I can rarely resist the temptation, in response to a speaker’s closing remark, “Are there anymore questions?” to ask, “Just what is the meaning of life?” Yes, I did ace “Corney 101.” That I can even bring myself to write Corney 101 is testimony to my prowess. It’s a family trait. My sister typically responds to the question, “can I call you later?” with, “I’d rather you call me Pam.” I always, no matter how hard I try not to, have to add, “…and boy are his arms tired,” to, “He just flew in.”
What makes my question, “Just what is the meaning of life?” even sillier, is that I know the answer. Scientifically, the meaning of life (okay, maybe it’s the purpose of life) is the sustainment of the species. Yep, we want to be around for a while longer. A trickier question is, “What makes a life meaningful?” Being a self-proclaimed know-it-all (my kids and siblings concur with this proclamation), I claim to know the answer to that one too. No wonder, I have a hard time finding people to hang out with (I tell myself it’s Coronovirus). And, my answer is: give more than you take.
So, this is a short one. I probably don’t know as much as I think I do. I know that I love being retired; I love my friends and family; and that life is good. Happy Friday!
In May of 1986, the “Hands Across America” event took place. My sister picked up my six-year-old son (I stayed home with my infant daughter) and drove with him to approximately sixty miles east of Albuquerque to join hands with strangers who had also chosen to participate in the event. How great was that? Complete strangers came together to hold hands in a sign of unity and to raise funds to fight hunger and homelessness here at home and famine in Africa. That was nice. I am a huge fan of nice. I mumble in my sleep, “can’t we all just get along.” For fifteen minutes almost thirty-five years ago we did.
Darius Rucker and Mark Bryan met around that time and went on to form “Hootie and the Blowfish.” Their song “Hold My Hand” (written by Jess Glynne) is one of my favorite hand-holding songs. Holding hands is such a lovely act of affection, comfort and support. We hold our children’s hands to keep them safe. We hold the hands of friends when they’re frightened and quite literally “need a hand.” Holding another’s hand is often the first act of shared affection.
Do you remember The Beatles’ “I Want to Hold Your Hand,” released in 1964? What a big jump from “I Want To Hold Your Hand” in 1964 to “Why Don’t We Do It in the Road” in 1968. When you’re young, your attitude towards affection is in hyperdrive. When I was a teen in the 1970s, we went from wanting to hold each other’s hand to wanting to do it in the road pretty quickly. Enough of that potentially progeny- mortifying reminiscing. Let’s get back to hand holding.
Music is full of hand-holding encouragement. If it’s encouraged in song, I’m usually all for it (with the exception of the rap music of the nineties that frequently encouraged “killin’ yo mama”). Michael Jackson and Akon’s performance of – “Hold My Hand” is another favorite. “Things will go better if you just hold my hand” is some of the great advice included in this song, written by Aliaune Thiam, Giorgio Tuinfort, and Claude Kelley. The video was released following Michael Jackson’s death. It is lovely.
Last week we celebrated Martin Luther King Jr. Day. Like MLK, “I am convinced that love is the most durable power in the world… [and] to return hate for hate does nothing but intensify the existence of evil in the universe. Someone must have sense enough and religion enough to cut off the chain of hate and evil, and this can only be done through love.” Thirty-five years ago, people came together to form a chain of charity, good will and love. I’ve got an idea; when this whole COVID thing is over, let’s hold each other’s hands. Let’s turn back the clock thirty-five years and be friends. Life is good, and it’s even better when you’re holding someone’s hand.
“News of the World” is the title of the new Tom Hanks movie. It was filmed in New Mexico, my favorite destination. I landed here 64 years ago, and I liked it so much, I’ve stayed. I could not have afforded to leave, should I have wanted to, so it’s a good thing that I like it here. It’s beautiful; culturally rich; rich in natural resources, and my home. It has its problems, but we’re not going to talk about those.
We’re not going to talk about the current “news of the world” either. We can barely take a breath without the news of the world having been atomized and pervasively available to be sucked in as we inhale, causing a coughing fit of fear, frustration and fury. It’s amazing to think of a time when you were only exposed to the news of the world when the rare wandering literate ex-soldier arrived in your town to read aloud the events that were happening when the newspaper he reads from was published. It gives a whole new perspective to “current events.” A flash flood would have washed a town away and rebuilding been completed by the time the news of the flood was shared. Wars would have ended, and unknowing soldiers would still be fighting. Not that the news of the time was not sensationalized (yes, Ms. Montoya, I was paying attention when we studied “Yellow Journalism” in Social Studies), it’s just that for most of the Country’s citizens, it was anything but current by the time they heard it. I remember having to cut an article from the newspaper and take it to my Social Studies class for “Current Events” day. My children (who are now forty-one and thirty-five) did too. I don’t think my grandkids are required to do so. I just don’t know and I’m not going to ask. Again, I’m consciously avoiding current events here (and there).
Back to my love of New Mexico. In New Mexico we still have many places with no internet access or cellphone reception. It’s like heaven. From the small Village of Placitas (home to friends Debra and Jennifer), views include mountain ranges, hills and valleys hundreds of miles away. Inhabitants include aging hippies and affluent yuppies (lots of peas in this village pod – sorry, I couldn’t resist).
Next week, the news of the world has the potential to be either chaotic or conciliatory. I think I will leave the newspaper unread and the television off. I may go for a hike in Placitas. I’m retired, I can do that.
Someone once told me that it was bad luck to take down your Christmas decorations before Epiphany (January 6th). This thought seems to add credence to the argument raised by agnostics and atheists that religion is organized superstition. I believe that God is and that God is Love, and I won’t be swayed by this argument, but I won’t risk bad luck either (remember the exploding candleholders that marked my success in burning my bayberry candles to the socket so as to bring luck to my home and money to my pocket). I have come to my own Epiphany/luck arrangement. I take down all of my Christmas decorations on January 2nd, EXCEPT my Nativity set which I don’t take down until January 7th. It requires some box juggling. So far I haven’t experienced any kind of recognizable luck, but I remain hopeful.
My grandmother, who was raised by a Methodist minister in the days of a true itinerate ministry (every year the minister would travel to “Conference” and be told of his next year’s assignment – if lucky – hah, “lucky” – he would be assigned to his previous year’s church, if not, he and his family would be required pack up and to be at the new church the next Sunday) was the most superstitious (and faith-filled, in a profoundly open-mined way) person I have known. She would share her many superstition-motivated practices with us, her three grandchildren. These included, never change out the calendar until the first day of the new month. One of our favorites was stamping white horses. This was an activity my grandmother and her many siblings took part in while driving in their Model T to their new church assignment. When one saw a white horse, he or she would point at it, lick the tip of the pointing finger, and press it into the palm of the opposite hand and then ball-up into a fist the pointing hand and smack the newly-slimed palm. After “stamping” three white horses you got a wish. They probably wished that all went well at the new church. There were many other superstition-based practices, but those are the two that come to mind. I still stamp white horses, but since I see them so infrequently my count is lost, so I make a wish with every stamp, just in case it’s a third stamp.
I wish, even without a white horse, that this would bring me back to Epiphany, but it doesn’t, at least it doesn’t with any kind of grace or even reason, but I named this post “Epiphany,” so I’m coming back to it anyway. Epiphany this year was last Wednesday. It was the day that the Electoral College vote was being confirmed in Congress. Politically, it was not a pretty day. I wish, again without the benefit of white horses, that epiphanies would have been as widespread that day as was bad behavior, although I do believe they occurred. I will not pass judgement on President DJT, but I will admit to foregoing the invocation of luck right to the hope of prayer in praying that he experience an epiphany where truth was truth and self-service was apparent and public service DID extend to all members of the community that is the United States of America – the one he swore to serve. I really struggled to type “United” because while government struggles to be transparent, the “United” part of our Country is becoming almost invisible. This makes me sad. This makes me want to drive around until I’ve seen fifteen white horses, because it’s going to take more than one wish to make things better. Oh yeah, back to prayer. So, I’ve been praying for an epiphany for President DJT. In my mind, it looks a little like the one Ebenezer Scrooge experienced in “A Christmas Carol.” There would be ghosts of America Past, America Present, and America Yet-to-Come. I really want things to be better, kinder. You know with more charity of thought and action (this reminds me of 1 Corinthians 13:2 – “And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries, and all knowledge; and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, and have not charity, I am nothing.”) At this point, I’m thinking it might take some pretty powerful ghosts to make this happen. But I have faith, and hope, and even though it isn’t easy right now, charity as I struggle not to judge.
I have a plastic pink flamingo (thank you friend Shari) who I dress for the season and holidays. I imagine his relief when I take off the turkey outfit after Thanksgiving and the Santa suit after Christmas. I imagine him preferring the dignity of his New Year’s Eve party outfit. I have a pretty active imagination. I imagine a UNITED States of America where life is good for everybody.
I began 2020 with a group hike to the top of Mirador Overlook in New Mexico’s Cerrillos Hills State Park. When the group reached the summit, we were provided with kazoos by the Park Ranger, on which we joyously played Auld Lang Syne, sending off the previous year and welcoming the new. At that moment, I had so much hope for 2020. Since kazoo playing is deemed a “super-spreader” activity the Park chose not to schedule a New Year’s Day hike to kick off 2021. This has left me a little bit confused. The hyped hope for 2021 is the promise of a return to normalcy, but I awoke this morning, my first awakening of 2021, to the prospect of a day alone like most of those I have survived during the past ten months.
My New Year’s Eve was spent watching comedians bid a comic farewell to the trials of 2020. I don’t mean to be a downer here, but so far 2021 seems like the greater portion of 2020. Granted, I could don warm clothing, a warm mask, and take myself for a hike but I would be alone, and without witnesses to my efforts and companions who could rescue me should I fall, it just doesn’t seem worth it. “And all the Whos down in Whoville [put on their masks] and cried boo-who-who.”
New Year’s Eve at my house included the burning of bayberry candles. It’s a long-standing tradition in my family: “Bayberry candles burnt to the socket, bring luck to the home and money to the pocket.” My family is the unluckiest, empty-pocketed candle burners in the Country. Traditionally, as we lit our candles and reflected on our bad luck of the previous year, we would quip that it could have been much worse if we hadn’t burnt our candles on the last day of the previous year. We’re afraid to take a risk, so we continue the candle-burning tradition. Last night, as the candles’ flames burned in the sockets of the candleholders, the heat generated resulted in an explosion of the candleholders which rivaled the sound of fireworks and gun shots that welcomed in 2021 in my neighborhood. As soon as I’m done here I’ll clean-up the luck infused glass shards that are scattered across my kitchen cooktop.
Welcome 2021. I’ll wish for the best. I won’t prepare for the worst, because I have glass shards to clean up so that I can get busy preparing black-eyed peas to ensure my continued luck. I refuse to be disheartened, because life is good. Now, that’s funny.
I’m so lucky that my bayberry candles burned to the socket before exploding my candleholders.