The Boomers Are Dying

I awoke on a Saturday morning to an email message from a friend telling me that a mutual friend was beginning hospice care.  He had been released from the hospital a few days earlier after a hospitalization of a month, following strokes and other complications, and now his kidneys were failing.  It was the final insult, or assault, on a being who’d spent too many years dancing with alcoholism.  He is in his early sixties.  There would be an open house at his home on Sunday for friends to come and say goodbye.  This was a man I associated with for several years, and dated off and on.  He had wanted more from the relationship.  I knew it would not be a “good fit” as they say, not the right match.  So I pulled away.  I have not seen him for several years, though friends have kept me up on his decline.

On Monday I learned that my friend was now having a morphine drip, the beginning of the end.  He is expected to die very soon.  The friend who has been sending the emails has visited and writes “He drifts in and out of consciousness but knew who I was and thanked me for coming.  His breathing had become quite labored since I saw him in the hospital.  I kissed his forehead and remembered how we often said we were brothers from different mothers!”  I responded to his email, and said that I appreciated the updates and that he was a kind soul to pay that visit. Continue reading

Stretching Our Inclusivity

I hear the word “inclusive” used a lot in certain circles – those with liberal leanings and certain religious and denominational settings. And yet, in spite of how we might frequently use of the word, our behavior sometimes suggests that we might not be so very inclusive deep at our core.  It is a very real and human characteristic to want to be with like-minded people.  In fact, I know a man who wrote a song with lyrics that affirm this very notion.  And a lot of us feel at home in certain inclusive circles for that very reason – for the most part we find a large number of like-minded individuals with whom we can share ideas and swap tidbits, about books and articles, and magazines and lectures that resonate with us and that our fellows might like as well.  There is a cozy camaraderie.   And cultural diversity makes for more variety in the mix. Continue reading

Our Stories Unite Us

(Note – I wrote this in October, 2011 and am just posting it in January, 2012)

In this sprawling family of humankind, we all have stories to tell.  As I write this I am in Crisfield, Maryland on vacation.  I’m attending a Road Scholar program, one of those lifelong learning experiences here in the crab and seafood capital of America.  Since I’ve been here, I’ve heard many small town stories of life on the Chesapeake shores, stories by watermen, boat captains, local leaders and museum curators.

On our way to Crisfield, two friends and I stopped at a Unitarian Universalist (UU) church in Annapolis for their Sunday service.  A young intern minister preached the homily and she shared a story from her growing up years, about being raised by a mother who was schizophrenic and what that experience was like.  At one point, during an acute episode, the demons drove her mother to spit in the face of her teenage daughter and then lock her out of the house.  In despair, she sat on the stoop of the house and cried.  And a man, a stranger, appeared seemingly out of nowhere, and placed a hand on her shoulder and said “I know your mother.”  Just those four words.  And that simple gesture gave her hope.  She didn’t have to explain what she was going through or why; the man just knew.  And it made her feel less alone. Continue reading

Wisdom in Four

“I’m sorry.  I don’t know.  I need help.  I was wrong.”  According to the mentor of Chief Inspector Armand Gamache of the Sûreté du Québec, these are the four sentences that lead to wisdom.  Gamache in turn passes these sentences on to the agents he trains, those under his command and tutelage.  Chief Inspector Armand Gamache is a fictional character created by author Louise Penny.  I have been reading her books lately and have come to admire her writing.  I have taken quite a liking to the character Armand Gamache.

There is something Buddha-like in these words.  After reading them, I started thinking about what it would be like to fashion a life, a way of being, around them à la Armand Gamache.  If life means suffering, as one of Buddha’s noble truths declares, then perhaps it would be worthwhile to examine what these sentences might entail in practical application, not just in a fictional realm.  To what extent might these sentences, these axioms ease suffering? Continue reading

Philistines Say the Darnedest Things

I think I have commented in other writings about how broadening travel is, how it expands the mind and exhilarates the spirit.  First there is the anticipation before the trip and then there is the wonder of seeing places you’d only read about in books, remnants of old civilizations, old architecture and cultures and old customs.  You want to speak in hushed tones in some places, like perhaps in the Tower of London or while viewing Mayan ruins in Chichen Itza or viewing the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel in Rome or …. Well, you get the picture. 

And then, there are folks who just don’t see it that way.  Their “travel gene” and capacity for amazement have somehow mutated to give them a different slant on seeing famous places.  Let me tell you about such a person I once met on one of my little jaunts.  I was on a group tour to Europe, taking in several countries over a three week period, visiting all sorts of famous destinations – Paris, Monte Carlo, parts of Germany, Switzerland, Austria, the Netherlands, Venice, Rome – to name but a few of the stops.  On this particular day that I will tell you of, the tour was in Rome and this was the second day of our stay there.  I went down to the appointed dining room for morning breakfast and arrived a bit later than usual, toward the end of the designated time slot for our group.  Most of the group was gone, having eaten sometime earlier.  I looked around and recognized one man as being from our group as I had seen him on the bus.  I recalled he was travelling with his wife, but he was alone here at breakfast.  And so, with my tray and plate loaded, I summoned up my best travel manners, and approached his table – “May I join you?”  He nodded. Continue reading

Erstwhile Brushes with Greatness (in a Manner of Speaking)

You’ve probably heard about Six Degrees of Separation or Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon, the trivia game based on the concept of the small world phenomenon.  It hinges on the assumption that any individual involved in the film industry can be linked through his or her movie roles to actor Kevin Bacon within six steps.  And you can apply this to other well-known personages as well.  So, I decided to try to apply this to people I know who know other people who might know someone famous and see if I could accomplish the feat in less than six steps.  I was trying to determine the measure of my proximity to fame one day while sitting in traffic and I let my mind wander.  Yes, you guessed it — I amuse myself in strange ways.

I have a tie to President Jimmy Carter.  I know Reverend Tom Owen-Towle; he wrote the Foreword to my first book, Did Jesus Have a Cat?  Through him I’ve met his wife, Reverend Carolyn Owen-Towle.  She has met Jimmy Carter and spent time with him in Plains, GA.  I also know Phil Borden.  He also met and spent time with both Jimmy Carter and his wife Rosalynn.  So, that means, then, that I have ties to all the diplomats and heads of state that Jimmy Carter ever met – Anwar Sadat, Menachem Begin, and others.  I had a cousin by marriage (Jesse was married to my first cousin, Thelma) who was in the Navy (a lifer) and he worked at the Pentagon for a period of time on the Joint Chiefs of Staff.  During his assignment there, he worked on the Panama Canal treaty and had many meetings at the White House with Jimmy Carter related to that undertaking.  Wow!  I am more connected to Jimmy Carter than I ever realized.  And that means all my friends are connected too, in less than six steps.  Hey, this game really works. Continue reading