DANGEROUS INTERSECTION AHEAD: Life & Death?

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I love¬†intersections, especially when they juxtapose two things of interest or significance, with something serendipitous, something not sought. Within the past few days two written works have intersected for me, while overlaying the death of a friend’s parent. This essay attempts to ponder these as invitations to understanding.

The first item is from an article titled Wild Darkness¬†in Orion magazine about nature’s grasp of dying. It is beautifully written; poignant; honest. But in it, the author, herself¬†sentenced by Judge Medicine, as terminal, asserts that¬†no one teaches us how to die.¬†Apparently she has missed St Paul’s¬†statement¬†I die daily,¬†v.31 kjv, along with his profound observations in chapter 15 on resurrection ‚Äď describing life eternal. (NB: different translations can be read by ¬†pull-down menu.)

So it was with much delight that¬†a book found its way into my hands on the nature of games, finite and infinite. ¬ŅBut, is death (or life) a game? The author dynamically explores this question, for which he deserves much applause. This book first appeared in 1986, and has recently been reissued. It’s destined to become a classic. Here’s a description from the blurb at Amazon, linked above:

‚ÄúThere are at least two kinds of games,‚ÄĚ states James P. Carse as he begins this extraordinary book. ‚ÄúOne could be called finite; the other infinite.‚Ä̬†

Finite games are the familiar contests of everyday life; they are played in order to be won, which is when they end. But infinite games are more mysterious. Their object is not winning, but ensuring the continuation of play. The rules may change, the boundaries may change, even the participants may change‚ÄĒas long as the game is never allowed to come to an end.¬†

What are infinite games? How do they affect the ways we play our finite games? What are we doing when we play‚ÄĒfinitely or infinitely? And how can infinite games affect the ways in which we live our lives? <end blurb excerpt>

The resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth serves to instruct us that life is eternal ‚Äď as can other near death experiences, rigorously investigated.

 

 

 

¬Ņ Happy Ishtar?

Easter egg tree, photo by Andrew Poison, Wikimedia Germany

Easter egg tree, photo by Andrew Poison, Wikimedia Germany

So, where did the term Easter come from? In this form, hinting at fertility and sexuality / eggs and bunnies; it has nothing to do with Christianity!

Here in Merida, we have our own Ishtar egg tree. It’s called an annona, and it bears many large colorful custard-filled¬†eggs.¬†The birds love them, and so do we. They make a terrific sorbet, we learned, after giving a few away to friends. And since we did bring an ice cream maker with us, we have tried out a friend’s recipe. De-lish!

The leaves begin to drop about the time the fruit matures.

The leaves begin to drop about the time the fruit matures.

Annona. A wildly popular fruit.

Annona. A wildly popular fruit.

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                                                      The fruit is delicious right off the tree.

 

Gimme Shel†er*

Homeless Jesus, sculpture by Timothy Schmalz, Ontario

Homeless Jesus, sculpture by Timothy Schmalz, Ontario

Where do you live? Apparently, we all live in an upside-down world, where success is often failure, and wealth is sometimes poverty. ¶ A most famous economist, Adam Smith, posited the Invisible Hand of the marketplace, (while not actually using that phrase). But he was first-and-foremost a moral philosopher and would, I think, be dumbfounded at the robotic immorality of markets today [a great review here.] NB: When profit attempts to eclipse compassion, we can expect change to rebalance all accounts. The statue above is in front of a well-to-do church in Davidson NC. (Another may soon be approved for installation in Rome, near the Vatican.)

Got room for Jesus? While you may not find him at church (unless you want to take him with you) he would be happy to come along ‚Äď including on the other six days, which are equally important¬†(see 14:5,6).¬†So what are you bringing to the party? Jesus¬†doesn’t require grand space;¬†just a tiny corner of the heart.¬†He’s not fussy, never scolds, and cleans his own room. Who could ask for a better roommate or companion?¬†

*Lyrics from the Rolling Stones song by this name, first stanza:

Yeah, a storm is threatening
My very life today
If I don’t get some shelter
Lord, I’m gonna fade away

 

Volunteering (at a language school, and elsewhere)

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Volunteering is good for the soul, and for one’s mental health. It also helps build community, which is a longstanding project for me. Some of my motivation stems from a book I read many years ago: The Ugly American, which showed me how to be a better traveler. I have a definition of community as church. The original concept is Greek, and comes from polity rather than worship. Love of neighbor is not merely conceptual, but requires participation; and I don’t sit in pews anymore, but it still needs an arena: community.¬†

I volunteer three days each week while in Merida, and one day per week up north. For several winters (although they are more summery here than the summers in western NY state) I have spent a day each Tuesday working the desk at Merida English Library, attending to needs of the expat community here. Monday evenings and Wednesday evenings I spend with Meridano students at a local language school, mostly helping them with pronunciation, but gleaning some small improvements in my own ability to speak Spanish. (I speak like a three- or four-year old child, with a large vocabulary.) While up north, I conduct a stealth ethics course at a local prison disguised as a nondenominational Bible study. In all cases above I attempt to rock the house by stimulating thought.

Last night was my last class meeting of the season at Academia Municipal de Ingles. So I attended two parties, as I teach two classes. (Several of Monday’s students came to school on Wednesday for the second party.) To illustrate the challenge of¬†subtlety with language, a staff person came into the classroom to tell me in Spanish that there would be some conviviality after class. But what I heard instead of¬†convivio was con video. And I was dumbfounded by this confusing mention of what sounded like video production. But a good time was had by all, as perhaps may be noticed in the fotos below.

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Maestra Silvia (standing) with students

Maestra Silvia (standing) with students

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                                                                                              Easter egg by Gabby

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THE HEALING POWER OF ART

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I spent my career making big prints for advertising, display, exhibition, museums and artists. I got my start in the US Navy as a Photographers Mate, where I was a highly decorated sailor who served in a combat unit (although I saw no combat). The image depicted above has my highest admiration for waging a just protest against evil activity. Yes, we citizens of the United States of America are waging an unjust war.

Hey, I not only have some expertise in the field of big imaging; I studied ethics in grad school at a prominent university.¬†But anyone who dares question the Bush or Obama administrations’ foreign policies is instantly indicted for failing to support the troops. Well folks, they simply shouldn’t be there! The best way to support them is to bring them home. And the child shown above is staring back at us to cause our shame to awaken to this fact. (Indifference is the gravest sin.)

Yes, nations still apparently need to defend themselves against other nations, or so our defense industries continually argue. And anyone who has ever called the cops to quell a neighbor’s misbehavior would probably agree. But there are better ways to settle squabbles than calling in gun-toting force. Wage peace, for one. Yeah, I know, there’s no money in it. And it requires humility and patience and compassion and honest discussion with our enemies. (My greatest hero, Jesus of Nazareth, tells me to love my enemies ‚Äď surely a hard, but not optional, saying.) And peacemaking takes participation instead of indifference. Ah, there’s the rub. Have you participated in your governance lately? Or are you letting them do dirty work in your name?¬†It’s hard to get a man to understand something, when his paycheck depends upon him not understanding it.¬†-Sinclair Lewis.

A-10 Warthog, designed by Col John Boyd

A-10 Warthog, designed by Col John Boyd (Wikimedia photo by Allspamme)

If you haven’t read this amazing biography¬†of a great American hero who knew something about close warfare, I urge you to read the biography of John Boyd, the fighter pilot who changed the art of war ‚Äď one of the best biographies I’ve ever read. Now, Marines don’t care much for¬†flyboys¬†as they rarely get their hands dirty (or bloody). Boyd was a colonel in the USAF ‚Äď a flyboy. And Boyd was an actual Korea war ace. After that war, he took on the Pentagon, shooting down the B1 bomber! Yes, he shotdown a program which had politicians and captains of industry invested in it in every state in the nation. One guy! For that, he got his picture on the cover of TIME magazine, and had his career jammed, of course.

Boyd then went on to design the most awesome plane for close warfare in the history of flight, after which he made the USAF buy that plane, which is the ugliest bird in the sky: the A-10 Warthog. Presently the Pentagon is waging all out warfare to remove this great weapon from our bloated arsenal, hoping to replace it with gold-plated turkeys that enhance the bottom line.

John Boyd’s huge picture hangs at Marine Corp War College.¬†Those ground pounders know a true hero when they see one. As for the gameboys who kill kids with their play stations ‚Äď well, if I wrote what I’m tempted to write, I’d be a hypocrite. (Gameboy warriors need compassion, too.) Yes, they deserve to be set free from this war just as much as Afghani children do. The best way for you to accomplish that is by writing or calling your Congressional representatives right now. And while you’re at it, ask them to save the A-10 Warthog so we can wage a more just war, if we have to.

 

 

¬°Keep your scuppers clear, mates!

¬ŅWhich of the alva√Īiles left me this red cup?

¬ŅWhich of the alba√Īiles left me this red cup? (I’d like to return it.)

There’s always something. Call it learning. Call it vigilance. Sometimes the universe gives the test before it delivers the lecture, just to see if we are awake. So pay attention!

The guys who built the insulated roof over our patio did a super job at a very reasonable price. But for some strange reason they removed the drain covers which I had installed last spring ‚Äď perhaps so they could hose off the old roof where they were mixing cement. And of course the covers weren’t put back in place at the end of each workday. (Would you? Neither would I.) So who would have noticed when the wind blew an empty plastic cup into the beckoning scupper?

What’s a scupper? Glad you asked. It’s a hole in the wall. Or a hole in the topside hull of a ship, allowing heavy seas to drain back to where they belong. I had fashioned some crude filters for these holes in the parapet wall which usher rainwater into the tubing and downspouts so plastic bags (and cups!) and leaves wouldn’t clog the drain, like happened last year. Being away from a dwelling for any length of time requires planning.¬†So when a cloudburst choked the¬†downspout ¬†shortly after the new roof was completed, I wrongly assumed that the increased area of roof now exceeded the carrying capacity of the tubing. Wrong.

homemade scupper. 4" sanitario pvc slit longways, with wedges cut to allow for bypass in the event the mesh clogs with leaves.

Homemade scupper: ¬†4″ sanitario pvc slit longways, with wedges cut to allow for bypass in the event the mesh clogs with leaves.

 

I had not factored a red cup into the calculations. It had jammed itself into a 90-degree elbow. NB: such corners should not be used in gutter systems. Also note that slope is required for good drainage, and our installation had none. Yep, the major drain tube was perfectly horizontal for over 25 feet. It had silted up with sand and crud, and become very brittle in the intense sun. So the cup was a gift, a perfect invitation to correct a badly configured system before a hurricane parked overhead and really tested for pain in the drain. Now we’ve got 45-degree corners and new tubing with proper slope, and a redundant pair of downspouts. I also excavated the backyard, adding French drains which are merely gravel trenches covered with separation fabric to keep topsoil from clogging the space between gravel.¬†Let it pour!

French drains. (Doing archeology near the well in our backyard.) What fun.

French drains. (Doing archeology near the well in our backyard.) What fun.

New downspouts with good slope and 45¬ļ corners to prevent jams.

New downspouts with good slope and 45¬ļ corners to prevent jams.

Our alva√Īile (mason) is Jos√©. I would certainly hire him again. He and his dad, and sometimes a small crew of muchachos, are very capable contractors. They speak almost no English, but they are fluent in the language of stone and concrete! These guys also rebuilt our patio wall which blew down in a store earlier this year. Jos√© may be reached at 999 992 1939. (Tell him Eric sent you.) They are looking for work, now that so many snowbirds have gone north for the season.¬†

 

 

 

Figs: the divine dessert, and cover-up

A fig from our own tree.

A fig from our own tree.

We love fresh figs, which are hard to come by up north. Once in awhile we see them at Wegman’s for about 75¬Ę each. Two months ago, Alex, a vivero who brings a truckload of plants and shrubs to the Slow Food Market on Saturday mornings, had a few for sale, already hanging with fruit.¬†(Slow Food is near Colon and Reforma, c.72@c33-d, in Colonia Garcia Gineres, a few blocks north of Plaza de Toros, the bull ring)

While our tree is only about two feet tall, it has yielded a fig per week¬†since shortly after being planted in our patio. It is a grafted variety (not sure of name, but the graft scar is evident). I water it daily, and it’s thriving. Alex said it normally takes about seven years for them to bear, but because these are grafted, they are precocious. Wow! (And some of the leaves are big enough to hide behind without blushing too much.)

Photo by Eric Hunt, Wikimedia

Photo by Eric Hunt, Wikimedia