April 15, 2019
Tax Day. Also, anniversary day — anniversary of the death of Abraham Lincoln. Did you know that? Why does it matter? Death means much more than the cessation of life; it should evoke the celebration of life, acknowledging how a person’s life impacts us.
154 years ago today, Abraham Lincoln died. Walt Whitman’s responses to that in poetic form offer reflection and celebration with a melancholy overlay, all symbolized in elements of Nature in “When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloom’d.” Meditating with Nature, in her, can yield much expression of the human state.
Three natural elements of a lilac tree, the song of a solitary, unseen thrush, and the appearance and waning of Venus evoke these words: “Comrades mine and I in the midst and their memory ever to keep, for the dead I loved so well, / For the sweetest, wisest soul of all my days and lands and this for his dear sake, / Lilac and star and bird twined with the chant of my soul, / There in the fragrant pines and the cedars dusk and dim.” Death provides the time for reflection and evaluation. Our response to the death of others yields life and eternality in that reflection when we understand the nature of Heart within. Death frames and allows life energy to continue unobstructed by this body and the ego required to live in a physical body.
Whitman realizes that bright Venus in the western sky gradually fading into the horizon was a sign of the bright star of Lincoln disappearing. He says, “O powerful western fallen star! / O shades of night — O moody, tearful night! / O great star disappear’d…” He also refers to the title bush, the lilac: “…with many a pointed blossom rising delicate, with the perfume strong I love, / With every leaf a miracle…With delicate-colored blossoms and heart-shaped leaves of rich green, / A sprig with its flower I break.” He intended to lay this on the coffin of President Lincoln as the mourning train traveled past his city. He ultimately offers it up symbolically not only to Lincoln but also to death itself seen in all the coffins of all those slain in the Civil War.
Then, under the darkness of evening he attempts to reconcile the deaths of Lincoln and so many others as he walks along a path close to a swamp and hears the song of the thrush, which echoes his song to death: “Approach strong deliveress, / …when thou hast taken them I joyously sing the dead, / Lost in the loving floating oceans of thee, / Laved in the flood of your bliss O death.” He sings a carol to death using the voice of the thrush. Death highlights and showcases all that one’s life was about; it allows reflection and evaluation.
What mirror do we gaze in to see our own soul condition and to gain an appraisal of Self? Question your own heart, and then give your heart a means to speak to you. Walk and observe and listen to life all around you. Messages to you personally are there, waiting. If you walk in ego, you will not hear them.
Walt Whitman was unrestricted and didn’t care what anyone thought of his poems. He wrote his heart. Abraham Lincoln lived his heart truth for freedom. Since we know death comes, eventually, let’s engage the benefit of it now: reflect, evaluate, and value life through Heart energy. Today’s a good day to begin!
“It was the best of times,
it was the worst of times,
it was the age of wisdom,
it was the age of foolishness,
it was the epoch of belief,
it was the epoch of incredulity,
it was the season of Light,
it was the season of Darkness,
it was the spring of hope,
it was the winter of despair,
we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way— in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only.
There were a king with a large jaw and a queen with a plain face, on the throne of England; there were a king with a large jaw and a queen with a fair face, on the throne of France. In both countries it was clearer than crystal to the lords of the State preserves of loaves and fishes, that things in general were settled for ever. …those two of the large jaws, and those other two of the plain and the fair faces, trod with stir enough, and carried their divine rights with a high hand. Thus did the year one thousand seven hundred and seventy-five conduct their Greatnesses, and myriads of small creatures—the creatures of this chronicle among the rest—along the roads that lay before them” (Dickens. A Tale of Two Cities. “The Period”).
Perhaps these words present themselves to my soul in a powerful way at this particular “Period” of history. Dickens got it, the juxtaposition of human responses to the workings of the energies of life, particularly in relationship to governments and society. We are social creatures; the formation of government develops naturally and necessarily if we are to live according to our social natures.
What do I see in these words? How do the words act as a lens for me? Dickens capitalized two words in the series: Light and Darkness. He then proceeds to equate the state of the energy of the world in 1775 by linking light and darkness with the unjust, dictatorial reigns of the monarchies of Great Britain and France over disenfranchised subjects.
Of course, not all were trampled. Those who benefitted from powerful control freaks welcomed and supported policies that disempowered most people by denying “certain unalienable rights.” Therefore, for some, that period represented “the best of times,” while others experienced “the worst of times”—“Light” and “Darkness.” Shakespeare—great minds in accord—understands the dichotomy of the two responses: Hamlet tells his friends that “There is nothing either good or bad but thinking makes it so.” Of course, those early Romantic writers and philosophers welcomed the revolutions against authoritarianism, so they may have viewed it as favorable.
Maybe so, but death and destruction that results from inhumane dictators, no matter who initiates the war, wreaks havoc and sorrow for generations. Do we not yet understand that?
Dickens provides a lens that helps me think about today’s widening chasm not only in the United States but also in a number of other nations bent on electing fascist-leaning governments, ones that will lead to revolutions of one sort or another.
A government that favors a relatively select few at the expense of masses, that discriminates against people because of their human traits, that denies genders, minorities, and cultures basic rights—those rights named and not named as “certain unalienable rights”—such a government oppresses and can expect an unpleasant demise.
In this period, I hope we will learn to respect one another, valuing our diversities and allowing for varied cultural expressions. Fear prevents that from happening, and it should if any—and I mean any, whether they be minority, religious, gender, sexual orientation, or other factors—mean to suppress, eradicate, or disenfranchise others. True freedom and liberty root themselves in mutual respect and desire for all to not only survive but also thrive, including all elements of Nature.
How do such contraries as foolishness and wisdom, belief and incredulity, hope and despair, heaven and hell mark our world today?
To me, life and its varied expressions hold me in awe. I despise narrow-minded bigotry, expressions of super-nationalistic superiority, and the greedy desire that destroys Nature under the guise of a good economy, but I still marvel at the dynamics.
However, I hope for change, for spiritual awakening to the abundance, beauty, and harmony that is ours. I suppose that characterizes me as a true Gemini, one who sees, feels, and holds the contraries that Dickens masterfully displays in his introduction to A Tale of Two Cities.
Charles Dickens wrote this in A Tale of Two Cities, using his narrator to make social and political commentaries, ones I find relevant today, even though written in 1859 and set some seventy years earlier:
“Crush humanity out of shape once more, under similar hammers, and it will twist itself into the same tortured forms. Sow the same seeds of rapacious licence and oppression over again, and it will surely yield the same fruit according to its kind.” (Book 3, Chapter 15, Sec. 1)
My connections? The current president of the United States and his administration engage in oppressive and destructive behaviors aimed at any who disagree with them. While not the same situation, the energy and spirit of authoritarian disregard for the common good prompted our original revolt against the British King Geo. III.
Dickens’ novel concerns the French Revolution and illustrates how the oppressive acts of the French monarchy — destructive and regardless of life necessities for most of the population — created desires for the common people to claim their inherent human rights. The same feelings arose in the States colonists some fifteen years before the French Revolution.
Whether it’s the British, French, or current U.S. authoritarian mindset, people can expect revolt against oppression. Fascism has changed shape today, and we have advanced to realize that even a majority’s opinion based on ideas and ideals that are destructive and deny freedom to others is oppressive.
Majority opinion will never make destruction of cultures, subcultures, societies, Nature, ecosystems, and species right — never, ever. However, we should remember in the last election popular vote did not support fascism.
This president has made it clear he does not consider everyone created equally. He and his supporters believe, either consciously or subconsciously, those who are stronger and greedier and know how to deceive best are better; therefore, they get to press their agenda on all, deceiving and oppressing many. Of course, this president’s administration or his political party have no patent on dishonesty, bullying, or abrogating rights. We must remember this.
When rights are eliminated, including those pertaining to nature and wildlife, everyone loses. We can expect revolution because the “same tortured forms” of “rapacious licence and oppression” have once again reared their ugly heads. Lessons of history mean nothing to ego-energized fascists.
The good news is that humans will not long endure ignorant egomaniacs to reign, especially in this day and age.
Dickens wrote of our inability to suffer prolonged oppression, no matter the original intent of some movement like the French Jacobins who established the Reign of Terror or Trumpites who cry to make America great again. Neither the French nor this conservative Republican force produced any honorable ends. Both juggernauts elicit the cry for justice as well as showcase the dark, egoistical, and self-righteous philosophy that does not embody “Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness” for all. Anything less than the common good is no good.
We should recognize that current calls for oppression and destruction of perceived enemies — including allies and our own media — by this adminisitration will only produce “tortured forms” resulting in twisted revolutions of distorted definitions of liberty and the common good.
Little bits of literature help me to consider these ideas.
Shakespeare writes about suicide, in fact focuses on it in Hamlet. Hamlet, the protagonist, suffers the death of his father and the remarriage of his mother to his father’s brother — the one who murdered old Hamlet. Hamlet’s first words in private are these: “O, that this too solid flesh would melt…/ Or that the Everlasting had not fixed / His canon ‘gainst self-slaughter!” (I.1.130–132). He wants to die or kill himself because he has lost his father and then his mother to a hasty, questionable marriage to her brother-in-law. Hamlet has lost joy to the point of wanting to die — not good.
Shakespeare remains popular because his work looks into the human psyche in profound ways. Suicide plagues America today in profound ways, more deeply than I was aware of. Here are some facts that surprised me.
According to some studies, I live in the worst city in the United States when it comes to homicides. We have all sorts of laws and debates and social response to such violence, including gun control. A little over 19,000 people were murdered in the U.S. in 2016.
About 45,000 people committed suicide. Shocked? I was. Reports of murder garner media and legislative attention, yet suicide is the second leading cause of death for people between the ages of 10–34, and the fourth for 35–54. Well over twice as many people die every year from suicide as homicide, and 51% of those suicides are performed with a gun.
Did you know that the cost of suicide to the economy has been estimated at $69 billion per year, or that for every suicide, at least 25 other people attempt it? (Source: https://afsp.org/about-suicide/suicide-statistics/)
We tend to pay more attention to issues when high profile people commit suicide: Robin Williams, Kate Spade, Anthony Bourdain. It’s sad. So is murder. In reality, though, many more survivors are affected by suicide than murder.
Why? Many say it’s such a waste of human life. I wouldn’t say that. I would say suicide is a phenomenon characterized by the concept of loss, the loss of a number of things.
Loss characterizes suicide; loss establishes the conditions necessary for it. It begins with the loss of a sense of Self. How can we tell if we are losing Self? Shakespeare explores this.
What is a symptom of suffering the loss of the vision and value of Self? Hamlet says, “How weary stale, flat, and unprofitable / Seem to me all the uses of this world!” (I.1.l33–134). Having no interest in life, feeling no enthusiasm, or seeing no good in anything should set off an alarm in us, one blaring like a tornado warning siren, prolonged, insistent.
Respond to that warning. Call a trusted friend to help evaluate what’s going on. I think it’s important to every one of us who has suffered any depression, or worse, to have a friend or two designated for times like this, because when we are feeling like Hamlet, we think no one wants to hear or help us. Put someone in your mind and maybe even mention it to them — today.
Just a few months ago — it seems longer than that — a friend of mine and many other people took his life. No details here, but even his closest friends had absolutely no idea that this thirty-something, likable, humorous, hardworking, loving, devoted dad and husband was suffering. After his death, his closest friend has made it a point to follow up whenever he asks any of us how we are. “Great!” we reply. “No, really, how are you?” That’s the kind of friend I’m talking about. (Thanks, Shannon!)
In the play Hamlet, Shakespeare further examines suicide. Hamlet tells his childhood friends, who are not true friends, that he finds no delight, no joy, no happiness in the glory of nature or the marvels of humans. Then, in the famous “To be, or not to be” soliloquy, Hamlet debates taking the final step. He thinks everyone and everything is against him. He sees no value in himself.
Losing self initiates the spiral that may lead to suicide. When we lose that vital, healthy sense of the life force that constitutes each of us, we need help.
Becoming aware of little signs like not enjoying things we have in the past, not laughing or even desiring to laugh, not valuing others, not seeing the majesty of nature, having no enthusiasm for life, or other symptoms should trigger a text or call to a friend, one who will understand that you are reaching out for help, the kind of help that will call you back to the reality of the greatness, power, and creativity you are.
We need to guard the preciousness that is Self. We are simply worth too much to lose.
Make no mistake; I’m not a mental health provider. I’m only seeking to raise self-awareness here. If anyone reads this and can’t bring themselves to reach out to anyone they trust, please call a help line and/or a professional counselor.
(1–800–273–8255 — National Suicide Prevention Lifeline)
June 5, 2018
My birthday triggers many emotions and memories: fun, melancholy, nostalgia, sadness, hope, light, love, and joy. My fourteenth birthday will never be forgotten, as long as I have a memory. It was the year that we received notice that my grandfather had another serious stroke, and he died a few days later. It was the year I graduated from 8th grade. It was the year that I received a new baseball glove and a Swiss Army knife on June 5. It was the year my mom invited a few friends over—Al, Kathy, Ricky, and even a few of my sister’s friends—and we had a sweet-smelling, buttercream icing-rich sheet cake and Hawaiian Punch.
Oh, and it was the year that all of that, even though I hold it in my memory, pales in comparison to the news I heard when my clock radio woke me up that morning: Robert Kennedy had been shot. I was the first one up, and I went to my parents’ bedroom and just started talking, not really even bothering to wake them up. My mom thought I must have heard something wrong. She arose, and we listened to my radio. Bobby Kennedy died the next day. Ever since that birthday—one in which I matured more markedly than perhaps any birthday, even though I had and maybe still have a lot of childish playfulness and folly in me—this day intertwines my birthday with the shooting of Robert Kennedy.
Fifty years ago. (Yes, that’s how old I am.) Perhaps it’s the anniversary year of that awful day. Perhaps it’s that I still feel a twinge of guilt for even being happy and celebrating later on that day. I remember crying with my mom that morning, although I couldn’t comprehend the enormity of it then. I remember my dad being distraught and lamenting, which represented a powerful response from Dad.
Why did his reaction affect me so? Dad was super-conservative, but he spoke knowledgeably about Bobby Kennedy and reflected some on JFK. He thought Bobby was more honest and more capable than John. He thought that their assassinations were both tragedies and inexcusable. In fact, he welcomed dialog and debate on ideologies and practices in governance. Not that he had any real influence on many others, but he did on me. I saw his honesty because he could speak with insight and appreciation for those with whom he disagreed. He valued honesty in those who he would normally never have voted for. He valued honesty to such an extent that he told me he had actually voted for a Democrat, “The buck stops here” Harry Truman.
Did it matter that Mom and I wept or that Dad could appreciate and lament the Kennedy’s? As I said, our responses contained no major impact on a political or national scene; however, Bobby Kennedy would have appreciated it. He would have known we mattered. He said this:
“Few will have the greatness to bend history itself, but each of us can work to change a small portion of events. It is from numberless diverse acts of courage and belief that human history is shaped. Each time a man stands up for an ideal, or acts to improve the lot of others, or strikes out against injustice, he sends forth a tiny ripple of hope, and crossing each other from a million different centers of energy and daring those ripples build a current which can sweep down the mightiest walls of oppression and resistance.”
No, neither my parents nor I have bent history in terms of popular perception. However, I know that I have stood up for ideals, for others, and against injustice. I also know some people would say I have not made the wisest choices, not represented their ideals or met their expectations.
That is neither my nor Bobby Kennedy’s point. I must shine in the energy of who I am, not apologizing nor seeking to please. Those who make the biggest ripples just do their thing in kindness, compassion, love, and enthusiasm. That level of engagement ripples hope, justice, mutual good, and freedom.
Today, I celebrate my birth. I am filled with gratitude for all the memories, the events, and the relationships of my life—including the ones that have not seemed so auspicious, favorable, or beneficial, ones which I helped to create in some way or another.
As I celebrate and remember, I have a few thoughts about reflections. Learning and growth are not usually instantaneous. I need to have distance, space, and time to make meaning. Some people are much faster at this than I am. Today, I reflect on the memories of my parents, my sister, friends, and that birthday of fifty years ago, the one on which Bobby Kennedy was shot.
I think of the Supreme Court decision of yesterday that gave vindication to bigotry in the name of religious rights. That baker in Colorado was not being prohibited from expressing his beliefs, of even preaching the gospel to the two men who requested to buy his cake. He could have done that. He could have told them personally and quietly that he wasn’t comfortable with their lifestyle that expresses their sexual orientation. He could have done many things within the exercise of his religion, but he didn’t. He, along with a large, significant percentage of Americans, believes he is right and that makes everyone else wrong, or even worse, sinners. Therefore, in the opinion of such people, those who disagree don't have a right to live their truth publicly.
RFK had something to say about this extreme, right-leaning energy sweeping across the nation, the energy that embraces some mythical America, that says we annihilate or relegate to convenient shelves those who disagree with us, this energy of totalitarianism and intolerance:
“What is objectionable, what is dangerous about extremists is not that they are extreme, but that they are intolerant. The evil is not what they say about their cause, but what they say about their opponents.”
People can voice, stand for, and promote their cause, but when expressions become about silencing those who see things differently, freedom is forfeited, dictatorial authoritarianism is established, and everyone but a select few suffer. Of course, many who support dictators and oligarchs believe they profit in some form or fashion. They label the masses as opponents to “truth,” and they seek to nullify them.
Lest anyone reading this believes America isn’t moving in such a direction today, read Rudy Giuliani’s quotes from the last few days or Trump’s statements about pardoning himself. As I said, such thinkers are dangerous. Oh, RFK said it first. These people wish to return to something that never was, to keep things from changing.
Once again, Bobby Kennedy has words of encouragement. Speaking of moral courage, he says, “Moral courage is a rarer commodity than bravery in battle or great intelligence. Yet it is the one essential, vital quality for those who seek to change a world that yields most painfully to change.” A president has no immunity for criminal action, this nation was never originally white European, and kindness and human decency don’t take second place to the economy or imagined rights, the kind that say “We get to do what we want, but they don’t.”
My mom’s and dad’s responses to the shooting and death of Robert F. Kennedy illustrate we don’t have to agree with those who hold different views in order to care, truly care, about one another. My parents showed me that day that political beliefs and personal ideologies don’t give anyone the right to do what they want at the expense of “the common good.” The common good isn’t what a dictator and his followers say it is.
We may disagree on immigration policy and quotas, and we may work to establish our beliefs through voting, speaking, writing, or dozens of other ways. But we don’t get to be heartless about separating families in the name of the law and change the law or interpret law to live in personal convenience and wealth over others, oppressing others, disregarding others so we get what we want. The same is true about the environment, treatment of all minorities, economic policy, and scores of social and political issues—ooh, education, I don’t want to forget education.
On my birthday, I choose to reflect not only on my life and my memories but also on the words and life of Robert F. Kennedy. I could just keep sharing and commenting on his words, but I will leave here with these words of his:
“Our lives on this planet are too short and the work to be done too great to let this spirit flourish any longer in our land. Of course we cannot vanquish it with a program, nor with a resolution.
But we can perhaps remember, if only for a time, that those who live with us are our brothers, that they share with us the same short moment of life; that they seek, as do we, nothing but the chance to live out their lives in purpose and in happiness, winning what satisfaction and fulfillment they can.”
If I forget this, curse me. If you do, I will not curse you, but I will bless as most powerfully as possible those who are not treated as sisters and brothers, those who are withheld from living their lives in purpose and happiness.
Blessings to you on my birthday!
(All Kennedy quotes from https://www.goodreads.com/author/quotes/98221.Robert_F_Kennedy)
Questions to consider:
How many times have you asked yourself or simply thought about the following questions?
Who am I, really?
What is my truth?
How do my actions reveal what I really feel and believe?
What would I do with my life if I could do anything?
What is my passion?
Why am I here?
How can I discover answers to any of these questions?
If you have considered any of these questions, I hope that my experiences and writing will give you some guidance. Please read my blog and comment and share your thoughts. I would love to hear from you!