Category: Humor (Page 3 of 28)

Short essays that I have written

Isolation is not Incarceration

Isolation is not Incarceration

I have never been incarcerated, but I came close once. It happened when I was a young teenager. My brother, two years older than I, and another fellow comrade were at our farm in Pennsylvania when we heard a dog barking and watched as it chased a deer from our small game reserve. We quickly decided, quite unwisely, to shoot the dog, which was owned by men hunting on a nearby farm. They took us to court and my brother and friend were sentenced to a week at a juvenile detention center. I was left off the hook because there were only two guns and I, being the youngest, was last in line, so I never visited the detention center.

Years later, I needed a police clearance to get a visa for New Guinea, so I went to our town’s police station to ask for one. The officer in charge duly rifled through his 3 x 5 cards and pulled one out with my name on it. He looked at me with a smile and said, “Had a little trouble with a dog one time, did you?” “Yes,” I said rather sheepishly. He laughed and gave me the police clearance. I hope that the record wasn’t transferred later to a computer file.

Someone has used the word “incarceration” to describe the “shelter-in-place” order that we had. However, it doesn’t quite fit: we were not confined to jail or completely isolated from the general public. Nevertheless, because COVID-19 is a disease that is transmitted from individual to individual, we were told to avoid strangers, crowds and, if possible, stay at home: “shelter-in-place” is the polite terminology. But we were not really in isolation, incarcerated, with only bread and water.

However, during this pandemic, the word “isolation” and “quarantine” may engender feelings of loneliness, seclusion, and segregation. There are certainly cases of severe isolation. I recently saw a TV program about the history of West Point where the first African American to attend was “isolated” from his classmates during his entire four years. Nevertheless, he stayed at the school in virtual detention until he graduated. He performed an unusual but necessary act of bravery and paved the way for future “people of color.”

It is true that some prisoners not only face isolation but an extreme form of it: solitary confinement. We once visited a historical prison site in Australia where prisoners were led to church blindfolded and shielded from one. Solitary confinement is an extreme form of punishment that involves isolation to the extent that the prisoner has no educational, vocational, or rehabilitative programs. It is much worse than the isolation of “shelter in place.”

Seclusion can take extreme forms and some of the Desert Fathers and Mothers practiced asceticism by living in caves, cisterns and even trees. The most radical of the monks were the Stylites, the most famous of whom was Simeon, who lived on a small platform on top of his pillar for 34 years (some sources say 37 years). Despite his lifestyle—or perhaps because of it—crowds of pilgrims invaded his area to seek counsel or his prayers. No social distancing was practiced by the hordes of people who wanted his help.

Another famous hermit was St Antony, reputedly the first monk, who had to keep moving farther and farther into the desert for solitude. He ate little, wore itchy clothing, and rarely bathed. He is quoted as saying “Just as fish die if they stay too long out of water, so the monks who loiter outside their cells … lose the intensity of inner peace.” A fair warning to those of us who wander too far from our shelters.

We have heard of Francis of Assisi, but what about Clare of Assisi? There had been female hermits in the Egyptian desert and Clare was about 18 when she joined the movement Francis had started. Her order established the “privilege of property,” the right to own nothing. Clare’s primary contributions consisted of her writings, but she was best known for her poverty, humility, and charity. A good lesson for all of us in exile at the present time.

There is a very little difference between being lonely and being lonesome. A person who lives a lonely life has less emotional involvement with others than a person who is simply lonesome. A lonesome person may be depressed or sad because there are no friends to visit and no companionship. Sort of like having the “Covid Blues,” perhaps an appropriate name for a ragtime rendition that Monty could devise.

Jesus and his cousin John must have been close friends because when Jesus heard the news about John’s assassination he was distraught and went “to a lonely place by himself” (Matt 14:13). Sometimes, before daylight, or even all night, Jesus would go to a lonely place and pray. He did not want to be distracted in his prayers.

We should have time to pray during “lockdown,” but sometimes praying is not that simple. C. S. Lewis notes that, although there are passages in the NT that seem to promise the granting of our prayers, this cannot be what they mean. For example, Christ himself prayed three times that the cup of suffering (his death) would be eliminated, but it was not. “After that the idea that prayer is recommended to us as a sort of infallible gimmick may be dismissed” (in Fern-seed and Elephants (and other essays on Christianity), edited by Walter Hooper, p. 98).

In other words, simply praying that coronavirus will go away will not work. We do need to practice isolation, social distancing and take the necessary precautions to help stop the spread of the virus. I may be tired of washing my hands and not touching my face, especially when I need to itch my proboscis, but I am trying. I don’t want my name written down on another 3 x 5, or showing up as a COVID delinquent on some computer file.

Sheltering, for the most part
Karl and Joice Franklin

Show Me the Scars

When I was young and a member of the 4-H club and Future Farmers of America, I decided to build a chicken coop. Due to my deficient carpenter skills, I sawed through the thumbnail and skin of my left thumb. For a long time, there was a noticeable scar and I could point to it and tell my chicken coop story. But now it is gone. and I have no physical evidence to show.

The apostle Thomas is known as “the doubter” because he was unsure of the resurrection of Jesus so he wanted to see the scars on his hands and his side. He wanted physical evidence before he would believe that Jesus had risen from the dead (John 20:25).

Recently I was listening and watching my son expound on this passage at his church (online of course) in Melbourne, Australia. He briefly told of two large vertical scars on his left forearm, the result of an accident in Papua New Guinea years ago. “If I told you the story,” he said, “you might find it hard to believe, but If I showed you the scars, you would have to take the story seriously.” The scars were the proof of the accident. The story, if described in gory detail, would tell of “donor plates,” complications from the PNG operation, surgery later in Australia with a bone graft, eventual healing, and the resulting scars are hideous. He has the evidence engraved on his forearm.

There are also scars that are not physical, and we are reading about them from the coronavirus pandemic. They are not just the physical, but also emotional, social, and economic. A COVID-19 death leaves a “scar” in the family when a member of the family dies and only memories remain. We can look at a picture of the person, but it is like looking at a scar because the picture reminds us of an individual we knew but is now gone.

There are terrible scars in our world: those of genocide, ethnocide, famine, alcoholism, war and post-traumatic stress, and the list goes on. Great scars where once there were thriving social groups and communities, men and women who had hopes of a happy life.

Some of us have particular physical scars: I have two indentations, where drainage tubes were inserted when my appendix burst when I was about 10 years of age. I also have a scar on the back of my left cheek from sledding. It happened when I inadvertently tried to go through a barbwire fence. However, behind—actually underneath—every scar is a story, usually representing something that was traumatic at the time, although later we may make them into enjoyable (and hopefully, believable) tales.

I probably would have been like Thomas, so I can’t blame him—I would have wanted evidence. However, once Thomas was convinced, he went on to accomplish great things.

It takes a while for a scar to form: the healing process takes several days or weeks. The scars in Jesus hands and on his sides would have been fresh and there were no sutures to close the wounds. Thomas may put his hand on a healing wound, with scar tissue still forming. It might not have been a very pleasant experience.

We are going through a scarring process with COVID-19 and it seems to be taking a long time for the disease to heal. New cases keep cropping up and some people die, leaving a void, a different kind of scar.

We don’t make a wound heal by continually examining it, or by picking at the scab that is forming. The body wants to heal and so do most communities and societies. However, we want matters to hurry up so we can “get on with it” and “get back to normal.” It will be a new and different kind of “normal” with scars to remind us of what it was like.

Following a physical wound and its healing, we should be able to use that part of the body again. But not always, we may have crippled ourselves or have continuing pain. Similarly, we need to be realistic and know that things are different now and the coronavirus pain may linger on. The pandemic will end, but the scars will be there. They can remind us of the disease, but also of God’s mercy and the body’s healing power.

Sheltering in Place
Karl and Joice Franklin

Zooming In and Out

Like many people, we are learning to “Zoom.” On Easter evening our Aussie and Texas families had a “Zoom” session. Eighteen of us appeared in mass and talked, mostly in turn but sometimes all at once. We were in our own homes and we looked great, despite being in “isolation.” I my be paranoid because, after the 6th person signed in, I went and washed my hands.

We were from many different backgrounds: Live Oak high school students (2), a Baylor student (sophomore), a Baylor professor, a medical doctor, an architect, a midwife, a senior mission executive, a book room manager, a videographer, a counselor, a special education teacher, a graphic artist, young boys and two old retired missionaries. Lots of stories and experiences—much like in any extended family.

Two wonderful features of Zoom: you can turn your sound or video off and disappear for a time. Unfortunately, they will observe you doing this and ask if you are “alright.”

On the one hand, it is too bad that it takes a virus to make us communicate this way. On the other hand, maybe our joy can spread out better and faster, like the virus, and we can build up antibodies against future isolation—perhaps we can contribute to a pandemic of love and caring for each other in ways that we have not previously done.

It is wonderful to have family and friends in other countries because the internet extends our worldview, making us conscious of the joys and difficulties that others have. There are several Papua New Guineans that email and “message” us, that reminds us of another life we once had. Another friend from New Zealand called to wish me happy birthday, as did over 70 or so others on Facebook. It may not be fun getting old, but it is enjoyable to hear from so many people.

Much of the world is in isolation now, due to the pandemic COVID-19, and we are learning new ways to communicate with those we know and love. Technologies like Zoom, Skype, Google Hangout and others are on the market and have allowed thousands of people to stay connected. The program Zoom is the most popular, although it was only founded in 2011 and went public on the Nasdaq in 2019.

If you are tired of Zoom or Skype, consider other alternatives: “BlueJeans” can handle up to 15,000 participants in meetings and should be big enough for even the largest Waco extended family. If you know what the I-cloud is, you might want to try “Lifesize Video Conferencing,” where you can see up to 50 participants in living High Definition video. Another program, “WebEx Meetings” can host up to 40,000 people, big enough for even the largest Waco church. “GoToMeeting” can work on any device and features “business messaging, smart transcription, one-click meetings and more” (there is always more).

I knew that my grandchildren were technocrats and users, but I was surprised to see how up-to-date and helpful my daughter is. With the work-at-home order in place from Baylor, she has had to teach her Medical Spanish and Spanish Linguistics courses online. She has tried to teach me, too, and I have learned a bit—like making sure the mike is muted when I burp.

In our family Zoom session, we could look at each other, being careful not to mention wrinkles or blemishes. The current technology allows you to zoom in and enlarge them to the size of Mt St Helens. We can even show what we were currently working on—our granddaughter displayed a blanket she had just crocheted. Husbands and wives were sitting next to each other and learning that their spouses were quite interesting and nice people. As family entities we were all obeying the “social distancing” and not gathering in groups, which is bit difficult because, if followed according to the letter of the law, it would mean creating a fake zoom person next to everyone.

Microsoft Word has a dropdown menu called “view” and one of the choices is “zoom.” I like it because it allows me to grow the font size large—150% in my case, so that I can see better. That seems to be what the Zoom program does as well: it enlarges our vision and ability to go across the ocean and meet with family, assuring us that we are interacting. But be careful, no nodding off or looking at your phone—you will be noticed by a whole band of people.

Some people can’t Zoom, and we should be aware of them. They might not even be able to get within 6 feet of their family or friends. They may be homeless, vagrants, immigrants without access for help, or someone shutout by society and shut in by sickness. However, we can “zoom” in on them (up to 6 feet) and pray for them.

Well, I had better click on “leave the meeting” and sign out now.

Karl and Joice Franklin
Many days isolated, but not counting carefully
April, 2020

Terms of Endearment

I never saw the movie “Terms of Endearment,” but is widely acclaimed as a great drama with some comedy, romance, as well as great acting. It got me thinking about the endearment terms lovers and friends call each other and how relevant this might be during our “stay at home,” “shelter in place,” and “lock down” orders.

Although it may be psychologically revealing to note what spouses, lovers, or family members call each other, I am not interested in it for that reason. For example, I have a friend who calls his wife “hey.” I don’t know why, but she responds as if he had called her “sweetheart,” “honey bunch” or some other romantic label. They seem to have a great marriage and it wouldn’t matter if she replied, “What do you want ‘dude’?”

We were teaching linguistics in England one summer and would go out for an ice cream after classes in the afternoon. The proprietor of the little neighborhood store we frequented would greet me with, “And what would it be today, luv?” Her moniker for customers was “love” and she said it very sweetly and sincerely, although with an accent I hardly understood.

My wife can talk on the telephone, skype, or zoom, but right now she has only me to talk to in person, so it is important to note how she addresses me. If I hear “Karl dear,” there might be something to fix; “Karl honey,” might implore me to read something with her or watch a TV show together. “Karl darling,” causes me to look around to see what clothes I have inadvertently and without malice discarded on a chair. On the other hand, a rather loud “Karl,” will indicate that she doesn’t know which of the rooms I am in and wants attention.

Couples have their favorite terms, and, over the years, I have heard many terms of endearment that play on the theme of sweetness. Some were indeed so sweet that I felt embarrassed. I don’t mind “hubby,” but “prince charming” makes me feel insecure and “Casanova,” “handsome” or “Romeo” are out of my league.

I know that endearing terms vary from culture to culture. I read that in France a man might call his partner a “little cabbage,” but in Thailand she might be a “little elephant.” Both the vegetable and the animal must somehow remind the man of his loved one—best not to imagine how.

I had a look on the Internet and found multiple endearing terms. Does your husband call you “sugar,” “pumpkin,” “muffin,” “peach” or “sweetie pie”? If he does, he might want you to get him something to eat. But be suspicious if he calls you “angel,” “dove,” “sunshine,” or “doll,” because he has probably forgotten to get you something for your birthday and without a face mask he can’t go out and buy anything for you now.

A woman may call her husband “hubby,” but would he call her “wifey”? I don’t think so. He might call her “beautiful,” “blue eyes,” (or “brown/green,” but not “red,” unless she had pink eye or too much to drink), even “gorgeous.” She could reply with, “my stud,” “my king,” “big-guy,” “tiger,” or “man of my dreams.” Men, be honest: even in isolation, has she called you any of those?

Parents have been known to call their little children “snookums,” “wookums,” “sweetums,” or even “munchkin,” “jelly bean,” and “sweetpea.” However, those are not spouse-like names. Husbands, don’t try using them—stick to less tear-inducing ones like, “baby doll,” “my queen,” “sweet cheeks,” or even, in desperation, “hot mama.”

I read that “bae,” is a current and popular endearing term, but I have no idea what it means. The British use “poppet,” which sounds better than Americans who use “teddy bear,” “cuddle bear,” or “honey bear.” There are no bears in England so women would have to call their husbands by unique animal names like “Natterjack toad,” “St Kilda field mouse,” or a “Fiar Isle wren.” That is better than in Australia where women could call their husband a “wombat,” “joey,” “platypus,” or “echidna.” I have never heard spouses call each other those names when we lived in Australia, but I didn’t frequent the pubs.

Think about this: you are in isolation and your best other friend—a dog—is licking your hand and showing affection. What name might you use to return that fondness? Certainly not “Rover,” “Sport,” or “Prince.” Instead, the “in thing” is to call your dog “Quiche,” “Kale,” or Hummus,” and prove that you are “cool.”

Some of you have your teenage kids with you in isolation. I won’t ask what you call them, because they might reciprocate with some embarrassing parental nicknames of their own.

The wonderful thing for Christians is that we will be given a new name: “All who are victorious will become pillars in the Temple of my God, and they will never have to leave it. And I will write on them the name of my God, and they will be citizens in the city of my God—the new Jerusalem that comes down from heaven from my God. And I will also write on them my new name” (Revelation 3:12).

“Name the family member contest”
Day 27 and counting (slowly)
Karl and Joice Franklin

Flatten the Curve

Right now we are having a plague throughout the world and in the U.S. (and other places) we are told to help “flatten the curve,” meaning that we should spread the number of people with the sickness out, instead of having them lumped in one place—like in NYC.

I never imagined that anyone who had been to school and helped by the grading curve would want to flatten it. The curve helped me get through a couple of courses in college and I was very happy for it.

The curve that our teachers applied was related to the “bell curve,” a statistical measurement that shows what the expected variation is for any set of data. When the data is plotted on a graph, the line usually shows the shape of a bell or hill and the normal variation will be towards the middle of the hill.

Teachers use the curve in examining their tests by assuming that the scores of the class will form a bell curve, if the test is a good one. When the teacher plots the test scores and, if no one has a high mark, the assumption the teacher makes is that the test was too difficult, and a curve will be applied to adjust the scoring upwards. The teacher does this by adding points to the scores or bumping up one student’s score to 100%, then adding the same number of points to everyone else’s score. There are many ways that the teacher can adjust the curve, including taking the square root of the test percentage and making it a new grade, or standing on one’s head and writing backwards.

Test score curve procedures are said to apply to sick people because we are told that flattening the curve will push them out and make the sickness go away. I never wanted the curve to go away in college. The smart kids were not our friends if they didn’t help us get bumped up in the curve—we were like a flat tire and needed pumping up.

Similarly, we want to know how many people are actually sick, not the average number of people who are not sick but think they may be.

There are other kinds of curves. For example, there are some bad ones on the mountain roads of rural Pennsylvania where I grew up. The early road builders followed goat trails and goats don’t walk or climb in a straight line. Instead of flattening the curves in the road, the engineers tried to make the road straighter. They couldn’t always do this due to rivers, mountains and the determined farmer or hermit who would make the road builders go around them.

There was a very bad curve on a corner near the general store in our community. The natives knew about it but city travelers, out for a drive in the countryside, would not be aware of the curve until it was too late and they ended up in the yard of Clayt Williams, who lived south of the curve. Consequently, his lawn often looked like an off-road mud track. The city drivers would apologize and pay Clayt to have their car towed back to the “main” highway. There was no way to straighten the curve and flattening it would not have helped.

Sometimes mapmakers do flatten the curves and make Interstates and main roads look like they are in a straight line. Without flashing yellow lights, luminous signs and guard rails, the casual driver will believe what he sees on a map. The result is the same as driving into Clayt’s yard.

However, now with GPS and Sandra, the mythical navigator who gives us directions, it is difficult to go astray, although unfortunately Sandra does not warn drivers about curves. She will say, “Turn left on Edgemont Street in 300 yards,” but most drivers are anxious. They will see the street that has a left curve, but it is 100 yards too soon. The curve was flattened, but it was the wrong one.

John the Baptist, like Elijah before him, wanted the roads straight for the Lord to travel. Isaiah reported that they wanted the valleys and potholes filled in as well. They expected this to happen without a GPS or maps. Imagine if that would help by “flattening the curve” in our neighborhood.

Sheltering to help “Flatten the Curve,”
Day 21 and counting (slowly)
Karl and Joice Franklin

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