Broken

The idea that anything or anyone could be born broken relies on the conceit that the born thing must have at one time in its past been in good working order to begin with. Still the feeling that nothing worked the way it should have from the start weighs heavily on any number of people I know.

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It’s wrong in my opinion to identify with one’s damage. We are more than our broken places, more than our shattered intentions, more than deeds we couldn’t bring to life or heroes we never quite managed to become. We are far better than our shortcomings, which are so necessary to guide us in our quest to better ourselves. In this regard there are two kinds of people — those consumed by their mistakes and those inspired by them.

It is pointless to walk a mile in another man’s shoes simply to discover how he feels. If you are a true human being, walk the most difficult mile there is to walk — in your own shoes. Only then will you own every success and failure and only then will you understand the breadth of emotions that any other man feels in running that gamut. If he has done the same then he will know you as well.

I am not unsympathetic to the struggles of another. I merely realize that I must first understand the nature of struggle itself before I presume to compare mine to theirs. Unwell though we may be, and occasionally crushed and devoid of all that makes us beautiful, it is incumbent upon us to keep getting up, to keep moving forward, to leave defiant footprints in the efforts we make to grow beyond our damage. Brokenness only works to our benefit when we leave it behind.

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Alchemy

It’s one of those touchstones of ancient charlatanism that has thrived beyond its medieval origins; a term that smacks of old world wizardry while holding its own in a contemporary tongue.

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As a precursor to the modern physician, the alchemist conjured any number of potions to ward off evil, subdue ailments and summon great fortune, and all with the wave of a wand. Ah, for the grand old days when a pharmacist could exorcise devils and regrow hair with the same elixir.

Then there’s the alchemy of affection, the essence of all that enchants, arriving readymade to seduce and satisfy. This rarified promise of handcrafted magic still intoxicates as we pine for its spell in whatever mystical form it assumes. Internet dating aside, there is something to be said for the allure of romance, the only real magic in which any of us wittingly invest ourselves. Fools that we are, oh to be subdued by beauty, ensnared by lust and shackled in the throes of love’s torturous trance.

Alchemy exists to transform a thing without value into something precious. It’s little wonder that such a seductive notion still holds sway after so many centuries. And who among us wouldn’t grasp with both hands at the thread of hope that happiness can actually be conjured from the bubbling crucibles of our most secret dreams?

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Grief

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It is both monumental and remarkable to connect in this life with one or even two people who make you feel you are better than you might have otherwise believed yourself to be. Simply knowing them makes you want to be a better person, if for no other reason than to rise to the level of deserving their good company. It is therefore one of the most savage acts of providence when such fine people make a permanent departure.

Beyond finance, fame, or the fulfillment of dreams, we are bound more profoundly to our relationships than to anything else. Be it a friendship gone sour or a life cut short, no amount of preparedness can stay the shock or cut the pain. We are, at our root and core, deeply communal beings.

Grieving is life’s hard lesson. It’s our way of working through the feeling that we’ve been left behind. It is equally unfortunate that the process of grieving has its firmest footing in a foundation of regret. However positively we might accept what the world doles out to us, the loss of anyone dear lays waste to any plans we may have had to confess affection, clarify a misunderstanding, or make amends.

Once those opportunities are lost to us, grief becomes one of the most penetratingly hurtful states of being because we not only dwell in the here and now of its morose oppression, but we spend every sleepless moment burdened by the knowledge that grief will be rudely imposing itself on us for the foreseeable future or until it wears itself out.

There are those so crippled by their grief that they’re actually seduced by its agony and wear circles of dirt in the grass around the graves of loved ones, unable to move forward, often times for many, many years; and then there are those who grieve deeply and profoundly—and yet their lives, about a year or two down the road, begin to regain momentum. Even though they may not be here to see it fulfilled, it is one of the greatest acts of courage and of love to pick one’s self up and actually become the person your dear one saw you to be.

The act of grieving has remarkably curative properties and is one of the very healthiest things we can do for ourselves. It’s a crucial process but, like any powerful medication, if abused, one can easily fall prey to its grim addiction.

A dear friend and very smart man once told me that all sin is rooted in comparison. When we see those good things that others possess and start holding them up to the standard of what we do not have, then begins our descent. It’s our covetous nature that gets us into trouble. This can be true when we witness others enjoying the relationships we do not have.

What we do have are the recollections of all we enjoyed from those we knew back when. The wondrous thing about our best memories is that they travel well. The portability of all we loved about someone dear is such that it moves with us wherever we go.

I miss my mother every day but I have not lost the entirety of her—only the tangibility of her. I still have every gift she ever gave me, every piece of her that was unwittingly bestowed with love. I have the snorkeling sound of her guffaws as she struggled to get a joke told, the baby-talk language she lavished on other people’s pets, the laughter in her eyes when she was so incredibly proud of you she couldn’t find the words to say so, and the profound and earthy optimism she lovingly doled out like candy to anyone in need of a smile. There is much of that magical woman that lives and breathes and laughs in me now. As the song goes, “No, they can’t take that away from me.”

Loss may not seem bearable, but this I know to be true—it is survivable. The trick now is to make the most of being alive and to set myself the happy task of connecting with more good people.

As the ever-insightful Mark Twain once wrote, “Grief can take care of itself, but to get the full value of a joy you must have somebody to divide it with.”

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I made a list that started with dancy melodies from the 1940’s, Belgian waffles, Charlie Chaplin, tuxedo tee shirts, freshly blossomed daffodils, golden delicious apples, live New Orleans jazz, cotton candy-flavored bubble gum, a baby giggling at passing gas in the bathtub, misspelled tattoos, grownups who skip, freshly mown grass, hot air balloon festivals, sparrows drunk on fermented berries doing acrobatic flying, elderly nuns who snort when they laugh, a bag of bright blue jelly beans, a plaid graduation gown, convertible cars, flash mobs of preschoolers, old fashioned hat shops, triple scoop ice cream cones, and balloon animals made from rubber gloves.

Soon the list included Bugs Bunny cartoons, public trees wrapped in white twinkle lights, political activists who mispronounce “nuclear”, steam locomotives, old blue jeans that still fit, racing the meter maid to pop a quarter into a parking meter for a stranger’s car, the aroma of hickory smoke on a rainy day, Christmas tree farms, fireman poles in fire houses, life size bronze statues of horses, Pez candies, and making your own popcorn over a camp fire.

Finally I wound up with a loveable rescue dog of undetermined breed, bare feet in warm sand, two snails on a large rock whose trails have been side by side turn for turn for 22 and three quarter inches, a row of twelve Jack O’lanterns none of which have been carved with the same face, Bad Wig Day at work, riding bicycles into the supermarket, a photo of yourself at nine that looks exactly like a photo of your father at nine, balancing your checkbook, teaching yourself to juggle three raw eggs, and inventing a crazy new dance that involves wearing a really big hat and not moving from the waist up, etc.

I love et cetera (etc.); and so on, and so on.

Things that make me smile,…. etc.

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Departures

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Dogs have the most wonderful personalities to me. As it turns out, they have no concept of the future whatsoever. Have you noticed they also don’t seem to hold onto past grievances? You can forget your adorable mutt’s breakfast when you’re running late and he still loves you when you return home at night. Aside from learned behavior and instinct, there’s no preoccupation of future or past for them. Everything to a dog is right here, right now. This, according to research, is a statistic. I’d love to see that research and talk to the dogs they actually interviewed to arrive at this. Even though the whole concept of future blindness seems a little iffy, whenever I look at a dog now something in me says, “Yeah. It’s true.”

Humans, as we all know, are the exact and extreme opposite. We hyper-focus on everything except the present. People I’ve known through the years who dreaded their lives also happened to be the ones who lived in fear of their mortality. That final exit is a huge event in anyone’s life but obsessing over it strikes me as an insult to the quality of the life you should be living.

In my twenties I thought of death all the time, as twenty-somethings are inclined to do, because that’s when we’re most uncertain about our aspirations, our future, and what our place in the world might be—which may explain why Goth and other cultures fixate on a dark demise. I really connected with that mindset in my youth but, looking back now, it occurs to me that when my life was actually going well and was full of promise, enthusiasm and opportunity, I never gave death much consideration.

It’s kind of funny how, when the world is falling apart, churches fill up with prayerful masses lamenting their sorry lot in life, but when things are going our way, the glands swell, the brain freezes, and it’s caution to the wind. Reckless as it may seem, this latter tact may be the loftier goal to keep in our sights.

Life is absolutely a gift but it is also a muscle to be exercised. Dwelling on how it could all go away not only allows that muscle to atrophy, but it doesn’t show much appreciation for the gift either. However enlightened we may be, death and dying will continue to drift in and out of our consciousness. It’s in our nature to obsess like that.

While scripture promises “peace that passeth understanding”, why can it not be balanced in life with an understanding that bringeth peace? My take at this advanced stage of the game is that those who immerse themselves in the very real business of being alive will have little time left to fret about that impending dirt nap.

Both Leonardo DaVinci and Monty Python’s Michael Palin sum it all up nicely for me. DaVinci observed that, “A well spent day brings happy sleep, so life well used brings happy death.”

Palin remarked, “George Harrison’s passing was really sad, but it does make the afterlife seem much more attractive.”

My father is 92 this year and he is the penultimate example of the concept that the secret to dying young is to put it off for as long as possible. He is the youngest, most vital and energetic person I am ever likely to know. He has been my best example by embracing what it is that even dogs seem to get—the knack for living in the here and now and never once looking over his shoulder at what might have been.

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Cathedral

 

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Whether someone  chooses to worship the teachings of Jean Paul Sartre or is convinced that the risen savior is embodied in the plasticine statue in front of Bob’s Big Boy, I cast no aspersions. I may be amused but I would never condescend.

The ever widening diversity of faiths in the world make it clear how prevalent is our hunger to believe. Whether we invest ourselves in an inner power, a higher power, or a philosophy of benevolence, I cannot hold criticism for anyone with a sincere and loving heart who wishes to reach out in their own way to the universe.

The lotus position in the solitude of a wooded glade may be the ideal for some, while others require the tradition and ritual of a large assembly, and still others find their best comfort in the company of a close friend or good book. For many it is the place in which they choose to practice their beliefs that defines the expression of their faith.

The fine lines and foundations of architecture have always held a place of reverence for me, whether it was a mosque, a temple, or the New York Stock Exchange. I am frankly staggered by the imaginative designs of artists and engineers who have given us the likes of the cathedrals at Chartres and Notre Dame. There can be real majesty in a hallowed place of worship, although some buildings make it difficult to discern whether the design sprang from hubris or from humility.

The circumstances and environment help, of that I am certain, but it is worth asking ourselves, “Did I come to this place for its facade or for my faith?” In the end, divinity is something an individual must define for himself.

In the grand manner of ancient monuments to faith where centuries of wounded souls have sought solace, asked forgiveness, and sent their prayers aloft like embers, even a small community church or the quiet corner of a garden can be your cathedral.

It is not the edifice that matters. It is our willingness to be small.

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Brevity

 

I have an affinity for brevity.

It’s not that I’m in a hurry, but neither am I a waster of time. I very much take long, languorous pleasure in my respite and in the aroma of roses, but I equally enjoy the elegant simplicity of being brief. It is the quality of saying much with few words and it requires talent.

Example:

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……..“My candle burns at both ends.
………It will not last the night.
………But ah, my foes, and oh, my friends,
………It gives a lovely light.”
…………………….(Edna St. Vincent Millay)

The collective dwindling of our attention spans aside, I long for the concise, succinct remark while leaving the intellect enlightened and the spirit well fed. Short, compact and pithy—that’s how I like my literature.

Not all poetry is brief (damn those rambling Bard wannabe’s) but brevity in any form, to me, is poetry.

C’est la vie!

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