Monday Morning Quarterbacking

I am not a football junky and am probably about to demonstrate a profound lack of understanding of the the sport, but nonetheless….

I do watch my home team play since at my age and my state of retirement it helps me pass the time. My home team is the Seattle Seahawks. In the nearly 60 years since I’ve lived near, and worked in, Seattle, I’ve witnessed about every incarnation of a professional football team that it’s possible to experience simply by watching them.

One thing is clear to me: football is a team sport. While it’s fun to watch a true star play, they are never enough by themselves to win games. So while a game or two dominated by a star is enjoyable to watch, if the star doesn’t learn how to be a team player over the long haul, the star becomes a hindrance to success and it’s better to trade them and move on. After all, there’s always a new star on the horizon.

The principal reasons to watch a Pete Carroll coached team are that he has an enormous amount of contagious fun and he understands that character matters more than  raw ability. He is a mentor as much as a coach, and he gives his all to each of these roles. As a mentor he understands character and how to meld it, and also understands that if a player has no desire to improve himself, he, the tutor, cannot make a difference. I have tutored many young attorneys over the years, and I know that someone who believes that his/her current status is prime stuff cannot move to yet a higher level for the simple reason that they don’t believe there is one to achieve.

The Seahawks thought they would win the initial game of the 2023 season. They were certain of it. And for one half they played like they might well win. But halftime brought an end to their attempt. They were steamrollered in the second half because they lost their cohesion as a team and descended to a state of widely dispersed individual athletes standing around waiting for someone else to make a difference. No one did.

It is times like these that older players need to stand up and become an example of teamwork excellence. Instead, the younger players were treated to a senior player’s tantrum. D K Metcalf went ballistic. By the time he did so, the game may well have already been in the tank, but in the NFL you can never be certain that will be the outcome. But by the time Metcalf quit pounding his hands and feet on the turf, there was no longer a team that could make s credible last gasp effort.

Having watched Pete Carroll over the years he will no doubt be pointing his finger in his own direction on this Monday morning. If so, he will be taking one for the team, one he doesn’t deserve. But as head coach and mentor he knows he needs to set an example. Too bad Metcalf doesn’t. Metcalf is inordinately pleased with himself on all occasions.  He’s thrown tantrums before. He knows no shame, no humility, no concept of consequence.

This is not a team without senior players who are talented and who reek with humility. Tyler Lockett and Geno Smith come immediately to mind. Especially Geno. He has worked assiduously over the years to keep playing so that he might earn an opportunity. Whether he succeeds or fails this season, he is worthy of a fan’s attention since he knows that there is more for him to achieve on and off the football field. Watching someone with his talent struggle with adversity is educational; watching Geno is like watching Ancient Greek theater come to life. I can root for Geno to successfully wrestle whatever demons he faces to the ground. I can empathize with Geno, but not with Metcalf.

My own non-football take on the situation is that the Seahawks should trade Metcalf as soon as NFL regulations permit so that further meltdowns happen on someone else’s turf. Metcalf doesn’t have the makings of a real star; he is only a brown dwarf disguised as a red one.

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Everyday Heroism

I read today that in Jacksonville, Florida a black campus police officer at an HBCU was the first law enforcement officer to confront the Jacksonville shooter. He was alerted to the shooter’s presence on campus by a carload of students who had seen the shooter dressing to kill in a faculty/staff parking lot. The police officer chased the man off campus, literally going to the limits of his authority in doing so.

At a subsequent press conference, the officer claimed not to be a hero.

The officer’s denial of being something special made me wonder who the heroes in our country really are. It is relatively easy to identify specific individuals in specific situations as heroes, but to take nothing away from such people they aren’t the average, everyday heroes who routinely walk our streets. I strongly believe that title belongs to the overwhelming majority of black people of every age in every walk of American life wherever they might live. These are the folks who face hostility in all of its disguises (sometimes armed) by day, and go to sleep each night knowing they will have to do so all over again the next day.

I am in awe of the fortitude and tenacity that it must take to endure such a life; I am in awe of the self-respect and humility that it must take to endure the unceasing scrutiny by whites at every level of society as they move through their daily routines. In truth, I can only begin to imagine the strength and conviction it takes to live in the constantly bubbling stew of a hostile living environment.

My awareness of their heroism has increased over the years due to my own experiences, especially of recent years as I have dealt with the Continue reading

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My Top 100 Songs

For the pure joy of it, I decided to make a list of the top 100 songs that I could listen to every day (if I wanted) and not tire of them. I have messed with the list for over a week now and may well mess with it again today or in the future. This is a fun exercise, so why should the fun ever come to an end?

In contemplating inclusion of a song, I focused both on the music and the lyrics. Lyrics are perhaps more important in my world, for a good song is as much poetry as it is music. Dylan doesn’t dominate as many lists as he does just because of a catchy tune. His lyrics are poetry as his Nobel prize proves. I have written before of music and poetry on this blog.

If artists are listed after a title, I consider their version of a song to be superlative, but I will listen to anyone’s version of the same song – at least once.

You might well disagree with my list. In fact, if you don’t, I will wonder whether you even bothered to read this post. There is no harm in disagreement as each of us has our own tastes. In fact, disagreement will engender yet more fun for both of us should we meet face to face to compare our lists. I am always ready to meet and defend my musical tastes, but only if you do your homework and make your own list first. Each of us might even learn something from the exercise.

This is a list as of this instant. Tomorrow it might well change. This is due to my lifelong love of music and an abiding interest in new releases and rediscoveries of old favorites. Where is Doc Pomus (“and Marie’s the name of his latest flame”) to be found on this list? Or Amy Speace? Or______ (fill in the blank)?Damn it all!

The list is alphabetical, not hierarchical. Numbers are for ease of reference.

My list is mostly post-1960 with exceptions for Dion. He just keeps going and going like the Energizer Bunny. He’s still at it today at age 80 something. Tom Jones is a close second. There may be others, but, hey, this is my list.

So, here it is:

  1. A Hard Rain’s Gonna Fall – Bob Dylan
  2. A Soft Place To Fall – Allison Moorer
  3. A Wall In Washington – Iris DeMent
  4. After The Gold Rush –Neil Young
  5. Against The Wind – Bob Seeger
  6. Ain’t No Cure For Love – Leonard Cohen, Jennifer Warnes
  7. All Over Ohio – Over The Rhine
  8. American Tune – Paul Simon
  9. An Italian Restaurant – Billy Joel
  10. And So It Goes – Billy Joel and many others
  11. And The Night Stood Still – Dion
  12. Any Day Now – Bob Dylan, Joan Baez, Jimmy LaFave
  13. Blowin’ In The Wind – Bob Dylan, Peter Paul and Mary
  14. Box Of Visions – Tom Russell
  15. Bridge Over Troubled Waters – Simon and Garfunkel, John Legend
  16. Bright Blue Rose – Mary Black
  17. Bus To St Cloud – Gretchen Peters
  18. California Dreaming – Mammas and Pappas
  19. California Saga – The Beach Boys
  20. Candle In The Wind – Elton John
  21. Carrickfergus – Allison Moorer and others (mostly Irish)
  22. Darling Be Home Soon – Lovin’ Spoonful
  23. Desperado – Linda Ronstadt, The Eagles
  24. Drift Away – Dobie Gray
  25. Eve Of Destruction – Barry McGuire
  26. For What It’s Worth – Buffalo Springfield, Del McCoury Band
  27. Forever Young – Bob Dylan
  28. Fortunate Son – Credence Clearwater
  29. Four Strong Winds – Ian and Sylvia
  30. Garden Party – Rick Nelson
  31. Glory Days – Bruce Springsteen
  32. God Only Knows – Beach Boys
  33. Good Vibrations – Beach Boys
  34. Got My Mind Set On You – George Harrison
  35. Hallelujah – Leonard Cohen and millions
  36. Hard Day’s Night – The Beatles
  37. Harvest Moon – Neil Young
  38. Have You Ever Seen The Rain – Credence Clearwater
  39. Heart of Gold – Neil Young
  40. Helpless – Neil Young
  41. Helplessly Hoping – Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young
  42. Here Comes The Sun – The Beatles
  43. Hey Jude – The Beatles
  44. I Won’t Crumble With You If You Fall – Tom Jones
  45. If I Fall Behind – Bruce Springsteen, Dion
  46. If I Had A Boat – Lyle Lovett
  47. Imagine – John Lennon
  48. In My Room – The. Beach Boys
  49. Into The Mystic – Van Morrison
  50. It’s Not Over Yet – Rodney Crowell
  51. Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door – Eric Clapton
  52. Landslide – Fleetwood Mac, The Chicks
  53. Let It Be – The Beatles
  54. Little Glass Of Wine – Jesse Winchester
  55. Looking For Blue Eyes – Allison Moorer and others
  56. Love Hurts – Everly Brothers, Emmylou Harris & Mark Knopfler
  57. Lullaby – Billy Joel
  58. Make You Feel My Love – Bob Dylan, Garth Brooks, Adele
  59. Michele – The Beatles
  60. Monday Monday – Mommas and Poppas, Foxes and Fossils
  61. My Little Town – Paul Simon
  62. My Town – Iris DeMent
  63. Not Dark Yet – Bob Dylan at his best. The best versions are by Dylan, Shelby Lynne & Allison Moorer, and Jimmy LaFave.
  64. Ohio – Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young
  65. Old Man – Neil Young
  66. Our House – Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young
  67. Paradise – John Prine
  68. Penny Lane – The Beatles
  69. Pretty Woman – Roy Orbison
  70. Proud Mary – Credence Clearwater Revival, Tina Turner
  71. Rock Around The Clock – Bill Haley
  72. Roll Over Beethoven – Chick Berry
  73. Runaround Sue – Dion
  74. Sail On Sailor – The Beach Boys, Foxes and Fossils
  75. Sea of Heartbreak – Don Gibson, Johnny Cash, Rosanne Cash.
  76. Shame On The Moon – Bob Seeger,, Rodney Crowell
  77. The Cape – Guy Clark, Eric Bibb
  78. The Color Of A Cloudy Day – Shelby Lynne and Allison Moorer
  79. The Dark End Of The Street – James Carr, Dan Penn
  80. The Devil’s Radio – George Harrison
  81. The Dimming Of The Day – Richard Thompson, Mary Black, Bonnie Raitt and others
  82. The Eye – Brandi Carlile
  83. The Joke – Brandi Carlile
  84. The Long And Winding Road – The Beatles
  85. The Moon And St Christopher – Mary Chapin Carpenter, Mary Black
  86. The Sound Of Silence – Simon and Garfunkel, Disturbed, and others
  87. The Times They Are A-Changing – Bob Dylan, Peter Paul and Mary
  88. The Wanderer – Dion
  89. The Weight – The Band and others
  90. This Land Is Your Land – Pete Seeger, Woody Guthrie and thousands
  91. Too Old To Die Young – Kevin Welch, The Trishas
  92. Tower of Song – Leonard Cohen, Tom Jones
  93. Turn, Turn, Turn – Pete Seeger, The Byrds, and a host of Others
  94. Vincent – Don McLean and many others
  95. Who’ll Stop The Rain – Credence Clearwater
  96. Why Worry – Everly Brothers, Mark Knopfler
  97. Wildflowers – Tom Petty, Wailin’ Jennys
  98. Will I See You In Heaven – Eric Clapton
  99. You Never Can Tell – Chuck Berry
  100. You’ve Got A Friend – Carole King, James Taylor and many others
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Endings Or Beginnings

Wait without thought, for you are not ready for thought:
So the darkness shall be the light, and the stillness the dancing.

T S Eliot, Wait Without Hope

     I am skimming above the tarmac. Weather, geography, and time are interchangeable in fickle array in my rearview mirror; ahead lies the achievement of a lifetime’s purposeful navigation of fate’s random choices – but that goal will not be realized within this dreamscape.  Of course, all such choices inevitably lead to the same place, so enjoyment of the ride there is of paramount importance.

     I’ve reached the long bend around the building which once housed a youthful jukebox, its call letters lost to memory, which announces the proximity of my family’s landmarks (4 0f them): graves wrapped in memory and mystery.  Each of their headstones lies flat to the ground, lost to the horizon and distinguishable only from immediately above.  Despite their near invisibility, these graves exude a sense of purpose which constantly calls to me, but I do not yet comprehend their message. For now, I am just another visitor there; for now, they are only fodder for my speculations as to whether they are resting places or launchpads.

     I’ve just passed the site of my stepfather’s small ranch. Its general location, but not its actual physical boundaries, is known to me.  Physical boundaries to things other than the graves are irrelevant given the proximity of my road’s end.  I will soon reach the graves and ponder their mysteries there.  The graves are the sole reason I am here despite the initial hail from my rearview mirror that piqued my interest, but I crossed the boundaries of this crucible’s real-life analog long ago, so I will concentrate on graves and eternity and mysteries during this trip.

     When I do eventually reach the graves, I know that I will be met by silence and mixed messages.  Their boundaries suggest that the physical remains within are now of the earth that surrounds them. But the lights those remains once contained, what do the graves have to say about them?  That is the question to which I always listen for an answer whenever and however I visit, but none is ever forthcoming. Their collective silence is relentless in its refusal to answer, somewhat haughty in its denial.

     So, while I wait for an answer, my road must suffice.

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An Apology To Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson

Your Honor:

For the record, I am an elderly white man now retired from the active practice of law. As an older white man, I would like to apologize for all white men, young or old, who refuse to recognize your competence, work ethic, empathy, brilliance, civility, and grace. Hubris aside, I believe I have earned the right to speak on behalf of all white guys, having been one my entire life. Whether or not I have standing in that regard is up to you to determine.

When I was a white boy, I often witnessed gangs of similarly hued young brats engaged in planning how they might bring down a better – who was assigned to pushing, tripping, hair pulling, and such. The anticipation of their assault was usually much more enjoyable for them than the action contemplated, as it involved giddy giggles rather than dirt and sweat. During your time answering the “questions“ put to you by the Senate Judiciary Committee, it was easy to imagine the majority of the Republican senators caucusing to decide which one would yank on which strand of make believe in order to bring you – their obvious better – down. I can even hear the giggles among the more clownish, such as Graham, Cruz, Hawley, and Blackburn. It is too bad that their emails on the subject cannot be found and read aloud in a classroom under the supervision of a strict third grade teacher.

Perhaps more to the point, I must apologize for the less clownish of my ilk – those of reasoned mind that refuse to vote for you out of a misguided allegiance to tribalism. The Senate is supposed to be the adult body of Congress. Alas, our democracy has been so degraded that both houses are nothing more than well-aged kindergartens. Why one of us with reason who has been educated by schooling and experience is unable to doff his or her hat to a better person such as you is beyond my comprehension. One of the obligations of age is to publicly honor by example the obvious display of competence and character displayed by any younger person of any belief or color in order to teach our youngest children that character matters and comes in many different types of individuals, including those with whom we disagree.

Note that I decline to speak for white supremacists.

So, I hereby offer you an apology on behalf of all of us so-called reasonable white guys, from toddlers to octogenarians. Some of us may not wish me to apologize on their behalf but do so I must. I would do so in person if I could, but I cannot see how that might be possible. So, this forum, as poor as it may be for the purpose, must suffice.

On behalf of those I represent, thank you for embodying the American dream that so many of us tried to deny you along your way. For the record, I would vote for you to become an Associate Justice of the Supreme Court if I could.

Your humble petitioner,

Steve Ellis

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The Moment Of Truth

If you hear music when she’s near you
And Christmas comes ev’ry day of the year
Then you must know why it’s the first clue
That the moment of truth is near

The Moment Of Truth, Tex Satterwhite, Frank Scott

Let’s stay home and play old records
Our future’s bright, the past is checkered
What do you say we lift a glass
Toast the ghost of another year past

New Year’s Song, Linford Detweiler, Karin Bergquist (Over The Rhine)

It’s Christmas morning, a time for considering the fortunes that fate has gifted us and to reflect upon the past that engendered them. And as I have for each of the past forty Christmas mornings, I realize that I am a very lucky man.

When I was a young boy, Christmas was a magical season. It began promptly on the morning after Thanksgiving after elves in moleskin trousers had decorated the streets and stores of my small town. Who knows what expletives the elves may have uttered in their haste, for they, like Santa, worked through the night while we children slept. The magic they created that night lasted until the close of  New Year’s Day when blustery winds swept it away leaving winter’s inevitable dirt and debris in its place. But while the magic was afoot, every face in town, regardless of family wealth or the lack thereof, was lit with expectations of a joyous and warm home and hearth.

When I first became the head of a household in a place far from my hometown, I  discovered that I had lost the Christmas magic at some point during the move. That is not to say that those Christmases weren’t pleasant, but the concept of “pleasant” is a distant second to that of “enchanted”. Then in my late twenties, I didn’t rue my personal loss because my young son’s eyes were alight with joy each Christmas season and that was enchantment enough for me. As I was then responsible for much of the Christmastime effort in my small family, it was up to me to see that others enjoyed the season. And they did. And that was good.

This state of affairs continued until Helen entered my life. She first came in springtime, so my initial inkling that she might be an undercover Christmas elf came when I noticed that she always looked at Christmas decorations of any variety whatever the time of year. If something sparkled and could be hung on a tree or placed in a vignette, she was intrigued by it. Therefore, our first Christmas together brought what would become a longstanding partnership into being – I did the heavy lifting in a ballet choreographed and directed by Helen. Helen being in charge was simply correct, an unconscious acknowledgement that decorating our home was the fulfillment of her inner vision – a vision fueled equally by her artistic training and her total concentration upon the joys of the season. As her vision took physical form, I was wrapped within it as if a present to be left under the tree with my name written on the tag. Every Christmas thereafter has been the same – a year long love affair with the possibilities another Christmas has to offer, culminating in an explosion of color and artistry when its occurrence looms.  But the sameness of process has never produced a static result: each year’s vision is sufficiently unlike the last to intrigue me in its own right and by its very difference from its predecessor, and the energy she expends to achieve it always amazes me and wraps me anew in colorful ribbons, papers, and bows.

Due to the infirmities of age, I no longer play any physical role in the yearly pageantry that transforms our home into a Christmas wonderland. But I remain involved because my observations and opinions are always sought by the resident Christmas elf. I am not a bystander. My attention and input are demanded. I am a witness, not an arbiter or judge. As such, I am privileged to experience, and play a small role in, the annual creative process as it unfolds, and to marvel at the transformation it inevitably works.

But Helen’s magic is no longer reserved for Christmastime. Over the long years that our partnership has endured, she has wrapped me in a state of love and caring that cocoons me throughout the year. While Christmas remains her specialty, her magic has blessed every day and every aspect of my life.

In this post-modern world where truth is no longer anchored in reason, fact, science, or anything else recognizable to me, I remain convinced that I had my moment of truth long ago – forty one years ago this coming January 1 as a matter of fact. For that is the anniversary of our marriage, the day that cemented our partnership. And whatever fate, in the future, holds in store for us or for society’s concepts of truth, my truth will always be fixed and anchored to Helen’s magical presence.  She is, without a doubt, my lodestar.

Merry Christmas, happy new year, and happy anniversary to my favorite Christmas elf of all time.  None of the others will ever measure up to you.


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Rearview Mirrors

“The things that matter are those that lie ahead – rocks, hurricanes, pirates. Behind there is only a wake which rapidly becomes indistinguishable from the rest of the limitless sea.”

Mark Haddon, The Porpoise

“He dislikes all reunions and is a reluctant attendee of this, his fiftieth high school reunion.  His apathy for the weekend’s events causes him to consider anew his dislike of living life in rear view mirrors.  In his experience, they reflect only misperceived echoes distorted by the passage of time as if a mirage seen through the heat of an August Valley noon.  But Derek is aware that not all reflections seen in rear view mirrors are of times past: some are self-images wrought according to personal judgments composed of equal parts experience, amnesia, and imagination, self-images whose content is not entirely factual due to having been honed to a fine, thin edge by means of refining repetition uttered over the long years.  He is also aware that this form of amnesia is a temporary state of forgetfulness subject to the prodding and poking of others which could well awaken the beast of accurate remembrance.  Memories can always be trumped by the sudden recollection of inconvenient truths or unexpected falsehoods.”

Stephen Ellis. The Leaves Are Full of Children

Physical rearview mirrors have a valid place in society – on vehicles, equipment, and other mobile mechanical devices.  Backing them up without the use, or the inclination to use, a physical rear view mirror is hazardous. The use of mental rearview mirrors is also hazardous, as they are susceptible to distortion due to a myriad of reasons. These mental distortions, being inherently untrustworthy, are akin to opioids – capable of much more harm than benefit if not used with careful, thoughtful caution.

One must always be wary of memory, given its ineluctable capacity to deceive and the fact that harmful events and occasions are first among its lodestars. Visiting any harmful lodestar on a single occasion will likely cause secondary harm and doing so with any frequency may well engender an enduring sense of victimhood.  And perennially viewing life through the rancid lens of victimhood is a sure way to blunt the challenge of opportunity, thereby ruining the joy of being.

Too much visitation of the past may also engender an unnecessary and needless sense of loss.  Humanity is much too prone to consider options untaken. and is perhaps the only species to care about them at all.  The rest of the animal kingdom is too stoic to care.  Why humanity is so persistent in this regard is a mystery to me, as doing so is a complete waste of time in the face of the intractable future.  Why not celebrate one’s past decisions instead of lamenting what can no longer be?  Remember well the wise words of Robert Frost:

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth.

Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,

And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

And at least so far, all roads chosen by humanity lead, in the end, to the same, exact conclusion.

Bemoaning what cannot be is to wallow in self-pity, and nothing is less attractive or more personally devastating than doing so.  If the wallowing goes on too long, eventually all your friends, even the most stalwart, will desert you since self-pity is an unattractive whirlpool of vanity from which there is little chance of escape.  In my limited experience of swimming in such waters, the only real possibility of escape is to jam a log into the whirlpool’s eye, but to be able to do so requires a sense of abiding self-worth and resolute resolve that true depressives have long since lost. And the longer one remains in the whirlpool, the less self-worth and the less resolve one possesses. 

It is no wonder then that the rest of the animal kingdom has embraced stoicism; it’s much more consistent with the reality of our shared universe.  

That is not to say that revisiting the past hasn’t any utility.  For example, in my case I find such visits useful for:

  1. Learning lessons from past events, especially from errors I have personally committed;
  2. Honoring, at all appropriate times, those who are heroes in their own right or who have played a significant, positive role in my life;
  3. Searching for good music; or,
  4. Searching for good books to read or collect.

Make your own list of good reasons to visit the past.  These are mine and I am sticking to them with all the fortitude I possess.  Otherwise, I continue to avoid the past.  I have no wish for it to overtake me as I am having too much fun in the present avoiding as many of life’s shoals as I can.

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A Beacon in the Mists of Time

So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.

F Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby

“We all make stupid, critical mistakes – some of them real corkers.  But none of us ever thinks there’s an end to our personal journey until it’s too late.  We survive as best we can, and everyone – you and I included – always thinks there is time enough to make amends for all the bad stuff we’ve ever done or ever will do.  And none of us, not one stinking one of us, ever hears our last call until it’s much too late.  But at least some people try to make amends as they go along, and a few of those – a very select few – choose to celebrate mankind’s creativity as well: singing into the teeth of the wind as bravely and as often as they can, never caring where their words are carried, only trusting that they might be heard and be of some benefit to someone, somewhere.”  Her words pounded out like fists demanding immediate entry through a barred oak door. “You’re one of them.  Never, never regret the choice to be one of them; it’s the essence of whatever distinction humanity might enjoy whenever the bones are finally tallied.”

Stephen C Ellis, The Leaves Are Full of Children

There were four of us, the children of Don and Betty Ellis, all born on the western side of the Cascade Mountains. All but me were children of the coast, interlopers in the sere and dun hills of eastern Washington. I was the odd one, the youngest by 6 years who came, at age 2, to the isolated valley in which I grew up.  The valley, therefore, was my only known universe. Not so for the other three.  They were transfers from the coast. While that fact affected each of them differently given different ages and temperaments, each of them must have wondered how they had arrived in a land that definitely wasn’t Oz.

Barbara was 12 at the time of the move to the desert, the oldest of us. Therefore, she had the most memory of our coastal past as well as having the distinction of being dispossessed of the most vigorous external support network. She could have been bitter about her transition from green to brown, but bitterness was not in her nature. Instead, she soon had a new coterie of friends, making connections easily and without conscious effort.  For she was filled with joie de vivre and laughter, always making the best of any new circumstance in which she found herself.

Occasionally, I find myself looking backward at those formative years, trying to discern the truth of them. For I have strongly fixed impressions of them that have long fueled the arc of my existence.  I am certain that I am beyond the apogee of that arc, but my impressions of that time still guide me in descent. On the other hand, I am fully aware that memory is fallible. I am convinced that everyone’s personal life story, as told to friends and family, is either a lie, an ineptly abridged version of the truth, or some form of fantastic alternate reality.

Barbara MacLean passed away this week, the second of the four of us to do so. Mike left us first.  From now on I must rely upon memory to see and hear her, to laugh with her, but I will have no trouble doing so. I have vivid recent and ancient memories to guide me. For example. the last time I saw her at her hospice. I told her that she was the best older sister I’d ever had.  That sally earned me a big sister glare, the assertion that she was my only big sister, and a laugh from somewhere within the pain in which she was then cocooned.  I’ll remember that last laugh together the longest. We always teased one another unmercifully, thereby demonstrating our mutual love.  She heard my underlying message that day, despite her pain.

Despite my misgivings about memory, I will have no trouble whatsoever seeing Barbara through the mists of time. For she remains a beacon; her internal fire was much too strong for a mere quibble like death to quench.  Her strength and love continue to burn in both story and memory; in ancient stories of requested contracts folded into paper airplanes and flown over the wall of her boss’s office cubicle to land on his desk blotter, of a pinwheel of fireworks tacked onto a back pew of a holy roller church sparking a moment of great congregational ecstasy, of blind fishing through a hole cut in the floor of her sorority room’s closet for tins of food locked in the chef’s larder just underneath, of her joy in each of her children’s birth, growth, and maturity, of game nights in both the Ellis and MacLean households distinguished solely by decades and the identity of the participants, the MacLean versions persisting into her nursing home room even after her Parkinson’s disease became too much for in home care, of her singular, magical, lifelong love for her husband, Bob, that never wavered in the slightest even when she was annoyed at him for some small thing; and in myriad memories of her laugh – a laugh somewhere between a full-throated cackle and a girlish giggle, a laugh that persisted throughout her life and sustained her until the end.

Bon voyage, Barb.  I know you are on a voyage to somewhere new. I will follow as best I can, so keep the light on.

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The Immensity of Shrinking Horizons

When I was a boy growing up in an isolated valley in eastern Washington in the days before the Internet, I was restless despite the vastness of the sky I lived under. Even though the horizons were far away, I felt trapped by circumstance and the expectations local culture held for me. My family, having no wealth other than our love for one another, hadn’t the means to let me pursue my dreams of living elsewhere and becoming something the local society schemed to deny me. But I had a good brain, abundant willpower, and excessive drive, and I knew the way of escape resided within me. So I began working at steady jobs when I was 13 and saved my wages with the goal of going to college somewhere other than the valley. As I rode various pieces of farm equipment on my road to and beyond the valley’s horizons, I often sang Volare aloud under the cover of ill-greased bearings, setting my imagination, if not myself, free to wander the distant promises those horizons implied.

I long ago escaped from the valley given time and experience.  It tried its best to hold on to me, but the depth of my desire was greater than the strength of its grip. Now, after nearly a lifetime away, I no longer feel resident in a claustrophobic petri dish even though my present horizons are much closer than those of the valley. While I now live in a world encircled by mountain chains and the skyscraping products of unrelenting human endeavor, I was freed by the stroke that tried, but failed, to fell me. I may be too wobbly to navigate on my own much beyond the boundaries of the acreage we own north of Seattle, but I am now free to explore all of its mysteries.

All those I can find, anyway.

I’ve had my fill of the great wide world. No, I haven’t seen most of it even though I’ve seen a great deal and communicated with much more of it due to my education, the needs of my clients, and the wonders of modern technology. But I no longer feel trapped by circumstance and the expectations of others, even though I’m limited by the aches and pains of an aging body 

But a wonderous, magical thing has happened in my reduced circumstance. Even as my physical horizons have shrunk, my mental horizons have melted away. I can now detect and engage in the infinite from any place in my shrunken world.   It isn’t the proximity of death that is responsible for my entry into these uncharted waters; it is the fulsomeness of the time I have to explore the nooks and crannies of my cloistered world. In each nook and cranny lies a mystery, a mystery we cannot see while speeding over and through the hurdles of daily toil. Unlike those on that journey, I have the time to find these nooks and cranniess, the wisdom gained from experience to explore them, and the inclination to wonder at and seek the promises that they offer rather than pursuing those I made to myself as a younger, stronger man.

While walking the narrow lanes surrounding our property during in the daylight , I am as open to the infinite as when standing under a starlit sky unencumbered by the light pollution of civilization. For in the minuteness of nature there is as much mystery as in the vastness of space, as much wonder as can be found in a portrait of the Crab Nebula, and a close proximity that allows for investigation without the need for expensive tools designed for use only by experts. All I need for exploration is my cane and my imagination; for I am not seeking scientific fact, I am exploring side roads – all the side roads I can find, all the side roads I couldn’t see speeding by on my way to work, all the side roads that beckon to me from entrances hidden in forests, hedges, and grass, all the side roads revealed to me in the richness of the time I now have on my hands.

I have come to appreciate the curiosity and wisdom of Emerson and Thoreau, the value of personal exploration and discovery rather than routine travel along the constraining paths of scientific knowledge, the value of curiosity rather than the meek acceptance of conventional wisdom. I am not seeking to convince others of my own crackpot theories; I am seeking to appreciate, firsthand, the abundant and sometimes conflicting mysteries of life, of creation, of being, of the meaning of it all.

In the time remaining to me, I am striving to appreciate the miniscule role I’ve played in time’s great stage play. For the tiny mysteries resident in the side roads I’ve discovered remind me that they, in their accumulation, are greater than all that humanity will ever become. We are nothing more than a recent sprig of life yet to prove itself, while they, in their accumulation, are the ancient strands of its web.

Who knows what I’ll find down each of these side roads other than the wonder and enjoyment of my clumsy searching. I know all too well what I’ve found down humanity’s side road, and I’ve had my fill of it. I am as ready as I was in my boyhood for something new, for more magic, for the lure of a likely leprechaun hidden somewhere in the reach of a newfound side road.

Thank god for the wisdom to appreciate the vastness of nearby horizons and for the help of canes that support and sustain my ability to engage in my search. I am all the richer for the experiences that these side roads provide, since life’s rarest jewels lie hidden there, free of the pollution of mainstream cliché – which is why the things mined there are so rich, so rare, so precious, so worthwhile of my endeavors.

Posted in 'Tis a Puzzlement, Our Place in the Firmament, Ponderings on the Meaning of Things | Comments Off on The Immensity of Shrinking Horizons

Legitimate Thoughts and Prayers

In light of the onslaught of thoughts and prayers from people who do nothing whatever to halt gun violence, it occurred to me to consider who, if anyone, has a legitimate right to send them to victims and families killed, injured or otherwise damaged by mass shootings. After much thought, here is my list of those I consider to have earned an exclusive, legitimate right to send their thoughts and prayers in such circumstances. This list is for the Modern Era only (I hope and trust the reader can glean the reason for the capitalization on his or her own).

The list consists of all victims (defined broadly) and their families who have been affected by the following events (or similar events omitted from this list by my ignorance):

The Columbine High School shootings, April 20, 1999;

The Heritage High School shooting, May 20, 1999;

The Chicago area shootings, July 2-4, 1999;

The Day Trader shootings, July 27-29, 1999;

The Los Angeles Jewish Community Center shootings, August 10, 1999;

The Wedgwood Baptist Church shooting, September 15, 1999;

The Xerox shootings, November 2, 1999;

The Carnegie, Pennsylvania shootings, April 28, 2000;

The Wendy’s Hamburger shootings, May 24, 2000;

The Wakefield shootings, December 26, 2000;

The Nevada County shootings, January 10, 2001;

The Santana High School shootings, March 5, 2001;

The Appalachian School of Law shootings, January 16, 2002;

The Los Angeles International Airport shootings, July 4, 2002;

The DC sniper shootings, February 16-October 23, 2002;

The John McDonogh High School shootings, April 14, 2003;

The Ennis shootings, June 13, 2003;

The Lockheed Martin shootings, July 8, 2003;

The Wesson family shootings, March 12, 2004;

The Wisconsin hunting trip shootings, November 21, 2004;

The Columbus night club shootings, December 8, 2004;

The Living Church of God shootings, March 12, 2005;

The Red Lake Indian Reservation shootings, March 21, 2005;

The Tacoma Mall shootings, November 20, 2005;

The Goleta post office shootings, January 30, 2006;

The Capitol Hill shootings, March 25, 2006;

The Seattle Jewish Federation shootings, July 28, 2006;

The West Nickel Mines School shootings, October 2, 2006;

The Trolley Square shootings, February 12, 2007;

The Virginia Tech shootings, April 16, 2007;

The Crandon duplex shootings, October 7, 2007;

The Westroads Mall shootings, December 5, 2007;

The Youth With A Mission and New Life Church shootings, December 9, 2007;

The Kirkwood City Council shootings, February 7, 2008;

The Northern Illinois University shootings, February 14, 2008;

The Skagit County shootings, September 2, 2008;

The Covina shootings, December 24, 2008;

The Geneva County shootings, March 10, 2009;

The Carthage Nursing Home shootings, March 29, 2009;

The New York immigration center shootings, April 3, 2009;

The Pittsburgh police officer shootings, April 4, 2009;

The Collier County shootings, August 4, 2009;

The Fort Hood shootings, November 5, 2009;

The ABB plant shootings, January 7, 2010;

The Appomattox shootings, January 19-20, 2010;
The University of Alabama, Huntsville shootings, February 12, 2010;

The Delisle shootings, April 14, 2010;

The Hartford Beer Distributors shootings, August 3 2010;

The Safeway shootings, January 8, 2011;

The Grand Rapids shootings, July 7, 2011;

The Copley Township shootings, August 7, 2011;

The IHOP shootings, September 6, 2011;

The Seal Beach shootings, October 12, 2011;

The Southern California Edison shootings, December 16, 2011;

The Chardon High School shootings, February 27, 2012;

The Oikos University shootings, April 2, 2012;

The Seattle cafe shootings, May 30, 2012;

The Aurora shootings, July 20, 2012;

The Sikh temple shootings, August 5, 2012;

The College Station shootings, August 13, 2012;

The Empire State Building shootings, August 24, 2012;

The Accent Signage System shootings, September 27, 2012;

The Azana Spa shootings, October 21, 2012;

The Clackamas Town Center shootings, December 11, 2012;

The Sandy Hook Elementary School shootings, December 14, 2012;

The Webster shootings, December 24, 2012;

The South Valley shootings, January 19, 2013;

The Orange, Los Angeles and Riverside Counties shootings, February 3-12, 2013;

The Santa Monica shootings, June 7, 2013;

The Hialea shootings, July 26, 2013;

The Ross Township Municipal Building shootings, August 5, 2013;

The Washington Navy Yard shooting, September 16, 2013;

The Los Angeles International Airport shootings, November 1, 2013;

The Fort Hood shootings, April 2, 2014;

The Overland Park Jewish Community Center shootings, April 13, 2014;

The Isla Vista shootings, May 23, 2014;

The Harris County shootings, July 9, 2014;

The Marysville Pilchuck High School shootings, October 24, 2014;

The Rosemary Anderson High School shootings, December 12, 2014;

The Montgomery County shootings, December 15, 2014;

The Tyrone shootings, February 26, 2015;

The Waco shootings, May 17, 2015;

The Charleston Church shootings, June 17, 2015;

The Chattanooga shootings, July 16, 2015;

The Lafayette shootings, July 23, 2015;

The Harris County shootings, August 8, 2015;

The Umpqua Community College shootings, October 1, 2015;

The Black Lives Matter protest shootings, November 23, 2015;

The Colorado Springs Planned Parenthood shootings, November 29, 2015;

The San Bernardino shootings, December 2, 2015;

The Kalamazoo shootings, February 20, 2016;

The Hesston shootings, February 25, 2016;

The Kansas City shootings, March 7-8, 2016;

The Wilkinsburg shootings, March 9, 2016;

The Pike County shootings, April 21-22, 2016;

The Maryland shootings, May 5-6, 2016;

The Orlando nightclub shootings, June 12, 2016;

The Dallas police officer shootings, July 7, 2016;

The St Joseph Courthouse shootings, July 11, 2016;

The Baton Rouge police officer shootings, July 17, 2016;

The Mukilteo shootings, July 30, 2016;

The Citronelle shootings, August 20, 2016;

The Cascade Mall shootings, September 23, 2016;

The Townville Elementary School shootings, September 28, 2016;

The Fort Lauderdale Airport shootings, January 6, 2017;

The Schofield/Rothschild shootings, March 22, 2017;

The Cincinnati nightclub shootings, March 22, 2017;

The North Park Elementary School shootings, April 10, 2017;

The Fresno shootings, April 13-18, 2017;

The Kirkersville shootings, May 12, 2017;

The Lincoln County shootings, May 27, 2017;

The Orlando factory shootings, June 5, 2017;

The Sandy shootings, June 6, 2017;

The Eaton Township Weis Market shootings, June 8, 2017;

The Congressional baseball shootings, June 14, 2017;

The San Francisco UPS shootings, June 14, 2017;

The Bronx-Lebanon Hospital shootings, June 30, 2017;

The Little Rock nightclub shootings, July 1, 2017;

The Clovis Library shootings, August 28, 2017;

The Plano shootings, September 10, 2017;

The Burnette Chapel shootings, September 24, 2017;

The Las Vegas shootings, October 1, 2017;

The Sutherland Springs Church shootings, November 5, 2017;

The Rancho Tehama Reserve shootings, November 13, 2017;

The Aztec High School shootings, December 7, 2017;

The Copper Canyon Apartment Homes shootings, December 31, 2017;

The Marshall County High School shootings, January 23, 2018;

The Melcroft shootings, January 28, 2018;

The Stoneman Douglas High School shootings, February 14, 2018;

The Yountville shootings, March 9, 2018;

The YouTube headquarters shootings, April 3, 2018;

The Nashville Waffle House shootings, April 22, 2018;

The Santa Fe High School shootings, May 18, 2018;

The Scottsdale spree shootings, May 30-June 4, 2018;

The Art all Night shootings, June 17, 2018;

The Capital Gazette shootings, June 28, 2018;

The Jacksonville Landing shootings, August 26, 2018;

The Fifth Third Center shootings, September 6, 2018;

The Aberdeen shootings, September 20, 2018;

The Florence shootings, October 3, 2018;

The Pittsburgh synagogue shootings, October 27, 2018;

The Tallahassee shootings, November 2, 2018;

The Thousand Oaks shootings, November 7, 2018;

The Robbins shootings, November 11, 2018;

The Mercy Hospital shootings, November 19, 2018;

The Sebring shootings, January 23, 2019;

The Louisiana shootings, January 26, 2019;

The Pecan Park shootings, January 28, 2019;

The Aurora, Illinois shootings, February 15, 2019;

The Poway synagogue shootings, Apt27, 2019;

The UNCC shootings, April 30, 2019;

The STEM School Highland Ranch shootings, May 7, 2019;

The Virginia Beach shootings, May 31, 2019;

The Gilroy Garlic Festival shootings, July 29, 2019;

The Cielo Vista Mall shootings, August 3, 2019;

The Dayton shootings, August 4, 2019;

And the uncounted number of individuals of all ages, creeds, color, or political viewpoints  killed or injured in criminal shootings, negligent shootings, and accidental shootings (and/or any other category you care to name).

In my opinion, the rest of us haven’t the right to offer thoughts and prayers unless we have actively done something, anything, constructive to prevent this continuing slaughter.  My conclusion is based on the undeniable fact that the offering of thoughts and prayers by anyone not on this list, especially by members of the United States Congress, has become a cynical excuse to do nothing about gun violence, while appearing to care about those who have suffered.  At the very least, members of Congress seem to care only about themselves and their personal treasuries, and the hypocrisy of their public offerings of concern does not suit the dignity of their assumed offices.

WARNING: This piece will no doubt be outdated before a month lapses from its original date of publication.  The author asks that the reader perform his or her own updates as it took him forever and a morning to type and enter the above list.

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