During a week in which shades were removed as windows were replaced, I woke to sun streaming in and a view of a gnarled pine and a couple of hawks circling in the blue sky. It instantly reminded me of my childhood in the Black Hills. We never had window shades and looked out on a forest of pines and spruce, not my one pine in a pot.

The Black Hills were beautiful, whatever season. My cousin and I argued about which was best, the hills or the prairie country where he first lived. He felt hemmed in, “You can’t see anywhere!” I replied, “On the prairie, there isn’t anything to see.” Actually, the wide prairie is awesome with spectacular sunsets.

My thoughts turned to other beautiful places I’ve lived. In Washington, D.C. the shining monuments are particularly wonderful at night. On home leave one autumn, our capital looked so new compared to European capitals I’d just toured. Lady Bird Johnson’s touch was seen in flowers everywhere.

Bolivia, my first post, had the stark beauty of the Andes, everything above the tree line. Colors varied, depending on the time of day. Mt. Illimani, snow-capped, towering over La Paz, changed from brilliant gold to pinks and purples as the sun went down. 

The Portuguese name for Taiwan was “Formosa,” which means beautiful. To see why you had to climb a low mountain nearby to get above smoggy Taipei. In Santiago, Chile, smog also often obscured its glorious view of the Andes, but on a Sunday afternoon one could drive up into them. I traveled that lovely country from its northern Atacama desert to southern fjords and glaciers. 

Married to a journalist, my next home was a block in from Rio’s Copacabana beach with its famous view of Sugarloaf, Moving to Buenos Aires, we were ten years in a 12th floor apartment with floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking a golf course and the Rio de la Plata (Uruguay’s coast visible on a clear day).

After 20 years abroad, for me, it was back to living among pines as our family settled in a Houston suburb. One year, we took our somewhat reluctant teenagers through “all of the canyons of the West!”  

It is a truly spectacular country. A foreigner once remarked that the U.S. is like “one huge park.” 

I wonder if others share a sense of permanence when observing natural grandeur —that it will be there for many generations to come as an antidote to the ugliness we create in politics and world affairs; or is there also a sense of fragility? Sometimes I feel an urge to wrap it all up and protect it somehow from environmental damage or from the ever-increasing carnage today’s weaponry can inflict in the hands of the warring people of our planet. 

Amanpour and company had remarkable footage on the home life of a jihadist relaxing with his two young boys, one cuddled in his arm, the other looking on admiringly. Their love for each other was evident, yet he was teaching them jihadism. With other young boys, they stood as shots were fired between their feet, accustoming them to gunfire. Next, he was shown having them cut off the head of a live bird. The chilling conclusion is that conquering terrorism in one area is not going to end intense dedication to wiping out “the infidel.” 

These jihadists see the warring side of America, the obsession with sex and violence (if they watch our movies), the vicious jockeying for power in D.C. Small wonder they view it as a power struggle with the “Great Satan.” There is another America of people they never see, who aspire to live by Christian teachings of kindness, generosity and concern for others.

Easter tells of violence as well. Astonishingly, Jesus, even as he was crucified, said, “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.”  Soldiers following orders really didn’t know. However, for religious leaders who initiated the crucifixion, it was a power struggle. Jesus was a threat to their rigid religious system, and they were intent on removing him.

Occasionally, responding to a horrific shooting, followers of Jesus also pray, “Father, forgive the troubled young man who did this.” How can they possibly do that? Only as Christ’s Spirit within them enables them to see things as He saw them. We need more of that Spirit to prevail in our world.

Verna Benham is a Kerrville resident. She is a former employee of the U.S. Foreign Service whose career took her across the globe, including to Argentina, Taiwan and Chile.

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