Simcha

Lughnasa and the Harvest Moon

Hmmm. A bit over eager again. For all my equanimity about cancer I’ve made some moves that reveal a reservoir of anxiety. When I wrote my urologist initially about my PSA rise, I convinced myself that I’d overstated it, moved the decimal point in error. I said this out loud to Dr. Eigner and his PA, Anna Willis. They had to call me a couple of weeks later and say, nope. It’s ten feet high and risin’. Oh.

Apparently I bounced out of the blocks ahead of the gun in the PSA I mentioned below. Supposed to be at three months. I imagine they told me that but when I got the lab order in the mail I went in to do it now overdrive. So I got’er done. It is three months, almost, from the start of the Lupron, but it’s only a month and a half from the end of the radiation. Not sure if it I’ll need another one later. Maybe.

Got reassurance yesterday from Carmela. She said, “Those are great numbers!” Feeling a little sheepish here, but it does speak to my eagerness to have information about the state of my cancer. Forgivable, I think.

Kate and I are on the lookout for joy. Simcha. Been in short supply here for a while and we’re both missing that middah. This PSA result brings me joy. Kate’s going off to the CBE board meeting last night, on her own, brought me joy. Rigel’s nose this morning as she pushed against my hand. The softness of Kep’s coat. Gertie’s wiggly desire to get outside. The waning gibbous Harvest moon this morning has shining Aldebaran beneath it. Orion is there, too. The night sky with Black Mountain below lifts me into the broader universe. Joyful.

Drove down to Caliber Collision. Got there at 7:30 am. The guys were still in a conference so I had to wait a bit. Ryan came out, beefy guy with a thick beard. Hmmm. We’ll have to replace those three panels. And, good news, it looks like the dent in the door hasn’t impacted the rest of the door. Back in five minutes.

Coulda been worse

Ryan returned bearing several pages stapled together. It looked like a hospital bill. Now this number is before we’ve looked inside. If there’s any damage to the robotics, for example, there will be supplemental work. Traveler’s requires review of all supplementals.

How long once we’ve got approval? 7 days, I’d say. That’s without supplementals. If we have to do more? Ryan shrugged. The work and the bureaucracy. Yeah. I get it.

Back up to Evergreen where I had breakfast at the Dandelion. Home. New workout in the home space. Oh, those one legged squats. My quads burned. And, those bicep curls into a shoulder press? Shoulders feeling it.

Dr. Gidday said the other day, “You have to retire to have enough time for all the doctor appointments.” All this other stuff takes time too and my stamina is not what it once was. I’m feeling crowded in my schedule with fewer things to do.

Old Guy. New Tricks.

Lughnasa and the Harvest Moon

Old guy. New tricks. Took our 2018 Rav4 into the shop yesterday for an oil change. Waited in the Toyota temple as I always do, this time reading Neal Stephenson’s newest: Fall, or Dodge in Hell. These waiting areas are third spaces in architectural parlance, places where strangers gather and potentially meet. Not much meeting going on here as folks tap on tablets, punch the keyboards on laptops or look at their phones. The ubiquitous TV has lost much its allure to the handheld screens.

Alex, my Express Service guy, came in, found me, gave me my keys, a printout of what they’d done. All free because we’re still in the two year Toyota Care period. Back in the Rav4 I looked at the printout, double checking as is my habit. Huh? No oil change.

Walked back to see Alex. Nope, no oil change, just a tire rotation. Uh? Your car had an oil change at 4,750 miles. Oh? Yes. And that means the next oil change isn’t until 14,750 miles. Synthetics go ten thousand miles between changes. I was at 10,100, so I just thought…

The sticker, that little reminder beloved of car service centers everywhere, now lists mileage between tire rotations, not oil changes. What?

After 50 plus years of oil changes and service visits based on 5,000 mile intervals, this old dog was left shaking his head. Not to mention all the strange and wonderful features on this internal combustion engine powered computer. The only constant.

Driving back home through Evergreen, I saw a small herd of elk strung out along Maxwell Creek just after the turn from 73 onto Brook Forest Drive. Some were lounging, others drinking. We’re in the rut now and we’ll see more and more elk as it progresses. No bugling yet.

Back home Kate had managed the installation of our new dryer. Don’t think I mentioned that our old one died last week. The motor. $500 and a one year warranty. Nope. This white Speedqueen with a ten year warranty, a promotion, looks retro. It’s white enamel, sitting low to the floor, with an opaque door. No peeking at the socks as they tumble. Did two loads yesterday. Works fine.

A nap. Then off to On the Move for the second round with my new workout. I needed the second run through. Several of the exercises required me to do things my body found awkward. One of them, a lunge with a set of bands, Dave changed so I wouldn’t get off balance every time.

Over to King Sooper, not far from On the Move, to pick up my online order. In this case King Sooper employers pick your groceries, then bring them out to you on a small wagon filled with plastic totes. I pull into a slot marked Pick Up, call the phone number on the sign, tell them which slot I’m in, “#1.” and a worker brings out the groceries, loads them into the back. Slick.

Back home I cut up the watermelon I’d just bought, put it in a plastic container for Mussar Vaad Practice Group. Kate and I have gotten back, at least semi-back, to the rhythm of Beth Evergreen. I like that because we see friends, talk about ideas.

Soul Doesn’t Have Fear of Dying

Lughnasa and the Harvest Moon

As friend Tom Crane said in an e-mail, the carnival ride here continues with Gabe’s glove and Kate’s crash. Geez. I’ve never been a fan of karma as anything more than a metaphor, but I’m beginning to wonder…

Read an excellent interview with Ram Dass in the NYT. Ram Dass Is Ready to Die. “Thoughts, thoughts, thoughts: Those are the daily attention-grabbers that make it so that you can’t come from your mind to your heart to your soul… Soul doesn’t have fear of dying. Ego has very pronounced fear of dying.”

Hadn’t considered it that way before, but it seems right. The carnival ride is just that, a contraption meant to cause fear and anxiety. If you can step aside, witness it: Oh, that guy from Denmark ran into Kate. and Oh, that Gabe. Swallowing a rubber glove; you can stay engaged, but not captured.

Yamantaka and my soul

My time with Yamantaka contemplating my own death must have helped me with step aside, be a witness. Not perfect at it, of course. Anxiety and fear about certain things still creep into my life, into our life here on Shadow Mountain. During the most intense days of the last year I really wanted respect for the work I was doing with Kate, with our life. When I felt I wasn’t getting it, I got mad. Demanded it.

In retrospect I can see the flaw in my response. The need for recognition took me away from my love for Kate, the why of my care. It negated the very stimulus that made me stay in the heat, rather than pull away. So, far from perfect.

If I look back over my life, using, as Kate calls it, the retrospectoscope, I can see that need for recognition as a stumbling block. Often. When Dad wanted me to cut my hair or leave, I chose to leave. Why? Because he wasn’t respecting my choices about the war in Vietnam. Big loss for both of us and, from this perspective, unnecessary.

I’ve been stubborn in wanting to live my life my way. Not wanting to be shaped, molded by convention or usual modes of thought. Question everything could be the Latin inscribed on my personal crest. As long as that leads me to step aside from the received way of doing things and question them, decide on my own response, it’s beneficial. When it makes me dig in my heels, be reluctant to change, it’s not. Ram Dass might say when it concentrates on my ego.

Come from your mind to your heart to your soul, Ram Dass says. This, too, feels right though that last move, from heart to soul, is hard to grasp. At least for me. Soul. A big, big idea in my current inner work.

Mind. Sure. My mind has written most of this. It’s active and a source of pleasure for me. Moving to the heart response, compassion for Gabe and his glove, Kate and her crash, Tom and his colonoscopy today (with you in my heart, guy!), I get that, do that. Perhaps not as effortless as thinking, writing, but getting to the heart is a natural move.

On the other hand the move from heart to soul, from engaged actor to witness, to the deeper, the eternal? Harder. Hard because I jettisoned the idea of a soul for so many years. Existentialist, all there is, is right here, right now. Mind and heart, yes. But nothing escapes death. Nothing remains except memories in the hearts and minds of others still living. Over the last year or so I’ve been questioning this nihilist conclusion and that questioning focuses on the soul.

Not saying I’m back to believing in an afterlife, neither heaven nor hell, reincarnation resonate for me. Not at all. But the sense that their is a core part of me, a grain of sand around which the pearl of heart and ego grow, yes, I can see that now.

Why? Namaste. The god in me bows to the god in you. Yes. There is, in you, a god, and I can sense it. Namaste’s reciprocal claim, the god in me, has lead me to nod.

Love your neighbor as you love your Self. (my capitalization) Yes. Love you, because you are in the image of the divine, as I love my own divine image. Yes.

Maybe all the grains of sand, from trees and sharks and eagles and even Donald Trump, roll down the great river of death into the Gulf of Silence, creating there a sandbar, a shifting stretch of land in the water of eternity. Is there a simulacrum of life there? No idea. But I can imagine us all together, equal to each other, all who’ve lived. In some strange way substantial. So, who knows?

Zimzum. All Holy.

Lughnasa and the Harvest Moon

Bam. Rammed by Denmark in a Cruise America RV. Yes, Kate got rear-ended by a Danish couple on the last day of their American adventure. She wasn’t hurt physically, but it shook her up. As well it might. Thank god it was a fellow Scandinavian.

She was on the way to pick up Debra, who has moved to Lakewood and will soon move on further yet to Maryland. Both of them planned to attend the bagel table at CBE. Kate turned around and went back home. The damage to the new car looks minimal, but the rear, hydraulic door and the bumper below it have suffered. Given the way of these things, I’m going to imagine many dollars to fix. Also, the joys of dealing with insurance and body shops.

Kate’s call caught me as I was about unlock the door at CBE. I got there early to set up. Put out the bagels, the lox, the cream cheese. Set up the coffee I bought at Starbucks with cups and cream and sugar. Get out plates and napkins. Set out and collate the resources sheets I’d created.

Isidora Kaufman, One view of Torah

Faith reimagining work showed up as a morning conversation at Congregation Beth Evergreen. The usual content of the bagel table is commentary on the Parshah of the week from the Torah. This week it was Ki Tietzei, Deut. 21:10-25:19.

When I first agreed to do this, it was the week before my radiation began. What was I doing, I thought not long afterward. Teaching Torah to a group of Jews who’ve been immersed in it their whole lives? I have training in biblical literature, it’s true, but Christians use scripture in a very different way than Jews.

At first I took a dive into Ki Tietzei. It has 74 of the 613 mitzvot or laws. Even worse for me. Mitzvot are at the heart of an orthodox Judaism and have been interpreted over and over again in the mishnah and the Talmud. Not my strong suit.

Instead I decided we’d investigate the nature of Torah and the corollary question of the nature of revelation. And, we did, using Mordecai Kaplan, the founder of Reconstructionist Judaism, Emerson, and Alan Watts plus four questions.

“If you see yourself in the correct way, you are all as much extraordinary phenomena of nature as trees, clouds, the patterns in running water, the flickering of fire, the arrangement of the stars, and the form of a galaxy. You are all just like that…” ~Alan Watts

This quote sums up our conversation. Torah means instruction or teaching. I’d learned from Rabbi Jamie a very broad sense of Torah, i.e. Torah is that which instructs us in how to be human.

The ten of us yesterday got to that point and had a lively discussion on what revelation meant. An expansive understanding emerged. Not God, or not just God in a traditional sense, but finding the holiness dispersed in the world at the time of the zimzum, that initial contraction, then shattering of the creation explained in the kabbalah which embedded holiness in every particle of existence.

It was great fun and the two hours flew by with all participating. Rabbi Jamie was there as were Tara and Alan. Jamie’s sabbatical ends today, but he decided to come anyhow. There were five others: Carol, Diane, Judy, Anne, and Sally. Perfect size for an inclusive discussion.

The eagerness of the conversation, the thanks at the end, the joy of teaching all buoyed me up. Helped with my ikigai. Just as Tom’s visit did. Friendship. Family. The mountains. Intellectual life at CBE. Cook. Workout. Paint. Write. Enough.

Transmutation

Lughnasa and the Harvest Moon

painting on the near side, sumi-e on the other

Reorganized my art cart (Jon’s name for it) so I could do sumi-e on one side and oil painting on the other. Finding myself more willing to engage physical tasks like this reorganizing, the fire mitigation, making art than writing. Is this my ikigai trying to surface? Don’t know. Waiting. Going with the flow of my life.

Phone appointment with Dr. Gilroy. Spoke with Amanda, his nurse, and Carmela, the friendly receptionist, too. A follow-up for side effects. Some mild urinary urgency, nocturia ( getting up more than once at night to pee), and hot flashes. None of them bad.

After telling me to make an appointment for eleven months from now, Dr. Gilroy suggested that I might be on the Lupron for a year, not six months. Sigh. Of course I want to do what gives me the best chance of a cure. Silly to resist. But. I’d like to know whether this is over or not. A year of Lupron would mean I couldn’t get that defining PSA until mid-September of 2020. I feel cured. I’d like to find out if I’m right.

Ah, it only two paragraphs for me to stop going with the flow. Again, sigh. Good lesson. I’ll wait.

After talking with Dr. Gilroy, I left for Evergreen and a bowl painting party. What’s that? We go to this crafty shop where they sell blank ceramic objects from bowls to plates to teapots to bumblebees. The nice lady there explains how the various glazes work.

After finishing. Kate and Marilyn, the organizer (the green one is Kate’s bowl)

The bowls raise money for the Mountain Resource Center, a multi-pronged social service agency that serves the Conifer/Evergreen area. Volunteers like our mussar group get together and each person creates a bowl of their own design. The craft shop fires the bowls. Later on a silent auction is held at two gatherings.

My appointment made me a bit late so I chose basic black for my bowl. From the bowl painting we went on to CBE for our regular Thursday mussar group. Fran, women in the black t-shirt above, led a discussion on aging.

In the conversation I introduced my third phase idea, ikigai, and a thought I had after an e-mail from Charlie Haislet. He’d been to several funerals of late and said, “The golden years suck.” “Yeah,” I wrote back, “often more lead than gold.”

Light bulb went on. The main task of the third phase is alchemical. We must somehow transmute the lead of anxiety, illness, slowing down, deaths of our friends and loved ones, into gold. How? Different for each of us, but some tools for the aging alchemist: acceptance, wu wei, gratitude, greeting one’s own mortality as a friend and not an enemy, friends, and family.

Kate was out and about with the bowl painting and mussar. Her stamina has improved a lot. She did get short of breath near the end. We’re both looking forward to the National Jewish appointment next week. She needs a diagnosis, a treatment plan, and a prognosis.

Pupating

Lughnasa and the Harvest Moon

Work out yesterday. Wore myself out. Guess that’s the point. I made a promise to myself that I would hit all of my workouts during the radiation treatments. I did that. Ready for the new set of exercises. See Deb on Tuesday at 10 am.

Made spaghetti bolognese last night. Tony’s bolognese sauce and an Italian durum pasta. Vegetables. Easy. I’m enjoying cooking again. It’s not the slog it was during the early weeks of radiation.

The post below outlines my current dilemma. Hanging from the yardarm, neither on the boat nor in the sky. The ocean beneath both. Won’t last. Just like my current, I’m a TV critic level of watching won’t either.

Serious illness spins a chrysalis around us, a secluded darkness in which matters of previous importance drop away. All energy focuses on transformation, altering the sick person and his past, imaginal cells bending and twisting, changing. What will he become?

Zhuangzi

I’m impatient for my wings. Guess this is a good opportunity to practice the middah of the month, equanimity. Back off the accelerator. Lean in to the healing, transformative moment, even if the moment lasts months. Practice wu wei. Yes.

I’m not impatient for angel wings. So, yes, the chrysalis moment is necessary. The caterpillar can’t envision the butterfly.

Flaneur

Lughnasa and the Harvest Moon

One of our O2 concentrators, Kate’s for night time, has a problem. Not sure what, but it was not producing enough O2. Her O2 saturation dropped and she could tell. Had to switch her onto the machine I use at night. This morning. O2 concentrator store service call.

Saw Alan yesterday. Breakfast at the Wildflower in downtown Evergreen. Even during the week after Labor Day and at 10 am the place had lots of customers. Alan’s got play rehearsals, a recycling day for the Rotary, a big deal, prep for the High Holy Days. He’s singing. A friend.

After breakfast I wandered down the board walk, a flaneur in a mountain town. Don’t often go in stores along the way. They don’t open until 11 for the most part. A tourist schedule. I’m rarely there after 11. Today I was.

The Evergreen Boot and Shoe Service has knives. The owner, Steve Repaz, is a collector. Pushed open the door next to the shoe shaped open sign. The familiar shoe repair smell. Leather, shoe polish, glue, a metal tang. Steve was polishing an oxblood slipper with a small piece of cloth. He lifted something, glue?, out of a volcano shaped mound on his worktable. Applied it.

I’m just here to look at the knives. Where you from? Conifer. Oh. I’ve been here 41 years and 10 months. Wow. Bet you’ve seen a lot of changes. Yes and no. I can’t really see out.

His windows had thick wooden blinds, half closed. The shop was its own small universe.

We talked for 20 minutes or so. Rather, Steve talked. He told me his family history. Swiss. How his ancestors fared in the Civil War. Pickett’s brigade. Cousins killed at Manassas. He warmed to his tale. Oh, this is a good story.

The bell on the door sounded. Steve mentioned Allentown, Pennsylvania. Oh, that’s where I’m from said the stocky man who’d just come in with his friend. I eased myself out the door.

Did some more work on my bagel table. Happening on the 14th. It will be different from Steve Tick’s. Writing and introspection, dealing with the purpose of revelation and how we experience revelation ourselves. How does sacred scripture model revelatory experience? What’s the purpose of revelation? Could we write sacred scripture ourselves? Looking forward to it.

Accounting

Lughnasa and the Harvest Moon

MiguelAlmagro, on Deviant Art

A hot August, the third hottest on record for Denver, boiled over the border to meteorological fall. Too warm yesterday even here on the mountain top. Neither Kate nor I like the heat, wait for the cold weather.

Labor day weekend special meal. Ribeye, asparagus, heirloom tomatoes and mozzarella, bay leaves and balsamic vinegar. Garlic bread. I love to cook, would like knowing more.

SeoAh and Murdoch

SeoAh is in Korea. Murdoch is in doggy university for 28 days learning how to be a canine good citizen. Joe’s home alone at Robbins AFB. Mark’s in Phnom Penh getting a visa for Vietnam. Mary’s in the classroom in Singapore. We’re up here on Shadow Mountain.

Yesterday was the 1st of Elul, the last month in the Jewish lunar calendar. Elul is a month for heshbon hanefesh, an accounting of and for the soul. When Elul ends, the High Holidays begin, starting with Rosh Hashanah, New Year, and ending with Yom Kippur, the day of atonement.

This corresponds well to my own inner work which begins to get grittier and intense as the night creeps up over daylight. Picking up this idea, going to use Elul for my own heshbon hanefesh.

An accounting of the American soul would surely include consideration of mass shootings. Our complicity in carbon emissions. The mess we’ve made of a once revered style of governance. How we’ve pushed ourselves into red tents and blue tents. But, too, the daily mitzvah’s of thousands, millions. The energy of our hope, our resilience. The vast diversity of our body politic. Those who still stream toward us from places of violence, of desperate poverty, of authoritarian regimes. Our wonderful, wild public lands.

When the book of life closes on Yom Kippur, will the USA be in it or not?

Once and Future Denver

Lughnasa and the Moon of the First Harvest

Into Lakewood yesterday, Colfax Avenue. For those of you from the Twin Cities, Colfax is Lake Street. Really long, with several interesting transitions as it passes through Denver to the east and west. An A&W Rootbeer Stand had an America’s Road sign on it. Colfax is also U.S. 40, a coast to coast highway from the days before Interstates.

Denver begins at Sheridan, several blocks further east from Kipling which I took up from Highway 6. In that stretch was, when Alan grew up, old Jewish Denver. On Friday, he said, it looked like Brooklyn with women hustling to get their shopping and shabbat cooking done. Then, lots of folks walking to their schuls. Jewish Denver concentrates now to the south and somewhat east of downtown, a long ways away from Colfax Avenue.

Dino’s has red checkered table cloths, booths with naugahyde backs, and waitresses scurrying around in black uniforms. Pizzas. Heros. Spaghetti. The smell of tomato sauce and Italian sausage. On this Sunday afternoon Dino’s has a crowd, folks waiting thirty and forty minutes to get a seat. From the crush of people in its overdone lobby you couldn’t tell Dino’s would soon fade away like old Jewish Denver.

The owner has decided to close. A place of nostalgia and lots of folks want their last pizza, their last salad, their last coke leaving a wet impression on the oil cloth. Cities change, sometimes too much, wiping out their past in an effort to accommodate the future.

As some of you who read this know, I’m a city guy as well as an exurb guy. It’s special to me that Alan has chosen to share his love of the old spots from his youth. It gives me a sense of Denver as it was, often hard to see in this rapidly growing first in the West metropolis.

What Torah Might We Write?

Lughnasa and the Moon of the First Harvest

sumi-e Hebrew script

Went to a bagel table at CBE yesterday. Steve Tick, a congregant and a lawyer, presented on the parshah for the week, Deut. 7:12-11:25. We read all the way through it, taking turns. He’s got a lot of torah knowledge, having studied with a scholar/rabbi for over 25 years.

A bagel table is done in lieu of a Friday night service and usually involves discussion of the week’s parshah. The congregation buys bagels, lox, and shmear. Steve brought coffee, Starbucks in four tall paper cups. He led us through the parsha with his own commentary, asking questions as we worked our way through the text.

My bagel table on September 14th has a parshah much further along: Deut. 21:10–25:19. Torah portions have names, their first words. In this case Ki Teitzei, which means when you go out. Not sure how I’ll use the parshah.

Torah as the first five books of the Tanakh, written by Moses in the traditional understanding, are read and re-read each year. The Jewish lectionary runs from Simchat Torah to Simchat Torah, the joy of the Torah, when the annual cycle of public torah readings finishes and a new one begins with Gen. 1:1.

Torah, or to instruct in Hebrew, can mean all the books of the Tanakh. It can also mean the whole body of Jewish law and teaching. This broad sense of the torah is where most Jewish scholars stop, the broadest sense then.

Rabbi Jamie goes beyond even that. He sees torah as anything that instructs us, anything from which we learn what it means to be (become) human. Nature. Other people. Animals. Thought. Literature. Poetry. Our own life history.

At the bagel table on the 14th we’ll use ki teitzei as a sample text for Rabbi Jamie’s expanded sense of torah. With Emerson’s introduction to nature, we’ll explore how revelation comes to us now. What torah might we write?