2021
August
13
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Monitor Daily Podcast

August 13, 2021
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TODAY’S INTRO

North vs. South? America’s political split may now be urban vs. rural.

This was a big week for America’s political numbers nerds. That’s because on Thursday the Census Bureau released its detailed population data from the 2020 census. These figures will be the raw material for the once-every-10-years redrawing of hundreds of congressional districts and thousands of state legislative districts across the United States.

The census data is also a portrait of the nation – what our race or ethnicity is, how old we are, where we live, and other such details.

Among the notable findings was that the number of white people in the U.S. declined for the first time since 1790. The growth in the Latino population slightly exceeded forecasts.

The share of children in the population declined, due to falling birthrates. Overall population growth slowed substantially.

Notably, big cities grew faster the past 10 years than experts had predicted. At the same time rural America shrank, both in total numbers and relative to metropolitan populations.

In fact, crunching the numbers, this may mean that the starkest geographic and political divide in America is no longer between the North and its blue states and the South and its red states.

“The partisan difference between large-metro and rural residents has become much larger than the gap between northerners and southerners,” writes Boston College political scientist David A. Hopkins on his Honest Graft blog.

Professor Hopkins points out that inside the South’s red states are the big, very blue dots of cities – think Houston and Atlanta. Outside the North’s urban areas, rural hinterlands are becoming deeper red.

So maybe U.S. states aren’t really red or blue. Maybe we should look at them all as various shades of purple.

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‘The volunteers saved Evia’: How grassroots fought the Greek fires

Fires have savaged the Greek island of Evia, and the state has been fighting blazes elsewhere in the country. But volunteers and grassroots efforts are helping save lives and homes.

Peter
Nicolas Economou/Reuters
People board a ferry during evacuation as a wildfire burns in the village of Limni, on the island of Evia, Greece, Aug. 6, 2021. Volunteers have been central to the firefighting efforts on Evia.

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Volunteers were the first – and at times only – line of defense against the wildfires that engulfed the Greek island of Evia this week, leaving charred olive trees in a sea of ashes.

Some were brave local youth. Others came from other parts of the country, shocked into action by the inadequacy of the government response. Wherever they came from, the volunteers, as well as grassroots support from nearby cities and towns to get supplies into fire-stricken areas, have helped save lives and property from roaring blazes across the island, located just northeast of Athens.

The destruction the fires caused is nonetheless catastrophic for many living on Evia, especially in its heavily wooded north. But the actions of volunteers helped prevent loss of life and keep a bad situation from becoming that much worse.

“I wanted to help,” says Kostas, a native of Thessaloniki who declined to give his full name. He arrived on the island on Monday and plans to stay put until the very end of his holidays. “I couldn’t stand watching it in the news. I saw the people fighting alone and I knew I could help physically. I just couldn’t watch anymore without doing something.”

‘The volunteers saved Evia’: How grassroots fought the Greek fires

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Volunteers were the first – and at times only – line of defense against the wildfires that engulfed the Greek island of Evia this week, leaving charred olive trees in a sea of ashes.

Some were brave local youth. Others came from other parts of the country, shocked into action by the inadequacy of the government response as it scrambled to fight an unprecedented number of fires across multiple fronts, including the capital, Athens.

Wherever they came from, the volunteers, as well as grassroots support from nearby cities and towns to get supplies into fire-stricken areas, have helped save lives and property from roaring blazes across the island, located just northeast of Athens. The destruction the fires caused is nonetheless catastrophic for many living on Evia, especially in its heavily wooded north. But the actions of volunteers helped prevent loss of life and keep a bad situation from becoming that much worse.

There was no loss of life reported on Evia from the fire that broke out on Aug. 3 and continued to smolder through Thursday. A sinister smoke hung over the small western port of Aidipsos early Wednesday as firefighters and volunteers from other parts of Greece arrived to help Evia.

The blaze had spared the port, an important entry point to the island, but consumed more than 110,000 acres just beyond. Some villages continued to burn, adding to the bitterness of residents who say the government prioritized fighting a wildfire at a large forest near Athens and allowed the fires on Evia to grow into a huge front that was impossible to battle.

Heroic acts amid desperate situations

Known for its fierce winds that stayed mercifully calm in recent days, the island’s north boasted beautiful pine forests that went up in flames all the same, along with vineyards and olive groves. Thousands of residents work either in small honey or resin production facilities. Resin production alone brings approximately €5.5 million ($6.45 million) every year for north and central Evia, since resin is used as an ingredient in the production of glues, acrylic paint, and dentures. Other residents depend on tourism.

Petros Karadjias/AP
Firefighters try to extinguish a fire in Avgaria village on Evia, an island about 115 miles north of Athens, Aug. 10, 2021.

Soccer coach Vaggelis Bekakos of the seaside town of Limni is full of praise for the locals who rose to the occasion and helped fight off the flames. Among them are young men on his team, including a civil engineer who still keeps watch overnight on rooftops to ensure there isn’t a resurgence of fire. “The volunteers saved Evia because there was no one there to help,” he says.

After the fierce wildfires of 2016, says the coach, residents of Limni created a volunteer corps of firefighters and rescuers who received proper training. They are bound by an oath to drop their day jobs and serve any time that there is a fire alert. Mr. Bekakos credits their heroic acts to save the town – broadcast on national TV – with inspiring villagers in other parts of the island to also fight the flames, rather than flee.

“We were asking the fire service to spray some water on a house that was beginning to burn and they would answer, ‘We have no such order. Our order is to evacuate the people, not to spray water,’” he recalls, channeling a common frustration over the government strategy that prioritized saving lives. Many feel the large-scale losses on Evia were avoidable.

The government “sent an evacuation message to hide behind an excuse: ‘I warned you to leave and you decided to stay. ... If you get burned, get burned alone because the state cannot protect you,’” says Mr. Bekakos.

Greece had to battle nearly 600 fires in the span of just eight days, issuing 65 evacuation alerts and evacuating 63,000 people, according to Nikos Hardalias, the deputy minister of crisis management. “What I know is that the choices we made saved lives,” he told journalists on Tuesday. “We didn’t underestimate any fire. ... We had to deal with a situation that was unique for the fire service: 568 fires!”

Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis on Thursday said the wildfires that devastated the nation for more than a week represented the greatest ecological disaster in decades and showed the “climate crisis is here.” Firefighters from 24 European and Middle Eastern nations came to provide assistance. One civilian died, along with a volunteer firefighter, compared with more than 100 people in the fires in the Attica region three years ago.

“We managed to save lives, but we lost forests and property,” Mr. Mitsotakis said. “What we see today is what was burned, but we do not see what was saved. Thanks to the superhuman efforts of both the firefighters and the volunteers and the citizens themselves, countless houses have been saved.”

“I wanted to help”

Five days after the start of the fires, Marinos, a native of the southern part of Evia who now studies in Athens, went with his friends to the scorching north because there appeared to be no government effort to bring the flames under control.

“We took branches from trees to hit the flames until they died,” says Marinos, who didn’t give his last name. “Later a man came from the village with his car, carrying the watering tank he uses for his vines. We used that water too. We used anything we could find.”

Alexandros Avramidis/Reuters
A firefighting plane makes a water drop as a wildfire burns near the village of Ellinika, on the island of Evia, Greece, Aug. 8, 2021.

Marinos was among those volunteering on Wednesday near the village of Gouves, one of many that almost burned down. A man of few words, Marinos says that he had experienced firsthand the importance of solidarity in 2019. His house almost burned down but didn’t – thanks to helping hands that came from the north of the island.

“Nothing resembles what happened here,” he says. “It’s not only the houses, it’s the forest. Their whole life is now in the past. What can they do after this?”

Maria Papadopoulou, a native of Athens, has devoted days to delivering food and water packages to those in need, shuttling villagers to safety, and rescuing and feeding the few animals that survived the inferno. She agrees that the loss of the forest is a huge problem. “The forest and the animals are gone forever,” she says. “In a few days, all the volunteers will leave and the people of the villages will be really alone then. They will continue to live in this huge cemetery.”

Ms. Papadopoulou is among dozens of volunteers who sacrificed summer vacation to volunteer on the island. Relief efforts across the country have mobilized a broad range of civil society actors, running the spectrum from churchgoers to left-wing anarchists. Giorgos Tsapourniotis, the mayor of Limni, had to issue a statement asking people to stop sending supplies because warehouses were full.

Kostas, a native of Thessaloniki who declined to give his full name, arrived on the island on Monday and plans to stay put until the very end of his holidays. “I wanted to help,” says the first-time volunteer. “I couldn’t stand watching it in the news. I saw the people fighting alone and I knew I could help physically. I just couldn’t watch anymore without doing something.”

On arrival, he says, he and a friend went straight to one of the villages that they had seen was in trouble and helped people extinguish a fire in their backyards. On Wednesday, in the town of Istiaia, Kostas was focused on delivering food where needed, undeterred by the stifling blanket of smoke on the island.

“The needs are so many that you can become useful immediately,” he says. “It’s a huge catastrophe all over the country, and especially here in Evia.”

Special correspondent Dominique Soguel contributed from Basel, Switzerland.

A deeper look

By bike and by foot, Americans discover their country – and themselves

A large number of people are crossing the United States on foot and by bike. To some, it’s an act of liberation. To others, it fosters a sense of community after pandemic isolation. For all of them, traversing the country at a slow pace offers the reward of the landscape’s grandeur. 

Peter
Doug Struck
Erin Dietrich, a Minnesotan who decided to walk across the country after thinking about it for 15 years, with her husband, Chris Rea, on day 132 of their journey in Kiowa, Colorado.

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Crossings please the soul. Large or small, they mark an accomplishment: the “t” crossed, the to-do item marked off, the dots connected. The dots may be two huge blue oceans.

Scattered across the country are wanderers making the crossing from one end of the United States to the other. By foot and by bicycle, they’re turning dreams formed while cooped up in quarantine into monthslong journeys of epic proportions.

And they love it.

Crossing the U.S. provides more than just a physical accomplishment: For the crossers, fulfillment comes in escape from routine, connection with others, and insight into themselves.

“When you’re in trouble, somebody shows up,” says Zach Wierzenski, stopped at a hostel in Virginia. “I have never experienced this kind of kindness before.”

“You are forced to be in the present,” adds cyclist Cole Irvin. “I found peace in it.”

Despite the newfound boom in traveling coast to coast, traipsing across the U.S. has a long history. But perhaps one crosser, Courtney Williams, while sipping bubble tea during a rest in Carbondale, Illinois, sums up centuries of competing desires with her own explanation: “Because I can? As clichéd as it sounds, it’s not a bad answer.” 

By bike and by foot, Americans discover their country – and themselves

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Crossings please the soul. Large or small, they mark an accomplishment: the “t” crossed, the to-do item marked off, the dots connected. The dots may be two huge blue oceans.

“You look at a U.S. map, and you see water on one side, and water on the other side,” says Jarad Schofer, a high school math teacher who walked from Santa Monica, California, to Virginia Beach, Virginia, this year. “You think, to cross it would be incredible.”  

As the pandemic has eased and cooped-up quarantine dreams have been unleashed, a small troop of wanderers is walking or bicycling from one side of this country to another. It is a grueling effort – enduring historic heat, grinding inclines, gas station food, and phone-distracted drivers.  

Most love it.

They say it fulfills something: a personal challenge, an escape from routine, a connection with others, an insight into themselves. They say they are finding what they sought on the road. 

COURTESY OF JARAD SCHOFER
“You look at a U.S. map, and you see water on one side, and water on the other side. ... You think, to cross it would be incredible,” says Jarad Schofer, a high school math teacher, plunging into the ocean in Virginia after finishing a walk from California in 89 days

“It’s not about what you see, it’s all the people you meet,” says bicyclist Zach Wierzenski, stopped at a hostel in Virginia. “When you’re in trouble, somebody shows up. It’s literally magic. I have never experienced this kind of kindness before.” 

No permit is required to wander about the country, so there are no firm numbers, but some estimate about a dozen walkers and several hundred cyclists cross the country in most years. The pandemic throttled those numbers, though the quarantines did boost bike sales and spurred the impatient to begin training. When COVID-19 eased, they leaped onto the roads.

“It was because of the pandemic. After all of that isolation, we wanted to connect with people,” says Meghan Sours of her family trek. They launched from Virginia on June 17 in an unusual formation: Ms. Sours and her husband, Bryan, riding bicycles, with 5-year-old Inness in a trailer behind her father’s bike. 

They stop at playgrounds and sleep in churches and campsites – and some hotels – as many of the crossers do. But “we have to have a bathroom,” says Mr. Sours, a social studies teacher from Provo, Utah, hoping to finish the journey before the start of school in September.

“For [Inness] it’s a really big adventure,” says Mr. Sours. “How many 5-year-olds can get to say they slept in a fire station?”

Why do these slow voyagers do it? Courtney Williams sighs at the question. Ms. Williams, sipping a bubble tea while stopping at the Blend Tea and Crepe Lounge in Carbondale, Illinois, shrugs. “Because I can? As clichéd as it sounds, it’s not a bad answer.” 

Her bike rests by the store – two yellow cat litter containers strapped on as makeshift saddlebags, her ukulele and a foldable hula hoop secured to the front frame. “I’ve always liked to hula-hoop. I have a speaker and turn on the music and dance,” she explains. 

DOUG STRUCK
A cyclist, laden with packs, shares the road with trucks and other traffic, sometimes precariously, near Damascus, Virginia.

The crossers get asked “why” so often they all have practiced answers to skirt deeper delving. Ms. Williams through-hiked the 2,190-mile Appalachian Trail as a teenager, and says she has been backpacking and living in her car off and on for years. A solo bike crossing seemed natural.

Biking alone, Ms. Williams says, “I get asked a lot if I carry a gun.” She hasn’t needed one, she says, but “as a woman, I am more cautious in general. I don’t tell people where I’m staying. I carry Mace – though that’s [to appease] my mom. If a car stops, my first instinct is a bit of panic but then they are just saying, ‘Are you OK?’”

America at a slow pace offers the reward of grandeur: the turbulent creases of the Appalachians on the East, the blazing colors of vast fields and sky in the heartland, the exhilarating heights of the Rockies in the West.

Some crossers say they just want to look over the next hill. “I’ve been perpetually restless all my life,” says Mr. Wierzenski, a Virginia Beach auto mechanic pedaling to Oregon who says he just might stay there. “One day I was on my way to work and my feet just wouldn’t work. They walked me around to the side of the building; I looked at the bike, stared off into the sun. And that’s the way I went.”

Indeed, an elemental thirst for liberation seems key. American philosopher Vernon Howard said, “Our freedom can be measured by the number of things we can walk away from.” Many of the crossers say they feel unburdened by the daily obligations of life on their journeys. They are required to focus only on the next step or rotation of the pedal.

Mike Crowley walked coast to coast in 2019. Toward the end, someone suggested a north-to-south trek. “I thought, ‘that’s stupid,’” Mr. Crowley recalls thinking. But seven months later he was in the northernmost tip of Michigan, embarking on a walk to Key West, Florida.

Mr. Crowley, who sold his home in California to begin a life of traipsing – he is planning his third cross-country trip now – says he does not listen to music or podcasts or pay attention to social media on his walks. “I just observe and listen and let nature and people and places just kind of soak in.”

DOUG STRUCK
“I love it that you can stop whenever you see something beautiful – a turtle, a bald eagle, a mountain. You can smell the air, and hear the air. All the senses kick in,” says Swantje Quarder, a university professor in Idaho, who is bicycling across the country with her husband, Patrick Lang, in Kansas.

There is much to enjoy. “I love it that you can stop whenever you see something beautiful – a turtle, a bald eagle, a mountain,” says Swantje Quarder, a German-born professor at Idaho State University in Pocatello, cycling with her husband on day 46 of their trip. They paused on a pencil-straight Kansas road bisecting hayfields. “You can smell the air, and hear the air. All the senses kick in.”

There is an old appeal to shedding the high-speed view of life that comes with the modern age. A fellow named Brian Christopher Hurley wrote a 251-page dissertation on walking for his doctorate of philosophy in history from the University of Arkansas in 2016. In addition to clocking 1,700 miles of his own from Maine to Illinois, Mr. Hurley studied the epic traipsing of five historical figures: naturalist John Muir, journalist Charles Fletcher Lummis, and three others.

He concluded they had walked to recapture the evolutionary nature of man and the social development that comes with experiencing life at 3 miles per hour amid societal change.     

“Walking was a way for Americans at the turn of the century to stay connected with their past while [society was] undergoing rapid modernization,” he wrote. “It was a way to preserve individual while fostering community. It allowed them to connect with the natural world while increasingly being separated from it. It let them focus on the physical in the face of the mechanical.” That is largely lost now, Mr. Hurley wrote.

He relates an anecdote of walking from Maine to New York, and asking a liquor shop owner in the Bronx directions to walk the mile or so to Yankee Stadium. The shopkeeper was befuddled, and could not envision why anyone would walk the short distance to Yankee Stadium rather than take the subway or bus. 

“The man at the liquor store had a mental map of the South Bronx that looked, I imagine, much like a subway map,” Mr. Hurley concluded. “In his world, two locations are joined not by streets and air and grass, but by the train car that you enter.”

Cycling, on the other hand, is a more recent passion for Americans. Greg Siple recalls in the 1960s “you didn’t see adults ride bicycles. Bikes were for kids. When you turned 16, you turned in your bicycle and got a car.” But it was a free-spirit era, and Mr. Siple, his wife, and another couple wanted adventure, so they cycled 18,000 miles from Alaska to Argentina. They returned to the U.S. just before the 1976 bicentennial, and decided to create an event for people to cycle 4,626 miles, coast to coast from Astoria, Oregon, to Yorktown, Virginia.

“In the summer of ’76 we had 4,000 people riding part or all of the trail,” says Mr. Siple by phone from his home in Montana. “It was meant to be an event, but it was so successful, we decided to make it into an organization,” the Adventure Cycling Association.  

The group now has mapped a spaghetti-like array of U.S. bike trails in GPS and paper form. Mr. Siple retired from the association in 2017, after seeing cycling flourish, with $3,000 touring bikes, special cleats, spandex biking pants, and tens of thousands of adherents, many of them following the green “76” highway sign created for his bicentennial route.

“It’s accessible to everyone,” Mr. Siple says of the transcontinental venture. “It doesn’t require explosive athleticism. It just requires determination.”  

Both walkers and cyclists say a chief reward of their labors is the opportunity to strike up conversations and meet people.

“Everyone that we have encountered, they are so incredibly kind,” says Ms. Sours. “It’s been soul nourishing.”

COURTESY OF BRYAN SOURS
“For [Inness] it’s a really big adventure. How many 5-year-olds can get to say they slept in a fire station?” says Bryan Sours, on bicycling across the country with his wife, Meghan, while pulling their daughter in a trailer.

For Cole Irvin, who took a challenge from a co-worker at a group home in Summerdale, Alabama, to bike across the country together this summer, the trip taught him to deal with the now.

“To be present in your surroundings, seeing everything at a 10 mph pace, smelling the smells, feeling the weather, going across Kansas when a thunderstorm falls on you,” he says. “You are forced to be in the present. I found peace in it.”

Or it can change people’s views of the future. Campbell Veasey and three other first-year medical students from Wake Forest University in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, joined another friend to bike across the country on the last free summer they will have before continuing their training. Siena Hapig-Ward joined the group when Mr. Veasey was practicing doing an ultrasound on her neck artery, and said, “By the way, you want to bike across country?”

Two days from finishing their odyssey in Winston-Salem, Mr. Veasey says, “This trip made me pretty pumped about helping work with people in rural communities. Like, your only food source is that Dollar General?” He and Ms. Hapig-Ward now are both thinking of opening rural practices. “We are getting an appreciation for how tough life is for rural America,” Mr. Veasey says.

There is crossover between the two groups; some of the cyclists are veteran hikers and vice versa. They intermingle at hostels or campgrounds. But each group keeps its preference for its mode of transportation. Hikers think bikers miss too much, and bikers shake their heads at the turtle crawl of the hikers. A walk across America can typically take nine months; bikers can make it in three.

Or six years. Four pals from Pittsburgh, all but one retired, have been crossing America on bicycles in chunks since 2016. Every summer, they drive to their last stopping point, and then ride another section of road. This year, they were cycling from Kansas City to southwest Colorado. They skipped last year because of the pandemic, but think they will finish the trip in 2022.

They stopped at a Frigid Crème frozen custard shop in Dighton, Kansas, to chat. No hurry, they said.

“I worked all my life and lots of weekends. Now it’s time to enjoy things I want to do,” says Fred Parker, a retired medical technologist.

“It’s kind of a test to see if you can still do it,” admits Chuck Ejzak, who celebrated his 65th birthday with pecan pie and Cool Whip along the road.

DOUG STRUCK
“My personal best! My previous best was 125 miles [the day before],” says Peter May, a cyclist from San Francisco, on the 210 miles he was pedaling that day in Kansas on his cross-country trek.

But others definitely are in a hurry. Peter May is a wiry, athletic 22-year-old from San Francisco. He paused briefly at a convenience store in Tribune, Kansas, to gulp several bottles of water and grab some fried chicken – his only food on a day in which he was pedaling 210 miles. “My personal best!” he exclaims. “My previous best was 125 miles” the day before.    

Mr. May has only three weeks left to get to Boston. He had dawdled in Colorado, ironically, to compete in a national mountain biking competition (he placed ninth), and spent more time detouring on the Colorado Trail. 

But even Mr. May has priorities other than speed. He refuses to pass a bakery without stopping, sometimes twice in the same block.  

“That puts me at around 60 or 70 bakeries so far,” Mr. May calculates. The next day he texts photos from 95 miles down the road of three pies and a cinnamon bun he consumed at different bakeries that day – pretty average, he says, though “one might consider that extreme.”

Many of the crossers also have Facebook pages or GoFundMe sites to raise money for causes. Mr. Schofer walked to support cancer research. Sam Green is walking to help a homeless shelter in New Jersey. The Sours are riding to raise money for teeth implants for a Ukrainian friend affected by the Chernobyl nuclear disaster. 

Australian sociologist Catherine Palmer studies what she calls “fitness philanthropy.” She says it is a global phenomenon. The philanthropy is part of – but rarely the main motive behind – these exploits, she says.

“The satisfaction that you get from that physical accomplishment is really something important,” she says by phone from her home in Tasmania. “But also, if you’re able to make a financial contribution to a cause that you’ve been involved with, or touched in some way, that’s a really important driver.”

There are easier ways to raise money for a good cause. But the hardship may be the point. A 2011 study co-written by Princeton professor Eldar Shafir called it “the Martyrdom Effect.” The researchers concluded “willingness to contribute to a charitable cause increases when the contribution process is expected to be painful ... rather than easy and enjoyable.”

That can certainly fit an American crossing. “I describe it as about 90% torture and 10% fun,” says Mr. Schofer, the Washington, D.C., math teacher. “I didn’t really know it was going to be that bad.” He started walking in Santa Monica nine months after he was married, and leaped in the Atlantic at Virginia Beach a stunning 89 days later.  

DOUG STRUCK
“It’s way harder than I thought. I figured it’d be a really great adventure for [my dog], too. But now, I’m realizing she doesn’t care,” says Sam Green, who is walking across the country with his pit bull mix, Taylor Ham.

He was anxious to return to his new bride, he says, and he took no time to relax. He hated much of the journey, he confesses. “I wanted to quit 100 times the first week.” But “I would have felt like such a failure.” His students, he notes, were watching by Facebook.

Sam Green, who is walking east to west with his pit bull mix, Taylor Ham, makes regular videos, often venting about the traffic, the weather, poison ivy, and faulty directions from his GPS. 

“It’s way harder than I thought,” he says at a stop just shy of Pittsburgh July 1. He pushes his 70-pound dog in a cart. “I figured it’d be a really great adventure for her, too,” he explains. “But now, I’m realizing she doesn’t care.”

On the flip side, for sheer exuberance, the award goes to a husband-wife team from Minnesota who are walking east to west. Erin Dietrich and Chris Rea tolerate no suggestions that their endeavor has a downside.

Are they glad they are doing it, the couple is asked in the eye-blink town of Kiowa, Colorado, on day No. 132 of their walk? “One hundred percent,” says Mr. Rea.

“One million percent,” corrects his wife.

The walk was the idea – the passion, really – of Ms. Dietrich.  

“The idea showed up” 15 years ago, she says. “This one never went away. It got in my head and it stayed.” She planned to walk with a friend, but the friend disappeared. “Just ghosted me,” says Ms. Dietrich, bewildered. “She was my bestie. It was ... heartbreaking.”

In stepped her husband, who pondered the trip for about a year, and realized he really wanted to go. He quit a good job of 20 years at a hardware store; she quit her data analyst job. They rented out their home near Minneapolis, and traveled to Delaware to begin the walk. 

“I couldn’t imagine not sharing it with you,” Mr. Rea says to Ms. Dietrich, as they get ready to snuggle into their tent, pitched in a backyard offered up by a helpful stranger. “I love that we do that together.”

Ms. Dietrich has a childlike excitement at stumbling onto the World’s Largest Ball of Twine in Cawker City, Kansas, or the Pencil Sharpener Museum in Logan, Ohio, or the goat that accompanied them for six miles. Strangers cannot help but be swept up in her enthusiasm.

The worst thing is going to be when it’s over, the couple concludes. “The greatest experience of my life – it’s half done,” says Ms. Dietrich. “I mean, that’s just so sad.”

“It’s going to be super bittersweet,” Mr. Rea agrees. “We don’t want it to end.”

Patterns

Tracing global connections

Iran’s nuclear program – and averting a Middle East war nobody wants

Iran’s nuclear program has long been a potent Middle East flashpoint. That is why, to avoid conflict amid new warnings, U.S. and European diplomatic machinery is again rumbling into gear.

Peter

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Iran’s accelerating progress toward being able to make a nuclear weapon is escalating tensions in the Middle East. Yet even as the potential for conflict rises, the hope among key outside powers – especially the United States and its European allies – is that a mix of diplomacy and internal political constraints on all the potential combatants will avert an outright war that no one wants.

Until recently, hopes for a breakthrough had been rising. But talks held in June over Iran’s nuclear program have not since resumed, and Israel now says the Iranians’ “breakout point” – when they will have sufficient fissile material to make a bomb – is around 10 weeks away.

Iran also last week inaugurated a new, hard-line president, Ebrahim Raisi, who has military leverage of his own: Hezbollah militia allies massed with tens of thousands of missiles across Israel’s northern border in Lebanon.

Still, with the prospects for negotiating any early compromise with Iran looking slim, the hope will be to calm things down using diplomatic tools, and, especially in contacts with Israel, find a way of at least slowing the pace of Iran’s nuclear program that stops short of military action.

Iran’s nuclear program – and averting a Middle East war nobody wants

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Ebrahim Noroozi/AP/File
Supporters of then-presidential candidate Ebrahim Raisi hold his picture during a rally in Tehran, Iran, June 16, 2021. Mr. Raisi was sworn in as president on Aug. 5, putting hard-liners in control of all parts of the Islamic Republic's civilian government.

It’s a Middle East war nobody seems to want. But with regional tensions ratcheting up over recent days, the challenge now facing all sides is to find a way to keep it from happening.

And they’re working against the clock, because at the heart of the escalation is Iran’s accelerating progress toward being able to make a nuclear weapon. Israel says the Iranians’ “breakout point” – when they will have sufficient fissile material to make a bomb – is now around 10 weeks away.

The potential for conflict is clear. Israel views a nuclear-armed Iran as a major threat, both to its own security and to the stability of the region. Yet Iran last week inaugurated a new, hard-line president, Ebrahim Raisi. And he has military leverage of his own: Iran’s Lebanese Shiite militia allies, Hezbollah, massed with tens of thousands of missiles across Israel’s northern border. 

Defusing the situation won’t be easy.

Yet the hope among key outside powers – especially the United States and its European allies – is that a mix of diplomacy and internal political constraints on all the potential combatants will avert outright war.

And with prospects for any early compromise with Iran over its nuclear program looking slim, it’s likely to be careful, calibrated, and largely closed-door diplomacy. The hope will be to calm things down and, especially in contacts with Israel, find a way of at least slowing the pace of Iran’s nuclear program that stops short of military action.

Louder rumblings

The rumblings have been getting more worrying. In the past two weeks, a pair of attacks reportedly mounted by Iran have targeted tankers off the coast of Oman, apparently in reprisal for Israel’s interception of alleged Iranian arms shipments. And last week, Hezbollah fired 19 rockets into Israel and, for one of the first times since its last full-scale war with Israel in 2006, publicly claimed responsibility.

Until recently, hopes for a diplomatic breakthrough with Iran had actually been rising. Talks were held in June in Vienna aimed at reviving the 2015 international accord under which the Iranians agreed to limit their nuclear program in exchange for the removal of economic sanctions. After then-President Donald Trump pulled the U.S. out of that deal and imposed new sanctions, Iran abandoned the limits and began pushing ahead more quickly on its nuclear program.

The Vienna talks came in the wake of President Joe Biden’s decision to rejoin the nuclear agreement, and they seemed to be nearing a compromise under which Iran would revert to its terms in return for the removal of most sanctions.

Even after the Iranian election in June, negotiators for outgoing President Hassan Rouhani seemed confident they’d have the leeway to try to conclude an agreement. In fact, that was seen as a potential boon for Mr. Raisi: He’d be able to reap the benefits of sanctions relief for a badly struggling Iranian economy without the responsibility for concessions on the nuclear program.

But the talks never resumed. The Iranians have, meanwhile, been enriching uranium at higher levels of purity. They scrapped an agreement to keep international inspectors’ cameras and sensors operating after it lapsed in June. The range of facilities open to on-site inspectors has also been reduced over recent months.

Mr. Raisi’s inaugural address did offer a glimmer of hope. He welcomed “any diplomatic solution” to lift the U.S. sanctions, a remark the State Department countered with a call for a return to the talks. But he made no mention of the nuclear side of a potential deal, leaving U.S. and European diplomats concerned that his negotiators would add new demands to the framework that seemed to be emerging before the talks broke off.

Diplomatic focus on Israel

The immediate diplomatic focus is now likely to center on Israel. Though it opposed the 2015 deal, especially unhappy over the fact it did not limit Iran’s program indefinitely, it shares deepening U.S. and European concern about the progress Tehran has since made toward being able to make a bomb.

Israel has mounted a series of unconventional attacks in the past few years to slow the Iranians’ progress: targeted killings of senior figures in the nuclear program and cyberattacks on key facilities. And while a direct military strike could present huge logistical difficulties, not least because critical parts of the nuclear program are well protected or underground, Israel has said that option remains on the table.

It’s against that background that Mr. Biden has this week sent his CIA director, William Burns, for talks in Jerusalem. The likely message: We, too, remain determined to keep the Iranians from becoming a nuclear-weapons state, and we’ll be closely monitoring their progress alongside you in the weeks ahead. But we’re not at present planning military action, and hope you’re not, either.

Still, Washington’s broader hope will be that not just Israel, but Iran and Hezbollah want to avoid a major confrontation.

Iran, already struggling under the sanctions, is being hit especially hard by the pandemic. Water shortages have also led to protests in a number of areas. Israel, after early successes in dealing with the pandemic, is now facing a sharp increase in cases, with prospects of new restrictions this month. Lebanon, where Hezbollah has become the leading political force, is facing pandemic pressures alongside a punishing economic meltdown.

And there’s a further possible disincentive: The last major Israel-Hezbollah war, a decade-and-a-half ago, raged for more than a month – with enormous damage and casualties on both sides, and, as a later Israeli inquiry concluded, no clear winner.

Still, the longer-term key to keeping the peace, however uneasy, is likely to lie in a process where all sides will want to be able to claim a measure of victory: the diplomacy to revive an Iran nuclear deal.

The Explainer

The Britney effect: Conservatorships get scrutiny

While Britney Spears says her own conservatorship is abusive, the legal device has long been criticized for facilitating elder abuse and undercutting disability rights.

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After years of online advocacy and pink placard protests to #FreeBritney, supporters of the pop star heard her own testimony in court this past June. Britney Spears made a case to end a conservatorship that she says is traumatizing in its control over her life. On Thursday, her dad, Jamie Spears, agreed to step aside, ahead of a hearing in Los Angeles Superior Court on Sept. 29.

The case is emblematic of an “outdated” yet prevalent approach that is akin to a light switch, says Jan Costello, a law professor at Loyola Marymount University. “It’s all or nothing, on or off,” she says. “They’re either competent, so they get to do everything, or they’re totally incompetent, so they don’t get to do anything.”

Nina Kohn, a law professor at Syracuse University, views the solution as largely legislative. “Seeing this happen to somebody [like] Ms. Spears really helps people understand how this arrangement can go wrong and why we need to be looking at our laws to figure out how we can make sure this doesn’t happen to other people.”

The Britney effect: Conservatorships get scrutiny

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A rally for Britney Spears is held at the Lincoln Memorial July 14, 2021, in Washington. Fans have called attention to Ms. Spears’ lack of autonomy with the #FreeBritney movement.

Pop star Britney Spears made headlines when she spoke out against the legal authority her father wields over her finances and personal affairs in June, after 13 years of near-silence on the matter. Ms. Spears called her court-appointed conservatorship “abusive” and asked a judge to terminate the arrangement. Although the conservatorship remains in place, on Thursday, her father, Jamie Spears, agreed to step aside as conservator. A hearing is scheduled for Sept. 29 in Los Angeles Superior Court.

Her comments, which she reiterated in a July 14 court hearing, have shined a new light on conservatorships, reinvigorating long-standing calls for legal reform.

What are conservatorships, and is Ms. Spears’ typical?

Conservatorships, sometimes referred to as guardianships, involve the appointment of a legal guardian who manages a person’s finances, personal needs, or both. Typically, they are approved by court order after a person is found incompetent to manage their own affairs, such as a person diagnosed with dementia or with developmental disabilities.

Such arrangements are only supposed to be granted as a “last resort,” says Nina Kohn, a professor at Syracuse University who specializes in elder law. However, Ms. Kohn notes that courts often grant conservatorships without exploring all other options.

“Nobody should be subject to guardianship or conservatorship unless there is no other way to meet their needs,” she says. “For many individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities, their needs can be met without stripping them of any legal rights.”

That is part of why Ms. Spears’ conservatorship is so atypical, Ms. Kohn adds: She is “able to clearly articulate her wishes and what she wants to happen in her life.”

Are conservatorships normally so controversial?

Scrutiny over conservatorships is not new. The legal device has been criticized for facilitating elder abuse and undercutting disability rights, and has prompted the introduction of legislation meant to improve oversight in recent years.

For Jan Costello, a professor at Loyola Marymount University who specializes in mental health law, Ms. Spears’ case is emblematic of an “outdated” yet prevalent approach to conservatorships that she likens to a light switch. “It’s all or nothing, on or off,” she says. “They’re either competent, so they get to do everything, or they’re totally incompetent, so they don’t get to do anything.”

While there are less restrictive legal tools that allow disabled individuals to maintain almost full autonomy over their choices, like limited conservatorships or supported decision-making, they’re often glossed over in favor of full conservatorships, Ms. Costello notes. She believes that states need to more thoroughly investigate whether conservatorships are needed before approving them.

Ms. Kohn sees the solution as largely legislative. That includes an act that she co-drafted with the Uniform Law Commission, with changes ranging from enhanced procedural rights for conservatees – including the right to choose their own lawyer – to a simpler process for terminating conservatorships. So far, Washington and Maine have enacted the model law.

How does Ms. Spears’ case change the conversation?

Several prominent figures, including federal politicians and other celebrities, have voiced support for Ms. Spears and pushed for more significant changes after her testimonies. A new bipartisan bill that would give conservatees more control is now advancing through Congress.

“The publicity that Britney’s case has gotten has made a lot of people go, ‘Oh, I didn’t understand about conservatorships and guardianships; I had no idea that it was that extreme or could be that extreme,’” says Ms. Costello.

Some worry that the outcry against conservatorships will start and end with Ms. Spears, leaving the desired reforms unfinished.

But both Ms. Costello and Ms. Kohn are “cautiously optimistic.”

“Seeing this happen to somebody [like] Ms. Spears really helps people understand how this arrangement can go wrong and why we need to be looking at our laws to figure out how we can make sure this doesn’t happen to other people,” says Ms. Kohn.

“But there’s always a risk that this will be looked at as just bad people misbehaving, and that we won’t focus on the underlying incentives in the systems that make bad behavior possible,” she says.

Difference-maker

Swim pioneer Bill Meier’s mission is to transcend fear, increase safety

A spate of drownings in Massachusetts resulted in restrictions on open water swimming. But Bill Meier – a pioneer of water safety – is on a mission to increase water safety among all levels of swimmers. (For a deeper dive into open water swim lessons, check out our viewfinder gallery at the bottom of today’s issue.)

Peter
Alfredo Sosa/Staff
Bill Meier, a Massachusetts swim coach, has earned national recognition for his dedication to safe swimming at all levels. He literally wrote the book on teaching adult swim lessons that is used nationwide.

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Pandemic closures of pools and record heat waves have inspired Americans to seek adventure on lakes and rivers – correspondingly increasing the risk of drowning and causing authorities to restrict open water swimming.  

Massachusetts has reported 47 drownings and near-fatalities since January; in May, there were more than double the number of fatalities from May 2020. Other states, particularly around the Great Lakes, report similar spikes. 

While the thought of open water swimming inspires many, fears of the unknown in the deep are real to beginners and even to experienced swimmers hesitant to stroke beyond the ropes. Bill Meier, a nationally recognized swim safety expert who literally wrote the book on teaching adults to swim, aims to educate all levels of swimmers with his safety clinics to simultaneously minimize risk and maximize outdoor enjoyment.

“We don’t want to try to hinder people from enjoying being outside,” says Mr. Meier.

“There are so many adults who’ve had a traumatic experience in the water,” he adds, “and because of that, they stay away from it. When you can help to get somebody over that [fear], then that is the single greatest gift you can give.”

Swim pioneer Bill Meier’s mission is to transcend fear, increase safety

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Bill Meier stands at the water’s edge of Lake Mansfield, his arms spread wide like an evangelical preacher, a smile stretching across his face. Basking in the sun’s rays after days of rain, he addresses a small flock gathered before him and exclaims, “Are we fortunate or what?”

The assembled group, fluorescent safety buoys around their waists, is preparing for a baptism of sorts with their submergence into an open water swim safety clinic. 

But before the goggled swimmers – mostly adults, some beginners – can dip a toe in the water, Mr. Meier invites the group to testify what they love about swimming outdoors. Some talk about swimming without boundaries, others the love of nature, and even freedom itself.

Nodding approval, Mr. Meier launches into a safety sermon: Study the weather and the shore topography; don’t swim alone; wear a safety buoy; know your limits; swim toward a fixed point at water level; have an exit plan. If you feel anxious, roll onto your back, catch your breath, and, he says, “Look around the lake and see how beautiful it is. When you are comfortable, get going again.” 

Mr. Meier, a local swim coach who has earned national recognition for his dedication to safe swimming at all levels, organized the safety clinic in response to a statewide spike in drownings this year. Pending legislation proposes bans and heavy fines on some open water swimming in state parks, but he thinks there’s a better way. For 10 years, he has pioneered adult swim lessons to help people transcend fear of the water and swim safely. That same education, he says, can be applied outdoors. 

Alfredo Sosa/Staff
PaceMakers Masters swim team member Julia Kasden (left) helps instruct newcomers on the benefits of open water swimming at Bill Meier’s adult open water swim clinic at Lake Mansfield in Massachusetts in July 2021.

“We don’t want to try to hinder people from enjoying being outside,” says Mr. Meier, who also serves on the local parks and recreation commission. “How can we all do this together so we can make our state a better place to live?”

While the thought of open water inspires many, fears of the unknown in the deep are real to beginners and even to experienced swimmers hesitant to stroke beyond the ropes. Plus risks around open water swimming have risen dramatically as people have sought adventure on lakes and rivers amid pandemic pool closures, record heat waves, and a lifeguard shortage. Massachusetts has reported 47 drownings and near-fatalities since January; in May, there were more than double the number of fatalities from May 2020. Other states, particularly around the Great Lakes, report similar spikes.

Mr. Meier has made improving lives through swimming his mission since settling in western Massachusetts three decades ago. Traveling pool to pool, he pieced together a livelihood building up the swimming community through youth and adult lessons and teams, and lifeguard training. When Bard College at Simon’s Rock opened a fitness center here in 1998, he was tapped to help run it. While teaching children during a week of free swim lessons 10 years ago, he discovered many parents also wanted to learn. So he typed out an 11-page instruction manual on how to teach adults and recruited adult swim team members to instruct them. 

“There are so many adults who’ve had a traumatic experience in the water, and because of that, they stay away from it,” says Mr. Meier. “When you can help to get somebody over that [fear], then that is the single greatest gift you can give.”

As the gospel of Mr. Meier’s free adult swim lessons spread across New England, U.S. Masters Swimming adopted his guide as the foundation of its nationwide curriculum. Since launching the Adult Learn-to-Swim certification program in 2015, USMS has trained 2,100 instructors. Mr. Meier estimates he has helped teach close to half those instructors, in 35 cities.

“Bill is a creator and a doer. He saw a need and fulfilled it, overcoming the odds,” says Ray Zelehoski, a retired middle school teacher who assisted at the swim safety clinic here. He has known Mr. Meier for 30 years and helps coach the PaceMakers Masters swim team and adult swim classes. 

Alfredo Sosa/Staff
Bill Meier, teaching at a July open water swim clinic at Lake Mansfield, preaches safety no matter what level a swimmer is.

Training adults to swim is a significant link in ensuring water safety for all, says Bill Brenner, program director for USMS. More than one-third of American adults can’t swim the length of a pool, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Approximately 45% of children who cannot swim also had a parent or caregiver with low swimming ability, according to a 2017 report by the University of Memphis commissioned by the USA Swimming Foundation.

“Bill was instrumental in getting the first edition of the [Adult Learn-to-Swim] curriculum written,” says Mr. Brenner. “His passion is contagious.” 

Access to swim lessons requires access to pools and lakes, and historically that access has been segregated or absent in communities of color. The CDC reports drowning rates for Black people are 1.4% higher than rates for white people; among Black people ages 5 to 19, fatality rates in pools are almost six times that of young people who are white. 

It’s a problem that William Kolb and Amy Benton in Louisville, Kentucky, hope to correct. Avid swimmers, both were troubled that the east end of Louisville has an abundance of pools, while the historically African American west end had only one pool with public access. After earning the Adult Learn-to-Swim certification, they announced free swim lessons for adults in a west end pool. The response was overwhelming.

“We started a class in April of 2018 in Louisville with four sessions, and we taught 40 adults to swim for free and ... we have not been able to stop teaching since then,” says Mr. Kolb, who adds that a majority of their students are Black women between 60 and 70 years old. “We have about a thousand people on our waiting list.” 

Mr. Kolb, who is finishing his teaching degree in education at the University of Louisville, says he stays in contact with Mr. Meier for advice and inspiration. “He constantly reminds me – you have this internal function to help others. You just need to find a way to find joy in it and keep going,” he says.

One of the first students in the Louisville program was Patricia Mathison. “It was so liberating,” recalls the grandmother of two, who adds that although she always loved to go on cruises, now she can snorkel without a safety vest. “My whole generation basically didn’t learn how to swim, and we didn’t have [the skills] to pass them to the next one. ... I never knew how much your body can be in tune with the water. And once I discovered that, I was like, ‘This is nice.’”

As a gospel recording artist, Ms. Mathison has been instrumental in spreading the word about the free lessons, helping organize the Louisville program into a nonprofit, and serving on its board. She also took the USMS instructor certification program with Mr. Meier in 2019, so now she can teach others to submerge in water, tread for a minute, rotate 360 degrees, and swim 25 yards to the side of the pool and climb out without the use of a ladder – requirements for the Adult Learn-to-Swim program.

Helping people learn how to transcend their fears, feel safe in the water, and potentially save swimmers’ lives is a continuous reward, says Mr. Meier. “You’re standing next to them. You’re comforting them. And it is just a way to feel other people’s pain and help take that away.” 

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Migration as a weapon: Why Europe cries ‘Enough!’

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In July, the European Union deployed a blimp over the border between Turkey and Greece to help prevent another wave of migrants from the Middle East like that unleashed by Turkey six years ago. The blimp’s deployment was timed for a similar threat. With the Taliban possibly forcing Afghans to the West as a blackmail weapon, the EU wants to tighten its vulnerable borders.

Also in July, Lithuania began to set up razor wire along its border with Belarus. The move came after the strongman of Belarus began to send migrants into the small Baltic state in apparent retaliation for EU sanctions.

The tactic of using migration as a weapon – to cause difficulties in a democracy or to simply get money – is not new. But Europe has seen the most cases of this use of “demographic bombardment.”

Tackling the reasons why people flee a country is the best way to address “migration weaponization.” It is a necessary step as more regimes exploit the innocence of people to harm other countries. Other mass weapons that hurt civilians have been curbed. The world may be ready to end yet another one.

Migration as a weapon: Why Europe cries ‘Enough!’

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Migrant children who crossed from Belarus gather at a temporary detention center in Kazitiskis, Lithuania, Aug. 12.

In July, the European Union deployed a crewless blimp over the border between Turkey and Greece, an EU member state. The 115-foot airship is equipped with radar and a thermal camera to help prevent another mass wave of migrants from the Middle East like that unleashed by Turkey six years ago. The blimp’s deployment was timed for a similar threat. With the Taliban taking over Afghanistan and possibly forcing Afghans to the West as a blackmail weapon, the EU wants to tighten one of its vulnerable borders.

Also in July, the EU member state of Lithuania began to set up razor wire along its border with Belarus. The move came after the strongman of Belarus, Alexander Lukashenko, began to send thousands of migrants from Iraq and other countries into the small Baltic state in apparent retaliation for EU sanctions. The EU has since come to the aid of Lithuania as well as Latvia and Poland, two other EU countries that have seen a rise in migrants from Belarus.

The tactic of using migration as a weapon – to cause difficulties in a democracy or to simply get money – is not new. In decades past, Cuba and Haiti used it against the United States. But Europe has seen the most cases of this use of “demographic bombardment.”

Russia, Libya, and Turkey have used it against Europe. In May, Morocco engineered an exodus of 6,000 people into Spain in retaliation for Madrid offering medical treatment to the leader of a group in Western Sahara that seeks independence from Morocco.

In early August, nine EU states sent a letter to the EU asking to end the “exploitation of migrants” as “geopolitical” blackmail. “There is no doubt that if the European Union fails to collectively respond to this new tactic by third states,” the countries warned, “the problem will not just persist but could increase in scope and impact.”

Europe is home to a tenth of the world’s population and a third of international migrants – a result of both its geography near Africa and the Middle East, as well as its liberal democratic values. It is little wonder that the EU agency with the largest budget is in charge of migration. Known as Frontex, it deployed the blimp in Greece and came to the aid of Lithuania.

In the past century, the world has curbed the use or spread of many weapons, from land mines to chemical bombs. In 2018, as a result of multiple issues around cross-border migration, the United Nations approved the Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration. The U.N. strategy is to help countries deal with the root causes of migration, protect migrants, and perhaps end the practice of dictators deploying this “human bomb.”

About 50 countries have signed up for U.N. assistance on migration, but the world body has also taken an affirmative approach. It has honored more than 20 countries as “champions” for improving their “migration governance.”

Tackling the reasons why people flee a country is the best way to address “migration weaponization.” It is a necessary step as more regimes exploit the innocence of people to harm other countries. Other mass weapons that hurt civilians have been curbed. The world may be ready to end yet another one.

A Christian Science Perspective

About this feature

Each weekday, the Monitor includes one clearly labeled religious article offering spiritual insight on contemporary issues, including the news. The publication – in its various forms – is produced for anyone who cares about the progress of the human endeavor around the world and seeks news reported with compassion, intelligence, and an essentially constructive lens. For many, that caring has religious roots. For many, it does not. The Monitor has always embraced both audiences. The Monitor is owned by a church – The First Church of Christ, Scientist, in Boston – whose founder was concerned with both the state of the world and the quality of available news.

The circle of all-inclusive Love

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Recognizing that God’s love embraces every one of us is a powerful basis for more inclusive and harmonious interactions.

The circle of all-inclusive Love

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Today's Christian Science Perspective audio edition

When I was in grade school, my best friend and I started “The Best Friends Club.” The fact that she and I were the only members didn’t register – until one day it dawned on us that we were leaving everyone else out. We unanimously agreed to disband and experience a wider range of friendships with others around us.

In later years I learned that Love is another name for God. I began to see that this divine Love is infinite, and that God liberally showers love on everyone. A thought-expanding statement in “Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures” by Mary Baker Eddy, the discoverer of Christian Science, says this: “The depth, breadth, height, might, majesty, and glory of infinite Love fill all space” (p. 520).

I often ponder the magnitude of that, and what it means to be right where the limitless love of God is, filling all space and including everyone in an infinite circle of tender, nurturing care. There are no limits there.

At one time I was having a challenging experience with someone that made our unavoidable interactions very unpleasant. This person seemed to enjoy insulting me in group settings, and I prayed about it. Finally I came to the conclusion that this individual could never be outside the circle of infinite Love, because God expresses limitless love in all of us as His spiritual offspring. Inside this atmosphere of God’s love, only love can be expressed – and only love can be experienced.

With this realization, the situation changed very quickly. And this person and I have remained good friends over the many years since.

We have the right to claim our place – and everyone’s place – in the boundless circle of infinite Love, where no one is ever left out, since there is room enough for us all.

Adapted from the July 23, 2021, Christian Science Daily Lift podcast.

Viewfinder

‘Liberating’: Pushing past fear of the open water

Alfredo Sosa/Staff
When pools closed during the pandemic, the PaceMakers Masters swim team of Great Barrington, Massachusetts, found solace swimming outdoors. Floating beneath an open sky brought feelings of release and renewal. But for others, such as Miriam Karmel of Sandisfield, Massachusetts, swimming in open water doesn’t come naturally. “I felt disoriented,” she says. When she got an email that the PaceMakers were going to help lead an open water swim clinic at Lake Mansfield, she says, “It felt like a gift from the universe.” Ms. Karmel planned only to listen to the safety tips, but when the class waded into the water, the pull was irresistible. She used just one word to describe her journey to the center of the lake: “liberating.” – Kendra Nordin Beato, staff writer
( The illustrations in today’s Monitor Daily are by Jacob Turcotte/ and Karen Norris. )

A look ahead

Have a great weekend! On Monday, we’ll be looking at the volunteers trying to create hedgehog highways for Britain’s endangered but endearing creatures.

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