Prayer Flags

Our next door neighbors are Tibetan.  We don’t know them too well, but we do know that the wife was among the performers for the Dali Lama the last time he was in D.C.  They moved here from New Jersey, but their parents have lived in northern India for a long time, having had to leave Tibet because of the Chinese occupation of their country.

We always know when the parents are in town for a visit, because they bring with them their Buddhist traditions.  The neighbors themselves seem pretty secular, but the grandfather sits on their deck and chants for long periods of time in that particularly pitched monotone—a soothing and persistent hum on a sunny autumn afternoon.

And with every visit their deck is draped, as it is right now, with a string of fresh prayer flags!   Such flags are a distinctly Tibetan Buddhist thing.  The ones they use are the Lung ta style, square and strung to hang horizontally or on an angle from a high point to a lower point.  The traditional colors of blue, white, red, green, and yellow  (the standard left-right sequence) symbolize the five Tibetan elements of sky, air, fire, water, and earth.  And the flags are usually covered by images and lettering, again traditional in content and form.  In the center is a strong horse with three jewels on its back.  The horse symbolizes the sudden transformation of bad fortune to good fortune.  The jewels symbolize  Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha (teacher, teachings, and community), the “three cornerstones of Tibetan philosophical tradition.”   These colorful, rippling flags contribute so much more to the already diverse multicolored glory of the neighborhood’s autumn leaves.

There are myriad variations in prayer flags, of course, both in color and content.  While the tradition is to print the lettering and images in dark ink using a woodblock, our neighbors’ seem to be in the same color as the flag, but paler than the bright flag color.  Substitute images, languages, and texts all abound.  There’s even a set for sale online with beautiful paintings of different Rocky Mountain wildflowers.  We haven’t inspected the neighbors’ flags closely enough to see just how traditional or innovative they are.

But we do know how they work.   The passing winds carry the prayers to everywhere on earth—not to the deities—to bring goodwill and compassion to all.  Such ubiquitous blessings are not to be taken lightly.  And, praise God, we are directly downwind from those flags.  The power of their prayers flows over our arborvitae hedge, straight across the patio.  We are blessed in many ways, not the least by these powerful emanations of the World Soul.

©Arnold J. Bradford, 2022.


The Braves: “Altitude Sickness”?

In the Tour de France over the years, certain cyclists have had what the peloton sarcastically calls “altitude sickness.”  They are usually sprinters, who shine in the flat stages of the first week.  But then when the mountain stages begin, they develop mysterious maladies which prevent them from continuing in the race.  They can’t stand the long, grinding, arduous climbing required in the high-altitude roads of the Alps and Pyrenees.

One wonders in the Atlanta Braves have an analogous condition, which makes them game-winning heroes during the regular season, but usually a team that quickly disappears when baseball’s October post-season begins.

For fifteen years, 1991 through 2005, the Braves won their Division 14 out of 15 years.  The one year they came in second, 1994, was a strike-shortened year with no post-season.  The bulk of that time, from 1993 through 2002, was another Braves “era,” when Greg Maddux, Tommy Glavine, and John Smoltz were all members of a hugely dominant pitching staff.  Their offense was also solid, built around stalwarts like David Justice and Chipper Jones.

Tommy Galvine, John Smoltz, and Greg Maddux with World Series Trophy

Despite the huge regular-season success of the 1991-2005 era, however, their post-season performance during those years was relatively mediocre.   They won the National League Division Series 6 times between 1995, when it was first instituted, and 2001, losing only once.  But they won the League Championship Series (what we long-time fans would call “the Pennant”) only five times in their dominant era, all between 1991 and 1999.   And of their five World Series appearances they won only once, beating Cleveland 4 games to 2 in 1995 (“getting even” for the 4 games to 2 World Series loss by the Boston Braves to the Indians in 1948).

Is this a kind of “altitude sickness,” suggesting the Braves were built for the long haul of the regular season, but not for the giddy heights of post-season play?  When contending for postseason honors, they often came up short, despite their obvious collective skills.

Now it’s 2022.  Since the1991-2005 era the Braves have changed ownership, general manager, manager, and 100% of their player personnel.  They’ve even moved to a new ball park.  And yet, somewhat mysteriously, certain tendencies have crept in.  From 2018 through 2022 they have won their division for five straight seasons.  But they’ve won only two Division Series, and only once have they gotten to the World Series, which they won last year, in 2021.

Again, in this era, only a very limited dominance in the post-season.  And today they stand in danger of losing the Division Series again to a Phillies team that they far outclassed in regular season play.  As an ancient fan of Boston teams, Red Sox as well as Braves, I have learned that championships do not come easily.  And I relish the ones that have come recently, both the Red Sox’ in 2018 and the Braves’ in 2021.  But I’d feel a whole lot better if the Braves could pull two victories out of the hat this weekend.

©Arnold J. Bradford, 2022