A grief observed

Wednesday afternoon I received word that my sister had died.

She was in her mid-sixties, generally in good health. She was vacationing with family—her husband, daughter, son-in-law, and three grandchildren. Tuesday night she was not feeling well, and she decided to lie down. They said that they would take her to a fast-care clinic in the morning if she didn’t feel better. But she never woke up.

My parents had just the two of us. Our mom died a few years ago, in her eighties. Our dad is still alive, ninety-four years old and still doing well. We were close at times, more separated at others. In her teen years, she went through a rebellious stage that led to a lot of fights between her and our parents. She didn’t finish college, but met a man there and married him. They lived in his childhood house and hometown for a few years; then he was offered a better job and they moved to the suburbs of a larger city. At one time, their house was a summer vacation stop for my household. They then also became the hosts of the family gathering at Christmastime—usually focused on the weekend between Christmas and the New Year.

Those family gatherings became less and less comfortable each year for the past several years. Our political convictions were diverging and becoming firmer. Walking into their house was stressful, hearing CNN at high volume (because my brother-in-law has become hard of hearing) and being forced to endure the propaganda much of the time we were there.

Then came COVID. My sister was proud of the way she kept her immediate family—from her aged father to the youngest grandchild—safe in a “family bubble.” Those of us outside the bubble felt bad for my dad in particular, as he was denied the opportunity even to take a walk in his neighborhood and visit with the friends he recently had made there. Of course the traditional Christmas visit was canceled in 2020. Then came the vaccines, and fitness to visit the family was defined according to vaccine status.

Social media was the worst. My sister shared every meme that came her way if it promoted wearing masks, staying away from other people, or getting shots according to the mainstream-media-approved schedule. She also reposted messages promoting socialism, “woke” politics, and general government control over people’s lives. I was already being careful not to risk my job by sharing messages on Facebook that could be seen as contrary to my employer’s standards of decency and correct-think. I didn’t want to engage in a Facebook war with family, so I developed the habit of scrolling over her posts. Once, when my cousin asked me why I wasn’t saying much on Facebook, I told her that staying away from Facebook was good for my blood pressure.

I feel twinges of guilt that I allowed politics to create a rift in the family, that I didn’t try harder to keep in touch and to find ways to bridge the gap that had appeared. At the same time, family connections are a two-way street, and I remind myself that her stubbornness created at least fifty percent of the separation. To be honest, the sense of relief that came from knowing that we would not be spending time at her place during Christmas 2020 signaled that allowing such a separation may have been healthier than struggling to bridge the gap, to seek common ground, to hold the family together in spite of our contrary convictions.

One of the rules of our American culture says that one says only good things about the dead. My sister truly was a loving and caring person. She sacrificed endlessly for the good of her family and her church. She worked hard to provide the people in her life with many things that she felt would be good for them. Even if her service was as much a burden upon those being served as it was on herself, she always meant well. She will be missed by many people, and I am among those people.

Some family members are part of our life through the accident of birth. Other family members we choose as we pas through life. In either case, the day finally comes when death separates us from the family we love. For my sister, that separation came swiftly, without extended pain and suffering, and for that I am glad. All of us left behind are sorry to see her go. We are comforted by the promise that she now is among the saints, waiting in Paradise for the Day of Resurrection. We are comforted by knowing that we will rise again to live forever in the kingdom of our God, reunited as members of his family, and celebrating together at his heavenly feast. Today’s sorrow is passing, but the joy of heaven is forever. Today’s regrets darken the night, but a new Day will dawn. At the resurrection reunion, full harmony will prevail and all painful differences will be forgotten. The glory that will be revealed far exceeds the troubles of today. J.

The clam in the middle of the storm

I have been absent from WordPress for several days, not because of a deliberate social media fast (a practice which meets with my approval), but simply because of the business of the season. In addition to the usual Advent and Christmas activities, some extra events have also been occupying my time. For one thing, I will be speaking this week at the funeral of a long-time church member; she asked me some months ago to speak at her funeral, and I promised to do so, neither of us knowing at the time that this would happen during the latter part of the Advent season. When her son called to let me know she had died and to repeat the request on behalf of the family, his words were tangled (as happens to most of us at stressful times). He wanted to say that the family would be honored to have me speak, but he kept saying instead that it would be an honor for me to speak at his mother’s funeral. Which it is, in fact, but I know what he was trying to say.

Last February, in the midst of a record-breaking spell of winter weather, two of my daughters moved into a new apartment. Most things have gone well for them in their new place, but this month they began finding that water was leaking into their apartment, soaking the carpeting and pooling on the harder floors. The apartment management sent repair specialists to find and fix the leak, but in a larger building with several units that task is harder than it is in a single-family house. As a result, we have been housing refugees this month—three cats and a dog, although the dog was only here part of the time. The dog managed to complicate matters, though, by breaking through a window because a neighbor of my daughters was walking his dog; this meant that my daughter’s dog needed time at a veterinary clinic, resulting in family being out on the road in the midst of several, tornado-bearing thunderstorms Friday night. All went well for my family, though, and we pray for those who suffered greater losses in those terrible storms.

Christmas decorations are going up in and around the house, although we seem to have more electrical problems than usual this year. The blue lights we string across the front of the house had segments that would not light. I suspect that many households that use this kind of decoration buy new strings of bulbs every year and do not try to store them and reuse them as we do. Then we had similar problems with the lights for the Christmas tree indoors. I was able to get one of three dysfunctional strings working. Another has a segment that will not light but is bundled together and hidden on the back side of the tree. The third one that refuses to work is being kept as a source for replacement bulbs, as a fair number of bulbs are burnt out. I assure them that I can relate. I shopped online for replacement bulbs, but they are hard to find; the only ones available include the bulb but no socket, meaning that replacement involves threading the tiny wires of the new bulb through the old socket. Cannibalizing the extra string clearly is the better choice.

And I have messages to prepare for other audiences, which is why WordPress sinks lower on my list of priorities. I was reading one message this weekend before sharing it and discovered a typo that Word’s spellcheck failed to notice. Speaking about the Biblical encouragement to rejoice (and I say it again: Rejoice!—Philippians 4:4), I described how that word seems sometimes like a commandment, like the commandment not to be anxious. Both these messages, I said, are promises and not commandments. We should not put extra pressure on ourselves, trying to rejoice, trying not to worry. Instead, we understand that Jesus has already fixed our problems. For that reason, we rejoice and do not worry. Speaking of the “peace at the center” that comes from having Christ at the center (of our lives and of our holiday observances), I wrote about the clam in the middle of the storm. There is potential for a great message based around that picture, but I haven’t had time to write that message; I simply changed the word “clam” back to “calm.”

As time permits, I hope to finish my series of world history posts, wrapping up the Victorian Age and carrying through the twentieth century—World Wars, the Great Depression, post-modernism, and globalization. But I have already created an outline for yet another book, one which will focus on philosophy, especially questions about truth and how we know what is true. Among other things, this book will acknowledge the possibility (popularized in the Matrix movies) that we are living in a simulated world and not in reality. Given current scientific understandings of general relativity, subatomic physics, quantum mechanics, and the nature of time, the simulation theory is not far-fetched; moreover, it may mesh nicely with a creationist, young-earth perspective. But that writing will not appear until next month.

Blessings to each of you in your Advent observances. J.

Speaking Truth on Campus

For much of my life, I have been defending historic and traditional Christianity against those who would mock it or who would replace it with something more timely, more in tune with the present times. When I began this journey, I was graciously given an opportunity to start off on the right foot.

Forty years ago I was a college sophomore, studying at a liberal arts college, majoring in religion. My first two semesters I had taken classes on the Old Testament and New Testament, with the rare opportunity also to study the Apocrypha during our brief January term. Now, in my second year, I finally enrolled in the course that was supposed to be an introduction to religious studies. This class happened to be taught by the Academic Dean of the college, one of his rare appearances in the classroom. His teaching style was more typical of a Masters’ level course, given the amount of reading and writing he expected from us, and the depth of material he assigned. Our textbook, The Philosophy of Religion, contained essays from all the great names in the field, ranging from Plotinus to Aquinas, Hume, Kant, Feuerbach, Schleiermacher, Kierkegaard, Barth, Brunner, Bultmann, Dewey, James, and Wittgenstein. Topics included the definition of religion, the existence of God, and the problem of evil. We were required to write a short paper on each topic and a longer paper on one of the seven topics, with a comprehensive final at the end of the course. The professor, in classroom lectures, informed us that anyone who still believed in the Bible and traditional Christianity must picture God as an old man with a long white beard, sitting on a chair up in the clouds. He offered his own definition of God as “an oblong blur.”

Outside of class one day, I met with the professor and informed him that I was a believer in the Bible and traditional Christianity and that God was not, to me, an old man with a long white beard sitting on a chair in the clouds. We talked for a time about religion and faith, and the professor suggested that I might appreciate some additional reading. He offered a list featuring one of his favorites, Kierkegaard, but also focusing on Karl Barth, whom he thought would appeal to me. (He also revealed his partiality toward Paul Tillich, like Barth an heir to Kierkegaard’s thought.) I found the recommended books in the library, checked them out, and read the suggested essays, about eight hundred pages added to my assignments for his classes and for the others I was taking that semester. I became, at that time, a fan of Kierkegaard, and remain his fan today. Barth, on the other hand, left me cold. Although he used traditional words, he emptied them of meaning, offering nothing worthwhile in place of the traditional and Biblical message they convey.

In the last week before the final exam, the professor began to pull the themes of the class together into one master lecture. (He distributed an outline for us to follow his thoughts.) Religion, he proposed, came from three origins: from human relationships with nature, from human understanding of history, and from human encounters inside our minds. All religious thought and expression, the professor said, came from those three sources. It took more than one class session to summarize the three sources, and then he was prepared to discuss how these three sources of religion handled the topics we had been pursuing all semester.

With his outline in front of me, I saw where the transition occurred from his summary of sources to their response to the topics, and I raised my hand during that transition. When the professor called upon me, I directed his attention to one of the assigned essays read earlier in the course, one from the textbook. Written by Rudolf Otto, from his book The Idea of the Holy, it described God as “Wholly Other,” a reality distinct and different from everything humans encounter in themselves and in the surrounding world. The professor admitted that yes, that assigned essay did take a position beyond the three sources of religion he had described. With that admission, he proceeded to complete his intended lecture.

When we met to take the final exam, we were given blue books (ask your parents or grandparents if you don’t know about exam day blue books) and a mimeographed sheet assigning our essay, due in two hours. The assignment began, “There are three sources of religion…” and told us to choose one of the three sources, describe it, and explain how it responded to one of the topics we had covered. But, following those three points, the assignment continued, “It has been suggested in class that religion can also come from the Wholly Other. Evaluate that possibility from the point of view of the source you have been describing.”

I sensed (correctly) that the professor’s preferred source of religion was human encounter within, a Freudian view that people create religion to replace our parents when they fall short of our idealized concept what parents should be. If your human father is less than perfect, well, then you have a perfect Father in heaven (but you will one day outgrow that Father as well). I described religion coming from that source and proceeded to demonstrate how a religion coming out of that source completely fails to answer the problem of evil. From there, I wrote how a God who is Wholly Other can be the center of a better religion, a religion that provides acceptable answers to the problem of evil in our lives. I knew the risk I was taking, telling the professor that he was wrong, but I had no intention of writing anything different in my blue books.

Even though I disagreed with the professor, I did so in his own language, using the vocabulary and the approaches that were modeled by his lectures and his assigned readings. In the end, I received a strong A for the final exam and earned an A in the class. Of course, I did not convert the professor to traditional Christianity, but I did demonstrate that a traditional, Biblical Christian could function effectively on his academic playing field. That, for me, was part of the joy of a liberal arts education, at least as those existed on college campuses forty years ago. Students could remain true to themselves, defend their beliefs and opinions, and—so long as they followed the academic rules about communication and mutual respect—receive full credit for being capable scholars and thinkers.

That’s how it was then. That’s how it should be today. J.

Books, books, books

This afternoon I have updated two pages on this blog. I have completely redone the “Books by Salvageable” page, removing the images of book covers and listing titles alphabetically (separated into non-fiction and fiction), each with a link to the book listing on amazon.com. I have linked to the text versions of the book, but the Kindle versions should be easily available from that page.

Also, I have added my latest book, Advent Thoughts and Christmas Musings. Long-time readers of this blog have seen the earlier drafts of the devotions in this book; current users can find those drafts for free by hunting back into the distant past. Otherwise, the book is for sale, edited and updated, for six dollars in standard book form or three dollars on Kindle. It consists of twenty-four devotional readings for the first twenty-four days of December. After an introduction that explains the historic significance of the time of Advent (a calm within the storm of Christmas preparations), these devotions lead the reader through the Old Testament promises and pictures of the coming Savior whose birth we celebrate each Christmas. Also included are twelve devotions for the twelve days of Christmas. These focus on some of the traditional festivals of the Christmas season, such as St. Stephen’s Day (December 26) and The Naming and Circumcision of Jesus (January 1).

I have also changed the Novella page to include only an excerpt of my novella, “To Tell the Truth (A Love Story).” A link to amazon.com is included for anyone who wants to purchase the entire novella in print or in Kindle form (six dollars paperback or four dollars Kindle).

Meanwhile, I have other books struggling to make their way forward. The next one to be published will be “Witnesses to the Passion of our Lord,” a collection of first-person accounts of what happened to Jesus on and around Good Friday, as related by such persons as Simon Peter, Judas Iscariot, Pontius Pilate, and the repentant thief on the cross next to Jesus’ cross. Some of these accounts go back thirty years in preparation, but I am finally ready to assemble them as a book. I would like to bring together some of my recent posts about politics and economics into a manifesto, probably focused on the problems inherent in socialism, but with other reflections as well. I may try to assemble some of my most recent posts into a book on the history of western civilization. I want to start writing a book about love (from a Biblical and Christian perspective, covering not only romance and marriage but also family, friendships, love for our neighbors, and love for God). Finally, I have wanted for years to assemble some sort of approach to Christian philosophy (if there is such a thing).

“Of making many books there is no end, and much study wearies the body” (Ecclesiastes 12:12). J.

Albert Pike

One of the dangers of historical research—especially biographical research—is the unexpected house guest, not seated at the dinner table or sleeping in a bed, but constantly present in one’s mind. I would hate to spend a year or more writing a detailed biography of one person; I know that, long before the research and writing and editing was completed, I would know that person better than I know myself. This fall, I agreed to do a lecture series of eight weeks—eight forty-five-minute talks, covering eight people who have contributed to the history of Arkansas. I chose some people about whom I have written before, figuring it would be easy to restate what I have already learned. I also included on the list a few people I have not studied before, just because I thought it would be interesting to learn more about them. By far the most interesting subject I have covered—and the most vivid and persistent guest—has been a man named Albert Pike.

Albert Pike was born in Massachusetts December 29, 1809. From his youth, he was a genius. He had an unusually high aptitude for languages, including ancient languages and Indian languages. He also had the ability to gather information quickly, retain it accurately, and interpret it thoroughly, combining resources from assorted sources to build greater knowledge. Early in his teen years, he borrowed a thirteen-volume history from one of his older cousins. When he returned the books a few days later, the cousin suggested they had been too challenging for Albert. No, he said, he had read all thirteen and understood them thoroughly. He invited the cousin to quiz him on the content of the books, and he passed the examination easily.

When he was sixteen years old, Albert Pike applied to study at Harvard University. He had no trouble passing the entrance exam, but he could not afford the first year’s tuition. Undaunted, Albert took a job teaching school and applied his spare time to studying the subjects covered in the freshman and sophomore years at Harvard. Returning a year later, having saved his money to cover junior year tuition, Albert easily passed through the tests for Harvard’s first two years; only then was he informed that he must still pay tuition for those two years to receive credit for the courses and move into his junior year. Furious and feeling cheated, Albert Pike left the Harvard campus. His feelings were understandably mixed when he was offered an honorary Master’s degree from Harvard some thirty years later.

With two friends, Pike left Massachusetts to explore the United States. They traveled through New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Kentucky. Arriving in Tennessee, Pike found nothing to capture his attention, so he and his friends proceeded west to Saint Louis. One turned back, but the other friend stuck with Pike as they joined a party heading into Texas. They went prospecting for gold and silver around Santa Fe and Taos with little success. The other friend returned east, but Pike and his new companions continued exploring, meeting scattered settlers, various Indian tribes, and all kinds of bad weather. Finally tiring of the Old West, Pike headed east, aiming for New Orleans. Taking a wrong turn, he found himself at Fort Smith in Arkansas Territory. Penniless, he took a job teaching school, gathering twenty students in a tiny one-room schoolhouse. Also becoming acquainted with some of the politicians of the territory, Pike saved his money until he could move to the new capitol city called Little Rock. There he became involved in politics, first as a journalist for the local Whig newspaper, and then as an attorney. He studied to pass the bar but was granted his license to practice with little objection. “At least practicing law you won’t kill anyone,” the examiner quipped.

Pike got married and built a grand house in Little Rock, one that is still standing today. He profited from his law practice and built an enormous personal library. When war broke out with Mexico, Pike became an officer leading Arkansas troops into battle. Later, when he spoke disparagingly of a fellow officer from Arkansas, the two arranged a duel. Standing on a sand bar west of Fort Smith in Indian Territory (because dueling was illegal in the state of Arkansas), the men exchanged shots, but no one was injured. A Cherokee observer sneeringly commented that he could have hit a squirrel at a much greater distance with the pistols held by the duelists. But Pike and his opponent declared that honor had been satisfied and celebrated together with a grand dinner to which they invited all their friends.

Albert Pike was a large man, six-foot-two-inches tall, 275 pounds in prime health (expanding to 300 pounds in his later years, before disease robbed him of his weight). He loomed large in the social life of Little Rock as well. In 1850 he was invited to join the Masonic Lodge. He moved rapidly through the degrees of membership, becoming a Lodge leader; he then spent much of the rest of his life rewriting the Scottish Rite of Masonic membership and researching other aspects of Masonic belief and practices.

Pike said that slavery was terrible, an enormous injustice; then he also said that trapping workers into factory labor at substandard wages was equally evil. He owned four slaves himself, and he supported the right of southern states to continue to practice slavery. He warned readers in the northern states that freeing the southern slaves would not be a favor unless they were also granted educations and means to make a living; otherwise, their lives would remain miserable. When secession occurred, Pike reluctantly took his position with the Confederate government. Made a brigadier general, he was sent into Indian Territory to negotiate with the tribal groups living there—ideally, to raise troops to help the Confederacy; and, at the very least, to guarantee the neutrality of tribes that would not actively support the Confederacy. Many tribal leaders were open to service to the Confederacy under Pike’s leadership. He brought some of them as soldiers to fight at Pea Ridge in Arkansas. Communication between Pike and the other generals was minimal, Confederate forces came out losers in the fight, and false rumors were spread that Pike’s Indian troops had acted like savages, scalping Union soldiers and forsaking military discipline on the battlefield.

Pike resigned his commission and disappeared into a cabin in rural Arkansas. There he continued work on his Masonic studies. When the war ended, he faced enemies from both sides and even retreated briefly into Canada. He eventually received a pardon from President Andrew Jackson, although his life savings were consumed by legal fees and he barely managed to recover his Little Rock house (which had been used as headquarters by Union General Frederick Steele from 1863 to 1865). Pike’s wife returned to the house and spent her last years there, while Pike lived in Washington DC, lodging with the Masonic leadership there and using their library for his work. After the death of his wife, the house was used for several years as a girls’ college, then was bought by a businessman, John G. Fletcher, who would be elected mayor of Little Rock. Mayor Fletcher’s son, John Gould Fletcher, grew up in that mansion; he became a Pulitzer-Prize winning poet and author. The mayor’s daughter married a lawyer, David Terry, who became owner of the mansion when his wife’s parents died; he was elected to represent Arkansas in the United States House of Representatives.

Many of Albert Pike’s writings were published, and some are still in print. Others remain within the Masonic libraries in Washington DC and in Little Rock. Fantastic stories have been built around Pike, often from modern conspiracy theorists. Allegedly, Pike wrote a letter in 1871 in which he predicted three World Wars—the first fought between Britain and Germany, which would lead to a Communist government in Russia; the second, also fought in Europe, which would bring about a Jewish homeland; and a third, to be fought by Muslims against Christians and Jews, finally bringing about a discrediting of all three religions and a one-world government. I have read quotes from this alleged letter, which some say was on exhibit in a London museum until 1977. The museum now claims no knowledge of the letter and says that, if it ever existed, they never had it. Moreover, the quotes I have read are far different from the writings of Albert Pike that I have studied this year, both in style and in content.

Other researchers accuse Albert Pike of being a Satan worshiper. In my mind’s ear, I can hear a hearty belly-laugh from Pike over this misunderstanding. A Hebrew word meaning “light-bearer” was translated into Latin as “Lucifer.” Old Testament prophets Isaiah and Ezekiel address human kings (of Babylon and Tyre, respectively) with that title, and both addresses have been seen by Christians as references to the devil. I agree with that interpretation. The two prophets describe one who was blessed by the Lord with glory and honor, but who became proud and rebelled against the Lord, thereby earning God’s rejection and punishment. Because of these two prophecies, many Christians consider Lucifer to be a name of the devil, along with Satan and other titles. But the word was frequently used to describe the planet Venus, especially as it appears in the morning sky. Venus reflects the light of the sun and can be seen as a sign that sunrise is not far away. The label is assigned to the devilish kings by Isaiah and Ezekiel, but the same title also belongs to Jesus, the Son of God, who is called the bright morning star in Revelation 22:16. When Pike wrote glowingly (pun intended) of Lucifer, he was referring to the Christ-like image of the morning star, not of the devil.

Anyhow, I spent several days with Albert Pike living in my head—for all practical purposes, living in my house as well. My talk on Pike was given last Thursday. I hope that soon he will go away… and I hope that my next subject, Sam Walton, will not become such a persistent guest. J.

Home again

 My family adventure of the last nine days contains three highlights: meeting my granddaughter, driving many miles, and seeing the Grand Canyon.

  1. Those of you who have met a grandchild for the first time already know what I would be describing. The rest of you might or might not understand. Either way, words fail to convey the most important moments of a voyage that lasted slightly more than two hundred hours.
  2. The voyage, from driveway to driveway, was roughly 1,900 miles, or a bit more than 3000 kilometers. We were in five states but saw license plates from 46 states (missing only Alaska, Hawaii, New Hampshire, and Vermont). We experienced open highways and construction delays. We saw spacious skies and also drove through heavy rains in northern New Mexico and Arizona. (Who ya gonna call? Drought-Busters!) We observed smoke and ash from western wildfires. Our trip included mountains and canyons, hills and valleys, prairies and deserts and conditions in between, oaks and pines and mesquite and sagebrush and cacti (clearly planted in crop rows) and corn and alfalfa. At one point we drove through the region where Apollo astronauts practiced walking on the moon. (Only on the last day of our voyage did it occur to me that, at roughly the same time fifty-two years earlier, three men spent nine days in a little metal box so they could walk for an hour or two on the surface of the moon. They had no rest stops, no restaurants, and no motels—just a long trip in a small metal box.) We saw the Hoover Dam and Area 51. I stood—not at a corner, but in a gas station—in Winslow, Arizona. We should have turned left at Albuquerque.  
  3. When we told people back home that we planned a side trip to the Grand Canyon, they assured us that we would be amazed and astounded and awed. That concerned me—when people tell me how to feel, I often feel the opposite. But viewing the Grand Canyon was memorable and impressive. Rather than merely driving there and looking around on our own, we paid to join a tour group that traveled from Flagstaff, Arizona, up to the South Rim and back. Our driver and guide was a geologist who also leads hiking and rafting tours through the Grand Canyon. He drove us to six different locations on the South Rim, giving us twenty or thirty minutes at each location to view the Canyon and explore the area, while he parked the vehicle and then met us again, sparing us much of the hassle that many tourists face in that National Park. A generous lunch was included in the package, and our guide was able to share copious information about the geology, history, flora and fauna, and significance of the Canyon and its surrounding area, including personal anecdotes and observations. He mentioned, for example, that most of the deaths at the Grand Canyon are the result of heat and dehydration, not from falls into the Canyon. The guide said that an average of five people a year die in the Grand Canyon but that there have already been ten deaths this year. (A later Internet search gave an average of twelve deaths per year at the Grand Canyon, but that statistic included aircraft crashes and drownings in the Colorado River.)

For the journey, I brought books from my long-term reading plan and also drafts of writing I hope to publish. I found little time for the latter project, but I did keep up with my reading. Ironically, before going to sleep the night after we visited the Grand Canyon, my reading included the following selection from Kurt Vonnegut’s novel Slaughterhouse Five: “…and Billy was flung back into his childhood. He was twelve years old, quaking as he stood with his mother and father on Bright Angel Point, at the rim of the Grand Canyon. The little human family was staring at the floor of the canyon, one mile straight down. ‘Well—’ said Billy’s father, manfully kicking a pebble into space, ‘there it is.’ They had come to this famous place by automobile. They had had seven blowouts on the way. ‘It was worth the trip,’ said Billy’s mother raptly. ‘Oh, God—was it ever worth it.’ Billy hated the canyon. He was sure that he was going to fall in. His mother touched him, and he wet his pants. There were other tourists looking down into the canyon, too, and a ranger was there to answer questions. A Frenchman who had come all the way from France asked the ranger in broken English if many people committed suicide by jumping in. ‘Yes, sir,’ said the ranger. ‘About three folks a year.’ So it goes.” J.

Birth announcement

My first grandchild was born this week. Mother (and father) and baby are all doing well. Those who are interested have already been given information about length and weight and time of birth. These statistics are less important than the report that all are in good health. (Time of birth is especially arbitrary, given the reality of time zone and of Daylight Saving Time.)

I am careful not to say that I became a grandfather this week. My daughter and her husband are firm, and rightly so, to say that their daughter has been a person for some months as she developed before birth. They celebrated their first Mothers’ Day and Fathers’ Day this spring, and they have gently corrected those people who suggest that they became parents at the birth of their daughter, as if she was less than a person prior to being born.

I was not able to be there this week for the occasion of her birth. But several members of the family will be making the pilgrimage next week to be present when she is born again in Holy Baptism. (I am prepared to give a Biblical explanation of infant baptism to anyone who is interested, but that is not my reason for writing this evening.) The baby will meet her family and no doubt be passed from one person to another. Not all the family can make the trip this month; other family members hope and plan to visit later in the year.

The trip there and back will take several days, so after the coming weekend I will have a short vacation from blogging and other online activities. I could find ways to remain active online, but I am choosing instead to take this vacation. It will be good for me to be free from social media for a few days, and I’m sure that I will catch up with anything important once I find my way back home.

Meanwhile, this weekend I have some writing to do—some continuation of blogging themes, and some other writing that needs to be done. I will even take some work with me—writing to read and edit and prepare for publication, as time permits during the trip. You can expect a flurry of posts in the next three days or so before Salvageable falls silent for a time. God willing, I shall return.

Meanwhile, my family and I celebrate the gift and miracle of new life. J.

Double secret probation

When I contracted COVID last month, I was regulated to remain in quarantine (with family members who happened to have the same illness at the same time as me). The official government quarantine was ten days from when I first noticed symptoms; my workplace established a fourteen day quarantine. The Memorial Day weekend helped to close the gap between those two periods, and I was feeling better long before I was allowed to leave the house. I was able to devote some of my energy into my writing, which had been flagging lately. I also returned to work Wednesday of last week with new strength and energy to devote to my tasks in that arena.

The burst of hopeful energy did not last very long.

Waiting for me in my email was a statement about the company’s policy. This statement said that all employees not vaccinated for COVID must wear a mast at all times on company property. This replaces the pre-vaccine policy that had us masked when around other people but permitted to remove our masks when alone in our workspace. The policy states that one infraction leads to a written warning, a second infraction leads to a final warning, and a third infraction leads to immediate termination. The same policy also indicates that the company cannot demand that anyone receive the vaccine, nor that any employee can be shamed or bullied or singled out for not being vaccinated. But those who are vaccinated are free not to wear masks (or to wear them, if they so desire), while the rest of us must wear our masks or will lose our jobs. Not that we are being shamed or bullied or anything.

When I had been at work for an hour, I had a meeting with our Human Resources Director and with my manager. The HR director was very sweet and syrupy, as is her nature, and was also very firm that I had been naughty for getting sick and that I had better be aware of the company policy. In fact, that same afternoon, I received my written warning because I had arrived at work and been at my desk without a mask that same day.

I’ve known for a long time that my job was hanging by a thread. The powers that be already drastically reduced the budget for my department, forcing some people to be downsized out of a job and others who left not to be replaced. If anything, the virus crisis slowed the procedures that were aiming to cut us off the tree. Now, it appears, they see an opportunity to empty another chair, and I expect that I will be watched carefully for the slightest slip or mistake. It’s reached the point that I’m extra careful driving to work, as if a traffic infraction could terminate my position and have me searching for another job.

Of course I am searching for another job, but nothing has come of that yet.

What frustrates me the most is not the bullying and shaming, but the lack of science involved in this episode. Science has demonstrated that people who are sickened by viruses and recover gain immunity to those viruses. The entire point of vaccination is that people receive a mild form of the virus so their bodies create antibodies to immunize them against the virus. Vaccines are called “artificial active immunization,” but getting sick and recovering is simply “active immunization,” or sometimes (by contrast with vaccination) “natural active immunization.”

Some people argue that COVID hasn’t been studied long enough for scientists to know how long natural active immunization remains in effect. On the other hand, the medical professionals who interviewed me on the telephone said that I should not get the vaccine for at least three months because of possible complications involving the antibodies already produced in my body. Other studies have found that antibodies are still present in people who recovered from COVID ten or eleven months ago. A small number of people have been sickened a second time by COVID. A small number of people—but a larger proportion of the people in question—have been sickened by COVID after being vaccinated. Science indicates that I am less likely to deliver the virus to other people now that I have been sick and have recovered. But the politics and economics of medicine, along with the agenda of the people at charge at my workplace, are clearly bigger than the science I learned in school.

I hope to be able to find time and energy to keep my writing projects going. I hope to find another job before I get kicked out the door at my present workplace. All I can do at the moment is trust that the Lord has a plan for me, and that things will work out fine according to His schedule. J.

Recovery

Continuing to be quarantined after recovering from covid-19 resembles a long holiday weekend or a “staycation,” as they call it. I could only guess when symptoms began, so the end of the quarantine is also based on guesswork. As far as the CDC is concerned, I’m free to leave the house tomorrow; but my employer does not want me back at work until Wednesday. So the next few days will be a transition of sorts, feeling normal and doing some normal things, but not returning to the full routine yet for a few more days.

This time off has permitted me to do some additional reading and writing, as well as work around the house and yard. I have several other minor projects I hope to tackle over the next few days. In fact, this required holiday offers a glimpse into how I may budget my time when I retire. Retirement, though, is still years away. I expect to work full-time until I turn seventy for several reasons. First, Social Security is increasingly insecure because of an aging population. Second, my parents and grandparents all flourished well into their eighties. (My father is 93 and still in good health.) Third, I still expect to have talent and ideas to offer for years to come. Even when I retire, I will keep on writing, and I hope that my writing will continue to improve. I have no reason to stop working at this time.

On the other hand, facing anxiety and depression prepared me well for this covid business. I already learned how to get out of bed and get things done even when my mind and my body were saying no. I probably went to work on days I should have stayed home. But I can perform tasks adequately even when concentration and motivation are lacking. Taking it easy means diverting my energy to other activities. While the cats expect some of that time and energy to be given to them—they loved this quarantine the way they loved the whole-society quarantine a year ago—reading and writing and other stay-at-home tasks are always on the schedule, seven days a week, every week of the year.

Besides, healthy though I am, I always feel a bit off, and I find it easy to believe that I am battling some chronic disease. Lupus, Parkinson’s, Hypochondria, Crohn’s Disease: I can read the descriptions and match them to myself, but there’s always another part of my mind that brushes off the anxiety and keeps on ticking. This is why, the day after being tested positive for covid, I went out and mowed the lawn. A couple of people told me not to push it, but mowing is impossible with our machine without a fair amount of pushing. Afterward, I was able to tell people that I simply do not know the meaning of the word. When someone responds, “What word is that?” I am able to say, “I’m not sure what word, but if you said it, I wouldn’t know what it means.”

As long as I have several books at different stages of being written, I can focus on one of them and keep on writing or rewriting. I hope that, starting with this quarantine and continuing through the summer, I can break up the figurative raft of logs—the various books at different stages—and send them floating down the stream, one by one. J.

COVID report

For the past several days I have been home, diagnosed with covid, quarantined and barred from interacting face to face with the public. (But they haven’t banned me from the Internet yet!)

I repeatedly considered how much of my covid story I wanted to tell online. I am not alone—several family members are also affected—and when one of them mentioned all of us on Facebook, I (for one) was not pleased with the breach of privacy.

Let me just say, then, that several of us in the same family had the same symptoms around the same time. Some tested positive for covid. A couple tested negative. It’s possible that their test happened late enough that they had already recovered. None of us has a severe case. One of us was fully vaccinated, but that person tested positive and had the same symptoms, to the same degree, as the rest of us.

I started the month of May with a painful ear infection. I went to one of those streetside Urgent Care facilities, was diagnosed with an outer ear infection (sometimes called swimmer’s ear) and was given antibiotic drops to put in the ear. The pain went away, but I continued to feel as if the ear was blocked—a sense of fullness in that ear, and hearing loss in that ear. As a result, when I began to feel lightheaded and dizzy, with a loss of ability to concentrate, I thought the infection might have traveled to the inner ear. I was sick enough to call in sick for church on Sunday the 23rd and to call in sick for work on Monday the 24th. Since I also had a low fever that Sunday night, I thought it would be good to visit another Urgent Care facility on Monday. After a long wait, I was examined and was told that I had no ear infection, that my symptoms were probably due to TMJ—a disorder of the jaw joint that has nothing to do with infectious disease. With that diagnosis, I was sent home. They had not bothered to test me for covid.

Meanwhile, another family member with similar symptoms ended up at the emergency room because of low blood pressure. That was probably due to dehydration due to lack of appetite. But this family member also had pneumonia and had a rash from poison ivy. The hospital decided to run several tests (including checking for Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever) and threw the covid test in as an afterthought. A positive result to that covid test brought me and others in for testing, and (as I say) I was one of the family members whose results came back as positive.

In other words, our several cases nearly went undetected and unreported. They could easily have been dismissed as seasonal allergies, ear infection, or a bad cold that made life hard for a few days and then left again. In fact, I have not felt terribly sick throughout this covid experience. I have been sicker before. I had shingles a few years ago, and that was ten times as bad. The biggest inconveniences from this covid experience have been the enforced quarantine at home and the long phone conversations with medical-data-gatherers who needed to interview each of us at length about when we got sick and where we had been and who else had been near us for any length of time.

My worst days of illnesses preceded my official diagnosis. In fact, the day after I was diagnosed with covid, I went out and mowed the lawn. Mowing usually takes an hour. Because I broke the job into segments and rested between segments, this mowing session lasted about two hours. But I haven’t been able to mow on schedule this spring because of all the rain, and I wanted to get the job done before the next rain and before the weather got hot. So Tuesday afternoon, while recovering from covid, I mowed.

Now that I have covid, I think I am entitled to an opinion about how the virus crisis has been handled over the past year-and-a-half. My opinion is this: those of us who were sick should be quarantined during the course of the illness. Vulnerable members of the population should be restricted for their own safety. Shutting down entire cities and countries was wrong. Trying to make everyone wear masks was wrong. Our governments, our news sources, and our opinion makers have exaggerated the importance of this sickness, and their overreaction has caused more harm than most of us were risking by living our normal lives during these past months.

Of course, I know that some people have died. I know that some have struggled with complications from the sickness. I am not belittling those facts. But we have paid too great a price for the overreaction to covid compared to the effects of the disease itself. I would rather have endured these same symptoms a year earlier and lived a normal life since—no mask requirements, no daily updates on how terrible this disease is, no concerted effort to change the way people vote so more votes could be funneled into the choice that a few activists preferred.

I already feel better, although I will not be allowed back at work for a few more days. Because I have not had the vaccination shots, I will be required to wear a mask at work for the foreseeable future, even though my endurance of the disease should provide a minimum of ninety days of immunity (and vaccination shots are not recommended for those of us who just had covid). Rules are rules, when they make sense and when they don’t. And I’m sure I will face some complaints from coworkers who feel that I put them at risk by not getting vaccinated when it was possible and by coming to work when I was in less than perfect health, even though I thought I had an ear infection and did not realize I had covid.

I am often one of the last people to do what everyone else has done. I was still using dial-up Internet service when everyone else had cable connections. I was still watching VHS tapes when everyone else had graduated from DVDs and was streaming. I may be one of the last to catch covid. I hope so; that could mean that this long national nightmare is over and that life will be allowed, finally, to return to normal. J.