Nadia, Frankie, and Reverend Jim

I am having a love affair with Nadia Bolz-Weber. Not literally, but spiritually.

Like many of us, i have spent much of my life searching for what i believe in. Or rather, refining what i believe in. I often find myself walking that fine line between “I need to work harder to be a better person” and “God/Goddess/ Universe loves me just as i am”. They are not mutually exclusive, but there isn’t a whole lot of crossover. I mean, if i am good enough, then why would i make myself nuts trying to be perfect? But conversely, if the goal is to be someone so far removed from myself that, short of shock-treatment-style exorcism, i don’t stand a chance in hell (literally) of attaining it; i would be a fool not to give up before i started.

I posed this problem to my priest once, decades ago. His response, before hugging me and kissing me on the top of my head,  was, “Why do you do this to me?”

So it seems that even for the clergy, this isn’t an easy issue.

Nor is it solely the issue of any one religion. The contradiction of G/G/U’s love and the striving to live up to the examples of the Holy Books is one that transcends the rivalries between churches. Trying to make a life of doing what is right and knowing you will fail a lot of the time is problematic even for the science-minded, the aesthete, and the apatheist. We all want to be better than we are. And we all know we won’t get to where we want to be. It’s like a supreme, cosmic, existential joke.

If you think about it too much, you will go insane.

But the appearance of people like Bolz-Weber, an improbably coarse but unusually honest Lutheran pastor, make it a little less painful, if only because they assure us that we aren’t alone in our confusion.

There is something comforting in a pastor, particularly a Christian one, admitting that they are in the same quandary that we are. It somehow makes it a bit less lonely and frustrating. After all, if the professionals can’t always make sense of it, then we certainly can’t be expected to!

I am fascinated by the spiritual paths that people take. Christian, Jew, Hindu, Sikh, Pagan, Jedi… Matters little to me… It is the way you set your compass and how you deal with times when the path gets overgrown or flooded that intrigue me. Because regardless of what code you follow, there will be times when it isn’t enough. Or when you aren’t enough. And at that moment, we are all the same. Small fragile creatures looking for forgiveness and/or punishment and reassurance.

Life can be grand and funny and transcendental technicolor. But it can also be hard and frustrating and painful. No one gets through it alive, and no one gets through it alone. And whatever kind of pole you need to help you balance while you walk that tightrope of personal and spiritual expectation, more power to you. As His Musical Holiness, Frank Sinatra once said, “Whatever gets you through the night.”

As for me, i’ll keep writing and questioning. Taking it all in and picking out the common thread that binds us all. That thread is what keeps me motivated. That thread is where i find my personal truth, the balance between my self and my goal. And yes, i will waver and fall on occasion. So will you. But as long as we get back on the rope and keep walking, we’ll be ok. As long as we keep reaching out to help others when we see them wobble, it is going to be alright. As long as we are never so sure of the path that we stop watching where we’re going, we will continue to improve.

And whether you pastor is Billy Graham, the Dalai Lama, or Jim Ignatowski, i like to think that they all would agree.

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I Question, Therefore, I Am… I Think

Sometimes i lay awake at night wondering how much of this is real.

Is all of life like The Matrix , an image that is planted in our brain to give us the illusion of a full life? Do i really have three amazing children? Has it really been nearly 52 years since i was born? Are there really such things as blue skies and flowers and beaches and waterfalls? Am i really human? Is this mattress really so shot that i need to replace it, or is someone manipulating controls in a central processing area that makes me think the surface underneath me is starting to get lumpy?

To the controllers i say, would it kill you to conjure up Liam Neeson at my doorstep?

Or is this all a dream? Am i really still an infant in a crib, and the last 51 years have been nothing but a 5 hour night vision? Am i projecting my own future in some fierce REM state?Will i wake up soon and discover that i am just an insanely prolific and virulent dreamer? And if that is the case, does that make me something special? Some person of previously unseen depth and talent?

Am i some 6 month old future DaVinci?

Maybe i am delusional. I’m really 32. Or 102. And i live in an old shack by the beach. The life that i have is a creation of my own mind. Some kind of daydream i thought up to distract me from a pitiful and lonely existence. A way to escape the fact that i don’t even have 20 cats to keep me company. Maybe this decent, but often frustrating, life is merely my coping mechanism.

If i imagined all this, then why the hell didn’t i make myself a little more financially solid?

Are we characters in some larger beings’ computer game? Or maybe they are really tiny, and we only feel full size because that is how we were programmed. All of our movements and actions are controlled by someone in pajama pants who has had a really crappy day and just needs to escape. Maybe we are SIMS, and our day-to-day is just some 12 year old’s imagination.

In which case, that 12 year old needs to get out more.

And could use a good psychologist.

Maybe i am schizophrenic and all of this is a hallucination. Maybe i am really some mousey brown man who just has brain waves so different that it forked off into a boisterous white female in order to cope with all the dichotomy and chemical imbalance and cross-circuitry. Maybe i have another self that this self isn’t aware of. Two distinct selves unaware of each other – And probably better off that way, as awareness of each other would, i think, be a daily fight for control. Maybe all of us have more than one self, but only the stronger one ever gets the chance to be in the lead. How would we know?

It really makes me question those bouts of short-term memory loss, like forgetting what i came into the room for. Maybe it was the other self that needed something from the kitchen.

Now you are wondering the same thing, aren’t you?

Maybe this is all just a single dimension in a very multifaceted whole. Like in Richard Bach’s One, or in one of Heinlein’s novels. Maybe there is another me in another time who leads a very different life. Who is both the most sought-after ME and much-loved author. Maybe there is another thread in time where i look like a beautiful and exotic version of me, and have a life of such love and adventure, that it is the stuff of my wildest dreams.

But then again, that would also mean there is a thread where i am angry and disconsolate and totally hideous. That thought makes this me really sad.

Am i the only one who wonders about this? Whose mind is full of theories on being and life? I’ve always done it… Pondered what is real. It isn’t like i’m some kind of philosophical genius… It’s more that i like, i need, explanation. I need to know why. Why do people behave like they do? Why do i behave like i do? Why do we, as humans, do so many irrational things? Why do i keep making the same mistakes? Why are things the way they are? And why are bacon and salami and full-fat ice cream so delicious, when they are the worst things for our waistlines? And how high were the creators of all this when they designed the aardvark?

Maybe the atheists are right and this is all there is. All of this is real and our perceptions are all there is to reality. I really have been on this earth for 51 years. My budget really has consequences, it isn’t just an educational computer game. There is not another me somewhere who has accomplished all i set out to,  or looks like i do in my best dreams. I will not wake up and discover i have another chance to do it all differently. I am not all i could be, and Liam Neeson doesn’t know i exist. These things are true. This is my reality.

But on the flip side, that means that i really do have three amazing weedlings who are going to make this world a better place. I have really worked for years in a field that saves and improves people’s lives. I have rescued some animals from euthanasia by taking them in. Tho not the exotic beauty of my dreams, I have an esoteric beauty of spirit. I have loved and been loved.  I have given comfort and laughter to many. I might not have made the biggest difference, but i have made some difference. This is also my reality.

And very little of it makes any sense to me.

For someone who needs to know “why”, reality will always be a question. Life itself makes very little sense, even to the most pragmatic of people, so it is understandable that we don’t accept it as fact. People who don’t question it, it seems to me, are people who don’t question much of anything. (In case you haven’t noticed, i don’t advocate that.) I am thankful that most of the people who surround me do question. I am not alone in these swirling thoughts that are probably both madness and genius. Or maybe neither. What do i know?

Hell, i don’t even know that i’m real.

From The Hair On Your Head To The Hair On Your Toes

So i’ve been reading a lot of articles on natural beauty. Part and parcel with the whole “Give up meat, use less plastic, be less fake” philosophy that has been growing on me. And it has me thinking… We women put a whole lot of money and effort into being “beautiful”, and even more so when we are trying to be “natural”, if for no other reason than “natural” products and services take more money and effort and to find.

I mean, i know there is a growing movement of women out there who don’t shave, wax, or pluck. I know plenty of women who don’t wear makeup. I know women who don’t care about their pores or their split ends or their scratchy heels. We are born with that hair on our legs, and our eyelids weren’t meant to be gold gilded. But most of us, when we talk about “natural beauty” are talking about doing the same beauty rituals we have always done, only with more earth-friendly products. Definitely better than mass-market beauty, and certainly better than the days of lead-based face powder and carcinogen-laden hair products. But still not really “natural”.

That being said, i can’t see myself going wholly “natural” regardless.

I DO care about the wrinkles over my lip and the lack of color in my cheeks as i get older. I DON’T like when my leg hair grows out and wiry spikes sprout halfway between my eyebrow and temple, like spearmint springing from the ground 3 feet from the rest of the herb garden. I DO like some opalescent sparkle on my face. And for the life of me, i can’t truthfully tell you why.

There is the age-old argument that we do it for men. But i will be honest here, even furless, accentuating my best body features, and spending time on makeup every morning, i still have no need for a social calendar. Dates come as rarely for me as oases spring up in the desert. So either the man theory isn’t true, or it just ain’t working.

Then there is the argument that we are brainwashed by the media. I grew up loving fashion magazines. I still do, tho i get a bit depressed at the lack of older women in them. And i take the photos with a grain of salt. We all know that these images are unrealistic; the models genetically gifted, and photo-shopped within an inch of their lives. I know that i can’t wear a dress to work that contains an actual, living fish. And no one wants to see my ass hanging out of my 3-inch rise dress slacks. But even still, i love the photography, the artistry, and the illusion of grandeur… Even if i will never master the Manolo-esque stiletto.

So maybe i do it because it is ingrained in me. Growing up, all the women in my life de-fuzzed, dyed their hair, and worked hard to look comely. Very few went without makeup, and even fewer let their grey hair or pit hair run wild. So it isn’t like i had a bunch of earthy-crunchy women setting the standard. I have to say, tho, that no one in my family ever barked at me for whatever macquillage i was sporting at any stage. When i took to wearing men’s clothes, or all black, or my combat boots with everything, my family accepted it. When my hair was short, blue, and combed into a perfect DA, my family made no more notice of it than they did when it was long and the black of my youth. Truth be told, my family has been supportive of nearly all of my appearance conventions – The lone exception being my decision, after 40, to let my white hair grow out. That caused all kinds of controversy.

Nothing having to do with me, i think; and everything to do with it making others feel old.

So why, then? Why do i do what i do to alter my appearance? Is it any of those things i mentioned? Is it all of those things i mentioned? I think it is at least partially the latter; and not just for me, but for all women. After all, it’s not like we see the bulk of men worrying about the sparseness of their eyelashes. Or giving themselves bunions and broken sesamoid bones so they can rock a slut shoe. Or paying money to have someone rub acid on their face, in hopes it will make them look 10 years younger. Hell, men score extra points just for wearing the right amount of cologne. So, obviously, there is a gender bias.

But even knowing that, i can’t imagine myself not going to at least some length of primping.  I can’t imagine being comfortable in public with a completely unadorned face unless forced. I can’t imagine going to the beach unshaved and not worrying i looked like i was smuggling rabbis under my arms. I can’t imagine going out on a (painfully) rare date and not putting in some effort…

Wait…

Maybe that’s it. Maybe it’s the act of putting in effort. Not necessarily what i do to make myself look “my best”, but the fact that i am willing to go to lengths. For my (phantom) date. For my coworkers. For myself. Proof that i care enough to do something. I do less now than i did when i was young: I no longer spend an hour on my makeup, and if a shoe isn’t comfortable, i won’t wear it. (Unless it’s for Liam Neeson. I’d wear them for Liam Neeson.) So i guess you can say that the amount of effort is relative. If you are male or female, young or old, city born or country raised, meeting a mere mortal or meeting Liam Neeson; the bar for acceptable effort moves.

I know that we as women should be content with the lot God/Goddess/Universe gave us. He didn’t make me to look like a model for a reason. Maybe because GGU knew that, as depressing as it is thinking no one is looking at you, it is far worse to think everyone is looking at you. Even if i get caught at the market with jacked up hair, the number of people who will find out is only marginally larger than the single digit number of people who will give a damn. If i had the level of objective beauty i pine after, my bad hair day would become the conversation piece for more blogs and websites than my ego could handle.

Thank you, Universe, for not making me a starlet.

So back to my original thoughts… Tho buying cosmetics that are made of beet juice and and free-range, wild-harvested sea grass is better for the environment than the chemical compounds marketed by the taste makers, i’m not sure it’s any better for our psyche. The implied message is still that we need this stuff to be “pretty enough”. And while it may be true that there are very few “natural beauties” in this world, each of us possesses our own “natural beauty”. Yes, we are all beautiful in our own way. Even unshaven and un-powdered and unadulterated. The Universe and the ones who love us see that beauty, and any adornment is unnecessary. Heaven only knows if we will all learn to see ourselves that same way, to love ourselves as we are and do the primping just for fun. (Tho i can’t imagine anyone waxing just for fun. That shit hurts!) And would it still be fun if it wasn’t considered more beautiful? I don’t know.

As for me, i know better than to think i’ll ever get to that point. I get more comfortable with myself with each passing year, but i doubt i will ever be satisfied. I will likely always strive to be more. Because, you know, there’s always that slim chance i could score a date.

I’m still holding out hope for Liam Neeson.

 

A Spirit By Any Other Name

Elohim, Adonai

Jehovah and Allah

Akal Purakh, Father, Peace

Krishna and Zeus

God, Goddess, Universe, Science

The Force, The Love and The Light…

See It in others.

Find It in ourselves.

This is the day your Lord has made.

Named or nameless.

Formed or Formless.

All together or all One.

Let us rejoice and be glad.

Rafiki and Einstein

One of my besties has a good friend who is in the midst of dying. At our age, though not a common thing yet, we will see it more and more. But like so much of getting older, there is no book that tells us how to deal with it.

Family is gathered close around her friend, as well they should be, keeping outsiders, germs, and stresses away from their cherished member as she makes the transition. But my bestie is one of those who absorbs people into her soul more than most. She wants – needs – to touch. It’s visceral for her, a primal need since watching her own mother take the journey when we were in our adolescence. She doesn’t want to intrude. Doesn’t even have to actually see her. Just wants her to know that there are hands and hearts along the bridge who will give her strength when she needs it. On one level, it is a gesture of love and friendship. On another, it is a grasp at a connection with the ones who are already on the other side.

We aren’t kids anymore. We understand that life as we know it comes to an end. We realize death is part of life. We’ve seen The Lion King. But it is hard to remember that life is a circle when your friend is on the exact opposite side of it.

Even if you were standing next to them, you know you can’t pull them back. It’s their time. God/Goddess/Universe’s choice, not ours, and we are in no position to disagree. We aren’t reaching out to pull them back into the circle permanently… We just want one more minute. One more chance to feel what we felt with them. Love. Friendship. Humanity. And to remind us that we are not permanent. A jumpstart, if you will, to our resolution for living each day to the fullest.

Perhaps that last is the most important.

My Ma died a long time ago. I think of her often, of course, and for many reasons. But more often than not, i am thinking of her because i want to tell her about something. Something i am planning, or doing, or have done, that is benchmark.

Benchmark = Proof that i am really living. 

With the holidays approaching, memories of lost loved ones are, for many of us, closer than any other time of the year. It’s easy for us to get caught up in sadness, loneliness and longing for times and people since passed. To get out of it, i sometimes talk to those memories. Like, “He Ma, do you see your namesake in there cooking up a storm? Is she amazing, or what?” Or, “Gram, someone just brought in homemade raisin bread to work. Lets toast some and spread it with cream cheese just like you always liked…”

Yes, i talk to dead people. What of it? If Einstein was right (And i dare you to say he wasn’t..) nothing new is ever created. All the energy that ever was is still here – Just in a different form. Who is to say that the energy, the soul plasma, that was our loved ones isn’t all around us all the time? Or that i won’t still be around my loved ones after this pasty, wrinkled, old broad of a body is long since gone? I choose to believe that the best part of us lingers, like a faint whiff of Shalimar after the theater closes, for anyone who chooses to breathe it in and remember.

Yes, i talk to dead people and i am a hopeless, romantic dork. So sue me.

Regardless, as the insanity of the holidays approaches, and the memories come flooding in… Or if you are someone who must face a loved one becoming a memory amidst all the merriment… Breathe them in. Talk with them. Talk about them to others. Bring them into moments where you are truly living. Keep it all alive so that they may continue being relevent. In a way, become legend. Don’t let the laws of biology stop it. Our physical time on this Earth is fleeting, but our soul can go on forever. Just ask my friend, Albert. He is an expert on energy. And really, isn’t that all we humans are?

First World Health Care

Looking at bills from my recent surgery, i have to wonder how so many do it. Manage to take care of themselves without going into bankruptcy.

I work for a hospital. Tho not in any danger of living a life of luxury, i am well compensated enough that i am able to pay my bills without juggling them. (Something i never had til recently.) I have commercial insurance that my employer subsidizes, and truly, my cost per month isn’t terrible. I had a short-term disability benefit to cover my salary while i was recovering. And yet, i am having to engage a payment plan to pay for surgery that was a necessity.

At just under $5,000, my out-of-pocket is manageable over time for me. And i am grateful. But what if it had been my daughter who needed it?

She is an hourly worker. A florist. Works her tail off managing a flower shop at a modest rate of pay that is likely a bit above average in her industry (A testament to her talent and diligence.) But her employer offers no benefits. She makes too much to qualify for a government plan, but not enough to afford a commercial one. She isn’t a slacker – She works hard, tries to live within her budget, pays her taxes – Everything we expect of an upstanding citizen. And yet, if she were injured, she would lose everything. The $25,000 of overall medical costs would break her for more than half a decade, especially considering the amount of work time she would lose during recovery.

I can’t imagine what it would be like if she had a child.

Everyone has an issue with those who are capable, but choose not to work and remain on the dole. But there are millions of people in this country who ARE working. Working their asses off. Doing what they are supposed to do. Not spending money on a bunch of frillies or drugs. Just getting by with the essentials.  And health care is off-limits to them financially. Yes, there are funds available. There are private benefactors who contribute to funding as well. And that is wonderful. But it isn’t enough to cover the gap. We have some government representatives who are fighting for people like my daughter. But not enough of them. We have health care providers who make exceptions and volunteer services on a regular basis. But they can’t cover it all.

We are trying hard, but still failing.

I have heard arguments for and against government healthcare, single-payor plans, pocket-pay and free market systems. None of them is a cure-all.

Yet another instance where we know what doesn’t work, but don’t really know what will. Or at least i don’t.

All i know is, having grown up without the money to have the kind of healthcare i enjoy now… Hell, the kind of life i enjoy now… to know how blessed i am, even as i realize that i am still far closer to the bottom of the food chain than the top… I want to be part of a society that provides help for those who are struggling in spite of their strong efforts. I want to be part of a country that says, “If you are working hard, i’ll help you any way that i can.” A country where children and the elderly receive what they need.

And a country where those of us who are able to manage without help remember that not everyone is as lucky. And we have to help look out for them.

My Teacher, Hank

“Books must be read as deliberately and reservedly as they were written.”  ~  Henry David Thoreau

I think Thoreau would be pleased that my copy of Walden; Or, Life In The Woods is marked with highlighted passages and margin notes. The book is my go-to when things get difficult or complicated. As reference for myself, i have adorned my copy like a college textbook, marking each sentence that has an important lesson for me…

To remind me to take a step back and see the truth: “The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation… But it is a characteristic of wisdom not to do desperate things.”

To remember to keep it simple: “(To be a philosopher is) so to love wisdom as to live according to its dictates; a life of simplicity, independence, magnanimity, and trust.”

To not live in the past: “Renew thyself completely each day; do it again, and again, and forever again.”

To be kind: ” The finest qualities of our nature, like the bloom on fruits, can be preserved only by the most delicate handling. Yet we do not treat ourselves nor one another thus tenderly.”

To resist the urge to rush and waste life: “Time is but the sandy stream I go  a-fishing in. I drink at it; but while I drink, I see the sandy bottom and detect how shallow it is. Its thin current slides away, but eternity remains. I would drink deeper; fish in the sky, whose bottom is pebbly with stars.”

To enjoy the expanse of nature and life: “There are none happy in the world but beings who enjoy freely a vast horizon.”

And to fight my urge to accumulate “stuff”:  “In accumulating property for ourselves or our posterity, in founding a family or a state, or acquiring fame even, we are mortal; but in dealing with the truth, we are immortal, and need fear no change nor accident.”

Those are not all of the best passages, of course… Just the ones that jumped out at me today. On a different day, with different needs, some of the other passages will jump out. And i admit, i have similar markings and notes in Jonathan Livingston Seagull, the writings of Mother Teresa, Albert Einstein, and Robert Heinlein (among others, mostly fellow pantheists), and numerous holy books from a variety of religions. There is wisdom everywhere, if you look for it.

I love finding new sources of wisdom as well. I am forever asking people what books molded and shaped them. (Feel free to leave your favorite source of life-knowledge in the comments.) How else am i to find other springs from which to drink?

But more often than not, i am looking back to my pal, Hank. Philosophically and spiritually, we are in sync. I love his therapeutic writing style. And not for nothing, the man is a fellow Masshole. It makes sense that i am drawn to him. He has filled my head and heart and spirit with ideas that became the backbone of my soul.

I can only hope, that at the end of my life, if someone asks me if i have made my peace with God, i can respond as HDT did…

“I did not know we had ever quarreled.”