Wednesday, March 19, 2008

The Visitation

It was about 7:30 in the evening. I was relaxing in camp at the foot of Thunder Mountain. It had been a hard few days wrapping things up at home, packing for a week away in the tall pines, where Silver Lake overflows to create the North Fork of the American River. It was quiet. I was enjoying the beauty of a view men have sought like gold, and even sacrificed their lives to own. I’d been looking forward to this for weeks. It had been an hectic and unexpected year. Many family gatherings around the wedding of my youngest son. That was good, but followed by the quick deterioration, and eventual death, of my older brother from brain cancer. A year I’d not yet had the time to absorb, let alone sort out.

I was resting now, at home in the great outdoors. Feet propped up comfortably on a perfect rock. Mind at ease, feeling free to think about things, unencumbered, for the first time in a long time. I was thinking about my sons, the paths they’ve chosen, the lives they’ve made for themselves, their music, the family, letting go of worries and concerns that I’ve worn like an old coat for so long. Good thoughts. And I was casually mulling over how I arrived at the persona of ‘The Old Coyote’ as a moniker for my own music.

Then I stood up, abruptly, and for no apparent reason. As I did, my head rose above the top of a large flat rock that was planted in the ground just a few feet away from where I was now standing. My eyes locked on to the eyes of the most beautiful coyote imaginable. Like an apparition, but one I could have reached out to touch. Thick grey coat, like a wolf. Eyes like wet marbles in the sand. Glistening, gleaming, deep and alive. And his eyes were locked on to mine. He was not nervous, or afraid, just relaxed. We watched each other for a perfect minute. He delivered an unambiguous message in that moment. Unspoken, but strong, deliberate and profound. His eyes said softly, but unmistakably “you did not become ‘The Old Coyote’. It is who you have always been." Then he ambled quietly away, stopping for a moment to look back. I pointed him out to my wife, who confirmed for me that ‘if he was an apparition he was a physical one’. A final connection for a brief moment, and he was gone.

That old guy came by my camp specifically to pay a visit. He knew I was there. He knew I'd recognize him. And I knew we’d known each other since I was a child.

I thought I heard him singing.

In A Heartbeat

I recently watched a documentary that a son made about the 50 year marriage of his mother and father. They lived in a conservative town in the mid-west. The film was originally intended, in some way, to honor the relationship, it’s enduring, and endearing qualities. It’s success, but also it’s ups and downs. The son was looking for honesty, but expecting a loving and honorable relationship he could illuminate for the world, and for himself. It would also serve the purpose of validating his own commitment to his wife and family, his own chosen road, and reinforcing for himself that, even through the hard times, he made the right choice in his own life. That choice being ‘to do as his parents had done’. And to do it well. He knew his parent’s marriage was not perfect, but he did view it as remarkably ordinary, and although it was something he feared for himself, it was also something he actually wanted for himself.

The son conducted on-camera interviews with his mother and father over an extended period of time. He interviewed his two sisters as well. During the making of the documentary his mother became suddenly ill and died within three weeks of contracting the illness. To everyone’s shock and surprise his father, during the making of the documentary, married his former secretary just three months after the death of his wife. To make matters worse, the father emptied, and moved out of, the home where they’d lived all those years and moved to Florida to start his new life. The family and friends were stunned, to say the least.
Everything changed for them in a heartbeat.

I work with developmentally disabled adults, conducting a recreation, socialization and mobility class on a medical unit of a large campus. The unit is a satellite existence unto itself. Some really good people make it their home away from home for 8 hours every day. I work part time, but participate in, and absorb, the climate, and the social dynamics of the workplace. Dedicated, hard working and loving people populate the unit. But there have been some rough stretches, as there is with any family or group of people. There had been measurable tension on the unit for a long time. It revolved around a particular individual. It involved a social duplicity, and an underhandedness, and it was affecting, and infecting, the whole environment. Eventually some young, and very courageous, staff members dealt with the situation, directly, and through the proper channels. I provided them support. It was not easy for them. It never is for someone who puts themselves on the line. But it was for the good of the whole, and the situation got resolved. One day the tension was palpable. The next day it was gone, as a great sigh of relief rose from the very foundation of the building.
Everything changed in a heartbeat.

My brother died a year ago. He was the latest in a long line of people I have loved and lost. That is not unique to me. Most people lose people along the way. It happens. We don’t like it, but we make the best of it. We find ways to make the loss tolerable, the pain less painful, the memory more comforting. But the loss remains, nevertheless.
My brother was here. And then he was not here.
Everything changed in a heartbeat.

Social Duplicity

There is a pervasive social duplicity that is practiced far too matter-of-factly. Duplicity, itself, is by no means, an endearing quality to begin with, but even less so when it is wielded so comfortably, and so cleanly, among family, friends and acquaintances. It is seen most profoundly in government. It moves through our work and social circles like a virus, unknowingly infecting even the most unsuspecting among us. When a culture, family or social group, continually demonstrates a particular form of behavior, even those who would be most immune to its influence become affected. People slowly begin to take on the character, style and behavior of their social groups. To not do so would be to eventually invite exclusion from the group on some level.

Duplicity: Defined as “The fact of being deceptive, dishonest, or misleading.” It is an insidious practice. It can be used offensively or defensively, with words, or actions, of both commission and omission. It is how attorneys have acquired such pathetic reputations. When I’ve had occasion to speak with people about honesty, for example, invariably they will put things in the context of whether or not a lie was involved. Rarely will people frame honesty in the context of whether or not a comment, behavior, action or non-action was deceptive or misleading. And there is an increasing inclination to try and convince an offended party that they must have just misinterpreted something. A convenient smokescreen, but really just a transparent and predictable demonstration of the very behavior that is being denied.

The continued practice of duplicity breeds a duplicitous nature. In the soul of an individual, and in the soul of a culture. I believe that is what is happening at an alarming rate today.
Duplicity is about deception and dishonesty, but it is really about character. As individuals, we become what we practice.

Addiction, as an example, develops as the result of practiced behavior. It is of a psychological, and eventually, a physiological nature. Duplicity is of a purely psychological nature, but it picks up momentum and becomes ingrained in ones character as a result of its continued practice, very much like addiction. It is used to gain an advantage over a person or situation. It goes to character. It will always go to character. And, ultimately, it ends up giving other people and situations an advantage over us. As we become compromised, we become weakened and less credible. Many have never recovered from the practice of duplicity.

We don’t start out with a duplicitous nature. It develops over time. Along the way, as we discover the ease with which we can manipulate others, we make choices when and how, and whether or not, to use those skills. Predictably, the more we use them, and the more successfully, the easier it becomes to continue on that path. It is often quite effortless to be less than honest, less than forthright, less than genuine. It becomes, for many, the path of least resistance. But, fortunately, the same can be said of integrity. As we practice honesty we gradually develop an honest nature. It just happens over time. It, too, becomes a natural pattern of behavior, becoming the norm, without additional effort.

I write about honesty, and the dearth of honesty, quite often. Not because I feel everyone to be lacking in the virtue, but because I know it to be the fundamental cause of just about every deteriorating relationship, be it family, friend, community or government. Relationships become strained when people become unable to look each other in the eye.
You can count on it. Unfortunately, many have become expert at being able to do just that. You might call that ‘duplicity in full bloom’.

People become what they practice. We can pretend otherwise, but that would just be an advanced form of duplicity. It's called self-deception.