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Shortcuts to the beach

My personal cosmology is that the world runs on compassion, tender loving kindness and true altruistic behavior.  Buddhists would call this “Universal Goodness.” This is why we hold the door for others, often strangers, and the thousand acts of human kindness that happen every day. We live in a world where healthy living and the path to wholeness should be seen as the norm.  It is not often recognized as the life really should be lived. All paths lead to the beach, where we can wash our hands and feet in the river of compassionate loving kindness.

However, there are religious institutions who mistake the path to the beach as the beach itself. Whipped into a fervor of Jesus as personal savior, the guy in the know, who helps find our lost things and knows the reasons for our living, what can we do after the revival meeting, the evangelical crusade have all gone and people are adrift on a mistaken notion that Life in Christ is the search for some eternal spiritual high.  Instead, we need to teach each that firstly, a life in Christ begins with the simple act of loving your neighbor. Loving your neighbor means letting go of what you thought your neighbor was supposed to be, that this life in Christ has to come from inside of us as much as from the outside, that we come to church and come together to share this life with each other as well as to bring others to the source of our compassionate understanding.

Perhaps I can explain it better.


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I was thinking about stop signs today.  Stop signs, if you drive a car, usually mean coast past the red sign and hope the police don’t see you.  I asked a police-person once what a stop sign meant and she said, “Just what it says, stop.”  Nowhere does it say, who or what is supposed to stop.  Is it the car?  Is just the car supposed to stop, or roll, or coast?  Certainly, the car has to stop, or not move, but what about the driver? In driver education, stop and look both ways were the buzz words.  Stop and look both ways before proceeding.  Cars cannot look, so the driver must do that, so both the car and the driver have to stop, cease any forward motion and come to a complete stop, as in stop driving. The kicker here is this; the driver does not stop and I think that is the problem.  Some how we have to come to a complete stop but the driver has to stop the act of driving. The driver has to Stop the car and stop driving and look both ways, and then the driver has to be in gear before the car is allowed to go on its way.

You knew I wasn’t talking about driving a car, didn’t you.  That is not all I was thinking about, not all.

You see, stop, peace, stillness, tranquility are states of mind, states of being. So many times we think of “stop” being like holding your breath, as stop and go being opposites.  Perhaps Stop is a state of awareness that makes the “go” part not necessary. It is not making sense, but I don’t want it to.  Stop is the only state of mind where we can listen.  You know when you are driving a car, your thoughts aren’t where they are supposed to be?  The real challenge is to drive a car when the driver has stopped and stopped being anything other than the driver.  Then there is no car and there is no driver.  There is no need to think about the car or the driver, but just the act of being either one or the other. If this doesn’t make sense, I am glad because it might be a state of mind where you are and not where you are not.  I am trying to confuse the issue but it is actually like taking a very sharp knife and putting a point on an old stick.  The acts of stopping and going are neither, but we need to be aware of both and in doing so we need to be like the end of the sharp stick, the pin point, sharp point of awareness when we can drive a car and be so aware of driving but we ourselves are not as the driver of the car, a machine that is tooling down the highway being controlled by something behind the wheel that isn’t really there at all. We can be this driver but we are sitting behind the wheel.

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It is my turn.

I am a product of the Greatest generation.  I am not talking about an era or a decade but a group of people.  My parents are and were a part of the generation that rose to their feet and defended the defenseless against Adolf Hitler.  To me, that is the Greatest Generation.  Growing up in the fifties and sixties, one was surrounded by World War 2 veterans. My high-school principle was a Navy Frog Man, a precursor to the Navy Seals.  He was an underwater demolitions expert. The superintendent was a B-17 pilot.  Bus drivers were ground pounders, infantry. One walked from Sicily to Berlin. Another man, who I loved like my own father, was a Pearl Harbor survivor.  The one I will never forget was the father of one of my class mates who was one of the soldiers that liberated Dachau.

There were plenty of soldiers, survivors and others who remembered what it was like to live through WWII, but now there are less than last year and as the years go by like a slick on a picket fence, soon there will be none.

I never had the opportunity to take my turn.  I got my draft physical and went to Butte, Montana in the dead of winter and had my induction physical.  I was a strapping 20 something year old male that worked summers in a saw mill and rode my bike to school.  My draft number was 51 and my student deferment had expired and I thought I was on my way to the Army.  I had a backup plan, I would enlist and have to serve another year, but I probably could get a post playing in a band (tuba) and not have to worry about Vietnam.

My turn never came.  Because of profound deafness from the sawmill and very bad and very flat feet, I was re-listed as 4-A, which meant I was one notch above those marked “unfit” for service to their country.  Relieved  I was, but also disappointed.

I have always been a student of human nature, I try to understand  why people do and believe the things they do.  I remember fifty years ago when Adolf Eichmann was captured and taken to Israel.  My mother had to explain the Holocaust to me in ways a ten-year old boy could understand. The pictures of Eichmann on trial and seeing the him on the news, in the paper made a lasting impression, such that I began reading witness accounts and other books.

Fast forward thirty years and I started hearing about Holocaust Denial.  I have looked at a couple of books, looked at websites, talked to folks and feel pretty sick about the whole thing.  There is just so much evidence and so many witnesses, so many survivors, why is this happening? It is mean-spirited, disgusting and amoral to tell survivors they lied that what they saw did not exist. Some of the stories make horror pictures pale in comparison.

I have been readig about the Holocaust for almst forty years.  I do not have any formal education in the subject, and I have never talked to experts of survivors.  I am very committed to bearing witness to the Holocaust.  It is my turn.

I wish there were a formal program where younger people, Jews and gentiles, Buddhists, Christians, Muslims and Hindi and other folks could be educated and partnered with a survivor and learn enough to take their place when that person died.

“You rest and rest confidently knowing that someone younger and stronger has chosen to spend the rest of thier lives bearing your witmess and telling world that you were here and you survived the worst of what human nature can release on the world.”

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What living person has not experienced shortcomings?  Some have had their share, other think they have had more.

In 6th grade, I hit the puberty switch and grew four inches in one year.  One of the many things that happened was, I fell in love for the first time in my life.  One might think this to be puppy-love, and perhaps it was, but I would love this person for the next six years and more, even past graduation from high school.  I was very careful not to make a pest of myself, because I didn’t want to make a pest of myself and being a very small town, everyone knows everything.  I think she knew, even if we never really talked about it.  My freshman year in college, I got a letter from her, saying she was sorry, that she knew how I felt about her and that she was sorry things as they were. She thanked me for being a gentleman, and wished me well.  I answered her, and told her I loved her and perhaps always would, but that was okay.  I never heard from her again. That was 40 years ago.

Dreams can bring up emotional baggage or whatever is attached to them.  Several weeks ago, I had a dream that I was young again and this person and I had gotten married.  I was happy.  I remember that faint glimmer of hope that I carried all those years, thinking of her and hoping something would develop.  The dream ended when she told me we could not be married anymore and she would pay me a large sum of money for my trouble.

I woke in a panic.

Several nights later, I dreamed I had been accepted at graduate school.  I had moved into campus housing and was going to meetings and people were welcoming me to the campus, when someone took me aside and said there were irregularities in my transcript and there was no way I could make up the deficient ares in time for the semester to begin, I would have to leave.

All this comes when I am coming to grips with being 61 years old and there are things in life I have wanted to do, but I will not be able to do any of them simply because I am running out of time.  Sixty-one is not an old age, but I also have a bad heart and there are things I just cannot do anymore.  I used to love to swim, but now cannot because of the stress it puts on my heart and the fatigue is pretty overwhelming.  One does not need to be overwhelmed by fatigue while swimming.

Remember that you are dust and to dust you shall return.

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Buddhism teaches something called “the Law of Interdependant Origination”. It means or says, nothing exists by itself, or independently of anything else. There is much more to it than that.  We can say that it argues that everything is connected to everything else.

I have been reading ” The Making of the Atomic Bomb” by Richard Rhodes.  I have had the book for twenty years and have yet to finish it. Something comes up and I miss my place and forget about the book and go on to other things.  It is not so much about the making of the bomb as it is about the evolution of particle physics and chemistry at the end of the 19th century. Louis Pasteur and others were working on “germ theory”.  It was a time of great upheaval in society, in art, science and literature.  Mr Rhodes takes great pains to examine each bit it science and how it relateed to the making of the bomb.

I was a bit of a nerd and science buff when in highschool some 40 years ago. I had difficulties, manifest difficulties with math.  I was convinced I could not do any math or even survive an attempt to do any math.  I gave up, quit. I wanted to know more about the different stages in development of early science, and having a library of some 4 million volumes, I decided to do some research.  Most of the physics books are full of calculus, but instead of giving up, I started looking around.  I know Phds in math, physics and chemistry. “What should I read”? Where do I begin if I am interested?”

So here goes:

I am reading  Richard Feynman’s Lectures on Physics, Chemistry and Chemical Reactivity ( our Chem 101 text book), and slugging through high school algegra and pre-calculus and enjoying almost every minute of it.  Why did I believe I couldn’t do this?  Maybe I could not, but it is fun and interesting. Also, it explains how things are connected, treees, photosynthesis, gravity, physics of motion, apples….

I know there are typos.  This is a draft.





Terra is gone.  Terra died on Friday, July 13, 2012.   Bonnie and I were coming home from vacation, hoping to return home to four healthy, wonderful dogs.  The only one with any real problems was Oreo, our fourteen year old whippet. Other than age, she is almost blind, a bit shaky in the hind legs and has lots of cancer.

Terra died in our backyard from a massive blood loss, according to our pet sitters.  She was fine in the morning and also in the early afternoon.  When they came back at 8:30 to get ready to spend the night, they found Terra at the foot of the stairs, barely conscious.  She was found in a puddle of blood, coming from her hind end.  They were trying to clean her up, but she was bleeding as fast as they could wash it away.  Getting ready to transport her to triage, she died.  On Saturday, July 14, I buried her between Nitty-Gritty and Cecily, midst great tears and sadness.

I met Terra some three years ago during a trip to the greyhound kennel in Houston.  I cannot go there as often as I would like, given the distance, but it is a great mood booster, seeing all those wonderful, graceful hounds getting love and attention from some of the finest and most gracious people I have ever met.  I was told go back to the Kennels and meet the doggies and bring one up to the office, if I wanted to. After going from kennel to kennel and talking to each dog and calling them by name, I came to Terra’s kennel.  She was on the second tier and as I stuck my fingers through the gate of her crate, she licked me. I opened up her kennel and climbed in and sat next to her as I put her leash on.  She waited while I pulled the landing platform and helped her jump from her kennel to the floor.

When we got to the office, everyone wondered why I picked her. They told me how shy she was and that she had been surrendered a couple of times and never to a fault of her own.  We talked and visited for almost an hour while watching sit on the bed.  Finally, someone said I could take her as a foster, if I wanted to, that she was, in fact, not adoptable because she was so shy and frightened.  I called Bonnie and she said yes.

Everyone, as in Ruthie and Hank, got along with her. I think they could sense she was in distress because they always have given her ample space and never challenged her for her food, or her bed. I did not know the depth of her problems until I tried to take her somewhere.  On her third day with us, I took her up to meet the college kids at our church and she was petrified, terrified and she shook violently.  We left after ten minutes.

After that episode, I basically left her alone.  She either stayed in her bed or was in the backyard.  She did not eat the first day she was with us, so I fed her canned food with my bare hands and she ate. She ate everything I gave her after that, but the only place she would eat was next to her bed.  I gave her a dish of water and just let her be.  Passing through the room, which was our bedroom, I always spoke to her, calling her by name and calling her Terrific Terra.  In the beginning I would sit on the floor across the room from her and read to her.  We got most of the way through a book called Mindfulness.  At first she would leave and go outside, but after a couple of weeks, she would stay and listen.  Sometimes I would sit next to her bowl while she ate, just to see what she might do.  Food seemed more important than me.  There were several times I would go back and get her when we had company, just because I wanted someone to see what a beautiful girl she was.  I stopped this after I noticed when she heard my footsteps; she would go out in the back yard.  The next move was up to her.

I used to bring her treats in her bed, a piece of chicken, or some toast, whatever. No great ceremony, just Hi Terra, this is for you and leave.  One day she came out on her own and I told her, “If you come out more often, I will give you the food off my plate.”  It worked, every time we sat down to eat dinner, here came Terra and if didn’t give her something soon enough to suit her, she would lick my elbow ever so gently.  She never made a pest of herself.  She would wait at arm’s length from the table, and if more were not forthcoming, she would sit in the bed provided for her in the living room.

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What is so tragic about her death is she was in the midst of the greatest transformation.  She was happy and she knew she was happy and she wanted to be happy.  She would dance when it was time for a walk and she licked me as I put her harness on.  If I were slow, she gave so very gentle nips with her teeth.  If I were passing out strokes and smooches to the other dogs, she would came wait for hers. She, after twelve years as shy retired lady greyhound finally had her very own human, me and a family where she was loved, wanted and needed. If she were in the front of the house, she would often meet me at the door when I came home.  There was always a great commotion when it was time for walks, and she would carry on from the back of the house.

We were expecting a great deal of company for Christmas and thought it would add a special touch if all four doggies got the spa treatment.  We worried about Terra, because she had never been to PetSmart, or really anywhere else other than her doctor’s office. She had minimal difficulties and we all stopped at a crafts store on the way home and all four dogs got new bandanas and Terra’s was black with white accents. I put them on them and told Terra, “Now, don’t you look pretty!”  Often it is hard to tell, but I think Terra really enjoyed the bandana and the attention she got at the groomers.

She hated the vacuum and if it were in her way, where she needed to go, she would not go that way.  She trained me to get things out of her way when she moved through the house.  In her final days, she finally showed me she didn’t like the hardwood floors and she would wait as I took down the baby gates and opened the doors so she could walk on the carpet to get to the front of the house.

It was after she was gone, that I realized I didn’t have to look for her before I ran the vacuum.  The footprints she left on my heart are plentiful and very deep.

(This is a draft)

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Remembering Dr. Donald Simmons

On vacation in Montana, at my mother’s house and I picked up the local newspaper and on the front page, Dr. Simmons had passed away.  He was the chairman of the music department when I was a student there some thirty-five years ago.  The memories are plentiful and most, if not all are fond ones.  He was a real class act, great sense of humor.  He came to us from Ohio State at a time when our chairman had died of a heart attack at age 40, just after a year’s leave to finish his PhD at Indiana University under Willie Apel.  Big shoes to fill and he filled them indeed.