Fifty Words on Easter Morning

Dying eggs                                                                                                                                   Invisible rabbits                                                                                                                                                     The magical blood of lambs

Full moon                                                                                                                                 Flowering trees                                                                                                                                                     Sacrifice at sunrise

Rebirth                                                                                                                                                 New love                                                                                                                                                                 Twenty-eight days

Rabbit in the moon                                                                                                                             Fly in the ointment                                                                                                                                              The return of spring

Hope and faith                                                                                                                   Regeneration                                                                                                                                                        Astarte has risen

Look up now                                                                                                                                       And see the stars                                                                                                                                                  Such wonder everywhere.

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Saying Goodbye

 

I’ve said goodbye a lot in my life.  To people.  To things.  To houses and places.  Some I’ve been sorry to leave; others, not.  Some left me.  It’s all goodbying, though, whether you open the door or someone else does.  What matters is how you feel when you walk through the door.  It also matters – perhaps even more – how you feel and what you do on the other side of that threshold.

Are you looking back, or are you looking ahead?  Maybe you have regrets, or sadness.  Perhaps you regret not leaving sooner, or you regret leaving at all.  But leave you did.

The past can hold you, if you let it, and entrap you, like a sticky web.  Maybe the past is lonely, since we’re always leaving it, moment by moment, day by day.  Because of that loneliness, it will conspire with your memories to keep you, and draw you back.

I try not to let that happen, just as I try to “live in the moment,” a popular concept in these times.  I’m not always successful at living just in this moment, and then this one, and this one, because the past is always calling, and the future always beckons.  I know it’s false to tell myself that the past was awful, but the future will be golden.  Or vice versa.  It’s always some jumbled mix of awful and golden, separated by periods of transition, if not equanimity.

If I could make golden happen, you know I would.  So would you.  I don’t expect it all the time, though.  In fact, I’m often surprised when such a moment happens; so much so, that I forget to give thanks to whomever or whatever helped cause it.  Not being the religious sort, I ascribe such things to the forces of Chance or Fortune.

Then again, it might be the work of the Fates, whose tasks are to spin out the thread of life, determine its length, and then to decide how and when to cut it.  If you believe that, then you believe that the whole scheme of life is really out of our hands, since how long we have to live, and the manner and time of our death, have already been determined.

I don’t think that’s true.  We have the power to choose, and what we choose determines what happens next.  That’s Consequence, not Fate.  Still, I do see life as a set of vast, interlocking cycles; rather like the Mayan calendar, but which are beyond our ability to comprehend or predict, at least at this point in our evolution.  As a result of the way in which the cycles mesh, things happen, opportunities arise, people come and go.  You can call these occurrences curses, or you can call them blessings.  Either way, they’re not just beyond our ability to predict; they’re beyond our ability to control.  The power we do have rests in our ability to make choices: to stay, or to go; to love, or to give up on love; to live, or to give up on life.

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There’s a restlessness at the heart of my life – an empty space filled with goodbyes and unfinished stories.  An aching need is also there: a need for love, a need for home, a need for connection; a need for the restlessness to end.  The thing is, I don’t believe it will ever end.  If the past is a template for the future, then that’s the only conclusion I can draw.  I know – I know – the past doesn’t have to define the future.  That’s what we all want to believe.  Like the fine print in personal injury or investment advertisements: “Past results are no guarantee of future returns.”

And, as I wrote above, I believe we have the power of choice, even if the choices don’t always seem particularly appealing.

Still … my life thus far casts something of a shadow over my optimism, especially on gray, chilly mornings like one in which I’m writing this.  I guess a shaded optimism is better than all shade and no optimism, though.

Ugly things lie in wait down that road.  I know.  I’ve been there, hoping I can get through the night without doing something unfortunate and irreversible to myself.  When optimism fails, when hope is a chimera, it’s important to have something outside yourself to which you can hold fast.  It really doesn’t matter what it is, so long as you can hold on to it, and not let go:  a memory, an icon or a photograph, or your desire to see the sun come up.  For me, it was my daughters, but anything will do, if it keeps you from that last goodbye.

Nevertheless, a last goodbye does await all of us.  When the cycles click together in a certain way, at a certain moment, we will leave, whether we’ve said goodbye or not, whether we have unfinished business or not.  That’s Chance at work.  We can hasten the day, but we cannot delay it.

I’m at a place in my life from which that final goodbye is becoming more visible.  I know it’s looming up there in the clouded future somewhere.  Lying in wait, as it has lain in wait at other times in my life.  I avoided its grasp years ago, for reasons that are not completely clear to me, but that have to do, I imagine, with Chance, if nothing else.  I don’t feel so special as to believe that I was spared for some higher, altruistic purpose.  No – I survived, and have lived, and loved, and said goodbye, over and over again.

Because of all that living and loving and goodbying, I feel more keenly now the press of time.  Tempus fugit, and all that.  I used to jokingly translate that phrase as “time fidgets,” but it is we who fidget, not time.  The original phrase (from a poem by Virgil) is, fugit inreparabile tempus: “it escapes, irretrievable time.”

Irretrievable.  It’s a word that puts a fine point on the questions of, “What are we doing, and why?”  I suppose you could also ask, “What’s the point?”  For some, it’s living in a certain way, so as to insure your passage through the Pearly Gates.  For others, it’s living in a certain way, so as to have a better life after reincarnation.  Believing in neither Pearly Gates nor reincarnation, I am left with only this life, and I am left with love.  Since I cannot give life – not in the saintly or godly way – I can only give love, and hope to receive it in kind.  As anyone over the age of twelve knows, that doesn’t always happen.  However, I suppose my optimism isn’t all that shaded after all, as I continue to live, and to love:  fully and optimistically.

We have the power of choice, but what other choice do we have, but to live, and to love, and to carry on as though the end is not looming over us all?   I have lived my life as though I was not in danger of dying, but that clearly is not the case.  Nevertheless, I continue to choose life and love, and, insofar as I have faith in something, I have faith in those two things, and in the incipient possibilities that they hold for us, whether we say goodbye or not.

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Pity the Fool …

The shock is beginning to wear off now.  At least until the next newspaper or internet or television piece that I see or read.  Then it comes back again, dulled somewhat by resignation, but it’s there nonetheless.  Talking about it with like minded people or writing about it helps, but talking and writing will not reverse what has happened.

Unless you have been sequestered on a tropical island, completely bereft of news from the outside world (and if you have, lucky you!), then you know “it” is the recent national election, one result of which is that we will soon be saddled with a thin-skinned, incompetent blowhard for our next president.  This is bad enough, but Mr. T

 mr-t

(no, not that Mr. T)

will not arrive in Washington, DC, alone.  He will bring with him, to oversee and direct the various departments of government, an assortment of conspiracy fantasists, anti-government government employees, inhabitants of bubbles, sellers of snake oil, privatizers, insiders, major political donors, and Elaine Cho, wife of Sen. Mitch McConnell.

Some of these people were already in Washington, but I suppose if one is going to drain a swamp, enlisting the inhabitants of that swamp in the effort makes a certain amount of sense; if those inhabitants actually want their swamp drained.  I seriously doubt that to be the case, but we shall see.

Perhaps Mr. T will go to Washington and become transformed.  Perhaps he will sit where Lincoln and FDR and Kennedy have sat, and grow into the office.  I am going to resist making a cancer analogy here, and simply say that this too is doubtful.  Not only were those predecessors technologically incapable of firing off tweets at 3 a.m., they were also not emotionally predisposed to do so, even if they could have.  Well, as I said, that’s bad enough, but there are other things to consider now.

For example:  a chief advisor and strategist who has encouraged racist, anti-Semitic and anti-Muslim statements, to say nothing of proclaiming his most recent business venture to be a platform for white “nationalists”; a future Secretary of Education who hates public education; a National Security Advisor who hates Muslims; a Treasury Secretary who used to work at Goldman Sachs (I wonder if he was present for any of Hillary Clinton’s speeches there?); for Secretary of State, it will be either an incompetent sycophant or a man who only months ago loudly decried Mr. T as a fraud and a phony; an Assistant National Security Advisor whose main qualification seems to be that she donated a lot of money to our future president’s campaign; a Health and Human Services secretary who wants to destroy the Affordable Care Act, privatize Medicare, and reverse Roe vs. Wade; a Secretary of Transportation who in her previous Federal job cut back on mine inspections and OSHA regulations.  And so on.

I know that of the non-majority who voted for Mr. Trump, not all of you are racists and misogynists.  I know that the mills and foundries your fathers and grandfathers worked in are mostly gone, the unions that helped them gain a decent living have been eviscerated, the coal mines are closing, and your home towns are often thin shadows of the communities they once were.  I also know many of you wanted to “send a message to Washington.”

That’s all well and good, but do you know exactly what that message was intended to communicate, and do you think it has reached the ears of its intended recipients?  Was the message, “Make Washington work again,” or was it, “I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take it anymore”?  Either way, I really don’t think the people now about to place their hands on the levers of power in Washington, DC, are going to fulfill either the hopes you carry or the inflated list of contradictory promises that Mr. Trump made to all and sundry over the last few months.

Quite apart from all that – and once again, that’s bad enough – how could you square your own values and morals, your own (presumed) belief in American democracy, with the record of sexual assault, bankruptcies, race-baiting, and the ever-lengthening list of egregious lies that constitute the reality of our future Reality-Star-in-Chief?  How could you simply discount all that in the name of “telling it like it is” and not being PC.  I don’t know, but you did, and now we all have to live with it.

Living with it does not, however, mean we have to accept it.  It does not mean that now we should all just link arms and sing Kumbaya.

To the contrary, I believe it better that we in the majority (that is, the 64,777,890 citizens who voted for Hillary Clinton[1]) link arms and sing a different song.  We Shall Overcome would be a good choice.

I think it’s very important that we resist calls to give our next president a chance to govern, a chance to succeed.  That’s a nice sentiment, but I don’t want him to succeed, because his success, and that of his appointees, would be built atop the ruins of eight decades of social progress in this country.

Therefore, I am going to do whatever I can to resist the coming attempts to return America to the supposedly bucolic days of 1956.  I encourage you to do the same.

Donate money to progressive causes and organizations in which you believe.  Volunteer for them, as well.  Call your Congressperson and Senator.  Sign petitions.  March in protests.  Write letters to the editor of your local newspaper.  Demand that journalists do their job and factually report the lies, distortions, and obfuscations that are already a hallmark of the budding Trump administration.  Demand that they use the word lie, when a lie is spoken, rather than trying to be polite and dance around it.  Then, when they do call a lie a lie, we must defend those same journalists, and others, when they’re attacked for pointing out the truth.

If an idea does come out 0f the Trump administration that actually makes sense, then it should be given careful consideration and, if warranted, support.  I have little hope at this point that such a thing will happen, but still …

Most importantly, though: Organize, because therein lies our strength.  E Pluribus Unum, after all.

One last thing:  When people who voted for Mr. Trump begin to realize that they were lied to all along, when they see that they’ve been taken in by a charlatan, let’s not say, “I tried to tell you, but you wouldn’t listen.”  Rather, let’s approach them with loving kindness and understanding, because we, all of us, ultimately are part of the same American family, and the sooner we accept and act upon that knowledge, the sooner we can successfully resist the people who would destroy what has been built here in the last two hundred and forty years.

***

[1] As of 30 November 2016

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Four Mothers

 

Here’s to all the mothers in my life:

  • To Ruth, without whom I would have no life, nor love of words and books, I suspect.
  • To Dorothy, who gave me opportunities and aggravation, though not in equal measure.
  • To Nancy, for all you did, all you gave, and all you put up with; and also for bringing forth three baby women into the world.
  • To Kate, who has always brought sunlight into my life, and who brought Max into all our lives, and who will soon bring forth a new, wee companion for Max.

I love you all, ladies, both the quick and the dead.  My life is better for having you in it.

Besos y abrazos …

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Talkin’ ‘Bout My Generation

A lot of abuse is being heaped upon the heads of Baby Boomers these days.  If most of the abuse-heapers were Republicans, then perhaps I could write it off as coming from people who will need a new reason for the supposed bedevilment and ruination of America, since Obama will be leaving office in about eight months.  Such does not, however, seem to be the case.

I notice this abuse because, having been born in late 1947, I am at the leading edge of that segment of American society.  Leading edge, but not a leader; much less a formulator of Boomer philosophy or lifestyle (whatever that actually means).

As it happens, yesterday, 4 May, was the forty-sixth anniversary of the killing of students at Kent State University by nervous National Guard troops (so much for a well-regulated militia).  Forty or fifty anti-war protesters had gathered on the campus, as had a couple of hundred student on-lookers.  Things got out of control, or a kid in a uniform with a loaded rifle got scared, and people died.

I didn’t hear about this right away, because in May 1970 I was a twenty-two-year-old kid in a uniform with a loaded weapon, trudging to and fro across the rice paddy and tree line landscape of Quảng Ngãi province, Việt Nam.  The same thing that happened in Ohio could’ve happened to me, though.  Actually, it did happen, two years earlier and some ten miles away, at a place called Sơn Mỹ by the Vietnamese, and known to us as Mỹ Lai.

I wasn’t involved in either tragedy: the Kent State student killings or the Mỹ Lai massacre.  Nonetheless, I and others of my generation were touched and influenced by what happened at those two places, two years and ten thousand miles apart.

Unlike almost all of the men in my infantry company in Việt Nam, I had dropped out of college in 1968 and volunteered for the Army.  I’ve written a lot, here and elsewhere, about why I did that, but for now let me just say that I was idealistic and patriotic.  I saw the war in Việt Nam as my generation’s war, and I felt compelled to help fight it.  I felt an obligation, in fact, and nothing in my white, male, middle class, suburban Texas upbringing did anything to dissuade me from that.

I suspect that the anti-war protesters at Kent State that spring were also idealistic and patriotic (like young Bernie Sanders supporters are now).  They loved their country, and were trying to do something to halt a great injustice.

The fact that, nine months into my year in Việt Nam, I decided to oppose the war by refusing to go to the field, and the fact that innocent people were killed at Kent State, does nothing to tarnish the idealism and patriotism of either me or the anti-war protesters of forty-six years ago, or the generation that we share.

While I do not fit the rapacious, self-indulgent profile of a bad Boomer, clearly there are others, many others, who do.  A great many of them are investment bankers or lawyers or, worse yet, politicians.  Well, a lot of families have children who do not grow up as you wish they had, so I can offer no apology to America for the errant behavior of such people.

Neither am I seeking a pat on the back, nor a gold star by my name, for not having gone to work for Goldman Sachs or seeking public office.  While I understand that we live in a distinctly un-nuanced age, I seek only a bit of nuance in how we look at things such as the impact a particular generation has had, and is still having, on the quality and fabric of life in America.

The record is pretty clear that my generation was scathingly critical of the generation that preceded ours:  the (annoyingly-named) Greatest Generation.  They mucked up a lot of things too, and not just the misadventure in Việt Nam.  Nevertheless, Joe McCarthy, George Wallace and Robert McNamara share that generation with John Kennedy, Martin Luther King Jr., Robert Kennedy, and Fr. Daniel Berrigan, among many others.

Oh, I could get all old-and-wise here, and say something like, “Well, young fella, you’ll be old someday too.”  Yeah.  Not going there.  Rather, I will leave you with the words of a song that came out in 1965, the year I graduated high school.

 

People try to put us down
Just because we get around
Things they do look awful cold

I hope I die before I get old

This is my generation
This is my generation, baby

Why don’t you all fade away
And don’t try to dig what we all say
I’m not trying to cause a big sensation
I’m just talkin’ ’bout my generation

This is my generation
This is my generation, baby

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Hooked

The war will never leave me.  I suppose I should’ve realized this sooner, but the burden of war has a cumulative effect.  It slowly reasserts itself as the years go by, when it becomes safer to think about it. Or so you think.

It never becomes safer to think about, though.  The reality of war, the reality of having gone to it, having survived it, having known people who did not survive it (or did not survive the peace, because of the damage inflicted during the war) – all those things never fade.  Never.  They will always be there.  They will always be with me and all the other men who went to that war, and everyone who has been to every war since.  Men and women who slogged around in the countryside, and became brutalized and traumatized and deeply wounded in ways no one else but us can see.

I’d like to think I could pick out a combat veteran in a crowd, especially an Iraq or Afghanistan vet, because with them, the raw pain is still very close to the surface.  Maybe not even beneath the surface.  On the other hand, I might mistake a heroin junkie for a vet, because the dark hollowness around the eyes, the lingering, aching emptiness within, all look and feel much the same from the outside.

I got my fix in Viet Nam, every time some son of a bitch took a shot at us, or someone hit a booby trap, or we walked into an ambush.  Not many months in, and I was hooked.  The ecstasy of a firefight cannot be understood by someone who has not experienced the fire and lead orgasm of screaming pain and anger that just pours out of you through the barrel of your weapon, blasting fear, blasting tiredness and loneliness, giving you a sense of joy and power and fucking white hot revenge for every ill ever done you.

I don’t know.  Maybe my analogy is all off.  I’ve never done heroin, I’ve just done war.  And the war did me.  Yes it did.  It did me real well.   But it didn’t throw me aside afterwards, the way heroin does with some people.  No, it had burrowed so deeply within me, that for many long years I didn’t even realize it was still there.  But it is.  It’s been there since that day in November 1969 when an AK-47 round flew my way for the first of many times.  The war is still there, and it will never end, and it will never let me go.  No matter how many words I write, no matter how many ill-fated loves I fall into in hopes of finding joy and ecstasy again, no matter how many days accumulate between then and now, I will never be free of it.

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Try and Catch the Wind

 

Trying to connect with her was like trying to lasso the wind, and like the wind, she was there, but not there.  Sometimes what we felt with and for each other was gale force.  Other times, there was barely a breeze to relieve an oppressively hot day.

But she wasn’t a weather system, or a high pressure zone, or a tropical depression – she was a woman, and her abrupt and inexplicable withdrawal left a hole in the middle of my life, and in my heart.  The hole is larger than I thought, especially relative to the duration of our relationship.  Only half a year.  And it was only the first 4/6ths of it that were really, really good.  Then the long, slow downward slide began.

Was it the anti-depressants she was taking?  Or was it the depression itself?  Or, was it fear on her part?  A fear of reality, perhaps, and connection, and love, with everything that four-letter word means, both actually and potentially.

When she said to me, early on, that she’s a serial monogamist, I thought the emphasis was on the second word of that phrase.  Instead, the emphasis was on the first word.  Maybe she had an exit plan all along, and regardless of how intensely she felt love for me, regardless of how open and real and genuine it all was, we ran up against her self-imposed deadline, and that was it – party over.

The party’s been over for two and a half months now, and I can see how it’s going to be for me: every other woman, every other twinge of love, every other night spent entwined beneath the sheets, will be compared to her, to the twinges of love I felt for her, and to those entwined hours she and I shared.  It will fade eventually, that  seemingly unrequitable longing, and I suppose that will be a good thing for me, to say nothing of whomever else I am trying to forge a relationship with.  It will fade, and that will be good, but there is a hole deep within me that may never completely close up, nor heal.  I won’t treasure that unhealed piece of me, I won’t cling to it like a pathetic emotional raft, but I will remember.  I will always remember.

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