truthful, I can drive myself nuts asking questions such as, “who am I?” There are many ways to describe myself.  I am female.  I am a widow.    I am the mother of four amazing kids.  I am a retired pastor.  I am white.  I am American.  I am Mennonite.  I am the writer of this blog.  I am, I am, I am, all of which tell me things about myself but not who I am or whose I am.       Politicians tend to define people by political affiliation, race, educational level, urban, rural, white or blue collar,  conservative or liberal, ethnicity, religion, legal or illegal, etc..  Businesses see us as consumers whose value lies in our ability to buy their products.  But again, consuming is something we do, not who we are.   It is also our consumer society that defines individuals as successes or failures, determined by our buying power, prestige, and possessions.  One of my seminary professors challenged us to know ourselves by looking at the people with whom we associate, love, and share our values.  The key to discovering who we are, he said,  comes as we fill in the blanks to the statement:  “I am the one who is loved by…..”  “I am the one who is loved by…..”        I do know I have this tendency to overthink everything.  I can take something fairly simple and turn it into something complicated instead of accepting what is and going from there.  In the end, the closest I can come to an answer that satisfies me is; “ I am a beloved child of God.”  But then I have no idea what that means as I have no idea who or what God is, if God even is.  But then,  maybe I don’t have to know who I am or who or what God is.  Perhaps it’s enough to accept that I am, that there are Powers so much greater than we can envision or comprehend.  Maybe it’s enough to accept that life is complicated and mysterious and being able to love and be loved is an amazing gift.        I look out the window. White clouds drift lazily across a brilliant blue skyscape.  Red and yellow leaves drift lazily to the ground, their dying beauty so intense I find myself holding my breath in awe.   Does it even matter who I think I am or who I understand myself being connected to?   What if it’s enough to simply be aware in this present moment, able to drink in the miracle and majesty of what is,  grateful for this amazing thing we call life. Joyce Shutt is the author of Steps to Hope and is a veteran 12 stepper.

2022 Viewers Election Guide: How is the Vote Going?

Traditionally, when the vast majority of votes were cast on election day, there were states where it was possible to project most Senate and congressional races within an hour or so after polls closed and it was possible for an attentive viewer to forecast trends by perhaps 9:00, certainly 10:00 in the evening. The advent of extensive early and absentee voting, coupled with laws (as in PA) prohibiting pre-processing before election day, prolong the count. And because of the very different voting strategies of the two parties (Democrats ask their voters to vote early while the GOP asks theirs to vote on election day), early returns can be very deceptive. The “refuse to concede and sue everybody about everything” approach adds yet another uncertainty into election night vote counts. Nevertheless, there are certain states that will get most of their votes counted on election night and in some of them, there are close races that could tip one way or the other. The 30 races shown here may provide early insights to TV watchers. If 4 or 5 of these races break consistently one way, especially if the results run counter to the prediction, especially if any of the “likely” races go the other way, that’s a strong suggestion that there might be a trend. The descriptions of each state’s vote counting and the election forecasts are from Real Clear Politics as of Sunday, November 6. State-by-state Florida. Florida is one of the fastest states to count its votes. All early and many mail votes (a sizable chunk of the total) must be reported within 30 minutes of polls closing, and Election Day votes are reported within hours. Races to watch:           FL 13 Likely R FL 23 likely D FL 27 Likely R Rhode Island. More than 95 percent of the vote is expected to report within two hours after polls close (8 pm). Race to watch:            RI 2 Tossup Oklahoma. All ballots other than provisionals are expected to be reported on election night — likely before 1 a.m. Eastern. Race to watch;            Governor likely R New Mexico First results are expected to be in not long after polls close, and nearly all votes are expected to be reported on election night. Gov likely D NM 2 Likely R New Hampshire. A spokesperson for the secretary of state told FiveThirtyEight, “We expect 100 percent of the unofficial results to be reported on election night.” Senate Lean D NH1 Lean D NH 2 Likely D Minnesota. Initial results are expected to be reported by 9:15 p.m. Eastern, and the secretary of state expects nearly all results to be in by 1 a.m. Governor Likely d MN 2 – Lean D Indiana. Nearly all results are expected to be reported on election night. IN1 likely D Iowa. virtually all results are expected to be reported on election night. IA  Likely R IA 2 Likely R IA 3 Lean r New York Results from New York City are expected to start coming in around 9:30 p.m. Eastern, followed by the rest of the state. While mail ballots can still arrive as late as Nov. 15 if postmarked by Election Day, most results are expected to be reported on election night. NY 3 Lean D NY 17 Lean D NY 18 Lean D NY 19 Lean D NY 22 Lean R Virginia. the vast majority of results are expected to be reported on election night. However, mail ballots are due on Nov. 14, so we will have to wait a bit for the last batch of votes. VA 2 tossup VA 7 Lean D North Carolina. Early votes and absentee votes received by Monday afternoon (which together constitute the vast majority of votes) will be reported within 90 minutes after polls close. Election Day votes will then be reported starting around 8:30 p.m. Eastern until around midnight. However, North Carolina accepts mail ballots postmarked by Election Day until Nov. 14 Senate Likely R NC 13 Likely R New Jersey. Most ballots are expected to be reported on election night. But New Jersey accepts mail ballots postmarked by Election Day that arrive as late as Nov. 14, so results won’t truly be complete until then. NJ 3 Likely D NJ 5 Likely D NJ 7 Lean R Pennsylvania. there are a few reasons to think it will take less time than it did two years ago. First, it’s likely that fewer absentee ballots will be cast this year than in 2020. Counties are also more experienced and prepared for a large volume of absentees. And most counties are only allowed to stop counting when they have finished. Several counties told the Philadelphia Inquirer that they expect to be mostly finished counting by Wednesday morning. Senate tossup PA 7 tossup PA 17 tossup PA 8 Lean D

Impressed by Belliveau

I had the pleasure of attending the debate hosted by Gettysburg Connection, partnered with Gettysburg College and I wanted to take the opportunity to share some of my thoughts from that evening. As a voter in this district, the attendance of Mr. Neil Belliveau was greatly appreciated. To me, he provided an alternative choice for those who do not feel at home with the Democrat and Republican parties or their candidates this year. During this debate, he brought some new ideas to the table that I feel could greatly benefit our district and even this state. He took the time and addressed many issues that we currently face in our community, including the wasteful spending of both parties, the mismanagement of state resources, the lack of quality education in Pennsylvania, and the abuse of our National Guard by the federal government (specifically mentioning support for Defend the Guard legislation). I also found his honesty to be refreshing when he yielded his time on topics he was not as familiar with, unlike his opponents, who provided the very typical forced or rehearsed political responses. I know the odds are stacked against him, but I believe his ideas and service to the voters are well worth mentioning. Maybe in the future, we as voters can find common ground between the two major parties and enact change in our local communities. To me, the Libertarian Party in our county makes sense.

The Edge of the Wood – We’re not alone

It was like standing on the edge of a pool, watching the trees change color as the a river of fog flowed over the far ridge, filling the valley in front of me, flowing up the slope to gently, silently wrap itself around me. The fog condensed on the leaves of pines and Scarlet oaks, collecting into drops that fell gently onto my shirtless shoulders. Trees shivered at the impending winter, shaking blizzards of expired summer raiment cascading to the soil. Even as they fade into the soil, the leaves create a kaleidoscope of color, illustrating the diversity of life surrounding me. Halfway up the remaining slope, I stepped over a dozen beetles scrambling around atop a chunk of granite. I snapped a few pictures to aid a look-up when I returned home. A quick perusal of the digital encyclopedia – a.k.a. Internet – revealed they reside among dead leaves and other expired vegetation, and most of them occupy their time carnivorizing other invertebrates. No wonder they appeared lost atop that rock; they should have been under it. There is a lot of that rock left from the creation of the South Mountain region of South Central Pennsylvania, but this was the first time I’d found these little critters. Turns out, their ancestors go back at least 200 million years, and there are more than 60,000 varieties worldwide. I have always loved wandering in the woods, but when I was smaller, my view was larger. Mostly, I knew hardwood for keeping warm in winter and softwood for selling to local mills for making paper. I loved slipping through the forest and “stumbling across” deer and raccoons. I once left my canoe in the brush and walked up a path and rounded a corner to nearly run into a mama moose and her two offspring. The past couple years I have begun paying more attention to where I put my feet. I still am friends with the bigger critters, and trees that are way older than I and getting older often prompt me to ask what they have seen while waiting for me to show up. It has been said, “Reality is an illusion.” I think it had a different meaning then than I take from it now, but wandering in the woods is like wandering in my very own science fiction story. Those beetles I found, for instance, as I stepped over their world: Did the young among them hunker into dinner that evening and regale each other with descriptions of that huge tree-like creature that stepped over their rock? Were they frightened at the thought of being squooshed? OK, that last question might have been a bit of a stretch, though we do not really know at what level of existence creatures become aware of being alive, or soon not to be. Gradually, I began wondering how many other species share the planet, trying to eke out a living, and by their efforts making the place a little more livable for the rest of us. Those beetles, for instance, helping to turn leaves into compost to feed other plants, which feed mammals that feed humans. That’s why it’s called the “food chain.” We humans like to think we are at the top of it, but we’re not. Just ask someone who got too close to a Grizzly Bear. And from those thoughts came a desire to watch where I am walking, to introduce myself to the myriad creatures with whom I share the woods. What is the most interesting or revealing discovery you have met while wandering in “wild” habitat? Drop a note in the comments.

IT’S THAT GRATITUDE THING AGAIN

Mary Davis has a simple formula for dynamic living.  “Shine brightly.  See beauty.  Speak kindly.  Create joyfully.  Live thankfully.”  If there ever was a time when there are good reasons for unhappiness and despair, it is now.  Yet, precisely because these are challenging times, it is vitally important we implement Mary Davis’s suggestions.  Negative thinking just makes whatever is wrong seem that much worse.  Looking for the hidden strengths and opportunities in difficult times helps restore clarity and reveals better ways to respond.  As I’ve often shared, living thankfully is a choice.  It doesn’t just fall from the skies. We have to be very deliberate in developing the habit of gratitude.      See beauty, Mary Davis tells us.  The sun is shining.  Birds gobble bread crumbs at the feeder.  A fat squirrel runs across the driveway.  A painting by Leslie Varella graces the wall across from my blogging chair.  Sun shines through several stained glass art pieces created by our daughter.  House plants cluster in front of the windows. I see beauty everywhere I look.       Speak kindly. We too often save our good manners for friends and strangers and thoughtlessly dump our bad moods, criticism, and cutting remarks on family. It is easy to take our loved ones for granted and assume they know we love them, while rarely telling them ”I love you” or saying “thank you” for doing the dishes or taking out the garbage.  We humans are fragile beings and easily wounded.  A thoughtless remark can fester for years.  But, we can change.  We can do better.  It takes time and a lot of starting over, but we can do it.       Create joyfully.  Writing these blogs gives me a sense of satisfaction, of contributing to the betterment of the world in a small way.  My blogs become prayers for me, reminding me to do justice, love mercy and walk humbly.  Making quilts and comforters for Project Linus, the homeless, friends, and strangers is also deeply satisfying.  The process of creating something lovely has this way of opening me to life.        Live thankfully. One of the first things I do each morning is write three things for which I am grateful in my gratitude journal.  Focusing on gratitude, rather than my fears and concerns, helps to set the tone for my day.  When I tire of being positive, I remind myself that scientists claim a consistent practice of gratitude can be just as effective in treating depression as medication.         I’m not sure why Mary Davis started her list with “shine brightly.”  To me shining brightly is the end result of seeing beauty, speaking kindly, creating joyfully, and living thankfully. For me, shining brightly means treating others with respect and dignity, refraining from judging, looking for ways to bring out the best in myself and others.  As Henri Nouwen once wrote, “the discipline of gratitude is the explicit effort to acknowledge that all I am and have is given to me as a gift of love, a gift to be celebrated with joy.” Joyce Shutt isthe author of STeps to Hope and is a veteran 12 stepper #gratitude

What I look for in a Candidate

When I evaluate a candidate, I look first at their basic character. Do they exhibit dignity, honesty, intelligence, and empathy?  Then I look at their purpose in running.  Candidates who demonstrate a commitment to public service win high marks. If they are running for office primarily to gain power, that is, for me, a major strike against them.  A candidate’s experience, especially in public service, counts high for me also: what do they  bring to the table? Also high on my list are the following issues and priorities:  addressing climate change, protecting democracy, protecting a woman’s right to bodily autonomy (which often affects not only herself, but the well-being of her family), making laws that address the increasing inequalities in our society, improving policing and a currently unjust prison system that is also costing taxpayers millions of dollars. In the area of education, I believe in lifting up the quality of public schools especially in underfunded neighborhoods, teaching good citizenship and the whole history of our great country, not shying away from its systemic racism and other foibles and realizing that we can only learn from our mistakes. Having met Josh Shapiro and John Fetterman more than once and become familiar with their character, backgrounds, relevant experience, and values, I believe they have the characteristics that are important to me and to many people whom I respect.  And I know they will do their best to protect us from the election deniers and other extremists who are tearing our country apart. Please join me in voting for Fetterman for U.S. Senate and Shapiro for Governor. I also advocate voting for our two local candidates:  Marty Qually for the General Assembly in Pa, and Beth Farnham for U.S. Congress (as a write-in candidate opposing John Joyce).  Marty and Beth are both committed to a woman’s right to choose her own destiny and to other values and issues in which I strongly believe.

On John Joyce’s candidacy

Editor’s note: Beth Farnham has declared herself as a write-in candidate running against incumbent U.S. Representative for Pennsylvania’s 13th congressional district, John Joyce. The 13th congressional district covers all of Adams County. John Joyce wants you to note his credentials. John Joyce wants you to forget his hateful positions. John Joyce wants you to keep ignoring his power. As long as you admire his medical degree, or focus on the repulsive words of State Senator Douglas Mastriano, then you aren’t paying attention to Representative Joyce’s powerful votes in Congress. Make no mistake, Representative Joyce’s votes not only affect Americans at a national level, they are lockstep with those of PA 10th U.S. House District Representative Scott Perry. Highlights of Joyce’s atrocious record include not certifying the valid election results that cast Joe Biden as President and signing the Texas amicus brief that sought to invalidate Pennsylvania votes, ironically for the election by which Joyce was re-elected to Congress.  A recap of his votes can be found here: https://accountability.gop/profile/rep-john-joyce/ Backed by former President Donald Trump since 2018, Joyce’s despicable positions have always aligned with those of Trump, as well as those declared by Doug Mastriano, but John Joyce isn’t uppermost in people’s minds as elections near. In fact, most voters don’t even know they reside in District 13, much less who represents them. Quite simply, John Joyce’s calculated silence works for your casual dismissal of him. You’ve probably never thought about the fact that John Joyce hasn’t ever condemned the January 6th insurrection that violently interrupted our sacrosanct American voting process that day. He has never spoken against Trump’s insidious words and actions leading up to, and during the attack. He does not address nuances of rape, incest, or incompatibility with life of the fetus in his stance against abortion. Despite his medical degree, he only recognizes the exception of “life of the mother” for his religious reason alone.  But we don’t have to accept John Joyce’s unopposed candidacy on the ballot for midterms 2022. We can remove him from Congress. I have lent my name to this purpose, but it takes your efforts, in addition to mine, to effect this change. If you want to unseat John Joyce, you must do something differently. You must loudly exclaim in the silence. You must pick up a telephone, share across social media, write a letter to a publication about the write-in campaign of Beth Farnham to oppose John Joyce for Representative in Congress, 13th District. My campaign page is here: Pennsylvania’s 13th Congressional District Democratic Choice If enough voters write in my name, we will remove John Joyce from Congress. In his place, we will have one more vote for expanded voting rights, bodily autonomy, higher minimum wage, conservation efforts, public education, and other norms of our beloved American democracy outlined by the Democratic National Committee (DNC). The DNC party planks are updated every four years and can be found here: https://democrats.org/where-we-stand/party-platform/ Dare to proclaim the write-in Beth Farnham campaign in Franklin, Fulton, Bedford, Cambria, Blair, Mifflin, Juniata, Perry, Huntingdon counties, as well as the western edge of Cumberland County. Make known there our choice for democracy and choice. Or, hand over our democracy and bodily autonomy to Representative John Joyce because…he’ll quietly vote them away.

Trust the experts

During the debate last week that included Republican incumbent Dan Moul and Democrat challenger Marty Qually, a question was asked about the state’s response to Covid. Qually pointed out the challenge of getting everyone to believe the science. “We’ve got to get to a point where we believe the people who are specialists in these areas,” he said. “We believe in the people who make our cars, that they won’t explode on us, but we don’t want to believe the doctors – people who we trust every time we go to get medicine.” Moul agreed with his opponent about a need for personal responsibility, then added, “When you have elected officials that really don’t know a thing about medicine – they’re not scientists.” “Don’t let a governor lock you down, put you out of business …,” Moul said. There was no question presented about what qualifies anyone to know about medicine – or any other science – but apparently, Moul did not believe Gov. Tom Wolf – or any other elected officials worldwide – who issued lock-down orders to their citizens – might have had the benefit of medical advice from his or her staff, cabinet, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, or doctors across the planet. I do understand a business owner’s need to keep the money flowing. After all, that is the purpose of any business – not to create jobs or provide medical insurance for the employees, but to make money for the business owner. That’s a good thing – making money – because without it we likely would not have restaurants, retail stores, pharmacies or any other sources of stuff we want and cannot or choose not to make at home. But I object to the apparent premise that profits are more important than lives. Case in Point: scientists have been saying, loudly and often, that climate warming is a big and growing problem and burning fossil fuels is the main cause. There are ample data showing that carbon dioxide and methane are terrible greenhouse gases and that in every stage of fossil fuel use – from drilling to wrest it from the clutches of our planet to burning and emitting its toxic effluent into our atmosphere – we are, figuratively and literally, poisoning ourselves and our children. Yet a large number of our policy makers have decided the most important results of the process seem to be not the electricity or motor fuel it helps make possible. The most important results, according to many politicians and other policymakers, are the jobs created by the inexorable destruction of our home. There are safer alternatives. Solar power creates jobs, from manufacturing the components to installing and maintaining the arrays of fans and sunlight-collecting panels that collect the electricity to power our homes and a growing array of vehicles. Livestock and green people-food can be grown beneath the wind and solar arrays. Try that beneath a coal or gas-fired electricity plant. Restaurants have replaced many of their wait staff with home delivery services – waiters and waitresses now drive to pick up our evening repast and deliver it to our door– although it will be interesting to see how those delivery companies manage the shift to driverless vehicles. Some of our better-known eateries have begun replacing staff with robots. Some versions squirt ingredients onto our meal as it travels the assembly line, while others, such as Chili’s Rita can show us to our table if we choose to eat in, and even sing a birthday song, when appropriate, to accompany our dessert. An official with Chili’s parent company, Brinker International, was quoted in April saying program testing had been going on about two years – well before the current much-touted post-Covid labor shortage arrived on the food service scene. One might wonder whether servicing those robots might result in more jobs, with the higher pay that normally accrues to technologically skilled workers. We all likely have learned much about how to handle a pandemic – information and experience likely to be useful in the too-near future. But when our elected leaders turn the subject into a distracting game of political blame, they do not help us with the tribulations – or benefits – to come.

Understanding Fetterman’s stroke

Articles from the news magazine Scientific American,have helped me understand (and resolve) many of my puzzlements concerning far-right conservative thinking, motivation and beliefs. Scientific American endorsed Joe Biden in 2020, after 175 years of political neutrality.   In a recent article, Scientific American explained how brains heal following stroke and addressed the likely process of John Fetterman’s health following this stroke. You can read the article here. John Fetterman Shows How Well the Brain Recovers after Stroke – Scientific American

World Soul

John 1 opens with, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.  Through him were all things made that were made, and the Word was the source of life, and this source brought light to all mankind.  The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has never put it out.”      As I sat with my open Bible, I hope filled those few words.  No matter what we humans do, and we do some terrible things, we will never be able to snuff out the light that shines in the darkness.  That’s when I noticed a scribbled note I had written along the margin ….a note from years ago when I was in Seminary.   “The Greek word ‘logos’ can be translated as ‘World Soul.’  Vast. Mysterious.  Comprehensive.     There it is, the Word I need to hear, The Light shining through my emotional and spiritual darkness, my fears about where our world is heading.  In all and of all.   World Soul.  I turned back to my Bible and reread those familiar lines while substituting those two words that change everything;  World Soul for Word.       I often wonder what nuances of meaning we have lost over the years.  Times change.  Word meanings alter.  New technologies and information transform our understanding.  Lifestyles and cultures are vastly different.  We read Scripture through 21st-century eyes, not through the eyes of days long past. There is no way we can begin to comprehend what the Scriptures meant to folks over 2,000 years ago. Now, with the advent of the scientific age, we have become more literal, less able to think metaphorically, allegorically.        Reflecting on what all might be encompassed in the concept of World Soul, I felt hope spreading throughout my body.  I reread John 1 through a blur of tears, “In the beginning was World Soul, and World Soul was with God and World Soul was God.  Through World Soul were all things made that were made.  World Soul was the source of life and  World Soul brought light to all mankind.  World Soul shines in the darkness and the darkness has never put World soul out.”       Oh, how I need to believe there is something as profound as World Soul.  With so much partisanship, , and rancor tearing our precious world apart, we need to find that something that draws us together.  One of the reasons I appreciate The Chronicles of Narnia and many other fantasy books is the way authors give trees and plants and animals souls, life-influencing souls…something many of us sense in our pets.         World Soul. We are World Soul, not part of World Soul.  Perhaps that is the underlying message of the concept of Trinity.  No separation.  No divisions.  Everything is a part of everything.  One and the same. No better or worse.  No privileged races.  No national boundaries.  World Soul as the vast Cosmos.  World Soul as Creation.  World Soul as Life.  World Soul;  Light in the darkness, Light the darkness can never put out.  Amen and amen. Joyce Shutt is the author of Steps to Hope and is a veteran 12 stepper

Looking for Common Ground

It has been said this election is about the soul of our democracy. I would agree. The events of January 6, 2021 demonstrate how real the threat is to that “soul.” I find there is no way to have a conversation with those who want to represent the other side of the issues. I view inflation and the higher cost of living as a global problem and the fallout of the pandemic, the supply and demand issues it created along with the job markets glut. Others would blame the Democratic administration who has only had a year and a half to address the quagmire of the previous administration’s work, or lack there of. See what I mean, already the arguments against these comments are firing up. We could move on to women’s rights and abortion, or, or, or… but we would find no common ground. Perhaps the same would be true on voting rights and redistricting and mail-in ballots, but where is the common ground? Is there any? I would contend that in the fog of debate over the issues there is one simple fact that we don’t have to agree upon, but is objectively verified by Republican, Democrat, and MAGA appointed judges, the stone-hard cold fact that the last presidential election was and is legitimate. It has been tested and retested across the political battlefield by our court system over 60 times. So, since this is the only hard, cold fact I can offer, I also believe it might be that patch of common ground. One little bit we might support together: agreeing that one person, one vote is the right of every U.S. citizen; agreeing this is the “soul of our democracy,” agreeing that anyone who would deny that to you and me should never hold a public office. And here is the kicker, agreeing that anyone who is delusional enough to deny what over 60 court cases presided over by Republican, Democrat and MAGA appointed judges have found should most certainly never hold public office. Or put another way, I would suggest that our common ground in the midst of all we can’t agree on, is to agree that no one denying the last presidential election should get even one of our votes. It’s all I have. All the rest requires a politic that will work at the debate, compromise, and hard work good government demands.

Dan Moul’s Debate Performance

Having been called out by name by Dan Moul at Wednesday night’s debate, I’d like to claim the privilege to respond. First, Dan Moul started his two-minute opening remarks criticizing opponent Marty Qually for having already gone negative. “I didn’t know we were going into the attack mode right off the bat – I was hoping to keep it a little more civil.”  Then he said normally, he ignores attacks. “I’ve grown a very thick skin over the years. . . .” Finally, he said, “I’m going to go down a different road,” which you’d assume means he plans to take the high road and stick to issues. But the different road was to instead take his entire two-minute opening statement to attack two constituents, Steve Niebler and me. It was an astonishing performance. I’ve been acquainted with many politicians over the years and never saw such a reaction. For one, to lash back at criticism from constituents. Even more important, to give up the most important two minutes of the debate (opening statements) for such foolishness. Every candidate knows the opening statement is your one-time chance to set the tone and lay out the key themes that you will then develop during the debate. Now, as for the rest of the debate: Kudos to Charles Stangor (as well as the college’s Eisenhower Institute and other institutes) for sponsoring this event Well done to Alex Hayes for doing an outstanding job of moderating A great job by the audience, writing excellent questions and behaving themselves throughout the event Thanks to the candidates for showing up and, once the flow of questions started, sticking to issues and keeping things civil Three rotten tomatoes and four Pinocchios to Dan Moul for continuing to repeat the ridiculous lie of a dishonest, insecure, stolen election. Untold damage is being done to the country and our democracy by politicians continuing to repeat this nonsense. Donald Trump’s lawyers, his attorney general, his campaign officials, his family; Republican leaders of Congress all knew – and told Trump repeatedly – that the election wasn’t stolen, that Joe Biden won. Dan Moul should be ashamed for continuing to repeat this dangerous lie.

Election Day is Crucial for PA, Democracy

I’ve been an eligible voter since 1972.  I believed 2020 was by far the most important election of my lifetime.  As November 8th approaches, I think this one is just as important as 2024 will be. In Pennsylvania, we have a gubernatorial candidate put forth by the (erstwhile) Party of Lincoln whose beliefs and actions are diametrically opposed to Lincoln’s. A candidate who – as a state senator – took busloads of people to the January 6th riot and insurrection. He spent the two months before that spreading disinformation and attempting to keep Pennsylvania’s electoral votes from being cast for Joe Biden, who won the state by more than 100,000 votes. Not only was Doug Mastriano a ringleader – along with our former Congressman Scott Perry – in the attempt to overturn the 2020 results, but he does not hide the fact that one reason he’s seeking the Governor’s office is to be in a position to appoint a Secretary of State who will do his bidding and refuse to certify an electoral result he does not like. This is a dangerous man. He has no respect for democracy and seeks to install a MAGA dictatorship of “Christian Nationalism.” Pennsylvanians need to resoundingly reject Mastriano to send a message to the nation and the world that we still believe in democracy. Kevin McDonald

Deer Baiting and Chronic Wasting Disease

It’s fall in Adams County and the South Mountains of South Central Pennsylvania. A variety of native trees, like an artist’s brushes, color the land in oranges, yellows, and reds as though they had been spilled on an artist’s palette. As I stood talking with Pa. Forest Ranger Scott Greevy, acorns fell from the surrounding oaks, crashing like gunfire onto his truck. Deer hunting season was about to open, and our main topic was an illness carried by Whitetail deer. Baiting – the practice of putting out stuff such as salt licks, corn, apples, and other tasty morsels – to attract the critters to places convenient to the hunter, photographer, or other observer, is legal in Pennsylvania – except when it isn’t. Bait must be removed – all of it – 30 days prior to the start of hunting season. Leaving it in place is one charge; actually hunting over the human-provided goodies is another. But baiting is about more than the law. In South Central Pennsylvania, it always is illegal because Chronic Wasting Disease – which attacks the deer’s brain and causes a slow death – has been confirmed in Franklin, Adams, Cumberland, Bedford, and Fulton counties. “It’s not a full list, but it’s our general area,” Greevy said. CWD is caused by a prion – a malformed protein that is not treatable, is always fatal, and may take 18-24 months to show symptoms, “so, by the time deer start showing symptoms, it’s all game over.” According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, CWD is endemic to the area of the common border areas of Colorado, Wyoming, and Nebraska. The CDC article also notes, “… limited investigations have not identified strong evidence for CWD transmission to humans.” “The (Pennsylvania) Game Commission will also tell you if you got sick from eating CWD-infected meat, you would be the first person ever in history to get sick (from the disease),” Greevy commented. “There is no evidence that anyone has ever got sick from eating CWD deer meat.” He noted although the disease is carried in the heads and spines of infected deer, the meat has been shown to be clean. But CWD also has defied eradication, in spite of a variety of management practices created to get the numbers down. For instance, it is unlawful to take a deer from a CWD zone to a non-CWD zone. The state game commission also has installed so-called “head bins” – among them are two in Michaux State Forest – and others at various butcher and taxidermy shops in the region – where successful hunters may deposit the head of their deer, with the deer tag attached. The game commission collects the heads for testing, and in two to four weeks, the hunter will be notified if the head was positive for CWD. If it was, the game commission will issue a replacement deer tag so the hunter may go hunting for another deer. Pennsylvania is trying to control the disease. Baiting is prohibited in CWD zones because the disease can be transmitted by a deer contacting the urine or feces of another deer or simply by touching noses, which can happen through a fence. Baiting invites deer to congregate in unnaturally large groups, like human diners at a fire company spaghetti dinner, increasing the chances that one infected animal will pass the disease to numerous others. “The more deer there are in an area if CWD is present, the more deer are going to catch it,” he explained. In certain Deer Management Assistance Program areas, such as Kings Gap Environmental Education Center, the game commission issues additional deer tags. “The goal for that is increased monitoring,” Greevy explained. “If they put a couple hundred more tags up in the Kings Gap area and the tests come up through the head bins, they know this is what percentage we have – or there is no detected CWD here – so the monitoring gets better.” Mad Cow Disease – which is similar to CWD – does not seem to happen on small farms with only a few cattle. And Covid has its best success killing humans when we are densely packed in our cities. Piling bait to more densely populate a group of deer is a good way to make Chronic Wasting Disease more successful at infecting our deer herd. Getting caught at it can make an expensive afternoon for the errant hunter. Just sayin’ …

Qually for State Representative

Adams County Democratic Committee stands solidly behind Marty Qually as a candidate for Pennsylvania House District 91.  It’s time for an 8-term incumbent who has not brought significant value back to Adams County to retire.  Even his supporters do not mention a single accomplishment of the incumbent. There is a new generation and new influx of voters who want a representative to hold their ideals and hopes for not only the county, but the state and nation.  The incumbent refuses to discuss the single most important and energizing issue of this election:  the personal liberties that are under attack, starting with the overturn of Roe vs. Wade by the US Supreme Court. The candidate of our choice, and for choice, is Marty Qually, and I urge those who have not already voted for him by mail to vote for him on Election Day. This election starts at the local level, but we must vote for the statewide candidates as well, and the differences are stark. Those candidates on the ballot who share our ideals and hopes and will work to preserve our personal liberties and our democracy are John Fetterman for US Senate and Josh Shapiro for Governor with Austin Davis for Lt. Governor.  Their actions speak for themselves, and any concerns about Lt. Governor Fetterman’s health should be allayed by his steady and ongoing recovery from the effects of a stroke.  Anyone who’s had a stroke or has been with a stroke survivor knows that auditory difficulties are part of the residual effect and his recovery is exactly on target to regain full auditory range.  His cognizance, analytical and vocal skills are intact. If you’ve voted by mail, thank you!  If not, please plan to vote on November 8th for these candidates.

Prefers Shapiro to Mastriano

It has become obvious that [gubernatorial candidate] Doug Mastriano has a distorted view of United States history and the constitution.  You can clearly see that in his view of religion and our government.  Christians came to America because they were being persecuted by other Christians in their homeland.  And even in America, Christians were still persecuted by other Christians.  The founding fathers including Washington, Jefferson, and Madison could have easily included Christianity in the constitution, but they saw the danger of having a religious state.  It is why they not only excluded religion but included the No Religious Test Clause (Article VI, Clause 3) and the First Amendment.  Article VI, Clause 3 states that the office holder be bound by Oath or Affirmation, to support the Constitution, not their religion. Like Mastriano, I’m also a Christian, but his beliefs are based on fear, anger and hate forged by lies.  Whereas my beliefs are based on understanding, compassion, and love forged by Christ’s command “love thy neighbor as thy self”.   Mastriano wants to legislate his religious beliefs on all of us.  He believes Oz as a Muslim has no place holding an elected office.  Joyce and Moul have shown they are more beholden to extreme influencers outside of their districts than to their constituents.  Oz will be the same. Shapiro for governor, Fetterman for senate, Qually for state representative, District 91, and Beth Farnam as a write-in for Congressional District 13 will follow the constitution and ensure the well-being of all their constituents.

Credit card fees disappoint

I had lunch at The Upper Crust recently, and there was a surcharge of a little over 2.5 percent on the bill for using a credit card. When I asked, I was told that credit card company charges are in the neighborhood of 5 percent now. There are no words for my outrage, but in the current climate that warns of inflation, it appears that “fleecing” is a more appropriate description. I really don’t want to go to cash (I use cards to document my spending and it helps with budgeting) but when financial markets are being manipulated, I think the public ought to know. There is no such thing as a free market, and it’s simply infuriating there is so much grift and profit being made off this “inflation.” If the increases are indeed true, my anger would be directed to the card companies more than the venues. I recognize that cards charge fees, so when I shop with small businesses, I tend to use cash because they need all the breaks they can get. I also use cash to tip, so employers don’t have a way to monitor what low wage employees take home. I’ll be keeping my eye on other establishments I visit to see who else might be doing this same thing.

Success and Gratitude

At our CoDa meeting, last night,  we talked about the 10th step.  That’s the step in which we take time each day to review our successes and our failures.  Unfortunately, most of us have been programmed to focus on our failures rather than our successes.  We’ve learned how to blame and shame ourselves when we stumble while downplaying our successes.  That’s why keeping a gratitude journal is so important for many of us. There is something about writing things down that makes them more real.   No matter how bad things may get, there will always be something for which we can be grateful, even if it is being inside on a rainy day or having a drink of water.  Gratitude,  like anything else,  increases the more we practice being grateful.  I’ve often thought that Jesus’s “they who have eyes but cannot see” is referring to our lack of gratitude.         We don’t have to wait to win the lottery before we practice gratitude!  Becoming grateful for the little stuff is the whole point of practicing gratitude.  That’s the underlying meaning behind “Give us this day our daily  bread.”   Jesus didn’t tell us to pray for unlimited riches and bread for our entire lifetime.  He told us to be grateful for having just enough today.  He encourages us to become ever more aware of just how many little things make up the tenor of our days.  When we obsess on our problems, that’s all we see.  When we practice gratitude, we become more and more aware of all the resources that are ours while, at the same time, no longer assuming life owes us anything.  Everything, after all,  is a gift.        When we talk about living in the moment,  we are talking about acknowledging all of the people and details that shape the foundation and backdrop of our lives.   I simply can’t conceive of life without my family and friends.. Now that my husband is gone, I regret not having thanked him more often for the steady support he gave me.  Every day, I thank both him and God that I am able to flourish today because of his faithfulness in the past.        I haven’t turned on the heat yet, I am using less water, doing without new clothing,  and eating simply, not because I am worried about money or feeling a need to sacrifice.  I’ve decided to fast in this new way for me:  by doing with less in many areas of my life. I find it too easy to ignore all of the seemingly little things that fill my days and make life comfortable.  Getting up in a chilly house reminds me there are people without warm homes.  Not letting the water run until it gets warm reminds me there are people who have no water at all.   When I find myself grumbling because I don’t have the right outfit,  I remind myself there are people who are lucky to have one change of clothing.  Then instead of feeling deprived and unhappy, I feel blessed and grateful.        The older I get, the more I understand The Apostle Paul’s injunction to be grateful in and for all things.  Without gratitude, life is empty.  We can be as pious as possible,  attending prayer meetings and worship services, doing acts of penitence, and constantly depriving ourselves, but without gratitude, they fall flat and leave us empty and unsatisfied.         Gratitude is the door to happiness.  Gratitude is the root of contentment.  Gratitude is serenity’s sister.  When we are grateful, there is little room for self-pity or grumbling,  for it’s gratitude that enables us to move into the pain that is so much a part of life to find God’s courage and grace awaiting us.  It is gratitude that helps us learn the lessons life has to teach us.  It is gratitude that transforms our failures into opportunities.  It is gratitude that turns fear into faith, and hopelessness into hope.   It is gratitude that transforms the finality of death into new life and new beginnings.  And for that, I am deeply and profoundly grateful. Joyce Shutt is the author of Steps to Hope and is a veteran 12 stepper

“False Social Reality” Hides Strong Support

Most people think they are in the minority in wanting to do something to slow, if not stop, climate warming and to protect our land, air, and water. Most people are wrong. The journal Nature Communications in August, quoting a recently released study, reported a “false social reality” in which about 80 percent of Americans support climate change policies but believe that only about 40 percent of their fellow citizens also support them. Given that preamble, one might be surprised at the support for environmental issues around where I live. Case in point: Adams Countians have, in the past several years, planted thousands of trees on private and public lands, mostly in efforts to protect the water supplies. Last spring, the Watershed Alliance of Adams County – a volunteer organization with the stated goal of protecting and enhancing the county’s waterways, handed out more than 10,000 trees. Last month, the alliance, in partnership with the Chesapeake Bay Foundation and some 80 additional volunteers, supplied about 12,000 trees for a fall planting effort. The watershed alliance has been recording water samples for nitrates, phosphates, and macroinvertebrates – bugs such as mayflies and stoneflies that are indicators of water quality – for about 20 years. In August this year, assisted by additional volunteers and a grant from the South Mountain Partnership, the alliance conducted a month-long pathogen survey on numerous county streams. And last year, the organization, in its first-ever such effort, and with the surprising (to some) participation of numerous donors not usually counted as assisting the alliance, garnered a large portion of funds through the Adams County Foundation Giving Spree. Concerned contributors and volunteers also have provided financial and physical assistance to several other efforts in the county, conserving tens of thousands of acres of undeveloped land and educating citizens about the environment in which we all live. Steve Zimmerman, owner of an Adams County landscaping business and leader of Gettysburg Green Gathering, has embarked on a program of planting trees on public properties, including churches and parks, to provide shade, dust collection, and water filtration around the county. Last weekend, Zimmerman and a group of volunteers planted five trees in the Gettysburg Rec Park, including one that was sponsored by a New Jersey family in honor of their husband and father, and will plant eight Sugar Maples at Strawberry Hill Nature Preserve as part of that facility’s annual Trailgating event, slated for Oct. 22. In September, more than 100 people attended a presentation by environmentalist Robin Wall Kimmerer, author of “Braiding Sweetgrass.” It was an event Zimmerman said he hopes will become the start of a series of educational events featuring experts in ecological fields. The next such presentation, scheduled for Nov. 5 at the Gettysburg Rec Park, will feature Doug Tallamy, author of four books about what people can do in and around their homes to help with environmental conservation. The program will be free to the public, but seating is limited, and registration is required. Tallamy’s appearance is funded, in part, by a grant from the Adams County Community Foundation Fund for the Environment. Gettysburg Green Gathering has awarded several annual scholarships to Adams County college-bound high seniors whose next educational step would be environmental studies. Zimmerman said the money this year will be awarded to Strawberry Hill Nature Preserve. But although its varied camps and day programs often cater to K-through-12 students, the schools often do not pay for their students. “(Strawberry Hill is) going to set up a fund for kids who want to go there but their parents can’t afford it,” Zimmerman said. He said the final details of the program are not yet determined “Hopefully they can use (Green Gettysburg) money as a seed.” I could go on listing events and people supporting programs to make where we live a healthy environment. Instead, I will offer the Green Gathering, on Nov. 5, at the Gettysburg Rec Park, beginning at 11:30 a.m. with booths staffed by local non-profit environmental organizations and club members who will happily discuss their groups’ efforts with attendees. Light food and drinks will be served during this time for attendees. Doug Tallamy will present his talk at 1 pm, followed by a Q&A session. If the dearth of news coverage or the wealth of headline-grabbing misinformation seems to indicate a lack of public interest and participation – visit links in this column and the Nov. 5 gathering at the rec park. You might be surprised to find out how many of your neighbors share your concerns.

Tempting or Temptation

  There’s a phrase  in the familiar version of the Lord’s Prayer that troubles me:  “And lead us not into temptation.”  How or why would a loving God deliberately lead us into temptation?   It simply doesn’t make sense.  In fact, the more I delve into theology and religious literature and the answers we humans have used to shape life and  society, the less religious I become.  I simply can’t give my allegiance to a God who plays favorites, picks and chooses winners and losers, is downright tyrannical,  and a child abuser.  The God of my understanding has given us everything we need to flourish and succeed. To quote Michah, “What does God require of you, O Man, but to do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with your God.”  We are the ones who create our own living hell by the selfish choices we make.       Having said that, I still pray,  though most often prayers of gratitude.   The older I get, the deeper my faith, though, I no longer call myself a Christian. The church has become too legalistic, rigid, nationalistic, power hungry for me.  Instead, I long to be a Jesus follower.  Consequently,  I am careful about how I pray and for what I pray.  Something fell into place years ago when I began attending 12 step meetings,  as  I immediately resonated to the 11th step.  “Sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God, as we understand God, seeking only God’s will for our lives and the courage to carry that out.”        I’ve never been able to  accept the almost universal understanding of the cross as God demanding a human sacrifice to serve as punishment for man’s sin.  The Cross makes more sense as the inevitable consequence of following Jesus’ example of non-violent problem solving and loving our enemies.  As one of our banners at church reads, “Nobody said it would be easy.”  Jim Lawson, one of the leaders of the Civil Rights Movement,  phrased it well.  “At the cross, Jesus spread out his arms and said, ‘Violence stops here.’ “   In the end refuting violence is what saves and transforms us as individuals and a society.      That ‘s some of why I struggle with “lead us not into temptation.”   God doesn’t need to place temptation in front of any of us.  Life does a very good job of that all by itself.  There are few moments in a day that we are not being pulled in a hundred different directions;  self interest, power and control, hoarding resources and money,  fear of suffering and pain,  loving comfort and luxury, judging others, etc.  These forces constantly pull us away from what we intuitively know is right and good…sharing with others, visiting the sick, caring for the prisoner, opening our homes, living with less, turning the other cheek… That’s why, when I pray the Lord’s Prayer, I say, “When we are tempted, deliver us from evil.”         Years ago I discovered a translation and/or a paraphrase of the Sermon on the Mount which included  the author’s version of the Lord’s Prayer:      “O Birther! Father-Mother of the Cosmos, focus your light within us – make it useful.  Create your reign of unity now – Your one desire then acts with ours, as in all light, so in all forms.  Grant what we need each day in bread and insight.  Loose the cords of mistakes binding us, as we release the strands we hold of others’ guilt.  Don’t let surface things delude us, but free us from what holds us back.  From you is born all ruling will, the power and the life to do, the song that beautifies all, from age to age it renews.  Truly – power to these statements – may they be the ground from which all my actions grow.  Amen       “Don’t let surface things delude us, but free us from what holds Us back.  Now that is a prayer I can pray easily and often. Joyce Shutt is the author of Steps to Hope and is a veteran 12 stepper #Step 11   #prayer

Caution: contagious colors

The Connection is pleased to share this column from the blog of Gettysburg resident John Messeder, an award-winning ecology columnist and social anthropologist. More of John’s stories as well as his photography are available at his website, https://www.johnmesseder.com. He may be contacted at john@johnmesseder.com. When I was many years younger, I cut wood in summer, pulled it from the forest, then chopped and split it into stove-size pieces and stacked it neatly to dry for winter. Winter in Maine was cold in those days, though as a youngster, I only felt it when there were chores to do. Snowball fights and sledding were not cold. Bringing in firewood and water from the well were frigid activities. The first winter we were there Daddy bought a thermometer and nailed it outside the living room window. He and Mom took turns keeping the fire going in that new-built but as yet uninsulated cottage, so the babies – my brother and I – wouldn’t freeze. In the morning, there were little pearls of ice on the shingle nails where they stuck through the walls. One morning, Dad scraped frost from a window and looked at the thermometer. Forty below zero! He was certain the device was broken, so he carried it the three miles back to town, and Larry Eustis’ hardware store. Sure enough, said Mr. Eustis, it is hard to believe that temperature. Trouble is, he said, he had a whole case of those temperature indicators, and they all pointed to the same 40 below. Later on, well after I learned about making small stove chunks out of large maple trees, I helped my uncle build houses. It was nothing, in my teen years, to carry two 15-pound cinder blocks on each arm from where they’d been stacked by the delivery man to where Uncle Tom’s friend, Augie, was busy building a fireplace. I also carried rolls of tarpaper, one on each shoulder, up 20 feet of ladder to the roof, where Augie was busy running out of shingles. By the time I’d replenished his supply of tar shingles, he’d be out of nails. Then he’d need more tarpaper. The periodic cry of, “While you’re resting” flew from Augie’s lips entirely too frequently for a lad who only wished he was resting. I had no trouble keeping fit. I could swim a mile or so without a problem, hike miles without breaking a sweat. A 60-mile Saturday ride on the one-speed coaster-brake Western Flyer bicycle was fun. I don’t ride my bicycle very often these days, though I do often tell myself I should. I do spend considerable time wandering in the wood, conversing with the trees and other critters and watching the show that is the changing seasons – from bare trees to shades of green, to the blazing panchromatic plentitude about to decorate the South Mountains I now call home, and summer inexorably withdraws southward, following the hummingbirds and Canada geese to warmer climes. There are those among the multitudes who likely insist summer’s departure precursors, rather than follows, the geese. They are the same, I submit, who put forth the notion that the wind makes the trees shake, rather than the other way ‘round. One has merely to observe trees in action to realize the fallacy of such thinking. Notice, if you will, the distinct absence of air movement when the trees are still. Meanwhile, broad, deeply sculpted carpets lay spread among the ribbons of pavement, filling the senses with a display of which any fireworks company would be proud. Human artists, paintbrushes in hand, have labored for hours to create the blaze heralding the end of another season of growth and re-creation. We will taste the Thanksgiving turkey, grease the Christmas goose, and wait patiently through winter as the trees and grass rest up for another growing season. A few more trips around the yard will remove the vertiginous remains of our oaks and Fire Bushes. Deer will come closer to the house, searching for tasty remnants of once-flowering shrubbery. The weather prognosticators are beginning to suggest a snowy winter. Something about la Nina being triplets and this being the third sister. For now, I suggest a wander in the Fall Foliage. Caution: It could become addictive. © John Messeder. Featured image: Fall at Buzzard’s Rock [John Messeder]

Consequences

I have this intense urge to go upstairs and hide in my sewing room.  It’s a dreary day, following a series of dreary days, and my get up and go never got up with me this morning.   I’ve been feeling this way since our discussion on crime and punishment at church yesterday.  I’m bothered by how easy it is to agree that we don’t have the right to judge others, when we all are making judgments about others all of the time.   Like so much in life,  it is so much easier to express lofty ideas than to act on them.  Truth be told, I’m not sure how we avoid being judgmental as it is an almost automatic response, given we are limited by our own experiences and perceptions.   I’ve been rereading C.S. Lewis’s The Chronicles of Narnia, great escape literature for anyone with a whimsical frame of mind.  There’s a short vignette in Prince Caspian that snags me every time I read it. The children are lost in a dense forest and only Lucy, the youngest one, sees a glimpse of Aslan, the great lion and Christ figure, who beckons her to follow him up and over a cliff.  When she tells the others she saw Aslan they don’t believe her and put her down. Afraid to strike out on her own she follows them even when it doesn’t feel good to her.  Consequently, they not only lose a lot of precious time, they come to a dead end and have to backtrack.  Of course, stories being stories, Aslan eventually appears to all of the children and Narnia is saved, but not before many are hurt and other painful things happen.   Life could be so much easier for everyone, I suspect, if we learned to trust our gut instincts rather than giving in to our fears, or doing what’s expected or makes us more comfortable in the short run.  Later when Lucy talks to Aslan, she wonders why might have happened if she’d followed him even if the others did not.  Aslan’s responds with, “You can never know what might have been, my child.  You can only learn what will be.” It’s our fears of what might be, of wanting guarantees, wanting to conform that keep us trapped in dysfunctional patterns and behaviors .  We’re afraid to let go of the familiar, of losing what little sense of control we might have, even when it is painful and does not achieve desired results.  It’s so much easier to blame others than to assume responsibility for our own choices and actions.  We want what we want without taking any risks or experiencing any negative consequences.  The older I get,  the more convinced I become that following Jesus has little to do with holding correct beliefs, but, like Lucy, following Him into the scary unknown…the Serenity Prayer’s “hardship is the pathway to peace.”    

Forward thinking needed in Adams

We can only say the world is changing in “unforeseen” ways if we haven’t been paying attention. We haven’t yet experienced widespread disruptions here in Adams County, but things like supply shortages, crop losses, property and infrastructure damage, and prolonged power outages, are becoming daily more conceivable in light of what we see happening in so many other places in the world. It’s too late to reverse all of what’s already in process, but there’s No Time Like The Present for us to be thinking together about adaptations we can develop locally, both technical and social, to help us deal with the coming changes. We need to be engaging the best of our local ingenuity and resources–strengthening our relationships and community connections in the process. It might be time to revive/re-invent the Adams County Arts Council’s “Imagination Station” as a kind of Open Source Community Design Think Tank. Dreamers and Visionaries encouraged to apply. Rev. Cindy Terlazzo, pastor of the Unitarian Universalists of Gettysburg, expressed these thoughts beautifully in her September 25, 2022 sermon, entitled “Re-Imagining the World,” excerpted here with her permission: “Friends – when was the last time you made space in your life to dream – to really dream and envision the future AND to imagine the world you want to live in – the world you want your children and your grand-children to live in? We have spoken before about the power of our thoughts, the power of the stories we tell ourselves and how those thoughts, those stories, are the seeds of what manifests in our lives. We are living through a cascade of crises that keep us in a state of constant siege, endlessly reacting to assaults on our bodies and psyches. We need to resist in order to survive, but resistance alone keeps us locked in a power struggle that doesn’t create the world we long for. We need to do more than resist. We need to re-imagine. We need to explore visions of a world where we all can flourish. We won’t ever fully be able to transition our individual lives, much less the whole of humanity, into a new place unless we are able to imagine it first. [We need to] re-imagine the institutions of power that order our world. So often we are good at identifying what isn’t working, but how often do we invest ourselves in imagining the world as it could be? Take a moment right now to close your eyes and think about what you would like to re-imagine in your life? Can you imagine a society in which we are able to seek justice, to hold those who cause harm to others accountable for their actions, while at the same time doing this with a spirit of compassion – a spirit that values healing for all as its highest goal? Are there changes in our many broken systems – criminal justice, immigration, education, infrastructure, economic equity and more that you can imagine existing in a way that serves the common good? Imagining possibility is the first step toward change of any kind. There are so many things in this world that need attention, that need to be re-imagined. Let us give ourselves permission to embrace the potential to be found in our collective imagination – for we cannot do this work alone – AND then let us commit ourselves to keeping our eyes on the prize of what such imagination can bring.”

Scammers continue to cost local residents

Last month a retired gentleman came into my computer repair shop in Gettysburg. It was apparent he was not what you would call “tech savvy.” He had recently dialed a phone number on pop-up screen on his computer that advertised for Bitcoin. He sat in the chair in front of my desk and told me his story. A scammer on the other end of a phone call had talked him into buying $16,000 in what he thought would be Cryptocurrency, but the money was actually being stolen from him. “I guess I will have to go get a job at Walmart to replace the $16,000,” he said. Unfortunately, Jim’s story is not at all unusual. Although most people we see here locally have not lost money, and those who did report losing “only” $500-$2000, many, many people have been scammed. In fact, my businesses sees about 10 customers every month with similar stories. They are all here in our shop because they need to pay us to have their computer cleaned of a virus. I am writing this to remind you that scammers are everywhere and that every one of us could be a victim. I am sure many are aware of the scams that are out there.  They can come in the form of a phone call (someone claiming to be from the Microsoft Corporation who asks if you computer is running slowly), by email (a message supposedly from a reputable company says they have renewed your magazine subscription and to call them), or on your computer itself (a pop-up asking you to call in for a great deal). Whether you are contacted via phone, email, or computer doesn’t really matter – if you allow any scammer access to your personal information you will likely end up with a costly trip to the local computer repair shop and possibly lose your money. There are three simple rules to prevent this from getting that far.  I call them red flags. First Red Flag Be suspicious of anyone, no matter who they claim to be, who reaches out to offer you help. As sad as it may sound, strangers are not likely to offer to help you. I know that some of us want to see only the good in people, and while that is an admirable trait, there is a truth to what PT Barnum said —  “there is a sucker born every minute”.  The unseen face on the other end of an unexpected phone call or email pretending to be IRS or Amazon employee may seem sincere in their desire to help you, but probably isn’t. If someone you don’t know offers to help you, hang up the phone immediately. Second Red Flag Never, never let anyone you do not know (and by know, I mean have met in person and have some level of trust in), remotely control your computer.  If you hear someone say “let me control your computer” or “can you go to this website for me” you are probably being scammed. If someone wants to control your computer, logoff your computer immediately. Third Red Flag If you made it this far you will likely have a trip to the computer repair shop in your immediate future, however you are not out any money yet, so all is not lost. This is the most important thing you can take away from this article. No one and I mean absolutely, positively no legitimate company now and forever will ever ask for or accept payment in the form of gift cards. If someone asks you for a gift card, hang up the phone immediately. Depending on the tenacity of the scammer they will likely contact you again. But do not engage with them. Eventually they will give up and move on. Now for the most important part. Do not be embarrassed that you “fell” for a scam. It can happen to the best of us. Talk about your experience to anyone who will listen; the more we talk about scamming the more light we shine on scammers. Talk about it to your family at holidays and picnics; talk about it to your friends, or even the cashier at the checkout lane.  If you’ve been scammed, talk about it. Some interesting scam stats: In the US, one in ten adults will fall victim to a scam or fraud every year. Around 50% of people contacted by a scammer engage with them. Of those approached by scammers on social media, 91% engaged, and 53% lost money. 58% of scammers are using old-fashioned techniques – Phone and postal scams are rife. Letters asking for money for services you haven’t received, and even letters claiming that you have won money and need to provide your bank details are common and often target the elderly above other demographics. Phishing attacks statistics show that 90% of data breaches are from phishing. – Online phishing involves sending emails pretending to be a reputable company or agency in order to try to obtain sensitive information like passwords and bank details. Charity scams statistics also show that phishers often pretend to be working for a charitable non-profit organization. Every month around 1.5 million new phishing sites are set up. – Authorities try to shut them down but it is a game of whack a mole. 83 Million Facebook accounts are fake. Older Americans lose an estimated $2.9 billion a year from scamming. More than 2.4 million Americans are targeted by people pretending to be from the IRS each year. American consumers reported losing more than $5.8 billion to fraud last year, up from $3.4 billion in 2020 (an increase of more than 70%), the Federal Trade Commission said. Jefferey Baum is owner of Total Tech Solutions in Gettysburg.

Step Nine

I have never met a person who hasn’t hurt or disappointed me.  In the same way, I have never met anyone I can’t love, if I really try.  Granted, there are people  I don’t like, but liking is different from loving.  Loving is about respecting another’s right to live a full and rewarding life.  There are those who are so embittered, broken, and angry they leave behind toxic fumes wherever they go, just as there are those who exude so much good will and gratitude they fill a room with sunshine.  Yet even the worst of us sometimes perform acts of kindness, and the best of us do cruel and thoughtless things.   We hurt and disappoint each other far too often.  That’s part of being human.  That’s why we are urged to “let it go.”  Unlike an Amish quilt in which a flaw is deliberately worked into the pattern because only God is perfect, we don’t need to deliberately make mistakes; we can hurt and disappoint others without even trying.   We’ve been told to forgive and forget.  Instead of trying to forget , however, we need to learn from our pain as no pain should be wasted.  Forgiveness involves disconnecting our emotions from the event so we can come  to see what happened through a different set of eyes.  Forgiving involves becoming sensitive to the wounds the other carries, as well as seeking to discover the part we may have played in what happened.  Every act, every experience seeks to teach us something about what it means to be human, to become less judgmental by refusing to personalize what’s happened.  After all, everyone is more than the worst or the best thing they have ever done. Yes, we can do terrible things to each other.  We misunderstand, criticize, judge, and condemn each other.  We hold unrealistic expectations.  We get caught up in our own fears and selfishness.  We become blind to other’s pain or disappointment.  In the end, it’s not what the other does that matters, however cruel and thoughtless; it’s the spin we give to their actions or words.  We are the ones who wound ourselves by how we interpret and frame what happened.  We are the ones who cling to our hurts, massage our pain, re-victimize ourselves  by reliving and enlarging what happened.   We are the ones who take on another’s criticisms as truth.  In the end, the best revenge is simply refusing to give the other power to hurt us by brooding over the past. As one of my counselor’s once told me, “instead of hearing what’s said as criticism, try to hear what’s said as important information the other is giving you about how they feel or think is important.  After all, when someone is critical, they are not really saying anything about you, but telling you something about themself.” Step Nine is the making amends step.  Before we can forgive another, we need to forgive ourselves for taking on unnecessary hurts.  Step Nine reminds us, just as we hope others will cut us some slack, we need to do the same for them. That’s why all languages have words for saying, “I’m sorry.”  The best way to make amends, my granddaughter once observed,  is by changing our behavior. “I’m sorry” means little if one keeps doing the same thing over and over.  Ralph Waldo Emerson once wrote, “Finish each day and be done with it.  You have done what you could; some blunders and absurdities have crept in.   Tomorrow is a new day…begin it serenely and with too high a spirit to be encumbered with the old nonsense.”

Boredom

Some mornings I wake up with an idea already percolating.  Sometimes my morning walks bring things into focus.  Sometimes  I just sit and stare into space.  That was this morning.  As I stared out the window, I reached for one of my collections of sayings and read, “Writing is like driving a car at night.  You never see further than your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.” (E.L. Doctorow)  That’s all it took.  My mind went from driving a car at night to a TED talk which stressed the importance of boredom.  Most truly important insights seem to come out of the blue, the speaker insisted,  because it is when we are bored that our minds have time to make crucial connections.  If I remember correctly, Einstein came up with his concept of relativity while waiting for a train. One of the great tragedies of modern life is that we allow technology to fill all the empty spaces in our day.  Now, instead of simply waiting in the car for the kids to get out of school or standing in line, we pull out our cell phones and scroll through facebook, twitter, and news feeds.  We’d be so much better off if we just accepted down time as a gift.  After all, staring into space and giving our overactive brains a rest is very healthy.  Instead we’ve become passive recipients of whatever we see or hear on our cell phones or computers. Boredom is good! Many have the TV on all day where it becomes white noise.  We spent hours on our cell phones and computers.  It’s no wonder we’re tired, stressed, and can’t sleep.  Whether conscious of it or not, we are constantly taking in background sounds  and information.  That’s precisely why people learning a foreign language often listen to tapes while sleeping.   Our brains are just like computers; they feed back what we put into  them. That’s why boredom and sleep is so important.  Our brains need time to absorb what we experience and see.  Many a song has been written, a painting visualized, a business decision been made while sleeping or on a long commute.  It’s when we sleep or zone out that our brains are able to make critical connections, fill in a missing piece, sort out our feelings, reactions, and experiences. Albert Einstein once observed that “any fool can know.  The point is to understand.”   And to understand, we have to occasionally stop the world and get off, space out, feel bored, or focus on just being.  It’s a bit like a call to worship we sometimes use.  “Be still and know that I am God.  Be still and know that I am.   Be still and know.  Be still.  Be” 

The power of music

Most mornings my friend and I walk the streets of Fairfield, waking our sleepy bodies by walking to great conversation.   Yesterday we both attended the fall performance of the Gettysburg Chamber Orchestra.  It was an emotional experience for both of us.  For me, the tribute to 9/11 brought memories of bodies jumping from those burning towers and my husband’s still warm, spirit empty body lying in his beloved chair, while she was caught up into her own memories and pain as she drank in the strains of the sometimes dark and sometimes lyrical gut wrenching music. She emerged from the concert energized and full to overflowing.  I left broken and exhausted.  The music was just too emotional and intense.  I had no defense for the array of feelings the music tapped into..   Oh, the power of music. Losing track of time or how far we were walking,this morning, we shared many of our musical memories.  It didn’t take long until we  began sharing our feelings about hymns and church music.  She comes from a tradition in which the words of praise songs are projected up on a screen without a musical score and a praise band.  I come from a tradition that only began introducing a piano or other instruments into our churches during my lifetime.  Today most of our Mennonite churches use pianos, organs, and other instruments, but our centuries old tradition of line singing hymns and then moving to acapella singing with four part harmony continues to shape our choice of church music.   There is no right or wrong,.  There are just different traditions, all amazing and soul enriching in their unique ways.  There is power in music, obstacle removing power.   Music has this way of erasing differences and bringing disparate individuals into community, if for only a few moments or hours.  There is something contagious and transformative about sharing a musical experience whether it’s singing the “Hallelujah Chorus,” “Rock,me, rock me,” or “Bridge over Troubled Waters.  Pre Covid, thousands of us from little Adams County would come together on the 4th of July to listen to our Gettysburg Chamber Orchestra belt out patriotic songs, Sousa marches, and the finale of the 1812 overture with cymbals clashing, and drums booming and fireworks flashing in the sky.  No on cared if they voted right or left.  We’d all jump to our feet, reach for a stranger’s hand and sing, “God bless America” tears streaming down our faces.   There is power in music, wonder working obstacle removing power.  Power to heal.  Power to inspire. Power to begin feeling again. Power to tap into the secrets we hide from ourselves and others.  Power to forgive.  Power to reawaken love.  After my husband died, I could not sing.  The lump in my throat was too big and tears blurred my eyes.  I factually found it hard to attend church because it was the music that made me come unglued.  This Sunday, seven months since he died, was the first I was able to find my voice, shaky and feeble as it was.  No matter how happy or sad, the combination of familiar hymn tunes and lyrics have this way of slipping past my defenses to help me heal.  And for that, I say, “Praise God.”

Random acts of kindness and talking to strangers

My husband Athar’s brother and sister-in-law were visiting from Richmond Virginia over Labor Day weekend. Athar’s sister-in-law is Virginia senator Ghazala Hashmi. She had a phone interview on Sunday morning so we got to Lincoln Diner around 10:45.  They selected the diner because they have had breakfast there once before and just loved it, including its setting and nostalgia, so that’s where they really wanted to go for breakfast. Also she was meeting a Democratic volunteer across the street at the Majestic afterwords to go knock on some doors for local candidates. The diner was busy and only free seating was in the back room, the one for eight people where they have two four-person tables put together. The diner normally doesn’t allow you to use that seating unless you have 6 to 8 people in your party. There was a couple behind me and so I turned around and asked them if they wanted to share that seating with us. They agreed. So the four of us sat at one side of the table and the two of them sat at the other end. We had a little conversation; they were from Virginia also.  They got their food before us because they had ordered before us. We were busy talking. When they finished they stood up and thank us for our kindness. I wished them safe travels and do come back and visit us. A few minutes later the waitress came to us and told us that they had taken care of our bill.

Perception and perspective

Last evening my granddaughter showed me a collection of  photographs she’d taken.  I was blown away.  As we scrolled through her various collections of trees, marshes, water, and ocean sunrises, she’d often comment, ‘this one’s no good.  It’s blurry,’ or  “the light’s not right in this one.  It almost hides that tree”  or “this didn’t turn out the way I wanted.”  to which I’d say, “zoom on this corner of the photo.  Look how the light that blurs the tree highlights the moss growing at its base. Crop your picture to capture the different colors and textures of the moss and you’ve got a winner. After all, that’s what the professionals do. They often discard 9/10ths of a picture just to focus on a single bird.” What she’s coming to discover is that photography is like everything in life.  It’s all about perception and perspective.  Our lives are defined by our perception about what goes on around us and our perspective, the way we understand what we see and experience.  In fact, it is impossible to focus on everything at once.  Our understanding is limited by where we are, whom we are with, the sounds we hear and the emotions we feel.  When I go for my walks I miss most of what is around me because a single flower will catch my eye but in doing so I miss the elegant grasses growing a foot away.  When I focus on a stand of trees I am unaware of the tiny veins running through the trees’ leaves.  When I drink in the vista of mountains framed by a cornfield in the foreground, I miss the barn and tree off to one side.  When I am talking to a friend, I become oblivious to what is happening around me. Perception is reality, my husband liked to say.  The extent of our education, work experiences, family heritage, opportunities to travel, the friends we choose, the church we attend, or don’t attend, all helps shape, not just our perspective, but our perception of things.  While zooming in on one small area of our granddaughter’s photographs may create an amazing work of art, it also prevents us from seeing the larger setting in which the moss grew.  Aside from the pictures we see and what astronomers tell us, all we know about the vast universes within universes in which we live on our small corner of this planet we call Earth.  Perception.  Perspective.   It all depends on what we choose to see and how open we are to expanding or reducing our vision.  It’s a bit like Gustave Flaubert who said about his writing. “ I spent the morning putting in a comma and the afternoon removing it.”  or John Coltrane when asked to describe his style of jazz, “I start in the middle and move in both directions at once.”  And then there is Leo Buscaglis’ “A single rose can be my garden – a single friend my world.”

Why are the Republicans so angry about college debt relief?

The student debt crisis is largely one of the Republicans’ making. Among the main reasons college became so unaffordable is the slashed state contributions to their state college systems, started during the Reagan presidency, largely brought about because of the George Bush recession and engineered by Republican state legislatures. The average state spent $1,448, or 16 percent, less per student in 2017 than in 2008. Per-student funding in Pennsylvania – and six other states – fell by more than 30 percent over this period. This increased the cost of college and put more and more students in reach of the moneylenders. The terms of student loans are so unfavorable to students – where you can repay more than you borrowed over time and still have a balance larger than what you borrowed – because the Reagan DOE and Republican Congresses wrote the terms that way. Student loans could have been done like FHA, directly by the government or under strict regulations, but instead were created to give total freedom to predatory lenders. An entire generation now is saddled with debt that no generation before ever experienced . This doesn’t just affect their standard of living. They can’t buy a house, start a family, start a business, dream, make plans. Our entire economy is impoverished. So, Biden took some meaningful steps to fix this problem. It’s not just the debt he extinguished. He also set a limit on how much you can be charged and fixed it so people won’t be looking at a bigger loan than what they borrowed a decade later. Wow, you’d have thought he created a federal healthcare program, or investigated an insurrection. Why are the Republicans so angry? Because it’s so unfair to all those kids who learned a trade and didn’t go to college? The Republicans? Really? Today’s Republican party, collectively, is the most lightly taxed group since the income tax was instituted and the most heavily subsidized group ever. Tax cuts. Massive shift of tax burden from Red to Blue states. Home mortgage deductions (a housing subsidy that dwarfs affordable housing subsidies, by the way). Capital gains. PPP. Come to think of it, why are handouts to business (PPP) ok and aid to individuals (enhanced unemployment) “just encourages people not to work?” Why are students who have been working for a decade “too lazy to work?” One reason is the double standard. People who get tax breaks and PPP giveaways are “hard working” and “job creators” and “Never got a dime from the government; I worked for everything I got. ”People who file for unemployment or whose standard of living would improve if the minimum wage went up or who can’t go back to work because there’s no child care are “freeloaders” or “don’t want to work.” There was a brief moment in the early days of the pandemic when the food pantry lines ballooned with middle class workers that there was hope of a more compassionate “there but for the Grace of God …” response, but the federal aid largely allowed the middle class to float through Another reason is the Republican party objective of denying Biden a win. They recognize this can be a win for Biden and so once again they’re fanning the flames of white resentment. The problem with the Republican party is, they don’t care how much you suffer.

Bodymind and Mindbody

In our Western culture, we often think of the body’s health and the mind’s health as two distinct things. Back in 1975, Dr. Herbert Benson began to challenge that in The Relaxation Response. Around the same time, Dr. Jon Kabat-Zinn began helping patients with chronic pain and illness to cultivate mindfulness as a method of finding well-being, even in the presence of distress. We know now, through experience and science, that body and mind are seamlessly connected. We could easily call them bodymind or mindbody. When we’re upset, it has an impact on the body; and when the body is unwell, it affects our mood, thoughts and feelings, and other mental factors. The bodymind together forms our tool for interacting with the world and being able to cope with the difficulties we encounter in life. That said, we’re often not aware of mind and body at once. It’s probably fair to say that we spend a lot of our days “in our heads,” moving from one experience to the next without consciously realizing how each thing is impacting the body. When something in our experience is distressing (or even just annoying), we may not pick up on the instant increase in blood pressure and heart rate, or the contraction of our breathing and digestion. Or perhaps we’re aware of a pain in our backs or shoulders, but not conscious of the contribution it makes to depression and anxiety. Just as the mind and body can cause each other distress or dysfunction, an awareness of their interaction can be used as a tool for healing. This is really the basis for the international success of the Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction course developed by Kabat-Zinn, who played a big role in bringing the healing power of mindfulness and meditation to the western world. The Gettysburg Hospital Foundation has sponsored mindfulness training in our community for several years now. During the pandemic, the training continued in an online format. Now, for the first time in two years, we are able to offer in-person training, thanks to the Foundation and to the YWCA for providing meeting space. Mindfulness and Stress Reduction will be offered in a series of three workshops. The workshops will cover the skills needed to cultivate a mindfulness practice, with each workshop building on the skills learned in the previous training—with a month between classes to rehearse and hone the practices at home. The workshops will be held at the YWCA on Sunday afternoons from 1:00 to 4:00 p.m. on October 2, November 6, and December 4. You can register through Healthy Adams County by calling (717) 337-4137 or emailing jgastley2@wellspan.org.

John Fetterman: Do You Believe Anything?

When I first read about PA State Senate candidate John Fetterman renting a plane to tow a banner making fun of his opponent Mehmet Oz’s New Jersey home, I thought that was clever. And reinforcing it with an ad featuring reality star Nicole “Snooki” Polizzi of MTV’s “Jersey Shore” jabbing at Oz for leaving his “home” in New Jersey.” Yeah, cute. But then “Sopranos” and E street rock band star Stevie van Zandt with the same message? Uh, didn’t we do that already? And now, after seeing the “crudité” ad a dozen times and the “Oz owns 10 houses” ad probably 50, I can’t be the only voter in the state wondering “Does he actually believe anything?” What once was a witty campaign now runs the risk of becoming a huge liability. And some analyses suggest Fetterman’s lead might be narrowing. By now Pennsylvania voters should be awash in “contrast” ads. Climate change. Worker issues. Trade. Immigration. Tax reform. Fracking. Abortion. I don’t know about other parts of the state, but I’ve seen none of that from Fetterman. As a candidate who recently suffered very publicly from a severe stroke, Fetterman has a vulnerability to charges of ill health that other statewide candidates don’t. Oz is asking “Why won’t my opponent debate me? What is he hiding? Doesn’t he think Pennsylvania voters have a right to know where their candidates stand?” And Oz is also making statements questioning his “endurance.” Yes, you may roll your eyes and say “isn’t that sleazy?” But don’t kid yourself they don’t work. Remember all those “Hillary is unwell” ads in 2016? No campaign to speak of. No platform. No debates. And an ad campaign that is the moral equivalent of driving around the state in a pickup truck: I’m more authentic than he is. John, you’re a great guy, and if you win you’ll do fine as a senator. But right now, you’re running a terrible campaign. So far, you’ve been helped by the fact that Oz might be running an even worse one. But if he comes out with some hard hitting ads, nothing special, just the usual GOP attack ads – soft on terrorism, anti-police, anti-gun, critical race theory – he could find his legs and you could be in trouble. In fact, John, you’re already in deep trouble. Starting with the 1970 “If Tydings wins, you lose” campaign, negative ads have proven effective against feckless Democrats. As the polls narrow, the GOP is going to pour more money in. We know he’s from New Jersey and we know he’s rich. Thanks. What else ya got?

Why State Legislatures Are Important

With continuing gridlock in Washington and increased state legislative action on guns, election laws, abortion, and many other issues, state legislatures are more and more important. Republicans have had an advantage in state governments for a long time but this advantage grew significantly in 2010, when Democratic timidity in the face of the Obamacare backlash led to a drubbing in national and state races. This defeat was especially poorly timed since the GOP used their control of purple states like Wisconsin, Ohio, North Carolina, and Pennsylvania to gerrymander essentially permanent control of the congressional delegations and state legislatures. As an example, in Pennsylvania, Democrats won 55% of the total votes cast statewide for State House candidates in 2018, but won only 46% of the seats. Currently, Pennsylvania Republicans control 28 of 50 state senate seats and 113 of 203 state House seats. (Before the 2018 elections, the count was 34-16 and 121-82.) Pennsylvania has had divided government since 2015; before then, Pennsylvania suffered through GOP trifecta (control of both houses of the legislature and the governor) 12 of the previous 20 years. Ballotpedia also uses the term “triplex” to describe states where one party controls the key statewide offices of governor, attorney general, and secretary of state. As of August 2022, Pennsylvania was one of 18 Democratic triplexes (22 Republican and 10 divided) and one of 13 states where neither party held a trifecta (23 Republican and 14 democratic). It is vital to maintain that triplex and to get back control of the legislature. We know the playbook when the GOP seizes total control of a state: successive rounds of legislation to make gun ownership easier, voting harder, and abortions impossible. Right to work laws. Voter suppression. Gender laws, cutbacks on education, voucher programs, and stricter controls on what teachers can do. And we also know their plan to emasculate Democratic governors: pass constitutional amendments to remove powers. We’ve already seen this in Pennsylvania and more is coming. Pennsylvania is a closely divided state but it is only one bad election from joining Ohio, Florida, and Texas in the race to the bottom. Get out and volunteer! And vote!

Is RADAR for safety or revenue?

By Tom McCarey Member, National Motorists Association Giving RADAR to municipal police will result in an epidemic of speed traps. Speed limits are not set using highway safety engineering standards. Instead, they are set by local bureaucrats who use their feelings to set speed limits. They think they are so smart that they know which speed is the safest. In their wisdom, 90% of the time the bureaucrats post limits 8 to 16 mph below prevailing speeds [FHwA data]. The result of this is that in driving 90% of our roads you are automatically “speeding” and liable for a $170+ ticket plus points that will increase the cost of your insurance. The proper way to set a speed limit is to do a traffic study to determine the prevailing speed of the free flow of vehicles. The prevailing speed is called the 85th Percentile Speed, the safest speed with the most compliance, a highway safety engineering concept that has been proven effective for 70 years. Posting 85th Percentile Speeds results in less speed differential smoothing the flow of traffic, reducing accidents and injuries. The RADAR lobby doesn’t want you to know that. RADAR promoters are working feverishly to arm municipal police with RADAR guns. The result will be the unfair taking of scores of millions of dollars from drivers who are driving safely and harming no one. The Gettysburg Borough Council should not call for RADAR for municipal police.

Becoming more aware

Earlier this morning my neighbor, who was walking his dog,  stopped to chat.  He reported reading an article in the New York Times about the correlation of dogs with  depression and dementia and exercise.  Once we had exhausted that topic we explored that topic of plants.  “You know plants have feelings,” he said.  “Scientists are discovering the many ways plants and trees form communities in which they actually nurture and care for each other by sending out chemical signals when insects attack or they experience other forms of danger.   Ours is an amazing world.  We humans tend to think of ourselves as somehow superior to and far more important than a butterfly or wolf, bees or trees, yet we each play a critical part in the delicate balance of nature. I often listen to Science Friday on NPR.  Last week they discussed climate change and ways scientists are trying to control the weather by seeding clouds to make it rain, etc.  We’ve been programmed to see ourselves as superior to and separate from nature, but in reality we are just another animal species which is integrally connected to its environment. Consequently, we thoughtlessly cut down trees, pave fertile land, drain wetlands to build luxury louses, and clear our coastal marsh lands never considering the ways we are creating the situations that threaten our very existence.  Ironically, we may end up being one of the shortest lived species that has evolved in the billions of years our planet has existed. Our discussion group at church has been studying Kahil Gibran’s beautiful book, The Prophet.  Sunday we discussed the section on houses.  Gibran begins by speaking to the healing aspects of green spaces, trees, and water after which he says our obsession with power and possessions is destroying our minds, bodies, and souls.  ‘Your lust for comfort and pretty things makes puppets of your larger desires,’ he writes.  “Though its hands are silken, its heart is of iron.  It lulls you to sleep only to stand by your bed and jeer at the dignity of the flesh.  It makes mockery of your sound senses, and lays them in thistledown like fragile vessels.  Verily the lust for comfort murders the passion of your soul, and then walks grinning in the funeral.” Once again I find myself praying the serenity prayer…not to influence the God of my understanding, but to remind myself that while I can’t change the world, I can change myself, and thus help change the world in some small way.  I can help my daughter put solar panels on her roof since our condo association does not allow for solar panels. I can plant more native flowers that attract bees and butterflies. I can find ways to use less water, electricity, and fossil fuels. I can wash and reuse plastic bags and use reusable bags when shopping, I can avoid impulse buying to avoid accumulating unneeded stuff. I can help plant trees.  I can vote for leaders who take climate change seriously.  The list goes on and on. God, give me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.  Amen.

Our first week back at school

For parents, students, and school staff across the county, the last few weeks have gone by in a blur.  Parents’ calendars have been full of new enrollments, registrations, haircuts, clothes and shoes shopping, and doctor’s appointments, while school board members, teachers, and staff members were busy planning open houses, school orientations, “Meet the Teacher” nights, and filling backpack and t-shirt drive orders in preparation for the incoming class of 2022 – 2023.  If your children were as excited as mine, you probably found yourself counting down to the big “Back to School” day. Now that the first week of school has come and gone, I’ve found myself reflecting over the whole experience quite a bit, and I wondered how many parents found themselves doing the same.  The first day of school marked the beginning of a new adventure in our household, as this was not just Josie’s first day of kindergarten, but also our first time being apart as a family since the beginning of the pandemic in March, 2020. As excited as we were that she would not have to miss her old friends, her teachers, or stay behind any longer as she watched the neighborhood kids make their way to their bus stops, we also couldn’t help feeling a little apprehensive for her as well. Many nights I lay awake, recounting all the things Josie and I had gone over, wondering if I had prepared her well enough to adapt to her new surroundings, or if she would feel overwhelmed, shut down, and withdraw into herself.  I wondered if I had made the right choices in schooling Josie at home, until the world made sense again, or if, ultimately my decision had held her back. It didn’t take long to find the answers to these questions and form new alliances. Our fears were laid to rest by the conversations we had with the capable and caring staff of Lincoln Elementary school. Office Secretary Sharon Martin, who patiently allowed us to voice our concerns, and graciously answered every single question, assuring us that our values were in complete alignment with that of Lincoln Elementary, has quickly become one of my favorite staff members. Josie’s Principal, Matthew McFarland is without a doubt the best principal a parent could ask for their child. I don’t believe there is a parent out there who wouldn’t find comfort in the knowledge that their child’s principal is looking after them with the same responsibility they would show for their own.   I further appreciated that Dr. McFarland made it a point to take time out of his schedule, regardless of the meeting he was in, to address my concerns for my daughter. Josie’s teacher, Mrs. Lush, knocked it out of the ballpark. It is hard to put into words how much we appreciate knowing Josie will feel confident, knowing where to go and what’s expected of her, who her teachers will be, and the ability to trust in the school staff. We value the knowledge that Mrs. Lush wants our daughter to succeed as much as we do. Josie’s new skills in how to use a laptop, and how to send us video messages and hear our responses in return, has helped all of us tremendously during the first few days of school, and is something we continue to look forward to with our younger children. I would like to hear from you about your experiences. What would you like to share about your children’s first week back? Did you encounter the same fears as I had about sending your children back to school in a post pandemic world?  Or have you already moved past that? What measures have you implemented, or not implemented, to protect your children?  How did your children react to the news that they would be starting school, and what did you do to prepare them?  Was there anything the schools might have done to make the transition easier for the parents or their children, and what stood out the most? How did the week’s actual events play out differently than your expectations?  And are your children still excited about going to school for their second week? Please leave you comments at the bottom of this story (no signup required) or shoot me an email at hweaver@gettysburgconnection.org.

Or not to be

I’ve been missing him more lately. Perhaps it comes from visiting family and scattering some of his ashes at  the foot of his parents’ gravestone. Perhaps it’s the letdown following a very positive family gathering. Perhaps it was celebrating his birthday with the children and grandchildren by each eating a bowl of coffee ice cream (his favorite) and then sending pictures back and forth. Perhaps it was going through papers and finding his birth certificate, high school diploma, passports, and other reminders of our shared life. Perhaps it is the simple realization that he’s never coming back.   Edna St. Vincent Millay’s sonnet Lament scrolls through my mind. “Life goes on though good men die.  Life goes on. I forget just why.” I grieve with two dear friends whose beloved partners died within the past three weeks. Knowing there is nothing I can do to make things easier for them fills me with both sadness and love. Walking the neighborhood, lush with flowers, green grass, soaring trees, shadowed hillsides soothes my soul. I am so grateful I discovered the power of gratitude in the 12 step program.   While going through those family records with our daughter, she and I agreed that one of the things that makes his death so painful is that he spent so much of his life emotionally absent and absorbed in his career and volunteer work. He was rarely home when the kids were growing up. Not only was he busy being busy, he fought crippling arthritis his entire adult life.  It was only later in life that he became more present to us and he began trying to be more attentive. He often said that the arrival of grandchildren gave him a second chance, calling forth that gentle tender part of him he had earlier tried to hide. The older he got the more present he became to all of us. The fact that the months leading up to his death were among the best of our 63 years together is one of the reasons it’s been so hard letting him go.  When I think of what we could have shared….but I dare not go there. We had what we had and it was good. Like Hamlet I often find myself wondering what the future will bring and ask myself “To be, or not to be? That is the question—Whether ’tis nobler in the mind to suffer The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, Or to take arms against a sea of troubles, And, by opposing, end them?” The idea of whether it  is better to live or to die….”    Whether it is better to live or die? I may be feeling sad this morning, but one thing is clear.  I have an answer for Hamlet. I want to live! Like Joshua who said unto all the people [of Israel], … choose you this day whom ye will serve; … but as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord” (Josh. 24:2, 15)    And what better way to serve the Lord but to live my remaining days filled to overflowing with gratitude that he was and remains an integral part of who I am? 

On Eagles’ Wings

It’s been six months since he died.  It’s time to move on, to pull myself up by my invisible bootstraps.  Time to make a new bucket list, to embrace my new reality; do my best to make the most of each and every day.  Years ago one of my counselors asked me, “What would you do if there were no limitations or restrictions placed on you? Money, family, education, location, gender, race, etc. were not an issue?”  I couldn’t answer her question then and I’m having difficulty now. It’s so much easier to find reasons for why not, than giving myself permission to at least try.   Giving my imagination free reign stretches all of my daring to be different muscles.  Making a bucket list forces me to confront my fears as it’s somehow easier to keep on doing the same old things than stretching my wings and learning to fly. I am reminded of a meditation  in which an eaglet asks the older eagle “How far can I fly? How high can I fly? How long can I fly?”  to which the veteran eagle tells the youngster, “no one can tell you how high or far or long you can fly.  You will have to determine that for yourself.” Even though I am an “old” woman ( old being relative), I am also a baby eagle.  I, too, am learning to fly.  What do I want for my remaining days?  How far do I want to go into the world?  How can I make the best use of my remaining days?  How can I bring joy and meaning to not just myself but to my family and friends?  I resonate to the older eagle’s summation that  no one else knows your potential or your passion. You alone can answer that.  The only thing limiting you is the edge of your imagination”     Each day opens the door to new opportunities.  Each ending brings new beginnings.  Happiness doesn’t just happen.  We are responsible for our own happiness since it is our perceptions that shape our reality, not the other way around.  I am the one who’s saying to myself  “I can’t.”  I am the one who is creating barriers and limiting my possibilities.  Looking ahead, I can see that the greatest danger facing me is permitting my seemingly urgent and everyday fears to crowd out what is truly important and possible.

Book Review: Words Matter: “Learning the Grammar of Animacy”

Editor’s Note: Robin Wall Kimmerer, Author of Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge, and the Teachings of Plants, a 2013 nonfiction book that explores reciprocal relationships between humans and the land, with a focus on the role of plants and botany in both Native American and Western traditions, will be speaking in Gettysburg on Monday, Sept. 19 at 7:00 p.m. in the Gettysburg College Ballroom.  The public is invited to attend. Admission is free. This article is a review of the book by local resident Will Lane. A mushroom can rise in the woods overnight, “pushing upward from pine needle duff… still glistening with the fluid of its passage.”  If we have a specific word for that sudden rising, and for the power that lifts the mushrooms so mysteriously out of the ground, do we see these things differently? Robin Wall Kimmerer says we do.  In her essay “Learning the Grammar of Animacy” from her bestselling book Braiding Sweetgrass, the distinguished botanist and enrolled member of the Citizen Potawatomi Nation, argues that words matter, that the languages we speak and think with shape our understanding of ourselves and of the natural world. “Science polishes the gift of seeing,” she says, but there are costs. It reveals but also conceals.  It distances us, turning nature and creatures into something less than they might actually be. “It reduces a being to its working parts.”  But much lies beyond our scientific language and remains unnamed and therefore unseen. Indigenous cultures and their languages, Kimmerer argues, can help us see more of what’s there. That mysterious rising and emergence from the ground mentioned above is Puhpowee in Potawatomi, one of more than 350 indigenous languages in the Americas, many of which may soon be lost.  When Kimmerer sets out to learn Potawatomi, the language of her ancestors, she discovers at a tribal gathering that only nine native speakers of the language are left.  Without native speakers to keep the language alive, a whole way of seeing the world may be lost as well. English is noun-based.  Potawatomi has a greater percentage of verbs: 70% compared to 30% in English. Things that sit quietly as nouns in English, in Potawatomi are verbs and are in motion. “To be a hill, to be a sandy beach, to be a Saturday, all are possible verbs in a world where everything is alive,”  she says. Inanimate objects tend to be only those objects that are made by people. “In Potawatomi and other indigenous languages we use the same words to address the living world as we use for our family,” she says. And, that living world is much bigger and more diverse in Potawatomi than in English and other European languages: “…rocks are animate, as are mountains and water and fire and places.” “English doesn’t give us many tools for incorporating respect for animacy,” she continues. “In English you are either a human or a thing…. Where are our words for the simple existence of another living being? The arrogance of English is that the only way to be animate, to be worthy of respect and moral concern, is to be human.” Kimmerer’s own study of Potawatomi is frustrating at times for her.  She studies online with a class once a week, and covers the house with post-it notes attached to common items. “I have become,” she says, “a woman who speaks Potawatomi to household objects.”  But the new language is subtle in the distinctions it makes and extremely varied in its forms. “You hear a person with a word that is completely different from the one with which you hear an airplane,” she says. “Different verb forms, different plurals, different everything apply depending on whether what you are speaking of is alive…. No wonder there are only nine speakers left,” she exclaims at one point. Should we all study an Indigenous language in order to better understand the natural world?  Kimmerer seems to say, maybe not. She seems to be after something deeper, an understanding of the way all language structures our experience of the world and of one another. What we need to do, she suggests, is to learn to speak the “grammar of animacy,” which I suspect can be done in many different languages, all of which, she says, “are to be cherished.” If we can do that, we may at last become “native to this place” and be “at home” at last.

Worry

Worrying has never solved anything or helped anyone succeed in life. Being concerned is different than worrying. Being concerned acknowledges there are needs and issues to be rationally addressed. Worrying, on the other hand, is like having a gerbil wheel running nonstop in one’s head. It’s worry that robs us of our sleep and keeps us from thinking clearly or creatively. Worry is projecting slings and arrows of outrageous fortune that rarely exist. Worry can be an avoidance mechanism. Worry saps our strength and prevents us from tackling what we can do right now.   When Jesus tells us to stop worrying about the morrow, what we shall eat and what we shall drink because God knows what we need, he is not telling us to sit back and wait for God to magically solve our problems. When the program tells us to let go and let God, it isn’t suggesting that we be passive recipients of life. When Corrie Ten Boom wrote that any concern too small to be made into a prayer is too small to be made into a burden, she is pointing out that instead of stewing about this or that, we take time to pray — because prayer has this way of clarifying one’s thinking. After all, we pray not to inform God of what we need, but to remind ourselves that God has already given us everything we require to solve our problems and enjoy life.  The root of worry is fear. Fear of loss. Fear of failure. Fear of losing face. Fear of being criticized. Fear of not being accepted. The list goes on. Thus the more we worry and stew about something, the bigger our problems seem to become, and the less opportunity we give God, time, and our rational selves to redefine and resolve the problem. It’s all too easy to turn little bumps in the road into dangerous mountain passes by worrying about everything that could go wrong, rather than being grateful for all that goes right. The more tightly we cling to our worries, the more the answers tend to elude us. Frequently, just stepping back and doing something else is enough to resolve the situation. When my husband died, I worried about whether I could learn how to pay my bills online. I worried about how I’d fill my days. I worried that life would have little meaning without him to share it. I worried about my ability to adjust and adapt to my new reality. I worried myself awake at night when I desperately needed sleep. I worried I’d never regain my energy. I worried I’d never be happy again. In spite of all my worrying, none of my fears have come true. Bit by bit, I have been learning how to do some things he had always done. By gradually giving myself time, by praying the /serenity Prayer over and over, I’ve become able to address one thing at a time. instead of worrying, I am learning to swallow my pride and ask for help. As I look back over these past months with their emptiness, worries, and sleeplessness, I am grateful to have rediscovered the wisdom of “let go and let God.”  In the end, time truly is a great healer.  God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference. 

Gratitude

Gratitude is everything.  Without gratitude life has little meaning.  Without gratitude we are less than we were created to be.  Gratitude allows us to see with new eyes, to hear with new ears, and to perceive with new understanding.  Gratitude is loving with abandon and joy.    Gratitude inspires us to stop and thank the people who make a difference in our lives.   Gratitude teaches us to walk as if we are kissing the earth.   Gratitude is what separates privilege from entitlement.   Gratitude is what inspires us to appreciate the little things which upon reflection become big things.  Gratitude is acknowledging what we already have as the foundation for abundant living.  Gratitude is the experience of living every moment in a spirit of humility and grace. Gratitude is what unlocks the fullness of life and turns what we already have into enough.  Gratitude is what rekindles hope when the lights go out of life.  Gratitude is the doorway to mindfulness. Gratitude is the pathway to wonder.  Gratitude is the impetus for generosity.  Gratitude is one of the simplest yet most powerful things we do as humans.   Gratitude is the work of loving the world.  Gratitude recognizes that we cannot achieve success without acknowledging the help of others. The more we practice gratitude the more we find for which to be grateful.  Gratitude acknowledges our deep connections with each other.  Gratitude allows us to experience wonder and joy even in times of struggle.  Gratitude is a profound act of worship.  Gratitude inspires happiness and a sense of well being.  Gratitude brings peace of mind.  Gratitude opens the doors to life’s serendipity.   Gratitude cannot be traveled to, purchased, traded, or consumed.  Gratitude is the experience of living in a spirit of love, grace, and happiness.  If the only prayer we ever say is “thank you,” that is more than enough.

This is the day the Lord hath made

I’ve been warned that anniversaries are difficult times following a loved one’s death., so I woke up promising myself that I will not feel sorry for myself today.  Instead I will celebrate this day in as many ways as I can by focusing on being grateful –  not just for what was, but for what is yet to come.  I began the day by stripping my bed.  One of life’s little pleasures of life, I find, is crisp clean sheets.  Following my morning coffee, I fed the birds, giving them a special treat.  Then I walked to a friend’s for a heartwarming visit and delightful conversation. Coming home, I was greeted by a neighbor’s three vibrant red crepe myrtles that were turning their smiling faces to the morning sun.  This is the day the Lord hath made, I will rejoice and be glad in it. Friends, I find, are like the quilts I make.  They come in different shapes, sizes, colors, and patterns bringing me warmth and comfort,  Friends are a vital support system that makes my life rich and full. My spouse would not want me to commemorate our anniversary by wallowing in sadness and self pity. It’s been said that guilt is the gift that keeps on giving, but I much prefer gratitude being the gift that keeps on giving.  I am all too aware that two voices continually vie for my attention.  I can choose to listen to the negative voice that attacks my body, leaving aching and depressed, or I can choose my grateful voice that fills me with hope, happiness, and strength.  Since his death, I am relearning daily that even in the midst of trouble, happy moments swim by me every day like shining fish waiting to be caught.  I am grateful that having practiced gratitude for years now,  gratitude has become a life giving habit. I will never stop missing this man who shared 63 years of my life, but even in death he is with me teaching me life enhancing life skills. This is the day the Lord hath made.  I will rejoice and be glad in it. It’s like Joni Eareckson Rada once wrote following her terrible accident.  “When you are experiencing the challenges of life, perspective is everything,”  Rereading her words I find myself remembering him sitting at the kitchen table observing, “Perception is reality.  It’s not what happens that makes or breaks us,” he’d say, “but the spin we bring to it.”  Consequently, on this is the day we had hoped to share with each other, I refuse to be sad because he died, but glad we had almost 63 rich and full years together. This is the day the Lord hath made.  I will rejoice and be glad in it.

An attitude of gratitude

 I think it was Charles Swindoll who said, “ Your success or failure in life will not be determined by the number of setbacks you encounter, but rather how you react to them.” The remarkable thing is we have a choice every day regarding the attitude we will embrace for that day.  We cannot change our past, we cannot change the fact that people will act in a certain way, we cannot change the inevitable. The only thing we can do is play on the one thing we have, and that is our attitude….I am convinced that life is 10% what happens to me and 90% how I react to it.  And so it is with you – we are in charge of our attitude.”    Wise words, words which bring us back to the Serenity Prayer’s “Living one day at a time, enjoying one moment at a time, accepting hardship as the pathway to peace.”   Shortly after graduating from college, one of our church musicians had back surgery which left her permanently disabled and in constant pain.  Instead of becoming bitter, she focused on what she could still do…play the piano and wander the waysides taking amazing photographs of birds, wildlife, and fauna.  As a result she has brought incalculable pleasure to the rest of us by sharing her music and photos. This spring she had shoulder surgery.  Unfortunately, history seems to have repeated itself,  Once again, a nerve was damaged.  As a result, while her shoulder is pain free and very usable, she has little use of her right hand as she does not have enough strength in that hand to hold her camera or to play the piano. Once an accomplished pianist, she now struggles to stretch her fingers enough to reach, let alone press down, on the keys.  Has she given up?  No way.  While understandably disappointed, she is determined to do everything she can to regain use of that hand again.   By coaxing tiny increments of movement and strength back into that hand she was finally able to play “Over the Rainbow” for us this past Sunday.   The ultimate perfectionist who had refused to play or participate unless her performance was nearly perfect,  she played the entire piece using both hands.  Granted, it was anything but a polished performance. The tempo was too slow. There were stutters and stumbles and stops as she struggled to make her damaged hand obey her, but she refused to let the music to die.  When she was finished we gave her a tearful standing ovation! “ Your success or failure in life will not be determined by the number of setbacks you encounter, but rather how you react to them”  

Attitude

Attitude, it’s been said, makes a big difference in life’s outcomes.   No matter how difficult or easy the situations and people with whom we are dealing, our attitude will be a determining factor in what happens and how we react.  One of my favorite Native American folk tales is the one in which a boy goes to his grandfather for advice.  His grandfather listens carefully, then responds,  “I won’t tell you what you should do as you need to figure that out for yourself, but I will make this observation.  No matter what you choose to do, it will be your attitude that will determine what happens: whether you remain angry and bitter, or whether you find something in what’s happened for which you can be grateful.  Most things in life are a bit like having two wolves fighting for your heart and mind.  One is filled with anger and hatred; the other is full of love, forgiveness, and acceptance.”  The boy thinks for several minutes, then asks, “But, grandfather, how can I know which wolf will win?”  To which his grandfather says quietly,  “It all depends on which wolf you decide to feed.” In the end, we become what we think, which wolf we choose to feed.  If we choose to think positive thoughts, we’ll get positive results.  If we think negative thoughts we will get negative results.  Even when life throws difficult challenges at us, when a loved one dies or we experience some disappointment or trauma, it will still be the attitude which we bring to the situation that determines the ultimate outcome.  It’s a hard truth, but a truth nevertheless; we reap what we sow.  We can’t harvest Golden ‘Delicious apples and sweet juicy peaches if we plant turnips or crabapples.  We inevitably reap the harvest of the thoughts we sow. 

The Golden Rule

I don’t know about the rest of you, but I grew up believing that I, as a good little Mennonite girl,  should always put others first.  My role in life, I believed,  was to be compliant and attentive to others, to adopt the servant role in all I do, and to always put others first, something which never came easy. Consequently, if I had a quarter for each time I was told as a kid to practice the golden rule, I’d be rich today.   Everything we do and say has consequences, and not always the intended ones,  There’s a lot of truth in that old cliche, “the road to hell is paved with good intentions.”  The unintended consequence of having been taught to put others first was I came to believe that to do that I had to devalue myself and my needs.  Years ago one of my spiritual advisors gave me the assignment to buy myself some expensive underwear for no other reason than that of pampering myself.  I couldn’t do it then, and I can’t do it now.  Self care, I find, is a delicate dance between selfishness and self affirmation.  All too often I can’t tell the difference.   One of the first lessons I learned in my journey with the 12 steps was that I couldn’t respect others, their situations, feelings,  and needs until I valued my own. I may have started attending meetings because I wanted to fix the addicts in our family,  but the wonderful people in those rooms quickly dis-abused me of that fallacy.  Not having understood the wisdom underlying the golden rule, I had sought to meet my needs by living vicariously through my children and husband,  manipulating and controlling them and situations in the hopes of changing them, not myself…which never really worked.  It was only after giving myself permission to be happy and to work on my own issues, even when the world seems to be falling apart around me, that I became more accepting and supportive of others.  It is only as I can forgive myself for my failures and selfishness that I can forgive others for theirs.  It is only by accepting myself, warts and all, that I have stopped expecting others to be more together than I am.  It is only as I value myself, that I can value others and not be disappointed when they make mistakes.   It is only as I can put myself into another’s shoes that I can be generous and giving. The challenge inherent in The Golden Rule and the Great Commandment –”Do unto others as you would have them do unto you” and “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, mind, and soul, and your neighbor as yourself “– is recognizing I can’t really love and accept others until can I love and accept myself.  It’s when I start devaluing and doubting myself that my old fears of not measuring up, of not being good enough, raise their ugly heads.  Consequently, I often find myself praying, “Lord Jesus Christ have mercy on us all…but especially those I find it hardest to accept.”

Protecting the presidential line of succession

When I first broke into the U.S. government consulting business, in 1981, I worked briefly on the continuity of government (COG) program. In particular, I worked on the part of it that was concerned with maintaining the presidential line of succession. I was impressed with the number of statements I signed promising not to breathe a word of what I worked on, but I don’t think it’s a damaging national security disclosure to point out that the government spends a lot of time – and money – worrying about the security of the line of succession. At the height of the cold war, even a threat to the person who stood 12th in the line of succession, was a matter of significant national security concern. A Soviet “decapitation strike” – or any other event – that took out significant portions of the line of succession – especially those near the top – was considered a national security threat nearly equivalent to a massive Soviet land attack in Germany or an attack that threatened our nuclear retaliation force. A lot of words to make the point: the line of succession is a serious matter. Yet, on January 6, 2021, the country’s commander in chief, who swore an oath to protect the country against “all enemies, foreign and domestic,” abetted a mob that intended to decapitate the top three people in the current line of succession (vice president Pence, speaker Pelosi, President pro tem Grassley) and the same three positions in the upcoming administration (vice president-elect Harris, speaker Pelosi, and President pro tem in waiting Leahy). All five were in the Capitol that day and all five were in danger. In our history, there has only been one decapitation plot as dangerous as January 6: the Good Friday 1865 plot which killed president Lincoln, severely wounded Secretary of State Seward, and failed to attack the third target, vice president Andrew Johnson. The traitor who led that attack was the subject of a nationwide manhunt and was found and executed within two weeks. Donald Trump, the traitor who posed the gravest national security threat to this country since the Cold War hasn’t been clapped in irons nor lost the support of his base. We’ve had all manner of presidents, some good, some bad, most pretty mediocre. But among the first 44 presidents, we never had one who wasn’t at least a loyal patriotic American who wanted the best for the country. Even James Buchanan, arguably the worst of the first 44, tried hard. He often caved to the southern states but that was because he was trying to hold the Union together. Even Richard Nixon, the biggest threat to the Constitution among the first 44, never made war against the United States. With the events of January 6, Trump left the peer group of James Buchanan, Warren G. Harding, and George W. Bush and has joined the company of such as Guy Fawkes, Caligula, and John Wilkes Booth.

Do no harm

The question, “what is my purpose?” has been rattling around in my head since my spouse  died.  This morning, while walking several buckets of weeds and table scraps to my neighbors compost pile, an idea popped into my mind.  “What if my purpose in life is simply to do no harm?  What if it is as simple as that?” Do no harm.   It’s brutally hot today.  It’s not even 10 AM and the temps have climbed into the high 80’s. I’ve been resisting turning on our air conditioning, but I finally relented the other evening when it was just too hot to go to sleep.  After some thought I set the thermostat at 75, low enough to reduce the humidity but high enough to conserve some electricity.   At first glance do no harm seems simple enough but what does that really mean?  What can I do to make a difference in our complicated interconnected world?  Almost immediately Micah’s words come to mind, “do justice, love mercy, walk humbly.”   As with everything, the devil is in the details. Do no harm. All politics, it’s been said, are local.  There is no one solution to complicated issues such as climate change, political hypocrisy, interracial conflicts, financial inequities, etc. because, in the end, everything gets reduced to our individual choices and actions.  What we do makes a difference, even when our actions appear to have no more effect than the flutter of a butterfly’s wing.  Even so, it’s the compilation of our everyday choices that is creating the crisis facing our planet.  It’s our unwillingness to take small actions that leads to life threatening results.  It’s our response to difficulties that either heals or wounds. Do no harm.  What can I possibly do that can possibly make a difference?  Yet, even as I ask that question I know the answer.  All God asks is for me to do my part to the best of my ability.  Doing no  harm is a little like practicing gratitude.  The more I focus on being grateful for what I already have, the less I need to make myself comfortable, grateful,  and content.  The more I seek to do no harm in the ways I live out each day, the more aware I’m becoming of any impact my actions may have on others and the environment.   Just raising the question is helping me recognize ways I can do my bit.  I can use less electricity by doing my laundry or running the dishwasher in the evenings after peak hours.  I can set the thermostat higher in summer and lower in winter, recognizing that my body will adapt in time to less comfortable temperatures.  I can save my dish washing water to water my plants and keep buckets in the shower to collect some of the runoff water to flush the toilet.  I can walk.  I can make lists and plan ahead rather than making impulsive trips in my car.  I can recycle, reuse things instead of buying new, even do without when possible.  I can take reusable bags when shopping, even take my own containers to restaurants when I eat out as I know I won’t be able to eat everything on my plate.  I can compost table scraps or feed some of the scraps to the birds.  Do no harm.  I can smile and say hello to both friends and neighbors.  I can refrain from gossiping.   I can say “thank you” to store clerks and others helping me.  I can be a good neighbor.  I can welcome newcomers to our neighborhood.  I can pick up roadside trash and be careful not to litter.  I can shop at thrift stores instead of buying everything new.  I can share what I have rather than holding back “just in case.”  I can lovingly tend my flower beds so my neighbors can also enjoy their beauty   Do no harm.  The more I embrace the idea that my purpose in life is to do no harm the greater the possibilities become.  In fact, the more I think about this, the more I realize doing no harm actually simplifies life and makes decision making easier, for nothing I’ve listed  is difficult.   In fact,  when I consider the men and women whom we remember as having had a positive impact on our world, those like Jesus, Abraham Linchiln, Mother Theresa, Martin Luther King, Gandhi…it quickly becomes obvious everything they said and did was designed to do no harm.  

Golden Years

As I look back over this past year and the final days with my husband, I have a new appreciation for the phrase “Golden Years.”  I think I’ve always thought one’s golden years were more about financial security and being free to come and go, relax, travel, read, volunteer, etc.  Yet, after this weekend I am sensing a very new way of understanding “our golden years”.  This weekend, dear friends, currently living and  working in Cambodia, stopped to visit while on their furlough home.  Such a bittersweet visit without my husband’s presence.  His absence filled the house.  Everything we did, said, thought, or shared seemed framed by his love and pride for this young couple whom he’d mentored through the years.  I woke up this morning with the phrase “golden years” front and center. How can these be golden when I am still tiptoeing past grief and heartbreak into my new reality?  I can recall many times when he’d question whether “our golden years” were really a good description for growing old.  How golden was retirement when his health issues kept us tied down, unable to do many of the things we’d talked about when we were young?.  Our problem, I’m realizing,  was viewing “golden years” as if that referred to financial and physical comfort: an absence of pain, discomfort, anxiety, and concern, but most especially, financial security and the ease with which we’ve come to define the good life.  While being financially secure definitely is a positive and eliminates a lot of worry, it is only one part of what I’ve come to understand as a golden life, for a golden life is a life filled with love.   Looking back on those precious five months when he was home on hospice and our children and grandchildren, our friends and neighbors were coming and going, supporting, helping, and  just loving us, I can see how the fruits of a life spent caring about and doing for others is coming back to us in many ways.  Our children’s willingness to put their work and personal needs aside to come and help care for their father, their presence, their caring and sharing made his last days some of the best times in our 62 years together.   His final days, and now even in the aftermath of his death when I am struggling to pick up the pieces of my years with him, are indeed golden for they are so filled with love.  Our past has come back to haunt us in lovely and life affirming ways. Much of what made this weekend visit so very special was seeing the cumulation of years of relationship.   We’ve watched this young couple grow and become.  We participated in their journey. We assisted when needed, nudged, affirmed, encouraged, suggested as needed.  Now the fruits of our love laced interactions and investment in each other is bearing good fruit.  It can be so hard to wait for time to work its subtle magic, especially when things are difficult.  Those addiction laced years were hell.  Yet lasting change takes time.  A lot of time.  We all have to grow into ourselves no matter how easy or difficult our journey through life.  It’s our impatience, our expectations that tend to get in our way,  short circuiting our growth and potential, making us short tempted and discouraged.   Yet time has this way of healing, of allowing for positive growth and understanding. One of the great joys of being at this end of parenthood is being able to look back at the ways our children have grown into their adult selves.   It wasn’t easy watching them struggle, fail, recoup, fall down and get up again.  There were times we despaired, feared for them, even felt betrayed.  There were incidents that were difficult to accept, let alone forgive.  Yet, taking to heart 1 Cor. 13, we did our best to trust in God to bring joy out of sorrow, faith out of failure, and to accept them for who they were, not who we wanted them to be. We learned through trial and error the truth of  Cor. 13’s,  “Love is patient and kind, it is not jealous or conceited or proud.   Love is not ill mannered or selfish or irritable.  Love is slow to anger and does not keep a record of wrongs .  It is not happy with evil but is happy with the truth.  Love never gives up.” 

Step One Again? Step One Again?

It’s been three months since he died and my friends and family are starting to worry about me.  Shouldn’t I be snapping out of this malaise? Why my lack of interest in things I had formerly cared about? In the past, I’ve been able to talk myself out of self pity and resentment when things veered off course, but this grief thing  is proving a greater challenge.  Having over thirty plus years in the 12 step program (Al-Anon, Families Anonymous, and CoDa) has taught me that I am responsible for my own well being. I can’t expect others to make me happy. Happiness is the way I choose to respond to the world around me. Happiness is choosing to focus on self improvement. Happiness is being grateful. If I want people to give me the space to think, pray, ponder, and explore, then I must do the same for them. Holding grudges, hanging on to grief, resentment, mistrust, suspicion, fear does not free me or make me feel any better. Life is a crapshoot, and the sooner I accept that, the better off I am. One thing is clear,  grieving or not, the world looks different when I am intentionally grateful, take time to appreciate the beauty and potential that is all around me, spend time outdoors with Mother Nature, and am kind and respectful to myself and others.   I have been drifting since he died,  waiting for something to fill the empty space he left..  Passivity has been easy.  Assuming responsibility for my own well being and peace of mind is a greater challenge. as I’m having to learn how to live in a world that does not revolve around him and his care.  I went to bed last night convinced I am ready to pick up the reins of my life.  This morning I am less sure. Yet given this is the first day of the rest of my life,  my only real option is to start over with Step One: Admit I am powerless over his death and that by allowing myself to stay in this in-between space I am making my life unmanageable. It’s time to start peeling back the layers of my emotional onion, exposing my broken parts to the light, giving myself permission to heal.    There is magic in the steps, just as there is magic in heartfelt prayer, a magic that emerges as we give God permission to work in our lives. Even as I write, I can feel important questions pushing their way to the surface. Is my feeling lethargic and unfocused a way of keeping him close, making his death the single most important thing in my life?  Am I afraid of losing him if I allow myself to be active and functional again? How do I pick up the broken pieces of my life and move into God’s open future? How do I live for both of us now? O God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change such as his death, the courage to change the things I can, such as my responses to his death, and the wisdom to know the difference.  Help me live one day at a time, enjoy one moment at a time, accept hardship as the pathway to peace. It always comes down to that, doesn’t it, God, accepting hardship as the pathway to peace?  Bright morning sunshine invites me outside as I sit here in my blogging chair talking to You, You who are greater than anything I can know or comprehend. Dare I really trust that You will make all things right if I surrender to Your will? Dare I truly trust that I can be reasonably happy in the time I have left? Dare I say “thank you” in advance?  Thank you for once again filling me with joie de vivre, even if I can’t feel it right now?

Our Great God Guns

If I hear one more person call for more thoughts and prayers in response to gun violence, I think I’ll scream. Thoughts and prayers are worse than meaningless, especially when they are intended to substitute for corrective action.   Nor is God going to step in and save us from ourselves.  God, you see,  has this bad habit of practicing tough love and actually has the audacity to allow us to suffer the consequences of our choices and actions instead of jumping in and protecting us from ourselves. To paraphrase the little Book of James, tucked into the back of the New Testament,  “My brothers and sisters, what good is it for someone to say that he has faith when his actions do not prove it?  Can that faith save him?  Suppose there are brothers and sisters who need clothing and don’t have enough to eat.  What good is there in your saying to them, ‘God bless you!  Keep warm and fed.”  if you don’t give them the necessities of life?  Suppose there are grocery shoppers or children attending school when an active shooter enters and kills 19 or 20 of them at a time.  What good is there in saying to their families and communities, ‘God bless you.  We share your grief.  Stay safe and secure.’ if you do nothing to control the proliferation of guns and military style weapons?  Can faith correct the situation?  Bring back the dead?  “But someone will say, “one person has actions, another has faith.”  My answer is, “Show me how you can have faith without actions and I will show you my faith by my actions.”   Idol worship, my friends, is alive and well. It wasn’t just ancient people who bowed down before man made idols. It wasn’t just ancient people who sacrificed their first born to appease the insatiable gods of violence.  We worship the 2nd Amendment.  We have made an idol out of our guns.  We have sold our souls to the great God AK-47.  Jesus,  as the prince of peace, is as unwelcome today as on the day he was sacrificed to momentarily appease the gods of greed and power.   When I reflect on all the calls for thoughts and prayers in the wake of these latest shootings, I am reminded of one of my childhood elders who would tell me, “Be careful what you pray for.  You may just get it and it won’t be what you wanted after all.” Each of us would do well to discern what gods we truly worship.  As the 11th step tells us, Sought to improve our conscious contact with the God of our understanding  through prayer and meditation, asking only for God’s will for our lives and the courage to carry that out. In the long run, the truth will out. The gods we worship will be revealed.  We can have all the prayer vigils we want, but until we are willing to place our trust in the God of love rather than the gods of guns, greed, and violence, nothing will change. We can be as pious as a saint, but piety is no substitute for humbly asking God to remove all our character defects.   As the writer of Matthew said so succinctly, “No one can be a slave to two masters; he will hate the one and love the other; he will be loyal to one and despise the others. You cannot serve God and money.”  And right now it is all too clear which gods we truly serve.

Step Five

Step Five is the step where  you share your story with someone you trust.   In many ways Step Five is the freedom step.  This is “swallow your pride and walk into the light of truth and honesty step.” It’s human nature to try to hide things about ourselves. We’ve all done things for which we’re ashamed.   Consequently, filled with self judgment, guilt, and shame, it can seem easier to pretend nothing happened or to try to hide, reframe, or disguise the situation.  Out of sight, out of mind, so we believe.  Unfortunately, life doesn’t work that way.  Truth will out, as there are precious few real secrets.  Generally the only person we  fool when we pretend this or that did or didn’t happen, is ourselves. Case in point. A parishioner went to great lengths to hide his homosexuality,  only to learn we had always known and loved him just as he was.  For years he’d made himself miserable pretending to be someone he wasn’t our of fear of rejection and discrimination.   When we hide  our secrets, fears, failures, and anxieties they don’t disappear; they  go underground where they  poison us with injections of shame, blame, and self hatred.  Unlike the oyster who is able to create pearls from the irritants entering its shell, our denial mechanisms turn us into angry, judgmental, bitter, and dishonest individuals. One 12 step worksheet says of Step Five, ”it was with step five that we were offered the chance to have shame and guilt transformed into humility “   That’s a powerful promise!  Step Five can transform our shame and guilt into humility?  Who wouldn’t want that?   Humility, you see, a gift of the Spirit.  It is that which brings us peace of mind and empowers us to accept ourselves just as we are.  Humility is what happens in and to us when we trade our shame and guilt for the truth.  Humility emerges as we acknowledge our brokenness, accepting what was and is, not as something for which to be ashamed, but as an opportunity to move forward.  Humility is the quiet self acceptance that comes when we let go of our denial and false pride and step into God’s open future.

Primary Election Interactions

Over the past weeks, months, and years, the prospect of change has had residents of the Keystone State sanguine for a foretaste of better days to come. It’s no secret the sudden changes in these last years have been strenuous for everyone and have taken their toll without regard for who you are — gender, ethnicity, geographic location, or other. We’ve seen policies, mandates, restrictions, mass layoffs, inconsistent educational adjustments, suppression of amendments, federalization of corporations, spending bills higher than many can count, among many other issues, most of which, many of us never dreamed we’d see happen in modern America. If you’re like me, despite everything, you are probably rejoicing at the chance that you still “have a say” in how you live your life, an opportunity for your voice to be heard, and a platform to make your vote count. You may also be wondering if the values and “worldview” of your friends, family, or neighbors — or even the person in line to vote ahead of you — have reevaluated what’s important to them in recent years. (I know I certainly have!) In the interest of curiosity, I headed over to the Gettysburg rec park on Tuesday and talked to some of my fellow third ward voters. I asked what they had on their minds, how the last 2 years have influenced the direction of their votes, and what they are hoping to see as a result of the election. I met a delightful Vietnam Army Veteran named George. During our short time together, George was a pure embodiment of an American proudly fulfilling his Civic duty. George had already been helping inform potential voters of a write-in candidate (Marty Qually) earlier in the day. After returning for a brief break, he resumed his post with 70 more write-in information cards and, don’t you know, he had handed out 68 of them by the time we parted ways. While I was with George, he showed respect to every individual he talked to, (whether they were courteous to him or not) by standing up to greet them as a display of his respect. You got to love him! David Allison grabbed my attention by way of the shirt he was wearing, which read N•W•O (New World Order). Once he agreed to speak with me, I felt it was pertinent to ask what were the most important issues that led him to vote in today’s election. “Getting back to normal,” he replied as he entered the building to cast his ballot. I talked to a woman who was willing to speak to me but only on the condition of anonymity. My question to “Jane Doe ” was, “What was the deciding factor that led you to vote for your candidate?”. Emphatically, Jane responded “I support a woman’s right to choose!” I also had the honor of meeting Adams County Commissioner Marty Qually , who is running as a write-in candidate for state representative on the Democratic ticket. I asked Qually what qualified him to run for office and request my vote. Qually’s first response was the best answer I’ve heard in a really long time; he replied, (nonchalantly mentioning his current position in office), “I intend to be the change we need in PA by filling my duties as an elected official who puts people over party and is actually willing to represent his constituents.” I asked Qually if he believes in the integrity of Pennsylvania’s voting system after the 2020 Presidential Election. Instantaneously, Qually answered my question before the words were finished leaving my mouth. “Absoluetly, 100 percent!,” he said. Commissioner Qually, if you’re reading this article, you have at least one local resident who appreciates your views and is grateful to have had the opportunity to meet you in person. While I can’t wholeheartedly say I agree with all the opinions expressed, as an American I believe it is our civic duty to support and defend the right to disagree and everyone’s right to free speech. Good luck to all of the candidates and may we all hope the victors embody the true spirit of Pennsylvania and its people.

Accepting the Process

Blogging eluded me yesterday.   I simply didn’t have the energy or will power to develop a coherent theme.  At this stage of life, blogging has become an important way of helping me reinforce the tools I need to get through my days.  It also makes a good vehicle with which to share my 12 step wisdom, strength, and hope.  Perhaps the insight I most need to hear today is this:  Instead of fighting off my negative feelings and being disappointed with myself, I am being called to give myself the time and space I need to feel and process the things I need to feel and process.  Time and again the program has reassured me that  it’s safe to feel my feelings, welcome my exhaustion, and recognize recovery doesn’t occur in a straight line.   I/you/we can’t heal if we keep running from our painful traumas and dysfunctions.  Instead we can choose to stare them in the  face and learn the lessons they seek to teach us.    Healing from our family addictions necessitated accepting many things that seemed unacceptable at the time.  We had to let go of responses that no longer served us well, like blaming and shaming each  other and instead learn how to give compliments and say “I love you.”  I’m not sure why it is easier to focus on the negative than it is the positive, but it is, even when we are bombarded by kindness, possibilities, opportunities, and caring.  An essential tool in my 12 step tool kit has been looking for the positives and possibilities that are always waiting to be discovered and acknowledged.  As I slowly emerge from my blanket of grief, I find life’s shoulds once again making themselves known.  I should have more energy.  I should be more motivated.  I should find it easier to write, blog, and edit my old materials.  I should be accustomed to my husband’s death by now.  I should be eating better.  I should get more sleep.  I should clean my house. I should be walking more.  I should, I should, I should…  Instead I can choose to stop should-ing on myself and start giving myself credit for each day’s small victories.  I can choose to get out my gratitude journal and add to my list of gratitudes.  I can choose to give myself time to feel and heal.  After all, the more I resist, the longer it will take to find my way.  Starting right now I choose to stop expecting myself to be someplace I am not.  I can accept this present moment and these feelings for what they are,  neither interpreting them as good nor bad.   After all, I know in my gut that I will heal and that it is safe to trust the process and give myself as much time as I may need.   

Please vote tomorrow!

Voted printed papers on white surface

By Marcia Wilson, Chair, Adams County Democratic Committee Pennsylvania’s closed Primary Election allows only registered Democrats or registered Republicans to vote for their respective party’s candidates. Republican voters have numerous choices for their US Senate, Pennsylvania Governor and Lt. Governor candidates in the fall. Democratic voters have fewer candidates running for those offices, and it’s vital that all registered Democratic voters exercise their right and privilege to vote on Tuesday, May 17th.  We need the strongest candidates for the November General Election, those who can win these vital offices – vital not only to Pennsylvania but to the nation. Not only will we choose our candidate for US Senate, for Pennsylvania Governor and for Pennsylvania Lt. Governor, but we have the responsibility to get two additional candidates on the November ballot. Earlier this year, when candidate petitions were due in order for their names to appear on the Primary ballot, neither of these candidates decided to run. But recent events galvanized both of them to step up to challenge the incumbent Republican legislators in their districts.  What’s happened in Washington and Harrisburg in the past several weeks is alarming.  Democrats need to step up and vote for Mark Critz and Marty Qually! Mark Critz is a former Congressman, following service as a staff member for Congressman John Murtha from the Johnstown area.   His district was lost as a result of re-districting in 2011.  He currently serves as Western Regional Director and Executive Director of the Rural Development Council. Since the recent changes in Congressional districts, he is now a resident of our new District 13 and has decided to do a write-in campaign to oppose incumbent Congressman John Joyce.  Although we know the district is heavily Republican in registration, Mark will challenge the incumbent’s radical views and votes, giving Democrats a candidate in the November election who will hold the incumbent accountable. Marty Qually has been prevailed upon to accept a write-in nomination for Pennsylvania House District 91, where the incumbent is Dan Moul.  We know Marty as our Democratic County Commissioner and a previous candidate for the 91st District seat.  Marty will shed light on the incumbent’s record of voting against woman and highlight how we need to redouble our efforts to protect a woman’s access to safe, legal, and accessible healthcare, address paid family leave, pre-and post-natal care, and pay equity.  For too long men in power have dictated how women are expected to live.  In America we believe in freedom and women deserve the same freedom as men over their own bodies.  The residents of the district will see where the incumbent and Marty differ on topics such as election reform, the need for improved rural broadband, and a host of issues that have been ignored by the current incumbent. YOUR VOTE will put Mark Critz and Marty Qually on the November General Election ballot! Many Democrats feel that their vote doesn’t count in a Republican-dominated county or district.  That is NOT correct – every Democratic vote counts in a statewide or national election.  And in this Primary Election, Democratic votes are the only way for two courageous and qualified and energized candidates to get on the November ballot!  Mark needs more than 1,000 write-in votes, and Marty needs 300 or more – please be one of them! If you have already voted by mail, we thank you and look forward to your continued support for Democratic candidates in the fall. If you are voting in person, vote on Tuesday, when polls are open from 7 AM until 8 PM, and plan to vote on November 8th.

Kite Strings

I’ve been experiencing blogger’s block.  For the past few days each time I sit down to write, pray, or meditate all I experience is emptiness, an emotional and spiritual void. So I fiddle with this and mess with that, hoping something will emerge from waiting.  It’s not that I’m unhappy.  In fact, the days are flowing fairly smoothly and I am finding things to do.  In fact, I helped with a wedding this weekend and went to an amazing concert, spent time with friends and family.  It’s just that there’s a big black hole in the middle of everything.  My head must force myself to  go through it.  That doesn’t keep me from wishing I could avoid getting buried in all that pain, mud, and darkness, however. I’m tired of hearing others share stories of seeing him, of sensing his presence,  A cousin reported seeing him in her dreams; tall, healthy, no sign of any crippling or disfigurement.  He smiled at her and then turned and walked away.  Another person reported having him tell her he’s happy, doing well.  I don’t want to be ungrateful, but  why can’t he come to me?   Assure me?  Hearing from others is about as satisfying as ripping apart the stole I had almost finished last evening because I made a serious mistake and then made it worse by trying to fix it.  Finally I just started ripping it apart!.  My life is coming apart like that stole.  The yarn is still beautiful and the portion that remains reveals a lovely pattern, but the rest is a mess.  My only real option is to start over by using that same yarn. I can step back and look at parts of my past life, parts that came apart, parts where I begged God to take the hurt away.  Today I can see those same experiences through the vista of time,  and the gift that was always hidden in them, the opportunities that opened up, the rough edges that got chiseled away.  Now I can see the necessity of going through the pain rather than trying to avoid it because they enable me to see the flawed beauty in myself and others.   But then, is there really any other way to approach that greatest of mysteries, God working in and through us? This morning,  a friend suggested I repeat my first step.  I know my grief will not heal without my taking that first step again, but I have this tendency to approach the steps like kites.  I release them one by one into the air –  watch them fly away, all the while knowing I am still hanging on to their strings.  Yes, I gave him permission to fly away because that was the only kind and loving thing to do, but I haven’t really let him go.  I waiting for some sign that its is OK to let go.  I want to glance out the window and see him wave to me.  I want to come around the corner and get a glimpse of him watching the birds.  I want him back.      Just as I begin to write out my Step One: admitted I am powerless over my grief and longing, Step Two pops into mind.  It’s going to take a greater power than me, myself, and I to regain my stability and sanity.  In the meantime, what am I supposed to do with this big hole in the center of my life?  As I sit and wait, praying without consciously praying, I cling to some of those wonderful snippets of 12 step wisdom. Just do the next thing.  Live one minute, one hour, one day at a time.  Practice an attitude of gratitude.   

Self Care

A new concern emerges now that I am alone…I could easily become absorbed in me.  My grief. My sadness. My concerns.   My feelings.  As each day passes I’m becoming more aware of how easily I could slip into self pity.  I started attending 12 step meetings many years ago because our teens had gotten caught up in the drug culture,  I’ve continued attending, even though they have been sober and productive for years.  Early on, I realized this program was not about changing them, but changing me. Their drug use was not my problem to fix.  Me and my responses were.  I was the only one I could fix or change.  I was the one who needed to learn how to know, love, accept, and reinvent myself.  Not them. What I could do for them was model how not to be defeated by life, how our personal growth, self acceptance, and courage happens by working the program.  In those amazing rooms,  I discovered that by taking the focus off of them and putting it on myself, I could give them the space they needed to assume responsibility for themselves and their choices.  Over the years,  I’ve gratefully drawn on 12 step experience, wisdom, and hope in facing my life challenges. What many fail to realize is that the steps relate to everything in life.  The 12 steps saved my sanity in the 80’s when I faced criticism, personal attacks, focused anger and rejection from many church leaders because I, as a woman,  dared respond to God’s call to Christian ministry.  When I experienced verbal and spiritual abuse, when other pastors shamed and blamed me, I’d remind myself of a basic 12 principle.  Whatever the another’s actions, beliefs, or feelings, they were not about me.  Yet, no matter how hurtful, I still needed to pay attention to what they were saying and doing because what they said or did provided me with important information about who they were, what they believed, and what they feared.  By learning to separate myself from their criticism and values, I became able to listen and see the person behind the vitriol without judging them or myself.  In fact, by developing the ability to not take their criticism personally, I was able to glean important information that allowed me to either work with them or remove myself from hurtful situations.  Besides, there were many times their attacks contained more than a kernel of truth that I needed to hear. We focus a great deal on self care in our Co-Dependents Anonymous meetings.  One of the chief symptoms of codependency is trying to live vicariously through our children, spouse, lover, best friend, job, etc.  As a codependent, what we want or need becomes less important to us than what others want or need.  As codependents we happily take responsibility for everyone else’s choices, feelings, and  actions.  Why?  Because that makes us feel needed and important.   For years I blamed myself for our teens addictions.   I believed  I was a bad mother,  that I’d  failed.  And, to be honest, I did many things that contributed to their addictions, especially enabling and excusing their behaviors.  Fortunately,  I eventually came to understand that since I didn’t cause their addiction, I couldn’t control or cure it.  My role as a caring parent,  was and continues to be  to love and accept them for who they are without demanding they change to suit me.   If any changing needs doing, I am the one to change and adjust. Self care is all about learning how to set healthy boundaries and assuming responsibility for the  part we play in any situation but then letting the rest go.  Self care demands we stop taking every little remark or inference personally, be that negative or positive.  In the end,  it is just as selfish to blame ourselves for every bad thing that happens as it is to take the credit for others small victories and successes. So, here I am on this sunny but chilly spring day, looking toward the rest of my life as a widow.  Am I going to feel sorry for myself or will I accept his death as the painful loss it is, yet determined to grieve his loss as courageously and triumphantly as I can by believing it is a greater tribute to him and who he was to live as dynamically and fully as I possibly can in the days I have left.

Please Consider Austin Davis for Lieutenant Governor

With so many people running for leading offices in our state during the upcoming primary, several of whom are not even Pennsylvanians, I would like to call attention to Austin Davis, a Democratic candidate for Lieutenant Governor. At least 48 state representatives support his candidacy. And Attorney General Josh Shapiro, who is now running for Governor, has endorsed Mr. Davis for this position. As Shapiro is highly respected and well-liked by many Pennsylvanians, his endorsement of Davis should mean a lot.  So what is Austin Davis’s background? An African American native of McKeesport in the Mon Valley, an industrial center outside Pittsburgh, Davis knows from personal experience the struggles of many working families. In his high school years, he founded and served as chairman of Mayor Jim Brewster’s Youth Advisory Council, helping combat rising youth violence and providing his peers with ways to become involved in civic life. A first-generation college graduate in his family, he studied political science at the University of Pittsburgh. Upon graduation he began pursuing a career in public service. The Tribune Review called him (at age 21) already a “veteran at the politics of helping others.” In 2018 Davis successfully ran for the state House of Representatives, representing Allegheny County. He became one of only four African Americans to represent a majority white district.  As representative, he is active on several House committees, including Appropriations, Consumer Affairs, Insurance, and Transportation. He is chair of the Allegheny County House Democratic Delegation and vice chair of the House Democratic Policy Committee. In addition, he is a member of the Pennsylvania Black Caucus, the Climate Caucus and PA SAFE Caucus. Austin Davis’s campaign is to empower working families and continue a career of fighting  for equality for all people, regardless of race or sexual orientation. Democrats, be sure to vote on May 17 (or earlier by mail), and please consider voting for Austin Davis for Lieutenant Governor.

An Open Letter to Every Candidate for the Pennsylvania Legislature:

You are running because you care about your community and believe you can make a difference in Harrisburg. But what you probably don’t know is that, if you are elected, the first two votes you take on January 3, 2023 will determine whether you can truly represent us.   Less than 24 hours before that day your leaders will give you the draft rules for your chamber’s operations – 50-60 pages of legalese. With little time to read or understand them, you’ll be asked first to vote against amending them and then to adopt them as written. (I know it sounds backwards, but that’s the way it works.)   Your constituents will have elected you to assure their voices are heard, but you will have just given your leaders  – and the committee chairs they select – total control over which of the thousands of bills that will be introduced that session get hearings and votes.   Over 84% of Pennsylvania’s 500 public school boards want to update the controversial 25-year old formula for funding our charter schools – likely some from your district.   Eighteen PA cities put children at higher risk of lead exposure than Flint, MI. If they’re in your district, parents and educators will ask you to support remediation programs to address the threat this poses to their children’s health and development. Pennsylvania’s rural areas have suffered for years from a lack of high-speed access to the internet – a lack that impacts education, business, and delivery of critical services.  Residents want their government to address those needs.   Reality check: All of those bills and many more, all with strong bipartisan legislative and public support, have been before our Legislature before – some for multiple sessions – and NONE has ever gotten a vote. They are blocked, often by a single leader or chair, using the powers given to them by the rules. By voting for the rules without question or amendment, you give away your power to represent your constituents.    For their voices to be heard requires that bills with sufficient bipartisan legislative and public support get a vote. The legislature makes its rules but the process should involve all members, and the results should empower you and your colleagues to represent your constituents and not a few powerful leaders.  To join with us and learn more, visit www.fixharrisburg.com.

A Second Reformation? Some New (Old) Ways of Thinking about Nature and Why They Might Matter

The Green Gettysburg Book Club first met on Valentine’s Day in 2020. When the pandemic hit, we went online and have been riding high on Zoom once a week ever since.  Along with attempting to become a little better informed about the practical things we can do to protect the environment, we have also been exploring some new (and also some very old) ways of thinking about our relationship with the natural world, and about how we might move from a model of domination and exploitation to a recognition of our interdependence with the natural systems that sustain us.  Despite the chaos and confusion of our time, we’ve been wondering whether we could be right in the middle of some kind of Second Reformation, right in the middle of a cultural shift that will eventually affect every aspect of our lives, our communities and societies, our economies, our politics and even our spiritual lives and practices. This is a big question, too big, actually, for us to answer definitely. But many of the writers we’ve been reading have a lot to say on the matter, and we’ve had some really great conversations trying to sort things out. In the world of the first Reformation, most of us are only tourists at best, but can you imagine how confusing it must have felt to be alive during that period in Europe. It must have been a big hot mess, as the young folks like to say these days.  Looking back, I suppose it all kind of makes sense, at least to historians. But at the time the whole thing must have seemed very chaotic and more than a little frightening to those living through it. Are we living through a similar “big hot mess” right now? Are we living through a similar cultural shift that has unsettled everything? Many of the writers we have been reading argue that over the many centuries in what we now call “the West,” human beings made a mistake, a big one, about our relationships with nature and with one another.  We came to imagine that we were separate—both from nature and from our neighbors and the human communities that surround and support us. This mistake drove the industrial revolution, fostered innovation and individualism and created the life we both enjoy and are dismayed by now, even in humble places, small towns like our own. And, this “mistake” has been, ironically, so productive in terms of the material things of this world that it has been adopted nearly everywhere on the planet—in the East and South as well as the West—and become the default setting for our—rather manic—species as a whole. As a result, we have pretty much run wild and taken the whole place over. The damage done by this mistake is popping up and breaking out everywhere these days and can now be pretty accurately measured. The costs can be quantified. In fact, this mistake is turning out to be quite expensive whether we are talking excessive numbers of catastrophic weather events, wild fire seasons that don’t really end, or the impact on human health from bad air, bad water or just too much heat. The list of negative impacts is long and growing. We hear about it every day in the news. Pope Francis in his encyclical letter Laudato Si’, which some of us read right when the book club first got going, sees this mistake of separateness leading to two different but related consequences. The illusion of separateness from one another leads to a breakdown in human community and a betrayal of neighbor love. The illusion of separateness from nature leads to environmental catastrophe, to severe damage to our “common home,” to the undermining of the natural systems (and ecosystem services) we depend on for clean air, clean water, fertility in the soil and a stable climate, among many other things. The illusion of separateness supports what he calls the “technocratic paradigm” which allows new technologies and profit-driven markets to essentially make the key decisions about the allocation of society’s resources without regard for the impact on people or on nature. An “ecological paradigm,” on the other hand, would recognize the intrinsic value of all living things and call for dialogue and transparency in decision making, a process involving as many different perspectives as possible. “Given the complexity of the ecological crisis and its multiple causes,” he says, “we need to recognize that solutions will not emerge from just one way of interpreting (and transforming) reality.” An ecological paradigm is necessary in order to sustain environmental progress over time and avoid cooptation by the profit seeking and short term decision making associated with the technocratic paradigm. “There needs to be a distinctive way of looking at things,” Francis says, ”a way of thinking… and a spirituality which together generate resistance to the assault of the technocratic paradigm…. To seek only a technical remedy to each environmental problem… is to separate what is in reality interconnected and to mask the true and deepest problems of the global system.” Adopting an “ecological paradigm” like the one Francis describes would likely represent an important cultural shift in how we understand our relationship with nature. Many of the writers the book club has been reading over the last two years contribute additional insights into the nature of this cultural shift or potential Second Reformation. Here’s a quick sample: For Aldo Leopold writing in Sand County Almanac what is needed is a Land Ethic. This involves the development of a sense of obligation to the land in not only the farmer and the business owner but also in the tourist out for a literal joy ride in nature. As a naturalist and forest ranger himself, he was all about the development of what he called “perception” in both the tourist and the farmer. “The weeds in a city lot convey the same lesson as the redwoods [in California]; the farmer may see in his cow-pasture [things that] may not be vouchsafed to the scientist adventuring in the South Seas.” This sense of obligation comes up again in the work of Robin Wall Kimmerer, a botanist and member of the Citizen Potawatomi Nation. In Braiding Sweetgrass, she explores a relationship with nature based on reciprocity. Nature sustains us, so we must sustain nature and in the process we will be filled with gratitude for all we receive from the natural world. And, she goes on to say, “In a consumer society, contentment is a radical proposition. Recognizing abundance rather than scarcity undermines an economy that thrives by creating unmet desires. Gratitude cultivates an ethic of fullness, but the economy needs emptiness.”  Imagine, she says, a society, a country, a community built on rituals and institutions that allow us to come together regularly to experience gratitude for all that we receive from nature and one another. Bound to put us all in a better mood for sure! Suzanne Simard studies the forest and the relationships among trees and the fungal networks in the soil. In Finding the Mother Tree, she explains how she was able to measure the chemical communication that connects species and maintains balance in the forest. The forest, she demonstrates, is a community, not a commodity. In his book Half Earth, E.O. Wilson, renowned scientist and specialist in the study of ants, calls for returning half of Planet Earth to its former wild state in order to maintain biodiversity and the ecosystem services on which we depend.  Entomologist Doug Tallamy in Nature’s Best Hope invites us to bring that wild back to the places where we live and work by planting native species and restoring habitat and fully functioning ecosystems in our own yards and community parks and on our corporate and college campuses. All of these writers point toward a new way of understanding our relationship with nature. Clearly, the idea of “away” as in “throwing stuff away” has gone away and is no more. We have a new respect for limits both in terms of what we extract from nature but also in terms of what we know about nature. Take what you need but leave the rest. Put something back. Study, observe with care but also be ready to admit how much we really don’t yet fully understand. Recognize the need for multiple perspectives. Science yes, but also intuition, poetry, religion and traditional lore and practices. For Christians maybe it all comes back to building the beloved community, and extending that beloved community to include the natural world.  Nature as neighbor, and maybe teacher, too. Is there a key role for us as healers? Can we humans be the ones to rebalance ecosystems and restore the healthy functioning of the natural world while helping out our human neighbors as well? The book club has just begun Regeneration by Paul Hawken and a crew of scientists and environmental communicators. They argue that we have the tools we need to repair and restore the natural world we live in and depend on. But do we have the will, the courage, the love of life in all its forms to see things through? I’m still hoping that we do.

Basic Questions

Since he died, I find myself asking the same question each morning when I awake. “What’s the point of getting up?  Where do I now find my meaning and purpose in life?”  Up until now I was the wind beneath his wings as he was mine.  Now that he is gone, I am faced with finding a new center, a new reason for living.  Just as nothing comes without important lessons and insights, his death is helping me understand why people who have no meaning or purpose in life fill their hours with meaningless activity, partying, gambling, and drinking ones’ self silly.   Maslow suggested there are five levels of  human need and development.  Starting with the most basic and moving upwards these needs are: food, clothing, shelter, safety  and job security needs, love and belonging needs, esteem and respect needs, and self-actualization needs.  For most of history,  people, by necessity, focused on the first two levels: food, clothing, shelter and safety.  As much as we consider love and belonging as essential, even those take the back seat when one is homeless, hungry, and unsafe.   For most of human history,  mankind has been focused on the first two or three stages.  The question of an ultimate meaning and purpose in life beyond survival was not even considered.  While love and belonging seem pretty basic to most of us, it is our human drive to arrange ourselves in safe tribal or family groupings that open the way for experiencing love and friendship.    After all, it is only within cohesive cooperative groupings that our physical,  safety, and belonging needs can truly be met.  However, by its very nature, the cohesion required to have tribal and extended family groupings provide for and protect individual needs,  the welfare of the group must take precedent over the individual.  Consequently, almost all religious teaching focuses on care of the other and the “beloved community” to use Martin Luther King’s phrase.   Our legal, moral, and familial codes all reflect on that which is best for the larger group. Think The Ten Commandments, the Great Commandment, The Golden Rule, for instance.  In the past two hundred or so years humanity has moved from communal agrarian societies to industrialized societies that stress individual achievement and freedom.  This is both good news and bad. The good news is that our individualism allows for individual differentiation;  women’s rights, gay rights, trans rights, racial rights, artistic expression, etc.  The bad news is our focus on individual freedom makes us less concerned about the needs of  others.  Individualism leads to materialism, greed,  and selfishness, disregard for the rights and needs of others, ignoring the ways our individual choices impact others.  If you doubt this just think pandemic and our conflicts over social distancing, vaccines, and wearing masks.  Add to that our racial  conflicts and the abuses of power.  Our individualism also makes us less concerned about broader issues that affect the whole of society such as climate change, voting rights, racism, extreme financial inequity, etc. Just as the substance abuser or other addictions cannot move toward recovery until he/she recognizes that their choices are having a negative impact on themselves and others, so I am beginning to recognize that my waking to an empty house is forcing me to evaluate my hierarchy of needs.  Being among the world’s fortunate,  the first three levels of need are being more than adequately met.  My challenge,  however,  relates to self- actualization…finding finding my new place in the world as I shift focus.  What is my unique place in the world now?  What do I still have to contribute to the welfare of others?  What will enrich my last years as well as those around me?  How do I identify my end of life passions?  What role will faith play in bringing me a new sense of meaning and purpose?

Thorns and Roses

Routines are important.  Routines give structure to one’s day, awaken one’s mental juices,  help jump start the morning.   One of the hardest things about adjusting to my husband’s death is the disruption of long established routines.  Most of our meaningful discussions came while getting dressed in the morning and eating breakfast.   I recall a Al-Anon meditation that described alcoholism and addiction as being caught in a situation which seems to have no solution.  That’s exactly what the future feels like without my spouse of many years.  I am trapped in a situation from which there is no escape.  For years I’ve been preaching the power of gratitude.  Now I get to practice what I preach.  One thing is all too clear; focusing on what isn’t gets me nowhere.  Once again I am reminded “in all things give thanks”  which reminds me of an Al-Anon reading that stated “ all thorns have roses.”   Yesterday was Easter Sunday.  If there was ever an Easter that felt flat and meaningless, it was yesterday.  I took little comfort in the pretty words about resurrection and other religious promises.  We did redeem the day somewhat by gathering for an upbeat Easter meal, but promises of heaven and the power of prayer did little to fill my empty heart.  So, here I am, the morning after Easter Sunday, mulling a phrase that does have meaning for me.  Every thorn has its rose.   Everything has to do with perspective and expectations.  As my husband liked to say, “perception is reality.”  The issue isn’t whether thorns have roses or roses have thorns;  the end result depends on our perceptions and how we accept and approach life’s many inevitable thorns.  Instead of expecting life to flow smoothly and to live happily ever after, life takes on meaning when we can embrace life’s thorny challenges as opportunities to grow beautiful roses rather than thorns representing failure.  So here I am, starting over as a widow.  After only 6 weeks weeks, one thing is clear.  I can fill it with thorns or I can fill it with the roses I know are awaiting me,  even though, at the moment, they are still in tight buds.   In all things give thanks.  

Reflections

Well, this is it. My new life. Over the weekend we buried his ashes in a puddle of watery mud and had his memorial service. Family and friends who came for his service have returned to their everyday lives. Everywhere I look I see reminders that reduce me to a tearful ball of gratitude. I had dreaded this weekend, but it was everything I could have hoped for and more. Exhausting. Overwhelming. Affirming. Tearful. Happy.  Surrounded by extended family and friends, we gave him a truly loving send-off. I have always found memorial services fascinating. As different people share their stories and memories, we learn things about our loved ones we never knew or appreciated. As Paul observed of Jesus, “if we once judged him by human standards, we no longer do so.” My husband’s passing allows me to look beyond his all too human frailties to the many ways he positively impacted our lives, leaving me wondering why I was so impatient and critical at times; why it was easier to focus on his failings than his successes.   One thing is clear as I step into my new life of widowhood. Life will be what I make it. He showed us that what truly matters is the way we choose to respond to the the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, not whether we experience them. One of the consistent themes that kept weaving its way through the stories and observations folks made was his quiet acceptance and courage in face of a chronic, debilitating, and painful disease. He rarely complained, but faced life with quiet courage, doing what he could with what he had. As he grew older and weaker, he was forced to accept more and more help, but he did it with humor and grace.  Perhaps, in retrospect, his greatest gift was showing us how to gratefully receive help and give up control. In a world where we perceive power and influence as the ability to be self sufficient and to dominate and control others, he demonstrated a difference kind of power; the power of being true to himself. The power of living with, not against. The power of accepting limitations as the stuff of life. Of all his gifts, and he left us with many, he showed us  how to live the good life. The good life, he demonstrated, is being like a stream,  that when encountering barriers in its journey toward the sea,  finds new channels and pathways to achieve its goal. Or as the refrain to the hymn “On Eagle’s Wings” puts it:  And He will raise you up on eagle’s wings/ Bear you on the breath of dawn/Make you to shine like the sun/And hold you on the palm of His hand.”

Interdependence

The focus statement in Sunday’s bulletin read: “As we seek God’s way, we move from an understanding of power that grasps for control over others to an understanding that power comes from working with and for others.”   That idea was further developed in the Call to Worship.  “Together we seek the way of God, a way so different from the ways of the world.  We remind ourselves to loosen our grasp, to trust instead of control.  We Praise a God we cannot see and celebrate a salvation we do not understand.” “To trust instead of control and celebrate a salvation we do not understand.”  There is something in me that wants to define how those words are understood, but trust requires my allowing them speak for themselves.  We humans have this compulsion to tie down loose ends, plan to the nth degree, try to control outcomes.  But we can’t.  If the pandemic and my husband’s death have taught me anything, it has been I am not in control.  I don’t get to decide, shape, and determine what happens.  Left in the wake of his leaving, I have few options but to work with and for others, to trust an unknown future,  to love and let be.  My aging brings an increasing dependence on others, reminding me to loosen my grasp on the who, what, when, where and whys of life and to be content to praise a God I cannot see and celebrate a salvation I do not understand. Several men were here servicing our heating/cooling system this morning. They taught me how to program and reset the thermostat – just another reminder of how completely our lives are intertwined with both the known and unknown.  There is nothing I can do that is not dependent on someone else in some way.  I am reminded of a TED talk in which a woman traced all of the steps and people required to pour her morning coffee.  Her quest led her to many different countries and hundreds, perhaps thousands of people who played a part in bringing her her morning coffee.  Multiply that one cup of coffee by every item we touch or use; the car one drives, the clothing one wears, the food one eats, the electricity one uses – the list goes on and on – and the need to trust and appreciate rather than to control and dominate becomes very apparent.  There is no such things as a self made man; we are inextricably tied together for good or ill.  In a very real way, I suspect, that reality also applies to the God we cannot see and the salvation we do not understand.

Waste Management doing its job

By Sue Cipperly, Gettysburg The Waste Management contract for Gettysburg begins today, April 1.  WM trucks are out delivering trash receptacles to those who have had them, or requested them, based on records provided by the borough.  If folks don’t get a bin, they can follow the instructions on the borough website – www.gettysburgpa.gov — to pick one up locally or get one delivered.   People can use their own bins, or contract with Waste Management for one. In the Gettysburg Times on Wednesday, March 30,  borough manager Charles Gable was quoted as saying: “We are beyond frustrated and exceptionally displeased with this transition, I think an apology letter to every single customer of WM is in order,” Waste Management sent out a flyer over two weeks ago, detailing their services – maybe some people threw theirs away.  It said their services begin April 1.  It provided contact info.  Why would they be responsible for providing trash bins before their contract begins?  The first pickup is April 4.  Should the previous contractor have notified customers that their bins would be retrieved once their contract ended? Maybe the borough could have let people know the bins would be picked up, and new ones supplied. There will doubtless be some glitches during the transition to a new company, as there were last time things changed.  The finger-pointing at the new company is counter-productive, and set a tone toward Waste Management before their contract even started.  Ire at two to three days without a trash bin could have been avoided with better communication from our local government.  Please have a little patience with the transition.  Life will go on.

Fake it till you make it

An oft repeated 12 step saying is “Fake it till you make it.” I find that excellent advice as I set about creating my new life as a widow. No matter what challenge faces any of us – death, addiction, recovery, losing a job, divorce, business failure, debt, an empty nest, starting a business, getting married, having a child – there will be times of when it is tempting to just go to bed and never get up. That’s when it is important to just fake it till you make it. Go through the motions. Do what needs doing. Smile. Take one day at a time and if that seems impossible, one minute, one hour at a time. Being alone is a new experience for me, but instead of dwelling on how empty the house feels, I am trying to force myself to focus on what needs doing today, finding things to keep me busy. I am determined to fake it until the world rights itself and I learn how to make this new reality rich and rewarding, thanks to everything he did to prepare me for this time. Getting up to an empty house is difficult, but fortunately I only have to do that one morning at a time. I only have to eat alone one meal at a time. I only have to stay in the moment, one moment at a time. Find things to keep me busy, revel in good memories, listen to music, lose myself in making quilts for those who are suffering even greater losses than I — one moment, one hour, one day at a time. Feeling lost and lonely, I took my coffee upstairs and stitched together a baby quilt and asked God to give me my marching orders for the day, words for this blog. As I stitched and waited, the words to Charlie Chaplin’s song “Smile” came to mind. As I silently sang to myself I thanked my Higher Power for answering my prayer. “Smile though your heart is achingSmile even though it’s breakingWhen there are clouds in the sky, you’ll get byIf you smile through your fear and sorrowSmile and maybe tomorrowYou’ll see the sun come shining through for youLight up your face with gladnessHide every trace of sadnessAlthough a tear may be ever so nearThat’s the time you must keep on tryingSmile, what’s the use of crying?You’ll find that life is still worthwhileIf you just smile.”

Residents of Ward 3, Gettysburg, and others – Your input is needed

The Borough Council was asked to consider a change to the zoning ordinance for the Elm Street Overlay area, which lies between Middle Street and South Street, and between Franklin Street and Court Alley (the Methodist Church) on West High Street. (See map) This area has been dubbed “Olde Getty Place”. The change request is referred to as “S. English zoning text amendment request”. Debra and Scott English have owned the house at 68 W. High Street since December, 2020. They plan to operate a bed and breakfast on the property, which is an allowed use under the overlay zoning. They propose to have a “Special Events Venue” added to the list of uses, so they can host events indoors and outdoors, 7 days per week, with 75-100 guests per event on the weekends. There is no specified limit on number of events per day. The proposed activities would include: “hosting of community gatherings, educational events, historically interpretive functions, family weddings, art shows, parties, bridal showers, culturally significant assemblies, and other similar events where large groups of people are gathered, generally involving food, drink, and music.” Potential impacts of this change for the neighborhood would be noise, traffic, competition for parking, foot traffic, tourists, smoke, and general disruption of peaceful enjoyment of residential properties. Hours of operation would be from 9:00 a.m. until 10:00 p.m. It is not clear how restrooms would be provided – maybe porta-johns. Scott English has stated that he will have an agreement with the Methodist Church for parking on weekends, but it is not clear what would happen if the church has a wedding, funeral, church services, etc. Bussing guests from the parking garage or from the Debra and Scott English home property in Freedom Township have also been mentioned. Traffic would affect streets beyond the Elm Street Overlay area. The application also proposes to do away with the 2,000 s.f. maximum size limit for non-residential buildings. In a nutshell, Elm Street is a state program created to support neighborhoods near downtown areas that often suffer from neglect, often adjacent to a Main Street program. A state-funded Plan was created by a consultant in 2007, with lots of public input, suggesting appropriate uses within the neighborhood. Then the Borough put uses into the zoning ordinance that reflected the neighborhood scale and magnitude, e.g. day care, small restaurant, restaurant without drive-thru, bank without drive-through, bed and breakfast, home-based business, museum, etc. It also included minimum square-footage for a business within an existing building (think Mom’s Coffee Pot size) and a maximum size of 2,000 s.f. for non- residential buildings. Under the auspices of the Interfaith Housing Agency, the Elm Street program provided money for exterior rehab of some buildings, created a historical walking tour, held cleanup days, and community events. The program has not been active in recent years, but the zoning ordinance Elm Street Overlay is in effect. At Borough Council meetings to date, there have been statements or letters of support for the use of the “English House” as a bed and breakfast, and/or as an event venue. Most of this support has come from people who are not residents of the neighborhood or Gettysburg. They love the historic house, they think having a tourist attraction would be a great addition to the Elm Street neighborhood, and a help to bed and breakfasts outside of the area – something for their guests to do. Not much consideration has been given to how local residents would be affected by this tourist attraction. If you are concerned about the effects this additional use could have on the enjoyment of your outdoor living space, parking, noise, etc., please let your council member know – or all of them. Or better yet, attend a meeting in person. If you would like to watch the meetings where this was discussed, go to www.communitymedia.net/category/gettysburg-borough meeting dates 2/14/ & 2/28/2022. Editors’s note: Gettysburg Connection has reported on this topic. You can fast forward through unrelated parts of the meeting if you wish.Contact information for Borough Council members is below. You can contact just your ward representatives, or all of them. Name Title Ward Phone/ Email Wesley K. Heyser Council President One (717) 850-8210 WHeyser@GettysburgPA.gov Matthew (Matt) Moon Council Vice President Two (415) 505-4092 MMoon@GettysburgPA.gov Patricia A. Lawson Council Member One (717) 578-3298 PLawson@GettysburgPA.gov Chris Berger Council Member Two (717) 339-7151 CBerger@GettysburgPA.gov John Lawver Council Member Three (717) 324-1685 JLawver@GettysburgPA.gov Judith (Judie) Butterfield Council Member Three (717) 337-0724 JButterfield@GettysburgPA.gov Chad-Alan Carr Council Member At- Large (717) 334-1160 ext. 222 CCarr@GettysburgPA.gov The proposed S. English zoning text amendment will be on the Monday 3/28/2022 workshop meeting of the Gettysburg Borough Council, 7:00 p.m. at the Borough Office. Please consider attending. Rosemary Meagher, W. High Street                                                                                                      Susan Cipperly, Gettysburg Resident The map shows an outline of the Elm Street Overlay in red, R-2 Residential zone in green, and Old Town OT zone in tan. Yellow lines show property lines. Check marks are locations of non-residential uses observable on a drive-by basis.

Big Girl Pants

It’s been a week. A long short forever week since he died. To paraphrase Edna St Vincent Milay, “Life goes on though good men die. Life goes on. It’s time to discover why.” My aching body and broken heart isn’t ready to move on, but remembering his courage in face of his disabilities and illnesses, it is time for me to step up to this new challenge as he demonstrated over and over that one keeps going one step at a time. I intend to make him proud of me. I draw on my ever helpful 12 steps. Today I am taking the first step by admitting I am powerless to change what has happened. We both grew old, but hIs body wore out before mine. He died and now I am alone. Yet I know dwelling in grief will be unhelpful. It will make life difficult and even unmanageable. So, I’m reaching out to my Higher Power to help ease me into this new life that lies ahead (step 2). Turning my life and my will over o the loving care of the God of my understanding.(step 3) will help me let go of my pain and trust in what is to come even as I recognize that waves of grief will wash over me for days and weeks to come. Louise Armstrong sings “What a wonderful world” in the background and I know myself as incredibly blessed. I give myself permission to live for the both of us now. Yesterday my daughter and I went birthday shopping, then to our financial advisor and to a friend’s for some nurturing and food. Today another friend and I took a load of things to our churches’ material aid center. When we passed a nursery bright with spring pansies, we stopped and bought plants, not just pansies that always make me smile, but several other colorful plants to brighten the future. Then we went out to eat and had ice cream. He loved ice cream. Long ago I learned that “I can’t” is simply an excuse for “I don’t want to.” I will need to be discerning about what I start doing. There will be many times when I will choose to say “I’m not ready yet” but there will be other times when I will need to force myself to pick up the pieces and move on. I will always miss him, but I will always carry him with me because I refuse to be someone who chooses to dwell on what was. Instead I am choosing to pull up my big girl pants and focus on what is yet to be. After all, I already know that the gift of memory will allow me to take him with me into God’s open future. Gratitude, I know deep in my heart is the gift that keeps on giving.

Attorney Kristin Rice speaks out on racial bias

Attorney Kristin Rice spoke about racism in the legal system at an online “Mission Moment” meeting last week. The presentation was sponsored by the YWCA of Gettysburg and Adams County. Rice said she spoke not in her official capacity, but rather as a “student of criminal justice and race.” Rice has been working in the Adams County Office of the Public Defender since 2003 and has been its Chief Public Defender for the past 11 years. Rice said she was appointed by the county commissioners, making her independent from the court. Rice and her three assistant attorneys handle about 1,000 new cases every year. The Adams County public defenders represent people with annual income at only 150 percent of the federal poverty level or less and who are facing potential jail time as well as all people who are incarcerated, regardless of their financial resources.  The public defenders also represent all juveniles who are charged with criminal offenses and adults being involuntary committed due to mental health issues. The authority for the Public Defender position comes from the PA Public Defender Act as well as the 1963 U.S. Supreme Court case of Gideon v. Wainwright which ruled the Sixth and Fourteenth Amendments to the U.S Constitution guarantee a right of legal counsel to anyone charged with an offense that could result in incarceration, generally misdemeanors and felonies. The Public Defender Act is found at 16 P.S. Sec. 9960.3 et seq. Rice said Pennsylvania is the only state that relies entirely on county funding for its public defenders, and that each county is responsible for having its own public defender, although two counties may share one. Rice said her opinions were based on her own experiences but also influenced by “Just Mercy,” a book by Bryan Stevenson as well as “A Descending Spiral” by Mark Bookman and “The New Jim Crow” by Michelle Alexander. Rice noted the profound disparity on a state and national level in how people are treated in the criminal justice system based on the color of their skin. Rice said that according to the U.S. Census Bureau, twelve per cent percent of Pennsylvanians are Black but forty-five percent of state prison inmates are Black. Forty-two per cent of people on parole in Pennsylvania are Black. She said Blacks are also more likely than white people to be revoked from parole. “Pennsylvania is notorious for having a very high revocation rate of parole and probation.  And if you’re Black you’re more likely to be revoked from parole, for both technical violations and because of new charges,” she said. Racial profiling Rice talked about racial profiling – when race is used by law enforcement as a reason for criminal suspicion.  “There’s a lot of data on profiling,” she said. “Black drivers are more likely to be pulled over and cited, whereas Whites are more likely to be given warnings, according to Bureau of Justice statistics. Additionally, Black drivers are twice as likely to be arrested during a traffic stop.” “I have been asked whether racial profiling occurs in Gettysburg.  I’m quite sure it does. And I’m quite sure it happens in Upper Adams with our Mexican farmworkers. I know that it happens but it’s very, very difficult to prove,” she said. “Once a police officer spots a violation of the Motor Vehicle Code, he or she can pull the vehicle over, even if the violation is very minor. But no police officer will testify during a suppression hearing that skin color played a role in the stop. The police officer may not even be consciously aware of his or her bias regarding skin color and criminality.” “On an individual basis it’s very difficult to fight racial profiling cases. I really think the only way we can do it is with data and statistics,” she said Arraignment Rice said decisions made during preliminary arraignment, usually by magistrate judges, were also likely to be biased based on race. She said people who are arrested are usually given a preliminary arraignment by video and then either released on their own recognizance (ROR) or required to post bail. Rice said that in Pennsylvania, 55 percent of Blacks but only 38 percent of Whites are required to post cash bail. “Most of us here today can come up with some cash for bail.  People of means can generally get out of prison pending their trial or guilty plea. But most defendants who are represented by Public Defender offices have no ability to post cash for bail.” Rice said cash bail keeps poor people incarcerated and perpetuates systemic racism.  “When people have to sit in jail they may lose their jobs, their housing, their family.  It can absolutely have devastating consequences. People may plead guilty even if they are innocent in order to be released for time served or to get to work release, which requires that a defendant be sentenced.” The American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania has made several suggestions for bail reform, including supervision and auditing of the bail set by Magisterial district judges and requiring district judges to use the least restrictive means necessary to guarantee the defendant’s future appearance in court. Juries  Rice said the jury system also is biased against Black defendants. “Although Americans are supposed to be afforded presumption of innocence, Blacks instead have presumption of guilt and dangerousness due in part to strong unconscious associations between blackness and criminality’, according to Bryan Stephenson’s Equal Justice Initiative.” https://eji.org Rice said juries are selected in Adams County from the list of residents who have paid the per capita tax, which is race-neutral.  Using voter registration lists, property taxes and drivers’ licenses, as some jurisdictions do, tends to disproportionately exclude people of color. However, jury selection can have an insidious racist determinant in the use of “peremptory strikes” which allow the attorneys selecting jurors to strike a limited number of potential jurors for no given reason. The 1986 U.S. Supreme Court case Batson v. Kentucky prohibits a strike of a juror based on racial discrimination. However, it is not difficult to come up with a neutral reason to strike a juror, if presented with a Batson challenge, such as  unpaid traffic tickets, as a pretext for racial discrimination, she said. Capital Punishment Rice said that at the end of 2020, 65 percent of the 120 prisoners on death row in Pennsylvania were Black. Rice said race is an issue that continues to be at the forefront of America’s capital punishment debate. According to the U.S. General Accounting Office, in 82 percent of the states reviewed, the race of the victim was found to influence the likelihood of being charged with capital murder or receiving the death penalty, i.e. those who murdered Whites were more likely to be sentenced to death than those who murdered Blacks. Rice said many people are under the mistaken assumption that the death penalty is less expensive than housing a prisoner for life. “That is so far from the truth,” said Rice. “Since 1976 when the death penalty was resurrected, Pennsylvania has spent $1 billion on securing death penalty convictions. Legal costs in death penalty cases exceed regular murder cases by $353,000. That’s taxpayer money.”

Endings and Beginnings

Last evening my companion and lover embarked on life’s greatest adventure …exploring the afterlife. I’m feeling; well I’m not sure what I am feeling. Numb. Abandoned. Relieved. Anxious. Angry. Exhausted. Lonely. Afraid. Once again, I find myself taking a first step; admitting over and over that I am powerless over almost everything that matters. Like his dying. Last evening, listening to him stop breathing, then gasping for air in a desperate ripping, tearing cacophony of gurgles and rattles, we all just wanted his struggle to end, but also didn’t want him to die. We willed him release while longing for more time. But, once again, we were not in charge, and we had to admit we were powerless over my beloved’s life and death. After hospice had come and removed all of the stuff of his illness, the house felt both empty and strange. Just as we were ready to sit down and rest, a looked passed between us and we burst into a flurry of activity. Lost in our grief, we felt compelled to exert some control over our world turned upside down by cleaning and rearranging furniture. I attended my first 12 step meeting wanting to fix my kids. What I learned is that the only person I can fix is me and no matter what I do, I always have to start with step one…admitting that I am powerless and my addiction to control not only messes me up, but everyone around me as well. Tonight, our first evening without him, without his wheelchair, walker, hospital bed, urinals, bed pads, and other end of life clutter dominating the space, I find myself wondering how I would have arranged our life if I’d had that option. A part of me wishes I could have prevented him from suffering the ravages of rheumatoid arthritis and the agony that accompanied our family addictions, but then our story and experiences would have been very different. He would be not be the man he came to be; we would not be who we all are today. In our desire to avoid suffering we forget that struggle and suffering enlighten us, gentle us, make us a tad less judgmental, fill us with gratitude. I remember how my mother wailed in despair “how can I live without Howard?” when my dad died. Now I am wailing, “How am I to live without Earl?” Somehow life goes on, one minute, one hour, one day at a time. For now, it is enough that the girls are here with me. I am surrounded by life and chatter, tears and laughter. We prayed his table grace; “Lord have mercy on us. Keep us safe, sane, sober, and serene. And thanks for this food.” Then we promptly burst into tears. Yes, the time is fast approaching when I will be alone, but praise be to God, I have a wonderful family, amazing friends, a warm accepting church, my faith, the 12 step program, and a head full of grateful memories. That’s more than enough.