Category: Philosophy

Of Mint and Marigolds

“There are as many ways to live in this world as there are people in this world, and each one deserves a closer look.”

 

If you are close to my age, you remember reading Harriet the Spy as a kid. It was a great book with all kinds of kooky and unusual characters. And when Nickelodeon made a movie based on it a while back, tho it was very different from the book, it also made a point to include a wide variety of characters. As a weedling and an adult, i was so glad to see spectrum of people because i was and am surrounded by a stunning array of unique individuals. And the older i get, the more i realize that there are far more ways to live than i ever imagined. There are those who know me well, look at my life, and see me as one of the unusual ones; and others who find me rather conservative in my choices. (OK, there aren’t many of the latter, but there are some…) In the end, the beautiful part is that we made a choice. To live as we see fit. Plant the seeds of things we want to enjoy and share. Our own personal garden of love.

Have you ever seen an English cottage garden? It is a glorious mess. Beautiful flowers, herbs, shrubs… Very little structure, no formal order… Just a cacophonous hodgepodge of color and texture and form. And no two are the same. For many of us, life is like that. Dig behind the clump of coneflower and you may find cosmos. Or you may find oregano. That’s the beauty of it. So many disparate notes rolled into one crazy symphony.  To the outsider, no rhyme or reason. To those unfamiliar, it might appear that a seed truck overturned in the yard. But in its discord, there is exceptional wild beauty. I would say that my life is like that. A terraced bed of herbs and wildflowers and creepers with the occasional high-bred lilac. All mounded together. A surprise around every corner. Sometimes it’s even a surprise to me.

Now, my sister? She has more of a traditional garden. The kind that makes you stop every night on your evening walk, to take a moment to enjoy and smile, remembering that it’s those little things, like flowers, that make life worth living. The interesting part about my sister is that having a traditional garden was not an obvious choice for her. We didn’t grow up in a traditional family. No one taught her which flowers to plant where or what bulbs were compatible with what shrubs. She just had this natural talent. Don’t get me wrong… Look behind the rosebush and you may find an odd bit of Lamb’s Tongue. But even still, the woman has made a damned fine Martha-esque landscape with very little training.

I know people with very orderly vegetable gardens of lives. Every plant in a neat row and serving a specific purpose. I have noticed that many of my local friends have gardens like these. Rows of carrots and corn and tomatoes. Some have special sections of fun fruits and such to help their weedlings learn to tend their own garden (How much respect i have for these people!) Some have very small gardens and prefer to get their produce from others. Some have unusual plants done in an orderly way. Or traditional plants in a cottage style way. And some have little more than a single beautiful orchid.

Each of those gardens is worth a look.

There is a saying often attributed to Einstein, “If you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing it is stupid.” In that vein, judging someone else’s garden by the rules of your garden can be similarly hazardous. I can look at your orderly rows of green beans and peppers and think to myself, “Nope. Not for me.” But the minute that statement degrades into something akin to, “You are supposed to put the zucchini in the front!” Or, “They are doing it wrong. There should be some sunflowers in the back.” Then, we have a problem. Just because i don’t like your garden doesn’t mean it is bad or not worthy or wrong.

Because in the end, your garden is not my garden. I can tell you, if asked, that i think hostas are boring. But i have no right to go into your garden and dig them up. You can tell me that my yard looks like unicorn vomit. But you have no right to come stake my garden into rows. Rather we should appreciate each bed as it is, even if it isn’t one we would want for ourselves.

Of course, if you let your watermelon spread over into my yard, that’s a different matter entirely….

 

And If She Asks You Why, You Can Tell Her That I Told You

You can’t make anyone do anything. In the end we all do what we want. We only have control over our own actions, and sometimes even that is questionable.

Have you ever watched someone about to fall? You see them shift, you watch the tilt, all in slow motion. You know they are in for pain, and you know you can’t stop it. I watched a relationship do that last night. Yes, i was uncomfortable. Yes, i felt awkward. But, mostly, i felt powerless. Even understanding both sides of the argument, able to empathize with how each of them felt, there was no way to make peace. Both friends would suffer, and there wasn’t a damned thing i could do about it.

This morning, it was the global version of that same sensation. As i learned of the shooting in Orlando, which is sad enough in itself, i could see what would happen next: Knee jerk reaction and retaliation of Americans against muslims, savage protests by the masses, the promotion and election of politicians who eat such groups for breakfast, and the escalation of violence and hatred between religions. Again, i am devastated, weeping for the results. And again, i am impotent. Nothing i say or do is going to bring those victims back to life, nor will it stop the vicious aftermath.

I realize that many times in life and history, one lone voice has impacted the vector of time and stopped the descent into whatever circle of hell was gaining ground at that moment; but those voices came from people who already commanded attention. The Dalai Lama, Mother Theresa, Jimmy Carter, Robin Williams… Some people have the gift of influence. You, me, Daniel the bartender, most of the people we know… We could plead til we were blue in the face, but the politicians, the terrorists, the hatemongers… None of them are listening. Even on the small-scale, watching a fight between friends, it is nearly impossible to build a bridge that can bear the weight of the hurt feelings. To our credit, most of us still try, desperately hanging onto the thread of a utopian pipe dream.

Most of the time we are disappointed.

But that last shred of faith, the faint shadow of that castle in the air… They give us the strength for another attempt. Some of us are too stubborn to resolve ourselves to watching havoc play out like a movie. And tho i may never be able to keep terrorists from annihilating a group of bystanders, perhaps i can at least give my friends a white flag to clutch in peace.

I would still consider that a success.

 

 

There Is No Truth, Only Zuul

I was looking thru my profile pictures on Facebook this morning, and i noticed something that really piqued my analytical mind… The pics i like least of myself got the most “likes”. The ones where i felt i looked best got the least. I wonder what that means?

I have read that researchers and psychologists believe that if we were to meet ourselves on the street, we wouldn’t recognize ourselves. That what we look like to the outside is very different from what we look like in a reflection. I can see that being true. After all, we don’t often get the opportunity to see what we are like from afar. When you look at yourself in a mirror, you only see one part at a time. And when we see ourselves on film, we are usually too busy critiquing ourselves to get a good overall view. So it makes sense that the visual in its entirety is lost.

Talking with someone about this and why i like the pictures i do, i tell them i like the ones that i feel portray the image of the woman i want to be. The ones where i feel like i look pretty or sexy, smart, unique, badass, and happy. The ones that other people like… I look at them and see too many chins, or asymmetry, or age. Obviously, other people don’t. The logician in me says that one of us, either me or them, must be wrong. But who decides? I wonder what it would be like if, for a moment, we could see ourselves as others see us. Or that they could see us as we view ourselves.  Would we be shocked at the results? Would it help us to become more impartial? Less prejudiced against ourselves and others?

And what if we extend it to more than just looks? How we perceive our own intelligence, wit, and altruism surely has the same type of bias. What i feel are my greatest assets may not be the same as what you feel are my greatest assets. And if there is a disparity, which perception is the most truthful? With our human tendency to self-deprecate (or self-elevate, depending on your personality type), can we ever become truly honest with ourselves about ourselves? On the flip side, can anyone who isn’t privy to the thoughts in our head ever hold an accurate impression of the goings on inside?

If we can’t hold an impartial view of ourselves because we are too close, and others can’t get an impartial view because they aren’t close enough….. Who holds the actual truth?

Maybe God/Goddess/Universe is the only thing capable of being both within and without; and therefore, the only potential truth holder. (In which case, we are still at a loss; because if GGU starts speaking to you and telling you the real truths, the world will be more inclined to believe that you forgot your medicine that morning….)

Another possibility is that the truth becomes known when the perceptions within agree with those without. When what i see in me is also what you see in me. Perhaps that’s when the truth appears. When we learn to view ourselves without the first person bias. And when others learn to view us from a more personal vantage point. That intersection becomes a sentinel moment in the life continuum. That point in time becomes the terminus, the clear definitude of authenticity. When all agree and all is revealed, would it be as if we, as a group, achieved Nirvana and became fully, completely aware? Like a rapture of veracity?

Or maybe there is no truth. There is no essence. There is no real.  Perhaps the philosophical quest to find it is doomed to be unfulfilled. It could be that everything: truth, time, life itself, are all abstracts in the eye of the beholder. It is possible that Plato, Aristotle, and Socrates were all full of shit and just too lazy to seek out real employment.

But i suspect not. I think truth is something that we work towards, in a rather Buddhist way, tho not necessarily thru Buddhism. And i like to think that when we find it, like Jonathan Livingston Seagull, we will break thru that barrier to see what lies beyond. We will become one with the other side. Elysium, Heaven, immortality.

I could be wrong, but i hope not. Truth is an ultimate quest. And what is life worth without a passionate crusade?

The Human Animal

So, Siridog got her ass kicked earlier this week. Indisputably and thoroughly kicked. Ended up at the vet with shots and meds and a cone of shame, but thankfully, no surgery. I’ve taken to telling people, when they see us on a walk and ask what happened, that she got in a fight at the bar. But really, she got totalled by a cat.

My oldest weedling has two cats, each large enough to be mistaken for feline Shaquille O’Neals. Except that they aren’t nearly as industrious. But they are that big. Clark is a gray and white, cute-faced stoner. Either that, or he was dropped on his head as a kitten. Laid back and chill, you can almost hear Bob Meowly singing reggae in his head. George is a typical gray tabby, except supersized. He is generally pleasant, slow-moving, and could easily be mistaken for Garfield if he were shot in black and white. She has had both of these cats her entire adulthood. And they’ve never bothered anyone.

But as sometimes happens in apartment living, she needed them out of the abode so a repairman could let himself in (They like to try to scoot out when an unsuspecting visitor enters). She brought them to my place with the original intent of shutting them in the bathroom. But after watching for an hour, she saw nothing to prohibit letting them out. Stoner cat was sharing a bowl of kibble with Siri in perfect camaraderie, and George was ignoring everyone. So she made the decision to let them be.

Fast forward  a couple of hours later. The youngest weedling comes home and gathers up Siridog for her afterschool walk. He immediately put her back down because she whimpered. Then he noticed his arms were covered in blood. Rather than freak out, he immediately called his sister, who came and scooted her off to the vet. She was in contact with me the whole time, knowing i would be a mess if i lost my Mexican mutt baby. And she felt terrible that George, who we knew was guilty by his ducking and hiding, would do such a thing.

Now, Siri weighs less than half George.  If he had wanted to kill her, he would have. But in spite of all the blood, there were no cuts that went thru the fascia, and there were no bite marks anywhere near her neck. What that told me was that George was trying to prove a point to Siri. And prove it, he did. He was the Alpha. And tho the outpouring of sympathy was overwhelming and the cat critics were thunderous, i couldn’t be too mad at George. I’ve no doubt that he got too close to Siri’s sleeping place or favorite toy, and she growled or barked, sparking him to demonstrate his mettle. That’s what animals do. They fight to be king. It’s their nature. How can i fault George for behaving the way he was made to?

My inability to be angry at him got me to thinking about man equivalent.

My middle weedling is on her way today to an internship at the United States Institute for Peace. And tho it may seem contrary to send a military person to the USIP, in reality, it makes perfect sense. Douglas MacArthur said, “The soldier above all others prays for peace, for it is the soldier who must suffer and bear the deepest wounds and scars of war.” Being able to broker for peace will make her a better and more principled and ethical (And hopefully less war-torn) soldier.

And lets face it, we all want world peace

But realistically, man is, in many ways, little more than an animal. Especially when up against a wall . And we can’t expect an animal to behave like anything but an animal. We can’t expect it to want to be anything but Alpha. And we can’t expect it not to fight.  So in a world fraught with dictators and hunger and poverty~ both in pocket and in soul~ How do we find peace?

The minority religion guerillas who feel threatened and bomb their way to Alpha. The socially disordered who are desperately spiritually hungry and shoot their way to Alpha. The inner city kids who feel disposable and punk their way to Alpha. From a feral perspective, the violence isn’t the least bit surprising. They feel cornered by circumstance, by life, and in an attempt to escape, bare tooth and claw. Just like your average junkyard cat.

Of course i don’t advocate violence. I wish i had the power to stop them and make them all take a breather with some milk and oreos and maybe, for once, try to talk to each other. Try to find a way besides killing. Pull a Robert Fulghum and bring them all to a table laden with crayons and paper and legos and keep them there til they learn to play together. Make them eat together. Make them rely on each other. Maybe then they will elevate over their own nature and become more than an animal.

But the fact remains that we’ve been trying various methods since the beginning of mankind, and in spite of the efforts, there has always been war. On any given day, there are insurgents or enemies or just plain punks. For every bully who repents, there is another to take their place. Which makes for a vile and repulsive truth: Those who broker for peace will never have the success or profits of those who broker for war.

And yet, some will continue to push for peace. Against the odds, they soldier on. Hoping the animal will regain its humanity. Hoping to salve and heal the need to be Alpha. Hoping the human animal elevates itself to something more than the cats and rats and wolves. Reading the news each day makes me wonder how the peace keepers can keep up the fight. They must truly be people of faith. Faith in humanity.

I can’t help but wonder, sometimes, if that faith is misplaced.

But i trust that my weedling and her ilk have the fortitude and the patience to soldier on in the face of history and animal nature. Such respect i have for their tenacity and passion to make the world a safer and more harmonious place. And with her military training, my daughter will be able to keep others safe when the animals rage. Like a zookeeper for human animals.

I guess that makes her the Alpha.

 

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You probably guessed from last week’s post that i am a Science Fiction geek. I am rather proud of that fact. Not because i think it imbues me with false intelligence or makes me somehow even more on the fringe, but rather because i think science fiction often shows the best of humanity, even if it isn’t always via humans.

Star Trek is a good example. Unique cultures are respected and protected. Poverty and hunger are a thing of the past. The single-minded pursuit of “things” is no longer the norm. Efforts are made to accept others in brotherhood and defend them in sisterhood. Pretty damned cool, if you ask me.

Heinlein is another favorite of mine. His vision of the future, without the handicaps of social stigmas or custom barriers, is one that made me hopeful as a weedling. The first time i read Friday, i fell to tears. To discover that uniqueness could be valued, and that the feeling of not fitting in was a creation of our own mind…. How liberating! His discussions of polyamory were, if nothing else, food for thought. And the concept of alternate timelines, à la Richard Bach, was fodder for more than a few sleepless nights of contemplation.

For a while, i was an avid Jack Chalker fan. The idea of complete transformation, when you are 15 and feel like a square peg in a round hole, was something that spoke volumes to me. His books’ strange sexual bent didn’t hurt, either.

The spiritual under- and over-tones to series like Star Wars and The Matrix are not lost on sci-fi geekdom. The concept of good vs. evil and the fluidity and diaphanousness of reality… These are things we can spend days discussing, continually expanding and sharing our viewpoints.

And perhaps that is the best part of the sci-fi community. Yes, we will fight to the death over which was the best Enterprise captain, but when it comes to serious topics, in general, the geek community is forever learning and growing. Continually seeking the answer to life, the universe and everything. And willing to read any author’s, or Joss Whedon’s, latest take on what all this means. This whole “life” thing. Coffee and sunsets and doggie kisses and lilacs. War and famine and cancer and hatred. Stonehenge and Daylight Savings and Andy Warhol and Platypuses. What does it all mean?

Thru the best of science fiction, we can ponder these things. We may not get concrete answers, but we will listen to others and sort thru the information and emotional truths. It helps that often the issue is taken out of human context. After all, humans are illogical and usually not prone to accepting or doing things that would be in their best interest. Without that hominid identity, we are able to flow like cosmic water around the big questions of life. Maybe even come up with some answers. Tho, admittedly, we might change our minds after the next GRRM novel. After all, scientifically speaking, it is singularly unhelpful to close your mind to other possible theories.

There are only two things that none of us has ever been able to understand….

Why do sci-fi aliens always seem to have sex the same way humans do?  And why the hell did anyone approve the creation of Jar-Jar Binks?

 

Doo Doo Doo, Da Dah Dah Dah

It’s a beautiful day! Sunny, breezy, open-the-windows-and-air-out-the-house weather. I am loving it! So is SiriDog. I clip on her leash and off we go into the tame green yonder that is our apartment complex. Lots of other people are walking their dogs, too. This is one of the few truly pet friendly complexes in the area. We have a fenced in dog park, a few wooded areas for exploring, and doggie waste stations scattered around the property. Basically, short of being able to let your dog run loose on your own property, it’s as good as it gets. So it really bothers me when people are irresponsible. Like the lady today.

She has what appears to be some sort of pitty mix. They are walking on the other side of the street from us. Her dog  assumes the log-drop stance and leaves his present. I notice she has no bags, so i yell across, “Do you need a bag? I have plenty.”

“No,” she replies, “I’m fine.” She starts to walk away leaving the dukey behind.

“No,” I tell her, “It’s really NOT fine. We have to pick up our poop.”

“Easy for you to say. You have a small dog!”

“Listen, sweetheart, if you didn’t want to pick up big dumps you shouldn’t have gotten a big dog!” I walk over and give her a bag.

She huffs and puffs, but picks up the poo and tosses it in the waste station.

This isn’t the first time i’ve had this conversation. It happens a lot. People can be very lax on their dogkeeping if they think no one is looking. Which means anyone out walking can end up with dirty shoes if they aren’t looking. And i’ve had it.

Where have all the manners gone? Forget the fact that (regardless of the party) we are about to elect bombastic rhetoric to be our leader. Forget poverty and corporate greed and environmental ruin. Forget homelessness and hunger and riots and war. As Heinlein once wrote, “Bad manners. Lack of consideration for others in minor matters. A loss of politeness, of gentle manners,  is more significant than a riot.” In his view, and mine, a sick culture has riots and war, but a dying culture is identified by an absence of common courtesy. Leaving your dog’s excrement for others to step in definitely falls into that category.

And not for nothing, using the excuse that your dog leaves bigger logs than mine…. Well, as i said, it was your choice to buy a big dog. The fact that you weren’t astute enough to realize that big dogs make big shit is fairly unbelievable. The blame is squarely on you. You were not victimized by a dog shelter. They never promised you a dog that didn’t poop, or a poop scooping fairy that would clean up after the dog for you. You knew. You just don’t care enough about your fellow man to do what’s right.

Now before anyone starts warning me about my blood pressure or saying that it’s just poop… Well, if a person won’t do anything as easy as picking up after their dog, what is the likelihood that they will do the harder things, like reducing their footprint, or promoting peace, or raising responsible children? Pretty close to nil, i’d wager.

So there you have it. Our society and it’s path to destruction, represented iconically by a pile of dog crap in the middle of a manicured lawn.

I do have hope, tho. Not all of us are discourteous. And we raise our children to be responsible. We want to make the world a better place for ourselves, each other, and the future. I see good things every day. Young people holding doors for the elderly; the elderly giving positive attention to the young. People giving food to the homeless; the homeless reaching out to those in even worse circumstances. Boys’ and girls’ groups cleaning up rivers and roadways. Church and social groups doing regular turns at soup kitchens. Whole foods has fruit and healthy snacks at the front of their store for children to take. Heck, my tattoo artists keep extra bottles of water and sodas for the less fortunate who stay nearby. Things like this abound.  Would that they will spread. I pray they will. And overshadow the poop.

Because, lets face it, there will always be dog shit. We just have to pick up as much as we can or we risk us all slipping in it.

Giving Chickin’

Sometimes our workdays run very late. Lately, more than sometimes. But every now and again, during those late cases, we get to see something that makes the whole day worth it.

A couple weeks ago, a coworker and i went to pick up a patient for a procedure. It was way after hours, and the poor woman was just so relieved to finally be getting it over with. As we are unhooking her from all her bells and whistles, she tells us that she can’t wait to get back. She hasn’t eaten in two days, and a friend brought her some chicken from her favorite place so that she could have something really yummy after her procedure. Then she looks around. There are a few of her kids in there. Well, i call them kids, but they were all adults. And she begins to panic.

“Don’t you go eatin’ my chickin’! That’s MY chickin’! I haven’t eaten in two days, and i really want that chickin’ bad! Please don’t mess with it!” Her kids all agree that they won’t touch it. She doesn’t seem convinced and has me bring her the box so she can count out the pieces. “I got three pieces of chickin’ in here. Three. I counted. (She shows me.) See? I have proof. Now that chickin’ better be here when i get back! Don’t you go eatin’ my chickin’!”

“Yes, Momma, ” they respond while rolling their eyes.

We wheel her away, her supper reboxed and placed on the counter for her return. Thru the hallway, she continues to go on about her chickin’. She can’t wait. She’s been so hungry. And that’s her favorite chickin’. We get her into the procedure suite, get to working, and she is still talking. She is gonna have some chickin’! This whole wait to get this pacemaker thing is worth it because, as a prize, she gets her chickin’ after! She LOVES that chickin’! It’s her favorite! And it smelled so good when her friend brought it! Oh, there ain’t nothin’ better than some good fried chickin’ when you really hungry!

I am not exaggerating. This woman was truly in rapture about this chicken.

After, when we are wheeling her back to her room, she is getting really excited. Like, six-year-old-on-her-birthday excited. She can almost taste that chickin’! Mmmmm, all the greasy-crunchy skin! It’s gonna taste so good after being starved for two days! I can’t wait to get my hands on that chickin’! I’ve been lookin’ forward to this so much! MMmmmm mmmmm! It’s gonna taste so good!

You see what is coming, don’t you?

We barely get her hooked back up to the tentacles of her room before she asks if she can have her chicken. She knows she can’t have it quite yet, but she just wants to smell it. Her mouth is watering. I am smiling as i go to grab her pot of extra-crispy gold… But all i find is an empty box in the trash and her children are gone. At first, she thought we were kidding, but when the truth set in, the look on her face… Well… I don’t think there is a word for it. Some combination of anger, shock, disgust, sadness – all wrapped up in that iron-weight foil that only real disappointment can bring. I want to cry at first, but then anger builds. What kind of kids are these? What kind of people are these? The anger starts burning. By the time i am at the nurses’ station giving report, i am royally pissed. I want to find those kids and kick their selfish little asses.

While i am infused with venom, my coworker is infused with Spirit. As he passes me talking to the nurse, he gives me the sign that he’ll be back in a couple minutes. While i rail on about the actions of those rotten P.O.S.s who should know better than to do that to their momma, my coworker is downstairs in the hospital food court buying her some more chicken. Without pomp. Without circumstance. Without flash or banner. He just goes and does it. And he brings joy and healing to that woman that no pacemaker, and certainly none of my burning fury, could ever bring. He just brings it to her and leaves.

Later that night, and many times since, i have dove into the ocean of what it meant.

I often get angry with the injustice, speaking my mind to friends and readers about how the world is going to hell, without even the benefit of a handbasket. The times when i let my anger pass thru, tho, and allowed a spirit of Love and Humanity take over my action are less common. Honestly, it didn’t occur to me to just go buy the woman some chicken. A simple act of kindness. Of Love. Of Humanity. The thought never crossed my mind. But it should have.

I can be the street preacher, waving my fist and gathering winds of discontent. Or i can be vessel thru which a spirit of love and generosity flows. I want to be less of the former and more of the latter. And the example i saw that night proves it. My coworker is a regular Joe. Just like myself. Just like most of us. Not a wealthy benefactor. Not a martyr. Not a saint. Just a guy who allowed his soul to be a conduit between all that is good and all that is not. My instinct was to get angry. His instinct was to bring Love. In the form of chicken.

Angels in Joes’ clothing. That’s what they are. These people who have already found it. Who put it to use. Many spout the words of their faith. The rules. The expectations. But it is these angels who have the bigger impact. Because their actions transcend any specific religion. They represent the tenets of Humanity and Love.

I am not a church goer. But i am a person of daily prayer and meditation. To God/Goddess/Universe. To the spirit of all things good and loving. To the one Saint Francis beseeches in his quest to become a better person. Perhaps it’s time i revisited that prayer. It is the sentiment of that prayer that i am lacking. Needing. Wanting. No, i’m not a totally selfish woman. I do good for other people. But not enough. So many are suffering. And while it’s true that i can’t singlehandedly bring about world peace or end world hunger or vanquish evil; i can keep my eyes open for opportunities to be that conduit. I can spend less time preaching and more time doing. I can make a difference. I can buy some chickin’.

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Sidewalk Preaching

So let me tell you about my son.

He is 13 years old with that “Puberty is almost here” roundness and stench. He has me dye his normally dark brown hair black with a green forelock. He is on the lego robotics team and writes most of their scripts for exhibitions. He gets astoundingly good grades in all his classes, except the two he doesn’t like, where he is in danger of failing. (Gifted, it seems, only when he enjoys a topic.) He is a sugar ‘ho and loves all things sweet: Soda, candy, slushies, ice cream, cake, even jello. He loves comic books, especially Ant Man. In fact, i think he’s a bit infatuated with Ant Man. He lives for computer games. He’s a devotee of Top Gear. He has memorized whole episodes of the Simpsons. He can fake battle with a lightsaber better than Mace Windu himself. He likes Panic at the Disco and FallOut Boy, but can also sing along to my corny music and an impressive array of show tunes. Like most other kids his age, he’s a mixed bag.

On one hand, he is intelligent, adorable, funny and sweet. He’s a seanachie since birth and can tell stories on a whim. Occasionally, the stories are true, but he’ll never tell you which ones aren’t. (For months, our apartment manager thought we were British, because he always spoke with a Brit accent when he went by the office.) He has a beautiful singing voice. A flair for acting. And the kid loves to perform. He can make you laugh without even trying. He’s just naturally funny. He has a great vocabulary and can converse with professors as easily as pre-schoolers. He usually does his chores without much reminding. He knows when and how to hug. He has no social fear, or at least never shows any. And he doesn’t give a flip about what other people think.

On the other hand, he’s messy. His bedroom smells like a long-forgotten gym locker. Every damned pair of pants he puts in the wash have exactly one leg inside out. He will sleep in clothes and wear them the next day. He doesn’t notice when he misses the bowl.  He peppers the apartment with dirty socks as if it’s a damned caeser salad. He scrapes the healthy part of dinner into the trash when i’m not looking. Fresh out of the bath, he still smells like pubescent boy hormones and sweat. He cops a rotten attitude, talks back, and has a terrible temper.

But i still think i did ok with him.

Every now and then he gives me a glimpse of the man he will become. The morals, the compass, the humor, and the love inside him. He shows kindness without thinking, he helps without asking. Or he quips at just the right time. At those moments, i know that, in spite of the anarchy and chaos that is my 13 year old boy, he will be ok in the end.

We had a moment like that the other day. We had a little thing to celebrate, and so went to the park, got ourselves some ice cream floats, and strolled. We came across a street preacher. He had his Bibled hand raised and was shouting fire and brimstone. We’re all going to hell! Homosexuals, inter-racial mixing, and liberal Democrats are paving the way to Hades! Turn away from the abominations! Now, we are not church-going people, but my son stopped as we got closer to the man and said, “You know, maybe i should be a preacher.”

“Son, you generally have to be religious to be a preacher.”

“I’m serious! I can be a preacher. I know what God wants.”

He shoves his float in my hand, says, “Watch this, ” and heads toward the sidewalk corner. Up on the edge he perches and raises his fist.

“Hey, everyone! Listen up! I have a message from God! Seriously! This is important! God wants to tell you something!”

The street preacher stops and stares. A couple passers-bye look up.

“Stop being assholes! Start being nice to each other! That is all.”

He climbs down and takes his float back. “See?” he says.

The street preacher, dumbfounded, departs. A couple people clap. I am speechless at first, but eventually reply, “I don’t know that i would word it quite that way, but i do think you’ve got the gist of it.”

We are both smiling as we walk and sip. Tho others may be horrified, i am swelling with pride. My stinky, messy, green-haired, selectively-gifted, bad-bathroom aiming boy gets it. He gets it. I must have done something right.

Yup, he’ll be just fine.

Matthew 11:28

I don’t personally, to my knowledge, know any terrorists.  The closest thing i have in my address book are a few friends who are, as the expression goes, “proudly redneck.” But i do have friends and acquaintances from Afghanistan, Pakistan, Israel, Nigeria, Senegal, South Africa, India, Laos, Cambodia, Vietnam, and a host of other countries that are far less politically flammable. None of them has ever given even the slightest hint of being a terrorist. Even the Moroccans next door- They may be complete schmukeroons, but they are unlikely to be terrorists (They are so loud, nothing about them is a secret.) If any of them, even the neighbors,  needed a place to rest their head, i would gladly open my door. Without hesitation. Them or their family. It’s the right thing to do for people in need.

This time of year, the story of Mary and Joseph is front and center. Inn after inn turning them away. Mary, on the edge of giving birth, and no one will give them rest. No room. No room at the inn. You can’t stay here. No can do. Keep on walking and take your ass with you.

So Mary gives birth to Jesus in a barn. (It wouldn’t surprise me if the animals in residence curled up close, as many animals are wont to do when they see a baby of any kind in need.) In the beautiful Christmas stories, Mary and Joseph make do and go on with the tasks at hand, without further thought of the innkeepers. But i am willing to bet that they were pissed. And sad. For their own situation, the pitiful start of their beloved son, and the state of mankind itself.  What kind of people turn away a near-term pregnant woman on a cold night? Even in the womb, Jesus must have been shaking his wee head and saying, “No wonder God is sending me!”

We hear the story of Mary and Joseph every year. Lets face it, Christian or not, at least in the U.S., you know how the story goes. It’s part of the reason we are kinder and more thoughtful this time of year.

Theoretically.

But we’ve become terribly hardened and paranoid. The unconscionable attacks on innocents by terrorists, which seem to be on the rise, have us all on the edge of our seats as if we’re watching someone crank the handle on a jack-in-the-box. It’s coming. We know it is. Those fanatics are everywhere and they are out to get us all. Those crazies, with their brown skin and head wraps and accents. Evil. The whole lot of them.  The entire brown population. Up to no good. Because, you know, none of them are average Joes, just trying to make ends meet. None of them go home and read bedtime stories to their kids. None of them are afraid. None of them are human.

So now we have a bunch of refugees clamoring to get into our country. Normally, we’d show off the Statue of Liberty and all her virtues and principles. We’d welcome them. Start charities to help them get on their feet. Help take care of their children. Just like we have refugees of times past. Sure, they’d face some discrimination because, you know, we’re human and all. But we’d help them. These refugees, however, we won’t help. Because they’re brown. Ergo, they aren’t human. So much for our principles.

Nope. No room. No room at the inn. You can’t stay here. Keep on moving and take your camel with you.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m afraid of the crazies just as much as everyone else. ISIS, ISIL, the KKK, the neo-nazis, Westboro Baptist Church, and Tom Cruise all terrify me. But i realize that the crazies are far fewer in number than the average Joes. I also realize that i can’t hold all brown people accountable for the actions of ISIS any more than i can hold all Christians accountable for the Westboro Baptist Church. It’s unfair, and it makes life far less interesting for all.

So, how do we embrace our humanity and find room at the inn without being foolish and unsafe? I don’t think we should be Motel 6 and leave the light on for just anyone. We have a decent refugee screening process, so that helps.  Maybe we should just have them stay in the barn. You know, like the badlands in North Dakota or something. (No, i’m not serious.) (But it’s better than turning them away.) (So maybe i am. ) (A little.) (If i was certain it wouldn’t become a prison.) (But i’m not.)

To be truthful, i don’t have a real answer. All i have is a feeling deep in my heart that it goes against everything this country stands for, everything my Christian friends profess, and everything humane to refuse to help refugees. People need our help. They are as afraid of the crazies as we are. They are also afraid of the people who are also afraid of the crazies. Us. I don’t blame them. I am afraid of us too. But i refuse to let my fear get the best of me.

Come in. It’s cold out. Let me get you some tea. And a blanket. You can stay here. Bring the goat. I will give you rest.

 

Where is Willy Wonka When You Need Him?

Every woman knows that when she is feeling depressed, sad, hormonal, lonely, angsty, or just blah, there is one thing that will perk her up instantly. Lots of men know this secret too. And there is science to back it up. Bars, drops, kisses, chips, or even melted in hot milk, chocolate can make you feel better when nothing else will. Your body responds to it with endorphins and good memories and sugar rush. Mr Hershey knew what he was doing when he got into the chocolate biz. It’s not just a commodity, it’s a flat-out need. And there will always be a need.

Chocolate soothes and balms the mind body connection when there is too much hurt or sadness or stress running thru. It is the quintessential happy pill, and used as directed, its only side effect is a few moments of guilt (Maybe a little extra if it happens to be Lent,) when you remember you’re only supposed to consume 1200 calories today. It is perfection. Especially if you skip over the cheap stuff and go straight for the Ghirardelli. Sad no more, your belly and brain share a contented smile as the rich, brown valium-ish diffuses in your cells.

Lately, tho, I’ve been feeling something a bit beyond the usual stress and loneliness. A bit more than the usual undercurrent of my depression water table. Just like the geological water table, the levels rise and fall depending on the length and frequency of the rainstorms passing thru. It’s been raining like hell for a while now, and the well is overwhelmed. Like a good Earth Scientist, I realize these things happen in waves and that eventually the rain will subside and the flowers will be brighter in the spring for it. But one still has to survive the storm.

If the rain were, in fact, a literal thing, i’d be putting up sand-sack barriers, setting out cisterns (to store for later), getting the important things to higher ground. And, if it were reality, true to my own self, i’d be doing it unemotionally and efficiently, making the best of it by making up songs and stories like some comical village shanachie. And when I was ready to sit for a spell, i’d find myself some Reisen or a fudgy brownie with walnuts. And i’d know it was going to be ok.

But in this figurative state, Cadbury won’t cut it.

I need existential chocolate.

I have found things that come close: An outdoor nap, a walk on the beach, puppy and kitty cuddles, pretty much any song by Paul Williams. These come close. Existential Russell Stover, maybe. They soothe a bit, but they don’t quite take the pain away. There is really only one thing that does, and it is rarer than any gemstone.

Real and true love.

The certainty, deep down inside, that another human cares for you, all of you, as much as they do for themselves. That they wish and pray for your happiness as if it is their own. The one whose contact remains electric even when the battery is old and dusty and depleted. The one whose lips, like a metaphoric Hershey’s kiss, take the bucket of the well and reel it back up to the top. The one whose hugs bail bucket after bucket until the water is below your chin. Emblematic M&Ms. Existential chocolate.

If you are lucky enough to have found that one being who can coat all your shorted wires like the best Godiva ganache, then you have found the answer to life, the universe and everything (42 truffles, anyone?). It will protect you from rushing water, elevate you over the floodplain, and fill your tanks for the next drought. And you will know without a doubt that everything will be ok. True Love is existential chocolate. The substance that makes it all better.

That is what I need.

Unfortunately, Target doesn’t sell it. Not even in the candy aisle. No amount of Facebook chain prayers will make it appear. No Amazon sweat shop can fabricate it. I can’t borrow one from Sallie Mae. And it’s not like you can find a used one on eBay. So, no denotative Dove bar for me.

At least not today. Who know what tomorrow holds? For now tho, I must make do with actual chocolate. Not a cure-all, but at least a Band-Aid. And if that isn’t enough to keep my head above water, perhaps I will take the advice of Miracle Max: A nice MLT, when the mutton is nice and lean and the tomatoes are ripe…