Summer Photo Walk, June 8

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The weather is hot yet dreary today. It is possible that we may add to our coffers of rainfall once again. We’ve had entirely too much rain over the past two months (17 inches, according to the Lima News).

This morning I wore my oldest pair of shoes and headed toward one of the soggy parks. The light was unreliable at best. I took some B&W photos, too, but many of those turned out blurry because I forgot to adjust the ISO for the dim light in the forest. Despite this issue, I did find a few of the B&W worth posting on this blog.

By the way, have any of you had luck with using a Facebook page for your blog? I don’t do much with mine, but I noticed there’s lots of features now for making posts, like easy slideshow videos and “Notes” which can incorporate text, photos and video. There’s also some ambitious-looking carousel post which can have links to multiple destinations. This makes me curious as to why Facebook hasn’t harnessed their publishing assets to create the go-to destination for bloggers. It’s like they intentionally left room in the online world for platforms like WordPress and the like.

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10 Years Ago

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Today I looked over some photos I took a decade ago, and I found one that delighted me anew because I’d forgotten the moment it captures. There is my daughter striding in front of me (just like she did at the park a couple weeks ago), and my dad stands in profile beyond the depth of field. Back then, he still wore short-sleeved Oxford shirts every day. For years, he had the fixed idea that his Oxford shirt should have a 15½” neck. Back when I was in high school, I made the error of giving him a pink Oxford shirt with a 16″ neck for Father’s Day. It lingered in his closet not because of its color but its size. Years later he abandoned the style altogether rather stoop to buying a larger size.

Dad almost always wears short-sleeved shirts. I have rarely seen him in a fully long-sleeved shirt. I inherited Dad’s short arms, and I can’t wear full-length sleeves without rolling them up. The picture above reminds me that my daughter shares in this trait, too.

Last Friday’s Dream

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Last week I had more time to blog because I scheduled a “staycation” to mark both the end of my daughter’s school year and the beginning of the summer season. I had hoped to squeeze in some housekeeping, as if I could wake up early every day and sleepwalk through the tasks painlessly until my daughter emerged from hibernation. Alas, I slept nearly as long each day as she did. Thus only minimal cleaning was done.

On Friday, I had a dream that first seemed to be of the classic wish fulfillment variety. I was walking through my house. The morning sun streamed through the windows. Not a book or a blanket was out of place, and every surface was free of dust. I surveyed my bedroom, very pleased that I had somehow cleaned the whole house to a level that I’ve never achieved in real life. I then said something so improbable that when I awoke I wondered if I’d had one of those dreams that seem to come from someone else’s mind, as if the experience were first person in a fictional sense. I smiled and said, “Now I’m ready to deal with Satan. He’ll be here soon.”

I then woke myself up. After all, this was one of those dreams that one doesn’t really want to see what comes next. The statements I uttered and the attitude underlying them startled me. I had the serene confidence of an regular hiker walking along a familiar trail. I knew a challenge awaited me, but I had no doubt I could contend with it (with the help of Jesus, of course).

I wondered over the origin of such a dream. I haven’t remembered many details of my dreams lately, but when I do, it seems that I am often dreaming of things I’ve recently read in the Bible. This pattern reminds me of Hebrews 4:12 (NIV):

For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.

My dream of the clean house could be a reflection on Luke 11:24-26 (GNT):

24 When an evil spirit goes out of a person, it travels over dry country looking for a place to rest. If it can’t find one, it says to itself, ‘I will go back to my house.’ 25 So it goes back and finds the house clean and all fixed up. 26 Then it goes out and brings seven other spirits even worse than itself, and they come and live there. So when it is all over, that person is in worse shape than at the beginning.

I confess that I have a waking attitude about Satan that is still somewhat Gen X—he is a trite, gauche bogeyman whom psychology knocked off his cloven feet sometime in the 1950s. Now that I’ve taken time to read more of the Bible, I see that this perspective doesn’t neuter Satan at all. Actually, it opens a window for him. As we laugh at him, it is harder to see that pride, envy, isolation and indifference are his handiwork. When we give up, he smiles invisibly beside us.

But Christ denies him victory. By his sacrifice on the cross, he did neuter the forces that do not wish us well, that want us to be broken and alone. When you surrender to Christ, the demons may come to tempt you, but they have no victory over you, as Paul wrote in Romans 8:38-39 (KJV):

38 For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come,

39 Nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Jesus Christ our Lord.

Empty Garden

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Today was the day I finally remembered to buy a digital copy of “Empty Garden” by Elton John. He and lyricist Bernie Taupin wrote it in tribute to John Lennon. I’ve seldom heard this song on the radio, and when I do, it tends to happen in scenarios plagued by poor radio reception, like waiting for a stop light to change between two semi trucks. I’m surprised that I haven’t had a dream that I’ve been airdropped in wilds of Alaska with a transistor radio tuned a station a thousand miles distant, and I can barely pick out that song through the fuzz. In the dream, I’d have the volume turned all the way up just to hear Elton John, but some moldly oldy like “Precious and Few” by Climax would break in from a closer station and temporarily deafen me with its sweetness.

I didn’t pick “Precious and Few” at random. Something like that did happen to me about 30 years ago when I was travelling across Wyoming. I was thrilled to hear “Sometimes When We Touch” by Dan Hill, another song that used to elude me on the radio, and I had the sudden, impossibly loud interruption of “Precious and Few”. Since my ears were too shocked to listen to much, I talked one of my travel companions into singing “Precious and Few” with me for the next 20 miles, an annoying feat which we repeated in the absence of radio reception several times over that cross-country trip. How we knew the lyrics and key change is a mystery to me. Perhaps we knit this knowledge from various K-Tel album commercials.

I’ve lingered too long on the foregoing tangent, so I will return to the Elton John’s song that I remembered to buy today. Hearing the song more clearly has lessened a bit of its mystique for me. It kind of reminds me of when I was a student at Duke and first saw Christian Laettner in person. Since writing and mailing letters was still common in those days, I wrote a letter to a friend letting her know that Laettner wasn’t as attractive in person as he appeared on television. Her reply to my claim was memorable: “Don’t f*ck with the fantasy.”

Thus in buying the song I’ve accidentally diminished the production quality of a daydream I harbored in the early 80s. In that waking dream of my eight-year-old self, I wondered how the world might be different had the fates of two famous victims of gun violence been reversed. What if Lennon survived and Reagan perished? Their shootings happened very close in time, less than four months apart, and these stories loomed large in my grade-school world.

Now that I listened to “Empty Garden” several times today, I realize that question still intrigues me. How would the world be different if the fates of Lennon and Reagan had been reversed? Would George Bush the Elder have continued Reagan’s agenda so early in the regime? Would Lennon have gracefully landed in the realm of Has-Beens? Would labor unions be in such decline in the U.S. had Reagan not been around to quash the air traffic controller’s strike that happened later in 1981?

I suppose there’s not much point to exploring such veins of alternate history. The best scenario of all would be if neither shooting had happened. It’s possible John Lennon could have created his best work in protest of the Reagan era.

To the Moon

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In blogging I often encounter posts by other bloggers that affect me deeply. I don’t take enough time to thank the authors for opening a window onto their lives and revealing their struggles, for in doing so the authors do much to validate the humanity of their readers.

This week I had the privilege of reading “From Earth to the Moon” by Rachel Mankowitz. In that post, she opens the window unto a dark time of her early adult life, and I felt great relief in knowing that I was not the only one who lagged behind in my youth. I often think I’m past regretting those days, but essays like Rachel’s remind me that I have work to do in this regard.

I responded to her post this morning at her blog, but I will take the time on my blog to expand on that comment.

I’m intrigued at how she found inspiration in the miniseries that shares the name of her post. I’ve also gravitated toward the “moon shot” during times of adversity. Just last year, I wrote a post called “I Choose to Go to the Moon” when I moved forward from my failed back surgery. I thought it only natural to use that metaphor given that I live just 20 miles from Neil Armstrong’s hometown, but now I see that the process of America’s moon landing has inspired many people to overcome the odds, regardless of place.

Now I will approach the heart of the comment I made on Rachel’s post. I wrote:

This post affected me deeply. Much of my young adulthood was a wasteland due to mental health issues, mostly major depression. I dropped out of college twice and did not get a degree. When my depression would clear temporarily, I’d make impulsive choices with a long-term impact on my future, such as up and moving 2,000 miles away and coming back with an infant daughter. The fog didn’t begin to clear until I was 35. I’ve found a way of thinking of that time that helps ease my regret (because there usually is regret over the loss of what-could-have-been). When I start to beat myself up over what I may have lost during those dark years when I was 19-35 years old, I think: What did I really miss out on? Buying a bunch of stuff that by now no one wants anymore. The secondhand stores and junk car lots are full of the things I couldn’t afford to buy when they were new. What is the time pressure our culture imposes on mental health recovery but an indictment of the patient’s economic productivity?

I admit is rather odd to use a block quote on one’s own writing in this case, but it’s the most efficient way of taking what I wrote there and putting it here.

It is possible that I owe my thoughts on economic productivity and mental health to my history of madness. I choose to embrace the term madness because no better term captures how I made choices in my early adulthood. What I do know is that it does me no good to disavow my past diagnoses. Doing so would be a disservice to myself and those who currently live with major depression. I’m aware that I may undermine the authority of my words spoken and written in admitting my mental health history, but isn’t that risk wrapped in stigma? While stigma reigns, people will not understand the intersection between mental health and the rest of one’s life. For instance, just because I was depressed at the time doesn’t mean that my testimony has no validity.

I am grateful for my fractured past. My struggles both mental and physical were persistent reminders of how much I need God in my life. I know the truth of Solomon’s words, “Whatever happens or can happen has already happened before. God makes the same thing happen again and again” (Eccles. 3:15 GNT).

The things I buy now will become things no one else wants. My car I so value now will someday be deconstructed, recycled, its parts reused. Meanwhile there are young people just emerging into adult life, and some will progress slowly because of mental health issues. If you have such a young person in your life, be patient with him or her. Life itself is a gift worth far more that what a person can buy or do.

This Year’s Lilac, a Survivor

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I’m pleasantly surprised that the lilac bush in our ditch bloomed at all this year. The 12-foot-deep ditch has flooded to the brim twice this year already. One morning it was full long enough that several mallard ducks swam through it.

This evening the ditch was dry enough to get some photos of the lilac bush. I think the lack of sky in the background and the fuzzy focus make it seem as if it’s still submerged. If only that fly on the upper leaf hadn’t insisted on being part of the picture . . .

Late Spring Photo Walk, May 28

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Yesterday Lima was lucky to have missed the tornadoes that struck south of us. The grass around the frogs above show the toll the weather has taken this spring in this county. We’ve had too much rain, so much so that farm fields are full of puddles and last year’s harvest stubble.

This morning I dropped off my library books and walked through the Children’s Garden next door. This garden is a true treasure for all ages in this area. It’s staffed by master gardener and student volunteers. In all of my years visiting this place, I’ve yet to see a planting that isn’t pitch perfect, if I may stretch a term from music to landscaping.

I love to see the peonies in bloom here. This year I did not miss them. They remind me of the best part of a time long gone that I described in my post about houses with asphalt siding. During our five years in one of those crumbling, asphalt-sides houses, we enjoyed a massive classic lilac bush in the back yard, in whose wake a few peony bushes bloomed. The scent of those peonies was both light and dusky. We found newspapers from 1917-8 beneath the flooring in one of the rooms of that house. I imagined that the peonies had been planted by a woman with massive hair piled atop her head as was the fashion in those days. I wouldn’t be surprised at all if she smelled just like the peonies in bloom.

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