Are We Cutout For It?

“I see you, you see me,
Watch you blowin’ the lines…Private eyes,
They’re watching you.
They see your every move…”
(1981) “Private Eyes” Recorded By: Hall & Oates Composers: Warren Pash, Sara Allen, Janna Allen, Daryl Hall.

Just when you think the tortured memories of this year’s Super Bowl was finally beginning to ebb away, I have to drag you back. Not to Tom Brady, or the political stances taken, or even the rhetorically infused high-priced commercials, nope. I will spare you from the very forgettable items of the game itself…or maybe I should ask if there really was a game at all that day.

To be brutally honest here, there should be hats off to the NFL for being able to punch through the doubters who took a stand to say there couldn’t be a football season in a COVID laced year. You might not be aware of the fear mongers who tried to persuade the NFL from even attempting a football season with fears of contagion mastered locker rooms. The debate was real, as well as, the fear of a pre-season, or spring training in the midst of a pandemic. It’s true, some teams did see some team members infected with COVID, but they were few and far between.

The teacher’s union should take notes.

One of the sacrifices made was the lack of live spectators in the stands. “Ouch”, said the players. What performer doesn’t want a full-house to pull from? Here in Dallas, Texas, the Dallas Cowboys elected to have a smattering of fans in the stands, where as some team owners decided to have 100% empty stadiums. For viewers at home, watching the games, at least they fed us with fake crowd noise, complete with cheers and boos. At some point, the NFL commissioner allowed percentages of ticket holders with strategic seating for healthy social distancing for attending fans.

Photo by Frederico Erthal on Pexels.com

The first time I saw cardboard cutouts of fans in the stands, early in the season, I laughed out loud. Seeing cardboard cutouts of people planted in the seats looked very much like a joke from a team owner with a great sense of humor. Before the following Sunday, many stadiums were filled with people made from trees. A psychological boost, maybe? What a hoot!

Photo by Gabby K on Pexels.com

As for the Super Bowl in Tampa Bay, Florida, there was a twist of all the fiber represented. 25,000 live fans paid dearly for the few seats available to watch the Chiefs play the Buccaneers. There, alongside live spectators, were 30,000 strategically placed cardboard cutouts of fake fans with splashes of red, yellow, bronze, and white. There was one camera shot of four cheering Chief fans in masks standing, jumping, and cheering Kansas City onward as the cardboard cutout fans next to them were being pushed aside and stepped on. In the end, it didn’t help the Chiefs pull off a win. A mannequin in the seat is just a dummy of wax. Cardboard falls apart in the rain. I guess the lack of people with depth flattens a lot of expectations.

Photo by Jeric Delos Angeles on Pexels.com

Maybe the most bizarre experience seen, other than the live streaker running onto the field, were the faces on the cardboard cutout fans. The last time I checked, the NFL offered to place a picture of your face on one of the cardboard cutouts for a price of $100.00. (Frankly, I’m surprised the offer was that cheap.) Yes, for a Ben Franklin you could place your silent face on a cardboard figure overlooking the field. Forget that many have been out of a job because of COVID, living off unemployment, or was once living off unemployment. Forget about the many who are standing in food lines to feed their kids. Forget that many have have faced bankruptcy, foreclosures, repossessions, hospitalization, etc. For me, it had the odor of insensitivity. A move like that smacked of “Because we can!” thinking from the haughty high towered offices of the suits. Don’t get me wrong, I am an NFL fan. I disagree with many things the NFL chooses as they boldly tend to bend to the left in our society, but still, I’m a fan. At the same time, it leaves a stain on their reputation, like a white jersey on freshly cut blades of grass. With the politicization shown by the NFL, I may never see them in the same way again.

Shakespeare wrote it, “All the world is a stage. And all the men and women, merely players. They have their exits and their entrances…” (From the pastoral comedy, “As You Like It”) So true. I’m an old singer and actor. I learned early as a kid that it was considered bad luck to take a peek out the curtain at the house prior to the rising of the curtain. Many times, I broke protocol. Never once would I have been thrilled to see cardboard cutouts in the house seats. In fact, as a performer, I would not have put out a top-shelf effort. Why? Because we draw from one another. Is it not true? Whether good or bad, we pull out energy from each other.

If I act badly in a road rage fiasco, I guarantee the driver in focus will not be made of trees. My actions and language inside my home will be performed in front of my family…made of flesh and blood. If I do a lax job at writing this post, YOU will notice. If I stop you in the grocery store to insult you for your politically printed t-shirt, your face will change expression, unlike a picture. Why? Because you are not a painted piece of cardboard.

Biblically, a believer’s directive is to be careful that your sin finds you out. Why?

A – God, your Judge, is not a mannequin of wax.

B – Because you and I are on a stage, washed in light, and the spectators are not fiberboard cutouts.

Trees were created on a different day than you were, in fuel for the race.

“Therefore, since we also have such a great cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let’s rid ourselves of every obstacle and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let’s run with endurance the race that is set before us.” – Hebrews 12:1 (NAS)

Masquerade

“Are we really happy here
With this lonely game we play?
Looking for words to say
Searching but not finding understanding anywhere
We’re lost in a masquerade”

(1976) “This Masquerade” Recorded By: George Benson Composer: Leon Russell

As I write this, it’s 104 degrees here in Dallas, Texas, with a heat index (What it feels like with the humidity factor.) of 118 degrees. The last thing I want to do is put on a mask.

If you read my blog posts you already know I don’t write about politics, or political favor, or rhetoric. (At least not directly.) Trust me, I won’t start today.

COVID-19 sure has delivered its punch in various ways. At first we were told masks were not necessary. Soon after, we were told to wear masks if ailing in health in order to protect others. Soon after, we were told to wear them in order to protect our own health from others who may be carriers. Before you know it, we were told to wear them in public regardless. Later we were told it might even be best to wear one in all indoor locations, outdoor locations, and when alone. ALONE? REALLY? So, if you’re hiking alone in the forest, you better have a mask over your big trap. Jeepers, I give up.

Let me start off by saying I want to do the right thing. I’m not one of the rebels you hear about who gets into fights at Walmart because of the lack of a mask on the mug. Beyond all of that nonsense, I have chronic health conditions which COVID-19 targets. To be frank, (and Alan, too) I must wear one when around other people until we have a vaccine. If I contract COVID-19 in my health state, I will most likely die. I know that sounds dark and gloomy, but it’s the truth. So, I do put the stupid thing on.

Me in my non-surgical mask.

Yep, that’s what I look like driving up to the bank teller. Times have changed. In case I forget it, I also have a fresh surgical-style mask in my car with the string around the ears.

Before you ask me, I do take off my sunglasses while in the grocery store. Which brings me to a very honest confession. Over the last few months of this pandemic, I slowly began to stop smiling at people I come in contact with. In fact, I find I no longer speak pleasantries to others as I push my buggy around. The only thing I can figure is that I feel hidden, as if no other shopper can see me. Isn’t that the dumbest statement you’ve ever read?

I sing in my church band, but that’s been nixed since the virus shut our normal church services down. For some odd reason I have grown, or shrunk, to feel I am a non-person in public. Therefore, since no one can see my mouth, cheeks, and chin, why bother to smile? Why speak since all is muffled. Mostly, when you feel hidden, what purpose is there to utter a word? Oooh, this sounds harsh. Am I making any sense?

Others must have the same syndrome because I see it in their eyes as they quickly look away from mine. What’s more, I don’t seem to mind the change I am seeing and feeling. Now, THAT’S sad.

If you saw the cover photo above the title, it might have given you smothering memories of Halloween-past. Remember how those loud, crackly plastic masks made your face sweat big-time? By the end of the night’s outing your face looked like it had ventured into a car wash. Then there’s the old saying, “You can throw me in jail but you can’t keep my face from breaking out.” How true of those days.

Speaking of retrospect, this reminds me of a familiar personal mode, which is far too common.

Mask, or not, sometimes we create our own masks. Don’t we? Not shields of cloth or plastic, but inner shields we default to. Like the ancient Greek actors holding up masks on sticks, we tend to hide our true selves in times of emotional turmoil, anger, and fear. As an artistic so-in-so, I buried myself in stage acting, or for various media. As a singer, I would dive into the lyrics, which drove my stage presence to another level different than who I really was. When I began to settle in my radio and voice-over career, I felt more at ease behind a mic in a control room all by myself, even though there were 200,000+ listeners on the other end of the speakers. In short, I allowed these areas in my life to become masks on sticks to hold up in front of my face…which in translation means: Emotions. If thin in some section of the persona, or physical appearance department, we tend to mask it with other tools from abilities, or our personal strengths. This is why most comics, actors, singers, writers are very often shy in their everyday-jeans.

At the same time, if we could only recall that there is Someone Who knows us, every line and wrinkle. There was a purpose for the scripture which states, God has counted every hair on our heads. There was a purpose for the scripture which states, God knitted our tendons inside our mother’s womb. There was a purpose for the scripture which states, God not only knew us in our mother’s womb, but also made plans for our lives, good plans to oversee.

Pay very close attention to the passage below for emphasis. Please don’t miss this. Notice how Jesus uses His words when meeting a man named, Nathanael for the very first time. Check it out.

***

Philip found Nathanael and told him, “We have found the One Moses wrote about in the Law, the One the prophets foretold—Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.”

“Can anything good come from Nazareth?” Nathanael asked.

“Come and see,” said Philip.

When Jesus saw Nathanael approaching, He said of him, “Here is a true Israelite, in whom there is no deceit.”

“How do You know me?” Nathanael asked.

Jesus replied, “Before Philip called you, I saw you under the fig tree.”

“Rabbi,” Nathanael answered, “You are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!”

Jesus said to him, “Do you believe just because I told you I saw you under the fig tree? You will see greater things than these.” – John 1:45-50 (Berean Study Bible)

***

No doubt, Nathanael ran back home and shouted, “Look Ma, no mask!”

Although your Creator sees straight through the mask you hold up, others cannot. I will work harder in communicating to others through my eyes. (I’ll act my way through it. LOL)

Knowing, and being known is discovered in fuel for the race.

“And when Moses came down from Mount Sinai with the two tablets of the Testimony in his hands, he was unaware that his face had become radiant from speaking with the LORD. Aaron and all the Israelites looked at Moses, and behold, his face was radiant. And they were afraid to approach him….When Moses had finished speaking with them, he put a veil over his face. But whenever Moses went in before the LORD to speak with Him, he would remove the veil until he came out. And when he came out, he would tell the Israelites what he had been commanded, and the Israelites would see that the face of Moses was radiant. So Moses would put the veil back over his face until he went in to speak with the LORD. – Exodus 34:29-30 & 34-35 (Berean Study Bible)

 

DNA And Me

Photo:  “Our” family reunion of 1902.

“…Scattered pictures of the smiles we left behind.  Smiles we gave to one another for the way we were…Can it be that it was all so simple then?  Or has time rewritten every line?…” (1974)  The Way We Were.  Recorded by;  Barbra Streisand.  Composers:  Alan Bergman, Marilyn Bergman, Marvin Hamlisch.

There’s much to learn from a simple photograph.  I adore antique photos, always have.  They are even more special when you find images depicting your own flesh and blood.  If you love family history, then you and I could share some time over a few cups of java.

Check out the cover shot I placed above.  This is a 1902 family reunion from my paternal side.  No doubt it’s from the summer time in Texas, yet there’s all that clothing.  Look at all stiff high collars, neckties and gowns that crawl up to the chin, along with the hats.  Summers in Texas can reach 100+ degrees easily.  How did they do it?  In all honesty, the southern tradition was to have an event like this right after church on a Sunday afternoon.  Maybe that’s why everybody is in their Sunday-go-to-meetin’-clothes.  I see watermelon slices, cakes, pies, etc.  And then there’s that guy on the back row, just right of center, swigging a big bottle of….well…uh…Okay, who knows. But remember, church was over. LOL

Being from the south, there is a depth of Confederate soldiers in the family.

Alexander Ambrose Timmons Great Uncle-in-law 1866ish

Photo:  Meet Great Uncle Alexander Ambrose Timmons (1865)  Now THAT’S a knife!

Lewis Pinkney Brooks Great Grandpa 1866ish

Photo:  Meet my Great Grandpa Lewis Pinkney Brooks (1866)  After the war, he rode a mule from Georgia to west Texas to stay.  He found himself to be a cattle drover, pioneer settler, homesteader, 2nd sheriff of Young County, Texas, stage coach inn owner, and Indian fighter.

Yes, sometimes inside family history one can find skeletons which may not be politically correct by today’s self-imposed standards.  I’m not one to erase history.  In fact, I gaze at it, study it, and recognize the truth of the way we were.  We need to see how far we’ve come.  We need to discover how and why issues in society arose.  We are in need of understanding before we repeat some aspects of our history which may stain us as a culture.  We also should value perspectives.  One can title a person an “Indian fighter” but often neglects the realities of circumstance.  As for my my great-grandfather Brooks, he dealt with the pains of pioneering.  Tonkawa and Comanche often raided his barn overnight to steal horses, cattle, and mules.  Another time, he and his cousin were building a three-foot herd wall, made of stone, when they were attacked unprovoked.  Grave plots had to be topped in layers of large stone to discourage grave-robbing for clothes and jewelry.  Outlaws are outlaws, no matter the culture.  Yes, it was a lawless wild country in very different times.  Only after years of fighting back in defense of his wife and children did peace began to rise.

Pioneer women were of a different breed.  They were tough as brass doorknobs while growing and nurturing families in the harshest conditions.

Mary Lucinda (Cinnie) Moore-Brooks Great Grandma 1877ish Photo;  Meet my Great Grandma Mary Lucinda “Cinnie” Moore-Brooks (1877).  She was not a doctor, but performed medical aid for the citizens of the county when needed.  There are stories of her alone on foot, in late night hours, traveling to attend to women in labor miles away.  Once a young family in a covered wagon, headed for the western frontier, stopped at the homestead asking for medical aid.  The couple had a baby who was ill.  The family lodged in their house for a good couple of weeks as Mary Brooks tended to the infant.  Sadly, the child couldn’t be saved.  They buried the baby in our family cemetery on the land.  Brokenhearted, the couple got back on the trail and was never heard from again.  She was not only a woman of great courage, but a woman of heart.

Great Aunt Alverse Brooks 1905ish

Photo:  Let me introduce you to my Great Aunt Alverse Brooks (1905ish).  I don’t know much about Aunt Alverse, I just love her face.  I do know she liked to swim in the Brazos River with her sisters.  She lived as a single woman.  (The men must have been pushed away, or simply stupid.)

Grandma Brown with two sisters 1911ish

Photo:  Say hello to my Grandma Bessie Brooks-Brown, with her two sisters, swimming in the Brazos River just below the family homestead (1909ish).  This lovely refreshed and digitized shot is nothing but a joy to look at.  My grandma is on the left.  Notice the swimwear where EVERYTHING is covered.  How many layers do you think they were wearing?  However, it didn’t keep that guy behind them from gawking in his ten gallon hat.  Yes, times were different.

You might be asking yourself, “Why is Alan forcing all these family pics on us?”  There’s a method to my madness.

Have you seen those DNA test commercials?  How can you miss them?  You know the ones where the actor says something like, “I thought my family came from Scotland, so I bought this kilt.  Then I had my DNA tested and found out I’m actually German!”  Recently I had been given a birthday gift card encouraging me to get my DNA tested.  It’s something I always wanted to do.  One of my thrills comes from reading family trees.  This is a notch above the tree.  So, I ordered a DNA kit.

Not long ago I was reviewing some of my medical lab work from a blood and urine sample.  There was an indicator of a possible unknown ethnic bloodline hidden in my genes.  I was shocked.  I do know of some Native American on my maternal side, but I just assumed Anglo-Saxon was the balance of my strand, due to surnames.  The DNA test will spell out the surprises.  It will be nice to get to know the authentic “me”….or will it?

I find it funny how some of these DNA test ads speak of “…finding the real you”, or “I never knew I was this, or that.”   One TV spot had an actor speaking a line similar to, “I ordered my kit because I wanted to know the true me.”  Of course, I understand what the meaning is behind such scripted lines.  I get it.  My issue is the idea of “the true me”.

Lately I’ve been deeply diving into Larry McMurty’s novel series, Lonesome Dove.  I guess I enjoy tales of the state from which I call home.  Reading of its wilder, unsettled times is a blast.  Frankly, it helps me to understand my family in our photos.  One main character, a former Texas Ranger and drover from the Texas Republic years, lost a leg and an arm in a shootout with a Mexican train robber and serial killer.  After he realized he would live as an amputee for the rest of his life, his bolt, staunch personality changed.  He became more withdrawn. I guess you could say the heart of the man shrunk.  His words often consisted of how “HE” was no longer who he was, or used to be.  He saw his missing limbs as tools that identified his toughness, his persona, and his legacy.  It’s not unusual for depression to invade an amputee’s psyche shortly after the vacuum of trauma.  Yet, why look at an amputated limb on a table and think, “Hey, that’s me over there on the table?”  It’s a terrible mistake that tends to haunt.  A disabled vet can testify to this depression-fed mindset.

A leg, an arm, even a DNA strand does not say WHO you ARE.  These things do not relabel the soul and spirit of the individual person.  After a tragic plane crash, or the sinking of a ship, they do not report, “100 bodies were lost.”  Traditionally it’s printed, “100 souls were lost.”  One can be robbed of a limb, a featured look, or a physical profile, but the person inside has not been altered on the operating table…unless the individual cuts away at it by choice.  Whether I am a burn victim, a man of extreme age, facially mutilated, newly unemployed, or an amputee, I know WHO I am deep inside where flesh doesn’t live, grow, or die.  MY DNA doesn’t alter the ME which turns me to the right or the left.  My genes have no power over the ME which molds behavior, or makes eternal decisions.  No bloodline rules and reigns over the ME who chooses to love, serve, or share.  No bloodline from my family tree can measure up to the ME I select in life.  After all, flesh turns to dust in a future grave, or ashes spread by the winds atop a west Texas bluff.

Have you ever heard someone’s final words on their deathbed to be, “Oh, how I wish I had a Celtic slice in my DNA strand.  I would have been a better person?”

We all have our choices, no matter the accent, skin color, cultural slants, or the soil of our birth.  Even a surname doesn’t register the YOU inside your core.  The heart is key.  It’s what God said He evaluates, nothing else.

I look forward to the DNA reveal concerning the body I host.  I know this because of the intake of fuel for the race.

“…Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies?  Yet not one of them is forgotten by God.  And even the very hairs of your head are all numbered.  So do not be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.  – Jesus – Luke 12:6-7  (Berean Study Bible)