Tuesday, February 14, 2006

My Valentine

Today we honor Valentine, one sainted long ago,
Just who he was, or what he did, we really do not know.
What he accomplished was for love, of that we can be sure,
Today’s the day we try to say, “I Love You,” plain and pure.

Apparently, he put himself between an Emperor’s rule
For fighting men, unmarried, it was callous, mean, and cruel.
Our hero went behind his back and married on the sly
Young lovers who were adamant, and willing to defy.

Another version says that he was doing Heaven’s work,
Helping Christians to escape the wrath of Roman jerks.
At any rate, he was a guy who loved his fellow man,
Until such time as he was caught, and thrown into the can.

It seems that from a prison dark, as one old version goes,
Our soon to be Saint inductee, was ankle-deep in woes.
The jailer’s daughter fell for him, their love affair was fine.
He wrote his last long letter to her, from “Your Valentine.”

An oft-told legend, Sainthood then, example to us all.
For one who toiled and suffered at the beck of pure Love’s call.
Sometimes obscure, but always sure, and held in high regard
And then the phenomenon that is the modern Greeting Card.

Oh what a gift our Saint hath wrought, the opportunities
For queing up at Flower shops, for lining up at See’s.
I’m not begrudging anything, on this fine holiday,
But I know well that he would tell us, “do this every day!”

Not chocolate, roses, valentines, but hugs and heartfelt giving
To those we cherish and adore, and make our lives worth living.
For as he knew and then pursued, Love is the only way
That life is meant here, to be spent here, each and every day.

Today is but a symbol, and a chance to share some joy
From one who gave his all for love, to every girl and boy.
And so, to those who love me, and to those who may yet not,
Accept my valentine to you, in purpose and in thought.

Happy Valentines’ Day!

Monday, February 13, 2006

The Religion of Peace

The Religion of Peace

I have been mulling over my online friend’s post.

He is right. The NY Times is wrong. But is there more to it?
As an American, it is hard to understand how this can be such an explosive issue. It is not hard for me to understand Fundamentalism, at all. However, I exist in a society that has both rejected Fundamentalism, while it accepts it and allows it to exist. When Pat Robertson says that Ariel Sharon’s stroke was caused by God, due to his “giving up” land to Palestinians - quoting Scripture to prove it - he’s dismissed by all but the faithful (to him, that is). I watched yesterday, while channel-surfing, Louis Farrakhan calmly talking with an interviewer, about his organization’s goals. I stopped surfing to hear a rant. What I heard was eloquence and thoughtfulness, and a lot of “right” reasoning for the reactionary racism that he espouses. I wish him incomplete success – I want him to feel as “equal” in this country as I do, which of course is not equality by many measures. I have the luxury of both being white and a member of an even smaller minority than he is. My society allows me to hear him, disagree with him, and form my own opinions, even appreciate his point of view. Eventually, our common hope is that improvement will result, by whatever measure. I know that I’m smarter for simply listening to him.

There seems to me to be no better word to use than to say that there is a ‘Fundamental’ difference between “our” way of conducting ourselves and the way “they” do. As obvious a statement as this is, it is important for me to remind myself of it. One of my first reactions to this cartoon controversy was that, if “they” want to be members of the world community, then they need to learn to play by international rules. This thought is ignorant of the first statement of this paragraph. They are not able to; their fundamentalism does not allow it. There is only conformity or blasphemy. They do not desire freedom, the one fundamental tenet that diversity demands, tolerance is heresy. Their freedom is found in obedience, which is, by the way, the way of Christianity, too, although it is obedience of a different sort, extending grace, a different sort of servitude.
And no, not the Pat Robertson kind.
Where does that leave us?
I recently became aware of a group of persons in this country, under the banner of Christ, who are setting up anti-war protests at the funerals of American soldiers, taunting the family members in their grief, graveside. This makes me physically ill. Do they have the right to do this? Of course they do. It also raises the question, in this context, does the right of free speech mean that it should always be exercised? Is there really anything to be gained by doing this, here?
And so, I apply all of these thoughts to The New York Times. I completely understand the comparison to the “art” referred to in Tom’s post; however, it is not the same. Those “artworks” (and that is a topic left for another time) would never have been made in an Islamic society, the “artist” would have been tortured and stoned to death. Those offended in this culture were allowed to speak out against it, and did so. That this would happen was known before the works were created, let alone published in the newspaper. It is part and parcel of what makes us American. To apply this standard to the Islamic world is something else. In this case, it is inflammatory. The cartoons are readily available already; freedom of the press has been satisfied. That the NYT, a powerful member of the “Western Media”, chose not to exercise that power is a matter of editorial choice, to ascribe cowardice or courage to the decision is a matter for each reader to decide. I’m not trying to be argumentative, I’m just trying to figure this stuff out. I’m inclined to think that it was the right decision.
And yes, it’s still bothering me.

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Not Exactly Seeing Red

The San Diego Zoo is a wonderful place. It was the site of some of my first school field trips, the first place that I ever got to see and smell exotic animals, and learned about far away places. It is the zoo of zoos, and I do consider myself fortunate to have taken advantage of it for my entire life. Like the weather here, it is easy to take for granted, as well. It’s been 7 or so years, now, since I’ve visited. I think I’m about ready to go back. Things will be different this time, though, to be sure.
I should probably remember the date, but for many years it was a day that I really didn’t want to recall in any way, shape, or form. A beautiful, sunny day, filled with the promise of family fun. Sam was happily strapped into his stroller, in a blue outfit, equipped with snacks and juice bottles and eager to take on whatever he was rolled up to. We flashed our passes at the gate, and headed North, toward the elephant exhibit. Passing the restaurant and bus depot, we stopped to admire the small exotic bird cages, trying to interest Sammy in the bright feathers and beaks beyond the mesh before us. We shuffled over to the Koalas, trundling over the accessible wooden tree house ramps, pulling the prince from his perambulator for a better view. On to the elephants; Sammy was going to love the elephants!
The elephant exhibit, although it has been re-worked over the years, is essentially the one I remember from my first glimpse of these amazing creatures. It is a large island, ringed with a sidewalk and road, across which are exhibits of other large mammals. We wheeled over to the far side, and I saw a couple of animals I hadn’t remembered ever seeing before, red rhinoceros, rhinoceri, rhinoceroses. They were big and red and I was drawn over to look at them.
It happened in an instant, an instant that now takes up several moments’ worth of my long–term memory cells, pushing out more important things like, well, I don’t remember. The large creature that I had been regarding at fairly close range, obviously sharing no sort of Dr. Doolittle-esque understanding of my admiration, calmly turned, lifted up its tail, and sprayed me from head to foot. Upon reflection, a country boy would have recognized this brief signal, but this city dweller had received no such training via any of my behavioral psychology texts, and my previous animal research had only involved rats and primates.
Short of having this done to one on a regular basis, armed with the proper Personal Protective Equipment, most of us have no inkling of what to do upon realization that they are soaking in rhinoceros urine. I was not pissed off, I was pissed on. The fact that she had done this to me from about 15 feet away somehow did not impress me; at the time it instantly effected a sudden lack of respect for the creature and entire species, for that matter. I never wanted to see another animal, again. I invite you to now take a moment, pause, and laugh as hard as you want. It’s o.k., I really want you to - get it out of your system. Thanks. When you’re ready, proceed.
Fortunately, the aim was precise, and no one else had been voided upon. It was also fortunate that there was a restroom nearby, and I could at least wash off my face and hands, and kind of rinse my hair out, some. It became obvious that I had neither the facility to undo this, this, thing that had happened to me with powdered soap and paper towels, and I looked at myself in the mirror and contemplated my options. I had absolutely no desire to parade through the rest of the zoo, smelling what I was smelling like, if only to myself. I really didn’t want to find the nearest keeper and announce, “Hey, your rhinoceros just peed all over me! – just to have them double over in hails of derisive laughter, take me back to the keepers’ lounge, do it all over again for the group, followed maybe by a cold hosing-off, afterward. Perhaps if there had been a large pin at the gift shop “It’s not me – A Rhino peed on me” or “Pee on me if you’re Horny” (yes, I realize that this is in bad taste, but, you have to agree, completely appropriate in this particular case) I might have pressed on.
As calmly as I think I could have been, I emerged from the bathroom and mumbled something like, “I’m sorry, I think I’m done for the day”, and headed for the exit. I have never really thanked her, but I remain grateful that my sweetie did not challenge my decision, and dutifully followed, wheeling Sammo back out to the car, without snickering once (that I heard). I was fuming, internally as well as externally, all the way home. Silently, I walked to the washing machine, deposited my clothing, and found the apex of that day’s adventure under the shower head. I don’t remember speaking of much the rest of the afternoon, and I was happy to close my eyes and put it all behind me - oh, a day or so later.
I’ve been thinking, lately, that it’s time to visit the zoo again. But this time, things will be different.