Guerrilla Gratitude: Bringing Light Into Our World


                                    by Neal Lemery

(Published in the Tillamook County Pioneer, 9/12/2022)

Any act, any kind word, is capable of making a change for the better in our world. Each of us has so many opportunities to make it a better place.  A few kind words at the grocery store or post office, a simple act of kindness to help someone along in their day, maybe a cheery note or a phone call. It can all make a difference.  

            I was in a hurry last week as I came into my favorite coffee shop, intent on getting to work on what I thought was an important project, one that couldn’t wait. 

            I pulled open the coffee shop door, focused on ordering my coffee.  I nearly ran over a woman holding two cups of coffee and looking stressed.  I looked behind her, seeing her frail mother, struggling with her cane and trying to keep up with her daughter.  

            It was time to pause and show a little kindness.  I pulled the door fully open and held it for them, letting the woman with the two hands of coffees navigate outside, as she offered her arm to her mother. They shuffled out the door, both of them thanking me, and breaking into smiles.  I muttered “no problem,” and smiled back.  

            It was time for me to take a breath, admire the beauty of the fall day; time for some gratitude.  The world had given me an opportunity to be kind, make people happy and take care of the community. 

            The opportunities continued.  A couple had followed me in, seemingly in a hurry to get their coffee and resume their journey.  I stepped back, letting them have first place in the queue for the barista.  The man gave me a funny look, like I was doing something strange, out of the ordinary.  

            “No problem,” I said.  “I’m taking it easy today.” I repeated the smiles I’d received from the mother and daughter, and felt my day brighten. 

            He just nodded, likely not knowing how to respond.  There was a lesson or two there.  At least, a lesson for me, taking time to let things unfold, to be part of an accommodation in someone’s day, making things go easier.  But, I got my reward: a nod, perhaps a sense of someone being kind and gracious to them, maybe some reflection on what the day was about.  

            I’d assumed they were on vacation, which is hopefully a time for some rest, a pause from the routine of daily life, and simply enjoying a sunny fall day in a beautiful place, topped off with some great coffee. The least I could do for them was to be kind. 

            My coffee shop punch card was filled by my usual order, and I gave it to the barista, asking them to use it to treat the next person who would come through the door.  I’ve been reading a book about “guerrilla gardening”, where you surreptitiously add beauty to public space. Perhaps this is “guerrilla gratitude”. We can all be rebels with a cause. 

            When I checked in at a hospital last week for some lab work, a very kind man gently and efficiently guided me through the process, even walking me over to the lab and then guided me to my next appointment.  He was extraordinary. Yet for him, it seemed just an ordinary day, just doing his job. He made my wife and me laugh and feel at ease, as he went about his work. His saintliness was just what I needed, calming my anxiety and frenzy. 

            Other employees were also extraordinarily kind and helpful, bringing to me an atmosphere of gentleness, welcoming, and professionalism. You could tell they loved their work and were proud of their competence, knowing they were saving lives. It was nice to see that a large organization doing important work appreciated great customer service. 

“If you light a lamp for someone else, it will also brighten your path,” said Buddha.  We need to be a society of lamplighters, and not keep our compassion and kindness hidden away.  It is the treasure we need to share.     

            Life, real life, a good life, is really about kindness and accommodation and patience.   Life is paying it forward, diffusing the crisis of the moment, and quietly getting things done and put in order.  The cost is really non-existent.  A little time, perhaps a few more minutes spent with someone, some kind words, a few deep breaths, and exuding calmness and service to others. We get that back, at least tenfold, in our lives.

            I keep re-experiencing those lessons, and the need to be patient and kind, both on the giving and the receiving parts of life.  Such wisdom bears repeating, along with a whole lot of doing, part of “guerrilla gratitude”.  


What I Learned This Summer


                                    -by Neal Lemery

(published in the Tillamook County Pioneer, August 29, 2022

            The calendar and the changing light in the mornings and evenings tells me that this season is in transition. We are leaving summer and moving into fall.  Perhaps it is also the appearance of all the teachers’ cars at the nearby school and the chill in the early morning air. 

            September always seems to be the real new year for me.  School starting back up, vacations ending,  the lazy warmth of late summer days, the harvests from the garden, all signal a new beginning.  The county fair and all the summer weekend festivals are over.  There’s an optimism in the air, a time for something new, different. There’s an expectation of change.

            And, there’s nothing like a bout of Covid in the middle of summer to make one appreciate their health, and the power of one’s body to fight off a potentially fatal illness and to be able, once again, to be active, to do the things one loves to do. I’ve had the time to reflect on what I’ve learned this summer.

  1. There is power in collective action and organization.  The real work comes from the collective actions of a small group of people. I’ve gained new appreciation for the power that small groups of people have for deciding to get something done, and then going about getting it done.  This has been a summer of reunion and reorganization, with groups again putting into motion their activities, and moving ahead in their lives.  By attending these events, I’ve become reacquainted with friends and neighbors, and celebrated the power of togetherness.  From signature gatherers on political issues to re-invigorating social events, things have gotten done.  It is grass roots work and it wouldn’t have happened unless people got moving and worked together.
  2. Relationships are Essential.  Our family gathered for a wedding this summer, resulting in some deep and loving conversations, emotional support, and shedding a lot of the loneliness and isolation of the pandemic.  We realized the importance of family, and became reacquainted with what brings us together.  I took the time to talk with people at the grocery store and on the street, reaffirming our common ties and interests, re-weaving the frayed fabric of what the media often paints as a divided and angry society.  Those brief conversations have taken on a new value, and a new relevance for me.  I’m again realizing the importance of good friends, and deep conversation. 
  3. Connecting with your own creativity brings joy to your heart.  I’ve taken time to play my guitar again, to paint, to take photos, to garden with others, to explore and honor my own creative juices. I again feel the joy of what children experience when they free themselves to simply be, to create and bring joy into their lives. I joined an art group, which meets every week to simply paint together, without judgment or criticism, and simply enjoy the communal act of creation. 
  4. Take time to do the right thing.  I sometimes let things go undone, and I neglect to take responsibility for my own mistakes and missed opportunities.  Sometimes, I need to apologize, to make amends, and to focus on doing what is right.  I sometimes neglect relationships, or let a wondrous act of kindness and service go unrecognized.  I’ve humbled myself, and reached out, making connections, sometimes apologizing, and often simply recognizing and appreciating the good works of others.  I’ve learned the power of the sincere sympathy card or note of thanks, and how why that may seem insignificant, receiving that acknowledgement moves people to tears. The price of a card and a stamp is incredible, and changes lives. Appreciating others and embracing them, loving them is really what we are here for. I need to do that more often.
  5. Experiencing nature is an essential part of self-care. I often forget to take care of myself.  Having Covid this summer was a re-set on that value for me.  Self-care can keep you alive and upright, and able to get back to your to-do list, and the things that bring you love and joy.  The other day, I was at loose ends, and the things I thought I needed to do that day dropped off of the calendar.  I took that time, and went outside. I went to the beach, the forest, and sometimes just looked up into the sky. I spent the day enjoying the day for what it was, an incredible gift.  I was reminded that life can be beautiful, that we live in a gorgeous place, that I can find peace and contentment anywhere I look.  I took photos of flowers, really looking at a single flower, examining and taking in all of its beauty. I need self-care. If I was frank with my doctor about my need for self-care, they’d put it on my medication list, and expect me to follow through.  Take time for me.  Respect and honor me.  And let me take myself outside and into the fresh air and sunshine. 


Listening Can Be The Change


                                                –by Neal Lemery

(Published in the Tillamook County Pioneer, August 21, 202]2)

            When life gets chaotic and painful, I try to simply take a breath and become a better listener. Most of us don’t feel like we are being heard, that our feelings and our own personal pain simply doesn’t matter, that we are insignificant.  

            Being the active listener, using our attention and our ears, changes the dynamics and gives importance and compassion to those who haven’t been heard, who feel ignored, unvalued. Our stories are powerful and liberating.

            “We are made from the stories we’ve been told, the stories we tell ourselves, and the stories we tell one another. The world can be terrifying, wonderful, repulsive, wounding, comforting — sometimes all at once. The stories we are fed often determine how we live in the contradiction.”  —Mark Yakonelli, Between the Listening and the Telling—How Stories Can Save Us (2022).

            Yakonelli is a professional listener, a collector of the deeply personal stories of others.  A pastor and counselor, he helps others find their safe harbors and to share their lives.  One of his tasks was to help Roseburg heal from the devastation of the Umpqua Community College shooting in 2015.  His work was to simply help create a safe place for people to share their pain, and to tell of their own courage and love of their community.  He gave permission and sacred space for people to tell their stories, to express their innermost values and character. He helped heal a suffering community. 

His book speaks of his own journey in gathering the stories of others and how that telling has changed himself and the communities he has visited. He continues to work with groups and individuals throughout the world, helping them to find their voices and to open their hearts.  

            “Stories can expand the boundaries of the heart to hold the chaos, the betrayals, the destructive absurdities with a sense of grace, resiliency, and moral courage. Or they can shrink us to become brittle, fearful, destructive. We need a comforting space and compassionate ears to sort out what we have suffered, to find the stories that recover and repair the world, to keep our hearts intact,” he wrote.

            In these times, I can often feel isolated.  In spite of technology, I can easily feel lonely, disconnected from others. I can feel ignored.  By sharing our stories, and by the simple act of telling my own story, bridges are built and connections with humanity and with community are made.  We crave the good stories, the ones that reach into our hearts with a deep message of love and compassion, spreading empathy and good will.

            There are many good listeners among us, the people who welcome us to share what is in our hearts, and to work on healing our pain.  The Irish have a word for the people who do this work, seanachie, the story catchers.  

            As we go about our lives, and do the healing work that needs to be done in this world, we should pause and reflect on the healing power of story in the world, and the power that each of us has to be both the teller of stories and the listener.  


I Wait

                        -by Neal Lemery 8/13/22

Possibilities arise in

this space of time and place

unfilled, unscheduled.

I breathe with no expectation

of production, accomplishment, success.

No score keeping, no quotas

no reports to make at the end of the day,

just being unaccountable, 

idle by someone else’s rules,

practicing uneasy patience.

Ideas swirl, circling to land

take root, grow into something

more, developing, on its way to


yet still forming, still in its making,

still in utero, not yet ready, 

me merely anticipating.

I wait, letting its yeast grow, ferment.

I will let it rise, giving it patience, time,

allowing it to grow on it own time.

I am but the kneader, the bread maker, letting the 

Muse pass through me, hoping I can net the gift she has today.

I am merely the nurturer, the


–Neal Lemery


Quotes That I Have Recently Discovered That Speak to Me


                                    –Neal Lemery

            “A single act of kindness throws out roots in all directions, and the roots spring up and make new trees.”

                                    –Amelia Earhart

            “You are not your mistakes. They are what you did, not who you are.”

                                    –Lisa Lieberman Wang

            “Be the person who breaks the cycle. If you were judged, choose understanding. If you were rejected, choose acceptance. If you were shamed, choose compassion. Be the person you needed when you were hurting, not the person who hurt you. Vow to be better than what broke you, to heal instead of becoming bitter so you can act from your heart, not your pain.”

                                    –Bright Vibes

            “For poems are not words, after all,  but fires for the cold, ropes let down for the lost, something as necessary as bread in the pockets of the hungry.”

                                    –Mary Oliver

            “Learn to be silent. Let your quiet mind listen and absorb.”


            “To be kind is more important than to be right. Many times what people need is not a brilliant mind that speaks but a special heart that listens.”

                                    –Amazing (Facebook post 8/22)

            “Yesterday I was clever, so I wanted to change the world. Today I am wise, so I am changing myself.”


            “Everyone thinks of changing the world, but no one thinks of changing himself.”


            Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”

                                    –Margaret Mead

            “The world as we have created it is a process of our thinking. It cannot be changed without changing our thinking.”

                                    –Albert Einstein

            “Those who cannot change their minds cannot change anything.”

                                    –George Bernard Shaw

            “Change will not come if we wait for another person. We are the ones we’ve been waiting for. We are the change that we seek.”

                                    –Barack Obama

            “The world we see today is the world we’ll see tomorrow if we fail to do something now to change the things we don’t like about it.”

                                    –Mayor Deah

            ‘If you are willing to look at another person’s behavior as a reflection of the stater o relationship with themselves rather than a statement about your value as a person, then you will, over a period of time, cease to react at all.”

                                    –Yogi Bhajan

            “A child not embraced by the village will burn it down to feel its warmth.”

                                    –African proverb

            “But to rescue a soul is as close as anyone comes to God. Think of Noah lifting a small black bird from its nest. Think of Joseph raising a son that wasn’t his.”

                                    —The Same City, Terrance Hayes

            “I look at fatherhood not as biology, but as an emotional and spiritual mission.”                                                        –Neal Lemery


Each of Us Can Be a Force for Change


                                                by Neal Lemery

(published in the Tillamook County Pioneer, 8/3/2022)

            We are in the midst of change.  We’ve always been in transition, growing and evolving, but these times seem even more energized and challenging.  Big challenges are all around us:  the post-pandemic world, climate change, economic, social and political uncertainties. How many of us work and get an education, how we socialize, how we look at our world and our own expectations are in flux. How do we deal with all that? 

            I often don’t handle change well.  I like stability, predictability, the certainty that the demands of tomorrow will be comfortingly just like the demands of yesterday and today.  But that’s not realistic, and we are all compelled to adapt and move into uncharted and often uncomfortable new territory. I’ll resist that, and want to stay in my rut, the old patterns and ways of navigating through life as comfortable as a pair of broken in shoes.  

            Yet, I see that much does need to change.  Like most of us, I’m conflicted, wanting some things to change, but then not wanting change.  I struggle with that continuing conflict, that debate with myself about what needs to change and what we need to go back to.  After some inner conflict and self-talk, I mostly resolve those internal conflicts with myself by being a champion and voice for real reform, a recommitment to finding solutions, and doing things differently.  

            “It can be tempting to focus on all that is not working – the challenges, hurdles, and injustices. Good times can feel fleeting, like momentary distractions from the real work of life, which is more struggle and heartbreak than satisfaction and happiness.”  — Dan Rather 

            I’m dissatisfied in leaving the role of change maker, of rabble rouser, of being the dissenting voice that advocates new thinking, to the politicians, the theologians, and those who simply seem to be just wanting to make a lot of noise.  All of us should take on that role, and raise the voice of the reformer, the change maker.  As citizens, isn’t that our duty? If I don’t become the actor, the instigator, the loud voice, then don’t I lose the right to complain?

            “Change will not come if we wait for another person. We are the ones we’ve been waiting for. We are the change that we seek.” — Barack Obama. 

            My rant isn’t just about political reform, about rewriting public policy and revitalizing our institutions to be the change makers.  The work, and arguably the most important work, lies within ourselves and in the relationships we build in our communities.  The work is one on one, deeply personal, and demanding of our own energies and skills. 

            The changes you and I can make can start with a conversation at the post office, with the gas station attendant, with a small group activity where we are deep in a community-building event.  It can be seeing a need in the community for something and then taking leadership to fill that need. There is so much talent and passion in our community and it often becomes unleashed by the work of a single person. Often, it’s not limited by money, but by our own willingness to step up and get something done. 

            The true power lies in the individual and the small group. “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed it is the only thing that ever has.” —Margaret Mead. 

            Want to change things up? Want to make a difference? Want to revitalize your community? Then have those encounters at the post office, the grocery store, the community event.  Gather a group for coffee and have those deep conversations, the ones where everyone walks away with a to do list and a motivation to make some changes. Ask the tough questions, and seek out the meaningful conversations. Organize, motivate, daydream.  Learn the skills you need to work on solutions. 

Educate yourself. Imagine what may seem is impossible and take on those first few tentative steps. Be persistent, stubborn, and focused.  Be outspoken, and speak your truth. Surround yourself with like-minded people and be determined. Know that you are called to leadership, to be the instrument of real change. 

            You will make a difference.  You will be the change you want to see in the world. 


Finding Determination in an Old Family Photo


                                                            by Neal Lemery

)(Published in the Tillamook County Pioneer, 7/26/2022)

The old family picture showed up in my e-mail the other day, a discovery from a cousin.  I could see the younger faces of my grandparents and an aunt, standing stiffly in front of a simple three room shack on the Canadian prairie.  

            It was the mid 1910s, the barren landscape being the beginnings of their wheat farm, the place where they raised their six children. The one room schoolhouse was a mile away, the boarding high school sixteen miles down a dirt road in the only town in the county.  

            Life looked hard there, the chickens and geese in the yard, their horse and mule at the ready for the day’s chores, the tar paper on the outside walls.  

            My parents and I visited there in the 1960s. Dad wanted to show us where he was born, where he grew up, before they moved to Oregon.  The house was gone then, leaving only the foundation.  And from that memory, I could see that the photo showed where my ancestors lived, struggling to build a life.  

My grandmother’s dream was to send all her kids to college, which seemed so unattainable in the bleakness of the prairie, the struggles to plant and harvest their wheat. 

            Yet, she prevailed, later moving the family to a better farm near Salem, close to a number of colleges. She made sure the three daughters and the three sons finished high school and went on to college. The three sons and two of the daughters eventually earned graduate degrees, and the other daughter finished three years of college.  Those remarkable achievements in the 1920s and 1930s became family mandates and principles, expectations ensuring later generations would strive to advance their lives. One should be purposeful and better the lives of the next generation. My dad, my aunts, and my uncles all became forces of determination, taking on the role of my grandmother, repeating her words for the next generation. 

            Empowering and educating women was more than a political topic in my family. There was no room for excuses for not being achievers, movers, and shakers. 

            In her last few years, Grandma would talk to me. I was just starting grade school. In spite of her stroke, she was adamant that education was important, that learning and bettering yourself was what we all needed to do. She made sure that I, the youngest grandchild, got the same directive as did everyone else in the family. 

            Those sun-burnt, dusty faces look at me from that old photo, reminding me of the family mandate, that determination and working through adversity was just what one did in the world, that life could be improved with some hard work and dedication.  You took what you had, and you made life better. 

            I printed off that photo, put it in a frame, and found a place for it among the other family photos.  I need a reminder that part of our lives come from the hard work and dreams of those who came before us, and that the things I can find in today’s world, situations I can easily whine and gripe about, aren’t as significant as what people just a hundred years ago endured and overcame. There’s gratitude and admiration, and inspiration, too in that photo. And, a reminder of Grandma’s directives to me, which I’ve carried on to many young people in my life. 

            Many of the dreams of those who came before us were realized through their blood, sweat, and tears.  Life wasn’t easy, and comforts and advantages weren’t served on silver platters. Their dreams and ambitions often get lost in the hectic pace of today’s life.  Yet, I need to be reminded of those dreams and those efforts to make lives better, to invest in our kids, and make a better world. 

            There’s a small piece of my grandmother in me, that determined, committed voice that instilled in me the need to better my life, to get an education, to move ahead in the world. When I get complacent, when I take our lives for granted, I need to stop and listen to my grandmother, and move ahead.  When I see young people hard at work, getting an education, and working on their dreams, I can see my grandmother’s spirit at work, her stern words and waving finger urging us all to move ahead.  


Ranked Choice Voting: Is It In Our Future?


                                                by Neal Lemery

(published in the Tillamook County Pioneer, 7/24/2022

            Ranked choice voting (RCV) is the new popular trend in American politics these days.  In August, Washington State primary voters will choose their candidates in their primary using this method.  It is also now the method used statewide in Alaska and Maine.  In November, Portland voters will decide if they want RCV to choose their city commissioners and mayor.  

            RCV eliminates the need for runoff elections, and also sometimes allows two candidates from the same party to move ahead to the general election. The process is based on the idea that the top candidates of all the voters should prevail. 

            As they mark their ballots, voters literally cast several votes for an office, marking their first and second choices, and sometimes up to five “rankings”. 

“A ranked-choice voting system (RCV) is an electoral system in which voters rank candidates by preference on their ballots. If a candidate wins a majority of first-preference votes, he or she is declared the winner. If no candidate wins a majority of first-preference votes, the candidate with the fewest first-preference votes is eliminated. First-preference votes cast for the failed candidate are eliminated, lifting the second-preference choices indicated on those ballots. A new tally is conducted to determine whether any candidate has won a majority of the adjusted votes. The process is repeated until a candidate wins an outright majority.”

This process is already in place or will be in the next year in ten states, in some federal, state, and local elections. This idea, and its many variations, are being widely discussed. 

In Oregon, Benton County has adopted this for elections involving at least three candidates for county officers. (The Sheriff is exempt from this, per state law.) One of your choices can be a write-in candidate. The voters adopted this idea and amended the county home rule charter.  Tillamook County is a “statutory” county and not a home rule county, and it is unclear whether the voters here could adopt such a system without the blessing of the Legislature. 

In New York City, you can have five choices, in rank order. 

In Alaska, this reform has eliminated partisan primary elections, and voters can choose among all the candidates.  That state used the new system a few months ago for a special Congressional election with over fifty candidates, and election officials handled the new process with apparent ease. At least three states use this for presidential candidates.

RCV is also used by a number of universities and organizations for their election processes. 

The arguments in favor include: 

  • Determines the candidate with the strongest support
  • Encourages civil campaigning
  • Reduces wasted votes
  • Eliminates the need for multiple elections

And the arguments against it include: 

  • It’s too complicated
  • The person with the most votes can lose
  • Your vote might not count if it’s “exhausted”
  • It violates “one person, one vote”


Taking Time to Grieve


                                                by Neal Lemery

(published in the Tillamook County Pioneer 7/13/2022)

            Life has a way of reminding us to take care of ourselves and to do what is important in our lives.

            July seems to be a month of special events and celebrations.  The reverberations of June graduations, and a catching up on birthdays, weddings and funerals has filled my calendar.  Covid had slowed down and often stopped those familiar rituals and life events that really are essential to our community life and our emotional wellbeing. Now, we have social calendars again and I find myself busy with those special events, events I used to take for granted, or thought that they were old-fashioned, and could be forgotten. 

            This week, I went to a funeral of a good friend and colleague from work.  Her funeral was delayed for a year, as she wanted people to gather to celebrate her life, and not to be overcome by mourning.  Then, the pandemic delayed that event for another two years.  

            Part of me was thinking that having a funeral now was unnecessary.  Enough time had gone by that we didn’t really need a funeral or even a gathering.  We were “past all that” and had moved on.  If my thinking was likened to a baseball game, I’d be batting a complete strikeout.  

            It was a serious and meaningful event, a military funeral at a national cemetery, complete with an honor guard, the firing of rifles, and the playing of “Taps”.  The folding and presentation of the national flag to her daughter “on behalf of the President” and in recognition of her military service might seem a little dramatic, almost a cliche.  But tears rolled down my cheeks. We each had one of her favorite roses, and we shared stories of her life and her many contributions and devotion to her family, friends, and community.  

            Grief poured out of me and tears fell, and I joined everyone else in the laughter and crying over wonderful stories, rich memories of a life well lived.  No, it wasn’t “too late” to have a funeral, it wasn’t too late to gather to remember a good person and good times.  We all cried, and we all healed.  We continued our story telling over a late breakfast, her favorite meal, at one of her favorite restaurants.  Good memories came to life and when I left, I knew that I’d been able to celebrate her life and to grieve her death, and do that essential work of the soul along with many friends and her family. 

            A number of years ago, I was asked to be part of a memorial for a friend who had passed nearly ten years earlier.  Family and friends had struggled with this friend’s death, and many issues and emotions had become stuck, with no ceremony or gathering to release the complex array of feelings.

            It has been said that grief is what happens when there’s no place for the love to go.  I understand that wisdom a lot more these days, as I am learning that I need to take the time for self-care, for community care, and to fully and wholeheartedly allow myself to mourn, to grieve, and to release some of the challenging feelings and emotions that come when a loved one dies.  In any relationship, there are thoughts unsaid, feelings unexpressed when someone dies, and what is left does need to go somewhere, needs to be said. 

            Often, I’m not sure what that is, what words there are to describe what lies deep in my heart.  Time helps me understand what is buried deep inside, so that what needs to eventually come out and be spoken and released can find its way through the complicated jumble of emotions that are tied into the knots of grief and loss.  Anger is certainly involved.  There are other things, too, needing to be expressed by words we find difficult to find, let alone emerge from our throats in the midst of tears.  

            I do know that when I cry, that when I can allow myself to find release, and to say what is on my heart, then peace is close by. I become unstuck, able to find some liberation and comfort in the work of grieving well. Some would call that detoxifying yourself, a cleansing. 

            After that long delayed memorial service many years ago, a number of people were able to heal, able to move on and find some understanding, some reconciliation.  I found I had some unresolved grief inside of me, too, and it was past time to let that go. The memory of the departed one became more inspiring, more comforting, and people became more accepting of her work in the community as a healer, a reconciler, and a person who could inspire fundamental change in people’s lives.  There were many good stories told at that memorial, stories that had been locked up in grieving hearts, love that had no place to go for a while. There was a lot less self-judgment and self-blaming.  Grieving well does that for each of us, and for the community. 

            Now, when I feel a need to go to a funeral, or to write some kind words of comfort to those experiencing loss and grief, I listen to that voice inside of me, knowing that taking that kind of affirmative action and work not only helps others and helps the community, but it helps me be a more caring and decent person, less burdened with love that has no place to go. 


The Bramblebush: A Look at the Law on Abortion


                                    by Neal Lemery

(Published in the Tillamook County Pioneer, 6/27/2022

            In law school, there’s a famous, now century old, book about the study of legal reasoning and the study of law.  The Bramblebush is a must read for law students, and digs into the why and how of how lawyers think and how to study and understand the law.  

            Law students learn the law and learn how to be lawyers by reading appellate court decisions.  The professors don’t tell you what the law is, so you read all those cases and teach yourself what the legal principles are, and how to understand legal reasoning.  In class, you are called upon to analyze the case and defend your own viewpoints of what the law is, and what it should be.  The work of a law student, and lawyers, is to dig into the craft of asking questions and rationalizing your own viewpoints. 

            One of the basic principles of law is that courts should follow precedent, the wisdom of prior cases.  Stare decisis says courts should be predictable and make decisions based upon the rules and decisions that have been made earlier.  Don’t re-invent the wheel. Be consistent. And, if you think a different rule should be made, only do that when society has changed, and we have been better informed by the past.  

            “Hard cases make bad law” is a famous legal proverb, which says that tough, politically charged public policymaking isn’t very well suited for the courtroom, and legal analysis.  Those decisions are often best left with politicians who are skilled at political give and take, compromise, deal making, and vote counting. 

            The basic guidance in the law is found in the federal and state constitutions, the various statutes that Congress and the state legislatures enact after often spirited debates, and the views of presidents, governors, and the bureaucrats they hire to administer all that public policy.  Often, the rules and policies are in conflict. The disputes between differing policies and interpretations,       and the contradictions, end up in the courts, so that judges can be the referees and make decisions when no one else wants the job. 

            The dynamics of abortion law is a reflection of how we can’t come to a collective consensus on an issue that is swirling with each of our moral, ethical, spiritual, medical, and other values and beliefs, as well as the life experiences of ourselves, family, and friends.  When Roe v Wade was decided in 1973, the principal author took a deep dive into the complexities of both medical and legal precedents as well as society’s practices and beliefs at that time. His thoughts were also shaped by his prior experience of being the chief legal counsel for the Mayo Clinic.  

            Almost all hotly contested and emotionally charged Supreme Court decisions are the product of competing social values and legal principles.  The legally and socially charged problems that no one else seems to have figured out arrive at the Supreme Court, and have the benefit of several years of hard-fought litigation and the refined arguments of highly skilled and experienced lawyers, experts in the workings of legal bramblebushes.   

            Often, the issues could be resolved if Congress or a state legislature took the bull by the horns and enacted clearly defined and decisive legislation.  But, they often drop the ball, or write a law that contradicts itself, and is subject to a variety of interpretations.  The result may “kick the can down the road”, but it doesn’t resolve the issue, and instead fuels more litigation, and passes the ball to the courts.  Perhaps that is good politics, but it makes for scattered and often unsatisfactory appellate court decisions.

            When I practiced law, and also sat on the bench, I often thought of the law as looking for certainty, a search for clarity.  I wanted to “buy insurance” for my clients, seeking a guaranteed outcome.  Good lawyers want to find certainty and clarity in the law, and to not get your client into the “bramblebush” of a complicated lawsuit that won’t necessarily give you an answer, but will guarantee you a lot of legal headaches and confusion.

            The new abortion decision calls for lawyers and judges to now look at the Gordian Knot of abortion, privacy, personal choice, and society’s morality of human reproduction with new rules, and a new bramblebush of what is our public policy. And, how the law should write the rules on what is often framed as a personal medical decision founded upon a person’s rights to privacy.  In the early years of our country, such questions weren’t matters for the government or the courts, but were in the hands of women.  The government wasn’t involved. Times have changed, and we are now engaged in the continuation of debates on the roles of mothers, fathers, courts, doctors, legislatures, and others on this emotionally charged complexity of issues.

            We are in the midst of the bramblebush, with an array of emotionally charged and complicated topics, issues, questions, and enigmas.  There seems to be little spirit for compromise or even interest in appreciating a difference of opinion.  Rather that providing an orderly framework for making societal decisions on this “hot topic”, the Supreme Court has stirred the pot, upset the apple cart, and seems to not be concerned about taking away an accepted matrix of finding solutions, boldly shunning the stare decisis principle. This new precedent, and its new matrixes of analysis, will come back to haunt the court, and stir up even more complicated lawsuits. Hard cases indeed make bad law. 

Congress, which could provide some answers in enacting some national legislation, hides out and ducks the issues. Instead, we have new rules, new procedures, and new framework for judicial decision making on a complex, likely unsolvable public policy and moral dilemma. This issue just got even messier. 

 “If you’re not part of the solution, you’re part of the problem.”