Tuesday, June 10, 2008

A Voice In The Distance

The dog is barking across the valley this morning. I can hear it’s lone voice in the distance. When everything else is quiet it is a penetrating sound. One to be listened to, one to be taken into account. Its tone, intent and demeanor are clear as the day is young. It is a warning to the people, and the creatures, that would seek to intrude. It is guarding the domain of the ones it has been commissioned to protect. The family farm, the figurative sanctuary of the innocent. The place where a family lays down at the end of the day, fully expecting to awaken safely in the morning. They listen to the voice of their dog, in the night when necessary, and in the dawn as it announces completion of another successful watch. The family understands the importance of listening to a voice they know they can depend on, a familiar sound they can trust.

This is not the first time I’ve heard the barking.

There are too few voices of such distinction in our world today. They may be speaking, but they are, invariably, drowned out by the sheer volume of voices, and the clutter of sound and fury that makes up a media intent on keeping us anesthetized and confused. When everybody is talking at once there is no differentiation of voices. They are all part of the whole. Every voice becomes another layer of old wallpaper, which, ultimately, will need to be peeled off to get to the truth of the wall. The wall has been there from the beginning, and has stood the test of time. It has been the foundation, and the support, for everything that has been thrown at it, stuck on it, brushed on it, or carved into it.

There are voices to appeal to every ignorant and na├»ve waif, every Casanova wannabe, every pseudo intellectual, spiritual pretender and cool-hand Luke. There are political blowhards, self-righteous NPR and PBS whisperers, environmental fascists devouring, and then regurgitating, simplistic propaganda spoon-fed to them by the egotistical, bloated, and self-serving likes of Mr. Gore. There are psycho/social/spiritual babblers trying to pass off their confused blather as truth. There are religious extremists. There are love, peace, and harmony simpletons who preach the merits of bush/bud/herb/spliff, chronic lift for the disengaged. There are the lying voices of government, voices of outrage, voices of pain, voices of hysteria and voices of change. Voices who will use you to their own end. I haven’t even scratched the surface yet. Oh yeah, and there’s the voice in your own head. I almost forgot about that one.

The point is, everybody’s talking and nobody’s listening.

But there’s a lone voice in the distance,
or the wilderness, as it were.

If you listen you can hear it.

Don’t be like that guy who just tells the dog to shut up.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Deadly Disrespect

Back in the 1970’s, and then again in the early-80’s, I did some work in the county jail through the Service League of San Mateo County. I functioned as a counselor, and liaison, for those who called the institution home. I worked with some of the most violent and predatory prisoners housed at the county level. Men in the process of trial, or waiting to be sent to prison to serve extended sentences. I was a liaison for them and their families and attorneys, and a facilitator for whatever other legal or business dealings they had to conduct from behind bars. I had good relationships with the guards and jail staff, and they regularly passed on requests from the inmates to see me. Jail staff would often, on their own, ask me to stop by and speak to an individual because they felt the person could benefit from some time spent with me. In those cases it was up to me to initiate contact with, and earn the trust of, the individual.

During a portion of that time, following her bank robbery arrest with the Symbionese Liberation Army, Patty Hearst was being housed at the jail. Because of her notoriety, security at the facility was very tight, and access very limited. But I had pretty free reign in the jail, and entree to inmates that, otherwise, could be seen only by their attorneys. I worked with many of the men individually, under pretty intense circumstances, did group counseling in a locked common room with some of the less violent inmates, and personal and spiritual counseling, when requested, with the more violent individuals at their cells. I had special access to those in solitary confinement as well.
These were not your garden variety petty thieves or small-time con artists, but men who had crossed some lines that most of us would never get near in a million years. They were, for the most part, considered to be the unredeemable. One man had murdered his parents, stuffed their bodies under the bed, and continued to sleep on the bed for more than a year before the murders were discovered. Another man raped and killed several women in his shop, hacked up their bodies, stuffed them in 55- gallon barrel drums, and dumped them in Golden Gate Park in San Francisco. I worked with many killers, con men, and sexual predators. You could not distinguish them from anyone else if you encountered them on the street, or even if you knew them personally. They were unique individuals, like the rest of us, but they all had one thing in common. Anger. Long buried, and deep-seated anger. Rage even. Recipients of psychological, physical or sexual abuse and disrespect, but they never found a way to deal effectively with their anger. Some turned it inward on themselves, but eventually turned it outward into aggression towards others.

I’m not one to excuse violent behavior just because harm may have been inflicted on an individual along the way. But I do understand the psychological damage that can lead to making the wrong decisions. Nevertheless, we are responsible for the decisions we make regardless of the circumstances leading up to them. But what concerns me is that in our culture we throw a lot of time and money at cleaning up circumstances after the fact. Whether it be rehabbing an addict or alcoholic, warehousing a criminal after his crime, or supervising the parolee when he gets out of jail, it all amounts to action ‘after the fact’. But what about the anger and rage that leads to the crimes in the first place? Who does anything about that? We yell and scream about crime prevention, and getting guns off the streets, we throw money at more personal and public security, and at political campaigns that promise those things, but we do not, as a culture, address the issues that breed the anger that provokes the crime.

Disrespect. Personal disrespect. That’s the underlying issue. Parents disrespecting their children, teachers disrespecting their students, women sexualizing themselves to the disrespect of their men, bosses disrespecting their employees, religions disrespecting the intelligence of the people, and governments disrespecting their citizens. Is it any wonder that children grow up to disrespect their parents, students to disrespect their teachers, men to disrespect women, employees to disrespect their bosses, people to disrespect religion, and citizens to disrespect their government?
What about the poor disrespecting the rich? The under-privileged disrespecting the privileged? Minorities disrespecting the majority? Where do you think that anger comes from? Have not the rich always disrespected the poor? The privileged disrespected the under-privileged? Have the majority not always disrespected the minority? Comes from way back. And as the population continues to increase, it’s only going to get worse.

Isn’t it about time that we, as a people, decide to respect others, rather
than continuing to insist, with practiced futility, that we be respected by them?

Monday, June 2, 2008

Roses For The Dispossessed

A young man I used to know wandered aimlessly for weeks in a cloud of depression. He could not remember the last time he felt joy, or happiness of any kind for that matter. He could not recall what pleasure felt like, what it looked like, where it came from, or how to find it. He could not rely on an ancient formula, or an abiding faith, to make it emerge. He had lost every impression of what it even was.

He found himself in a rose garden in the middle of downtown somewhere, not far from the homeless shelter where he was sleeping. It was a beautiful sunny day. Not for him, but in a general sense. He suddenly realized he was surrounded by some of the most profound beauty imaginable. He’d forgotten that life held such
grace, such loveliness, such promise, such pleasure. It was a remarkable contrast to his condition.

There were a hundred or more rose bushes, of every variety and color. He spent the remainder of the afternoon walking around smelling one rose from every bush. Taking his time, deliberating over every fragrance. Each one had a distinct aroma, a unique personality, a fresh bouquet of gratification. By the end of the day he was quite overwhelmed by the experience, quite high on the encounter.

He had reasoned that, if he could just live with roses, the inherent pleasure of it would far outweigh the pain of his life. But, understanding that living in the garden would not be an option, he decided on the next best thing. He’d take the garden with him.

He walked back through the area and pinched one petal from a rose on every bush. Then he placed a deep red, richly aromatic petal in his nostril and put the rest in his pocket to keep for later. This was how he would carry the happiness with him. This is how he would rise above his depression.

A brilliant idea, and the all-encompassing scent kept him in a perpetual state of bliss. For about two hours.

The subsequent migraine lasted for days, and nearly drove him to the brink.
Pesticides on roses, in noses . . . . . . . . . . they don’t mix.


Beauty, like everything else, is best enjoyed in the context of its own design.
Otherwise its allure can over-ride the judgment of even the most reasonable of men.