The Buffalo Soldier – a good read about relationships in tough times

The recipe is simple, but tragic. Mix in a young couple living in Vermont who loses their twin daughters to a terrible flood. Season with a ten-year old African-American foster child that they take in two years later. Understand the couple grieves differently and the husband has a one night affair that produces a pregnancy. Finally, layer in a kind, retired couple across the street, one of whom is a retired history professor who introduces the boy to a book on an African-American regiment called the Buffalo Soldiers. What results is an excellent book by Chris Bohjalian called “The Buffalo Soldier.”

The book is told in first person, through the eyes of five sets of characters. Laura, the young wife, works at a pet shelter. Terry, the husband, is a Vermont state trooper. Alfred is the young boy who has moved from foster home to foster home. Phoebe is the woman who Terry becomes infatuated with and is the expectant mother of his child. And, the Heberts, Paul and Emily, are the retired couple whose view is told together. Bohjalian alternates the first person narrative by chapter which provides perspective.

Alfred becomes fascinated with the Buffalo Soldiers, especially after Paul tells him the Native Americans gave them that name as an honor. To them, the buffalo gave life – food, clothing, shelter – so they revered the animal. This becomes important when Paul and Emily get a horse and ask Alfred to help. Alfred is treated differently by others because there are not many African-Americans in this small town or his school, so the Buffalo Soldiers intrigue him and give him a connection.

The story has many relationships, but the foster family is at the heart of it. As noted therein, losing one child is trying to a family, but losing both of your only children can cause relationships to end. As noted above, people grieve differently and for long periods of time. So, while Alfred helps bring Laura out of her grief, Terry has still not stopped being mad at the world and misses how his relationship with his wife was before the death of the twins.

Each chapter begins with a little paragraph on the Buffalo Soldiers, so we see what Paul and Alfred find so compelling about them. I will stop there so as not to reveal any more of the plot. Give it a read and let me know what you think. Please avoid the comments in case others have already read it.

Narcissism and pandemic misleading

The following is a brief letter I sent to my newspaper. Please feel free to adapt and use. Note I softened the last line from the word that I think best defines the actions – sociopathic.

The revelation the president admitted he knew of the pandemic risk, while misleading us, downplaying it and calling it a hoax, is troubling. Epidemiologists and historians have noted mission one in pandemics is tell people the truth, then they are prone to follow healthy safety directions. When we needed leadership, he passed and decided not to create a panic, which is absurd and deadly.

Help me understand, what kind of person holds several rallies without caution, knowing the virus is air borne, putting his most faithful fans at risk just to garner applause? This is beyond narcissism, in my view.

When you hear the word conspiracy…

When you hear the word conspiracy, do yourself a favor and dig further. When such a word is uttered by someone known for his lack of credibility, do not believe him and dig even further.

It is amazing to say this about the person who has arguably the best intelligence staff briefing him, but the president of the United States chooses to parrot conspiracy theories rather than stick with the facts. His five biographers and a sixth author who ghost wrote “The Art of the Deal” for Trump have all noted the president has a problem with the truth.

What has troubled me in the last two days is two GOP Senators (Rand Paul and Joni Ernst) have uttered Trump-like conspiracy theories. I won’t do justice to their comments by repeating them, but it is truly disheartening.

It is bad enough that GOP Senators remain silent when the president verbally or physically abuses the office. It is even worse when they rationalize his comments or behavior.

But, when United States’ Senators parrot Trump-like conspiracy BS, that is a “bridge too far.” Disheartening is a word I used above, but it is more than that. It is embarassing that a Senator would pattern their behavior after the worst toddler. Senators, I will say to you what I have written about the president – if you cannot add value, please stop talking.

God gave us a brain

God gave us a brain. Now why would he do that if he did not want us to use it? He also told us humans have dominion over the land and animals, so would it not be logical that a reason would be the brain he gave us? He would want us to use that brain to solve problems.

Like any parent, we want our children to learn to make their own decisions after we teach them right from wrong and lessons to keep them safe, healthy and prosperous. My guess is we would become annoyed if our children continued to ask us questions that they should know the answer to. And, yet we pray for miracles or guidance when we have the power in our hands or the hands of a skilled surgeon. Maybe the surgeon’s skill is the miracle for which we pray.

The minister John Pavlovitz writes a blog worth reading regardless of the relative faith you may possess. He breaks things down in simple terms. The attached link is a good example of his writing and guidance. I encourage you to take a few minutes to read this piece.

https://johnpavlovitz.com/2020/08/18/christians-opposing-science-is-opposing-god/

Portugal’s President Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa saves two women from surf

The life saving skills of the president of a country is usually not an issue for voters. But, it elicits citizens’ respect, if the president acts to help people. We cannot even get the US president to worry enough about 170,000 plus lives lost due to COVID-19.

Courtesy of Australian News World,

“The locally known swimming skills of Portuguese President Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa are being praised again after he assisted the rescue of two young women last weekend.

Mr de Sousa was at a beach in Portugal’s Algarve region when the two women in the water were swept by currents after their kayak capsized.

The President was filmed helping the pair with life guards.

‘They were dragged away from another beach to this beach, the boat turned over and they swallowed a lot of water and they couldn’t turn the boat up, nor swim, nor get back onto the boat, the current was very strong,’ he told reporters on the beach.

‘So, it was possible to push them and help them get away from the current.’

Mr de Sousa is on a work holiday tour, visiting all Portuguese regions during summertime to show his support for the tourism sector, during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Following the rescue, the President said he hoped the pair would be more careful the next time they entered the water.

‘It was a big scare for them, they swallowed a lot of water,’ he said. ‘Fortunately, me and another patriot helped them.'”

This kind of story is needed in today’s contentious world and one where so-called leaders are not accountable. Kudos to Mr. de Sousa.

https://www.msn.com/en-au/news/world/portugals-president-marcelo-rebelo-de-sousa-saves-two-women-from-surf-at-popular-algarve-beach/ar-BB184Mxs

Thirteen years and counting

Yesterday was the thirteenth anniversary of the start of my going alcohol free. The echo still remains, but it is a faint one and usually pops up at certain times in the late afternoon. It is indeed manageable. The following link is to a post I wrote on my sixth anniversary, which remains my most visited post. If you have this issue or know someone who does, I mention some teachings therein I gleaned from others. The key one is “I am not going to drink today.”

https://musingsofanoldfart.wordpress.com/2013/08/08/six-years-alcohol-free-but-still-want-to-drink/

Shortcuts

While I was walking a path cut through the woods earlier this week, I noticed more than a few shortcuts that would save several steps. Since I am out for a nice walk, who is served by taking the shortcuts? In fact, I would be cheating myself.

It reminded of golfers who mentally shave strokes off their score. If alone, they are only cheating themselves. If playing an opponent, they are cheating an opposition and harming their reputation, as your opponent is not blind and can count.

I have written about good bosses, but one of the worst bosses I have ever had took credit for almost every success and distanced himself from failures. Not surprisingly, he was a notorious cheater at golf.

Does this boss sound like anyone in the public domain? Cheating at golf is not the worst of the US president’s attributes. But, like my boss, it is not surprising he does.

Shortcuts are good when someone needs to shave time or avoid heavy traffic. Shortcuts are great for busy cooks at home to cut a few steps and not sacrifice too much quality. Pre-preparing rice or sauces for the week with Sunday night’s dinner is a Sandra Lee suggestion, whose “Semi-homemade” cooking show was devoted to easier quality cooking.

Yet, some shortcuts are more harmful than good. Not vetting candidates or possible solutions with others will result in poor choices. This especially true if the shortcutter is known for his impatience as that cheating golfer is. Think my doctor is a good choice to run the VA, even though he has no managerial experience, e.g.

The devil is in the details. We must do our best to do our homework and only take shortcuts that will serve us without suffering quality.

Fool’s errand

Over 152,000 Americans have died due to COVID-19. The US has 4.3% of the global population, but 23% of the COVID-19 deaths and 26% of the global cases. Yet, those facts seem to not sink into the minds of supporters of the president.

The president resorted to misinformation on COVID-19, his modus operandi, when briefed on the pandemic risk back in January. This person who wants to be liked and viewed as great leader, chose not to lead in fighting the pandemic, choosing instead to call it a hoax and naysay it. And, it continues to this day – both the misinformation and the pandemic. Fixing the problem is secondary to fixing the blame.

Conservative pundit David Brooks has offered two pertinent quotes over the term of the incumbent president. First, he noted “The Trump White House is equal parts chaos and incompetence.” Second, he said “Trump lacks a sense of decency or empathy.” Adding in attorney and fixer Michael Cohen’s comment under oath, “Donald Trump is a racist, he is a con-artist and he is a cheat,” and it paints a picture that is troubling about any person in leadership. Donald Trump is a clear and present danger to the United States of America and our planet.

As for sycophants who carry water for the person defined above, I do not wish COVID-19 on anyone. But, it is not a surprise, when people flouting mask wearing and social distancing get infected. Herman Cain and Bill Montgomery, two conservative leaders, have died because of COVID-19, with Cain maybe picking it up at a Tulsa pep rally for Trump (where several staff members tested positive). Congressman Louie Gohmert has also contracted it and in so doing has galvanized criticism by Congressional staff for their bosses to take the virus seriously. They are being exposed because their bosses must carry water for the president and heretobefore have not acted cautiously.

Taking the president at his word is a fool’s errand. Now, many Americans are in danger and a many have died needlessly. Putting one’s life at risk for such a corrupt and deceitful person is beyond unwise. It is a fool’s errand.

Eight habits of the heart – a quick review

Recently, I revisited an old post about “The Porch People.” This was a summary of the book called “Little Cliff and the Porch People” by Clifton Taulbert. One of his other books is called “Eight Habits of the Heart.” It’s subtitle adds “Embracing the values that build strong families and communities.” When I met him, he was meeting with executive groups to go over these eight habits.

Below, I will summarize these eight habits and repeat the phrase Taulbert uses on each chapter page. The book is a quick read, so please do not let this summary get in the way of picking up or downloading the book. Each chapter has questions at the end for self-reflection and the end of the book has an outline on how to pass along these habits in small learning groups.

1. Nurturing attitudeIn the community, a nurturing attitude is characterized by unselfish caring, supportiveness, and a willingness to share time.

2 and 3. Dependability and responsibilityWithin the community, dependability is being there for others through all the times of their lives, a steady influence that makes tomorrow a welcome event; and responsibility means showing and encouraging a personal commitment to each task.

4. FriendshipWithin the community, friendship is the habit that binds people together when they take pleasure in each other’s company, listen, laugh, and share good times and bad.

5. Brotherhood or sisterhoodWithin the community, brotherhood or sisterhood is the habit that reaches beyond comfortable relationships to extend a welcome to those who may be different from yourself.

6. High expectationsWithin the community, high expectations involves believing that others can be successful, telling them so, and praising their accomplishments.

7. CourageWithin the community, courage is standing up and doing the right thing, speaking out on behalf of others, and making a commitment to excellence in the face of adversity or the absence of support.

8. Hope Within the community, hope is believing in tomorrow – because you have learned to see with your heart.

Whether you agree with these eight habits, they provide a great foundation to better understand yourself and become a better community citizen. I like the inclusion of high expectations, as we look to lift each other up. A spouse, parent, grandparent, friend or mentor can inspire someone to be better than they would otherwise be, settling for a lesser plateau.

Each of these habits, if practiced and reinforced, will make our communities better. As Gandhi said, a community’s greatness is measured by how it takes care of its least fortunate. Thinking of the classic movie, “It’s a wonderful life,” do we want to live in Bedford Falls or Pottersville? Do we want to emulate George Bailey or Mr. Potter?

As you think of these habits, also consider paying forward good deeds done for you. I recall the story of someone paying for the college education for a young person in poverty. She asked how could she repay him and he said, pay it forward doing the same for someone else. And, as noted under “Nurturing attitude,” if you don’t have money, the gift of time is so very valuable.

What is not said above, is practicing these habits has a psychic income for the person so doing. Being a better person, being a better community citizen, being a friend to many, will be rewarding in and of itself.

The Porch People – let’s revisit

About six years ago, I wrote the following post about why it is important to visit people. With COVID-19 ever-present, we have been able to visit neighbors as we walked, chatting from across the street. But, we need to make more phone calls and visit (with social distancing) folks who are not getting enough social interactions.

A few years ago, I had the pleasure of meeting Clifton Taulbert, the author of “Eight Habits of the Heart” and “Once upon a time when we were Colored,” which are terrific reads and offer a series of life lessons told through a historical lens. Yet, a book he wrote called “Little Cliff and the Porch People” with the illustrations of E.B. Lewis is also helpful in telling his history growing up in the Mississippi Delta and sharing the importance of relationships and community. You may be saying to yourself what an odd title and who are these “porch people?”

Cliff was raised by his great-grandparents and on Saturday, his great-grandfather would coax little Cliff to go get ice cream in the town thirty miles away. What seemed like a journey to nirvana would become a test of patience for little Cliff. You see, his great-grandfather would use the journey to stop and visit with everyone whose house they passed, who were out sitting on the front porch.

Back then, it would be so hot inside a house in the Mississippi Delta, the people would migrate to the front porch built with shade and cooler breezes in mind. Before television and the internet, people would pass time chatting on the porch waving at passers-by. Little Cliff’s great-grandfather knew this, so he made a special effort to see everyone, to check in on families to learn about their illnesses, recoveries, needs and joys while sharing fellowship.

For a child wanting ice cream, Cliff notes this was a huge test to put off his desire for ice cream. But, he began to see the pattern and learned the importance of visiting with others. Just listening is critical. Offering words of support and the occasional piece of advice is helpful. And, as part of the community, he would learn that sharing people’s needs with his family would create a chain reaction to offer help to those who could use it, even if they did not specifically ask for it.

In the book, Little Cliff tells of his great-grandmother sending him off to borrow some butter to cook with asking him to not stop anywhere and hurry back. Cliff had learned that this was not possible, as he was obligated to stop and chat with folks along the way. The quiet truth is the great-grandmother knew this as well, which is why she sent him on the quest. He would learn the importance of speaking with others and she would gain knowledge of how others are doing.

People have always been in need and will always have needs in the future. Sometimes, the needs cannot be resolved by themselves, so the community can help lift people up. Even though front porches have been replaced by back decks and fewer people are walking, we need to remember the “porch people” and make sure we take the time to check in on folks and see how they are doing. We can hope they would do the same, as you never know when I kind word or a friendly ear can help.