Paths of Desire (part 3)

(continued)

A few years earlier, after my parents divorced, my mom went back to school for job training and then back to work to support the two of us throughout my junior high and senior high school years. In addition to her work, we rented a room or two in our home to help supplement our income. A wide range of interesting characters made their way through our home over these years and one of them was a self-proclaimed ski bum who had spent most of his life on the slopes. In the off-season he practiced and taught Yoga, and he moved in with us for a year or so while I was in high school. He gave me a very interesting book on Yoga by B.K.S. Iyengar which was filled with fantastic photos of this elderly yogi in masterfully contorted positions. I was very intrigued and I studied this book, working at imitating the positions and memorizing one routine in particular known as “The Sun Salutation”, which combines breathing techniques coordinated with the progression of various poses. Over time I became quite adept at this routine, and it helped me to stay limber in both mind and body. I believe there was a philosophical component to Iyengar Yoga but I wasn’t interested in that, I was mainly inspired and challenged by the contorted positions he could work himself into and that was my focus; to learn and practice some bodily self-control.

The book also had a whole section on body cleansing techniques which were amusing, baffling and unlike anything I’d ever seen before. One was called the Vastra Dauti and for this Mr Iyengar showed himself in a series of photos feeding a long strip of moist cloth down his throat and into his stomach; he was sure to keep a firm grip on one end so that he could then pull it back up and out again. As a high school student growing up in northern California, I had never seen anyone attempt something like this. I couldn’t understand how it would cleanse any better than merely drinking a few glasses of water but nothing is better than experience, I decided, if you want to understand something better, so I cut up an old sheet and made myself a long strip, moistened it, and tried to swallow it. This was a bad idea. I didn’t hurt myself but I gagged an awful lot as I tried to swallow it down.

I gave this up and moved on to the next cleansing technique in his book called the Sutra Neti. This one looked equally gross and unbelievable to me, but I had to give it a try. In this series of old photos BKS Iyengar showed me the proper technique for feeding a cotton string up one nostril, through the sinuses, and down the throat where you proceed to grab the end and pull it out through your mouth; then you work both ends back and forth like dental floss, to clean the sinuses. I gave it a go, but it is a lot more difficult than it looked in his photos. Feeding it through the sinuses and down the throat isn’t so hard but reaching in and pulling it back out your mouth is really tricky. And why would you want to anyway? After a few failed attempts and further gagging, I asked myself this question; and I couldn’t come up with a good, or satisfying answer, so I gave this one up too.

But I stuck with the “Salutation to the Sun”. I really liked doing this stretching in the morning every day after I woke up so I made it a regular routine for many years, far into my adulthood. In fact, I still do it on occasion even now. It is great for the back and with the addition of the breathing techniques it is also supposed to help the lymphatic system and assist in the elimination of toxins from the body.

As I mentioned earlier I did not know God. I had my own ideas of God: a collection of ideas pieced together from what I had read from this religion and that one, a little that I had been taught in Sunday school, and fragments one hears here and there. From these I cobbled together my own God, made in my own image.

I also didn’t know real Love, which from a Christian perspective, in a deep and true sense, is God. I devised my own ideas on love as well, not grounded in the reality of scripture or tradition; but in effect, it was self-love with many variations and permutations. It was my own sense of right and wrong that amounted to self-righteousness or a defense of my rights, that when trampled, would amount to a wrong.  My love amounted to feeding my need to be loved, gratifying myself in various ways and expressing anger at anything that seemed to me unfair about the world.

When reading the famous passage on love from First Corinthians I am struck by the difference between the definition of love it gives us from a Christian perspective, and my own definition and how I practiced it on my own. My love didn’t know how to suffer or how to remain unprovoked when someone wronged me. It didn’t refrain from evil thoughts, or endure all things. No, I was easily provoked and if I felt wronged I was quick to defend myself or those I loved. In many way there wasn’t anything overtly wrong with my behavior and by the ethical standards of my society I acted rather well, but I don’t think that standard is very good. Jesus commands us to ‘be perfect even as your father in heaven is perfect’; we can’t be satisfied comparing ourselves only with those we know to be ‘worse’ than us. We should compare ourselves with He whom we are to be like, and measure ourselves against His standard. Then we can begin to see things as they really are, including who we really are.

I had empathy towards whatever or whoever I perceived to be the underdog; homeless people, small animals, the hills behind my house or streets of my town, both strewn with litter. I spent some of my free time picking up trash from various empty lots in town, hoping to make a difference. At the very least it made me feel a little better about life, and I enjoyed seeing a small area clean of debris. I especially made it my business to clean the hillside up the street from my home because it was such a special place to me, where I had climbed to escape the world and find adventure and peace ever since I was a little boy of around five. This slope was an extension of my home and it hurt me personally to see people leave trash on it.

Hitchhikers and homeless people also really touched my heart. I wasn’t too concerned for my personal safety, feeling the invincibility of youth, so there was seldom a time I wouldn’t stop for whoever was on the side of the street looking for a ride. I met many interesting people this way. One man claimed to be a prisoner of war who had been lost in Vietnam for over a decade before escaping. I took him to dinner at a local Mexican restaurant and heard his tragic story while he sat cautiously in a corner, with his back safely against a wall to prevent attack from behind. He story seemed plausible and I was surprised to hear that men were still held over there even so many years after the war. Another hitchhiker was a self-taught tattoo artist who convinced two of my friends to let him give them tattoos. So we all spent an evening in a hotel room while he gave them tattoos, until he began to act erratically and we had to leave him before somebody got hurt. The real cautionary tale regarding picking up hitchhikers came for me late one night when I picked up a young guy near our local jail. It turns out he had just been released and needed a ride south towards San Francisco. I was heading that way and could take him as far as San Rafael. Things started out fine, he discussed his time in jail, we had some light conversation and then around the midpoint of our journey he pulled out a rather large knife and began cleaning it in a haphazard sort of way. I tried to ignore this and keep him engaged in whatever we were talking about while I began to form a plan to drop him off someplace safe. We were approaching San Rafael so I asked him where he’d like to be let off to catch his next ride. He said he preferred to have me take him to San Francisco. I reminded him that I was only going to San Rafael and then he replied that he thought it would be better if I took him all the way into the city.

“I really can’t take you. I have to stop here in San Rafael,” I said.

“No, I think you’d better take me to San Francisco,” he said while turning the knife over in his hands.

Thankfully I noticed that my gas tank was almost empty and I pointed this out to him and said we had to stop to get more. I pulled into a well-lit and busy station and drove right up to the front door of the mini-market and quickly got out of my truck.

“This is where you get out. Now. I’m not taking you to San Francisco.”

He looked very surprised, scanned the gas station, looked menacingly at me and reluctantly slouched off of his seat and out of my truck. After that incident I resolved to be a little more judicious about the hitchhikers I picked up.

(to be continued)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Paths of Desire (Part II)

(continued, first part in archives from last week)

This same summer I volunteered as an intern for a neurologist at a rehabilitation center in town which specialized in work with people who had suffered traumatic brain injuries. How the mind works fascinated me and I thought this would be a great way to learn more about the mind first-hand. Actually the idea to volunteer came to me from a relatively new friend and mentor who I had met the previous fall named Professor Reynolds.

Everyone called him Monti. He was a retired professor of microbiology who had taught at Harvard and then chaired the department at UC Davis for many years; he also held a patent on a common antibiotic. He was one of the first larger than life kind of people I’ve been fortunate to meet in my life and he used his charismatic skills and personality to serve others in ways that inspired me.  Following my trip to South Africa the local paper had done an article on my time there and through this article Monti found me and called my home one evening. He introduced himself to my mom and asked to speak with me. He said he had been impressed with the article and by my motivation, empathy and courage to learn and build bridges with others. He asked that I come meet him, that he intended to help me in my education, and if I intended to pursue international relations of some kind he would pull strings for me to get into a good program, preferably at Harvard he suggested. This obviously intrigued me, so with my mom, I went to visit him.

I was completely unprepared for what he was doing at his home in his retirement. He lived not far from us, in a modest one-story home in an older development on a quiet residential street. However, as my mom and I approached there was a steady stream of USPS trucks coming and going from his home, and his driveway was lined on both sides with pallets of boxes. As we walked up the driveway, this opened onto a large parking area and backyard also practically filled with pallets of boxes. His garage doors were opened and we could see that his garage was also filled with boxes of all sizes, many opened, and books were strewn all over the garage, on every possible surface. This didn’t look like a home, but rather, it looked like a distribution center of some kind. From the dark of the garage came a bellowing welcome and a moment later Professor Reynolds emerged. He was probably in his late-sixties or early-seventies, a little overweight but in good and vigorous health, fairly tall but slightly hunched over. He wore very thick glasses and his head was covered in very short gray stubble.

He introduced himself with the charm and manners of a diplomat and had us sit down with him in the garage amongst the books and packing materials. We exchanged pleasantries and then he got to business, reiterating his offer to help me. He gave us his full attention and responded appropriately to everything we said. I could clearly see that his mind was able to do this while simultaneously doing quite a lot else as well. While we conversed he continued to sort books, and open letters, of which he had a table full as well as bags filled with more letters at his feet near the small table that seemed to serve as his mission control center. He clearly had some grand mission going on here but I couldn’t tell yet what exactly the mission was. If I believed in Santa I guess I would have to say he must be Santa Claus, since this seemed to fit with the observable data.

It turned out he wasn’t Santa but something even better. Rather than giving toys to good little boys and girls around the globe, he was packing and sending braille books to blind people in nearly every nation throughout the world. The US postal service will deliver braille books and equipment for the blind free of charge anywhere in the world. So Monti started what he called, The World Blind Foundation, and became the distribution point for used braille materials to one hundred forty eight countries at that time by his count. He created relationships with schools for the blind throughout the United States and arranged to have all of their old books, braille machines, canes etc that they would otherwise discard, sent for free to his home, where he would repackage and send, again for free, all over the world to schools and individuals who needed them. This is what all the letters were; requests for braille books, hundreds, perhaps thousands of requests flooding in asking him to please send them this particular book, or that series, or a braille making machine, or canes or a set of encyclopedias. Often he couldn’t find the exact book requested and would have to send whatever he could, but in a surprising number of instances, after reading a letter, often addressed to “Uncle Monti” or some other endearing epithet, he would recall seeing that specific book in some area of the garage, or out in the yard someplace, so he would amble off to find it, eventually returning with it in his hands and a big smile on his face.

This enterprise of his was a great deal of work and he worked tirelessly at it, putting in very long hours, working almost entirely alone, with some help from volunteers. I became one of his volunteers and over the next couple years I would often drop by his house after school or over vacations, to help box books, sort newly dropped off pallets, and read or organize request letters with him. During our time together I learned a great deal from him, about almost any topic, which his mind seemed to have a full grasp of and could explain in detail and accurately, but mainly I saw how he used his gifts, his talents and abilities almost exclusively in service to others and I took this as vital inspiration. He embodied selflessness to a large degree, using a lot of his own money for things the USPS didn’t provide, he lived very frugally, and dedicated nearly all of his time to this venture. It was inspiring but it was also a lot of fun to be with him, he told funny and interesting stories about all sorts of things including his classmate George HW Bush, who happened to be president at the time and who attended Phillips Academy with Monti as a youth. He said George wasn’t a very good student and would try to copy Monti’s homework.

I enjoyed these stories but I also was fascinated to watch Monti in action; he seemed to be able to talk anyone into helping his cause, he was very persuasive. One afternoon he called a businessman in Texas, a very wealthy man who owned businesses around the country. Monti was in need of a new forklift to help load and unload pallets and he had done some research and found a business in New York that had bought several new forklifts and were getting rid of their old ones. This business was owned by the man in Texas so Monti called him up to ask him to donate the old forklifts. He was having difficulty getting through to actually talk with the man since he had multiple levels of security and assistants protecting his time.

Monti finally traced his location to the country club where the man was playing golf. He called the club and asked to speak with this businessman and as you would suspect the club staff weren’t going to bother his golf game.

So Monti told the person on the other line, “Now you tell so and so that his parole officer is fed up with all this monkey business and I’m not going to wait any longer. You get him on the line right now or you let him know I will be sending a squad car out this minute to bring him in, and I don’t think he is going to want a scene.”

Within a few minutes a very irate Texan was on the other line, swearing and demanding to know who the … was calling and why the … are they saying they are his parole officer

Immediately Monti struck a conciliatory tone and humbly asked his forgiveness; on a dime Monti was able to change tone and play the part needed to calm the man down, and then actually make him laugh, and finally ask how he could be of help.

Monti told him about the company in New York, which the man owned, that was giving away the old forklifts, and could he find it in his heart to donate them to help the blind children of the world, he would be doing such a great service to help others in need, and it would help so much. Within a few minutes the Texan had called his company in New York and made the arrangements to ship the forklifts to Monti. A week or so later they arrived at Monti’s house and were immediately put to use helping the blind children of the world, just as Monti had said.

Over the course of our time together I explained to Monti that my career interests weren’t really in international relations but more along the lines of neurology or writing. It turned out he still had quite a few friends and connections at Harvard and he could get me into the neurology program if that is what I wanted. I didn’t doubt it, after seeing how masterfully he could manipulate people and pull strings, but as our talk turned more serious about the matter and the plan began to take shape, with action items and tasks to make it happen, I grew nervous. I couldn’t imagine leaving home, leaving my mom, to go to school on the east coast. The idea was wonderful, but frightening, and I felt lonely again just thinking about it.

One of the action items was to intern with a neurologist over the summer after high school and this is what I began doing, as planned. Mainly I did filing, and flirted a bit with his cute assistant. But I did also get to join him on his rounds with patients and get a feeling for the work. I really enjoyed the people in the rehab center, particularly one young man, my own age, who had a serious motorcycle accident the previous year which left him with some lasting and likely permanent brain damage. By the time we met he had recovered most of his motor skills and also was able to walk again and use his hands, but he had difficulty with speech and, as he told me, his mental processes in some ways were like those of a young child. He had to relearn many things and it was difficult and frustrating sometimes but he said that he was so happy that he had his accident and it changed his life entirely for the better.

I was so surprised to hear that and asked him why, and in what way did he mean this; because he had lost so much mentally and may never recover much of it, and he knew this was a fact. He explained that before his accident he was an angry person, and he couldn’t control his anger; he would explode at people and act in a mean way and hurt people that he cared about. But after the accident all of that went away, he wasn’t angry anymore and he felt happy most of the time. He loved life now whereas before he hated life. Now he loved people and could share that with them whereas before he couldn’t express love much at all. He had been given a new life in the accident and while he couldn’t do or understand things the way he had before, he had a much better life and was much happier in it now.

If I learned nothing else from that summer internship, this conversation with the young man was everything I needed to gain from my time there. Knowing things doesn’t necessarily make us happy; being smart is helpful, and being intelligent can help us get ahead in the world, but more important than this, is knowing ourselves and finding the way to inner peace, joy and love. I determined at that time that my goal in life wouldn’t be to be smart, or to get ahead in the world, but would be to find how to be joyful, to live with peace inside and to do it intentionally; and to understand myself so I wouldn’t require an accident to bring me to this state of mind.

~FS

Watching & Praying

Where does your mind wander? Have you ever witnessed your consciousness extending out beyond yourself, becoming lost in the world of what you see, and what you hear, taste, touch or smell? Have you noticed? Have you watched this as it happens, been attentive to the way you lose yourself in your thoughts throughout the day?

And what happens when you pray, can you find yourself again? Have you felt your consciousness return to you when you walk alone beneath the trees, or when you meditate upon the truth of Love? What peace do you feel, when all that you’ve scattered abroad in this wide world comes back to you and rests safely again within your heart? You are yours once more…

I saw myself leave myself today; extending my thoughts to the objects of my love, reaching out with my soul, dissipating my concentration and my energy just a little bit; so I prayed with thanks to God for all things, and called upon His mercy.  As I prayed, I felt myself returning to myself, and I felt peace; and I saw more clearly the objects of my love, as they exist outside of myself, but didn’t allow myself to be drawn out of my heart by any of them. As I prayed, I could love them without strings attached; simply with freedom and in purity.

When you lose yourself, if you do, have you ever tried to make prayer your constant companion; letting the words of your prayer and the meaning beneath the words permeate you, protect you, and draw you back in again? Do you call upon God’s grace continually, or struggle towards that goal? It is a difficult habit to inculcate but one that promises to add peace to our steps.

~FS

Paths of Desire: Part I

Paths of Desire

God is love. Man essentially desires love more than anything else. Therefore, when in his right mind, man will seek God before all other things.

This sums up the basic equation of my life. Everything about me is a corollary to this; either acting rationally seeking to dwell with my God, or acting irrationally seeking love in other quarters.

I am an Orthodox Christian, having come to the Orthodox Faith several years ago, after a lifetime journey through the Protestant milieu, an adolescence spent in study and meditation on The Bhagavad-Gita, and meditations with Buddhist monks, college years searching for truth as explained by Taoism, applying my own hermeneutics using critical thinking, fighting my way through the battlefield of contemporary university intellectual arrogance and hubris, coming out on the other side of academia with a desire for something real and adventurous, and joining a small group of spiritual seekers following a spiritual leader on a four-year inner journey of discovery and revelation; which opened doors for me into the truths of the spiritual warfare, which all of us are fighting every moment of every day, whether we are aware of it or not, which is spoken about by our Lord Jesus Christ and all of his followers from Paul, Peter and James, to all the great teachers which came after them.

There are faith, hope, and love. There are virtue and vice, truth and deception, and a myriad of paths extending into the future, waiting to be trod upon. And a smaller number of paths which have already been taken, which if traced back to their origins, make for an interesting tale.

To my memory, the first steps I took along these paths of desire were initiated by my admiration for my pastor. He was a tall, intellectual man, a former Bishop in the Methodist Church. His sermons were serious and challenging, and stirred me inside. I didn’t really understand much of what he said, as I was still in grade-school and lacked the vocabulary at my early age, but my soul understood him, and I loved him for this. He inspired me to make my faith real and to act upon it, and to approach it rationally with sincerity. He believed I would become a pastor myself someday and he invested some time in me to help me along this way. I remember him taking several of us up into the church loft to examine more closely the circular stain-glass window there, with the symbols of the four evangelists at the cardinal points: the winged man which symbolizes Matthew, the winged lion which symbolizes Mark, and the winged Ox for Luke and the Eagle for John.  I think he envisioned a straight and narrow path for me, perhaps hoping these winged evangelists would help speed me on my way. But my path, as for many of us, would not be all that straight or narrow.

Several years later I became a confirmed member of the Methodist Church. I wanted to do this, but I also couldn’t imagine an alternate decision. After our confirmation class a couple of my friends decided at the time not to be confirmed. I remember being perplexed by this and also a little scandalized. If I loved God, which I did, how could I not choose to be confirmed? I didn’t know of any other options at the time, it seemed a rather binary decision, yes or no. I didn’t know there could also be a yes…but, or a no…and, or a yes but over there instead. My world was still fairly small, but that was about to change in many significant ways.

It was around the same time as I was confirmed, in ninth grade, that my pastor retired and was replaced by a different type of pastor. He was also a very nice person, but he preferred a more worldly approach to faith, somehow connecting it to football games. So instead of deep, philosophical questions and challenges from the pulpit we now got football scores and statistics from the weekend’s slew of games. Perhaps there was something to this, I could see that others liked it, but whatever the connection between football and faith, it was lost on me and soon I lost my interest in church.

I stopped attending church in tenth grade and that was the year I discovered the writer Hermann Hesse. I devoured his books: Narcissus and Goldmund, Siddhartha, and The Glass Bead Game. He described the worlds that I sensed existing someplace; the inner turmoil of a life lived in the world in contrast to the life lived for God, the individual’s determined effort, exertion and sacrifice on the path to enlightenment, and the refined, sublime world on a hill, Castalia, where men could pursue intellectual pursuits unabated, apart from the mundanity of the world, but for the world’s benefit.

I began thinking about monasticism and monks. Why didn’t my church tradition have monks? I didn’t know anything at the time about church history, the great schism, the protestant reformation, so I had no knowledge of the context that my form of Christianity was born from, and the misunderstandings or even open hostility it had towards monasticism. To me it just seemed like such a great idea; to dedicate one’s life to God living out the struggle like Jesus did in the desert, or following the example of John the Baptist as he lived, ascetically, eating locusts and honey, or as Paul described when he talked about the two ways of living; married in the world, or single in order to dedicate oneself wholly to Christ. It didn’t make any sense to me why we wouldn’t avail ourselves of this noble path and all that it could offer, and I began to idealize this way of life. I wrote short homages on the walls of my bedroom extolling the virtue of celibacy and began to pray every night. I made a small altar in my room and I formed the habit before bed of praying in this way: I lit a candle and I wrote on a small slip of paper something to focus on in my prayer—perhaps a virtue one night, an intercession for someone another night, and I would put this slip in a little metal box which I stored under my altar and then I would sit on the floor with my legs crossed and gaze at the candle and contemplate whatever it was I had written.

I also felt inspired to try some ascetic disciplines, inspired by Siddhartha from Hesse’s book of the same name, I attempted to stand all night downstairs in our family room. I think the character in the book did it as an act of defiance against his parents, which I’m ashamed to say I also found agreeable and inspiring. I don’t remember if the character in the book also tried to stand through the night on one leg or if that was my own innovation, but in either case I was emulating that character, or in my pride, trying to outdo him. I attempted my first all-night vigil in this way, standing on one leg in the dark in the middle of our family room. I did not make it very long and soon found my way back up into my bed.

This ascetic failure gave me a healthier respect for Siddhartha and it humbled me a little bit. But I had at some point in my young life grabbed with both hands from the tree of pride, and unfortunately I wasn’t humbled for long. I still recall reading at some point from some spiritual elder of some faith, how, in his opinion, it wasn’t a good idea for people to pursue advanced spiritual disciplines at too early an age, but instead this should be left for later in life, not earlier than middle age. In my youthful exuberance (stupidity) I didn’t take this as an admonition or a caution but instead as a challenge. I was determined to be the youngest person ever to find enlightenment and show this old codger how it’s done. It is with some amusement that I write this now, at the age of forty-eight, being now the old codger I sought then to teach a lesson, also with gratefulness that my youthful haste didn’t leave me with any lasting damage, but also it leaves me a little sad that I was so arrogant then, and also so alone and without good guidance.

Spiritually I was very alone throughout adolescence. On occasion I went to the church I grew up attending, but they weren’t serious; they only wanted us to play games and essentially waste time. There were no real answers there for me. My mom was very loving and had a strong faith and was very encouraging to me, but she wasn’t able to guide me; we were in many ways living in different worlds. My dad had moved out years ago when my parents divorced while I was in seventh grade, and while he also was a very loving parent, and had good advice when it came to the things of this world, he didn’t understand spiritual things, matters of faith, and we were likewise distant in these essential things.

So, the following year, when I was in eleventh grade, I was thirsty for some kind of spiritual guidance. I was surprised to find it from my honors biology teacher. He enjoyed talking with students after class and at some point he learned that I enjoyed Hermann Hesse, and because of this, he thought I might enjoy something in a similar vein, so he recommended that I read The Bhagavad-Gita, a classic and pillar of the Hindu religious canon. So I bought a copy and it became my new bible for several years. Among other things it describes the battlefield of the inner spiritual war that we face; our battle between virtue and vice. I found this very appealing and studied it nightly, adding it as part of my prayer discipline.

This same year I found further spiritual direction from another seemingly unlikely place, the high school drama department. For me, this was the place to put spiritual theory into practice; it was an experimental lab for the inner person, a place where the primary question asked over and over again is: ‘what is your motivation?’, and a place to explore authentically our feelings and come to understand ourselves better, and also to transform ourselves. Though not at all overtly religious, I found that it was a facsimile of it, in that it sought truth by asking sincere questions about our inner drives, motivations and desires, and though it didn’t have as its goal the transformation of the soul, I found that I could use it for this purpose within me. I could practice transforming vices into virtues, I could practice watching my inner thoughts and bringing these supposedly hidden things out to the surface where they could be of benefit to me, or be transformed by me, and I could, over time, become a more empathetic person, coming to a better understanding of others by accessing the root causes of their moral and ethical strengths and weaknesses, by way of the struggle and practice of discovering and acting out my own. My ego loved the attention of the stage, but more importantly my soul loved the inner exploration encouraged during rehearsal, and this is what kept me coming back to acting and the theater for many years.

This was also the year my nascent promiscuity came into full bloom. I can’t blame the theater for my own inner proclivities, but it was an environment that encouraged creativity in many forms, and didn’t discourage many at the same time. On this topic, my first friend in this way told me, ‘once you’ve tried it you will only want more, and there is no turning back’. It sounded so foreboding when she said it, and while I disagree with her conclusions, I have to say she wasn’t lying that it would be a difficult struggle for me from that time forward. So much for my homage to celibacy which I had written so brightly on my bedroom wall only a couple years earlier. It was from this time that I began to understand the inner struggles first-hand, although it would take me many years before I could say I gained any ability or power to overcome this, and only then by the grace of God.

We can find and experience oneness in spirit with God. St Paul writes about this in First Corinthians. This is the goal, the teleology of our entire life here on earth in preparation for the next life. But nobody told me about this back then. I had heard the phrase, ‘you have a friend in Jesus’, or that ‘Jesus is my best friend’, things like that, but to me, then, they were just words without meaning. I didn’t know anyone that understood how to have a real relationship with God, a meaningful one, one that actually could fill the emptiness, the loneliness that I felt in my soul. So I looked for oneness in a more tangible, bodily way; a way that made sense to me, which I could understand and actually feel erase the loneliness within me, at least briefly.

God knows how strong the desire for love, and for oneness is within us. He placed it there, so I believe this is also why He says, again through St Paul, to flee sexual immorality.  Because if we don’t flee from it as quickly as we can, if we linger with it even for a short time, we come to believe that it is right and natural because, of course it is based on our natural inherent desire, and very soon we can be overcome and make it our natural course of life, our habit, and ultimately it will draw us further away from God. This is certainly what I did, and over the course of my late teens and early twenties, while on the surface I sought for a relationship with God, actually in my depths I sunk deeper and deeper into depravity, further and further from God, without even recognizing it.

The summer between my junior and senior years of high school I travelled to South Africa. It was 1986 and the unrest in that country due to apartheid and the growing resistance to those policies was at a boiling point. I had recently discovered that Mahatma Gandhi was an ardent reader of The Bhagavad Gita, which I also loved, and he had spent part of his life in South Africa. I had a deepening sense of meaninglessness over my own life at this time, and I decided to try to assuage this emptiness within me through an adventure. Somehow the connection I felt to Gandhi, and the excitement of the unrest drew me to South Africa.  I wanted to experience this for myself and see it with my own eyes.

The trip did not disappoint. I visited Soweto with a black police officer I met. He also escorted me through the dark underbelly of Johannesberg one night and kept me close so I wouldn’t be hurt. I swam by moonlight in the Indian Ocean, kicked soccer balls around with kids in Kwa Zulu, visited Lesotho and just generally had an amazing time. But when I returned home, and to my senior year in school, I was overcome with boredom; and the feeling of meaninglessness that the trip was intended to repair was only exacerbated by it. I wanted to travel, I wanted to be anywhere but in school and my grades showed it. I had been a very good student up until that time but I barely attended classes my senior year and by the end I only managed to graduate by the good graces of the school administration whom I had ingratiated myself to using charm, persuasion and some luck.

I have always believed that God is my help, even when I haven’t been aware of Him, and He has always given me a lifeline, so to speak, to get through even the most difficult times. And so it was, in my senior year; though I struggled with boredom and meaninglessness, I had the good fortune to audition and join the school Chamber Singers group. For me this was heaven on earth, because we sang the most beautiful music, practicing every morning at 7am for an hour before school started. This was my reason for getting up in the morning. I still remember many of the hymns and madrigals that we sang that year, but the one that has stayed with me most strongly over the years, and which soothed me then and gave me hope in that dark time, was the hymn, “Ubi Caritas”. Here are the lyrics, good to read at any stage in life:

Where charity and love are, God is there.

Christ’s love has gathered us into one.

Let us rejoice and be pleased in Him.

Let us fear, and let us love the living God.

And may we love each other with a sincere heart.

Where charity and love are, God is there.

As we are gathered into one body,

Beware, lest we be divided in mind.

Let evil impulses stop, let controversy cease,

And may Christ our God be in our midst.

Where charity and love are, God is there.

And may we with the saints also,

See Thy face in glory, O Christ our God:

The joy that is immense and good,

Unto the ages through infinite ages. Amen.

I first set foot into an Orthodox Church later that year after I decided to make a survey of some alternatives to the church of my youth. I was struck by the beauty of the golden onion domes on the exterior of the building and it was this that drew me in for the service; and once inside I was awed by the iconography and the quality of light as it penetrated through the windows above. The service was in Russian so I didn’t understand anything, but I remember being very impressed with the beauty of the liturgy. As a complete contrast to this I also attended meetings with the Quakers. Here there was a complete absence of anything I could recognize as a church; they met in a community hall and sat on chairs in a large circle. I appreciated the stillness and silence of their gathering but after a few visits I could see that the group was dominated by a few very vocal individuals, and the topics of their monologues veered from politics to all variations of strange things having nothing to do with God. I also visited a Mormon temple since I had several Mormon friends in school and all of them were incredibly sweet and kind and I very much enjoyed them; and their parents were also always very thoughtful and loving to me. The service was fine, I don’t remember a lot about it actually, but I didn’t feel as if I was drawn in any way towards that faith. I did out of respect take a copy of the Book of Mormon, at their request, and leafed through it for several weeks to gain a general overview and understanding of where they were coming from.

That summer, after graduating from high school, a friend and I began regularly attending the early morning meditation at the Sonoma Mountain Zen Center. The location was beautiful, near the summit of a nearby mountain, surrounded by large oak trees and grassy slopes. The meditation center was large and spacious and filled with light, and doors which opened out onto a large deck in the midst of the oaks. We would begin with about an hour of sitting meditation and then there was optional walking meditation out on the deck and then an opportunity to share some soup with the resident monks. I looked forward to this morning routine and liked learning words like ‘zazen’, which is the practice of letting judgmental thoughts pass through the mind without engaging them, and ‘zafu’, which is the firm little round cushions we sat on during meditation. I also came to enjoy the resonant and hollow sound of the bell, which announced the beginning and ending of the meditation sessions. Over time I discovered that while I enjoyed so many of the aesthetic aspects of this place and also appreciated developing skills in observing my thoughts and letting them go, I didn’t find answers to my loneliness or the emptiness I felt inside, and so, I eventually stopped visiting the Zen monks, but was grateful to them for what they had taught me.

 

To Be Continued…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Money Giver (complete story)

The Money Giver

I know a man in town who’s habit it is to carry in his wallet, money which he gives to those he meets that are in need. He rarely leaves his home without checking a special pocket in the back of his leather billfold to ensure that there is some assortment of ones, fives, tens and twenties available for those who ask.

When asked how he determines who is worthy of these special dispensations he will reply that anyone who asks him is worthy. It makes no difference their appearance, or circumstance, for who is he to judge another human being? If they are in need and he can help he sees this simply as his obligation, his opportunity, and, he would add, his benefit and blessing. “For what gift can we give that we don’t receive as much in return, to our own benefit, in the way of spiritual rewards: joy, peace, goodwill…”

It had been some time since he had crossed paths with anyone in need on the street corners or parking lot exits where one typically finds them, and he was feeling sorrow because of this, and a great need to find someone to help. So on this particular day he drove north to the Trader Joes parking lot where there is usually a man, or a woman or even a whole family waiting for someone to help them. Today he found a young man, bundled in blankets, sitting on the sidewalk in the rain, rocking back and forth and muttering unknown things to himself. He was clutching in his hands a pipe and lighter and looking up at the sky. When the man approached him and offered him the money, he barely took notice but just continued rocking back and forth and staring into the distance. He wished the young man a peaceful day and hopes for a warm bed tonight, gave him the money, and returned to his truck.

As he told it to me later, while approaching the young man, he considered how much of his money to give him, and while he doesn’t withhold money from anyone in need, he also doesn’t want his contributions to be used by others to hurt themselves. This young man clearly looked like he could choose to use the money for drugs rather than food. Perhaps he should have bought the boy food instead, as he sometimes does, but in this case he thought it better to give eleven dollars, enough for a warm meal, but not so much that it could be too harmful should the child choose to go that route. He prayed that the young man would make a wise choice with the money he had been given.

I asked him if this was the end of his adventures for the day and he replied that no, in fact there was a second part of his calculation when deciding what to give the young man: how much to hold back, to have ready to give the next person who he felt certain he would find that day. The next person would need quite a bit more, he believed, so he kept closer to eighty dollars ready in his wallet after leaving the young man.

“This is very generous,” I exclaimed.

“Don’t get the wrong impression. I am a selfish man,” he replied. “I really am, my wife has reminded me of this many times and it is true. For all the good you seem to think you see me doing here, there are plenty more occasions where I display complete disregard for anyone but myself. In fact, in truth, this is how I live most of my life. But hopefully I will change.”

He continued his story, “the next person I found a bit farther south, standing on the corner near Costco, holding a sign and clutching a crutch under each arm. His legs were badly deformed and he had trouble maneuvering in the rain, as his crutches slipped on the concrete.  As I approached him I could see he had a fighting spirit and also a gentle spirit. I was immediately impressed with him, and wanted to know more about him. I introduced myself and suggested he might have better luck up the street on the corner near the Seventy-Six gas station because there was a pull-out there where cars could get out of traffic and more easily give him money. He didn’t know the area well, and hadn’t stood asking for money in quite a while but he had sudden expenses and not enough for rent and he was in danger of losing his home. His roommate was too afraid to stand asking for money because of bad experiences with others yelling at him and throwing things at him in the past. But he didn’t mind these things, one just does what they have to do. I gave him the handful of money and he pocketed it gratefully.”

“What was the matter with his legs, did you ever find out?” I asked.

“Yes. He has cerebral palsy. His eyes are also very crossed and as he explained to me he has troubles with incontinence and therefore has to wear ‘Depends’ all the time.  And I must tell you when he confessed this I almost wept. He said it so plainly, without shame and also without any self-consciousness whatsoever. He might as well have been telling me what he had for breakfast. I can’t explain it but the simplicity of that humbled me tremendously and my admiration for him grew. ‘The body does what the body does, you just have to take care of it’ he said to me. I wish I could have conveyed the naturalness of this statement in the way he said it. It was truly tremendous, no artifice, no mannerism that would suggest any of the issues I might have, were I the one needing the diapers. I’ve heard it said that humility is just being who we are honestly, naturally. I have rarely, if ever seen a clearer example of genuine humility and it was beautiful. He then commented that in fact he had used his diaper there and needed to find a bathroom soon where he could change it for a new pair and this is why, he explained, that he kept an extra pair of pants with him and additional ‘Depends’ in the bag he carried while he asked for money on the street corner.”

“How horrible,” I exclaimed, “I feel so badly for him.”

“That’s just it. He didn’t need my pity. And he didn’t feel badly for himself either. He seemed to take all of this in stride, with a calm and peace I have only seen in animals. Have you noticed your pet, or a deer for instance when it has been injured, they don’t complain, in fact you hardly will know if your puppy has an ailment, he doesn’t tell you and he takes it all patiently. Have you noticed that? I have, and it always impresses me. Of course this man is not an animal, and I don’t want this comparison to be taken the wrong way. I mean it as high praise. He seemed to transcend the common man’s turmoils and complaints about his daily life, and bear them all, including great insult, with amazing patience and endurance. But what I wanted to tell you is that while we stood there together on the corner, I told him that I hoped he’d be able to get enough money for his rent, so that he could keep his home. And do you know what he said? He said, ‘Oh, I will. God will provide for me.’ Well, that in itself isn’t surprising, you hear that often enough, but he said it with a faith unfeigned, and as a simple statement of fact, as I was beginning to understand was his custom. Now, I hear this statement fairly often, and, in fact, I’ve said it myself many times, but he said it in a different way than I usually hear it said, not in order to convince himself, or to convince his audience at all, in fact there was absolutely no convincing needed at all. He merely said what was so, and what would happen. That’s it. He would get the money and God would provide, and there wasn’t any reason for concern. Bravo! Oh, how I admired him in almost every way! And, I envied him, unfortunately. I’m ashamed to say it, but I did envy him his faith. I wish I could have only admired him, and found inspiration by him, because envy is a nasty thing, isn’t it? I say it is a nasty sand-trap on the golf course of life, you don’t want to hit yourself into that. No, it is more like quicksand, envy is; before you know it you’re in over your head and you can lose yourself.”

“Was that it then? Did you both go your own ways? You must have had to get back to work by this time, and you had already spent quite a bit of time with this man and also the young man in the blanket,” I said.

“Well he asked to be pointed to a nearby restaurant if I knew one, as he was getting hungry and needed to sit and rest his legs. And he also asked if I knew where he could get new rubber points for the ends of his crutches as he went through those every few days and the current ones he had were worn through. I happily offered him a ride to a medical supply store I knew of just a couple miles up the road, so we drove off together.”

“Did you feel like he was using you a little by this time?” I asked.

“Not at all! And so what if he was. But no I didn’t.”

“I might have felt uncomfortable having him in my car, and also taking so much time now out of my day.”

“Yes, well, he said he trusted me, so he was comfortable getting in the truck with me. I was looking at the time though and raced through, in my mind, all of the things I still needed to do for the day, and how far behind I had already become. Could I afford to take him to get these supplies? Oh how dreadful I am sometimes. This man could barely walk, hardly had a dime to his name, has to suffer the ignominy of wearing diapers, and is clearly socially outcast in most of life’s social settings, and I’m worried about my errands. I became nauseous then, literally sick to my stomach, because I saw myself and how narrow and small I was…contrasts are terrible aren’t they, helping us to see and understand; I mean, a light is brighter at night, isn’t it, and sound travels so well through silence. Well, performing this act of caring for him was highlighting how little I do for others, most of the time. And the worst thing is even with this realization, I hardly wanted to change. I still wanted to focus on my espressos, enjoying lunch with friends, surrounding myself with luxuries and beautiful things. I didn’t want to enter into his life for very long. It scared me, and depressed me, and overwhelmed me actually.”

“That is understandable.”

“Yes, well, so we went to the medical supply store and I bought him the new rubber tips he needed for his crutches, and also new rubber handles that went over the metal posts where he gripped the crutches and a packet of ‘Depends’. And he used the bathroom at the store to change himself and then I took him to the hamburger place across the street and dropped him off so he could get a meal and then he called and arranged for a friend to come pick him up there so I could go on my way. As he got out of my truck and we said our farewells I thanked him. This seemed to take him aback and he asked why I was thanking him. I couldn’t really explain to him why, but you understand.”

“And so that was it then? A good day I’d say by any measure. You helped two people in need and had quite an adventure at the same time.”

With that, we finished our espressos, the man and I, and we agreed to meet again soon, perhaps next week, to share another coffee and maybe a new adventure or two. He paid our tab and walked out the door into the rainy evening and I also began my walk home. Thinking over the story the man had just shared with me, I hoped to find someone myself to help. I had a few bucks in my pocket. But the streets were empty as I made my way, with nobody huddled under the streetlamps hoping for change, just the falling rain flickering under the golden lamplight. As the raindrops pattered overhead, onto my umbrella, I vowed to myself that if I had the good fortune to find someone in need tomorrow, I wouldn’t overlook or pass by my opportunity to help them.

The End.

 

~FS

 

The Money Giver: Part I

The Money Giver—Part I

I know a man in town who’s habit it is to carry in his wallet, money which he gives to those he meets that are in need. He rarely leaves his home without checking a special pocket in the back of his leather billfold to ensure that there is some assortment of ones, fives, tens and twenties available for those who ask.

When asked how he determines who is worthy of these special dispensations he will reply that anyone who asks him is worthy. It makes no difference their appearance, or circumstance, for who is he to judge another human being? If they are in need and he can help he sees this simply as his obligation, his opportunity, and, he would add, his benefit and blessing. “For what gift can we give that we don’t receive as much in return, to our own benefit, in the way of spiritual rewards: joy, peace, goodwill…”

It had been some time since he had crossed paths with anyone in need on the street corners or parking lot exits where one can typically be found, and he was feeling sorrow because of this, and a great need to find someone to help. So on this particular day he drove north to the Trader Joes parking lot where there is usually a man, or a woman or even a whole family waiting for someone to help them. Today he found a young man, bundled in blankets, sitting on the sidewalk in the rain, rocking back and forth and muttering unknown things to only himself. He was clutching in his hands a pipe and lighter and looking up at the sky. When the man approached him and offered him the money, he barely took notice but just continued rocking back and forth and staring into the distance. He wished the young man a peaceful day and hopes for a warm bed tonight, gave him the money, and returned to his truck.

As he told it to me later, while approaching the young man, he considered how much of his money to give him, and while he doesn’t withhold money from anyone in need, he also doesn’t want his contributions to be used by others to hurt themselves. This young man clearly looked like he could choose to use the money for drugs rather than food. Perhaps he should have bought the boy food instead, as he sometimes does, but in this case he thought it better to give eleven dollars, enough for a warm meal, but not so much that it could be too harmful should the child choose to go that route. He prayed that the young man would make a wise choice with the money he had been given.

I asked him if this was the end of his adventures for the day and he replied that no, in fact there was a second part of his calculation when deciding what to give the young man: how much to hold back to have ready to give to the next person he felt certain he would find that day. The next person would need quite a bit more, he believed, so he kept closer to eighty dollars ready in his wallet after leaving the young man.

“This is very generous,” I exclaimed.

“Don’t get the wrong impression. I am a selfish man,” he replied. “I really am, my wife has reminded me of this many times and it is true. For all the good you seem to think you see me doing here, there are plenty more occasions where I display complete disregard for anyone but myself. In fact, in truth, this is how I live most of my life. But hopefully I will change.”

He continued his story, “the next person I found a bit farther south, standing on the corner near Costco, holding a sign and clutching a crutch under each arm. His legs were badly deformed and he had trouble maneuvering in the rain, as his crutches slipped on the concrete.  As I approached him I could see he had a fighting spirit and also a gentle spirit. I was immediately impressed with him, and wanted to know more about him. I introduced myself and suggested he might have better luck up the street on the corner near the Seventy-Six gas station because there was a pull-out there where cars could get out of traffic and more easily give him money. He didn’t know the area well, and hadn’t stood asking for money in quite a while but he had sudden expenses and not enough for rent and he was in danger of losing his home. His roommate was too afraid to stand asking for money because of bad experiences with others yelling at him and throwing things at him in the past. But he didn’t mind these things, one just does what they have to do. I gave him the handful of money and he pocketed it gratefully.”

“What was the matter with his legs, did you ever find out?” I asked.

“Yes. He has cerebral palsy. His eyes are also very crossed and as he explained to me he has troubles with incontinence and therefore has to wear ‘Depends’ all the time.  And I must tell you when he confessed this I almost wept. He said it so plainly, without shame and also without any self-consciousness whatsoever. He might as well have been telling me what he had for breakfast. I can’t explain it but the simplicity of that humbled me tremendously and my admiration for him grew. ‘The body does what the body does, you just have to take care of it’ he said to me. I wish I could have conveyed the naturalness of this statement in the way he said it. It was truly tremendous, no artifice, no mannerism that would suggest any of the issues I might have were I the one needing the diapers. I’ve heard it said that humility is just being who we are honestly, naturally. I have rarely, if ever seen a clearer example of genuine humility and it was beautiful. He then commented that in fact he had used his diaper there and needed to find a bathroom soon where he could change it for a new pair and this is why, he explained, that he kept an extra pair of pants with him and additional ‘Depends’ in the bag he carried while he asked for money on the street corner.”

To Be Continued…

 

~FS

 

 

 

Farewell To A Beloved

Dear Mom:

I’m so very sorry I have to say goodbye; that I have to let you go, and move on, myself, to wherever I am going.

You see, I couldn’t live, yearning for your flesh, hoping for your touch once more, to hold you, to give you a kiss.

When the sun sets, its warmth with it, dissolves into the deepening night, overcome by mists and dew. So too my knowledge of you, it seems, must fade into a deepening past.

When your body and blood transforms into memories, into beautiful stories of who you were while here with me, it allows me, though hollow now, to live again.

You’ve had to fade, though I didn’t want it, and I fought it, I promise you, but in the end, my life only solidifies now as yours dissolves.

But please know, that I love you just as much as I ever have, and am grateful to you for everything, and even now you are a gift to me; by taking your place in my past, you have given me my present.

With all the love I can muster,

your son,

Francis

Reflections on Three Days of Blindness: Part III and Conclusion

           “I just finished the painting. It was so scary to begin. Before I had even

            squirted any of the paint out, I was paralyzed—I might waste some paint,

            and one of my canvasses—but it was more than the fear of wasting five

            dollars worth of materials; this would be an expression of me. It would be

            my best attempt at art. There is always this fear before beginning any

            creative process, the fear that it might not be good enough, that I might

            not be good enough; it is only a little harder now since I’m not working

            with all of my faculties. The funny thing is however, even though I couldn’t

            see the art I knew I would still automatically assume it wasn’t quite right.

            Sure I’d be excited to see it but, I knew I’d also be telling everyone how much

            better could do. All of this was automatic in me even before seeing the results.

            With this painting though I was paranoid knowing that my hands could never

            equal the grandeur of the visions created by my mind. But then I realized and

            accepted this fact, that a hand is not a mind, and it works within its own

            limitations. At this point I felt free to paint and have a good time regardless

            of the outcome.”

 

As I read this I think how all of our life is a creative process, not just specifically painting or writing etc, and how easy it is to be paralyzed with this same fear of not measuring up, of failing, so to speak, and how effective these fears are at keeping us from even beginning to know who we are, and then, from exploring and practicing our art; the art of our lives. There is a method I now use to combat these fears, which is very effective; it is using fear to combat fear. I use the knowledge and fear that I will die one day as a counter to the fear of failing. Each day I meditate on the fact that my time here in this life is very limited, I will die, and I don’t have the luxury of waiting to do whatever it is I want to accomplish. None of us are guaranteed tomorrow.  Somehow these thoughts give me clarity and are very encouraging, and motivating to my getting on with this creative process which is my life.

            “Later in the afternoon Tanya and Nicole were over and we played hide and

            seek in the backyard. Finding Nicole was easy as I was concentrating on the

            sounds she made as she hid. But finding Tanya was nearly impossible. I knew

            which part of the yard she was in because she let out a sound when I found

            Nicole, but finding her was very difficult. I kept hearing things that I was

            sure was her: up in the trees, next to the fence. But I couldn’t find her. After

            a long time she gave me a hint, a scratch on wood, and I was able to catch her.

 

            There is less than an hour now until I take the bandages off and I’m feeling

            kind of down. I almost don’t want to take them off. I’ve grown to like it dark.

            I don’t know why I would want to stay in this darkness but it has been new

            and I like the strange newness. It gets me out of a rut in a beautiful way. I

            don’t have to go out of town to do this, I can just cover my eyes and I am

            transported to another place; the most mundane things suddenly become

            important. It makes me really live this life, and not just drift through it.”

 

Blindness is like a break for the eyes, at least for someone only experimenting briefly with it as I was. Back in the late 1980s when I did the experiment we didn’t have the internet and smart phone, so now, even more so, our lives are extremely visually chaotic. Taking a break from all of that stimulation is a good idea.

            “What a drug sight can be; I just took the bandages off. I indulge in the visual

            now and almost fry my brain! Taking them off and seeing the sunset was some-

            thing I couldn’t have foreseen. It was more real and vivid and wonderful than

            anything I’ve ever seen. It was the ultimate in perception! I know that I won’t

            be able to aptly describe it on these pages but this is my best attempt. At first

            everything before me was blurred but only for a short time, and then I saw

            the tree against the background of the sky. Each small branch shimmered

            with its own life, an entity of its own. Deep, dark, blackness, so rich and deep

            like nothing I’ve seen before. Every twig, every limb, burnt savagely into the

            soft blue sky. And then the sun…the sun ducked down behind the trees and the

            bright halo arose from the dark mountain and filled the sky. It then began to

            shrink and as it shrunk it gained intensity until it burst and spurt brilliant

            light across the sky, across the valley, filling my vision with brilliance. What

            remained was a pastel yellow globe of light just above the horizon. To either

            side of the globe, just above the treeline, shot out a bright red line of light; it

            flickered and suddenly vanished. The blue and orange of the sky turned pas-

            tel. The air gained new life from the light of the sinking sun. A bird arose from

            the shimmering tree and shot past me. Then I turned to my left and saw the

            deepest, most crisp shades of purples and blues of the distant and not so dis-

            tant hills. And the hill I was on was pure also; it was green but it was also

            blue. It was both at the same time but it wasn’t confused or muddy; it was

            clarity. I had the feeling about my eyes as if the sights I was should be out of

            focus but all that I saw was crisper and richer than it had ever been. My eyes

            hurt but I kept looking. It struck be that everything I saw was alive and had

            just been born—the world was starting over, afresh! I then turned and looked

            behind me. There I saw my hill, the one I sit on all the time. The trees were

            black and green, all shades and hues, full and real; I was drunk with what

            I saw. Everything reached out and touched me, nothing stayed still, it all

            reached out to me: the purple hills, the dark green trees, my hill, the burnt

            black tree, the sky, and the light of the disappearing sun. All these reached

            out and stung my eyes. I turned to my right and there was a girl. She was

            so small it seemed but also so big. She was beautiful. Her eyes light blue,

            dark blue rimmed, and happy. She was so close but she also seemed very

            far away. I couldn’t touch her but I was glad she was there and I know I

            talked to her but I don’t know what I said, something about the beauty

            around us. This feeling didn’t go away as it seems it would, like so many ter-

            rific things do, but it stayed with me and surrounded me and caressed me

            for a long time. I saw in this way and I felt complete.”

  

Conclusion of My Experiment with Three Days of Blindness:

            “It was an overwhelming experience. I am so glad I got to ‘see’ it. I feel very

            lucky. Now I can see and I don’t know if I care. Sure I don’t run into walls

            or trucks anymore, and I think that’s a good thing, but I feel as if I’ve lost

            something important. I look at my painting and it looks so different than

            I had intended it. It is very beautiful to me. The colors aren’t exactly what

            I thought they would be but it’s a bubbly surprise. Now I reenter the com-

            plicated world of sight where it isn’t good enough to spend an hour making

            breakfast. Things like that are miniscule in this world. They don’t matter,

            they are the mundane, the ‘so what’ of this world. How could I justify

            spending an hour touching the canvas and the paint of my art? Just drink-

            ing in the texture and communing with the colors—realizing the import-

            ance, the relevance it has in my life. Sure, what I think about it is the most

            important thing, and if I think it is alright to do this than it is. Although,

            what other people think is important as well. For many, this isn’t a univer-

           sally acceptable way to spend one’s time. So it is therefore hard to feel

           entirely good about doing it. But while blind, all of these supposedly unim-

            portant things become and are important, meaningful and worthwhile.

            No-one can say otherwise and I feel content with this simplicity. Now I’m

            in the harried world of sight where we are stimulated by too many things.

            We must rush off to school or to work, I have work to get done, I must be

            in certain places at certain times, and there is television and newspapers

            and books to read, shows to see, and sports to enjoy. I think that there is

            too much to think about, too much stimulation. I’m not entirely glad to

            have my sight back. It means jumping back into this whirlwind that we’ve

            all been spinning around in so long. A whirlwind that’s got us dizzy and

            confused, and that stirs up the dust and leaves us with tears in our eyes.

            The tears of our souls crying to escape this tormenting tempest.

 

            I wonder if I’ll still have the vivid visions of the eagles and the beautiful

            pictures that my mind created during these past few days. I would hate to

            lose that.

 

            What satisfaction I felt from making my meals or making some cookies.

            It seems it would be the same, the feeling of fulfillment, if I had a plot of

            land somewhere and I could wake in the morning and build maybe a part

            of my home, maybe the bathroom today or a windmill for energy. What

            satisfaction that would be, and to plant the seeds that would sometime

            later be my food, and to write and paint and cook—how simple. How

            meaningless and wasteful…but it isn’t. It is simple and it is pure, and whole

            and unscattered, and unhurried, and easy to keep everything in front of

            me. Not confusing; just peaceful…

 

            It was a wonderful experiment and a great ‘vacationland’. Instead of

            travelling far away I travelled within and found a whole world of mir-

            aculous sights and breathtaking beauty—a land that reached farther

            than the eye can see, and that holds more to do than the greatest family

            amusement park. It is a land whose limits exceed infinity and whose

            treasures I’ve only just begun to dig up. This land of wonder is my mind.”

Humility

Humility is such a simple friend, sitting patiently, always at our side. He holds the key to our freedom and will open every door. When we’ve done wrong, he is there to ease the shame; tossing copious flower petals thick upon the ground, and softening the pain when we fall to our knees. He turns the abhorrent word, repentance, into a beautiful action that makes all things pure again. Some men, in their foolishness, imagine him to be a doormat, which others will wipe their shoes on, or trample across as they go about their business. But they don’t see, and can’t understand, that humility is the strength which gives us the power to face any challenge, find victory in any difficulty, and to soften any blow. Humility is an outstretched net, catching us softly when we fall from the heights of our pride. He is like a beautiful butterfly, with outstretched wings carrying us to safety from the depths of an abyss. And if we fall into an abyss, and find ourselves in despair, humility is also a ladder by which we climb up and out and back into the sunlight. Humility is an open door and such a simple, loving friend, always ready to help and loyal to the end.

~FS