In my new state of retirement, I have discovered online jigsaw puzzles. I never cared to do puzzles before because I didn’t have the patience to struggle with hundreds or thousands of pieces. In the process of putting it together it seemed you always lost a few pieces and then what are you going to do with this 5000 piece puzzle when you are done. Intricate though they may be, I am not a fan of wall pictures made of finished puzzles. Actually I have great respect for those folks who sit for hours working on jigsaw puzzles or leave a table up in their living room to work on the puzzle at their leisure. But, I am here to tell you that online jigsaw puzzles have taken care of all those issues for me. First, I have a site where I can pick the number of pieces I want to work with. I am about a 150 piece person or maybe 200 pieces on a good day. I never lose pieces of the puzzle. They are always all there. When I finish the puzzle I simply click out of the picture and it is gone. I had the satisfaction of doing a puzzle without the hassle of its care and keeping.
There is another dimension of the online puzzles that I enjoy and that is I can enlarge the pieces so it makes the colors and designs much easier to see. I have been doing the online puzzles for over a year. Most days I do two puzzles. I am not into the ‘puppies and kitties’ categories, rather I find I like to do the category ‘pieces of art’ where the works of famous artists are rendered into puzzles. I just feel a real sense of satisfaction when I am finished and then can take time to study the picture and if I am really curious do a little search on the artist.
Articles tout the importance of keeping your mind alert with things that challenge. Many folks do the suduko and of course cross-word puzzles have many fans. I remember a couple of ladies I worked with years ago who did the New York Times crossword puzzle every week. They would take their coffee breaks and come over to the library to look things up. I was and still am very impressed. Again I am one of those who likes something I can get through with a minimum of hassle although occasionally I do look up a clue to see if it will lead me to a word. Here technology plays its part as I simply speak the word into my smart phone and it finds the definition for me to check.
When I first retired several folks told me the best part of their day was that first cup of coffee while working the newspaper cross word puzzle while still in their pj’s. I don’t take as much advantage of this as I should, but I am definitely working on it.
In enduring some political rhetoric the other day I was really put-out with something Ted Cruz said. He was angry (of course) about President Obama’s decision to nominate a candidate for the Supreme Court. Like others his feelings are that the new president should be the one to make that decision.
But what really irritated me were his comments that should the President be able to have his candidate confirmed, this candidate for the Supreme Court would, by virtue of his or her opinions, nullify everything that was central to the American way of life. Candidate Cruz has no love for the Supreme Court even though he served as a clerk in the Supreme Court. I would wonder at his civics’ classes in school.
Maybe I am incredibly naive (probably so), but I put more faith in the institutions of government than to think one person could bring down this republic. In my studies of history, I remember the story of President Chester A. Arthur. He came to office when President James A. Garfield was assassinated. Arthur, the vice president, was a political hack and a tool of Boss Roscoe Conkling whose gang ran the spoils’ system in New York City. Conkling believed by having Arthur in the White House, he would have control of the civil service jobs. It is said Arthur really agonized over his own position when Garfield died, but when the story was told he informed Conkling that he could no longer be a member of his organization. That the office of president had given him a higher calling. Part of that calling was a massive reform of the spoils’ system that resulted in the establishment of the Civil Service Commission.
When President Nixon resigned there was concern in the government over the possibilities of a military takeover. The transition of power went smoothly and the then Minority Leader of the Senate returned to his office and wrote on official congressional stationery, “Mr. Madison, It worked.” Meaning the Constitution and the processes it outlined for our government worked without any upheaval.
Now granted, it is a political year and it seems this year any person can make the most outrageous comments, comments that are crude and rude, and get away with it. To be angry is the call of the day and rather than moral and civil discourse where issues to help the country are discussed, the candidates seem to be trying to see what they can get away with and what is the limit the public will accept. By the most recent comments floating around and the results of the primaries in South Carolina, we don’t seem to have reached our limit as yet.
Government is more than a personality. Government exists when people have faith in the government and the principles on which it has been founded. When we are aware that the branches of government have endured many different personalities we realize that a sense of history is necessary to get beyond this one moment. All we have to do is look at governments in the Middle East, in Africa and in Central America to see what can happen when poverty and a lack of education allow dictators to rise to power and where a sense of history has no place in the discussion. No one has any faith in anything and nothing endures.
Sometimes what you see is what you get and this year I am very concerned.
Just as a doctor has instruments, a musician music, and a builder tools, so readers and writers have the tools of their trade -- words.
I think I’ve been in love with words ever since I can remember. There are words that have power. One evening, I watched “Mr. Smith goes to Washington,” starring Jimmy Stewart. The movie was produced about the time of the Second World War because Americans needed to feel patriotic. Movie producers and politicians knew that words used in the right way could move a nation into action.
Think of the words associated with the founding of our country: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights among these being life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. . .” “We, the people of the United States, in order to form a more perfect union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, promote the general welfare and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity. . .”With malice toward none, with charity for all. . .”
There are mysterious words, words with rhythm and words that “trip along lightly on the tongue. . .” There are words that are a challenge, like medulla oblongata and Azerbijan. Some words define themselves by their very pronunciation: ennui (boredom, listlessness), writhing ( to twist as in pain, struggle or embarrassment), gotterdammerung (German word used in the English language for a turbulent ending of a regime or an institution). Others by their brevity say all that has to be said: faith, hope, love, death, life.
From the charm of the individual words, the writer and/or reader moves on to combinations of words that fascinate, like “Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled peppers.” Or the words that lead into realms or places of the unreal or fantastic: “Last night I dreamed I returned again to Manderley.”
Descriptions are the judicious choice of words to evoke a feeling, an image or a place. Masters of the craft of writing are those who search for just the right word. Poet Kathleen Norris said a poem had taken her as long as two years to write because she needed just the right word.
I know my love for mystery novels comes from their way of evoking a sense of place: Brother Cadfael in the Middle Ages, Miss Marple in Saint Marymede -- watching the comings and goings of her neighbors -- or a new mystery set among the Kiowa people of the mid-1800s. The Navajo-Hopi reservations and the work of Joe Leaphorn in the Tony Hillerman mysteries, or the works of Dashiell Hammett in the back alleys and dark streets of the new cities of midcentury America.
Words have the power to kill. The fifth commandment, “You shall not kill” refers to more than mortally injuring someone. It is killing hopes and dreams, the reputation, the self-esteem, the purpose for living of the intended victim. The epistle of James in the New Testaments says: How great a forest is set ablaze by a small fire! And the tongue is a fire. . .no one can tame the tongue. . .from the same mouth come blessing and cursing. . .”
So why, with the wonderful storehouse full of millions of words and their combinations do we grant such high favor in our society to “gutter talk.” Why are people who speak properly when expressing their feelings derided for showing off? For years Readers’ Digest magazine has attempted to improve our language by the feature “Increasing your word power,” offering a good way to practice learning words that make our language more meaningful and colorful.
Of course, the best writing is simple and succinct, and one does not need a 25 cent word when a 5 cent word will do, but there is a subtle beauty in words that make one cry, that lift one’s spirits, that give one courage, that can challenge people beyond themselves.
Thoughts on “words”:
It is with a word as with an arrow -- once let it loose and it does not return.
Cold words freeze people, and hot words scorch them. Bitter words make them bitter and wrathful words makes them wrathful. Kind words also produce their own image on men’s souls; and a beautiful image it is. They sooth, and quiet, and comfort the hearer. -- Pascal
There is no power like that of oratory. Caesar controlled men by exciting their fears. Cicero by captivating their affections and swaying their passions. The influence of the one perished with its author, that of the other continues to this day. -- Henry Clay
There are five tests of the evidence of education -- correctness and precision in the use of the mother tongue; refined and gentle manners, the result of fixed habits of thought and action; sound standards of appreciation of beauty and of worth; and a character based on those standards; power and habit of reflection.
The ELCA is asking for comments on the guidelines for the Church in the area of moral discernment and/or civil discourse in this election year.
“We should be eternally vigilant against attempts to check the expression of opinions that we loathe.” Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes. Holmes’ legal thoughts tie in with the desire for “civil discourse” which has been much lacking in the past decade in our country. If our Christian faith is about anything, it is about living with our fellows on this earth in peace, a peace that is constructed by compromise and a desire to share in the basic rights of life and natural freedoms -- shelter, food and water, health and family. When stubborn pride and self-righteousness interfere with rational moral discussion, when anger and the determination not to allow the other speaker to be heard, it is then we are closing our ears to the cry for peace. Every Christian needs to hear the voice of God in “the other”. To demonize the opposition is a straight path to losing our own right to be heard. The call of the Church is to be a strident voice for the voiceless. To remain silent in the cacophony of demeaning and hurtful remarks intended to silence other voices is to reject the scandalous gospel of Jesus Christ.
A couple of weeks ago, a friend and I took a "road trip" to Billings. Nothing special, but it was time to "get out of Dodge". I had a couple of incidents that reminded me once again that I am now approaching the edge of life, the far end, that is. We were at the Yellowstone Art Museum. I walked up to the desk and asked the sweet young thing in charge what was their senior discount. I always ask because it is mine, the discount, and I've earned it. She asked, "Do you need the senior discount?" I promptly turned to my friend and announced, "This woman is my new best friend!" Another grey-haired lady who was also at the desk laughed with us while the young woman looked a trifle puzzled. Earlier we were at a department store at the mall where the cosmetic counter was advertising a new eye serum, guaranteed to reduce lines and bags under the eyes. I bought a bottle with the absolute assurance that using it faithfully, twice a day I would have amazing results. She didn't tell me how much younger I would look or how long it would take. But, hey! I'm game!
All of this is leading me to recommend a book which I think should be given out with your AARP card or first Social Security check. At a time in our lives when fears and anxieties can be central, when we really need some hand-holding, this is a handbook for living out the years of our lives with satisfaction, joy, and courage. Joan Chittister is a well-known author of books on spirituality. She takes her knowledge on that subject and combines it with a series of short essays on things that can be roadblocks to living well as we age. Currently I am in my third reading of the book and each time I learn something new because I am in a different place emotionally, physically and even spiritually. The title is "The Gift of Years: growing older gracefully." Noticing the title should be the first clue -- we are always growing older. Growing "old" is a different journey. One reviewer noted: "Chittister beautifully downplays regrets and accents the rewards of a mature life…she focuses on the new beginnings that life can offer at this stage. She invites us to embrace older age as a natural part of life that is both active and contemplative, productive and reflective, and deeply rewarding." Some of her subjects include fear, joy, transformation, possibility , relationships, letting-go, limitations, solitude, memories, faith and many more.
The very first subject she tackles is the most telling, I think, and that is 'regret'. She writes, "Regret is a temptation. It intices us to lust for what never was in the past rather than to bring new energy to our changing present." Each time I pick up her book to read a section I find myself nodding my head and thinking about past mistakes and joys as well as considering where I am right now.
Our society does not take much time to consider growing older. Oh, sure we joke about the aches and pains and grieve the losses, but it is supposed to be a time of dread. We say, "Oh, it is all downhill from here." Chittister's writing encourages us to look at this time of life with excitement, to celebrate the possibilities, and to fulfill undiscovered passions and to continue to approach life with joy.
The most important gift we can give someone is to listen to their story. As human beings we need to know there is someone who will hear what is roiling around in my brain and more necessary, in my heart.
Impatience grows as old people tell the same stories over and over again. We say, “dementia”, “senile”. I once read an article that said to tell the stories of our lives repeatedly becomes an affirmation of who we are. As we age and lose friends and spouse and family and all those who knew us ‘when’, we must tell our stories to help ourselves as well as others know that once we had direction and purpose. Our stories become more important the older we grow. We are grounded by our stories. Those who listen to the elder stories gain a deeper understanding of what it means to grow and not diminish with the years.
Children need to know someone is listening. To busy adults their little fears are irrational and we brush them off. “Go out and play.” Their stories, always holding a germ of truth, must be sifted through so we can help these small ones find their way into lives that will listen to others as they have been heard.
The teen years can often be a time when the stories stop because the perception is the teens have nothing worth listening to and no one has the time to listen. These are the times when we must work harder to draw out the stories. For teens it is a time of darkness and confusion. It is a time when a steady hand on their shoulder and someone to listen, listen, listen without interruption is the rudder for the journey.
I was going through a time of turmoil many years ago. I remember so well a friend who just listened to me pour out what was on my heart. By her listening, I heard myself for the first time. I listened to what I was saying because her silence was an invitation into myself. Her listening was a great gift.
No one has to fix it for me. Nor do I need to fix it for someone else. The healing comes in the willingness to share a space, a moment together and pour out what lives in the deepest heart of me.
One author has written “. . .perhaps words of truth reach us best through the heart, and stories and songs that are the language of the heart.” And another has said, “The shortest distance between a human being and Truth is a story.”
May it always be so.
Well, today is the day we have all been waiting for. Not! I often wonder if other countries let their campaigning get so out of hand as we seem to have done. Today's crop of candidates is totally unusual. According to the speeches we've heard (and granted they are mostly abbreviated sound bytes), this country is drowning in a sea of extremes -- everything is wrong and what is mostly wrong are the other candidates. In the past few months we have seen an entire range of political philosophies from the Evangelical Tea Party extreme right to Democratic Socialism and everything in between. Take your pick. It is all there.
I suppose Donald Trump is the one who has set the stage for most of what has been going on. Every candidate seems to spend a great deal of time responding to his crude, braggadocious (Trump's word, not mine) remarks, to the power his millions of dollars can buy. For surely this is the age when the common man and woman are out of the picture. We have very little say anymore in who gets elected. Millions of dollars pour into the candidates' coffers or they themselves are multi-millionaires, the only ones who can afford to run for office. Even people from outside the state get involved in local elections. I call them "carpetbaggers" who have no business in our business. But money is what wins elections these days which doesn't say much for us, the voters.
Gone is the candidate who got on a train and traveled the country, speaking from the back platform on his car. When he was a boy, my Dad heard Franklin Roosevelt in South Dakota. My grandparents went to a rally for William Jennings Bryan where Grandpa hoisted Grandma up so she could see the great orator. I heard George Bush, senior at a small town Republican gathering in Minnesota after he won the Iowa Caucus many years ago, but eventually lost to Ronald Reagan. Even in our little town of Glendive in the early 1900s Senator "Pitchfork Ben" Tillman spoke at a political rally.
I would think the Iowa folk would be weary of "in-your-face" politics, but we'll see what the turnout is tonight and who leaves Iowa a winner. It is not politics at its best, but it certainly is a case of "what you see is what you get."