By Bob J. Daniels
Since 2002, I’ve lived all but about two years in Saudi Arabia with a 5-week vacation to the states once a year. When 9-11 happened, I was wiped out in the stock market and had to end my sabbatical so took a job in Taif, Saudi Arabia, teaching new Royal Saudi Air Force pilots how to fly the F-15C. In fact, I had flown a great many of their jets which they bought used from the USAF. It’s ironic that it was Saudi terrorists who were ultimately responsible for me taking a job in Saudi Arabia.
In Saudi Arabia, four colors dominate . . . blue, brown, white, and black. The sky, the Red Sea (on the west side of Saudi Arabia), and the Persian Gulf (on the east side of Saudi Arabia) are blue. Over 95% of the land . . . and maybe more . . . is mostly brown dirt and brown rocks. The men wear white thobes (thin white full body robes) with white or red & white gutras (their head dress). And the women wear black abayas (ankle-length, long sleeved robes). Many women go to the extreme which includes black gloves and full face covering, even in the southeast corner of Saudi Arabia which is incredibly humid. (Imagine Miami in the summer on a 100+ degree day at 98% humidity.) It was a big surprise to me that anywhere in Saudi Arabia is or could even be humid. I was there for two weeks at the beginning of May and it was the most miserable hot weather situation I’ve ever experienced.
Sometimes I wonder if one of the reasons this part of the world is so conservative is because the landscape is so BORING. Think about the fact that just about every environment on the planet can be found in the U.S. . . . except jungle. I believe our extreme variety of flora and fauna and landscapes actually contributes to our openness to new ideas and creative thinking.
In Port Huron, we have Lake Huron and St. Clair River and . . . when warm enough . . . it is an absolute pleasure and refreshing to swim in both. Fishing, boating, kayaking, and simply floating are all available choices in Port Huron. In Taif . . . which is a 2-hour drive east from the Red Sea at about 5,000 feet elevation . . . the only place one swims is in a concrete pool. There are no swimming holes or lakes or rivers. When there’s enough water to swim somewhere, it’s a flash flood situation and, if you are swimming, it’s for your life.
Do you remember as a kid telling your parents there was nothing to do during summer vacation? Even as a kid, I thought it was stupid for us kids to say that. When growing up in Port Huron, virtually every school . . . elementary, junior high, and high school . . . had gyms where basketball, volleyball, dodge ball and other sports were routinely played. Most large churches also had basketball courts and there were many outdoor courts in addition to backboards in driveways and back yards. But we had much more. Pools at the high schools and the YMCA and in Sarnia. Tennis courts on the north and south sides of town. Baseball and softball and soccer and football fields at multiple locations. Kiddie parks all over the city.
For more adventurous or older kids, the river was there for a quick dip. The beach at Lakeside Park. Movie theaters. McMorran’s theater. McMorran for ice skating and hockey. In the winter, Palmer Park and other outdoor skating rinks. Riding a bike? Unless you were a complete idiot, a kid could always find a safe place to ride in Port Huron. In Saudi Arabia in most medium or large cities, there is NO safe place for a kid to play on the street or ride a bike. I rode all over Port Huron on my bike growing up, as did most of my friends and relatives. But I would NEVER let my kid ride a bike in anything other than a small village setting in Saudi Arabia.
There is more to do in Port Huron with a population of 30,000 than there is in Taif with a population of about 1,200,000. In Taif, when you take one of those circular exits off a main road or highway and there is green grass in the middle of that circle, you will find many families sitting on that grass having a picnic. (The Saudi government does plant and water grass along some sections of roads.) Simply having a 5-10 feet strip of grass along a main road is enough to encourage Saudis to pull over and park and have a picnic on the grass. There are very, very few city or state or national parks like we have in the states.
In Port Huron, two of my grandnieces . . . the Roff girls . . . take piano lessons and every year participate in a concert at their church with many other children. Their younger sister has done gymnastics and dance. This sort of activity is common all throughout American cities. School bands. Church bands. City bands. Rock and country and jazz bands. Church and school choirs. The magnificent Salvation Army brass band.
As a kid in the late 60’s and early 70’s, my kid sister . . . Laura Gavin . . . was a state baton champ and the junior star of Maybelle Van Dance Studios where every year, dozens (hundreds?) of cute little ballerinas and baton twirlers and dancers would show off to their friends and families at McMorran Auditorium. Most similar-sized American cities have dance and baton studios. As a 6th grader, Laura was invited to march with the Big Red Marching Machine and was even invited on our Germany trip, she was that good.
Little girls doing this in Saudi Arabia? I don’t think so.
So what’s the point of all of this? There are actually TWO points. A practical point. And some point that’s straight out of the “Where the heck did that come from?” category. Let’s get practical first.
We often have to make an actual CHOICE to appreciate what we have. Americans are so inundated with stimulus that we become deadened to it. I’ve lived in some wonderful places like Santa Fe, New Mexico, and Monterey, California, and Anchorage, Alaska, and Fort Lauderdale, Florida, and Bitburg, West Germany and . . . Port Huron, Michigan. But I’ve also lived in some ugly towns including an ugly remote Alaska town which was both beautiful (the nature) and terrible (the village) at the same time. And I’ve lived in two ugly, overpopulated cities in Saudi Arabia. To fully appreciate living in a good or great place, it helps to live in a pooty place (as a little 4-year old might say). That was never necessary for me. But I am always amazed at the number of Americans . . . and especially people from Port Huron . . . who have little appreciation for the great place they live, especially given how most people in the world live.
YES, I acknowledge that many people are poor and without work. And many people are sick and find it hard to appreciate anything. And some of you have family members who just suck so your home life sucks which makes it hard to appreciate what your city has to offer. When your life sucks, however, living in a great city is a good thing. It can ease the pain somewhat with its distractions and opportunities.
You have to MAKE AN EFFORT to truly appreciate where you live no matter where you live. Go to the best cities on the planet and you will still easily find people who are miserable, miserable because that is what they choose to be, even when they have enough money and a good enough job and an okay family and more than enough friends. Don’t be that person. And choose to appreciate Port Huron especially because it really is an amazing place to live compared to most cities on the planet. As a world traveler, I know this for a FACT.
If you’re feeling miserable, just drive around the city and make an effort to appreciate all the parks and sports fields and the great downtown area and the beautiful YMCA and the lake and the riverfronts. If you have to, think about the BILLIONS of people on the planet who live in terrible conditions in terrible cities with little security or comfort or entertainment . . . or even proper toilets or fresh water. Step into the Salvation Army services on Court Street on a Sunday and become energized by listening to their great brass band. Go to a Big Reds or Huskies football or basketball or baseball or hockey game on a Friday night. Go see a movie in the new Sperry’s movie complex. Take a walk along the river. Go fishing. CHOOSE NOT TO BE MISERABLE! And CHOOSE to enjoy your well-above-average city.
People in Saudi Arabia are absolutely STARVED for something to do. I’ve probably eaten 5 times my normal quotient of M & M’s and Planters Spanish peanut mix out of sheer boredom and watch more TV in one year here than I did in 20 years as an adult in the U.S. or Germany. When Saudi’s are asked where they would live if they could live anywhere in the world, most of them say the United States (assuming they can still come home to visit when they want) . . . even the people who most loudly complain about the U.S. For middle class and wealthy Saudis, the United States is a favorite vacation portal. In fact, it’s also the number one overseas destination for Saudi college students, especially women who derive great pleasure from being in the U.S. where they can drive and see movies and go places without a male relative escort.
If you think about those many billions of people in the world who would absolutely love to live in Port Huron, perhaps it will give you pause and help you to appreciate where you live just a little bit more.
Time for off-the-wall.
Common queries about God often include questions like . . .
- Why did God create all this?
- Why would God let us treat each other so badly and have such terrible experiences, like a child getting raped and then brutally murdered?
Obviously, these are subjects that come up all the time during your discussions of the differences between Taif and Port Huron while slamming brewskis at the Brass Rail . . . right? Beer has that effect on the brain, causing perfectly constrained thoughts to leak out all over the place with no explanation for the mess.
It just so happens that I’ve read hundreds of books related to religion, spirituality, and the nature of God which covered most major religions, much of the New Age movement, major philosophical schools of thought, and unusual phenomena (e.g. near death experiences, past-life and between-life hypnotic regression, and psychic phenomena). So when I drink a long neck . . . or four . . . all that messy stuff looking for an escape from the prison of my mind sometimes seizes the opportunity to go into full blurt mode.
Even though I’m in Saudi Arabia as I . . . hic . . . write this article, where alcohol is . . . hic . . . expressly forbidden, there was some unforeseen blurtage while sitting at my Mac computer . . . . . . . . hic. When that happens, it’s best to just observe what leaks out and let my messy mind go off on its tangent. Giving in to the urge to plug all the leaks just results in a much longer, slightly less messy experience.
With that in mind, what my mind wants to share from its current stage of blurtage is this:
When we observe what people believe about life and spiritual matters and physical reality, we often see a correlation in their beliefs with their physical environment. Life in Hawaii is very friendly compared to most areas of the world. That’s because during the development of their culture, it was much easier to survive there than it was in many other parts of the world. Lots of fresh water. Produce. Fish. A comfortable temperature range. A beautiful environment. So the Hawaiians developed a very friendly social and spiritual philosophy that matches their physical environment.
The quality of life in Washington state and the northeast is generally much better than it is in Mississippi or Alabama. If you ask anybody which places have the more extreme and harsh views of religion and simple reality, most would quickly agree states in the southeast are much more likely to be severe and harsh and judgmental in their beliefs about both politics and religion.
Life on the Arabian peninsula hundreds of years ago was very, very hard. There was a little bit of fresh water, a little bit of grass, and a little bit of wood with which to build boats to fish and trade. Herders raised goats and sheep and camels that could eat the toughest shrubbery and survive on little water. Bedouins made a living by protecting caravans . . . when they weren’t raiding caravans. The people learned to survive by expending very little energy.
Unlike on the American frontier where hard work paid off, working harder could threaten a person’s survival and Saudi’s are now just learning to work more like their American counterparts. The average Saudi fighter pilot in 2002 worked a 4 to 6.5 hour day typically. I almost always worked at least a 10-hour day and often a 12-hour day when I was active duty. Now, in great part because of their constant modernization, many Saudi fighter pilots are routinely working American hours.
What kind of philosophy and religion developed on the hard scrabble Arabian peninsula? One that is much, much harsher and severe than what developed on the Hawaiian islands.
So what does Port Huron have anything to do with anything?
The people of Taif . . . having lived very restrictive lives compared to the people of Port Huron . . . don’t know to turn their city into something more like Port Huron with its many advantages, especially in sports and for kids. When you grow up and participate in softball leagues and move to another city or state, you tend to look for softball leagues in your new home. And if they don’t exist and you have a passion for softball, you are more likely to make an effort to help get them started because you EXPECT them to be there and WANT them to be there. Growing up in a place like Port Huron, you’ve been exposed to ‘enough’ to know what can be created in other locations if you move there. You know to look for good water recreation activities, for good schools, for sports opportunities, for music and theater opportunities, for socializing opportunities like the Blue Water Festival.
If you grow up and live in some place barren . . . like Saudi Arabia . . . it is more difficult to see the value of making an effort to create something more because you are much less likely to see ‘more’ in the first place to know it is even possible. When you visit a city like San Francisco and see all of its wonderful sites, at least a handful of people are more likely to become a creative force for positive change and growth when they return home because of the things they had just seen. They will tend to want to recreate some of what they’ve seen if it’s something they really like.
When you look at Saudi Arabia from space, and you compare American and European worker compounds with Saudi compounds and housing areas, they are much greener. Why? Americans and Europeans plant trees and bushes and flowers as soon as they move into their houses or apartments. Saudis don’t. Why? Because it’s in the minds of the Americans and Europeans to do so but not in the minds of most Saudis.
The ultimate nature of God is as Creator. Why do I think that? Look around. A hundred billion galaxies with a hundred billions stars each, give or take. Most of those stars have multiple planets in orbit. Look at the evolutionary systems that have created simply incredible amounts and types of stuff, especially living stuff like us. Incredible colors, sounds, tastes, and sensory experiences are all part of our experience. Just look at what humankind . . . all by itself . . . has created in the last 200 years.
The Bible says humans were created in God’s image which many simple people think means that God looks like a physical human. What it really means (IMHO) is that our intrinsic nature is to create and to love as God does with our primary function being to create ourselves (i.e. who we are) and to create for others (out of love), and to love God’s Creation . . . all of it . . . . . . . . . . . . . even the bad parts.
Our job is first to create our own basic life, to survive physicality, and to improve our physical experience. And as we evolve as spiritual beings, we might then create things outside ourselves on the physical level including very advanced things like computers and lasers and musical symphonies. And as we evolve even more, perhaps we begin to perform healing miracles like Jesus did (who said that we would do even greater things than He did). And as we evolve even more, we start to approach the abilities that masters like Jesus and Buddha demonstrated and advanced spiritual practitioners routinely demonstrate. There are people alive on the planet who already and routinely demonstrate some of these advanced abilities.
Visualize a bunch of Tibetan Buddhist monks in an ice-cold, well-below-zero open building on a mountain in Tibet in the winter. Water is poured over these monks completely wetting their robes. Their meditation skills permit them to heat their bodies to such a degree that they do not suffer the cold and they generate so much heat they dry out their clothes . . . in the winter . . . in sub-zero temperatures. (Have you ever tried to dry anything out on a winter camping trip without direct access to fire? It just doesn’t happen. I did winter aircrew survival training in Norway in the winter and know this to be true.)
It’s easy to imagine that God created all of Creation because it interests God. It gives God something to do that satisfies God. Creating stuff is fun! Okay, you say. You get that. But why does God allow bad things to happen to good people? Simple . . .
We are all a little piece of God.
Everything that exists must . . . by definition . . . come from God when all that exists to begin with was/is God. So if we are all a piece of God, God is allowing parts of God to do bad things to other parts of God knowing that no part of God can ever truly permanently harm any other part of God. It is an illusion, even if that illusion feels so real . . . and painful . . . for the part of God experiencing that illusion at the time. Why would God do this?
So God can experience what God is not so God can truly appreciate and experience what God is.
Imagine you have nothing but the best chocolate ice cream to eat . . . AND NOTHING MORE. Kinda loses its appeal after a while . . . right? How can you appreciate the perfect temperature if you haven’t experienced extreme hot or cold? I’ve done 120 degrees in Saudi Arabia. I’ve done less than 50 below zero in Alaska, so cold tossing a boiling cup of water into the air from the second story will result in nothing but ice and steam before it hits the ground. After experiencing both, I really appreciate taking a dip in Lake Huron in August much more than I did before experiencing those extremes. And by letting us little baby Gods create our own personal realities and letting us use free will to do something unexpected, it’s likely much more interesting for God to sit back, eat God’s popcorn, and enjoy the unexpected than to make us dance like puppets like many fundamentalists would insist is how God does it (i.e. their version of God’s will is that God plots out every action for everything. How boring for God would THAT be?!).
Perhaps it’s God’s will that many or most of God’s ‘pieces’ (i.e. us) have free will because it’s a lot more entertaining for God to watch all the trouble we get ourselves into. After all, who goes to the movies to watch how everyone treats everybody else perfectly? Who goes to watch NOTHING happen? How boring would that be? And by allowing imperfection, God more fully appreciates God’s perfection because of the contrast between imperfect and perfect.
Fortunately, because God actually loves us, our pain and drama is only temporary and there’s no permanent harm and no permanent foul. Voluminous stories from near-death-experiencers suggest this is exactly how it is. And I agree with such observations. But what do I know? I’m just an idiot fighter pilot. Ciao, Port Huron people.
I forgot to say what all this God stuff has to do with Taif and Port Huron.
Living in Saudi Arabia, it’s easy to see how an understanding or belief in a creative God is much harder to accept when there is so much barrenness and life is so hard. Living in or near near a desert hundreds of years ago with violence a normal part of life would naturally cause people to more easily believe in a God Who is harsh and judgmental and heavy with rules. How can you survive in such an environment without having to make harsh decisions and enforcing strict rules for the good of all?
In Port Huron 400 years ago, there were animals for game, great quantities of fish, fertile soil, and wood for fires and building and tools. Before white people took everything, life was reasonably easy for local natives . . . which is why many white captives actually preferred their native lives to their white lives. Even now, growing up in Port Huron makes it much easier for people from Port Huron to imagine futures that are rewarding and fruitful and worth living than it is for people who grow up in other, harsher places in the world. Growing up in a city that engenders positive experiences encourages people to go out and chase their dreams . . . like I did. But it also requires a person to actively exercise their creative powers.
So the point of all of this is to get you to think about your own creative powers and to believe that even one person with a vision, especially when that vision derives from a foundation of love and community, can add greatly to a city and community. Port Huron already has more than the normal amount of creative force and people who make a difference. You are your own creator, a child of God Who imbued you with creative force. So exercise those powers.
A perfect example of a creative force for good is my former band director, Mr. Eric Payton, who built a great band program and marching band in just a few years that ended up being invited to Europe for the 1972 Olympics. His son, Jeff, was inspired to open an amazing restaurant and pub in downtown Port Huron . . . The Vintage Tavern . . . a dream that began with a simple idea. Mr. Payton’s daughter, Barb, is a rock and roll legend in the greater Detroit area and sings backup to rock stars like Pete Seger and Kid Rock when she’s not headlining her own bill.
Each of those three Payton dreams began with a single idea that grew and grew until it became a reality. So do what the Paytons did and make the effort to create the next and greater version of yourself knowing that was what God intended. Port Huron is just the place to be inspired to do that. Do it and the community of Port Huron will welcome your creative efforts to make Port Huron an even greater place to live.
Bob Daniels is an instructor pilot working overseas teaching new military pilots how to fly the F-15C in the Boeing linked visual simulator system. He hopes to retire to Port Huron by the end of 2020 having grown up in Port Huron where he was lead trumpet for the Big Red Marching Machine during their trip to the Munich Olympics in 1972. Bob graduated from the University of Maryland with a B.A. in Government & Politics while he was working at the National Security Agency as a Czech linguist for the U.S. Air Force before he was selected for pilot training. He’s traveled to 25 countries and 5 continents and flown over much of the U.S. having lived and flown in Alaska for 6 years. During that time, he’s interacted with countless foreigners and experienced a variety of social extremes, from Denmark to Saudi Arabia. Bob’s greatest writing interests are those subjects which everyone says you shouldn’t talk about in polite society . . . religion (spirituality) and politics (government). As a USAF fighter pilot, Bob’s greatest asset was thinking outside the box. As a writer, Bob lives OUTSIDE that same box.
Welcome to Blue Water Healthy Living, Bob! BWHL readers, help us grow Bob’s audience…don’t forget to “like”and share us on Facebook.
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