Monday, November 18, 2013

Dancing with Chaos and a Runaway Dog

I'm reading Living Originally by Robert Brumet. On November 13 I read a chapter entitled Dancing with Chaos. I had no idea how soon I would be putting that message into practice.

My son and his wife have two Rhodesian ridgebacks they love as children, and I was taking the dogs for a long walk. On our way back from Forsyth Park we passed the house of a friend whose lawn I had cleaned a few days before. I had lined the dozen or so lawn bags up against the house because the city only picked them up on Thursdays. It was now Wednesday afternoon, so I thought I would move the bags to the sidewalk for pickup. It would only take a few seconds, and I attached the dogs to a large garbage container that was already on the sidewalk.

Something happened that caused the dogs to move, and the garbage can tipped over. The dogs panicked and ran down the street dragging the garbage can behind them. It looked almost comical, like the runaway Amish buggies I remembered from my childhood. Suddenly the garbage can caught on something that brought it to a sudden halt. The larger dog, Khiri, snapped his chain leash in half like a twig and took off down the street. He turned around after 100 yards to look at me but, unresponsive to my cries for him to return, continued like a rocket in the other direction.

I took the second dog, Zara, with me as we tried to follow Khiri. He was now far out of sight. Numerous people looked at Zara and said that a dog just like her had run by a minute ago. One man told me he had turned the corner to the right and then added, "You do know where you're going, right?" It was a poorer black neighborhood and he was worried about my safety. I'd walked through that neighborhood many times with no concerns and, at any rate, had a bigger issue on my mind right now.

There was no sign of the dog and I had to return home to inform my son and daughter-in-law I had lost their dog. I felt like the uncle who drives over the kid in the driveway. We posted signs all over the neighborhood, contacted the police and animal control, and put notices on craigslist. Three days went by and nothing happened. A few people called to say a dog fitting that description was wandering through their neighborhoods in the evenings, and I spent hours pedaling up and down streets and alleyways on my bicycle. Friends also got involved with putting up posters and a bicycle brigade, but to no avail. Someone called us after midnight to say he had just seen a dog looking like the picture on the posters. We drove to the address he gave us, but there was no sign of Khiri.

I had already decided to post a blog about the experience, with the realization that no matter what the outcome was we would be OK. But I was still unprepared for the call that came Sunday morning. Khiri had entered someone's back yard and that person had closed the gate to fence him in. He then checked craigslist, saw our notice, and called us. My daughter-in-law, so stoic for three days, collapsed in tears when she heard the news. My son drove to pick Khiri up, who has been sleeping like a baby since he got home. Who knows what he went through during those three days. It is a story that ended well, even with the unexpected opportunity it gave me to dance with chaos.


Monday, October 14, 2013

Gentlemen of the Road Tour 2013

I recently had a great weekend with my daughter, son, and my son's wife at the final stop of the Gentlemen of the Road tour in St. Augustine, Florida. It was another reminder of how much I love live music, and why I need more of it in my life. Included among the many performers were Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros, as well as the keynote act of Mumford & Sons.

During his show, Edward Sharpe passed the microphone to the audience and asked for comments. One girl shouted into the microphone, "Thank you for giving me a wonderful spiritual experience."

And it was the next night as we were streaming off the field after the final show by Mumford & Sons that it hit me. Actually it was a three-fold revelation. First was that every one of those thousands of young people - at 65 I was probably one of the oldest people there - had had a profound and authentic spiritual experience. As they sang "Awake my soul" with Marcus Mumford their minds were opened, their hearts uplifted, and their souls refreshed. They realized instinctively that they were united by the power of the music, connected not only with themselves and each other but with the entire universe.

My second realization was that very few of those young people would be sitting in church Sunday morning, and it wasn't just because of lack of sleep. Why should they be? Why should they listen to a traditional Christian message telling them they are sinful by nature, exiled from God and in need of salvation, doing battle every day with a devil who is trying to entice them off the straight and narrow path that will lead to paradise somewhere out in space? It is not a message that resonates with them because it doesn't fit in with their instinctive understanding of what they really are.

The third thing that occurred to me was the most amazing of all. God itself, that great Power of Love that permeates the universe, individually created each of those attendees so that God - call it the Great Spirit, Divine Mind, Supreme Being or whatever you will - could experience that concert through them. Since God is Spirit and not a personality with emotions, it does not have the capacity to feel or have experiences. When it realized eons ago that it wanted to know more than it could in its formless spiritual state, it came up with the master plan of the ages. It would design a universe that 14 billion years later would include a planet called earth to be populated by people with minds and emotions to experience all the things God longed for but was unable to such as adventure, risk, loss, laughter, sadness, anger, desire, and ecstasy. God would live within them so that it could experience everything it had dreamed about but could not actually feel all those untold trillions of years.

And it would all culminate on Saturday, September 14, 2013, with God tapping his feet, snapping his fingers, a broad smile across his ruddy face, dancing a jig with Jesus and the Holy Ghost as they joined in with thousands of their favorite people who were all singing along with the voice blaring out of the microphone,

"But it was not your fault but mine,
And it was your heart on the line,
I really fucked it up this time,
Didn't I my love?
Didn't I my love?"


Monday, August 26, 2013

Quantum Physics and the Death of a Marriage

Quantum physics includes the study of cause and effect in sub-atomic particles, things that are really small. It contrasts with Newtonian physics, which is the analysis of cause and effect in visible forces such as gravity.

Some people take Quantum physics to the level of energy and thought. They say that our sub-conscious thoughts and motivations produce results that come to fruition in our lives. Just as a screenwriter writes the script for a movie, they say, we write the script for our lives, which turn out exactly according to the script we wrote.

I know it sounds crazy, but I'm thinking about it. Is is possible that the failed marriage I described yesterday was the result of a script I wrote years ago? Could it have been a full-immersion movie written and directed by me with me as the main character, a movie that turned out exactly according to my plan?

**********
I was in the ninth grade, sitting on the team bus for an away basketball game. The fact that I took the window seat tells you something about me. The person in the aisle seat chooses who climbs over them. The person in the window seat give anyone that choice.

A cheerleader, beautiful as cheerleaders always are, sat next to me and tried to engage me in conversation. I was painfully shy and answered in monysyllables if at all. As we got off the bus I heard another player mock her attempts to talk to me. "So, what's your name?" he mimmicked. "How are you today?"

The next Sunday I got on my bicycle and pedalled four miles to my "girlfriend's" house. Brenda was overweight and unattractive. We walked to the woods behind her house where she took off her bra and let me touch her breasts. I wanted the cheerleader, but only saw myself as worthy of Brenda.

Years later, I married the cheerleader. No, not that cheerleader but the beautiful woman I described in my last post. But did I really see myself as worthy of having a successful, joyful marriage with her, or did I only see myself as deserving Brendas?

I remember a conversation I had with my mother when I was still single, in which she asked what kind of woman I wanted to marry. My response was an angry, "I don't know." Why did I feel that anger to my mother's question? Was it because I didn't really feel worthy to be a husband?

Once when my wife told her father something unloving I had done he replied, "It wasn't because of who you are. He would have done that no matter who he was married to."

I was furious. Everybody knows that men stop being loving because they are not satisfied at home. They become unhappy when their wives stop being their girlfriends. Just ask Dr. Laura.

But now I'm not so sure. I didn't do that because of who my wife was. I did it because of who I was. And the screenplay that I wrote, the full-immersion movie in which my wife and I were the main characters, played out exactly as directed.

"Be gentle with yourself," friends are telling me. I'm not taking full responsibility for the failure of the marriage. I'm not even saying it would have worked had I been the perfect husband. But I do realize that the feelings of unworthiness I had so many years ago played a role in how things turned out.

The author of Busting Loose From the Money Game describes a Phase 1 and a Phase 2 of life. In Phase 1, he says, we limit ourselves in innumerable ways. For me, this included the belief that I was not worthy of having a wonderful marriage with an amazing woman. In Phase 2 we come to understand that we really do have great potential and are infinitely worthy.

Many people (I would even say the majority) live their entire lives without ever reaching Phase 2. For me it took 65 years. Most of the readers of this blog are much younger than that. I hope it doesn't take you as long as it did me.

Friday, August 23, 2013

A Legal Separation

My wife and I are now separated. Maryland law requires a 12-month period of no cohabitation before divorces are granted, and I've left the DC area to move to Savannah. It's an interesting law - one night spent together, a single slip-up, and the 12 months commences all over again.

When I realized the divorce was probable (I would say inevitable but I don't like that word), I called Silent Unity at 1-800-669-7729 (816-969-2000 on Skype) and asked for a prayer. I was a first-time caller, but they have been answering millions of requests for over 120 years. I asked that we would be amicable and respectful to each other during the proceedings.

The woman who answered the phone prayed for that, but she prayed for much more. She prayed that there would be a fair distribution of financial assets. And she prayed that we would take a moment to remember what drew us together in the first place.

I began there. I remember the first time I saw my wife as if it were yesterday, blond curly hair cascading over her shoulders, bright eyes, her snug blue sweater. She was fun and intelligent. She was interested in international culture and foreign travel, as was I. How many people can say their first date was watching a French movie?

She wished that we could have spent the first few years just the two of us getting to know and enjoy each other. Instead she was pregnant within four months and we had four children in the next five years. We went from being lovers to full-time parents.

When we moved to a new city for my job, we began attending a church led by an emotionally and spiritually dysfunctional pastor (I recognize it now, I didn't then). He was misogynistic, although I didn't know what the word meant then. Each Sunday he would ask for a man to stand and lead the congregation in prayer.

I only realized decades later how much my wife was hurt by that experience. Why didn't we talk about it at the time? Did she try and I was unresponsive? Or was she afraid to try because she thought I would be? I don't know.

Couples often say their marriages "slowly drifted apart". Ours split apart at the seams and, like Humpty Dumpty, a plethora of ministers, counselors, and psychologists couldn't put it together again. But we were determined to stay married. I was a Pennsylvania Mennonite, and would have been the first person in my family to divorce. She was a Jersey girl, and she would have been the first person in her family not to. Each with their own reasons, we tried to make it last.

We put on a good enough show to convince most people, but some saw through the haze. "It's obvious that you and your wife aren't close," a friend said to me years ago. "You are like two people on life support," said another. "Both terrified to pull the plug."

Years turned into decades. There weren't many fights, not much shouting, just deadly silence. I can't remember the last time we laughed together. Didn't our friends notice that in social situations we never said a word to each other?

And just like people on life support, towards the end our bodies started shutting down. Communication went first, followed by conversation and shared goals and vision. The last to go was touch.

"Take a year to be alone," a friend told me recently when I told her my wife and I were no longer together. "Connect with yourself. Grieve the end of a relationship that lasted 33 years."

Good advice. And listen to Back 2 Good dozens of times, usually with the volume turned up loud.

Saturday, July 20, 2013

There's Nothing to Forgive

I recently had the experience of - well, in order to keep this from getting too personal let's make it theoretical.

Imagine you have a neighbour you've lived next to for over 20 years. The relationship isn't good. Over the years you've done things to tick him off, and he's done the same. You finally decide you are tired of the resentments and grudges you are holding, and it's time to forgive him.

So you sit down with a pencil and sheet of paper and write out a list. Twenty years ago he did this - I forgive him. Fifteen years ago I did that, and I forgive myself. Twelve years ago he did that; now I let it go. Last year he did this, but I forgive him. Just last month I did that, and I forgive myself.

You finish the list and wait for the feeling of euphoria that is supposed to come with forgiveness, but nothing happens. You think maybe you didn't do it right, and try again. Still the same result. It just somehow seems that all those things that happened over the years aren't such a big deal.

I was trying to figure this out when someone explained it to me in a way that made it all make sense. She said there are four steps to forgiveness.

Step 1 - forgive the other person
Step 2 - forgive yourself
Step 3 - be grateful for the entire experience

So far so good. But I was totally unprepared for the final step.

Step 4 - realize there is nothing to forgive, because you chose the experience.

You chose to move next to your neighbor those many years ago, and stay in that location. Over the years, stuff happened. From where he was emotionally, he did things to irritate you, things to which you responded. And you did things to annoy him, to which he reacted. Now it's time to just let it all go. But there's nothing to forgive.

 

Friday, July 12, 2013

Muhammad's Last Sermon

A reader recently emailed me with a question. His fiancee is Muslim, he said, so he's been learning as much about Islam as he can. When he asked her about violence associated with the life of Muhammad, she had never heard of it and read him the following quotation from Muhammad's last sermon:

"All mankind is from Adam and Eve. An Arab has no superiority over a non-Arab, nor does a non-Arab have any superiority over an Arab. White has no superiority over black, nor does a black have any superiority over white (none have superiority over another) except by piety and good action. Learn that every Muslim is a brother to every Muslim, and that the Muslims constitute one brotherhood. Nothing shall be legitimate to a Muslim which belongs to a fellow Muslim unless it was given freely and willingly. Do not, therefore, do injustice to yourselves."

Before getting to Muhammad's last sermon, I'm sure the reader knows that according to Islamic law he will need to convert to Islam before he can marry his fiancee. That's not in itself a problem - raising your right hand and proclaiming I testify there is no God but God and Muhammad is the Prophet of God to win the love of your life doesn't make you a convinced Muslim anymore than saying I accept Jesus into my heart as my Personal Savior makes you a good Christian, but it does illustrate in my viewpoint a lack of equality. Muslim men can marry Christian girls with the stipulation that the children are raised Muslim, but Muslim women are not allowed to marry non-Muslim men.

(By the way, has anyone ever asked Anthony Weiner whether he converted to Islam before marrying Huma Abedin? What's that nice Jewish boy doing there in the mosque with his right hand raised to the sky? Again I have no problem with that - a man has to do what a man has to do - but it would be interesting if the former congressman's weiner tweets weren't his only secret).

Back to Muhammad's final sermon. This Wikipedia page notes that the reference to equality between Arabs and non-Arabs and blacks and whites is first seen from sources writing in the 9th and 12th centuries CE, 200 and 500 years after Muhammad. It is impossible to know where these writers received this information, since it was not recorded by earlier historians. It also goes against both the Koran (which states that Arabs are the best of creation and non-believers are the worst of creation) and the earliest biography of Muhammad in which Abu Bakr traded a non-Muslim black slave in order to set free a Muslim slave who was not as dark in skin. It is impossible to know whether the quote about ethnic and racial equality is from Muhammad, or whether someone later made it up.

It's similar to the famous story of George Washington cutting down the cherry tree. When his father asked who cut down the tree, Georgie replied, "I did it Father. I cannot tell a lie."

It's a great story but it never happened. Later biographers introduced the story into their accounts of Washington's life to embellish his personality. I suspect the same happened with those who wrote biographies of Muhammad.

I did find this quote from Muhammad's final sermon quite interesting as quoted in Wikipedia:

O People, it is true that you have certain rights with regard to your women, but they also have rights over you. Remember that you have taken them as your wives only under Allah's trust and with his permission. If they abide by your right then to them belongs the right to be fed and clothed in kindness. Do treat your women well, and be kind to them for they are your partners and committed helpers.

The above was a direct quotation from Muhammad's first biography as written by Ibn Ishaq - with a few notable exceptions. The original version reads as follows:

You have rights over your wives, and they have rights over you. You have the right that they should not defile your bed and that they should not behave with open unseemliness. If they do, God allows you to put them in separate rooms and to beat them but not with severity. If they refrain from these things, they have the right to their food and clothing with kindness. Lay injunctions on women kindly, for they are prisoners with you having no control of their persons. You have taken them with the trust of God, and you have the enjoyment of their persons by the words of God.

Why would the Wikipedia article leave out the parts about beating your wives, and their being prisoners with no control of their persons? It's a rhetorical question of course - it is information the Muslim writers do not want you to have. At least my reader's fiancee will be fortunate enough to have a spouse who does not take her Prophet seriously when it comes to dealing with marital conflict. 

Abundance and Prosperity

My brother-in-law recently passed. In many ways Marty's life was different than mine. He was a master craftsman, and I can scarcely hammer a nail. I've traveled the world, and I don't know if Marty had a passport. He was a legendary Little League coach, and I've not been able to hold a favorite team (until Bryce Harper came along, that is). Marty drank more than I do, and in the end it was complications from liver failure that took him away.

Because my residence has a few more square feet than Marty's did, and my bank account might contain a few more dollars, and I'm still here and he is gone, one could conclude that my life has been more abundant or blessed or prosperous than his. If so, that person would be making a serious miscalculation.

Marty knew how to have fun. The night before his death, his family said he was laughing and joking and talking about baseball. I've never hung out at a bar with friends - one of his favorite pastimes - in my life. I spend most evenings watching Judge Judy and reading a book.

I arrived early at the church for the memorial service, and was sitting in one of the front pews when I noticed a woman in jeans and a spaghetti-strap blouse come up to slowly examine the montage of photos collected there. Her clothing made her stand out from the somber attire worn by most of the other mourners. After the service was over I walked outside and noticed her standing alone. I greeted her and said I was Marty's brother-in-law. She said she lived in the apartment next to his for the last six months. "We all used to go out partying and drinking almost every night," she said. "We had some wild crazy times."

I told her I was glad she had come to the service. "I had to," she replied. "I couldn't have stayed away."

If any of my kids are concerned that I too might be on the lookout for women wearing spaghetti-strap blouses to party hearty, have no fear. I wouldn't even know how to do it. At least not half as good as Marty.