Monday, December 28, 2015

Something good that came from something bad.

“I’ve had it, Pops,” Jason said.

Steve stopped walking. Jason didn’t.


Another three steps, then father watched his son’s head fall, shoulders hunching forward. Jason didn’t turn, just stood there, a tree bent in the wind. Steve walked up alongside, afraid he wasn’t going to be able to help his son.

“I’m a failure, Dad.”

Jason’s flat whisper cut deep. Steve breathed, holding back tears, knew feeling sorry for his son wouldn’t help anything, changed his perspective.

“You know, I’m pretty successful,” Steve said, walking again, hoping to engage his son in something other than his own self-pity.

“You’re f*cking successful!”

Jason quickly caught up, even as his father walked faster.

“Yep, I’m f-ing successful!”

They smiled at one another, accepting a truce on the taboo of Jason’s use of explitive deletives.

“It’s partly your fault,” Steve said.
“My success.”

Jason stopped, jerked his body upright.

“Easy,” his dad reminded, keeping Jason focused on what was being discussed, not the playful use of foul language.

“I wouldn’t be the man I am,” Steve said, facing Jason, looking him right in the eyes, “if it weren’t for you.”

For a brief moment, sadness poured between them, a flood of memories, painful reminders of Jason’s brain damage and lack of self-control.

“F*ck you!”

Jason was off, walking fast.

“It’s true,” Steve called, “and you know it.”

Jason slowed.

“You taught me patience, tolerance, acceptance,” Steve said, slowly closing the gap between them. “I would never have been as successful as I am, without you.”

Jason turned. Even in the darkness his eyes glinted with the growing moisture.

“It’s partly your fault,” Steve laughed, trying to distract his own tears. “If you think I’m successful, then you’re successful, too.”

Father and son searched each other’s face for the truth that was there.

“Come on,” Steve said, putting an arm around his son, pulling him close alongside as he turned them around, back towards the Christmas dinner and family that they had so abruptly left. “Let’s get some dinner.”

What hurts right now?

The chill in the air reminds me how much I love to be held, warm, in the safe arms of a loved one, the heat seeping, penetrating every fear, relaxing every tension, releasing every anxiety.

I wish I could give my children, now grown and responsible for themselves, the security I felt from my parents and family. Where did that feeling come from? My parents weren’t “holders” or “huggers”. Yet I have always felt safe. Perhaps it was just luck, the luck of NOT having that trust broken by circumstances.

The holidays boil over with my insecurities, doubt, regret, remembrances of innocent childhood, unharmed, magical, protected from the outside world and all its ugliest challenges. I want to make it all better, a kiss on the finger, a band-aid wand.

I have a mantra for the holidays: my suffering is caused by me taking responsibility for things I cannot control. It’s a variation of Buddhism and the Alcoholics Anonymous Serenity Prayer. As much as I might wish to have given my children the Christmas I remember, I cannot change the past, nor can I control their perception. So I let go of expectations, cherish my memories, let go of the pain of wanting to change things I cannot, and bath myself in gratitude, giving until it hurts, and letting the wonder of this moment wash me silly with the dopamine of delight.


Tether cut, the newborn floats, adrift, ripped from safe berth by birth.

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Show rather than tell

He stared, not at the blood-red Dahlias staked tall and heavy against the next cloudburst, or the iridescent hummingbird flying guard over the the sugar-water feeder, or the giant swallowtail butterflies fluttering like folded scraps of tissue in the hot humid air. He stared, out the window, at the outside, and wondered if it was real, then rolled his wheelchair back in front of the television to watch Jeopardy.


We met beneath my house, an 1885 Victorian raised on cribbing to replace the old stone and mortar foundation. It seemed a fitting place, in the middle of the city, to have a ceremony. He was getting married tomorrow. The groom, best man, and six close friends were celebrating his last day as a bachelor.

We stood in a circle, arms over shoulders, and talked of the coming challenges. Most of us were married, had been married for years, and told stories of battles and wars waged between husbands and wives, and how to survive them.

“We need to mark this moment,” the groom declared, and we grumbled our assent.

We headed down the street, past the old church, the park, past the Odd Fellows, the Masons, to the fountain, and the little tattoo shop on the corner.

“Let’s all get a tattoo,” someone said.

I lagged behind, had never been inside a tattoo shop before, so followed after everyone else slipped through the door.

“Brotherhood,” the tattoo artist was explaining. “It’s the
Chinese symbol for brotherhood.”

One by one each man sat in the chair. It reminded me of a barber’s chair, might have been a barber’s chair. Then the buzz, the bravado smile, as the needle jabbed at the stencil, into the skin of his right shoulder. One by one, until it was my turn.

“Come on,” he said.

The tattoo artist cleaned his needles. I shook my head.

“Come on,” they said.

They grabbed me, started to drag me to the chair.

“Why not?” he asked.

I told them. Nobody in my family had a tattoo. None of my brothers, my father, my uncles, my grandfathers, none had ever gotten a tattoo. But the men still held me, still pulled me closer to the chair.

“Wait,” he said. “It’s important to him. Let him go.”

They didn’t, until he came and undid every hand that held me, telling them they had to respect my conviction.

I followed them out of the tattoo shop, each nursing their shirts back over their wounds, seven brothers and another.


Change is elusive, like the mosquito I see out the corner of my eye and disappears when I turn, only to wake the next morning with a bite.

“You’ve changed,” my friend says. He has nothing else to say and doesn’t call again.

Have I changed? I know I have. From what to what? I talk less. I listen more. I am not so sure of myself, not ready with the answer, the solution, the right way. Nothing bothers me. Little interests me. Each day is new, changed, the same.

Spring changes to summer changes to fall changes to winter. I flow with the seasons. Change is attachment to the difference between the past and the present, but I forgive now, let the past be, and the present is.

I am a raindrop, a stream, a pond. Change is not for me. Change is for those who remember, and dream.

whisper, eternity, soar, frantic, thousand, chain, live, lie

His was a whisper, closer, the heat of his cheek burning into hers.

“Why shouldn’t I,” she thought. “Forty-five is not old.” But her head echoed with another voice, “Hell is an eternity.” Still, she had waited, been patient, tried for 18 years in a marriage that was killing her.

He touched her shoulder. Her heart pounded, lightened her head. She let herself soar. He pushed open the door, went in, tugged at her arm. She floated behind him, the choice made with the click of the latch.

They were frantic, afraid, anxious. And then it was over.

Her disappointment welled, and a blink sped her life down her cheek. His eyes searched, found. He was gentle this time, generous, until a thousand petals burst into blossom, exploding the chain her father had locked.

She wept. He waited, held her. She melted into his arms. To live in this moment was everything. They slept. She woke. He was gone. Her heart ached. She smiled, knowing it would never happen again, knowing it was a lie.

Thursday, February 5, 2015

Special object to give...

It was pitch black and chilly, but the rain that had come and gone the whole weekend had stopped. The clouds parted, giving us a beautiful view of the Milky Way.

I led the men, staff in hand, single file, each man's right hand on the shoulder of the man ahead of him. We walked in silence until we came to the large circle of corn meal I poured earlier. Cautioning against entering, I walked the men around the circle until they were spread along its perimeter. I stepped back and introduced them to the neighborhood.

I talked about the redwoods around us, how they were there before any of us was born, how they would be there long after all of us died. I talked about a fallen redwood, just beyond our circle, still taller on its side than any of us standing, and how it was on its journey back into the earth.

I looked up at the stars and I asked the men to let themselves stretch in time and space, connecting with their legacy, a legacy passed on for billions of years, across time and space.

We stood, quiet. The men waited as I lit a bundle of white sage, blew out the flame, spread the smoke over my entire body. I went to each man, blew on the embers until the bundle glowed red and a cloud of sweet white smoke billowed. I wafted the smoke over his back side. My hand on his shoulder, I gently guided him to turn clockwise, coaxed the smoke over his front side, then guided him clockwise again, returning him to face the other men around the circle. It was a Lakota cleansing tradition known as smudging, that I had learned from my teacher, who had learned from his.

The smudging took some time, a ritual that invited us all to be with ourselves in a way so rarely found today, an invitation to sink into our hearts.

Finishing the last man, I entered the circle, walked to a large flat rock at the center, on which I laid the smoking sage. I kneeled and said a prayer out loud to Grandfather, asking him to take care of my family, to take care of the men putting on this initiation, and the men here around me.

Leaving the circle, I invited the first man on my left to enter. It did not take him long to find his voice at the altar, nor any man, as we slowly rotated to allow each to enter. In the next half-hour I was moved to tears as 20 men shared themselves through some 9 different manners of expression. Some I recognized: Christian, Judaic, Islamic, including one man who honored us by singing a prayer in Lakota. Others I did not.

When the last one finished, I led the men back inside, staff in hand, single file, right hand on the shoulder of the man ahead, in silence. And we left just as we had come. Almost.

Monday, January 26, 2015

What I Know

What I know is that as I get older, that which I know can keep me from seeing what I don’t know. Change is the domain of the young, for whom it is not change, but just is. The older I get, the more I realize how fragile the origins of my understanding. We are born without attachment. We die without attachment. In between, things get pretty sticky!

Challenging Situation

I didn’t have to understand his French. The man growled and slurred the words as he wobbled towards the woman seated at the table not far from my own. His jacket swung, heavy with grunge, as he steadied himself against her wrought iron table and began to raise his voice, transforming the quaint romantic Paris cafĂ© into a trap. The woman held her child tight, her eyes on his, even as he became angrier. The child winced. The woman’s body stiffened. She slowly turned her face, lifting her chin, ready to accept any blow. The man yelled, slipped off her table and moved on, past my table, back into the street.

And for years, I have asked myself why. Why didn’t I stand? Why didn’t I stand up and walk over? Why didn’t I put myself between that mother and child, to let her know, to let them both know, that I would not have let any harm come to them, that they were not alone, on that warm spring afternoon, in Paris.


    Pacific Sunset

Through the evening haze,
   The sun slipped
    Behind a cloud
  To change her dress.

I peeked beneath the horizon
   And saw the ocean of creation,
    Blue-green, sparkling with life,
  Swirling, hungrily swallowing all she offered.

I joined the feast
   And let her slip into me.
    Warm, still, and then gone;
  A rainbow of echoes.

Seeing Red

It swam across my vision, a wisp of reddish-brown smoke, then swirled as I turned my eye to try to see what it was. The blood seeped within the clear fluid, shifting and spinning with every flick of my eye.

“That’s strange,” I mumbled.

My wife was watching cable, back-to-back episodes of some real estate reality show. I shifted my eyes left, right, left. The swirl was beautiful, and reminded me of a murder mystery special effect.

“Something’s happened to my eye,” I said.

I was looking up, because the white ceiling made a better backdrop, studying the flow of two fluids mixing. I recognized my intellectual curiosity. It was my unemotional brain taking over as a defense mechanism.

“I’ve seen floaters before,” I said, “but this is… more.”

My wife muted the television, turned to look at me. I didn’t lower my eyes, just kept staring at the ceiling.

“Call Kaiser,” she said.

She knew me well enough to make it a command rather than a question. Her tone added to my growing fear of the unknown. I stood and walked to the phone. The concern I saw on her face reminded me to stay calm. I smiled, but felt the lie at the corners of my mouth.
I ignored the brownish haze filling my right eye and tried to make out the tiny markings on the back of my health insurance card. Unable to read the phone number, I pulled on my reading glasses and forced myself to focus. Even so, I was only able to remember and dial one digit at a time.

After a brief wait, and a short conversation with the nurse, I was talking with a doctor.

“You need to go in to the emergency room,” he said. “Your retina may be torn. If it’s not taken care of, you could have a detached retina.”

I was used to medical exaggeration. Lawsuits tended to encourage doctors to give very conservative advice. I knew the drill.

“Can it wait until morning?”

It was Friday night and I didn’t really want to spend hours in the hospital emergency room waiting for a doctor to tell me I was fine, exposing myself to who-knows-what diseases.

“I wouldn’t advise it,” he said. “You could lose the sight in your eye.”


My heart beat faster. I realized I was taking shallow breaths and took a long deep one, which ended as a sigh. He must have heard my indecision.

“If you don’t go in to the emergency room, at least lie down facing up. It will put less pressure on the torn retina, if there is one,” he said. “But tomorrow morning you have to go and see a doctor.”

I hung up the phone.

“I have to go to the emergency room,” I whispered.

My wife stood up, got her coat, and without a word waited for me by the front door.
I fought back my anxiety and frustration as I headed out the door for yet another trip to the emergency room, as if getting out of bed each morning weren’t reminder enough that I was old, that I was going to die some day, that I needed the help of someone else along the way.

“Sorry,” I said.
“Don’t be silly,” she said.

How do you want to be remembered?

How do I want to be remembered? “I” remembered? Such an ego, self-centered thing. I pass on my DNA, because it will contribute, or not, in the evolutionary process of survival, but be remembered? As in a remembrance? A memory?

Memories are attachments to the past, to what has been. Do they serve those who remember? Why remember? Perhaps to learn lessons through transmission rather than experience. To learn faster, better, removed of your ego perspective, burdened with mine. Be careful of what you remember. It may not be the truth. It may be a distraction, a biased perspective, more valuable forgotten than remembered.

But there are memories worth keeping, memories which are useful, perhaps even across time and space. How to decide which memories are valuable? Which memories to feed, encourage, pass on?

I hope I am remembered, only so far as it might be useful, helpful, instructive to those that remember. If I have contributed no such remembrances, please forget about me, and let the bad memories die with me, the lessons learned, the search for truth advanced. Don’t remember me. Instead, make your own memories, and be willing to be forgotten.


Winsor & Newton Cadmium Yellow Pale Hue, a bright yellow, a yellow that flashed the smiles of a thousand sunflowers on a bright day. I squirted another line of the paint onto my canvas. Where was my yellow?

The tube was defective, so I bought another, then another. I even tried a different brand. But my yellow was gone. After four different tubes I knew it wasn't the paint at all. It was me.

At the time, I thought it only odd and didn't pay enough attention. But as the months passed, I became more and more sad. The melancholy bled the color from my life, turning my world gray.

I knew I was not well. I couldn't paint. But it took another two years for me to realize. Nightmares haunted my sleep, and waking became a chore. I was drowning in such a profound sorrow that living became painful and death floated on the horizon like a welcome island. It was one of those mornings, head splitting apart as I yanked myself conscious, that I knew I was not going to make it on my own. JS annotation code