Tag Archives: freedom

A man and a dog, on the road home

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I picked up a hitchhiker on my way home from the writer’s conference a week ago.

The way it happened was, I left the highway to buy gas, and on my way back to the highway I saw a dog lying just off the on-ramp. As my foot shifted to the brake I saw that someone was already there, so I thought, “Okay, not my problem.”

Bubba on the onramp

A dog, a backpack, and a highway.

I was halfway up the ramp before I heard that still, small voice that speaks to all of us, if only we listen. “Go back,” it said.

“What? I can’t reverse down an on-ramp!” I argued indignantly, but I was already braking. I know that voice. I don’t always like what it says, but I’ve learned to pay attention. I reversed down the on-ramp, and I didn’t hit anyone or go off the road or get fined.

When I was close to the dog, I stopped and honked my horn. The man kneeling next to it looked up, and jogged over to my car. In my rear view mirror I saw the dog raise its head, and then move to a more upright position. I realized it wasn’t hurt – it had just been sleeping … but I was there and the man was leaning to peer through my side window so I rolled it down.

“Is that dog with you?” I asked him. “Is it okay?”

“Yes ma’am,” he said, and smiled. I glanced at my rear-view mirror. The dog – it looked like a pit bull – was watching us. It looked healthy, well-fed. I looked back at the man. He was dark, and had gray hair in a long braid down his back, and wore a red bandanna. Even with him outside the car I could tell he needed a shower, yet he looked … well, not clean, exactly, but put together, as though he’d taken some trouble. The air billowing in through the open window was hot and heavy, and I turned up the fan on my air conditioner.

That voice wasn’t saying anything. It didn’t need to; I knew what I had to do. I sighed. “You need a ride?” I asked.

His face split in a huge grin. “Yes ma’am!” he replied. “Are you going near Ellensburg?” I was going 100 miles beyond Ellensburg – further than he’d hoped to get that day. We stashed his backpack in the trunk, and the dog, Bubba, jumped into the back seat and settled down with a sigh.

He introduced himself – I’ll call him Cajun. I’ll pick up hitchhikers when the voice says it’s okay, but I don’t feel obligated to entertain them, so I told him I was in the middle of listening to the final book in the “Wayward Pines” trilogy and didn’t want to stop. I brought him up to speed on the story and we listened together, but every now and again he’d drop a comment, and I’d switch off the CD and we’d chat. That’s how I heard his story – in bits and pieces interspersed with the bloody destruction of the last humans on earth – until I decided his story was more interesting than the book.

He told me he was part Cajun, part Mexican, part African, and two parts Native American. He’s been a mechanic for Boeing and a Marine, and a street preacher to the poor. Now, he does construction work and roofing, and picks up odd jobs here and there when he needs to. He’s a musician and songwriter and has supported himself and Bubba more than once by playing on sidewalks and street corners. At the moment his guitar is in Idaho, but he played me one of his songs that he’d recorded on his tablet. The recording wasn’t good, and I really wished it was. That song sounded worth hearing.

His regular-people life fell apart around 2001. The Man kicked him in the ass, so he gave The Man the finger, acquired a backpack, and hit the road. Since then he’s lived on the streets and wandered the highways of the USA, trusting God to provide, which He does mainly through the kindness of strangers. A few years ago he picked up a job in Sedona, Arizona, and within a few weeks he’d saved enough to rent a home. That job was followed by a couple of others. Life was good. He celebrated Valentine’s Day in 2015 by visiting the local animal shelter, where he found Bubba, and since then they’ve been inseparable.

But things fell apart in Sedona too, and soon Cajun and Bubba were back on the road. I was puzzled that he gave up on a place where it seemed he’d been content. This is not a lazy or stupid or unskilled man. He likes a cold beer at each end of a hot day, but he seemed sober to me. I asked him what had happened and he didn’t want to go into detail, but he said, “I don’t define my work as who I am. My purpose is to live in poverty and share God’s love with the discarded people in this earth.”

He has a grown daughter whom he hasn’t seen for years. He had planned to connect with her when he passed through Seattle a couple days before I met him, but something went wrong and a payment he was counting on was delayed. He didn’t want to face her with empty pockets so he canceled, and now Seattle was behind him and she was pissed.

“You think she’d have cared that you were broke?” I asked.

“I wanted to at least take her to lunch,” he replied.

“You’re an idiot,” I informed him. “You should go back, or at least apologize.” (I am so good at telling other people how to run their lives!) I don’t know that he cared much what I thought – why should he? – but a bit later he was texting with her. He didn’t want to go back, though – he was focused on his next destination.

Dream home

When Cajun is surfing the net, imagining his dream home, this is the kind of picture he’s likely to save.

Before Seattle, on their way up the west coast, he and Bubba got a ride with a long-haul trucker, who told him all about the trucking life. So he was on his way to Salt Lake City, where he’s signed up for a training course with a trucking company. Not too far down the road he reckons he’ll be able to buy his own truck – apparently trucking companies contract with drivers and help them do that. He was excited at the prospect of having a real home, but one that wouldn’t involve staying put in the same place.

“Do you think of yourself as homeless?” I asked. I was trying to puzzle him out. He’d told me he could not “live the American life”. Some of the things he says sound as though he’s on the road by choice – a hobo rather than homeless. He says he has no regrets. But then he’ll say something else that aches with hurts and disappointments, both suffered and dealt out, and I wonder what he’d change, if he could.

“I can’t afford a home,” he said, and he sounded sad.

“So you’re not like Reacher – just choosing to live on your own terms?” I asked.

“Jack Reacher? Like in the movie?” He laughed. He liked that idea. He said he personally didn’t want a home, but he thought Bubba would like one, and that’s what mattered most.

Just east of the Cascades he asked for a restroom break, so I pulled over in Cle Elum. While he was taking care of himself and Bubba, I texted the Hubbit to let him know I might be bringing someone home for dinner. The way things work with the Hubbit and me is, we each make our own plans and the other accommodates, but each of us has veto power. So I waited an hour or so, until we were near the Tri-Cities, before I said, “Okay, you have three options. I can take the next exit and drop you in town – there’s a McDonald’s, Walmart, etc. Or I can take the exit after that one and drop you there; there’s nothing there but you say you do better getting rides from country people. Or you can come on home with me, and tomorrow morning I’ll drop you at the truck stop.”

His eyes lit up, then he looked worried. “But won’t your husband mind?” he asked.

“I texted him hours ago and he hasn’t said no. And he’s used to me picking up strays,” I said. Plus, if the Hubbit won’t remember to keep his phone with him and check for texts from his loving wife who is driving along a lonely highway through the barren wastes of Eastern Washington, that’s on him, right? “You’ll be welcome, so it’s up to you. It looks as though you could use a shower and a washing machine,” I added, ever tactful.

So he came home, and the dogs weren’t assholes when I introduced them to Bubba, and the Hubbit was surprised but welcoming. Well, resigned, anyway – and once Cajun had showered and dinner was on the table, the Hubbit discovered for himself that the company was good, as promised.

Cajun's feet

Cajun prefers his tent to a bedroom indoors.

Cajun didn’t want the spare bedroom. He pitched his tent under a tree in the back yard. The next day we offered him the option of staying on for a few days, helping out a little on the farm in return for his keep, and giving himself and Bubba a rest – but he was in a hurry to continue his journey. He repacked his backpack – traded me some cheap dog food that the chickens like for the better stuff we feed our dogs, and left a small blanket and an umbrella on the washing machine. I guess when you have to carry everything you own, you don’t hang onto an umbrella during the dry season.

It turned out that the truck stop near us, that I’d planned to take him to, was on the wrong route, so we drove into Oregon, and he kept studying Google Maps on his tablet and saying, “It’s pretty soon … I think the next turn-off … Or maybe the next one.”

“I’m not taking you all the way to Salt Lake City, you know!” I groused – not because I minded so much as I was worried about running out of gas, and it was nearly the end of the month so I’d already run out of money. The truck stop was at the next turnoff after that, and he put $30 in my tank, because he may be homeless but he’s not a bum.

I texted with him while writing this story. I had to ask his permission to use photographs off his Facebook page, and I wanted to check in with him anyway. He’s in Utah, just outside Salt Lake City, feeling down in the dumps. It seems people there don’t respond to a “Hungry” sign, and no one is stopping to give him a ride. He’s hoping a trucker will come by soon, because they usually stop when they see Bubba. He’s moving on, going to Laramie, Wyoming, where he reckons he has a better chance of finding work. His course is in September and it lasts a month, and he can’t have Bubba with him while he’s training, so he needs to save up for a boarding kennel.

I hope they get a ride soon. I hope they make it home.

Do you pick up hitchhikers? What about hitchhikers with dogs? And … what do you think, when you see a homeless person?

 

Just me and my skin

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Himself went fishing today, so I decided to celebrate a day alone by not getting dressed … at all … apart from sandals, which became necessary when the Teenage Mutant Ninja Malinois decided that an unclad momma-boss lacked authority, and commenced chasing the horses with joyous disregard for my shrieks of “LEAVE IT!” from the porch.

As I barreled loudly across the yard clad in nothing but my Birkenstocks and brandishing a leash I did experience a brief little something-or-other, and if I’d had time to analyze it I would have said, “Huh – so that’s what a qualm feels like” – because while I dislike the Nasty Neighbor whose house overlooks the relevant portion of our yard, I don’t necessarily want to cause him a heart attack. But, you know, priorities … I got Argos out of the corral, confirmed that there was nobody waving at me from any of the surrounding pastures, and headed back into the house.

Out of consideration for the Nasty Neighbor I confined today’s gardening to the front porch, taking tulip bulbs out of pots to be stored until I plant them someplace permanent in fall. Apart from that, it’s been quite an ordinary day, largely spent dealing with some otherwise annoying business from behind my desk. I opened all the windows and set the ceiling fans to spinning and didn’t bother with air conditioning, and oh, the pleasure of a whole day of just me and my breeze-kissed skin!

Once upon a time I would strip off without a second thought. I’ve never been to a nudist resort – the idea of a place dedicated to being naked has always seemed a little silly, and I find it hard to believe that people there would be any less judgmental than people anywhere. But if you’re puttering about at home, or off on the river or at the beach or up a mountain somewhere where there’s no one else to notice or care – except, perhaps, one or two whom you love and trust – being naked has to be the best way in the world to minimize laundry.

I really wish I hadn’t stopped feeling happy and at peace and comfortable inside my skin.

Cape Point on a summer day.

Cape Point on a summer day, many years ago.

WordPress – You don’t decide who is Popular

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I don’t especially like Opinionated Man’s blog. I followed him way back because he was one of the first bloggers to follow American Soustannie, and he had a number of posts that I, as a baby blogger, found helpful. But after a while I unfollowed him, for several reasons. Firstly, I wanted to take my time about figuring out how this whole blogging thing works (and I was more interested in creating something I liked, that expressed who I was, than in generating huge numbers of followers, which is a big part of what he’s about. If you want to be a power blogger, he will tell you how!) Also, he posted too often for my taste, and some of his posts annoyed me. (Like he says, he’s opinionated!)

But even though I’m not a fan, I’m grateful to Jason for what he does, and I see him as an important member of the WordPress community. Like when I, as a really new blogger, used his platform to introduce myself to the world. Some visitors stopped by as a result of that. I’m not sure whether any of them actually followed me, but that’s not the point. The point is, Jason the Opinionated Man gave me a chance to be seen – and if I’d wanted to continue hanging out with his crowd there would have been many more opportunities to promote this blog – because that’s one of the things he does. He has intentionally set up his blog to provide a communal platform that pretty much anyone, as far as I know, can use.

Opinionated Man has created a platform for a network that sustains the WordPress community. Even though I don't necessarily want to be locked into it all the time, I like knowing it's there.

Opinionated Man has created a platform for a network that sustains the WordPress community. Even though I don’t necessarily want to be locked into it all the time, I like knowing it’s there.

So okay, I followed for a bit, then I unfollowed. Every now and then I’d see a reference to his blog somewhere and I’d pop in, check him out, usually learn something new, and then move on. The free market in action. It WORKS, guys, really it does!

Does he read every blog he follows? Probably not. Certainly he’s never commented on mine, although he liked one or two posts back in the day when the encouragement meant a lot to me, before I got a little bit established. Do I want to blog the way he does? Nope; my priorities are different. But so what? I figure it’s not my job to judge how he manages his blog or how he uses his blogging time. What I see is a guy with an unusually community-oriented approach to the blogiverse; I see someone who appears to answer every comment anyone leaves on his blog (and there are many), and who actively tries to help other bloggers both by providing a platform and by answering requests for advice.

And now I see WordPress making his life difficult and, in the process, taking something away from the overall WordPress blogger community.

Recently I became aware of some kind of turmoil surrounding Jason’s blog. I still don’t know all the ins and outs of it, but it seems the powers that be within WordPress decided they didn’t like his Power Blogger approach and restricted some of his activity. So his supporters created a bit of an uproar, and I’m sure I’m not the only person who didn’t like what WP was doing and re-followed him in order to keep track of events, and WP reinstated whatever it was they had taken away. So far so good.

Well, apparently now WP is at it again. And once again I don’t know the details, and I don’t expect them to affect a little fish like me … but I have to take issue on the basis of principle.

To be quite clear, I think WP has the right to set whatever rules they like, and shape this platform any way they like. They own it. I can’t walk into a store and tell them how to run their business.

But in the same spirit, I don’t shop at Wal-Mart, because I think they’re jerks. I hate the way they treat their staff and their suppliers, the fact that a huge amount of the stuff they sell comes direct from the sweatshop to you appalls me, and their chilling effect on the economies of small communities scares me. So I won’t go there and I preach against them at any opportunity. Equally, I choose to shop at Yokes as often as I can, even though I can’t afford to do all my shopping there, because I like the fact that they’re employee-owned and that they support small local farmers and they have a good range of organic products. That’s because I believe in putting my money where my values are.

I think the same kind of choice may be arising here. I’m probably not going to up and leave immediately if Opinionated Man does, because it’s a hassle and I’m just starting to feel comfortable in this blogging thing … but the fact that WP is restricting the way in which a respected colleague runs his blog will definitely impinge on my comfort level. It’s likely that I’ll start looking around, familiarizing myself with the alternative options. And I’ll be watching to see if there is a pattern of behavior emerging here that I don’t want to live with.

How do you make your choices?

How do you make your choices?

I was just going to “like” Jason’s post and hope that a few of my followers would read it … but then it occurred to me that this made an interesting follow-on to my last post. This whole situation, and how I feel about it, and how it influences my future choices vis-a-vis blogging – in a small way, it’s about my personal values. And the thing is, I believe in freedom – including the freedom to post things that people find obnoxious, and the freedom to follow or not follow, like or not like.

What do you think? When you choose a provider of a service or a product, do you care about whether their values match yours? And if so, does it bother you that WordPress might be bullying one of its most influential and effective bloggers?

When rights and freedom collide

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I’ve been having an interesting discussion with Ellen Hawley, over at Notes from the UK (you can pick it up, if so inclined, down in the comments after this post). I thought we’d both wandered away from the conversation, but it turns out that she’s been mulling over it, as have I. So instead of responding at length on her blog, I thought I’d bring the conversation here and invite you all to join in.

The question is: What do we do when protecting your rights limits my freedom?

The discussion started with the question of Texas' right to secede. What do you think? If a strong majority (say, 66%) of Texans  want out of the United States, should they be free to leave?

The discussion started with the question of Texas’ right to secede. What do you think? If a strong majority (say, 66 or 75%) of Texans want out of the United States, should they be free to leave? Even if you don’t think they should do it, do you have the right to tell them they can’t? (Source)

We all love to yatter on about freedom. America is the self-proclaimed “land of the free”. Every day we read bumper stickers proclaiming that “freedom isn’t free”. We admire the heck out of Patrick Henry and his “give me liberty, or give me death” proclamation. Lovers of freedom rejoiced when the Berlin Wall came down, and when the Soviet Union broke up, and when Black South Africans went to the polls.

But we’re also big on rights – the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. The right to property. The right to vote, worship, marry as our conscience dictates. And, inevitably, rights and freedoms collide.

No winners here...

No winners here… (Source)

The right of the historically dispossessed to own land, versus a landowner’s right to keep what they and/or their parents have worked hard to acquire and improve. An unborn child’s right to live versus a woman’s right to evict an unwanted fetus from her body. An employee’s right to choose what services they receive through their healthcare plan, versus a business owner’s right to decide what employee benefits they will offer. A believer’s right to worship who and where and how they please, versus a citizen’s right to limit what may be done on property paid for by taxes. A cartoonist’s right to be an asshole, versus a fundamentalist’s right to defend what they consider holy.

Do some of these choices seem obvious to you? Probably – but that’s not the point. My question is, what core values define how you will choose one right or freedom over another? If, in order to be true to your core values, you have to give up one of your rights or freedoms to protect someone else’s rights or freedoms, will you do it? Have you ever sat down and thought seriously about your core values, defined them, defended them, followed them to the furthest extreme that your imagination will take you?

Have you discovered that every moral argument leads down a rabbit hole to a place where you must practice believing “as many as six impossible things before breakfast”?

It seems to me that we are too often and too easily satisfied to react to individual situations as led by our preferred media, politician or celebrity. We’re lazy. We bypass serious discussion about the morality of certain choices in favor of an eye-roll and a smh*. The message we receive, and that we pass on to the world, is “Come on, it’s obvious – and if you don’t see it the way I do you’re stupid / bad / part of the problem.”

This troubles me because every day, as we decide what we think about events and trends and the choices made by our elected leaders,we’re making decisions that have complex, far-reaching implications and feature countless shades of grey. And this is potentially a dangerous way to live. When we go with glib groupthink, when we allow our chosen tribe to define what we do and don’t believe, we become vulnerable. Most of us just want to get on with our lives as best we can, but there are individuals out there, powerful, savvy individuals, who really, really want to tell us what to do. And when we surrender our responsibility to think seriously about our moral values and let those values guide our decisions and opinions, we become sheep … and then we are powerless to choose whether we’re guarded by dogs under the control of a benevolent shepherd, or harried by wolves.

Sheep dog? Or wolf?

Guard dog? Or wolf? To the sheep, it doesn’t make a whole helluva lot of difference. (Source)

I don’t care whether it’s a politician, a self-made billionaire, a televangelist, a scientific genius or a really hot sex symbol – I don’t want someone else doing my thinking for me. I’m also not terribly interested in doing your thinking for you. I really don’t care if you don’t share my core values … but I care passionately that you should have them, and that you should know what they are.

So let’s talk. What do you think is more important – freedom or rights? Are you willing to sacrifice any of your rights or freedoms so that others can enjoy different rights and freedoms? What do you think society should do about people who don’t share your core values about rights and freedoms? Do you think decisions based on core values are more likely to ensure, over time, that all is right with the world?

  • It’s okay if you didn’t understand “smh”. It stands for “shaking my head”. (This note is for my mother, but I should mention that I had to google it too after seeing it 157 times and not being able to guess.)