A Day of Giving


 

 

“This country will not be a good place for any of us to live in unless we make it a good place for all of us to live in.”

  • Theodore Roosevelt

 

After Thanksgiving sales, Black Friday, Cyber Monday and all the other sales promotions overflowing my e-mail inbox, now I’m reminded that today is the “Day of Giving”

Just today? And, the giving should be a check, or better yet, a credit card payment to some charitable organization far away.

“Give today! Make a difference! Click, click, and you’re done.”

“We make it easy for you.”

“If you send us money, then your charitable obligations of the season are done. Duty fulfilled. Then back to your holiday consumerism and frivolity.”

It’s like the paying of indulgences in the Middle Ages, to buy my way into Heaven. I’m hearing Martin Luther remind me that handing over my pieces of silver isn’t where we should be going as a country.

Isn’t every day the day of giving? And the need is right in front of me. On the way to the coffee shop, I drive past the homeless person, standing in the rain, needing a meal, a job, a dry place to spend the night, maybe just someone to say that they care, that this person matters and is part of our community.

There is a line in front of the community library, waiting for it to open. People who need a warm, dry place, maybe some computer time so they can apply for a job, or connect with family, maybe just to be with others, or a good book to read, or a conversation.

There are other needs in my town, and I don’t have to look too far.

This time of year, the loneliness of jail and prison weighs heavy on many of the young men there I know.

For one young man, this month is the anniversary of his dad’s overdose and his best friend’s suicide, and his reoccurring nightmare of the aiming of the gun, the pulling of the trigger, and his own screams. His family doesn’t come to see him, and the playing of Christmas carols makes him cry.

I can’t give him much, and I can’t bring him peace. But I can sit with him and hear his story. I can praise his hard work and his rebuilding of his life. I can honor his plans to be an EMT, and thereby make the world a better place.

I have the gift of time with that young man, and our time together brings me joy. And perhaps that can give him some peace.

Each of us has the gift of time, the gift of compassion, the ability to listen with an open heart.

The Day of Giving — shouldn’t that be every day? Shouldn’t we take the time to say hi to our neighbor, to speak to someone at the grocery store or the post office, to genuinely inquire as to their well being, their soul?

The real giving doesn’t show up on my credit card bill or my tax return. The real giving is that few minutes a day we can choose to really engage with someone, to put forth some real care and concern, to love our fellow humans.

Genuine giving is so much more than some artificial “Day of Giving”.

“What are we here for? What is the value of our lives?” Those are the questions of the season.

The real giving shows up right here, right where we live, every day of the year, every day of our lives.

 

—Neal Lemery 11/29/2016

A Day Without Time


A Day Without Time

Almost summer, and the early June morning breathes cool on my face. I amble through the remnants of this old ranching town, really more of a wide spot in the road, taking in the ruins of the old store, a few weathered barns and outbuildings, a single house, long past its prime.

Back in the day, 35 people called this place home, and today, only five. Or so the old weathered sign says.

The dance hall now lacks a roof, and the last sale in the mercantile was a mere sixty years distant. Even the newest building, now a wood shed adorned with deer and elk antlers, is getting old. We share a birth year, and have both turned gray.

Down the road a mile, the one room school finished the year last week. There was a community picnic honoring all three of the students. Next year, two are off to boarding school, but there’s two first graders coming in.

At dinner, the innkeeper spoke their names, and of their plans for the future, and the names of the ranches where they were raised. Good people here, I thought, people keeping track of what’s important around here, what’s important in life.

Near perfect silence fills the air, interrupted by some crows, a chattering redwing blackbird, a far off rooster, and mosquitoes buzzing around me, wanting me for their breakfast. In a few minutes, they will chase me back to the hotel at the end of the only side street in this place, for coffee and breakfast with the other travelers who have come here to find their own peace.

The cattle in the field are quiet, busy enjoying the green grass of June, and promises of next week’s move to the higher pastures. So far, it’s been a good grass year, that’s what the locals are saying.

A hundred and twenty years ago, the new hotel opened, welcoming the three times a week stage, travelers and ranchers mingling, much like they do today, around the big tables by the kitchen. The conversation hasn’t changed much, I suspect: the weather, where we’re from, where we are going, the price of cattle, where’s the best birding, the hottest fishing. The coffee’s still strong, the food’s homemade, and the fresh cobbler hot out of the oven is still delicious.

The screen door slams one last time, as we load up the pickup and head out for our day’s adventures, the sun starting its climb into the blue sky of the day. We’ll stop for lunch, overlooking the valley, binoculars up, spotting a few hawks and an eagle catching thermals, silhouetted against the distant mountain still covered with snow.

Ten, maybe twenty, thirty thousand years ago, this valley was an inland sea, waves lapping against that ridge, leaving a beach we can still see, a pebbled ribbon halfway up the hillside. It lies below the rimrock left by a forgotten volcano, stark against the gray and green of the sagebrush and the junipers. Even now, the ancient voices of that era, the Pleistocene age, fill the meadow as we stop to watch the baby quail, and the avocets staking out their nests, pairs of mallards and grebes and tundra swans sailing on the pond, the last remnant of that long ago sea.

Pronghorn sheep, coyotes, and even a few sandhill cranes ready to take flight for their Siberian nesting areas look at us, the newcomers in this land.

“What time is it?” my traveling partner wonders.

I glance at my cell phone, rather than look at where the sun shines in the sky two weeks before its Equinox dance with the earth. I’m so removed from the astronomical rhythms here that I would be clueless without my twenty first century gadgets. The generations before me, hunters in this valley, would think of me as lost, worthless as the tribe goes about its daily tasks.

Our plans for the day don’t seem to require much precision or attention to my digital data. We’re on vacation, out for an adventure, and our only task is to check in for dinner at the only other old hotel around, at the other end of the valley. Our bellies are our timekeepers today, and the sun in the sky will remind us to be on our way. Perhaps, after a few weeks here, I could regain my Pleistocene manhood skills and be welcomed around the evening fire.

We laugh, chuckling over the thought of time, and hours and why that might matter to some folks. That idea of time, it’s important to me, at least modern life tells me. Today, we’re on Pleistocene time, where the migration of the birds, this spring’s snowmelt in the river, June flowers bursting into bloom rule the day.

The birds here, and the mule deer we spot don’t seem to care. My gadgets don’t go that far back, maybe forty thousand years, to Pleistocene time, when every living thing around us, except for the cattle and we tourists in our pickup, was already here, enjoying the early summer morning, in the near silence of this sacred place.

The rest of the day passes in a different rhythm, my cell phone turned off, put away so that I can perhaps gain some feeling of the ancestors, of Pleistocene man, and all the beauty of this quiet place.

We came here searching for something we needed. Some “thing” we thought. We are, after all, Americans, consumers of all those “things”. Yet at the end of the day, what we found instead was the absence of “things”, the trappings and noise of modern life. We discovered the quiet of the summer afternoon, the sight of a swan teaching its goslings to swim, and a pair of baby owls perched on a limb, waiting for their mama’s next hunting lesson.

We lived a day without “breaking news”, and the din of “news feeds” and instant communications.

“Silence” we said.

It was the quiet we wanted, what we had truly come here to find. We spotted soaring vultures, the red flash of a blackbird’s wing, and tuned our ears to the rustle of a snake in drying grass. Our Pleistocene selves came alive again, and we became a part of another time. Our voices quieted, respectful of this great cathedral we’d found in this desert valley, so close to the divine.

–Neal Lemery June 23, 2016

Snow Geese and Spring


A friend sent me a photo today, the return of snow geese to Harney County, Oregon. There, the ground is still icy, and winter keeps its grip on the high desert of southeastern Oregon. Yet, as they have done for tens of thousands of years, the snow geese have returned, right on time.

In flocks of ten, twenty thousand, they swirl through the air; choreography by an unnamed master, above the still frozen marshes and the sagebrush stage of nature’s annual show.

Showers of hail blow through my yard, plunking my raincoat with pea-sized kernels of ice, fresh off a 70 mph storm roaring in from the Pacific. Still, the buds on the lilacs are swollen, and the daffodils and forsythia bravely show their colors.

I want to plant my new fig tree, just in from California. Yet, its new, tender leaves look too fragile for the remnants of this latest storm, and I tuck the tree next to the house on the porch.

“In a few days,” I tell it. “It’s supposed to warm up, and then I’ll plant you in your new home.”

I’m not sure I even believe what I’m saying. The calendar says spring comes next week, but the hills are white with late winter snow that has fallen in the last week or two. The wind cuts through my sweatshirt and raincoat, reminding me “not yet”.

Still, the robins are here now, racing around the lawn when the sun comes out, adding their song to the familiar tunes of their feathered relatives, who have endured this winter, keeping me busy filling up the bird feeder with their favorite sunflower seeds and suet cakes.

The cold wind has found my bones, and it’s time for my chair and a cup of tea.

“The snow geese are back,” I sing.

Another gust blows in, and I dance in my mud boots across the lawn, just ahead of the next deluge of ice falling from the latest black cloud; images of snow geese clouds swooping and circling in my head, me joining in their ballet over the frozen sage.

–Neal Lemery 3/13/2016

Taking Time To Listen


Taking Time To Listen

“Courage is what it takes to stand up and speak; courage is also what it takes to sit down and listen.”
― Winston S. Churchill

Yes, I learn more when I listen than when I speak.

If I admit to myself that I don’t know it all, that I don’t have to dominate the conversation, to show others how much I know, then I can really learn. In listening, there is evaluation, analysis, and, gasp, thinking.

I might even change my views, and look at the world, or at least a small part of it, in a different way.

And, in the listening, I will learn, gaining new wisdom to meet the challenges of life.

–Neal Lemery 1/12/2016