The Lives of the Dead

Some of the most interesting people I meet are dead…

Archive for the month “March, 2016”

To the Bone

first published Jan 5, 2015


I had  lived through many a freezing winter but none of them prepared me for the killing cold of that place. It sucked the heat from every cell causing the body to shiver and give up precious energy.  It was a place which, by all reason, should have been uninhabitable by humans.

And yet,  there we were.  Sent far from home for dubious crimes against the state.  I had made a joke to the wrong person.  My off-hand remark was reported.  No trial. No words of defense.  Just a guilty verdict and a train ride to hell.

They are wrong who say hell is an inferno. My hell was a frozen wasteland.

Escape was impossible. In the winter,  nothing but blinding whiteness for a thousand miles. Even in the all-too-brief summer, when the snow bled back into the earth and the yellow moss peaked through, we were hemmed in by dense confounding forests, impassable mountains, rapid rivers rushing with melt, and mosquitoes which attacked in thick, monstrous clouds. The guards, who were not much better off than we were, barely made an effort to keep us from running.  Why waste any more of their precious energy chasing us? Where could we go?   To stay was almost surely to die, but to escape guaranteed it.

From where I am now and from where you sit reading,  the wretched conditions seem abstract,  but in that place,  in that time, they were as real a misery as any human being can suffer.

We were forced to work, sometimes on so little food and so little sleep,  we were little more than walking dead, our souls tethered to our bodies by the most tenuous of threads.  We swung our pick axes at rock and frozen ground,  barely marring the surface, yet forced to keep on. We were left to sleep a few hours,  then awakened to do it again.

We lived in huts made of wood, which did little to keep out the bitter, bone-biting wind.   We huddled in tight clusters, taking comfort in the body heat generated by others,  inured to the stench of other filthy unwashed men,  all of us decaying from the inside out.

Food was as scarce as warmth.  We suffered from all the plagues of starvation.  Our teeth fell out,  which made eating difficult, compounding our malnourishment.  A downward spiral of organ failure.

Our pleasures were few.  Some made vodka from potatoes,  or wine from anything that would ferment. We drank to forget,  but in the long term,  it made everything worse. It destroyed our health,  our resistance,  and the harmony among fellow prisoners.

Death was not mourned. Clothes, shoes, coats were immediately stripped from corpses, grabbed as additional layers for personal use.  An old professor, whose only crime had been telling the truth,  didn’t last there more than a month.  He reminded me of my grandfather. I sat beside him as he died.  His cashmere scarf was already around my own neck as his soul left his body.

Some could not wait for their natural ends. They committed suicide by escape.  They wandered out into a frozen landscape, where the snow-covered tundra was indistinguishable from the silver sky.  A colorless, disorienting,  horizonless void.  But at least they died in freedom, a choice to be admired.

I did my time of eight years.  I was 24 when I went in.  I was 124 when I came out;  sick,  half-toothless,  mostly crippled and in constant pain from a broken leg which was not attended to properly and healed badly.   There was nobody waiting for me when I returned to the world.  My situation was not much better at home. I was dead within the year  but at least I saw one more springtime.

In my final hour, I sat on a bench in a park,  so tired,  so hungry, in so much pain, knowing I wouldn’t last much longer,  But I did not mind any of that. I was at peace; content to feel the warmth of the sun on my face; to smell the living green of the grass and the budding flowers; to see the girls with their hair loose and free.

And I was free, too.



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Beyond The Veil

First published Jan 2, 2015

aeg eye curtains sky


Ipo (again)

There is a veil which separates humans from the spirit world. It is neither completely opaque nor completely transparent.

Sometimes, humans can see shapes and shadows moving behind the screen. Some catch occasional glimpses by accident. Perhaps they are looking in just the right place at the right moment. Some are able to peek behind it regularly. They know how and where to find the split in the curtain. Others don’t know where to look and cannot not see anything at all. And even those who can see do not always know what they are observing. They can only interpret through their own filters.

An earthly event with a thousand human witnesses produces a thousand different accounts. Each person experiences and perceives the events in their own way.

And so it is when humans peer behind the veil.

Humans can only see as much as their limited senses allow. The Other Side is not comprised of substance or dimension which humans can perceive or understand. They can distinguish light within a certain spectrum, but The Other Side has colors which humans cannot even dream of. They can hear only within specific frequencies. Most of what is on the Other Side vibrates differently.

Skeptics who seek unequivocal proof of the Other Side will never find it. There must always be room for doubt. Without doubt, there can be no faith.

It does not require faith to believe in the things you can see, feel, taste, smell. Faith is believing in the intangible; in what you feel, what you think. In what your heart tells you. It follows from your perception of reality.

Faith is the path to love and love is the path to all other lessons.

Humans are given this choice —  to believe or not to believe — so they may exercise their free will and follow the path of their faith.

It doesn’t matter if that path leads to false reality. In this case, simply developing faith is the lesson.

This is not to say you shouldn’t question. It is not faith to follow blindly, obediently, believing everything you are told. Better to try on various beliefs until you find the ones which feel right.  It is through this process, you develop faith.

Those things in which we have faith are what we love. For some, it’s God. For others it’s money or power. For the lucky ones, it’s faith in themselves.

And we love that which we have faith in — the things and people we can count on; who and what does not disappoint us; who and what we trust. Faith is the belief that these will always be the answers to our questions.

When a belief system no longer provides answers, faith is lost. Spirits are crushed. Souls are set adrift. By instinct, humans will immediately begin searching for a new set of beliefs which will answer their questions and quiet their doubts.

Thus, our lives are about the search for love via our search for faith.
I am fortunate in that the deeper I go into the belief system which I’ve held since I was a child,  the MORE answers I discover and the clearer those answers become.

I was raised in a formal, organized religion but never had any use for it. My form of religion has always been extremely personal,  which I believe is the only valid kind of religion. The answers are different for each of us, and can be found only within each individual.

Dogma is anathema of enlightenment.

 photo: (c) Adrienne Gusoff


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Too Clever For His Own Good



Mine was a sad story, an old story, a story that’s been repeated a million times.  I saw the opportunity for easy illicit gain, and believed myself too clever to get found out.

This miscalculation was my ruin, all my youthful potential wasted.  With one ill-conceived plan, I blocked every path I might have taken to a normal happy life.  There was no undoing any of it yet not a day went by without me willing myself back in time to warn my younger self against this colossal mistake. For me, there would be no forgiveness…not by anyone else, but certainly not by me of myself. This compounded the tragedy and deformed my life into one of adversity.

If I’d been able to forgive myself for throwing away my life, for wasting my talents and intellect, for hurting and disappointing and bringing shame upon the people I loved and who loved me, I might have found a measure of contentment in whatever I could make of things. But I didn’t feel as if I deserved any respite from my guilt and my shame, because my guilt and my shame told me I wasn’t worthy of respite. And thus, the unbreakable, inescapable circle. I punished myself far more harshly than society could have.

I’d started out with such promise, so clever and ambitious. Everyone thought I would be a great success. But eventually it occurred to me that I might not have what was necessary to fulfill these expectations. It took more than just cleverness and ambition.  To win, you had to play the game by their rules. But I’d always bristled at rules. I choked on the bit of authority. I would not follow when clearly I was smarter than all of them.

I would show them!  I would beat them at their own game! I would write my own rules!   They might try to keep me out, but they would be underestimating me.

And when I couldn’t break through, I decided to take what I felt was my due. I’d show those smug bastards!

In the beginning, none of them had any idea. I lived the kind of comfortable life from which they thought they’d successfully excluded me.

But my situation was untenable. I lived in denial for a while but it hung over me like the Sword of Damocles. I could not hide my malfeasance forever.

When discovery was imminent, I ran away with whatever I could salvage and lived the rest of my life in hiding, abandoning everyone and everything I’d ever known or cared about. I would not bring anyone else into my sinking ship. My life options had narrowed 1000-fold.

I never married. Never let myself get too comfortable in any once place, with any one person. Never dropped my guard. Never used my real name again.  Never let anyone get too close for fear of giving it all away or dragging them down with me. Never stayed in any one place too long. Never again held job worthy of my talents.  I died sad and alone, never again feeling the touch of someone I trusted, which I took as my penance.


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A Prison of His Own Making


Originally posted  Nov 30, 2014

continued from previous post, 3/18.   Please read it first.  This will make much more sense if you do!

prison of his own making


There always came the day of reckoning when I’d be pushed to the wall and the truth squeezed out of me. There were tears and anger at my emotional treachery. My wrongdoings had to be discussed and dissected so the relationship could be closed with finality.

I would listen to the litany of all the ways I had disappointed and hurt her. I did not run from this. This was my penance. Once again, I had selfishly allowed an innocent person to fall victim to my toxic curse. Whatever vitriol and disgust she felt for me, I felt it exponentially more. She would get over me; but for me there was no escape from my worthlessness.

These final conversations, though painful and difficult, came as a relief.  I was weary from dancing around the truth. I welcomed the opportunity to relax my vigilance.

If I had withdrawn completely from sex and emotional relationships, I might have avoided most conflict. If I could have merely skimmed the surface of love with no deep or meaningful involvements, I would have taken fewer trips to the black depths of my soul.

I tried. I did enter into these emotional hibernations from time to time, but I could never withdraw completely. I could not forgo passion or the excitement of discovering a new woman. I loved the sensation of falling in love.

To hibernate forever would have been tantamount to abandoning any hope of overcoming my curse.  So I tottered on the razor’s edge between optimism and despair, my mood dependent upon which way the wind was blowing.

After every hibernation, came finally an awakening; a desire. The seeds of Hope. But before love flowered, it was strangled by the weeds of her expectations: Reciprocal love. Commitment. Proof of the depth of my feelings. Intimacy.  Trust.

None of these desires were unreasonable.  Other men seemed able to fulfill them,  but (so I believed) they were not as flawed as I was.  I, however,  always hurt my women in the end.

Believing this, I didn’t trust myself around them. I saw myself like the Frankenstein monster, destroying those who were good and kind to me because I couldn’t stop myself.

This cycle was repeated so many times, with so many women, it wore a deep groove into my psyche. I was exquisitely attuned to every nuance. Long before a woman noticed anything amiss between us, I sensed the moment when the balance shifted. As soon as she cared enough to be disappointed, I started to slowly back away, using the same techniques one might use if confronted by a wild bear: No quick movements; speak softly; do not become agitated lest you be perceived as a threat, and be attacked. Avoid eye contact and walk slowly in reverse, without turning your back. If confronted, play wounded or dead.

I continued this way, one woman after another, around and around, the shape of my life always drawn by someone else’s needs. I felt emotionally distant from my own relationships, and always on the wrong side of the cage.

Unable to understand the root of my problem, I thought of myself as tragically complex. I imagined my head filled with millions of tiny gears, levers, and switches,  each acting upon others in arcane ways. I had no hope that anyone would ever understand me, least of all, myself.

From here I see there was only one moving part in my head, and that was the axis of the hamster wheel I ran on.

Each lap, I`d notice something a bit different and I`d think I was making progress. In reality, I never went anywhere. To have gotten somewhere, I would have needed to step off the wheel.

Sometimes to go forward you first have to step sideways.

I spent my life fighting to control my guilt and shame and fear without success. I did not understand that mastery over human emotion is not possible.  I did not recognize that others were also caught in their own emotional struggles;  struggles which were going to plague them with me or without me.

Humans seek the emotional interactions which move them along their spiritual path. The victim seeks the abuser; the masochist seeks the sadist; the giver seeks the user.   Those who cannot bear the truth attach themselves to liars.   Those who cannot accept responsibility for their own feelings seek out those who burden themselves with responsibility for the feelings of others.  And vice versa.

Similarly, we can only give to others that which they are willing to accept from us. Kindness is not always met with appreciation.  Compassion is sometimes fosters anger or guilt;  trust can engender suspicion and fear. Love is not always received with love.

Humans radiate uncontainable emotion, broadcasting not only in words, but in body and face; by action and inaction;  attention and inattention;  fear and trust.  Others perceive these emotions instinctively, unconsciously.

So many signals! So much energy! All there for the taking. A boundless emotional bazaar! Find anything you’re looking for! Set out shopping for anger, and you can always find plenty to raise your ire.   Seek victimhood, and your ego will become bound by every slight and insult and disappointment. Search for love, and you will find it mirrored back to you everywhere.

In my case, I sought guilt and found it by the boatload.

We choose what we seek. Mastery comes in recognizing when we’ve found it.

artwork and photo: (c) 2014 Adrienne Gusoff


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The Curse that Was Me

First published Nov 29, 2014

my voodoo vignette


My father was always angry at the world. To his mind, no one – not the people he worked with, not his own family, not complete strangers – gave him the respect he believed he deserved.   At home, he was a sullen bully. The rest of us responded each in our own way, based on our own character.

My mother was passive and docile. She accepted his emotional coldness and frequent verbal abuse, cowering but never daring to talk back to him or demand anything for herself.   My sister found her comfort and support elsewhere. She spent as much time away from home as possible. Whatever positive things she learned about family was from the parents of her friends. My brother, the oldest, hated my father. They got into frequent screaming matches, which often ended with my brother storming out of the house.

Me? I took on all the emotional weight upon myself.

No matter who was upset, I always felt I was to blame. If my mother cried, surely it was because of something I’d done. If my father was in a particularly foul mood, somehow I knew I was at the root of it. The voice in my head said, “See what you did?! This is all your fault!”

I felt perpetually guilty. Even if I couldn’t see it, certainly I was responsible for the suffering of someone, somewhere. It was irrational, of course, but this was hard-wired into my brain when I was very young.

Everything I became followed from that.

Since any drama triggered a cascade of guilt and self-loathing, I developed a lifelong distaste for confrontation. I cut as wide a swath as possible around anything emotionally fraught. By the time I was a young man, I’d become quite adept at avoiding conflict.

I cultivated the persona of an affable, agreeable, easy-going gent; polite and courtly in my manners so as not to cause offense.  I made myself small and innocuous to diminish my emotional footprint on the world.

Avoidance of confrontation served me well enough in my twenties. Nobody expects too much maturity from a man at that age. As I got older, however, this behavior became habit, and soon it became my character.

Since I internalized any unpleasantness (hurt feelings, tears, anger) as being my fault, from my perspective it seemed I always left a wake of tears. I felt cursed. Anyone who got too close would inevitably fall victim to this poisonous spell. I would disappoint and hurt them. I was dangerous; not worthy of anyone’s trust, love or affection

All my romantic liaisons followed the same basic script and always ended the same way.

Generally, to avoid conflict, I acceded to as many of her superficial and material demands as I could without actually giving anything significant of myself. I did this to keep her quietly satisfied and emotionally calm. When she asked for more than I was willing to give, I had an unassailable excuse at the ready, one with which she could not argue. Like Houdini, I could make myself vanish.

In this way, I found myself always stuck between a rock and a hard place. I was either submitting to her will or fretting about finding ways to painlessly avoid such acquiescence.   I felt cornered, trapped by my inability to say “No! This is not what I want! I want to do it my way.” Although this cage was of my own making, I resented her for putting me there.

This resentment harkened the beginning of the downward spiral.

I approached each finale with mixed feelings. On one side, I hated to let go. I took great comfort in the love and touch of a woman. Their emotional essence which so confounded me, was the very thing which drew me to them. (What was the point of being with a woman if I felt nothing?) If only we could have remained in the passion phase! But the seed of romance quickly become overgrown with duty and obligation and expectations which I could not fulfill.

How could I be responsible for someone else’s happiness when I could not even nourish my own?

Her emotional demands piled up. The pressure built as she required more of what I could not give.

I avoided and evaded and let her believe whatever she wanted. Honesty and assertiveness were not options. They would have occasioned drama, which would inevitably precipitate cascades of guilt. Rather than revealing my true feelings (or lack of them), I held up a mirror and reflected back what she wanted to see. Direct questions were met with silence or evasion or misdirection, leaving her to fill in the blanks. When pressured, I lied.

But one can only avoid confrontation for so long.

(continued in next post)


photo/styling:  Adrienne Gusoff


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Bacha Posh


first published Nov 26, 2014

bacha posh



I was born a girl but my parents thought better of it. A boy would be much more useful, so that’s what I became. They dressed me like a boy, called me by a boy ‘s name, and tasked me with boy’s work. I knew I wasn’t a boy but I liked the game. I had so much more freedom than the girls! I could go to school! I could learn to read! I could work and earn money to help my family.  I could play with my friends in the streets without adult supervision. I did not have to wear layers of hot clothing in the summer to hide myself.

I was happy and grateful to my parents that they were wise enough to choose this for me when I could not choose for myself.

I was a happy child living an uncomplicated existence.

And then I had my first blood.

My parents seemed to be expecting this but I had no suspicion that big changes were on the horizon for me. They informed me that it was time to give up my boyish ways and take my place in the world as a woman.

We would move to a new part of the city where we were not known, and I would present myself to all I met as a girl.

In a year or two, they would find me a husband. I would spend the rest of my life covered and subservient to men.

I wanted nothing to do with it!  I screamed and cried and argued but there was no moving them. They knew things which I was too young to understand.

For many days, I would not eat or leave the house. I was willful, something which was never repressed in me like other girls. I would not obey! It was my life!  I could not, would not, live under a veil!

Slowly, however, I began to realize that I could no longer hide my differences.  I could not play bare-chested with my friends any longer. The boys voices were growing deeper. They were sprouting hair on their faces. My changes were in the opposite direction. The very quality of my skin betrayed me, even covered as I often was, in dust and mud.

I didn’t know what to do. My parents were of no use. To them, hiding my gender was simply the practical thing to do at one time,  and now it was time to put those childish things aside.  If they had any idea of my deep emotional turmoil, of my sense of being lost without an identity, of my confusion and pain, they gave no clue. I was becoming an adult and I had to accept my responsibilities along with reality.

But they were still left with a problem that they had not foreseen and which was never going to go away.   I might be forced under the veil,  but I would never succeed at being subservient.

This was not merely a trait that would lead to an unhappy marriage, but a train which might get me killed.   I did not recognize this threat in the beginning. It was not until I watched a young woman, not much older than I was,  being stoned to death for an offense which hardly seemed like an offense to me.  I would have done the same in her position.  And that would have been me on the receiving end of those stones.

I allowed my mother to show me how to be more feminine.   She tried to teach me basic womanly chores, but honestly, I had no interest and I wasn’t very good at them.

Clearly, I was going to make a terrible wife.   What man would have me?

I was caught between one gender and another, and nothing could save me.

For the first time, I envied all the girls my own age.  They knew their place in the world.  They had never tasted freedom and so did not miss it.  Their world was much smaller than mine. They were, like goats in a pen.  They were happy in those confines with all the other goats.  I, however, could not stop longing for what lay beyond.

One day,  when I had long stopped worrying about being forced to marry (my parents hadn’t spoken of it in a long time and I thought they had given up on the notion,  as I had dearly wished),  my mother told me they had found me a young man from a good family.   They thought he would do fine.

I felt betrayed.  Terrified.   Angry.  How could they force me? I would rather live alone all my life!

Of course, that wasn’t possible.  My parents were not rich.  When they died, I would have no one to take care of me.  I could not earn a living as a woman.  I would be alone and destitute, at the mercy of a cruel world.

So,  I met him.  And his family.   With mine,  we all sat down to a meal.

The boy was small and sweet and shy like a girl.  He moved his hands gracefully when he spoke.  He had gone to school, too,  and like me, liked to read. (That meant there would be books in the house – a good thing!) . He was not  aggressive in any way.  He seemed kind. And as confused by his feelings as I was by mine.

I liked him immediately. I recognized in him a kindred spirit — someone who didn’t fit.

Later I told my parents that if I had to marry, then let it be him.  He later told me that he’d told his parents the same.

Once again,  my parents chose best for me when I could not choose for myself.

We were married and remained so until we were both old.  We did not have children, which was satisfactory for both of us.  He enjoyed doing much of the womanly work.  He cooked better than I did.   He had a way of making the house a nice place to live.

Because he was so easy, and because he was soft in his dealings with me, I did not mind doing the things that wives are expected to do.   There was no point in rebelling against him.  We were both on the same side; in the same boat.

There was not much passion in our marriage, but we had an abundance of tenderness.  We had friendship and mutual respect.  We understood each other in a ways that others never had.

We put on our proper faces to the world,  but at home we could both be ourselves. There, we were equals.  The roles the world put upon us had no place there.

For both of us,  it was the best marriage we could have ever hoped for.  He died first, and I missed him terribly.  But, at least he left me with enough money to live comfortably as I grew old.

It’s funny how things work out. For many years, it seemed certain I’d ever wed. But in the end, compared to all the women I knew in my life, I had the happiest marriage.



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Evil, One Click at a Time




I did what I was made to do. I never questioned. If you’d asked me at the time if I was choosing my actions of my own volition, I would have said yes, but I see now that I had no choice. I was a cog in a machine much greater than myself. I was turned in place by the other gears grinding in unison towards the common goal.

History says we behaved like animals; that we treated others like animals  but that was not true. Animals do not torture and abuse and murder their own kind.

My humanity was stolen from me and before I could recognize the depth of that loss, it was too late.

I wasn’t born cruel, but then cruelty is often a matter of perspective. I wasn’t the kind to think things through too deeply.  I was smart enough in many ways, but morally I was lazy. I trusted those in positions of greater authority to tell me what was right and wrong. It was simpler and less mentally taxing to see things as clearly black and white, good and evil.

As long as I obeyed those in authority, I felt no moral compunctions about what I did; suffered no sleepless nights wracked with guilt. I never questioned that I was on the side of right.   And in this way, it was easy to bring me (and others just like me) to heel, to do the bidding of the powerful whose true motives I never knew.

Those in authority are in those positions because they understand that to consolidate, maintain and focus their power, they must appeal to that most basic need in others:   to be on the side of Right; on the side of God. Once convinced, a follower can be made to do anything. Soldiers will only fight and kill if they believe their cause is just.  An army cannot survive on doubt.

But enemies cannot both be on the side of Right.

During war, right and wrong are relative. They are not determined until the fighting and killing are over. Human morality is judged upon the results.

On this side, morality is judged by different criteria.



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A Stolen Life

First published 11/23/14

boy soldier


Looking back, it seems as though I went directly from suckling at my mother’s breast to being a soldier. Oh, I had a few years of what might be called childhood, but given the conditions, they were not happy or carefree. Violence and war and atrocity were all I knew. Fighting and killing came to me quite naturally.

Every male I knew over the age of 9 had been conscripted into the ragtag group of fighters known as The Army.   The older boys, the ones in their teens, were our leaders. None of us had ever had any real adult male supervision. Our fathers and grandfathers and uncles were long dead by the same violence we perpetuated. Some — bastards by rape — didn’t even know who their fathers were. There was no one to teach us how to be men so we followed our baser instincts. We were not much better than animals.

We had no genuine ideals or any concept of what we were fighting for. If there had once been  a noble cause at the root, we had long since forgotten what it was.  By the time I carried a gun, my only goal was self-gratification and self-preservation. None of us had any reason to believe we would live past twenty, so we thought only about what we wanted in the moment.

We were usually high on drugs and liquor. They were so easy to get, we considered them part of our rations. This, in conjunction with the raging hormones of young men, made a volatile combination.

We took what we wanted at gun point. There were few who could stop us. We raped as casually as smoking a cigarette. None of us had any idea how to be tender with a woman. Such behavior was simply not in our emotional vocabulary.

There were often deadly fights even among our own soldiers. What did it matter if you killed someone or someone killed you? Death was ubiquitous. We were inured.

When there is no meaning to life, death, too, is meaningless.

One day, out of our minds on various intoxicants including sniffing kerosene, we came upon an encampment — women and children and a few old or crippled men who had fled from their decimated villages. They were protected by some soldiers from the other side who were better armed than we were but far fewer in number. We killed many of them. The rest fled.

And then had our way with the women.

School girls were raped by boys no older than they were, and in many cases younger. A small group of soldiers found one girl whom they all seemed to favor, and each took his turn with her. She covered her face with her scarf in humiliation. They were cruel.  They were brutal. They treated her with less consideration than a wild dog.

And then it was my turn.

I unfastened my shorts. I was already excited from watching. I climbed on top of her. Her scarf fell away for a moment. Was this my sister?! I had not seen her in a few years but she looked like her. What had happened to our village that she was here? Was our mother still alive?

She seemed to recognize me too, and a pleading look passed across her face but she said nothing.

My thoughts on this matter were fleeting. It didn’t matter who she was. The fate of my birthplace or my mother or my family was not at all relevant in that moment.

I raped her in turn, same as the others, then moved aside to allow the next in line. I walked away, joking with my friends, and didn’t give her a second thought.

Never in my short life did I feel a moment’s remorse for that incident. I never felt a moment of remorse about anything I did — not about the innocents I tortured or killed for reason or simply for laughs; not about the destruction and devastation I’d help wreak on my country. I did not mourn the theft of my youth or my family or my humanity. I regretted nothing because I knew no other way. There was only the most immediate future.

When I was about 15, there was an explosion in our weapons store.  Many were injured or killed.  There was blood everywhere — my own and others.   I looked down to see my legs had been blown off.   I lay there immobile,  my life flowing out of me, my blood mixing with the dirt. I knew I was dying but what did it matter?  If it weren’t from this,   it would have soon been from something else,  something just as gruesome.

I see that without spiritual guidance, without a voice of morality, it does not take more than a single generation for civilization to fall away; for humans to turn back into animals.

Vigilance is the backbone of humanity.



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What Money Can’t Buy

first published Nov 20, 2014

 rich kid silver spoon


What a waste of a life!

It took me until my 40s to start feeling as if something were missing from my life. I made a couple of attempts to do something about it but I was useless at anything practical. I ended up failing spectacularly and embarrassingly. So I gave up and went back to my louche, superficial and self-indulgent ways, but with much less pleasure.

When I was young, I never questioned that I could have anything I wanted. I could buy whatever I wished. I could pick up at a moment’s notice and travel halfway around the world on a whim.  There were always lots of people willing to laugh at my jokes,  to revel in my company, to sleep in my bed. It never occurred to me to feel bad or ashamed that everything I had had been bought…including, in their fashion, the laughter, the reveling and the sex. There was nothing beyond that which I wanted.  I had all that I desired and desired all I had.

Eventually, however, as I got older, the people I met in my circle tended to be wealthy because they had accomplished something.  Even those born rich, seemed to have achieved success in their chosen pursuits.   And while there was a fair share of marriages of convenience, there were many who genuinely loved their spouses.

This started to nag at a corner of my psyche.

The thought started small but I soon began to feel that people only saw me as an extension of my money.

Of course that should have been ridiculously obvious! But for decades it was completely opaque to me.  I’d been content in my shallow world and had seen no reason to think too deeply about matters which might sow seeds of dissatisfaction.

But I as this realization grew, I eventually got the notion that I wanted to possess something money could not buy: The pride of accomplishment.   Self-respect.   Someone who loved me for myself.

This was the first good impulse I had in my life.

Unfortunately, it came too late.  I had no idea how to be loved for myself or what that even meant. I did not possess the emotional skills needed to truly love or be loved. My values were too warped. I had no instincts. I tried to express love but other than buying material gifts, I had no idea how to give of myself. I sought love but was too naive to know when I was being taken advantage of. I paid a heavy price for that, both emotionally and financially.

I tried my hand at business and even local politics. Once again, my instincts (or rather lack of them) failed me. I had no understanding of how the world functioned outside my rarified milieu.

After several years of failures, I was, for the first time in my life, dissatisfied. I still played my social role. Still traveled in the right circles.  Ate and drank in the right places. I was now aware, however, of the subtle mocking disdain of others. Or perhaps that was self-disdain. I honestly don’t know.

There came a time when I withdrew from that circle and surrounded myself with those who admired me…for the same superficial reasons I’d once admired myself.  It was a vain and shallow and unexamined life. Pickled in gin.

I ran away from those who I felt judged me negatively. Ironically, if I hadn’t cared about their respect, they’d have respected me more. Or, again, perhaps I only would have believed they did. I imagine, either way, the same number of people would have liked me perfectly well (or disliked me) exactly as I was (and had always been).

The issue, I understand how, was not how they perceived me, but how I perceived their perception of me.

So, I surrounded myself with those even more needy and self-loathing than I. This allowed me to feel better about myself. My positive delusions about myself were reinforced by my coterie of hangers-on.

I told myself I didn’t need my old circle.  I talked myself into believing that I was lucky not to have been caught in that prison of strict mores and expectations. I convinced myself I was better off and freer where I was.

On those rare occasions when I was took a good, hard, honest look at myself,  I granted that I had run away from them. This notion made me feel bad enough not to want to examine it any more deeply.

What I never understood was that I was not running away from them. Rather I was running from the image of myself which I projected on upon them.



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I Love The Smell of Free Will in the Morning



I was a coward but, in my defense, most humans are in one way or another. It is in our nature to be afraid – of the unknown and of being known, equally of failing and winning, of loving and of not being loved, of change and of not being able to change.

Perhaps it is an unconscious itch at the back of the skull that leads us, in ways unrecognized, to a lifetime of habits. Or they may be burdensome fears, compelling and crippling, which weigh heavily upon us, miring us and slowing our progress. Or perhaps they are blinding, oppressive which drive us into dark corners and onto malevolent detours, hijacking our lives.

To be conscious of the fear and the ways in which it shapes us is to finally enter into the terrain where dominion is ceded to no one and nothing; where the blossoms of free will perfume the air.


image: Simon Valcourt


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