12/31/05: Another year; another year; and then .... In Giacomo Leopardi's famous dialog between a "Pedlar of Almanacks and a Wayfarer," (1829-1832) the Wayfarer asked the Pedlar if in all of his selling of next year's almanacs if he had come to any conclusions about the coming year. Wayfarer: "Do you believe that this new year will be a happy one?" Pedlar: "Oh yes, your lordship, certainly." The pedlar went on to predict that actually the new year would be much happier than the previous year. "Much, much more so," he said. However, when asked, if he would like the new year to resemble any of the recently past years, the Pedlar responded flatly, "That I should not." In fact in the 22 years he had been selling almanacs there was not even one year he would like to see repeated. Wayfarer: "Don't you remember any particular year, that you considered happy?" Pedlar: "None, in truth, your lordship." However, when asked if he could go back and live those twenty or so years over again, "and all of the rest of the past, too, from the day of your birth?" would he want to do that? Pedlar: "Oh, dear sir, would to God that one could!" Delving a little further into the matter the Wayfarer asked: "But, if you had to live precisely the same life over again, with all of the joys and sorrows you have known?" Pedlar: "That I shouldn't like." Then the Wayfarer asked if the pedlar thought that even Kings and the richest people would also not want to relive their lives exactly again. And, the Pedlar agreed that they also would not. Faced with the knowledge that everyone would want to have their life again, but absolutely not the same exact life over again, the Wayfarer asked: "But what life, then, would you wish for?" Pedlar: "I would like just such a life as God might send me, without any conditions." Wayfarer: "Just any life, about which you knew nothing beforehand, as we know nothing about the New Year?" Pedlar: "Just so."
So, whether the old year has treated you badly, in your opinion, or has treated you well, in your opinion; whether you believe that "evil" or "good" has come to you in a greater or lesser amount in the scale of your life; we all know in our hearts that if we HAD to live our life over exactly as it was again, second by second, that would not be our first choice. So, then what of the new year? The new year is NOT the life we've known, "but the life to come," as Leopardi concludes in his dialog with the Pedlar. The almanac we "buy" is up to us. The worst decision is to live the same year again. The best decision is to recognize that we don't know what is coming, and then to get ready, get excited and throw out all of our assumptions. Because in a world where we know we don't know what's going to happen, each of us, and what we do, can make a a big difference. There really isn't anyone who has ever said it better than another poet, William Ernst Henley, is his "Invictus:"
It matters not how strait the gate,
Or charged with punishments the scroll,
I am the master of my fate:
I am the captain of my soul.
So, then Happy New Year ... and you know what I mean.
12/20/05: "The Spirit of Christmas?" It all comes down to a culture of what .... giving or getting? The amazing zeugma for the season is to open our doors and our hearts to those who are not like us; those who don't love what we love; and those who by appearance are against what we favor and fashion in our homes at this time of year. "This time of year" doesn't mean just one happy holiday for there are many. And for those who have no holiday, the challenge is to leave them content with that. It all happens in the example we lead by: selfish or unselfish; exclusive or inclusive; judgemental or respectful. All of the "Merry Christmas vs. Happy Holidays" malarkey is symptomatic of this issue. If you are really expressing the Christmas spirit wouldn't you naturally say something that will be well received? Unless of course you don't care and really "Merry Christmas" to you is a pronouncement of your religiosity and not an expression of your love for all. I have actually heard a person say, "To hell with them, I'm going to say "Merry Christmas anyway!" I've heard people and politicians say that a Christmas tree is not a religious symbol. Well ... why then do they only appear during the Christian high holiday? I've never seen one on a Valentine's day or an Independence Day. The craziness of "equal display" of a Menorah and a Christmas tree completely overlooks the fact that a Menorah is not a decoration, but part of a sacred religious ceremony. So when Christians stick up a Menorah as a token pass for their aggressive display of their beloved Christmas Tree does that express the Christmas spirit or actually a total disregard for it? All arguments to the contrary, there is no argument: keep your religion to yourself in every way except your example. If only words would do it, then what would the world's religion be? Probably intemperate prejudice and bigotry. But wait ... perhaps it's already true when religions condemn and kill each other; when priests and ministers condemn and criticize. Maybe we've already arrived at the world where words speak louder than actions. My Mom told me that would never happen.
Christmas is a celebration of a beginning. If the birth of Jesus of Nazareth represents anything at all, it represents the beginning of the triumph of spirituality over materialism. Jesus asked us to love one another and to "judge not." He didn't care for the priesthood and hypocrisy of talking but not practicing true faith. He walked the Earth without any material possessions or material income. His only prayer began with the word "Our." He could have said, "My Father ...." He could have said, "Your Father...." But he said, "Our Father...." The first word of the most famous single prayer in the world says it all. The spirit of Christmas is an inclusive faith in good. Good in everyone and in everything. If all who practice Christmas would truly hold that wonderful thought in their hearts for the next year with no condemning, no self-righteous hypocrisy, and no exceptions, 2006 would be the year of years. So, short of bringing in the new millennium of peace on Earth and good will towards men, maybe you and I could just practice our individual faith. Because that's where the spirit really lives ... within each of us. As he said, "The Kingdom of Heaven is within you."
Happy Holidays. And, I really mean it.
11/24/05: Thanksgiving is a time of rebellion. Gratitude today is a feeling of appreciation in a world so vast and full of callousness and dismissal that most of us retreat into the rich details of our individual lives like turtles warming on rocks in a pond near the construction of a new shopping mall. It's a feeling that all is well when the macabre history of humanity's inhumanity continues all around us like a tornado sweeping through one of those ubiquitous and particularly unfortunate trailer parks that always fall in the path of most intense destruction. It's a true act of rebellion. It's an insurgency that sweeps America every third Thursday in November. And Thanksgiving is not what it appears to be. Oh, those feasts prepared are incidental. Thanksgiving is the one meal of the year when the food really just doesn't matter. It is a day of insurrection. A day when people cast aside their normal systemic acceptance of drudgery and pessimism and put on the mantle of prophets and seers, look into the future and pronounce it bright with continued happiness and full of prospects for increasing prosperity. They set aside year-long animosities and genuinely hug people they generally dislike. Women sometimes watch football and men sometimes do the dishes. Children sit at a table using cutlery and place settings which would never be entrusted to them on lesser occasions. And they don't break anything. They actually behave themselves. A revolution within a revolution. In surveys conducted over many Thanksgivings it's a proven fact that in expressing gratitude in those inevitable "round the table" moments, a nearly universal comment is an expression of gratitude for the year just past. Imagine that. Think back over all the complaining you've heard in the last twelve months and now witness, today, the very thing just mentioned. A second expression of hope around the table that appears in all cross tabulations of these studies is a fervent hope that the coming year will be a continuation of this one. "For next year, I hope and pray that we all stay together and all of the wonderful things in our lives continue." This orison is equally predictable in rich and poor, healthy and infirmed, the wildly successful and the non-accomplished. Whatever one's station in life, Thanksgiving's Orwellian rebellion newspeaks its inexorable way without failure. Who would sit and say, before the cornucopia's profuse tableau, "My life sucks?" Oh, it can happen of course within the margin of error, but who wants to live in that penumbra of self pity against the light of acceptance and hope that this American original holiday offers us all? Apparently, not too many. And there's another aspect of this rebellion: for all intents and purposes ... unanimity. Unorchestrated by politicians and commentators, this band of brothers and sisters plays to the rhythm of a wand of the heart. It sweeps across the land and a near perfect harmony ensues from coast to coast. Imagine that. It's a revolution. It's an upheaval. And it's a reveal of something that no reality television or big production movie has ever really captured in its essence, although to give them credit, they have tried. Thanksgiving is not a day, it's the way. It's the way we really are. It's the way we really want to be. And in matters human, as history has proven, the only thing that stands between us and what we really want is our fear and its most effective tool: inaction. And yet, on this day, Thanksgiving, fear is cast aside as we gather together in the most effective action there is -- sharing the greatest nourishment of all for feeding the human spirit: loving one another. Instead of raising our fists, we raise a glass. Instead of pointing fingers and rifles, we point our spoons at the gravy bowl and smile across the table. Oh, that this day were as a thousand years. Enjoy every second of it. In thanksgiving and only in thanksgiving does revolution truly occur. Thanksgiving Day is hopeful, affirming and progressive. A revolution in the gravy bowl. Dig in. Cherish every morsel. You are home.
11/9/05: Why progressive politics is so important (especially for conservatives). Given a choice, you'd probably choose a conservative Republican to be your tax accountant. I know I would. But, for an advertising agency you'd probably be looking for someone who is not so neat, not so tightened up. Because, in matters human, for a guide, you'd be looking for a creative type, someone who loses things, watches three TVs at once, has myriad interests none of which relate to business profit building, but do relate to adventure and experience. You'd want someone who loves people, loves to party, loves to love. You'd want someone who's somewhat out of control. Interesting lives come from interesting, creative people. Good tax returns come from intensely focused people. Now, the question is, "Who do you want building the future of mankind?" For some, life is just an amiable abattoir; for others it is a festival of lights. Some agree with Norman Vincent Peale, "Throw your heart over the fence and the rest will follow." But few of them are politicians. To "Throw your heart over the fence..." is positive moral courage. Remember that "negative moral courage" is far, far easier than "positive moral courage." How much easier is it to say, "Don't..." than "Do..."? Don'tists merely rely on outcomes of the past to guide the future: don't do anything for the first time, making us all prisoners of their own minds. Doists launch off into an unknown heavy and fraught with mistakes and chance: leaders who break open the safe shell of stagnancy and poke their heads into a world beyond. And just one last word on this: progressive thinking has a higher faith than conservative thinking. Faith in what has been done is a lesser faith than faith in what can be done but has never been done. It's the societal equivalent of adventure, meaning the attempt of something we are not sure we can do. It is only in those attempts that our society has the chance for true progress. Creativity is to see what everyone else has seen, and then think what no one else has ever thought. Progressive thinking is the one tool true leadership must have: this is not a semantic challenge requiring Rovian spin, rather it is a true challenge of character and faith. Is it any wonder that it seems so rare?
11/2/05: Just one day. To distract everyone from the "leak investigation," the President announced a "Bird Flu" initiative to prepare for a pandemic; actually he caused a panic. The Democrats in desperation to out the truth on how we were misled into a Iraqi quagmire used one of the long-standing rules of the Senate to get attention to this issue, long stonewalled by "The distinguished Republican Senator from Kansas." After years of treating the Democrats like dirt, the Republican leadership proclaimed "personal insult" the result of this legal action put in place for just such a situation. The newest Supreme Court nominee, causing glee in "conservative" circles (really right-wing religious zealot circles) took a hard stand that a woman, raped or abused by her husband must "notify" him of her intention to seek an abortion. In reality, he should already know; it's not as if there are no signals in that sort of thing. Because of Iraqi and the stupendous expenditures we are making there, our aid to Malawi and Zimbabwe, where millions face the horrifyingly slow death of starvation will be delayed until very late this year (too late). The Bush Administration has decided to ship by sea. It is needed right now. The funds needed are in excess of $400 million. America is parsimoniously allocating $48 million worth of corn. The Republican Leader in the House has succeeded in getting the sitting judge on his corruption case replaced with a Republican, and he wants to move the case's venue to a Republican district, and that will probably happen as well. The sitting judge has an excellent record of fairness and toughness on both Republicans and Democrats. No ostensive reason for replacement. Except the obvious one, of course. It turns out that America now has the CIA running "Black Location" prisons around the world to circumvent the rule that it cannot imprison people in America. No problem, our empire stretches around the world, plenty of places to conduct this sort of work. Remember, Saddam once worked for us. The President is dropping everything tonight to have dinner with Charles and Camilla. I'm sure they will all eat really well and enjoy the feeling of royalty. The Pentagon publishes a list of health care applications for civilians in Iraqi and only by searching tediously through these records over the past year has The New York Times been able to estimate that almost 500 American civilians have been killed in combat in addition to the 2028 soldiers now on the books. Halliburton, in a reply, stated that the numbers were higher than that. The Arctic tundra continues to disappear as heat-trapping gases accumulate in the atmosphere over the poles. The United States continues, officially, to ignore this. The President is preparing to leave on Thursday for South America where he is held in almost total disdain. In Argentina and Brazil massive demonstrations, potentially violent ones, are waiting for him everywhere he goes. "Bush is a torturer, a violator of human rights and a murderer, who does not respect United Nations resolutions, international treaties, or the sovereignty of peoples..." said Adolfo Perez Esquivel, a Nobel Prize winner. "He is not welcome and he should be repudiated." Vice President Cheney's loss of "Scooter" Libby has resulted in the ascension of David S. Addington, a master of bureaucracy and secrecy; he is known for relentless avoidance of interviews and photographs. If Libby was Cheney's Cheney, then Addington is Cheney's Cheney's Cheney (according to Maureen Dawd). Despite the brouhaha over "Brownie ya did a heck of a job," the Bush Administration has now appointed a long-time friend of the President's (a crony?), Donald E. Powell, a banker, to oversee the rebuilding of the Gulf Coast devastated by Katrina and Rita. He was one of the leading fund raisers for the Bush 2000 campaign. "Business as usual," said a discouraged Senator from Massachusetts. The Senator pointed out that this appointment has absolutely no salient experience for the job. The Administration proclaimed Mr. Powell "has the leadership, ideas, and optimism that the residents of the Gulf Coast region deserve." An inquiry into the activities of the famed lobbyist, Jack Abramoff, is now including Secretary of the Interior Gale A. Norton and her former aide, J. Steven Griles. It concerns bribes and tribes including the Jena Choctaws and the Coushattas. A Republican panel of legislators is recommending huge cuts in mortgage deductions which will impact millions of Americans. Today homeowners can deduct their mortgage interest, under the new plan only 15 percent would be deductible. Another proposal by the panel is to raise tax rates for almost everyone, except of course people in the highest tax bracket. The top one percent will actually have another windfall. Where have you heard that before? A new White House plan on Health Insurance includes $10 billion in breaks for insurers, not the insured. And if you think that reading this news summary from just the front section of just one newspaper was a little tedious and demoralizing, imagine living it here and around the world for another 28 months. And, remember also, this is just one day.
10/31/05: Halloween is scary this year. Did you know that Thurgood Marshall rose to the Supreme Court largely because of his amazing legal presentations during the hearings on Brown v. The Board of Education? He was appointed because of his brilliance in the defense and definition of the 14th Amendment. That would never happen today. Scary. Do you remember our Quote of the Day today. "We have nothing to fear but fear itself"? Today, fear is how we govern. Scary. Today the Administration that hounded the last President for seven years over misstatements and in appropriate actions about sex and money, protests indignantly as those same principles are applied to its horrible lies and misstatements that led to the deaths of probably 100,000 people and continues as of this writing. Scary. Do you realize that as gasoline prices begin to crimp our quality of life that the leaders of this country, almost all oil barons, watch silently as Big Oil rakes in money in such vast quantities as to be almost incomprehensible? $10 billion in three months, and that's just one of the big oil companies. Scary. Did you notice that despite the embarrassing mismanagement of federal agencies run by totally unqualified cronies the Bush Administration has again nominated another one, Ellen Sauerbrey (his Texas state campaign chairman in 2000), to head the State Department's Humanitarian Bureau, which oversees human rights and issues of assistance around the globe? Scary. Have you noticed that as Bush's ratings have plummeted, the saber-rattling towards Syria and Iran has increased? Scary. And, finally, as the professional and well-run investigation into the brutal leak of CIA covert agent identities proceeds with the indictment of the Vice President's Chief of Staff and the in-the-cross-hairs focus on the President's true Chief of Staff, the President and the Vice President, who clearly must have been the overlords of this sad incident that resulted in deaths of CIA "assets," strut around talking about legislative agendas (cuts to pay for war and disasters that should have and could have been either avoided or ameliorated by honest and progressive leadership)? Scary. So, this year when the kids ring your doorbell and say, "Trick or Treat!" be generous with your candy and remember their masks come off tonight as they get home and start to enjoy your treats. America's mask will stay on for another 28 months. Now, that is scary.
10/23/05: Calendars. Each year I prepare a year-at-glance calendar (large and small) and post it on the front page of legendinc.com. When I first started doing that I noticed in the hit report that it became one of those things that people download, or view, all the time from our site. I mean really. In 2005 it has happened around 5000 times. So, for 2006 I've also made two printable pdfs (large and small), in addition to the quick-loading full-sized jpg for online viewing. What will happen? Who knows? But it interests me that people are looking for free calendars. I recently had an inquiry for a "blank box calendar." I'm working on it. It would be a downloadable pdf with 365 little 4.5x5.5 pages, one for each day (click here for a sample). The downloader would have to cut them out (but I'm including the crop marks and setting them up on an 8.5 x 11 sheet to make it easier) and then put them in a box of their own (I'm looking for an online box company). Again, who knows? But, I do know that 50 million hits in ten years and 25 million just this year means something. What we do here is encourage. I basically spend all of my time doing that. It's not just wide-eyed encouraging either, it's more methodical than that, and it's based on a lifetime of trial and error. I love the thought that people are looking for calendars for next year to get organized and to help predict their own futures. Take the bull by the horns, as the saying goes. Encourage that in everyone you meet. There is every reason to be optimistic and there's every reason to expect good in the future. And, there is no better instrument than a blank calendar. I love that person looking for a blank box calendar. She was interested in writing out her own days. She was taking charge. No more "word of the day," or "recipe of the day" for her. She had her own words and her own recipes ready for 2006 and just wanted some place to write them down. Every person has everything they need for a happy life. Do you believe that? If you do, get out your calendars and start writing your own future. Next year will be the best year of your life. And next year, when you get to October 23 and click on legendinc.com to see what the Blog of the Day is, you may find that things are very different; that the word "calendars," has a much different meaning. Instead of a blank page which you used passively as the days went swiftly by, it may have become a pallet which you have used to paint a life of many colors, enriching each day for all it was worth. Sometimes I just sit here at my desk and stare at my copy of those calendars I post: it's push-pinned on my little bulletin board in front of me. Now I have 2005 folded down to just the last three months and underneath that there is the brand new 2006 in all its unfolded glory. I look at them in wonder. Those months now folded away -- so much and so many things, people, and places happened, it is almost incomprehensible -- and the new 12 months waiting; it excites me with wonder. We are given so much and the challenge is to accept as much as possible. To do as much as possible. To enjoy everything. I mean that. In 2005 my sister passed on, I saw friends injured and killed, I travelled to failures and to successes, made mistakes and won victories. Looking back I relish it all. Life is all in how we think. It is not all in what happens. The greatest gift ever given is an open mind and we all start with that: some close it down as the years go by, others keep it ever wider open. The good news is that wherever your mind is it can always open more. Calendars offer promise of more to come: keep the promise.
10/16/05: There are two kinds of people. Those who put themselves first and those who put others first. The former are always concerned with power and money. The latter are always concern with love and all of its variegations. It's just that simple and it's just that complicated. Which kind of person do you want to be? Which kind of person do you want as a chef in your favorite restaurant, over flying the plane, or running the country? Which kind would you want to be married to? Which kind is your spouse married to? One walks into the room and says, "Here I am." Another walks into a room and says, "There you are." One watches the news and says, "Thank God it's not me." Another watches the news and wonders what it's like for them, how will they get through it, what can be done to prevent it again. One walks into the voting booth and pulls the lever that's best for them. Another walks into the booth and pulls the lever that's best for others. One calculates his or her taxes and studies ways to avoid. Another pays his or her taxes hoping it helps others. One sits in a classroom listening for advantage. Another sits in a classroom hoping to learn. One walks down the street thinking how bad things look. Another picks up the butt of a filter cigarette and looks for a barrel. One always demands the channel is set to her or his show. Another learns to like what others like. One always acts one way in public and another way in private. Another acts in private as in public, knowing no other way. One looks you in the eye when persuading and away when being asked for help. Another always lets you look into his or her eyes no matter what. One prays on Sunday and preys the other days. One prays second by second every day. All of the world's problems have been caused by one kind of person. All of the world's true wonders have been created by the other. Which are you? Remember, it's a struggle every day. Be kind to every one you meet: they are also working hard on this.
9/23/05: The Beaufort Scale and measuring our moment. Admiral, Sir Francis Beaufort, K.C.B. was an extraordinary individual, who from injury and pain, went on to a career almost unparalleled in British naval history. His 1831 13-degree Windforce scale is still in use today. With apologies to a great, great mind, here is an adaptation his widely used scale of windforce into something else, perhaps useful in today's changing world climate:
The Thirteen-Degree Bloviation Scale of Politics.
0 Calm Virtually no political activity. Peace, harmony and prosperity among the people and nations reign; happiness, the pursuit of. 1 Light air There is minor poltical activity, just enough to keep things moving, to give "steerage way," as Admiral Beaufort would say 2 Light breeze Still a smooth movement, politicians are active but still positive in guidance, helping things move cooperatively forward. People are still varied in activity, politicians walk among them freely. 3 Gentle breeze Slightly more activity, some urging in directions perhaps not obviously desired by all hands, shall we say. Politicians move among the people, but less often and for shorter periods. 4 Moderate breeze Politicians start to meet some resistance, but nothing too worrisome, but the "handling" stiffens up. Some voices are raised, some resistance is noted and quietly dealt with. Steady as she goes. Still good times, but lookouts note clouds on the horizon. 5 Fresh breeze Still all working together, all resources deployed in a common cause. However, some aspect of forced coordination and urgency is now being applied. Politicians' voices can be heard as work is replacing harmony, although still highly manageable. 6 Strong breeze Louder voices are now heard, stridency in political statements is increasing, grumblings of discontent first appear. Urgency increases. Work loads increasing. Harmony less important than the overall goal. Politicians are busy at this stage. 7 Moderate gale Some resources are tighened up and set aside as the bloviation increases. People are bending to their work with less enthusiasm as the stress increases. Things begin to happen faster and faster, as the overall activity is trimmed to a finer and finer purposes. A constant howl of political voices and demands of the state are increasing. Less "resistance" is allowed. Clouds now arrive overhead. 8 Fresh gale Things are getting serious, calls for patriotism increase, loyalty and proper speech are emphasized forcefully: fear among the people appears, workers begin to question things. Politicians in control. 9 Strong gale The state assumes primacy, politicians are in complete command. Every one is watching what they say and do. Politicians begin to appear with less frequency among the people and spend more and more time together behind closed doors, Work is harder and harder for the people, less personal time, more stress, job security worries increase. People begin to see friends in hard times, families in poverty and unemployed. 10 Whole gale No matter what actions are taken matters still get worse. People and politicians are far apart and now the people are divided into two groups: those in favor and those who are not in favor. Live improves for the former and worsens drastically for the latter. All tools of the state and the voices of the politicians are now focused on control and information management. There in no break in the sense of emergency. 11 Storm Everything is tightened down, no movements without permission, politicians have assumed overarching powers, and are remote from the difficulties and trials of the people, who now do nothing but work and try to find rest. The ill winds are dominant, society is at a standstill, politics is everything, information is not to be trusted or believed. Life is a grind for the people, the politicians say that things are getting better. Visibility is zero, the howling bloviation winds are all that can be heard. 12 Hurricane Nothing can withstand this. Everything is being destroyed. The politicians are screaming at the top of their lungs (full level 12 bloviation) but no one can hear. Seeking refuge and survival takes the place of everything. Complete breakdown of order. Politicians disappear. 13 Dawn Virtually no political activity. Quiet. The people begin to pick up the pieces. The politicians pose as victims.
9/16/05: "I take responsibility." What that means is the riddle of the ages for some. For others it means a loss of freedom, incarceration, financial ruin, divorce or it can of course mean genuine effort, trust-building and true leadership. "The highest destiny of the individual is to serve rather than to rule." (Albert Einstein) So, in the case of our national leader, he actually accepted responsibility when he took the oath of office. "I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will faithfully execute the office of President of the United States, and will to the best of my ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States." Now, the question is, did George W. Bush actually violate his oath of office? Yes, he did. He appointed a coterie of characters from his political campaigns and turned FEMA and other vital agencies in our government into "turkey farms," as they are referred to in inner circles of the administration. "The first method for estimating the intelligence of a ruler is to look at the men he has around him." Appointments in politics are the very proof we need –perhaps the only proof there will ever be– that our President is actually preserving, protecting and defending our Constitution. If appointments of inept and unqualified people and cronies result in unnecessary death and destruction then clear it is that the oath was insincere. And where is the appointment that shines in this administration? Vice President? Secretary of State, Treasury, Defense, Homeland Security, EPA, Attorney General, Interior, Commerce, Labor, Health and Human Services, Housing and Urban Development, Transportation, Energy, Education, and Veterans' Affairs? They are all political/crony appointments and none of them but two (Defense and State) have the credentials and experience to hold their office with esteem, and none of them are actually doing a great job for the nation. But the appointment embarrassment goes deeper and deeper: United Nations and all Ambassadors, assistants and sub assistants in all departments, plus the entire White House staff. And, in New Orleans, it finally became obvious to everyone that "Brownie, you're doin' a great job!" was the thin veneer covering a judgment and appointment atrocity of biblical scale. The "blame game" strategy did hold any more water than the levees on the Mississippi, although the stubborn defense by the administration was more impressive. But, if the appointments are despicable, how good can the policies be? If the policies are unworthy, then what effect and on whom does this administration have? John Edwards said it best, if tediously overbearing at times: "Today, under George W. Bush, there are two Americas, not one: One America that does the work, another America that reaps the reward. One America that pays the taxes, another America that gets the tax breaks. One America that will do anything to leave its children a better life, another America that never has to do a thing because its children are already set for life. One America -- middle-class America - whose needs Washington has long forgotten, another America - narrow-interest America - whose every wish is Washington's command. One America that is struggling to get by, another America that can buy anything it wants, even a Congress and a President." On this note: who do you think is actually going to benefit most from the clean up along our glorious Gulf Coast: Bechtel and Halliburton, by no-bid contracts, of course. Another 200 billion dollars. John Edwards made his speech on eve of 2004 in Iowa, He said one other thing that day: "This President has done a lot of damage in the last four years, and he'll do a lot worse if we let him have four more." So, when George W. Bush said: "Katrina exposed serious problems in our response capability at all levels of government and to the extent the federal government didn't fully do its job right, I take responsibility," what exactly did that mean? Did it mean that he will change? Doubt it. Did it mean that he will accept financial and criminal responsibility? Doubt that too. Did it mean that he said it to divert criticism but it actually had no meaning at all? Yes, that's it. So we have presidential challengers who told the truth and we didn't listen. We have a President who doesn't tell the truth and we believe him. What kind of a situation is that? What kind of a country, simply stated, has one class of citizens that is considered superior to another based upon income, creed or national origin? The preferred class lives in a true republic while the others in a far different social, economic, and political environment. What kind of state is that? Do you know? Here's a hint: the leaders "take responsibility" because they know they are unassailable; they know it doesn't mean anything. Control is what matters, not words.
9/8/05: When you wish upon a star... Makes no difference who you are. Jiminy Cricket sang that stanza on every Walt Disney television show. Many of us heard it over and over and over. And, some of us came to believe it. There is a certain underpinning of equalitarian expectation in mankind, and just exactly where did that come from? Our history is not directionally indicative, at least on the surface where we all dwell. There are metahistorians who see a trend of gathering consensus, but their visions are certainly not dispositive in any way. Even thinking deeply about it, century to century, those visionaries proclaimed the 20th century to begin with 'peace in our time,' when in fact it became the bloodiest century of them all (and that contest was rift with tough competition). But, all of that not withstanding, we still expect to be treated fairly; this shows in our indignation when the reverse occurs, no matter how small it comes, or how often. We still are disappointed and incensed every time (subliminally or overtly, it doesn't matter). And this happens cross-gender, cross-nationality, cross-race, and without regard to geography, demography, or philosophy. Human beings will never resign their essential equality; we suffer, we revolt, we compromise, we bargain and beg but we never totally give up. I know it looks like it sometimes, and maybe even it feels like it sometimes, but that we know it is potentially happening proves that we haven't capitulated entirely yet. And this really needs no further study because you know it's true. So, here comes today. What are we going to make of it? We have our problems, but we're still fighting. We have our overwhelming challenges, but we're not giving up. Our relationships are twisted and heading into oblivion, but we'll untwist them and turn them around today. It's really the oldest battle in the world. Gluttony, Greed, Sloth, Envy, Rath, Pride, Lust vs. Abstinance, Liberality, Diligence, Patience, Kindness, Humility, Chastity. The Seven Cardinal Sins vs. the Seven Cardinal Virtues. Prudentius (c. 410) and St. Thomas Aquinas (1270) wrote of these things. Centuries have passed, and have we discovered any new "sins" or "virtues?" No. We try to redefine them and we discover new ways to embrace or avoid them, but nothing new in this department has appeared since the beginning of time. Well, maybe there has been one thing on the good side: the Internet. It makes available to anyone who can get their hands on an access device the information needed to aid the struggle. Enter a proper search string and you will find a preponderance of argument on the good side of any ethical struggle. Oh, there are those, shall we say, countervailing elements too, but there is no subject where the bad guys win on the Internet. Test out my theory on anything. It's true. The Internet is not receptive, qualitatively or quantitatively, to negative arguments; which leads us back to the idea mentioned above of "a certain underpinning of equalitarian expectation in mankind." We all know. Jiminy Cricket's song ends with this stanza:
Like a bolt out of the blue
Fate steps in and sees you through
When you wish upon a star
Your dreams come true
Who among you would ever take a child aside and tell her or him that that is absolutely not true? I rest my case.
8/28/05: Signs of Life. Sometimes they seem to be missing, really. T. S. Eliot said in 1963 that television, "is a medium of entertainment which permits millions of people to listen to the same joke at the same time, and yet remain lonely." That is also perhaps an insightful analogy of modern life. We seem to be able to continue in the old ways of quantitative thinking when every evidence presented in every method of presentation known to humanity tells its convincing evidence that qualitative thinking is what's needed. Gas prices are a good directional model (but there are many more). We're thinking price in terms of money, when we should be thinking price in terms of values and life styles. What if all of the ridiculously squandered money spent on just advertising the appeal of internal combustion engines surrounded by absurdly "luxurious" metal and plastic squanderings of resources (not to mention the mining, drilling, manufacturing and intellectual squanderings that preceded the insanely ubiquitous marketing) for the past nearly 100 years had been spent of free public transportation? Well one obvious answer is that anyone in America would now be able to step out of his or her residence and travel to anywhere in comfort and ease for free. Sound ridiculous? Well, in 2004 three American car companies spent almost $6 billion on advertising (5.935). General Motors alone sold 16 million new cars in 2004. Worldwide the automobile business (sales) probably approaches 250 billion dollars. What if we had a base of cash like (times forever) that to begin converting tracks and highways to public transportation? And don't think it wouldn't be popular. Those lanes for car pools are expanding everywhere and that's just because they are less congested. What if those were devoted to high speed, free, comfortable public transportation? Get the idea? Imagine that instead of an uncomfortable car seat (they are all uncomfortable in time) you got a room with a bathroom, a couch, a TV, internet access, a refrigerator, coffee maker, and time to relax and enjoy the ride? Would that be worth paying nothing for? As opposed to sitting in a $30,000 clot of America's finest and most precious life blood resources stuck in a traffic jam as far as the eye can see and for as long as the mind can imagine? Is there anyone out there that can see a solution based on cars, cars, and more cars? Now look around at quantitative thinking's death grip on diplomacy, education (no child left with imagination), organized religion, sports, and even love as we know it. There isn't room in this blog to detail it, but there should be room in your head. So, think about the last time you said to yourself, "I'm lonely. I'm not getting enough _____ (fill in the blank)." And then ask yourself when was the last time you asked yourself, "What have I done for others unselfishly lately? Am I giving enough unselfish _____ (fill in the blank)." Unselfish love, unselfish association (inclusivity), unselfish thinking vs. selfish love (never get enough), selfish associations (exclusivity), selfish thinking (luxury, wealth, hoarding and gluttony of all kinds). We have so much and yet remain so lonely. Find a shore you cannot see and set sail for it. Make a friend you do not know and be loyal. Think of others and forget your "self," and the signs of life will be everywhere and you will see them in everyone. Because finally you've found them in the last place we all look: within.
8/22/05: Imagine What We Think. Always remember that the truth you want may not be true. It's really normal to believe things that are not true; it's human nature. Is it all that unusual for you to notice, as you say something, that it's not the whole truth and nothing but the truth? Imagine what we think? Individualism is all about being free in our minds. We form groups for only one purpose: to control the individual bias we all bring to things. Group selection is topic of its own: but the one rule good groups follow is that there must be a super-majority of people with seemingly irreconcilable opinions. Otherwise, why form up at all? And what is the urge to overcome all of these opinions and build a consensus? One word: progress. Moving towards a goal, means having a "goal," not just a desire or a want. People move towards goals together. Individuals have wants and desires. So, remember that your desires and wants may not always be true. Ask yourself would I still express the same want or desire on the floor of the United States Senate on national television? Or would I try to find some loftier goal that might include my own desires in the "good of all?" Most of us don't have access to national television, so in our smaller circles we assume a posture of certainty. Ameliorate that. Remember that on our own we could be petty, we could be selfish, we could be wrong. Together we have a chance; if we include people with whom we don't agree. Without opposition there can be no consensus. Without putting others first there can be no freedom.
8/9/05: Enable Good. This really should be a worldwide movement. It's such a good cause. And the anniversary of it could to be today. August 9th. Actually, it's one of the most significant dates in human history. It's a date when everything changed. And it could happen again, only in a good way this time. The idea of enabling good is pretty simple: we have to make way for good. In our own lives first. So much time is wrapped up in exigencies of daily life and in worries and dread and fear even. So, we have to, have to, have to make a little room for good. Just as I have made room in this article for the little logo to the right, we all need to find a little room in every moment -- that's the key -- for good: we have to enable good in our every moment. Oh, it's easy to do it once a day, or twice a day. But to consciously open up a little space in our space-time-continuum for good all the time, that's a real trick. It starts with acknowledging good when you see it. We certainly acknowledge bad when we see it; but is there not always good there too? Think of the horror of terror around the world; is there not good in all those television broadcasts, too. Of course. We see the caring people caring and the helping people helping; be sure not to linger in the anger too long; enable good by even in the midst of grief seeing lessons learned, lives rededicated, and memories enriched. When you wake up, don't immediately start mapping out all the problems you have to deal with: just for a split second acknowledge that the day has some good potential in it: enable good as you start each thought. I know it's not easy. But ask yourself if filling your thoughts with initial impulses of enabling good, and THEN going on with the same-old ways (if you have to) ... won't that potentially enable a little more good in your day? And, if you're all set yourself in this department, then begin Phase Two: enabling good in others. When that boss from hell comes storming in full of flagellation and recrimination, smile and enable the moment with a little good. When the driver goes by with finger in the wind, enable good by easing over and making his hard, hard way through his hard, hard day and little easier. As he goes racing by honking the angry horn or goosing the pedal to the metal, say to yourself: "I hope he gets home safely." When you notice someone who is alone, different, needy, confused, hurting or anything where you can help, help. In other words, allow true thoughts to come in first. Stay true and let the bad pass through. Enable good. Since it's all in your head, what have you got to lose? This movement is about thinking. So, spend today concentrating on enabling good in yourself and in others, in every situation, and you will have a better day. Have a better day. You can do it.
8/1/05 Am I the only one without a prepared script? Listening to others it sometimes seems to me that they have a prepared script from which they are reading. Answers flow so easily, the words all concatenate perfectly. It all comes together so sublimely and ends with a bright whitened smile and a beautiful blink of the eyes to punctuate. It often leaves me speechless. And that is sometimes taken for agreement; for no reason. It's like the powers that be were handing out all the formulas for life and I was not present. Watching leaders of our country on television, they all have scripts, too. For every prepared question there's an equal or opposite prepared answer. Just rolls right off the tongue. But, no, not for me. I get tongue-tied and confused. I see so many answers it takes me a while to figure out which way to go. In fact, it's sometimes hours afterwards that I finally come to grips with what I SHOULD have said. But by then its way over. I like to watch television, you know, because it helps me with this problem. Every thing on television is scripted, sorted, edited and reedited. So, there is the perfect place to gather some good lines for almost any purpose. Sometimes the actors say something that is so perfect for the moment that I actually write it down for future use. But, here's the mystery: when the moment comes I absolutely positively never ever think of it. It's like a blank. Later, of course, I think of it, but in the situational moment ... I'm always on my own; no script. Thinking this over (rationalizing) I have come to the conclusion that I have no formula with which to approach all problems. No safety net. No easy answers ever occur to me. I always feel like I'm standing in that hall of mirrors where the reflections bend away in ever smaller infinity. Do you know that feeling? I see how everything depends on everything else and perception over shadows all. It's impossible for me to actually contribute to the final solution of anything. I can be a big help, though, in moving things along. But in my world everything is new, there is no "known." How could there be? Everything is changing so fast, perceptions are widening, narrowing, altering, elongating, bending back on themselves and shooting out of sight, winding ever smaller off into infinity and then reappearing right smack in front of me, then poof, gone again. That's what I see. I would make a bad actor. Oh, and one last thing, I've been writing a book for over 15 years. Last night I was reading "The Half-Blood Prince," in bed and realized that the author had actually planned out the book this time. I'm not sure that J.K. Rowling planned out her first book (I'm sure of that one) and then the others became increasingly formulaic (but I've enjoyed them all). This last one (I'm on page 163) revealed its planned-out nature immediately to me. I could never write a book I knew the ending of. It would be too boring. I can't write a poem I know the ending of. To me, what would be the point in writing that? Life is a exploration, an adventure in discovery. So then writing and everything else must be the same. To start to write or do anything that I actually knew the outcome of would be insane. You probably knew that. But, hey, JK has made millions and millions and all I have is a book I love to write, a bunch of unpublished poems, and an unbelievable group of people who come to legendinc.com all the time and spend an average of over twenty minutes per visit. Maybe there's a sort of unscripted bond formed here. We all get together but we don't know why. Now, that interests me.
7/19/05: The World of is is. There should be a rule that no one can condemn anyone for something they themselves have done or might well do in the same situation. There would come over the world a vast silence. Hypocrisy. Is there a word you would like less to be accused of? And yet there are so many places where that battle is waiting. Can you fight them all? They say "sin is its own punishment." And they say, "virtue is its own reward." If sin is just things that don't work (my definition) and virtue is just things that do, then what's the logical thing to do? But, there's that leap of faith again. We like the easy way out. It's human nature. You know it. But once you arrive at some philosophical beginning like loving one another as the raison d'être of all humanity, then the race is on to find the right way out, not the easy way. I've heard that the state of the clergy of a nation reflects the state of the nation itself, and why not? But, in a democracy, politicians also reflect the state of the people of the nation. The current administration, however you want to perceive them, exists in a world of some facts undeniable: election controversy, war, economic stagnation, unemployment manipulation, favoritism and obscurity, and international confusion. And, could we add hypocrisy without being controversial? At least in the case of Karl Rove? Whatever happened to what's good for the goose is good for the gander? It all depends on what is is, doesn't it? Parsing up the language and serving it as ala carte instead of a complete dish doesn't make it taste any better. They should have followed the new commandment: Thou shalt not condemn another for what you have done or might do in the same situation. Or, the second new commandment which is like unto it: Thou shalt understand. There are two kinds of people in the world: those who put themselves first and those who put others first. The latter have two basic motivations: power and money. The former have only one motivation: love. Which one are you? There is still time. But only if you know what is is.
7/9/05: Metaphysics. Have you ever been standing next to someone when they were suddenly frightened and their fright jumped right over to you, too? Do you think that one who is constantly worrying, fretting, and talking about getting sick is more likely to get sick than one doesn't do that? When then, you are working in the world of "beyond physical" in the world of metaphysics: a difficult and intuitive field to be sure ... and while meant to be, it's probably not for everyone. But here's a place to start: stop right now arguing for the prosecution and take up your own defense. Take a stand to stand with you, not with the opposition to you. Unless of course you're wrong, but you can't always be wrong so somewhere there's a place to start. Find it. The first question is the nature of good and evil. Which is stronger? Good of course, and history proves it not by having no evil, but by having a record of overcoming evil. It's a constant battle, but when in historic terms has evil ever won: in the world or in you? So, there we have the first metaphysical fact: good is stronger. The next question is the nature of man: is he good or bad? Well, in the most essential terms we've already answered that. He is good. In the trial and error of human affairs there are myriad twists and turns to be sure, but which is winning overall? Good man of course. And getting better all the time: when in historical terms has bad man ever really won: in the world or in you?
I know a woman who died recently of obesity. She was so heavy that she sort of imploded by her own weight. Some saw the open casket and were astonished at the size of her. I saw her victory there in the casket because I knew all of the "little things" of her struggle. She not only was victorious, she was glorious and victorious. And her legacy of love and unselfishness proves her metaphysics beyond any shadow of doubt. She had learned to argue for the defense and to look past the merely physical. She never accepted her human fate and never gave up. In her struggle her values became fitter than a long distance runner, and her love gained a stamina unknown in gyms and stadiums. She left this world running and with a leap of faith far greater than mere mortals can imagine.
So you see that appearances are not always what they seem. Life is a test of faith not strength or beauty. It's a battle over the nature of you and over your faith in good. The "encumbering molecules" have little bearing on how things turn out. In the end it's never physical it's always metaphysical. How's your workout program going?
7/1/05: "You guys need to sit down and have a meeting..." There is a notion in human relations that, like water seeking its own level, if people sit down and talk things out, things will work out. It's as if when people all have their say, without limiting the discussion, something happens to create a consensus. No matter what the topic is. And it's true. No matter what the topic is, if time enough is allotted, it will work out. Like water seeking its own level, human beings will all agree: at some point, the surface levels and calm returns. The fear of exactly that prevents a lot of meetings. We know in the end that we will agree, so to avoid agreement much harm is done. In your heart you know I'm right. There is nothing about which an agreement cannot ultimately be reached. It reminds me of the classic murder/suicide scenario: A man kills his girlfriend, her lover and then himself. If he had just accepted that in the history of humanity, the reasons of the heart have nothing to do with reason, licked his wounds and went on, someday he would be again at peace: water risen to its own level. Or, if faced with that outcome but unable to accept his new situation, he just killed himself first, water again would have risen to its own level and life would go on for others. But, no, he had to kill everyone, including himself. Why? Because the inevitability of life going on with changes he could not control was just too much. As the poet said:
Good creatures, do you love your lives
And have you ears for sense?
Here is a knife like other knives
That cost me eighteen pence.
I need but stick it in my heart
And down will come the sky,
Earth's foundations will depart
And all you folk will die.
-- A. E. Housman
The problem is of course perception. "The world," like a ladybug climbing inside an orchid, is what we see not what really is. We are all swallowed by our lives: it is what we make it. Like a person building a boat in the basement, we think about the process and sometimes overlook something important. Some people say life is a formula in which we simply sum to a equational conclusion. Others view it as a painting, a work of loving art, the outcome a mystery. The variegation of humanity is indisputable proof of inevitable consensus. Our variety defines us; it does not divide us.
So, "You guys need to sit down and have a meeting..." is not a deflection or a cop-out at all; it's an artistic summation of all disagreements: a recognition of the inevitable; a willingness to accept our incredible and amazing mutuality. Everything in human terms is negotiable because we are, as a matter of fact, in this all together. If you don't believe me, thoughtfully reread A.E. Housman's suicide note above one more time. He is my all time favorite poet. Hands down.
6/17/05: Quiet in the morning. When the sun is low in the early sky there is a beauty that seems to call the quiet in us forward through the angst and roar of what the day may bring. It's there and we all know it as we open our doors and walk into whatever comes. The poet said "Each day the world is born anew for him who takes it rightly." (James Russell Lowell) Now, there's the trick. To take it rightly. What is that? All the things that happen; all the things that people do. How can one "take it rightly?" There is so much to take. I have a friend of many years whose son was struck violently in the eye by a careening baseball grounder hit hard in a high school game off a very fast pitch. His eye was damaged and the emergency room was a scary experience. His eye swelled up beyond recoginition, then his whole head turned black and blue; from a beautiful young boy he turned into a grotesque gargoyle in the living room. In time, everything returned to normal: his vision was perfect again; his face was perfect again; his psychology was changed into something even better. He learned what it is to be different and someone who people look away from and shun. He learned that faith matters. He learned that life goes on, if we let it. If we take it rightly. Today if you see him he seems perfect again, but he is more than that. He knows that in the morning the sky is low and there is a beauty that seems to call the quiet in him forward as he walks through the angst and roar of what his day may bring. He opens the door and walks into whatever comes. You and I do too. To us only is it given to know what has really happened to us; our lives are roses of a world that only we see ... in the quiet of the morning.
6/15/05: Fear, or rather, the overcoming of it. Fear is enthralling in the worst sense of the word, but the more you think about it, the more you see the truth in that. When we face a situation with full knowledge at hand, experience to guide us, and the doubtful outcome's plausibility reduced to a minimum, fear is suddenly a bystander and no longer the main attraction. So, then understanding is important to avoid the spellbinding cursor lock of fright, sudden and immobilizing or slow in coming like an insidious dread building. It all starts with worry, preceded by doubt, initiated by concern, sometimes caused by awe. We see something that takes us to a place unknown in experience and we make up something alarming to fill the void. "Wow." At this juncture one can investigate to gain understanding or one can make a blind judgment based on nothing other than preconception or prejudice or the vacuous and vicarious experience of others read or heard in passing. For many these options: ratiocination or disgorgement are instantaneous and habitual: the standard reactions to something new. Aristotle said: "we become what we habitually do." The little newborn opens his or her eyes innocently to the light, blinking. We should all do as well. The toddler tries his or her legs without trepidation because the option is to crawl in a walking world. We should remember that. Faced with horrible rejection the teenager closes his or her eyes and tests a first kiss. We should be so brave. The newlyweds face the coming changes with optimism. We should be so courageous. The high schooler ventures off to college alone and alert. We should go forth so smoothly. The elderly learn to move slowly in a fast moving world. We should be so flexible. The cues are all around: be not afraid, be, rather, flexible and smart. Grow in understanding by thinking and learning and testing anew. Fear brings you to a stop, or worse, puts you in reverse where all you do is what you have always done. Overcome fear with incremental investigation to gain true understanding. A little at a time is fine. Sudden repulsion from something new is not fine. Train yourself to respond not react. If all you ever do is what you have always done you are traveling in a backward and downward spiral in a world that is moving forward and upward. Don't do that. It's hard to change, I know, but overcome fear with feeling: try to feel things more thoroughly. Feel fear then feel hope. Feel surprise and then feel curiosity. Spread your wings of feelings; you have many arrows in that capabilities quiver. Explore new worlds, open your eyes, move in to kiss for the first time. Danger is in the unknown, so work at understanding and knowledge growing. Sometimes you may say, "No way," but not often and surely not always. Sometimes those things we fear are really blessings of growth waiting to enlarge us. So, what is fear? It's the anticipation of pain or danger accompanied by the desire to flee or fight. What overcomes it? Understanding and courage. In that order. If the only options you have are to flee or fight you've made a whole series of mistakes that led you to that place. Start to make better decisions in the first place then you'll never be in that later place. Control your first reactions: study them, improve them, develop a strategy for inquiry rather than reaction and rejection. Always be careful, and be brave. Behave "as if." In skydiving, I have seen innumerable people who at first we repulsed by the idea of jumping out of an airplane take the time to understand the equipment, the safety procedures, the in-depth training and the overall statistics of the sport ... and they became experienced and safe skydivers. Take a lesson from the skydiver's creed: "Only you can save your life ... and don't forget to pull." Be not afraid, live and give.
5/25/05: Building a Power Base. Well, they've done it again and if you look at the votes, those Democrats with further ambition bent to the will of the Republican powers in the Senate avoiding the one thing that might have brought those autocrats down: over-reaching. The Democrats who courageously voted against the fillibuster "compromise," spoke the language of truth, standing for something. Now, of course, the Democrats are mad at each other and the Republicans are laughing all the way to 2008. Loss of conviction in politics is like loss of confidence in tightrope walking: a fatal mistake. Believing that he can do it, Charles Blondin won the hearts of a generation by doing what most people considered "unthinkable."
So, in their historic loss of confidence those Democrats are seeking safety under the robe with the cloven hoof showing. Obviously, the Democrats have concluded that their loss of confidence is reflected by the public's loss of direction. That, of course, would be like Blondin thinking it was his pole and wire rather than his own resolve. "What's good for America is what's wrong with us," will never be a rallying battle cry.
4/27/05: Vacating. For some, vacations are about getting away, but for one reason or another, whatever everyday life has brought me, I've always found it enjoyable. Childhood: though sort of unusual in my family's odd blended makeup, was a blast. I can't really recall a great number of gloomy times, although there were a few, I'm sure. College: well there was a time of exploration, to be sure. I went to the biggest party school in the mid sixties. Vietnam: though horrible in retrospect was actually thrilling in a way I've always peacefully searched for ever since. I like to be around brave people to this day. Worry-worts and half-empty people always leave me confused and impatient. (Sorry to say.) So, it's never really occurred to me that "I want to get away." Rather I usually want to spend more time with someone; focus my attention on someone. When I recall vacations, usually in poetry, I notice it's always about observation of little things, and more often about what I've seen in others' faces and thoughts. To me, spending time with one person in new surroundings, watching reactions, seeing our relationship grow, experiencing things together -- in relationship terms, going where we have never gone before -- that's what I've always liked. So I always wonder about the term, "vacation." What are we vacating? Are we running away from the life we've created? Have we created a life unsustainable without breaks? Sometimes it is the search for warm weather, I know. I've done that too. But then again those vacations have really created memories of the people I was with, not the weather. I remember palm trees, but that kiss we had underneath it, not the tree. I remember swimming in St. Martin with my three-year-old daughter, not the water temperature. In fact, here's my theory: in most of our everyday lives we worry, worry, worry about what people are doing to us. On vacation we can concentrate on how we are treating others. That's a modern vacation. "I just want to get away and be with you." Well, there's the rub of life. Getting away to be somewhere in the only terms that matter: together. Remember that life unfolds its beauty in the little things of everyday. With every blink of your eyes, every breath you take, life is thrusting little spiritual "vacations" at you constantly. Smile to this one. Say a kind unselfish word to that one. Encourage yourself with trusting thoughts. Fight off those hall-empty imposters and see the fullness of life's opportunities all around. "One of the most brilliant minds alive on the planet today, Stephen Hawking is cruelly trapped within a useless body, which slumps like an understuffed and oversized rag doll in his large and gadget-filled wheelchair." (from an anonymous observer at one of his lectures, as recorded at boingboing.net) And yet, his writings have inspired millions on this very topic. How much more we are given? And sadly how little some use their gifts. But not you and me. Not today. Today will be a true vacation for us because we are going to vacate those self-inflicted insults of boredom and doubt. Like Mr. Hawking, we will make the most of what we have today, for others. And, believe me, if we do that, today will be a "get away" day indeed.
4/12/05: Deadwood. There is this show on HBO, and I am not recommending it, mind you, because it's pretty rough and wild and uncensored in any way. Some people just don't like that sort of thing no matter how much amazing talent goes into it, no matter how wonderfully acted it is, no matter what rich details of life in those days are depicted. If there's a ton of really offensive cursing, nudity, and raw, unrestrained violence then those people will just hate it ... no matter what. Why is that? My theory is that it conjures up those darknesses that can seem to dwell in all of us and some people just don't want to look at that part of life: other people's or their own. Who can blame them? It's much easier to look away from grime and crime and slime than to look towards it. (We discussed Schadenfreude before -- see below,) But, on the other hand, how can we ever really live in our world without facing ALL of it? There are people in our world who are invisible and they walk among us unnoticed. There are people who ravage the world around us and we ignore them too. And there is vast and silent beauty that goes unappreciated in our rush to the next stop light. See? If we choose what we will notice, then the world carves its own path anyway. Have you ever had the thought, "Boy, are things changing quickly these days?" Or, in a personal relationship, have you had the thought, "What has happened to him? He has changed into something I don't recognize." Maybe not, but some have. The trick is to take it all in. Be not afraid. Watch and listen ("Your ears will never get you in trouble.") and walk right up to those things that seem repulsive to you -- and this is the key -- then look until you see the beauty in there, too. When I take pictures of people (and I take a lot of them) I always shoot way too many pictures. But it pays off, this photographic concentration. I always catch them in some beautiful expression, some look in their eye that expands the first impression into a more universal human good and kind something. Always. God never made a person I can't take a good picture of: and proof is that they always, always like it. Never fails. So, there you have the rule of life: look deeper for understanding, and don't stand for prejudice of any kind no matter how miniscule or massive. It is that preconceived partiality that prevents you from the objective consideration of the world that is presenting itself to you for inspection and introspection. Don't judge people by what they watch, what they hear, what they observe and experiment with ... in fact don't judge people at all. One of the things that Deadwood has taught me, because it is authentic in its depiction of America in 1890s, is that we have come a long way, baby. And, there are days in the midst of all my observations and experiments that I really, really need that message. We have grown in wisdom and in the way we treat one another. It still ain't perfect, to be sure, and human nature remains an enigma, wrapped in a mystery, inside a conundrum (to paraphrase a famous quote by George Kennan), but there is no doubt that we are making progress.
4/3/05: The Secret The Democrats Are Searching For. The trick here is for the Democrats, the world's oldest political party and probably the world's greatest political party with the greatest record of progressive change for the good of humanity, is to actually be LESS like the Republicans, not more. In a recent op-ed article in The New York Times, Bill Bradley, making the opposite case, that the Democrats should be more like the Republicans, outlined the Republicans' new strategies after 1964 when they saw the near collapse of their party with the crunching defeat of Goldwater. They went to work (no Hamlet-like anguish for them) to make their ideas more palatable, not change them. They developed an Apple-like program to spread conservatism on campuses, and using academic journals, they spread their gospel to academicians and to the news media. Undaunted by the Democrats overwhelming presence in these communities, they un-angel-like rushed right in, afraid of nothing down there at the bottom of electoral food chain. Then they built on that base year in and year out: conservative foundations, research centers, organizations. They used polling, focus groups, and an almost indecent reconnaissance of everything the Democrats said and did always looking for that inevitable theory and practice gap. They changed their jargon and election language. They created a party structure so, well ... structured, that at the very top, the presidential candidate, didn't really matter anymore. Whoever they ran would have an excellent chance of being elected because of the vast pyramid of support structures underneath him. (No "hers" yet on that scene.) The Democrats on the other hand have nothing like that. They squabble and a wounded primary winner emerges an easy target for the Republican attack machine. The Democrats are not based in a single philosophy. They speak not with one tongue but with many. And to Democrats the leader, the presidential candidate, really matters. They like inspirational leaders. They believe that humanity can produce excellence in an individual. They believe in a vastly different future rather than just more of the same. Even enormously rich Democrats look for a world where wealth doesn't matter and equality actually reigns supreme. So what's the answer? Drop all pretense of emulating Republicans, take off the gloves, let the chips fall where they may, but refine the message. Martin Luther King's quote is on our front page and it's been there for ten years and almost 35 million hits on that page (as of today): "Life's most persistent and most urgent question is ... 'What are we doing for others?'" This is a battle cry that brings victory in the little things, where all great victories begin. Democrats throughout the country should turn to their communities, their states, and to their country with that quote in their hearts. I know that the rumble of the Republicans is loud, but Democrats can turn that rumble into rubble. "A good example is the best sermon ever preached," the philosopher said. If what the Democratic Party stands for means anything, then let them stand for it and see what happens. And now here's the secret the Democrats are searching for: have faith. Faith in truth. It is better to put others first. It is better to share than merely accumulate wealth. It isn't about taxes, it's about the people's will and pooling our resources for the good of all. In union there is strength. Everyone knows it. The Republicans are offering an easy answer. The Democrats are offering the right answer. There was a study published about "confidence and competence" a while ago. It stated there is an inverse relationship between the two. As if the more you actually know the more doubt you have. And isn't that the truth? Looking at the world with unchallenged assumptions and prejudice is easy. But once you really know something about what is really going on, easy answers disappear, don't they? This is the message the Democrats need to champion. It's not easy, but together we can do it. On our own, fighting for personal wealth and power, we divide into our weakest possible denominator and are easy pickings for the easy answer party. Democrats are actually the realists, the conservationists, the budget balancers, the peacemakers. Why are they so confused? They really are not, it's just that the other party is making it look that way. How easy it could be to change all that ... there they go again, the easy-answer party. But let's look at what they said, and what they did with tireless perspicacity. And then let's look together into a future where college education is universal, as is health care, and -- don't blink now -- peace on Earth and good will to all (they all go together in the real answer party).
3/27/05: Growing Little Tiny Things ... Friendship is the purest form of love, really. Oh, I know the passion of love, too. The heat, the drive, and the obsession. And well have I ridden and endured them. But, in a friendship of so many years there is a deeper passion, unridden and unconquered, still fresh, still spontaneous, still captivating. How can we have friends like that? How did we earn such love? Perhaps it all starts with the smallest thing, a tiny thing, a little tiny thing. Sometimes I stare into the soil of my still frozen gardens and wonder about this. What was it that made me love her this much? When I was a young, young man I worried about what others were doing to me. Now I worry about what I'm doing to them. So, I wonder, back in the days of fury and fantastic ambition, what was it that burst through all of my solipsisms and preoccupation, what was the fuse of big bang feelings that has expanded a universe of friendship that seems without end. We tire of all things, except our friends. Is it the distance imposed, or is it that in fact there are no barriers, we just don't knock them down? Is it that "friend" means some idea that cannot be thesaurusized really, that has no definition? "A person you know well and regard with affection and trust." That doesn't cover it completely at all, does it? It has no opposite. "Enemy," is not the opposite of friend. And yet, has there ever been a human being without a friend? Remember that it is not having a friend that the word is defining so intuitively to us all, it is being a friend that swings the gate open. It is giving not getting. So, back in the beginning of a friendship what do we give to open the gate? Is it sensual? Doubtful that that could last a lifetime. Is it material? Doubtful that that could last the weekend, really. In the case I am concerned with today it was to see that the vast difference in physicality, age, upbringing, and traditions which were so off putting were nothing at all. Nothing at all. I saw her for what she was. And almost 25 years later, nothing has changed. It was as if a moment of truth splintered its way in, poked its little head through the ice of judgment and preconception, and then blossomed into a shockingly beautiful flower of faith and renewal. Nothing can slow the flow of friendship I feel.
Each year my little plants push their way through the frozen ground and flourish in their day of warming sunshine. Each winter they retreat and bide their time. Everything shrinks in and then explodes out. Over and over. It's a heart beating around us, pulsing. But somethings are different: they grow and grow and grow, regardless of the season. As time passes, subtleties require a greater perspicacity in friendship: but giving love knows no bounds. It is still those tiny little things that need growing, so need your attention. Look closer: you will see.
3/22/05: Schadenfreude \SHAHD-n-froy-duh\, noun: A malicious satisfaction in the misfortunes of others. Terri Schiavo. She lies abed, unknowing, unfeeling, dependent. Around her eddies the glee of opportunistic politicians and religiositists who await moments just like this one to pounce on victims and the well-meaning alike to make their point: hypocrisy in high places is religion for many today. What other point could they possibly be trying to make? As war, supported and purported by those same demagogs, ravages; as pristine natural reserves are traded for a few quick bucks; as social programs that have made America the envy of the world are cast aside like weeds; as famine and poverty are ignored ... suddenly poor Terri's pathetic visage is broadcast far and wide as the new symbol of our leaders' way of doing business: "Let's err on the side of life." Is that what we have become? The land of err? Wondering which way to err is leadership? Her husband who loved her (look at the wonderful pictures of them in their youth) has agonizingly carried out what he knows is her wish. Her parents cannot let go. The all-around anguish is so obvious and painful to watch. Why are we watching? The doctors, educated in this sort of thing, say her brain is dead in the areas that govern consciousness and cognition. But, Bill Frist, Republican Senate Majority Leader, who watched a video, has diagnosed that the doctors on site are all wrong. W. rushed back to the White House for a midnight signing. And the right hand of government reached across the nation and grabbed Terri by the throat, shaking and thumping her up and down like a bible at a revival. In Texas, the death house continues to push 50 percent of the nation's condemned-to-die prisoners towards the hard bed with the iron cuff tie-downs, even though research shows that more than one of them will be innocent: wrongly convicted. That two million Americans are in prison today, including a vastly disproportionate number of minorities represents another inequity unaddressed. Why do these marauders of morality do it? Mother Teresa said, "Let no one ever come to you without leaving better and happier." That must make them laugh out loud. "Let no one ever come to you without leaving bitter and feeling inferior," is their mantra. Just watch and look. What of real religion without religiosity? This loss may be today's greatest sacrilege. Abraham Lincoln said, "When I do bad, I feel bad. When I do good. I feel good. That is my religion." No thumping. No proclamations of righteousness. Just faith in action. Faith that whatever gods there be are just. No ghoulish feeding off of the misfortunes of others, running onto a stage to "save," but rather doing good in every moment, every blink of the eye. Unselfishly loving. Gaining nothing more than Lincoln's "religion," that internal compass that keeps us on course, steers us away from schadenfreude into a happy day. You don't need self-righteous guides who obviously don't even come close to practicing what they preach (just watch and listen), all you need is faith in yourself gained from your own experience. What worked? What didn't work. Go with what works, avoid those things that don't work. What to do about Terri Schiavo? It's truly a family matter; the United States Congress and the United States President are not qualified or needed. That they think they are, is a classic case of "erring" on the side of destruction. But, given a choice between faith and hypocrisy, what else can they do? As a people, in spite of our leaders, we can do better. A CNN poll showed that almost 70 percent of Americans feel the government should stay out of Terri Schiavo's family. It makes me wonder what is the opposite of schadenfreude? Good will? Let me just read over that CNN poll one more time. It must be in there somewhere....
3/16/05: The Fall of the Mighty ... and Forgiveness. We enjoy watching the-bigger-they-are fall, don't we? Why is that? It's the secret joy we find in our friend's dismay. These are human things, you don't have to acknowledge, we all know. It's, as they say, "just one of those things." Needs no explanation. We watch them go down over sex, the urge to gratify some impulse for what? Love, maybe in some twisted lustful way (the antipode and imposter of love)? Or for mammon. I love that old word: Riches; wealth; or the god of riches. What's up with that? Some have so so much of it they just wallow in it, mistaking net worth for worth. To me the real joy is living under one's means and saving wisely. What would you do if you won "the lottery" for $363,000,000? Or, more realistically, what would you do for the chance to hit it really, really big? Is greed universal ... just one of those things? Not. But there's plenty of it. What should we do with the Michael Jacksons and Bernie Ebbers of the world? Or the Brian Nichols? Recognize that name? He's the guy who blew a gasket in court, killing three people (including the judge) and then ran into Ashley Smith, who changed his world. He gave up without a fight after a few hours with her. Even the look on his face, his eyes at his arrest indicated that it was over, thoroughly over. My guess is that if released, he would never hurt another person as long as he lives. What happened? Ashley forgave him. She helped him. She shared with him. He completely caved in before a vastly superior force: her example. At the last count, America had imprisoned 2,000,000 of its citizens. Is that proof that our system is working or not working? The statistics go even more deviously obscure when the recidivism rate is factored in. We've got the winning ticket in that lottery. The answer currently peristalsing its way through Congress and state legislatures? Build more prisons quick. Does that really make sense? WWJD? WWMLKD? WWYD? When children, how did you respond to incarceration? Severe punishment? Even to threats of dire consequences? How did you respond to understanding, a wonderful example, and to forgiveness? I know. I know. A hand in the cookie jar is vastly different from ... what? Wanting what we don't have? Love, money, options, future, hope? How different are all these things? Is punishment more effective than forgiveness and a good example? "Fear not, little flock..." the answers are waiting for us all just ahead.
3/15/05: "What's Wrong With Inspiration?" Those usurpers, those pundits whose words have no action, those high talkers who call for piety without virtue, those shadow people who stare through a glass darkly without temptation ... well all of the thumping eggers-on who hover within that penumbra of "I can-say-I-told-you-so," should take inspiration from a friend of mine. She comes from nothing, as they say. (As do we all if truth were told.) She tried suicide. She cut herself. She wandered down the drive shaft of intoxication and sensualism, Sidhartha-like, Candide-like. Her parents don't speak the language, spend the day janitorizing buildings they would be unwelcome in. When I met her she cried more than spoke, like a baby that was her language, unable to find words for the feelings she could not manage. Once she sobbed so that her head on my chest left a tide of tears dampening my shirt so that I needed another. I told her it was an honor. She was apologizing. Harrassed because of her timidity and weakness, she ran from thing to thing. Her beauty was a burden she hid with imagination, but still it plagued her. She was running from herself. The question only she could answer was running beside her relentlessly. What am I? Like a Lepidopteran metamorphosis, her caterpillar was trying. The cocoon became so tight that finally she flew away and there was no holding on then. Today she is a photographer who snaps life in her mechanical retinas and burns love into her faith by seeing it in others. Her scars remain, but she loves them too now. "It's me." To see her you'd never know. People walk by her and she is one of the crowd. It makes her happy. "I don't mind," she said, "I'm happy being...." Her eyes watered with inspiration on a cold day in March. It was coming from within. Her tears coursed down her cheek and froze in place. She kissed me and I brushed the ice away. She laughed and twirled waving over her shoulder, marching through the snow to her car. The wind was swirling as I watched her. In all the world there was only one who knew what she had whispered to me, an echo. Her soft words in my ear completed her sentence: "... just being." What's wrong with inspiration? It's all around us. With every breath we take. Keep breathing.
3/11/05: Freedom. When someone starts telling you what freedom is, watch out. Unless it's me of course. Generally, definitions are refinements, limitations and restrictions, and if there's one word that should have no written definition it's "freedom." When a poet writes, that's freedom. When a singer sings, that's freedom. When a child speaks, that's freedom. When I lived in Colorado, there was a rattler scare one summer. In the heat of those canyons where we all lived the snakes seemed to thrive. There were reports of rattlers, the dreaded diamondback, everywhere. Schools were cancelled and parents were terrified. You only have a few minutes if bitten; people carried the antidotes with them. An old cowboy came to our school with a bunch of pictures and he showed them to 8-year-olds, eyes wide. In the end we were all confused, so many snakes all looking like rattlers. "Every snake looks like a rattler," he said looking at us sitting on the floor all around him, "until you actually see one. When you really see it, you'll know it." He then threw a stuffed rattler into our midst and after the screaming stopped we all held it and stared at it and shook its rattle. He was right of course. He also said that in the snake world the ones we fear the most are the most rare of all. It's as if they know we're after them and stay out of sight. Obviously in the rattler world people are the most fearsome thing of all. In our world, fearsome creatures with unstopable poison don't always hide, sometimes they stand up in plain view and speak forth to the whole world. "Freedom is ...." The best definition, and we should stop right here, is: "the condition of being free." It can't be that within that definition is the "freedom" to enslave, to entrap, to manipulate, to make unfree. Freedom is its own tautology. It's a concept that once let loose cannot be confined, like a bird freed. It happens within you. No one can "free" you. You do it. It's freeing to even think about. We look all over the world for it, and we always discover it was always right here. As they say, "In the beginning was the Word...." Confused a little? So many things that look like freedom but aren't? Don't worry, when you really see it, you'll know it.
3/10/05: Appreciation and Charity. It all seems so complicated, but charity is the flower of humanity and appreciation's gratitude component is the seed of true life. We confuse these terms with endearment and love-lust, mixing up the wonder with the worldly in a brew we drink too quickly. Happy hour at the gates of joy. The greatest insult of all is feigned praise. To be honest is not always to be ingratiatingly complimentary. In combat these things are obvious. If one soldier fired his weapon voraciously but ineffectively another might make a comment like: "What the F$#@%*!! are you doing?" But in ordinary life, they say, "showing up is 90 percent." So, to truly appreciate you must have honest charity. In fact without that, no other virtue can find its way to light. Charity requires anonymity. Did you know that? To seek acknowledgement is negation of true charity. Charity, as just mentioned, is the foundation of love, and the only love is unselfish love. To love with intent is always bad. It's not love, it's manipulation. Appreciation has nothing to do with advancing your cause, that's insidiously insulting and you always know it. The true and the honest are always obvious. Human beings were given three infallible biological polygraphs: the eyes and the face. The uselessness of prevarication is eternal in human affairs, exceeded only by self-delusion. People know the truth when they see it, hear it, feel it, taste it, and touch it. Forget about thinking you are getting away with something. Never happens. Try an outright lie looking at someone. Watch their eyes and face. You will cringe in your "secret places," knowing you have screwed up. They may smile and ask you to continue, but they know too. You want to be appreciative and charitable? Live in truth, have faith in truth, and remember silence is sometimes the most loving thing you can muster up. Oh, and here's a little trick: the easy way is never the right way. Never. Today, think of others with appreciation and charity ... it will be a day you long remember.
3/2/05: The Global Flyer(s). When DaVinci was thinking about flight he was thinking of feet in the air: up. That has all changed. Flight today has so many meanings. A flight of fancy. Flying by the seat of one's pants. A flight can be fleeing from danger, to escape. It can be an air unit of warplanes intent on a mission to destroy bad people with some "collateral" damage. But today, Steve Fossett is flying along in the first solo sub-orbital orbit of the our little blue ball. He will fly over pestilence and death, war and peace, gay couples and couples of all kinds. He will fly over Republicans and Democrats; radicals and champions of the status quo. He may even be dosing as he flies over the tense and uneven tides ebbing and flowing over the Taiwan Straits. He will never hear the cries from Sudan, or the votes in Congress. When he transits Korea he may think of nuclear holocaust but more than likely he will more interested in the coming ocean transit. He's at 45,000 feet, traveling at 338 knots in an aircraft with 114 foot wings, a length of 44 feet, and almost 5,500 pounds of fuel. They think it will take around 65 hours. The Earth will have spun around almost three times in those hours. The Earth is flying circles around him. In his 65 hours of quiet so many things will happen here that all of the historians, poets, journalists, and broadcasters couldn't even begin to accurately record it. Think of everything that happened to you yesterday and multiply it by 6,421,931,386 (as of 8:12 a.m.). But even now it's 6,421,931,580. We can't keep up with our world anymore than Steve can out race the spinning global under the "global flyer." But it is interesting to note that this will be the first time in the 4.55 billion-year-old history of our planet that anything built here has done such a thing. It's like every once in a while we throw something into the air and with a know-not-where-it-will-land trajectory. At least today it's a peaceful little plane full of hope and adventure. In the past it has been more in the "arrow" category. And tomorrow it will, unfortunately, be again. But for today we have Steve Fossett's Model 311 Capricorn up there. It's like someone in the vast crowd said, "Hey, something good can come of all this," or like the beach ball someone starts bouncing around the stands at a football game. You've seen it. You've watched. Sometimes we watch the bouncing ball and not the carnage. Sometimes. Today? Who knows, but it is interesting that no matter what happens, no matter how bad things are, someone always tries to reach for something new and wonderful. No matter what the rest of us are doing. It always happens. (By the way the population is now at 6,421,933,000. That's 1,420 new people while I was writing this. 1,420 new histories. 1,420 new global flyers. 1,420 new people in the stands ... and still counting, of course.)
2/25/05: The Things Unwanted Tsunami. It is one of the unfortunate concomitants of the information age: too much information. A surfeit of detailed offers and papers flowing through the fax, e-mails pouring in for products and services unneeded and unheeded, and phone calls ringing their unwelcome way into our lives. Rarely is it anything really worth having: fake Rolexes, ED remedies, love for sale, and insurance you don't need. It's all a shotgun effect -- throw stuff on the wall out there and see what sticks. Behind is a cynicism: people will buy anything. Lonely, try this. Afraid, try this, this and this. Feeling inadequate, just look in hear at all you can have for $14.95. Who will ever know? It just keeps pouring in, like water in the bilge: it's always there. No harm? Every sailor knows that a dry bilge is much better than a wet one. And all of this unwanted information is more than an inconvenient leak. Think of the resources we are expending as the human race on this tsunami of wasted effort. Somewhere behind it all is someone hell bent on making a quick buck. Not hell bent on making a difference. Just a buck quick. You know what the root of all evil is ... right? Not money, though many think it is. It's the love of money, of course. Think of what greed has wrought. Wars. Famine. Corruption. Enslavement. Estrangement. Fear. What good, actually, has putting your own interests ahead of all else ever done? And yet what do most people want? To be rich. To be beautiful. To have someone love them. What should they want? To be useful. To be appreciative. To love others. What's the problem? If you have decided that today is a bad day, trying putting yourself out of your thoguhts and fill your thoughts with ways to help others. Watch what happens. Depressed about being unloved? Try loving someone unselfishly. Watch what happens. Think you are going broke? Try spending less, using everything up, and no matter what it takes, spending a little less than you make. Watch what happens. Actually, most of the most valuable information we need, we already have. When Henry David Thoreau walked out of Walden Pond someone asked him, "What have you learned?" He answered, "Simplify." Try that today and see what happens. All of the information temptations crashing over us can become like a fair wind to a sailor; we just need to manage our sails and keep heading in the right direction. Even the finest craft mishandled can capsize. Even the most modest little boat, well handled, can get you home. Size matters not, quantity matters not, style and affectation matter not; it's the intention that drives the engines of our lives. We always walk in the direction we look. Like a misdialed fax coming in on our home line, we can just hang up on that beeping, the clutter, the worry and the angst. And we can find happiness in rejecting self-referentiality. As Martin Luther King Jr. said (and this quote has been on our front page through almost 30 million hits and over 10 years) "Life's most persistent and most urgent question is ... 'What are we doing for others?'"
What is your answer?
2/19/05: The Fragility of Human Life, or Not. We hear it all the time, and more, we feel it. The other day I bent down to pick up a power cord and as I stood up I inadvertently pushed my head into a finishing nail protruding from the wall I had stripped and was preparing for resheeting. Blood everywhere. The people I was with were worried and we all thought of the guy who shot himself with a nail gun, embedding a six inch nail in his head, unknowing. We laughed. Today there is no pain, and virtually no physical memory of what happened. All is well. The New York Times yesterday had an article of a new skull anthropologists have found that is a hundred thousand years older than any other, suddenly extending the history of "man" farther back in time than previous theories had allowed. Everything that has ever happened to me has made "life" a richer experience and more precious to me. I have basically stopped looking beyond the moment, and have started to live the moment. This happened slowly over time or suddenly in a flash of inspiration ... I really don't know. It just happened. Happiness came along with it. Love came along with it. Patience, contentment, industry, diligence, adventure ... these all came along too. The fragility of life is in our fearing it. Those who don't see this have lost it all. Those endless broadcasts of mindless stories where human life is discarded with the click of a trigger finger come from the pen of pecuniary opportunists not from people who are looking into each moment of life. If we now know that humanity is far older than it was yesterday, that our history of brutality and kindness, of disaster and wonder, of killing and giving birth, of careless abandon and loving is so much larger and perhaps even longer and longer, then are we a little wiser? The analogy of teaching gender equity comes to mind. When sessions to enlighten are offered, the people who don't really need it happily attend to learn more. Those souls who desperately need the knowledge are so lost in the denseness of their convictions that the thought to bring a little new idea into their misconceptions never occurs; there's no room. And, in the same way, as the facts of life become more and more available -- its eternality -- these are so busy busy that the inspiration of our vast history and future is lost in their plans and in their past: encomiums of mortality, the preface to life's fragility. Whether we "live" forever or not is irrelevant; that we live in this eternal moment determines everything. Some guy who calls himself the Real Live Preacher said, (it's our Quote of the Day today) " This is the challenge of writing. You have to be very emotionally engaged in what you're doing, or it comes out flat. You can't fake your way through this." Just rewrite that and replace the word, "writing," with "living" and there you are ... staring straight into the true fragility of life. Can you really be engaged? When you are: all is well; when you are not: all is unsettled. And, yes, its finally time to settle down. (Click on the rose above.)
2/16/05: To make everyone feel cherished. Now that's a goal, no? Because when you watch these mind-boggling disasters you see very ordinary people expressing such love for their friend and families who have survived, or, sadly, such sorrow and grief that the mind in seared with the heat of their pain and looks away. So in the everyday, why not? What have you got to lose? Imagine that for many people (I've said this before), a kind word such as "You're doing a very good job," may be the only time they ever hear it. Most people will laugh and say, "Tell it to the boss." Another little trick of spreading happiness is to let other people look into your eyes. Don't drill them with diamond bits of intensity, just open up and let them in. "But," you say, "not everyone is nice." Is that true? To me it must not be true. True, though, sometimes everyone can be less than nice, but everyone is nice much of the time. Soldiers on the front covered in the blood of their adversaries of the moment have written over and over and over of the love and brotherhood they felt for their foxhole buddies. Even in the killing, literature describes, kindnesses and heroism. So, what do you want to belief? The other day I was in a line of traffic waiting for a light. I started fiddling around with my new cell phone, looking on the Internet for news or something; lost in another world. I looked up and everyone in front of me was long gone. I mean a quarter-mile-ahead gone. The guy behind me was waiting patiently for me to wake up, not laying on the angry horn. The people behind him also seemed content to wait. I know you don't believe me. There were nice people everywhere. I lurched off feeling guilty at my loss of diligence, and waved in the rear view mirror. He was laughing happily, and the guy behind him waved, too. We are all cherished if we are. If we are not, then today's a great day full of something important to do.
2/15/05: Not many, but at least a word or two on Valentine's Day. Many are left out, which is the abysmal anathema of the spirit of the day. Imagine that you have never received a Valentine. That you hid in school on that day, head down, wishing it was over, while others flaunted and hugged and laughed it all off. But not you. You wished for a Valentine, someone who thought you were special or sexy or just a little desirable. Those carnations were like demons, haunting you everywhere. Where's yours? Imagine being a forgotten ... I didn't get one. Not one. Not even one lousy wilted one. Saw one tossed in the waste basket and picked it up, but dropped it back in when someone saw me with it, someone who never talks to me and they said who? I dropped it like it was poison. What if I said he gave it to me? What a lie. Or she gave it to me. Lies. Dodging lies. Hating the day.... That's Valentine's Day for some. Every year I always give a Valentine to one who I know goes unValentined every year. This has been going on for quite a while. But this year because of my own life concerns I forgot. The mind wanders down a dismal lane thinking of thoughts that might have happened, but wait ... have faith. She is still happy somehow. Must be. But she wasn't at the pool today and she is always at the pool every day.
Valentine's Day can be torture. Did you know that?
2/12/05: Speaking the truth. Note that the "truth" is not capitalized. So, I don't mean The Truth which is illusive for most to say the least. But the truth is easier. It could defined as something that doesn't always make you look good. Excuses are never the truth. Anger is never the truth. Obstinacy is never the truth. Sloth is never the truth. Self-righteousness is never the truth. In relationships, if this little rule were applied happiness would at least have a chance. Someone told me the other day that in relationships, especially long-term relationships, it's very common to unleash one's worst qualities (see above) on each other. Someone else told me that her daughter had some very good friends, and as proof she said, "They fight." Now, maybe that seems to be human nature, but it is not. I've seen people take a life-long offense for an off hand remark and I've seen love loosen over a rolling of the eyes. Human nature is a fluid thing that grazes over emotions and soars overhead, watching. Second by second evaluation is human nature. Happy one moment, frustrated the next; sad to the point of desperation one moment, buoyant and ebullient the next. One word can change the world, true? One word can kill, as well. If we only knew the truth: the differences between us are far less than the differences within each of us. The trick is synchronize. To be on the same wavelength. To see eye to eye. To click. The truth is actually not a moving target although it looks like it sometimes. The way we answer: how can I look good when I've been bad? How can I wheedle out of this one? What does he or she want me to say? What horror from his or her past can I resurrect to soften the moment of my exposure? Try answering questions with a "yes" or "no." "Honey, did you use up all the mayonnaise? "Yes. Sorry." Good answer. "I didn't mean to." "I meant to get more at the store." Bad answers. Life is in the little things. Happiness is in the very, very little things. Harmony is in the minute almost imperceptible things. There is no way to negotiate all of the pitfalls and booby traps, except to walk ahead accepting our fallibility, learning from our mistakes (what else do we learn from anyway?) and speaking the truth in every situation. The truth is not hurting other people with your sense of rationalization and passing the blame. They say, if two friends fight, both are wrong. This is true in relationships, businesses and among nations. In all things human. Being right all the time is not human nature; being wrong all the time is human nature's answer to constant criticism; criticism is not asking for the truth, that's true friendship, that's love. So ask for the truth. Start by asking yourself. Then speak the truth. You will find yourself surrounded by kindness coming and going in all directions; earnestness will fill your days and nights, sincerity will enrich every one of your moments, generosity will become as natural as blinking your eyes, and dignity of life will emerge where suddenly true happiness is yours ... to share.
2/10/05: The World That Never Was. If you click on the rose above this column you will see a quote I love more than all others. It has been there since the first entry, I hope you explored around and found it. (That's always a good idea in legendinc.com.) But what is that world? The world of pain and sorrow and disease and all that we think reality is. That's the world "that never was." Many days I post pictures of animals and I know you -- most of you -- love them. Here is my theory why you do: when you look into the face or eyes of a animal you see inexorable innocence. We love that. In children, mostly, we see it, too. The most horrific crime in all societies is the corruption of minors, but when you think about it that is actually what all societies and cultures do. If you were the proverbial "man from Mars," and came to our planet with no knowledge, you would draw the conclusion that what every one on the planet is doing is taking the wonderfully innocent children and corrupting them with the "ways" of adult society and you would quickly note that there is NO adult society on the planet with any true record of greatness or domestic tranquility. So, like the poem today, "Aroma," I dream of a world to come. And where is it? Tomorrow's Photo of the Day is two pictures: one white swan and one black swan. Look into those photos and you will know. The innocence we all see in animals and children is not in the animals and children at all. It is in us. It is in us. These images and ideas only set it free for a moment of insight and we smile and feel that warm feeling "that splendid triggering of human vitality... the supreme activity which nature affords anyone for going out of himself toward someone else" (as Ortega y Gasset says in our Quote of the Day today). The love trigger. How can it be anywhere else but inside us? Some people can look at a Siberian tiger and want to shoot it. Others stare in wonder and disbelief at the beauty. Is it in the tiger or must it not be in us first? That truth can sweep the world. It can render useless all of those dreams of daily life: pride, envy, avarice, lust, anger, greed, and apathy. It carries on it wings humility, kindness, temperance, virtue, patience, inclusiveness, and diligence. Oh, I know that you're thinking, "He's going too far now ... too dreamily idealistic." But, remember your own feelings when love entangles you, unfetters you: where are the limits? Where is "too far" for you then? See "The rose of the world that never was [is] withering away." I'm just walking two steps ahead where "is" has become "has." And you should see who's here with me.
2/8/05: Busy Busy vs The "100 Easy." It's easy to be really busy busy. It's a run-on sentence that just won't stop writing itself. I was swimming my usual 100 lengths of the YMCA pool this morning at 6:30 a.m. and was between sets. I was looking out of the high casement windows (the pool is sort of in the basement) and there was a flag across the street and the clouds were wispy, the sky blue. I was just walking down the pool resting. As the deep end came along, I dove down to the bottom and looked around, then pushed off towards the wall, flipped turned and coasted back to where I could walk again. Then I strolled down to the shallow end and touched the wall, and did it over again. That's what I call a "100 easy," four lengths just goofing off, resting up. Other swimmers tell me I'm wasting time and that I shouldn't count the two "100 easys" I do each morning in the 100 lengths of my workout. But I feel this resting sequence is the most important part of the routine. I don't really need the rest. I just like it. Some people rest but they stay at the end of the pool's shallow part. But, not me. I start right off walking and basically lollygagging, looking around, hanging out at the bottom of the pool. In fact, as I near the end of the "100 easy" I slow way down almost like a tangent: getting closer and closer but never quite exactly there. I usually swim more than most other people and certainly I train harder, using the clock and hard sets I figure out ahead of time, keeping records and weights and progress all charted up. I also have the record for most distance swum at this particular YMCA (over 2500 miles). But, I like to rest by goofing off for four lengths between the hard sets. So, I theorize that goofing off is very important, and not being so busy busy that there is no time for it. To me a life without a lot of time to just take a "100 easy" would be a prison. People always ask me how I do as much as I do. Well, there's your answer. I take time to rest and goof off. It makes everything else easier, plus it makes me laugh every time I do it. It's just a statement of freedom, liberty if you will. It's within your grasp anytime. Just get up, walk in one direction for two and a half minutes, then reverse direction and walk two and a half minutes in the other direction. You will never return to the same spot. That's the fun of it, the mystery of it, and the very reason for doing it.
2/6/05: Super Bowl (part three): It is all of us unfolding and the history of the Super Bowl is our history just as much as the front page of The New York Times is a history of us. There will be those who turn aside today thinking it is just football. Boring. And, there will be those who will be transfixed today thinking it is just football. But there are also those who unfettered by prejudice who watch with eyes that have sight and vision because they know that nothing is what it appears on the surface to be. Everything is analogy. Everything is pointing to something else. There is no football really. As Plato taught us, we stare at shadows cast on a cave's inner walls and judge all of infinity. When we judge, we judge erroneously. When we enjoy and immerse in the moment, we live free. The Super Bowl broadcast is a litmus test of insight. From kickoff to 00:00:00 time left on the clock how closely do you attend to the events at hand? Do you drift around, thinking of getting to work tomorrow. Do you dream of yesterday's events, whether good or bad? Or do you imagine that you are the coach of the teams, working with all of the resources to win the day? Do you run with the running backs, and exert with the linebackers? Do you try to see through the eyes of the quarterback? In all, do you enjoy what is humanity's greatest sporting event before its largest audience? Do you, can you, will you, ever, stop and enjoy the moment? You can judge the beer-drinking, aging, overweight, excessive and obsessed fan who with popcorn covered sweatshirts hang on every play, but pause a moment, look inside their blanked out mind, through their fanatic eyes and ask yourself, who's better? You with your preoccupation of things over and things to come (where nothing can ever be fixed or accomplished) or these creatures of the moment who are actually enjoying life? How much time will you spend today fighting off the mindless submersion in the greatest sports analogy ever concocted? How much time will you spend saying that you are better than that? Than them? Well, every second you do is a poison pill you are swallowing and that you will continue to swallow in days to come as you maintain the fiction of superiority to the moment of humanity that is passing you by like a parade you dressed up for but never came by. My prediction yesterday was the it would be a good game, but that -- here is the secret of the Super Bowl -- is up to you. Not Tom Brady, not Donovan McNabe, but you. If you can stop and smell ... well I admit not roses really today ... the football, the pageantry, the ecstasy and the agony, then it will be a good game, maybe even a great game. But more importantly you will have rejoined the human race in its moment. You will have lived a few hours in the mass of us all. I guarantee you will feel at home as you let your loneliness go, your better-than-that-ness go, and just be one with it all. Hey, it's the Super Bowl: it starts 0 to 0, all even and off we go. Who could ask for more? Did yesterday start so fairly? Will tomorrow? Pull up a chair, sit back and relax. The Super Bowl is you and me. Are you ready for some football?
2/5/05: Super Bowl (part two): The truth about the Super Bowl is that it is a diversion. Perhaps in the traditions of all entertainment, but maybe there's more here than just goofing off. Ralph Waldo Emerson was suspicious of a nation thumping its chest with patriotism and advocated looking at "the cleanness of its hands and purity of its heart." Don't get me wrong here, I love the Super Bowl. I've got a whole menu and day planned out. I talk it up everywhere I go. I love hearing what other people (men really) predict will happen. I probe their inner thoughts on the game. I do that because I want to immerse into it. I want to experience it the way a lab rat experiences the scientist's inner fears and worries. "I just want it to be a good game." Well, I know the speaker is worried and conservative about his own life. He just wants to get through another day without a serious disaster. "It'll be a blowout." Well, obviously this person is living in a world of if. "We'll see around 10 p.m. Sunday." Here's a person who is very non-committal; one who probably doesn't really care how it comes out, just that he will be allowed some time to "do his thing." During the Tsunami earthquake the discussion in the steam bath was almost always about the Super Bowl. Now that that's over, it's kind of quiet in there every morning. Perhaps everyone is thinking about it, but more likely it's like when a family member is leaving, there's a quiet because whatever is said always leads to the sad fact of the departure. Better to say nothing. Super Bowl Sunday is an inevitability. The end of football, America's greatest analogy: futile struggling for a senseless outcome amid great pomposity and enthusiasm. The ultimate seduction/consummation syndrome. Some of the rumors about Super Bowl Sunday are not true: not the biggest day for domestic violence (it's too random to predict); not a day when women depart the TV room (it is the biggest audience of women viewers all year, every year). They are predicting upwards of 180 million Americans will be watching the kickoff, perhaps as many as a billion around the globe. Imagine that for four hours the Super Bowl will take that many people's minds off their problems and prejudices and give them a colossal diversion: a mind swipe. I'm looking forward to it. Are you? (One more entry in this series: on Super Bowl Sunday, tomorrow.Prediction: it'll be a good game.)
2/3/05: Thinking about the Super Bowl (part one). The first Super Bowl was held on January 15, 1967. I was in the same town I'm in now, though in those days I had orders to Vietnam and was just waiting around for a "port of call" as the military people call it. I was driving a taxi in a small town and wondering what was to come. The news of Vietnam was bad that year. In early January, over the 19 days before and after the Super Bowl, 72 Americans were killed, victims mostly of snipers emerging from concealed tunnels and booby traps. Seven hundred and twenty Vietcong were killed. By the end of the year U.S. military personnel in Vietnam had reached 485,600; and 16,021 soldiers had been killed. And Green Bay killed Kansas City that year. I've seen all XXXVII of the Super Bowls and am looking forward to number XXXVIII. I'm not sure that there's any other annual event that I've been so faithful to: each year setting aside the day, planning a festive situation, arranging for companionship, hyping up the circumstances. Some years it was all over at halftime, on to other things. Some years I just stared and the TV even after the game was over; stretching it out, making it last. It's a really big thing. People tend to deny it ... just another game. Women seem to disdain it more than not ... what's the big deal? But, it cannot be dismissed: the Super Bowl is the biggest event in America every year. By the statistics it's king by far. By the revenue and expenditures it's unrivalled. It dwarfs the Inaugural like a big happy tsunami. Even Christmas itself is a modest day by comparison. The Super Bowl is well ... Super. And why? Is football that big? No, not really. Week after week the games have good attendance and audiences, but compared to the Super Bowl, they are just mediocre. So what it is? (part two ... coming soon.)
2/1/05: Groundhog Day Cometh. The problem is that sometimes life seems like a broken record that just keeps repeating over and over. Talking about this is generally unproductive because people will deny it. My life, they often say, is just great. Their eyes say, you believe me, you must believe me. If you watch people's eyes and hands as they talk you get a combination communique that almost always leads in the right direction. While people love truth, they generally move the earth around that concept rather than digging in the center. So, here is Groundhog Day again. Will he see his shadow? The snowed-in-world will actually take pause tomorrow to see what happens. Imagine in a world of war and terrorism, tsunamis and earthquakes, crime and punishment, major news networks and leaders will actually stop to discover what a groundhog sees in the morning. I know it's tradition and all that but if winter is closer to ending or if it is going to be longer, real emotions will be felt over this inane predictor. I know, because I'm hoping that winter is going away, too. Just like I always do. The other day as I was shoveling out of a six foot drift in my driveway, I took a moment to go inside, covered in ice and snow, begoggled and bedowned, amazingly technical gloves on, to tell my wife, "I really love this!" Back in the snow a few moments later I noticed that rather than digging directly at the center of the giant drift, I had been moving the snow around the edges. Continuing, it wasn't long before the pile collapsed for lack of support. The snow blower made quick work of it after that. In the backyard, we have a porch about six feet off the ground and in the aftermath of the storm, I jumped into the snow, landing backwards, arms spread, laughing out loud. No one saw me. As I was laying there I was thinking of my St. Paul childhood, and other times I had done the same thing. I was remembering a snowstorm my Dad wrote to me about when I was in Vietnam and how hard it had been for him to clear six foot snow drifts from the driveway then. I remembered the first Christmas my daughter was alive and how over the years we have watched and re-watched the video tape we made then. It's not that our lives are really a broken record at all, in fact nothing ever stays the same or repeats itself exactly; it's that we wish it would or we just think it does. In so many things we see things that happened before, we are always reminded of things past by things present. Our lives are compendiums of memories and actions, memories and actions, and memories and actions. Our actions create memories and our memories guide our actions. There is no formula. There is no repeating anything. And, there is no Groundhog Day. Today is the day, tomorrow is just a shadow we never see, so, tomorrow ... there'll be an early spring, no matter what the groundhog sees.
1/29/05: Thinking. The more you think about the concept of "attitude" the more meaning it has. Of course. The mere consideration of the word moves yours higher. Ask yourself, "How's my attitude?" And, the answer immediately appears that it could be better. It can always be better. When you find yourself in a struggle, a change of attitude will always result in a change of circumstances. If your attitude gets worse, so will your situation. If you attitude improves, so will your situation. Right? So, what does that say? What about health? Are people with good attitudes healthier? Absolutely. What about in business? Do you like doing business with people with good attitudes? Of course. So, what is the one thing you can do today to make your life better? How do you do that? Here is a tip: resist things you do that never work. If you are about to start complaining, gossiping, criticizing ... stop. If you are constantly thinking about being sick ... stop. If you are constantly putting yourself down as lazy, overweight, lonely ... stop. And then reverse it. If you were going to complain, say something nice. If you were going to criticize, complement honestly. If you were going to put yourself down, lift yourself up. Today is the day. Seize your attitude and aim it higher, never lower. Clear thinking is always your best survival skill.
1/24/05: Change Your Outlook, or Have an Outlook of Change. This blog receives a bunch of e-mail, and one individual who dropped us a line the other day caught my eye. On January 2, I wrote about seeing life as an opportunity that is coming your way every moment. Opportunity doesn't knock just once, I said. This person asked how to change her outlook; how to see that life is opportunity and nothing else. The answer is all around. Here is an example: two people, walking five minutes apart, pass an old oak tree standing by the shore in the morning light of a sunrise. The second person walks by grumbling about being up too early, all of the things she has to do, how no one appreciates her hard work, that her life is lonely and going no where... in fact she walks past the tree never even noticing it. If she had noticed it, she would have seen the first person with her hand out touching the tree thinking what a beautiful tree, it must be a hundred years old, roots so deep, branches so strong, look at how it reaches so boldly into the sky even after all those years, the bark is so rich in tones, the texture is .... well you get it. So where is the beauty? Is it in the tree? Can't be. Not really. If the tree were the repository of beauty then everyone would see the same thing. No, the beauty is not in the tree but in thee. It is in each of us, and each of us sees beauty sometimes. The gift is to see it more and more, in more and more, until finally we see it everywhere, which is the secret of life. At death people gaze with wonder at things they have long taken for granted. Give me just one more morning, I don't care about the weather or the neatness of the room, just give me one more anything morning. When you can see that wonder in everything you do, well, then today is big with blessings no matter what happens. Until you can, today is a day of dread and doubt. The bridge to that better view is faith. Not religion, or religiosity; but just plain and simple faith. Faith in truth ... it does exist. Faith in your own life ... it is your greatest possession. And faith in each other ... how many times have others proven to you that they care and keep caring? The one or two "bad" things that happen to us all should prove the rule, not make the exception into one. So you see, in the blink of an eye you can change your outlook. Walk over that bridge and see change as opportunity, relish it, embrace it, go with it wherever it takes you. What have you got to lose, really? Doubt? Routines? Safety? Where have they ever gotten you? Be bold. Be brave. Be kind. You can't go wrong today.
1/15/05: Liberty and Freedom, All together and self. The major theme of George W. Bush's upcoming Inaugral is "freedom." But, the U.S. Constitution only mentions that word once. That instance is the "freedom of expression" which is repressed by the Bush Administration inside and out. The Constitution calls for "Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness." Not for freedom. Freedom at its core is a selfish concept ... not the way most people think of it, of course. We all want to be free, but free within a society that cherishes liberty for all. Liberty for all requires restraint. Rules. Self-control. Putting others first, at least some of the time. The all-out capitalism we see today is freedom gone wild. And the profits generate not a better world but a better world for some. Think about it. Who really wants every one to be "free" to do whatever they want? Then the strong and aggressive rule. The ruthless rule. Freedom is a selfish concept at its core. Liberty, that's the goal. Liberty for all. The pursuit of happiness, not wealth.
1/14/05: Kids and Everything. They really aren't kids. They are little mirrors that we reflect. They reflect us back and in the hall of reflections, as the years go by, we begin to see each other more and more clearly, and all of the reasons why are there, too. Oh, if we only knew that back in the beginning. We would have done a better reflection then. But we thought it was about gaining ground, or gathering possessions, or building wealth and the scope of our lives. But time fixes those misconceptions. And in the end it comes to the smallest things of all; things we completely missed in the rush of becoming ... becoming what? Worn out adults longing for retirement from all of our wasting time? In the end dying people always speak of love. In Vietnam, I saw it over and over. When I talk to veterans who talk of war and fighting, it makes me cringe. Real veterans talk of love and friendship and sacrifice, of course. But even in war I wish I knew then what I know now. It could have been a much, much better experience. The Chinese have a saying: "The best time to plant a tree was twenty years ago. The second best time is right now." So, even now I am correcting things. It's like a picture we took of ourselves down on Cape Cod's National Seashore, actually we roped a guy there with his wife to take ours and then we took one of them. My wife, Joy, looked at it whispered to me, "We look so old..." I said, "Hey, in a few years we'll find this picture again, look at it and say, "We were so young." She laughed and we both were happy. But it's so true. So, enjoy and improve today. If you spend too much time thinking about yesterday, you lose. If you spend too much time thinking about tomorrow, you lose. You lose what? Everything.
1/13/05: Another Today. Normal people scare me. I know that that statement is problematic: the conundrum of normalcy. But nonetheless, when standing transfixed with the beauty or the complexity of the presenting world, it is unsettling to realize that I am almost always alone in my Hamlet-like torture over why, why, why. And, there is no derivative of this concern too small to cause the transfixion. I can be considering the path of a tiny little spider from behind a radiator and there it is again. I can be watching a TV show and suddenly grab a pen and be writing furiously for hours. I can be driving and actually arrive at my destination with no knowledge of how I got there. Sitting in an airport, to me, is an out-of-body experience full of creative splurges almost without pause. I have written a lot of poems in airports. But, it is the vast gulf that encompasses me when I encounter a "normal person's" perception that really scares me. In skydiving, there are two kinds of first jumpers. Both come down exuberant and breathless. One says, "Wow, that was fun," glancing at his or her watch, and then goes on, "what's for lunch?" The other says, "Wow," and staring directly into my eyes with a diamond drill, laser intensity, "how do I get back on that plane?" The first scares me because it seems like nothing suffices, nothing fulfills, it's all just a chain of self-referential, hi-jinks, goof-offs, life's a party for me sort of things. The second reassures me that the moment does matter, true involvement does occur, participation, hard work, sacrifice and openness are still within us.
But, wait a minute. I may have spent too long on this topic. Got to snap out of it. It's only 8:12 a.m. It's going to be a long, long day. Thank God.
1/12/05: When America Looks In the Mirror Today...? Two things have happened in the last five years that I thought could never happen. First, democracy is becoming a bad word. And second, I can't stand reading The New York Times anymore. It's not the newspaper, that's for sure; it's the news they have to report. After a disastrous first round of trying to find a qualified Secretary of Fatherland ... er ... sorry, Homeland Security, now the administration has coughed up another third stringer, whose claim to fame is that he served with John Ashcroft after 9/11. The "election" in Iraq, on which the administration hung all of its hopes and dreamy dreams is slowly circling the drain. Almost 1300 men and women who could have lived long and prospered are dead and maybe 100,000 are injured and for what? It drags on and on. They told us it would be over quick. They told us we would be received with flowers and hugs. The Mets just hired a Carlos Beltran for $116 million over seven years. That's more than the average American weekly paycheck PER PITCH while he is on the playing field. (And he's not a pitcher!). Mudslides, tsunamis, aberrant weather, Mad Cow disease in Canada, Spain is phasing out the siesta, faith, or its lame sister, religiosit,y as I call it, is dividing the survivors in Asia over aid distribution and who's to blame. The Muslim nations are restricting the aid workers' activities because of "religious" concerns, probably increasing the death toll. Additional reports are coming forth about abuse in America's "detention" centers. The effort to find weapons of mass destruction goes on, driven by the top and blamed on the bottom. One of the smallest stories was about the UN celebration of The Holocaust. The Administration has raised and will spend over $50 million on the Third Bush Inaugural. Remember, President Bush's first pledge to the tsunami victims was $35 million, increased after we were called "stingy." Bush is pressing forward, despite universal advice to the contrary, on his proposal to "revamp" social security. There are so many trillions involved that there is no hope of ever knowing what to do. Education funding is at an all time low increase for the past four budget years and the mania over "standardized testing" stampedes on and on as if it's actually working. College's are now looking beyond grades and test scores and are actually spending time with their applicants to see what's really going on behind the inflated resumes. The Department of Education is actually paying commentators to say what it wants them to say. Now that's what Edward R. Murrow was talkin' about.
So, anyway. When I look in the mirror I don't recognize the America looking back at me. I feel out of place and worried. I know there is a great wisdom in this country, and I know the old saw about how the pendulum swings back and forth, but like a scythe it's cutting pretty deeply on its latest trajectory. Try to stay out of the way. And always ... keep the faith.
1/5/05: Stinginess and Generosity. If you give, said the philosopher, only what you don't need, then that is not giving. Self-congratulatory proclamations of how generous and kind-hearted we are as a nation does not make it so. In fact, we should -- if we were truly a great nation -- never say such a self-serving thing. Let others say it, if they feel it. How empty that must have sounded in so many countries around the world. For a while there we were spending more on the pomp and ceremony of the coming Inauguration than on helping. And while leaders in Europe and Asia were rushing to the rubble to lend their visibility to the assistance effort our President continued to vacation in Crawford. There is a hierarchy of giving. The highest form of giving is where the recipient can never know who the giver was and the giver can never know who got it. The lowest form is when in front of the cameras the giver gives directly to the victims and basks in the glow of the transmission for his or her own purposes. Perhaps the greatest nation on earth today is India, who has rejected all of the "giving." The Prime Minister said that they appreciate the motives but in the Indian experience the outpouring of "aid" actually cost lives last time by diverting the attention of Indian officials from the saving of lives to dealing with all of the people who came knowing nothing of India and nothing of what was really needed. There was a lot of recognition of this at the UN this time by trying to stop the wholesale shipment of goods and encouraging instead the wire transfers of cold cash. The Indians didn't want that either. They said as the number two producer of pharmaceuticals and of textiles too they could actually handle their own situation. You could hear in the Prime Minister's voice the confidence of that statement ("We were prepared for even the unthinkable.") and you could see in his eyes that this was hard for the world to hear. In fact, in the midst of the worst of the tsunami, India was part of the "core group" of countries and was actually helping others as well as solving its own problems. That's generosity. And in the face of the great Indian nation's behavior in this crisis, and the sterling example it has set, all others appear, sorry to say, stingy, as they continue their vacations, their New Year's Celebrations (cancelled in India), and their geopolitical machinations and military operations.
U.N. Emergency Relief Coordinator Jan Egeland is a great hero in my book. I don't use a lot of pictures in this blog but here is one of him. Here is his famous quote: "It is beyond me why are we so stingy, really. If actually the foreign assistance of many countries now is 0.1 or 0.2 percent of their gross national income, I think that is stingy really. I don't think that is very generous," he said. How true it was, especially in light of the vast increase that occurred as a result of this light being shined on the facts. The raft of criticism he received in the outpouring of righteous indignation proved Jan Egeland to be a great and generous human being on any hierarchy of giving. He gave something rare indeed in the world today: moral courage.
1/2/05: Swimming Around Us. Opportunity doesn't knock once. It starts knocking on your door the moment your eyes first open and it never stops. Some people wake up in the middle of the night full of ideas about ways to start accepting opportunities swimming all around them. Some people just don't see that, though. They become totally or partially frozen in inaction and in doubt. They see the life they have and worry that they will lose it, instead of seeing the life they have as a tool to build. It's hard to answer the door when your hands are tied. It's hard to work your tools when your hands are wringing. The good news is we control our own hands, and our own hands can untie our doubt and stop wringing the life out of our life. The key is action. The enemy is inaction.