Friday, December 24, 2010

Merry Christmas! God Bless All!

Since I do not blog on Sundays, I will post a Christmas message tonight, Christmas eve. Plans? With all the kids having flown from the nest a decade ago, Donnie and I will be having our Christmas eve dinner at a local Chinese restaurant, run by Korean, prior to midnight Mass, which is at 10:30 this evening. (It finishes at midnight, so the name is not entirely misleading.)

As he does every year, Finnegan, our priest's black cat, has wandered from the cold into the warmth of the manger. Both he, and Sula, our parish's white cat, take turns sleeping in the manger. Sometimes they share it.

Sharing warm Christmas wishes with all! May God bless each one of you tomorrow and all days of this happy season!

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Was My Father a Bad Man?

The question is a serious one and not a rhetorical one. I hope that some readers can shed light on something that has puzzled me ever since the book, The Da Vinci Code, was published. It was brought back into focus for me today when I read some literature about Our Lady of Good Success, the Venerable Mother Mariana de Jesus Torres. The literature stated that, according to Mother Mariana, "Our Lady prophesied that at the end of the 19th century and especially in the 20th century Satan would reign almost completely by the means of the Masonic sect."

Wikipedia shows the Masons in a different light, as a social organization. I cannot summarize the whole article here for it is quite long, but you can read it for yourself: Freemasonry. Apparently, people who were considered good and moral and all that wonderful kind of stuff, like George Washington, were members of the Masons. Where I grew up in Maine and New Hampshire, the Masons were considered to be community leaders with good morals. Most attended church. From the Wikipedia article, the central statement for me was the following: "Freemasonry's central preoccupations remain charitable work within a local or wider community, moral uprightness (in most cases requiring a belief in a Supreme Being) as well as the development and maintenance of fraternal friendship – as James Anderson's Constitutions originally urged – amongst brethren."

So, I don't get it. My father was a Mason. Was he a bad man? Does anyone know?

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Day of Flowers

At work, we have some training programs, some of them quite long, that I oversee -- well, ultimately oversee. There are a few layers of supervision between me and those programs. In spite of those layers, I continue a practice that I began 20 years ago when I was a dean. At every graduation, I give flowers to the teaching team. I don't care whether the students did well in the course; I don't care if the students were happy with the course. These issues will come up later in program reviews and making changes is the responsibility of the immediate supervisors who are responsible for these programs. The flowers I give are for the effort, to let the teachers in these programs know that I notice and I care.

The teachers love these flowers and look forward to them. I usually send them with a handwritten "congratulations" note. If I can take them to the teaching team personally, I do, but far too often I am tied up and cannot. So, I send them via my admin assistant. No matter how the flowers are delivered, the teachers are also grateful. You would think that I had given each a significant award, but no, they are just a few fragrant flowers. Even the male teachers like them. They have become such an important part of the graduation process that I have my admin assistant purchase them for me if I am traveling and will be missing graduation.

Today was graduation. I was not traveling, so I was able to attend and give closing remarks. Closing remarks are always easy. The best closing remarks are brief. I know that. The graduation is essentially over, and I certainly don't want to stand between the graduates and their parties. So, today, as always, I kept my remarks brief. Then I had a chance to interact with the teachers and their graduates. Some of the families were present, as well.

So, it was a good day. (Not all days are quite so pleasant.) We celebrated the good efforts of teachers and their students. The teachers smiled with pleasure at their flowers. And then I went on walkabout.

Walkabout is one of my management practices (when I am in town). I take about an hour and talk to as many employees as I can. I usually concentrate on one section at a time and ultimately over a month or two I reach nearly everyone. I always take cookies with me. The sugarfree kind because so many of our employees are diabetic. Living in the Middle East taught me to take a gift when I call on people. It is not the cookies that matter; it is the attention. I was able to make it through two sections on walkabout this afternoon and yet have time not to hurry any one conversation. Oh, I enjoy the walkabouts as much as my employees do. I also learn a lot. People volunteer all kinds of information when they have a cookie in hand!

So, today was just one of those days, one of those good days! To make it even more perfect, I was even able to catch noon Mass at a small church near my office. I hope that you all had as happy a day today as I did, and if not, I will pray for a perfect tomorrow for all of you!

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

What happened to the Blest Atheist (blog, that is)?

I got caught by surprise by Google's lack of tech support and trickery in domain registration. I decided that since it was about time that Blest Atheist had a name change, given that it now has been four years since my conversion, the timing was right not to go along with the Google-GoDaddy scheme for moving registration to GoDaddy at nine times the original cost. Others have screamed about being held hostage in order to get their website back. I don't like being held hostage and found a way around that. I could have retained the blog title but not the URL, so it seemed fitting to change both.

I will, over time, move all the BA posts here. There are nearly 300 posts, so that will take some time. Please be patient as I work on it. Unfortunately, I cannot access the comments.

I apologize for any inconvenience that causes or has caused readers and followers of Blest Atheist. I thank all those who have followed Blest Atheist and will contact each individually with this information.

Friday, July 9, 2010

The Good Side of Being Sick

I guess I was born a Pollyanna. I cannot help myself. Whatever happens, I always see a good side to it, the proverbial silver lining in the dark cloud. So, I suppose it should come as no surprise that I have had a delightful time being sick this past week (other than being annoyed at the physical symptoms that get in my way of completing daily work that requires me to be a human whirlwind).

I apparently caught some kind of foreign bug that would not respond to American medication in the middle of last week. I thought it might have accompanied me on the plane back from Hawaii, but I have learned from one of my managers who recently spent time in Korea and was sick upon return that it looks and acts just like the bug she imported from Korea. So, that may explain why American medicines did not work. I gave up taking them and enjoyed the drama of being sick, something that rarely happens to me. Friday I dragged myself to work and paid the price: I was in bed all day Saturday and most of Sunday. I got better in time to go to our SFO meeting, then catch the midnight plane to Omaha, do a day's work (the human whirlwind kind), and return to California. I got sick again just as the plane landed and spent Tuesday and half of today in bed again. (There seems to be a 36-hour cycle here.) Now, I am well again -- at least as well as I was on Monday.

Some wonderful things happened while I was sick. Among them were the following:
- I got sleep, deep and delicious sleep, a dessert of a kind I rarely taste.

- I got pampered; Donnie went to the store for me; I am usually the one going to the store for everyone else.

- I got pampered again; my managers did all my work for me; every single report got turned in; all the preparations for our team for Afghanistan got taken care of without my involvement; our new organizational chart got produced and forwarded; two of my managers took care of a video conference that I would otherwise have had to attend (together, they were able to cover what I would have contributed); several business trips were arranged; several visitors were briefed; my meetings were convened by others. I was dialed into a couple of policy-changing discussions, and I did run my eyes over that org chart, but for the most part, the senior managers did it all, keeping my informed by email so that I could interact only when awake, aware, and willing.

- With my energy sources replenished as of the middle of the day today, I was able to attend noon Mass and afterward say the rosary with Sr. Maria and some of the retired members of our parish who stay after Mass on Wednesdays for the rosary. (This was the first time they had invited me to join them because they know that whenever I do go to noon Mass, I usually have to run quickly off to work or to some kind of appointment. It is rare that I take a day of vacation, even rarer that I take it on a Wednesday, and even rarer yet that I have not planned it chock-full of errands.)

- I even got my hair cut, and that only happens once every couple of months. When you have a job as a human whirlwind, you have a changing hairstyle as the weeks go on: short, medium, long, longer. I am back to short now, ready for another two-month stint of tilting at windmills and breezing through our distance offices!

- I got to walk in the rain; I suppose I should not have done that, but it so rarely rains here, and I so love to walk in the rain and splash about like a little kid that I gave myself permission to do so! And while I was walking in the rain, I got to hear the town's roosters crow.

Yes, there is indeed a good side to being sick. I found it. Tomorrow I have to return to zipping and twisting through mounds of work, including whatever number of emails have been added to the 1143 that left unanswered when I left, ill, on Friday afternoon. But for today, for me, the world stood still!

Image from

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

The Stories of Everyday People

Stuck at home today with a foreign germ picked up recently on travels that I had seemed to tame enough yesterday for my one-day commute to Omaha from California but that raged back full-force this morning after a sufficient amount of sleep to reconstitute my entire body (I went to bed significantly earlier than usual), I have found my mind doing the traveling, instead of my body. So many stories I have accumulated through my travels that I could probably write a multi-volume compendium of them, but I have no time for that. Therefore, I will share just one of those stories, one of many like it that keep me collecting them.

On a recent flight out of the San Jose airport, which is undergoing extensive remodeling, I found myself the only person in line at security. Now, there’s a disconcerting feeling! Where had everyone gone, and if everyone had gone somewhere else, why was I here? I smiled at the TSA agents, who smiled back. (I had my choice of three!) I have often said hello to TSA agents, and they always seem surprised. Not so in San Jose where almost all of them are very friendly.

“Hi,” I said, “Where is everyone?”

“We’re all here just for you,” he responded with a grin. Then he went on to explain the empty airport. They had just that morning moved about 90% of the flights to the newly re-built Terminal A and were in the process of shutting down Terminal C, where I was. My flight was one of the few still flying out of Terminal C, and I had come a bit early, hence, my isolated status.

An incurable extrovert, I talk to all who cross my path —- the guards, the homeless, the janitors. I smile at them all. Maybe that makes me weak-minded. The Russians would say that. In Russian culture, anyone who smiles at a stranger or smiles without cause is considered “legkomyslennyj” (weak-minded, or lit. light-thoughted). Weak-minded or not, I have met some interesting people that way.

Nearly two decades ago, I was waiting for Donnie to pick me up at the small airport near to where we live (not the San Jose International Airport, which is a bit farther down the road), and, learning that he had forgotten about my return, as was his wont at the time, I called a friend to while away the time that I would have to wait for Donnie. My friend being a Russian immigrant, I chatted with her in Russian. As I talked, a janitor remained not far away, sweeping an already clean floor. When I finally hung up, he walked over to me and said in Russian, “Excuse me, I did not mean to eavesdrop, but I could not help doing so. I was wondering when you moved here.”

“In 1989,” I told him.

“Ah-hah, from where?”

I started to see where this might be going, but not quite sure, I answered, “Well, I have lived many places, but I grew up in Maine.”

He looked a little surprised at that and then asked where my parents had come from. Now I was sure that I knew where this was going.

“I am not Russian,” I told him. “I just happen to speak Russian.”

Well, we talked for the remaining 20 minutes until Donnie finally showed up. I learned that his name was Volodya (nickname for Vladimir), that he had a family, and that he had been working as a janitor at the airport for a few months. At the time, I was traveling internationally on a frequent basis (as in every week) to provide consultation on various innovations and problem-solving strategies to ministers of education in a couple dozen countries. Every week upon departure and arrival, I would run into Volodya, and we would chat.

Volodya’s jobs changed at the airport periodically. He was promoted from janitor to baggage handler to ticket agent. Through it all, over the years, our relationship, too, changed. At some point – I don’t recall when – we moved from the “vy” (formal form of address) to “ty” (informal form of address). (In Russian, one is said to be “on vy” or “on ty,” indicating the closeness of the relationship and the amount of impersonality or friendship.)

Then Donnie and I moved to Jordan for 2.5 years, and I did not see Volodya again. Not until Donnie flew home through that same airport. His flight was delayed, and as I was waiting for him, Volodya, now a bigger whig (if one can say that), walked up to me, surprised to see me. I explained where I had been, and we sat down and chatted for the 45 minutes until Donnie showed up.

When I told Volodya that I was traveling less (although one look at my current travel schedule might make one think that this could not possibly be the case), he asked where I was working. When I answered, he gasped, “My wife works there.”

“Well, it is a pretty big place,” I said. “There are nearly 2000 people working there, and only a few hundred work for me. I doubt that I would know her.”

“She works in a special program,” he answered, and named one of the myriad programs I supervise.

“That is in my division,” I responded, somewhat flabbergasted. “What is your last name?” In the ten years that I had been talking to Volodya, I had never thought to ask his last name.

The next day I went to the program office and asked for his wife. I told her that I had known Volodya for ten years and was curious to meet her.

She smiled and said, “Yes, he told me. In fact, he has been telling me for ten years that he knows this American who speaks Russian like a Russian. Now I know who you are.” Then she added, “He is tickled that he is on ty with my boss. He said to me, ‘you two are on vy, but we two are on ty!” We both laughed.

So, I will continue to talk to all who cross my path. They all have stories.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

God's Lesson on Impatience and Irritation

Yesterday, one of my British friends wrote the following on her Facebook page: "In connection with the dust cloud that has closed UK airports, I have been arrested as police discovered I cleaned my house last week." I can relate to that, considering how poorly adept I am at housework!

I can also relate to the long lines that are going to face all of us who will at one point soon need to travel to Europe and through Europe. I seem to have gotten out of the trip to Jordan next week, but I will be going there in May and others from my office will, for certain, be traveling there this weekend...well, for certain, if the airports in Germany and Amsterdam are open again. One hears that the volcano eruption may continue for weeks, disturbing air traffic for even longer.

So, in anticipation of some jammed planes and resultant long lines, I will try to remember the lesson I was taught recently about impatience and irritation, two emotions that generally accompany long lines, especially in connection with disrupted plane traffic. It came as a result of having to disembark from a plane that had just loaded due to a mechanical problem. The plane was destined for Phoenix, and from there I was to catch another plane to Baltimore-Washington International Airport. Everyone had to be rescheduled, and most of us were making connections that we would miss, so the line was long and slow, a couple of hours (!) slow.

A Vietnamese couple in line several people behind me kept pushing, trying to get ahead of those in front of them. “How not American,” I thought, determined to make them take their turn in good American style and sense of rightness.

There were three of them, actually, the elderly couple and a young woman, whom I assumed to be their granddaughter. They chatted away in an Asian language that I did not recognize but later learned was Vietnamese.

As they pushed forward, the elderly man actually elbowed me aside, trying to slide around me as the line began to inch around the twists and turns leading to the ticket counter. I had watched him use this maneuver to leapfrog successfully in front of about a dozen people, one at a time. Now I separated him from his wife and the young woman, and, having stood in line for close to 90 minutes already, knowing that each passing minute lowered the chances of finding a flight from Phoenix to the East Coast, I was decidedly impatient with the process and irritated with someone who felt he deserved to go first. (Of course, I did realize that this was simply his culture; he probably had no idea how Americans, who are raised to take turns, are annoyed by what was a normal jockeying for position in his own land.) Still, having spent time in countries where one must jockey for position or never make it to the counter, I was determined to hold my own place and did, continuing to separate him from the two who were with him.

Feeling uncomfortable about the whole situation, I did what extroverts always do. I struck up a conversation. The elderly couple did not speak English. However, Twi, the young woman, who, it turns out was not their granddaughter but just another line-stander, did, albeit almost unintelligibly. She spoke to the couple in Vietnamese and me in bad English and slowly a picture of each other emerged.

The elderly couple stopped pushing. The four of us were now a group and could proceed through the line together until we were separated into two groups at the ticket counter. The elderly couple took the first open ticket agent. Twi, who had asked me to interpret for her, and I took the second. It is not the first time that someone whose language I do not speak has asked me to interpret. You see, if you work with foreigners a lot, you learn how to speak broken English in a way that they can understand when they cannot understand grammatically correct and well enunciated English, and you learn how to understand what they are trying to say when they know only 1-2 words out of the dozen that they need. So, I interpreted for Twi and got her all set up for her new flight. Since she would have a 6-hour wait, she called her husband to meet for lunch. He would meet her at the baggage claim, where all our bags had been sent.

As for me, I had to go pick up my bag, as well, because my new flight was leaving from another terminal. San Jose Airport is easy to navigate, but Twi was new both to the airport and to the English language, so I offered to walk her over to the baggage claim area and get her on the right curb to meet her husband. After that, I could catch the bus to the other terminal.

As we left the ticket counter, I saw the elderly couple standing by, looking confused. They had just received their new tickets but clearly had not understood anything about what their next step should be. I looked at their tickets; they were on my flight. Twi explained to them that they would have to get their luggage and take a bus to the other terminal. They panicked until they understood that I was on their flight and would accompany them the whole way.

Having crossed the overpass, obtained our luggage, and dropped Twi at the right curb, the couple and I were ready to clamber on the shuttle bus. I stepped up first and threw my bag onto the shelving. Then, I noticed the elderly, stereotypically small, Asian man struggling to lift his bag. Equally small but a farm-raised girl with eight years of military duty under her belt, today I can lift and swing heavy suitcases much the same way as I used to life and swing bales of hay. I hopped back out and grabbed the two suitcases and swung them onto the rack.

We stayed together, minimally communicating, given the lack of a common language, until flight time. They got off first in Phoenix and were muddling through an interpretation of the airport signs when I disembarked, being rewarded with a second chance to help them.

I am sure that day I received a heaven-sent lesson: be kind, be helpful; irritation & impatience are not traits to be developed. I was given a chance to become acquainted with two people whom otherwise would have been only faces in a crowd. How interesting that once we know someone, our attitude dramatically changes for the better. As for them, they were very grateful. “Thank you” was the one American expression they did know, and they used it over and over with me. In spite of the aggravation of disrupted travel, I arrived cheerful, thanks to two people I did not know and whose language I did not speak.

Next time, when faced with long lines at the airport, as is sure to happen in the upcoming weeks, I will try to remember this lesson. I have often been the recipient of the kindness of strangers when I travel. I like it when the shoe is on the other foot, when I can be the stranger who shows kindness. At the end of the day, we are all God's children; we should work together and play together in ways that evidence that we know this to be true.

Friday, January 1, 2010

2010: A New Beginning

Now that is about as mundane a title for a new year's post as there possibly could be. Except... This morning when I picked up the Bible for a lectio divina that I try to do each morning (although I do not always succeed), it fell open by chance to Psalm 78, "A New Beginning in Zion and David." A long psalm, Psalm 78 was not one with which I was previously familiar. It gives quite a wonderful recounting of the past, where God was present, what God did, and how the people sinned, and ends with change and hope for the future. Wouldn't it be a wonderful beginning to this year to recount our past, remembering the moments where God was with us, what God did for us, and how we sinned, and ending with a resolution for change and knowledge that we do have a reason for hope?

Perhaps 2010 will be a year that is different from past years. At least, it started that way for me. First, there was the blue moon! And then Donnie and I welcomed in the year together. Now, we were doing that quietly at home, which sounds pretty routine. Except...This is the first time in 40 years that I have been awake at midnight on New Year's Eve!

I just returned from New Year Mass and am delighted that I still have a half-day left without having to report to work, just in time to wish all of you Happy New Year! Best wishes for blessings and a gentle year!

Note: Blue moon photo by Ernest Coleman. 2010 photo from Associated Press, Taiwan.