Helen of Marlowe's Blog

Human interactions throw me

Posted in "North Carolina", NC, Religion by helenofmarlowe on June 2, 2021

I noticed, as I drove into the muddy parking lot, a gray-bearded man on a motorbike, blocking my way.  But I was in no hurry. I had two hours free.

And so I sat patiently, confident he would notice me soon and move over.  And he did.

I parked and wended my way over mudpuddles and into the NC Botanical Gardens of Chapel Hill.

While standing at the entrance, looking at the familiar table of cut stems in bottles identifying What’s Blooming,  I heard a voice behind me asking,  Do you know what this is?

A man with approximately half a century’s experience on this earth, with longish gray beard, longish gray hair, wearing a cap with earmuffs, held out a stem of white wildflowers.  No, I told him,  I don’t.  I recognized the man I’d seen on the motorbike.

It’s the most common plant around here, he said. You must know!

Seeing none, other than the stem in his hand, I was tempted to ask whether he is quite sure it’s the most common plant around here, but instead I asked whether it might be a kind of aster.

You don’t know? he said. You don’t see! That’s the problem, you don’t see!

Yes, I agreed, we often don’t see what’s around us.

No, he said, you, you don’t see!   I see it everywhere.  It’s the most common plant here in the area, and you haven’t even seen it!

I looked around.  Is it here, in the garden?

He didn’t know, and asked me had I been here before. Yes, I told him,  I come here every year.

Then you should know whether it’s here or not.  Does this botanical garden have trees? he asked.

Stifling the impulse to give the obvious answer (look around) I said that I guess the garden has native trees in it.

What’s that ring, the ring around your neck? he asked.

Oh — it’s something that works rather like a sun dial. It tells the time, but only, I think, if the sun is shining.

How does it work?

I’ll have to remember … See these markings? You turn this dial, line it up with the month and the day and … let’s see … and the sun …

You don’t use it to tell time? he asked.


How long have you been wearing this?

Well, an hour, today, but I’ve had it several years.

And you haven’t learned how to use it yet?

I did know — I have to remember …

Do you have memory problems?

Well, I have to look at it again — I’ll remember …

You won’t.  You’re hopeless.  Here put it over my head — I’ll take better care of it than you will.

No.  No –It was a timepiece, my son gave me this, you can tell the time of day … someone, I forget, historically, it’s a replica of …

Do you have memory problems? Copernicus?

No, I said, not that long ago. It’s a replica of a timepiece used by …


I’m trying to remember —

You won’t remember. You’re hopeless. You don’t even see the flowers around you.

It was Eleanor Of Aquitaine — she gave it to Henry, so they could meet …

Give it to me.


You don’t need that — you don’t even know how to use it.  Slip it over my head …

No, I won’t.  See the building there, you can just see the roof from here — there may be someone in there who can tell you what this flower is.

Do you think they’ll know? he asked. It is THE most common plant in this area.  And it’s blooming all over the place. It’s tall, it’s more than six feet tall, and it’s blooming, and you don’t see it!

Are you walking this way? Let’s go and see if someone in there can identify it.

Wait, he said. I want to see these on the table — maybe it’s here.

ok — I’ll walk ahead.

And then I walked on, as he examined the bottled stems. I walked toward the areas most likely to have people, but it was a chilly, misty, breezy day, and few visitors were about.

A few minutes later, I looked toward the building I had directed him to, and I saw him carrying his white wildflower through the open archway.

I turned and walked out the entrance, never actually getting into the gardens. I walked back to my car, wondering what I will do for the next two hours.

I turned north onto NC 501. A shopping center ahead. I pulled into Southern Seasons, parked, walked inside, picked up a shopping cart and walked aimlessly through the aisles. I looked at all the bright shiny teapots, the cutlery and coffee pots, candles, candy, cork screws and cheese boards, and realized — remembered? — that there is nothing here that I want.

Human interactions throw me.

As I drove back to the hotel, I began to have thoughts — hopes? — that maybe I’d see him again. And maybe, with a second chance, maybe I’d get it right next time.



American Theocracy — A Tiresome Re-run

Posted in "North Carolina", Government, Government Politics, Local Government, NC, Politics, Religion by helenofmarlowe on February 21, 2012

Not to be outdone by Forsyth County Commissioners, who spent many thousands of dollars and much county time litigating a losing battle which was finally settled by the U.S. Supreme Court,  Rowan County (NC) County Commissioners have apparently decided to fight the same fight.

SALISBURY, N.C. — Commissioners in one North Carolina county plan to continue offering Christian prayers at public meetings, regardless of a letter from a civil liberties group citing a recent Supreme Court action upholding a federal court’s ban on the practice.

The Salisbury Post reported (http://bit.ly/xtafV5 ) that a huge crowd turned out for the Rowan County Board of Commissioners meeting Monday night to offer their support to the elected officials, who say they’ll defy a decision by the U.S. Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals striking down so-called sectarian prayer, or prayer that’s explicitly linked to a particular religion, such as Christianity.

“If they tell county commissioners they can’t pray, soon they’re going to be in my church telling me I can’t pray in the name of Jesus,” said Terry Brown, a county resident who came to the meeting.

The appeals court’s ruling was in the case of the Forsyth County Board of Commissions. Last month, the U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear an appeal by that board, letting the Fourth Circuit’s ruling stand. Since then, the state chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union has contacted 25 and 30 government bodies in North Carolina in response to complaints from residents about sectarian prayer.

Only one of about two dozen members of the public who spoke Monday night argued that prayers offered to a specific deity don’t belong in government meetings.

“I think what’s going on right now is a clear example of why we need this law, and why it should be obeyed,” said Salisbury resident Chris Crowell, who compared the atmosphere of the meeting to a religious revival.

Rowan County residents might as well gear up for a long and losing battle.  For a preview of what they have to look forward to, here’s how it went in the Forsyth County Commissioners meeting two years ago, when the Commissioners, in defiance of all good sense and good law, decided to appeal two lower court rulings and send their case to the Supreme Court.

Can’t these benighted North Carolina citizens look around the world and see what it’s like to live in a theocracy?   Is that really what they want for our nation?

What’s the Significant Difference?

Posted in Government, Politics, Religion by helenofmarlowe on February 18, 2012

What is the significant difference?

There is something I’m  missing here. The Catholic church went into a frenzy in their moral outrage at the idea that a Catholic institution should be required to provide for their employees an insurance policy that includes birth control, which they say they believe is immoral.

I won’t get into the seeming contradiction that they hate abortion even more than they hate contraceptives, and are sticking by their guns in spite of the evidence that the one reduces need for the other. There’s probably some logic there that I just don’t get.

And I won’t yet try to understand why the compromise offered by the White House, that insurance companies would instead provide contraception coverage separately and at no cost, was not welcomed by the bishops.

What I’m really trying to figure out is this:  What’s the significant difference between appeasing the Catholics on this issue, and requiring Quakers to pay for war (via taxes)?

Quakers are  opposed to war and to all forms of violence.

And what about requiring Seventh-day Adventists to support our government’s policies on  factory farming?

 For more than 130 years Seventhday Adventists have practiced a vegetarian dietary lifestyle because of their belief in the holistic nature of humankind. (http://www.sdada.org/position.htm)

Yes, I see that in the case of the Quakers and the Seventh-day Adventists, it is tax policy that pulls them into the fold of a behavior that contradicts their religion, but is that a substantial difference?  Does it follow, logically, that Catholics should impose upon non-Catholics their beliefs (well, just some of their beliefs; institutionally, they are also against the death penalty but I haven’t heard our Catholic presidential hopefuls mention that)?  That they should impose upon non-Catholic employees, for example, a Catholic rule that even 98% of Catholics don’t actually follow?  And what about Christian Scientists?  Should employees at Christian Science establishments be required to forego health insurance altogether and rely upon prayer?

Is there really a substantial difference, or is it just that Quakers and Seventh-day Adventists, and Christian Scientists,  are not trying to defeat our president?

The homeless man at the coffee shop

Posted in "North Carolina", Friends & families, Government, NC, Religion by helenofmarlowe on July 3, 2011

Charlotte, NC

~ 8:00 a.m.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Early ( for me at least) on Sunday morning.

Sitting at a coffee shop on Providence Road, about a hundred miles from home.

Sitting outside, under the trees. A row of tables beside the parking lot.

–  –  –  –  –  –  –  –  –  –  –  –  –  –  –  –

A homeless man walked by. He didn’t look at me.  Three or four times he walked by, back and forth, without looking at me. What would I have done if he had?  Said Good Morning?  Looked away?  Taken out my cell phone and looked busy?

As I sat there, a nicely dressed young blond man walked out of the coffee shop. This young man said Good morning, and the homeless man responded in kind. The young blond man asked, Have you had breakfast? and then gave the homeless man the bag he’d just walked out of the coffee shop with.

The homeless man thanked him, and asked if he had a few minutes to talk. Perhaps the homeless need conversation and recognition as much as they need food and shelter. The young coffee-shop customer indicated that he had some time, and they talked companionably. During intervals when cars were not passing too close, I heard bits of what they said to one another.

The blond young man asked the homeless man’s name, and the homeless man replied that his name is Larry. He said, They call me Chilly Willy.

The young man asked how he got that name, and Larry said he sings, plays guitar.

Larry asked the young blond man if he was on the way to church. The young man said no, he and his wife were heading to SC, going to a family reunion.

The homeless man asked, What’s that?, and the blond man answered, It’s, family, relatives, they come from different places, just get together, visit.

And then the homeless man said, I have a brother. I’ll give you his phone number and you can call him. He’ll tell you about me.

The blond young man said ok, and I heard the homeless man give a number – 704-xxx-xxxx. The young man took out his cell phone and entered the number and said, OK, I’ve got it.

Something about that moment, that act of accepting the homeless man’s offering, spoke so much more than the words, I’ve got it.  Surely this customer who walked out of the coffee shop and said Good morning to a homeless man will never use that phone number and never even considered that he might, but he gave validation to the homeless man by taking the number and saying, Ok, I’ve got it.

Larry said, My brother will tell you all about me. Larry said he’d been homeless for some years.

He said he got arrested a few times. Sounded like he said DUI, but I’m not sure. I heard Larry say, Why would God make it if it’s not ok to smoke it? And the blonde young man answered, I don’t know, Larry.

And then I saw a young woman get out of a parked car and approach the two men. A pretty young woman with long black hair in a knee-length green and yellow dress walked over to where her husband was standing in the parking lot talking to the homeless man. The young blonde man saw her walking over, and he said, This is my wife. And then he said to her, This is Larry.

The young woman held out her hand and said, I’m pleased to meet you, Larry. The young man said to his wife, Larry sings and plays guitar. Larry said, I can sing anything, I can sing Christian, country, rock, I can sing anything you want. Do you want me to sing for you?

It was obvious, it would be to anyone, it surely was to her, that this was a homeless man. Her reply was, Yes, will you sing something for us?

With a clear musical voice, in the parking lot of this coffee shop, Larry sang.I heard him sing,

Me and Jesus, we got . . . something . . .

I could not make out the words, as cars drove between us, and it’s not a song I know.

The young couple started back to their car, to their drive to SC, to their family reunion, and I heard Larry ask if they had some cash, something they could give him. They said no, and Larry said he had enjoyed talking with them.

As Larry stood on the edge, now, of the street, another car pulled into the parking lot of the coffee shop, and Larry spoke – I didn’t catch what he said – and the car sped up. Larry hollered after the car,

I wish I could go to church. No church wants me there.

The last I saw of Larry he stepped onto the sidewalk and began walking with quick steps along Providence Road, humming, singing softly to himself.

– 30 –

Do UUs Worship?

Posted in NC, Religion, Unitarian, UU by helenofmarlowe on February 4, 2011

Some of us at our UU Fellowship are beginning to feel unhappy with changes that have been made.

For many years, we had a Sunday Services committee.  And a podium.

Now, it seems, we have a Worship Committee.  And a pulpit.

A group of us wrote a letter to the “Worship Committee” asking them to change the name back to the name we’ve had for years.

Dear Members of the Worship Committee
We who are signatories of this letter wish to express our concern regarding relatively recent changes in the language used by the committee that, until recently, has been known as the Sunday Service Committee.

For many years, our Unitarian Universalist Fellowship has had a Sunday Service Committee, and we attended Sunday Services. But significant changes in language have been recently introduced regarding each of these designations. In our Fellowship Matters , we are given to understand that we now have a Worship Committee and that on Sundays we are attending Worship Services. We believe this shows a disregard for the diversity of beliefs in our membership.

Since our Fellowship has been growing, this change will not have been noticed by newer members. But it certainly has been noted by a number of long-time members, including the signatories to this letter.

We are concerned about this change because, from the beginning of our Fellowship, there have always been members who do not believe in any deity. And we believe that one important function of the UU Fellowship is to encourage other non-believers to join us in our celebration of life and the seven UU principles.

We are aware that the term “worship” might be and probably is construed by some members of your committee to mean something less than the adoration of a deity. But such a construal is not in accord with the common usage of the term, and is therefore misleading.

For communication to work, we have to use words in the way they are commonly understood. We are, accordingly, requesting that the Worship Committee change its name back to Sunday Service Committee, and that the monthly calendar be changed to read Sunday Service instead of Worship Service.

In response to our letter requesting that the “Worship Committee”  reclaim its historical name “Sunday Services Committee”  the chair of the committee responded:

We strongly support use of the word “worship” as finding worth and not as directed toward any deity. We agree there is value in taking regular opportunities to educate members of the congregation to the broader meaning of “worship”…

This seems Orwellian to me.

Our Sunday religious services within the UU tradition of this Fellowship are not and (so far as I know) never have been worship services.

Instead of re-defining words, why don’t we use words as they are commonly understood.
And the common understanding of the word “worship” is not what we do.

We will re-visit the matter at an upcoming meeting.

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Don’t read this – it’s bah, humbug

Posted in Holiday, Religion by helenofmarlowe on December 4, 2010

Marta said to me, I love this season!

I must have looked rather incredulous, because she then said, You don’t?

The winter season, the Christmas season.  How can I not love it?

How can I not love it? Let me count the ways.

Christmas is a celebration of things I do not love.

Consumption, for example.

I’ve never done my fair share to keep the American Corporatocracy jingling. There are few things I want that can be purchased and brought home in a bag. I avoid shopping malls like a cat avoids the jays. Why would I want to go somewhere in December that I avoid without fail for the other eleven months?

When asked what I’d like for Christmas by the good spirit who draws my name from the hat, I usually respond that I want a goat, and I want it sent to Heifer International. I do this in spite of Miss Manners’s lament that donating to charity “should be recognized for what it is: the demise of the ancient custom of good will expressed through symbolism.” Miss Manners is right, and I would love to celebrate Christmas the way Jane Austen did, with small handmade gifts. I don’t see this worthy tradition making a comeback.  More likely, I think,  Christmas will be reduced to an occasion for everyone to exchange a $30 gift card.

Snow in our back yard

My problem may be  that I am a creature of habit.   I don’t want to break my routine, a routine that works for me, and start stringing lights around the house and decorating a tree which, to my mind, is perfectly beautiful without any ornaments.

My radio stations, that I listen to all day while working/playing on my computer.  The symphonies, the piano concertos, are all, with the exception of Tchaikovsky’s wonderful Nutcracker, all replaced with a month of Christmas music.  We will go to a performance of Handel’s Messiah.

And did I mention the weather? And what the freeze does to the summer pleasures of sitting on the front porch, reading in the rocking chairs, with birds enjoying the safflower seeds that I sprinkle along the rails? Did I mention the weather, and what it does to the pleasures of summer gardening, bringing in eggplants, crookneck squash, zucchini, vine-ripe tomatoes? And walking barefoot in the grass? Did I mention what the winter weather does to the potted palms and cacti and petunias and impatiens that I cannot bring indoors, because our house is too small for all the plants that bask on the porch all summer? I choose, and some I have to leave out, knowing they will die. This year it is various hanging baskets.

The days are cold, and the days are short. And I am all a-grumble.

I do not like Christmas. There, I’ve said it.

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Thanksgiving it is

Posted in Holiday, Religion by helenofmarlowe on November 24, 2010

Tomorrow is the fourth Thursday of November, which means it is the day that we gather for Thanksgiving holiday. Sometimes people ask vegetarians what they eat on Thanksgiving. That’s easy. We’ll eat macaroni and cheese from my favorite recipe  and sweet potato casserole, and slaw and green beans and whatever the kids bring. My oldest son and his wife will bring a vegetable side dish and cranberry sauce. Our middle son with his family will bring deviled eggs and whatever strikes their fancy when the time comes. Our youngest and his wife will bring pies — Cynde makes the best pecan pies in the world, and although I have her recipe, I can’t make the pie (mine always runs, and so is more like pudding than pie).

Thanksgiving I believe had religious origins, but (much like Christmas?) is now a secular holiday, celebrated in North  America by people of all religious faiths and people of no religious faith.

There is much I am thankful for.

I have three good strong healthy sons who are good and responsible and successful people who have all kept their jobs during this time of 9% unemployment, and who are happy at least most of the time.

My husband plays the piano, and sings, and I stop what I’m doing and lie down on the sofa to listen. He writes beautiful poetry, and will be, on November 30th, the featured poet at the downtown central library in Winston-Salem. He was the guest speaker last night at AU (Americans United for Separation of Church and State), and it was a good group of good and interesting people. He takes my artwork around to the galleries and gift shops, because, although I love to make digital drawings with GIMP, and although I’ve won a number of honors and prizes in both local and national exhibits, I will never have enough self-confidence to approach a gallery and ask if they’d like to hang my work.

Much to be thankful for. We have almost three acres of wooded land right here in the city, with a creek, and nesting red-tailed hawks, and three hammocks and four bird feeders and rocking chairs on the front porch. And good neighbors.

And we have good healthy happy grandchildren, ranging in age from young adult (the oldest is already in University!) to very young child. Our youngest is three, and to our abiding delight, was named after my husband.

I have friends whom I love, and who forgive me most of my trespasses.

And now it is time to go shopping for macaroni, and cheese, and cabbage and fruit, and to start cooking for the people I love who will gather here tomorrow.

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American Theocracy

Posted in "North Carolina", Local Government, Religion, Winston-Salem by helenofmarlowe on February 23, 2010

It was a circus, the county commissioners meeting tonight.   I have photos and video, but I don’t have the heart to post them.

The people in our large overflow room singing Christian hymns.

The shouted and hollered Amens and Yesses! when speakers spoke about Jesus.

The buses — I have photos of the church buses lined up along Chestnut Street — this is what our democracy (theocracy?) has become.   It will not be on your tv.

I am so disheartened, I am going to bed, simply to get this day over with.

Bob, and one retired Baptist minister who said he was also a member of the ACLU (and was booed for it) were the only speakers who asked them to let this drop. All the other speakers invoked the name of Jesus as they successfully urged our commissioners to go forward in our march to theocracy.

A man sitting behind me hollered,  If they don’t want to pray, they can stay at home!

I turned around and said to him, What if they have county business?

Bob leaned over to me and said,

You have to look on these people without  hating them.  Don’t hate them.

Well I don’t, of course, but was sorely annoyed.

Church buses herd the troops

When the group broke out in song, in a Christian hymn (clearly practiced and on cue) I felt disheartened.  Bob, with his philosophical and moral strength, just smiled at me and said,

That was an interesting moment to observe.

We have a major university in our city.

Not one Wake Forest University  professor– not one professor of history, not one professor of religion, not one professor came out to identify the misrepresentations made tonight about our history and our constitution.

We also have a state university here.   If there were any representatives from Winston-Salem State University, they did not get media coverage and I am not aware of their presence.  It was needed.

Seven hundred sheep getting off church buses, and with very few exceptions,those reliable few, our citizens declared this a Christian nation.

Commissioners Beaufort Bailey, Ted Kaplan, and Walter Marshall cast minority votes against the appeal.

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