TTL

Moonset

Back at the end of the 20th century when the human genome was sequenced and mapped, genetic and biological scientists had made amazing gains in understanding human life. They came to master elements of human growth and death through the DNA sequencing. This enabled us to dramatically increase our knowledge of the human longevity.

By 2030, medical science could implant a small biometric device that counts down how much time remains for a person to live. The device was composed of miniature DNA biofeedback transducers that are attached to the skin’s surface but connected to the subdural cellular DNA material of the body’s central nervous system. These plasma diodes provided a tiny digital readout on a skin-like mesh, showing the date when the individual will expire.

The medical research teams, that first configured them, called them “TTLs.” They derived the name from the computer term TTL meaning “Time To Live.” It was the hop limit on our computer mechanisms that measured the lifespan of data on our devices. The inventors initially thought the term would soon change but for some reason, it stuck.

Today, with TTLs, no fortune tellers or spiritual guides are needed. The embedded biometric chip indicates the exact date we will expire. You’ve got, say, exactly 17 years and 14 days left to live. For your sibling, it might be only 8 years and 27 days. Your time remaining shows on the digital readout on your skin’s surface at your clavicle (hidden just under your neckline).

~

By 2035, a TTL marketing plan rolled out and with it came an enormous uproar. The influential people from organized religious circles decried it a fraud. They did so until several of them, in their dying moments, created death-bed videos, admitting they were wrong.

At this point, a few entrepreneurs begin marketing software which was said to hack past the human biological countdown mechanism. In their product launch, they “guaranteed” an extended warranty on the lifespan limits, amounting to an additional five or more years of life. While these surgical implants initially cost above 3.2 million dollars for insertion, these life-extenders, when added to the TTL implants, would add years to life and modify the digital end dates. But these biological extender implants were cost prohibitive and were kept from the public knowledge. Most people could only watch and wait out the count-down on their TTL digital readings.

Within several months of the introduction of the TTL life-extender devices, the FTC exposed the fraud. These “life-extension” add-ons were only a programming modification of the logarithm of the TTL biometers, temporarily replacing the true expiration date for a later one.

After all the hoaxes and con artists were prosecuted, most people slowly began to adjust to the reality of knowing the true brevity of their lives.

~

Initially TTLs were a boom for the life insurance industry. Their sales soared or dipped according to the number of years remaining on people’s TTLs. Eventually, though, people stopped purchasing life insurance altogether and the industry collapsed.

Yet people are reluctant in accepting the inevitability of their death. Denial, anger, bargaining, depression and finally acceptance as Elisabeth Kübler-Ross correctly suggested in her 1969 landmark book On Death and Dying.

Most people tend to avoid looking at their TTL readout. It is only when their TTL date enters the last decade of their life span that they actively make some changes their lives.

As expected, many quit their careers and ventured into entirely new fields. Currently, on all corporate resignation forms there are check boxes to indicate “Approaching TTL Date” under the reason for quitting.

In their final decade, some divest themselves of unneeded wealth while others gamble their life’s savings away, just to see how much they can accumulate.

Some abuse drugs and alcohol and venture into dangerous experimental nihilistic lifestyles. Many self-medicate and prematurely die of liver failure. To whatever extent that people shorten their lives through neglect, their TTL is a constant and fixed date.

Many flock to religious institutions and groups, seeking meaning for their lives as they near life’s end. After all, NOW is the only meaningful event or tangible commodity that seems to matter. Most of the population is exclusively focused on who they are with and the quality of their relationships. Medical offices frequently have Jim Croce’s “Time in a Bottle” as part of their standard office Mosaic® playlist.

In the last TTL decades, some engage in risk-taking. Some try skydiving, scuba diving or mountain climbing while others try to brave public speaking. Comedy clubs find that their ‘Open Mike’ sessions have hundreds signed up well in advance. One club in San Diego calls itself “I’m Dying Up Here” and broadcasts live performances.

With the deployment of TTLs, the travel industry has skyrocketed. Thousands seem to be fulfilling their ‘bucket list’ as they travel around the world. There is considerably less worry about traveling to suspected terrorist-affiliated countries. If your TTL still shows a number of years remaining, you book your travel, knowing that it won’t be during this coming trip that you expire.

~

TTL specialists typically give Ted talks about achieving excellence in focusing on the present moment. They’ll frequently admonish their audiences to direct compassion toward people in need – particularly those who struggle in coping with their coming endpoint.

News reports have turned from what a particular national leader is threatening other to more positive stories. The focus is more on the things the TTL people are doing in society to make a difference for the better. Awards and honorariums change to TTL behavior which brings society new methodologies of physical, social or spiritual healing. Award nominations are no longer based on box office revenues or the numbers of previous popular nominations.

For recent years, “TTL Specialists” have appeared on talk shows explaining their theories about overcoming the drawbacks of death. Doctoral theses, accompanying books and programs have proliferated on the subjects like “Managing Our Endpoint.” New social science fields teach why we should no longer be anxious or striving. Doing so, it is said, robs us of energy and focus on the being present with the remaining life that is before us. Those who used to say “have a blessed day” more commonly say “have a precious present.”

Faith-based organizations have migrated to new leadership of the laity. Almost as if they are ad-hoc gatherings of passengers on a sinking ship, organized religion has become characterized by open sharing sessions instead of liturgy and fixed readings. Life stories and philosophical learnings are regularly shared, giving speaking priority to those with quickly approaching TTL dates.

Out of those faith-based gatherings have emerged groups who called themselves “Visitors.” These are TTL-mindful people who simply visit people. They come to be with those in prison or they eat their lunches at the soup kitchens with the homeless and indigent. Members of “Visitor” groups share how they have divested themselves of their excess resources, sharing with the needy and compassionately treat others like brothers and sisters.

Young adults, with several decades remaining until their TTL date, stop aggressively competing in the office for the manager positions. Instead, they personally try to become the technical support and customer service center for all of their colleagues as well as their clients. They intentionally try to empower their colleagues around them by sharing their own talents and knowledge to help them excel in what they do. They display marvelous levels of creativity and innovation – just for the joy of it.

~

The TTL readout on our clavicle bone has been the start of new social consciousness that is transforming our society. The social change has begun because it is unmistakably clear that we can’t take things, money or power with us beyond our own TTL date.

For the most part, those within the final decade of their end date, tend to be uninterested in how much money or power or social influence they have. Instead, they tend to use their energy and resources in trying to make life somehow better for those who suffer. They spontaneously grab a hammer and nails and join the neighborhood kids in building a treehouse. They create a website for the folks in Brentwood who are trying to save the Coral Trees. They transport some wheelchair-bound seniors across the street from their rest home on Ocean Boulevard so they can see the exquisite Palisades Park view of the ocean. They buy them an ice cream cone when taking them to the Prominade.

~

In time, societies benefitting from the TTL readouts will continue to evolve. Segments of society will become known as the ‘Places of Paradise.’ They will be countries and cultures known by the current generations as the most favorable places in which to dwell. That is because no matter what is going on in the world, the people who are most conscious of their time to live will be more fully living in the present. They, and the communities they create, will be considered the most elevated humans ever to inhabit the earth.

Near large shopping centers, unneeded automobiles and previews of the available homes are on display. Anyone needing transportation or shelter is able to access these regional auction centers which distribute homes and cars donated by those with expiring TTLs. Homelessness has largely disappeared. Automobile and home prices have plunged.

In proximity to the auction centers are also so-called “Final Word Studios.” The studios are be staffed by volunteer camera crews and set designers to help people record their final parting words before their death. One franchise calling itself “Finally” has as many locations as McDonalds or Starbucks. These studios work with soon-to-expire people who want to create a final last-words video for their family, friends and posterity.

A person nearing their TTL date are able to sit down and work with the studio crew on creating their final video. People can say their last words from their favorite mountain top view, in the comfort of their own home or with almost any background set of props they can imagine.

They can write and choreograph the scene as they imagine but producers and writers are available to help with them with their script. Volunteer actors and actresses are also on hand to add to the production. They can do a final monologue or soliloquy. They can narrate pictures from their own family scrap books. They can read their poetry or curse at their Ex. They can get out whatever it is they wish to express, knowing that this is what they are leaving as their sign post of their life’s experiences. The only stipulation is that at the time of the taping, their TTL reading must be within the final few weeks before their expiration date.

~

This author’s TTL device now shows only hours remaining. So I simply wish you a precious present, hoping you live your remaining time with the fullest mindfulness of the incredible beauty that resides within you and those around you. Know that as your remaining time transpires, all that you are and have been has been part of the height of humankind’s universal beauty and celestial nobility. Good job.

… Philip Siddons

Holy Moments

(Written when I was Interim Executive Director of Canopy of Neighbors):


I work for an organization which enables seniors to remain in their homes or apartments as long as possible. We help them thrive and remain relatively independent – preventing them from having to go into an assisted-living institution.

It’s called Canopy of Neighbors.

We do this through a network of volunteers and groups which give their time to do the kinds of things you and I already do to help well-aged friends and loved ones. We give them rides to doctor’s or therapist appointments. Help them get their prescriptions. Sometimes we help them with confusing bank-account or bill-paying tasks. We flip their mattresses or set their clocks ahead or behind twice a year. We change a light bulb that is out of reach – anything to prevent them from stacking kitchen chairs and making a perilous climb and risking a fall.

We also enable them to come to free yoga classes and coffee gatherings where there are featured speakers on health and aging topics. There’s even a monthly luncheon at a local restaurant which offers a low-cost fee for everyone.

I spent a couple of hours this week talking with a couple in their 90s, answering their questions about joining the membership. They are impressed with Canopy. They live in a grand old home in a neighborhood where, in time, only the wealthiest could afford. Homes of doctors, senators and CEOs. Their home was full of life. Paintings filled their home, his paintings. Their furnishings reflected world travels and a lifelong engagement with their children, their careers and themselves. They even have a beautiful Australian border collie who has been part of their household for years.

As I summarized my organization’s services and patiently answered their questions, in my peripheral vision, I could see their daughter. She was in from out-of-town, looking a little frustrated. She’s been here before with them, I suspect. Their hesitancy. Their resistance to get involve with anyone outside of their family for their personal needs. And yet they knew they could use some assistance here and there.

I couldn’t help but think that they only reason they were a little hesitant to join is that it might imply an inability to be independent. Perhaps some giving up of control. Having ‘outsiders’ involved in potentially unknown changes in their lifestyle.

They are truly dear people. Talented and very intelligent. But my heart goes out to them because they seem so frail. He’s a retired but working artist, still holding an office with studio privileges in the local university. But his Parkinson’s is already affecting his mind-to-speech abilities. He drools as he tries to construct his sentences.

In another room, he’s got an unplugged collection of turntable, amp, radio, tuner unplugged and he hasn’t been able to reconnect them. It would take me or another volunteer probably half a day to rewire it. In other rooms, they say their computers are giving them problems and they claim not able to get back into using them. They can’t get their email working.

Her physical condition has left her barely able to move. She has had some disfiguring strokes and yet she is fully engaged in conversations. Reflective, insightful and empathetic toward others. But she says ‘I know we are vulnerable.’

I already know that whatever my organization can offer them, they will need more. Much more. They’ll soon have to contract with outside healthcare organizations for in-home nursing and home-care aids. How much longer can they remain in their lovely home? Who will take care of their dog?

They will be thinking their membership over and will let me know in their own time.

They both have had me thinking, today, of how frail we humans are and temporariness of life. We can get to the point in life where we are blessed with good minds, more-than-adequate resources and all the time we need to pursue anything we’d like. Yet our bodies wear out, out of our control. There is no Toyota to replace parts, even beyond their usual warranty. Our bodies die out from under us. They slip away from us, as do many of our component parts. ‘Moth and rust doth corrupt.

So today, I’m mindful that being present with others, in the moment, is the only place where the meaning and authenticity in life resides for any of us. When I left them, I touched their shoulders and genuinely told them it was a pleasure being with them.

When I got home, I embraced my wife as if it was our anniversary and said I had a great day at work because there were holy moments. ♦

Hierarchical Thinking and The Myth of Redemptive Violence

April 13, 2011

Where did we get the idea that some people have more worth than others? The “we” in that sentence means you and me. For some reasons, you and I seem to believe that some people deserve more than others while others, conversely, deserve less.

Living in America, we acan’t excape the power of of capitalism over our thinking. Those who work harder and are more creative and innovative deserve rewards for their efforts beyond the medioachre. So we have “self-made men” who have “picked themselves up by their bootstraps and made something of themselves.” The assumption, here, is that those who haven’t received rewards for their efforts are medioachre, lazzy and less productive. “People who have made bad choices” in the words of one political executive in our region.

A close companion (and perhaps lover) to this simplistic, self-satisfied, judgmental and completely compassionless outlook on life of the mythic “American Dream” is Soocial Darwinism. This philosohy was brought to us in the mid 20th centry by Herbert Spencer and William Graham Sumner. Darwin’s insight in biological evolution through adaptation of species who were judged as more fit for their changing environment came to be applied to sociological points of view. The poor and the disadvantaged came to be judged as mal-adapters, unmotivated, lazy. The rich and prosperious came to be judged as better adapters, more evolved in society. Better.

So in various societies, particularly in the US, there are those who believe that there isn’t enough to go around and that it is up to the more evolved to preserve what they have, protecting their things from those who haven’t adapted and propered as well as they have. The other group of people seem to be those who believe that there are enough goods and services in the planet for all to not only survive but thrive. Karl Marx knew of this dicatomy in societies and warned that if the few affluent dictators with power and wealth oppressed the masses, there would be revolutions.

Unfortunately, accompanying this class warfare, there is the myth of redemptive violence. I quote a large section of Walter Wink, The Powers That Be because I believe you find it to be profound.

The Myth of Redemptive Violence

The story that the rulers of domination societies told each other and their subordinates is what we today might call the Myth of Redemptive Violence. It enshrines the belief that violence saves, that war brings peace, that might makes right. It is one of the oldest continuously repeated stories in the world.

“The belief that violence “saves” is so successful because it doesn’t seem to be mythic in the least. Violence simply appears to be the nature of things. It’s what works. It seems inevitable, the last and, often, the first resort in conflicts. If a god is what you turn to when all else fails, violence certainly functions as a god. What people overlook, then, is the religious character of violence. It demands from its devotees an absolute obedience unto-death.

This Myth of Redemptive Violence is the real myth of the modern world. It, and not Judaism or Christianity or Islam, is the dominant religion in our society today. I myself first became aware of it, oddly enough, by watching children’s cartoon shows. When my children were small, we let them log an unconscionable amount of television, and I became fascinated with the mythic structure of cartoons. This was in the 1960s, when the “death of God” theologians were being feted on talk shows, and secular humanity’s tolerance for religious myth and mystery were touted as having been exhausted. I distinctly remember hearing God’s death being announced on the morning news, and then seeing, in a cartoon show moments later, Hercules descending from heaven to earth, an incarnate god doing good to mortals. I began to examine the structure of other cartoons, and found the same pattern repeated endlessly: an indestructi­ble hero is doggedly opposed to an irreformable and. equally indestructible villain. Nothing can kill the hero, though for the first three-quarters of the comic strip or TV show he (rarely she) suffers grievously and appears hopelessly doomed, until, miraculously, the hero breaks free, vanquishes the villain, and restores order until the next episode. Nothing finally destroys the villain or prevents his or her reappearance, whether the villain is soundly trounced, jailed, drowned, or shot into outer space.

Thankfully, not all children’s programs feature explicit violence. But the vast majority perpetuate the mythic pattern of redemptive violence in all its brutality. Examples would include the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, the X-Men, Transformers, the Fantastic Four, Silver Surfer, Ice Man, the Superman family, Captain America, the Lone Ranger and Tonto, Batman and Robin, Roadrunner and Wile E. Coyote, and Tom and Jerry (plus the Power Rangers, where real people act out cartoon characters). A variation on the classic theme is provided by hu­morous antiheroes, whose bumbling incompetence guarantees their victory despite themselves (Underdog, Super Chicken). Then there is a more recent twist, where an evil or failed indi­vidual is transformed by a technological accident into a mon­strous creature who—amazingly—does good (Spider-Man, The Hulk and She-Hulk, Ghost Rider). It is almost as if people no longer believe that heroes of sterling character can be produced by our society, and that goodness can transpire only by a freak of technology (such as electrocution or radioactive poisoning). In all these shows, however, the mythic structure is rigidly ad­hered to, no matter how cleverly or originally it is re-presented.

Few cartoons have run longer or been more influential than Popeye and Bluto. In a typical segment, Bluto abducts a scream­ing and kicking Olive Oil, Popeye’s girlfriend. When Popeye attempts to rescue her, the massive Bluto beats his diminutive opponent to a pulp, while Olive Oyl helplessly wrings her hands. At the last moment, as our hero oozes to the floor, and Bluto is trying, in effect, to rape Olive Oil, a can of spinach pops from Popeye’s pocket and spills into his mouth. Transformed by this gracious infusion of power, he easily demolishes the villain and rescues his beloved. The format never varies. Neither party ever gains any insight or learns from these encounters. They never sit down and discuss their differences. Repeated defeats do not teach Bluto to honor Olive Oil’s humanity and repeated pummelings do not teach Popeye to swallow his spinach before the fight.

Something about this mythic structure rang familiar. Suddenly I remembered: this cartoon pattern mirrored one of the oldest continually enacted myths in the world, the Babylonian creation story (the Enuma Elish) from around 1250 B.C.E. The merely finds evil already present and perpetuates it. Our origins are divine, to be sure, since we are made from a god, but from the blood of an assassinated god. We are the outcome of deicide.

Human beings are thus naturally incapable of peaceful coexistence. Order must continually be imposed upon us from on high: men over women, masters over slaves, priests over laity, aristocrats over peasants, rulers over people. Unquestioning obedience is the highest virtue, and order the highest religious value. Nor are we created to subdue the earth and have dominion over it as God’s regents; we exist but to serve as slaves of the gods and of their earthly regents. The tasks of humanity are to till the soil, to produce foods for sacrifice to the gods (represented by the king and the priestly caste), to build the sacred city Babylon, and to fight and, if necessary, die in the king’s wars.

Later, Marduk was fused with Tammuz, a god of vegetation whose death and resuscitation was enacted in the humiliation and revival of Marduk, an element that is preserved in cartoon shows by the initial defeat of the “good guy” and his eventual victory over evil, as it were, out of the very jaws of death. The only detail in our modern rendition that is different is that the enemy has generally ceased to be female.

As Marduk’s representative on earth, the king’s task is to subdue all those enemies who threaten the tranquility that he has established on behalf of the god. The whole cosmos is a state, and the god rules through the king. Politics arises within the divine sphere itself. Salvation is politics: the masses identify with the god of order against the god of chaos, and offer them­selves up for the Holy War that imposes order and rule on the peoples round about.

Walter Wink, The Powers That BeA Theology for a New Millennium, ISBN: 0-385-48752-5 (Galilee/Doubleday; New York; 1998) Pages 44-48.

That said, the folks who influence us from the Buddhist outlook on things, suggest that the first place of discerning mindfulness happens in our heads. Here are a few questions:

  1. What groups of people do we judge to be of less worth than us?
  2. What gives us (you and me) our worth?
  3. If our circumstances (yours or mine) changed because of war, disease, natural disasters or our own ineptitude, would our worth change in any way?
  4. Isn’t the worth we attribute to ourselves or others actually a value we have in our head?
  5. Who taught us that value system?
  6. What is the value system of your faith expression?
  7. What is the value system of the people who have and do nurture your life, somehow impacting on your current lifestyle, beliefs and activity?

Only you have answers for those seven questions. But here’s one last question for your consideration.

Life is pretty short. When you come to the end of your gig in, as Ira Glass terms it, “This American Life,” what affect will your existence had on people where you’ve been?

Try wrestling with these questions. We’d benefit from hearing from you because we are all in this together for what seems to be a very short time. We are open to learning.

Being Present in the Transitions

We do a lot of grasping throughout our lives  We like our stuff. We want to hold on to our things. We want to keep our activities and surroundings the same. We maintain the way we do things, the way we think and what we value. We go from day to day as if we will always have and control our life’s experiences. ‘To have and to hold to cherish’ suggest our wedding vows. “My Precious” said J. R. R. Tolkien’s character Gollum in  The Lord of the Rings.

But what is it that we hold on to? Pretty much everything. We prefer things around us to stay the way they are. We’re often ‘change-resistant.’ The way things are have become the way we do things around here. That goes for how we stack dishes in the cupboard, where we store things in the closet, the people we strangely judge as not as equal to us because of their differences. My gosh, we’ve put our socks in the same place in our dresser for years.

It’s probably why couples, at least in the first couple of years of marriage, fight over the way toothpaste tubes are squeezed, cars are parked in the garage and the lopsidedness of perception of household chore responsibilities. It is a miracle that two people can amiably negotiate the ordering of their household. Then there is the use of how we handle power. The extent that we can create an environment of fair and consensus-based decisions. If nobody ever modeled it or taught us or we never learned how to use our power and influence in decisions in an egalitarian way, we are doomed to a life of loneliness.

Not to mention that all this grasping and controlling, unfortunately, has a lot to do with how we measure our self-worth. We mysteriously think that if we have a lot of things or financial power, we are doing pretty well. House. Car. Gadgets. Job. Things, you know, <strong>my</strong> drill, <strong>my</strong> lawnmower, <strong>my</strong> position in the company. Keeping up with the Jones. Maintaining a lifestyle that approximates the TV and movie characters with whom we seem to identify.

This is immediately fertile ground for the topics related to personal growth and fulfillment. If we relentlessly strive to hold on to the way we do things and what we now possess, we don’t grow or mature. We wall ourselves into a nice little box. A person wrapped up in themselves makes for a pretty small package.

But our lives are full of transitions. Everything changes. This is why we cry at marker events like weddings, births, graduations and funerals. Things keep changing and the ceremonies frame the transitions to new changes.

There are few circumstances that bring us to face the temporariness of life more obvious than the first day of retirement or walking out of the courtroom after the divorce is finalized. This is because we’ve programmed ourselves to define who we are in our introductions. Like, Hello, my name is Bill and I am the Vice President at BigBox Corporation. Or Hi, I’m Sharon and I’m <strong>married</strong> <strong>to</strong> Bill and we have 2.3 children, we <strong>own</strong> a house in the burbs and I’m <strong>a member</strong> of the PTA and <strong>work</strong> as an investment broker for Too Big To Fail Bank, LLC.

We broadcast who we are by defining ourselves by what we do and with whom we are in relationship. Somehow, just us and our own interests, likes, passions and allergies and phobias aren’t enough. We even tend hold on to the things we don’t have but aspire to have or do. We spend years holding on to our careers (and roles) because we think that if we keep doing the same thing with ourselves, things won’t change. We won’t have to give up anything.

Career wise, we pursue excellence in what we do. We pursue further training. We try to meet company goals. We seek to excel and win the approval and admiration of those who are higher up on the corporate latter. Throughout our lives, we seek to hold on to our position, our title, our salary level. We pursue tenure as if craving for oxygen.

Frankly, there isn’t much in life that we don’t strive to keep the same. So unless we are creative artists and musicians seeking new venues and textures in our work or performances, we strive to keep things as they already are. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

This brings us to transitions.  There are changes foisted upon us or self-chosen migrations to different experiences we feel we must make. We resist change and frankly haven’t cultivated pursuing change in our lives in order to grow.

If we define our sense of who we are by what we do and with whom we are in relationship, when those things change, our life can seem to unravel – at least in our mind. Like it or not, despite our overwhelming predisposition to prefer things to stay the same, they don’t.

But what happens when the people who once related to us only by our position in the company are not there. The social circumstances, once resulting from relationships we had, may disappear. We’re now looking at different visual imagery throughout our day. Our daily communication with others has remarkably changed – maybe stopped in several ways. The phone. The emails. The conversations, the meetings, the written reports. Say, presentations, deadlines, calendar management. Social obligations.

  1. Who we are in the company has no significance (although who we are as a person is huge).
  2. What we do for an external group is no longer a valid means of weighing our self-worth.

The fact is, a corporate position, salary and power doesn’t add anything to our worth. (But note that nobody in America thinks this. That’s why we seem to be obsessed with holding on and adding to what we have and can control.)

The absolutely transforming thing you get when you are beyond your full-time career years or are experiencing less of a socially connected life is that you can come home to yourself – to be at home with yourself.

Come home? you ask as you fiddle through your now empty calendar on your smart phone in vain. Come home as if I’ve been away? you continue to muse. But where I have I been that I would come home?

Well, that’s the point. Where have we been all these years? Chances are that we’ve not been real present with our spouse or significant other. That’s because we’ve put so much more of ourselves in our careers because we thought that would bring ups more or ensure that we keep the level of money we needed to maintain control of our lives. More of what we like – what we’re used to. ‘Keeping things the way we like them.’

But sometimes at transitions, we find that we haven’t been very present in our lives to begin with. Some of us couldn’t be present in the moment with our spouse for the time it takes to eat a meal. We’d feel uncomfortable with moments of silence (as if is mandatory that one or the other of us has to be laying down a bed of words to dispel the silence).

Check this out. When you are in the room with your significant other for ten minutes, do you know how they feel? At the end of the day, if you were magically transported to a college classroom and you were asked to write an essay on what is most important to your spouse, how many sentences would you be able to scribble out?

Complicating almost any transition is our lives is that we haven’t been very present with ourselves, those closest people to us or even the transitions and changes themselves. How present are you with yourself, those around you and what is happening in your life in this very moment?

“Riley, do you love me? “Peg asked.

Riley responded: “Well I live here, don’t It?

Do you feel that who you are, without any career position or social relationship, is just as it (you) should be? Do you feel that if you suddenly found yourself living in a totally new context, that whoever you’d meet would find a good and worthwhile person in you? Do you feel that in whatever context you’d find yourself in, others would find you to be a worthwhile human being who positively contributes to their existence?

This is a far cry, another planet or cosmos if you will, from the daily striving to get, hold on to and protect what we have and have been for all our previous years. It’s an entirely different orientation to life.

It’s not the money. It’s not the investments that may or may not be working for us while we’re sleeping. It’s not the house, the car, the boat, the property, the career. That’s because when all of the ownerships and responsibilities into which we’ve placed our energies are gone,  all we have left is ourselves. To whatever extent we’ve been able to be present in the lives of our most significant others, it comes down to< now. What we’re left with is just us. Can we even be present, in a comfortable and loving way, with ourselves?

You see, it comes down to this moment. Be present in the transitions. Our lives are full of them.

The good news is that you’ve got a wonderful and noble person along with you in all of these transitions and change – you.

The Mystery of the Healer’s Cloisonné

In the fifteenth century during the reign of Jingtai in the Ming Dynasty, there was a powerful sorcerer named Ling. He lived alone in the mountains and generally spent little time with the
villagers to keep his powers hidden. He would travel into the village only to purchase food and supplies but while being friendly to those he met, few knew much about him other than knowing him as a quiet old man from the hills.

It was rumored once, that a band of thieves had followed the old man up into the hills to rob him but mysteriously, they were never seen in that region again. In truth, Ling was mindful of the rogues in pursuit of him and turned himself into a tiger and put an end to their intended treachery.

One of Ling’s favorite pastimes was to disguise himself as a pauper and make his way, unknown, into the village. Because of his extraordinary powers, he would be able to join in public gatherings unnoticed. Because of his mastery of the art of disguises, Ling could even engage in conversations and become familiar with individuals and their circumstances.

One day, Ling came across the town healer, a  woman who had trained in the arts of physical healing. He saw that she regularly worked with the village folk, binding their wounds and applying her medicines. Ling was impressed by the young woman’s compassion for those whom she ministered and wondered how he could quietly aid her in her efforts.

He first thought that he would give her wealth. He thought that if she could build a healing facility, renown in the region for its work of healing, she would accomplish much. He next reasoned that the young healer would do well to have a cadre of disciples, followers who would enable her to provide healing for more people.

In the end, though, Ling saw that the young woman was so motivated with compassion for those she healed that he felt she needed none of these things. He decided that he would simply give her a charm that would only enhance the magic she already possessed.

Since Ling secretly had access to almost infinite amounts of wealth, he hired the very Emperor’s copper smith and the Empress’ personal artisan to fashion a small cloisonné bead
to embody his magic. The one possessing the cloisonné would be able to place their hand on another person and understand the cause of their inner pain, feeling the malaise of the inner tissue and the tension of the bodily torrents that caused
the patient’s discomfort. It took the artisans almost a year to create the intricate cloisonné but when it was completed, the sorcerer was pleased.

When Ling had imparted his sorcery to the tiny multi-colored orb, he enveloped himself in the disguise of a poor beggar and made his way into the village to meet the healer. He approached her and asked if she would treat his infirmed ankle for the old sorcerer suffered from arthritis.

Overlooking the beggar’s poverty, she immediately bathed his arthritic angle and wrapped it in a cloth with soothing salve. She next, very patiently, showed him how to exercise his ankle in ways that would keep it more agile.

“I have not money with me to give you,” Ling said in his crackly voice. “But I wish to give you this small orb” he said, removing his hand from his cloak and handing her the piece. “It will give
you, and whoever possesses it, an increase of awareness of your patient’s ailments. Use this power to heal and you will find blessing. But if you use it for personal gain, it will bring you sorrow. The choice will always be yours. When the time comes, pass it on to only those who are wise enough to use it for healing.”

Ling bowed to the young healer and left her presence, not to return to that village again.

The young healer found that when she had the orb in her possession, she was able to sense the inner pain in her patient’s limbs. To her amazement, she was able to see what inwardly troubled their minds. This intimate knowledge
enabled her to bring powerful healing to all who sought her healing skills. Hundreds came to this healer because of her mastery in understanding their aches and pains. But the young healer never forgot the strange man in rags who had given her the magic orb.

Through the months and years, this village healer became renowned for her healing powers but she remembered the words of the aged beggar. She regularly shunned praise and quietly went about, using her healing arts in ways that did not bring attention to her. All who knew her, loved her and she lived out her years with grace and reverence for those she served.

When the healer had become advanced in years and knew that her energies would soon not allow her to work as much as she had, she knew it was time to pass the small cloisonné orb on to another healer. She knew there was no other healer in the village and at first, became quite worried that the powerful cloisonné would be lost or fall into the hands of unscrupulous individuals. She was afraid that it would be used by some to manipulate others because of the knowledge it
gives the bearer of another’s need.

The now aged healer decided to seek the beggar who had
given her the cloisonné so many years ago. Through time, she had come to realize that the man must have been a powerful sorcerer. Not knowing if he was alive or dead, she went off into the hills in search of him, hoping he could help her pass the small orb on to a worthy individual.

Once up in the hill country, the healer came across a small cottage near the edge of the forest. It was a humble but well-cared-for thatched roof dwelling and obviously enjoyed by its owners. After she knocked on the door, the door opened and she found that the little one room home was empty except for a chair and a table with writing parchment upon it.

Feeling that no one was there or was likely to come back, the old healer sat down and began writing her story of the cloisonné and how she came upon it. She wrote of its powers and spoke of her hope that it would find its way into the hands of only those who truly wanted to bring healing and health to others.

As the aged healer finished her chronicles of the small but powerful orb, she looked over to the fireplace in the room which she had not noticed when she had entered hours before. To her astonishment, there was a fire gently burning,
emitting warmth to the small cottage, yet there seemed to be no one around.

Fearing that she may have been intruding on someone’s home, she stood to leave but jumped back with a cry when she saw there was the old man in a chair, smiling. It was the same man she had met years ago who had given her the orb.

“I’m sorry to frighten you” said Ling with a warm smile, “but I didn’t want to disturb you in your journaling.

“Thank you for the use of this cloisonné” she said gratefully. I didn’t know if you were still alive so I wanted to tell its story and then pass it on before my time on earth had come to an end.”

The old wizard slowly stood from his chair in the corner of the room and suddenly the healer found that the small cottage had disappeared and they were standing in the midst of the forest. The cloisonné and her completed parchment were in her hand.

As the two figures walked out of the forest and into the village, she spoke of the many individuals she had healed and of her gratitude for the orb’s enhancement of her healing arts.
When it was time for Ling to go on his separate way, he bid farewell to the aged healer, assuring her that she would find the next bearer of the orb. In the next village, she found another young healer and shared with him the story of the orb
and entrusted it to him.

And so it has gone through the many generations of this cloisonné that you now hold in your hand. This small orb was passed on and used by those of us whose life is that of being a healer. Because we have cherished its power to enhance
one’s perception and because all of us have respected the blessing it bestows on its owner, for the last ten generations we have made sure it would only come to the hands of those
committed, in their heart, to heal.

This cloisonné has come to you. It is given to you because you walk the path of the heart. With all of our blessings, each embodied in the accompanying blessing beads, we convey to you the best of our hopes and dreams. May this small orb, and its accompanying beads of blessings, bring you the peace you deserve as you birth your little one. In all that you do in your healing works ahead and all that your child will become, we know that the world will experience extraordinary healing. The world is already better for your presence.

How Connected Do We Need To Be?

It is 2005. It’s been a technologicalogical year so far. I taught a class for the Religious Studies Department of the State University of New York at Buffalo on Paul’s strange first letter to the Corinthians. I’ve been able to experiment with the use of their relatively new online course software called CourseInfo.® 1 It has a quiz generator which the students loved because they could take the tests at home without leaving the squalor of their meager abodes. With virtually all the time in the world to take the quizzes, they could look up any answer in their class notes or the web-stored lectures.

Actually, the quizzes have served as a forced
review of the class material, achieving my original
goal: that they never sit in a church and hear a talk on 1st Corinthians and not be aware of the historical, religious, cultural and linguistic things prompting Paul to write such a diverse and difficult response to their problems. If their ministers ever fail to do their homework before their Sunday presentations on Corinthians, they’ll know it.

Yet many of these students won’t because
churches, by in large, aren’t making that connection with the 20’s age group. The clergy and the staunch leaders of the denominational franchises may get their second chance when these young adults return for the wedding and baptism certifications.

It’s odd to me that some people spend their
lifetime having nothing at all to do with a local
church and yet be hell-bent-to-leather to make sure they participate in two church rituals – baptism and a wedding in a church building. It’s almost like they have to have these two good luck charms in order to move ahead several squares on their Americana board game of life.

But when the pager on my hip starts to vibrate, it reminds me that I have succumbed to the lure of yet another gadget. This time, it’s the Motorola “Talkabout”® pager. Perhaps their Marketing department wanted to create an image of a 1  made by Blackboard.com.© “walkabout” in the Australian “outback.” . . . Tie me kangaroo
down sport, . . . whatever.

My last pager stopped functioning and the
service provider suggested I subscribe to paging and email services with the cell phone I already own. This, I figured, would dictate that I have to leave the phone on all the time to get pages. The attractive young woman behind the counter suggested I also purchase a vibrating cell phone battery so the whole phone can vibrate.

What they fail to realize is that cell phones are
too big to be pagers. Can you imagine carrying around a beeper the size of a banana and have it suddenly begin vibrating in your pocket or purse? Good grief, you could get arrested or something. Perhaps I could use it in an audition for the cast of Ally McBeal.

“Excuse me but I think there is a phone over
on your desk that is having a seizure.”

This little technological wonder looks like a
miniature computer from a kid’s gum ball machine
with a keyboard small enough to be operated by a
touch typist eight inches tall. It is the width and
thickness of the palm of your hand. The little screen displays the telephone number of the individual paging you if the caller chose option number one but it can do more.

Those calling my pager number can also choose option two, allowing them to leave a  voicemail message. When a voice message is left, the display indicates a voice message is waiting, prompting me to dial the number on the nearest phone and listen to the message.

Option number three of this paging service
connects the caller with a live operator who will type whatever the caller dictates and that message appears on the pager screen.

“Pick up eggs on your way home.”

“I am sorry I missed the class quiz on line but my computer isn’t working and I couldn’t get on one at the school library because my car wouldn’t start.”

Imagine standing in line, looking down at
your pager and it says, “My divorce lawyer has
documented all of your shenanigans and we’ll see you in court.”

You look up and respond to the person behind
the counter, “I’d like a cheeseburger, a fries,
chocolate milkshake and several aspirin please.”

There is even an internet address assigned to
this device so people can type a note directly to my pager from their computer. Since I can read these messages anywhere I am, I’ve also instructed my Outlook Express© email software on our computer to forward all received communications to my pager. Since the pager uses wireless and internet technology, I can actually type a response to the text messages sent to the pager and there isn’t a cost-per minute fee.

But with this much accessibility, I wonder
just who I think I am? The Almighty? There are not
that many people who need my immediate attention. Maybe I’m having a midlife crisis?
Someday, into the not too distant future when they add the live video function, are we going to have to rent a small locker into which to put these things to get a little privacy? Someday, will we be surprised to see Leno or Letterman trying to have a video conversation with us from our pocket when we reach for change to pay the paper carrier? “Are you truly happy with your cellular carrier?” one of them might say.

Perhaps it’s our loneliness that prompts us to
want to be so accessible in our cellular and internet connectedness. Frankly, I would like it if God would send me a digital message once in a while.

“Nice going on how you handled that road-raged jerk of a driver” God might type to me.

“Buy Lucent Technologies stock – now!” God might advise.

“Missed you in worship services yesterday” I’d be
reminded.

“Stop everything and go back and apologize. She was right and you completely missed the most important thing. I don’t know why I ask her to stay with you.”

Maybe it’s fear. Perhaps we’re hoping someone will send us the one little encouragement or bit of information that will come at just the right time.
Maybe the Almighty has been sending messages
we’ve ignored. Missed any messages lately?

With today’s much more powerful cell phones and wireless palm devices, we are now able to be so connected that we can be in touch with anyone and everyone at any time, do business anywhere. But has you noticed that, in the process, we run
the risk of never being in touch with ourselves? In the overall seduction, we can easily forget that our primary connection to life is through our own
interiority – the experiencing of our own body and all our senses, including the mind, which allow us to touch and be touched by the world, and to act
appropriately in response to it. . . .

“With all this talk about connectivity, what about connectivity to ourselves? Are we becoming so
connected to everybody else that we are never where we actually are? We are at the beach on the cell phone, so are we there?” (See John Kabat-Zinn, p.152=153. Coming To Our Senses, Healing Ourselves and the World Through Mindfulness, (New York: Hyperion, 2005) ISBN: 0-7868-6756-6.

How Much Space Do You Need To Be Happy?

It seems that we don’t think much about our space requirements unless we see the inside of a multi-million dollar mansion in Santa Monica or Beverly Hills or we’re in a Zillow research for an apartment in New York City, Boston, Atlanta or Chicago. Or a nursing home where they aim to plant us in a tiny room with another disabled person so we don’t stray and cause more work than we already do for their staff.

Personal space. How much do we really need? And how does that need relate to our happiness?Initially, when we fantasize about winning a mega lottery, we’d go for one of those Beverly Hills mansions with three-story vaulted ceilings and every opulent room looking like it came out of a coffee table magazine. The long walks from any one of the several living rooms all the way back through a kitchen large enough to park several cars and eight walk-in refrigerator-freezers. The exercise in going from one end of the house back past the indoor pool, the six- bedroom suite for guests and the polo field beyond the outdoor tennis courts would get us half way to our Fitbit step goal for the day. “Now THAT would make me happy!” we tell ourselves.

But throughout life, we’ve already heard “Money Can’t Buy Me Love” (The Beatles) or “You can’t take it with you” (a comedic play in three acts by George S. Kaufman and Moss Hart; film with Jimmy Stewart; album by As Tall as Lions or “This World Is Not My Home I’m just a-passin’ through” (by Albert E. Brumley 1952).

Our mansion fantasy fades with our first real pay check. Our dram of having an extravagant and luxurious living space is left to live out its short existence on the rectangular television screen. And even though those video actresses and actors are raking in a million dollars an episode, have you ever noticed the apartments and hallways just outside of their studio set living spaces? Think “Friends.” Think “The Big Bang Theory.” Even these hallway studio props are plan, small, drab and a little dingy – nothing memorable. They’re just like what we end up with when we have to rent.

I have loved ones living in apartments in LA. Neither they, nor anyone they know, could ever affordto purchase housing there without direct and committed involvement with the criminal elements of society. If you move to the convenience and stimulation of urban living, downsizing is a way of life.
You know that you end up with less as change comes. You figure that what you lose in living space, perhaps, you’ll gain in career and social stimulation. Otherwise, why would we sell our mostly owned houses and move to a lifestyle we can’t afford with dramatically less space?

Observation #1

We will not achieve happiness by getting more space in which to live.Then there’s the life-long commitment to the idea that we want to stay in one place while we are aging. I’m not talking about wobbling geriatrics who live in constant fear of teetering down to the ground to break a hip or pelvis, followed by 6 months in a tiny rehabilitation room for five grand a week and no bandwidth.

I mean young and agile yoga-sculpted twenty-somethings who finally get their own apartment but quickly embrace the familiarity of the new surroundings, making it their new “home.” “Home” being defined by accumulating familiarity with the friendly coffee shop server; the drug store pharmacist who seems to know your name; the organic grocery market manager who smiles at you when answering your question; the clothing shop sales person who shared her story of her scare with breast cancer or our postal carrier who made small talk by jokingly apologizing about delivering only bills.The familiarity of all of these things and people seem to be the fabric which gives substance to our sense of “home” and happiness.

Observation #2

We interpret our happiness by the level of our familiarity with things and people.We are thinking that it isn’t the amount of space we have that brings us happiness. We may be thinking that familiarity is supposed to make us happy. That’s why, in every poll of the aging population, we all say that we want to “age in place.” To stay where we are. Avoid moving. Keep everything as it is, the way we know it is (and should be) simply because we are used to it being that way. But a parakeet in a cage lives that way!

But familiarity breeds contempt. “Long experience of someone or something can make one so aware of the faults as to be scornful. For example, Ten years at the same job and now he hates it – familiarity breeds contempt. The idea is much older but the first recorded use of this expression was in Chaucer’s Tale of Melibee (c. 1386).” (From the Free Dictionary.com)

But when we’ve been striving for something new and different, we are grasping, looking for something else. But then, “Nothing lasts forever!” Consider: “Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and rust doth corrupt, and where thieves break through and steal, …” (Matthew 6:19). From the wings of the stage come the Buddhists dancing in their red robed kick line chorus, singing: “Everything is temporary!”

‘Ok, we get that’ you say. ‘But you can’t live that way! Shouldn’t we try to live in happiness? What is this ‘circling the drain’ theme you have for a title of your blog? Are you some sort of manic depressive?

One of our problems with clinging to keeping everything the same as we’ve always had it is that everything changes, no matter what we or anyone else does. The changing world is totally independent of our preferences, our desires, our plans and our investments. Change is out of our control. We can only manage our response to it.

Yet we live as if we can control what happens in our lives. We are all a little schizophrenic in that way. We think or pretend that we can actually control most of the world around us. The folks who think they can (and should be able to control the world around them) are incapable of growing intellectually, socially and spiritually.

Put another way, people who frequently say, judgmentally, ‘We’ve never done it that way before!” are, sooner or later, abandoned by people around them.

People who continually treat those who are different from them as “The Other” are living examples of a “Wacky Plaks” post card I saw in the 1950’s: “People who are wrapped up in themselves make a pretty small package.”

The people who try to control spirituality and religious inquiry by imposing their dogma and creedal formulations on others – are, sadly, needy and boring control freaks who quickly drain all the joy, human compassion and creative beauty out of any moment in the atmosphere. They justify their social and intellectual death spiral judgmental behavior by claiming that they are earnestly trying to do “the right thing” while they lacerate to shreds the self-worth of the unfortunate others whom they lambast. Avoid watching FOX (so-called) ‘News!’

Observation #3

We don’t get our happiness through having more space or stuff. Neither do we attain happiness through familiarity or knowing, in a predictive and controlling way, how everything is going to turn out – as if we can know and control everything. Therefore, it must have to do with being content with what is and bestowing compassion.

This isn’t being complacent with what is. If that is all it amounts to, then we should just take our “Soma” pills, as in Huxley’s 1931 Brave New World dystopian work. “What about social justice? … Are you suggesting that we tacitly sit back and let bad and evil continue to oppress and ravage humanity?”

Contentment has to do with a complex presence of a number of things in our own head.For one, it is the understanding that everything changes.For another, it is the awareness that we don’t have the resources or the influence to change or even have an impact on most things or people.

The most power we have is over ourselves, our thinking, our feeling and our own behavior.But we can’t skip off singing: “Que sera, sera; whatever will be, will be; the future’s not ours to see; que sera, sera; what will be, will be” (Roy Evans, 1956). We are not isolated robots, sputtering off in our unique programmed behavior, doomed to run out of our battery power and cease viability at some random end point before our parts are relegated to the scrap yard.

We find contentment, and therefore meaning, as we approach each moment of our lives with what Andy Puddicombe (of Headspace.com) explains as “beginner’s mind.” It is that space or openness within our consciousness that approaches everything with wonder and acceptance. It is that mindfulness and awareness that no matter what physical spaciousness or material opulence that may or may not be around us, we can find delight, contentment and breath-taking creativity in any moment as we approach whatever it is that is our next thing.

Some think of this as spontaneity. Some call it intellectual curiosity. Some see it in looking for outlets of compassion for anyone we meet. It’s all the opposite of living a life where you’re trying to control, compete, judge, frantically escape or hoard in order to vainly try to find happiness.

That’s the “Space” in which we will find happiness or contentment. It is the space that possesses an unlimited amount of compassion. That compassion, by the way, is what will change the world and transform people and things that have gone awry. That is the space we need to ‘be happy’ but each of us already have that space within us. We just need to be present in it, from moment to moment.

Holiday Safe Cooking Tips For Guys

Without a doubt, one of the most misquoted bits of advice in Western society is “The way to a woman’s heart is through her stomach.” This phrase has been so frequently misquoted that you’re probably more familiar with its tangled version about the stomach being a way to a man’s heart.

Actually, the truth about a woman’s stomach being the most efficient path to a her heart is so powerful that it has been intentionally distorted as a protective measure by women. This is so that men would not take undue advantage of the power of cooking for romance.

This power is nowhere more convincingly illustrated by the fact that after decades, my wife is still with me – solely because I feed her eggs every morning for breakfast. The occasional occurrence of egg shells I’ve left in her food prove it.

Imagine sitting down for a cozy breakfast with your life’s partner with a pleasant conversation beginning about the coming day’s tasks. As you both sip coffee together and eat your eggs, you’re in the midst of explaining another one of your harebrained schemes of how you’re going to make your office more efficient and save them thousands of dollars and how they’ll finally come to their senses and promote you to CEO for your brilliance.

Suddenly, there’s a startled look on your wife’s face. Her eyes quickly look down at her plate and her face immediately contorts into a twisted look of horror and disbelief. She starts to choke and suddenly slides her chair back, her eyes suddenly flashing in disbelief at you as if you’ve poisoned her and she is just realizing that all of these years of trust have been in vein. She starts to choke, stumbling over toward the kitchen sink, gagging and coughing until her airway clears.

“Another egg shell?” you confidently suggest, trying to minimize the incident with an amused air of spousal casualness.

“I’m sorry” she says as she catches her breath, somehow convinced that her shocked and choking response is somehow inappropriate as she discretely reaches into her mouth and picks out the egg shell.

She gasps, “This egg shell is the size of a car fender!” But you know she usually exaggerates because it’s less than an inch wide.

The fact that she apologizes, as she is catching her breath, shows that she feels she is the only woman married to a guy who would cook her eggs and give her coffee in the morning and that she has somehow failed in showing due appreciation for such heroic guy behavior.

Actually, it’s not the eggs, it’s the food which is offered to her which magically beats a path straight to her heart through her stomach. Despite the carelessness I have with missing the egg shells, the fact that I feed her eggs keeps her hooked on me. That’s why the ancient wisdom of the stomach being the direct pathway to a woman’s heart has been intentionally distorted for women’s self-protection.

But this holiday, you can keep your wife in love with you AND not cause her to choke on missed egg shells. Here’s how.

Step One
Set up a dinner place on the edge of the sink with your wife’s house plant fertilizer bottle under the edge of it, just to give the plate a 15 degree angle dipping toward the sink (see photo below.)

Place your 5 inch mixing bowl (for beating the eggs) in the sink beneath the overhanging dinner plate.

Step Two
As you go to break the eggs you are preparing for breakfast, crack each egg against the inside of the sink and then gently separate the egg over the plate, dropping the egg’s yoke and white on the dinner plate. (Here is where the 15 degree angle is helpful: the egg slides toward the sink but not into the mixing bowl below. It just stays on the plate.
(See picture below.)

Step Three
Here is where you carefully examine the plate for any signs of egg shells. In this picture, if you look closely, you can see the egg shell I almost inadvertently missed before tipping the plate upwardly (to 45 degrees) to dump the egg contents into the mixing bowl. (Notice the missed egg shell.)

Carefully following this procedure will almost guarantee that you will not leave egg shells in your breakfast. And let’s face it, guys – even though our wives sometimes engage in less than romantic responses to our offerings of food, we would rather help them avoid the choking behavior if we can. It’s a matter of appropriately using the power of the food-offered-to-women act with the best technique that brings the best results.

It’s the holidays without choking episodes that will be the most memorable in your marriage!

Coming of Age

On a day not long after the knights of the Round Table flourished, there was an aging wizard and his young apprentice walking through a meadow on the edge of a village. It was Spring and the hood of the cloak of the tall wizard was thrown back, revealing his long gray hair and even longer white beard. At a glance, his beard could have been mistaken for a sash for it flowed down his chest, and comically around his left hip, across the small of his back and its end was tucked into the front right pocket of his cloak. His face was bronze and with his bushy white eyebrows, he looked as if he had walked through many ages.

His apprentice was a young woman of twenty with long hair, black as a raven, which flowed gracefully over and down her shoulders. Her cloak matched that of the old wizard’s, gray with silver and reddish lines woven through it.

“Tell me Galadriel,” said the wizard, his name was Ondag, “have you been able to achieve the disappearance spell lately?”

“No but I think I’m as close to it as I’ve ever been” she said looking at him with a smile and a sparkle in her eyes.

Ondag paused in the meadow and looked into Galadriel’s young and beaming face. His own face was a weathered sea of wrinkles and gaiety. Looking intently into her eyes, as a gentle wind began to toss her hair, he continued: “Yes, I think you are close to having that one” and with that, he swept his arm ahead, slightly bowing, saying: “perhaps this field?”

Galadriel turned her head slightly at an angle, as if pausing in a conversation to reflect, looking at the field of heather and gorse, and exhaled evenly, quietly repeating the spell: “lamma ta farleo uhmdello rah.” But immediately the meadow turned completely red and the nearby houses red as well. Everything became surreal.

The wizard chuckled and uttered: “lamma la farleo uhmdello fah” and the field vanished and the two appeared to be standing in thin air, near the houses of the village.

Galadriel slowly tapped her fingers into her head in self disappointment but Ondag put his arm around her shoulder and gently said in his cheerful way: “Those who try to do something and fail are infinitely better than those who try to do nothing and succeed. Try it backwards.” So she perked up and as she swept her outstretched hand back toward her chest, she said, “sheendo triumph” and the field was instantly as before. They both laughed and walked on, approaching the village of thatched roofed homes and other buildings.

Nearing the first house, they saw a woman carrying a sack going into her home. From within the home came a young voice. “Mother, where is my dinner?” To which the woman responded as she began to open the door, “Why don’t you get it yourself.”

Next, without going in, the woman quietly closed the door and sat down on a nearby bench against the house with her bag. She just stared vaguely in the direction of the village.

Ondag and Galadriel, as if they had the same thoughts, stopped in their tracks in hearing the words. Fortunately they both were not in the line of the woman’s vision and when her tall young son came out the door, he did not notice their presence either.

The young man said, “I can’t understand why you’re so irritable, mother. All I asked for was my dinner.”

Ondag turned Galadriel and himself aside when he saw her coming forth with a comment. Further away, Galadriel said, “With insensitivity like that, it would be a wonder the boy ever found happiness.”

“I agree,” said the old wizard, “but which one do you judge as insensitive?”

“Well of course the woman cares nothing for her son or she would not have snapped at him so. She may have had a difficult day but the fellow did deserve a better answer, . . . didn’t he?” Galadriel asked in earnest.

Ondag looked over at the house with curiosity in his eyes.“Let me show you a spell I haven’t tried for years” he said. Next, he held both of his hands before him, as if holding an invisible object and uttered the words. “holio  metra summa quinnos.”

At first Galadriel saw the young man walk backward into the house. His speech was rippling and meaningless, also backward. The woman stood up from the bench, went to the door and after an indistinguishable utterance, closed it and walked backwards away from the house with her bag as she had come.

The sun swept over their heads like a shooting star. Nights and days flashed by speedily and all scenery before them became blurring, filled with random humming and whirring.

Finally Ondag uttered, “Stop!” and the scene stopped. The houses were different. They seemed to be in another part of town. With somewhat different clothing, unknown people were walking about in the village.

Suddenly a cart loaded with hay was coming toward them but Ondag did not move, even after Galadriel tried to tug him away. The cart went right through him. They were as ghosts, invisible.

“Where are we?” asked Galadriel after collecting herself. “Is this a vision spell or a dream spell?”

Ondag responded, “Neither. This is a time change spell, taking us back into the past and we don’t exist in it. At least you are not born yet and I’m living, in this time frame, in another country. I could go there if I looked over my shoulder but I will stay with you. This is thirty years ago.” Pausing to point to someone approaching them, he continued, “Do you see that woman in the blue shawl?”

Almost skipping down the street was a younger version of the woman who had, only moments before the spell, just returned to her home and son. “Yes, and she seems happy” Galadriel said. “Why is she so happy now, compared to how serious she is, I mean, how she seems to be in the future?”

“You shall see” said Ondag and they followed her down the street.

The young woman entered a home and there to greet her was a handsome young man, only a few years her senior. They embraced.

“This is her husband” Ondag said. But the couple could neither hear him nor see the two wizards.

Ondag and Galadriel listened to the couples’ talk. He spoke of his work at the local jousting fields. He told of the latest combat practice trials and the newest war ponies. The woman spoke of the village and would ask her husband for permission to buy this or that. And so the conversation went for some time.

“They seem happy enough” Galadriel said, looking at Ondag with a questioning look.

“Have you stopped to wonder why she has to ask permission so often?” Ondag replied. But without pausing for an answer, Ondag snapped his fingers and the scene began to change as it had before.

Just when everything, again, seemed to be in a blur and whir, he again said “stop!”

It was a different home this time. The couple had aged ten years and they were in the midst of entertaining a houseful of people. They were apparently workers and families from his jousting club. Some of those in attendance were eating, others were arm wrestling or filling beer steins – most all of them salubrious from the vintage.

In one bedroom were two sleeping children. A boy about four and a girl about six.

“Theirs?” Galadriel asked.

“Yes” Ondag replied. It was well into the evening and the woman stood at one corner of the table, picking up dirty dishes, ignored by her husband. Further down the table he was laughing at a story that wasn’t funny, told by one of his superiors from work sitting across the table.

Ondag snapped his fingers several times now, causing scenes of the woman’s life to appear with six to twelve months elapsing each time. There were glimpses of vacation travels of the family. They were seen in cathedrals, fairs, market places and the jousting arena. But Galadriel noticed a growing distance between the woman and her husband. She saw that talk came more freely between the woman and her children than with her husband.

As various scenes passed before them, the children grew older, as did their parents. Whether by chance or circumstance, the husband was more and more absent. The woman’s facial expressions were more often downcast and there were more occurrences of her being alone than with her husband.

Ondag snapped his fingers once more and waited for an indeterminable number of moments as things changed. During the change, Galadriel commented with concern, “She seems to have grown increasingly sad. Their marriage has been disappearing.”

Ondag, also moved, added, “Yes, she was a wife and mother but she lost some of herself in it all. Because while he thought she should be in charge of the house, he never seemed to understand that she should be able to be in charge of herself.”

Time stopped at Ondag’s command. They found themselves within the house they first saw earlier that day. It was modestly but pleasantly furnished, only in the middle of the main room was a pile of dusty bags and other items showing a return from a journey. Laying in the corner of the room was the young man Galadriel had first seen coming out of the door asking for dinner.

“Where’s the husband and the daughter?” Galadriel asked, looking around from room to room.

Ondag said, “The woman lives with her daughter, who is cleaning homes to earn bread. Her husband left two years ago and has not been seen since. Perhaps I skipped over too much, too quickly, but alas, the woman must struggle to earn her living.

Her son, here, has just returned from a holiday. The woman has had difficulty making ends meet but still manages on her meager earnings.”

“Where does she work?” Galadriel asked the old wizard.

“I thought I saw her working for the town healer. She washes his bottles and does his bookkeeping” Ondag summarized.

“How lonely and tired she must feel” Galadriel said but with distraction she looked out the window and said,

“Look there. She is returning home with a sack on her shoulder.”

The woman was turning in from the street, obviously tired from the day’s work. But the young man, also seeing this, got up and went to the nearby window. He called out, “Mother, where is my dinner?”

“Well the nerve of him,” cried Galadriel. “He is of age” she continued. “He ought to…”

“That is where you are mistaken” interrupted Ondag, who stroked his beard as he kept his eyes on the scene.

The woman’s voice was heard at the door, “Why don’t you get it yourself” she said with the days fatigue in her voice. And as the young man went out to voice his complaint, Ondag spoke again.

“He is not of age nor is his sister. But you can now see the scene was not as you first judged.”

Galadriel, with an unsettled look, said, “Yes, but I suppose I should have guessed that. But when, Ondag, will her children come of age? Though she is a strong woman, she most certainly could benefit from more support and understanding by her children.”

Ondag responded, “The scenes of what is to come are unknown. I have neither the power nor the desire to know the future. There was only one Wizard, around Whom time is measured, Who knew the future. But from the past, I have found time to yield patterns to one’s coming of age.

At that moment the young man was beginning to walk away down the street, while the woman again sat wearily beside her home. Tears were in her eyes.

“The pattern is seen,” Ondag continued, “when a young one looks away from self and looks eye to eye with parents from a distance.”

“You do not mean that when one grows as tall as one’s parents and leaves the home, do you?” asked Galadriel.

Ondag, for the second time that day, put his arm on Galadriel’s shoulder and said, “Only when children cease to make their own needs central, can they look away from themselves. At the point when they can look at their parents as other equal adults (with needs of their own), that is when they have come of age. It is then that they can make any place in their sojourn their home.”

As Ondag finished, Galadriel’s face became jubilant and radiant – the likes of which Ondag had not before seen in her. He again looked deep into her eyes and saw that she had grasped his words.

Galadriel and Ondag were distracted by the return of the young man to the house. He was rushing past them and awkwardly brushed by, apologizing to them without his eyes meeting their faces. He turned to the side of the house, where his mother was still sitting and without saying a word, slowly took the sack from her hand and sat beside her. He put his arm around her and  pensively looked at the ground before them.

As minutes passed, they talked. Smiles appeared on their faces and they even began to laugh. In a few moments he stood to his feet and started toward the door carrying her sack. As the door opened he said, “What do you want me to make for dinner?” And with that, Ondag and Galadriel walked on their way.

At the far end of the town, the wizards choose different paths. From having been apprentice and mentor for five years, they now parted as friends, eye to eye, from a distance. For on that day two had come of age – a young woman and a young man and in doing so, the future held magic for them and for all who would be close to them.

 

Transitions in Community

When a “For Sale”sign ” goes up in the neighborhood, it’s a little startling. When the home belongs to folks you have come to know, it is a little more unsettling. But when the “Sold” sign goes up ten days later, now there’s a bit of a tremor in the force.

That’s because we seem to spend most of our lives holding on to the “normal” images, sounds, shapes, people and places we often experience. We cling to what we feel is “normal” – the usual people and things we’ve come accustomed to having in our lives. Tradition. The familiar.

C.S. Lewis, the great religious writer of pieces like The Narnia Series and other books also wrote The Four Loves. In it, he described 4 kinds of love, most of which we all experience throughout our lives.

The first kind of love is the love of familiarity. We love our pet dog and its friendly smiling and slobbering face and wagging tail. The innocent look of confusion or incessant desire to play. We love the big lug falling asleep in the recliner with his hands firmly controlling the television remote. We love the same old streets, stores and places that we are used to seeing for years at a time. We love and we cling to the familiarity of it all.
The “For Sale” and “Sold” signs emit tremors. Someone is moving out – someone we frequently see day in and day out. We don’t like change. We don’t like to think that someday we will have to make changes ourselves. We like all our “stuff” and it is ours and we’ve always had it and not only do we not want to move it, (and have to set it all up again somewhere else) – we don’t ever want to get rid of some of it – make that ANY of it. We want things just the way they are!

The fact that some “older people” have gotten rid of their home and moved into some kind of subsidized, small, geriatric ghetto with other well-aged people: “that just will never happen to me!” we quickly tell ourselves (without saying it out loud.) “I’m going to stay in my house forever, not change ANYTHING, and if I die, either my kids will just take care of it or the town will come along and handle it.” We all seem to be change resistant and living with a hardened denial about transitions surely coming ahead of us.

Sometimes we have become familiar with folks on our block and neighborhood and it feels comfortable to see these same people walking by on their daily stroll. The familiar friendly greetings and exchanges through the years bring friendliness to the neighborhood.

The second kind of love Lewis discusses is that of friendship. It’s the sort of relationship where we have become close to another. This is where we find that we are accepted, forgiven and we find enjoyment in common values, activities and commitments.

Friendships we make in the neighborhood are forged from shared acts of concern. The natural and gentle laughter that flows from shared experiences. The casual times and the genuinely wonderful help we receive when we have a need when a neighboring friend has reached out to us.
There certainly have been times when we were overcome with sadness, the death of a friend or relative, the loss of a career, the frightening health diagnosis.

All these things add up, through the years, to yield the simple friendships that bind us together and give our lives stability and joy. We are indeed fortunate when we have found friendships in our neighborhood.

A more rare and meaningful form of love Lewis mentions is “Agapae.” It is the sort of love that one gives to another that is unconditional. No strings attached. Sometimes, a loving of the unlovable.

Perhaps it is the simple act of opening your home to welcome new or departing neighbors. It could extend to responding to a need (and sometimes to a very needy person) who is decidedly unlike you. Perhaps the kind of person whom you would never be like. But you give of yourself to them unconditionally. You are kind. You sacrifice to somehow quietly make their life better in some way. And you do it not expecting thanks or recognition. You just tough it out and do it because it is part of your DNA and you know that no matter what this person has done or where they have been, they are your neighbor. A fellow human being. A kindred spirit.

“If you do this to the least of these, you’re doing it unto Me.”
In our neighborhood, there have been quiet acts of unconditional love and they haven’t made the 6 o’clock news. They happened without fanfare. Yet they quietly soothed the heart of someone on your street.

The fourth kind of love Lewis mentions is the erotic. This is the wonderful stuff that Bruce Springsteen sings about being “the best time in my life.” Each of us know that some of us have been blessed to have some “best times in our lives” and yet others have not been so lucky. Yet we have come to trust our neighbors and most everyone seems have a genuine respect for the intimate, modest and cherished relationships that are part of the fabric of our lives.

So the “For Sale” and the “Sold” signs are a reminder that everything WILL change. No matter how much we live in denial of it, everything changes. The houses around us change. The people in the houses will change. The people in the rest of our lives change. We will change. Without noticing it, we are changing.

But the first three loves that CS Lewis talks about are the very things that enable us to weather these constantly changing lives of ours. While it always feels good to get back to the familiar, it’s the deepening friendships that carry us through the heartbreak and celebrate the joys of the small successes. It’s the unconditional love and acceptance and the random acts of kindness that give us a centering, right when we’ve felt we have hit bottom and there seems no way back.
These kinds of love are the very things that create a sense of community. They are the brick and mortar of our feelings that we are all connected. I think these diverse acts of love are subtle reminders of the presence of God. The genuine, compassionate, friendly presence that we have experienced in our neighborhood which have enriched the lives of each member of our family.

As our household makes a transition from our neighborhood here, we carry with us what we have learned from you. As we leave this neighborhood, we will seek to be a similarly compassionate and caring presence ourselves in the lives of others in our new community.

But we will have to work at it. There is a lot of joy and sorrow in life. Because of your presence in our lives in this neighborhood, we will try to be the same healing presence for others in our new community.

Thank you for all the kinds of love you have bestowed on us when we lived in your presence in NY. You have and are making life better for all of us.