Everything You always Wanted to Know about Retirement, But were Afraid to Ask

You: So what is it like to be retired?
Me: I love it. I don’t know how I had time to go to work because there are so many…

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The Danger of Success

Today is a good day to read the paper. My name wasn’t in the obituaries, nor was Pat’s. There wasn’t even anyone I knew. That’s my standard of goodness anymore, and it often isn’t met, because that’s the age I am. That doesn’t mean funerals aren’t on our minds.

In a few minutes, our family will leave for Missoula for the memorial service of Rev. Hugh Herbert. He was one of the giants, in every sense of the word, of the United Methodists in Montana. He was the key figure in convincing our father to move from his job in Nashville as the international youth leader of United Methodism (well, it wasn’t “united” until later) to Montana. Dad spoke at a Methodist youth camp at Luccock Park, south of Livingston. The camp was such fun, and Dad and Hugh hit it off so well, that Hugh was able to convince our father to move us to Montana. Hugh had no authority to offer him the job, but that apparently didn’t stop him from offering and Dad from accepting. Then it was the little matter of working it out with the Bishop and giving notice to the church hierarchy in Nashville.

The Harpers and Herberts were close, because Dad and Hugh usually took their whole families to church camps and Pastors’ School when they were counseling or running the camps. Hugh’s wife, Helen, and our Mom were friends. Helen was one of the world’s kindest and most loving people ever, along with our mother, Dorothy. The Herberts’ second daughter, Peg, was one of my best friends in high school, despite not living in the same town. My brother Hal and David Herbert were pals.

Robbie was the youngest of the four Herbert children, and Nancy was the second youngest of the five Harpers. At a work camp for building the new dining hall at Luccock, adults and high schoolers were reaching the point of putting tar on the roof. Nancy and Robbie were young children, but wanted to do their part. They borrowed a bucket of tar and applied much of it to the inside of the little Dutton chapel, not far from the dining hall.

Their handiwork might have gone unnoticed for much longer, except that they were present when Hugh shouted, “Where is that tar bucket?” The two children were too young to know that their best answer was not “It isn’t in the chapel.” The Harpers and Herberts have been stuck together ever since.

Hugh was a tremendous preacher, powerful and spell-binding. My brother Steve says he has heard tons of graduation speeches in his career as a high school and college student, parent, and professor at Carroll College. The only one he can remember is Hugh Herbert’s address to Rocky Mountain College grads. He talked about the dangers of success.

Hugh told the story of his son David, who was a large child (and would eventually become a giant man like his father). Whenever the family would go to the camp at Luccock Park, David’s two older sisters would hike to Pine Creek Falls. The trail to the spectacular lower falls is one “Forest Service mile” (which is substantially longer than ordinary miles I can attest from experience) with the last part of the hike being a pretty fair uphill climb. David was not able to walk all the way, so he didn ‘t get to go. One time David convinced his dad to take him along. Not too far up the trail, David said he couldn’t walk any farther. Hugh picked the child up on his shoulders and managed to make it all the way up to the falls. As they climbed the last rise and saw the beautiful falls, David shouted from his father’s shoulders, “I made it!”

Hugh said the danger of success is that we think we have made it on our own, when that is never the case.

My father used to talk about the self-made man who worshipped his creator. We can all think of a leader to whom that applies perfectly. There is no use in pointing fingers, because most of us forget all the family, friends, teachers, and sometimes well-timed strangers who play a key role in who we become and what we achieve.

Today at the memorial we will sing great music of the church and the camps and tell Hugh Herbert stories and hug old friends. It will be a fine celebration of a great life, and also a time for us all to give thanks for the man and family who helped make us who we are. Thank you Hugh and all you Herberts.

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That’s No Joke

For some time now, I have been anxious because I lost my sense of humor. I used to be funny, just like all my siblings. We learned it the hard way, by being forced to tell corny jokes in public by our father.

Dad — Rev. George Harper to many of you – was a genuinely funny human being who was the youth leader of the United Methodists in Montana when we were growing up in Great Falls. When we were young, for example 11, 9, 7 ,5, and 3 years old (all born in November except for the premature Nancy born October 31), our parents would take us to several high school church camps led by our father every summer. We loved being around the older kids, except for talent night, when we children would often be pressed into skit service. Dad would be the Sunday school teacher, and we would answer the Bible questions.

When was baseball first mentioned in the Bible? In the big inning.
When was tennis first mentioned? Joseph served in King Pharaoh’s court.
Smoking? Rebecca lit off a camel.
Who was the shortest man in the Bible? Not Knee-high-miah or Bildad the Shuhite, but the man who slept on his watch.

Most of these jokes would not even be recognizable for teens today who don’t read the King James version of the Bible and have never heard of Camel cigarettes.

There were lots more Bible questions and it seems like we added some new ones every year. Apparently these corny jokes were funny to teenagers when children gave the answers, especially if one of us got confused and gave the answer intended for a different question.

When are fireworks first mentioned in the Bible? Rebecca lit off a camel.

In college and later, I wrote and told jokes on stage with the Montana Logging and Ballet Company and the predecessor groups with me and Fitz. That was just for fun. I got really serious about humor when Pat and I had our two daughters.

Telling corny jokes keeps your children on their toes and off balance at the same time. After I told an especially bad joke, Molly might say “You have just made me dumber,” and Robin would add “Please tell me I’m adopted.” The children would retaliate by telling nose jokes, since they did not receive the great gift of the Harper nose, but instead took after their mother. “Can you sit on the other side of me, Dad? I’m trying to read and you are blocking the light.” “Will you please keep your nose out of my business – oh I guess that’s impossible unless you turn the other way.”

Yes, nose jokes aren’t funny, especially to those of us who are not nasally-challenged like the rest of you, but they served to make my children very funny people, and, more importantly, gave them an exquisite sense of embarrassment. Embarrassment is important when girls become teenagers. Parents use it because it is the last tool of control they have, and it often works. Fortunately for parents, teen women never literally die of embarrassment, or scenes like this would be commonplace: “Molly, is that your dad in his underwear letting the dog out in the yard?” (Whump.) “Wow, she’s dead.”

So everything was fine until our country went crazy. Sometime in there I thought I lost my sense of humor, so that I walk around depressed much of the time. Now I am starting to suspect I didn’t so much lose my sense of humor, as that it was stolen from me.

I suspect that because I got a ransom note. When I told Pat, she said “Don’t answer it. What if they send back all your bad jokes?”

The ransom note said “#makeamericagrateagin: we will not give you back your sinse of humer until you stop righting turrible things about the gratest precedent ever.”

I’m guessing the original note was tweeted, and then some flunky printed it off and mailed it to me, since I don’t tweet or twit and have no desire to learn.

I’m in a dilemma. I would like to get my “since of humer” back, although I suspect I could then only tell redneck jokes like “What do two rednecks say when they decide to get divorced? ‘We can still be cousins.’” Or “Did you hear about the man who won the Tennessee $3 million lottery? He gets $3 a year for a million years.”

Is a sense of humor really worth it, if I can only get it back by no longer righting turrible things about the gratest precedent? I wrote back and said, “He does grate on us, and he is setting all kinds of precedents never before seen.”

I got the reply. “That’s no joke.”
No argument there.

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Just Show Up

It snowed last night, so our first spring is over. Every year in Montana we have maybe 10-12 springs, each followed by winter except for the last one, which is followed by summer (or occasionally fall.)

For several glorious days, highs in Helena were in the 40s, so the knee-high snow in our back yard slumped down to just above ankle-high. Water ran in the streets over all the ice, which made it much more slippery than an ice rink. This isn’t Seattle, so a little snow and ice won’t cause any snow days for schools and people will still show up at work.

Woody Allen said “Eighty percent of life is showing up.” Montanans take that seriously.

Pat and I showed up with 500 or so friends at a rally to talk to our Republican US Senator, Steve Daines. He garnered national attention, and embarrassment for Montanans, by using a little-used Senate rule to prevent Sen. Elizabeth Warren from reading a letter from Coretta Scott King on the Senate floor. Imagine that — a millionaire Montanan so out touch with Montana values that he told a woman to shut up because she was reading a letter from Martin Luther King Jr.’s wife as part of the debate about whether a racist should be confirmed as attorney general. The next day, parts of the letter were read into the record on the floor of the Senate, but a male senator did it, so I guess it was acceptable to Republicans.

We showed up at a rally, because Sen. Daines has avoided holding town meetings or even meeting face to face with individual Montanans because of the large groups of people protesting his actions, including his voting for the unqualified Betsy De Vos for Secretary of Education after she donated $46,800 to his campaign (she would not have been confirmed without Daines’ vote) and other issues. The rally was scheduled because the senator was supposed to address the Montana legislature, but he didn’t show up, probably because he found out there would be lots of people outside wanting to talk to him.

Rally organizers did a great job. There were a few powerful speakers, and we did some fine chants like “You work for us” and “No hate, no fear, refugees are welcome here.” Most important, we were given the opportunity to hear about other coming actions and how to join with different groups that are being vigilant about what is happening in the country and our own legislature.

One key issue with Sen. Daines is his fear of meeting with constituents unless they agree with him. One of our friends, Al Beaver, who is part of Helena Rising, signed up for a “telephone town hall” held by Sen. Daines to prove that he is “listening.” The only access was by signing up on a list, and then waiting by your phone until you were called. Al signed up, and was patched into the call by the Daines people an hour and fifteen minutes after it started, and just in time to hear the senator closing the meeting. Other constituents were never called into the “town meeting.”

At our rally, one woman from Missoula talked about how the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) had saved her life when her cancer was discovered, because she would never have been able to afford the life-saving treatment without it. After emails and phone calls got no response, she traveled to DC to speak to our senator, since he has been avoiding Montanans here. She wanted to ask him what the Republican alternative to ACA would be, once they kill the hated Obamacare that has provided coverage for her and millions of other people. Sen. Daines not only wouldn’t meet with her, he had Capitol Security remove her from the office. Cowardice is not a Montana value either.

Our only Montana US Representative, Ryan Zinke, will soon be confirmed as the head of the Department of Interior. He is preparing for the confirmation by not showing up – he has missed over 80% of the votes in the House in 2017, according to a news article last week. Although neither he nor his office would respond to reporters’ questions, political analysts say it is surely to avoid any votes which might then come up in the confirmation debate.

The future of our democracy is more uncertain now than at any time since the Civil War. We ordinary people will have some say in whether we persist as a nation with good values. True, we don’t face the temptations of people in power. No one is going to offer us more than the average Montana family’s salary for a single confirmation vote, but we must do what we can.

We can show up to advocate for the good and oppose the evil. Over time, as happened with the protests against the war in Viet Nam, we can make a difference if we persist. Show up. That’s not all we need to do, but it is the foundation of making a difference together.

If you are in the Helena area, sign up with Helena Rising at anebeaver@bresnan.net to receive notice of opportunities to show up, call, email, or write to Montana legislators or the President or Congress as issues come up. There are similar groups providing information in all the other Montana and American cities.

Don’t be a fair-weather citizen. Snow or no snow, it’s time to show up.

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The Ministry of Truth

During the Nazi rise to power, an educated “Christian” nation fearfully traded freedom for economic and political security and nearly took the whole world down with it. In the aftermath, in 1949, George Orwell penned his horror novel, 1984, in which the Nazi formula has been taken to its extreme.

The “hero” of the novel, Winston Smith, works for the Ministry of Truth of Airstrip One (formerly called Great Britain), a province of the superstate Oceania. The job of the employees of the Ministry of Truth is to monitor the latest pronouncements of the government (built around the personality cult of “Big Brother”) and then to find any past evidence which contradicts the current truth. All past evidence must be destroyed, so that there is never any proof that the current version is not absolutely the truth.

In 2017, presidential spokeswoman Kellyanne Conway came up with the felicitous phrase “alternative facts” as the new Trump-speak for clearly fallacious statements, like the non-existent “Bowling Green Massacre.” Her meaning was clear. An “alternative fact” is a lie that the administration wants people to believe, and so will repeat it until it is “true.”

Yesterday President Trump spent an hour-and-a-half press conference mostly attacking the media which report anything at all negative about him, his administration, or his alternative facts. According to the AP writer, he bullied reporters, by name, and often interrupted before they could finish asking questions.

The press conference was astounding not just for the unbelievable opinions that his White House is a “finely tuned machine” and that “there has never been a presidency that has done so much in such a short period of time.” There were the usual bragging falsehoods. He referred to receiving 306 electoral votes, the largest since Ronald Reagan. When a reporter with access to instant fact-checking noted that he got 304 votes, which were fewer than Bush Senior’s , both of Bill Cinton’s, and both of Obama’s victories, Trump shut him down. The most frightening part of his open war on the free press was his suggestion that any negative coverage of his administration was “fake news.”

Let me state the obvious. Every President, and almost all politicians, lie at some point. The only politicians who don’t ever “lie” are dictators who never make a mistake, who know more than everyone else about everything, and who (like North Korean Kim Jong Un) bowl nine perfect 300 games in a row. Such people have a Ministry of Truth to wipe out any evidence that contradicts the current “truth.”

We have a president who can never admit he is wrong, even when confronted with evidence which are not alternative facts. To use men’s locker-room talk, “If you don’t have the cojones ever to admit you are wrong, you aren’t really a man.” To use political locker-room talk, “If you don’t have the cojones ever to admit you are wrong, you aren’t really a president, you are a wannabe Kim Jong Un in 1984.”

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In Praise of Trump

There has been a lot of criticism of our president in his first few days in office, so much that his polling numbers are the lowest in history for any new president. This must hurt a man who cares very much about being the best, the first, the winner. Let me set the stage and then say a word on his behalf.

On the campaign trail he said things like these:
“I know more about ISIS than the generals do.”
“I know more about the federal government than anyone.”
“I will eliminate crime.”
“I am the only one who can fix what is wrong with our country.”

He is obsessed with being the most loved man ever. When he should have been trying to mend bridges with the CIA, he bragged about having the biggest inauguration crowd ever, despite clear photographic evidence that it wasn’t even the biggest in this decade.

The saddest part of a sad campaign was the debate between Donald Trump and Marco Rubio about who had bigger “hands.” It is not unusual for immature high school or college boys to boast that “Mine is bigger than yours.” When a man who just turned 70 (welcome to the club, Donald) is still making that boast, both figuratively and literally, we can assume two things:
1. He is very insecure.
2. He has reason to be.

My friend Ron Waterman, one of the top attorneys in Montana, pointed out that President Trump has actually been the best in some categories that we should applaud. He said the Montana ACLU, the group that defends the individual rights and liberties guaranteed by the constitution to all, has experienced unprecedented growth, as has the national organization.

I did my fact checking, and found a Time Magazine article dated Nov. 14, 2016 that said right after the election, in just a few days, the donations to national ACLU increased by 7000%, as they collected “roughly 120,000 donations totaling more than $7.2 million.”

In those same few days, Planned Parenthood received 80,000 donations, many of them in the name of Vice President Mike Pence, but our president should get credit for those as well.

The Anti-Defamation League, which “fights anti-Semitism and all forms of bigotry” experienced a “fifty-fold” increase in donations.

Add to this the size of The Women’s March the day after the inauguration. Was it the largest demonstration ever in DC or was that the civil rights march with Dr. Martin Luther King? No matter, if you add in all the marches around the US and 30 other countries that happened the same day, Donald Trump turned out the biggest American demonstration in history.

Let me make a bold claim for which I have no factual support except the ones previously stated (although Pat assures me that facts are no longer necessary in our country today) in praise of Donald Trump.

I believe that he will turn out to be the best fundraiser and membership recruiter in history for every group that supports and defends the victims of bigotry, misogyny, xenophobia, gay-bashing, or who oppose every attempt to increase the power of the presidency over Congress, the courts, and the law.

This is an outcome that a large majority of us in the US wholeheartedly support. Donald Trump, in some ways that make a positive difference in our country, you are indeed the best. Thank you, Mr. President.

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Signs of the Times

Pete Seeger said, “The key to the future of the world is finding the optimistic stories and letting them be known.” (NY Times article quoted in Parker Palmer’s fabulous book, Healing the Heart of Democracy)

We were part of an optimistic story on Saturday at the Helena women’s march. We joined millions of women and men in 30 countries and every capital, major city, and many smaller ones in the US.

Our 94-year-old mother insisted on being there, so we found a spot for her wheelchair behind the capitol building, and cheered as they marched by. It took 55 minutes for them stroll by, three-deep, and Pat says more than half of the estimated 10,000 people didn’t go all the way around to the back.

The signs were wonderful:
By a tiny child: “Tweet everyone with respect”
“Love Trumps Hate”
“This is What Democracy Looks Like””
“I’m With Her” (picture of statue of liberty)
From a little boy wearing a football helmet “Tough boys stop bullies”
A really large man’s sign read “This is what a sign-carrying feminist looks like”
“Didn’t we already do this in the 60s?”

Women’s rights were the focus of many signs, of course. A great many women and men wore pink pussy hats in reference to the President’s bragging about grabbing women by their private parts.
A number of women and girls had variations on “Keep your tiny hands off my rights”
Some were dressed in suffragette outfits.
“Girls just Wanna Have Fun-damental Human Rights”
“How does it feel to be rejected by this many women?”

Environmental protesters were out in force.
“This mother (the earth) is mad”
“Climate change is caused by hot air in Washington”
“Science > (is greater than) s**t you read on twitter”

Almost every other progressive cause was represented (because almost every cause is under direct attack from our Republican establishment).
“We all came from immigrants”
“LBGT people are people too”
By a little girl “I’d rather have a grizzly in my school than a gun”

Some of the signs didn’t fit any category.
An elderly woman “Agitate, agitate, agitate!”
(a reference to Game of Thrones) “Even the Lannisters pay their debts”
“Gravity is a Chinese hoax”
“We shall over-comb”
A tiny girl “I’m terrified”
“I never carried a sign before, but….”

A great many of the marchers going by the back of the Capitol shook hands or hugged our mother. One man standing behind us asked my brother Steve, “Who is that woman than everyone knows?” Steve said, “Dorothy Harper.” The man said, “Oh, I know Dorothy Harper.”

By the time the speeches started, Mom and I couldn’t get near the spot they had reserved for her because of the massive crowd, so we couldn’t hear all the motivating speakers. We felt like Steve Garnaas-Holmes’ poetic description of the crowd in Boston:

We marched.
For women, for peace and freedom and justice,
a hundred seventy five thousand strong in Boston,
joined in umbilical hope with millions more, we marched.
We marched to say we won’t look away from injustice,
to say we will not exclude or demean anyone, that justice is for all.
We marched to pledge ourselves to live gently but out loud,
to live with love and reverence, to heal and bless,
to include the outcast and lift up the downtrodden,
to speak truth, to work for justice and to be people of peace.
We marched in resolute hope, not anger.
We marched in wonder and gratitude for the power God gives us
to resist evil, to love our neighbor and heal the world.
We marched to surround ourselves with joy, beauty and hope.
It was not a protest; it was an affirmation.

Too far from the stage to see or hear, we cheered for the cheering….

The demonstrations were uplifting. Now it is time to go to work to create optimistic stories of standing up against evil and creating good. Let’s get marching.

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Trump’s Inauguration Address

I dreamed that I heard Donald Trump giving his Inauguration Address, which I woke up and wrote down.
I dreamed he said,
“Look at this crowd, not only the biggest inauguration crowd, but the biggest crowd in history. I’ll close down any liberal media outlet that says otherwise.

“Already I have accomplished more than any sitting American president, before I even officially got the job. I have stopped all American jobs from going out-of-country, caused the stock market to rise substantially, gotten Congress to agree to pass everything I allow them to vote on (which won’t be much), and turned Russia from an enemy into a friend. I have stopped global warming, which I decided was happening, and stopped all terrorist attacks. Now I’m actually President, so watch me shine.

“Here is the best inauguration speech ever, because everybody in America, make that the world, will find something they love in it. I am the only one who can do that.

“First, I will abolish racism. Some people thought I was playing up to the racists with my remarks, but I was just kidding. Just kidding! That’s what great entertainers do. There will be no more racism, and anyone who uses the word will be sent back to Africa.

“As for illegal immigration, some thought I said I would deport all Mexicans immediately, but I was just kidding. It won’t be immediately, because there are some jobs beneath the dignity of real Americans, like building a giant fence on our southern border. Even after they are done with that, not all Mexicans will be kicked out. Every Mexican woman under 35 who is a 9 or 10 will get to spend time in the White House North in New York. All the rest will be taken to the southern border and catapulted over the big fence. Just kidding! See — something here for everyone.

“Some people thought I was being demeaning to women, but I love and respect women, especially 9s and 10s. I just don’t think they should be in charge of anything and should not be allowed to speak in public. Not just kidding. Women should be obscene but not heard.

“Some have called for me to put my assets in a blind trust. Fools! You don’t become richer by missing out on insider trading possibilities. What is good for Trump industries is good for America. Eventually my cabinet will consist only of the titular heads of my various enterprises. By eventually, I mean February 15. Just kidding. I always avoid the Ides of February.

“As for the Russian threat, that is already solved by making them our friends, because President Putin respects me so much and I admire his taste. After I promised to open a Trump Towers in Moscow, he gratefully sent me a gift of some Russian maids for the White House, all 10s may I say, and he gave everyone in my family and the Secret Service brand new cell phones and computers. What a guy.

“Crime? Consider it gone. Congress? Don’t make me laugh. Actually, they do make me laugh. Drain the swamp in DC? Already underway, to make room for Trump Condos. ISIS? Already got them to lay down their arms for the promise of a spot for their leaders on The Apprentice. College tuition too high for most families? Trump Universities will spring up all over, using government grants. Big budget deficit? I will package and sell the debt like the big banks did with the mortgage stuff. Let the Chinese worry about it.

“There, I told you what I will do in broad outlines, but you can watch every morning at 3 am Trump (formerly Eastern) Time for the details. Everything will be done in my first 100 days, after which I will turn everything over to my VP, what’s-his-name, because I will have done everything that needs to be done and I’ve got another fortune to make. Now let’s get this party going. Where are those Russian maids?”

That was my dream. If this turns out to be the real thing, you’ll have to admit I know more than all the generals and federal bureaucrats about the new president.

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What Day Is It?

Pat and I are always asking “What day is it?” We don’t mean “Is it Tuesday or Wednesday?”, because we are retired so those days are meaningless to us. When you are no longer working, Monday is as good as a Friday. Maybe better.

No, we mean “What day is it?” in the sense of the truly special nature of each day, which can only be determined by reference to the holy grail of day naming, the Opportunity Bank Calendar.

For instance, today, Friday the 13th of January, is National Rubber Ducky Day. Fortunately, our little dog, Chica, has a sort-of-rubberish ducky so we can celebrate the day properly. Every day in the year has its own special official designation.

Pat’s birthday is Squirrel Appreciation Day, while our daughters’ birthdays are National Mario Day and National Cranberry Relish Day.

Some Opportunity Bank days are the same as traditional calendars. Thursday Nov. 23 is Thanksgiving Day, and Dec. 25 is Christmas, while September 19 is Talk Like a Pirate Day, and August 25 is National Kiss and Make Up Day.

Many days are devoted to animals:
Jan. 4 National Bird Day
Feb. 1 National Serpent Day
Feb. 2 Groundhog Day (When the Groundhog pops out of the hole, it is looking for serpents, not shadows.)
June 9 National Donald Duck Day
July 6 National Fried Chicken Day

Other days are clearly promotions for various products or industries, like National Pickle Day, National Eat a Hoagie Day, National Fried Clam Day, National Beer Lover’s Day, and National Fruitcake Toss Day.

A few days are more than national: World Radio Day, World UFO Day, and World Penguin Day.

I circled March 22 on our calendar: National Goof Off Day, but then realized that day would look about like any other for me.

We try to celebrate appropriately for every day if we can. For instance, on September 1, National Emma M. Nutt Day, (the first female telephone operator), we will call out for pizza. We are especially looking forward to Pretend to Be a Time Traveler Day (Dec. 8) and National Absurdity Day (Nov. 20, which is also my brother Steve’s birthday).

Some of the more skeptical among us might question who gets to name these days? For Pat’s birthday, Squirrel Appreciation Day, was that voted by some Squirrel Appreciation Society? Is there even a Peking Duck Association? Was National Blonde Brownie Day designated by hairdressers or chefs? I didn’t realize mothers had an organization to designate National Eat Your Vegetables Day.

Now that I’m looking at the calendar, there are some serious omissions. Where is the International Aardvark Lovers Day? There is no “Apologize to Your Spouse Even Though You Don’t Know Why Day.” I approve that January 20 is not Inauguration Day, but is Cheese Lovers Day. It would have been better to be National Sack Cloth and Ashes Day.

Even better, there should be several days during the year in which random individuals get to name the day rather than, for example, allowing the computer folks to grab May 25 for Geek Pride Day as they did for this year. Actually, the calendar doesn’t get printed without computers, so they probably get any day they want.

Stay tuned next year for International Do Really Good Things for Rusty Harper Day on May 17, 2018. I’m putting in my bid early.

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Getting Philosophical

In past societies, the elderly were revered as wise. Now as an aged English major/theology minor person with a Master of Divinity degree, I am just a nuisance to the young, so the best I can hope for is to get philosophical to help pass the days.

Philosophy has mostly been dominated by very smart people who think they have figured out what life is all about, and who put that wisdom into words which only a few other very smart people can understand (but with which they disagree because they have their own philosophy).

I used to love diving into the depths of philosophy and theology, but now all those ideas are way over my head and out of my league, as we say in the mixed-metaphor division.

For most of us, all the philosophy we can take is about one sentence worth. For example, “Eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow we die.” I think that was Epicurus. Or maybe Plato. Possibly Thomas Aquinas.

Philosophies often come in contrasting pairs. An opposing philosophical school is that of Jean Paul Sartre, who said something like “Tomorrow we die. Maybe today.” That may not be an exact quote, but it gets the gist of it.

What we need now is a philosophy that will help us survive the present crisis in our nation when we will soon transition from the first black American President to the first American President who doesn’t want intelligence briefings, the first who admits that he reads very little, and the first who claims to know more than all the generals, federal employees, and intelligence agencies combined. And those traits aren’t nearly the most frightening aspects of his presidency.

As I see it, there are two contrasting all-American philosophies that hold promise for our present situation.

The first is from lawyer-turned-philosopher, Steven Pastis, who expounds on his philosophy through his comic strip, Pearls Before Swine, in which animals talk to each other.

As best I remember, in one strip we saw the cynic, Rat, writing this:
“How to Appreciate Everything Around You” by Rat.
“Lower Your Standards Immensely!”
Rat then says to Goat, “I just solved life.”

Admit it, that is a viable and Trump-worthy way to get through the next four years.

A contrasting philosophical school was articulated by Martin Luther King, Jr. A friend, and one of the nation’s great preachers, Dee Eisenhower of the Eagle Harbor Congregational Church on Bainbridge Island, Washington, brought this to my attention in a recent sermon. She summarizes this way:

“Our little church book group is reading one of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s last books, Where Do We Go from Here? Chaos or Community? King writes about the days after the Voting Rights bill was signed with grand words about a triumph of freedom, a striking away of the ‘last major shackle of fierce and ancient bonds.’ A year later, the white backlash resulted in, among other things, elections in several southern states of ‘men long regarded as political clowns [who] had become governors…their magic achieved with a witches’ brew of bigotry, prejudice, half-truths and whole lies.’

“A somewhat depressed King talks about how the majority of white Americans consider themselves committed to justice, to a middle-class utopia embodying racial harmony. But, he says, ‘this is a fantasy of self-deception and comfortable vanity…America has been sincere and even ardent in welcoming some change. But too quickly apathy and disinterest rise to the surface when the next logical steps are to be taken.’ …..
The great majority of Americans are, he judged, ‘uneasy with injustice but unwilling to pay a significant price to eradicate it.’ [Ouch.]

“Even in the midst of this ruthless analysis, King did not express hopelessness. He recalls that the line of progress is never straight. ‘For a period a movement may follow a straight line and then it encounters obstacles and the line bends. It is like curving around a mountain when you are approaching a city. Often it feels as though you are moving backward, and you lose sight of your goal; but in fact you are moving ahead, and soon you will see the city again, closer by…The inevitable counterrevolution that succeeds every period of progress is taking place.’

Well, you can see that even Dee’s summary of King is far too long to hold our attention, but it is the opposite of Rat. The problem is not that we don’t understand King. It is that when we understand him, we are called to action. For us old people who used to take action on behalf of the good, and are now both retired and tired, that’s tough.

So my philosophical choices are reduced to two: Rat or King. Hmm. This will be hard.

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