“What really makes clowns creepy is that they are ambiguous characters in so many ways.” Frank McAndrew, Social Psychologist
Despite the Ronald McDonald and Bozo the Clown iconic images of the happy go lucky clown, I’ve always hated clowns. Clowns were scary and strange to me even though clowns were traditionally people made up to make us laugh. Their role was to help us forget our problems, to help us remember to feel joy, to feed us hamburgers (for a price) for goodness sake. The student who became the class clown helped to relieve their own and the classroom stressors and distracted us from the tensions of the day.
“The role of the clown and a physician are the same-it’s to elevate the possible and to relieve the suffering.” Patch Adams, Doctor and Clown
At some point, that happy-go-lucky image began to change though. In books (ie Stephen King), movies and television, clowns began to portayed as scary. Recently media sightings of clowns purposely dressed to incite fear have been reported in the news. It seems the sole intent of these recent scary clowns is to terrify people in person.
Erika Engelhaupt, a blogger for National Geographic posts that she felt part of this current fear of clowns was that they were a symbol that represent the unpredictable. Who was behind the clown face and was it a threat or a gift? She quotes a study on “creepiness” by Frank McAndrews : “Per Frank McAndrew, what really makes clowns creepy is that they are ambiguous characters in so many ways. ‘If a person is willing to flout the conventions of society by dressing and acting as they do,” McAndrew says, “what other rules might they be willing to break?’
That tracks with what McAndrew found in his study, where he surveyed more than 1,300 people to figure out what behaviors and physical characteristics people find creepy.The common factor was unpredictability.
Predictable means certain to occur; destined or inevitable, capable of being anticipated, invariably occurring or appearing.Unpredictable: unforeseeable: incapable of being anticipated
Not My Favorite Clown
Who raises their hand and says we now live in a world of scary unpredictability and worry? My hand goes up. At this very moment, the 45th president of the United States and his band of corporate cronies are challenging the very core of predictability in our democracy, our place in the world and the values we have of a free nation for all. The fear and anxiety for the future is “incapable of being anticipated.”
Our routines and habits give us comfort in their predictability unless the routines are harmful. Anyone who has grown up in an alcoholic, abusive or mentally ill family knows the harm of that unpredictability. Intermittent rewards or punishment are the most stressful and taxing experiences for children. Growing up in a household, or a neighborhood, or a nation of unpredictable behaviors and falsehood is at the core of instability and harm. Healthy habits and routines filled with predictable and trustworthy goals and directives instills trust and stability.
My Favorite Clown Photograph and hand colored by Myk Peterson
Here’s what I can know and do: I want things in my life to be predictable and comforting. I want to know I have enough time, money and energy. I want our house to be visually beautiful, clean and look the same when I leave as when I come home. I want family and friends around me that are healthy and support me in my values. I want to know my government and the president of my United States is not against me, or worse doing me and my loved ones harm. I want to be a part of a world that supports giving and care for all human beings. I want that to be predictable. I want to continue to vision a healthy, equitable and fair world where the health, happiness and care of all people no matter who they are is respected and honored. If we can’t envision it, we can’t know it will happen.
I quote again one of my favorites: “Faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.” Hebrews 11:1
We all need to practice faith in the unseen and the unknown in action. We need to practice healthy habits for all our mind, body, and spiritual needs to keep us balanced. We need to know that the insanity of the past 90 days will end in something wonderful that we can’t know. So, pay attention to which side of magic, maps and clowns you choose to habitualize. Intend to be open to what we can’t imagine or see.
“If we can’t be open, if we can’t accept what we don’t know, there really is no hope.” Maureen in The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry, by Rachel Joyce.
Of all the senses; vision, hearing, touch, smell and taste, my sense of direction is my worst. Put me in a car, boat or a path in the middle of anywhere and I have no idea how to navigate on my own toward an intended destination. If I don’t have a map, I’m lost. Whether the maps are on paper or the Global Positioning System, it’s a certainty that if I don’t follow the directions, step by step, predictably I’ll end up where I don’t want to be.
A portion of an ancient map; Columbia River Maritime Museum, Astoria, Oregon
The maps for my life destinations are more obscure. What’s the best decisions on which way to go with my art? How should I spend my time, money and energy? Who are the people I choose to have around me? How do I follow the path to abundance and safety? How did I find love? Where’s the map for those destinations?
Those answers may be the maps or paths that I follow by “reading” my own truth. I can follow my body map which holds my history and memory. I can pick a religious map, a 12- Step map or a financial map to guide me. I have picked people in my journeys as a map. Sometimes they were good guides, sometimes not. I want my life map to consists of creating and following a plan of what I value most in mind, body and spirit. When I feel lost, I look for that map.
“True navigation begins in the human heart. It’s the most important map of all.” Elizabeth Lindsey
I’ve always been fascinated by the mysterious. I love mystery stories, books, photographs, movies and people. I loved Bible stories when I was a child. How did the water turn to wine? How did Lazarus come back to life? What in the world was Revelations really saying?
As an adult I still love the mystic qualities of spirituality, art, music and the ethereal. I love engaging in the mysterious potential and challenge of trying to understand the obscure. When I don’t know something, my curiosity is engaged, my interest peaks. When I start to read a book or look at a movie, I like the attentiveness that my mind and senses are engaged in. What will happen on the next page, the next frame? As a hiker in nature, I’m drawn to what’s just past that curve, beyond that hill. As a social scientist, I never tire in knowing what causes someone to make that life decision, come to that conclusion that has them crushed or unhappy or abundant or free?
Petroglyphs @ Ginko Petrified Forest State Park,Vantage, Wa.
Of course, the magical has its shadow side. I want to know things I can’t know. What is in the future? What is in the past? (What do those petroglyphs mean?) What is death like? How will a stressful situation be solved or an abusive action be explained? How did Trump get elected? How does the Divine work? What is beauty? No matter how curious, I can’t always know the answers.
Books, movies, magicians, the sciences, religion are sometimes a welcome relief to this impossible not knowing. We count on them to find the answers, solve the puzzle. I count on that predictability to sooth my anxieties and calm my fears.
Bill woke up to dawn’s light shining on his face through the crack in the bedroom’s curtained window. He quietly pulled the covers off, careful not to wake Sara who slept peacefully at his side. Walking to the bathroom, he dressed for work and then went into the kitchen, absently going through his normal routine of making coffee and eating cold cereal. Sitting at the kitchen table, he gazed out the window at the peaceful morning, tasting and smelling the rich coffee, waiting for his head to clear from the night’s shadows. Finished, he poured coffee into a well- worn thermos and left the house. His Ford Ranger started smoothly and Bill drove the long road to the Black Rock Hydro-Power Plant where he had worked for 20 years. He had hired on at the plant right after he married Sara. As he drove along the beautiful Black River he couldn’t help his thoughts which always strayed back to their lives together and the love he still felt for her. His revery was interrupted only when he got to the Plant and saw an unusual amount of activity in the parking lot for this time of the morning. The seven o’clock shift had just started so it was a surprise to see people milling about with an unusual amount of cars in the lot.
He got out slowly and walked to the entrance and was quickly greeted by his assistant, Mike who came hurrying out to meet him.
“So glad you’re here boss. Lots of things happening. Word is there’s a cavitation in the hydraulic turbine that seems more pronounced than normal.” Mike said.
“Why didn’t someone call me?” Bill said
“I was just about to but the higher ups just arrived. I know how prompt you are and didn’t have time.”
“Well, who called them?” Bill asked.
“I don’t know, but I bet it was that asshole Jenkins. He’s always looking for an opportunity to brown nose the higher ups and get his share of attention, ahem, promotion.” Mike mumbled the last couple words with obvious cynicism.
“Okay, Mike, let’s see what’s up”.
They walked into the plant and saw a dozen people, all standing around with clipboards, looking lost. When they saw Bill, they all looked up. He didn’t recognize most of the people, but he did recognize one woman and his stomach turned. It was a reporter from the local newspaper. “How did she get in here and who called her?” Bill said angrily.
“Someone called her.” Mike said, “I don’t know who.” She made a beeline for Bill, somehow knowing or perceiving he was in charge by his confident stand.
“Could you tell us what’s happening? Is there a breach in the dam? Is the town in danger?” She shouted to Bill, even though they were close enough for her to be heard in a normal voice.
“As you can see Ms.….? “
“Sheldon, Amy Sheldon, the Black Rock Gazette.”
“As you can see Ms. Sheldon, I just arrived and will need time to evaluate the situation although I assure you we are a safe plant and there is nothing to worry about.” Bill said as he walked quickly to his office, with Mike and now a half dozen people following him. He turned around and said “Please give me a minute folks, it’s going to take some time to sort out what’s happening.”
A heavy set man in his 50’s walked up aggressively to Bill. “I’m Earl Stanley from the Sacramento home office, we got an emergency call early this morning about a breach in the erosion of the main turbine. I need to know now what the severity of that breach is. All our systems check out, something is wrong and I need to know now!”
“Please Mr. Stanley, I need time to assess what’s happening. Give me 15 minutes. I can’t tell you anything until I know something.” Bill said trying to keep the exasperation out of his voice. “Mike, please show these gentlemen and Ms. Sheldon to the cafeteria and make sure they’re comfortable while I find out the details.”
“Sure boss. Right this way.” Mike said. Though begrudging, the crowd of officials and the reporter let themselves be led to the cafeteria by Mike, secretly glad to get a needed cup of coffee.
Bill turned into his office, shut the door and started making calls to the workers in charge of the turbines. He became alarmed when he couldn’t reach anyone. He shot out of his office and walked briskly to the main Power House trying not to show his panic to the workers around him. Once on the main floor, he was struck by how quiet everything was which didn’t help his fear. He soon saw the reason as he turned a corner. Three workers were laying on the floor, blood puddles and streaks everywhere. The superintendent in charge, Hank Jenkins was looking terrified standing next to a man who held a gun to his throat. The man, dressed in dark green clothes, had a vest on with explosives. He looked up at Bill and said, “Ahh, here’s the man in charge, just who I was waiting for. Mr. Jenkins here told me you’d be coming soon. He knew if he reported a breach it would get some attention down here” he said as he jammed the gun further into Hank Jenkins’s throat. “If you want to keep the rest of your workers alive and not have this whole plant, dam and all demolished, bring the reporter and the big boss from Sacramento and I will tell you my demands.” Bill tried to speak but the man quickly stopped him. “Don’t, don’t try and talk to me or I’ll shoot your man. Just get the reporter and the main boss who were called this morning and bring them here, NOW!” Bill turned around and ran to the cafeteria, no longer now trying to hide his panic. He arrived in time to see their startled faces as he ran up to them shouting. “Quickly, Mr. Stanley, Ms. Sheldon, come with me. We have a terrorist in the Power House and he’s threatening to blow up the dam.” He turned to Mike, “Call the authorities, call the Sacramento office, tell them what’s going on and evacuate everyone from the building! Tell them to head up the mountain.” Bill said. Not waiting to see his response, he hurried the two people from the cafeteria and they all ran to the turbines in the Power House. When he arrived, he saw the man in green pacing with his hands free. Jenkins lay on the floor a bullet in his head. Amy Sheldon screamed and Stanley went white. “Here they are, now what do you want?” Bill said as evenly as he could. “Please, don’t shoot anyone else. Let me call the paramedics”
“He won’t need a Doctor and neither will you if you don’t listen. I want two million dollars and a helicopter here to pick me up in 30 minutes or I blow the whole place. I’m here to stop the energy department from ruining anymore waterways and giving all our water away to the south. I’m the only one who can stop the insanity” he said, clearly insane and getting more excited as he talked. Reporter lady, make the call, now and you,” he pointed his gun at Amy, “come’re, I have a manifesto on this flash drive that you need to publish in your paper.” She slowly walked towards him, and took the drive. When she walked back, he said. “Go! Get busy.”
“What’s your name, what’s your plan?” she asked.
“It’s all in the flash drive I gave you, now go.” Amy quickly left the room and ran, trying to call 911. On her way out of the plant, she ran into Mike.
She said, “Can you show me how to get out of here?”
“Yes, let’s go together, I know a short cut up the mountain” There was mass chaos as workers were all making a mad dash out as warning sirens continued to go off. Amy and Mike rushed out together, and jumped into Mike’s Camaro Z28 speeding for higher ground.
When Bill returned to the Power House the man in green was on a long rant about the way water was being managed in the state. He talked on and on as if in a daze while Bill and Earl stood still. Bill was desperately trying to think of how to stop him and aware that Earl was acting strangely. The man in green suddenly remembered where he was. He pointed to Earl Stanley, “you, come here.” Earl stayed where he was, frozen in place. “I said, come here.” the man in green said. “I want to see up close the type of man who is responsible for the ruination of nature’s best natural resource.” Earl seemed to come out of a fog and started walking towards him. He was sweating as he walked to the man slowly. Bill saw with alarm that Earl began to clinch his fist as he walked and knew this was trouble. He seemed to be transforming from a statue to a bull as he picked up steam and then began running towards the man in green.
“Oh, no you don’t, you little piss ant commie greenpeacer! You will not do this here and now, you will not!” Earl screamed and with horror, Bill saw him slam into the man with all his might. The last thing Bill saw was a blinding light. The last thing he thought was of Sara. The last thing he felt was heat.
Amy and Mike were racing up the mountain road, past the dam when they heard the blast and saw the smoke billowing in the air. They pulled over to a side road and looked down. They saw the dam give way from the Black River Reservoir rushing down into the Valley, smothering the land. They stood in shock, unable to comprehend the disaster that they had just witnessed.
Six months later Bill’s brother, Jim was finally able to make himself drive out from the mid-west to see what was left of Bill’s property and assess the damage. He felt an overwhelming sadness as he carefully drove onto the once beautiful estate. So much love and beauty had been there and now so much sorrow. The ground was covered in mud and debris from the flood that occurred when the dam broke. It was horrible. Garbage and sewage covered the fertile fields. The once beautiful house. now ruined and abandoned, was oddly still standing. He shook his head. Poor Bill, how could this have happened? They had worked so hard to build the house they both loved. He thought the worst was over for Bill when he lost Sara, so many years ago. They’d only been married 10 years when she died of cancer. Bill never seemed to get over the loss. He had loved her so much. Jim wondered if the house would ever live again.
The following piece is the second part to a story in three parts. The first part of the story was in the last blog post where I was experimenting with writing with a photographic eye, describing visual images with words. This piece is in a more traditional narrative. I’m following my personal artistic unknown with various forms of expression, exploring with words, photographs and other forms of multimedia. My intention is to push the boundaries of what I know and wander in the world of following that light. Enjoy!
“I think houses live their own lives along a time stream that’s different from the ones upon which their owners float, one that’s slower. In a house, especially an old one, the past is closer.”
Stephen King, Bag of Bones
Bill and Sara brought the antique table and chairs to the bright, spacious kitchen and immediately began to clean them. They worked with an unspoken rhythm culled from years together doing this and that to improve the house, the yard, their lives.
When they were finished, the rich honey colored wood shone with luster, and the smell of the furniture had transformed from noxious to fragrant. They both smiled.
Bill gave Sara a kiss on her head and went out to the old barn to do another project, another idea. Sara sat quietly watching the sun stream through the kitchen window. A breeze moved the light muslin curtains in and out with grace. A moment, a pause in time that held a rhythm of its own. Three musical notes went through her head, something, peace.
She took a deep breath, trying to continue the calm despite a growing tension in her belly. Her hand swept through her long brown hair. She looked out again at the blue sky. She got up, went outside and walked through the well-kept yard, admiring the order and beauty of the neat vegetable garden and colorful flower beds. She walked to the edge of a vast field behind the farmhouse and stopped. The sky’s horizon ahead now seemed grey, layered with a whitish brown. There was no sky blue to recognize. The dull muted colors seemed hazy, suspicious, and the warm summer sun cooled. Sara suddenly felt unsafe. It was happening again. The horizontal edge of the earth ahead triggered her anxiety. Sara looked up and saw migratory birds flying through in their familiar V. Did they feel it, know it?” she thought. Did their feathers slide through the haze unscathed or did it stay on their bodies, feathers, beak, polluted? She turned in panic and ran back to the house, to the new kitchen table.
Bill wandered into the house and noticed Sara sitting rigidly at the table, breathing in short shallow breaths.
“What happened? What’s the matter?”
“Nothing, never mind. I’m fine, I’m just out of breath from my walk.”
“You don’t seem fine.” Bill said, “What is it Sara?” Sara sighed, walked over to Bill and put her arms around his tall, strong body. She knew not to tell Bill her feelings, her experience, her scare. She knew her vision couldn’t be fixed. It was as real to her as the house around her.
“Really, it’s nothing. I love you so much is all. Want some lunch?” she asked.
“Sure, I’d love some. Want me to pick tomatoes?”
“Yes, thanks” Sara said and watched him walk out the door. After lunch, as Sara worked on a square for a quilt she was creating she thought about what had happened on her walk. Was the sky that different from her house to the field? That threatening? Was the danger real? She didn’t know. She shook her head and tried to focus on her square. It was a large oak tree with smaller oaks surrounding it in a field of green. She had read somewhere that the native Pomo Indians considered the oaks to be personal property and passed down the possession of the trees in the family to new generations. The Pomos and the oaks were mostly gone now, and this square was a tribute to their majesty. Sara and Bill would never be able to pass their place on to a new generation. Despite years of trying, they would have no tribe. She grew tired, went to their bedroom and lay down on her soft, wide bed, covered in a brilliantly colored quilt she’d made. Bill had made their bedframe by hand from some oak trees that needed to be cleared when they first came to this property 20 years ago as newly weds, full of hope and dreams.
She soon fell asleep. An hour later, she awakened covered in sweat, gasping for breath, remembering her dream. She had been walking in the nearby woods when she heard a rush behind her. She first thought it was the wind, but she soon realized it was the roar of flood water rushing towards her. She began running but in slow motion. She realized with panic she couldn’t move fast enough to outdistance the water. She was running so slowly, as if an invisible force were freezing her movements. She managed somehow to get to the edge of her property, then to her house, but it was too late, the muddy, water crashed into her and her house, covering all of it.
She couldn’t seem to calm the terror caused by the dream. She remembered the water wasn’t pure, but polluted by pipes and garbage, car parts and sewage. It was filled with toxic sludge and it had suffocated her .
Bill popped his head around the corner of their bedroom door. “Wake up sleepy head! We need to get dinner. Our favorite show is on tonight and I don’t want to miss it. “
Sara got up from the bed, stretched and yawned, still groggy from sleep when she heard the phone ring and then Bill talking to his brother Jim.
“I’m doing fine, really Jim, I’m good. I don’t need you to come over but thank you. I’m cooking dinner now and we’re going to watch TV after.”
“I know, I know. It’s been a year.” Bill responded after a long silence. “She’s always with me Jim. She’s always still with me. I gotta go now”
They almost drove by it. The look of the house was pretty shabby. Wire chain link fence with men’s cotton shirts hung on it like flags. Poor, poor house. Sara encouraged him to stop anyway, and Bill reluctantly backed up. As they got out of the car they saw a man looking disheveled, with a huge belly and then a portly woman, staring at them from inside the locked gate.
“Is the sale still going? Are you open?” Bill asked
“Sure, sure” he said, “come on in.” He slid open the gate and they hesitantly walked onto the cemented yard at the front of the house. Items strewn everywhere on the concrete—so many things that at one time had no value, never had value. Cheap things that may have never brought joy, only the comfort of buying them and never letting them go. She felt her usual sorrow at the things she saw, a sad emptiness.
“You have a dining room table for sale?” Bill asked.
“Yes, come inside, I’m Kevin, this is my wife Mary, we live in Las Vegas, Mary’s mom and dad used to live here, we bought the house for them and now they’re gone and we’re cleaning it out. Mary’s mom never threw anything away, ever,” Kevin said in a rush, offering this slew of information without thought. “When the garbage man came every week, she only ever had a small bag this size.” He continued, showing them his hands shaped in the size of a basketball. “Come on in, I’ll show you the table.”
They wandered carefully into the house, stepping around boxes and bags, glass bowls and animal figurines with more chips than character. The minute they walked inside they were overwhelmed with the caustic smell of old cigarette smoke. It seemed to be soaked into the atmosphere. Sara instinctively put her hand to her nose, trying not to be to obvious. The smell was an acrid, poisonous odor that permeated the walls, the haggard furniture and the piles and piles of things that filled the disheveled house. One wall was stacked ceiling high with boxes of home made wine. Kevin led them to a back bedroom packed with more scraps of a failed life. “Here it is” he said, “we bought it for Mary’s folks a few years ago. We paid $1100.00.”
“How much do you want for it and the chairs?” Bill asked.
“$100.00” Kevin said quickly.
“We’ll take them.” Bill said and pulled out the cash, handing it to Kevin who pocketed the cash quickly.
They unpiled the mounds of stuff from the tops of the table, maneuvered the chairs out of the random places they were placed throughout the house and loaded them into their car. Mary had continued to wander around the yard and house in a daze, moving things from one pile to another. She watched them load the car and looked away. Kevin cheerfully waved them goodbye.
Once they drove away they rolled down the windows and tried to breath the crisp evening air. The cushions for the chairs poisoned the car with the smell of cigarette smoke. They felt their hair and clothes, even their skin permeated by it. They quickly drove home expressing their horror at a life they were grateful not to be living.
Over the last year, I have been asking questions monthly about the mysteries of what is unknown to me. Some answers to my questions have revealed themselves slowly and some quickly. Some questions remain unanswered. I found some answers by writing out my inner thoughts and some from people with whom I spoke or who posted responses to my questions. Sometimes, in the faith of the unknown, there was strength and awareness. In a year’s worth of questions about things I didn’t know, things I was haunted by not knowing, I was encouraged to embrace the not knowing. Are we on our way to extinction as human beings? What are art, home, body, the purpose of travel, music, recovery? What is my legacy, love, aging, and now, what is death? It has to come to this last one after so many. The ultimate unknown? Death. What happens when we die? What do we as humans do when other human beings die?
What happens after you die? I was taught very specifically about this. My parents dutifully and lovingly sponsored me and my siblings through the sacraments of their beliefs as Missouri Synod Lutherans. I was baptized, confirmed and assured that if I believed in a certain “way, truth and light” there was no death but only a “life everlasting” in heaven. I was saved from eternal damnation, from death. This was always a comforting thought, although an exclusionary one since even as a young child I wondered… what about….X, Y and Z persons who were not Lutheran?
As an imaginative child, I spent many hours trying to picture what heaven was like; pearly gates, streets lined with gold, being reunited with loved ones that had already “passed through” this life. I never could quite get the picture. I never experienced anyone dying until I was in early adolescent and a boy, a first crush, died in an accidental drowning. I was sad, shocked, and I remember, puzzled.
Here’s another perspective that a friend posted (thanks Nancy) of poet Billy Collins, former US Poet Laureate reading his poem “The Dead”. (Animation by Juan Delcan of Spontaneous.)
Needless to say, if you’re a human being you have probably had, at one time or another, some perspective, thought or feeling on the seemingly very real fact that our human bodies are vulnerable and finite. Like all the other plants, animals and species on this fragile, fascinating earth, they disappear or change forms at some point in time. And our consciousness? Our soul? That’s the other mystery isn’t it? My parents believed that, given the right steps in life, your soul was secured in heaven, peaceful, serene and everlasting. Here’s a common prayer I was taught to say at bedtime every night: “Now I lay me down to sleep. I pray the Lord my soul to keep. If I should die before I wake, I pray thee Lord my Soul to take.”
At the time, that prayer held a combination of fear and comfort. Today, I see they were trying to teach me to surrender the part of myself I couldn’t control (sleep, death) to a power outside of myself who would take care of that for me.
“Behold! I tell you a mystery. We shall not all sleep and we shall all be changed.” 1 Corinthians 15:51 (Handel’s Messiah: The Trumpet Shall Sound.)
The search for where our consciousness goes before and after death is a broad and vast one that I have continued to explore most of my adult life. It’s as close to a search for God energy that I can get. As I get older and closer to the certainty of my biological change from a life formed human to an unknown entity, it seems more interesting and yet illusive and still no more clear than when I was a child saying the above prayer.
Another key to the mystery of the unknown of death might lie in our memorials. A Wikipedia definition of memorials is; “an object which serves as a focus for memory of something, usually a person [who has died) or an event.” So, what do we do when someone’s body dies? It just happens that yesterday, a well known musician and icon, Prince, died and the media is filled with acknowledgements of his life and work. We honor them, we collectively remember them.
Sam and I just came back from a month long trip back east that unexpectedly became a journey on a long memorial road. We started with visiting my Aunt Irma in Perryville, Missouri who will be 102 next week, living on her own in a town she grew up in. We went from there to visiting the birthplaces of the two founders of Alcoholic Anonymous, Bob Smith and Bill Wilson. We visited Ground Zero in New York, the Washington DC war Memorials and Martin Luther King, Jr Memorial, Gettysburg, Elvis’s Graceland, Martin Luther King Jr’s Lorraine Motel Memorial and countless, countless, countless cemeteries along the way.
Whew, who knew? It turned out that seeing the sights for me included seeing a lot of tributes to dead people. So are our memories another way to continue the consciousness of those who have passed through this life? We create an object, city, place to remember them. We honor their lives and accomplishments. This now lives past their physical bodies.
Children are another way we continue after our bodies have disappeared. They not only can be the living biological memory of our lives, often even when the parent is not biological, the memory or a skill lives on in the child raised by them. My youngest son is biologically predestined to express music. Sam, his step dad, helped actualize that by playing his own music and mentoring him with lessons and encouragement.
So, what do I believe? I honestly don’t know. As in all of my questions, I find myself in faith with the mystery. Here, again, from Iris Dement, one of my favorite singer/songwriters who I was recently privileged to see in person in New York. Here is her view on it in words and music and it’s good enough for me, “I think I’ll just let the mystery be.” Iris Dement “Let the Mystery Be
Everybody’s wonderin’ what and where they they all came from Everybody’s worryin’ ’bout where they’re gonna go When the whole thing’s done But no one knows for certain And so it’s all the same to me I think I’ll just let the mystery be
Some say once you’re gone you’re gone forever And some say you’re gonna come back Some say you rest in the arms of the Saviour If in sinful ways you lack
Some say that they’re comin’ back in a garden Bunch of carrots and little sweet peas I think I’ll just let the mystery be
Everybody’s wonderin’ what and where they they all came from Everybody’s worryin’ ’bout where they’re gonna go When the whole thing’s done But no one knows for certain And so it’s all the same to me I think I’ll just let the mystery be
Some say they’re goin’ to a place called Glory And I ain’t saying it ain’t a fact But I’ve heard that I’m on the road to purgatory And I don’t like the sound of that I believe in love and I live my life accordingly But I choose to let the mystery be
Everybody is wondering what and where they they all came from Everybody is worryin’ ’bout where they’re gonna go When the whole thing’s done But no one knows for certain And so it’s all the same to me
I think I’ll just let the mystery be I think I’ll just let the mystery be
When I turned 60 I started realizing I was at an age that some people labeled as old. I suddenly became a senior citizen, headed for the passive rocking chair, a crone. It started to sink in that there were less days ahead than the days left behind. I started to worry. Fear began to take over my life as I began to see all the perils that could occur without my control. I didn’t know what was going to become of me. I thought of my journey forward as a gauntlet that I had to run through and hope I dodged the cancer-heart attacks-strokes-fatal falls that were the arrows thrown at me as I dashed towards an unknown death at an unknown age. I had dreams of driving blind down long dark tunnels and being trapped in the car with no way out. On top of that misery was the unknown about who would die first, me or Sam, and how would I live without the love of my life if it were him, and sorrow at him living a life without me if it were me.
“Age is an issue of mind over matter. If you don’t mind, it doesn’t matter. ” Anonymous
I started reading. First Carl Jung then Yogananda’s Autobiography of a Yogi and then other spiritual books. I remembered and looked up Erik Erikson’s stages of development for children and adults and realized I had lived through the 7th stage of his adulthood matrix; generativity versus self-absorption (Care). I realized my generativity had resulted in starting two successful businesses, employing multiple people, and co-writing two books. I was also active in my art, showing at galleries and art shows regularly. After many years of planning and recovery we were financially wealthy. I was in good health, physically fit, went to yoga 3 times a week and was engaged in my life. I finally had a supportive relationship with my adult children and was looking forward to being a grandmother for the first time. We were beginning the process of planning our next chapter of retirement and were confident it would happen gracefully. I said the Third Step Prayer (Alcoholics Anonymous) every day to remind myself of my spiritual commitment to be connected in service to others.
“You are never too old to set another goal or to dream a new dream.” CS Louis
In reading about Carl Jung’s life, I discovered he didn’t produce his best writings until after the age of 80. I discovered that my life was not shrinking, but had the potential for amazing expansion as I looked forward to more free time and a closer alignment with living out my values. And aging is real. It’s such a strange and odd trip, how the passing of time affects my mind, body and spirit. It’s really true that I have less short term memory and more long term memory. It’s true that my body’s metabolism is practically down to zero. It’s true that I have to fight every day to keep fear, regret, despair, isolation and self-consciousness from dominating my thoughts and actions. I now have a true sense of the last stage of Erik Erikson’s developmental stages; integrity versus despair (Wisdom).
“You get old and you realize there are no answers, just stories.” Garrison Keillor
Here’s my story:
A friend and I were having tea the other day in a coffee shop. We were speaking about his recent retirement and our aging process.
“I can’t hear, can’t see, can’t taste, can’t remember a thing, but I am having a helluva good time!” he said.
“So, in other words,” I said, “our senses are ebbing but we’re still able to have fun?”
“Well, many of my senses may be ebbing but two senses are growing: my sense of humor and sense of appreciation!”
“Okay, okay” I said.“I know! My sense of smell, which has never been good, is going. Same with my sense of taste. My sense of sight and hearing diminish as we speak and my sense of balance is for sure fading. Forget about my sense of time and direction— they’re gone completely. But guess what? My sense of humor, sense of gratitude, and sense of self are increasing every single day. My sense of life as a creator of art, and my sense of being a good partner are also increasing.” I stopped. We just looked at one another and smiled.
Love. It must be the most written about, explored and expressed word in the human languages. It seems everyone and his or her sister or brother has something to say about love and some directives of what to do with it. Is it a noun? A verb? Physical, emotional or spiritual? Here are some examples of thoughts about love from some noteworthy people:
“Keep love in your heart. A life without it is like a sunless garden when the flowers are dead.” Oscar Wilde
“I have decided to stick with love. Hate is too great a burden to bear.” Martin Luther King, Jr.
“Spread love everywhere you go. Let no one ever come to you without leaving happier.” Mother Teresa
“Friends can help each other. A true friend is someone who lets you have total freedom to be yourself – and especially to feel. Or, not feel. Whatever you happen to be feeling at the moment is fine with them. That’s what real love amounts to – letting a person be what he really is.” Jim Morrison
“You can search throughout the entire universe for someone who is more deserving of your love and affection than you are yourself, and that person is not to be found anywhere. You yourself, as much as anybody in the entire universe deserve your love and affection.” Buddha
“A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.” Jesus Christ
“Let yourself be silently drawn by the strange pull of what you really love. It will not lead you astray.” Rumi
None of these cultural icons have said exactly what love is. Clearly it’s important. Why else were we told throughout the ages, in all languages, over and over what to do with it? Love as verb. Love ourselves, love others, love the earth, love the stars. Don’t even get me started on love as a noun. Here’s 5 ways love languages can be expressed as a verb from Dr. Gary Chapman’s book, The Five Love Languages. 1. Acts of Service 2. Words of Affirmation 3. Gifts 4. Quality Time 5. Physical touch
As far as I can tell, the description of love is experienced by myself and others in multiple ways; physiological, emotional, spiritual, and since we’re humans, we want to express that experience.
Physiologically there is oxytocin, a chemical hormone which has an affect on bonding, social recognition, anxiety and orgasm. (en.m.wikepedia.org) It helps to create a bond between the baby, the parents and anyone who is close to the child and connected. Pheromones are a chemical that is released when we’re sexually attracted to someone, which increases the physical bond between couples.
Emotional love is the one we may feel the most familiar with. It’s the warm feeling in our chest, yes, near our hearts that lets us know we feel close and connected to someone or that we want to be close and connected. I feel that love of emotion with those I know and trust. I also feel it with my experiences in art or music, the languages of emotion. I feel that emotion in nature, when I give service or receive recognition. It has me feeling safe, well balanced, content and yes, connected.
Spiritual love seems harder to define. How we feel, describe, or express love may depend on our spiritual principles, beliefs or dogma. For some, the love of Jesus and Mary is as real and rich as the love of a child. For me, it manifests in the connection I feel with a universal energy that is real and yet a mystery.
“Love is the way messengers from the mystery tell us things.” Rumi
When I asked my wise and wonderful husband, Sam Beasley, whom I love in so many ways, what love is he said this:
“Everyone knows what romantic love is. It starts with a chemical connection, an attraction. It happens all the time. From that point what matters is the + in love +. What is it combined with? If love is combined with honesty, integrity, and respect then, in addition to that chemical attraction, friendship has a chance of developing.
If love is combined with deception, something that could be wonderful becomes painful and shatters trust. If love is combined with commitment to honor the humanness in each other, people can have a love that last forever. Maybe “What is love?” isn’t the best question. Maybe ‘What is your love combined with?’ brings a more revealing answer.”
I would love it if you would let me know what you think love is. I often write these and wonder what the response is. Please leave a comment or better yet, subscribe to my blog posts. Thanks for reading and looking. Suzanne
Photograph by Suzanne Lorenz
I’ve heard from many people over the last month telling me they were recovering from bad colds and flu. The conversations contained a sense of relief and a small bit of disappointment when they were done with the illness and ready to begin their normal life routines again. When I was also “under the weather” with a cold I understood as well that though I felt miserable being sick, there was some amount of guilty pleasure in knowing I had to stay in bed and sleep, watch television or read, and some reluctance and excitement being well again.
The recovery from a cold or flu, a broken bone or a broken heart pales when it comes to recovery from addiction or a process addiction. ( i.e. overeating, gambling or compulsive spending). Even the dictionary’s traditional definition of recovery is a puzzlement when it comes to substance or process addictions. “1) A return to a normal state of health, mind or strength. 2) The action or process of regaining possession or control of something stolen or lost.”
Keys Lost or Found?
Photograph by Suzanne Lorenz
These make sense if we think of a short term physical illness or lost keys. And yet, what I know about human beings who are in recovery from addiction is that they are not returning to a “normal state of health, mind or strength.” They never had normal in the first place. And the second definition; “regaining possession or control of something stolen or lost” is equally puzzling. What was lost? And anyone who has tried to change these kinds of conditions, knows “possession and control” are the last things that help to recover their original voice or their authentic self.
Even the definition from the National Counsel On Alcoholism and Drug Dependence seems vague” “Recovery from alcohol and drug problems is a process of change through which an individual achieves abstinence and improved health, wellness and quality of life.” Most of these characteristics are foreign to people who suffer from addictions and who struggle to understand what normal is. What was and is normal?
Photograph by Suzanne Lorenz
As a psychotherapist for over 20 years, I always had questions about the word “normal” mental health. I came to the conclusion that normal meant balanced, functional, and having the ability to feel joy. I believed normal was the individuals balance between what they valued and how they behaved. The closer those two things were, the more balanced and “normal” their life was. I used this as a criteria for good mental health. Generally though, normal is based on correcting a cluster of symptoms defined in a diagnostic manual. This may or may not be achievable without recognizing our learned physical and emotional makeup and the environment that influenced us as children and adults. This is especially true in the addictions field.
Before the mid 1950s being addicted to a substance meant you were a loser, weak willed, a bum and labeled as hopeless or even worse, a drug addict. Alcoholics Anonymous was created in 1935 by two men who believed it was a disease with a solution. Their experience was that the life and family destruction from substance abuse could be arrested by joining with similar people and begin a process of “recovery” using 12 steps and tools. Twenty-one years later, in 1956 the American Medical Association agreed and declared alcoholism an illness, not a sign of bad character. When the AMA declared it a medical condition or illness, more people began to believe you could recover from it.
In the 1980s the substance abuse treatment field began to gain prominence, and the concept of recovery began to be used for those who identified being addicted to drugs or alcohol. Up until then, recovery was only used by a small group of people in Alcoholics anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous who met to recover from the disease of addiction.
So what’s the significance of this stroll through the history of addiction? Let me go back to the original definition of recovery:
A return to a normal state of health, mind or strength. The action or process of regaining possession or control of something stolen or lost.
Photograph by Suzanne Lorenz
When a human child is born on this earth, they emerge with all the physiological predispositions of their genetic programing. The environment and human nurture then begin to have its effects; both in the womb and for many, many years afterward. If a child is born into a family where trauma is inflicted and pervasive, is that normal? How the child adapts or survives the abuse or trauma shapes who they are. Is this a normal state? As they mature to adulthood, do they regain possession of something lost?
When I was a growing up I was taught that children were born with original sin and that unless they were baptized and saved they would go to hell. I have since learned to think differently about this. I believe that when a child is born, they are a holy spirit from the beginning, and this is the normal state. Abuse and trauma done to a child or experienced by the child in the family steals the knowledge of that “normal” state. With this in mind I think the original definition is accurate. Trauma steals our normal state of health, mind and strength and recovery is the action and process of regaining that which was lost. I know of no addict, whether from a substance or a process addiction that has not been affected by trauma as a child. I think research also bears that out.
I asked my life partner, Sam (who is also a certified Substance Abuse Counselor) what his experience was in this area and he said, “People in recovery may not be returning to a ‘normal’ they remember. The trauma may have erased all but a glimmer of it. For many, recovery is the experience of being introduced to normal for the first time. It’s like getting a new roommate you’ve never met, then trying to figure out how to have them be your best friend forever.” So, what is recovery?
For me recovery is all the things I need to do as a human being to remember who I am and be able to access my original connection with the spirit within and outside of myself, and see and follow that light which is in all of us.
Photograph by Suzanne Lorenz
“Amazing grace, how sweet the sound, that saved a wretch like me. I once was lost and now I’m found, was blind and now I see.” John Newton 1772