Spelunking the Soul

Last spring, my daughter who lives in New York City and had been hospitalized with dengue fever in January, suffered Covid-19 in March, and had her dreams of working on Broadway following her graduation from NYU in May evaporate in a raging pandemic, wanted my assurance that “normal” would return soon.  In a paternal headfake—the kind you use when you don’t have the answer—I suggested a “new normal” would prevail. “But what will ‘new normal’ be, Papa?,” she asked. (At 22 years of age she knows a headfake when she hears one.) “I just don’t know,” I said apologetically. “No one does,” I added, in an attempt to rescue my paternal authority from the embarrassment of my quotidian ignorance.

As the days of uncertainty turned to weeks then months, and my own wife of sixteen years abandoned our marriage to focus “on myself … to know myself better … and figuring out what I want for my life” in June, I have had plenty of time to plumb the depths of despair and interrogate the factors that landed me, my community, country, and all of humanity in the perilous place we find ourselves today. I dove (or was perhaps shoved) into the cavernous darkness of contemplation; in shorthand, spelunking the soul.

What I have learned thus far, with the help of my therapist, Rita Robinson, is that the pain, grief, and despair we endure from both personal and communal loss must not be wasted on fighting to get back to where we were—to the old normal. Rather, they must be embraced as gifts of deliverance. We must layer the pain, like the compressed slivered sheets that form plywood, into a pliable yet durable springboard to leap to a better place—a better and new normal.

We must first accept the unwelcome truth that the old normal got us into the mess we are in. Why would we pine for its return? Why would we want to reestablish the beliefs, practices, policies, and twisted norms that delivered so much misery? Why would we attempt reconciliation with the capricious?  We aren’t where we are entirely by chance; we have contributed mightily to our suffering. We need to own our complicity in the pain we endure while letting go of the factors that conspired against us.  Clinging to them for the comfort of the familiar might allow the snake to bite twice.

Our leaders lied to us while we knew better and remained silent. We watched as children were ripped from the arms of their parents and locked in cages and we just turned the channel, or swiped left. We lowered the window shades as our neighbor’s children went to bed hungry. We whined about our liberties lest the indignity of wearing a mask might stifle our freedom, and thousands died. We failed to ask the most fundamental question of all to those we care about: “Are you okay?” Our mouths were busy talking while our ears should have been busy listening. We hid in our social media silos for comfort to shield us from the indecency of our indifference. We wallowed in self-pity as we stroked and groomed our pathetic sense of entitlement.

Yup, we suck. However, we can stop sucking by caring again. By listening. By giving of ourselves. By holding each other to account. We can stand up for the truth and silence the parasites that have been draining the life out of our communities. We can respect the promise of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness for everyone, not just those who look like us, think like us, or are our so-called friends in our social media cliques. We can sacrifice present comforts for bigger challenges like assuring our air is breathable, our water drinkable, and nature is revered again so that there is a future for all creatures that call earth home. We need to set aside having for being. Our next normal can be much better than the last.

The next few weeks will be some of the toughest ever faced in the history of the United States, but the elements of our redemption are within reach. Safe and effective vaccines. New national leadership. A staggered, humbled, but resolute people who are ready to do the work of renewal. Our losses must be the seeds of a new future—a new normal.  We will get out by getting through.

Someday we will be asked how we dealt with the calamity of 2020—easily one of the worst years in the history of America—similar to the questions we asked our parents and grandparents about the Great Depression. Now is the time to make certain your answer is one your children and grandchildren can brag about. That you took your blows, steeled your spine, renewed your sense of empathy, and made the sacrifices—did the hard work—to create a better future born from the lessons of loss.

Happy New Year. I hope.

By |2021-01-10T17:38:03+00:00December 28th, 2020|General, Recent|0 Comments

Into the Light

The curtain is falling on America’s long descent into the darkness of the Age of Deceit.

I suppose it is fitting that the closest conjunction of Jupiter and Saturn occurs today on this winter’s solstice; the closest since the year 1226. A conjunction Christians believe formed the Christmas Star more than two millennia ago as they co-opted a pagan celebration as their own. Virtually every religion and culture across the world and across time have rituals and celebrations to herald our seasonal turn from darkness to light. The promise of rebirth this year has never been more welcome.

Our descent into the darkness of deceit began nearly twenty years ago with our leader’s lies about WMD and al-Qaeda in Iraq. We tolerated those deceits because we were angry and afraid. As truth became relative—in virtually all aspects of our society—other fundamental underpinnings of character also became vulnerable including humility, temperance, and especially our sense of compassion. We became righteous, arrogant, greedy, and frankly, a danger to ourselves.

Our descent reached terminal velocity with the election of Donald Trump. Deceit is disorienting and 2020 marked the zenith of our disconnection from reality and truth, quite literally resulting in the unnecessary death of hundreds of thousands of Americans. “Shame” and “pity” are words our allies use to describe America today. They are being kind.

The cost of all of this may never be summed, but suffice it to say we cannot afford to continue on our current path.

Some argue we will, indeed, continue on this path of descent—a trajectory akin to a downward spiral. Their predictions are plausible, but ahistorical. The path of humanity, including America, has never been linear. Randomness and chaos tend toward lurching to and fro like a poorly anchored pendulum always threatening to lose its grip on its axis. And, humans learn. We course-correct. We seek advantage through differentiation. It is more than likely we will now lurch back toward the light of truth. Under current circumstances, our very survival depends on this turn.

We must set judgment and condemnation aside. There is plenty of shame and blame for all of us to share, which is a completely useless endeavor. It is time for virtue to return to the altar of reverence. We must rebuild our character as individuals, communities, and a nation—one virtue at a time. It will be hard; painful. But the needle is pointing toward truth. It is that dim but stable light that beckons at the other end of the tunnel. The light that will draw us from despair, from fear, from loathing, from the threat of complete and utter destruction.

With truth comes the prospect of justice, accompanied by its loyal steward: love.

We can get there if we go together. We have lived the alternative for the last 20 years—to our great peril. Tomorrow is ours to seek. Our destiny is in our hands. The future of humankind hangs in the balance. This is no time for indifference. This is no time to bet on luck. It is time to reject deceit in all of its forms; to embrace the light of truth as our beacon of hope. It is time to clasp each other’s hands and climb. To breathe the air of clarity that awaits at the top of the mountain of virtue where our souls can soar again.

What a joy it would be to see you there. If you make it there before I do, please take my words with you, and enjoy the view.

Happy Solstice!

By |2020-12-28T17:07:38+00:00December 21st, 2020|General, Recent|0 Comments

Let’s Give Each Other a Chance Again

It started as a fairly normal Saturday morning in southwestern Colorado, excepting the dull headache that persisted following too many hours of viewing election coverage for what seemed an eternity.  The headache quickly resolved with a stout cup of coffee born on the island of Sumatra—a steady morning companion.  There were chores to be done, which arrived with a sense of urgency to beat the arrival of a winter storm creeping toward the doorstep of the San Juan Mountains.  The storm warning suggested more feet than inches of snow accompanied by a fierce wind—the kind that would erase any of the last golden vestiges of autumn in favor of a white blanket of winter.

As I organized the trash and recyclables to arrive at the dump when the gates would swing clear to receive the castaway evidence of my solitary life, my Springer Spaniel, Stella, started her twirling dance by the door.  She loves to go to the dump; her enthusiasm, while odd by human standards, provides a welcome spirit to an otherwise pedestrian chore where the only human interaction is with a maskless transfer-station clerk who takes down license plate numbers and assesses fees with alacrity commensurate with the bounty her customers leave behind.  The rats that live beneath the industrial-size compactor are the only critters that wage a smile.  Yes, rats can smile.  (Google it—they smile with both their ears and lips; happy happens.)

Upon returning home and moving more firewood closer to the front door, I decided to flip on the TV and sink, once again, into my oversized leather chair where reading, viewing, and naps are common.  The scene that revealed across the glassy platter of Samsung digital clarity was stunning, even jarring.  People gathering in the streets of America—that much seemed normal following months of civil unrest.  But, this was strange.  Screaming, anger, and violence had been replaced by cheering, singing, and dancing.  I struggled to remember the last time I had seen joy, but my memory failed to comply. Tears gathered in the lower half of my eyes then, as suddenly as they arrived, they breached the dam of my eyelids and streamed down my face; an aging white man trying to reconcile the moment after living of the edge of dread for four years.

I wept for the prospect of normalcy.  I wept for the promise of hope.  I wept for the possibility that the America I was raised to love and protect might return.  I wept for the immigrant children who may now be reunited with their parents that had been exiled by an evil American regime.  I wept for those who lost their lives at the hands of an incompetent leader who cared more about his reelection than saving them from a deadly pandemic.  I wept for those who, because of the color of their skin, or unsettled legal status, or gender preference, or simple political persuasion, have lived in a state of fear moving from shadow to shadow lest the light of day place them in peril.  But I also wept for those who prefer red to blue—Trump to Biden—for they are victims too.  Dying from a poverty of dignity at the end of a gun, or a stomach full of opioids, bereft of hope and swindled by a man who promised them deliverance but never, ever, cared enough to save them.  And, I wept for those who sold their souls to grab what benefits they could—political or financial—from a man who was determined to destroy American values and institutions so that he might realize his fantasies of fascism.

The heart of America has many wounds.  To be clear, I am far from Pollyannaish.  It is highly uncertain if America will recover her promise, her hope, her power.  The American Dream may be lost forever.  Our greatest days may only be experienced by reading our history, rather than living our future.  However, I heard president-elect Biden’s plea, that we “give each other a chance.”  After all, chances—first, second, and more—course through the veins of the American spirit.  It is within our power to choose, and each and every one of us has the responsibility in every new morning that arrives, to decide whether we want to save our heritage from the travesty of the Age of Deceit—punctuated in finality by the Trump administration—or meander toward mediocrity, or worse.  In November 1863, with the Union teetering on collapse, Abraham Lincoln stood in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania—the same commonwealth that delivered victory to Joe Biden and Kamala Harris—and argued for a “new birth of freedom.”  Today, we must again set aside fear for hope, hate for love, dread for grace.  We must give each other a chance again.

By |2020-12-03T14:33:05+00:00November 8th, 2020|Donald Trump, General, Recent|0 Comments

Dropping In

There is a euphoric sense of freedom the moment a skier, standing on the precipice of a mountain, leans the tips of his skis ever so slightly downward to initiate descent, allowing both body and spirit to embrace gravity’s deliverance from stasis. The movements that follow—the intentional and gentle shifting weight and balance ballet that ensues—produces a harmonic flow of splendor that feels as if you are seamlessly connected to both heaven and earth; as if your skis have become wings. These moments of connectivity with nature offer the magnificence of pure bliss.

Today, the bliss of dropping in is just a cherished memory. Today, the precipice seems more like a ledge with nothing but the peril of loss waiting below. And yet, drop in we must. Yes, there may be pain and loss and plenty of stress, but remaining on the ledge addled by rumination is no way to live.  As my friend, Roger Cohen, of The New York Times argued, “there is no way out but through.”

Getting “through” requires a full heart and a clear mind, but we humans have a spectacular capacity to compromise both. We prefer the comfort of ignorance to the challenge of truth.  We crave delusional affirmation when what we need is the clarity of reckoning. We stubbornly remain fixed on chosen pathways even while the stress of mounting anxiety is itself screaming in our ear: Hello! Change course! You are headed off a cliff!  Psychosis wraps its tentacles around our ankles as we wonder why our gait becomes staggered. The result is a malaise of disorientation—born of magical thinking—that leaves us whipsawed between exuberance and depression.

In the coming weeks, now that the campaign starting gun of Labor Day has passed, we will be subject to a barrage of deceits and distractions aimed at keeping the pot of disorientation at a roiling boil. Some of us will be tempted to reach up for the ledge to scramble back to safety. Others will bury their heads in the sand.  However, this is not the time for retreat or apathy.  If we want to get back on the precipice, aiming our skis toward bliss, we must defeat those intent on crushing the soul of this country. We must fight for truth and honor and dignity. As Abraham Lincoln implored, “We shall nobly save, or meanly lose, the last best hope of earth.”

More than any time in history, your vote and the votes of your friends and family must be cast, regardless of the many efforts made to confuse you and deter you from doing so. You are not being asked to put your life at risk, as prior generations were. Do your civic duty. Just vote, damn it, VOTE.

By |2020-10-10T19:11:23+00:00September 8th, 2020|General, Recent|0 Comments

Darkest Before the Dawn

In the midst of the grip of the dog days of summer, it seems odd to write about darkness, but the news of the day provides little, if any, rays of light.  Even in the West, what sun there is has become shrouded by a season of smoke from raging wildfires—a climate-change reality that has become an unsolicited summer norm.

Mid-August 2020 may be remembered as the moment we began our descent into a seemingly bottomless inkwell of darkness.  Between a botched Covid-19 response, rampant civil and economic injustice, violence, suicide, and murder escalating across the country at astounding rates, a climate that threatens to consume us, and national leadership drowning in its selfishness and incompetence, it feels like layer upon layer of tribulation may suffocate any light of hope to rescue us from overwhelming uncertainty and peril.  Heading into a hidey-hole like a stunned groundhog in February sounds nearly inviting.  Or, as Michelle Obama suggested, when they go low, just stay high, America!  (I may not have gotten that exactly right.)

And yet, as the English theologian, Thomas Fuller, suggested in 1650, “it is always darkest just before the day dawneth.”  The proverbial sun will rise again.  I promise.

We must also remember that America has been here before.  Not exactly here of course, but in similar dire straits.  That edge of fire that breaks the horizon that expands to overtake darkness will, eventually, lead us out of our current crisis.

After the improvident period of idealism that granted easement to the charlatans and grifters of the middle 19th century, we endured a Civil War that nearly ended the American experiment of a democratic republic.  Yes, it could have ended America, but it didn’t.  We went on to pull ourselves up by our bootstraps and create the land of opportunity that doubled our population due to a mass influx of immigrants that quite literally filled America with life and hope.

Following the avarice of the next period of idealism—the Roaring Twenties—that ended with a stock market crash that launched the Great Depression and allowed fascism and evil to sweep Europe and much of Asia during World War II, America once again found the light of hope to ascend on the world stage, this time as a superpower.

The current crisis—the Age of Deceit—marked by the War on Terror, the Great Recession, a 100-year pandemic and a president who is, himself, the existential threat to the republic, was born from the third period of idealism (1980 – 2003) where, once again, affluence twisted our collective character into a braided whip of narcissism, entitlement, and hubris.  A whip we have turned against ourselves with remarkable vehemence.  As with all crises in our history, this one is self-inflicted.  Which also means—through humility and will power—we can transcend it.

We are nearing the end of the current crisis.  How do I know? Because it is time.  American crises (and this is our fourth) last 15 to 20 years.  We are in year 17 of the Age of Deceit.  I expect 2021 will be a race toward renewal; that is, if we are successful in, among other things, affecting a wholesale cleanout of our national leadership.  We need a Washington, Grant, or Eisenhower to deliver us from crisis.  What follows next, if American history rhymes, is a period of objectivism to succeed crisis, which are historically marked by realism, rationalism, and humanism. And, for Baby Boomers, maybe even one last shot at tranquility before we leave America for good.

Last week, David Brooks of The New York Times provided an (unwitting) endorsement of the coming shift toward objectivism when he wrote,

Radicals are good at opening our eyes to social problems and expanding the realm of what’s sayable.  But if you look at who actually leads change over the course of American history, it’s not the radicals. At a certain point, radicals give way to the more prudent and moderate wings of their coalitions.

He closed by invoking one of the greatest thinkers in the history of the modern era, Isaiah Berlin, who laid claim to the light that exists in that seam of possibility that occupies the “extreme right-wing edge of the left-wing movement.”  Where the surety of objectivism lives.

The next few months will be rough.  At times, it will seem as if the light will never come to erase the darkness of despair and loss.  But, come it will.  Many will fight mightily to herald a new dawn.  To them, we will owe a deep debt of gratitude in much the same way we owe those who delivered us from the tyranny of King George III, defeated the treasonous Confederate army in the Civil War, and vanquished fascism in the 1940s.

For the rest of us, we have (at least) one solemn duty: vote, damn it, VOTE!

By |2020-09-01T15:22:52+00:00August 18th, 2020|General, Recent|0 Comments

But the Greatest of These is Love

As the swelter of heat and humidity hang like a shroud of interminable anguish over our suffering nation, the time has come to end the long nightmare that has become America’s fall from grace.

To those who continue to ignore the realities of this pandemic by following the path of selfishness, I have no words for you.

To those who remain committed to the evil of racism, misogyny, bigotry and self-righteous intolerance—whether on the political left or right—I have no words for you.

To those who express their privilege without hesitation or consciousness while ignoring the agony of their fellow Americans, I have no words for you.

To those who look with indifference at brown babies being separated from their mothers who are trying to save their families under the long shadowy gaze of the Statue of Liberty that welcomed your family to America, I have no words for you.

To those who enable men of power to ignore their solemn oath to honor the rule of law and the Constitution of the United States, I have no words for you.

And to you, President Trump, we have suffered your wrath more than any of us deserved. You have actualized the American carnage you promised during your inauguration.  To you, only these words remain: please, for the good of the country and the world, TAKE YOUR LEAVE NOW.

For all the rest of you who remain committed to American values and virtue—who still believe in the American Dream—I have these words for you: respect, love and hope.

I respect your discipline and your sacrifice.  I respect that in the face of anguish and seemingly insurmountable odds, you have extended your hand to support your neighbors.  I respect that you speak not of your losses and tribulations, but of what you can contribute to alleviate the suffering of others.  I respect that you too are scared, but somehow manage to leave your fear buried beneath your courage.

I love that you remain stalwart defenders of compassion in the face of hate—that you continue to project love to trump hate.  The great American theologian, Paul Tillich, taught us that love is the most important factor in transforming power into justice.  Justice needs power and power needs love; without love there can be no justice.  This may be the most simple and elegant equation ever constructed in the history of the world.

I hope, as I expect you do, that Americans like yourselves will save us from those for whom I have no words.  I hope that we will transcend the petty, divisive, and dangerous leaders who currently abuse the levers of American power.  I hope that we will succeed in reimagining America and relight the “city on a hill” established by John Winthrop upon arriving at what became the Massachusetts Bay Colony in the early 17th century.  I hope we can keep the dreams of every child alive, that they may succeed us in becoming masterful stewards of humanity.

The next several months are fraught with certain peril.  May respect, love and hope serve each of us as we endeavor to save America.

 

By |2020-08-18T17:40:34+00:00July 27th, 2020|Donald Trump, General, Recent|0 Comments
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