Category Archives: Social Commentary

Reflection on the Lake

Freeimages.com/Debbie Wogen

Freeimages.com/Debbie Wogen

Standing here among the mountains, I intend to enjoy the pristine peaks, glacial waters and ancient pines until the sun disappears into the night. I find an open slab of granite overlooking the alpine lake. The warm contours of the rock feel luxurious in contrast to the frigid air invading my lungs. At this moment, I wish I could be a reptile and just curl up on this rock and sunbathe all afternoon.

After arranging myself comfortably in the sunshine, I allow my mind to run off where it likes and quickly become mesmerized by the crystal lake below me. The water is perfectly clear on the surface and then descends into deeper and deeper blues until it finally disappears into the black unknown.

It is still early spring, and the snow has not completely disappeared from the ground. Even the lake still flaunts a few remaining fragments of ice reposing on the surface. The sun continues to rise in the sky. Calmed by the bickering birds above me and the still waters below, I lose myself in contemplation.

I think back over the recent seasons of my own life – the woes that not too long ago inundated my life like a winter storm. Looking down at the ice decorating the water, I recall the times that, I too, froze over during my life. When winter comes, when the wind lashes against you, and those around you turn cold, what else is there to do?

Like freezing water, my mind slowed. I would lock my thoughts away. The natural fluidity of my ideas and hopes would harden. I became as firm and immovable as the glaciers that feed these waters.

In this state, no one could hurt me. I could survive. I could stand tall and hold my own through the long darkness of winter. But I too, like many glaciers, began to crack from the immense pressure under which I placed myself.

There is a time for strength and a time for serenity. I started to see that it was time for me to change. I let myself enjoy the sun. I opened up like the flowers around me. I chose to be happy and once again splash and tumble in the world around me.

I lie back on the rock now to ponder the sky. The granite beneath me warms my back, and the sun caresses my face. I am glad that spring has come again.


Perception

Unsplash.com/Joshua Earle

You have been on the trail for a few hours now. You are beginning to feel it in your calves and lungs. But, you are nearing your destination. You can’t wait to experience the rush of reaching the top- to stand high among the peaks where the mountain’s ancient knowledge seems to surge through you like an icy current.

As you come around the final bend, the sun breaks through the trees and the wind rushes past you. Victory at last. Sore from the steep climb, you wander slowly across the timeworn rocks, avoiding the sinewy brush poking up through the granite.

But, you are not alone. Ahead of you, standing on the edge of a great precipice, with his arms stretched out wide, stands a man. His back is turned toward you, and you cannot see his face. His hands briefly form a fist, then open upwards to let the forceful mountain wind sweep over them. Without turning around, he whispers, “Beautiful isn’t it?”

Is he daring and victorious? Or is he desperate and reckless?


You step out onto the sidewalk. The sun tries to warm your skin, but the rays move sluggishly through the brisk autumn air. Your feet enjoy the luxurious cocoon of foam and rubber separating them from the merciless pavement.
Your heart beats a little faster in anticipation of the coming exertion. Your joints brace for impact. You slip in your ear buds and instantly your blood races to the beat of your favorite song.

You have a few blocks to warm up before you reach the trail, and your run begins in earnest. You start with a refreshing jog that has you bouncing down the sidewalk to the music. You are just waiting for your lungs to catch up to your heart.

Suddenly, you hear the measured thuds of someone running behind you. You turn your head and see, not one, but two people are quickly overtaking you. The front-runner is a young woman. Her chest rises and falls quickly as she races past. She doesn’t notice you when she passes; her whole being is focused on speed. She is pushing her body to the limit.

A few yards behind her sprints a young man. Sweat drips down his face, but he doesn’t wipe it away. He too is completely focused. Not on the trail, however, but on the woman ahead of him. His muscular legs reach forward in long, grasping strides. But, as they both disappear around the bend, the woman continues to outpace him.

Did you just witness a woman fleeing an abuser? Or did you just see a woman winning an aerobic challenge?


You hear the rumble of the ocean waves outside your cabin. You are tired from the drive here, but the warm ocean sands and cool waves call to you. Besides, the sun will set soon, and you don’t want to miss it.

When you reach the beach, the sun has already begun adorning the sky in ravishing colors and regal patterns. As you sink your bare feet into the sand, you realize how small you are in the grand scheme of existence. You make your way, awestruck, to where the water meets the sand. You splash your feet flirtatiously among the army of waves waiting for the moon’s command to storm the beach.

A little further up the beach a woman, dressed in rippling linen with her auburn curls tied loosely over one shoulder, wades knee-deep into the surf. She doesn’t seem to realize, or care, that you are here. You can just make out her expression in the fading light. She is gazing, as if completely mesmerized, out to sea.

She falls to her knees and bows her head as the water rushes around her. She stays there, immovable; her eyes shut and her head bent down – seemingly at peace.

Has she come here and collapsed among the waves in despair? Or is she here on her knees before God?


You finally made it. You felt sure your friend’s driving would mean that an off-ramp would be the last thing you saw on this earth, but happily you survived the freeway. After a cordial farewell at the drop-off zone, you head to the check-in kiosk with your carry-on rolling behind you.

As you print your ticket, you are tempted to re-check your bag to make sure that your laptop is snuggly nestled where it won’t be crushed. But, you assure yourself it’s fine. Besides, it will have to come out when you go through security anyway.

You’ve finished at the kiosk. Fortunately, you are not as techno-challenged and irritable as the woman the check-in agent is trying to assist. You make your way casually to your gate. You’re very early and will most likely have an hour to spend drinking coffee and playing on your phone, so there is no rush.

As you find your place in the security line, a couple catches your eye. The man is dressed in military camo as is the bag beside him. He is clinging to a slender woman in heels and a red dress. Her face is buried against his shoulder, and his chin rests on her head. A few tears fall down his face as he tilts his head to kiss her. The TSA agent is ready for you, and you don’t get to see the outcome of the embrace.

Did you just observe a tearful homecoming? Or did you just watch a heart-wrenching farewell?


The alarm goes off again. You look at the time, trying to calculate if you can push snooze just once more. You realize that if you don’t get up soon you won’t have time for a cup of coffee. This is enough motivation to turn off the alarm.

You stretch out in bed, hoping to preserve the last moments in your sanctuary. You reach over to turn on a lamp near your bed. The light assaults your face, and you recoil with a grimace and an injured moan.

Finally, you force yourself to venture out into the real world. You shuffle across the carpet eager for the two pleasures of the morning – hot coffee and a hot shower. You turn on the water, allowing steam to accumulate while you brush your teeth. When you approach the sink, you meet your disheveled reflection in the mirror.

What do you see? Do you see a person exhausted and defeated by yesterday’s battles? Or do you see a person eager and preparing to conquer today?


Perception defines you and becomes the filter through which you interpret your world, your God, and yourself.


Our Father

maninchurch

A man walked cautiously into an empty church. The towering ceilings made him feel small, like a child. The elegant stained glass made him feel course and dirty. The embroidered wall hangings made him feel poor and humbled. The Holy Sacrament displayed on the alter at the head of the church made him feel nervous and unworthy. But, the church as a whole, in all its grandeur, made him feel safe. God would meet him here.

He found a place among the pews and sat down, hat in hand. Silence echoed through the imperious hall. The man’s eyes dropped to the floor, unsure of what to do next. He only remembered one prayer from his childhood, so he began softly to recite it. With each familiar line his mind wandered into unscripted invocation.

“Our Father, who art in heaven,”

God, I’m not sure if you see me as a child or a creation. I’m not even sure if you really care about the everyday troubles of man with all the problems facing this world. But, I really want to believe right now. I could sure use a hand figuring out this life you created.

“Hallowed be thy name,”

Right now nothing seems sacred anymore. You start off life with this dream – this expectation – that certain things are your right if you’re a good person and you work hard. Lord, you know I do my best, but over the years my dreams seem to have dissipated into oblivion.

“Thy Kingdom Come,”

I never wanted much, Lord, just a family that loved me. A wife I could spoil. A couple kids I could pass on my knowledge to. A little house that would hold our memories. Work that would leave me tired at the end of each day, eager to come home.

“Thy will be done – on earth as it is in heaven,”

But somehow I’ve gotten lost on this journey called life. Lately I feel like I haven’t just lost sight of the destination, I’m spiraling out of control. I seem to be making decisions without a purpose, simply to get by. I don’t have a direction in mind, so I just swerve around in the dark.

“Give us this day our daily bread,”

Some days I wonder where the money for our next meal is gonna come from. Since I lost my job in February everything’s been mighty tight. I know I should be content asking for a square meal and a roof over our head, but it is so hard not being able to surprise my wife with roses or buy my kid a new bike. Lord, wasn’t it you who said man does not live by bread alone?

“Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us,”

If it was just you I had to ask forgiveness from I’d do it in a heartbeat. But, it’s my family that really deserves an apology. I’ve been so stressed, and been feeling like such a louse for not providing better. I guess I take it out on them. My wife thinks I don’t listen or don’t understand; I do. I just can’t fix it, so all her lecturing just makes me feel like I’m in quick sand, getting smaller and less significant every moment. Eventually, she’ll just swallow me up, and then who will she blame?

“And lead us not into temptation,”

I don’t understand. If you love me like a father and want me to be a good person, why do you make it so hard on me. I’ve made some bad decisions in my life, but I was young and stupid. I’ve tried to love my wife, be a responsible father for my children, work hard and make a home. And yet, everyday you test my very will to survive.

“But deliver us from evil,”

I’m tired God. Tired of work with no reward. Tired of fighting for every little thing. Tired of all the bickering at home. Tired of being pushed backwards every time I take a stride forwards. I don’t need a perfect life, Lord, just a break from the battle.

“For thine is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever.”

After reciting those final words aloud he stood up resolutely. His rugged, oil-stained fingers brushed against the worn wood of the pews as he returned to the isle. Crossing himself, he returned to the door. His hat settled back into the well-worn groove in his hair, and the church door shut behind him. Climbing into his run-down truck he drove home in silent reverie.

“Amen.”


The Lotus

Lotus

The Lotus has its roots in the mud

Grows up through the deep water

And rises to the surface

It blooms into perfect beauty and purity in the sunlight

It is like the mind unfolding into perfect joy and wisdom

-The Buddha

She grew up an outsider and took pride in her ability to survive. No one really knew her. No one except me, of course. I knew her intimately from the first day I came into her life. I met her when she was very young, and I never left her side.

I was there when her father yelled and said that, for all her Mother’s tears, she was the one to blame. She told me he must be right. Why else would he accuse her?

I was there when her mother called her a liar, and her brother said it too. She pleaded. She proved them wrong. They said she should still be sorry. She begged me to explain for what.

I was there when she was sick and her Mother cared for her. She confessed that she loved to be sick. Despite the pain, she was happier. She couldn’t be bad if she was ill.

I was there when she screamed and punched the wall. “It isn’t fair!” she cried. Then she drowned the pillow with her tears. “Why am I a terrible person?” I stood and watched her pain.

I was there when they took her away. They said that she was sick. They said she needed care. But she wasn’t happy this time. “I am not sick,” she protested. Then sadly to me, “Maybe I’m just bad.”

I was there when she left. “You’ll never make it on your own,” they warned. Her face was dark, but her eyes glinted, “Watch me.” She turned her back and I followed her out.

I was there when her first lover began to call. She always did his bidding. When he called her names she was silent. “He’s right you know,” she whispered, and never shed a tear.

I was still there when the cops showed up and she told them what he’d done. “They won’t believe me,” she confided. But they did. On her way to court she fretted, “He will speak and everyone will know I’m bad.” But he never even showed.

The gavel struck. An advocate showed her a paper and said, “You’re a victim.” She stood up straight and tall. She looked him in the face and stated with defiance, “Not anymore.”

On the courthouse steps that day she asked me to stay. “But you need me,” I protested. “No I don’t,” was her reply. I stood, alone and unwanted, as she walked away strong.

So, here I am. Waiting for someone new. My name is guilt. Who are you?


Reassembling the American Dream

AmericanGirl

“Music…will help dissolve your perplexities and purify your character and sensibilities, and in time of care and sorrow, will keep a fountain of joy alive in you.”

-Dietrich Bonhoeffer*

The fires of hate burn hot, choking us with the thick smoke of confusion. Who can we trust when our neighbors are killing our nation’s heroes – when we are killing each other? What happened to the hope for a better life than what our ancestors left behind? Burdened with guilt and resentment from a dream shattered by fear, how does a nation reassemble the cultural pieces and resuscitate hope?

These questions have no simple answers, but I found a start – the beginning of a path – on a summer evening on a farm in Auburn, Washington. A small ensemble from the Auburn Symphony Orchestra was performing sunset chamber music that evening, and as it was July, the theme was American Heritage. A small covered stage had been set up in an open meadow surrounded by centennial trees. An antiquated barn served as a quaint backdrop for the musicians while the eager audience of about two hundred assembled on the grass with lawn chairs and picnics.

The performers began with Dvorak’s American String Quartet, a piece composed by Dvorak who, during his time in America, captured the diverse and native flavor of a newly born American culture. More than just exhibiting the perseverance of the American working class in his unique compositions, Dvorak exposed the spirit and unique voices of the Americans whose dreams, freedoms and very lives were being denied them because of hate, fear and greed. This evening the same problems faced a new generation, and they turned to the same skillful artist, whose music transcended human indecency more than a century ago, to begin their retrospective musical tour of American heritage and their search for the missing American Dream.

As the strings began with the first classic notes of Dvorak’s American String Quartet I became intrigued watching the audience. My attention first wandered to the young couple sitting in the back feasting on tofu, strawberries and cheese. The boy, who was of Asian descent, politely offered his African-American lover each Tupperware filled with cleanly prepared food before setting it aside. She thanked him with bright smiles that crinkled her nose and pushed her glasses up while she swayed happily back and forth to the rhythm of the music.

A little further forward sat a family of women, three generations, from the grandmother to the granddaughters. They all sat straight and tall, even on the ground. Each daughter’s jet-black hair was cut into a perfect bob. All eyes were focused on the stage. Next to them, a woman sat in a wheelchair near a picnic table. She also sat up straight and proud. But in addition to her pride, she also wore a benevolent smile as a permanent accessory.

Lying back as the strings finished their final notes, I looked up at the sky framed by trees. A group of birds high in the treetops were arguing and flying about. They were frequently in time with the music, however, so I imagined it was a bird ballet just for me. All too soon, the piece was over, and the dancers were once again bickering birds.

Next was played a compilation of American folk music by a bass and violin. The music had an international twist that left one wanting to belly dance in a barn with a rabbi. The piece was met with smiles all around. A little girl in front of me with porcelain hands like a doll, accented by a small beaded bracelet and a white bow nestled in golden curls giggled and twirled to the Arabian Nights’ twist on Oh! Susannah! The giggles were not reserved for the children, however; a woman of considerable age, sitting in an American flag lawn chair, with perfectly permed hair and the face of a fairy godmother, giggled along with the four-year-old child beside her.

Sadly, intermission was soon upon us, and the music ceased for a time. I seized the opportunity to explore the farm. I discovered that the Mary Olson farm has been a cradle of American hope since its birth in 1879. Converted from a logging mill, it was purchased by Swedish immigrants Alford and Mary Olson.

The Olsons, and their children after them, maintained the more than sixty-acre subsistence farm until the death of the Olson’s last surviving child, Anna, in 1971 – ninety-three years after the Olsons first purchased it. During that time the family had survived four wars (WWI, WWII, The Korean War and the Vietnam War), the Great Depression, 19 presidents and an unprecedented shift in technology. While the family stubbornly maintained the agrarian lifestyle they were accustomed to, they did not embody the conservative isolationist stereotype usually associated with generationally rural families.

Pictures and remains of buildings show that during WWII, when Japanese-Americans were being shipped to camps because of national fear, the Olsons showed compassion. Many of these families were forced out of their homes with nowhere to store their belongings. Everything they owned and had worked for was lost to them. When they returned they would be forced to start all over – every precious memory and heirloom gone forever. The Olsons provided storage for Japanese-American neighbors so that these Americans could maintain hope that they still had a life and a dream to come back to. The same dream the Olsons came from Sweden in search of.

After 1971, the City of Auburn eventually purchased the farm and it is now a renovated historical site where community members can explore local history. But the farm is not just about history. New memories, new stories and new hope are still being created there. A hope I had been witnessing in the eyes of the captivated audience of all ages and backgrounds as they shared in the pleasures of the “universal language”, and a hope I continued to witness as the 1812 Overture began after intermission. A musician dressed like Mark Twain had attached balloons to the front of the stage and was now brandishing a cowbell and a popgun. As the overture reached its inevitable and infamous climax he rang the bell to the delight and laughter of the whole crowd, and then, with the help of a nervous assistant, began popping balloons to simulate cannon-fire.

While this pleased everyone present, one person was particularly enjoying herself. A little girl got up and began to dance in the open grass throwing her arms into the air and spinning around in circles. She had neither dark skin nor white and her beautiful walnut hair flared gracefully as she spun. She smiled without reserve and danced as if everyone was about to join her.

As the performers moved into their final gentle farewell piece the girl disappeared back into the peaceful crowd. Sitting in the grassy field, watching the dragonflies bounce about in the twilight, my head resting on my husband’s warm chest as I listened to the haunting refrain of the strings as they bade adieu, I caught an illusive glimpse of that shattered national hope. Thinking back to that girl, the daughter of love between two races, dancing fearlessly to Russian music augmented by balloons and a cowbell on the farm of Swedish immigrants – I thought that surely this must be the true American Dream.

*Dietrich Bonhoeffer was a German citizen that lived during WWII. He was executed shortly before the end of the war for his participation in plans to assassinate Hitler.


About Auburn Symphony Orchestra (From ASO Webpage):

In 1996, Conductor and Music Director Stewart Kershaw assembled a talented group of regional musicians to form a symphony orchestra. The fully professional Auburn Symphony has become one of the most acclaimed orchestras in the Northwest with its core of musicians from the Pacific Northwest Ballet Orchestra. Each year, the orchestra performs symphony programs and chamber ensemble concerts for classical music lovers from throughout King and Pierce Counties and beyond.

To Learn More about the Auburn Symphony Orchestra or to attend a performance click here: http://auburnsymphony.org.

Upcoming Sunset Concerts at Mary Olson’s Farm:

Magical Strings: Thursday July 23, 7pm

Cellists of Auburn Symphony Orchestra: Thursday August 6, 7pm


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