Is There Good?

Is there good? I mean a deep down good in people, in societies, in nature? If you answered yes, then why is there so much violence and suffering? When nature gives so much, makes life possible, why is she often so vicious? She has always been a hard mistress. Is it possible that we have been such poor stewards that her fury grows? These are fundamental questions I have been exploring and we have all thought about. In my youth having no real first-hand experience of suffering, (at least not in accordance to the standards at the time) I would have said of course there is good. Then after watching a documentary or news cast showing innocent people suffering; I would have with equal or perhaps more zeal said there is no such thing as basic good. While I may not have been able to hold two contrary conclusions in my mind at the same time, it seems I had no problem switching back and forth largely due to the most recent input.
There are volumes of information on the subject, I have only scratched the surface on the topic. Given we live in a time when the uninformed demand equal billing with those who know, being partially informed allows me in good conscience to continue. What I have found is that there are no satisfying answers. Which makes it a great topic for intelligent debate, stupid arguments, and everything in between. I have also decided that it would have been much more fascinating to me thirty years ago; now it seems quaint and not all that interesting. Instead of giving you philosophical arguments on the merits of my opinion, I will give you an account of one person’s experience, my own.

The answer lies in your focused. My neighbor (Mel) is an accomplished woman and goes every day to a high-pressure job. She has far too many ailments for me to keep track of and battles every night to find sleep because of the pain. She is anything but Pollyannaish, so I found somewhat surprising that she has posted more than once on how she feels blessed. Some of the main sources of her gratitude were her dogs, family and friends. I am guessing Tom should be first, but the order listed may be correct. I have never talked to her about it, so it is mere conjecture. As long has we’re guessing, I’m thinking she understands both how important and how hard it can be to direct or perhaps redirect would be more accurate, your focus. The same would be true of my neighbor Cookie who is battling cancer. The act of writing for me is a way to accomplish this goal as well as an act of discovery. I hope to learn something and maybe in some small way be changed by it. I have just now realized that I live on a somewhat unlucky block. Starting with the house on the top of the block: we got cancer, then Cookie/cancer, Mel & her ailments, then my house with my cancer, my wife’s arthritis, my son’s cp (cerebral palsy),next to me is my healthy daughter’s house, then the house on the corner, where the man suffered a terrible ladder accident. My block may be challenged on the health front, but not on the good neighbor front. So, I am happy to be living with my uniquely common, or should it be commonly unique neighbors? that appreciate the struggle and seldom struggle to understand the core meaning of good. I am not suggesting that suffering makes you good or is in itself good, only that it helped me recognize it and that is no small thing.
Anymore, my son’s life is not so much about pain and that is a good thing. It’s about trying to walk, move your hand to your mouth so you can feed yourself, to speak, to navigate his way through a world in which everything we do without thinking takes an extreme effort. To find his place. I have been at his side for this journey. I understand him, but not what it is like to be him. How can I really know what it is like to be him? Our experience in life is so different. I can tell you what I see, someone who fights long after I would have shouted, “no mas”. Someone who is happy and encourages others. These qualities make him easier and more pleasant to work with. I spend a lot of time with him and so does my wife. Parents and those who work with special needs kids, who by the way become young adults, know it will dramatically change your life. What it doesn’t do, at least for me and those who I think are good, is change their fundamental beliefs. In part because they see the person underneath the need more than the need itself. They have a core of expectations that allow for these differences. They give of themselves freely, often with little or no praise and never expecting it. Often embarrassed by it. My cynicism and disillusionment started years before my son was born. My son’s birth was the seed of enlightenment, the beginning of my ability to see the good. It was a skill that grew slowly. It was reinforced and given a boost by my encounter with cancer. I have my struggles, but more and more I am able to direct my focus on the good. When I do become overwhelmed my stay is shorter. I redirect quicker. Perhaps one day I will have eyes that see and ears that hear. So, in conclusion, I don’t know why bad things happen to good people. All I do know is that good people do not always get what they hoped for, or what they think is just, but they none the less they can see the good does exist. For me, at least to some degree, it is a matter of focus.

A conversation at Nightfall with Winston Ray Brown Dog

I have always liked the night, although I find the contrary more often true lately. In a way, it is the same feature of the night that I worshipped then, I can dislike intensely now. How to describe this feature that I found so appealing in the past. and do even now, on a good night. The definition of good has been reduced, it lacks most of the excitement and some of the contentment, but can, at times, still be insightful. The feature I speak of is the night’s distance, in both time and space, from the day. When I think about it, what I found fascinating, the big draw of nightfall, was the distorting effect it had on all who entered its’ domain. It covered certain flaws and magnified others, those of us afraid of bright light, not quite uniformly correct could maneuver less encumbered by the paradigm of the day. There are truths revealed in the night that remains hidden in the shadows during the reign of the Helios. Some can be profound, but many are just far-flung wanderings because boundaries are dissolved and this time belongs to the nocturnal. Their truths are not day truths and like the mythical vampire, they should be laid to rest by sunrise. Loneliness and pain are living entities at night that prey on the weak and the weary. It isn’t so much that emotions become increased; it is that they awaken from slumber and go on the prowl. It is a time when love can take many forms, it can be a cruel master, a faded memory, something just out of reach, or your savior against the perils of the night. I became aware, in a way that can only happen at night, when comes to providing or receiving love, two legs are optional. So forgive me if I can not say if it was a dream, an intense conversation, or the reality of the never world of nightfall. Last night I became Winston Ray Brown Dog. I will not bore you on what it was like to become a dog, only what I found. I found Love. My wife bought me my bowl of food with a smile that reached her eyes; no sign of regret or imposition. She held my face close and rubbed her hands through my hair. She whispered words of affection, no more than that! her whole countenance expressed the appreciation and love whispered in my ear. My presence brought her happiness. I licked her face once and I heard an almost high pitch howl of what I perceived to be the ancient wolf slowly morph into the familiar baritone of Winston Ray Brown Dog. It was calling me back from my night vision. I am not given to interpreting dreams, except to say thanks to all the Brown Dogs in the world. And also to be reminded that when I was little I felt like the prey, then for many years I considered myself more predator than prey. With age and illness, the pendulum swings back. I remember being little and we were stuck in the mud on a dark and raining night, I was worried the devil was going to get me, I laid my head on my Nana’s lap and all she said was shh and I fell fast asleep. I am not looking for someone to chase away my demons, but I sure did like being Brown Dog; loved and accepted, just because.

A Conversation at Nightfall with Winston Ray Brown Dog

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I have always like night, although I find the contrary more often true lately. In a way, it is the same feature of the night that I worshipped then, I can dislike intensely now. How to describe this feature that I found so appealing in the past. and do even now, on a good night. The definition of good has been reduced, it lacks most of the excitement and some of the contentment, but can, at times, still be insightful.  The feature I speak of is the night’s distance, in both time and space, from the day. When I think about it, what I found fascinating, the big draw of nightfall, was the distorting effect it had on all who entered its’ domain. It covered certain flaws and magnified others, those of us afraid of bright light, not quite uniformly correct could maneuver less encumbered by the paradigm of the day. There are truths revealed in the night that remains hidden in the shadows during the reign of the Helios.  Some can be profound, but many are just far-flung wanderings because boundaries are dissolved and this time belongs to the nocturnal. Their truths are not day truths and like the mythical vampire, they should be laid to rest by sunrise. Loneliness and pain are living entities at night that prey on the weak and the weary. It isn’t so much that emotions become increased; it is that they awaken from slumber and go on the prowl. It is a time when love can take many forms, it can be a cruel master, a faded memory, something just out of reach, or your savior against the perils of the night. I became aware, in a way that can only happen at night, when comes to providing or receiving love, two legs are optional.

So forgive me if I can not say if it was a dream, an intense conversation, or the reality of the never world of nightfall. Last night I became Winston Ray Brown Dog. I will not bore you on what it was like to become a dog, only what I found. I found Love. My wife bought me my bowl of food with a smile that reached her eyes; no sign of regret or imposition. She held my face close and rubbed her hands through my hair. She whispered words of affection, no more than that! her whole countenance expressed the appreciation and love whispered in my ear. My presence brought her happiness. I licked her face once and I heard an almost high pitch howl of what I perceived to be the ancient wolf slowly morph into the familiar baritone of Winston Ray Brown Dog. It was calling me back from my night vision. I am not given to interpreting dreams, except to say thanks to all the Brown Dogs in the world. And also to be reminded that when I was little I felt like the prey, then for many years I considered myself more predator than prey. With age and illness, the pendulum swings back. I remember being little and we were stuck in the mud on a dark and raining night, I was worried the devil was going to get me, I laid my head on my Nana’s lap and all she said was shh and I fell fast asleep. I am not looking for someone to chase away my demons, but I sure did like being Brown Dog; loved and accepted, just because.

About Endings

I am pretty sure I  was talking to some good friends today, I mean I know they’re friends, but sometimes I just talk when people I know are standing around. Then again sometimes they talk and I just unknowingly nod my head occasionally. But I was really listening, and their words carried sincerity. I could tell because their eyes and body language, even their breathing was in sync with what was being said. The effect was to add a depth to the spoken word that must be experienced through personal contact. There was conversion about what had changed since we’d last seen each other. What was new. Talking about what was new had taken on a whole new dimension than in times past. It’s similar to picking up the OBITS. A good day is no news, nothing changed. Maybe change has always brought endings, but in the past, there seemed to more of a balance with opportunities. This was more like the goodbyes when you don’t think it’s coming back. It’s gone. I don’t know if anybody else thinks about this scene this way, but I think of the Garden of Gethsemane as the saddest goodbye ever. The classic turning point in the story where it turns tragic. Praying things could be different, knowing and accepting they can’t. Surely everyone can feel his despair, courage and resolve. No, wait they are sleeping, poor little guys are tired. After all, Palm Sunday was pretty exciting, an eventful few days. I wonder how many times I have slept through someone’s hour of loneliness. Please wake me up.

On Love

 

I have been thinking a lot about love lately. Some of my questions are the following; what is it? Is it important? Does it change over time? As we age? Is it limited? Is it innately good? Does it require reciprocity to be real?

Here are my answers in order: a certain type of close connection, yes, sure, depends, to some degree, eventually. I hope this was helpful to anybody else who was also wondering about these things.

P.S.

The Greeks had four words that I am familiar with to describe love. I am not interested in formal definitions, but it is interesting that we only have one word. Maybe I should say I only have one, usually reserved for describing a day spent smoking ribs, drinking beer, and watching or listening to a game. In Kansas City, this is considered more of a sacred ritual than a past time. As a city, we don’t insist that all people love sports and barbeque. If you’re not into the town’s teams you can play music and eat barbeque. If you’re not into barbeque, you can have intestinal problems of some type or be one of the allowed vegans to show we are up to date. I will admit we have an increasing number of sushi eaters. Fads, what can you do? It is the perfect city for a guy like me who likes people, just not too many. In my case, throat cancer and not totally unrelated dental problems have turned my devotion to ribs into more of an arduous task than a labor of love. It is the memory of drinking beer and eating ribs that I am still in love with. The sensual pleasure I use to get no longer exists. A phrase I frequently heard and consistently rebelled at when I was at Mayo, was, “you have to get used to a new normal”. It takes a certain kind of person to make “don’t either have to” sound like a well-reasoned argument. I believe I did.

When trying to figure out what love is we need to ask how much of love contains reason. At what points do they intersect or do they intersect at all. Love is a topic I want to explore over several installments. I like the word explores. It fills my mind with images of wandering in a strange wilderness not knowing what mystery I might uncover. Maybe, I will try and remember what different kinds of love used to feel like and mean. Lately, I find the imagery for exploring works for remembering.

Comments welcome.

I will leave you with one final question, is love everywhere or hard to find?

Lady who Broke the Jar

(“where the gospel is preached,  what she has done will be told “)

Lady who broke the alabaster jar

did you know you would be remembered?

Did you know you would become the standard?

Was the symbolism planned?

Did it just flow from a spontaneous act of love & devotion?

What’s that? Less of the mind and more of the heart.

That’s why you can reach out across time and speak

to those who will listen.   I’m listening.

Praying I am given ears to hear and understand.

You tell me I am an earthen vessel and like the jar must be broken.

Only then can the good inside flow out and be refilled, purified.

But I hesitate to empty out the last portion.

A big man attired in his sturdy amour enters my thoughts,

His name is caution, seizing the opportunity,

he takes control, his advise is simple, hold back.

He orders “Save the jar, surely that amount is sufficient.”

Soft sweet hands caress my face

Blessed lips whisper in my ear

Just one word, “break”.

Softly, I protest, I have loved before and been betrayed.

Caution speaks up,

“should he expose his neck to the ax and the wolf.”

His shell is a shield, he is not hiding, it is self- defense I tell you.

It does not keep good in;  it keeps the bad out.

His scars are proof that the fears are real and they do cut,

Some are deep, the wounds heal some, remain some.

Then that feminine loving voice speaks again.

She does not refute Caution’s contentions or address my doubts.

Look at me! is all she says.

Looking into her eyes my mind was consumed with images of her.

Breaking the alabaster jar, the anointing nard running through his hair, preparing his feet.

I become confused are those her tears or mine, maybe his?

I see this soft, smooth hair with a wild, natural edge to it,

begin to wipe his feet.

The scorn of the onlookers cannot penetrate her hearing.

The senses often follow the heart and hers is fixed.

Caution’s husky voice brings me back to reality.

He has said his piece and walks out.

I watch him walk away,

his amour turns into a finely tailored suit,

his horse a Maserati.

Without wealth, I still face the rich man’s choice.

Engulfed by a sense of emptiness

I notice her touch has been removed

She smiles and turns, pausing she extends her hand.

If I take It, I will never be here again,

I will be vulnerable again.

Risking disappointments and pain

and yes, the joys and faith of a child

Help me choose wisely.

Additional Info

Biblical accounts

lady and the Jar     -Mathew 26:6-14, Mark 14:3-9, John 12:1-8, Luke 7:36-50

Rich man                  -Mark10: 17-31, Luke 18:22, Matthew 19:21

In writing this my goal was to reflect the larger picture that the biblical accounts surrounding this Lady and Jar meant to me. There are many sermons that accent different parts of these accounts the vast majority of which I have never heard. There is so much packed in an economy of words in these accounts that I chose to make passing reference to some and by in large spend my time on the act itself and the choice demonstrated and implied. There are reasons to believe that not all the accounts (especially Luke) refer to the same incident or Lady. These are issues I did not concern myself with. I believe sometimes we don’t read close enough or spend the time it takes to learn sufficient context to get the big picture. Often there is more than one important lesson. Conversely, the other camp sometimes gets so wrapped up in details they fail to see the forest for the trees. I spend my fair share of time in both.  I am more of a question than answer guy.

Listen, please

 

I am not educated in anything particular, still, I demand my right to add my voice to this excessively noisy world. Without stature, and being of little to no value to mankind, community, family or friends; I am hard pressed to explain why I should, but none the less I will speak. All you busy people, Stop and Listen, there are too many people talking and responding with no discernable knowledge. There are too few listening. I sometimes question if some youth know how to listen. Too often they just hear, maybe respond, and dismiss, perhaps delete or trash is a better word. I believe the correct term for when my Papa said listen up is active listening. In addition to the overall decline in active listening, I have noticed that the skill involved in what my Nana called talking on the phone to gabby friends (pseudo listening to us moderns) is also sorely lacking. If done properly the other person thinks you’re listening. Perhaps it is just me, but I like for people to try and act like they’re not blowing me off or else just say excuse me and move on to the next important task on their electronic device. By now I am sure you are asking, “Why should I have to be quiet when you get to talk?” There are three reasons: first, I have every confidence your fingers or lips will be flying in communication shortly. I wonder if listening can count as communicating? Second, at least I know I shouldn’t be talking even though I am. Do you?  Lastly, I am not really talking. Let me elaborate, I have no agenda. I lost it along with my dreams and ambition. They are out of date, so if you find them, please discard. This means I am not trying to persuade you to do something, join my side, or even convince you there is any redeeming factor left to find in me. Visualize me as less of a person and more of a guide. Picture an uninformed tour guide who is at the back of the bus. He knows not where we are going, only where we’ve been. That’s me. I simply try to point out certain things for your consideration on our journey. For example, look at the giraffe in that mans backyard. Do you think that young girl should climb up its’ neck to reach the apple in the tree?  Everyone looks like a kid to me. Oh look, that semi doesn’t look like it is going to stop. Does anyone else want to scream in terror? It is only natural. It always looks darkest before you get run over. My true friends avoid me so I won’t bother asking to copy and paste or is it post? Is that what people say? I’m sorry I wasn’t listening. Did you know every tool and person has its purpose? They can be great when used properly. I always liked that Dick and Jane kind of rhythm to writing. I am a simple man.

 

Finding Humility

IMG_0260I woke this morning and wanted to scream, no, that is not really true, I wanted to cry like a little girl. My older sister tells me that girls cry when they are little and men cry when they’re old. Go figure, maybe girls cry thinking about how the world is going to treat them and men, not sure. Anyway, things have really changed a lot and are still changing. But I digress, I am not here to talk about women’s problems, I am here to talk about something far more important to me, my problems. Thanks in part to my pastor, Carl Butler, I realized I have in the past and still am to some degree, okay, maybe to a larger extent than I am comfortable mentioning here, or anywhere for that matter, selfish and lack patience.  What’s up with that, Pastor Carl? I don’t think you are ever going to get a big church if go around making people aware of their shortcomings. Shortcomings, I like that word. I am not wrong, I am just a little short of something good, but it is coming, except, that is just the way I am, so I wouldn’t hold my breath. Whether you are a true believer or not, there are some really beautiful concepts in the Bible, granted some concepts are misunderstood and even twisted for various reasons; but find out what it says about faith, hope, and love. Oh yea, it mentions humility, more than once. It seems to me humility is sorely lacking in the world today. If a person can only see themselves, to the exclusion of everyone else, they can do horrible things. Generally, we try to be aware of the common good or at least the people we care about, but we overestimate our importance. This causes us to become blind to how our actions affect other people. I never considered myself to selfish, only lack patience at times. There is a chance the two are linked in some areas. I have a habit of interrupting and not giving people a chance to finish their thought in conversation. It is not my fault of course, I do it only when the other person is slow or struggling to get their thought out, it saves everyone time that way. The only other times are if the other person is obviously misguided in their attempt at rational thought. Sometimes they don’t even know what they mean. So, I should be forgiven if I thought I was performing a public service. It has come to my attention however; other people have not appreciated my efforts. In fact, I have frustrated other people and caused them to doubt themselves, especially the ones I care the most about. Come to think about it, maybe that is why a professor in college told me toward the end of class told me, “No one will work with you. I told them it was a guaranteed A, but they said they no.” I never thought much of group projects, unless I could pick the people. But now it seems even those people are too sensitive. They don’t seem to realize that makes me feel bad.

Time Expansion and Self-delusion

Maybe it is because of my age, or perhaps health issues, I suspect it is a combination of both. Often age and health problems are positively correlated, or should I say correlated in a positive way. Anyway, they both increase, and that really isn’t positive. On the other hand, it doesn’t mean you can’t be healthier as you age provided you were unusually sick for being young. We call that a tragedy if you’re prime or younger and natural at my age. To define what are your prime years and what I like to call near prime; can vary greatly depending on a variety of factors. I strongly believe ‘near prime’ should become a common term everyone misuses. I will not examine those factors, nor question any of my contemporaries that think they fall into this near prime category. I am a big-time believer in self-delusion. For whatever reason I have been thinking about things that expand time. I have come up with five; boredom, fear, pain, making love (at least for the man) and competition. It occurs to me three of these tend to become more prevalent as we age and two on average decrease. One caveat to this rule is drugs. They can help decrease to some extent the three that increase and increase the two that decrease.
To begin with let me dispense of the time expanders that tend to decrease over time. The making love one requires a willing party, so modern medicine is of no help to me. Concerning competition, at my age it has been reduced to one word, it is a powerful word, unfortunately it is not in my vocabulary. The word is golf. Golf is so much more than just competition, it is the social sun, the center of the aging universe. I am once again left in the dark vastness of the lonely. This is sad because given the circumstances there is no reason for me to explain how they expand time. One of you lucky, popular, in-crowd people can do that.
So that leaves me with boredom, fear, and pain, oh my. I will start with fear, we don’t have to be in danger to be afraid. There are many things we can fear and they all have to do with what might happen. They may be informed by experience, but prior knowledge isn’t necessary. All that is required is a realistic view of the future. It is not only possible, but probable that we have at some time in the past and will again in the future, experience significant pain. I am not talking about the darn, darn pain, but the, this pain killer isn’t working, what do you mean you got nothing stronger, this can’t possibly go on, please take me now pain. You should be scared. It most likely will end badly. That is why I choose self-delusion, I try not to think about it and when I do, I tell myself that won’t happen to me. Hey, it worked with smoking, well, until I got throat cancer. If you think back to a time when you were afraid or in pain, then you know how interminable time can be. It seems that fear and pain have a symbiotic relationship. Isn’t it great how things work together.
I fear something I am not sure anyone else does. I fear boredom. When you are bored, minutes seems to swell and previous short time spans can seem too wide to traverse. Once you finally cross, there is nothing on the other side. It can feel that way. It is true that there is a certain point you reach when the only thing on the other side is the great beyond. I have seen people who are disinterested, hollow, suffering soul sapping boredom. They have lost their reason for living and dying by inches. I fear that, I am not that tough, I can’t imagine enduring that. On a brighter note, there is far more to entertain ourselves from a room or a chair than ever before. In the end, it is always a matter of focusing on what you can do. I stopped posting for a while in an attempted to find mental health, but it still eludes me. I looked for it in some of the bottles they gave me, it wasn’t in there. So in the absence of some pharmaceutical genie, I will stay close to my friends and the people in our little church and start blogging again.

It’s not , just Feels Serious this Time

                                                                                                                                                                   I have been sick, probably not serious, but it feels different. Different,  meaning not normal, but not unknown. There is pain in the form of body aches. Body aches means what you focus on hurts. This however is a small thing and I would not spend time expressing its existence. No, what has capture my attention is sometimes described as extreme fatigue. It comes with a weakness that creates a feeling of helplessness, and at that moment, we are the wounded animal looking for a dark secluded place to hold up. Being different in mental make-up our anxiety and fear is not so easily or quickly comforted. It seems our ability to predict the future, understand cause and effect, has it drawbacks. Our oppression is not limited to the moment, we fear what is ahead and the waves of understanding grow and the future ends threatens to drown the present. Like all waves of a different nature, they grow more familiar as time passes and the intensity decreases. Unless, of course they continue to increase and the only comfort resides in the final ending of this stage.  I am lucky, I am already a little stronger than yesterday, but when will I know the strength of the yesterdays of even a decade ago or when will the next shoe drop for me. So many friends in trouble, so much pain. There is a point we reach or maybe it is just me, when we begin a disassociation with our body. They are not sticking that into me, just a body part, how interesting. When this dissociation process is well under away, things remain endurable. Beyond words, our understanding of the ghost in the machine, in our body, expands. I didn’t believe that smile would come back. That smiles that says it is me the ghost that will define me; not my body, not my past successes and failures; not the opportunities missed. I leave judgement to God and forgive myself and others for past transgressions. Those many regrets, once acknowledged turn to ether and dissipate. For now, I will rage against the darkness and know there will be a time to go gently into the goodnight. I have slept twice since I started, with returning strength comes a sort of amnesia. Tomorrow will be better, by next year,maybe sooner,  I’ll be back into my old self; unification complete. Or So I”ll think ,once again a broken part of the material world.