While I was gardening

The art of gardening and the science of life.

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What did you hear?

What did you hear?

In dark space, alone with hours and minutes in a nightmare of years, what did you hear?

What did you hear, with your question so buried it could not be unearthed?

When your last was taken, when you asked for more, what did you hear?

Thunderous want and panicked grip deceived you, and you trusted once more.

And you tried.  Once more.

Nothing changed.

But, what did you hear?

Sounds and words that never left you – were they to blame?

Did they out-shout joy and stifle laughter?

What defeated you and left nothing in place?

Nothing remained.

What did you hear when we called to you?

When we held out our hands you had already looked away.

There, a distance so great we lost you.

We waited.  We would have waited forever.

We looked for you but could not see that you had stopped searching.

Nothing changed.

What did you hear at release of day?

What did you hear when you cried?

Did it become peaceful?  Was it kind?

Were you answered?

At long last, when the question was silenced, were you heard?



In memory of Kirk Samples,

July 10, 1956 – October 19, 2002



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Where it’s brighter.

Our 5 past presidents have combined efforts to fund-raise for, and send assistance to, Puerto Rico.

Recently, a Democratic candidate, with 3 previous losses, won a state senate seat in the Miami area.  The seat was previously held by a Republican.

International Coastal Cleanup Day, which occurred on September 16 of this year, was a huge success.  World-wide awareness of the state of our oceans is leading to greater numbers of people working towards improving the health of our oceans than ever before.

The IUCN recently downgraded the status of snow leopards from Endangered to Vulnerable.  Conservation practices are still in place for the leopard’s population in the wild, but there is reason to be optimistic about its future.

Taking-a-knee is bringing much needed awareness to the issues of social and racial injustices that have plagued our country for generations.

The ‘Russia Investigation’ by Robert Mueller is proceeding without tangible interference.  Mueller hasn’t been fired, at this date at least.  The investigation may take years to conclude, but the fact that it is proceeding should be reassuring that justice will, eventually, be achieved.

The most recent attempt to repeal and replace, i.e. destroy completely, the ACA has failed.  Our health insurance remains intact, so far.

In our beautiful state of Washington, rain and cooler weather has returned (though in small degree) which will assist our firefighters.

In the public garden I maintain (in a city park), I observed a teacher gently and gracefully resolve an tearful argument between 2 preschoolers.  In very short time, I saw the children sitting together on a log, reading a book.

On a small note, I was diagnosed with PTSD, and have been referred to a specialist.  Treatment starts soon.  I’ve been told it will be difficult but the prospect of finally feeling better is already making me feel better.

Last, autumn has arrived.  Its colors, sounds, and cool, fresh air restore and soothe a heat-weary world.

I wish you all a peaceful, relaxing season.


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A Simple Act

In large families there often is one individual who does not fit in.  Regardless of efforts to conform, regardless of the desire and repeated attempts to harmonize, there is often that one person who is found to be outside the norm.  Sometimes this type of individual brings joy, humor, and creativity to the family.  But in dysfunctional and/or abusive families, the odd-one-out is often used as a scapegoat for the entire group.  This dynamic is immensely harmful and painful to the individual experiencing the abuse, of course, but equally so to other family members involved.  Many studies have shown that children who witness abuse of a sibling develop depression or other serious conditions later in life.  Also, once the pattern of abuse is set by a parent towards a child, siblings who do not experience abuse (or abuse on the same level) will often repeat the abusive patterns toward their sibling into adulthood.  These siblings rarely acknowledge their abusive behavior – they may genuinely see their sibling as an enemy, dishonest, or a threat – and not understand why their sibling reacts to them as he/she does.  This dynamic compounds the misunderstandings and misinterpretations already present in the family.  Also, this dynamic causes further separation and mistrust among siblings, which if allowed to continue, can eventually cause ostracism of the individual.  Family members will find countless justifications for the ostracism (which is an extremely harmful act), but most, if not all, involve blaming the one ostracized.  And once someone is ostracized from a family, those relationships are permanently damaged; trust is destroyed and replaced with fear.

What can be done, then?  What can be done when family members have such a stake in maintaining the status quo that they resort to dishonesty, greater abuse, and/or betrayal rather than allowing change to occur?  What can be done when all efforts to resolve problems are met with accusations of dishonesty, of making false accusations towards siblings, or of manipulation?  How many years should be given to trying to prove ones’ love for family, especially when that love was not wanted or sought?  How can hope of change and reconciliation be finally, permanently, put away?  How long before the deceptive and dishonest nature of hope is accepted?

Estrangement is powerful and painful.  When it is the only option left, when one finds oneself empty of all other choices but turning away or self-destruction, estrangement is necessary.  It is never to be chosen lightly; never the first, second, or 70th option.  It is, always, the last option.  It may never erase your love for those you have left, but it will replace false hope with authentic strength.  And it might be that only the uncomplicated denial of hope, and genuine acceptance of reality, is the means by which the effects of abuse will be reversed, and a life will be made whole.

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On the Nature of Forgiveness, Part II

Does a circumstance exist where forgiving is not recommended?   Is there a situation where forgiving is a mistake?  Can forgiving cause more harm than good in some circumstances?

These questions have occurred recently, and I find that I cannot arrive at an answer.  Specifically, in cases of abuse; if the abuser never admits what they have done, and instead, accuses the abused of lying, making false accusations, and of manipulation of facts – is it appropriate to forgive the abuser and try to rebuild the relationship?  If the abuser claims not to remember the damage they have caused and instead tries to elicit sympathy from the abused for current problems, should this be forgiven?

I have always felt a strong pull towards forgiving, towards compassion and understanding.  After all, I have made many mistakes throughout my life and have apologized multiple times for these mistakes.  But I struggle with forgiving when faced with someone whose words are so profoundly at odds with their actions that they seem to be lying.  I struggle in cases where the abuser is a deeply religious person and claims, repeatedly, that their faith prevents them from lying or harming anyone – even as they continue the dishonest words and behavior.   I struggle in situations where the abuser has verbally harmed someone in the past, and a third individual has defended the abused – years later the abuser and their victim attack the third individual because the abuser has shared his/her dislike of that person with the initial victim.  Can this situation be forgiven?  Should it be forgiven?  And if forgiving is possible, should the relationship be rebuilt?

To forgive is a very personal decision, and one with a path that is long, difficult, and at times very painful.  In addition, I have discovered that forgiving does not always heal the wounds created by abuse.  I have been told that true forgiveness can take years to achieve, and that until it is achieved emotions will fluctuate between peace and pain.  At times, you will think you have forgiven only to feel the harm resurface and create even deeper pain.  However, I can’t help but wonder, could not forgiving be a healthier option in some circumstances – especially when continued contact with the abuser cannot be avoided?  Is it healthier to forgo forgiving altogether?

And, possibly most pertinent, can we forgive someone we no longer trust?

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Where we pray.

Hottest summer on record.

Wettest winter on record.

Warmest spring on record.

Driest summer on record.

Coldest autumn on record.

Most wildfires in the region on record.

Most square miles burned on record.

Strongest hurricane on record.

Most damaging floods on record.

Strongest typhoon on record.

Wettest monsoon on record.

Worst mass-shooting in history.

Greatest number of immigrants in history.

Most donations received in one week.

An entire island destroyed by one storm.

Most people killed in a terrorist attack.

Highest poverty level on record.

I sat on a felled giant, brought down by the hand of man, and listened to the endless tears of Creation.

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When gardens and friendships bloom.

About 10 years ago, a new neighbor moved into the house next door.  A single dad with a child entering high school – busy life balancing work with  extra duties like coaching soccer games and shuttling kids from one activity to another – and a big, mature garden to maintain. During the first 6 months, we saw each other frequently – usually going to and returning from somewhere – and we always took a moment or two to visit.  I met his mother over the first Christmas season in his new house, and in a gracefully flowing Irish accent, she explained some of the differences in how our countries celebrate the holiday.  (In a word or two, ours is shopping-orientated.)  She was as pleasant, friendly, and kind as her son.

As months rolled into years, we saw each other less often but always made time to stop and talk when our paths crossed.  And as seasons came and went, his garden fell to the weeds we all fight.  About 6 years ago, I found ivy, Himalayan blackberry, bind weed, and butter cup inching over into my garden through the overgrown English laurel hedge our properties shared.  ‘Inching over’ is a polite term for what the weeds were doing.  ‘Storming the grounds’ is more accurate.  I noticed this invasion at a particularly busy time in my life, and when my gardening schedule was stretched almost to the breaking point.  So, you can imagine my reaction when I saw the mess encroaching into my favorite areas of my property, which is most of my property.  I wasn’t happy.  In my mind, I let loose with a string of short, descriptive words that are impossible to misunderstand.  It was a good thing I was alone at the time (one of the advantages of gardening early in the morning).  Once I got myself under control, and about 2 hours after weeding, I went next door to pay my neighbor a friendly visit.  It was the first time I had been in his front yard in a few years, and I was shocked.  Heartbroken, to be honest.  The garden was filled with dead shrubs, desiccated perennials, and damaged trees.  The once lush lawn was brown, crunchy, and dotted with weeds.  The hedge had grown so aggressively horizontal that many of the borders were smothered by laurel.  In the back yard, the patio offered broken furniture and molding cushions, a few discarded kitchen appliances, and containers filled with plants that had died years ago.  I was sadden to see it all for many reasons, but mostly because my neighbor had shared his plans for the house and gardens when he moved in.   I knew he would be hurt to know I had seen the mess, so I left without knocking or leaving a note for him.

A few weeks later, my neighbor and I saw each other in the early afternoon of a sunny summer day and had time to talk.  Before I had a chance to mention the weeds and overgrown hedge, he apologized for the mess his property had become.  I offered to help him with the hedge and removal of the invasives, but he declined.  He promised to clean up the property – all of it, he said – and as our conversation continued, he mentioned that someone in the neighborhood had complained to him about the state of his house and garden.  Something about that was familiar, as a neighbor had  preemptively complained to my spouse and I shortly after we moved into the neighborhood, also.  We had been busy traveling, biking, having fun, and not gardening, and this older neighbor found it appropriate to mention that “we all keep up our homes on this street and we assume you two will, also”.  Gulp.

To shorten a long story, my neighbor has continually worked on his garden and property over the years following our conversation.  We have shared gardening and parenting challenges, successes, and unexpected experiences.  We’ve talked about children, plants, raccoons, bad bosses, broken limbs, and leaky roofs.  He asked advice on pruning, and I gave him a text book left over from my time in school that I found helpful.  Most recently, he cut down a large old tree that had filled a corner of his back yard.  Some of the wood debris left over from the removal of this tree was beautiful – gnarled, rough, twisted – and as we were talking he mentioned that some of the pieces looked “artistic”.  He then offered some exceptionally large and unique pieces to me for our garden.  How could I refuse?

He is proud that his property is on the mend, and I am happy for him.  But what I appreciate most is this – what could have devolved into an unpleasant, adversarial relationship has blossomed into a warm, reciprocal friendship.  And we have our gardens to thank for that.


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On the Nature of God – Something There

Abba, Abhir, Adonai, Atik Yomin (Ancient of Days), Alpha and Omega, The Divine, El, Elohim, Father, God, Kadhosh, Shadday, YHWH – by any name, humankind has made god in our image.  We talk about God, we talk to God, we place God on our side, we speak for God, we view God as friend, foe, or ultimate judge – but, in truth, do we know anything about the entity we call God?  In fact, we do not know if what we call god exists.

A brief bit of contemporary history: A homogeneous universe was an attractive concept.  Comforting and logical was the idea that wherever we looked, the universe would always be the same.  It made sense.  It appeared to have purpose.  It made sense because we believed it was created by a divine, perfect mind.  Then, along came the Steady State theory which added the notion that the universe was homogeneous and isotropic even over immeasurable reaches of time.  The universe held steady – just as we thought it should – simple, conforming, and predictable.  It was always as we see it now, and would never change.  If one believed in a god, it was easy to believe the universe was created by this benevolent being.

But not so long ago, someone noticed some unusual readings and appearances from radio waves, and a slight temperature measure above absolute zero.  (Use of radio waves to observe the universe began around the time of WWII.)  These observations showed a constant static noise in the background.  This noise was discovered to be emanating from the motion of electrons.  Motion produces heat.  And if the temperature of the universe was supposed to be absolute zero, where was the motion, and subsequent (low level) heat, coming from?  In the simplest explanation possible, this heat is explained as the microwave background radiation of the Big Bang; a theory that posits that a single point of matter exploded, expanded, and travels outward to fill ‘space’ with hydrogen and then helium, oxygen, and other elements – all the elements that comprise matter in known existence, all the elements from which we are born.   The Big Bang – something arises from nothing.  Nothing – as in, no god, no purpose, no intent.  At the moment of the Big Bang, there were no elements, no chemistry, no physics – nothing.  Chemistry, physics – all the building blocks of our universe were created from the Big Bang.

And then came the questions; profound mysteries and seemingly inexplicable phenomena such as dark matter and dark energy, black holes and worm holes, string theory and multi-dimensional universes, spacetime and heat death, and Big One – life on other planets.  Where would a god, specifically our God, fit into this creation?  The search for life outside our solar system increases yearly with the discovery of thousands of exoplanets by the Kepler space observatory.  When, not if, an exoplanet is found to have the chemical signatures of biological life in its atmosphere, how will the god we know fit into this new view of the universe?  Certainly, if god is infinite and omniscient as we claim to believe, then all life in the universe regardless of form is its creation.

Before the discovery of evolution, we saw biological life as being created in the forms we observed around us.  We did not see that life was a result of change – adaptation to and within an environment – but as the perfectly thought-out creations of a benevolent being.  All biological life fit into its environment smoothly because it was made to do so.  Humankind was made in the image of this benevolent being and placed at the top of beings, although with flaws resulting from sin.  The physical manifestations of sin – diseases and deformities – were caused by either an individuals’ own sins or those inherited from previous generations.  Purpose appeared to be built into the system, with all other creatures placed on earth for our use.  Mysterious and inexplicable occurrences were attributed to divine action, and would be understood in ‘the fullness of time’.

And then came the questions; what became of the animals whose fossilized remains we find, what causes the slight and subtle variations among species of the same genus, what allows some individuals to fit into their environment successfully while others of the same species in similar environments die out?  If God is directly responsible for all creation, why do we not see these subtle changes in individuals as they happen in real time?  As the reality of evolution became more evident and our understanding of genetics matured, the role of God in creation dimmed.  Even today, there continues to be deep misunderstandings about evolution – how it works and what it means – and these misunderstandings prevent many people from seeing the common thread among all species.

How does humankind view god?  The idea of god has been used as explanation for what we cannot control in nature (acts of God), as the cause of events in our life that happen ‘out of the blue’ (God’s ways are mysterious), the reason for tragedies (God took her/him for a reason), and the cause of success (God answered a prayer).  We assign most, and sometimes all, events in life to god without giving a deeper look into the many aspects that led up to an event.  Some see god as a being who created all of life, assembled the disparate parts together, and set it all in motion (God the watchmaker), or as the creator who started all life and walked away (God the builder).  Some have explained god as a specific gene in DNA that predisposes humankind to a spiritual outlook.  Still others define god as a fallback, a result of lazy thinking or habit.  And last, some do not see god at all – in any mode, at any time.

Not much imagination or thought is required to understand how the idea of god originated.  Our ancestors were at a loss to explain the many natural phenomena they observed in their world.  From the beautiful – sunsets and sunrises, rainbows, halos, sundogs, light pillars, aurora borealis and aurora australis, etc – to the terrifying – earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, dust storms, solar or lunar eclipses, tornados, landslides, etc – our ancestors had no ability to control the world around them and no means with which to explain these phenomena.  Add to this famine, disease, accidents, death, conflict within a tribe and/or from the outside; it is no surprise they thought magical being(s) were ‘at the helm’.  It takes no insight to imagine our early ancestors feeling that there was ‘something there’ causing these events.  It takes no insight to imagine our ancestors making offerings to these divine, magical beings – to that Something There – when faced with any of the above situations.  Even today, with our deeper understanding of geology, biology, and astronomy, we often are reduced to feeling helpless and ‘in God’s hands’ when faced with tragedy, be it natural or human caused.  And most difficult to quantify and explain, humankind is sometimes subjected to rare and unsettling spiritual experiences that may cause us to question our sanity and to feel that there is Something There that we cannot explain.

Over thousands of years and generations, we have refined and specified our idea of god.  Over time, we have conformed the idea of god to our needs.  This ‘evolution’ of god becomes more evident as time passes, and both more and less sophisticated.  But for all our knowledge, for all our insight, and with our current understanding of our place in the universe, are we any closer to knowing what God is?  Are we any closer to knowing if God exists?   Recently, I had a conversation with an Episcopalian priest that will probably stay with me as long as my memory remains intact.  This man entered the priesthood because of his medical experiences – he was a hospice physician for years.  In his practice, he met many people who were atheists and claimed to have never believed in God.  But, he also said that each of these patients, at the end of life, had a feeling that there was Something There.  They could not identify the feeling and did not understand it, but they said that it was genuine.

I have spent most of my life studying many fields of science.  My faith in science has given me a fairly deep understanding of the natural world, and this has given me the gift of appreciation for the intricately entwined beauty and ineffable majesty of life.  I have faith that science will continue to bring benefit to humankind if we allow it to do so, and if we practice science with responsibility and from a love for all life.  But beyond science, I am convinced that there is something else – Something There.  Three inexplicable experiences in my life convinced me that this Something There is genuine.  I do not believe these experiences are a result of a specific gene ‘acting up’; they are not a remnant of my evolutionary past; nor are they a product of a collective consciousness.   I do not know their exact cause, but I do know that they happened.  Just three inexplicable, numinous experiences – each one brief and small – were all that was required to convince me that there is Something There.  Is it God?  I may never know.  It may be that science cannot answer this.  But, I do know one thing.

It is genuine.