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 It is hard to make sense of things in the current situation with the COVID-19 pandemic. Especially when there’s no sense to be had. I’m not talking about all the instructions coming out from the CDC, Trump’s undermining of certain medical measures, and minimizing others, pitting constituencies against one another. Get a test, don’t get a test, etc. Open the markets, don’t open the markets ad infinitum.

Even in the best of times, let alone the worst of times, a new disease let loose on the population can certainly create their own contradictions when so much is unknown about the spread of it, how to contain it best. It is particularly challenging, however, when we have a president who has decimated certain aspects of critical governmental infrastructure ever since obtaining office.

THE DEEPER FISHERS

I don’t wanna talk about those. There will be time to do a postmortem after so much of the risk has passed. In the meantime, we are all challenged in the face of social distance, isolation, to reevaluate not just the bigger picture along with the key players. Just as importantly I suggest we look at our individual selves AND the aggregate of the same. It is an opportunity to go in. Not just to relieve anxiety, although that is true enough. But to really take stock of who we are, what we want, how we ferociously judge, what we value, and to look at what and how we want to be going forward.

Is there not a great possibility to consider the other person, to practice compassion and forgiveness even with those we can’t stand, not to let them off the hook for we can illuminate accountability later on. That has to happen. But just as importantly if not more so, we need to get micro as well as macro, to look at our own role and dare I say, responsibility to our neighbors as to ourselves. I know not everyone has the capacity to take this kind of self inventory, but those of us who can would be better served to examine ourselves and the society at large by taking a steely-eyed look at what we value and why. Who do those values hurt sometimes and who do they help, besides our own self-interest.

DELAYING GRATIFICATION 

We are a very spoiled nation in so many ways. What’s more, very few know it. How is it that too many grumble, unable to comprehend the concept “for the good of the whole.” When my son was in college and there just happened to be for the millionth time a flare up of tensions between Israelis and Palestinians he started a film treatment about God making both sides have a time out, effectively isolating them to opposite corners until they could think through the folly of their behavior, their untenable positionalities. 

I likened his idea in certain ways to Albert Brooks’ Defending Your Life film where Brooks’ character has to defend himself in the afterlife for being driven by fear, afraid to really love, afraid to look at the other. In his case it was fear of loving a woman, fearing a risk of rejection, an ultimate loss of himself in some way. As a collective, our American fear is about losing things, money, our precious comforts, possessions, status, power, whatever externals that too often drive us apart instead of together. 

LOVE IN THE TIME OF COVID-19

And now, through the pandemic we all are on the brink of possible redemption juxtaposed with destruction. Do we have the courage to take stock of our values and the fear that drives too many of us apart heretofore isolating from one another in other ways, suckling our precious opinions, greed, judgments, attachments to things or belief systems as our identity. The metaphor writ large NOW is being forced to isolate physically so as not to contaminate one another. Can we not see that we have been isolating ourselves by class, fear of otherness, fear of not keeping up, fear of losing power or influence—the list is endless but still all driven by fear. What a golden opportunity we have now to examine ourselves and what we truly value and exercise compassion and sacrifice. There are great examples in truckers, nurses, doctors, cleaners but they are not the end of it. We are called to make our own.

And so we continually stand on the precipice waiting for a collective aha moment. Otherwise, we will continue to repeat the same lesson through catastrophes such as this or others we can’t even imagine be they physical, financial, societal, political, whatever, until such time as we come to understand how we have created such incredible comfort and privilege – – even those of us in the middle class – – that this is just that: a privilege. But it is more than that. It is a responsibility. And to deny the least among us out of fear we might lose something at the expense of truly loving our brothers, our fellow countrymen, why, we’ll just keep having to repeat “4th grade” lessons of caring compassion, EQUITY, etc until we ultimately learn and live it. 

ON THE EDGE

Bizarrely, we have the choice right in front of us reflected in two “characters” that represent these options: the grotesque distortion of greed, deceit, and self-absorption in our current President on the one hand, and a compassionate scientist in Dr Fauci, looking out for the good of the whole on the other. One defends his “30 pieces of silver” like Judas while the other defends his love of life itself for the true good of all and asks us to do the same via social distancing. What will we do with this golden opportunity of a “time out”. Can we stand the individual discomfort for the good of the whole? We will all have to decide, for this problem runs far deeper than the current pandemic and will only resurface again and again until we truly move past the isolation of too many hearts and minds that exist in this country today.

I don’t know how I feel about the recent article below and its position. It strikes me as a chicken and egg debate and therefore a bit fatuous, intellectually self-serving. So many things have broken down in our culture, and institutions seem symptomatic of that. As highly educated elites, and let’s face it that is what we are—well educated, ponderous, separated in so many ways from those who aren’t—I think we also have to look at ourselves and our own self absorption, our own precious positions that we cling to. We are those institutions—we are them and they are us.

America has gotten so big, so unwieldy, so degraded on so many levels and not just institutions, I don’t know how we change our perspectives. Sometimes rot and decay take on lives of their own. Can this very large ship be turned around, chart a new course? Is anyone reading this article willing to change and volunteer or go work for any of these structures?? Not a criticism; just a question we owe ourselves to consider.

I have no answers, no recommendations other than taking a steely eye turned inward to examine our own participation or lack thereof. What does it mean to love our neighbors as ourselves? What is the difference between equality and equity? They are not the same. Equity is providing resources, financial as well as modeling behaviors/examples to those who are deprived, and provide them with what they need to sustain and flourish their lives. Equality assumes that everybody has to have the same $10 no matter what. It’s absurd.

One of the things I’ve always loved about Joan Dideon is her talent to hold a mirror to my generation, our generation. I miss her voice. We have been as selfish and self-absorbed as what came before ours. We also inherited highly virtuous qualities and values as well: hard-working, commitment to community to some degree, a reasonable sense of right and wrong. How we apply these positives has to be recontextualized, however, which is the rub. 

Obviously not everyone has the same talents, expertise, aptitude or abilities. Yet can’t we all see we needn’t not “self-segregate” from those we perceive as having less, or who are not like us? If we have no courage to be the change, that is what our institutions will mirror back. Helen Keller’s quote springs to mind at this time in our national crisis:

“I am only one, but still I am one. I cannot do everything, but still I can do something; and because I cannot do everything, I will not refuse to do something that I can do.” 

If we are not dead there is likely something all of us can do as individuals to “be the change.” It is our charge to figure out what that is, large or small. After all, if we have lost faith in our institutions like the title of the Op-Ed below suggests, that also implies we have lost faith in ourselves. Yet only we can regain that faith. It is high time we held ourselves accountable as well.

To access article below, press graphic to select link using touch screen or right click with mouse.

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.

Tank Time

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.

And Putin’s puppet.

 

It is so very hard for me to write about what is happening with the death of our democracy, to make sense of it in both specific and general terms. It was suggested that I give voice to my anger, that it would be therapeutic and healthy to do so, empowering even. The problem for me is that it’s not just anger I feel. Instead, I have become acutely aware of traversing the five stages of grief, traveling back and forth between each emotional state: denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance and back again. Read more

There is no accounting for Mark Twain’s enormous talent–other than he was a true and “stable genius.”  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.

Parallel Process

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.

I dare you!

Sincerely, Clifton E. Cushman

Sept. 17, 1964

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Clifton_Cushman

 

 

The heartbreak of what is happening to our democratic institutions is palpable and painful.  From Russian interference to the delivery of propagandistic spin by Donald Trump, we are under siege. Denial by far too many citizens is real and becomes harder and harder to walk back as people cling to their vote and individual positionalities. Either Mr. Trump is the ONLY person knowing the truth and EVERYONE ELSE is wrong, or the intelligence communities and parts of the media (which include THOUSANDS of people) have not just valid points but are the vanguards of enough of the truth for people to step away and to at least consider another point of view, another set of facts. Not ‘alternative facts’ as some would have you believe, mind you, but facts as they exist by intelligence collection, sophisticated analysts, and otherwise committed individuals to Truth.

Is Anyone Ready?

Is the Republican Party really ready to delegate ALL information and facts to one man for the sake of their own power and privilege? Or one media outlet against ALL OTHERS? Is the country really ready to allow a subversion of justice and with it, democracy? Can it be that the Wolf in Sheep’s Clothing has fooled enough of the nation so completely that we have ALREADY lost America, the country we have inherited through a revolution, the Bill of Rights, The Constitution and a basically sound expression of democratic actions throughout our history?

It is hard to look a fragile situation, or person, squarely and pull back without passion or prejudice and consider another perspective. Both humility and courage is required. Yet, hard as it is, we are required to do just that. For the nation is at a crossroads where all will be lost if some brave citizens, both working people and elected officials alike, must be willing and able to check their egos at the door.

Aiding and Abetting Democracy’s Decline

It may be too late, I don’t know. I pray it’s not. The next generation and the tail end of mine, will likely see which way the degradation of our democratic institutions turns. One thing is for sure, the door is closing and for folks who believe ONLY Trump is the truth-teller, hairs on all heads will be counted. Either we as individuals and as a nation are vanguards of Truth or we are not. Clinging to a vote or a particular privilege without scrutiny or conscience ensures the ongoing rape of the nation.
http://www.cnn.com/2017/05/14/politics/james-clapper-russia-collusion/index.html

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

http://www.cnn.com/2016/06/12/opinions/orlando-terror-nightclub-shooting-omara/index.html

Dateline: Orlando, FL. June 12, 2016. Yes, I’m horrified. Yes, depressed, filled with compassion and sorrow for all those affected, both “on the ground in real time in Orlando” and all of us as a nation. Read more