Anecdotal Evidence .

Wednesday, December 22, 2004

It's All About God

If God is infinite, isn’t it possible, even likely, that God is all there is. Because that’s what infinite means. An infinite being (whatever) has no boundaries, no beginning and no ending, so there cannot be anything outside or beyond it, anywhere where something is but it is not. Whatever there is anywhere is within its purview, its universe, its self. And being infinite, it must be wholly whatever there is anywhere. So, if there is no thing that God isn’t, then God is all there is.

Also, if God is infinite, then everything in the universe (or Universe) is equally God, so that every little thing is wholly God, everything big thing is wholly God, and the entirety is wholly God. And there is no difference between a little thing, a big thing, or the entirety. They are all the same, identical, God. Again, it has to be that way if God is infinite. Any characteristics or aspects of an infinite being (whatever) must also be wholly infinite, for clearly the infinite-ness of the infinite being must permeate into every aspect of the infinite being’s self, making every aspect equally as infinite as the whole. Thus, the aspects and the whole of an infinite being are essentially identical.

And the same applies to the (apparent) creations of an infinite being. Again, being infinite, an infinite being (whatever) cannot exclude itself from anything.

So, it’s all about God. In the simple words of Mahatma Gandhi, “If you don't find God in the next person you meet, it is a waste of time looking for him further”.

Forgive Me, Father

The headline on today’s Bangor (Maine) Daily News reads “Mainers Killed in Iraq”. In the story, we learn that two Maine citizens were killed in yesterday’s bomb attack in Mosul and ten others were injured. As far as I know, these were the first casualties suffered by Mainers in Iraq.

Of course, I know that there is nothing special about Mainers dying in Iraq, not when more than a thousand Americans have already died there, tens of thousands been wounded, and god knows how many Iraqis killed and injured. But I live in Maine, and so, as I walked past the newstand in the supermarket, today’s headline shouted out at me particularly loudly, and made it personal.

Responding on television to the bomb attack, President Bush turned his head to the side in his customary childlike gesture, grinned an “aw shucks” smile, and voiced some tired line about “vital for peace”.

I hate this president's demeanor. I know that I should not, that I must not hate any living soul, that it is bad for my mental and physical and spiritual health to do so, even that it is a sin to do so. But I cannot help myself. I hate this president’s off-hand, golly-gee manner when asked about the terrible sacrifices real-life men, women and children, American and Iraqi, are making every day, day after day, night after night, losing their limbs, losing their families and their homes, losing their lives, because of his ill-conceived policies.

God help us all. God forgive us all.

Monday, December 20, 2004

What They Want To Hear

In the early 1970s, during the petroleum crunch that caused long gasoline lines around service stations throughout the United States, I happened to be serving as Administrative Officer at the American Embassy in, well, let’s call it Gazinga.

One day during those weeks, the Embassy received a telegram from the Department of State in Washington concerning the crisis, instructing us to report on the efforts we were taking to cut back on the amount of gasoline and other petroleum products being used by the Embassy and the staff, including their families.

I drafted a reply for the Ambassador’s signature. In it, I explained our situation, which was that Gazinga received no petroleum products, including gasoline, from OPEC members, and therefore Gazinga was not feeling any of the pinch being experienced in the United States. I wrote that, considering those circumstances, no steps were considered necessary, and none had been taken, by the Embassy in Gazinga to reduce the use of petroleum products by the American staff or their families.

On reading my draft, the Ambassador said simply, “That’s not what they want to hear”. A career diplomat, who had served many years and learned very well the ways of Washington, the Ambassador explained to me that this message from Washington had undoubtedly been generated by a demand from one of the foreign affairs committees in Congress, for a demonstration that the Department of State was sharing in the nation’s pain, and was taking appropriate steps to alleviate it. Therefore, he continued, our response must be an affirmation that the American Embassy in Gazinga was joining Americans at home and around the world in meeting the challenge posed by the OPEC cartel, and in that effort, we had reduced the use of all petroleum products by all members of the Embassy community. “That’s the message,” he told me, “that the Department of State wants to hear from us and from every other American Embassy around the globe, so that it can go to the Hill, and proclaim, We’re doing our part.”

And so the Embassy's response was rewritten to reflect the Ambassador's observation.

Is that any way to run a government? The question did not arise, but I suppose the answer depends on who's asking.

Saturday, December 18, 2004

How's that again?

Nearing four decades ago, my first overseas assignment in the Foreign Service was to the American Consulate in Palermo on the island of Sicily, in Italy. From the moment we arrived, my wife and I took every opportunity to travel in and around the island, and by the time we were transferred, two years later, we had visited nearly every town and village.

Even our very first weekend there, we rented a car, and drove along the then-newly constructed autostrada (high-speed, divided highway) along the Mediterranean coast to a deserted beach at a nearby village, where we enjoyed a picnic of local wine and bread and cheese.

In fact, we enjoyed that outing so much, we decided to return to the same village the following weekend, only this time to do some more exploring. As we planned the second trip, I was concerned that I couldn’t remember the name of the village, but my wife reassured me that she had made a mental note of the name that appeared on the sign where we left the autostrada. She was certain she would recognize it again.

Now, I had grown up in Italy, and besides that, had been assigned to several months of Italian language classes at the Department of State’s Foreign Service Institute in Arlington, Virginia before we left, so when we arrived in Palermo, my language skills were pretty good. My wife, on the other hand, spoke virtually no Italian at that point (although, to her considerable credit, she taught herself while we there, so that she was eventually able to carry on a simple conversation quite nicely).

Anyway, that second weekend, we got in the car, and set out. Some miles from Palermo, I asked my wife for the name of the town, so that we could both be on the lookout for the sign. With utmost confidence, she responded, “Uscita. The name of the town where we picnicked last weekend is Uscita.”

Well, here’s the thing. Uscita is the Italian word for “exit”. So the name my wife saw on the sign as we left the autostrada the preceding weekend was the same name that was on the sign at every off-ramp the full length of the highway: Uscita … or Exit.

We didn’t find the town that weekend, but we did find another, just as beautiful.

Postscript: There was another American officer at the Consulate while I was there who spoke Italian poorly, and so he conducted almost all his business in English. When confronted by an Italian who happened not to understand English and therefore did not understand what was being said, my colleague simply raised his voice, and spoke louder, as if increasing the volume somehow increased the intelligibility. Funny world.

Friday, December 17, 2004


A little over thirty years ago, my wife and I resigned a successful career in the US Foreign Service, purchased some wooded acreage in rural Maine, and cleared enough of the land for a house and a vegetable garden. We did it all ourselves, including building the house from the ground up. We had never done anything like it before, and it was scary, very scary. Our fear, and certainly our inexperience, must have been evident, because we learned later that a group of the men in the small town into which we had moved, placed bets among themselves as to when we would give up. (They all lost.) I suppose that from time to time I will write more on this blog about our early experiences in Maine, but today I want to share an event that set the tone for the following three decades.

We began clearing the land in April, and started construction on the house about a month or so later; by mid-fall we were moved in. The project cost us a lot of the money we brought with us from what by then we had come to call “the world”, and so we were feeling a little pinched. We were okay, and we knew we were going to continue to be okay, but watching the checking account balance dwindle had its effect.

So, when our neighbor about a mile up the road telephoned one evening to ask if we would like to contribute money to a charity operated by the local church, we responded that we couldn’t do so, because, we said, “We’re broke”. Now, what we meant by that was not that we were poverty-stricken or destitute, not broke in the literal sense. Rather, we used the expression that evening in the same way we had used it hundreds of times in “the world”, to mean, “I haven’t got any cash on me, and I don’t feel like writing a check” or simply, “now’s not a good time”. But our neighbor heard it differently.

About an hour later, there was a gentle knock on our front door. It was our neighbor, standing in the dark, with a basket of food in her hands – some flour, a little sugar, several cans of soup and beans, a few pieces of fruit, and the like. “My husband and I have collected these from your neighbors up and down the road,” she said, handing the basket to us. “We want you to know that as long as you live in this town, you will never starve”.

We were stunned. And embarrassed.

My wife and I had visited and lived in foreign countries before moving to Maine, and we well knew that the same or similar expressions can mean different things in different cultures. But it had never occurred to us to apply that rule between Maine and Washington, DC. We apologized to our neighbor for that oversight. Since then, our friendship with her and her husband, and with our other neighbors up and down the road, and our love for the state of Maine, has grown and continues to grow in depth and scope, but that encounter that autumn evening was something truly special.