The Lives of the Dead

Some of the most interesting people I meet are dead…

Archive for the tag “relationships”

A Gentle, Invisible Force

First published August 16, 2016

Vintage-Little-Girl

 

San

I first met her on my first day of school and she was there when I died, but I barely knew her.  Our lives crisscrossed each other like strands of DNA.  Though we rarely interacted in any deeply personal way,  we applied a kind of subtle gravitation force upon each other.

In school, she was the pretty one.  The smart one.  The one who never let her emotions get the better of her, even when, as puberty hit,  the rest of us were turning into mad witches.  She remained always cool and aloof.   Although popular with a select crowd, she was never mean or condescending to others.  She was naturally intimidating but she was never unkind.

I, for one, did not think of her as an individual.  To me, she was an icon.  The epitome of all I wanted to be, and which I knew I would never become.  I tried to emulate her style, her grace,  but she always did it better, easier.

When we were about nine, I developed a very secret crush on a boy in our class and carried a torch for him all through school.  I dared not share my feelings with anyone lest they laugh at me.  It was obvious he would never feel the same about me.  He barely noticed me.  I was beneath him in every way.

When we were 12,  they discovered each other and became inseparable. I wasn’t jealous.  It made sense that the perfect girl would end up with the perfect boy.  Rather than envy, I felt curiosity.  What would it be like to be that confident?  To be the kind of woman who could attract a fine man?

After graduation, we all went our separate ways and I didn’t think about her much, except still, perhaps as a standard by which to judge myself.

Many years later, coincidentally, our children went to school together.  We would nod a polite hello to each other, or perhaps converse casually about upcoming events. I hated to admit it to myself, but I was still intimidated by her.  I always felt bad about myself when I saw her.  She reminded me, through no fault of her own, that I was “less than.”  Still, I felt no animosity for her. It wasn’t her  fault that I felt as I did. She wasn’t doing anything wrong. She was just living her life, being perfect.

Her house was nicer than ours.  Her children, better behaved.  Her husband, more successful.   But she never noticed the envy of others.  She did not act superior.  She simply was,  by any measure I could think of, superior

I never sought her friendship nor she, mine.

Eventually, our children moved to different schools and once again, she was out of my life.  Another decade passed,  and then we met again,  this time working for an organization.  She had all the right social connections and so rose quickly to the top.  I remained firmly in the middle.  We ran into each other from time to time, and as always,  chatted politely though never vapidly.  Short, intelligent conversations about current events or organizational issues.  I felt flattered that she took me as her equal.

After a few years,  I moved on from that organization, while she remained and rose higher still.  Meanwhile, I occupied myself with other things.

Many years later,  we met again at the home of some old school friends.  Her position in the organization had been terminated. Her husband had left her for a younger woman.  She was forced to sell her beautiful home.  She revealed these turns of event matter-of-factly, still hiding behind her impenetrable facade, emotionally aloof as always.

That night,  when I went home,  I looked at my life and I felt grateful.  I was happy and I was loved, and those were the most important things.  Why should I be jealous of her when I had everything I needed right here?

After that,  I removed her from her high pedestal and placed her on a lower shelf.  I no longer compared myself to her version of perfection.  I realized I was perfect in my own way, and I was OK with that.   We are all good at something.  I didn’t have to be good at her  thing. I only had to be the best I could be at my own.  This was the beginning of my self-acceptance.

In and out,  again and again, over the years,  we would encounter each other in casual ways.  Never friends but eventually friendly enough by virtue of our long history, to catch up on the essentials of our lives –  for example, the deaths of our parents, the births of our grandchildren,  her eventual happy remarriage.

I came to know her better, although never well. I began to understand that the woman I thought she was had existed only in my imagination.  She wasn’t aloof.  She was painfully shy.  She cultivated her friends carefully and so didn’t have many. She curated her facade meticulously but she was far more fragile than she ever appeared.  With these realizations, I stopped judging my perceived faults and the perceived faults of others, by a false standard of perfection.  I began to notice what was right about people instead of what was wrong with them. These lessons informed my life and my relationships.

Many years passed without us crossing paths.  I hadn’t given her more than a fleeting thought in years.  But then, in our late years, we found ourselves in the same home for the aged, both widowed, both great-grandmothers. Only we, of all those others in that place, shared a history that went back to childhood. Only we, remembered all those places and people, long gone. And what we didn’t remember, the other often filled in.   And so we talked.  And talked.  And talked.  The separation that had always been between us fell away.  We were too old to care about hiding our feelings, protecting our faces to each other.

One day, I told her how I’d envious I’d been of her in school, and for many years after; how I’d judged myself against her, and finally, eventually,  I felt myself perfectly equal.  Better in some ways, worse in others.

And what she confessed to me made me rethink my entire life.

She told me she’d always been envious of me!  (Even in my dotage, I was shocked!)  She was envious that I did not live in fear of the judgment of others.  Even as children, she admired my ability to make friends easily.  She felt compelled to always behave in a certain way – quiet, dignified.  She admired my willingness to make a joke at my own expense. She felt constrained by having to pay attention to detail.  She admired my ability to roll with the waves, make the best of whatever came along.  She was painfully shy. She recognized that many took this for aloofness, but still, she could never overcome it.   She admired my ability to easily engage others in conversation.  She rarely felt as if people saw her as she was.  She did not feel known.  She wished she could be casual and easy with people, let down her guard, and not be afraid to let them see her.  She thought I was brave, not caring about perfection.

Oh, the irony of that!

She sat at my bedside the day I died.  I’d been unconscious for nearly a week, and she sat with me every afternoon for a few hours after lunch, in silence, just thinking about all the things that had happened to both of us over the years; how our lives had been so different. Yet here we were at the end,  in the same place, in the same situation.

I understand now that there are people who remain on the periphery of our lives, but who nevertheless affect us deeply, and whom we affect in return, often unawares.  They may meet us upon our journey as merely a pebble in the shoe or a jug of water when we are thirsty.  They might be the shade of the trees overhead, which we barely consider until we walk must through a desert with the sun beating down upon our head. They may be a vulture in that desert. They may be an oasis.  Or they may be the shepherd dog who nudges us back onto the path. They may be the fruit of wisdom, which we come upon at the moment of peak ripeness.

—-

Buy the book!

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!
-Adrienne
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A Footprint; a Legacy

Originally published March 6, 2015

creative-head

Ga

When I was young, I was sure I would someday come to wide acclaim. I was certain my genius would be recognized by a great number of people. I imagined my work being discussed among the intelligentsia at cocktail parties in distant cities, long after I was dead.

I expected I would soon be able to earn a living through my own work and never have to trade my labor for a wage.   I wanted to be paid very generously, not because I needed to be rich, but as proof of how much others valued my talent.

I never doubted that this would eventually come to pass. My own self-worth was never in question.

For decades, I worked hard to make a name for myself. I honed my craft. I charmed and cajoled to get my work seen, produced, written about. Generally, I received excellent reviews. Sometimes, here and there, I made a big splash but it never turned into a tsunami.  I still had to work for others in order to support myself.

I watched others succeed in big ways. I cannot deny my resentment. Many rose to the top because of who they knew or because of family money or because of who they slept with. Fame requires a cleverness at selling oneself as a commodity; a willingness to do the bidding of those who can grant favors;  a strong inclination to push aside whoever and whatever stands in the way.

It was one thing to put myself out there, but I was unwilling, on principle, to whore myself. I believed my work deserved to stand on its own.

For decades, I felt myself to be on the cusp of being discovered, but eventually it became too much of an effort to chase elusive, ever-receding fame. This requires the unbridled optimism, energy and naiveté of youth.  There was already a second and third crop of hopefuls behind me. My window had closed.

I never stopped creating.  Until the end, I had a small group of admirers, many of whom were strangers to me, personally. I learned to be satisfied with this. My audiences grew smaller but I became more grateful for each and every one. Once in a while, I’d get a letter saying how much someone had enjoyed my work, or how it had influenced their own.

I suppose, in the end, that’s all an artist really wants. To leave a legacy. Our work is our contribution to greater human understanding.  We want our footprints to remain after we have moved on.

If you are enjoying this blog,  please click the link to subscribe and receive posts via email (new posts every three days).  Think of others who might enjoy it too,  and 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! 

 

original artwork:  Adrienne Gusoff

The Measure of a Man

first published July 2, 2016michelangelo_david

Ke

I was the youngest of four brothers. My father had been a great athlete in his youth and he expected all of us to travel the same path. From the time we were old enough to walk, we were encouraged to run and swim and climb and throw and fight and do all the things that strong, powerful, masculine men do.  There was no sympathy for or indulgence in weakness of any kind.

We were raised to carry on his legend by becoming  the kind of men other men admired. As children,  we were expected to be braver, smarter, and more well-liked than other boys. It was impressed upon us from the time we were very young we must never do anything to tarnish our family name or reputation. There must never be even a whiff of controversy or disagreeability about us. We were raised to be kind to those weaker than ourselves. We defended injustice when we saw it.  We were helpful to those in need.  We were generally peaceful but strong and able enough to win a fight should someone else throw the first punch. We were raised to be real men, good men, admirable men.

I never doubted that my father’s values were well-placed. His moral compass was infallible.  I understood his reasoning in everything.  I lived to make him proud of me. And he was proud of me.  I was handsome, popular, smart, a champion athlete. I didn’t have to be coerced to adopt his values.  I did not stay the course merely to please my father.  It was obvious to me that this was the right and proper way to be.  I felt fortunate to have his guidance knowing that others floundered with no beacon to light the way.

When I was about 13 or 14, an uncomfortable stirring began to nag at the back of my mind.  Other boys my age were thinking about girls.  In fact, that’s all they thought about.  I kept waiting for that same fascination to arise in me. I expected to wake up one morning and find myself as lust-driven as my classmates.  I worried that I did not share this irresistible biological urge.  I told myself I was just a late bloomer.  Or maybe my glands were afflicted in some way and not producing enough hormones.  Perhaps I needed to eat more masculine foods. (I began a diet heavy in red meat, certain that would solve the problem.)

Meanwhile, I kept a low profile. It was not in my nature to lie, so instead I was reticent and shy. I didn’t want anyone to examine me too closely, to ask too many questions. My athletic skills were valuable to the various teams I played on, but I rarely socialized with the boys outside of practice.

When I was 17, I started dating a girl in my class.  This was done for the sake of appearances; to stave off the inevitable questions.   I did not want to have to explain why I didn’t have a girlfriend.  The answer was too complex and I didn’t even understand it, myself.   The girl was also shy and from a religious family. Our relationship was respectful and chaste, which was ideal as neither of us were interested in anything sexual, each for our own reasons.

When my friends started bragging about their conquests, I held my tongue. Even if I had been having sex, I still would not have shared my exploits. Such behavior was unseemly. They grudgingly admired me because I didn’t kiss and tell.

Eventually, I went off to university, far from home, away from the inquisitive eyes of anyone who had any preconceived notions about me, where I could start again with no preconceived notions about myself.

I had long harbored suspicions about myself, and they haunted me.  Such thoughts were terrifying and when my mind alighted upon them, I quickly changed the mental subject.   Eventually, however,  the feelings, the desires, the need,  were too big to deny.  They screamed and barked and howled.  They would not stop, would not be silenced.  They could no longer be ignored.

Here was my dilemma: if I could not face the truth about myself, I was a coward, and that I could not abide.  But if my suspicions were correct, my life was a ruin.

But the truth could no longer be denied, and so it was there that I discovered what I was.

This knowledge ripped my sense of self right out from under me. It went against everything I’d ever believed I was, everything I’d spent my life preparing to be. I’d become that thing that brings shame on the family; that thing that can never be accepted; that thing that made a mockery of my father’s fine lessons in manhood.

I could not be my true self and remain part of my own family. They would never accept me as now knew I was. And now that I knew, I could not pretend to them to be otherwise. By deceit, I already put myself apart from them,  even if they didn’t know.

And so, I was cast adrift with no moral anchor. What did it matter if I was brave and strong and true? I was still a mockery of a man.

But then, who could I be? I needed a new identity, a new way of being, a new skin. I tried on quite a few, but nothing felt comfortable. No matter who I tried to be, it all felt like a costume, a pretense, a role that wasn’t at all natural.  I had been taught to be a certain kind of man, and now all those lessons were moot.  What was left?  Who was I?  What was I?  I spent several wasted years adrift, searching but not finding the answers. I did things that, had they known, would have disgraced my family.  I was not always honest nor brave nor true.  Even crying filled me with shame.

I couldn’t be myself anymore and I couldn’t be anyone else, either.  I was nothing.  Nobody.  Nothing about me was true or real. There was no reason for me to exist.

And so, at 24, I hanged myself.  I did not leave a note. I did not reveal my secret. The act of suicide, itself, I knew, would be shameful enough.

The pain was ultimately intolerable but from this side I can appreciate the understanding that has followed from it. This loss of identity, the complete denial of ego, and the accompanying torment provided the most valuable lessons I have ever been shown in any lifetime.

There needs to be a balance between feeling the importance of the self and realizing how unimportant we really are.

 —

If you are enjoying this blog,  please click the link to subscribe and receive posts via email (new posts every three days).  Think of others who might enjoy it too,  and 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! 

There For Each Other…Again

 

 

Where: Somewhere along the beach in Cartagena de Indias, Colombia. When: August 2012. What: Three young men enjoying the sunset together. Camera info: Contax G1, 28mm Biogon, Kodak Portra 400.


 Maj

I was born into a family who lived on the outside.  We were not part of the main culture.  We did not follow their customs or traditions. We did not celebrate their holidays.  What was perfectly normal for us was an oddity to our neighbors.  Our family tried to be as unobtrusive as possible.  We made a special effort to be friendly, polite, law-abiding.  My brother and I were encouraged, cajoled, pressured,  to do well in school.   We did not know too many others like us except for extended family,  and they did not live very close.

I was the only one like me in my class throughout my lower school years but late into secondary school,  I met a few other boys about my age. Had we met in a place where everyone was like us,  we probably wouldn’t have chosen each other.  Personality-wise,  we were nothing alike,  but by this shared odd circumstance,  being three of a kind in a sea of others, we became bonded.

These boys remained my dear friends all through my life,  even after we discovered larger communities of our people, and tapped into its business network.  Ever after we didn’t need each other anymore.  Despite our differences,  we remained close.

We forgave each other sins that would rend other relationships asunder.  We trusted each other with secrets nobody else in the world knew, not even our wives.  We were brothers.  It was understood that if something should happen to one of us, the others would take care of his family.   We were responsible for and to each other.  We shared a storied history.

We didn’t discuss or analyze the nature of our friendship.  We all understood it the same way.  There was nothing to discuss. We knew what had to be done.  We knew what had to be said.  And we knew when to do and say nothing.

I sometimes I forgot how much they meant to me.  Sometimes,  I took them for  granted.  Sometimes I needed time away from one or the other one  because he exasperated me so.   Sometimes,  there was anger, and it seemed as if the friendship might be over, but none of us felt quite whole without the others, and so somebody would apologize. They would make the effort to reconcile.  They would recognize their own fault in it. They would take responsibility for it.  And in this way,  we grew as men.

It was only after they were both gone that I truly understood how important they’d been to  my life.  I didn’t survive them by very long.  We were all old men when we died. But that short while of living without them was spent in the contemplation of their friendship, and its importance to all of us.   How blessed I felt to have known these simple men.

Now we are together again and always will be, in some form or another.

——————

If you are enjoying this blog,  please click the link above to subscribe and receive posts via email (new posts every three days).  Think of others who might enjoy it too,  and 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! 
-Adrienne

 

photo credit: Simon Garnier    http://www.simongarnier.org/three-friends/

 

The Look of Love

First published April 20, 2016

old-married-couple

 

Lef

There was a time when just the sound of his voice, the sight of his face, brought me joy.  His presence soothed me; made me calm,  allayed my fear and disquiet.  My heart leapt at his caress.  I slept better with him safe beside me.  He made me feel invincible.

But then, over the  years,  he grew distant.  Perhaps we simply grew apart.  In any case,  we became strangers occupying the same space.

And even though I was no longer pained by the loss of love, for it was gradual and mutual and impossible to get back, I missed the relief of unpacking my troubles to someone who was listening.  I missed how everything could be made right again by touch.  I missed falling asleep feeling protected.

I never took a lover although it was probably would have done me a world of good.  Not even after he died.  I felt too old at that point to even think in that way.

But strangely,  alone,  I started to regain my equilibrium.  Instead of feeling sad that he was not fulfilling my emotional needs, I began to learn how to fulfill them myself.   I was not alone long enough to learn all I needed to learn,  but these are lessons which I will have to learn another time.

 

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! 

Unchallenged

NEW!

 

Har

I grew up in a small farming town with an older sister and two younger brothers.  My sister and I could not have been more different.  She was everything I was not but wished I could be.  She took risks and did as she pleased, while I was afraid of disappointing others.  She was outgoing and made friends easily, while I tended to trust only those I’d known all my life.

She left home as soon as she was old enough and headed to a big city, where she found work. She moved a large circle of interesting friends.  She had many admirers, and eventually married a successful businessman. They traveled extensively and saw the world.  They had a couple of children — a niece and a nephew whom I barely ever saw.  As far as I could see, they were quite happy.

I stayed put, rarely venturing more than fifty miles from home. I envied her life, but I knew I could never follow in her path.  My brothers, however, rather than envy her, resented her for leaving them with a heavier load.  They were happy to remain in our town; content with their lives.  The difference between me and my brothers was that while I despised my fears, they either didn’t have them or repressed them so thoroughly they did not acknowledge them at all.

There are many kinds of fear in the world, but I suffered from a particular brand of cowardice that permeates small towns.   I was afraid of making a mistake with my life; of doing something unfortunate which could not be undone, so I let others make choices for me.  Before I committed to a gentleman friend, I needed my family’s approval.  I was afraid to venture out into the unknown lest what I believed to be right be proven wrong.  I hesitated to make my own moral decisions for fear I’d end up in Hell, and so I followed the rules of the church.

In a small, closed community, politics is little more than institutionalized gossip, power struggles among the mostly powerless, and petty vengeance. Those who are willing to speak most loudly are those who seize control..  And so it was in our town.  No one attempted to topple the pecking order; it was simply accepted as the natural way of things. Our brand of cowardice preferred a strong, confident person telling us what was right and wrong, even if it wasn’t.

Gossip was a necessary evil which kept us in line. The worry that our deepest personal secrets might be publicly revealed, discussed at a church social or whispered about in the salon as if we were a character in a tawdry novel, was enough to keep most of us on the straight and narrow.

Those who did not fear change, who were willing to speak truth to power, who embraced the unknown, who thrived on risk,  quickly came to the conclusion that if they did not leave, they would wither and die.  They, like my sister, made their escapes and rarely returned.

I envied my sister the courage to break away; for being brave enough to create her own version of happiness while I remained riveted to my unchallenged, uneventful life.

My life was happy, in its small way. I did not have much trouble or sadness or conflict. I didn’t spend a lot of time thinking about how things might be.  I nurtured my children, obeyed my husband, did the requisite charity work, faithfully attended church.  Others made my decisions for me.  I died in old age, surrounded by loved ones.

Nobody who knew me while I lived would say I led a tragic life.  But from here I can say I wasted a lot of opportunities for spiritual evolution.

 

(this narrator came to me sitting on a porch, telling her story.)

——————

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! 
-Adrienne

A Catalyst for Change

First published Feb 15, 2016

power-to-the-people

Dra

I wasn’t happy to die so young but my death was a catalyst for big changes in social and political strata. I believed in the cause, certainly. I worked towards change.  But while alive, I was a mere cog in the machine, no more useful than anyone else. My voice was not heard above the others; my actions alone brought no more attention to our goals.

But my death!

It was not my intention to be a martyr. I was not that brave. But I also knew that there was not much future for me in the status quo.

When my death was imminent, I welcomed it, knowing it would amplify my voice, give it power which had been lost in the cries and shouts of the movement. I was no longer a cog. My death became evidence of all I’d worked to change. I was more useful as a sacrifice.

______

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 Lessons in Everything

NEW!

 

Nal

My grandfather’s hand held firm on my rudder throughout my life, even after he was long gone.

My earliest memory of a lesson that stayed with me throughout my life was at age 4 or 5.  We had planned a day at the beach, just the two of us.  I had him all to myself (and he, me.)  Before we got on the train,  he took me into a small shop that sold children’s clothing and toys, and let me pick out something special for the day.  I chose a colorful pail and shovel, imprinted with my favorite cartoon character.  I was as happy as a child could be.

We set out a spot on the sand.  He took me into the water and held me while we dove through the waves, me clinging to him tightly while laughing and giggling in pure joy.

Back on our blanket, he showed me how to make sand castles.

On the next blanket, there was a boy about my age, who did not seem very happy.  His mother was kissing and touching a man who I learned later was not his father, but his mother’s new boyfriend. They were secretly drinking beer even though it was not allowed on the beach.  They were in their own world and mostly ignored him, except to yell at him for some small infraction.  His older brother, maybe about nine or ten, entertained himself by harassing his younger sibling.

The boy seemed lonely so I invited to join me, building castles.  He was a fun and willing playmate, running down to the water’s edge again and again to fill the bucket to wet our pile of sand.  My grandfather had brought some lunch along, and I offered him half of my sandwich, which he ate hungrily. Even in my child’s mind, I had the impression he wasn’t very well-fed.

When it was time for us to go,  my instinct was to let him keep the bucket.  I recognized, in my childlike way, that I had so much more than he did.  I had many toys at home and he probably had none.  I had parents and grandparents who loved me and paid attention to me.  His mother treated him like an annoyance.    But the pail had been a gift from my grandfather.  I wasn’t sure how he would feel if I were to give it away.

I asked him.

“It is yours to do with as you please.  You have to ask yourself if it is better to keep it  or if it’s better to use what you have to make other people happy.  I have found that sharing with others makes me much happier than keeping things all to myself.  I am proud that you feel the same way.”

And so, I gave the boy my special toy.

My grandfather could have replaced it for me but he didn’t.  This was a good thing.  If he’d bought me another, I would not have remembered the lesson.  Missing it reminded me of the pleasure of sharing, the joy of making another happy.

A few years later, I was in the small grocery store my grandfather owned.  A boy, about thirteen or fourteen, came in and took some cans of food and hid them in his clothes.  Grandfather caught him.  I expected him to be outraged; to give him a lecture and call the police.  But instead, he recognized that the boy was poor; that he had stolen only to eat.  So instead, he offered him a job.  It didn’t pay much but it was enough to keep him from stealing.  Grandfather often gave him food to take home to his family.  The boy worked for him for many years, until he left to join the army.  From this, I learned that believing in someone can change their life.

When the school bully started harassing me, Grandfather explained to me that bullies puff themselves up so nobody will see how weak they really are.  They were not to be feared, but rather to be pitied.  And so, I learned to show compassion in the face of fear.

Even after Grandfather died, his lessons remained with me, guiding me in my judgment and   in my relationships with others.  He was then, and remains even here, my spiritual teacher.  We have been together in other lives previous, and will be together in the next life coming.  Not always as grandfather and child, but always as teacher and student.

 

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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 Member of the Tribe

NEW!

Ipo  (we haven’t heard from him in a while, have we?  He’s always interesting and insightful.)

When there are not enough resources for all,  human beings become more tribal.   The only way to win a war — over water or land or food or work — is to align with the more powerful side.  An individual alone cannot hope to take what he needs in times of scarcity;  those who are stronger will kill to take it away.  An individual needs the protection of his tribe.   The bonds might be familial, geographic, political.  They may be bonds formed only in times of scarcity and tossed aside as unnecessary when the famine is over.  But they are, out of necessity, strong; sometimes a matter of life and death.

In this way,  scarcity and lack of resources fractures society, causes rifts along formerly peaceful lines,  and becomes an impetus for war.

Humans have abused their planet – their waters, their land, their air —  and they have multiplied their numbers beyond what the earth can sustain.  The cracks are forming.  Social norms are shattering.  Everywhere it is “us” and “them.”  Wars erupt across the planet,  scattered and explosive, like lightening from space.

Sometimes,   humans recognize that the opposing force is stronger  and more likely to win. Allegiances shift.  People claim they have lost faith in their cause,  but at its root, they believe the other side offers a better chance at survival.

Acrimony is inversely proportional to available resources.  The fewer the resources, the angrier the mobs.

In order to have peace, the fewest number of people must be left wanting.

 

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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 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!

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