The vehicle above is called 'Zenie" by her owner. Eventually its travels will be the subject of a travel blog with many exciting adventures.
It was a pleasure this past week-end to play host to my cousin’s daughter. She is in her late 50’s and although we know each other we have lived so far apart we haven’t made contact easily over the years. She is an easy person to have around. We enjoyed some lovely weather. I took her out to Intake, into Makoshika; we ate pizza and watched the debate and talked about the merits of “tiny houses”. She filled the day with many stories of her travels throughout the world. For a time she ran a travel agency and took groups of women on some wonderful trips. Traveling has been her goal in life, her bucket list, her direction -- to see as much of the world as possible and to experience other cultures and people.
Most recently she sold all her possessions and taking only what she needed, she bought an rv. It is old and small, but she has all her creature comforts and this is now her home. It reminds me of the tiny houses you see on television, but this is even more Spartan. She loves to camp out and hike and back pack. This rv gets her right to where she wants to go. I am afraid I would want something a little more luxurious. A toilet is paramount and a decent shower.
For now she traveled from Tucson north into South Dakota to visit relatives and then to Glendive to see me. From there she headed west where she will drive to San Francisco where she used to live than south through California and then home. After Thanksgiving she will head south into Mexico and Central America and then continue down the Pan American highway. With all the stops she wants to make she figures it may take her 2 years before she heads home. I told her I was glad to hear the Colombian government and the rebels had finally signed a peace agreement after 50 years of fighting. She is already using the Internet to find free campgrounds and ways to see national parks and take scenic drives.
I admire her and her planning and her courage. I guess it is rather like the early American pioneers who always had to see what was over the next mountain. She and other people like her are citizens of the world. There are many people to meet, foods to taste and places to see which would fill more than a lifetime.
I admit to a certain envy but on the other hand I will take something I know and understand to deal with and learn about. But God bless the adventurers and those who journey to far away places. I told her I would learn about South America vicariously through her pilgrimage. She opened the door in my home to a renewed sense of freedom and sense of the greater world. Regardless of how old we are, the horizon should always be beckoning us.
Wish I had Carl Sandburg’s gift of words. His poem “Chicago” is so powerful. If I could write poetry today I would title my poem, “Song to the construction trade”. In the Middle Ages the guilds developed a system of unions which laid out the hierarchy of the trades of working men -- apprentice, journeyman and master. It was a long and laborious climb to reach the level of Master, but when you got there you knew you were best of the best.
I don’t think the system is all that different today. The ‘boss man’ is the master. It is his eye that roves over the work, pinpointing the good and the bad. Regardless of how it is set up, I am always truly amazed at what good work these men and women do. I am thinking of plumbers and roofers, painters and plasterers, tilers, rug layers, brick layers, and builders and glazers. I’ve had dealings with more than a few of these throughout the years. It seems to come with owning a home. There is always something which needs to be done. Unfortunately I am neither handy nor of an age where I can do much of these jobs any more. These folks are my “go-to” guys and I worship the ground they walk on. They take my problems and my creative ideas, and then show me what works and what doesn’t. I listen to them with awe. Recently necessity dictated that I have a plumber, a painter, and roofer come through my house and do some work. I am amazed at their precision on a project, looking at something and being able to see what has to be done. Another friend of mine is a tin smith. He cuts the tin that makes the vents and pipes for heaters and air conditioners. But I am being too simplistic he works to within a sixteenth of an inch sometimes to make things fit. If they don’t do their work properly, roofs leak, plumbing plugs up and construction falls apart. The good person in this industry says, “Not until you are satisfied and happy. That is when I leave your house.” I laugh at times because I know me. I will say, “That’s fine. Its good enough.” And my contractor says, “No. It’s not ok. I want you to be happy with the work.” And of course every job is an advertisement so it must be done well if I am to recommend him/her to someone else.
Several of us recently hiring were surprised to hear these people say, “I’ll send the bill. I know where to find you.” This person was trusting me to make all his work worthwhile by paying my bill.
Sing me the song of the worker,
the man with the strong arms and the keen eye;
the woman with the level and the plumbers’ wrench.
They do small jobs and large ones. They keep our little town operating. Completed projects which last for years are their signature of pride.
In all settings small and large they are the ones who add a touch of grace to the community.
When I was in college and getting started in my career in the world we often had to take personality inventory tests. I remember sitting in a lecture hall in college with about a hundred other students taking the Minnesota Multi-Personality Inventory. We had pages and pages of questions, the upshot being we received results that hopefully would help us better understand our strengths and our weaknesses. Over the years the various tests I took pointed out that I am an “idea” person. That means that when I am working on a committee I am good at “brainstorming”. I guess at some level it has something to do with creativity. The opposite side of that coin is that I am not as good at seeing the pitfalls and often I need help to complete the project. It is good when there is someone else on the committee to assist me with the work of development, writing a mission statement and laying out goals. It means we need each other and that is a good thing.
I often find myself intrigued with the concept of “process”. How do projects and plans come together? Is there a logical progression going from point A to point B or are the lines more convoluted? How do we reach the conclusion of a successful project? I have only been on the city council a couple of weeks, but already I am learning the process of how things get done and the part each council person plays in that process. I learned, for example, that the agenda for council meetings is set before the meeting and at meetings we do not discuss items not already on the agenda. That is a good thing because issues which come before the council have first been discussed with a city department person and then brought to committee for public debate and then moved to the main meeting if necessary. Sometimes issues can be handled without ever coming to the main meeting thus saving the council’s time for other issues. It is a process. What at first seemed a bit cumbersome and slow, simply means that work is being done behind the scenes and when the issue has form it will appear on the agenda. Needless to say I am learning process and patience. There is a quotation somewhere that says, “The mills of the gods grind slow, but they grind exceedingly sure.”
Perhaps one of the signs of maturity is reaching the point where you know where your strengths lie. It is important that if you are in a leadership role, you recognize the strengths of your committee members and use those strengths where they best apply. As we get older, I think we get more involved with process and while it may slow us down a little, it is a more thoughtful approach. The danger is that we get so mired down in process that nothing is accomplished. It is always good to open the door and let some fresh air blow through our minds. Every person is unique and brings something new to the table. We are never too old to revitalize our thinking, to learn new ways of doing things. Life is an adventure to be lived and we should never just settle.
The last couple of blogs I wrote have an addendum, I guess you would call it. My search for a book to read brought several comments from folks which were fun. Responders mentioned books they were reading. Sharing books is always fun and talking about the books you have read or are reading is a great learning experience. I have seen people grab scraps of paper and begin to jot down titles they've just heard. People interrupt each other as their thoughts begin to trip over one another in their eagerness to tell about their favorite book. No two people will like the same book it seems, but it is such fun to share.
After writing the blog on my search I finally went to my own book shelf and started looking through all the books I haven't read yet. In the process I came across LEFT TO TELL. The author, Immaculee Ilibagiza, is a survivor of the genocide in Rwanda (1994) when the Hutu tribe massacred one million members of the Tutsi tribe in about three months. This woman managed to find someone who would hide her from the extremists. She and six other women hid in a tiny bathroom in the man's house for three months. They could not speak; they could not flush the toilet unless someone else was flushing in the second bathroom. The food they were given was scraps because the man could not betray their presence in the house. When she was finally released she heard the story of the deaths of her parents and two brothers. They were hacked to death with machetes wielded by the killers. These killers were neighbors and friends they had grown up with.
The young woman had a strong faith in God having been raised in the Catholic faith. She devoted hours to prayer when hiding in the little bathroom and through her spirituality developed a trust that could not be shaken. In the months following her release she came to forgive the people who had committed these atrocities. When people wondered how she could do this she said she did it for herself because she had to be able to live to tell the story of what she had experienced.
It was a moving recital and I found myself sitting up late to read another chapter or two. Her story reminded me so much of Elie Wiesel's autobiography NIGHT concerning the Holocaust during World War II. He, like the woman from Rwanda, believed that because he survived, he had a lifelong mission to tell the story of what he had experienced. And it is true, what they both believe. It saddens me that when these massacres were going on, we, as members of the human race, did nothing until it was too late to do anything. We have to hear these stories and remember. After reading LEFT TO TELL, I looked up a little information on the terrible genocide in Cambodia during the Pol Pot regime. Mass graves were found everywhere.
Accounts such as these are terrible reminders that the killing never ends. In the Middle East we see ethnic and religious groups trying to wipe each other out. Their excuses seem paltry. Political and ethnic differences are often the cause of mass murders. But these events can happen any where when people forget we inhabit this earth together and we are all creatures of a loving God.
After writing about the canonization of Mother Teresa I saw a couple of articles from people who were telling stories about her to make her seem unworthy. That happens so often. I want to tell them that like all of us Mother Teresa was a human being. God knows our frailties, that "we are but dust", but God works through us anyway. Perhaps the things the distractors talked about were true, but she still did so much good for the world that she deserves to be remembered.
One bit of bright news in a weary world -- I see by the news today that Pope Francis has declared Mother Teresa a saint. It is always good when someone who has done something important for the world is recognized. When I was in India in 1985, our group visited her mission in Calcutta (now Kolkata). She was not there at the time, but we observed the work of the Sisters of Charity with the poor and the hungry. I think we were all deeply affected. I know I was. For years I have had a small photo of Mother Teresa on my desk at church and now in my home to remind me of the call we all have to serve those in need.
At the mission the first thing we saw were the soup lines. People came in off the streets to be fed. There was a huge soup kettle in the courtyard and the sisters gave a bowl to each person who entered. Later we saw the orphanage where children had been rescued off the streets of Calcutta nearly dead from starvation. Their empty eyes watched as we moved around the room. These, big, well-fed Westerners were from another planet. I watched one Sister hold a tiny child on her lap and spoon in a little porridge. The food ran out of the child’s mouth. The sister wiped the mouth and then fed the child again. Our guide said they do this over and over until the child finally begins to take in nourishment.
I have watched several documentaries on the life of Mother Teresa which are really amazing. She came to the U.S. to establish a mission in this country. The building the Sisters were given had carpeting and a few other amenities. When Teresa saw it she had all the carpeting pulled up and the building stripped to the bare necessities. When she was asked why she had come to this country when we were so wealthy, she replied, “You have a poverty of the soul.” Ouch!
At one time some of her letters were made public. In them she talked about her struggles with her faith and that she was going through a time of questioning in her life. Some criticized her for this, but to me it was a sign of someone to whom her faith was important. Faith is not something that is blindly accepted, rather it grows and deepens as we go through life’s struggles, searching for God with all the questions life brings. God understands our struggles and honors us for them because God knows we will return to Him stronger for what we have gone through.
Mother Teresa wrote many books and her quotations are many. She once said that if everyone could just love in their families and find peace there we wouldn’t have to worry about the rest of the world. She also said,
If you judge people, you have no time to love them.
There are no great things, only small things with great love. Happy are those.
Spread love everywhere you go. Let no one ever come to you without leaving happier.
Her earliest work in Calcutta was walking through the streets of that huge city and picking up the bodies of those who were dying in the streets. She would bring them back to the shelter the sisters had, wash their bodies and put on clean clothing, then provide water and what food they could take, pray for them and with them and be there when they died. It was a simple duty she laid on herself and her faith, but as in her philosophy, if we help just one, we are living as God intended. Jesus himself said, “and whoever gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones in the name of a disciple—truly I tell you, none of these will lose their reward.” (Matthew 10.42)