How To Enjoy Life!

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When I flew into the airport and saw the palm trees, they looked like home, but odd, almost artificial, pseudo-tropical — they weren’t pines.

I had spent the morning driving through Montana’s rolling hills, ogling the lovely farms, the sparklingly clear rivers, the pines wandering along the rivers, the pines strolling up into the hills.

But now I was back home. As we drove from the airport, into San Diego, I still had a smile on my face.

I love airplanes, I love travel, I love cities — their museums and restaurants –and I am smitten with hills, rives and pines. New places change how we see, allowing us the luxury of contextualizing love — and beauty. I love a new place, anchored in eating, sleeping, wandering, exploring, fishing, hiking, slouching and smooching.

It brings up the question, how does one enjoy life? How does one really mouth it, chew it, savor it, kiss it, dive down deep into the cold, clear, refreshing liquid-rush of it?

By sloshing in it!

In Montana, on the Blackfoot River, I stood stiff-legged in the front of the boat, locking my leg into the curved plastic of the hull and cast my dry fly to the right bank. The boat sloshed, I rocked back and forth, Matt yelled “Mend,” I did, and an eighteen inch Cutthroat trout boiled to the surface, took my fly right off the top of the boiling water, and dove.

I reared back on the fly rod, it bent toward the water, and the Cutthroat took off like crazy toward the far bank. Beautiful! Thrilling! Perfect!

That night when we got off the river my back hurt like crazy. It didn’t matter. I had sloshed in it, in the river, in life. I had done what it takes to receive the beauty. I had placed myself in a posture to receive.

This is how you do it, but something else is required too.

You have to prep like crazy!

For the last year before my Montana trip, I had worked like crazy at my job, and made and saved the money to go. And then I had thought and planned and talked and arranged. I had practiced with my fly rod on my front driveway, casting to imaginary fish in a concrete river. I had made an arrangement with my friend, I had paid my money, I had made the long trip, I had hired the skilled guide, had gotten in the boat, cast the rod and I had mended the line.

It takes an effort to enjoy life, and sometimes some pre-work. But when you do that, you get it — some pleasure, a Cutthroat trout, some loveliness, a bit of the gorgeous whip and womp and woof of the wonders.

That day, as we rocked down the river, we watched a bald eagle soar overhead, perused a black bear as it wandered along the bank, peered at a herd of elk on a far hill and watched Mayflies dance in a tall, white column above the river.

We were immersed in the Blackfoot and the ecosystem of the Backfoot — the sparkly white, rapids, the bumpy, rocky bottom, the cool rain that spotted our coats and brought a fresh, damp fragrance to our senses, the deep fish-filled water along the banks — the gorgeous speckled shinning rainbow trout, brown trout and Cutthroat Trout that we caught and released that day.

This is how you do it, how you enjoy it.

Life is so good, from time-to-time, and we can enjoy it, the columns of Mayflies, and then again, the churning fish-filled rivers, when we get a chance, the lovely pines, if we put ourselves out in it — the soaking rain — and do the work, and make a choice to get up and get out, and slosh in it.

Skip The Schoolboy Pools

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“There is a sharp bank there leading down to the river, with big gravel bars at the bottom.”

“Yeah, I know the place,” said Rod. “You park on the left side of the road.”

“That’s right,” said Chuck. “It’s a good spot. People don’t want to go down that bank, but it’s not bad if you’re careful. If you hike on in, then cross the river and fish the pools around the bend, you’ll do well.”

“Sounds good,” I said looking a Rod. This was good information.

I wandered over and looked over Chuck’s tie flying table. It was a mess, of fun stuff — a fly tying vice, spools of different colored thread, feathers, hides, dubbing, hooks, a can of lacquer, a pair of glasses. It was an artist’s studio.

Rod and Chuck were talking flies. “Black ants, number 14 will work, and Brindleshoots,,” said Chuck.

We bought some.

On the way out we patted the dog. In the parking lot there was a rabbit, hunched down under a pickup truck.

“Maybe he is trying to stay warm,” said Rod. It was a good interpretation, but who knew — a rabbit warming himself on a cooling engine? Odd, or maybe not.

It’s hard to tell exactly why creatures do what they do.

As we left Chuck added one bit of advice. “I’d skip the school boy pools at the bottom of the bank,” he said.

We did.

We hiked on in, to what Chuck called the “feeding trough.”

There, along some deep water banks, big Montana clouds overhead, big pine trees leaking their sweet fragrance, we both hooked some nice cutthroat trout.

There is an odd kind of art to living. It comes down to not doing the first things that comes to mind, finding warmth any place that you can, tying flies when you could just buy them, hiking down steep banks, taking advice where you can find it, not settling for the easiest thing, skipping the school boy pools, and fishing the feeding troughs, wherever you can.

Cancer, Wackos and Ferry Landings

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As I walked by, I heard a older gentleman say to someone he was talking to on the phone, “I’m not sure we are at the ferry landing.”

He was at the ferry landing.

I know; I was there, walking by him, at the landing. This place is familiar to me. I have been coming with my family for years.

The whole thing seemed familiar — the bewildered person, wandering around a bit confused, not quite clear as to what was going on.

I see them all the time, the semi-confused. I know them: I am them. We humans all suffer myriad disorientations and confusions.

Lately I have noticed that places can disorient, (parking lots, new cities) and also that sicknesses can create significant bewilderment.

Illness seems to cause the Voortrekker syndrome — “Where the heck are we now?”

Poor health, impairment, disability — it’s freakin’ foreign, and can elicit some pretty wacko responses.

About six months ago, my brother was diagnosed with multiple myeloma. People by and large have been great, but his cancer has created some very interesting responses.

He has cancer, and some people are delusional.

“You have just got to read this book!”

“Listen, there is this diet …”

“I want to pray for you, right now, and I believe that God is going to heal you completely, right now!”

“I read this article. I am going to email it to you. You just have to read this article and …”

“There are several herbs that I have been using …”

“In Mexico, you can go to this clinic …”

“Have you ever heard of the healing power of magnets?”

They come to him, these self-appointed healers, with great energy, enthusiasm and love, offering their gifts at his altar, caring so much, and they really do, and they come to him, basically — insensitive.

Books are good. He has read books.

Diets are good. He eats well.

Prayer is excellent. Hundreds of friends and family member are praying for him everyday.

Articles inform. He has read more internet articles than is probably good for his mental stability.

Herbs, Mexico, bracelets, magnets — they all have their proponents, but what is really helpful?

A few thoughts.

It is not particularly reassuring to anyone, when amateur healers appoint themselves to the position of fixing the sick. It disorienting. The blind cannot lead the blind.

“You know how to do what? Heal cancer? Really?”

Those who don’t know what to do shouldn’t pretend they do.

Which leads to an interesting question?

Why? Why do people feel such a compulsive urge to give a remedy that they really don’t know will work, that they don’t even know hasn’t already been tried by the person, for instance prayer or a special diet? Why do they rush to offer things inappropriate to the person or the situation?

Perhaps this is because they really do want to help, very badly — too badly — and so they instinctively grasp at the first thing that comes to mind, something that they were told worked for someone else, something they found on the Internet, something they wish worked. They just can’t take it, not to offer a remedy.

These well-meaning ones are reality resistant — compulsively. They don’t know where they are at. They are at the ferry landing, and don’t know it; they are at the entrance to the River Styx, and they can’t recognize it. They are disoriented. Perhaps they have never been there before.

And at that point of confusion they are not quite safe to themselves or others. Unconsciously they blame the victim by implying that the sick one hasn’t done something right yet, hasn’t prayed with the proper amount of trembling, volume or spiritual mojo, hasn’t read the right book, eaten the right plants, gone to the right doctor or worn the correct metal.

Maybe, just maybe, this is because they are themselves are uncomfortable with sickness, brokenness, disability and loss. Perhaps they haven’t come to terms with the shaper edges of life. Maybe they haven’t accepted pain as part of life; maybe they haven’t integrated suffering and death into their philosophies, their epistemologies or their theologies. It’s denial, and it makes people offer up wacko responses.

It seems to me that God himself is much more comfortable with sickness and suffering than we are. He allows it. He uses it. God is not in denial about the rougher side of life. It seems to get along with it. God is sovereign, he can fix anything, but under his watchful, loving eyes, everybody gets sick at some point, and everybody dies.

So what would help? If the impulsively gushing of remedies doesn’t help, what does? How do we do something good here, how do we avoid wandering about confused, among the suffering?

I know what I have experienced that has helped me through some tough medical issues. It wasn’t aromatherapy.

When I have been sick, what has helped me has been when people affirmed me for some aspect of my character, particularly when it was true.

“You haven’t lost your core,” someone told me once during a particularly difficult time. “You are still who you are. You haven’t lost you.” I liked it. It made me more confident that an important part of me was surviving my difficulty.

It has also helped when people have had the sensitivity to ask a few relevant questions and then really listen.

“Wow, so what do your doctors say is next for you?”

“Cool, I’m praying that this will really work for you.”

And it has really helped when my dear ones have made simple expressions of love for me and my family.

A hug, a pat, a kiss that conveys real care, it helps. Real love helps, especially when you and most of the people around you are a bit confused by the complications of acute illness. Then it helps to be loved. It helps you get on the next ferry and travel to wherever it is that you have to go next.

Orchestrated

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“Demo the porch,” said Richie. “It will solve a bunch of your problems.”

I looked at him blankly.

“Extend the porch out to here,” he said, pointing to the area about six feet out from the door of the house that I was hoping to turn into a counseling center, “and slope the rest of the porch down to the your walkway. That slope will end up about here,” he said, walking out on to the dirt and pointing down at his foot.

“Wow, that low,” I said. “That’s perfect! Then the walks on both sides of the courtyard will be about the same height.”

He had solved it! Richie, in only a couple hours on the site, had figured out solutions to the grading and leveling problems of the courtyard we are building at the church.

Orchestrated. That’s how I see it.

When we set out to do this project, a seventy by seventy foot interior courtyard garden for the church, it seemed impossible. We had no plan, no money and no professional support. A small old, dilapidated house sat in the middle of the site, surrounded by concrete and asphalt.

But, it had already been orchestrated. We just didn’t know how.

There was Vickie, the realtor, who introduced me to Joaquin, who had a business partner named Jesus, who bought the house. Joaquin put it on a truck and drove it down a two foot embankment, over the sidewalk and down the street.

We waved goodbye, and hooted. The house flew. And Jesus gave us some money for it.

Orchestrated.

Then there was Janet, the landscape designer, who volunteered to draw the design, and her boss who volunteered hours to solve design problems — free.

Then there was Josh, who revised the plan, created the fire exit plan the city demanded, added the detail for the wall, free, and printed out all the large scale drawings, three times, free.

Orchestrated.

Then there was Richie who came to me through a friend, Eric Richards, by referral. “I know a guy,” said Eric, who does this kind of stuff. He grades stuff and he’s got all the equipment to do it.”

Come to find out, Richie just graded the brand new Del Mar Race Track, and now he was at the church, volunteering all his experience and expertise, to us — at very little cost.

Orchestrated.

Then there was John. My daughter saw him at the college, putting up a wall, and came home and told me. And a light went on. Ask John, to build the wall to enclose the courtyard.

Orchestrated.

I walked past the dirt lot on Sunday. It’s growing weeds. It will soon be a beautiful inclosed garden, an outdoor room, a venue, a park, a worship center. How will that happen?

I’m not sure?

But I know this: It will be orchestrated.

Just Before You Crash

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“So after the stem cell transplant, when will I get back to normal?”

“Your bones still won’t be rebuilt,” said the doctor, “so you need to stay on this medication for a couple of years. Welcome to your new normal.”

My brother has cancer. That’s his new normal. He takes lots of drugs, and chemo. He’ll keep taking them.

Such is life, and so it goes, really for pretty much all of us.

What at first is shockingly foreign, must become a familiar traveling companion to us. We may not like it, but the new normal won’t go away just because we want it to. Inveterately along the way, there is no going back to an old normal.

We want to go back. We are wired for living in what we know, for nostalgia. We seem to have a thing for the familiar, a proclivity for the way it was, but reality has no such tie.

Reality marches on, with no sentiment. A wheelchair arrives at our door with no tears from the front walk.

Get used to it. It’s easier if you do. Life is an adaptation.

God is in this. Nothing surprises him but he constantly allows life to surprise us. The best thing to do with surprises of all kinds is to welcome them, to embrace them, to dance with them, to jump into them.

Just before you crash, lean forward, and shout, “Hallelujah!”

It’s more fun than cussing.

The Former Glory

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It was disgusting.

It was beautiful, with a touch of the former glory in it.

When we pulled up the carpet in the old chapel last week, we discovered a lovely, old oak floor — coated with ugly, thick carpet glue.

Floors go through phases; this one had. When the oak was put in, it must have radiated the glossy, unmarred sheen that graces new hardwood flooring, showing off its deep, rich contrasting colors, its lovely grain, burls, knots and rays.

But then years later, when the wood had lost it’s appeal to someone, they apparently got quite excited, with the glue, and put on lots and pulled shag carpet over the fading glory.

When the chapel received its carpet, it was because it had become a worship venue for young people, excited about the Holy Spirit, living the Christian charismatic movement of the seventies, acting out a kind of Southern California, hippy-pentecostal, glory-driven, praise-infused vibe with the Holy. I know; I was in my twenties then, and I was there. I sat on that shag carpet — it was a lonely time in my life — and yet I too worshipped. It was good, that season of the church; however, it ended badly, in a relational wreck, caused by the pastor.

And now, oddly enough, forty years later, on a hot evening in July, here I was sitting on that same floor, with carpet glue all over my hands, beside my friend Glen, who had been there too. He helped put in the carpet.

The glue lay in loops and broad bands on the floor in front of us — at odds with the wood’s lines, unnaturally strewn, unhappily paired, poorly synced, at odds with the wood — a tar-based, sickly gray, denatured, skulking industrial gunk. We were there to get it off, to make the room shine again, with the former glory.

An hour earlier, I had poured Krud Kutter on the floor, a nontoxic, biodegradable multipurpose cleaner. It softened the glue, kind of, but not enough.

So following a tip for a construction guy, we poured KIngsford orderless lighter fluid on top of the glue. That worked — kind of — and turned it into something like what originally came out of the can or plastic bottle or what ever evil hole this gray-green-brown gunk oozed out of. And so, with some hard scraping and scratching, the glue came off.

Glen and I sat together and talked and scraped glue, and wiped it on the edge of a plastic bucket. Then we rubbed the residual glue off the floor with white, clean, dry clothes. The white cloths turned a nasty-looking brown.

I asked Glen about his son, who is estranged from him. There is pain there, I know, I know the story, I know the son, and I know Glen. Glen is a good dad, with some great kids and grandkids, but with this one son, there is history — relational gunk not easily scraped off.

I changed the topic. I asked him about the ultralight plane he is building. That got him talking. Glen talked about the beauty of flying. He was eloquent on lift, speed, thrust, stalls, gliding. It made me want to fly, without a license, fast, with nothing around me but a frame, and an engine with some good horsepower, and some light wings, and to take chances, and do some serious sliding, across the wind.

I asked him if he had recovered from wrecking his former ultralight plane. He had totaled his last one, hitting the top of a tree when he was trying to land, yelling “Jesus” just before he hit the ground, then driving himself home, not going to the ER until later, finding out from the scans that he was really quite smashed up. It took him months to recover. He told me there were still some aches and pains, but he was eager to get into the air again.

We scraped glue, sitting side-by-side, and poured lighter fluid, and talked on into the evening. Maybe it was the lighter fluid fumes, maybe it was the passion of two men trying to make an impossibly marred floor shine again, maybe it was the shared pain, maybe the shared vision to bring praise back to the room — maybe the old praise songs are still in the wood — maybe, maybe, maybe, but as we finished up our few feet of progress, we both felt a deep calm, and tiredness and a kind of aching peace.

And sitting, scraping, it was as if Glen and I were up in the sky together, above all the gunk and all the pain, above all the wreckage of the church and of our lives, in the ultralight, defying space and time, and the floor seemed to me like the wind, with us together, gliding over it, not alone, praising once again, flying fast now, over the glory.

Unity

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Recently, I avoided bringing up politics with a friend.

Recently, I didn’t insert my opinion into an animated discussion taking place in front of me about religion.

Recently, I forgave a person who rejected me, intentionally and put aside in my mind the things they did to harm me.

I performed these mental disciplines for one reason — for the sake of unity.

Unity is oneness of mind and feeling among persons. It is concord, getting along, working together, having harmony, being in agreement.

I didn’t, in my recent efforts to create unity, deny or ignore the differences I have with others. I know what the differences are, and I have spoken and written about them in the past, but in these cases I choose unifying behaviors in the face of disunifying factors.

Often unity is choosing concord and team work and harmony, even when this doesn’t entirely exist. Unity is something we choose in the face of difference, tension and conflict. To chose to be united does not mean that we deny our conflicts, no, simply that we honor our relationships more than our differences at singularly significant junctures.

Of course this isn’t universal. There are some relationships that will not be repaired, some discussions during which we will not choose to overlook our differences, some points of view we will give not quarter to, some people we simply will not agree with, be in concert with, team up with, be married to or resolve conflict with — ever. But that aside, unity is still a huge core value for humanity.

Unity is a passion that puts aside a good to achieve a greater good.

Jesus’s passion for unity healed the bridge between Jew and Greek.

Abraham Lincoln’s passion for a United States of America saved the nation during its horrible civil war.

Unity, on a German soccer team, won the World Cup in 2014.

Great leaders and great teams have always trafficked in a profound sense of unity.

I have friends who are very conservative. I have friends who are extremely liberal. They are all friends, by my choice. I choose to be with people I don’t share basic points of view in common with. I share something greater than that with them. I share mutual respect, friendship, an honoring of differences, a common pursuit of the love of love and the love of God.

Through a passion for unity my friends and I amalgamate, consolidate, cooperate and affiliate around what we have in common. Through our eagerness for oneness we diminish, put aside, nullify and forget the things that divide us. Our humility — which springs from our awareness of our own ignorance and incompleteness without each other — this is a kind of divine miscibility. Through it, we mix.

Religion has a long history of division, conflict and war. Religious people have tended to be the most judgmental people on earth. It should not and need not be so. The truly spiritual were meant to be, even commanded to be bridge builders, gate openers, way-makers, love-makers, peace-makers and unity mongers.

“Blessed are the peace makers,” said Jesus, “for they are the children of God.”

Check out some of my modern proverbs, aphorism and epigrams about unity on my blog at http://www.modernproverbs.net

Joy

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Divers exploring a maze of underwater caves on Mexico’s Yucatán Peninsula have identified what may be the longest underground river in the world. The underground water they found runs for 95 miles through the Mexico’s limestone caves.

Cool!

The Christian concept of joy is like that underground river. On the surface life may be hot and dry, but underground, deep within, lies God, a river of life, watering our world.

Joy is not happiness; happiness is a surface thing — superficial, based on circumstances, evaporating easily. But Christian joy is deeply rooted in the idea that God is a cool, pure, constant refreshing water and that because of that, everything is going to be okay.

How good is that! Joy transcends the other emotions We can be sad or beaten down by life on the surface, and yet experience the deeper, inner river of joy by trusting that God will come through for us.

“Take joy in God, all the time,” writes Paul, “He is always there.”

Making The Dead Things Go

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I dumped the appendages into the trash bin, and went back for more. Dismembering is a lot of work.

I used a big pair of loppers.

Snip, snap!

I had to break out the sawzall on some of the bigger ones.

When I was done, no dead things remained, only living things, bright green leaves — orange, yellow, red and purple flowers.

I had cut, trimmed, lopped and plucked all the dead branches, dead leaves and dry flower heads from every plant in my back yard. And I had mucked out my backyard pond, dragging out the green algae and dead water lily leaves.

Done! Only good things remained.

The whole thing now looked a bit like Monet’s garden — the effect stunning — green, red, yellow, purple efflorescence everywhere.

And this is how it is.

What is dead and dying is best cropped, lopped and dumpstered, so what is alive and growing can thrive.

It’s the same with my thoughts. They need lopping.

My mental pond constantly needs mucking out. And my mental flowers constantly need dead-heading. I beautify by cutting off my old fears, dumping my regrets, lopping off my unrealistic aspirations, dumpstering my inveterate dissatisfactions, dismembering all my unforgivenesses, beheading all of the negative unlovelies dying on my eager-to-thrive green branches.

Today I spent some time with someone who needed help getting her head filled up with true thoughts, with mental beauty commensurate with her value. We talked. It helped. We were pruning her thoughts. I hope she can keep hauling out the lies and telling herself the truth and when I’m not there. Maturity lies in the ability to garden ones own mind.

Mental beautification — for all of us — it is so much about making the dead things go.

Grieving Rituals

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Last night we sat by the fire with chocolate, marshmallows and graham crackers. We weren’t camping; we were grieving. We reveled in the joy of grieving.

We laughed, cried, remembered and forgot the loss of a good friend.

Perhaps we grieve best with family and friends — and food and fire.

This morning I got up and had my morning quiet on a big, soft couch, with a cat and coffee and a blanket. I’ve quit drinking coffee — except when grieving.

I love the early morning, and the late mourning too. I spoke with one of my friends who is a therapist last week. I asked her, “How do you grieve?”

“I don’t know,” she said. I felt better right away. If the expert didn’t know, maybe I wasn’t so lame. I don’t know either. I suppose it is kind of like breathing; you just do it, to stay alive.

“I eat macaroni and cheese” she said. “And go somewhere different from my normal hangouts.”

I started getting the idea. We grieve using grieving rituals.

I’m off, on a mission, to establish some rituals, for when I’m sad. Eating sounds really good, and taking time in the backyard, with fire, and family, and couches and writing — and drinking strong coffee.

This morning I wrote some proverbs, about grief. Here they are for your instruction in grief, and for your pleasure — in thinking.

Grief is the finest proof that we love.

Love is a poem; grief is a novel.

Grief has a peak, straight streak, oblique.

What’s past help isn’t past hurt.

Grieve when you hurt; heal with dessert.

Joy needs a mouth; grief needs an ear.

Grieving rituals are our victuals.

Simmer your losses in silence and sauces.

Grieve all your ouches with blankets and couches.

Sleep’s a respite for the desperate.

Loss instructs wavering minds to steady.

Weep — then make a fiery launch into the future.

Resilience is our super-human brilliance.

I feel so much better. I think I’ll celebrate today — my gains!

You can find more of my thought proverbs, axioms and epigrams on a wide variety of topics at http://www.modernproverbs.net

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