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Entries in spirituality (49)

Tuesday
Dec252012

Christmas Churchiness

I got to four church services for Christmas Eve. You might think that's a bit too much church. It keeps me out of the malls, where I don't want to be anyway. The two that anchor such an adventure are "my" church (MHUCC) and "Kelli's" church (CCCPB, where we met some 22 years ago but that I departed six years ago). That's the basic balance for us: we at least get to our own churches, different though they may be. Because my church has a 10 pm service, and it happens to be where Kelli interned years ago, it's in the clear for us to both go and be together, a bit like old times, but without some of the weighty complications I feel. And then, there are some other services that turn up and seem interesting enough to take in if we can.

I'm going to tell these stories out of order. For those keeping score, I went to the following services in this order:

  1. MHUCC, 2 pm
  2. CCCPB, 6 pm
  3. MCC, 7 pm, followed by dinner with friends from there
  4. MHUCC, 10 pm 

CCCPB

As some distance from the strains of CCCPB has mellowed me over time, I've gone a couple times to the Christmas service there too. CCCPB is much as I knew it from earlier times, even during my unchurched times. A small congregation meets in a building that is sparse in architectural ornamentation though is rather radical in its roof line and its 2/3 round floor plan. It has a basic holiday decoration scheme, but without it, the place is rather austere looking for the most part. Many faces remain, though there are giant holes in the population due to attrition and families breaking up and children leaving for school and careers. I still like the messages from the pulpit as much as when I spent four years there recording them all, but with such a history as I have there, it's hard to be really present there. I fidget. Kelli does the reading from Luke every year and is poised closer to the pulpit. I sit apart from her because I feel that it's so easy to be in an old role that just doesn't suit me now, and frankly, being seated next to my own wife triggers that. (Read on for how things go at MHUCC.) There's a tinge of guilt for coming and not being fully present. I don't like it. But I also don't go to church and let myself be inauthentic if I can help it. And CCCPB was a place where I eventually left in part because I knew it was going to be what it was going to be and I was changing. Since then I've been regaled with tales from a variety of sources, so while I am not a member there and rarely attend, I do have a small bit of information about what goes on there, and some things just baffle me. Other bits frustrate me. So it's hard for me to be there. But Christmas begs a different response, and for a successful home life, the concession must be made, especially when carpooling. That said, there are a couple people who I still like a great deal and am happy to connect with, even so briefly as my very occasional appearance there. I guess I need CCCPB to remind me that even a diminishing congregation meets faithfully. I just know it's not my community anymore.

MHUCC

MHUCC is notably larger but still feels like a family. The congregation is eclectic and growing. The programs are varied and meet people at various places in life. Liturgically, there is more to take in since our pastor came from a tradition that placed an emphasis on liturgical year cycles and other things that I would learn about when entering that congregation. It was all new to me, coming from a very lean and sparse life at CCCPB. So, MHUCC has the liturgical colors that change with the church year's progression, choir processing in their robes, and other such touches. The choir is about 24 folks and has a professional director and section leaders. The organ is a delight, and the harp adds a welcome texture. The room feels very large. It's not high church by any stretch but after my church formation at CCCPB, it seems that way. For the late Christmas service, this time the service was a Lessons and Carols service.

Two other services this Christmas Eve were in the mix for other reasons. One more, an earlier afternoon service at MHUCC, was small, intimate, and contemplative, and offered communion. It was held in a smaller chapel room suitable for a special service like that. Having been at a physical distance up in Escondido for half a year now, making a day of being in San Diego was like breathing fresh air and getting a warm hug, even on the rather cool and cloudy day. I've been too distant from church of late, so reconnecting was called for. This small service was contemplative and instead of a sermon, the nativity scene was used as a chance to get us to imagine which of those characters we identified with. Who were they? What would they be thinking as they were in that moment? What would we be thinking as we're in that moment?

MCC

The fourth service, a bonus for the day, was at the Metropolitan Community Church where a friend and colleague of Kelli's is on staff. MCC, largely populated by the LGBT community, is a refuge for folks who have perhaps not been welcome at so many other churches, and even among their own families. Because LGBT folk are exiled from all kinds of home lives in all kinds of traditional settings and from all kinds of geographic areas, it's really an eclectic mix of things that might pass for traditional, but instead of messages of making the world a narrower place, a smaller place, a more limited place, the message inherent in the MCC's very existence is one of celebration of the opposite of all that. It's kind of interesting because in some ways, it's like many other churches but without the implicit or explicit homophobia. Just because folks are gay doesn't mean they want to forsake the good things from the traditions they were to inherit, but from where their options for real inclusion were limited or shut off entirely. MCC is their new family where it's safe to be oneself. MCC is the home that has been created to bring the LGBT world back to the Christian fold. There are probably many who, were it not for MCC, would never set foot into another church. I've been there a few times and at least tonight, I found it to be the most surprising of the services. After this service, we went off with Ali and her partner and her daughter to a fun dinner at the greasy spoon diner we've gone to for a few Christmas Eves now, Rudford's. It was delightfully irreverent.

Back at my church, what's true at MCC regarding the LGBT community is largely true there as well, but having been there now for about five years, it's become familiar. MHUCC was a pretty traditional place tending toward liberal, but about a decade ago in particular, the church's embrace of the LGBT world was stepped up. And interestingly, the place has grown a lot because of it. Dropping in on the MCC reminded me of a dynamic I saw a few years back when I slowly and tentatively moved into the life at MHUCC—at the very same time as yet one more mom family meltdown was under way, and by then, a year and more had passed since the utterly miserable exchange with my old man (and a silence that stretches now to an unheard of six years). Add to that a feeling that my home church of CCCPB was not the place to stretch into the new person that needed to emerge from all that, and I realized there was something I had in common with the LGBT folk at MHUCC, broadly speaking. How many tales of exile from families-of-origin are there, with relations strained to the point of breaking only because some people have to answer the call to be themselves? How many exiles from the church communities that are found to be the old wineskins? Hard to say, but when my original tribes were found to be lacking and I needed something new, that's where I felt I came home to.

Church Hopping?

For some years now, since Kelli has been either in school or interning or since I dabbled in another transitional church for a bit in 2007-2008 (UCCLM), then joined MHUCC, Christmases have been diversified. A couple years in a row I did these Christmas Eve runs on my bike for the added sport of getting warmed up and feeling all invigorated upon walking in, sometimes to some really unfamiliar settings (the Greek church was the most unusual). Not too many folks know this but if you were to take my particular ethnic strands and send me to church along traditional faith trajectories, I might be equally at home in Protestant, Catholic, and even Orthodox settings, though of course, I have always identified closer to Protestant. But the tug for me, while never really having the success I could wish for with the family life, is to share in the lives of a few different families at Christmas, in part because those historical families of Christianity are within me at some level, but also that the world today requires a less insular Christianity.

At any rate, the matter of getting to many churches, or sampling the services even at my new home church, keeps things from becoming predictable. Too much church life is led by rote and inertia. If anything, church should be the irritant, not the pabulum. As it is, at MHUCC, I have a practice of trying to never sit in the same seat. Sometimes that applies not just to weekly services but to parts of a given service. There are times when I sit in three different places, moving during logical breaks in the liturgy: sit one place to start and then at the passing of the peace when everyone gets up and greets one another, land in another place, and then maybe before the sermon shift again to a third place. I just mix it up so I don't go and "do" church with my brain off. So it is, stepping it up on Christmas Eve, getting to a few locations and experiencing Christ's family in a way that a place like San Diego affords, with so many traditions found in one place.

Going to unfamiliar churches figures into making the Christmas story a bit more real and experiential. The Greek church in particular made me the stranger in the strange land, even a little bit like the holy family seeking a place at the inn. It's a good thing for this white male to remember that there is a lot of rejection that people face while trying to be in communion around Christ's table. Not being eligible for the eucharist in the Greek church was one reminder about rejection that I don't get in my usual life. (Had I been a baptized member of the Orthodox church, I could have taken the cup and bread, but a quick question about that after having walked into the church, knowing nothing about the liturgy, suggested I'd be okay. I guess my host thought I was already baptized. It seemed very insular and monocultural in there. So, as a result, I was in line and was questioned by the priest if I was baptized as Orthodox. No? Sorry, members only.) While the Greek church was unparalleled in its lush appearance and the layer upon layer of its ancient tradition, coming from my low church protestant background, particularly from a congregation that has a very progressive stance on inclusion, that was kind of a rejection that I am not used to. At MHUCC, it's taken for granted that if you came to that building and want to take communion, you're in, and who are we to put up a barrier? That to me mirrors the pronouncements and practices of Jesus, known for being exceedingly welcoming. Churches that don't roll that way just baffle and disappoint me.

The Christmas Burden, The Christmas Gift

Last night though, finally in the midst of that special night that causes an aching and yearning for peace and quiet both outside and inside, I was feeling a great need to soak it all up. The weight was upon me, feeling down from a half year in a new town, leaving JEM, struggling still with family matters and joblessness (except some pick up work) and tensions that those things inevitably bring to home life. Being a pretty committed non-commercial Christmas practitioner makes me kind of the odd man in the room in most rooms I might enter. People get the idea and maybe even savor it, but don't usually seem to expect someone to succeed at it. The personal layers of hungering for the Christmas message are overlaid with the dire situations the news brings us (or sometimes doesn't, but should). With an utterly senseless massacre—an act of domestic terrorism if ever there was one—too fresh in the mind, and with increasingly dire predictions regarding our environmental crisis being met with too weak a response by nearly everyone, my heart is heavy. With so much balkanization of American society into more and more insular and self-reinforcing tribes that are loathe to interact for the common good, my heart is heavy. For watching as Thanksgiving and other spiritually and even nationally vital holidays are so brazenly co-opted and turned into the playthings of industry and commercialism, my heart is heavy. It's a heavy time.

A heavy time indeed, and the whole world needs Christmas even more than many pious folk realize. Jesus didn't arrive on the scene for the benefit of Christians, right? Sure, he emerged from among Jews and operated in that world. But even he, in his words and especially in his deeds, served humanity and portrayed another way of being human. Best of all, it doesn't require membership or much other than to live from the place of compassion that all of us have but sometimes forget about. He didn't ask for people worship him as some deity. He wanted people to follow his way, not himself. To the extent that one follows him is to realize how he embodied the Way. And that his way was available to everyone, even to this day. No faith system really has the patent on humility, compassion, forgiveness and all that great stuff. They aren't qualities that expire. He just embodied those in such a way that it was hard to imagine he was made of the same stuff we were. So we grapple at best, and ignore him at worst. At our own peril, even.

Maybe Christmas causes eyes to glaze over and people to hear "yadda, yadda, yadda." That's a shame. That's not the Christmas I know, now having some great experiences taking in just what I have in my infinitesimally small sampling of Christian practices over only a decade. When I overcome even my own programming—that is, to venture farther afield in my church hopping, maybe to more ethnic churches, or economically disadvantaged communities, or other places where Christmas burns bright for "the least of these"—I have much more insight and awe coming. While I have my struggles with depression and all the ways I feel I don't fit the mold that produced so many around me, Christmas is one time when, theologically, I fit in just fine. Somewhere between the shepherds and the wise men, there I stand. For me, Christmas is indeed the promise that God bothered to look our way, even my way. God's very curiosity about how our lives go led to Christmas. What's it like to be one of them? I got this idea...

If I could give a Christmas present to the world, it would be that folks would awaken to what a radical thing Christmas really is. Forget the dumb pageants and the statues that freeze a moment in time that never happened unless you read the Bible poorly. Forget trying to medically figure out virgin birth. Forget arguments meant to save Jesus from pagan seasonal festivals. Or arguments that Christmas was just a Christian hijacking of those festivals. It goes without saying to forget the commercial extravaganza. It's so much more than all that. Those are the distractions, the frozen symbols, the weeds that choke the crops. The time is always when we need to be rocked by the idea that divinity has taken up residence in us, among us, and for us. And maybe in spite of us. It's really quite the proclamation, isn't it?

Getting to church a few times on one particular day of the year is a small thing to help reinforce that awareness, and to try to drink it down as if I were at an oasis.

Friday
Dec142012

Santa and the Kingdom of Childhood

Kaitlin

This is a presentation several years in the making even though it came together last night. The first four pictures are original shots of my niece Kaitlin, taken in 2000. I had met her just weeks before, only in the week of Thanksgiving. I was 27 and on the verge of wanting to grow up after years of hurt and alienation from many, including my mom's whole side of my family. That gap was bridged in time for the holidays that year. Kaitlin was not quite four years old then. By my readiness and her very presence, she stole my heart in the sort of I-Thou exchange that Martin Buber wrote about. She reached into me in an amazing way and inspired me to first make a 15 minute bit of music (Hog Heaven Holiday Theme Music) just in time for Christmas that year, and to give it to her and other folks as my present for the year—one I might add that could NOT be bought. Bitter and senseless family politics has kept us apart for all the time since just after that Christmas, though I saw her a few weeks ago (almost exactly 12 years from when we first met) and had a crashing feeling that the situation of estrangement would never change. It broke my heart. Her mom unleashed vitriolic words upon me after staying perfectly quiet for almost exactly those same 12 years. The only exception has been a few email and MySpace flame wars. Any hopes I might have had to be Katie's uncle are probably for naught. One can only imagine what Kaitlin has heard about me, all without knowing me but for those few weeks, lost to the mists of her young mind.

To be honest, I've been quite depressed in recent weeks, in part because of that, but in no small measure because of it either. This kind of thing is a dull ache most of the time and sometimes gets outsized and more painful than maybe I should let it. I've tried engagement and disengagement in order to cope. Neither particularly suits me. I just hurt.

The remaining photos in the slideshow are ones I've been able to collect from my sister's social media pages. I am pretty certain they are not used by permission. My tragic point, exactly. But while my sister has her fanciful notions of protecting her daughter from the Savage Sociopath from San Diego, she's using the same twisted logic that my old man used to keep me from my mom. Funny that she doesn't see it that way. Anyhow, these are pictures of my niece as much as they are pictures of her daughter. To date, even though the fiery words have flown and the icy wastelands have grown between us, there is really no substance to her decision to keep Katie from me. I mean, I'm not a pedophile. Not a rapist. Not a murderer. I haven't stolen anything. I haven't really held any financial power over anyone, despite some monetary issues that I've since learned were my mom's very style. There really isn't much to hate me for, though their typical approach to keeping a distance has done plenty to stall any chance of development and certainly any hope of healing. It's just that they don't care.

This little show is my act of defiance, just something to help keep a light of hope alive for me. None of what has happened since can take away that flicker of hope that came when I played with Katie for a few occasions that holiday season of 2000. I might say that in keeping with the theme of the reading in the video, Katie might just as well be said to be my first real Christmas gift as an adult. One I didn't even know I needed. That holiday was quite enjoyable, and since, while no other Christmas since has been spent with that family unit, Christmas has had its component of wonder and hope returned to me.

The Music

This music is just a short segment from the longer, freewheeling musical romp that perhaps was my nod to Mike Oldfield, Todd Rundgren, Mike Keneally, and maybe other solo artists who just love to get into the studio and make any music that comes to them. With one exception (a totally random instance of Kelli appearing at my place with a friend packing a Maltese bagpipe), every part of the recording was done on my own. For lack of a better title, and for the fact it's not strictly a bunch of Christmas tunes but rather is more a sonic tour through impressions of the season, it's called what it's called. This year I have returned to the source recording of the original project and brought it into my main recording program, Logic, a far more robust place to mix the recording that never got the mix it deserved in 2000 when it was rushed out the door in time for the holiday. So that will appear too, sounding better than ever, first a gift to family that didn't really care, and now to the world, and I bet it will unfold in ways I could never imagine. I'll probably post it next week, 12 years from its first release.

The Reading

On another track of life, a few years later in 2004, I got Michael Judge's book, The Dance of Time, a sweet little thing to feed a hunger for knowing what the world was like before our particular kind of timekeeping evolved. To read it, one must suspend the cold rational mind known for its "stinking thinking" and just fall into the premodern mind where time is measured according to the universe and the play of celestial bodies upon the Earth.  It's prose that reads poetically and a few times a year (but especially in the colder months) I am likely to pull it out and read it aloud to Kelli. In 2010 I found a page that I liked and paired it with the Holiday Theme Music. (The crazy thing is, I think I actually got the wrong segment of music!) I gave it a few reads and tried not to choke too much but you can hear the end did get a little hard to read. As it should.

Meeting my niece when I was 27 was the beginning of a thawing of my heart from the cold and broken thing it had become over those years of creeping skepticism and doubt about goodness and frankly, mystery. In so much mythology, the troubled male soul is mended by some kind of feminine presence. So it was for me. This humble little reading is just a thing to remind me of the good stuff, to not get jaded and cynical; to not be barricaded behind all the hurt and pain that accumulates too easily. The pictures I took of Kaitlin that first holiday season are significant of those first glimmers of light in the darkness for me.

Saturday
Mar032012

Accidental Growth Opportunity +10

Just over ten years ago Kelli and I started on the kind of relationship we have now. There was a quite generous post about that not long ago so I won't retrace those steps. But just ten years ago this day, something a lot less joyful happened that rewrote our histories in its own way. It's one of those things I can't say I'd do all over again (and Kelli sure as hell would not, and some years ago when I mentioned this realization, she bristled at the thought), but the lessons are such that maybe they were that important. Sometimes it takes some terrible news to make breakthroughs and to grow.

This was in that odd time when we sort of pretended to not be a couple even though we were joined at the pelvis. Were we a couple? Weren't we? I don't even know if we knew, so we refrained from openly saying so. At church, where we both had long histories already, and where we had met over eleven years before, we carried on like we weren't an item.

Kelli was living farther east than I was back in 2002, and it was clearly advantageous to stay at my house in Clairemont so we could get to church on Sundays. On this March 3rd, she and I came from our separate residences instead. She was coming from a funky trailer she lived in for several months not long after college graduation. From there, she'd be coming west on the I-8 and then north on the I-5. I was already at church. Worship started. I had only started back there just two months before and usually we sat together. More and more of the service was passing and Kelli wasn't there. This was years before we got cell phones. Where was she? This got uncomfortable. What's taking so long?

Then I saw her through the glass, making her way around the round balcony. She's hunched over, hobbling feebly and her face was wincing, obviously in great pain. She could barely open the door and make her way in to the couple pews, and fortunately, Deb, the pastor's wife, saw her and helped. But as soon as Kelli was in, she had to go out. She needed to get to the hospital. So much for church that day.

As this played out, I found out through her shaken voice that she and her Volkswagen Fox was rear-ended by some guy just one exit before she'd leave the I-5. Apparently there was some slowing and she slowed down some but was hit by an uninsured driver who didn't get the message, and was probably going over 50-55 on impact. She pulled aside and as she was trying to find herself again, refused an ambulance, thinking herself better than she turned out. Eventually she got to church after the accident scene sorted itself out. But then it was time to get up to Scripps in La Jolla. That's how the rest of our day went, until dark.

This was a heck of a way to start a relationship. We were friends, but this romantic stuff was new and still not really anything that had sunk in yet. I had no idea where this was going to lead, and of course, the natural response is to feel helpless in the face of it. Kelli had been in another car accident before, and her mom in two accidents that had been pretty damaging to her back, requiring surgery. Oh, no... not a "like mother, like daughter" thing?! (Unfortunately, a lot of my personal history from 2002 got wiped out due to early computer experiences while also losing touch with paper calendars, so I don't have the best record of what that time was like and what I might have been thinking.) I was aware that it was only a bit over a year away from the experience when I failed my grandmother when she fell and was on the floor overnight, sitting in her unfinished business in the bathroom for probably eight hours or more, all the while crying for help. That was on my mind as the thought occurred to me that Kelli would be needing me now. I was scared. Not just for the fear of what Kelli was experiencing, but also that I could be a pretty slothful fellow.

After finding that the X-rays miraculously indicated nothing broken, there was small comfort. But her muscles and tendons and nerves were rattled a great deal. There was no need for surgery or any casts, so later that day she was sent home with the usual treatments for pain: ice and vicodin or something like it. Everything was painful for her since her low back and hips were hurt the worst. I became her de facto caregiver. It wasn't because I was qualified. She stayed at my house a lot then. Her trailer was quite cramped and hard to turn around in, and the steps alone were an obstacle. Since the house had the bathroom and kitchen, it was harder to just use those facilities. Not too long after the accident, she moved out of there and into a house in Poway with our church friend Cindy (Phil's ex-wife). That afforded her a place just miles from work, some decent space, a flat floor plan, and a sympathetic housemate, even if it was 21 miles from me. I'm not sure I was a very generous boyfriend then, at least when it came to driving. I wasn't working much and she was, so more times than not, she drove to see me.

The ongoing need to care for her and be far more patient than I expected I'd need to be was able to draw something out of me that I don't think I'd called upon for years, if at all. She was still mobile, but short on energy and flexibility. And the more rest she could get, the better. I found myself getting us dinner more. To say that I was cooking is too lofty. We make our jokes about how "cooking" for me was preparing the DiGiorno frozen pizzas and opening a pre-made salad mix with a two liter of Coke. Sometimes we turned my big room into our cafe for two. There were some times that were really lovely, being brought down to a new reality as we were. It kind of put the brakes on some of our, um, youthful enthusiasm for each other. Or, at least, let's say it forced us to adapt some. For a while it slowed down some of our exterior activity, but eventually things came back into the schedule. I think it afforded us even more chance to address a deeper life than maybe we might have done if we had our full mobility and carefree attitudes.

As the years since have borne out, that one momentary lapse of alertness damaged Kelli in a way that had the effect of aging her probably 20-30 years. The shock to her skeleton and muscles was pretty great, and to this day she's got after effects. She was only 25 then, and in some ways, her body was put into the condition of someone twice that age. It isn't exactly hyperbole; she now goes to the YMCA pool and one class she takes is an arthritis class that is pretty gentle, and most of the folks are 50-80.

Not too long after the accident, we had to go to the insurance adjuster's office where the other party's company would interrogate Kelli and squeeze every tidbit of information in such a way as to minimize their guy's guilt. We momentarily got our hopes up that we might get a sympathetic ear when we got to the office on stormy day and found the adjuster was none other than Jennifer, the daughter of our former youth pastor! And, interestingly, Jennifer and I had our first car accident with each other back in 1990, just weeks after we both got our licenses at the age of 16! But, it was not meant to be. Jennifer had to recuse herself due to a conflict of interest, so we were fed to the sharks after all. At least the decision was made to total the car and help make the way clear to get a newer one, a Saturn—a car that turned out to be rather crappy as time passed.

The two realities that collided for me were that for exactly five years prior to our first "date" at the start of January, I had been with no partner and was rather depressed during much of that time. I felt like a lost soul. All the strife seemed to pile up during those years. Kelli's arrival on the scene was a slow development, but after January started off, it was a clearly different period we were in. We had just two months of "normal" early relationship excitement before this accident changed things. It isn't that I turned into any great, compassionate saintly guy after it, but this accident started that process. It hit close enough to home for me that I had to start to see things another way. She wasn't totally helpless, but she needed help. I didn't do a very good job of helping anyone before her. I'm not even sure I did a great job of helping Kelli, either, but this experience was the right one for the time. It came at the time when I was ready for change because doing things my way was not working out. Even in the first six months of our relationship, I realized there was something new afoot; I had told my young roommate Zach that I thought there was marriage potential with Kelli.

For all the time since that dubious day, I've sort of been haunted by Kelli's car "luck." It didn't exactly make me happy to hear that just a week ago she called me to say she had been rear ended. This time though it was a parking lot incident with a truck that backed into her trunk at almost no speed. Okay fine, but before she came home, I was getting worried. I hate to risk it, but with such a record of car accidents, I don't always like the idea of riding along. It used to be a greater cause for worry, unvoiced as it was. Some families just don't have good mojo, you know? I want to stay clear of all that.

Obviously one can't test this out scientifically. Would I have developed a compassion for Kelli just the same? No one's going back to test the theory. In the spiritual journey, all sorts of things take on meaning, even the sad moments and the tragic upsets. Who knows how things would play out if this hadn't happened? Would Kelli be willing to embrace her role as an advocate for people who have disabilities? Was her childhood struggle enough to lead her there? Even as late as about two years ago, she was only deciding to come out as a person who had both a birth disability and an acquired disability. Obviously one does not sign up for opportunities for growth like this, but one applies meaning to experiences and eventually the twisting path toward self shows some sign of making sense.

Wednesday
Dec142011

Dysfunctional December

This December I have the rather weighty and somewhat ignominious matter of some gross family dysfunction to reflect upon. And you could say that for the past several years, that has been the case. All true. This year we get to the rather rounded and convenient numbers of five and ten. Much of this has already been written here. I guess what gnaws at me is that for all the time having passed, nothing has been resolved. I feel like I've used the time for learning, but I'm not sure the other parties have progressed.

I'm talking of course about two parents and two separate meltdown experiences: the first with Mommy Dearest during this very week in 2001, and with Father Knows Best on this very day in 2006. In mom's case, it hasn't been an unbroken period since that sad email flame battle (which was more the work of my sister Nikki). For about two months at the end of 2007 and a short few days into 2008, there was some attempt at connection but that bombed out again as mom and Nikki and Chris all aligned against me once again. In dear ol' dad's case, it has now been five years since direct communication has passed between us. Or, as I'll say later, two years since I've said anything in response.

To get this out here in front, I'm not really glad of this. I'm not even happy with my own handling of things. I'm complicit in it too. After being turned into their plaything in my adult years about a decade ago, even years after I was just their legal plaything as an infant and into my teens, the whole strain of things grinds one down and makes it hard to always work from any rational mind. My life story essentially is one of being broken by the interplay of these two characters, either directly or by proxy. I have been left to pick up the tab on their party together, and then some of the sequels to that. There are plenty of regrettable moments in the whole sad story.

In my defense though, you have to realize what kind of emotional stonewalling has been the tactic of the various characters involved. So far, my experience has been that neither side has been able to address things at the level I'd move to. In each case, there is a good does of shutdown that goes on; on my mom's side, it is accompanied with a smokescreen of vitriolic statements and open hostility; in my old man's case, it's more or less a blanking face and a physical departure from the tension and then his subsequent manipulations as he's often been responsible for the places I've lived in. In either case, I really feel that my message isn't being heard, no matter what volume or tone my voice, or no matter what choice of words. In desperation, I err on the side of more volume and more colorful words of the sort that can get a person fired from a job. I don't like it. I know when it happens that I'm consumed by the wrong stuff. But at moments like these monumental breakdowns with people I share fundamental relationships with, after trying anything else, it seems the only thing left to do. And then I shrink back into a fearful state of not knowing if I just wrecked things more. This thought is accompanied by a feeling of liberation, that I have no business aspiring to be a member of a club that so clearly throws up barriers to membership. Maybe then it makes sense to start to wash my hands of it all. Such has been the pattern when things have gone this way.

Mommy Dearest Meltdown

Telling this story is so difficult because of the way the elements are interlaced in a way that might inspire and even confound authors of soap operas! Certain themes are present and criss-cross in three dimensions of time, space, and emotion. In 2001, the meltdown was preceded by a Thanksgiving dinner that symbolized a huge shift from the year before. What happened a year before in 2000 was almost magical, even though there was a giant cloud over it that I was not aware of at the time. My grandmother (mom's mom Sofia) had died just the week before Thanksgiving in 2000, and my reunion with them all (I dub it "version 3") happened literally in the wake of that—or, specifically two days before when her memorial was held. It was the first I had seen of anyone among them since March 1996 (in the case of seeing mom, but that was explosive and terrible), and more completely, I might have to say that it had been since late 1994/early 1995 that things were normative between us. Thanksgiving 2000 was party like, with the entire gang, including my aunt Lisa and uncle Steve. I met niece Katie that week and fell in love. The coming year was the time when reality settled in as sister Chris made her allegations against my old man, crediting him with molestation and other abuses. That of course rocked my world but made me feel for her and that side of the family in a way that I'd never felt. So as the holidays approached in 2001, I naturally thought maybe it would be a bit like the year before. I was wrong in a big way.

What I didn't realize was how the matter of Sofia's estate was causing friction between mom and aunt Lisa. I still don't know the stories, but it seems to have been quite divisive even to this day. So back then, when I was putting my two cents in about wishing I could buy one of Sofia's two grand pianos, and hoping that maybe one would be kept around for the benefit of the family, especially young Katie or any other kids that might come along, I was sort of an extraneous voice in that matter. And, in my mom's usual way, she hung on to it for some time and didn't say anything. Some weeks before Thanksgiving 2001 I inquired if she was having dinner again and that I'd like to be there. (This was meant to address and correct a giant faux pas in 1994 when I skipped out on Thanksgiving dinner at just about the last minute just as I felt overwhelmed by the five day engagement to Robin, which I cancelled the day before.) I did end up getting to Thanksgiving dinner in 2001 but it was a quite subdued affair of mom, Nikki and Katie, Steve, and probably no one else. It was a head-down time. By that time, Nikki had not even bothered to talk to me since the end of 2000. Yep, most of the year that I was back in the picture, she had shut me out. I've never really understood it though maybe I could repeat a few things she's said. It just doesn't make sense. On the way home from that strained dinner, I visited Chris separately. She was back in San Pedro living with her sons' Cuban family. By comparison, visiting her that night was fun.

In the first half of December 2001, there started up an email thread with me and mom writing about some things. I was pressing on about the pianos, and asking if she would put me in touch with Lisa. I didn't know what to make of her reluctance to do so. I had come into an inheritance that summer and was semi-seriously thinking of buying one myself. (Of all the money spent on musical gear that summer and traded or sold off within a year or two later, I wish I had bought a piano instead.) Somehow, Nikki got involved in this email conversation, even as she was replying using mom's address, almost as if she was her secretary. The rather innocuous talk about pianos and my intent to be supportive of anyone's interest in music gave way to larger themes of alienation and the shape of family and reproductive decisions, having kids so young as she and mom and Chris all did. And for my trouble, Nikki saw fit to throw up in my face the matter of Robin's abortion—one thing that she seemed accepting of when I told her about it on the very first reunion night at Sofia's memorial a year before. She also decided to make declarations that I shouldn't invite myself to "other people's holiday dinners." Beg your pardon, Nikki? She's my mom too, and that's a family style holiday. Okay. All that went south fast! By just a few weeks after Thanksgiving, "version 3" was in the trash. My memory tells me it was December 16th. Done deal. It was one of the first email flame battles I had (the other was with Shelby earlier in the year), and it spared nothing in its incinerating blaze. It was a tragic lesson in how digital communication was sorely lacking.

I was quite devastated. My reason for getting in touch with that side of the family in 2000 was to help piece life back together after many years of depression and angst. Seeking reunion was one major proactive step toward getting my own life back into some shape. Seeing it crumble all over again was painful, especially after the molestation news caused a permanent upset in things down here in San Diego. The genie was out of the bottle with that one, and with that being the case, there wasn't even a "normal" life to return to in the world with which I was familiar. This was uncharted territory.

There is a bit of an exception to that, but it doesn't really change the game much.

Conning the Con: Old Man, 2006

In 2000, my old man found out that I was in a renewed period of relations with mom and her crew. I never intended to tell him, nor was it his business. But he did find out (almost certainly from Virginia while she was in the hospital) and made it his business, and his meddling set a feedback loop into action and his warnings to me to leave them alone went unheeded as I told mom and Chris about his notices, and they in turn moved closer to opening up the old dusty vault and then finally Chris delivered her old news about how she was abused by him. That day was momentous and wretched. I cursed the day I was born. The coming months were dismal. My grandmother Virginia died in April, and the house I was in became his. It was too valuable a tool for him to manipulate me with. He knew I wanted stability, but he knew that my "disobedience" (I was 27 at the time, and living at Virginia's house for nearly three years before she died. We had our own deal going) was going to cause problems, and I'm convinced he was perfectly okay with playing house games to keep me off balance following my pursuit of family completeness. Just a couple months after Virginia died, the house was dressed up in new carpet and a few other bits. I had already painted it on my own during the six months I had it to myself. But now he demanded I rent it out in part. I could stay but I had to be the resident manager on his behalf. Okay. I got to stay. I got to keep my studio space, which that summer grew to be as big as ever. I rented two rooms to younger guys.

By the end of 2001, things leveled out with him under those terms. Nothing more was said about family matters. It was strictly a business relationship that was useful enough to both of us. That basic arrangement went on until mid 2005. Lots has been written here about that. Suffice to say, at the end of the year in 2001, staying at my house was a comfort, even as it was terribly ironic that I no longer trusted my old man as far as I could throw him. 

But in 2006, the picture was quite different. The meltdown was epic. This was nearly a year and a half after the eviction, but I was still not content with his property grab. By this time, Kelli and I had moved twice and we were living about a mile from our old house, at the house of Mr. Calabrese, a church friend of Kelli's and mine. He had two houses next door to each other. The one we were in was usually rented to his son and Brazilian daughter-in-law but they were out of the country for one year. The old house on Quapaw was rented out to a couple and was partially open to Kelli and me for keeping some things as we would at a storage locker—one rare concession that was granted us. (One night Kelli was longing for a teddy bear that was in a box there. I drove over to the house in the middle of the night, and almost burglar like opened up our area and grabbed the bear and went back to Kelli with it as she slept. She was quite surprised at finding it next to her when she woke!) After having made so many keys during the rental years, I had a few left over even after I turned in a fistful of them upon my departure. My old man is a wily fellow, and I knew his tricks and decided to reserve a few for myself.

The rental arrangement with the couple came to an end in September 2006, and then it was to be empty. He had already ordered me to take my stuff out, and I'd collected the miscellaneous furniture and boxes earlier in the summer. The old man gave a date when the couple would be leaving, and said that if there was anything else I should want to get, we could go over there and get it. He was offering that he'd be there to let me in. But since I had the key, I went over the day before, just after the couple left, and grabbed all the stuff that prior verbal agreement or actual receipts said was mine to take:

  • Washer and dryer
  • Fireplace screen (a big beefy thing that the old man made some years before)
  • AC outlet cover plates, light switch plates (all stainless steel that I'd bought myself)
  • Small hardware I'd installed
  • Vertical blinds on four large windows (I'd bought them in the period before Virginia died)
  • Dining room and other light fixtures (also from before Virginia died)
  • And everything else I could lay hands on that wasn't something he bought or inherited—rather random junk

I needed little more than a piano dolly and a screwdriver and wrench to get it all. Then I took it to my new house and offloaded it into the back yard, behind a gate. Some went into the garage which was locked. I cleaned the place out of everything I could find. All that was left of what I put up or installed was the paint on the walls. 

He called me the next day to see when I'd like to come over and get things. I told him I already got the stuff the day before. He did a double take. I told him 'yeah, it's all okay. I got everything.' He drove over to Quapaw and had a look then came over to where I was at to confront me. He was rather stunned. I told him I had everything and that I'd take it all back and reinstall it if he wanted to include me in his little financial games which never seemed to include me or Kelli. The stuff was essentially useless to me, and barely worth selling or trading in most cases (the laundry machines being the most profitable at $225 for the both of them). I didn't really want the stuff at all, but I was tired of his total dominance in the matter, and felt that if he can inherit a place and move toward selling it, that I, as a seven year resident who was inclined to stay and do my share to the best of my ability, should be able to share in the profits.

That didn't register with him. It never does. It's all him or it's nothing. Somehow, I suppose that even after this little stunt I had enough keys to return again on November 29—two months later—and employed another bit of subversive "Occupation" (a word that now has currency in situations like this). This one was straight out of his own playbook, from the chapter on messing with locks: he used to take combination locks that had missing combinations or were left open and he'd drill them out enough to read the tumblers. Or he'd gut a padlock and use it for looks only or to work in some confounding way. This time it was my turn to con the con for once. I was able to get into the back of the house so I could unlock the front door. There, the steel screen door could be opened and its lock disassembled. I took it apart, gutted its interior, turned the barrel backward so it wouldn't open from the outside, and reassembled it with the thing in a locked position. While the lock was taken apart, I was able to remove the realtor's lock box and hid it elsewhere on the property. It was proto-Occupy! It was just an inconvenience measure made in protest.

And getting on to the pivotal stuff, just two weeks after the lock stunt, another drive by on December 14th revealed that the house was indeed up for sale, replete with the sign out front. Or maybe it had been that way but this one day inspired a streak of righteous indignation and a last ditch effort to get my voice heard. I availed myself of a Sharpie marker on hand and scrawled a protest message in "open letter" format—my own 95 Theses posted in public. Seeing that sign gave me a clear feeling that my ship was sinking, and it was all I could do to write an impassioned Occupy-style note on the realtor's sign. (I had had my biting words with the realtor himself earlier on, searing him for taking his profit off this dreadful family breakdown that accompanied this sale. Later on, I had the presence of mind to write a few haiku about it all.) 

The sign, written just before dusk on a day not long before the solstice, was left for all to see. I thought it might be a day before I heard about it. I had barely left for home over at the Calabrese Compound, sat down to dinner with Kelli, and then there was a knock at the door. It was the old man. Best I can tell, he must have been informed by a neighbor named Len, a guy about the old man's age, and who was just crotchety enough and buddy enough with my old man that he'd rat me out. (I know he called before about noise in the early days of my renting the place. Len also came by one day and in some conversation was going on about all sort of antisemitic talk about Jewish conspiracies and the New World Order. Quite a character. His wife was rather sweet by comparison.) At any rate, barely an hour passed until the old man was on my doorstep. It was a bit of a shock but I had to expect it. I didn't know it would be the defining moment that would put an unprecedented five years between us.

The Betrayal Ratio

I answered. He had the sign with him. I confirmed it was my work. In fact, I told him to come inside. I demanded it. I told him to "come in and sit the fuck down!" He refused and I reiterated that maybe he needed to come in and listen to me for a change. Not accepting my generous offer of hospitality, within moments he made his way out to the driveway and then to the front of the house, down a deep driveway. I let him have it. I'm pretty sure he was threatening me about the missing lock box and the earlier house cleanout. My notes say more about my giving him the third degree about betrayal. Somehow, he likes to claim that I betrayed him with my calling the city. It might be that way for him. But his more absurd claim is that he never betrayed his parents and their trust. And he also has made similarly absurd claims that the trust level was (or should be) 100%. Um, I'm afraid he's clueless as to how his own mother felt. But on this evening of December 14, 2006, that betrayal statement set me off in a huge way and I incinerated him as he tried to escape to his truck out on the street. I was literally screaming in such a way my throat hurt. It was epic. Kelli followed us outside and was watching from the driveway.

What the hell was there to carry on about at such outrageous and disruptive levels? He wanted to talk betrayal. He had one or two things that he could level against me: turning him in for illegal construction and perhaps relating to my mom against his wishes. (There might be something lost to memory but those are the ones I know he felt burnt by.) But what about the strand of betrayals he's spun all through my life? I had a nice long list that was fresh on my tongue at the time: 

  • Molested my sister which led to all sorts of unknown dysfunction that exploded years later
  • Cost me my relationship with my mom time and time again due to his various ways of manipulating her legally and financially
  • Threatening my step mom with violence enough that "no dentist could fix the damage" and causing her to flee for her safety
  • The totally uncalled for instance of throwing my childhood dog over the fence when she was in his way as he worked
  • Never really made a plan for me to get to college but always made talk that I "could never learn too much"
  • Never really showed me genuine support for playing music, and always commenting and acting in such a way that undermined my own ability to commit in a deep way
  • Using draconian disciplinary methods to try to make me a better student while I was trying to just be a kid who was dealing with the usual mess of new adolescent experiences, with the added load of 8th grade being the year I met my mom and her family and tried to adjust to that
  • Opened a locked door to spy on me and my new girlfriend Robin in the wee hours in September 1994—he didn't know we were fully awake and knew
  • Charging me rent to put a lock on the door in response to that violation—his messed up actions caused me to have to pay...him?
  • Telling me to leave home so he could have a Russian woman move in, and who never did
  • Eavesdropping on me from upon the roof as I talk to my girlfriend
  • Took my car off the work ramps while getting the timing done, causing me towing and repair fees at a commercial shop
  • Sided with Bill Francis (tenant/"helper" at Virginia's house after she was widowed) on New Year's Day 1997, essentially re-evicting me from a house he did not own months after the pressure to leave his house
  • Essentially ignoring my needs as a tenant at that same house when I was a paying and contributing resident, and always fast-tracking his own ideas of how to "raise the value of the house" which proved to be useless, illegal, tasteless, and offensive to me
  • Not attending my wedding, let alone supporting it in any way at all
  • Evicting Kelli and I early in our marriage so that he could make his point about my choice to rebuild a relationship with mom 

And that might just be a partial list. But the meat of it is there in a general chronological order. Over time, you might say he meddled in or totally wrecked my relationships with women time and time again. And not just girlfriends. He's cost me two mothers. He's said and done things that threatened to sabotage things with Kelli too, and seeing that coming, I was not about to stand for that. It was an intense 15 minutes if it was even that long. He made his way for his truck and drove off. Kelli and I regrouped. It was one of those sweaty palms, frantic and pacing times, not knowing what all that had unleashed except pure passion.

Epilogue

The following day, he sent me an email saying the realtor was planning to press charges for the matter of the missing lock box. I never responded. I think it was bluff-calling on his part, and I think that if the matter is to be settled, let the one who has the most to gain take a modest few dollars and pay for it out of his profits!

On December 18th, after a weekend of hand-wringing and discussion about the Thursday before, Kelli and I both resolved his presence was threatening enough to need to at least attempt limiting it. So we went to the family courthouse and applied for a restraining order which we did not get. But even the gesture of doing that was a huge step up in our young marriage of just two years and a few months. After the two years of couples' therapy where we had to repeatedly deal with a triangulated relationship with my old man and the house as the third party in our relationship, it was a breakthrough moment of clarity, that I'd look after Kelli's interests before my own, or before I let worries about what it took to protect the house sideline what I should be doing for Kelli. 

In the middle of 2007, I was left to find the house had been sold in April for $515,000. I found the listing online months after the fact. I was not even notified. It was far from the $569,000 I think he thought he'd get if he got prime market price. His dumb remodeling efforts cost him. I knew they weren't needed and would add nothing. He didn't listen to me. So he paid. And I am happy to assume that the state of the house was not even as nice as when I lived there, so I hope that cost some more. And why shouldn't it? It's a box of stucco, sheetrock, wood, and other bits. He inherited it and took everything for himself. I can't tell exactly how much he invested into it after he got it, but I reason that with new carpet a time or two, the material and labor in doing the remodel work (none of it good), and taxes, I can't even really get the number up to $20,000—his total investment into the structure and the taxes. I'm sure the city got him for something. Any way you cut it, $515,000 is far more than he deserved to collect, given his antics during the decade preceding the sale, and in some ways, throughout his whole relationship with his parents.

The time since that fiery night in December has been nearly silent. Most of the communication was aimed at me, but in a few cases channeled through Kelli, as he or maybe even a caretaker or some other party called or emailed one of us. There was one invitation in 2008 to sit and have some summer evening date with step mom Eda, her son Rene, and his new interest at the time—the guest list being what he would still like to remind me of as "the family" I knew. But in the same letter, the dripping condescension that suggests Kelli is the undermining element to our glorious family picture is unacceptable. Another letter was channeled to me through my former pastor, and it drips with more of that black and white thinking that glorifies the Lucas family mythology and degrades all else. He also made a drop of several of my old books at yet another house following the year at the Calabrese Compound. I got word that he needed hip replacement, and he sent an email, written in the third person, saying he would be in the hospital this date to that. I've stayed clear of responding. What I have to say gets said on this blog. I know he reads it, or used to read it. I can't tell if he's losing his mind, but he's certainly into some incredibly immature thinking with plenty of distortions and omissions. The couple things I've heard from him about any effort to change the course seem to sabotage that message. I don't see anything that indicates any real change of heart, contrition, or a new spirit of any mutuality. My Father's Day offer to reconnect still stands: a year or more of family therapy must guide it, and since he's enjoyed the windfall of cash, he can pay for it. I think he's too full of himself to do it. I'll gladly be proven wrong.

The carnage is pretty severe. Each parent is unable to relate to me. Each blames me for reminding them of the other. Each harbors so much anger about things far in the past. Neither seems to claim much responsibility for the shape of things. In some ways, they are perfectly created for each other. The thought amuses me. But I feel bad for them. They are literally pitiful. What a miserable life to lead! I don't hate them. I wish they'd get their shit together as people. It seems even their advancing age (both 67 now) hasn't really taken an edge off. For mom, she lost a son to the law in 1974 (me), and a son to death in 2011 (James), but she's locked into her story enough that even when I show my face, it is the safer thing to do to ignore me, even though I've heard stories about the huge hole in her heart after I was taken from her. For the old man, he still has the same house as he had in 1970. It's the same house he drove my mom out of; my step mom too; several tenants; and ultimately me. When's he going to see that has failed him? When's he going to find that no relationships equals a death? I think of them both as tragic figures unable to learn new ways to live.

For me, this all has been a great teaching/learning experience. Oh, a lot of it has been heart-rending stuff in the moment. Fortunately I've had a great many teachers and advocates and therapists who have helped channel me toward newer understandings. Fortunately I have Kelli. Kelli has been a total angel. She's been the best thing that has happened in my life. Ever. Make no mistakes about it. Don't any of you ever misquote or distort that. Kelli has been an agent of bringing balance into this picture where for a lot of years, there was none. (Soon I will tell the story about her arrival on the scene ten years ago now, my eyes for her being opened by the 2001 and 2006 story told here.)

Some of my teachers have been known to say, "God comes disguised as your life." One favorite scripture that I've had to mull over and take seriously is one where Jesus is alerted by a disciple that his mother and siblings are outside waiting for him. He replies (paraphrasing), 'who are my mother and my siblings? The ones that do the will of my Father are my family.' All this deconstruction has happened for a reason, to draw me out of a rather parochial picture of what family is and has driven me to actually reinvent what all that means and how I might function within a larger, more nebulous picture of family. Kelli is a key building block of that new paradigm. While we don't really talk much of having kids, we do realize that it is a noble goal to chart a course together that itself is an act of resistance to the kinds of things that dissolved parental relationships for both of us. And in another way, relationships forged within church or other spiritually situated settings also have a way of patching up the damage and building new relationships in ways that the old original ones only hinted at. I find myself often dripping in gratitude that my broken, dysfunctional clan of origin has given way to seeing many new members in a new, nebulous family of fathers, mothers, sisters and brothers, and others. 

Friday
Aug052011

Edumacation Aint What It Used-ta Was

I went to Mesa College the other day to get a report on what classes I need to be a transfer-ready student. My dreaded math and science classes are all that stand in my way. As if my four years and one semester of algebra was for naught (see my progress reports and other docs in Skool Daze gallery), I get to do algebra AGAIN if I am to get on with my studies. And this algebra class is just as a prerequisite for another class that might be more mercifully realized as statistics, which elicits a less dreaded response in me. I have two science classes to take, one of which needs to have a lab associated with it. 

Thanks to idiocy at every level of society, the financial picture is weaker than ever at the state level, so there are notices all over the campus and website that resources are strained. And for me, right now, I see that damn near every class I am looking for is closed or wait list only. I'm torn. I like the feeling of victoriously finishing a class, probably having learned something, and usually getting excellent grades too. But like in the fall of 2006, I am on unemployment again, and to go to school during the day is to forfeit that, which is risky because there are no prospects except shitty jobs that I'd prefer not to apply to, some paying less than the unemployment anyway! 

I could say that I feel trapped. But in more ways than just not having an education. There is that. Sometimes I guess there are opportunities that I'm missing. But remember, even in 1993 when I took a semester, a year, a decade off from school, there were plenty of stories about college grads who were still flipping burgers. It was hardly an incentive to rush through school. These days, the economy is in the shitter more than ever, and there is a dawning realization from the oh-so-well-educated classes that people are... generally overeducated for the work that needs doing. Duh! 

Our global irony is that all our problems can be laid at the feet of people with education and ambition. If that solved the problems of our human existence, I might wager that by sheer volume and weight, we have more well educated and ambitious people than ever. The factory-schools have pumped them out quite well. But then why are we at a global situation that fills some with dread? It wasn't the peasants and the meek that brought the atomic age, the computer, the transportation system, the genetically modified crop, or the financial rackets that wrecked the economy. It wasn't the peasants and meek who thought that stuff up and implemented it at market scale. We have more brain power than ever, but less soul to guide it! We can discern the comings and goings of things in the natural world, but we can't figure out how to live within it as if we are integral to it and it to us. What century before us honestly could worry that humankind could destroy not only the town/city/state/nation, but ultimately the biosphere too? It would be insanity. You don't need a fucking Ph.D. in anything to realize that, but now we have more and more people educated at levels that seem to elevate people off the ground of reality. All that was supposed to alleviate the trials of life, but education, when partnered to serve corporations and technology, is just part of the machine that is going to be our undoing.

I fancy myself more of a liberal arts learner, rooted in the model that learning is good. For the sake of learning itself, or for personal improvement to develop an open mind ready for civic and social engagement. I feel that I've pursued that despite being off the official academic coursework for more time than I have been on it. In that, I've come to regard all my life as my classroom, all my trials as my teachers and assigments. I do sometimes lament not having done things according to the typical post-high school plan, but then I also admit that while I might have done that, I was quite wet behind the ears in many other ways that took an educational path that schools don't/won't/can't provide. I recognized in 1993 that I could go through the school process, essentially spinning my wheels learning stuff without knowing really why I needed or wanted to know it. 

In the men's work that I do, everything is regarded as a teacher. It all belongs. That alone, learned in a new way at 36, was a huge thing to pick up, particularly at the level it hit me last year. I've even learned lessons from dogs that surpass the teachings of bosses and mentors and others. Tomatoes in August left an indelible mark on me that high school teachers wish they had the power to leave upon a person. A shoot of a tree branch sticking through a field of concrete says what pastors can't say so efficiently and eloquently.

More and more, the world is going to need people who forget all they learned so that they can learn what needs to be conveyed from the planet and its inhabitants for the genuine well being of all who make the daily spin on this planet which makes its yearly lap around the sun. It isn't that education itself is bad. It isn't. But what has to be cut off is the absence of reverence. I'm sort of conflating my former pastor's words with the Urantia Book, but the purposes of education and learning in the Western world have generally morphed from the Hebrews' desire to learn about and reverence God, to the Greek's desire to understand the beauty inherent in all things, including oneself. But both seemed content to enjoy the pursuit, the means, and not to seek to control the ends. We now seek knowledge to use, to manipulate, to control. Think about it: just about any breakthrough is not exciting in the pure joy of knowing something new. Almost immediately, minds are enlisted to figure out how to turn it into a patentable product, a process, or something of use to commerce or government, or worse still, combat. We figured out how the sun worked and made a miniature version with our atomic development. A new species is discovered and not long later, it is seen as the basis for a new drug or food additive. The best university minds aren't discoverers in the old medieval sense; they are the raw materials for industrial development. A Buddhist or Christian or Muslim mystic can study things at a level like a scientist, but their training also instructs them in reverence for what is witnessed, aka, to leave it alone and appreciate it as it is. The layers of wisdom wrapped around any observation-based knowledge says that it is not their place to go tampering. That is the domain of the divine. For a mystic, it would be enough to glimpse the divine, not to try to unpack it all and control it and make it do new tricks, guided by a pathetically limited consciousness.

Reading Richard Heinberg's book, The End of Growth, it is again on my mind that my lifetime will play out differently than any other as we face the consequences of an overeducated, overambitious society of people who have missed or discarded reverence as part of knowing things. A team of brilliant doctors and reattach and reconstruct body parts, but cannot make life meaningful. The dark side of their craft is that all their gizmos take industrial infrastructure that is now on unstable ground. Their educations are expensive, and the debt that allows it to happen is incompatible with a post-growth era. That alone will reduce many a college enrollment number, which of course will make it less possible for most people to pursue higher education that perpetuates the division of knowledge without a concomitant increase in wisdom. Maybe the days of heroic medical interventions are drifting away. I'd like to think that a quality of life we don't now enjoy is something to look forward to.

If anything, there needs to be a return to vocational occupations where people actually do the kinds of work that isn't offshorable and downsizeable. It seems backwards, and it is, but it was a stupid thing to abandon it in the rush to one side of the boat—higher education for all, whether it was a good idea or not, whether folks could afford it or not. A post-industrial future that has to face up to that very fact will not be able to send people learning stuff that is of no practical use. But I hope that in addition to whatever practical skills people have to learn as apprentices, there are opportunities to get a larger picture of life and how that serves people at a fundamental level. There really is only so much work that needs to go on for survival. It is rather attainable, and sustainable. Maybe once the obsession with growth is seen for the stupid and empty pursuit it is, people could reprioritize and place some value on the personal goals of spiritual and emotional improvement that the industrial age has failed to allow us to pursue. It hardly has to be structures. It just needs to be guided. One pretty much needs time to breathe and see a world at a human pace and a human scale again. 

Tuesday
Jul052011

Indomitable Nashville

Life goes on, with or without our "help." It goes on with or without our management. Life just knows how to carry on. It doesn't need us to dominate it, to subdue it, or to pretend we're anything important. Life is just programmed to keep going.

We started our garden as one of the first orders of business upon moving to Nashville St. in early 2007. It was the first major garden project we worked on for ourselves. (The one at the previous house the year before was really Phil and Nancy's initiative in our back yard.) In mid-March 2007, Kelli and I enlisted help from Tara and Kalyn, friends from church, to tear up and strip grass from the bedroom-sized plot that had been fallow for years. We had a truckload of nice wood shavings and other organic material, chicken shit, and worm casings that we mixed into the sandy loam. It was quite a day's work. That garden produced for us for three years. There were a number of spiritual lessons that emerged from working the soil, tending plants, and of course, reaping the returns.

The second year was the start of a period when I could go nuts with composting, especially since I was able to bring home so much veggie food from work. Some of the compost was accidentally scattered too early, so the second year started a period of volunteer veggies that turned up and were pretty hardy. The third year I started an open compost pile in the back quadrant of the yard, and fed it with leaves and a weekly-delivered bag of cuttings from Stingaree restaurant. One of the chefs lived a mile from me and dropped it over my fence!

But then we got into a few months of bad news about our landlord's losing the house due to their being on the take for all the time we were there. They didn't pay their mortgage apparently, so we started getting rumblings and then confirmation that there was supposed to be an auction. We could have ridden it out longer, but we stopped paying rent until they told us what was going on. It dissolved in a few days in October 2009, so we moved in a scramble, narrowly avoiding the cutoff named on a pay or quit notice. That is, Kelli and I moved. Suzanne was not so sure about the legality of things, or what the status was. And, as a person who does not find moving too fun or convenient (as a late-term grad student who has disabilities), she was inclined to ride out all she could. She did. It took about eight months before the bank firmly had the house and gave her a year's extension at the lease rate that she had prior to the end of the landlord's ownership. But, since she was only one third of the original $1,800 agreement, and they knew they were going down (and liked Suzanne well enough, more than they like Kelli and me), they wrote her a new lease for $600 for the whole place just before the bank got it. So she got to stay one more year at the place for $600 a month! A two bedroom house with a granny flat, yards, garage— $600! She made a killing on that. But that just came to an end. Suzanne herself had to move last month.

We're all quite friendly, house or no house. Suzanne enlisted Kelli or me to do occasional yard work, lawn mowing, trimming, and all. She sort of minded the garden in its first year after we left. It still had a few plants that soldiered on during 2010. We got over there often enough to see it, but it was getting grown over little by little. Earlier this year, I went to cut the lawn and was quite moved by the presence of the bell pepper plant fighting the good fight. The crop was not going to be any good, but it showed up anyway. There wasn't anything else showing at the time, so I mowed on over it all, after saying a few kind words to the plot, thanking it for producing against the odds, and giving me a lot of instruction over the years.

the peppers giving it a last go. photo taken from view point of the lawnmower operator. looks like a dire situation.

That was back in March, just before I headed off to New Mexico. More recently, the time came for us to gather our things that we had left for Suzanne to use, or that we had moved back over into the garage for basic storage. In the midst of our comings and goings, I spotted the chives and mint pictured below. Chives in blossom, rich with flavor. Mint, spreading as it does, underground, spreading roots and ready to pop up all over the place. It was the gift that kept on giving.

chives and their flowers rising up through the grass and weeds.

mint in vivid green color just a couple feet from the chives. it spreads all about the quadrant it was planted in.

It just heightened my awareness of something I already knew to be true: the garden wasn't my invention. It wasn't to glorify me in any way. I really know diddly squat about gardening. Maybe just enough to be dangerous. Gardening draws a person into a dance with mystery. There are things that one can bring to the table; conditions that can be put in place. But I can't make the seed grow. It doesn't need much from me. Even after mowing the plot a few times over during its fallow year and a half since we left, a couple plants soldier on, speaking life where others see failure, disappointment, neglect, and even abuse. The universe has a place for all that. Life has a place for all that. To drive by, you see a fallow plot that is rather unkempt and grown over with grass and weeds. Ah, but look closer.

Friday
Mar182011

Gonna Miss My Girl

Fifteen days is a long time to go away. So far we've only been apart for about twelve days. But this is some kind of pilgrimage I've felt I've needed to make most certainly for about five years, but in its earliest form for about 18 years. With the exception of my trip to Germany in 1992, into a world that I only vaguely knew, this is a bit more of an adventure. Particularly so because I am going alone, driving my own vehicle, and going to a place where I have done little more than read about, and will be among people I never met before... Other of my trips have been in the comfort of planes (Alaska 1994-5, Hawaii 2000 and more) or with travel partners who did the planning and hard work (Kelli on our three main trips, work trips, Keneally tour), or with a familiar host to greet me and give me a place (Steve in Germany, Shelby in Alaska). With the exception of the rites last year, I rarely drive my truck past the 150 mile mark—scarcely to the north side of the greater LA area and much farther than El Centro. But this trip is far more elaborate, making a swing through Arizona to New Mexico and a few sites within that state, and back. I guess it is the kind of youthful solo trek I felt tugging on me as early as mid 1993 when I dropped out of my community college plans between semesters, only to return ten years later, having made inner journeys but not much of the actual solo travel outer journeys. 

The layers of significance are many. The one time I know (from heresay from people with their respective axes to grind) I was in Albuquerque was the time when my mother fled California to not comply with a court order that I guess favored the old man to keep me as an infant of about a year or so. I am hazy on the details, but this was a time when she pretty much screwed her prospects for keeping me when she fled with me, out of state, to try to hide. It all didn't go so well so the law caught up and had me collected back from her. The story that was told me says that it was a messy, upsetting affair of prying mother from child. I guess it is back there in the cobwebs of my soul. I won't say it isn't operating at some level. I can imagine that such a thing is a scar that doesn't heal. If that one day isn't the cause, then the permanent fracture in my family unit certainly kept it alive. I just can't say for certain. But that was the last time I was in Albuquerque. Let's say it was a time of trials and brokenness.

I am not going back to specifically address that. There isn't anything I know that could help me retrace steps. No walking the scene of the crime or anything. But time and again in the last couple years, there has been a repeated call to get to New Mexico. It wasn't always so; other times I expected I'd dash up to the pacific northwest or to Canada, or to Steinbeck country or something. New Mexico was hardly on my radar until the Center for Action and Contemplation came onto my radar. Being based there seemed a natural fit. So I am following the bread trail from one of their programs to another. But I have had compelling narratives from two other sources that have led me to want to see what New Mexico is about.

I thought I was going to do this sort of on the cheap. Being that it is a work camp, I got in for nothing on the room and just $200 for two weeks of food. I calculated about $300 in gas at this absurd rate, and minimal road food since I really only had four travel days—breaking up the drive at Phoenix where a friend of Kelli's will let me crash in each direction if I want. I actually have not driven 12 hours at any time, so that seems reasonable. Part of what I want to do is enjoy the road and scenery. What I didn't really bargain for was that I'd sink about $700 on the truck, replacing radiator, water pump and some oil seals. All of a sudden, I got kind of dizzy last Monday when I had to pony up. On the other hand, that is relatively cheap compared to a blown radiator and a tow from the middle of nowhere. Even with all this, the travel is comparable to train or flight, but with the intended benefits of being silent and alone, and being flexible with routing, and not needing to make other arrangements for rental car or any of that.

This is spiritual liminal space, where I want to chance to let this stuff do its magic. Come what may. That is the prevailing spirit on this trip. Openness. It is the season of Lent now, and in the absence of a specific practice of denial or a new practice, this is my project—to see what the road has to say, what the pantheon of rocks and mesas and desert plains has to say, to see what working with sheep has to say. I want to stand in the field where the Very Large Array stands, spread out by many kilometers in three directions, receiving the sounds of the universe. It is a holy site, hopefully with a holy aim. It is something I've pondered since 1999 when Mike Keneally named my CD Receiving, and almost immediately I had the image of the Very Large Array dishes come to mind. I even want to see what the Trinity test site has to say about our human power to destroy ourselves, and the life we hold dear. All the more so now that at this very moment in history, Japan again fears the split atom.

Both my fathers, Lee Van Ham and Richard Rohr, talk about nature being the first bible, the first revelation of God. Rohr says that nature is the one thing that can get a man to take his right place in the order of things. Nothing else seems to effect the needed shift of attitude in the same, whole way. As much of this trip as I can dedicate to being in nature, I plan to. The plan is to be at the ranch from late 3/20 to the morning of 4/1, and then to spend Friday the 1st in Albuquerque where the CAC is based, see their operation, kick around town some, and then stay the night at their facility where I can start off and head to Trinity and the VLA, each being about 100 miles from the previous spot. I'd like to stay at the VLA until dusk if the sky is exciting to look at and photograph. And then, I'll burn it back to Phoenix to camp for the night. 

So I expect to take some pictures. Probably thousands. This will be interesting. I'll be off the grid for a while but will probably have plenty of pix to put me back in this very chair for a while, using my new Photoshop CS5! But the big stuff will be written on my heart. New scenery, new people, new experiences—all some kind of adventure I know I've needed for years and years but have only now found a right fit, and had the sense to heed the call.

But I'll miss my Kelligirl.

 

Saturday
Feb192011

The Ghost In The Machine

Having read all my years of blog posts in the last year I've noticed a bunch of digital bread crumbs I left myself along the way. They are the crumbs that help me find who I am across the longer period of time that the blog covers. Seeing all that in the short period of a few weeks has an effect on me. It reminded me why I got into this often bewildering and sometimes angering encounter with computers and their indifference to my life. But the underlying compulsion is to tell my story. When paper and notebooks were the media on hand, I used that to write in and to illustrate my life and interests in pictures. Recording too was always a matter of using whatever was on hand and trying to make something with it. About a decade ago the computer became appealing in the way it tied all that together. By then the programs were evolved enough that I was not required to be a programmer to achieve anything. (A reference to the dark ages in 1983-85 when I had my first encounters with desktop computers).

Technology is not really my strong suit. Trying to see life as meaningful is. Technology offers a chance to document it and share it. The evidence is already in my collected project of journaling that I would resort to hand typing stuff and cutting out magazine or product brochure images. My earliest produced recordings amounted to just that and those eventually matured into doing a production ready CD with real output (bad art printed well, I admit) and a glass master CD. My photo albums from about high school onward were affairs of taping pictures to paper and typing captions alongside. These days I see that in the galleries on this site. The endless journals in school notebooks, a project beginning on the day after I graduated from high school, is clearly the ancestor to the endless blog articles here now. You could say that this journal is really a 20 year project, and more if you dig farther back into the prehistory.

On a whim a couple years ago I subtitled the site "Like, the greatest story ever told, man..." I mean for it to be said in that drugged out Grateful Dead kind of way. I didn't know it at the time but the movie by that name was one about Jesus. Pardon any pretense on my part, I was ignorant of that. But I don't really shirk from the part. Not about being anyone's savior, but about the fact that Jesus is really the model human life of enduring rejection and suffering even to the point of death and coming out of the whole thing a new being. The greatest story ever told isn't just one of Jesus, the man who walked the earth all those years ago and who died and somehow carried on as some type of burning memory-consciousness in the hearts of some oddball followers. That is great, but the real greatness of the story is the spiritual victory it contains: that all the suffering and trials are formation measures to become something far greater.

Well, if that isn't a great story, what is? I happen to have lived my version of that and identify with it just fine. That kind of spiritual death and rebirth with a hunger to reach beyond oneself is the greatest story ever told. Dying to self to live for others is what makes it great.

TAPKAE.com now is more of a place to hold the tension between what was and what now is. I've decided to transparently embrace the confusing mix of who this Ed is. Oh sure, that can be dangerous stuff sometimes. Some of it will turn up in Google searches and might be grounds for disqualification or dismissal from jobs. The fact is, I am pretty exhausted from living in a house divided. Disowning parts of myself is bad spirituality and bad psychology. These days, the freedom to tell the story comes from within. I am only bound really by my attention to the details involved in sitting and writing or scanning/editing/uploading pictures or audio. I have my bursts of interest in the stuff. I'll probably never get done what I want to have done. C'est la vie. But I want to deconstruct the internal walls of this online box and make the place more spacious and less divided.

 

Saturday
Dec252010

Yes Virginia, There is a Santa Claus

My church featured this in its 2009 Advent reader, with submissions by a range of the church’s members. Sharon, the editor of the reader and my self-appointed “Spiritual Mother Hen,” flattered me by putting it in the December 25th slot.

Christmas 1999 was the bottom for me. It pretty much didn’t get any worse, though it wasn’t the last time such despair and hopelessness was upon me. I was deep within my agnostic/atheist period. I never wanted to hear about God and the great things that await if I would just get out of the way of whatever God had planned for me.

At the time I lived with my elderly grandmother Virginia. Though we lived a few rooms apart, we were miles apart during those years. Years before, she used to be my friend and confidante. She was my champion and defender against the more testosterone-driven forces in my family. So it was all the more tragic that we had a deep division come between us in those last couple years of her life. She had caretakers who lived next door and, living out their evangelical calling, they included her in a lot of their family life. It was not lost on me that their offer was better than the pathetic state of affairs back home. They brought her a lot of sunshine, something which I was almost at a total loss to do then.

Christmas day pretty much came and went, and it was as alienating and depressing as any other day (perhaps more so since many places were closed and other friends were off doing their holiday celebrations). Usually at the last minute I was offered to join another’s party or family gathering. I was often an orphan because there was so little holding my family together then. That year I fell through the cracks even more than usual. There is only so much cheer to be had with an elderly grandmother who can’t cook or host anymore, and a father who never liked the holidays. There wasn’t a lot to work with.

My grandmother lived in a room that was a couple rooms over from the living room. She could not hear or see well and often did not know what was going on the house. I started a fire in the fireplace and got it going to a blaze and then, at 11 o’clock at night, and almost as if I was not at the controls, I walked into her den and summoned her to come to the living room (but didn’t mention the fire). She was confused and incredulous. After all, I had been a pretty downer neighbor and she had come to expect little of me. Her Christmas was over. After a few iterations of my offer she got up and shuffled out where she was greeted by the warm orange blaze and her rocking recliner. She looked delighted but perplexed.

What followed was a conversation that eventually evoked the good old times. She was rather incredulous for a while, but as we sat and talked, the emotional ice melted and for a while—for about four hours in fact—we had something we had not experienced for years since I began my journey into adulthood and had started living a secret life away from the adults in my life.

It is hard to say who gave and who received the one Christmas present that passed between us that night. Though that night had some lingering magic, it was not sustained during the last year and a half of her life. Somehow though it was enough to show me how far gone I was. Implicit was the need to change course. Virginia lived to see one more Christmas but it wasn’t in our house. In the years since, I have striven to never be so disconnected again. It was only a modest deed that started this long slow redemptive process for me. These days—far from my agnostic days—it is clear that God needed me back in the fold, and that was made possible by bringing someone else back into the fold!

That night was an unplanned and unrecognized acting out of both the winter solstice and the birth of Jesus: after the descent into darkness comes the light. The solstice is the condition of actual darkness. The birth of Jesus is the illuminating light that will draw us out of the spiritual darkness that surrounds us. People trust the solstice because it happens every year and does not require faith. But the light of Jesus has the power to break into even the darkest corners of our souls when we least expect it, and even fear it and reject it.

These days I savor Advent and Christmas. I practice a non-commercial Christmas so I am left with the time and energy to enjoy the company of others, get to church and to anticipate—if not to actually bring—the light that pierces the darkness.

Sunday
Oct172010

Dukkha and the View from the Center

So far, since my birthday last Tuesday, I have been reading Gandhi's autobiography which he calls his Stories of Experiments with Truth; watched a bit of PBS and read a bit on Martin Luther King Jr.'s life and works; read up on Buddhism in Huston Smith's book, The World's Religions; had a beer and burger with a young fellow from work who perhaps sees the world vastly differently than I do (he's quite conservative and in the Marine Reserves but has dared to sit and talk with a guy of my interests) and watched the movie Platoon.

Kelli and I went together to church today. Usually we don't go to the same church anymore, so it is unusual when we do. Still, my ongoing "project" at church is to allow myself to be restless and to retain autonomy so I don't get entrenched into anything. I never sit in the same pew on consecutive weeks, and sometimes I actually sit in two or three places during the service itself, choosing to do so because it puts me in contact with more people, and keeps things from stagnating. Today I went a bit further and went to another isolated meeting room with a couch (and naturally lit space from skylights) and read The World's Religions which I have had in that room for months and periodically pick up and read. Today, I skipped out on worship to go read about the Four Noble Truths and the Eightfold Path. I've been enjoying getting to know bits about Buddhism in recent years, albeit at a snail's pace. It is quite refreshing to see the parallels with Jesus' story, his methods and lessons. In Smith's book, he likens Buddhism to a protestant version of Hinduism, eschewing the layers of formalized religious trappings and tradition that kept people from the vital lessons and transformation that sits at the core, the ones that are open to all peoples. In that, Buddhist spirituality is quite like the essential messages of Jesus, that all people can tap into the same well of truth, without the help or interference of a priestly class or other layers of religiosity that separate truth seeker from the truth. The message is, go inward and know for yourself, and then check that against the messages from everyone else with their clamoring and noise.

In 2007, when I worked at Scantech, the always-rushed print house, the people were frantic. But there was one guy, a gay Mexican who practiced Buddhism after a spell of Hinduism and probably a background of Catholicism. This Juan Sandoval was the most balanced guy in the place, honest like Abe Lincoln, and in the midst of this swirling mess of activity, just-in-time delivery, and chaos, he would sometimes come into our driver office area for a pause. A number of times he would pontificate on meditation, relinquishing the need for perfection, and a number of other lessons that seem to be the only way he could be such a calm figure in that messy world. At lunch, he'd retire to the lawn outside by the road where we drivers came whipping in and out. He'd have his prayer stool which let him be bent of knee while seated upright. In the midst of the chaos of Kearny Mesa, there he was under the tree, contemplating. I found him the most appealing figure in my time there, as he lived and urged a quest for a richer life. I never heard his story in any depth but I can imagine the types of questions he had to sort out in the process of facing who he was in a culture that has a hard time with men who don't live out the machismo expected of them. The enthusiasm he had in his voice when talking about the practices and insights from Buddhist practice was clear.

In some ways, I have become Juan at my job now, though perhaps by a tedium that sets in when just talking shop finally exhausts a person. There is only so much talk one can make about potatoes, fussy chefs, or routes that are too overloaded or that don't have much at all. I got my mind on other things, and so I found I needed to just start conversations that incorporate that. For a while in the spring-summer, with some of the then-new guys and a few others I thought might participate, I just began to ask if they'd prefer to talk politics or religion. A few were ready to roll, so even as this shop is as busy if not more so than at Scantech, somehow tidbits of this kind of talk get tucked into short periods of passing, or waiting for dispatches, or loading trucks. Right now there are about four guys who seem to play along with this. Finally, this one fellow, Tom, asked to take it outside after work so we didn't have to hide from the cameras in the effort to complete a thought.

Some of this type of talk that I've been making came about when I got driver trainees and after we got the basics down. The fact is, I can teach the ins and outs of the job in no time, and it is nearly useless when one takes another job so I have been oddly persuaded to instruct along other lines. I've found the driving work, out and about in a city of diverse population and cultures, to be an eye opening course in humanitarian studies. I've said before that it is not uncommon to see homeless people congregating at the bases of the towers in town, the 5 star hotels and restaurants where businesspeople and politicians strike up deals that affect people they will never meet. If it is only an introduction, my time training guys includes a bit of that. Or now, back in the warehouse, that same kind of thing informs some of the things I say. Shit, we spend 40 hours at work every week. It needs to count for more than a paycheck. I like to report on some of the things that the routes have taught me about life and people.

Twenty years ago I first envisioned myself as a teacher of life. A pathetic idea then, but one that I am growing into, either in the context of the church young adults group, or this side project at work. One reason that the story of  Siddharta Gautama, the Buddha, resonates with me is the story of his youth and his awakening. I feel quite a kinship with the story, not just because of the overall narrative of being raised with a hyper-protective father assuring a prince's life if I remained blind to a life on the outside (and then discovering that life outside the castle walls involves the discontented and unsettled parts of life that is known as dukkha), but also that the age relationship between me and Siddharta is the same: asleep till 30, then taking till 35 to have learned the crucial lessons by spiritual inquiry of all sorts that would finally empower him to step back into the world with a message for others. And yet it all revolves around the inevitability of suffering/discontentedness and what to do in the face of it.

My own findings arise from all that you've read in this journal for the years since it has been going: the suburban life is a troubled one that I can't expect to last, and the lifestyle that accompanies it is one that needs to be kept in perspective and wherever possible, stepped away from. It was yesterday's dream. It was someone else's dream. These days, I don't see much in the general culture at large that reinforces a complete enough message like that. There are left leaning movements that try, and bravo for them. But they are not enough because they don't seem rooted in anything. On the right, there are idiotic movements back into the dark ages of John Birch conservatism, racist and classist policies, pushes against social programs meant to do people good. Neither is meeting anyone's needs. The center has become the place to be while the polar opposites are racing farther and farther apart, nearly converging on the other side of the circle in their loathing and hatred for one another, and in their uselessness.

Day after day, we face the incremental collapse of this nation. It doesn't look that way, but that is what is happening. This is why I turn to the ancient stuff—to look to something not so ephemeral as nation-states and economic philosophies tied to a certain historical period blessed by a party-inducing energy supply that is going to be a matter of history in my lifetime. How to live a human life in a time of disappointment, suffering and upsetting change, that is my lesson to teach anyone who might have ears. Buddha, Jesus, Gandhi, King are all excellent teachers because each stood before an imperfect world and pointed a way for others by getting to the radix, the root of things—the downward and inward journey that reveals enemies and things of hate inside, where all the work needs to be done anyway. They are teachers of relinquishment of the world's values. This is the only thing that will soften the blow that is hitting us in slow motion and that will continue for all my lifetime and for a while after that. It is wisdom that neither the left nor right seems to possess right now, blinded by wishful thinking for the good old days that really can't come back, nor would we be wise to wish for them to return. Being a voice of integration or reconciliation is always a dangerous thing; coaxing people out of their foxholes of political perspective is not easy. I guess my message is one of trying to disabuse people of the unreality of what we can expect from our political process while not questioning our own part in things—questioning how we contribute to the mess while pursuing what has come to be a normal life of rushing about in trivial pursuits of goods and power.

So I watched Platoon, a movie I saw when it came out and appreciated it because I was a young 13 year old who liked military movies and literature, and building models of military gear. I was so far from understanding the movie's treatment of the effects of war, and the internal fight to remain human in the face of it, not to be turned into a monster even in monstrous circumstances. Life may be suffering, but war is needless suffering (hasn't a century of war made that clear?). Racism is more of the same. Hate crimes more still. Economic violence at the hands of out-of-control banks is another form of violence causing still more suffering. Much as I'd like to anticipate otherwise, I soberly anticipate more of this for the rest of my life. So this week has been one short period of arming up with the great voices of how to face suffering and disappointment in a humane way and sharing what I find as I go.