We all walk ancientrails. Welcome to the journey.

She Does a Slow Reveal

Written By: Charles - Mar• 26•19

Spring                                                             Recovery Moon

Back Yard

Back Yard

Each night Cassiopeia, Ursa Major, and other stars of the northern sky orbit around Sirius, the pole star, doing their dance through and just above the lodgepole pines visible outside our bedroom window. Cassiopeia, like a shy maiden, appears right now behind a clump of lodgepoles early in the night, but slowly reveals herself, her trademark distorted W shape gradually appearing in full.

This morning the waning Recovery Moon and Jupiter sat next to each other, the moon with a pale wet halo, both over Black Mountain. This is wild country here. We saw a fox two mornings ago, a healthy red fox with a bushy tail held erect, running down Black Mountain Drive with either a critter or a kit in its mouth.

We’ll be in the 60’s this week, then more rain or snow over the weekend. When I picked up a prescription at King Sooper’s the other day, the pharmacy tech looked out the window and said, “Oh, god. It’s snowing, isn’t it?” It was. A bright blue sky and round shots of graupel struck the grocery store parking lot behind me. “I love snow, but I’m so tired of it.” “Oh, it’ll quit snowing eventually.” “Yeah,” she laughed, “in August.”

When sick, getting healthy is the most important thing on the docket. When well, all those pesky things you ignored take the top spot. Like that damned dead bolt. It sticks. And by stick I mean won’t move when we try to release it. This has taken a while to get bad. I could use a small pliers and a rubber piece (for traction) to open it for a while. Now that doesn’t work. Arthritic fingers and thumbs make these simple tasks go from difficult to impossible. Then, the toilet in the loft has developed an unpleasant habit of leaking from its seal to the floor or one of the bolts holding it down. Unusable in that state. Minor things, yes, but beyond the reach of an illness focused, snot for brains me. On them today.

Kate and Jackie

Kate and Jackie

Don’t remember whether I said it here or not, but Kate’s up to 85 pounds! Wow. I made an arbitrary number, 90 pounds, as the signal that the mess from Kate’s bleed would be officially over. She’s getting there. Almost exactly six months later. What an ordeal for her.

Rigel has developed a habit that will force a change in my behavior. We’ve taken to leaving certain items on the counter like bread, chips, apples and to using a small wire container in the sink as an alternative to a wastebasket. We put a plastic grocery bag over it, throw trash in it, then tie it up and throw it in the trash compactor. SeoAh’s idea and a handy one. Except. Rigel. She smells stuff she wants and uses her size to reach up and get it. Result. Mess. In three rooms yesterday. Gotta get a bread box and clear out space for the other items in the cupboard above the counter. A rejiggering of storage is necessary. Dogs.

Kate and I missed our hair cuts last month due to pneumonia. We’re both a bit shaggy and look forward to seeing Jackie today.

Ta for now.




What Will I Do?

Written By: Charles - Mar• 25•19

Spring                                                                              Recovery Moon

dreamsGo now, the illness has ended. Feeling 95%. Still something in my lungs, not much. So seven weeks after the molasses filled drive back from Denver, I feel able. Still got workouts and stamina to increase, but I enjoy that. Imagine me doing a little dance on the balcony of the loft, a dance of thanksgiving for a strong constitution and a return to the unremarkable state of health.

What’s next? Call a plumber to fix the toilet leaking from its seal to the floor. Get our hair done. An appointment for teeth cleaning. Mail the taxes. Send Mary the letter confirming her part ownership of that oil well in Canadian County, Oklahoma. Finally get to my trainer for a new workout. Follow up on that PSA increase. Kate’s hi-res ct and visit to the pulmonologist. Get back to regular cooking. You know, stuff. Stuff that we do when we’re not occluded by an internal war between our immune system and some inner space invader.

I also have a lunch with Alan Rubin on Wednesday. Slowly getting back to some contact with CBE. It’s been a long while, but I miss those folks. I was still besnotted during the chicken cook soup cook off and not fully there.

If you want, you can insert a youtube video of Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah” here.

satireRemember the Producers? Zero Mostel? In it was the classic hit, “It’s Springtime for Hitler”. Well, it’s springtime in the Rockies and all of Colorado. Here’s another pirouette for great comedies and a plié with arm extended for the beauty of Black Mountain.

Not to go too far with this but there is a certain element of resurrection here. I used the word occluded, another word could have been buried. During a long and severe illness we turn in on our selves, our world becomes a primal struggle over which we have little if any external control. By primal I mean just that, a fight waged between cellular creatures so small we cannot see them, entities that have more in common with that first molecule that wiggled in the primordial soup than they do with us. During this conflict the body focuses on the struggle, not on errands, to do lists, future dreams, present possibilities. We become buried by the constant back and forth of immune system versus virus, immune system versus bacteria.

Now, sometimes, but only once, our body doesn’t win. That’s true burial or cremation, or going green into the ground, whatever carcass disposal mode suits you or your survivors. However, most of the time we emerge, as if in a Hammer film, from our undead state to once again walk among the tribe of the still living.

abyssAnd, yes, in that state now, I feel resurrected, reborn, renewed. A little shaky perhaps but that fits such a state doesn’t it? What’s next? Not in the quotidian sense I mentioned above, but what’s next in the sense of  “Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?” Mary Oliver was the poet of our intimate relationship with mother earth. She listened, saw, felt what it meant to be embodied, to be embodied in this amazing natural state, this gift, this once in a lifetime reality that we are.

This one, my wild and precious life, my one wild and precious life, has been returned to me, or at least that’s how it feels. What, as the city planners say, is its highest and best use? I’ve had ideas before, but this is a chance to consider what that means now: 72, mortality signals falling like rain, yet invigorated and experienced, befriended and befriending, not alone, well read, ready. What will I do?

Ruach. Breath. Wind. Spirit.

Written By: Charles - Mar• 24•19

Spring                                                                  Recovery Moon

breath ruachHead. Mostly clear. Lungs. Mostly clear. I’m beginning to feel the illness bidding me goodbye. So long, it was good to know ya. Nah, it wasn’t. And don’t come back, please.

Kate continues to show steady, if incremental, gains. She smiles more, laughs more. Until, that is, she opened the letter from Swedish Hospital advising us that our balance with them was $25,000. Oooff. Our insurance provider has not, for some reason, paid them. I get to chase that down today. Being sick in America. If the illness doesn’t get you, the debt collector will.

If we didn’t have resources, didn’t have enough education and chutzpah to front the insurance company about this, we might end up stuck with the bill. Kate’s experience since September has been long, invasive, and expensive. Without insurance we’d be eating away at our IRA. I don’t think this should be too hard to clear up; but the ominous nature of a letter like that creates an unpleasant frisson. To say the least.

I’m debating going to see my doc about o2 sats. They’re below normal, though not in a dangerous range. The high 80’s a good deal of the time. Normal is above 95, though above 90 nobody worries. Since we’ve gotten here, my sats have been around 90 most of the time. As Tom pointed out, we’ve lost 75% of our available oxygen just by being at 8,800 feet. That would make a normal reading 93 if I’m doing my math and physiology right.

breath in outI really don’t want to confuse Kate’s journey right now, especially since we see the same doc, so I may wait a bit, be sure the flight of respiratory illness I sampled over the last two months has actually ended. In time I would like to know if anything in my lungs compromises my breathing. It’s certainly possible. I smoked for 13 years. Not proud of it, but I did. I also worked in a couple of high particulate matter jobs in my younger days, cutting rags at a paper mill and moving completed asbestos ceiling tiles to pallets. And, Dad had severe asthma, using an inhaler virtually his whole life.

Ruach. The Hebrew word for breath, wind, and for spirit. The Greek word is pneuma. God breathed ruach into the lungs of Adam and he lived. Since the traditional test for death was holding a mirror or a hand up to the nostrils, no moisture on the mirror, no felt breath, it’s not a stretch to equate breath and breathing with life. No breath, no life. Many traditions, especially Hindu and Buddhist, have breathing related practices. So do the Sufi as my friend Debra Cope has taught me.

breath dive reflexWhat impedes breathing, impedes life itself. Impedes the spirit of all life that dwells within us. Like health breathing is unremarkable to most of us until its ease experiences an interruption. Water boarding, or extreme interrogation (not torture as our CIA likes to say), is horrific because it emulates drowning. Our body has reflexes built in, the diving reflex, for example, that protect us in the case of sudden immersion in water. This means that our DNA carries a history of dangers to our breathing.

The pulmonologist treats matters related to breathing. But the pulmonologist, no matter how skilled and learned, deals with the physical challenges to breathing, not the spiritual implications. No, that is up to us and our own way of understanding the body/mind/spirit links.

Breath jacob-wrestling-with-the-angelA breathing issue is not, then, solely the province of pulmonology. It is also the province of theology broadly understood. Theology, for me, is the way you identify, organize, and deal with matters of ultimate importance. Life itself is, of course, a matter of ultimate importance to an individual; therefore, life and how it is for us at any particular point is a directly theological matter. Breath, the spirit of life that fills our lungs, provides our cells with oxygen so that they can carry out the physiological functions that are life in the body, is also of ultimate importance.

Here’s a website devoted to breath meditation.* Note in the second sentence that prana, a Sanskrit word, means both breath and life. No breath. No life.

My journey right now forces me to investigate my breathing at both a physiological and a theological level. It’s all o.k., too. None of us get leave this ancientrail alive. Something takes our breath away. That something shows the fragile nature of even the most master of the universe sort of person. Right now I’m going to attend to my breathing, my o2 sats, the spirit and life they make possible within me. An ancientrail of the third phase, no doubt.


*Breath is the universal factor of life. We are born the first time we inspire, and we die the last time we expire. Breath is life itself. In Sanskrit the same word–prana–means both breath and life.

All that lives, breathes–even plants and the bacteria that make bread rise. The process of breath is identical in all, consisting of inhalation and exhalation. It is the most immaterial factor of our existence, being a link-manifestation of the mind/spirit that dwells in all. For this reason, the breath is the natural and logical basis for meditation, the attempt to “enter into life.” The breath is the key to the cultivation of pure consciousness.

The Velveteen Rabbit aspect of human identity

Written By: Charles - Mar• 23•19

Spring                                                                            Recovery Moon

Bat and Moon, 1930s Takahashi Bihō. MIA

Bat and Moon, 1930s
Takahashi Bihō. MIA

The Recovery moon illuminates Black Mountain this morning. The ski runs carved out on the mountain are white strips reflecting back moon shine. A light breeze moves the lodgepoles and a thin dusting of snow covers the solar panels. Early spring in the Rockies.

Kate made a salad last night. We bumped into each other in our galley kitchen for the first time in months. She also tossed her friendship quilt from the Bailey Patchworkers into the washing machine. She’s beginning to emerge from a long time in the chrysalis of illness. Wow.

Since the recovery moon seems to find us both on the uptick, my doctor’s nurse called with lab results, actually a second call due to confusion there occasioned by a weeks long problem with their computer systems. The first call came when I was still pretty sick and I didn’t pay close attention. This time I did. My PSA has moved up from .o1 to .012. Doesn’t seem like much, but when your prostate’s gone, it’s supposed to stay at .1, which is effectively .0. A recurrence is defined, for those of us who had our prostate’s removed, when the PSA hits .2. Concerning, but not yet a problem. Further testing required.

Rabbi Jamie called last night, wondering how we were. We were both steady and frequent attenders of things at CBE up until Kate’s bleed on September 28th. I continued until my own illness which began in early February. Since then, I’ve only been back for the chicken soup cook-off. Our sudden disappearance from the synagogue’s life caused him to say last time he talked with Kate that the schul isn’t the same without us. Kate was on the board and I was teaching religious school. We both attended mussar on Thursdays. We went to services less frequently, but showed up at education and special events, too. We’ve woven ourselves into the fabric that is CBE.

Chapter House from Notre-Dame-de-Pontaut,12th century French MMA

Chapter House from Notre-Dame-de-Pontaut,12th century French MMA

Community, like friendships, is reciprocal. You put your left foot in, then your right foot, then you shake it all about. With others doing the same thing. Over time we get to know each other, see each other, acknowledge each other. The line between thee and me is both more and less than we usually think. It’s more in that we don’t know our own selves well, our own depths eluding even the most introspective and life examining of us. How could others see into that, then? It’s less in that our perception of ourselves is constantly poked and prodded by interactions with others. In fact, much of our personhood gains definition as we sit down to coffee with someone, engage in critical thought, listen to music, sing with them. In community, in friendships, in family we become who we are.

At CBE, as with the Woolly’s, the docents, the political folks I’ve worked with, and our family, who I am has been in dialectical tension with both individuals and the collective. I’ve had to consider how Frank Broderick’s anti-Catholicism fits into my mostly positive assessment of religious life. I’ve offered ideas at CBE and had them put into action, changing myself and others in the process. As I got to know my fellow docents, I observed how they related to the art, to the art history we learned, to the museum visitors we guided on tours. And, how I was as a docent shaped itself in response.

Woolly Mammoths instructed in glass blowing

Woolly Mammoths instructed in glass blowing

In the instance of the Presbyterian ministry the two millennia plus history of Christianity was a body of thought and actions within which I had to find my particular place just like the thousands of year old history of art demanded I find a personal patch of ground on which to stand in relation to it. Both interactions shaped me and I, in turn, in small, individual ways reshaped both Christianity and the history of art. Not making a big, hubristic claim here, just observing that the dialectical tension affects both parties though not in equal ways.

This is, I suppose, the Velveteen Rabbit part of human identity formation. We rub ourselves up against people, animals, things and in the process we become real. And, we serve that same role for others. It’s an awesome responsibility. How do I, in my interactions, encourage the best in others? Or, do I? But that’s a question for another day.

Oh, Boy! More health news.

Written By: Charles - Mar• 22•19

Spring                                                                      Recovery Moon

diseaseA visit to the pulmonologist. Dr. Gupta, looked very medical in blue scrubs, said Kate’s pulmonary function test wasn’t helpful. He didn’t say why, “Looks like a bad test.” He postponed the j-tube surgery yet again, instead ordering a hi-resolution ct scan. This will look for evidence of interstitial lung disease, in particular inflammation or scarring. It will also help them identify the cause of any lung disease, which, in the case of interstitial lung disease, is critical to its treatment though I don’t recall why. Short version. Another week before we know anything definite. Kate says she feels suspended.

On the way home we drove further west to a suburban outpost of Maria’s Empanadas and picked up a dozen, 6 mushroom and cheese, six Argentinas (meat). When we get them home, I put them in individual sandwich bags and Kate uses them as instant meals. I picked up a Larkburger.

Having my own issues with o2 stats. I imagine it’s largely sequelae to the flu/pneumonia/cold/sinus infection couple of months that I’ve had, but we’ll have to see. Ever since we moved here my o2 stats have been just in the normal range up here, pretty good down at the drs. office. They’ve moved a bit lower, which puts them in a range that can cause problems like light-headedness, shortness of breath, hypoxia, in other words. I might need to go see Dr. Gupta, too, at some point. Oh, joy.

We have three days now of no doctor appointments, no pt/ot visits, no nurse visits, nothing on the calendar. Feels like bliss. I plan to rest. Again, still. I’m mostly over the last few weeks of sampling various respiratory illnesses. Head feels almost clear. Lungs still produce the occasional cough. Stamina improving, but not back to 100% yet.

This steady beat of health news is, I know, tedious. Yet, it is our reality now and has been for quite some time. It is an ancientrail, perhaps one of the most ancient. Life is oddly unremarkable from a health perspective until it’s not. Then, life revolves around returning to the unremarkable state. In the third phase, however, we are aware that returning to the unremarkable state may not be available to us.

I’ve mentioned what I call mortality signals before, those moments when you become aware your body will not always function normally, a signal that eventually it will cease to function altogether. Those are mostly second phase. Though they still occur in the third phase, by this time the lesson has been repeated many times and you’ve heard it and accepted it or in solid denial.

This realization that the body may not return to the unremarkable state we enjoyed in our adulthood can be an existential crisis depending on the severity of the deviation. This is why folks so often say getting old is not for the weak-hearted. Kate has been deep in this crisis for a long time now, coping with it in a mostly positive way. I’m in some level of denial since I keep believing that exercise, good diet, and now deep-breathing will fix me. At some point it won’t.

More on this when it occurs to me.

I miss them still

Written By: Charles - Mar• 21•19

Spring                                                                          Recovery Moon

Doryphoros, MIA

Doryphoros, MIA

Today is Kate’s pulmonology appointment. Another key moment on this journey. Is she fit enough for surgery to place the j-tube? Does she have some lung disease? And, a week delayed.

The cold. My cold, that is, and it’s follow on sinus infection has begun to lose its grip. Glimpses of normalcy, breathing freely. Is this it? The end to this seven weeks of this and that rattling around in my blood stream, squeezing my lungs, filling my head? I sure hope so. May do a little dance.

Ironies. Judge Gorsuch, a Colorado deep conservative appointed to the court by he who shall not be named, has sided with the liberal judges on a Yakima Indian treaty dispute. Being a Westerner, he’s been exposed to much more Indian law than any other member of the court. Not sure where he stands on public lands. Guess we take what we can get in this moment of conservative judges dominant in our judiciary.

Weather here unremarkable. Warmer, blue skies, great clouds.

Lucretia, Rembrandt, MIA

Lucretia, Rembrandt, MIA

On art. 12 years at the MIA opened my heart, my mind to the strange world of art. Not that I hadn’t visited before. Ever since I spent time in the small museum on the campus of Ball State I’ve haunted museums, art fairs, galleries. But then I was an art appreciator in a very random way. I had little context, little history of the art I saw. After my two year class on art history in preparation for being a docent, I had at least a modest grasp of the history of world art. As I prepared for tours, went to continuing education, that knowledge grew.

I’ve been frustrated since leaving the MIA with my inability to interact with art on a regular basis. That’s one reason I started painting. I wanted that intimacy I had while at the MIA. For a few years after my docent training, the museum, closed on Mondays, allowed docents to be in the museum that day. That meant a chance to experience the art with no crowds, almost no other people.

Bonnard, MIA

Bonnard, MIA

I loved those Mondays and would wander happily through the Chinese paintings, the Japanese teaware, the 19th century galleries filled with Delacroix, Goya, Courbet, Gerome, Cole, Church, Bierstadt. I could spend time with Rembrandt’s Lucretia, Dorphyoros, Goya’s Dr. Arrieta, as much time as I wanted.

To know a work of art well you need to see it in person, spend time with it over weeks and years. Let it speak to you as the artist hoped it would with color, with shape, with composition, with subject matter, with brush strokes and chiaroscuro, with its own, often centuries long story. The works become your friends, acquaintances who teach you, let you be your self, but also be affected at a soul level. I miss that still though my friends from the MIA live on in my memory, with me here on Shadow Mountain.

Spring, 2019

Written By: Charles - Mar• 20•19

Spring!                                                                       Recovery Moon

ostaraA full recovery moon on the spring equinox. Lot of powerful juju in the air. The season that announces the return of life (except in Nebraska) begins as the moon swells into its most potent form. Of course, this is only meteorological spring, the date we agree on to name the season’s start, so you have to check local listings for time and channel. Here in the mountains spring’s another month away at least. Probably more like six weeks.

Minnesotans are both happy and wary about the coming of spring. It’s been a long, hard winter and to see it in the past will be welcome. As will be the warmth and color. But. There’s a lot of pent up water there, too, just like in Nebraska, water that will get released as the air grows warmer. Could be a major flooding year. The rivers in Nebraska have exceeded historic high water levels by feet. This is the new normal. Extremes.

We’ve got a string of 40+ degree days ahead, including a couple in the 50’s. Then, more snow. Colorado mountain living. As the melting begins here in earnest, Cub Creek, Blue Creek, Bear Creek, Maxwell Creek will all show their might, taking down the mountains from which they run, taking their stony surfaces and moving them toward the plains. It will take a while, but the creeks are patient and wait each year for the spring winds to melt the snow that has fallen and to melt the ice. They’re a wonder in the spring.

Tao4Alan Watts has a book I like a lot called The Water Course Way. It describes the tao as like water, going around obstacles, over obstacles, not stopping, going on its way regardless of what’s in its path, not troubling itself over temporary stoppages, boulders, canyons, even lakes. Soft wins over hard. The soft water slowly picks away at mountains of granite, basalt, gneiss and takes them a grain at a time, over centuries, millennia, eons back to the oceans.

I struggle with this. I’m more, as I think I said here recently, more of a take arms against a sea of troubles and by opposing end them sorta guy. An unreconstructed activist still clinging to the fever dreams of the 1960’s. Yet there is truth in the tao. Is it the only truth? Don’t think so. But in regard to Kate’s circumstances over the last year or so, it has taken a certain let the process work its way out attitude to survive it with our mental health intact. Had we been pushing, pushing all the time (which I am wont to do) then we would have harmed ourselves in the process of making her well. Not only not necessary, but harmful.


April 5, 2018. Near CBE in Evergreen

Spring will come. The flowers and the grasses of the montane ecosystem will burst forth, bring us their ephemeral beauty. The creeks will run full down Shadow Mountain, down Conifer Mountain, down Black Mountain always gouging, prying at the very thing that created them. The lodgepole pines will green up, the aspens and willows along the creeks will leaf out. There will be mule deer fawns, elk calves, fox kits, bear cubs, mountain lion cubs. Skis and poles and boots will go in storage and rock climbing gear, bicycles, hiking boots come out.

This is our home now. And we don’t want to leave it. Still uncertain. Waiting for the tao to show us the right path.



Written By: Charles - Mar• 19•19

Imbolc                                                                         Recovery Moon

Near Seoul, Kate. April, 2016

Near Seoul, Kate. April, 2016

Kate’s above 84 pounds now! The tpn is working and the results are what we expected. We got Kate’s pulmonology appointment rescheduled for this Thursday. Gupta will decide on her fitness for surgery for the j-tube and we’ll get his reading of the ct scan. Potential interstitial lung disease. An important day.

This Thursday she goes on a 14 hours on, 10 hours off schedule with the tpn feeding. They couldn’t go down to 12 and 12 due to the volume of the feeding solution. That will give her 10 hours without the black bag to carry around.

I wish I could report my cold was resolving, but it isn’t. Seems to have slipped over into a sinus infection. Just one more turn of the screw. Oh, well. Major issue. More malaise. This aspect of illness I’d never truly appreciated before. The body needs to devote its energy to fending off the intruders which means it has little left over for daily life. After now having been sick myself for over six weeks (with a brief recovery respite before the cold showed up), I get the burden that Sjogren’s and malnourishment has visited on Kate. I saw it before, of course, but now I get it in my body.

Goya's, Self-Portrait with Dr. Arrieta. Mpls Museum of Art

Goya’s Self-Portrait with Dr. Arrieta. Mpls Museum of Art

Malaise is a side effect, but it’s damaging, too. Every aspect of living takes more effort. Getting up. Staying up. Walking to the mail box. Cooking. Taking care of the dogs. All done on legs that don’t want to be standing, with arms that don’t want to lift, with hands that ache. In the short term the malaise is good because it signals your body to rest. I’ve got this, but you need to slow down while I fight.

Over a longer duration, six weeks now for me, and months now for Kate, it drags us down mentally. I can’t do the things I love, or only in short bursts, not good enough for, say, painting or writing. Even important self maintenance like cooking can seem too much. When I neglect those sorts of things, I feel bad. And the feeling can soak in, change the inner weather. In this regard I marvel that Kate has been able so often to stay centered, to adjust to the constant malaise, the constant weakness. It requires mental strength, constantly applied.

This painting, my favorite at the MIA and, I discovered, Kaywin Feldman’s too, (Director of the MIA now headed to the National Gallery) shows extreme malaise. The way Goya’s hand grips the sheet, so slightly, his head tilted over, the wan coloration of his skin. Barely visible, even when in the painting’s presence are shadowy figures, look to Arrieta’s right elbow, just over Goya’s left shoulder, are ghostly figures. His ancestors? The dead, whom he felt he might join? Or the sense of evanescence he feels, part way in this world, part way out of it?

But. the malaise and these illnesses will pass, just as they did for the grateful Goya. Someday, sooner I hope, rather than later, I’ll be motoring along at a more usual speed. Able to cook, work, go to CBE occasionally. That’s my future and I look forward to it. But, today. Moving slow, swimming in molasses.




Written By: Charles - Mar• 18•19

Imbolc                                                                   Recovery Moon


The Winnah!

Two people liked my chicken soup, well, two I know for sure. No, wait, four. Kate and I like it, too. I didn’t win the CBE chicken-soup cook-off but it was a hell of a lot of fun. A couple I talked to early on asked me about my soup and I told them I got the recipe off the back of a Gold’n Plump chicken. Somehow, from my description of my recipe, they figured out which one was mine. And voted for it. Bless their hearts. The woman who won was a bubbe, an anglicized version of the Yiddish bobe, for grandmother.

I hadn’t been to CBE for six weeks so I saw lots of people I hadn’t seen in a while Tara, Joan Tarsarar, Elizabeth, Dan Herman, Ron Solomon, Iris Solomon, Michele and her husband (they liked my soup), lots of kids from my religious school class, Sheri, Rabbi Jamie. How’s Kate doing? Improving, I’d say, but slowly. And you had pneumonia? Yes. You sound like you have a cold. Yes, I’ve had that, too. And, it still has me. What a time it’s been for you two. I’m so sorry you’ve had to go through this. It’s been difficult, but you deal with what’s there, right?


My entry, #7

CBE is like a small town. Maybe not everybody knows your name, but they know your face. Those who do know you approach, or you approach them. It’s like going to the Bakery in Alexandria (my hometown) after a similar situation at home. People would come up and say, “Charlie, how are you? How’s your mom?”

These seem like casual questions, usual, but they’re not. These folks will listen, and closely, if you tell them how things are. They’ll commiserate. They’ll look for something they can do. One woman, when I told her how weak Kate is and how burdened she is by oxygen tubing and carrying around the tpn bag, and followed that with an example of her calling me when the dogs escaped through the blown open front door, said, “She has my number!” Her point was that she was actually closer to Kate than I was then since I was at CBE. She lives close by and has offered to give us assistance many times.

This is what community looks like, feels like. In the end, I imagine, it doesn’t matter how you come by it. Veterans of Foreign Wars. Living in a small town. Religious community of any sort. Quilting and sewing groups. Volunteering. But we need it. Humans are pack animals. We need to be known and to know others. That happens in community. You’ve read the research I’m sure about the affect loneliness has on health. That it’s an epidemic among the senior population. Well, the cure is community.

Another winner

Another winner

I think of it as being seen. That is, when I walk into CBE, I’m no longer a stranger, but someone who is known. Deeper. Some of those who see me, see more deeply into my person, my life. The mussar groups. The kabbalah classes. Friendships.

If we are not seen, then we are invisible. Invisible people wither. Look at the homeless. Or, the incidence of high blood pressure among African-Americans. The invalid. It’s important to enter the chicken-soup cook-offs and their equivalents. Not to win, though of course that would be fun, but to be visible. To offer yourself to public scrutiny. Not in a weird, self-abasing way, but in a way that affirms your presence. When you show up, as my friend Bill Schimdt likes to say, others show up, too.

See and be seen. The recipe for flourishing. Eudaimonia. Better than happiness, in my opinion.



Written By: Charles - Mar• 17•19

gate closing panic from Tom

With Spitlers and Zikes as two family lineages that feed into mine (Dad’s mom and Mom’s mom), I have plenty of German blood. And even more German culture because it seems to be the one that influenced my upbringing the most. I’m punctual, a bit obsessive about intellectual matters, have a very defined view of physical property and its sanctity, duty and commitment are bedrock for me. Of course there are other influences, too, that Irish and Welsh blood, the majority English ancestry, but those cultures didn’t seem to carry as much weight in my childhood.

Over the course of time I’ve read many German authors and loved them Goethe, Hesse, Mann, Kafka (Austrian), Rilke among them. In spite of my philosophy degree though I only found one German philosopher with whom I resonated and that was Heidegger. The German penchant for systematic thought stuck somewhere in my head, making my think I should produce at least one work in that vein. And, I’ve never been able to do that. Although systematic thought attracts me as a thinker, doing it I find too restrictive, a prison for the mind. It tends to be very culture bound no matter what wonderful insight kicked it off. (Hegel discovered that 19th Germany was the pinnacle of human development, for example.)

When friend Tom Crane passed torschlusspanik along to me, it vibrated down those personal paths: the ancientrail of ancestral culture, the ancientrail of philosophical thought. I felt it more than understood it.

It’s real. I love the image. Death as a gate closing off possibility. I suppose you could say that it’s another version of fear of death, one pressing a bit more against the bone as time passes. The third phase notion I’ve played with for years now is the domain of torschlusspanik. As we pass out of the family and career oriented second phase, our life necessarily includes the reality of approaching death.

What I call mortality signals begin to crop up more frequently. Kate’s bleed, for example. The struggles with oxygen. Glaucoma testing. That 3rd phase kidney disease. Sure, we get these earlier in life, too. When my hearing went in my left ear, I realized my body would not always work as it had. Death is the ultimate expression of the body no longer working as it had. At 38 though I could take the hit and diffuse it over the number of years I imagined I had left. At 72, a different matter.

I watched “Free Solo” this week on Hulu. In it Alex Honnold, the man who free soloed Yosemite’s famous El Capitan, the best wall in the world according to Alex, says, “I don’t want to be happy and cozy. Nothing great ever came from happy and cozy.” You have to hear him because he’s about to climb without rope, with nothing more than his hands and feet and chalk dust, a 3,000 foot plus sheer wall of rock. One mistake and you’re dead as he and others say many times. In another scene, talking Sanni Candless, his girlfriend, who wondered out loud about the danger he faced, he said, “Are you asking if I’m going to optimize my lifespan? No.”

Doesn’t seem like torschlusspanik is going to be much of a problem for Alex. He represents, I think, one end of a continuum. On his end he lives in to the opportunities that present themselves. That’s his raison d’être. On the other end of the continuum are the procrastinators, the never leave the couch (happy and cozy) types. There also the ones stunned early on by social convention, who live their lives according to someone else’s script, looking to external values for legitimation. And, the fearful ones. Who let anxiety about what might happen, or what might not happen clog up their days. Many other types, too. Narcissists. Psycho and sociopaths. You know who they are. Or, perhaps, who you are.

The rest of us fall somewhere between Alex and the damaged folks. On the damaged end of the continuum (and remember we’re talking only about the degree to which torschlusspanik is likely to impact you) it’s not to difficult to imagine a lot of regrets, of disappointments, of wish I could have and it might have been me. That gate might have started closing early, keeping them on the other side, or; it might be starting to close now. What can I do?

And so we return to the question of success that I broached several weeks ago. As I’ve written this piece, I realized that success fits into the stunned early by social convention trap. It is an external value against which we can evaluate our actions, our work, our marriage, our domestic life, our work. Alex, our exemplar, knows what he wants to do. He know how to do it. And, he wants to be great. To do great things. He did. Scaling El Capitan without ropes has been called the greatest athletic achievement of our time.

But I don’t get the sense that he’s measuring his success against other climbers. Rather he seems to be in competition with himself. To be better. To try harder. To reach for the edge of his limits. And, there we are. The answer to the success question. It’s not about external values and evaluators; it’s about the inner drive to know who we are, who we can be. It’s about the sometimes desperate need to express our truth, in whatever medium or context, or shrink away from our life and begin to die. If we have done that, lived into our truth, worked to express it, given ourselves to it time and time again, then the question of success fades away.

I guess you could call it a free solo approach to living.