Monday, October 28, 2019

Schrodinger's Friend

I woke this Monday morning to find a message from my friend sitting on my phone.

Except it wasn't my friend. It was his wife. She was going through her husband's phone, making sure that everyone knew that he passed on Saturday from a heart attack.

I resisted my security worker's compulsion to ask for authentication; instead, my friend became Schrodinger's friend too, wandering within some limbo within my own mind. Still, the reality of who my friend was to me washed through me, and I replied in kind: We had much in life, station, and hobbies, in common, but above all else, he was an unassuming friend. We shared a "Hey, I was just thinking about you!" connection, and he had the uncanny timing to come and find me precisely when I felt lost or disconnected,

... and it was clear to me that all of this is what remains with me.

As I sat outside with my coffee, lost in thought over the loss of a friend, a small bird landed on the ladder behind me. It jumped up and down a rung at a time, just a foot or two from my face, pausing on each to scream at me.

It snapped me out of my funk, and I smiled on knowing Its name.

May we all be so fortunate as to find what we need embodied in our fellow human beings, however briefly, and may our hearts and eyes open to recognizing that presence everywhere and always.

Friday, October 4, 2019

The Litany of the Lost


From my years of Roman Catholicism, I knew the old folks would tell you to say a prayer to St. Anthony if you lost your keys or the like, but that kitschy view from my childhood really masked a much more powerful view that I hadn't encountered before this afternoon.

More impressive than this bodhisattva-like image is the prayer at the kneeler before it, "The Litany of the Lost"
Lord have mercy.
Christ have Mercy.
Lord have mercy. 
For those of us who have lost ...
(Response after each of the petitions: "St. Anthony, pray for us.")
... our health
... our dreams
... our self-respect
... peace within our families
... our peace of mind
... our talents
... our perspective
... our trust in others
... our housing
... our initial zeal
... our innocence
... our virtue
... our financial security
... our sobriety
... our independence
... our home
... a loved one
... our faith
... civil peace 
Lamb of God, You take away the sins of the world, have mercy on us. 
Loving God, you have given us St. Anthony, the patron saint of the lost, as an intercessor for those who are in need of Your mercy. Listen to his voice as he calls out to You on our behalf, and grant those things which will help us grow in Your love. 
We ask this through Christ our Lord, Amen.
That is quite a laundry list... A thoughtful reading invites us to a deeper, broader self-examination. I wondered if any one of them could really happen in isolation without cascading into the others. Once we encounter a tear in the fabric of our lives, we can trace it and see how it has spread and how it manifests in different ways. Won't we in time see our loss reflected everywhere around us?

And if we see loss everywhere around us, is it possible that loss is inside us somewhere, waiting to be revealed?

As I reflected there, nearby, confessions were being heard ~ the Sacrament of Reconciliation ~ wherein the faithful speak with another intercessor to unburden their souls and to restore their lost relationships with God, family, community ~ with the church as a whole.

For some, Hell is described in terms of a soul's distance from God, where sin is what generates the separation. Suddenly, from moment to moment and in every circumstance, we are burning in Hell. Can you find your way back?

Sitting in the garden, I saw a broken tree branch on the ground. No amount of effort on my part would unbreak the branch or reattach it to the tree. Some may deal with this by declaring there is no branch, no break in the branch, and no tree from which the branch fell. Seeing your despair, a stranger might sit on the makeshift bench beside you and and ask what is troubling you. The groundskeeper may interrupt, seeing pieces of a new garden's edge, and ask you both to move so she can drag them off. Regardless, if you can't find your way to restore what is lost, wouldn't it be nice to know that there is someone you can trust to handle the situation for you?

If we don't deny the possibility, we may find grace again.

Monday, September 30, 2019

New Follower!

"New Follower!" "New Follower?" "New Follower ¯\_(ツ)_/¯" How do you read it?

Personally? For who knows how long, I worked in an industry that actively inoculated its members to be suspicious of new contacts, cautioning us that there was a lot of potentially career-ending paperwork that accompanied making friends with a non-citizen. "Each of you and each of those around you are potential targets." This coincided with the rise of social media, wherein anybody -- even computer programs -- could appear as a friendly stranger or even as someone you know, and those someones you know could appear as other identities online. And after that, I worked in an industry that sometimes leveraged that.

I remember one day popping open a virtual machine with anonymizing software to check a few details of a suspicious new follower and to help contain any damage that might make its way in from clicking a malicious link. What made the contact suspicious? It was primarily suspicious because it was a new follower ("Why would anyone follow?") and because it wasn't obviously machine-crafted nonsense. After all, what could be more suspicious than a potentially legitimate, authentic human being -- especially when they're so few and far between?

I honestly don't know how many hours I lost over the years scrutinizing individual contacts. What I also don't know is if I'm better off for having habitually lived that way.

This morning, my phone is off the hook with notification alarms. Yesterday, I popped open a popular social media site and I scrolled and scrolled and scrolled until the page was filled with a thousand suggested contacts. I popped open a browser console window, I examined the page's details, I wrote a few lines of javascript, and I hit return. With that final keystroke, one thousand invites were on their way...

... and the phone began to chirp: Bling! Bling! Bling!... It was quiet overnight -- largely due to "quiet hours," it seems, as the alarms resumed at 7 A.M.

It was clear that some were auto-responding and others were close by their phones or computers. Reviewing some of those early responses, I didn't recall knowing them and presumably they didn't recall me either, so indiscriminate acceptance.

There are pleasant surprises in there too, people I'd lost touch with. I see there are pending invites to people who I would never deliberately follow for any number of reasons, but who knows how it will turn out? Once that final keystroke landed, the status quo was disrupted; there's nothing to do now but handle what comes...

... which is fundamentally not different than any other day -- but maybe with a different perspective.

Now to think that there may be someone enjoying a morning coffee now, suspiciously eyeballing this rare invitation to connect, wondering what it means...

Wednesday, September 11, 2019

“We have always been at war with Eurasia.”

In another blog post with a more business focus, "Take Time to Reflect" (link), I encounter the realization that today, 18-years after the 9/11 attacks, we may have freshly minted adults joining the U.S. Armed Services. Soon enough, many of them may be far from home in support of missions and their derivatives that are rooted in events that occurred before they were born.

Some karma has momentum rooted in lore and embraced as one's raison d'etre. How often to we pause to check our assumptions as well as our compass? How often do we ask ourselves "Why?" How often do we either re-validate or reconsider?

So, when you take time to reflect, reflect fully, as this may always be your last, precious opportunity to embrace your fate or to change it.

Wednesday, August 28, 2019

Don't Give Up.

There was a time in my life wherein random strangers would appear with the message "Don't give up."

Seriously.

And, yes, literally.

One time, sitting in the courtyard in front of the local mall with my mandolin, I was chatting with a fellow interested in the instrument. He knew guitar, if I recall correctly, so I explained the mandolin's tuning, showed him a few chord shapes, and handed him the instrument. He strummed it and sang an impromptu song with a chorus highlighting "Don't give up."

In my last post I mentioned encountering "messengers" and hearing those odd messages hidden inside me that I probably needed to hear. Here was a message coming again and again, but I had no idea what it was for. "Don't give up. Don't give up. Don't give up what?" The situation never devolved into an undying desire to find what it was I wasn't supposed to give up. It just lingered ~ who knows why? The notion occurred that maybe it was a message for someone else, but for whom? The best I could do was to pass it on, letting people know what I had heard.

"Don't give up" faded away.

Today, I am tired ~ a bit worn. Days and nights are both long, and I'm awake, studying new things, building on what I know, wondering how that direction might play out. And there's little to show from all that increasing effort but thinning faith.

Tired but not asleep, listening to the rain...

The Pabbatopama Sutta: "I inform you, great king, I announce to you, great king: aging and death are rolling in on you. When aging and death are rolling in on you, great king, what should be done?"

Don't give up? I don't know.

In my first post for an old zen center's new website, I announced back then "Don't suffer alone," so the taunting or the silence of all voices keeps one company.

Don't give up.

Thursday, August 15, 2019

Living Koan

This fellow... I met him in a random encounter I don't know how many years ago, and I've seen seen him again in random encounters I don't know how many times since, here, there, and everywhere, all around town.

Tonight he rolled up on his bicycle, dropped his kickstand, and took a seat at the table with my son and me. He's somehow past the need to ask if he's intruding.

In fact, and by his own assertion, he's wired a little bit differently than the rest of us. Now in his thirties, his mom cared for him until her death earlier this year. He is "functional" in that he holds a job and can get out and about alone, but he is undoubtedly a bit touched.

Folks like this I think of as "messengers" of sorts: they operate just enough within the envelope of normal conversation to slip into your own flow without "turbulence," but inevitably something is going to happen that completely disrupts that flow or just splits your thought patterns enough to cause you to tilt your head and squint a little, leaving you wondering what this conversation is really all about.

That effect -- the mental "hiccup" -- is particularly interesting if you can get past the annoyance of something not making sense and you can catch yourself tying to fill in the blanks. These "messenger moments" are times when, out of the blue, I see something beneath my own surface appear before me -- a message for me from within me appears. Sometimes, it's an eerie realization that my thoughts and speech are not directed at the person sitting in front of me; rather, I'm reliving an older conversation with someone else, or maybe I'm giving advice to a version of myself, or maybe I'm realizing that --given new information and experience -- an old conversation was a mistake. Sometimes it's enough to see that I am projecting myself into the encounter and not really hearing the person in front of me...

But then again, maybe that fellow in front of me is doing the same, and we're not hearing each other at all. We're odd reflections of ourselves that catch our eye, triggering sequences and patterns as we relive them all again.

Soon, by the way, maybe it's not just people... after all, what can have our attention that is not entwined with our experience, thoughts and memories, hopes, our senses, habits, and so forth? If the world suddenly blurred into a van Gogh painting swirling about, wouldn't we still find ourselves in it? What would be your teacher, moment to moment, if you didn't believe it had to look like a person with robes, a stick, and a certificate? The teacher is everywhere if a teacher is what you believe you need; with any luck, it will be in a form you can recognize and accept.

And maybe once we're done experiencing that and we understand it, it's gone.

Another dead end? Maybe not. How can everything change if you can perceive it differently? What if the answers to any of your questions could be found all around you?

Still have questions? Have none? Back to practice.

Thursday, August 8, 2019

Removed from Experience

I've seen the transformation occur more than once: A YouTube channel owner begins presenting material where he or she has some deep expertise and direct experience. Over time, people begin to take notice. The channel becomes more interactive, and the presenter begins to drift in response.

That "drift" begins cautiously, generally with the presenter offering opinion somewhat grounded in his or her experience. The audience naturally responds to opinion and the presenter is emboldened. More emboldened, the opinions drift further and further from the grounded subject matter expertise and experience. Eventually, the presenter is in unknown territory, making definitive statements outside his or her direct knowledge.  If lucky, the community will correct the presenter -- often in anger -- growing the community and again emboldening the presenter. Eventually there are opinions that are simply erroneous -- and it does not seem to matter to anyone.

It seems that one of three things can happen:
  1. Guided by the corrections, the presenter may acquire the new subject matter expertise;
  2. Supported by subject matter experts who are always ready to step in with corrections, the presenter may indirectly represent subject matter experts' statements, but without understanding why; or,
  3. The presenter may thrive in the celebrity status, regardless of any expertise, completely untethered.
It has always seemed strange to me that people are willing to accept what is presented without challenge, but they do, routinely.

If "success" for you means finding truth ~ even finding those technical details that are important to you mission ~ then these tendencies are quite an obstruction. If "success" means finding a path wherein you have the unquestioning support of others, then perhaps it's time to step off into the unknown and to gain that subject matter expertise in raising waves and surfing them.

Why let truth stand in your way? ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

Tuesday, July 23, 2019

One Friday Morning

The doorbell rang far too early, as if a ring at all would be welcome...

... and then again.

I looked out an upstairs window, and ~ just beyond the eave ~ was a tall, curly dark mop.

... and then a third time.

It was the neighbor kid, where "kid" now must mean 18+ years old. He lives with his grandparents, the homeowners. His father sometimes lived there, too, until he recently died quite unexpectedly in his mid-40s.  His grandfather is hard to track as the ambulance visits every few days at different hours to take him to the hospital. When his grandmother is seen, the young fellow is often pushing her in her wheelchair up or down their steep driveway and accompanying her in a taxi or car service to visit the grandfather or run other errands.

While I recognized the young fellow's hair, I had completely missed the grandmother a few feet beneath him in her chair until I opened the door. She was a bit shaken ~ something was amiss. I braced myself for the the obvious news... which did not come. Instead, she had trouble coming up with the words, so asked her grandson to ask on her behalf:

"Would it be alright if we listed you as our emergency contact?" he asked.

She added, "In case something happens to us and he needs a place to stay for a few days..."

"Of course."

They were relieved and shook my hand. She wiped away some welled-up tears. I asked about her husband (not well) and her (stoic, but not untroubled), then wished them well and saw them off with some solace.

Closer to lunch, my wife was a bit out of sorts ~ not quite herself. She recognized it but couldn't explain it. After lunch, I suggested that she might enjoy a nap ~ I'd tend to our son.

She climbed the stairs and went to sleep...

... and maybe 350 miles away, her grandmother did not wake up.

Lost in relaying the news, my son brought me back with a reminder that I'd left his tea steeping far to long.

I sat beside my dog's grave for a bit wondering how often we may have passed Death in our walks through the neighborhood, and I thought of the Pieta sculpture ~ and of all of the mother-figures with unconditional love for their troubled sons ~ how they appear in my life, and what it all may mean for everyone.

Shadows dance and identities are fluid ~ the messages and visions within us project outward ~ the dead and the living alike are all speaking in tongues. Someday, maybe the reflections will be understood. Someday, maybe the light itself will be recognized.

Who knows?


Tuesday, April 30, 2019

RIP Good Boy

My daughter posted this picture of him when she heard the news, a decidedly more spry, less grey version of himself.  He'd been with us for 12 years, the majority of each of my kids' lives.  He was my walking companion and my wife's garden helper.  He greeted students a the door with glee and nosed them for treats.  He kept door-to-door solicitors at bay, and he did his part to protect us from the mailman and his cohorts.  He was my late-night buddy as we watched TV and shared cheese & crackers, and he was our morning alarm clock, making sure we were up to tend to the boy.

Even his most aggravating habits were part of our lives...

Tonight, though, there's the remainder of my son's sandwich on a plate in the sink... there's no one here to do his job.

Duncan made two heroic efforts in his last hour: moving from his bed to the patio door, and then crossing patio to the grass.  As a light rain began, we fetched his blanket to help carry him back inside; instead, we covered him and lay with him in the grass until he took his last breath.  We carried him the rest of the way to his final place in the garden.

I did not have to write the eulogy for my father; I did I have to write the eulogy for my brother; nor did I have to write the eulogies for several others ~ those were done for us.  Who else can speak for the dog, though, and what it is about him that we will miss about ourselves?

Some days are just like this.