My Christmas story revisited…again.

This is one of my favorite stories and it helps me remember what Christmas is really about.  If you read it last year or the year before, read it again and if you are new to my blog, I hope you enjoy this touching story.  Merry Christmas and Happy New Year! You can find Naotaka Maehara on Facebook.


Naotaka Maehara arriving in Augusta

The other day my friend Steve Bailes called me up to ask if I would be interested in housing a young man from Japan for the evening.  He is riding his bike across America, having left from Vancouver 70 days ago.  He was coming from Clarksburg and would arrive on Saturday if things worked out. I agreed, and contacted Nao (pronounced NOW which is short for Naotaka Maehara) by email to invited him to stay with us for the evening. He replied that he would like to stay with us Saturday evening.  The next two days were interesting as I stayed in contact as much as possible via e-mail. If you remember, this past Wednesday and Thursday we experienced our first major snow fall of the season so Nao was right in the middle of it with the continental divide directly in front of him. To make a long, involved story shorter, he made it across the mountains to our home by 4pm on Saturday.  I quickly suggested he take a bath to get warm. He agreed and headed for the bathroom.  About an hour later he emerged, hungry, relaxed and anxious to get to know us.  Steve had asked if he could come over and meet Nao so I suggested that we do dinner ; at about 6pm Steve and Terry arrived.  It was one of those magical evenings that happen so rarely. We talked, exchanged stories and ate until we were ready to pop.  Nao turned out to be charming, pleasant and a very gracious guest.  I will remember the evening for a long time.  With my fading memory that could be months from now.   After dinner, us guys went down stairs to give Nao’s bike some tender loving care, which it needed badly. We reattached the front racks, cleaned and oiled the chain, pumped up the tires, and gave it a quick inspection.  Later Nao and I went upstairs to spend almost two hours planning his route to New York City. He was ready for his journey to continue in the morning. After I went to bed, Sue stayed up until midnight talking with Nao about who knows what.

Resting after dinner

Relaxing after dinner

The morning came; Nao had several bowls of cereal and began to ready himself and his bike for his journey to New York City where he was scheduled to arrive on December 23. We created a Skype connection so that he could contact us with his computer, if needed.  Shortly thereafter, Nao headed down the driveway.

After Nao had left, we found a note in his bedroom.  In the note was a twenty-dollar bill.  At first I considered getting in the car and catching him to give back the money but after reading the note I decided not to.  This is written in Nao’s own words.  He has only been learning English for three years. I’m impressed!

“I met woman in that time. (before he met us)  She listened my serious talking and gave this $20 to me. She gave money and I received money.  And also I received her kindness.  She said, “I can’t help you now, but use this money and stay in hotel. I want you guys receive this $20.  I mean it is not a staying fee, it means a woman’s kindness.”

I will keep this twenty and pass it forward when the time comes. Experiences like this one only intensify my belief that life is about the people you meet and the memories  you take from those meeting.  My only hope is that someday I will get to see Nao again!

After Nao returned to Japan, his country suffered a massive earthquake and tsunami which Nao and his family survived with minimal damage.  Based on his last message, he is anxious to hit the road again and explore another part of our planet.

Hard to imagine

We live in one of the greatest technological societies that has ever existed. Our standard of living is higher than any in the world even though lately it has declined significantly. With our ingenuity and hard work we have designed, engineered and created more innovations than any other country in the world. We consume more energy per capita than any other country. We buy and own more things than anybody else, yet, despite these rankings, we have the highest rate of gun assaults and killings of any developed country in the world!

One of the lines people parrot when discussing this topic is borrowed from Charlton Heston, “You can take my gun from my cold dead hand.” I believe that few Americans understand why gun ownership was so important to the founding fathers. Some of them believed that in order for the government to be kept in check, citizens must be able arm themselves against unwarranted government intrusion into their lives! Some scholars argue that the Second Amendment grants a right of insurrection. A distinct group of historians believe that the Second Amendment was designed to allow citizens to rebel against the government. Thomas Jefferson‘s quote suggest that: “A little rebellion every now and then is a good thing.” The founders knew that ‘absolute power corrupts absolutely’ and felt that in order to maintain the balance between government and the people’s rights, the people could take up arms. Moreover, they also saw gun ownership as essential to maintaining a standing army in case of war. For many reasons today’s world has changed well beyond the founders ability to recognize it. Having said all this, I am not against people having weapons in their homes for self-defense;  however I am against crazy people owning guns! Even though the Second Amendment clearly states that we have the right to bear arms, the question lingers none the less, at what cost to society?

So now we have another brutal massacre of our children in a public school by a crazy kid who may have hated his mother. Let’s hope all the mother-haters in our world don’t decide to go to their local school to kill a bunch of kids because they have a conflict with mom. We have also learned that the mother bought the guns which included several handguns and a repeating assault weapon! The question still haunts me, why would a mother buy an assault rifle? I can understand why a woman would buy a handgun for protection, but an assault weapon seems a little off the wall.

Now, we will begin once again this long boring, discussion on gun control, which thanks to the media, could go on for months or possibly years. The NRA will be leading the pack against gun control. Their opponent, which I do not believe is well organized, will hammer it out in every possible venue known to man, and in the end, nothing will change. I will still be able to go to a yard sale or an auction to buy a gun with no concern shown as to whether I am a mother hater or not.

Folks, we have a big decision to make in the next couple of years. Are we going to sit back and watch innocent people die because we do not want government involved in the control of weapons? Or, are we going to come up with a plan that allows normal, responsible Americans to own guns and the crazy or criminal types to have access to guns. This last attack has shown us something important that burrows deep into our soul; we are all vulnerable to this type of violence, and many of us have already been touched by it. The Fort Knox mentality does not work against crazed killers who have no regard for their own lives. As much as I disdain the media for hyping up of this event, (which includes interviewing children immediately afterwards), maybe it will force us to pull our heads from the sand to see what is happening in our country! Maybe, in the not too distant future, we will live in a safer world where we can send our children to school and know they will return home safely. I do not think that this is too much to ask for.

Our first biker from Mexico, a new age man

Gonzalo de la Pena Andreu contacted me through,  a site set up to help bicyclists find a safe place to stay or a tent site (depending on the weather) while trekking across our country. I cannot fully express the enjoyment our family has realized through this organization. Gonzalo is our most recent visitor, and just like all the others who have spent time in our home, he was a wonderful person with many good stories to tell about his adventures on the road. His life is reflects well a whole new culture that is developing in our world. With new technology, a person is no longer tethered to any one state or, for that matter, any country. As a graphic designer and webpage creator, Gonzoalo is able to bike around the country, stay as long as he likes at any one place and carry his job in his backpacks. All he needs is a wi-fi or a cell phone connection and so he can be at work anywhere he wants. He just spent some time in Pittsburgh then decided to travel to Washington, DC.  His first idea was to leave Pittsburgh at 6am and arrive at our home at 6pm. When he told me this, I suggested nicely that he was delusional. After several emails he decided that I might be right and therefore left from Uniontown instead of Pittsburgh which cut 60 miles off the 150 mile trip. Still, this is a very mountainous journey so and I was a little concerned for his safety since he would be arriving in the dark. To make matters worse, it started to rain when he reached the Romney mountain. At 6:30, in the dark and rain, I put the bike rack on the car and headed into Romney to see if I could find him. I did, only 4 miles from our home, wet and tired and anxious to get off his bike.

When we arrived at my home I suggested he take a warm shower, no play on words intended; and then we sat down for some enchiladas that Sue had made for our Mexican guest. It was a great evening, and the road stories flowed like water in a stream. Eventually the night began to have its effect on us so we retired for the evening. Gonzalo asked if he could spend an additional night if the rains continued; of course, we enthusiastically said yes!  The next day Gonzalo sat down at the kitchen table to spent several hours working on computer stuff and fixing my old laptop which he graciously did. It was a laid-back day, I worked in my shop, he worked on the computers and quickly the sun was gone. We all sat down for another great dinner and wonderful conversation.

Gonzalo December 10, 2012 033

The next morning I made some oatmeal while we discussed Gonzalo,s route. Soon after, he proceeded to load up his gear and strap it onto the bike; goodbyes were exchanged, pictures taken, promises were made to return someday and the time for departure was upon us. He mounted his bike, said one last goodbye and headed down the driveway. In a moment he was gone, ready to tackle treacherous West Virginia roads.

Gonzalo December 10, 2012 035

Memorable moments and interesting people pass through our lives every day but most of the time we never even know they exist. Gonzalo was one of these persons. I have said this so often that it now feels like preaching, life is about people! It is not about cars, houses or any other thing one may buy. People are often disappointing, rude and uninteresting but there are so many great people out there waiting to exchange ideas with us. There are so many wonderful and meaningful experiences to be had with unlimited numbers of people in the world. The more different they are, the more potential for learning. Over the last three years we have had three pre-Christmas guests who have been fantastic: one from Japan, one from China and one from Mexico. What could be a better time of year to open our house up and make new friends!?

knock knock, who’s there?

Who’s there?

Global Warming.
Global Warming, who?

Or maybe….

Knock, knock.
Who’s there?
Hurricane who?
Hurry! Cane you run away from the storm?

So now the World Bank has issued a report stating that the average temperature on our home planet, earth, is going to rise almost “ 7”  degrees in the next 40 years. Many of you probably say that this is of little concern. Of course, those people living along the coast are probably not in that group. I would imagine that many people living in New Jersey and New York have joined the ranks of believers in global climate change. After several years of increasingly weird weather patterns and warming trends around the planet, many die-hard anti-global-warming people are finally beginning to see the light. Many scientists for the last 30 years have been trying to warn us of the coming change in climate brought on by the industrial revolution. The science is simple and well researched; when you add significant amounts of CO2 to the atmosphere, more of the sun’s energy is trapped on the planet. This in turn causes temperatures to rise which then causes ice caps to melt, the oceans to rise and weather patterns to shift. The one point that many people do not realize is that if the ocean temperature rises enough, there will be a release of methane, a very potent greenhouse gas. There are immense stores of methane at the bottom of our oceans which are kept in balance by very cold sea water. If ocean temperatures continue to rise, this methane will be released and life will threatened on our little blue marble, which may then become more red than blue if methane levels are high enough. Increased levels of methane have already been observed over both polar caps, especially in areas where the ice has begun to crack. If this happens, the temperature of the earth will begin to rise much faster than anyone can predict.

So, all knock-knock jokes aside, what do we do to avoid this oncoming catastrophe? The truth may not be something you want to hear. There may be precious little we can do to slow this thing down. I will use the super oil tanker analogy to explain our problem. Oil tankers have tremendous amounts of mass and because of this, when they are moving they have tremendous momentum. That’s what keeps you from slowing down a car when its moving forward. When a tanker approaches a port it begins to slow down many miles from its destination. When the captain decides he wants to make a turn, he must make his decision many miles before hand. The global warming momentum that has been generated by our carefree use of the earth’s resources is larger than anyone can imagine and is not going to come to a stop because I walk or ride my bike to work. Now, if enough people decide to park their cars, conserve energy at home, try to recycle as much as possible, we may begin to slow the super tanker, but it is going to take many years for the tanker to come to a full stop.

This does not mean we should not try to save our home. It simply means that we are going to have to dramatically change our way of living, learn to recycle everything, begin to use energy more wisely, carpool whenever possible and become friends with the earth rather than viewing our earth like a taxi, a way to get us where we are going. Of course, science has some ideas that might eventually become feasible, like scattering aluminum glitter into orbit around the earth to reflect sunlight.  Throwing iron into the ocean to help plant life gobble up CO2 is another interesting ideas but these are all untested and could create other problems that we cannot anticipate at this time. In the end, it all comes back to us, the consumer. We can determine how this all unfolds by using products that are green  and earth friendly. The saddest thing of all is that we humans do not generally react responsibly until our house is on fire; then and only then, do we go out to buy that fire extinguisher.  As far as nature, Mother Earth or Gaia are concerned, it is simply the passing of another species who grew too big for their pants and became part of the fossil record.