#105 I Wake to the Stark Reality of This House

I wake to the stark reality of this house.

I wake to the sound of the ocean, the vast water capable of absorbing all of my tears yet never once softening–

That’s not the purpose of the ocean.

I wake to the stark reality of hard surfaces, of wood and glass that reverberate sound without absorption–

That’s not the purpose of wood nor glass.

I wake to the stark awareness of yet another day spent in my own company, another day with my thoughts as companions when I long for the warmth and comfort of friends or family–

That’s not the purpose of aloneness.

I wake to the stark hardness of political messaging that uses division and hate that tears at the fabric of my understanding of humanity–

That is not the purpose of humanity.

I wake to another day of stark being and hard reality as I long for the embrace of compassion, first for myself then radiating to all others, each of us waking to yet another day of trying to stay safe while struggling with isolation and wanting connections–

That is the purpose of compassion.

#103 Animal Rights

Animal Rights.

Some years the wildlife is more prolific than others. Acorns are often the reason given for the abundance of squirrels or chipmunks. The year the oaks rain down their heavy seed pods the survival rate of these pests or adorable critters (choose your own description) goes way up. When abundant supplies of nature’s bounty fails there is much starvation going on in those nearby woods and fields. And in your backyard. 

I attend a lot of wildlife programs at the local public library, or did when they could be held in the Community Room which was often chock full of little kids and snow white heads with every age in between. The love of nature and critters is a very level playing field which pays no attention to age. The format of these programs is usually a lecture followed by lively questions and answers and, the most important part, visiting animal “ambassadors”, birds or other rescued critters who for one reason or another can’t be returned back into the wild. It’s the proximity, the up-close-and-personal chance to look into the eyes of a raptor or what turns out to be the most adorable face of an opossum named Ophelia, that gets us up and out of our chairs on an early snowy evening in February to be in close to fur or feathers. 

This year there is an over abundance of chippies. They are scurrying everywhere. If nature sticks to the plan this probably means well fed (and higher survival rates) for foxes and coyotes as well for as owls and hawks. But chipmunks can do a lot of damage to gardens and houses. So too can the mice that thrive on the leftovers from bird feeders. A love of feathered things brings along the risks of mouse invasions (or worse, rat infestations) and subsequent chain predators such as bears or bobcats. The balance in wildlife populations is constantly shifting. 

This summer there are also battlegrounds in many backyard in the form of wars on woodchucks, those possessors of voracious appetites of entitlement as they turn toward gardens made with love and lots of hard work in hopes of tasty backyard fruits and veggies. For you, not for them. In this year of generalized and specific awfuls many backyard gardens became beacons of hope and solace. Just as old and new gardeners were beginning to reap bountiful rewards those miserable terrors moved in overnight and destroyed everything. It is astounding how much destruction can be wrought in so little time by such small fur-balls. And don’t get me started on the continual warfare with deer. They are taller with even bigger stomachs. No compromise is possible. The energy and costs to reap the rewards of backyard gardening was described in a book published a number of years ago entitled “The $40 Tomato”. The ouch factor made it hard to chuckle the first time I read that title as it came a little too close to my own efforts at growing backyard yummies.

People who have never tasted freshly picked, out-of-the-ground vegetables can more easily defend wildlife. It is quite possible they have not needed to grow their own food out of economic necessity and, if the food chain supply line holds, they may get to keep their concept of loving nature through rose-colored spectacles. Those of us who have lost our well intended, possibly critically needed, homegrown foods to the digestive cravings of our four legged neighbors have quite a different viewpoint. But the rhythms of abundance and scarcity apply also to human beings, something we humans seemed to have forgotten even though our pendulum may have begun moving in a difficult direction and then we may be sharply reminded that human history is fraught with just such struggles even for us. 

Note: This caterpillar gets to remain munching my parsley, one of its favorite foods, as I believe it will become an Eastern Black Swallowtail Butterfly and there are never enough of those. 

#102 I Can’t Breathe

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I Can’t Breathe.

“I can’t breathe”, said the earth

gasping

and then

the fumes from cars and trucks

all over the world

stopped

and in the cities

the distant mountains

could again be seen.

 

“I can’t breathe”, we said

as we sat behind our closed doors,

the early spring still cold,

the shared outdoor spaces

roped off,

barricaded.

Social distancing meant

staying inside

without enough

movement

or

air.

 

“I can’t breathe”, said yet another

black man

restrained,

life flowing out from his body

as one more oppressor

prevailed

while the camera watched

then sent the image out

into the world.

 

“I can’t breathe”, shouted the

masses protesting

the accumulation of despair

and injustice

in shock waves

throughout the world.

 

“I can’t breathe” say

the non-mask wearers

defending their non-compliance

with no understanding

or regard

for the safety of others.

 

“I can’t breathe”, says

my spirit

as it cries out for

a better world

with love

and compassion

filling the

longing hearts,

the twisted painful

psyches

not yet recognizing

what they

most need

is light

air

and

breath.

 

 

Three Words. 70 Cases. The Tragic History of ‘I Can’t Breathe.’
https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2020/06/28/us/i-cant-breathe-police-arrest.html?referringSource=articleShare

#101 Deep Quiet

Deep Quiet.

What can be said for falling
into the farthest back folds of your closet
the place where silence reigns?

How is it possible to live day after day
saying only “Good Morning” with as much warmth and kindness as you can muster, then later “Thanks for bringing in the package”, eight words in an entire day while a stream of words run a constant presence in your brain but never leaves your mouth?

In this time of social distancing, of staying inside to remain safe and healthy
for over three months, is finding the daily isolation a bit too comforting? Is relishing the lack of face to face interchange, relinquishing the sound of words to the silent controlled realm of the keyboard, using words only when you have a handy “delete” function if you say too much or are a tad too honest, keeping everything upbeat and never discussing the darkness that lurks from all the edges, where you really want to be?

I walked a little at the re-opened park a mile or two away, where families returning to the normalcy of pizza boxes and blankets were sharing weeknight take out dinners or picnics, laughing together. The park, always a place of solace, made now ever so precious after the barriers and “Closed” signs came down. The families sat close together in household groupings while I moved around them, distanced, feeling the impact of my aloneness and isolation in contrast. During all these days of staying apart their being together for all this time was obvious. How had I become that lonely old woman walking unseen among the laughing clusters with an aching heart and gallons of unshed tears?

Is it a natural pairing, this aging and sliding away into our own company, shielding oneself from constant interaction, finding preference for solitude? If so, once again I am the outlier for I crave the warm presence of others, the interchange of observations of experience and difference, so while I’ve made use of the quiet, it does not fill me with joy.
Should it?

#99 The World Shifted In a Day

The World Shifted in a Day.

Pandemic news traveled
spreading fear
fast as moving air
fear seeping under doorways
spread by keypads and networks
finding ways
into consciousness

Virus droplets
growing in bodies
in close spaces
on shared objects
everything suspect

Days weeks months
isolation separation
no hugs no family.
flat screen faces
replacing whole bodies
learning to make do

Warming spring
closed public spaces
beaches parks trails
denied
old and young
disabled or strong
two legged
four logged
stacked inside
desperate for light and air
movement
solace
all denied

Magnetized energies
attracting unrelated
unresolved
hidden issues
pandemic pile-ons
growing behind
closed doors

So much pain
misunderstanding
hidden triggers
personal national global
discontent
wrongs needing righting
layers compounding
solutions
complex
unfathomable
desperately unintended
breaking free
into the awareness of everyone

This is not finished
the work
not done
until every
festering wound
opens to healing
yours
and everyone else’s

Don’t look for
returns
or endings
the point of
all this pain
is awareness
followed by
resolution
over and over again
until everyone
and everything
heals by
opening to
new beginnings.

 

 

#96 Seeing Is Believing?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Seeing is believing?

Researchers inform us that birds can see and differentiate color in ranges not visible to the human eye. Humans cannot imagine what it would be to have the precise vision of a hunting raptor flying high above or what it would be like to have unaided infrared vision. Researchers tell us a dog’s sense of smell is 10,000 to 100,000 times greater than that of a human. How can we possibly make sense out of such information?

I watched a brief clip on social media of a two people coming together in a hug using a homemade device made from a clear shower curtain with two sets of plastic arm protectors so each could stay safe from virus transmission. An irate viewer commented on the ridiculousness of this saying she “would not live with such fear any longer”. I didn’t stick around to read the comments to her comment but I thought that in a way she made a valid observation; fear is permeating everything. But we know, don’t we, how the science of virology works and repudiating fear is not part of this knowledge. We can throw up our hands, go to church or to a beach or a bar and mingle freely with others and, later, others may read headlines on the numbers of us who have become infected and who have died as a result of our actions. Our conceptualization of reality is tricky business.

What is it about our own particular version of reality? How do we know what we know? Much comes from out of our learned experience yet we often don’t have a clue about the realities of even loved ones closest to us. What did we  learn and retain from our education?  If only it was as simple as those who spent the longest time in institutions of learning and wracked up the most letters they could add after their name insures that they  always get to be at the top of the heap. Turns out that’s not quite right. There are so many different ways of knowing. Aren’t there?

Sitting in the midst of the time-out pandemic it seems like the perfect time to let such thoughts whirl in our minds. We have been watching daily media showing what divides us politically as we move farther and farther apart in our disbelief of the other side’s unwillingness to see obvious truth. Is this not one of the deepest mysteries of human kind?

In the protestations of that irate woman’s negative reaction to a backyard invention, the shower curtain virus protector, I heard a truth. Reading science-based media reports about how this particular virus spreads and the various ways it has inhabited human bodies, I hear truth. Our daily lives are permeated with fear and the threat to our continued survival requires us to abide by rules that make sense to many of us that means following the rules of science. What is compelling is how we are each attempting to make sense of our world, our worlds, now turned upside down but with or without this virus this was always the case.

A vegan finds the killing of animals for food abhorrent. A gourmand finds the consumption of rarities a joy. A five year old may only eat rice or pasta plain with only a bit of butter or with nothing at all, for months on end. These are operational realities. How do we make distinctions which incorporate such disparities? What, when, where, how do disparities lead us to seeing variations of other realities as crossing the line into unacceptable madness?

Extraordinary to me is that our entire planet is enveloped simultaneously in a pandemic that challenges us like no other point in our experienced history. Can this be true?  When we cannot fathom the motivations and/or actions of someone who shares our living space then how can we possibly fathom the actions of someone, anyone, across the globe? And yet here we are seemingly all in the same boat at the same time. If you are trying to make sense of anything about this pandemic you are also asking the questions of what makes things real and what makes us human.

Note: Apologies for duplication of a photo used in a previous post. It was too perfect not to use for the topic at hand.

Here are a couple of links about known animal abilities:

https://www.everythingbirds.com/articles/birds-vision-different-from-ours/

https://www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova/article/dogs-sense-of-smell/

# 95 New Thoughts on the Future of Aging

New Thoughts on the Future of Aging.

If you stop to sit and think about Retirement, if you dive right down deep into ponder, purging your mind of numbers and stereotypes, it might strike you that Retirement is a rather strange concept. The idea of a hard work lifetime coming to an abrupt end at a magic number (you choose but the government has considerable sway) is beyond odd. In my last paid working years I pushed long past realistic capacity, becoming increasingly exhausted in my non-paid-work hours, when I wasn’t actually sleeping. I went from work to home chores, to sleep, and back up the following day, repeating endlessly. All-chore weekends were the norm. When opportunity knocked I was retired in a month, moved two states up and over and starting anew. It was akin to throwing the baby out with the bath water.

In this time of crisis the pause button has been pushed. It’s time for a rethink. Being older now means virus vulnerability. Our ranks are thinning disproportionately. If local, national, or global resources become thin our presence takes on furthered meanings—ice floe or a still contributing member of society?

During and after a pandemic what do we have to offer? For the past two years I’ve been working on Eldering and Building Community, giving me new purpose. In lifelong learning classes dynamic, talented, intelligent men and women were in states of new beginnings at a time I had thought this part of our lives was all about endings. Instead, we had landed on “generative” but where were the opportunities to apply what we had to offer? Our graying heads were talking among ourselves and it was illuminating and, perhaps, just a tad stagnant, although a lot of fun.

The ground has shifted. For the lean times ahead, in what ways can we be most useful? Already apparent are divisive signs where the aged are seen as takers not givers, users of resources rather than resources ourselves. If our backs are not strong enough for heavy pulling what then do we have to offer?

Don’t count on a moral high ground but don’t discount historical perspective. Divisions based on age and body soundness are not what will work for us now so we’d best be stepping up and using what we’ve learned in newly expansive ways. There is work to be done and many ways to do it. Think in the “Crisis=Opportunity” mode. Ditch the never-really-worked-anyway Retirement model. Transitioning, morphing, adapting have always been sound. Staying malleable, finding purpose, take what you know forward and on to new ground. Continue learning. Everyone has something to contribute. Consider yourself repurposed. 

# 92 Fear

Fear.

I caught my foot on a looped wire attached to the garage. It entangled my right foot so that my attempt at rebalancing failed. I went down. Hard. On tarmac. My yelling was as much a release as anything else. I was scared. Later, I realized that a fear of falling had been present in me for sometime. We all have one, a fear we are carrying that lies just below our waking consciousness and, like the shadow on the wall, this fear may be a magnification of something much smaller, which confronted, through experience or circumstance turns out to be quite different than we thought. Exposing the fear enlightens us, allows us to get to what we need to know.

Fear is a palatable part of daily existence in the time of this global pandemic. I am thinking about the zillions of ways it must be a working present in each of our lives. It might just be Step One in our healing—our awakening—process. 

After finally being righted (needing help to do this) shortly after the fall I felt the words “good will come of this” in my head. Years and years ago I recognized that falling is a healthy thing to do; it’s an indicator of our flexibility as landing from a fall shakes out what we need to loosen. Children fall frequently, popping back up like newly set bowling pins but as we get older our various rigidities begin to worm their way into our thoughts and into our bodies. I thought way back then I realized the secret was to continue to fall which would remind me to stay as flexible as possible,  but as serious aging moved in I stiffened with arthritis and fear became a part of me without my recognition. 

Our deepest fears are OUR deepest fears for good reasons. Mine are not yours and vice versa. In circumstances where we tap into the experience we get the gift of knowing, opening ourselves in needed ways. If this is so for our individual lives what then does it mean for our global humanity as we face the unknowns of a virus? What is the process of collective fear working its way out into awareness on this global level? 

Is it not a privilege to be present and part of what is being released? We are in a time of opportunity for learning, a time for being flexible rather than rigid, each one of us throughout the world, all of us at the same time.

#91 Dualities

Dualties.

The Gulls gather daily on the rooftop of the restaurant next door and also atop the chimney of the house where I live. They have come back to their feeding ground in the beginning of the season of french fries and fried seafood. They circle then squawk loudly. Where are the hoards of people carrying the red trays out to sit on the picnic tables overlooking the ocean? Why is the parking lot empty? Damnit, it’s time for their favorite seasonal foods and they are impatiently waiting.

Watching the Gulls I think of how so many of us are struggling with this changing world. We are not what we were nor what we will become. We are in the unknown-unknowing time with no idea how long we will occupy this limbo state. We, too, want our french fries or their equivalency in our lives. We want the sun and the summer’s warmth and all that comes with it. We long to be carefree, relaxed, engaged in the joys that summer represents. Instead we circle like the Gulls knowing that something is up but not exactly sure just what that means.

The days feel like a series of roller coaster rides. It is lovely to have time to think and to be quiet. On the other hand not being able to be together face-to-face is actually painful on physical and mental levels. The logistics of getting basic supplies are daunting and even more so for those who are compromised by health or age or circumstance. We battle moments of anxiety and darkness. And yet….

We can both grieve what we have lost at the same time we can believe in what will come.

We will not go back to normal. Normal never was. Our pre-corona existence was not normal other than we normalized greed, inequity, exhaustion, depletion, extraction, disconnection, confusion, rage, hoarding, hate and lack. We should not long to return, my friends. We are being given the opportunity to stitch a new garment. One that fits all of humanity and nature.

Brene Brown, author.

I believe my “something is coming” feelings started in my late twenties. We moved “back to the land” and our family became as self-sufficient as was possible at that time: woodpiles and four wood stoves to keep us warm, chickens, huge gardens, one freezer chocked full with meat and the other with vegetables and berries, canning jars on cellar shelves filled with peaches, pears, and applesauce and green beans and tomatoes. There were old wood bins with potatoes and carrots.  On the floor of an unused upstairs bedroom were varieties of squashes and the onions.  Put up or put by, the terms dependent on where you came from, it was hard work full of love and joy that brought a sense of fulfillment (and exhaustion). Most of us trickled away for varieties of reasons but at the dawn of a new century others began returning to those same thoughts and ideals. By then I was too old to return to that lifestyle and far beyond the means necessary to obtain–land, tools, a strong bodied partner– what is needed to live that way. But I still believe in this transition to a better world. I may not live to see it flourish but, unexpectedly, I am here at its beginning. The negative moments come when I look back. The positive moments are when I open to the possibilities of the future.

# 89 Inner Strength

 

Inner Strength.

“Everyone is struggling with things we know nothing about.”*

“New loss triggers old lost.”*

For years now I have thought that one of the problems of the design and refinements of homo sapiens is that we cannot, like Dr. Spock of Star Trek, do a “Vulcan Mind Meld”. The fingers of the Vulcan were placed on the head of another being, allowing the Vulcan to join with the mind of the other allowing instantaneous understanding of the issues at hand. A related concept with origins I did not know until I looked it up, came from a poem by Mary T. Lathrap in 1895 entitled “Judge Softly” in which her readers were admonished to  “Remember to walk a mile in his moccasins”.

Without these abilities, in our best moments, we work our way to compassion, but beyond (and including) compassion is experiential knowledge, that “mile in the moccasins” thing. I remember thinking that I understood the grief born by friends when they lost loved ones but only when such loss hit my life did I understand how little I had actually known as I was trying to express caring and solidarity to those dear friends. Experiencing the searing pain of loss I wanted to contact each and every one of those whom I had wronged through the gaps in my previous understanding and I wanted to beg those friends for forgiveness and to tell them I finally “got it”. Too little. Too late.

Yet there is a flip side to this, almost a contradiction, when we ignorantly err trying to make sense of the lives of others through our own experience which is actually not theirs but ours. We think we know. We don’t.  And yet there are some who are able to use their hard earned knowledge to make a real difference, such as  those who become counsellors or sponsors in addiction recovery programs. These are the people who have walked that mile in the foot wear of others.

Among our friends, family, and community there are those who even in the darkest of personal times present a brave or noble face to others, to “suck it up” and just keep going. Were we taught that no one wants to hear such troubles? Was there an instruction manual that told us to hide what we were going through?  I have come to feel that such masking is detrimental beyond the obvious. Such masking has allowed our culture to brush aside the awareness and the honesty of mental health issues that arise in the lives of most all of us at some point in our lifetimes. We, as individuals, and we, as members of our culture, are steeped to steer away from such sharing, to hide the honesty of our humanness and our vulnerability. How recently it was that provisions for mental health began being required of health care insurance plans yet still there are limitations placed on such coverage which is a critically important piece that is still getting lost in all the clamor of “health care for all”?

Festering wounds are healed by light and air. This is true for both physical and mental healing. If you think yourself beyond such “weakness” you have yet to experience your own particular version of deep human trauma or, even worse, you may have stuffed your own pain and sorrow and stayed silent thinking that was what was required. In communicating with others I am learning that the most profound moments of meaning come from the “slip” into divulging what lies hidden (mostly only to ourselves). So many kinds of trauma and grief lie within our psyches wanting light and air, compassion and understanding. Owning our feelings and sharing them can be a breakthrough moment for everyone involved, strangers and friends alike.

Examples of the cover-up of mental health issues can be found daily by simply turning on your radio, TV, or by reading or viewing internet postings. Incapacitated leaders, celebrities, talking heads, pundits abound yet everyone seems to be in the “Emperor’s New Clothes” mode, hovering and praising while ignoring blatant realities. To call this out our honesty has to be motivated by compassion for others and for ourselves, and those who have walked in the shoes of others are those who could lead us to understanding. Pointing fingers and calling names does not lead to healing. There are so many ways for our personal pain, sorrow, or grief to come forth and the strengths they bring can begin to heal our world.

 

Notes and References:

Image note: I have written before of my admiration of the survival skills of Gulls and I look to them as examples of unrecognized strengths.

*These words came from a brief interview with David Kessler (author of “On Grief and Grieving with Elisabeth Kubler Ross) on the NPR program On Point on March 31, 2020.

 

MindMeld

Spock performing a Vulcan mind meld.

The Vulcan mind meld (or mind touch) was a telepathic technique employed exclusively by Vulcans in which the minds of two individuals become a single entity. In the Vulcan language, it was known as taroon-ifla. (TOSepisode: “Dagger of the Mind“, Last Unicorn RPGmoduleThe Way of Kolinahr: The Vulcans)

https://memory-beta.fandom.com/wiki/Mind_meld

“Walk a Mile in His Moccasins” link: https://jamesmilson.com/about-the-blog/judge-softly-or-walk-a-mile-in-his-moccasins-by-mary-t-lathrap/

 

# 88 Sound

Sound.

The nights are never truly silent. Even during the most quiet time, when the tide is furthest out and the winds are calm, there is still the constant backdrop of waves colliding with rock. When the fog horn is not sounding, that is as silent as it gets. I would have thought that this sound would fade from constant awareness into backdrop as does a heartbeat or the sound of breath, but that’s not the case. 

These days of early spring are not silent either as the songbirds sing for mates and territory. But it is the absence of other sounds that holds my attention and gives awareness that not all is right in the world. 

The sound of pickup trucks in the driveway, saying soon the nearby restaurant will open for the season, is absent. The sounds of the school bus picking-up or letting-off neighborhood kids is absent as well as the occasional sounds coming from the closest yard when the boys are out there together letting off indoor steam. The sound of planes  in landing lineups overhead, preparing for delivery of their passengers is (nearly) absent. The diesel engine noise of lobster boats pulling traps is also nearly absent. The hearing evidence of human activity has faded to a whisper.

The sound of my own voice is also mostly absent. There are a few phone calls now and then, but not daily. Mostly there is quiet keying on the laptop or the phone, the silent greeting of words to check in with others and to pass along funny internet stuff. I am noticing we seem to fade in and out with one another, wanting to stay in contact yet there are days we seem to collectively withdraw just a little. 

The radio, often a prime source of sound, is only on occasionally; the news is grim and indeterminate, an anathema to the calm and peace possible when focus stays on light and clouds and water, when watching the Eiders transition from the great flock down to pairs as it’s unfolding day by day. There is spring work to be done, a new brood to make and raise and, although I suspect those things are far from silent, the duck sounds do not make it as far as the house. 

I feel a very particular kind of envy watching the birds going about their lives oblivious to our unfathomable human existence. I think of the times human actions have impacted theirs in devastating ways, but now there is only watching their movements while taking solace that the season is changing and (at least some) aspects of the world are still normal.

# 87 Irony

Irony.

I recently posted about silos. My timing was certainly ironic. For some time now my life has been filled with an awareness of the importance of building community as our social-media obsessed culture spends increasing hours looking at screens instead of talking with each other face-to-face. I’m talking about old people as well as teenagers and everyone in-between. I am as guilty of the head-buried-in-screens obsession as anyone else, but I started to realize that having the opportunity to share observations and life stories in conversations was seriously important. I began to notice a real hunger for communication, for talking together rather than being talked at. Can you think of any worse form of communication than political advertising? Are you, too, exhausted by the concept of “staying on message”?

Our shift from citizens to consumers was a deliberate calculation driven by corporations. Our precious individuality got squeezed into boxes as each of us we were seen as purchasers of goods so that others could profit. Advertising became a primary tool for convincing each of us that we were inadequate but by purchasing this or that product we would be righted and restored. In this process we began to lose our humanity and we certainly lost our independent selves. Social media has taken this and run with it and now we find ourselves in isolated units, our silos, often more than a little lost. Our hunger for meaningful contact is tangible. I set out to see if I could make the tiniest difference in a few lives. My timing was off.

The coronavirus has descended necessitating thicker, taller, fortresses–silos–to keep us safe from the ravages of illness. The media screams dire warnings and publishes daily photos of store shelves emptied of water and toilet paper and hand sanitizer along with whatever else you can dream of that might keep you going in the face of certain contagion. Can you manage long stretches of quarantine? Has anyone truly thought this through instead of being driven by rampant fear? Do you really believe it is possible to stay in your house for weeks on end? Can entire countries shut down to keep the virus from spreading?

The climate of hysteria has been building for a few years now so the arrival of this potential pandemic hits us when we are ripe for showing how truly out of control we can all get. Our mental health needs contact, face-to-face caring and interaction, the needed tools for allowing growth of perspective and thought. At this moment it seems not safe to do that. Our lives seem dependent upon the very isolation that has been slowly strangling our hearts’ desires for meaning and making a difference. How utterly ironic.

 

# 84 Silos

Silos.

There was a period of time in farming communities all across the country when tall, dark blue, Harvestore silos began dotting the landscape. It was a new method of storing feed for cattle that used ground corn or grains, (maybe even grasses) which fermented in the tall towers. This method of preserving cattle feed was an alternative to the dangers of storing hay, which if not properly cured, was prone to ignition in (and of) the large barns in which the hay was stored. Everyone knew that Harvestore silos were massively expensive so having one or two erected beside your cattle barns was also a status symbol. The unmistakable stench blowing on the wind was the result of manure from Harvestore-fed cattle being spread as fertilizer on the fields along the dirt roads of my drives to and from home. Think Kim Chee only much much worse. Over time, problems of that method of handling feed emerged and (mostly) those big blue symbols of a thriving farm ceased being used.

In recent times “silo” is a term applied to information systems, a good way of illustrating info which is not readily available for sharing—silo as in isolation, stacked upon itself and isolated—making it not readily accessible to others. (My mind immediately flashes to shiny, dark blue towers every time I hear “silo” and “information” used together.)

In either case, “silo” suggests storage and isolation, and here in mid-winter, I feel like I’ve encased myself in one. The days are often without much speech; communication occurs via keyboard but often my physical voice is still. Some days it’s too cold to venture out and other days there is no particular excuse of an errand to run. I am not exactly ever bored. Quiet time is good for working on things of the mind, but the body wants sunlight, movement, and air, none of which is easily found in silos.

I am coming to see how “silo” is also a word that describes how our culture has isolated itself, pulling away from the ways in which communities had worked. Instead of going to public theaters our entertainment is streamed on media devices and/or on multiple home technologies allowing silo-ing even within families. In many places the collective needs of community, such as volunteers for firefighting, or do-gooder projects, or youth sports were ways that people came together, pitching in to help and getting involved. Now, we pay others to do this work. We have no time to volunteer because we are too busy with jobs (sometimes multiple jobs) to make ends meet or to get ahead. Activities for kids such as Girl and Boy Scouts and 4H clubs had depended on community help and leadership but a number of profound societal awarenesses and shifts means we came instead to paying for music, dance, swimming, chess, etc. lessons to keep our children and grandchildren safely occupied and learning new skills.

The increasing isolation of silo thought or behavior breeds suspicion especially as media outlets  found that repetitive, fear-based, stories increased readership and higher profits. Holding-up in our homes, tethered to devices, bolsters “us” versus “them”, we react to dire tales hundreds or thousand miles away as if they were happening next door. Then such stories seem to creep into our own communities (copy catting or mirroring?) seemingly proving that, yes, it can happen in your neighborhood.

We’ve locked ourselves in our towers and we are afraid. The only way out is to emerge from our silos and interact with our neighbors and our communities face-to-face. It is not as dire out there as the media reports. Good folk are all around you but if you, and they, are locked in towers you will never know that.

Photo note: Those are not Harvestore silos.

Terrific information sharing on Building Community is being done at Weave: The Social Fabric Project under the auspices of the Aspen Institute. You can click this link on any of your devices and be on your way to learning about the fabulous connective work which is happening across the country:    https://www.aspeninstitute.org/programs/weave-the-social-fabric-initiative/

# 83 Difference

Difference.

Have you been in a situation where a person is describing his or her view assuming that your world and their world is the same, the kind of conversation beginning with “ You know….” followed by a take on this or that which feels completely alien to how you make sense of things? It is my observation that the possibility of this happening is greatly increased when the company is, on the surface, homogeneous. All white? All male? All female? All elders? All professing the same religion? Listen for the underlying assumptions.

I’ve had the privilege of talking with various groups of people over the past few years and what stands out to me is how utterly diverse we are. This is often not a diversity marked by skin color or accented voice. Our pasts, our family history, our educational experiences, our relationships, our exposure to travel and to other cultures (just to name a few) are ways we form how we make sense of the world. When we sweep broadly, assuming the gray head, (female head, neighbor head…) next to us shares our values or anything else, we fall down a rabbit hole of our own making.

I first noticed the diversity of the world around me in a tiny town in the Northeast Kingdom of Vermont. I was feeding lunch to the 70 or so kids at our local school, grades K through 7, trying to find good food that they would not dump into the garbage. I always provided makings for P, B, & J sandwiches in case the lunch offering was not to their liking so students would not have a hungry afternoon. I had observed that the “hippie” kids (this was in the 1970’s) dove into the white bread every chance they had while the “farm kids” did the same for the whole wheat alternative. Natural food “hippie kids” ate whole grain bread at home while “farm kid” Mom’s bought the cheapest bread they could which was the white stuff. I chuckled at this observation, thinking of the shock that simple switch would elicit from their parents, but that small observation grew to where I found myself thinking that around the dinner tables in this tiny, nearly totally racially white community, what food was on the table was radically different from one house to another—diversity awareness via dinner options.

Recently, sitting around a large table of lovely conversing beings, a speaker, deep into their expression of how “the world” works, shared assumptions in good faith and conscience with no ill intent but the facial expressions and body language of others around the table clearly indicated a lack of agreement as they  sat listening to what they heard as uncomfortable, unshared, assumptions that now hung in the air. The moment was painful, and led to divisive discussion-bordering-on-argument as others attempted to share  alternate views. The initial intent of inclusion fractured the delight of sharing stories. One person’s headspace assumption shared, then challenged, brought a conversation meant to unify was now a separation in need of repair and none of this was motivated by anything less than good hearts sharing personal experience.

How do we learn to see those around us as unique individuals, to see beyond even well-intended stereotypes? How do we find commonality beyond superficial measures of speech or dress, of stature or hair style, by surface clues we can easily misinterpret? This goes far beyond the outer focus on race, skin color, or ethnicity, of language and speech patterns, of looking  for signs of social standing via the presence or absence of material goods.

Have you experienced the utter delight of knowing how thoroughly you match in personality with a person from far across the globe? Have you experienced the utter despair of a childhood friend or dear neighbor whose values or political thoughts are repugnant to your sensibility? These are the true boundaries of diversity. They surround us every day. How do we communicate effectively, without assumptions, learning to recognize how we are different and how we are the same and finding the joy of learning through connective thought or experience and what we can also learn from that which is totally new?

# 82 More Than Strange

More Than Strange.

A message popped up on my phone indicating there was an immediate battery problem so I put the repair at the top of my “There is way too much serious stuff going on” list. Can any of us be without our primary communication tool, the lifeline of all those numbers and email addresses you no longer know by heart, the place holder for appointments that keep us responsible and accountable?

ln the Apple store I watched the impossibly smooth white skin of the hands of the young employee, keying on both my phone and on his iPad, hands looking newly formed, not hands of outdoor work or hard physical labor, moving faster than mine could have ever moved at any point in my lifetime, my hands-old, coarse, dark, and wrinkled-in comparison. His questions were polite, with touches of kindness, and the results of his work meant my life could resume after a 50 minute repair. Sweet.

To enter an Apple store you glide through openings between giant metal-framed glass paneled walls that melt away while open. There are no counters or lines or cash registers, just a myriad of same colored T-shirted helpers floating in a widely open space with wooden display tables and cubed wooden boxes for sitting. Every current Apple product is available for touch and tapping, the prices jaw dropping, the designs clean and flawless. Glazed customers float from device to device, a sea of color and slickness. To enter this realm is to walk into a version of a manufactured, non-nature-bound future, exhilarating and exhausting at the same time.

This marvel of a future world is located in the large, local, traditional shopping mall. Current media frequently reports the retail apocalypse and, not having been in a mall in years, the reports make sense to me after this visit, like a trip to a living archaeological dig or one of those historical reenactment “museums”. I am of the generation before mall culture took over teenage life, having grown up in a small town far too many miles away from the closest mall hangout. As I approached the intersection of corridors, I felt all those years melt away, like a slickly polished morph between way-back-then and now, the dystopian factor looming large as I walked past nearly empty spaces, one or two employees present filling idle time sitting at counters, nary a customer in sight. It was like watching a still-moving dinosaur encased in glass and gloss, the sound of too loud, too trendy, upbeat music blaring into emptiness, the air filled with artificial scent, the kind that triggers migraines.

Later, when I stepped out into the 10 degree winter night, the rush of frigid air brought  relief and deep, fresh breathing. I looked around at the vast concrete splayed everywhere, no natural surface in any direction. What was bulldozed to make this site? What had this land once nourished and, after these mall doors permanently close as surely they will, what good can come out of all that abandoned hard scape?

The juxtaposition of the futuristic store encased in the anachronistic architecture baffled me, rattled my sense of what is and what is possible. It was as if I’d projected forward and backward at the same moment, neither making much sense, a telescope of time and building smashed together, the destruction of a natural environment for a quickly passing human whim.

 

Photo: American Sycamore tree bark.

See: 
https://www.businessinsider.com/american-retail-apocalypse-in-photos-2018-1

# 81 The Sex Thing

The Sex Thing.  

Who cares what old people think about sex?

One scandal after another has broken out involving powerful, rich men occupying high positions within our culture. Some versions of this involves the sexual exploitation of young girls–children is the more appropriate description. This story seems to repeat itself in endless versions, a Sisyphean tale damaging to everyone. 

I am hardly the only voice that thinks this kind of behavior has as less to do with sex as it does about control and quite a lot about a lack of emotional intelligence of men drawn to seeking sexual release using those too young to understand sexuality. Listen to the voices of those preyed upon years later as they come to microphones, speaking through tears describing how they did not come forth sooner because they thought they had brought the sexual exploitation (rape, groping, degradation, etc. on themselves.) This is about SEX? It’s not and all of us know it. 

Sex between adults committed to exploration with equal-playing-field partners is an opportunity to open to the divine nature of ourselves, a path of discovery to our inner being. It’s complicated ground worthy of deep diving. The more each person brings to it, the more possibilities there are for expanded consciousness as well as physical release. The possibilities are endless, joyous, full of awe and maybe even fear and always complex. 

The purported sexuality described in headlines and the explosion of internet porn suggests to me that our culture’s view of sexuality is adolescent in its nature: distant, based on a false sense of imagery, potentially violent, and definitely not about deep exploration with emotional attachments over a long haul (you define “long” for yourself). Is there any harm to just getting off? No. And yes, when it stops at that. There is so much more—sex as the nth degree of finding amazing ways to experience being human.


Having sex with young women, underage girls or boys, forcing anyone, male or female, into complying so they can get off is not about sex. Our language is not serving us well when it comes to sex and gender. We need a new vocabularies to clarify sexual activity so the variety and meanings are not confused.  We’ve a long way to go before our culture grows into the adult phase of sexuality.

And that part about old people piping up about sex? Those who are eldering often have years of observation and resulting opinions from all that seeing, some of it valuable and some of it not so much. 

#79 Cheating

Cheating.

When I was growing up, “cheater” was an accusation that carried great weight. The matter of degree wasn’t the point, whether the charge was leveled in backyard play out of the eye/ear range of adults or not, once the label of “cheater” stuck it was going to be an uphill climb for a long time. Formal charges of cheating in institutional settings wrecked future opportunities in education, jobs, careers, and relationships.

In the present world it feels like there’s been a shift and my aging self can’t quite wrap my head around what seems to have flipped. Childhood efforts to follow some kind of straight and moral path seems locked in history.  Way-back-when parents felt a sense of failure if their children did not measure up. Getting caught cheating was serious business indeed.

In this new world the concept called “Gaming the System” is grudgingly or enthusiastically accepted (and sometimes openly admired). “Gaming the System”, means finding ways to advantage oneself or one’s interests (individual to corporate), creating a way or ways to alter desired outcomes to achieve desired results. Is this a now accepted form of what I would have once called “cheating”? It feels like the value shift demonstrated by “gaming” is placing millionaires / billionaires on admiration pedestals as we collectively turn our gaze away from the “hows” to focus our adulation on the “haves”. Are we now enthusiastically embracing the Machiavellian concept that “the end justifies the means”, where “Having“ is the measurement of all success?

There are so many small, daily, versions of cheating.  Cars running red lights is one of these as their drivers shout through their actions that the rules of the road do not apply to them (thus endangering the rest of us).Or how about our referrals to slip ups from self imposed food prohibitions or our lack of meeting self-generated goals as “cheats”? Big picture cheats include money paid to college personnel for spots in freshman classes of selective schools, behavior demonstrating the lack of trust wealthy parents have in the worthiness of their children. These desperate acts damage everyone,  the potential students most of all. And then of course are the endless stories of politicians of all persuasions ranging from phony vote getting promises to the myriad ways of bending the rules in order to stay in office, via examples of gerrymandering districts to lining the pockets of cronies, reminding us all that making as much money as possible and grabbing power are what matters most.

Despite my tone, choice of words, and the examples I’m using,  I am not on a high moral horse accusing others while holding myself unaccountable. My thoughts are on the personal damage done through little and big cheats, those I’ve done myself while my internal “compass” waved in alarm. When we cheat we know it. Cheating is giving ourselves zero credit for our ability to surmount obstacles, its essence a demonstration of a lack of faith and a lack of trust in our capabilities to find solutions without resorting to “shortcuts”.

I (maybe we) have reached a point of exhaustion on cheaters and cheating as the daily headlines scream the latest versions. I know we will not return to my childhood backyard concepts of what was fair and what wasn’t. All implications of implying a return to an earlier era as the solution for current problems is useless. Selective memory forgets it wasn’t that good then nor would it be now. But my recollections remain; cheating back then was a far bigger deal than it is now. Our weariness is showing through, our seeping cynicism akin to the proverbial leaky boat filling with water on its way to the bottom. I believe we are longing for trust, in ourselves, in our loved ones, and in our leaders. Not having to suspect every motive and action would allow breath to expand, hearts to grow, and allow the possibility of love to replace suspicion, all of which would alter our existence.

From Wikipedia:

Gaming the system (also gaming or bending the rules, or rigging, abusing, cheating, milking, playing, cheating the system, working the system, or breaking the system) can be defined as using the rules and procedures meant to protect a system to, instead, manipulate the system for a desired outcome.

# 77 Honoring the Women of OLLI

Honoring the Women of OLLI.

If we have spoken face-to-face or by phone  or via email in the last couple of years you have heard me gush about OLLI. There are a number of such lifelong learning programs throughout the country: Senior College, Elderhostel, and the Osher Institute of Lifelong Learning are three such programs. I found my way to the program in Portland where the offerings are broad and the people are fabulous, where OLLI has its own LEED gold star building, and the program was founded and funded by a native Maine philanthropist. There are OLLI programs throughout the country and they get raves everywhere.

No doubt my course choices (Consciousness, Aging, and Women’s Issues mostly) have led me to coming to know more women students than men and Oh! what women! (both students and instructors). Having the privilege of returning to school over age 50 brings out some of our best qualities; egos left outside the door; our ticking clocks  keeping us mindful and focused; the collective intelligence and vital inquisitiveness of the participants are all baseline.

Where there is joy there is also sorrow. I attended the service for one of the women I met in a fabulous class entitled Women & Aging that was offered a year ago. It is logical that given our age range (classes are free for those over 90) loss should be expected. Only it wasn’t. The depth of wisdom and intelligence of this particular woman made it a privilege to have known her in that context even though the class contact was defined and brief. I could write that about dozens of women with whom I’ve shared these classes and this woman would still stand out.

“Lifelong learning” is bedrock. Why did we ever think anything other? What is brilliant is taking this truth and giving it space and place and opportunity. This can be done in a formal setting like Senior College and it can be done in libraries and living rooms, in church basements, most anywhere there are numbers of retired people of active minds and deep conscience, people who have life experiences to share and longings to continue exploring.

The women (and men) I’ve met in these classes in these last two years have altered the path of my later life. I’ve been in school in one form or another since I was five and none of what came earlier was as richly rewarding as the expansiveness possible at this age and through these classes. To these wonderful women-and men-of OLLI, I give thanks.

And to Sally: Godspeed.

# 76 The Obvious

The Obvious.

Another ”Duh” moment has arrived. I was trying to figure out why I have kept one particular library book so long overdue. “I like this author”, I rationalized only then realizing in the past I have purchased her books while “forgetting” to read them or, like this time,  I’ve pushed past a library renewal due date while leaving the book abandoned and untouched on my bookshelf. “But she’s so clear, so succinct in shedding light on important issues of the day…” continued the swirl in my head, until it dawned on me that it does not feel good reading about hard world realities no matter how gifted the writer.

I then thought of my current tendency to binge watch series TV. I rationalize, thinking this is a temporarily distraction which allows my thoughts to escape into ease. I avoid dire. I cannot abide violent themes or films with protagonists with no redeeming character. I crave ”uplifting” and ”heartwarming”. I relish “overcoming” and gleefully immerse myself in stories where difficulties lessen as progress is made.

Lightbulb moment:  I watch or read things that allow me to feel good. ”Why is that?” I ask myself and the immediate, and obvious, comeback is that my aging body already hurts enough. Reading or watching stories containing pain and suffering pile emotional discomforts on to physical discomforts already present in sufficient amounts. Diverting attention toward things that feel good helps. Enormously.

Maybe a dash or two of “reality” reading or watching is enough, in the same way adding chili pepper flakes or jalapeños to food is sometimes worth a bit of gastric distress. Just not too much and not too often.

# 71 Elemental

Elemental.

If you witness the sun rising over the ocean at daybreak and see it only as “pretty” you are missing something vitally important.

The pulse of the world is elemental. It can be experienced beside vast water, at the base of tall trees, viewing distant blue-gray mountains, in meadows of sweet grasses and wildflowers, with birds flying overhead.

It might well be what moves fire before a great wind or nestled in the parched landscape waiting for rain.

Faint or pounding our earth breathes, it’s heartbeat present in the smallest of moments whether or not you are aware.

The fishes know it, so too, the bears and the deer and coyote moves by it, always.

The animals we dismiss as lesser beings than ourselves, live inside it. We humans mostly pretend. We pretend we are masters of this world, our cars and our electricity and, oh Lordy, those distracting computers and cell phones and gadgets, bent heads holding our gaze so absolutely unable to know it.

We make our games, our talk-talk, in our flimsy shells deceiving ourselves about the nature of our lives, ironic for how far from Nature we have come.

We occupy frail bodies, even those focused on muscle and prowess; one snap and we are reduced to howling.

The earth endures our attempts at destruction, bears the scars, bides it’s time. When it’s had enough it will “shake us off” (as someone I knew once said) “like fleas” and it will go on breathing, our opportunities for witness gone.