In 1987 a coworker at our newspaper was arrested. Our boss uttered a fateful groan, “What else can happen?” A few days later another coworker was killed by a drunk driver. Okay, maybe the boss didn’t tempt fate. Maybe the karma fairy doesn’t float over our heads waiting for us to trip some wire that will rain disaster.
But I spent an hour last night in that weird neverland of not knowing three members of my family were okay after a shooter walked in their Reno hospital and killed one person, injured two others, and took his own life. Sure, it was just an hour. Sure, I figured the odds were overwhelmingly against my folks being in the paths of any those bullets. When my sweetheart Gabriele called, she asked, “Can you believe this?” and I said, “What else can happen?” but followed it with “Maybe I shouldn’t say that.”
Can you believe how we are bounced between thinking we have control over the events of our lives and the feeling life is completely random and arbitrary? How is it that we pray and our prayers are answered, while the folks down the hall pray and end up screaming at the news their loved one has died? I often ask folks a favorite question. Do we make life happen or does life just happen to us? What is the percentage breakdown? One of the most proactive and powerful men I know told me it is 90-10 with the overwhelming 90 going to “life happens to us.”
Are we helpless bugs on the windshield of life? Are we gripped in the consequences of causes and effects that are completely out of our control? I can’t buy that, although I give a lot of credit to the incredibly positive dumb blind luck of my own life. Maybe I’ve been so lucky that my ego wants to take some credit for things over which I had no control. I still think I have choices. But maybe the most ironic choice I can make is to take the advice of Carl Rogers. The esteemed psychologist once offered that the path to change begins with accepting things exactly as they are. It can be tough.
My walk last night included a dose of survivor’s guilt, relief that my family members were okay, profound sorrow that four other families are turning on the spit of grief even as I write these words. As tough as it is, I will accept that, too.
Notice what’s happening. Notice the breath in our lungs and the blood in our veins. Pay attention to the magic and the mystery of a heart that sends blood to every living cell every time it beats. Notice power and energy in our muscles and nerves, the power of gravity to hold us where we are and the power of our imaginations and intentions to move us around. Notice our planet hurling us through space at 67,000 miles per hour. Notice the abundance of food and fields all over the world ripe for harvest. Pay attention to how many people and systems have worked together to keep us alive, to feed us, to put clothes on our bodies, to heat our homes and move us from place to place. Notice how we are all the sum totals of forces that have made this moment possible operating for 50 billion years across an infinitely huge universe. We are the results of trillions of trillions of processes, thoughts, words, and deeds. While there is still a crying need for justice and change, we would do well to breathe deeply of what’s happening right now as we work together for that most just world.
Bo Lozoff argued in his seminal book We’re All Doing Time that prison is how we live. All of us are limited by some line we can’t cross, some time that holds us, long lists of limitations that control what we eat, where we sleep, how we live in this best of all possible worlds. I keep running into a particular prisoner, a woman who has been scared into time with a violent man. Despite many years of talking with, encouraging, going to court rooms and hospitals with, helping them move furniture, and even inviting one of them to sleep on my couch, each case still shocks me. November 6 I sat across a table from a woman who is living in a local shelter. “Pretty tough, huh?” I asked her. She said, “Better than waiting on him to kill me. Better than 13 years a prisoner.” In a few days I will serve on a panel in Chapel Hill with a group of other men who have done this work. Among other things, we will talk about how most cops are men, most judges are men, a high percentage of emergency room staffs are men, and that ultimately it will be men’s work if little boys are going to learn that nothing justifies using violence, superior strength, emotional abuse, and other tactics of control to turn our homes into prisons. It’s not all men’s work. Women will lead us there, but they cannot do it without the men.
The next U.S. House of Representatives will be comprised of poor people, openly gay people, environmental radicals, dancers and singers, people who wish on stars, black people from predominantly white districts and white people from predominantly black districts especially if they are also low income, gay, smart, tough, and willing to take no shit off nobody. We’re going to elect people who will install trap doors in their offices, so they can push a button and lobbyist will fall through the floor. Tobacco, oil, banking, insurance, Walmart, even Detroit car makers can see how the U.S. House operates when the common interest is in play rather than the special interests. Keep saying it over and over and do a little homework. This really isn’t rocket surgery.
Every time I think about giving up on saving the world, the angels start laughing and holding their bellies and rolling around in my awareness, screaming with joviality and gasping for breath. But saving the world, since we live in a holographic universe, can come in small acts of kindness, finding tools for a couple of homeless guys, rubbing Sugar Bear’s feet or shoulders, picking up the tab, buying a beer. After buying a beer for my beloved friend, who has been my friend for 42 years, the barmaid said, “That’s a good friend.” We both laughed, and I figured it was close enough to saving the world.
Maybe the most political thing we can do is be ourselves. If we feel like calling a congressional office, pick up the phone. If we feel like running for congress, just run. Or school board or county boards or state legislatures. Maybe the most political thing we can do is wake up in the morning and feel deeply this amazing body we have been given, take deep breaths and feel them in our noses right down to our toes. Flex a muscle here, drink cool water or hot coffee, and feel the ground that holds us up. So many people in this country have given up on politics because it has been bought and paid for by the people who benefit most. But maybe instead of our anger, the process needs our best selves, balanced, in love, energized by the very act of being. I don’t know, but I think about it a lot and dream of a more excellent way.
Gary opened the Shakori Hills Music Festival (Grassroots festival of music and dance) with a reading about the multi-layered natural world awakening and changing at that October moment. It was amazing. He named species of both plants and animals that numbered in the dozens and star configurations to accent it all. It was an explosion of natural images, none of which require the Congress or even the notice of one poet to function. All of it is so much bigger and so much smaller than the things we focus on normally. Nothing was sick or broke or at war or caught in a political quagmire. All of it functions with no help from us. None of it requires thought. And of course, we benefit from all of it. Fire in the sky, air in our lungs, blood in our veins, coursing and moving without our thinking or noticing. Life outside our thoughts is beautiful, natural, unprompted, perfect, rolling along like the waves upon the sand. Ah, Blake, you never leave us alone. “To see a world in a grain of sand and heaven in a wild flower, to hold infinity in the palm of your hand and eternity in an hour.” Gary’s son, Jesse, marries Jenna today. May the peace of a thousand angels be with them and with us all.