Tuesday, March 27, 2018

Fifty Years Ago and Feeling Old

 June, 1968. Simon and Garfunkel’s “Mrs. Robinson” hits #1 on the charts…Andy Warhol survives an attempt on his life…Bobby Kennedy is assassinated…the first Legoland park opens in Denmark…The movie ‘Rosemary’s Baby’ premieres…Poor People’s March on Washington takes place…

And I graduate high school.

Fifty years ago.

I mention this episode in my life because my high school class is planning a 50th reunion. The big get-together is scheduled for October.

A couple of gung-ho grads started the process, contacting people they knew and inquiring about interest in a reunion.

Enthusiastic, positive responses poured in.

Over 550 General Douglas MacArthur High School graduates comprise the class of 1968. The committee is trying to locate as many as possible. People connect on Classmates.com. Reunion organizers set up a Facebook page dedicated to the event. Folks RSVP online they’re definitely coming, definitely NOT coming, hoping to make it. Too many cannot attend because of ill health, either their own problems or issues with significant others. Some admit financial restraints. And I suspect a lot do not want to dredge up negative teenage memories.

Names are posted on Facebook. Anyone with information comments on an individual’s last-known status. People scour Instagram, Facebook and other social media seeking classmates and spreading the word.

There is a melancholy note to the effort. The number of deceased grows. From dying in Vietnam to passing only a couple of days ago, the list of departed lengthens.

One thing is certain. I feel old.

Alumni post up-to-date pictures of themselves, creating an album of grandmas and grandpas, over-the-hill, overweight, gray, and bald (men only) mature men and women. I am one of those people. I posted my yearbook photo and a current picture. 
...and now.
I plan on attending the reunion, barring unforeseen circumstances, because I want to find out how peoples’ lives unfolded.

I scan old photos and recent ones, reaching back into my brain files, attempting to connect names and faces with memories dormant for decades. Peoples’ names sound familiar, yearbook pictures look vaguely recognizable, but my memory is hazy on details.

I did not maintain contact with high school friends and I was not a high school shining star (a real designation in my school). I was not a cheerleader or athlete, or a nerd (I don’t think we used that term, but they existed). I was one of the masses, plugging along day after day, not popular (sounds better than unpopular), one of too many kids crammed into a school built for baby boomers as suburbia sprawled across the landscape.

Meanwhile I have a lot to do before the reunion. I need to lose a few pounds, connect with old friends so I have some people to talk to, go clothes shopping (the occasion a good excuse for a new outfit)…

And come to terms with the fact that 50 years ago I graduated high school.   

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Energizing Spiritually?

I am not into most New Age* stuff, but am willing to try new things. This afternoon I spent one hour lying flat and motionless on a mat in a dimly lit room experiencing my first (and probably only) Reiki class.

Before I agreed to tag along with a friend, I had heard of Reiki but had no idea what it was. I assumed it was some kind of meditation/stress reduction/mindfulness.

At the end of class I still have little idea what Reiki is all about. Or how it works.

Singing bowl used in my Reiki class.
The leader began the class with soothing words about relaxation and meditation, gave a brief explanation of what would ensue, and played two musical instruments I did not recognize, producing calming tones. While participants lay on mats, eyes closed, she slowly made her way around the room, maneuvering her hands over and around each person’s body. I don’t know if she touched anyone, but she did not touch me. Most of the time my eyes remained closed, but occasionally opened them and glanced around the room to see what was going on. The room was quiet – intensely so.

Reiki is supposed to relax the individual and generate a feeling of peace and security. It merges mind, body, and spirit, helping to heal body and mind, minimize side effects of medicines and promote recovery. Although not a religion, Reiki works in tandem with one’s beliefs.

Reiki is all about our life force, and if in disarray due to mental or physical illness or difficult issues an individual faces, the force is disrupted, causing physical problems affecting body organs and tissues. Reiki apparently releases negative energy flowing through the body and replaces it with positive forces.

It’s not that I do not buy into Reiki, but the practical part of my brain finds it difficult to get ‘into’ the practice. My mind stays stuck on the concrete and mundane, like what will I make for lunch and should I go shopping today or tomorrow and will my tax returns be accepted by the IRS and the state...

An hour channeling my karma, lying on a mat without moving, eyes closed, I didn’t fall asleep. But could have. I admit I did not feel any different after class than before, although my friend loved it. I doubt I will return soon, but my interest in trying new things is not dampened.

In a couple of weeks we plan on trying something else new.

Tap dancing.

*For those of us who spent the 1970s raising families, working, paying bills and engrossed in other activities and missed the debut of the New Age movement, here is a definition
Of or relating to a complex of spiritual and consciousness-raising movements originating in the 1970s and covering a range of themes from a belief in spiritualism and reincarnation to advocacy of holistic approaches to health and ecology.  

Reiki is derived from two Japanese wordsRei means, “God’s Wisdom or the Higher Power”, and Ki means “life force energy.” Reiki is ‘spiritually guided life force energy.”  The International Association of Reiki Training defines Reiki as follows: …a Japanese technique for stress reduction and relaxation that also promotes healing. It is administered by “laying on hands” and is based on the idea that an unseen “life force energy” flows through us and is what causes us to be alive.

Thursday, March 15, 2018

Oh to be young again…

And not for the reasons you are probably thinking. Sure it would be nice to be thinner, have no body aches and pains, not need glasses, have no gray hair. But today I want to be young for a different reason.

I want to be one of the multitudes of young people peacefully demonstrating for gun control. I want to have the moxy, the energy, the foresight, the idealism to believe people working together can change the world.

I don’t want to be cynical and jaded. I don’t want to be coerced by money, anything else or anyone. I don’t want to step away when faced with roadblocks. I don’t want to shrug my shoulders, sigh and believe change is impossible because the NRA (or any group or individual) owns our politicians.

I want to be young again, idealistic and optimistic, believing people are fundamentally good. I still believe these things, but my optimism is tempered by a knowledge of history, my observations of people over decades, and the ascent of the current President.

The past couple of years my opinion that, when faced with the facts and a choice, most people will make an educated, thoughtful decision, has shattered. People who do not want to believe certain facts will deny their truth, ignore the facts, concoct fake news to counter what they refuse to consider, and actively work to turn challengers into enemies.

The change from friendly competitors to ruthless rivals in recent history occurred over a period of years. The transition began in the 1990s with two events - the elevation of Newt Gingrich as Speaker of the House and his Contract with America Congressional cohorts, and the rise of talking heads like Rush Limbaugh.

Today social media spreads communications instantly. Media corporations push biased news. Examples - Fox News and more recently the Sinclair Broadcast Group.

Not only media companies and personalities influence public opinion. Individuals, companies and organizations, such as the NRA and the Koch brothers, pour billions into marketing campaigns and the coffers of politicians.

The trend gives rise to the question: Where does that leave the average citizen?

At a huge disadvantage.

The ‘other side’ contributes funds, forms organizations, influences politicians, but their effectiveness has been overshadowed by the right wing over the past couple of decades. Perhaps the pendulum is ready to shift center.

Watching young people around the country unite over an issue, single-minded in their effort to get results, offers hope their persistence and inspiration can overcome the power of the dollar. And fake news and the media.

Change is in the air.

People influencing political action in a short time period is an awesome event to witness. Florida’s gun control bill is a limited but encouraging step. Hopefully more headway will be made soon. Other countries have done it. It’s about time the U.S. adopts common sense gun control legislation.

Leave it to the young folks to take the lead.

There are risks and costs to a program of action. 
But they are far less than the long-range risks 
and costs of comfortable inaction. 
— John F. Kennedy 

Friday, March 9, 2018

The Angel Oak

Driving under a canopy of live oak trees on James Island outside Charleston, South Carolina, a small sign beckons the traveler: Angel Oak, with an arrow pointing to a dirt road. Hub and I detoured down the road, parked next to a dozen other cars and entered a fenced off area to view close up the Angel Oak, a 400-year-old tree around long enough to witness the first European adventurers walk the land.

The age of the tree is estimated. This variety of tree hollows inside as it ages, so the traditional counting rings method for calculating age does not work for this type of tree.

The Angel Oak is an impressive example of nature’s beauty. It is a miracle the tree did not succumb over the centuries to the forces of nature – hurricanes, earthquakes, floods – or surrender to the needs of men. Trees were used for shipbuilding, turned into lumber for homes and fed fires needed for warmth and cooking. Logging felled many of the Angel Oak’s neighbors. Somehow the Angel Oak survived the ravages of time and the hand of man.
Solitary trees, if they grow at all, grow strong. 
- Winston Churchill

It is not so much for its beauty that the forest makes a claim upon men's hearts, 
as for that subtle something, that quality of air that emanation from old trees, 
that so wonderfully changes and renews a weary spirit. 
- Robert Louis Stevenson

I looked at my hands to see if I was the same person. 
There was such a glory over everything. 
The sun came up like gold through the trees, 
and I felt like I was in heaven. 
- Harriet Tubman

Wednesday, March 7, 2018

Doing the Charleston

Charleston, South Carolina, nicknamed the Holy City because of the number of churches ensconced amid stately homes and businesses, exudes a genteel Southern flavor.
Spring makes its appearance in Charleston!

Food is a major attraction for locals and tourists. A week of Southern cuisine took a toll on my body, unused to gobs of salt, sugar and salt (one example – fluffy, scrumptious biscuits), fried foods (vegetables, meat and potatoes) and lots of carbs. I developed a taste for fried green tomatoes and highly seasoned grits with cheese. The contrary terms ‘Southern food’ and ‘diet’ force me to be vigilant in my eating practices, beginning immediately upon leaving the Charleston city limits.

The city’s historic district is a vibrant area full of people on the go, most of whom are tourists. People, cars, pedi-cars and horse-drawn carriages travel everywhere. Charleston rates high on must-see tourism lists. Travel and Leisure’s readers rated the city #1 in the U.S. and #2 in the world in 2017. Why? Read the reasons here.  More than 4.8 million visitors a year attest to the city’s popularity. New buildings, mostly hotels, can be spied in various stages of construction throughout the city.

The historic district is a walkable peninsula full of stately 18th and 19th century homes and refurbished buildings now hotels, restaurants and retail establishments. A city ordinance bans buildings taller than the highest steeple in the city. Pedestrians do not feel overpowered by towering skyscrapers and the multitudes swarming in and out of them.

Hub and I spent a week in an airbnb a five-minute drive to a reasonably priced parking garage in the center of the historic district. We spent days leisurely touring the city and nights relaxing in our two-bedroom apartment with a fully stocked kitchen and family room equipped with a large screen TV hub could not fathom how to operate.

On our way into Charleston we stopped at a visitor’s center to stock up on brochures. The volunteer behind the desk made us an offer – spend an hour listening to a travel talk and we would receive two tickets to three different tourist attractions.

We were hooked.

Our horse and carriage
Our first morning in the city we drove downtown before tourists packed the streets and markets, stores and museums opened. A 45-minute presentation promoted a travel scheme –not a timeshare, the salesman stated several times – where we purchase a concierge-type travel plan. We declined the invitation, but received our tickets.

We passed the rest of the day on our FREE carriage ride, a great introduction to the city’s history and a leisurely, stress-free way to get an overview of the historic district before heading out on our own. We also enjoyed a FREE boat tour of Charleston harbor, relishing the sun’s warm rays as we cruised by Fort Sumter and other historical sites.

One afternoon a culinary tour found us strolling city streets, learning about Charleston’s food history and modern cuisine. We sampled local foods, including fried green tomatoes and okra, grits, red rice, oysters, pralines, cornbread, benne wafers and smoked pork sliders. (full disclosure: I skipped the sliders.) The main ingredients of French pralines, a cookie-shaped candy, are pecans and sugar. The key ingredient in paper-thin Benne wafers, a Charleston original, is sesame seeds (along with sugar, salt, butter…all the good stuff).
Navy vessels, Patriots Point
We saw a comedy-mystery show, toured a Navy destroyer and carrier, but one thing we did not do – the Charleston, the dance. Apparently the wildly popular 1920s dance originated in black communities on the islands outside Charleston. Speculation is that many of the moves derive from dances slaves brought over from Africa.

Enjoy this video of 1920s dancers showing off  their Charleston moves.