Whose God is It Anyway?

Whose God is It Anyway?

Faith: Find yours or don’t, but for God’s sake and mine, let others do the same.  Part 2 0f 2

 

In case you haven’t met, let me introduce you to the God I’ve come to know* and love.  You might recognize Him/Her or He/She might just resemble your God (presuming you know One, of course).  That resemblance would be natural.  Your God and mine are probably related.

*Legally, my “knowledge” of God is subject to change at any time, for any reason, and without prior notice.  Any resemblance of my God to anyone else’s is unintentional and purely coincidental.

My God is not a jealous God.

My God knows that those who believe in God desperately want to know His/Her plans and His/Her will so we can take a shot at living in the manner He/She wants us to live.   But God doesn’t work that way. If there was a book that perfectly defined how God wants us to live, it would be helpful. But to be perfect, such a book would need to be written in God’s hand, not a human hand. The only such writing I can think of (though my theological education is admittedly woefully inadequate) may have been made on the tablets that Moses brought down from the mountain. Those rules, while often broken, have stood the test of time very well. But the writings of people, no matter how inspired by God they may be, have to be flawed, simply because all humans are flawed.

What we inherited from our ancestors are texts written by people, many of whom may have been inspired as holy messengers. Accordingly, each text likely carries a degree of spiritual wisdom, but all are nonetheless imperfect. The contradictions that exist within, for example, the Bible, can only be attributable to the fact that many human authors were contributors, and their memories or interpretations of The Word were more-or-less good, but not perfect. It they were perfect, there would be no contradictions in the Bible. Likewise there would be an easily recognizable correlation among The Koran, the Bible, The Torah, The Kojiki, the Four Texts of Confucius, The Tripitaka and other all sacred texts, except for the fact that they were nearly all written by men (there’s an inherent bias right there) to define a monotheistic or polytheistic God’s Will in the world.

If the inspired men who authored and compiled the Holy Scriptures were not flawed, all religions would share the perfect vision and there could be no such thing as religious disagreement, let alone religious wars.

I seriously doubt that God ever intended women to be denied the opportunity participate fully in the development of our world’s religions. Men certainly don’t have an exclusive proclivity on spirituality, intelligence, perceptivity, reason, or any other key theological components.  But God’s rulebooks were overwhelmingly composed by the males of the species, and were terribly flawed by that chauvinism alone. Imagine how much more theologically advanced our species would be today, if the perspectives and wisdom of women, fully half of humankind, had not been excluded from their rightful positions in the mix from the beginning. The religious hurdles we face today might have already been cleared long ago if women had their equal place at the table.

God does not want any of us to feel threatened by anyone else’s interpretation of God. Neither should we be threatening to those whose faith is not aligned with ours. No human can ever fathom and understand all that God is. We are only just now taking our first little forays outside of our solar system, which is in itself a tiny and insignificant portion of God’s universe.  We are all blind as we describe the elephant in the room using our imperceptions to prove our imperfections from where we stand in the room. Our descriptions need not be the same to still be correctly attributable to the same God (or pachyderm). God is not apt to require anyone to blindly and fully accept any religion’s narrow definition of God and faith. I lose no favor from my God from my inescapable inability to fully know and define God.

Rather, if anything, I think God wants us to look for elements of the True Way in any venue, idea or religion. Likewise, God gives us license to disregard (not, however, to destroy) any idea or practice that one’s self perceives as contrary to the foundations of love of God. My self perceives that we should welcome (not merely tolerate) one another’s differences.

It is ironic that people are self-compelled by fear of the unknown to feel they are completely and unquestionably right in their faith, while God knows none of us is even remotely able to be so.

It is tragic when people so desperately need to believe that they are completely right in their faith, that it becomes their duty to destroy all believe otherwise.  Might is not right.

My God is an inclusive God.

I believe that the self, the soul/spirit that is in every one from birth, is a fully included particulate of God on earth temporarily residing in a biological vessel. Further I believe it’s nearly certain that other particulates of God inhabit other vessels, not only on earth but in other realms in the universe. As we are all particulates of God, no one is worthless, nor is any one inherently more valuable than others. If all are included, there are no “chosen.”

My God is not a vengeful God.

As God is not vengeful, God needs or wants no agents of vengeance. (Vengeance is mine say the Lord.)  My God grieves when people are persecuted, are made to suffer, and are wounded (physically, emotionally and soulfully) or die in war. God grieves all the more when wars are perpetrated in God’s name. “Holy War” is the ultimate oxymoron. Those who perpetuate deadly Holy conflicts are proxy-morons. God neither condones nor punishes them, but forgives them.

My God is a generous God.

For a long time I drove around with a bumper sticker on my car that read “Grace Happens.” It was a play-on-words about Grace Church, where I was a member of the most wonderful, spirit-filled congregation I have ever known. Grace Church was happening. But the broader and simpler statement, Grace Happens is also true.

I deepely believe in God’s Grace, the no-strings-attached gifts that God presents to us from time to time regardless of how undeserving we may be. God’s Grace is bewildering because it is completely unrelated to our worthiness. God’s Grace is not a reward reserved only for the righteous; neither is misfortune a punishment just for the sinful. There is no fairness or unfairness involved in God’s Love or God’s Grace. Each is simply and magnificently a gift freely given. The apparent randomness of Grace is mystifying.

My God is a forgiving God.

I believe that God’s generous love freely forgives and informs how we should comport ourselves as well. I need to be forgiven, and need to forgive. The comfort and peace that so unexpectedly comes when one forgives is surprisingly as strong as, or greater than, that felt by the forgiven.

My God is a patient God.

I believe that God waits patiently for me to learn and accept what God wants of me. The surest sign that I am doing as God intended is an enlightenment of my spirit.

My God is a loving God.

God motivates through love, not fear. God does not want us “obliged” but “inspired” to love one another, to worship, and to do no harm. To be obliged is to follow “the rules;” to be inspired is to be infused with “the Spirit”. The fearsome God portrayed in the Bible (especially the Old Testament) and in other religious scripture, appears intent on defining duties as the price of admission into God’s Kingdom. I believe that God’s power lies in love, not in duress.

 My God is an eternal God.

Achieving a favorable eternal existence ought to be a crucial concern in the lives of those who believe in an eternal soul. Life presents opportunity and danger to the soul. We, being particulates of God, are eternal. Nourishment of one’s soul in a lifetime is the opportunity. The damage one does to one’s soul is the danger. After a life, a soul (the essential you) will carry the soul-nurtured nourishment and the self-inflicted damage of that lifetime forever. An earthly human lifespan is an infinitesimal moment in eternity. That makes what we take with us infinitely more crucial. That’s why I love watching Ebeneezer Scrooge when he finally figures that out.

My God is a pained God,

especially when we kill one another, and even more so when we kill in God’s name.

Faith: Find yours or don’t, but for God’s sake and mine, let others to do the same. – Part 1 0f 2

Faith: Find yours or don’t, but for God’s sake and mine, let others to do the same. – Part 1 0f 2

“Organized religion preaches Order and Love but spawns Chaos and Fury. Why?”, Kerry Thornley (1938-1998)

 

My Definitions

Faith – Strong belief in something or someone based on experiences.

Blind Faith –Strong belief in something or someone, despite any and all evidence to the contrary. (Not necessarily less valuable than experience based faith, just different.)

Religion – A series of strong beliefs in a defined system of faith in a deity or deities

Tolerance – The simple recognition that as humans we always have been and are prone to error, including those inspired to write “Holy “books. This is why matters of faith differ. Accordingly, all should  be allowed to believe as we each see fit and give others that same respect.

Creed – A statement of faith beliefs – “I believe in…”

My Take What You Want and Leave the Rest Creed

For your consideration, these are my strong beliefs, blind and otherwise:

Do I believe that God, the Creator, exists? Yes, I do. I can find no other plausible reason for the elegance of the world and the universe in which I live. I can conceive of no other explanation for the creation and evolution of life on earth. I can think of no other answer to the origin of the source of my conscious self that has no single physical presence in my body. If we who have life in this world and all who came before us, from us, and will come after us are but a random chain of accidents, we must be the most unlikely and phenomenal of coincidences. And this most unlikely accident cannot account for that self that is conscious in me.

Do I believe myself to be a spiritual as well as physical being? Yes, I do. My “self” is more than a biological mechanism. Absent a spiritual aspect of being, how could a biological being be “self”-aware? What possible combination of chemicals inside me has random chance combined to concoct the resonances of Love, Justice, Liberty and other ideals? If I were not a spiritual, self-aware being, how would I differ from an asteroid floating aimlessly in space, or a ping-pong ball randomly bouncing in a bingo machine? As a living being with the freedom to choose, if not to determine my future, to influence it, I am able to see and create options and assign relative values to them. From whence, other than the self, would those values come? If an asteroid collided with earth, and no self-aware being existed, so what?

Oh yes, I believe in a maker – an architect – an initiator – a being enormously great and completely perfect – perfection being in full accordance with the workings and intent of Creation. I am even willing to hope that my ‘self,’ my spirit, my soul, may actually be a minute but not totally insignificant particulate in this greater being, God. I thereby can also believe that death may not be an ending, but a re-joining with, or a re-positioning in, that colossal universal being. And I believe that through the self, my soul, my spirit, I can communicate with God and with my fellow participant souls in God, through prayer, meditation, and the sheer thoughts of love and concern.

As importantly, however, I am as certain as certainty allows that neither I, nor any other being that had life on this planet, has the wherewithal to contrive or postulate a system of beliefs that accurately and totally defines universal perfection – “the True Way.”   No religion, no prophet, no seer or saint that has walked this earth has had an even partial understanding of any more than a miniscule fraction of “the Universal True Way.”

“How is it that hardly any major religion has looked at science and concluded, ‘This is better than we thought!?’ Instead they say, ‘No, no, no! My god is a little god, and I want him to stay that way.’ A religion, old or new, that stressed the magnificence of the Universe as revealed by modern science might be able to draw forth reserves of reverence and awe hardly tapped by the conventional faiths.”

Carl Sagan, Pale Blue Dot: A Vision of the Human Future in Space

The power and security of the idea of the True Way is alluring and many have succumbed to the Siren songs of power and security by professing to know the True Way. But no one has ever even conceived of the full extent of the essential questions concerning the True Way that need to be asked before one can begin to understand the answers.

Absolute righteousness – being in complete and pure accordance with all that is the True Way – is impossible for beings such as ourselves because we are but tiny participants unable to completely imagine, let alone comprehend, the universe. Nonetheless, fearing the unknown, we are driven to believe that we can and do know all, so we have established and propagated thousands of religions, each of which professes to be the one True Way to God’s perfection. Each religion’s true believers are God’s “chosen.”

While it is axiomatic that there is only one True Way, it is also a mathematical certainty that none of man’s existing religions is absolutely righteous, i.e., really comprehends the one, complete and perfect version of the True Way. It is pathetic and tragic when one doctrine’s believers must either convert or exterminate that which does not ascribe to their woefully incomplete definition of the one and True Way.

A Life Worth Living – Part 1 – Values

A Life Worth Living – Part 1 – Values

Just My Luck – Chapter 13-1

mother TSomewhere between Mother Theresa and Donald Trump is a place where I’d like to live the rest of my life.  Like yours, my definition of a life worth living is strictly my own.  It is driven by my values –  the purposes and priorities that resonate with my self/soul.  A life worth living is a goal, an ideal, a standard that measures my progress, self-disciplines my actions, and helps me make choices – all to improve my self, to feed my soul.the trump et

Between the extremes of the self-sacrificial and the self-serving, my natural inclinations are far short of the saintliness of Theresa but are definitely considerably farther from the malignant narcissism of Trump.

Values

After each of my potentially life-ending experiences, I have revisited my values to evaluate their relevance and to amend them if needed.  Absent strong and defining principles, I would be worthless to myself and others.  I don’t want to die in that state.

I already wrote in my previous chapter about how much I’ve learned to value Commitment, so I’ll not repeat that here.

Pretty early in my life, I was taught in church that our purpose as people was to serve God.  Okay, got it. That’s good.  One thing though, how do I go about serving God?  What in the world does God need that _wsb_524x205_OK_GOD_Now_What+title+words+onlyI can do for Him or get for Him?  (Remember, this was in the 1950’s before we realized that God might be either gender or neither one.) Really, I want to help, I want to serve, but since God is the master of everything, what’s left for me to do?

Then it hit me, an epiphany, a good way to serve God would be by serving Her/His best creation in my neighborhood, my fellow man (in the gender inclusive sense).  That would satisfy the mission, I was sure.  And I’m still sure of that today.

So, the underlying purpose of my values has long been to help others.

I think it’s a fine value.  It pleases me and I think it pleases God.  It’s stood the test of time at the head of my list .  Coincidentally (or not) Doris also independently realized that her reason for being on the planet is to help people.  Frankly, she’s a lot better at it than I am, and always has been.  But I’ve learned quite a good deal from her.  You’ll see.

While trying to be helpful, I also try to be mindful of the corollary, do no harm.  I’ve found that tenet is often hard to follow unless I amend it to do no harm on purpose.  I always need to keep an eye out for those pesky unintended consequences.

Helping Others

My efforts at helping others are sincere; they’re not an obligation, but a choice I made that gives me great rewards.  Doris is more active in accomplishing this mission we share, but while she may see an opportunity to be helpful more readily than I, we often work together to pursue it.  I find some on my own as well, a trend that has increased with age.

Helping can take a staggering number of forms: donating money to charities, spending time with someone who is lonely or bereaved, change a flat tire, running errands for a shut-in, making a child laugh, returning a found object to whoever lost it (wallet perhaps), cheering for someone’s accomplishment, encouraging someone who is not self-confident, giving time and attention to someone else’s needs or problems, the list is huge.  And one doesn’t necessarily have to go out of his/her way to do it.  Create something good when you do anything.  Complimenting a co-worker on a job well done costs you nothing but rewards the recipient handsomely.  Telling an acquaintance he or she looks good in that outfit, or looks to have lost some weight, or is admired, or whatever.

In my undergraduate training to be an English Teacher, I was taught the basic psychological truth that positive feedback is a much stronger learning motivation than is negative feedback.  Building someone up yields greater returns than tearing them down.  A teacher, a boss, a parent, a priest, anyone in a leadership position can help make the lives of their students, employees, children, congregation members, constituents better simply by using positive rather than negative motivation.

Anyone can build others up. My sage mentor Vladimir one day tolwaiterd me, “When I retire, I want to become a waiter.”

“A waiter? Really?” I replied.  “Now why would you want to become a waiter ?

I will never forget his answer.

“Because a waiter always has the opportunity to make someone’s day better.”

Knowing him, working for him, working with him, made my life considerably better.  He too valued doing good for others and I was a beneficiary of his help. He encouraged me to believe in my talents and look for opportunities to learn. He predicted that I could go far, and inspired me simply by telling me so.  He was my boss, but he offered me his friendship.  Never since have I known such a human being.

The opposite is also true.  The worst way to motivate someone is in the negative.

The guy who initially introduced me to Vlad by arranging my job interview, later told me that my mentor was doing me no favors in over-complimenting my work.  He warned that when I eventually worked for someone else, I would find it hard to find a cheer leader to replace him.  In short, I was being spoiled by Vladimir and one day I would have a rude awakening when he was no longer there to stand between me and the sharks in the tank.

Put another way his message was, “don’t get a swelled head from his flattery, you’re not that good.”

He was a little right and he was a lot wrong.

Vlad died in 1990 and I did indeed miss his encouragement.  As I mourned his loss (my loss), I was his successor in the office.  I was more than a little daunted by the size of the shoes I was to fill, but he prepared me well.  He helped me believe in myself and recognize my strengths and weaknesses. Armed with this, I took those strengths and minimized those weaknesses further than I ever thought possible.

I am ever thankful that he was my mentor and I miss him still.

Smilingsmiling-dog-moose

I like smiling.  I especially like smiling at strangers and the smiles that precede a good laugh with a friend.  A warm smile is a cost efficient way to brighten a day.

Occasionally, it can be difficult in some venues, but generally making eye contact, smiling and nodding the head once in silent greeting brings a smile in return.  It’s a small, momentary connection between two people who may have never seen one another before and are unlikely to see each other again, but it is not meaningless.  If I am a tenth-of-a-degree warmer for the experience and so is the other person, it’s a fine use of the time and energy it takes to smile.

I don’t smile at everyone I see, but when the thought hits me I smile readily.  Just the act of smiling can improve your day.  Smiling works on you like the salt, pepper, thyme, or other favorite spices work on your food.  Smiling makes your time more interesting, enjoyable, and flavorful.   The fact that a smile has no calories or carcinogens is a fine bonus.

When I smile at physically “attractive” women, I wonder if they assume I am coming on to them.  Truthfully, sometimes I wonder if I am, but I’m always satisfied and happy to be one of two smiles passing.

The best fun is smiling sincerely at people who least expect it, like Vladimir the waiter would have.

I like to think that I am an indiscriminant smiler.

Competition vs. Congeniality

When I returned from my hermit-hiding place in Maine to the suburb of New York City where I spent most of my life, I brought with me a new and fresh perspective from which to view my home environment.  With the exception of my first year of college at Virginia Tech, Connecticut had been my home state for my entire life before we moved to Maine.   I really needed that change of venue to experience a different worldview.   I was a different self when we returned.

Both places have their attractions and their “unattractions” (my newly invented word), but I quickly realized that many of the differences between them is a product of their contrasting population densities and their proximity (or lack thereof) to a major city.

Of all the differences I observed, the one I find most striking is thedriving competitionjpg highly competitive nature of many in suburbia versus the more relaxed and congenial aspect of rural Maine.  This contrast is especially stark when dealing with strangers in a situation where one’s anonymity is assured, e.g., driving a car.

In Fairfield County, Connecticut and other outlying suburban areas of New York City driving long ago devolved to an intense competitive sport.  Many drivers either believe that they have an inherent right or obligation to be ahead of anyone in front of them, or believe that they have a moral duty not to let the self-entitled jerk behind them get in front of them. (I tended more toward being the latter of these two sociopathic deviants.)

Put these two particular classes of drivers on the same road at the same time and you will create the perfect medium for road rage.   It is also hazardous to those with heart disease and/or ulcers.

The Law of Large Numbers

In Maine we lived in Cumberland County where in 2016 the population is just shy of 285,500 residents who inhabit 1,217 square miles along the coast.   I have returned now to Fairfield County, which has nearly 940,000 residents living in an area of 837 square miles.  The population densities per square mile in the two counties then are:

  • Cumberland, ME     234 souls
  • Fairfield, CT 1,123 souls

If the number of asshole drivers is 1% of the total population in each of these areas, you are almost five times more likely to have to deal with one of these idiots while driving to or from work in CT than in ME.  Given that more than 125,000 Fairfield County warriors commute to New York City to work at some fairly competitive jobs, and many other highly competitive jobs have migrated to suburbia, the actual percentage of the population made up by competitive drivers in the CT county is likely inherently higher than in Maine.

Conservatively then, let’s assume that 2% of the population in Fairfield County pretend to be Dale Earnhardt Jr. (or Mrs, Jr., ladies can be like this too) when they drive.  If the one asshole per 100 drivers rate in Maine holds steady, you are 10 times more likely to feel like you inadvertently drove onto the Daytona Speedway while in Fairfield County than in Cumberland County.

The reason for including these calculations here is that when I moved to Maine, I made a concerted, conscious effort to lose my own experienced and well-honed asshole driving style.

The Little Old Ladies from Passadumkeag

The Beach Boys never sang about them, but these little old ladies, and others like them, are a force in Maine.  In terms of residents, Maine is the “oldest” state in the Union, so it’s logical that it has proportionately more “elderly” people driving on its roads than does any other state.

These folks are typically cautious and more deliberate in what they do and how they drive.  Accordingly, I needed to learn patience behind the steering wheel.  At first whenever I felt old lady drives 2like shouting in frustration, I had to talk to myself down off the cliff to remember my goal.  “Imagine that’s Mom driving that car.”  That got my attention and before long I actually became a naturally patient driver.  I even smiled while I drove.

While Maine may not have as many assholes on the road, they have their share.  When they popped up in my rearview mirror I learned to wave them on and silently wish them well.

I congratulated myself to the changes I was making until I began to realize that I was actually on the cusp of becoming another senior citizen in the census poll with highest state average age in the country.  Maybe along with my intent to change my driving style, I was naturally becoming one of the typically cautious and more deliberate drivers.  If so, that was okay.  It was a positive change no matter why.

Back to the Demolition Derby

Having:

  • returned to the land of late-model, expensive, foreign-made sedans, cross-overs, SUVs, and sports cars,
  • driven by masters of the universe
  • who live in huge houses and
  • drive aggressively because
  • they can,

(please allow me a deep breath before I continue this run-on sentence)

  • my patience is wearing thin again.

My self-esteem is once again being challenged by the bold arrogance of some drivers here.  I’d left them, they hadn’t left me. In short, now that I’m back in Fairfield County I am starting to revert into an asshole driver.

Just last week a guy in Nissan sedan decided to jump the line of cars in front of him waiting at a red light.  Our lane was clearly marked for those who were going to go straight.  He chose to leave the back of our line (where I had been one stop-go cycle earlier) into the left turn only lane and pulled up next to my car. His intent was pretty obvious. He wasn’t in the wrong lane by mistake, he just believed that he deserved to be ahead of all the fools who comply with the proscribed traffic patterns.

Directly across the intersection from the guy’s car was the left turn only lane for cars coming toward us.  The Nissan and I were both second in our respective lines so he was right beside my car. When the light turned green he rode the bumper of the car in front of him that was also jumping our line.   Their lane’s first car barely gained our lane in front of our first car, but our first car yielded no room for the Nissan to pass.  Now it was up to me to preserve the honor of our lane by denying the lane jumper his objective. So I did.  When the Nissan asshole began to turn I, the Ford Escape asshole, ignored it and blew past him as did several cars behind me.  We left the Nissan stuck nose-to-nose with the cars in the turning lane from the other direction.  They were not happy with him for blocking their ability to turn.

Mine was a fine piece of competitive defensive asshole driving.  I scolded myself and grinned.

I truly don’t want to return to the ‘me’ that I’d worked so hard to abandon in Maine, but I have a natural aversion to letting other assholes take advantage of this asshole.  If I choose to let them have their little victories, I’d just like them to know that I could have denied them their ego rushes if I wanted to.  Short of installing a public address system in my car, I haven’t figured out how to do that.

I guess I havintelpost121126_assholebook_250.jpge to be content with knowing that myself.  Who cares what they think?

My goal is that next time I’m in that situation I want to let the jerk have the lane and not care.  I just don’t know if I have it in me to be that mature yet.

For an in-depth philosophical analysis of, and suggestions on how to manage, these types of folks, I highly recommend the work of Aaron James in his book, Assholes. *A Theory

Generosity

I always considered myself to be as generous as the next guy (I could have taught a graduate level course in Comparative Generosity), and I’m sure I was about as average as one could be.  I only learned about true generosity and the real joys of giving from my wife.  Having been a lifelong practitioner of giving, Doris is an accomplished expert.

Breaking me in, she started small.  “Is that all you’re leaving for the tip?

For the past 45 years I’ve witnessed the pure joy she gets from giving to un-expectant people: family, friends, and strangers.  Gradually at first, and then more readily, I’ve come to share that joy.

As my fingers have been dancing on my keyboard, I literally just overheard Doris speaking on the phone in the next room to someone named Doug who must have been working in some retail outlet’s call center.  In signing off the call she said, “I want to thank you Doug for all the help you’ve given me this morning.  You were really great and I want you to know I really appreciate it.”  Now, what did that cost her?  How do you think Doug felt about her compliment?  How often do you think Doug gets compliments like this?   The neat thing for me is that when deserved I too now make a point of speaking person to person to a Doug and expressing genuine gratitude.  I picked that up from Doris.

She is prone at times to go even another step beyond.  On the phone, in a restaurant, in a Lowes or a Home Depot for that matter, she asks a worker who has been very helpful to her, “Who is your Manager?”  It’s actually funny, but also a bit sad, that most times the person she wants to praise to his/her manager, is visibly shaken and fearful of that question until Doris follows on with, “I want to tell the manager what a  fine job you did for us.”  Likewise, when the summoned manager arrives, it’s usually like a student called to the Principal’s office.  The relief on the manager’s face when Doris delivers her message of gratitude then becomes a broad smile.

I dare anyone to walk away from that encounter in a bad mood.

Giving is now a very soul-satisfying endeavor for me. The joy (I know I am repeating that word, but it has no peer, joy is felt in the soul) of giving reaches my core. The happy surprise of the recipients of unexpected generosity is literally priceless.  Just the message that someone cares can be a gift that reaches the soul.

So I believe generosity is a fundamental method of communicating soul-to-soul.  When someone says, “I’m truly touched by your generosity,” it’s the soul that has been “touched.”  Touching and being touched that deeply can be so exquisite it can bring tears.

Like many, many people, we support what we consider to be worthwhile causes and organizations with donations of money, goods and services.  That is always good for our souls.  But we also enjoy helping people in need who we meet or hear about.  Most often the help we give is provided anonymously – somehow that makes the experience more joyful for us.

I’m still a novice compared to my wife, but I get to share in the wonderfulness of her giving.  I offer but one more recent instance that captures the essence of what she sometimes does with our resources.

We recently had a mid-afternoon lunch at a local diner.  The nearby high school had obviously finished another day of classes; several well-mannered students occupied tables at the far end of the diner.  While we enjoyed our meals the kids left sporadically in small groups and drove away.  Those at the largest table were the last to leave.  A few minutes later we heard their waitress moan, “Oh no.  They stiffed me again.”  The kids had paid their bill but left no tip.  In the exchange between the waitress and the owner of the diner at the cash register, we learned their check had come to about $100.  The waitress was more saddened than angry about the situation.

We finished our meals, left our usual tip on the table, and approached the owner at his pay counter to settle our check.  Before leaving, Doris reached into her wallet and handed the man a $20 bill and said, “We overheard what happened.  After we leave, please give this to the waitress.”  He smiled warmly and said “Thank you, I certainly will.”

We had a very nice drive home.

Sometimes the giving that’s not tax deductible is the best.

 

©2016 James Ash

 

 

 

A Different Kind of Pain & Loss – Part 2

A Different Kind of Pain & Loss – Part 2

Just My Luck – Chapter 12-2   

Our first year as an engaged couple was a real test for Carol and me. We were fairly young to be betrothed, she was 20 and I was all of 18. We were among the Baby Boomers spawned after the soldiers came home from fighting World War II. Our parents’ generation tended to marry young and so we saw nothing particularly unusual in our decision.

But there were different forces in play in their generation. Armed forces. Our parents generally had to grow up young because there was a World War impacting them all. Many boys of my father’s generation came to know military discipline and pride, learned how to be self-reliant and resourceful, valued the camaraderie and brotherhood of their units, and were battle tested before the war ended. They truly did leave home as boys and return as men. Their experience in the ultimate life and death theatre matured the soldiers and those awaiting their return in ways we could never know.

Carol and I were sad beyond belief that we were going to be separated at the end of our summer together. In September she was going to the main campus of UCONN for her last two years of college.  I was going to Virginia Tech for my first – a choice I’d made before Carol and I had “found” each other.

We wrote letters to each other just about every day, we spoke on the phone (unlike today long-distance calls were expensive) at least once a week and ultimately found ways to be able to spend at least a few days a month together. We thought we had it rough, but we had nowhere near the hard times survived by our parents.

A Different War

When I graduated high school in 1969 the United States was deeply embroiled in a skirmish in Southeast Asia called The Vietnam War.  If a healthy young man graduated from high school and couldn’t or didn’t choose to go to college, he would be available to be conscripted into the Army to fight in the jungles and rice paddies of that divided agrarian country. Those who enrolled in college fell under the protection of a “2-S Deferment.”

I needed to get and keep one of those.

That deferment became especially important when the Selective Service Department created a lottery to determine the order in which young men would be drafted.  If and when I’d be called upon to serve when my college days were over depended on my birthday and Lady Luck.

spun in a drum

On draft lottery day for those born in 1951 (me), 365 capsules, one for each day of the year, were spun-in-a-drum and randomly pulled one at a time. If my birthday was pulled as the 126th capsule or later, I’d be free of the draft.  If it was among the first 125 pulled, eventually I’d be in line for a free haircut from Uncle Sam.

My birthday was the 46th drawn.  I was prime meat.  Curse my luck.

My 2-S deferment was the sole barrier between me and the jungles and flying bullets of Vietnam.  I could not jeopardize it in any way at any time.

Feeling very unlucky over both the circumstances that were going to separate Carol and me and the uncertain jeopardy posed by my miniscule draft number, I didn’t realize the oblique dividend I’d received from a previous misfortune.  I my father had still been alive in 1969 he would have opposed my engagement to Carol and, worse, he and I would likely have strongly disagreed about his plan for me to “become a man” in the Army before going to college.  He would have held the purse strings on the tuition funvietnam002-lds he and my mother were saving for me and could very well have denied them to me, as would be his right.  Absent tuition I couldn’t have gone to college.  Absent college, I was #46 in a line of 125 at the Army induction center. After that I’d likely have won an all expenses paid 18 month sojourn to sunny Southeast Asia.

I can’t be certain this would have happened, but not many of Dad’s VFW contemporaries opposed the Vietnam War at that time.  It’s not hard to imagine he might have shared their point of view. Unquestionably and categorically, I’d have given my right arm to have my father alive, but I am thankful that he and I were spared what might have been a shattering disagreement.  Maybe when we are reunited one day I’ll find out what he might have done.  (Come to think about it, if I did give my right arm I’d flunk the Army physical, wouldn’t I.)

Also little did I know that ultimately my bad luck in the draft lottery would turn out to be meaningless.  By the time I graduated from college in 1973, the Selective Service draft had ended.  It turned out that my luck was bestowed on every draft-eligible body born in 1951 who had and kept a 2-S Deferment.

Hi. Nice to Meet You. I’m Engaged.

Whenever Carol and I were apart those three years, I was vigilant not to allow myself to get in any situation where I might be tempted to be unfaithful – and in that I’m not only including sexual faithfulness, but everything faithfulness (well, maybe I’d smile at a pretty girl, but that was it).  Not that I was in any serious danger of being seduced, but in any coed social situation I might fall into I made it a point early on to announce that I was engaged.

I found out fairly quickly at Virginia Tech that I did not want to be an engineer.

VPII wasn’t excited about the work and had difficulty in my Calculus and Drafting classes.  I only excelled at English Composition, which was the Achilles Heel of most engineering students.   My first semester grades were tepid at best, and I couldn’t run the risk of flunking out of college and into uniform.  So I changed my major to Philosophy (making me one of maybe four Philosophy majors on campus) and made plans to transfer to UCONN the following year.

As prudent insurance for a successful transfer, I applied to Central Connecticut State College as my safety transfer school.

UltimatelyUCONN, the year on the same campus Carol and I were anticipating was not to be.  Although UCONN responded favorably to my application, on-campus housing considerations prohibited second-year transfer students from attending the main campus in Storrs until their third year. I would have to go to the branch campus in Stamford for my sophomore year.

This would mean moving back home after having already made the “break.”  That regression was simply unacceptable. I would go back to Virginia Tech before returning to live under the overprotective roof of my very loving, demure and well-meaning mother.  I loved her dearly, but her mothering could be smothering.

Thank goodness for my safety school,” I thought. Then I got the letter from Central Connecticut State College flatly rejecting my transfer application.

I now had three choices:

  • living at home again,
  • returning to Virginia Tech, or
  • losing my 2-S Deferment.

The first and last of these were complete non-starters, so I resigned myself to another year of 800 miles of separation from Carol at Virginia Tech

Then the fickle Lady Luck smiled at me again.

Hi. Nice to Meet You. I’m Engaged

Two weeks after their rejection letter arrived, another envelope from Central Connecticut State College was in my mailbox.  Its message opened with, “Congratulations.”  They
reconsidered my transfer application; I was welcome to attend CCSC.

I was thrilled, amazed, ecstatic, but had to wonder, how’d that happen?  I learned the answer later that day.

After graduating high school in 1917, my maternal grandmother went to New Britain Normal School to learn to be a teacher. She graduated in 1919. (I have a beautiful 1919 photo of her looking out a large sun lit window and holding her degree scroll wrapped in a bow.  She was stunningly beautiful in that image.) Luckily for me, New Britain Normal eventually changed its name to Central Connecticut State College.  My grandmother, a 50-year annual alumnus donor to the school, penned a letter to the Alumni Office on my behalf.

God bless her.

Thanks to her I was in, Carol and I would be less than 50 miles apart, and my deferment was safe.

Just My Luck.

Hi. Nice to Meet You. I’m Engaged

My good fccscortune continued to warm my days as CCSC turned out to be a great place for me.  In short order I was involved in campus politics, the campus newspaper, a “humanist education support group,” and I created and presided over the Philosophy Club.  I carried a double major of English Secondary Education and Philosophy and earned good grades.  Because I was a transfer student, the calculation of my cumulative grade point average began anew; my not-so-stellar grades from Virginia Tech were not factored into my cumulative grade average, but they did count as credits toward graduation.

When my undergraduate days ended, I’d earned a cum laude designation, but truth be told, there should have been an asterisk next to that in the graduation ceremony’s program.

Hi. Nice to Meet You. I’m Engaged

Throughout my three years of classes, activities, and general life on campus, I continued informing people that I was engaged to be married soon.  I had a bunch of new friends and I was with Carol just about every weekend.

When Carol graduated from UCONN at end of my sophomore year at CCSC, she started looking for gainful employment in our hometown to save money for our pending married life.  Her degree was in Child Development & Family Relations, a specialty field in the world of social work, but her first job after college was in a newly formed company, ADP, that provided computerized payroll services to small businesses.  Neither of us knew it, but she had landed on the ground floor of a high tech company that was destined to dominate its field.

Carol also took a weekend job as a housemother at a group home for troubled teen-aged girls.  The position added some funds to the coffers, but she primarily took the job to gain professional experience in her chosen field.   The weekend job also cut deeply into our together time.

Anxious to be married, we decided to be wed during the Christmas break before my last semester at CCSC.  That period would be mostly comprised of my off-campus student teaching.

Meanwhile, I was at CCSC in New Britain weekdays and with Carol in Stamford on weekends. Wedding plans began, invitations were ordered, the dress was purchased, etc. etc.

All was great.

Hi. Nice to Meet You. I’m Engaged

On a September day just a few months before I was to be married, I walked through the door of the campus newspaper office and saw at the other end of the room an especially attractive woman I’d never seen before.  I literally couldn’t keep from staring at her as she worked on whatever was in front of her, oblivious to my presence.

Len, our Arts Editor, was nearby at my end of the office so I sidled over to him and asked who she was.

“That’s Doris Plourde,” he said. “You don’t know her?”

“I’ve never seen her before,”  I replied, “but I know the name.  Hers is the only poetry you publish in our little paper that is better than mine, which you hardly ever publish.”

Len chuckled. ““You got that right. Her’s is worthy of publication; yours isn’t.  You want me to introduce you?”

“Yeah, why not?” I asked.

Doris was certainly not the first very attractive woman who had caught my eye after my proposal to Carol.  Never strongly tempted to venture into uncharted waters before though, somehow this was different.

Hi. Nice to Meet You.

Len, my “self,” and the rest of me walked to the other end of the room.

“Hi Doris, this is Jim.”

By the end of the day, I knew that at the very least, my wedding would need to be postponed.

Oh Lord, What Have I Done?

After more than three years of vigilant behavior, I shattered my commitment to Carol.  I created a situation that I never thought was possible.  I was deeply in love with two wonderful women at the same time.

God help us.

For months thereafter life was a chaotic three-ring circus filled with confusion, tears, joy, agony, happiness, disappointment, discovery, and misery for Carol, Doris and me.  But the guilt and schizophrenia was 100% mine.

Having created this mess, I knew I didn’t deserve the love of either of them.  I didn’t like who I’d become or how I was living.  They were unsure of me and with good reason. I was the culprit.  I knew that ultimately I would lose one, or both of them.  Yet still I was unable to sort out what to do.

It was Carol who finally called it all to a halt and told me she couldn’t take it anymore.  She removed the engagement ring from her finger, held it out and said, “Here, take it.  I don’t want to see you again. I need you out of my life.”

She was crying.  So was I.  She turned and left.

I had now either to chase after Carol or pledge my life to Doris.  It was only when I had no choice but to make a choice, that I did.   I’m not proud of leaving myself in that position.

Hi. Nice to Meet You. I’m Doris’s Husband

As of this writing Doris and I have been in love and married over 41 years, had two children who are now both happily married to wonderful spouses, and we have become grandparents.  Our marriage, like most, has had its peaks and valleys.  But over time the peaks have become taller and the valleys mostly have been dammed up to form lakes suitable for swimming, boating, kayaking, canoeing, water skiing, and skinny dipping.

Doris has taken care of me throughout my many maladies and I have similarly cared for her.  The direction of my life – my experiences, the family we created, many of the people I met and the friends I’ve made, the careers I’ve had, the places I’ve been, the good times and the not-so-good all hinged on our marriage.  I love and am proud of Doris and all that she has accomplished and all that our marriage has done and will continue to create.  I have loved, honored, cherished and even (at times) obeyed Doris every day since then.

Carol’s aunt was the school librarian at our alma mater, Stamford High School, when I returned there to teach.  Years later she told me that Carol had returned to school and earned her Ph.D.  She was also married, had a child and lived in New Jersey.  I was and am glad, she deserved that and more. 

True Commitment – A Core Value

By now, I imagine you know why Commitment became one of my unshakeable core values.  In my home, in my friendships, in my career, in my faith, I am loyal to my commitments and expect the same from others.  I cannot think of one friend who I can’t trust implicitly and who doesn’t know that s/he can trust me as well.  Many of these friends were part of my career, and many were lost to a horrible act of terrorism.  Any loss of people of integrity is a tragedy.

I have found that unreliable, duplicitous people generally make themselves known early, (see: “Trump, Donald”) and I have learned to avoid them if possible and to not trust them if they can’t be avoided.  My being honest and reliable when they are not can be  disadvantageous early on.  But liars and connivers typically expose themselves quickly.

Knowing who to trust, who not to trust, and why, I can swim in waters with the sharks safely if I have to.

But like an open sewer, I prefer not to deal with them at all, if it can be avoided.

 

©2016 James Ash

 

©2016 James Ash

Coronary Episode #2 – Part 2

Coronary Episode #2 – Part 2

Just My Luck – Chapter 11–2

I was disconcerted that for some six hours I was not self-aware.  My body was fully alive, but my “self” was AWOL.

Move over Buster Keaton

Just My Luck.  I had a coronary emergency and by a somewhat circuitous route Ibest hospitals award stumbled into one of the best cardiac hospital facilities in the country,  the Gagnon Cardiovascular Institute at Morristown Memorial Hospital.

My surgeon was not just an excellent practitioner of his valuable profession, he was a really nice and concerned fellow.  He explained to me that this time I was going to need a double by-pass.  He’d only performed a few thousand such surgeries so far, but he assured me he was really getting the hang of it of late.

I took him at his word.

Despite our lighthearted banter, I knew this was serious surgery.  I would not be up and around the following day as I had been years before with the angioplasty.  I was in much greater immediate danger than I’d been in during my original coronary event.  They were wasting no time, I was going to be opened up tomorrow.

The surgeon explained what was to come.  He would need to break my sternum from top to bottom to gain access to my heart.  If all went well, I would awake with tubes sticking out of me and with a stapled-shut wound the length of my separated sternum.  (We didn’t discuss what might happen if things didn’t go well.)  The vein he’d use for the first by-pass was already available near the heart.  It was a vein that all humans have, but that have a purpose only in women.  For men, it was like a spare tire: there in case needed in an emergency.  He would need to harvest the vein for the second by-pass from my left leg, so I would have a wound to care for there too.  Both wounds would be vulnerable to post-operative infection.  The recovery would be weeks-long and uncomfortable.

Doris later told me that the nursing staff was willing to take bets that I wasn’t going to be able to attend my son’s wedding in Maui six weeks hence.

But at least I had insurance.

I had a lot to live for when I prayed for help before my first cardiac procedure.  Now I had a son-in-law, a soon to be daughter-in-law, and a beautiful grand daughter, not to mention even more great friends to add to the list.  So despite my rational doubt that God will sometimes intercede in the work of the Grim Reaper, my emotional side prayed long and hard for God’s help.

I guess it’s true: there are no unbelievers in a fox hole.

weinerjan1

The following morning I was prepped for surgery, met the anesthesiologist who would assure I was asleep but not dead during the operation (another funny guy), and was transferred to a narrow, hi tech gurney.  The operating rooms were surrounded by a space where the players about to take the stage waited in the wings, sort of like the locker rooms at a sports arena.  Unmasked and ungloved they joked with one another as if I wasn’t even there.  I was glad to be an observer of their camaraderie, I could tell they were a real team.

The anesthesiologist arrived at my bedside and asked if I was ready. I had no choice so I was. He did the “count backwards from a hundred” thing though we both knew I’d not make it to 96.

In literally no time, and I mean no time, I was in the recovery room. It was all done. I woke and realized that I was no longer where I was when my countdown nearly reached 96.  It was as though I’d just “apperated” (a Harry Potter term) from the surgical bull pen directly to the recovery room in a flash.

No passing “Go” and no $200.

The only evidence that the continuum had been interrupted was that I didn’t continue the countdown to 95.  All that build up, the tension, the drama, the countdown at 97 – and now at 96 it’s all over?   Wait a minute, I missed the best part!  Replay the video.

What an anti-climax.

Where Did I Go?

My operation repaired my diseased heart once again, but in the process it raised some strange and troubling questions in my mind.  I’d been under general anesthesia before, but for much shorter periods.  Somehow this time it was very different.

This time my “me” fundamentally didn’t exist for six hours and for some strange reason, when I awoke I could feel the lingering absence of my “self” in my bones.  It wasn’t sleep.  I didn’t dream nor did I have the slightest cognition of any sensation whatsoever.

For six hours I was simply unaware that I had ceased to exist.  One cannot be much further gone than that.  For all intents and purposes, a time had just ended when there was no “me.”  When my awareness of self was gone, everything was gone.  It was as though a piece of my life had been surgically removed.

During those six hours of course, being aware of absolutely nothing, I wasn’t comfortable or uncomfortable. I was literally nothing.  It was only now that I had become aware again that I was disconcerted that for six hours I was not aware.  My body was fully alive, but my “self” was AWOL.

Was that a foretaste of death?  Is death really the door to nothingless? Or had my self/soul just gone dormant for a while?

My self did re-awaken, fully intact and ready to resume its existence from where it had last been.  The fact that it could and did re-awaken gave me comfort.  But I also realized that my belief in the immortality of the soul was likely too simple.  The soul may be immortal, but how that all works has to be more complicated than I can understand.  I simply don’t know how to account for the absence of my “self” for six hours. I have no idea if it existed then or where it may have gone.  I still believe that my soul is immortal, but this conundrum confirms that I don’t know that it is.

Faith is a belief in knowledge we don’t have.

Can you experience a temporary state of absence of being?  If so, how can you determine that you have?  I’m getting a headache.

 

Anesthesiologists must be wizards.

Another Difficult Road Back

The recovery period after my surgery was the most physically painful six weeks of my life.

I’ve never met a hospital bed that I liked.  They all must be designed by insurance companies to compel patients to make their hospitalizations as short as they can.  The first couple of days I was basically a biological bag of sore: uncomfortable, weak, and bored beyond endurance.  On day three I had my first taste of relief when the surgeon removed the draining tubes from my upper body.  It felt like a full quiver’s worth of iron spears was withdrawn from my chest.

The surgeon told me that all had gone well as planned and that I was lucky not to have had alinked sausage 2 heart attack beforehand.  He told me that the artery with the stents that were put in years earlier now resembled a length of linked sausages where the artery had collapsed in the spaces between the stents.  It was possible that it might have been a matter of a days or weeks before my emergency would have been far more serious.

Dumbstruck by dumb luck again.

Never able to find a comfortable position is a pitiable situation.  Not allowed to lift anything, including myself, meant that to sit up, lie down, roll over, and do other canine tricks, I required help.  Being helpless as a baby is definitely not conducive to the self esteem of anyone who has already graduated from infancy.

Hospital food can be good or bad, but it’s always just hospital food.  Morristown Hospital’s kitchen was better than most, but I wouldn’t choose to go out to eat there.  Daytime television was simply torturous, but you can only read so much when you’re under the weather.  There has to be some undiscovered law of physics that says over a prolonged period, time slows to a pace inversely proportional to the number of times you look at a clock (e.g. the more you look the slower it gets).

All in all, I was an impatient in-patient for ten days that felt like a baseball season.  Nonetheless, I was grateful to be alive and on the mend.

Despite my long hospitalization, when I was finally released I was still about as close to being an invalid as I’d ever been.  Weak and wobbly and in need of constant close attention, I returned to Lauren and Tim’s house where Doris and I were in residence for the duration of our condo renovations.

Being the superb friend that he is, Bob drove down from Connecticut just to drive me there from the hospital.  Doris, who had been at the hospital every day of my stay, led Bob and me along her now too familiar route between Morristown Hospital and Lauren & Tim’s home in Warren, NJ.

Tired and shaky, I made progress every day thereafter.  I had one major goal: I would be strong enough and healthy enough to be able to fly to Hawaii in the last week of February and stand on the beach to watch, with great pride and happiness, as my son, Tom, married the love of his life, Kathermmaui 2ine.

I heard through the grapevine that Katherine had told Tom that if I couldn’t make it to Hawaii, they should still go there to vacation but postpone the wedding and have it in New Hampshire when I could be there.  Knowing that a Maui beach wedding had long been Katherine’s dream, I doubled my resolve to be there.

It was a great wedding. I was elated to stand on the beach with whales breeching in the distance while Tom and Katherine exchanged the vows they authored.

What a special place Maui is.

What a blessing it was to be there.

 

Just My Luck.

Coincidentally, in my recovery from both of my “coronary events,” I had similar extra incentives to “get well soon.” Both of the motivations involved the opportunity to take long flights to attractive venues.  As mentioned here, in my most recent recovery the carrot-on-the-stick was flying to Maui for the wedding.  Not long after being released from my angioplasty procedure nearly a decade earlier, I was scheduled to fly to London with Bob for a meeting with our firm’s European maxresdefaultStrategic Account Managers.  I’d been advised by my cardiologist that I might want to call in as “still sick” for the trip.  I took a wait-and-see strategy and would make my go/no-go decision after taking my pulse a day or so before the trip. 

A week before our scheduled flight to London, I received a notice from British Airways that Bob and I had both been “bumped up” at no additional cost from Business Class on a 747 to seats on the super-sonic Concorde for our flight to London.    My recovery immediately went super-sonic.  After a thorough stress test on the treadmill, my cardiologist decided not to advise against going.  In both cases, the final decision was mine.  In both cases I celebrated the end of my ordeal with a trans-oceanic flight.  In both cases I’d been warned that if something should happen while in flight, it could be several hours before I might receive proper attention.  In both cases the flights were uneventful.

  Just (More of) My Luck.

©2016 James Ash

 

 

 

Self – Part 2

Self – Part 2

Just My Luck  – Chapter 8 – Part 2

 

How Old is Your Soul?

As I’ve considered the notion that my soul experienced earlier lives (either here or elsewhere) and is destined to live more, I’ve found it comforting to find others I respect who are speculating similarly.  My mentor for the first 11 years of my corporate writing career, Vladimir P. Chernik (one of the most remarkable people I have ever had the privilege to know, admire and love as a great friend), strongly believed in reincarnation.

father_time-1900In that context, he claimed to subscribe to the theory that one’s birthday held the key as to how ‘old’ one’s soul currently is.  Why not?  The theory qualifies as a possibility.

From almost anyone else, I would have scoffed at this idea as a silly parlor game, but Vladimir was an unusually intelligent man whose demeanor and views on life were spiritual, practical and nearly always optimistic.  He also had a robust sense of humor and was not above a good practical joke, so take or leave his speculation on this as you choose.

If only just for fun, here’s how Vlad calculated the age of one’s soul, measured in lives, not years:

  • To begin he’d simply translate a person’s birthday into its numerical expression. My birthday is October 8, 1951 or 10 08 1951.
  • Now, add those three numbers: 10+08+1951= 1969.
  • Now add those integers: 1+9+6+9=25.
  • And finally add those last integers: 2+5=7.

The aim is to decant the original numbers until you arrive at a solution between 1 and 9.

So, according to Vlad’s ‘ancient system’ I am currently living my 7th of 9 lives on earth (he didn’t consider life on other planets).   Mine then is a fairly mature soul.  My wife was born 05 30 1952 which takes us to 1987 and 25 and 7.  Vladimir proclaimed we were well matched. (I was deeply gratified and relieved to learn this.)

 All right, tell me Vladimir, what happens to the soul of a person who will be born on May 26, 2030  [5+26+2030=2061 = 9] when s/he dies?  There is no 10th life, that would be 1+0: a first grader.  Will this soul, like the feline, run out of lives at 9?

Well Jim,that depends on the soul.  If it’s mature enough it can move on (to another planet perhaps?).  If not, it’s back to the starting line, the first grade.  A soul keeps going through the system over and over until it matures sufficiently to move on.

And then where Vlad?

Where does one go when s/he graduates?  Anywhere s/he wants.

 

You Can’t Take It (All) With You

In the course of my soul searches I’ve wondered whether a soul might have been able to retain just one valuable, hard earned lesson from each previous life for use in later lives. After all, some lessons are so costly they ought not to expire.

This idea leads me to two questions:

  • What learning might I have had previously that helped me in this life?cant take with u)
  • What learning this time around would I choose to take with me into my next life?

In answer to the first question, I may have something that may qualify as such a lesson.

I mentioned earlier that I was neither among the very popular or the outcasts in my adolescent and high school years.  Charlie Brown was well intentioned, but not cool.  But unlike Charlie Brown and many adolescents, I did not suffer the neuroses of doubting my innate worth and my lot in life in the future.   Somehow, it didn’t bother me in the least that I wasn’t among the junior high school social elite, the super athletic, or the political leadership of my high school student body.  I cannot put my finger on why I was content to bide my time and be satisfied with being fairly ordinary during those years, but I inherently knew that my “glory days” (to take a page from Bruce Springsteen’s songbook) were surely ahead of me. I didn’t want the high water mark of my life to be a membership in a high school fraternity.

My calm contentment and my quiet confidence in my future came from within.  I started to emerge from the shell during my college years.  When I did prepare for and assume leadership roles in my education, career and my private life, they were meaningful.

Had I learned in a different time and place that I could depend on better days ahead? I think it’s entirely possible.  I have no other explanation for it.

I do not remember where, when, or how I first encountered the thought that my “self” might be my soul, but that idea resonated with me from childhood.  Might our proclivities* (an excellent word) actually be the left-over products of experiences from previous lives?  Could child prodigies actually be drawing on talents and learning acquired in an earlier time and place?

Now the second question. What, if anything, would I want my soul to remember and carry over into my next lives?

  • Never run into the street without checking for cars first?
  • Don’t let yourself be in love with two potential life mates at the same time?
  • Don’t let your mother die alone?
  • You can love them but don’t bet on the Chicago Cubs?

If given a choice, the greatest lesson I have learned so far in this life is that despite the systems, rules, laws, technology, and achievements of our species, we can never completely harness or predict what will happen, luckily and unluckily, in the fundamentally random world of events.  Our control over our environment will always be incomplete, so anything may happen to anyone at any moment.  All we can do is live our lives accordingly.

If you believe that your soul is immortal, the possibilities are endless.

What’s Next?

For all I know human life on earth could be Vladimir’s proving ground in which souls develop and mature.  It could be a soul must self-improve in each life and reach a specified level to advance. We might have to return to life at the testing ground, earth, time and time again until qualifying for the next step.

We all may be at various stages of (for lack of a better word) maturity, but we who live all have souls.  Contrary to the egocentric nature of humans and most  Western religions, I like to believe that all biological living beings, not just humans, also might have souls in various stages of development.  Why not?  Are we so neurotic that we simply have to be the only DSC_0014soul-bearing beings?   Is it inconceivable that after a soul graduates from human life it might advance to canine life?

Okay, don’t abandon me here in disgust at how strange I’m getting with this.  It happens that I have a spectacular dog, and I envy some of his traits.  I believe him to be capable of love, and I love him in return.  My point is I don’t know, and so the possibilities of where an immortal soul may go, or what it form it may take, are truly endless.

This idea that animals may have souls first came to me one day in the narthex (area between the main entrance and the last row of pews) of our church after a Sunday service.  One of our parishioners, Abby (not her real name) a single woman in her early 40s, had lingered there to have a relatively private moment with the minister.  I was there saying good-bye to a friend.  Abby was visibly miserable and could no longer hold back her tears.  When our minister, Richard (not his real name), asked what was the matter, Abby tearfully told him that her dog, a retired racing greyhound she’d rescued five years before and her constant companion, had died a few days earlier.  Richard couldn’t hide his incredulity for her concern.  Abby continued, “I just want to know that I will see Rocket (not the dog’s real name) again in Heaven when I die.”  Reverend Richard, probably the worst minister I ever met after SFH disrespected my father, actually scoffed before saying, “Of course not.  Dogs don’t have souls.”  He then spun his heels and walked away leaving Abby in deeper distress.  Nice guy, huh?

I had to step in.  “Abby, please don’t listen to him.  He doesn’t know anything.”

She replied while still crying, “But he’s a minister.”

 “Unfortunately, that’s true.  But on this issue he is dead wrong.”

 “Really?  How do you know?”

 “Let me ask you something first,” I said. “Did you love Rocket?”

 “Yes, I loved him dearly. He was wonderful.  No question about it”

 “I remember him from the Blessing of the Animals,” I truthfully told her. “I’m sure he was easy to love.”

 Abby nodded.central-fla-greyhounds

“OK then.  Let me ask you, did Rocket love you?”

 Without a moment’s hesitation, she said, “Yes, I’m sure of it. If he could, he would have been right beside me all the time.  I could see his love in his eyes every day.”

“Well then, there you have it,” I said.  “Where does love come from, your brain?  No.  It comes from your soul.  And it stands to reason, if he loved you,- and I agree with you that he did – he had to have a soul. Where there is love there is a soul. Rocket had a soul and it still exists.  Souls don’t die when the body expires, so I am as certain as I can be that because  your soul and Rocket’s have a bond you will be together again in Heaven.”

That was the first time I articulated this idea that had been bubbling around in my head, and I knew I believed it exactly as I’d said it.

Ultimately, I will only know absolutely for sure that my soul is immortal when I die. Until then, the best anyone can possibly do is believe, or don’t. My “self” feels like it is immortal, and I want it to be.  But if I am wrong in my belief about the soul’s immortality, I will never know it because at the moment of death, I – my “self” – will truly and irrevocably cease to exist.

I will simply “not be” forever.   It’s hard to imagine.

Is the absence of pain worth the loss of joy and being?

Each of us will find out some day. “To be, or not to be.”  In the meantime, the best we can do is be happy, hopeful and content.

 

*proclivities – innate tastes, preferences, desires, appetites, tendencies

© 2016 James C. Ash

Self – Part 1

Self – Part 1

Just My Luck  – Chapter 8  – Part 1

From childhood, I have been aware that along with my body and all of its physical contents, there is a core “me” embedded somewhere in there too.  It’s always been a simple awareness but a complicated concept that raises lots of questions.

Where does this core reside?  Is the “me” some physical aspect of my brain?   Or is the “me” some ethereal, metaphysical spirit that somehow belongs inside me?  How is my central core related to my physical person?

Where does my body end and my “me” begin?  It’s hard to define, but I have always known that my body and mind are mine, but not “me.”  What is mine belongs to, and is subordinate to, “me.”

Boiling the idea down, I realized that one key job of the “me” is to evaluate situations  and various options available and make decisions in the brain.  The facility for making decisons is in the brain, but the driver of that facility is “me.” Somehow, the “me” initiates and controls the decision making function and calls the brain’s control center into use to implement the decision as best as possible in the world.   That is one way the “me” definesdefine yourself itself (its “self”) to the rest of the world.  There is no better evidence of the motivations, morality, desires, maturity, and responsibility of a person than the decisions s/he makes.  What one subsequently does shows the core values that define her/him.

But how and where are decisions actually made by us?  Is decision-making just the result of low level electricity flowing around in various patterns in the organic wiring and synapses in our nervous systems?  Can’t be only that.  Where is the force that controls and choreographs that electric synapse ballet in a manner that produces a decision that is consistent with who I am?   What force keeps us from simply making random decisions all the time?

It’s still an incomplete idea, but I have embraced the notion that the core “me” is what I call my “self,” which is also my soul.  I believe my soul, my core me, makes the crucial decisions in my life.  Only my soul/my self is responsible for these decisions and ultimately it is my soul that will either grow or be damaged by the choices it makes.

Selfhood

Selfhood is a special concept, more than the sum of its parts.  Self is all the conceptual nouns that inhabit my physical being: my awareness, my thoughts, my emotions, my memories, my misconceptions, my decision-maker, my judgment, my values, my prejudices, my experiences, my passions, my disinterest, my wondering, my mistakes, my pain, my ecstasy, my achievements, my dreams, my nightmares, my fears, my courage, my pride, my ego, my id, my guilt, my tastes, my love, my pleasure, my displeasure, my past, my present, my future, …and somehow more.

My soul is immeasurable, has no weight, no substance and no exact GPS coordinates, but it exists and changes constantly nonetheless.  And, if you will excuse the pun, it is ‘self’’contained.  The soul is not biological, not tangible, but it controls the purposed actions of my body.

Who I am now is part and parcel of who I once was plus some verbs (gerunds actually): learning, forgiving, supplicating, ignoring, discarding, growing, regressing, loving, loathing, praying, observing, recovering, participating, judging, mistaking, trying, failing, succeeding, knowing, exploring, resisting, forgetting, restoring,…the list goes on, but I think you get the idea.

But the self has another, evself controlen more important realm beyond rational decision making as well.  The core self, the soul, feels emotions.  It’s the soul that releases the endorphins of joy, happiness and love as well as the vitriol of pain, anger and hatred that so heavily influence our actions.  We, in a way perhaps validate this idea when we tell one another, and especially our children, to “control yourself.”

In that same vein, the magnetism that binds us to, or repels us from, others is a product of the soul. Love cannot exist in the absence of the soul.

For something that takes up no space, the self, the soul is HUGE.

Mortality and Immortality

One of the more important verbs in “me” is ‘believing,’ especially in this context:  I believe that my self, my soul, is immortal.

I believe that my soul, my core being, existed long before I was born and will continue to exist long after I die. I believe the bundles of gerunds and conceptual nouns that comprise my self today include many gathered before this life and some gathered in this life. I have also amended or shed some that no longer fit “me” and there are others to which I aspire but have yet to master.  All those remaining when I die I will carry with me into the next journey of my immortal soul.

Death, the end, applies only to the physical body, my temporary habitat from which I experience a life that tests and grows or shrinks my self/soul.  The only constant in life is change.  The ultimate purpose and result of a life is a changed self -an improved or more heavily damaged soul – at death .

Why do I believe that my soul/self is immortal?  I know this is a simplistic answer but, it’s because I cannot believe otherwise.  I cannot conceive how and why a self/soul that has no physical composition but drives the bus can transition from being to a state of non-being.  My soul wasn’t created at my birth and it will not die at my death.  My body was created for my soul, not the other way around.

With apologies to Mr. Shakespeare, “To be, or not to be.”

All I know with certainty is my self, my soul is real.  It exists here and now.  Beyond that, all is pure speculation and belief.  Where my soul goes and what happens to my soul in death, and why, will remain a mystery before the body dies.

The Possibilities are Endless

But what’s the harm in making some wild guesses?

I choose to believe that the soul is not physical and so not subject to the physical death of the body.  If one accepts that premise, when the self parts from its bodily partner, it prevails in some other, likely metaphysical, form.

Will my self/soul somehow join with another newly paired set of animal chromosomes to live another life on earth?  Maybe.  I suppose it might, but it’s more likely, at least mathematically, to inhabit some other life form somewhere other than the earth.

The universe is incomparably big, literally, as is the realm of possibilities. It is all but certain that life forms inhabit other places in the universe.  So when a soul is set free in a universe full of life, why re-visit earth?  Been there, done that.

If I lift a grain of sand from a beach and toss it into the air, how likely is it to land in the exact place where I’d picked it up?  And if the soul needs to grow, would not a different environment offer more opportunities to learn than the one you just left?

Will the next stop on this ride be in a place better or worse or incomperable than this one?

Which way is the wind blowing?

 

As Monty Python was known to say,

“And now something completely different.”

Metaphysical Mysteries Solved!

 

WHERE DOES THE SELF GO BETWEEN LIVES?

 

 

 

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HOW DOES IT GET THERE?

SOUL TRAIN

 

(to be continued, unfortunately)

 

©2016 James C. Ash