The Lives of the Dead

Some of the most interesting people I meet are dead…

A Bottle In Front of Me

originally published September 21, 2014

Pel

I had my first drink when I was around ten. My parents were having a party and I sneaked out of my room and watched them through the banister on the upstairs landing. The adults all seemed so much more sophisticated than they did during the day.  The women, in their little black dresses and high-heeled shoes. The bursts of laughter from various corners as people told jokes or funny stories or made a clever remark. I watched a neighbor slip a kiss to a man who wasn’t her husband. There was music playing, and the sound of ice clinking in glasses. People danced and snuggled on the couch. They were happy. I couldn’t wait to grow up and be part of that sophisticated world.

It was late when the last guest left. My parents ignored the mess and went up to bed, leaving the cleanup for morning. Once they were in their room, I tiptoed downstairs. I could still smell the mingle of perfume, cigarette smoke and human pheromones.

I picked up a glass that had an inch or so of some kind of liquor – I’m not sure what it was. I sat on a high stool near the small bar in the corner of the living room and in my pajamas,  imagined having a conversation with several sophisticated people at once. I imagined them all laughing at something witty I’d just said. I picked up the glass and had a sip.

The taste was awful but at the same time, it was as if a key had slipped into a lock and opened something inside my head. A rush of chemistry surged through my blood. I felt complete in a way I’d never felt before. It was as if I’d been missing this but only now just knew it.

This was a secret the adults were trying to keep from us kids! It was a rite of passage, an invitation into adulthood, to finally be legally old enough to drink sometime in my late teens.

I wasn’t going to wait nearly a decade to be able to feel that way again. I didn’t want to live without it.

From that point on, to drink was both an act of pleasure and of defiance. I wanted it and I was not going to let any  rules get in the way of my having it.  I wondered what other secrets the grownups were keeping from me.

It was around then that I stopped trusting what others told me about “good” and “bad.” Who decided which was which? Why did I have to go along with the rest of the world, anyway?

I started the way many alcoholics do:  I raided my parents’ liquor cabinet. I started at the back, with the weirder stuff that they rarely touched. By the time they got around to it,   they would never remember how much had been left in the bottle. So it was crème de menthe, peach schnapps. Pretty awful stuff, especially straight up.

From there, I moved up to the gin and vodka which I replaced by volume with water. If they noticed, I never found out. I was careful not to replace too much.

I did the same with my friends’ parents’ liquor cabinets. Some of them had bottles I’d never seen before in my parents’ bar. Foreign, unpronounceable names. Years and numbers, as if they were something special. They seemed exotic.

I had a French teacher when I was 15.  By the end of the first week, I knew she was an alcoholic.   I recognized the signs.   I’d see her around in the morning and she’d seem normal, but by the time I sat in her class in the afternoon,  she was already a bit drunk.  She’d slur her words;  lose track of her thoughts;  bob and weave a bit when she walked.   This meant she kept a bottle close at hand.

I watched her classroom, and when it was empty, I crept in in and searched her desk.  There it was,  in the lower left hand drawer — a small bottle of vodka.

I took it. I had no fear of being caught.  I knew she would never, could never, report it stolen.  Anyway, she was an adult. At worst, for her a missing bottle was an inconvenience and the loss of a some pocket money.  I told myself I was doing a service to my fellow students — she’d be sober for at least one afternoon class.

I knew she’d replace it; I knew she couldn’t be without.   Several days later, I stole it again.   It took her a week or so to realize someone was taking her desk bottle; that she hadn’t just misplaced it or finished it and forgotten to buy more.  When I went to look for it the next time, it wasn’t there.  I figured she’d hidden it somewhere else.  She needed a few shots to get through the afternoon, and she needed easy access to it.  It took me a couple of days to locate the new hiding place, and that was only because I didn’t have much time to search.

It became a game.  She would find a new spot, and I would look until I found it. (It rarely took me more than a week.)  I drank and entertained myself for the entire school year playing cat and mouse with that one teacher.

As I got older, I  became more creative about finding ways to drink.   I also started to know more people who were above legal drinking age. I was able to exchange favors – sexual and otherwise – for a bottle or two.

Beer would do in a pinch, but I’d developed a preference for vodka which had the benefit of not really smelling on the breath. I realized this was why my French teacher preferred it.

By the time I was of drinking age myself, I’d learned quite a few tricks about how to drink for free. Mainly, it helped to be funny and charming, to know a lot of good stories and jokes. That’s how one got invited to all the parties.  And when you’re the entertaining sort, people always want to ply you with liquor.

I was The Drunk at every party. Sometimes, I was the only drunk guest. But I never got sappy or obnoxious. Even in my alcoholic haze, I never lost control. I was still able to be funny. Sure, I slurred my words and occasionally knocked things over, but I never vomited on anyone’s rug (or in anyone’s bathroom, either, for that matter.) I never said or did anything that was hurtful. I would often get very affectionate. Liquor made me happy; it made me love the world and myself and all of mankind. Sometimes, I’d lose track of others’ conversation and became confused about what they were talking about. I’d make a comment about what I thought they were discussing when in fact I had missed the point entirely.  In turn, they were confused by my remarks because to them they made no sense.  Of course they made sense to me, based on what I believed they were talking about.   I developed a reputation for saying these crazy, off-topic things.   But they made people laugh, so they kept me around.

This was how I lived my life.

I had a decent career which enabled me to support myself.  Ultimately, however,  it was always about the next drink. I never loved anyone or anything as much as I loved the feeling I got from liquor.

I only dated other alcoholics because the sober ones always pushed me to quit.  Yes, I was an alcoholic, but quite a functional one.  I saw no need to stop something that gave me so much pleasure.

But just because my life was relatively functional, didn’t mean there wasn’t damage – to my body, to my brain to my resistance. I got old, fast.   The best thing that could have happened to me would have been a small car accident or a crazy drunken tirade in the wrong company or an arrest for some inebriated infraction.   Any one of those might have served as a wake-up call.

Instead I managed to live in the no-man’s land of functional alcoholism. I never fully acknowledged to myself how my craving for liquor was stronger than anything else inside me.   My entire life,  I chased chemical spirituality. I was beneath any true understanding or enlightenment.  And that was the tragedy of my life.

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 addendum:  I should add that I, myself, do not drink nor have I ever.  None of the people I knew growing up were like this.  None of my adult friends are like this.   This is definitely not coming from me!!!

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The Fix-it Man

NEW!

 

“Action Man” by Jeremy Richardson via Flickr

 

Gul

In my life, I had a special talent  – I could fix anything.  Anything except one important thing; and this came to define my existence.

In the crowded city slum in which I lived,  being adept at repair was very useful.  The people – my family, friends, neighbors – were among the poorest on earth.  Buying something new was an unimaginable luxury.  Everything we owned had been either been donated, discarded by others and repaired by us (for example, a broken umbrella, a worn pair of shoes), or it was it was an object of pure invention, cobbled together from other things.

Having nothing, needing everything forces one to be very creative, to find solutions in unexpected places.

I had a rudimentary education.  I was schooled only until age 10.  I did not have very much access to books, but I read everything I could find —  from old newspapers,  discarded magazines, flyers announcing elections or new rules or a statement from the government.  I was curious about everything and reading offered me windows into other worlds.

Even as a very young child, I was fascinated by how things worked. I observed the manifestations of physics in my everyday life – the way the wind blew scraps of paper in a certain way so it always collected in the same places; how the pitch of a roof might affect the average temperature inside the hut.  I was curious why objects or plants or animals behaved the way they did.

While in school, I started turning discards into functional items —  mainly junk into toys. I could often trade them for something I wanted or needed more.  By the time I was twenty, I was already known as the Fix-It Man, the creative problem solver in my section.  I was good with my hands and instinctively understood the alchemy and mechanics of things, the best uses for and the limitations of various materials. I would mull over a challenge, visualize the problem in all dimensions, and eventually the solution would appear in my brain, fully formed.

I was a marvel at repairing broken tools and household items using whatever was at hand. If I saw something in the street or in the garbage which might have some useful function in the future, I picked it up and took it home. A rusted piece of metal junk might still have useable screws or wires.  I let nothing go to waste.

By the time I was in my early twenties,  I made my living  by not only repairing people’s broken things, but by creating useful objects out of waste. Two large cans with a long tube made of smaller cans became a stove that vented outside.   I figured out a way to magnify the light of a candle by placing it inside a clear glass,  then placing that glass inside a larger jug filled with water.  When the only light you have in the evening is a candle, doubling the output means you can use one candle instead of two.   When you’re poor and living in a dark shack, light is a luxury.  It means twice as many hours of light.

Meanwhile, I never stopped reading whatever I could get my hands on – books when I could find them (usually cheap paperbacks, but occasionally a school book).   I particularly liked instructions for devices and appliances that I would never actually own.

I admit I was an odd fellow. I saw the world differently from others.  People appreciated my talents, but they found me strange and off-putting.  I wasn’t one for idle conversation.   I didn’t have a lot of friends. I was far too shy to approach a woman, and in my oddness, they did not approach me.

One afternoon, I was delivering a repaired bedframe to a customer in the next section.  It was large and awkward, and it blocked my view making it hard to see where I was going.  I nearly ran into a young woman, about my age. I avoided catastrophe only as the last moment when I managed to swing the frame out of the way.  I was instantly dumbstruck by her beauty.  She was fancier than any other girl I had seen.  She wore a clean dress and nice shoes that both seemed new.  Her black hair was smooth and shiny, pulled back with a comb that sparkled in the sunlight.   I fell instantly in love.

She found it curious that I was carrying a bed frame. She laughed and she commented on it.  Although my heart was pounding and I was flustered, I managed to tell her that I was the Fix-It Man, and if she ever needed anything repaired, she should seek me out.

Later, I asked others about her.  Her father held a bit of power in very local politics.  While they were hardly wealthy, her family was far higher than mine on the social scale.  I gave up all hope that I would ever see her again.

Then,  one day, she came to me to have her shoe repaired. It was as if heaven had opened its gates right into my shop.

I did my most artful, meticulous work, in the hopes that she would return again some day.

And she did, from time to time.  In addition to bringing me things to repair, she sometimes bought me things she was discarding which she thought I might find useful.  I would sometimes make her small gifts – works of art made from scrap —  which she seemed to appreciate.

I believed she liked me.  I felt that she respected my talent. She found me curious and intriguing.  But there was nothing more. She was willing to be my friend in this very limited way, on her terms.  I don’t know if she knew how much I loved her.  I never dared tell her.  I knew there was no possibility of anything more between us, and I didn’t want to frighten her away with my desire or make her feel uncomfortable.

Eventually she married, to a man with even a bit more status than her father.  She had children.  But still, she brought me her broken items for repair.  When her children were old enough, even they brought me their possessions to be repaired or commissioned new things built especially for their needs.

I watched her life from the sidelines.  It was as if I had just a torn corner of a magazine page and had to imagine the rest.  In my mind, her life was pure happiness and joy.  That is how I preferred to think of her.   I lived in a state of perpetual longing and sadness for what I could never have.

I went on, until I was quite old, repairing lanterns and chairs and cooking pots.  I was, to all who knew me, The Fix It Man.   The irony was lost on them: Inside, my heart was irreparably broken.

 

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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.

 

A Rose Blossoms

First published November 12, 2015

child adult holding hands

Kif

I met her when she was very young, a perfect rose among the wilting asters. Even as a child she was poised and full of grace; wise beyond her years. Her natural talent was unmistakable, but it was more than that. She shone, as if a pure light passed through her, magnified.

Children such as this are gifts to the world. It is a rare privilege to teach one.

I did not normally take on students so young, but she needed to be trained properly. To be taught bad habits as a girl might destroy any hope of future perfection. She needed the best. I was the best. It was my duty.

Her parents recognized this. They considered it fortunate that their child had caught the attention of someone such as myself; someone both of deep knowledge and high influence. They believed she never would have been born with such remarkable abilities if they were not meant to be fully developed. And so, because they truly loved her and understood the needs of her soul, they abdicated their obligation and entrusted me to mold and shape her as I felt best.

Our dynamics were complex. One part parent-child, another part ego. Some of it was about legacy. A certain a measure was about need. One share was about wiping clean a tablet full of regrets. We had a mutual fear of abandonment and also shared the fear of being too needy. In this churning stew of high emotion, there was jealousy and suspicion of betrayal; there was anger and frustration; envy and longing. Sometimes, the teacher became the student. We fell in and out of love with each other but never mutually at the same time, and never for the right reasons.

Such a relationship offered many opportunities for furthering my spiritual wisdom and deepening my self-knowledge – if I’d only looked deep enough. But even a dedicated seeker of Truth cannot possibly understand the lessons whilst in the thick of it. The emotions come spilling out in a jumble, too confused and fleeting to analyze.

From here, I am no longer lost in the minutia. From this height, I can see the broad strokes, the course of our individual paths on a map that was drawn before we were born.   They ran parallel, then diverged, crossed and forked, rose and fell, once again ran parallel only to diverge yet again.

It will take me a long time to understand this journey.

 

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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!

 

Love is the Way to the Truth

First published Sept 18, 2014

 Aya (a new voice)

I believe in the redemptive power of love. It is the prism through which everything passes. It is the path along which the most important lessons are learned. Love turns you inward; directs you to where the most important answers are.

When two people make a commitment to each other in love, that commitment is as much to themselves as to each other. It is a promise to grow and change; to bend to fit with an open heart; to see clearly both the good and bad in oneself;  to continually reevaluate beliefs; to rethink behaviors and view them from different perspectives; to see the world through another’s eyes.

To love is to commit to working on everything that prevents us from becoming our best self. We commit to knowing our own true self, and when we have discovered it, all things become clear. The result is true intimacy — with ourselves, with each other, with the universe.

In loving fully, we make ourselves whole.

[more from Aya later]

 

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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!

Asch in Ashes

NEW!

 

Mir

I was thirteen, and my brother sixteen, when we left our family home and set out for the New World.   It was a great adventure – both exciting and terrifying – but as long as I had my brother to care for me, I felt safe.

He and my parents had been saving money to send us both together.  The plan was, they would continue to save and my brother would find work and send money home, until eventually they would join us.

My mother had a younger cousin who had been living in New York for several years. She was, by our standards, a “real American” already,  settled with a husband, an apartment, and a job.  They had agreed to sponsor us and take us in until we could make our own way.

My brother was a big strong boy, tall for his age.  He quickly found work ferrying packages from suppliers to manufacturers, from manufacturers to the showrooms and shops.  It had been agreed by all before we left that I was to continue my education for at least two years.  My parents wanted me to also become a “real American”. They made my brother promise to keep me in school.

Our cousins were very welcoming and kind.  They gave us a corner of their small apartment.  There was just one cot, and my brother and I took turns sleeping in it while the other slept on a pile of folded blankets on the floor.  I often let him have the bed, even when it was my turn because he worked so hard during the day and was so physically exhausted.  I didn’t have the heart to make him sleep on the hard wooden floor.  It was by the grace of his hard work that I was able to remain in school. Since I didn’t have money to contribute,  I made myself as helpful as possible – cleaning,  washing, cooking some simple meals,  doing marketing and errands, mending clothing as I’d been taught by my mother.

When I was 14, and my English passable, my cousin found me a job at a small restaurant owned by her friend and her husband.  The husband cooked and the friend waited tables, but they had a young daughter who needed attention after school while they prepared for the dinner customers.

It didn’t pay much but it was the perfect situation for me.  I started in the afternoon, so I didn’t miss any classes.  I would sit with the girl while she did her schoolwork, and my own English skills improved.  Sometimes if they needed extra hands, I cleared tables or swept the floor or even chopped vegetables.  Occasionally, they’d send me out for an errand.

They were good to me and I was determined to justify their faith in me.  I worked hard and they came to rely on me more and more.  For this, they raised my pay as much as they could afford. It wasn’t much, but it enabled me to contribute a bit to the rent and to my parents’ travel fund.

I had been working there for just over a year when we received terrible news.  My father had become ill and within a very short time had passed away.   My brother and I would not, could not, let my mother remain alone in the Old World.   My brother took on extra shifts and I found additional work minding other children in the evenings.  Within the year, there was enough in the fund to bring her to us.

In the days before her expected arrival, I was so excited I could barely eat or sleep. When we met her at the boat, we all burst into tears at the sight of each other, touching each others’ faces and stroking each other’s hair, reassuring ourselves that we were all real.

We went back the apartment and my mother and her cousin caught up on the family news, remembering old times, laughing and crying.

Later, the three of us squeezed into our corner, with my brother and I insisting my mother take the cot. It was obvious we could not remain in this situation for much longer.  Fortunately, my mother was an experienced tailor and seamstress, and she was able to find work quickly.  Within a couple of months we were able to move to our own small room on Hester Street.  It was tiny, and the bathroom, down the hall, was shared by others, but to us it felt like paradise, an unimaginable luxury to be living with just our own family in our own room.

I finished school in my sixteenth year, and my mother got me a job at the factory where she worked, making ladies’ blouses.  Initially I was thrilled to have a real job; to get a regular paycheck; to be an adult among other women like myself and my mother — new immigrants, filled with hopes and dreams for a better future – but the novelty wore off quickly.

We worked long hours, six long days a week in very unpleasant conditions. The supervisors treated us more like slaves than workers. But, with the three of us bringing home a salary each week, we were able to save money.  The dream was for my mother to buy a sewing machine and have her own tailor shop so we could get out of that awful factory which seemed to suck more life out of us every day.

And then,  one Saturday afternoon,  there was chaos!  A fire!  There were so many flammable scraps and pieces around that it didn’t take long for the fire to be raging.  The doors were locked as they always were.  There was no escape.

I pressed to the window with my mother and the other women, barely able to breathe, terrified of being burned alive and equally afraid of jumping onto the unforgiving pavement below.

In the end, I jumped.  My mother stayed.  It didn’t make a difference.  We, along with dozens of our friends and coworkers, all died that day.

My brother,  alone and lonely,  soon took a wife.  They named their children after me and my mother, so our story would not be lost – a story of two women with dreams, unfulfilled.

 

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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 Perfectionist

first published September 15, 2014

Perfektionist | Metapher

Win

I was a precocious child, adorable and smart as a whip. Things came easily to me. I mastered whatever was put before me quickly and perfectly. I could not understand why others struggled with things that came to me so naturally. I always aimed for perfection (and usually achieved it) because I loved being praised for my cleverness. It made me feel special and more important than everyone else.

As I grew up, I become more and more accomplished at various things. I could do more in a day than anyone else I knew. I looked down upon those who could not complete tasks which to me were simple; or solve problems when the solutions seemed obvious to me. I felt pity and contempt for the lazy, the ineffectual, those who did not have the capacity to do what needed to be done. I assumed that anyone who claimed not to be capable of these things was just being lazy or purposely obtuse. I had no patience or compassion for those who struggled with what (to my mind at least) should have been straight-forward tasks and easy-to-attain goals.

I entered the business world and was extremely successful. It never occurred to me that I would be otherwise.   I went over and above what others expected of me, always working hard to top what I’d done before. I was driven, but the rewards were great.

That was the upside.

The downside was that I pushed others relentlessly.   I expected them to value perfection as I did. If I asked someone to do something and the result did not meet my high standards, I would get angry or dismissive or even cruel. I had no use for imperfect people. Those who wanted to work with me and for me, knew what was expected of them. Failure, laziness, mistakes, miscalculations were not options.

I was not well-liked.

There was no place for laziness in a relationship. How difficult was it to get things right? All they had to do was pay close attention, watch how I did it, and learn the right way. Wasn’t it better to do things the correctly than to make mistakes? Wasn’t it better to be industrious than to be lazy? My motto was “Properly not sloppily.”

How convinced I was about this! How sure I was right; that my way was the best and only way. I worked myself relentlessly towards perfection in everything.

Ironically, this was my greatest flaw.

I had no respect for the journeys of others. No compassion for their challenges. No empathy. No understanding of different values. And worst, no ability to feel or give unconditional love.

I was successful in life, but in death I see I was an utter failure as a human being

 

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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!

 

 

 

 

 

No Risk, No Love

First published Nov 3, 2015

Pra

Lies. Every sweet word out of my lover’s mouth was a lie. And once I recognized them as such, it all became clear. I saw how things really were.

I understood that every person tells the lies they must to get the things they want. The worst of them manipulate the feelings others so they may bask in the glow of being loved without the risks inherent to  loving in return.

Some lie without even realizing they are lying. They carve out their little corner of reality and abide in it. As long as they remain confined within this small place of reference, their truth is The Only Truth.

Some love only when the situation suits them, and easily withdraw their love to seek advantage elsewhere.

The more I paid attention, the more I recognized the patterns. I became a master of these observed manipulations, which made me wary and cynical. I felt proud and clever to have figured out how to protect myself. I would not give my love. I would trust no one.

Not that I didn’t suffer. It only saved me from the ignominy of publicly granting others the power to hurt me. I gave them no satisfaction. I licked my wounds in solitude.

This became the irony of my life. The more times I was hurt, the more wary I became. The more wary I became, the more I, myself, became the very nightmare I was trying to avoid

I never found the way out of that cycle.

From here, the route is clear.  This is the truth:  To love requires remaining vulnerable. Vulnerability inevitably, eventually results in pain.  Thus the quest for love guarantees pain.

With this understood, there are only three choices:

Avoid the pain by locking the gates to the heart.

Remain vulnerable in weakness, suffering every slight with no enlightenment.

Remain vulnerable in strength, accepting of whatever comes, marveling at the full range of the emotions of which we find ourselves capable, regarding each passion and sorrow as the first chapter of a lesson.

 

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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!

Eternal Infant

NEW!


Gai

For many years before I was born,  my parents prayed for a baby.   They went to church. They lit candles.  They visited shrines.  And then,  just as they had given up hope and were acquiesced to living their lives childless,  my  mother conceived.  They were overjoyed.

It was obvious at my birth that something was very wrong with me.  In another time or place, I would have been left to die.  I would not have been nurtured or fed and would not have lived more than a day, if at all.  Perhaps I might have been allowed to take only a few breaths before I was suffocated and buried without a ceremony, so no one except the mother and the midwife would have seen such an abomination.

But my parents did not live in those times.  They had waited too many years to be blessed with a child and they were too old to have another, so they cared for me with love.  They accepted me as God’s gift; as a test of their faith and devotion.

Their prayers were answered quite literally.   I was barely a person.  I remained an infant my entire life.   I was aware only of the pleasure of being held and fed by my parents; of being rocked and bathed and fed and caressed.   I could not walk, nor speak, nor feed myself.  Still, I was happy, cooing to the sound of my mother singing or laughing at my father’s tickling.  My parents did not expect me to live very long, and were dedicated to making whatever time I had on the earth as happy and comfortable as possible.

When other children my age were learning to walk, I remained gurgling in my crib.  When the others were starting school, I rolled around on some blankets my mother laid out in the middle of the floor.

For many years, I was small enough for them to carry,  but to both their joy and dismay, I did not die young but rather grew in size as a normal human, without ever maturing at all mentally.  This presented many logistical problems for them as it became more difficult for them to attend to me. As they got older, they had trouble lifting and carrying me.  It was a challenge and heartache to bathe and dress me, to change my soiled diapers.  I often hit them hard with my flailing arms and legs, leaving bruises on their face and bodies.   Even leaving the house was a daunting task. They did not have much of a life, not my mother especially since she was home with me most of the time.   They had created a prison for themselves, with me as their jailer.

I do not know if they had regrets about their decision to keep me with them.  I don’t think anyone would have judged them harshly had they put me in a place where others could care for me, or if they had been less attentive to my medical care and allowed infection or disease to take me.  But in their actions, they were committed to me.  It was the path they had chosen and in this life, I was merely an instrument of their learning.

When I was in my forty-first year, my father became sick and infirm.  He could no longer help in my care and in fact needed care of his own.  My mother was old and weak herself from years stress and physical strain and lack of sleep and inability to attend to her own needs.  She did not have the strength to care for both me and my father.   But the pain of giving me to the care of strangers was more than they could bear.

And so,  one night,  they fed me medicine that made me sleep and never awaken.  And when they were sure I was peacefully gone, they took the same.

 

______

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photo:  © James Whitlow Delano/Redux

Losing Feathers

First published on October 25, 2015

aeg sky feathers

Ror

I could not point to any reason for my unhappiness. It was rather that because I was, by nature, unhappy, I found reason for unhappiness in everything.   It became worse as I got older. Perhaps it was hormonal or maybe it was simply that I was now on the downhill side of my life with narrowing opportunities or reasons for hope.

Gradually, I lost the taste for that which I once enjoyed. I ceased to care about the problems of others, both large and small. I stayed more to myself and found less tolerance for the petty interests of the general public.

I went through the motions of life without extracting any joy, making my last years sad and full of regret.


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Anchors Aweigh

This was first published last July but it reminds me so much of the current news story about Navy destroyer USS Fitzgerald being hit in the Sea of Japan, and all those sailors dying while sleeping,  I am  reposting it again today,  out of order.

 May they all rest in peace.   Condolences to their families and loved ones.

 http://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-40317341

The_Royal_Navy_during_the_Second_World_War_A11482

 

Gle

I was just out of school,  still mostly a boy,  when I joined the Navy.  There was a big war going on, and I was eager to serve my country and see the world.   In the early days, I had the exuberance of youth; the certainty of my invulnerability. I believed I would return home a hero, with interesting tales to tell for the rest of my life.

It wasn’t long before my fantasies collapsed and my mood (and most of the others’ around me) swung between a self-protective detachment and abject terror. These emotions often manifested at inappropriate moments.   One afternoon,  our ship was strafed by enemy planes.  I and my fellow gunners manned the positions,  immediately becoming primary targets for fire.  Two of my companions died right on the deck beside me, but I had no time to mourn, no time for fear.  I focused on my job.  My aim was true.  I brought down two aircraft, watching with indifference as their pilots and their crews were swallowed by the vast ocean, unbroken ocean.

During that battle and in the hours that followed, I felt nothing.   It was only much later that a thick fog of terror and panic rolled in,  enveloping and smothering me.

Weeks later, a bird fell from the sky, dead,  onto the deck and suddenly,  I felt awash in guilt for having taken the lives of those foreign flyers. They were not so different from me and my mates, all of us just doing our jobs.

Some nights after many days of relative calm, I’d wake up in a cold sweat.  The quiet felt like a bad omen.

Apropos of nothing, the hair would stand up on my neck.  My breath would grow short and my heart would beat, rat-tat-tat, like an artillery tattoo, in my chest.

But in action, I was distracted,  attentive,  too focused on what was happening in that very moment to worry about what might happen in the future, even the immediate future.

And so the months went,  a pendulum between action and tedium,  fear and fatalism.

Eventually,  it was my turn for leave.  We were heading for a friendly port, and once there, I would be flying home for a week or so to see my family and my girl.

I hung in my hammock,  wrapped like a cocoon so I wouldn’t fall out,  swinging to and fro in the rough seas.  When I first came to the ship,  I found this movement rather sickening, but eventually I grew used to it and felt it comforting, like being rocked to sleep in a cradle.   The sound of the other guys snoring and grunting gave me comfort, for we were brothers and took care of each other.  I was sleeping peacefully,  dreaming of home.

And then, suddenly I was wide awake, up to my face in quickly-rising salt water,  the smell of fuel thick in the air. The ship had been hit by a torpedo and we were sinking fast.  I could see others floating around me, already dead.   I had only a few moments of consciousness left before it was my turn to drown.  I said a quick prayer and then gave myself over to remembering the last time my girl and I kissed.  And then I was gone.

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 just 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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