Friday, November 26, 2021

Black Friday and Giving Tuesday



 “If the only prayer you said was, “Thank you”, that would be enough.”     

                                       Meister Eckhart           

  “Piglet noticed that even though he had a Very Small Heart, it could hold a rather large amount of Gratitude.”      

                                      A.A. Milne, Winnie-the-Pooh  

“Do not spoil what you have by desiring what you have not; what you now have was once among the things you only hoped for"                                                                             Epicurus  

(This is about Thanksgiving, Black Friday, and more importantly, Giving Tuesday. However you celebrated it, I hope each of you had a thoughtful and joyous Thanksgiving.)  

   Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday of the year. This holiday is all about things that really please me: good food, being around people in a joyful and happy setting, reflection, and expressing gratitude for what I have and for where I am in my life. The relative lack of advertising and the tiny focus on what to buy when compared to Christmas gives me an opportunity to focus more on the day itself and to think about what the holiday is supposed to mean. In that light, I get a chance to look beyond myself and to acknowledge all the people, things and circumstances that are a part of my life that I had little, if anything, to do with. Particularly given the changes in my life over the last three and a half years, I am incredibly aware of the value and wonder of family, friends, neighbors, and colleagues. I have been supported and held up by many different people, and this day, Thanksgiving, is a day for me to join with many other people to formally acknowledge and embrace the fact that without each of them my life would not be as rich, as joyous or as full as it is. How and why it happens as it does is something that is in beyond me, but I notice and am eternally grateful. I try to live a life of gratitude on a regular basis, but I am glad that we have a day devoted to it.  

  This "giving of thanks" has always been a human and universal thing; it is probably a human need. It has happened in every part of the world, in every culture, and in every era. Of course, it can be hard to hold on to that feeling of gratitude in our modern super-charged civilization; we need to keep moving and get on to the next thing. For several weeks now we have been bombarded with advertisements for “Black Friday’ and “Cyber Monday” sales and today that starts. This has always been a season of heightened shopping since the 1920’s, and it was so even during the Great Depression. And the Friday after Thanksgiving always kicked it off.  That day came to be known as, "Black Friday” in the 1950’s when the combination of holiday sales, football games, and drunkenness often produced riotous mobs and crowds in the shopping areas of Philadelphia. It started with a negative connotation; the police called it, “Black Friday,” complaining about having to work so much overtime to deal with the crowds. Crowds of people on the streets were not necessarily considered a good thing at that time. Eventually the riotousness died down, people saw that crowds of shoppers helped the economy, and the phrase took on its current, more positive meaning relating to commerce. “Cyber Monday” is a relatively recent idea; it came into being in 2005 as a marketing company’s idea to build on and accelerate the growth of online shopping. It has become very successful, taking in nearly 11 billion dollars last year.   

   This move past gratitude into commerce will be a part of our culture for years to come. It is especially true now in the wake of the economic challenges brought forth by the pandemic. We are in a time when our economy seems fragile, and we seem to need to “jump start” it. But there is a way to extend that feeling of gratitude, though, even in the midst of so much unadulterated commerce. “Giving Tuesday” is such a way.  

   Due in part to year end concerns about tax deductions, about 50% of all charitable giving in the US occurs in the last three months of the year. This realization led to the 2012 creation of “Giving Tuesday,” a day of donations to fund good, charitable causes following the excesses of Black Friday and Cyber Monday. The founders wanted people to focus on extending the Thanksgiving feeling of gratitude by following a weekend shopping spree with giving to help others and to support good causes. The idea quickly took off, and it is now an international movement.  It even has its own website- which serves as a conduit to connect groups, causes, organizations and individuals. The website has history, tools to get organized, and connections to local movements from around the world. So that feeling of gratitude and giving can go on beyond Thursday. It can co-exist with the shopping frenzy as we combine to support causes the endeavor to make the world a little better. We can give back and give forward.  

    However you celebrated Thanksgiving, I hope that you had the chance to reflect on people, situations and things for which you can be truly thankful. Even if things are tough, we all have some things, people, memories, and/ or moments for which we can be grateful. Here's hoping we were all able slow down enough to really acknowledge those things and to discover the quiet pleasure and joy in giving thanks. And please remember, “Giving Tuesday.”

Friday, November 19, 2021

Thanksgiving Thoughts


DUKES FANS:       


      (Those of you who have read these missives for several years know that I love Thanksgiving and the idea of gratitude. So I have looked back over several previous musings on that day and combined and updated some to look at where I am this year with this holiday.)  

      Most human cultures and religions have rituals and days dedicated to some type of “thanksgiving”-- some deep acknowledgement that there are things other than and/or beyond us that affect us and for which we need to be grateful. Prayers of gratitude are a long-standing religious tradition, and our calendars reflect our dependence on things that are beyond us. Human calendars originated with trying to keep track of when the earth around us did certain things, and we knew we had to appeal to and be thankful to the spirits, God or gods that lay behind those processes. They anchor us in our world. So we pray, sacrifice, chant, and more to get that supernatural help. And we give thanks for whatever help or possibility of help we receive. Spring is the time of nature’s rebirth and planting, for example, and we have many celebrations that honor that. Fall is generally our harvest time, and we have holidays including the Hindu Duwali, the Jewish Sukkoth, that recognize that as well. Our American Thanksgiving clearly reflects a Christian perspective as many of the people we have been taught to think of as having the "First Thanksgiving” in Plymouth, MA, were Christian. And it was proclaimed a national holiday by a Christian President and Congress.  

      Even for those of us who do not believe in Christianity or a world of gods and spirits, this idea of giving thanks has existed for many, many years.  What used to be called, “Common Courtesy” was a secular way of paying attention to this very thing. You said "Please” and especially “Thank you” in ordinary human interactions if you were a polite person. It was about the inter-connectedness and gratitude that hold human societies together -- that joint acknowledgement that we affect others and others affect us. We as humans cannot live totally by ourselves, and we need to acknowledge that. 

      Of course, for most folks getting together for Thanksgiving means family, and that can bring conflicts and pressures of its own. There are legendary family battles that have emerged at Thanksgiving dinners. At a time when so much of what we have taken for granted and assumed has been so turned around, polarized, and challenging, there are probably thousands of people right now who are struggling with what to do about this Thanksgiving. Do I invite only vaccinated people? Are topics such as religion, abortion, politics, etc. off limits?  And what to do if someone does not honor those boundaries? Radio, TV, and news media have all featured suggestions on how to deal with sensitive topics at this year’s dinner, and there will undoubtedly be plenty of arguments, tough and uncomfortable decisions, and some hurt feelings. There are also a lot of folks who have died in these last two years, some due to the pandemic and more. There will be many dinner tables with empty chairs, and there will be plenty of sorrow in many homes. For many of us this may well be a Thanksgiving of uncomfortableness unlike any other in recent memory.  

      One of the things I am very grateful for is the caring and comfort that human family and friends can provide for each other. My hope is that through and despite the great hurts, anger, and pain this year may bring, that there can be some of the comfort, understanding, and solace that only friends and family can provide. Most of us are together with family and friends, and that can be wonderful in and of itself. Pain and loss are hard to bear by oneself; they can seemingly crush us. 

      Together we can handle the roughest things. There is often a tenor to this day that, despite the fuss and craziness over where people are seated, and who carves and who can or can't eat what, and who is in what political party, can make most of us slow down a bit. To stop. For to give thanks, to REALLY give thanks, one has to slow down and turn both inward and outward.  We need to be conscious of it. It is and has been in all human cultures. It seems to be something we as humans must do and are capable of doing. 

      Clearly the past two years have brought to the forefront many things of which many of us were not aware. The roles of essential workers, without whom our whole civilization would have come close to falling apart -- grocery store clerks, postal workers, delivery drivers, nurses, doctors, first responders, fruit pickers, and many, many more. The technologies that allowed us to adjust to so many of our new challenges -- ZOOM, Skype, cell phones, etc. The ways neighbors helped other neighbors with trips to the grocery stores, staffing food pantries, donating food, providing rides to the doctor, etc. It seems very good and right, especially now, that we take the time to note OUT LOUD these things for which we are grateful, even if they often slip our consciousness. “Common Courtesy” can seem to be beneath our notice these days, but it doesn’t have to be. It is there and has been there, and we all have things for which we can be grateful. I am glad we have a day to formally recognize, announce and be aware of our gratitude. It calls forth our better selves. Do have a Happy and Thoughtful Day of Thanks.

 (For some advice about conversations during Thanksgiving: 

What really happened in Plymouth in 1621? 

Monday, November 1, 2021

Deep Fall



(Welcome to new members of the mailing list. I send out these newsletters every other week or so to announce Dukes activities and gigs and to share some of my thoughts on the world, life and whatever seems to be running around my head. If something moves you, interests you, annoys you, or anything, please feel free to respond to me by e-mail. And thanks for signing up. We love and depend on our fans to keep us going. Thanks so much!) 


   Fall is definitely here now. The unnatural high temperatures of the first few weeks of October have given way to much cooler weather, windy days, and the earlier arrival of night. I love this time of the year: I call it, “Deep Fall” as we are in the heart of what autumn means and can show. The weather is noticeably cooler: I made my first pot of chicken soup last week, and I have used the electric blanket a couple of nights now. The mornings are brisk, and when I am out walking in the early morning I can look up at the sky and see a bright moon cutting through the darkness. The trees and bushes have finally started changing into fall colors, and a couple of my favorite sugar maples are flame- like in their reds and orange. A number of other trees still haven’t changed yet, but I get to walk on some sidewalks strewn with colorful leaves like a magical procession. And the daytime is presenting us with large swaths of clouds that look like ocean waves. There is a quiet, brisk energy in the air that gives a little bounce to one's step and makes one feel more alive.  

  It is also the time of the fall hawk and songbird migration. I have been to Carpenter’s Woods twice so far, and the late afternoons have seen a number of red-tailed and Cooper’s hawks, various woodpeckers, chickadees, juncos, sifts, and some swallows riding the winds. Nighttime has me looking up and seeing the bright moon, swaths of clouds, and several constellations, including The Dippers and, I think, Pegasus. I like this early darkness, and am somewhat unhappy about Daylight Savings Time taking place next week. But I will adjust, and the differences in light will allow me to see some other things when that happens. But for right now, I am just enjoying being in this place at this time in the year. 

   Deep Fall is one of my favorite times of the year. Looking and noticing everything going on around me gets me to slow down and to marvel at all of the quiet changes that are there. And I get to appreciate that this is another part of that quietly amazing cycle of seasons that we are able to witness and to enjoy. I do hope that this is a great time for each of you as well. Get out, see the changing colors, look at the night sky and simply marvel. Happy Fall! 


Friday, October 22, 2021

The Magic of Magazines



   The Magic of Magazines

   I come across a lot of words on a daily basis. I get a lot of postal mail, mostly from organizations and groups, but occasionally a card or note from a family member or a friend. I get a lot of e-mails, from friends, Dukes contacts, businesses and political organizations. I also have print and digital subscriptions to the Philadelphia Inquirer and The Philadelphia Tribune as ways of supporting local independent journalism. That’s a lot of written words that come into my space within any week, and I am glad of it. 

    Of course, I do not get to look at all of those words immediately. Some of these are important, of course, and I have to attend to them right away. But a lot of my e-mails I either delete or I bookmark them and put into various folders and resolve to look at them another day. (Sometimes I actually do look at them, and I find out a lot of fascinating and moving things about world culture, art, cities, birding and more.)  The magazines, though, I  pile up on the wooden bookcase on the porch right next to the front door. I do that because I regularly grab one as I am heading out the door to take with me when I ride the bus or the train. I have magazines from 5 different museums, a couple of birding and nature magazines, several political and issues-oriented magazines, and a travel magazine about sustainable travel that I regularly read. While I don’t read every word in every issue of every magazine, it is important to me to look at them. For magazines have played and still play a huge role in my life.  

   Magazines have been a big part of American culture since the mid-to late 1800’s. We sort of take them for granted-they have always been there and they always seem to be around. They are in doctor’s offices, pharmacies, and other offices as we wait for appointments. They are in some commuter trains stations. Even in this digital age, there are many magazines that are delivered directly to people via the Postal Service. They have been an important part of American life, and they have had a huge impact on our culture. They have played a big part, in ways both good and not so good, in setting the guidelines and “rules” about what it meant to be “American.”

   Early American magazines were concerned with sharing and instilling certain values, many of which came from the Protestant beliefs of early Americans-faith, thrift, hard-work, etc. They had some literary offerings, but we more about what we might call, “self-improvement’ and, “moral uplift.”As the country underwent the Industrial Revolution, gained many more people, and became more middle class, however, magazines began to seek a wider audience. Many more Americans were educated enough to read. The cost of printing decreased. So the idea of a “mass market” magazine-one that could appeal to lots of readers of different ages and from different backgrounds- became a possibility. The Saturday Evening Post, first published in 1821, and Godey’s Lady’s Book, started in 1831, were two of the first successful mass market magazines. The Post had items that were newsworthy, advice, short stories by authors such as Poe and Hawthorne and several European authors, some poetry, illustrations, and humorous pieces. Godey’s Lady’s Book had much the same content, but it was designed to publish only American authors, and was directed at women. It included recipes, household hints, etiquette advice, and lavishly illustrated ‘fashion plates’ that depicted stylish clothes. It also, under the direction of Sara Josephina Hale, argued for women’s education, urged its readers to write legislators in support of causes such as making Thanksgiving a national holiday, and supported women working. In fact, Godey itself employed over 100 women. Due to Ms. Hale’s leadership Godey’s was the most popular magazine in the country for a good part of the 19th century. 

  From that point on magazines became a major part of US culture. Americans wanted magazines for just about everything. Specialty magazines grew in number and in popularity. There were mystery magazines, women's magazines, literary magazines, and magazines about hobbies and activities, such as hunting and astronomy. General picture magazines, such as Life and Look, took off and by the post WWII era were in the homes of most US families, spreading info across the country and helping solidify some ideas about what it meant to be American. My family was no different from many families at that time. We subscribed to Life and Look as well as National Geographic and Reader’s Digest. I remember Reader’s Digest for the shortened or excerpted sections of the works of authors I had only heard about, and for their vocabulary quizzes, which helped encourage my love of words. National Geographic fueled my sense of wonder and travel; the phrase “bucket list” hadn’t been invented yet, but there were things I saw in that mag that I knew I wanted to do some day, and some of them I have done. We also read Jet and Ebony, magazines about Black life and Black news and Black accomplishments. This was great because it helped broaden, and in some cases, challenge or correct some of the cultural ideas that were being pushed in the major magazines. Through all of this, I was becoming a well rounded thinker. 

   So magazines, then and now, have played a big part in my growth as both a thinker and a person. They have exposed me to new ideas, given me some new ways to look at things, and helped form and solidify some of my values and ways of being in the world. Yes, they can be convenient things to help me meet boredom and situations when I have to wait. But they have also been and are ways for me to grow and develop. I am glad for those subscriptions; for over 65 years, they have been a major player in my life.  


Saturday, October 9, 2021

"It's Like Thunder; Lightnin'"

“The thunder? Don’t be afraid. It ain’t nothing but God going bowling up in heaven”     Numerous parents to their little kids  

Over the last week I have seen some evidence of the fact that it is fall again in our cycle of seasons. Goldfinches have appeared at the backyard feeders in their dark grayish coloring rather than their summer yellows. The colors on brightly colored flowers in the flowerboxes in the neighborhood have faded, and there are some leaves from them on the ground. The trees in the ACME parking lot are now a lighter green, and there are other trees in the areas with some changes in the tone and depth of their color. The temperatures are cooler, and the early morning darkness is longer and more pronounced. All of these say, “Fall,” and that is good for me.  

   The maples haven’t started changing yet, however, and that is a little disappointing to me. We have a lot of maples in West Mt. Airy-sugar maples, Japanese maples, red maples, silver maples and more. When they change, it is always spectacular and dramatic-bright reds, deep oranges, bright yellows and more. And the sidewalks beneath the trees are magically transformed into colorful leaf-carpets that look and feel as if we are in another universe. It is not fully fall for me until the maples start changing,  and I am a bit impatient for that to happen.  

   But the natural phenomenon that is uppermost in my mind right now is the amazing thunder, lightning, and rain storms we had in this area on Tuesday night. I have not heard thunder that loud and with all of that deep rumbling since I was a little kid, and it truly shook me. I woke up several times from the booms, and then I heard the wind and the rain slapping against the house and the windows. The lightning flashes were intense, and it felt like being in a movie version of a Stephen King novel. And I was immediately taken back to glimpses of my childhood growing up in West Philly.  

   For most of my childhood I shared a bunk bed with my older brother. When thunder and lightning storms struck, I was scared and often cried. I would have visions of the house being struck by lightning and bursting into flame, or of trees flaring up and crashing into the house. Our parents, and sometimes my brother, would try to comfort me by telling me that thunder was not to be feared; it was God bowling or the Devil and God fighting. And lightning was God chasing the Devil away from Earth or some such supernatural happening. Those tales would often comfort me.  

  As I got older, outgrew the fear, and found out the science of what causes thunder, I was no longer scared. But my natural curiosity and love of history led me to seek out ways other times and other peoples made sense of thunder and lightning.  And as making sense and finding patterns in the world is one of the things that make humans human, every culture and time had well developed explanations for these events. Lighting was often a weapon of the supernatural: the ancient Hindus pictured lightning as a weapon of the god Indra, and the to the ancient Chinese, lightning was the domain of Dian Mu, the wife of the thunder god. She told right from wrong and could deliver justice. The Iroquois had a similar idea; Hinon, their thunder god, was fierce, but he often intervened to help humans see truth or to rescue them. The Hittites and Romans saw lightning as indications of things to come, and it even figured into Roman political and military decisions.  Thor, as many of us know from Marvel, was the Viking god of thunder, and the Vikings believed that thunder was him striking his hammer against an anvil as he roamed the sky. The Bantu in South Africa believed in a lightning-bird, whose power could foretell the future and heal the sick, but sometimes it could simply wreak havoc. It had to be handled by medicine men. Clearly, the strength and intensity of thunder and lightning meant that they had to connected to some very important things in each culture.  They were not to be ignored or downplayed: they mattered.  

  While I did not get much sleep Tuesday night, I am glad that I had the experience of being taken back to a bit of my childhood. I find it interesting and good for me to look back sometimes and see where I have been, where my early experiences took me, and how they have influenced who I am today. Of course, this does not mean I necessarily want to experience those type of storms again; I think Tuesday night’s experience can last me for a while...(smile) But it was good to recall a younger me and a simpler time.   

   (Here is a link to an article about how different cultures looked at thunder and lightning: