Quote of the Day: Spreading the Light


“There are two ways of spreading light: to be the candle or the mirror that reflects it.” — Edith Wharton

We all probably know people who are the life of the party: they are enormously clever, funny, and bright, bringing everyone to uproarious laughter. They seem to be naturals, able to engage in an intimate yet dramatic way. I am in awe of the way they seem to reach people effortlessly, drawing in all of us with a poignant or silly story.

I had a friend named Jim who was like that. He was satisfied to listen to others, but when he turned on his charm, he seemed to be surrounded by an aura that lit his path and drew everyone to him. We talked about it once, and he said that this particular gift could be a burden and a blessing. It was a blessing when he was in the mood to be the life of the party; but it was a burden when people expected him to turn on his light on their demand. He said, without arrogance, that he was a moth that drew others to his flame.

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I have been enjoying Pope Benedict XVI’s Jesus of Nazareth: from the Baptism in the Jordan to the Transfiguration. Over and over again he sows seeds of wisdom in the middle of his larger purposes. Here, he takes on the “faith versus reason” fallacy ingrained in our culture, in the middle of a chapter on […]

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Quote of the Day: The Disappointing Past


One cannot and must not try to erase the past merely because it does not fit the present. —Golda Meir

David Ben-Gurion called her “the toughest man in government.” She was also known as the “Iron Lady of Israel.” Golda Meir came to Israel as a deeply committed Zionist, and lived there during the War of Independence, the 1972 Munich massacre at the Olympics, as well as the Yom Kippur War. Her personal life had its challenges, but she was a fighter.

In this quote, Meir reminds us that it’s tempting to try to forget about our past for many different reasons: we may have never reached some goals; we may have failed to be successful; we may have found ourselves alone; we may have been beaten down by the people in our lives. As a result of all these disappointments, we either dwell on our disenchantments with life, try to make believe they didn’t happen, or blame others for our current situation. If we don’t have this perspective, we may have others in our lives who do. Often these situations are used as an excuse to avoid relationships or taking risks, for fear of being disappointed even more.

Marlin: Funeral for a Friend


I’d known him through middle school, high school, and college. Now Marlin was dead.

He was smart. With a friend from middle school, he shared an interest in astronomy, producing a newsletter (Stargazing Monthly) and eventually building a telescope and observatory on the property of one of our schools. When the time came, he chose to attend Biola University in La Mirada (Blah Mirada, to Marlin), majoring in psychology.

Quote of the Day: The Times We Live In


“I wish it need not have happened in my time,” said Frodo.
“So do I,” said Gandalf, “and so do all who live to see such times. But that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.”
― J.R.R. Tolkien, The Fellowship of the Ring

My favorite book series of all time is the Lord of the Rings. When I was young, I did not realize the power of these works. As an adult, I can see the Christian element that flows through these books. What is amazing is that this passage is written by a man who watched his friends die in WWI.

The Time When Life Changed: Jan. 17, 1970


January 17, 1970, was a big day. Maybe it was my biggest day. It was the day I was born. My mother was at her baby shower. That was when she went into labor with me. That night, on a cold night, I came into the world. It was quite the change for me. Today does not look like it will be as big a day. I am taking my son to the dentist. We don’t have any big plans. I have not even scheduled myself to be off. (I used to get the Monday closest off for MLK day as a government employee, now if I don’t work, I don’t get paid!) There is nothing earth-shattering about one more circuit around the sun for one Bryan G. Stephens.

Still, we celebrate birthdays, and we celebrate our orbits. Each birthday I look back on how I have changed over the last year. This year things changed dramatically when, after being hired for a brand new job, 60 days in the place was shut down. After losing four jobs in less than three years due to corporate maneuvers, I had enough. In April of last year, I started my private practice as a mental health therapist. I applied to be on insurance panels and signed up for online connections. Thanks to the wuflu, teletherapy has become the new normal so I could start work immediately out of my home. I started renting office space one day a week with a local psychiatric practice. I thought I would be at more than one day a week, but the demand for face-to-face is just not there. So, for the first time in my life, I am working four days a week at home. Physically, working at home has meant too much access to the pantry, something I am working on. Mentally, it has been great. Not only can I see five or six clients in a day, I have been able to teach my daughter to drive. I see more of my teenagers than my wife does these days, something I treasure.

Wagner’s Parsifal: A Book Report


I’ve just finished reading Roger Scruton’s Wagner’s Parsifal. It was Scruton’s last book, about Wagner’s last work, and though I struggled to get through his Fools, Frauds, and Firebrands: Thinkers of the New Left, I thought I’d try Parsifal anyway.

To be clear: I’m ignorant of opera. I once saw Carmen in Warsaw, but that and What’s Opera, Doc? are my forays into that intimidating, expensive art form.

When Life Changed: Cancer and Agency


Many of you have heard my saga about my bout with cancer and chemotherapy; that is only marginally what this post is about. As a result of my experience, I realized that I had made a major change in my perspective about my own agency in a way I’d never known. It was partly inspired by my husband, who is a skeptic about many things but is big on taking responsibility. But I also began to realize that beyond his support, I had to, wanted to, take charge of my own medical decisions, which meant that I was taking charge of my life in a whole new way.

All along the way, there were decisions that I had to make, some easier than others. Almost immediately, I realized that because I had two tumors on my right breast, with some distance in between, it made sense to both the doctor and me to remove the whole breast. Although we agreed, it was reassuring to me that I was using my common sense to make that decision, rather than relying only on his medical training.

The next decision was whether I was going to have reconstructive surgery. I didn’t want it, and Jerry saw no reason to do it either. The surgeon tried to persuade me that I should at least schedule an appointment with the plastic surgeon. Yet I knew I didn’t want the complication of another surgery, one that could be difficult. Since the plastic surgeon was on the same floor as my breast surgeon, I walked over reluctantly to arrange a consultation with him. As I spoke to the scheduler, I said I didn’t see the point in talking to him since I didn’t want the surgery. The scheduler, a wise woman, said another woman had just come in and said the same thing and left without scheduling a consultation, and then she looked at me knowingly. We turned around and walked out. I never regretted the decision.

Four Years Later


Four years ago today, I wrote this. My life changed forever that day.

I still have a Janet-shaped hole in my heart. I always will. I still notice her absence with every day that passes.

Quote of the Day: Jumping Off Cliffs


“If we listened to our intellect, we’d never have a love affair. We’d never have a friendship. We’d never go into business, because we’d be cynical. Well, that’s nonsense. You’ve got to jump off cliffs all the time and build your wings on the way down.” — Ray Bradbury

I’m not condoning love affairs, especially if you are married. But everything else that Ray Bradbury says here reminds us that life is full of risks and opportunities. Although many of us prefer not to have to take more risks than necessary, we must take some risks if we don’t want to simply stagnant and stop growing.

I grew up in a family where taking risks didn’t go so well. Both my parents started and failed with their business ventures. My mother, however, finally got the knack of how to be a successful businesswoman. She went from being a bookkeeper in her home, to doing taxes in a rented office, to finally becoming an Enrolled Agent. She’d taken her risks, one determined step at a time, and ended up creating a profitable business; my father was happy to support her work and was a traveling notary public. Most of their risks were calculated, yet one can never know precisely how a venture might go.

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“Freedom is a fragile thing and is never more than one generation away from extinction. It is not ours by inheritance, it must be fought for and defended constantly by each generation, for it comes only once to a people.” – Ronald Reagan, sworn in as 33rd Governor of California, January 2, 1967 (delivered First […]

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When Life Changed: The Birth of a Daughter


Twenty-two years ago, just after Christmas, a tiny girl arrived via urgent C-section three and a half weeks before her due date. And our lives were never the same. Oh, the nurse midwife doing the pre-natal checkups warned me. She said that because of the struggle with infertility,  “This is a very special pregnancy.” And in light of the special status, she tried to take extra care of me and the baby. Her statement bothered me at the time. Every pregnancy, every human being, is precious, no matter the circumstances of conception or birth. Yet I appreciated the midwife’s conscientiousness with me, her concern when measurements came up short, the live-saving hospital intervention that yielded a stubbornly sleepy five-pound daughter.

The changes to our lives at first, the special ways of our child, were explosive. The impact of the sudden delivery transformed me–the incision healed rapidly, but I felt like a different person. I didn’t know what was wrong, and neither did anyone else. I sobbed in my hospital bed two days in, locked in this fluorescent hive of evolving nurse bulletins because of the vulnerabilities of the too-tiny stranger. The twists in this 24-hour hospital plot were endless. The baby was yellow and needed a Bili light. I developed a severe headache from the anesthesia and dragged myself through a baby care class required for our release, where I learned that the baby powder my mother had relied on through four children was no longer recommended. From the staff tag-teaming on eight-hour shifts, I received a stream of advice and warnings, some of it contradictory.

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January’s group writing theme is “The Time When Life Changed.” Ricochet members, founding or first time subscribers, AND especially the reticent or keyboard shy, are strongly encouraged to join in our group writing project this month. Posts on January’s theme could be about a change for the better or for the worse. It could be […]

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[Resolve to contribute in 2022. Check out our monthly theme and Quote of the Day standing projects and act on your resolution this January!] There has been a great deal of good writing over the years, inspired by monthly theme cues. Maybe you missed some, or joined more recently. Instead of searching on tags, just […]

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So Much Light … Not Enough Night


It’s New Year’s Eve and I’m back to doing doubles at the Deathstar. I’d say that it “seems like old times” but no times seem like old times anymore at the mothership. Or anywhere else, for that matter.

New Year’s used to be quite the event at my “day job” (a law firm that we support staff like to [half] jokingly refer to as the nexus of evil in a galaxy far, far away). Our offices loomed over 42nd and Broadway. We’d flock to the windows just before midnight to watch the team in charge of the ball drop scurry around below us on the platform and as the countdown ended, the fireworks would rise up to meet us, exploding literally before our eyes.

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This January’s theme is “The Time When Life Changed.” Thanks to @susanquinn for the suggestion. This could be a change for the better or for the worse. It could be for you, a relative, a friend, someone (in)famous, the country, the world, or even the cosmos. Ricochet members, founding or first time subscribers, AND especially […]

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Quote of the Day: Faith in the Future


This one is from Alfred Hitchcock, quoted by Edward White in his book “The Twelve Lives of Alfred Hitchcock”:

“I’ve come to believe that a hidden future is one of God’s most merciful and exciting gifts,” he once wrote, expounding his theory of never taking anything too seriously. “We can live in a state of chronic despair, or we can live with faith in the future, even though it is hidden from us.”

Quote of the Day: The Year of Creativity


“I saw the angel in the marble and carved until I set him free.” – Michelangelo

The year 2021 has been filled with disappointments, disasters, and death. We’ve seen confusion and fear escalate over the coronavirus, lies and distortions continue from the powers-that-be, and it’s hard to fight a sense of helplessness as we approach the new year. Each of us, in our own way, however, has a way to fight through the passivity and the frustration that has dominated our country. We must face government ineptness and the indifference to the struggles of our citizens. We have to remember that as the most creative beings on the face of the earth, we have the ability to transcend our problems and breakthrough our perceived boundaries.

We may not see ourselves as great artists, but we have the potential, each in our own way, to “see the angel in the marble” and release ideas that will free us from those who want to imprison us with their malignant ideas. We can create beauty, possibility, and we must fight the doldrums that are tempting us to just give up and give in.

Dark House With a Lighted Basement


I never did much of the kind of ice fishing depicted in the photo to the right, which shows my brother Jim on the shallow waters of West Leaf Lake in Otter Tail County in north central Minnesota. It was a bright, warm day in March 1972, but it’s not the kind of light I had in mind for the title for this month’s group writing theme.

I presume Jim was fishing for crappies or bluegills, as it would have been out of season for walleyes, bass, or northern pike. My favorite kind of ice fishing was dark house spearfishing for northern pike. The photo below, taken the previous winter on the same lake, depicts a scene from that activity. Even though days are short in early January, when this photo was taken, the scene probably wasn’t as dark as this deteriorated photo makes it appear. I like it, though, partly because of the mood it evokes and because it shows family members who didn’t care much for ice fishing getting in on the fun of moving the fish house or dark house (either term was used) on a sledge to a new location on the lake. Any new location had to be chosen carefully, as it could be a bit of a production to move. In the photo I see myself, Dad, my two sisters, and perhaps one cousin. My guess is that some of them were glad to get outside for a little fresh air and exercise and then went back home when the actual fishing started.