Some Thoughts on Aging and How We Treat Each Other

I remember that, as a child, I always looked forward to my birthdays, partly due to the fuss my family made with cakes, gifts and good wishes, but also because my un-mathematical brain told me that I was “catching up” to enjoy superior freedoms of those in their twenties and beyond.

I’m sure that all our views on aging vary greatly, based often upon entitlements at various stages, including a balance of responsibility in acting one’s age. The expectations for behavior of a two- year-old are quite different from those who are in their eighties, even though some folks in those later years can revert to infantile deportment through tantrums and demanding more attention with or without a bottle.

Self-control is something we learn as we age so that by the time we’re in fifth grade (or so) the rules are much clearer regarding tantrums and how we treat one another. “Do unto others as you would have others do unto you” gives us a distilled comment about all behavior. The question “How would I feel if someone did or said that to ME” becomes a consideration too many of us gloss over when we want to justify behavior that we know, deep-down, is simply wrong as we attempt all too often to tweak or rewrite the Golden Rule to suit our own egos and needs of the moment.

Still, my most vivid recollection of the Golden Rule’s enforcement by my parents goes back to the wooden paddle, kept on top of our refrigerator after the red rubber ball on string popped off. Red became the operative word to describe our “behinds” when we misbehaved beyond the limits our parents had set with great clarity.

I still wonder how many other homes across the nation had those paddles on their refrigerators then and now, and if there was a lasting effect on more of us than any of us could ever imagine.  JB

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Dead Military Veterans Are Not “Losers”

I remain perplexed by the deep and persistent devotion shown by Donald Trump’s worshipers and the blind loyalty shown to him by vacant-eyed evangelicals, as though he were some kind of holy prophet.

There are many disturbing examples of Trump’s boorish behavior, mega-egotism, and total disregard for anyone but himself. The blind, almost religious but hollow judgments his worshipers bestow on him must baffle any truly thoughtful person. Such followers, when it comes to their total devotion to this improbable idol, remind me of army ants that, by the thousands, follow their leader with blind but absolute intent. My steady but growing prejudice about such mentally skewed folks has developed in me a profound prejudice that assumes right away that at least fifty points can automatically be subtracted from the IQ of anyone wearing a MAGA hat.

I have not heard one criticism of Trump from his MAGA puppets, regarding his comment at an American veterans’ cemetery that he saw no reason to visit or honor in any way because they gave their lives and were, therefore “suckers.” I’ll never forget that moment hearing his comment, which seemed to freeze my blood for a moment, because those solders gave their very lives in a struggle against Nazi and Fascist tyranny. The bottom line for Trump seems to be “Think only of yourself. If you don’t, you’re a dumb cluck.” In believing this, he unilaterally eliminated any form of compassion, gratitude, or even kindness. It takes me back to my absolute confusion about Evangelicals’ rapturous regard for this selfish, cruel, oafish egomaniac and his mass-hypnosis of so many of his poor, blind, gullible worshipers.  JB

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Another Year

I began 2024 this morning as I do every January 1, with a tall glass of Mimosa (orange juice mixed with Champagne). Though I live in Florida, the temperature outside is a “frosty” 52 degrees, and the solar heated swimming pool is a chilly 69 degrees, so I believe I deserve another Mimosa (or two).

Fireworks in my neighborhood lasted until around 2;00 A.M. It was my 77th time welcoming a new year, being both thankful and amazed that I’m still here. The Christmas tree is still up, sparkling with ornaments left to me by my parents and grandparents. The old and the new for me seem to have a comfortable relationship, and my wonderful partner of seventeen years, Jim, is already preparing a meal of bean soup with sausage and beef for this afternoon. He doesn’t know how to make a bed or clean the kitchen, but his skill at preparing food is unmatched by anyone else I’ve ever known. Am I lucky, or what?

As the season winds down, making way for a rebirth in this new year, I can’t help but feel thankful for everything and everyone in my life and for that abiding sense that more wonderful people and experiences are on the horizon, as the palm trees outside my window wave in agreement, like beautiful plumes in the Florida ocean breeze.  JB

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Our New speaker of the House

At first sight, Michael Johnson, our new United States Speaker of The House seems like a quiet, modest person, willing to listen and to weigh data with great care in making his decisions. At least that’s the way I saw him at the beginning of his term. That demeanor seems now to be a comfortable, if misleading, façade, masking the reality that he wants to take The United States back to the year 1950. He didn’t begin pontificating until we had already judged him as a sensible, middle-of-the road fellow, willing to see even opposing views with an open mind.

Mr. Johnson’s far-right religious convictions are acceptable to most folks as long as those convictions are not imposed upon the rest of us, who have differing views on religion, including atheism upon which I can imagine Mr. Johnson’s judgment being that of deportation or being drawn and quartered.

He insists upon foisting off on the rest of us his fantasy interpretation of the Declaration of Independence statements about religion. Among the deists of our 18th Century forefathers, were atheists, who opened the door and laid down the welcome mat to both believers and non-believers. I wonder about Mr. Johnson’s narrow, far-right Christian dictum of religion versus the many other “Christian Church” views of our nation, not to mention those of other religions and of atheists.

He is definitely not casting a wide net to embrace believers and non-believers who are not on his page. When he insists that our forefathers were “religious,” he is speaking about his own, much narrower religious beliefs, not theirs. Does he applaud religious devotion by those who are Islamic, Hindu, or Roman Catholic? I don’t think so.

This man will have to widen his view of religious devotion. He is living in a past that has since widened to embrace more religion and disbelief than he is capable of understanding, let alone accepting.  JB

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Understanding Trumpian Allure

When I was in the fourth grade, there was a student named Kenneth Kirstel in my class. It was a time of “no talking” in that room (unless called upon to do so) or in lines for fire drills or cafeteria lunches. Like little soldiers, we followed directions and regimentation, mostly to avoid the crack on our knuckles from the pointer stick wielded by our teacher, Mrs. Crumbly (Trust me when I tell you how much fun we had with that name). Kenneth was an anomaly in that little world of strict rules that often made us resemble army ants on a mission, the purpose of which generally escaped most of us.

 Having been taught “mannerly behavior” by my parents and schoolteachers, I saw Kenny’s bad conduct as an exciting introduction to actual rebellion. When he pulled the ponytail of hair on the girl sitting in front of him, tripped someone walking past his desk, or made belching sounds during a slide presentation, I was captivated by what I saw as a kind of freedom and temporary escape from the very tight regimen of our otherwise rather robotic behavior.

Our former President, Donald trump, has shown himself to be the Kenneth Kirstel of my adult life over the past few years, only on a much larger scale, where Trump’s deliberately bad manners make Kenneth Kirstel resemble some kind of hallowed saint. Trump’s admirers are like clueless sheep, who from afar, admire and even worship his bad manners, greed, and vulgar attitudes of absolute superiority. His fourth-grade vocabulary doesn’t hurt either in creating that bad boy image that so many chumps seem to admire. Such bravado allows him to say or do anything he wishes, like using silly, childish names, for those with whom he disagrees or who have criticized him in any way or exaggerating the gaffs of others to boost his own, frail little ego, an ego that needs a tire pump to puff it up to his fake Trumpian standards of egomaniacal proportions.

I sometimes wonder what Kenneth Kirstel is doing now and imagine the great appeal he would have to Trumpsters everywhere, who would probably welcome him to the deceptive, unethical world of politics that they have created for their idol.  JB

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Costa Rica is looking better all the time.   

The legal accusations against Trump are staggering, but what worries me most is the casual acceptance of his lawless self-confidence and smug attitude about his current trials, about which he refuses to admit any wrongdoing, not to mention the support of his blind, gullible worshipers. The Christian right is particularly willing to turn a blind eye to the man’s continuing evil behavior.  His fakery is staggering. I’m sick to death of his ranting outside the hearings and claiming that the courts are rigged in favor of Democrats.  I’m beginning to hate the color orange!

Our nation is more a cesspool of ignorance than I ever imagined with that terrifying willingness to crown Trump emperor of the United States. And, Republicans have relinquished every shred of their identity and dignity in their worship of the Golden Calf that Trump represents. It’s terrifying that he could become President again and be protected against all the just and necessary judgments against him. On the world stage we’re losing every last shred of dignity we may have had before.


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Aging as a Journey

Each year requires a bit more energy to blow out the candles on one’s birthday cake. Though I don’t yet require an oxygen tank for that task, I do feel the increasing effort to accomplish physical tasks (no matter how small) about which I used to think almost nothing at all. Around the next birthday corner for me lurks my seventy-eighth year. The number has, for me at least, more immediate power than the word itself.

In fact, as I approach the monumentally powerful threshold we call “eighty,” the more I envy those who are perhaps on edge about turning forty or fifty, ages to which we attribute revelation and sharp awareness, based often upon a combination of courage and revelation about what it means to be “still hanging around.”

I’ve known people personally, who, even just turning a mere thirty, couldn’t cope with what they too often perceived as being a step nearer the cemetery. What I believe most strongly about in facing those birthday cakes after age thirty, is that we all need things which we can look forward to. Any plan to accomplish something, even if it’s just to paint the kitchen, widens our view and produces a sense of purpose and meaning.

Also, no one must age alone. Everyone among family and friends who is still living has something to look forward to, even if only dinner with a friend. There is no living person who is not growing older. We’re all aging, and the older a person is, the more he or she can (and should) appreciate every hour of every day as a gift or extension of life and the mysterious power it endows upon every breath each of us takes, until that final “rest” comes to pay its last visit.   JB

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How Will the Future Look Back Upon This Time?

I wonder sometimes how history will look back upon the era in which we’re now living. The lies and corruption may require hundreds of pages for Trump, whom future citizens may see (I hope) for who he really was without all the Republican glitter that has blinded so many to the horrors of his crimes against the nation.  Mindless, mob worship of him always reminds me of Nazi Germany in the 1930’s and Fascist Italy under Mussolini of the same period. I do believe that, eventually, truth will have to prevail, as many folks try to hide their former adoration of Trump, who has shown himself to be a criminally insane egomaniac whose hatred so many have found entertaining or comforting on some impossible level of blindness. JB

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Love Versus Need

Love and need are related on some level. I’m not certain if or where there is a division between them except that we like to think of “pure” love as having little if any connection to necessity or expectation of gratitude. I suppose that “pure” love (if there is such a thing) asks for no payment (Don’t confuse sex and love here). The differences may be too obvious to require pondering. When a baby is fed by its mother, a bond of need is formed physically by an expectation of nourishment. No words are necessary. The division between the stomach’s requirements and those intangible ones of the heart (in its metaphysical form, not in its bodily, blood-pumping one) are metaphysical or immaterial.

There is a difference between the material (physical) significance of love and need. If there is such a thing as “pure” love, I doubt that it has any physical requirements, although need can certainly be physical or emotional, or both. “Pure” love, has no expectation of being “paid back” in any way. Though gratitude is an abstract emotion, it can have a physical effect upon the heart when an old friend or lover is missed over time. The yearning can hurt both physically and emotionally.

Love and need can also merge so that any division becomes at some point immaterial. I suppose that blend is a great gift and epiphany when a man and woman stand over a cake celebrating their 50th wedding anniversary, or when two dear friends celebrate the years they have known each other through a bond of affection of the good times and also the bad times from which each has rescued the other.

Human relationships are complex gifts that pave life’s difficult and bumpy roads with the multi-faceted connections we can simply call “love.”   JB

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A Search for Meaning

I was brought up (raised) by parents who believed in God through weekly church attendance and Sunday school. For my eighth birthday I was given a pocket version of the Christian Bible by my maternal grandparents and, from my parents, a J.C Higgins bicycle. I think that the bike brought me closer to God (twice in heavy traffic) than the Bible did, but I continued attending church and Sunday school almost through my senior year in high school, enjoying it in almost the same way I enjoyed science fiction. I kept under wraps all my questions and misgivings about religion so as not to reveal that, in reality, I was a heathen within a family whose religious devotion seemed authentic and where saying “I don’t really believe in all this God stuff” would have created in our home at least two cases of cardiac arrest.

When I was in high school (sophomore year), I finally confessed to not being able to believe literally (as my parents did) in the Bible as anything more than a long and wordy guide to not being a bad boy. The panic this caused my dear parents was cosmic, to say the least. Every Thursday evening for several weeks, I was driven by Dad to the office of our pastor (also my uncle), where I expressed all my doubts with unanswerable questions that could have won me an automobile on any game show run by other non-believers. My uncle’s retorts and explanations to all my questions still have the ring of “Once Upon a Time” in their very remote connections to what I saw as the “real” world. The experience took me back to earlier times when my parents would read us fairy tales at bedtime, except that in those stories, I never actually thought I was going to be punished by the giants and big bad wolves that kept the stories popping.

I still attend church (a much more liberal one) for the glorious music and the simple message to love one another. If there are pearly gates after my death, I’m not certain what the ID card will be to get in. I’m counting on the angels having kept careful records of my best self.

For years afterward I attended more liberal churches than those of my parents. It was eloquent, broad-minded messages of hope and beauty that kept me going back. I have no more idea than anyone else of what lies beyond the grave. No one else does either, really. That’s what faith is. The only message that always rings true to me in all the clutter of religious threats is, “Love one another.”  JB

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