Friday, October 30, 2015

swinging in the rain

We are getting our storms on the installment plan.

When Patricia came sashaying through our neighborhood, the weathermen predicted she would give us the gift of up to 20 inches of rain.  It did not happen.  We received less rain than we usually get in an average summer storm.

Last night all of that changed.  While eating supper by the beach, an obvious storm front moved in.  By the time I got back to the house to take down an outdoor painting, the rain had started.  Accompanied by one of the best lightning and thunder storms we have had this season.

I knew this was not going to be a normal rain when the street dogs starting lining up in pairs.  And it wasn't.  The rain hitting the laminate at the top of my shower chimney sounded as if Chita Rivera had opened a dance studio up there.

The photograph is what I saw when I opened the garage door this morning.  I am convinced I live on a former stream bed.  Well, I was until I drove down Nueva
España -- the main street in my part of town.  It would have done Venice proud.

But not as proud as the streets in San Patricio and Villa
Obregón.  Enough rain had formed in the streets to turn the villages into an island.  Well, at least, a peninsula.  One road was handling all of the usual village traffic -- along with the augmented disaster relief traffic that is still in town.

Of course, I have abandoned any hope of my telephone and internet being restored in the near future.  The rain has undoubtedly set back Telmex in its tortoise-speed service.  Lenny Bruce once described Communism as being "one large telephone company."  He was a clever man.

I suspect the reverse is true, as well.  The monopolistic Telmex has all of the efficiency of Bulgarian Communism.

But that is fine with me.  Even though my email inbox is piled high with unread messages, blogs (like the unexamined life) remain strangers, and my magazines and newspapers go unread, I am enjoying my respite from the 21st century. 

I am no Luddite.  But I have been spending more time with people around here -- with some very mixed results.  But that is life.  An analog life without digitization.

Will I enjoy seeing the return of my internet connection?  Of course, I will.  But, for the moment, I am enjoying the change of rhythm -- and the rain, with its own bag of challenges.

My only question is: What is coming next?  A plague of snakes -- or, perhaps, rabid flying monkeys.

Thursday, October 29, 2015

sawing memories in half

Something in my morning walk transported me to the little mountain town in Oregon where I grew up.

When I was seven or eight, Mike Pinson, my best friend in Powers, and I would jump on our bicycles and pedal down the secondary road that led to the Rogue River.  We were not heading to Agnes.  Our sights were on the more sybaritic pleasure of the old swimming hole.  Affectionately, known as the apple orchard -- a name reflecting its former incarnation.

We regularly ran across reminders that we were in The Woods.  Spawned-out salmon.  Hawks on the hunt.  Snakes and frogs.  Bobcats -- usually nailed to fence posts for bounty.  Even the occasional black bear.

But one sound assured us civilization was at hand.  The whine of chain saws.

That, of course, was was the era when Powers made its living out of the woods.  Literally, out of the woods.  The giant fir that crowded our hillsides.  Before the environmentalist squad took on the job-providers.  (But we will not bother with that discussion.  It is not really pertinent to the theme of today's essay.)

My little morning reverie had its genesis in the same sound.  Chain saws.

Even though Patricia blew through town almost a week ago, the cleanup is running apace.  The army is picking up piles of debris and burning it in central locations.  It almost looks like the Romans burning their military dead in the opening sequence of Cleopatra.

Fortunately, the final stages of debris cleanup is primarily what we are doing in my part of the Mexican coast.  The people a few miles north of us took the full brunt of the storm.

My friend, Ben, who assists Samaritan's Purse, has made several trips to the hardest-hit area.  He says it has been blown flat. 

Entire villages have disappeared.  Some concrete buildings were toppled.  And, even though the death toll was mercifully small, people died.  Others are in desperate need.

That is not generally true in our town.  The computer models showed Patricia making landfall north and west of us.  Almost directly where Jova hit four years ago.

But we were certainly not untouched.  Like all of my neighbors, I had decided to ride out the storm in my house.  The young family, who I have been assisting, did not want to stay in their apartment -- just two blocks from the beach.  So, I invited them to stay with me. 

It was a wise decision.  Sharing experiences is far better than riding through life alone.  And, it turns out, my place is well-designed to withstand storms of the intensity we experienced.

I am glad Ozzie came along with me for my last outing before the storm hit.  The emergency system in Barra de Navidad had warned everyone to stay in their homes.  I could not resist the temptation.

With about an hour to go before zero hour, we drove down to the  beach to see the wave action.  Patricia knew how to stir the pool.  I had never seen our ocean that agitated.

That was the point I turned into a tourist from Saskatchewan visiting the beach for the first time.  I tried to get as close as I could to get a shot of the waves.  While I was shooting, Ozzie warned me I was about to be swept away by a wave.  I regret only that I did not get the shot.

By that point, the police had roped off the sand bar that gives Barra de Navidad its name.  The fear was that the waves would wash across the bar.  As it turned out, the fear was well-founded.  The waves went right through several restaurants.

And they went through the homes on the street in Villa Obregon where I first lived when I moved down in 2009.  Even though we were only touched by the edge of the storm, the damage was real.

Most of that damage came in board feet of trees.  When the winds first died down, Ozzie and I took a quick drive through Barra de Navidad, curious if we could get over to Villa Obregon.

As I predicted, we could not get out of Barra de Navidad.  During Jova, I was trapped on a new island formed by flooding from rain water.  This time, we were spared the deluge.

But we were trapped just as effectively by downed trees in Barra de Navidad.  All over town, huge trees fell.  Primavera.  Parota.  Flamboyan.  Palms.  And the most exotic of all, rows of concrete electrical poles.

The heroes of the storm are the workers of the government-owned electrical company, CFE.  The company stationed an army of trucks and workers here and in Puerto Vallarta.  They had restored power to most local areas by Sunday night.

When the lights came on, people south of Nueva España had telephone and internet.  Those north of the street in my immediate neighborhood were stuck in the 19th century -- as if Alexander Graham Bell and ARPANET had dropped out of history.

As of this afternoon, we are still without land lines and internet.  You all know my libertarian credentials.  I am hardly a class warrior.  But it is hard to escape the conclusion that Nueva
España divides the haves from the haves-less (I am one of the exceptions.)

That type of Marxist thinking also made me wonder why the government-owned electric company was so much more efficient than the private monopoly of Telmex.  Until I realized, there is a free market answer. 

When electrical power is interrupted, CFE's revenue stream is interrupted.  When Telmex's service is interrupted, it continues to get the same revenue.  The reason?  CFE charges for services used.  Telmex charges a flat fee -- whether or not service is provided.

At least, no one was injured at the house with no name.  At least, during the storm.  While cleaning up the courtyard, I forgot I had turned a metal-legged table on its side.  And I ran into it at a full walk.

The pain was familiar.  I had broken a rib in the same place about thirty years ago.  Fortunately, it appears there is no break.  I can raise my right arm without pain.  But I cannot sleep on my right side.  It must be something other than a break.

And, for me, that was the worst of it.  To look at Barra de Navidad and Melaque today, it is hard to believe that a hurricane came through here less than a week ago.

But that is one of the virtues of this country.  People are quick to clean up their property.  And the government (the army, CFE, paid "volunteers") take care of the rest.

Here is what I learned last week.  There are times to run from storms; there are times to stay in place.  This was one of the latter.  But due only to the predictive power of computer models.  Patricia came awfully close to overturning my apple cart.

I also learned I need to buy a generator.  Three days without power is a strain on my house.  Without electricity, I have no water.  And the pool water (for showering and washing up) was getting rather rancid by the third day.  As was the food in the refrigerators.

I would be less than honest if I did not tell you I experienced an adrenalin rush during the storm.  That does not take away from the damage the storm caused.  But I felt the same jolt I feel skydiving or ziplining.

And as for the chain saws, to me it will always be the sign of industriousness.  Even though I will hear them far more here than in Powers.  Some experience are relegated to memories.

Friday, October 23, 2015

slouching toward barra

A quick update.

For various reasons, I have decided to stay in my house during the arrival and passing of hurricane Patricia.  I have also invited Ozzie and his family to ride out the storm with me.  Their apartment is far too close to the beach for my psychological comfort.

Patricia is predicted to make landfall around 8 PM tonight to the west and north of Barra de Navidad as a category 5 hurricane.  But it is a very wide storm.  We will feel some of its effects.

Right now (at 2:30 PM), we have a steady rain and increasing winds.  The local authorities sent a sound truck around advising people to stay indoors.

I am writing this piece to let you know that the power company will be shutting off the power at 3 PM as a safeguard against the storm damaging the system.  That means I will be out of contact with the internet until power is restored following the storm.

I have appreciated all of your suggestions and your heart-felt advice.

See you on the other side.

Thursday, October 22, 2015

welcoming patricia to the party

I have retired from the daily essay business.

Or, so I say.  Even though the evidence is contrary.  Yesterday, it was my struggle with Telcel.  Today is is my pending struggle with the weather.  I am turning into a veritable Nietzsche.

But this is not a run-of-the-mill weather story.  If the weather people are anywhere near correct, a category 3 hurricane may be headed to landfall along our peaceful strip of coast.

Hurricane Patricia by name.  She is currently south of us in the Pacific.  But, her intentions, if she has any, are to turn north before too long.

See that red line?  It is the hurricane watch line.  And Barra is on it.

However, each new iteration of the map has shown Patricia moving further west from us.  It appears Puerto Vallarta may take a harder hit.

Of course, that is a relative term.  Getting hit directly means wind damage and possible storm surges -- where the ocean decides to follow its evolutionary path by taking up residence on otherwise dry land.

I have witnessed the aftermath of hurricanes.  The wind and water can rain terror.

Even if, as it now seems likely, the storm does not hit us directly, we will not be home free.  There will be wave damage to our already-deteriorating beach.  And there will be flooding.

We sit on an alluvial plain between the mountains and the ocean.  Oregonians might think of Seaside.  Same set-up.  SAme problems.

When we get heavy rains, the mountains slough it off into the streams and rivers that end up here.  It is not merely a euphemism that we live on a flood plain.

As things are now, I am staying in place.  The paintings are being stored to avoid wind and water damage.  Otherwise, I have all the food and water I will need for a short siege.

And if the circumstances change?  I will undoubtedly follow the advice attributed to John Maynard Keynes -- the only advice from him that has ever made sense to me.

"When the facts change, I change my mind. What do you do, sir?"

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

walk four miles in telcel's shoes

Lawton Chiles got himself elected to the U.S. Senate by walking across Florida -- I assume north to south; east to west would not be very impressive.

I got myself admitted to the hospital by merely walking four miles -- or maybe eight.  Either way, my re-entry into the world of exercise last August was far more dramatic than it was efficacious.

The last two months have been one minor health problem after another.  I have consumed enough antibiotics to fight off a continent-wide bout of the plague.

But that is all behind me.  This week, I was off of all my supplemental medications.  My left foot was not particularly swollen.  And I was raring to exercise my inner Yusuke Suzuki.

Before anyone feels the need to chide my overzealous nature, I have started small over the past two weeks with short walks into the village.  Two months ago, I may have made the mistake of jumping immediately from extreme sedentariness to four miles of speed walking.  Whether or not there is a causal relationship, my avocation was cut short.

I was up early this morning to get the house ready for Dora.  It takes me about an hour to empty the trash containers into a central bag, pick up the leaves and blossoms that have fallen overnight, to wash up the dishes from dinner and breakfast, and to strip the bed of its sheets.  Dora is then free to take on the larger tasks of cleaning all of the glass in this place -- enough to rival Versailles's hall of mirrors.

The walk went well.  I am not quite up to my normal walking speed.  But it felt good to feel the little pangs of pain that accompany the joys of regular exercise.  Having started, it should be easier to keep a schedule.

I wish I could say the same about Telcel.  I took Ozzie to Manzanillo yesterday to accomplish a short list of tasks.  I saved Telcel until last.

I have been buying time for my mobile telephone as needed.  For some reason (and I think I know what it is) during the past two months, I have been spending $1,500 (Mx) each month.  My usual usage is $500 (Mx) a month.

Here is my theory.  I use my telephone for internet access.  Even though I try to rely on wi-fi connections around town, most of the time I use my telephone minutes.  That has turned out to be a very expensive proposition.

The solution was simple.  I intended to switch over to a monthly plan.  How much time could that take? 

I have used no other carrier than Telcel during my almost seven years here.  My telephone is unlocked, but has primarily been used here in Mexico.  I estimated we would be in and out of the Telcel office in Manzanillo in no more than a half hour -- most of that time would be spent waiting in the line to pay my fees.

I had not reckoned with Mexican bureaucracy.

There was no waiting to talk with a sales clerk.  With my smattering of Spanish and her much better English, I learned all about the various plans.  She thought the $300 (Mx) plan would suit my monthly needs.  It certainly sounded like a bargain to me. 

With an additional $50 (Mx), I could add international calls to the plan.  I did.

I will cut the story short.  It took us close to four hours to complete the transaction.  I signed my name at least a dozen times.  Made two separate trips to the cashier.  Waited almost an hour to get a replacement SIM card.

One of my worries was payment.  Even though I have a Mexican credit card, it draws on a peso account that is not replenished. 

No problem, she reassured me.  I just need to remember to wander into Banamex at the end of each month to pay my bill.

The nice thing is that I am not tied into a specific time period -- because the contract is not associated with a telephone purchase.  I can only imagine how much time would have been consumed if I was now slipping a new telephone int my pocket.  As I recall, it took hours to buy a telephone there three years ago -- without purchasing a plan.

This morning I called my brother on my new connection.  It worked fine.  Darrel is coming down soon.  In fact, we may make our way to the Baja 1000 next month on a drive to Oregon. 

A road trip is in the offing.  And I am smiling.  Not only because I will get to spend time with my brother, but because I will get to log some more travel time.

Until then, I will be walking each morning while I enjoy a decreasing waist.  

Monday, October 19, 2015

¿sprechen sie español?

For those of you who put your roulette chips on Steve writing about learning Spanish and then retiring to the pool to think about starting his lessons mañana (as a certain blogger in the highlands predicted), the croupier has just raked in your bets.

Well, he has raked in at least two-thirds of your chips.  After all, no prediction goes entirely unmet.

After sifting through my materials, I decided to take up my lessons with the Pimsleur-based course from The Learnables.  I started it while I was still living in Oregon, but I could not recall why I had stopped.

I now remember.

The Pimsleur method is based on learning language in the same way children learn their native languages -- by first listening and then gradually adding i the more subtle forms of speech.  The program flashes an illustration of a common day object on the computer screen.  The native speaker then says its name.  There are no captions.

I immediately fell into the high school language trap -- thinking I had lines in the scene.  I tried repeating what the voice said. 

That worked until the picture of a doctor eating bread was displayed.  It sounded as if the voice said, "The doctor is tucking into the pan."  (But he said it is Spanish, as well as the "tucking in.")

Now, as a boy of the Oregon woods, "tucking into" one's food is not an experience unknown to me.  I was just surprised that my Spanish-speaking friends were as colloquial as my upbringing.

I replayed the lesson several times.  I could understand "doctor" and "bread" easily.  But the meat in the sandwich remained a stranger to my ear.

In desperation I looked at the instructions.  There it was on page 6.  Red letters.  Bold face type.  Shouting capital letters.  "DO NOT REPEAT THE WORDS OF THE SENTENCES OUT LOUD."  I was to listen only.

The process is a good one.  By listening, I have been introduced to the concept of gender, plurals, use of adjectives, and simple sentence structure -- all without having said a word out loud.

But my inability to make any sense of the doctor's meal bothered me.  After listening to at least ten more variations on the sentence, I finally figured out what the narrator was saying.  "El médico está comiendo el pan."

The problem is my listening ability.  My ear conflated the verb combination into "es taco miendo."  And, having allowed by brain to make that connection, I wondered why the doctor was eating bread if he already had a taco?

I have long been aware of that failing.  Several people have told me that people who have musically-trained ears can hear and learn languages easier than those without musical training.

Well, my ears are well-trained to the vagaries of music.  But five decades of language classes have not made the task of speaking a new tongue any easier.  Whether it has been German, Russian, Greek, Italian, or Spanish.

That failing was publicly exhibited at dinner the other night.  I took, Ozzie, Yadira, ad the two kids to dinner at a local pizza parlor.  Because they all speak fluent Spanish, I wanted to handle the ordering.  After all, I have rather good restaurant Spanish.  Or so I thought.

We decided on an extra large pizza.  I knew I could handle that order.  But the tricky part was our decision to have half of it pepperoni; the other half Hawaiian.

Applying what I knew about weights, I informed the waitress we wanted "medio" pepperoni, "medio Hawaiian.  She understood.  But Yadira told me "half," in this context, would be "mitad."

But I did not hear her say "mitad."  I heard "mital."  When she and Ozzie repeated the word, their "d" sounded like an "l" to me.  Repetition didn't help.

The Spanish "d' and "l" (like many other sounds) are softer than they are in English.  And that softness challenges my ear.

And that is why the Pimsleur method is designed for me.  I need to work on my listening.

My reading and writing skills are far more advanced than my spoken Spanish.  Dora, the woman who helps me maintain the house with no name, and I regularly leave notes for one another.  Admittedly, hers are far more complex than mine.

About those roulette chips.  I swore that I was going to set aside time for daily Spanish review.  That was a foolish promise.  I have been reviewing, but somewhat sporadically.  I did not take into account my promises to drive people to and from Manzanillo over the past few days.

But I have started.  I know where I first need to work.  I am 20% through the first disc The Learnables Spanish Level 1.  If all goes well, I will buy the follow-on lessons. 

They are quite expensive.  But, if they help me hear better and learn better and speak better, it will be money well spent.

Keep putting those chips on the table, I can use them to buy more material.

Thursday, October 15, 2015

moving to mexico -- learning the language

I just took a big step in my Spanish studies.

Well, you may not think it is big.  But it is big for me.  I pulled out all of the language study materials and established a lingua franca cockpit on the courtyard table.

Like most people moving to Mexico, I had romantic dreams of becoming fluent in Spanish before I crossed the border.  At least, fluent enough that I could amaze the attractive
señorita at the local garden party with my grasp of the subtleties of Cervantes and his relationship with French existentialism.  Of course, I would have been satisfied with my ability to introduce myself and get a telephone number.

I purchased two Spanish language computer programs.  I think the first was from Costco -- with the usual promises of immersing myself in the language and speaking Spanish like a diplomat at the court of Charles V.  I started and stopped.  Learning little.

At the recommendation of the unfortunate Doug Bower, I purchased the first level of a Pimsleur-inspired program.  The promise was that I would learn Spanish in the same manner as a three-year old from Puebla.  I suppose that would be a three-year old from Puebla who continually listened and learned.

Once again, that was not me.  I learned a few words.  But I was no closer to discussing theology in Spanish with the village than I had been at the start.

When I left Oregon in April 2009, I was still functionally illiterate in Spanish.  But I did receive a great gift the night before I left -- a comprehensive Spanish-English dictionary from Theresa Freeman (an early contributor to these pages). 

Because I had not done my homework before heading south, I signed up for Spanish lessons with a local restaurateur.  But my heart was not in the project.  Professor Jiggs was dying at the time, and it was a bit hard to focus.

Even though I learned little Spanish, I did develop an effective learning tool (at the suggestion of Nancy, a fellow blogger).  I filled an index card box of words and phrases I had encountered.  The original plan was to keep the cards in the box until I learned the word or the phrase.  All of the cards are still in the box.

So, I have plenty of learning tools.  Unfortunately, they have been gathering dust for the past six years.

My Spanish has improved -- but only by osmosis.  Waiters.  Maids.  Gardeners.  Postal clerks.  They have all added to the slow accretion of my Spanish.  And I do get by on a daily basis.

But "getting by" is not my goal.  Thus, the tools are out on the table. 

Yesterday, my friend Ozzy stopped by.  He is fluent in both Spanish and English.  But he has no expertise in instruction.  What he does have is an ability to talk me through some of the language questions I have.  Like pronunciation.

Later today, I am going to set up a priority system.  I plan to use the computer materials as a daily exercise to push my language envelope -- based on the structure of Breaking Out of Beginner's Spanish (a book wisely recommended by Kim, another fellow blogger).  I will then use my index card box to expand my vocabulary.  Ozzy's visits will then be an opportunity to put some meat on my language bones.

It is not a perfect plan.  But it is a start.  I want to get some discipline into learning Spanish.  And it is certainly better than, as Anne Lamott puts it: "What good will it do to do nothing?"

Nine years after opening that first computer program in Salem, I am now off on my journey to discuss classic Spanish literature with the local literati.  Or, at least, to remember the difference between quando and quanto which seems to have slipped my memory.

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

putting my best feet forward

"Getting older is filled with surprises.  Who knew I would need hedge clippers to trim my toenails?"

The advice was from my writing mentor Joan Shinnick (the monkey on my back).  Joan's letters were always replete with such interesting insights.

I thought of her this morning while floating in the pool reading Anne Lamott's Small Victories:Spotting Improbable Moments of Grace.  There is something almost womb-like in resting on a floating hammock on a sunny day.

The floating hammock, of course, is one of the two my friend Leo shipped down for his visit two months ago (pleasure in a box).  Who knew that injected foam could bring so much joy into my life?  And a bit of grief.

Anne, in writing about her mother's final years in a convalescent home, noted: "She had a card with the direct line of a nurse who helped her clip her terrible rhino toenails."  There it was again.  Age and thick toenails.

I admit when Joan first wrote me, I had no idea what she was talking about.  Toenails?  Hedge clippers?  Youth blinded me to the inevitable.  Now, I live the experience.

Today was the day I trimmed my toenails.  I often let them go a bit too long simply because cutting them (especially, the nails on my big toes) is truly a chore.  A bit like carving chunks of Carrara.

These days, my feet serve the same purpose as rings on a sequoia; my recent life story is there for everyone to see.

Trimming up my left foot was simple.  If you ignore the fact that it is still a bit swollen from my foray into walking-for-excercise.

The right foot was an easier task.  I have only three nails large enough to trim.  I lost the nail on the big toe as a result of a hike with my brother in Bend (badlands rock -- yeah, man).  Poor-fitting shoes.  That seems to be a trend for me.  As does foot injury through exercise.

The other missing nail?  It was on my small toe.  While recently rushing to catch a book from falling, I caught it on the couch in my living room.  My foot went forward.  The nail did not.  At least, it was not an exercise injury.

You may recall I cut back on my essays in the hopes of spending more time on my Spanish and exercise.  Due to a series of illnesses (intestinal disorder this week), I have not been able to do much walking other than short forays into town.

As for the Spanish, it will happen.  Even though it hasn't yet.

I count that as inconsequential, though.  While floating in my blue heaven this morning, another notion intruded.  What my feet cannot show is who I really am.

Everyone we meet in our lives has some impact on us.  Joan with her writing advice.  Leo with his generosity of spirit.  Anne with her stories of faith.  Ozzie and his family enjoying my pool -- and the delightful floating hammocks.  My recently-deceased friends Patti and Janet, who both taught me to how to better enjoy life.  My friend Jordan with his limitless quest for experience.  My mother and brother who are constant anchors in a confusing world.

Each one has diverted the stream of my life to some degree.  Lives do not touch without leaving an imprint.

Even on our feet.

Tuesday, October 06, 2015

killing me softly

Last week I succumbed to the travel bug.

Unlike many retirees, I never saw myself as a traveler when I retired.  Mind you, I traveled often with my Air Force duties.  And I loved it.  But that was for business.  Just traveling aimlessly did not register on my retire-o-meter.

However, travel has been a central theme of my retirement as most of you know reading these pages.  That is, until last May.  When I returned to Barra de Navidad following my China trip, I decamped to my bedroom where I have generally spent each night -- with the exception of those six hospital nights last month.

Last Wednesday I decided a trip to Costco was in order.  I needed a few things for the house.  Nothing that even approached a necessity.  What I really needed was to get away from my usual surroundings for a couple of days.

I am not very fond of Puerto Vallarta.  It was once my preferred tourist stop in Mexico.  When I looked at retiring there, though, I quickly learned it offered me very little of what I was seeking in Mexico.

What it does have is tourist hotels.  To rest my leg, I decided to avoid a rushed trip.  Instead, I would stay for two days at an all-inclusive hotel on the beach.  Something I have never done.

It turned out to be a good choice.  But not for the mediocre food and indifferent service.  Living in an air-conditioned suite for two days on the ninth floor of a beachfront hotel was almost as recuperative as a week in Madrid -- without the culture, of course.  I could feel the patina layers of "stay-at-home flu" sloughing off.

When I returned to the house, I felt as if I had been away for at least seven days.  I have learned a lesson.  Mini-vacations in Mexico may replace my longer stays overseas.

But I already know that about short get-aways.  I was reminded of that when I opened my most recent shipment from Amazon -- the complete works of Gilbert and Sullivan on CD.

I came to Gilbert and Sullivan at a late age.  Most people were exposed to the operetta magicians in high school.  I was in my early 20s when I first met up with the pair.

It was the winter of 1974.  I was studying for a joint university master's degree in International Relations at Oxford.  An Air Force friend told me the D'Oyly Carte Opera Company was in town to present its repertoire of Gilbert and Sullivan operettas.  My college adviser insisted I attend.  After all, the
D'Oyly Carte company was the original production company of the pieces.

I still remember the eerie echo of strings and woodwinds in the opening bars of the overture.  The piece was Iolanthe.  Somewhere between the overture and the opening number, I was won over as an aficionado of the company.  I attended each of their performances.

And through the company, I met one of the dancers, who I dated briefly.  I have not talked with her in years, but I can still close my eyes and imagine her gracefulness.  I continue to look for that same love of dance in women I date.  That may be why I have long been infatuated with Karen Ziemba.

All of those memories came tumbling back through my nostalgia hall as I listened to the Iolanthe CD.  With those same few notes from the overture, I was back in the Oxford Playhouse.  With its plush velvet seats.  The guardsman lamenting the inanity of British politics.  Julia's graceful fairy pirouettes.  And especially Gilbert's witty lyrics that still make me chuckle a century after they were conceived.

Music has the power to magically do that.  To transport us back to where we have been -- or to places we have yet to see.  Making our lives a bit richer.  Renewing our souls.  Plucking the harp strings of relationship.

At 66 I am re-learning lessons I have long ago been taught.  Enjoy the moment.  Look for small pleasures that happen every day.  And travel the world step by step with music as your traveling partner.

It was worth succumbing to that travel bug to be reminded that life truly is a joyous trek.


Sunday, October 04, 2015

following the rebel

"Jesus did not come to start a religion."

For the past eight weeks, our church has been discussing that idea.  Or, more accurately, we have been discussing how to incorporate Jesus's teachings into our daily lives.

The words are Mike Slaughter's.  From his book Renegade Gospel: The Rebel Jesus.  And it is edgy enough to get us to start thinking about our role as followers of Christ within our little community in Mexico.

Here is the rest of that quotation: "Instead, the rebel Jesus came with a renegade gospel to start a revolution that would be propelled by a countercultural community of people on Planet Earth.  And you and I are invited to be a part."

Taking that path is not easy.  After all, it was Jesus who instructed us to feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, to make the alien a guest, to clothe the naked, to care for the sick, and to visit the prisoners.  "Whenever you did these things for one of the least important of these brothers of mine, you did them for me!"

As a church group, we have discussed the complexity of helping neighbors in need.  The concern about causing damage while trying to help.  Or trying to discern whose needs are genuine.  Or simply trying to create some form of priority criteria in showing Christian charity.

But, as Ronald Reagan once famously said: "
They say the world has become too complex for simple answers. They are wrong. There are no easy answers, but there are simple answers. We must have the courage to do what we know is morally right."

Whenever we discuss those side issues, we cannot ignore Jesus's clear directive: we are to help those in need -- out of our love for them, and out of our love for God.  Or as the Reverend James Forbes wittily put it: "Nobody gets into heaven without a letter of reference from the poor."

I have taken on a personal project.  Not to get a letter of reference.  But to share some of the grace that God has shown to my life.

Two years ago, I met Ozzie while he was working as a waiter.  We went from waiter-customer to acquaintances to friends. 

Even though he was born in Mexico, he spent most of his life in The States -- until he was deported five years ago.

He left behind an American wife and two small children.  A daughter and a son.  Other than a brief visit with his family in northern Mexico a year ago, he has been separated from them.  He could not go north, and his wife had concerns about moving to Mexico.

But I have never heard two young people more in love than these two were.  Shakespeare could have written them into a new play.

Through a series of events that appeared centrifugal at the time, circumstances changed.  His wife decided she would sacrifice her concerns in favor of moving the family to Mexico.

For anyone who has pulled up stakes to move with two small children, you know the impact the move can have when financial resources are scarce.

This is where I came in.  I was impressed enough with this love story to offer some of my resources to rebuild a family that was torn apart by tragedy.

Trying to re-build a family here in Melaque is going to be difficult enough without worrying about the financial impact it will have on their combined resources.  I cannot relieve daily life stresses, but I can take that card off of the table.

And because no one is perfect, there are individual problems that they will each need to deal with. 

Some of my friends have raised some very practical concerns.  For my financial and personal well-being.  All of them mean well.  And their analysis may turn out to be wiser than my own.  After all, it was Jesus who also said: "
[B]e as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves."
But I tend to agree with what Anne Lamott wrote in Small Victories: Spotting Improbable Moments of Grace:  "[Jesus] made a point of befriending the worst and the most hated, because His message was that no one was beyond the reach of divine love, despite society's way of stating the opposite."

My friends have raised fair questions about whether my help for this young family is really going to help them.  That I am just exacerbating some of the issues they face in their lives.

Maybe they are right.  Maybe there are neither easy answers nor simple answers in life. 

But my heart tells me I have made a correct moral choice.  That love offered never returns empty.

After all, Jesus did not come to form a religion, but to start a revolution.  And I am happy to grab a musket in that cause.