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Sunday, September 27, 2015


So a friend of mine was recently bemoaning the propensity we all have for looking at the past, most especially our childhood, through rose-colored glasses.  “It's a great time to be a kid. NOW. It's a great time to be a kid at any point in time!” she lamented.  And of course, she is right.  It is GREAT to be a kid, for too many reasons to count, most of them relating to the fact that ignorance is bliss and not being responsible for anyone but yourself is basically the definition of freedom. 

The reason so many of us have rose-colored memories of childhood is because childhood is a time in life when we are in fact viewing the world through that rose-colored filter.  If we were lucky enough to come from a relatively happy home…if we were lucky enough to have enough to eat, a roof over our head and all of our basic needs taken care of…if we were lucky enough to be loved.  If all of these things were true, then we undoubtedly lived in a space of security, wonder and unfettered possibility.  Unburdened by all the knowledge and responsibility that comes with adulthood, children are free to roam in the field of imagination where dragons are as common as clouds and the realm of the magical is not only possible, it is probable.

My childhood was spent in the 1970’s and as far as glorifying that as an era to come up in, I am guilty as charged.    The comic piece of it is this:  compared to my son’s life, I basically grew up on an episode of “Survivorman”, so unsupervised and wild were we.  But I had the ridiculous privilege, so uncommon today, of growing up in the kind of neighborhood where everybody knew everybody, and everyone knew what kids belonged where, and a lot of Moms were able to be at home during the day, so eyes were everywhere. 

Summer mornings we would roll out of bed and hit the streets after breakfast, only to return at mealtimes.  When I think of the adventures we took alone at such a young age, I am flabbergasted.  Our parents would be arrested today for what we were allowed to do back then.  One of the false arguments I hear about this was that the world was “safer” then.  This goes back to my friend’s lament.  Statistically speaking, the world was probably far more dangerous, but because we didn’t have the 24 hour news cycle apprising us of every time a kid falls off his bike, we remained blissfully free of fear.
My husband and I have been lucky enough to be raising our son in one of those “old-fashioned” type of neighborhoods.  There is only one road in to a series of cul-de-sacs and most of us know each other and each other’s children by name.  The kids can ride their bikes in the streets, and we are the neighborhood to beat at Halloween…people come to us from miles around.  We have woods to explore in our backyard, a common land with a good sledding hill and some well-attended neighborhood events that give us a nice sense of community. 

But the kids certainly don’t have the kind of freedom that I did growing up, not only in the lack of any real independence, but also in not having that unstructured, unsupervised play time.  So many activities outside of the house, and then yes, I am going to bang the drum of too many electronics again inside the house.  My parents were constantly telling us to “go play in the yard” (and by this they meant ANY yard we could get to on our own) and we did; how many versions of tag did YOU know?  Not to mention “Red Light, Green Light”, “Red Rover”, “Hide and Seek”, “Capture the Flag”…to have a good time, you needed nothing but some other kids, NOTHING.  And that seems to be the piece of childhood that is dying on the vine.

It is ironic that it seems like childhood has traded one kind of freedom for another.  We had a physical freedom, yes; but also the freedom from the tyranny of the electronic age, where any idiot with a cell phone can capture your personal moments and transmit them to the world.  We suffered our “growing pains” of all kinds in private…I am so grateful that there is no permanent record of my humiliations, my confusion, my angst, my immaturity.  I found my way without a spotlight on me, and most kids today will never understand that particular kind of freedom. 

On the other hand…when I think about what life must have been like for my LGBT peers, I shudder.  No role models, no open dialogue, no understanding that they are not struggling alone; for them the world is much more free now (although obviously far from ideal).   I think about all the kids I grew up with who today would receive a diagnosis and nurturing treatment; we called them “hyperactive”, “dumb” and “weird”.  I think about kids who grew up in situations of domestic violence in a time when police and even communities “looked the other way”.  I think about kids who grew up in times of insidious racial oppression.  In all these ways and more, kids have it much better today than at any point in history.  And that is more than worth any sacrifices we have made to the sanctity of childhood.
Childhood was once upon a time a luxury of the privileged.  Nowadays, most children in developed countries are afforded the relative freedoms of the childhood experience.  Children were once considered properties, boys much more valuable than girls.  Now kids are so much more than people too—they are universally acknowledged as the most precious resource on earth.  Not so long ago, it was unusual for a woman to get a college education; now, more women than men will earn at least a bachelor’s degree. 

It is easy to long for “the good old days” and forget everything that was bad about them.  Anytime a child is born into a situation where he or she is wanted, loved and provided for is a GREAT time to be a kid.  Too many children, now and then, are not lucky enough to have such circumstances.  Parenthood will always be the most sacred responsibility entrusted to the human soul; it should never be taken lightly, nor should it ever be foisted on anyone against their will.  I recently saw a sign that said “All love is unconditional; everything else is just approval”.  Approval is nice, but love is fierce, driven and indomitable.  No matter when, where and how a child grows up, if that child is loved, he or she will be alright.


Tuesday, September 22, 2015


Recently there have been a lot of people in the news blaming their bad behavior on God.  A contemporary version of "the devil made me do it", it got me thinking about how God is funny that way.  “Saints” and “sinners” alike can fault God for what they do because God is literally all things to all people.  God is love, imagination, peace, freedom, tyranny, restriction, punishment, nonexistent…God is whatever you make Him/Her/It out to be and that is ever changing.  For some people, myself included, God is not something “out there” to obey and fear; God is instead “in here”, guiding us with our gut instincts, our intuition, our passion and even our anger. 

For a lot of people God is “out there”; a beneficent overseer who intervenes in response to prayer with healing, hope, comfort and even fortunate “coincidences”.  For other people God is a cruel despot, creator of all but “chooser” of few; this capricious judge asks his minions to follow the contradictory guidelines set forth in a book written thousands of years ago with no amendments or further instruction.  Having formed the world and its people, He then apparently had some serious second thoughts and is engaged in a centuries-long process of culling the herd.  God is all these things and so many more; ask a million people and you will be told a million things:  God is bread, wine, miracles, natural disasters, plagues, music, art, censorship, tragedy, comedy…God is funny.

Everyone thinks they own God, even nonbelievers.  This is because God is one-stop-shopping.  Whatever you want to believe (or not believe) becomes your personal truth because frankly, we’re all making this stuff up anyhow.  God is as much our creation as we are His/Hers/Its.  Our relationship to God is the ultimate in symbiosis:  each depends entirely on the other for survival.  Without God there is no us…but without us there is no God.  Even atheism is such an active position that it creates a defiant stance of what is “not there”, much like the fabled elephant-in-the-room. 

We all live life following the trail of breadcrumbs we find, whether we understand that this is what we are doing or not.  It is the very unpredictability of life that drives us forward; it is the same chaos that causes us to withdraw.  When we are blundering in the dark, we always seek the light; when we are standing in the light, we yearn for shade.  Contradiction is a natural part of living and being.  Therefore, contradiction must also be the essence of God.  The minute we think we “know” something, we shut down to possibility.  So the essence of faith is to find the ease in uncertainty.  God is often described as “all knowing”, but our experience of life eventually leads us to understand that it is exactly when we don’t know what comes next that miracles can happen.
For people who try to live life according to the old book that the Almighty has not seen fit to update, “Thou Shalt Have No Other Gods Before Me” is a highly ranked rule to live by.  The irony of this is, of course, that they are making the old book “God” instead of letting God be God.  “False” Gods, in fact, are the order of the day…anything we worship above the “still small voice” becomes our God, our true north.  Money, success, fame are all popular, though capricious Gods.  Some people worship science, some people worship logic; many people worship other people, be it a celebrity, a spouse, a parent or a child. 

It doesn’t matter what we worship, if it is something outside of ourselves, we are driven by it and drawn to it.   We live in the vortex of its pull, always striving, reaching, wanting.  But there is an inherent flaw in worshiping anything at all:  it takes away your power and puts it into the hands of the concept/thing/person you worship.  But concepts, things and people are transient and fluid, so again, you will always find yourself bowing down at the altar of uncertainty.  Things can change in an instant and if you are clinging to what was, you are missing out entirely on what is and what could be.  Worship is a narrow focus, not seeing the forest for the tree.

We think of life as a straight line, with a beginning, middle and end, but truthfully life is a circle.  We circle back to who we are, why we are here and what we want to experience, endlessly.  Jerry Garcia said “You ain’t gonna learn what you don’t want to know” and that is perhaps the single best description of life I have ever heard.  When anyone declares they know God, they have given up the key to what makes life such a grand, intense, powerful joyride:  doubt.  Voltaire wrote:  “Doubt is an uncomfortable condition, but certainty is a ridiculous one”.  

When we admit we don’t know, the door is wide open for everybody.  Infinite possibility becomes your ruler and your guide, and everything is welcomed there.  Open your mind, open your heart, open your eyes and see that when you exclude anything, you lose everything.  That’s why God is funny; you have to give up certainty to experience faith.  You have to forget what you “know” to be who you are.  “Man plans, God laughs” is a popular saying because it rings so true to how we experience our journey. 

Yes, we plan, but we never really know what is around the next corner and isn’t that a very good thing?  So let’s let God do the planning, while WE laugh.  Because God is funny.

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Saturday, September 12, 2015

Why I Haven't 'Been There, Done That'

So our old dog is reaching her end-of-days.  My husband and I picked her from a litter as a newborn pup (truthfully, she picked HIM—I should have known better), and we have trained, raised and loved her for almost 12 years (as best as she would allow these things).  My son just turned 10, so she has been part of his everyday life for his entire life, and he will be profoundly affected by the loss of her.  We are trying to prepare him, but we know that when the time comes it will be heart wrenching for all of us, even me.  I say even me because Zoey, crotchety old lady that she was born to be, has always viewed me as her rival for house alpha.  Therefore, far from being the loving and devoted companion that most people experience in relationship to their dogs, I have had a girl in perpetual puberty.  In dog language, her every response to me is sighing, eye-rolling, screaming “I hate you!” and storming off.  In dog language “storming off” is skulking away with occasional reproachful glances over her shoulder.  Zoey has perfected the skunk eye and frequently growls when I try to cuddle her.  My son adores her anyhow, and in processing his grief over her imminent departure accused me of never wanting to get another dog again.  I told him I will get another dog for him, but I don’t need another because I’ve “been there, done that!”  In thinking about it more, I have come to realize that really isn’t true at all.

I am not a big fan of rap; (translation:  I am not a fan of rap AT ALL)…but I am going to paraphrase the rapper Drake here:  sometimes I wish I could go back in life; not to change things, just to feel a couple of things twice.  There are so many moments like that, aren’t there?  Picking a wriggling puppy for your very own, falling in love, having your breath taken away by something, someone…those peak experiences that seem to hold every drop of the universe in one moment.  All those firsts:  the first time you rode your bike without training wheels, the first time behind the wheel of a car, your first kiss; these memories are so indelible you can conjure them completely and feel the fear, triumph, exhilaration all over again.  But what about those other moments, the quieter ones?  The ones you took entirely for granted, but now wish you could go back and re-experience, just to appreciate them?  In trying to imagine how our life will feel once Zoey is gone, I find myself wishing I could go back to a time when my Dad was still alive.  No specific time…I just wish I could remember how it felt to know he was there and to assume he always would be.   I used to love listening to my parents speak to each other; so much love and affection and respect.  What would I give to go back in time and hear their voices together again, even just coming from the other room?
There is an amazing scene in the movie “Peggy Sue Got Married”, where Peggy Sue picks up the phone and hears her long-dead Grandmother’s voice.  Of course, since Peggy Sue has gone back in time, her Grandmother is alive again, but it just hadn’t occurred to her until that moment.  Kathleen Turner nails it, and I defy you to watch her without crying yourself.  When we are young, we take so much for granted; our grandparents, parents, life and world…it feels like they all exist FOR us somehow, and therefore will not go away unless we wish them to do so.  But that first loss, whether it be a dog or a person, rocks that perception to the core.  Life becomes impermanent, the world uncertain.  We then have to make a choice:  do we embrace uncertainty, or become rigid ourselves in order to create an illusion of permanence?  It seems like such a natural response to death to shut down, close up the shutters, batten down the hatches…but what if instead we became more fluid, rolling in the grief and allowing ourselves to feel all that pain?  Would it not stand to reason that in being open to experiencing anguish, we open ourselves a little more to experiencing joy?  Doesn’t it make sense that shut down to pain is shut down to everything but open to pain is also open to joy?  Queen Elizabeth II said, “Grief is the price we pay for love”; but consider, isn’t grief just another form of passion?

That is why I am asserting now—there is NO SUCH THING as “been there, done that”.  Because each experience changes us, we can never really encounter the same thing twice.  “You can’t go home again” is a vernacular wisdom that speaks to this; but more accurately, I think we come to understand over time that we ourselves are “home”.  Home is not out there, someplace to get “back” to…it is within, the complete picture of all you are and all you have experienced.   When we open ourselves to life, be it loss or peak experiences or mundane moments, we become more and more at home with it, and with ourselves.  You are the peak experience, the drop that contains the entire universe in it, so all things become welcomed in your life.  Pain…grief…melancholy…joy…desire…wondering…it is all there, all the time and yet always new.  As you allow yourself to own all of your feelings, you come to realize that even on a day to day basis you have NOT been there nor done that.  Because you are constantly renewing, you never feel exactly the same way twice.  So relish it all!  Relish it as it happens, and you will live life without regrets.  As Rumi wrote, "You are not a drop in the ocean.  You are the entire ocean in one drop."

Zoey passed away on January 12, 2016


Saturday, September 5, 2015

Why I Wish You Wouldn't Do That

You know what?  I wish you wouldn’t do that.  Do what, you ask?  The list is endless, my friends, truly endless.  From BIG things (I wish you wouldn’t ride a motorcycle without a helmet!  I wish you wouldn’t smoke!) to small things (I wish you wouldn’t leave your wet towel on the floor…I wish you wouldn’t eat onions when I am about to be trapped in a car with you for several hours) I am a veritable wishing machine some days.  I wish many things for the strangers who cross my path (I wish you would learn how to merge!  I wish you wouldn’t write a check in the express lane!) and for loved ones as well (I wish you wouldn’t stay in a relationship where you aren’t appreciated!  I wish you wouldn’t put yourself down!)  I wish on stars, wishbones and lucky pennies thrown in a fountain.  I wish for myself most of all:  I wish you wouldn’t worry so much…I wish you wouldn’t make choices that don’t serve your highest good.  I wish we all wouldn’t do that, actually.  That most of all.

In case you are concerned that all of this wishing-you-wouldn’t-do-stuff is making me overly judgmental, let me clarify something…there is an enormous difference between making discernments and having preferences and “judgment”.  We have become an incredibly politically correct society as of late; I’m amazed the color orange doesn’t have its own special interest group protesting it being labeled the new black.  But if you say to ANYONE, friend or foe, “I wish you wouldn’t do that”, it does not become a judgment until you add the thought “because I believe it makes you a bad/stupid/deficit human being”.  While I do truly wish people would LEARN TO MERGE, for example, the prevalence of this handicap leads me to believe that it is a struggle for people from all walks of life, and therefore not a reliable indicator of anything except an inability to merge.  And while I really, really wish everybody on planet earth would QUIT SMOKING CIGARETTES, until the day that I have no unhealthy habits of my own, I am in no position to judge.  And I’m not giving up my diet Dr. Pepper, so this conversation is done.
I just got back from attending the New York State Fair for the first time since I was a kid, and as I’m sure you can imagine, I got to observe a whole sea of humanity doing things I wish they wouldn’t do.   William Blake wrote:  “Those who restrain desire do so because theirs is weak enough to restrain” and I think this is very true.  However, when you are immersed in a world of deep fried candy bars and wine slushies (!?!) you are not talking desire, you are talking impulse…I mean, it’s RIGHT THERE.   So I although I wish my son and my husband wouldn’t order mozzarella sticks with a side of cheese fries for lunch, I truly understand why they did.  Because I ordered a fried clam boat.  HA!  We all make unhealthy choices (hopefully only occasionally), we all can be inconsiderate at times (mainly because we’re oblivious or distracted), we all give in to impulses we later regret and I WISH WE WOULDN’T DO THAT.  But it doesn’t make us “bad” people or even “wrong”.  It makes us human, another drop of water in that sea of humanity.

Which brings me back to our inability to merge.  When you think about it, every time you have the thought “I wish you wouldn’t do that” it’s because you believe the behavior impacts you in a not-so-positive way.   The obvious example is your road trip companion who orders the stinky sandwich with hours of the journey left to go.  The not so obvious example is the stranger who rides his motorcycle without a helmet.  I could talk technically about how people who engage in high risk behaviors cause all of our insurance premiums to go up, or I could talk practically about the fact that NONE of us wants to see ANYONE get hurt; it doesn’t matter if the person is a stranger.  When you hear someone has lung cancer, for another example…I am hard pressed to think of the scenario where this is feel-good news, even (again) if you don’t know them personally.   When we do things that we know other people wish we wouldn’t do, we are failing to merge.  We are failing to recognize that “the butterfly effect” is real, and that small decisions we make can impact the whole in larger, unpredictable ways.  One of the greatest truths any of us can ever hope to grasp is that our happiness is other people’s happiness and their happiness is ours.   Until this resonates with us, we are not merging properly.
My father had a simple wish he articulated on a regular basis:  he wanted a magic wand.  He, like all of us, wished for the magical ability to solve the problems of the world with a single stroke.  The reality is we do have a “magic wand” at our disposal at all times:  RESPECT.  Respect for ourselves, respect for others, respect for the planet, respect for our oneness.  Hey, how does a Buddhist order a pizza?  “Make me one with everything”.  Ha.  When we truly respect life, we are one with everything.  And in order to fully respect ourselves, we have to do our best to stop doing the things we wish we wouldn’t do.  Trickle-down economics has proven to be a bust, but trickle-down respect is a movement I can get behind.  Treat your whole self with respect—your body, your mind, your soul and yes, even your true desires—and that self-respect will impact every single person you come in contact with in a positive way.  Think of your actions as throwing a stone into a pond; not only is the point of impact affected, but ripples go out in every direction for a radius you have no way of predicting.  Failure to recognize your impact on humanity, on your world is the epitome of a lack of self-respect.  And I wish you wouldn’t do that.  Respect yourself and realize that everything you are and everything you do truly matters.