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Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Paradise Bench

Last October, the day Peg and I were moving into the waterfront Florida condo we had leased for six months, a neighbor two doors down saw me carrying boxes on the sidewalk and said, "So, I see you're moving out along with the rest of us."

That's how we learned our condo, which was thirty yards from Tampa bay with a view to die for, was scheduled, along with the entire building, for complete exterior demolition and reconstruction. Within three week all of the beautiful landscaping had been leveled, scaffolding surrounded the entire building, pneumatic tools pounded all day, and giant blue tarps covered the building at night.  It had been the perfect location, until suddenly it wasn't.

Immediately upon learning this not so good news from our neighbor we began the process of getting out of our lease and looking for another place, a process that took nearly two months. In the mean time, we tried to enjoy the other amenities of the complex, especially the wonderful walking paths, gorgeous water views,  sunrises and sunsets - just not from our own porch and windows.  As we walk around the property, mostly with our dog Wilson, we lamented our loss, and tried to keep our anxiety intact. We did our best to "enjoy it while we can."  Unfortunately the more we enjoyed our surroundings the worse our actual living conditions became.

One of our favorite spots to soak it all in was a bench which offered a full view of the boat channel and slips, which also served as a favorite playground for manatee, dolphins, and numerous exotic waterfowl.  While sitting on the bench late one afternoon commiserating our situation there came a booming voice from behind us.  It was unmistakably "New York" and proclaimed in a one word sentence as only New Yorkers can, "Ya-li-vin-pair-uh-dice!"

We turned to see a cab with the driver hanging one arm and head out the window declaring again, "Ya-li-vin-pair-uh-dice!"

A brief conversation revealed he had also recently moved to Florida from New York City to "retire" in Tarpon Springs where Greek relatives lived.  He was driving a cab to supplement retirement and this was the first fare he had into our condo complex.  He continued to gush about how "bee-yewt-ee-ful" it was.

As you may suspect, this exchange immediately put our lamentation in perspective as we turned our gaze back toward the post card scene before us.  It was also a turning point in our overall perspective as we began to put efforts into finding another condo to lease in the same complex. We shifted from lamentation to hope by realizing we were already in paradise.

To make a long story short, within a couple of weeks we did secure a new lease on another condo that actually overlooks the channel and dock area that sits in front of what we now call the "Paradise Bench" and is still our favorite spot!

I share this story as a parable of how humanity has taken our home, Earth, and turned it into a place of exile rather than the paradise it is.  We have even created elaborate myths and religions around "falls from grace" and "expulsion from the garden" and "poor wayfaring strangers" that perpetuate lamentation instead of hope.  We fail to appreciate the sheer wonder and beauty of Earth and its fullness of Life.

Perhaps this is what Jesus so insistently tries to tell us when he says, "Repent! The Kingdom of Heaven is near!"  If Jesus had come from Brooklyn he would have probably said, "'ey! Tewn aroun'! Ya-li-vin-pair-uh-dice! It's bee-yewt-ee-ful!"

Paradise Bench

The View


Wednesday, May 18, 2016

"Really?" - "Of Course!"

"You are always faced with a situation that is the same as the one that

you never resolved."  ~ Carlos Castaneda

The quote above came a couple of days ago on one of my daily thought email feeds.  It has been on my mind ever since.  My response keeps vacillating between "Really?" and "Of Course!"

"Really?"  Is there no resolution or progress in life?  Are we destined to deal with the same problems over and over? What about all of the technological, cultural, and social advances of humanity? The human imagination has overcome many obstacles, solved countless problems, and moved beyond too many conflicts and wars to count.  We have faced "situations" and resolved them.

"Of Course" when I actually look at what I just wrote, all of the "situations" of humanity do begin to look repetitive.  I can even begin to put them into categories like nutrition, transportation, communication, conflict, and love. 

Individually we never really resolve our need for nutrition whether our food and water come from our own yard or agribusiness.  We always seem to be trying to get from one place to another whether by foot, jet plane, or space ship. When it comes down to it, the internet is just a more sophisticated form of the printing press, which is only mechanized alphabet and numbers.  Regardless of the particular issue at hand we do keep fighting the same wars over and over.  And most of all we humans are always needing to express and receive love.

As The Preacher of Ecclesiastes says, "That which is, already has been; that which is to be, already is..."

The painted ponies just keep going up and down and round and round!   

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

What Did You Expect?

"Expectations are resentments under construction."  ~Anne Lamott

"Expect nothing. Live frugally on surprise."  ~Alice Walker

"Expect the best. Prepare for the worst."  ~Countless People

"The worst thing is never the last thing."  ~Rick Wilson

“All shall be well, and all shall be well and all manner of thing shall be well.” 
Julian of Norwich

It's true - expectation is the great heart breaker.  What is it inside most of us that produces expectation?  How is expectation different from hope?  

My life experiences have pretty much taught that all of the above quotes are spot on and that expectation seems to be a built in part of the human experience. 

Anne Lamott reminds us that, more often than not, expectations are rarely, if ever, fully realized.  There is always something different between the way we expect things to happen and how events actually unfold.  

Alice Walker invites us to remember that we come into this world with nothing but our innate selves and we leave pretty much the same way. 

Too many people to mention, from Zig Ziglar to Mohammad Ali, to Maya Angelou, tell us that whatever our plan, be prepared for roadblocks and failure. John Lennon put it this way, "Life is what happens to you while you're busy making other plans."  

And finally, my friend Rick Wilson, religion professor at Mercer University, gives us the "Good News" - the worst thing that can happen to us, even death, is actually a threshold onto the next thing.

Upon observation of my own myriad expectations in life, I see that they usually involve other people, or circumstances involving other people.  In short, they usually are centered on people and things over which I really have no control. Even the expectations I have of myself come, more often than not, from an outside source, yet I manage to internalize them and pretend they are mine. 

Expectations are also temporary.  They come and go. Even if held for a lifetime, they die with us. Unless someone else has internalized ours.   

Hope, on the other hand, is internal and eternal.  Hope wells deep inside us and somehow assures, if ever so fleeting, and as Dame Julian reminds us, all is well and will be well with this whole grand experience we call life. Hope does not necessarily replace expectations but rather tempers them and reminds us to hold them lightly and gently, respecting that others always have their own expectations. Hope allows others to be who they are while preserving our own sense of self and dignity. It also tempers resentment, disappointment, and failure which are natural outcomes of unrealized expectations.   

Since hope holds all things, it is eternal. Hope reminds us that beyond our expectations, resentments and disappointments, on the other side of failure there is always new possibility.

Maybe this is what Jesus teaches us when he says, " not worry about your not worry about tomorrow (hold your expectations lightly), for tomorrow will bring worries of its own (tomorrow has its own disappointments, resentments, and failure) is enough for today." (rest in hope that all is well and will be well).


Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Thunder, Lightning, and Fear

This morning we're experiencing one of Tampa Bay's famous thunderstorms and understanding exactly why this area is called the "Lightning Capital of the World."

Our dog Wilson is especially affected by the thunder and lightning.  Even his calming herb-filled bandana doesn't work.  Normally he is a mild mannered, easy going dog who responds well to basic commands like "sit" and "down."  Watching and interacting with with him is a lesson in fear.  His whole body trembles, his heart races, he pants and paces.  He does things he normally would not do, like trying to climb furniture that is not "his."  He even climbs on us and can't seem to get close enough.  Of course, we are sympathetic and compassionate and try to console him but it seems to no avail. His fear is really uncontrollable.

This makes me wonder, and in some ways explains, how people act in ways and do things we sometimes do when we are afraid.  It is also an insight into how fear is usually at the core of most human irrational action.

Just like Wilson, at our core, we humans are really good people. Our basic nature is to cooperate and get along with one another.  However, the slightest fear can build into harmful thoughts, feelings, and actions of which we never dreamt we were capable. Fear literally changes our physiology as adrenalin and other enzymes pump through our brains and bodies. And, we end up doing and saying crazy, harmful things.      

Perhaps when we get the latest news filled with irrational human behavior like wars, border closings, shootings, surreal political discourse and find ourselves asking, "How can anyone do or think such things?" what we really need to ask is "What are we afraid of?"

Oh well, since it's supposed to storm sporadically all day, it looks like I'll be off soon to the pet store to get and try a "thunder shirt."   I wonder if perhaps the human equivalent of a thunder shirt may be a big hug!  And better still, knowing and resting in God's love and Eternal Presence.