Five days of beach sunrises

This blog post is a little different from my usual. I just wanted to share five days of recent beach sunrises. My wife and I spend a week each year on North Carolina’s Outer Banks, in Kill Devil Hills, close to the site of the Wright Brothers first airplane flights. A highlight for me is greeting each day’s sunrise.

Here’s Monday, October 28, 2019:

Tuesday, October 29:

I get up an hour or more before sunrise. Daylight has already begun. I think of this time as the “pre-show,” as various colors come and go in the sky. Sometimes I find myself getting impatient to see the sun appear. But it’s pretty easy to remind myself to enjoy what’s going on at the moment. It’s effective practice in living in the present. Anyway, the sunrise is all the more dramatic after the build-up.

Wednesday, October 30:

Once the sunrise starts, it happens rather quickly. When there’s a layer of clouds on the horizon, it can happen a little past the appointed time. As long as it is not completely overcast, there is a sunrise. The clouds help give the day its distinct look.

Thursday, October 31:

Friday, November 1:

I’m glad I went

It was a milestone celebration at a church a plane ride away from my home. It’s an outstanding church, and I was part of it a long time ago. The church has long been known for its active involvement in social justice. Sunday morning is big, but it’s a seven-days-a-week church. It contributed to my theological education for two years.

Part of my role was on-the-job training in campus ministry at an adjacent prestigious university. More visible to the congregation was my guitar playing regularly in “folk worship” and occasional other times. One Sunday a month, the Sunday worship service was one I helped plan. Two other musicians — a pianist and an upright bass player — and I led it. I also participated in myriad meetings, retreats and anti-war protests. I think I was a brash enough young adult to speak my mind in most gatherings. Shortly before I completed my degree and moved away from the area, I preached there one Sunday morning. My “License to Preach and Administer the Sacraments” was granted by that congregation.

I enjoyed the recent celebration. It was good to be back in the building. The liturgy and other activities were appropriate and meaningful. As the history of the church was recounted, a good chunk of it was presented by some of the very people with whom I have a history. They covered a lot of that shared history.


At this point, the cynical reader might expect the insertion of a “But.” Not here, though. It’s more of a “That said. . . .”


I went with hope but not delusion. There were several people still in the church that I remembered from my time there. It would’ve been great if many/most (all??) had greeted me like a long-lost friend. Yet I had visited a couple of years ago, and only two of those remembered me. One was someone with whom I had been close. The other was someone I knew, though not as well as a couple of people who seemed to have no recollection of me. I expected it would be the same this time, while holding out hope that the occasion and my being there for much of the day would jog some more memories.


It was as expected. Everyone was friendly and welcoming. The same two seemed to be the only ones who remembered me, though when I spoke to others, I made a point of saying when I had been there.


Countless times, I’ve heard someone say about some service opportunity in which they’ve participated, “I got more from them than they got from me.” I guess I always realized this to be true about my time at this church. I just wish the score hadn’t been so lopsided.


I knew going in that I was at most a blip on the screen in the long history of a church filled with dynamic individuals. I had just thought — wished rather — that the blip were less imperceptible. It wouldn’t be honest not to admit to feeling some disappointment, yet I wasn’t blindsided.


Still, it was good to be in a place with a lot of great memories. To see faces still recognizable despite the years, even if mine wasn’t recognizable to them. To recount the illustrious history of the congregation and to see that the characteristics that drew me to them are still at work today.


I enjoyed the personal memories that flashed through my mind. I was able to share a couple of these verbally with one person or another. Yet feeling more like a welcomed guest than a returning family member, I found I was taking in the festivities primarily from a third-person point of view. I know and appreciate that for many there it was first-person.


To resort to an overused cliche, it was the hand I was dealt. So I played it. I was just glad to be in the game. It was a learning and a growing experience.

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Note of possible interest: This is the church to which I referred in “Wearing Your ‘Sunday Best’” when I said, “I was a young adult, in a church where people wore anything from jeans to suits or dressy dresses, when I realized that one of the negative things about Sunday morning in the past had been the hassle of getting dressed up.” For this recent occasion, I was the most dressed up I have ever been in that church building — dress pants, button down shirt and sports jacket, along with my black sneakers and, of course, no tie.

Happy New Year

Each year during December, some well-meaning people tack on “and Happy Hanukkah” when they say “Merry Christmas.” It’s as if they feel a need to give equal time to their Jewish acquaintances. We hear this a good bit in our Judeo-Christian family, but I also see it other places, such as social media.

But the way to give equal time is to wish Jewish friends “Happy New Year” now.

Rosh Hashanah — Jewish New Year — begins at sundown today, Sept. 29, 2019, thus beginning year 5780.

For those of us who are Christian, Rosh Hashanah most closely corresponds to Christmas. The Church Year begins with Advent, which prefaces Christmas. But more significantly, there are two High Holidays in each religion. The Most Holy Day in Judaism is Yom Kippur; in Christianity it is Easter. Rosh Hashanah and Christmas are close seconds in importance.

There are Jewish festivals that occur near the times of Christmas and Easter, but — even though Easter has a historic link to Passover — Christmas and Easter are comparable to Rosh Hashannah and Yom Kippur, respectively, rather than Hanukkah and Passover.

Comparing Holy Days with festivals is like comparing apples to oranges. Comparing Holy Days to each other is like grapes to grapes, or ambrosia to ambrosia.

Autumnal musings on the first day of fall

Sept. 22, 2019: My calendar notes that “Autumn begins” today. I always heard it called “fall,” though I’ve known as far back as I can remember that “autumn” was another name for it.

As my world expanded to include more people from more places, I sometimes got the feeling that “autumn” was considered more sophisticated. I can’t prove that. It was, as I said, just a feeling. But maybe somewhat justified. Because a little research tells me that “autumn” — these days — is the British preference, while “fall” is more associated with North America. (Type in “fall vs. autumn” on an internet search engine and you’ll find a ton of references.)

Further research told me that “fall” is the older term, originating in England before American English itself originated in the colonies. “Autumn” entered the English language via the French automne. It’s apparently been around as long as “fall,” but didn’t gain a lot of traction until later. So it’s “autumn” in the UK, but originally it was “fall.”

We have “fall semester” with “fall sports,” yet here in a town in which both are significant, I once lived on Autumn Lane. The “fall equinox” is also called (by more sophisticated people?) “autumnal equinox.”

In their 1964 hit “A Summer Song,” Chad and Jeremy sang:

They say that all good things must end some day.
Autumn leaves must fall.


They couldn’t have said “fall leaves,” because that doesn’t scan. Even if it did, “Fall leaves must fall” is awkward. Anyway, they are British. The phrase, nonetheless, hints at why the season was originally called “fall,” since that’s what leaves do at this time of year.

Each season has something to offer, but fall edges out spring as my favorite season. This is partly because the new school year begins, bringing its new possibilities — long ago for me, then for my children, now for my grandchildren. Also, the heat of summer begins to subside and it’s more pleasant to be outside.

But more so, though the leaves die, fall and decay, I see this as a time of rebirth, the beginning of nature’s annual renewal. The first step toward the burst of life and color we’ll see in the spring.

Happy autumn.


As one who cares about language usage

This was the offending meme, the one that was one-too-many for one of my Facebook friends.

In my early years on Facebook, I not only posted grammar-themed memes, I also crafted occasional comments of my own on the subject. My primary reason was to vent about what I saw not only on Facebook, but just about everywhere, including newspapers. I guess I also held out some hope that somebody or another would be willing to learn — or be reminded. If not, I did know there were some individuals who cared as much as I about correct use of our language. I was confident they would enjoy the posts.

I still see errors that to me are analogous to fingernails on a chalk board. But I stopped commenting some six years ago. That’s when I posted the meme above, which I thought was concise and useful. Someone who was at that time my FB friend somehow took it personally, even though I never, ever aimed any comments at an individual.

The reaction included: “I feel like we are back in HS again and you are the grammar patrol. Bet you are wearing that little belt and have red pencils in your pocket protector just waiting to make a big circle around all mistakes.” Yet I never — ever — corrected anyone on Facebook.

As I explained then, I majored in English, did a lot of writing and editing in my professional career, and have a touch of OCD. Also, I think there are good reasons for us to try to follow rules of grammar and usage. The primary reason is to keep English speakers speaking a common language so that we understand each other.

Most people don’t get angry at people who advocate for proper grammar, but many seem to find us amusing or eccentric. Yet why should trying to speak and write correctly be considered abnormal? Why isn’t it the other way around?

Why ascribe names such as “grammar patrol” or “police” or “nerd” — or worse?
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Another N word

Though World War II ended two years before I was born, people my age grew up in its shadow. “Nazi” was not a word one used flippantly. It was not something you called anyone other than historical figures who were, in fact, Nazis. You certainly didn’t give a friend that tag.

Now some, ignoring or ignorant of history, find it amusing to append it to the word “grammar.”

(On the “Seinfeld” episode about the “Soup Nazi,” the character Kramer never calls him that. A couple of years ago, we took the Real Kramer tour in NYC. The first stop was at The Soup Man — the real shop on which the episode was based — for a cup of the best soup in the world. Kenny Kramer — the real person on whom the character was based — never referred to the business’s founder as a “Nazi.” But I digress.)
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Back to the high school reference, I was not a member of any “grammar patrol.” I hadn’t worn a patrol belt since elementary school and then my duties concerned behavior, not grammar. I had no pocket protector, nor did I carry a red pencil.

I was a student, learning from my mistakes. I appreciate my teachers’ having corrected them.

Obligatory moon-landing story

I had just graduated from college and was headed to Boston for graduate school in the fall. Part of my existence and a big part of my identity for several years before and after was as a musician. I spent most of that summer performing folk and folk rock at a small club in Augusta GA, Monday-Saturday nights from (I think) 8 or 8:30 p.m. till closing.

By mid-July, I was ready for a short retreat back to Asheville, where my parents and brother still lived in the family home. Saturday closing was at midnight, as opposed to 2 a.m. the rest of the week. On Saturday, July 19, I headed north as soon as my last set ended. I got there at 4 a.m. My brother, eight years older, came in shortly after that from an “all-night” gospel-singing concert in the Asheville City Auditorium.

Apollo 11 was orbiting the moon. It had been only 66 years since the Wright Brothers’ first flights at Kill Devil Hills NC, and yet now three men were flying all the way to the moon. They would land that very day, July 20, 1969.

My life-long friend, Larry Freeman, was living at his grandparents’ house across the street. I had gotten to know him from his frequent visits and some-time residency at their house, beginning as far back as I could remember. He was almost two years older, and by that point enjoying a successful career as a jeweler and watch-repairer.

He came over to visit and watch the moon landing with me. I’m sure that our childhood fantasies, at one time or another, included being spacemen. Now we were 20-somethings having our minds blown by surreal reality.

I was impressed with Neil Armstrong’s cleverness, when he seemed to ad lib the “giant leap for mankind” quip. I was disappointed some years later to learn it was scripted. Nonetheless, it was an impressive event, to say the least.

I was back on stage Monday night. I was refreshed from the short trip. I find myself wanting to say something dramatic such as, But I was a changed person, because the world had changed. Seems a bit over the top, but something was different.

It would take the astronauts a few more days to return to the Earth.

Rounding down — You have to laugh

Someone once suggested to me that I try stand-up comedy. (Well, OK, that person was a therapist.) I guess if I ever did try to craft a humorous monologue based on my personal experiences, one direction I might take would be Keilloresque, making light of an ingrained inferiority complex. Garrison Keillor notes that Minnesota calls itself “The Land of 10,000 Lakes,” though in fact the state contains 11,842 lakes, and he goes on from there.

I was subject to the same calculation method. Here are some incidents that someone with more comic talent than I (see what I did there?) might craft into a series of jokes.

We walked about a mile to elementary school. I don’t know if anyone ever really clocked it, but neighbors all said it was a mile. In our house, though, it was “nine-tenths of a mile.”

I hit puberty earlier than most kids. (That could be a whole comic routine there.) I had an identifiable mustache by the time I became a teenager. I never really looked forward to shaving (still don’t), but self-consciousness over looking different began to outweigh the macho feeling of displaying facial hair. I was close to taking the razor plunge when some adult in some context commented on the dark hair on my upper lip. To which my father replied, “I keep thinking he ought to rake that fuzz off.” Well, I thought, if it’s merely “fuzz” that can be “raked off,” why bother? I kept it a good while longer.

Our family finally got a new car when I was in junior high school. The previous car was at that in-between age, old enough to be embarrassing but not old enough to be cool. The new car, a small Ford, got better mileage than any car we’d had previously. Not good by today’s standards, but in the early ’60s anything approaching 20 mpg was considered good. I liked the car, and meticulously computed the mileage on early trips. It was between 17-18 mpg. My father, who didn’t like the car, would tell people it got 15 mpg.

Speaking of cars, during my college days, I drove between Asheville and Chapel Hill several times a year. It was a longer trip then than it is now, because two sections of I-40 were still on the drawing board. At some point, I checked an official reference — a state-issued road map, I think — and found the distance to be listed as 234 miles. It was a few miles further from our house, since we lived on the western edge of town, and Chapel Hill was to the east. Despite my having shared this number, I still hear my father commenting at one point that “it’s about two and a quarter,” lopping off a good 10 miles.

A closer rounding would have been 240. Many people would have said 250. In fact, I think some did. But many people give themselves full credit, and their default rounding is up, rather than down.

There were other examples, but you get the picture. Any one single incident would be fairly innocuous, but over time they add up. None of this ever sounded funny to me, but maybe with the right delivery . . . .