I Need Mary Oliver's Words

01-20-2020

Today marks the celebration of the birthday of Martin Luther King Jr. He would have been 91 years old.

Although I have a guess, I wonder what he would think about this country, about today’s world, were he still alive? Black Lives Matter–Resurgence of anti-Semitic violence–World climate change–Millions starving and in poverty–Donald Trump–War. I wonder where MLK would find hope.

It was one of those happenstance moments, a bit of luck. I came upon the poetry of Mary Oliver, who died in January 2019. She once said, “I don’t want to end up simply having visited this world.” If you spend fifteen or twenty minutes reading her poetry, you will know she did not spend her life just visiting. She took huge bites out of life and wrote about them with quiet grace and beauty. Another of her quotes tells us to “pay attention, this is our endless and proper work.” Mary Oliver paid attention.

I don’t know what Mary would say about what’s happening today. Somehow, I imagine her softly smiling, whisking the tiny crumbs of worry off her lap and kindly telling us to listen to the song of the mockingbird. I don’t believe she lived her life with her head in the clouds, not paying attention to that other side of life. Read the words of her poem The Fourth Sign of the Zodiac.

Why should I have been surprised?
Hunters walk the forest
without a sound.
The hunter, strapped to his rifle,
the fox on his feet of silk,
the serpent on his empire of muscles — all move in a stillness,
hungry, careful, intent.
Just as the cancer entered the forest of my body,
without a sound.

I think this poet lived her life with both feet firmly planted on the ground. There is a wide gulf between the way she lived and the way many of us live. I think and want to believe she paid attention to the good, the beauty, and the grace that life offers. I imagine her softly scolding me for my worry. And in that gentle scolding, she would be right–worry changes nothing. Unlike the life of Martin Luther King, we live in a world of instant everything. It is a huge burden to carry, that of having every problem in the world accessible in an instant. I can almost hear Martin saying, “Don’t fuss–DO!”

This would probably be the point that Mary would also chime in, telling me to do what is possible to make a better world. Do something! Try, don’t just show up. Don’t just visit.

So, I guess I better do something. I need to worry, fret and yes hatefully argue less. I need to follow more of Mary’s advice. “Keep some room in your head for the unimaginable.” Maybe it’s possible to stop catastrophic climate change. To reverse such political discord. To feed and house all. To speak with kindness and compassion rather than with blame and hatred. Perhaps the unimaginable is imaginable. Maybe Martin would nod his approval. Maybe he would remind me that “the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.”

Today I will stop and take a moment to consider the words and lives of these two people. I will stop and thank them for their efforts to make this world a more beautiful and just place to call home.

One last quote from Mary Oliver, spoken as a question.

 “Tell me what it is you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?”

Go well – David

2020

It is 5:54 a.m. on the first day of the new year and I write this first blog posting with hope.

The following thoughts came to me last night as I lay in a warm bath reading beautiful poetry by Mary Oliver. I was thinking how a countries traits, values and behaviors mimic those of its people. Perhaps they could (or do) serve as a guidepost for what a country is, and maybe more importantly, what it could be.

My maternal grandmother and my former father-in-law have been the two people I’ve most admired. My grandmother, a mother to eleven children and a grandmother to countless others, was an amazing person. I don’t use the word amazing in the casual way it’s thrown around today. She was amazing. She lived to be 103 years old, quite a feat on its own. What made my granny amazing, was who she was, not what she had. She was kind, patient and accepting of everyone. She had little in the way of money or possessions, yet she was generous beyond measure. She knew love was an endless treasure she could freely give with no fear of running out. I never heard her utter a negative word about anyone. Never, not one word. I believe she never wanted for anything she didn’t already possess. Her life lived in simplicity was a blessing in her mind. Her name was Annie.

My father-in-law was a gentle man in the truest sense of the term. Soft spoken (in all the five languages he spoke fluently), he knew how to listen and not pass judgement on what he heard or the person who said it. A pharmacist by training, was an immigrant to this country. His daughter once mistook a customer (who was Japanese) for being Chinese. After the customer was out of the store, he gave this gentle reprimand to his daughter. “Never out of ignorance stand on another man’s neck to make yourself taller.” He, like my grandmother took pleasure in simple matters. I recall him saying when he’d come home after midnight, from his long day at the pharmacy–“I sit and pet Babar before I go to bed, because he enjoys it, and so do I.” Babar was our dog that he and my mother-in-law cared for when we were out of town. A simple gesture of kindness to an animal. My youngest son proudly carries on his name – Gregory.

I could go on endlessly about Annie and Gregory.

          Now we enter a new decade. What shall we do as a country during the next ten years? Will our past national behavior, our current national behavior reflect what we’ve been, or what we could be? The President of this country ran on a slogan of Make America Great Again. Now the slogan is Keep America Great. So, I ask for a clearer answer. Were we not great? What has changed? Is this country now what we want it to be?

          I believe a country is great because of what it does, not what it says. There is little purpose in re-calling the prejudice and greed that brought genocide to a people who first inhabited this country. Not if we today, honestly work to ensure genocide never occurs anywhere in the world. There is no need to recall the slavery of three million people in this country, if we never again allow slavery to occur anywhere in the world. There is no reason to question business and profit if we work to ensure everyone has what they need. Can we honestly say we love nature and animals, while we refuse to do anything to stop the destruction of our planet, the extinction of thousands of species? Can we hate war and still carry it on for twenty years?

          Who do you admire most? Who would you most trust to care for your children and grandchildren? What qualities do they show you every day? Do you admire them because they are rich? Because they are arrogant? Do they demean others, or do they respect others? Are they grateful and generous with what they have, or do they hoard their riches and only strive for more? Do they love, or do they lust?

          My grandmother Annie and my father-in-law Gregory are my heroes. They lived their lives on their own terms. They lived lives of gratitude, compassion, love and gentleness. They lived their lives like I want to live mine.

“I’d rather be in the mountains thinking about God, than be in church thinking about the mountains.” John Muir

I recently saw this quote and again fell in love with the wisdom of Muir.

I wish all a safe and gentle New Year. Go well, David

Resolutions

12-28-2019

Hello 2020

  • What I will do more often:

Be kind to people I like, be kinder to people I don’t like

Read more poetry by Karen Admussen and Jon Sebba

Eat more quality chocolate

Shave more than twice a week

Try to write more compelling characters and dialogue.

“No, you’re not going to try, you’re going to do it. I’m compelling, and you created me.” He says.

“This isn’t the time or place to argue. I’m trying to write a blog posting.” I say

“See, there you go again – ‘trying to write a blog post’ – Either you are, or you aren’t.” He says.

“Okay, okay, we’ll talk about this later.” I say

Use less gas, eat less meat, buy no more clothes. (How many damn shirts does one man need.)

Play fewer games of Words With Friends

Read more books by Colum McCann, Barbara Kingsolver and Charles Dickens

  • What I will do less often:

Complain about the President (OK, maybe that’s not possible)

Complain about the President (OK, so I already said that)

Go to coffee at 6:00 a.m. because I don’t know what else to do after I’ve already been up two hours

Watch less news on TV

Lust after that new bright red Porsche Boxster

Wish I had Hugh Grant’s hair, Michael Jordan’s body, Stephen Colbert’s humor and Sam Elliot’s voice.

Have heroes that don’t want to be a hero

  • Things I will not do anymore:

Worry about why my shoestrings keep coming untied

Not obsess about wishing I could grow a real grown man beard

Thinking someday I’m going to be a rock star. (Give it up, it was 55 years ago that you had your chance, it’s gone!)

Think that life is easier than it really is

Wondering how it might have been if the election had gone differently

Wish I’d been a better person, father, husband, partner (Do it, be a better person, There’s still time)

 Wish I’d gone to Machu Picchu – I been to thirteen countries, you can’t go everywhere)

Give up on life, mankind or the power of youth

Wishing everyone a safe and joyful 2020

Go well, David

Do We Care?

In his book, Losing Earth A Recent History, Nathaniel Rich lays out a forty-year history of the United States government knowing about global Climate Change and actively doing nothing to mitigate it. We’ve had six Presidents during this period. Since the Reagan Presidency, there have been hundreds of national and world conferences for the discussion of the effects of climate change. There have been dozens of Congressional hearings since the late nineteen seventies regarding this matter.  

         Today, 97% of the world’s leading climate scientists agree that climate change is occurring and that humans are the greatest cause. The 10 warmest years on record, out of the last 139 years, have occurred since 2005. July 2019 was the hottest month on record for the planet. 18 American Scientific Societies (private, intergovernmental and governmental) agree that climate change is occurring.

         194 countries have signed the Paris Climate Agreement. On 1 June 2017, President Trump announced that the United States would withdraw from the agreement. President Trump has proclaimed climate change a “hoax” perpetrated by China.

         Every country in the world contributes to the emission of carbon dioxide. It’s interesting to see who contributes the most CO2. In 2016 China was number 1, emitting 9056 metric tons of CO2. India was number 3, emitting 2076 metric tons. The United States was number 2, emitting 4876 metric tons. The most striking numbers for these measurements are addressed in population numbers. China has 1.433 billion people or 18.1 % of the world’s population. India has 1.366 billion people or 17.5% of the world’s population. The United states has 329,060 million people, 4.26% of the world’s population. The United states has approximately 24% of the population of India and they produce 58% less carbon dioxide than we do.

Okay, maybe that is a bunch of mind-numbing numbers. Maybe our eyes glaze over and we yawn when we hear them. But there is no way a rational person can deny the facts. And yet, effectively we have done so for at least the last forty years, and we continue that posture today.

Our planet grows hotter every year. It accelerates in warming because we continue to emit larger and larger amounts of CO2 and methane. Those of us that are in the later stages of our lives will likely never see the most devastating effects of our lack of desire (insert courage) to take the action to reverse our planets destiny. My adult children will live long enough to see the effects, my grandchildren will live daily with its most serious consequences. My great-grandchildren may not have an inhabitable planet.

         I heard someone yesterday say, “if we have free will as humans, we must take responsibility for what we do and for what we fail to do.”

         Economist Thomas Waltz of the National Climate Program attended a 1980 U S National conference on climate change. He listened for hours as other attendees debated language for the final report. Arguments about using will occur, highly likely to occur, almost sure, almost surely and almost certain. Out of frustration, Thomas Waltz stood and said – “The question is fundamental to being a human being. DO WE CARE? The meeting ended with a final report which provided no policy proposals. We are now 39 years later. We still have no policy.

         The answer to the question Mr. Waltz proposed 39 years ago now seems clear. We Don’t Care.

         The Iroquois people had a tradition of looking forward seven generations when making important decisions. Most credible climate scientists believe in seven generations we won’t have an inhabitable planet if we fail to act now.  We must each ask ourselves that fundamental question “Do I care?”

Go well, David

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What are we chasing?

Warning: This posting includes some preaching!

It’s the holiday season, a time for celebrations, decorations and sharing good times. It is also the time for BUYING! That new Lexus you’ve always wanted is just a seventy-two month contract away. With just one click of a button, Amazon will deliver unbridled joy with delivery-free shipping. Duluth Trading Company can assure your “boys” will be snug and comfortable in their underwear.

I say to hell with the quote – “Moderation in everything, every thing in moderation.” Let’s stick with – “He who dies with the most toys wins.”

We remember that President George Bush told us one of the ways to counter the effects of the 911 attack was to go shopping. And it seems we took him up on that idea. We have taken that idea up in spades. Especially now that it’s soon to be Christmas.

We now have Black Friday,, Spend,Spend, Spend Saturday,,Shop till you drop Sunday,,More shit to buy Monday,,Trunk full of new junk Tuesday,,Wish I had more time to shop Wednesday and Thank God the stores stay open late Thursday.

Gandhi once said “The world has enough for everyone’s need, but not enough for everyone’s greed.” I wonder how he would look at 2019 America?

In 2008, Alex Rodriguez signed a ten year contract with the New York Yankees for $275 million dollars. If you need that written out, it’s $275,000,000.00. That works out to only $75,342.47 per day. I can see why he needed to make a commercial that sells Planters peanuts. It’s hard to get buy on $75,000. a day.

We love to hate Jeff Bezos and his $110 billion net worth, yet we buy mega-millions lottery tickets and dream of what we’ll buy when we win the $500 million lottery.

Confession time! I’m guilty too. I may dream of living in a Thoreau style one room cabin in the woods, growing my green beans and squash; but I wouldn’t mind diving there in a new red Porsche Boxster. I also admit to owning more shirts than any five men could wear out in ten years. The question is why?

I’m reminded of a client I once saw in my counseling practice. He owned (as I recall) a 1956 Corvette and a 1965 Corvette. He lived in a beautiful home with his wife and children. He and his brother owned six successful sporting goods stores in two states. I asked him one day, when was it going to be enough. Nearly twenty years later, I still remember his answer – “I don’t know, but not yet.”

So now I end this tirade. What are we chasing? When will it be enough? I’ve lived far more years than I have in front of me. (I’m doubting I’ll live to be 142 years old). If I imagine lying on my death bed, I doubt that I will be saying – “I wish I had bought another shirt.” I hope I’m not saying – “It would have been better to earn more money than to enjoy my family, the beauty of nature and the joy of friendships.”

When I’m hiking in the desert and see a Red Tailed hawk fly, it brings a joy I can hardly imagine. When I talk to my grandson or granddaughter, it gives me grater hope for the future than any number in a bank account. When I count my blessings, they are about people I love, nature that brings me wonder and friends that make me smile and laugh.

“To have enough is perfection.” Marty Rubin

Go Well, David

I never saw my father dance

11-25-2019

Maybe it was the loss of his young wife. Genita was the love of his life. Maybe it was the drunk driver that took away his health, his ability to walk without crutches and left him with years of relentless pain. Perhaps it occurred before that. Maybe he never danced because he had seen the horror of what man is capable of doing in war. Eighteen is too young to go to war. But then again, is there any age appropriate for killing and dying. He never spoke about, so I’m not sure.

I do remember hearing him sing, I think it was singing, it wasn’t very good whatever it was. But that didn’t matter to me, it seemed that he was happy when he sang. I think he’d been happy before my mother died. The few pictures I have of them show smiles. He was dashing in his dress uniform, a marine, one of the proud few. He coached my Little League baseball team, and we won a lot of games. I still don’t know how he did it. He just had a knack for getting kids to do their best.

My dad loved my grandmother. Annie was her name; my mother’s mother. My dad used to take her a beer when we would visit. If I try hard enough, I can see them both in my mind’s eye, sitting, talking and laughing. He trusted my grandmother enough to let me live with her for two years. I know why he did, she was the most gentle, kind and loving human who ever lived. That’s not bias, that’s simply fact. She died at one hundred and three and I miss her still.

I was a bit older when my dad married my stepmother. She was a saint. She had to be to put up with my dad at that point. She stood beside him for endless hours a day; trying to make a small cafe work. After his sixteen-hour days, he would drink. Orange Vodka. Nasty shit. But Dorothy stood by him. My dad was proud of me when I told him I was ordered to go to war. Unlike his, mine was a war I didn’t believe in. He welcomed me home when I returned, and he was still proud of me.

I think it was sometime in October when I got the call. Liver cancer, not much could be done. I visited and we stayed up all night talking. The next day we went to the funeral home and he picked out the casket he wanted. He put a sign in the yard to sell all the junk he’d collected. A sickness sale he called it. We said goodbye after a nice Christmas together. I knew, and he knew it was our last goodbye. The hospice nurse said I would feel like an orphan when he died. She was right. Later I went to the little town in New Mexico and helped bury my father. I was given the flag that covered his casket.

A few months later, in the Spring, I got a message from my dad. It came in a warm wind that rustled the baby aspen leaves. He wanted me not to worry and to know that he was all right. It’s said that we die three times. When our body dies, when our soul leaves our body and when the last person forgets us. My father was not the kind of man that the masses will remember. My sons remember him, and they’ll probably be the last. Of course, I remember him. If asked to tell a lesson he taught me, I’d fail, I don’t remember a single lesson, and yet he taught me many lessons. I don’t know if he was a Democrat or a Republican. I don’t know if he believed in God or didn’t. I don’t know how the ravages of war affected him. My dad was not one to talk about himself. Yet he taught me what little I know about being a man.

I don’t know if he and my mother ever danced. I hope they did. I never saw my father dance. I wish I had.

Where were you when you made your decision?

10-25-2019

In his book We Are The Weather, Jonathan Safran Foer writes about his family facing the onslaught of Nazi Germany marching on Poland. He speaks of those who refused to leave the country and as a result, thousands died. He quotes Raymond Aron who was asked whether he knew what was happening at the time. He answered: “I knew , but I didn’t believe it, and because I didn’t believe it, I didn’t know.” On the surface, it sounds something like a riddle. Jan Karski, a 28 year old Catholic embarked on a mission to travel from Poland to America to inform world leaders of what the Germans were perpetrating. He had a meeting with Supreme Court Justice Felix Frankfurter ( A Jew) and reported the atrocities in Poland. After hearing the report, Frankfurter said the following: “I didn’t say the young man was lying. I said I am unable to believe him. My mind, my heart, are made in such a way that I cannot accept it.”

This is the way Foer begins his book regarding climate change. His contention is there are some issues that we know to be true and yet we cannot accept them. It is hard for a rational mind to not believe the 97% of the world’s most credible scientific minds that climate change is real and caused by mankind. Yet, we cannot accept it. One might argue that yes they do believe it and yes they do accept it. Foer then asks, what changes, what actions have you taken to back up both your belief and your acceptance.

Later in the book the author describes the cure for polio. He uses this explanation to suggest that there is a reason for individual action as well as proof of an outcome. President Roosevelt was instrumental in the development of a polio vaccine. He helped form the organization that became the March of Dimes. One recipient of that funding was Dr. Jonas Salk. He and his family were the first humans to test his vaccine, next came a clinical trial of nearly two million people. Elvis Presley was photographed getting his shot to promote vaccination. Soon polio was completely eradicated. Foer describes this medical success came about as a result of top-down publicity campaigns and grassroots advocacy. Without the efforts of all, it would not have happened. He ends the chapter with these words – “Who cured polio? No one did. Everyone did.”

So to the point of this writing. If I fall within the lifespan statistics for a male in the United States, I can expect to live about 8 to 10 more years. Sometime between 2027 and 2029. My two sons can expect 30 to 40 more years of life. Sometime between 2049 and 2059. The lives of my two grandchildren should extend somewhere between 2085 and 2089. The best information of the climate scientists suggests without massive worldwide changes, our planet will see the following, long before these years: 143 million people may become climate migrants. Armed conflict will increase by 40 % because of climate change. 400 million people will suffer from water scarcity. Half of all animal species will face extinction. Crops yields will be reduced by 6 to 18 %. Global GDP per capital will drop by an estimated 13%. That is only the beginning of of the list.

So what shall we do? Will we believe the facts but not accept them? Will we simply choose to accept that climate change is “A hoax perpetrated by China.” Say, “What can I do, I’m only one person?”

A good friend of mine says that he always tries to “be responsible for his side of the sidewalk.” By that he means, he does his part. And like the cure of polio, saving this planet will only be accomplished if each of us decides to do our part.

I wonder if our children will ask us, “Where were you when you made your decision?”

“Men Argue. Nature acts.” Voltaire

Go well. David