Monday, January 25, 2021

A FEELING OF CALM DESCENDED UPON US


... Memories, inspired by the events of January 20, 2021...

[Nyerges is an educator and author of nearly two dozen books, including “Extreme Simplicity,” “How to Survive Anywhere,” and others. Information on his classes and books is available at www.SchoolofSelf-Reliance.com.]

Over 20 years ago, when I was living in Highland Park, my wife and I wanted to get another dog as a companion for the one dog we already had.  We were away from home a lot, and we felt that our one dog would not feel lonely and would feel content with another dog. We went to a lot of dog rescue places, and were starting to feel that we simply would not find the right dog.  Finally, one night, we decided to accept a dog which seemed to have been abused, and which needed a good home. The dog’s name was Mona. Mona was a bit older than we were looking for, but she seemed very appreciative towards us as we were taking her to her new home.

We did our best to help Mona fit in, but she really was what you might call a “problem dog.”  Initially, we attributed it to the fact that she had been abused when younger, in various ways.  I recall the first bath I gave Mona, which actually seemed like the first bath she ever received.  She didn’t ever like being in a bath, and I always had to struggle to keep her in the tub.

Very soon, Mona because very protective of us, and would wildly bark anytime anyone approached our front gate.  She would throw herself against the gate with such great intensity that her mouth would be bleeding and people never got close to the gate.  Neighbors spoke about our “killer dog.”

We quickly saw that Mona might not work out, and tried to find another home for her. Various people came and sat with Mona, trying to see if it was a good fit. But she always maintained a low unfriendly growl, and no one could grow close to her, and we never found her another home.

She got along well enough with our other dog, but I always felt very alert whenever I walked her, keeping on a harness and using two leashes so she didn’t get away and wreak havoc on the neighborhood.  Once, a dog not on a leash approached her, despite my trying to scare the stray away.  Mona went right for the neck of the little dog, and was only able to tear the little dog’s flexible skin before I could pull Mona away.   I was horrified.

I continued to walk Mona and try various ways to “civilize” her.  But while walking her, she would often snap back at me and bite me. I was bit four times, mostly superficial cuts that ripped my pants or shirt.   I learned to be more careful when I walked her, because I realized her own neck skin had been cut at one time, and it probably hurt her every time I walked her with a neck collar.

During the time we had Mona, I lost a full-time job and by this time, we actually had three dogs, which means, three dogs to feed.  It now became even harder to come up with the money to buy all the dog food, and I found sources of low-cost and even free pet food in the community. I knew that whatever happened, I would not take Mona to the pound, which almost certainly meant sure death.

Mona was always a challenge, and I always had to check my fences for weak spots because I always feared that if she got out and killed a neighbor’s dog, or attacked a person, the financial aspect alone would be devastating.  Fortunately, nothing bad like that ever happened.  Still, I was never at ease, never calm, never letting down my guard as long as we had Mona.   We got so used to living in subdued stress and fear that we felt it was “normal.”

Eventually, Mona was displaying some obvious signs of pain and distress.  I took her to our veterinarian. The vet told me that Mona had a certain infection, and that he could operate and fix the condition.  Mona would cost me another $1000, but I said OK.  He called me later to let me know that Mona died on the table, before the operation could begin.  Obviously, I was sad.  I went to pick up Mona’s body and I buried her under a fruit tree near where her doghouse had been.  My wife and I went to bed and slept well.

The next morning, we stood in our front yard looking out into the neighborhood. There was no Mona.  We expressed our sadness for her loss and for the hard life that she’d had. We also noted that suddenly, inexplicably, a deep transformation of the atmosphere had taken place.  We noted a feeling of calm, and peace, and that we were not experiencing inner anxiety at whatever might happen next if Mona got out.  It was an odd mixture of sadness for that being we took in, and simultaneously calmness, freedom, peace.  We stood there for perhaps 30 minutes, basking in the mixed atmosphere of both sadness, and calm joy.  A feeling of calm descended upon us.

 

I have not had that particular unique feeling for a very long time.  The memories of Mona flooded back to me at noon, Wednesday, January 20, 2021.

 

Wednesday, December 30, 2020

ENCOUNTER WITH AN UNKNOWN SAVIOR

ENCOUNTER WITH AN UNKNOWN SAVIOR


Christopher Nyerges

[Nyerges is a writer and teacher of self-reliance topics. This article is part of a book Nyerges is working on about his youth, tentatively titled “Out of the Loop.” For more information, go to www.SchoolofSelf-Reliance.com.]

On average, about 10 people die from drowning every day in the United States.  About 20% of those deaths are children under 14 years old.  When I was 6  or 7 years old, I almost became one of those statistics.

I was the youngest of five boys and all of us had a history of attending the Boy’s Club down on Villa Avenue, just west of Los Robles Avenue where we lived. Since a bus stop was located just across the street from our home, we could easily hop on the bus and take the approximately two mile or so ride closer to downtown Pasadena, exit on Villa, and walk to the Boy’s Club. 

I enjoyed the Boy Club and the complexity of life that occurred there.  There was a small train that could be ridden around the back 40, there was the art classes, the metal shop, the wood shop, and the game room.  Every summer, they held a Tom Sawyer Day with numerous special events.  And there was the swimming pool, which was the center of social life at the Club in the summer.  When the Boy’s Club was still fresh and new to my young eyes, it was exciting to walk down the long corridors, enter the noisy locker room, and then enter the pool.

On this first time swimming there, the pool area was a cacophony of men, women, boys, girls – I presume that the Club opened the pool to anyone and everyone who wanted to swim there on the hot days of the early 1960s.  It was crowded!

I was there with one or two older brothers, and some friends of theirs.  I was told to stay in the shallow part of the pool since I didn’t know how to swim.  Since I had never been in a deep pool before, I assumed that I probably didn’t know how to swim and so I agreed to stay in the shallow side. 

The pool was very long – I remember about 150 feet by perhaps 50 feet – though this is just a memory-guess.  The shallow section was where you could enter by means of these cement steps, where you just walk into the water. And for me, that meant the water would come up to my waist in the shallowest section.  Once I was in the pool, it was very crowded.  I didn’t know anyone, and my brothers and their friends were off somewhere having a good time.  So I just walked around, and noted that the pool very gradually got deeper as I walked westward.  So eventually the water was up to my chest.   I walked back into the shallow area, and back to the deeper part of the shallow area.  How far out could I go before it was too deep? 

I tried to look into the water, to see the bottom, but it was not easy. For one, there were a lot of people moving around in the water, and so the water was not still and clear.  So I just kept walking.  Suddenly, the shallow section rather rapidly became deep, and even though I could feel my feel slipping out from underneath me, there seemed to be nothing I could do to prevent going under. I went under, and I don’t recall if I panicked or not, but I remember flailing and trying to get my head above water.  It seemed like an eternity and I felt that everyone who was good in the world had abandoned me.

As I flailed about, suddenly a hand grabbed me and pulled me into the shallow water, and I could touch the ground again.  The man looked at me with concern – actually, he was an older boy, older than me, perhaps only 14 or 15.  He looked at me and asked me if I was ok.  He told me to stay in the shallow water, and then he disappeared.   I stayed in the water, and looked around for a bit.  No one seemed to have been aware of what just happened.  And the boy who saved me seemed like a god in my eyes.  He was a handsome black boy, obviously in good physical shape, and I remember the neat trim of his hair, and his serious expression.  Now he was gone, and there was no one to tell about how he rescued me, no name to put to the deed.

After I got out, I never saw the boy again.  He either merged into the crowd, or he’d departed.  I told one of my brothers what happened, and he just said “Oh,” as if maybe I was making it up. I never told my parents.

The Boys Club of that day was like a United Nations gathering. About half of the boys who went there were black, and the Latino and white boys were more or less equally divided. Asian boys were a minority.   The Boys Club was a good introduction for me to the world as it is, and whenever I encountered overt or subtle racism, I often thought back to my many interactions at the Boys Club, including the camp adventures in the San Bernardino National Forest.  Bad behavior came in all colors, and obviously, so did good behavior.  The nameless boy who saved me from drowning that day didn’t know me, and didn’t hang around to receive any praise.  He did not ask my name, age, race, or religious when he saw me flailing in the water.  He did a good deed and he moved along.  I learned more from him that youthful day than I ever did from the vast majority of preaching preachers, and philosophizing philosophers, and other teachers who purported to tell me how to live my life.  

It’s sad that racism is still such a viable part of the American way of life.  I still look forward to the day when we can treat everyone the same, based on the quality of their character, and what they do, and not on their origin or racial characteristics.  Though it is obvious that we have a long way to go, the solution lies not in some governmental edicts, but in the choices of individuals to go beyond their mostly mental barriers, and get to know people outside of their own groups.   In that sense, my active participation in the programs of the Pasadena Boy’s Club was one of the most positive formative experiences of my life.

In time, I spent a summer with my older brother learning how to swim.  We went through the swimming program from rank beginner to the highest rank, which took us nearly to the end of summer.  My brother and I were the only two students who stuck with the program week by week, five mornings a week,  until the very end, until we could do every stroke forward and backward, stay under water a few minutes, and have no more fear of ever drowning.  The cost of the swimming program was a few dollars for each week, for five days of instruction of about an hour and a half each class. It was perhaps one of my parents’ best investments ever. 

 

 

Thursday, December 24, 2020

YES, THERE IS A REAL “SANTA CLAUS”



[Nyerges is an author / lecturer / educator who has written such books as “Extreme Simplicity,” “How to Survive Anywhere,” “Enter the Forest,” and other books.  Information about his books and classes is available at www.SchoolofSelf-Reliance, or Box 41834, Eagle Rock,CA 90041]

 

Recently, while doing some painting on an outside wall of my home, I had the radio on just to listen to people call in and talk with the host.  One man called and complained that people pay more attention to  Santa Claus during the Christmas season than to the birth of Jesus.  He argued that this was proof that “we” have allowed secularism – and maybe even paganism – to creep into the Christmas tradition.  The host just politely listened, thanked the caller, and then went on to the next call. Really?, I thought.

 

Who, anyway, is this Santa Claus?  Isn’t he just a fictitious jolly man to make us feel happy during the dark of December?  In fact, Santa Claus is not a myth and he wasn’t a pagan.  There actually is an historical figure upon which “Santa Claus” is based.

 

Nikolas of Myra was an historical 4th century Bishop in the Catholic church of Asia Minor.  He was born on March 15, 270, in Pataya, Lycia, in Asia Minor, what is now modern Turkey. At that time, however, the area was culturally Greek, and was politically a part of the Roman  diocese of Asia.  He was the only child of wealthy Greek parents, who both died in an epidemic when Nicholas was young. Nicholas inherited much from his parents, and was then raised by his uncle (also named Nicholas), who was a Bishop of  Patara, and who trained young Nicholas into priesthood.

 

Nicholas was said to be deeply religious even at an early age, and he always fasted on Wednesdays and Fridays.    Because of his outspoken beliefs, he was persecuted by the Romans  and was imprisoned during the persecution of Diocletian.

 

In case you never heard of the “persecution of Diocletian” (I hadn’t),  it was the most severe of the persecutions against Christians, simply because they were Christians during the time of Roman Empire.  It was also known as the “Great Persecution.”   In 303, four emperors issued a series of dictatorial laws which essentially did away with any legal rights of Christians.  The edicts demanded that the Christians comply with traditional Roman “religious” practices, meaning, giving sacrifices to the various so-called Roman gods.  This persecution was severe, and was weakest in the British colonies where the Empire had the least sway.  It was the most severe in the Eastern provinces, where Nicholas lived. 

 

Since Nicholas refused to worship the Roman gods, he was imprisoned, and suffered hardship, hunger, and cold for about 5 years. With the rise of Constantine to power, the persecutions came to an end in 313.   Nicholas was soon released. Constantine is known for pragmatically “Christianizing” the Roman Empire, and re-naming all the Mythraic and so-called “pagan” holidays so they could all now be regarded as Christian holidays.  Saturnalia, the feast of the winter solstice, for example, became the Mass of Christ, or Christmas.

 

Shortly after his return to his homeland in 317 A.D., Nicholas became the Bishop of Myra. 

 

He was later invited to attend the First Council of Nicaea in 325, the famous council where much of the modern dogma of the Catholic church was determined.    Nicholas of Myra was one of many bishops to participate in the Council at Constantine’s request. He is listed as the 151st attendee at the Council. There, Nicholas was a staunch anti-Arian.  Arius, from Alexandria, held that the Son of  God did not always exist, but was created by the Father.  Nicholas disagreed with Arius, and defended the developing orthodox Christian viewpoint.  According to stories told, Nicholas got so angry at Arius that he began to duke it out with Arius, punching him in the face!  Really?  Proto-Santa Claus punches a fellow man of the cloth?  It must have been an amazing thing to witness.

Back in his homeland, Nicholas became known as a very generous bishop.   Remember, he inherited wealth from his parents, and he would sometimes give gold and other valuables to those that he heard was in need.  I like to think that Nicholas was someone who truly embodied the tenets of original Christianity, someone for whom the church should be most proud. 

In one case, it is said that Nicholas tossed a bag of gold coins into a needy family’s yard, anonymously.   He was apparently humble, and didn’t want to be seen giving money to people, so he did it secretly.  He was so famous for wanting to give such gifts in private that when he traveled the countryside,  parents told their children to go to sleep quickly or  Nicholas would not come with gifts.  This, apparently, is the origin of telling children to go to sleep or that Santa will not come.

In one story, he apparently snuck into the home of a family where the three daughters of a poor man were about  to get married. Nicholas put some gold into the stockings which the girls left by the fire to dry.  This, apparently, is the origin of hanging up stockings on Christmas eve.

He was also well known for the gifts that he gave to newly married couples during the already established Christmas season. (Remember, the “Christmas season” predates Christianity by several millenia – Christianity simply re-defined the Winter Solstice commemorations of the so-called “pagans.”)

And so it goes.  Nicholas was a complex man, part of the new Catholic tradition which celebrated the birth of Jesus on the already-observed winter solstice. (Early Judeo-Christians did not celebrate the birth of Jesus, a date that has been lost to history, but was definitely not December 25).

Nicholas died on December 6, 343, which is to this day known as “Saint Nicholas Day.”  Upon his death, he was buried in the cathedral of Myra.  He is revered as a saint in most versions of Christianity and is especially honored in Eastern Orthodox Christianity.

By the year 450, churches in  Greece and Asia Minor were being named in honor of Nicholas.  He was officially honored  as a saint by the Eastern Catholic Church in 800.  December 6 began to be celebrated as Bishop Nicholas Day in France  by the 1200s. 

As time went on, when ever someone received a mysterious gift, it would be attributed to Saint Nicholas! 

 

The Dutch called Saint Nicholas “Sinterklass,” which is the most likely manner in which the name Saint Nicholas gradually evolved into “Santa Claus.”  Along the way, Saint Nicholas was given some of the attributes of Odin, the Norse God, who could travel through the sky and who had a secret home somewhere around the north pole.  Come to think of it, even the Superman story also borrowed from Odin.  Remember how Superman sometimes goes to a secret cavern in the Northern coldlands and converses with his ancestors via ice crystals? 

 

The image continued to morph over the years, with the Coco Cola company giving the world a somewhat sanitized and plumper  Saint Nicholas-Santa Claus with their early 20th century advertisements. There we began to see the fatter bearded man in the red suit. 

 

Today, the man you see in the mall is the modern condensation of fact and myth, embodying the generosity of one Catholic Bishop, the good will of all – including parents -- who give gifts in his stead, and bits of the mythology of Odin.