9-11: A Memory

11 Sep

9-11

A Memory

It was an extended moment — dragged on and caught on live television for hours. Yet another occurrence that would inevitably be the prompt for the question, “Where were you when …”

For me, it was added to a long and growing list of “where were you when …”

  • John Kennedy was assassinated
  • Martin Luther King was assassinated
  • Bobby Kennedy was assassinated
  • NASA’s Challenger exploded

With the exception of the Challenger explosion, news of the other events filtered through the news networks, along with photos and some video.

Not 9-11.

Two jet airliners smash into the Twin Towers, the first images not captured live on TV. Another jet airliner crashes into the Pentagon, and still another falls out of the sky to crash in Stonycreek, PA.

Like waves.

The effect was dumbfounding. Disbelief. No mental capacity to comprehend the why of it.

Who would shoot the President?
Who would shoot Martin Luther King?
Who would shoot Bobby Kennedy?
How could the space shuttle explode in midair?

At the time of 9-11 I lived in the sleepy town of Hendersonville, NC and was married with three children living at home.

Those videos and images and live television feeds were still able to find me, despite my insulation from the scenes of disaster. I was nearly 11 hours from Manhattan, and 7 hours from DC, yet unable to remain distanced from the events of that day.

In the afternoon, my wife and I walked down to a peaceful park near our house. A half-mile walking trail coursed around the large soccer field and basketball courts. The park was deserted.

It was late afternoon. The sun had begun its descent and was no longer visible. As we walked, I took note of the western sky. It was an incredible site.

Moving from south to north was a huge cloud formation — like a flowing gown that tapered on the north end into the shape of an angel. The hues were purples and pinks and glints of gold. Like Gabriel, I thought, mournfully steering northward, weeping. The the angel’s wings and train of the gown spread to cover the southern sky in growing darkness.

At the time I took the cloud as a sign of God’s exceptional grief over the day’s tragedy, as well as a commitment to cover all of the destruction and loss and pain with a new day hours hence. I’m not given to spiritualism per se, but this was without a doubt a supernatural and spiritual response from the heavens for all who had the good fortune to look up at the setting sun that day. It will remain forever in my mind’s eye, as will those other images from earlier that morning. I wonder if anyone else saw it.

I also wonder, does that cloud of hope or comfort continually wing its way across each and every tragedy around the world?

Stop, Look, and Listen

31 Aug

By L. Stewart Marsden

 

I have a friend whose maxim was/is, “I only want to hear Good News.” I can relate. Living in the mountains, simply turning off the TV and selectively scrolling down FB is one way of avoidance.

In truth, this ostrich-like (they don’t really bury their heads) behavior is necessary sometimes, especially in an age when news of any kind is instant, and sometimes, as it is happening. During major election years, the clamor worsens. Can’t say I recall it ever being so bad. Perhaps the frustration of so much bad news generated by bad things is the reason for the spike in ancestral origins.

When I was in college in the late 60s/early 70s, three major events converged, rocking the previous post-war rebuilding — Vietnam, Civil Rights, and Women’s Rights. Oh, maybe four, if you consider abortion. With each, lines of clear demarkation existed, but each became mixed, as with a Ven diagram. The anger and protest and backlash generated ran over those “clear” lines.

How was communication handled then? Kent State. Watts. Selma.

My generation caught in the spin cycle of this accumulated dirty laundry. Casualties were sever. It’s disheartening to realize that very little in the way of war, civil rights and perhaps womens rights has moved in quantum positive steps. Abortion? Well, I’m not going there.

People on both sides of nearly any issue are clenching fists and jaws over those in leadership, to whom we have abdicated the responsibility of fixing our social problems. Obama — fix it, please. Hillary, Donald — fix it, please.

That’s why I find Thoreau’s comments about government so apt. The less, the better. None, even better. Government doesn’t fix anything.

Like it or not, you and I — on an individual person-to-person basis — are the conduits of change and improvement. And disorder, as well. It’s a choice.

So I say each individual has got to come to the place where each is willing to stop, look, and listen. Remember that phrase about crossing the street? Otherwise we step headlong into traffic that results in carnage and destruction.

Maybe we should don those bubble suits and converge on a huge field, bumping and bouncing off one another physically until exhausted, and then stop, look, and listen.

On Bachelorhood

28 Aug

On Bachelorhood

Or, the strong case for being single

By L. Stewart Marsden

“I can live alone,
if self-respect, and circumstances require me so to do.
I need not sell my soul to buy bliss. I have an inward treasure born with me,
which can keep me alive if all extraneous delights should be withheld,
or offered only at a price I cannot afford to give.”

— Charlotte Brontë

My dad, hard-working and successful as the world judges, often complained that society had gotten retirement backwards.

“We should be retired when we are young,” he contended. “When we are physically and mentally able to enjoy travel and explore the world. Not when we are old and feeble, and need walkers and oxygen tanks to go from here to there.”

That sentiment came as a result of going to South America, and because of his back and his nagging bursitis, he little enjoyed the trip.

Of course, he was in the generation that built wealth over time, not the current fast-food mentality work generation that hops onto new tech ideas and retires before age 30.

He had a point. Anyone much over the age of 65 knows that travel baggage now comes packed with more pills and prescriptions than changes of clothing.

What about marriage, then?

I believe we are headed in a direction which is slowly becoming the reversal of the way it’s always been — or seems to have been.

Get married young. Straight out of high school or college. Have lots and lots of babies to ensure the generations. Grow old and thrive in the mulit-parenthood levels — parent, grandparent, great-grandparent, etc.

Now few jump into long-term anything anymore. Relationships. Marriages. Careers. It’s all based on the feeling and the moment. And when the feelings and the moments lag or worse, so does the relationship. Then, leave the relationship, the marriage, and/or the career.

I want my burger and fries now. Ever see someone pull angrily out of a care line at a fast food place and drive off, tires burning rubber, because of the wait time?

More than half all marriages in America end in divorce.

In my parents’ day, divorce was a dirty word.

Not now. Now it’s a contractual escape clause.

The generations that have grown up with divorce — experiencing its trickle-down effect — are more circumspect. Willing to live with someone for years, they hesitate to commit. Who knows why? Maybe the weight of the “M” word and what they have come to know about it is the reason.

Certainly having babies is no motivation to tie the knot. But I digress.

Women are exploring careers, and having babies is a consideration tabled for a date that is increasingly later in life. Adoption is in fashion (not that I have anything against it, other than there seem to be enough adoptable children who live in America than to go traipsing half-way around the world).

Men are … Well, men are morphing into house-husbandry — taking on domestic duties at a rapid rate of growth.

And as independent a direction as our culture seems to be herding today’s men and women toward, matching and mating remain primal needs. It’s in the DNA.

If you are currently a bachelor, you know how it is. Everyone — but you — is either married, living together, or dating.

Bachelor = odd man (or woman) out.

There is now a slug of 50 percent residue from broken marriages — maybe (as in my case) several marriages — that are trying to figure out what the hell to do with themselves.

You women who are widows — who found THAT guy and endured many decades of marriage — know what I’m about to say. For you, the habit of marriage and being in a relationship is tantamount to life support. There are a few widowers out there, and my understanding is by and large women dominate this group numerically.

I’ve been married the majority of my adult life — about 40 years. Not to the same person, but pretty evenly split between two exes. That’s becoming more common, as I understand it.

Fear of solitude

EVERY person who has exited a relationship — regardless of good, bad, or indifferent — comes to the realization he or she knows NOTHING about how to enter into a new relationship. This is knee-jerk, as is that desperate need to be back into a relationship. Never mind whether being single could be a good thing. It’s like a non-swimmer being caste into water and being told “Swim!” The alternative is either learn to swim immediately, or sink and die.

Add to the dilemma that at every turn, family, friends and others are constantly assessing your singleness as bad, and their solution is quick, find somebody! Or sink and die.

If singleness and bachelorhood (both genders) is not stigmatic, why in the name of Cupid are there so many online dating/matching sites and services? And why is the viewing nation so preoccupied with such “reality” shows as “The Bachelor,” or “The Bachelorette,” or “The First Kiss?” Does anyone in their right mind think that Dirk is going to have a lasting relationship by an elimination game where every courtesan is an emotional wreck by the time the season is completed?

Who watches this stuff?

Then I realize that, sometimes, when channel-surfing, I do.

Oh the shame of it all!

The urge to conquer and commit wanes with diminishing libido

It’s one of those inverse relationships that is sad, but true. Hence Viagra. When you are a young buck, you have thoughts of sex every seven seconds. Or that’s what I heard. I don’t know how they figured that out. As time passes, I suppose that changes to seven minutes, then seven hours, seven days, seven months …

I heard a joke about the frequency of sex in a marriage:

  • Tri-weekly
  • Try weekly
  • Try weakly

Doesn’t apply to Hugh Hefner, probably.

When you are in your late 50s or 60s, your primal concerns revolve more around getting up in the morning, and less about getting it up.

I could go on. But I’ll spare you. You’re welcome.

We are called the Mature. Not old or elderly anymore. Mature. I can remember my mother wondering will I ever mature and get out of my adolescence.

Well, Ma — I’m now mature!

For those 50 percenters who stayed married and grew old together, they’ve assimilated to a lifestyle that includes the other. Whatever the day’s activities are, they do it together. In fact, there is some research to suggest the individuals of a long-term relationship begin to physically resemble each other.

The rest of us, now mature and with no one that even remotely resembles us, are left to contend with that urge, albeit socially manufactured, to re-mate and avoid being conspicuously single.

My question is why?

My grandmother’s husband died a month before I was born. She remained a widow into her late 50s, when she met my Step-Grandfather and they married. It was complicated enough. He had a law practice that specialized in title searches. She was a good Norwegian-stock woman with a sharp eye, tongue and wit. And she could cook reasonably well. He brought to the marriage an adopted son, who must have had major Native American stock genetically. All of my grandmother’s kids were married with children.

The dynamic — as mundane as it was — still bordered on challenging.

Today, with multiple divorces and remarriages and re-divorces and children and step-children and dogs and cats and lifestyles to merge? Whew!? It’s damn daunting!

So, again … Why?

Why not embrace bachelorhood (both genders) and decree that no longer shall “mature” single folk be referred to as spinsters, or worse?

After all, 70 is the new 50, right?

Read Brontë’s quote again. Makes sense.

Therefore, ergo, thus … I’m on the verge of declaring myself a permanent bachelor. After all, with 40 years of marriage already under my belt, I deserve the niceties, privacies and uncomplicated benefits of living alone.

And, yes, I’ll embark on that quest just as soon as I check to see who my weekly online matches are (which is another subject altogether).

Old Tunes

21 Aug

 

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By L. Stewart Marsden

It’s Sunday, and raining once more in the mountains. I was working on “Girl from Ipanema” on a baritone ukulele, the instrument I leaned how to play before the guitar. It suits the song.

Then I began to mess around with chords, and struck on an old tune I used to sing years ago. It’s in A Minor.

We are one in the Spirit,
We are one in the Lord …

A very simple Jesus Freak song many of us sang — around a campfire with hands locked; at some churches.

Many of you are familiar with it. Now an old, vanishing tune and lyric, and probably rarely sung — certainly not in the highly polished Christian services of today. But then, we weren’t highly polished in our theology back then.

Smile! God loves you! was the mantra of the day.

“Good News for Modern Man” was the well-worn pocket New Testament translation then (even though the Baptists didn’t seem to like it because references of blood were not in it).

We are one in the Spirit,
We are one in the Lord …

No theology of politics. You weren’t more Christian if you were Republican or Democrat. Male or female. Black or white. American or Hispanic. Northerner or Southerner. Rich or poor. Well-educated or not. Spoke in tongues or — well, maybe you were.

And we pray that all unity
May one day be restored …

Like I said, it’s an OLD song with an OLD message …

And they’ll know we are Christians
By our love, by our love …

Not by our might.
Not by our vote.
Not by our stand.

More like Stephen, who preached and was stoned to death by angry and righteous Pharisees and Sadducees.

In the movie “The Mission,” the priest is horrified by how his flock take up arms to protect themselves. He and several others take up — metaphorically — banners of love and march into the fray. Powerful.

Yes, they’ll know we are Christians
By our love.

Gandhi is purported to have commented, “I like your Christ, I do not like your Christians. You Christians are so unlike Christ.”

Well, we say, Christ died for sinners, as if to exonerate us.

True. And also true is we would prefer mercy over justice for our transgressions. I certainly would.

But, like the Pharisees and Sadducees who ended Stephen’s sermon and life, justice is something we would hand out to others readily. At least I would. If I’m honest. Can’t let those sinners get away! I suppose I’m not that different from the folks who attend Westboro Baptist Church. If I’m honest.

Yes, they’ll know we are Christians by our love.

This isn’t an indictment of the Christian religion, rather the hearts of most Christians. I always heard going into McDonald’s doesn’t make you a hamburger.

It’s an indictment of me. Have mercy!

Tall and tan and lovely and handsome
The girl from Ipanema goes walking
And when she passes you by
She passes go “Ah!”

Easier to sing than the other song. No indictments.

Free Loveseat

14 Aug

 

Free loveseat for the taking. U-pick-up. Some assembly required.

 

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Battle Bots & Politics

7 Aug

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Battle Bots & Politics

By L. Stewart Marsden

 

If I told you my favorite television shows, you would label me a “nerd.” Not that there’s anything wrong with that. In fact, being a nerd is in.

Think about it: Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg …. the nerds have definitely outdone the jocks! Chic city! We’re not talking millions, but gazillions!

Okay. Made my point. Jocks get eaten by the Zombies, nerds survive.

My favorite TV shows are The Big Bang Theory AND Battle Bots!

I have seen the error of my ways. I did NOT listen to Mr. Zirkle and love physics. I reached for the brass balls of FOOTBALL and LACROSSE and BASKETBALL!

What a CHUMP!

Enough background.

Here we are: Hillary vs. Donald. Forget the other candidates — they’re NERDS! We have the penultimate political warriors. Hillary — seasoned and re-seasoned until there is NO reason whatsoever to doubt her resolution and dedication to doing WHATEVER IT TAKES to reach that glorious residence!

The DONALD …. armed with years of slight-of-hand negotiation skills (so he says) in order to SET THE WORLD ARIGHT! Amen and amen, says the evangelical community.

Poised and positioned; prepared and abandoned to their fate, the two combatants enter the caged arena, fenced in by delirious and derelict supporters who are dedicated to the final end!

DOWN WITH THE ENEMY! The two deluded sides retort. DEATH AND DESTRUCTION!!! they chant.

10 … 9 … 8… 7… 6…

The clock and the frenzied spectators chant with fervor and hate for the enemy …

Hammer down!

So we wait. Like the millions of spectators throughout the milllenia who strained vocal cords and emotions rooting for their chosen victor. Thumbs up … thumbs down. Life,or death. Love, or hate.

Let the metal explode.

Why NOT me?

7 Aug
Photo by L. Stewart Marsden

Photo by L. Stewart Marsden

Why not me?

By L. Stewart Marsden

 

One of the dubious advantages of being my age is you have a much longer perspective from which to draw conclusions.

Examples:

  • If you don’t die, you get older.
  • If it’s too good to be true, yep — it is not true.
  • How to tell if a politician is lying? (You know the answer.)
  • And these and more observations become truer and truer.

You respond with an affirming nod at certain things, like when the priest in the movie Rudy says, “Two things I have learned in life. There is a god, and I’m not Him.”

At my age, you appreciate that kind of wisdom.

I think nobody is looking to be singled out for something bad. Am I right? Do I get an “Amen, Brother?”

But life is pretty arbitrary about how it deals the cards. I mean, while there may seem to be Jonahs and Sad Sacks, pretty much everyone gets dealt a card that makes them respond, “Why me?”

Other responses include but are not limited to:

  • “Why now?”
  • “WTF?”
  • “What did I do?”
  • “Why do you have my number?”
  • Inherent in the responses is the inference that someone is doing some thing to somebody, and that somebody doesn’t know why.

You ever been there?

I’m moving to the mountains. I’ve been in the process now for about 4 weeks, if not mentally longer. EVERYTHING has been moving like a precision-built BMW so far.

Then, out of the blue:

  • My dog gets bit by ants, reacts to the ensuing itching and nearly eats his hind rump off;
  • Someone steals my iPhone at a Lowes Hardware Store, and we (my daughters and I) watch the culprit abscond with my lifeline on Find My Friend app using GPS. EVERYTHING of informative value is on that phone!

Hoody-doody! WTF is going on? Why me? Why now?

And to top it off, my Panasonic wall-mounted flat-screen doodley-obeldy television set has given up the ghost!

DAMN! (And other appropriate seaman epithets).

Again I say unto these hills: WHY ME?

Did I tell you I can see Grandfather Mountain from my upper deck where I live?

Did I tell you that an intermittent rain has been dampening sound and fury the day long?

Did I tell you that over the years I have weathered far worse times in my life?

My infant daughter choking on an onion skin she picked up off the kitchen floor?

My first-born son, diagnosed with childhood Leukemia just months before his third birthday?

The dissolution of two marriages?

WHY ME?

Nearly at every turn.

So, Grandfather, in his infinite wisdom, gleaned from tens of thousands of years staring upward at the sky, says,

“Why NOT you?”

Wait! What?

“Why NOT you?”

The true answer is that I always thought I was special. That I deserved better.

“Why?”

I don’t have an answer for that. Why have I always thought I was special and that I deserved better?

Let me think.

Ah, because my dad told me so!

“But most dads tell their sons and daughters so. But does it make it so? Does it protect you and barricade you from the sting of life. Or worse, the sting of death?”

I know everyone dies. I know that, but I want to believe otherwise. Especially at my age.

WHERE WILL YOU SPEND ETERNITY? shout the evangelists.

So, I listen to the mountain. He stares upward at the darkening sky as I sip my gin.

“Why NOT you?”

I can’t give an answer. If I knew my Bible better, maybe I could mumble something spiritual, and thereby feel better. But I don’t and I can’t. I don’t have an answer.

So that thief who stole my iPhone is off counting his money, and preparing to waste it on his drug of choice.

And that ant that bit my dog has probably cycled through his meagre life cycle existence.

And my onionskin-eating daughter is married, with three kids of her own.

And my son, who survived nearly five years of chemo, is married and working on his bucket list, somewhat fatalistic.

And those two previous wives are now in pursuits of their own that don’t include me anymore.

And I sit on my deck and cannot see Grandfather, yet I know he is there.

Why not me?

Ignorant People

20 Jul

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Ignorant People

By L. Stewart Marsden

With acknowledgement to The Beatles

Ignorant people
Stumbling about while they shout in the wind all the day
What do they say?

Ignorant people
Pointing a finger while lingering close to the pit
Just full of sh*t

All the ignorant people
Where do they all come from?
All the ignorant people
Where do they all belong?

Ah, look at all the ignorant people …
Ah, look at all the ignorant people!

 

“Stupid is as stupid does.” — Forrest Gump

Checking in/Checking out

16 Jul

Checking in/Checking out

By L. Stewart Marsden

 

Checking in:
The remote.
CNN, MSNBC, Fox and the like.
SOS*.
Ranting. Raving.
Can’t cave, but craving.
The line.
The stance.
The visceral futility.
Animal hostility.

Checking out:
Cellphone, laptop, PC.
Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter and more.
SOS*.
Ranting. Raving.
Can’t cave, but craving.
The line.
The stance.
The visceral futility.
Animal hostility.

 

*Same Old Shit

When I drool

14 Jul

When I drool

By L. Stewart Marsden

When I drool,
When I foul the air with curse and more
Will you turn headlong towards the door?

When I fail,
Will you roll your eyes and deeply sigh
And flee without a last good-bye?

When my youth and heart and lively soul
Have all but vaporized —

Will you

Avert your eyes from mine?
Withhold your smile?
Lie alone in another bed and think of anyone, anything else but me?

Will you wonder how we came to be
And why you’ve grown to such a fool?

When I drool?

 

Love … endures all things …

1 Corinthians 13: 7