What, Me Worry?

For a while now I have had a sequel in mind to the series of reflections I posted under the heading We Shall Overcome. The post would (will) be about the flip side of the ideas I was exploring in that series. Whereas in those posts I was interested in the fact that what human beings most have in common is the incredibly large numbers of ways we are different and unique, I intend to explore the ways in which we are perceived by others and perceive ourselves to be members of groups and in that way seem not so unique. I am male, not female. I am Euro-American, not Canadian or Filipino or Chilean or Kenyan. I am a Baby Boomer, not a Millennial…etc., etc., etc. You get the drift.

However, events have been getting in the way. Almost two weeks ago, the largest mass shooting to date occurred at The Pulse club in Orlando, and I found myself as wrapped up in the ensuing turmoil as everyone else. I was overwhelmed by feelings of grief, anger, frustration and hopelessness; along with (ever increasing) contempt for Congress’s persistent inability to deal with any issues that have real, direct consequences for public well-being and safety. I was saddened by the fact that the victims, many of them Latino, of this assault were mostly young people, with long lives yet to be lived, who were murdered precisely because they identified as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersexual or queer; or were friends of people who did. I was saddened that the killer had a long history of violent conduct toward others, and yet no one was able in time to reach him in a compassionate way, to get to the roots of his distress and help him leave the path he was on. Pervading the whole episode were tidal waves of fear, some of it stoked by people – political leaders especially – with axes to grind, but most of it erupting spontaneously from the subconscious pockets where we all stash our habitual fears.

If you are like me, the fears that surged forth had a lot to do with the easy availability of highly destructive firearms to anyone who’s got the money to buy them. My deep fears of the direction I see politicians on the right and the people who bankroll them wanting to take the society roared up to the surface. I was overwhelmed by feelings of vulnerability and helplessness as I watched others’ fears pour out as well. If you belonged to the LGBTIQ community, already carrying a burden of marginalization in most cases and victimization in many, how could you not feel personally threatened and assaulted to see the homophobia that still haunts many corners of the society expressed in the form of a bloody and terrifying massacre? Yet, those of us who felt we were on the receiving end of the assault were not the only ones whose deep fears swept across the land.

On the gun rights side, other fears came to the surface: fears that certain constitutionally guaranteed rights were under attack; fears that one’s ability to protect oneself from threats by criminals, by outsiders, by government agents, or some other Others, were going to be stripped away by forces already lined up against one; and fears that Muslim terrorists are spread across the country, ready to create murderous havoc whenever it suits them. Mixed into the blend were also the fears of adherents of a certain brand of “Christianity”, that sees growing social acceptance of people who identify as LGBTIQ as evidence Satan is getting the upper hand and should be resisted at all costs. And through it all, there swept waves of the formless fears that always run when things happen people find threatening, have no warning of and don’t see coming, and  after the fact have no clear understanding of.

I’m not big on fear. I recognize it is deeply rooted in our biological makeup. I know it is a force that has driven the most abhorrent forms of human conduct going back through millennia. I also know whole industries depend on the promotion and cultivation of fear – from the military industrial complex and the liability insurance – personal-injury/malpractice law complex; to the cosmetics, fashion, automobile, travel and domestic products industries that thrive by suggesting how imperfect our lives are if we don’t look certain ways, drive certain vehicles, vacation in certain places, or decorate our homes with certain furnishings. Personally more to the point, I have my own ongoing history with fear directing, shaping, and inhibiting my life’s progress. As a survivor of bullying in early adolescence, I am still affected by deeply internalized impacts that I have only recently recognized as signs of PTSD. I have a highly evolved fear of failure, traceable no doubt to being the product of a culture and a top tier education where high achievement and performance are the standards by which personal value and worth are judged.

Finally, I have fears grounded in stuff I learned in the course of that education. Knowing more than your average bear about the circumstances that led to the fall of the Roman Empire and that led to and followed the breakthrough to the modern capitalist order marked by the French Revolution, I sometimes lie awake nights worrying about the magnitude of the historic turn now unfolding on every continent, Antarctica included. Having spent part of my career working in energy policy, I know more than the average bear about the magnitude of the threats posed by climate change and why those threats should not be denied or trivialized. Spend a few months as I did working closely with people from the electric utilities as they struggle to restore power to the 85% of the households in Connecticut who were knocked out by the freak October 30, 2011 snow storm, and the prospect of more and more extreme weather events taking out critical infrastructure systems will also keep you awake nights.

By now it is a foregone conclusion that fear will drive the outcome of the US Presidential election. Neither of the leading candidates arouses much positive delight. Donald Trump’s campaign is overwhelmingly fear-based. If Hillary Clinton wins, despite the strong negative views many Americans rightly or wrongly have held about her for a long time, it will be as much because of the immense fear Trump arouses in people who do not belong to his core constituencies, as because of any success she may have setting forth a vision that excites and inspires voters.

And yet. And yet fear is really not where it’s at. Not when you’ve paid a visit to the Other Side and come back to talk about it as I did. Not when your frame of reference is broader, deeper, higher, and more expansive than the stuff of the daily news and the permutations of contemporary public affairs. More on that next time around…

 

 

But that was in another country…

The first time was more dramatic

a long time coming

after the fact utterly foreseeable

Inherited predispositions

Unhealed wounds from early traumas

Hungry for love, angry, lonely

tired of the unending bitterness

besmirching and despoiling every undertaking

the more hopeful, the more foully

Love, recognition, achievement, success –

Forget about it

Not to mention hardwired from the get-go

for higher highs and lower lows

Life lived always then provisional,

optional until a more attractive choice

might present itself

Meanwhile make do with the handiest

subculturally approved soporifics

until they no longer quite packed the punch

and misery tired of loving company

 

That time it was a close call

turned away at the first door knocked on

the second blessedly opened

received into a space

where a deadly malady

was already holding court

Good thing

The next door was marked EXIT

A bottom firm enough to stand on

Safe just long enough

to take a walk

into an utter strangeness

where strangers delivered in familiar words

strange messages of deliverance

Grace

at last a shot at a life worth living

Grace

able freely to receive

what was freely offered

Grace

to find the fortitude to live

into another way

to stumble and take wrong turns and go astray

without looking for THIS WAY OUT

Given the givens, a miracle

a miracle lived surely enough and gratefully

though not yet truly seen

Good enough

So thank you

Get on with it

Keep on keeping on

And so thereby a second life

or the same life with a reset

 

Being at last in the world

this world

Life 101

How to

Step by Step

Life 201

Life 301

Life 401

No terminal degree in sight

Up hills, down dales

left turns, right turns

right turns, wrong turns

backtrack, forge ahead

Yes, anger

Yes, sorrow

Yes, partings

No, despair

Keep on keeping on

Emerge

Grow

Look around, down, up, out, in, backward, forward

Say please

and most especially thank you

Notice the generosity

Not having to deserve

For sure often

still a babe in the woods

not yet mastering

the art of  staying on track

Keeping on keeping on

Eventually really taking it for granted

even when not really taking it for granted

New playmates, playgrounds, playthings

and then again new ones

More will be revealed

Just show up

Try new things, ancient things

Go deep

Discover body

Discover soul

Learn to sit

Learn to breathe

Discover fire

Pay attention

It’s all good

Even when it’s bad, it’s good

good to leave

in the rear view mirror

Pay attention

Yes

But not always

Don’t always want to

Know better, yes

but ignorance sometimes is bliss

or wishing would have it so

 

Getting older

aches and pains go with the territory

Regular checkups

Tune up the diet

Drop some pounds

Take a couple of pills just in case

Do what needs to be done

to keep the craziness at bay

It’s all good

Until it’s not

But that is in another country

 

And so the second time

And so the second time

came without warning

which is to say, there were ample signs

signals encoded

in an unlearnt language

from another land

so there was no need to trouble

about what they signified

The first time troubles was all there was

still unprepared when the storm blew in

taking down ancient timbers on its way

Way more ready

the second time, knowing

how to sit

how to breathe

how to pay attention

how to let go and surrender

even when not wanting to

how to lean in and not run

who to call

not alone in the universe

Played it nevertheless close for comfort

A little prelude, yes, on an unseasonably

summerly late September Saturday

A little more emphatic

the signals flaring upwards

but not enough to command attention

or change a game plan

practice in the morning

good deeds in the afternoon

music in the evening

singing along til heart’s content

practice again in the morning

no sweat beyond the usual

Namaste and off

to the big box to pick up

a couple pillows and some edibles

make way for a stressed out mom

with fussy kids at the checkout

home for lunch

The play proper commences

when your heart speaks listen

no fooling now

no amount of breathing

no amount of stretching

there, insistently, center stage

houselights going down

for the main performance

a voyage off to terra incognita

check the program

review the scenarios

make the call

consider the options

follow suit

get ready, batten down

set off

off never to return

this side of paradise

into the channel outward

let the pilots board

who know the way, they say

a last few hasty leave-takings

no fear

all in good hands

fair weather

for now

clouds gather

skies darken

down, then, and out

out, then, and up and away

and down again

out where many go

all eventually

few return

Keeping company with angels

go with it, wherever it goes

dream scenes in black and white

through a far portal

companies of caring spirits

smooth sailing mostly

until the far shore approaches

rough berthing

breathe, she said

and that was all

 

How strangely moored

new light, new space

known faces, welcoming

speaking in half-remembered

half-unlearnt tongues

of half-remembered things

but that was in another country

and so we begin again

take it from the top

wherefrom

whereto

let go

breathe

listen

receive

only connect

that is all

for now

in another country, another time

new customs, new habits, new thoughts

don’t sweat the small stuff

it’s a miracle, all of it

for real

appearances deceive

this side of paradise

nothing is the same.