The Mighty Viking

Conquering those things we must, one story at a time

Category : thoughts

The Beauty of Books

Chance favors the prepared mind.
-Louis Pasteur

A little light reading for a Football Sunday: from vol.5 of the Harmsworth Self-Educator (1907 edition).

I started to read this chapter for subconscious reasons I don‘t know even yet, but well… its just something I like to do.

Anyway, to the point of the quote above: I found two things in this section particularly interesting. On the chart at the bottom of the second page, it lists the strengths of leather after various tanning processes. Years ago, I had questioned the difficulty in obtaining good quality leather that is American-made. Someone had told me it cost too much to make it here, because of the chemicals involved and the environmental laws that made its disposal so costly as to prohibit the profitable manufacturing.

But hey! By golly you could get good leather from Pakistan. Reason? They didn‘t care what they did to their environment nearly so much as being able to provide the market with the best quality product. Leather machine drive belts have fallen out of use, but the memory of Chrome as the best tanning medium remains. It may be no one remembers exactly why, there may be other qualities besides strength it imparts, but dang, if you look at the difference in strength, and understand the strength required has only increased, one can understand why leather belting fell out of use, and also predict what sort of conditions a person COULD use leather belts today, without blind trial and error.

This means I‘ve added an option to the solutions I might select from as I think up and make things to do. Am I ever going to use it? Who knows? One doesn‘t ever know – until one day something comes up and boom! There you are.

Opportunity favors the prepared mind.

The second thing I drew from this section is the word “coadjutor”. On its surface, the word simply means “assistant”. But it is a nuanced word, one that connotes something much more. It implies someone who‘s knowledge and skill is unique – not a simple servant to a principal, but someone who brings more to the situation than the primary person – Engineer, Operator, etc – can. Not just more of the same, not just an extra hand or eye. A person skilled in the art of putting pieces of an intellectual puzzle together in practical ways. An interpreter between pure sciences and application, an analyst of complexity, a conductor that brings science to it‘s needed destination.

And why is this important? It seems to me in this age, more than a century later, we have been sorted in the world of industry into four bins: operators, engineers, technicians, and managers. But in many places I‘ve been, managers assume a role above engineers, engineers above technicians, and technicians above operators. Our education system fosters this paradigm, and produces too many managers, engineers that lack true vision, dysfuntional operators with interest in the wrong metrics – and a forgotten word for the most important part of the recipe. By contrast, the language in this chapter ignores managers, doesn‘t yet really have a name for technicians, and gently avoids the social hierarchy by acknowledging respect for all three in equal measure. And one more thing: the writing emphasizes the significance of the Dark Matter that binds the three together, that spirit of mutual respect and selfless cooperation that makes the riddle‘s solution something greater than the mere sum of what the three entities can bring.


To be fair, what I‘m saying exists on these pages didn‘t exist often in the very real, and difficult reality of industrial life of the period. In fact, by most historic accounts it could be argued that professional respect was virtually non-existent, that a laborer could expect to be treated little better than a slave. But I think the fact that the writers of this book were able to convey this tone, this possibility that SHOULD have existed then, and project it a century forward to a time when the idea might be better accepted in a more enlightened world is exactly what the beauty of books is all about.

And so, I read these books, for the pure pleasure of being prepared for something I don‘t even see coming. Experience tells me it will come. And that is what makes life such a delicious anticipation. Waiting to find out what it is I‘ve become prepared for.

Chance favors the prepared mind.

Relative Gratitude

A few hundred years ago, a small band of immigrants took the time to observe and record a moment of reflection. Their main theme? Thanksgiving, in the vernacular of their creed. Being grateful for what they had at the time was the first thing of importance to them that day.

And what, really, did they have? They had illness – not just a spate of common colds, but the kind of disease that kills – and in fact had already killed some of them. They had provisions, in part due to the hospitality of locals. They were not far removed from a dangerous and difficult sea voyage in an age when sea voyages were not guarantees of passage. They had a patch of raw land, which they had managed to eke out some rudimentary shelter. And winter was coming.

And yet, in their precarious condition, neophytes to a land of raw survival, a formal moment to give thanks for what they DID have occupied their thoughts. They took some time probably needed for winter preparation to speak of and to their God, from whom they drew courage and faith in a harsh environment.

This last couple months, our family has had much to fret about, hoping against common wisdom that Sean will pull through his recent health problems. Life always has something to worry about, but somehow the security of life itself seems to have a way of pushing to the forefront.

But when I think of the hardship under which the first Thanksgiving was born, modern problems seem minute, almost trivial. Their response – to create a Day of Gratitude – makes me ashamed almost of my anxieties.

Oh, and one more thing: it wasn‘t something these settlers normally did. It WAS something the Wampanoag natives normally did after a successful hunt. It was they who taught the immigrants their ways of giving thanks to a higher power.

Our family is grateful, among other things, for the slow but encouraging recovery Sean is showing. We are grateful for each other‘s love and support. We are grateful for each other‘s presence together tomorrow.

I wish for all of you the love of another human. Be it a mate, a child or parent, be it a close friend or even as simple as a friendly neighbor – if there is but one thing we are given, it is Someone: somewhere, in some way. We are given Someone.

And if our Creator has done but this one thing for us, in whatever tradition you believe, we have these we love, and by whom we are loved. Celebrate the gift. Let yourself be celebrated.

And thank your God for them.

Not Mine Alone

So there I was at the Portland VA yesterday.  Veterans of all sorts walked, limped, shambled, rolled, or simply sat, their scars and wounds visible on their bodies, and in their faces.  As I made my way to my appointment with the bone doctor, I took in the view through a window of the photo below.  And it took the time to say a few things to me.


Yaknow, it‘s kinda strange. I see the American flag out and about, and while i notice it, it doesn‘t particularly stand out to me.


But put that flag on the hallowed ground of a military installation no matter how humble or grand, or in this case a VA hospital where the wounds of war are visible everywhere,  and a transformation takes place.  A corner of my mind is transported to a place where once there hung a strip of fabric, but now those colors come to life.


A pulse beats, a composite rhythm of battles, of hardship, moments of camaraderie, the inner gulp of courage in the face of death. I can feel the weight of the sum of American sacrifice in the languid roll of its furls, the burdened steps of those who have come and gone, as a single, solemn symphony, the full Portrait of American Patriots.


It moves me.  It is me.  But it is not me alone.


Somehow imbued in these colors is a collective living being, whose purpose is to simply be, an image of us, both a memory of who we‘ve been, and a projection of who we will be.  We who have gathered in our country‘s moment of need leave a critical piece of ourselves in that being, so that it grows stronger.  It is our responsibility, as citizens, to not see only ourselves, but to see all other Americans.  I am startled to realize that the pulse I hear while standing before these Colors is my own.    And comforted as I sense that it is not mine alone.


Perhaps I recognize the smallness of my own voice in its breath. Perhaps my understanding of the knowledge of battle allows me to recognize greater voices. Those who have gone before leave a telltale echo. And I feel the companionship of others who hear it too. Each of our voices sound, to us, small in this symphony. Together though, a character emerges that none of us knew we had.


The pulse I hear while standing before these Colors is my own.  And yet, I it is not mine alone.


We each have discovered a surprise within ourselves; abilities, courage, and qualities we didn‘t know we had, and might never have known. To those who have helped me and accepted into their ranks, there is only one thing I can say, and it isnt enough.

Thank You.

Photo looking out the window of the Portland VA Center.

A Word About Art

If I may wax a little philosophical about Art:
I’ve taken this photo from my trip last week, and removed the color. I then brushed it back in selectively as I saw fit.

It gave the photo some extra meaning to me to do it, and more importantly, the task at hand gave me a chance to ruminate on the meaning I was seeing.

It was a fairly simple process, I wouldn’t say much skill was required. You’ll see that I’ve only re-colorized some of the flags. This was done with intent that I discovered as I worked. I originally intended to recolor all of the flags. But it struck me that the story of our country is far from ended, and those who come after us are still coloring the purpose and meaning of America.

The inspiration for that came in the action. And what I want to say about Art is this: That it is the process of finding meaning – maybe for others, but maybe only for yourself. It is a way of learning, a dynamic process that can only really be taught within the construct of action. It is a very specific, unique method of learning about meaning in life.

And this is why it is important for Art to be included in schools, and deserves a higher degree of deliberate inclusion.

I find it harder and harder to accept that the gradual disappearance of Art from curriculum to be a simple lack of understanding of its value. The more I know about the process of Art – real art that is – the more it feels like it has been intentionally repressed and/or perverted into something with the same name, but without the same power to define ourselves. I don’t entirely know why, all the scenarios I can come up with are very, very dark with implication.  I hope I’m wrong.

But one thing I’m sure of: Art is a part of being Human. Parents, encourage your children to think – not just about a proper end product, but to FEEL the process of creating, to understand it’s effect in them, and to give it its proper place in their makeup. We can’t rely on schools to do it.  We can’t rely on our fractured society to do it.  Art WILL be created.  Whether it nourishes us or bleeds us of our strength depends on both the Artist’s dedication to awareness of inspiration, and the vision of us all to perceive meaning.

There. I don’t think that was too bad, was it?

Now go color something.

The Ten Commandments, as seen by a dog

I was thinking about New Year’s Resolutions today.  As far as promises go, I decided to keep it down to something I can actually follow through on.  I was sitting with my dog while this thinking was going on, and I thought about a saying I’ve heard.  I think it’s going to be my Resolution:

Wag more.  Bark less.Charlie

That’s it.  But of course, I didn’t stop thinking there.  I jotted down some other resolutions, and started to be aware of an emerging, vaguely familiar pattern to what I was writing.  It turns out there is a Universal Truth to some of the rules I learned as a child.

The Ten Canine Commandments.

  1. Figure out who the master of the house is. This where your love goes first and foremost, and also where your Snacks come from.
  2. Don‘t follow anyone but the master unless he tells you to. And make sure and let it be known you‘re not happy about it if you have to follow someone else.  “Hang-dog” is your legacy.  Use it.
  3. If you‘re going to act like a guard dog by day, don‘t go stealing chickens by night. Blood on your fur in the morning eats away at your credibility.
  4. Take a nap when the pack takes a nap.  Yes, even if you still haven‘t caught the red laser dot.  In fact, especially if you haven‘t caught the red laser dot, because someone is just screwing with your head.
    1. Lay down in places you won‘t be stepped on.
    2. Find a lap if you can.
    3. Be happy when nap time starts.  Be happy when nap time ends.
    4. It‘s best when the whole pack naps together.
  5. Make your pack proud.  Make your breed proud.  Leave people who‘ve never met dogs before thinking dogs are awesome.
  6. Let the squeaky part of the squeaky toy live just a little longer.
    1. On second thought!nah, ripping its gizzard out is like a rodeo event. Eight seconds is plenty long.
  7. Food is Love – but only when it comes in little exquisite tidbits and a “who‘s a good boy?”.  Otherwise, it‘s just that stuff that keeps you alive despite all the odds.
  8. Take what is given you, leave what is not. Consider carefully whether something is worth owning, because once you pee on it, you own it.
  9. If someone asks, “Who did this!?”, do not cower, even though you believe with every fibre of your being that you should.  Do not blame the cat, nor the baby.  Stand by what you’ve done with pride – tail and tongue wagging and panting.  It might not stop them from being angry at the moment, but it will bring you special social media fame and snacks.
  10. Everything on the other side of the fence is interesting, and wants to be explored.  Just wait to explore it until you hear the clink of the leash release.
  1. “Do you want to go for a walk” is not actually a question
  2. Chase the cats that think you‘re going to chase them. They probably deserve what‘s coming to them.

Taking refuge from Tyranny

I try, always, to maintain the habit of entertaining ideas without necessarily marrying myself to them.


I read something along those lines once in a cleverly captioned photo on facebook once, and decided it was a worthy maxim to live by. Could have been written by a complete lunatic whose only thirst was for my soul, I suppose.  I don’t know. But it sounds nice, and so I try to live by it.

Alas, as it often turns out, the attempt at self-righteousness exposes dirty little secrets sometimes. As it turns out, I’m not really that noble a creature.

I really do enjoy being able to banter and touch base with people I’ve known across the years. I do it to excess, sure, but then, my great-grandmother spent 3-4 hours a day writing letters, so…it’s in my genes, you might say. She would have been an early facebook adopter (she passed in the late ’80’s). She was incredibly literate, wrote letters, good gosh she knew EVERYONE. Her mailbox was almost always full (you know, that metal thing out by the curb).  She also wrote poems, stories (mostly religious in nature) collected news snippets and sent them to friends by clipping them out of newspapers, or magazines.  Her letters were always articulate.  Especially the ones where she sent me cash.  As a kid, I always understood those best.   She made notebooks of poems and sent them to all her grandkids.  Several years ago I remember showing my dad one she had sent me in high school.  He went and pulled out his, and told me all the kids, grand-kids, and great-grandkids had one – and each one was slightly different.  it was then I realized the scope of the volume of print that she produced.   She sent pictures every so often, although most of the photos she had were on slide film, and the only way to see the albums, which my great-grandpa fastidiously prepared, was to go over to their house.  I would alternately help grandma make popcorn and root beer floats, help grandpa set up the screen and projector, darken the lights, settle under a blanket beside the popcorn tin, and watch the slides while Grandpa tried to narrate the show. I say “tried”, because Grandma would more often than not correct him on details until he got so frustrated he would heave a sigh, say, “oh, dear” in a way that made you feel like he was going to set fire to the projector.


That’s how news, and history, and love, got passed around in my family. I still own a slide projector. Well, I don’t really, I borrowed it from my mom once, but unless she specifically asks for it it’s unlikely I’ll ever remember to take it back.


So this evening, as is my habit, I pondered a few posts by friends, and thought a little about what my great-grandma would think of what we have now, and of how I treat Facebook in a similar way to the way she treated having friends all over the world. She wouldn’t be much of a game-player…well, she’d be the ruling scrabble champion of course (she called it “anagrams”), but by now she’d have set all the records and the game would have locked her out.


My Grandpa, on the other hand, would have handled the politics crowd. But you’d never know it, because he’d read the posts, heave a heavy sigh of frustration and/or disgust, and go out and tend his garden. Gardening is the only really useful place to deal with manure.


And with this in mind this evening, I saw, as I often do, some of the political posts going around. I picked up one, something about a purported list of ‘ways to destroy the United States”, supposedly a list from no less than Vladimir Lenin. The list itself is a hoax. I’ve seen it before, and usually I go about debunking the hoax, and either leaving it at that, or bantering back and forth with the hoaxee, or their friends, who come to their defense. But in this case, instead I followed some of the links to links to links to links, to see exactly what it was Lenin seemed to have thought on the subject. I found one commenter in a forum who pointed out that while it was indeed a hoax, that the list was something Lenin addressed, more or less indirectly, not as a plan of his own but as an indictment of the elite of his day. And so, by that means, I found myself actually reading for some time the words of Lenin himself.

If you know me slightly, you might find this surprising. I spent some years in the submarine force, and am relatively staunch in my support and pride in these here United States. Sure, we have issues, but my pride in this country runs deep, and being a submariner during the Cold War makes reading Lenin akin to a minister reading Playboy. It’s just not done. If you know me well, however, you expected this. I’ll listen to anyone, spend a short time all agog at the newest ideas, but then as reason returns, I usually realize the futility of the hype. It’s a vicious cycle, but well…there it is.

It didn’t take long for me to realize the first of two major revelations. Lenin, in his defense of Marx, seemed to have done a lot of thinking about the interactions of the society in which he lived, especially in the dealings between the rich and the poor. As I have in my heart a soft spot for the disadvantaged, I found myself feeling a little sympathetic to his repeated tirades against the “rich”, and the system that makes them so.

And then I remembered my creed – to feel free to entertain, but not to feel compelled to marry. I stopped reading, and started ruminating.


Just yesterday, I finished watching a show on the life of Thomas Jefferson. He’s always been one of my favorite American Patriots. Somehow, the two men – Lenin and Jefferson – began a conversation in my head. It started with an ardent Lenin pointing at the wretchedness of his society’s condition, and the subsequent accusation of his country’s elite, the “Bourgeoisie” as he called them. Jefferson smiled in sympathetic understanding. Back and forth it went for a while, until Jefferson pointed at Lenin’s legacy, something that voices in my head can do that real, historic dead guys can’t. He did it in classic prophtetic style, even though it condemned himself as well:

“If once they become inattentive to the public affairs, you and I, and Congress, and Assemblies, judges and governors shall all become wolves.”

– Thomas Jefferson, in a letter to Edward Carrington, January 16, 1787

Lenin was a reasonably smart guy. He certainly was self-assured, and believed in his cause. What he had in gifts, however, was his downfall. Jefferson’s brilliance was not in his intellect, but his acceptance of the one fact that brings down every empire.


We are all jerks.


What Jefferson accepted was that sooner or later, every one of us can, and given the opportunity will, become a jerk, a tyrant, an abuser of other human beings. We will, given the chance, throw our fellow man under the carriage.


What Lenin observed wasn’t necessarily wrong, but his solution expects that a righteous cause will succeed simply because it is righteous, and that if the cause is righteous, the people under it can’t help but become righteous too. But his country became one of the most brutal regimes in modern history. Worse, in some ways, than the Nazis. Jefferson, and other patriots like Ben Franklin, realized that with all this talk of freedom and throwing off chains etc., that it had to be understood that no man was capable of remaining righteous in the face of the right temptation, and that as often as not a good man could be turned to bad when the avenging sword is a little too successful a weapon. The Holy Crusades were, in the end, still about men with swords killing innocent people to own a piece of land.

We hear a lot about the wonders of our modern society, of the pleasant aspirations of some in our culture who see a vision of peace and prosperity where weapons are of no use, where harmony abounds and poverty is but a fading memory, because we have managed to end it through ideals that work out neatly on paper.


But paper has a problem. It fades. It never tells the whole story. Every article in every clipping you can produce will only tell a portion of the truth. And as painful as it is to accept, the part that will almost always be left out of every epic conquest is how big a jerk the conquistador was, when that conquistador is the one telling the story.

I loved my great-grandmother. She read stories to me – a LOT of stories. She took my dad and I in during a tragic chapter of our lives, when I was very small. She always thought what I did was brilliant, everything was better than any other child in the history of childhood. I was a concert pianist. I was a master engineer. I was a cunning apple-thief, and by golly if I could steal apples that well, then I should have apple pie.

My great-grandfather, on the other hand, was a quiet, circumspect man. When I showed him my piece de triomphe, whatever it may be at the moment, he would smile, but little more. He would give me the dignity of looking it over with a critical eye – not a jaded eye, but an honest, critical, lets-have-a-look-at-what-you’ve-built-there kind of dignity, that neither guaranteed approval, nor betrayed any expectation of failure. His appraisals were gentle but honest, and held more value to me than the words of God himself to my child’s mind.

Men like my great-grandfather do not seek power. They do not run for office. They do things they believe in, but seek no glory for themselves, and never get it. What he wanted out of life was to enjoy the love of his family, the fruits of his labor (literally. You should have seen him tending his cherry tree). His contrast with the life of Lenin couldn’t be more stark. But make no mistake, had he been given the wealth of a lord, he would have been a different man. Had he been given the power of a king, he could have been a tyrant. What he knew to do, in order to remain a decent man, was to remain humble, to remain a man of modest but sufficient means, and to not seek the adulation of others.


My natural personality tends to draw attention to itself. I know, by this, exactly through what means the wolf will enter me. And as I turn my eyes to those who seek office, I remember that they too are quite likely the same, that the men who established the principles of this country expected them to be the same as I, and sought in the words they used to describe the powers – and limitations – of the government they formed, not to triumph with ideals, but to prepare us for the worst that mankind could offer. Lenin hoped for the best, and you know…good for him, it’s good to dream big. But he also planned for the best, and as a submariner, I can tell you…sooner or later that’s going to get you in deep, deep trouble.

Repeat after me:

  • I have within me the capacity to be an absolute tyrannical jerk
  • Given the opportunity, I will ride my fellow man’s back like a rented mule, yank the gold fillings from his very teeth, draw devils horns and a sharpie mustache on his sports team’s logo (unless that logo involves a devil, in which case I’ll draw a halo over its head and perhaps a cartoonish depiction of the virgin mary), steal his tropical goldfish from the pond in his back yard and eat his dogs if they try to stop me.
  • the first Patriots of this country foresaw this penchant of mine in their own time, and rather than write the constitution of this government with the hope of reaching a Utopian ideal, made sure that in the end neither I nor the myriad other jerks could really grow to full size.
  • While sometimes I want to konk my neighbor over the head for being an idiot, I’m glad I’m not allowed to make too big a fool of myself, after all. Turns out I’m not always as brilliant a genius as I think I am, and it’s nice to be unable to run too far with the fallacy that I am.


“Hey, Watch This” Photography service

IMG_2328.JPGSo there I was, thinking about how I could advertise my wares as a photographer. I was thinking about niche markets, when the untapped market of a lifetime came to me.

“Hey, Watch This” Photography.

When you find yourself tempted to perform something to the tune of “Hey, hold my beer and watch this”, turn to us to record and document your feats of …erm…derring-do. If you’re the kind of person to do this more or less spontaneously, (and let’s face it, who isn’t?) we offer pre-paid plans (ALL our plans are prepaid plans for this demographic – see subnotes) that allow all the heat-of-the-moment buzzkill paperwork to be taken care of ahead of time.

1.ALL our packages are prepaid plans for this demographic. This especially includes the ICU/Post-Mortem add-on packages. will be required, in addition to pre-paying for your “event”, to sign waivers releasing the photographer from responsibilities of First Aid, CPR, cleanup, and notification of next of kin.

3.the photographer will be driving his own vehicle to the “event”. Don’t bother offering a ride.

4.The photographer retains the rights to 50% of all winnings related to Reality TV contracts, and “Funniest Home Videos” contests.

5.Under no circumstances are you to refer to the photographer as “a friend of mine who happened to have a camera”. Verily, I never knew ye. I don’t care if you and I go back to 1962 – you are as foreign to me as page 183 of my 7th grade math textbook.

6.Artistic license is retained by the photographer. Addition of a lolling tongue, swirling halos of stars/cuckoo birds and/or slightly crossed left eye to fully flesh out “the mood” is covered under “value-added entertainment”.

The only weak point to this plan is that the demographic most likely to seek out this sort of service just spent their fluid cash reserves on cheap beer.

Memorial of freedom’s sacrifice

This Memorial Day, I heard several people suggest that to honor those who served in combat honors war itself, and that perhaps we should not. I would like to take a moment to publicly dispute this.

They suggest that perhaps if we spent as much time working for peace as we do preparing for war, we would all be better off. It would seem there are those who still believe there aren’t and down through history never has been people who don’t want to work for peace, but for domination. There comes a point where you can’t talk to those people. There was no talking to King George, as Ben Franklin eventually came to believe and advise. There came a point where there was no talking to the folk who felt the need to own other people in this country, as gentle a man as Abraham Lincoln came to realize. Stalin, Hitler, Emperor Hirohito, Ho Chi Minh, Osama bin Laden…there’s a long list. At some point our freedom has been threatened by these people who didn’t fail to understand reason or respect for others rights, they simply had no interest in it.

I don’t use freedom as a patriotic catchphrase to be bandied around with a flag tied to it. I mean the right to determine our style of government, our right to raise our children with our own beliefs, not those of the state, our right to choose within the confines of personal circumstances our occupation, religious belief, the very location of our home. It is our freedom that allows us to change those things if opportunity, conviction, and desire motivate us. These are our freedoms, and it is these that were threatened. Many consider these freedoms trivial. I believe they think this way because that freedom has never been genuinely threatened or restricted, and the reality of life without them is too far away for most to give serious thought to, what with the joys or pains of the moment in front of us. But there are those amongst us who, when called upon, are capable of seeing a little further, and have acted upon the need to be prepared for our defense against those who would deny us those freedoms. We have set aside one day in a year to celebrate the foresight and sacrifice it has taken for us to remain free.

The people who have been in combat know a secret that is hard to live with. They realize that in spite of all the skill, or equipment, or training – often it comes down to odds that can only be influenced in small ways, and the guy they were just standing next to died because some guy across the battlefield just happened to target him. That guy didn’t die because he was a lesser man, but because he, and everyone else, volunteered to place themselves in the way of this possibility for a cause they felt was that important. Chance did the rest.

It is hard to live with this, because most men in combat have seen others act in a way that makes no sense to the common world – they’ve seen men take actions that endanger themselves in order to protect those around them. In some of the worst of human conditions some of the best human traits come to the surface to meet the need. And every man that’s been in combat and not died comes away wondering, somewhere in the back of his mind, why it wasn’t he that was killed, but some other guy. We wonder if perhaps that guy was more worthy, more courageous – if maybe that other guy died because we didn’t do enough- and we remember it for the rest of our life. We do this despite the abject fear we sometimes saw in that man’s eyes, the fear-driven anger, things that are ugly, and not comfortable talking about. We still wonder in the aftermath if that man was more worthy than us. Memorial day is one day for these men to share this pain of survival with others, to give those who were safe at home a moment’s glimpse into what it takes to maintain this way of life, and most importantly, to honor the men we had the opportunity to see at their best when no one else could. It seems most people don’t believe it takes armed conflict. It seems much of our society believes armed soldiers are bloodthirsty animals looking for prey. Memorial day is a moment for us to realize that most of those who have been in combat were not looking for blood, and expected no glory, on the day when our companions died. On that day when battle plans are executed, men feel fear because they do not want to be killed, nor do they want to kill. And yet, to protect the society they support, it must be done, and this is that day.

Most everyone prefers peace. But once in a while, someone who will not be satisfied with peace comes along, and needs defending against. We don’t have a memorial day for those people. We have a memorial day for those who picked up a weapon and defended his home against them, regardless of the danger. We don’t celebrate the brash young man who left home with his rifle to kick some butt yelling “yee-hah!” down the road in a cloud of dust. We celebrate the courage of a young man who got to battle, and learned quickly that there was more to it than that, that his glory came second to the survival of his group, and who, in the end, got his butt kicked defending them. We celebrate that transformation from brashness to complete sacrifice. And through that example we wish for more courage ourselves to face the need for sacrifice in living each day in our hard-won freedom, seeking peace.

An Apple Bounces Back

(Author’s note: Not sure how I feel about this piece. I wrote it several years ago, and I have held on to it except to show a very select few here and there. My wife has fallen in charge of one of the local food banks, and it was well-received there, but I don’t know how well it reads to someone who isn’t involved with one. Please – do comment and let me know how it seemed to you)

Sam was my keeper. He would spritz me, wash me, put me at the top of the pile, and watch out for me. I noticed just yesterday, as a woman came near with her cart and toddler, that he was suddenly busy, right there beside me, pretending to look over the peaches. I knew why he was there. He wanted the woman to keep an eye on her child, to prevent the mischievous lad from causing me grief. I was grateful, because that boy had his eye on me from way over by the potatoes. He had it in for me, but his mother, noticing Sam, was careful to keep the cart beyond arms reach of me. It felt wonderful to be so well taken care of.

But it was all for naught. Just a few hours later a lady with far, far too much perfume wafted into the aisle and saw an apple she wanted at the bottom of the pile. With complete disregard for the rest of us she dove for it, knocking us hither and yon. I found myself bouncing, bouncing down the side of the pile of fellow apples, and then suddenly, not bouncing anymore, but floating free. In that one fleeting, horrific moment my life past before my eyes, and I knew that this was the end. I bounced again, but this time with a sickening squishing sound, as my side was bruised by the carefully waxed tile floor. I felt the life go out of me, I knew inside that this was the end. She frantically picked me and the others up, hoping no one would notice her carelessness. She hastily shoved me back into the pile, smothering me in her perfumed hands, holding me against the precarious balance, hoping gravity would suspend itself long enough for her to make it over to the meat department. A couple of my brothers dropped again, spilling around her awkward, outstretched fingers, and she scooted them into a pile, one with her shoe, then the other with her left hand while she held me up with the right hand. I choked, I gasped under the smothering fragrance of her fat, bejeweled fingers. Then, as suddenly as she had come, she was gone. Quiet peered around the corner, and tiptoed back to us, afraid lest it be broken by her again.

The shock faded, and my bruise began to complain. Water seeped into the squishy mess, and I knew then that I was doomed, doomed to never nourish a young child, or an aging man. Doomed never to be packed in an Elmo lunchbox, sliced with love by a mother who dreams of her grown child, intelligent, strong, all because of a lunchtime apple, and hundreds more like me. This was it. This was the end. No one would buy me now.

Sam is a good man. He cares for his produce, and wants the best for each of us. He is proud of our reputation, and works hard to inspire people to live healthfully. I wanted to be part of that. But this morning, as he culled the old, the sick, the dying fruits, I knew what he must do, and I knew it meant the end of my hope. He picked me up, turned me over, inspecting me with keen eyes, and he saw what I already knew, that I was damaged. I wanted to scream out, to tell him I was still healthy, that I could still be a good apple, but I knew even as he placed me in the box that I had to go. Fruits and vegetables piled up on top of me, blocking out the light. There was a bunch of old bananas, some limp spinach, dying artichokes. We all sat in silence, mourning our fate, sad that we had failed in our purpose in life – to feed people. And so we stayed, languishing, until we should be dumped into the garbage.

But something very different happened, as we sat there this morning, awaiting our fate in the back room. A voice, far cheerier than it had the right to be, burst through the swinging doors, and greeted Sam. They spoke, Sam and this joyful stranger, and suddenly our box moved. It opened, and a vibrant, sweet-smelling hand wrapped her vibrant fingers around me. I was moved to another box, with other apples. These, too, were bruised apples, but it seemed doubtful, somehow, that this was going to be a trip to the garbage. The voice was joined by another, deeper voice, and my new box was hoisted into a cart by strong arms. The cart moved, not out the back door towards the garbage, but into the store and towards the front. I reeled with an unknown excitement. I had no idea where I was going, but the farewell Sam delivered to these cheery people sent a ripple of hope down to my core. Perhaps all was not lost! But who? Where? Why was I, the unwanted apple, being transported to a car in the FRONT of the building? What had I done to deserve this salvation?

I was lifted into the waiting van, where the smell of other boxes of food filled the atmosphere. And there was something else in the air too, a sense of something, of common purpose, of a mission that I could only stab at wildly with my imagination. A ride through town, turning this way and that. Oh, to be a potato, with eyes to see as we weaved through the streets, to see our destination. But soon enough the ride was over, and the strong arms once again hoisted our box – and my spirits – into the air. I was delivered with a flourish onto a table, and the box lid lifted. A kind hand reached into the box, and plucked us out, one by one. My turn finally came, and I was delivered to a waiting basket. What was I to do? What was my purpose here? As I gradually became accustomed to my new surroundings, I could sense that this was to be some sort of outdoor market. But why? What had I done to deserve the honor of an outdoor market? Only the finest, most healthy produce was brought to such places.

Cars began to pull into the parking lot where we were, and I became aware that the lot belonged to a church. The first customer came. She was an old lady, nearly crippled. She had over one arm a sack, and not a very nice-looking sack at that. I trembled, not knowing whether I wanted to offer myself to her or not. But she passed by. A few moments later another woman came, younger but obviously destitute. Two little children slunk behind her, afraid to show their faces even (and perhaps especially) to the Cheery People. A greeting crossed over me from behind the table, it was the voice that had greeted Sam in the store. She welcomed them, and then I felt myself gripped, lifted!and offered to one of those frightened children. No, I thought, they couldn’t pay. This woman was poor; she wouldn’t be able to buy any fruit! The child ducked behind her mother’s dirty dress, but moments later her curious eyes peered out, darting between her mother’s eyes, the Cheery Woman’s eyes – and to me. The mother’s hand extended, maybe trembling a bit, I could never be sure, but extended nonetheless, and I was dropped into her palm. She thanked the Cheery Woman, a thank you that was somehow much, much more than a courtesy, something truly heartfelt. I was passed on to the timid girl, who reached up with both hands, grasping me at first gently, and then more firmly as she opened her mouth. Joy flood into me even as her tiny teeth pierced my skin. Because I had not been bought, I had been given. Given to a girl who desperately needed me. A girl whose body could use every ounce of health I could give, and more. I was lucky. No, more than that, I was honored to have been bruised. How else could I have come to such a noble ending, to be given away at a Food Bank to the very person who needed me most? A noble ending, indeed! Or should I say! beginning?

Glenn Keller

The boy who watched

Just the other day I happened to be traveling through the Boston airport. The shuttle bus I was riding was packed with people when I got on, and so, I stood. I was tired, spent from a full day of traveling, and didn’t notice just exactly how packed the luggage section was.

On the shuttle’s third stop, a man stood up in anticipation of his exit. But it was not his alone, and this became clear quickly. I had moved to let him pass, but he did not want past. He wanted his wife to be able to leave, so I quickly shuffled another direction, and realized she didn’t want to pass, either. She wanted her children to pass. And so – I shuffled again, and smiled to see the diminutive travelers disembark on their adventure, each with their own backpack and toy.  I thought perhaps somewhere in my mind they were going to Orlando on holiday, or to Oklahoma to visit Grandparents. But mother shuffled the children to a bench, not to the door. And then the work began.

The Father handed a bag down to the mother. Then another. Then a stroller, and a car seat. Another bag followed, then a suitcase, two, then three. Through all this, at first I watched the father. But it became clear by the bemused comments and crescendo of gasps of other passengers that they were keeping an eye on him – my eye fell to the kids.

The girl looked around at her new surroundings with some interest, but no concern.  She absent-mindedly turned her stuffed toy over and over in her hands, and looked at precisely nothing, waiting for the next, unknowable step in this journey.   Parents were handling things, it was expected – no problem. But the boy, perhaps a year older, watched his father intently. He heard the bemused murmurings of the other passengers, and realized in that way that a child will that his dad was engaged in an Epic Task.   And so – he studied. He studied as every boy will, to see exactly how his Hero does what is done. He watched the look of determination. He noted the respect and dignity his father afforded his mother, while at the same time taking charge, doing the heavy lifting, literally, and expecting her to be in charge of organizing the landing zone. His father wasn’t necessarily a big man, in fact, he was perhaps on the small side. But he knew his job as husband and father of this Adventure, and he took it seriously. I imagined the family being permanently transferred overseas, perhaps to Italy, saying goodbye to the only language they’d ever known, and the father, as they headed into that dark tunnel of New Experience, being more than usually serious.

And the boy watched.

His watching made me think of my own father.  There were times when what he did needed watching, if ever I was to become as great a Hero as I thought he was. The funniest things needed watching. The way he operated the controls of a car. His use of words, and laughter. The way he threw flat rocks into the lake to make them skip. His methodical visual check left and right before releasing the clutch and riding away on his motorcycle to school. And so I watched, and practiced. And I learned.

Until last week, I thought maybe I was the only one who ever watched that hard. But now I realize, my own children, grown now, must have watched too. Sometimes it makes me shudder to think what they’ve seen. But kids don’t necessarily look for the bad. They want to know how to be Heroes, and that’s what they watch for. It isn’t what I do for them, or to them, but just…what I do.   And now, as a foster parent, it is no different. I doubt I can teach them anything by telling them I’m going to teach them something. I can only do what needs to be done, and do it well.

Farewell young boy. Thanks for the lesson. I hope Italy treats you well.