Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Just A Judas?

Betrayal burns. Guised in many cloaks, it steals our souls. And although sometimes we, the victim, are able to forgive the betrayer, I find it harder to forgive myself for having betrayed. In the veils of subtlety betrayal arises when I share information that poisons perceptions; such is the sin of scandal. My listener has no need to know what I so insidiously share; even if I am asked, "How's so and so? Have you heard from him or her lately?" Negativity not only adds to bad news, it makes stronger the sensibilities that impelled me to share salacious tidbits in my unthinking offing. Upon reflection, upon introspection, upon thinking about my thinking, I realize I am relaying the creep of crud. Yes, we best block it. We best not betray.

Perhaps i never should have been given the role of Judas. I was but fourteen or fifteen at the time, and the school play, a Passion Play, involved a whole lot of my school chums, way back in circa 1968. I wore a red smoking jacket, (a woman, 40 years later, reminded me). I danced a special Judas-dance, with a girl from Girl's High. (Perhaps the reason so many boys participated was because several girls from that school were selected to rehearse and perform with us.) The thing is, now, some 45+ years later, I realize how deeply my subconscious was affected. The character of the real Judas was hated. The perceptions of the real Judas was vile. And I'd been the one chosen to play the role. (I recall how very much I'd wanted to play the lead, Jesus.) And for too many times in the rest of my life, at some test of withholding onto sacred trust, or of having to disclose incontrovertible yet private truths, I've hedged and revealed and shared. And paid the price afterwards. Bitterness at the self is a hard pill to swallow.

So, in the psychogeometric proclivity of my squiggly line nature, I've guarded against the instinct to be free with my words, to be free with my revelations, to be free with my judgements and my want to ingratiate myself, puppy-dog like, with strangers. (And even more so, with those close to me.) No, it's better to cordon off loose-instincts with the square shape of promises to myself (let alone to others). It's better to contain the circle shape of trusting-integration within me to the square of expectation and loyalty. It's better to harness the triangle shape of my ambitions and self interests yet again within that square shape that has declared a wall against scandal, or of spreading rumours, or worse, of outright betrayal. And it's best not to be indecisive, rectangular, or wispy-washy with my commitments. Yes, the mind-shapes of triangle, square, rectangle, circle, and squiggly-line apply. If we were evenly balanced we'd be exercising 20% of each, but our predominant proclivity arises most of the time, especially when put to the test, and that'd make for at least 25% of oneself to responded to tasks, or to any crisis, from one's predominant 'shape'. (For myself, being a squiggly, my creative and flexible anything-goes nature can be a weakness. I can be fickle. I could betray.) Best to guard against that!

Our weakness can prove to be our strength, should we guard against it. We can temper our obstinacy. We can draw our boundaries more clearly. We can consider the sharpness of our impact on others more carefully. We can consider the effects of too much vacillation. And we can more considerately practice the need to commit, to see a project through, and to keep one's word.

Being Judas is different from playing Judas. When we play we are making choices. When we just let ourselves be, we dip into and exercise and do and perpetrate the predominant proclivity of our natures, and too much of anything tends to harm others, let alone ourselves. The life unexamined is hardly worth living, wrote Socrates. We come mostly from one of five minds, in fact, a psycho-geometric proclivity, purports Susan Dillinger. And to that end, being just a Judas, or choosing more carefully one's role in life, is hereby submitted as part of the juggling act. So may one affect one's very soul. Indeed in deeds. So may we give shape to our lives. Always.

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Voting for Veracity

The golden coin rolled into the vomit. The man in the wheelchair could not reach it. He still drooled from the fresh offal. At his feet the puddle of rancid yellow and brown goo prevented people from standing close. Yet still, his outstretched hand, begging passersby, beckoned. And since there, I stooped, plucked the golden Canadian dollar up from his wretch, and though it dripped from the pinch between my forefinger and thumb, I more carefully dropped it into the filth of his palm. A regular on the street corner, the homeless man could only grunt. He does not speak. He cannot move himself. Inarticulate, uneducated, virtually immobile, and indisposed, this man has been on much the same corners for over six years now. He always recognizes me. He always gives a wave. At times I've gone to get him a coffee. (He once was able barely to get the phrase out). Sometimes he'd get a coin or two. And sometimes I've happened to be close enough to see other homeless people dipping into his silver coffee tin, giving him a pat, and then their ambling on. What he does for his toilet needs one does not want to know. What he thinks, day in and out, there with his head hung low, and there with his rags for clothes and his hair unkempt and his teeth rotten and his eyes glazed and his hardly able to talk is a great pain to see. In fact, for most people as they go on by, he is made invisible. Very few acknowledge his presence. Very few drop coins into his cup. And when he sits there, in suspect puddles beneath his wheelchair, or with evident droppings close to him, he is among the great sad sights in our universe. Late in the day an old woman, achingly disheveled, hauls him away. Yet to take on the full responsibility of attending to him; to see to his longevity; that's something entirely beyond normal expectation. We have institutions for that. We have a social contract. We have government workers and programs. And so we can walk on. After all, the value of picking up a dropped coin in the vomit is dependent entirely on the value of the coin itself. I would not have picked up a dime, nor a quarter, not a nickel, and definitely not a farthing.

Back in my parked car I carefully wipe my fingers with two or more of the antiseptic cloths from the plastic container we keep handy. Passengers in the car, sometimes a dog, children especially, all leave fingerprints and... Well, better to keep things clean. But we cannot wipe away the offal of our societal constructs. We cannot always choose who we see. We cannot make invisible the makings of others. We are best to watch where we walk. And by looking ahead, we can even avoid the unpleasantness of stepping into the turds below. Sometimes hindsight helps too! After all, since history happened, we may as well learn from it. No?

The voting card between my fingers (the same ones I'd dirtied with vomit) I now carried into the booth. Around me were tables of officials, all making checks of identification documents and people's addresses. And when putting down the distinct privilege, for me, of my X, I knew that my choice reflected the freedom to do so. But was my choice the right one? We sift through the crap given to us by the political system. No sooner do I feel strongly approving of one candidate than someone else, some TV advertisement, some newspaper heading or essay or article spews out to confront my surety. Friends and acquaintances do too. No one is pure. No one is entirely right. Or is he, or is she? Hope springs eternal. And in the confusion of obfuscations and improprieties and insecurities, I make my best stab at finding the gold among the dross. Like plucking up the coin; one hopes that one has made the gesture worthwhile.

Our actions build onto our societies, however small. Each little thing has a momentum that, if well-intentioned, one can but hope one is contributing toward the health of the whole. But the degree to which we fool ourselves, too, is measured in the detractions. Yet not to act, to pretend that some bits and parts of life are to be avoided; not to be critically examined, included, assimilated, and integrated; is to miss out on being effectual where one can. The degree of conscious thought we put into things becomes the measure of our progress, our measure of contribution. Or do we simply not vote at all?

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Potential, Privilege, and Peace

Privilege has its disadvantages. Running out of deodorant, oh my! A pesky fly in one’s 2,500 sq ft domain, dang it all! The new brakes slightly squealing on the brand new sports car; better take the SUV. And then, to top it off, there's a leaky shower in the tenant's condo, over 1000 miles away, so one may as well fly there and go oversee the expensive renovation. And what of, back at home, running out of skim milk, and 2% milk for the coffee, and.... Well, ain't I got problems!

Meantime, I gloss over the predicament of the ever ubiquitous refugees. They slide into my consciousness as I lie back on my comfy-couch. My annual donations to World Vision suffices, surely? (How much more do they want?) Yet the images of the fly-besieged children provokes. And then there's The News with its interminable offerings of bad, "bigley-bad" news, ‘breaking news’, and its raw displays of mankind's impoverished condition.

The disparity between what's over there and what is here is very apparent. It is galling. Life is indeed unfair. Particularly to those whose familial and geographic containment is imposed from birth. How does the one fly, of all flies, make its way away from the usual existence that is its lot into the protected space of a plethora of availability? Within the closed up windows and walls of my domain there is food and crumbs and almost invisible treasures for it. For four days it has flitted about, distracting me, the God who lives there, sufficient that, on the fifth day, it got exterminated, killed, done-away-with. (And the Zoroastrian in me, who decided its fate, having done so, did think, 'Would the Master not have set it free?') But to do so would be to allow it to tell all its family (and their families) of the great feast and spoils available if only they would bide their time, await the right moment, and then besiege the briefly opened patio door! They breed!

Did we not do the same to continents? Did Colonialism not invade countries and spaces and overwhelm people and abrogate unto itself rights and expectations? Flags were replaced. Gods were replaced. And now (as one sees the vast amount of foreigners in-cringing on what used to be the familiar,) cultures, rather than being adopted, are being replaced. Gibberish! No wonder there are rising rates of xenophobia, of 'resurfacing' racism, of discord and protest and brutality. Or is it just that we are now nearly eight billion; flies squabbling over earth’s rotting corpse?

Ugly imagery abounds. That's the news. Yet sometimes, when I drive about in 'the wife's' new sports car (or even when in my usual SUV,) it is with a delightful surprise that I see so very many manicured lawns and beautiful gardens and posh mansions and town streets full of shopping people. Amazing that the world still is on its axis, at least, from my point of view. I do not see evidence of the things The News talks about. Well, except that there are indeed a lot more foreigners to observe, in crowded places, indeed. But they are doing the same things we do, talking, checking cell-phones, eating, shopping. And they smile back. And they are, after all, just people, like you and me.

Here in Canada we are privileged. But it comes at a price. It takes the perpetual busyness of maintaining a bank balance, of paying a mortgage, of filling the fridge from the grocery store, of paying for restaurants, and of being extensively taxed on everything. Oh my! And then there is the daily dictum of emails and phone calls and occasional disconnections with wifi to contend with. Oh my! Not to mention that the microwave door that slams needs replacing. Or that the TV console really needs to be specially designed and made to house all our records and DVD's.

We are creatures of the immediate. Each of us. And each moment is all we have. We do not know exactly when the hands of God will clap, summoning us to an unknown. Do we? In the meantime, we wait. We make do. Or do we not? No, peace and privilege are not synonymous.


Tue, 2 May 2017 05:00:00 EDT CBC NEWS

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Why (K)not?


Mr. Thumbite gave the curt response over the phone. His school chum (from over 50 years back,) having at last located him, offered to go for a coffee, beer, or lunch. "Why?" Now, voice tone or adjectives, like “belligerent”, or “inquisitive”, or “dismissive” might well alter the story, consciously, but with the denunciation clearly denoted, the two old school friends did not meet.

Consciousness has it that we not only think about our thinking, but that we do it as a continuum of habit. (Surely we are conscious some of the time?) Surely we have a meta-cognition, that ability to realize we are thinking and to redirect, address, question, and even choose in which direction to steer our thinking. Animals are less so. Dogs, cats, pets, farm animals, they all learn and show intelligent choices at times, but not as a continuum. And even then, it is averred, quite a few humans do not live in much consciousness either. We are creatures of habit, reactionary rather than responsive, and atavistic rather than progressive. It is in our nature to nurture that which we already know, to perpetuate that to which we've become inured, and to settle for that which is on the TV. Or do we creatively compose our lives? Do we perpetually consider our choices, not just from a good or bad, left or right, or even an up or down perspective, but from the kaleidoscope of compassion? (Complete compassion, here, is comprehensively integrative.)

If Fifteen Dogs are given consciousness, and their lives followed, surely it is the degree to which each of them exercises that ability that will establish a bell curve along the continuum. So too for humans. Our bell curve, in the long line of history, would show that we've not exercised our consciousness very much at all. At least, not collectively. Yet it might be argued that if the measure of mankind's' consciousness in action may be by the metre (that French word) of compassion, then it is not so much about individuals in action, but what groups have done. And certainly not everyone in the United States need be aligned with the President, nor those in Russia, nor those in China, nor those in the long history of Time's sweep by an Alexander or a Genghis Khan. We rather easily ascribe a condition, any condition, of the human condition to an entire populace, forgetting that they are measured most often by what the leading edge of that populace perforce did to 'advance' the status quo. Think of the 'great' wars. Think of the ongoing wars. How does an individual without much power at all, like you or me, affect those? How do we influence with our consciousness the awareness of others? What communication, methods, or prayers will truly affect 'everything'? We can but do what we do in small measures, one by one, each by each, in an attempt to sway the vote. Ask the 'new' South Africa. Ask a North Korean, or a refugee from Syria. How conscious may they be deemed to be? What of you and me? And what we've done, collectively, given all history, is not show much consciousness at all.

Lunchtime meetings with four separate friends over the past fortnight have much invigorated this treatise. We are of an accord. The degree of meta-cognition impacts the degree to which one lives on in states of consciousness. (And consciousness may be defined as that quality of being aware not only of one's actions, but of the very reasoning process behind the action, most of the time.) Given my friends, when a topic is raised, or a given contention expressed, the essential question of 'why?' is an immediate invitation to further exploration, directed toward a more articulate exposition, and even a reverence for the journey itself. It is never dismissive, or funny.

Yes, sometimes the question is not ‘why’, but, "Why Not?"

Thursday, March 30, 2017

Wise Words

How to avoid the pitfalls of being all too human? A marriage of intellect and emotion might guide us more clearly. Were we to read and read almost all of the very many books available to us on the journey toward enlightenment, we might yet more-better evolve. Some of us attend theosophical meetings; participate in congregations; watch documentaries. We might more purposefully gear ourselves toward monitoring our habits, question keeping our tradition for tradition's sake, or following along for the sake of following. Yet we enjoy being included into a group. After all, to teeter at the edge of being too different, particularly if there are no other birds of a feather to sustain one, becomes too lonely. "Who do you think are?" can cut to the quick.

Words wield wonders, or not. Books invigorate, affirm, entertain, instruct. So might an essay. And a collection of essays, threaded into a complementary narrative, can take one on a journey that is at once enlightening. Such is the work of Edward Butterworth. Heard of him? Then there is also Mortimer J Adler. Read his work? We could go on. You could inject into this missive a host of other authors. Our libraries are burgeoned by those who would have us see through their eyes. And my sharing the particulars of their narrative, that is, of Edward Butterworth and Adler's narratives, here, may not evoke further interest from you. Yet beyond individual styles of presentation, and beyond individual idiosyncrasies of contention, there is a synchronicity with our human condition that bares hearing, that bares reading about. Sentences that would inject wisdom into you, and me, are surely to be shared? (So too for the Bible, one may aver; or what about the Bhagavad Gita, might another. Or what about....? And the list may go on and on.)

"I have no doubt that there are countless millions of people," writes Butterworth,(p.1031) "who are committed to personal/spiritual growth in full knowledge of its implications for the wellbeing of the planet. Each of those people is affecting a circle of others around them, making a change that is below the radar of the mass media." Indeed! So too may each contribute toward the health of the whole! And as Adler writes (p.166): "The common elements that will unite all human beings in a single cultural community will be related to such essentials as truth in science and philosophy, moral values and human rights, man's understanding of himself, and the wisdom that is the highest good of the human mind." Yes! But oh what a tangled web we weave when we try to prescribe 'moral values and human rights', let alone 'truth in science'! Think of the enormous storms raging over whether we have 'climate change', or not. Think of the massive restructuring of morality in religion we'd need afore marrying the East with the West. Indeed, we think this, believe that, and feel honour bound, duty bound, and passionately devoted to the precepts and percepts of that which has guided us heretofore.

Butterworth backpacked India. Adler, apparently, philosophized from his ivory tower. Yet both men gleaned from life the essence of an integrative stance. They saw that the individual can evolve. They felt that one can progress through the maze of differentiators that separate and divide and adjudge man, so that one might attain a place of acceptance for all that is, that was, and even more significantly, that shall yet be. (Not to do so is perhaps to despair so deeply for the future that one becomes despondent, depressed.) And even more, both Adler and Butterworth continue to provide succour for those who would read their works, who would feel affirmed, who may be affected, intellectually as well as emotionally, by the insights of their contentions. Yes, they are influencing "the well being of the planet."

You and I are richer for their influence. We are richer for the very many other words that come our way, words that evoke us toward wanting to be yet more enlightened. And though there be countless tomes of books that so too may add to our personal oeuvres, I give full commendation and recognition of Edward and Mortimer's works. Here are the links, (both available at Amazon): http://edwardbutterworth.com  

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Half of Life

Constraints confine us. (For children, even more than for adults.) Strictures cling throughout history, anchoring us down from wishful aspirations, cementing us to others’ realities. Lies abound. Children learn of Tooth Fairies, Santa, and the Easter Bunny. Teenagers bend to peers. Religions pervade. First-time lovers are told by a lot of literature and song that ‘love will last forever’. Our choices are often but a continuation of the acculturation to which we've become accustomed. What a parent believes is what we adopt. Yet slowly we may change; after all, being gay or ‘out there’ is no longer necessarily a significant point of departure from the norm. Divorce is now de rigueur. Yes, we submit to society’s expectations rather readily. Though some wear ties and suits, and some wear turbans, we all know where ‘tis safe to stand in the nude.

“I cannot divorce,” a friend tells me, anguished. “My religion forbids it. I made a vow before God, and now I must live with it. Perhaps that's why God had us make these vows before Him. He knows that if we did not, we would surely break them, over and over. I fall in love so often!”

He talks, I think: Commitment can be crazy. Without it we too easily can give up the marathons; leave when the going gets hard; divorce at the first fight. Yet there's many a mantra urging just one more step to Eldorado! Don't give up, we often hear. And somehow we’re supposed to keep at it, year after year, until we're old and grey and just plumb wore out. (And there, but for taking the gates toward other opportunities, goes many a malcontent.) Yet some deep sense of glory can pervade the self too, when not giving in, when not giving up! Matters of celibacy, of veganism, of spirituality, of belief, of maturation, insight, and of one’s very enlightenment can be so taxed by the presence of others, or not. Our reaction to everything, in the sum total, is a most internal thing. Others are not always privy to what's really going on. No, not necessarily.

“But I cannot divorce,” he restates. “And she won't either. Besides, she doesn't want to lose me. It is I who wants to go! I am….”

He talks, I think: Difficult spaces are the dissolution of paradigms in which we set up for the new.  They may result in horizontal shifts in which we accrete, accumulate, and swell, or they may be vertical spirals of enlightenment in which we garner yet more compassion, insight, and peace. Enlightenment indeed is a pathway, not a product. Such is the journey. Selfishness, egoism, self-righteousness, betrayal, dishonesty, and deception are all part of the parcel. We each in some measure live this. We fib to friends, to our bosses, to our parents, to our siblings, even to ourselves. Our 'sins', collectively, one hopes, become not only the reason no longer to perpetuate them, but also to have compassion for those we witness doing so. We can still love our friends, despite their misdemeanors. We can still love ourselves, despite our deceits.

He looks at me. He sighs deeply, "Tell me, what should I do?"

I say: “I am not the one to tell you what to do. Nor, actually, is anyone else. Only you can decide what you must do. Ideally it will feel right, will seem right, will be the best thing you can do for all. And even then, there will be consequences.”

He looks at me. “That does not help at all. I'm miserable. I have half of my life yet to live!”

Half of his life? Yes, time slips away from us all. Yes, perhaps one should say what one thinks!

Thursday, March 2, 2017

Eroding Elitism?

An ugly term inhabits a world view: 'Suurstofdiefie' (oxygen-thief, is the Afrikaans idiom.) Other expressions charge our sensibilities: Fool; idiot; fatso; wastrel. We deliver one-up-manships rather easily. After all, degrees of intelligence, of talent, of beauty, of ability are evident to us all. We live with differentiation. Still, despite conscious efforts at compassion, an unwitting sense of suffocation can arise. It gathers around the self in one's company, one's job, one's town or city or province, state, and country. Yet we each breathe hardly beyond the immediacy of need for our own oxygen. An aircraft fuselage is like that; a cigar box of recycled air. Air shared by all. Guests come, and go.

Apportionment is at issue. Schools are like that; constricting rules, or you're out! Associations are like that; a governance by forces. The Fukushima Power Plant eruptions; the South African farmers' genocide; these appear as isolated events beyond our apprehension. Yet they each affect the rest of us. We hardly can be isolationist. And in our collaborations, we conspire. We become invigorated, or dulled. Degrees of thinking can become impeded, or elevated, by communion with others, yes? Twit!

Quality is at issue. Yet there is much that would deny degrees of 'more-better' by comparisons, especially to others. Habits of speech, of thinking, of topics to discuss, of interests, drive deep into the status quo, such that to be an outlier, to be a dissident, to be ahead of one's time (or even too far behind,) is not to be de rigour at all. We rise or fall by meeting expectations. And we must perforce pretend to be on board, to be abreast, or to concur with the basic percepts at hand. To speak out of turn, above one's station, as an instinct at being precocious, or even as a matter of wanting to address a grievance can seems so snobbish, so up-start-ish, so misplaced as to bring upon oneself too severe an ire. No wonder we have kith and clan and nationhood and school districts and accents and neighbourhoods defined by the bell-curve. It is the anomaly that disquiets: "Just who do you think you are?" Even the most gentle of intentions, the softest tones, the most caring of dispositions may not be sufficient to dispel the raised hackles of the ones in distrust. We share space. We share ideas. We share expectations. We share air!

The big deal is that a huge disparity lies in the sharing of our oxygen, our water, our intelligence quotient. After all, if the sum of all energy indeed remains a constant, then might it not be true that we vie for bits of energy ourselves? (as though your using up energy is an appropriation of mine)! Oxygen thief! Well, when it comes to resources that is exactly what we do contend! We absolutely assume that we have rights to energy that others are evidently too lazy, incapable, impoverished, or recalcitrant to appropriate unto themselves. And as such, we each live with our own apportionment of resources, if not enclaves of such. Our country is richer, yours is poorer; we work harder, invest more, and thereby deserve more. So too for our quality of life. So too for our right to an education system, (if not heaven itself.) Is that not why there are various religions? (Matthew 17). Is that not why there are various nations, various neighbourhoods? An eagle, or a fish? My parents were not rich enough to outrank yours. I did not have the privileges. Snob!

Unfairness is a way of life. We see beautiful or handsome as an inherent trait, (especially in those not old enough to wear makeup). We are very conscious of weight, height, and even hair colour. "She is the one with buck teeth! He has jug-ears!" And we can be decided enough purposefully to maim our children, mar or dock pets, or scar even ourselves in the name of perceived beauty. (Psychological impacting can sometimes be so subtle.) Yes, we are indeed judgmental of material wealth, of talent wealth, of mental wealth. After all, "He cannot carry a tune. She cannot carry a ball." But she is, "first in class". And we easily name another a fool, an idiot! But openly to declare that another is stifling one's own development, is holding one back, is preventing potential, well now, that is another matter altogether. Elitism can be horridly arrogant. Idiot! Suurstofdiefie! Still, we do share space and time, and thereby needs share our air, indeed.

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Valuing the Venture

I’m going to offend you. Being human offends. Even those we love can offend. At issue is whether the stubbing of one’s toe, and consequently limping for a few days, is sufficient entirely to bear a scar so deep that we never walk barefoot ‘there’ again. We wear shoes next time. We are guarded.  It is our sensibilities that are offended. We have this expectation, this image in mind, that how-things-should-be is not met. And in our own inability to surmount the moment, to include, absorb, assimilate, and integrate the offense, we make a judgement call. One indeed can cut off one’s nose to spite one’s face. One indeed can push the plate of delicious food away, its taste entirely spoiled by the table guest’s casual use of the phrase, “I don’t give a shi... !”

Some words hardly bear saying (depending on your sensibilities.) We are so used to foul words nowadays that their imagery has all but entirely vacated our sense of smell, sight, taste, touch, or hearing. We happily use acronyms to substitute a blasphemous phrase, OMG! And we easily use the vulgar acronym to express surprise, or even disgust, WTF? So it goes. It is for those of us who do ‘sense’ words that I would here walk through the mine-field, (or do I now offend as I take the liberty of expressing some valued values in my own mind-field?)

The garden of the spiritual warrior is always full of bugs. There is never a complete surcease of problems, however small, in the analogy. One is always tending to the self in relation to the whole. And stubbing one’s toe is inevitable (especially since rocks themselves can come to the surface after long winters of being buried deep.) Childhood; family constellations; teenage forays; a young person’s brashness; middle-age messiness; and an old-age dispassion can all intrude on the perpetual pursuit of the happiness we seek. After all, is that not what the end-all of the Famous Constitution reads (on the plinth under the big concrete lady who holds up a torch)?

Enlightenment occurs where the cracks get bigger. We break open from the shell of our containment only to discover there is yet some other cage around us. To travel one needs visas, passports, proof of means, proof even of destination. And as we see yet more, go yet further, there is a gradual letting go of fear, of uncertainty, of the distress of being sometimes ineluctably torn from our comfort zones. We are emboldened, step by step. And sometimes the journey can get longer and longer, more and more freeing, until we stub our toe! And that’s when reality, with all its aches and pains, can rise up and bite! Being tripped up is no fun!

The value in living lies in our self-worth. (We tend to give it over to our self-esteem.) We’d rather have people see our gardens when they’re in full-flower than have people visit while we are busily shoveling manure. We instinctively know that people will value us more if they see our best selves, see our beautiful houses, our clean cars, our neat gardens, our mowed lawns, our plaques of achievement on the walls, our wonderfully laid table, sniff delicate cooking smells, and enjoy the facility of our facile and fluent conversations. And then someone over the plate of food utters, indelicately about another topic, that something or other, “scares the shit out of him!”

 Yes, I told you I was going to offend you. (Or perhaps not?) At issue is that lightening up, really, truly, is about being more enlightened, after all! Yes, it's true, venturing trumps stasis, every time!

Friday, February 3, 2017

What Women Want

We were immediately vulnerable. They ranged above us, on the many overpasses. They carried placards and bottles and babies. They waved and hollered things. Our rented car was slowed to a crawl. Others honked up at them in support. And the Interstate 5 through Los Angeles seemed entirely clogged with the immediacy of the moment. Women were everywhere. Some men were among them. But the energy was female, vital, regenerative, and empowered. Still, this just past January 21st, 2017 (already!) it was a march that best not have needed to have taken place at all.

Women have freed women. History has had remarkable leaders. Boadicea; Elizabeth the First; Florence Nightingale. Even Margaret Thatcher inspired. So too did Hillary, unassured as was her victory. Her credibility was undermined so resoundingly that young girls everywhere saw themselves not as heroines, but as victims. After all, a boy-president who bragged of grabbing their private parts demeaned them. And boys, everywhere, will always be boys. Or will they?

Maturation is not necessarily the lode-stone of time. Accident is. Darwin's natural selection never was meant, as the fallacy goes, for "the fittest and the strongest." It was meant as an observation of the lucky and the adaptable. After all, throw a big rock into a small tidal pool and the organisms that are not crushed, and the ones who get dispersed into other pools, are the ones that may well adapt to the new. But adaptation is still not maturation. There is a physical component to adaptation that slip-slides through the quagmires, like snakes through mud, or even moves like those that clutch but briefly overhead as they swirl through a forest, like apes, lesser or greater though they may be. No, maturation is a component of insight and apprehension that goes beyond the mere braggadocio of the herd bull; maturation is a quality of wisdom that in accountability is essentially compassionate. And compassion, as a subject, is not an intellectual apprehension, but a lived experience.

Girl toys are stable: doll houses; play-kitchen sets. Boy toys are mobile: planes, trains, and automobiles. Pink and blue distinguishes toy aisles. We perpetuate the stereotypes on the TV, in advertising, in our social structures. And despite the hundreds and even thousands of women who are liberated and liberating, who are examples of free thinking and progressive and leading women, we retain an overall sense of a woman serving a man. Women marry and work twice as hard to keep their man (and then their children) clean and tidy and fed and clothed. Men go to work. Men come home, and as the McCartney opera states it, complain, "Where's my dinner?"

Thing is, mankind is feeding itself with images, with habituation, with expectation, and with at times unquestioned acculturation. If each of us were to rise up against the status quo we see mounting around us we would perhaps more quickly evolve toward....? Now THAT is the question. Our evolution is the subject of much contention. At issue is that, no matter what age, one be 'at peace with oneself'. Issue is: that 'peace' is so very subjective. Still, in the groups of people marching toward freedoms, toward social statements, toward a future that no longer is shackled by the past, there is at aim a sensibility, one hopes, that we all will be advantaged by the idea at hand. Or why march at all? Yet, tell that to the group members activated by hate and bigotry and discrimination and xenophobia.

Geographically we can easily change places, countries, provinces, cities. Especially nowadays. It is our interior spaces that are more of a challenge, it appears, for us to change. We can feel too vulnerable. We can lose control. Meantime, we can honk, give the thumbs up, but drive on. Yet as we know, real change begins within. Person by person. And freedom, history has shown, is always hard won, especially for women.

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Grace and Grit

'Twas the season to be 'false'. Much of a month before Christmas Day there was just so much to do! (And what was it all for?) There actually is little left of religion in "Happy Holi-days". (After all, they are not so 'holy' for many of us.) And the Xmas lights (er, Christmas) got strung out and affixed to the balcony, and wound around the tree. The decorations got hauled up from the basement storage and cradled out. There was eggnog, carols on the stereo, with the fresh biscuits-a-baking too! All very festive. All very manufactured. All very commercial. All of it much of a made-up occasion to arrive at a certain date. All of it, really, quite expensive. (The cost of gifts quickly mounts like unmonitored money in a bank balance.) All contrived and historically inexact. Like New Year. For what? To celebrate a lie? To promote a Santa, a Father Christmas, or an Easter Bunny? (Oops, wrong season.) One must get one's dates right. Keep the lie alive! Just make it a consistent event. Or is there too much of a bah-humbug in my tone?

Actually, the effort required to participate in the season takes one out of oneself, as it were. It is best done with grace. And with grit! You've got to expend a different amount of time than usual when putting up tree lights, hauling out wrapping paper and writing cards and tying bows and... yes, shopping for presents. It becomes about thoughts of others. It becomes about a consciousness of family and friends and people in the past and the present, and it becomes a wish that all will find peace and joy and happiness and health and wealth and all the good things that time and circumstance can afford. And in that wish, one connects with others. And it all can be, should be, ought to be, good!

Who did not receive a Christmas card? (Who was not left alive to send one to me too?) The last time comes to us all. There is a finality that is inevitable, sad as it may be. And grief, sweet grief, lingers long and abiding until you too must die. We each take our turn. But it is of the living people who become no longer in contact with us that I herein think, not those already departed. It is of the very many relationships one has had to let go (especially by the time one is in the seventh decade of life,) that I now recall, because Christmas, that singular event marking the yearly passage of one's life, recurs to remind us all: where were you last Christmas, and with whom? And what of the same event ten or even twenty years ago? And what happened to the people of one's childhood, one's workplaces, the students and the colleagues and the friends and the very many people cared for along the way? Where’d everyone go?

Meryl Streep (although dubbed in an infamous tweet as an "over-rated actress") had it right, I think. We best lead our lives "with grace and grit." It certainly was the topic of her speech at the Clinton Convention. And so too was it the thread through her speech at her Golden Globe Lifetime Achievement Award. That our leaders be imbued with grit is a given, (it takes great perseverance to get to stand before a country as a candidate,) but to have grace, now there's a stick with which to stir the mud-puddles. There are so very many alternative ways to handling a situation, to responding to questions, to pressure, to crises, and to the climb toward wherever one is going, in every case. In every case, indeed. At all times. Grace is a quality of choice, ideally a consistency of character, and of measured practice such that it may be observed in the physical, yes, but even more so in the manner in which a person treats another. At Christmas time or not. (We give grace not only at the dinner table, just before a meal.) And so we give thanks for Christmas and New Year and Birthdays and the Easter Bunny too. It all is about care and gratitude. And that is the grace we perpetuate, or not: the treatment of others. Despite our grit.

Friday, January 6, 2017

Puzzling Pieces

Our lives are a constant muddle. We may appear to have it 'all together', but there are pieces of the whole puzzle that simply do not yet fit, are not easily to be found, and may even be entirely lost. Such is the feeling for those bereaved. There is a hole in the heart of things. And it may well take a keening agony of time before there is easy memory to make that missing piece of one's life yet again a part of the whole picture. But if the past is an organizing of details and dispositions such that great patches of the puzzle of one's life may be viewed as picture-pieces in themselves; it is the exacting 'final edges' of our own lives that we cannot yet make concrete; we are but to add each day to a series of snapshots that will eventually become blurred within the whole. (Isn’t it sad to see a respected youthful TV star become a dismal drunk in his 80's?)

As I write there travels together a nearby seagull, two crows, and a squirrel outside my car's window-view over to the parking lot. An unlikely grouping? Here with the traffic whizzing past on my right, and the concrete paving on the left, the otherwise bleak piece of this early morning's puzzle is enlivened by their vibrancy. (Unusual for me to be parked here, yes, but my wife is at the dentist, and I elected to drive her downtown.) And so I place this piece of today's puzzle in its slot. With more care and attention to detail I might draw out my explication, but much of our own pieces of life's puzzles remain in our own mind's eye. So too for the 1,000 piece puzzle we just completed recently. It took us much interrupted time, traveled with us in linked-together-patches in its box through two house-movings, and eventually became something we'd pluck away at on our to-one-side-table reserved entirely for the fun of piecing puzzles together! But like iconic memories of one's own, a single piece in itself is hardly of much significance until it is linked with its counterparts. Even then, the whole, when finished, is taken in with a sense of satisfaction, but not really examined in all its details. The birds, the squirrel, might only be given a casual glance. It is the highly irregular and most unusual that stands out. Yes, even an obituary can be reduced to but a single sentence.

Before I die there is much organizing that needs be done. For you too? For whom? Yes, those who follow us, who depended on or are materially linked to ourselves will much appreciate the right-way-up of things. They will want the will, the apportioning of particulars, and even the wishes to be carried out. But once all the pieces of one's life have been put together, and then dispersed (especially if there be many claimants), there remains but the essence of a person; the details, generally, get forgotten. "How many years has it been since she died? Was it in '96 or '97?... Really! She was 83!? Well, I'll be!" The puzzle-pieces that made up a lifetime remain apart.

Words define us. ("Well, I'll be!") Our colloquialisms are quaint and episodic, but fragment easily with our casual usage. My brother's recent visit was an exercise in being conscious of precision. He was much given to concrete reality. "As good as it gets," became our catchphrase. With all that was, that attended our being together after such vast gaps of time and space since our boyhoods, there was a sense of comfortable coordination, such that the edges and corners and straight pieces and even the picture we together make fit as neatly and precisely as the very puzzle of 60+ years of brotherhood has allowed. (For me it is as though some errant piece of the puzzle of my existence has been found.) And now, although he is already gone back into the box-like seclusion from which he came, at least I have a vivid and vital memory of him. (It is that sense of the "ta-da!" one says when a piece of the puzzle for which one has spent time looking, fits!)

Sometimes we have to make up the missing pieces. Not always do we have a picture to follow, to trace and paint, (as I did when four of our 1,000 piece puzzle-bits were not to be found!) No, we have to guess at what the links are between the concrete and the imagined. And we try to make sense of what and even why things happen the way they do. Indeed, for most, we do not get to leave a neat or lasting biography. In the meantime, it is in our accepting that what-is, 'is', that it is about "as good as it gets," indeed.