Tuesday, 14 August 2012

Pema Chodron

For anyone who didn't have the opportunity to see Bill Moyer's excellent interview with Pema Chodron in his PBS series 'On Faith and Reason' it is now available online in both audio and video. I highly recommend it.

(Originally posted to Yahoo 360 on October 21, 2007)


My grandfather died when I was 11 and afterwards I spend every Friday night with my grandmother. On Saturday nights my cousin Elizabeth ("Lizanne" and that name mentioned here now only because she hates it so much) stayed with her. It was years before I realized that treat was not just for us but also for her - filling a big old house that had grown too silent with my grandfather's passing.
Grandmother was a school teacher and on Friday's, after she had finished grading papers and straightening her classroom, we would leave school together and walk to town. We would stop for a Coke at the drugstore and then I would follow her around while she did her weekly errands. We would eventually go to the library and I would get a weeks worth of books before we went to dinner. After we would walk home across the harbor. Grandmother would spend the evening watching the variety shows (Andy Williams, Perry Como, Mitch Miller), while I would read. The rule at Grandmother's house was that I could stay up as long as I wanted as long as I was reading and I would huddle under the blankets in my upstairs bedroom reading into the wee small hours.
My favorite nights were when fog would shroud that small fishing village on the coast of Maine. Long after I thought she would be asleep Grandmother would call out the names of the foghorns sounding up and down the coast until I too knew them by sound. Cuckolds. Seguin. Pemequid. Burnt Island.
I have lived in this same small city in the interior of British Columbia for 35 years now and seldom think of 'home' but this morning I was hit with a massive wave of homesickness.
I wanted to take a dime to Zinney's Candy Store and get a bag full of penny candy. I wanted to walk the footbridge in the wind across the inner harbor. I wanted to have a 5 cent fountain coke at Porter's Drugstore and laugh as Jane called me by my uncle's name because I looked like a smaller version of him. I wanted to have dinner in Jordan's Restaurant and perhaps sit on the dock at Pier 6 and watch the boats come and go. Until summer came and it turned into a resort, Boothbay Harbor on the coast of Maine was a wonderful place to grow up.
Then I thought I would like to go to Princeton, way down east in Washington County where I spent my teen years. Jump in a boat and go bass fishing. Or jump in a car and ride around the back logging roads with Bert and Bob having a beer. Or maybe go to a University of Maine football game and then back to Sigma Nu to spend the rest of the weekend doing anything other than studying - most likely spending hours in the endless games of Whist and being unbeatable when Bert and I partnered together.
Before he died my Uncle used to say that it was possible to leave Maine physically but you could never do it emotionally. Maybe he was right.
Of course the Maine that I am homesick for today exists only in my mind. But, wouldn't it be nice if you really could go home again after all? Just once?

(Originally posted to Yahoo 360 on October 20, 2007)

You've Got To Be Here Now

In Greek mythology Sisyphus was the son of King Aeolus was was said to be the founder and first King of Ephyra (Corinth). For his treachery in tricking Persephone, Queen of the Underworld, he was condemned to forever roll a huge boulder uphill and as he neared the top the boulder would escape his grasp and roll back to the bottom and Sisyphus would have to start all over again.

Recently a friend blogged their version of of this task. Their's grittier, earthier, and more connected to real life. But as I read it I found myself thinking, 'Isn't this what life is about?'

In life we are forever rolling one boulder or another up a hill and all to often we fumble, it rolls all the way to the bottom, and then we have to start all over again. Even if we succeed in getting the boulder to the crest of the hill we only get to rest a moment before we notice there is another one that needs rolling sitting at the bottom the struggle begins all over again. When you are riding a bicycle you can't coast uphill and in life there is always another boulder.

The differences between myth and life are significant however and make all the difference between eternal suffering and the life we all live. In life, after that boulder has slipped from out grasp a few times we have the option of reflecting if that particular boulder really needs to be pushed to the top. In life we sometimes get to choose our boulders and we get to choose smaller ones. Once we figure out which boulders actually need to be rolled and which can be left at the bottom of the hill there begins to be a joy in the rhythm of rolling. This is, after all, life and life's business is rolling boulders and it is our choice to do it grudgingly or as a meditation on life. Enlightenment doesn't come from having clean dishes. It comes from cleaning the bowl.

In his book After the Ecstasy, the Laundry Jack Kornfield recounts a benefit at Spirit Rock Meditation Center for Ram Dass after he suffered a major stroke. Here is what Ram Dass had to say (It is perhaps helpful for those who do not know of Ram Dass to be aware that his most famous teaching was Be Here Now).

"For years I practiced as a karma yogi, the path of service. I wrote books about learning to serve, about how to help others. Now it is reversed. I need people to help me get up and put me to bed. Others feed me and wash my bottom. And I can tell you it is harder to be the one who is helped than the helper!

But this is just another stage. It feels like I have died and have been reborn over and over. In the sixties I was a professor at Harvard. and when that ended I went out with Tim Leary spreading psychedelics. Then in the seventies I dies from this and returned from India as Baba Ram Dass, the guru. Then in the eighties my life was all about service - cofounding the Seva Foundation, building hospitals, and working with refugees and prisoners. Over all those years I played cello, golf, drove my MG. Since this stroke the car is in the driveway, the cello and golf clubs in the closet. Now if I think I'm the guy who can't play cello or drive or work in India, I would feel terribly sorry for myself. But I'm not him. But I'm not him. During the stroke I died again, and now I have a new life in a disabled body. This is where I am. You've got to be here now. You've got to take the curriculum."
(Originally posted to Yahoo 360 on October 19, 2007)

Duck or Chicken

In his book Opening The Door of Your Heart, Ajahn Bhram retells a wonderful story that was told by his teacher, Ajahn Chah.

"A newly married couple went for a walk together in a wood, one fine summer's evening after dinner. They were having such a wonderful time being together until they heard a sound in the distance: "Quack! Quack."

"Listen," said the wife, "That must be a chicken."

"No, no. That was a duck," said the husband.

"No, I'm sure that was a chicken," she said.

"Impossible. Chickens go Cock-a-doodle-doo, ducks go Quack! Quack! That's a duck, darling,' he said, with the first signs of irritation.

"Quack! Quack!," it went again.

"See! It's a duck," he said.

"No dear. That's a chicken. I'm positive," she asserted, digging in her heels.

"Listen wife! That ... is ... a ... duck. D-U-C-K, duck! Got it?" he said angrily.

"But it's a chicken," she protested.

"It 's a blooming duck, you, you ..."

And it went "Quack! Quack!" again before he said something he oughtn't.

The wife was almost in tears. "But it's a chicken."
Her husband saw the tears welling up in his wife's eyes and, at last, remembered why he had married her. His face softened and he said gently, "Sorry, darling. I think you must right. That is a chicken."

"Thank you, darling," she said and she squeezed his hand.

"Quack! Quack!" came the sound through the woods, as they continued their walk together in love."

It is so easy to get caught up in little discussions like this that we usually do not realize how inconsequential the discussion is. What does it really matter whether it is a chicken or a duck? But in the heat of a discussion we lose sight of this. We feel the need to set the other person straight. And we fail to notice that we are hurting the other person and destroying their happiness.

What joy is to be found in winning an argument when we have hurt a person we love, who we have promised to look after and to respect? What comfort is to be found in being right when we have contributed to anothers  worry over making another mistake? When we have caused their fears to increase?

All this so we can be right. But how often in such situations have we been absolutely convinced without the slightest doubt that we were right only to learn later that we were mistaken! So the unhappiness we caused was pointless.

Sometimes, it is best not to tell others they are wrong.

Sometimes, it simply does not matter whether it is a duck or a chicken.
(Originally posted to Yahoo 360 on October 18, 2007)

Who was C. P. Highfield?

Among the many hundreds of books in my library is a 1944 first edition of Konrad Heiden's Der Fuerher. The price is marked as being $1.00. I see they are trading on Amazon and eBAY for between $2.75 to $11.00 U.S. so they certainly haven't increased much in price.
I also have a signed first edition of Michael Mussmanno's The Eichmann Kommandos. Justice Musmanno presided over the trail of these messengers of murder in the Military Tribunal II, Case 9 (The Einsatzgruppen Case) trial under Control Council Law No. 10 in Nuremberg. He provides a great deal of background information on the defendants learned first hand. I have no idea if it is worth anything. Probably not. I see a fair number of signed first editions by Mussmano.
It is not the price that interests me anyway.
Der Fuerher has a handwritten book plate saying it is from the library of C. P. Highfield and that it was purchased in it's year if publication - 1944. The Eichmann Kommandos published in 1961 was inscribed Jan 26 '67 To David B. Cox with warm personal regard, Michael A. Mussmano."
I love books and I have accumulated a library of thousands of them but what interests me more than what these two books contain is who owned them.
Who was C. P. Highfield? Where did he live? How old was he? What brought him to buy Heiden's book on Hitler in the closing months and days of WWII? Did he serve in WWII or have a relative fighting in the war? Where did he work? What was his interest in reading this early biography of Hitler?
Who was David B. Cox and what was his personal connection to Justice Mussmano? This appears to be a presentation copy. It was published in 1961 but not inscribed until 1967 making me believe this is a copy that Mussmano retained and gave to this David Cox.
How many hands did Highfield's and Cox's pass through until they made it to my library?
Both Heiden's and Mussmano's books are brilliant works of history that vastly add to our understanding of that era but in this case who owned them, how they came into possession of them, who they were and their personal histories are much more interesting. There is no way of ever knowing. The questions will go unanswered. But, I can't help wondering about these people from years ago who found these books of value.
(Originally posted to Yahoo 360 on October 16, 2007)

Good Reads

It is a near perfect fall day here although I admit my idea of perfection is not everyone's cup of tea. It is cold and grey outside with an intermittant light rain. The wind is doing its best to knock the remaining leaves off the trees.
It is a perfect day to stay inside and that is just fine. The few household chores are done and there is a soup bubbling on the stove for tonight's dinner if the smell doesn't drive me to eating it before then. This is a good day for reading and I have several new books to choose from that I picked up in my trip to the city. I will pick one and head to my rocking chair with a cup of tea shortly and read until later this afternoon until the football game I want to watch comes on. Rainy Sundays and football on television were made for each other as surely as rocking chairs and good books. There are times that being single can be lonely but today is not one of them. No one around to break though my selfish obsession to spend the day exactly as I wish is exact perfection today.
I read a lot. Books my biggest passion in life. Other activities and the incertainty about by health of have made this a year where I have read less than any time in my life but I am feeling more settled and relaxed and have been able to read 3 books in the last week. All good. My reading usually stays firmly rooted in what I enjoy: history, psychology, philosophy and modern lierature but this past year I have wandered off into travel logs and whiled away many pleasent hours lost in wanderlust.
By far the best book I have read this year is Social Intelligence by Daniel Goleman. This amazing and facinating book needs to be read by everyone. Close on the heels of Goleman's book for my favorite so far this year is philosopher Ken Wilbur's A Short History of Everything. Wilbur is not an easy read and this book is challanging but very rewarding. Third on my list of best reads of the year is Canadian humourist Will Ferguson's Hitching Rides with Buddha, his funny and informative account of hitch hiking from one end of Japan to the other.
If you are a reader all of the following, from different genres, are worth your time. I am not giving a synopsis for any of them. In this day and age the information is readily available online from Amazon. In no particular order:
Lost in Translation: A new Life in Language by Eva Hoffman

This Heated Place by Deborah Campbell

The Snow Leopard by Peter Matthiessen

The Heart of the World: A Journey to Tibet's Lost Paridise by Ian Baker

A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini

It's Easier Than You Think by Sylvia Boorstein

The Joy of Living by Yongey Mingur, Rinpoche

Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon

Chasing Che by Patrick Symes
If anyone has read anything exception this year, please drop me a note. The best books are usually the ones someone has told you about.

(Originally posted to Yahoo 360 on October 13, 2007)

The Zen of Rumi

Went out for brunch with friend Scott this morning. We do this 2 or 3 times a week since we have both retired. We have been best of friends for 35 years now and sometimes it seems like we are like an old married couple - knowing what the other is going to say before they say it and finishing each other's sentences. As usual we drank about 3 pots of coffee and sorted out the world's problems while still wondering why it is so difficult for everyone else to see the answers. Scott is conservative and I am as liberal as they come yet is surprising how often we are in agreement.
I ran across this poem by Rumi, the 13th century Sufi mystic, and thought I would share it with those who might not have seen it.
This being human is a guest house.
Every morning a new arrival
A joy, a depression, a meanness,
some momentary awareness comes
as an unexpected visitor.
Welcome and entertain them all
Even if they are a crowd of sorrows,
who violently sweep your house
empty of its furniture.
Still treat each guest honorably,
He may be clearing you out
for some new delight.
The dark thought, the shame, the malice,
meet them at the door laughing,
and invite them in.
Be grateful for whoever comes,
because each has been sent
as a quide from beyond.
Is it possible that Rumi was a secret buddhist?

(Originally posted to Yahoo 360 on October 12, 2007)

Doctor vs. Doctor

It is an extraordinary beautiful fall fall day here. It is warm and sunny and the sour smell of autumn is floating through the air. It is funny how smells can trigger such strong memories. I was transported back through time and 3000 miles away to autumns in Maine as a teen and bird hunting with my uncle. Back then I loved to go hunting. Now, I'd like to be out walking in the woods but I have no desire to kill anything.
After a coffee at Tim Horton's this morning I went to an appointment with my G.P. It seems that what one doctor tells another may not be what he tells the patient. My G.P. had received the report from the neurosurgeon and it had a markedly different tone and prognosis than what I had been told when I was in the city. Where I had been told it might be likely that I would never need this surgery the appraisal to my family doctor was simply that I did not need it at this time and that he (the neurosurgeon) would see me again as things progressed. The report was far less optimistic than what I was told in Vancouver.
After the consultation with the doctor I did the 5 kilometre walk along the trail that winds around the confluence of the two major river systems here. I did the walk as walking meditation. At times it was difficult not to break out in a laugh. The looks one gets from other people out for exercise when they see someone walking slowly and mindfully can be quite funny. I am sure more than a few thought I had a screw loose. That' cool. While they were walking and answering their cell phone or listening to their Ipod or planning dinner or engaging in a million other things while they walked I had the pleasure of just walking.
Besides, even if I do have a screw lose I am at a time and a place in my life where I am happy and content in my nuttiness. Are they?

(Originally posted to Yahoo 360 on October 9, 2007)

Happy Turkey Day Canada

As my parents have gotten older I have made a point of ensuring I spend every holiday with them that I can. At their age one can never be sure that this might not be the last Thanksgiving or the last Christmas or the last Birthday we all have together.
The little gem that is growing deep within my brain has given me an entirely new perspective however. This might be the last Thanksgiving or Christmas or Birthday that I have.
The only moment any of us really have is this one. This very instant. Sadly most of us never live that one that we have. We become lost in the illusion of time and miss the moments that make up the span of our lives.
And so, while I would like to wish fellow Canadians everywhere a Happy Thanksgiving, I would rather wish you to enjoy this present moment; that you be fully alive at this instant; that you live you instants mindfully and in gratitude for this precious human birth.
(Originally posted to Yahoo 360 on October 7, 2007)

Garbage In, Garbage Out

GIGO, garbage in garbage out, is an acronym invented at IBM that simply means bad programming brings bad results. Jerry Baker popularized the phrase 'you are what you eat' and Buddhist monk and peace activist Thich Nhat Hanh has taken that to new levels. Thay, as he is called by his devotees, suggests that we eat far more than we realize and what we eat has many adverse effects on us. If we eat anger we become anger. If we eat sadness we become sadness. If we eat frustration we become frustration.
Years ago Dr. Earl Radmacher, former president of Western Theological Seminary in Portland, Oregon gave a series of lectures on this subject in which he discussed the necessity of guarding one's mind from negative influences around us.
This is far more than 'positive thinking.' The discovery of spindle and mirror cells in the human brain and advances in neuroscience and the emerging field of social biology has shown that this is indeed fact. Your grandmother was onto something when she told you 'Smile and the whole world smiles with you.' Folklore was leading science.
In any social interaction we are constantly scanning the person(s) we are engaged with and that cluster of mirror cells in our brains actually mirror the other person(s) thoughts and emotions as we constantly read the micro expressions that cross their face. In a very real sense we are reading the other persons mind as we observe them. But the process goes beyond far beyond that. If we are in a conversation with someone else and observe a smile cross their face our mirror cells mimic that smile on our own face and, science has discovered, our facial expressions directly effect our own mood. If we smile, even when we don't feel like it, the neurons in the 'happy' center of our brains actually begin to fire and we begin to become happy ourselves.
Thus, in our social interactions with other people we are actually creating each other moment by moment.
Since the beginning of the Internet age scientists have been intrigued by the anger, racism, fights and flame wars what are all to common in online situations. Those of us that were online in the days of Fidonet know that this behaviour has gone on since the dawn of the computer age. What is it about online communications that makes for so much anger and bitterness and unacceptable behaviour? It turns out that the answer to this also lies in the newly discovered mirror cells.
In face to face communication there is an intricate dance between the participants as thoughts and feelings are read and mirrored. This provides a feedback loop that is, in most conversations, positive. Whether we have understood the process or not, we have all felt the synchronicity when a conversation is going well or have experienced the discordance when we have fallen out of sync in a conversation. Some times the break in synchronization happens when someone says something that is unacceptable to us. When that happens we do not mirror the facial expression that the speaker is expecting. Our own faces instead express dismay, or anger, or disgust at what has just been said. This automatic response then acts as an inhibitor on the other persons behaviour and conversation and eventually the conversation falls back into synch and the intimate dance continues.
In the online world there are no visual clues to what the other person is thinking or feeling. We rely solely on text or voice clues and they can be deceiving - thus the confusion and anger that so easily arises on the online world. And, without the other person being able to read our own anger or disgust in our faces there is no inhibition loop that otherwise would curb their speech.
For people that are highly empathic, however, the upset of these flame wars become our mood. We become the anger, hurt, or disgust we are feeling and our emotional balance becomes upset.
Science has confirmed what Thich Nhat Hanh and other Buddhist masters have said for centuries. We are what we eat. The real world can provide enough junk food on its own. Do we really wish to eat the garbage that is the daily fare in chat rooms, forums, and other Internet venues? Neurosience has confirmed that we create each other. I think we all need to look at who we are allowing to create us.
(Originally posted to Yahoo 360 on October 6, 2007)

Is Canada the New China?

Welcome to Chinada: The true north strong and free.

Two news stories caught my attention this morning. The first:

Kraft Canada Inc. is warning consumers that its Baker's white chocolate baking squares may be contaminated with salmonella.

The product, which was distributed across the country, is being withdrawn from the marketplace.

The recall announced Thursday applies to the Baker's white chocolate baking squares sold in the 170-gram size with the UPC code 0 66188 00860 3 and the best before dates of 08 AL 04 and 08 MA 19.

Food tainted with salmonella may not look or smell spoiled, but the bacteria can cause symptoms such as high fever, severe headache, vomiting, nausea, abdominal pain and diarrhea.
And the second:

Quebec milk trucks have a "seriously problematic" level of sediment, according to a classified report prepared by the province's Agriculture Department.

Montreal newspaper Le Devoir obtained a copy of the report that found one in every five tanker trucks used to transport milk contained a significant amount of sediment that, while not posing a health risk, could compromise product quality.

Typical sediment found in the truck tanks likely originated from dairy farms with questionable hygienic standards, the report said. In some trucks, researchers found traces of cow dung and hair.
I don' t know about the rest of you but I am relieved to know that cow dung and hair in my milk doesn't pose a health risk.


(Originally posted to Yahoo 360 on October 3, 2007)

Wedded Bliss

"And so a relationship formed, based purely on fucking, a convenience, and the convention that if you fucked, then you formed somehow a unit; and based of course also on the growing acquaintance and friendship. But a chasm existed between them, bridged only in their couplings."
~~ M. G. Vassanji, "Amriika"
Yup. Sounds like how I wound up married.

(Originally posted to Yahoo 360 on October 2, 2007)

And the Verdict Is

I met with the neurosurgeon for an hour yesterday morning. There was bad news and good news. The BAD NEWS was that the operation to remove this tumour is much more dangerous than I thought. Out of a hundred operations 2 will die and 12 to 15 will be messed up for life. The GOOD NEWS came in several forms. First and foremost is that I do not require the operation and may never need it. These tumours are very slow growing and sometimes even stop growing. The neurosurgeon, while allowing that things can change and that he could be wrong, believes mine will never get large enough to require removal and that I can likely live out my natural life-span without having the operation. The tumour has structurally changed my brain to a slight degree but not enough to cause any difficulties. He also said he is certain that this is not the cause of my violent headaches and that my G.P.'s diagnosis of cluster headaches is also incorrect - that I am likely having 'run of the mill' migraines and I should go back and see him again. He also said that 'all the talk' about these tumours is about sudden death but he has never seen a sudden death associated with these and in this day and age that is just not going to happen.
The current plan is to rescan every 9 to 12 months to watch for growth and potential difficulties. If this progresses differently than he expects we will deal with it then and in the case of the absolute worst, it will be addressed on an emergency basis with surgery being done within 24 hours.
On a life scale of 36 inches, the tumour amounts to 1 inch, the extra 30 pounds I carry around is 12 inches, and my smoking amounts to 30 inches. "Get back on the Lipitor, lose some weight, exercise, and quit smoking but otherwise, go home and enjoy your life, Ken."
Well, you can't do everything all at once. I celebrated the news by going to a very nice Italian restaurant for veal parmesan, an excellent bottle of wine, and thoroughly enjoyed the cigarette afterwards.

(Originally posted to Yahoo 360 on October 1, 2007)

A Game of Hide and Seek

no coming, no going.
no birth, no death.
no being, no non-being.
neither the same, nor different.
to be or not to be
is not the question.
life and death
are just a game
of hide and seek

I am off to the city tomorrow for my appointment with the neurosurgeon on Monday. I suppose I could call him a soothsayer. He will be predicting my future.
I understand 'no birth, do death' intellectually. I do not understand it experientially and while I have no fear of death, dying itself and particularly dying on an operating table has no particular charm for me. I admit to being nervous over what I am going to finally find out on Monday. At the same time it will be good to finally have some definitive answers.
I think I will buckle my seatbelt. It may be a bumpy ride. If you have the time, click on the 'Life and Death is Just a Game of Hide and Seek' link and listen to Thay's dharma talk.
(Originally posted to Yahoo 360 on September 28, 2007)

An Extraordinary Kindness

Quite a few years ago now I ran into a problem with drugs. The problem seemed to be twofold. Firstly, there didn't seem to be enough of them. Secondly, I couldn't quit them. One of the biggest shocks of my life was to find out that my best thinking had allowed me to become a drug addict.
The next two years were some of the most difficult in my life as I wandered to drug councillors, rehab, Narcotics Anonymous and Alcoholics Anonymous. By virtue of an extraordinary act of will power alone I stayed clean and sober but when more turmoil came my way I did not have the resources to deal with it and teetered on the brink of returning to the only thing I thought might work - drugs.
In desperation I decided I might need to get myself a sponsor and so chose someone in AA who had a few years of sobriety and seemed to have it all together. Over the next few tortuous weeks we spent many evenings together. I had never really practiced those 12 Steps choosing rather to do things my way which clearly wasn't working very well.
Yet the program of AA seemed as confusing to me as a proposition in nuclear physics. My sponsor kept telling me to read the 'Big Book' but I simply failed to see any answers there. Then one night in one of our conversations that lasted for hours I said to him, "I do not understand. I do not get it. I don't know what the problem is."
Rick looked me in the eye and with all the love he had told me, "Ken, the problem is that you are a selfish, self centered son-of-a-bitch who never loved anyone but himself in his entire life."
I still laugh when I think about that but it saved my life. In an instant, in a flash of sudden illumination I knew what my problem was and it wasn't drugs. In that heartbeat I understood the program of AA and I knew he way out of the misery I had made for myself.
"Selfishness, self-centeredness! That, we think, is the root of our troubles. Driven by a hundred forms of fear, self-delusion, self-seeking, and self-pity, we step on the toes of our fellows and they retaliate. Sometimes they hurt us, seemingly without provocation, but we invariably find that at some time in the past we have made decisions based on self, which later placed us in a position to be hurt. So our troubles, we think, are basically of our own making". ~Alcoholics Anonymous, 4th Edition, How It Works, pg. 62~
Buddhism might put this a little differently: afflicted emotions or contaminated karma or delusion. But in the end they mean the same thing. Since the day someone told me I was a selfish self centered son-of-a-bitch nearly 20 years ago now, I have not had a need to return to drugs and as soon as I begin to create problems for myself I immediately start looking at my motives. Invariably I find that I am have begun to operate on selfish self interests once again rather than operating on a base of loving kindness for others.
'You are a selfish, self centered son-of-a-bitch who has never loved anyone but himself' turned out to be the kindest words ever spoken to me.
Thank you once again, Rick.

(Originally posted to Yahoo 360 on September 27, 2007)

Nobody Gets Out Alive

Nobody gets out alive.

We avoid the mention of it. We talk about it in hushed tones or make a joke of it. We live as if it will never come for us or those we love but death lurks just around the corner and we never know when it will make a visit. We live our lives without ever acknowledging that death is as much a part of life as birth and we are shocked and grieve when it touches close. We like to forget that nobody gets out alive.
Bob and I had been friends for for half a lifetime. The manner of our meeting was odd enough that we often laughed about it in later years. It was a comfortable, warm, and close friendship that had withstood the test of time. Bob lived many hundreds of miles from me and sometimes we did not speak for a year or more but when we did it was if no time had passed and we simply picked up from where we had left off.
I hadn't spoken to my good friend in some time and felt a need to touch base with him yesterday. I fired of an email. It bounced which was very odd and so I called only to get a message saying the number was not in service. Odder still, I thought. I surfed the Internet looking for new contact information - Bob was loved or hated by hundreds and his name is everywhere in cyber space. I quickly ran across a brief mention that he had died.
I was stunned. It couldn't be. I would have known. But, a call to a mutual acquaintance in another city confirmed that it was so. Dead of a massive heart attack at 49. His wife and friends had tried to call me but the information they had for me was old and Bob had carried my current phone number and address in his head. He was a genius for things like that.
I had never told him how much I loved him or how much he meant to me. I know he knew but still I wish that I had said it. I suppose that to make me feel better.
Bill gave me the new phone number and today I will call Sharon. Bill says she is still struggling. If Bob was a Prince than Sharon is a Princess.
I guess I am still in a state of shock today. Nobody gets out alive but we are all still so surprised when it hits close, when it touches someone we love. I have two other close friends I haven't spoken to in some time. I will call them today and let them know they are thought about and cared for. Time can run out in an instant.
Over the years the garden has shrunk until it is now no more than a strip along the back of the house. There are just a few tomato plants, some cucumbers, onions, lettuce.
We have had some deep frosts already and this morning was the time to tear them out and out them to compost. It is cool and damp and gray today. The sour smell of autumn is in the air. Leaves are coming down and lay blanketing the yard. The geese flock up and fly overhead and swarms of sparrows wheel and dance in the sky.
The march of the seasons are a lesson in impermanence. Impermanence, The Buddha taught, is one of the sources of our suffering. We want the things we grasp to stay the same forever all the while forgetting, or perhaps never realizing, that there really is no more than this present instant. Ooops. It is gone. A new instant. Nothing lasts. Nothing stays the same. There is only now.
(Originally posted to Yahoo 360 on September 21, 2007)