#121 Creatures of Habit

 

Creatures of Habit.

As is the pattern of my life I woke around 4 a.m. Perched on the edge of the bed looking out towards the ocean at such a dark hour there were only faint traces of moon shadow on the porch. As I looked toward the water I realized I was seeing irregular flashes of white light. No thunderstorms were in the area which gave me a slight moment of panic thinking that something might be wrong with my eyes, except that the flashes of light were irregular and from different locations. After a few moments of watching (without my glasses) I realized that I was seeing flashes from a phone taking pictures of the ocean. Someone was out on the rocks in the wee hours of the night. Slowly I recognized pools of round yellow moving patches, a flashlight illuminating the rocks as the person moved along the water’s edge.

In the four years I have lived here I’ve never seen anyone out on those rocks after dark. Those with fishing poles usually push the limits of natural light but they retreat when true darkness falls. Of course it is highly probable that others have been on the rocks while I was sleeping. Only in cold winter when an icy coating slickens all surfaces have I truly not seen humans along the jagged shoreline. The pull to be as close to the power of the water is constant yet surprising when the tide is exceptionally high and waves are huge. Diligence has to be paid at all moments, the need of awareness of an escape route ever present because the rocks are daunting and access to patches of higher ground in front of the few houses out here are widely spaced. The rule holds: “Never turn your back on the ocean”.

The most interesting part of all of this has been my assumption that no one would want to be out among those rocks in the darkness. Long ago a Somali friend who grew up near the ocean in Mogadishu told me that in his country it was believed that bad spirits came out of the ocean at night so no one who lived nearby would go near the water after dark. Darkness to humans means fear of what might be lying in wait. Is darkness still fearful in modern life or has light pollution robbed us of our own powerful abilities to adjust? Living in places without street lights means being able to see planets and stars, means awareness of vast, and ever present wonder, means feeling like a tiny speck amongst the unfathomable.

We are creatures of habit long past the point where things have undergone radical alteration which we fail to recognize. We cannot adapt to what we fail to notice. Perhaps one of the reasons we global humans are having such a hard time during this pandemic is that we want what we know to return. We are resistant in so many ways but our lives have already changed forever.

What is most interesting is our challenge to turn and face the unknown trusting that modifications and entire new ways of being can come into being during this opportunity, for opportunity is truly what is happening. If we faced forward and not back perhaps we’d see this time as it really is, being able to glimpse the light beyond the darkness.

 

#119 Sun Porch

Sun Porch.

My childhood memory is the porch of my aunt’s house, the common long, narrow space that served as the house’s entrance filled with a variety of seating that had been around for a very long time. At the far end of that space there were a couple of chairs that had made it through the depression, the time when anything past fixing was saved regardless, so as a kid on visiting Sundays, when the porch filled up with family and friends, I was going to end plopped on angular, poking springs. Anything was worth it to get to listen in to the stories told and the laughter shared. My favorite seat was the swing settee piled with layers of my aunt’s multicolored, crocheted afgans,  a softer seat than the cold metal frame underneath. This Sun porch meant long, slow conversations as the afternoon sun’s light and warmth and my beloved aunt’s talk filled the space.

My second sun porch recall is sitting in the warmth of a sun porch in Holland, VT twenty years later. I was visiting an older friend and down-the-road neighbor, Mildred Goodall who was in her 90’s and still active, still driving, still doing for others in that strong, indomitable New England farm woman way. The truth of her driving was measurable by the wide berth town residents gave her recognizable car. Things like that seemed a naturally easy accommodation in such a tiny rural, community, especially for a woman who had earned her place through a  lifetime of good deeds through tough times. It was a February afternoon and her birthday, and the rural New England version of party where a succession of neighbors, family, and friends dropped by—long enough for a warm beverage and short enough so as not to be a nuisance .  Her sun porch was a plain, unadorned front of the house afterthought, a wind protective space  with those old time cheapish, aluminum framed, double hung windows,  a long, narrow, utilitarian space with sparsely straight backed chairs and no afgans but  being able to sit in the warmth of the winter’s sun in the Northeast Kingdom of Vermont in the dead of winter to was a coveted experience, especially in the company of a woman who knew how to thread years of stories and knowledge in and out of her conversation.

In all the years since then I had not lived in a house with a sun porch, fancy or plain. Unheated sun porches no longer matched transitioning architectures or lifestyles. They were an unaffordable, unusable space, blocked off as soon as the cold days of late Fall moved in.

The house where I now live has a glorious sun porch but the house was built in the late 1970’s before radiant heat or zoned heating systems so it, too, is unheated, but the windows are big and face south-south east (the cardinal necessity of all sun porches) which allows the porch to zoom into balmy temperature ranges in the Fall and Spring. How lovely to bask in sun’s warmth after the first freeze, and by early afternoon I was setting up a jigsaw puzzle in a 78 degree space.  To be able to get back to working on that puzzle I will have to bide my time, holding out for other days with morning sun breaking early over the ocean without the wind that moves the cold in the porch’s direction. It will probably take a long time to finish the puzzle, but I’ll wait it out. Puzzles have a way of clearing thoughts, making a meditative space with only the awareness of colors and shapes filling the mind. I never understood how my mother could waste so much time on such a silly pursuit until I happened across a nice image on the box of a puzzle in the cheapo do-dad store.

My mother had kept quiet about the amazing sense of peace and solace that working on a puzzle brings. She also did not have sun porch warmth, the added blessing I now wish I could share.

#116 It’s Not All About Money

It’s Not All About Money.

Despite what we are led to believe, it’s not all about money.

The most obvious proof of this is how we come into this life naked and wailing and leave as our spirit departs our flesh, both the coming and going not involved with carrying anything but what our consciousness was able to absorb.

We all know this, in our intellect or in our heart yet we behave (all too often) as if money is the only part of our lives that matters.

How silly. Money, as the song goes, “can’t buy you love”. It can buy you objects, most all of which require even more money to keep or maintain, and then only until you lose interest, change your mind, or change your being.

Money now seems even more connected to a concept of power yet it baffles me why power is ever considered interesting. Why would you want to expend all of that energy directed outward when there is so much work to do attempting to understand our own psyche?

Why would wanting to control anything be remotely interesting, unless of course, it is insecurity which occupies your wheelhouse? Is it really power you feel if your wanting is to control someone else?

This lack of feeling solid within yourself will never be met by anything other than self exploration, deep introspection, conversing with others, or learning through the written words of those long past occupying the world of flesh.

Diving deep within ourselves does not require cash or bank accounts. It comes through silence, convening with nature, watching the creatures with whom we share the planet. It is found in meditative moments, accompanied by the great courage it takes to look within. It is found by searching your own heart and examining your soul, questioning your purpose.

 

#113 The Art of Concealment

The Art of Concealment.

I stepped outside my door to soak down the parched front yard plants, bone dry from a long stretch of July-August heat with almost no rain, now even into September. My movement flushed a hawk from it’s perch in the tree closest to the porch door. I have caught a glimpses of this hawk before, stealth in the small trees, lying in wait, hunting.  It’s initial presence was likely drawn by the small birds who gathered at the feeder before I took it down for the summer. The common sparrows and finches are still here but are now dining on the natural bounty of the seeds and plants of late summer. The hawk remembers this location as a ready source of food and I am grateful I’ve been spared witness to his or her success.

The hawk flew a short distance to another tree, close but yet still remaining difficult to spot among the dense leaves. I stepped farther out on the porch hoping for an identifying view but the only clear view I had was the tail-feather bars as it flew away–a young Cooper’s Hawk most likely. A short while later a fledgling catbird was on the porch trying to conceal itself among the garden tools leaning in the corner of the porch where, mostly unused, they’ve stood gathering rust all summer. I suspect this family of catbirds was the hawk’s intended food and I was happy the young one made it though. Concealment by both, the camouflaged hawk in the tree branches and the tiny young catbird  trying to save itself by hiding, demonstrate nature’s way of survival for both predator or prey with an outcome that can go either way.

This seems to have been a summer of concealment, maybe even a year of it,  both in our personal lives and in the outer world, as we humans struggle with how to remake life under new rules that affect everything. The political world, always harsh but now with newly sharpened edges on much more dangerous tools, seems awash in concealment. The  extremes of behaviors are  being stretched beyond our society’s capacity to stay whole. It’s hard to hold the lives in our community in safety and security as the rules and guidelines of pandemic caution are so varied and interpreted in understanding and in practice. My sense of what is safe may not be closely related to yours and the ultimate  proof is staying healthy or getting sick, a dicey proposition in every case. Leaders obfuscate with underlying motives. Precarious economics scare everyone. Outcomes are not clear for anyone on any level.

Is anyone playing it up front and honest any more? Still not willing to enter the fray of retail stores, I limit online ordering to basic supplies. I’ve been ripped off three times this summer. The latest was a package which arrived holding only one of the two identical items I ordered, bubble wrap filling the space where the other would have been. I notified the company and sent photos of the packaging (as requested by them) as it was received, only to be denied my claim because the shipping weight of the FedEx package stated the weight was for two items. What’s clear to me is “someone” removed the second item in the packing room or on route, then resealed the carton and I’m left paying double while feeling like I’ve been declared a liar by a fly-by-night company. At a time we need compassion more than ever the affront digs deeply.

This is a time of struggle. Personal past traumas bubble up as opportunities to examine the truths we tell ourselves. Whether or not we stay silent or attempt to work through what we carry, concealment happens within our own psyches. We dance to the music in our head and are driven by motives we don’t often recognize. Is it concealment if we have been unable to face something within ourselves? If we cannot or will not take hard looks at our motivations and actions, if we hold back information from ourselves or others, aren’t we lying by omission? How do we uncover our own truths much less the truths of others?

Here I am amongst my inward leaf cover, sitting on my internal branch, trying to fix things before I can move along. It is damn hard and miserable work. My sense is I am not alone  but are we hiding our struggles from one another and ourselves, making it even harder when it was already difficult enough?

#111 Stuff

Stuff.

So many moves since leaving the Vermont house I loved in 1985, the only one I ever owned, even if it was a shared mortgaged with a former husband.

It took four years of absence and one massively disruptive, difficult week to sift, sort, sell, and store what had been accumulated in that space where I thought I would live until old age then I’d get to die there. I thought I’d always be a part of a community I loved despite the difficult snowy winters on the borderline.

The string of places and the stuff which moved in, then out, of my life is now lost to me. I knew the move to this house by the ocean was not my last but somehow I had faith that the move that would come after that would be my last and it would be a peaceful transition. How little we know of our own futures.

Going through stuff as an old person is quite a different process than the younger me experienced. You may be familiar with the declutter movement and its primary guru Marie Kondo. One of the tenants of the declutter movement has been the “rule” if you haven’t used something in the last year it is in line for shedding. I no longer believe that is applicable. Old age is altering my perspectives on this.

It’s true that much of what I once felt was required as necessities for daily living got pared down. It turns out that after retirement (or is this a pandemic thing?), work clothes give way to comfy, stretchy stuff. There are bins of work clothes in the storage space in the house which need to be passed on. But lots of what is in the (too many) boxes that came with me, which hasn’t been unpacked in four years, has precious connections to times, places, and people that are gone from my life. This time the memory attachments to that stuff feel like gossamer threads which bind me to things more precious than ever precisely because they—the places and the people—are gone. There are letters in handwriting I’d forgotten which remain as proof that connections were as real as their writers who have passed from this world. Other objects still in the boxes that came with that last move, the singing bowl from Jeannie, the boxes of slides which are all that remain of the life the film camera recorded, and the papers I wrote in grad school, one with an A+ at the top of the page. I found two degrees and a commendation in a folder in a plastic box. Do you put those particular pieces of paper through a shredder? The move from the Vermont farmhouse required a large outdoor bonfire but here there’s no place to do that. (And I still don’t recommend burning your grown child’s left-behind toys. That one left scar tissue.)

I am thinking of people in spaces now moved to minimal assisted-living accommodations and wondering where their memory stuff went. When those ties are broken, when you can’t open an old box and feel yourself travel through the objects to the memory of connections, then who are you? Does anyone think of that or is the practicality of warehousing old folk in more the most cost effective space possible all that matters?

I didn’t expect to be so attached to what I sorted and brought with me on the last move. Long ago I shed the idea of owning “nice things” because I moved a lot and stuff always gets broken in a move. I don’t own valuable, re-sellable objects, but as I sort through the boxes I didn’t expect that what feels broken this time is me. No one but me wants this stuff, cares about this stuff, not as valuable objects but oh-so-precious because of those gossamer threads that make meaning out of what once was, only to me and only for as long as I can follow those threads.

#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.

#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.

 

 

#97  Size Matters

Size Matters.

A Great Black-backed Gull landed on the roof of a nearby house, checking out the surrounds for food scraps. A resident Herring Gull swooped in trying for territory protection. The Black-backed was not having any of that nonsense, in bird terms, shrugging off the Herring Gull clearly implying “Are you kidding me?”

Awhile back, I’d been checking out a good birding spot with a friend, a place where the tide comes in (and out) as a river flow into the mouth of a large marsh. A Herring Gull was strutting the beach with a clamshell lunch in its beak. A Black-backed landed nearby and proceeded to walk deliberately toward the Herring Gull who clearly showed signs that he/she knew that they were not going to get to eat that lunch. When the Black-backed got sufficiently close the Herring Gull simply dropped the clam on the sand and flew off. Size matters.

Great Black-back Gull: Larus Marius

Length: 2.1 – 2.6 ft. (Adult); Wingspan: 4.9 – 5.6 ft. (Adult); Mass: Male: 4 lbs (Adult, North Atlantic population), Male: 4 lbs, Female: 3.3 lbs

 

American Herring Gull: Larus Argentatus Smithsonianus  

Length: Male: 2 – 2.2 ft. (Adult), Female: 1.8 – 2 ft. (Adult); Wingspan: 4.1 – 5.1 ft. (Adult); Mass: Male: 2.3 – 3.4 lbs (Adult), Female: 1.6 – 2.4 lbs (Adult)

Great Black-back Gulls: “Unlike most other Larus gulls, they are highly predatory and frequently hunt and kill any prey smaller than themselves, behaving more like a raptor than a typical larid gull. Lacking the razor-sharp talons and curved, tearing beak of a raptor, the great black-backed gull relies on aggression, physical strength and endurance when hunting. They can be nasty, albeit beautiful, birds.”

From: https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Great_black-backed_gull

According to family lore I am a throwback to my paternal Great Grandmother, a tiny 4’10” woman who arrived as an orphan on this continent along with her younger sister in one of the earliest waves of a forced emigration movement from England into Canada now labelled as the “British Home Children”. From 1869 until the 1940’s the descendents of  these neglected-by-history children now make up ten percent of the current Canadian population. It’s a long and mostly sordid story, the gist of which in my family’s case was to keep silent about Elizabeth Chew Hesseltine’s past. Her importance to me growing up was that I was the only short one in a family not particularly tall (but hardly runts). My shortness was attributed to my carrying her genes although in the late 1940’2 and early 50’s that could not have been the reference. I have always been aware that tall people, especially exceptionally tall women, seemed to rise to prominence where we shorties struggled for our existence. Heightists! Size matters.

There are fairly numerous references to the claim that the tallest Presidential candidate always wins. If we ever get to elect a woman as President will this stay true?

According to random Google searches men are usually regarded as “short” if they come in at less than 5’10”. What height is considered “tall” for a woman? Those Google results list 5’6” as an ideal height for a woman in the U.S. (5’11” for a man). My observation has been that thin ranks of successful top-of-the-heap corporate or institutionally prominent women are often near the 6’ mark. From my 5′ tall perspective, this is a “truth” I’ve been noticing for over seventy years. (I am conveniently ignoring the physical stature of Ruth Bader Ginsburg, a giant among women.)

I used to think that those who exceeded considerable height could be kind, that they never had to resort to bullying behaviors used by those of lesser stature, that their size alone dictated they did not have to resort to tactics of the very short,  know: that “gentle giant” thing.  That thought lasted until a 6’5” wife beater was outed in my small town. And now there are lots of political examples (and no, we won’t name names).

There are lots of size issues in the Animal Kingdom and bird species obviously have different adaptations where size may not be the critical issue but I doubt that would be a consolation for that stymied Herring Gull I watched this afternoon. I stay rooted: size matters. Or maybe, with nods to the Justice, that should be “Attitude”.

Photo Note: Herring Gull at Two Lights

#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/

 

# 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.