Saturday, December 13, 2014

Baby Doll

For a couple of years, when my youngest son was just two or three years old, I was in the habit of keeping a mannequin in the back seat of my car.  Called her Baby Doll.  Sat her up like she was one of the family.  Strapped her in with a seatbelt for the ride.  Changed her clothes once a week to keep a fresh attitude.  She usually wore a cool hat, tilted just so, and dark glasses during the day.  

Sometimes my son would crawl up into the back seat and snuggle himself up in her arms.  It was pretty cute. Sometimes he’d fall asleep there.  I often wondered what he must have been thinking.  Baby doll was a pretty prominent part of our family at the time.  I realized many years later that the only actual full family portrait we have is one that includes Baby doll.
  My wife and I, our two sons, and Baby doll sitting on the sofa, each of us looking straight ahead wearing sunglasses and matching expressions.

I was working for a corporation at the time, driving ten miles to work each day.  Corporate life did not agree too well with me.  The mannequin was a nice distraction from the seriousness of the workday.  Fellow commuters would see the mannequin in the back seat, slow down and wave as they went by, with a knowing smile and a ‘Thanks for the laugh’ look in their eyes.  Coworkers, and others from the office complex would make a point of taking a little break out in the parking lot periodically to see what Baby doll would be wearing during that particular week.  I think they understood that in order for me to maintain my sanity in a suit and tie, I must occasionally welcome a little insanity into my own life.  There must have also been some vicarious indulgence for many of the uninitiated, who were, themselves, bound by parameters they were struggling against. 

Baby doll was not a profound experience for me by any means, but in a corporate, conformist, and stifling world she did serve as a connection to the idea of personal liberation, an important, and necessary, connection for me at that particular time of my life. 
And she did put smiles on the faces of a lot of people who would have otherwise not been smiling.  For this I am grateful to her.  And I remember her fondly.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

A Greater Purpose

We toil in the fields, in the factories, in the cubicles, in the corporate offices, and in the restaurants and caf├ęs.  We try to find satisfaction in the work we do, all the while knowing that work provides a greater reward than not working ever could.  We don’t really discover this truth unless we’ve been both employed, and unemployed at some point during our lifetime.

If we work at a job that is not in alignment with our soul, however, with our purpose in life, we find that it wears us down, wears us out, and prompts us to either hunker down and unhappily accept the status quo, or seek a source of satisfaction elsewhere.  The dissatisfaction of such a job, the hopelessness, the futility of going through motions that we find no purpose in is like a hamster on a wheel for many.  It is a passing of time, but not a purposeful use of our time, other than for a paycheck.  That paycheck is important, but the seeking of our higher calling is what can make the difference. 

Now I’m not saying that if you are a server in a cafe, or a laborer, or a factory worker that you are not serving your higher calling.  And I’m not implying that if you are a successful musician, teacher, or doctor that you are serving your higher calling.  It is not about the status of the work, the recognition, or the pay scale.  It is about the place where you fit well with yourself, the place that feeds your soul, the place that enables you to have the greatest peace about what you’re doing, and why you’re doing it.  It is an alignment with something greater than one’s self.  For some, being a servant is the highest calling of all.  And I’m not one who would ever disagree with that.  For some it is reaching for the pinnacle of financial success, gaining a position of influence and advantage.  And for some it might be in entertaining others.  Every person is unique, and every calling unique to the one who answers it.  It is about how we are with what we do, and what we do with our circumstances, acquired influence, and remuneration.     
It has been said that if you’re doing something you love, you won’t work a day in your life.  

Scripture says, “Ask and it shall be given unto you, seek and you shall find, knock and the door shall be opened.”  It is not just a principle of faith.  It is a universal truth of sorts.  I don’t know that it is universal in the purest sense of its promise, but it surely is in the importance of its intent and admonition.  It is an encouragement to reach for what your soul desires, to embrace the gift that has been granted, and to enter into the fullness of that promise.   

It is good fortune for an individual to find his life’s work.  It is an easy thing to find for some people.  Some know their path from a very early age, but some don’t find it until much later in life.  For some it takes the experience of life to stumble upon the work that fulfills them, but when they do they recognize it as their own.

Some people do, and will always, look at work as just a way to make a living, often hopping from job to job.  And that’s O.K.  Work is noble in, and of, itself.  Everybody has to make a living.  Everyone must find a way, and sometimes the esoteric does not need to enter into the equation at all.  People can, and do, find their higher calling outside of work.  And that is equally important.  What matters is that we find our greater purpose, in life, and in our day to day.  For many it is found in their work, and for some it is not.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Chin on the Chopping Block (A boys story)

As a kid I always had a propensity for finding wounded animals.  I found them, and they found me.  It was not as if I went out looking for them, they just seemed to end up in my company.  I was not particularly schooled in the healing arts, did not really know much about animals, or even have much of a clue what to do for a critter in distress.  But I did have a tremendous empathy and compassion for the wounded.  I could always offer comfort, and I could always feel their pain.  As I began to grow older, wounded kids began to find their way to my door as well.

But anyway, when I was five or six years old we used to drive out to the dairy on Saturday mornings to get milk.  My mom and my brothers and sister.  As I recall, the dairy must have been about six or eight miles away from our house.  We’d turn off the main country road onto a dirt road that stretched out for about a half mile before reaching the dairy.  A row of enormous eucalyptus trees paralleled the road, and several hundred crows made their homes high up in the trees.  One morning, as we drove slowly along the dusty road, shadowed by the enormity of the eucalyptus, I noticed a bird lying on the ground at the base of one of the trees.  I yelled for my mom to stop, and as she did I jumped out to see what was wrong with the bird.  To my untrained eyes it appeared as if it had a broken wing.  We were just a stones throw from the dairy, so I told my mom to go ahead and I’d walk over and meet her there in a minute.  She did, and I bent over to pick up the crow.  As I brought it up near my face to have a closer look it stretched its neck out suddenly and bit me on the chin, pretty hard, and it held on pretty tight.  I was kind of shocked, but OK, until realizing I couldn’t pull the bird from my chin.  I pulled with increasing force, I tried prying it’s beak apart, I tried relaxing, and coaxing the bird to let go, and when all else failed, I cried, and pleaded with the crow.  I was not just crying from frustration, I was crying from pain.  This bird was locked on to my face like a pit bull on a vulnerable leg.

I ran up to the dairy.  My mom quickly realized how traumatized I was, but she couldn’t remove the bird either.  She asked the dairy man to help, but even he couldn’t get the creature to release it’s grip.  They were both afraid of tearing my chin to shreds.  Mom piled us all back into the car to race home because my dad would certainly know what to do.  She drove the few miles in a mild panic as I became increasingly traumatized.  People in the other cars were looking, pointing, laughing at the crying kid with the crow stuck on his chin.  It was not fun for me.  Not at all. 

We eventually came screaming into the driveway at home, with mom honking the horn, and dad coming out on the porch to see what was going on.  He took one look at me, quickly assessed the situation, and laughed.  It was like a shot to the heart of a wounded puppy.  He couldn’t pull, or pry, the bird from my chin either, so he took me out in the back yard, got an ax, laid my head down on top of a tree stump, told me to stop crying, close my eyes, hold my breath, and hold myself still.  I was terrified.  Beyond description.  Beyond belief.  My father’s ax sliced cleanly through the neck of the crow, I opened my eyes, saw the body of the bird laying helpless on the ground, saw blood oozing red from its neck, and its head still clinging stubbornly to my chin.  I lost it, thinking, as only a child could, that I would have to spend the rest of my life with the head of a crow clamped tightly, and grotesquely, on my quivering chin.

Getting Old

Getting old (er) is the only chance we have to put into practice what we’ve supposedly learned along the way.  Getting old, in itself, implies that there was an ‘along the way’.   Without an ‘along the way’ there would be no wisdom to have accumulated to help us through today and all the coming tomorrow’s.  And that being the case, the mistakes we make would be for not having had the opportunity to have made them before, so as not to make the same ones again.

Now, as we get older if we continue to make the same mistakes we have to consider that just maybe we’re not nearly as smart as we’ve always thought ourselves to be.  Not nearly as clued in, not nearly as conscious, and not nearly as astute.  Either that, or we just don’t happen to care.  And that, I must admit, is pretty sad if it has become the operating principle in one’s life.

But, as we all know, there is the physical aspect of getting older also, and, concerning that dynamic, I just want to say that mama never told me that virtually everything in, on, or around my body would end up hurting.  Daddy never let on that he was in pain for much of the second half of his life, and the two of them together seemed as if all their secrets were safely locked away beneath an uncommon, but perhaps unhealthy, stoicism.

There’s a fuzzy line between being honest enough about your pain for the information to be informative for those around you, and those coming up behind you, and being vocal about it to the degree that it becomes self-indulgence for the intended purpose of garnering sympathy.  We need to be careful what we do with our pain.  After all, it is our pain, and it should not be foisted upon the general collective.  We’ve all heard about suffering in silence, and we’re all acquainted with someone who cannot stop talking about their own suffering.  Neither dynamic is of particular benefit to the person inflicted, and both can prove to be more damaging to the individual than the actual malady itself, or the pain that it engenders.

Ageing is for the old.  It’s not for the young.  The young have too much to learn, and too much to do to pay attention to all the peripheral setbacks and nagging concerns associated with a perpetually declining body.  The secret to ageing gracefully, I believe, the saving grace, if you will, is to not let your spirit break down along with your body.

Thursday, December 4, 2014

It Pays To Make Good Choices

I was just eighteen.  It was 1967.  I was living with a bunch of friends in a big house in Covina, California when I suddenly found myself in a rather disconcerting predicament.  I was arrested for selling marijuana.  A man had befriended me over a period of time.  I liked him, and trusted him.  I got him a job at the place where I was working.  About three months later he asked if I could get him some pot.  I didn’t sell drugs, and he was a friend, so I gave him a little bit of what I had.

A few nights later, at about three o’clock in the morning, eight or ten cops busted down our back door, came barging into the house, shined a flashlight in my eyes, pulled me naked out of bed, handcuffed me and placed me under arrest for the possession and sale of drugs.  My friend turned out to be an undercover narcotics officer assigned to befriend, and elicit, a drug sale from me.  Because I was a dealer?  Because I was a danger to others?  No, because I had long hair in a time when long hair made one a target of the law.  My ‘friend’ set me up, exaggerated the transaction, and he and his associates took me down like an escapee from a Louisiana chain gang.

My roommates and I were the first long-haired kids in our town and the cops wanted to teach us a lesson.

With guns pointed, they rounded us all up and made us squat together in a corner while they emptied every drawer in our house onto the floor, overturned dressers and tables, lamps and stereo equipment.  They tore open the chairs and sofas, and knocked holes in all the walls looking for drugs.  They didn’t find any. 
One of my friends got scared and ran.  They took off after him, shooting at him like he was a rabbit.  He got away, but died shortly thereafter.  Not from being shot, but in an auto accident.

They wouldn’t let me get dressed.  Took me to jail naked, hurling insults and ridicule about my long hair and nubile body, shouting about how I’d be fresh bait for the big boys in the County. They kept me in the City jail for three nights, and then transferred me, manacled, by prison bus to Los Angeles.  I went through heated derision and ridicule during the spraying and cavity search, and was then placed as the fifth person in a 4-man cell.  It was actually a cell for one or two, about 8’ x 12’, but it had two sets of bunk beds, one set on either wall, and I was given a thin mattress to lay on the floor in the narrow space between the bunks.  

My cell mates were seasoned, hardened criminals.  They ranged in age from 35 to 55.  Two of them were awaiting trial on murder charges.  One of the men had beaten a long-haired boy to death at a Love-In in Griffith Park.  I’d been at that same gathering.  The guards made it clear to me that I was put in that particular cell for the pleasure of their company.  These were not nice men.  I laid awake all night, every night, and most of every day.  It was the only defense I had in such a threatening situation.  
I was released about a month later when a judge dismissed my case.  The experience has lasted a lifetime.  I do not, today, revile the police, or those in law enforcement.  I believe I have every reason to, but I chose not to let resentment defile my life.  It was a time of cultural conflict.  Us against them, and them against us, for no particular reason.  The reasons were many,  and the conclusions were few.  I have always recognized that there are good, honest, and thoughtful men and women in law enforcement.  Had I chosen to travel a road of anger and bitterness I may have gone on to become a life-long criminal because of it, rather than the well-intentioned man that I have chosen to be.  
Life is a crapshoot, as the past can indicate, a series of happenstances, unintended, and sometimes unavoidable.  But it is also a choice, a series of choices, really.  It pays to make good choices.  They can be the difference between life taking us for a ride in a rudderless boat, and us having control of the rudder.