That is the question?

To be honest, I don't get it. As I am preparing to enter my 70s in just a couple of weeks, one would think that I would be slowing down a bit. This is a time for many to kick off their shoes and enjoy retirement. This is a time to mellow out and benefit from the fruits of their long labor.

That is not my modes operandi, and I don't get why I can't chill out. I have all sorts of unrealized goals. I have a simple goal of getting to my fighting weight by my birthday on January 20, 2013. Okay, that is not a Herculean task. I only have 6-pounds to lose. I do 45-minutes a day on an elliptical trainer. I also do 300+ sit-ups during the workout.

I have a grandson, Jack, who is 2½. Several months ago while wrestling with him, I was on my back, and he was standing on my stomach. For some reason, he starting to walk on my stomach and noticed me grimacing. My reaction encouraged him to continue to walk on my stomach - even harder. On that day in the early fall, I resolved to expand my daily crunches several fold. For several months since then, I have done 300/per day. I assure you on my birthday that Jack will know that I am in shape at least cardiovascularly and abdominally. He will be able to jump on my stomach to his heart's content on January 20th without a grimacing face of his Papa.

While my health-kick may not seem that far off the wall even at my age, I have a long list of other issues that have caused me to address either in articles, traveling, classroom discussion, or just in conversation to anyone who will listen.

For example, the political situation in Tibet has rattled me for several decades. I have attempted to interview the Dalia Lama several times unsuccessfully. I want to learn about how he feels about what should be done to free this country from political and religious oppression.

I have been to Tibet twice in the past dozen years. In the most recent time, I taught a class there to American students. The Chinese have no business from a historical perspective for occupying Tibet. Nevertheless, they are there dealing with people who simply wished to be left alone to worship and go about their cultural ways.

Suu Kyi with her family prior to her father's killingSuu Kyi is in the white with her family
prior to her father's killing
Burma is another case that has troubled me. Aung San was the George Washington of Burma. He told the British that the Burmese wished to be free of their colonial rule. Surprisingly, the British accepted his demand. Even though the British left, some crazed local Burmese had issues with Aung San and assassinated him leaving a 2½ year old daughter without a father. That daughter, Aung San Suu Kyi, has made freeing Burma her quest for much of her adult life. She wants to free the Burmese people not from the British who left on January 4, 1948 but from the military rule that started in the early part of 1962.
Anng San Suu Kyi Flag of National League for Democracy
Aung San Suu Kyi Flag of National League for Democracy

As a result, she suffered nearly 15 years out of 21 living under house arrest. At the end of 2013, I will be in Burma and hopefully get an opportunity to talk with her. As a history professor, I cannot think of any other female leader worldwide whether politically or socially that has been more courageous and effective than she. In the past two years, she has worked within the legislative branch of the Myanmar government to assure freedom for her people.

Alex Salmond Alex Salmond
Having studied in Scotland over 4-decades ago, I have become increasing interested in Scottish independence from the UK. While I am not either a Tibetan or a Burmese ethnically, I am Scottish. A part of my family can trace our roots back a couple hundred years ago to Scotland. Within a couple of months, my wife, Ann, and I will be in Scotland for about a month. I hope to interview the First Minister of Scotland, Alex Salmond. There is a referendum scheduled for 2014 to decide whether Scotland should leave the UK.
Forty-five years ago, there was a very small vocal minority that wanted independence from London. However, much to my surprise and interest, the number has grown a great deal. I would like to talk with Salmond about the issues from his position about devolution from the UK.

There are other issues that take up a lot of my time beyond governmental problems in Tibet, Burma, and Scotland even though if you look at my car, you will find at front license plate with the Tibetan flag and two stickers on the back about Burma and Scotland.

Tibet license plate Independence for Scotland Free Burma

In the early 70s, the Presbyterian denomination withdrew from the Consultation on Church Union (COCU) having been one of the major architects of that ecumenical effort. That reaction also bothered me. I was able to go to the General Assembly and got the Presbyterians back into COCU.

Prior to COCU, there were other issues for which I fought. During my senior year in high school and college years, I spent a lot of time within the civil rights movement. I have gone into the South leading students and work groups in an effort to speed up the end of overt segregation. Those were the days of demonstrations and marches. We knew then that the civil rights movement would overcome racism even though there were times of personal risk.

Over the years, feminism and gay rights have also been causes that I readily rallied around. Like the civil rights movement, we have made great progress in all three areas. While total equality still has a long ways to go, we have traveled a far greater distance to where we are today.

I was elected to a school board in Dixon, IL. I was on the board for just a couple of meetings before we had trouble with the buses that an outside contractor supplied the school district. I had a friend who worked for the state agency dealing with inspection of vehicles. We went on an unofficial inspection of the outside contractor's school buses. The list of violations was extremely long for only a handful of buses that we inspected.

Some of the glaring and potentially life-threatening issues: a rear emergency door was bolted shut, a flat tire, directional signals and brake lights that didn't work, etc. At the next board meeting, I brought the list of the school bus with their numbers and the violations that each had.

It didn't take long for the board to terminate our contract with the bus company. While I believed that that action was imperative, we did not have a back-up company or any plan to bus the students of the district for the remainder of that school year. I had many calls from irate parents for several months that had to drive their children to school. However, after listening and agreeing with them about that inconvenience, I told them that it was better than going to a funeral for a young child due to an accident because of these obvious violations.

After the mess with the buses, there were protests that some parents had about some of the books being used in high school literature classes. I can't recall all the books on their book-banning list, but I do recall that Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain was at the top of the list.

I had done some post-graduate work at the University of Edinburgh in the late 60s. Once I arrived in Scotland, I was required to sign up for their National Health program. I went to a doctor to sign up but told him that I was not working in the UK, I didn't pay for National Health, I was young and without any health concerns. The doctor sat me down in his office and gave me a lecture that I never forgot about the ethical mandate of universal healthcare. Several months later, I got a cold and then another that winter and saw the system work. The British were committed to caring for any person within the country whether or not they were a citizen or had paid into the National Health program. I have talked about having a universal healthcare program for Americans for over 4-decades before Obama was able to get it passed in 2010.

The political issues recently in the States have been very disturbing. The persona of this mess is Romney. He along with the birthers, tea party, and the radical-right make absolutely no sense. I get that several people in America can't put 2 and 2 together and come up with the correct answer. I am willing to accept that reality.

Romney is such a person. In addition, he has been for and against the same issue. However, that flip-flopping or just not making any logical sense is one thing but having millions rallying around Romney is absolutely bewildering. The last presidential election was amazing with Romney's various positions. Fortunately, America gave Obama an overwhelming mandate. I just don't get why anyone voted for him.

Even though I can't figure out how people can say "amen" to political or social nonsense, I accept that I can't understand them or that nonsense. What I don't understand is why I can't just sit back and chill out and leave the battles for sanity to others - those half my age. I have roughly 15-20 years left at the max here on earth. I ought to just relax and enjoy life without respect to the intellectual disconnect of so many. Why can't I just settle back and chill?

Here is a good illustration of not settling back. I have already planned our trip to Scotland. I have the tickets, hotel reservations in London and Edinburgh already, and a rental waiting for us at the airport in Edinburgh on our arrival - four months before taking off.

Okay, I plan ahead. I get that. However, I already have a rough itinerary worked-out for the trip to Burma a year from now. I have been talking to Burmese in the States about Burma and the political situation there. We have talked about the places where I plan to visit and people with whom I want to talk. I would love to interview Aung San Suu Kyi. I have already read more in the past 6-years about Aung San Suu Kyi than 95% of our country.

In the past 15-years, I have interviewed for my web page and for my college classes some very important people many of whom are known around the world. None of them would hold a candle in comparison with Suu Kyi. Interviewing her would be the most rewarding experience in my life outside my family.

Saint Basil's Cathedral Moscow Kremlin
Saint Basil's Cathedral Moscow Kremlin

I've even thought about a trip to Russia to see the Kremlin, St. Basil's, and Moscow in general. However, I sincerely want to visit St. Petersburg and see where Rasputin was killed. The Moika Palace is where the conspirators started the long process of assassinating Rasputin. It took several efforts (poisoning, castration, and shooting him) prior to throwing him in to the Neva River to kill him...finally.



The Mad Monk - RasputinThe Mad Monk - Rasputin
Now, to be quite honest with the reader, the story about him being poisoned, castrated, shot, and tied up in a rug to drown is debated by some. There are those that think that the killing was done by two British Secret Intelligence Service (SIS) officers. Regardless of who did it, Rasputin intrigues me and especially his relationship with Czar Nicholas II and his family.
Not only can't people agree upon the assassin, there is not a certain date of this death. The problem is in part based upon which version of which calendar one is using. The Mad Monk was killed on either December 17, 29, or 30, 1916. Regardless of your choice of a particular day in December, Rasputin died 96 years ago. I'll be in Burma next December but being in Russia in 2016, the centennial of his death, would be a hoot for me.

One other strange aspect of Rasputin's life or rather his death is that Tsarina Alexandra had Rasputin's body buried. However, others dug him up and took him to out into the woods to cremate him. They didn't want a shrine containing his remains so that his supporters could visit his resting place. As his grave-robbers laid out his body on a funeral pyre, the tendons in his dead body tighten. The result was that Rasputin looked like he sat up while the flames consumed him.

I don't know anyone who is 70 that is as interested in the entire story of Rasputin as I am. And what difference does it make to me in my life? I don't get it. Nonetheless, I want to pursue the story by visiting St. Petersburg. I even drink a beer named in his honor Old Rasputin. Actually, it is stout. This is a photo that I took after having an Old Rasputin on December 30, 2012 as my memorial to the Mad Monk.

Rasputin Stout

While I have traveled all over the world, there are places that I haven't been to or places that I missed when I was in a particular country. For example, we missed visiting Robinson Crusoe Island off the cost of Chile when we were in Santiago. This is just a photo of the island, which is a part of the Juan Fernández Archipelago. Daniel Defoe wrote about Alexander Selkirk who was a castaway on Más a Tierra Island. Chile renamed the island, Robinson Crusoe Island. Defoe's book was actually entitled: The Life and Strange Surprizing Adventures of Robinson Crusoe, of York, Mariner: Who lived Eight and Twenty Years, all alone in an un-inhabited Island on the Coast of America, near the Mouth of the Great River of Oroonoque; Having been cast on Shore by Shipwreck, wherein all the Men perished but himself. With An Account how he was at last as strangely deliver'd by Pirates.

Robinson Crusoe Robinson Crusoe published in 1719


Robinson Crusoe Island

I have also wanted to go to Peru to journey up into the Andes. I'd love to talk with the locals about their lives and their ideas.

Peruvian woman

A Peruvian woman and child

While I have been to Paris a number of times, I have not had the opportunity to visit the sewers of the city. Hugo mentioned them in his novel, Les Miserables.

Paris sewers

Paris sewers

Then there are the various stans in the southern underbelly of Russia: Hayastan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan. Before the reader wishes to call my attention to the fact that I have limited amount of time to do all that I wish to do, I do realize that my time is precious and quite limited.

The Russian Stans The Russian Stans

With this quick overview of my past nearly 70-years, I realize two things: I have much to do and a very limited amount of time in which to do them. Therefore, I need to get busy - time is a wasting.

Here is one final caveat about my reflecting on the past and the future... When I was in high school, we had to memorize several hundred lines of poetry each semester. It was one of those requirements that I absolutely hated when I was still in high school over 50-years ago. However, in those years after high school, I still recall parts of many, many poems. Hardly a day goes by when I don't rattle off one or more of those lines when teaching or in conversations with my friends. My only regret is that the school didn't require more lines to be memorized. One of the poems that I memorized was Robert Frost's The Road Not Taken.

The Road Not Taken

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;

Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,

And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I-
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

We often see this poem as a meritorious statement about going down the less traveled road of life. The last stanza seems to say it all. Do what is atypical. March down your own road of life; it will make all the difference for you in life. Frost seems to be supportive of my modes operandi about living life to the fullest. Do what appeals to you. Don't just follow the crowd; you decide how to live your life. It seemed that Frost was encouraging us to be independent and avant-garde in our personal and professional lives and not clones of the crowd.

However, Frost entitled the poem, The Road Not Taken. That is strange title for a poem about choosing the less traveled road. It seems that he is raising a contradictory suggestion or at least one that questions his premise. What about the road that you don't take? Why didn't Frost entitle his poem, The Road Less Traveled?

Frost seems to be suggesting that we should be adventuresome as we journey down our individual roads of life...while perhaps cautioning us to be careful about our picking and choosing. Maybe Frost merely wants us to think twice about our choices in life. Our road not taken will cost us something. Make sure that it is worth the cost.

While I think about my past 70-years and prepare for the next couple of decades, I will double-check my choices. I will rethink my path. Having thought about the consequences of my choices, I will redouble my efforts toward that goal. Time is a wasting...

The world is a wondrous place if people were to take the time really to look deeper into any of the choices or issues in their lives. A true understanding of life in all of its forms isn't often what is seen at first glance. Don't allow life merely to be newsflashes. Choose your path and on that path, you will find interesting and exciting adventures if you look and ask questions.

Al and Jack

Burma flag

Burmese independence flag

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An old man and his grandson

An Old Man and His Grandson

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Obama signs health insurance reform bill

Obama Signing the Affordable Care Act

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Forrest Gump Film Poster

Forrest Gump, "Stupid is as stupid does."

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