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Archive for the ‘Essays on Life’ Category

Where Will This Bridge to 2018 Lead?

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The bridge shown here does not literally lead from one year to another. Of course not. It leads from one bank of the Cuyahoga River to the other in the Cuyahoga Valley National Park near the Canal Exploration Center.

But as I wrapped up the year 2017 and looked ahead to the year 2018 I thought of the symbolic value of bridges.

The passage of one year to another is mostly symbolic. We don’t wake up on Jan. 1 in a different place or as a different person than we were on Dec. 31.

Yet many of us tend to view a new year as a new opportunity as seen by the tradition of making new year’s resolutions. Psychologists and others who study human behavior tell us that most New Year’s resolutions are not kept long term.

It is difficult to change behavior, hence it the appeal of hoping that something about a new year in and of itself will bring about some sort of positive change.

I used to think that way. I used to look back on years in which things had not always gone so well and hoped that the new year would be different. It doesn’t work that way. The new year brings the same challenges, the same problems and the same issues that the past year did. The year may have changed, but I didn’t.

Nonetheless, the coming of a new year brings hope that on the other side of the bridge will be better times ahead. We  can never have too much hope.

But every day is a symbolic bridge. There is always hope that something good will come along today even if it is something small. And everyday bring yet another bridge that we can cross if we choose to changing some aspect of our lives that we want to be different.


Written by csanders429

January 2, 2018 at 7:38 am

The Curious Practice of Exchanging Christmas Cards

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This Christmas tree stands at the North Pole, a.k.a. Peninsula, Ohio.

Our mailbox is filling up these days with Christmas cards. They come from neighbors and long-time friends including some we haven’t seen for years.

Some of the latter are people we only hear from at this time of the year. Such was the case with a card that arrived from a former co-worker I have not seen in 30 years.

She was the secretary in the newsroom of the newspaper at which I worked in Evansville, Indiana, for a short time.

Since I left that paper, Betsy has gotten married and raised a family. She still lives in southwest Indiana and I’m not sure that we’ll ever see her again.

But each year we dutifully exchange Christmas cards. I have a hazy memory of her writing a short note in previous cards, but that wasn’t the case this year. In fact, most cards we receive do not have notes or letters.

I sometimes wonder why people who are no longer part of each others lives continue to exchange Christmas cards.

I’ve known a number of people over the years who we’ve stopped hearing from at Christmas time and each year we edit our Christmas card list to remove the names and addresses of those who no longer send us cards and who we are unlikely to see again.

Maybe its tradition that keeps old friends who have fallen out of touch exchanging Christmas cards. Some people enjoy sending cards even to those who do not reciprocate.

There might be another reason why people exchange cards at this time of the year. It is a way of saying “I remember you” even if it is just once a year. There is something comforting about that.


Written by csanders429

December 12, 2017 at 8:40 am

Questions Without Answers

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I was standing in  Gallitzin, Pennsylvania, in the central part of the state when I happened to look up and saw the contrail of a jetliner flying overhead.

The size of the contrail suggested it might be more than a two-engine plane. I zoomed in with my telephoto lens and made two exposures, the second of which is shown above.

As I suspected, the jet has four engines. The hump shape of the nose and the contours of the engines suggests it is a Boeing 747.

Alas, the angle of flight in respect to my position made it impossible to see the tail or make out a name on the fuselage. Some airlines have begun to place their names on the underside of their planes, but isn’t the case here.

I will never know what airline is flying this plane or where it is going. I can only see that it is headed westward.

So much of life is like that. At best we have a few clues but not complete answers to our questions.



Written by csanders429

November 1, 2017 at 5:50 am

All That Remains is the Glitter (and Some Memories)

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It is graduation season at the nation’s colleges and high schools and millions are donning caps and gowns and going through ceremonies and rituals that have been around for as long as any of us alive today can remember.

And graduates have probably been saying for just as long that they were only doing this for their parents.

I suspect that if the graduates could take a vote they might do away with all of the pomp and circumstance.

But many of them go through it anyway even though I know a number of people who skipped their graduation ceremony and at least one who was there, but sitting with the audience and not walking across the stage like the rest of us.

When I taught at John Carroll University, faculty members were expected to participate in the ceremony.

After one particular commencement, I remember going the next day to get a haircut or some such mundane activity and wondering what the graduates were thinking today.

All of their lives they had been preparing for going to college. Then college came and it must have seemed like an eternity before they would graduate.

But they did and now it was the morning after. What are they thinking now that a major part of their life is behind them?

I was reminded of that question when I ran across this “glitter” on the bricks in front of the Rose Well House on the campus of Indiana University.

The Well House is one of the more iconic landmarks on the Bloomington campus and countless grads had their picture taken in front of it.

Graduation Day at IU had been four days earlier and some graduates had left behind – although probably unintentionally – some reminders of that day.

Now it is time to get on with the rest of their life. But cheer up grads. There is always graduate school if you don’t want to face life just yet. And you will always have your memories.


Reflections on a Long Ago Sunset

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I ran across this Kodachrome slide more than a year ago while looking for something else. I set it aside and planned to put it back in the box but for some reason it never got put away.

It has sat on my desk for several months gathering dust. While scanning slides for a book project, I decided to do something about this slide. I cleaned it and then scanned it.

The slide mount is stamped December 1979. Chances are it was one of a handful of frames left on a roll of film that I exposed during a trip to Florida.

My memory is that I made this image at the edge of the backyard of the house in which I was living at the time. It wasn’t just any house. It was the house in which I grew up and moved back to after college when a job offer came along in my hometown of Mattoon, Illinois.

Our house was on the edge of town and the view to the south and southwest was farm fields. In December the sunset would have been toward the southwest.

I no longer remember why I made this particular image. Maybe I was standing in my backyard, saw the sunset and decided to capture it.

I used to spend a lot of time standing on the edge of the field abutting our property, looking toward the southwest and thinking about things.

In December 1979, I had a lot to think about. My mother had died tin October of cancer. A friend had died in a plane crash on Thanksgiving Day. I was going through tough times.

Amid a period of recovering from grief I saw beauty in this scene. I vaguely remember stopping down the aperture just to see what effect it would have.

I must have gotten on my knees to frame the vegetation in the foreground, plants that many might call weeds.

The image turned out darker than I would have liked, but I liked what I saw. I still do.

The slide from which this image was scanned has since been placed back into its box. In life, there are always times when things must be put away, even if they are never quite forgotten.


As Mary Richards, Mary Tyler Moore Gave Me a Window Into Urban Professional Life

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The cast of the Mary Tyler Moore Show during the final episode, which aired in 1977.

The death this week of actress Mary Tyler Moore brought back pleasant memories of nights spent watching her on television.

I first watched her in the Dick Van Dyke Show, which aired on Wednesdays in the 1960s. It came on at 8 p.m. (central time) so I was able to see it just ahead of my mandated bedtime.

Like so many programs of the 1960s, it was light comedy of which I remember only bits and pieces. It was just something to watch.

That was not the case, though, with The Mary Tyler Moore Show, which began airing in 1970 when I was in high school and starting to look ahead to adult life.

Many have observed that Moore’s character, Mary Richards, personified the 30-something modern woman of the time but what I identified with was the urban professional lifestyle that she led.

I grew up in a small town in east central Illinois and wanted to leave there for the big city.

The Mary Tyler Moore Show was my window into what life was like or could be like in the city for a young professional.

Although I had an interest in journalism and worked as a reporter for my college newspaper during a portion of the run of the show, journalism was not my career goal for most of the years that I watched the program.

Critics have widely praised The Mary Tyler Moore Show. It was listed by the Writers Guild of America as No. 6 on the list of the 101 Best Written TV Series of All Time.

Some facets of the show were cartoonish, but it was, after all, a comedy. The writers of the show were not shy about taking on life issues in a serious way.

I appreciated the realistic view that not all conflicts and adverse situations end with people living happily ever after nor are all life issues resolved if they are ever resolved at all.

This mirrored the real life that I was beginning to see in which relationships break apart, dreams are crushed and limitations never exceeded.

Mary Richards had a pragmatic streak that was personified in the opening sequence in which she looks at the price of an item in a grocery store, gets a look of disgust on her face, and then throws it into her cart, giving in to her desire to have it while wishing it didn’t cost so much.

Variety noted that despite its willingness to wade into social issues, The Mary Tyler Moore Show was not as overtly political or socially conscious as other shows of the era.

The creators of the show also had to make changes, including dropping their plan for Mary to be coming off a divorce. They opted for a back story of Mary having been dumped by her former boyfriend.

Nonetheless, I found The Mary Tyler Moore Show to be refreshing and even inspiring in its own way.

I also noted the shift in the lyrics of the theme song that opened the program. It went from “you might just make it” to “you’re gonna make it after all.”

It was the sort of optimistic view that a young adult needs during a time of uncertainty mixed with the blind optimism of youth.

The Mary Tyler Moore Show aired for the final time in 1977 and I watched that last episode, curious as to how it would all end. Even that last show had an unexpected twist with Mary introducing the cast during a curtain call shown as the ending credits rolled across the screen.

By then I had settled into being a newspaper reporter in my Illinois hometown. I wasn’t living the urban professional lifestyle portrayed in The Mary Tyler Moore show, but getting to the city remained my goal.

Ed Asner, the actor who portrayed Mary’s boss, Lou Grant, would that year begin his own TV show in which he portrayed the city editor of a Los Angeles newspaper.

I would watch Lou Grant as religiously as I had The Mary Tyler Moore Show and for many of the same reasons. It was a window into a life that I longed to have.


An Unlikely Place to Find Wisdom

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I was standing on a footbridge in Paxton, Illinois, with my camera poised to make an image. It was just before noon.

It was not the best of times in my life. I was at a career crossroads and quite upset about the path I was being forced to take. Rough times were ahead and I was having difficulty accepting what has happening.

Looking to my left, I saw a solitary figure who seemed to be walking toward me with a purpose.

When he reached the bridge, he stopped and introduced himself. We shook hands and struck up a conversation.

He had been a physics teacher at the local high school until retiring in 2008. I’ve never taken a physics course but imagine it to be a difficult field of study. He acknowledged there is a lot of math involved so he used humor to put students at ease.

He noticed my hearing aids and we talked about those because he, too, wore hearing aids.

That somehow led to his telling me about a medical condition that he had that may have been Hydrocephalus.

It causes the head to swell and an abnormal amount of fluid to accumulate on the brain. It is more common in children, but can occur in adults. He described his experiences with this affliction in detail.

He lost the ability to urinate and must wear a catheter and a plastic bag to collect his urine. He pointed to the spot where the bag was situated underneath the shorts on his left leg. The condition also causes him to have difficulty walking.

The most devastating effect, though, was that his personality changed. He said that people who knew him said that he wasn’t the same person as he had been before.

If I understood him correctly, this led to his being forced to retire from teaching. That could have left him angry and bitter. But he accepted it.

The conversation pivoted to the difficulty of accepting the tough situations we find ourselves faced with in life. I said that getting to acceptance can be extremely difficult. He concurred.

He said he believed in God and related acceptance to his faith. I braced for a mini-sermon, but that did not come.

Instead, he restated the point that it is hard to get to acceptance. But with acceptance comes freedom.

I let that sink in. He was right, although at the time I wasn’t sure why.

Perhaps he had learned that no matter how much he railed against his health woes, that wouldn’t change anything.

He could be angry with his doctors, with the administrators who had forced him out of his job or even with God.

But that wouldn’t change a thing. It was a waste of time and energy to fight a battle he was not destined to win.

By accepting things as they are he had freed himself from those endless losing battles and had more time to focus on what he could control in his life.

Wearing a urine collection bag wasn’t convenient or pleasant, he said, but it enabled him to be mobile.

This man’s understanding of the complexity of the struggle to reach acceptance gained my respect.

So many people want to help those struggling with adversity by spouting positive bromides as though hearing them will make everything well. Bromides suggest an easy solution, but there are seldom easy solutions to complex problems.

The physics teacher had an errand to complete so we shook hands and exchanged a pleasant farewell.

He will never know, but he had just taught me an important lesson.

He didn’t coin the phrase “acceptance equals freedom.” You’ll find it in many self-help books. But he introduced me to it.

It is as though that man had been sent to teach me a lesson that I needed to learn.

In telling this story to my wife, she reached the same conclusion and added, “when the pupil is ready to learn the teacher will appear.”


Written by csanders429

November 4, 2016 at 5:42 am