December 2012


What?
No Par?

This is a personal favorite essay and has been published before in the Observer. Life, at times, is so sorrowful that it can be a challenge to remain optimistic. The environment, unemployment, disease, war, alienation, violence, suffering, humiliation, death. Let your voice ring forth, even though doubt and uncertainty be the human condition, hope, as Emily Dickinson wrote, “sings the tune–without the words, 
And never stops at all.”

I wonder a bit about those claiming they don’t keep score. Not so much in the win/loss column but in some reflective “total scheme of life” manner.

What we all have is time. Some assert that if we live a particular way or believe a particular notion that time is endless. No matter how appealing that idea, I cannot subscribe. As much as our emotions may desire—our bodies (and minds) will deny. Consciousness is temporary, fleeting and far too short.

We’re all on track (birth to death) so keeping score ought to be a relatively straight forward process. But we are not issued, we are not born with a helpful scorecard. We tee up for the 18 holes of life and soon discover there is no par.

Wouldn’t it be far easier if each of us was born tightly clutching a tiny scorecard in his or her little hand. Birth would be our first hazard and no matter how well we shot the “rapids”—mom would record, would deliver our first score.

So we trek through life, frequently without a clue, not only looking for meaning but searching for the “way” to live as well. Most of us come to grips (denial/acceptance) with the transitory nature of our existence. Absent, however, is the universal scorecard.

Ralph Waldo Emerson’s essay on “Compensation” prompted this little treatise. Emerson is writing, to a degree, about score keeping. Reread Emerson’s essays for a jolt of sanity.

I believe time is a river that for awhile we travel.

By what benchmarks do we evaluate that journey? By our physical possessions—what we have accumulated? Our knowledge? Our effort? Our passions? By compensation? Or, by any meaning we simply give it (our lives)?

“How am I doing, Coach?”

Compared to what? One of the misfortunes (a sadness) of human life is our apparent need to compare ourselves with/to others. We are so wrapped-up in “Keeping Up With The Jones,” not only in material possessions, but we unthinkingly adopt their shopworn ideas and absurd values as well.

Tragically and comically, we track our lives on someone else’s scorecard.

We are born with a song in our hearts that is unique and distinctive. WE ARE! Some of us sing early. Some of us sing late. Some of us never sing at all and some have their song beaten out of them. For the most part we write our own scores and for some it’s “three strikes and you’re out,” and for others, it’s an “Ode to Joy!”

We are born as water poured into a teakettle and as we boil along and vapor away, we sing our songs. We do, however, pick the song we sing.

And that, my fellow choir member, is the most important score of all to track.

What Now?

I did not deny God’s existence, but I doubted His absolute justice.
- Elie Wiesel, “Night.”

I’ve been reading a few pages, each evening, of “Night” by Elie Wiesel. I can only take a few pages before I have to set it down. I inwardly shout, “Get out! Leave! Now! Run!” Night recounts Wiesel’s experience as a Romanian Jew during the Holocaust. It is profoundly sad. I can only internalize so much of his account before I become anxious and unsettled.

When I heard of the Connecticut massacre, of 20 children dying (seven adults, too) I was immediately sickened, physically nauseated by the senselessness of killing babies. You ask yourself, “How can this be? How can slaughtering innocence ever be contemplated, let alone acted upon? Why would this happen?”

That’s really not the question needing asked. But rather, how was this massacre perpetrated? (Answer: see assault weapons.)

The timeless question for our species is why is man so prone to violence, so willing to hurt and humiliate?

I was taken aback by former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee’s observation on the Connecticut massacre that, “We ask why there is violence in our schools, but we have systematically removed God from our schools. Should we be so surprised that schools would become a place of carnage?” I found his comments both disgusting and surprising.

Surprising from the perspective that I thought, Huckabee, as an ordained Southern Baptist minister, would have emphasized that God is present everywhere and always. He suggests the contrary. That because prayers are not offered in public schools, what? Death and mayhem shall ensue?

As a non-believer in a personal god, I find such questions intriguing. In the 2011, visually stunning movie, Tree of Life, a character observes, “He sends flies to wounds he should heal.” He, of course, is God. It’s a legitimate observation to me. One, I imagine, discussed from church pulpits all over America last Sunday. It is a question that can only be finessed because that is exactly what the Old Testament God does time and time again.

It begs, however, the question, “Why?” I have questioned the existence of God ever since I was old enough to realize that really bad things happen to good people. Why? Where was God during the Holocaust? Or, during the Trail of Tears? Or, the Moro Massacre? Or, Sandy Hook Elementary School? Was God’s attention diverted, busy creating other universes? Discussing whom to smite with Archangels Gabriel and Michael? Was God on vacation?

I don’t think that is the case because if I were an omnipotent, omniscient, forever-always-present God, I would know that Adam Lanza would on December 14, 2012 systematically execute innocence. These children had no choice of “free will.” If I knew humanity was capable of the Holocaust, would I (God) not reasonably tweak ever so slightly my design of mankind?

Why were children massacred in Newtown? Because a mentally deranged man had ready access to assault weapons. He went off the reservation of “acceptable” human behavior.

No, a far better question is how was the act accomplished? To the degree we can identify and help the mentally ill is one issue, with what ease (how) we slaughter each other is quite another.
Happiness is not a warm gun. John Lennon knew that.

Mankind must remember that peace is not God’s gift to his creatures; peace is our gift to each other. Elie Wiesel

What now?

O’Beauty, Cuff Me Now!

We live only to discover beauty. All else is a form of waiting. – Kahlil Gibran

My sister, Saint Sandra Once of Socorro, recounts a wonderful story of a herd of wild African buffalos that each day traveled from where they rested at night to savannahs of grass they grazed upon during the day. At the close of each day they could go directly back to their place of rest but consciously opted to go out of their way, up a rather long hill that overlooked a valley, where they paused to watch the beauty of the setting sun. The human observing this choice believed that these wild creatures had a sense, an appreciation for the beauty of this world such that they intentionally sought it out.

I particularly like this story because it illustrates the power of beauty, that it is such a prevalent feature of life (our universe) that its recognition (relevance) is observed in lesser mammals. Humans throughout history have endeavored, regardless of circumstances, to have beauty in their lives.

It is the rare human environment that has no personal examples, no individual expressions of what constitutes the sublime (beauty) for that person. I prefer Botticelli’s Primavera over, say, an Edgar Leeteg-like black velvet Elvis but that merely illustrates the personal nature of beauty. My mother, could be a bit judgmental in this regard, that an affinity for “lowbrow” art (a velvet Elvis, for example) indicated that that person’s taste was all in their mouth. Haha! Love that Moms.

While in Ashville, NC this past summer I visited the Grovewood Gallery adjoining the Grove Park Inn. The Gallery offers an exceptional presentation of fine American craftsman. I viewed furniture covered with fabrics created and produced by Mary Lynn O’Shea. Absolutely stunning. I was the equivalent of a lumbering water buffalo dumbstruck by the beauty of an African sunset. Only it was gorgeous fabric.

One thing led to another. I contacted Mary Lynn O’Shea, spent approximately 55 days visiting her website (http://mollyrosedesigns.com/), ordering and reordering fabric samples, talking extensively with the Vermont artist, ultimately selecting four patterns for a chair and ottoman I had reupholstered at Decorative Home Interiors (9205 South US Hwy 17-92, Maitland – 407.339.4432). DHI is owned by Terry & Nadine LaLonde. They offer extensive lines of fine fabrics, do marvelous work and I cannot recommend them highly enough. Tell’um Chris sent-cha!

The aesthetic experience is a simple beholding of the object….you experience a radiance. You are held in aesthetic arrest. - Joseph Campbell

In my newly reupholstered chair I will be . . . sitting during my next experience of aesthetic arrest. O’beauty, cuff me now!

Momma Knows Best.

Intellectually, it is far easier to get your head around what a pox mankind is for our Mother Earth. Emotionally it is quite another thing. Since we walked out of Africa (we are all Africans) approximately 125,000 years ago, Modern Man has rapaciously consumed the environment, never really pausing to consider our impact upon the planet.

By the 1970s, however, it became clear to the most casual observer that human activity (population growth, agricultural practices and industrialization) was quite literally destroying Earth’s rich diversity of life.

Everyday we are inundated with countless “canary in the coal mine” examples of the specific impact we humans have on the land, water and air that sustains us. Our oceans are warming and increasingly acidic. Our topsoils are washing/blowing away or relentlessly sprayed with polluting herbicides and fertilizers. Our atmosphere is increasingly filled with carbon dioxide. Animal, plant and marine species are becoming extinct at an ever-accelerating pace.

We are fishing our oceans clean of edible species. Our fellow humans are “harvesting” perhaps this moment the last elephants and rhinoceros of Africa. 25 million Brazilians now live in the South American rainforest with more humans on the way. In the next few decades all of Earth’s coral reefs will have succumbed to warming waters and acidification. The fresh water Himalayan glaciers that today quench Asia’s insatiable thirst are inexorably melting away.

All of this we are well aware. All of this is caused by human activity, by human population levels unhealthy and unsustainable for our planet’s ecosystem. And there is virtually nothing we can do about it. Even if we stumbled upon “cold fusion” tomorrow, discovered how to cleanly desalinate ocean water and developed innovative new food sources not requiring yet more untilled acreage or scarce freshwater, mankind is heading to a day of—let’s speak euphemistically—to a day of, uh, adjustment. The bill is coming due.

It’s ironic to me that the one nation on earth that should be at the forefront of building a sustainable population and economy is the United States. But now we are hearing increased rumblings that America is heading for population problems. Our birthrates are “plunging” and we could soon become an “empire” in decline if we don’t increase our national population (look at Japan we are constantly admonished). We are told that if our population is not expanding, that our economy will not flourish. Who’ll support the aging Boomers for gawd’s sake?

Our economic model is predicated on growth. Growth today, growth tomorrow, growth forever. It is a growth based on an ever-increasing population (to be consumers — to buy Pampers, toasters and vacations). Not only in America but worldwide.

There is no economic alternative (sustainable & green) being offered that is not predicated on an ever-increasing world population. More people – more growth – more consumption. To argue otherwise and you are painted as un-American, a collectivist and anti-human. To challenge why America “needs” to be at 500 million people, well, we’re talking jobs. And, that I totally get. It is hard to embrace “sustainability” with so many babies crying for more.

Yes, let’s avoid today’s financial “melt down.” But unless we, as a species (nations), imagine and create a sustainable future, what we now experience as a “cliff” will be remembered as a distraction.

Either we humans wisely reduce our population or Mother will do it for us. Mom will cull the herd, our economies be damned.