Friday, April 18, 2008

The Search Continues

Still looking for the train engine that I saw whilst riding the A.C.E. train several weeks ago... I've since found several other things. So a short post to show some pictures I've collected (and may I at this time reserve the right to edit/add/delete at a later date...)


Saturday, April 12, 2008

There Is No Greater Love

Continuing with the "found stuff" theme... A scrap of paper found its way into my attention the other day-- something I'd seen before, and so maybe that's why it caught my eye and held it a bit this time around. I don't know. It was a flier for some sort of Bible study or sermon, titled "No Greater Love Was Ever Shown." It talked about the words of Jesus Christ, that the greatest love a person can have for his friends is to give his life for them. (John 15:13) I didn't read further than the title, however, until now. I was struck by the words in the title and found myself ruminating on potential interpretations. That's what we humans do, afterall, particularly when it comes the Bible. Perhaps we are constantly interpreting words, images, feelings, etc., though rarely are we consciously aware of it.

A few days earlier I had been riding in the car with my wife. A song was introduced that reminded me of the anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s assassination. The discjockey took some time to commemorate the occasion, noting it had been 40 years as of this particular weekend. Then the song started-- it was a version of U2's "Pride (In the Name of Love)" that was sung acoustically by Shawn Colvin. The gravity of the occasion, coupled with the tender singing and accompanying guitar, and the lyrics of this inspiring song moved me to tears. I sat, stone faced, listening to the lyrics as tears welled up and crept over my cheeks.

My wife noticed me crying and checked to make sure I was okay. I explained it was the song. "I love this song," I said, my voice cracking. But being asked to vocalize what I was feeling made me realize it was more than just the song, or the anniversary, or the lyrics, or the performance... And it was more than I could talk about in the moment.

I wept, but not just because I was sad. Not just because I was moved emotionally. There was an overwhelming amount of profundity going on, much of it escaping any vocabulary labels I tried to stick to any of it. But I tried to talk through it anyway-- much like I'm trying to write through it now. I will keep trying, keep reaching for the perfect words, knowing that the words fail. But I will not give up. To try is to walk with God.

So I've heard.

Anyway. Levity-- deal with it. I thought about the amazement that this American brother of mine brought to us. The Dream. And so much more. What an orator. A hero. A martyr. A leader. The lyrics in the song, although they "fudge" the historical data a bit, capture the moment of Dr. King's death like so:

Early morning
April 4
Shots ring out in the Memphis sky

Free at last
They took your life
They could not take your pride

In the name of Love
One more in the name of Love

Even now I am writing this with a lump in my throat. Such great strength of character it takes to speak one's truth, and to sustain one's message of hope under the strain of great adversity-- all the while protesting non-violently. He was struck down by a violent act. His message-- The Dream-- lives on.

More than that-- if there can be more-- is that this was another incident in a string of graphic, horrific assassinations that brought the 60's to a close-- JFK, MLK, RFK... so much trauma, it left our nation deformed by the ill effects of post traumatic stress disorder. This is the world I was born into.

More specifically, in the spring of 1968, our country was embroiled in a very unpopular war in Viet Nam. The war was something that MLK had spoken out against very robustly and adamantly. And after he was struck down, my parents were faced with the real life possibility that their lives and their love might be surrendered to the fray of this conflict as well.

My dad was enlisted with the Navy at the time, and it was looking more and more like his ship would be setting sail to engage in the conflict. In the face of this, my mom and dad decided to try and start a family so that, in the event that my dad was called upon to serve for his country, if he were to give the ultimate sacrifice and die for his country, at least my mother would have a child by which to remember him. Out of this love and sacrifice, I was born.

There is no greater Love.

To rethink the decision, it would be easy to label it as foolish, if not naive. How would a single mother survive without her spouse in their fledgling marriage, their nascent family? How could she provide for their child if father were to perish? It was still early in the women's movement of the time, and there weren't numerous career opportunities for women, let alone those with children and without a spouse. So although the decision to have a child in the face of this great danger was a beautiful, hopeful, faithful act, it flew in the face of reason.

As luck and fate would have it, my father would have his ship decommissioned from engaging in the war at the eleventh hour, and so there was never any threat to his life or the struggles of his family due to his untimely demise in the service of his country. For this I am very grateful. But I'm also very grateful for the decision to have faith in something greater than oneself that both of my parents displayed in bringing me into existence. Under the duress and uncertainty of their situation, they chose to hope for something better-- a child to live on through the impossible.

That was me.

Mere months after MLK was brutally killed, a decision was made to try and bring another life forward into this world. And for that I am thankful.

There's no greater love.

No greater love was ever shown... what did this mean, I pondered. Was it the epitome of all love, that which Jesus showed in giving of his life for his friends? Or-- could it be-- that there is no greater Love? There is that which is Love, and then there is everything else. In showing love, one shows the greatest gift that there is to be given. Is that the greatest lesson of Love?

Not that the example spelled out in the Bible is less than perfect. Or that any other display of love is greater. Could it be that Love is the ultimate, perfect, all-encompassing answer? Reminds me of another song lyric, only this time John Lennon's: "Love is the answer. I know it is. For sure." Could it be that what the Lord almighty teaches is Love, in any shape or form, is what we are all meant to do? And that nothing is Greater? Could this be the message, the answer, for which all humanity seeks?

Again. I'm just sayin'.

Friday, April 4, 2008

Kermit to the Rescue

I found a ring a few years ago... long enough ago that I don't remember where. I find a lot of things cast aside, either on purpose or by accident, as I walk these streets in my home town, doing the job I do. Or, should I say, jobs. There could be any number of things I'm working on at any given time. But I digress.

I have started to think that I am part crow. My eyes are keen to shiny things. A quick glean or sparkle and my attention seeks out the position of that which is emitting it. As I walk along the sidewalk, through parking lots, along the gutters of residential streets, I catch glimpses of lights a shinin' and I stop to investigate. Many times something much too small to pick up and analyze closer is shining brighter than it ever imagined it could, just long enough to make itself bigger and brighter and noticeable to my peripheral vision. A speck of dust reflects the sun at just such an angle that a shooting star seems to dance right through my imagination, and is gone before I can figure out what happened.

But sometimes, I stop, stoop closer, and I find something interesting. And so I pick it up, look at it a bit, and if it continues to be of interest, I put it in my pocket. And at the end of the day, when I empty my pockets, I rediscover what's been secreted there and find it yet another resting place. I've been collecting small scraps of metal-- bottle caps, wire, etc.-- as part of some idealistic art project that I have yet to fully comprehend for several years now. And that's a story for another day. So, for now-- the ring.

Found it a long while ago. Initially looked at it and determined that it wasn't worth much, but I held on to it for some other reason. It found its way into a dusty corner in a small jewelry box that I got as a gift a few decades ago. And I forgot about it.

But then I had that trip to Santa Cruz, and I wasn't sleeping very well, and I was transitioning to a new set of medications for my Bipolar disorder, and I had another manic episode that landed me in the hospital for a week... so there was a tendency for me to look back, rethink, retool. I started looking for clues as to what may have brought on this latest episode, but also looked for things that could ground me where I was at the moment, kind of like setting a spike in the mountain as a foothold, so that I could manage the climb up and not fall back farther.

Part of this tendency brought me to action; I started sorting through things-- not just in my mind, but actual things, possessions of mine. I sorted through boxes and shelves and piles of this and that-- opened drawers that hadn't been opened in so long that I'd forgotten their contents. I moved furniture around, dusted things off, took stock of my things, tallied and prioritized importance and value. And this action brought me to the ring I had found.

I looked at it as if for the first time. I remembered I had found it while working, somewhere in the city... I remembered its design, its tattered finish, its bent-out-of-round shape that made it sort of difficult to wear... but I put it on my right pinky finger, and it seemed to feel... well, right.

Many years ago, at a Weight Watcher's meeting, I learned about a thing called "anchoring." It's the skill of reframing a tendency, a "nervous tick" of sorts, into a reminder of the behavior that you're trying to change. It's also referred to as "grounding" by some. I had identified my unconscious tendency to fiddle with my wedding band, and associated my focus on my weight loss/health goals with it. So after a few conscious efforts at noticing when I was playing with my ring, and immediately thinking about my weight loss goals, I soon "anchored" my ring and my tendency to toy with it as a device to refocus my attention on the new behaviors I was working on in hopes of attaining my weight loss goals.

Now I am wearing this other ring, and it has anchored me in the moment. When I fiddle with it, I am reminded to be mindful and relax. And it has led me in some interesting directions.

For instance, I've contemplated its design. The face of the ring is blue with globules of green mixed in. These colors are metaphors to what I've been going through. Sometimes I'm feeling kinda blue, while other times I'm feeling green. Little down, little sick. Little raunchy, or a little jealous or envious. But even when I'm blue, I'm still a little green. It's kinda hip these days, anyway, trying to be green. Go green, save the world. Or at least, save life as we know it.

And that's where Kermit came back to me. It's not easy being green. Kermit T. Frog has been a part of my life as long as I remember. I grew up with him-- I loved Sesame Street as a child, and again when I rediscovered it during my college years. One of my college roommates and I were strongly sobered by the early death of Jim Henson. I always loved the Muppet Show. My sister and I sang every song from the Muppet Movie soundtrack long after it was "cool" to do so. The Muppet Christmas album with John Denver still moves me. For whatever reason, I've always felt a kindred spirit with Kermit. Never met him, but I've got a lot of respect for him. Again. For whatever reason, and for what it's worth. I like Kermit the Frog.

And now, Kermit's with me, anchored in my right hand, to assist me with living.

Interestingly enough, I received a book from my sister and her family last year by Kermit, called "Before You Leap: A Frog's-Eye View of Life's Greatest Lessons." I've moved it to the front of my reading queue.

I don't think Kermit has been in the running for any Nobel's or Pulitzer's. But I think I'm going to enjoy this read nonetheless.