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Westward Ho!

11 Apr

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Meditation on Suffering and Sacrifice

April 11, 2005 | By | 2 Comments

These last few weeks have been ones of death and dying; a month of contemplating the purpose of pain and the meaning of suffering. It is a time for revisiting places of meditation, pondering the spaces man has devised for grappling with the eternal questions of mortality.

The famous chapel on the grounds of the United States Air Force Academy nestled at the base of the Rocky Mountains is more truly a cathedral. Outwardly, it is all sleek silver-wing metal, with seventeen external buttresses, knifing severely skyward. Designed to evoke an air-frame, the architecture does not immediately summon spiritual devotion.

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Photo credit: Helena Yoest

But cross the threshold, step inside, and one is transported to another plane. The solemn air is bathed in the soft splendor of muted light. While the stern steel silhouette dominates the external view, the interior reveals the fragile panels of stained-glass that the harsh ribs support. The intricate glass panes filter and animate the sunlight, illuminating the sacred space with almost a visual hush.

At the front of the chapel, a single row is roped off. “Reserved” the sign says, for all the United States aviators who are missing in action or prisoners of war. The only occupant of the pew is a single, burning candle.

“Greater love hath no man than this. . .” reads the plaque. The Scripture it alludes to concludes: “that a man lays down his life for his friends.”

My thoughts immediately fly to my boy, my sweet Dude, who wants to be a fighter pilot. And baby Boo, who will almost certainly want to follow his older brother. My heart blanches. How could I bear it? And yet so many other mothers — gold-star mothers — even this very day, must find a way when their sons have given the last measure of devotion.

* * *

The war in heaven, and its reflection that we see through a glass darkly, is one of the great mysteries of human life. The existence of egregious earthly evil is incomprehensible. . . yet for every act of aggressive hatred is its spiritual foe — the love of humans one for another that confronts and overcomes all would-be destroyers.

At the back of the chapel, a Lucite case displays a picture of a little boy who was “Cadet for a Day.” In a series of three pictures, we saw a grinning boy, sitting in a cockpit dressed in a flight-suit, surrounded by a smiling corps of cadets.

My husband was drawn to the display immediately, wanting such a grand experience for the Dude, our own boy.

Down at the bottom of the picture, however, in small type, the caption read: Make-a-Wish Foundation.

No, no. Not my boy.

Where are the answers? Why must the innocent suffer? The vast, vacant space of the chapel responds with a twilight hush.

(Conclusion here.)

* * *

Update: Marla Swoffer has more wisdom on ‘Bad’ Things to ‘Good’ People?

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03 Apr

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Leaving Las Vegas

April 3, 2005 | By |

It wasn’t just the horrible hotel (see below) — we were glad to be leaving Las Vegas altogether.

I’d been to Vegas before; so had Jack. But as adults it’s easier to mentally edit what we see. Viewing the town through the Penta-Posse’s eyes was a whole new revelation.

The first night we arrived, we went to eat at one of the few places still open: a pizzeria in the hotel, right in the center of the casino. The Dancer had to go to the bathroom, and we set off through the cacophony of the slot machines, me holding her hand tightly.

She loved the casino — skipping and chattering away in excitement. “Mommy,” she said, “I want to play the games. . .” Then, to my lack of response, insistently: “I want to play the Barbie game!”

My head snapped up and I looked where she was pointing: an I Dream of Jeannie slot machine. Suddenly I got it. The Dancer is four years old. The more I observed the gambling, the more infantilism I saw.

It’s definitely geared on a childish level: the lights and music all held a strong appeal particularly for the Dancer and the Diva. The Dreamer observed that it was purposefully hypnotic.

“What’s wrong with gambling?” I answered the question again and again, which forced me to keep re-examining my answer.

First, there’s the unjust enrichment involved. But, hey, it’s just a game, right? It can be fun. And you can put yourself on a budget and just plan to lose. Lighten up a little?

But, second there’s the addiction. So many people just sitting there in a catatonic stupor punching a button over, and over, and over. Some of them had a credit card inserted in the machine, attached to their shirts by a clip and a cord, almost like an I.V. drip.

And if it’s all in fun, what’s up with all the pawn shops??

I kept coming back to guilt by association. And if it’s all just in fun, what’s up with all the female exploitation?

Dirty girls . . . in the mud. . . on the bucking bronco!

“Ooh, yuck, naked girls mud wrestling?” asked the Diva. (Darn it, when did she learn to read so well?)

“Nah,” says the Dude (who was getting way too much of an education on this trip. . . !) “they’ll be in bikinis, right Mom?”

“Yeah, well, it’ll be thongs and push-up bras,” muttered the Dreamer.

Hmmm, thought I, glancing her way, she’s picking this up quickly.

“And why,” added the Dreamer, in full 11-year-old femme-power mode, “is it always girls, anyway?”

Me, I was thinking: Enough real life education, how soon can we get out of this city?

Not soon enough, but finally we were headed out towards I-15 North, slowly making our way one last time down the bumper-to-bumper traffic on the Strip.

Suddenly, from the back of the truck, we hear the sweet, clear, innocent voice of the Diva:

‘Bye, ‘bye, Bally’s booty!

My head jerked around, and there she was, towering above the Strip, the larger-than-life billboard Bally girl, in all her g-string glory.

(Note to self: Where did Diva get that term?)

Finally, a right turn, another right turn and we headed north towards the snow-capped mountains and fresh air. . . the lights of Vegas receding in the rear-view mirror. Shaking the dust off our feet. ‘Bye, ‘bye indeed.

I was almost afraid to look back.

02 Apr

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Circus, Circus is Lousy, Lousy

April 2, 2005 | By |

Warning: the following post has no transcendent meaning and no flights of poetry whatsoever. Rather, I offer the following sad tale of woe for the benefit of any fellow travellers to Vegas who might avoid the difficulties we encountered. . .

We booked a room in Vegas at Circus, Circus, (named by the Department of Redundancy Department) through hotels.com because it was said to be close to the convention center (not really) and was one of the recommended hotels for Jack’s conference. Plus the roller-coaster and clown shows sounded fun for the kids. And, the price for a three-star hotel was pretty good.

Question: have you ever been to a three-star hotel that didn’t have a coffee-maker in the room? Shoot, have you been to any kind of hovel in 2005 that didn’t have one?

Well, Circus, Circus doesn’t. But I get ahead of myself.

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31 Mar

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“Mom, that woman is naked!”

March 31, 2005 | By |

Las Vegas is a seductive place. As we drove into town down the Strip, the Penta-Posse was thrilled — billboard-size flat-screen televisions with life-like fireworks . . . (Women in g-strings – “Mom, that woman is naked!”). . . a roller-coaster that explodes in a wild loop outside the NASCAR Cafe. . . . strobe lights make you think there’s a cop behind you. . . but of course there’s no cop, no cares, no accountability. Remember, “What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas.” Right?

We hadn’t been in Vegas more than half-an-hour before the Dreamer saw an older woman, sitting in front of the slot machines, with her head in her hands sobbing.

I remain an admirer of his work, but what was Bill Bennett thinking?

Vegas remains a marvel of entertainment, which is mesmerizing for the Diva, our aspiring performer. Even the water fountains have choreography. On the way back to our hotel from a meeting last night, we stopped by the famous water fountain show in front of the Bellagio. It is truly breath-taking. Imagine hundreds of water fountains lined up like show-girls, with blasts of water “dancing” to lights and music. Amazing. At the end, the throngs lining the overlook began to applaud — almost as if there were human performers in front of us — then stopped quickly, almost embarrassed, and moved off into the night.

The Penta-Posse was entranced. They chattered happily about the spectacle as we walked away, until the Dreamer moved closer to me: “Mom, why does that woman have cards in the bushes? She’s naked and there’s a price on them.”

I tried to explain prostitution. (And gambling. And pawn shops. . .)

“So how much was she charging?” I asked.

“$49,” replied the Dreamer.

“She’s selling herself for $50?” I murmured.

“Wow. That’s cheap,” said the Dude. “Mom, why would she do that?”

What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas? I think not. John Donne said it better: “No man is an island.” One woman weeping in public, how many more weeping unseen?

Update: June 23, 2005 Feisty Repartee has more on the Vegas experience.

30 Mar

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Alchemy of Achievement

March 30, 2005 | By |

Major John Wesley Powell lost an arm in the Civil War, yet he went on to lead the first expedition that traveled the full length of the portion of the Colorado River that cuts through the Grand Canyon. The trip was so treacherous, and the river rapids so perilous, that the Indians warned Powell against even making an attempt to explore the Colorado. Nevertheless, he recruited nine other men and on May 24, 1869, the expedition party set off in three wooden boats.

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Photo credit: Smithsonian Institution

One man abandoned the trip after the first month. Powell and the remaining eight men continued their exploration until they reached Separation Canyon. They faced a crisis: three men in one boat argued that it was foolishness and certain death to continue. After failing to convince Powell to join them, they left the expedition and began an attempt to hike out of the canyon.

They were never seen again.

The tragic irony is that the rest of Powell’s journey was not as challenging as that which they had already completed, and two days later they reached civilization.

Powell conquered the mighty Colorado River, with only one arm. Now that’s audacity.

All of life’s major achievements are accomplished by those who persist in the face of apparently insurmountable obstacles, and non-OSHA compliant work environments. On the other side, are the nameless ones whose foolish obstinence leave them and their followers lost in obscurity, or worse yet, immortalized in infamy.

Where is the line between reason and audacity? And when is it quitting too soon?

I kept asking myself this question yesterday as our western adventure took us to our own Colorado River: taking the Penta-Posse skiing.

In the past, we’ve skiied with our extended family, which raised the adult to child ratio to a more reasonable level. But, hey, how bad could it be? The Posse has always loved skiing, and Jack loves to brag that the Diva “skiied before she could walk.”

How bad could it be indeed. For the first hour there was nothing but crying, whining, complaining and bickering. And that was just me and Jack.

Then the Posse got in the act. “My boots are too tight!” “I’m too hot!” “I’m too cold!” “I can’t do it!”

I wanted to go home. I wanted to give up the expedition and hike out of the canyon. When we took an assessment at the end of the day, all agreed that every member of the Posse cried actual real tears at least once in the morning. . .

But then came the afternoon. The Posse saddled up to ride. They were all over that mountain. Everyone also agreed (except for the Dancer who lost consciousness the minute she sat down, still with her crash helmet on) that the day was “awesome.”

Of course skiing is not quite in the same league of challenge as exploring the Colorado River, but I do hope the Posse learned something valuable about persistence.

What is the alchemy of achievement? It’s hard to know where the perfect union of reason and audacity lives. But I do know that in looking for it, you can quit too soon.

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28 Mar

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He is Risen!

March 28, 2005 | By |

He is risen! He is risen indeed!

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The alarm went off at 3 AM. Could we manage to rouse five tired children and make it to the sunrise service at the Grand Canyon 90 miles north? Having come this far on our westward adventure, we wanted to try.

But the Penta-Posse got themselves up, into the ski clothes we’d laid out to combat the cold, and beat me into the truck. (They may have been eased along by the chocolate and jelly beans the easter bunny left. . .) In fact, they were in such high spirits that they wanted our progress up Arizona Rt. 180 through the Coconino Forest to turn into a race with the lone hatchback we encountered along the way in the dark.

As the little car left us in his wake (Dad, c’mon, let’s go!!) Jack told the posse that we would let the hatchback “hit the cow” for us and tried to refocus their attention on seeing who could guess how low the temperature would go. The Dreamer “won” when the thermometer dropped to 17 degrees. I worried about the wind-chill on the canyon rim. Then, we crested a hill and came up suddenly on the hatchback, which was stopped dead in front of us as a herd of six or seven deer charged acrosss the road.

The mountains to our right, capped in snow, glowed with the reflected light of a full moon.

We reached the canyon at 5 AM just as the faintest light began breaching the eastern rim. We parked along the shoulder near Mather Point; the Dancer had fallen asleep again and didn’t want to venture into the cold — we wrapped her in a blanket and joined the others who were streaming in the direction of haunting music playing on a loudspeaker at the outlook. We were early enough to be among the first there; eventually around 1600 people arrived, filling up the platform, the stairs to the outlook, and lining the rim looking out over Mather Point.

The Dreamer, the Dude and the Diva scrambled up to a perch atop a large boulder, while Jack and I settled in to lower seats along a rocky wall with the Dancer and Boo.

By now, a faint pink light was spreading along the horizon. We had made it! My eyes filled with tears as my apprehension and tension from the press to get there was replaced with a sense of awe at the majesty in front of me.

Then the cold started to seep in. The Dancer started to cry. She settled in to Jack’s lap and buried her face in his chest. A little later, the Dreamer came down to take her so that they could warm each other. Boo slept on.

Half an hour left until the service and now the light was spreading and we could see the growing crowd around us more clearly. My worst fears about the wind-chill never materialized, but it was very cold. A stranger came over to the Dancer and the Dreamer, and wrapped them in a blanket. “Here,” he said, “you look cold. This is an extra.”

It wasn’t an extra. We were among friends. He is risen. He is risen indeed.

The service started and Boo began to cry. Then he settled quickly into my shoulder. . .

The sun broke over the northeastern rim with a brilliant glow, revealing the colors of the canyon in all their glory. Red, green, pink, orange. Deep clefts of darkness and shadow. The Colorado silently running in dizzying depths below. A raw wood cross on the edge appeared to hang in the air, silhouetted with the vast expanse of the canyon behind.

Christ, the Lord, is risen today, Alleluia!

Sons of men and angels say, Alleluia!

Raise your joys and triumphs high, Alleluia!

Sing, ye heavens, and earth, reply, Alleluia!

Hail, the Lord of earth and heaven, Alleluia!

Praise to Thee by both be given, Alleluia!

Thee we greet triumphant now, Alleluia!

Hail, the resurrection day, Alleluia

Jesus Christ is risen today, Alleluia!

Our triumphant holy day, Alleluia!

Who did once upon the cross, Alleluia!

Suffer to redeem our loss. Alleluia!

Afterward, the Dude and I stood and looked over the canyon. “This is awesome,” he said.

He is risen. He is risen, indeed.

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23 Mar

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The Culture and Carlsbad Caverns

March 23, 2005 | By |

No matter how high you fly — or how deep underground — the tectonic clash in our culture appears in the strangest places. . .

One of our favorite stops on this grand Western tour has been Carlsbad Caverns. Words fail to describe the enormity and grandeur. The dropoffs are terrifying — the Penta-Posse discovered with terrific glee that their mother has a bit of vertigo as I kept calling them back from the edge.

With Boo on Jack’s back, we walked for three solid hours through the murky underground with its strange and wonderful rock formations. Toward the end of the tour, we rounded a corner and faced one of the most fascinating: huge, imposing and covered in intricate, limestone accretions, we had come to “the Rock of Ages.” According to the tour material, we learned that the tours used to stop at that spot and sing together the old hymn that is so dear and familiar to many.

Rock of Ages, cleft for me,

Let me hide myself in Thee;

Let the water and the blood,

From Thy wounded side which flowed,

Be of sin the double cure;

Save from wrath and make me pure.

However, the tour noted, this practice was discontinued due to logistical concerns. I didn’t believe it. Sure enough, the truth involves politics. The first Superintendent of the Caverns, Thomas Boles, began The Rock of Ages ceremony in 1927. Here’s what happened, according to a history of the Caverns from the National Park Service: “His Rock of Ages ceremony gain[ed] fervent visitor support and [was] presented for 17 years in the Big Room at the cavern until national level forces deem it not suitable for a park program.”

At one time, this hymn was part of a shared culture, providing a sense of community, and comfort in times of trial. In 1886, a ship was sinking, and those in the lifeboats heard the passengers left behind on the London singing Rock of Ages as it went down. (see W.T. Stead)

While I draw this fleeting breath,

When mine eyes shall close in death,

When I soar to worlds unknown,

See Thee on Thy judgment throne,

Rock of Ages, cleft for me,

Let me hide myself in Thee.

Imagine trying to have a Rock of Ages ceremony in Carlsbad Caverns today. That shared cultural heritage has nearly disappeared. And that is a real loss. We are the poorer for it.

It’s Hyperalimentation, not Hyperventilation

March 22, 2005 | By | One Comment

There in the plexiglass display case, in Mesa Verde National Park are two crude crutches from our stone-age past. We spent yesterday exploring the cliff dwellings of pre-historic Pueblo Indians — they built their homes in the sides of sheer rock walls. They did not have the wheel; they did not have feeding tubes. They had to climb cliffs to get into their homes.

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But they did fashion crutches for crippled children.

Each is crafted from one rough stick, topped with a Y-shaped branch, held together with a leather yolk painstakingly stitched together. They are on display in the Mesa Verde museum as evidence of the care these cave-people spent on crippled children — the official archaelogists’ interpretation.

Today, a federal judge has declined to order the reinsertion of Terri Schiavo’s feeding tube. This is impossible to believe.

John Derbyshire over at National Review Online thinks that this concern over a disabled woman’s life amounts to “hyperventilation.” I am a big fan of John’s; I think he is a very smart man. But he, and some other very smart people, are getting this issue all wrong. And it revolves around one simple, central point:

It’s hyperalimentation, not hyperventilation.

What’s “hyperalimentation?” It’s food offered through a tube. I offer some niche expertise. My husband used to be a medical sales rep for medical device companies — one of which was IVAC, which makes fluid-control machines. He sold, and trained the clinicians how to use, the plastic tubing that is used to feed people who are disabled.

(Med-techie stuff. There are two ways to do this — enteral and parenteral feedings, by gut and by intravenous catheter — a feeding tube into your stomach with pureed food or an IV catheter into your arm with a nutrient admixture. Terri receives food through a simple hose into her stomach.)

Here’s the key point: food is not medicine. In fact, Terri’s parents could administer the feeding at home. Jack, my husband, says he would be happy to teach them how to do it.

Here’s what Discovery.com says about home feedings:

A nutritional support team will be involved with the use of hyperalimentation. The person’s nutritional status is studied and his or her nutritional needs calculated. The solution is changed when the persons needs change. For instance, if a person is taking in food or fluids by mouth, he or she will need fewer calories from the solution. The family will be taught how to administer the hyperalimentation and care for the person if he or she is to receive care at home.

I repeat: food is not medicine. Even Rush Limbaugh got this point wrong on his show yesterday during a conversation with a doctor from San Francisco in the midst of an otherwise wonderful broadcast about Terri’s plight.

It must have been quite a burden for the prehistoric cliff dwellers to care for a crippled child. Climbing was an essential part of their lives; and their lives were consumed with survival in a way we cannot imagine except through visiting a dig. They certainly had easy ways to dispose of inconvenient people — the cliffs loomed.

Yet still, they sat in the dirt and lovingly crafted a crutch.

How is it possible that these pre-historic people were more civilized in this than we?

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Be sure to follow Your Business Blogger(R) and Charmaine on Twitter: @JackYoest and @CharmaineYoest

Jack and Charmaine also blog at Reasoned Audacity and at Management Training of DC, LLC.

Thank you (foot)notes,

Update June 22, 2005; Darleen’s Place provides reasoned words on Another voice

June 21, 2005; The definitive gathering point on this issue is Blogs for Terri which has an update

ProLife Blogs has more.

20 Mar

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Remember the Alamo

March 20, 2005 | By |

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The version of the Alamo story that I knew prior to visiting the mission still standing in San Antonio, involved a vague idea that some Texans died defending a fort against a Mexican army. I did not understand that the battle at the Alamo was actually a two-week siege by General Santa Anna, culminating in the Mexican attack in the early hours of March 6th, 1836, in which all 189 defenders of the mission were killed.

During our visit I learned that they could have all escaped. They knew their immediate situation was hopeless: Santa Anna had over 2000 troops. Making a stand against him at that point meant certain death. They could have all simply left, retreating out the back, and have lived to fight another day.

But they did not.

Only one man left; all others chose to stand and fight for liberty.

Remember the Alamo, indeed.

My reaction to the Alamo visit has generated a much longer piece. Watch this space for its posting. Here’s an excerpt:

When Europeans search for just the right word to describe their disdain for George Bush, they reach for the epithet: “cowboy.”

It is a wonderful illustration of how little the Continental elite understand Americans in general, and American culture in particular.

It’s not just that they misunderstand George Bush, or even the American electorate. They fundamentally misunderstand the cowboy, and his importance in American history, and enduring influence on American culture.

They need to visit Texas.

17 Mar

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Austin Art Museum Update

March 17, 2005 | By |

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I’ve heard from the Executive Director of the Austin Art Museum, Dana Friis-Hansen, who wrote to say she is sending the refund for our entry fees, and apologized quite nicely for the “bad experience” we had at the museum. Kind of understates the absurdity of the whole porn-in-a-museum thing, so I’m not sure she understands that it isn’t about the money. Still, kudos for the check in the mail. . .

More Museum Mess and The American Mind