Not all who wander are lost

This quote from J.R.R. Tolkien is one of my favorites. One of the heroes of his epic stories is a man who has spent many long years in lonely exile, wandering the wilderness, and this line is from a poem about him. Aragorn is born a king but does not achieve that status until much later in life, and spends most of his life instead trying to save his own as well as protect the lives of others, whether they know it or not.

I use this quote because I’ve done a lot of mental wandering (and wondering) of late. I haven’t felt up to writing much as a result.

Unfortunately, difficult times continue. I learned earlier this week that a dear friend and mentor of more than thirty years passed away. It was a shock. The unrest from the shooting of an unarmed Black man by police in Kenosha, WI has also shaken me quite a lot. In particular, it has revealed what has been beneath the surface all along: systemic and violent suppression of Black people by white people, and the widespread, tacit support for white supremacists, vigilantism, assault weapons, and glorification of the current U.S. administration.

If it isn’t obvious, the party of the right’s platform boils down to: Pander to fear. Pander to fear. Pander to fear.

The party of the left is only marginally better. I don’t have many illusions about that.

This past week was the start of the Fall semester where I work. For me, it was little different than any other week in the sense that I continue to work remotely. But tensions were even higher than usual among coworkers for various reasons. Let’s hope that somehow, things will calm down a bit because it’s exhausting.

Something important that comes with the territory of being a manager or leader of people is spending a lot of time listening to, reassuring, and trying to address the valid concerns, fears, and anxieties of others. Never in my long career has this been more necessary and important as right now. A basic tool to help with such things is repeated, clear, and transparent communication. I try my best and still fail at times. But somehow the burden of managing or helping with other people’s anxieties, over and over again, in combination with one’s own, can be hard to bear at times.

One of the jokes in my family is that although I’m the youngest, I look the oldest. I’m not sure why that is the case, but it reminds me a little bit of Aragorn’s story. He was quite old by the time he became king, and long before that, Tolkien describes him as very weather beaten, careworn, and stern. Please know, I’m not comparing myself to Aragorn in some grandiose way. No. But I am drawn to his depiction in the Lord of the Rings stories. We often focus on all the good, heroic stuff he did, but it came only after a very long time of hardship, abuse, persecution, loneliness, misunderstandings, and danger, so there’s something to learn from that, I guess.

On a more positive, less gloomy note, I was able to help a former student get a job this week. There are few things that make me happier than to help in this way.

The golden hour

The featured photo for this post shows the view from my living room window yesterday evening as the sun was setting during the golden hour. The light was beautifully warm, definitely golden, with a special quality. To me, it was a small bit of encouragement, somehow.

Bits of encouragement are needed every day. Heaven knows there is a lot to be discouraged about. Plenty of that to go around.

I recently found out I do not have COVID-19, which I expected, but it is encouraging to know that for sure, especially because that means more importantly that my wife and children almost certainly don’t have it, either.

I was able to go somewhere in the car for the first time in a while, by myself. That felt good. (Hey, it’s the small things.)

I’ve caught up on work email and some long-standing problem-solving, which is also encouraging.

What else? Our income tax refund should be on its way soon after I endured an hour on hold with the IRS.

Finally, an encouraging thought I had overnight is that in this life, we have many battles, but we must remember that the war is already won. Jesus ensured victory. Our sins were nailed to the cross and are gone evermore, as the wonderful hymn says.

Time flies

About this time of year, five years ago, a dream of mine came true. I was able to go on a trip to Alaska, where I then met up with two older brothers and two nephews. It was a glorious trip with absolutely perfect weather and no mosquitoes. That’s right, no mosquitoes, or any other bugs for that matter. We fished, hiked, and drove to different places on the Kenai Peninsula. I took a lot of photos and although I secretly hoped to see bears, we didn’t encounter any. But we did see moose.

Time flies.

Here are some photos from that trip.

Aches and pains

Aches and pains have featured prominently in life these past few days. I’m not sure why, but migraines are occurring again with more frequency. In addition, I tweaked a shoulder that I somehow injured a while ago. Neither issue is medically serious, but still rather discouraging.

A bright spot was receiving the lens on Friday that I won on eBay. It is amazingly well built and about the same age as I am. Because of needing to isolate for two weeks before an upcoming outpatient procedure, I haven’t been able to get out and about much to try out the new camera and the lenses I’ve managed to acquire. But this most recent purchase produces wonderful bokeh as you can see in the following image.

Another bright spot has been watching all of the various Sherlock Holmes episodes in the evening with one of our kids, who’s taken a real interest in them. I was reminded also of one of my very favorite movies, The Laurel-Hardy Murder Case, a movie I’ve seen probably dozens of times, but which still has the power to make me laugh so hard every time.

Endings and beginnings

My heart is heavy after learning that a lifelong family friend died last night from a short battle with cancer. She is free from suffering and pain and with her Savior, for which I give thanks. I still grieve for her and the family and friends left behind — I can’t help but feel — too soon.

I may have mentioned it before, but along with this sad news, I am reminded that a lot of what we collectively are feeling these days is grief. A lot of things feel like they have ended. Thousands upon thousands of lives are lost, yes, but it feels like a way of life has been lost as well. It feels like there have been, and continue to be, many endings.

Endings and beginnings.

This is the pattern of our lives.

I grieve those endings; I feel mired in grief. But I also am looking for, hoping for, trusting there will be the beginnings of new things.

Ready or not

Ready or not, here comes the Fall. I’m not. Ready, that is.

On my plate today, among many other things, is to finish grading final papers for my summer class. When I looked at enrollment for my Fall class, I found to my surprise that there are 22 people on the list. That’s more than I’ve ever had for a course I created about eight years ago. While encouraging, that translates to me right now as “Oh great, this’ll be a lot more work.” Such is my mood.

Another upcoming event is my first ever test for COVID-19. I wonder how that will turn out. Russia supposedly has a vaccine. Anyone else feel like that is not really ready for prime time, or at least, not fully trustworthy? It’ll probably be named Putinicillin. In the meantime, I’m going a little stir crazy having to isolate for two weeks before an outpatient medical procedure, and I’m ready for this to be done with.

Then there is all of the material ordering that is supposed to be happening already at my library. Is everything ready? No, in spite of months of extra time to prepare, and I’m quite concerned that material requested for Fall classes in the disciplines I support will not be available in time. As we shift to buying a lot of e-books for example to support hybrid or online courses, these need to be available right now for instructors to include links to them in our institution’s learning management system ahead of the Fall semester.

I’m also not ready to rejoin any kind of in-person church life. I don’t care if groups of 50 or so are now allowed; I think it is foolhardy and I have zero patience for those who trumpet on and on about their rights being trampled. I can’t even…

What am I ready for, then? The same things as always: a settled, peaceful trust in the Lord; a renewed sense of purpose and source of strength; the love of family and friends; and finding joy in everyday things while looking forward to a heavenly future.

Weird dreams and such

It’s another early morning for me after having weird dreams. Also, my wife struggles with coughing lately and this woke me up. We don’t think it’s virus related or at least, we hope not.

Yesterday afternoon was more exciting than planned due to a severe weather event called a derecho. We spent some time sheltering in the lower level of our house while sirens wailed, lights flickered and went out a few times, and winds blew around our house. Fortunately, we did not suffer any damage. Other areas where we live were not as fortunate, with several roads closed due to fallen trees and debris.

In the evening, I found out that I had won an auction for an old lens I’ve hoped to get for a while. That was exciting in its own way. The lens was made in the late 60s in Japan and is supposed to produce a beautiful bokeh. I may have overpaid for it although the max price I set is similar to what others sold for previously. I’ve decided this newfound obsession with hunting for (relatively) cheap lenses is dangerous. I need to stay away from Craigslist and eBay.

Below is a photo of more house finches at the feeder, this time, showing the brilliant coloring of the typical male. Quite beautiful. I need to work on focus and depth of field, though.

The dog particle

The title of this post is a subtle attempt at humor, referencing a popular non-fiction book from the 1990s. I suppose if I have to explain the joke, then it isn’t really that funny. Oh well.

It has been a while since I mentioned one of our dogs, my favorite. She is going to be two years old in a few months — hard to believe. She is a shy, gentle, and affectionate creature with a sweet temperament. Due to lack of hearing (she was born almost entirely deaf), she heavily relies on her other senses, especially sight and smell, and can easily get frightened by sudden movement or touch.

She is a mini Australian Shepherd, about medium-sized. She is also the peacemaker who gets along well with the other two dogs, who actively dislike each other.

Dogs like her add much more than a particle of joy and companionship to life.

Let justice roll

But let justice roll on like a river, righteousness like a never-failing stream!

Amos 5:24

If I remember correctly, this verse was highlighted in a famous speech by Martin Luther King Jr. The words are stirring and evocative. What comes to my mind here is a mighty river like the Mississippi. Have you ever seen it at its widest? Or when it is at flood stage? It is an awesome sight.

The older I get, the more aware I become of the many injustices in this world. When growing up, I remember being told, “Life’s not fair — get used to it!” And to a great extent, that is true. On the other hand, I also understand how fortunate I am most days that I do not get what I deserve.

Black and brown people, immigrants, the poor and homeless, the mentally ill. The oppressors, the fear mongers, the deceivers, the power hungry, the selfish. There is such a divide and it seems to grow wider and deeper every day. Yet to some degree this is nothing new; it is as old as time. Maybe we are just starting to more easily see it.

I think back to the many racist remarks, sayings, and attitudes laced throughout my upbringing. How deep the prejudices really are. In some instances of my memory, I am appalled.

Another Bible verse comes to mind — 1 Peter 2:23 — which mentions “him who judges righteously.” I look toward a coming day when all things will be set right.

Birds at the feeder

In our second floor living room, my chair sits next to a large window where I’ve hung a couple of bird feeders. Squirrels have tried many attacks on these feeders and after a few years of incessant warfare, they have apparently decided to give up. Woo hoo!

It is a nice view over the rooftop of the neighbor’s house into mature oak and pine trees. I enjoy observing the various birds that show up depending on the type and variety of feed that we put in the feeders. Lately the birds have gone crazy over safflower seed, especially house finches. They are a bit like sparrows in general size and appearance, but more colorful.

As I begin to get used to the new camera and zoom lens (which came yesterday), I’m beginning to practice on these common little birds. I’ve already discovered that having clean windows helps. Duh.