Posted by: Dan | July 14, 2014

Gospel Fragments

Once, while dining with the Pharisees and Tax-Collectors, one of the elders seated at the right hand of the host began to question Jesus about the sayings attributed to him.

“Teacher,” the elder said, “you have told us to love our neighbours and you told us who our neighbours are.  I have heard that you have also told us to love ourenemies and to pray for those who persecute us.  But you have not been so clear as to who our enemies are.  Tell me, teacher, who is my enemy, so that I may love him?  Who is the one who persecutes me so that I may pray for him?”

In response to this question, Jesus told the following story:

“Once there was a man whose wife had died and who had been left alone to raise a single daughter.  In order to raise her up and protect her and educate her and put money aside for her dowry, this man worked very long hours doing backbreaking work for a thankless taskmaster.  Yet he always greeted his master respectfully, he smiled and nodded and laughed at his masters jokes.  He rose when his master rose and only sat when invited to do so.  He never complained when he was beaten.  He didn’t interrupt and he always thanked his master for his pay and for the opportunity to work for him.  Sometimes, when the master patted his shoulder or shook his hand after a job well done, he expressed a particularly great delight.  But the work was hard and he was often weary when he got home.  If his daughter did not have dinner prepared he would be short tempered with her.  If his work clothes were not properly washed and laid out in their place early the next morning he would yell at her.  Sometimes, if he were particularly sore or tired or had been beaten by his master, he would hit his daughter.  This went on for some time until the man became injured at work.  He was unable to fulfill his normal duties and hoped that his years of service would incline the master to give him a different role.  Sadly, this was not the case and the master threw him out.  Unable to find other work, he was reduced to begging.  The little money he was able to raise begging in the streets with his daughter – who now joined him there – was not enough for them to survive and so, weeping a great many tears, he did what many others did before and with and after him.  He sold his daughter into slavery and that was the last he saw of his only child.”

There was silence around the table when Jesus finished his story and so he asked a question:

“Tell me, who is the enemy of this man?”

Without hesitation, the elder who had initiated the conversation responded, “Surely the taskmaster is the enemy!  Surely he is the one the man is called to love!”

“Oh, you blind and foolish fellow,” Jesus responded, “no wonder you are seated where you are at this table!  The taskmaster is not the enemy of this man – for he always greeted him as a friend and he always was respectful in his presence and he always showed delight in his company.  No, the man treated the taskmaster as his friend and so he was, regardless of how the taskmaster treated him.  The true enemy – the one the man treated like his enemy – was his daughter.  She was the one he was short with and yelled at and beat and ultimately sold into slavery, regardless of his feelings for her.  Those whom you harm are the enemies you are called to love in deed and in action for love is a doing far more than a feeling.  However, the taskmaster was the one who persecuted the man.  I do not say that it is necessary to love such a person – has he not already been treated as a friend, even by those whom he abuses? – but it may be worthwhile to pray for him.  Perhaps my Father in heaven will hear your prayers and make him into a good master instead of a cruel one or, if that proves to be too difficult, perhaps my Father in heaven will hear your prayers and strike him dead.

Your enemy is not the one who harms you, but the one you harm.  And so I say this: do no harm.  As for the one who persecutes you, leave that one in the hands of God.  Rome crushes you – whom you treat as a friend – and you crush the people – whom you treat as enemies although they are flesh of your flesh and blood of your blood.  You cannot stop Rome but one day Rome will be stopped.  Whether or not you are also stopped at that point will depend on whether or not you have ceased to do violence to those who are less than you.  If you do not learn to actively love your enemies, when judgment falls on Rome, those whom you have treated as enemies may decide to accept that designation and rise up against you.  They will be singing songs of freedom as they beat plowshares into swords and they will cut you down like the harvest and not one of you will be saved.”

When Jesus finished speaking, several of those gathered at the meal decided it was time to get serious about their plot to kill him.

Posted by: Dan | June 21, 2014

A Eulogy

For a few days, there was a pretty terrible smell in the hallway by the elevator near the entrance I use to get in and out of my building.  Then the smell was gone and there was a whole bunch of furniture stacked up by the garbage bins out back.  Apparently the forensics unit had stopped by somewhere in between the disappearance of the smell and the appearance of the furniture but I hadn’t noticed them.  Or maybe I had — I often see the police here, I just don’t pay close enough attention to them to see what units are showing up.  To be honest, I didn’t even notice that the cat who is usually sitting in the window of the apartment by the entrance had vanished.  It was only when a neighbour pointed in the window that I noticed that the cat was gone and the room was half gutted.

They say she killed the cat before she killed herself.

One of my neighbours said that he once found her crying on the front steps of the building.  When he asked her why she was crying she said she was hungry and had no food.  He asked her if she had any parents who might help her out and she had told him that they wouldn’t help her anymore.  They said maybe next month.  They said she had to be more responsible.  He was appalled and put together a big box of food for her.

She wasn’t all that old.  Younger than me by half a dozen years, I reckon.  She wore glasses and had short red curly hair.  I think she had some sort of developmental disability.  She was always friendly with the kids and I.  I know another woman in the building was bullying her.  Everyone else knows this other woman.  Most, except for a few of the hardcore drinkers who are always lounging around out back, avoid this other woman as much as possible.  The last time I spoke with the girl who is said to have killed herself and her cat, she told me that this other woman had threatened her life and told her not to talk with any of the men in the building.  The girl who is said to have killed herself and her cat said that the other woman wanted all the men to herself.

I remember thinking, “Why would anybody want to bully you?  How could anybody feel threatened by you?”  And I felt sad and angry and helpless.

Sometime around the time she stopped being who she had been, sometime around the time she stopped being at all, we were laying in bed, all mixed up together — limbs and heat and breath and thoughts and silences all tangled up together — and I was tracing the lines on your face.  The curve of your brow, the dip of your temple, the line of your jaw, I was tracing you in space, when you asked me to tell you a story.  I didn’t know what story I would tell, I did not know this story until I told it, but this was the story I told:

Once upon a time there was a boy who lived in the forest.  He made a house out of cans he had found but every night the wind would blow the cans down.  They would fall with a crash around him and wake him up and then he would lay in the dark, exposed to the night and its creatures, too scared to move.  He would cry until the sun came up.  When the sun came up, he would set his house of cans back up and then go looking for food.  By the time he came back, the cans would have fallen down again and so he would set them back up in the evening before he fell asleep and before they fell down around him and woke him up and left him crying in the night.  And this went on and on, day after day, night after night.

Some days, he would walk to the road that passed through the woods, and ask the people who traveled on that road to help him or feed him or take him away with them.  But they never seemed to see or hear him.  They passed by him like the wind and he was less than the air the wind passed through.

Other days, when out looking for food, he would discover families of people who did not live in the forest, who had stopped in this or that clearing in order to have a picnic.  Sometimes they would throw scraps to the animals — a piece of fruit for a bird, a nut for a squirrel, bread crumbs for the ants — and he would try to snatch the scraps away.  But the people would throw rocks at him and beat him with sticks.  “This food is for the animals!  It is for the bird, and the squirrel, and the ants!  Go away!”  And he would go away, sore and hungry, and back to his house of fallen cans.

One day, he decided that he would go onto the road and follow it out of the woods.  He walked and he walked and he walked until his feet were sore and blistered from the pavement.  But the woods were still all around him, so he continued walking.  He walked and he walked and he walked until his blisters had burst and his feet were trailing blood.  But the woods were still all around him, so he continued walking.  The sun began to set and the night, along with its creatures, began to awaken and, finally, he was unable to walk anymore.  He could not stand and so he crawled to the side of the road.  He was a long, long way from his house of cans.  But the woods were still all around him.  Night came.  The wind blew.  And he was less than the air the wind passed through.

The End.

Posted by: Dan | April 30, 2014

Love and Death

I recently watched a documentary about a fellow who spends some time with children in an AIDS orphanage in India.  One of the boys becomes very ill.  His body becomes covered in sores and blisters that burst and stay open and seep and make him look like his skin is peeling away from his body.  The doctors say the same thing is happening to the membranes and tissues inside of him as well.  His lips look like God or the devil has taken a potato peeler to them.  A compress is kept over his eyes, blinding him, in order to try and prevent infection from spreading there.  He frequently spits or drools out blood and mucus and, I don’t know, the kind of fluid you think oozes from wounds.

He is in a lot of pain.

His name is Surya.  He is about the same size as Charlie.  Charlie, my son, Charlie, my beloved, Charlie my beautiful one whose hair smells like sunshine.  Charlie who takes me by the hand and looks up into my eyes and tells me that I am beautiful and that I make his heart feel happy and then asks if he can sit on my lap and watch a movie with me.  This Surya, he is also somebody’s son, it’s just his parents died, ya know?  He is also beloved, it’s just that the people who love him aren’t wealthy or influential or connected, see?  And I’m sure his hair also smells like the wind and childhood and earth and the wonder, and when the person who was with him got up to leave and use the bathroom, he also took him by the hand and, speaking for the first time in days, said, “No!”  This Surya, this Charlie, this boy, this beloved child, he said “No!” because he was afraid that he would die in those moments when he was alone.

I watched all of this far away from where Suryas are too numerous to count.  I watched it play out as a movie on a flat screen HDTV.  And I cried awhile, and the gal who was with me, who loves me and whom I love, she cried awhile, too, and we held each other and later that night we made love and then the next morning the alarm went off on my smartphone (which, like most things I own, is made by children like Surya who live and die like Surya) and I went off to work and she went off to school.

And life went on.

And death did, too.

~

A year ago, I would have laughed at the idea of referring to sex as “making love”.  Who talks that way?  If sex was transcendental, it was simply because the nearly pure physicality of it could permit sad and lonely and broken and lost and angry and weary people — people like me — to momentarily forget all of these things.  In sex, you can lose your self in touching and being touched, in giving and taking, in caressing, and in fucking.  You can give yourself away, you can become absorbed in another — just as another can become absorbed in you — and in that forgetting you can also forget that this life doesn’t seem worth living.  But, hell, all the reasons for dying seem like bullshit, too, and so, in this limbo between the living and the dead, there is, at least, la petite mort.

Funny just how much can change in a year.

~

In the documentary that featured Surya, the Charlie covered in sores, there was also a young girl who becomes very ill and comatose and is on the verge of dying.  The father eventually tries to rush her to the hospital — he is sitting on the back of a motorbike, holding her in his arms — she is naked but for a blanket — and they get caught on the road waiting for a train to pass at a rail crossing.  She dies then.  We see her die — her head falls back, her mouth open, everything totally limp and the father cannot close her mouth.  He takes her in his arms, the blanket falling from her body and turns and starts walking back into the night with her.  “I am taking her home.”

What was her name?  I don’t remember her name.  But the film makers thought the scene was dramatic enough that they decided to include it twice — once at the beginning, without any subtitles or talking (what better hook for those of us far way watching this movie on HDTVs, right?), and once later one within the context of the story and with a voice over.  I do remember this though: wrapped in a shroud, her body looked tiny, as did the grave they buried her in.  When she was buried, she didn’t look any bigger than my Ruby, my beloved, my beautiful girl who isn’t afraid to say, “No!” to me when I tell her it is bath time, and who asks me to be a monster so she can sit me down and bring me presents in the closet, and who want to hold my head on her stomach when she is falling asleep.  I watched the dad bury this little girl, I watched him weep and hit himself in the forehead when he looked at pictures of her, I watched him love his Ruby and lose her.  Forever and ever and ever.  And this is not uncommon.  To cite just one, from any number of possible examples, around 2000 children under the age of five die every day from diarrhea-related disease.  That’s two thousand Charlies and Rubies every day.  That’s more than one every minute. Gone forever and ever and ever.

Welcome to the world we live in.  Things don’t have to be this way.  We all know that.  It’s just that we haven’t wanted to love one another at least well enough to prevent the needless suffering and dying of children.  And we never will.  Things will always be this way with us.  We know this, too.

~

Last weekend I went to my father’s wedding.  I missed the first (wasn’t born then) and the second (wasn’t speaking with him then) but I made the third.  It was a small ceremony in an old stone Anglican church with beautiful wood floors, and candles, and stained glass windows, and a pipe organ that I loved as much as all the other parts combined.  Ruby thought we were in a castle, she thought the priest — who was wearing a white robe — was a ghost, and she thought the bride was a princess.  She was pretty excited about the whole thing and stood on the pew the whole time so that she could “see the princess.”  Charlie was a lot less excited about the actually ceremony but he played games on my phone and it kept him still and quiet.

And me?  I don’t know what all I was feeling.  Or maybe I do but I don’t think I can talk about the way it felt without, in that very act of talking (or writing), retroactively changing what happened.  So I’ll say no more about that.

What a mess life is, eh?  How often we hurt when we desire to help, how often we betray when we desire to love, how often we curse when we desire to bless.  It is very hard to know what we are doing, regardless of what our intentions are.

And how often we get bogged down in our own wounds, our own cuts and scars and insecurities, and never see anything beyond ourselves.  Even now — I watched a movie and I feel things about characters therein by comparing them to my own children, whom I will continue to love in practical ways (just as I will continue to ignore or oppress the Suryas and the girls whose names I forget in practical ways), so, really, am I even seeing anything beyond myself here?

~

After I watched this documentary, I wanted to be more kind.  I wanted to never be angry at another person again.  I just wanted to love… and be loved, too.  I’m weary of anger and frustration and pettiness and violence, violence, violence everywhere.  But, you know, after I went to work the next morning somebody was rude to the fellow who helps me out and makes coffee in the Resource Centre I supervise and so I decided to be rude back to the fellow who disrespected my helper.  I didn’t say anything rude in words — but in my tone and in my body language, I basically told the fellow that he could fuck off and I didn’t give a shit about anything he might have to say about that.  Then, that night, Charlie and Ruby were refusing to go to sleep and I felt frustrated, even after reflecting upon Surya and the girl whose name I forgot, even after thinking how I failed that fellow at my work, even after recognizing these things in the midst of feeling frustrated… I still felt frustrated and, after sternly telling the kids to be quiet and go to bed, I went to another room and dropped a number of whispered eff bombs as I washed the dishes (in an overly aggressive manner… fucking dishes).

Do I ever learn anything at all?  Woe to me if I can watch a documentary like that and go on unchanged and unchanging.

~

~

But I will tell you a secret.  A very exciting one.  One wholly unanticipated.  One I stopped believing in a long, long time ago.  Are you ready?  This is the secret:

I have already begun to change.

Ain’t that something?  Because I was dead but I am now alive.  And that breaking process, that slow inexorable shattering that drained me of my insides and filled me up with darkness inside?  It wasn’t the final word.  My pieces are coming together again.  But I am not going back to being who I was before.  I am being made new.  I, too, have experienced the resurrection of the dead.  Here and now, I have been born again — this time from the dead.

This is what love has done with me.  How about that, eh?  I wouldn’t trade this love for anything in the world.  Not that I could trade it even if (for some unimaginably absurd reason) I wanted to do so.  This love after all, is something I am in,  not something I produce.  It is more an event and an environment than a choice.  At least for me.  Perhaps the one who loves me, who introduced me to this love in which we are now situated, perhaps for her it was a choice.  For me it was not.  The dead don’t make choices.  They’re simply dead.  I could not choose myself back alive.  I could not heal myself.  My heart felt as though it had been broken into pieces, and the pieces had been burned, and then the charred remains had been wrapped all around with barbed wire.  But when she first laid her head on my shoulder, when she first held my hand, when she first said to me, “I love you,” everything changed and the wires were cut and the ashes were swept away and the pieces came back together and, just like the motherfucking Grinch, my heart grew three sizes that day… and it hasn’t stopped growing since.  I’ve got a long way to go yet, my hair still stinks like the grave and I’m a bit of a mess and sometimes old feelings or reactions still surface, but a resurrection is more like an insurrection than a makeover.  It takes times but, baby, it runs all the way up and all the way down and the fruit that it bears are a lot longer lasting than a tan and botox injections.

~

And the girl, the Ruby who died?  Her name is Vembadi.  I will not forget it again.  She died but our time with her has not ended.  Because we know her story now.  We are responsible for it and we our responsible for ourselves and how we will live in light of it.

Whether or not this proves to be a responsibility we can handle will be determined, I think, by whether or not we are in love.

Posted by: Dan | September 26, 2013

This is a Love Letter

I.

Last week I attended a funeral for a young man I knew from my work.  He died in a bed in a homeless shelter.  He was barely over thirty but, in many ways, he was still a child.  His brain didn’t work the same as most other people’s brains work.  Some of his family members showed up for the funeral – it was our first time seeing any of them in the two years that we knew this fellow – and they put together a montage of pictures from his childhood.  He looks sweet and happy and maybe a little bit awkward in the pictures.  He, too, got his heart broken along with his mind… although I’m never sure if minds that we consider broken actually are, or if we are the ones with broken minds, or if all of us have broken minds, in which case, I’m not sure why it matters to emphasize the brokenness of some minds over others.  Regardless, his body broke as well and he then never got up again.  He went from laying in his bed to laying in a stretcher to laying on a slab to laying in a coffin.  I felt like I was attending the funeral of a child and it made me weep.  He often made me laugh, with the accents he would assume when he spoke, with the way he pretended to shoot us with his fingers, “Bang! Bang!” and with the ways he was constantly sneaking in and out of places he was told not to go.  This, too, is a Charlie, I kept thinking, this, too, is a Ruby.  And he is dead, he is dead, he has been carried away, and we will never see him again.

~

Nietzsche said that God is dead and we have killed him, but he neglected to mention that all of us on the way to becoming supermen and superwomen are killing children on the way.

~

At the funeral the priest – the family asked for a Catholic service of sorts – talked about God’s love and how this young man was being welcomed home and being embraced in the love of God.  And I wept because of this, too.  It’s such a beautiful story and I remember how beautiful the world was when I believed that story, but now I don’t know what to believe.  I just don’t know.

I do know this – this young man was the fourth “street person” that I knew who died in about a five week period.  People are dying faster here than I remember them dying in Vancouver.  All this despite the City Managers and public advocates and professional service providers who talk about how they are curing homelessness in this town.  I’ve noticed that these people like to talk about poverty and health and the public good but none of them seem to talk about oppression.  Until they do, people will continue to die here.

II.

As all these people were dying, I got word from a dear friend out West that the eight year old son of one of her dear friends had been diagnosed with inoperable brain cancer.  They cut the kid’s head open once to try and remove it, but they weren’t able to get all of it.  He’s in a hospital room confused and frightened and in a lot of pain when his meds start wearing off.  His mom is barely holding on with the help of booze and pills and a loving husband and a loving friend.

I did mention that the kid is eight years old, right?  Can you understand this?  The world is full of parents grieving the loss of their children and children grieving the loss of their parents and lovers grieving the loss of their friends and all of us grieving, deep in our bones, everything that has been taken away before its time.  When we recognize that this grief is inside all of us, how can anyone be condemned?

~

I’ve been rereading The Brothers Karamazov lately and I was struck by the words of Father Zossima when he tells Alyosha to hold himself responsible for all the sin in the world and hold himself accountable to all the pain in the world – to take it all into himself and carry it as his own.  My God, I thought, I made the mistake of taking this advice seriously!  It’s terrible advice.  Don’t do it.  It’s unbearable.

III.

At the same time, another dear friend of mine told me his marriage had fallen apart.  He has been very involved, from the very beginning, with a lot of the Truth and Reconciliation work that has been taking place in Vancouver.  When I was at my lowest point there, I was a poor friend to him but he was a good friend to me, and he took me in for a time and gave me a home and was kind and gentle and considerate with and to me.  I remember sitting in his kitchen and watching him make peanut butter and jam sandwiches for his kids.  He was an amazing sandwich maker.  He did everything just the way the kids wanted it done and he did it like it was nothing at all and just kept chatting happily with me all the while.  I remember thinking, “I hope, one day, to be the kind of father you are.”

And now he too has been abandoned.  Now he too will only see his kids part-time.  This, too, seems like an unbearable thought.

Intermezzo

IV.

I’ve continued to talk to the birds and the trees and the river and the grass and the bugs and the bushes and the flowers when I walk to work in the morning.  I still invite them to meet me in my dreams so that we can speak a common language and understand each other.  I’ve done this, now, for about two months straight.  Then, the other day something miraculous happened – they spoke back.

I had just finished speaking my invitation to my dreams when I suddenly realized, I didn’t need to wait for my dreams to hear what they were saying to me.  And then, two words appeared in my mind:

“Be grateful.”

And that was all.  Be grateful.

~

At first I was confused by this because, in many ways, I have spent the last few weeks feeling far more grateful than I have felt in years.  Because I had fallen in love, you see?  But as I thought about it more I thought they were recommending that I be grateful even for the things that I am not usually grateful for.  And then I thought about how I also apologize to the plants and the animals and the river and the soil every day because I am counted amongst those who are poisoning and killing them all.  And this is what I thought they were saying:

“We know that we are sick.  But every day we continue to sing, we continue to flow, we continue to bloom.  We know that we are dying and that you have poisoned us.  But every day we choose to offer ourselves as something beautiful and good to the world.  We don’t want your apologies.  We know you’re sorry and we know you can’t make it better.  Stop saying sorry and start saying thank you.”

And then I thought about the kid with brain cancer and I thought about other kids who are dying and I thought about how they still draw pictures and they still sing songs and they still dance and they still tell stories – while they still can – and they don’t want us to spend all our time crying over them and saying, “I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m sorry.”  Instead, they want us to say, “My God, what a beautiful picture.  Thank you.  It’s perfect, I love it, can I have another?”

And so I decided to try and be grateful.  I said thank you to the birds and the trees and the river and the grass and the bugs and the bushes and the flowers and I didn’t say sorry and I said I couldn’t wait to see them again tomorrow.

~

The very next day when I was walking under the bridge, I saw something that made me forget to keep moving my feet.  A pigeon had become tangled in some of the debris dangling from a pipe that ran under the bridge and it was hanging in the air above the river.  One wing was above its head and the other was hanging at its side.  It had suffocated and died and its body was left there hanging and spinning and twirling.  I couldn’t look away and I only remembered to keep walking after somebody almost hit me on a bicycle.  The world seemed to be speaking again and it felt ominous.  And I didn’t know how this fit into feeling grateful…

…And then the girl I fell in love with said she didn’t want to be with me and said we couldn’t talk anymore and I understood what was going on.

And I said thank you.  For everything.  For being.  Even though I felt like I was spinning and twirling in the air, I said thank you.  Because I felt that, too.

~

This is what it means to have your heart come back to life again.  Living hearts know joy but living hearts also know sorrow.  That’s why we numb our hearts – that’s why I numbed mine.  I was tired of feeling sorrow.  But I have decided to accept the sorrow again.  And so I grieve the young man and the three others who died, and so I grieve the child with brain cancer, and so I grieve the divorce my friend is experiencing, and so I grieve my own broken heart… and still I say thank you.

V.

I was walking to the bar a week or so ago and a leaf, already yellow, landed on me and I realized that it was shaped exactly like a heart.  I opened my eyes and noticed that the sidewalk and the lawn beside me were littered with leaves and all of them were heart shaped.  How about that, eh?

~

I always thought my mom was a little crazy – albeit in a harmless way – because she sees everything as a love letter to her from God.  These butterflies, the shape of that snowbank, they all spoke to her of God’s love for her.  Now I think I understand it a little more.  My mom is simply in love.  And when you’re in love, everything strikes you as a love letter from and to your Beloved.

Postscript

My God, what a beautiful picture.  Thank you.  It’s perfect, I love it, can I have another?

Posted by: Dan | September 8, 2013

Ruby’s Squirrels

In Iraq babies are being born with all sorts of deformities.  And we’re not talking cleft lips or shortened limbs or missing/extra digits on their hands or feet.  We’re talking about babies that look like this:

Image

And this:

Image

~

I don’t want to see anymore.

~

These babies are thought to be one of the long-term effects of the Depleted Uranium that the Americans used with the shells and bullets they poured into the Iraqi people and the Iraqi land and the Iraqi water and the Iraqi air… not to mention the animals, and plants and creeping things.

The Americans are a lot like the God they worship.  They are jealous and, if you go astray, they will visit the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and the fourth generation.

~

I remember when my children were born.  I remember when both of their heads started crowning.  I remember when they emerged from the water and the body and the blood of my wife and began to breath and began to cry.  I remember holding them and saying hello and saying I love you and saying you’re beautiful and saying it’s so good to meet you.

I wonder if that’s what the Iraqi parents said to their babies.  To the one’s that survived, anyway.  Some were born with organs on the outside instead of on the inside.  Some were born without all their organs.  Some weren’t able to live very long.  Some were already dead.

What does it do to a woman to carry a child marked and set apart for death because some people on the other side of the world decided they wanted something that was connected to you and decided to take it in just about the most vicious way imaginable?  What does it do to a father to see his beloved son or daughter born this way?  What would it do to me?

~

I don’t want to know anymore.

~

King Saul fell on his sword
When it all went wrong
And Joseph’s brother sold him down the river for a song
And Sonny Liston rubbed some tiger balm into his glove

Some things you do for money
And some you do for love love love

Raskolnikov felt sick
And he couldn’t say why
When he saw his face reflected
In his victim’s twinkling eye

Some things you’ll do for money
Some you’ll do for fun
But the things you do for love are gonna come back to you
One by one

Love love is gonna lead you be the hand
Into a white and soundless place

Now we see things
As in a mirror dimly
Then we shall see each other
Face
To face

And way out in Seattle,
Young Kirk Cobain
Snuck out to the greenhouse
And put a bullet in his brain

Snakes in the grass beneath our feet
Rain in the clouds above
Some moments last forever
But some flair out
With love love love

~

Scientists at Tufts University have grown ectopic eyes on the bodies of tadpoles and then removed the other eyes – the one’s in their heads – in order to study how the brain and body adapt to major changes.  Apparently this is an important question in regenerative medicine, bioengineering, and sensory augmentation research, although it’s probably not a question the tadpoles were asking.

~

The Vacanti Mouse was a mouse that had an ear-shaped structure grown on its back by seeding cow cartilage cells into a biodegradable ear-shaped mold implanted under its skin.  Scientists in South Korea created glow-in-the-dark cats which then became the mothers of their own cloned selves.  By adding mouse DNA and some E Coli Bacteria to a pig embryo, another group of geniuses created a pig that produced significantly less phosphorus than other pigs.  Meanwhile, the good folks over at Nexia Biotechnologies created a goat that produced spiders’ web protein in its milk.  Philip Morris still tests various carcinogenic blends on mice and rats, even though it also now tests its products on human lung tissue that it grows in its labs.  Elsewhere:

“In 2011, Pfizer experimented on nearly 50,000 animals—including 2,557 dogs, 1,159 primates, 452 cats, 7,076 guinea pigs, 31,560 hamsters, 5,512 rabbits, 1,680 gerbils, and 161 horses—in its own laboratories. More than 15,000 of these animals were forced to endure painful experiments, and more than 6,000 were denied pain relief. These numbers don’t even include mice and rats or any of the animals tormented for Pfizer experiments in contract testing laboratories.”

The same is true of every other major pharmaceutical company I looked up.  And don’t forget that producing all of these animals to be caged and tortured and killed is a big money business, too!  Thanks so much, Charles River Laboratories.

~

Already, back in the ‘50s, Vladimir Demikhov was creating two-headed dogs by transplanting the head of one dog, onto the body of another.  This inspired Harvard-grad, Dr. Robert White, to do the same thing with monkeys in the ‘70s. The monkeys were all paralyzed in the process and, after being studied for awhile, they were killed. I’m not sure what they studied them for… “yep, that there is a two-headed monkey”… but I’m sure they learned something.

~

We create and we destroy like gods but we are monsters, we are monsters, we are monsters.

~

I don’t want to learn anymore.

~

My daughter, my Ruby Violet Beloved, who isn’t really “mine,” (she isn’t a “thing” to be owned, I know), but whom I adore, still gets excited and points and laughs and kicks her feet around when she sees a squirrel.  “Squirrel!  Squirrel!” she yells in a bubbly voice overflowing with happiness.  Because, yeah, it’s a squirrel.  Probably the 173rd one we’ve seen today.  And she loves it.  Loves it to pieces and thinks it is the most wonderful and exciting and pretty thing in the world.  And she’s right.  It is.

~

My daughter has five fingers on each hand and five toes on each foot.  She has two arms and two legs and all her organs, and they’re all on the inside where they’re supposed to be.  She can’t even imagine a person wanting to cut open an animal or cause it to grow new parts (before it is killed) because that person is curious about such questions as “how do the body and mind respond to dramatic changes?”  Nor can she imagine a person wanting to cut open human beings with munitions that cause those left behind to have babies that grow new parts (before they, too, are killed by the mutations).  She can’t imagine any of these things.  Because she is a child and she is white and she is middle-classed and she was born into a part of the world where Depleted Uranium wasn’t anywhere close to her mother when she was pregnant.

Image

~

I don’t know how to express the kind of love she makes me feel in my heart.  I think about her and I think about my Charlie (who also isn’t really “mine”, I know, but whom I adore) and I think about how dear and wonderful they are and how good they are, how good it is for the world that they exist, how they are a gift to me and to us and to each other… and then I think about Ruby’s squirrels and I think of how they, too, are a gift… and then I think about those puppies in those labs and those monkeys and those pigs and those mice and I think about what we do with gifts, and I think about those kids in Iraq and I think about what we do with each other, and I think, “that girl born with no face, that’s my Ruby, too,” and I think, “that boy born with no lungs, that’s my Charlie, too” and I think, “that puppy in that lab, that’s Ruby’s squirrel, too,” and then my mind kinda loses track of itself and forgets which way is up and mistakes colours for words and lights for sounds, and I find myself weeping and weeping and weeping, like Rachel in Ramah mourning for her children and refusing to be comforted because they are no more.

~

I wish I could take it all back.  Everything I’ve seen.  Everything I’ve learned.  Everything I can do nothing about, if, at least, I want to be around to care for my children.  And I do want to be around to care for my children.  All I want, now, is to be a good father to my kids for as long as they want me to be.  All I want now is to love and to be loved.

~

Sometimes, when walking around with a broken heart, you forget to be kind to others.  Sometimes, when overwhelmed by the violence of the world, you forget to be gentle with others.  Sometimes, when blinded by tears, it is hard to see the beauty in everyone.  I have often been unkind.  I have often been harsh.  I have often been blind.  I’m trying to change that now.  I hope you’ll bear with me.

~

By the time that we woke up,
We couldn’t stop the sparks,
We couldn’t see outside,
When the curtains fell apart.

We couldn’t hear the books
When the pages curled away.
We should shut that window we both left open now.

We lost our chance to run,
Now the door’s too hot to touch.
We should hold our breaths with mouths together now.

Posted by: Dan | August 24, 2013

What the Elephants Remember: A Fable

Elephant Crying

Some cold and flu germs only live for a few minutes.

The mayfly has a life expectancy ranging from half an hour up until a maximum of twenty-four hours.

Our skin cells live, on average, two to four weeks.

Some octopuses live six months.  Others, up to five years.

In 2010, the worldwide average life expectancy for homo sapiens was 67.2 years, although, currently, where I live, it is closer to 80 years.

Some species of turtle can live between 150-250 years.

Some pine trees can live over 5000 years.  Some sponges are thought to be more than 10,000 years old.

Tirritopsis nutricula is a species of jellyfish that is immortal — it will live as long as the ocean will sustain it.

Our sun is estimated to be 5 billion years old and is expected to live another 5 billion years before it dies.

The universe, although harder to calculate, may be somewhere around 13.75 +/- 0.1 gigayears old.  I’m not sure how much older it’s supposed to live before it doesn’t anymore.

How can all these “things” co-exist?  How can we inhabit a space together?  Isn’t that amazing?

~

What is the measure of a life?  The mayfly is born, reproduces, and dies in a day or less.  Does it experience angst?  Does the pine tree?  Do we want them to?

Does the sun feel the same about us as we feel about our skin cells?

Does a cold germ feel about itself the same as we feel about ourselves?

Does a 10,000 year old sponge look at the brevity of our lives and wonder if, between being born, reproducing, and dying, we ever find time to ask bigger questions about meaning and beauty and truth?

~

Does the length of time that one lives determine the kind of meaning one finds in life?

Elephants have the same lifespan as we do.  Do elephants think the same as we do?  They, too, bury their dead.  They mourn the loss of loved ones with tears streaming down their faces.  Their children play.  They like to shower.

Why are they not like us?  Why have they not developed civilizations and cities and guns?  We do they let us slaughter them?

Is it because they were wise enough to not put the men in charge? 

Or is it because they’ve decided that they do not want to be like us?  Is it because they remember that if we forget that we are animals we become brutes?  Perhaps they would rather die with the earth instead of becoming like those who got civilized and killed the earth?

Instead, they roam their ranges, follow the water, and forage for food.  Perhaps their lives look hard to us.  But that, too, may be a sign of all that we have forgotten.  And all that they have not.

 

First Thought:

“Is there a triangle in this sentence?”

Second Thought:

What is this?

Image

Third Thought:

What is this?

Image

Commentary

I encourage you all to come up with your own answers before reading what follows.

First Thought:

It seems to me that whether or not a triangle is contained in the sentence quoted, depends upon what  a triangle is and if  a triangle is and what the relation is between this supposed triangle and the name given to it (i.e. “triangle”).  If a triangle is something that exists outside of language and apart from the name we give to it (does anything exist outside of language?  How can we talk about it then?  And if we can’t talk about it, how can we know it?), then one could argue that there is no triangle contained within the sentence.  But is a triangle divorced from the name “triangle” still a triangle?  If it is not then the name “triangle” itself contains or is a triangle, in which case there is a triangle in the sentence.

Second thought:

I came up with the following although I’m sure answer could be multiplied endlessly:

  1. A tetrahedron;
  2. Four triangles;
  3. A quadrilateral divided into four uneven parts;
  4. A quadrilateral divided in half;
  5. A symbol;
  6. A shape;
  7. A thing;
  8. The representation of something else;
  9. No( )thing;
  10. An empty signifier;
  11. Modern art;
  12. Not a pipe.

Third Thought:

  1. Me;
  2. A picture of me;
  3. A simulacrum;
  4. A series of tiny coloured dots displayed on a computer monitor;
  5. A singularity;
  6. One in a series;
  7. A multitude;
  8. The same thing as that explored in the Second Thought above;
  9. Something different than that explored in the Second Thought above;
  10. A stunningly attractive and intelligent young man;
  11. All of the above;
  12. None of the above.

And you all?  What answers did you give to these questions?

Posted by: Dan | July 23, 2013

The Pianist (A Fairy Tale)

I’ve seen her at the pub before.  She is young, especially for a place like this, and one of the first things most any fellow would notice about her is how full her lips are.  Generally she is sitting at the bar drinking with an older fellow – not the same older fellow – but different men who look almost but not quite old enough to be her father.

She doesn’t smile very much.  Her posture and her expressions remind me of the way a person drinks at a work function.

Another gal I used to drink with at this pub once told me that she is a sex worker who picks up clients here.  Perhaps it is the formality with which she drinks that led to this conclusion… perhaps it is the ever changing older and far less attractive men around her.

I don’t know if this story is true.  Maybe she’s just socially awkward and, let’s be honest, it’s pretty much only older folks who drink at this place so if a pretty young gal shows up here, there’s bound to be any number of daddies creeping on her.  And, who knows, maybe the gal who told me this story was just feeling insecure or jealous of her beauty.

But, honestly, I don’t care either way.  If a person chooses to be a sex worker, I reckon that’s no better or worse than choosing to be a social worker or a construction worker or any other kind of worker.

~

When she sits down beside me, I thought I had a pretty clear idea of where our conversation might go.  We are both fairly drunk – her more than me, I think, as she keeps repeating the same questions or makes the same statements multiple times.  She begins by telling me that she is a registered nurse but later states that she’s actually a nurse practitioner – it’s just most people don’t understand what a nurse practitioner is, so it’s easier to say she’s an RN.  On weekends, she goes to Toronto and is a “Bud Girl” at special events.  She does a mock performance of how she gets the fellas to buy beer from her.  She is quick to call me “honey”.  Mostly, I only like it when the older servers at the bar call me that.  They’ve spent a lifetime waiting tables, dealing with drunks, putting up with pricks and I reckon they can get away with calling people “dear” or “honey” or “sweetie.”  Whenever the younger servers pull that on me, I feel like they’re trying too hard.  Let’s not get carried away, okay?

But she calls me “honey” and she touches my arm a lot when she talks to me.  She asks me if I’m single and I say that I am.  She asks me why and I am honest and say that most everybody I meet bores me – I don’t really give a fuck about hearing somebody talking about her favourite TV shows or her favourite kind of music or the fact that she really digs guys who can make her laugh.  Wow! Who knew?  God, what a bore.  She says she understands and feels exactly the same way about the guys she has met since moving to Ontario when she was twenty-four.  That was three years ago – she came here from B.C. – and started a new life for herself.

I don’t mention that I’ve already decided that she is boring, too.

~

She gets excited when she learns that I play piano and have a keyboard.  Turns out she is a classically trained musician – piano and vocals.  She asks if I have all eighty-eight keys and if they are pressure sensitive.  It is imperative that they be pressure sensitive.  I say that they are but that I don’t have a full range.  She asks if I have drinks at my place and if I like to party.  I mention I have drinks but I don’t party much these days.  But, hey, I don’t care if she indulges.

~

She asks about going back to my place.

I say okay.

Getting into her car she says, “But we’re just doing this as friends, right?  This is just a friends thing, okay?”

I say okay.

~

My place is a bit of a mess from having kids for the last four days.  I tidy up quickly and mix a drink for her as she settles at the keyboard.  She plays some songs from memory and some songs from sheets that I have.  I play a few songs and she sings in the background.  She has a decent voice but she is an exceptional piano player.  When I play, she pauses to powder her nose… a few times.  And then she plays one of the most beautiful renditions of the Moonlight Sonata that I have ever heard.

When she finishes, she says thank you very much and, gosh, it’s hot in here, and I escort her to her car and say goodnight.  I smoke a final cigarette out back after she drives away and then I go to bed.

~

A friend tells me I should be looking to get laid.  She points out that the mock profiles I set up on an online dating site – one to see if I could get rid of an old toaster, one pretending to be a total D&D nerd dressed up like a banana, and one pretending to be a circus bear – aren’t actually very conducive to meeting people and she reminds me that, really, I should be more serious about dating or at least picking people up.  She says it’ll make things easier.

I’m not so sure.  The story of lonely people meeting in bars and going home to lose themselves in the embrace of strangers seems a little overplayed.  I met a girl at a pub.  She came home with me and played my piano and then she left.  I never touched her once.  And, that, I think, made this whole encounter much less boring than I thought it was going to be.  I was laughing to myself about it as I fell asleep.

~

I hope I don’t ever see her again.

~

I have started talking to the flowers and the trees when I walk to work in the morning.  I thank them for being beautiful, I thank them for giving us clean air to breath and for replenishing the soil and for caring for the bees and the ants and the creeping things.  I apologize to them for the ways we are poisoning them.  I apologize to them for cutting down their brothers and sisters (the City recently felled a number of old trees that I used to pass on my morning route).  I tell them I don’t know what to do to make things better.  I touch their skins – their bark and leaves – I feel the dew and the rain that collects on them and rub it into my palms.  I smell the evergreens.  I ask them to come and visit me in my dreams, where we can share a common tongue and speak with one another and be understood.

They haven’t shown up yet.  I’m not sure that they trust me.  I don’t know why they would.

But I’ve got time.

~

What do you see, when you look upon the world into which you have been thrown?  What are you looking for?  What do you find there?

~

For a long time, I went looking for Death.  Not because I was attracted to Death but because I thought that love could conquer Death and I thought that I could be an agent of love and Life in places abandoned and scarred and living in the valley of the shadow of Death.

And I found Death.  The more I looked, the more I found Death everywhere.

(I think that Death, like God (if we can speak of such “things” as “God”), is beyond gender.  But I will refer to Death as a “he”.  It seems to me that men as a whole have had much more to do with Death than women or transgendered or intersexed people.  It makes sense (quite literally, of course) to refer to Death as a “he.”)

But, yes, I went looking for Death and I found him.  I found him lurking under jungle gyms in suburban parks.  I saw him pissing behind a tree on the trails by UBC.  Once, I passed him while he was smoking a cigarette at the base of the war memorial in Victory Square.  I grew up with him, as did many others.  The kids and adults and men and women I have worked with over the years were intimately acquainted with him.  I hung out in bars he frequented – bars that put up signs saying, “watch your drinks, date rapes happen here.”  I hung out in other bars where he came just as often but nobody put up any signs – buit, hey, I suppose that’s a bit of the difference between the rich and the poor, in dive bars people care for one another, in college bars, nobody gives a fuck.

But Death does not discriminate.  I found him in the company of the rich and I found him in the company of the poor.  He was in dining rooms and conference centres and churches and classrooms and alleys and condos and the greasy spoon breakfast joints that are everywhere if you know where to look.  He asked thoughtful questions, he listened to lonely people talk, he often sat in silence watching us, he was generous with his embrace.  He was nothing but generous.

~

michelangelo-pieta

~

Hebrews 13.2: “Do not forget to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing so, some people have shown hospitality to angels without knowing it.”

Perhaps.  I don’t know anything about angels but I suspect that we have, often unbeknownst to ourselves, frequently hosted Death.

~

I looked for Death and I found him and I thought that love would conquer him… but slowly and inexorably, Death conquered me.  I grew tired.  I stopped loving well.  And then I forgot what it is to love.  Love became a stranger to me… and I became more and more attracted to Death.  Memento mori, memento mori, memento mori.

How could I forget?  How do you?

Do you know Santa Muerte?  I know her well.  She is the Virgin to whom I could pray for intercession.  Have you seen Tod und Frau by Kathe Kollwitz?  That is the only kind of visual art that connects with me – that hits me like a kick in the chest.  Everything else leaves me cold.

~

When I sit on my couch and look out the window in my apartment, all I can see are trees and the sky.  Because of where I am (next to a seniors’ home), and because of the angle of my view, it’s like there is nothing else out there but the trees and the sky, even though I am only minutes from downtown.  I remember the day I realized that the trees were alive – that they were a form of life, silently growing and breathing and eating and drinking, just outside my window.  I began to count how many I could see and I lost track somewhere around fifty.  My God, I realized, I am surrounded by Life.  I looked at the flowers.  I looked at all the tiny blades of grass growing from the lawn below me.  My God, my God, Life is so abundant.  It’s everywhere.  Silently there.  Silently alive.

The world is full of Life.

~

Ruby is in love with animals.  I hold her up by the window and we look for what we can find.  She laughs and smiles and points and does an excited wriggle in my arms every time we spot something.  So far we have seen squirrels and skunks and raccoons and rabbits and dogs and cats and geese and mallards and hawks and sparrows and starlings and cardinals and red-winged blackbirds and chickadees and butterflies and spiders and beetles and ants.

The other day, just outside my work, I saw a groundhog.

The world is full of Life.  Ruby knows this.  I had forgotten, but I am remembering now.  I am beginning to look for it.  I am starting to see it everywhere.

~

(And I have not forgotten Death – how can you forget him?  But I am remembering there is more, so much more – in the ground, in the air, in the water, in the cracks in the sidewalk, crawling up the screen of my window, there is Life.)

~

A few weeks ago, I cried for the first time in over three years.  After the night in the airport when my wife flew away with my son and I didn’t know if or when I would see them again and I cried and I cried and I cried, I haven’t been able to cry – no matter how much I felt like crying, nothing would come out.  I felt sick in my heart.  Something was wrong inside of me.  Even during the dissolution of my marriage, I never cried.  That’s just one example.  So many traumas have occurred recently, and I have never cried.  In all the tumult and hurt and breaking and brokenness of the last three and an half years, I have sat with a blank expression on my face and wondered why no tears came.

Then, a few weeks ago, two very dear friends came to visit me.  It was a wonderful visit and after they left I cried – full-on hard, ugly cried.  I cried not because I was sad that they were leaving – I cried because I was overcome with joy and gratitude that there are such wonderful people in the world and that I have the marvelous privilege of having some of those people consider me a friend.  My God, my God, what a gift.  I wept for joy and my tears said “thank you, thank you, thank you” in ways that I could never put into words.

Since then, I have found I myself crying much more frequently and much more easily than I have in a long time.  I wept watching soldiers return home to their children.  I wept when I heard that the grandchild of a friend had died.  I am weeping at almost every fucking sentimental video I come across online.

I think my heart is knitting itself back together again – another cycle of rebirth has begun.  And this is what I have started to wonder: perhaps it takes an intense experience of joy and gratitude to liberate us to feel the full bodily intensity of our sorrows.  Perhaps it is knowing joy that permits us to know our sorrows.  Perhaps.  I don’t really know.

I do know this: I have gone looking for Life and, wonder of wonders, I think that I am also finding it in myself.

~

Revelation 21.1-5a: “Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away…  And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, made ready as a bride adorned for her husband.  And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, ‘Behold, the tabernacle of God is among the people, and God will dwell among them and they shall be God’s people, and God will be among them, and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes; and there will no longer be any Death; there will no longer be any mourning or crying, or pain; the first things have passed away.’

And the One who sits on the throne said, ‘Behold, I am making all things new.’”

~

I was holding Ruby and thanking her for spending time with me and telling her that I loved her so much and telling I was looking forward to seeing her when she came back from spending time with her mommy.  She laughed and pointed over my shoulder and said, “Squirrel!”

Posted by: Dan | May 29, 2013

Best Friends Forever

Image 

He bought some helium balloons and wrote on them with a large felt marker: “do not resuscitate.”  He tied them to his wrist and climbed the six flights of stairs to the top of his building.  When he forced open the door to the roof it triggered an alarm.  He didn’t need a lot of time.  A few steps and the parking lot below.

~

His message wasn’t necessary.  When they found him his head didn’t resemble much of anything we would recognize as a head.  It was broken and shattered and leaking lots of things.  More than you might imagine, unless you’ve seen that sort of thing before.  The balloons were still attached to him.  They were floating straight above him.  There wasn’t any wind.

~

When he stepped off the edge, I wonder if he wanted to just hold onto those balloons and float away.  I guess
in a way
he did.

~

~

(And I took the balloons – I took them home with me.  I think he’s still there, inside of them.  At night I hear them scream with a voice that seems to be rising from underwater: “Do not resuscitate!  Do not resuscitate! Do not resuscitate!”  I hold them in bed beside me and I whisper to them, “It’s okay.  I’m here.  It’ll get better, I promise.”  As the balloons shrivel the voice gets fainter and now they are deflated I carry them with me in my wallet.  I take him places and tell him what I see.  At night I still whisper to them, “It’s okay.  I’m here.  It’ll get better, I promise.”  Sometimes I hold them to my ear and I think I can hear the faintest, dried-out whisper, “Please… please… please…”.  I will never puncture them.  I will love him forever.  He’s my friend.  I’ll make him better.  I promise.)

Older Posts »

Categories

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 80 other followers