The Lives of the Dead

Some of the most interesting people I meet are dead…

Archive for the category “Life After Death”

The Voice

First published August 13, 2014

fan

Si

Just when you think you have it all figured out, the proverbial ca-ca hits the fan. Everything is going smoothly. Your life is working. You feel safe in the illusion that you are in control. Then suddenly, it all blows up in your face.

The structure crumbles. Nature deals you a serious blow. There is illness, death, tragedy. Inability to control the circumstances. And then panic. Or depression. Or both.

The “luckier” and more privileged we think we are, the further we’re sent reeling by the smack down. We are unprepared. It feels as if we’ve fallen down a flight of stairs and had the wind knocked out of our lungs.

In many ways, life is easier when disappointment starts early. We learn the lesson at a young age that nothing is a given; that we must fight for every drop of happiness we experience. We come to appreciate the times when tragedy does not yank us out of our bed in the middle of the night and toss us out into the cold, dark night. We learn to value the moments when no pain pricks at our body or soul. We know that joy is fleeting, so when it comes, we embrace it and savor every second.

For some — those born into more “fortunate” circumstances — those lessons often don’t get learned until late in life, or perhaps not at all.

When we suffer, we rail against the injustice, failing to recognize that all of life is unjust, even for the so-called lucky ones. Joy is not a permanent condition, but we can achieve a kind of contentment if we can find the lessons and purpose in our journey.

From here, it’s easy to look back and understand all we cannot understand in life. The reasons for each journey are hidden from us behind a veil. Sometimes, we can see vague images, movements, the shadows of actions behind it. We may feel ourselves being pushed or led in a certain direction, but we never really know until we’re back here if we understood correctly, if we were following the right path, if we learned our lessons properly.   So many choices and no way to know, until it’s all over.

I was fortunate in that in life I remained strongly tethered to the part of me that remained here. My life was guided by this part of myself.   I was able to hear my true soul more clearly than others. I knew enough to listen for that voice, to heed its call, to follow its advice.

This is not to say I never made mistakes or suffered from sadness or pain which (at the time) seemed to have no reason. There were many occasions when I could not hear that guidance.  I lost my way, moving blindly and unsteadily through my circumstances, without any faith, hoping I didn’t make any irreparable mistakes.    Eventually, however, I’d rise through the pain with a sharper ear, listening more acutely, until finally I was able to distinguish it from all the background chatter, like picking out a familiar voice in the din of a crowd.

It was this voice that got me through.

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If you are enjoying this blog,  please click the link above to subscribe and receive posts via email (new posts every three days).  When you think of others who might enjoy it too,  it’s easy enough to help spread the word! Post your favorite stories to social media.   Email a particularly apt link to a friend.   Even better,  talk about the concepts with others (whether you agree or disagree. )
Also,  I have started a discussion group on Facebook,  for conversations about any of the concepts/issues in the posts.  Honestly, these are things in here which I don’t fully understand myself.  I would love  get your thoughts on this…even if you think this is all a bunch of hooey!We may feel ourselves being pushed or led in a certain direction, but we never really know until we’re back here if we understood correctly, if we were following the right path, if we learned our lessons properly.

The Great Rift

 

New!

 

Aki

I lived in a small village at the edge of a large salt lake. We did not have much that we didn’t make or grow ourselves, or trade for other goods. We had existed in this place, on this dry, inhospitable land for as far back as our collective memory and stories went. We followed a careful social order which kept everything and everyone stable and status quo. We each knew our duties and responsibilities — to our family, to our neighbors, to our small tribe. There was a strict hierarchy, and we all knew our place. The chief was at the top. His was only law we knew and the only law we needed.

One day, some wazungu arrived on a small bus driven by a man known by our chief.  The driver spoke our language and also that of the mazungu. Some of the men in our village had seen white faces before, in the city, but never had they come to us.

They were completely strange creatures to most of us women…not just their skin color, not even the texture of their hair or their impractical clothing… but the way the conducted themselves. There was no chief. The women laughed and talked among themselves, mostly ignoring the men, who never thought to scold or beat them.  What kind of women were these? Where were their children?  Did they have no important work to occupy them?  Why did they behave so freely, so foolishly,  as if they had no care in the world?  Were they not aware of all the misfortunes that might befall a woman if she let down her guard even for a moment?

We stared at them, and they stared at us. The driver told our chief to tell us to simply ignore them as they came from far away and wanted to watch us go about our lives in our usual way.  For this, the driver paid the chief a few shillings.  As he kept the entire amount for himself, he was quite happy with this arrangement.

After that, they came approximately once a moon, sometimes more, sometimes less.  This went on for many years.  Sometimes the driver gifted us all with a large bag of rice or beans, and then perhaps we might have a feast.

These wazungu were pleasant and friendly enough even though we could not communicate with them in words. Mostly, they wanted to watch us women doing our work…fetching water,  cleaning grain and pounding it into flour, weaving thatch, gathering wood and making a cooking fire, nursing our babies.  They liked to see inside our huts, where we slept. They seemed to particularly like watching the children, playing and climbing and running.

They pointed their small boxes at us but it was a long time until most of us understood what the purpose of that was.  None of us had ever seen a photograph of ourselves. I doubt I would even have been able to identify myself in a photograph. Some of the friendlier wazungu seemed to ask permission before pointing their camera box at us, but since we had no idea what they were doing, we just shrugged and smiled and let them do it.  We found it inexplicably strange.

We became accustomed to the visits. Some groups were nicer, more friendly,  more polite than others,  but mostly they were a waste of our time. Usually, we could truly ignore them as we went about our business but sometimes, they got in our way and made things more difficult. And for our compliance, we got nothing for ourselves.

We villagers knew better than to ask them for anything as compensation. That arrangement was strictly between our chief and the driver. The visitors also understood this and never offered us anything.

And then one day, the village was turned upside-down.

The wazungu came and their visit was going as they usually did.

There was a woman, in the village, of very low status. Her husband had left her and their infant son, and run off to the city, (so we were told.) She had been a bad wife (for why else would he have left her?)  and now she was a burden to the rest of us.

This woman, I shall call her K, was always far more fascinated by the wazungu than the rest of us. We used to tease her that one day she was going to hide on the bus and go away with them, but of course, it was a joke because where would she go?  What would she do?  She might have been low status in the village, but at least she was cared for.  Would any mzungu care for her out there?  She, as we, knew the answer.

Then, one afternoon, just before the guests climbed back into the bus, one of the mzungu women pulled the colorful scarf from her own head and gave it to K.

This small, soft, useless square of cloth nearly started a war.

After the bus left,   K tied the scarf around her head, the way the mzungu wore it,  and strutted around the village, acting better than the rest of us, behaving higher than her status.  She wore it like a crown and carried herself like a queen.

This immediately caused anger, resentment,  and jealousy among the village women.  The girl had done nothing to deserve any such honor, and in fact, she’d only received this gift because she’d lingered too long around the bus people, and let them hold her child,  when she should have been working.  It seemed doubly unfair that she was rewarded for her bad behavior.

We grumbled and gossiped, but she pretended not to care. This went on for several days, until one afternoon the chief’s first wife walked across the village,  her eyes burning with anger and purpose.  She walked into K’s small hut , pulled her outside, struck her knocking her to the ground, pulled her hair, grabbed the scarf off her head, and triumphantly tied it around her own.  K lay crying and moaning in the dust.

Violence among women was unheard of in our tribe, and this was shocking. None of us had liked K’s attitude but we were appalled at the behavior of the chief’s wife.

The women were immediately divided in opinion. Some believed the chief’s wife did the right thing, that it was the only choice.  Some believed that as badly as K had behaved, nothing justified violence. And along this line, we fell into two camps.

The rift threatened to tear us all apart. Finally, the chief himself,  who tried as much as possible to remove himself from the petty problems of women, stepped in to settle things.

It was a delicate matter since his wife held high status, and it would be a humiliation for her to beaten publicly. This would only cause further problems.  He had the right to beat K, if only for her inappropriate behavior in the days prior. But he could not beat one without beating the other, and fortunately for all of us,  he was not the kind of man who enjoyed giving beatings.

He consulted with each woman alone, and heard some other opinions (whether he wanted to hear them or not.)  In the end, it was arranged thusly:  His wife returned the scarf to K, and in turn K made a show of giving the scarf to the chief to use as the village flag.

The wazungu never returned.

Throughout the rest of my life and even now, my mind returned to those few days.  I recognized how close we came to being destroyed by divisiveness and unrest and lack of forgiveness; how easily the fabric of our society might have become completely unraveled despite the fact that we depended upon each other for survival.

We were fortunate to have a wise leader who resolved the problem in way that satisfied everyone, and allowed us each to learn some important lessons.   The wrong decision might have destroyed us.

 

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If you are enjoying this blog,  please click the link above to subscribe and receive posts via email (new posts every three days).  When you think of others who might enjoy it too,  it’s easy enough to help spread the word! Post your favorite stories to social media.   Email a particularly apt link to a friend.   Even better,  talk about the concepts with others (whether you agree or disagree. )
Also,  I have started a discussion group on Facebook,  for conversations about any of the concepts/issues in the posts.  Honestly, these are things in here which I don’t fully understand myself.  I would love  get your thoughts on this…even if you think this is all a bunch of hooey!

The Vaseline Jar

first published August 20, 2014

fog-man

Pe

Have you ever walked through a fog so thick, you can barely see your feet as they hit the pavement in front of you? You might hear voices, traffic, the sounds of others’ footsteps, but you can see nothing but yourself.

This was my normal state of existence — enveloped in an opaque haze which never dissipated.

Or perhaps it was more like living in a Vaseline-covered jar. I could see what was immediately around me; that which was inside the jar. I could feel my own feelings clearly enough, but could not see my effect on the lives or feelings of others. Beyond my immediate surroundings,  the world was fuzzy.  My future and the possibility of change were all out there, beyond my reach, and always out of focus.

Every so often, someone would come close and enter into clarity for a brief while, but inevitably they would move out of range, beyond my ability to see them clearly; outside my ability to understand; beyond my comfort zone which I could not step outside in order to follow or give chase.

I was too afraid to pursue my dreams in that terra incognita for fear I would stumble and fall. I knew there was joy and peace out there, but they existed in the midst of dangers and demons I could not see, and to which I would not allow myself to become vulnerable.

And so I remained trapped in this bleak brume, trying to hack my way through like a blind person tentatively feeling their way around new surroundings; waving my hands,  as if trying to clear the smoke out of a kitchen after a small grease fire without first bothering to put out the flames.

A few tried to lead me. Sometimes I would follow blindly for a while, clinging, but then the fear began to creep: What if they led me to a new, unfamiliar place and then abandoned me? I wouldn’t understand the rules. How would I cope in this strange landscape? I would be totally vulnerable.

I couldn’t bring myself to trust anyone that much, least of all myself.

So there I remained, safe in my Vaseline jar; in my smoke-filled kitchen, in my pea-soup-dense fog. Just me and my imagination of how it could be out there if I only could.

—————–

If you are enjoying this blog,  please click the link above to subscribe and receive posts via email (new posts every three days).  When you think of others who might enjoy it too,  it’s easy enough to help spread the word! Post your favorite stories to social media.   Email a particularly apt link to a friend.   Even better,  talk about the concepts with others (whether you agree or disagree. )
Also,  I have started a discussion group on Facebook,  for conversations about any of the concepts/issues in the posts.  Honestly, these are things in here which I don’t fully understand myself.  I would love  get your thoughts on this…even if you think this is all a bunch of hooey!

Going Under

first posted Sept 13, 2015

drowning hand

On

There are people who take genuine pleasure from making other people happy.   They will work to coax a smile from a stranger.  They will try to solve the problems of others as if they were their own. They will cry for the sorrows of loved ones; take on their suffering, if they could. Their joy comes from knowing they reside deep in the hearts of those whose lives they touch.

I was not that kind of person. But I knew many of them.

People like me seek out people like that for our survival. We crave and cling to any mode of escape from the torment that has barricaded itself within us.

Drowning in the inability to navigate our own emotions, we gratefully grab a hand offered in salvation.    Now we are filled with hope! We splash around, happy to have found a savior!   We wait to be pulled in.   We do not swim. If we could swim, we wouldn’t have been drowning in the first place.

At first, the ostensible rescuer works hard to reel us closer, but we are of little help. We have no natural buoyancy; we are dead weight. We take on water. Our flailing threatens to drown our savior, too.

I saw that look in the eye many times: the one of pity, of sorrow, of relief as they cut me loose. And I went back to the business of drowning.

Each time it happened, I believed I would be saved; my sins washed away; my wounds healed. I wanted that with all my heart. And yet, ultimately, I could be only what I was: someone who didn’t know how to be saved.

In the end, we all have to save ourselves.

 

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If you are enjoying this blog,  please click the link above to subscribe and receive posts via email (new posts every three days).  When you think of others who might enjoy it too,  it’s easy enough to help spread the word! Post your favorite stories to social media.   Email a particularly apt link to a friend.   Even better,  talk about the concepts with others (whether you agree or disagree. )
Also,  I have started a discussion group on Facebook,  for conversations about any of the concepts/issues in the posts.  Honestly, these are things in here which I don’t fully understand myself.  I would love  get your thoughts on this…even if you think this is all a bunch of

Things of Beauty

NEW!

Dre

Oh, I had such things!  Things so splendid, magnificent and rare, they could take your breath away.   Beautiful objects made with such pride of craftsmanship,  with love for the act of creation,  by hands dead far longer than mine.

While I, myself, created nothing,  by owning and cherishing such things, I felt part of the creative process.  Beauty cannot exist anywhere except in the eye of the beholder.  I was completing my part of the bargain, to behold, appreciate, and preserve it for future generations.

These things were precious and rare but it was neither preciousness nor rarity which drew me to them.  Even though they were inanimate objects, they contained in their making the best of humanity.  What I loved was the singularity of their beauty, the detail of workmanship. When it takes a master a year or a decade or a lifetime to create a project, such a thing will be, by definition, rare. And rarity makes for preciousness. Those were simply by-products

In my entry foyer, stood a carved, antique mahogany desk with half a dozen secret drawers which revealed themselves only when other drawers were opened and levers tripped in a specific order. The desk surface was an intricate mosaic of exotic veneers from trees which grew in the far jungles and forests of the world.  In the center was a writing surface of polished green leather the color of Irish moss, tooled around the edge in gold in an ivy pattern. It was made for an Italian prince centuries before I acquired it at auction.

In the living room was a magnificent silk Tabriz rug, 400 knots per inch, of a design so intricate the details were like a fine painting.  I tried not to think how many young girls went blind working on it. But it too was an antique when I bought it,  and those young women were long dead before it came into my possession. I was not insensitive to their sacrifice for art, willing or not.

There was gold enamel tea set of fine detail, set with pearls and semi-precious stones.  To drink from it was merely an excuse to admire it.

To fill my house with such masterpieces was to bring into my home the energy of genius. Sometimes, I felt as if I could slip inside the mind of the creator.   I had, you might say, an emotional relationship with beautiful objects.

Perhaps that is why I never felt the need to marry or have children.   I had an older brother who died in middle age.  In my old age, the only blood relative who remained was his son.  My nephew was rather boorish, despite a cultured upbringing, with little appreciation for anything fine. He knew the cost of everything but had no aesthetic sense whatsoever.  If he owned anything beautiful, it was only because he was impressed by the price tag. This was his only criterion. Not surprisingly, he had been fooled more than once by a dealer who could spot an ignorant mark.

Despite this, I did not dislike him.  He was pleasant enough, if one didn’t mind his lack of a good eye, the complete absence of discernment.  But I was not so shallow as to judge him too badly for that.  He was a good a kind man, who loved his wife and children, and checked after me from time to time out of genuine concern.   It would have been cruel to leave my beauties, which comprised the bulk of my fortune, to a museum or to someone who would have appreciated them more. I assumed he’d sell it all off and use the proceeds for other things more to his personal liking…expensive but tasteless, gaudy and new.  Someone else would then come into possession of my beloved objects, just as I had, and they would love them as I did.

After I passed, he had the contents of my home appraised by professionals with the intention to sell.  They ooohed and ahhed and gushed over the collection, and in hearing them speak of these things and their history and their singular beauty, he began to regard them with a new eye.  His mind had been opened to the pleasure of the exquisite hand-made object.  In the end, he sold most all of my possessions,  not because he did not understand their artistic value but because he understood it too well; he recognized such things would need more care than he was willing to give.  He did retain a couple of small items which he came to appreciate,  perhaps not as emotionally as I did, but at least intellectually.   He began to develop an aesthetic sense.

He and his family made good use of the money. They applied it to things and experiences that made them happy, and that was well and good,  but I consider his late-in-life appreciation of beauty the more valuable inheritance.

 

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If you are enjoying this blog,  please click the link above to subscribe and receive posts via email (new posts every three days).  When you think of others who might enjoy it too,  it’s easy enough to help spread the word! Post your favorite stories to social media.   Email a particularly apt link to a friend.   Even better,  talk about the concepts with others (whether you agree or disagree. )
Also,  I have started a discussion group on Facebook,  for conversations about any of the concepts/issues in the posts.  Honestly, these are things in here which I don’t fully understand myself.  I would love  get your thoughts on this…even if you think this is all a bunch of hooey!
~~~~~
(When looking for an image to illustrate this post,  I did a Google  search using some basic keywords per the description (antique inlaid mahogany desk)  and this came up.  It’s so close, it might seem as if I found the image first and simply described it…but not so!)
Photo: http://www.artfactory.com/

 

Across a Crowded Room…

first published 8/4/15

Some_Enchanted_Evening

Sa

I remember one particular moment of my life so clearly. It was a small moment, just a snapshot of an emotion set in a frame.

I am making tea for him in my kitchen. I am standing at the little corner counter top next to the stove. I am facing the wall, pouring the just-boiled water into the tea pot. I see the striped place mat on the Formica. The counter is so small, the place mat almost covers it completely. I realize, “I really like this man…more than I have liked anyone before.” And in this instant, I am caught exactly and equally between two emotions: love and terror. Two trains of thought slap through my brain, like the ropes in Double Dutch:  “This love can change my life” and “If it’s not real; if he is just playing with me, I will not survive. The blow will kill me.”

But he was not just playing with me. And indeed, he did change my life.

I was working as an exotic dancer.   I was not a slut or a drug user or an alcoholic. It was simply the only work I could find that paid my bills. I knew I couldn’t do it forever, but I was still young enough not to have to think about that for the time being.   I was just happy to have a steady, decent income; happy not to be dependent on anyone. I’d learned young that no one else can be counted on. The job paid more than working in a factory or as a cashier in some supermarket or greasy fast food joint. I wasn’t stupid but I had no education. I didn’t have a lot of options.

But being seen, night after night, through the eyes of horny, lustful, lonely men — that slowly kills something inside a woman.  It’s kind of strange. You might think that being in a position of sexual power (the men were, after all, paying to be close to me while being forbidden to touch) would make me feel, well, powerful. In control.   It did not.   It made me feel as if that was all I was worth. That my mind, my feelings, my soul, were of no consequence whatsoever. I was only my body. It made me feel hollow. It numbed me to my real self.

Then, one day, he came in. He was with a bunch of guys; friends from work, it turned out. (One of them was getting married.) He seemed uncomfortable, as if he were there reluctantly. He wasn’t drunk; he nursed the same beer for an hour. He was pleasant looking. He had the kind of face that could make you relax just by looking at. He caught my eye and smiled, a bit sadly. His expression was completely lacking any lust.   I felt his eyes on me all evening, and in the end, even though I didn’t do anything special for him, he gave me a very big tip just before he left. He looked me right in the eyes and said, without any sarcasm, “Spend it wisely.”

After that, I thought about him a lot. He’d really gotten under my skin.  Even through the whiskey haze of that place, amid the flashing lights, over the hooting and jeering and drunken remarks of the patrons, beyond the half-naked women who were adept at teasing as much cash as possible out of the men, in this room ripe with the overpowering scent of sweat and pheromones, he looked at me and saw a whole person.

It was unsettling and yet exhilarating.

It was a couple of weeks before he came back. This time, he was alone. He remained aloof. He did not look at or engage with the other girls. He nursed his one beer for a few hours, resisting all entreaties from the dancers and the bartender. He watched only me, but in the most respectful way. He never leered or stared , but his glance always returned to me, letting me know he was always at least peripherally aware of me. Once again, before he left, he handed me a large tip, and said, cryptically, “I don’t need any change, but I think you do.” And then he was gone.

I scratched my head over that for a while. Who was he? What did he want from me? And why me?

He returned a week or so later (maybe it was longer – my memory for these things is not so good any more.)  It went that same before – the watching me from the corner of his eye, just the single beer.  Again, he waited to leave until after my set was over then he came over, as before, to hand me money. This time I looked at him closely, noticing the details of his kind face. He appeared to be a few years older than I was (seven, I later found out). He was nicely dressed in casual business clothes. There was just something so comfortable about him. I’d never felt like that about anyone before. He handed me the tip and said, “You have something. Don’t waste it.” He smiled, and left, as usual.

I ran after him and caught up with him just outside. I was intrigued but confused.

“What…?” I said, not even knowing what to say, what to ask.

He smiled, “I noticed you the first night I came here, with the guys from work. There’s something different about you. You’re not like the others…”

I didn’t really know what he meant. I was, to my thinking, not so much different from the other girls. When I did compare myself,  I always felt myself coming up short. I knew I wasn’t as good as they were at getting the most out of the men. The girls who’d been there a while really knew how to play those drunken guys. Compared to them, I was nothing. I was just some loser girl, working a humiliating job to pay the rent. I didn’t feel in any way worthy of being singled out. So what could he possibly have seen in me?

“I don’t understand…” I said.

He was shy, which struck me as sweet. “You shouldn’t be doing this.”

At first I thought he was judging me negatively and was offended. He must have seen that on my face and quickly tried to explain.

“I mean, there’s something about you that doesn’t fit here.” I don’t remember everything he said exactly, but he tried to convince me that it was time for me to make different choices in life, and that they would pay off better in the end.

After my shift, he took me for coffee at the diner. We talked for a long time…about our lives, about our childhoods.   He was easy to talk to.  He really listened. Nobody had ever listened to me like that before.

I guess he saw in me someone he could help; someone he could save.  He suggested possibilities I’d never considered.   He made me feel as if I could choose differently and still be OK.

After that, he came to meet me every night at the end of my shift and we’d sit and talk in the same back booth.

And finally, one night, I invited him back to my apartment. That was the night I made him tea.

I was shaking with fear and uncertainty when I brought the tray to the couch. He was so respectful and kind.   I’d never met a man like that before. I was afraid to do anything, for fear of spooking him.

Finally, I fell asleep on the sofa. In the morning, I woke up alone, neatly tucked in, covered with the blanket.   Nothing had happened.  I was both disappointed and overjoyed.

My life changed after that in ways I never would have imagined. Just having someone believe in me made everything seem possible.

We were together for 27 years and I loved him more every day of my life, until the day I died. And he loved me the same.

At the moment we first saw each other, it was as if we recognized each other. Now I know we have been together in lives past; and we will find each other again in our next.

 

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If you are enjoying this blog,  please click the link above to subscribe and receive posts via email (new posts every three days).  When you think of others who might enjoy it too,  it’s easy enough to help spread the word! Post your favorite stories to social media.   Email a particularly apt link to a friend.   Even better,  talk about the concepts with others (whether you agree or disagree. )
Also,  I have started a discussion group on Facebook,  for conversations about any of the concepts/issues in the posts.  Honestly, these are things in here which I don’t fully understand myself.  I would love  get your thoughts on this…even if you think this is all a bunch of hooey!

 

 

Why Zig When You Can Zag?

  first published 8/1/14

zig-zag-cigarette-papers

Zig

I never understood why some people had a hard time with change. Me? I changed myself all the time. I must have totally recreated myself half a dozen times in my life. I would just decide what I wanted to be, and then, work hard at becoming that person. It was more than just changing my career or changing where I lived or changing my relationships. It was changing the way I looked at the world. Changing what I let in and what I kept out. Changing what I accepted and what I fought against. Changing what I respected and what I despised. Changing the way I let the world change me.

Some people didn’t take me seriously; they said I was just trying to find myself but I knew I was never lost. Inside, I was always myself, unchanging.  I simply wore these personae like costumes but my soul remained the same.

I was not looking to find a skin I felt comfortable in. I was seeking new experiences, new perspectives. I was attempting to live many lifetimes in one. There was something powerful about being able to recreate myself at will. I had no fear. I had no long-term attachments.   I never promised permanence to anyone, although a few wanted it.

There were many who thought there was some kind of pathology to this. Who knows? Maybe there was. But I never felt I was running away from anything. I always felt as if I were running to something. I was not stumbling around in a wilderness. I was boldly exploring new lands!

I pitied those who remained on the same course for their entire lives. It was as if they were compelled to follow the trajectory they set out on. Most of the time, they weren’t even the one who set the trajectory in the first place. “Go to school, get a job, get married, have kids, raise them up, retire, sit on the porch.”   What kid lies in bed at night, dreaming of such a future?  But that’s how it usually plays out, their futures molded by parents, teachers, society, blah blah blah.

I preferred challenge and change. When zigging was expected, I liked to zag.

Of course, if everyone preferred challenge and change, society would fall apart. The powerful (political, commercial, academic), need the masses to behave in predictable ways. People like me messed up their statistics!

But I figured, we have free will; might as well use it. Who has the right to tell us that we cannot recreate ourselves in our own image? Whose business is it but our own?

I understand better now that all that change was my trajectory from the beginning. In that course, I had far less spiritual choice than I thought.  But in each case, it felt as if I were expressing my singular free will.  Perhaps that, too, was merely an illusion.

Still, while I was living it, I felt as if I were the captain, well in control of my own ship,  navigating waters of my own choosing, using maps of my own making, following nothing but my heart and the stars.

This was certainly better than following someone else’s plan for me.

 

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Love, The Way He Wants It

Originally posted July 23,  2014

 maria ospenskaya

Cle

What did I ever do to make him hate me so much? I was good to him, or so I thought, but I see now that how I loved him was not how he needed to be loved. I suppose I smothered him. That’s what he used to tell me, but I never understood how. All I wanted was for him to be happy, successful. I wanted to teach him how life must be lived, to achieve was he was destined to achieve.

When he was a child, he loved me. He was my special man. He took great pleasure in making me happy. He was obedient and considerate. But as he grew older, he became more independent. He no longer took my advice even though I knew he was making mistakes. It pained me to see him on the wrong path.

But he did OK for himself, anyway, and I was happy for that although I admit I felt cast aside. I felt useless because he no longer needed my counsel. And each time I tried to help him, to offer some suggestion, he would get angry, as if I didn’t respect his choices.

It wasn’t a matter of respect for his choices. It was that I was his mother. I needed him to need me, and it pained me that he didn’t.   He didn’t need my advice, didn’t need my money, didn’t need my comfort, didn’t need my love.

I think there is no greater rejection than a child for a mother, except perhaps a mother for her child.

I am just starting to understand that he would have needed me for the most important thing of all if I had only offered it: unconditional love. Instead, I only grudgingly accepted that he was perfectly fine without me.   I never really rooted for him because I was too concerned trying to figure out a way to make myself needed. Whenever he achieved something good, I’d be sure to let him know that it might have been even better if he’d only done it a different way.

If I’d only told him that I trusted him to make the best decision for himself things might not have ended as they did… not really talking for decades, save some meaningless conversation at the occasional wedding or funeral or other family event.

This was the greatest sadness and frustration of my life…that my one and only child had no love for me, not even at the end.

Sometimes, I try to talk to him, differently now, but I’m not sure he hears me. I think the only voice of mine he hears in his head is the one I put in there when he was young.

He seems happy and well-adjusted. I suppose I should be grateful for that, but of course, this was not my doing. Perhaps if he’d failed in his life, I could have thought, “See, he really did need me after all,” but in fact, he was right all along. He didn’t need me because I never gave him what he wanted most: to simply be accepted as he was.

 

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If you are enjoying this blog,  please click the link above to subscribe and receive posts via email (new posts every three days).  When you think of others who might enjoy it too,  it’s easy enough to help spread the word! Post your favorite stories to social media.   Email a particularly apt link to a friend.   Even better,  talk about the concepts with others (whether you agree or disagree. )
Also,  I have started a discussion group on Facebook,  for conversations about any of the concepts/issues in the posts.  Honestly, these are things in here which I don’t fully understand myself.  I would love  get your thoughts on this…even if you think this is all a bunch of hooey!

 

Forbidden

first published July 26, 2014

hasids2

Yi

If they had known what I was they would have thrown me out of the community. That would have destroyed me.   Such love, such relationships, were not allowed. It was more than sinful; it went against God’s commandment to be fruitful and multiply.

I married young, as proscribed, and my wife and I had eight children. I was a good husband and a good father, but I lived all my life hiding my true feelings.

I first felt the stirrings as a young man in the Yeshiva, surrounded by boys and other young men, young rabbis, teachers. I felt a kind of love and attraction that I never felt for a woman. Perhaps it was merely that I could understand men better. In our community, men and woman had very different and specific roles.

I suppose there were couples who really loved each other, but I suspect that more just played their part, did what was expected. Men went to work and studied and prayed. Women raised the children, kept the home, obeyed their husbands. And in this duty, in this obligation, a kind of sentimental attachment was forged. The love for one’s spouse was an extension of one’s love for God.

When I was young, the feelings were inchoate, vague, undirected at any one specific person. I simply preferred the company of men. But this was not unusual. Unrelated men and women were not allowed to be alone with each other, thus men were always together. We prayed and danced and socialized amongst ourselves. Any affection I felt towards another man I assumed to be perfectly normal.   And truly, it was not strange for me to spend most of my free time in the shul, praying with my brethren.

But when I was 32, I met another young man a few years older than myself. He had just moved from another community to be closer to his wife’s family. We quickly became the best of friends, spending as much time together as possible; always seeking out each other’s company. We spent hours discussing obscure religious tracts and the minutia of Jewish law. Initially, it was a meeting of minds. We had a deep, spiritual connection. I always looked forward to our walks and conversations about the most profound subjects. Nobody had ever understood my mind the way he did.

I missed him when we had to be apart for a few days (over a holiday, for example, when we had obligations to our extended families).

And then, one evening, it happened. We were a bit drunk after a Purim party (the only time Jews really get drunk). We were walking home from the shul. It was very late and we’d been amongst the very last to leave. The street was quiet and dark.   We came to the corner where we had to part, each to go in our own direction home, and there was a look that passed between us; a look that said, “I feel it, too.”

We lingered, wanting to savor the moment. I don’t know what gave me the courage, but I reached out and touched his hand – just a brush of my finger against the back of his palm. He took my hand in his and pulled me close, first glancing around to be sure nobody could see us. He drew me into the shadows of a closed storefront and kissed me.

The kiss lasted for what seemed like blissful eternity. I could taste the sweet wine on his tongue. We were drunk enough to lose our inhibitions, but not so drunk as to be foolish or careless, so that was as far as it went. What else could we do? Even if we’d had the opportunity – a place to go to be alone – we would not have done it. We were men of God, and such things were forbidden.

But from that point on, we were damned, or at least it felt that way. It didn’t matter how much we desired each other; ours was a love that could never be consummated. The desire was both a blessing and a curse. Strangely, this torment brought us closer. We were both feeling the same emotions; both learning so many deep lessons about love and duty and choosing our obligations to others over the fulfillment of our own selfish needs. We were both traveling the same path, both equally committed to remaining on it. This was how we shared and nurtured and demonstrated our love.

Our physical relationship consisted at best of a furtive touch when nobody was looking; a “brotherly” embrace that lingered a bit longer than it should have; the feel of his warm palm pressed against mine with our fingers entwined as we danced the hora,  trance-like, ecstatic. I lived each week for the few brief moments at the end of Shabbos prayers, when I could safely feel his arms around me.

We still spent time together but rarely allowed ourselves the opportunity to be completely alone or in any compromising situation. We were careful never to let ourselves become too tempted. We did not get drunk together again. Sober, we were much more sensible.

And so it went. I preferred his company to that of any other human being; valued his wisdom more; thrilled at the sound of his laugh. There was never a moment when I did not think of him. Ours was a deeply spiritual relationship and remained so for decades. Our chasteness was a testament to our love of both God and each other. We both agreed: This was a test put upon us by the Almighty and we would embrace the challenge and rise above it.

And then I got sick. I was only in my late 50s but the cancer came on fast and I was gone in a matter of months.

He was at my bedside when I died, along with my wife and children. We prayed together in those final days, until I could no longer speak, until I could no longer remain conscious. His presence and love calmed me and let me pass over in peace.

I know he still feels me in his heart when he prays. I know I still live in his soul, as he does in mine.

 

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If you are enjoying this blog,  please click the link above to subscribe and receive posts via email (new posts every three days).  When you think of others who might enjoy it too,  it’s easy enough to help spread the word! Post your favorite stories to social media.   Email a particularly apt link to a friend.   Even better,  talk about the concepts with others (whether you agree or disagree. )
Also,  I have started a discussion group on Facebook,  for conversations about any of the concepts/issues in the posts.  Honestly, these are things in here which I don’t fully understand myself.  I would love  get your thoughts on this…even if you think this is all a bunch of hooey!

 

Home Sweet Wherever

first posted July 20, 2014

 vintage-map

Lal

I grew up in more than comfortable circumstances. Not rich, exactly, but well-to-do and influential. My father was an important government official so he held some sway in the community. People deferred to him, which was a kind of wealth. My mother had been born very rich, descendants of a royal family, although their influence had faded. In that regard, they were impoverished. My parents’ marriage was one of convenience — her wealth for his influence, and then, both together, they were back on top.

I lived in a big house with servants until I was about ten. Then came a huge shift in political power and my father lost his position. My mother’s family money and assets were seized. Overnight, we had nothing.

I knew something was wrong, of course. My parents were arguing a lot; my mother was crying all the time; my father was sullen and angry. We had to move from our large home with many rooms and fine furniture into a small house near my grandparents’ property.

The adults were always whispering amongst themselves. I could sense their fear but none of it affected me…or so I thought. I was just as happy being in the country, having my grandparents close by. Now my mother looked after me – not a nanny or a servant – and I was happy to have her attention, although she was often weepy and distracted.

After a few years, our situation became dangerous, so the family made plans to leave the country. We sold whatever was left of value – which wasn’t much anymore. In any case, not too many people were buying.

We left together, and passed through a few countries, living here and there for a few months or a year. Money was always a problem because neither my parents or grandparents had any real practical skills, and none of them spoke any other language well enough to blend in or get by.

Finally, we ended up in a place where my parents found others like themselves. In this community, well, I won’t say they flourished, exactly, but they were able to find work teaching.   They slowly, eventually, learned the language and customs of the new place, but there was always something sad and broken about them until the day they died.

I was a child, of course, so I was better able to adapt. I was quickly able to pass for a native. I grew up and forgot about our old life and made my new life in a new place.

I went to school, got married, had children who were even more “native” than I ever was.

When I was much older — my children were grown and had moved on with their own lives; my husband had been dead for several years — the regime in my country of birth fell. I felt draw to return, to reclaim my history, to see what might have been.

The city, the land of my earliest memories was gone. War and deprivation had changed not only the physical landscape but the cultural and social character as well. These were no longer “my people” but a country of strangers. It was only then that I felt that I had no place to call home, no place where I could be accepted as “one of their own.”

I had no childhood roots anywhere except everywhere, which was nowhere.

I eventually moved back to my adopted country. It was closer to home than anywhere else. It was where I went to school, fell in love, got married, raised my family…but a piece of me now felt missing, like a big jigsaw puzzle minus one critical piece. Most of me was intact. The picture was clear.   But I would never be complete, never be whole.

 

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It was with this knowledge, with this understanding and sadness in my heart, that I finally came to the end of my life.

 

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If you are enjoying this blog,  please click the link above to subscribe and receive posts via email (new posts every three days).  When you think of others who might enjoy it too,  it’s easy enough to help spread the word! Post your favorite stories to social media.   Email a particularly apt link to a friend.   Even better,  talk about the concepts with others (whether you agree or disagree. )
Also,  I have started a discussion group on Facebook,  for conversations about any of the concepts/issues in the posts.  Honestly, these are things in here which I don’t fully understand myself.  I would love  get your thoughts on this…even if you think this is all a bunch of hooey!

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