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Questioning Sincerity

via Daily Prompt: Sincere
“It sure do bother me to see my loved ones turning into puppets.”  Bob Dylan

Early in my professional career, the leader of our organization made dramatic pronouncement.  I was too young to appreciate its significance, but an older member lowered his head, and said, “Do I have to change what I believe, every time you do?”  The response was, “In public, yes.”  This memory, in conjunction with Bob Dylan’s line, are what disheartens me about this election.

Seasoned ideologues, committed themselves long ago to framing stories, that at all costs defend their narratives.  Fear and manipulation, are their tools of choice to create relevance out of irrelevance.  In their wake, people are distracted from, and compromise what they hold true, and sincerity is called into question.

I am not good at short one liners to make my point, and I may not be good at my ramblings, but it does clear my head.  Here I go again.

Apprehensive Volunteer

via Daily Prompt: Volunteer

In August of 1969, the letter salutation read, “Greetings”; a word that immediately conjured visions of Vietnam infantry service.  An Army recruiter visit to discuss alternatives quickly followed.  Here, my two year draftee status, was traded for three year volunteer status, in return for turbine engine training.  Not discussed, was that Huey Helicopters used turbine engines.  Consequently, turbine engine training equaled helicopter maintenance training, which was tantamount to becoming a Vietnam volunteer.

Volunteers inspire noble images.  Well they should, since so much of life depends on them.  To the burned, volunteering necessitates knowing the details, expectations, and implications of the task.  This is not to say that I will not volunteer, even if the end is a difficult challenge.  It does say that I want to know more on the front end, before transitioning from the role of a passive observer, to that of a volunteer.

Lured, Enticed, Seduced

via Daily Prompt: Trust

“Trust in Me”, a serpent’s lyrical song.  Twice sung, twice charms the Jungle Book’s man cub, Mobley.  Twice startled from his trance, a snake twice foiled of its meal.  “Trust me”, Donald Trump’s signature charm.  “Believe me”, a close variant.  Hillary Clinton, void of favorable trust.  A nation lulled.  Hope, dims for an unforeseen startle.  Twofold trances advance their national morsel toward consumption.

A compulsive doer, adapting to change…

Dependency withdrawal hits the compulsive doer hard.

Daring

Retirement’s first day began as any other.  Up before dawn.  Teeth brushed.  Coffee made.  At my desk to review the day.  First, I have to do…nothing.  Second, I have to call…no one.  Third, I have to go…nowhere.  Overwhelmed, I started again, only to get the same results. 

My wife had died the year before, now work was done, and I was confronted with no external needs to meet.  Dependency withdrawal hits the compulsive doer hard.

Doers tend to overfill the gaps in need meeting, with their own interests.  Fortunately, I had begun my retirement bucket list prior to the unexpected and expected changes.  First on the list, was knowing how to stay connected to my geographically scattered family.  Second, was a previously started on line degree.  My wife’s death had put that on hold, and now was the time to restart the study.  Third, was my obsession with landscaping my yard.  Here, I immerse myself here into oblivion.  Fourth, was to wean myself off calls into the office, to keep up with progress and changes.  One year into retirement, checks were placed next to each item.

The first year done, the realization that I was not going to die anytime soon, took hold.  My wife and I had married young, and for all practical purposes, I was never a bachelor.  Thoughts of, what would I have done entered my mind.  In high school I had wanted to hitchhike across the United States.  My family nixed that idea, but on my 66th birthday, driving Route 66 became the plan.  This morphed into an 8,000 mile driving tour of the southern states, and back across the north; highlighted by a four day, Rim to Rim, backpacking trip, to include swimming in the Colorado River, at the bottom of the Grand Canyon.  Incubated dreams eventually emerge.

Year two is fading, I passed another physical, and I question if I dare to plan longer term doing?  My advisor says I need to plan to live to 98.  That means turning 30 again.  I have already screwed that up twice.  Dare I take that chance again?

 

O-Rings and Mulligans

I was in the right door gunner’s seat.  The left door gunner looked outside and immediately stated, “We’re smoking”. 

In Vietnam I was a UH1- Huey helicopter repairman.  I am not really mechanically inclined, but with so many helicopters in Vietnam the army could not be picky.  As I look back, I actually, (if I do say so myself), performed quite well, in spite of what follows.

My first few months were spent developing skills as part of a six-man maintenance crew, working on helicopters rolled in for periodic maintenance.  Upon completion, the ship underwent a test flight before returning to action.  As a rule, two team members, along with the team leader participated.  I loved to fly, and volunteered every time I could.

Well into one flight, the crew simultaneously smelled a strong odor of gas.  If you are at all familiar with a Huey, you have seen pictures of the door gunners sitting to the back of the cabin, facing outward, behind an M-60 machine gun.  I was in the right door gunner’s seat.  The left door gunner looked outside and immediately stated, “We’re smoking”.  I checked my side of the ship, and realized that what appeared as smoke, was actually jet fuel over spraying the engine.  From our view we were in danger of a catastrophe.

Our location made an immediate landing unsafe, as at the time, our flight was along the South China Sea coastline.  Wooded areas, and fishing villages adjacent to the beach, made it impossible to know who was in the woods or villages.  The captain thought it best to fly to a secure clearing we called the brown spot.  This prompted a discussion among the crew, and we all agreed that we would rather risk an explosion, than become prisoners of war.

How long that flight lasted I do not remember, but it was long enough for a couple of things to happen.  First, our mayday resulted in an escort, formed by other aircraft in the area.  Second, I prayed several long forgotten prayers from my youth.  The saying that there are no atheists in foxholes extends to doomed aircraft as well.

Many of the details between identifying our dilemma, and its successful resolution, were at the same time nerve-wracking, exciting, and borderline humorous.  For the sake of time and space, let me say that we successfully landed at the Brown Spot, and what followed was a turning point in my life.

Before getting to that, I need to explain what happened.  On a Huey, the engine fuel filter, and the transmission oil filter are one in the same.  That filter may serve a dual function, but the O-rings used to prevent leaks, are different.  Inside the box with the filter, are two separate packets of O-rings.  One is labeled “OIL”, and the other is labeled “FUEL”.  It was obvious to everyone, that the wrong O-ring had been installed.

At the Brown Spot, the pilot asked to see the “Gig Sheet”.  Kept on a clipboard, this sheet recorded who performed specific maintenance work.  I told the officer not to bother, as I knew that I had switched the O-rings, and that I had endangered the lives of the crew.  I honestly do not remember his initial response, but I vividly remember what happened once the replacement filter arrived.  The captain personally got the part from the supply helicopter, tossed the filter my way, and said, “Fix it, and this time do it right.” 

It is difficult to describe my emotions at that moment.  I was both cut to the heart, and motivated.  Think of how differently the captain could have handled the situation.  He could have given the filter to another mechanic, and said that he would deal with me later.  He could have embarrassed me, and paraded my fault in front of others.  The result would have been demoralizing.  Instead, I experienced forgiveness.  Forgiveness may seem a bit strong to some.  They might say I just got off the hook.  In my mind, “off the hook” leans to much towards escaping responsibility.  Besides, using it ruins the rest of my story.

The Bible says that all have sinned.  Using the wrong O-ring is my euphemism for sin.  The Bible also says, that as long as we live we will continue switching O-rings.  Jesus forgave a woman caught in adultery; telling her to, “Go and sin no more”.  “Sin no more”, essentially meant, “This time, do it right.”  Jesus did not parade her in front of her accusers.  What he did was shame those who thought themselves righteous.

After my O-ring experience, I determined to do a better job.  In part, I was selfishly motivated to not be embarrassed again.  In part, I also did not want to put someone in the position of having to offer forgiveness again.  The game of golf helps to illustrate this.  Re-hitting a bad shot is called taking a mulligan.  Here, mulligans serve as a euphemism for extending forgiveness.  Golfers cannot just say, “I’m going to re-hit that one”.  Someone in the group has to say, “Go ahead, and re-hit”.  When I play golf, I selfishly look forward to hearing those words. 

For the person offering the mulligan, personal interests can make the offering, both difficult, and disadvantageous, as well as disruptive to their dominant position.  Allocating forgiveness provides an opportunity for revenge, by offering forgiveness conditionally or incrementally.  This, however, is not how God offers forgiveness.  God, from his dominant position, does not ponder our wrong; our switched O-rings.  God immediately offers us a chance to do it right.  He offers a mulligan.

Self-forgiveness, is often the most difficult forgiveness of all.  Many people, find it impossible to accept the desired mulligan.  The consequences of a wrong, is too great of an obstacle.  Imagine for a moment, if I had been the sole survivor of a catastrophic end to that helicopter; that the gig sheet had been destroyed, leaving me the only one with knowledge of who had switched the O-ring.  There is little comfort in knowing that others had switched O-rings before me.  How would I have handled the lasting hurt.  A good friend of mine says, “Bitterness is the inability to forgive others.  Regret is the inability to forgive self.  Bitterness and regret are both thieves – they steal life away.”

Often, efforts to rectify a problem only exasperate the situation, and stopping the offending action is the closest thing to an optimal solution.  I have long said, that what you did does not count, so much as what you do with what you did.  Consequences are another conversation, and they may exist.  For this conversation, God’s forgiveness is a source of comfort, and a model for accepting personal forgiveness.

I first shared these thoughts years ago, in the context of asking forgiveness from my wife.  In saying all of this to her, I vowed to, “This time do it right.”  She looked at me and asked, “Starting now?”  To which I replied, “Starting now”.  Unfortunately, in life, switching O-rings was not a one and done thing.  I promised “starting now”, more times than I care to remember.  As life progressed, my wife got to the point where she would just wearily say, “Starting?”, and in my own self-doubt, I would say, “Starting.”

Not switching O-rings on helicopters again was easy.  Whenever I opened the box, I took the O-ring packet not to be used, and threw it away before proceeding.  Unless I miss my guess, I am not the only one who has difficulty trashing wrong decisions.  Analogies are always incomplete, but if goodness or Godliness are many things, they are in part the ability to receive and extend forgiveness.  Maybe I could say they are a right response to switched O-rings, by offering more mulligans.

 

Can’t Wash a Twinkie

Mom was not one to straight out say no, so she relented, and let experience be my teacher.

One of my earliest memories is that of dropping a Hostess Twinkie into some dirt.  When brushing it clean did not work, it occurred to me that I needed to wash the Twinkie.  As I made my way to the sink, my mother, seeing what I was about to do, did her best to explain why washing would not work.  It was obvious to me, that Mom did not know how to handle such things.  Undeterred, I ignored her advice, and moved forward with my plan.  As water poured over the Twinkie, I watched horrified, as it disintegrated into the sink.  I quickly understood that my Twinkie was lost, and wondered how I was going to get out of admitting that Mom’s experience bested my unfamiliarity.

Looking back, I realize my mother could have just taken the soiled Twinkie from me and said, “I told you…”, but she didn’t.  Mom was not one to straight out say no, so she relented to letting experience be my teacher.  I strongly suspect, that as much as anything, she wanted to avoid the mess I was about to create, as much as she wanted to spare my inevitable disappointment.   I may not have thought of it in those terms, but in essence it finally came to me that I could not escape acknowledging her wisdom.

Washing that Twinkie was not the last time my mother offered guidance by allowing my thoughts and actions arrive at their illogical conclusions.  More than once, a movie has portrayed a little fellow who has had enough, and decides to run away from home.  Yes, I did that one too.  After calling my bluff, Mom helped me think through what I should pack.  Soon, I was taking things out the suitcase as fast as she could put them in.  While my Twinkie fiasco is my earliest mentoring memory of my mother, I tend to believe she did things like that from the moment we met.  Experiential learning, is something both of my parents did well, and highlights their value as mentors in my life.

In time my friends and I became the 60’s generation.  Deference is not something for which we are well known.  “Don’t trust anyone over 30” was a famous mantra.  Police were referred to as “Pigs”.  The “Establishment” was by no means to be trusted, and in Vietnam we cynically said:

We the unwilling

Led by the unqualified

Do the unnecessary

For the ungrateful

We were proud of our opposition to the mentors who went before us, who like my mom, obviously did not know how to clean a Twinkie.  Did we really have these attitudes towards the people who so lovingly and faithfully nurtured us?  To a great extent, yes we did.  I remember saying in class one day that having not asked to be brought into this world, I owed my parents nothing.  Unknowingly, I said that in the presence of a student who only weeks earlier had lost his father.  His verbal rebuff made me reconsider my words, but the point is, that everything was to be questioned, and authority was to be challenged.

Much of what was done then is still considered revolutionary today, and some of it was needed.  Those who mentored us, the ones Tom Brokaw called, “The Greatest Generation”, instilled boldness in us, and fueled us with a willingness “to do”.  Unfortunately, many of us were swept into action not fully understanding the idealistic concepts we promoted, and some of those actions held Twinkie destroying consequences from which we would need to recover.  For whatever was right, wrong, or indifferent about that era, as the confrontations increased, for the most part, our mentors never gave up on us.

The 1968 election was its decade’s high watermark, and 2016 is set to be equally dramatic, though I hesitate to label it high or low as a watermark.  It will be one from which our country cannot recover, just as 2012, 2008, 2004…1796 were. Every generation sees their moment as a turning point, wants to be right, and wants to demonstrate genius. They want this even at the risk of being wrong…dare I say, at the risk of washing a Twinkie?   Every generation has its share of illogical conclusions from which to recover, which are tested in a crucible of resistance to change.  In better times, resistance came from previous change enthusiasts, who now should be principled mentors.

Somehow, the Twinkie illustration seems to trivialize a presidential discussion.  Then again, with two candidates running, both of whom lacks substance, maybe the Twinkie fits.  With polarizing ideological issues masked by issues of honesty and morality, significance is reduced to dissolving the opposing candidate in a slurry of his/her character weakness.  Washing Twinkies is expected from the young who lack perspective, but this situation has been thrust upon us by experienced people who should who should know better.  Instead of guiding, the best they have, are campaigns using doomsday threats, meant to intimidate a weary electorate.  Their hollow words hold up as well as a watered down Twinkie.  What is truly sad, is the level of fear on the part of those who believe the sky will fall should the opposing candidate win.  The magnitude of this election will not exceed 1968, or any other year.  The election is barreling upon us, and with no viable options to avoid the mess about to be created, or to spare the inevitable disappointments.  Going forward, the voices of fear need to be cast aside, and dedication to principle must be the foundation of future efforts.