Category: About Love


Letter 2 – Knowing Me

Knowing meMy Dear Friend:

By nature, we always want more. A person I met several years ago recently stated they didn’t know me. Each friend always requests the same – my utmost thoughts.

Being a fairly secretive person, I’ve rarely peeled back the outer layers of my soul. To complicate others with hidden thoughts and the man of my youth would appear cruel. As such, for those tucked away in quiet communities, commuting to and fro, knowing me would not enhance their world or their love for the world.

Until we met, I lived life from a 17-inch Tumi carry-on. Few knew of my travels to Cali, Columbia, Lima, Peru, Venezuela and other strange foreign lands. Few know that I can recall the addresses of 38 different US Embassies, including both phone and address. Few would understand why I would have memorized key US border crossings and frequently visited US Ports by ships.

For one to remember such information is not important. But by not knowing me, few will ever understand how you entered my soul and removed the distress of life. By not knowing me, those who have sight, will never understand your beauty, the nature of your walk, the balance between desire and poetry. And by not knowing me, those who can hear, will never hear the beating of your heart.

Yet to me, you opened a soul, allowing me to live some semblance of normal. As such, a lifetime of wanting and craving created this powerful energy we embrace. You’ve taught me to live life deliberately, with purpose. Because of you, I recognize my humanity, my spirit and spirituality.

Without you, I could neither revel in it nor have lived it.

Have you learn’d lessons only of those who admired you, and
were tender with you, and stood aside for you?

Have you not learn’d great lessons from those who reject you,
and brace themselves against you? or who treat you with
contempt, or dispute the passage with you?

~Walt Whitman~

The above poem, Stronger Lessons was part of a manuscript titled, “Sands at Seventy.” “Sands at Seventy” was the title of a collection of poems that first appeared in November Boughs (1888) and was later included as an “annex” to the final printings of Leaves of Grass. Stronger Lessons is one of my favorite poems. I hadn’t thought of this poem for some time and was reminded after hearing an audio interview clip with Monica Lewinsky having discussing her receipt of Leaves of Grass.

Like Lewinsky, and the better part of all, I wrote eighteen letters to an unrequited love several years ago. Each letter was returned, rejected outright. Till this day, I have no reason why I kept the letters. I have neither opened nor read any until today.

Lwenski reminded me of her and my letters. In their own way, both Lewinsky and this unrequited love are both strong, kind, and confident. There are many questions, but not once have I received an answer. For some time, I wanted answers because maybe they would help. But realizing that on any given day, I may not wake. From that perspective alone, I am not a long-term candidate for lasting love. In the end, she might have chosen security. All I have are these letters.

Today, I decided to share all eighteen letters. I will open one letter each day and share them with you. Originally, each letter was handwritten. Each had a theme. Some are short. Others are long. Names and locations will be changed, as required. Hopefully, in some way, one letter or one sentence will assist one of you hurting or hoping to build a bridge or simply move forward. Maybe this holiday season, you’ll be able to reach that one unrequited love.

Letter 1 – Quality of Life

My Dear Love:

I recently conversed with a fellow traveler to en route to Arizona. This fellow teetered back and forth about leaving one position for another – that somehow leaving the current position would ‘right the wrongs’ within his personal life.

I concurred with two points: there is such a thing as quality of life and his wasn’t.

Therein lay the problem. Looking at almost everyone met, single or couple alike, almost none have found a way to align all the pieces and compromises. Sacrifices litter the roads traveled and mountains climbed.

But the thing I’ve most admired about you is your unceasing thoughts of love and laughter. They are a profound gift that has lifted me past darker days. You have constantly created a life worth remembering – a life worth repeating – a life better than most.

My heart is full for you, pulls for you and lives for your adventures and your love.

 

Chasing Reflections

While having dinner with a friend, I told him my time was closing and inquired if there was any last thing he wanted to do or place he wished to go while I was still here.

In tears, he asked, “You can’t abandon me.”

Sorry,” I sympathetically replied.

Shrugging it off, he chuckled. “Oh please. You said yourself that no one knows how long someone has to live. You said you were going to die over a year ago. And here you are.”

Awkward pause.

What will I do without you? You’re my only friend,” he whispered.

Make new friends.”

I can’t.”

Why not?

 “I don’t fit in here.”

Having worked here since college, you’re now fairly wealthy. You can ‘cash out,’ return to your native homeland and live in relative ease.”

I can’t.”

Why?

I won’t fit in.”

So, let me understand,” I said. “You’ve worked here all this time and have friends neither here nor at home?

Revealing a painful truth, “Yes.”

What you think you want out of life and how we spend our days in it, may not be nearly as important as the vital layers accumulating within you, hidden in plain sight.

Several years ago, writer David Allen wrote the following:

Love for friends and family, the decency we exchange with those around us, the value of not doing “great things,” but small things in a great way. Those are life’s moments inscribed in our heart.

Further borrowing from Allen, What the conversation between my friend and I remind us to do is that money is not the ultimate goal in life and each of us must take our heart out and read it every so often.

I conclude with the following.

As a laborer walked home along a river, he saw a shimmering in the river.When he looked, he saw a diamond necklace. But the river was completely polluted, filthy and smelly. Still, he decided to try and catch it so he could gain it’s reward. He put his hand in the filthy, dirty river and grabbed at the necklace, but somehow missed it. The second time, he walked into the river and put his whole arm in to catch the necklace. And again, he missed the necklace. Feeling depressed, he did a most disgusting thing and plunged completely into the river. Yet, he failed again.

Just then, a Buddhist monk came upon him.

“What are you doing?” queried the monk.

The man didn’t want to share the secret, so he refused to say.

The monk asked again, “What are you doing?”

The man mustered some courage and told the monk about the necklace and his attempts to catch it.

Taking compassion at the pitiful man, the Monk replied, “Perhaps you should try looking upward, toward the branches of the tree, instead of in the river.”

The man looked up, and true enough, the necklace was dangling on the branch of a tree. All this time, he had only been trying to capture a mere reflection.

He Remains My Father

As my father hurls toward his final passing, he spends endless hours watching television – in particular, ‘NCIS.’ Until recently, I personally never watched more than a handful of episodes. My father however, spends endless hours digesting this show. Ironically, he doesn’t remember episodes. He could watch the same episode over and over and it would be new to him each time he watched, for as his cognitive abilities become limited, it’s hard to follow plot lines and characters’.

I have no particular dig against many of the of the crime drama television shows. But I will say this, most of them are a goddamn poor form of entertainment. The weekly hashing of death and destruction is awfully depressing. There is no good food for thought. Outside of the occasional humor, it’s frick’n depressing. Still I recognize that one may consider “The Kardashians” actual entertainment while others may not. And again, one who hates ‘The Kardashians‘ may love ‘Criminal Minds.’ Personally, I find neither offering value.

Searching my own values, I have many questions. From a Buddhist perspective, does seeing other people’s suffering gives us a sense of community and togetherness? By watching such shows, are we enjoined by the community with the idea we’re all in this life together? Why can’t we not appreciate what we have without having requiring some frame of reference for both positive and negative? If the goal of any Buddhist is to eliminate suffering, I query, why do I participate in another’s misery? Why am I entertained?

While my father’s situation is dire, watching these shows does not drive me to despair. My father remains an inspiring presence – one whom, even at this late stage of life, I can forge bonds regardless of such ignorance streamed via cable. For the first time in years, I studied my father, his disciplined effort to escape the skin cells that binds him and his personal quest for ultimate enlightenment. I intently studied him, his fractured body—and smiled remembering the Iron Man of my youth. I love him so.

So, in spite of the shows he watches, he remains my father. He is forever my Iron Man.

 

On a cool Saturday morning, a couple drove several hours for a presentation on family living and love.  During the ride, the husband stated he heard from his retired parents in Arizona.

My parents admitted they were $18,000 dollars in debt,” he humbled mumbled.

$18,000?” She clarified.

Yes.

How,” she queried.

I guess it’s from medical expenses not paid by insurance from dad’s two brain surgeries.

Well,” she replied. “We’re not helping your parents in any way.

Writer Jeff Anderson noted that as elderly parents begin to rely on family for more support, the amount of conflict between adult children can increase. Dealing with a parent’s care can rekindle sibling rivalries that have lain dormant for years, and the discord can tear families apart. What Mr. Anderson did not know was that the husband in the story had quietly watched his parents fall frail to health concerns. His father had two major surgeries that netted him a long-term stay in ICU and then several months in rehabilitation.

The other side of the story was that he he quietly supported his wife by providing monthly financial support to his father-in-law and sister-in-law. But now, it’s as if she was said, “Not yours, only mine.” Her response comes from anger toward her own family life. It was a sense of helplessness.

Most often a sense of helplessness manifests into continuous critiquing, judging, anger, and sometimes even rage. When one person is completely unwilling to take full responsibility for their own life feelings, it is often because they are unwilling to experience life. That, as George Benard Shaw might say, is the difference betweenbeing used for a purpose recognized by yourself as a mighty one; the being a force of nature instead of a feverish, selfish little clod of ailments and grievances complaining that the world will not devote itself to making you happy.”

The ‘shit’ response comes from people who tell everyone that we’re called by God and Buddha and not to allow ourselves to be consumed with anger. Yet, as a Buddhist, we must refuse to take behaviors personally. We need to be open to open another’s burden, to one another’s pain, irregardless of the pain which we endure. Yet, in many families, the relationship is one-sided and over time, one person boldly becomes the ‘asshole’ and often goes deep into personal resentment and anger. As a result, identities shift or are lost.

We must remember how we choose to act says nothing about those around us. Rather, how we choose says everything about us. Like a lot of relationships, we can blame everyone else for how we act, including parents, brother, sister, coworker, manager, etc. But ultimately, we all know that’s a bunch of bullshit. We must proactively remind ourselves that their behavior is theirs not ours, and it has nothing to do with us.

As for caring for aging parents, Brette Sember, author of “The Complete Legal Guide to Senior Care,” stated “shared responsibility” can mean different things to different families. She says the best way to avoid major family discord is to communicate; to meet and put all cards on the table.

Acknowledge that everyone has different abilities, resources, and availability,” she says. “Try to break things up into zones if possible — medical, bill paying, cleaning, food, transportation, legal, assisted living search, laundry. Give everyone some kind of responsibility, even if it means writing a check or calling mom once a day to be her sounding board.

Remember, little in life is actually about money. Money’s not everything. Each of you needs to look at what you have to offer.

KingEddie Glaude Jr. made a stunningly insightful comment on MSNBC’s Morning Joe. James Baldwin wrote, “... we had to invent the word “nigger” to justify the crime.”

In other words, if we wish to conceal ignorance and the openness of our own prejudice, create a word to cover it. Need to conceal your racism of Hispanics, call them ‘rapists.’ Need to dodge your hate of Muslims, classify them as ‘terrorists.’ Dislike a reporter or news service, call them ‘liars,’ ‘dishonest‘ and ‘fake news.’ Blame a company (Amazon) for congressional leadership inability to lead (US Post Office). Need to demean your predecessor(s), call them ‘cheatin‘ [sic].

Factual support of any claim is secondary or tertiary. No need. Simply represent yourself as the ‘truth, the light, or the way’ just as a famous politician proposed in July 2016 when he asked Americans not to place their trust in God, but him. “I am your voice. I alone can fix this.” And like those on the Exodus, we crafted our golden calf, placed it unto our personal alter and believed that he … alone … could solve our problems.

Thich Nhat Hanh and Dr. Martin Luther King shared many ideologies. But they both probably share that our current desire for the golden calf is born from hatred not from wisdom. Hatred. Jealousy. Bitterness. A person who suffered much fear, anger and violence comes from such darkness.

As such, this level of darkness lives not in the possible, but from scarcity, “there’s only so much pie to go around, and if you get some there will be less for me“.  This mindset could be viewed as a “scarcity mentality” and is part of the Lose-Win paradigm.

Stephen R. Covey explained in his book “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People“: The Scarcity Mentality is the zero-sum paradigm of life.

“People with a Scarcity Mentality have a very difficult time sharing recognition and credit, power or profit – even with those who help in the production.  They also have a very hard time being genuinely happy for the successes of other people – even, and sometimes especially, members of their own family or close friends and associates.  It’s almost as if something is being taken from them when someone else receives special recognition or windfall gain or has remarkable success or achievement.

Although they may verbally express happiness for others’ success, inwardly they are eating their hearts out.  Their sense of worth comes from being compared, and someone else’s success, to some degree, means their failure.  Only so many people can be “A” students; only one person can be “number one”.  To “win” simply means to “beat.”

It’s difficult for people with a scarcity mentality to be members of a complimentary team.  They look on differences as signs of insubordination and disloyalty.

Luke 6:38 states “Give, and you will receive. Your gift will return to you in full–pressed down, shaken together to make room for more, running over, and poured into your lap. The amount you give will determine the amount you get back.”

I am sure the question Dr. Martin Luther King would ask you to ponder is, which gift will you choose – anger or love? Unfortunately, it appears that 50 years after Dr. King’s death, we’re still embracing the golden calf.

I received a telephone call this past Thursday informing me my cousin passed away in his apartment. It’s unknown how long he laid prior to being discovered. An associate had not heard from him in several days, went to check and discovered Eddie Monday, October 16th.

Normally, such news would not impact me. However, I spent many summers raised by his family on their farm near Janesville, WI. There was no one in that period of time to which I had become closer. I remember many days jumping from barn loft beams onto piles of hay. We rode horses across wind swept fields of prairie grass watching grasshoppers, dragonflies and butterflies dart from our path. At night, we gather round the fire-pit to toast or burn marshmallows and gaze across the galaxy of stars never seen again.

The Eddie I knew, was a wonderful person. He was always interested others, became a lawyer and raised a family. Coming from a deeply religious and stern Catholic family, he was challenged by faith in life and love.

Yet Eddie was not without fault. For a long period of his life, he was a closeted gay. And I can only presume that torment finally caused a significant rift between family. He divorced, left the confines of the Midwest and moved to San Diego. Somewhere along his life, Eddie experienced some form of injury that rendered him in constant pain. He lost his job and became addicted opioids. One-day last week, he went to his closet to retrieve something. His heart stopped there, half-in, half-out. He died alone. His body half in, half out. Left for days until a concerned friend checked on him.

I never thought any family member would succumb to opioids. As Eddie drove helplessly into the abyss, I am not sure if his family knew. I didn’t. Then again, maybe some knew, but were unable or unwilling to help. In truth, I am unsure why Eddie’s death has such impact on me. Maybe there’s lessons we can learn – the lessons I missed.

  • First, I hadn’t talked to Eddie in years and I knew neither of his life in San Diego nor struggles. And I should have.
  • Secondly, shame can kill. Maybe Eddie’s death was cut from shame. As a family member, shame shouldn’t kill anyone, but it does. All LGBTQ members should be loved and accepted for the person they are … not the person we think they should be. We (you and I) should not stop being that caring father, husband, son, daughter, cousin or friend.
  • Third, never live life halfway in nor halfway out. Try life in its purest form, believing love and living in peace.

Because of our fears and prejudices, many of us cannot seem to others with respect. I’m sure Eddie, may have, at times, felt no one would treat Eddie the same. Thus, we robbed Eddie of one crucial peace, how to help him live a very crucial part of life well—the end of it.

I was proud to know and be loved by him.  Eddie, I will miss you. You are missed already. You will be missed forever. I will learn from your pain and live a better live.

Family

In a seemingly quiet neighborhood, a feckless man used an assault rifle on unsuspecting Republican GOP colleagues practicing for a fundraiser. Congressman Steve Scalise, a congressional staffer and members of the Capitol police force were wounded. At least five were hospitalized, Scalise remains in critical condition.

In the wake, GOP Senators assisted one another with the injured as the attacker was gunned-down by police officers. They were, as Speaker Paul Ryan mentioned, “a family … brothers and sisters in the line of fire.” Ryan looked unto his political “family” and sought words of impartiality. Must have been a strangely uncommon moment for a “family” rife with anguish, pain, name calling and baseless bigotry. Still, Ryan repeated what many families of gun violence have had to endure – that the best we can do is offer prayers and thoughts.

Thoughts and prayers. That’s all we’ll ever do.

Like others, my own life will remain remarkably unheroic. My thoughts and prayers for shooting victims lived in moments – today as I watched live television, tonight as I’ll watch countless television hosts and political partisans come forth to sing kumbaya and tomorrow over a cup of coffee while reading news. Then poof! Thoughts and prayers slow to a drip and succumb to life’s impediments.

I’ll admit, I find it hard to relate to Ryan’s family? Am I suddenly “family” for simply having witnessed the resultant pain of a madman? Emotions are mixed. Even at this moment I fight to push away this legislative family, for they will likely doom millions through repealing any number of legislative issues? Still, some of this “family” are victims. As such, they need our comfort and love.

Of course, there are other families. They remain in the backdrop. Will the Sanders’ “family” of supporters become the new “deplorables?” And what of the Clinton supporter “family?” Will Clinton’s supporters forever denigrate Sanders’ supporters, not only for the election, but this act of violence? Will the Trump family renew the call to prohibit, racialize and demean? Or will we, for love of God, see even one day of peace?

Ryan told his “family” humanity will win the day. I have bad news. Humanity doesn’t. Many a man has shed much of their humanity eons ago. Me included. I’ve forgotten most of my real family. Having left Chicago at the age of 24, I buried an entire family of brothers, aunts, uncles, nieces and nephews in the archives of time. If I had been “family,” would I not have shown? For anything? I did’t have a good reason. There was no “good” cause. I was noted as “the no-show.” If at life’s end from a violent act, could I be reconciled for my own injustice by saying “My thoughts and prayers are with you?

Doubtful.

I wonder how long Ryan’s newly minted Congressional “family” will remain family.” As the sun dips below the horizon and rises Thursday, will Congress still be “family?” Will you still have your family? Will I have mine? For a variety of reasons, Buddhism does not seem to spew forth a tremendous wealth of family wisdom. So screw Buddhism. Let’s change that. Today and tomorrow, let’s learn to love. Deweaponize egos. Cast aside hatred and prejudices. Live in love. Abandon with simply “going through the motions.” Put in some effort. Forget anger. Forget skin. Forget brown, tan, white. Forget Irish, European, American, African or Asian. Just forget.

Live in real love. When nothing else is, Love is solid. And though it may give way and dump people into a basement of despair, true love remains dependable. So tomorrow, love your child. Love your neighbor. Love your family. No matter what illogical idiocy swarms about, let love flourish. Love every victim of violence.

And for god-sakes, love yourself.

In the past several weeks Stephen Colbert, Kathy Griffin, Rena Aslan and Bill Maher have wandered into a world where many have ventured, yet few survived. Maher and Colbert have survived. Griffin and Aslan did not. Hate filled speech by comedians and commentator alike appear to be more raw in recent times. Maybe it isn’t more raw as more reported. In a world filled with iPhones and Galaxy whatever, if you spew hatred, you’re likely to be recorded.

Colbert, Griffin, Aslan and Maher should have been fired. And each in their own way will live with the consequences. Do I personally believe Colbert, Griffin and Maher are racists? No. You wouldn’t know that from some of vitriolic words spewed from all sides of the issue. Yet, Americans’ collectively yawn to the broader issues political leaders undermine weekly.

For those that wade into stupidity, public indignation is often swift and severe. However, while that same public and news media endlessly debates such racist diatribe, real life issues are silently condoned. It is within the public squabbling that business elite and politicians alike hope the public remains fixated. And within that fixation, politicians barter American lives as policy decisions are made, deals are cut and riches made.

As the Trump-Comey fight lingered in media headlines, Americans who need the most help in affordable health care will get purged under the Obamacare replacement plan. As Americans were glued to Comey’s testimony on Capital Hill, GOP Senators moved the House GOP healthcare plan toward passage. Hiding details, GOP Senators were making backdoor deals to coerce wavering Senators. With little fanfare, public debate or protests, we silently condone our fate, waiting for the privileged few to determine the fate of millions. It’s a process which has been repeated for thousands of years. We naively think, “Well, this time it’s different.”

It’s not.

The least among us will be detrimentally impacted for decades. As Americans and individuals, we must speak for those who cannot. Yet publicly, and individually, we are more apt to take a hands-off approach, turn our head to the cold wind ahead and silently thank fate that we aren’t affected. Don’t have health care? “Sucks to be you.” Is your marriage experiencing significant turbulence? “Sucks to be you.” Out of a job. “Whew. Sucks to be you.” Are you hungry neighbor? “Sucks to be you.” Have a bad President? “It’s ok. He’s different.”

Yesterday a coworker stated he opened his company assigned email and found a rather short, four line email from Human Resources, stating he was being reclassified from full-time to hourly. “If you want to continue health care insurance, you’ll need to contribute $500.00 on a bi-weekly basis.” No phone call. No Human Resources conference. Just an email. “Sucks to be you.

As a whole, we’ve ditched decency and embraced apathy, racism and hatred as acceptable values. “It’s ok. It’s different,” we’re told. In spite of living in highly racialized times, Americans appear rather indifferent to many social issues, including killing of innocent African-American citizens by police, bigotry towards Latinos, and outright condemnation of Muslims.

The golden rule propounded by Buddha is that you do not do unto others what you do not want others to do to you. We must get back to those values. What’s happening now is not ok.

Life requires a series of ongoing daily chances which are often dealt like random cards from a casino dealer. The chances we take are enormous. Small events, the crisscross of human paths etched as we transverse each day. Most dismiss these small events as mundane. Yet each path offers opportunities for both opportunities of joy and sorrow. Quirks of time, moments of interconnected strangers passing between brief singular points of focus.

I don’t know singer and entertainer Ariana Grande. If I heard her music, I wouldn’t recognize it. However, late last night, I checked Ms. Grande’s Twitter for the very first and last time in my life. Two days prior, her account hovered over her tour, tour notes, and upcoming performance events. Forty-eight hours later, Ms. Grande’s was filled with love and vile. I’m unsure why, as some claim, how Ariana Grande is sole heir to the deaths of concert patrons.

From a tragic event, comes continued pain and joy. For those who left the arena uninjured, joy. For the fourteen or so who remain unaccounted, everlasting anguish. Here one minute, gone the next. Where are they? Alive one second, ghosts another.

If there is ever a time I question God’s honor, it’s especially ripe in such moments. If we truly admit, such times are an open scar for the world to bear. Why do children have to perish in such horrific ways? Surely, I would have given my life for any of the missing. Yet, 4,600 miles from the destruction, I remain alive. The victims are not.

I have no answers to long sought after questions. For many, God remains as silent today as several hundred years ago. In truth, Jesus, nor God, nor early Biblical writers offer much hope for victims of terrorism. One preacher I heard shortly after September 11th stated that 9/11 in and of itself was a test of faith. I tend to reject such allusions. Let’s confirm we aren’t sure what God beliefs are.

From my Buddhist training, I reach back to the eightfold path and grasp the first three: the right view, the right thought and the right speech. My view rightfully suggests this was a horrific event. The right thought is to honor those who lost, including the performer. Ariana Grande is just another victim in a list of many. Lastly, my speech is one of comfort not hatred.

We must choose to “Do No further Harm” to any of the victims. Doing otherwise forsakes the path of love we are commanded to carry.

Rather to have chosen the vile, I choose love. To those who lost or suffered in Manchester. I offer my love, my tears and heart.

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