Copyright 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015 for all original literary content by author(s)

24 December 2008

Buzz Aldrin's first act on the Moon.

Not widely publicized, but for those who think of science being at war with faith, I submit my childhood hero, Buzz Aldrin.

Read more, at New Scientist's, Gallery: The 10 most unusual objects to have flown in space

27 July 2008

Evocation-- setting the mood

Dallas, 1965.

Just having moved from an established neighborhood in Fort Worth to this new one at the far northern edge of Dallas, I am too young for school. My big brother is in second grade, and so I sit alone in the, yet unfenced, back yard. My play-fort is in pieces, stacked near the alley, and I sit beside it with a handful of Matchbox Cars feeling displaced and lazy on a warm March afternoon.

Dad is at work, Mom is in the house unpacking. Schnicklefritz, my two year old dachshund, is content to lie beside me in the sun and occasionally nuzzling my leg or arm to remind me he is there.

My Mom comes out, after about an hour, with a box of Tonka Toys she has found. These were my brother’s but she said I could play with them. There is very little grass. The yard has not been put in, but there is some sand that had been brought in to fill low spots in the yard. I begin shoveling sand with the Tonka front end loader and loading up the dump truck.

Time passes without much notice, lost in my imagination. My brother has come home from school, but only long enough to ask if he can go visit a new friend he met at school. The sun is getting low, I am getting hungry, and I am about to inside to ask my mother when Dad will be home. He had promised that we would walk around the neighborhood that evening and we would eat hamburgers at a place he knew was near.

Schnicklefritz rises just as I am about to and barks. One ear is flipped backwards, and he is intently listening. I begin to hear it too, a large motor coming nearer, fast. I stand just as a bi-plane appears only twenty feet or so over our housetop. A few red clay-like granules fall into the yard, pelting me and my dog. As we watch, Snick, barks once again in amazement, and the view to the north becomes hazy red underneath the biplane, now only a dozen feet above the cotton field behind our new home, traveling quickly away. There is an airy, purring sound fading with the plane and the sound of the red pellets. I had never heard or seen sleet by that age, but it sounded just like sleet falling on a roof.

I was excited to see plane so close, and it was not long before it came back and showered us again-- lifting sharply as it neared our house. My dachshund barked threateningly at the plane, warning that he would not allow such obvious danger to go unchallenged. I squatted beside him and pet his raised hairs over his shoulders, he glanced at me, excited as I was, and wagged his tail. We both waited and watched looking at the roof of the house for the plane’s return.

My Mom came out into the garage and from that shelter asked what all the dust was. I told her about the plane and showed her some red granules that I started picking up. She said she wanted me and the dog inside, and that we could watch from the window of my room upstairs. It was not nearly so fun from there, and I was so small that I had to stand on a phone book on a chair and on tiptoes to see out. I watched a little, but tired of straining so. This little room upstairs at the end of the hall was mine. While I had been outside and out of the way, my mother had been setting boxes of my things in it. I felt better seeing familiar items again, and was about to dig through the boxes when my mother told me she had drawn a bath and wanted me to wash real well before my father came home.

She found a change of clothes for me while I bathed.

When I was ready, my Dad was home and it was dark. Back in Fort Worth, I had never walked further than my own block after dark. But that night my Dad, my brother and I walked all the way to the intersection of Coit Road and Beltline Road. There was a whole shopping center there: An A&P grocery store, a pharmacy, clothing stores, a Kentucky Fried Chicken with a giant rotating bucket and, across Coit Road, a small little round building with a odd-shaped yellow pointed roof-- a Hardies. We went to that little place to get our hamburgers.

I was awed by all of the people out, and stores open so close to where we lived.

All day long, I had seen only my Mom and the Builder who had dropped by for a few minutes to check on things. I had no idea this place was inhabited by others. The lights, the traffic, the stores, the smells from restaurants—it was a world I did not know existed. It was fun.

My brother and my Dad talked all the way and I walked quietly, taking in the details and even thinking about how I could walk there on my own. I paid even closer attention to each turn and landmark on our way back with a bag of burgers we would share when we got home.

28 March 2008

"Inclusio" of Two Dreams

With apologies for this not being light and fun….

Five years ago last month, I had this dream of three planes crashing. I remember less than a single dream a year, on average, so it stands out that I remember these two.

Dream, 2003:

It was on one cloudy afternoon, and I was driving my car near Hillsboro, Texas. I had my children with me and that nasty creature I used to call my wife.

As we were driving, we saw a low flying corporate sized turbo-prop, and knew something was wrong. One engine was smoking and it kept loosing altitude, crashing a mile or so after passing overhead. Alarmed, of course, and trying to figure out how to get to the crash site to see if there was anything we could do, we got lost. Out of the car trying to get our bearings, we saw two big jets coming down, one perhaps ten miles away and the other much farther. Suddenly, I realized that I could not find my children; and I could not find my wife.

In real life, at that time, the shuttle had just disintegrated over my home, and I had heard sonic booms from some of the lower flying debris. That had been a month or so before the dream. At that time, I did some volunteer chaplain work with a ground team unit which specialized in search and rescue operations for downed aircraft. I trained with them so that I would know the functions of each member in the unit, even though my role was limited as a Chaplain.

I remember the day the shuttle went down, and waiting for the phone to ring with a mission activating my unit. It never came, yet pieces of the shuttle had landed within a mile of my residence. That day, we were not activated, and I recall the frustration of an urgency to try and save lives, but being withheld from doing so by discipline. That was the real content of the dream—the catastrophe for which I was prepared to respond, but discipline restraining me from doing so. In hindsight, I knew trying to help was futile anyway, but in those days, I lived in hope.

Dream, 2008

Last night, I had such a similar dream. I was driving again, and this time, two large planes went down near ABIA as I drove. Each came as a surprise, and the first one went down and I said, "O God, no." There was no exclamation this time. It was a quietly muttered surrender to my inability to do a thing about it, but I heard others screaming at the horror we were witnessing. This time, it was strangers with me as I drove. Only a few moments later, I had stopped to let myself process the horror that I had witnessed, when another jet liner streaked into the ground already on fire and exploded on the airport grounds.

Like the 9/11 events, one was an accident, but two meant it was the result of evil and malice. Each dream had multiples—each dream meant evil has power. The dream last night, meant I now know I cannot fight evil and win, that there is no hope against it.

I know that most people do not believe in any evil in terms of a malicious entity (or entities). Most people may use the word to describe actions, but deny that there is any thought or purpose or intent that drives the actions. Those people scream in alarm at the horrors of evil, as I once did, and then begin the work of ignoring an "aberration" and falling back into being blind to it. But now, I merely mutter a quiet prayer that I know will not be answered. I can’t help it, but I cannot engage in the fantasy anymore—the evil is tangibly before me at all times.

I once found meaning and purpose in my part of that futile fight. I was so easily taken out. No brother in arms searching for the wounded behind enemy lines, no brothers at all—no arms at all. I keep my head low, and try not to be a target, but I don’t know why. Surviving without fighting because you believe you may be rescued and healed when all indications are that such is a fantasy never to be realized is the only thing less meaningful then fighting a battle that cannot be won and will surely end in one’s own destruction.

Maybe I may pick up my wounded self, grab something to fight with, and take up the battle again. I was once healthy and disciplined, but I still lost. Yet, at least I was fighting. So what if I am now weak and fear my discipline is questionable because I so rarely need to call upon it anymore? The battle will kill me this time, but it beats lying here waiting to finish bleeding to death.

Those two dreams, five years apart, meant something, and I knew it after the first one, but could never understand it. Now I know, that they form an inclusio within a time of my life. One cannot have full meaning without the other. An inclusio is a literary device used to mark a beginning and a completion reflective of that beginning—sort of bookends within a shelf of books, setting those within apart from the rest.

The first was a scream-producing horror that I was about to undergo in the presence of my family and the horror, itself, is what left me alone. The second, only among strangers, is a horror that I accepted alone, with no one to worry about, no one covering me—I think I should run into the flames of the wreckage, leaving the screaming ones safely behind and see if there is anything that can be done to help those doomed to death in the result of evil’s work.

Funny, I just realized this account of a dream and the meaning I find in it, is exactly the same theme as the first blog I made here (about the Vibert "The Return of the Missionary" painting). I suppose it comes down to not being able to face being a "wounded veteran" as the end of my life to live out. I didn’t survive to find my "ticket out."

Again and again, I hear, "Like a polished arrow I have hid you away…" Perhaps, I am beginning to understand what He means. Just now, my own heart screams, but not in horror, but with deep purpose of my favorite words in English Literature, "Once more into the breach." If it keeps screaming that, maybe my mind, my body and my soul will get up and act on the call to battle.

How , exactly, do I do that? Anyone? Anyone? Buhler?

Copyright © 2008 W. Crews Giles

06 March 2008

I'm not! I would tell you if so!

An interesting story, but too long to tell over a beer, so it gets told here, where a reader would have to be bored enough to read so much.

Once upon a time, in something of another life, I sold some pretty neat and pretty expensive software to run and be run on the big IBM mainframes. I was the "technical guy" that was attached to marketing, occasional sent along with some of the "pure sales" guys, to keep their mouths from getting them in trouble by their making stuff up when the real answer was that they did not know. I was a salesman, too, but specialized in the big accounts when even the managers would be nerds—I spoke their language. Likewise, sometimes they sent a flashy salesman type with me to keep the focus on our making money and I would get excited by the act of solving problems and forget I liked money as well.

One week, a sales guy in our West Coast office called corporate to ask if they could send me along with him to be the answer guy. The greeting we received at the client's office was vaguely odd. I couldn't put my finger on it, but there seemed to be back-ground stuff going on when we arrived, and I had the sense that some of the conversations going around us included code words and euphemisms so as not to be intelligible to us.

We were ushered in to a top dog's office and left alone, being told that Mr. Big would join us as soon as he freed up. Only moments after my associate and I sat down and the door was closed, he wrote on his notepad, "It's bugged. They're listening." He had been there before, and I admit that his assumption fit. I nodded agreement.

On an alcove wall I could see from my seat, was this picture:

Just as I noticed it, my associate wrote again on his pad, and gestured to a large water color over the man's desk. It was a painting of vines and small flowers in a clearing the woods. I read what he had put on his pad. "Looks like a dead body rolled up in the brush!" I got tickled because it looked exactly like that now that he made the observation, so I pointed at the duck picture and we started laughing, or trying not to. Of course, under stress, suspecting your being listened to, lots of money on the line, trying to laugh is only going to make it impossible. We had tears streaming down are eyes and were shaking.

I can't imagine what the person listing to us must have thought. The image still makes me laugh.

IN THAT SAME LIFE, I found myself in and out of quite a few government installations, with varying degrees of security. I still cannot give any details, but will say in one city, there is a tremendously funny neon sign—in fact a landmark in the city. It advertises a place that no longer exists, and has not for decades. It is funny because no one knows that what it advertises is no longer there. If you were to walk in, you find an innocent and friendly looking security guard in the entry hallway. If you are expected and allowed in, you go around the corner and find a big government seal announcing which agency actually has offices there. It is funny, also, in that the big neon sign left from the original building owner is a double-entendre if you know what agency operates inside.

Well, anyway, I had obviously had my name come up with some national security organization as having visited one too many secret installations and was being checked out. No one told me this, but this is how I found out:

My company moves me to Austin, and I have this really great office and the lease includes access to great and skilled clerical staff who serve all their tenants, equally. Only a week or so after starting there, another tenant leaves his blinds open and as I walk down the hall, see his briefcase open and a service revolver in a holster sitting on top. It looks like a badge / ID holder is next to it, but it could be a wallet. I hand the receptionist a fax I need sent and comment, "Our new tenant might want to keep either his blinds or his briefcase closed. She got up and looked and came back and said the strangest thing, "I'm not allowed to talk about that." He disappeared—never saw him again.

So a week or two later I am flying back to Fort Worth to see my girlfriend there. I flew all the time, but never got used to it. Being in the air is not my problem, having someone else in control is what I hate. If I can at least see out the windscreen, I'm okay; but since I cannot on a commercial jet, I made it my habit to "pre-flight" in the airport bar.

Sipping a scotch, another patron starts chatting with me. He tells me he is retired from IBM, and going back to Dallas for an associate's retirement party. We chat for a while and he offers me his name and I offer mine. A few minutes later I tell him my father worked at IBM and he says, "Is 'Dan' your father?"

Well "Dan" is my father, but the fun of this "small world" experience quickly gets weird. I catch him off guard by asking questions which I assumed he know the answer to—like which facility the man had worked in before retiring. I knew them all in Dallas and Fort Worth area and had been in them all. The man answers, obviously having to think about it and gives me answer I know, and he seems to suspect I know, is bogus. There were a couple of equally uncomfortable "gotcha's" and he was mad at himself for being caught although I did not let on that I knew this guy was not who was claiming to be. He stays friendly and soon grabs his briefcase and excuses himself to catch his flight. The bartender watches him leave and then looks at me, cocks his head in a wordless, "Who are you?" I said, in reply, "Do you know what that was about?" He shrugged and turned his back on me.

An hour or so after this, I am going through security and realize I am still wearing my silver cross under my shirt. I stop short of the metal detector and turn aside to let the man behind me pass. He says he will wait. I think, "Whatever," loosen my tied, unbutton my shirt and start fishing out my cross. A group arrives and the man behind me is told by security to pass through. He mouths something but makes no sound. I have excellent peripheral vision. I see him open his coat, and hold out a wallet—much like the one I had seen in the briefcase in my office. The security guard waves him through and as he goes through, the alarms go off The security guard, having no idea how to cover up the obvious, says, "It's alright, sir. Sorry."

So, I'm still a little slow on the uptake, but beginning to be suspicious that the man at the bar and they man with the gun and the badge are related events.

I board, land at Love Field, get a rental car which takes a very long time and for no apparent reason other than a phone call comes in and suddenly my car is ready, so off I go. Stemmons, 114 and 121 were then and probably still are a mess to navigate. But, I'm in a sporty little car with too much power, and I am looking forward to seeing my girl. I'm merging onto Stemmons, and in the heavy traffic, see an opportunity to get five lanes over, but it is going to require some performance driving. Fun! I floor it and rocket up past a line of cars, and shoot over three lanes, hit the brakes hard and scoot one more lane left, floor it and make my left lane exit with twenty feet to spare, and at about eight miles an hour. I was laughing, enjoying myself and the rental.

I hear honking and skidding over my right shoulder and look. The man I had seen pass through the metal detector back in Austin is in the driver's seat of the car creating all of the commotion. He is blocked off from reaching the lane I am in, and gestures with resignation to another driver, and as he continues up Stemmons, he looks over at me and lowers his head, as if, "You won."

I didn't know I was being followed. Poor guy. Then again, poor me, because that man, to this day, is certain, I bet, that I was just a little too alert to be "just a salesman." For months, I expected to be approached more directly (and with less intrigue) and questioned, but it never happened. Because that direct encounter never happened, I have suspected that somewhere is a file with my name on it that says, "Probable agent."

Final piece: I was administering a federal grant working as an accountant at a University a few years ago—nearly twenty years after the above events. A retired CIA agent was invited to do a series of lectures and some of the money to fund the tour was through my grant. Let's just say that I knew the CIA recruited at that University, and my position made it hard not to know not only that they recruited, but, at least sometimes, who they recruited.

In the intervening fifteen, plus, years, I (unknown to me at the time), become diagnosable as "hyper-vigilant." I needed that behavior to survive, and can't seem to loose it now that it is no longer a daily necessity, although I have found it unexpectedly benefiting me since. So, I do tend to notice things that others will not find unusual. I had a friend at the very beginning of that era in my life who disappeared, seemingly, off the face of the earth. I know he was recruited and by whom. At the very end of that era in my life, I had another close friend who also disappeared, seemingly, off the face of the earth. Just a short time before that CIA lecturer came to the campus. The last time I saw my friend, I knew something was wrong, and he wouldn't talk about it, but I already suspected what it was. He wanted to get drunk, so I stuck by his side, and watched out for him. I asked him, point-blank, and he gave me no answer. I'll be careful, for his sake to paraphrase his last words to me, "I want you to know, since I'll not see you again, that I know you really are who you say you are." I, of course, asked what the heck that meant, but he did not answer.

So, back to the CIA lecturer soon after my friend went away,...

After the lecture (which was really neat) ended, the good former CIA man came back to my department's office to collect some things he had left there. Several of us were chatting with him as we went across campus, and I figured, as long as he was there, I would get his signature on the paperwork which I would process to pay his fees and expenses. At my desk he closed the door, handed me a card and said, "If you have anything to share, please give me a call." I must have looked like a deer in the headlights. He grinned like he was about to laugh at my expression.