Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Freedom Isn't Free

There is something about national holidays, these days, that brings out the curmudgeon in me. Memorial Day, especially so.

National holidays have become battlefields themselves. Rather than setting aside days to ponder and honor our national values, we now engage in flag-waving contests. Nationalism is loud, confrontational and in-your-face. Those of us who would subscribe to a quieter, more introspective brand of patriotism are shouted down and shamed. We are tacitly accused of not loving our country enough. With sneers and derision, we are invited to go live somewhere else if the United States—in its current state of upheaval, escalating class war and legislative impotence—is not good enough for us.

Because we can’t allow respectful silent reflection on the freedom we often take for granted and the cost of the campaigns embarked upon in the name of that freedom. If we did, someone might realize that these tear-misted photos of military graves or dirty and bloodied soldiers reverently hoisting the Stars and Stripes on battlefields throughout the ages, tagged with the soppy banner “Freedom Isn’t Free,” do not accurately represent the forces which send our young people to their destruction.

When you think about it, when was the last time the United States fought a war to defend OUR freedom? Seventy years ago, the Greatest Generation sent its sons into battle against Hitler and his allies. Though Hitler’s forces never set foot on the continental US, their dreams of global domination were indeed an imminent threat to our freedom. So though that war was as ugly as any, it was indeed a battle for freedom—ours and others’ across the globe—and needs to be remembered as such. But that was a long time ago, outside the living memory of most Americans.

What about our 21st-century wars? Iraq? Sadaam Hussein in no way threatened the freedom of the American people; even the most ignorant moron on the planet understands that by now. Afghanistan? What, exactly, ARE we doing in Afghanistan? Especially since the elusive Osama Bin Laden, rumored to be sheltered there while he raised up an army of Islamic terrorists, was eventually found and executed in Pakistan (a US ally?!)? What freedom are our young people deployed to those theatres of battle defending? Our freedom to beat up on small countries safely distant from our home shores because those countries share ethnicity with a group of lawless religious sociopaths? Our freedom to go kill Muslims because they pissed us off?

And Korea? Viet Nam? What were our tens of thousands of young people sent to Asia to die in the fifties and sixties defending? Our freedom to name “Communism” the 20th-century bogeyman, and to throw armies of nineteen-year-olds at it wherever it threatened to catch on?

In my heart, I have nothing but respect for the children who have comprised the forces of our military. And nothing but sorrow and regret for their blood poured out on battlefields across the world. Surely, they are paying the price for our freedom. But not in the way the flag-waving, in-your-face armchair patriots believe. They are paying with their lives for our abdication of our personal duty as Americans.

Freedom isn’t easy. It requires pruning and tending. It requires constant review and refinement. It requires searching for and comprehending truth. It requires compassion and empathy. It requires an examination of conscience EVERY DAY—because freedom in the hands of those with suspect moral grounding can be a dangerous, uncontrollable weapon.

But, apparently, the American people have decided that this responsibility—the daily examination, refinement, and gratitude for our freedom—is too much trouble. Instead, they are happy to hand that job over to “leaders” that they only have to think about occasionally. Every two years—or four, or six—the American people line up to hand over their freedom to the Snake Oil Salesman of their choice. They sit in the audience watching hopeful candidates squander obscene amounts of money gambling to appeal to whatever instincts—the baser, the better—will cause the individual members of the faceless mob to place a mark in the desired box, come Election Day.

No…Freedom ISN’T free. There are those who spend a tremendous amount of money getting their hands on our freedom. So that they can invest it where they see fit—usually in some enterprise designed to bring them MORE money. Do you think they care about the human cost, as long as they get what they want?

Freedom isn’t free. But it isn’t paid for by shedding a tear or two once or twice a year, pretending to grieve for the young person who is not YOUR child lying in pieces beside a road in the Middle East. It is paid for with constant vigilance and understanding of the complex issues that threaten or strengthen it. Every single one of us who would exercise this freedom has to put time and effort, thought and work into it, EVERY DAY. If we wimp out and sell that trust into the hands of anyone—ANYONE else—we deserve the consequences. And worse.

It was all put very succinctly in this speech by a fictional president written for a movie script back in 1995.

America isn't easy. America is advanced citizenship. You gotta want it bad, 'cause it's gonna put up a fight. It's gonna say "You want free speech? Let's see you acknowledge a man whose words make your blood boil, who's standing center stage and advocating at the top of his lungs that which you would spend a lifetime opposing at the top of yours.

You want to claim this land as the land of the free? Then the symbol of your country can’t just be a flag; the symbol also has to be one of its citizens exercising his right to burn that flag in protest. Show me that, defend that, celebrate that in your classrooms. Then, you can stand up and sing about the “land of the free.”

(Written by Aaron Sorkin for “The American President”, 1995.)

It’s a stunning commentary on the current state of our nation that no one—right, left, or center—NO ONE in today’s political arena would have the balls to publicly express anything even approaching this sentiment.

Think about it. And ante up. Freedom isn’t free.

Monday, May 28, 2012

Possibilities...or Not

Without the grace of the exquisite flowering shrubs to which we Oregonians are addicted, spring would be so frustrating that no one would live here, I’m sure of it.  March and April are merely extensions of winter, only with longer hours of daylight.  Who cares about April showers when we’ve already slogged through six long, dark months featuring that very weather event?  When May finally arrives on the heels of all that dreariness, we are SO ready.  Yet even May never entirely gives over to spring; winter can and does return out of nowhere on a regular basis all month long. 

Still, the flowers bloom.  The blossoms of May are even more welcome here in Oregon than they ever were in the icy climes of the Great Lakes/Midwest.  For almost half my life, I’ve been enchanted with the blooming bushes that thrive in the Northwest’s acid soil—azaleas, rhododendrons, dogwoods and camellias.  And every yard, no matter how small or mean, boasts at least one fruit tree with bright cheery blooms.  It is unfortunate that much of this display is wasted under still-gray and drippy skies.  We don’t see the sun with any dependable regularity until July, when the sky simply runs out of rain and for the next three months we are dry, dusty and sun-baked.  Almost ready to welcome the rain with open arms when it returns ‘round about mid-October…  

May is a difficult month for me, anyway.  It has become my Month of Endings.   Seventeen years ago, my sister died five days after my parents’ 50th Wedding Anniversary, two days after Mothers’ Day.  Those three days every May will always be connected to losses in my life—my sister, and eventually Dad, and then Mom.  In May of 2001, I established residence some distance from what was left of my sad and fractured family.  And in May, 2011, I closed the book on a chapter of my life which still has me confounded. 

I have come to terms, I think, with the passing of my parents and my sister.  My spiritual discoveries of the past few years have led me to think of death as not so much a tragedy, but rather something which we all experience sooner or later.  I believe the spirits of our beloved who have crossed into the next world remain part of our lives, even as they become part of Whatever Comes Next.  I have felt the presence of my sister, my mom and my dad so many times since they went on that I am certain they don’t ever leave us entirely.  They don’t linger to inspire sadness and be forever mourned, but to be honored as testimony to our connectedness to the circle of life and all Creation.

No, my honored dead are not a source of sorrow and trouble for me this May.   It’s the living I’m having trouble with.  Or maybe just Living.  The anniversary of the closing of the café has deposited me in front of  a door I have aggressively avoided for an entire year.  And, believe me, I have my arms stretched out and my legs splayed, every finger and toe gripping the door jamb while Something inexorably applies pressure from behind.  The Rest Of My Life is on the other side of that door, and I still have no clue how to deal with it.  I don’t even know what it looks like…I only know it looks nothing like anything I have done so far.  It’s a foreign country, maybe another planet.  I don’t know the language, I haven’t packed the right luggage, and I’m afraid that nothing I have ever had or done makes any sense there.  I don’t know anyone, and it doesn’t look like anyone I’ve known on this side of the door has any interest in coming along.

It has been truly frightening to realize that my “resume” has no value whatsoever relative to anything I decide to do going forward.  For forty years, my worth, my very existence, has been grounded in work.  Work for pay, that is.  Right up there at the top of the priority list has been “the job,” whatever it is.  It not only provides food for the table and the roof overhead, but it serves as social outlet, foundation and identity.  And if the job ends, explodes or turns sour (which it so often does) you get another one.  It is What You Do.  You have a job.  At some point, it’s impossible to tell whether you have a job or you are your job.  It took five years of intensive entanglement with the hardest, most all-consuming job ever to bring about the epiphany that this is no way to live.  Not for me, anyway.

So now I know how I DON’T want to live.  But to give that up, to walk away from what has been the foundation of my life for—well, forever—is way harder than it seemed when this realization first dawned on me.  How does one chuck 90% of what one has been all about for forty years?  Actually, I guess it’s easy enough to chuck it, but you then have to replace it with something.  You can’t live out the rest of your days in this “I’m not gonna do THAT anymore” limbo.  I’ve been there for a year, and, trust me, it’s lost its attraction. 

And I can’t help but think my age is against me.  If I’d had this epiphany twenty years ago, or even ten, I would probably be a whole lot more excited about the possibilities.  One of the unfortunate things about the past year of idleness has been that I have had an opportunity to slow down and really feel my age.  For the first time in my life, I feel OLD.  I look in the mirror, and I see my mother.  I look at the lives of all the other people I know who are my age (or younger) and their big news is that they are getting ready to retire.  They aren’t starting new ventures.  They aren’t going to school.  They aren’t planning travel or volunteer work.  They’re turning off onto that misty road down into the tar pits. 

I have no desire or intention of going there yet; but I am hobbled by the conviction that there are limits to my opportunities.  And that is something I have never experienced before.  All my life, up until now, when I reached the end of something, there was time and energy to cook up another dream and go after it.  I may never have taken the best advantage of that, of my youth…but it was always comfortingly there.  If I crashed and burned, I was driven to pick myself up, bind my wounds and carry on.  And there was never a doubt that there was somewhere to carry on to.

While it frightens me that my age has made me redundant, I also understand that I have finally reached the point, experience-wise, that I know too much.  I have started all kinds of ventures, and had them end in all kinds of ways, and I’ve finally begun to get a sense of why things go the way they do for me.  I have a practical sense of my strengths and my weaknesses; so when something pops into my head as a “hey, I could do that!” it doesn’t take long for me to realize that, well, no…I probably could not do that.  I’ve spent a year formulating vague plans that have never made it off the drawing board, because I am, at last, all too realistic about my abilities (or lack thereof) and where they are likely to land me. 

And then there is the sure knowledge, for good and all, that wherever I go, whatever I do, it will be mine alone.  I finally get that my life is not to be blessed with a productive partnership.  Had I given this a lot of thought years ago, I would have understood this about myself much sooner and pointed my life in an entirely different direction.  But the realities of the culture into which I was born didn’t really allow room to consider the success of solitary pursuits.  That culture mandated that, at a certain age, you acquired a life partner, and the rest of your life was spent as one half of that partnership.  What I’ve come to realize so late in life is that this partnership, sans progeny, has its limits.  The partners remain more two separate people than two halves of a blended entity.  And one partner can not solve her life by dragging the other partner around in her wake.  She needs to buck up and get out there and find her own way.

As if it weren’t difficult enough to start over at any point in one’s journey.  Now, I have all this Knowledge keeping me from stepping out in blind faith and going after something.  Heck…I can’t even choose the thing I want to go after.  The only thing I do know is that I’m fed up with wallowing around in limbo.  Yes, the door is right there.  And I’m standing in front of it.  But I just can’t go there.  And it sucks to be so afraid of where you might go when you hate where you ARE as much as I do. 

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Ten Minutes: On the Relationship

There was a time, just before we made the decision to close the café, when I thought my marriage was over.  In fact, I gave up the café, in part, as a last-ditch effort to save what was left of our relationship.  That was almost two years ago; and we’re still together.  But I realized today, the fact remains that much of our marriage is indeed over.

I wonder if I have stumbled upon the reason that marriages end after thirty or forty years—when two people engaged in a long-term relationship shock friends and family by going their separate ways.  Surely it’s because the hurts and buggers and warts that were small and easy enough to ignore individually over the years just…pile up. If you can continue to ignore this thing that is now a mountain between you, more power to you.   But if you’re like me, you wake up one morning and realize you can no longer see the person whose head lies on the pillow next to yours…that you haven’t seen that person for a really long time.

Much like the period of revelation I endured after my Dad’s death—when I came to understand the not-so-nice aspects of my connection to my family—the café experience taught me things about my husband and the things we were capable of doing to each other that I would happily have lived the rest of my life not knowing.  It took me years to understand and assimilate the things I learned about my sisters after my father died.  Years, and distance.  I had to move a hundred miles away to accomplish the peace-making process.  And eventually, it was accomplished. 

So I find myself facing a similar stand-off with the husband.  What am I supposed to do, this time around?  I can hardly pick up and move 100 miles away.  Our income couldn’t support separate living quarters…  And besides, a marriage is not like a family.  When one person up and moves away, it traditionally signals the end of the partnership.  There’s not much precedent for getting enough distance to process things, then going back to the relationship in its new form.  So if I mean to heal these wounds and patch together a new relationship, I have to do it within the close quarters of our mutual home.  With only a wall or a hallway between us, rather than half a state.  It’s a challenge.

Back in the early days, I used to feel so lucky.  So fortunate that I had been gifted with a good husband, a good marriage that I in no way felt I deserved.  We were not just husband and wife…we were best friends.   We had shared interests, we could talk about things, we could have fun with each other.  When we were together, we were never alone.  Now, I’m not so sure whether all that wonderfulness was all in my head to begin with, or if it simply disintegrated under the weight of so many years and so much togetherness.  Because now, we can sit two feet from each other yet be utterly apart.  Distant.

Maybe I have the distance I need after all…          

Friday, May 11, 2012

Ten Minutes: One Year, Part 2

Yesterday, I stopped by the salon across the street from the café, where I used to have my hair done.  My sister was having HER hair done, and I wanted to tell her to meet us down the road at the pizza place when she was done (this IS a small town, y’know…)   The owner of the shop (who used to do my hair) said hello…made a little small talk.  I didn’t get the big greeting or the big hug or the “we’ve missed you!”  I think she’s a little miffed that she’s lost my custom.  Then again, if it hadn’t been for ME, she wouldn’t have two of my sisters, my brother-in-law and my husband as clients (who continue to use her services.) 

Later, when my sister joined us at the pizza joint, she mentioned that hairdresser “C” had said she was afraid that I might be depressed.  That I should wear make-up and keep up my appearance (to whose standards, I wonder?  And I WAS wearing make-up, BTW…)  That I needed to “take care of myself.”  It all served to bring home the fact that I am indeed a different person than I was a year ago.  And I’m pretty sure the “business owner/manager” person I was in those days was not, in fact, ME.  One of the clear reasons I had to let the restaurant go: I had lost myself and had no idea who I was anymore.  Not only that, but I did not like the person I had become.  And nobody else did, either.

In the café days, I dressed a certain way and groomed myself a certain way largely because I thought my position required it.  (And, if I had to work like a sweat-hog, I didn’t want to look like one, too…)  That look is no longer important or useful to me.  I’m not so sure that, even if I tried to maintain it, it wouldn’t be a constant painful reminder of a difficult period in my life.  These days, with the extra pounds, my hair growing out, and my casual, comfortable wardrobe, I look a lot more like the person I was six or eight years ago  (with a few extra wrinkles, bags and gray hairs.)  I’m not entirely sure that’s who I want to be either…but I know I liked her a whole lot more than Restaurant Owner Me. 

I know going backwards is never the way…but I think sometimes we need to retrace our steps a little to get back on the right track.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Ten Minutes: One Year

And so, it’s been a year.
A year since we shut the doors, sold off the equipment and walked away.

Funny…it just doesn’t seem that long. 

I’d like to say I’ve come a long way…but I haven’t.  I’d like to say I learned something and moved on…not so much.  I’d like to say I’m better for the experience…jury’s still out on that one.

I know that if I had never tried my hand at the thing I thought I wanted the most, my life would have been a little bit…worse.  Not that I would have known it, perhaps.  But I know it now.  I know there are things I can’t shouldn’t do.  I know that, in the immortal words of Mr. Spock, “having is not so pleasing a thing, after all, as wanting.”  Might have been a less exhausting way to learn this, but such is life.

I’m beginning to learn, now, that there is more to life than work.  Certainly, for the five years we owned the restaurant, my life was All About Work.  But I realize that this was the case for me for many years before that.  I wondered, today, if I had always been that way, or if I had learned this from my husband.  How did my self-image get so tangled up in what I did for a living?  When did “job” become Job One?  How fouled up is it to have wasted so many years choosing to make my occupation my number one priority?  I am worthy of more…so much more than that.

There are things about my “retirement” that don’t make me happy.  I have gained weight; I am out of shape.  And I’m shocked at how quickly, at my age, the body can deteriorate from lack of use.  I have nothing but time, but I don’t use it well.  I’m not sure whether my recovery is not yet complete (maybe I’m still “resting?”) or if I have become a certified Couch Potato.  I’m still finding it difficult to focus; still having a hard time finding sustained joy in anything.  I’ve heard it said that these are signs of “depression…”  But I choose not to accept that diagnosis.

And so, I’m inching forward…not sure, still, where I’m bound.  The thing with which I seem to be having the most trouble is dreams.  Plans.  Hopes.  I feel too old to dream, to plan, to hope.  Like I’ve reached a point where I’m not sure what plans or dreams are practical or even sane.  It kind of scares the hell out of me. 

Friday, May 4, 2012

Ten Minutes: Carrying On

I find I don’t have a lot to say these days. I think my brain is on vacation…I did so much thinking and ruminating and analyzing earlier this year that I just had to…quit. Step back for awhile.

The past couple of weeks held a flurry of activity surrounding the visit of my niece from the Midwest. First, I had to turn my “office” (read “junk room”) into an adequate bedroom for her during her stay. This took up most of the week before she arrived. Unbelievable how much CRAP had accumulated in that room. I threw out two garbage cans full of ancient papers and sent two truckloads of miscellaneous old office furniture and other reusable (but not by me) stuff over to the Goodwill collection truck. The space looks like a ROOM now; not only is there a clear path through from the door to the far wall, there is a bed and curtains—woo hoo! It looks damn nice, if I do say so myself.

Niece arrived on 4/20 and went home yesterday, so we spent most of two weeks showing her the town(s)—Eugene, Portland, the beach (of course.) Weather wasn’t the best, but I suppose it could have been worse. We didn’t get stormed off the beach, and we had some nice days at the Eugene and Portland Saturday markets. It’s fun when people come in from out of town. You get to act like a tourist and see things you don’t see even though you live right next to them every day.

The next four months promise to be my “busy” months this year. Next week, we start production of product for our two remaining festivals, then the festivals themselves are in June and August. Though there is a certain amount of increased activity surrounding all this, it will still seem like a vacation compared with my life of just a year ago (almost exactly a year, in fact…our last day of business at the café was May 8, 2011.) As is always the case with my relationship with time nowadays, a year ago seems like yesterday, but at the same time, an immensely long time ago. So much has happened in these twelve months…and yet, so much has NOT happened. It’s hard to know how to feel about it all. Or whether I should require myself to feel anything. Yet.

As far as my spiritual journey goes, I am feeling a little stuck and isolated. The Universe continues to send spirits and lessons my way, but I feel like I should be learning more from them. Though I truly believe that one’s relationship to the world of the spirit is intensely personal, I’ve begun to feel that I need the companionship of other people who feel and believe something more closely mirroring my own views. I really don’t KNOW anyone else who is going where I am going, spiritually, in anything approaching the manner in which I am drawn to get there. So I’ve been doing a little research on retreats, and am in touch with an organization where I might get some community and support on my journey.

This is a difficult process for me. I’ve never been the most trusting soul, and my journey of the past five years has served to mangle any vestiges of trust/faith I had in other people. So it’s tough to make the spiritual equivalent of “cold calls…” I’m finding it almost as intimidating as “shopping” for a church, back in the olden days. I really have no stomach for it, but I also realize that I am craving acceptance into a spiritual realm about which I understand next to nothing, and that there are teachers out there who have knowledge I will need to go forward in my quest. I just have to suck it up and start reaching out, and hope that someone will reach back. I have found that the Universe is being patient and gentle but unrelenting with me. When I need something, I get it…and the Universe is not shy about smacking me upside the head with it, if need be.

My trip to the beach this past week was notably pelican-less. We saw a few dipping in and out of the waves far off shore, but none came close enough to really see. I did, however, see many eagles and osprey. Kingfisher made a brief visit, and I had an interesting close encounter with a Turkey Vulture. And crows and hummingbirds always surround me in abundance these days; so I am not without company on my spiritual quest. I just feel the need for some human people to walk with for a bit. An unfamiliar desire, for me. So unusual that I can't help but think it is the promprting of a Higher Power, rather than something I've pulled out of my own subconscious. So I'm trying to act on it...but it isn't easy.