Tuesday, October 30, 2007

A Warrior's Album - Part 2

Continued from, "A Warrior's Album - Part 1"

I graduated college, worked various jobs, and found myself climbing the corporate ladder on an executive track. By anyone's assessment I was successful. I was moving up quickly in a burgeoning career, had a big house in a nice neighborhood, two cars in the garage, more money in the bank than I was able to spend. I had gotten married in there somewhere, but later divorced, in part because of the career. I was set to retire early at age 50 with about $2.5 million in the IRA.

I had all the trappings of success, but at the end of the 12-hour work day I came home to my big house to be greeted only by my lonely doggy. What good is a big house if you never have time to spend in it??? The only person who cared whether I came home or not was the doggy, and she didn't care if we lived in a big house or not. I started getting a gut feeling that this was not the way my life was supposed to be, but I could not see a clear alternate path to change it.

As part of my job I had to get an executive physical every three years. I guess the company wanted to make sure they were investing in healthy individuals. As part of the exam I had to get a hearing test. This was not one of the quickie hearing screens where you put on the earphones and the nurse asks, "Can you hear the beep" in a noisy doctor's office hallway. This was to be a full-fledged hearing test in a soundproof room at an audiologist's clinic.

As I sat in the large bustling waiting room, I was afforded a few moments of downtime. I began reflecting on my life and what I wanted out of it. There in the audiologist's waiting room, I experienced another profound, life-altering moment of clarity.





THE OLD DEAF COUPLE

I noticed them struggling with the double glass doors leading to the waiting room. They were in their late eighties or early nineties and the door was a little more than they could manage alone. Both were shrunken and stooped with age, their height barely above the push bar on the door.

He was dressed in a suit and tie even though it was well over 95 degrees outside. She was wearing her best dress and carrying a large, patent leather, Sunday-go-to-meetin' purse. A used tissue was under the wristband of her watch. It was obvious they had been married about a hunnert years.

They were yelling at each other, but not out of anger. He was deaf as a stone. I could see the wires leading from his hearing aids down to the receiver in his shirt pocket. She was yelling at him because he couldn't hear her, and he was yelling at her because he couldn't hear himself.

He managed to get the door open and was holding it for her.

"LET ME HOLD YOUR POCKETBOOK," he yells at her so she could free her hands to maintain her balance around the other door and over the threshold.

"NO, I HAVE IT. YOU GO ON AHEAD." she yells back.

They managed to navigate the doorway obstacle and shuffle, shuffle, shuffle, shuffle, shuffled over to the first set of chairs.

"IS HERE OK?" he yells.

"YES THIS IS FINE."

"YOU GO AHEAD AND SIT DOWN AND I'LL GO CHECK IN."

"NO, I NEED TO GIVE THEM SOME PAPERWORK THIS TIME," says she.

"Eh???" he says cupping his ear.

"PAPERWORK! PAPERWORK!" she screams. "YOU SIT AND I'LL GO."

"EH???"

"SIT, SIT, SIT. I'LL GO."

He takes a seeming eternity to get his knees bent just right to sit down. He eases down in the chair with her hovering over him, concerned. He finally gets planted and lets out a sigh.

"ARE YOU OK???" she yells a few inches from his ear.

"YES, YES, I'M FINE, I'M FINE."

Another big sigh. Then he looks up a bit worried, "ARE YOU SURE YOU SHOULD GO? I CAN GO SO YOU CAN REST," and starts making motions to stand up again.

"NO, HONEY, IT'S OK, IT'S OK. I'LL GO. HERE, YOU CAN HOLD MY POCKETBOOK."

He sighs back into the chair.

She sets her purse in his lap and makes sure he has a good grip on it. She wipes her palm across his forehead to smooth his few remaining hairs and to wipe away the sweat from his exertions. She takes the tissue from her watchband, licks the corner, and wipes something unseen from his cheek.

Tucking the tissue back in its place, she turns and shuffle, shuffle, shuffles, shuffle, shuffles away, leaving him sitting there clutching her purse.






This elderly couple's interaction on an ordinary day, on an ordinary visit at the doctor's office, was a profound event for me. I realized the care and tenderness they showed to each other was what I really wanted in life; not the money, not the career, and not the possessions.

I wanted to be changing my husband's Depends right after he helps me up from a fall in the kitchen. I wanted to be shuffle, shuffle, shuffling out to the porch each evening to catch a cool breeze in the rocking chairs. I no longer wanted to be in the !%*@& corporate world dying of a heart attack at my desk with no one at home to care but the doggy. All I needed was the right man to do that with...and I knew just where to find him.

My life's path was irreversibly altered that day. All I had worked for, all my goals, all my hopes, all my dreams, were reduced to ashes.

Monday, October 29, 2007

A Warrior's Album - Part 1

I've just started reading The Active Side of Infinity (Carlos Castaneda, 1998) after letting it languish on the bookshelf for eight years. I bought the book after hearing Howard Stern mention Castaneda's name during one of his radio shows.

Stern's guest (don't remember who it was) was rambling on about something and Stern piped up with, "Isn't that just Carlos Castaneda's theory?" Howard Stern may be an a-hole on the radio, but the guy is a sharp cookie and a well-read world-class geek. I hadn't heard of Castaneda so he piqued my interest and I bought the book.

Last night I went to the bookcase to get another book, and Active was next to the one I wanted. Hey, I'll read that one instead!

I wasn't very far into the introduction, page 6 to be exact, when a passage ended my reading for the night and started my brain spinning. By the way, I think a good book should cause you stop reading and start thinking, but I digress. The passage was by don Juan Matus, a Yaqui Indian shaman from Sonora, Mexico.

"Every warrior, as a matter of duty, collects a special album [of events], an album that reveals the warrior's personality, an album that attests to the circumstances of his life."

"The [events] are memorable because they have a special significance in one's life. My proposal is that you assemble this album by putting in it the complete account of various events that have had profound significance for you."

"Not every event in your life has had profound significance for you. There are a few, however, that I would consider likely to have changed things for you, to have illuminated your path. Ordinarily, events that change our path are impersonal affairs, and yet are extremely personal."

I mulled that over for a minute or two, mentally whipping through the major events in my life. Yes they were major, but most unprofound.

Two brief moments in time, simple uneventful moments, did have a profound impact on my life. I still ruminate about them on occasion and have told the stories to a few folks. I'm sure there are more, but these two leapt to the forefront of the ol' gray matter just then. I'll call them The Nickle Raise and The Old Deaf Couple.



THE NICKLE RAISE

I was fifteen years old and just starting my junior year of high school. I got a job as a carhop at an old-fashioned burger joint where the food is brought out to the car. Since I was under 16, child labor laws prevented me from working past 5:00 p.m. on school nights, so I worked every Saturday and Sunday until school was out for the summer.

There were three job categories at the burger joint: cook, fountain, and carhop. The cooks had the nasty greasy jobs of running the grill, cooking fries and dressing the burgers. The fountain made the drinks, sacked the food, and handled the money. The carhops delivered the food.

Since I worked only on the weekends, I saw pretty much the same people all the time. There was a day and night shift and the crews were all kids, probably the oldest one was a 19-year-old college girl. We all worked part-time to afford the luxuries of teenagerhood, like name-brand jeans and record albums.

Summer came and I starting working weekdays. The cooks on the day shift were Joan and Barbara, two ladies in their 40s who drove across the county line to come to work there. They worked Monday-Friday, 9:00-5:00, year-round, and had worked there for years.

Minimum wage was increased by $.05, so my hourly pay went from $2.10 to $2.15. I was underwhelmed with the raise. I worked at the burger joint for fun. The owner chastised me once because I had failed to pick up my last three paychecks and it was throwing off his bank statement reconciliation. Five cents more per hour made absolutely no difference in my life.

Because Joan and Barbara were long-time loyal employees, the owner had given them an additional $.05 per hour raise. They were not expecting this and when the paychecks came out, they were excited. I watched them standing there in their grease covered aprons, heads together, faces beaming, examining their checks. I can see them clearly in my mind's eye to this day, this moment of clarity in my life.


It hit me that for these two ladies, this burger joint was their life, their career, the thing they did day in and day out all year long to pay the bills. A grease covered apron was what they faced each and every day when they went to work. This was not a temporary job for them. They would not be moving on to something better. THIS WAS THEIR LIFE, and a nickel raise from minimum wage was the highlight of it.

I was saddened by this realization, and horrified. I don't know what forces of fate had landed these two ladies in the frybucket of life, but there they were. And from the looks of things, there they were going to stay. There but by the grace of God go I, some thirty years hence.

I resolved then and there that I would not be consigned to a life of grease and minimum wage. I was going to college and getting an education. I wanted to have options in life other than a fry cook at a burger joint. I didn't really know what "getting an education" meant at that young age, but I knew intuitively that was what I needed to do.

This brief but profound moment would alter my life's path in ways I couldn't imagine back then, but it set me on a course I would pursue for the next 23 years.

(continued)

Sunday, October 28, 2007

The Last Sunday Sermon

Nine months ago I embarked on a personal journey of discovery. I wanted to learn more about Christianity. I read, studied, and pondered...and got very, very mad in the process.

My opinion is that Christianity is very simple and beautiful, but has been turned into something complicated and ugly. It's no wonder folks are leaving churches in droves. I decided to abandon this study because it was making my life toxic. Where I should have been serene, I was homicidal. I wanted to wring a few necks. Arrrggghhh!

So I am closing all the versions of all the Bibles I own and putting them back on the shelf to collect dust. I will no longer be looking up verses trying to follow asinine religious debates. No more Bible thumpin' for me. All I need to know about the Bible I learned in kindergarten and can be summed up in ten words:

Play fair, don't hit, share, love your neighbor, love God.

I think I will start my own church, The Cathedral of Stars. It will meet every night on my front porch. I will be pondering on the above ten words in the stillness of midnight.

You are welcome to join me under the Cathedral of Stars...on your own front porch, in your own midnight stillness.


Amen.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Karmic Obligations

At some point in life, almost everyone goes through an existential crisis. They wonder, “What am I doing here?” “What is the purpose of my life?” I have had two of these crises in the past two years. One was at my job in corporate America, which I quit. I didn’t know what I was supposed to be doing, but I was fairly certain that wasn’t it.

The other has been just recently. Having been unemployed for two years, I began to wonder why I was on this earth breathing up other people’s oxygen. I wasn’t producing anything (especially an income.) I didn’t seem to be furthering the cause of humanity in any way. I couldn’t figure out what I was supposed to be doing with my life.

It dawned on me that the reason I am still breathing is to fulfill some karmic obligations, or to help other people fulfill theirs. What is a karmic obligation? I don’t know if I have adequate vocabulary to describe the concept, but I’ll give it a shot.

I think souls proceed along through Existence growing ever more mature, or trying to anyway. I don’t know where they came from, or where they are going but it’s not so much the origin or destination as it is the process. I’ll call this process the Marathon. The Marathon started long before our birth on this Earth, or this plane of existence we call living. We will continue in the Marathon long after we die, or depart this plane of existence.

We are all running along in the Marathon. Some folks are better runners than others, more advanced. They have studied running, made mistakes, learned from those mistakes, and have improved. These folks aren’t going to get to the destination any faster, because they will stop along the way to be coaches to others. Sometimes they will be on the support crew, handing out water or working the first aid tent. Sometimes they will be sweeping the street in front of the other runners to ease the way, or repairing potholes so others won’t stumble. On the various stretches of the Marathon, these runners will need coaches, support crew, and maintenance staff also. Each soul will play a different role each day depending on their needs, their level, and the needs of others.

The energy that fuels this Marathon, what makes it able to function and continue to happen, I’m going to call karma. I know the textbook definition of karma is fate or final destiny, but you gotta get there somehow. Remember it’s all a process. Think of these terms in this way: “Marathon” is what you do in life, “karma” is why you do it. Performance of the maintenance and support functions along the Marathon is a karmic obligation.

Karmic obligations are the doing of things that need to be done simply because they need to be done. They may go unnoticed by the world, and the world would not stop spinning if they weren’t done. There is no praise or reward. It is not repayment of a debt. However, if the task is not done, there is a hole in the karmic fabric of Existence...a pothole in the Marathon as it were.

One of my main karmic obligations is to be a listener. In Marathon terms this would equate to standing along the route with a water bottle in your outstretched hand. The runners come along and snatch up the bottle as they fly by. The interaction with the runner is brief but critical on the journey.

To be a listener sounds a bit strange at first, but apparently there is a great need for listeners. People I have never met before or barely know tell me their life stories complete with intimate details, hopes, dreams, sorrows and disappointments. I’ve tried to cut them off before they plunge in too far, but they will not be deterred. They just launch.

I have learned to recognize the signs of a life story coming on, and I settle in and get comfortable. I just nod and say things like “ummm” and “really?” Usually somewhere near the beginning they say, “I don’t know why I’m telling all this to a perfect stranger.” At the end they usually say, “I’ve never told anyone that before. Why did I tell you?” I don’t know. I guess it was part of my karmic obligation to be a listener that day.

I got hit with two life stories in one day not too long ago. Since I am such a big introvert and rarely leave my house, the Marathon has shifted its route and now runs right by my front porch. A lady knocked on my front door looking for the previous owners, not realizing they had moved several months before. I had no idea how to find them but told her what little I knew. We chatted a few moments about the house and the neighborhood, then suddenly, she launched. I got it all.

She stood on my steps and poured out all her hopes and dreams, sorrows and disappointments, told me about her marriages, divorces, the guy she was seeing, her kids, her job, everything. She stood there for an hour and a half and ended up sobbing. She ended with the standard phrase, "I don't know why I'm telling you all this...and you a perfect stranger." I knew. It was part of her karmic obligation to tell, and part of mine to listen. I stifled a smile since she was sobbing.

After she got it all dumped she left. She never did introduce herself and neither did I. I was pretty stunned since I had never laid eyes on her before. Usually I have some history with people before they do the dump thing. What's so amazing is that she drove for an hour to get to my front door.

I was still reeling when I staggered back into the house and sat down at the computer. The first message I had started, “Sorry for the long ass e-mail. I can't for the life of me figure out why I am pouring my heart out to total stranger..." I guess the Marathon route runs along the Internet too.

Another karmic obligation I have is to be a momentary trainer for other runners. I explain a new technique, give a few pointers and encouragement, and send them along their way. One or two real karmic couch potatoes have appeared on my doorstep and I’m still trying to explain to them how to tie their running shoes. I seem to have been assigned to these guys for a long haul. I never really know with the karmic couch potatoes if I’m the trainer or if I’m the student. I’ve had a few epiphanies working with these guys. I guess you can’t really teach without learning.

The last two karmic obligations I’ve had were to help runners that had transitioned to the next leg of the race. In Marathon terms, one runner tossed a water bottle backward and yelled instructions to give it to someone else. It was my karmic obligation to catch the bottle and pass it along. In the second instance, the runner needed a bottle of water and I tossed one out from the sidelines. Karmic obligations for runners in transition are new for me. I’m working on recognizing the obligations and learning how to fulfill them.

When people ask me what I do all day at home alone, I try to change the subject. It’s difficult to explain in casual conversation that I’m busy most days fulfilling karmic obligations. A few people would understand, but most wouldn’t. If I tried to explain, they might send little men with straitjackets for me. You can’t put Karmic Obligation Fulfiller on a business card and there’s no category for it in the Yellow Pages. I don’t think the IRS would let me list that as an occupation on my tax form either. For that matter, being a full-time karmic obligation fulfiller doesn’t pay very well. In fact, the pay sucks. But the benefits are magnificent. I think my existential crisis is over.


I originally wrote this piece Nov. 30, 2000. I found it last night rummaging around in the dim recesses of my computer's attic. I thought it would be good to dust it off and give it new life. I had forgotten my role as Karmic Obligation Fulfiller. I need to try to get that job back again.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Fishing in Heaven: A Raw Deal for Worms

I guy I knew who was a big fishing nut died last month. I made the comment that he would now get to fish in the eternal river where the fish are always bitin’. That got me to thinking, what would you use for bait in Heaven? It seems like a raw deal for the worms.

Consider the case of Ernie the Earthworm. Ernie has lived a full and saintly life here on Earth. He has done his wormly duty by making compost out of leaves. He has raised his children to be good little worms and he was loving and faithful to his wormly little wife all those months. Now he has passed on and St. Peter has punched his ticket into Heaven.

Ernie is crawling around on the riverbanks of Heaven doing what earthworms are wont to do, when suddenly someone picks him up and impales him on a fishhook. That just doesn’t seem right does it? Maybe they don’t allow fishing and fishhooks in Heaven you say. That doesn’t seem right either. If Heaven is a place of eternal bliss, somebody’s gonna be mad if they can’t go fishing.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Holy Bible Challenge for Christians

Speck's Sunday Soapbox:

I've been following a religious debate lately that has grown across several blogs. It is amusing to me that seemingly intelligent people waste their time arguing over some minuscule point about the practice of Christianity. Note I did not say they were arguing about Christianity, but the practice of Christianity.

Religious debates make my eyes glaze over. Somewhere early on the words exegesis and hermeneutics are bandied about, followed by the godfather of all bastardized English words, "disfellowshipping." Whoever coined that word should be shot, and whoever uses it in serious dialogue should get 40 lashes.

The anatomy of a religious debate looks something like this:

First Guy:
"This is the way things are supposed to be..."(Gives dogma for being "good" Christian.)
"This is the biblical reference..."(thump, thump, thump)
"This is what that means...."(his interpretation)
"If you don't believe the way I do, then you, (point, point, point) are sinful and are going to Hell."

Second Guy:
(see First Guy example)

Third Guy:
(Wringing hands), "Why can't we all just get along???"

I cringe when I hear someone say, "See, this word, right here (thump, thump) means..."

Holy Toledo, Batman! The fact that the Bible they happen to be holding has that word does not mean that every Bible has that same word. I own a variety of Bibles, all different versions, and they all are a little different from each other.

The exact words of the Bible are a little suspect in my mind, for the Bible has been edited and translated many ways in the past 2,000 years. Things have been added, deleted, and transmogrified to serve the political purposes of those in religious power. The early writers of the Gospel probably wouldn't recognize their own letters if they read 'em in current editions. So, to nitpick the individual words or phrases is an exercise in futility.

I think Bible-thumping, finger-pointing, hand-wringing Christians Religionists in America would all be better Christians if they closed their Bibles, stepped back a bit and took a deep breath. Finding vague, obscure passages to support or disprove one particular viewpoint is, to me, a waste of time. Figuring out the gist of the Bible, then living by those tenets, would lead, I think, to a more Christ-like Christian, or a least a better person.

Think figuring out the gist of the Bible would be hard? Nope, not really. Christianity is a simple concept and can be explained using simple words. ("Disfellowshipping" is NOT one of those words.)

So here is my challenge for anyone who has ever used the words exegesis or hermeneutics in a sentence, and actually knew what they meant without having to look 'em up:

THE HOLY BIBLE CHALLENGE FOR CHRISTIANS

1) Summarize the Bible in ten (10) words or less:

2) Live those words.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

River Water in My Veins

A view of the beautiful Ouachita River on an early fall afternoon at Moro Bay State Park.


Ouachita River water runs in my veins. The river calls me to my roots and sings the song of my history.

My forebears on both sides of the family made the trek from North Carolina to Tennessee and then on to Arkansas during the 1840s. By 1848 they had settled on the banks of the Ouachita to make a farm and raise a family. Six generations are buried along the river, and I'll join them there as the seventh.

I've wandered all over these United States and lived outside Arkansas for a number of years. The places I lived were nice enough, but something about them felt a little unsettled, like something was missing. I did not understand what the missing piece was until I came back to the Ouachita.

There, standing on her banks, she whispered, "Yes, child, you are home."

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Yard Eggs and Brain Frequencies

Northern Louisiana was just ripe with blog fodder this weekend. Somewhere in Claiborne Parish (I think that's where we were) we passed a house with a small, white sign out front. (Dang it, the highway was too busy to stop and get a photo!)


The first thought to pop in my head was,

"Our yard has *never* laid an egg. How did they get their yard to do that???"

I think that proves that my brain is not tuned to the same frequency as other people's brains.

But oh, it gets worse....

Next thoughts in rapid-fire succession:

"Maybe we aren't fertilizing it with the right stuff"; and

"Maybe we have a boy yard."

Where is my strait jacket??? It gives me a such a warm feeling of security. I'm so lost when I'm in public without it.

Monday, October 15, 2007

She Had Knowings

It was in the back booth at the Stagecoach Cafe in Springhill, LA. The couple in the booth behind me had obviously been there a while when we arrived and showed no signs of leaving when we departed 45 minutes later. They were in a serious conversation about something and weren't anywhere near being through.

I don't usually eavesdrop on my fellow diner's quiet conversations, but something the man said brought my brain to a screeching halt.

"She had knowings about (mumble, mumble) and she chose to take no action....

Wow!

"She had knowings about..."

Not "she knew," but she had knowings.

Knowings sounds like some kind of psychic gift to foresee the future. Not merely to see, but to touch, taste, feel, and experience an event that had not yet, but ultimately would, come to pass. A knowing may be a kind of spiritual, emotional infusion in the bones as well as the soul. That's a pretty profound ability.

I suddenly felt as though I had been dropped into a real-life episode of The X-Files, and it was Mulder and Scully sitting in the booth behind me.

"But Scully, she had knowings about it and she chose not to do anything and just let it happen. She can somehow transport herself, or rather her essence, but in a physical form, through time into the future. While there she can somehow manipulate the outcome of events. Of course it's possible Scully, it's as plain as the nose on your face."

"Mulder, there's no such thing as knowings. It's just some type of hallucinogenic manifestation of a psychotic brain. Humans can't possibly effect the outcome of events that haven't happened yet."

The Truth Is Out There.

It may be out there in Springhill, Louisiana.