Saturday, June 28, 2014

Until Then - Two Times - Two Ways - Both GREAT!

by Bert Carson
One of my first coming-of-age milestones was being allowed to join my Mother, Daddy, and Grandmother, at the All-Night Gospel Singings they attended every two or three months at the Birmingham (Alabama) Colosseum.

Of all the gospel groups I heard there, none were black, and that was my loss, one I didn't realize the full impact of until I heard Albertina Walker sing Until Then at Christ Universal Temple in Chicago.  For years I searched for a copy of the song with no results.  I did obtain a number of Ms. Walker's albums, but none of them included Until Then.

A couple of years into my search, I found a different version of the song by Charles Johnson and the Revivers.  I fell in love with that one also, and have listened to it more times that you would believe.

Then a few weeks ago, I found it on YouTube and since then I and my neighbors and quite a few pedestrians passing our house have listened to it a number of times.

This evening was a running off-night for me, so while Christina ran, I cranked up the volume and played Charles Johnson yet again.  As the song ended, I had an inspiration - search YouTube for Albertina's version and you guessed it, I found it.

Here are both for your listening pleasure:

The Contradiction

by Bert Carson
It all started like this.  At 4 AM, on September 9, 1942, I was dragged into this world, slapped on the ass, and while I was screaming from the shock of that rude reception, I heard someone tell someone else, "It's a boy."

No one whispered to me, "Its going to be alright.  Just close your eyes and take a nap and we'll explain everything later."

Though no one told me a thing over the next couple of years, they  talked about me enough for me to figure out that I was a boy, that I had two parents, though as far as I was concerned that was hearsay, since one of them was on a submarine, somewhere on the other side of the world,  fighting men he didn't know, over something I didn't understand nor was I even sure I wanted to understand.

Later, after I'd pretty much figured out who this group of strangers was and who they thought I was to them, they packaged me with a group of kids like me and sent us to a place where we were to be further indoctrinated in the rules of this organization that, as near as I could tell, had kidnapped us from wherever in the universe we had been residing.

Our indoctrination began with daily recitations of something called the Pledge of Allegiance.  Every day, while standing at attention, we said:

I pledge allegiance to the Flag of the United States of America, and to the Republic for which it stands, one Nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.

Sometime later, the boys and girls were divided into separate groups. I don’t know what the girls did, but I remember well what the boys did. We stood at attention and repeated the Boy Scout Oath, which went like this:

On my honor I will do my best
To do my duty to God and my country
and to obey the Scout Law:
To help other people at all times:
To keep myself physically strong, mentally awake, and morally straight.

With that bit of indoctrination behind me, I now knew I was not only a boy, and a member of particular clan of humans, I was also a Boy Scout committed to helping other people at all times.

I finished my formal schooling, married a woman I'd met in one of the schools I attended, got a job in a city near the one my parents had bought me to when I was thirteen years old, and the two of us began doing what we had been taught to do:  Going to work, going to church, going to bed, waking up, and doing it all over again.

A couple of years later I once again stood at attention and repeated another pledge.  This one went like this:

I Bert Carson, do solemnly swear that I will support and defend the constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; and that I will obey the orders of the President of the United States and the orders of the officers appointed over me, according to regulations and the Uniform Code of Military Justice. So help me God.

The bottom line of that one was, I found myself involved in a war with men I didn't know, in a country I'd never heard of, halfway around the world.

Now, seventy-one years later, I have a new pledge, one that I wrote and I'm pleased to report that its working out a whole lot better for me than the other three did.

If you would like to know what it is, e-mail me at and I'll tell you.

Monday, June 16, 2014

We Are A Primitive Species

by Bert Carson
I'm in the final days of my 35th year of running.  I embarked on my first run a half hour after sunset on July 2, 1979.  That means that July 3rd will be the first day of my 36th year of being a runner.  On September 9, 2014, I will become 72 years old.  Mathematically speaking, on that day, and for the remainder of my "running year," I will have been a runner for one half of my life.  That's a marvel considering that for the first half of my life I had no intention of ever running anywhere, much less running for the fun of it.

Though I keep running logs, they aren't cumulative.  Every year stands on its on, and I've never felt it important to make them one log, and I still don't.  That means I cannot tell you exactly how many miles I've run.  Since that number is of little consequence to me, I'm confident it's of no consequence to you.  On the other hand, just to add a bit of emphasis to the event that prompted this tale, I can safely report that in my years of running, I've logged more than 35,000 miles.

For a long-time runner, that isn't a phenomenal number.  However, in geographical terms, it is the circumference of the planet plus 10,000 miles.  Though I've done it in small increments that is still staggering to me.  Add to that the fact that at least 90% of those miles have been run at night, and you might be a bit surprised to know that in all those years and miles, I've had less than a dozen encounters with law enforcement personnel.  And, if you take away the number of times I've initiated the encounter to report something I'd witnessed, the dozen encounters I just mentioned is cut in half.

One of the remaining encounters occurred last Friday evening.  It's the one that prompted this post.  I left the house twenty minutes before sunset, unusual for me and at the time I wasn't sure why I was starting earlier than usual, beyond the fact that I had a feeling that it was something I should do.  My normal route takes me through the heart of downtown Huntsville where there are a number of clubs.  Beyond being a source of loud noise and heavier traffic, they are normally of little concern.  That general description didn't hold true last Friday.

Just after full dark, about a half mile from the center of downtown, I began to encounter heavier traffic, both auto and pedestrian.  Using my handheld strobe light to mark my location for approaching vehicles, I wound through the area, concentrating on the milling crowds in order to avoid a collision with one or more of the hordes of humans who seemed to be drawn to the loudest of the clubs.  Finally, after several blocks of strobe lit concentration, I was away from the marching crowd but not the less than attentive drivers, so I was forced to resort to the strobe a number of times to mark my presence for preoccupied drivers.

Finally, I worked my way back into a relatively quiet residential neighborhood.  Running north on Lincoln Avenue, I saw a police cruiser stop at a stop sign for what seemed to be a long time before finally making a right turn onto Lincoln.  It traveled only a block before making another right onto Randolph.  As I neared the intersection of Randolph and Lincoln, the cruiser reappeared, stopping at the stop sign at the intersection.  The officer lowered the window and I knew I was about to have one of my infrequent encounters with a police officer.

I stopped beside the cruiser, and the driver, one of Huntsville's few police women, smiled and said, "I want you to be very very careful tonight."

"I did notice that things seemed crazier than usual when I went through downtown," I said.

With deadly seriousness, she replied, "There's a reason for that.  This is Friday the thirteenth and there is a full moon."

Then she gave me a curt wave and began raising the window, as she said, "Remember, be very very careful tonight."

As she drove away, I skipped back into my running stride, and began thinking about what she had said.  Friday the thirteenth and a full moon.  I quickly turned it into a mantra to keep my stride cadence - Left right left - thirteenth full moon - left right left - thirteenth full moon...

I understand the effect that the full moon has on all the creatures who reside on this planet.  It's a physical phenomenon that has affected things on earth since the moment the planet and the moon first appeared in the universe.

Friday the thirteenth isn't a physical phenomenon.  It's a groundless myth that we humans have made up to scare ourselves.  In so doing, we have confirmed, yet again, that we are in fact a primitive species.  Think about that and be very very careful.



Monday, June 9, 2014

It Was A Dark And Stormy Night

by Bert Carson
Photo by Yvonne Kirk - Australia
Last Sunday I posted a blog called On Commitment, where I reported that on May 12th I'd made a commitment to myself to run every scheduled running day for the rest of the year - that amounts to running three days, resting one day, running three days, resting one day... or to put it in simpler way, I committed to running six out of every seven days.

Last night (Saturday) was the 26th day since I made that commitment.  At 7 PM, I began getting ready to run.  A few minutes later my iTouch beeped and informed me that a thunderstorm warning had been issued for all of Madison County, Alabama.  As if orchestrated by the iTouch, seconds later a thunderstorm moved into the area and camped out.

The storm came complete with torrential rain, screaming erratic wind, and a lot of lightning (note - I did not take a picture of last night's storm.  The lightning in the photo above is Australian lightning, photographed by my friend Yvonne Kirk - click the link under the photo to see her work on Flickr and go to Corresponding Writers to read more about my renaissance pen pal.)

Before I made the commitment a thunderstorm would have been more than enough justification to scrub a run.  That's no longer the case.  I waited until 10:30, going out on the porch many times to check the rainfall.  Finally I told myself, "I've been wet before.  So I get wet again," and I began strapping on my gear.

At a 10:45, I was in my major yoga stretching pose when I noticed the lightning had departed leaving only a moderate rain fall.  Back on my feet at 10:55, I pulled my baseball cap low over my eyes, checked my flashlight, and told Christina I'd either be back after two miles or else I'd go the full, short loop.

Five minutes later, a quarter of a mile into the run, I was as wet as I could get.  Another mile and I decided to run the full short loop, 5.1 miles.  An hour later, less than a half mile from home, the rain stopped.  I laughed, skipped a step, and marveled at the power of commitment to get me out on a night like this one and make me happy about it.

I've been a runner since July 2, 1979.  In all those years, I've never run 27 consecutive running days.  The most amazing thing that's happened in that time period is the runs are easier, faster, and way more fun.

So I get wet every now and then.  I've been wet before.

Sunday, June 8, 2014

Bees, Clover, and Me

by Bert Carson
I know what I want to say about bees, and clover and me.  However, I don't know much about bees, beyond the fact that when I was a kid I was stung a few times and it hurt.

Now I know the act of stinging me killed the bee.  It died to defend itself, its queen, or its home and it did that because I wasn't aware enough to know that I was a threat to one, two, or all three of those things.  That is a powerful act of commitment and an impressive one.

I know even less about clover than I do about bees.  I know that the lawns and fields of my part of the world are covered in white and occasionally pink clover this time of year.  I know that children and bees love clover.  The children make necklaces and bracelets from it, and the bees gather it's nectar and take it back to the hive where it's converted into a honey.

A long time ago I realized that the clover was important to bees.  Also, a long time ago, I began to hear that the bee population was diminishing, and no one knew why (and there is still no consensus on the subject).  I was thinking about that one day as I cut the lawn, and I stopped short of hacking through a large swath of the white flowers.

I stood at the edge of the patch of clover, lawn mower howling, and studied it.  As I looked I noticed a number of bees moving purposefully from flower to flower with no regard for me or the mower.  Suddenly I knew what I had to do.  I carefully cut around the clover and before I was done I had spared two more patches.  Later, as a patch of clover died back and new ones sprang up I relocated the "saved clover patches."

The bees seemed to like the idea, and I thought, and still
think, it adds an interesting touch to the landscape.  Here's what a current clover patch looks like from the perspective of the old ceramic rabbit who oversees all back yard activity.

I do not think, for a minute, I'm saving a single bee, or a hive of them.  I leave the clover so I'll have the pleasure of watching the bees, who, with no regard for the things that we humans think are important, go about their work, not bothering anything, yet committed, to death if necessary, to do what is theirs to do.

The uncompromising dedication of the honey bee refreshes my spirit in the midst of the totally compromised chaos of human activity.

Bert Carson  

Friday, June 6, 2014

Side Effects and Collateral Damage

by Bert Carson
When a group of people chooses to attack another group of people, the damage inflicted often includes more than the group the action was directed toward.  The innocent people killed or injured along with their destroyed property are lumped together and referred to as "collateral damage."  The term, originally used only in war, is now part of our every-day language.

"Side Effects," is a term originally used by the pharmaceutical industry to warn potential customers of the possible harmful consequences of taking their products. The term "Side Effects" once heard only in the medical industry is now part of our every-day language.

Once a phrase is part of our every-day language the act or consequence it symbolizes begins to fade from our reality... in other words, it becomes acceptable.  School children killed by a drone aren't real.  They are simply collateral damage.  Thousands killed or maimed by the medical industry aren't real people, they are simply side effect statistics.

Only when the drone "accidentally" drops a bomb on our neighborhood school or one of the individuals in the group we've labeled "victims of side effects" turns out to be a friend or relative do we remember the reality hidden behind the benign terms "collateral damage" and "side effects."

This week, two friends of mine stepped out of the faceless side effects group and in so doing reminded me of the reality behind the phrase.

Isn't it time to look beyond the phrases "collateral damage" and "side effects" and remember we are all human beings sharing this thing we call life?

No one signed up to be collateral damage or a side effect statistic and no one should be.  We've allowed this to happen.  We can change it.

Bert Carson     

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Actual Size

by Bert Carson
We have a Fiat dealer in town.  The first that I know of in Huntsville, and we've lived here going on fifteen years.  The size and design of the Italian automobiles stand out in a herd of American, Japanese, and German automobiles.  That's not an endorsement, just a statement of fact.
Because they stand out, when I saw one in a parking lot I was crossing, I gave it a closer look than I normally give a small ugly car.  That's why I noticed the small sticker in the back window that read, "ACTUAL SIZE."

That started me thinking.  Not about Fiats, or even cars for that matter.  It started me thinking about size, what it is, why it matters, how to measure it. 

I don't know about you, but when I start playing with an idea it grows, sucking in energy from everything around me and even from other thoughts that are randomly circling around in my mind.  

Pretty soon, all I was thinking about was SIZE: not cars, or window stickers, just SIZE.  All the notions about size I'd ever heard of, or read about, or considered, began swirling together and drawing to them every other idea about size that is out there in the portion of the infinite I normally frequent.  

I let the mix whirl, watching from a step or two away, because I know the process works best when I pull myself out of the tornado of activity and wait for the results.  It didn't take long.  I heard the usual gong and the whirlwind stopped spinning and slowly dissipated, leaving the results written on the wall of my mind:

Size is a measure that is relative to the observer.  It shifts and changes as the observer shifts and changes.  To know the size of anything, ANYTHING, you must know two things: Who You Are and Where You Are.  Armed with that knowledge you will know the size of all things.

As I read the words, I thought of the ancient instruction, Know Thyself, and realized, that is the key to determining "actual size." It doesn't matter how much or how little of the information deluge civilization has created that you've absorbed.  All you need to know is yourself.


Sunday, June 1, 2014

On Commitment

by Bert Carson
For the past five or six weeks, I've been absent from many of the things I most enjoy: writing, blogging, recording my stories.  I wasn't AWOL, at least not in the strict definition of the term.  I was caught up in my semi-annual day job rush, which happens in the spring and again in the fall.

Normally during those peak seasons, everything gets put on hold except satisfying the demands of our business.  This year there was an exception to the norm.  May 12th, I laced on my running shoes after determining I had to go for a run, even a short one.

An hour and twenty minutes later, after kicking myself every step of the five mile torture tour, I dragged my aching body back into the house.  As I stood in kitchen, pouring water into my body like a fireman dousing a house fire, I had a conversation with myself that went like this:

"It's been eight days since my last run.  That's why it's tough."
"I've been down this road too many times to keep doing this same stupid thing over and over."
"I will start running more often."
pause - then
"What is more often?"
then, with no forethought I said to myself:
"I'm going to run every scheduled running day from this moment forward."
(Note-the schedule is run three days, rest one)
I couldn't believe I'd actually said that.  I was so startled I stopped gulping water for a moment and considered what I had done.  After thinking about it, I said it again, with clarification.
"I will run every scheduled running day from now until the end of the year, and then I'll revise/renew the commitment."

I was a little shaky about the deal, but I reconfirmed it to myself and began to believe I could and would do it.  That was 21 days and 70 miles ago.  Some runs have been short, others longer, some were in the rain, a couple were delayed until storms passed.  All of them required more planning than I usually put into running, however the planning eliminated the possibility of falling into the "I'll do it tomorrow trap."

With the renewed commitment to running, came a rekindled desire to read George Sheehan, who wrote beautifully on the subject.  Passages like this, from The Essential Sheenan, make the tough runs easier, and the easy runs joyous:

"Running made me free.  It rid me of concern for the opinion of others.  Dispensed me from rules and regulations imposed from outside.  Running let me start from scratch.  It stripped off those layers of programmed activity and thinking.  Developed new priorities about eating and sleeping and what to do with leisure time.  Running changed my attitude about work and play.  About whom I really liked and who really liked me.  Running let me see my twenty-four hour day in a new light and my life style from a different point of view, from the inside instead of out."

An amazing thing happens when one makes a commitment, a real commitment.  Things began to happen in a most serendipitous, magical way, to insure the commitment is realized.