Tuesday, March 23, 2010

There's Something To Be Said

It’s been said, “When you have nothing to say, it’s usually best to say nothing.” Most people, typically, do have something to say, but most people, also, will usually say nothing. Something is often better said than nothing being said because saying something can give someone else’s deafening silence some illuminating context. Are you following me? It can reveal the silence to be what it frequently is, insecurity, fear, or intimidation. The spoken also gives the silent an opportunity for its own expression, to move beyond its, otherwise, timid and invisible nature. It can give silence an opportunity to speak, or, if need be, to hunker down and embrace its own timidity. Some people can remain silent forever, and some people just need the expression of others to initiate their own. Saying nothing seemingly implies, albeit wrongly, that there is nothing to be said. That will sometimes be the case, but there is almost always something to be said.

Silence is often a blanket that we hide behind. Sometimes saying nothing is the wise and prudent thing to do, but more often than not it is actually just the more comfortable thing to do. Silence can also be a powerful means of control. If you express an opinion, or perspective, and I express nothing, then I can feel in control because I know what you think, but you have no idea what I think. I guess that works for people who need to feel in control, but it makes for dishonest, and disingenuous, relationships. Unfortunately, those are the kind of relationships that many people seek, and are satisfied with today.
The thing about not speaking up is that it tends to become a habit. Those who don’t speak up, by their silence, practice not speaking up, and that practice becomes their manner of being, their lifestyle, and ultimately, their personality. That’s fine, but it’s also kind of sad.

Over the past twenty years or so, and the past decade in particular, PC (Political Correctness, I call it Personal Cowardice) has taken such root, and spread so silently across our culture, like the Swine Flu was supposed to have done, that many people have lost, not only their ability, but also their inclination, to even express themselves anymore. And the thought police, the social and political fascists, who determine for us what we may, or may not, believe, do, or say, find it all to be quite satisfying. It leaves their voice as the only voice left to be heard.

You say that I’m exaggerating the dynamic? But if you think so, then ask yourself, when is the last time you spoke an unpopular opinion, or a point of view that you knew would not be embraced by the person, or group, that you happened to be with at the time? Or that would cause them to raise an eyebrow about who you are, or what you believe?
Fear. It governs us like gravity governs the earth.

What is that Thomas Jefferson quote that we all seem to have heard, and like to think we take to heart, but, honestly, never do?
Oh yeah, “All tyranny really needs to gain a foothold is for people of good conscience to remain silent.”

Does that remind anybody of what’s going on today?
In our Culture? In our Government?

Just asking.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Pride Of The Irish

They call it Saint Patricks day
but I can’t see where the man did me
no good.
Who made him a saint

Is that something like
an uncle?

Just because he wore a big hat,
carried a long staff,
was white, had a beard
and drove some weird snakes
outa town
don’t mean nothin’
where I live.

Sounds to me like
he must have been insane,
or somethin’.
he’d prob’ly get arrested
if they caught him doin’ that

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Chica, the Dog

Starting out, I have to say I recognize that listening to someone talk about their own dog is not much different from listening to a parent talking about their child, or even showing slides of the family vacation. If you’re not intimately acquainted with the object of affection, or if you weren’t there, you’re probably going to be bored with hearing about it. “My little Amber is the cutest, smartest, most unique child I’ve ever known. She’s only a year old, and she can already count to three.” Never mind that little Amber is actually the only child the parent has ever really known. But, it is almost impossible to separate those sentiments from the larger reality of who little Amber, or in this case, Chica, actually is. So, if you don’t want to hear about my dog this would be a good place to stop reading.

Chica is a one-year-old Doberman. She is more than our family pet, she is an enormous part of our family, and is treated as such, with love, with kindness, with appreciation, and with respect. My wife and I do everything we can to see that her needs are met. Her primary needs, like those of people, are for love, acceptance, trust, some exercise, and a consistency in meeting those needs. Oh yeah, and of course, some snacks and a good meal.

I get mad at her sometimes, and I am elated with her at other times. She is young, and still a puppy, she is finding her way, but Chica is also a mirror. Plain and simple, she mirrors life around her. I don’t think she knows that about herself, but we certainly see it clearly. And in this case, my wife and I are the life that is around her. She is a check and balance system for our own behavior, and for our attitude. At home, when we are excited about something, she is excited with us. When we are calm, she is calm as well. When we are concerned about something, she shares that concern, and even magnifies it. She goes on hyper alert, and pushes vigilance to the max. When we are content, she is generally satisfied; she is at her most docile, her most agreeable, and yes, her most obedient. When we are unhappy, she is a little unruly, undisciplined, and, yes, unsatisfied. We try not to be unhappy, because unhappiness is not good for us, but we try even harder because we know that our unhappiness is not good for her either.

Because we live alone, when other people, or animals, are thrown into the mix, a whole different dynamic is created, one that Chica is not as used to, and that makes for a more awkward, and challenging, environment for her. She does mirror that environment as well, but we have less control over the big picture, and thus, less influence on her demeanor. As she gets older, however, we are finding that she is becoming better suited to dealing with change, and better able to remain more independent of its sway.

Where I am, where my wife is, where we are, that is where Chica wants to be, always. She will ride in the truck with us for hours, just to be with us. She will lay on her bed in the luggage compartment behind the seats, quietly, calmly, waiting for us to return from whatever it is we’re doing. Upon our return to the truck there is only gladness, there is a brightness in her eyes, there is only joy. This is not an anthropomorphic projection of mine, it is the reality of this creature, this companion, this giver of pleasure, and of life.
Chica never asks for much; she only wants to play sometimes, or go for a walk, or be petted or brushed. Sometimes she wants to snuggle her head in a warm lap. Who am I to deny her these pleasures, especially when it gets returned ten-fold.

This dog, I recognize, is a gift from the invisible hand of God. She was given to meet some of the needs in our own lives; some unspoken, and even unknown, needs. She did not just happen into our lives. And even if she appeared to have ‘just happened’ by, it would be very clear by now, that our connection is no coincidence. She is a creature, perhaps not unlike your own pet, who brings with her a certain necessity that we be at our best, that we be aware of her, that we be conscious of her feelings.

If we take Chica’s needs to heart, if we consider her, if we really, truly see her, we will also be seeing the best in, and of, ourselves.

“My dog is the cutest, smartest, most unique animal I’ve ever known. She’s only a year old, and she can already count to three.”
Now, if you have an extra minute, I’d like to show you some slides of my family vacation.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

The Honesty Of Anger

Two neighbors. I’ll call them Neighbor #1, and Neighbor #2.
Neighbor #1 presented himself as a good, church-going, righteous man who was all about being neighborly. And so did his wife. Neighbor #2 presented himself as a regular guy who happened to be my neighbor. Neighbor #1, and his wife, talked about how good, and how righteous they were, and ‘their church this’, and ‘their church that’; and ‘the Lord this’, and ‘the Lord that’, while neighbor #2 helped me move a log.

Neighbor #2 showed his neighborliness by seeking to accommodate, as best he could, the expectations of the obstinate, narcissistic, and manipulative, neighbor #1. Neighbor #1 exploited, leveraged, and extorted the good nature of neighbor #2. As neighbor #2 began to see the true nature of neighbor #1, and hold his ground against it, neighbor #1, and his wife, began frequently mentioning ‘the advice of their attorney’. “Our church this, our church that, the Lord this, the Lord that, and yes, our attorney this, our attorney that”. Seems incongruous, but, maybe that’s just me!

Meanwhile, neighbor #2 was quietly improving, and trying to make right, a situation that, inadvertently, affected me. Neighbor #1 continued to manipulate, and attempt to control, everything about that same situation that he possibly could, to his own benefit, I might add. Neighbor #2 just shook his head at the nastiness of neighbor #1.

Neighbor #1, the ‘righteous’ man, came to me to get me on his side of the supposed ‘misunderstanding’. He lied to me with the very first words out of his mouth, and continued lying as he kept talking. I listened patiently, and as he continued to paint himself in a most favorable but, actually, quite deceitful, light, it reminded me of something I remembered reading somewhere in the Bible.
“Your righteousness is like filthy rags.”

When I finally chose to speak I told him exactly who he is, what he is, what I think of him, and why I will have nothing to do with him in the future.
Then I threw him off my land, and told him to never come back.

He is not an honest man, and I do not intend to entertain his disingenuousness throughout the future.
I take to heart many of those valuable historical parables so many of us were raised with, and this one in particular.
“Beware of wolves in sheep’s clothing.”
No matter how many times they might mention God, or their church.

If he were in trouble, or in need, yes, I would offer him assistance.
He is a fellow traveler on this planet, and our commission as humans is to love one another.
But sometimes love requires that a situation be dealt with directly, that one not protect another’s fraudulent position. Sometimes love requires taking the more difficult stand.
And yes, sometimes love requires the honesty of anger.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

My Fathers Desk

I have my fathers desk. He gave it to me when it became apparent that he would never be using it again. My dad has gotten very old. It’s an old desk too, an old school teachers desk; ironic, because my dad was never really a teacher. Didn’t have the patience for it. There is a lot of wear and tear on this desk. That’s one of the things I like about it. I also like that it was his desk. I don’t like new things very much. They lack depth and character. Old things always contain a lot of interesting assimilation. Assimilation is the process of becoming part of, or more like, something greater. This desk is greater than it was when it was made. It has a lot of living engrained in its finish, and in its wood.

Yes, this was my fathers desk. There are scratches on the face of the center drawer. My fathers belt buckle left its mark there over the years, carving his initials, as it were, into this once formidable tree. My father gave me the belt buckle also. It’s the head of an eagle, with eyes to pierce the deepest fear one might still secretly embrace. I have yet to find a belt to do it justice, but I will. There’s a ring on the desk-top where my father set his coffee cup every morning, and another one where he set his beer, a can of Pabst Blue Ribbon, every afternoon; another one, still, where he kept his Gin and Tonic in the evening. I am conscious of putting my coffee cup on the same ring that he did. There’s some kind of psychic connection to him when I do. I’m also conscious of leaving the Gin ring just as it is, fully worn well into the grain of my fathers own history.

The finish on the desktop is rubbed thin where he, habitually, rested his forearms and elbows, the sheen having long ago gone from gloss to matt without intention. It makes me wonder what the sleeves of his shirts and sweaters ended up looking like after all those years. There are many scratches from untold, and unknown, accidents, some other marks and grooves as well, maybe from the carelessness of inebriation, or compulsive digging and tapping, lost in creative thought, or lost, even deeper, in an endless sea of paperwork. The scars of battle with the outer world, and from wrestling, persistently, with his solitary inner self.

When this desk was made they made a thousand others like it, but through the years it has become the only one of its kind.
Maybe some day one of my sons will be able to say, “This was my fathers desk. This desk is greater than it was when it was made. It has a lot of living engrained in its finish, and in its wood.”

Monday, March 1, 2010

Life Is A Three Act Play

Life has a beginning, a middle, and an end. We tend to think of life as a one-act play, but actually, we’re born, we live, and we die. Those, I believe, are three separate acts. If we include the Beyond, there are four. We tend not to see the ‘born’ part as a segment of our life, nor do we see the ‘die’ part that way. We only see the ‘life’ part as significant to living. I see all three of these acts as separate and independent of each other, but fundamentally intertwined with one another, and equally significant as well.

It’s important that we are able to see, and consider, each. If we are not in touch with being born, we are, most likely, not in touch with having purpose for our life. Everything that is created, made, built, fashioned, or constructed in any way, is done so with a purpose in mind. Humans, as creators, never make something without purpose. Even the most abstract idea, fashioned physically with paint, clay, sticks, plastic, or whatever, is created with a certain purpose for its existence. You might say, “No, I made that thing just to see if I could make it”, or something like that. Well, that is purposeful, and its existence is what gives meaning to you for having made it. Furthermore, its very existence gives it its own purpose. It has purpose simply by the fact that it was created with a purpose. The fact that it has dimension, shape, color, scent, or some other means of interacting with you is what gives you satisfaction. So, one might say that your satisfaction is its intended purpose. It is important that one discover one’s purpose for living. But, it can only be realized by understanding ones purpose for being born.

Living is the second act. It is where the first act finds its significance. It is where the author of the script feeds and clothes his creation. It is where the creation finds its legs, where the intent of the author plays itself out. It is where the purpose of the first act is revealed. It is the place where the creation develops itself, in keeping with the creator’s intent; or, unfortunately, it could also be the part of the play where the whole thing wanders hopelessly off course, resulting in the author no longer even being able to recognize his own work, a life whose own purpose has been, tragically, left undiscovered.

Without the beginning, the middle would have no context, or cogent sensibility. The second act of life is the transition between being born, and dying, but, in addition, it is also the continuation of being born.

Death is usually thought of as the End of life. However, the process of dying is actually the end of life. It is the third act in the play. Death is the beginning of the afterlife. Dying is the process of closing out life, as we know it. Even those who die suddenly, and unexpectedly, go through the process of dying, they are just, most likely, relatively unaware of the gradual transition. A person who dies in an auto accident, for instance, didn’t know he was going to die at that moment, but the process had been in play for quite some time. It involved a complex series of decisions, and events, that conspired together to lead up to the accident. That series of events constitutes the third act, the last act. It could have been playing out for weeks, months, or even years. The point where a person reaches the peak of his existence is the point where that person begins the process of dying. No one knows where, or when, that peak is actually reached. There is no feeling of being at the zenith of one’s life, there is no reasoning that enables us to know that ‘it’s all down hill from here’. No, it happens to all of us, at a different age, and it happens unaware.

The question I have about this three-act play is, “Will its ultimate completion illicit, within one’s self, disappointment, indifference, or a quiet satisfaction?” And, “Will it illicit, from the Author, silence, moderate approval, or perhaps, even, the much coveted acknowledgment of a life well lived, a job well done?”

And what of the beyond? Well, I don’t really know about that. But, to quote myself,
“Life is where they keep you while they’re making up your room”.