Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Preaching to the Choir

"Do we need to start a war?
Do we need to take a side?
If we open up our eyes
Realize that we are blind
Is it all worth fighting for?
It all comes down to
Who's wrong or right
Who's black or white
It doesn't matter what you're bleeding for
Straight or bi
Your God or mine
It doesn't matter underneath it all
Cause we're only here to love
Like there's no tomorrow
So let's live each moment like
Our time is only borrowed"

            The world isn't fucked up, it's all the people that live there. Make no mistake, I do mean every last one of us. We are ships tossed and turned and left out to sea. We have no idea where we are going. All of us are lost, conveniently blind, with no idea where to go or how to get there. It is not a complicated matter to understand. We do as we please whether other people can see that or not. Our secrets are usually hidden for a reason. We are more emotional baggage than rational creature. We believe we are better, others have been convinced, but underneath it all is a selfish greedy monster that rarely shows its head, at least not in public. Only we can see it. We place it out of sight for no one else to witness. It is the true us, the one so many gurus have warned us about. We take the self that we show to others and we convince ourselves that it is the truest part of us. We try to ignore the voice of our reality. I hate to break the news to the believers out there but no matter the God you have found, no matter the change you make on the outside, underneath it all is narcissism, pettiness and self-indulgence. Don't get me wrong, I am talking about everyone, every single human being including me. 
            Collectively, we do more damage than individually. We are one massive, unpredictable hate machine. We are vile, one and all. We destroy almost everything with which we come in contact. We are, it seems, more tyranny than peace monger. We make war with our brothers and so we abandon each other, harm each other and in the end, we always seem to kill each other. All the time we beg greater beings to bring peace into this world. I suppose we need help from ourselves but we truly believe it is needed only in others. Yes, we tend to have the most wonderful moments throughout our lives. We have insight, compassion, even agape love for one another. They are spoiled by our evil; Halloween costumes in the middle of May. These are merely icing on a hard cold stone. They rarely, if ever, really serve a purpose. We do not see eye to eye. The ways that we treat other people is indicative of the way we treat the rest of the world. Each of us is a dissimulator, screaming for salvation but only for ourselves.

"Do we need to build a bomb?
Do we need to fire a gun?
If you have to stand your ground
It's a war that can't be won
Is it all worth dying for?
It all comes down to
Who's rich or poor
Virgin or whore
It doesn't matter what you're praying for
Death or life
Your truth or mine
It doesn't matter underneath it all
Cause we're only here to love
Like there's no tomorrow
So let's live each moment like
Our time is only borrowed"

            I believe that, for the most part, people are disingenuous. We claim to love the light, we even claim to move towards it, but in the end we are not as we claim to be. We are shadow and darkness and sin and folly. This mortal coil operates more on impulse than instinct. The reason we try not to reveal these traits lies in the  fear of discovery. We rarely admit we have this creature within. We rarely see things the same way the world does. Each of us have been splintered by our own device. We appear to be whole and logical and, some would claim, good. Lord, how we do try. Beneath all the right things, we are drawn to the wrong things. We don't think of all the consequences because we really just don't care. Regardless of brother or family or strangers, we enlist them to our cause. We validate by drawing a few closer. We all are stupid, idiots who can't see for the truth in front of our faces. We waste so much time. It carelessly slips through our fingers. We don't see that it is all just borrowed.
            Apparently, for human beings, it is our differences which define us. We all congregate yet at the same time we separate. Our commonalities end up meaning little if anything at all. Those differences are what really count. They are the wall that stands between all of us and enlightenment. It is through self-awareness that we gain control. The result resonates but we stop giving altogether and not just monetarily. We rarely can find any part of ourselves left to give. It's easier to be a bitch to some homeless guy because it makes it easier to just walk past. We dissolve our responsibility so we do not have to proceed with it. We hear but we do not listen. We can see but only what we want to see. It's easier that way. We have turned from it all. All seems lost. The world is falling apart around us and we sit watching, like it was some television program. We get to decide when to turn the channel or not. The world may be coming to an end but at least we are all entertained. It turns out that we don't need Jesus or the Madhi to bring the apocalypse. It's clear, we really only need ourselves for that.

"It all comes down to
Who's rich or poor
Virgin or whore
It doesn't matter what you're praying for
Death or life
Your truth or mine
It doesn't matter underneath it all
Cause we're only here to love
Like there's no tomorrow
So let's live each moment like our time is only borrowed
Our time is only borrowed"
(Borrowed Time, Madonna 2015)

            Every person holds the light within them but we no longer seek it. In the most basic sense, it seems it is gone for most of us. All this preaching to the choir is for naught. We all talk about love but few of us even know how to use it. Although love is always there, so is chaos and corruption and greed. Whichever one wins is ours to determine. Collectively, we have settled for doom. Not even one of us is really that good. We may claim to be, we may even think we are, but guess again. In the end, there will be an end. This world cannot sustain the virus known as human being. We are killing the planet. We are killing ourselves. We are soon to be fodder, leftovers from our melting pot. I can imagine some alien craft landing after our demise. They just shake their heads (or whatever), drenched by the stench of ignorance and futility.   
            We all have a responsibility to shine. It is our struggle with the darkness that will actually define us. It is our obligation to love in spite of all the shadow. Love is the dotted line, that which we are bound to. It goes without saying, but we do not pay it heed. I'm not sure what the answer is. Like most times, I am not sure if there even is an answer. How do you strive for goodness among mankind when individually the darkness has taken over? I guess it comes down to either shitting or getting off the pot. I can only hope that we flush before it's too late.

 "The idea behind a kaleidoscope is that it’s a structure that’s filled with broken bits and pieces, and somehow if you can look through them, you still see something beautiful. And I feel like we are all that way a little bit."
(Sara Bareilles, American singer-songwriter)




Tuesday, June 14, 2016

The Fine Print

"I get up, I fall down
Sometimes I feel like I am always on the ground
You pick me up and brush me off
And tell me that I'm good enough"

            We had talked about buying a house for years. We had no idea what was in store for us. When the closing date was set for over four months later, we were foolish to believe that such an amount of time would be a good thing. It never is unless you are about to die. I had already started packing months before, initially dealing with paperwork and organisation. Slowly as the months passed into the next year, the spare room started to fill and we started to plan. Before we even started looking for a home to purchase, I concentrated on the heavy burden that seventeen years of "marriage" can accumulate. The chore of such a feat was not lost on me. It was challenging sorting through all that shit. Box after box began to build into a giant Jenga game in the corner of each room. The spare bedroom was eventually swallowed up by cardboard and materialism. It was overwhelming the amount of storage the endeavour took. It was a necessary evil that someone had to do. 
            I quit smoking around the same time I started getting ready to relocate. I tried to absorb myself into the matter in order to avoid temptation. It worked for the most part. Unfortunately, when you smoke cigarettes like I did for over thirty years, everything in the path of the smoke is filthy. Every book, every treasure was covered with a slick layer of nicotine and tar. I have to admit it was disgusting just how much brown washed off the articles just before I stuck them in a box for safe journey. Bucket after bucket and even more went on forever like some water torture. Like some rotted stew it mocked the years of me sucking on this death. It was a reminder of my insides, my lungs, my heart, all lathered with the dark sickening goo. Every nic nac, every picture frame was a form of contrition, penance for the sin of addiction. I wish I had counted along as every splash represented every cigarette. Each squeeze from a rag was every drag I used to take. I could have handled a few days or even weeks of this sorry mess, but eight months of constant evidence was often enough to make me want to light one up just in spite. Right up to the end, my death wish was rubbed in my face. Every piece of furniture, every shelf was coated with a sticky residue. It stuck to my fingers when I touched it. As I worked each one clean, a tide of anti-chocolate dripped on my feet and the floor. Puddles of what lies inside me beckoned themselves for recognition, urgent, at last, to be seen.
            All the packing, all the cleaning was nothing but a pain in the ass. This compared little to the actual interactions with those who were supposed to be helping us. You pay someone and they are supposed to do their work, their responsibilities, but apparently this is not the way the world works anymore. People don't seem to care whether you get pissed off at them for not doing their job. Growing up, my parents instilled a sense of obligation in me, an idea that if someone pays you to do work for them then you do it the best that you can and as promptly as you can. This is no longer my experience. People just don't seem to give a shit, no matter the cash you dole out to them to do what you hired them to do. Companies and businesses seem to cherish this newfound attitude and not just in the lower ranks of their employees. Short of murder or raping a client, it seems management will allow almost anything as long as it doesn't interfere with the bottom line. The days of courtesy and efficiency are gone now. Not only has being polite become a lost art but respect and obligation have as well. When I am trying not to tell them all off, I forget that this is just the way the world works now. Professionalism seems to no longer even be a word. So it would appear from the vantage point of looking in. It's hard to just grin and bear it.

"You are faithful to me
I am not afraid no matter where I go
You will never leave me
In You I am home
Cause you are faithful to me"

            The chaos may have started right away but it was nothing like what it would become. It was the bank that played harbinger, foreshadowing what lies ahead. To my surprise, I had no real idea just how commonplace stupidity has become. Being approved for a mortgage, then quoted specific details was nothing but a waste of our time. Two days later and they called to change it all, every morsel of the previously agreed upon terms. It was like pulling the rug out from beneath us the moment we first stepped onto it. There was no question that we needed to find a different institution.  Of all the services and attendants we had to deal with over the half year, not even one seemed to have a clue. Even our realtor, in the end, failed to dance outside the mess. It turns out that no one did what was fully required of them. Of course, they still took payment. The mortgage broker, home inspector and lawyer that he referred us to left something to be desired. Failure to return our calls became a main event. It often left us lingering in some financial mode of limbo. It was hard to understand why people refused to do a good job, that they were getting paid to do more than ignore us. The entire experience made me eager to run and hide. We even considered abandoning the cause altogether. We did not give up although at times the heart was not willing to invest any longer. Back and forth, up and down, one stress after another layered upon our standing ground. More times than not you could smell defeat. There was something quite rotten and it sure wasn't me. 
            Before the closing date, we hired a home inspector to make sure everything was up to standard. With only one electrical issue, our above average rating was good news indeed. He was a friendly chap, nice enough I suppose. It appeared that he did a terrific job. He appeared efficient and professional. Several months later and it is obvious that not everything was as it seemed to be. The shower needed to be replaced and repaired with no notice from our $400 examiner. I suppose it could have been worse. The previous owner easily could have left stickers on all walls throughout the house rather than every other one. The most unfortunate event occurred around one week after we moved in. The dishwasher was part of the deal, left under the conditions of sale. The inspector said that it worked. He put it in writing but this just was not so. We had been living off paper plates and those red plastic cups, since move-in day. I met no hesitation when I stacked the first load and set it into action. It was by no means a full load. At first, everything seemed okay so I left it to its own volition. Then came the bubbles. I had used dish soap, like an idiot, in order to compensate for lack of real detergent. As the foam seeped from the bottom of the machine, I imagined that this was all due to my lack in judgment. As I scooped up the spreading mess and dumped it using a dustpan into a metal bucket, I soon realized that the bubbles were coincidental. Water spit from the very same bottom, in spurts, then running, then spurts again. Parts of the hardwood floor looked like a potato chip the next day. If they had only told us it didn't work. If we had only been alerted to this complication during the process, someone may have actually earned their wage. The ride had apparently just begun.
            It wasn't just the bank or the lawyer or even the mortgage broker that seemed less than committed to our cause. From the cable company changing our appointment and particulars over and over, to the U-Haul rental that kept shifting from pick-up spot to pick-up spot, everyone seemed in on the joke. When we returned the vehicle in the dead of night, we had no idea just what the final bill would entail. I wasn't ever laughing. With the purchase of a fridge and stove at Sears, we learned not to bank on others with our own decisions. People cannot be trusted. Apparently lying, overcharging and perverting the delivery, over and over, only convinced me that doing business, no matter the company, no longer means proper customer service. It is something entirely different than what it used to be. Complaining about said delivery process doesn't even merit a finger pointing from head office. It seemed to be the status quo. Why everything needs to be so complicated is beyond me. Quite often, I wish for the days of my youth when everything was simpler and you didn't have to pay for a little respect. Right through Halloween and the crap continued. Missing accessories, delayed appointments and incomplete work haunted us. It seemed it would never stop no matter what I did or didn't do. If I had known just how much trouble it all would be I am not sure I would have been so gung-ho regarding the house. It was a stressful time.

"I feel lost and on my own
Isolation has me thinking I'm the only one
But You show up and hold me close
You tell me I am not alone"

            I have to admit that on occasion, throughout the process, I felt like karma kept smashing me in the face. It's natural to experience doubt and regret when dealing with such matters but what we had to go through was more than enough to make one feel oddly guilt ridden. So much chaos and it must be something we were doing. The universe seemed to be laughing in our face. God, apparently, had a hand in the joke. Cumulatively, incompetence and disregard built to a crescendo, results of not feeling good enough and any punishment that was sent from above. We weren't doing anything wrong or so we kept telling ourselves. Surely, event after event was not some random experience added into all the rest. Every error that was made, all the hell of back and forth, whispered not so gently, from floods to a plague of stickers and holes, left in or on almost every wall of the house, these must have been a punishment from the deity of our choice. At least, the Bible and other scriptures tell me so.
            Always read the fine print before you sign on the dotted line. What you ratify in your mind may not be the same as on paper but they both act in similar ways. You enlist into your existence. You manifest what will be. How you view each experience is the common denominator in almost all cases. Tragedy and trials come to everyone. Some sit thinking they have done a dirty deed while others see opportunity even throughout the darkness. Sometimes it's not about right and wrong. It's about taking what life has to give to you and moving through it to a better place. Half full or part empty, it's all in the presentation. Hard times, struggle, even chaos will come and go in a constant tide. It is our reaction, on almost every level, that will determine our fate. The shores are friendlier this side of the dotted line. Things went away when things finished up. The world has become peaceful again, or at least it has for the moment. The noise and confusion have subsided for the most part. Still, I sit here wondering about when God up in heaven will strike again in His own special way. We are all at His mercy, at least that is what I have been told. In the end, whether God chastises, karma attacks or chance plays its hand, hard times come for everyone and just living can make dying look easy.

"I am not alone, I won't be dismayed
You will hold my right hand to help me
I will have no fear
You my God are here
Standing right beside me"
(Faithful, Plumb 2014)


Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Six Feet and Under

“Enjoy today, the time you have now, for time cannot be found only lost.”
(Marty Rubin, American activist)

            The death of my first partner changed me. It still manages to shape my decisions and the way that I treat other human beings. His suicide, coupled with my attempted try, only convinced me more that life was not worth living. For a month or so after his demise, I plotted a way to escape the pain. The near-death experience I encountered on the night of my greatest endeavour did little to calm my fears and give me reason to want to remain. I was lost to the world, although mostly to myself. The last time I felt that yearning to end it all was four weeks to the day after Doug died. Rather than drinking the eight ounces of tequila that I carried with me, then plunging from nine stories up, I walked away with a new beginning. I realized how fruitless dying would be to my cause. A reason to live is hard to find at any time but permanent peace takes away any other option. As I tossed the bottle into a field and sojourned away from the scene, I made a decision to keep on going, if only for a small amount of time. I didn't know it then but walking away was the start for me. It was the first step in recognizing the importance of claiming each day and making each day. In the fraction of a moment that I decided to keep living, a world I did not know opened up for me. The idea of dying to escape drifted into nothingness and left me with a comfortable friend. Twenty years later and I don't regret my decision. Death itself turned over in my head. Rather than a way to avoid life, it has become a reward for this life. In a way, it was so mellifluent.
            I am no longer afraid to die, not that I ever would be. It is not that I don't question what is to come. It is not that I don't tremble at the thought of it. The idea of my own death just doesn't have a hold on me, not any more. Even when I wanted to die, I stood afraid of what would happen. I am, after all, bound to death physically. Nothing else remains. I am not scared to be dead. I don't even worry about what will come with my rest. In fact, my "sleep will be sweet." I believe that I have nothing to worry about. I may not know for sure but I trust that everything will work out in the long run. I still have enough faith to see me through. I may not be religious, I may not hold to the things I was taught as a child but I still cling to the assurances of my birth faith. The words and teachings of Jesus I have not cast aside. Above all others, it is the Christ that merits my approval regardless those who claim to literally follow Him. I may no longer be tied up in the doctrine and dogma that associates with Christianity but I remain His faithful servant. I choose the way that I walk. In the end, when it all comes down, I believe that anything good that happens in this life is from God. I am just not sure where all the negative comes from. I do know if there is anything nasty that happens in life, it has nothing to do with anything Holy. There will be arms waiting for me. In the end, when I close my eyes for the very last time, I believe I will find peace.
            I had been convinced that I found Jesus at an altar call when I was a teenager. I never really understood the experience or any of the other times when I signed that proverbial dotted line. Each time I gave myself away to Jesus, I found myself swimming in a new covenant. It was a difficult thing to worship something that really wasn't there. He never came to me and I have never experienced the Holy Ghost talked about in the Bible. The first time I really felt like I had seen something Holy was during my near-death experience. Somewhere in the mix of darkness surrounding me and light calling for me, two figures came into the bright. The one who stepped forward I knew all too well. The other one lingered on the edge of shadow before him. He was tall like Doug was. He was bearded like Doug was. I could not tell his face for lack of shine. I have always felt this figure was Jesus. It just makes sense. Most people are greeted in the tunnel by the icon of their culture. Some people see Buddha or Mohammed. Others simply float into the stream. There seems to be variables to the experience. Each of us will see what we imagine it to be. One is welcomed not by a stranger but by our own ideas of comfort and familiarity. There is great warmth in the encounter. I know that I was never afraid. This state has convinced me that there is nothing to fear. When I draw my last breath, I know exactly what lies waiting for me. When I exit stage left, I will know serenity, even if the entire experience runs only in my head. The contract I made at my birth will be made null and void by my death and all those dotted lines will disappear forever.

"I trip and stumble through this world
All my days are just a blur
My feet wander through the fields
But as always You reveal
When I lie down, I will not be afraid
When I lie down, my soul will breathe again
I will not fear sudden disaster
When I lie down, my sleep will be sweet"
(Sleep will be Sweet, Plumb 2015)

            Most people do not want the truth. They want a constant assurance that what they believe holds the correct answers to all their questions. The truth is we really don't know anything about being dead and all that it entails. There really is no truth, it's all guesswork and wishful thinking. I believe we are not supposed to know. I also believe that most people recognize this innate predisposition towards ignorance. We all realize we are holding on by a thread when we practice things like religion and spirituality. We may think we know. We may even convince others that we really do know. We don't. Death remains the one great mystery, the ultimate unknown. Even those who have returned after undergoing a near-death experience recognize the limitations within their encounter. We are bound by our humanity in every sense of the word. Life and death are filtered through our perspective and it is this perspective that will determine the makeup of our ideas on dying and the afterlife. We see what we have been conditioned to see. Anything that occurs beyond that will remain in the realm of "you actually have to die to get there." No one can tell you about the other side because no one has ever come back once they really and finally died. If you're alive to know this, then you did not really pass away, you simply took a trip and returned to tell your tale. If you still exist, you did not die.
            There are moments in this lifetime that never fade away. They cling to us,  whether for good or for bad or just because. Certainly we carry them with us, mostly as scars. No matter how hard one tries, it is almost impossible to forget them. They are always with us just waiting for an opportune time. They haunt us when we try to find some sleep at night and they linger like a lily in bloom. No matter how much time passes, they do not. They become a picture flashing in your face for only you to see. It is glimpses of yesterday during a little piece of today. If you're lucky, and I mean really lucky, those moments do not always sting. They linger in a better place. To have even one such moment, an ode to joy, is heaven itself. That which sings of pain will bring pain and that which sings of joy will bring joy. Sometimes even the worst thing that has happened to you can be the best thing that has happened to you.    

"Now that you're gone,
All that's left is a band of gold
All that's left of the dreams I hold
Is a band of gold and the memories of what love could be
If you were still here with me."
(Band of Gold, Freda Payne 1970)

            It was either that he jumped or the bitter February to which he exposed himself struck against him as he climbed the tower. It is quite possible that the temperature killed him as he crawled up the side of the silo. He dropped over 100 feet, landing on his back. The few seconds of terror he may have known ended quickly as he hit the ground. The deed was done on contact but his body had yet to freeze. For over 12 hours he laid in the snow, presented on the pavement like a fish stick. Come the dawn, he was more like a popsicle than some filet. When the police came to the door in the early morning, I had already guessed what had happened. I didn't know the details but that mattered little to me at the time. He just disappeared the night before, no note, no sign to indicate why and where. A shift worker at the flour mill discovered him in the early morning light.  I stood in shock when the police left me to linger. My father soon joined me and we headed up to the hospital to dance in the morgue. It wasn't really the morgue, just a back room containing a slab of silver and one very frozen dead body.
            I knew right away it was him so identifying his body just seemed redundant to me. Once the police became involved, there was little room for doubt. The formality before me was a silent trip. He laid there and I stood there, one last moment for one last time. I scanned over him like a metal detector. He looked almost normal from the neck down. His white runners and jeans fit him perfectly despite the ice. His pants had come undone at the zipper, a testament to the fall that he took. The white flannel over-shirt he wore posed a small Detroit Red Wings logo. It still rested in the upper right hand corner like it always did. He legs spread out flat. His left arm laid beside him while the right arm seemed to be reaching out into the ether. His head faced forward, frozen in place just like his arm. It was his eyes that immediately started to haunt me. Both were open wide and staring into the same invisible place. Each was coated in an opaque film, stark white and covering each eyeball completely. His hair was messed and miniature icicles had formed throughout his beard and dark wavy locks. Underneath his brow and about his shoulders was a puddle of him, frosted over like a pizza would be. It seemed like a halo of blood, it was the last thing I saw of him. The entire play goes on in my mind even 20 years later. I know that I walked away more prepared than ever to end it all.

"The life of the dead is placed in the memory of the living."
(Marcus Tullius Cicero, Roman philosopher)

            Whether the remaining influence of Jesus or the experiences I have had with expiration dates, I do not fear death. Dying is another matter altogether. The process of crossing over that line does not trouble me, how I end up six feet under is my issue. I have great trepidation regarding just what will eventually end up killing me. I don't want to suffer. I just want to get it over with. I have a surety of sorts, an understanding that whatever comes, I am safe and sound. When I think on the road that brought me here, I am reminded in flashes. Some people see smiling faces. Some people see rainbows and lullabies. I see dead people. Through their death I am constantly reminded of the importance of today. Sometimes a person has more influence in death than they did in life. The glimpses of a frozen head that cross my mind are evidence to me that there is always hope, there is always faith and there are always unanswered questions.