It runs...and it also stops.

Automobiles are fun things. When they work.

This past week, I had a component failure on my Jeep. The failure was a leak in the brake-fluid. The vehicle ran fine, stopping it safely was a problem.

In scheduling terms, it was the best week of the year for this to happen in. The days were mostly-free, and I had rides from family to various Christmas-celebratory events.

In weather terms, it was the worst week of the year to need auto repair. It would be cold, with predictions of snow.

Also, I wasn't sure I had the appropriate tools.

The problem was localized (with a little inspection) to a leak inside one of the rear brake calipers. The dark splash of brake-fluid showed where the leak had happened.

With some help (from a family member, more experienced than I with brake-repair) I began the task. We did some research, and consulted a reference book. Then we began disassembly.

Several hours later, we found what appeared to be the source of the problem.

To explain: drum brakes have an auto-adjust mechanism, and this mechanism had gotten stuck so it would not adjust. Every time the brakes were used, this caused the brake cylinder to extend  further out. Eventually, the cylinder extended too far and leaked fluid.

The repair took more hours than I liked, mostly because the leak had left a thick coating of dirt and brake fluid on every component in the system. Some components had to be re-used, others had to be replaced. This process took some time.

Finally, the brakes were re-assembled, the brake-fluid replenished, and air-bubbled bled out of the system. After the wheel was on the rim, a test-ride was done. Not only did the Jeep run, the brakes were able to stop it.

That made for a good ending to the day.


Tis the Season

This year seemed a break in tradition for me.

Most of the extended-family Christmas gatherings that I remember happened on or after Christmas. There would be road trips, gift-giving, big meals, and lots of meetings with relatives.

This year, the family elected to gather the weekend before Christmas. It worked, mostly because everyone involved had Monday/Christmas-Eve off.

The past two years have seen gatherings that mix sadness with joy. Of my three surviving grand-parents: one is in rapidly-declining mental health and lives in the mental-care wing of a nursing facility; another suffers from declining physical health and loneliness due to a spouse living in the mental-care wing of a nursing facility; a third has a declining sense of balance and needs surgery to correct back pain.

That made for two things which were different than the usual. The schedule, and the presence and health of the heads of the family.

I am glad to say that the celebration still went well. Grandparents, uncles, aunts, cousins, and children-of-cousins all celebrated. (Let's see...a cousin of my generation has a child, so that child is a cousin-once-removed. Or something.)

One tradition that I am happy is still alive: in the preparation for the giving of gifts and celebration, the immediate family has long celebrated the season of Advent. My parents would read a series of Bible stories to the family, travelling from Adam to the birth of Christ (meeting Noah, Abraham, Moses, Joshua, Samuel, David, Josiah, Elijah, Jeremiah, Isaiah, Micah, Zechariah, Elizabeth, Joseph, Mary, and others  along the way).

Each story would be read over breakfast on a specific day of Advent, after the lighting of candles on the Advent wreath.

The readings remind us of the path that led from Creation to the birth of Jesus, as well as the culture and history of the Jewish people. It also served as an antidote to the Winter-Festival effect, in which celebrating the birth of Christ feels lost in wintertime fun and gift-giving. (Not to say that wintertime is not fun, nor to say that gift-giving and celebration aren't enjoyed...just that Christmas is about something bigger than those things.)

Even though I no longer live with my parents, I am happy to know the tradition goes on. I joined the family for breakfast when I could.

I wish Christmas is made merry by all; and that all remember the little child whose birth became a hinge-point in history.


Murder Most Foul

The story shocks.

A mad man. Many dead children. A few adults dead. Parents weeping inconsolably.

The explanation, if available at all, pointed in the direction of the monstrous. How could any man think such an act normal.

And the man is now beyond the reach of justice. The victims were buried. Tales were told of the how and the why. People questioned their neighbors. They questioned God.

And Herod's slaughter of the innocents almost faded from the memory of mankind. It would have been forgotten, except for the way in which it intersected with the life of the most widely-remembered rabbi of the time.

The more recent slaughter of children (in a small town in Connecticut) had this in common with that ancient atrocity: both Herod and the modern-day shooter saw other people as obstacles to be brushed aside at will. The most important person in the area was acting, and the deaths of the children were all part of that person's importance.

Sometimes it seems as if the modern age cannot imagine evil. America's public debates sometime assume that businessmen are evil. Or religious leaders, if they hew too closely to the old standards. Others assume politicians and lawyers are evil, for telling the public lies that most seem to want to hear.

Then we learn of men who choose to cast aside lives. Maybe acting in response to insanity. Maybe acting in response to some imagined slight by a parent. Maybe acting because they have decided they love the death of others more than they love their own life.

Evil exists in this world. This level of evil cannot be gainsaid, legislated away, or stopped by speeches.

I hope to never meet such an evil person in the act of killing. But I prepare myself to be ready if such evil presents itself to me. And that is one reason I carry a pistol, where legally permitted.

Because a gun is only as dangerous as the person holding it.



It is an ending, and a beginning.

With hope for the future, courage for the tasks at hand, and whatever wisdom and wits I can muster.