Thursday, December 24, 2009

Sunshine Let In

My mother’s 85th birthday came last week, a day of blurred images for her like any other. My father understands all too well how the Alzheimer’s has taken her out of reach, but he needed acknowledgement of the special day for himself anyway. His note to his children spread across the country was brief and factual, reminding us that it was a hard day of memories for him, a quiet and rare tear of loneliness.

An atheist and an architect, a man reliant on the curves within a life of structure and order, the world has been well-defined to him. He and my mother raised their children to be brave, productive, community-minded and reverential of creativity in others and especially in themselves. He has been bewildered by those of us who have made choices to embrace that very passion over the normal path of job-security and financial well-being.

He has rarely faltered in giving me thousands and thousands of dollars to bolster my business, loan down payments for a home, and provide the safety net as I have tumbled too many times toward the Crack. He has done so with unconditional love, even long after accepting me as a “disappointment”.

But on this special day of memories for all of us, he wondered aloud—spread out as far apart as we might be—if we all paused to think about Mom at 4 PM while he sat with her, would she feel the love? This from my father is an outstanding illustration of the portals that seem to be opening to so many of us in what I dare to describe as a "new age”.

The concept was identified with exuberance in the Sixties by youthful protestors to a war and a lifestyle, and exalted in a shocking musical about long hair and the Age of Aquarius. Parents like mine were bemused and tolerant, some even joining in; others were terrified with bulging necks of red.

After the war and the disgrace of the Nixonian Doctrine, things slowly returned to normal. Except for quiet enclaves peopled with the likes of my sister Lane and Tom, hippies turned to yuppies (following my Dad’s expectation). Communism collapsed, the SUV and plasma screens became status and, despite oceans of madness and poverty around the world, our lives ticked quietly on.

Equal to the fear that raged in all our hearts, on Sept. 12, 2001, the internet exchanged countless messages of hope, peace and forgiveness. As our government raced towards a war of revenge and oil rights, calm voices counseled that this was their last stand, a final “hurrah” before the forces of compassion, brotherhood and love could unite the world.

Quietly the dawning rises to become the Age of Aquarius, a metaphor as bright as any sun, spreading over people as emotionally conservative as my father, opening hearts to conceptions that were ridiculed forty years ago, and completely inconceivable beyond that. In so many references, from career choices to marriage(s), to the colors of bathroom walls, we are being encouraged to trust intuition over rational influence.

A friend who tragically lost her daughter becomes spiritually attuned, a source of inspiration, guidance and support for anyone in crisis (where she might have been burned at the stake not so many centuries ago). Another continually is urged to drive inexplicably miles out of the way only to come across a soul in peril, desperately in need of the very help that has just arrived.

Physically broken and emotionally drained this morning, I lie unmoving, wondering what can be the purpose of my pain and suffering. That others are so much worse deters me only a little from my melancholy. That they can still so cheerfully wish holiday greetings while I am so humbuggish only makes me feel…grumpier. My family is scattered, my friends all joyful, all (but me, sob, sob) wrapped amongst their own families. The darkness and silence embrace me.

Deep inside, however, comes a will to throw the blanket aside and step into the grey, chilly day. I feel the love in my heart of those friends and family near and wide, who chatter on Facebook, smile from their picture frames, or are just distant memories of some one I used to know—who call me intuitively this early morning to participate in life with whatever humble gifts I have to offer.

No demand is made, no price asked, just welcoming arms out-stretched wherever I choose to look. So much lies before us, a banquet spread abundantly.

We have only to open our arms instead of closing our hearts. One small step after another, leaping towards light, we are in this together, and I am grateful, looking towards the New Year.

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Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Dark and the Light

Fear is such a daunting opponent, always an opportunity, but usually daunting and often immobilizing.

We are having our first snowfall of the season at long last, so many Vermonters exulting on Facebook. Two months ago, my son and I anticipated this with an enthusiastic glee I had not known since I was his age. Committed to another winter of ski instructing the Skatter Monkeys, we eagerly watched the leaves turn to fall.

My own fall, however, has changed all that and I lie on the couch this morning livid with fear and frustration, worried that age has caught up with me and will soon blur my vision further and turn my hair to grey. For weeks now, I wonder daily if my lure to lay low in my quiet apartment is truly fatigue and a healthy path of healing or the onset of depression and a serious nail on the coffin, the stress of a long life of troubles over-taking me as quickly as age.

In preparation for the winter of skiing, I was scheduled to make a run to the Mountain this morning for a meeting and required paperwork. Previously, the hour drive each way in snow—considering myself a seasoned Vermonter—would not have been a bother in the slightest, no reason to cancel. Today, however, I fret with concerns that let the deadline for departure pass. My body, I rationalize, would be uncomfortable with the extra time of driving cautiously, and if I skidded off the road, I would be helpless to get myself out.

Normally, such concerns would be easily assuaged by the enthusiasm to accomplish the deed. Rarely one to resist on account of caution, this unfamiliar territory confuses my sense of immortal purpose. From the view of my couch, for the first time in my life, those flakes outside look threatening instead of inviting me to leap and dance over them with boards attached to my feet and sticks in my hand, a concept now so alien compared to my safe, warm, grounded place at home.

Likewise, even making it to the Mountain, the thought of actually attempting an easy run on an easy slope still shudders my core even though last year I was bouncing through moguls on the steepest pitches. Corralling my little Monkeys around hot chocolate, bathroom runs, and trying to get the right gloves, scarves, helmets and goggles on the matching five year old body is an even more intimidating and exhausting image.

Yesterday I walked a mile in my own shoes along a path beside the Lake and today my injury is sensitively inflamed. The doctor says I can ski even with these tubes still in me; mental health yearns to try, but the body resists, not with a decisive jolt of agony, but a subtle flush of discomfort that keeps me off balance.

Regularly, I relive that blind rush of noise that changed my life as the ladder slipped out underneath me last October. I hear the sharp crash of hitting the pavement ten feet below. I can feel the slow-motion confusion as my senses re-oriented to people standing over me, concerned, but completely unsure of how to help. Then too, my fear is fueled by that moment of collision three weeks earlier in a soccer game that resulted in my first stitches in 20 years.

Having been so adventurous and physically capable throughout my life and so rarely injured to any extent, fear now wraps around my desire, choking off the will to move forward. The “what-ifs” are closer to “what could be” and risk outplays results: I remain at home idle and wondering.

Last night I awoke in emotional discomfort and witnessed fear descend like a vulture and envelope me in the darkness, preventing my return to sleep. Unable to work, I would be homeless without my father’s help. Concerned that his help over so many years has played a part in my lack of financial success, still reliant, I fear I will never stand on my own. This injury to the very symbol of manhood seems a cruel representation of the truth about my life. I think I should just get off my butt and find a job, as my father admonishes, "...any job."

Looking for the brighter side, I muse, turning over and trying to breathe out the fast-pulsing fear, given the opportunity to break forever from construction and pursue creativity, I stay awake in the fearful dark, counting words and worrying I have not written enough, hardly taken advantage of this time now afforded. With this chance, I should be scribbling every hour. Not doing so, I fear, invites worse calamities to befall my sorry soul.

In the grey light of dawn, the snow falls like a comforting blanket. I know it is unwise to push too hard like I may have done before. Though I may feel like conquering the world in this moment, I must respect that this trauma was severe and it will still be a week before we have evidence of how much has healed and the first tube might be pulled out (oh, joy!!!). The doctor’s permission cannot overcome the reality that after a mile, my own body is weary and uncomfortable.

Fear exerts its pressure, but the day and the night, the dark and the light must be negotiated step by patient step, always returning to balance.

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Monday, December 7, 2009

Song of the Soul

The reputation of my injury (especially the location) preceded my arrival to the party, so sympathetic greetings walked me across the room. The gathering was to inaugurate my friend's sunroom which had been transformed with a mural and hardwood floors.

Stopping by later after my band practice, for this party centered around music, I jumped right in with a couple of songs. Easily comfortable behind a microphone and under red lights, this kind of informality is much harder for me to play than on stage. I was very shy and stumbled.

Out of the corner next stepped a woman, petite and stikingly beautiful, whose small, humble talking voice was no indicator of the strength and clarity of her singing. When speaking of the power of God and the Universe, there is no better evidence than the rich notes that alternately soared and floated out from her operatically, casting the rest of us spellbound.

Shyla Nelson, I learned, has taken a leap similar to mine with more concentrated determination and measureable success. Performing regularly in the region and internationally, her incredible talent is stirring audiences.

Close to the heart, her work as a voice trainer has accelerated as she focuses on her conviction that strengthening the inner core of the body solidifies the voice, not just as a musical instrument, but as an expression of the soul. Through the power of the voice, one can heal wounds that may have affected the psyche for a lifetime.

A striking clarity in her eyes, the purity of her voice, and the confidence in the spirit behind her message lingered in my mind during the week, finally urging me to send an email. My request was for a simple one sentence evaluation of my voice as she had given on the spot to another musician at the party.

Instead, she invited me to a session later that week. As the morning approached, I became more aware of the appropriateness of this therapy to aleve the disorientation I feel around my circumstances. Not only am I adrift about reconciling my creativity versus being stuck as a carpenter for income, but I am so physically wounded in my core pelvis area.

Emotionally, I remember explaining to my wife two years ago that I needed time to hear my own voice again, that in the stress of our lifestyle, the shouting was drowning out any sense I had of right and wrong choices. Almost immediately, I began playing music and writing songs again, but still struggling for direction today, this work with Shyla might spring me forward into a new realm of understanding, motivation and confidence.

Her greeting at the door was warm and exuberant, like old friends. "Good to see you again," she exclaimed.

As background, we talked of my poverty, my frustration, my wounds from the fall, my marriage, and even my childhood. I described the exhaustion I feel trying to live up to the expectations both self-generated and placed upon me by my parents and others.

Perhaps this injury and forced months on the couch have been a time to lay the burden down and rest, grow silent against the demands and find the inner voice that can better rise to meet them. Shyla agreed and sympathized, saying that I rest in good company as this year has seemed to be a turning point in so many lives.

We agree that there is a magical energy afoot that makes it seem our meeting was no accident or co-incidence, but a marvelous synchronicity that is likewise connecting souls all over the world. Every where, people are in personal transitions as palpable as the sky before a thunderstorm that leaves the earth afterwards clean and refreshed.

By virtue of my needing to write, my path crosses with someone who would like to have her process of teaching transformative singing described. My aching body and weary mind is in need of the strong voice she promises she can help me find. Through this work, it is my hope to sing out with the clearest notes, one more voice added to the song that, all together, can elevate each of our lives.

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Friday, December 4, 2009

World of Changes

Identifying the problems in my life is no problem. My faults and flaws are many and clearly evident. They seem fortunately mostly forgivable to those who know me well. Discovering solutions, antidotes and modifications to these proves much more difficult.

This blog, like journaling, has been an attempt to describe the process of self-discovery, an accounting of change. By seeking to use problems, hurdles and tribulations as opportunities instead of obstacles, a transformation for better (or worse) is chronicled.

That I choose to do this so publically has inspired a little derision, some ridicule (I imagine) and a lot of mystification from a few, but seems to intrigue and stimulate most others. Often acknowledged for being so bold, it may be foolishness on my part (another fault), and lead to regret, but the lesson continuously is reaffirmed that the more honest and open we are, the truer, stronger and more vital are the friendships we attract.

The movie "2012" apparently takes the Mayan prediction of the end of the world, leaving off the crucial phrase " we know it" and depicts a catastrophe laden blockbuster entertainment feature that makes a joke of the concept. Those who see the movie, curious about the hoopla around the date, come away misinformed and completely ignorant of the opportunity available to us.

Interestingly, more and more common folk are growing cognizant and speaking openly about their own processes as they relate to the idea of transformation with a capital "T". Code words are floated between strangers and, if receptive, connection can be immediate and deep, lasting lifetimes or just simply and beautifully in that moment.

Concepts once seen as "far out" in the Sixties have become as mainstream as the hippies who cut their hair, took regular jobs and raised families. So-called Red necks living next door seem no more immune. What once was the dawning has become the Age of Aquarius and as much as terrorism has replaced communism, there is a wealth of hopeful energy in neighborhoods all around the world.

What this means for me is that I have been on a long journey full of joys and tragedies to bring me to this ocuch where I lie today, contemplating the tubes in my belly. This accident was no accident, but an accumulation of experience--not a culmination, yet another skirmish between my rational confroming self and my sub-conscious, my soul which knows far more, is more patient and far more powerful than my problem-solving mind.

I lie here this month, considering the events leading to this: the wonderful moments of birth (mine and my children's), love and good fortune, often over-shadowed by the disasterous decisions that have lead to bankruptcy, divorce and emotional and physical impoverishment. I think about the fear that has caused me to withhold my love and fully appreciate the love of others, and grow determined to live more openly in that sunlight, like a flower leaning towards the brilliant nurturing rays.

This process fascinates me and I am not afraid to share it because every day I am being rewarded by the companionship of those who want to join in the chorus. Like a wave gathering strength and momentum, 2009 has been a surge of energy in retrograde, seemingly full of set-backs and disorientation to so many in their home, health and heart. My belief, which I keep hearing echoed in the songs, stories and conversations, is that we as individuals, communities and population are moving forward into a new realm of understanding and appreciation.

Dreams long dormant are re-awakening, Our thirst for connection is being quenched, our hunger for unconditional love aroused like the palate by the aroma of turkey, seasoning on a late Thanksgiving morning. For every terrorist bent on destruction, there are thousands embracing our humanity and forgiving us our frailties as we know we should forgive theirs.

In 1978, my intuition understood this primal power, drawing me in through fire and death to settle with a family on a mountainside in Oregon for ten years until my thinking mind's resistance provided my daring leap with a landing that embraced a more "normal" lifestyle. My sister has remained on that mountain and faithfully supported my journey without judgment, all the while encouraging me to stay alert to this energy of spirit and the new world that is possible at the end of the world as we know it.

From my couch today, I see there are several people closer to home who have recently crossed (or re-crossed) my path to help me with my trasnformation. One in particular has invited me to share openly the work we intend to do together, a story I relish to write down in the year ahead.

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Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Green Grow the Grasses-oh!

If I am ever inclined to feel sorry for myself (which is often these days), visits with my father and an old college buddy over Thanksgiving can help to temper that perspective.

A few years out of school, married and with a baby on the way, my friend was crushed by a small wave off Long Island. Having heard a "snap" in his neck, for minutes, he lay on his back under water, unable to move, watchng the sky, expecting to drown, but miraculously was found and pulled to shore, paralyzed, but alive.

Twenty-five years later, his wife helps him with every bite he takes, and still their love seems as vital as any who have fallen into each other's arms. His corporate employer stood by during his year long absence and welcomed him back, even changed his assistant's job description to include meeting his wheelchair at the station and rolling him the rest of the way to work.

After so many late nights of college dreams, he has successfully written much more than I (who dreamed more vocally) and seen his screenplays evolve into movies. A very melodic guitar player before his accident, he has switched to harmonica and plays out with two different bands.

We can allude to his handicap comfortably and to some of the pleasures he misses, but he has made life good for himself (with fortuitous and loving help), grown comfortable in his chair. Always a realist, he has adjusted and made it as good as it can get with no audible complaint.

So lonely, lost and bewildered in those first weeks after my scaffold collapse, I lay on my couch, desperate for visitors and was satisfied only an hour a day, even counting the visiting nurse. Rationalizations that the Universe had given me this time to be alone and in deep contemplation was no solace to the little boy who wanted comfort and a hand to hold.

At 85, with his wife embraced by Alzheimer's, my father is both nearly blind and deaf. His knees arthritic, crossing the room is a slow effort. Living in a community of aged souls, he spends most of his time alone, frustrated not seeing the details of faces, or discerning the rumble of pleasant conversations. His hands are numb, his teeth cracking. He uses a catheter at night. He misses my mother hourly and has trouble telling his grandchildren apart.

"My worst fear," he confides honestly, "Is living another ten years." He has stopped taking aspirin to prevent a heart-attack and feeling a pain in his chest last month, he admitted thinking, "Oh Goody!"

Raised a Quaker, but always an athiest since his war experience, he expects there to be nothing beyond, sees no adventure ahead (as Charles Lindbergh revealed with his last words). There is no talking to him about Spirit, reunion or future lives. He accepts with equanamity the inevitablity of a long, long sleep and the rest of the world going merrily along without him.

Together for the weekend, we muddled about his apartment in slow, cautious steps, napped on schedule, and sat on stools in the kitchen, staring at dropped packaging on the floor and choosing to let them lay. A mirror image lowering ourselves into either side of the Redster, my sisters laughed heartily to witness our moans and groans. We shared our catheter stories as only those who have them can understand.

While I do slowly get better, however, sadly for him, this decrepitude has been an irritant for far longer and is destined only to get worse.

Even so, while he has given up on the detail of his paintings and sculpture, unable to see or feel the realities of form, he has switched to alabaster and abstraction, using a Dremmel and hand to smooth vague shapes that twist and roll with the beauty still clear in his mind. Stone dust covers his wheeled walker.

Using a 32" HDTV for a monitor, with his glasses off and face inches from the screen, he religiously checks the stock market, email and weather online, and good naturedly tries to figure out what all the fuss is about around Facebook. He takes the bus to market and patiently observes that re-stocking shelves in different patterns might sell more items, but frustrates a blind man who cannot find where his Wheaties have gone. Disappointment has not scared him that the Phillies lost the World Series; they gave him three seasons of fun.

Admittedly removed emotionally from his children as they grew up, with my mother no longer available to translate, he has been forced to ask us questions about our lives and reveal his own thoughts, fears and frustrations, becoming a more communicative person, discovering lately, as have I, that being open invites hugs in return. Relating together for a lifetime in silence, we are only now learning to speak to each other more clearly.

A lesson so very precious, to enjoy the miracle further, I pray he sticks around just a little while longer.

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