Wednesday, May 31, 2023

Old English, A Historical Background: The End of Anglo-Saxon England

 Duke William of Normandy's victory at the Battle of Hastings on 14 October 1066 A.D. did not inherently mean that that William would be king - kings had fallen in battle and their victors had not replaced them in the past.  A member of the royal house of Wessex - Edgar grandson of Edmund Ironsides - remained alive although a minor.  The Earls of the North were willing to fight as were the archbishops - but in the absence of a clear leader (militarily or politically) to lead, the coalition began to quickly break up.  By late October - within two weeks of the victory - the English leadership had submitted and William was crowned King in December 1066 A.D.

(William The Conqueror's Conquest of England - Source)

William returned to Normandy in 1067 A.D. laden with treasure.  He had already begun granting lands in the south to his followers.  But a delayed reaction set in:  his followers began to usurp land and churches and began building their own residences.  The Normans, unlike the Danes and Norwegians, spoke a language completely unlike Anglo-Saxon, and followed different manners.  A movement began growing to support Harold's son Godwine, who although young and inexperienced had the power of his father's name.  A somewhat disorganized resistance began to grow and burst into flame.  It was centered at Exeter, which was laid siege to and overrun by William.  Harold's sons Godwine, Edmund, and Magnus fled - to the Hiberno-Norse kingdom where their father had fled in 1051 A.D.  Gathering mercenaries, they reinvaded England in the summer of 1068 A.D. with a series of raids along the coast until they were caught in open battle in 1069 A.D. - they escaped, but the bulk of their troops did not.  

This ended the active attempts by Harold's family to regain England; his mother and sister fled to Flanders.  Some of  his sons and one daughter ended up in the court of the Danish King Swein.  We hear nothing of the sons after 1075 A.D. but Harold's daughter Gytha was married to Prince Vladimir, a prince of Smolensk in the land of the Rus.  He, as well as his son Msistislav became Grand Princes of Kiev.  One of Msistslav's daughter's married a Danish noble whose son became the Danish King.  The current royal houses of Denmark and England are descended in part from this line; thus in a way King Harold's legacy lives on.  Another son Harold fled to Norway and disappears around 1098 A.D.; another daughter Gunnhild became a nun until kidnapped and marrying not one but  two earls.

The rebellion which Harold's sons had set off in 1068 A.D. continued to burn into 1070 A.D. especially in the North.  William invaded with brutal force and devastation, so depopulating the North that it had to be re-populated in the 12th Century.  By 1071 A.D when the end of guerilla warfare ended under such men as Herward the Wake, Anglo-Saxon resistance was essentially done.

Among the upper echelons of Anglo-Saxon society, the dissolution was almost complete.  After 1075 A.D. there were no Anglo-Saxon Earls and only a few mid-level authorities such as shire reeves.  Most Anglo-Saxon noble families were dispossessed of their properties, by 1086 A.D. only 5% of land south of the river Tees in Northern England was in the hands of Anglo-Saxons.  By 1086 A.D. no bishopric was held by an Anglo-Saxon, and only a few abbots remained.

In the 1070's, a fleet of 235 ships left England, carrying warriors and families to the Byzantine Empire and Constantinople.  Byzantium is need of warriors and the Anglo-Saxons could fill that need.  The Varangian guard, the elite unit originally formed of Vikings and the Rus (Harald Hardrada had served there) came to be heavily replaced by Anglo-Saxons, where the "axe bearing barbarians" and their descendants loyally served the Byzantines Emperors through at least the Fourth Crusade (1204 A.D.).

A final historical note:  In 1100 A.D., Henry the 1st, Duke William's grandson, married Matilda (Edith), the daughter of Margaret of Scotland and Malcolm III.  Margaret was a daughter of the Athling Edward that had returned to England in 1057 A.D. With this marriage and the children of Henry and Matilda's marriage, the royal house of Wessex in some sense regained the throne of England.

(Old English Posting Page)

Works cited:

Brooke, Christopher:  From Alfred to Henry III 871-1272.  Norton Library:  USA,  1961.

Hollister, C. Warren:  The Making of England 55 B.C. to 1399.  D.C. Heath and Company:  United States,  1976.

Trevelyan, G.M.:  History of England Volume 1:  From the Earliest Times to the Reformation.  Anchor Books:  USA, 1953

Walker, Ian:  Harold:  The Last Anglo-Saxon King.  The History Press;  Gloucester, United Kingdom, 1997

Wikipedia:  Norman Conquest, Varangian Guard

Tuesday, May 30, 2023

Hammerfall 2.0: Not With A Bang But A Whimper

 Yesterday at 1700 local time, my employment with my now-really-former-employer formally ended.

It was without incident - partially I am sure due to the fact that it is Memorial Day in the United States and so no-one was at work, but partially as well because there is simply nothing to do or say.  A bland e-mail was put out on Friday which could just as easily been generated by an Artificial Intelligence as by an actual person, thanking us for all our work in helping to advance the battle against cancer and wishing us the best in our future endeavors.

It was the equivalent of a letter addressed to "Occupant".

Sometime today our access is supposed to be cut to all company related programs.  This week, employees including myself will wend our way to the facility where we will turn in our computer, any associated devices, and badges, and then wander away to the next of chapter of our lives.

With that, my employment of approximately seven years ends.

In retrospect of course, the whole thing seems a bit ridiculous. I have been laid off before. I have been at companies that have laid people off before.  Never in my 25+ years have I ever seen a company that was so blatantly unconcerned with the outcomes for employees that were formerly considered critical to its operation (not me of course, but others).  I have seen ugly divorces that were handled with more concern and tact.

If anything, this whole experience re-emphasizes a lesson I learned years ago, that one should never, ever  buy into a company's rhetoric.  The individual employee is a resource to be deployed and eliminated at will and effort is only marginally considered in the retention portion of the calculation.  I have known for years that employment is a fee for service; this just confirms it.  

Those of a certain era will recall the basis of today's title:  The Hollow Men by T.S. Eliot.  That ending, if you remember that part of English Literature Class, reads:

This is the way the world ends
This is the way the world ends
This is the way the world ends
Not with a bang but a whimper.

In all of my years of employment and perhaps even life, this is the most anticlimactic ending of all.

(Post Script:  I have my next round of interviews tomorrow.  I am hopeful it is my last round of interviews; this will be the fifth set.  I will likely have met 20% of the company by the time I am done.  That is an unusual amount for my industry, but perhaps they have had not great experiences in the past.  With any luck, it will be on to better things in the not too distant future.)

Sunday, May 28, 2023

The Return Of The Prodigal Son: The Elder Son Returns

 "The elder son...was angry then and refused to go in, and his father came out and began to urge him to come in...

The father said 'My son, you are with me always, and all I have is yours.   But it was only right we should celebrate and rejoice, because your brother was dead and has come to life; he was lost and is found.'"


For Henry Nouwen (and he argues, for Rembrandt) the possible conversion of the Elder Son remains the great question of the story of the Prodigal Son and of Rembrandt's painting; the crucial question, as Nouwen says.  Neither the parable of Jesus nor Rembrandt's interpretation leaves us any clue as to what the final outcome would be.

The question, says Nouwen, is critical because it becomes clear that "...the father does not love the younger son more than the elder.  In the story the father goes out to the elder son just as he did to the younger, urges him to come in and says 'My son, you are with me always, and all I have is yours.".  The father, Nouwen notes, has shared everything with the elder son just he did with the younger son who took his and left:  "He made him (the elder son) part of his daily life, keeping nothing from him.  'All I have is yours' he says.  There could be no clearer statement of the father's unlimited love for his elder son.  Thus the father's unlimited love for his elder son.  Thus the father's unreserved, unlimited son is offered wholly and equally to both sons."

Nouwen notes that the Elder Brother complains to his father about his Younger Brother, to the point that he no longer sees his Younger Brother as his brother - or by extension their father as his father:  "Here I see how lost the elder son is.  He has become a foreigner in his own house.  True communion is gone.  Every relationship has been pervaded by the darkness.  To be afraid or to show disdain, to suffer submission or enforce control, to be an oppressor or to be a victim:  these have become the choices for one outside of the light.  Sins cannot be confessed, forgiveness cannot be received, the mutuality of love cannot exist.  True communion has become impossible."

I know, says Nouwen, the pain of this predicament:  Everything becomes suspect, self conscious, full of second-guessing, calculated, lacking trust.  Move calls for counter move; each remark must be analyzed and each gesture evaluated for meaning.  This, he says, is the pathology of darkness.

Can he - or I - get out?  Not by ourselves, suggests Nouwen.  He - and I - are as lost in the the darkness of judgement and lack of true communion as that Younger Brother was lost in sin.  We cannot find our way out - but God can find us:  "The story of the prodigal son is the story of a God who goes searching for me and who doesn't rest until he has found me.  He urges and he pleads.  He begs me to stop clinging to the powers of death and to let myself be embraced by arms that will carry me to the place where I will find the life I most desire."

What can we do to make the return of the Elder Son in us possible?  Recognize, says Nouwen, not only that we are lost, but also be prepared to found and brought home.  And while we cannot liberate ourselves from our "frozen anger", Nouwen proposes that through trust - the inner conviction that the father wants me home, that I am worth finding - and gratitude - the opposite of resentment, the effort of acknowledging all that we have and all that we are is a gift of love given to us, a gift to be celebrated - we can position ourselves to receive God's love.

When we tell ourselves we are not important enough to be found, we make our complaint so internally loud that we drown out God's voice calling us.  And by choosing gratitude over resentment, we choose against dwelling the darkness where we are and focusing completely on us and our suffering and how we have suffered.  Instead, we can look into the "eyes of the One who came out to search for me and see therein that I am and all I have is pure gift for gratitude."
As he did with the Younger Son, Nouwen finds in Jesus the Elder Son as well.  He is the son that lives in communion with the Father in total trust and gratitude.  In the parable of the wicked tenants and the vineyard, it is the true Son - Jesus - that ultimately goes to the vineyard and is recognized by the tenants as the heir.  There is no difference between him and the Father:  "The true son obeys his father, not as a slave, but as the Beloved, and fulfills the will of the Father in full unity with him."  

In the end Jesus is the Elder Son that does the Father's will without any hesitation, seeking out the resentful children as much as the children caught in sin

Saturday, May 27, 2023

Hammerfall 2.0: Of Produce

 This week I completed my initial on the job training for my part-time produce job.

It has been seven years since I have had to start a new position and something like twenty-five years since I have started a job not in this industry, so the process has been an interesting one.  As you may recall, I had an initial round of on-line training over the last three weeks or so, which involved about 8 hours of videos, a combination of company history, safety practices, introduction to the department, and a small dose of personnel related training.

After that, it was out to the floor to work closing.

Produce, as it turns out (perhaps not to my surprise) is not inherently a terribly difficult job   It consists of facing produce and moving it up in the shelf/bin, replenishing stock that has been sold, culling produce that has damage, putting new stock out from the cold box, cleaning, and customer service.  In that sense, even an unfortunately over-educated individual like myself can thrive in such an environment.

Transferring and culling is to my mind the most difficult, as I had to make decisions on what stays and what goes. I am not at all good at interpreting when fruits and vegetables are "past their prime" beyond demonstrated issues such as mold and soft spots, but I started to learn (for example, apparently if avocadoes feel like a bag of wet sand, they are past their prime and apples which feel more waxy are nearing the same point).  If one has shopped for produce in the past, it is helpful:  knowing at home where the issues are with fruit and vegetables, I can more easily identified them at the store.  I know what the start of mold in strawberry packages looks like, or soft spots in tomatoes or the beginnings of wilt and slime in leafy greens.  In other words, do unto customers at the store as you do for yourself at home.

Customer interactions - something I tend to dread as an introvert - were really not that difficult or challenging.  Most people have questions about out of stocks or where to find something or occasionally the price of something, questions that are pretty easily answered and I am sure I will get better at.

Out of Stocks: There seems to be no rhyme or reason.  In the two days I worked, we were out of red onions (1 day) and grapes (3 days).  Why?  Who knows.  If they are not on the morning truck, we do not have them.  Not sure if it is a localized store issue or wider, but that would be an interesting metric to track to see if seasonality or other issues are factors.

For the first time in I cannot remember, how long,  I had a mandated 30 minute lunch (unpaid) and 15 minute break (paid).  30 minutes, as it turns out, is more than enough time to eat, check things on your phone, and be a bit bored.

The works was not terribly strenuous, as the boxes and bins themselves are not too heavy, nor did I find myself particularly sore the day after.  It has been a considerable amount of time since I have been on my feet for that long, something which is probably good for me (and one reason I contemplated such a job in the first place).

How did I find it overall?  Honestly, not that bad.  Other than the concern in my mind about missing something that was going bad or not moving older fruits and vegetables up front (grading avocadoes may be the death of me), it was just the right amount of busy: there is a schedule and work to be done, but it is not highly mentally demanding and it keeps the hands busy and my biggest decision to date was whether to cull something or not, not thing like "How much have we spent on a $20 million project" or "Do I need to reject this material that cost us $1 million to make?".  The lack of stress, at least there, was palpable.

My intent is to keep this job regardless of the outcome of my current job search and, even if I find an industry job, to keep it as long as I can.  It makes for a good palate cleanser.  I like getting 15% off house brands (and I have already used that to good effect).  It has me actually being active.  And frankly, even if the money is not a great deal, I honestly feel more proud of the two checks I have gotten so far than my earnings for years (which is surprising to me as it is obviously much less).

Martin Luther argued for the dignity of work, whether lay or clerical.  Sometimes there is nothing like a manual sort of job to remind one that all work has dignity based not on the importance or salary, but simply on the fact that it is productive labor.

Friday, May 26, 2023

On A Final High School Graduation

Yesterday Nighean Dhonn graduated from high school.

Graduations in this part of the world are doing on a rolling basis; there is a single venue per district and each school gets three hours to roll parents and students in, graduate them, and roll them out for the next one.  The irony of the industrial nature of the final act of primary and secondary education - the production line - is not lost on me.

Nighean Gheal came home from the Big Big City for the event and Nighean Bhan is here from her burgeoning "work-until-graduate-school-starts" job.  This is first time since Christmas that everyone has been home and likely will be the last time until Christmas that it is true.

The graduation was the usual series of circumstances of Pompish Circumstances that one has come to expect of such things:  long trains of students coming in as an endless "ending 1 and repeat" drones through the event center, speeches that students work hard on that are both fairly predictable (if not, thankfully, controversial) and benignly forgettable - and then the fly-bys as the students stride across the stage, sometimes to applause and sometimes to the wild screams of friends and family 32 rows back trying to let them know they are here.

High School Graduation.  One of the few traditions and rites we seem to maintain for this age group.

I was commenting to The Ravishing Mrs. TB this week as we were leaving from a high school event that this would be the first fall in 10 years we would not be looking at September to return.  If I think about it even more, this is first time in 20 years we will not actively be thinking about getting ready for school (other than the paying of the college tuition, of course).  And, of course, the fact that this probably represents a gap of 20 or more years before we would likely attend another high school graduation.

It is not just that such things as school and school events are largely ending.  It is equally that family dynamics are changing as well.

Likely after August of this year, this will not be "home" for any of Na Clann.  Yes, they may still come to live here from time to time (Nighean Bhan is to finish graduate school, and surely Nighean Dhonn will be home at least for Christmases) but this will never be their place of residence. It will be where they spent a lot of their lives and a place where all the things they could not take with them immediately will reside, but not the place that that spiritually live.  That will be elsewhere.  This will be a place of memories and visits and only tangentially of "life as it happens".  

On the Road of Life, we seem to be passing a lot of exits all at once with the sign "Next Gas:  100 Miles" flying by out of the corner of our eye as we zoom past.  There is simply nothing for it but to check the fuel gauge and drive on, hoping the scenery belies what seems to be a rather stark statement of desolation.

Thursday, May 25, 2023

The Collapse CIII: Surfaces

22 May 20XX+1

My Dear Lucilius:

Today I took a walk down The Road.

As you may remember I was asked to be some kind of “Watcher” for the section of road that passes by my house. It is the main road through town and I am on the Northern end as it works its way to two smaller communities and then the larger community for this area. I was selected (I suspect) based simply on the fact that I was adjacent and I seemed somewhat responsible.

It is an easy job of course as there is virtually no traffic: the occasional local citizen walking to or from town or, as happened recently, an influx due to Market Day. Otherwise the road remains empty.

I try to take a walk out to the bridge across the small creek at least once a week if not more. Getting out is good for my health of course and at a four mile round trip, it is a good stretch. And there is some value of walking a piece of land or property to come to know it. After all, such knowledge could be useful in odd circumstances which I often do not like to contemplate.

Walking as I did today, I suddenly realized that ordinarily we would be well into the season of Road Repair and Maintenance, where highway crews would be busily patching up damage from the previous Winter and working to knock down growth along the side of the roads to manage fire danger. Which, of course, made me look down at The Road.

In some of the old science fiction novels I read as a youth – Philip Jose Farmer’s Dark Is The Sun or Andre Norton’s Daybreak: 2250 A.D., the roads of the Ancients provide a link to a civilization past, sometimes the only link in a wasteland otherwise empty. The surfaces are marvels to the individuals of that time: how did The Ancients make their roads so straight and smooth? What sorts of things must have traveled on them? What are they made of? Who were they?


We take modern surfaces for granted, Lucilius: the ridged top of a roadway, the smooth sheen of a painted surface, the glide of plastic or manufactured metal. These are things that are so ubiquitous that we no longer take them for granted. In the Old World, materials that were substantially textured were novelties – “rustic” or “rural” – novelties very often for décor or art purposes only.

I have enough paint – Barn Red and Forest Green – to cover The Cabin for my lifetime likely (those handy 5 gallon buckets (it was cheap and The Cabin is low enough for even I on a ladder to paint). But I have no blacktop or equipment to apply it, nor does anyone I know. The machines to do such things are likely locked up in maintenance sheds for a Winter that will never see a Spring. The materials themselves lie somewhere in a yard without transport or individuals to transport it.

Take that one item – blacktop – and extend it to every surface I have mentioned. The results are all the same: even if in some cases small things can be maintained or even made, the vast majority of them will degrade. Soon enough, we will be a society of the rough and ragged, not the smooth and planed.

I wonder, Lucilius, what our descendants will say of us?

Your Obedient Servant, Seneca

Wednesday, May 24, 2023

Old English, A Historical Background: The Battles of Stamford Bridge and Hastings

(England September - December 1066 A.D. - Source)

When King Harald and Earl Tosti came ashore in September of 1066 A.D., it appears their plan was to first take York as a base (which had Viking roots as you may recall).  Harald's ships would provide the potential to move up and and down the coast at will, far more quickly than King Harold's troops could move on horseback and foot.

The earls of the North, Edwin and Morcar, moved to block Harald and Tosti at the banks of the Ouse River and on 20 September 1006 A.D. fought The Battle of Fulford. The battle, from the records and sagas, was longer than expected but resulted in the victory of the Norwegians and the defeat of the Anglo-Saxons.  King Harald and Earl Tosti moved to take York, gather supplies.

During this time, King Harold gathered an army and quickly began marching north.  We do not have specifics on the number of troops he had or their progress, but Ian Walker hypothesizes that King Harold left London on 16 September, gathering troops as he went and arrived at Tadcaster, 13 miles away from Stamford bridge, where King Harald and Earl Tosti were encamped following resupply in York, on 24 September.  More importantly, they were inland and 13 miles away from their ships.  On 25 September Harold and his troops arrived at Stamford Bridge.

From the records, there is no conclusive estimate of the number of troops the Norwegians had; if there were 300 ships, less attrition from the Battle of Fulford and garrison troops in York and at their ships, there may have been 4,000 Norwegians and possibly the same of Anglo-Saxons.  The Norwegians were caught completely off guard:  in Harald Hardrada's Saga (not an Anglo-Saxon favoring source) they are noted to have left their mail coats at the ships.  They perhaps expected small parties giving hostages; they did not expect an army.

The Saga relates that prior to the battle, a single man rode up to parley with King Harald and Earl Tosti.  He offered Tosti the return of his earldom if he would turn against Harald.  When asked what he would offer Harald, the response was "Seven feet of English ground, as he is taller than other men".  The rider then rode away.  When Harald asked Tosti who the rider was, the response was "King Harold".

The battle then commenced.  There is a legend that a single Norwegian Beserker held the bridge against 40 men until finally someone floated down the river and stabbed him with a spear from underneath (it may be a later addition).  The Anglo-Saxon charged across the bridge to where the Norwegians had formed a shield wall.  The battle was hard; by the end of it King Harald and Earl Tosti were dead and their troops pursued back to their ships.  King Harold offered generous terms of peace; of 300 ships that came, only 20-25 returned.

Although no-one knew it at the time, this effectively drew an end to the Viking age.  There would still be Norwegian attacks of England and Scotland, but these would be kingdom against kingdom, not freebooters and mercenaries.

Two days later, late 27 September, the winds turned and Duke William of Normandy crossed the channel and arrived on 28 September.  

He immediately began building a fort at Pevensey and spent the next 17 days fortifying and strengthening his position.  He was helped in the fact that King Harold was in the north fighting the Norwegians; had he remained in London (and on watch as Harold knew of the invasion fleet), he would have likely not had the luxury of over two weeks to consolidate his position.

It seems King Harold was notified on 29 or 30 September in York of Duke William's landing.  He then started south, bringing with him the remnants of his Stamford host as well as calling up more troops as he headed South.  By 8 or 9 October he was back in London, where he spent three days.

His time in London is one of the great "What Ifs" of history:  Some historians argue that Harold had no reason to wait that short a time and that had he waited longer, he would have had a larger army.  Others argue that he waited longer, the chances were that Duke William would further entrench himself and had the possibility to gather even more troops and expand his territory.  

On 13 October 1066 A.D. King Harold and his army emerged in Sussex at Hastings.  Messages were undoubtedly exchanged:  Duke William calling on King Harold to honor his oath, King Harold calling on Duke William to return back to Normandy.  Neither side budged and on 14 October 1066 A.D., battle was joined at or around 9 A.M.

(The Battle of Hastings, 14 October 1066 A.D. - Source)

Looking back of course, it is easy enough to say that the end was foreordained.  That was not clear on the day of battle;  the Normans were thrown back on their initial charge. Their left wing broke and a rout almost occurred when a rumor went out that Duke William had been slain.  He re-appeared and rallied his troops.  English losses were also heavy.  By afternoon, the English still held their lines and the ridge and it appeared that if nothing changed, Duke William would likely be defeated.

And then - from the Bayeux Tapestry, it is recorded nowhere else - an arrow pierced the eye of King Harold.  

The Anglo-Saxons broke quickly after this and were routed and ridden down by the advancing Normans.  The body of King Harold lay surrounded by his huscarls  and his brothers Gyrth and Leofwine.

Ian Walker describes the outcome:

"Thus the battle reached its fatal climax for King Harold, but as we have seen, it had been a very close run thing.  The fact that King Harold did not seize the opportunity offered by the collapse of the Norman left wing and the rumor of William's death has puzzled many.  However, we should remember the conditions of his army.  A basically cautious man like Harold would be unlikely to take unnecessary risks by advancing from a position where all he really needed to do was stand his ground and force William into submission.  If he had held the field at the end of the day, William would have been finished, and he almost succeeded in this, falling just before nightfall.  That he ultimately failed was largely because of the fortune of war, and the evidence suggests that it was King Harold's fall to a chance arrow which finally broke English resistance and left the field to the Normans.  We must remember that what in hindsight was to prove such a decisive defeat for the English, was in fact balanced on a knife's edge throughout the day."

(Old English Posting Page)

Works cited:

Brooke, Christopher:  From Alfred to Henry III 871-1272.  Norton Library:  USA,  1961.

Hollister, C. Warren:  The Making of England 55 B.C. to 1399.  D.C. Heath and Company:  United States,  1976.

Trevelyan, G.M.:  History of England Volume 1:  From the Earliest Times to the Reformation.  Anchor Books:  USA, 1953

Walker, Ian:  Harold:  The Last Anglo-Saxon King.  The History Press;  Gloucester, United Kingdom, 1997

Wikipedia:  Harald HardradaBattle of Stamford Bridge, Battle of Hastings

Tuesday, May 23, 2023

Of Irises And Anniversaries

The irises are blooming at The Ranch.

Longer term readers may recall that the irises are more than likely from my maternal grandparent's garden, so in a sense they are blooming for two generations.  I feel fortunate I was there to be able to see it this year.

This week was our 30th Wedding Anniversary.

If you had asked me what was in mind about what "marriage" would be like the day I got married, I likely would have not had a good answer for you.  It would have been pretty vague idea based on the examples I had: my parents, my grandparents, most of my relatives and my friend's parents (divorce was still rare in the days that I grew up), Church teachings, and those verses in the Bible that talk about marriage but seem vague when you have no experience with it.  

To say I was hopelessly naïve about marriage is an understatement, but I suspect it is for many people - after all, like many human experiences in practice it seems only by living through it can one actually understand what it is like.

That day 30 years ago did not fully anticipate things like disagreements and practical financial matters.  It only casually held the experiences of having children, let alone raising them. It did not really foresee things like changing jobs and moving and buying homes and financial distress and figuring out which chores were the best for each to do.

On the other hand, it did not foresee the good things either, like time together and experiencing life in a way that only going through it with someone else there 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.  It not foresee vacations and adventures and sometimes just the art of living quietly with someone else.

As wiser heads than me have written, it was nothing like I expected but far more than I could hope for.

Monday, May 22, 2023

Unknown And Hazy

 As I enter what is my last "week" of formal employment (and by week I mean 4 hours today and 4 hours Friday where my work computer is at least on), I find myself at somewhat of a bewildering and unsettling crossroads.

Specifically, nothing feels settled.

I continue to linger on for six more days at what has for all intents and purposes a sort of eaten out shell at my former employer, awaiting the completion of Memorial Day to let the husk collapse.  I still as of yet do not have anything like a job offer (although the process continues on with another group interview tomorrow) and there is little new other than that:  positions are largely specialized and I have yet to receive anything other than "Thank you for your application but...".  My new part-time job is finally getting rolling with On-The-Job training this week, followed by me being unavailable for the better part of June.  

Nighean Dhonn graduates this week from high school, so the household is both alive with preparations for that event and the eventual college departure as well as a series of emotions as the implications of an era ended work their way through the house.  There is the reality of working with my parents' house now with an eye towards emptying it out and preparing it to rent.  And I have a series of blocked out events (see this space soon!) which, although anticipated, essentially make planning for anything a bit of a challenge.

Things are spread out and unsettled and for many things, there is a sense that huge changes are afoot that make everything after June 2023 (and yes, although I seldom comment on the world "Out There", there is a great deal going on there that adds nothing to the lack of settled feeling I currently have...).

It is one thing to find one's self at a crossroads.  It is another to find one's self at a crossroads and understand how one got there.  What is unsettling is to find one's self at a crossroads, understand how one got there, and yet see all paths from it completely shrouded in fog with no hint of what lies down any of the paths.

I am trying to think of a similar situation in my life and to be honest, I find myself at a blank.  When graduating from high school, there was college. When graduating from college, there was at least the option to come home - and then go back to college.  When graduating the second time, there was finding a job.  When dating, something (thankfully) ended in marriage.  Marriage resulted in children, resulting in them ultimately leaving to find their own lives.  Even when I was laid off the first time, the path of looking for a second job was clear.

Action-Reaction.  Now, Action and what seems to be nothing but haze.

In speaking of future activities, it has become dreadfully hard to discuss anything with any sort of certainty.  If the interview process works out, that is one potential road (but even then, how do I manage returning to see my mother and help with readying the house?). If it does not, there is some level of part-time work and continuing to search for a job while managing preparing my parents' house - which all holds at best through the end of November if no job is found.  And the house after the end of August when Nighean Dhonn is gone and Nighean Bhan, a whole new relationship starts at home all over again as for the first time in something like 24 years, children are not a major focus.

Unknown outcomes.  Haziness.  Things that I find vaguely unsettling.  

"Always in motion is the future" said that master of wisdom, Yoda.  "Difficult to see".

Sunday, May 21, 2023

The Return Of The Prodigal Son: The Elder Brother Leaves

 "Now the elder son was out in the fields, and on his way back, as he drew near the house, he could hear music and dancing.  Calling out one of the servants, he asked what it was all about.  The servant told him 'Your brother has come, and your father has killed the calf we have been fattening because he has got back to him safe and sound.'  He was angry then and refused to go in, and his father came out and began to urge him to come in; but he retorted to his father, 'All these years I have slaved for you and never once disobeyed any orders of yours, yet you never offered me so much as a kid for me to celebrate with my friends.  But, for this son of yours, when he comes back after swallowing up your property - he and his loose women - you kill the calf we had been fattening."


We are all familiar with the Elder Brother of the Prodigal Son:  The brother that remained with his father when his younger brother took half of the estate and left town.  We know of his response:  when confronted with the return of his younger brother, he is angrily mystified at his father's response and sulks outside, refusing to join in the festivities.

In Rembrandt's interpretation of the The Prodigal Son, he takes a liberty that the story does not specify:  he has The Elder Brother appear at the moment of the Younger Brother's return. He is, as Henri Nouwen points out, the main observer of the Young Brother's return:  the Father is consumed with the Younger Brother, the Younger Brother with his father.  The Elder Brother dominates one side of the painting, sanding above both, looking down with hands folded:

"But what a painful difference between the two (father and son)!  The father bends over his returning son.  The elder son stands stiffly erect, a posture accentuated by the long staff reaching from his hand to the floor.  The father's mantle is wide and welcoming; the son's hangs flat over his body.  The father's hands are spread out and touch the homecomer in a gestures of blessing; the son's are clasped together and held close to his chest.  There is light on both faces, but the light from the father's face flows through his whole body - especially his hands - and engulfs the younger son in a great halo of luminous warmth; whereas the light on the face of the elder son is cold and constricted.  His figure remains in the dark, and his clasped hands remain in the shadows.

The parable that Rembrandt painted might well be called "The Parable of the Lost Sons", suggests Nouwen.  Not only did the younger son, who left home to look for freedom and happiness in a distant country, get lost, but the one who stayed home also became a lost man. Exteriorly he did all the things a good son is supposed to do, but, interiorly, he wandered away from his father.  He did his duty, worked hard every day, and fulfilled all his obligations but became increasingly unhappy and unfree."

We can prone, suggests Nouwen, to looking at those who engage in behaviors and secretly wish we could engage in them.  We remain dutiful and obedient, but unhappy: our obedience and duty can become "characterized by judgement and condemnation, anger and resentment, bitterness and jealously".  And we can at some level understand the Younger Son who, having rebelled and found nothing but misery, decides to return home and ask for forgiveness.

But the Elder Brother... when confronted with his younger brother's return and his father's joy "a dark power erupts in him and  boils to the surface. Suddenly, there becomes glaringly visible a resentful, proud, unkind, selfish person, one that had remained deeply hidden, even though it had been growing stronger and more powerful over the years."

"Looking deeply into myself and then around me at the lives of other people, I wonder which does more damage, lust or resentment?  There is so much resentment among the "just" and the "righteous".  There is so much judgement, condemnation, and prejudice among the 'saints'.  There is so much frozen anger among people who are so concerned about avoiding 'sin'...The lostness of the resentful 'saint' is so hard to reach precisely because it is so closely wedded to the desire to be good and virtuous."

I stand condemned in this statement.  I identify with Nouwen - I have come to complain "from a heart that never feels like it has gotten what it was due....It is a complaint that cries out: 'I tried so hard, worked so long, did so much, and still I have not received what others get so easily.  Why do people not thank me, not invite me, not play with me, not honor me, while they pay so much attention to those who take life so easily and casually?"

Thus the Elder Brother's rejection of his brother's return.  The resentment he felt all this years has boiled over.  His complaining at his brother's actions - perhaps only to himself - became self-perpetuating and thus counterproductive.  The more he complained, the more he resented him and the more he resented him, the more he became unapproachable. Were one to ask the associates or friends of the Elder Brother, one would likely hear that he himself was not the model he perceived himself to be:  always in the back of his mind he would have the example of his brother.  He was at war with someone that was not even there, and had fought battles for years within his own mind.

Nouwen ends:  "Here, I am faced with my own true poverty.  I am totally unable to root out my resentments.  They are so deeply anchored in the soil of my inner self that pulling them out seems like self-destruction.  How to weed out these resentments without uprooting the virtues as well?.....Indeed, something has to happen that I myself cannot cause to happen.  I cannot be reborn from below; that is, with my own strength, with my own mind, with my own psychological insights...I can only be healed from above, from where God reaches down."

Saturday, May 20, 2023

A Visit With Mom: April And May 2023 Editions

 I have not posted as  I should have on my visits with my mother, possibly because there is much less to tell.

There were two attempted visits with my mother in April:  the first I arrived and she was asleep.  The young woman started to wake Mom up but I waved her off; there was plenty of time to come down again.  The next visit a couple of days later went much better.  She was at least awake and if she did not recognize me (I do not know that she does now), she hid it readily enough.  I shared the hike we had been on and the updates for Na Clann, the usual things that we cover month in and month out. The visit was not more than 20 minutes.

This week I went by to visit as well.

My sister had given my a heads up:  when she had visited for Mother's Day, Mom was very much interested in a conversation going on near them, not so much in a conversation with my sister herself.  After a bit, my sister just listened and then helped Mom back in.  So when I arrived, I was ready for something of a disengagement.

When the health aides went to get her, she did not want to stand up and come over.  No problem, I said, I can come sit over there.  I came and sat and just started displaying photos on my phone of our hike in Hetch Hetchy and the graduation/college status of Na Clann and our upcoming vacation. She seemed interested in the pictures and about Na Clann's status as she always is.

I believe my sign-in/sign-out time was 9 minutes total.  No sense prolonging what seemed to be a slightly uncomfortable experience for her.

I am loathe to admit that we may be entering a new stage with my mother.  Perhaps it makes sense:  this June will be two years since she came to this facility and from her point of view, this is home.  This place, these residents, are what she sees and remembers on a daily basis (if she remembers anything short term). My sister and I are presences that more and more are likely becoming remote at best and unknown at worst.

This is a natural progression. For all of my dislike and even fear of it, it is natural.  I try and go into each visit with no expectations.  When I have seen something in the past, some flash of memory, I rejoice.  But I have to counsel myself that as this goes longer and longer, the flashes will likely become less and less until they gutter out completely.

Sometimes, there is nothing to do about the darkness except to accept its coming and know there is a dawn which is beyond my physical eyes.

Friday, May 19, 2023

Changing Others

Friend-Of-This-Blog Eaton Rapids Joe had a great post on an old truth: that we can never change other people, only ourselves (yes, it is the summary, but should still go read it).   It was a timely reminder for me because I have found myself frustrated, especially earlier in my life, with the concept of changing people.

One might say obsessed, actually.

I am not truly sure where this derives from.  It is not as if I am someone that seeks power over others to make them change, but neither have I been able to completely just "let people be".

I have become more aware of this issue and the levels of frustration that it causes lately in my life.  Circumstances have led me here:  the frustration of Hammerfall 2.0, the frustration of what appears to be a delayed relocation, the frustration of watching the world around me shamble its way towards its own self-fulfilling prophecies.

Part of it derives from simple human nature, I am sure: in some form or fashion, we all start out believing that we change people.  Originally it starts with simple things like emotion or logic; when it goes poorly it moves into anger and force.  But I do not wonder if another part of it is due to the oddity of the post-modern world.

Our technological post-modern world has given us the opportunity to "change" all kinds of things.  We have changed the speed of travel (from foot and horseback to cars and airplanes), changed the climate surrounding us (via central heating and air conditioning), changed information and knowledge (through the InterWeb and availability of almost the entire breadth of human knowledge to anyone with a computer or smart phone),  and changed our relationship with our health (via all kinds of advances in technology).  Add to this that, even as we speak, all kinds of commencements and graduations are occurring right now where young people are being told they can "change the world".

Change, it seems, is one of the new birthrights of the modern era.  And if all that can be changed, why not other people?

That is likely where the older and greyer simply shake their heads.

For change to work and be effective in the human mind and heart, the individual has to want to change. They have to "turn over a new leaf" or "be born again".  Something has to happen internally for there to be that update in operating systems (to turn a modern phrase) for this to occur.  And we, as individuals, have zero direct control over that sort of update in others

To ERJ's point in his fine post, we can find ways to continue to be effective in what we need to be about without endlessly waiting for others to change.  It requires ingenuity on our part sometimes, and sometimes even an almost emotionless management of the situation with the larger goal in mind.  Just as in any kind of organization individuals learn to manage down, manage around, and manage up, so we too have to do this in everything we do.

I do not know that I fully grasped this before.

We can literally pass our lives waiting for others to change.  Or we can simply get up and be about our business, nodding and being engaging while we move forward.    Like most things, the choice is up to the only people we can truly control:  Ourselves.

Thursday, May 18, 2023

The Collapse CII: Schedules And Time

19 May 20XX +1

My Dear Lucilius:

From what I can tell, I hear peeps in the back of the greenhouse so it appears that the quail may have hatched. I am still too concerned that I may somehow disturb something, so I am continuing to put out food and water and isolate them. I will check in perhaps a week. Our rain is on and off – which is precisely what the garden needs, and normal for this time of year.

Late Spring and Summer are lurching into being in a way that continues to surprise me, even thought I have lived here for some time.

The biggest difference is the amount of sunlight. We are approaching the Summer Solstice (not for another month yet of course), and our daylight is suddenly almost 14 hours. It sneaks up on one: only a few days ago (I know it was longer in fact) the sunrise was after 0700; now I find it getting light at 0430. Terribly disruptive for a sleep pattern, but terribly useful for the act of living.

In a way, I suppose (to be fair to myself) I had somewhat already adapted to such a schedule: in moving up here and being formally retired as well as having slowly curtailed my career in the last few years of our previous home, some of the constraints of the modern schedule had fallen away from me. Most of the “times” that I did keep were more for my own convenience and regularity: Waking at a certain time, eating at certain times, planning certain activities at certain times, going to bed a certain times. The days of the week became just days, punctuated by Divine Services on Sundays. Seasonality, as we have discussed before, became the norm instead of weeks or even months.

That was before, of course. Things are a bit different now.

Daylight is now a time to be up and about things, even more so than before. Part of that, of course, is tempered by the fact that things like biologic processes can only move at a certain pace: seeds only grow so quickly, fruits and vegetables only ripen so quickly, eggs only are produced so quickly, and so on. As the same time, what is driving at the back of my brain is the fact that this time will dwindle all too soon: by late September temperature and light will already start dwindling and by November, we will be in the cold and dark.

And so, it seems, one finds tasks to do.

Fortuitously, my actual property is small so it is easy enough to care for, although it is enough to keep me busy. General maintenance sweeps are even more a thing than ever, not only of the place I live but the outbuildings and my possessions. Care of garden (still early yet after planting) and greenhouse and quail and bees all takes at least some time. Regular house sweeping and dusting has also become a thing (it seems that I have visitors more often now than ever), as well as now assessing and re-assessing everything for need or trade. Ranging up and down the part of the road that is my responsibility. Fishing for meals, and making sure I vary my spots so that I do not denude the stream in front of my house.

I still make time to practice my martial arts (a sanity check as well as maintaining my skill level) and my reading, of course. And writing these missives.

Added to this – somewhat unexpectedly – is now I have a second my place where I am welcome.

I am not sure that I add anything to Pompeia Paulina and Statiera’s operation – they have lived here far longer and are much more organized in their routine. I amuse myself that I assist, mostly by moving heavy things and being an extra set of hands. If I am not as useful as I believe myself to be, they are kind enough to not say anything and redirect me.

It certainly acts to fill the day. Tempus Fugit, as they say.

Your Obedient Servant, Seneca

Wednesday, May 17, 2023

Old English, A Historical Background: Harold Godwinson, King of England

 Upon his accession of King of England after 05 January 1066 A.D., Harold Godwinson found himself simultaneously at the height of power and the height of risk.

As a king, he was likely the logical choice for the Anglo-Saxon nobility:  for 21 years he had served Edward the Confessor. He was a demonstrated victorious general on land and sea.  He was a skilled negotiator.  His family was one of the most powerful in England, now holding four of six earldoms.  The fact that there were no known revolts against Harold during his reign suggests that from the nobility and the common folk, all accepted the fact that the throne was not retained by the house of Wessex.

We do not know a great deal about the reign of Harold, largely because his time on the throne was brief - in fact, generally the history books I have seen dedicate almost no time to him.  We have single verified document (Writ) from his reign.  From all records, he essentially continued the policies and advisors of Edward and there was little, if any, change in his reign.  

The issues he faced largely came from outside.  In April of 1066 A.D. his brother, the former Earl Tosti, returned with a fleet supported by his brother in law, the Count of Flanders.  He was, perhaps, trying to recreate the invasion of Godwine in 1051 but met with much less successful results; the people did not rally to him and King Harold raised a fleet to harry him.  Tosti fled to his former earldom of Northumbria where, defeated again, he headed for Scotland and then for parts North.

But the invasion of Tosti was a warning sign to King Harold.  If Tosti could cross, others could as well. 

Yet there was risk.  One, as have already discussed, was that Duke William of Normandy laid claim to the throne and, whether by made ups story or actual fact, used it to force Harold to swear that he would support William as King of England.  The fact that Duke William was working to assemble an invasion force did not go by the spies of King Harold, and he took steps to raise an army, strengthen his navy, and prepare to defend against a potential Norman invasion.

Duke William's ability to conduct the invasion was less definitive than it seems in hindsight.  He had to get the support of his barons, supply a fleet, and then sail across the English Channel.  His fleet was likely made ready in mid July 1066 A.D., but contrary winds kept him on the French Coast into August and September.

The other was Harald Hardrada.

Harald Hardrada (or Harald Sigurdson, or Harald III) had led an almost exemplary Viking life to this point.  He and his half-brother, Olaf Haraldson (St. Olaf) had been defeated in 1030 A.D. in an attempt to regain the Norwegian Throne.  Olaf died; Harald went into exile, serving as a mercenary leader among the Kievan Rus (The Viking/Slavs of the East) and eventually becoming commander of the Varangian guard.  He served throughout the Empire, from the Mediterranean to the Holy Land to the Black Sea.  He returned to Norway in 1042 where he negotiated a joint rule with his nephew, Magnus the Good (Magnus had replaced Canute's son Svein as ruler of Norway). Magnus died the next year and Harald became sole king of Norway, which he ruled into 1066 A.D.  It was at this point Tosti, Earl Godwin's son and King Harold's brother, arrived in Norway and suggested to the King that he invade England.  It was a claim that Harald had been pursuing himself, as he considered himself heir to Hardecanute, the last Danish King of England.

King Harold was forced to release the bulk of his army and navy on 8 September, as they had reached the limit of the time of their required service. The fleet sailed back to London, and the army returned to their homes.

The timing could not have been worse:  on 8 September 1066 A.D., King Harald Hardrada and Earl Tosti joined forces at the mouth of the Tyne river in Northeastern England. King Harald brought 300 ships, Tosti 12.  

The re-invasion of Anglo-Saxon England had begun.

(Old English Posting Page

Works cited:

Brooke, Christopher:  From Alfred to Henry III 871-1272.  Norton Library:  USA,  1961.

Hollister, C. Warren:  The Making of England 55 B.C. to 1399.  D.C. Heath and Company:  United States,  1976.

Trevelyan, G.M.:  History of England Volume 1:  From the Earliest Times to the Reformation.  Anchor Books:  USA, 1953

Walker, Ian:  Harold:  The Last Anglo-Saxon King.  The History Press;  Glouster, United Kingdom, 1997

Wikipedia:  Harald Hardrada

Tuesday, May 16, 2023

Hammerfall 2.0: Unexpected Blessings

 One of the funny things about hiking out in the wilderness is that when you crest a peak or ridge a brief window of cell phone coverage presents itself and the build up of several text messages and phone messages sudden arrive (If you are aware of this, you can also use the opportunity to supply people with updates like "Hey, we are still alive").

Thus it was I found myself on Saturday evening when we were camping on snow a message from my coworker that my soon-to-be former employer had updated their accrued time off policy.  As of that day (12 May) no accrued time off would be paid  to any employee upon their departure.  Apparently the "Use it or lose it" policy was now a standard thing, not just a one time practice.

And yesterday, the company put out their Q1 financial statement and business report and noted at the bottom of the report that they were investigating "strategic options".  For those that may not be familiar, that is code for "sale or reverse merger", a sort of "Hail Mary" which usually precedes bankruptcy.

In other words, my "layoff" is now kind of a blessing.

It is a blessing in multiple ways. It clearly gave me the fact that I needed to investigate a new direction.  It allowed me to take my PTO (instead of now, where planning to draw down all my vacation would potential delay my start time at my new employer).  It spares me the challenges of working at a company which is is the process of dying - if you have never worked at one, it can be a very depressing environment:  people are now effectively incentivized to find a new job now and start just disappearing, there are no real projects going on but just the shut down of existing ones and hoping (vainly for the most part) for some sort of unexpected good news.

That does not really clear anything else up, of course.  I still do not have another full time position (second interview is today); on the bright side, I complete my training (on-line and in-person) at my part time job next week so at least I have something (not to underestimated in this economy, to be sure).  The job search has not improved in any real sense of the word:  rejections continue to trickle in and the positions I see listed are not, for the most part, things I can apply to with a serious sense that it will result in a position.

But it does strike me as ironic that this unexpected layoff has, in a way, prevented a far more stressful situation from manifesting in my life.

God remains in control.  It is just difficult to see sometimes when I am only looking at what has happened, not what is upcoming.

Monday, May 15, 2023

Backing From Hiking May 2023 Edition

We arrived back from our drive from our hiking location around 4 PM local time after a 3 day, 29.85 mile, 5,579' elevation gain, 18 hiking hours hike.

Our hike? A loop in the Hetch Hetchy Wilderness.

I have something like over 200 photos and videos to sort through (this might take a bit), but I offer below a hint of what we saw on hike.

Including snow.  Lots and lots of snow, about 9 miles worth of hiking.   And sleeping on it (which turned out to be much less daunting than I thought).

Enjoy the preview, and as always thank you for your patience with responses.

Sunday, May 14, 2023

The Return Of The Prodigal Son: The Younger Son's Return

 "He squandered his money on a life of debauchery.  When he had spent it all, that country experienced a severe famine, and now he began to feel the pinch; so he hired himself out to one of the local inhabitants who put him on his farm to feed the pigs.  And he would have willingly filled himself with the husks the pigs were eating, but no one would let him have them.  Then he came to his senses and said, 'How many of my father's hired men have all the food they want and more, and here am I dying of hunger!  I will leave this place and go to my father and say: Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you; I no longer deserve to be called your son; treat me as one of your hired men.'  So he left the place and went back to his father."

Nouwen starts his consideration of the Younger Son's return with a consideration of Rembrandt's physical presentation of the Younger Son:

"Rembrandt leaves little doubt about his condition.  His head is shaven.  No longer the long, curly hair which Rembrandt painted himself as the proud defiant prodigal son in the brothel.  The head is that of a prisoner whose name has been replaced by a number.  When a man's hair is shaved off, whether in prison or in the army, in a hazing ritual or a concentration camp, he is robbed of one of the marks of his individuality.  The clothes Rembrandt gives him are underclothes, barely covering his emaciated body.  The father and the tall man observing the scene wear wide read cloaks, giving them status and dignity.  The kneeling son has no cloak.  The yellow,-brown, torn undergarment just covers his exhausted, worn-out body from which all strength is gone.  The soles of his feet tell the story of a long and humiliating journey.  The left foot, slipped out of its worn sandal, is scarred.  The right foot, only partially covered by a broken sandal, speaks of suffering and misery.  This is a man dispossessed of everything...except for one thing, his sword.  The only sign of dignity is the short sword hanging from his hips - the bade of his nobility.  Even in the midst of his debasement, he had clung to the truth that he was still the son of his father.  Otherwise he would have sold his valuable sword, the symbol of his sonship.  The sword was there to show me that, although he came back speaking as a beggar and an outcast, he had not forgotten he was still the son of his father.  It was this remembered and valued sonship that finally persuaded him to turn back."

How did it come to this?

The world, the Younger Son found out - as we all find out sooner or later in our own lives - has time for us as long as we have something to offer it:  "They only noticed him as long as he could be used for their purposes.  But when he had no money left to spend and no gifts left to give, he stopped existing for them" - even more so because he, as a foreigner in a foreign land, had nothing offer but the money he had - "Real loneliness comes when we have lost all sense of having things in common".  It was only when he was lost - not considered even human among those whom he lived - only then, suggest Nouwen, did he truly grasp his situation:  "He was truly lost, and it was the complete lostness than brought him to his sense".

"Whatever he had lost, be it his money, his friends, his reputation, his self-respect, his inner joy and peace - one or all - he still remained his father's child."  And so in remembering what he was and whose he was - he is still the son of his father, for all that he did to him - he decides to return home as servant.  Even in the depths of his humiliation, he has made an important discovery: "On the one hand the younger son realizes he lost the dignity of sonship, but at the same time that sense of lost dignity makes him also aware that he is indeed a son who had dignity to lose".

It is precisely at this moment, argues Nouwen, that the Younger Son has returned, even though he has not left the pigs or the foreign country.  He has hit the bedrock of his being and there are no illusions left:  "When he found himself desiring to be treated as one of the pigs, he realized he was not a pig, but a human being, the son of his father."  And now, realizing - or really remembering - that he is the son of his father, he can hear the still, soft voice of his father calling to him.  It is that knowledge of his father, and of the love that he had, that convinces him to return home even though he returns as a hired hand.

But the Younger Son must believe that there a home and father to go back to:  "There are always countless events and situations that I can single out to convince myself and others that my life is just not worth living, that I am only a burden, a problem, a source of conflict, or an exploiter of other people's time and energy.  Many people live with this dark, inner sense of themselves.  In contrast to the prodigal, they let the darkness absorb them so completely that there is no light left to turn toward and return to. They might not kill themselves physically, but spiritually they are no longer alive.  They have given up faith in their original goodness and thus also in their Father who has given them their humanity.  But when God created man and woman in his own image, he saw that 'it was very good,' and despite the dark voices, no man or woman can ever change that."

And so, the Younger Son begins his journey back.  As he wakes, he rehearses the speech he will give to his father:  

"As I read these words (the Younger Son's speech) I am keenly aware of how full my inner life is with this kind of talk.  In fact, I am seldom without some imaginary encounter in my head in which I explain myself, boast or apologize, proclaim or defend, evoke praise or pity.  It seems I am perpetually involved in long dialogues with absent partners, anticipating their questions and preparing my responses.  I am amazed by the emotional energy that goes into these inner ruminations and murmurings...The reason is clear.  Although claiming my true identity as child of God, I still live as though the God to whom I am returning demands an explanation...Belief in total, absolute forgiveness does not come readily.  My human experience tells me that forgiveness boils down to the willingness of the other to forgo revenge and to show me some measure of charity."

The Younger Son struggles to accept he has lost the dignity of a son and is a hired hand; in no way does he see his father able to offer more than that.  We as well, says Nouwen, struggle with forgiveness:

"One of the greatest challenges of the spiritual life is to receive God's forgiveness.  There is something in us that keeps us clinging to our sins and prevents us from letting God erase our past and offer us a completely new beginning.  Sometimes it even seems as though I want to prove to God that my darkness is too great to overcome.  Where God wants to restore me to the full dignity of sonship, I keep insisting that I will settle for being a hired servant.  But do I truly want to be restored to the full responsibility of the son?  Do I truly want to be so totally forgiven that a completely new way of living becomes possible?  Do I trust myself so absolutely to God's love that a new person can emerge?  Receiving forgiveness requires a total willingness to let God be God and do all the healing, restoring, and renewing.  As long as I want to do even a part of that myself, I end up with partial solutions, such as becoming a hired servant.  As a hired servant, I can still keep my distance, still revolt, reject, strike, run away, or complain about my pay. As the beloved son, I have to claim my full dignity and begin preparing myself to become the father."

Where to start?  Nouwen suggests that just as He said that we are to come to God as children, living in a second innocence not granted by birth but made by conscious choices - and following what came to be called the Beatitudes:  "How blessed are the poor, the gentle, those who mourn, those who hunger and thirst for uprightness, the merciful, the pure of heart, the peacemakers, and those who are persecuted in the cause of uprightness...The Beatitudes offer me the simplest route for the journey home, back into the house of my Father.  And along this route I will route I will discover the joys of the second childhood:  comfort, mercy, and an ever clearer vision of God."

Nouwen ends this section as he ended the first, that in some way the Younger Son represents what Jesus did for us:

"I am touching here the mystery that Jesus himself became the prodigal son for our sake.  He left the house of his heavenly Father, came to a foreign country, gave away all he had, and returned through his cross to his Father's home.  All of this he did, not as a rebellious son, but as the obedient son, sent out to bring home all the lost children of God.  Jesus, who told the story to those who criticized him for associating with sinners, himself lived the long and painful journey he described....Looking again at Rembrandt's Prodigal Son, I see him now in a new way.  I see him as Jesus returning to his Father and my Father, his God and my God."

We all make this journey because at some point we must.  Jesus did not because He had to, but because of His great love for us.  Even for a single one of us.

Saturday, May 13, 2023

Hammerfall 2.0: Avoidable Circumstances

 One of my observations for the bulk of the companies that I have worked for is that they would make fabulous case studies for aspiring MBA's  - on ways not to do things.

Somewhat sadly, it appears I can add another company to the list.

As I mentioned yesterday, we are now into the final two weeks for those of us that have been laid off.  We are now moving into three separate stages (all predictable):

1)  The first is employees that were slated for layoff finding other jobs and leaving.  Typically, one would give sufficient notice as prescribed in the Employee Handbook to allow for the payout of PTO.  There is no PTO payout in this instance, and so individuals have used their PTO (or like me, are using it now) and there is no incentive to give anything but the briefest of notices.  Departures are now starting to mount with minimal notice:  "Thanks.  Monday (two days from now) will be my last day."  The company has managed to completely squander any residual good will.  If things are not transferred or done, there is now no chance they will ever be.

2)  The second is that employees that were retained are also putting in their notices.  No-one should blame them - the writing appears (largely) to be on the wall and that I am aware of, there have been zero incentives to retain employees.  There will always be some level of true believers in any company, but a great many people are just there for employment, career growth, and the overall work environment.  The former feels as much like a "You should be grateful for a job" as anything, and the latter two reasons are rapidly disappearing.

This puts the company in an awkward position:  they are either forced to go back to individuals they had previously laid off and ask if they would stay (but that pool dwindles with every week) or divide the work among the remaining employees, which is a motivation sapper and just as likely pushes them to look for a new position as well.

3) The third is that individuals that previous thought about the transfer of labor in abstract terms are suddenly being confronted with the unfortunate reality that that things taken care of by other people and groups is no longer continuing.  Speaking purely from my now-previous project management role, there will be no-one to set meetings, take minutes, create timelines, follow up, request and guide statements of work through to approval, and verify accrual of invoices - all things which at some level need to go on.

The result?  Meetings that were previously seen as critical have now fallen by the wayside; timelines are now developed by user groups (if at all) along figuring out statements of work. idea who is following up on any of that.  But it still has to be done.


It is shocking to me how quickly my caring meter has fallen off.  Where four months ago I was all about the project I was finishing up and closing out and what I would be doing next, I have moved to watching those projects wither away in real time.  If  I had to characterize my reaction, it is exactly how I remember breaking up to be (once upon a time, when I still dated): someone that once meant the world to you and you could not help thinking about and being with all the time is now someone with whom involvement has ended and you find yourself drifting farther and farther away until you hardly remember why you were there in the first place.

The thing that maddens me - if one can be maddened by a rapidly cooling interest - is that this seemed completely avoidable.  But I suppose that comment could be made about relationships as well:  it all seemed like it was going to go on forever, until one day it suddenly does not.