Wednesday, October 16, 2013

     I found this story by Eduardo Galeano simply amusing: no hidden meanings—no political or philosophical ax to grind. I can't help but wonder however, what it means to all the many Nelsons who have returned to get back in touch with the land of their birth—a revolution still in motion. A couple of very short visits to this emerald isle gives me, a norteamericano, no right to interpret that revolution. But I have eaten ice cream at the Coppelia, the ice creamery where the driver left bus (guagua) 68 to its passengers. And while the facts of this story may have been fabricated, I feel the story is true. I can only hope you enjoy it.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

A Really Big Fish Story

   A good story has many levels of meaning.  That is certainly true for me as the storyteller in this "fish" story.  We were so caught up in the drama of bringing the fish in that only the wife realized that her husband was dying.  Magicians use misdirection to entertain but, all too often, we miss the deeper meaning of an event or even a relationship because we focus on the superficial.
     For me, as his son, a more compelling reason for telling the story is my Dad's spoken response and his unspoken vision of a good death for himself.  

Saturday, September 28, 2013

This story of  Coyote and Big Buffalo Bull (Tenugagahi) came from Roger Welsch, Nebraska storyteller and adoptive member of the Winnebago tribe.  Although it's quite natural for one to dream of a better life, especially when one is depressed, Coyote learns that one should ask certain questions before attempting to be like someone else.  For instance, if the grass looks greener on the other side of the fence, maybe one should ask if he/she really likes grass before jumping the fence.

When I hear stories like this I always wonder what happens next.  Having learned that he really doesn't want to be a big buffalo bull, for instance, is Coyote now more comfortable is his own skin, so to speak.  I think I will accept who I am and make the very best of it.  That could keep me busy.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Don Quixote Revisited

I suppose that, for some, the light has gone out, but I believe that within most of us there are the embers of hope for a world of beauty and purpose. Don Quixote fans the fire as he sets out to right the wrongs of the world. His vision is that he sees the world as it ought to be. His failing is that he is unable to see the world as it is. It seems to me that he wanders back and forth across the line between madness and vision. Or can it be that he has such a strong internal vision that he sees through the illusion of those of us who have resigned ourselves to lives of hopeless reality? Is he a madman, a hero, or a holy fool? I truly don't know. Does it matter? What does matter is that Don Quixote is set free in our imagination to help us discover a new quality of the human spirit.

I'm not sure I can go so far as to claim Don Quixote as a patron saint but for those of us who struggle to rise above our very real limitations to act for a world of beauty and purpose, his is a powerful voice.

Now let's get specific. For going on six years now there has been a multi-million dollar lobbying effort to create a 5.3 billion dollar project to link Canada's oil sands with refineries on the Gulf Coast. Environmentalists oppose the Keystone XL project because of the obvious harm it will do to our land and its people. Some have said that to oppose the pipeline is like 'tilting at windmills,' to use a Quixotic reference. Maybe, maybe not. This is one the people of vision might just win.

If you want to weigh in on the controversy, please check out
I picked up the plate in a gift shop in Moron, Spain.  My sister gave me the tie.  She said it reminded her of me.  I don't know if she was referring to Don Q, Sancho, or Rocinante.  I do know she loves me.

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Was there a snake in the hole?

A Snake in the hole? Who cares?

Sometimes a story is just a story—except when it is not. This story was just a story at the time. Over the years, upon reflection, it has taken on more meaning. To me, today, the story about there maybe being a snake in the hole in the tree is more than a story about there maybe being a snake in the hole in the tree.

When I tell it, I sense the cool damp of the Alabama woods in the late fall. I see the fallen leaves, the moss on the bare trees, the oak, the hickory, the sweet gum. I see the squirrel running around the tree, dropping to the ground when Dad shot him. I catch the subdued smell of Dad's ever present cigar and the smell of the wood chips as the tree is cut into firewood. That day in the woods with my Dad is a very good memory.

I see it now also as a caution against being obsessed with the what ifs of life. I am reasonably sure that if there had been a snake in the hole, my Dad would have dealt with it. I suppose one could make a case for investigating a situation before getting involved but I am very much aware that there are all sorts of possible threats out there that can paralyze me if I choose to make that my main focus.

This is just a story—unless you choose to make something more out of it.

Friday, June 14, 2013

Music from the Slums--A Bridge from Despair to Hope

The Landfill Harmonic

There are 2500 families living in a slum in Cateura, Paraguay. There home is a landfill: they survive by recycling some of the 1500 tons of solid waste that is dumped there every day—the garbage they live on top of. On rainy days their “town” is flooded with contaminated water.
Some of our grand kids are children. They will have spent today in a very nice comfortable environment, playing, listening to music and learning skills that will equip them for a happy and successful life. The children of Cateura will have spent their day collecting and reselling garbage.
But not all of them. Someone decided that if there was ever a place that needed music, it was in these slums. They looked at discarded oil cans, old cooking tools, broken furniture and saw violins, guitars and cellos—literally. Their vision has been translated into an orchestra in which children play instruments created out of literal trash, by their visionary and loving community.
Many of us who watch these videos will understand the value of some of the stuff that we needlessly discard and will commit to more responsible care and use of the material world around us. Some of us will understand that “we shouldn't throw away people either.”
Music will not eliminate poverty or injustice. But the music of the Landfill Harmonic celebrates the vision and the hope for a better world—for the children of Cateura, for our grandchildren, for all of us.

Hope springs eternal and it rides on the wings of the music from Cateura.  

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Korea 1952: Friends out of the Ruins of War

Never Forgotten

The Korean War has been called, by those who don't know better, “The Forgotten War.” Those who do know better know it will never be forgotten. As recent rumblings from Pyongyang remind us. I spent most of 1952 in the Land of the Morning Calm, mostly in and around Pusan and Taegu and once, for a short time, near the 38th Parallel. You will understand why today's threats from North Korea take me back to that other time.
I carried an M-1 US Army issued rifle. But unlike those who battled in the frozen hills of the 38th, I walked the streets of Taegu, a city teeming with refugees and infiltrated with guerillas. I have no wounded in action or pinned down under fire experiences to relate. I was one of the lucky ones.
For ten months I lived in sight of abject suffering and violent death, daily. I will never forget that. But, today, I choose to remember the resilience, hope, and humor of a handful of Koreans I was lucky enough to know as friends for a season.
I was an Assistant to Chaplain Foy Thomas, a Methodist preacher from Texas. The Chaplain had organized a chapel choir of US Army personnel and Korean civilians and one Lieutenant in the Korean (ROK) Army. Thursday nights I rode as armed escort on a bus through the alleys of the city to pick up the Korean choir members.
That was when I met the Moon sisters and their brother. Myung, the fifteen year old, was the most vivacious. She's on the left in the picture. Next to her is Chun, her older sister, who was battling tuberculosis at the time. Miss Choi, a refugee from north of Pyongyang, sits next to Chun and Lee, the brother is at the far right. The father, a banker, had been killed in the war and the mother and her three children had taken refuge in Taegu. The mother did not speak English but her children had studied English for several years and spoke it well. I saw Myung, Chun, and Lee on Thursdays and Sundays for most of the time I was there. Lee once invited me to eat at the ROK Army mess hall—an invitation I appreciated and an experience I never wanted to repeat.
One night, after choir practice, I heard Myung talking excitingly to several of the other Koreans. I asked her what was going on and she said her high school was having an English speech contest. She asked if I would be a judge. I agreed.
The theme was “How I spent my summer.” I was to judge them on their English. Their English was pretty bad, but their speeches made any American high school speech pale by comparison. That night in Taegu, I heard about parents and friends being killed and maimed, of survival on grub worms and ditch water, of teachers being taken captive. I heard the horrors of a Civil War through the mouths of suffering teenagers.
I had come to Korea with doubt and anxiety. I left with equally strong and mixed emotions. I would be reunited with family and friends in America, but I was leaving friends I would never see again. A six-foot Chinese refugee cooked the shrimp, we sang Korean folk songs, Chaplain Thomas even took a few sips of the rice wine, and Myung gave me the scroll you see in the picture. (It was one of the few possessions that survived the constant relocation of the family as the battle between the North Korean communists and the United Nation troops went back and forth up and down the peninsula.)
I have no idea what the characters to the right of the scroll say. When we re-hung it the other day in our new home, I thought, “One of these days, I'll have it interpreted.” (I've thought that off and on over the years.) But then, I probably won't. I only know that it was in the Moon family for many, many years and that it was a gift from some very special friends. That seems enough for me.

Sunday, April 7, 2013

"And a little child shall lead them."

There is sight and there is insight.  A five year-old has both and I'm proud to claim her as my daughter.

Fear destroys, love heals.

While fear is a perfectly natural and understandable reaction to the real and perceived dangers around us, it also warps and sours our life together in community.  This story is not an answer to a complex question, but it is one man's decision not to give in to fear.  The reason I tell it now is to raise the hope that we can find the better way to live.