Please Note: This installment will be followed by one final installment.
I get why people will sacrifice anything and everything to be able to continue living in a world where (as if they have made some pact with the devil), in exchange for living in a world with no magic, they can shop for groceries in a giant, air-conditioned building with aisles and aisles, a hundred feet long, labeled for their convenience: Seasonings, Baking Needs, Condiments, Soda, Household Items, Bread, Coffee and Tea, Frozen Foods, Wine. Some people are driving little carts through this tiny, clean, colorful town of food. Everyone is moving. Everyone is serious. Nobody talks to anyone, except the cashier who asks: "Did you find everything you were looking for?", hoping you will say, Yes. We're all on the clock and we're all on a mission, referring to mental or physical lists. On the way out we can reward ourselves with a snack, for staying focused for so long and for doing something to keep the little ship of our lives afloat. The food in a supermarket has a lot to say about who we are as a people. And looking into someone's cart feels almost voyeuristic.
When I travel, anywhere, I am alienated and oppressed by what I see, whether it is an unhappy looking house that shows how much the owners are struggling, or tracts of misused or abused land. (Sometimes I play a game with myself, reading the energy of a house I am passing, asking myself if I could ever live there. Nine out of 10 times, the answer is no.) I pass judgment on whole towns. (No way could I live there! Such heavy-hearted streets after streets. What happened here!) And I'm not even talking about the old mill towns, which freeze my heart with those hulking prison-like brick or granite factories by the river waiting to be converted into shops or affordable housing or condos, just begging to be shamanically cleansed of bad-karma that clings to them like dusty spider webs. (I want to heavily smudge them all with sage and sweetgrass!) Or those Victorian homes on the hillsides where the women and children lived lives stifled by all the spoken and unspoken rules of the 19th century patriarchy, that still hovers like a hoard of ghosts around the gothic architecture that looks so innocent now. I am disheartened when I pass a mall in a working class neighborhood, with plants growing around the downspouts, cracked and disintegrating asphalt, tall aggressive signs shouting out the names of dollar stores and quick food franchises, decrepit signs advertising businesses that are boarded up, with graffiti on the cracked windows, dumpsters surrounded by garbage. And the people I see look so tired and beaten-up. They are dressed like kids that never grew up, in over-sized T-shirts advertising a team or a celebrity or a product. (I'm generalizing, but so be it. Let me paint in broad-strokes, get it out of my system!) None of them seems to have much of a future. Easy to imagine they are all in debt, that they are either dealing with chronic exhaustion or a low-grade health condition that keeps them functioning far below their potential. And many are addicts of one kind or another. (Am I not describing myself once-removed? There but for you go I . . .)
So, the baby at the Ted Talk is asking a legitimate question: How did we get so stupid? Or were we ever any smarter? I don't think so. The human race is walking the knife-edge between doom and redemption, and there are many lost souls among us. Lost souls, if they vote, vote for survival, for whoever is going to put a few more dollars in their wallets and pocketbooks. A few dollars and promises of jobs and higher wages, regardless of what kinds of jobs, speak louder than any ideology. These folks are out of ideas. They are prisoners of the physical world.
Where do I fit in?
I have tried to make a life that doesn't feel like I am living on the edge, but there is no denying that we are all tied to the same fate. We have made sure of that. We are all shackled to the same chain. Those people I described above are my brothers and sisters! I don't feel any warmth or compassion for them, at least not now, not today, because I have my own problems to think about. (Car at the garage, eye appointment at 1:30, infected cut on my wrist that I am taking antibiotics for . . . 3:30 appointment for that. If I manage to fit it in, I have to second-coat the deck we are waterproofing. Neuropathy. Lyme. Blah, blah, blah.)
Is there really any magic? Is Spirit watching? Are we really going to be allowed to continue messing up? Disowning each other? There is a glacial aspect to human consciousness. The average person seems to mean well but the demands of life keep them in a headlock. They are wrestling with fate, a scrappy angel! . . . And rare is the moment when they can catch a pure breath of sweet air, lift their heads up and look around. And I'm not even talking about changing their fate; I'm saying they aren't even getting a chance to look around at the landscape of their lives!
My life is filled with a sense of urgency that increases with each passing year. When I was young I built my life around the optimism that we would solve everything or at least start reversing the damage. Obviously that hasn't happened. We just added to it, so I am hoping for brighter days for the next generations even though there isn't a lot on which to base that hope. (It might be too little too late.) I am getting older and my health, my chi is declining. My biggest job has become that of decoding my sense of urgency, trying to determine the various causes of the slump in my spirits that has allowed illness and unflinching sobriety a place at my table. That isn't the easiest thing to do, living with chronic Lyme, a compromised immune system, while questioning the trajectory of my health relative to my less than innocent DNA, and, on top of that, every day it seems, reading something that breaks my heart. In today's BBC World News for instance: "Scientists Shocked By The Mysterious Deaths Of Ancient Trees" (in Zimbabwe, Namibia, South Africa, Botswana, and Zambia -- the ones that are 1,500-2,500 years old.) That is a long way from Middletown Springs, but so very close to my heart!
Mysterious? I don't think so.
Life is moving in, steadily closer, partly because my senses are less expansive (hearing, sight and smell) but also because my heart demands intimacy. I'm finding that I need to get closer to my surroundings to take them into my personal space, to let the world touch me. And I am less opinionated about what constitutes life. It's whatever gets through to me now. I was just walking from the Yellow Deli to the garage to pick up my car and the sun, glinting off the chrome and glass and colorful surfaces of cars in a parking lot, dazzled my eye. (The eye is an organ of light. When you look at a flower you see an organism that was designed by and for light. The same is true of the eye. Eyes are the flowering of the brain.) At the same time, new leaves of a tree I was walking under were caressing my head and face. As the world of my senses grows smaller I can't afford to be choosy; when something catches my attention I have to let it in, sometimes stopping, turning my whole self into a sensation. If not for me, I do this for my soul. My soul has always been trying to get me to engage with life. When I was young, it was the distance that was calling to my soul, now it is a flower I'm passing or a dead bird on the sidewalk that my soul wants me to remove to a patch of grass. To use John Rachel's word, my heart is easily smitten these days! It took 67 years, but I'm finally listening to my heart, the seat of sympathy, empathy, compassion and love. Better late than never.
Yesterday I was listening to an early Joan Baez recording on YouTube and there was a black and white photo of her face that I couldn't stop looking at. The expression in her eyes was so serious, and concentrated, so full of unwavering commitment to her vision. As I listened to her strong, liquid, pellucid voice, staring into her face, my heart melted for her and for all of us and tears started flowing out of admiration for her courage and spirit, out of deep regret for lost opportunities, and out of the tender recognition of something that was melting my heart, something a father would feel for his only daughter coming of age who was announcing loud and clear that she was ready for the world, barefoot and all. I could see in her dark eyes everything she wanted to happen!