Where is the soul of America? Where is our “It” factor, the moral compass we once strived to steer by? Is It in the smeared face of the immigrant, the stoic Native American, the descendant of a pilgrim?
Is It in the Liberty Bell? Is It in the crack of it? In the Statue of Liberty perhaps? Is It in Custer’s Last Stand? Is It in the forging forth of the wagon train? The Iron Horse? The Alamo?
Is It in the Cotton Gin? The model T Ford, the Tesla? Is It in the super computer? The iPad, the launch pad of Canaveral or Houston?
Is It in the slave, the slaveholder, Jefferson’s Monticello, the Declaration of Independence? The Bill of Rights? Is It in the parchment, the whisper of It?
Is It in the hallowed ground of the World Trade Center? Is It in the shadows its decimation has left?
Is It in the thud of fruit, heavy with ripeness as it hits the ground in Southwestern Michigan? Is It in the Grand Canyon, its river sluicing through the depths?
Is It in the silence of snow, heavy on the baugh of a lone bristlecone pine in the Sierras? Is It in the thrashing fish resisting the fate of the hook-filled mouth? Is It in its fight, or it’s surrender?
Is It in the plow that turns over a rich loam soil in the fields of Iowa? Is It in the ditch digger, the school teacher, the factory worker, the astronaut leaving earth’s gravitational pull?
Is It in the athlete with the freedom to take a knee? Is It in the creativity and ingenuity that flourishes in this land, prompted by inspiration, vision, utter desire?
Is It in each American’s heart? The marrow, gristle and bone, the structural integrity supporting that most vital of organs? Is It in freedom’s age old yearning but one that has waned to a shadowy sliver of what it once was, the integrity of it, the hunger and thirst for it?
Does it shame us to see that hunger for freedom’s expression reborn in brown skin, speaking in tongues that frighten. Has that sense of integrity, the fierce determination to crawl, sail across danger-filled seas, to fight for the inalienable right of it, simply been lost in translation in our bloated sense of self-righteousness and self-aggrandizement, and spoilage?
Have we traded the promise of Plymouth Rock for the wolf pack of the Tribal Win?
Are we so frightened, filled with our own sense of entitlement we’ve lost our own sense of soul, of compassion for others “not like us”? Have we forfeited charity, decency, equitableness? Can we regain any of these values before the rancid, fetid hatred and selfishness that has infected our way of life dominates our national landscape?
Do we have the courage, fortitude and maturity to save our own American soul? To be honest, to forfeit “winning” and ambition at any price and reclaim integrity, decency, prudence, honor? Have we sacrificed the good of the whole for the privilege of the few?
Can we recapture our American soul? Do we have the strength to be humble, to look ourselves in the depths and acknowledge that we are losing any moral compass we once had?
You learn a lot about yourself and others when you are in a physically compromised situation like I have been for the last six months. Between a couple surgeries and multiple fractures in my back, I’ve been laid low. Having a history of being fiercely independent previously, I have had the opportunity to learn the fine art of being dependent on others, at times feeling like a burden, a very uncomfortable position to say the least!
The Spiritual Squeeze
I have been forced to learn about patience, humility, and grace, none of which comes naturally to me. Quite the contrary. Being a single person for most of my adult life, I have taken undo pride and no small amount of egotism, feeling quite self-satisfied with my own fortitude and sufficiency.
Asking others for help now, sometimes from the smallest gestures to larger ones that might inconvenience them, has been challenging and sometimes downright painful for me in my current situation. It has come easier though is still uncomfortable and sometimes laced with fear and guilt.
I have found some people are generous and offer willingly while others get downright nervous or withdraw, pulling back with the subtlest of mortification, their pupils contracting inward scanning their own lives and responsibilities. Then there are those who offer but don’t really mean it, mostly unavailable when you get right down to the specific request later on.
It is very easy to be judgemental about this latter group, having operated from this very behavior myself in the past. I want to judge them when they turn me down, usually feeling a bit sorry for myself in the process. It is a lonely road. But the catch is, while I want to condemn them for being selfish, absorbed, uncaring or unsympathetic, the finger has quickly curved in on myself with the whiff of past recognition.
One of the greatest gifts of my life, and I say this with all humility, is the occasional ability to move quickly from judgmentalism to forgiveness to acceptance. This was aided not long ago by flashbacks of moments when I’ve declined to help others during my far more vigorous, busy and able-bodied history. I remember drawing away, pulling back, thinking I’ve got too much on my plate, sometimes offering help but knowing I don’t really mean it myself.
Recently I asked a woman in my apartment building if she could put a pain patch on my back and be available if I needed help for a few days, trying to explain that my regular backup people were away. Recognizing her reluctance from the get go, I tried to make clear it was short term. Her response was vigorous and persistent, telling me she was very busy, she wasn’t the best person to ask, she’d do what she could but couldn’t make a commitment.
Invariably she kept steering me away from her, stating she worked 55 hours a week, could I get a nurse, call the ER, whatever. I like to think my decline of help to others was gentler, more subtle, but guessing I’ve been as transparent at times as she was with me, I doubt it. Becoming more angry than fearful I wouldn’t have help, I pressed her and she ultimately relented.
Remarkably, while I was very upset initially, I moved quickly to taking stock of my own past behaviors in this regard, knowing, knowing not only did I have to forgive her but also forgive myself. This struck swiftly and thoroughly and I felt relief, free of having to project my judgement onto her. This forgiveness and relief lasted about 12 hours!
It is a hard thing at times having to take a steely-eyed look at ourselves, yet without examining our own behavior, what good are any lessons that are presented to us. After all, isn’t that what we’re here for? To learn, to grow, to evolve, to transcend? If I cannot forgive her how can I forgive me, and vice versa? We are all on a path at times intersecting with others, teachers of a sort, and presented with these golden opportunities. While this might seem like such a simple example, for me it is no less important than the earth shattering larger spiritual or ethical challenges in life.
At the end of the day, we are all at our own place of consciousness and development. When I forget that, that someone else no matter how obnoxious or irritating they might seem to me, or self absorbed and self centered, I am the one who suffers on the inside both emotionally and spiritually. I suffer in the judgment of that other person, But mostly I suffer in the condemnation and judgment of myself. To love oneself is just as important as to love another, to have compassion for the impairment that may be developmental, less visible than broken bones or surgeries in another, that is no less real but far less obvious.
The seemingly complicated state of fleeting forgiveness towards my reluctant neighbor squeezes me spiritually to step back, to really assess why I’m hurt, frustrated or scared and to at least try to identify with her. And even if I can’t stay in that space, I know I’m able to return to it at some point. Oh, the lessons of an illness, what consciousness-raising grist it provides for growth, acknowledging she too has her own struggle of guarded isolation and remoteness, filled with fear and self protection that felt as threatening to her as mine was for me in that moment.
And So It Goes
At the end of the day it does no good to compare me to her, her to me or even her to the two steadfast friends who have provided support and compassion but just happened to be gone at that time of seeking another’s help only to be thwarted by my neighbors reticence, no good at all. Identification is one thing, comparison quite another for comparison is filled with judgment. Whether I get irritated or not is irrelevant at the end of the day if she’s doing the best she can as I was in earlier situations—and even now—but lose the thread of ongoing understanding and forgiveness as a constant I can return to. Because I will invariably have to repeat the lesson, God willing, and by my own intention, be squeezed into that place of love and forgiveness of self and another we all seek until it all sticks.
Suicide! With Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain’s recent suicides, a national conversation has occurred. It happened after Robin Williams’ death as well only to fade away like so many other shocking events in contemporary life these days. People are genuinely sympathetic and empathetic for a time only to fall back into daily living. It’s natural enough, of course. Read more →
So mad, so frustrated, so judgmental! At whom? The left and the right, the liberals and the conservatives. How dare either side judge ‘me’ when I’m so very busy judging each of you!! Ferociously, excoriatingly, ravaging my superior moral position condemning you to your stupid, stupid emotionally-driven positions and beliefs, projecting my own fears onto you. Read more →
I don’t know how to write it. I don’t. I don’t know how to write about the dismantling of our democracy anymore. I’ve written essays in the past on this topic but this time seems harder somehow. Why? The ball of destruction rolling down the hill is picking up speed.
Who ever thought the Republicans would hand over the keys to the Kremlin. While Trump ‘burns’, spitting out vitriol with his base’s insatiable anger dripping out of their mouths, juices flowing, he feeds them. He intuitively knows what he’s doing. They don’t but he does.
As does Putin. You think all invasions, all wars are fought with tanks and guns? While some are, although mostly in third world countries, first world countries like us in the West require more sophisticated weapons: weaponized internet systems, weaponized positionalities, weaponized distraction techniques, certainly weaponized money and perceived power, and many more.
There’s Collusion Alright!
Poor Trump. Poor House and Senate leadership, though I hate to use the word since they’re not leaders; they’re sheep. How incredibly easy they are, like the high school prom queen of old who lifts up her skirt after the big game. They’ve got theirs, those senators and representatives; go get your own. How cheaply they’ve sold themselves–for 30 pieces of silver!
Then there’s the propaganda machines; Fox News and Breibart for sure, a few news organizations on the left and the internet is filled with false information sites–on both sides actually, but the right seems to be far ahead of the game. Let’s face it. Hatred sells. Kumbaya is a harder pitch when distortion of money, jobs, decency, morality is at stake.
And the Christian right leaders? Really? Giving Trump a ‘pass’ on morality, decency, integrity, fitness for office, for their pet positionalities? Their 30 pieces of silver have been scrabbled through their followers and congregations, sure, but worse: for pet positions, the means they think justify the ends for all this betrayal that only emboldens Trump to hand over the keys to the Kremlin.
America has been invaded. Buy, Russians. Get it? Did you not see the indictment? Do you not believe it? Are you waiting for the tanks instead? He’s got you there. Putin and Trump’s stealth weapons are hatred, division, money for those who can deliver it big time, and corrupted power for sure.
It has all metastasized and so many everyday people don’t even know it, don’t see it. Not always because they’re stupid either. Naive is more like it. Some are well-intentioned folks believing they’re doing the right thing. Do you think the other party is your enemy? The Democrats? The Republicans? The Progressives? The White Supremacists? They’re just the pawns, groups “weaponized” for a particular outcome.
Gimmie Those Drugs
And the projected outcome is not freedom or democracy. It’s not taking back our country; it’s giving it away. It’s autocracy, a functional co-opted dictatorship. But go ahead. Go back to your ‘real life’ video games or “reality TV” played out on the nightly news, FB, Twitter and other online platforms that are your particular ‘drugs of choice’. We are definitely an addictive species. Throw in a little spiritualized ego-driven arrogance and the cocktail is lethal. For America is being given away bit by bit so we’ll all feel better about our particular belief systems both on the right and the left, for the game board that is Washington, and corruption, and force, and foreigners. Not Mexican foreigners, mind you; Russian oligarch foreigners, and Putin.
No, wait. Not exactly that but sometimes it sure feels like it. The fires in northern California have been devastating, surreal and overwhelming to say the least. It is hard to count my blessings right now given that I surely have many. After all, my life was minimally impacted in relative terms. I lost no loved ones, my housing remained intact, although I did evacuate when the advisory was issued by the Sonoma County Sheriff’s office. The smoke-saturated air hyper-laced with toxins, felt like it carried minimal oxygen. Imagine suffocation with foulness. It was hard to breathe and especially hard once it became so dense it hurt to take it in. Read more →
“Who would you be without your story?” Byron Katie
My recent move from Encinitas, CA to Sonoma, north of San Francisco has been challenging, interesting, exhausting, and enlightening, with generous splashes of happy thrown in. After a mere month or two, while physically settled, I’m hardly that emotionally and psychologically. Yes, I have my core, my spiritual inner being, that feels pretty much centered, constant, with periodic inner tremors gradually subsiding. One of the most unsettling elements however is that of identity. Read more →
This may not even be anything for public consumption. Instead, it just might be for my own edification and relief. The hard times I am going through in my personal life and the dangerous times our country is going through currently seem parallel. While I don’t feel like a move to Northern California is dangerous, it certainly has generated a ‘hitting bottom’ kind of experience that is frightening, disorienting. It seems I have brought myself to some kind of brink, knowing not where or how I am to land.
When I made the decision to move, I did not realize there was a severe housing shortage in Sonoma County, the place I have chosen to relocate. Not only have I never been very good at money generating, (though living thrifty), it seems it has finally caught up with me in a serious ‘in-your-face’ kind of way. Having insufficient resources to make the move (was counting on cheaper rental prices,) it has caused quite a high degree of apoplexy manifesting in periodic crying jags, occasional chest pains and food binges.
Because of this poor “investigative journalism” and serious research on my part, I find myself backed into a corner, knowing I’ll have to work, and fast, as soon as I get up there. I lurch uncontrollably between terror and fright, fear of mental collapse (which quite frankly could be a relief) and prayer. Sometimes the prayers include begging, pretending I’m more spiritually gifted than I likely am, yet on the flip side, aware of a deep and abiding faith that springs to the surface in fits and starts.
Enter Donald Trump. For many years now I have tried to learn from not just my own mistakes but those of others. This is not an easy task given the denial part of the human ego. One has to be capable of and WANT to be honest with oneself, taking responsibility for one’s choices and actions. While I shudder at the thought of any comparison between The Donald and me, I see how it’s often easier to attack another, blame a situation, etc, as a psychological tool to avoid the scrutiny of one’s conscience.
I can see how easy it is for me to ‘blame’ my karma, parents who didn’t encourage me, failed to teach me certain things, the turbulence of the 1960’s and 1970’s, and, and, and….the list can be endless if I allow my indulgence of such things, which sometimes I do. But at the end of the day, while there may be reasons for one’s flaws, character defects, etc, one cannot escape accountability. There is a consequence for me in my life choices regardless of any origin or source. It’s a universal law. There is a consequence for Donald Trump in his (regardless of how cruel his father was). And there is a consequence for all of America who has either chosen DT, continually chooses to either be blind to or ignore the perilous times we have ALL played a role in getting ourselves into, individually and as a nation. And for those who have failed in other ways, enlightened though they may be in erudite interpretations, have neglected to do much about the dangers we face themselves.
No Shame in Falling
They say confession is good for the soul and I do believe in it. But confession is no easy undertaking. You have to be willing to expose yourself (mostly to yourself) and one has to rank at least 200 on the honest/integrous scale of consciousness. Not everyone is able nor can. But for anyone able, it seems looking in the mirror is required at this time, and certainly for me.
Years ago I had a cousin, Cliff Cushman. He was the darling of our clan, having won a silver medal in the 400 meter hurdles in the 1960 Olympics in Rome. Fast forward to the Olympic qualifying heat in 1964, where he fell and was disqualified from that year’s games. There have been several people in my life who have inspired me. Cliff is one who was inspirational in my early years. Bennet Mermel is another in my later years. There have been others, some I’ve not actually met in person but who have inspired me the just same – inspired me to get up, try again when failure seems imminent, but to at least try to the degree I am able. Not only is this true for me personally, but also for our nation. for we must all ‘get up’. Some people don’t believe we are at a crossroads in our democracy, believing instead in a pied piper who promises them a return to past glory. That is not where we are at!
I leave you on this Memorial Day with Cliff’s letter he wrote to the youth of Grand Forks, North Dakota after he fell. It is a challenge for me personally and for all of those capable in our nation to pick ourselves up, take a cold, hard look in the mirror and ask ourselves if we can go on blaming others for own shortcomings without ever looking at our own. Cliff Cushman was shot down over North Vietnam in 1966, just two short years after clipping the hurdle. He may have lost his body that day in the jungle, but I am sure he did not lose his soul. It is high time we check our own, for those of us who are able. It is time I check mine, both personally and as part of the collective American Experience.
Captain Cliff Cushman’s 1964 Letter
To the youth of Grand Forks:
Don’t feel sorry for me. I feel sorry for some of you! You may have seen the U.S. Olympic Trials on television September 13. If so, you watched me hit the fifth hurdle, fall and lie on the track in an inglorious heap of skinned elbows, bruised hips, torn knees, and injured pride, unsuccessful in my attempt to make the Olympic team for the second time. In a split second all the many years of training, pain, sweat, blisters, and agony of running were simply and irrevocably wiped out. But I tried. I would much rather fail knowing I had put forth an honest effort than never have tried at all.
This is not to say that everyone is capable of making the Olympic Team. However, each of you is capable of trying to make your own personal “Olympic Team,” whether it be the high school football team, the glee club, the honor roll, or whatever your goal may be. Unless your reach exceeds your grasp, how can you be sure what you can attain? And don’t you think there are things better than cigarettes, hot-rod cars, school dropouts, excessive makeup, and ducktail grease-cuts?
Over fifteen years ago I saw a star — first place in the Olympic Games. I literally started to run after it. In 1960 I came within three yards of grabbing it; this year I stumbled, fell and watched it recede four more years away. Certainly, I was very disappointed in falling flat on my face. However, there is nothing I can do about it now but get up, pick the cinders from my wounds, and take one more step, followed by one more and one more, until the steps turn into miles and the miles into success.
I know I may never make it. The odds are against me but I have something in my favor — desire and faith. Romans 5:3-5 has always had an inspirational meaning to me in this regard: “We rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us.” At least I am going to try.
How about you? Would a little extra effort on your part bring up your grade average? Would you have a better chance to make the football team if you stayed an extra fifteen minutes after practice and worked on your blocking?
Let me tell you something about yourselves. You are taller and heavier than any past generation in this country. You are spending more money, enjoying more freedom, and driving more cars than ever before, yet many of you are very unhappy. Some of you have never known the satisfaction of doing your best in sports, the joy of excelling in class, the wonderful feeling of completing a job, any job, and looking back on it knowing that you have done your best.
I dare you to have your hair cut and not wilt under the comments of your so-called friends. I dare you to clean up your language. I dare you to honor your mother and father. I dare you to go to church without having to be compelled to go by your parents. I dare you to unselfishly help someone less fortunate than yourself and enjoy the wonderful feeling that goes with it. I dare you to become physically fit. I dare you to read a book that is not required in school. I dare you to look up at the stars, not down at the mud, and set your sights on one of them that, up to now, you thought was unattainable. There is plenty of room at the top, but no room for anyone to sit down.
Who knows? You may be surprised at what you can achieve with sincere effort. So get up, pick the cinders out of your wounds, and take one more step.
It has been painful and difficult to watch the inauguration of the 45th President. Having written that sentence, the most critical aspect of it is not that I believe we are less safe, not that I believe he is wholly unqualified to be commander-in-chief, not that I believe he suffers from a serious personality disorder which puts our nation in peril, it is something else that arches over all of it. It it this: A House Divided Against Itself Cannot Stand. And Trump is at the apex although hardly the cause. Read more →
I have not had it in me to write about anything serious lately, especially the current political landscape in America and the decline of our democratic institutions. Hence, the trivial things in life have become more prominent, serving a useful distraction. Read more →