Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Created to Connect

By Brenda Black

There was a time of back porch singing. Aunts, uncles, cousins and kinfolk of every generation gathered regularly. Relatives grew up in the same neighborhood or trickled throughout a county. Family and childhood friends remained near, available to lend a hand when needed. The modern era looks considerably different. It is one of isolation and intentional independence. Families scatter across the globe and cousins are those people you meet every ten years at a dreaded reunion of strangers.

Sure, there are means of immediate contact no matter the geographical distance. Still, a warm hug or firm handshake is hard to acquire through cyberspace. A reassuring look or knowing advice often comes after the fact, diminishing it's timely significance. Spontaneous laughter or a trail of conversation that meanders through family jokes and legacies is hard to recreate apart from direct contact and in-the-moment opportunities.
Humans were created to connect. Science confirms the necessity of community and some have determined that survival of the fittest is not all it's cracked up to be if it means you are left alone in your particular species. Cooperation, not just competition and selfishness, is critical to survival. And that means knowing your neighbors as well as the relatives.

It took a thesis, and a group of neuroscientists, anthropologists and psychologists years of study to discover the importance of community. Oddly enough, God invented our need for others as one of His fundamental aspects of creation --present since the foundation of time. He designed us to desire fellowship, then God established the bonds of marriage and instituted the network of family according to that masterful design. Christ modeled fellowship and friendship, while the Holy Spirit was imparted for constant companionship. We were never intended to be alone.

Community is critical to families and neighbors. It's also imperative in days of convenient techno isolation. Interaction is a fleeting social skill being lost by a generation that would rather bond with a blog, tweet, post or pin, than play catch with the neighbor kid or learn from a grandparent. Can we just make eye contact, PLEASE, once again, and stop talking to each other through a selfie, quick-witted fingers or the top of our downward tilted heads!

Loneliness is the consequence for indifference toward humanity, family ties, or the people next door, whom you've never met. Loneliness is the by-product from technologically connected, but emotionally disconnected people. One day we'll wake up and find we know no one who truly knows us, unless we connect in real time, real ways, with real emotions and human touch. When you need someone in a moment of tragedy or triumph, who are you going to call? With whom will you share your sorrow and grief? How can you celebrate exciting news if you don't have people – crucial, important, loving people in your life? Trust me, a facebook follower or fellow blogger won't be enough. You're going to long for someone to be close and genuine. One day, when you finally have the time to sit on the porch, I hope you aren't still looking at your phone.

We are a community, we are family, we are people, and we need each other desperately. 
 The Word's Out - Brenda Black 2015©

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Hey Mom, Take a Whiff of This

By Brenda Black

Prairie Parsley - photo by Brenda Black ©2015
I took a tour of the Briarwood Native Prairie last weekend and was mesmerized by the incredible intricacies and beautiful diversity of more than 200 species of plants. Prairie biologist Elizabeth Hamilton-Steele offered insight on a dozen of the most prominent samples of flora. She provided history on each variety and counseled prairie tourists on whether the plants were edible or poisonous. I appreciated the colorful scenery and fascinating science, but the take-away had to be the handy eat / don't eat advice. You never know -- it could mean the difference between life and death, should I ever take up residence on a rolling grassy patch of paradise.

On the tails of such details about leaves, seeds, roots and blooms, I had to wonder how such edible knowledge first was discovered. You can't trust the grazing habits of animals or insects entirely. What their stomachs can handle might mean our demise. For example, Steele explained that the milk weed plant's sap is toxic to us, but the sole diet of the delicate Monarch butterfly. Their cast iron digestive tract serves them well, for birds have learned if they chomp down on an orange and black winged bite, they'll suffer the consequences. They choose to pass up the bitter butterfly and pursue something a little sweeter and safer.

Amethyst Shooting Star - Photo by Brenda Black ©2015
Neither can you count on the assumption that if one part of the plant is safe, that all parts are beneficial. That's even true with common vegetables we consume. Several edible plants have poisonous parts or parts that can turn poisonous in the wrong conditions, including potatoes, rhubarb, spinach and peaches. And the ONLY thing you better eat off of a tomato plant, is the tomato! provides a 13-step plan to determine the edibility of wild plants – Yes, I said 13 steps! So my nagging question remains: Who was the guinea pig to take the first brave bite that would save generations to follow all of the risk?
One friend ventured that was the job of the women in a tribe. Go figure! So some innocent female is stoking the fires at base camp when her husband's hunting party returns with venison and some strange leafy side salad that he thinks just might round out supper. He has neither nibbled nor sniffed. That's her duty. If she lives, he dines lavishly. If she dies, he'll be all the wiser.

Tell me if I'm wrong, ladies, but aren't we still playing this role centuries later. “Hey, Mom, smell this! Is it still okay to eat it?” “Honey, will the green film on top kill me?” “Here, you taste it and see if it's sour.” Take it a step further. Who has conquered cold and flu season, wiping noses, cleaning bathrooms and rocking little loved ones who insist on coughing in your face and spitting up on you? A Mom's immune system has to be one of the toughest in the world.
Prairie Ragwort - Photo by Brenda Black ©2015
Ironically, my prairie tour fell on Mother's Day weekend. Once again, I was reminded just how much our mothers, grandmothers and even those dozens of generations prior, have been watching over us and sacrificing for us. I do believe we have courageous and resilient ancestral female genetics to thank for more than we can fathom. Here's my Native Prairie salad bar salute to all those past and those now persevering! Happy Belated Mother's Day!