Author Archives: Joe

About Joe

I began my life in the South and for five years lived as a closeted teacher, but am now making a new life for myself as an oral historian in New England. I think my life will work out the way it was always meant to be. That doesn't mean there won't be ups and downs; that's all part of life. It means I just have to be patient. I feel like October 7, 2015 is my new birthday. It's a beginning filled with great hope. It's a second chance to live my life…not anyone else's. My profile picture is "David and Me," 2001 painting by artist Steve Walker. It happens to be one of my favorite modern gay art pieces.

Pic of the Day


Two Poems about Rain

The Rainy Day
By Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

The day is cold, and dark, and dreary;
It rains, and the wind is never weary;
The vine still clings to the mouldering wall,
But at every gust the dead leaves fall,
And the day is dark and dreary.

My life is cold, and dark, and dreary;
It rains, and the wind is never weary;
My thoughts still cling to the mouldering Past,
But the hopes of youth fall thick in the blast,
And the days are dark and dreary.

Be still, sad heart! and cease repining;
Behind the clouds is the sun still shining;
Thy fate is the common fate of all,
Into each life some rain must fall,
Some days must be dark and dreary.

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (1807-82) is best known for “The Song of Hiawatha.” He also wrote many other celebrated poems. And then there’s ‘The Rainy Day’, which isn’t numbered among his most famous. But it is one of the finest poems written about rain, so deserves a few words of analysis for that reason alone.

Rain and misery are two certainties in life, at least in the New England that Longfellow knew so well. Longfellow’s poem uses the rain/misery connection to offer a misconception about life. In the first stanza, Longfellow talks of the rain and wind outside. He uses the second stanza to discuss the internal, miserable weather raging within his heart. For the final stanza, he shifts from simply describing his mood to the authoritative, as he commands his heart to be of good cheer and remember that, although it may be raining now, the sun is still shining behind the clouds, though he can’t currently see it. When we’re miserable or sad, it can be very difficult to recall happiness, to remember what’s now out of sight. In his penultimate line, we find the most famous line in this poem: ‘Into each life some rain must fall.’ Misery is part of a common lot of humanity. Oscar Wilde is quoted as saying, “When it rains look for rainbows when it’s dark look for stars.” Longfellow might have been well-advised to listen to Wilde’s advice.

There Will Come Soft Rains
By Sara Teasdale

(War Time)

There will come soft rains and the smell of the ground,
And swallows circling with their shimmering sound;

And frogs in the pools singing at night,
And wild plum trees in tremulous white,

Robins will wear their feathery fire
Whistling their whims on a low fence-wire;

And not one will know of the war, not one
Will care at last when it is done.

Not one would mind, neither bird nor tree
If mankind perished utterly;

And Spring herself, when she woke at dawn,
Would scarcely know that we were gone.

Unlike the majority of Teasdale’s war poems, “There Will Come Soft Rains” has not been entirely forgotten. Three decades after its initial publication, in the wake of World War II, Ray Bradbury featured the poem as the foundation of a similarly post-apocalyptic short story, also titled “There Will Come Soft Rains,” in his 1950 novel The Martian Chronicles. In his re-appropriation, Bradbury portrays a future world that has been destroyed by mankind’s heedless progress, in a gruesome fashion that I don’t want to discuss. Bradbury’s story shares with Teasdale’s poem the terrifying insight that mankind is no longer connected, organically, to the natural world. The only species capable of mass, mechanized, self-destruction, humans are utterly alone, detached from a natural world that no longer even notices we are there. Imported into the futuristic world of 2057, Teasdale’s words become bitterly ironic. As early as World War I, Bradbury implies, mankind had been warned.

The poem awakens that old sentimental longing to return to a state of deep connectedness with nature. It even deploys a set of familiar stylistic markers that seem to have been borrowed directly from a nineteenth-century aesthetic economy. The poem’s alliteration, for instance — “whistling their whims,” “feathery fire”— and the sing-song rhymes— “ground/sound,” “night/white,” “fire/wire,” all evoke a sense of comforting gentility. But this veneer of conventional sentimentality merely heightens the profound impact of nature’s heartlessness. The poem’s sweet, sentimental quality and its tranquil, idyllic descriptors are deceiving. Ultimately, all of our sentimental feelings about “frogs” and “wild-plum trees,” as well as the language through which we have constructed those myths of a connection to nature, are tossed, mockingly, back at us. The reader is led to believe that the “soft rains” will signal our own renewal and that the birds will sing to celebrate our salvation. 

The poem challenges those idyllic fantasies with the reality of a natural world dominated by indifference, motivated only by its own survival, and oblivious to the existence or extinction of man. However, Teasdale locates a kernel of hope in this harsh vision. Devoted exclusively to its own survival, nature, in Teasdale’s conception, proffers no comfort to mankind, but can, nonetheless, provide the key to our own preservation. Rather than a retreat into an irrecoverable, idealized past. Teasdale was influenced to write this poem by reading Charles Darwin’s 1859 book On the Origin of Species. In such, she was urging her audience to adopt the ways of nature—to focus more whole-heartedly on their own survival.

“There Will Come Soft Rains” first appeared in Harper’s Monthly Magazine in July 1918—less than two months after the passage of the Sedition Act. Meant to strengthen the provisions of the already-repressive Espionage Act, the Sedition Act of May 16, 1918, was designed to quash American opposition to the war, outlawing “virtually all criticism of the war or the government.” Following its passage, anthologies and magazines continued to publish a small number of anti-war poems, but only if the poems were strategically nonspecific in their critique and refrained from offering a political alternative to the war. This climate of censorship casts a different light on the apparent obliqueness of Teasdale’s anti-war poems. Rather than a limitation, their historical imprecision might be what enabled their circulation at the height of World War I. It is possible, in fact, that Teasdale’s cultivation of a demure, “poetess” persona might have, contradictorily, enabled her to publish anti-war poetry more freely.


Pic of the Day


Botox

Today, I am driving down to Dartmouth-Hitchcock Hospital’s Headache Clinic for my first set of Botox injections for my migraines. The Botox will be injected around the “pain fibers” that are involved in causing my headaches. According to the Botox website, Botox enters the nerve endings around where it is injected and blocks the release of chemicals involved in pain transmission to prevents the activation of pain networks in the brain. Botox is supposed to prevent migraine headaches before they start, but I’ve read that it takes time to work. It can take two to three treatments (6-9 months) before the treatment reaches its maximum effects. A treatment lasts for 10-12 weeks, and patients report that in as little as two Botox treatments headache days are reduced by approximately 50%.

In general, the FDA-recommended dosage of 155 units costs between $300 to $600 for each treatment. As I understand it, Botox is packaged in 200 unites, so many doctors inject the remaining 45 units into the worst affected areas so as not to waste the medicine. Luckily, my insurance company seems to have approved the treatment. I have not heard anything to the contrary. It has taken over a month to get the treatments approved. My insurance company has fought my doctor and me on each of these new migraine treatments, but my neurologist is very good at getting appeals approved. I have tried the CGRP migraine preventive medications (Emgality and Aimovig), but the first was not deemed successful enough by my neurologist, and the second caused no improvement at all. In fact, with the second, I went back to having daily migraines. Throughout my life, I have also tried a variety of antidepressants and blood pressure medications that are typically used to prevent migraines. I am unable to take any of the anti-seizure medications because I have a sulfur allergy and thus would likely be allergic to those medications. The Botox injections are getting close to the end of the line of possible treatments. I’m not sure what the next step would be, but there are some alternative medicine techniques that have been helpful in some migraine sufferers.

My appointment is expected to only take about 20 minutes, a short appointment for an hour’s drive down to the clinic. The doctor will use a very small needle that I was told would feel like a pinprick. At my last visit, she told me that it would be painful and/or uncomfortable but with my history of migraines, it should be a breeze. Each treatment typically involves 31 injections in seven key areas of the head and neck. Sadly, it can take up to six months to see the maximum benefit from Botox. I just hope and pray I see some improvement fairly soon. I am at my wits end with these migraines. I’ve read that I could see results in as little as two to three weeks after my first treatment.

UPDATE (2:30 pm): I just got back home from getting the Botox treatment. It was a little painful and uncomfortable but nothing too bad. The whole procedure took less than 10 minutes, actually closer to 5 minutes. I have little red dots all over my head form where I bled at the injection spots. I am not sore from the injections which is good. Time will tell how well it works. I currently don’t have much of a headache, but I slept wrong last night and my neck and shoulder are in a lot of pain, so that is overshadowing any headache I have. I just wanted to give a quick update and say that all went well.


Pic of the Day


Prayer

In this manner, therefore, pray:

Our Father in heaven,
Hallowed be Your name.
Your kingdom come.
Your will be done
On earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread.
And forgive us our debts,
As we forgive our debtors.
And do not lead us into temptation,
But deliver us from the evil one.
For Yours is the kingdom
 and the power
 and the glory forever.
      Amen.

—Matthew 6:9-13

I will admit that I am not one who formally prays a lot. I believe God hears my thoughts, just as he would prayers said in silence. There are definitely things I think about that maybe I wish God didn’t hear, but I think we all have “impure” thoughts. I regularly communicate with God, and I should follow the example of the Lord’s Prayer better. When I was growing up, the men who prayed in my church used pretty standard language for their prayers. I knew when my preacher, who was known for his lengthy prayers, started thanking God for the flowers and the trees in nature, he was nearly finished. We had another man who rambled on and on with no direction. When I had to give a prayer, it was basically the same prayer from memory, just as my father always did when he gave the closing prayer at church.

Jesus gave us clear guidance for praying which did not include the “vain repetitions” I was all too familiar with when growing up in Alabama. In Matthew 9:5-8, Jesus said: 

And when you pray, you shall not be like the hypocrites. For they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the corners of the streets, that they may be seen by men. Assuredly, I say to you, they have their reward. But you, when you pray, go into your room, and when you have shut your door, pray to your Father who is in the secret place; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you openly. And when you pray, do not use vain repetitions as the heathen do. For they think that they will be heard for their many words. Therefore, do not be like them. For your Father knows the things you have need of before you ask Him.

Jesus told us that prayer is a private matter. My sister’s in-laws and many others I know who like displays of piety insist praying before a meal in public. They insist that everyone join hands and bow their heads as someone says the prayer. For most of these people, they are mostly showing a display of their piety like the hypocrites in the synagogues the Jesus tells us about. I have no problem with saying a silent prayer before a meal or praying aloud at a private family gathering, but I have a problem with people who merely want to show how Christian they can be. In the case of my sister’s in-laws, they are very negative people, who consistently denigrate others for not doing as they believe they should. However, they are often doing those same things or overlook things in family members that they condemn in others. In my opinion, if you are going to be pious, follow Christ at all times, not just when people are watching.

In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus gave us the prayer that became known as the “Lord’s Prayer.” The model prayer, as it is also called, takes only 15-20 seconds to say, yet is filled with deep meaning. This prayer perfectly summarizes our faith and what is expressed in the Gospels. On his reflection on this prayer, St. Cyprian of Carthage, a third-century bishop wrote, “My dear friends, the Lord’s Prayer contains many great mysteries of our faith. In these few words, there is great spiritual meaning, for this summary of divine teaching contains all of our prayers and petitions.” Jesus ends the prayer by adding “For if you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.” (Matthew 9:14-15) This last part is often incorporated into the Lord’s Prayer by some Christians.

Philip Yancey, a Christian author who writes about questions and topics of faith that matter to both believers and doubters alike said, “Prayer is not a means of removing the unknown and predictable elements in life, but rather a way of including the unknown and unpredictable in the outworking of the grace of God in our lives.” Yancey was born in Atlanta and grew up in a strict, fundamentalist southern church. When Yancey was one year old, his polio-stricken father died after church members suggested he go off life support asserting that faith in God would heal him. This and other negative experiences with a rigid church contributed to Yancey’s losing his faith at one point.

For Yancey, reading offered a window to a different world. He devoured books that opened his mind, challenged his upbringing, and went against what he had been taught. A sense of betrayal engulfed him. “I felt I had been lied to. For instance, what I learned from a book like To Kill a Mockingbird or Black Like Me contradicted the racism I encountered in church. I went through a period of reacting against everything I was taught and even discarding my faith. I began my journey back mainly by encountering a world very different than I had been taught, an expansive world of beauty and goodness. Along the way, I realized that God had been misrepresented to me. Cautiously, warily, I returned, circling around the faith to see if it might be true.”

How does a man who’s been through all Yancey has, draw close to the God he once feared? He spends about an hour each morning reading spiritually nourishing books, meditating, and praying. This morning time, he says, helps him “align” himself with God for the day. “I tend to go back to the Bible as a model because I don’t know a more honest book,” Yancey explains. “I can’t think of any argument against God that isn’t already included in the Bible. To those who struggle with my books, I reply, ‘Then maybe you shouldn’t be reading them.’ Yet some people do need the kinds of books I write. They’ve been burned by the church or they’re upset about certain aspects of Christianity. I understand that feeling of disappointment, even betrayal. I feel called to speak to those living in the borderlands of faith.”

Faith is the essential element in our relationship with God. Jesus says that if you have faith, you can command a mountain to jump into the sea. He also taught us that we must ask in his name, which is why many end prayers with “In Jesus’ name, Amen.”  He says that for our prayers to be answered they must be in accordance with God’s will. John 15:7 says, “If you abide in Me, and My words abide in you, you will ask what you desire, and it shall be done for you.” Prayer is a great privilege allowed by God. We can be heard by God through Christ, and God commands us to ask him to intercede on our behalf. God has a plan that involves us that is accomplished through Him answering our prayers. Sometimes that answer is yes, and sometimes it is no. However, we always receive an answer. As the saying from the 1773 hymn by William Cowper goes, “God works in mysterious ways.”

All the teaching of Jesus on prayer taken together points to a life of faith. We must have faith that we are in line with the will of God, and He will answer us if we have faith and accept His answer. Mark 11:24 says, “Therefore I say to you, whatever things you ask when you pray, believe that you receive them, and you will have them.” This verse seems to be saying that God will grant any request we make of Him as long as we believe, but there are limitations on what God is willing to provide and we are bound by the laws of nature and the universe. Prayer is not a means by which God serves us. James 4:3 says, “You ask and do not receive, because you ask amiss, that you may spend it on your pleasures.” Therefore, prayer is a means by which we serve God. Prayer is not a means by which we get our will done in heaven, but a means by which God gets His will done on earth. 

We are all in need of prayer and the comfort praying provides. James 5:16 states, “Confess your trespasses to one another, and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The effective, fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much.” James is encouraging us to express our dependence on God, which is done through prayer. In previous verses, James asked his readers to respond to trouble by praying to God, to respond to cheerfulness by singing songs of praise, and to respond to illness or spiritual weakness by asking fellow Christians to pray for them. James believed that Christians should surround themselves with other Christians. We need fellow believers with whom we can trust and be vulnerable. That does not mean we should only surround ourselves with believers. We need diversity in our relationships in order to grow. 

In today’s world, few Christians are practicing unconditional love in any specific way. Some Christians have a bad habit of judging others, which is not their place. Many Christians ignore Matthew 7:1-3, which says “Judge not, that you be not judged. For with what judgment you judge, you will be judged; and with the measure you use, it will be measured back to you. And why do you look at the speck in your brother’s eye, but do not consider the plank in your own eye?” Because we fear the judgment of others, we’re too afraid to be vulnerable to others. We need a world in which we can offer support and without judgment to others in need. The world would be a far better place if more of us prayed for each other. After all, James writes, prayer works. God listens and responds. Prayer is powerful and effective because God hears and takes action. 


Pic of the Day


Moment of Zen: Boats


Pic of the Day


Fear and Loathing in Washington

George Stephanopoulos said, “But away from the rituals of Washington, alongside the elation of [Donald] Trump supporters, there is deep anxiety, anger, and fear.” There is a lot of fear associated with the coming presidential election. Opponents of Donald Trump fear that if he is elected again, the United States will cease to exist as we know it. Trump will continue to sew anxiety, anger, and fear in his supporters and bring an end to this nation as we know it. His disregard for the rule of law will continue unabated if he wins and Republicans remain in control of the Senate. All norms associated with American democracy will cease to exist if we continue to be governed by a self-centered, egomaniacal tyrant wannabe. For the Republican Party, the only thing they care about is the continued accumulation of wealth and power.

If you watched any part of the Republican National Convention (RNC), you were probably struck by the expressions of fear that permeated the proceedings—namely, the fear that any failure to re-elect Donald Trump would result in the collapse of the American experiment if not the dissolution of civilization itself. Words to that effect were spoken many times; Trump himself, accepting the nomination said, “This election will decide whether we SAVE the American Dream, or whether we allow a socialist agenda to DEMOLISH our cherished destiny.” (The capitalization is original to the transcript.) Throughout the RNC, speakers argued that Trump would restore “law and order” and make America a safer country than Biden. Republicans focused more on what they call a bleak future under Democrats rather than on the record of Trump’s actions over the past four years because the record for Trump is so disastrous. There is nothing to praise, no matter how much they lie. 

There is no doubt Donald Trump plays on the fears of his audience.  He is a professional and highly-accomplished fearmonger who uses vicious and incendiary rhetoric in a pitiful attempt to generate support for his pathetic campaign. Trump will shy away from no outrageous claim to stoke the fires of terror in his followers. He majors in drama, paranoia, and conspiracy theories. He divides the world into “good guys” and “bad guys” and wants everyone to know that he alone can protect us from the “bad guys.” Trump is an egotistical, pompous, arrogant man who lacks subtlety and blurts out mistaken ideas. He is insulting, vindictive, and angry. Trump and his supporters use fear as a deliberate strategy to get religious but ignorant people to stand with the Republican Party, to get them on their mailing lists, and to motivate them to open their bank accounts and support that fear. Evangelicals and other conservatives support Trump because they want to be on the inside wielding power no matter the cost.

Democrats are struggling with their own fears. Following the Democratic National Convention’s underlying theme of unity over division, Joe Biden’s acceptance speech called on Americans to consider the gravity of this election, which he painted as one of the most consequential in history. Biden began his speech saying:

Ella Baker, a giant of the civil rights movement, left us with this wisdom: Give people light, and they will find a way. Give people light. Those are words for our time. The current president has cloaked America in darkness for much too long. Too much anger. Too much fear. Too much division. Here and now, I give you my word: If you entrust me with the presidency, I will draw on the best of us, not the worst. I will be an ally of the light, not of the darkness.

If we look at the last four years, there is so much the Republican Party should be ashamed to admit happened under their watch. There are just too many items to list, but here are some of the reasons Trump is uniquely incapable of managing crises:

  • His White House is always in a state of chaos.
  • He thrives on conflict.
  • He values loyalty over competence.
  • He distrusts expertise and experts.
  • He can’t tell the truth; everything must always be “great” or “tremendous.”
  • His relentless need to attack opponents renders him unable to unify the country.
  • His lack of empathy for problems not personally affecting him.
  • His penchant for conspiracy theorizing.
  • His relentless and pathetic need for compliments and affirmation.
  • His top priority is never what’s happening to the country, but instead how it makes him look; how will it affect his reelection chances.

When Trump was running for president in 2016, many warned if he were elected, he would cause disaster (some even said nuclear war), but there was another group, perhaps even larger, who said, “Sure, he’s kind of a joke, but why not give him a shot? What’s the worst that could happen?” Now we’re finding out the worst that could happen, and he still has at least four more months in office. Some might believe Republicans are right to spread fear, but I argue they aren’t it just causes instability. The same people might ask: but what about the terror of the unknown such as the fear of the economy collapsing, the lawlessness running wild, the pandemic, devastating hurricanes, rampant wildfires, other disasters on a biblical scale? Well, now we know. At the 2016 RNC, Trump proclaimed, “Nobody knows the system better than me which is why I alone can fix it.” Now, Trump finds himself in what Biden called in his DNC speech, “one of the most difficult moments America has ever faced.”  Biden pointed out we are facing: “Four historic crises. All at the same time. A perfect storm. The worst pandemic in over 100 years. The worst economic crisis since the Great Depression. The most compelling call for racial justice since the ’60s. And the undeniable realities and accelerating threats of climate change.”This doesn’t even consider the problems the United States has faced over the last three and a half years, but Trump has failed to answer the call for leadership. 

Arthur Eddington, the English astronomer, physicist, and mathematician, once said, “The pursuit of truth in science transcends national boundaries. It takes us beyond hatred and anger and fear. It is the best of us.” This is only true if you believe in science, which the Republicans seem to disregard. Conservatives throughout history have always held science in suspicion. They simply can’t deal with hard facts and truths. They prefer to use hatred, anger, and fear to get people to follow their agenda. Trump and his supporters have denied the danger of the COVID-19 pandemic. They have denied the evidence that supports the use of masks to protect others. They have denied climate change as it ravages our planet. They refuse to face the cold hard facts of science. Instead, they bring forth the worse in humanity: willful ignorance. The Ukrainian-born author and poet, Vironika Tugaleva, said, “Peace and love are just as contagious as anger and fear. Your mindset affects the people around you and perpetually changes the world. The question is what kind of world are you creating?” When we go to vote in November, we should ask ourselves what kind of world are we creating? What kind of world are we voting for? Is it a world filled with light, love, hope, and unity, or is it a world of darkness, hatred, anger, fear, and division?

Biden summed up his DNC speech by quoting Irish poet Seamus Heaney: “History says don’t hope on this side of the grave, but then once-in-a-lifetime, the longed-for tidal wave of justice can rise up and hope and history rhyme.” Biden concluded the speech saying:

This is our moment to make hope and history rhyme. With passion and purpose, let us begin — you and I together, one nation, under God — united in our love for America and united in our love for each other. For love is more powerful than hate. Hope is more powerful than fear. Light is more powerful than dark. This is our moment. This is our mission.” May history be able to say that the end of this chapter of American darkness began here, tonight, as love and hope and light join in the battle for the soul of the nation.  And this is a battle we will win, and we will do it together.  I promise you.

Will the United States vote for unity and harmony? I hope so. Or, will Americans vote for darkness, hatred, anger, fear, and division? I pray they don’t. I pray we can heal this nation. I pray we can work to end the racial strife that exists. I pray we can put an end to the homophobia that permeates this country. 

As Albert Einstein said, “Anger dwells only in the bosom of fools.” Thankfully, most Americans are not fools. Currently, the majority, nearly 53 percent, of Americans disapprove of Donald Trump. Dorothy Thompson, the “First Lady of American Journalism,” was expelled from Nazi Germany in 1934 because they considered her offensive for speaking the truth. She said, “Only when we are no longer afraid do we begin to live.” I want to end with another quote by Thompson who described Hitler in the following terms: “He is formless, almost faceless, a man whose countenance is a caricature, a man whose framework seems cartilaginous, without bones. He is inconsequent and voluble, ill poised, and insecure. He is the very prototype of the little man.” If you didn’t know this quote was from 1934 about Adolf Hitler, who does it sound like she is describing? A 2017 ABC News/Washington Post poll asked respondents: “What ONE WORD best describes your impression of Trump? Just the one word that best describes him.” Some of the most common words that respondents gave were incompetent, arrogant, idiot, egotistical, ignorant, racist, asshole, and narcissistic. The words Trump opponents use to describe him now have become much more colorful and graphic in nature, but the same sentiments are still there. We have a court jester instead of a president, and on election day, he needs to hear his own words loud and clear, “You’re Fired!”