Tuesday, July 26, 2005

Life's a Beach

Summer is here and my family is spending several weeks at a beach house on the Outer Banks of North Carolina. My In-laws have a house on Ocracoke Island…that’s just south of Cape Hatteras. My family has been spending the summers there for the past 12 years. I am usually busy in the summer and haven’t made it down during their stay for about 5 years. This year, I made it down for a long weekend and I thought I’d jot down a few thoughts.

I grew up in Florida and the beach was a big part of my formative years. I don’t go as often these days as I’d prefer to be in the deep woods (as any of you who read this blog are aware). Going to the beach is sort of a “been there, done that” kind of feeling for me. Still, there are some very stirring things about … the end of the land and the edge of the shining sea.

There is no way for me to count the hours that I have spent looking out at the Ocean and thinking about my life and dreams. There’s something about that place that makes you contemplate bigger things. I have gotten away from my connection to the shore and it felt good to walk the coastline again. Of course, there was a lot of time with my kids as well. I played football, went boogie- and skim-boarding and just spent time walking the beach with my son and daughter, but I also got some time with myself.

There’s a flip saying that, “Wherever you go…there you are!” I always found this one funny, but it occurs to me now that there’s something a little deeper there (I’m sure you think I’m crazy saying that). If you’ve been reading this then you know that I believe that our search for God is ultimately a search to know ourselves. How wonderful is it that we find pieces of ourselves…of our past and of our future…in the world that surrounds us. How wonderful that some of the truth and beauty that defines us is reflected in this imperfect world of ours. I think I’ll try to get to the beach again sometime soon…it’s funny how little you can miss a place until you suddenly find yourself there and all your good memories begin to crowd in on you. Best of the summer to all of you.

Love! Norm.

Friday, July 15, 2005

Thicker Than Water

They say that blood is thicker than water. I don't know where I come down on this one... I am one of the younger members of a large family (number 6 of 8). I had mentioned in an earlier post that some of my family members were like scenery during the holidays at home, but that I felt others right down to my bones.

I am spending this weekend at a cabin in the woods with my younger (and cuter) sister Barbara. What can I say... Most of the people who touch my soul come from very different backgrounds. Barb is both my heart and my history. It's especially wonderful when you connect with someone on a number of levels and you can also smile about that Viking episode from 1980.

Wine is thicker than water...Barb and I generally drink wine until we can be pretty much useless with each other. There's not a lot of people that you can enjoy being useless with...if you find one then you need to spend as much time with them as you can!!!

I don't think I could have picked a better place or time... The cabin lies deep in the woods and it's easy to forget that there's a world full of selfish and hateful people out there beyond the trees. I know that I have to return to the real world in a day or so, but I'll drink this all in as deeply as I can...

Life is a balance sheet of positives and negatives. I don't believe in hell... we are not together, as we are meant to be, and this is as close to hell as we get. I believe we get glimpses of heaven when we find that connection with each other. I get to spend this weekend in heaven...can't imagine it getting much better than that.

Love! Norm.

Tuesday, July 12, 2005


I have been studying to become a Free Mason and have found much of myself in what I am learning. I had a good friend once describe her strength in this way, “physically OK, but mentally I kick-butt!” Do I kick-butt mentally...you bet!!!

…I will never be beaten.

I can not be defeated for my strength is immeasurable.

My walls are thick and plumb and my foundation is solid.

I will stand in the face of anything and I will be here when all else has passed away

At every point on my journey, God has fitted the perfect tool to my grasp … I am dizzy with the power that flows inside me.

Do not attempt to turn me back or block my way for my steps are true and you cannot impede me.

My house is built of truth and love and it will be a refuge to those in need.

I offer you the power of unconditional love…for only through love of ourselves can we love others unconditionally.

In the desert, I am the cool water that will sustain you.

…I have felt this strength for my whole life, never really understanding the source. There is a song that I’ve heard a lot lately with a terrific hook line…”Love’s the only house big enough for all of the pain in the world.” Do I kick-butt mentally…you bet!!!

Sunday, July 10, 2005

Changes in Attitudes, Changes in Latitudes

What am I thankful for…

I was riding home from working on the farm yesterday. The day was clear and not too hot and I had the top down in my Jeep. It was one of those times that just seem to fill you up. I’m not sure why, but I wasn’t feeling particularly good when I started out and the change in my mood was a good surprise. Obviously, a ride in a convertible with the top down is a pretty good way to improve your outlook all by itself, but there was a bigger factor that made me want to write…

As I got ready to leave, I dug through my old CDs for something to play and came across a custom disc that I had made of the best songs from Jimmy Buffett. The first song on my disc was Changes in Latitudes, Changes in Attitudes (see link). As I listened to the song, so many good memories from the years began to flood over me and I couldn’t help but smile…more importantly, the lyrics spoke to the optimism and joy that I needed to get through some of the things I’ve been wrestling with lately.

I grew up in Florida, where Jimmy Buffett is revered as a demigod, but most people view him as just another singer with a strange following of drunken beach-bums. It’s true that a lot of what Buffett does for me is wrapped around the images and memories of my home…of the beaches and the easy way of living. But I also recognize Buffett as one of the better poets and story tellers of our time. A lot of our generation’s poetry can be found in the lyrics of songs and I have always considered artists like Buffett, Paul Simon, and others as the great poets of our day.

That someone can write something that makes me feel so good is a special gift. I don’t know these people and will never meet them. I am sorry that their art takes so much away from their privacy, but I understand what drives people to search out these artists. They share a part of themselves with us and, depending on our own lives and memories, we make a connection to their work (and to them). It’s a sign to me of what we share that I can listen to someone else’s thoughts and connect with so many of my own dreams and memories…it was a very good day!

Monday, July 04, 2005

Norm at the North Carolina Memorial before the charge Posted by Picasa

Sunday, July 03, 2005

The Invisible River

We all live our lives propelled forward by the currents of a great invisible river...

We take our place amongst so many others that ride the flow of the river beside us. Sometimes, two or more of us will be caught in an eddy and will circle together for a time as our lives mingle and we feed each others hopes… desires… despairs. Great and true friends will enter our lives on the current; they will give us their gifts and then flow out of our lives when we are not paying attention leaving memories that are wonderful and bittersweet. One day, each of us will reach the end of this river and flow into the great sea of our one soul.

I think of the river on this date every year…I believe that behind us on the river lie our ancestors…those who came before and set us on the paths of our lives. Ahead of us and past that next turn (where we cannot see) lies the future of our children. They ride the current that we leave behind.

July 3rd is an important day in the history of my family and of my country. In 1863, the great battle of Gettysburg was raging during our nation’s tragic Civil War. On the third day of the battle Confederate general Robert E. Lee called for a charge against the Union center. This charge became famous in the history of the country and its climax is known as “the high water mark” of the Confederate cause. My Great-Great-Grandfather John K. Shaw was a Sergeant in the 47th North Carolina Infantry and was in the great charge. In that assault, the Confederates sustained 28,000 casualties, or over 50% of their ranks. The day was one of the most horrible and bloodiest in the history of our people.

Every year, I return to the battlefield on July 3rd and walk in the footsteps of my ancestor. I dress as he would have done and I carry the flag of the regiment for which he fought. My children have joined me in this ritual and there are many others who come to honor the sacrifice that was made on that day. It is an interesting communion that we have each year…The descendents of the Union soldiers wait in their battle lines and salute the confederate units with a cheer as we reach their positions. The two sides greet each other warmly with hugs and hand shakes. Then a union chaplain says a brief prayer and all those gathered (there are usually a hundred or more spectators) join in the National Anthem and the Pledge of Allegiance.

On one of these occasions, the chaplain made note of the violence that fills our world; of the hatreds that have begotten this violence (for thousands of years without cease). He talked of the Balkans and of the Middle East. He asked all those gathered to consider the hatreds in our own land that had led to this Great War. He asked us to consider the suffering and loss that took place on this field and on so many others during those 4 years of killing. Finally, he reminded us of our warm embraces and of the general regard that we on both sides currently have for one another; of the fact that we have joined together once more as a single people and how, in so doing, we had honored those who sacrificed by a far greater measure than through any other course…no one wants to think of the river upon which their children will ride being filled with violence and hatred.

How much do we owe those who found a way to forgive and to love again after the personal suffering and loss of those horrible years? I wish there was some way to teach their lesson to those who currently pursue the murder of innocents as the remedy of past wrongs and of their own frustrations. I hope that the spirit that I honor…the spirit that brought our people back together in the years after 1865…can grow to encompass all people and that all will know the peace that we enjoy.

I don’t wait for my hope to come true in this world. I don’t believe that the turbulent waters that fill portions of this great river will ever be stilled. I will look for the deep channels…for the company of those who know compassion and forgiveness. I will ride in the channel that has been laid before me and will keep to it so as to provide as much peace and happiness for my children as I can. I will expect that true peace only once I have completed my journey and rest in the calm of the boundless sea…in the arms of our common soul.

I pray that each of you watches the river around you. That all of you do what you can to provide still waters for those who suffer. There is no knowing the damage we create when we cause ripples in the river through our own selfishness, greed, and disregard. It is for each of us to keep our part of the river safe for our fellow travelers on this journey of life.