We all walk ancientrails. Welcome to the journey.

Surgery

Fall                                                                                Harvest Moon

Quick note. Bleeding continues. Failed attempt last night to stop the bleeding with an embolization procedure. So. Surgery this morning, a bowel resection. I’m heading in right now. 6:30 a.m. Went in last night, got back about 11:00.

This is what Kate wants. She does not want a repeat of Thursday night/Friday morning with the blood loss. She’s had 5 units of blood as of last night, so they do have to stop the bleeding.

I want to be: an Olympic gymnast, a music producer, winner of LeMans

Fall                                                                   Harvest Moon

The waning gibbous harvest moon hangs over Black Mountain this morning. A blue, blue sky contrasted by green and gold at the mountain’s peak. Night time temperatures have fallen below 40 so there’s a distinct chill in the air. Still little precipitation, signs pointing to high fire danger, very high on one nearby.

Stack of pallets in the back beckons before the snow begins to fly. Mike, who delivered them for us, threw in one he had lying around home. As I said before, Mike built our fence, a good one. He also carried my TV up to the loft. It was heavy and bulky. Strong guy. And a good one.

Third religious school class last night. Exhausting so far. Tara made table tents with the kid’s Hebrew names on them. Each child born into a Jewish home gets a Hebrew name at birth. Kate got one when she converted, Rachel. The kids sign in with their Hebrew name, too. All this to reinforce learning Hebrew, but it also gives a distinctive Jewish feel to the class right away. Religious school provides a place where these kids, usually in schools where there are few other Jews, can feel a bond with Jewish culture and each other.

Yesterday’s class was sweet. We asked them to bring in three objects that represented who they were and three that represented who they wanted to become. There was an atlas that represented a family’s adventuresome spirit, a Ferrari model removed from its box with a surgical glove covering a potentially sweaty hand, a picture of a Nike swoosh on an expensive athletic shoe, a ballet shoe, a homemade game constructed from cardboard boxes, a video game, Battlefront. Many more. That was who they are now.

A picture of an airplane wing told of a girl’s ambition to be an adventurer, to not lead a boring life filled with taxes and bills. A first place medal in a state gymnastics competition revealed an ambition to be an Olympic gymnast. A small scale model of the Eiffel Tower suggested a desire to learn all the human languages. And, with the same girl, a collage of Hollywood signaled her career ambition, “I’m going to be a music producer.” Very emphatic.

One boy took objects from a bag and said they were in 1,2,3 order. A logo for Le Mans, the 24 endurance race said, “I want to win Le Mans.” A second object was a small model fighter plane. “I want to fly fighters in the Israeli Air Force.” The third, a book on WW II, meant, “I want to be a historian of World War II.”

I guess, on reflection, that this was a pretty successful class. Even though it felt chaotic to me. I think I expect them to act like adults. My problem. Next up. Holiday calendars.

 

 

 

 

Cheshbon Nefesh

Lughnasa                                                                  Harvest Moon

tishrei-month-5768As the moon’s change, so does the Jewish calendar. We’re now in the month of Tishrei, its first day, Rosh Hashanah, the new year of the world. All over the world, throughout the diaspora and in Israel, Jews will be celebrating the new year, shana tovah. This is short for l’shana tova tikateyvu, “May you be written [in the Book of Life*] for a good year.”

This is not, as may be inferred from the paragraph below, primarily a message of judgment. Rather, it is a call for cheshbon nefesh, an accounting of the soul. That is, instead of judgment, the focus is on introspection about the last year, honestly acknowledging areas of life where we’ve missed the mark and then, developing a plan for a new year that includes both atonement and teshuvah, return to a path of holiness. This is an iterative process, it happens every year because there is no achievement of perfection; but there is, as one writer said, the opportunity in this life to become very good.

The soul curriculum of mussar, Jewish ethics which focus on incremental gains in character virtues, acknowledges both the strengths we have and the areas where we can improve our character. “My practice, for example, for this month, for the middot (character virtue) of curiosity, is to greet judgement with curiosity. That is, each time I feel a judgement about another come up, I’ll add to that feeling a willingness to become curious about what motivated the behavior I’m judging, what might be the broader context? Am I being reactive or am I seeing something that does concern me? Or, both? Does my judgement say more about me than what I’m judging?”

Happy-Rosh-Hashanah-ShofarI thought about two boys of a man I know. I pictured them both, slovenly and overweight, and thought, what went wrong with them? I had added to those two judgments an assumption that they were lazy, had not fulfilled whatever potential their father, a successful and kind man, hoped for. Since I don’t know either of them, it’s obvious this reaction said more about me than about them.

Arthur_Szyk_(1894-1951)._The_Holiday_Series,_Rosh_Hashanah_(1948),_New_Canaan,_CT

Arthur Szyk (1894-1951). The Holiday Series, Rosh Hashanah (1948), New Canaan, CT

However, I woke up to the judgment and used it as a prod for curiosity. What are they really like? Why did I make those assumptions? What about my own fears did this judgment express? That I’m not in good shape, that I don’t always present my best self? That I had not fulfilled my own potential? Ah. Well, there we are. My judgment was not about them at all, but about me. Yes, I’m curious to know more about them, to learn about their lives because they’re the sons of a man I respect; but, that particular curiosity is not the one most useful here. In this case the curiosity needs to be turned back on my own soul.

So, curiosity is on my soul curriculum. When I’m incurious, I tend to be judgmental. When I’m curious, I learn new things, I can adjust my behavior. Also, when we’re incurious, we simply don’t learn. Because there is no need. That reinforces our judgments and makes us slaves to our biases and prejudices. Curiosity can be a sort of soul broom, sweeping away our assumptions to make room for new insights, new relationships.

It is this hopeful, supportive type of cheshbon nefesh that the metaphor of the book of life and the book of death encourages. We can have a sweet new year, one dipped in honey, if we are honest, acknowledge our strengths, and work to add to them.

 

*The language of our prayers imagines God as judge and king, sitting in the divine court on the divine throne of justice, reviewing our deeds. On a table before God lies a large book with many pages, as many pages as there are people in the world. Each of us has a page dedicated just to us. Written on that page, by our own hand, in our own writing, are all the things we have done during the past year. God considers those things, weighs the good against the bad, and then, as the prayers declare, decides “who shall live and who shall die.”

 

Fragment

Lughnasa                                                                    Waning Summer Moon

(computer/electrical problems yesterday)

Tomorrow is erev Rosh Hashanah, the eve of the new year for humans, the day when humans were created and a celebration of the days of creation of the world.* It begins the ten days of awe which end on Yom Kippur. The month of Elul, which ends tomorrow, is an entire month dedicated to a soul inventory and amending of life. I didn’t do much with this this year, but I want to try it next year. Or, maybe next month. I like the idea of a month dedicated to an accounting of my soul and to ways of amending it, but also in the spirit of an earlier post, of reinforcing the positives. An annual physical for the spiritually important parts of our life.

Kate and I had a quiet day yesterday.

 

 

 

*(Judaism actually has four new years, one that starts the calendar year in the month of Nisan and celebrates the founding of Jewish people in the exodus, one that served as a date like April 15th for the collection of taxes and is no longer celebrated, and Tu B’Shvat, the new year of trees. This last is still celebrated and marked the birthday of trees since by Jewish law no fruit could be taken from a tree until it was three years old. Wish I’d known about this when I put in the orchard.)

the point

Lughnasa                                               Monsoon Moon

Got to the point of the trip yesterday. At a rainy 10 am in St. Paul, on Summit Avenue across from Macalester. About 30 people gathered to celebrate Groveland’s acceptance as a covenanting community by the Unitarian-Universalist Association. Old friends Martha Anderson, Ceile Hartlieb, Larry Herbison, and Lois Hamilton were there.

The presentation I wrote out below got delivered extemporaneously, so a somewhat different version without the long Emerson quote. The other night at Jazz Central I told David Fortney about going around taking photographs of my various homes in the Twin Cities area. “Closure?” he asked. Made me go, huh? Then, by god, he’s right.

The Groveland moment was about closure, too. I was there, I was a part of that community. Just as I was part of the Stevens Square community, the Loring Park community, and, in a real and active sense, a part of the Twin Cities metro community. But, no longer. Now 900 miles separates me from these places I loved, cared about, in which, to paraphrase a theological idea, I moved and lived and had my being.

It’s different, being back here this time. I’m from away, this is my former home. This time I’m here as a guest, a welcomed guest, one filled with memories of people and moments, but no longer native to this place.

Often when I travel, at least in the past, I would go through a, I could live here phase, while in a new place. Strangely, I don’t feel that way about Minnesota any more. I have lived here. Minnesota is the past now in the same way Indiana is the past. No longer where I am, yet filled with the irreplaceable. No longer where I want to be.

The West and the mountains have me. I’ve changed regional allegiances; not casting aside the Midwest, but finding myself now part of something else. The change is invigorating, life affirming. Then, so is being back here temporarily, confirming memories, revisiting friends, seeing achievements.

I expect the air to be dry, elevations much higher, the buildings younger, the past filled with iconic stories about pioneers and ranchers and miners, cowboys and indians. Mountains now dominate my daily experience, not grain elevators and deciduous trees.

 

Sunday, July 15, 2018

Summer                                                                        Monsoon Moon

20180716_07554420180716_07561020180716_08022720180716_080059

Dog Food

Dog Food

A leather jacket, leaning on the nose of the plane

Beltane                                                                           Sumi-e Moon

09 11 10_Joseph_0256-1He wore a leather jacket, leaned on the nose of his liaison plane, a dashing aviator surely in his own mind. It was a pose redolent of the early days of World War II when young American men, he must have been 23 or 24 at the time, answered the call. This was the so-called Greatest Generation, looking for adventure after the downbeat thirties, soaked in the dustbowl and post-depression blues.

He told me stories of flying these little planes, sort of air taxis, close cousins to the Beechcraft single prop planes. One time, he said, he was in a huge thunderhead, his tiny plane ravaged by the winds, bucking, twisting, lightning strikes and rain all round. “Never,” he said,”did I want to parachute out of my plane, but this once. And I couldn’t do it.” The air pressure in the thunder head conspired to keep his cockpit door closed.

He told me too of flying under utility wires just for fun and dropping sacks of flour on troops training below to simulate bombs. Then there were the trips flying personnel of the Manhattan Project from place to place. A close brush with the greatest and deadliest secret of the war.

Stillwater, Oklahoma, home of Oklahoma State University, had, has a topflight journalism program and he had graduated from it before joining the then Army/Air Force. He dreamed, he told me once, of buying a boat and traveling the Gulf of Mexico, writing as he went. I wish he had.

counter intelligenceThere was, though, the story of counterintelligence work that soured me on him from a single digit age. As a recruit in this branch of military security, he spied on possible Reds who’d infiltrated the Army. “I made friends with them, then went through their lockers, that sort of thing. I reported back.” A man, I thought as a very young boy, who would make friends with someone in order to betray them is at least morally flawed, certainly not someone I’d look up to. And he was my father. Sure, it was war time. Sure, there were spies. And, sure, someone needed to find them. I just didn’t want one of those people to have been my father. But he was.

He was a distant man, plagued by migraines and allergies. Often we had to tiptoe around the house while he lay in living room in the dark, a cold cloth laid over his forehead. He sneezed. A lot. Used the cache of my brother’s no longer needed baby diapers as soft handkerchiefs.

BiloxiOne year we drove all the way to Biloxi, Mississippi from Alexandria, quite a journey. We rented a room in a motel by the beach while Dad went to an allergy clinic. When he came home from one visit to the clinic, his back looked like hamburger, having been pricked, in orderly rows and columns, with possible allergens. Oddly, I don’t remember, perhaps I wasn’t told, the results of any of these tests.

Meanwhile, we had the beach and that same Gulf of Mexico. I made a point of getting out there.  Even then strange places, different from home, drew me like magnets. I met a boy at the beach. We both had trucks and cars that we drove on roadways we made in the sand.

It was not long after a fireworks celebration had been held beach side and unexploded or partially exploded fireworks lay everywhere. We were boys. An opportunity offered itself. Soon we were opening small firecrackers, bottle rockets, fountains and scraping out the black powder.

fireworksWe made a little pit and filled it with black powder, then placed a plastic dump truck over it. We’d both seen movies where the fuse was a line of gunpowder so we made a small crevice in the pits side and dribbled black powder in a thin line away to what we calculated was a safe distance. Lit it.

Nothing happened. I imagine the sand was damp, dampening the powder, but that didn’t occur to us at the time. He, I don’t remember his name, offered to put a match to the powder under the truck. We really wanted to see that truck go up. He did. It worked, blowing up the small truck in spectacular, wonderful fashion. His thumb, too.

We went home and Biloxi was a bizarre memory, my Dad’s hamburger back and my friend’s thumb gone. When Katrina took out the Biloxi waterfront, I thought about that week.

Dad made me shine his high topped shoes every Sunday morning, a task I hated. He gave me a quarter for it, later thirty-five cents. I mowed the lawn, too, with a cranky push mower. He never did it himself. Paint the fence. Salt the weeds in the interstices of the bricks in our sidewalk. Carry buckets of water up from the basement that flooded predictably. He made me do these things, never explained them, never did them himself, save for the carrying of the buckets and then only with me. I know, hardly child abuse. I’m pointing here to the underlying, assumed authority of father that rested in his heart.

father2I have no warm memories of him. No moment of, God, I’m glad this guy is my Dad. Mostly my memories are blank, him lying on the floor, watching television, eating. Memories devoid of emotional valence.

When I began to do well in school, well enough that I would become my class’s valedictorian, he told me, “Grades aren’t everything. It’s how you get along with people that counts.” Not that it wasn’t true. It is. The lack of validation was what left a hole.

Even then I pushed back against authority, his, scout leaders, the school system. He wasn’t able to distinguish critical thinking and willingness to challenge authority from a defective personality. He didn’t see that I was tight with my peers, that they constantly chose me for leadership roles precisely because I was willing to say and do the things they only thought about.

Later, he bailed me out of a drinking related expulsion from campus when I was a junior. He bought me a car, a Volkswagen Beetle, so I could commute to school which was 20 miles away in Muncie. I moved back into my old room, ashamed. Even in this incident, my fault, I don’t recall warmth, only fulfillment of duty on his part.

father estrangementIt led to the rupture that mattered the most. I was at home, my hair was long, early Beatle’s long, which was not very, even for the day. He asked me one day, “Charlie, are you a homosexual?” Long haired musicians were often considered gay in those days. I laughed.

“No.”

“Well, then, cut your hair or get of my house.” That was the last time I was in Alexandria, or talked to him for over ten years. Sure, I was misguided, abrupt, overreacting. Yes. But, and this was the lesson I took from this incident, I was the child. He was the parent. It was his responsibility to find a way over the gap, a gap he had created out of his Roosevelt Democrat, communist hating paranoia. He never did.

He was not an absent father in the sense of not coming home at night, of always being unavailable due to hobbies or travel. He was an absent father in his heart, walled in, tucked away behind the moat of his early childhood, his own father’s abandonment. From the vantage point now, years long past look different of course. I can see the roots of his difficulty, even be moved by them. But their work was done a long time ago, long before I knew I could rewrite my narratives.

father driftMaybe it could have gone differently. Maybe. But it didn’t. With Mom dead young and Dad unable to cope I felt, though only in retrospect, like a rudderless boat. Navigating that craft through the astonishing turmoil and wonder of the sixties was difficult. In a real sense I failed.

It took into my thirties, with treatment for alcoholism and long term Jungian analysis, to regain the helm. This was not Dad’s fault. I’ve come to believe that no matter what the circumstances of our childhood, when we’re least able to shape our own lives, we alone are responsible for our adult lives. It’s our task to find, in whatever way we can, the tools necessary to give us a life of our own making.

This is the essence of reconstruction. We cannot wish away or abandon our past; it will be and is what it was. Yet the interpretation, the hermeneutics of that past is ours. Would that Dad had had the chance to reconstruct his own story, to dig out the bravery it took to live a life in spite of Elmo’s sudden disappearance, to join the military, to raise a child with polio. These are not trivial accomplishments, but somehow they did not shape him. I don’t know why.

 

 

 

 

In case you’ve forgotten who should be on your list, a helpful reminder

Beltane                                                                                 Sumi-e Moon

Obey

Say It Ain’t So, Bob

Beltane                                                                               Sumi-e Moon

20151022_101834Probably won’t be going back to Chainsaw Bob’s. Went yesterday to get my chain sharpened. They have a new deal, smart, where you leave your old chain and they put an already sharpened one on your saw. Supposed to save time. And it would if the guy putting the chain back on wasn’t trying to sell another guy a saw.

Gave me plenty of opportunity to peruse the new signs hung over the desk between the shop and the front. A picture of Hillary Clinton had these remarks. Hillary Chicken. 2 fat legs, 2 small breasts and lots of left wings. Next to it was a sign that read. Startling news! 25% of women in the U.S. are being treated for mental illness. You know what means? 75% are untreated! Under these signs a woman whom I assumed was Chainsaw Bob’s wife met customers, organized service and took money.

first-they-came-for-the-mexicans-and-i-did-not-10234171Sexism is still raw and unvarnished in many places, like racism on public display in Charlottesville, Virginia. Murica.

We live in our bubbles. The Big Sort, published in 2009, had the subtitle, Why the Clustering of Like-Minded America is Tearing Us Apart. Yesterday the Denver Post reported that the population of downtown Denver had increased by 3 times since 2000 to twenty-six thousand with 81% single, white and with an average age of 34. This is just a single instance of folks choosing to live among those similar to themselves in race, wealth and educational level.

This from Richard Florida and his excellent website, Citylab:  “Americans have not only grown more ideologically polarized over the past couple of decades, Republicans and Democrats are drawn to very different kind of places. Back in 2004, Bill Bishop dubbed the self-segregation of Americans into like-minded communities, “The Big Sort.”” Oct. 25, 2016

When I grew up in Alexandria, Indiana, during the 1950’s it was segregated by race, one black family in the town of 5,000, yet there were college educated folks living next door to factory workers who had, at best, graduated from high school. As a result, I have a blue collar sensibility that sets as deep in my character as the college-educated one I gained at home. Even this modest class diversity is rarer and rarer as suburbs and city neighborhoods, cities and rural areas grow more and more homogeneous.

electoral map

With a pussy-grabber in chief who sees good folks on both sides in Charlottesville, this sorted and ideological reinforcing America is ripe for a wave of extremism even more shocking than we’ve already seen. Trump’s approval rating is growing, still dismal, but moving up. The 30% or so of the U.S. who are his base may not seem like much, 70% are not his base, but Mao noted that only 3% of a country needed to be active revolutionaries for a rebellion to succeed. And he proved it.

What does this augur for our future as a nation? At a minimum it means a large percentage of the population will be unhappy with the government. At its maximum it could mean a white male populist revolt favoring Chainsaw Bob’s tilt to American politics. That’s close to where we are right now.

That Mother

Beltane                                                                                  Mountain Moon

Mothers dayMothers. We all got’em. They’re the link in that long, long chain extending back to the first one-celled organism, aided only by one small spermatozoa from the male. And this has been going on every since mammals switched from eggs to live births. Think about this. Each of us, through our mothers, are the latest manifestation of a 180 million year old tradition of warm blooded animals that arose from a common ancestor sometime in the Jurassic period.

3.8 billion years ago, according to New Science, the first life form emerged from the literal primordial ooze. You represent one of the latest manifestations of a 3.8 billion year long experiment in chemicals, elements that move on their own, that grow and change in response to conditions around them. All thanks to Mom!

When you put it like that, it would be uncharitable not to celebrate her, wouldn’t it? Even if she wasn’t the finest example of an advanced version of the type. And I hope yours was.

My mom added me to that long chain of events, unbroken from that first whatever it was, probably an RNA based life form, probably originally hanging out around some undersea vent. Later it split into the two branches bacteria and archaea. From that point, the rest.

4-ED33F7D1-4709856-800The mom I’m closest to now is Kate. In the curious way of blended families she became the mother of Joseph, who played piano at our wedding in 1990. He and SeoAh sent her a beautiful gardenia plant Friday with a note, We love you. We attended their wedding in Korea in 2016 where SeoAh’s mother asked Kate to watch over her daughter. Moms. She gave birth to Jon in 1968, December 10th, adding him that long, long, long chain. Really quite amazing, to personally bring into the world a brand new instance of a 3.8 billion year old progression. It is, I would say, a real miracle. Holy. Sacred. Divine.

But mothers don’t stop with this singular achievement. At least we hope they don’t. No. Mammalian live births produce babies. Unlike chickens and lizards and bees the transition from larvae to fully functioning member of the species can take a long time. Yes, I know. You know someone who hasn’t gotten there even yet. Well, don’t blame mom. She did her best and then at some point, like all of the animal realm, that kiddo has to walk out on its own.

20160406_134240In fact they never stop. Children don’t stop being children, even at 49 and 36. Or, this year, 50 and 37. And when those children do something wonderful, like adding their own children to the long chain, moms become grandmas. Or, when something scary or bad happens, like a divorce, the kids turn to mom for help.

20161112_183554Kate’s been a wonderful mother, committed through years of difficulty, helping Jon and Joe get to today. It’s not been easy. But, she’s thoughtful, loving, kind. Patient. Generous with both time and money. She’s also a great grandma. Ruth and Gabe are richer, safer, stronger for her presence in their lives.

I was lucky to find her and have her as a role model for Joe as he grew up from age 8, his age when we met. She had him clomping up and down our condo stairs in Irvine Park in ski boots. Today he’s an expert skier, like his brother, Jon, thanks to Kate’s introduction of him to the sport. Joe went with her on many trips to Guatemala, serving in various roles in surgical and other medical procedures. His sense of service, now in the military, grew up in part from his experiences with her. Jon, too.

Today then I’m looking back 3.8 billion years to that first undersea vent that gave the world Kate. A mother and a wife. My love.

October 2018
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