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By Carol Stiffler

Tom Hoogterp was a gift.  He showed me that simple words can be profound, that looks are certainly deceiving, and that a caring community can exist despite differences of opinion.

He was an unassuming man in bib overalls with the mind and voice of a scholar. He brushed off compliments; they simply could not stick to him. He was anchored in deep thought, which he shared with us, and in his writings, he taught us to think reasonably, too. I admired him very much.

We lost Tom Hoogterp sometime over last weekend, while he was dutifully accomplishing the tasks of life.  Tom never stopped, really. He lived and taught and grew and contributed – even to his very last minute. He was expected, and expecting, to continue on, though he also knew he was in his golden hour. Sometimes the golden hour is only fifteen minutes long.

Here are some of my favorite moments from pieces he wrote in his To Gaze and Ponder column for The Newberry News. Thank you, Tom.

The Invisible Enemy, published December 9, 2020

COVID-19 has socked us in our national psyche, hitting us where we have never been hit before. We know how it spreads, but we can’t muster the collective will or discipline to keep ourselves from spreading the poison to one another. Perhaps most disturbing of all, we have allowed this crisis to make us into enemies.

That’s the part I miss most about last year’s good ol’ days: we could laugh even when nothing was funny. We didn’t judge our neighbors and shopkeepers by the cloth on their face or the signs on their doors. I hope it’s just the quarantine that’s making us mean.

 

Longing for long-lost treasure, published March 10, 2021

Although it looks like I have broken a long and stubborn habit, it feels like an old friend [beer] has traveled across time to be closer to the kids. I’m sure my friend has done all he could for me. There are no more secrets hidden in those brown bottles. Next time you offer to buy me a beer, rejoice. That magnanimous gesture won’t cost you a nickel.

 

Flitting around, close to the ground, published April 14, 2021

My spirit animal presented itself to me during the pandemic hours spent gazing at the bird feeder. I do not take my direction from the showy cardinal or the sassy blue jay or the opportunistic grosbeak who sees the banquet as an earned gratuity on his endless concert tour.

Mine is the most dependable and grateful of birds; I like chickadees quite a bit. They are not at all flashy, they are adaptable without being invasive, and considering their size, waiting in line and sharing is probably their best strategy for survival.

Like my spirit animal, I stay close to home and mostly just eat and sleep (agreeable activities) to conserve energy all winter. I celebrate spring in my quiet industrious fashion, gleefully ignoring the lamentations of the showy robins who return in fine feather to share their adventures and sob stories about rude waiters, long lines and how they really need a bath. I admit I get a tad smug about all the ado; it’s the best entertainment of the year.

 

We are gathered here present, but not for long, published June 9, 2021

The past exists only in the present; it can be a wonderful suitcase to carry along. Sometimes tomorrow’s ball game or doctor’s appointment seems real before it gets here. Your mind can travel, but your brain stays attached to your senses. Your awesome mind, however, automatically includes a tiny bit of the past and future in the present. It’s that instant between experience and awareness, or awareness and experience as you step on a tack and react.

Visionary individuals make detailed and elaborate plans for future libraries and museums to connect future generations to the bricks and blights and blessings of the dimming and receding past. How does that comport with the “live in the present” mantra?