Category Archives: Life

Btw- I Love You

 “There is an immeasurable difference between late and too late.” ~ Og Mandino**

Syzygy is coming. The alignment of the first four planets in our solar system. It’s got a lot of people in an uproar. A lot of folks are saying that the world is going to end. This week. Could it be the Rapture? The second coming? The apocalypse? I don’t purport to know the answer to this. I suppose that anything is possible.

Okay, so the world is not going to end. In reality, all of the believers will be ushered up to heaven, to sit at the right hand of God for all eternity. The rest of us, heathen Buddhists, Hindus, Muslims, Taoists, atheists and the like, will be stuck here in an earthbound purgatory, counting down to October 21 and the bitter end. If I only have five months left I should probably go back being a carnivore, right?

A lot of people are ridiculing the syzygists (I love that word), calling them all sorts of names. Quite correctly, they are using the event as an excuse to party. I approve of this message. I have two syzygy parties to attend this weekend. I view this as covering my bases. If the world ends, I’ll go out with my friends. If the world survives, then we’ll have something to celebrate the next day too. At any rate, the event got me to reflecting on the fragility of life and the human fiber that can band us together or rip us apart.

It has been proven that human contact is one of the most important tools in keeping us happy and healthy. If a baby is born into this world and isolated from human contact, the baby will die. We cannot be all that we can be without contact with others. Therefore, it is tantamount not only to nurture the relationships that we do have, but to reach out to others who we come into contact with. I’m not saying that you have to become best buds with mechanic at the service station, the bank teller or the pizza delivery guy. But just because you’re never going to socialize with someone doesn’t mean that you have an excuse to be rude to them.

It happens to me all the time. In my job I meet as many as fifty new people a night. Some of them would be my friends if we lived next door to each other or hung out at the same tavern. Others are socially or ideologically incompatible on a base level. It would be very easy to discount or dismiss them at a glance. Many times I receive this treatment from them. But I make it a point to treat everyone the same way, I treat them ‘as if” we’re going to be best friends some day. I try to get a smile from every single one of them.

I know what you’re thinking. “But Brother T, it’s your job to be nice to all those people.” Or, “Brother T, you are nice to everyone.” Not necessarily and not for all time. I have been a dick in the past and no matter how much I try to suppress it, every once in a while it still happens. I am not perfect and I don’t expect you to be either (though you probably are). But I certainly am not.

I’ve had a long-standing issue with perfection. I expected to be perfect. And I expected you to live up to that standard as well. This is best illustrated by a number of people who I have left along the side of the road during my long journey. I have given up on friendships for the most trivial of reasons. A number of times I have given up out of shame. Other times it was imagined slights that any rational person would laugh off and move on. Shame still prevents me from picking up the phone and calling them to apologize. In this regard, I am still very juvenile.

But my biggest regret of all is my father. It seems as if we’ve always been out of sync. Our anxiety with each other goes back almost to the beginning. I have (too) infrequently reached out to him over the years, only to be pushed away by something that he did or didn’t do. More often than not it was either my fault or my bad interpretation. Nonetheless, we are still off-kilter. This is my reminder to myself to keep working at it until I fix it. Indeed, to keep working to repair all of the old friends who are still salvageable. And no, I’m not going to pull a John Cusack from High Fidelity and contact all of my exes from across the years. Those boats have surely left the dock.

“Terry, I really hope that you don’t grow old alone.**

Tell me about it. I’ve been doing a damn good job of growing old alone. Just because I’m good at it doesn’t make it all better. I guess the point is that I have to make an effort to connect with the people who matter. It doesn’t cost a dime to say, “I love you.” When I call you brother or sister, it means that I want you to be in my life until eternity, even if the syzygy doesn’t crack the world in half and bring out the four horsemen of the apocalypse. When I say “I love you,” it doesn’t mean I want to sleep with you or have your babies, unless of course that’s what you want, but maybe we should go out on a date first.

So this goes out to all my friends, Romans and country(wo)men. I wish you glad tidings on the eve of the syzygy. I hope that you get all that you want out of the event. I hope we get a chance to hang out before the bitter end. And by the way, I love you.

* Og Mandino – American author and psychologist

** Mike Burns – back at the old Sawdust Lane apartment, 1995

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The Bottom Of The Bowl

“Once I knew only darkness and stillness… my life was without past or future… but a little word from the fingers of another fell into my hand that clutched at emptiness, and my heart leaped to the rapture of living.” Helen Keller*

I sit here in front of my high-tech laptop, sipping on a cup of organic Sumatran coffee, sunshine pouring through my window and a light breeze ruffling the curtains. I have already had a nice breakfast of scrambled eggs with cheese, diced onions and hot sauce along with ‘ vegan cornbread (I done good with that!). I’m looking forward to not one but two events tonight in my hip town of Columbus, Ohio. They are both can’t-miss, so I have scheduled the day off from work and will try to shoehorn them both in. I feel guilty about missing the work, but I will live frugal the next two weeks to make up for it. After all, even though I am a working-class American, I still make more money than about 95 percent of the people in the world.

I think as working-class Americans we sometimes don’t realize how good we have it. We lament about not being able to get that new car this year or go to that music festival this weekend (at least I do). We buy the generic versions of products to save a few bucks and then complain that the cheap toilet paper fell apart or is not soft enough. We swing through the McDonalds drive-thru for a one dollar McDouble that is basically a fat, sodium and cholesterol sammitch, then we complain that our tummy hurts or we got no energy. That one dollar spent and 390 calories is more than a lot of the people in this world get to live on for a day. Every day. There’s a good chance that those same people don’t have access to clean water or sanitation, let alone the cheap toilet paper we are bitching about. In fact, 1.1 billion people have no access to clean drinking water. And sadly, 1.8 million children die every year from the effects of diarrhea. Yes we are fortunate. It might be instructive fast for a day every once in a while to really feel what it’s like to be hungry.

I have been lucky. I’m pushing a half-century and I am still relatively healthy. I’ve abused my body with food, drink and lack of exercise. I have lived the life of excess that is common among my contemporaries. The only significant health problem that I have encountered is a few gout attacks over the last couple of years. They are directly attributed to my aforementioned lifestyle. The worst things that a man with gout can consume are red meat, shellfish, and alcohol. I have binged on all of those in my day. Now I pay the price. Other than that, I am healthy. I have all of my senses in tact. I have turned vegetarian to reverse my condition. I have dropped about fifty pounds in the last three years. I’ve been biking to work every day. I repeat. I am a lucky man. I am better off than six billion or so people around the world.

Imagine just for a second what it was like to be Helen Keller. Imagine being a perfect, healthy baby girl one day, only to be deaf and blind the very next. She was literally cut off from the world by a short bout of fever. Yet she continued to try to communicate, made up her own set of signals, eventually becoming the first deaf and blind person to obtain a Bachelor of Arts degree. She eventually became an accomplished lecturer and activist, championing the causes of socialism, pacifism and suffrage. Helen Keller refused to let he affliction get her down. Even though she had a severe condition that would for most people kill their development like a lightning strike killing a tree, she rose above. She kept her beautiful mind open to every other form of stimulus. She rose above.

Sometimes I look around me and all I see is sloth and laziness. I will go into a dicey neighborhood where it’s probably not safe after dark. I see the boarded-up houses, debris-strewn yards and people sitting on their porches in the middle of the day. It is very easy to feel holier-that-thou in these situations. It is very easy to discount these people and judge them unworthy. It is natural for me to want to retreat back to my lair and my laptop and coffee mug. Why don’t they rise above like Helen Keller? After all, she had a lot more hurdles to overcome than them. If these people don’t want to help themselves then why should I bother? Because it is my chosen profession. I am in the business of standing up for working (and not-working) people. I came to this profession because I was weary of working for causes that I couldn’t believe in. I may not be able to help all those people without water or sanitation, but I can help folks in my own community.

“To practice Right Livelihood, (samyag ajiva) you have to find a way to earn your living without transgressing your ideals of love and compassion. The way you support yourself can be an expression of your deepest self, or it can be a source of suffering for you and others.” Thich Nhat Hahn**

Right Livelihood is the fifth spoke of the eight-fold path to enlightenment as it was laid out twenty-five centuries ago by the Buddha. In this day and age it has come to mean not sacrificing your principles for monetary or social gain. In short, making a lot of money is not going to guarantee your happiness or fulfillment. But if you can look at yourself in the mirror at the end of the day and say, “I did my best. I helped instead of hindered,” then you are practicing right livelihood. I have worked jobs that paid a lot of money. At times I could face myself in the mirror. But many other times the reflection that stared back at me was one of shame. I didn’t like that feeling.

It doesn’t matter what your profession. What matters is that you are making daily positive impact on those around you. I have numerous friends who have chosen to make far less money in order to pursue their art. I commend them. I say it to all who will listen. Follow your bliss. The world cannot have too many blissful people. Listen to your heartbeat. Thump-thump. Thump-thump. That is the bass line of your life.

Helen Keller lost her ability to hear. But she didn’t lose her ability to listen. That is the important distinction here. In this regard, maybe she had an advantage over the rest of us. She had the ability to concentrate within herself. With her senses deprived, the touch of a human hand upon her own was the most precious of all things. Imagine if all you could do was taste, smell and feel. Imagine the flooding of these senses if you were smack dab in the middle of a pine forest. Imagine the feeling of the sun’s rays beating down on your face. Imagine the explosion of a ripe strawberry as you bite into it.

Focusing your senses is like pouring milk into a bowl.*** If your concentration is scattered, it is like you have a crack in the bowl. The sensations will still pour into it, but they will quickly drain out. If the bowl is too full, there is no place for new sensations or ideas to populate. But if you stare down into the bottom of the bowl, see the bowl (your mind) for the empty thing that it is, you can focus your energy on the task at hand. I hope it’s that ripe strawberry. I would love one right now.


* Helen Keller (1880-1963) American author and activist.

** Thich Nhat Hahn (born 1926) Vietnamese Buddhist Monk

*** Adapted from a Zen koan. I ain’t that smart.

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My Universal Theory Of Everything

From the day we are born we are flooded with sensations. Assuming that all goes well with the birth, we are placed in our mother’s loving arms. We immediately start to bond with her. Over the course of days and weeks we are bombarded with wondrous things. Smiling faces, stroking fingers and the words of loved ones fill our wakeful moments. This is universal, whether you are born in a suburban hospital in middle America or in a wooden and tin hut in one of the poorest slums in the world.

Today I deal in universals. As we begin to grow the wonders of the world keep on coming. For the American kid it comes in the form of toys and playgrounds, sports and music, television and games. For the poor kid the wonders come in the form of natural phenomena, puddles, grass, dirt and mud, discarded objects and trash, and hopefully a soccer ball or jump rope in the best of times. These two kids live in different universes but they share the one joy of all children, curiosity.

As children we are all deluged with new things. We sit up on our own for the first time and become cognizant of our surroundings. We notice ordinary things and take pleasure in them. We hear the sounds that people make around us and learn to recognize what they mean. We learn to form words and take wonder in the sounds that we can make. We discover new tastes and smells. We develop our dexterity by first squeezing fingers, then by grasping objects and finally we manipulate those objects. We learn to roll over, then crawl and finally take those first tentative steps. This is universal.

As we grow older, we start to recognize the beauty in things. At first it might be our mother’s face. We gradually learn to discern light and color. We hear music for the first time, or the sound of a truck backing up, beep, beep, beep. We jump in a puddle for the first time, luxuriate in the water squishing between our toes. Or we run outdoors for the first time and feel the brisk wind in our hair and whistling in our ears. For the first time we see that little girl or a boy who seems meant for us alone, we love their smile, their eyes or their hair, and we know that they are the most beautiful person in the world. We share that first kiss and we know that this is what life is all about. This is universal.

We grow. Our bodies change and we begin to know longing. Life’s challenges and stresses become tantamount. We begin to plan for our future. We dream of professions, of owning things, of moving off to the big city. We want the next big thing, whether it’s a gaming system or a real soccer ball, a new dress or pair of shoes. We long for things that are realistic and we long for things that are impossible. We continue to experience the joy of new sensations, but that joy is tempered by What Might Be. This is universal.

We become enmeshed in school. We try to decide what we want to be when we grow up. Images flood into our awareness. Movie stars, doctors, lawyers. Gentleman farmers, store owners, taxi drivers. Our dreams narrow into our realistic possibilities. Some of us take the path of least resistance. Others embark on a path to greater things. There is suffering in each path. The easy path to the future might lead to a life of hard work, of necessity rather than luxury. The hard path with start with the hard work and the hard work will continue until late into life. The luxury that is experienced will come at the cost of time and effort. Some will accomplish great things through luck and timing. But most will achieve it day by day, year by year. There are plusses and minuses along the way. This is universal.

We emerge from the exuberant time of youth into the burgeoning time of adulthood. Most of us will still dream. Dreams of a better car, a house in the suburbs, a second degree. Dreams of owning a car, having a job, emigrating to another place for a better life. We save for things, we forego experience of today for the possibility of tomorrow. We settle into a day-by-day grind. We value our off-time above all else. We watch the clock until it’s quitting time. We stop after work to self-medicate. We play with our kids, our pets or the toys that we accumulate. We plan for vacations to “get away from it all.” Because we are adults we forget what was most important to our child-selves, joy, wonder and curiosity.

So I challenge you to search for that feeling again in your life. Break your routine. Find your bliss. Park in the farthest spot in the parking lot at the grocery, or better yet, walk there. Be mindful of your steps and the cool fresh air. Go into the produce section and breathe in the smells of the fruits and vegetables. Do the same in the bakery. Go down to your local waterway and stand, listening to the rushing water and the wind in the trees. Be mindful of the air as it tingles the nerve endings of your exposed skin. Follow the tingles all the way to your heart.

If you are fortunate enough to have a child, look at the world through her eyes. Experience things as she does for the first time. Jump in a mud puddle. Put aside your worries about getting dirty, being presentable. Laugh, just laugh. Turn off the television for a day and read a book. Unplug from the technical world so that you can plug-in to the real world. Find your bliss.

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The Butterfly Effect

Life is filled with thousands of little Butterfly Effects. We’ve heard the parable. Most times it is reflected in science and the science fiction of time travel. In science it is depicted with the cliché of a butterfly flapping its wings could cause a change in atmosphere that might cause, prevent or change the path of a tornado or tropical storm in a specific location. In science fiction it is usually used when the character travels to a different point in time, she must be careful not to do anything that will change history. Heaven forbid that she is plopped down at a point in her own pre-history and do something to change the particulars of her conception. Maybe she would cease to ever be. I can see you smiling at that one. But if you give it some thought you would see the logic.

Life is cause and effect. Think about this very moment in time. What would you be doing if you weren’t reading this? Maybe you might be drinking coffee, eating some grapefruit, or typing on your computer? Or maybe doing all three like I am doing just now. And then you might throw in a television in the background, playing the Today show and a story about a paralyzed former pro basketball player who is trying to learn to walk again. Not to mention the clothing that I have in the laundry. That is my kind of multi-tasking. But sometimes it digresses into a big batch of white noise and I can’t think of anything at all. It only makes sense if you are aware of what you’re doing in this moment.

How did you wake up this morning? Was it a kiss from your loved one? Was it because you had to go to the bathroom? Did you wake to an alarm clock? Was it a bell, buzzer, song or talk radio? Did you lie in bed until the very last minute or did you leap out of bed to face the new day? I like to split the difference. I wake before the alarm, sometimes hit the On button, lay in bed listening to NPR for a half-hour or so, then leap up to face the day. I like to get a snap shot of news, traffic and whether to start the day.

What did you eat this morning? Did you skip breakfast to get a little ahead on that diet that you’ve been trying out? Are you going to eat a bigger meal later to make up for it? Maybe you had some grapefruit and coffee like me, or a bowl of cereal or oatmeal, or toast or a bagel. Did you use butter or margarine? Jelly or jam? Mustard or mayonnaise? Did you drive through your favorite fast food joint for an Eggiemuffin? Or maybe you stopped off at the sit-down for a grand slam barnyard bustin’ steak and eggs waffle cake. And that’s just your breakfast choices.

Let’s take a look at these options. If you skipped breakfast how does this affect your meal choices the rest of the day? If you went to the drive-thru did you dribble anything on your shirt or scald your tongue on the new premium coffee? If you ate in the car, did it give you indigestion? How did this effect your day? Let’s say you went to your favorite sit-down restaurant. How much coffee did you drink? Was the plate clean and the mug unstained? How was the service? Did you server smile at you? Did you smile back? Was he having a good day? Did you make it a little better or a little worse? How much did you tip? Was the amount you tipped related to the service, or is that just who you are? Did you help him make his rent, or will he have to try a little harder for the rest of his shift. You are the butterfly that flitted through his day.

Regardless of where you ate, what did you put in your body? How much thought did you give to your order? Did you research the nutritional value? Bacon or sausage, whole grain or bleached, cheese or no cheese, plain or lettuce, tomato, and assorted condiments? Each one of these choices has affects the nutrition of the food that you eat and the effect that it has on your body. Does it matter what you eat? Do you have what we used to call a cast-iron stomach? Is your metabolism such that you can eat whatever and not gain a pound? Most of us are not like that. I have been battling a bulge since I was a kid. I will always have love handles. But does that mean that I shouldn’t be cognizant of what I eat?

Absolutely not. Every move we make and every choice we take has consequences. There is contingency in every single thing that we do. If we choose to eat that Baconator, somewhere down the food chain a pig paid the price. If we choose to go with the three-egg omelet instead of the two-egg, that extra bit of cholesterol could lead to a heart attack five years from now. If we get the milkshake instead of the glass of iced tea, there will be a subtle change in your body chemistry that could have long-lasting effects. I’m not saying that you need to become a tree-hugging, animal-loving vegetarian. Just be mindful of your choices and how they affect the world around you. It’s a ripple effect.

Even if we are not the variable in our action, there is still contingency. If your alarm doesn’t go off, you can over-sleep and feel like you’re behind all day. If you’re behind, you feel as if you have to make compromises in your routine to get to work on time. If you go through the drive-thru, you might order the food that catches your eye through the pretty picture. If you take the first bite and it doesn’t meet your expectations, you’ll still eat it because you don’t have the time to take it back and complain.

If you do make it to the sit-down, there is still contingency in every move. If you get there twenty seconds earlier, you might get to sit in Megan’s section instead of Daniel’s. If Daniel is having a bad day, he can affect the quality of your food or the temperature of your coffee. If you complain or send it back, his day gets even worse. And then you decide not to tip. His day, maybe even his month goes into the crapper. Maybe he goes home and beats his girlfriend. Maybe she slips and hits her head on the corner of the coffee table. Maybe she dies. Maybe he gets charged, goes to jail, gets twenty-five to life. All of this happened because you got to the restaurant twenty seconds too late. This is an extreme example, but it accurately depicts the contingency that is interwoven into our life.

Life is contingency. All around us little unseen butterflies are flitting around, waiting to start or prevent the next tornado in our lives. By being mindful and cognizant of the choices that we make in life can open a window into the wonders of life. The past will never to be repeated. The future is contingent, completely beyond your control. Those butterflies are there to make it so. Be here now. Now is all you’ve got.

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