Going Out on a Limb: A Truth, a Speculation, and Two Tributes

Going out on a limb conjures images of danger. Lost in Space is back, but I don’t think the robot-looking intelligent entity can be as persuasive as the original when it warns Will Robinson. Random opinion. I have three things to say: One I believe is true, the second is entirely speculative and probably isn’t true but has its own poem, and the third involves tributes. Maybe a balancing act would be a more appropriate image (incredibly cool video—I’ve never seen an act like this. We used to watch people balancing plates on Ed Sullivan, but this is amazing.)

The first thing involves our origin. We didn’t have one. Our intelligence or being or whatever you want to call it has always existed. Intelligence—like energy or matter—cannot be created or destroyed. When God tells Jeremiah, “Before I formed thee in the belly I knew thee,” we get a glimpse of the existence. When Christ responds to the disciples asking who sinned, the man born blind or his parents, Jesus responds that neither had sinned, again suggesting that the man had done nothing before he was born to cause his condition. That we do not remember anything previous should not affect our perception of its truth. If we remembered, then we would not be walking this life by faith.

Part two. Far more complicated. Someone once suggested that we were able to choose our gender, that our intelligences had none, and we were allowed to make that decision. This view is based on nothing that I have seen anywhere. It sounds plausible. We are who we are.

The word “epicene” means without gender. I saw it first when teaching an essay about the incidents in Tiananmen Square from 1989. The protest was long and involved mostly students, with a culmination of sorts in the capital. If you remember anything, it was the person known only as Tank Man, standing defiantly in front of advancing tanks. The essay mentioned an epicene voice over the loudspeaker, telling the protestors to disperse. I had no idea what it meant. The students didn’t realize I didn’t since I followed my grandmother’s dictum: Look it up. We learned together that day, my Latin- and Greek-aided vocabulary slightly wounded.

Here’s the poem, also titled “Epicene.”

Without form or light or time—

without eyes to see,

ears to hear,

without any thing at all—

*mens absque corpore,                                              *mind without body

thought not thing:


My epicene I

must have known

that the two opposites—

he and she—

were parts

of a whole,

neither without the other



Then said

(not saying: an inclination)

I will choose the one

not the other,

in an unknown wisdom

before beginning—


For they are either good,

both needed,


My epicene I,

if I know the gendered I

I am now,

chose what seemed

the better.

Unpoetically, I want to say that I’d rather be a female person than a male one. I like the other gender, a lot, and in many instances would rather talk to one than to one of my own sex. Femaleness has a wide range, of course. Here we have Nancy Kwan singing “I Enjoy Being a Girl” from Flower Drum Song. It’s a song that’s stuck with me, I think because of the line “A pound and a half of cream upon my face!” Not my thing.

At the other end of the spectrum, we have Mozart’s Queen of the Night, a powerful, cruel woman who’s got some of the best arias in the repertoire. Here Diana Damrau sings “Die Hölle Rache” (“The flames of Hell”) to her daughter, telling her that if she doesn’t kill her mother’s rival, she’ll be disowned. The performance here chills; the Queen’s eyebrows alone would scare young children.

Last week two remarkable women were in the news. Tammie Jo Shults, captain of Southwest Airlines Flight 1380, landed a damaged craft on April 17, 2018. You can listen to the back-and-forth between her, the co-pilot, and the towers here. Lots of folks reported her as having “nerves of steel.” That may suggest a steely demeanor, but I don’t hear that at all. It’s a woman, trained and capable, doing what needs to be done. (An aside—they call passengers “souls,” which I learned in the movie Sully with Tom Hanks.)

On the same day, in the evening, Barbara Bush died at age 92. She’d been married 73 years, longer than most people live. She and Tammie had little in common, superficially. Tammie Shults grew up near an airbase, watching the jets and knowing she wanted to fly. She was a pioneer for female aviators in the Navy. Barbara Bush, born in Manhattan, was the daughter of a prominent publisher who headed magazines such as Redbook and McCall’s. She was anything but demure, but her wit wasn’t acerbic, but wry and smart. My favorite story involves a reporter asking her weight: “Oh, I don’t know…I think about a hundred pounds.”

Deeper, they share the bonds of motherhood and faith, commitment and vision. Both deserve a tribute today.

One final point, and I’ll let you be. As women, we can follow dreams or have a legacy, not because we are better than men, but because we have a unique set of attributes that we bring with us spiritually and mentally. We can be pilots or patricians, we can sing an F above the staff in Mozart or balance a feather on a dozen branches. But we don’t have to be or do any of that, and that is really my point. What wonderful women there are in the world. No matter what we do, we can be wonderful, as well.

One Year: A Retrospective

Bluebonnet Syrup launched a year ago. The plan was to see if I could make a year and then quit. Good attitude? Probably not. Rather than quitting, I’m going to retrospect (no, not a real verb!) and add comments pro and con about a few columns.

In “Tom Sawyer Lives,” the topic is essentially fake news. Or should it be in all caps: FAKE NEWS! Regardless, I think people are more aware of the concept now, what with it being the topic of actual news. Some still post without checking, so I will be the one who Snopes it out. Sorry if it offends…

Someone once said, “Don’t tell me not to worry. Nothing I worry about ever happens.” Yet everyone worries. In “Not to worry,” I discussed my long history with apocalyptic non-happenings. Today happens to be another such date. What luck! In all seriousness, however, do look into emergency preparedness. Last night I watched a long interview with a man who writes about EMPs (nuclear electromagnetic pulse). Our civilization would end in minutes. Maybe I’ve watched or read too many post-apocalyptic offerings. I especially don’t trust the North Koreans who are currently saying, “OK, we quit now.” Just too pat. For real, go to ready.gov for information. Tornado season is upon us, if not nuclear war.

Now for some regrets: “On This We Agree.” I had such high hopes. I met Glenn Beck, who told me to contact his assistant because he was working on something similar. No response. Only, well, nothing. Beck did appear on a new PBS show called In Principle as their first guest; the episode is called “Echo Chambers.” He currently discounts all the goings on in Washington as distraction, suggesting instead that we concentrate on our families, our neighborhoods, and our schools. Sadly, he also thinks we have not hit bottom, with the final depth so low that we will have trouble climbing out. So, what am I doing? Trying to think globally and act locally. Last week I delivered a jar of pickles to someone needing electrolyte replacement. It turned into a meaningful—and I hope helpful—conversation.

On a more positive note was an unexpected favorite, my visit to a car paint shop. In the past year, I’ve had to scramble sometimes to find something to write about. The delight of a positive experience with people who are good at their work always inspires. And the paint I bought has been the best ever. Great news!

The eclipse. I found it hard to understand all the hype at first, the emotion, the excitement. And then I saw it. In my piece I tried to capture some of that confusion. Yes, it was a “You had to be there” experience. On the other hand, I’m looking forward to the next one on April 8, 2024. We can see it easily and well in Texas. I’ll be here, I hope, just older.

In some ways, I think “The Should World is one of the best essays of the lot. Although it’s somewhat harder to define, one of the problems with current politics lies in the insistence that things should be different than they are while discounting the basic realities of human nature. That’s too broad, admittedly. (And I have abandoned the tag “Polite politics” that was to frame these discussions. I won’t give details, but there has been some pain in the last year as well.) A survey to let you see what you are willing to give up for what you think is more important? A video game that lets you build that Should World and then see its flaws? I’m excited about either. Who can help design these? Let me hear from you. I am not kidding.

Bottom line: On I go. I have one more idea for next week. It seems to work out that way. Love to all.

Paris 2018

Cities have their own characters. Everything from sunshine to history to architecture to manners plays a part. So much of each comes together in Paris to make it a special place indeed. Well, maybe not so much sunshine in late March, but the city is beautiful in many ways. It’s also different than it was only a few years ago.

Much is the same, of course. People still smoke and leave cigarette butts everywhere. Young people apparently didn’t get the news that cancer kills. Dogs—often unleashed—remain popular, and their poop litters sidewalks. Pickpockets and buskers inhabit the Metro, one a plague about which one is warned at every stop and the other a delightful diversion occasionally. The boys gave one busker coin after coin; later they saw a pickpocket and discussed their plan for chasing him. Not recommended: The fainting girl left on the Metro was probably part of the scheme.

The monuments remain—Notre Dame stands as she has for centuries at the turn of the river Seine on the Ile-de-la-Cite, buttresses flying, gorgoyles leering, rose windows teaching. Some people even try to worship as cordoned crowds circle the nave. The even more magnificent stained glass of Sainte-Chapelle defies description although our 10-year-old traveler noted, “Now I understand why you wanted to see it.”

Little things, like locks on bridges with the keys thrown into the Seine, were there too. And people kissing.

Crowds and lines meant we spent a lot of time looking at other tourists and cobblestones. Versailles was especially troublesome, a two-hour wait and then a press of people worse than, well, whatever is bad. The picture does not represent the crowd; these people can actually move. Yes, beautiful ceilings.

The difference, as always, was the people. The French have a reputation for being rude, especially Parisians. I encountered examples in my two previous trips. Admittedly, you don’t go into Le Bon Marché and ask for An Evening in Paris that you used to buy for your mother at Woolworth’s, for the cobalt blue bottle, you see, even if your Soir de Paris sounds good. Eye rolling, hand gestures, sighs dismissed us as idiots. This time people pretended our French was good, and many more spoke English without hesitation. To a man the waiters were delightful with the children, making them laugh or helping them order. Women in stores were attentive and helpful.

The most stunning example was on our last night. The big boys and their dad went to climb the Eiffel Tower, or some such adventure. Mom, baby, and I were to go back to the apartment via the Metro. How people in wheelchairs navigate Paris remains a mystery. We saw one elevator that descended exactly 6 steps. The hundreds of others offered no apparent assistance. By that time, I had walked almost 42 miles and climbed almost 51 flights of stairs, per my phone. Perhaps I looked old holding the base of the stroller, but as we began the first flight of stairs down into the Metro, a young man asked if he could help. We happily agreed. He was with a group and they left as if it were not a big deal. Walking a long distance to the next level, we joked that it would be really nice…and then there he was, a middle-aged man asking if he could help with the stroller. Yes! Another long walk, with a conversation more humbled, we did hope for yet one more person. This time a rather older man asked if he could help. We said yes, merci. Notably, all these conversations were in English, so French mothers must know where the elevators are, or don’t attempt a late night outing with a stroller. But all in all, we were so amazed with these events, casual, friendly, matter-of-fact, but magnificent, that we will never forget this part of Paris.

I hope to go again, with a little warmer weather, a little less drizzle, a few more tartes aux citron, but I can’t imagine a happier ending. Vive la France!

Forks—and Knives—in the Road


A word about clichés: We like them. Like ruts, we feel comfortable about them and don’t think too closely about them unless compelled to do so. “Coming to a fork in the road” is appropriate this time of year as students prepare to graduate high school and enter what we laughingly call the real world. The thing is, of course, that while we may visualize a fork as having two branches, usually there are many. Consider Houston’s Micheal Brown who applied to 20 colleges and was accepted at all of them, beginning with Stanford and ending with Harvard. Full rides to each. He was originally hoping for Stanford but now (of course) isn’t sure which to choose. It’s a fabulous story that I urge you to read.

You know Robert Frost’s poem “The Road Not Taken.” It looks simple enough, but the poet himself warned about its hidden irony. It was written for a friend who had trouble making up his mind and then tortured himself with second thoughts after making a choice. The two paths are “really about the same,” and we can’t tell what will happen one way or another. And when there are 20 potential paths, well, good luck, Micheal.

“Knives in the road” are another matter. (Special thanks to my brother for this image.) It isn’t a cliché, and references are hard to find. Jane Paech, an Australian food writer, blogged at knifeandforkintheroad.com for a time. Quite beautifully, I must say. The Waukesha, Wisconsin, police blotter reported a machete in the road, and according to the caller, it appeared to be “brand new.” Now whether the machete was actually in the road or on it, we aren’t told

Knives cut. A simple choice no longer exists; that which was is gone. Yes, we may still have choices, but none of them may be what we would have liked. I was reminded of Superman’s dramatic reversal of Lois Lane’s death in the 1978 movie. She’s been crushed, and we see him pull her from the wreckage, cradle her body gently, and grieve. Then he says what we all say when faced with tragedy: No. Superman turns back time, for just a few minutes, and saves Lois. Impossible physics aside, it’s the only time I remember that he did something that might be considered selfish.

Rather than go further with generalities, I think I should write more about Christopher Reeve, he of Superman fame. Actually a fine actor who trained at Julliard with Robin Williams, in Noises Off, he receives a bit of acting instruction from Michael Caine. Perhaps more to your taste would be Somewhere in Time. Too sad for me, but a cult favorite with a great soundtrack.

In May 1995, the horse he was riding in a competition refused to make a jump, and Reeve was thrown forward, breaking his neck. The description of his injury is much more graphic, which I won’t share, but you can read a report from the news here. He was left a quadriplegic, unable to walk or breathe. In April 1998, his first autobiography came out, Still Me. Indeed, his life changed, but he continued to work as a director, writer, and activist.

Everyone I know has faced a knife in the road. Divorce, death, debilitating accidents are obvious. Loss of a pregnancy—or three—(again, read how important Micheal Brown is to his mother), failure to pass a crucial exam, job changes, health issues, assaults, perhaps the list is endless. Saying “No” becomes pointless. So we put ourselves at the junction, wave away the lost, and move on. Robert Frost gives himself “ages and ages” to see the difference. I don’t think we need that. Perhaps just another tomorrow will be enough. Christopher Reeve considered death for an instant after the accident, and his wife told him “You’re still you” and that she loved him. On he went for nine years. Acceptance can bring tears, perhaps more than the initial shock. I don’t want another knife if the road. I even know the ones I fear most. For now, I’ll just thank Christopher Reeve for going on.


The Gift of the Ring

Venice Beach, strolling with my brother’s family, brought sights not available in Texas: street art, performers, Muscle Beach, palm trees, white sand beaches. We were on a quest for a toe ring for my sister-in-law, a person as close to angelic as anyone I’ve ever met. In her demeanor, approach, interactions with others, she embodies kindness and grace. I was invited to shop for a ring as well.

We came upon a quiet little shop, at the end of a line of much noisier ones. It whispered of the 1960’s with its tie-dyed hangings on the walls and loosely draped sundresses on the staff. Calming, even though we didn’t particularly need to be calmer that afternoon.

Sure enough there were some plain little rings in good taste, silver and gold. Silver tarnishes and is often real; real gold rarely finds its way onto toes. Preferences were discussed, and I opted for the gold look while Katie decided on silver. In the scheme of human events, of course, we took it all rather seriously.

Because Katie had initiated the ring hunt, she went first and quickly found an item to suit. Then it was my turn. It should be noted that I’m not known for my ability to make decisions on purchases. It can take me weeks to decide on a shade of white paint for woodwork trim. Choosing a red for a wall once took me a year, though only minutes to realize it was awful and had to go.

After trying several little specimens, I found one that I liked. Another of my quirks is that I must weigh a purchase for value versus need, so I had to ask, “How much does it cost?”

What happened next was, and remains, one of the most striking responses I have ever heard:

“Your friend has paid the price.”

The look on the woman’s face suggested that she had a way with words and chose these carefully. There were certainly other possibilities: It’s been paid for; it’s free—your friend already paid. No cost to you. Don’t worry about it.

Any of those would have served to communicate the information: surreptitiously Katie had arranged to pay for my ring as a gift. No other phrase would have had the impact of the one that hung in the air, given confidently, with sincerity and dignity.

I was speechless. Stammering, I said that yes, thank you, I’d love to have the ring—simple, elegant, a thoughtful reminder of a trip to the beach.

The phrase “Your friend has paid the price” weighed on my mind and my soul, however. Today, the day after Easter, it puts me in mind once again of the Savior’s Atonement. No matter what we do, with one exception, the Savior has paid the price of our redemption. His gift waits for us until we choose it for ourselves.

After some time passed, I realized that there was a second level of meaning in this transaction. As I sat there trying on the ring and then deciding what to do, the saleswoman and Katie waited, wondering. Surely they hoped I would accept the gift. The one paying, the one accepting payment, understood so clearly what was happening, but until I knew of the offer, and until I accepted it, there was doubt of my intent. What if I had said I didn’t want it, without asking the price? Disappointed, they would have exchanged the purchase price again. I might never have known. Generosity, love, wasted.

For those of us who have felt the need for repentance, the price paid exceeds our mortal comprehension. Real pain was involved. Accepting forgiveness and acknowledging that another heart has understood, bearing for eternity the proxy weight of debt, allows us to love the One who made it all possible. As dear as that price was, the heavens rejoice when one of us repents and accepts the gift, a supernal sacrifice that we cannot completely understand but can accept with deepest gratitude. He was and is our friend who has paid the price. With our lives we can thank Him.