All posts by Christopher Cudworth

Christopher Cudworth is a content producer, writer and blogger with more than 25 years’ experience in B2B and B2C marketing, journalism, public relations and social media. Connect with Christopher on Twitter: @genesisfix07 and blogs at werunandride.com, therightkindofpride.com and genesisfix.wordpress.com Online portfolio: http://www.behance.net/christophercudworth

Finding a way to make things work out

Over the past winter the coffeehouse where I often go to work and write was closed for a complete remodeling. They stationed a smaller store a block away while the expanded Graham’s 318 Coffeehouse was being constructed. But it was a test of patience and timing while the new store was being built. The City of Geneva is pretty picky about its appearances and historical feel, yet Graham’s and the builder Hogan Construction made it work.

Then when it finally opened, the Covid Crisis hit. That delayed things again. Now the business is operating at full function allowing for masks and social distancing.

It has always been a welcoming place. There are regulars who work here daily. During peak hours the bustling background of people coming in and out of the restaurant acts as white noise to a writer. They don’t play their music too loud or too soft. The vibe is one of community. They even serve Two Brothers beer along with their incredible menu of coffees, teas and food menu.

Long-time associates

I’ve known the owners Bob and Beckie Untiedt for perhaps 20 years. We were members of the same church. They led an exceptionally well-run Praise Band in which my son played bass and cello. Then my daughter followed suit playing violin, but she was never much of a fan of praise music with its repetitive chants and predictable key changes.

That didn’t stop me from joining the group later on as a rhythm guitarist. I’d grown up playing clarinet and participating in bell choir in elementary school. Come high school, I learned to play some guitar chords with a group of friends and even performed a few songs for our Key Club banquet. That went horribly. Following that, I let the instrument go for twenty-plus years until my daughter asked for a guitar and I started playing again.

Joining that Praise Band was a humbling experience. My brain does not memorize music well. Some of the chords I was asked to play were difficult for my knuckle-cracking fingers to accomplish. But Bob and Beckie were patient and encouraging. After a year or two of being in the group, they even urged me to perform a song I’d written. So we practiced and had a go at it. I recall singing somewhat tentatively in rehearsal that morning and Beckie was direct and real with me. “You’re going to have to sing clearer than that.”

That was the point, after all. The song was titled Flowering Tree In Spring, a piece I’d written from different aspects of my experience. Perhaps it was also a competitive attempt to write something better and less repetitious than the praise songs we played so often.

The first stanza lyrics introduced the metaphor:

Have you gazed in wonder at a flowering tree in spring?

no petals yet have fallen a perfect, holy thing. 

If life were just that simple, no rain or wind would blow

then we might be as perfect as a flowering tree, you know. 

The song came out really well. I think Bob and Beckie have always appreciated the idea of people trying new things. Their businesses of Graham’s Chocolates and 318 are a living example of that. As a result of their considerably novel approach to business, these businesses are lively fixtures in the communities they serve. They also provide work for dozens of employees of diverse backgrounds and needs.

Yet the thing that I appreciate most about them is the impish brand of honesty one finds in Bob and the earnest commitment to quality in Beckie. Their business was recognized by the Geneva Chamber for its contributions to the community.

Appreciation

The Untiedts (center) with daughters Jaynie and Maddie. Kane County Chronicle File Photo.

Bob’s impish side is not directly revealed. I well recall playing a song in Praise Band by the musical artist Bruce Cockburn. Whether intentional or not, that act was a bit of a thumb in the face of the conservatism of that church, whose pastors often preached against homosexuality. Cockburn is gay, and performing his song in that church was something that I relished whether it was a closeted protest on the part of Bob or not. It was for me. All I can say is that Bob often had a wry smile on his face the days we played that song. But then, Bob always has a wry smile on his face. That’s who he is.

Beckie is kind of the opposite type of person, with an open-faced honesty for which she is both apologetic and unapologetic. If that sounds contrary, so be it. She’s a person of strong faith, but no stuffed shirt either. I recall the night that she was singing when one of the cups of her underwire bra broke, sending a sharp bit of metal into her side. She let loose a surprised yip and then starting laughing along with her Praise Singer sisters while trying to push the whole contraption back into place.

Musical talents

It was always astounding to me to watch their respective musical talents in action. Bob could sit and play songs on the piano seemingly out of nowhere. He’d transcribe chords for all the instruments from one key to the next, and orchestrate the parts of bass, rhythm, drums, lead guitar and piano in real-time. I don’t think in musical terms like that, but I can keep rhythm with the best of them, and that was my role.

Beckie is possessed of one of the most beautiful, clear voices one can imagine. There were nights while playing the guitar in practice that I’d get distracted by her lead vocals. Along with the harmonies of the gals singing with her, one could not help but listen. But then, I’m always easily distracted. Still, I once broke script in rehearsal and told her that she had one of the most wonderful voices I’d ever heard. She was a bit taken aback. Perhaps it was a bit too laudatory. Yet if someone doesn’t express appreciation for the good things in life, events roll by and things like that never get said.

Eclipsed by circumstance

That is why I felt horrible a few years ago when I was invited back to play with the Praise Band and was given a lead part to play on the rhythm guitar and things got out of hand.

The main song I was asked to play was one of my favorites and it went well in rehearsals the week before the service. But the morning of the performance I was also scheduled to do a live painting in front of the church and things got a bit chaotic setting up the easel and floor coverings while also trying to get ready to play the guitar. It was so noisy around the front of the church I went out to the narthex at the last minute to tune my instrument. On the way, I accidentally bumped the settings on tuner and changed the readings of the pitch. Not knowing that had happened, I tuned my guitar to the wrong key and returned to the front of the church to begin the service.

To my horror, I knew within two bars that my guitar was badly out of sync with the rest of the band. The only option I knew was to stop playing. Actually I faked it a bit at first, strumming nothing, then looked at Bob with a guilty shrug and mouthed the words, “Out of tune.” There was no time to explain. He covered my parts with some creative piano playing but to this day I get a queasy feeling every time I think about that moment.

That made it tough to concentrate on the painting process as well. The flush of embarrassment was still on my neck and face when I stood up to begin the painting. There was pressure to complete the picture in the few minutes allotted for the performance. It came out okay, and people were gracious, but I knew it wasn’t my best effort. It was all a lesson about being present in the moment.

It was also a lesson that taking chances and trying new things comes with some risk. I’m pretty sure that Bob and Beckie know better than anyone else I know that not everything we try in this world comes out a success. The story behind the scenes of life and work is often chaotic and challenging. In the end, the public face we present is the product of both determination and patience in the face of adversity. Along the way, we hope to celebrate the joys as well as endure the failures. That is how our true character is formed and emerges.

That is the right kind of pride. Finding a way to make things work out despite the frustrations of life is what it’s all about.

people can generally get along great, if you let them

Our neighborhood is diverse in almost every manner of description. Race and ethnicity. Sexual orientation. Nationality. Occupation. The list goes on.

Everyone gets along great because we’ve all gotten to know each other. Even when turnover takes place, and people move on to other places, new residents are welcomed.

Humanity on the block

We’ve held block parties every other year or so. These are informal occasions. Yet one year, a woman on our block who is one of the leading Latina marketers in the country brought a Mexican Senator to visit with us in our ring of lawn chairs at the end of the street. The Senator was in town to speak at a Mexican Independence Day event, the first woman to ever do so. Yet she confided in us that it was nice to be able to relax in a less pressured-filled situation, and just talk.

Someone suggested that we go around the circle that day and share a personal insight about gratitude. It was fascinating to hear the diversity in scope of those telling their stories. Then one of the families in attendance shared that they were glad to be alive. Only a few months before they had been in a dangerous car accident resulting in profound personal and emotional injuries. None of us had heard about that.

We all have challenges

That testimony illustrates that while we can all know each other casually and as neighbors, many times there are events and issues that we don’t necessarily share on a day-to-day basis. Yet the challenges we don’t share are often the most compelling parts of our existence.

We all sat stunned upon hearing the seriousness of the accident. Then someone quietly said, “We’re so glad you’re okay.” Yet the physical therapy continued, and the emotional strain too.

These are the feelings that connect us as human beings. While some shared quiet joys or happy accomplishments, others mentioned gratitude for having a trusted companion, or children, or a job that supports their household.

I don’t recall what I actually said about gratitude. But one of the feelings I had during that session was gratefulness for being around such an interesting and obviously compassionate group of other human beings.

Ethnicities are only the beginning of humanity

That brings us to the socially fabricated aspect of our neighborhood. Our ethnicities. According to traditional categorizations, there are four black families, three Latino families, an Asian household, several white or Caucasian families, a home with two women in a relationship, some elderly retirees and, of course, several dogs and cats that live in our cul de sac.

One of those families embraces several generation within the household. The head of that household is a leading law enforcement officer and former police chief of a Chicago suburb. But there are many variegations within the family, and attending one of their family parties means being introduced to visiting sisters, cousins, matriarchs and more.

Nacho diplomacy

One of the pre-teens who lives up the block loves to stop and talk with me now and then on our sidewalk. He’s got a curious mind and loves to test me with questions and topics of many kinds. Likewise, I like to ask him what he thinks about while riding his bike around, which he does all the time. Then one day he asked me, “Do you like nachos?”

For some reason that caught me off guard. “Yes, I do.”

He looked off in the distance for a moment and replied, “I love nachos.” So that became a bit of a joke between us. I’d drive by when they were out playing basketball in the neighbor’s drive and yell out, “Do you like nachos?”

I conspired with one of the same-aged neighbor girls to organize a “Nacho Day” when all the kids on the block were hanging around. She counted up ten children from the age of five through thirteen, and I called a local fast-food Mexican takeout and pre-ordered enough nachos for the whole group, who were waiting in the yard when I returned. Within minutes the entire stash was gone. I teased my friend again. “Did you even get any nachos?” I asked.

“Ohhhh, yeaaahhh,” he laughed while smacking his hands together on a basketball. Then it was back to playing pickup for him and the other kids.

Just let it happen

The kids on our block are a living example that friendship and trust and conviviality are all possible when people just let it happen. The same goes for the adults of all these different backgrounds who live in our neighborhood. It’s only when people are pushed apart by selfish interests and traditional fears that people don’t naturally get along.

The desire for control that stems from fear is the source of all racism. Yet it also drives other forms of prejudice as well. These lead to bigotry and authoritarian discrimination. Nothing splits up a society––or a neighborhood––or a country––like allowing selfish fears to depict people as “the other.”

Because rather than forming relationships around gratitude, compassion and shared aspects of humanity, such bigotry invests only in the “I’ve got mine and you can’t have it” aspect of existence. When that happens for reasons of tribal priorities, and these range from religious beliefs to racial identity to political or economic platitudes––civil society is at risk. Those priorities only lead to hate and division while the “live and let live” philosophy of a neighborhood sharing in commonality and humanity succeeds far better. That’s the right kind of pride.

People can generally learn to get along great, if you let them

I believe that everyone gets along great, if you let them. That may seem naive to say, but it’s proven so often and in so many parts of the world that despite all the conflict it is still true that people can learn to get along together when they aren’t told that other people are a threat.

Those that refuse to get along on those terms need to be held accountable for their selfish ways, and made to understand why that isn’t acceptable. They will often resist and brand themselves the “victims” of reverse discrimination or claim to be “persecuted” for being exposed for their bigotry. Those habits go all the way to the top in this world.

The self-inflicted will even attempt to turn around and call the compassionate among us inhumane, as if caring for other people and standing up for the meek or disadvantaged in this world was an act of oppression.

That is the gaslighting defense of those possessed of anger and fear who are eager to avoid facing their own inhumanity and the flaws it so often reveals. They refuse to accept vulnerability as a legitimate condition of human existence. These are the people that love to claim higher ground and preach unity while playing people against each other to create opportunities for control.

We should not let this happen. Not in our neighborhoods. Nor in our nations. People can generally get along great, if we let them.

20 true and funny golf stories in celebration of 40 years of caddyshack

My late father Stewart Cudworth was an avid golfer. He passed along that love of the sport to his four sons, but it didn’t quite stick. We all played golf plenty of times over the years, and I still do on occasion. But mostly, we had fun on the course.

Like millions of others in this world, my father also loved the movie Caddyshack, especially the Rodney Dangerfield character. My father was never one to admire false pride, but he did love a good one-liner. Hence the appreciation for Dangerfield.

I was always more fascinated by the Chevy Chase character, whose confused virtues included moments of incredible talent but also a bad case of the yips. That’s golf, for you. So here goes: 20 true and funny golf stories to which I was either a direct witness or a willing audience.

  1. My sales associates at a newspaper where I worked loved to play golf every week. One of them called himself the Polish Prince. He was a buff, athletic type with a chiseled face and a set of beefcake photos that he hoped to leverage into modeling contracts. We all loved to mess with him and tease him about his golf game. One day his golf ball rested on the green when I walked up to tend the stick, so I gently stepped on the ball to press it into the green. When he putted, it shot straight up in the air and struck him in the forehead. I couldn’t have hoped for a better result.
  2. A player from the investment banking firm where I worked in one of my first jobs out of college had a terrible slice with his driver. The ball would bend in an incredible arc and wind up two fairways over to the right. So I told him to aim far to the left and the ball would curl around and land on the right fairway. So he turned at 45 degree angle, swung madly at the ball and hit is as straight as could be. It traveled over two fairways before coming to rest in a woods.
  3. At that same investment firm, the company held a golf outing for its employees. We all stood around our carts at the first tee when the President of the firm walked up to hit the first shot of the day. Unlike many of the employees at that firm who had been college athletes, the Prez was not an avid golfer. He swung and the back of his driver struck the top of the ball, sending it careening into the parking lot behind him where it ricocheted off several cars. “And that’s why I don’t like golf,” he turned to everyone and said.
  4. While playing with a work associate at a local up-and-back golf course in Sycamore, Illinois, I watched him duckhook every drive with incredible force. He’d been a Big Ten athlete and was powerful. On the fifth hole another player was standing next to our fairway because his shot had slid through the trees and wound up on our hole. My associate didn’t notice him and went ahead with his drive. The ball curved almost out of bounds to the right before curling back to strike the player facing us right in the collarbone. We hustled up to meet him on the cart and apologize. All he said was, “Well, you didn’t get much roll out of that one.”
  5. I was playing well on a course named Settlers Hill, a layout built on top of a landfill in Geneva, Illinois, when I hit a long drive on a par five and found my next shot resting on a downhill with a clear view of the green. Eager to put it near the cup with a chance for an eagle, I swung fast and hit the ground a full foot behind the ball. Frustrated at losing that shot to bad form, I swung again and hit even further behind the ball. My brother was standing in front of me watching the whole time. His retort: “Are you goin’ into farming?”
  6. While not strictly a story about playing golf, I spent many years doing running workouts on various golf courses. One evening at twilight I was doing interval training on a course and ran straight into a long rope held up by stakes to keep carts from entering a soft part of the course. The rope hit me at thigh length and flipped me into a somersault. I lay there stunned and bruised on the soft fairway, laughing at my stupidity.
  7. My college roommate related a story about a friend who came off the course during a club tournament perplexed by what a member of his foursome had told him when he asked what went wrong with his game during the round. “It’s your loft,” he was told. Wanting to know the details, the curious golfer approached his golf companion in the clubhouse and asked, “What do you mean by loft?” Without mercy, the guy told him, “Lack Of Fucking Talent.”
  8. Arriving at a golf outing late due to business appointments, I raced out to the assigned hole where our foursome was assigned to begin. When it came my turn to hit a drive, I sent the ball straight into the lake parallel to the fairway. Then another. And another. It took thirteen shots with penalties to finish the hole. Then I took a seven on the Par 3 to follow. Looking a 20 to start the day, I gathered my pride and got a par on the next hole. Waiting at the next tee, I stood back and bit and was approached by a guy that I knew was a serious golfer. He put a hand on my shoulder and said, “I give you credit. A lesser man would have lost it completely.”
  9. My former track and cross country coach loved golf and played quite frequently. But he also loved to drink on the course and decided one day to take the golf cart down a steeply inclined path at a breakneck speed. While he didn’t break his neck, he did separate a shoulder, collect quite a few bruises and have to quit the round that day.
  10. A college roommate and fellow cross country had a low handicap and had once placed in the state golf tournament in Iowa. We were playing a sweet little course in the hills north of Decorah, Iowa when one of his chip shots slipped off the back of the green and rolled down a hill onto a gravel path behind a stone wall. He pulled out his wedge and attempted to lift the ball off the path up on the green, but it caught the edge of the stone wall and ricocheted back to hit him the forehead. I tried not to laugh but even he tipped his cap back and said, “Will you look at that?” Nice red mark on his forehead.
  11. Nothing is more frustrating than losing a golf ball in open country and in plain sight. You drive your cart up to where the ball came to rest and…nothing. Looking around, you search the rough in case it’s hidden and still the ball is nowhere to be found. I was in that process when I peeked down the hole of a thirteen-lined ground squirrel to find my ball, personalized and all, perfectly wedged down the hole six inches below the ground. I took a drop. We didn’t bother trying to dig it out.
  12. Likewise, on that same golf course, I once lost a golf ball to a fox that ran out of the woods next to the course, snatched my ball in its teeth and ran back into the woods.
  13. I led a foursome on a charity golf outing and was happy to host some guests of a company that had sponsored a promotional program I developed. One of the players in their crew was the facilities construction manager for the restaurant chain. He quietly muttered to me, “I don’t play much.” And for the first eight holes he scattered shots everywhere, including one that soared into a neighborhood and struck a large plastic garbage can with a loud thud. “Come on,” he said, jumping in the cart. “Let’s get out of here.” The final hole of the front nine was a long carry over water to a par three elevated green. Before his drive, he settled in behind the ball, bent over to address it and said, “Hold your breath.” And sure enough, that shot went straight into the water with a giant splash.
  14. My father and I once participated in an outing to raise money for Special Olympics. We were partnered with a professional golfer named Charlie Rymer. A humorous Georgia boy, he had a comment for almost situation on the course. Went my father took a long divot out of a nice fairway, Charlie grinned while picking it up to hand it to my father. “Keep that thing. That’s a salad in California.”
  15. My brothers and I were extremely competitive on the course. Often our scores were quite close all the way through the round. Which is why my oldest brother was disgusted when I struck a six iron from 165 yards out, watched it land far to the left of the green, bounce off a sprinkler head and roll straight into cup for an eagle.
  16. Luck plays a huge role in golf on many occasions. I was playing with my father one Sunday afternoon and with two holes to go, I was losing to him by a couple strokes. From thirty yards out from the green, I chipped a wedge and it came in high and tight, landing directly in the cup where it bobbled around with a funny sound. “Holy crap!” my father chortled. The next hole I chipped in again for a second straight eagle. It was the only time I ever beat my father in a game of golf.
  17. Facing a water hole is always a golfer’s psychological challenge. More than once, I’ve watched terrible shots go low off the club and skim across the surface of a lake to wind up on the fairway or better yet, safely on the green. If one does not thank the Golf Gods after such a stroke of luck, it is certain that karma will catch up to you that same round.
  18. While playing a round of golf at a local resort, I was paired with a guy whose drives were notoriously short off the tee. I kept forgetting that he rarely hit the ball past 120 yards, and kept zipping past his ball on the cart. The problem only got worse as the day grew warm and I was concentrating hard on my own game. On the thirteenth hole or so, he turned to me as we zoomed past his ball and said, a little less patiently, “Turn around!” Without thinking, I spun the steering wheel to the left and he flew through the air off the right side of the cart. In mid-air, he called out, “You should have told me!”
  19. Cheating at golf isn’t that funny. But it can be darkly funny when everyone in the foursome realizes the tactics of a dishonest player. The Publisher of the newspaper where I worked in the early 90s was so proud and competitive toward his employees that he was always using a foot wedge to improve his lie or rescue an errant shot stuck behind a tree or fencepost. Then he’d claim a par or a mere bogey on a hole where we counted his strokes plus the penalties and knew he’d gotten an eight or a nine. But we learned to laugh at his secretive little antics and let him “win” because we all valued our jobs. But man, did we make fun of him behind his back.
  20. For some people, the pressures of the game are simply too much. They go into fits of rage, throwing clubs or cursing and swearing. One pro golfer famously (reportedly) threw his entire set of clubs into a water hazard after a terrible round. Marching toward the clubhouse, he suddenly stopped, turned around and waded down into the water to pull his bag out of the water. Then he removed his car keys, tossed the clubs back in the drink and left in a state of humbled rage. True or not, that’s one of the best and funniest golf stories I’ve ever heard.

Indeed, golf is a test of pride and purpose in this world. But learning to laugh at ourselves (and others sometimes) is one of its many lessons. Hope you enjoyed these (mostly) true golf stories. And don’t be too proud if you hit the links this summer. Humility is often the tool of better scores. Take a few less bold chances. Accept that penalty stroke. Chip of the woods rather than trying to hit through them. And don’t drive your golf carts on the greens. Only feckless Presidents do stuff like that. And it’s not funny.

Why the world makes it so hard to be kind

Recently Facebook sent a series of those “memory” notices documenting things I’ve said in the past on that platform. For the most part, I’m comfortable with my online presence over the last eleven years.

But some of it was not so good. The overposting. The arguments over politics and issues such as gun control, racism, religion and environmental issues. I get triggered easily because I care passionately about such topics.

At times I have become unkind.

Remorse and regret

I just wrote a piece on my blog about the Fine Art of Leaving Old Friends. It documents both the remorse and regret one feels in finding out that someone you used to like and trust becomes someone you no longer admire.

That is one of those moments when you find yourself questioning your own character.

I know there are people out there who view me in less than a kind way, people whose viewpoints I’ve challenged or questioned. Some people take offense at that. In fact, almost everyone takes offense at that. Most people don’t like change, and especially refuse it from sources and forces outside their trusted sphere. When they additionally find out there are people they assumed were part of their sphere, and thought like they do, but don’t, the sense of betrayal feels extra keen.

Hard to be kind

That’s exactly what makes it so hard to be kind in this world. Even a mild question can turn into a major point of difference if it is misconstrued. I just had that happen on Linkedin this morning. A man made a comment directed to me that was meant to be complimentary and positive. But I misunderstood his intentions and responded in a defensive way.

So I communicated with him off the main feed and learned that his actual intentions were kind. I then apologized and even offered him a complimentary content strategy consultation if he so chooses. He thanked me for that and said that he might well take me up on that offer.

Asking forgiveness

Asking forgiveness in that circumstance was the right thing to do. Of course there are people online who actually do have malignant intentions with their comments. We call them trolls in some case, because they seem to pop up like angry little beasts when you least expect them. In many cases they are exceedingly unkind. Cruel even. Some turn out to be monsters indeed.

As a competitive person, I don’t like to give in to bullies like that. But on some occasions I’ve stood my ground and persisted in the most truthful responses I can manage. One of those exchanges lasted a full day with a guy that hated my “liberal” politics. By the time he’d made all his accusations and exhausted himself making arguments, he finally admitted that on many issues I had made good points. We both learned something along the way.

Write it down

When the world makes it hard to be kind, it is kind of hard to take the high ground. Abraham Lincoln once said that the best thing to do when angry is to write all your worst thoughts in a letter, then crumple it up and throw it away.

It’s hard to crumple a nasty response on the Internet, but the Discard button works just as well. I try to use it as often as possible, lest some of those memories come up ten years from now, if Facebook and I are still around.

Or try a weird trick and write something kind in place of something nasty. “Kill them with kindness,” the saying goes. It does funny things to your brain, I promise you that.

Lord, Ask me anything except to be treasurer of the church

For twenty-five years I was a member or a medium-sized Lutheran church along with my wife and kids. Over the years I served many roles, including teacher for both Middle and High School student Sunday School classes, singing in multiple choirs and holiday cantatas. Ultimately I wound up playing rhythm guitar in the Praise Band until the leaders left the church. Then I led the group for a while as well as chairing the committee to select a new full-time leader.

During that process, I assertively kept committee meetings to an hour. As anyone that has served on a church committee can tell you, that is nearly impossible to do. The pastor emeritus serving on the committee, a veteran of 45+ years in the both campus and congregational ministry, took me aside and thanked me for the efficient use of time. “I wish more of my meetings over the years had been this clear.”

That said, the decision itself still required a series of “side meetings” by committee members who thought we were moving too fast. Three months passed before they made up their minds, ultimately choosing the candidate we’d originally decided upon. Such is life in a church bureaucracy.

Years later, ordained as a minister to serve as an officiant at the wedding of a friend. An honor I never imagined, but willingly embraced.

After that term of service I was elected to the Church Board as a Member-At-Large. That role came along at an interesting and difficult period of decision in that 100-year old congregation. There was a building expansion on the table, and a band of extremely dedicated volunteers worked with architects to come up with a wise and efficient plan for growing the narthex and re-organizing space upstairs and down.

I’d been through a vote or two of approval in congregational meetings when I was asked to join the board. It appeared the decision was already made to go ahead with construction. There were a few glitches to solve that might have added pennies on the dollar, and the Board President wanted to take it back to the congregation for one more vote.

Frustrations

This took place over a matter of weeks. I could sense our Pastor’s frustration at the continuing fussiness and fear involved in the decision. I waited a few weeks to actually offer much of an opinion, which was much out of character for me. But I felt that listening was an important part of playing the role of Member-At-Large.

Painting of Easter Lilies by Christopher Cudworth

But as a meeting wore on one late winter night, and the arguments for and against the changes repeated themselves yet again, I sort of ran out of patience. Pounding my fist firmly on the table, I said out loud, “This has already been voted on twice. The congregation wants to move ahead. No more discussion is necessary. No more votes either. Let’s vote right now and get this moving forward.”

Gratitude and grace

That’s what we did. On the way out of the building that night, our 6’5″ pastor, thin like a stretched out crow in his all-black outfit, reached his arms around to wrap me in a hug. Then he leaned back and said, “Thank you.”

Sure, I was kind of an asshole about how that was handled. But it did move the project forward after weeks of what felt like self-righteous hand-wringing about fiscal responsibility and conservative ideals.

High and mighty

I’d been in other situations where people got all high and mighty about their roles while projects faltered and budgets overflowed their banks. One was a Chamber of Commerce in which the Board consisted of twenty people. Our meetings were held in a giant City Hall chambers where people sat thirty feet apart. There were no budgets for any of the events or activities of the organization and people felt no compulsion to require them. The chamber was finishing in the red every year.

We fixed all of that in a year. Cut the board to eleven people. Required budgets for every single line item. And issued all new marketing materials. The changes didn’t win me friends, but they proved effective. There’s beauty in discretion. The structure of that organization is still in place thirty years later, and it is thriving. Before that, it was directionless and struggling. That’s the type of change you call a success.

Poorly suited for the job

But there are some jobs for which I am poorly suited in life. While I understand the need for a budget, I have none of the skills needed to build or outline one. Those talents I have always left to actual accountants and other people that love to work with numbers. Then we can discuss the meaning of those numbers, and the needs they dictate.

Windmill by Christopher Cudworth

Yet a couple years after serving on the church board I received a call from a church committee leader asking if I’d be interested in being placed into the election as Treasurer for the congregation. I am embarrassed to this day to admit that I laughed out loud at the prospect of that. “I’m the last person to consider for that job,” I told her.

A few years after that, my late wife and I left that church over differences in theological emphasis. We met with the pastor to wish him well and say goodbye. He’d visited us in the hospital during my late wife’s treatments for cancer. He’d prayed with us for her healing and strength. So we were not ungrateful for his ministerial care.

But some of the beliefs that Lutherans of that synod abide we ultimately found intolerant and shortsighted. So despite the many friends we’d enjoyed and years we’d spent raising our children in that church, some of its teachings had become more intolerant and toxic over time. So we moved to a new church where I volunteered first as a confirmation mentor and then a high school assistant after my wife passed away from cancer.

No one-size-fits all

It’s clear to me after all these years that the Lord may ask us to do many things in this life. But just because the church asks you to do something does not mean you have to do it. It’s not like we’re all just a bunch of power cords waiting to be plugged into some role that God chooses for us.

And just because the church tells you to believe something does not mean you have to accept it. Neither is the Bible a literal instruction manual of any sort, or a “one-size-fits-all” garment to wrap around your body and claim protection against all misdeeds or evil.

There’s no such thing as Magic Underwear or even any sort of spiritual armor we can squeeze ourselves into in hopes of protecting us against bad things happening. We all live in the moment. We are called to make decisions based on our sense of morality and conscience. Those are quite different than assuming that “God said it. I believe it. That settles it.”

We can learn from those people and events we read about in the Bible, but they aren’t direct extension cords leading from God to our souls. Every word of the Bible, whether some want to admit it or not, is a working symbol. That’s why the Bible says, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” Why is that so hard to understand? The words of the Bible are a connection to God, but not a literal one.

Finding our paths

The Lord wants us to find the sources of power and paths that best suit us. We all have different skills, outlooks and circumstances. Beware those who tell you there’s only one way to think about life, or who project upon you unrealistic or misguided expectations, or who want to plug you into something for which you’re clearly not suited at all. I no more belonged in the role of Treasurer than John the Baptist deserved to clean the platter on which his own head would be served.

If that’s shocking to you, then you really haven’t read or understood the Bible at all. When it comes to faith in this world, it’s great to have faith in God, but you also need to learn to have faith in yourself. And that’s the right kind of pride.

In the land of hoodoos and magic lizards

In 1996 our family took a trip to Cortez, Colorado to visit the Crow Canyon Archeological Center under the guidance of Dr. Phyllis Pitluga, lead astronomer at the Adler Planetarium in Chicago. The center of our adventure was the study of the archaeoastronomy of the Anasazi, a native American tribe whose study of the sun and stars included landmarks that remain to this day. Those people disappeared more than one thousand years ago.

My own suspicions about their disappearance were never completely satisfied. There were hints of foul-doing in the burned wooden beams of their former residences and the small temples built from rocks and mortar. Perhaps they’d enjoyed a period of peace only to be wiped out by competitive tribes or worse, invaders from another continent.

Whatever the case, the legacy they left behind included a spiral carved into stone that was pierced by the morning sun on the summer solstice. The people of the region used signs like these to determine their schedule for planting and other tools for survival.

The morning we visited that site in 1996, we were accompanied by a trio of federal agents carrying assault-style rifles to protect us in the event that we encountered a pair of fugitives that had escaped into the wilds of Hovenweep National Monument after shooting a sheriff back in Cortez. Some things about the American West never seem to change.

In the moment

That was a distraction we were able to ignore as we arrived well before dawn with jackrabbits skirting ahead of us in the van headlights. We were all a bit sleepy as the group unloaded and walked to the rocky shelf overlooking the ancient spiral. Curious about what other wildlife might be around, I drifted into the surrounding brush only to be called back by the group manager. “The soil,” she whispered to me. “It’s cryptogamic. It takes centuries to build up. It’s best not to walk on it, please.”

I felt chagrined. My naivete about the nature of the desert was exposed. That said, I was rewarded with the song of a canyon wren ringing out from a nearby coulee when I rejoined the group.

We all stood with solemn concentration as the sun rose and its light crept across the face of the rock toward the carved spiral. It felt holy in its pragmatic virtues. This was a connection between the people of the present and those of the past. We could never hope to fully understand its significance, especially lacking the cultural reference and necessity of the solstice to those people, yet it felt important for once in life to bear witness to something beyond ourselves.

Into nature

A bit later I did walk a hard rocky slope to do some birding. A gray vireo popped up, and rock wrens too. These western birds were surely present a millennia ago, and that felt like a connection too.

As we drove back to the ranch where we were staying that day, our guide explained that the funny-shaped rocks worn by wind and weather were called ‘hoodoos.’ Indeed, they created a mystique all their own. Apparently the people that once lived here crept among them and stored pottery and other artifacts in faraway places. Many composed of the pale clay and traditional criss-cross patterning like the photo at the start of this article still sit there one thousand years later. “Some people go out and take them,” she lamented. “But they have far more value as they were left there.”

Magic lizards

We visited the Crow Canyon Archaeological Center for some deeper examination of the traditions and day-to-day lives of a vanished people. When the group took a break I went outside to sit in the white-hot desert sun. As I parked my butt on a hot rock next to the center, I looked down to see an apparition near my foot. It was a wildly colored variation of a common reptile called the collared lizard.

The colors were unreal, especially because I was tired form getting up so early, and my brain was not entirely engaged. Dreamily I sat looking at that beautiful creature. Then I absently reached out a hand as if to touch it. Instantly the lizard was gone.

Such is the timelessly ephemeral nature of the land of hoodoos and magic lizards.

cHance meetings in the field

While out conducting a breeding bird census in a forest preserve named after a legendary local botanist named Dick Young, I was wrapping up the count and walking back the asphalt path to the parking lot when an older couple on bikes rolled up behind me. They’d gone all the way around the loop through the restored prairie on a windy spring morning.

Our conversation started when they showed me a photo they’d taken of a bird perched on one of the count posts in the prairie. I identified it as a meadowlark and they were pleased with that. “I thought it was a woodpecker with that long beak!” the man observed. It wasn’t a bad observation. This photo I took that same morning of a meadowlarks shows the long bill. Probably if it chose to use it in hammering wood, it would work. But that’s not its evolved purpose.

Photo of a meadowlark by Christopher Cudworth

After the meadowlark discussion, my new friend started chatting about how he actually knew Dick Young, who did so much to identify the plants that designated the Illinois Nature Preserve at the heart of the preserve named after the man.

Along with Dick Young, it turned out we had many mutual friends as a result, because he told me, “I’m Jerry Hennen. I was President of Fox Valley Audubon sixty years ago.”

Christopher Cudworth with Jerry Hennen, President of Fox Valley Audubon sixty years ago.

“Whoa,” I chuckled. “I was President of Kane County Audubon probably thirty years ago.”

“I’m eighty-five,” he proudly told me.

His wife Delores smiled and told me. “And he doesn’t hear that well.”

In fact, I’d noticed the song of a sedge wren right behind them, and pointed out the bird. They’re a small species with a high-pitched song that goes ‘chapp-chapp-chapp-chapprrr.” But Jerry has lost that range of hearing, so he couldn’t hear it. We talked about the problems of aging, and I told him about a website for which I’d written the content about hearing aid technology and advances. He made me repeat the name so he could look it up.

Then he related that he has a son my age. “I could be your father!” he laughed.

I’m proud of all these longtime associations. Grateful that there are people I meet almost every day that can add to the breadth of life like this. It’s also interesting that our shared interest in birds brought us together one late spring day.

Over the years I’ve lost a few birding friends along the way. My high school teacher and birding mentor Bob Horlock passed away in 1993. He was only 53 when he had a heart attack while burning a restored prairie. By coincidence we’d met that morning at the same forest preserve where I connected with Jerry yesterday. Bob didn’t look himself that morning, a fact I related to my wife at the time. Were it not for that chance meeting in the field that day, I’d not have seen him one last time.

Photo of a singing dickcissel by Christopher Cudworth

For all these longtime associations, one of my favorite things to do these days is share birding with people new to the activity. I get texts from people sending iPhone photos of birds they’ve seen. Two months ago I accompanied a newer birder into the field and she was so excited by the thrills gained from bird photography that she invested in a lens just like mine fo her camera. She instantly nailed some beautiful results.

That’s the ‘thrill of the new’ at work in her and others. Each and every bird we find is one of those chance meetings in the field. Like our human companions, their songs and visage give us a connection to all of nature. That’s why some of us get sad when we hear that a species of bird is struggling, or going extinct. That sense of loss is hard to reconcile.

That is why, during this period of greed and squander in America, when environmental laws are being tossed aside out of selfish pride and power, that our nature connections matter the most. The eagles we treasure as national symbols made a big comeback in the Lower 48 states of America because real Americans cared enough to end the practices that were polluting the environment and wiping out habitat critical to the survival of these and many other species. That was the right kind of pride, for sure.

Photo of a bald eagle by Christopher Cudworth

During that critical period of environmental awakening in America, a certain man named Dick Young carried on a secret life of civil disobedience as an environmental activist. During the polluted late 1960s and early 1970s, wildlife was suffering and rivers were catching fire in Ohio, he started punishing the industry and politicians responsible for trashing the world. Under the guise of The Fox, his activist name, he’d collect gunk from the polluters and return it to them on the white carpets of their headquarters with a written reminder to clean up their act. He was an environmental patriot of the most sincere kind.

Photo of tarsnakes by Christopher Cudworth.

Though some had suspicions, and others kept quiet about the mystery of The Fox, no one ever figured out or revealed the true identity until the work was long done, and that was after the turn of the new millennium.

Real change did come to America through the actions of environmentalists such as Dick Young and my new friend Jerry Hennen. The quality of the environment in America improved through legislation such as the Clean Air and Clean Water Acts, the establishment of the Environmental Protection Agency (by a Republican president, no less…) and protections such as the Endangered Species Act and the Migratory Bird Treaty.

All our environmental protections are in the process of being trashed by a brutal narcissist with a reputation for selfish acts of power. His sycophants gladly carry out this work, and his beneficiaries gleefully relish the demise of regulations they consider fruitless. This must be stopped.

It is all our responsibility to play a role in protecting our earth. Sometimes that means dumping industrial pollutants on the carpet of a polluter, but other times it simply means voting for people who won’t destroy creation for egotistical reasons.

Why trust the future of the earth to economic zealots who can’t tell a robin from an rusted aluminum can?

Photo of a robin feeding its young. Christopher Cudworth 2020.

Willful ignorance of nature and a selfish desire to wield dominion over it is not an acceptable way to live, in my opinion. That’s clearly not the right kind of pride in this world. Not by any means.

Which is why, every day that we can, it is up to all of us to resist these efforts to compromise the most important thing we all have in this world, the earth and its life, because it all comes down to the fact that every one of us is here just by chance, and this is the only one we’ve got.

THE RACE OF A LIFETIME

I’m white-skinned.

The first time I was made emphatically aware of that fact was at six years old. I was playing with two kids that I’d gotten to know. We were running around a schoolground next to the baseball field where my brother played games in downtown Lancaster, Pennsylvania. Every week I’d meet up with two kids, a pair of twins actually, that were a bit younger than me. They loved to play tag and wrestle around.

Struck down

But one day I was chasing one of them and he came to a sudden stop. I was a bony, skinny kid who was all elbows and knees and one of those struck him right in the eye. He went down crying. I helped him up, then his brother came over, grabbed him by the arm and pulled him across the field toward the wall of houses south of the field.

The next week I showed up to play and the twins were nowhere to be found. Nor the week after. Finally I saw them at the playground the third week and ran across the grass to greet them. I loved those two kids. They were bright and funny and loved to laugh. But when I approached their faces fell.

“We can’t play with you,” one of them told me. “Our momma said so.”

“Why not? I’m sorry if you got hurt,” I pleaded.

“She said we can’t play with white boys,” the one with the black eye told me.

“Was it because I bumped into you? Was that it?” I wanted to know.

Rough mistakes

Of course it was more than that. Their mother feared their children were being roughed up for no other reason than they were brown-skinned.

It broke my heart in the moment to realize that a rough mistake on my part had led to a broken friendship. But at six years old I told the two boys, “It’s okay. I understand.”

That was that. I realized for the first time that the color of my skin could be a threat to other people. That made a big impression on me. I’m not saying it cured or prevented me from racist reactions that I might have learned along the way. But because the race you inhabit is something you inherit, and it can’t changed, there are racist thoughts one learns along the way. That makes it impossible to know exactly what it’s like to be in the other person’s shoes. The people that are targets for those racist thoughts, actions and reactions never escape them.

The benefit of not having to live with racial stigmas has been accurately branded ‘white privilege.’ Some white people love to deny that it exists. But much of what has happened in the 200-plus years of American history, and that continues to this day, proves that white privilege not only exists, but is getting worse in this moment when selfish white Americans are claiming persecution for themselves. And we all know who’s leading the charge.

Race of a lifetime

I doubt those children with whom I played in the 1960s recall the incident when I bumped into one of the twins while playing together. It is far more likely they either symbolically or literally experienced events in life that really were racist in origin. So the divide is apparent: I got to go on with the race of my lifetime, being white, and they got to deal with what it meant to be brown-skinned or “black” in America.

That has everything to do with the unrest we’re seeing in this country today. The allegory of my accidentally knocking into that child and giving him a black eye holds true in many ways. Black people are constantly getting knocked upside the head and even killed simply because their skin color differs from the majority white population.

Which is why the instincts and reaction of that mother trying to protect her children from harm during their innocence was a lesson in their race of a lifetime.

Experiencing racism

That mother showed the right kind of pride. Whatever her prior experience with racism––and it was likely rife in the early 1960s when these events occurred––she knew that two four-year-old boys were hardly ready to deal with it. She likely wanted to give them the tools to avoid trouble when they could, even if they weren’t trying to cause it.

I still remember the beautiful smiles and sparkling eyes of those twins. And their creative nature during play was a joy. They made a big impression on me before I accidentally caused the end of our relationship with an elbow.

It’s hard to get back to that place after something bad has happened. If it keeps happening over and over, it’s really hard for people to be perpetually forgiving of the insults, the slights, the blocked opportunities, the economic and social prejudice, and the violence.

The closing lyrics of the Stevie Wonder song Living in the City seem to ring true now more than ever:

I hope you hear inside my voice of sorrow
And that it motivates you to make a better tomorrow
This place is cruel, no where could be much colder
If we don’t change the world will soon be over
Living just enough, stop giving just enough for the city

How to be discriminately indiscriminate

 

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In the days before the pandemic, human interaction was conducted a bit closer. But even with the pandemic restrictions of social distancing in place, eye contact makes a difference. 

One of the things that I do every day is to look people in the eye. Everyone I meet, I look them in the eye. Not out of suspicion. But to seek a connection of humanity.

I often smile when eyes meet. That’s a little harder now that we’re all wearing masks in public to prevent the spread of Coronavirus and the associated disease and conditions it produces, Covid-19. So I try to make my eyes smile. Which is harder. But still worth it.

It is important to look people in the eye, to make eye contact, to tell them: “I recognize you as another person. I respect your presence. I honor your struggles and joys, whatever they are.”

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It is still possible to make eye contact, and make the eyes smile if you can. 

That is how you be discriminately indiscriminate. Once you get in the habit of acknowledging the humanity of other people, you can even advance to celebrating it. And while it is also harder to hold discussions through the mute cloth of a mask, it is still worth it.

Ask how someone’s day is going. That’s all it takes. “How’s your day going?” It is the most open-ended and compassionate question one can ask. It says nothing about money or race or social status. It opens the conversation up for you to listen, to hear, and to acknowledge the worth of that person. Indiscriminately.

The word indiscriminate means “done at random or without careful judgment.” Perhaps you’ve never paused to consider that definition. I’m asking you to do that now. Because random meetings are the best opportunity to get outside your own bubble. Over time, you will find, as I have, that the prejudicial habits of our minds are persistent. It takes both courage and commitment to let down your personal guard and be vulnerable enough to ask the question, “How’s your day going?”

Take time

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Take time to make someone’s day better.

So you have to discriminate against those instincts that hold you back. They might be old or present racial or cultural fears. There might be fears or suspicion of strangers. So you have to discriminate in your own mind to separate those “careful judgments” from your action and behavior.

Being discriminately indiscriminate is actually nothing more than being a good person. Someone to trust even when society conclusively compels you to draw back, pull in, protect yourself from every danger.

Social distancing?

This is not to say that you should be wanton in hour behavior, or incautious in protecting your own health. But you’d be surprised how much talking to another person actually reminds you both what social distancing actually means. It is simple courtesy, and sane behavior to stand back from someone else.

But don’t ignore them. Don’t let this pandemic crush the humanity of our society. Then it is only the yellers who triumph, the selfish who get heard, and the dividers who conquer.

Discriminate from all that. Be indiscriminate in your interactions with other human beings. Seek them out. Be nice. Invite them into your world even if sharing social space has its limits.

It is much harder through social media to be discriminately indiscriminate. Even a poorly handled joke can be misconstrued. Pointing out even basic of obvious facts can be taken as a threat. So this is not about being indiscriminate on the Internet. We can talk about that another time.

But through channels of direct, humane exchanges will emerge a better feeling about the world, and about yourself. And that’s a good place to start.

No masking these emotions

 

Mask picWhen my stepdaughter set to work a month ago making masks for those of us in the household and her friends, the sound of her sewing machine was a constant presence in the front room from the moment she got home until she fell exhausted into bed. This went on for a week or so. Then she distributed the masks and soon set about making even more.

At first, I took the mask she made for granted. The Stay-At-Home order here in Illinois made them almost superfluous. But as pressure grew to wear masks more in public, I took to wearing her creation to the grocery store, Walgreens and Pet Supplies Plus. I figured it was my social responsibility. Not that hard to do.

I kept the mask in the car so that I would not forget during these small travels. It didn’t bother me much to have it on my face for fifteen minutes at a time.

The real deal

But today I’m staged at a premier medical facility to tend to a friend going through a crucial procedure. It is a requirement to wear a mask during the whole time you’re in the facility.

Having a mask on your face for ten or fifteen minutes in a grocery store is easy. Wearing one for eight or so hours at a time is not so easy. While the mask I own is well-made, it is not some custom deal. It has elastic that binds the ears a bit after a few hours. So I discreetly pulled off the mask to take a break while eating lunch. No harm done. No one here complained. I kept far apart from everyone and ate in peace. Then went back to wearing the mask.

Sharp glances

I did get a sharp glance this morning when approaching the door to the hospital without my mask on yet. It was raining like crazy and I hadn’t pulled it out of my coat pocket after parking the car and running down the street. That’s when a tired-looking physician was headed out the door to get some air or wrap up his day. Who knows the work he’d just done? We can only imagine in these times.

There are likely Covid-19 patients here for sure. But there are also necessary heart surgeries going on and procedures being done to help patients back to health. That sharp glance at the door was justified. Get with the program, it said.

Operational kindness

While sitting in the waiting area, I overheard a surgeon talking to a man about his wife’s operation this morning. The woman surgeon described the process of implanting an artificial valve or a vein stint of some kind in his wife. He listened carefully to her patient words. She was eager to let him know that things had gone well.

Her operational kindness made me think about a sign I’d seen in the lobby while entering this facility. It said something about the fact that any kind of aggressive behavior would not be tolerated.

We must suppose that happens occasionally here at the hospital or the sign would not be posted. Some people have no patience while waiting for patients. I’ve seen that firsthand, including the day that my father was having quadruple bypass surgery. While sitting in the waiting room, I witnessed the moment a surgeon came out of the operation room to tell a woman that her husband had come through bypass operation well. But there had been challenges. From the description he gave her, things were quite serious with her husband’s heart condition. The surgeon spoke softly and slowly so that she would understand the gravity of her husband’s condition. Yet her first reaction after the surgeon finished talking was indignation: “What took you so long?” she demanded.

I was sitting next to my mother at the moment, who was a naturally nervous wreck waiting for my dad to come of surgery. Watching that exchange did not help her feel any better. How was dad doing in there?

Ingratitude redux

Fortunately, my father’s surgery went well. The next day while visiting my father in his hospital room during recovery, I saw the woman we’d seen the night before sitting with her husband in the same room with my father. The curtain was mostly drawn, but I overheard him ask her, “Can I have a cigarette soon?”

I thought to myself, “Seriously? The day after heart surgery all you can think about is smoking?” Then I glanced at my mother and she just shook her head.

Clearly, there are many people in this world who appreciate the work and skill of medical professionals such as that surgeon. Yet there are many who do not. Some are so self-absorbed they can only see a situation through the lens of their personal priorities and their selfish notion of what constitutes their “rights” as a patient or a caregiver.

And many of those people are distrusting or losing patience with medical professionals at the highest levels of our country. They’re turning to conspiracy theories and a wide array of alternative narratives to justify the worldview that people charged with protecting lives are somehow trying to ruin their own.

The painful gap

Perhaps this painful gap between gross indignation and gratitude is the product of a willing ignorance about what it takes to perform medicine––or science for that matter–– of any kind. Medicine is not an entirely predictable occupation in many ways. It’s admittedly an art, but dependent on science to inform the recommended treatments and actions. It is also true that because it depends on testing and evidence to arrive at those conclusions, science and medicine take time. And Americans, as a rule, hate waiting for anything.

We all know that diseases and medical conditions of many kinds can appear to go away only to come raging back later on. I’ve experienced that with several types of infections over the last eight years. One “bug” got into my left-hand middle finger from a seemingly innocent encounter with a sliver picked up while gardening. At first the oral medicine seemed to work. But then the infection flared up and the finger swelled. The doctors told me that if it “went osteo…”, meaning if it entered the bone, I’d likely lose the digit. That meant surgery followed by weeks of treatment with self-administered antibiotics. Then came many more weeks of hand therapy to reclaim relatively full use of my middle finger. And we all know how important that finger is to displaying public sentiment at times.

Cellulitis and a bad tooth

Three years later I contracted cellulitis from a cat that nipped me on the back of the hand while playing with her at home. That diagnosis led to antibiotics that wiped out my good gut bacteria and gave me a dangerous condition called c.diff in which you suffer intense gastrointestinal stress (I did) that if left untreated can actually kill you.

And finally, late last summer I had a tooth go bad from some less-than-optimal dental work performed by a mall-front practice when our insurance options were limited due to my late’s wife’s condition and a crappy plan offered by the small business where I worked. The infected tooth suddenly leaked through to my jaw and my entire face blew up with a sublingual infection. The oral surgeon sat me down in the chair and said, “If we don’t fix this you could die.”

I’m glad that happened last year. If it had happened this spring, I might indeed be dead.

Infectious diseases

So I know what it’s like to deal with infections. This Coronavirus pandemic that is causing Covid-19 illness is a serious infectious disease. It drowns the lungs and is deadly for those with pre-existing conditions.

That is why I’ve kept my mask on all day while waiting in the lounge of this amazing hospital. If I’m not the one at risk, I would never want to infect someone else. That hardly seems like it needs to be a point of pride for most of us. It’s the humane thing to do. But some people are so selfish or politically stubborn they take offense at even the smallest favors extended to the rest of humanity.

Granted, the backs of my ears may hurt a bit from wearing the mask all day. But let’s be pragmatic: no matter what you believe in these times, it’s still critical to do what you can to block the spread of Covid-19. That’s true even if you’re asymptomatic. I heard someone say that a friend in Florida was approached by a man who said hello and tried to shake their hand. When they declined, the man blurted, “Oh, you’re one of those Covid people.”

As if that were the real disease: protecting others by protecting yourself. Yet that’s what America has come to in many quarters. Such selfishness is a disease that infects the mind and quite possibly the soul as well. If anything, the Coronavirus epidemic has provided some clear delineation of how so many Americans think. And it’s nothing to be proud of.

Social distancing

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Here in the waiting room, we’re all sitting far apart but the hospital is not crowded. In fact, many hospitals across the country are actually hurting for business during this pandemic because Shelter-in-Place orders canceled many forms of medical procedures. Even dentists aren’t able to practice because they can’t find enough PPE to cover their practices. That’s ironic in my eyes because I’ve seen firsthand what neglected dental issues can do to your health. Gum inflammation is even associated with health problems such as heart disease and other internal problems.

We live in a world twisted apart by the threat of death from a disease that afflicts relatively few but conducts itself with consistently deadly properties. And we don’t yet know whether it can ever be prevented or cured with a vaccine. So we’re living with the unknown while people are literally forced to die alone.

Taking a deep breath

Our entire economy has been sort of breathing in with anticipation that the Stay-At-Home orders might relent sooner than later. That led to a nation holding its breath for weeks on end. The start of the exhale finally began with businesses shedding millions of employees that they can no longer afford to pay. That exhale blew away the employment prospects and income for millions, and millions more are likely hanging by a thread. People are afraid. Most of us, in fact. Are afraid.

That means there is anger brewing in the hinterlands. Predictably, the aggressive behavior of armed protesters in Michigan flared up again today. This time it caused the legislature to shut down in order to protect the safety of all those involved. One of the protesters displayed a naked brunette doll hanging from a noose. It was obviously a dog-whistle threat against the female governor. Such displays signify a willing intention of violence. Militias across the nation have been complaining for decades about supposed government overreach. Now they have a keen illustration that suits their narrative, so they marched into town with guns displayed as if they were itching for a fight. They are hoping to bully the nation into opening up the economy to satisfy their personal belief that there is no real threat from the virus. To quote an old McDonald’s campaign, they want to “have it their way.”

And unfortunately, if they are successful, that may be exactly what they get. Coronavirus, their way.

We’re all hopeful that America can find a middle ground as other countries have done. But that will require a cooperative spirit and intelligent consideration. And it can’t be politically or even economically motivated, as the original denial of the threat of the disease most certainly was. Real Americans really are hurting. There are proposals on the table to send everyday people $3T in aid to help the population through what threatens to be a major Depression if not commitment is made to the nation’s citizens rather than the money sponge of corporate welfare and stock buybacks that help no one.

Freedoms and pride

The complaints of those militia types are thus misguided. For they are largely griping about being told what to do by the government. As a tradition, Americans have long taken “pride” in their freedoms. The nation is founded on an escape from tyranny under English royalty. Over the centuries it has become popular to claim that America represents freedom worldwide. But that claim is ironic when the most we seem to have gained from that freedom is a terminal brand of impatience and ignoble immaturity that manifests itself as ingratitude toward the law of the land, and the land itself. That’s not freedom. That’s victimhood and selfishness disguised as patriotism. There’s nothing to be proud of there, because it makes us weak.

Disgustingly, some of that selfish ire is even being aimed at the heroic works of medical professionals and government officials trying to work together to protect lives. But let’s be straight about our situation: Fixing this pandemic stuff isn’t easy, and it isn’t a question of counting on miracles or religious faith to set things straight. And for all we know, God thinks America has been behaving like a pack of selfish brutes and it’s time to clean house. That’s what scripture warns us about. God does not abide by the selfishness of men. Or women. Or anyone for that matter.

The love of money

But scripture says that God is particularly disgusted when the covetous love of money drives all decisions. Yet economic fear is a special type of awful emotion to most Americans, and some just can’t mask it. We are a nation quite accustomed to having most of what w want, when we want it. Everything about our culture seems to scream “Gimme gimme” from guns to fast food to contestants on reality TV competing for someone else’s goddamned attention.

So I think back to that woman in the heart operation waiting room who stood before that exhausted heart surgeon demanding to know, “What took you so long?”

Our nation may represent liberty in some fashion, but portions of the American public are cut from the most ungrateful kind of cloth. Now those people want to protest putting a little cloth across their faces, and the President claims that it might make him look ridiculous. It goes to show you that no sacrifice is too small to use as fodder for selfish pride.

And that’s not the right kind of pride.