It wasn’t hard to miss these two young girls as they stepped along the river’s shoreline in search of just the right spot to fish. A few minutes earlier, their father gave them instructions and stepped back to let them do their thing.
Initially, the girl with the net had a fishing pole. However, she traded it in for the oversized net in anticipation that her fishing buddy would catch a whopper. The scene reminded me of Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn on one of their adventures. The afternoon sun beamed down on the girls with their floppy hats, clunky boots, matching red shorts, and colorful T-shirts.
Here we are at the end of August. Is it just me, or have these been the longest eight months ever?
With 2020 being a presidential election year, we knew things could be wacky. However, they quickly became excruciating with the arrival of the novel coronavirus pandemic.
The virus has drastically altered all of our lives, some in catastrophic ways. Hundreds of thousands of deaths, millions of cases, and both founded and unfounded fear have permeated our lives together on planet Earth.
We have all made changes in our lives, whether they be out of safety or fear, or perhaps both. Most health and government officials have done their best at providing direction and directives to keep us well against a previously unknown health threat.
Some of us have tried to follow the guidelines as best we can. Others have not.
Technology has helped relieve some of the tension of being faced with shutdowns, physical distancing, and other health guidelines by allowing us to share virtually. We have gathered remotely for school, worship, business, and community meetings rather than in-person.
My wife and I have participated that way with church services, yoga, college classes, doctor appointments, weddings, memorial services, and visiting with friends and family. Though we would prefer meeting in person, face-to-face via technology has had to suffice for now.
How long will it last? Las Vegas hasn’t even placed a bet on that one.
As a career public educator, I always looked forward to the start of school. I pity today’s teachers, administrators, and school support staff who have to make hard decisions that are for the best and safest for all.
Some schools, including colleges and universities, are starting with in-person instruction. Others will open with a hybrid version, alternating between in-person and online education. Still, others have chosen all remote learning.
I wish them all well, and the safest of school years. Likely, backup plans are in place if the COVID-19 numbers spike again as students gather.
Parents, grandparents, and other caregivers try to balance the worlds of work, household chores, and instruction for youngsters if schools are not entirely in-person. They need our sincere support.
Employment is another issue that has so far muddled 2020. Many people who were working have been laid off or furloughed. Ironically, some sections of the economy are going gangbusters, while others flounder.
First-responders, nurses, doctors, and all their helpers must take extreme precautions just to treat the sick. I try to be mindful of them every day.
I am most thankful that technology certainly has helped to keep society operating. This old guy even ordered groceries from an app on his cell phone.
Of course, the pandemic isn’t the only life-changing event of the year. Historic wildfires have raged in the United States, Australia, and Siberia. Hurricanes and tropical storms have caused death and destruction in their path. Those storms are both more powerful and more frequent than in the past.
Professional sports aren’t the same, either. The NBA is holdings its playoffs in a Florida bubble, while MLB is playing a 60-game season with seats occupied with human cardboard cutouts instead of real paying fans.
I always welcomed September’s arrival with the hope of fairer weather and the sights and sounds of autumn’s appearance. But with the pandemic still raging and the presidential campaign heating up, a face mask won’t be the only accessory in my wardrobe.
A clothespin, a blindfold, and earplugs might also be warranted to reach 2021.
Jay Lehman was the kind of man that you might meet only once in a lifetime. He embodied the very values of the community in which he was born, lived, and worked.
Jay died recently at age 91. He was the founder of the old-time general store Lehman’s in Kidron, Ohio. I was fortunate to have known him as both a friend and a business leader. Scores of others can say the same thing about Jay.
That, however, is what impressed me so much about the man. We weren’t close as friends go, and we didn’t run in the same social circles. And, yet, whenever he saw me, he always went out of his way to call me by name, say hello, shake my hand firmly, and ask how I was doing. Jay was a good listener.
I got to know Jay the best through a cooperative marketing group that I facilitated. The original group included six Amish country, family-owned and operated businesses with a single location. Lehman’s was a founding member.
Jay started his little hardware and household goods business in 1955 at the crossroads of his rural hometown village. His original purpose provided necessary lifestyle items for the Amish community that surrounded Kidron.
Over time, the store’s purpose ironically flipped, becoming more of a tourist destination in Amish country. Jay embraced that change without losing sight or letting go of his and the community’s core values.
Faith, family, community, and a strong work ethic fulfilled humbly reflected not only the area’s priorities but Jay’s, too. Jay modeled those qualities in his personal and business life. That’s what made both Jay and his company tick.
In that success, Jay honored those values. He lived his faith by supporting the church and charities that he cherished. Even in a crowd of hundreds at statewide church conferences, Jay would acknowledge people by name and ask how they were doing. It might have been years since he had seen them. He understood the worth of healthy relationships.
That, in part, is what drew folks to Jay. He possessed a quiet, confident demeanor, and yet humility formed the mantle of his character. Even Lehman’s tagline reflects that concept: “For a simpler life.”
Jay saw the future in the past. He preserved anything of locally historical value for posterity and education. A walk through the store reveals hundreds of antique relics that would have been lost were it not for Jay’s foresight. If you want, you can have lunch at Lehman’s while sitting in the old town jail.
Jay enjoyed the simple life, but he certainly was not a simple man. He loved a good “Rook” game with friends and family as much as he enjoyed traveling. Future generations were as vital to him as his Swiss ancestors, which he revered.
As the company grew and expanded, family members, friends from church and community joined in to help him run the store. When he reached retirement age, he passed the leadership on to the next generation. But he continued to be a dynamic presence at Lehman’s.
It was a joy to watch customers recognize Jay as he strolled around his much-expanded corner store. He was the living icon of Lehman’s, now an international business.
Jay’s legacy will live on through his successful entrepreneurship and his lifetime of kindness and generosity. Living those essential core values shaped that legacy.
His was a compassionate life. Jay lived not just for himself, but for all whom he so tenderly touched far beyond the little town of Kidron, Ohio.
I’ve always been a bit ambivalent about August. I’m especially so this year, given all the ramifications of the ongoing pandemic.
When my wife and I lived in Ohio, August kept us busy as career public school educators. We each geared up for the start of a new academic year. As a principal, I created schedules and rosters and attended too many meetings. The excellent teacher that she was, my wife spent many hours preparing each classroom to be an inviting learning haven.
August also ushered in the food preservation season. We froze dozens of containers of sweet corn and apple sauce. We waited for the canning lids to sound the seal of approval with satisfying “pops” for the tomatoes, grape juice, beets, and peaches. Rainbows of goodness adorned our shelves.
Of course, we weren’t alone in these endeavors. After I retired, I savored sale mornings at the local produce auction. I loved the hustle and bustle of men and women unloading their trucks and horse-drawn wagons. The rhythmical cadence of the auctioneers barking out their persuasive banter was sweet music to my ears.
The growing season here in the Shenandoah Valley where we live now is a couple of weeks ahead of Holmes County, Ohio. So, we don’t have to wait as long to enjoy our first taste of locally grown veggies.
August is more than agriculture, though. The three H’s rule the eighth month: hot, hazy, humid. That’s not the main reason for my ambivalence, however. With the coronavirus continuing to run rampant, uncertainty abounds in everyone’s life.
The city schools where our grandchildren attend here were set to open with a combination of in-person and online instruction. The latest surge in COVID-19 has altered that plan. They’ll start the year learning remotely.
Mask-wearing is the norm, especially when entering stores or buildings. Neva and I have continued to be extra cautious about keeping our physical distancing. We truly miss the close socialization of friends and family.
Some states are doing better than others at slowing the virus. States that reopened with too few restrictions or where few people followed the guidelines are unfortunately paying the price.
Since the governors have had to take the lead in issuing orders and health guidelines, rules and suggestions vary significantly from state to state. In part, that’s what has fueled our consternation.
We haven’t seen in person our son and his wife, who live in New York State, in more than a year. We have friends and relatives who have tested positive, but fortunately, they have all recovered so far. Too many others weren’t as fortunate.
County and street fairs, high school football, band shows, concerts, vacations, have all been canceled. Major League Baseball is trying to play a shortened season with no fans in attendance.
Virus or no virus, August will be August no matter what. Golden sunsets will blaze away in the hazy evening skies. Migrating birds and butterflies will begin to wing their way south.
We’ll continue to meet with friends, relatives, and worship remotely through technology.
Under the current dire circumstances, it’s the best and safest we can do. We’ll continue to do our shopping curbside.
Even given all that, I know that my August ambivalence must yield to patience, and patience to resolve. We have to see this global health crisis through for however long it takes. I’ll continue to be cautious, careful, and diligent. I am not ambivalent about COVID-19.
My challenge is not to let my melancholy deter my joy for living, for sharing, for helping others, even if it is with an altered daily lifestyle.
As a youngster, I remember having mixed emotions about the Fourth of July. It had nothing to do with my patriotism, and everything to do with my youth.
I joyously anticipated the fireworks displays, wherever and however we got to see them. The reality, though, was that this red, white, and blue holiday marked the halfway point of the year. More importantly, it meant in my young mind that we were already halfway through the summer. Schools would be starting before we knew it.
When my four siblings and I were young, we would gather on a starry July 4th night on the edge of the hill a block west of our brick bungalow. We would anxiously look south and wait for the sparkling pyrotechnic patterns.
On rare occasions, we talked our father into driving closer to Meyers Lake Amusement Park, where the fireworks were ignited to explode over the lake. To avoid the parking lot traffic jam, Dad chose a side street that afforded a decent view of the aerial show.
The fireworks tradition continued into my adulthood when my wife and I started our family. From our home on County Road 201, we could see fireworks from various towns north, east, and southeast.
The summer of 1988 may have been the best time for fireworks for our family of four. Flying back from a vacation in California, we left Chicago’s O’Hare airport right at dark for the last leg of our trip. We looked down from on high as multiple fireworks displays erupted until we landed an hour later at Ohio’s Akron-Canton airport.
Years later, friends built a beautiful home high on a hill overlooking Millersburg. They had the perfect view of the fireworks shot from the safety of the former county fairgrounds location. Our friends made it a grand occasion, inviting one and all. A plate of food to share was the price of admission.
I enjoyed the fellowship of friends, former students, and some people I had only just met. We oohed and awed together once the colorful and noisy celebration began.
That’s one tradition we left behind when we moved to the heart of Virginia’s lovely Shenandoah Valley. Our city launches its fireworks display from a local park. We have enjoyed the show with our grandchildren on more than one occasion. Not this year.
A local resort, Massanutten, also holds a festival that features fireworks. However, like many locations across the nation, that won’t happen this year because of the pandemic. Officials were wisely concerned about keeping physical distances, which is much harder to do with crowds of people.
Some localities canceled everything, while others like Massanutten, canceled the festival. The fireworks will fly as usual.
These are the times in which we live. We need to accept that we are in the middle of the worst pandemic in a century. The viral repercussions range far beyond silent, darkened skies on the Fourth of July.
Our Founding Fathers created the most daring democratic republic experiment ever attempted. It’s entirely up to each of us to make sure our democracy endures for all peoples to exercise each of their first amendment rights.
Whether watching fireworks live or on TV, let those symbolic rockets red glares and bombs bursting in the air be a rededication to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Can the sparks ignite a new fire of freedom for all the nation’s people regardless of race, color, creed, or religion? Isn’t that the intent of the First Amendment?
I am always happy when we reach May, especially this year. The beautiful blossoms and warming temperatures spur a sense of gratitude.
During the current COVID-19 pandemic, we all must remain grateful. Given the stealth-like nature of the coronavirus, it would be easy for fear and despair to overwhelm us.
We must not let that happen. Those negative feelings can transition into depression unless we come to accept the ugly situation for what it is.
Now, the COVID-19 condition may not be as dire where you are as it is in other parts of the world. Here in Virginia’s lovely Shenandoah Valley, the deaths and confirmed cases are spiking. That, in part, is due to more accurate testing and proper reporting.
Of course, my wife and I have taken the necessary precautions as recommended by state and local leaders. We are grateful for their specific directives in this uncertain time.
I am also thankful that my niece and friends who live in New York City remain safe. Some of them are treating those infected. I am both grateful and concerned for frontline staff and first-responders everywhere who take extraordinary risks in merely doing their daily jobs.
Gathering hay in Ohio.
In the forest.
We can’t take for granted public utilities like electricity, water, and sewer that remain consistent and safe. Having power has permitted us to communicate remotely with family, friends, church members, and even doctors if needed.
I am grateful for local businesses that have prevailed in the face of potentially devastating economic conditions. I appreciate both their curbside and home deliveries. The indefinite length of the closure orders for them, however, is disconcerting for their financial well-being.
I am thankful for people’s resilience, creativity, and patience during their unplanned sequestering. It can’t be easy trying to work from home while teaching active, restless children and simultaneously trying to complete household chores. This perspective became more apparent to me when a friend found her son’s homework in the refrigerator.
I am grateful for our daughter and her family, who regularly check in on us via text messages and with social distancing visits. We celebrated our oldest grandchild’s 16th birthday via FaceTime. Evan seemed as pleased as if we were all actually eating ice cream and cake around their dining room table.
I am also glad our son and his fiancée are both safe and well in another New York hotspot, Rochester.
I am thankful for the garbage workers who continue on their regular routes, not knowing what precisely it is they are hauling. I pray for their continued safety.
I am thankful for people who show their love by sending us notes, text messages, emails, and making phone calls. Doing so keeps us connected and uplifted, even if it is only remotely.
I am thankful for the universal generosity of people who share their gifts most graciously. Using their talents to make personal protective products for strangers who need them is priceless.
I am grateful for a safe and secure home and neighborhood where my wife and I can both hunker down and walk for exercise among nature’s artistry. However, I am most uneasy about those who are not as well-off. More critically, this terrible virus is attacking the poor and minorities at a much higher rate than the rest of the population.
On a personal note, I am grateful for the opportunity to share with all of you. I hope you are well and can find ways to be genuinely thankful, too.
My wife and I just celebrated our 49th wedding anniversary. I had planned a quiet night out at a nice restaurant with my bride to mark the momentous occasion.
Of course, we nixed those plans since we have self-quarantined during the coronavirus health emergency. You can probably relate.
Instead, we spent the day like all our other social distancing, self-quarantined days. We read a little, played games, watched some television, I wrote, Neva quilted.
Unprecedented, uncharted territory each describe the current coronavirus pandemic. We all have had to make adjustments, sacrifices, lifestyle changes, hoping against hope they will be temporary.
We hope, too, that as many people as possible will stay healthy and alive. But the numbers of casualties from this horrible contagion keep multiplying daily. The curve has yet to be flattened in too many locales.
Neva and I are grateful to have lived these 49 years together. Over those nearly five decades, we each had to make adjustments and changes to ensure the partnership worked. That’s the way marriage is meant to be.
We each made those sacrifices for the benefit of the other. In marriage, you live not for yourself, but first for your spouse. However, our modifications paled in comparison to what others are having to do in the current coronavirus situation.
During our homebound times, I thought a lot about our marriage as our anniversary approached. We have much for which to be grateful. We have two marvelous children who are both successful adults in every way.
We love our energetic and talented trio of grandchildren. They keep us on our toes and fill us with joy and pride in living out their young lives. Of course, baseball, dramas, concerts, soccer, high-fives, and hugs have all been put on hold for now. Hopefully, it won’t be too long before those happenings can be renewed.
We had to get creative with our communications. Text messages, FaceTime chats, and occasional visits with them and their parents on our back porch, always keeping a safe distance, have to suffice for now.
Neva and I have traveled to many places as a couple. We have strolled on beaches, walked many trails, and climbed literal and figurative mountains together. None of them were as steep and challenging to traverse as this current global crisis.
We have many, many folks to thank for helping us along this marital march. Family, friends, churches, communities. We wouldn’t be where we are without them.
I thought it a bit ironic then that we would simply celebrate number 49 all alone. Our daughter changed that scenario by picking up carryout dinner at one of our favorite restaurants and dining with us on our back porch. Of course, we kept our distance.
Neva and I have been through a lot since that beautiful day in March 1971. But, like you, we have never endured anything like this pandemic.
In our quietude, we silently said a gracious thank you for all those strangers, friends, and family, living and dead, who have blessed and enriched our lives with joy, love, and understanding.
Neva and I are forever thankful for all that the good Lord has bestowed on us. Our gratitude is beyond measure, but continually overflowing. We’re hoping our 50th anniversary will be even more rewarding.
In these challenging, unusual times, we all need to work in harmony for the common good. Our prayers go out to each and everyone, whatever and wherever your situation may be.
Social distancing may keep us physically apart, but we are all in this together, and together, we will persevere. Blessings, and thanks to each of you.
Home. It’s a four-letter word that conjures up both good and sad emotions. It all depends on one’s circumstances.
I was fortunate. Returning home has always been a rewarding, meaningful experience for me.
I have no recollection of living in my first home on a channel of a lake near Akron, Ohio. But I recall many stories told to me in my adolescent years. I still get chided for grinding up coal cinders from the driveway. Apparently, I thought they tasted good.
My earliest childhood recollection was when I was about four years old. My father handed me a cold Coca Cola while I sat overhead on a rafter of the house my folks were building.
I spent my formative years in the little red-brick bungalow in Canton, Ohio. Baby boomer families like ours filled that middle-class neighborhood. Pick up Whiffle ball, baseball, and football games were commonplace, along with hide and seek sessions that went long into warm summer evenings.
That modest home was always a welcome sight returning home from college. Though the house was sometimes filled with shouting and disagreements, I always felt safe there. It was my home and my family, after all.
All of that changed once I graduated and started teaching in Killbuck, Ohio. I met and married my wife, and we built our own home just out of town next to an old cemetery. My school principal built right next to us. I loved to tell people that at least we had good neighbors on one side of our home.
We spent 10 incredible years there. It’s where our daughter and son learned to walk, talk, and play. Oh, the stories I could tell of those good old days in that hardscrabble town. For now, it’s best to let them remain dormant.
After I became a principal in East Holmes Local Schools, we moved to near Berlin, Ohio. The house we bought was on an Amish farm, and all of our neighbors spoke Pennsylvania Dutch as their primary language. That wasn’t a hindrance at all.
Just like when I grew up, our daughter and son had plenty of children to play with. They often met at the giant old black oak tree across the road from us. It was a joy to be able to watch them interact and quickly solve any squabbles without an adult having to intervene.
We lived there for 38 years, longer than any other place, including our childhood homes. Our neighbors were friendly and helpful. Amazing sunrises and sunsets enhanced the already beautiful views that we enjoyed.
Despite our deep roots in the community, we decided it was time to be nearer to our three grandchildren, who were growing all too fast. We found a home only five miles away from them in Harrisonburg, Virginia.
We bought and remodeled a little ranch house amid nearly 500 other homes. Just like their owners, each one has a personality all its own. Instead of being in the heart of Ohio’s Amish country, we now live in the heart of the beautiful Shenandoah Valley.
We can watch our high school grandson strike out batters in a baseball game. We enjoy a middle school concert in which our other grandson plays the French horn. We watch and listen with pride as our granddaughter sings in a prestigious children’s choir.
In the words of Maya Angelo, “I long, as does every human being, to be at home wherever I find myself.”
Indeed, it’s good to be home, wherever that is. I hope that’s true for you as well.
December’s mainstay holidays are cloaked in mystery and miracles. Darkness to light summarizes the current holiday season theme regardless of which ones you observe.
Hanukkah, Christmas, and even the winter solstice share those common qualities. They each come with their own history, a bit of mystery, and a requisite for reverence. The three even overlap in time, traditions, and symbols.
Hanukkah and Christmas each have deep, overlapping religious roots, while the winter solstice has pagan origins. All three, however, connect winter’s darkness with some concept of light. In fact, the triumvirate celebrates light in authentic, yet distinctive practices.
Besides illuminating light in the year’s darkest time, this triune of holidays has another commonality. The celebration of all three can last for days in keeping their specific purposes.
The winter solstice occurs when the sun reaches its farthest southward point for the year. That is precisely 9:19 p.m. EST on December 21. In Universal Time, the winter solstice is December 22 at 4:49 a.m.
The winter solstice marks the latest dawn and the earliest sunset. It is the longest night and shortest day for those of us who live in the Northern Hemisphere. Of course, it’s just the opposite for those south of the equator.
History and archeology show us that earth’s early peoples recognized this critical point in whatever way they marked time. They understood that the sun’s path could be predicted on a regular route across the sky.
Archeological wonders like England’s Stonehenge and Peru’s Machu Picchu stand as evidence of this. Indigenous peoples in America’s southwest also marked the end of darkness in similar light-filled ceremonies.
Historians are still unraveling the mysteries of these cultural rituals. Fire and light were essential symbols in most of these ancient celebrations. I marvel at how those two entities connect to Hanukkah and Christmas.
This year Hanukkah is celebrated by the Jewish faith from December 22 to 30. Hanukkah is the commemoration of a historic miracle involving light.
The Jewish holiday arose after the temple in Jerusalem was recaptured from cruel ruler Antiochus. Wanting to rededicate the holy temple, the Judah victors found only enough olive oil to burn sacred candles for one night. Mysteriously, the menorah candle burned for eight consecutive nights, establishing the miracle of Hanukkah.
Christmas, of course, is December 25, most likely assigned that date to coincide with the winter solstice and Hanukkah celebrations, according to some historians. They reasoned that if the shepherds were guarding the grazing sheep, the season would have been one other than winter.
Regardless, Christmastime is a celebration of another kind of light. It, too, is rooted in a miracle, that of Mary’s virgin birth of Jesus, meaning, “God with us.”
Christians begin the Yuletide season with the Advent preparation four weeks ahead of Christmas Day. Some sects of Christianity then extend the celebration to January 6 or Epiphany or Old Christmas, which the Amish humbly celebrate.
For me, in this blend of holidays, the light brings anticipation of better things to come: lighter, longer days, a hope for a better, sunnier new year, the joy of personal peace by walking with the light, and the love of all Creation.
The vibrant spirits of the season, miracle and mystery, gently weave the interconnected holiday celebrations together with the threads of hope, joy, peace, and love. Will we allow ourselves to be wrapped lovingly in this warm garment more radiant than the brightest star?
I pray that the mystery of miracle envelops you and yours in joy and light this holiday season.
As joyous and fun as the holidays are, not everyone can celebrate. All of the holiday hype merely adds fatigue and angst for those who have no family or who have lost loved ones this time of year.
Amid our own holiday celebrations, my wife and I have our moments of remembrances. My father died a few days before Christmas a decade ago. So did my father-in-law nine years earlier. A young adult friend, studying to be a doctor, succumbed to cancer, also at Christmastime.
I’m not writing this for sympathy. I’m sharing our story and asking for awareness. For us, the holidays bring mixed emotions. We can be joyously celebrating one moment, and suddenly out of nowhere, we are pricked with the painful reminder of those whom we loved but are now gone.
The sadness, the loss, the hurt all appear uninvited. What sets off the sensation is unpredictable. It could be a familiar fragrance, an innocent comment, or a peculiar sound. It could be nothing more than the thought of missing a father, mother, brother, sister, or friend.
In the cases of my father-in-law and my father, we were relieved when they finally could cross over to the other side. Dementia and cancer can be cruel, gut-wrenching deaths. Even if life’s end does come during the holidays, there is comfort in knowing their physical misery has finally ended.
It was especially so for my father. Dad loved Christmas. When he died 10 years ago, the Ohio winter weather was brutal. An extended cold snap and heavy snow guaranteed a white Christmas. Dad would have loved the brightly decorated church welcoming the holidays.
We said our goodbyes to Dad on December 26, which was a Saturday. We understood if folks couldn’t come. To our surprise, scores of people young and old braved the weather. We were glad they had taken time out of their own holiday plans to pay their respects and share their sympathies with our family at the visiting time and attending the service.
Every year, as we approach this most hallowed time, there are moments when I hear Dad’s voice as clear as if he were still with us. I think it’s a reminder of how childlike Dad embraced Christmastime his entire life. The thought brings a smile to my face every time. That’s the way our father would want to be remembered.
But for others, it can be different. When you lose a loved one no matter the age or situation, the loss can be a shock from which some never recover. If the death or traumatic accident happens during the holidays, the grief can even be more profound.
We must give both space and grace to those who grieve. They need their time alone to mourn, whether their personal loss was recent or decades ago.
However, we must also be inclusive of them, especially if they were left to live alone. That may mean including those who grieve in family gatherings, or it may mean visiting them on their own time and in their own surroundings. Whichever, they must not be forgotten.
The holiday season is meant to be a joyous time, one of celebration, good cheer, and gracious giving. We should always honor it that way.
We must remember, however, that not everyone can celebrate in that manner. Personal loss changes people. In our reveling, we must recognize and embrace their grieving.
Doing so may be the most appropriate gift that we give them.