We all walk ancientrails. Welcome to the journey.

Gettin’ On a Jet Plane

Fall                                                                         Joseph and SeoAh Moon (new)

Taking off today for Robins Air Force Base in Georgia. Will see Joe and SeoAh together for the first time since the wedding, though I did see Joe earlier this summer. Not sure about a computer setup there, so this may be it until I get back. We’ll see.

Had my first adult Hebrew class yesterday. Ouch. I’m long out of practice. I took a semester’s worth of Hebrew and Greek, mostly just to be able to use lexicons, no grammar in either instance. That was 1972. 45 years ago. And, since I didn’t serve a parish, I had little use for it over the years. Atrophied is too generous for my current state of knowledge.

 

Mom

Fall                                                                        Harvest Moon

In just two days it will be the 53rd anniversary, yahrzeit, of my mother’s death on October 20th, 1964.

One of the practices of Jewish culture that I find soothing is the acknowledgment, annually, of the death of a family member, a friend, someone close in to your life. In each shabbat service, near the end, those who have experienced a death in the last week or so and those who have a yahrzeit stand and the congregation recites the kaddish, a unison prayer.

The other practices around death, chevra kadisha, or care for the corpse, and sitting shiva, a traditional mourning period of seven days following the funeral, make death an ongoing part of living in community. This is far away from the culture of death denial prevalent in significant parts of American culture.

My family suffered from that denial. Mom’s death happened suddenly, over the period of a week or so, following a stroke. She was 47. In a town of 5,000 many folks knew her, knew Dad, knew each of us, Mary, Mark and me. The immediate time following her death is a psychic black hole for me, the funeral, the days, the shiva (seven in Hebrew) days passing without memory for me.

Our family never recovered from the shock of her unexpected death. The next fall I went off to college and returned home only occasionally until, in my junior year, Dad and I had a falling out that persisted until his death in 2003. My first nights away from home, sleeping in a common, cold dorm, with about 40 other guys, I had nightmares. That was a very tough year for me, going from valedictorian of my small high school class, to classes full of people smarter than I was. Making that adjustment without Mom was very, very difficult. Two habits acquired in the Wabash year, smoking and drinking, would take a decade or so to eliminate.

I absented myself from the family, anger at my father’s rigid rejection of me fueling an estrangement that did not really ever end, though we did see each other occasionally after Joseph’s adoption in 1981. Mom’s death created a vacuum in our lives and took, at least for me, years to integrate. Each fall, around this time, I would slip into melancholy, going inside, wandering the halls of my soul and losing touch with the day to day. That melancholy seems to have lifted for me, but only recently, perhaps in the last five years.

A part of this dislocation in my soul, perhaps a major part, came because death was a dirty secret in the late fifties and early sixties. It happened, yes, but in hospitals far away from home. A funeral happened, then life went on, death having had its day. Even the deaths I had encountered prior to Mom’s, her parents, happened physically, but more importantly psychically, far away. Death was unexpected because it came and was gone, mostly hidden from daily life.

Mom was a sweet person, compassionate and loving. Remembering her on the anniversary of her death feels normal, healthy. She cared for me during my long bout with polio, helping me regain my ability to walk, a gift of love that allowed me to live a normal life. I could have been in braces or a wheelchair. She maintained close contact with her sisters and brother, her father and mother. We visited them often, encouraging a sense of extended family that persists to this day.

She only learned to drive late in her life, but when she did, she used her driving to go back to college for her Bachelor’s degree. She already had a two-year teaching degree, but requirements for teaching had increased. Her teaching would pay for our college. That was the plan.

A WAC during World War II Mom had traveled, unlike most of her generation and all of her family. She was in Italy and Algiers in the Signal Corps, military intelligence. We grew up, unusually for our small Indiana town, with mementos from Capris, photographs and stories of mom in the Casbah. Overseas adventures uncommon in the forties.

It would have been better for our family if we said kaddish yearly for her, and for my father, too. If we had sat shiva, mourning for seven days after their death, supported by friends and members of a community. If death had not come as a sudden, terrible tragedy, but as a known visitor to all families. If. Well, always if.

What can I do going forward now, at seventy? I can remember mom and dad on their yahrzeit. Write about them, include them, it just occurred to me, in my life. I can encourage Joseph and Jon in the same practice, encourage them to include a sensible attitude toward death in their lives and in their families. Jews don’t have a monopoly on a sensible, healthy attitude toward death, but theirs is one. And it’s one I plan to follow.

 

 

 

 

Daily Life

Fall                                                                                Harvest Moon

Ruth and me destinations

Destinations with Ruth (planetarium in Boulder and Sweet Cow, an ice cream place in Denver) The Rav4’s purpose.

Into Stevinson Toyota yesterday for a Rav4 oil change. Stevinson’s West on the western edge of Denver. The big yellow signs with their dire steep inclines, tight curves warnings go past me now unremarked, except for the occasional realization that I’ve acclimated to mountain driving some while ago.

Stevinson is about 35 minutes away, but the Toyota approach to service appeals to me enough to make the trek. They do what needs to be done to keep the vehicle in good shape. That’s what I want. And, it works. The next oil change will be at the 100,100 mark. Can’t say I like the Rav4, but it gets us from point A to point B, even in winter in the mountains. I do sense an electric car in our future.

Kate, Ruth and Ruths bff, Wilson

Kate, Ruth and Ruth’s bff, Wilson

Family business meeting at Brooks Tavern over lunch. We’re still absorbing some financial strain from Jon’s time with us, so the budget’s a little tight, but that won’t last forever.

Kate’s doing well with the substantial burden Sjogren’s places on her daily. Though the dryness that is Sjogren’s signature symptom, especially mouth, throat, eyes, is definitely bothersome, the most difficulty for her comes from fatigue. It makes her self-defining upper middle class get’r done energizer bunny approach to life just not possible anymore, except for short periods of time. That imposes a psychological burden that is worse, I think, than the fatigue itself.

Finished the installation of the weather station. It looks great, to my eye, on the loft’s deck. I’ve reacquainted myself with some of the buttons and whiz bangs of the console, but it will require some rtfm to get back to facile with them. The internet connection might be harder because I purchased the link for it back when Vista was the most recent Microsoft OS. We’ll see.

20171016_165812Been trying to get Boiler Medics, the guy who installed our new boiler, out for a seasonal check of the system. Something’s happening there because they’ve ghosted me for the last few days. This behavior is the mountain way for tradespeople in our stretch of the Front Range; it’s frustrating.

Get my new workout today from On the Move Fitness. I’m enjoying getting a new workout every 6 weeks or so. It’s easy to get in a rut with fitness and Deb, owner of OMF with her husband Dave, seems to have a good grasp of my needs. The workouts she devises challenge me, but are not onerous. Lower back pain and my left shoulder pain have largely disappeared thanks to them. Not to mention that knee. I can now get up from a chair using only my legs, an accomplishment that seems small unless you’ve spent a good deal of time unable to do it.

In A Techno-Desert, Thirsty for Human Interaction

Fall                                                                             Harvest Moon

5:20 am on Shadow Mountain. 43 degrees. 12% humidity. Pressure 22.60. No wind. Crescent moon. All the same without knowing these data points, I know. Still. I like to know them anyhow.

naisbittThis week Thursday I get to see Joe and SeoAh. I’m excited just to see them, to have some high touch in this high tech age. Remember Alvin Toffler? A futurist, he posited that the more complex and sophisticated our technology becomes, the more necessary direct human interaction. (Toffler preceded Naisbitt by at least two years with this idea, but Naisbitt made it a corporate buzz phrase. I find his notion of balance between our physical and spiritual reality an interesting idea.)

True. We exist, at least many of us, especially those younger than a certain age, in a cloud (pun intended) of virtual data. This blog, for example. Facebook. Instagram. Snapchat. Email. Text messages. Twitter. I see, regularly, information and pictures about high school friends, old college friends, friends in Minnesota, family. I don’t use Instagram, Snapchat, Twitter, not enough time in a day, but I’m on Facebook at least daily. I send and receive many e-mails, text messages. All this keeps me up to date, to some extent, on people I care about, a gratifying level of connection available, in yesteryear, only to voluminous letter writers.

1954-09 Galaxy Magazine by Ed EmshwillerBut the connection is, of course, partly, maybe mostly, illusory. We get only snippets, usually disconnected snippets. No hugs. No careful listening. No smiles. No touch on the hand during a conversation. No walks. No meals. The further out from our fleshly world, the less real information about another we receive because the context for what we know is very limited.

I don’t happen to see this as bad. I’m grateful for the chance to learn about even parts of the lives of people who once belonged to my fleshly world. But it does create a longing for in person moments, to embrace Joseph and SeoAh, for example. Or, to attend a 55th high school reunion, or show up at a Woolly Retreat in November,which I will not be able to do this year.

High Tech High TouchAs we age and travel becomes more difficult, I imagine this will become an even more poignant issue, extending even into our fleshly world. There’s promise, yes, in telemedicine, for example. We already meet with our financial planner over Skype. How many of our now daily or weekly interactions will become virtual? The key issue here, the one I think Toffler alluded to, though he may not have named it outright, is isolation.

We are on the map of the future where a cartographer might write in florid typescript, “Here there be dragons.” We just don’t know what the combination of high tech and increasingly low touch world might mean. Isolation is deadly, killing the spirit and ravaging the soul. Will we end up in a technological desert, thirsty for real human interaction, seeing it in the shimmering illusions of social media, but not being able to reach it? If so, what can we do about it?

 

The Journey So Far

Fall                                                                                       Harvest Moon

copertasign_wide_web

Because we began our married life together in Rome, Italian restaurants have a special place in our hearts. Not to mention that the Italians really know food. We went to Coperta last night in downtown Denver. The name means blanket and connotes a warm, comfortable place. It was.

Realized we hadn’t done this in a while, gone out together, into the city. It was revivifying.

We mulled over the move, again, congratulating ourselves on doing it when we did; when we had tired of the work in Andover, but before we’d gone deep into old age. We love living in the Rockies, seeing wildlife and rock, mountain streams every day. Our house fits us perfectly and provided a good respite for Jon and the kids during the last 14 months. The dogs like the yard. Beth Evergreen has given us a community of like minded folks, all searching for their best selves.

IMAG0927_BURST002January 2015

The first three years have had their challenges, most readers of this blog already know them: prostate cancer, Kate’s struggles with rheumatoid arthritis and now Sjogren’s Syndrome, total knee replacement, and Jon’s divorce, his moving in with us. It would be nice if the universe would let up on the lesson plan, give us some time to regroup, get our breath. Could happen.

27 years. 28 next March. Years of learning each other, of supporting each other through thick and thin, challenging each other, cheering each other. Last night we ate Italian and enjoyed the memories it evoked.

Kate and me

Metaphor? Of course.

Fall                                                                               Harvest Moon

kabbalah8The tree of life, the tree of immortality guarded by the angel with the flaming sword; the tree itself still growing in paradise, concealed by language, by our senses, by the everydayness of our lives; the path back to the garden often forgotten, the exile from paradise a separation so profound that we no longer know the location of the trail head and even harder, we no longer have a desire to search for it.

Metaphor? Of course. But in these three words lie a trap for the unwary, a trap in which I allowed myself to get caught and held, a mindhold trap. My life seems like a sine wave of grasping, then losing the significance of metaphors.

When young, I felt the mystery behind the communion wafers and the grape juice at Alexandria First Methodist. At the tenebrae service, when we extinguished the little candles with their paper drip guards and the sanctuary went dark, I thrilled to the change from ordinary experience, sensed the power rolling over us as the memory of crucifixion and death came hurtling through the centuries to land in our small Indiana town, in the very spot where I sat.

The sunrise services held on Easter morning lit up my whole inside. The power of the tenebrae had been defeated and life did go on forever, death only a mistake, an illusion, misunderstood as a cruelty when in fact it was a gateway. I suppose on those days, repeated over many years, I had a glimpse of the path back to the garden.

My mother’s death, I think, shattered this instinctive faith. Those feelings occasioned by grape juice soaked squares of bread, darkness and the rising of the sun, were a true path and one I lost when the brutal reality of grief smeared the way.

But the memory of that way remained. So I moved up from the instinctive triad of netzach-hod-yesod, forced by fear and loss to skip the next triad chesed-gevurah-tiferet and go to the one easiest for me to access, hochmah-binah-daat. I know these hebrew words may mean nothing at all to you, I’m still at the base of a steep learning curve with them myself, but they do appear on the illustration above so you can see where they are on the tree of life.

In simple, but not simplistic terms, the triads are netzach-hod-yesod, the realm of instinctual behavior, chesed-gevurah-tiferet, the realm of emotions and hochmah-binah-daat, the realm of the intellect. Movement in the tree of life goes from the keter to malchut and back from malchut up to keter, so there is no real top or bottom, only different spots in an ongoing process of creation.

kabbalahBut here’s the trap. Metaphor, of course! I studied philosophy, religion, anthropology in college. Then, after a few years stuck in unenlightened instinctual behavior-the storied sex, drugs and rock and roll of the sixties and seventies-I moved to seminary. The trap tightened. I learned about the church, scripture old and new, ethics, church history. It was exhilarating, all this knowledge. I soaked it up. I remained though stuck in the intellectual triad, pushing back and forth between the polarity of intuitive wisdom, hochmah, and analytical thought, binah, often not going on to daat, or understanding. I learned, but did not integrate into my soul.

There was a time, after seminary, after ordination, as I groped my way around in the work of ministry, that I found the path again. It was in mystical traditions like the Jesus Prayer, or the use of lectio divina, contemplative prayer. I had spiritual directors who guided my prayer life and I meditated often, daily for years, went on private retreats for days at a time. In those years I found my way back to the netzach-hod-yesod triad, traveling again on the instinctual path formed so long ago.

The trap sprung another time, though, as I got better at my ministry, more able to apply organizational development paradigms to congregational life, more able to pull the levers of political power for the good of various purposes: affordable housing, unemployment policy, economic development for poor neighborhoods, fighting off corporate takeovers of those same poor neighborhoods, more able to navigate the internal politics of Presbytery life. I became stuck in malchut, the material world which we experience everyday. So stuck that eventually I could see nothing else and the path disappeared again.

interior_dante_divinecomedy_inf_01_002My heart knew I had gotten lost, in exile once again. In Dante’s words in Canto 1 of the Divine Comedy:

In the middle of the journey of our life, I came to myself, in a dark wood, where the direct way was lost.

It is a hard thing to speak of, how wild, harsh and impenetrable that wood was, so that thinking of it recreates the fear. It is scarcely less bitter than death…

I cannot rightly say how I entered it. I was so full of sleep, at that point where I abandoned the true way.”

This time I knew I had to extricate myself from the subtle trap, get out of the thought world that had me lost in the dark wood, the direct way lost. It was a wild, harsh, seemingly impenetrable forest.

It was clear that for me the Christian faith had gotten muddled up with ambition, immersion in the world of power. And, most problematic of all, it had become part of the metaphor trap. The metaphor had gone stale, had become a barrier instead of a koan. Not the fault of the faith itself, but of my journey within it.

IMAG0650croppedAt the time of its crumbling another path had begun to open for me. Fiction writing emerged when, ironically, I began writing my Doctor of Ministry thesis. Instead of working on it I ended up with 30,000 plus words of what would become my first novel, Even The Gods Must Die. Irony in the title, too, I suppose.

In the train of that shift came a decision to look into my Celtic heritage as a source for my fiction. While researching Celtic religion for the fantasy novels I wanted to write, I discovered the Great Wheel.

It grounded me. So to speak. My spiritual life became tactile, bound up in soil amendments, bulbs, corms, seeds, spades and hoes, fruit trees, raspberries and bees. And, of course, dogs. Always dogs.

Meeting Kate enabled me to move gracefully out of the ministry and into a pagan worldview. I was back in the netzach-hod-yesod triad, but now firmly attached to malchut, the queendom of this world.

Writing fiction found me exploring the chesed-gevurah-tiferet triad, having to reach into my heart for believable characters, story lines. Over the course of those years, the years since leaving the Christian ministry and now, I began to gradually integrate the triads, at least the three: intellectual, emotional and instinctual. The combination of family life, the Andover years, writing, and working as a docent at the MIA began to slowly weave them into my soul.

2010 01 19_3454Even so, I sat behind the barrier, the flaming sword, the metaphor trap. Beth Evergreen and Rabbi Jamie Arnold have started me on a journey back to where I began, immersed in the dark. Seeking for the light, yes, but happy now in the  darkness, too. The Winter Solstice long ago became my favorite holiday of the year.

When I left Christianity and took up my earth-bound spirit, I shut off access to the fourth triad, the one subsumed under keter: faith-joy/pleasure-will, and its source of energy, the ein sof, the infinite One, perhaps god in small letters. Today, as I write this, I’m more pagan than I’ve ever been, more embracing of the body, the mountains, the stars, the elk and the mountain lion, than any words from any source.

2011 03 06_3396But. At Beth Evergreen I have begun to feel my way back into the fourth triad, the mystery I first encountered on the hard wooden pews in Alexandria, the one pulsing behind the metaphors of tenebrae, of crucifixion, of resurrection,  and now of Torah, of language, of a “religious” life. I knew it once, in the depth of my naive young boy’s soul. Now, I may find it again, rooted in the old man he’s become.

Friends and Family

Fall                                              Harvest Moon

The harvest moon and Orion, hanging there in the night sky, suspended as if by magic. No amount of astrophysical knowledge about them, light years away, red giant, suns in themselves, galaxies hidden there, that gray dusty surface now littered with space reaching machines and an American flag or two, can alter the wonder I feel each time, and I mean each time, I see them. This morning. Wonderful. Yesterday. Wonderfull.

Spoke with cybermage Bill Schmidt yesterday. He’s made an interesting circular journey from his days as a novice at St. Bonaventure, through his marriage to Regina and raising a family, back to a spot near that same place where his Jesuit pilgrimage began, now with a lake view and time for contemplation, plenty of time. Those of us who are fine by ourselves, but also love the company of others, don’t need many friends, just good ones. Bill’s a good one.

Kate’s singing the worried song, but I hope she won’t be worried long. Chest x-ray follow-up yesterday. She’s had some more shortness of breath. A medical education becomes a strange sort of curse as aging bears down because each crick and crack can have dire potential. She doesn’t want to worry me, so she keeps her concerns to herself, which amplifies them.

After the x-ray I took her out to lunch at Pho Real, a Vietnamese soup place in “historic” downtown Littleton. It’s a three block, maybe four stretch of older brick stores, much like downtown Stillwater and Anoka in Minnesota. Really just old retail centers before the age of strip malls and Walmart, but beautiful in their pragmatic way and redolent of times not really that long ago, yet culturally far away from Interstate highways, the internet and smartphone, self-contained shopping centers.

Joseph called yesterday. His base commander has tasked him with briefing a two-star Army general in Seattle about JSTAR’s utility. On the 19th. Which is the same day I get to Warner-Robins. He’ll be back later that night or the next morning. Means I’ll have time with SeoAh so we can catch up.

 

 

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Oh, No

Fall                                                                        Harvest Moon

Gabe yesterday hunting for bones on Black Mountain

Gabe yesterday hunting for bones on Black Mountain

Gabe came in yesterday afternoon (He’s with us due to no school on Friday.) and said, “Grandpop, there’s birds in the sewing room.” Huh? Kate’s sewing room, the old garage remodeled by the last owner, opens to the outside and due to the bug free environment here–at least relative to Minnesota–we often keep the door open so the dogs can go in and out. Easier on all of us.

Sure enough, there were two small sparrow sized birds in the sewing room, fluttering and searching for places where they could see light, unfortunately mostly through windows. I opened windows, left the door open and began to talk to them gently, encouraging them to find their way outside. Gabe, unbeknownst to me at the time, had named them Jerry and Billy.

Jerry and Billy somehow found the window above Kate’s sewing machine a possible escape portal. Nope. Closed. Billy fluttered up by the top of the moveable bottom half of the window; Jerry chose the window sill, trying to push through the unexpected and unseen barrier with no luck.

Then. Rigel, who had come in the open door, looked over, saw the poor fluttering bird, ran over there and grabbed Jerry in her mouth.

Gabe, “Oh, no.”

Jerry seemed lifeless after Rigel took him in her mouth, not gently at all, and bit down. She took Jerry outside, finished him, then ate him, most of him. Gabe later buried the one wing and mostly empty body cavity in the front yard. He said, “I had fun burying Jerry.”

Hobbes said, “Life is mean, nasty, brutish and short.” I’m sure Jerry would agree.

 

Conifer Journal

Fall                                                                              Harvest Moon

Jackie

Jackie

scootersKate and I go to see Jackie at Aspen Roots. After growing my wizard beard and having it often end up it in my mouth after a night’s sleep, I decided to get it shaped. I like Jackie and the time out is another thing Kate and I can do together. I’m better groomed now than I’ve been in years. Change up. After my haircut and beard trim and Kate’s coloring and cut, we went over to Scooter’s, a relatively new restaurant here in Conifer. A down south style barbecue joint-they cook up the meat in a huge metal barbecue that sits outside-their food is good. St. Louis ribs, macaroni, onion and cucumber salad with cornbread and pinto beans and Texas Toast. Hmmm.

We stayed out so Sandy could get the downstairs done before we came back home. Nap time. After the nap Kate drove into Lakewood, about 30 minutes away, to Swedish Hospital for her regular Remicade infusion. Her right shoulder, which has been wonky for some time, osteoarthritis probably, has passed her-high-pain threshold and become a daily and more significantly a nightly nuisance. A new shoulder may be in her future. We do our part to support the medical-pharmaceutical complex.

20170902_163055Gertie has recovered well from the removal of her lesion last Friday. Instead of the cone of shame we now put t-shirts on our wounded dogs, so she’s been wandering around with Kate’s pink Well Behaved Women Seldom Make History. It gives Gertie, hardly a well-behaved female, a certain panache. Rigel continues her reignited predator ways, sniffing the deck and barking under the shed. Kep’s a sweet boy, eager and happy. With Vega dead he’s much less volatile in pack dynamics. No idea how that works.

I’m looking forward to talking with Joe and SeoAh about North Korea, get the perspective of a native South Korean and a USAF Weapon’s Officer. Germane points of view.

 

 

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