Gravity scksSome years back, I believed that people  grew old and died because they became ill and their bodies deteriorated. As I age myself, I wonder if that is so. Could it be that people pass on because the world about them changes so much that they no longer feel attached to it? Can a person evolve to the point where withdrawing from the world seems the best logical choice? Does this changing of the world about us affect our consciousness and then our health? Does life culminate in the desire to no longer desire? Is death the natural end because we lose the desire and will to persist? Or is the will to persist yanked from us despite our rage against the darkness of the unknown night.

What is true for one might not be true for another. The sheer variety of humanity and the vast complexity of nature creates a different world for each entity that lives within it.

Inequality is everywhere because inequality is essential for movement. Inequality is gravity. It is that weak force that binds things together, feet to the earth and planets to the stars, friends to friends.

Each individual life is a cosmos unto itself.

As a young man, I easily saw the truth in the unity of all being but saw also that the world is a game of one-upsmanship. People compete to produce winners and losers. The world around us is stratified, socially and economically.

Social inequality is a constant, but nature demands a balance for stability. The highs must not be too high and the lows must not be too low.  When things are too far out of balance, they explode and gravity is overcome.

Gravity is the result of inequality. When things are equal, there is no push nor pull.

Each side of the equation is different, but the equality creates the balance.

For most of us living on Earth, there is nothing as fine as the era in time in which we now live. How could this not be so, when this time is all we have? Are we not practical? We cannot live in another era.

Yet, eras change, and change brings new actors to the stage, new athletes to the field. Soon enough, we barely know the rules of the game because it has changed so much.

We spend our lives speaking our lines and doing our work. We seek what makes us feel good—through pleasures, work, pastimes, and relationships. It becomes the driving factor that motivates and moves us.

It is movement that produces the gravity that keeps us centered enough to survive. We—like our Earth, our Sun, and our Galaxy—must evolve and revolve as we orbit around something much bigger than us. Heinlein wrote: “Love is that condition in which the happiness of another person is essential to your own.” Love is one of the gravitational anchors that hold us in place.

Health does get worse with time and wear. Physical strength does deteriorate. Passion itself takes a tumble with age. We know this is so. Yet, our fast-changing world can become so unfamiliar that we can easily become those Strangers in a Strange Land that we heard or read about years ago.

Heinlein’s character said: “Thinking doesn’t pay. It just makes you discontented with what you see around you.”  Time passes and consciousness is overloaded with evaluations and judgments made by past choices. It becomes harder to distinguish the winner from the loser when you know each all too well. We can become confused or dismayed about the directions our society and nations are going.

“Thou art god, I am god. All that groks is god,” Heinlein wrote.

Grok may be the only English word that is derived from a fictional Martian language. “Grok” was introduced in Robert A. Heinlein’s 1961 science fiction novel Stranger in a Strange Land. It means to understand fully and intuitively with empathy of intuition. It is hard to grow old and not see the reality of these observations. “Random chance is not a sufficient explanation of the Universe—in fact, random chance is not sufficient to explain random chance; the pot cannot hold itself.”

Everything living has a blind instinct to survive built into its system.

“The only religious opinion I feel sure of is this: self-awareness is not just a bunch of amino acids bumping together.”

― Robert A. HeinleinStranger in a Strange Land



born October 18, 1919
died January 20, 2009

It occurs to me that when you are talking about the life of a person and the meaning of the time they spend on earth, you are entering a gray area—a scary place that not many people like to go. You are talking about the evolution of a spirit—the changes that a lifetime makes in a soul. At the same time, you are being judgmental, revealing your own values, beliefs, and patterns of thought in your words and praises— judging how the other person stood up to your own peculiar beliefs and evaluations.

Maxine was one of those rare species of human beings that took pleasure from being in the service of others. Not that she was totally selfless, as few of us are. Not that she was a saint, as none of us have perfect love, perfect lives, or perfect morals. Only the long-dead folks are made saints—and even then, it is only after the life they really lived has been selectively forgotten.

Born in Salem, Oregon, in October 1919 and living into January 2009 mathematically made Maxine 89 years old when she died, but the view outside the window of her person was truly remarkable. She never knew her father, Clinton Byron Harper. He died of Spanish Influenza before she saw the first light of day. She was raised by her mother, Cora Mae Gilmour, a descendant of European royal families that never had the slightest taste or knowledge of the diluted bluish blood that flowed in her veins. Cora took in washing and did people’s laundry during the Great Depression. She struggled hard to raise her three daughters, Florence, Ruth, and Maxine. Cora left Oregon shortly after Maxine’s birth to live in the middle of the Kansas prairie with her father, Hedron Walker Gilmour, a short, thin, and dapper man who loved the arts and entertainment. Hedron was an amateur magician and painter who became another big influence in Maxine’s early years.

After Maxine graduated from the Minneapolis Kansas High School, she moved to Denver, Colorado to live with her older sister Florence. She went to beauty school, though she rarely practiced the trade, just as her mother had gone through optometry school and never practiced that trade. Instead, Maxine waited tables on roller skates and went dancing with her friends as much as she could. It was at one of these dances that she met Ken Finton, an indisputably handsome man with Titian gold hair and a baritone voice to match those golden locks. He would become her husband of over 30 years and the father of her children: Kenny, Billy, and Jean Marie.

Ken would move her to Ohio where they would spend their life together near his family. They were married on November 15, 1941. Just a few short weeks later, Japan bombed Pearl Harbor. This act changed the lives of every American forever.

Maxine did not follow in the footsteps of Rosy the Riveter and go out into the workplace to replace the missing men in the American factories during the war. Instead, she had a baby —namely me—and sat out the war on the sidelines, staying sometimes in small apartments in Cleveland and Greenville, Ohio and sometimes with Ken’s parents. For a while in 1944 and 1945, she lived in Gainesville, Florida while Ken was stationed in Fort Blanding. They returned to Greenville where Ken first found work delivering fuel oil for the space heaters of Darke County’s many farmhouses. Afterward, Ken opened a small gas station with his Flying Red Horse Mobil Oil Company contacts.
Ken’s attempt at an independent life did not last very long. He was forced to take refuge in factory work when a new baby decided to come into the family. The money was not great, but the job was steady and not overly demanding. He worked in quality control inspecting taps and dies for a branch of the Detroit Tap and Tool company called Sater Products. This work lasted he until he retired at 64.

Around 1950, the schools in Darke County consolidated and left quite a few one-room brick schoolhouses vacant. Ken was able to buy one of these abandoned schools and had the idea that he could remodel it into an ideal two-story home with the help of his father and family. However, Ken was not a talented builder. The schoolhouse was divided into four 15×15 rooms with a bath and a hallway, but that is about as far as it went. This was much to Maxine’s dismay. She never liked the dwelling. It remains a schoolhouse on the exterior and a two-bedroom home on the interior to this very day.

Maxine spent the 50’s raising her two boys. There were plenty of instruction manuals on how to do this. Dr. Benjamin Spock had written his famous book that took the world by storm. In 1946, Spock was given the chance to publish his iconoclastic views in The Common Sense Book of Baby and Child Care. Along with everyone else, Maxine and Ken read it, of course.

In the 50s strange new gadgets appeared on the roofs of American houses as television became a household necessity. Leave it to Beaver, Father Knows Best, and The Nelson family’s The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet did not hesitate to show how child-rearing in the 50s ought to be.

None of these shows were much like our own personal lives, but that did not matter much. With TV in most homes, everyone had a living model of the way things should be. A woman’s place was definitely in the home for everyone but school teachers and nurses. Thus, Maxine stayed home to raise the kids for most of the fifties, though she secretly would have preferred to be out in the workplace. Despite the social norm, Maxine did take temporary work as a cashier at some grocery stores and the five and ten cent store now and then. But in 1956, a new daughter that we named Jean Marie came as a complete surprise to everyone—fifteen years after the first baby—and once again life was changed for all.

As to religious views, the family was for the most part not serious about churches and religions. This changed a bit in the late fifties when Ken and Maxine started studying the Bible with John Timmons and his wife who were Jehovah’s Witnesses. I am not sure what swept them up into this strange, cultish group. It was probably the strong personality of John Timmons more than anything else, but I was young and impressionable and was swept up into this myself at the time. By the time I graduated high school, I had moved well beyond fundamentalist viewpoints, and developed interests in sciences, as well as philosophy, eastern religions, archeology, history, and music.

Ken died suddenly of a severe stroke in 1972. A few years later, Maxine sold off many of her Ohio possessions and moved to 1289 Clayton Street in Denver where she lived in a house that originally belonged to the Muckle family. Maxine’s sister Florence had married Paul Muckle. His parents had both passed away and the big old turn-of-the-century home sat empty at the time. Once again, like the time after Maxine’s graduation, her older sister Florence was there for her in her time of need and confusion. Florence had come to Ohio when my brother Billy was born and we had visited her several times in Colorado—once by train when I was around six and several times by auto when Ken took his vacation.

Maxine remarried briefly to a man named Robert Sack, thus getting another last name to append to the Harper-Finton appellation. Bob died of a heart attack within the first year of their marriage. Bob had moved into the Clayton Street house while Billy and I were in California. They did not get along well because Bob drank a lot and Maxine hardly ever has even a sip of wine. After his death, she remained in the house until Florence became ill with Alzheimer’s and had a serious stroke that left her with aphasia. Then Maxine moved in with Florence until Florence’s business affairs were settled and her many possessions were sold. They both retired to an assisted living facility until Florence became too incontinent for that kind of care. My wife Chaya and I bought a bigger home and moved everyone into that, but Florence only lasted about six more months.

Maxine was petite, 4’11” in her stocking feet. When she was young she looked a lot like Judy Garland. These are the facts and the statistics.

What is missing is the soul of the woman—and who am I to describe the soul of any woman, let alone my own mother?

This I can say: she loved word games and puzzles. She kept her mind extremely active and her brain exercised. She excelled at Scrabble and Word Puzzles.

She always looked on the bright side and hardly ever had a depressing day until the very last when she became ill with ovarian cancer and her pain and discomfort rose to epic proportions.

She easily excused the bad behavior of those around her and loved them anyway, a trait that often drove me to distraction and anger.

Her death came suddenly. In December 2008, she was not feeling well and went into the hospital. They found cancer on the ovaries and the seeds had spread throughout the abdomen. The doctors said she had a very short time to live.

She lasted one more hour after Barack Obama was sworn in as President of the United States.

Chaya and I spent as much time as we could with her. For years we had taken her to different places and vacationed with her from California to Ohio and Kentucky. After she broke her hip in 2002, she entered a nursing home. She came to like Allison Care very much, as there were people there of her age for and her days were filled with games and fun. We brought her back to our home almost every weekend. We took her to Yellowstone one year, Los Angeles and Yosemite another. We often went to Saratoga, Wyoming where we have a motel. Two of her grandchildren lived near the motel. We drove out to see the fall colors every year. We went to see the snow sculptures in Breckenridge every year. We watched the Broncos play football, went to movies, hung around the house, and took her to our musical shows. We saw the Nutcracker Suite ballet in 2007 and went to Garrison Keillor’s show at Red Rocks in 2008.

Those that knew her will surely miss her. She leaves a void that cannot be filled by any other person.

She leaves behind her son Kenny and his wife Chaya, her grandson Robert, her granddaughter Tasha and her great-grandson Zane, who loved to play games with her at every opportunity. She leaves behind her son Billy and her grandson, William Jr. She also leaves behind her daughter Jean Marie, who disappeared in 1998.

Maxine lives on now in our memories, our pictures, and our videos. She is well respected and loved in the minds of all who knew her.

So what’s the truth, really?

One day, when I was little, I was with my father in the bathroom while he was doing his daily grooming. Being the didactic father that he was, he wanted to teach me about all the right things to do in the world. He told me that, after removing the accumulated hair from the hairbrush, it was very important that I should never put it in the waste bin. There, it could too easily catch on fire and he urged me always to flush it down the toilet.

On a separate occasion, when I was with my mother in the bathroom during the daily grooming, I was told by her (being the didactic mother that she was) that I should never put hair in the toilet because it clogged the pipes. She urged that I should always use the waste bin.

In later years, when I began doing household chores on a regular basis, my father told me always to vacuum before dusting because the vacuum kicked-up dust onto the furniture. Of course, mother told me that I should always wipe the dust before vacuuming, because dust fell to the floor when wiped. (This should give you some insight as to what went wrong with me, but I digress.)

Their truths were perfectly logical and reasonable to them, even though they were conflicting in practice when applied by another. Since that time, I have learned that the best truth evolves from oneself. Truth is too relative to circumstance to leave its cultivation to someone regarded as “authority”, uninspected. We don’t always have that luxury as children, to inspect our authorities for truth, but we’ve all put on enough years now that we can be our own authors of truth. Maybe it is time for a reinspection. It’s OK to dump in the round file, or flush down the porcelain convenience, things that you have been told in the past. Even everything, if you find that it is not in actual fact producing results for you in the present. Because the truth is, our truths are how we shape this world.

the MUSINGS of robin griggs wood

One day, when I was little, I was with my father in the bathroom while he was doing his daily grooming. Being the didactic father that he was, he wanted to teach me about all the right things to do in the world. He told me that, after removing the accumulated hair from the hairbrush, it was very important that I should never put it in the waste bin. There, it could too easily catch on fire and he urged me always to flush it down the toilet.

On a separate occasion, when I was with my mother in the bathroom during the daily grooming, I was told by her (being the didactic mother that she was) that I should never put hair in the toilet because it clogged the pipes. She urged that I should always use the waste bin.

In later years, when I began doing household chores…

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Try though we might, we cannot stop change from taking place. It is a natural process. Nature changes as part of life’s process because of the essential nature of change. Change is renewal and growth. It is people that pervert and oppose change for self-centered reasons.

Albert Einstein said, “The world as we have created it is a process of our thinking. It cannot be changed without changing our thinking.”

This is not a new revelation. La Tzu recognized that institutions and societies must change thousand of years ago. He said, “Life is a series of natural and spontaneous changes. Don’t resist them; that only creates sorrow. Let reality be reality. Let things flow naturally forward in whatever way they like.”

So you wake up in the morning in a bad mood, somewhat depressed. It is easy to be depressed. Even your dreams can depress you. You can be feeling triumphant one minute and wake up the next morning in a most sombre, unsatisfied state of mind.

Trying to control your emotions and your mind and your thoughts are often extremely useless endeavors. Thoughts pop in and out of our minds all the time.  They change the chemicals in our bodies that regulate our emotions and our feelings of well being for the better and for the worse.

Thoughts Are Not Real

Do you think your thoughts and ideas are real? They are not. They are no more real than the dreams that come into your mind and the nightmares that frightfully awaken you in the night.

There is no reason to allow negative thoughts to have power over you. Recognize that they are unreal and do not give them any value. A thought can be made real through action, but in its inception it is as wispy as a fantasy.

We might not be able to control our thoughts, but we CAN evaluate them. We can learn to recognize the judgmental thoughts that make us miserable.

Thoughts are neither right not wrong. They simply are. We are the ones that assign the value to them.  Some thoughts are going to be positive and some are going to be negative. Anyone who tells you to always think positively does not know much about thinking.

It is simply a fact that you are going to have thoughts that are negative. The real trick is to catch these thoughts before they depress you, recognize that they are not real and do not let them distress you. In time and with rest, they will pass.

There are times when we are thinking about things we need to evaluate. We think about our choices and our course of action. These are the times when we need to moderate our thoughts and evaluations and make certain that they are capable of leading us to a place we wish to go.

They very act of evaluating your thoughts is a kind of mediation. It will stop the chemical changes that lead to emotional distress. It does take some practice, I suppose. It is not something I am good at.

That is why I am a writer. I write my thoughts down and evaluate them later, throwing out those expressions that do not lead me to a clear place in which I prefer to dwell. That is what is great about being a writer. You are able to learn from yourself, your research, and your evaluations. It is cathartic in nature and always makes you feel that you have accomplished something worthwhile, produced something from nothing that has value.