Half(a)Life

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Me arrancaste el alma…

and there, in the palm of my hand,
the bloody trace of
who I am, who I
might have been

…corazón destruido por latir…

the words come like a bolt
from the black,
will not be taken back
when the past strikes it hits like
a gunshot,
memory shrapnel to the back of the head
and leaves you for dead

…latiendo por destruir…

we die every moment
and live every death, a breath’s hesitation
a lifetime’s regret, until forgetfulness
comes and erases the line
between real pain and play
a world swept away in an instant of
always

…un espejo hecho añicos.

Will the Real Pro-Lifer Please Stand Up?

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It is possible that life begins at conception…
but it is indisputable that it does not end there.

At the height of the Syrian refugee “post-ocalypse”, I stumbled across the following blog post: “That Other Refugee Problem is Much Bigger than the Syrian One.”

Okay, No. 1: Bullshit.

And, now that that’s out of the way…

We need to revisit the parameters of the pro-life/pro-choice debate in this country. Because at its heart, it is neither one nor the other. But then, that is what labels are for: focusing attention on the sound bite so that the content ceases to matter.

What we need is not more rhetoric; what we need is a new definition of life.

  1. We cannot claim a pro-life stance while ignoring the ongoing plight of the Syrians at our borders. Let’s get that out of the way up top. Last I checked, they were alive, living beings…at least for the moment. So get off your high abortion horse and try some introspection on for size.
  2. We cannot claim a pro-life stance and insist that our fellow citizens do not have a right to affordable, adequate healthcare. Are we really protecting life if we do not provide for the continual well-being of the lives we have protected?
  3. We cannot claim a pro-life stance if we are not willing at least to reconsider our positions on capital punishment. If it is murder to take a life at its inception, is it not also murder to take it at any point along the way? And why is it we’re more concerned about the death penalty than about life sentences handed down for ridiculous reasons? What about those lives? Do we simply slam the door and forget about them?
  4. We cannot claim a pro-life stance and proceed to ignore the “strangers” on the other side of the planet.
  5. We cannot claim a pro-life stance and insist that rampant capitalism, guided only by an invisible hand (apparently attached to the invisible arm of an invisible sociopath), is the most promising approach to global economics.
  6. We cannot claim a pro-life stance without calling to account the employment practices, at home and abroad, of the merchants and corporations with whom we do business on a daily basis.
  7. And (I hope it goes without saying) we cannot claim a pro-life stance and proceed to shoot up Planned Parenthood clinics. To do this is both to give the lie to our supposed position and to misunderstand the work that Planned Parenthood does. The value of a woman’s life goes far beyond her ability to give birth, and PP does much to ensure that this value is recognized in full, start to finish, as it should be.

Whether or not life begins at conception (and, personally, I tend to think that it does), there is no escaping the fact that it doesn’t end until death. But here’s the problem: the period between the two is often measured by our own understanding (too often political rather than principled) of the meaning of life. And if we insist on limiting our concept of “pro-life” to the nine months preceding birth, many of those full lives will end far too soon.

As for myself, I am neither “pro-life” nor “pro-choice.” I am pro-nuance. And that poor little guy goes begging every single day.

 

Thinking Out Loud

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If butterfly wings,
having sired the storm,
presage a chaos yet to be born...then
                                regardless of form
beauty is beauty and
                                      fire is warm.

And if, once washed, the bowl remains         full,

then life is not over
no matter the pull

Last but not least 
                                              the feast.

First Step

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The moment of recognition
right before the end;
begin to understand
the future lies not behind but ahead.

Collision between one and other–
everyone’s brother, nobody’s friend.
Cold is the flame
that gnaws at the frame of existence

In one instance, at least, a reprieve
no thievery here. Never
Fear–the normal wear and tear
will take you before you can grasp

the questions you can’t ask
or have answered. A glance
from the corner of down-turned eye
and a sigh of relief

the chief of these is
the first step of many

Another Day

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The world was never my oyster
at best a broken toaster
just enough to burn your fingers
when you try to take the slices
pleasures can’t be vices
a maze that’s full of mice is just
another day at the races
so many faces so little voice
and every thought’s a choice between
living and existing
and all the while
a hidden smile insists on
persisting.

Turn that frown upside down–

then let the tear-waters rise
until you

drown

Falling

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The sky is falling…
Well, maybe just a speck of dust, but
still–

Pill swallowed; now
Mellow: yellow snow is just as
cold as white. By night,
who can tell the difference?

Close the door; turn on all the
lights.
Bar the windows; lock them
tight.
Keep the bogey in the dark.
You’ve had your lark. Time to get

Serious

Here Today

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(Photo courtesy of Prakash Adhikary)

The Buddha said: “The life of mortals in this world is troubled and brief and combined with pain. For there is not any means by which those that have been born can avoid dying; after reaching old age there is death; of such a nature are living beings. As ripe fruits are early in danger of falling, so mortals when born are always in danger of death. As all earthen vessels made by the potter end in being broken, so is the life of mortals. Both young and adult, both those who are fools and those who are wise, all fall into the power of death; all are subject to death.”

– The Parable of the Mustard Seed

There are those who believe that, given time and resources, scientific advancement will one day conquer death itself.

I am not one of those people.

As much as I yearn to see the future, to walk in a world defined by galaxies rather than continents, to travel at the speed of light to the place where stars are born; as much as I’d love to watch history’s eons unfold endlessly around me; as much as I’d give to read the end of the story–even so, the thought rings hollow.

I have a sneaking suspicion that my life is exalted by its inherent limitations, without which it would be meaningless, moment-less. I wonder if they are really limitations at all, or if they are simply infinity in disguise. I am who I am because I will not be forever. True eternity dwells in the finite; the vicissitudes of time render time timeless. My existence matters only because it will one day cease.

This is my time. I am here today.

This person called “Vance” is a moment in time, a blip on the radar of reality–it cannot be otherwise. Whatever fate awaits is predicated upon birth and death. I am in between. It is the only place I can exist. It is the only arena in which I may act. And when I act, I act as one who will soon disappear and who therefore must act now.

Chögyam Trungpa taught that “we are quivering between this and that.” We live our lives poised on the razor’s edge, at a moment’s notice. We dwell in the instant between first breath and last. And in an instant, the instant will pass.

This is my time. I am here today.

I do not fear the loss of tomorrow, because it is the elusiveness of tomorrow that makes such a precious commodity out of today. A precious stone is precious because it is scarce. If there is always to be Vance, then what real value can Vance really possess? I am precious because I am scarce. The promise of death makes a precious commodity of my life.

There are things only I can do, words only I can say, and thoughts only I can think–and I have only today in which to do, say, and think them. They have never been before; they will never be again. Life’s greatest glory is its own impermanence. Here today; gone tomorrow. Precious now.

If I am to live as Vance, I must one day die as Vance. And in between, I must act.

Me & Bunny Foo-Foo

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAHow long must we all wait to change,
This world bound in chains that we live in,
To know what it is to forgive,
And be forgiven?

– Kenny Loggins

Deep in my soul, beyond the reach of age or reason, they will always and forever be “aminals.”

Nothing reduces me to the quivering excitement of a three-year-old like encounters with woodland creatures (or any creatures, really). I want to run at them, capture them, be close to them. Not to hurt them, mind you; I just love them, with every fiber of my being. I am intrigued by them; I want to share in their space, in their existence. To touch, and to be touched by them. To be, in essence, one with them.

I am fascinated by the spark of life we share.

This little guy and I had our moment one early morning last month at Lake Powell Resort in Page, Arizona. I got up just after sunrise and took off down a trail that stretches east from the resort proper, and found myself in a scene out of Watership Down. There were jackrabbits everywhere. At one point I stopped and lay down on the pathway, in the hopes of getting a decent shot of this guy, and as I lay there, he decided to up the ante. Apparently, I intrigued him greatly. Slowly, he made his way toward me, one hop at a time, until I could have reached out and touched him. And there we were, inches from one another, man and bunny rabbit, staring and being stared at.

Time stood still.

For the briefest of instants, there was no line, no distinction between man and animal. We were simply together, sharing the nature we each inhabit, that belongs to us both. And then it was over: another morning stroll broke the sacred spell, and as the stranger rounded the bend in the trail, my sylvan friend headed for the brush. But fleeting as it was, it was a magical moment. It was a fearless moment, a moment free of the constant conflict that plagues humanity’s interactions with the natural world. It was quiet; it was present; it was real.

I’ve often noticed how rarely those three adjectives apply. Perhaps it’s my imagination, but it seems we are determined to fill all the quiet moments with noise. Of course, this may just be a case of common rudeness: the longer I live, the more bullish people around me become, and the whole world’s a china shop. We seem incapable of silence, of awe. Maybe it’s just rudeness, inconsideration, but I have to wonder whether there’s a deeper meaning in all this.

Could it be that we’re afraid? Could it be that the magnitude of the natural world reminds us just how tiny and insignificant we really are, of just how brief a moment we occupy? If history is a book, then I am a footnote–and not even a good one. No juicy tidbits; no “see” references. Just a page number, with maybe an “ibid” leading the way. Same as before: different face, maybe, different name, but basically just more of the same.

Walking the beaches of Lindisfarne; staring into the vast depths of the Grand Canyon; even contemplating the pastures on the family farm in Missouri–I’m reminded of the fleeting nature of Me. So many have gone before; so many more will follow after. I matter, yes, but I matter in that I do not. You’ve heard my mantra before: it’s not about Me. If anything, I am about it.

Back to my encounter with Bunny Foo-Foo: the moment itself was predicated upon silence, stillness. Respect. I identified with him, and he with me. We shared the space–no need for domination cum “stewardship.” The Daniel Boones of the world are great, but so are the Tom Bombadils. I don’t want to shout at the world, or subdue it; I want to sing to it, to see it dance in response, and to dance along with it.

I could have reached out and touched him. And I wanted to, desperately. I wanted to pull an Elmyra, and squeeze him till he popped. Deep down inside, I always want to do that, whether it be a deer by the side of the road or a squirrel in my back yard. I want to jump up and down and holler “Bunnybunnybunnybunnybunny!”

At times like these, I have to grab my inner child and bop him on the head. Or at least stifle him a bit. Teach him to be quiet and live the moment at hand. To bow before the life that surrounds him on every side; not to fear it, not to subjugate and conquer, but to embrace it as a reflection of himself, as a part of himself.

If “God” is anything, it is this mutual recognition, life speaking to life, moment to moment, without interruption. From man and animal to man and man, person to person, in the wild or in the checkout aisle. Life speaking to life. Not in anger or in arrogance, but in love.

To be with nature as one is with a lover, a friend, a wife, a husband, oneself–to do unto that Other as I would have done unto me. This, to me, is the only religion that matters, and the only one that’s real.

Speak softly. Life will answer.

Calling My Shot

19365_717013806513_9223634_39963040_868241_nThe earth starts to rumble
World powers fall
A’warring for the heavens
A peaceful man stands tall

– Megadeth

We have a set of very simple choices in front of us:

We can be part of someone’s bad day, or we can be that which makes it better.

We can be silent partners in a world in decline, or we can take responsibility for the shares we hold and work toward recovery.

We can take hold of what we have and hold on for dear life, or we can let go and share the wealth, precisely because life is so dear.

One of my favorite quotes, from George Monbiot’s Age of Consent:

All those with agency are confronted by a choice. We can use that agency to secure for ourselves a safe and comfortable existence. We can use our life, that one unrepeatable product of four billion years of serendipity and evolution, to earn a little more, to save a little more, to win the approval of our bosses and the envy of our neighbours. We can place upon our walls those tombstones which the living erect to themselves: the framed certificates of their acceptance into what Erich Fromm has called the ‘necrophiliac’ world of wealth and power. We can, quite rationally, subordinate our desire for liberty to our desire for security. Or we can use our agency to change the world, and, in changing it, to change ourselves. We will die and be forgotten with no less certainty than those who sought to fend off death by enhancing their material presence on the earth, but we will live before we die through the extremes of feeling which comfort would deny us.

Simple decisions? Yes: simple decisions with fearfully complex implications. Once I decide to step up, once I call my shot, life becomes a whole new ballgame. I said in an earlier post that this isn’t about me, and on one hand that is true. On the other, though, it’s all about me. It’s about who I decide to be in relation to the world around me. Which shouldn’t be about me. Who I decide to be, expressed in the actions I take and the decisions I make. Which, again, shouldn’t be about me. Never about me. The world has to come first, starting with my family (spouse, children, etc.) and spiraling ever outward. Because it’s not about me, it’s all about who I decide to be.

Small exercise: Pinpoint one aspect of “you” that might be conceived of as the weakest link. At its most basic, what sort of work does it need? For me, it’s all about patience (impatience, really). So I look to the traffic light. At its most basic, my impatience stems from a belief that my time, my affairs, are the most important consideration in the world, and when I find myself fuming at a red light, it can be boiled down, pretty much, to that selfish impulse. It’s all about me, and this stupid light is getting in the way.

My first step, then, toward moving myself out of the way and living a world-centered life is, oddly enough, about learning to let stoplights be, and recognizing the importance of others’ lives. When I manage even this insignificant little feat, then it’s not about me anymore. Stress levels drop, frustration falls away, and I’m free to love a world my selfish side demands that I hate. And once that first, baby step is taken, I’m ready for the next: I’m ready to cultivate patience in all situations. Waiting for a table at a restaurant, standing in line at the grocery store–am I really the only person in the world who needs to eat? Much as I’d like to think so, probably not… :0)

Impatience lies at the root of my egocentric world; remove the cornerstone, and the whole structure begins to weaken, and will eventually collapse. And that’s the goal. Therein lie the seeds of the new world order: it’s not about political systems, or religion, or economics; it’s all about who I decide to be.

Choose to be a peaceful person in a world of chaos. It just might be contagious.

Where the Walkabout Ends

**Last night, I participated in a gathering in which the subject of human mortality was raised. In response, I’m re-posting something I wrote for another of my blogs in May of 2014. If, as was ventured last night, our thoughts on death illustrate our attitude toward living, then here you have both, as I see them…

Let us leave this place where the smoke blows black
And the dark street winds and bends.
Past the pits where the asphalt flowers grow
We shall walk with a walk that is measured and slow,
And watch where the chalk-white arrows go
To the place where the sidewalk ends.

– Shel Silverstein

We’re all winding down the clock, working our way into Thomas’ “good night,” whether or not we rage in the process. And when the time comes that my plug needs pulling, I feel I should have the right to decide when and how it’s pulled.

This is a tough subject, a very loaded topic on which people tend to cultivate strong (and often stubborn) opinions, so I’ll try and tread carefully. It is also an issue which may fit awkwardly for some into the walkabout mentality, in which every day is an adventure, and every experience a treasure. So allow me to explain.

For me, the walkabout is about knowing my self, who I am both in the absence and the presence of others. It is about continual becoming. It is about, simply, being Me.

Every adventure along the way points toward one goal: the evolution of identity. As long as I am able to self-identify, that evolution goes on: each new day in the walkabout unveils a new piece, a new aspect, of who I am, who I can be. But there may come a time when all that is gone; sooner or later, the Vance-ness will begin to slip, I will begin to forget, either through age or infirmity, or both. The prospect of losing myself, of un-becoming, terrifies me–I cannot lie–unlike anything else. It is the ultimate threat, and it hangs over us all, sword to our Damocles.

The early Zen masters were renowned for their willingness to accede to the exigencies of mortality. Countless hagiographies end with the master “deciding to die,” meditating one last time, and then just going. This theme is meant to convey the true nature of Self-hood; as Seung Sahn taught, the original face has no life and no death, and the Dharma body does not disappear with the disappearance of the physical body. The Zen masters understood that their final breath was not the final movement in their symphony.

Interestingly, this is a key tenet, in one form or another, of most world religions: death is not the end. And yet…we fight, so hard. We confuse persistence with existence and the heartbeat with the mind (and the soul). My heart is not Me; remove it, hook it up to a battery, run a current through it, and it’ll go right on pumping. Put it in someone else, and it will serve them just as well. I am more than that, more than a machine with interchangeable parts. I am Mind; I am soul (whatever that construct may represent). I am my relationships, my emotions, my thoughts, my actions. I am my memories. Take those things away, and I am not me. Not anymore.

I have watched one grandmother descend into extreme senescence, another into perceived obsolescence, and my paternal grandfather into such a desperate state of cancer-related physical degradation as to be almost unrecognizable. From my very core, my being screamed out at the injustice of it, and at the notion of one day being myself in their shoes. No one should have to suffer the half-life of outliving himself.

One day, I will reach the pavement’s end. One day, my walkabout will be all walked out, and it will be time to face the weeds beyond. I do not fear that day, because in my Mind I know that meaning and mortality are not as inextricably intertwined as we sometimes assume them to be. Whether we believe in heaven, reincarnation, or none of the above, our essence resides as much in others as it does in ourselves, and we will go on in their hearts, minds, and memories. Like the argon in the breath of Alexander the Great, lodged still in unsuspecting lungs around the globe, I will linger. No, I do not fear death.

What I fear is the misapprehension of life, the desperate confusion of husk with heart. I fear no longer being myself. I fear the day the walkabout ends, and I (or others) insist that it has not. I fear the prospect of clinging to something that no longer exists: my Self. For Vance is more than a pulse; more than artificially pumped oxygen. Vance is me, and when he goes, so do I.

To those I leave behind on that day, whoever they may be, I say:

Look into my eyes, and see what you can see.
See if it’s really me
in there. And if it’s not,
hard as it may be, say goodbye,
heave a sigh, have your cry,
then let me fly, for I am
Free.