SWHEAT GIRLS PART THREE: LETTING FREEDOM RING

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SWHEAT GIRLS PART THREE:  LETTING FREEDOM RING

I have featured this pair of amazing sisters in two previous posts after their annual visits to my home.  (Swheat Girls Part One and Two, July 2017 & July 2018).  They bring their families every Independence Day week from their homes in the Phoenix area.  I treasure their visits; we have maintained contact since 1984.  Tana and Amy began as the girls I babysat in the summers; now they are the women I am lucky to call my lifelong friends.  

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This year, they told me they used to spend the weekends sitting in their rooms on the farm, bored until I returned Monday morning.  They couldn’t understand why I felt I needed the weekend off.  That’s many miles bridged from the rough beginning I chronicled last year when I insulted their cat in our first ten minutes together.  After that introduction, they were set on running me off, just like they had with all the others.

Except they didn’t.  And I didn’t leave, either.  We made it through the bumpy beginning, and the sailing just gets smoother every year.

 

 

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My stomach muscles hurt—in a good way—from laughing so much last week.  If laughter is indeed good medicine, then I should be in perfect health.  And, if I should ever need to get more of this good medicine in the future, all I need is a big dose of this picture:

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The bugs were formidable, but we found a way to avoid them.  And, in their usual form, these two find a way around obstacles—simply sip your drink through the straw through the net.  They’ve always figured out a solution to whatever comes their way.

Those early days on the farm were revisited with reverie and stories, recalling their youthful demeanor,

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Which hasn’t changed much in all these years.

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We enjoyed all our usual activities:  puzzling

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Yard games,

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Cooking, baking and grilling—followed by overeating.

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We took a little trip to Tana’s college town,

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the same college their parents met at, and the same college that honors their grandfather–their mother’s father.

 

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We swam in our backyard redneck pool,

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and in our neighbor’s real-deal pool.

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A fireworks display was offered courtesy of my son and a friend,

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followed by Tana’s karaoke rendition of Kansas’s own Martina McBride singing “Independence Day” the morning after Independence Day.  The flyswatter was handy for obvious reasons, so it became her microphone.  She’s always good at improvising when the circumstances may not be perfect.  Her voice is that of another talented Kansas wheat farm girl.

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Being the swheat girls they are, they took a trip to their family farm to enjoy the harvest.

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As a joke, I offered this garage sale find to Amy; she wasted no time putting it to use.  She says it’s the greatest treasure I have ever given her, and she plans to hand it down to her children as a family heirloom one day.  I planned to use it in an art project, but clearly, it belongs with her. 

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Proof she is truly a swheat girl

This year, we added yoga to the mix.  They, too, enjoy a good yoga workout, and since my teacher lives just down the road, she agreed to come over on the morning of the Fourth for some porch yoga.  She led us from the corner of the porch; the rest of the yoga-goers wrapped around the back porch. 

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If a picture is indeed worth a thousand words, then these pictures should be worth many thousands of words, so I won’t write much more.  They tell the stories of the fun and laughter we shared last week.  Hopefully, I have made it quite clear that we felt free to exercise our independence this week, and throughout the other fifty-one as well. 

Tana and Amy have been constants for each other; they have no other siblings.  Through births and deaths, divorces and disappointments, they are sisters through thin and thick.   They know liberty because they earned it, and they honor it as the gift it is every day, not just on Independence Day.

I hope you find that well of liberty within, because it is a gift to be opened for each and every one of us, every day of the year.

Have fun, and laugh while you are doing it.  It truly is the best medicine.

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WHITE PANTS AFTER LABOR DAY

WHITE PANTS AFTER LABOR DAY

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One of the greatest compliments anyone ever paid me was this:  “You show me what rules need to be broken, and how to break them.”

Mission accomplished.

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As I got dressed during the last week of August, the last week before Labor Day, I put on a pair of white pants for the second day in a row (I have several pair, no surprise).  I thought “I’d better wear these one more time before Monday, because the rule says ‘No white pants after Labor Day.’”

Then, in the time it took to get them off the hanger, I thought “Screw that.  I will wear white pants whenever I want to.”

Today, two days after Labor Day, I wore white pants.

My friend and colleague Kristy beat me to the punch.  I showed up at her office door Tuesday, the day after Labor Day, to find her dressed in white pants.

“I love it!” I said to her.

“What?”  She seemed a bit confused.

“Your white pants.  It’s the day after Labor Day, and you are wearing white pants.”

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“Oh, I don’t pay any attention to those rules.   I wear white pants whenever I want to.”

Amen, sister, Amen.  Some rules have “break me” written all over them.

I wore yet another pair of my white pants today, and when a dear patient of mine showed up in her white pants, it was the first thing I noticed.

“I love it!  We are both wearing white pants after Labor Day!” I said.

“Oh, I don’t pay any attention to those rules.  I wear white pants whenever I want to.”  I wish I could have taken a picture of this amazing woman with me with our white pants on, but privacy laws prevent that.  Trust me when I say she continues to be an amazingly strong woman who follows in her own path, even in the face of the life-altering health crisis she found herself in.

I work hard to surround myself with people who see the world the way I do.  I have been flanked by them the last few days, and I am grateful.

My patient also added that she likewise doesn’t follow the rule that one should wait until after Memorial Day to wear white pants.  I wasn’t aware of the other bookend of this rule, so we looked up the history.

Apparently, according to fashion researchers, this “rule” began in the 1930’s, when only the ultra-rich people wore white in the summer, with light-colored clothing giving a look of leisure.  Working-class people wore mostly dark clothing.

Armed with this information, I now want to wear all four pair of my white pants all winter, and stop wearing them after Memorial Day.

In this free country, I am free to do so.  No one is the boss of me, fashion or otherwise.

I will continue to choose to wear white pants any day of the year, which, I am sure, will still allow my culture to thrive.  It’s simply a suggestion, not a hard-and-fast rule that our civilization hinges upon.

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There is a story about a young wife who was baking a ham for the first time with her new husband.  She unwrapped the ham, prepared the baking dish and proceeded to cut the ends off the ham before placing it in the dish.  Her new husband questioned:  “Why do you cut the ends off?”

“Because that’s how you do it.  My mother always did it that way,” she responded.

I’ve never seen it done that way.  There has to be a reason,” the husband said.

Not wanting to lose this battle so early on in their marriage, she called her own mother to get the official explanation.

Because that’s how my mother always did it,” his mother-in-law said.

Wanting to get to the bottom of it to chalk one up for herself, the wife called her grandmother with the same question.

“Because it wouldn’t fit in the pan if I didn’t cut the ends off.”

And there you have it.  The reason why it was the “rule” that the ends had to be cut off the ham.

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I had the pleasure of seeing an old friend yesterday.  This friend didn’t start out as my friend.  She started out as my fourth-grade teacher.

At ten years of age, I perceived this “old” 35-year old woman as hip and cool, with a quiet spirit about her that I wanted to possess.

Now, at 52, I perceive this 77-year old woman as hip and cool.  She has a quiet spirit that I want to possess.

So, when she comes back to this area to see her son, we plan an annual visit.  I looked her up for my 20-year class reunion, because I knew my classmates liked her, too.  I found her in California, but she would be visiting her son then—her only child—who lives about an hour from me.  It worked out perfectly for her to attend, and she was as much of a hit in 2004 as she was in 1975 with my class of 18.

Since then, we have been able to see each other almost every year when she and her husband visit their son and his family.  They have no permanent address now to speak of, they live in an RV most of the year in Arizona.  They will, however, be purchasing a home near their son.  Not that they will give up their mobile lifestyle; they simply know that someday, they will likely need a house to call home.

I visited her in this small town close to her son’s home.  They have found a house here, and will hopefully call it theirs someday soon.   Until then, and even after that point, they will continue to practice the two habits I wrote about in an earlier post that describe those patients and their family members who seem to defy age and remain (relatively) healthy:  1:  they stay active, and 2:  they do what makes them happy.

For them, it is remaining on the go.  This takes care of #1 and #2 above, and it shows.

We walked through the downtown street fair/car show, took a walk in the park, and enjoyed a libation at a local hangout.  We talked about life, specifically about living the lives we want to live.  We talked about the lessons life teaches us through loss.  We talked about doing what makes us happy, and how important that is.  We talked about following our hearts, even if it means not following certain “rules.”

We shopped at a few small stores, and at her behest, I came home with this:

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She remains my teacher.  Perhaps even more now than she was in the fourth grade.

Having started this post several days prior to our visit, I laughed out loud when I first saw her:  she and I were both wearing white pants.

On so many levels, she remains my teacher.

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I was wearing a favorite shirt by one of my favorite brands:  Life is good®.  If you look closely, you can see the sun, with these words beneath:  The sun doesn’t know it’s a star.”

Gail bought this shirt for her daughter Lydia last year on one of our Colorado trips. Knowing I had several dozen of these awesome shirts already, I fought the urge to buy one for myself.  I won that battle, but lost the war later when I succumbed and ordered one for myself online.

Lydia was diagnosed with Type One Diabetes shortly after that Colorado trip.  She doesn’t know she is a star to me.  Her courageous daily fight against this lifelong enemy inspires me.

Gail and Suzanne don’t know they are stars to me, either.  They simply do their thing, shed their light, and warm the world with their presence.  Their rays may be clouded over some days, but they are always there, soon to break out and shine again after the clouds clear.

My teacher gave me permission to call her by her first name years ago, but that didn’t feel right.  We met in the middle, and I call her “Mrs. P.”

Mrs. P. doesn’t know she has always been a star to me.  Since 1975, her rays continue to shine bright.  At her youthful age of 77, I pray they continue to shine for many more years.  As long as she stays active and does what makes her happy, I have a feeling she will shine on.

Without either of us knowing, my neighbor also purchased the same shirt.  She, too, is a star who lights up my neighborhood.

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This Tuesday, “Patriot’s Day,” marks the 17th anniversary of the September 11th attacks.  Our country fell collectively to its knees that day, and all of us felt the heartbreak.  We still do.  But if we don’t celebrate our freedom every day, then we haven’t paid homage to those who lost their lives that day, those who fought then, and those who continue to fight now for our freedom.

We have freedoms that are foreign to much of the rest of the world.  Our country is far from perfect, but if it is your home, please celebrate by exercising your freedoms.

Wear white pants after Labor Day.  Don’t cut the ends off the ham.  Or, do cut the ends off.  Whatever pleases you.  You have the right to do all these things, and so many more.

If it doesn’t hurt anyone, and, to reflect back on Mom’s advice, “If it feels good and doesn’t break the 10 Commandments, then do it.”  Go ahead and break those rules if breaking them meets the above criteria.

Like the white pants rule that served the rich and privileged, many rules serve only those who created them, serving to keep them in positions of power. Or, in the case of the ham, sometimes a “rule” is created in responses to an isolated instance, and it should have never become a rule in the first place.

Do your own thing.  Exercise your freedoms this Tuesday, September 11th, and every day.  But please never forget why we have these freedoms, and who gave them to us.

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My boys shortly after 9/11/01. 

Gail, Suzanne and I have rescheduled our Colorado trip for early October.  We will likely wear white pants, and will most likely break other rules that should be broken, too.  Here’s a throwback photo from our trip several years ago from Suzanne’s Facebook page.

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FREEDOM ROADS

 

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FREEDOM ROADS

Hit the road…The Road Less Traveled. ..The road to a friend’s house is never long…Take the high road…Get this show on the road…Country Roads, Take Me Home…Goodbye, Yellow Brick Road.

As I write on Friday evening before Sunday’s post, I am anxiously awaiting the arrival of one set of guests, with the other set arriving in two days.  Crossing 1,053 miles of American highways today, they will be here in less than an hour.

They were my guests last year for the July 4th week last year, and the year before, and the year before that, and…

They visit every year.  They, too, are sisters.  They are dear to me for a very special reason.  They were with me in the Swheat Girls Part Two post (July 9th), and they will be featured again next week.

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The Sister Lode was conceived on a road trip, one of many my sisters and I took–and continue to take–to Colorado.  Contrary to what may have appeared from the trip by air I featured in my first post, The Sister Lode was born on the road.

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Our country has thousands of miles of Interstate highways, having been signed into creation by Kansas’ own Dwight D. Eisenhower.  Almost every workday, I travel across the very first paved section of Interstate 70 near his boyhood home and final resting place of Abilene, Kansas.

This complex grid of roadways can carry us nearly everywhere we want to go in this great country.  As I age, however, I find myself wanting to take the back roads whenever possible, just like our Dad always did.  The interstates are too busy for me.

I spend a great deal of work time in my car, mostly traveling between home health appointments. The odometer on my beloved Stella, my buggy that takes me to and from every day, now reads 87,227 miles.  I bought her not quite two years ago with 36,453 miles on her gauge.

I drive a considerable amount of my miles in a neighboring county.  The beautiful and regionally famous Flint Hills are within my routes, and it has been a natural pleasure to drive through this natural tallgrass prairie.

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The tallgrass, as well as the wheat and every other crop, depend upon ample rain–but not too much–in order to flourish.  Perhaps that is why one of the roads in this county is named just that:  Rain Road.   I have noticed the sign at three different intersections:

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April of this year, before the cruel winter relented.

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May, when Mother Nature finally gave in.

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Summer, my absolute favorite season.  More rain, please.  

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Gail, Suzanne and I grew up on country roads that carried us to and from our small hometown five miles away.  The first two miles were—and still are—gravel, the last three are paved state highways.

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Standing at this intersection on the south end of our hometown, those 3 miles stretch out in front of the camera.  The ribbon of white in the distance is our road.

We learned how to drive first on the farm—around and up and down the driveway, then on the roads and finally the highway.  The gravel roads provided a challenge in inclement weather, forcing us to learn how to drive in mud and snow. The hills had to be negotiated with any oncoming traffic, which sticks with me to this day:  when cresting a hill, get as far to the right as possible and slow down. The roads, just like all our other public spaces, must be shared. The other parties must be respected.  We don’t own the road.

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The long hill leading to the highway from our farm.

Two weeks ago, I went to the farm for my annual harvest visit.  As I approached the last stretch to our farm (above), I recalled the days years ago when these hills were not opened up.  The “Rock Hills,” as we called them, were cut into the hills when they were created.  In our school years, if a blizzard was setting in, Dad would come to town to pick us up so that we didn’t get snowed out.  The hills would easily drift shut, so Dad came to pick us up before that happened.  When he showed up in the classroom doorway, we knew we had an automatic “snow day” for the rest of the day and probably the next, even if no one else did.  I recall a silent “yes!” as I packed up my books to go home.  I’m sure my siblings did the same.

In this part of the country, these roadway negotiations often take place with farm machinery.  The gravel/dirt roads and the smaller highways are fair game for tractors and even combines.  Whenever I get behind one of these slow-moving behemoths, and I find myself frustrated at my reduced pace, I stop to remember where I came from, and where some of my food comes from.

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You may even see them on city streets—in smaller towns, of course. 

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(The above four pictures were taken randomly, and the fact that all four feature green vs. red machinery is in NO WAY a personal endorsement of the green over the red. Remember, I am an International Harvester girl from an IH farm.)

When I went to the farm, I left Stella in my garage—she’s a beautiful glossy black color, and I had just shined her up—and took my son’s truck.  Or, as we say on the farm, pickup.  It was a better vehicle to take on the country roads.

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The panoramic view opens to the west as I approach the harvest fields.  

When I left the wheat field, I decided to take a trip down several different memory lanes that were the country roads of our youth.  We used to drive them to get to the best fishing ponds, and I recall many trips on the school bus on some of them.

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Just south of our farm, the first hill allows a beautiful view of our hometown.

I was on a quest to drive to the pond another mile south and a bit west that was the scene of our record catch on a fishing trip perhaps 40 years ago—I believe it was 30-some fish.  As I approached the pond, I realized it was not in the best interest of my son’s pickup to go any further.

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The bank of the record-setting fish-catch pond is to the left.

I backed up and took a turn further south, winding through a better-graveled road.  I had to stop to snap this picture, because the roadside wildflowers are an integral part of these warm memories of our country roads.

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Suzanne reminded me that Mom would often dig these up and attempt to replant them at home, but I don’t remember them thriving.  Wildflowers, I guess, are supposed to remain wild.

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I rounded the curve around this Memory Lane, realizing I likely hadn’t been this far southwest of our farm since I babysat for a family who lived a bit further in high school.  I kept going southwest until the roads no longer held memories.  Then, I turned east to head home.

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My family and I are hitting the road later this summer for an approximate 1,450 mile journey.  Like Dad loved to do, I want to take the back roads.  The fast pace of the Interstate highways leaves less time and space to savor the natural beauty, as well as the man-made wonders and attractions along the way.  Given the distance, however, we will likely travel a combination of both.  Either way, it will be new ground covered for three of the four of us.   We will explore this Land of the Free by car, crossing state lines and going wherever we choose in this Home of the Brave, which is but one more freedom we are privileged to enjoy.

Gail, Suzanne and I will enjoy another road trip this fall, another in an ever-increasing series.  We have no intention of ever stopping.  Three women traveling wherever we choose in this free country, a country that has never denied the right to drive to any woman.  Saudi Arabia recently legalized driving for women, a freedom every American woman–myself included–has likely taken for granted.

This, and every other freedom begs recognition and gratitude during the upcoming Independence Day observation.  May yours be enjoyable and safe, and may you keep the spirit of Independence alive within every day of the year.

Happy 242nd birthday, America.

Let Freedom Ring, and thank you to all the men and women who made, and continue to make it free.

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LIBERTY AND JUSTICE FOR SOME

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LIBERTY AND JUSTICE FOR SOME

“And I’m proud to be an American, where at least I know I’m free.”

As a child, I recall hearing and saying this many times:  “I can do what I want.  It’s a free country.”  It was typically in response to some perceived offense, and when confronted, the offending party would often respond with that phrase.

I don’t hear kids—or adults—saying that much anymore.  But we should never forget the meaning behind it.

“And I won’t forget the men (and women) who died, who gave that right to me.”

On Saturday of this week, my husband’s family celebrated his father’s 80th birthday with a large gathering of 50-plus family members.  The host led grace just before the meal, followed by the Pledge of Allegiance, then “Happy Birthday” sung to the birthday boy from the crowd.  This trifecta was the perfect display of gratitude first for the food, then for the freedom, followed by a family honoring a strong and deserving patriarch.

“And I’d gladly stand up next to you and defend her still today.”

After the singing, my father-in-law and the uncles who served our country were asked to stand to be recognized and honored.  There were seven .  We applauded with our hands and with our hearts.

This will never be enough to let them know how much we appreciate their service, but they don’t expect any more than that.  They simply served; they were honored to give.

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Our dad didn’t serve in the military.  He was deemed not fit enough due to flat feet.  Now, most of his seven children have flat feet, but we might not be here otherwise.

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Memorial Day is a wonderful bonus Monday off for many people, myself included.  But, as this Facebook post so painfully illustrates, it goes so much deeper than that.  Deeper than the vast majority of us will ever know.  Deeper than our worst nightmares can conjure, to a depth that that should always be seared upon our minds, hearts and souls how supremely fortunate we are to live in a free country.

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OUR FREEDOM ISN’T FREE.

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Gail, Suzanne and I got to spend the weekend together.  Gail traveled the 230 miles to our small city, and we savored this gift of time together in the sisterhood.  We are supremely fortunate to have each other, and we know it.

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We are celebrating our parents this weekend too, as we do every time we are together.   None of us felt the need to visit their graves; we know they are not there.  Mom made it clear before they died that we were welcome to visit her plot when she was gone, but we wouldn’t find her there.

And we don’t.

We find both of them in our togetherness, wherever we go.

Our brothers and their families who live on their farms close to our hometown take tender, loving care of their graves there, and for that, we are so grateful.  We visit when we are there at other times throughout the year.

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I was a kid during Vietnam.  I watched news coverage of the Gulf War and the other foreign conflicts that took place as I grew up, and unfortunately, continue to take place around the world.  Often, I simply turn off the news when more coverage is aired.  I simply cannot take more bad news of war.  I didn’t fully realize the depth of our freedom NOT being free until I watched the horrific events of September 11th, 2001, unfold on live television.

When the power of love overcomes the love of power, the world will know peace.”    Jimi Hendrix, a famous 1960’s rock musician, is credited with this statement.  Online sources list other similar quotes, which may have inspired him.  It summarizes what I feel is the answer as well.  Ironically, Jimi Hendrix enlisted in the U.S. Army and trained as a paratrooper, and was granted an honorable discharge.

But how to find this peace?  What can each of us do, as Average Jane and Joe Citizen, to bring this about?  What on earth—literally-can we do to stop the fighting across the world?  We all think that, as just one person, our actions–good or bad–cannot possibly make a difference.

These hundreds (thousands?) of years, these scores of generations of violence toward our fellow man in the name of one’s god, one’s country, one’s pain, scorn and oppression cannot easily be turned around.  This is the way of life for so many, so many fellow humans who have never known a day of peace.  So many who don’t even know there is a better way.

So many, just like ourselves, who think there is nothing, as an individual, that can be done.

Oh, but there is.

There is one beacon, one guiding principle that each of us can put to work every day.  The key word is work, because it takes a lot of that.  If you have even one iota of self-induced strife in your heart, it has the potential to create a negative ripple, and it can be worked upon.  If you think there is nothing you can do to bring peace to the world, think again.

I have written about it before, and I will write about it again.  I offer no apologies to anyone who doesn’t want to hear anything remotely related to religion, because this only has to relate to humanity.  It comes to you and me as fellow humans, breathing the same air, co-existing on the same earth, from another human being.  A man who walked this same earth, breathed this same air from 1181-1226.  A man who gave up riches to pursue a life of humility and peace:  Saint Francis of Assisi.  He is venerated worldwide as the original Instrument of Peace, the man who wrote the prayer.

He is the saint my parents modeled their lives after, leaving us a tremendous legacy, as well as a tough act to follow.  Specifically, our mother wrote a letter to be read at her funeral asking us to live our lives by this prayer.

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So, we try.  For myself, I stumble and fall, get up and keep trying to try.  Some days, that’s the most I can do.  Some days I do a little better.  But I never stop trying.  I can’t.  Mom saw to it that we were handed those marching orders, and we saw to it that it was written in stone on the back of their tombstone in their honor.

 

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I did something recently that didn’t make me feel very good about myself.  Something that, in the parlance of my Catholic upbringing was very likely very venial, was still very wrong.  And my hyper-developed conscience wouldn’t let me rest until I did something about it.  It was more than a white lie, perhaps a shade of light gray.  Nothing damning, nothing that would incite violence or crush someone’s soul, but wrong, nonetheless.  At the time, it felt like an eye for an eye, but in hindsight, it really was something more like an eye for a toenail clipping.

So, I came clean.  I went to the person who would be affected by this transgression, even though it was known only to me.   I confessed.  I owned up to the infraction, made reparations as best I could, and they forgave with open arms.  They asked only to allow them the chance in the future to help to prevent it from happening again.  In a turn I wouldn’t have imagined, they were an Instrument of Peace to me.

So, if an offense is committed deep in a forest and no one hears or sees it, did it really happen?  Is it really wrong?

Undeniably, unequivocally, YES and YES.

If your little voice tells you that you can make peace by righting a wrong, or even creating a right where no wrong existed, then you’d better listen.  That voice is not only your conscience and your voice of reason, it is a much wiser, deeper part of your soul speaking.  It is your opportunity be an Instrument of Peace.

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“Cause there ain’t no doubt I love this land,”

I do love this land.  I love the open fields and rolling hills of my home state, and there are so many other parts of this land I want to explore.  My away-from-home favorites are the mountains of Colorado and the beaches of Florida, but there are so many more places in these great States I want to visit.  I don’t even have a strong desire to travel abroad because there is so much in America I haven’t seen yet.  Places open to me and you and everyone else to visit because this is indeed a free country.  We are at liberty to travel where we want to go.

For that, and for every other liberty small and large, our military is to thank.  The brave men and women who served and those in active duty as well.  Those who may never know the liberty they deserve.  Those who gave up their liberties so that we may have ours.  Words will never be enough to express our gratitude, but it is a start.  God bless them, and…

“God Bless the USA.”

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Please observe Memorial Day with gratitude for all the liberties you possess.   Please thank any active or former military service man or woman.   And, because I know it never goes away, I extend my sympathy to you for anyone you are mourning.

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Thank you for your continued support.   My sisters and I are grateful for the opportunity to reach out to each of you through this blog.  We want to take our mother’s dying wish and make it work not just for us, but for the world.  In the face of conflict, in what appear to be war-torn families and relationships, we are often asked what we do to make it work and to keep it all together.  So many people, we have learned, don’t have even a taste of what we have.  If we can help you in any way to find it, please let us know.  Send an email through the blog, or message any of us privately on Facebook.  Please reach out.