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Archive for August, 2010

Biblical Fiction

Thursday, August 26th, 2010

by Nancy Werking Poling

also author of Out of the Pumpkin Shell

My most recent book just came off the press: Had Eve Come First and Jonah Been a Woman (Wipf & Stock, pub.).

Following is the blurb and two endorsements that appear on the cover:

In Hebrew scripture men always get the exiting roles: leader, prophet, war hero. Convinced that women, too, need powerful stories that can inform them about who they are in relation to God, Nancy Werking Poling has imagined biblical men as women. A female Samson tells of the elders trying to take away her power; Nochat (Noah), who is trying to raise God-honoring children in violent times, rebukes God for destroying creation: Mosiah leads abused sisters to freedom; a female Jacob struggles with her capacity for deceit and destruction. Readers are sure to find inspiration in a creative approach to scripture that incorporates women’s wisdom, suffering, and courage.

“Nancy Werking Poling has created for readers a rare gift: a woman’s perspective on the biblical story that is not only deeply imaginative but also surprises us at every turn! With fresh and startling insight, her biblical women upend our old, “normative” assumptions about the nature of God Most High—and thus re-create the ancient impact of scripture as it was first heard. Beautifully written and full of ‘Aha’s!’”

Gail Anderson Ricciuti

Associate Professor of Homiletics, Colgate Rochester Crozer Divinity School

“Through an incisive and gripping retelling of the biblical stories Nancy Werking Poling allows contemporary women to find in them the voice and power that they have been denied by the original authors. These stories are vehicles for liberation, for they not only reinvent the old world but also imagine a new one. The book is a must for all those who are engaged in the construction of a more just and inclusive society.”

Osvaldo D. Vena

Professor of New Testament Interpretation, Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary

As of now the book is only available through the publisher, Wipf & Stock, which offers a 20% discount ($12.80).

http://wipfandstock.com/store/Had_Eve_Come_First_and_Jonah_Been_a_Woman

It will soon be on Amazon and bookstore websites.

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Jasmine

Monday, August 23rd, 2010

By Jian Ping

Jasmine by Bharati Mukherjee

Over the weekend, I finished reading Bharati Mukherjee’s novel Jasmine. It’s a story of a village girl from Punjab, India to the U.S. –her innocence, talent, love, adventurous nature and fierce resolve. The ordeals she went through didn’t diminish her and the traditional restraints on women, especially a widow, didn’t confine her. As she claims at one point: she is a survivor and adaptor. She is, in fact, much more than that.

I’ve been reading quite a bit of immigrant literature lately. From Gish Gen’s Mona in the Promised Land, Amy Tan’s The Opposite of Fate: a Book of Musings to Patricia Chu’s Assimilating Asians, I am reading several books simultaneously. While each writer has her own characteristics, Mukherjee’s Jasmine was the one that I couldn’t put down and finished reading first. Aside from the narrative that made me keep turning the pages, the indomitable spirit of the protagonist, the concise yet powerful language, and the presentation of immigrants, with a profound understanding and respect, struck me with awe.

I had attended a talk by Bharati Mukherjee at the Harold Washington Library Center in Chicago three years ago. I was impressed by the list of awards she had received for her writing and amazed by her talk on the writing of a recentlypublished book. I wish that I had started reading her books right then. Now I’m all excited about my “discovery” and can hardly wait to start reading another book of hers: The Middle Man and Other Stories—also on immigrant lives.

Jian Ping, author of Mulberry Child: A Memoir of China. Visit www.moraquest.com, www.mulberrychild.com

Disaster Donors

Friday, August 20th, 2010
Pakistan Floods 2010 - Helpless and Helpers
Image by Edge of Space via Flickr

 

By:  Ellis Goodman

It now seems certain we are living in an age of increasingly dramatic global climate change.  This year we have seen unprecedented drought, heat and wildfires in Russia, and similar heat, floods and tornados in the U.S. following a winter of major snowfalls in the Eastern seaboard.  Climate change is already bringing us regular extremes – temperatures, winds, storms and floods.

The last couple of weeks has shown us TV images of two major natural disasters.  The first one was dramatic pictures of enormous mudslides in Yunnan Province in southwestern China, resulting in approximately 1500 deaths.  The Chinese government quickly responded by sending in soldiers to help with the rescue efforts – a daunting task as tons of mud covered towns and villages.  Whether this disaster was in part caused by erosion from denuding hillside forests, or poor construction and city planning, or whether just from Mother Nature’s torrential rains remains to be seen.  The Chinese government is dealing with this disaster on its own and has called for no outside help.

The floods in Pakistan are another issue.  Bank Ki-moon has described this disaster as the worst he has ever seen and has urged foreign donors to speed up aid.  The unprecedented suffering of the people and gruesome images of destroyed homes, villages, cattle and crops fills our TV screens nightly.  But why has the international response been so slow? The main reason cited is the rampant corruption in Pakistan and the concern of donor nations that any aid sent through the Pakistani government would not reach the victims. 

President Zardari’s image suffered a major blow since he chose not to return from a European trip despite the disaster.  He was visiting European capitals, including London, and meeting with British Prime Minister, David Cameron, but also managed to find time to visit his family-owned Chateau in France (Where did the money come from for this?).  The Pakistani government response was slow and disorganized, providing an opportunity for the Taliban and other radical groups to step into the breach and offer assistance, food, and shelter to many of the victims. 

The United Nations has today announced that it has now raised pledges for about 50% of the dollars $460 million requested by the Pakistani government.  As always, the U.S. is at the forefront.  They have already pledged $90 million and this will be increased to $150 million within the next day or two.  Other developed countries are also contributing.  Apparently, the U.S. government believes this provides an opportunity to create a different image of the U.S. through their support and generosity for Pakistanis against the hatred generated by the radical Islamic groups operating in the country.  Personally, I think this probably naïve.  It will take more than the generosity of the U.S. government to counteract 25 years or more of vitriolic anti-American feeling. 

However it would seem that this could be a great opportunity for the wealthy Islamic countries to help their brethren.  Does the Koran provide for philanthropy?  Saudi Arabia has reportedly offered $5 million.  How pathetic is this?  Remember, Saudi Arabia originally only offered $2 million towards the Haiti disaster.  Here is a country earning over $80 a barrel for their oil, flushed with cash and vast individual and corporate wealth as well as investments around the world, who only offer such a paltry sum.  Other oil rich-producing Arab Islamic countries have done no better.  Where are Kuwait, Iran, and Libya?  Nowhere to be seen as usual.

So maybe it might be just donor fatigue in the West.  Personally, I think this would be understandable.  Even though we sympathize and are shocked at the distress suffered by 20 million poor Pakistanis, we have to recognize that these corrupt governments create their own failed states.  Personally, I think we’ve done enough over the past decade in supporting feudal dictatorships, corrupt leaders and trying to create regime change and “democracy.”  Let us focus our efforts and financial support for our own poor and deprived.

Ellis M. Goodman, author of Bear Any Burden: www.bearanyburden.com

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Incident of the Day

Wednesday, August 18th, 2010

By Jian Ping

Site of Accident

I took the 1st outbound Metra train at 5:55 this morning to give a talk at a Rotary Club in Algonquin, a northwest suburb of Chicago. Randy, a Rotarian at the club, graciously agreed to meet me at the Fox River Grove Station. It was a beautiful morning. As I read a book on the train, I couldn’t help from raising my eyes and looking at the trees and the buildings that passed by, their colors turning quickly from a light gray to bright gold with the rising of the sun.

As the train moved closer to my destination, I left Randy a message, telling him I was 10 minutes away. But shortly after I put away my phone, the train halted to a stop in the middle of nowhere. Passengers got restless after five minutes and I heard people talking over their phone, trying to find out what was going on. I picked up words such as “an accident,” “a pedestrian being hit.” The speaker on the train was eerily quiet. Just as I reached Randy over the phone, the train started moving. But my relief didn’t last long—the train pulled into the Barrington Station and the conductor got everyone off the train, saying this was as far as it could go. Fortunately, Randy offered to drive over and pick me up at the Barrington Station.

We managed to get to the breakfast meeting at Algonquin 20 minutes late. With the help of another Rotarian, I was able to hook up my computer to a projector and gave my talk after a quick breakfast. We rushed through a Q & A session and book signing. Donald, another Rotarian, gave me a ride back to the Barrington Train Station. We watched one train moving out of the station as we pulled in, and I was surprised to see the bright headlight of another train approaching. I thanked Donald and walked toward the platform. As I settled in a seat five minutes later, I heard a male announcer’s voice: “This is the 6:48 a.m. train. We are being delayed for more than two hours.” He didn’t give any reason for the delay and a conductor told me a high school student was hit and killed by a train earlier in the morning. My heart sank at the news.

Looking out through a window, I could see a few clusters of high clouds against the blue sky and the sun was shining beautifully, oblivious to the tragic loss of a young life. I couldn’t bring myself to imagine the fatal moment when the teenager decided to step onto the tracks as a fast moving train approached.

“Once again, sorry for the delay,” the male voice from the speaker brought me back to reality when the train moved into the Chicago Station. “We’re doing everything we can to manage the situation,” the voice continued. “It’s still a beautiful day out there. Let’s make the best out of it.”

I got off the train, nodding farewell silently to the conductor. Streams of people rushed out from the platform and moved quickly to get to their offices or other destinations. My thought turned again to the teenager who lost his or her life earlier in the day. I felt keenly aware of the vulnerability of life.

Yes, I thought of the announcer’s words, we sure need to “make the best out of it,” out of every day of our life.

(Only later in the afternoon I found online that the death of a senior from a high school was ruled suicide. His car was found 20 feet away from the accident site and an engineer on the train saw him walk onto the tracks as the train approached!)

Jian Ping, author of Mulberry Child: A Memoir of China. Visit www.moraquest.com, www.mulberrychild.com.

Secrets of Success: Positive Thinking or Luck of the Draw?

Wednesday, August 18th, 2010
Positive Attitude (comics)
Image via Wikipedia

By Nancy Werking Poling, author of Out of the Pumpkin Shell (Spinsters Ink)

and the forthcoming Had Eve Come First and Jonah Been a Woman (Wipf & Stock)

I’ve become more argumentative now that I’m—yes, I have to say it—now that I’m old. I’m less likely to be tolerant of people expressing —yes, I have to say this, too—dumb or insensitive things. So when a life coach started a conversation on a LinkedIn group page for Boomers, I considered stating my opinion, thought better of it, then changed my mind and took her to task. (I probably wouldn’t be on LinkedIn were social networking not considered a necessity for marketing a book these days.)

Here’s what she said: “Now – figure out how you can be of unique use in that arena of your interest and/or passion by tapping on the depth of your rich and varied background and your proven tenacity to get what you want. Luck has nothing to do with it.”

Words read by me, Nancy W. Poling, who thinks brides should walk down the aisle to the strains of “With a Little Bit of Luck,” and who regularly considers how lucky she is to have inherited her mother’s optimistic outlook rather than her father’s bi-polar condition.

I responded: “It’s easy for those of us who have met our goals to credit our own tenacity; yet we probably all know people who have met roadblocks everywhere they turn….” The life coach and I continued for several rounds, neither of us convincing the other of a misguided viewpoint.

Luck, I think, has everything (maybe I should say, a lot) to do with it: the circumstances of our birth, our socio-economic level, the country in which we reside, our health, our genetic makeup. Sure, it’s possible to overcome the odds, but those who try and fall short should not be made to feel responsible for their situation.

Modern medicine and technology have given us a false sense that we can control our lives when in fact we can’t. Unexpected illnesses, accidents—some conditions are beyond our control. Yet some would have us believe that a smile, a positive attitude, and resolve are all it takes to stay healthy, make money, find the perfect mate, and be happy.

Now I’m not dis-ing a smile, a positive attitude, or determination. They’re useful qualities. But do they indicate an individual’s complexity or depth of character? What about the dogged person fighting injustice? The one who regularly speaks of her distress over the environment? The one whose chronic depression is genetically based? A soldier with PTSD? A father who struggles to feed and clothe his children? How insensitive it is for those of us not in such a situation to suggest that a positive attitude and determination will make the problems go away. Those who struggle deserve our empathy, not our advice to “turn crisis into opportunity.”

I’ve been reading Barbara Ehrenreich’s Bright-Sided: How the Relentless Promotion of Positive Thinking Has Undermined America. I’m saying, “Amen” at the turn of every page. Ehrenreich writes, in regard to Americans’ obsession with gaining success or wealth or happiness: “The question is why should one be so inwardly preoccupied at all. Why not reach out to others in love and solidarity or peer into the natural world for some glimmer of understanding” (page 96)?

People who live such lives—they, not the ones with forced smiles and perkiness—they’re the ones worth knowing.

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Personal Space

Monday, August 16th, 2010

By Jian Ping

"Invaders"

I’ve been swimming in the pool on the rooftop deck of my condo building all summer early each morning—it’s not only my exercise time, but also a time of musing and reflection. I call it my active meditation. Most of the time, I have the entire pool to myself.

This past Saturday and Sunday, I found “my space” invaded by the presence of four Asians—three middle-aged women and a man. I found them in the pool on Saturday when I got there at 6:30 a.m., and on Sunday, I went at 6 a.m., and to my dismay, they came again, at 6:20 a.m. The women were short and chubby and all wore colorfully one piece swimsuits, and the man, skinny, floating in long, blue trunks. They hung at the edges of the pool or walked in the water most of the time, chatting in a language I couldn’t understand. They could be Thai, Vietnamese, Cambodians or Chinese. I did my lap swim so close to the south end of the pool so as to avoid them that I hit my left hand against the rail of the metal ladder a couple of times. But these four people scattered around, with two of them—the man and a woman—standing so close to where I made my turn at the end that the woman’s pink and purple flower-patterned suit was less than two feet away from my gurgles, and the man’s feet were so close that I could see their wrinkles and veins. I cringed and kicked the water as hard as I could to get away at these unappealing sights. “The rest of the pool is wide open,” I thought, “Why are you standing so close to where I swim?”   

I was grateful that water provided good sound insulation that I didn’t have to hear the clatter of their chatting as long as I kept my head under. But I could no longer do my muse or fantasy. I counted my strokes and laps and tried hard to distract myself from their presence. I was struck by the realization that I had been very much “Westernized” when it came to personal space and found the lack of a “comfort zone,” an arm’s length, or rather, the disregard for a personal space disturbing.

I was very much relieved that these people didn’t show up at the pool this morning!

Jian Ping, author of Mulberry Child: A Memoir of China. Visit www.moraquest.com, www.mulberrychild.com

Rewriting History – 2

Monday, August 16th, 2010
USPresidentialSeal

Image via Wikipedia

 By Ellis Goodman

On a previous blog, I commented how reading Max Hastings new book on Winston Churchill – “Winston’s War: 1940 to 1945.” had given me a new perspective on Winston Churchill’s wartime leadership and the main events of the Second World War.  This made me think about how other periods of history can be rewritten.  For instance I have read that, in the Soviet Union, Joseph Stalin’s image is being refurbished.  He has been given credit for his leadership and ultimate victory against Nazi Germany at a cost of twenty-million Russian lives.  There is less comment about this brutal dictator’s dealings with dissent and political opposition.  It is estimated that a further five-million Russians died by execution, torture, and in the Gulags. 

Similarly, the People’s Republic of China have been slowly revising and revisiting the Mao Tse-Tung years.  The leader of the People’s Army, that fought the Japanese and subsequently the Chinese nationalists before taking power in 1949, was also responsible for failed economic policies and the Cultural Revolution, which cost millions of lives, from starvation and virtual Civil War.  If you talk about Mao Tse-Tung in China today, the response is usually “70% good, 30% bad.”

In the United States, with the explosion of electronic media, political talk shows, and negative advertising, we are also subject to history being rewritten. 

The Reagan presidency and “Reagonomics” are continually quoted by Republicans and indeed some Democrats as being the best of times.  What appears to be forgotten, are high unemployment (comparable to today), massive closing of US manufacturing industry (the creation of the Rust Belt), soup kitchens, food stamps, and food deposit charities, and an exploding deficit caused by uncontrolled Congressional spending that started the road to the massive debt that is bearing down on the US today.

Ronald Reagan was undoubtedly the “great communicator,” affable, outgoing with a simplistic view of America’s role in the world.  However, his supporters give him full credit for bringing an end to the Cold War because of his strong defense policy, although we now know that it was economic bankruptcy that brought about the end of the Soviet Union and their Communist system.  We are also inclined to forget other Reagan missteps – “Irangate,” shady dealings with Nicaragua, and the savings and loan scandal, which nearly brought about the demise of the US banking system.

Other Presidencies have also been rewritten as years have gone by, so perhaps, we shouldn’t be too surprised to read in a decade or two of George W. Bush’s success in “liberating Iraq,” reducing taxation (particularly for the top 1% of the population) deregulation of our financial markets, and tough defense policies bringing China, Europe, and other countries in line.  At that time, the public will have forgotten, the negligence that led to 9/11, the unnecessary and unprovoked war in Iraq, the uncontrolled spending by Congress, the soaring deficits, the deregulation of our financial markets, and the banking meltdown that brought the country to the edge of bankruptcy.

In today’s world of incessant political media sound bites and the ever-increasing influence of outside interests on our legislators, the truth is going to be harder to find.

Ellis M. Goodman, author of Bear Any Burden: www.bearanyburden.com

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A Personal Connection

Wednesday, August 11th, 2010

By Jian Ping

Ron Koller and me at Crystal Lake Rotrary Club

I talked with Ron over the phone a couple of times before meeting him in person. He called to invite me to speak at his Rotary Club at Crystal Lake and offered to pick me up at the Metra Train Station. As promised, at 11:30 A.M. on the day of the event, I saw a silver-haired man approach and extend his hand to me.

“You must be Jian,” he said.

It was not difficult to spot me, the only Asian, at a main street in Crystal Lake, close to the train station.  

It was a hot summer day, and I was surprised to see Ron wear a jacket. Most of the Rotary Club members I had met were in their forties to sixties, professionals who gathered regularly over breakfast, lunch or dinner to participate in club activities and networking.

“I’m 79,” Ron said, as if he had read my mind. “I’m the oldest member and have been active in the club for 40 years.” As we drove toward our meeting place, I learned that Ron was the owner of a car body shop at Crystal Lake and had been playing an active role in the local commerce and communities over the past 40 years. He was also a veteran who was at the Korean War in the early 50’s. “The U.S. and China were enemies then,” I blurted out. He nodded, appearing to be deep in thought as he looked ahead.

He soon changed the subject and told me he loved photography and two of his photos had won “honorary” mention and would be shown at the local theatre in an upcoming exhibition. One photo was submitted for “Peace for Children” in which he presented his two adopted Korean grandchildren; and the other was a scenery shot he took when he was traveling with his wife in Europe. As he mentioned about his wife, his voice softened. “We celebrated our 50th anniversary two years ago,” he said. I congratulated him. When I received no immediate response, I turned to look at him. He was dabbing away tears at the corners of his eyes with his fingers. “My wife passed away last year,” he said.

“I’m so sorry,” I said. I was touched by his genuine feeling for his wife.

I lost my father two years ago and knew how painful it was to loss a loved one.

“We traveled to Europe three times and I’m glad we did it,” Ron said.

The talk at the club went well and Ron gave me a ride to the train station afterward. His grandfatherly manner drew me to him and I felt like we were friends. Ron asked me to notify him when the docu-drama film based on Mulberry Child would be released. “If it is okay with you,” he said. “I’d like to show the film to my local community.”

Ron bought a hardcover copy of my book and said he’d like to share it with his grandchildren—a total of 17.

Meeting with people like Ron and sharing our life stories for inspiration and understanding make the time and effort on writing and public speaking worthwhile and rewarding.

Jian Ping, author of Mulberry Child: A Memoir of China. Visit www.moraquest.com, www:mulberrychild.com

Rewriting History

Monday, August 9th, 2010

Prime Minister Winston Churchill, (left) with ...

Image via Wikipedia

By Ellis Goodman

I have just finished reading Max Hastings’s acclaimed book on Winston Churchill – “Winston’s War: 1940 to 1945.   There have been so many books about Churchill, his life, and his World-War II leadership of Great Britain that one would have thought it would be difficult to find new material.  However, Max Hastings’s book focuses on Churchill as perceived by his Cabinet members, Military and political leaders, secretaries, and even his doctor, during the dark days of the Second World War. 

Since I was a small boy during that conflict, I have some very clear memories and perceptions created from my knowledge, readings, and studies of the period. If Max Hastings is to be believed (and I think his book is an honest and direct account), many of my perceptions of Churchill and his times are wrong.  There is no doubt that Winton Churchill was one of the towering political personalities of the 20th Century. His political vision, strength, optimism, leadership, and oratory undoubtedly saved Britain from defeat by Nazi Germany.  Time and again, he roused the people to overcome adversity and prepared them for a long but determined battle to protect the freedom of the British Isles, and ultimately to liberate Europe from the grip of the Nazis. 

However, I learned from this book some uncomfortable but perhaps not unexpected misconceptions.  For instance, the RAF won the Battle of Britain and inflicted sufficient damage on the Luftwaffe to convince Hitler to abandon the daylight bombing of the RAF airfields and turn his attention to London and other population centers.  This was a grave mistake, but the wholesale destruction of the Luftwaffe by the RAF that I and the public were told during and after the War did not take place.  Instead of the RAF taking out 4 enemy aircraft for every 1 British plane, the ratio was more like 1.3 to 1.0.   And in fact, if Hitler had maintained his wholesale bombing of British airfields, he might have destroyed so many RAF planes that a substantial defense could not have been maintained.

The book also describes the poor performance of the British Army for the first few years of the War.  They were outmaneuvered, outfought, and out led in every confrontation with the German Werchmart until after D-Day in June 1944.  What was even more disturbing was to read of incompetent British Generals, who Churchill replaced in an endless stream, and how easily British troops surrendered – (perhaps the ultimate defeat of the War was their surrender to the Japanese in Singapore).

Churchill made his own mistakes not only in some of his military appointments, but in his encouragement to bold action by prodding his weak Generals to pursue unnecessary, costly and ultimately unsuccessful assaults on the enemy in Norway, Greece, Crete, and other Greek Islands.

I also learned that the “special relationship” between the UK and US and Churchill and Roosevelt was far less close than I had thought.  Churchill used every bit of his charm and persuasion that he could muster to bring the US into the War, but ultimately it was the attack on Pearl Harbor by the Japanese, followed by the declaration of War by Germany on US that finally prodded the US in linking up with Britain and the British Commonwealth in fighting the Nazis and liberating Europe.  Even though the US supported the British with supplies of all sorts of war materials in the dark days from 1939 through 1941 through their “Lend-Lease” programs, this was on far from generous terms.  In fact, the US government and Congress extracted every possible cent that they could from the British until the United Kingdom was bankrupt and had no more to offer.

Although it appears Churchill admired Roosevelt and in the early years of the War had a good personal relationship based upon mutual admiration and respect and their not dissimilar backgrounds, as time progressed, this relationship soured.  Churchill found Roosevelt to be bland and unimaginative, and Roosevelt ultimately tired of Churchill’s endless “pushiness” and arm-twisting demands.  Churchill had some success however, in persuading Roosevelt to open a Second Front by invading North Africa in 1942, and subsequently Sicily and Italy, and putting off the major cross channel D-Day invasion until June 1944.  An earlier attempt, which is what the US was pursuing, would probably have been disastrous.

Meanwhile, Roosevelt was giving full credit to the Russians, who had taken the brunt of the massive German Army assault at a cost of millions of Russian lives, but eventually turned the War around by defeating vast German armies, killing millions of German soldiers and capturing millions more.  This weakened Hitler’s ability to defend Western Europe when the invasion finally took place.  Churchill did not trust Stalin and felt that Roosevelt was too willing to accede to Russian demands of territory and countries (Poland) in Eastern Europe.  He also was concerned that Roosevelt and Stalin were doing deals behind his back.  Roosevelt, for his part, felt that Churchill’s post-War strategy was to maintain Britain’s imperialist past, her Colonies and Commonwealth.

Finally, I learned that from 1943 onwards Churchill had to agree and concede to American military and political strategy, to bring an end to the War in which Britain could only play a minor part.  This was not helped by the general contempt that the US military chiefs had for their British counterparts, who they found to be arrogant, inept, and out of touch – all of which was probably true.

This book paints a very different picture to the images that I grew up with.   It has made me think that, notwithstanding the obvious necessity in wartime to maintain morale, paint a rosy picture, and feed the public with less than accurate statistics, it is difficult to identify truth as history can be rewritten at any time.

 

Ellis M. Goodman, author of Bear Any Burden: www.bearanyburden.com

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An Older Woman Contemplates Time

Tuesday, August 3rd, 2010
Astronomical Clock
Image by simpologist via Flickr

An Older Woman Contemplates Time

by Nancy Werking Poling

author of Out of the Pumpkin Shell

I can’t keep them straight, the years: 33, 1865, 2000. Separated by centuries—or is it minutes? My marriage, the births of my children, Kennedy’s and King’s assassinations, my mother’s death, events running together.

What is time? I’m certainly not the first to ask that question. Philosophers, their lives in their heads, reaching conclusions I can make no sense of. Plastic surgeons removing wrinkles, lifting chins and sagging eyelids. Manufacturers trying to figure out how long before the public can believe that a product is obsolete.

For me time is elastic. Pull it out, let it contract. Put it in a straight line, one end the beginning, the other end one thousand years from now. Or ten thousand. Maybe time is a circle surrounding all that has ever happened, tightly fitting the decades, the centuries, the millennia, the eons into its confines.

“I don’t have the time,” I used to tell the committee looking for a P.T.A. officer. None of us does, for time isn’t something that can be possessed, stuffed in a Tupperware bowl, sealed in with a lid. Take your time, the angry motorist impatiently yells out to the elderly man crossing the street. As if the slow person does indeed possess time and he’d better do something with it. Quickly.

Today people are impatient, convinced that time is finite, that they have only a certain amount of it, and you’d better not waste any of it. Just the other day, in the grocery check-out line, the young man behind me snorted and fumed while I pulled out my coupons then put change back in my wallet. Road rage in the check-out line. I was wasting his time. Guess he wanted the option of wasting it himself.

Maybe time surrounds us, and all we can do is reach out and grab some of it—maybe from two millennia ago, maybe from centuries or decades ago. Borrow some from here and there, mix it with the present, for without some of the past, the present is nothing. It’s a shallow existence, the present by itself, without anchor, without perspective. Live in the present, folks say. Arrogant advice, for to block out what has come before is to live in ignorance of what is wise and what is foolish.

The time we reach out for is never ours to possess. It is borrowed from our ancestors, from the core of the earth, from the trees whose seeds were planted centuries ago, from the soil and the bones buried in it. The past and present are fused so that what is here is what has always been, and what has always been lives on.

All we can ever have of it is borrowed. To give back at the end of our life. In gratitude.

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