Thanksgiving: Remembering the Past, Embracing the Present

Like most of you, I have Thanksgiving memories rooted in tradition with my family. We watched football games, snuck chocolate turkeys that were meant for after the big meal, and grazed on handfuls of nuts and crackers until the full feast was finally served in the very late afternoon hours in a too-warm dining room.

As a kid, I was indoctrinated with Thanksgiving symbols of “Indians” and pilgrims through arts and crafts, many of which made their way to the white Frigidaire in the kitchen. We didn’t think much beyond the myths back then; we just went through the motions because, well, that’s what most of us did in America.

As I grew older, I realized that those iconic images of a family Thanksgiving immortalized by the idealistic artist Norman Rockwell and the stories we read in elementary school were hardly representative of the truths endured by our ancestors and early English settlers.

The traditions of “Thanksgiving” actually predate American colonies and served the Spaniards and the French as early as the 15th century. The celebrations were exactly as you might think: a time to be thankful for good crops and good health. We, as an American nation, spent centuries after Columbus so heroically sailed the ocean blue in 1492 (yes, I am rolling my eyes) trying to capture the “soul” of Thanksgiving’s origins to a 1621 gathering in Plymouth, where settlers celebrated their survival from a devastating winter and their first bountiful harvest later that year.

The trouble with that famous 3-day feast, however, is that it was held in Plymouth, Massachusetts while a most vicious and deadly battle with the Native Americans raged on in Virginia.

The origins of our relations with Native Americans could have turned out so differently. According to Howard Zinn, author of A People’s History of the United States, “The Indians, Columbus reported in 1492, ‘…are so naive and so free with their possessions. . . .When you ask for something they have, they never say no. To the contrary, they offer to share with anyone.”

These are the traits we so desperately wish upon ourselves, even now in the 21st Century.

Three years later, in 1495, Columbus had taken full advantage of this generosity and enslaved the Native Americans to find gold for him in Haiti. “When they brought [the gold],” Zinn writes, “they were given copper tokens to hang around their necks. Indians found without a copper token had their hands cut off and bled to death. . . .In two years, through murder, mutilation, or suicide, half of the 250,000 Indians on Haiti were dead. . . .By the year 1515, there were perhaps 50,000 Indians left. By 1550, there were 500.”

Then, at the turn of the 17th Century, in the very early years of English settlements in Virginia, tensions heightened between the Native Americans and early settlers.

In 1607, Chief Powhaten addressed a plea to John Smith that, according to Zinn, was of the following sentiment:

“I have seen two generations of my people die. . . .I know the difference between peace and war better than any man in my country. I am now grown old, and must die soon; my authority must descend to my brothers, Opitchapan, Opechancanough and Catatough, then to my two sisters, and then to my two daughters. I wish them to know as much as I do, and that your love to them may be like mine to you. Why will you take by force what you have quietly by love? Why will you destroy us who supply you with food? What can you get by war? We can hide our provisions and run into the woods; then you will starve for wronging your friends. Why are you jealous of us? We are unarmed, and willing to give you what you ask, if you come in a friendly manner, and not so simple as not to know that it is much better to eat good meat, sleep comfortably, live quietly with my wives and children, laugh and be merry with the English, and trade for their copper and hatchets, than to run away from them, and to lie cold in the woods, feed on acorns, roots and such trash, and be so hunted that I can neither eat or sleep. In these wars, my men must sit up watching, and if a twig break, they all cry out, “Here comes Captain Smith!” So I must end my miserable life. Take away your guns and swords, the cause of all our jealousy, or you may all die in the same manner.”

In 1620, following smaller back-and-forth attacks against each other in Virginia while peaceful relations continued in Plymouth, the Native Americans, anxious about the number of increasing English settlements, decided to go on the offensive and massacred 347 men, women, and children. This led to a full-on war between the two groups and eventual domination by the English settlers.

This is why the Thanksgiving images of that 1621 feast are so unsettling to me now. It’s an image of what should have been for both groups from the very beginning throughout the colonial settlements.

It wasn’t until 321 years later and following a series of proclamations that our US Congress passed a resolution in October 1941 recognizing the fourth Thursday in November to be a federal holiday celebrating Thanksgiving.

And here we are today.

For years, I have struggled with the discrepancies of this holiday stemming from some of the more general myths that we perpetuated in the second half of the 20th century. But to dwell too much on our past is, I think, a missed opportunity for us to return to the origins of being thankful long before our ancestors battled with the Native Americans and stole their land.

Let us embrace this holiday for its origins rooted in real gratitude and humble thanks for our most basic blessings: food, life, and community. Today, we are offered the chance to share this land with a beautiful and diverse population that comprises a society built on compassion, kindness, and love. Give to your neighbors, lift love and prayer for those in need, and be grateful for those who have lifted their own love to you.

In these times of tension and division within our own nation, let us make the choice to put all of that behind us and embrace the opportunities of our present to love one another more humbly, unconditionally, and for many months after the holidays come to an end for this solitary year.

Happy Thanksgiving, my friends. May your hours spent with loved ones be genuine, heartfelt, and long-lasting.

The Fragile Balance between Writing and Publishing

For writers, the balance between writing and publishing is a fickle act where mind games play as big a role as anything else.

For me, I just published my largest work to date, Fossil Five, a 436-page novel that was crafted over a period of 5 years and 10 months. I should be on top of the world with delight, and to a large extent – I am.

But I took a detour this morning to the bottom of my blog, which I started in 2005, nearly a full year before the social media site Facebook went public in late September 2006. In my earliest entries, and leading up to when I started working on my book in 2013, my published posts evolved into rather authentic pieces that engaged a small but consistent group of readers.

After that, my entries fell flat and were sporadic at best. My energies had flowed to a different kind of writing: the novel. It’s not that I really regret any of it; what I have done, however, is recognize a greater need for balance in my writing life. I’m happy that my novel is out, but I’m unhappy that my online writing suffered as a result.

I’ve been publishing elsewhere recently, so it’s not like I have been slacking in that area. And my daybooking has flourished in recent years. So why am I so upset about the lack of blogging I’ve been doing?

Excellent question.

The better we get at this thing called writing, the better we should get at adding – not replacing – the venues where we share our work, and how, and with whom. If we were gymnasts, would it be okay if we swapped out a forward walkover when we mastered the back handspring? Of course not. We improve as athletes, or writers, when we learn how to add skills and opportunities to be better at what we do.

We can not replace one for the other, especially now when the demands are greater than ever to publish as frequently as possible for an ever-craving readership that demands fresh material be in the wings and ready to be consumed as soon as the work du jour is completed.

I don’t think it’s being too harsh on ourselves, either. We need to be able to balance the writing we do behind the scenes with what we publish, and we need to do more – not less – of both.

Yes, there is a certain urgency as we get older to leave a trace, to share what we know and don’t know, to ponder what we have and have not experienced, and to offer a perspective of what we have learned, and what we still need to learn.

I am reminded of the grandfather in Jonathan Safran Foer’s postmodern novel, Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, where he is so afraid of not being able to say everything in a letter. The author illustrates this tragically by having the words and letters bunch up at the bottom of the page.

Turn the page, and the chapter ends in an all-black burial of urgent and unintelligible lines shared too late.

Simply put, he ran out of time.

We must strive harder to write and publish more, to strike a stronger balance between the two, so we are not so urgent to say what needs to be said, when we run out of space on the very mortal and terminal place at the end of our chapter.

Once Upon A Time: Remembering Helen Kubik

Many of us, when we approached the age of reading for ourselves, selected books that offered larger-than-life stories with fairy-tale endings to somehow make our lives a little more fantastic. For those of us who went to Pine Grove Elementary in the 1970s, we lived that fantastic fairy tale, with open-space classrooms, a large reading area, energetic and life-inspiring teachers, and Helen Kubik, a principal as beautiful and as magical as Glynda, the good witch from The Wizard of Oz.

Mrs. Kubik – known to us in our earlier years at Pine Grove as Ms. Powell before she married Mr. Alex Kubik, an assistant principal at the school – was known for her effervescent personality, matched exquisitely by the L’Origan by Coty perfume she wore each day. Her voice was soothing, supportive, and always accompanied by a glistening smile. She towered over us as young learners, and we all looked up to her in innumerable ways.

I was six when my first-grade teacher, Ms. O’Donnell, appreciated an “essay” I had written about Abraham Lincoln. I was given the chance to share my writing with the rest of my peers at Pine Grove over the PA system during a week-long celebration of our presidents. I remember vividly standing in the office, gripping my essay with both hands, as Mrs. Kubik held the heavy, silver microphone just above me.

I looked up to her as she spoke. “Boys and Girls,” she said into the microphone with that sweet, sing-song voice. “We have some special students who are going to be sharing their own writing about our presidents to celebrate Presidents’ Day.”

She introduced us, and then she lowered the microphone to my level. She gave me a nod, and I inhaled the strong scent of her L’Origan, a fruity bouquet that smelled different than any of the perfumes my mother wore.

It was a scent that represented a presence of compassion, support, and safety. Around Mrs. Kubik, we didn’t feel intimidated; we felt invincible.

I started reading my essay, and when I got to the part of Abraham Lincoln’s wife, Mary Todd Lincoln, I called her Abraham’s “beloved.” Ms. Kubik chuckled, and when I looked up, she was beaming with what I presumed was approval, and so I continued reading. When I finished, she looked at me with those eyes sparkling with hope and belief, and spent some time talking with me about how much she liked that part of my tribute to our 16th president of the United States.

And now, nearly 50 years later, I sit here realizing how much of who I am is because of this woman, the leader of my elementary school where so many other teachers from that era served as role models to me and thousands of impressionable children in the 1970s.

Helen Kubik was everywhere: in our classrooms, at our school events and plays, and in the hallways ready to offer a smile, especially to those who needed it the most. To me, as an emotional, yet happy-go-lucky kid who struggled academically but beamed on stage, she always put each one of her children first as the individuals they were, and not the statistical numbers they might add up to be for any data sheet defining success or failure in the classroom. At least that’s the way it always seemed to me.

Mrs. Kubik was a loving, compassionate individual who, above everything else, saw us as tiny, impressionable human beings that just needed somebody to believe in them. She allowed us to hold on to our fairy-tale dreams and moments of magical wonder while we worked hard at becoming lifelong learners. Instead of preparing us for any alternate “real world” where people were driven solely by numbers and bottom lines, she prepared us to believe in ourselves first, and to be there for others who needed us, for any reason. To accomplish this first would allow everything else to fall into place.

And it did. Here we are, 50 years later, living strong, productive lives where people still come first. As a teacher myself now for 30+ years, I look into the eyes of every one of my students, offering my own hope and belief in each of them as individuals who have dreams, ambitions, and simple desires to be acknowledged. I remember what it was like all those years ago when Mrs. Kubik offered that to us, and the need to be believed in is as important for our children today as it was for all of us, all those years ago.

When we completed our last year at Pine Grove in the mid-1970s and moved up to the scary and intimidating world of junior high school, Mrs. Kubik left us with the following words:

 

From Your Principal With Love,

Close to my heart is a secret place
Where dreams are stored away
And sturdy candles of faith are kept
Against a lonelier day.

My students are treasures I keep apart,
Cradled in hope within my heart —
Snub-nosed profiles, picture clear
Perfect moments, priceless-dear,
Etched in eternal time to be
My children,
The very soul of me.

Each child builds my world anew
A shaft of sunlight breaking through.
Each shape my tomorrow, change my life,
Banish my doubt and fear and strife.
Contentment now settles with this days sun.
My part is through, school years well done.
Pine Grove but a castle we built in the air.
Now it tumbles and leaves but a memory there.

These years that I have shared with you —
The tender, the frightened and fun times, too —
Your laughter and your precious pain,
Autumn leaves through summer rain,
My loving you — your loving me,
A kaleidoscope of memory.

Know wherever, whatever your future may be
You are treasures that none can take from me.
Now go freely to conquer your world,

Fly free,
     My students,
          My children,
               The soul of me!

There are so many of my peers whose lives were formed, strengthened, and empowered by Mrs. Helen Kubik to love ourselves, to love others, and to live our lives driven by compassion for all. She was more than a principal to us; she was magical, and will always be, faithfully and forever: Once Upon A Time.

A Declaration

When I was much younger, I would stand on the side of the road watching the fireworks being launched off of “Luskin’s Hill” just about a mile from my home. With each new sonic boom and brilliant blast of color, amidst the chorus of “oohs” and “aahs” that weaved through the crowd like the ripples of the American flag, I was the kid thinking about those “bombs bursting in air” and if they really looked like the fireworks that were exploding in front of me.

It was always impressed on me that the fourth of July was about what we went through to earn our freedoms, the sacrifices we made and the gutsy courage we displayed to build the foundation of a democratic, independent nation. I wasn’t ignorant to the fact that it has often been ugly. I had read Zinn’s People’s History of the United States. I knew we weren’t the Rockwellian image we’ve always hoped we might be. But what I extracted from these fireworks was a responsibility, a duty to those who gave us these freedoms, this independence; we owed it to the men and women who established a foundation of comfort, compassion, and opportunity for all within our United States.

Even as a kid, I felt obligated to uphold the legacy of what it means to be an American 200-plus years after the bursting of those bombs and the defiant red, white, and blue still waving in that dawn’s early light.

None of this has changed for me as I have gotten older, especially as I have learned more about the horrors of assimilation, the ugly demonstrations of cultural appropriation, and the despicable existence of racism still today. Yet, we believe that this is a time for us to boast our mighty strength and freedoms to the world, as the bodies of immigrants washing up on shores goes largely ignored.

Maybe that’s why things seem a little, oh, hollow these days when it comes to waving and praising that good old red white and blue. When I revisit the Declaration of Independence, I am reminded of why we broke free from Great Britain, and how we opened our arms for those in greatest need. The words of Emma Lazarus, who penned “A New Collosus” that is etched into the base of the Statue of Liberty, ring true:

“Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she / With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor, / Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, / The wretched refuse of your teeming shore. / Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me, / I lift my lamp beside the golden door!” 

Have we forgotten this? Have we forgotten the actual text of the Declaration of Independence that outlines, very clearly, what we were breaking free from?

I offer you the complete text of the Declaration of Independence, below. Please read every word. Every single word.

IN CONGRESS, JULY 4, 1776

The unanimous Declaration of the thirteen united States of America

When in the Course of human events it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. — That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, — That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security. — Such has been the patient sufferance of these Colonies; and such is now the necessity which constrains them to alter their former Systems of Government. The history of the present King of Great Britain is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations, all having in direct object the establishment of an absolute Tyranny over these States. To prove this, let Facts be submitted to a candid world.

He has refused his Assent to Laws, the most wholesome and necessary for the public good.

He has forbidden his Governors to pass Laws of immediate and pressing importance, unless suspended in their operation till his Assent should be obtained; and when so suspended, he has utterly neglected to attend to them.

He has refused to pass other Laws for the accommodation of large districts of people, unless those people would relinquish the right of Representation in the Legislature, a right inestimable to them and formidable to tyrants only.

He has called together legislative bodies at places unusual, uncomfortable, and distant from the depository of their Public Records, for the sole purpose of fatiguing them into compliance with his measures.

He has dissolved Representative Houses repeatedly, for opposing with manly firmness his invasions on the rights of the people.

He has refused for a long time, after such dissolutions, to cause others to be elected, whereby the Legislative Powers, incapable of Annihilation, have returned to the People at large for their exercise; the State remaining in the mean time exposed to all the dangers of invasion from without, and convulsions within.

He has endeavoured to prevent the population of these States; for that purpose obstructing the Laws for Naturalization of Foreigners; refusing to pass others to encourage their migrations hither, and raising the conditions of new Appropriations of Lands.

He has obstructed the Administration of Justice by refusing his Assent to Laws for establishing Judiciary Powers.

He has made Judges dependent on his Will alone for the tenure of their offices, and the amount and payment of their salaries.

He has erected a multitude of New Offices, and sent hither swarms of Officers to harass our people and eat out their substance.

He has kept among us, in times of peace, Standing Armies without the Consent of our legislatures.

He has affected to render the Military independent of and superior to the Civil Power.

He has combined with others to subject us to a jurisdiction foreign to our constitution, and unacknowledged by our laws; giving his Assent to their Acts of pretended Legislation:

For quartering large bodies of armed troops among us:

For protecting them, by a mock Trial from punishment for any Murders which they should commit on the Inhabitants of these States:

For cutting off our Trade with all parts of the world:

For imposing Taxes on us without our Consent:

For depriving us in many cases, of the benefit of Trial by Jury:

For transporting us beyond Seas to be tried for pretended offences:

For abolishing the free System of English Laws in a neighbouring Province, establishing therein an Arbitrary government, and enlarging its Boundaries so as to render it at once an example and fit instrument for introducing the same absolute rule into these Colonies

For taking away our Charters, abolishing our most valuable Laws and altering fundamentally the Forms of our Governments:

For suspending our own Legislatures, and declaring themselves invested with power to legislate for us in all cases whatsoever.

He has abdicated Government here, by declaring us out of his Protection and waging War against us.

He has plundered our seas, ravaged our coasts, burnt our towns, and destroyed the lives of our people.

He is at this time transporting large Armies of foreign Mercenaries to compleat the works of death, desolation, and tyranny, already begun with circumstances of Cruelty & Perfidy scarcely paralleled in the most barbarous ages, and totally unworthy the Head of a civilized nation.

He has constrained our fellow Citizens taken Captive on the high Seas to bear Arms against their Country, to become the executioners of their friends and Brethren, or to fall themselves by their Hands.

He has excited domestic insurrections amongst us, and has endeavoured to bring on the inhabitants of our frontiers, the merciless Indian Savages whose known rule of warfare, is an undistinguished destruction of all ages, sexes and conditions.

In every stage of these Oppressions We have Petitioned for Redress in the most humble terms: Our repeated Petitions have been answered only by repeated injury. A Prince, whose character is thus marked by every act which may define a Tyrant, is unfit to be the ruler of a free people.

Nor have We been wanting in attentions to our British brethren. We have warned them from time to time of attempts by their legislature to extend an unwarrantable jurisdiction over us. We have reminded them of the circumstances of our emigration and settlement here. We have appealed to their native justice and magnanimity, and we have conjured them by the ties of our common kindred to disavow these usurpations, which would inevitably interrupt our connections and correspondence. They too have been deaf to the voice of justice and of consanguinity. We must, therefore, acquiesce in the necessity, which denounces our Separation, and hold them, as we hold the rest of mankind, Enemies in War, in Peace Friends.

We, therefore, the Representatives of the united States of America, in General Congress, Assembled, appealing to the Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of our intentions, do, in the Name, and by Authority of the good People of these Colonies, solemnly publish and declare, That these united Colonies are, and of Right ought to be Free and Independent States, that they are Absolved from all Allegiance to the British Crown, and that all political connection between them and the State of Great Britain, is and ought to be totally dissolved; and that as Free and Independent States, they have full Power to levy War, conclude Peace, contract Alliances, establish Commerce, and to do all other Acts and Things which Independent States may of right do. — And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of Divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes, and our sacred Honor.

On this day of independence, on this day that we celebrate everything that America stands for, I offer a Declaration that is a little less of the grandiose and a little more of the introspective contemplation of what it means to be “American.”

  • I declare that, as an American, I respect the rights of my neighbors, regardless of political affiliation.
  • I declare that, as an American, I open my arms to the homeless, the tired, the poor, and the huddled masses. 
  • I declare that, as an American, I embrace the independence and individuality of my neighbors as long as that independence and individuality does not bring harm or injustice to others.
  • I declare that, as an American, I shout my encouraging words, my art, my music, my ideas, my beliefs of what is right for all to the world regardless of the risk of suppression or judgment.
  • I declare that, as an American, I work hard to support my community, to be honorable in my efforts, and to offer good will toward others who contribute to the wellness of our country.
  • I declare that, as an American, I embrace inclusion, not exclusion, and my words and efforts shall carry opportunities instead of consequences. 

These declarations do not hinder or dampen our parades, our fireworks, our backyard picnics; instead, they shift our focus to what really makes America a united, independent nation that was once revered as the greatest place for opportunity and freedom.

Instead of excluding political opponents, instead of casting blame on each other, instead of beating our chests with mighty tanks and powerful flyovers, instead of using bellicose language and building ourselves up by putting others down, instead of turning away those in need, instead of abhorrent tweets and social media bullying, choose the essential elements upon which our country was founded: Life. Liberty. Happiness. For All.

Catcher in the Sky

It is late Friday, just after 10 p.m., and I turn off the news and walk toward the bright red bullseye on the front of the plain brick building. The news reverberates in my mind as I walk through the glass doors, a rush of cold air greeting me, a sterilizing splash that neutralizes the world still spinning out there.

Virginia Beach, 11 dead, 6 injured, suspect dead.

My daughter reminds me why we are here, in Target, and we march along the silent aisles, just like I did on that clear night nearly 18 years ago.

Planes into buildings, thousands dead, suspects sought.

I feel embarrassed, out of place, a fool for going about my business picking up cream for tomorrow’s morning coffee while families are being notified that their loved ones are dead; their lives will never be the same.

And yet, here I am, seeking normal, craving sterilizing silence, desperate for a task to keep me busy, occupied, distracted from what awaits outside those smooth sliding doors that seem so protective, comforting.

Isolating.

I continue about my shopping while the weeping of mayors seeps through my veins.

Cream. We have come here for cream.

I stand in some random aisle and listen to the swelling silence around me. There’s a hint of a page over stereophonic walkies. It only adds to the dystopian nature of my time here in the wake of tragedies that cry out for anything but the normal response.

Thoughts and prayers, more gun control, we demand action.

I remember a shot-less victim’s voice on the news telling me through tears that all she thought about was getting home to her 11-month-old baby.

The lives of many change in the hours after such a tragedy.

And yet,

yet

We say our prayers. We take to the streets. We demand change while the next suspect is loading up another cartridge and sets his sights on the ones who have made him feel this way.

I walk up to the cashier and a man half my age with the name tag “MR. BILL” helps me navigate the transaction. I am more flustered than I had originally believed. But of course, I’m also looking out for pickpockets, thieves, and gun-slinging disgruntles that make me want to know what the afterlife is really all about, if it is about anything at all. 

I think about other-worlds up there with the victims all together, gathered for some purpose or energy that they hope we can hear. They are the wise ones, after all. The whispers of first graders gunned down, of college kids and grandmothers, of high school seniors, all part of a club clamoring for some kind of voice, some way to break through the stratospheres of chaos and rain some wisdom upon us.

My daughter tells me it’s time to head home, and she leads the way through the double doors that slide open. The air out there is heavy, and yet

yet

I step through and slug through the night, heavy boots heading home to busy routines that mute the madness out here.

The next day I stay off the news, walk to the beach, and fill my head with jazz blues and the sounds of Miles Davis. I allow the notes to resonate, marinate within, a certain swirl of temporary healing until the next tragedy that breaks through my feeds, trumpeting fear, madness, and that same heavy weight of helplessness, searching for that bullseye target of sterility to get me through.

In my Miles Davis-infused meditation, I slip into a dream of weightlessness, and I become the Catcher in the Sky, building an out-of-sight high rise to reach the victims. Help them. Apologize for our ineptness at fixing this fixation with guns and violence and death. If I can’t save them here on this gravity-soaked America, I might as well grab my hammer and nails and climb high, leave behind the memories of senseless deaths and join them at their common-place space, an exclusive club they never wanted to join.

How do we stop it, I ask, hammer still in hand. How do we mend fences and rest weapons in weightless bins, send them beyond this common-place space? How do we dissolve the membrane between us and allow zero-gravity wisdom to rain upon us, teach us, save us?

They smile resolutely with unwanted experiences, but offer no words. Instead, I feel their wish in the aether around me. I absorb their wisdom and close my eyes, desperately holding on to the wistful permeations all around – and in – me.

I understand, I nod, as I feel myself being pulled down, hammer first, through the membrane that separates us, down and down and down, past the thin pieces of pine at the top of my high rise, past the three floors already built, and on to the sandy ground.

Terra firma.

The waves encourage me, and I turn back to my house and emerge with new wood and tools. My daughter joins me.

Maybe this will make a difference, she whispers.

I pull a thick black marker from my pocket and pick up a fresh piece of pine, two inches by ten inches by twenty-four inches. With quick precision, I pen the letters as big and as bold as I can. When finished, I pull six four-inch nails from my other pocket. She holds the handmade sign centered atop the front door, and I pound the six nails into the wood – bullseye strikes on each nail – securing the sign to the frame.

I step back, envision the Miles-high high rise climbing in the sky, the open pine planks, so skeletonesque, transparent. Welcoming. My eyes fall floor by imaginary floor: three, two, one, and settle on the black letters etched across the just-nailed plank.

I smile, resolutely, and raise my hammer to the letters as my daughter raises her hand, effortlessly as in zero gravity. We tap the pine as we walk through the gateway, and the passers-by stop, read the sign, and approach.

There is hope, they think.

There is hope.

To Exhale Experience: An Offering To The World

To me, every hour of the day and night is an unspeakably perfect miracle.
~Walt Whitman

How often we forget that we are gifted the perfection of finite hours within our lifetime, neatly packaged moments filled with experience. They arrive to us as much as we go to them, a mingling of synthesizing interactions that define our lives.

What we decide to do with them is inevitably our choice.

I spend excessive amounts of time in my car, which is limping along these days while the busier world passes me by. But in the slower commute to here and there, I am gifted the chance to observe not only the behaviors of others, but my own reactions to them.

When I am too much with this world, my reactions are swift, emotional, and often filled with raw anger and frustration. I allow myself to be a participant to the bustling ways of my fellow commuters. In remaining “there,” though, I expend an extraordinary wasteful amount of energy. And if, by chance, they receive my reactions, it only escalates into an exhaustive battle about, well, nothing.

I avoid these clashes with listening to a new soundtrack I created called “VW Core.” It comprises the top 137 songs that define my life, a gentle balance that includes everything from solo piano pieces to a few jams from the Grateful Dead.

To put it simply, it brings me back to the experiences that have defined my life, that rise above petty rants with passers-by.

So, as summer approaches, I am reminded of the unspeakably perfect miracles held within each hour of our days. I will be on Chesapeake Bay, or taking walks in the woods with my children, or exploring the trails that cling to the shores of our nearby watershed. And, in absorbing these moments from these miraculous hours, I will then share them here and with others, exhaling the experiences that define my life.

I invite you to do the same in the coming months. See the beauty in the hours gifted to us, and share what you find with others. It is the very least we can do to offer the world such wondrous miracles experienced.

It’s Time To Rename This Thing Called Blogging

I’m not much into branding, or rebranding, as this case may be, but I think it’s time that I abandon the generic term of “blogging” and get a little more specific about what I am actually doing here on the internet.

It doesn’t take a lot of research to realize that everybody has some kind of web presence now, and most people are on multiple social media platforms. In addition to a blog, they have Facebook profiles (yes, plural) and Instagram accounts (including the fake ones, or “finstas”); they also have accounts with Twitter, Pinterest, Snapchat, Tumblr, and other places that allow various forms of self-expression.

It’s all a little too much, if you ask me.

I’ve deleted most of the apps from my phone and have abandoned the majority of my sites in the last few months. So much of my time was being consumed by emotional responses to original posts or comments that had been left. Each “session” of checking my feeds left me exhausted.

So when I visited my blog this morning to see how much my writing has changed in the last few years, I felt ashamed, and even a little disgusted, that I had somehow strayed from being so open, so raw in my writing, with no particular audience in mind. I got swept up in branding, gaining some kind of following, and culling the best and finest words for posts that I had hoped would go “viral.”

What a horrible term to use for something we yearn for.

That’s why I want to change the name of what I am doing here, and I think it’s important for me to shout that out to the world, explain what I’m doing, and why.

I thought about naming this as my online journal, but it carries a weight with it that is just a notch or two above the horrible connotations associated with the term, “diary.” I’m 54 years old. I don’t need to put that wonder in the minds of readers that I’m chronicling what I had for lunch on any given day (don’t think for a moment that the irony is lost on me here; some food diarists are making six figures or more for writing about food).

I decided to do a quick search on Thesaurus.com for synonyms for journal. Here’s what they listed:

I was immediately happy to see that “blog” is not even listed. When I did a search for “Blog,” a much shorter list popped up:

I’m not trying to be difficult about this, but none of these synonyms really work for what I will be doing here. I’m seeing this space more as my “Leaves of Grass” that Walt Whitman first published in 1855 and then refined up to nine times in the last 37 years of his life. What I want to do here seems fairly aligned with Whitman’s attempt to capture his authentic philosophy of life and humanity as it evolved in his later years.

I want this space to be my “song of myself” from this point onward until I can write no more.

I don’t want to worry about offending or pleasing; what I will spill here is my song. What you do with it is really up to you.

So that’s what I think I will call it, at least for now. This is not a blog, or a journal. This is My Song, celebrating life and humanity as I see it.

The goal is to publish more frequently, more authentically, with content that is important to me, but accessible by you. Over the next few months, I’ll begin to re-design this site to reflect it as more of a songbook. I’m excited to see where this might go.