Requiem for a Sycamore

Requiem for a Sycamore
(Song of the Earth — Part 2)

We are under attack.

First went the buffer trees to the west between our house and the farm behind, culled like a herd of buffalo in Yellowstone, one minute standing there minding their own business, the next, death by chainsaw, soon to be split for firewood or sold for planks to make someone’s house or coffee table in China. I can live with this — I told you how in a previous post — although that doesn’t change the tragedy. But now, the assault comes from the east, the area to the front of our house, down the long, steep driveway and around the bend to the bottom of the hill where the stump of a Sycamore lies upended, the clayey soil stuck to its roots like blood, all that’s left of 80 years of life on this planet.

The tree was planted by the grandfather of my neighbor who lives on the far end of the hill; the grandfather was the one who developed this ridge that consists of a grand total of five houses, each on an acre lot, give or take, each surrounded by trees, trees, trees: heaven on a hill. Generally the word developed has horrible connotations — impervious surfaces that mean stormwater management issues, the end of the natural world, and the beginning of the macadam-covered one — but on our ridge it means ideal leaving where nature and man exist side-by-side, the kind of place that’s damn hard to find, and maybe only a dream as it seems to be slipping from us faster than one. I find myself humming a lot as a way to balance my body and the earth outside my window, but that’s not going to bring back the trees.

Trees store carbon in their trunks, branches, leaves, and underground in their roots. Old growth trees, because of their girth can individually store more carbon than young trees, but a young forest that is growing quickly will use and store more carbon than an old growth forest — just as a young athlete is often faster or more agile than an older one — because they are growing, i.e., photosynthesizing more rapidly, pulling in carbon and releasing oxygen.

The house to the east is taking up the space where the old Sycamore stood, hoarding carbon and spilling oxygen out into the environment, nothing but helpful, as opposed to the copycat house that looks just like a whole development of houses a mile down the road on what used to be a farm, crammed together so tightly that you can’t throw a snowball without hitting a window, like being at the Jersey shore but without the draw of the ocean. As a kid, my family would drive from Jersey to Lancaster drawn by the bucolic rolling hills of Central, PA. There’s really no draw here anymore, the developers have seen to that. The farms are gone because the houses are sitting on top of them and the trees that are left have been clear-cut to make it easier to put the ugly houses in. Progress! Development! Forward, ho! Give the people what they want.

The problem is people don’t know what they want. Home buyers are not generally architects and designers. The American Home Builders Association scores big every time they repeat a design for a house because they don’t need to hire another architect, making way for a booming housing market where the quality of homes declines, and we’re left with six designs of separation, masterful disguises, a first-rate trompe l’oeil — a visual artistic technique that fools the eye — like stone facades made to look like stone houses when it’s really just a few rocks glued onto plywood.

The house below us was most certainly chosen from a book of model homes with a few add-ons to make it special and distinguish it from all the other homes that look exactly the same. I can just imagine the sales pitch now — choose from hundreds of customized amenities — but really the differences are to keep complete strangers from walking in your door at 2 a.m. after a night of partying, raiding the fridge and putting their feet on your coffee table while they watch Netflix because they think they’re home.

“Damn, honey, we should have put the lattice-work on the arbor and planted wisteria so the Joneses could distinguish our back walk from theirs with the arbor and the climbing roses.”

When my husband and I were looking for a home, we would have lived in a tent before we bought a house in a development where no two homes were identical yet every block was the same as every other block, all with exceptional homes starting in the [fill in kajillion dollar amount of the decade], with the very best in custom building (my last house had 13” brick walls — that was custom building!), where the trees have been removed and two little saplings have been planted that will take your entire time living there to become real trees; a place where you press the electric door opener, park your car in the garage, and never say hey, hi, or hello to your neighbor; for us a depressing place. Then we found this house, nested in the woods, only a few neighbors, every house an original, ours a Japanese contemporary that reminds us of Frank Lloyd Wright’s Falling Water with it’s cantilevered design and the way it blends seamlessly with nature, built by an architect with a vision as opposed to a builder with a bottom line — high art in housing, not cookie-cutter conveniences. Does it need work? Of course. It was built in 1959 and nothing lasts forever.

The house on the lot below straddles the back yard of three or four houses and the kitchen looks right into a few of those neighbors bedrooms; the builder didn’t have a vision, just a desire to make money. Okay, props for not cutting the trees on the hill down (because then our driveway might wash away with the sediment), but the house sits right where the water used to pond in times of heavy rain, bringing with it the ducks and their ducklings, in the space where the Sycamore used to live. Where will that water go now? Under PA law, they needed to create a stormwater management system so they dug a great big hole, maybe 10’ x 20’, encased it in geotextile fabric, back-filled it with stone and covered it with soil. Will it work? My husband thinks not since it was built on the highest point on the lot. Guess the neighbors better get their sump pumps ready.

Plus, the house looks crooked. My husband says it’s an optical illusion and that it only looks that way because of the hill beside it and the way the trees are growing a bit sideways toward it, reaching for their shot at the light. Fine, okay, whatever, but if you just laid out a few hundred K for a house, would you want it to look like a ship on water, listing to the left?

When did repetition replace ingenuity. Wasn’t American ingenuity a pseudonym for America at one time? Well scrap that. Here in Central PA, we’re throwing up more big box stores than we have farm land to fill them. Do we really need that many Targets? Dick’s Sporting Goods? Chick-fil-As? Do we really want to buy the same things and eat the same meals over and over again, week after week, decade after decade? What happened to our sense of adventure? Of trying something new? When did the entire country adopt the mindset of an octogenarian? When will we say enough to the consumerism that will be the destruction of the natural world that feeds us, nurtures us, and gives us beauty and comfort. And what about the Sycamore?

pjlazos 3.18.18

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[All photos by Ian Eberly]


If you read my post, The Twelve Virtues of the Merchant Priest, from the book  Sacred Commerce, A Blueprint for a New Humanity, (reviewed) by authors Ayman Sawaf and Rowan Gabrielle, then you know that based upon their recommendation, I’m taking a different virtue every month and writing about it.  The 12 virtues are honor, loyalty, nobility, virtue, grace, trust, courage, courtesy, gallantry, authority, service, and humility, and Sawaf and Gabrielle believe that focusing on them through the merchant priests’ lens of beauty, truth and goodness will “automatically lift us to a higher octave of being.”

February’s entry is loyalty, which, on February 1st I thought would be a breeze since I consider myself a loyal daughter, wife and mother, and can’t imagine life without this trait. But then I started considering all the ways loyalty can trip us up, usurping ethics, morals, and righteousness just by its name. Loyalty to gangs, to a political party, to a clan or ethnicity all have a dark underbelly. In many instances, loyalty is not enough. You must also pledge your mind and body, give up independence and free-thinking, and become part of the tribe which to my mind is anathema to evolution and the goodness inherent in loyalty. So rather than write about loyalty between humans which often has gravy stains on its shirt and lipstick on its collar, I thought it best to stick with the gold star of loyalty, one that has rarely failed us in the thousands (from 16,000 to 32,000) of years we’ve been aligned — the loyalty of one’s dog.

So here’s Loyalty:

Loyalty lies at my feet and waits. When I get up, he gets up, close on my heels, no agenda other than to standby. When I go to my room and close the door, he bursts through half a minute later, and sits on the floor next to the window, watching for deer or fox or other woodland creatures outside, but also very clearly watching me. When I go take a shower he moves to sit outside the bathroom door and wait until I emerge.

Loyalty loves his walks. When we meet the neighbor’s 3-year old, a tiny waif of a girl who squeals when she sees Loyalty, he responds with an excited tail and a lick of the hand. He sits while she pets him and he knows when the interview is over.

Loyalty’s got the run of the house and the yard. We took the dog cage down soon after we got him three and a half years ago. Loyalty’s favorite place to walk is the farm behind us where we take him to hike the perimeter without a leash. He runs full-out putting the after-burners on when he’s really happy, more exercise than a leash wold allow. Watching Loyalty run is like listening to Mozart — pure perfection. He chases birds and plays the role of sleuth, his nose mapping the way. Loyalty always keeps me in his sight, and all it takes is a whistle (or sometimes five) to bring him close.

Loyalty has two beds, but he’s not allowed on ours. The cats are though, and that chaps him. Loyalty doesn’t understand why the cats get the special treatment and that’s why he chases them. My son, who is Loyalty’s real master, let’s him sleep with him in his bed when he’s home from college. This makes Loyalty very happy and sometimes he runs off to bed before my son because he knows it’s soon time. Although it doesn’t alway seem like it, Loyalty really does know how to share. When the cat takes Loyalty’s bed, he doesn’t get upset, just looks at the cat for a minute as if he both understands and wants to chase him, then moves to the other bed. (Later, when the cat is not sleeping, he will chase him up a tree or under a bed, anywhere really, just to remind him who’s boss.)

Loyalty loves his biscuits. He stands in front of the box and licks his lips. He also loves his marrow bones, the ones I buy from the grocery store and bake in the toaster oven. When I say the word bone, Loyalty runs to the freezer and twirls in circles. Loyalty is very smart.

When one of us comes home from work, or college, or even the grocery store, Loyalty alerts the media. Then, depending on how long that person has been gone, Loyalty alternates between standing near your open car door, tail wagging fervently so you can pet him, and doing laps around the yard to burn off his excess exuberance. When my son comes home after being away at school for a month or so, Loyalty could carry on like that for ten minutes, lap after lap after lap, joy in motion.

Loyalty runs off into the woods at night before bed when we let him out to sniff and pee on trees. He might chase a rabbit or a leaf, and one time he chased a raccoon up a tree just like he does with the cats. When I whistle for him he always comes home.

I detest bullying and yelled at Loyalty the other day — something I don’t usually do — for bullying one of the cats. He sank down in an act of contrition, his tail wagging the teeniest hopeful bit, his chin bolted to the floor, his eyes raised to mine. I was so angry — he’s a jealous guy and can be really mean to our felines who predate him as occupants here. He makes Raul, the little guy, very anxious, but Bella, a/k/a Mrs. Waddles because of her girth, just whacks him in the face when he gets too close (so that means he torments Raul and leaves Bella alone). My tirade ended almost immediately when I took in Loyalty’s demeanor. I wasn’t fooled; he’ll do it again in a heartbeat, I know, but he’s also really sorry because, well, he’s a dog and just can’t help himself. Later, Loyalty was waiting at the top of the stairs for me, his usual exuberance tamped down by guilt and a countenance that was a dictionary entry for “hang dog.” As I crested the stairs, he walked slowly to his bed, a repentant sinner. This was hours later, by the way, and I’d long let the anger go. How many people say they’re sorry and really mean it? Loyalty does. I gave him a biscuit and a good back scratching and all was well again.

Loyalty’s real name is Apollo, he is love and loyalty personified, and he’s as good a friend as I’ve ever had.

pjlazos 3.3.18

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Oh S#%!

[wine bottle label — assuming that they mean gentlemen and gentlewomen]


Oh S#%!

I gave up cursing for Lent.  It’s gotten really bad with me:  that long lead in to the 2016 Presidential elections and then the actual election followed by a year of political fall-out and just about the worst time I can ever remember in our country for a social fabric, a moral compass, a bit of compassion for one’s fellow man.  Face it.  It’s a sucky time to be an American.  People are looking for countries to emigrate to (don’t lie — you know you kicked around on the New Zealand website, and Canada is looking better every second, even with the extreme cold).

The only release I have is through language, writing, and yes, thank you, cursing.  But when I’m dropping f-bombs every other sentence, sometimes twice in a sentence, then things have gotten entirely out of hand, just like American politics.  My father used to say he had a daughter with a mouth like a longshoremen — he was no Puritan when it came to language, believe me — but I fear the level and intensity of my epithets would make even him blush.

For me, cursing is both fun and emotive, a pressure relief valve when the insanity of the world gets to be too much.  A well-chosen curse word can release mounds of anxiety, keeping me from exploding — a distinct possibility in this life and these times.  When I told my daughter of my plan, she yielded to paroxysms of laughter and then snap chatted all her friends with the news.  As if!   I know.  There’s no way, right?  So instead, I’ve instituted a penalty system in an effort to curb my overzealous utterances.

Let’s be realistic.  Unless our elected representatives all retire en masse or lose at midterm elections and are replaced by people who are actually in possession of a heart, then my cursing is not going to end any time soon.  So I’m charging myself $0.25 cents every time I curse.  Lest you think that’s cheap, Lent started Wednesday and by midday Saturday, the jar had more than $8 in it.  It’s going to be an expensive forty days, but at the end of that time, I’m donating the money to Union of Concerned Scientists because, well, science. Maybe my money will help them do something about the climate change deniers in D.C.  Maybe they’ll find a way to keep the planet from running out of water in 30 years as it’s projected to do.  Or maybe they’ll find a solution to any one of the myriad problems threatening our way of life with extinction.

Now that I think about it, maybe I need to start cursing more.

pjlazos 2.18.18

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Canto Della Terra

Canto Della Terra
(Song of the Earth)

First came the men with the trucks, V8 engines and tires so big you needed a stepladder to get into the cab, walking around like they belonged here. From our perch on the hill we can see the farm that slopes away from our property, 100 acres of prime, tillable land, spreading out like a giant gaping yawn, the perimeter ringed with oaks, ash, poplar, locust. When we bought our house we thought we were in heaven, surrounded by acres of woodland and a great open space beyond. Our neighbors, all four of them, have similar lots. It was a child’s playground and our kids thrived. In the winter, we pulled snow saucers with the 4-wheeler on moonlit nights, laughing until we couldn’t breathe, my husband driving, the kids and I squealing with delight. We cross-country skied and walked the dog when the crops weren’t in the ground. He ran with delight like a thoroughbred, chasing geese and squirrels and his own doggy bliss. We had picnics and parties, a tree fort and a zipline, and always privacy. Watching developments shoot up like mushrooms around the county, we never took a minute of it for granted.  

My neighbor called. “What are those trucks doing out back?” My neighbor’s a pilot who, among other things, flies body parts to hospitals slated for transplants. He’s not easily rattled, but his call meant he thought the trucks meant bad news for us. I hadn’t see the trucks at first. Tucked back at the top of a horseshoe opening in the field with trees on either side, our view is straight ahead until we actually walk out into the field. We love it because we’re mostly hidden, but clear-cut the place and put up a development with 250 houses on half-acre lots and what have you got but an ugly view and decimation of a lifestyle.  

After an hour or so, the trucks left. I was not naive enough to think they were retreating, just regrouping. I breathed a sigh and started dinner. The next day while I was at work, the farmer came and talked to my husband. His son who had been farming the land for the last decade and renting the property from a trust had bought the farm. It was going to stay in the family and they were going to continue to farm it. Yay! No development! Ah, but life is not static and change it’s only constant. The farmer wanted a more productive farm, and the trees, some of them a hundred years old if they were a day, encroached on that productivity. And then there was the value of logging them. Let the breath-holding begin.  

Six a.m. a couple of days later; headlights flooded our bedroom. Because we live in the woods, we don’t bother much with closing the blinds, another luxury. An hour or so later, the sound of chainsaws permeated the air, taking up all the space in my lungs, followed by creaking, groaning and a sound like thunder as 80, 90, 100 foot trees toppled over and died, over and over the pattern repeated.   With each crash I ducked, flinched, choked back a sob, another life snuffed, another owl habitat dismantled, another deer bed destroyed. More productive meant critter habitats decimated as was soon to be the buffer between us and the road a hundred acres away, between us and the world. What is the saying: One man’s trash is another man’s treasure. But how could such natural world diversity be relegated to the trash heap without so much as a second look, a backward glance, a prayer of thanks or acknowledgement.  

Winds of change, eh? Because of the open horseshoe configuration that funnels right to our house, there was always wind here, lots of it. The trees acted as a buffer. About ten years ago, we had a big storm and lost eight of our biggest trees. The oldest was 154 years old (we counted the rings). I cried then when we woke to a 75-foot treetop shoved up against our window — the blinds were closed that night and we had slept through the storm — and I cried now that they’d cut down more than eight trees in half a day. They’d been going at it for two days, the endless buzzing, groaning and crashing. I watch them fall and each time my heart felt a little heavier.  

Where’s the Lorax when you need him, although he seemed to fair no better with the Truffula trees. Like the Lorax, I will speak for the trees, but these are not my woods, not in the economic sense. Doesn’t it matter that I looked at them every day, listened to the Great Horned owls nesting in their branches as they called for a mate, watched in wonder as the snow coated the hemlocks and marveled again as the sun tickled the icy crystals and danced against a backdrop of blazing white. I know these woods belong to the farmer and I know it could be so much worse: a housing development or a strip mall. I know how lucky we’ve been to live in the middle of such a private paradise, hidden away from civilization, yet with the kids’ schools, the grocery store, civilization all within a mile or two in any direction. Yes, we’ve been lucky, but it’s not just for me that I grieve.  

The hedgerow that divided this farm from the next one over has been taken out at the knees. The birds who inhabited it by the hundreds were fluttering around the downed trunks and branches, looking for friends and loved ones like survivors of an earthquake.  

“We can always plant more trees,” my neighbor said. He’s right, of course, and the woods still exist. The farmer only took the bigger trees and left the rest to grow, but the boundary has been pushed back and there’s simply less of everything. It’s not been the first and probably won’t be the last time the hill has been logged, but these trees were my friends, like members of my family, sentinels standing tall and silent, giving us shade and music when the wind blew, and a place for the fox and the deer and the hawks to live, creatures who also needed a home and who we relished seeing. Where will the birds go now? Will the owls come back? Will we still see the family of deer walking past our backyard at dusk, or the red fox at night, looking for a meal? What about the baby raccoon that sometimes came up on our back porch to drink from the cats’ water bowl or sample their food. Was their habitat destroyed as well?  

As farmland and its attendant woods gets more regularly eaten up by development across the county, where the critters go now will be anyone’s guess. A diverse habitat needs room to grow just as humans need room to grow. What does such a culling do to the ecosystem, to diversity, to the balance of life? Once and done and the earth can absorb it, but over and over across the county, the nation, the world, one micro-system after another destroyed, at some point, you hit a tipping point and there’s no coming back. Is anyone even watching to see what that point is?  

It’s funny how quickly you get used to a changed landscape. From our kitchen, it doesn’t look all that different, just less dense. Then I walk the dog and see the stumps and logs and the ruts where the truck tires ran again and again, the abandoned hideaways of animals that used to live there, the bits that remain.  

I must remember to count my blessings. The dog can still run. I can still ski. We can still run the 4-wheeler. There won’t be a 250 cars parking in 250 garages behind my house. Still, the woods will be quieter, and so will our home once the sound of crashing and splitting and dragging is over, when the rustling of leaves in the wind has lessened and the critters have all moved away to places where the trees still stand, that is, until there are none left standing.

pjlazos 2.11.18

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If you read my original post about The Twelve Virtues of the Merchant Prieststhen you know that, as suggested in the book, I’m going to consider and write about one virtue a month for an entire year until I get through the list of twelve. Well, guess what? This was so much harder than I thought. Trying to reconcile the Sacred Commerce concepts of beauty, truth and goodness in a world dominated and imbalanced by a smattering of patriarchal oligarchies is a tall order, especially when they have taken the planet to the brink of destruction: war, natural disasters, mass species extinctions (it’s not just polar bears), and climate change all run amuck. To think honorable acts alone are going to miraculously fix things is, in my opinion, overly optimistic.

So I decided to talk myself off the ledge by going to the dictionary to see what it had to say about honor.  Some definitions:  high respect or esteem; a person or thing that brings credit; adherence to what is right or to a conventional standard of conduct; a privilege; a thing conferred as a distinction, especially an official award for bravery or achievement; a specialized degree; a title of respect.

While honor has always been a venerable goal, it’s become lopsided in our modern world. It’s male-dominated with more than a few examples of it being used as an excuse to do base things to each other (like suicide bombings).  After weeks of wringing my hands, trying to figure out what the heck honor meant to me, I personified it, like a character in a novel, and suddenly the clouds parted.  If I had done this from a female perspective, honor would probably have looked a lot different, but I just couldn’t call up the female version, so here he is.

       Honor sits around in his army fatigues, cleaning his gun while he watches a video of his four-year old daughter, a million miles away, that his wife posted on youtube. Honor doesn’t want to do what he’s doing, but he knows that sometimes it’s the only way. Honor never says “why me?” but rather “who else but me?” Honor takes the phrase, “For love of God and country,” seriously. Honor defends what is right and eschews what is wrong. On good days, he can abide the grey areas, but it’s not always a good day. He really keeps the gun in hand because of his wife and daughter. If it were just him, he would go to the gym and forget about it all.

When he was young, Honor thought nothing of getting into a bar fight if someone made a crack about his sister. Today, he’s more judicious and tries to let the little things go, but when he found out his teenaged daughter from his first marriage had been sleeping with her boyfriend, he went crazy — probably because he walked right in on them — and threatened to disown her and kill him. He made his daughter go to a college six hours away just so he could keep them apart. It worked. They broke up, but Honor was super sad because he didn’t get to see his daughter as often as he used to. Still, he felt he did the right thing to protect the family. If he’d been a dad from a different part of the world — one living under, say, Sharia law — his daughter may have been stoned for her behavior.

It happens. He’d heard about it from the locals on his first tour of duty. The girl was buried up to her neck in the dirt so that only her head stuck out. They told him about how the first rock hit her temple, splitting open the side of her head, the blood dripping down her face. She didn’t scream, but grunted. The boyfriend stood by and watched, unrestrained, trying to catch her eye, but she refused to look at him. Her father also stood by, wringing his hands, a tear pooling in the corner of his eye, but otherwise doing nothing. What could he do while the local officials, the ones who enforced the law, stood near, holding rifles and laughing? Honor felt sick to his stomach just listening to the story. The idea of killing the very thing you love for an indiscretion didn’t make sense. Switching colleges was a much better idea.

Sometimes, Honor has dreams of riding horseback into a village where he wards off the foreign invaders, like one of the Knights of the Round Table, striking them down with his sword. The women and children are grateful and he feels proud to have done his job. Still, he wakes up in a cold sweat when he has these dreams. Why, he thinks, is so much violence attached to honor? Perhaps, Honor thinks, I could use a makeover.

There’s my take. I’d love to read yours.

pjlazos 1.31.18

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Just Be Nice — #WATWB

Just Be Nice

A few weeks ago, I found this copy of Philadelphia Magazine in the lunch room at work, left, thankfully, by a fellow magazine recycler who’d obviously enjoyed the issue and wanted to share — a nice guy (or gal). The cover not only caught my attention, but echoed something I’ve been fretting over years.

I didn’t grow up in Philadelphia, but I lived there for a decade and I’ve worked there for almost three, and let me tell you, monikers cannot only be deceiving, but downright wrong.  The City of Brotherly Love, as Philly is known, is a rough and tumble place when it comes to manners, unless by brotherly they mean frat brothers who’ve been out on a three-day bender. It’s been over 20 years since I’ve lived in the Philadelphia, but even then I bemoaned the general lack of politeness.  I’ve always maintained that it’s our civility that has allowed us to evolve as a species.  Take away tolerance and what do you have? A bunch of people who want to beat the crap out of each other when they don’t like what the other guy:  looks like; is wearing; is eating; is doing; has to say; the list goes on.  

I guess the editors at Philadelphia Magazine felt it was time to address the City of Bad Manners in a tone everyone could understand. You can find that article here.  Do read it as it’s a delight.

I think that this is not just good for Philly, but great news for the world at large and perfect for this month’s We Are the World Blogfest, #WATWB.  Niceness makes a comeback.  And why not?

Isn’t it time for niceness to be front and center again? What if Congress and the Senate injected a bit of niceness into every one of their sessions and said things like, “Hey, want to get a beer after work and talk about this immigration issue?” or “How can we best reduce the deficit without taking away some very important social programs that people rely upon?” to someone in the opposite political party?  What good might come out of that?  What if Christians and Muslims and Jews all decided to put differences aside and have a Coke together, perhaps talk religious theory instead of dogma and find their commonalities instead of their differences?  What if instead of responding in anger to the driver who cuts us off in traffic, we responded with a smile, a nod of the head and an intrinsic understanding that we’ve all been there, we’ve all had bad days, and life can be tough sometimes. You’ll never know what the other guy is going through unless you stop and ask, or even just listen.

Maybe today is the day we all do that.  Imagine — a world where all sorts of people from all different places with all different hair, skin, eye color, food preferences and religions, simply got along.  How nice would that be?

Welcome to 2018 and the first edition of #WATWB.  Co-hosts for this month are Shilpa Garg, Simon Falk, Lynn Hallbrooks, Eric Lahti, Damyanti Biswas and Guilie Castillo.

Want to join?  Here are the guidelines for #WATWB:

1. Keep your post to Below 500 words if you can.

2. Link to a human news story on your blog, one that shows love, humanity, and brotherhood. Paste in an excerpt and tell us why it touched you.  Accentuate the positive!

3. No story is too big or small — as long as it Goes Beyond religion and politics — into the core of humanity.

4. Place the WE ARE THE WORLD badge or banner on your Post and your Sidebar. 

5.  Spread the word on social media. Use the #WATWB hastag.  Let’s start a movement!

Just click Here to enter their link and join us!

pjlazos 1.26.18

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Star Wars – The Last Jedi

Star Wars
The Last Jedi

(A non-review review)

After weeks of trying to get to the theatre, of sold out shows and unexpected snow events, of sickness and schedules that wouldn’t sync up, we finally saw Star Wars, The Last Jedi. It didn’t disappoint, and I was still thinking about some of the psychological motivations for the characters days later. Yet, as much as I loved it, I have one nagging, perhaps really dumb question:

Why is Kylo Ren so mad?

Kylo Ren, (Adam Driver), is a beast of a man/boy who explodes in a blinding rage whenever he doesn’t get his way. You know the type — the kid who was the center of everyone’s attention, who got every darn thing he ever wanted, and who never heard the “N” word, as in “No, you can’t have that,” or “No, you can’t do that.” Now, if your mom is off being a general in a war of good vs. evil and trying to save the universe (great and sad last performance by Carrie Fisher as General Leia Organa), and your dad has a tendency to go rogue and galaxy hop a lot, well, maybe you didn’t get the kind of attention you needed. Perhaps he was raised by nannies, or little Yoda acolytes who spoke in backwards sentences and metaphors that he didn’t understand, or maybe I missed a movie that explained all this, and right now you’re rolling your eyes and thinking, “Holy crap, does this woman know anything about Star Wars?”

If that last bit was your reaction, I direct your attention to the subtitle, above. Even though I’ve been following this series since it first came out when I was in high school, I’m not a Star Wars zealot, obsessively questioning every plot point and executive decision so I’ve probably missed a few things along the way. I get that the Supreme Leader compromised Kylo Ren’s soul and all, and that could be more than a little disconcerting to a young man, but Ren teeters between extreme composure and extreme rage in such exacting bipolar behavior that one wonders if he’s more than internally conflicted, but also chemically imbalanced.


Kylo Ren’s inexplicable anger aside, there were so many things to love about this movie. One is the fact that this past summer, I was with my expat Irish now American friend, Barbara, who, over a two-week period, graced me with a tour of a lifetime around the Emerald Isle. While on the Dingle Peninsula in County Kerry, we were a short boat ride away from Skellig Michael, the little island to where Luke had retreated to live out his days, an island that was once home to Medieval monks who arrived sometime in the 6th century and stayed for hundreds of years thereafter.   They built those beehive houses and the beautiful steps leading up to them and maybe also did some transcribing of the Bible while they were there (see, How the Irish Saved Civilization). Those huts, paeans to sacred geometry, were built all over the Dingle Peninsula so we got to experience Luke’s world firsthand, and had a taste of how cold it would have been to live in one since, despite being summer, it was rainy, cold and blustery that day. Had the weather not been so crappy, we would have gone to Skellig Michael, but in retrospect, I’m glad we didn’t because this Unesco World Heritage Site risks being trampled to death  by tourists, clamoring to experience the pristine beauty of the island and relive the Star Wars experience. Tourism can be great, keeping a national or world treasure alive and in shape with the influx of cash it provides, but it can also be the death knell for a more delicate ecology as is the case with Skellig Michael.


Then there’s Rey (Daisy Ridley), a character who you just love to love, so full of a grit for goodness that her enthusiasm sweeps you along even if you don’t want to go.

The combination of naiveté, curiosity, and a belief in The Force, this unexplained and inexplicable energy that was always bubbling inside of her, created a fully balanced character with a zest for life that didn’t waiver even when the search for herself did. Knock Disney all you want, but they’ve come a long way since the days of Snow White and Cinderella. They’ve been doing this women’s empowerment thing for a while now — Beauty and the Beast (1991), Pocahontas (1995), Mulan (1998), The Princess and the Frog (2009), Brave (2012), Frozen (2013), and Moana (2016) (I’m still singing the songs of the last two), to name a few — and be it prescience, trend setting, or just good marketing (in 2016, there were 1.06 women being born to every 1 man so catering to women tastes makes good business sense), my daughters have grown up thinking, heck, knowing, that girls can be fierce and fiery and in charge if they want, i.e., masters of their own universe. That’s what The Force is all about, right? Being in control of yourself — the opposite of Kylo Ren, I might add — and as a result, mastering control of the natural world around you? With the #MeToo and #TimesUp movements experiencing a groundswell of support following the many sexual harassment allegations against so many famous men, maybe the 21st century will be the time when, to quote Annie Lennox and Aretha Franklin, Sisters Are Doin’ It for Themselves (Eurythmics, 1985).



As for the movie itself, finally we get a plot line that balances male and female energies. Rey and Kylo are practically kids.   They have a lot to learn about life in general, yet they both have mad Force skills and they’re not afraid to use them. You just know their story is only beginning.  That they could talk to each other across the airwaves — facetiming without cell phones — was a nice touch.  We’re not really that far away from such times, considering the advances in technology and our continued evolution and understanding of the human brain.


Of course, the struggle of a handful of rebels against the humongous evil empire has always been there, some eras more than others, like in today’s political climate — as of this writing, the federal government in the U.S. is partially shuttered because our esteemed politicians can’t seem to come to agreement on anything — but it’s especially poignant when the original Star Wars heroes are being phased out like baby boomers out of the 21st century workforce. The Last Jedi refers to Luke Skywalker, of course, and his self-imposed exile follows a self-inflicted fall from grace. How many of us have done the same, made mistakes that we never forgave ourselves for, allowing the rest of our lives to be hijacked by grief and self-flagellation.   The Mark Hamill scenes were some of the most poignant of the movie, the denouement for a character that’s captured the hearts and minds of several generations of kids so many of whom are now parents, and maybe have their own demons to wrestle.

But best of all is this: the Force is democratic in nature. Not as in Democrat vs. Republican, but democratic, meaning, socially equitable, egalitarian, and available to anyone and everyone if they are just willing to feel it in their hearts. In an age with so much infighting, where politicians can’t be trusted beyond your line of sight, where everything seems lost or on the verge of it, Star Wars, The Last Jedi gives you hope: for greater equality, that cooler minds will prevail, that even when things are decimated beyond what we ever thought possible, we can still rebuild. Hope, and a reason to dream. Isn’t that what great movie making is all about?

pjlazos 1.21.18

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