The days grow short … when you reach September

The equinox – a balance of day and night

Summer is dwindling, a few hours left until our globe intersects with the sun and the light of day is in balance with the cloak of night. Do our souls sense this? Or is it just our awareness of the calendar, and knowing that it is just a little darker when we awake. Whatever the case, at last, I have been able to sit and write, and reflect, again.

The wonderful Brothers Four – their voices blending like honey flowing.

Although my posts have been less current of late (goodness – 6 weeks!), I think about tidbits and wonderings all the time, and write down ideas – “to be explored”, like the pathways of an unfamiliar garden, rather than my mind, or history, or my city.  In fact, I have been able to get out a little more, taking walking tours of neighborhoods that I have only driven through – you discover hidden sides of this city by walking.  I do admit, though – it has been difficult to sit down and work on putting thoughts to screen (can’t say paper anymore!)  What makes it difficult?  Of course, my excuses are easy to reach for, when I remind myself that I want to work on writing – but one overrides all the rest.  I am just not sure that I have something meaningful to say. 

Sometimes you need to leave the familiar to gain perspective – now, we have all left that which we know.

When I paid WordPress nearly two years ago now, in late 2019, for the name of my blog, storage, and more – we were all in a different place. I certainly was. As I have shared, I had come to the conclusion that it was time to end my career (or, end getting paid for it, at least), after a health crisis and many changes in my personal life.  Friends had often said, kindly, that my periodic letters with news via email had meaning for them – and, having spent years trying to work through various issues, coming “out”, finding love, and leaving my southern California life behind to move to San Francisco – I thought, perhaps, there might be some value in sharing my experiences, lessons if you will, with strangers, and friends – that the price I had paid might benefit others to find courage and hope to move beyond, unlike me, before the parade passed by. 

Some might be shocked to hear me say that phrase – it’s not that I do not have joy in my life, or that I have not continued to have amazing life experiences in the nearly 10 years since I made a decision to work towards finding a way to be happy in life as I was, instead of swimming in shame over who I wasn’t.   I know I am very, very lucky – to be alive; to be loved; to be relatively stable and relatively healthy, especially in this era of constant uncertainty and shifting “truths” that drive our everyday behavior.  So it is not that the parade is over – but the band is a little quieter, a little more distant – and I am coming to a kind of peace with accepting that I cannot catch up, nor could I ever have – only try to stay in step, and raise my banner in time. 

But recently I was reminded that sometimes there are old boxes in the basements of our memory, dusty and filled with things we don’t need anymore, and they can pop open at the most unexpected times.  For me, several came together at once, starting with a film I saw listed last month on Netflix, but have not yet viewed, about various leaders of the “ex gay” movement that was at its strongest in some ways during the years I was pulled into its relentless gravity – looking for freedom, healing, holiness, and all those other tasty promises that were held out by the cheery Willie Wonkas claiming to represent the will of God.  I eagerly gobbled their candy, and sang the songs, and shouted my huzzahs and hallelujahs, but still knew only emptiness inside.  I had thought after all that I had come through, and come towards, in the past decade, that the feelings associated with that era were vanquished; that I had only happiness to work towards now.  So it was shocking to me that in just mentioning the existence of the documentary to a friend – one who, like most in my life, did not share that experience but knew that it had molded – nay, mangled – my heart – I felt a well burst open, of pain, and regret.  I spent decades wearing masks, before Covid – those were deeply embedded in my face, so that when I looked in the mirror, even I could not see who I was underneath. And the boxes stayed, not fully forgotten.

I am certain you too have some buried wells, and although I will someday, soon probably, watch that documentary – and learn, and remember, and move on just a little more – it was not time, just now, to air out those old boxes.  The geyser of feeling, and pain, had taken me by surprise – I thought I had put all that behind me.   As some have told me, trauma never fully heals – but we learn to deal with it, and to balance the future and the gifts of the present against that past.  I sometimes feel deep regret that the process for me, which continues, impacts the lives of others who love me but who cannot relate, cannot understand – only in part.  This is a wounding of the soul, so deeply, for so long, that is perhaps blessedly only fully known by those of us who swam in that dark pool.  My regrets cover me like layers of old blankets, sometimes they weigh a little less, but for whatever reason, I cannot leave them by the side of the road. 

But I have been surrounded, carried and comforted by those few angels on earth, others who walked that path and who stand with me when I crumble.  Along with the counselors whose words even know come back to me, encouraging me, letting me be in that pain and yet holding open a window to a blue sky that I might not otherwise remember is also ahead. A close friend has commented on some of my posts that they are therapy for me, and she is correct.  But I hope somehow by sharing this journey, for which I have no map, and no truly identified endpoint – it lets others find hope too. 

There is a way to climb out, and there are more around us than we know, waiting to help us climb.

Oddly connected in ways that may not make sense to anyone but me, as my husband recently traveled out of state to see dear friends who had moved to a new home, I found myself looking for something to view in his absence – we share many tastes, but not all – and I settled on the Netflix reimagining of Shirley Jackson’s “The Haunting of Hill House”.   Of course, yes, it is a horror series – but under the narrative is a theme of a deeper horror than the whispers of ghosts – it is the seeping poison of secrets, and bitterness, and judgment that drives loved ones apart, leaving us on islands alone instead of together in our imperfections.  Watching it, I realized I have my own ghosts – as does my husband, my friends and family – even this city, foggy, has spirits hovering in it, trapped in another time, which we do not see but whose legacies, not out of ill will or threat, still weave into our conscious and unconscious daily life. 

I found myself thinking about what I really want to make the priorities of the uncertain amount of time I have left, here or wherever – what really matters.  I respect deeply that for many the very notion of faith, or inspiration, or varying belief systems and religious practices, have left scars – and yet I still find comfort in seeing things through a prism of a larger reality beyond my ability to grasp, measure or comprehend.  And I realized that the threads of faith which have been woven into so many of our lives, in confusing ways as well as creating little glimmers of hope, remain very much a part of how I process my experience – particularly in this age of bubbling chaos and the winds of rumors and fear that buffet us as we try to stay upright.  And I know that even though I lack answers and will readily confess my own perspective does not necessarily hold any value for others – that I need to write about that, here, moving ahead.

Sometimes it is not that we need to see something new – but for our heart to see what we know, anew

Not just that, of course – but it colors my vision.  We all have filters over our eyes, whether we are conscious of it – politics, values, memories, culture, stresses and wounds that over the years can fog our perceptions, closing our hearts and our intellects.  I know for all that I think about love and forgiveness and hope, any words that I write could be easily held up against my daily actions toward others – those dusty boxes in my basement have voices of their own that I have listened to, silently, for over 60 years.  

I also want to write about my family history – having the documents, photos, diaries and paraphernalia of so many ancestors piled into boxes and files – they have spoken to me over the years, like the other ghosts.  Their lessons, their sacrifices and joys – they are like little tarnished forgotten jewels that only I can shine, polish, clean and present to those who will walk on after I am gone.  If I do not take the time, no one will – and those images and voices will be gone forever.  And I want to write about the little slices of life that we walk through, my husband and I, gradually getting out a little more, like so many others – realizing that what we did before COVID may not be how we really want to use our time and energy as we gingerly step out and gather.   For many in my life, some of those may not have meaning at all – but I want to write about my new experiences and explorations, nevertheless.  I am blessed to know wonderful people of all walks of life, many who have no connection to LGBTQ history or culture – some may not like all they see, or read – but where I see beauty and hope, I want to share it, even if for some it seems a contradiction. 

And then there is the learning curve of technology, speeding past our ability to keep up. I am frustrated, intimidated and flummoxed by my lack of technical understanding of WordPress, how to lay things out, how to index and make them “discoverable”.   When I began, I just thought posting and using keywords would be “enough” – now, I realize anyone visiting would have to randomly scan through to find anything of interest – and why, with billions of words being generated around the world daily on blogs and websites, would anyone take the time to do that?  So, another goal will be to restructure this website – to make it easier to find similar posts.  Will that be easy?  Uh, no – but, just like exercise, that which is hard is usually that which is most worth doing.  If I don’t take the time to learn how to use the tools, I cannot expect my work to be as potentially impactful – circling back to my uncertainty that the time and effort I put into writing these occasional posts has the appropriate “cost/benefit” relationship.  “Partitioning” the nearly 40 previous posts; exploring the guts of WP mechanics; and refocusing what “The New NormL” is about – moving ahead – is a priority as fall begins to creep forth and the sun drops below the horizon a little earlier each evening. 

So, in that moment coming soon, when the sun and earth balance the hours of night and the hours of day, we too try to find our balance. Think about it- for half the planet, spring is approaching – for “our” half, fall. But we all move on in our cycles, and my journey also continues toward authenticity – to fullness; healing; frustrations occasionally, but hope bouncing back eventually, round after round.  My season is changing, and something new, and wonderful, is waiting to be discovered, shared, and celebrated. Here in San Francisco, most faces still remain under masks much of time, but the process of peeling those layers of old masks from my heart takes more than just permission from authorities.  I have no idea how far the road stretches ahead but staying put is not an option.  Yes, we still face many threats – political, social, health; economic, interpersonal, and weaving through all that, however you may put it – spiritual.  That which is bigger than “us” or “me”, the mysterious stuff of time and timelessness, the longings of a deeper part of my being and, I dare say, yours as well – albeit on a different path.  

I find myself frequently turning to music as a touchstone to my feelings and my longings.  Today, the song that comes to mind was written by Hoagy Carmichael, whose work is remembered perhaps more than his name,  but you can learn about him here.  I think I first heard this reverie as the opening credits song for a film which was about memory, and longing – love, and joy, and forgiveness, and hope; all the things my heart is drawn to as I walk along my path, with time slowing my pace.  The movie was “My Favorite Year”, with Peter O’Toole, and it retains its charm 40 years later.  I guess in a way, even at my advanced age, I relate to the character of the young writer – a fictional blending of the experiences of writers like Mel Brooks, and Woody Allen, on 50’s variety television – working through life’s dreams and illusions to find the deeper, and more meaningful, reality at the heart, what we long to hold and to know.   Perhaps my deeper discoveries lie ahead – I will do my best to share them with those few who find their way here.  Until next time – stay safe as “the purple dusk of twilightime … steals across the meadows of your heart.” 

Small mercies, great grace, and choices to be made

It was only slightly more than a year ago, March 2020 when our city, our state, and our nation entered a period of what many of us grew quickly tired of hearing was “an abundance of caution”.  Certainly, the steps taken since helped curb the spread of disease and death – sadly, some naysayers came to regret their misplaced beliefs. And almost as certainly, some of the steps we took as individuals, communities and nations were if not unnecessary, ineffective – based on tentative, evolving knowledge that still is far from final.  What worked, what didn’t – time will sort this out, perhaps.  But we all were frustrated and afraid for a very long time – particularly those who lost family and friends forever or came close to an abrupt end of their own lives.  And today, although some indicators here where I live are very encouraging, there are still vast populations of our planet that are struggling under waves of death, loss, and destruction that will not soon disappear.  We have collectively gone through trauma. 

When the vaccines started to be made available early in 2021, first to select populations then slowly widening circles of eligibility, my husband – who fell into a more at-risk category – was able to get his shots, and I was very grateful, and content to wait my “turn”.  Stories began to reach us both – rumors in some cases, personal experiences in others.  Friends with the same insurance coverage but less “eligible” than me had been contacted to receive their first shots; I received multiple, well intended but questionable recommendations to basically go somewhere and simply lie about my employment or status, as others had successfully done.  And, there were individuals in our circle of loved ones who were more at risk than me, still waiting.  You, as well, probably were faced with ethical choices – assuming you wanted to get the shots – and were in an area where there was even any supply. 

Photo by Artem Podrez on Pexels.com

During the year or so since we first entered varying stages of “shutdown isolation”, I had taken refuge by focusing somewhat on fitness, working out on a limited basis initially at home on the back patio with a few hand weights, then enrolling in a “trainer” session program at a  gym where the equipment was brought out on the sidewalk for individual use.  This blossomed over time into a tent workout area in the gym parking lot, then eventually limited access inside the gym itself.  There were friends who spoke to me, and others who did not speak aloud but their perspective was clear – I was taking unnecessary, foolish risks.  I was being selfish and egotistical.  Like so many issues in what seems like an eternity, our differences become exaggerated; chasms, not cracks, start to divide us. For me, going to the gym – albeit not as effectively as I had hoped (yet) – was a way to direct my energy toward something positive, safely. 

One of countless lines in our world, this is the one I stood in, with tentative Hope.

The San Francisco powers that be had set up a mass vaccination program at a local convention center, and someone at the gym mentioned that they knew of two members who had gone to the “stand by line”, who, like me, were not in an eligible category but “walked right in” with little wait and got their shots.  My frustrations at hearing from friends who were less eligible but vaccinated, other “I know the facts more than you” contacts who proclaimed I could go anywhere for a shot, and the encouragement to simply go lie was overwhelming.  It was a horrible circumstance, made worse by all the voices around me claiming conflicting facts and, in a sense, cheering their own status at the expense of the many eligible but frustrated people trying to book appointments, or simply even find a location with supply. The chorus seemed to be saying – hey, dummy, why don’t you have your shots yet? It was incessant; I could not complain for being healthy; but I decided to take a chance. 

On a drizzly cold March Sunday morning, when the “time change” took effect, I left early for downtown, discovered some nearby street parking (a rarity here), and walked to Moscone center, finding a long line growing longer by the minute even before the doors opened.  After an extensive wait through the line snaking around the building and ultimately through the doors – I was rejected.  I was ineligible; they no longer were allowing folks like me to wait for unclaimed doses.  The next day, the window of eligibility was widening to an even greater population statewide – but, still excluding me.  I felt defeated – I did not blame the outdated information, there was no one at fault – it was simply not my time.  That did not stop me from indulging in comfort food which had no effect on protecting me from COVID but sure was tasty, and also completely contradictory to my fitness efforts.  As I walked to my car, I was greeted by more texts, more advice, more insisting that I could go anywhere now to get a shot, everyone was doing it, etc. etc. etc.   I decided to drop my efforts and just hunker down, waiting (as the app proclaims) “my turn”, and finding some solace in the hope that my more at risk friends and essential workers were getting treated. 

I was very stressed out – it affected my husband and others around me.  It was not healthy to try to find a way to stay healthy, in this case.  I gave it a lot of thought.  It was a few days later before I was at the gym the same day as my contact who had encouraged me to attempt my failed efforts – I sat in the car, awaiting my “entry window” by appointment, and just said a prayer, honestly.  Prayer has different meanings for most everyone – I don’t know what I would like, but there are times that I believe it is something that brings me to a kind of peace, and acceptance.  Sitting outside the gym, I just acknowledged that there was nothing I could do; that I would go on, and wait, and let go of my expectations and efforts, as well as the frustrations I felt towards all the conflicting advisors telling me what I was doing wrong; just set it all aside, live my life daily, and trust. 

Photo by cottonbro on Pexels.com

As I have written before, I know my upbringing, with elements of religion and some seed of faith – I differentiate between the two – is uniquely personal, and not everyone looks at the events of life and sees anything other than chance in the outcomes.  Nevertheless, if I had not taken the time that morning to silently pray, accept and let go of the vaccine monkey on my back – or, if I had remained in the car, sulking, for another minute – I would not have walked up to the counter and met a stranger.  My friend who had encouraged me to “line up” was chatting with another member as I signed in – I could hear him asking how work was going, and how they had not seen one another in months.  But it was the strangers comment that he was working 12- and 14-hour days, and that they were treating thousands daily, that let me realize this stranger was one of hundreds who worked at the vaccination center I had been turned away from days before.  Then, unexpectedly, my friend turned to me and said, “Hey Norm – how did your visit to Moscone go this weekend”?  Truly without regret, or intent, I just shared that I had been turned away, and that they were no longer offering “unclaimed” vaccines, especially now that a broader eligible population was competing for appointments and shots – and that I was, of course, not yet among them, but it was ok.  

There are moments of grace in our world.  It’s not a word you hear on the news; rarely are there stories about mercy, and miracles. We don’t always recognize these “gifts” – we don’t always see when someone acts out of kindness, we are blinded by the mountains of things demanding our attention – too busy to “see the invisible” surrounding us everywhere.  But for me, this moment was undeniably a miracle, one not sought or expected.  The stranger turned to me and said – how old are you?  I shared that my 63rd birthday was just a few days away, and that I was ok waiting – I could not complain that I am healthy, or that my needs took priority over others. To me, this was just a kind inquiry from one of the many hundreds of staff and volunteers here, and millions worldwide.  But he was not just one of the many – I honestly don’t know what his role was, or his background – but he asked me if I would like an appointment that day; he could add my name to the list, he had a few daily and I could just come around later and give my name at the door, and get my first shot. 

I am not ashamed to admit I nearly broke down crying.  This was a gift, and only moments after I had let go of my demands, my needs, and decided to just walk on in faith as best I could. 

This “heart of San Francisco” stands in the lobby of the vaccination center

That afternoon, my husband dropped me off – there was no line at the doors this time, and as he drove away, I read the handwritten sign – no more “non appointment” shots today.  For a moment I feared my trip was again in vain – but the stranger had said just give my name.  I explained to the attendant at the door who pulled out the list of additions – my name was not to be found.  I asked for follow up and showed the text I had received confirming my appointment – which led to a period of waiting, in silence, alone.  I once again had to just let go. A few moments later, a friendly administrator came by – trying to call my “gym angel” – to no avail. 

We do not always get what we want.  Certainly, we do not always get what we deserve – whether because of good deeds or bad.  It is a myth, I think, to believe that everything is for a reason – we have choices.  My choice, daily, mostly unconscious, is how I conduct myself with others; what I hold dear; how I show love to my husband and family; how I treat strangers.  I fail miserably a great deal of the time, and there are plenty who can attest to that.  But it is in those choices I grow.  I can’t pick the outcomes, only the kind of person I want to be, and try to take little steps toward that goal. 

Who is to say why things ‘work out”, or don’t?  Or even what is the best outcome – we just want to make what we can of our lives.  In my case, on that day – as the administrator rechecked her records, she did find my name, and my smile shone as I rode the escalator down to a crowded hall where hundreds, like me, waited for their time with a nurse, answered some routine questions, and then, felt a little prick.  A tiny sensation that somehow opened the doors to hope more than they were that morning.  As I ascended the stairs to the crowded exits, a familiar face greeted me – if only in cardboard cutout form.  And I walked into the daylight.  Two weeks later, as scheduled, I received my second shot; and, as I write, I am just past the two week “waiting period”.  I don’t physically feel different, or healthier; but I do feel an immeasurable sense of relief.  I held off posting on Facebook, knowing how frustrated I had felt and that thousands like me here were still waiting their turn, while others sat by their loved ones hoping they would recover; my gratitude was humbled because I had received a gift, undeservedly – perhaps that is a fitting definition for grace, in a way. 

Hey, Tony, thanks a bunch!! Glad you stopped by to say hi – but – no mask??

Today, almost a month later, I know there are many more still waiting for their chance to be in that line, or others like it.  Watching the news this week with my husband,  we silently viewed the drone footage of mass cremations outdoors in India; and we know there are many who still do not want to take the shot, or wear the mask.  We are not “through” with COVID by any means – and our communities, country, and planet will not I think ever fully put all this behind them.  Nor should they; we must grow through this. But somehow, I feel I am at a point of turning in my life.  All the time the past year plus that I spent fearful of losing my husband, other loved ones who did become ill, or leaving him and them without me in their lives – there was a lot of sleepless nights, of questioning what my priorities were, and reassessing what I believe.  There were moments of conflict with others that were exacerbated by our joint tensions; changes in relationships; realizations that things that seemed so very important before perhaps don’t really matter as much as I thought they did. 

I am changed.  When I registered this blog in late 2019, Wuhan was not even in the news; it was not until we were isolated in our home that I began posting, just over a year ago.  I have made 34 posts … I have a few friends that sometimes encourage me; I have followers who are strangers.  Someone asked me recently what my blog was about; perhaps if I had registered “The new Normal”.com I would be discovered, but that was not my goal.  I wanted to share, something undefinable – my growth; my discoveries, my questions and my uncertainties.  My humanity – in hopes that someone who might be in the place once was would find some “light” from my path for their own.  Instead, my sharing has been, in a way, a healing process.  We all need healing today, and we are not going to find it on our own.  We are all going through a process of renewal and discovery, separately and together, stumbling, holding one another up; I cannot pretend that I have more answers today, but somehow, I have peace that as I walk – as we all walk the path ahead, wherever it leads – I will find the steps. 

From the Nat King Cole classic – “Nature boy” – my education continues.

Friends, I hope you too will find your way, and reach out to those near you. For me, this is a period of deep reassessment – including my hopes for this blog. A journey, as I titled it, toward “authenticity”. I hope to see you again soon, and that in some way, for some one out there who happens upon my little thoughtful spot – you too, find and share hope. And, grace. Thank you to the “angels” who helped me get my vaccine – and were part of this lesson learned – I had to let go, to take hold – to have my hands open to receive, not reaching, only waiting. They probably will never see these words, and I probably would not know their faces again – but Alice, Bobby, Clarissa, Daniel, Winnie and all those healthcare workers reaching out around the world – you are my angels. See you soon, friends.

Free, for a limited time … after all, isn’t all time limited? Thanks for stopping by!

Look, up in the sky ….

Friends of a certain age would finish that phrase with “It’s a bird, it’s a plane, its SUPERMAN!”  And I have lots of fond memories of those shows, movies, and stories, ranging from good old George Reeves (who my Dad denied resembling), up through the recent expanded “Justice League”.  I’d sure love to have super powers – flying, laser vision,  et al would come in handy for day to day life – but that is of course all fantasy.  But recently, I have been looking up in the sky a bit more, and have some thoughts on what I see there –  starting with our recent trip to Muir Woods, less than an hour north of us in San Francisco. 

I was surprised to learn that John Muir really had very little to do with Muir Woods, but rather the famous naturalist was honored with the naming on his behalf by President Theodore Roosevelt, at the insistence of the land donor, a William Kent.   It was the first national monument created entirely by a donation, and Kent wanted to honor Muir, a Scottish immigrant to California, for his leadership in natural preservation and environmental concerns before the phrase was coined, and a co-founder of the Sierra Club.   I had never visited these world famous “old growth” redwoods; for my birthday in 2020, we had planned a trip north but the park, and most of life, was shuttered days before our visit.  It seemed like a promise kept having the chance to at last drive up a year later, surviving all the tempests in between. 

I had of course heard of the majestic redwoods of the Northern Pacific, and how these trees are among the oldest forms of life on our planet, predating humans by millennia – averaging in age from 800 to 1200 years, but some living for 2000 or more.   My grandfather Richard, a descendant of Oregon pioneers from the first wagon train to settle there, was a virtual stranger to me – but among the items I have from him was a poster from the “Pacific Lumber Company” in 1945, titled, “The Redwoods parallel in history”.   The lumber company itself, based further north here in California, was started in 1863 to provide wood during the civil war; in 1945, they issued this poster showing the “San Francisco Peace Conference” as the top of the chain of historical events over its “lifetime”.    That conference, held in this city where I now live more than 75 years later, led to the United Nations charter. 

My husband had wisely made the reservations for parking and tickets early in the day, but there were many cars in the lot already – still, as we proceeded down the path, seeing these giants stretching like fingers from the earth into the sky surrounding us – we had moments of complete isolation, silent except for the song of birds, the buzzing of insects, and the breeze far above our heads.  This was especially true in the aptly named “Cathedral Grove” where visitors are urged to respect the silence in the oldest trees of the Park.  No architect could create more a more majestic tribute to creation than this natural temple which the earth provided without mankind.  Rather than stained glass windows, the sky overhead drew my attention to that which lies beyond. 

And that is the source of my title for this reflection, friends … look up in the sky … what do you see?  After a year in which many of us have felt torn between being beaten down by fears, disappointed by unmet hopes, and faced with crises of all kinds in our personal as well as shared lives – perhaps you, as I, have looked up and asked ourselves what is the meaning of all this.  As I have written before, my own history has been undeniably shaped and influenced by the teaching of the faith in which I was raised … a faith which, at times, has led to great pain, perhaps not as often as great hope and comfort.  Our world, filled with an unending variety of cultures and beliefs over the far lesser period of history than the redwoods have witnessed, has birthed many faiths – and by that term, I deliberately try to disassociate the desire to understand that which is beyond understanding from the structure of religious practice.   Some have lasted, evolved, and changed over hundreds of years – others, disappeared without much left to document their impact other than ancient writing, illustrations and practices.   At their best. the tenets of faith have brought peace, comfort, and hope;  but it is after all we humans who can take what we believe to be true and use it to oppress, crush, and control, as well. 

I am blessed with a wide variety of friends (I take them where I can find them, folks!).  I appreciate that they do not always share my perspective, history or understanding – really, more of a lack thereof – in matters of belief.  As I have grown old – surely, not as old as a these redwood sentries standing silently around me – but feeling the passage of time a little differently than a decade ago, I am realizing that letting go of a desire for certainty brings me a greater peace than insisting I have answers.  I certainly know and understand how the tendency of organized religion to excoriate “outsiders” – including those, like me, who do not conform to their concepts of wholeness, normalcy, or any other measures of acceptability – proclaiming the power of love, practicing the principles of hatred, exclusion and condemnation.  

I respect that people in my life that I love believe – or, as some might say, choose not to believe whatsoever – differently than I do.  We do not have to all be “right”, and I dare say none of us are.  Certainly, in the faiths that celebrate,  as in this season what Christians call “Easter”,  Jews celebrate “Passover”, and other faiths holy days –  there are vast differences in beliefs.  For those who hold these beliefs dear, many do not know, or seek to understand, why the history behind the evolution of those beliefs bring into question aspects of their practices which they would prefer to accept rather than open a Pandora’s chest of uncertainty.  I have always respected the line in “Inherit the wind” where a potential juror questioned by the agnostic defense attorney in a case regarding the teaching of evolution in public schools says “My wife tends to the religion for both of us”; the attorney replies with the question “In other words, you take care of this life, and your wife takes care of the next one?”   It is so much easier to not ask ourselves why we believe – just to somehow hold on, clinging onto the buoy we have found in an ocean of uncertainty, pretending we can keep our head above the crushing waters.  I have found that neither pretending certainty nor ignoring doubt gives me any kind of lasting peace.

Because this is a time of holy reflection for so many in our world – in different faiths – I offer you a personal observation from my own history.  More than half my lifetime ago, as I struggled with trying to find a way to conform to the expectations of others, and the teachings of my church and those who truly did love me, but like me, had a less than complete understanding – I took a trip to Israel with a noted scholar of both the Jewish Old Testament writing and faith, and the Christian New Testament history and traditions. It was a wonderful experience, unforgettable in many ways; it gave me a sense of the sweep of time and belief over centuries and cultures in the small corner of the globe that reverberates still today. We visited “both” traditional sites of Christ’s tomb – one, buried in an ancient Greek Orthodox structure, the other a Protestant site oddly positioned adjacent to a parking lot; and, many other sites of various sects and incidents throughout the history of that conflicted land.  Not surprisingly, both were empty (I had to go there).  We also visited the Holocaust memorial; and, farther from Jerusalem, the crumbled remains of a pagan temple with the signs of the zodiac in mosaic, and a crumbling yet still striking crusader castle from the struggle for control of the “Holy Lands” against Islam.  We were diverted from one area – Jacob’s well – because of safety issues relating to Palestinian acts of defiance nearby.  Centuries of faiths gaining and losing power, leaving relics behind, each one proclaiming its unique, undeniable right to control.  The devotion to those sites – and the bitterness between rivals – has not lessened over centuries. 

As I reflect on that visit now more than half my lifetime ago – and today, as I stare up the seemingly endless length of the towering trees surrounding me in this chapel of nature – I realize that there are many in this world, many of my friends even in my daily life, who have abandoned, discarded and in some cases would if it were within their power would eradicate the concept of faith in something beyond. They see only the destruction and pain that history records. The words that are holy and sacred to some, are for them the names used to curse and hold in contempt.  The practices and teachings, used as weapons to pronounce judgement are wounding for them; at times, they have wounded me, as well.  It is so hard for us to see the little acts of grace, the kindnesses between strangers, as acts of God, through the pain and despair that seems to pile up daily. I cannot tell my friends they are wrong, and I am right, that I continue to believe we are as much spirit as we are physical beings, or that there is a reality beyond that which is measurable, observable by “science”;  our knowledge on this earth is insufficient to capture all truth, and much of what we experience, we know alone, in a silent place in our deepest consciousness, where no one treads and where the light is often hard to find.  I am not a good example of a person of faith; I serve better as a disciple of worry, fear, and uncertainty – yet I still, somehow, believe in that greater source of power – of life – and yes, love.  That which is eternal, and unknowable – but is present, when I look up in awe at these trees, or see it in the beauty of a brief smile, or an emerging seedling, or a faded petal – or in the slumped body of another child of God on the streets around me.  It does not make sense – but perhaps faith lives apart from that which does.   I can only say that my sense of that love, that grace, that power – in whatever limited understanding of “truth” that my mind can encompass – carried me through.  Carries me, still.  Gives me a glimpse beyond, and some sense of peace, and hope. 

I have not been a regular attendant at church for many years; the hymns of my youth were old even then and are mostly not sung today. In fact, being an old man now, I admit I crankily abhor the dependence on other methods of “worship” and entertainment in church gatherings, and the ignorance and lies that are often spoken as truth to congregations of people who trust in their leaders to know better than listen to something deeper speaking to their souls. But I believe there is a value in the tradition of people of faith, as they understand it however imperfectly and incompletely, to gather in churches, mosques, synagogues; to break bread together; to mourn together, laugh together, and pray for one another.  These practices are the real love in action, where each heart In offering the small glimmer of light it struggles to keep burning inside gathers with others and creates a greater light, a common hope.  

In 1984, director/screenwriter Robert Benton created a film, more of a reflection of the lessons of his rural Texas depression upbringing than a memory, that touched on these elements – struggling, flawed, desperate individuals and families dealing with poverty, racism, unfaithfulness and grief – uncertain lives, abandoned and rejected individuals looking for a moment of hope, coming together.  I remember seeing it in Hollywood, and marveling at the depth of compassion shown by these otherwise unexceptional everyday people, just trying to get by, trying to make sense of a world that did not work, did not always show that love, or justice, or hope, prevails.  It features two hymns that I remember from my childhood in the Methodist church – “Blessed Assurance” at the beginning, before an act of violence ends two lives and sets in motion events affecting those who remain.  And, at the end, as a communion service closes the film in a small church where the choir sings “In the garden”, and the minister reads about love from Paul’s first letter to the tiny, outlying church of believers in a radical new faith in Corinth –  we realize suddenly that there are people in the service that weren’t there a moment before; that somehow, they are together even though they are not in that moment. The last two faces, passing the sacred elements to one another as the light fades, are those whose deaths began the film, joined together.  If you have not seen it recently, or before – it is worth a visit one quiet day. Here is that final sequence from Places in the Heart …  

Today we too are faced with the challenge of survival, and at times, it seems overwhelming. Threats surround us, bury us, choke our hope and our joy. It is so much easier to give up on facing the big questions in life.  We can’t really come up with answers as much as make peace with the uncertainty.  But in believing, as I do, that there is a greater source of love, perhaps our goal should be – at least, for those in our little circles of life, coming in and out seemingly randomly – to try to let that love come through us without putting up more barriers.  For Easter this year, Steve Hartman of CBS “On the Road” shared some reflections on faith – how it is shared in this time, how it survives, why it matters still, to many.

The sentries of time in Muir Woods have endured centuries on earth in a way that you and I will never know; staring up at them, knowing they have witnessed more sunrises and sunsets than I can count, leads me to reconsider my own perspective and priorities. As I look “up in the sky” at the vast expanse beyond these ancient witnesses of our world and hear the hymns that the birds sing to ears more able than my own to understand their joy – I truly sense the presence of that greater love that lies beyond daily perception.  I feel it as I hold my husband’s hand and begin another year of life; I believe that greater love brought us together, to what end, I may never know. I believe that same love is reaching out to each of us, even though we cannot see it or prove it or measure it or hold it.  I cannot say what you should look for as you raise your eyes – but I hope you will keep looking, and that in time, we shall all see what is hidden, and know what we have longed to understand.  One day, we all will know – perhaps, gathered together, in a tomorrow beyond anything we can imagine.  I hope to see you there, and smile, again.    

Two Strangers, Two Christmases

I’ve written more than once about how the power of storytelling, especially through film in my own case, can open our eyes to truths we somehow just didn’t see before.  Certainly, I’m a firm believer in the importance of sharing our own true life experiences – honestly, openly in the hopes that others might find encouragement as they pursue their own unique journeys. But, works of fiction, whether in literature, film or other art forms also can bring inspiration – and have done that for me many times in life.  As this will be posted in time for Christmas 2020 – a year without peer, I dare say – my thoughts drift towards two such tales that have very different origins, yet whose primary characters perhaps more in common than one might expect at first glance. 

Charles Dickens created many great works, but for many his most loved is “A Christmas Carol” first published in 1843.  In 2017, a lovely film (not of course entirely factual) gave some insight into how it was created – “The Man who Invented Christmas”, with Christopher Plummer as the Scrooge of Dicken’s creative process. Endless versions and variations have and will continue to be enjoyed long after this year;  the most vivid in my own memory was a one man performance by Patrick Stewart at Cal Tech decades ago complete with multiple characterizations, sound effects and a sense of energy and discovery that he brought to new life. (The full audio performance is available on iTunes, I believe).  

I will never forget seeing this incredible one man performance by Patrick Stewart!

In film, for me, 1970’s “Scrooge” which I first saw in the little Corona theater at age 12 is still a part of my annual celebrations. The musical starring Albert Finney was in many ways a triumph of casting, art, and song – yet it did not initially register with audiences who were more interested in the new cinema of MASH and five easy pieces than a dancing Ebenezer. 

 I bought the soundtrack LP long before VHS made home viewing possible – listening to the songs by Leslie Bricusse, including my personal favorite over the opening credits – a chorus of joy and encouragement.  

Look around about you and see what a world of wonder this world can be! 

It was probably a few years later, in my teens, when (thanks to a gift from my Dad and stepmother of a small black and white tv) that I began to see older films at home, after school.  The ABC affiliate had a 90 minute afternoon movie time slot at 330 – and one day I turned on a black and white film that was spread over two days.  Later, I would see it first “screened” in its entirety at college – then, eventually in theaters in California, and even one December matinee in London, for it’s 50thanniversary.  At first I was mystified why the audience there didn’t seem to love it as much – but, it is a distinctly “American” narrative, made by a director and star who had worked together previously, won Oscars, and both served in World War 2, one as a pilot, the other making films that still are highly regarded for their honest portrayal of that epic struggle.  When they returned home to eventual peacetime, the director wanted to finance his own production – based on a very short story the original author, Philip Van Doren Stern, had included in a 1943 Christmas card to friends – “The Greatest Gift”.  He expanded on the concept and pooled together some of the best talents in Hollywood, including his prior star actor, and built a small town for the location filming.   Perhaps surprisingly it wasn’t a big hit, from an independent production company; and in time, without the licensing and copyright being maintained, the film fell into “public domain”, like the chopped up airing I saw in the 70’s on that little tv.  That circumstance led in time to it being aired so many times, more people saw it, and came to love it – becoming the classic it is today. 

“It’s a Wonderful life” portrayed an America that endured through the Spanish Flu, depression, and World War 2, through the life of its protagonist, George Bailey, in the small town of Bedford Falls. In the years since then, I cannot say how many times, or with how many friends, I have “visited” the Bailey’s and that little town; last year, my husband and I enjoyed a live performance of the score with the film by the San Francisco Symphony and Chorus, which was unforgettable. 

The film “finale” as performed by the Kansas City Symphony and Chorus

 I’ve had the chance to meet Karolyn Grimes, who played “Zuzu”, the little girl in the film; collected memorabilia (and given it away!), and decorated my tree and now our home with reminders of that story.  It is such a perfectly detailed story, of a time, a place, a family and a set of circumstances – challenges, failures, love, disappointment, loss and hope.  But, mostly to me, the message was – your life matters.  Even if you cannot achieve your dreams; even if you never become what you hoped, or others expected – you can make a difference in this world, one that is uniquely yours – one that is irreplaceable. In my lonely teens, escaping to a world where the promise of redemption was realized at Christmas was one way to hope for a better future. And there was one that I could not then see, but was waiting for me. 

In 2006, I gifted Karolyn Grimes (“Zuzu”) this British 50th anniversary poster!

Much has changed in my life in the now 50 years since I sat in that little local cinema for Scrooge; and the decades since I first watched George Bailey jump off a bridge to end his life on that little black and white screen.   Of course, both stories have happy endings – life doesn’t always offer those, or at least at times the possibility of happy endings seems very difficult to imagine.  Perhaps Christmas 2020 is one of those times for many more than usual, in a most unusual year, bleakness dimming the lights on our homes and in our hearts. 

So as our TV plays the familiar voice of Clarence, George, Mary (and, my special friend Bert the Cop) on Amazon Prime while write; and tomorrow, as I join my husband to again enjoy the dancing, singing cast of Scrooge (with Alec Guinness as Marley!), I have a lot of feelings come up.  If you’ve read anything I have blogged about this year, you KNOW I share my feelings – because I hope that reaches others, and does some good, perhaps – a little George Bailey in me trying to get out.  And I realize – Old Ebenezer and George have a lot in common. 

For my bunny lover friends (and I know at least one!) – here is a special treat!

History – not just fiction – tells us that most cultures have representatives of that part of life which we cannot understand, whether we consider it the afterlife, some representative of eternity, or other spiritual beings that exist outside our ability to measure, but – somehow, we sense, or want to sense, their existence.   Perhaps as some suggest this is just our desire to understand what is beyond our comprehension; for others, these beliefs become deeper truths, very personal truths.  Centuries of faiths with various representatives of such spirits have uncounted stories which most of us will never read or otherwise enter our thinking.  The 3 spirits of Christmas that visit Ebenezer, and the angel hoping to “earn his wings” that answers the prayers reaching heaven as George considers ending his life in despair, are such beings.  Outside forces that enter the lives of two very different men, both on Christmas eve, in very different times and places. 

If you ever wanted to visit “Bedford Falls” – here is one option …… I hope to one day!

Ebenezer, of course, was a selfish, bitter man, hated by many;  Dickens suggests that the spirits visit him because Marley hopes that will save his only friend in life from a similar, doomed fate.  George, a beloved husband, father and citizen who, through his character as much as through his deeds, touched the lives of so many in his small town, had reached a place of hopelessness; through an act of selfishness by Mr. Potter, a “modern day” Ebenezer of post war America, he stumbles onto a bridge hoping to end the life he sees as wasted as the only way to escape his own, undeserved fate.  The spirits help Scrooge, and Clarence helps George, see his life (and the lives of others around them) from a new perspective – and to realize that they want to embrace life anew.    

Many of us know what despair feels like.  Right now, many of our friends and family may be suffering through it, perhaps not with our awareness; trying to find hope.  In other posts, I have talked about some of those periods in my life; thinking back about those who helped me, who either reached out in love or responded to my own seeking of a new way to move ahead, they were the “spirits” helping me to see there was a promise of a better life, perhaps not obvious or easy, but possible.  I remember a counselor sharing with me about the concept of “liminality” – not something I am qualified to explain, but I feel applies in some way to the experience of both our Christmas Eve characters, and perhaps you and I as well. 

The ending you always wanted to see, but Frank Capra left out!

If you look online, where of course there are MANY interpretations of just about any philosophical concept, you can explore perspectives (here is one) on liminality.  I recall that from a purely anthropological sense, the “liminal” state is that “in between” – the middle stage of a “rite of passage”, or a period of growth and becoming.   In religious traditions, similar concepts exist – a stage from separation, between beginnings and the future.  For our two (eventual) heroes, Eb and George – Christmas Eve became a liminal space, in a way – a place between what was, and what could be.  Where spirits could speak to them, and minds, hearts and souls could be open to new understanding.  

I wish I was learned enough, and literate enough, to bring home some insight, awareness to share from these musings with you; all I find I am able to do is to open the door, or perhaps a small window.  To say – or ask – what are the lessons that I learn, that you can learn (or share with someone you love who needs that more than ever at this very instant) – to be open to this moment, now.  To know there is a possible waiting for discovery; a Christmas morn where the presents are not wrapped in paper, but in a renewed spirit that awakens and cries, just like a child at birth, and embraces the future, in faith.  These are OUR unexpected turning points.

To my “Angels” and guiding spirits – THANK YOU for lifting my heart!!

For now, I can only, as always, share what little I have to offer – the thought comes, “to play my drum” for you, perhaps, on this Christmas.  To remember the words of fictional characters that still represent real truths – from George Bailey, his prayer of despair – 

Answers to prayer may not come in the form we expect ……

And from Tiny Tim – not at the triumphant end of the tale, but during the “Christmas Present” where his family struggles with little food, and he is living what the Spirit shows Scrooge is his final Christmas – despite all their travails, faith –

By the immortal Norman Rockwell

Wherever you are today – know, there is hope.  For you – and for you to share.  Until next time – Merry Christmas, and wishes that the New Year brings new joys, discoveries – and renewal, for us all. 

Christmas 2019 – SF Symphony Hall – God Bless us, Everyone!
Thank YOU for reading my blog, as I finish 2020 – see you NEXT YEAR!!!

Won’t you join me then? Just enter your email above to be notified of new posts.

No thanks – but thanks – in 2020

Yes, it’s been nearly half a month since Thanksgiving, I know! Why am I so “late” in writing?  Well, I prefer to think that I needed to get to the right place and time to express something worth offering to you – and, perhaps, to discover for myself.  As I go through my reflective/creative process for sharing here, which (like me) is evolving, I often achieve some realizations, awareness, about the issues that are “troubling the waters” of my soul.  There seems to be more troubling of the water, these days.  Some of my friends might be surprised at how much I struggle, daily, and have for many years, with inner conflicts, doubts, depression and uncertainty.  Whether online – here, Facebook – or in person (or zoom!), it’s not that the words I share, or the photos, are not from my heart – they are deeply sincere – but my day to day existence does not always match my aspirations.  

But I have been thinking about thankfulness, gratitude, where it fits in my life – how easy it is to set aside or pretend and just go through the motions.   In reality, choosing to be and express thankfulness is HARD WORK! But also, a very powerful, even life changing force. At last, for now, here are my own small reconsiderations, and reflections on that subject. Or, as an alternate title – “A heaping plate of regrets and a side of disappointment does not make for a pleasant dinner”.

This is not the Thanksgiving you want to have … but it would be memorable!

Even though I am sure anyone reading this has enough weighing on their hearts and is not seeking to focus on my challenges, I am convinced anything I have of value to share are the lessons for which I paid dearly, whether in blood, sweat or tears – that our mistakes offer more room for growth to lead to hopefully our triumphs.  And I know others are like me – struggling to focus on having a positive attitude, expectations and hopes after so many months of, well, everything.  But in that struggle, somehow, the beacon of grabbing onto gratitude in the midst of disappointment still calls out to me. 

I wonder, in my early morning sleep deprived ruminations, what role does the giving of thanks play in our lives today?  What meaning does it have?  If we do not personally believe in what is generically termed a “higher power”, however we frame or conceptualize that – does giving thanks and prayer have any substantive value in our lives?  Are we just begging for help out of desperation, hoping there is someone, something “out there” that will “deliver us from evil”,  eliminate COVID, wipe out our political enemies who so clearly wrong about whatever we are what so clearly right on, and bring back everything we loved about our lives while somehow vanishing the problematic social, economic and other nasty realities we just want to exclude from our awareness?  Or do we just want our “old lives” back – and in the case of far too many, the lives of our loved ones taken from us, struggling to reconcile our grief with our faith. 

Oh, sure, I can put on the “attitude of gratitude” for a while, to fool myself, or maybe appear to for others. It is so very, very easy to mouth the platitudes that I was taught from an early age, whether they be prayers, or songs, or sayings – being thankful for family, food, shelter.  I am very aware that in the larger reality of population I am among the most fortunate of humans, in terms of basic needs, care, and more.  But just saying words is not enough – it is not from the heart.  Perhaps anger and frustration from the heart are more powerful, more real than the practiced pleasant statements that we feel we are expected to include in our traditional gatherings.  Soaking our hearts daily in anger and frustration is like a poison that seeps into every aspect of life.   Our hearts began to be choked into silence by the thorns of despair. 

I have felt like this too much lately … but as I am discovering, there is another way.

So if I was to describe my Thanksgiving – we (my husband and I, and our two cats) followed our local guidelines, and spent the day without in person contact with family or friends, with a low key meal (we are not the chefs that some of our friends exemplify), zooming instead, and enjoying some entertainment.  In many ways, it was a lovely day.  But underneath the traditions, I am dealing with the same frustrations, anger, fears and uncertainties that swirl around us all, daily.   And in that, in the quiet moments when my heart puts all the chaos briefly on pause, somehow, the thought of gratitude keeps bubbling up, saying – “remember me”.  

And I have been trying to do just that.  To remember what it is like to be truly grateful; to think about what that means, when there is so much going on that seems to be coming from someone else’s nightmare, day after day after day.  I try to turn off the news but find myself obsessively checking websites for the latest edict, the latest data, and the latest projections of doom and death.   I juggle that with planning when to go to the store, when to manage our limited time outside the house, and, oh yes, Christmas!  Because I am not going to lose Christmas, dammit! (Try to picture me saying that with a smile, at least in part!) 

2020 has been the year of unwanted presents – but also unexpected gifts

Yet I sense that the way ahead – whether it is “through”, or “out of”, this current state of frustration is not changing the situation – not getting the reality I want – but accepting, embracing the reality I have.  It’s sort of like reaching for something but you can’t because you are too burdened with what you are throttling, trying to choke the life out of, or dragging along with you – you haven’t released it.  If this sounds similar to an entry a few months ago – you are probably right.  I may be circling the same water because I never stopped to taste it.  

I was raised in the traditional Christian church of the 60’s. I didn’t stay in it; I questioned what I was taught versus what I could see in people’s lives; I couldn’t conform to what I felt was expected of me. I don’t have a background in world religions, but I sense that whatever truths about human nature, the way we are built, the way we learn and grow, are central to many faiths.  After all, in many ways, we are a single race, mixed in innumerous cultures and subcultures, families, neighborhoods, classes.  But all of us, in some way, are trying to reach for something we sense but cannot name.   The answers may be unknowable, for us, today.  But the broader truth may be that we must embrace what we have now, make peace with it, yes, even love it and give thanks for it, to be free to move on. 

It’s as though we are trapped in a room and cannot see the door because we are so desperately trying to break through the walls. Think of yourself as a battery – you have energy stored in you; it goes away; but it can also be replenished.  That energy has a focus, where you are centralizing your attention.  If it is on all the things you are frustrated with, it goes into that and produces – probably next to nothing, other than perhaps more frustration for you and those in your life.  Acknowledging our inability to change something is not what my culture taught me. 

Yet, however contradictory it may seem, I sense that it is in a deeper, daily acceptance of our current reality – through giving thanks, gratitude, whatever you want to call it (and to whomever or whatever you wish to express it) – which allows us to eventually be freed from the expectations, demands, fantasies and dreams that we cannot achieve. They have been so deeply woven into our focus, priorities and purpose that they become a cocoon, eve a prison perhaps.  Focusing on our disappointment prevents us from seeing that the path we wanted to take is not the path before us.   We have fixated on the walls of our cell that we want to escape so firmly that we are blind to the doorways which were there all along. 

If the way ahead is not apparent, we must be open to the unexpected and undiscovered

To put it another way – Accepting, truly and completely making peace with the reality we would like to change (and our expectation that we cannot be otherwise whole) allows us to see choices we that were once invisible.  We cannot fully see the possible while we cling to the wished for or expected.  Creating an equilibrium of peace in our current state opens our eyes, and hearts, to new possibilities. 

I am sure those familiar with the history of philosophy can identify the origins of just about any perspective we might take today – I don’t pretend to know those facts.  I just am trying to listen to my heart, and to something outside of myself speaking to me there.  Surely many are familiar with the 12 step programs, initially formalized with AA, and the Serenity prayer in all it’s iterations – “God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference”.   I have learned that we do not always share the same challenges, or purpose, or destiny, or understanding – and we cannot let someone else tell us what ours must be.  We have to find our own way, as individuals, and yet – together.  But we are all facing a lot of what we cannot change today, and we all need serenity, equilibrium – stilling the waters of our souls. 

If you google “gratitude quotes” you’ll find an endless listing of helpful websites.  Two rang true with me today, as I work to bring these thoughts to a close.  First, Charles Dickens, whose own life was far from problem free (here is an excellent profile), but whose words still bring hope to readers around the globe in so many cultures – 

And, author Melody Beattie, whose work is not familiar to me but who has written on addiction related issues and provided helpful insights to many – there is no “one size fits all”, of course – 

Gratitude unlocks the fullness of life. It turns what we have into enough, and more. It turns denial into acceptance, chaos to order, confusion to clarity. It can turn a meal into a feast, a house into a home, a stranger into a friend. It turns problems into gifts, failures into successes, the unexpected into perfect timing, and mistakes into important events. It can turn an existence into a real life, and disconnected situations into important and beneficial lessons. Gratitude makes sense of our past, brings peace for today, and creates a vision for tomorrow.

Melody Beattie (follow this link for more) on gratitude
In the process of trying to understand what I cannot know … I discover, anew

Thanks for sitting with me for a while, and for reading my little thoughts.  I hope something here may ring true for you – give you some “food for thought” as a post-Thanksgiving feast for the soul (well, maybe a snack, then).  As challenging as times are, the process of focusing on gratitude gives me hope – and that’s something we all need to find, and share, everyday more than ever.  

Until next time – be safe, and find hope – for yourself, and to share. It’s out there!

Hey, want to subscribe? No Publishers Clearing House – free for a limited time!

Wherever you go, there you – are?

Now some may consider that to be a philosophical statement; and, I guess, like any statement, you can find a way to insert something you already believe to be true into that space and make it fit.  For me, that phrase was a throwaway line in the initially obscure, now somewhat cult film “The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai across the Eigthh Dimension”.  It was a flop when released in the 80’s, with a great cast and wild storyline full of what now would be called “geeky” “easter eggs”.   I think it was making fun of a lot of cultural sacred cows, but … what do I know? 

Still, the phrase comes to mind now that fall is here.  When this blog was conceived, it was winter; spring when it burst forth, now two seasons later and six months into a still strange world that I continue to resist embracing as the familiar.  My goal when I began was to share elements of my life, and ongoing journey of discovery, in the hopes that it might have meaning for others – certainly more than it would just being kept in my own head.  I didn’t have a destination in mind – I just knew I wanted to write about those things that were key to a lot of personal transformation in my life, knowing that process still continues. 

But there were goals I set during this period, that I put effort into; some have been achieved, others not.  There are those nights I wake up frustrated wondering what I am doing wrong; why I am not seeing more progress on things that I claim are priorities to me, but to which I devote little time, while eagerly chasing some diversion that requires less effort, devotion and discipline.  Days go by that seem wasted, and I think … wow, I am now more than halfway to my next birthday.  My last birthday was the first weekend of shelter in place; will my next birthday be all that different? 

One of the ways I dealt with my frustration at feeling cooped up, trapped, cut off from so much of what I enjoyed in life and buried under a constant avalanche of dire, doom and gloom news – was to exercise.  I was fortunate to have some personal fitness equipment.  Some of you who have known me wayyyy back when know that I was at one time over 250 pounds, a consequence of seeking comfort from food or other sources that could never provide it, and the mindsets that kept me trapped in self rejection and hatred.  Hopefully, some of what I have shared here of my journey away from that point have helped some readers look at their own caves and realize that they need to get out, and there is a way out, but it takes time and effort. Well, I figured I could finally transform my body into the ideal I have held it up against for 45 years, or at least get closer.   People were going to gasp in awe and amazement at my transformed magnificence!  (well, something like that). 

Isn’t this the reverse? Why would the “new me” see the “now me” in the mirror?

Six months later … I have not been transformed. I spent hours on the back patio, with the bench, clumsily following video guidance, listening to music for that upbeat energy.  Recently, our city leaders allowed outdoor training at the gym to return, so I spent a significant chunk of money for me on a training package a little more than a month ago; in the weeks since, the doors opened a little more, first with a tent filled with equipment in the gym parking lot, then with one hour appointment only blocks indoors, masked, with various other restrictions.  I will say my trainer knows his stuff – but so do all the well-toned muscular men (and some women!) I see surrounding me with much heavier weights, and, well, all the rest.  Are gay men necessarily more obsessed with fitness than others? I cannot say, but there are a lot in this gym who have reaped the rewards of years of devotion.  I fight depression when I leave, knowing I might as well be planning a trip to Mars. 

Grieving this apparent lack of results and vowing that the next six months will not be a repeat – I began thinking about what I need to make more of a priority in my life, and what I need to drop. Being forced to reflect a little more on what exactly I want to achieve, how to structure my day to be effective, and what else to set aside – I am coming to realize another surprising truth about my inner compass.  I seem to be driven by some deeply buried but unachievable desire to accomplish change; to become more like the ideal that has always haunted me, taunted me, whether it was a matter of character, maturity, personal skill or interpersonal success – I never seem to be ok with where I am.  I was never “good enough”. After all the work I had done with those who helped me to get somewhat beyond the shame I had embraced over some of the deepest parts of my identity, I still was trying to get to some place that I simply could not reach. 

And this song came to mind …

Written as instrumental by Vince Guaraldi as part of an album related to the film “Black Orpheus”, in time lyrics were added and “Cast your fate to the wind” was covered by many artists, as well as convincing the production team behind “A Charlie Brown Christmas” to commission the trio for that soundtrack that forever will remind of us of Charlie, Lucy, Linus and Snoopy.  But why was this song coming to mind? 

I have always longed for a map.   Whether in my youth it was the teachings of the church, or the grades on my report card telling me I had gotten it “Right” – I sought absolutes.  I remember only half-jokingly telling friends after I came out that I needed to find “The Big Book of Gay” to figure it all out.   I never found that book, and although I read many, many others on life, happiness, spiritual principles and personal growth – I remained deeply unsatisfied with myself.  It’s not a pleasant place to be – surely you don’t blame me for wanting to get out of it! 

But those quests, although worthwhile, did not bring me to the place I sought. Quietly, slowly, my awareness is opening to a new possibility. I am beginning to think that the challenge is not how to become someone I am not – that idealization physically, emotionally, relationally, spiritually and intellectually that I hold myself up to.   Rather … I need to not necessarily just accept where I am as where I am going to end up – but to, for now, “own” where I am.  Who I am, my flaws and my little shiny spots, my cold empty corners and my hallways of the heart filled with light and music – all of them.

Could it be that one cannot leave a place until one has made it their own? I do not recommend casting my fate (or yours) to the wind – but the reality is that much of what comes our way is completely unexpected and out of control, and to pretend we can somehow take the reins and maneuver all those forces to get us to some specific point is in itself a fine madness.  When a friend says “it’s not the destination, it’s the journey” …. Maybe it’s both?  I try every day to do something that when it is over I can say – I reached out.  I touched someone else I care about in a way that made a difference to them, however small.  To not go to bed without having made that day, somehow, matter.

Treasure your yesterday with gratitude..

Embrace your today with joy …

Create your tomorrows with hope.

The New NormL

I am not giving up on my quest; in fact, as I write today, I admit I haven’t really determined what it is I am still questing for.  Does your heart long for something more than what you hold today? Can you feel that, or have you tried to quench it – to say, shut up, heart, I don’t want to try anymore – I just need to get by.  It’s not for me to say which perspective is healthy, but I guess what I am realizing is that until I make peace with who I am today – my whole person – I will be forever trying to cut off something that I will always be carrying with me, wasting time on trying to be someone who I am not instead of finding ways to let the person I am do what I am able while still here.  Wherever I go, they will be coming along – might as well love them! 

To live each day as though what we do matters, because it does;  to see each person we encounter as a little piece of the wonderous something that brought all this into existence, because they are; and to simply let our hands be open in case a butterfly decides to drop by for a visit, even though they never have.  We awaken each morning to a day filled with the unknown, promise, possibilities and dangers – we are here, now.  Take a deep breath, enjoy it – and onward, friends. 

Thank you, followers – I always love hearing from you (well, almost always!)

I got a letter … from the future?

The Time Tunnel …. Deliveries from the future now offered!

Gee Willikers! I got a letter from the future? Hopefully you will find something of interest in this most unusual missive whose origins will be revealed following. 

========================================

At last! It has taken me quite a bit of time to be able to share these thoughts with you – time being the key here.  Because … this letter is from the future.  Your future.   You can’t imagine how many strings I had to pull to get the ok, and yes, of course, there were all kinds of edits by the powers that be – but I felt it was urgent to make the effort because – you need to hear these words today.  Now, more than ever. 

I know the future right now seems pretty … unpredictable? Maybe at times – bleak. You always were a worrier.   But even though you may feel like there is nothing you can do today to impact the future – You are wrong, so very wrong.  In fact, this is a turning point for you – and others in your life.  

What you do today matters so much, so much more than you know.  And it is a time of hope!!  Just … not the hopes you had before this started. Sure … you thought you knew how things were plotted out – and … hey, you were wrong.  A lot of people are feeling the same way right now.  Your plans – gone.  What you thought was certain … wasn’t really.  

Fact is, all those things that seemed so important … some were, some weren’t. What you though you wanted to have happen – well, it doesn’t come to pass.  Not exactly, anyway.  Of course, I can’t tell you the details – you’ve seen enough time travel movies – they do get some things right.  And I know you have a lot of fears that pop up right now, like those stupid arcade games you try to bash down with a hammer, they just return – I will say, focusing on those is a TOTAL waste of time (pun intended). 

This isn’t a time for fear … it’s a time for dreams, for choices, for hope – and so much more.   This is the moment you get to hit pause and say – where do I want to go from here?  Don’t snicker – I know there are limits to choices.  But it is time to think about choices maybe you have lived with for a very long time – longer than you remember even thinking about them, so that they seem like reality.  

Choices about character, honesty, openness … how much you share of your heart,  how much do you value belonging over authenticity … and what is your place in this world?  Things have changes so much, seemingly overnight … where do you belong?  What lies ahead?   Funny thing, sort of anyway,  is that the answers don’t matter as much as asking the right questions.  Of yourself.  Kind of like picking out what star to navigate by, back when there was no other way to find your way to where you were headed.  

 

This is just the start line … no map for the road ahead yet

I know you have already gone through a lot of changes, more than you thought you could handle, I do remember.  I know it was tougher, tougher than others around you could see, and you felt lonely. Afraid, uncertain.   You recognize now that pretty much everyone around you is in that same boat, in one way or another.   

You want answers to the big questions – so does everyone else. Well, most do.  Some stopped even asking, maybe that worked for them – not for you though.  So here’s a preview – you don’t get all the answers.  Even in the future, we still don’t have those answers.  But keep asking those questions.  The questions lead you to making the choices that lead you at least toward the answer.   Kind of like candles on the path. 

Heres the thing.  We were brought up in a time and place to believe certain truths.  Yep, the “big” TRUTHS!!!   Time passed, and life didn’t seem to operate the way we were taught – it didn’t really fit.  And others … they had different ideas.  I remember all the years of soul searching and wanting to “know”, wanting “Be sure” … well, I can tell you, absolutely, there is a TRUTH that you can count on, right now.  Especially, now. 

You are loved.  You always were.  Even when you were at the deepest places of pain and could never believe you had what it took to be worthy of love – you were, and are, and will be.  There is a source of that love outside you – one you cannot understand, or fully know, or explain – and all the people who say they know the Truth, well, they probably know some of it, but not all of it.  And that’s just how it goes.  The thing is, knowing that truth isn’t just for you to hold on to like some magical wand that makes everything ok –  because it isn’t just for YOU, of course! THIS is WHAT YOU NEED TO REMEMBER RIGHT NOW. 

Every day for the rest of your life, you can be a channel of that love!   You know this now, but hey I am just reminding you, ok?  You don’t have to be perfect, you don’t have to have answers for anyone – just … reach out.  Reach up, outside yourself, open you heart, close your eyes … receive that love that comes from the source of all you know and feel … .wash in it, dance in it, sing in it …. Wrap yourself in it … and then …. Give it away.  Give it away.  Give it life, in the way only YOU can do – not having to be anyone else, in any other place, with any other changes in your life.  Today.  Now.   

Don’t be discouraged …. the way will become apparent as you move forward

It’s ok to not have the answers, not know what is ahead ….. it’s how we walk through the passage before us that makes the difference.   Trying, failing … asking forgiveness, and forgiving … most importantly accepting ourselves and others right as things are today, not perfect, never will be … and doing it together.   In love. 

The very best you have to offer those in your life, now and to come, is the deepest part of your heart.  The part that some told you to hide, to put shields around, to try to conform to what someone else said you “should” be.   It’s time to break out of that cage, because that’s the only way to let that love pour through you like a river of light and life, step out of the shadows, sing and dance and welcome tomorrow. 

We get through this.  Yes, we.  Sure …  not everything ahead is candy and ice cream. That was never the idea, you know.  There’s some more hard times – and like they say, the fire refines.  I know.  I know, because … yep, of course, I am you.  The you that lies ahead, that your choices today bring into being down the road.  I’m waiting for you to catch up – it’s going to be great! The time you have ahead is time of joy.  Joy to share with others. The discoveries you make …. The growth … it’s all good.  

Have faith … even when you can’t see those lights.  Hold on to hope … and share it with everyone you can, even just a little – somehow, giving it away brings it back to you.  And …. Love.  Doesn’t have to be perfect – just from the heart.  Love, always.   

============================================== 

Back to July 2020! As I write this, we are just over 100 days since CCC (Covid Confinement Commencement). I’ve been posting here on “The New NormL” just short of 3 months, and a lot has happened (and not happened) in that time.  Originally, I’d planned to start months before – but my perfectionist nature had a hard time determining exactly what I wanted to write about. I just had a deeply felt sense that I needed to find a way to put my experiences and thoughts “out there” in hopes they might help some who, like me, was trying to find their way through to a better place.  Over the years I had written periodic little missives to friends and family – generally at holidays – and after all the changes in my life, a blog seemed to be the “next step” in whatever path was calling me.  When I registered the site in late 2019, I was happy with the name –long before we heard the phrase repeated incessantly- but still didn’t feel I knew how to bring out what I hoped to create.  

So I wrote the “letter to the future” to introduce my blog to all the people I hoped to stay in touch with, all the walks of my life.  But as I reviewed it, I realized – it was pretty selfish. Perhaps too cheery. Perhaps- not really what I needed to say.  Ultimately, I set it aside and never shared it to announce my new blog.  

Now, after months of awaiting what we used to call a return to normal, it has been getting to me.   I haven’t wanted to write as much – the accumulation of imminent dooms assaulting us constantly, whether through the news, zoom meetings, the crises that family and friends are experiencing, or nightly fireworks for weeks that invade an already restless night.  I know I am not alone in facing the internal voids which a “busy life” somehow helps us pretend don’t exist – but now are felt more deeply than ever, perhaps.  My personal belief is that openness about what I call my “expensive lessons” may help others somehow; that even though your own challenges, or those of someone you know and love, may be very different from my own – we all share certain commonalities. I am not a paragon of faith or optimism, but ultimately I would like what I share here to offer hope, even though I often struggle to find that myself. 

My June 12 post, “Quiet words of hope to a stranger”, had mostly been written years ago. A friend asked me after that post whether I had looked at it over the years since then – years that changed by life perhaps not completely, but significantly and rapidly – and seen the value in those words still for myself.  The truth is – I wish I had.  Perhaps all writing is primarily for ourselves to some degree, but I try as much as possible to pull out from my writing something that can speak to anyone. If you hear or feel or think about something from a new perspective because of some story I share here, I cannot ask for a better reason to continue – and I do plan to find my voice, to dig deeper, and to continue to build the new NormL. Perhaps this “letter from the future” somehow needed to reach me today, just as the letter to a stranger still echoes lessons and foundational truths that seem fresh again when brought back into focus have a long way to grow and go ahead.  The chasm between who I long to be and who I know myself to be seems to grow larger with the years, but we keep easing on down that road. 

We have a wonderful neighbor who shared with me recently (from a distance, masked) that she sends herself flowers every Friday – a gift from her present self to her future self, with an encouraging note. What a wonderful concept! So perhaps my own “letter from the future” is something you might like to try your hand at as well – just for you. Be aware, though – you may realize something about yourself that you had buried or forgotten, and you might discover something new – but it’s worth the effort. Sometimes the voice we need to hear the most really is our own, it just needs to “break through” all the noise that has buried it for too long. 

Music has always lifted my heart, and somehow the old songs carry with them not only the beauty they held when first discovered, but like fine wine, the memory and realization that our lives have come a ways, and we have much for which to give thanks.  Here is a link to a song from the past that perhaps will awaken renewal of hope for you as well.  

It’s not too late … let’s put our hands out in time ……

My next project- a letter from today me replying to my future self. I have no idea what I will be saying! But I will do my best to be there in the future and hear it when that day arrives. There is a tomorrow. We will meet there one day. Let’s keep climbing, together. Until then – as future Norm says – love, always

Johnny Prisoner: Patrick McGoohan - The Man Behind The Bars
The Prisoner”, Patrick McGoohan – “Questions are a burden to others, answers a prison to one’s self”.

Quiet words of hope to a stranger

My goal in writing here is simple – to share from my experience, my observations and my heart what I hope might have meaning for some readers, to offer the lessons I have learned or that my life demonstrates that, like yours, sometimes came at great cost.  A cost in years of unfulfilled potential, and wandering, trying to reconcile what I had been taught to the calling I felt in my own heart.  During some of those years, I was blessed that some came into my life to “walk alongside” and encourage me.  Little did I realize that I would be asked to do the same, for someone I never met and will never know. 

As I write in June of 2020, this would have been the month that many cities, mine included, were planning to host celebrate Pride; in SF’s case, the 50th annual.  But in 2012, I was just starting my own coming out process, in my early 50’s – a “late bloomer” in every respect.  I think my own first attendance at Pride was LA a year or two prior – so I was hardly in a place to share insights on “gay” life. It was a time of adjustment, discovery, mistakes and choices – not all of which turned out well.  Still, for some reason, my counselor at the time asked me to consider writing a letter – to a stranger. 

He had been approached by the parents of a 14-year-old boy who had recently come out to them as gay – something I could never had imagined when I was that age in 1972, 40 years earlier. His parents were more than supportive – so much so, that they felt and realized they could not offer their son all the guidance and insight he was seeking, and they had tuned to my counselor for help and support, for them as well as their son.  For some reason, he thought that I should write this teenager a letter of encouragement.  After all, my counselor was gay – what did I have to offer? 

To me, this was confusing.  I had spent years in “reparative therapy”, hiding from everyone in my life, exposing myself to danger through denial, and letting shame rule my heart; never knowing love, openness, true honesty – and missing out on acceptance from others as well as myself.  I was trying to find my own way after a life of hiding. What could I say to a 14 year old two generations younger in a very different world?  But I said yes – and ultimately, perhaps, the letter I wrote was the one I wish someone had sent me when I was alone and every voice around me was telling me that what I felt in my deepest heart had to be ignored. 

Here is that letter, from 2012 – and following – a closing observation.  

===============================================

To my young friend, who has more questions than answers – for whatever it is worth, this is the best wisdom I have to offer you as you begin an uncertain journey.

  1. BELIEVE in yourself.   Whatever flaws, whatever failures – you are an amazing and magnificent creation.  You have potential that you cannot imagine.  You must be on your own side – others will join you – but always, always know you have worth.  Surround yourself only with those who affirm your unique worth, and in turn believe in them and their worth as well. 
  2. EXPLORE life with an open mind.  The world has more wonders than you can ever see, more perspectives on life than you can ever learn, and more ideas than you can imagine.  Travel, whether it be across town or oceans, to see something new and be open to embracing that which others may not accept.
  3. RESPECT all individuals, whether they stand with you or are in your face – their lives are just as precious, unique and wondrous.  There will be some that you will never agree with on any issue at all – but you must respect them, and their values, to learn from them and become all that you might be.
  4. CREATE something – anything – you have abilities and powers that are yours alone, and that means that there is something you have to offer the world, one person or millions, that can only come from you.  Don’t shut doors that are open to you – try something new, the only failure is to say “I can’t”.
  5. GIVE freely … give from your heart, give often.  Give forgiveness to those who don’t understand you, give support and encouragement to those in need whether through your abilities or through your wallet, give when no one asks but you see the chance to make a difference, and give without anyone even knowing it came from you.  In return, in time, you will receive joy unlimited.
  6. ACCEPT that you cannot have everything the way you want it – not in your own life, not what you want from your family and loved ones, not from your school or your job or your friends.  You cannot control what happens to you – but if you accept that you cannot make things happen the way you want, you have taken a step to freedom.  This is a very hard lesson to learn, and live.
  7. If you can … have FAITH.  Faith is different from belief, different from knowledge – it is understanding that there is something larger than you.  You may not choose to have the same faith that those who love you want you to have; you may in time grow to have faith in something other than what you understand today.  That is ok.  But … if you can see that there is a power beyond you, beyond all that you know, and if you come to believe that power loves and cares for you, and each person you meet in life … you will experience life in a way that most never imagine, and you will find joy. 

Life is not always kind, and rarely fair; the rules and stories we learn as children in time may seem to be something to throw away.  There is truth in everything, and I hope you will, more than anything – SEEK – look for the truth, look for that which has value and meaning that lasts.  If you do look, beyond what others tell you to do, or be, or pursue – if you look within, and look above – you will find.  You will find the wonder of life, and you will celebrate, and you will become the miracle only you are. 

===============================================

Here we are, eight years later. I always loved happy endings, in fairy tales and myth, and later in movies – but I cannot offer you one, today.  I can share that in the years since, I have found love, married, moved to San Francisco, made plans that didn’t happen, and like you am doing all I can to stay balanced through the present challenges – and more to come.  But life has taught me there are no endings, only streams that converge and diverge, mingle and dance.  I cannot tell you what happened in that young man’s life, or where he is today at age 22.  But my counselor, Patrick, did tell me that the parents and their son were touched deeply by what I wrote.  So why share it with you today? 

By nature, most of us tend to congregate with others who share our viewpoint, history, goals or interests.  Birds of a feather. But sometimes the connections we need to open our eyes to new possibilities must come from outside our bubble. We cannot learn from those who merely repeat what we already believe to be true.  Although my life path might have similarities with your own, or someone you know, I believe we sometimes learn more from people who are different from us – that there are truths in all our experience that we can glean if we are open to listening to others, then looking within ourselves, and then realize there are options ahead we did not previously see. A secret door. An unfamiliar path. 

You have the keys to someone’s door, and the light to their path that they perhaps need your help to step forward on. Today, we are surrounded by need – and opportunity – to change our world.  Not probably in huge ways, on our own – but by listening, and caring, and accepting.  And perhaps, by sharing.  Perhaps your truths, that you paid a price for – are the hope that someone in your life needs to hear.  

So, join me for Pride – and “come out”.   Not in the sense that you might generally think of – unless, of course, that is something you might need to consider.  But in the sense of looking at what perhaps lies buried in your own life, unshared, that could make a difference by opening up to someone in need.  Perhaps that doesn’t seem likely to you, but I promise – you have pearls of great price that may offer hope to a stranger, as well.  Isn’t it worth it to take that chance?

If there was ever a moment to listen first, and learn – to realize none of us has “all the answers” but only together can we BUILD the road to a better tomorrow – that moment is now.  Listen to the hearts of those around you, perhaps strangers now, and your own – and you will know, somehow, when it is your time to “come out” and share your truths to those whose stream crosses through your path.  You may never know what miracles may follow. Let’s move forward , together.