The Fire and The Rose

4

December 10, 2019-

The full of night can suffuse one’s mind with a darkness that is equal to, or surpassing of, the dearth of sunlight outside.  The mind, unlike the body, does not cease to move, at a time of physical rest.  For many of us, far more than should be the case, the movement is in a downward location.  Especially, but not exclusively, for those who live alone, the mind is more susceptible to the depredations of inner demons- at least until prayer, meditation and a few drops of therapeutic grade lavender bring on a healing slumber.

I live a fairly comfortable life, with no ailments at present, and a caring, if arm’s-length, circle of family and friends.  I was told, long ago, that a little of me goes a very long way. So be it.  As long as I’m doing right by those around me, that’s hardly the worst of circumstances.  When inner demons, stoked at times by fatigue, hit me in the darkness, my mantra of late has been to self-talk into sleep, sometimes aided by the lavender oil I mentioned above.

I look, though, at those whose demons lead them to continuing depredations of their own. The oppressed who, as I remarked to a reader of my previous  post, learn to become oppressors.  Here, I think, the scene arises from a failure to take self to account, to learn to place all blame for one’s lot externally, and to thus become a violator of others’ rights, property and persons.

We did not learn the right lessons, it seems, from the French Revolution, and thus came the Maoist Cultural Revolution.  The Holocaust of 1915 was, as Hitler predicted, a flickering ember of the mid-Twentieth Century imagination and the Fuehrer’s minions accomplished a genocide that would have made Ataturk blanche.  The Turks felt wronged, hemmed in, and so they lashed out, their targets lashed back and there was a bloodbath.  Post- World War I Germany, and several other Central European nations, were given short shrift by the Treaty of Versailles, clever demagogues found their Others to use as scapegoats, and the horror played out, on the grandest scale since, arguably, the Hundred Years’ War.

Today, there are all manner of others.  Demagogues, having tasted power and wanting it all the more, find target Others, across the world.  Stories of rape and pillaging give rise to hyper-generalization, far beyond the punishment of those actually responsible. One size must fit all.  Thus, we have Twitter storms, back and forth, attacking anyone suspected of taking a pin to one’s balloon. We have the macabre spectacle of a Nobel Peace Laureate, justifying her government’s deadly attacks on people whose primary offense is to adhere to a Faith that is different from her own.  She is, she says, acting on the advice of a “man of peace”, who is after all a Buddhist monk.  Thoughts of Nicholas II and Rasputin come to mind, but  I digress.  We have coteries of sectarian radicals,from India and Iran, to Yemen and Nigeria, stoking their own acts of opprobrium, against those of other Faiths.

T.S. Eliot’s scenario of the fire and the rose becoming one, in his Four Quartets,  is practiced over and over in our world, though not in the way he envisioned.  The Hollow Men, of one of his other great verses, will not endure a world ending with a whimper, but the series of bangs that have been our lot, since at least 1912, could bring it to an alarming precipice.

Bringing oneself to account each day would seem to be advisable, for high and low, alike.

Indelible

8

December 7, 2019-

Three men remain alive, of the Americans who fought at Pearl Harbor.  It’s been 78 years, since that day that brought the United States into de jure  conflict with Imperial Japan. The de facto war had been going on for some time, with Lend Lease and with Americans enlisting in other nations’ military forces.

The conflict was both the second-worst war of the Twentieth Century, after its predecessor, and the scenario for the hardest choices this country’s leadership has ever had to make.  The contributions of our best service people, the sacrifices of our civilian populace and the courage of underground fighters, across the globe- and on every inhabited continent, all are part of what makes World War II indelible in the memory of a conscious citizen.

Earlier today, one of the last Pearl Harbor veterans was laid to rest, on the sunken remains of the USS Arizona, the prime memorial site of that horrific attack.  Next weekend, our memorials to fallen veterans continues, with the laying of wreaths in each National Cemetery, across the country.   We will maintain our tributes to those who fell, and to those who came back, continued to serve those they loved and, in many cases, struggled with their demons.

Their fight for the common good, however ongoing and difficult, is indelible.

No Quarter

7

December 6, 2019-

When one has an adult child serving in the military, there is a particular degree of attention paid to the circumstances surrounding that child’s safety and well-being, day to day.  My son entered the United States Navy in July, 2011.  He will finish his regular active duty, in January, 2020.  Then he will serve in the Naval Reserves, for several more years.  I will keep watch on his environment, throughout.

As his final weeks on active duty ensue, three attacks have been committed, on U.S. military property, within days of each other.  One, at Fort Story, VA, was an act of vehicular homicide.  The second, at Pearl Harbor, only days before the 78th Anniversary of the infamous attacks there, by the forces of Imperial Japan, was committed by someone who apparently snapped, after a disciplinary notice was issued him.  The third, which may also have been committed by someone who snapped, happened today, at Naval Air Station, Pensacola.  ended with four dead.

There is some speculation of terror ties, in the first and third incidents, but not-as yet- in the second.  There can be, simply put, no quarter given to any terrorist, regardless of ideology.  The whole subject of the origins of terrorism can fill several volumes.  It basically boils down to sustained inhumanity of one group against another, leading to ongoing acts of retaliation and revenge.

Yet, revenge just leads to more chaos, and the cycle goes on.  I read this morning of the summary executions of four men suspected of raping a female veterinarian and burning her corpse, near Hyderabad, India.  There is no less sympathetic criminal than a rapist.  I can understand the rage of the men who captured these four.  If anyone ever sexually assaulted, much less killed, any of the many women who are close to my heart, my emotions would boil over, privately.  I would then have to  leave the punishment to the authorities, expecting them to fulfill their duties.  In the event they didn’t, I would, following the law, be a broken record, until justice was served.

Vengeance, though, is not my way.  On the rare occasions when the woman I met 39 years ago today, later married,  and then laid to rest, after nearly 29 years of wedlock, was taunted or sexually harassed, I stood up to those who exhibited their animal instincts but never once did I feel the need to beat someone down.   This was fortunate, as I am perfectly capable of flying into a rage.  It just has become less of a potentially useful method of dealing with such matters.  Our society, many parts of which dabble in false equivalency, might too easily fall for sad origin stories of  rapists or other sexual predators.  In the ensuing judicial chaos, no justice is served.

I maintain that, in each case of assault on peaceful, law-abiding citizens, regardless of the assailant’s motive, there needs to be a doubling-down on adherence to the sanctity of human life and safety.  Those who commit acts of terrorism, including sexual terrorism, must face justice, in its fullness- without mindless vengeance.

 

 

On the Margins

2

December 2, 2019-

When cleaning,

do you look beyond the margins?

When examining the conscience,

do you make sure to

check for clutter

that might have been overlooked?

When calling self,

a champion of the People,

are there some,

whom you leave out?

When saying you only have

unconditional love,

are there some whom you’ve

cut loose,

and are you certain,

as to why?

Are you defined

by what lies

within your margins?

No Pause Button

4

December 1, 2019-

This holiday weekend, now drawing to a close, reminded me that even in the midst of a wonderful celebration, there may come the cry of the needy.  I tended to that, as best I could, without besmirching the kindness of one of my dearest friends and members of her family.  I was honoured, beyond measure, on Thursday afternoon and evening.  It doesn’t take much, anymore, for me to feel that.  I go forward, at age 69, with a continued sense of personal worth.  Thanksgiving, 2019 was the sixth straight year at table with this wonderful family that has found its way into my heart.

Friday was, of course, our first real bout of winter weather, one month ahead of the actual season.  Shoveling a path to the street was followed by a night manning a shelter, which no one needed.  That is beside the point, though, as shelters are, by definition, designed to be manned proactively.  I have to say, the large Arizona Republic Thanksgiving Crossword kept me  very well-occupied, nearly until morning.

Saturday, I finally answered the figurative tapping on the window, and hopefully have drawn the right attention to the issues that were raised by an online correspondent.  The rest of the day, though, was spent catching up on the sleep I forewent, whilst manning the shelter.  Being up most of Friday night, though, showed that I still have stamina.  The evening was graced by the megaton voice of one Jacqui Foreman, who showed both vocal range and mastery of two types of guitar, in a concert at The Raven Cafe. She and her two accompanists delivered a solid three hours of a range of music, from soft rock ballads to acoustic jazz; Ma Rainey, through Frank Sinatra, to The Cranberries and Metallica, all find a spot in Sister Jackson’s repertoire. Among the people who I encountered there were a veteran musical arranger, a little boy who was somehow fascinated by my presence and a young lady who waved at me, from across the room- a case of mistaken identity.  It’s always colourful at The Raven.

Today, the last month of a decade of growth launched itself.  I tidied up my driveway, which had still been laden with ice and snow.  The sun was a big helper, and now the driveway is mostly clear.  The breakfast meeting at the Legion was cancelled, so I went down to Cupper’s, for an order of skinny pancakes, with melon on the side.  Several transient men were there, warming themselves, waiting for a Salvation Army service, across the street.  They had a very sobering account of the snowstorm just passed.  At least, there was an active shelter-not the one I manned, but the regular overnight shelter that SA provides, on below-freezing nights.  The day ended with a short Baha’i meeting, and now I look forward to a fruitful December.

Work will likely still be slow, but I will be mainly concerned with my dear daughter-in-law, who arrives  next Sunday, for nearly a month.  Aram will be back, after New Year’s and his last days with the regular Navy.  It’ll give me a chance to introduce Yunhee to our fair state and to several of my dear friends.  Then, too, is everything that has to do with Christmas time in Prescott, and around the state.

Ghosting

4

November 30, 2019-

The question was posed to me, earlier this evening:  “Why do some people not acknowledge texts for a week and a half, or a month?”  I can’t speak for any of those who do this as, if I can’t respond to someone’s messages in a timely manner, I’ll let them know at least that much- “Will get back to you by (thus and such day or time).”  If the person’s messages become offensive, I will say so, and free myself of her/his company, as I’ve done exactly twice, permanently, and once, temporarily.

I did a bit of thinking, though, about the phenomenon known as ghosting.  People seem to remove themselves from someone’s life, without notifying the individual, because:

  1.  They’ve lost interest in the person.
  2. They are going through difficulties/trauma, which they feel is all-encompassing and that the other person’s tests and difficulties would only add to their distress.  I’ve been there, on both sides of the struggle.  I can only thank God that I was taught the tools, such as deferred attention, which obviate ghosting on my part.
  3. .  They just don’t know what to say to the person anymore; perhaps because s(he) always has a counter answer for their suggestions or just plugs her/his ears to whatever they say. There are also those who  don’t know how to address chronic, seemingly intractable, matters-especially if they involve the person’s family.

Ghosting, as a means to restoring one’s sense of inner harmony,  is a falsehood.  The person, whom one is avoiding, has not disappeared from the Universe, and unless one summons the fortitude to let her/him know that ties are being cut, for whatever reason, then there is no closure-and the same challenge, from which one is running, will present itself, in the form of another troubled person, at some point either shortly thereafter, or a few years down the road.

Their Voices Will Not Be Silenced

2

November 29, 2019-

I read, a few days ago, about a homeless man in the Phoenix area, who had committed a heinous crime, whilst suffering psychiatric illness.  The story stated that this man had been passed through the Arizona mental health system, for over a  decade.  He had enough of an understanding of his own condition to ask for a shower and a follow-up appointment with one of the original counselors who had first met with him, when he was brought into a facility, by the police.  These requests were denied, according to the newspaper account, and he was back on the street, largely against his wishes.

In Maricopa County, there are at least a dozen agencies, which purport to address mental health issues.  I once worked, briefly, for the agency that, also briefly, worked with the man in question.  I was not successful in my endeavours with that agency, partly because of my also serving as Penny’s caretaker and partly because the ego feathers of the agency branch’s leadership were ruffled by my personality and manner of talking with my clients.  The agency, in the case cited above, was one of several which dealt with that man, and somehow they all dropped the ball, not knowing of each others’ presence in his life.  He remains a person whose only security comes when he is incarcerated.

I mention this, because in dealing with the mentally ill, each of us finds self in  a bind, of sorts.  When someone dear to me faced a severe mental illness, many years ago, I chose to address the matter head-on, but not address it alone.  There was a team of professionals, who helped solve many of the problems and it was left to me and others close to this person, to resolve  the rest.  We were, however, not left alone and the person has gone on to lead a masterful life.

I have had a few people present their issues to me, over the years, both in Phoenix and here in Prescott.  Two of these people stayed with my family and me, during the last two years of Penny’s life.  We were able to help one of them orient his life, but the other was a work in progress, when I moved to Prescott.  At that time, my own grief was still raw and I was the one who needed compassion.

Time passed, I was able to help one homeless man get situated and centered, albeit with some difficulty.  Once he trusted in the agencies with whom I put him in contact, things went better.  The second person I tried to help, at the behest of a mutual friend, turned out to be someone who had already tried all the resources I recommended, and was irritated by my personality and foibles, to the point where we are no longer in contact.

The beat goes on, and I am open to those who have difficulties, who don’t know to whom else to turn.  I will maintain, to anyone who is suffering mental or emotional health difficulties, to not rely on social media for resolution, nor to rely on any one person for same.  I am a loving soul, but I am also far from perfect and the last thing I want is for my own lifestyle, activity level or personal mental state (mild Asperger’s/autism) to waylay the progress of a person whose viewpoint, regarding  that progress, is at variance with how I see things.  I had a brief online conversation, this evening, with such a person. Besides, each of us is marvelous complex.

That individual is right about something, though.  Mental illness is anything but a laughing matter.  You will not find me including someone else’s affliction as a punchline, in my repertoire of jokes.  He’s also right about people paying attention to his problems.  That attention, first and foremost, needs to start with family and one, committed team of professionals, of the individual’s choosing, in consultation with family.  Random people, no matter how compassionate they are, can’t direct a suffering soul towards the light, in the way that family can.

The voices of the suffering will not be silenced and they will not “go quietly into that good night.”

What, Exactly, Is Kindness?

6

November 26, 2019-

Many years ago, I was present in a colleague’s classroom, when a distraught boy kicked and slammed a chair.  This was in the days when corporal punishment was still the norm, so it happened that my co-worker grabbed the boy’s arm and shook him, very hard. She told those of us who witnessed this, that he would remember this moment and be unlikely to repeat such a destructive behaviour.

I had my doubts about that, then, and still am doubtful.  The teacher has since passed on and the boy is now a 50-year-old man.  I have not seen him since I left the community where this took place.  He’s still up there, in that rural community, and I wonder if he remembers that incident.  I wonder how it affected his world view, and more directly, how it affected his raising of his own children.

I chose to physically punish my own child, prior to his adolescence, on a relatively few occasions.  None of those occasions saw me lose my self-control, yet I have often thought since, that there had to be better ways to correct his behaviour, than presenting myself as somehow more powerful, more dominant.

There was a song, in the late 1970’s, entitled “Cruel to Be Kind”.  While the songwriter included the phrase, “in the right measure”, I found myself disagreeing with the sentiment.  Nonetheless, there are occasions when, in order to save one’s own sanity and overall usefulness as a human being, it’s necessary to deny another person’s request.  None of us are perfect, after all, and there are times when a soul is unreasonable, in her/his expectations of others.  I dealt with such a person, four years ago; with another, last year and with yet a third, over the past weekend.  In each case, I was taking on a situation which would have been best handled by a team of people.  In the first instance, I was able to assemble such a group and the man lived his last years among us, in a fairly comfortable environment.  The other two- I was, and am, unable to help very much, as an individual.  Sometime, the issues are just too complex.

That said, there was also a time, six years ago, when I was the problematic one.  The person on whom I was fixated, handled the whole thing masterfully.  We reached a very quiet understanding,  and I made a promise that I have kept and will uphold for all eternity.  That person’s kindness has been a model for me, ever since.

Kindness, then, can assume many forms, though I daresay cruelty, in its true state, is never one of those forms.

A Few Rules for Self

8

November 25, 2019- 

I made it an enjoyable day, by setting a few rules for myself, a few days in advance of turning sixty-nine.  The more one takes care of self, the less likely it is that others can slip into the vacuum and divert attention from what matters.

I found myself trying to help another person,  yesterday afternoon, and only ended up feeling like I was about to tear out what’s left of my hair.  That’s not a direction in which I plan on heading again.

The first rule I have set for myself, therefore, is to limit my time on any one online discourse to twenty minutes, per day, maximum. I will make exceptions for my immediate family.  Time is far better spent, at least in my view, by doing things like walking, tending to my home, cooking and reading.

The second rule is to read at least an hour each day. I got away from that practice, a few years back and found it most rewarding to return to the printed page today.

The third rule is to not procrastinate about doing a task, just because it is novel to me.  Specifically, I have a new water system, involving a complicated piece of equipment.  Fortunately, there is a DVD that is likely to guide me through the process, certainly more than the confusing paper diagram.  I am one of those who doesn’t easily comprehend the tie between a piece of equipment and a wordless diagram.  It’ll get done, though.

It’s been a fine day, though.  I received my new driver’s license, good for another five years, and a document needed by a family member also arrived.  Thanksgiving plans appear set, and the last few days of being 68 look to be spent in fine weather, albeit rather windy weather.

Smelling The Roses

4

November 24, 2019-

For the longest time, I went through life being purposeful, and regarding taking time with non-essentials as a waste of time.  Even time in nature had to be for the purpose of reaching a goal.

Penny got me to slow down, just a bit, and to not  look at life as just a thing to be accomplished.  Since I wasn’t really all that ambitious, in the conventional sense, learning to relax and not be time-driven was actually refreshing.

Jordan Peterson’s twelfth rule for life is “If You See A Cat on The Road, Pet It.”.    Although many of the cats I’ve encountered in life are hardly willing to be petted, the sentiment is  a charming one.

Being semi-retired, I now take more time for the gentle pleasures of life.  Most of the people in my life understand this, and many say it’s high time. I have encountered a few who take umbrage at my pastimes, and their words sometimes trigger memories of my past.  This leads me to lash out, as I did in the earlier version of this post.  Time away, reading “Abby Wize”, brought me back down to the level at which I am in a better frame of mind.  Nobody likes being triggered, yet I need to keep above it.

That is the thing.  I have worked hard, at a number of endeavours, both professionally and socially.  I have earned a measure of taking time to smell the roses.  Lest anyone think I was playing the victim card earlier- think again.  Lest anyone think I am dodging social responsibility, think twice.  I  continue to be very much involved in community activities. That, to me, is part of taking time for what is beautiful in life.  Towards that end, I enjoy walking in our lovely town, spending much time in leisurely walks through nature.  I will continue to enjoy time with non-judgmental people.  I will pet animals, especially dogs, which enjoy that kind of attention.  As you may have guessed, I will also continue to travel widely, especially towards the late spring and summer months of next year.  As Dr. Peterson says, taking time for what is meaningful is what keeps us in good health, and even helps the sick to recover.

This concludes my first set of commentaries on the Twelve Rules for Life.