Saturday, November 24, 2007

Cold Sun

It's bone chilling cold tonight. Clear sky, nearly full moon, what's left over from last night. And only the memories of the summer. The sun runs away south this time of year.

I remember asking my dear friend and physicist, John, how it was that an icy glass of water seemed to "radiate" the cold. I mean, if you put your hand there, near it but not touching, you feel cold reaching out to your skin.

He thought for a moment, not because it was a hard question for him, but so he could frame the answer in a way that my mortal mind might grasp. Then he said, "It doesn't exactly radiate the cold, instead it steals the heat from your hand." The sensation of heat transferring from my hand to the glass leaves my nerves feeling the cold, as though it was projected from the ice.

During the day, there is my retreated summer's sun. Some call it a cold sun, as though its temporary distance has made it any less scorching. But it does feel like the freezing air is pressed onto my face. "Radiated", what a wrong word that is in this case. Instead, my warmth is pulled from me, drawn south. "Stolen", as John said.

As soon as it goes, I miss the warmth that was once mine. A breath into the night air makes it appear visible. My body's heat floats out and up and dissipates into blackness. I can't help but wonder if it has made any difference, this old body that has borrowed the heat from the sun itself.

If the cold sun is taking from me, did it get all it wanted? Is it satisfied? Or will it be my joy and wonder to give until, at last, it returns from the equator with its laughter all full of blues and pinks?

Friday, November 23, 2007

A Story About the Necessity of Grace.

1992. November in northern Kenya was cool and dry. Our plane landed on the dirt runway after having earlier flown over the plains of light brown grass. Here and there we saw rings in the grass, dirt circles scarred into the land. They were where homes of the tribal peoples once stood. Probably Masai, made of dung, sticks and thorn bushes, these people are nomadic, so as their food sources move, so do they. Rains and heat cannot remove their footprints as seen from this Otter, the bush plane that moved people and supplies to relief zones.

We were staying in a UN camp near Lake Turkana, on the Sudanese border. Though it was a tent encampment, there were very few luxuries spared. We had hot showers (wood fired water hand hoisted from recycled fuel drums by local villagers to a bag above small shacks with cement floors.) and hot meals, (some of the best lasagna I've ever had, and grilled seafood in an indoor/outdoor mess tent).

But it was 1992. And it was November. The evening we arrived was the same day of the US presidential election. The results came in as the party was beginning to rev up. The UN employees who were there to feed and support relief efforts in the Sudan where southern Christians were murdering and being murdered by the northern Muslims. At the time, I couldn't understand why Christians were murdering anyone. I began slowly to understand that "Christians" had little to do with the faith I knew.

Clinton won the election that night. We woke to the sounds of revelers at around 2am. There was also the sounds of the crack of gunfire. Those days of hard travel tied to video journalism were taxing and I remember not laying awake long. The next morning, the camp was a ghost town. There were a handful of people at breakfast, and word traveled quickly to us that most everyone was hung over after celebrating the liberation of the US from the Republican party.

The gunfire we heard was not celebratory. It was a tribal feud involving cattle. A "Christian" Sudanese who was outfitted with an automatic weapon to counter the attacks of the North also had a dispute with a Turkanese who allegedly stole some cattle from him. That night, he and several others apparently came across the border into Kenya, killed his rival and recovered his livestock.

It seemed surreal at the time. Now I know it was a minor scrape, considering the genocide that has plagued many parts of the African continent without our awareness. Our work the next few days carried on as usual, interviews on the ground with the client we were serving, an air relief organization with a UN contract, and various sorties in the air for footage of their equipment doing the unenviable job of serving desperate remote distribution points.

The US was never rescued by the then new president. The hunger problem in the Sudan is still there, some of it has migrated to other places, and there are more circles in the dirt now, where my eyes saw living villages. The stench of death even with supplies flying into the distribution camps will always be with me. My short trip is nothing to the years of support some people offer. And yet it is perspective.

Not of how lucky or blessed we are, though we are. The perspective is of Grace and the necessity of our sin. It is necessary, of course, because of who we are, born rebellious. It is necessary because of our continued choices that are imperfect and corrupt. National leaders in those places in Africa of course could solve much of it, but for their own appetites. As is true of each one of us.

We are necessary evils. May God bring us to our knees more and more often to remember it. We are here and therefore are necessary. And yet we are born of sin. So what to do but beg for mercy, forgiveness and look for Grace. That's the point. Right here, each one of us is a Story. Will we be told after we're gone? Only if we create a human grace among our fellow travelers. Today, I am one for grace. Tomorrow I will likely sin again. May forgiveness be even more prolific than world hunger...

Monday, November 19, 2007

May it come, the dawn.

I saw the mists in the forest deep. Seeing them as they were, was the prize. The reward. Yes they shrouded the massive redwoods so that I could only see bark and low limbs. And I knew instinctively that above that gray scarf that wrapped itself below the underarms of the tree's limbs, there was green. The coastal redwoods, if they could, they would know that they belong. They are accepted as they are. And though that ever-moving cloth of damp may shroud the sight of those mighty princes and princesses of the trees, their beauty goes without saying. They stand assured. They are their own reward.

Whether I was there or not, they would be. Whether I could do anything for them or not is immaterial. I can only hope that I will see them again, perhaps someday in the sun where backlit dewdrops will push prism light to my clothes and skin. The sun, pressing through the shroud, the fabric dew, misty fog retreating and revealing the greatness that they are. Ancient beings, we all of us are. And yet the damp wetness of our bark so oft creates doubt that we will stand any longer.

Hold on to that thing. That rewarding thing that is and was and is to come. Visitors to the grove or NOT, seeing us, appreciating us for what we are in our imperfect splendor, or NOT. That is the thing. That is the one sure thing. The warm light at tree-top is more perfect and more powerful than the tiny, minuscule droplets of water that, gathered, obscure our beauty. It is the sun that turns the gray of a million droplets into the full spectrum of refracted light, the promise, the rainbow. In that dawn, each needle will hang a single rainbow-maker, where the visitor will marvel at perfection in total.

May it come, the dawn.