A Thing is Right

4-2-2019

I’m in the process of reading Aldo Leopold’s book, A Sand County Almanac. It was published in 1949, the year after my birth. This book is considered by many to be second in stature only to Henry David Thoreau’s Walden in American nature writing. No sentimental naturalist, Leopold was a graduate of Yale Forestry School; yet his writing reads as the poetry of Yeats or Dickenson.

Although 70 years old, his book reads as important as it did when first released. In truth, it reads far more important today. We live in a period where greed unabashedly towers over nature and beauty and the lust to build and profit laughs at the destruction of our planet. One of Leopold’s most important statements says – “A thing is right when it tends to preserve the integrity, stability and beauty of the biotic community. It is wrong when it tends otherwise.” Can we believe, can we trust that this concept is how we live and are governed in this country?

Does it matter how we choose to live our individual lives? Does it matter that we fill our waste dumps with millions of tons of fast-food wrappers and plastic water bottles. When it’s to troublesome to use the trash container, do we use the planet as our trash bin? Are we foolish to think that we can be satisfied in having what we need and still take care of where we live? Will we ever stop wanting more, simply because we want more?

Some months back I saw a gigantic pickup truck that had in four inch letters on the back window. It said, “Proudly burning the gas your hybrid is saving.” I want someone to explain to me what kind of person believes this. Do we feel so entitled to waste, simply because we think we can afford it?

What inspired me to write this tirade was a quote from Leopold. “I have read many definitions of a conservationist, and written not a few myself, but I suspect that the best one is written not with a pen, but with an axe. It is a matter of what a man thinks about while chopping, or while deciding what to chop. A conservationist is one who is humbly aware that with each stroke he is writing his signature on the face of his land. Signatures of course differ, whether written with axe or pen, and this is how it should be.”

So it seems we each have to decide how our signatures will look. Few of us chop wood these days and yet, we still make decisions each day on what to save, what to destroy and how comfortable are we with the personal signature that we leave behind.

Go Well, David

Two Men

3-22-2019

There are 7,650,000,000 people on the planet and approximately half of them are men. This brief note is about two of those nearly four billion males.

One man was born of a Syrian family. A family that moved from Syria, to the Philippines and eventually to the United States. He became a pharmacist after attending the University of Texas. He couldn’t afford text books, so he did the homework of other students in order to be able to read class assignments.

This man spoke five languages fluently. He, along with his sister and brother-in-law ran a small pharmacy in downtown San Antonio, Texas for more than forty-five years. He worked seven days a week to provide for his family and for the education of his two daughters. He was always soft spoken, polite to everyone and appreciative of the smallest things in his life. I once heard him say over and over how comfortable a pair of inexpensive shoes felt. We knew it wasn’t their comfort that made him happy, it was because his one of his daughters had given them to him.

That daughter tells a story that occurred when she was young. A man of Asian decent came into the pharmacy and after he left, the daughter asked her father “Who was that Chinese man?” In a kind manner, her father responded, “He is not Chinese, he’s Japanese. Never out of ignorance step on another man’s neck to make yourself look taller.” It was not a scolding, it was a lesson being taught by a kind man to his young daughter. She has never forgotten that lesson.

Family, kindness, understanding, acceptance, contentment and gentleness marked that man’s life. I knew him for twenty years and I never once heard him say a negative word about another human being. Not once.

Then there is a second man. A man I’ve never personally met, a man I’ve only seen and heard on TV or read about. This man has every trapping and advantage any human could ever imagine. Power, wealth, possessions and notoriety. His name is known in every country in the world.

And yet, with all that I’ve described, he appears to be endlessly unhappy. Rather than kindness and acceptance, he speaks of others with disdain and villainy. Rather than be content with his degree of wealth, it seems that there is never enough of anything in his life. Not enough money. Not enough adoration. Not enough power. Not enough praise. Not enough credit. Never enough.

The first man I’ve written about pushed everything that was good within him, outwards. He gave everything he had to others and never expected anything in return. The second man takes until there is nothing left, and then demands more. Loyalty is a one way street and it points inward. Blame is always directed away, and credit is always taken in. The first man I’ve described was always easy with a smile, easy with a compliment and generous to a fault. The second man seems to wear a scowl as a mask, compliments are given with a string of attachments and everything in life is subject to winning and to others losing.

I know I’m far more blessed to have known the first man.

“Unless generosity of spirit prevails among men, there can never be

upon earth an ideal life.” Orison Sweet Marden

Go well, David

When Then vs. Now

3-13-2019

This morning I met again with a dear friend of mine for coffee and conversation. Jack and I meet every two weeks, and even at my advanced age, he has become something of a mentor to me. Our conversation seems to always move towards important personal issues. I was lamenting about making big plans and then having conflicts regarding completing them.

I was reminded of my days as a counselor. I had a term for people that were always looking forward in their lives and having difficulties living in the here and now . I called them “When-Then” people. It was not meant to be derogatory, but more descriptive. Here is how it went. “When I move to Seattle, I’ll be happy.” or “When I get my degree, then I’ll get a satisfying job.” or “When the kids are grown up, then I can start playing golf.” You get my point.

Another therapist friend once told a story of one of his clients. The client had been involved in several affairs with women other than his wife. He went to my friend for counseling. In one session the client said something to the effect of, “I want to stop this behavior.” My friend responded, “Okay, so from this moment on, you’ll agree that you will have no more affairs or one-night stands.” The client paused and then responded, “No, I’m going on a business trip this week, I’ll stop when I get back.” These are obviously not the exact words, but are probably close. A more common example: I’m starting a diet tomorrow, but tonight I get to eat all I want, pass the chocolate cake.” In both examples, there’s some doubt about the honest commitment to change.

How does this relate to me? I’m the first in line to say – I want to loose weight. – I want to run another half-marathon. – I want to spend more time writing. – I want to eat a plant based diet. But somehow after writing pages of goals, creating schedules and checking out books from the library on the issues, I then have my own version of “When then.”

Jack asked me to do something while we were chatting. “Get up, walk to the water fountain and get a drink, then come back here.” I did what I was told. His point? Just get up and do something, start, pay attention to it and keep on doing it until it becomes part of me. On my way home, I thought about his words. I like the term Mindfulness. Paying attention to the NOW not what I want in the future, not to be a when-then person. Wise words on the part of my wise friend.

So, I’m going to be a more mindful Now person. You may notice I didn’t say I’m going to “try” to be a more mindful person, I’m going to be more mindful. I’m going to stop, be mindful and then follow through, one small step at a time. Now is all I have, I don’t have the past and I don’t have the future. I have only what we all have only – now.

I cannot think myself into a new way of living, I have to live my way
into a new way of thinking.” Claude Anshin Thomas

Go well, David

Call Them by Thier Names

3-5-2019

Suzanne and I sat and listened to Francisco Cantu, the author of The Line Becomes A River, talk about why after four years as a Border Patrol agent, he left that position. Many times he used the word violence to describe the experience of the work on the border.

Yesterday, as I was driving, I heard a segment of an NPR story regarding the shooting of Stephan Clarke by two California police officers. The reporter commented how the crowd listening to the District Attorney, started chanting “Say his name” while she announced that the two officers would not be charged in his death.

The two incidents made me consider how this country (along with many others) has found a means to demonize, dehumanize and dismiss others. We have come to understand that “They” become nonexistent if we refuse to use their names, or if we simply create a demeaning name for them. In World War II, the Japanese became “Nips” and the Germans became “Krauts.” In Vietnam, our enemy became “Gooks.” In Iraq, those we fight are “Towel Heads” And here in this country the N-word works just fine for African-Americans and “Wetback” seems to very well describe our neighbors that come from south of our border.We don’t have to know the names of those we decide to hate. It’s far easier to refer to them as rapists, murderers, gang members, aliens – pick your other favorite acid filled word. Just make sure it gives no allowance for them actually being human or that they are some person’s son, daughter, mother or father. Never allow that they too have the capacity to love. When we become adept at creating fear, there’s no need to know names.

ABC News has stated that at least 260 men, women, and children died trying to cross the US southern border in 2018. Each one of those people had a name. Each one of those people was loved by someone. Each one of those people is dead and somewhere a family member mourns. We cannot know their names like we know the name of Stephan Clarke. But we can and we do know that they were human beings. We know that no matter their reasons for attempting to enter this country ( and yes, attempting to enter illegally in most cases) The were human beings. No matter our political leanings, we can know them as people. It does not diminish our political strength or our power, to be compassionate. We are a better people and a better country when we realize that we are far more alike as a species than we are different.

“I’m not concerned with your liking or disliking me… All I ask is that you respect me as a human being.” Jackie Robinson

Go well, David

Sharing the Road

02-28-2019

Let’s play a game called Sharing the Road. The rules are simple and easy to learn. It could also be called let’s make a deal, although you would have to play the role of host Monty Hall.

Here are the rules we must follow in order to make the game fair:

  1. Everyone is equal. No one gets to be better than anyone else. No one has to be less than anyone. Each voice carries as much meaning, weight, truth, and authority as everyone else. English, German, Russian, slang, poor diction, southern, northern, foreign and Arabic carry the same tone of honest meaning.
  2. Skin color is neither an advantage nor a disadvantage.
  3. Gender does not matter, Female, male, trans are all balanced on the scale of neutrality.
  4. Religious faith or lack thereof is of no consequence.
  5. You are not richer because of your wealth, you are not poorer because of your poverty.
  6. Your political leaning does not make you right, nor does it make you wrong.
  7. Street smart, book smart, not smart – does not lessen or increase your right to speak your truth. There is no fake truth.
  8. The air, the water, the animals, this planet – do not belong to you, nor do they belong to me. They are gifts to be honored, respected and cared for. Neither you, nor I, nor anyone else gets a pass on this responsibility. There are no get-out-of-jail-free cards in this game.
  9. You get five extra points if you play a hand of kindness rather than a hand of hatred.
  10. Lastly, abide by the bumper sticker that tells us to share the road with bikes. They also deserve a spot on our shared life journey.

We must embrace unity, not separation – sharing, go back to small, caring communities – Unity, not separation, is what has to happen.

Genesis P-Orridge

Go Well, David


Gratitude

2-19-2019

Suzanne and I recently saw the Spike Lee movie Blackkklansman.  The movie is so overpowering that in the last few scenes, I was all but gasping for air. It is indeed a movie that should be seen. A couple of days later, I was telling a friend and fellow volunteer at the Arizona Sonora Desert Museum about the film. She is Jewish and I was telling her how unabashedly Spike Lee shows not only the brutality of racism against blacks but also the anti-Semitism depicted in the movie. My friend is close to my age and I found myself warning her about the vividness of the hatred and bigotry depicted.

Later I thought how naïve I must have sounded warning her that it might be difficult for her to watch.

I also began to think about how lucky I am, and that I should more often stop and be aware, no not aware, openly, completely aware of who and what I am and what I have been given. I need to feel immense Gratitude.

So here is my start: This is how fortunate I am. – I am a white male, born in the USA. I have loved women and been loved by them. I have two sons that I love and I know they love me. I have two grandchildren that I love and I know they love me. I live with a wonderful woman that is my complete partner in everything I do. I love her and she loves me. I am, to the best of my knowledge in good health. I survived being in a war and I came home without physical wounds. I have been able to find grace from the mental trauma that all men and women face having experienced war. I had a good formal education and as a result, I was able to have a career that I very much enjoyed. I have a safe place to live. It keeps me warm in the winter and cool in the summer. I have plenty of healthy food to eat, health insurance, more than enough clothing and a car that gets me where I want to go. I have enough money to meet more than my needs. I have wonderfully supportive friends. I have two dogs that are great companions. My brain continues to work well and I enjoy writing, hiking, reading, and volunteering. There are many things I’m sure that I’ve forgotten, but I plan to try and remember them and I will be grateful.

One last thought. When I was in Vietnam, one of the silly things I remember was wanting to have a glass of clear water, filled with ice and in a crystal clean glass. A month after I returned to the states and a hundred glasses of iced water in a clean glass, I lost sight of that gratitude. Now I try to hang on a bit tighter to everything I’m grateful for.

A quote from Elie Wiesel –For me, every hour is grace. And I feel gratitude in my heart

each time I can meet someone and look at his or her smile.

Go Well and feel gratitude, David

Spending Time

02-13-2019

During my undergraduate days, I wasn’t a very good economics student. I took two classes only because they were required, and I think I got a C in both classes. In retrospect, the grades were probably given out of pity. I vaguely remember something called marginal propensity to consume and a bit more about the idea of unlimited wants and limited resources. And to agree with the Rolling Stones, You Can’t Always Get What You Want.

So I find myself now at a stage of life where I can no longer say I’m in mid-life. Were that to be an honest statement, I would have to assume I’m going to live 142 years. Even in my best days, I find that highly doubtful. So it’s safe to say if I’m considering time as a resource, then it’s certainly getting to more and more a limited resource.

So how do I face the undeniable fact that the clock is ticking and it can’t be unplugged? I wake up early (Too damned early) and I start the day in the same way I started it yesterday, the day before, blah blah, blah. I pee, I let my dogs out to pee, I make coffee and I grab my i-pad. Check the weather, check USA Today online, check my e-mail, check Facebook, and then spend 30 or 40 minutes playing Words With Friends. I drink two cups of coffee during this ritual and then take off my robe, put on clothes and go have two more cups of coffee at the local coffee shop.

I often say to people, I have only two commitments in my week. I volunteer once a week and I go to my writers group once a week. 168 hours a week and I’m only responsible for 9 or 10 of those hours.

I’m reminded of something I read some time back. It went something like this, “I want to be a writer, I just don’t like to write.” And so I think to myself something in the same manner. I want to be thinner, I just don’t want to eat less. I’d like to be a runner, but I don’t like to run. I’d like to be a painter, I just don’t like to paint. And so at night when I first go to bed, I think, what did I do today? What did I accomplish? How did I spend my time? The answer usually screams back at me. “NOTHING!” That voice isn’t exactly honest, I shop, I sometimes take a walk, wash the dishes. You know real exciting stuff.

So to the end of this whining, What prevents me from taking some of my free time (No, I’m aware it’s a resource, it’s not free) to pause, to consider what I want to do, what would make my life more joyful, content, productive? And if I get some answers, what stops me from spending my time doing those things. Yes, I’m aware that Haagen Dazs Butter Pecan ice cream is more addictive than cocaine, and that’s part of the reason I buy large shirts instead of mediums. I don’t expect any real answers to these questions, they will probably be with me until that last day. The good news is, I have one more thing to add to my morning routine. Waste 10 minutes thinking about not wasting any more of that precious resource called time. The reality most likely is, I’d like to not be a time waster, I just don’t want to stop wasting time.

I’d add a clever quote about wasting time by some famous person, but right now I’m off to go check my e-mail, my Facebook account and to have another cup of coffee.

Go well, David