I’ve been seething long enough and I need to say something. The other day Donald Trump, talking about Hilliary Clinton said her candidacy for the presidency is based on the premise that “she is playing the woman card.” I was furious. His words were an insult to women everywhere. What a dinosaur! I cannot believe, politics aside, that any breathing woman would put up with a comment like that and more to the point vote for someone who is this clueless.
I thought we were long done with that kind of rhetoric. I was going to college and starting a career in the 1960s and 1970s and I have seen what women have done in the past fifty years. It is phenomenal. During my college days we selected careers in business, teaching or nursing. The young women who became lawyers and doctors held a special place in our lives. Since then the explosion of women in every walk of life has been achieved. Over the past fifty years, given legislation and just plain hard work, women have proven themselves over and over again as social activists, astronauts, engineers in every field, computer gurus and Silicon Valley business women. They are medical doctors, both surgeons and researchers; their religious denominations have consecrated them as bishops; they are in our military academies, serve in the military branches with officer positions. They are kindergarten teachers and college presidents, and congresswomen, like Elizabeth Warren, to name only a few career paths. If we move to the world, we find women central to the economic growth and welfare of many third world nations. They lead countries -- Margaret Thatcher in Great Britain, Indra Gandhi in India, Andrea Merkel in a united Germany, Aung San Suu Kyi in Myanmar and others. I think of Malala, the little girl who was nearly killed by militants who believed women had no right to be educated. Surviving that horror she has not been afraid to speak out on behalf of the education of women all over the globe.
I know the stories from my own family history of women who were courageous and strong and raised children and grandchildren who have made a difference in their worlds. Traveling in India I heard a man say, “Educate the woman in the family and you educate the family.” Indian women started small businesses and managed them to the betterment of the village. Women hold every university degree available to them. They are authors, musicians, artists. They work hard to bring safe living conditions, peace in places of conflict and education for the children of the world. In many places these mothers and daughters are still mistreated and abused but they are heroes in their own time and place.
You may not like Clinton’s politics, but she is an attorney, she has been a senator, a previous presidential candidate, First Lady and a secretary of state. She is a stateswoman. She does not play “the woman card”. All of us women have a vital place in this world and I stand alongside my sisters of every color and religion and creed. No woman I have ever known has played “the woman card.” They have worked hard to achieve a contributing place in their worlds. I think they have to work twice as hard as many men in order to achieve what they have gained, but they are willing to do it to prove their abilities. Today in most places men and women walk side by side to make the world a better place to live.
I would challenge candidate Trump to really look at today’s world and take a step into the 21st century where he will meet and work alongside bright, creative, intelligent individuals who are women.
One of the things I enjoy about traveling is that I am reminded of the broad swath of humanity that peoples my world. Ordinarily, we live in our tiny little worlds which have a tendency to consume us with the day to day joys and sorrows. Parents are so wrapped up in the lives of their children; our jobs take years out of our lives; everything is hurry, hurry, hurry and time is a precious commodity which if it were offered for sale would be priceless.
But when I travel I am struck by the stories I see in the lives of people -- people selling asparagus by the side of the road in Nebraska; a man, evidently from Africa, standing next to me in an airport line with his wife and child ; a little boy crying angrily on the lap of a patient, tired mother; an elderly woman introducing herself to me in a nursing home sure that she knows me from somewhere and on and on it goes. The immensity of it all is staggering to me sometimes. I am one speck, not even a speck, but a bit of dust on this planet. Everyone who crosses my path has hopes and dreams and needs of their own and each one is important to them.
I know the question is unanswerable, but yet it gives me pause -- every person has worth. How do all of us live in this time and place with dignity and with courage? Well, love is the bottom line in life and we have to train ourselves and practice looking with the eyes of love.
It is a wet, gray day where I am today. The clouds cover the sky. Every sound is muffled and no one is moving very quickly. The day has a washed-clean atmosphere about it. I feel good about how the world operates. Of course there are problem areas and we hurt for those involved, but for the most part people go on about their business, living, laughing, loving, being born and dying. Every breath we take is shared with over seven billion people. We must get along. We have to work together. We must look beyond ourselves and see. God wills it to be so.
n About time to head home. I am at the bottom of the circle I’ve been driving the past ten days. Time to point the car north in the morning, that is if I can make it safely through Denver traffic. I will be looking forward to driving the wide open spaces of Wyoming and Montana today. Once I can get on I25 in Denver I think I can get out of the city and make it to Cheyenne, my next stop, but yikes! the traffic.
I do enjoy these driving trips. My windshield time is precious to me, except when the windshield has a crack from a rock that hit it somewhere on the North Dakota-South Dakota border and now I am thinking about my insurance deductible. When I left Sioux Falls I headed south to Yankton SD and then into Nebraska. I was on two lane highway the whole way to Grand Island where I joined the interstate and drove on to Kearney, Nebraska. The land through Nebraska is farm country, lots of it. Small rural towns with convenience store gas stations on the edge of town and grain silos everywhere. Spring had already come to the area and the trees were all turning a fuzzy, lime green. Someone was selling fresh asparagus by the side of the road. It started to rain the further south I traveled, the edge of the big snow storm that hit Denver over the week end, but I didn’t have any problems.
Traveling I was reminded of the Great Plains serving as an incubator of notables. In North Dakota I drove through Strausburg, the home of Lawrence Welk. I can remember watching my Grandparents dance a waltz to his music in their parlor at the ranch. Then in Norfolk, Nebraska, I saw a sign that pointed out Johnny Carson’s home. He grew up in Norfolk and graduated from high school there. He was one of the first big late night talk show hosts all the country watched. When I got to Ft. Morgan, Colorado, I learned it was the home of Glenn Miller the Big Band musician who was a favorite of my Dad’s generation. I remember listening to Glenn Miller music all the time I was growing up.
Entering Colorado was rainy, but the land was pretty dry and pretty open. More cowboy country than farming country. Ft. Morgan had acres of irrigated sugar beets right up to the edge of town and a big GW sugar refinery. They also had a Cargill plant I could smell. Sioux Falls has a Morrill packing facility and the smell from that was not pleasant to say the least. But I guess a person would say it all smells like money.
When I was in Sioux Falls my cousin took me past Augustana University where my mother went to school. On the grounds of the university they have relocated the cabin Ole Rolvaag built in Minnesota and where he wrote Giants in the Earth, a classic American immigration novel. That book is pivotal literature in the Great Plains, like Stegner’s Beyond the hundredth meridian. Wonderful reading.
I know airplanes are necessary to get there from here and there are many times you don’t have time to take the slower, scenic route, but it seems to me that is what trips and/or vacations are all about. Visiting those tucked away spots that millions of people call home. Quiet, out of the way places where after church on Sundays people go to the Dairy Queen for dinner, and the place is packed with young and old. Where the young boys hold open a door for a grey haired lady from Montana.
I’ve still got a little ground to cover and I look forward to the adventure.
Friday, April 15, 2016 Sioux Falls, South Dakota
I am doing my own rendition of Willie Nelson’s “On the road again”.
Leaving Glendive on Wednesday, I headed east and then south, crossing the border into South Dakota at Herreid and going on to Pierre to visit a cousin.
He drove me all around Oahe Dam. We walked in a park area and viewed the dam from lots of vistas. The flood in 2011 was a subject of interest with flood waters from Montana roaring into Garrison Dam and then Oahe. Flooding occurred all up and down the Missouri River. Looking at the huge area filled with water, flooded by the dam, is always amazing. If you have not read Wallace Stegner's book “Beyond the 100th meridian” you are not a true prairie dweller. The author records the history of the great plains or “the buffalo commons” as some now call it with broad sweeps of his pen. Others have written about the Missouri River with its colorful history and recorded the many stories that have come from its river banks and waters. “Oh, Shenandoah, I long to hear you. Far away, you rolling river. . .”
Today I crossed the Missouri at Chamberlain, South Dakota. The waters were high and wide, reminding me of the power of the waters, but also of their stormy love affair with the Great Plains. At Chamberlain the river was really magnificent -- wide and deep and at this time high. One can only imagine what pioneers must have thought as they crested a hill and saw what lay ahead.
The prairies are different here than they are at home in Montana. These prairies are more open with skies stretching long over the land. The elevations are not as high as even the badlands but the sheer power of the land makes you understand why this is called “The Great Plains.”
Across North Dakota, down through central South Dakota you can see the evidence of the energy issue -- oil wells, the result of fracking, are pumping; giant wind turbines fill the sky with their white pinwheels catching the wind, humming in harmony with its constant presence, and using the power to light the homes of the country, trains filled with wheat, cattle moving to the hay deposited by a pick-up for them to eat. It is a fascinating land that in one way seems to devour those who trespass on its mighty wastes. The Oregon Trail, the road to gold in the Black Hills, the Prairie Indian tribes migrating across the grasses to follow the buffalo. Here and there large communities dot the landscape but you still pass through them quickly before once again finding yourself on the open plains.
I really believe our lives are an amalgamation of the stories we are told. The role of humanity, as God designs, is to tell and to listen. Stories illumine all of life’s major pathways. Stories are to be cherished for the truths they tell. We do our best work as human beings when we listen to people’s stories. My brother should tell you this story because he is the one to whom it was gifted.
Greg lives in Henderson NV, a microcosm of society in races and cultures. One day he pulled in to a Barnes and Noble Bookstore. At the same time he parked, another car parked and a young man got out of the car. Greg said he was positively soldier -- buzz cut hair, ramrod straight posture. He looked at Greg as both men got out of their cars. Once in the store, the young man seemed to be following him, always a book shelf or two away. Out of curiosity my brother moved to the book section that held the military items. Immediately the young man came up to him and said, “Are you military, sir?” He answered, “Well, not me, but my grandfather and father were both veterans. I like to read military history.” My brother said what happened next was a moment when God was directing the action. A chance encounter? Not in his mind.
The man began to talk about his two tours of duty in Iraq and the Peshawar valley. After 9/11 he had decided he needed to do something for his country and so he joined the Marines. During his second tour he was a sniper who fired with such accuracy the locals called him ‘the jackal’ or ‘the coyote’. For nearly an hour he talked to Greg about the IED’s, about what it was like to shoot a man up close, the friends he lost in the conflict and the terrible pounding the soldiers took time after time.
Finally he was ready to come home. The hum-vee he was in hit an IED, killing all but three of those aboard. Diving for cover they came under heavy fire during which one of the three was wounded and this soldier was injured by a concussion bomb. When he woke up he was in Mannheim, Germany, along with scores of other wounded and dying.
My brother, who has a degree in counseling, said he just listened, finally telling the man, “I’m a little burned out listening to all of this, let’s go get coffee next door.” The story continued as the soldier talked about the feelings of the men and women who return from their tours of duty. The welcomes and the handshakes are well and good, but he said no one can really understand what they are feeling. Most of them feel like ‘cannon fodder’ constantly thrown back in to the fighting, seeing places they had fought and died for taken over by ISIS, hearing rumblings of having to go back in and fight again. Then came the bottom line -- all his friends had died in the conflict. He was struggling with his duty to tell their stories to anyone who would listen to him.
When at last the man had finished, my brother shook his hand and encouraged him to keep telling the story, to talk to professionals, and to never give up. He told the young man that telling the story is the final gift he could give to his comrades. As the last man standing only he knew what they had been through. The hand of God is always moving and we must be open to God’s design. To those of us called to listen to the story, we fulfill God’s purpose and are given a great gift in the listening.
There’s been a couple of unlikely elements popping up in my life lately. It is wonderful to have the time to even consider them. One is my penchant for online jigsaw puzzles and the other is the subject of philosophy.
I want to make it very clear that I am not a philosopher. I took one college course that almost did me in. If I would describe myself over the years I would say “practical.” But age sneaks up on us and life has a different tilt to it than it did twenty or thirty or more years ago. I have been reading a couple of novels by Marilynne Robinson, a Pulitzer prize winning author of fiction. Robinson teaches writing; she is a scientist and a philosopher and she admits, a Calvinist. To better understand her novels, which are unique, I started listening to some of her lectures on YouTube on the internet. One of the first I listened to, she was giving a lecture that required concentrated thinking to follow her line of thought. I am afraid I zoned out after catching only bits and pieces as she went along. But what I did glean from that talk was her perceptions of the brain, the mind and the soul. The brain she began explaining as the biological organ which can be measured and probed and dissected. Then she moved into the Mind which cannot be measured or really even understood, but it can sometimes be manipulated, i.e. controlled, by forces outside the physical body. The mind seems to be who we are, as vague as that word is. Next was the soul which is an essence that has been in philosophers’ sights for centuries. Greek philosophers tried to explain the soul. It seems to Robinson that the soul is that which gives rise to the need for God, to art, music, literature to all the higher things which grow out of human existence. In other words it is defining a culture, something even early man possessed with his cave art and artifacts found at prehistoric burial sites.
As I sit and work on my puzzles, I sometimes find my mind far away from the picture in front of me. Without my realizing, my hand guides the mouse and the pieces with their unique color and shape glide into the places they belong and gradually, as the pieces click together, the final picture emerges. My mind is multi-tasking, that is seeing the shape and color of the puzzle pieces, while it can also be thinking about other things
Too much of our lives are spent in the primal living of the brain -- the needs for existence. The mind is the next piece of the puzzle which gives some shape and purpose to our scrambling during our lifetime on this earth, but perhaps it is the soul that guides, without our even realizing the pieces of the puzzle of life into a picture that tells us there is more to all of this then just existing. The Book of Job in the Old Testament of the Bible has some of this philosophy in it.
I think the power of education to raise our minds to that higher plain is vital to a society that wants more for itself than just the reality of the moment. Anything that opens us into asking the bigger questions, of searching for answers to those questions and of catching a glimpse of the reason for existence is a good thing.