Category Archives: Reflections

The Virtue of Virtues

A long-time friend of mine recently bestowed a gift on me, one that has intrigued, perplexed and annoyed all at the same time.  It may seem strange that one small gift could accomplish all of this, but given the nature of the giver, I would expect no less.

George is an octogenarian, and one who has stuffed a great many experiences into his years, whether in vocation, family, service to others or contemplation of self.  For these reasons, as well as the fact that he is simply a very nice man, I enjoy meeting with him every so often for excellent conversation.  Neither one of us will ever be able to recount the winners and losers at The Academy Awards, but both of us like to expound upon what is right and what is wrong with the world today.  We both pretend to have the answers, if not the questions.

The gift he brought to me is no less than a presentation of life’s virtues.  One hundred thoughtful descriptions of moral excellence and goodness of character are printed on 4X5 cards, along with certain actions which embody the particular virtue.  They are a product of The Virtues Project, an international initiative to inspire the practice of virtues in everyday life.  Each day at breakfast, I’m confronted with a new aspect of right action and thinking which may or may not be attributable to myself.  But they’re good triggers for thought and conversation with my wife, as I either claim ownership of a virtue or confess my weakness of it.  (I am too afraid to keep track of whether I have more “hits” than “misses.”)  The object is not keeping score, but reflecting on one’s personal posture.

The experience is stimulating.  I mean, how often do most of us have the questions posed about our daily existence and how we have chosen to live it?  Consider matters of integrity.  Honesty.  Humanity.  Commitment. Honor.  Gratitude.  Faith.  Empathy.  Grace.  Generosity.  Love.  Peacefulness.  Responsibility. Sacrifice.  Tolerance.  Truth.   The list is as long as it is deep.  Serious reflection of virtue is sobering, affirming and complex, all at the same time.

Yet there is a sort of elitist quality about contemplation of such things.  My past week in Nicaragua reminds me that consideration of manners and philosophies often becomes subjugated in light of the daily grind of feeding one’s family or securing the particulars of suitable shelter.   In some cases, circumstances tend to bend absolute virtues, or at least place them in conflict with other virtuous aims.

I do not imply that Nicaraguan peasants are without virtuous living; in fact, the reality is quite the opposite.  My experiences with rural Nica farmers often have been object lessons about living with dignity and hope despite enormously difficult circumstances.  Virtuous behaviors come from within, cultivated from generations of living in concert with their faith, the earth and one another, rather than from a conscious deliberation of what “ought to be.”

What occurs to me in the understanding of living against great odds is that the opportunity for meditation on matters of virtue and how to cultivate such behaviors is almost non-existent.  The conscious deliberation of what “ought to be” is too often a luxury afforded to those who are well off enough to indulge in contemplation of 4X5 cards.

Perhaps the observations are of no note.  Certainly, those who have been blessed with opportunity for musing on such matters have brought about only a modest degree of change and equity in the world: children still starve against the virtues of  Generosity, Humanity, Justice, Mercy and Sacrifice.  In my own reading of the virtues, I long for the recognition of them inherent within myself, regardless of the words on the cards.  But it is not always so, and the gentle reminders of what I could be are blessings to embrace.

There’s still time.  The questions are not complete, the answers not finished, our lives are not done, our legacies are not written and our virtues are not known until the end of our days….



Does Anybody Really Know What Time It Is?

I’m preparing for another visit to Nicaragua next week, the first since last August.  I’m excited to be going again, but the length of time between visits has caused me to forget my usual routines for getting ready and the result is that I’m already feeling like I’m behind.  To further compress things, I was supposed to be headed to Minnesota earlier this week,  but a winter storm and prudence dictated that, after I shoveled out the driveway, I stay “hunkered down” for the next 24 hours.  I’ll need to re-schedule that meeting for the second time!  On top of that, we’re working on some WPF transitions, preparing for the retirement of our office manager, hiring a Nica consultant following another retirement, and interviewing several new Board candidates.  Where’s the time going to come from?

In addition to the immediate travel logistics, there are family matters, as well.  Our twin daughters’ birthday is rapidly approaching and we need to pick a date for celebrating.  Another daughter is participating in a body-building competition and we’ll absolutely be in attendance for it.  We have income taxes to complete and file, a dentist appointment is just ahead, there’s a fix to some flooring that needs to be made, we’ve got to schedule the furnace guy for a mechanical issue, and Katie’s sister is about to move from our house into her own place.  Time’s up!

One of the maxims about growing older is the reality that time seems to speed up.  For many, some of the same old routines take longer, there seem to be more things to accomplish than ever before, and the need for rest each night tends to move up ever so slightly.  The result is a feeling that things are moving faster.  There’s nothing new in any of this: it’s simply the cycle of life as it moves inexorably from start to finish, except for those to whom it is happening, of course.  There just never seems to be enough time and the window of availability just keeps getting smaller every day.

In preparing for my travels, I naturally re-orient myself to Nicaragua as I prepare to adjust from a U.S. lifestyle to a Central American one.  I think about how things will be different next week, from the language to the food to the evening accommodations, from an environment of material excess to one of a perpetual search for basic needs.  And I couldn’t help but reflect on another notable difference: the passage of time.

Our anxieties about time are a product of a society that needs to run with precision.  It doesn’t provide much allowance for delays and its tolerance for being late is thin.  A case in point is my inability to drive 160 miles to the Twin Cities for a long-planned meeting, due to ice and snow.  My luncheon partner was fully understanding and my decision was absolutely the right one to make, but all day long I suffered with guilt and a sense of letting people down.  You may attribute those feelings to an overly-sensitive psyche, but it’s the product of a culture which expects timely completion of plans, no matter what the circumstances.  Snow?  Drive through it.  12-hour days to finish a project?  Just do it, as Nike ads admonish us.

In contrast, my meetings within the rural sectors of Nicaragua next week will not have such expectations.  Sessions to be held with governing bodies of the cooperatives may or may not begin at 2:00 P.M.  as scheduled.  It may take some participants longer to arrive at a central meeting location, as they travel long distances- often by foot-  from their farms in order to attend.  Where available, transportation is unreliable.  The demand of the farm is sometimes a priority that just can’t be denied, even against the obligation to attend a meeting on behalf of the coop.  A weather event might wash away a bridge.  There are not many clocks.  And sometimes it is the North Americans who arrive late, having encountered other delays in the day or on the roads.  2:00 in Nica means, “as close to 2:00 as you can make it.”

Does casualness with regard to time irritate people in Nica the way it most certainly does in the U.S.?  Not in an apparent way.  Rural peasants evince an acceptance of the informality of time that is part of their lives; people subject to systemic indigence learn to cultivate a tolerance to all sorts of inconvenience and oppression. Of course, there are some sectors of society for whom time is a tyrant, but in the rural sectors where our work is accomplished, there is neither luxury nor tyranny of the clock.

In the countryside, matters are attended to as people are able.  The demands of small farm production and subsistence living conspire to direct peasants in their work, not according to the clock, but according to what circumstances allow.  It’s not that time is disrespected, but that it, too, must fall victim to the injustice of poverty.  Poverty is not selective of its prey.

Time.  I’m not sure whether there is greater health in the Nicaraguan’s acceptance of its limitations or in the tight expectations of it in U.S. life.  Maybe the truth is somewhere in between.  What I do know is that having the choice of one circumstance over the other is a far greater advantage than having to tolerate one which is imposed.  Nicaraguans seek a reality that provides the choice.  And it’s about time they have it….








My wife and I were looking at some photos of ourselves the other day, marveling at how young we once looked and subsequently commiserating at how old we appear today.  I stared for some time at one photo in particular, one that seemed to capture the relative innocence and naivete of the young man in question.  I tried to recall his state of mind at the time of the photo, what issues weighed heavily upon him, and the decisions with which he would be confronted in the days and years ahead.  Hindsight is a wonderful perspective to play with; when you already know the result, the journey becomes an interesting study of choices.

Each of us is, after all, the sum total of choices we have been permitted to make throughout our journey of life.  Our choices reflect not only preferences but, more importantly, our values, our principles, our character.  They serve as articulations of who we wish to be and of who we actually are.  And they are the milestones of our journey, marking the signal events of our lives.

Choices are the acts of bringing to life our beliefs.  They are the expressions of our innermost feelings about lifestyles, about the type of vocation to which we aspire.  Choices reflect our most intimate feelings about having a family and what is important in our personal and spiritual lives.  Choices are dynamic portraits of who we are.  I reflected long and lovingly about the choices that the young man in the photograph made over his coming years, with a sense of satisfaction that his decisions had been, for the most part, the right ones for his own unique psyche.

But what if I had not had the luxury of choice?  What might my portrait look like if my life, instead, had been channeled at every turn. if the circumstances of my being were such that I had no choice?

I might never have been introduced to and courted by music.  Maybe I would not have encountered the opportunity to know sports and fitness, the elements of my physical well-being.  Perhaps I would never have known the centering peace of my spirituality.  What if there had been no option for education?  Possibly I’d have served in the military during the Viet Nam war.  What if Katie and I had never met?  Our adopted children would have been raised in different homes; our mutual, familial love for one another would never have come to be.  Maybe our beautiful grandchildren would never have been born.  What if circumstance had dictated that I spend my days in search of food instead of organizational strengthening?  The list of choice-based outcomes is nearly endless.  How might you own life have evolved differently if you had not had the blessing of choice?

The luxury of choice stems, in part, from political philosophies which recognize and value human independence.  It also arises from circumstances that allow the human spirit to envision new aspirations and realities for itself.  In the absence of these elements, choice is minimized.  And outcomes are dramatically different.  It’s true everywhere.  In the U.S.  In Nicaragua.

Winds of Peace Foundation works with many organizations and individuals in Nicaragua who have few choices.  They are moved in directions dictated by their realities and their histories, in the former cases often motivated by need for survival, in the latter cases motivated only by what they know from previous generations.  And when motivation stems from either absolute need or limited knowledge, then choice is often a forgotten, impractical dream.  The nature of the Foundation’s work is to create the environments for more choice, with the certain knowledge that, over time,  greater choice invariably leads to better outcomes.  I wonder what Nicaragua might look like today if their history was populated with greater choice and fewer outside impositions that eliminated it.

In the years ahead, I expect to make lots of choices about things.  Perhaps the Foundation will adopt some new methodologies. Maybe I’ll move into a new vocation altogether.  I might do some more writing.  My wife and I will make some determinations about eventual retirement.  We’ll think about travel that might be important to us.  I’ll even continue to choose the kinds of food I want to eat, whether for my health or for my enjoyment.  But whatever the issue, I’ll have in mind my gratitude for having the opportunity to choose, and a hope to be a resource to those who do not….





Our Mutual Enemy

I’ve taken to re-reading the Charles Dickens classic tale, Our Mutual Friend It’s Dickens’ last work, a long piece of literature that captured my imagination as a young man and for some reason (perhaps the recognition that if I ever intended to re-read it, I’d better get going), I decided to tackle it again.  It’s full of lessons and observations about Victorian (and modern) life, as well as those long and circuitous sentences with which Dickens was so adept.

Dickens’ focus on the great disparities in Victorian London are well-known, such as in his tale,  A Christmas Carol.  But I ran across a passage in the current book that I simply couldn’t pass up for sharing.  One doesn’t really need to know the context of the story or the characters to understand the clarity of the message.  It reads like this:

In the meantime, a stray personage of meek demeanour, who had wandered to the hearthrug and got among the heads of tribes assembled there in conference with Mr. Podsnap, eliminated Mr. Podsnap’s flush and flourish by a highly unpolite remark; no less than a reference to the circumstance that some half-dozen people had lately died in the streets, of starvation.  It was clearly ill-timed after dinner.It was not adapted to the cheek of the young person.  It was not in good taste.

“I do not believe it,” said Mr. Podsnap, putting it behind him.

The meek man was afraid we must take it as proved, because there were the Inquests and the Registrar’s returns.

“Then it was their own fault,” said Mr. Podsnap.

The man of meek demeanour intimated that truly it would seem from the facts, as if starvation had been forced upon the culprits in question- as if, in their wretched manner, they had made their weak protests against it-  as if they would have taken the liberty of staving it off if they could-  as if they would rather not have been starved upon the whole, if perfectly agreeable to all parties.

“There is not,” said Mr. Podsnap, flushing angrily, “there is not a country in the world, sir, where so noble a provision is made for the poor as in this country.”

The meek man was quite willing to concede that, but perhaps it rendered the matter even worse, as showing that there must be something appallingly wrong somewhere.

“Where?” said Mr. Podsnap.

The meek man hinted Wouldn’t it be well to try, very seriously, to find out where?

“Ah!” said Mr. Podsnap.  “Easy to say somewhere; not so easy to say where.  But I see what you are driving at.   I knew it from the first.  Centralization.  No.  Never with my consent.  Not English.”

An approving murmur arose from the heads of the tribes; as saying, “There you have him!  Hold him!”

He was not aware (the meek man submitted of himself) that he was driving at any ization.  He had no favorite ization that he knew of.  But he certainly was more staggered by these terrible occurrences than he was by names of howsoever so many syllables.  Might he ask, was dying of destitution and neglect necessarily English?

You know what the population of London is, I suppose?” said Mr. Podsnap.

The meek young man supposed he did, but supposed that had absolutely nothing to do with it, if its laws were well-administered.

And you know, at least I hope you know,” said Mr. Podsnap with severity, “that Providence has declared that you shall have the poor always with you?”

The meek man also hoped he knew that.

“I am glad to hear it,” said Mr. Podsnap with a portentous air.  “I am glad to hear it.It will render you cautious how you fly in the face of Providence.”

In reference to that absurd and irreverent conventional phrase, the meek man said, for which Mr. Podsnap was not responsible, he the meek man had no fear of doing anything so impossible; but-

But Mr. Podsnap felt that the time had come for flushing and flourishing this meek man down for good.  So he said:

“I must decline to pursue this painful discussion.  It is not pleasant to my feelings; it is repugnant to my feelings.  I have said that I do not admit these things.  I have also said that if they do occur (not that I admit it), the fault lies with the sufferers themselves.  It is not for ME- Mr. Podsnap pointed ME forcibly, as adding by implication though it may be all very well for YOU- “it is not for me to impugn the workings of Providence.  I know better than that, I trust, and I have mentioned what the intentions of Providence are.  Besides,” said Mr. Podsnap, flushing high up among his hair brushes, with a strong consciousness of personal affront, “the subject is a very disagreeable one.  I will go so far as to say it is an odious one.  It is not one to be introduced among our wives and young persons, and I-“

He finished with that flourish of his arm which added more expressively than any words: ” And I remove it from the face of the earth.”

It is an easy thing to simply banish disagreeable realities with a sweep of the arm.  Or to claim that something is true when it is not.  But doing so does not change the realities or absolve us from the human stewardship that we owe to one another as fellow-travelers on this earthly journey.  Dickens knew it.  And as unpleasant, repugnant, disagreeable and odious as it may be, so do we all….


Olympic Mistrials

Here they come again.  It’s those television advertisements hyping the 2018 Olympic Games in South Korea.  I’m a minor fan of both the winter and summer games, but not so much a fan of the nationalistic lead-up to the competition.  Sure, I like to see the U.S. win medals and realize dreams in competition.  but not so much the “heroism” storylines that accompany our introduction to the athletes, nor the presumption of U.S. preeminence.

One of these over-the-top promotional pieces features some of the USA athletes reciting words to “America, the Beautiful,” intoning deeply serious recitations against a backdrop of dramatic, athletic scenes.  The combination of somber voice, a stirring verse of “America, the Beautiful” and scenes of personal sport triumph are designed to capture us and convey an sense of ultimate importance for the upcoming games.  I know what they’re after, but for me it accomplishes the opposite.

“O beautiful for heroes proved
In liberating strife,”

I suppose that sports excellence has always conveyed a heroism upon the performer; we hold our athletes in the highest esteem, even when they exhibit behaviors which would be unacceptable when demonstrated by anyone else.  But sports competition is hardly strife.

Who more than self their country loved
And mercy more than life!

The idea of Olympic athletes competing more from loving country than self would be a difficult notion for me to accept, given the fame, the surroundings, the money and accolades conferred upon them.  Indeed, I would be very surprised to learn that an Olympic athlete had grudgingly taken up a sport and sacrificed  a career in medicine or law or social work essentially for the good of his/her country.  And I certainly can’t equate commitment to an Olympic sport with showing mercy upon others or giving up one’s life.

America! America!
May God thy gold refine,
Till all success be nobleness,
And every gain divine!”

The interventions of a divine presence in winning a gold medal will best be left to someone else’s analysis; Olympics aren’t likely the domain of heavenly hosts, and in any case, for every prayer uttered by a U.S. athlete there are potentially 2,872 additional prayers from the other athletes.  (This is the total number of athletes participating in the last Winter Games.)

It matters little whether the U.S. wins the medal count or the National Anthem is played more often than those of others nations.  Success in the Olympics does not define a nation or a people, their character or their compassion.  The Olympics is not a surrogate for battlefields of conquest or measures of character.  But what we can watch closely is the capacity of human endeavor.

The Olympic Games, like their summer counterpart, have always been about the athletes.  They provide a showcase of human physical and psychological accomplishment, a stage for imagining, and seeing, the limits of human capabilities.  That’s the draw and the drama of Olympic sports.  The attempt to make the competitions something more than they are does a disservice to the notions of sport,  competition and the hope that is kindled during this brief unification of mankind.

Yes, the Olympics will provide a world stage for exciting competitions.  But during those 16 days, there will be far more people in the world who cannot or will not be watching.  For them, real heroes are the ones rescuing injured children following a bomb strike or hurricane.  The strife being fought by these competitors is not against a clock, but against oppression or disaster or disease.  These are the ones about whom it may truly be said that they put mercy and compassion ahead of their own lives, that the future of their people holds greater importance than themselves.  Many of these will neither note nor care about the Olympics and the stories behind the athletes there.  For them, there exists an even greater Herculean effort at hand, and one of far greater importance: giving of themselves to others.

So I will watch portions of the XXIII Winter Olympic Games next month.  I’ll vicariously enjoy the breathtaking accomplishments of well-conditioned athletes in their prime.  I’ll cheer for individuals and teams I like- for whatever the reason- and enjoy the hopefulness in seeing even a North Korean team present.  But I’m not likely to mistake either the importance or the heroism embodied by the event.  For that, I’ll look for the anonymous servants who tend to the also-rans….


Creating S***hole Countries

I’ve continued to think about the comments made last week by the President of the U.S.  Even though he later denied some of the words attributed to him, and two of his most ardent supporters stated that they did not recall his use of the words, there seems to be little doubt about what was actually said and why.  The entire episode was astonishing to those with any sensibilities, regardless of political affiliation.

But my own reflections on the matter shifted to the countries in question, the ones which were denigrated so graphically by the leader of the free world.  What’s the possible basis for such demeaning remarks?  Are these nations really so awful?  And if so, why?  I suppose that, by comparison, Nicaragua might be one of those countries which the U.S President had in mind: it’s the second-poorest nation of the Western Hemisphere (next to Haiti), has a history of internal conflicts and dictatorships, contributes to both legal and illegal immigration to the U.S. and has sustained a strained relationship with U.S. administrations for decades.  With that in mind, I considered the circumstances that might have led countries like Nicaragua, Haiti and the African nations to be held in such contempt by the wealthiest country in the world.

At least in the case of Nicaragua, the beginning of their modern-day difficulties date back to the 1850’s invasion of that country by invasion from the U.S.  Over subsequent decades, the North American neighbor alternately funded insurrection, invaded with U.S. Marines, supported a generations-long dictatorship of oppression, illegally funded a war against a duly-elected Nicaraguan administration, ignored a World Court penalties of $6 Billion for their illegalities, consistently and forcefully interfered in elections and has recently threatened legislation to eliminate U.S. remittances to Nicaragua families.  In sum, it has been an excellent recipe for the creation of a troubled existence.

In Haiti, the early troubles inflicted by the U.S. were quite similar to the incursions in Nicaragua.  On July 28, 1915, American President Woodrow Wilson ordered  U.S. Marines to occupy the capitol.  Forces were instructed to “protect American and foreign” interests.  The U.S. also wanted to rewrite the Haitian constitution, which banned foreign ownership of land, and replace it with one that guaranteed American financial control.  To avoid public criticism, the U.S. claimed the occupation was a mission to “re-establish peace and order… [and] has nothing to do with any diplomatic negotiations of the past or the future.”  Within six weeks of the occupation, U.S. government representatives seized control of Haiti’s custom houses and administrative institutions, including the banks and the national treasury. Under U.S. government control, a total of 40% of Haiti’s national income was designated to repay debts to American and French banks.  For the next nineteen years, U.S., government advisers ruled the country, their authority provided by the United States Marine Corps.  The U.S. retained influence on Haiti’s external finances until 1947.  It was a good way to subdue a culture, an independent economy and self-determination and to ensure their third world status.

For the African continent, the litany of U.S. interventions and self-serving intrusions is far too long to even summarize here.  Africa is a big place, and nearly every one of its fifty-four countries has experienced U.S. interference at one point in history or another.  But the following description of cause-and-effect, excerpted from an article by Mark Levine at provides some context for current reality:

Traveling across Sub-Saharan Africa it becomes a truism—but nonetheless in good measure true—that the areas where the region’s much-celebrated recent growth is most evident are precisely where people are able to create local markets largely outside the control of corrupt government and private elites. But the large-scale and still expanding militarisation and securitisation of US policy makes the development of such truly free-market mechanisms that much more difficult to realise, precisely because the strengthening of capacities of militaries and security/intelligence sectors invariably strengthens the power of elites and states vis-a-vis ordinary citizens, exacerbates economic conflicts and inequalities, and strengthens the position of those groups that are violently reacting to this process.

The poverty which continues to envelop much of the continent is the result of far more  than just the meddling of the United States.  But the U.S. footprint is present in both actions taken and assistance NOT rendered; if these constitute s***hole countries, perhaps they are perceived this way because we in the U.S. have chosen to see them and respond to them in that way.  After all, no less than the U.S. President has identified them as such.  (I think the President is unaware of the fact that earliest humans emerged from Africa.  Not Europe.  Not North America.  Not Norway.  But Africa.)

The unfortunate truth for many struggling nations is to be found in the poor-man-crawling story:

A wealthy man was walking on a city street, preoccupied with cell phone and important connections.  His preoccupation resulted in a collision with a somewhat disheveled and homeless man walking in the opposite direction.  The poor man fell down, momentarily stunned by the contact, but immediately reached out to gather up several of his belongings which had been knocked from his hands.  The wealthy man, perturbed at the mishap and the dropping of his own phone, retrieved it brusquely and then observed the poor man on hands and knees, salvaging his few possessions.  As he walked away indignantly, the wealthy man observed, “It’s disgusting to see the way these vagrants crawl our sidewalks.  The police should do something about them, to make the streets safe for respectable folks.”

Where there is hunger and thirst, need and distress, poverty and injustice, there are reasons for it.  And sometimes the reasons lie at the feet of those who are not thus afflicted.  S***hole countries, if they actually exist, may well be the result of outsiders who have created them….

The Giving Trees

With acknowledgement to author Shel Silverstein who gave us the classic children’s book, The Giving Tree, I use the title here to consider two “giving trees” which are  reaching an end of sharing their extraordinary gifts.  And while my musings here are premature- neither of the two are yet completely gone- I cannot help but reflect on their importance, their meaning and their impacts, not only upon me, but on the world in which live.

Northeastern Iowa, where I live, is home to many emblems of rugged survival.  The high river bluffs of the driftless region, the forest cover overlaying the limestone beds of ancient geologic formation, and the burr oak trees of those woodlands, all stand as watchmen against the march of time and evolution.  The oaks, in particular, with their gnarly limbs and diminutive acorns, are omnipresent here,  bookmarks of an earlier age, a time before settlements and agriculture and highways.  I have come to deeply admire them, for both their arboreal beauty as well as their symbolism of a time that was somehow better.

The oak at the north end of the college campus here has enjoyed its own history and prominence.  It has graced a hillside there since the very earliest days of the school, likely gaining no notice in its fledgling years as first a shoot and then little more than a sapling.  But as the burr oaks are wont to do, it  survived.  It  stood by as settlers migrated to this area to farm and as educators traveled here to teach and preach.  It withstood the winds and the winters of the Oneota Valley, and the inexorable march of settlement and development of the territory.  It became a visible boundary of the college, a sentinel to the people and histories that emerged from that place.  And it continued to grow.

Over time, the oak commanded attention, as an imposing tower at the north end.  A  building was built in its shadow.  A road passed under its limbs.  Students sat beneath it, considering the deepest questions of  our lives, while contemplating the directions of their own.   In more recent years, an entire native grass savannah and rain garden became cultivated around it, to show it off, call attention to its prairie heritage and to reclaim a piece of what once was: a prairie oak savannah.  It steadied us, was a visual touchstone to certainty and continuity, and embodied a needed constancy.

Last year, in the bloom of Spring, nearly half of the burr oak failed to leaf out.  Arborists attempted some treatments, but with no effect.  The tree was reaching the end of its service and accompaniment.  Last week, the tree was taken down.

There remains a wide space in the savannah where the tree’s umbrella once shielded deer and fox, birds and learners alike.  A stump remains for now, chronicling the 125 year life of what was a fixture of the prairie.  For now, I can still walk to the base and sit upon what remains.  The world may not notice its absence.  But I do.

Concurrent with the loss of a great tree is the impending departure of a colleague in Nicaragua.  Ligia Gutierrez will end her consulting role with Winds of Peace Foundation in March, not so much in retirement as in opening herself to the next possibilities in a world which she has so richly served already.

Ligia has served as consultant for Winds of Peace, particularly with regard to the circumstances of the Indigenous people of Nicaragua, as well as working with women’s groups in helping them to discover their collective and individual voices.  To state here that she will be missed is an absurdity, because it does not begin to tell the story of this remarkable individual.

She is a child of the revolution, a committed and activist member of the Sandinista vision of a country free of the dictatorship and inequality that had fouled the country’s circumstances for generations.  She is a psychologist by training, a philosopher in practice, a teacher of holistic and cooperative living that extends far beyond social norms and legal statutes.  Her work is defined by the closeness of the relationships she creates: she is a mother to the youth, an intimate friend to the women, a friendly-but-persistent agitator within a still-machismo culture, a persistent prospector for equal rights and respect, both within the law and within the heart.  For me personally, she has been a Nica mentor, providing context and perspective that has helped me better understand the history and culture in which the Foundation works.  She is a student of physical and spiritual health.  She is a friend.

Ligia is also the source of one of my greatest frustrations in my Nica experiences: I have never been able to speak with her without the voice of a translator.  We have never been able to exchange thoughts and ideas directly with one another, thereby greatly reducing the interactions which might have educated me in untold ways.  My regret over this is a palpable wound that does not heal.

Like the burr oak on the prairie, Ligia has given of herself over a lifetime of service to ideas and others beyond herself.  Though small in physical stature, she is a powerhouse.  She is one of those rare individuals of the universe, seeing both the complexity and the beauty of the whole and striving to manifest it.  That personality, that persona, is what draws the rest of us toward her, for our own sakes.

And like the burr oak, the seeds which she has planted- ideas, self-regard, respect, justice- will far outlive her active service.  Hers is a testament that branches across generations and shelters the hopes of those in need of wisdom and  love.  And like a strong oak suddenly gone, her absence will leave both a gaping space and a magnificent legacy.

The removal of the burr oak tree did not elicit notice even in the local newspaper.  Ligia’s retirement will not be the stuff of international news or perhaps even local notice.  Their respective “graduations” are but the latest examples of the ongoing stream of life.  But they are to be missed.  The beauty, the lessons, the lives that they modeled are gifts for which I will be always grateful….



Who Would Want Them, Indeed

The man who is at the front of the reality show called the American presidency raised a salient question yesterday, concurrent with his degrading, insulting and profane comments about people of Haitian or African descent.  In a moment which demonstrated his most deep-seated feelings about race, the pretend president asked why he would want “all these people from shithole countries,” adding that the U.S. should admit more people from places like Norway.  In other words, we don’t want any people with brown skin or black skin, but we’d be happy to have as many as possible of the white ethnicity.

It’s a good question, one for which there are more answers than time or space to reply.  Why would we want people like astronauts Ronald McNair or Guion Bluford?  Why did we allow George Washington Carver in?  What did Neil de Grasse Tyson or Dorothy Vaughn ever do for us?  Hank Aaron should never have been here.  Nor Willie Mays.  Why would we ever have wanted the likes of Martin Luther King, Jr.?  Or any of the millions of African-American citizens of this country who were either born in one of these “shithole countries” or descended from immigrants who came from them.  The course of our country’s independence, wealth and freedoms would have been dramatically different without the countless individuals who came here, involuntarily or by choice, and dedicated their lives to the character of our country.

Certainly, we don’t want any more immigrants from a place like Haiti.  What would we do with another Sidney Poitier?  The artist John Jay Audubon was one more Haitian than we probably needed. The likes of Danielle Laraque-Arena, first woman president of The State University of New York Upstate Medical University, surely aren’t needed here.  We have plenty of orchestrators, so no more Lee Holdridges, please.  In fact, Haiti is the poorest country in the entire Western Hemisphere and we have plenty of “those types” in our nation already.

The President of the United States (in title) has now been crystal clear with his racist and elitist beliefs.  That a sitting president of any party would make such insulting and inaccurate statements about entire ethnicities is a desecration of leadership perhaps matched only in history by a man named Hitler.

Winds of Peace Foundation has been and remains a politically independent organization, without political affiliation or endorsement.  The President’s comments yesterday are egregious beyond political party….