Consumer.

October 6, 2019 § Leave a comment

I’ve always hated that label, especially when it is used in a context that has nothing to do with consuming. But as the earth signals, in less and less equivocal ways, that we are driving its natural systems to the point of breakdown, I see that, in all contexts, we are consumers, and that we are consuming the very things on which our survival depends.

And we are doing it so casually, so thoughtlessly, because this is how it is. This is what we do. This is our normal, and heck, everyone does it.

As the elasticity of the ecosystems we take for granted disappears we have to look at “normal” with new eyes. Here are four ways to do that.

1.Think like an alien, one who can see the evolving disaster that threatens all life on this beautiful blue planet. Then observe the behavior of the dominant species.

What? These humans use 1.6 gallons of potable water to make a few ounces of urine go away, eat one meal with a plastic fork that will outlast the person using it, bulldoze a stand of trees and build a dollar store?

If you were seeing human activity as an outsider, would you see reason or madness?

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The rock and the ripple.

September 21, 2019 § 1 Comment

Xfinity’s ad is running over an instrumental version of Here Comes the Sun. So many who see the ad are too young to have experienced the cultural tsunami known as the Beatles.

Still, the tune will insinuate itself into their heads.

Context gone, the melody (that beautiful melody) persists.

The things we create get braided into our collective sense of what-is. They become the commons we all take for granted, the corners of the picture frame that encloses life.

The process begins with an event: George Harrison writes Here Comes the Sun. The record comes out (that is the rock dropped into our collective awareness), and teens all over the world go wild!

Those teens grow up, grow old, but they carry the melody with them. It would gradually die out as they die out, but one day it is re-purposed. And the ripples spread…

After a while the rock and the ripple lose their association. For those who were not alive when the rock was tossed all there is is the ripple, which has taken on a life of its own.

Creativity comes in many forms: music, literature, science, fashion, art, language, politics. Our collective commons are always changing. The Beatles, Einstein, Hitler, Jesus Christ–each dropped a boulder from which the ripples are still spreading.

Most of us have little more than a pebble to toss, but however small or large, each of us creates ripples. And who can say, which will travel far, nudging generations to come?

Stripped of lyrics and those four mop-top lads, that melody (yes, that beautiful melody) takes root in a million young minds.

And the beat goes on.

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Mary went for a walk.

September 9, 2019 § 4 Comments

My husband and I were driving home from Jacksonville after riding Amtrak down the coast from Trenton, New Jersey. We were tired when we pulled into the I-10 rest stop, ready to be home. The poster about the missing woman was small and faded, easy to walk past without a glance, but what hung there was a story, so I stopped.

It was 2015 when Mary went for a walk.

She was born in ’53, so she was younger than I am by a couple of years, but her walk and the walks I take are different. I always know where I am.

Mary didn’t.

According to the poster: “Mary requires medication and suffers from dementia.”

Her face on the poster looked like the face of a third grade teacher. It was an ordinary, sympathetic female face, one that has not been seen by her family or friends for four years.

The poster persists, appealing to random strangers: have you seen this woman in your travels? Do you see her even now, or do you just need a quick stop in the restroom and something from the vending machine before getting back on the road?

What are the odds of a butt-weary traveler stopping, looking, and recognizing Mary, who went for a walk in 2015?

Mary is a needle hidden in the haystack that is the world.

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The weight we carry.

September 1, 2019 § 3 Comments

Does time have weight?

Do we store it in our bones,

or carry it, unwieldy,

in our arms?

*

Is it the accumulated

weight of time that

wears us out,

makes us old?

*

I wonder…

can we set that burden down,

travel light again like

a child who lives

in the splendor of right now?

*

Can that newness be

snuck up on and captured

like a firefly

in a jar? « Read the rest of this entry »

What I’ve figured out so far: part 2

August 18, 2019 § 1 Comment

Give and take only works when there is some of each on both sides. As acts of kindness and material help flow back and forth, we come to know each other, invest in each other, care about each other. When the flow is all one way there is no connection, producing moments that look like this:

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Most of the important things in life happen by chance, not choice. We are far too small and impotent to dictate what comes next.

We label people, then feel we know and understand them, but often all we see is the obvious. I bring food to an elderly, wheelchair-bound woman. That is the label I pasted on her in my mind, a label I learned was inadequate when she told me she used to be an international detective. A cleaning woman I worked with at the Baltimore Zoo revealed that back in the day, she was a blues singer who performed with Billie Holiday. We sum the person in front of us up with a snapshot taken at one moment in a long, complex life. Our quick assessments are far too simple; you never know who you are talking to.

Our words are influenced by what we think the listener wants to hear and the self we wish to project. Each of us has a secret self only scantily visible to others.

Most people are good individually. It is humanity in the aggregate that screws up.

The body has its own form of consciousness that operates independently. We become aware of it at times of danger when a gut reaction stops us in our tracks, but that unconscious thinking is always there. Maybe the conscious mind is just the mouthpiece for the mute body, where a deeper, more primal form of thinking is always in progress. Our most important decisions are made below the level of conscious awareness. It is in the act of justifying and explaining, that the mind takes ownership. As the mind translates the unconscious decision into words, it becomes convinced it is the originator of the idea.

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There is something you have to do.

August 10, 2019 § 1 Comment

I watched The Notorious RBG for the second time and was struck again by the behind-the-scenes support provided by Justice Ginsburg’s marriage. Marty was a supportive and loving man who never seemed threatened as she advanced in her career. He anchored her life, encouraged her, and cheered her on when women’s chances for outside-the-home accomplishments were slim.

Marty has been dead since 2010 and I am sure Ruth still misses him every day. Her happy marriage was the coat she wore against the cold when she was young and uncertain, not yet notorious, not yet known by three upper case initials. He was the one she came home to after a day of contentious crusading.

Still, without Marty she goes on, a woman on a mission.

It is rarely as obvious as it is with Ruth Bader Ginsburg and her husband, Marty, that life can have a greater mission, hers to be a legal titan, his to provide ballast, but each of us has the capacity to accomplish something beyond the day-to-day walk of a respectable life.

The personal (the love story, the family) are what we do for ourselves. We live most of our lives enveloped in that reality. It has moments of friction, sure, but that friction is human-scaled, and we can handle it.

But there are larger missions that change the trajectory of something far greater than a single life or the life of a family, missions that create ripples that spread until a community, a nation, or the human race has been changed.

I am convinced that missions seek us out. What we offer is receptivity, a willingness to take a chance, to roll up our sleeves. What the mission offers is a need we can fill, an opportunity to be larger than our individual lives whether we are the crusader for the mission or the one who fixes dinner and offers encouragement.

Life is much easier if the mission never comes calling, and a practical person would pray to be passed over. Even Christ said, “Let this cup pass from me.” But a life without a mission is also smaller, the view more narrow.

If we turn away, our hope is that the mission will move on, find another advocate. But if we are honest we have to admit that it may die of neglect. It is often that second possibility that causes us to say yes.

A mission seems to find the person who will fight for it, and, in a sense, the person becomes the property of that mission. Those afflicted and set aflame by a cause are perceived as saints, martyrs, or madmen.

It helps to have the company of believers and supporters, others to help lift the load—this is hard and lonely work.

RBG was loved by a great, supportive man; that belongs to her, that joy comes from the smaller story that is her life.

What she has done in her public life belongs to all of us and all the generations that will follow.

Note: I think about this as I do the work of running a food bank, sorting squishy produce, making pickups, doing distributions. This is not a world-altering mission, but its ripples have practical results in the real world. Food on tables. A community of volunteers. Friendships. The assurance that no one is alone in their need. We can’t all be the notorious RBG, but we can all say yes to something greater than ourselves.  

The final days of yearning.

August 3, 2019 § 4 Comments

I’m glad I grew up when I did, when connectivity was restricted to a phone with a curly cord that hung in my family’s TV room–such a public space.

And so, in my one private place, my room, all I could do was yearn and dream and imagine. I spent hours inventing conversations with boys who in real life had said little to me and thought about me even less, putting words in their mouths as we fell for each other.

Those relationships, and even the boys themselves were products of my heated imagination.

Alone in my room I yearned, serially, for each of those boys, imagining hand-holding, slow dances. We could not communicate with each other in that sanctuary. I could only communicate with myself, thrilled as I imagined something I had yet to experience.

The phone was the connection between me and other yearning girls—again public–although I could stretch the cord into the laundry room and close the door on it creating the illusion of privacy, “Do you think he likes me?” But my parents knew right where I was and, come bedtime, made me hang up.

Once in a while the call was from an actual boy–which was awkward with a sister, brother, grandfather, and two parents on a nearby couch watching Ed Sullivan. The conversations were awkward too, never as fluent or romantic as those I had imagined.

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