Wednesday, August 29, 2012


“On the highway of life, we most often recognize happiness out of the rear view mirror.”  (Frank Tyger, American Editorial Cartoonist)

             I've had such an interesting life. It, most certainly, has never been boring. I wish now that I had taken the opportunity then to realize just how wonderful and thrilling it was while it happened, rather than from this distance. I tried to never look back, once believing that since the past is gone forever, I should just let it go. I spent almost my entire adult life trying to put my yesterdays out of mind, at least enough so that I could deal with today and not be haunted by the ghosts of regret and consequence. Instead of seeing how adventurous and fun-filled my journey has been, I pushed everything away so I did not have to deal with all the pain, suffering and guilt that came along for the ride.
            I think that a lot of people do the very same thing. It is not that we don't appreciate the good things, or even the lessons which come from the bad things, it's that it seems easier to get through the day without the baggage we'd have to carry if we didn't just leave it all behind. With the realization of just how heavy the weight of the world is on your shoulders, you tend to try and lighten your load. More often than not, it appears a simpler action to just abandon the past altogether.  
            Eventually, if you don't deal with your past, it will come back and bite you on the ass. It doesn't seem to matter how grand the walls you build to keep it out. Since everything we are comes from everywhere we have been, blocking out the way that you have travelled can be like hiding in plain sight or that tree which falls in the forest. The past is a part of the present and your road to the future. Life is a complex weave of these positive experiences and negative experiences. You cannot deny one without denying the other, nor can you embrace one without embracing the other. The past is not all black or white, it's the way you feel about it. It shifts like the sand dunes of Cape Cod, ever in a state of ebb and flow. The past blends in the mind, intending to color with shades of grey. In the effort to block out the struggle, you also block out the joy.
            Whenever you run away, trying to forget your history, you forget your beautiful history too. You can tell yourself that memory doesn't hold you, but the truth is memory, the version of the past that you remember, pieces together the reasons that have made you. While not all of life's lessons are learnt by falling down hard, if we silence our past, we silence the very essence of the life we have experienced. There is so much good in the worst memory and so much more in the best memory. Embracing what has been comes with this price. You have to go through the darkness to get to the light. Instead of sitting on the roadside, waiting for a better mode of transportation, let the memories come and they will carry you away. You may find that the journey was not just trouble and strife; it was more like a joyride than an accident that already happened. With deep acceptance of yourself as you are, that road side becomes a freeway, meant for speed.

"In general people experience their present naively, as it were, without being able to form an estimate of its contents; they have first to put themselves at a distance from it - the present, that is to say, must have become the past - before it can yield points of vantage from which to judge the future." (Sigmund Freud)

            When I was a boy, I was reflective and introspective, yet wild and freewheeling. I was a little shit, if the truth be told. Everything was one big adventure. I was always so carefree, even reckless, despite the world being very tough on me. I realize now that half the time it was my own fault. I'm not sure what changed as I transitioned from childhood to my youth. Looking back, I think the incident involving the steam radiator my brother Phillip carelessly left at the top of the stairs when I was 11, was my turning point. I know that as a result, I had a lot of time to sit in a hospital bed fretting on what I believed an obvious punishment from God. Many of the people who were part of my life at the time had tried to tell me this was the way things worked. I did not believe even one of them, that is, until I met the fury of cold metal and an angry God
            I stopped looking at the world with wonder and started thinking about life in terms of reward and punishment. This idea built within me straight though to when my first partner died in the snows of February, when I was 29. Coupled with intense grief, I often felt as if I was under attack from above. Nothing I did seemed good enough. The only way I could deal with everything I was experiencing was to attempt shutting it all out. I didn't want to forget, and I never have, but I knew I would not survive with all the voices in my head screaming out that I deserved everything I got.
            It is an odd little bird memory. It always looks the same, but every time it opens its beak the song has changed. There is a constant flux in the melody, so the way we hear it, the way it affects us time after time, is changing, adding this note and that note, as sharp or flat. It matters little how much you try to block it, or censor the tune, it is always waiting to flood back in like a symphony for the damned. Unless you find a way to listen to it unabated, it just won't shut the fuck up.
            There was much distance between Doug's death and the death of my Mother. Fifteen years is a great amount of time added to anyone's life. While my thinking had changed, the man I had been was no longer, I still dealt with my history from a distance. It was never close enough to break me, yet somehow near enough to bear witness. The grief I felt when Mom died did not cripple me like it had when deliberate action took Doug. I didn't want to not feel what I was feeling. Instead of running to hide from the pain, I let it take me. I let it return full fury, and in so doing, the floodgates opened.  Even though the memory of my Mother was painful, it was also comforting and gentle. I just could not find it within myself to push her away for the sake of my feelings. I needed her memory; it was all I had left. In an effort to vanquish all those years of denial and sadness, I sat down and started to write about it. Instead of closing off the highway, waiting for a clearer way, I took to the road and floored it.
            After all those years of deliberate avoidance, I began to use my past as a tool rather than merely shunning it. Instead of hiding it away, and refusing to allow it purpose, I made friends with it, putting it in my pocket for easy access. Granted, the distance between then and now lessened the pain, making it easier to explore and embrace. I realized rather quickly that regardless of my attempts to control my memories, they had shaped me all along, moulding me, even though I failed to recognize it. Consciously, I traded safety for experience, fear for acceptance and anguish for resolve.  
            You cannot measure who you are without noting what you have known. Life is not about one thing or the other. It is the good and the bad things, the happy and the sad things, the hurt and the joy.  Life is an amalgam of all these things, of everything.  There is no way to propagate your way through without taking it all in and making it your own. Hindsight is not 20/20, even though we would like to think this is so. Hindsight is 50/50, it's not all or nothing, it's both. The problem with removing the past from your line of sight is that you have no reference point when examining how you got where you are. You forfeit perspective for refuge. Without the road behind you, there are no lessons to refer to, so you tend to make the same mistakes, unable to discern, over and over again. You repeatedly walk the same walk. You even talk the same talk. In an attempt to escape your suffering, you sacrifice any future joy.
"Look around me
I can see my life before me
Running rings around the way
It used to be
I am older now
I have more than what I wanted
But I wish that I had started
Long before I did
And there's so much time to make up
Everywhere you turn
Time we have wasted on the way
So much water moving
Underneath the bridge
Let the water come and carry us away"
(Wasted on the Way, Crosby, Stills, & Nash 1982)

            I used to view the life I have lived through rose-coloured glasses. I was, for lack of a better term, joy blind. My inability to control my impulses, throughout my teens and 20s, was something I thought of in terms of shame and repentance. I saw my past with disdain and regret, constantly wishing I could go back and change the things I had done. I never wanted to be that person, when I was that person, because the tapestry of my life was sewn though with the fabric of religion and sin. I never once stopped to realize how each experience was making me into someone that, someday, I could embrace within myself.  Even though I did not take the time to see how rich and complex the highway I travelled on was, right from my start it was all this and more.
            As I stand at this distance, I now realize how conditioned I was to repel any idea of freedom or pleasure. The Bible told me so. I was trapped, just like so many others, by the very same walls I built for myself. While the life in moderation is a nice idea, by the time I hit 30 years of age, it was way too late for such notions. There was a part of me that continued to be reckless and act on my wants. The entire time I was trying to just live my life, or some semblance of it. I felt like I was destroying any chance I had to be the kind of person that would make my parents, and me, and especially God, proud. I didn't look at what I accomplished, or any success that came with it, I focused only on the things I did wrong. I was the maker of my own condemnation.
            When everyone, and everything, around you screams that you are rotten to the core, you start to believe it. I shoved who I had been away so I could not see it. Then, at least, I could live with myself. I let the world around me define who I was and let everyone else determine my happiness for me. I put my past out of my mind, not so much to forget, but to survive. Living everyday hating yourself is one very long roadtrip to oblivion. Even if you tell yourself it is not.
            For most of my life, I wanted to rewrite my history. Who doesn't wish that each mistake made could be erased? It would be nice to just pretend that I wasn't who I was back then. No more shame, or guilt, and no evidence of who I've been. Unfortunately, life doesn't work that way. The experiences from the path I have travelled are what brought me from that place. They carry us all in our own way. What once appeared to me as a truth had to be dissected to free me from those hopeless days.
            I cannot boast of anything that I have done. I am not proud of many of my actions. From the rubble of who I was, I am now aware; everything must fall away for one to clearly see. I have to believe that my past, my history, was meant for me. Not so much to reveal judgment, from God or myself, but to free me to see truth from a different place. I've done things that most people would never imagine doing. The places I've seen and the people I have met astonish even me. Most people would kill to have half of the pleasant experiences I've had. While I never looked on them fondly, now I see that the good, the right choices I made, are just as much a part of who I am now as all the mistakes I made. I guess you really do have to just get in the car and drive.

“Enlightenment is a destructive process.
It has nothing to do with becoming better or being happier.
Enlightenment is the crumbling away of untruth.
It's seeing through the facade of pretence.
It's the complete eradication of everything we
Imagined to be true.”  (Adyashanti, American Guru)

            When I hit the freeway this morning, the road looked clear to me. I checked again in the rearview mirror but could not find what I was looking for. It's gone. I took the wheel and I headed down the highway, full tank of gas. I didn't know where I was going, but I was sure it had to be better than where I just left. I turned on a station, song recreation, blaring as the world goes by. All of life before me, I could see for miles. I felt the sun on my face and the wind on my skin, and then I started over again. 100 miles an hour may be much too fast, but I can't wait to see where I'm going before I run out of gas. This ain't no slow drive, it's a joyride.




Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Gone with the Wind

             In early summer of 1990, I travelled with my partner and a few close friends throughout New England. I had been there previously with my family in late summer of 1976. My parents, along with me and my siblings, spent our vacation that year in New Brunswick, then having crossed eastern Canada en route, decided to take another way home and dropped down to the American border and over into Maine. The mountains of New Hampshire and Vermont acted like guide posts as we journeyed back towards Ontario. New York State felt like a welcome mat, a harbinger of almost being home. Unfortunately, this trip homeward did not allow for much sightseeing outside of the van by which we travelled. My trip in 1990, however, allowed me this luxury and I took full advantage of that fact and this freedom.

             Of all the places I visited that summer, the most memorable, for me, was Cape Cod. While my friends fixated on spending time in Provincetown, I only wanted to see the famous sand dunes which had inspired countless artists and poets. Provincetown, located at the northern peak of the Cape Cod peninsula, still maintains the status of a much favoured vacation destination for gays and lesbians. While curious to see such a spectacle, the natural beauty of the easternmost portion of the state of Massachusetts held my true interest. The only spectacle I planned on indulging in was the moonlight on Cape Cod Bay and the beaches along its seashore.
            The Cape Cod National Seashore is comprised of 43,604 acres, 4,000 of which make up the majority of the village known as Provincetown, which sits at the very tip of the Cape. It is this area, part of the Province Lands Reserve, where you find the most dramatic and plentiful dunes. Cape Cod, like other parts of Massachusetts, is heavily affected by wind erosion and the formation/deformation of sand dunes. These natural phenomena have long acted as an inspiration, a wondrous muse. Every year, travellers come from all over the world to taste of the Cape's natural beauty and share in the history, and culture, of this 40-mile scope of protected land. Come summer, artisans, such as painters and ornithologists, find themselves hunting for the perfect scene through which to apply their craft. 
            Sand areas, on the appendage of Cape Cod, make up 6,000 acres in magnitude. Erosion and the natural shifting of dunes, by elemental forces, have always been a serious issue for local citizens. The conservation of Cape Cod itself is at stake. Dating back to the 1920s-30s, the matter found voice among locals and the Cape Cod Conservation District was established in 1947 to address the "concerns of soil, water and other resources." Erosion became such a concern that Massachusetts pioneered as "the first American state to institute control methods for wind erosion and the stabilization of sand dunes." The raw, potent gales, which whip across the bodies of water that surround the Cape, carry sands into the harbour, constantly reshaping dune after dune, shifting the loose flow. The ocean, along the shoreline, is literally washing the beaches away.
            These enormous sand deposits were left behind when Ice Age glaciers receded approximately 30,000 years ago. The Cape, an exposed location, is a sandy peninsula which formed during this period. The land mass juts into the Atlantic Ocean like a "crooked arm." It is of primary interest to geologists "because it was formed, by glaciers, very recently in terms of geologic time and because of the ever changing shore as the Cape adjusts to the rising sea."
            Bartholomew Gosnold, an explorer, gave Cape Cod its name in 1602 and the greater landscape has changed little since then. Villages are separated by large areas of forest, marsh, beach and dune. Cape Cod is one of the more popular "vacation areas for the people living in the thickly settled north-eastern [United] States." The unspoiled natural beauty only enhances the almost isolated appeal of the area. Each year, the sands of Cape Cod are transported and re-deposited by water and wind. These natural factors, the remaining glacial deposits, and the landforms created by the rise in sea level, make up the modern landscape of this scenic experience.
            The most beautiful dune beach is located on Race Point, part of Provincetown. Huge monoliths of sand loom over each other, like giant ripples touching, then parting, as if waves made of dust. If you close your eyes and ears to the ocean, for a moment you can find yourself lost in the Sahara Desert in Africa or the Mojave Desert in southeastern California. At the end of Route 6, the dunes surrounding Pilgrim Lake are close enough to touch from your car, close enough that they spill over onto the highway. The largest dunes can be found at Cahoon Hollow Beach and Marconi Beach in Wellfleet, south of Provincetown. On the outer side of the peninsula, and not as accessible as other areas, these tremendous and staggeringly large deposits will dwarf the most formidable of men who may pass them. The more interesting parabolic dunes are found in Provincetown and Truro. Parabolic dunes are generally "horseshoe-shaped, with a concave windward slope and a convex leeward slope." You can actually see where the wind has been.
            In the off season, the beaches thrive with a different kind of life. Come the winter winds, the dunes shift and move like living earth. The air is filled with particles of soil, and sand, and mist. It is thick and malleable, almost pliable or elastic. They say the sand stings in its caress against the skin, like needles. In constant flux, the dunes of Cape Cod toss and turn, each one ever reshaping their features of height, girth and location. They hold a special place for returning artists, determined to rediscover the pleasure of days gone by. Every year holds something new for them, as the world they witnessed the season before has drifted into something changed but no less stunning.
"If you're fond of sand dunes and salty air
Quaint little villages, here and there
You're sure to fall in love with old Cape Cod
If you like the taste of a lobster stew
Served by a window with an ocean view,
You're sure to fall in love with old Cape Cod
Winding roads that seem to beckon you
Miles of green beneath the skies of blue
Church bells chiming on a Sunday morn,
Remind you of the town where you were born
If you spend an evening, you'll want to stay
Watching the moonlight on Cape Cod Bay
You're sure to fall in love with old Cape Cod"
(Old Cape Cod, Patti Page 1957)
            July 2nd, 1990 was not as warm as Doug and I would have liked it to be. The extreme heat we experienced in Boston the week before seemed more appropriate for the Province Lands and the dunes which called out for our attention. With a long journey to Cooperstown, New York set for the next day, we declined the invitation from our travelling companions to paint the town, and instead we headed down towards the beach. We had both spotted tiny little shacks sporadically placed among the dunes on the outer eastern edge of Provincetown and were intent on their investigation. It had been difficult to get Doug down to the water during our stay. He had never learned to swim properly, so the shallow waves that crashed about seemed a little too much for his liking. With the promise of a wet-free day, we set out to explore.   
            The Dune Shacks of the Province Lands are scattered throughout this State Reservation. Varying in size and shape, 17 have been designated historic Dune Shacks within the boundaries of the Cape Cod National Seashore. Encompassing Provincetown, the Lands include the outer beaches and the inner forests and marshland. The Province Lands comprise the entire tip of Cape Cod.
            Historians believe that the shack's original purpose may have been as part of the "survival huts" that were built for sailors who found themselves shipwrecked along deserted parts of the coastline. From the first recorded wreck in 1626, so many ships have been destroyed on the hidden sandbars off the coast that this area of seashore is known as an "ocean graveyard." With more than 1,000 wrecks having occurred along this area, manned Life Saving Stations were established in the shacks. In the early 1900s, the dune shacks may have been used for families visiting these working men. Many of these dune shacks were built near the Peaked Hill Bars Life Saving Station. The shacks still in existence today were "built in the 1920's and 1940’s when Provincetown was becoming not only a vacation place, but also an art colony."
            The huts stand alone, quaint little wooden places that rent out a week at a time or for the season. They have no heat, no running water, not even a toilet. Any modern convenience you must bring yourself. In modern times, the dune shacks act as a summer getaway for naturalists and as a retreat for artists. On almost any given day, the dunes around the Peak Hill Station are riddled with easels, garden hats and lawn chairs. Artisans striving to capture the beauty of this place, mix with beachcombers and seagulls, all watching the waves blow in and the shifting sands blow about.
"Action and reaction, ebb and flow, trial and error, change - this is the rhythm of living. Out of our over-confidence, fear; out of our fear, clearer vision, fresh hope. And out of hope, progress." (Bruce Barton, Canadian playwright)
             Just past Peaked Hill, we laid out our blanket and dropped onto the sand. The sun was bright, but not as intense as one would imagine it could be at the beginning of July on the Cape. The sea air whistled a slight chill, so we decided to recreate just past a dainty little dune shack, the mounds about us useful for blocking the wind. We had looked for a spot in between a few of the larger dunes, hoping to lounge on the side of a sandy hill. Without proper footwear, we were forced to walk barefoot on this carpet and realized quickly that the temperature off the air has little to do with the sun baking the ground.
            The shack was not much to look at. It sat all alone on the top of a long sloping dune, looking out over the waters about 1000 feet away. It was no bigger than a large living room, with a small side door, a few tiny provincial windows and a steam pipe topping a tin roof, which sat patched and rusting. Out back, a porch swing found residence on a wooden platform. Out front, an easel and wooden chair, facing away from the ocean, revealed the proclivity of their owner for sand dunes. An old Coca Cola tin held many brushes, the tips of each floating in an unknown solution. A palette, well used, sat protected by the chair, undisturbed by the sun and the wind and the strangers now pondering its history and the location of its owner.
            You could smell the Atlantic and almost taste the salty air. The roar of the crashing waves mixed with the sound of children laughing and seagulls very much annoying. The sand felt like a waterbed, moving beneath our blanket, so we both settled in easily, intent on an afternoon of good food, a few books to read and the best of company. I look back on these days with a mixture of relish and sorrow, both mingling with the waves and the sands like some type of meant to be. It is moments like this that have made my life worth living. As Doug finished his sandwich, I lit a cigarette, having to shield it from the sea breeze. Almost in sync with my lighter, the door to that old shack swung open, then slammed closed with the wind. Out from that noise came a slender woman, well aged by time and well tanned by the season. I wasn't sure if smoking was allowed on the beach, so I went to put out my cancer stick when she yelled, "Hey, you!!"
            To our surprise, this approaching figure was not intent on chastising anyone. Instead, she approached gently, bid us a "good afternoon" and politely requested a spare smoke. As if we were old friends, she informed us that she had yet to get the chance to head into town again for more supplies. The moment I gave her one from my pack, she asked to buy a few more from me, if I had them to spare. As I produced them, she sharply asked, "Are you both Canadians?" We had looked at her strangely enough, so she noted my brand of cigarette as the giveaway. She then smiled as if to welcome us to her beach.
            Her name was Gwen, a self-proclaimed painter, who once taught drama at a high school in Portland, Maine. At 71, she spent her summers between the Cape and a cottage outside Portland. She was petite, but you could tell her strength from the way she carried herself. She was still rather pretty, under years of wear and tear. She was so friendly that we invited her to join us for some food on our blanket. For the longest time we talked about Ontario and Maine. Doug seemed in rapture from her presence, clinging to every syllable that fell from her lips to the sands below.
            Eventually, we wandered over for a quick tour of her "home away from home." We soon realized the space inside seemed even smaller than it appeared from an outward view. A small cot lay covered in the far corner with bags and luggage underneath. A counter made of old barn wood carried the meager belongings that seemed alien to this antique-like place. An old basin sat beside a jug of water, a few feet away from a bucket whose purpose I could only imagine. The walls were heavy with canvas and frames. Each painting captured a different view of the beach and a unique perspective of individual dunes. No matter where you looked, not one was the same.
            With the tour complete, she sat straight down on her wooden chair, facing the sea of sand and picked up a paintbrush. Doug and I stood like schoolgirls, smoking cigarettes and hanging on her every word. She talked about her life, and all the pain that comes with living. She talked about her joy, the husband she had for 46 years, who passed away in 1987 from cancer. She shared her anguish incurred when her only child, a daughter of 15 years old, drowned in a lagoon near the place she owns in Portland. She talked about painting and how it freed her from a life of grief and sadness. She revealed that the Cape was her favourite place, as the dunes are always shifting, changing with the rhythm of the each season. "They are life," she said, stroking the canvas with brown and red. "Because things are as they are," she paused, "things never stay the way they are." She talked about the dunes, as a metaphor for the life we all live. She told us that each year, upon her return, the sands and the wind remind her that everything changes and that is how it will always be. Apparently, there is always something new to discover, even if you have been that way before. We left her painting, watching the sands go by.
“For everything you have missed, you have gained something else, and for everything you gain, you lose something else.” (Ralph Waldo Emerson)
             I forgot about the simple lesson taught by this simple woman, until Doug died almost 5 years later. I had forgotten the dunes, and the wind, and the smell of the ocean. I am not sure if Gwen outlived Doug, but I hope that she is somehow aware that I have thought of her and the revelation she brought to my thinking. Life is strange, how it lifts and moulds each one of us as if we are victims, yet conquerors of the storm and the sea. It is a human condition to not only endure change, but to cause it as well.
            Sand is the very lifeblood of Cape Cod. The very forces, such as ocean tides and erosion, which steal the sands, also renew the sands in the very same way. Without change, we would blow in circles on the highway that we travel down. Whether for good or bad, such change brings new experiences to explore. I guess, in a way, the dunes of Old Cape Cod are very much like people. The constant flux of our humanity shifts in the ebb and flow, like these windblown dunes. Unless we transform, we too may be gone with the wind.

View the Cape @

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Fight the Future

           It's important to get your business done. Life, at best, is unpredictable. One minute you may be jumping for joy and the next you're food for the worms. I cannot imagine anything worse than dying knowing I had never lived, that I had things I wish I had done; things that I wish I had finished. To hold on to regret as if it was part of me, clinging to ruefulness like some secret addiction one turns to in the dark. We only get one chance    at life, regardless of the times we may have given up or tried to check out all on our own. People don't just die then live again; we survive to continue on the highway we forgot along the way. No one can predict its course. No one can change it either. The best we can do is to lighten our load and keep going.
           It is rather the fashion, as of late, to create a bucket list. A bucket list is a slang term for a list of things you want to do before you die. The term originated from the Rob Reiner film of 2007, also called "The Bucket List". The movie centers on two terminally ill men, played by Jack Nicholson and Morgan Freeman. Both set out together on a road trip with the intention of doing those things they had always meant to do, before they both, inevitably, "kick the bucket".
           The term has taken a life of its own. Its use is found throughout popular culture, having morphed into many variations. It can mean a list of things "you think you might need to accomplish because you feel your own mortality closing the door on you." It can mean you "feel insecure about your life and therefore make a list of things to get busy on." It can even define "a number of experiences or achievements that a person hopes to have or accomplish during their lifetime."
            I myself do not have a bucket list. I sat down in 2009 to write one and realized I had more like a bucket sentence. I have done almost everything I have wanted to do with my life. If anything, seeing Jerusalem and Rome would merit a quote using that string of words.  I just don't have that much stuff that I wish I had done or done differently. This is probably because anything I could think of I have already accomplished or followed through on. I believe that if you have expectations you will always find disappointment, so I tried to achieve my dreams and desires while I was still able, and as they manifest. You never know what might happen from one minute to the next, so I never waited. I always, always seize each day for what it is. This has left me content with my life.
            I don't have many regrets. If I think something needs to be done, I do it. I don't wait for tomorrow because I know it never comes. If I desire to do something, I act. The chance may never come again. Of course, there are people I wish could come back to me, like my first partner Doug, and my Mother. There are also people I wish I could save from the inevitable, like my Dad. Unfortunately, there is nothing I can do to affect either one of those outcomes. People always die and they never come back. Knowing this, I have never let the moment pass or forgot to let those I love know that I do. The opportunity may not arise every day, but when it does, I always take the time.
            There are always things we wish we could change about our lives. Mistakes we make, and errors in judgment, always seem to sting the most from a distance. There is, however, nothing we can do about them as they have already occurred. I'm not even sure that if I could go back into my past that I would change anything. Sure, I could go for an easier life, but in retrospect, I am what I am as a result of the road I have travelled. Going back would only send me off in the wrong direction.
            It would be nice to see Rome, on a summer's day. I would love to walk the Via Dolorosa (Way of Suffering) in the Old City of Jerusalem. These may or may not happen. I have yet to find the opportunity to do either. Life presents us with things we can take advantage of and things we can only dream of. For me, knowing these destinations are the summation of any bucket list I could make leaves me satisfied that I have lived as I wanted to live. I take each moment. I seize each moment. I live each moment. The rest has little to do with anything else.

"You got to go, got to run
Hit it hard and get it done
Everyone can see you're going far
You got responsibilities
A crazy schedule that you keep
And when you say that time's a-wasting
You don't know how right you are
Busy man"
(Busy Man, Billy Ray Cyrus 1998)

            While I do not have a bucket list, I do have another list that evolved from the trendy term. It denotes those things which I would do, with little or no regard for consequence, should I be told I was about to die. These are not from my hopes or dreams. They are not simply actions I wish I could have done. They are those things I would never have given a moment's thought, at least until the announcement that I had very little time left. They could be criminal, like robbing a bank. They might be pleasure-based, like having an orgy. They could be personal, like taking a baseball bat to your next door neighbour's lawnmower because they continue to cut their grass at 6 a.m. on a Sunday morning. They are dark things. They are last resorts. I call this a "fuck-it" list.
            If your doctor sat you down and told you that you had only a day or two to live, for whatever medical reason, what would you do? Would you go parachuting? Would you destroy your hard-drive? Would you dispose of the contents of dresser drawer number 3? Imagine, only 24 hours fixing anything or destroying everything. As if death was so close you could smell it and feel it. If you could reach out and touch your own doom, what would the experience make you do? Would it make you cringe or would it push you into doing things you never would have considered otherwise? Would this force you into madness or would you simply say "fuck it!?!"
            When a condemned prisoner, sentenced to death and about to gain it, is given his last meal, what goes through his mind? Is the obvious sustenance before him, ironically enough, the real craving he has? Death, as a motivation, can make you do things, say things and wish for things that spent the whole of your life in the taboo pile. People rarely give in to temptation when the consequence outweighs the reward. When you take away consequence, when the worst thing repercussion can do is to watch you expire the next day, it holds no place of fear in your mind. I suppose even murder may enter your thinking. What could they do, give you the death penalty?       
            A fuck-it list is not necessarily a list you put to paper. A fuck-it list is a response to the immediacy brought by the worst news of all, true finality. I would assume most people would not be able to stop and think about what they really wish they had done, or could do now, especially when death is knocking at your door. I figure some people are overwhelmed and just lay down to die. Others, in the same mix, might react quite differently. When you say "fuck it," it leaves little restriction but circumstance. I would love to run up on stage at an Amy Grant concert, hugging her, if given the chance. The thought of arresting me would hold little caution, given my lot. It's hard to send a corpse to trial for mischief. Finding Amy in concert, given the parameters of her schedule, may limit my ability to say fuck it in this manner. This entry on any list I might have can only be checked off if available at the time and within one's ability to complete.
            We spend so much time concentrating on work and family and maintaining our lifestyle. We have to make lists of things to do before we die rather than just doing them while we live. Creating a bucket list seems almost like a way of lightening our load; giving direction and goal to the life we live. When the life we live is over, or will be soon enough, it is not about accomplishment or endeavour. There is no time to lift the burden or resolve an issue. It is hard to keep going when you have reached the end.
            I realize that most people don't, or try not to, give mortality much thought. They don't think in terms of the end of their highway. They forget they even have such an end and act accordingly. It is a sad commentary that something so much a part of living is ignored and put aside to deal with later, much later. Some people never deal with it at all and find themselves screaming at the end of their road. Some people say "fuck it" from the get-go, leading a life of turmoil and anger and abandon. In turn, they accomplish nothing special because nothing has ever been viewed that way. Other people note their options and try to resolve them along the way.  

"You got to go, got to run
Take a break and have some fun
Those that love you most
Say you've come far
Got some new priorities
In that schedule that you keep
And when you say that time's a-wasting
Now you know how right you are
Busy man"
(Busy Man, Billy Ray Cyrus 1998)

            Carpe diem is a phrase which originates from Ancient Rome. The term has become a modern aphorism, a short instructive saying that is concise and full of meaning. From a Latin poem, Odes 1.11, by Horace, the shorter version is part of the longer "Carpe diem quam minimum credula postero" ('Seize the Day, putting as little trust as possible in the future'). Quintus Horatius Flaccus (8 December 65 BCE - 27 November 8 BCE), known in the English-speaking world simply as Horace, was the leading Roman lyric poet during the time of Augustus (Imperator Gaius Julius Caesar Augustus, 23 September 63 BCE - 19 August CE 14).
            The word Carpe literally means "to pick, pluck, pluck off, cull, crop, gather." Publius Ovidius Naso (20 March 43 BCE - CE 17/18), known as Ovid to modern English schools, used the word in the sense of, "to enjoy, seize, use, make use of". The popular translation of "seize the day" was a result. Horace's Odes reveals that the future is as of yet unseen. Instead of focusing on what will come, people should lessen their expectations regarding the path ahead, "scaling back one's hopes to a brief future, and drink[ing] one's wine."  We must take each moment and live each moment. Putting tomorrow where it belongs and making use of the now for the now. 
            We must fight the future and "rage, rage against the dying of the light," (Dylan Thomas). We must consciously, adamantly seize the day. Not that day. Not those days. We must hold to this day. Relying on the future is much foolishness; it is always today. We can make a list, but most people never re-read it. We may even imagine what we would do should death come quickly to us. Planning life around such dreams always leaves room for what might have been. Planning, instead of just doing, always leads to regret. Enjoy what you have and make the most of the time you have left.

"So I commend the enjoyment of life, because there is nothing better for a person under the sun than to eat and drink and be glad. Then joy will accompany them in their toil all the days of the life God has given them under the sun." (Ecclesiastes 8:15, NIV)

            I used to feel as if I was doing something wrong focusing only on today. I suppose any of my remaining Christian sensibilities contributed to this guilt. When Paul states, regarding resurrection, "If the dead are not raised, Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die" (1 Corinthians 15:32, NIV), I met shame and fear of consequence from a different place on the road that I travel now. How could God not want us to make the very best of each and every day?
            I do not believe that seizing the day, in an attempt to fight my future, is anything but what it is. I do not promote hedonism in my own mind, or anarchy for that matter. To suggest that people who live in the now have no moral or social compass is like saying religious men no longer sin. I've learned to just keep going. To take each step I make and let it lead me down the road ahead. Sure, I wonder where I am going and how I will get there, but there is nothing I can do about that tomorrow, I can only affect the path from where I stand today.

"Another turning point
A fork stuck in the road
Time grabs you by the wrist
Directs you where to go
So make the best of this test
And don't ask why
It's not a question,
But a lesson learned in time
It's something unpredictable,
But in the end it's right
I hope you had the time of your life"
(Good Riddance - Time Of Your Life, Green Day 1997)



Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Being Thoreau

 “We cannot well do without our sins; they are the highway of our virtue.”
 (Henry David Thoreau, American author/poet)

            Experience is the accumulation of knowledge or skill that results from direct participation in events or activities. It is the content of unmediated observation or engagement with events that one goes through or lives with in their life. It is the firsthand awareness of the way something is with respect to its main attributes. We undergo experience. It is the cognitive condition of someone who understands "an object, thought, or emotion through the senses or the mind." Experience is the totality of these events, leading to the accumulation of said knowledge or skill. A lesson is taught by experience; any relative knowledge or skill is derived from it, or denied by it.
            We are the sum of our experiences. Everything we have ever learned, recognized, and gone through, has contributed to making us what we are today. Each experience has taught us a lesson, even if we don't realize it can or fail to notice it has. Each experience leaves us with the option of wisdom or the resulting ignorance. When we pay our experiences no heed, we miss the highway on which we walk and forget the lessons we should have learned from it.  If we examine each experience it can give us a glimpse into the capability, and limitations, of not only ourselves but those fellow passengers we meet as they travel on the same highway as the rest of us.

“It's not what you look at that matters, it's what you see.”
(Henry David Thoreau)

            Our experiences are what create us. Their sum moulds us, shapes us into not only who we are but what we are and why. They can teach us, remake us, and even destroy us. They build us up or tear us down. They make us stronger and weaker, a weave of our genius and our flaws, working together to promote the definition of who we have come to exist as. Who we have come to be is a choice, as only you can define yourself. It doesn't matter how we receive our experiences, it is what we see within them. They are the lessons and warnings, truth and lies, we must recognize as our own. It matters little their substance, or makeup, because ultimately you are what you let yourself be. Only you can determine the essential qualities within yourself, taking what you must from each experience and discarding the rest as noise or useless endeavor. 
            Every experience you have becomes part of the whole that you are. A lifetime, leading to this moment, determines the message you are suppose to receive. It is not so much how you got it but what you got and whether you are paying attention. How we choose to let those experiences affect us is our option, how we see ourselves is the result. If you’re not who you want to be, you can always do something about it. Create your own experience and change. Become who you want to be and don’t let anyone try and make you into something else. Your life is your own. Every pebble you walk on, every step you take, has consequence. It is up to you whether experience has simply taken your flesh or whether you allow it to have your soul. Life can transform you or stifle you, but the road  is yours to walk and yours alone.
            Our actions influence us. The actions of others can determine this influence as well. Some of this we can control, but more often than not it is out of our control. We have no say in how we are raised, our upbringing. We are not always able to eliminate what we take from this conditioning. That being said, these experiences are not what feeds the essential quality of our being, rather what you take from each experience ascertains the fundamental deterrents and rewards, the consequence of a life so lived.
            We still have choices, whether to walk this way or that way. Some choose to abandon the road altogether; victims to the hurdles life places before them. They believe there is nowhere to go, so they just stop walking and toss themselves into abandon. Others are taken from the path, lifted to a better place, with a view, but their parting also contains a message, a different perspective we may not have understood otherwise. We often turn them into something material which stands in the way and must be circumvented or surmounted. These "obstacle illusions" we face are just that, illusions. We forget, the consequence of experience is relative. What my path has revealed to me, and acknowledged for me along the way, is not the same as anyone else's. It is as distinct and personal as I am to myself.

“I have climbed several higher mountains without guide or path, and have found, as might be expected, that it takes only more time and patience commonly than to travel the smoothest highway” (Henry David Thoreau)

            Awareness defines itself by the experience it has. Unfortunately, it is a human condition to delineate oneself by mimicking the world that we find ourselves existing within. We travel in conformity, believing that what we think life has taught us, or what we think we have learned from it, will fill the empty space inside. There is always something missing. It is our own uniqueness, the application of our experience, that determines how we are to be satiated. We should be the experiences we have had in the now, not the experiences we have already had in the then or hope to have tomorrow.
            I believe that life isn't about the journey, it is the journey. In literal terms, it is hard to argue outside this obvious fact. The only purpose we may have, while here in this reality, is recognizing our own definition because of our journey. We are supposed to find out about ourselves and recognize what those experiences may reveal to us. Through consciousness, we "define ourselves by the experiences we have based, and those experiences arise, as a result of the intentions we hold."  This intention determines the experience. The experience commands our direction. Any experience we have while travelling in this direction will determine who we will know ourselves to be.       
            You can't apply the lessons your life has brought you if you do not learn from them. Living in the past to exist in the present to secure the future is great folly. You must live deliberately, constantly. We must strive to be more than we have ever been. Do not fall prey to the notion of returning to wherever you were to get where you are going.  Experience can cripple a traveller if they focus only on their experience and not its application. When it comes your time to die, you may discover you have not lived.    

"Never look back unless you are planning to go that way”
 (Henry David Thoreau)

            If my Mother had been buried, rather than cremated, she would be rolling over in her grave. I suppose one might say she would be blown away. I can only imagine what she is thinking now, considering the current state of affairs within my immediate family. I do not mean to imply that she would be surprised by these recent events in our history. Certain members of the clan, who know who they are, had already caused schisms long before her passing, leading her to question her choices and decision making. She had much regret. The last time I saw her alive, she was so overwhelmed by the stress brought into her life by her own family, that she asked me to abandon my life and move home to help her in the turmoil. I declined the offer and she died two days later.
            I mean to state that she would be furious. Having been her confidant and closest friend in the years before her passing, I speak this with authority. If she could see us, she would be pissed. I know how she felt about almost everyone in her life, but will keep my promise not to reveal her secret loathing and despair. I have kept another promise to remain as neutral as I could, trying my best to protect the structure of a family she herself fought to maintain. She is gone, however, and I will not allow anyone to treat me as they wish or feel is appropriate, especially when it goes against everything we learned as a family growing up. My experience has taught me that sometimes, enough is enough.
              In the 1980s, our family was exposed to the destructive force known as Christian fundamentalism. This experience, for most of us, left scars which still sting when picked at. It was a hard road to get down despite the best intentions of those involved in the process. In the larger scheme of things, this time did not last for long. It left almost as fast as it came, my Mother made sure of it. She had no patience for the extremism and the "judgmental assholes" she discovered during her exposure to this type of god. This time in her life still managed to haunt her. She had little room for the notions of the men who claimed to serve God while condemning her disabled child as a punishment for her sins. These men claimed this penalty was sent from the very same god they demanded she worship. She was never able to let go of the residue such a condemnation brought to her. She hated the very fabric of this way in thinking, casting the hounds of hell on the men and women who had dared to pass judgment on her and her family.
            I myself was damaged by these very same "men of god". It is primarily this exposure which has led me away from the more organized Christian position. For me, however, these scars healed me strong. This has much to do with my recent decision not to involve myself in the life of one of my siblings. This decision was not a difficult decision to make. No one in the family ever really had an adult relationship with my brother Phillip other than my Father, who was required to associate with him in a working environment. The rest of us were deemed special enough to only see him once, maybe twice, a year. In the 22 years or so he was married to one of his high school sweethearts Lorraine, he was not a participating member of the family. This was his own choice. He denied my parents any relationship with his son Nathan, adding great sorrow and pain to their already wounded hearts. This often made my Mother cry. Still, his decisions were his own to make and no one attacked or condemned him for making them. No one ever pointed out to him the damage he did or the chasm formed through this isolation. Any time we did see him, we did not turn on him for his error in judgment. We all smiled, gracious in our position, knowing that it would serve no good.  
            When his son Nathan came out of the closet, Phillip did the one thing you don't do to a member of your family. His condemnation of his own son propelled him into a world one would think might have shown him a better way. One day, he came home from work and his entire life had been stolen away. His wife, and son, emptied his entire home of almost everything that wasn't nailed down. Karma is a bitch and her only child.             

 "Do not be too moral. You may cheat yourself out of much life. Aim above morality. Be not simply good; be good for something." (Henry David Thoreau)

            After his "nervous breakdown", my parents did not attack or objurgate him for a quarter century of bad behaviour. They moved him into their home for almost a year, welcoming him because he was their child, and no other reason. They did not judge him, they accepted him for who he was. What a stark contrast. How ironic. Not one sibling mentioned his selfish, hurtful withdrawal, from all those years, by his own hand. When his gay son married, no one questioned him for not attending the ceremony. Even his condemnation of his child, for being homosexual, was put to the side in the name of family. We fully supported him, putting the past behind us and moving on into a new way. We hoped this platform would change him, but hope never outweighs ignorance. 
            The one thing about Phillip that stood out during the time period he stayed with my parents was his constant failure to grasp his reality. Over and over again, day after day, he would ask the same questions, fixating on his pain rather than working through it. Even when he bought himself a nice little home, he continued to repeat the same destructive behaviour he had always presented. He re-married, selling his new place, and moved right back in with his demons.
            Over half a decade since then and little has changed in his harsh life. The unhappiness of his first marriage seems to have transposed itself onto his current relationship. Of course, everyone else is always to blame. In his lament, apparently, he has turned to the Army of god, professing fundamentalist thinking and claiming  to have developed another 'relationship' with someone, this time his 'Lord'. Once discovered, this new state of withdrawal seemed highly inappropriate, considering he had never mentioned, focused or even relayed spiritual thought in the entire time he has been part of the family. For the last 5 years or so, he was sure to whine, complain and doubt almost everything, but failed to mention the option of God as a resolution. My Father and I have been badgered by his inability to make even one decision for himself. By the time he stopped living with my family, after his divorce, and before his first wife was killed in a car accident, my Mother fumed at his constant lack of strength. Weakness is fine unless you flaunt it in the face of people who have to deal with you each day.  Mom used to say to me, "It's like watching a dog die on the side of a road."
            When my Mother died at the end of April, in 2010,  I sat down and began blogging about the lessons life has taught me. I have been perfectly candid about my belief structure and current state of regard for the Christian god. Even the titles of my entries contained words such as "heretic" and "agnostic" to expound on my sense of rebellion and my long-developed theory that we create our gods in an attempt to understand the true God. If anyone read, or skimmed over, even one of the more than 250 entries I have posted over the past 2 years, they would clearly understand that I use the borrowed knowledge of others to punctuate my points. Whether Buddha, Shakespeare, or most likely Jesus, my pluralism would be revealed to anyone with the slightest ability to comprehend the English language. It is clear, I may have ideals about God and spirituality, but I am, most certainly, without knowledge. I stand firm on the idea that only an ignorant fool believes they know anything.

 "I know of no more encouraging fact than the unquestioned ability of a man to elevate his life by conscious endeavour."  (Henry David Thoreau)

            At the end of 2011, Phillip began to use Facebook with frequency. I would assume his attempts at networking exposed him to the more conservative nature of fundamentalist Christianity. Daily, he would share my posted photos and sayings, almost feeding off my thoughts and position. Almost everything I posted ended up on his wall. In December, he kindly offered me an antique secretary desk. A confessed hoarder, he was merely "lightening the load". I found it strange that I was the only member of his family who received anything worth mention. He did give my sister's son a few bedroom pieces, but no other member of the immediate family was to be told about this.  In hindsight, his gift felt like a tithe, a form of bribery and payment. I've considered donating it to the Agnostic Society of Canada. I believe it would be fitting to present it in his name. I dare him to ask for it back.
            In March of this year, a cyber friend posted, to my profile, his thoughts on where God lives and heaven is found. While I would argue that the Master of Heaven and Earth does not dwell on a planet propelling itself towards our planet, I have learned that people have the right to believe what they will, despite what I may think. In response, I noted that as a practicing Agnostic (intellectually speaking), I understood my friend's right to believe what he will. After all, God is relative, an individual expression based on the entire consciousness of humanity. Later that day, Phillip applauded my choice of song, which I had posted that morning. Almost in sync with his praise, and seemingly oblivious to all I had written previously, he attacked me for my stated position, or lack thereof. He condemned me, instructing me that I was sitting on the fence when it came to "his" God. The same person almost every member of my immediate family knew as a worshipper of Mammon, now claimed to have flipped sides. Of course, his side was the only correct side to be on. Because I believe in the relativity of this reality, which contains our concepts of God, he would no longer associate with me and would  be saying "goodbye" because of my position.
            I've met too many fundamentalists not to understand the limitations placed upon them by their makeup. People who need guarantees, and in turn let religion dictate their thinking for them, are usually limited by the same characteristics that led them to the place where they stand. When Phillip informed me that he would no longer read my blog, I giggled to myself. When he threatened to expose me to the others from his life, to persuade people not to read my blogs, I realized he was going too far. For me, at any rate. When he stated, as a matter of fact, that they have a "word for people like you," he crossed the line regardless of not revealing what that word may be.
            My response was blunt but necessary. The lessons I absorbed from my Mother's experiences with this form of Christianity, and my own experiences with this personality type, merited a response. I clearly pointed out that his primary relationships, including the son who hasn't spoken to him in years, have suffered at his "all or nothing" attitude. Life is not black and white. As for his goodbye, I pointed out there has to be a relationship in order to bid adieu. I know for me, his absence has not gone unnoticed throughout my adult life. There was no relationship with him for me to say goodbye to. No more, at least, than as with some old man who says good morning to me once in awhile in the lobby of my apartment building. I can't think of more than approximately 50 times I have seen Phillip in the last 25 years. This excludes that yearlong onslaught of negativity he exposed myself and my parents to, so exiled from his wife and her family, including his son. This is the same family he held in greater regard, throughout the years of his marriage to his now-dead first wife. I pointed out to him that I had never, not even once, asked him to read, survey or use my blogs and postings. I added succinctly, "That's for fucking sure!"

"How vain it is to sit down to write when you have not stood up to live."
(Henry David Thoreau)

            You can try to understand a person and why they act the way they do, but just like everyone else, people are the sum of their own experiences. This does not validate telling someone else that what they think makes them in error, and by thinking so, they are expelled from the line of sight. I could care less if the Bible tells you so. People have the right to believe anything they want as long as it doesn't harm or violate another. Perhaps that's the underlying issue with all this. Phillip has done harm, and not only in a distant past. Imagine my Father, grieving still, learning this had happened. As I mentioned, for me there was no real relationship to begin with, but my Dad only has his family left. When you put anything above the people in your life, you're not being Godly, you're being brainwashed.  I forgot that my brother has never been able to think for himself. It's clear from his shunning me, that day, that he could not handle my way of thinking, even though he had applauded it for months. One should not worship someone until they have earned it. Don't just look, don't just read, think!!
            So I gave him what he asked for; as you wish. I would have moved farther away from him then I already was, but there wasn't anywhere else to go. My only option was rather simple. I immediately removed him from my Facebook account, deleted and blocked any e-mail options and removed him from all chat programs. He served little purpose to merit him staying. His choice is now my command; be careful what you wish for. I figure any loss of future contact will save me 3 hours every other year. Family only merits being treated so when they act so. Like my Mom once told me, "It's not worth it." 

"Things do not change; we change." (Henry David Thoreau)



Wednesday, August 1, 2012


             From the time we are born, a road stretches out before us. Each step we take, each movement forward, carries us down the path that will become our life. The path we follow is our life. We, most certainly, do not know where we are going. No one has supplied us with a GPS or laid out the route to follow. We don't really know our destination as there is no map which can pinpoint it. We hike all alone, unassisted. We have no instruction or answers along the way. There are no street signs to warn of construction or speed limits posted to mandate our travel time. We do not know how far the pavement unfolds before us or what the hell lies ahead, but we have little choice. Our locomotion drives us forward, whether we want it to or not. Every second of every day of every year that we exist on this plane, we are moving. Until the very moment of our death we are on this constant journey. This journey defines us.  
            People forget they walk a path. Mixed metaphors aside, the modern "road trip" seems more like a lengthy visit to an amusement park. Instead of walking, we play.  Instead of forward motion, we ride the same rides over and over again. We stand in line forever, anticipating artificial joy. We become stagnant, lost in the drone of it all. We get nowhere because we believe there is nowhere to go. We have no direction if we see our life in terms of rest and relaxation rather than exercise with purpose. This matters little considering we are always in constant motion, ceaselessly heading towards what lies up ahead. Just because we think we are not proceeding doesn't mean the road is closed. We are always moving on, but we have forgotten the way that we travel.
            The highway, so to speak, is easy to forget. Life is complicated and stopping to view your path is often the last thing people take the time to do. We don't think about the bigger picture because where we stand is all we are capable of dealing with. People, in general, are very limited in their ability to see past their own idea of where they are supposed to be going. This is a choice. Some are convinced they are on vacation, so they discard any notions the road may have brought them. Other people get lost, so much so that when they realize they have no idea where the hell they are, they cling to anything they believe will make them found. They take to religion, or science, or nonsense, holding them in great regard, all the while believing these things contain the only way to get where they are supposed to be. They concern themselves more with where everyone else is heading and they forget the road they travel is their road, not someone else's. Most certainly, they assume their path is the only one with any real direction. Of course, the destination they try to force on others, and strive to maintain for themselves, is nothing but a landmark noting their own folly. For those who live this way, they waste their entire life on a dead end.
            People become so convinced that the way they travel is the only way to travel that they demand everyone else agree with their survey. They are the blind leading the blind, all the while assuming they see the only true path. They demand everyone follow them. Rather than taking in their own course, and learning from the steps they themselves take, they must validate the way they believe is correct by trying to convert everyone else to their method of movement. They believe their way is the only way. In their hubris, the road before them becomes laden with potholes, and U-turns, and forks in the road. They become hijacked, for they have disregarded caution. They do not heed these warnings, instead they tell themselves they are merely part of "the plan". Unfortunately, they end up face first in the gutter, then whine and complain that the road treated them unfairly. They forget that those who worry more about the way everyone else is taking usually end up roadkill, ignorant to oncoming traffic. In most cases, they fail to get out of the way and get run over.
            If there is a road inside of you, there is a road inside me too. We forget that everyone is travelling the same path, just trying to get home. Just as every human being is different, shaped by experience and culture and perspective, so too the road appears different to each individual. It is not. In turn, the fool believes that their way of walking is the proper way to walk. They forget, we don't all wear the same running shoes. We don't all keep the same pace. We don't even have the same concept of our destination. Regardless, it is all one and the same. You may disagree with this position. You may think only your way is right. This only means you have forgotten the highway we all travel and you have given in to the limitations of a closed mind and a deceived heart.

"To be idle is a short road to death and to be diligent is a way of life;
foolish people are idle, wise people are diligent." (Buddha)

            I've been to Chicago on two different occasions. Once in the spring of 1988 and another time during the summer of 1991. In 1988, I travelled by VIA rail, the Canadian version of Amtrak. In 1991, my partner and I travelled by Greyhound bus. Both visitations were pleasure trips. The first, my solo mission, found me sitting on the train as the countryside out my window seat sped past. The second, a joint venture, was slow and allowed a vantage point when viewing the surroundings outside the cramped space by which we journeyed. The first endeavour took a few short hours while the second seemed to take forever. Other than the stop made when crossing the American border for customs, the train ride was direct and arrived on time. The bus route was indirect, stopping in what seemed like every little town between Sarnia, Ontario and all points west to the Windy City. Each stop stretched out the journey, so much so it seemed unending. We arrived 2 hours late but we arrived nonetheless. Each trip involved a different mode of transportation and took a different direction to get to the same spot.
            When travelling by train, the world goes by in flashes. While not an excessive speed, it is easy to miss a landmark or scenery, as the next appears before you have the time to notice the one that just passed by. The train is spacious, comfortable on the way. It offers refreshment and allows one to relax in a more private setting. For anyone who has travelled by bus, you know all too well the conditions one experiences in these large sardine cans. No privacy is the least of concerns. Granted, the world goes by much slower when experienced from this fashion. Each trip involved a different form of travel and took a different direction to get to the same spot. The conditions, and, without bias, the social aspect, make for an awkward and often invasive tour. The train is clean and well-groomed. The bus is dirty, ridden with the soil of people who just want to get where they are going. One offers great comfort while the other offers a different point of view. In the end, you arrive in the same place.
            The train travels through lovely places. Small towns and quaint scenery flow past  you as the rails carry you on your way. On the bus, the flow is often broken by the continual starting and stopping for fellow passengers. The train is soft and melodic in its way. It is smooth and uninterrupted, a direct route and ever diligent. The bus fares different in its approach. It reveals the inner workings of the towns and cities that it moves through. The seedier side of the places one passes seem like pinpoints of a darker thing, a shadow cast upon the reality of each place in that moment of time. With the train, you see an artificial representation of the world from a privileged room with a view. On the bus, the world is stark and real, almost hostile but nonetheless true.   
            When I arrived in Chicago by train, the crowds surrounded me and pushed me to my exit, revealing the city in all its glory. When we arrived by bus, the two of us slowly wandered out onto the cityscape, uninspired by the locale. The first thing I did, both times, was spot the Sear's Tower off in the distance, looming like a beacon, the landmark of my destination. This was where I intended to go. I got where I set out to be, regardless of the complexity displayed during my journeys. In hindsight, it is not so much each finish I remember fondly. The trip along the way holds the greatest sentiment for me, in both instances. When I think back on either event, it is the process that I recall most succinctly. I suppose life, like these trips I took, is not so much about the destination. It is not which mode of transportation you used to arrive. Life is all about the journey you had along the way.

"I get lost in the beauty
Of everything I see
The world ain’t half as bad
As they paint it to be
When all the sons, all the daughters
Stopped to take it in
Then hopefully the hate subsides and the love can begin
It might start now
But maybe I’m just dreaming out loud
But until then
Come home"
(Come Home, Faith Hill 2011)

             Like Socrates, I believe that the unexamined life is not worth living. This is the forgotten highway to which I refer. We are not able to produce a greater understanding of our true purpose in life unless we take the time to analyze and contemplate our life. The purpose of this life is to learn, to recognize the lessons our journey has brought us, in order to produce spiritual and personal growth. When we fail to do so, we are condemned to repeat, over and over, the very same lessons which have presented themselves previously. Through examination, our life will reveal specific patterns of behaviour. When we take the time to notice, we can see the underlying programming which dictates who we are. Unless we become mindful of this condition, we are doomed to "unconscious repetition". When we are aware, we move forward, continuing our journey.         
            You walk this way and you walk that way, but you should be walking your own way. You cannot learn from the lessons which hold no relevance to you. The truth is proportional to your experience, to what you have been exposed to on your way. Truth is a very relative thing, so we create answers in the absence of facts. Any ethno-cultural illusion we manifest is nothing but a detour from the truth. This juxtaposition is based on one's place in time and the reality one is born into. Circumstance may command one method versus another, but your life is made up of where you have been, not where you think you are going.
            There are no elect on this road trip. We all travel it, separate but together. Some believe they can cheat the highway so they hitchhike down it, taking any ride that will lead them to a place of guarantee and safety. They spend their entire life travelling in the back of a rusted out pickup truck, thinking they are heading somewhere. When they realize they are going nowhere, they jump back on the tarmac, stick their thumb back in the air, then get back on the same ride as it slows, once again, for them. Over and over, they ride in circles. They think they are proceeding, but they are simply repeating.
            Those who recognize the road for what it is tend to lead a more focused and happy life. Those who think the way is only for them tend to live lonely and isolated lives, then blame everyone else for their unhappiness. If someone is happy, leads a productive life and enjoys the ride, and you do not, who is on the wrong path? The only real destination is Love. You may claim it guides you, but love is not confined to pages found in the glove box of a stranger. Love's not like that.

"This is for all the lonely people
Thinking that life has passed them by
Don't give up
Until you drink from the silver cup
And ride that highway in the sky"
(Lonely People, America 1974)