We all walk ancientrails. Welcome to the journey.

Yom ha-Sho’ah

Spring                                                                        Mountain Moon

Holocaust Is Fading From Memory, Survey Finds. NYT

Anti-Semitic Incidents Surged 57 Percent in 2017, Report Finds. NYT

20180415_155755Sho’ah is Hebrew for catastrophe and has come to refer explicitly to the catastrophe for Jews after slavery in Egypt, the Holocaust. On the 27th of Nisan, April 12th this year, Jews celebrate Yom ha-Sho’ah, or Holocaust Remembrance, on the anniversary of the Warsaw Uprising. This is a crucial twist to Holocaust remembrance because it frames the day with a symbol of Jewish resistance to the Nazi’s.

One thing I’ve been privileged to observe over our time so far at Beth Evergreen is the complicated relationship Jews have with the Holocaust. It is horror beyond imagining, yet there are photographs and family memories and its dispiriting constancy in everyday Jewish life. Rabbi Jamie tries, each time he refers to the Holocaust, to inoculate the congregation against an attitude of victimization. Victims have little agency and the worst sequelae of the Holocaust would be a self-enforced powerlessness.

20180415_155411It’s a tragedy so outsized, so without precedent as an act of calculated evil, that how to approach its remembrance, its historicity, is fraught. Words and analysis, though important in certain venues, cannot touch the emotional complex around its reality. Congregation Beth Evergreen, this Sunday, tried another approach. Dance and music.

Beth Evergreen commissioned The Thomas Dance Troupe, five members of the Colorado Ballet who work together outside of the Ballet, to come up with works that could serve as, well, I’d say, a cri de coeur. They performed with a select few members of the Evergreen Chorale, a pianist, and a violinist.

It was a powerful program, aimed straight at the heart and it arrived. Many of the most important truths which we humans can access are not communicable in words, in the language of reasoned discourse. Those we must find in art.

Gabe and Kate

Spring                                                                        Mountain (New) Moon

Nurse checking Gabe's blood pressure post-op

Nurse checking Gabe’s blood pressure post-op

Gabe is now portless. The port through which he received his infusions of clotting factor, essentially a plastic plug set into his upper left chest, is gone. He’s had one for eight years, 80% of his young life. I asked him if he missed it. “Sort of.” The port was the culprit in his septicemia returning last week, harboring a nidus of the bacteria, “a place in which something is formed or deposited.” Jon’s had to be there in his room for most of the time since Thursday night at 12:30 a.m. when the lab called with the blood test results. It’s a long stint. For both of them.

I went to the afternoon sessions of the Sjogren’s conference with Kate, listening to lectures on joint pain and Sjogren’s, dry mouth and its dental implications, and on dermatological issues. Sjogren’s, as a syndrome, is a collection of symptoms that may seem unrelated, but have an underlying cause, in this case a dysfunction in the autoimmune system. The number of symptoms are a problem for researchers, physicians, drug companies and, particularly, patients. Each symptom like dry mouth, dry eyes, dry skin, fatigue is a separate entity that must be dealt with in its own way. This means an often bewildering number of ointments, salves, mouth rinses, eye drops, as well as methods for managing both stress and fatigue. And the need for treatment is at least daily and in most cases a number of times per day. That’s exhausting in and of itself.

20180414_130149For example, we measure Kate’s energy in K.U.’s, Kate units. When she’s used up her K.U.’s for a day, she often goes to bed. No matter what time it is. One woman, Sjogren’s is overwhelmingly a woman’s disease, measures her energy in spoons. She sets out 6 spoons and as she does a task, she removes a spoon. When the spoons are all gone, so is her capacity to do things.

It is, in other words, hard.

Right now, as well, Kate’s doing all these with one hand literally tied up. Makes it good that we’re together.

tao2Even here the tao flows. Tapping into it means feeling the surges of healing, of exhaustion, of relationship weakening and strengthening, of giving and receiving. Accepting them as they come, not fighting them, not trying to be stronger than we are, yet finding the moments and the things we can do to make healing hasten. In this moment the tao reminds me of the power of love, the wisdom of the body, the necessity of rest. Going with it. Letting it come through me. Like water rushing down the mountain.

 

 

Gonna Miss Her

Spring                                                                        New Shoulder Moon

In Gwangju, April 2016

In Gwangju, April 2016

SeoAh goes home today. Murdoch misses her and Joe needs her. Her flight is at 11:45, so we’ll leave around 8:30 or so. After I get her checked in, I’ll turn around and drive back past Conifer and on to Littleton to Hearing Aid Associates. My hearing aid no longer takes juice from batteries.

The dishwasher saga is still not over. After substantial research into dishwashers, it’s my conclusion that no one makes one that lasts very long or very well. The combination of swirling water and electronics seems to make them more vulnerable than most appliances. So. If you’ve had a good experience with a particular brand, let me know. Gonna buy one soon. Sigh.

Gwangju, April 2016

Gwangju, April 2016

Joseph’s been running an exercise at Robbins all this week. His wing commander told him on Tuesday, “Brief at 1 p.m.” This was at noon. He usually has much longer to prepare. 500 people. “I knocked it out of the park, Dad.” Baseball metaphors come naturally to this boy who was young when the Twins won the World Series twice. He also told me he still answers the phone, “Capt. Buckman-Ellis,” then has to shift quickly, “No. Major Buckman-Ellis.” 6 years a Captain wears a pretty strong groove in the brain.

Last night was the first night of the new qabbalah series, Time. The first year introductory curriculum covers the three dimensions of the qabbalistic universe: soul, space and time. Time, above all other concepts we think we understand, bends and twists when we try to hold it down, flog some sense out of it. I confess to being more unsettled as to my understanding of time than any other idea except the notion of self.

kabbalah magicThe two have a close relationship. It’s the human observer who brings time into being, I think. We know from Einstein that time and space are inseparable; but, I’m still with Kant, that time and space are actually ways our minds use to make sense of the data we gather from our senses. The implication is that they are constructs of human consciousness and that we cannot know their existence in what Kant calls the ding an siche, things in themselves.

These classes are like one long late night conversation in college. And fun for that reason.

Tarot and Craft Beer

Spring                                                                    New Shoulder Moon

Intrepid Sojourner Beer Project

Intrepid Sojourner Beer Project

Went out last night to an Atlas Obscura/Denver event. Yes, this funky website now has local, meet-up like events in various cities. The one last night was on tarot, a presentation at the only in Denver, Intrepid Sojourner Beer Project. The presenter, Joy Vernon, has been reading tarot cards since 1991 and presently works out of the unfortunately named Isis Book Shop. Isis has since changed its name to Goddess Isis Bookshop to distinguish itself from the new caliphate.

20180409_194615Besides the quirky reputation of Atlas Obscura, which draw me in, I also went because Joy said she would discuss qabbalah and the tarot. Only a couple of mentions but they were there. Here’s a for instance in this blurry photograph of one of her slides. In another spot she mentions the correspondence between qabbalah (translation note: Rabbi Jamie says the q is the correct translation) and the qabbalistic Tree of Life with its ten sephirots. Not a detailed examination of the relationship, but enough to make me want to explore it further.

Joy was knowledgeable about her subject and an entertaining speaker. To pass over the “dry” history portion (her word) she suggested a drinking game. We were in a pub after all. Each time she mentioned a place or a Tarot card with Bacchus on it came up, each person had to say Bacchus and take a drink. The crowd, mostly millennials, was into it. So when she mentioned Milan, for instance, someone in the crowd would yell, “Bacchus!” and people would drink. Pretty modestly, but hey!

20180409_194857Tarot by itself has fascinated me for a long time and I have three decks of my own. I like the iconography and the mythical, archetypal leanings of current Tarot readers. That doesn’t mean I put much stock in the readings themselves, though I do believe any sincere examination of self, whether occasioned by a hallucinogen, meditation, an analyst or a Tarot reader can be of benefit.

The next Atlas Obscura event in Denver is a presentation by a crime scene cleaner. Wish I could go but it’s on April 22nd in the evening. On that night we’ll be dining at Domo, the rural Japanese style restaurant, with Ruth and Gabe and Jon in honor of the kid’s birthdays, Ruth on April 4th and Gabe’s on the 22nd, 12 and 10.

 

An Amazing Gift

Spring                                                                      New Shoulder Moon

1514204356436Family. Often, our main contribution to the world and its future is simply doing our job as mammals and raising our children, staying in touch with our kin groups. That families can get out of whack, become dysfunctional was almost a mantra of my generation as we baby boomers pushed back against establishment values, upended gender roles and experienced backlash from the so-called greatest generation. (which I think is an unfortunate use of a superlative) So for many of us boomers now careening into old age, trying to slide home before the devil knows we’re dead, family can be problematic. Those of you who understand this know who you are.

It’s this context that makes what might be ordinary in many, maybe most families, so wonderful. SeoAh comes on Saturday to spend a few days with us, help lighten the load. Joseph, too, offered to come. His work schedule makes dropping everything hard, so we agreed that he would stay behind. He has an exercise he’s in charge of this next week.

1514558225692I’ve been proud of my boy for a long, long time, but I was never prouder than when he offered to ask SeoAh if she would come up. “And I can come, too.” She told Joe, he said, that, “She wants to come. She needs to come.” This is family at its best.

At this age there are unknowns lurking. Yes, there always are, throughout life, but in the third phase the probability of something showing up gets higher with each passing year. That means there is an undercurrent of uncertainty; sudden disastrous events can happen in a minute. Literally. No matter how self-sufficient we are a stroke, a heart attack, a fall, a difficult disease diagnosis can push us out of our normal life into one where we need not just some help, but a lot.

Camus one-cannot-be-happy-in-exile-or-in-oblivion-one-cannot-always-be-a-stranger-i-want-to-albert-camus-123-46-22Kate’s shoulder replacement surgery has shown us that we have two immediate resources to soften such a blow. SeoAh and Joseph’s response means we have family we can count on. And, Congregation Beth Evergreen has offered, through several different people, help. The surgery has been a good, non-disastrous moment in that regard. The tao of the time has been deepening relationships, between Kate and me, between us and family, between us and Congregation Beth Evergreen.(I say immediate resources because I know there are still Minnesota friends who would aid us as well if things got dire.)

What the affirmation of these ties means is that the uncertainty of the third phase can be quieted. We don’t have to worry about being alone. This is a peace I didn’t know I needed until this moment. That uncertainty isn’t a top-level anxiety; but, it exists, fuzzed in the background and brought into the present during Kate’s recovery.

The tao flows through this moment in unexpected, powerful ways, allowing us to lean into the future rather than shrink away from it. An amazing gift.

 

 

Liberated and Vital

Spring                                                                        New Shoulder Moon

Tteokguk

Tteokguk

The full new shoulder moon hangs over Black Mountain right now. It’s the middle of Nisan in the Jewish lunar calendar, the first month of the year. Passover is a spring festival, not unlike the ones in Asia that we tend to call Chinese and Korean New Year. It’s especially similar to the Korean Spring Festival. At that festival the whole nation eats tteokguk, rice cake soup. When they finish the soup, they are all one year older. Passover reinforces a sense of tribal (national) identity for Jews all around the world through eating the Seder meal.

Matthias Grunewald

Matthias Grunewald

It was also Easter yesterday. Easter marks out Christianity’s most unusual and defining theological belief, that Jesus died on the cross and rose three days later, defeating death. Strip away all the institutional hoo-hah accreted over the last two thousand plus years, all the dogma spun out of the dross of fevered thought, and this is what Christianity means: death is either an illusion or temporary. Without the resurrection Christianity is a watered down Judaism, a Middle Eastern faith borne of a particular moment in time in a particular ethnic space. Resurrection is its bid for universality and a good one.

It was a big weekend for Middle Eastern religion, two of the three distinctive monotheisms, the Abrahamic faiths, celebrated key events in their sacred years. I feel both part of these events and to the side of them. I have incorporated the secular understanding of liberation and Jewish identity underscored by pesach and the pagan meaning of resurrection found in the rites of spring. They are part of me now.

Happy holidays.

 

Ancient Holidays

Spring                                                                       New Shoulder Moon

Chagall, Pesach

Chagall, Pesach

It’s the second night of pesach tonight and tomorrow morning is easter. Liberation and resurrection, or liberation and death’s final bow. Resurrection is hard to integrate since its hard proof lies beyond the veil of this world. Liberation, on the other hand, is much easier to integrate because it applies to so many this worldly situations: slavery, imprisonment, forced poverty, mental illness, racial and gender and sexual preference discrimination, being in Trump’s America.

Both are important to me. I long ago left behind the death is no more school of theology. It seems cruel to me, an assertion confounded at every death bed, every school shooting, every war. Death still rides her pale horse, galloping through the living world and pruning, pruning, pruning.

I do, however, retain my confidence in resurrection; that is, the power of the changing world to incorporate death and decay as precursors for life. Each spring, as our temperate latitude winter fades away, bright green shoots spear their way through the soil’s surface. Flowers bloom. Vegetables grow. Trees leaf out. Lambs and kids and calves and piglets are born. All these are evidence of transubstantiation, the literal changing of grapes and bread into our bodies. This transformation happens regularly and green burial will help us remember that we humans do participate in it, that concrete, water-tight “vaults” and expensive coffins do not shield us from our part in the web of life.

El Greco

El Greco

This weekend presents to us two powerful stories, stories that have changed the world: the exodus from Egypt of Hebrew slaves and the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus, known by many as the Christ. Narratives have real potency, the ability to change lives, turn the pages of history, answer our deepest questions, quiet our deepest fears. Oddly, you can see this power even more clearly if you take a stance just outside the metaphysical claims, but not in the camp of folks like the new atheists, who are simply boring.

I’m neither Christian nor Jew, my metaphysics is bound up in the ongoing evolution of the universe and literally rooted in the soil of the midwest and the hard rock of these mountains where I now live. Even so, liberation and resurrection, through the stories of the passover and easter, are important to me, tell me about human possibility, about the human capacity to face enslavement and grief with hope, with the chance to turn both into moments of human triumph.

Though it has taken me a while to learn the rudimentary geology of our immediate neighborhood, I now know that we live among three mountains. We live on Shadow Mountain, up a valley that runs from its base to our home. On the opposite side, the west side of this valley, is Conifer Mountain and then, the mountain most visible from our house, Black Mountain.

Black Mountain

Black Mountain

Think of the changes evidenced by these huge landforms. This is rock that was once, millions of years ago, imprisoned far below the earth’s surface, held there by weight and history, perhaps even put there by accretion when another planet slammed into the still forming earth. Yet now I live on it, can see it clearly, far above the surface, pushed out and up by forces wielding power unimaginable, unavailable to us humans.

Is this liberation and resurrection? Not from a human perspective, but from the perspective of our planet, very much so. And yet it does not end there. Once liberated from their stony dungeons wind and water act upon them taking these high mountains gradually down to sea level, then into the ocean itself. In the soil formed in this way plants will grow, animals will feed off the plants. Liberation and resurrection are everywhere, if only we see what we’re looking at.

 

OMG

Spring                                                             New Shoulder Moon

anxietySurprising, sophisticated, jawbreakingly awful sign on a conservative church sign board: “Anxiety is just unbelief in disguise.” If you live in Christworld, there is a certain sense in which this appears to be true. If only your belief were strong, you would need have no worries. Look at the lilies of the field.

However, assume for just a moment that your metaphysic is wrong. Then, this sentiment is cruel. It doubles up the anxiety for those of us who are anxious, a whole big bunch of us*, by adding weak faith to the angst we already feel. And, even if God is watching out for you in a way totalizing enough to assure you in every situation, punishing anxiety as weak faith is not going to move you closer to faith. The opposite. It will push you deeper and deeper into the slough of despond.

Now, what’s funny is that I saw this sign on my way to The Happy Camper, the dispensary just over the Park County line near Bailey. Picking up our regular supply of thc, a sleep aid we’ve been using for a while now, is a monthly or so trip. Why do I need it? Anxiety is a bitch goddess who demands sacrifice as soon as my head hits the pillow. Has been true to a greater or lesser degree since high school.

Anxiety is not as much of a problem now as it has been, but the long established habit of chewing over the day once the lights are out has become a regular time for my brain to turn on, consider relational or political or philosophical matters. A habit I’ve been unable to break.

sleepFriend Tom Crane sent me a book, he does that every so often, “Why We Sleep,” by Matthew Walker. This is an excellent review of the latest in sleep science and daunting as a result. Sleeplessness has drastic health ramifications, enough to make the favorite yuppie mantra, “I’ll sleep when I’m dead.” ironic. What I can’t understand, and Walker says the same, is the lack of attention the medical profession gives to sleep. Many of us are desperate to get to sleep. And by desperate I mean desperate. Yet the help offered is often better sleep hygiene, a good idea, I practice it, doesn’t do the trick for me though. If help is offered at all.

I hate to add this idea to all those others out there, but this is a NATIONAL CRISIS. Especially for those of us in the third phase when sleep becomes harder for a variety of reasons.

SleepDeprivation3We have elaborate protocols for people with pulmonary issues like COPD or emphysema, cardiac issues of many nuances, joint replacements for tired and painful knees, shoulders, hips; but, what do we have for a part of our lives that constitutes a third of our time use each 24 hours? Yes, there are sleep centers, but they’re not on offer often and besides it seems that cognitive behavioral therapy is the current gold standard. Problem is not many CBT folk specialize in sleep and we’re certainly not referred to them anyhow.

It’s enough to make a guy lose sleep.

 

*Anxiety disorders are the most common mental illness in the U.S., affecting 40 million adults in the United States age 18 and older, or 18.1% of the population every year. Anxiety disorders are highly treatable, yet only 36.9% of those suffering receive treatment.  AADD

Resilience

Spring                                                                    New Shoulder Moon

stephen-hawking-albert-einsAs one of Dr. Agronin’s youngest informants said, even when physical decline and losses restrict one’s options, there remains the capacity to appreciate and approach each day with a sense of purpose. “It’s all about how you frame what you have,” she told him.

He cites the concept of “positive aging” developed by Robert D. Hill, a psychologist in Salt Lake City, that is “affected by disease and disability, but not contingent upon avoiding it.” Rather, it is “a state of mind that is positive, optimistic, courageous, and able to adapt and cope in flexible ways with life’s changes.”  Finding Meaning and Happiness in Old Age, NYT, March 20, 2018

The third phase of our lives, the one that we enter when career and creating a family have faded in importance, or ended, has a mental image for most of us past 65 of decline, of a gradual decrease of abilities and agency. This image comes from our childhood when retirement was predominantly of the finish line sort, work was over, now we wait. That waiting often wasn’t long with heart disease or stroke or a bad fall ending it.

resilenceHopefully, our children, the millennials among them, will look at us and come to that phase of their lives with a different image. My hope is that they will see that aging is the accumulation of years, not a time of diminished hope and diffuse fear, but life continuing. If that image can become dominant, it will look like the diverse approaches people have to their first and second phases. In other words the third phase will have as many distinct trajectories as there are people who enter it. It will not be dormancy, or a pause before dying, but life itself.

Is the third phase the same, then, as the first two phases, just creakier? No. Like the first two, when education dominates, when building a career and raising a family dominates, it has its distinctiveness. Perhaps its most salient characteristic is open endedness. In the third phase there is, at least now, no culturally limned outline; perhaps that will change, I don’t know, but right now, thanks to the old finish line model of retirement, the third phase has no particular flavor. Or, perhaps, it has a negative flavor as I indicated above, of decline and loss of agency. Even that negative flavor though leaves the third phase open.

That very undefined nature daunts a lot of people. If your life counted on work for self-definition, if your family, with children or not, made your life worthwhile, the thought of years, maybe as many as 25 or thirty, with no such hooks for meaning can make the future look bleak, as if you were entering a time when life flows on around you, in spite of you, even without you.

positive-agingI like Robert Hill’s definition of positive aging: (It’s) “affected by disease and disability, but not contingent upon avoiding it.” Rather, it is “a state of mind that is positive, optimistic, courageous, and able to adapt and cope in flexible ways with life’s changes.”

The idea of resilience has gotten a lot of play recently. My sense is that is key to positive aging.

A telling article on resilience in childhood from the Harvard Center for the Developing Child has some hints for us third phase folk. For instance, here are some factors that enhance resilience in children:

  1. facilitating supportive adult-child relationships;
  2. building a sense of self-efficacy and perceived control;
  3. providing opportunities to strengthen adaptive skills and self-regulatory capacities; and
  4. mobilizing sources of faith, hope, and cultural traditions.

ResilienceNot only in children, I think. Resilience can allow us to accept the changes of the aging body without losing hold of the power of our own lives. With a resilient personality even ALS will not cause us to stop growing. Just look at Stephen Hawking.

As we enter the third phase, or as we cope with its vague demands, focusing on enhancing our resilience will help us adapt, remain flexible. Perhaps resilience is nothing more than following the tao, finding the energy and flow of the universe no matter what externalities are present in life. I’d like to think so.

Great Wheel go bragh!

Imbolc                                                                 New Shoulder Moon

Erin go braghMade corned beef and cabbage for dinner last night. Erin go bragh! When I decided to write novels, now long ago, Kate suggested I find an area that I could relate to. I chose my Celtic heritage, both Welsh and Irish. It is a fertile realm, filled with gods and goddesses, fairies and banshees, this world and the other world. Not so deep into it right now with one exception, the Great Wheel.

The Great Wheel, though, continues to inform my spiritual journey, a steady point on an often changing ancientrail. The Great Wheel is us, homo sapiens, using consciousness to ground ourselves on this planet and to its fate. Still seems a good place to start thinking about our relationship to the whole, better than any text. Great Wheel go bragh!

Took a sack full of food into the Aurora Olson’s yesterday afternoon. Jon, Ruth and Gabe have all been home sick since Tuesday. Gabe has pneumonia, Jon and Ruth the respiratory illness that preceded it for Gabe. Another positive of being close enough. Ruth sent a text Friday night, “Yo. Can you bring us some food?” I didn’t stay because neither Kate nor I want to get sick before her surgery on Thursday.

art

As long as I was in Denver, I drove to Meiningers. This is the big art supply store in the Denver area. It’s filled with paints and papers and brushes and pens and tape and pencils and cutting tools. A wonderful place, its existence alone stimulated me, and I’m sure every customer who goes inside.

yasumotoIts sumi-e material material, though, was feeble compared to the hole in wall (by comparison), Red Herring. Meiningers’ selection of brushes were all cheap, beginner’s brushes. They did have a couple of Yasumoto inks that I bought, an Ultra Black and a Black Gold. I also picked up an Olfa knife to cut paper, from the kraft roll that came last week and from the rolls of rice paper I bought from Red Herring and Blue Heron, an online sumi-e store.

Not sure why this has become so important to me in so short a period of time, but as I said below melancholy allows the heart to catch up with decisions already known to the subconscious.

Life flows on, in endless song, I can’t help singing.

 

 

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