Tuesday, September 29, 2009

I Think I Need A Dog

Serenity is not freedom from the storm, but peace amid the storm.

They say that absence makes the heart grow fonder. I have been away from my blog for over a week now and I have truly missed it. Recently I was given the opportunity to watch my quiet, serene world get totally turned upside down and inside out by the arrival of my older brother and his family--wife, two sons ages 9 and 10 and last, but certainly not least, his Golden Lab/Pointer mix, Dash. They drove in from Illinois last Sunday to spend four days in the golden Autumn of Maine. The only thing I imagine worse than their visit was being in their van coming here. I get a rather twisted sense of retribution with that image. Anyway, all the cleaning, sprucing and tidying up that went into preparing for their arrival was both pointless and time wasted. All my efforts were annihilated within the first ten minutes. As well as any goodwill I may have been nurturing. But enough about that................

Among the usual things that people forget when traveling to visit family members--shampoo, toothbrushes, good manners, courtesy, respect for personal space and belongings--there was one thing my brother sort of neglected for which I am truly grateful. And that was Dash the dog. I say sort of neglected only because he did take care to feed and water him, took him out for potty breaks and gave him token play time. My brother loves that dog more than anything else ( with the possible exception of cable television) but he wasn't enjoying this trip and Dash was the loser. One early afternoon my brother took the boys and made yet another trek to Walmart for yet another must-have item that could easily have been obtained locally. Whatever. Dash was desolate that his "daddy" and playmates had gone off and left him. I decided to give my Mom and sister-in-law (who I truly adore) some girl time together and took Dash for a nice long walk. OK--he took me for a walk. We walked up the road which is very rural and scenic with little to no traffic. We came upon a knoll where a large abandoned Victorian farmhouse, barn, and out buildings had once stood and where I had played among the ruins as a child. Dash and I walked the old lane that wound past what used to be there and deep into the surrounding fields. Apparently it's a favourite location for ATV's and dirt bikes as well. It made for smooth travel through the brambles and under brush in the woods. We walked and walked but my mind traveled much further and in the opposite direction. I began thinking about all the places I'd been since the last time I walked here and all the people I'd known and loved since then. It was indeed a sentimental journey. Dash was a perfect traveling companion. He never interrupted my inner monologue and whenever I was at risk of falling into deep, dark introspection he obligingly attempted to dislocate my shoulder by yanking on the leash (already extended to the maximum) in pursuit of yet another squirrel, bird, butterfly, or unicorn.

On the way back to where we'd started I found a patch of ancient rhubarb plants I'd missed initially. Goodness, the memories that overtook me at that moment!! I'm going to go back and pick them when they've matured a bit more. Dash and I got back on the road and headed for home. I had the whole panoramic valley in front of me and it took my breath away. It's amazing how one can overlook the beauty that surrounds him every day. I looked at some of the trees next to the brook and thought how much they resembled the background landscape in many of Leonardo da Vinci's paintings. Wow--I'm living in a da Vinci landscape--awesome!! If it had not been for Dash I would probably not have taken that walk and remembered so much of who I used to be. I may not have taken an accounting of how all that contributed to who I am now. I made sure he got a generous portion of milk bones when we got back to the house. I loved on him as much as I could to express my gratitude for his companionship.

Here's an opportunity for some entrepeneurial type person who has land and love to spare. How about "Rent-A-Dog"?. You think you want to take a walk but don't really have the motivation--rent a dog. You want someone to love you unconditionally even though you're a jerk--rent a dog. You have the spontaneous need to love something but people are too complicated--rent a dog. You need to feel appreciated and adored and no one cares--rent a dog. Hourly or for the week-end. If a dog can make me feel like a whole new person in just one walk imagine what I'd be like if I had one full-time. My cats keep me humble--that's their job. But I think I may need a dog--to distract the cats and take me for walks.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Friendship vs Keeping Score

There is no score keeping in friendship. Period. I thought I'd get right to the point without my usual preamble this time. So, if you're on a tight schedule you can go now.

We have all been there--someone gets their knickers in a twist and plays the guilt card. It usually starts with "after all I've done for you" or words to that effect and goes down hill from there. I say right here, right now, that that is the lowest level a person can sink to and still call themselves a friend. There is no score keeping in friendship. Why would anyone think that a grocery list of good deeds and sacrifices would make the listener any more inclined to cave in to the designs of the list maker? Guilt is not a weapon--it's a crutch to prop up an already losing situation. In an esoteric self-serving relationship that kind of tactic is to be expected because the list makers' accounting is as shallow as he is. But in a real friendship there's no need for a litany of generous acts because that's what friendship is--generosity of time and spirit.

No two friends give equally to the relationship. But they both give what they can when they can and it isn't entered into a ledger. There's no debit and no balance due. Short of giving up a kidney or some other life-saving organ you are doing what is expected of a friend. Sharing the highs and lows of life, listening beyond hearing, being a shoulder, being there--good, bad, and ugly. Being a good friend means you have to allow your friend to do all this for you as well. Friendship doesn't require martyrdom. It is easier to give than to receive. That's because we've lost the talent for gratitude. It takes real courage to be the recipient of kindness. It requires a grace that is seriously lacking in our present world.

Look at all the people you think of as friends. I mean really look at them and think "Would I give them a kidney to save their lives?" "Would I push them out of the way of a bus knowing I could die?" "Would they do it for me?" Or perhaps more important and less dramatic: "Do I really want to listen to yet another how unfair life is story?" "How much do you need?". I don't have the answers. But there's a thousand scenarios and as many ways to play them. Friendship isn't scripted. In life some of us are stars, some of us are supporting cast and some of us are walk-ons. The roles are always changing because we are always changing. That's the beauty of being and having a friend. Todays walk-on is tomorrows star. We are never type-cast because every day presents a new scene to develop our character.

All gifts bright and beautiful,
All efforts great and small,
All advice both wise and wonderful-
A true friend gives them all.

My apologies to the original author of that verse for taking poetic license. There is no score keeping in true friendship. All that's required is giving and receiving whatever is possible and doing so gracefully.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Yes, You Can Go Home Again

Nearly thirty years ago I wrote this in a notebook:

Dear Spirit of the Universe-
Give us strength
to do our best
to use our strength
for what is best.

I don't remember if I was writing that for my sake or if I had the country or even the world in mind. A little prayer written in the margins of a notebook. Today as I see, read, and listen to what's happening around the planet I can't help but repeat that naive little verse over and over in my mind. I wish we could all return to the earnest optimism of our youth. I believe the world would be a much different and better place.

In another notebook I wrote:

What bothers us are
those things we let
bother us.
What's needed is the
courage to let what
gives us strength
strengthen us.

Apparently I was preoccupied with "strength"--its uses and abuses--back then. Now I am more interested in the person who wrote those lines--trying to reacquaint myself with myself. I am in the right place. Autumn in Maine is an ideal time to rediscover ones optimism and hopes. I am reminded of the words of George Eliot--"It is never to late to be what you might have been". I certainly hope that's true.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Friday, September 11, 2009


When I was 16 my parents sent me to spend the summer with my older brother in Anchorage, Alaska. He was in the Air Force and he was stationed at Elmendorf AFB. He'd only been married for a few years and he and his wife had one child and were expecting their second. There was a great deal of tension between them which was palpable and made for a rather uncomfortable living arrangement. Alaska is an amazing place, however, and I found respite in the great outdoors and in the new friends I was making. I was 16 and had all the optimism anyone could have in a new place. I wasn't allowed to leave the base--my brother had a fear of drunk 'natives' doing me bodily harm or of my getting Shanghaied. After a few weeks with them in their tiny apartment, I began considering the concept. In any event, one afternoon my brother decided that we should all go and see the city. It was exciting to be off the base and walking around a place surrounded by the lurking dangers my brother had warned me about. All in all it was a pretty tame outing but a welcome change nevertheless.

One happenstance of that day--so innocuous, so commonplace--had the most profound effect on my life that I will ever experience. On the street were several young people handing out fliers to passers-by. It was an 8 x 10 sheet of goldenrod coloured paper with a rather wordy text printed on it. I took one because it was handed to me and I didn't want to be rude. I folded it and put it in my pocket thinking, 'Hey, a free souvenir'. I had every intention of reading it sometime later when we'd returned to base. By the time we got back I'd completely forgotten about it. In August I returned home to Maine and when I unpacked my suitcase there it was--that goldenrod sheet of paper--a little the worse for having been shuffled around so much. Curiosity returned and I sat on my bed and unfolded it. What I read was the closest thing I have ever had to an out-of-body experience. The words were simple, the phrasing was gentle and the message reached down inside of me and embraced my soul. I could feel, hear, smell, taste. and see the purest light surrounding me. For a few moments I was not in my little bedroom behind the backwoods of rural Maine. I was nowhere and everywhere all at once. Time had absolutely no bearing on my being. As cliche as it may sound, I believe that in that brief span of time I was truly one with the cosmos.

That little piece of prose is called "Desiderata" ('things desired') and it was written my an American philosopher-poet named Max Ehrmann in the 1920's as a response to the horrors of World War I. I have never read anything as timeless as this. It still guides my actions to this day 35 years later. Today was 9/11 and it was a day of reflection for all of us. I urge all visitors to this blog to read this simple message. No matter how busy or stressful your life may be, no matter how much pain and suffering you may be experiencing, no matter how jaded you may have become, some part of this will touch your heart and perhaps reach down and embrace your soul, too. It is the polestar by which I try to live my life. It takes about three minutes to read. Invest the time--your soul is worth it.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Sooner Than Later

In my first installment written yesterday, I alluded to my dislike of people who victimize themselves and said that it would very likely become subject material for a future 'monologue'. Ta-Da! The future is now. And I have two very attractive young ladies who stood behind me in the checkout line at the grocery store to thank for the nudge.

They were very pretty and soft spoken. They may have been sisters but they were definitely friends. When I had completed my transaction and was gathering up the bags I heard the one directly behind me ask the cashier for a job application. She replied that they were out of them but to come in the next day when there would be more copies available. They smiled sweetly, thanked the cashier and were right behind me as I exited the store. I heard her say "Let's come in earlier in the day tomorrow and get one hot off the press." I was impressed for two reasons. First--they used a phrase that for them was archaic. These girls were born long after the demise of the mimeograph. It amused me to hear them use a term I thought belonged to my generation and the ones before mine. Second--they were taking initiative. Rather than blowing it off and uttering the 'om' of generation next--"whatever"--she was taking the approach that the early bird gets the worm. I wish her all the luck in the world.

One of my top 5 pet peeves is people who own no responsibility for their self-willed actions, reactions and overreactions. And nothing sets my neck hair to standing faster than the phrase 'it's not fair'. I am very much aware that there are some things that cannot be helped or avoided and that things happen that are beyond our control. A disheartening diagnosis, a negative prognosis, the loss of a job due to downsizing or closure, getting hit by a meteor and so forth. But why does it seem that almost everyone I encounter passes the blame on to someone else for all the petty little incidents that happen to them? Let me just come out with it--life is neither fair or unfair. Life just is and that's all. Stuff happens. All the finger-pointing, excuse-making, whining and kvetching in the world is not going to make it one iota more fair. Good God, if the world actually revolved around as many people who actually believe it does the Big Bang theory would have nothing on the cataclysmic devastation of the universe and all life forms therein. I have the greatest respect for the 'bootstrap' people. Those folks who, like the saying suggests, pull themselves up by their bootstraps, dust themselves off and get on with fixing the problem. We all have friends that are forever singing the same song of how unfair their lives are and how so-and-so did this or that to them and that's why they can't do this or that. Enough already!! I would like to petition Congress to enact a bill that says no one is allowed to complain about anything unless they have at least three viable solutions to the problem. The penalty for violating this statute would be for the complainer to listen to a recording of himself whining for 24 hours a day for seven days--at least.

I get disgusted when I hear the over-inflated sense of entitlement people seem to have anymore. I came to a realization a few years back which truly liberated me. No one deserves to be happy. Happiness isn't a guarantee. You have to work for it and earn it. In the same vein, no one deserves to suffer--no matter what they've done. You do something wrong and there are consequences and everyone knows it. It started with 'look both ways before you cross the street' and 'don't touch--it's hot'. I truly think that everyone except the most mentally challenged knows the difference between right and wrong. Doing right may not always be well rewarded but at least you maintain dignity and self respect. Doing wrong knowingly and willingly eats your soul eventually and you are sentenced to live with yourself without parole. Prison and the death chamber are incidental to the greater punishment of knowing that with all the potential you possess this is where you ended up. Some people might be ok with that but it would destroy me.

In a nutshell I feel that if you don't like something the way it is, than change it. If you don't know how to change it, seek appropriate help. If you don't want to take the initiative, than shut up. That young lady at the grocery store today was the poster-child for taking initiative in her own small way. She inspired this installment and gives me hope for the future.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

An Auspicious Beginning

It is the 9th day of the 9th month in the 9th year of the 3rd millennium. In many cultures and from a numerological perspective it is an auspicious day. From my own perspective it is particularly auspicious because this is my first post on a blog. This is truly amazing when you consider that I have been trying to master the technology of the toaster for many years now. I was also the one who refused every offer of a computer until very determined strong-willed women infiltrated my apartment and set one up in my absence. For the first couple of days I ignored it and mourned the loss of my desk from which I had written so many letters worthy of Jane Austen's approval. Eventually I relented and began my personal journey down the information superhighway to hell. I have recovered from my addiction to solitaire sufficiently enough that I can now bring myself, not without some trepidation, to the portal of the blogosphere.

I have no idea just where I want or expect this to go. I have a great deal to say about a lot of things of no particular importance. Part of me would like this to be a noble experience where I share my insights collected over the years from all the places I've been and the people I've met. Another part of me just wants to have fun and say outrageous things. I have the feeling it will turn out to be both with a bunch of other stuff thrown in. I will warn you ahead of time that this will probably never be one of those fancy-shmancy uber-tech blogs. I haven't the computer savvy to work the pyrotechnics I've seen on other blogs. Then again I might surprise you and myself if and when I get the hang of all this.

In the meantime I'm just going to rabbit-trail about various issues and ideas, thoughts and opinions. If anyone out there should happen upon this and have topic suggestions I would be very pleased to hear them. Perhaps it would be helpful if you knew a little more about me. What follows is just that--a little more to get acquainted--because as I continue to get comfortable with this medium you will learn more of what I'm about.

I live in the western mountains of Maine. Before returning to my home state I lived for 26 years in the Houston area of Texas. I was born and raised Catholic but have found solace in my Celtic/Buddhist journey. I am a huge proponent of nature conservation but not a radical, sign-carrying screamer. I am either a conservative liberal or a liberal conservative. I am pro-choice but my preference is for life. I am against gay marriage but am for civil union. I like democracy when it works but I also believe strongly in meritocracy. I prefer whole milk and non-diet food and drink. I prefer sitting at the kitchen table playing cards or board games to going to the movies or concerts. I enjoy the company of others but I also enjoy being alone in my own company. I like animals more than I like people except I'd rather spend time in a room with a person who bores me than being in a room with a spider. I am a smoker with good manners but no apologies. I am tolerant of ignorance and have no patience for stupidity. I hate people who victimize themselves--there's a subject for a future monologue, I can assure you.

I think that's probably enough for the first installment. I rather like having to think about who I am and what I think. I look forward to sharing more of it in detail as time goes on. I hope others may feel the excitement I'm feeling as I begin this sojourn. Until next time.......