Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Cast off: Destination Unknown

Embarking on the spiritual journey is like getting into a very small boat and setting out on the ocean to search for unknown lands. ~ Pema Chodron

Alice embarked on a spiritual journey in January of this year. She was on a retreat, by herself, at a lovely place on nearby Samish Island.  It was a dark and terribly windy night in a house surrounded by huge trees.

She loved the sound of that kind of wind in the trees and feeling the chill of the wind on her cheeks.  So Alice stood out on the deck, alone, in the darkness of the night … transported momentarily by this display of nature at her finest … when she heard her name.  Once.
 
Looking around seemed silly; there was no one there. But the sound of her name was clearly audible above the wind ripping through the branches of the trees that stood like protectors ensuring her safety on that dark night. Telling anyone seemed unwise, given what some people already suspected about Alice.

When she did mention it to a trusted and much loved friend, he said, “Ooh, God is getting personal with you.” 
God? She thought.  She didn’t believe in God … or any of the religious rhetoric that people latched onto … regardless of their particular choice.  Christian, Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist and all the iterations and refinements thereof.
 
Yet someone said her name.  So … it was clear to Alice that “someone” was getting personal with her.  But who?

Thus the embarkment on her spiritual journey, much like the one Pema Chodron captures so effectively in words. 

Oddly enough, her first destination was the  Chau Dia Tang Buddhist Temple in Lynnwood to share in the celebration of the start of the Year of the Horse.  Alice knew in her heart that the Year of the Horse was going to be a magical one for her.  It was all about listening to her intuition and her spirit instead of the rules and chatter imposed by others.
 
She went alone, and entered a world unlike anything she’d ever experienced.  The temple was primarily for Vietnamese believers.  And the Vietnamese people there were by far the kindest people she has ever known.

Regardless of the language barrier, she was accepted by them.  Hugged, assisted, welcomed.  And then, of course, there was her encounter with the special monk.  His name is Venerable Somebody.  He is amazing.  Whenever Alice speaks to him, love and peace and wisdom fill the air around her and she is enveloped and feels completely at peace.  
 

Alice has no desire to shave her head, give up her worldly possessions and live in poverty for the rest of her life.  But she was terribly intrigued by 14 Thoughts of Buddha printed in both Vietnamese and English on the outside of the temple wall.

Just today she received a copy of those thoughts from another monk from the same temple.  And she wants to share them … because they make so much sense to her.  There is nothing about being born into sin or having someone die a brutal death for her, or having to listen to things she finds insulting to her intelligence and offensive to her morals and values.
From Alice, then, is this list that seeped into her awareness and stuck firmly:

Fourteen Thoughts of the Buddha

 1. The biggest enemy in life is oneself.

 2. The biggest stupidity in life is deceitfulness.

 3. The biggest defeat in life is arrogance.

 4. The biggest sorrow in life is enviousness.

 5. The biggest mistake in life is having no self confidence.

 6. The biggest sin in life is an unfilial (undutiful) child.

 7. The biggest pity in life is self inferiority.

 8. The biggest admiration in life is one’s ability to stand up after falling down from adversity.

 9. The biggest downfall in life is despair.

 10. The biggest asset in life is good health and an intelligent mind.

 11. The biggest debt in life is our sentimentality.

 12. The biggest offering in life is to forgive.

 13. The biggest loss in life is lack of knowledge.

 14. The biggest consolation in life is charity.

Each time she reads them, she rejoices that at last there is recognition that it’s ok to be confident and intelligent while being kind and generous and loving.
 

 

And the list was shared with her without a reminder that Buddha takes Pay Pal.

 

 

 

 

 

Saturday, June 14, 2014

Walk on the Wild Side

A year ago, because her meds were too strong, Alice forgot how to measure crab although she had been crabbing for 40 years.  Her crabbing friend loved her anyway.

This year, she's on the correct dose of the correct medication, her brain function has come back (in spades), and she can measure a big male crab with her eyes closed.  But now her crabbing friend doesn't love her anymore. 

Definitely a case of:  win some, lose some.  After pondering the situation of this "can't please any of the people any of the time" Alice decided to put all those people behind her and find a new path.

It was time to Walk on the Wild Side … while she could still walk.

There must be something to that Law of Attraction, because the day after her momentous decision, JR showed up.  As readers will remember, JR is the 30-year Marine Veteran sniper with PTSD.  Like his namesake, Jack Reacher, JR seemed to come with a certain amount of collateral damage.
 
He was protective of Alice, which was touching after a lifetime of never having a knight on a three-legged mule let alone a white stallion.  But when his “protection” included watching her at Blade Chevrolet (Alice’s favorite business in Skagit County) from the shoulder of I-5, that was a big much.  JR drives a Crown Vic, so no one paid any attention to him.  Alice, however, was totally creeped out by the whole thing when she learned what happened.

Then there are JR’s buddies.  Joe, who is a quiet Gulf War Vet who obviously saw some nasty action in the desert and was awarded the Bronze Star Medal.  Joe says little, but has a very sharp knife that he carries around … for slicing bread or removing the fuzz from a peach.  Alice likes Joe and doesn’t like peach fuzz, so they bonded instantly. 

The Admiral was a whole other story.  He wore a big cross, said he liked to be naked, drove a GTR, and picked up teen-aged girls at McDonald's.  He also had a bagful of drugs from the VA for the constant pain in his neck.  Alice found him to be a pain in the neck and told JR to lose him.
 
 

And last, but not least, is the bully from the church, who turns out to be quite a nice guy.  He and JR made up when they realized they were both Marines.  Apparently, it’s ok to bully people but not fellow Marines.  The code word is Semper Fi.  Alice now wears a button for protection.
 
Ever since she decided she was done with men forever, they began to show up in her life.  It was as if she wore a Velcro sweater, so if she walked too close to a man … whoosh,  he got sucked right into her space.  Admittedly it was an odd thing … but many odd things happened in her life lately.  And all of the men are interesting and charming and great people to have as friends.

One used to be a DJ for a New York City radio station and he shared the same speech issues as King George (or Colin Firth as Alice preferred to think of him).  Fascinating man, amazingly intelligent, with an endless capacity to come up with startling facts that, in spite of being irrelevant, suited any given situation.  They decided she was his reincarnated Sicilian Grandmother, so to be more than friends seemed incestuous.
 
Of course there was the Rocket Scientist, who wins the prize for the Most Fascinating Man ever!  He gave Alice a photo of the surface of Mars that looks like he was standing there.  She was going to share a smaller copy with Obama before he mis-pronounced Oso four times. That has to be a record of some kind –  doing that to a three-letter word.  She figured it was Inslee’s fault.  He was so anxious to get his face in every picture, he didn’t property prep the Prez.



There is also the Disciple of Jesus who drives a limo and told her God sent him to protect her.  The owner of Blade Chevrolet, a wonderful human being. The Health Department guy who is the smartest man on the planet in Alice’s eyes. (Even smarter than her realtor, Lego Man.) 

A couple of other Knights of the Blade Table who drive Chevys and love cookies.  One of them reminds Alice of Stringer Bell in “The Wire.”  It’s all about the precision of the facial hair.
 
 
So far so good.  Alice feels great!  She can walk better because JR insisted that she walk over uneven ground without her cane.  It felt like Boot Camp, but paid off when she was able to scramble down to the river’s edge by herself when he was nowhere around.



On Sunday, Alice is making her world famous Lasagna with Fontina cheese and her special garlic cheese bread for JR and Joe.


 
Dessert will be fuzz-less peaches with ice cream.



Needless to say, Heinrich will be out of town for the day.  It is, after all, Father’s Day and he is the beloved father of many.

As luck would have it, Alice found this song on YouTube by Lou Reed, a guy she'd never heard of before.  It’s a little racy for her, and it’s a good thing her grandchildren don’t read her stories.  But it does tie in nicely with the title of this phase of her life.  Certainly not the content!

YouTube Lou Reed Walk on the Wild Side


 

Monday, June 9, 2014

Oorah

Alice has a new friend, a 30-year Marine Veteran.  She had never known anyone in the military except for her brothers who basked on the beaches of Biloxi.  It turns out this particular Marine had been trained as a sniper.  Yikes!

Let’s call him JR for Jack Reacher, Alice’s fantasy man (created by Lee Childs) … in spite of the fact that she doesn’t like guns or war or violence of any kind.  Jack Reacher is a good guy; he respects women; and only kills bad guys.  Alice hopes JR is the same way.
 
They met at the Church of How Big Thou Art.  Great music, terrific people, and wonderful breakfast for the homeless and anyone else who shows up in time.  There is a guy who stands by the stage like a bouncer, all dressed in black, with steel toed boots.  He reminds Alice of one of those Soviet guys in one of the “Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” books.

Then there is the preacher, Slick Willy.  Oh, could that man sell!  He held the congregation in the palm of his hand, and then told them what God wanted them do to this week. And then reminded them that Jesus took both VISA and American Express.  Well, I’ll be! thought Alice as she remembered the Bible passage about Jesus and the moneychangers.
 
 
Last Sunday, when Alice and JR were going to meet in the parking lot to attend church together, JR got hassled by the bully who watched over the cars. Somebody called the cops; JR left; and Alice marched into church and confronted Slick Willy.  She wanted to know why this house of God was so lacking in kindness and compassion when it came to veterans who spent three decades in harm’s way so guys like Slick Willy didn’t have to do his time there.


Originally Alice reached out to JR in kindness because it seemed like he needed a friend.  She didn’t think about what he might have done during his tenure in the service of his country.

As a young man of 18 from the Heartland of the US, he enlisted because he was patriotic and wanted to become a good man.  In return, our military establishment trained him to kill people.  And not always in defense of our country … but by picking them off one by one with a scope and a rifle.
 

 
Alice could see something in JR’s eyes that she’s never seen before.  Like something inside him was frozen.  Maybe that’s how someone looks after decades of taking the lives of others in the name of duty.  Not knowing if they had families, or what kind of people they were before they were forced to put on a uniform and pick up a gun.

Maybe what she saw was the “1000 yard stare” which another Marine Veteran in the same line of work mentioned to her.  The phrase was coined during the Vietnam War.  Many soldiers are stuck in the 1,000 yard stare after combat stress.
 
Alice could have just walked away and found another friend who played chess or was good at Sudoku.  But instead she decided that it wasn’t enough for people to just slap a “Support our Troops” sticker on the back bumper of their cars. 

Someone needed to step up to the plate on these issues.  It didn’t seem at all right to train young men to do awful things; then kiss them off – perhaps with a big shopping bag full of drugs -- when they had served their time.

And how do these brave men assimilate back into society when people like Slick Willy -- who claim to be speaking the wishes of “our savior Jesus Christ” -- showed no shred of kindness or compassion for this veteran with PTSD? 
It’s not the vet’s fault.  How is he supposed to spend the rest of his life if he’s not even allowed to volunteer in a church parking lot?!
 
Alice normally boycotts places that do her wrong, but she didn’t want to boycott the church.  She loves some of the people there.  Plus they surely have good food, especially the biscuits and gravy on the last Sunday of the month.  Not to mention the ab fab coffee that her Special Guy in the Food Room makes just for her.

The music is so uplifting and the musicians are amazingly talented. During the music section of the service, a sense of the celebration of life pulses through her and soaks right into her soul.
 
Then Slick Willy takes the mike and tells them all the stuff they can’t do.  Like sharing a meal out with someone of the opposite sex.  Holy Tom Jones! (the movie not the singer).  She had never heard of anything lewd taking place in any restaurant in this county in the last 30 years.

She thought this place was different from the Catholic Church of her youth where the priest would serve up big heaps of guilt each Sunday; or the Evangelical Church where talk of fire and brimstone echoed in those down home places of worship and scared the bejesus out of believers.

And this place is different.  Here at the Church of How Big Thou Art, Jesus even takes PayPal.
 
Alice thinks if Jesus had been in that church parking lot that Sunday morning and seen what happened, he would have washed the feet of that brave veteran who gave thirty years of his life to what he believed was protecting his country.

And after seeing that, Alice would have no problem at all believing in Him.
 
 

 

 

Sunday, June 1, 2014

Casting Pearls before Swine


The title, a quotation from Matthew 7:5 in Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, implies that one should not put what is valuable in front of those who will reject the notion.  Not only reject that it has value, but furthermore seek to diminish or destroy what one offers.

The astute reader of “Alice in Tomorrow Land” (Skagit Leeks March 23, 2014) surely discerned that Alice was in the midst of a divorce.  They just had no clue it was from her long-time lover, friend and husband Heinrich.  It should have been easy.  It was their second time at ending their marriage to each other.

But alas, it was not easy.  Far from it.  Heinrich insisted that the laws of the State of Washington were wrong and he was going to demonstrate that. 

“To whom”? Alice asked.

“To whomever!” Heinrich declared, raising his arm for emphasis.
 
So … instead of using the same attorney like they did the first time they divorced (which cost $50), they each hired their own.  Heinrich got Ms. Nobody, a local newbie.  While Alice somehow bumbled into getting one of the best attorneys in the state, who we will call F. Lee.

His fee was exorbitant, but Alice handed over her credit card anyway.  She was in a bit of a daze wondering how she got him and why he took her case.  And afraid to touch anything in the splendor of his office, especially the giant mushroom – sculpted from one huge piece of marble -- sitting in the main foyer.

“It’s a slam dunk,” he said after looking through the documents Alice brought.  Actually it was another attorney who had prepared the magic document that rendered this divorce a slam dunk.  Alice was just grateful that, although the hourly rate was staggering, surely a slam dunk meant it would be over quickly and her retainer would be returned.
 
Divorce Tip #1:  When the best attorney tells you, “It’s a slam dunk,” most likely you don’t need him.  Get somebody like Saul from “Breaking Bad.”


In spite of his vast experience, F. Lee did not have a clue about Heinrich’s sheer determination to insist on his position without regard for the intent and wording of the Law.  So, while F. Lee buried Ms. Nobody in paper, Heinrich told her not to bother him with such nonsense.  Thus the paper piled up on Nobody’s desk and F. Lee went through Alice’s first and second retainers like a hot knife through butter.

Divorce Tip #2:  Tell your attorney to do nothing.  It saves oodles of $$.

The law is amazingly screwed up.  For example, in the 6 foot stack of papers this simple divorce generated, it is stated at least 50 times that neither of these two senior citizens is pregnant.
 
“Is there no short form for older couples?” she asked a couple of times.  But was told:  “Just answer the questions.”  The Law was The Law … and apparently no one, prior to Alice, had ever questioned the Ludicrousness of The Law.

Finally she just gave up, hid in her room, ate heart healthy dark chocolate truffles and drank vitamin enriched orange juice with Grey Goose and Galliano floated on top.  She was losing a lot of money, but gaining a lot of weight … so it all evened out in a bizarre illogical way.
Divorce Tip #3:  Xanax is probably a smarter choice than chocolate and Harvey Wallbangers for dealing with divorce trauma.

At last, after much heartache and terrible times … Heinrich agreed to sign the exact same proposal he received on Day 1 of the Divorce Process.  Unfortunately all his posturing resulted in the destruction of a small forest in paper and cost them both a big wad of money.

All Alice could do is deal with the swirl of feelings from severing this 40-year relationship.  Watch her back in response to behind the scene maneuvers.
 
And look forward to seeing the reactions of friends and family members who believed the stories and expected her to be a raving lunatic.  Touché she’d think, clutching her remaining stash of pearls, shared only with angels now.

The legal papers and filings are only one piece of the pie.  Money is another piece.  A big piece which always pops up in divorces and deaths.  Then there is family; vehicles; and selling the family abode.

Some couples deal with these issues with grace and honor.  Others, not so much.  Fortunately Karma plays a role in these kinds of squabbles.  And he who screws his partner must drag around a bag of bad Karma for the rest of his life.
 
Alice suffered great losses during this divorce process:  people she loved, money that belonged to her, her car, almost her sanity … which she held onto only through the help of compassionate strangers who simply “appeared” in her life, seemingly out of nowhere, right before she would have slipped into the abyss. 

It was these Good Samaritans (called angels by her friend Claudia) who listened to her, held her as she wept, and told her she was special and worthy of love … regardless of what she learned to believe after years with Heinrich and recent treatment by family members she was so sure appreciated and loved her.
 
 
Ironically, the most special of the angels was the paralegal assigned by F. Lee to work with her.  Sometimes Alice would call just so she could hear her voice:  happy or calming or encouraging or sympathetic.  The paralegal’s voice always had the perfect pitch for the situation at hand. Alice knew in her heart that she may not have survived the whole nasty ordeal if not for the voice of that wonderfully caring woman at the other end of the phone … almost daily for months. 

Alice had transformed during the 90-day legal process and 6-month life process which oddly enough began on the “joyful” day her gift of writing spontaneously returned.  Somehow she made peace with all her shocking losses … with love in her heart and the ability to simply be grateful for today and filled with hope for tomorrow.
 
 
She believes she was reborn by surviving the trauma and deep personal losses of it all … and felt young and healthy and happy and most of all: FREE.  Free of any of the guilt and hurt others tried to unload on her. 

Divorce Tip #4:  If you choose not to accept it, the burden remains with the giver.

Alice emerged amazingly unburdened.

In one of F. Lee’s smaller offices (he had offices in many cities) a basket sat oddly askew on a side table as if it had been set there in passing and forgotten.  So, when coming to collect her final papers, Alice felt compelled to bring life to the forgotten basket.  Which she did, actually, by taking it with her, filling it with lovely fragrant Lilacs from her yard, and returning it the next day.
 
 
Well … F. Lee was outraged!  How dare a simple client, and an old one at that, have the audacity to remove something from his auspicious work place?! 

It was then Alice realized F. Lee and Heinrich had much in common.  After a tense couple of hours, involving a flurry of emails, she was, of course, absolved of any wrong-doing.  I mean, really.  Alice?  The one who had been called “Amadeus” … meaning “gifted by God” …  earlier that very day?

Too bad neither F. Lee nor Heinrich recognized that aspect of Alice.  More Karma chips for them. 
 
Divorce Tip #5:  The attorneys are the only winners.

One thing became crystal clear as a result of the whole nasty process.  When couples divorce, for whatever reason, only the attorneys emerge victorious.  We, the little people, fund the trips and swimming pools, fancy cars and giant marble mushrooms for these “officers of the court.”  And while the couples with the broken relationships are left behind … having to figure out how to mend their tattered lives … the attorneys zero in on their next prey willing to fork over the big retainer.
 
 
 
People most often get married with stars in their eyes and love in their hearts.  And 50% of them end up like Alice and Heinrich … some, more than once.  Perhaps humans were not created to be monogamous.  Perhaps they were created to come together to create enough lives to replace themselves … and then drift off and find their bliss.

Alice didn’t much care anymore, since she was done with men and most certainly marriage.   She was anxious to get settled into her new life and use her old computer to write the final chapters of the last forty years of her life … including how she got tangled up with Heinrich and his clan in the first place. 

Telling this story is akin to paraphrasing Acts 9:18 “And immediately there fell from the eyes of the reader something like scales which give them sight.”  Oh yeah.

Not surprisingly the title will be “Crazy Love.”
 
 

Alice was happy!  She got a new hairdo, some new duds, and didn’t even need the magical cane so much as before.  She knew exactly where her bliss was waiting for her … as her reward for being honest and playing fair in the Game of Life.