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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 have bonded with several dogs in my life, not my own. There is an instinct between human and canine that can be immediate and profound. This can occur from a brief encounter, owning a pet long term, a friend’s dog one might see on occasion, or through intermittent caretaking. For years I used to do a lot of pet sitting, dogs in particular. While I loved them all in their own way, there were a few that seemed like kin to me, possessing an unspoken language and comfort, wordless yet filled with understanding. 

Dogs Never Lie About Love

While I no longer dog sit, some I continue to have a truck load of affection for, generating a smile spontaneous and immediate when I think of them: Gemma, Sophie, Lexie and Parker most notable—you know who you are, small dogs all! Gemma, a purebred basenji, crackling with energy and mischief blasting out; Sofie, if not pure in breeding, certainly pure in regal ness, a wisdom as if reincarnated from Yoda himself. 

But Parker and Lexie were something else! A confusion of breeds, both, but loaded with personality and, I swear, each wore their hearts on their sleeves (well, paws!) in their own style of giving— a penetrating and unconditional love that was bottomless and relentless. It came through their pores, through eyes that held nothing back, their love immediate and constant.

Parker

Parker

But this morning, this morning was special. While walking in the park, loping along with my hiking poles, I came across a three legged dog. There I met Babu, a midsized, mixed black and white splotchy patterned dog, with her left front leg missing. I began chatting with her human pet parents, warm and friendly, who had adopted her from an animal sanctuary near Willets, where she had lived for eight years prior, before being moved to a conventional shelter when the fires threatened the sanctuary and She became available for adoption.

Lexie

Lexie

As I scratched Babu’s head, I asked mom and dad how she lost her leg. She’d had a cancerous bone tumor they told me so the entire leg had to be removed in order to prevent spreading. “Could they fit her with a prosthetic leg?” I inquired. “Not possible,” I was told since there was no available stem to attach it to. So she walk-hopped around on all 3’s, seemingly oblivious, instead accommodating her exuberance with the life that remained at her disposal, as she rolled around naturally in the grass like any dog would. She had clear eyes that spoke of delight, gratitude, pleasure, availability.

I marveled at Babu, with her absence of self-consciousness and felt two compelling emotions. The first was a kind of kinship, different species to be sure, yet this creature was doing what she could to keep going, to move however awkwardly, to feel alive and express her nature with aplomb. The second was an immense awe and humility at what looked to be a kind of dignity and gratitude with what remained to her, a simple pleasure feeling her backside scratched by the grass as she rolled in the sweet fragrance of it. A smile slathered her dog face, believing this was all she really needed in life, at least at that moment.

And so it was that a creature in the body of a 3-legged dog and I shared a timeless moment, her teaching me more about valuing what remains to the living of an altered life, as well as the great gift of connection between species that can sometimes be the greatest teachers of all, without language, instead transmitted through a presence, a beingness that transcends, a knowing that is universal, loving and immediate. And of course, her transmission took hold of my heart and I was instantly smitten. Not just by her, but by the lesson she selflessly shared with me.

 

The fragrance of nature, particularly water and trees, has always brought something powerful to the surface of my mind, a kind of happy joy that is spontaneous and immediate. Nature conceals a deeper meaning, drawing me to its depths without knowing entirely why. Since I was a little girl I have always loved it. The natural world is an essential ingredient of what I am, just as much as the gristle and bone I walk around in. Sometimes I think it’s about identification. But that’s not it exactly. I am aware of being an animal, a mammal specifically. And yet it is the essence of spirit that I really identify with, coming from some ‘other’ that created all of this, that I am a part of.

Life For It’s Own Sake

On a recent family vacation in Lake Tahoe I was reminded ever more powerfully of this fact. Because it is a fact for me. A reality. I could be a tree. I could be a body of water. But it makes no matter because I have been blessedly created as a human, and how lucky is that? Even if one believes in no higher power or God, let’s say it’s fate or a roll of the dice that I was created thusly, I still value it immensely. While I happen to believe in God, I recognize not everyone does. Are these individuals no less grateful to be alive?

In any case, my nephew took this picture off the end of a boat touring around the lake and sent it to me. I was not onboard, instead stationed back at the resort like a sentry, resting inside but catching the faint whiff of pines and water regardless of my physical location. The picture is compelling, as compelling as the state of being. This was puzzling to me in the beginning, at least until I started to view it differently. The opaque quality in a milky, cataract kind of way disturbed me at first. I wanted to bring it into focus, to clarify the view. And then I thought, isn’t that what we are always trying to do?  To fix, to adjust what we think we see into one meaning that suits our purpose?

And the foreground of waterwheel, intrusive and initially dominating, became something to be managed, fixed, so that one could better get to the the dusting of pine-topped mountains beyond. When I ignore this fuzzy, filmy veneer, the restless idea of it, I can focus instead on the essence of sharing space with nature, conjoined, being an intimate and authentic part of it, even as it’s steward and, as such, as essential as the earth itself and sky above.

A Larger Lens

I am transported to a primordial soup from which we all come regardless of belief system. It is quite simply a knowing, with nothing arguable about it. It is rooted in depths of certitude, ineffable though it may be, a oneness that defies explanation even though I struggle to explain it in the here and now.

And so I leave it here, the unanswered and unanswerable mystery of being born not just a human but being born here, now, in this place and part of a whole that is an inexplicable existence. The mysterious gift of life, the nature of it all, a dust mote traversing the universe through space and time, me who has been afforded incredible Grace and peace as evocative as the whiff of the pines and water themselves.

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?

Can we?

 

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

I have always loved Joan Didion’s writing. While some of it seems dark such as her commentary on change over some of the most tumultuous eras in America, she has an unusual quality of perspective and observation, acting as witness to events of the day. Oddly, this has seemed even to be the case in her more recent memoirs, “The Year of Magical Thinking” and “Blue Nights”. Yet there is also a quality about her in “The Center Will Not Hold”, the documentary about her life as viewed through the lens of her director nephew, Griffin Dunne, that is emotional, intimate, accessible. You see it in the face, in the tears that do not fall, the questions Griffin asks and refuses to ask out of the most delicate yet sturdy love and respect for his aunt, and for Didion’s own ongoingness. 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