Wednesday, November 14, 2018

Tempus Neminem Manet Hominem

My aunt died. It's been 2 days, 48 hours exactly. When I allow myself to fully acknowledge the fact that she is gone I am filled with all the sadness you'd expect a bereft niece to feel. But there's so much more to it than grief. 

Joyce Sepanski nee Shields was the second of my father's four older sisters. She gave birth to a son and a daughter, both of them born with muscular dystrophy. Her son lived, her daughter did not. For years, she drove a school bus for handicapped children. She helped, in some ways, to raise her youngest brothers. Her husband was a Korean War veteran who stayed very active in the VFW and American Legion his entire life, and by extension, so was she. She was widowed five years ago. Her voice was low, soft, and gravelly. She didn't really smile or laugh very often that I saw. She loved dogs. This is about all I really know about my aunt. I would learn later that Aunt Joyce was the doer and the planner and the knower of where and when, and just how much her sisters depended on her. 

In addition to his four sisters, my father had three older and two younger brothers. He and my mother (who was an only child) divorced when I was about three. It was bitter. My paternal family was based in the Midwest, my mother's in New York, where I would be raised. It would be decades before I saw of any of my nine aunts and uncles, their spouses, and scads of the cousins they brought forth.

I reunited with Aunt Joyce when I was about 26. The meeting was hastily arranged by my father when I told him I was going to be in Chicago on business. She and my cousin, Larry, came to the hotel where I was staying and we had a short, happy, if not joyful, visit. Aunt Joyce was a reticent woman, and I can be shy and awkward, too. We were complete strangers, yet family, so we did our best to fill some of the less comfortable pauses. She collected elephants and brought me one from her collection. I'm ashamed to say that after several moves I've lost track of that gift.
Labor Day 2008

It would be another 11 years before I saw Aunt Joyce again. The occasion was my father's funeral. I barely remember our interaction, and I daresay she didn't either. When we met at subsequent family reunions, we are always warm. But we really didn't get to know each other well. In my late 30s and into my 40s, I was a rebellious, profane, drinking woman, and I kept company with family members with a similar bent. Five years later, when my father's younger brother died, our family reunions stopped, too, but time continued its relentless march. While I kept in touch with several members of the family, Aunt Joyce was rarely one of them. Of course, we exchanged Christmas greetings and became friends on social media, but that does not an intimate relationship make. 

I think my sadness is colored more by regret than sorrow per se. Dad put us together, but we didn't set. It wasn't an absence of familial love, it was the fact that so much of our lives unfolded without each other in it that we didn't know how to catch that up. Or maybe I just didn't know how to catch that up. 

At this point, I haven't seen my aunt in roughly 10 years. Time can be quite a cunning thief, stealing days, months, years, until we find decades are just gone, all the while lulling us into the belief that there is a nearly endless supply of tomorrows. Until there are no more tomorrows, people are gone, plans go unmade or unkept. And you STILL don't know a damned thing about someone you love.

There is a part of me that wants to lay the blame for this at the feet of my parents. How they chose to comport themselves robbed me of a family. Deprived me of the attachment to aunts, uncles, cousins, and other kith and kin. There is a deep, rich history to which I am related, but of which I am no part. I was never involved in it and by the time I could be, I had no idea how to be. You're damned right I'm angry and jealous and sad that I missed out on what everyone else has as naturally as the air they breathe. 

But I am no child. I am responsible for the choices I make or abdicate as an adult. I closed myself off to an extent. I could have done a hell of a lot more to claim my spot in the family circle. And not just mine, by my son's. Instead, I kept on as I always had, geographically and emotionally distant. So how can I be indignant? I've done no better than those against whom I'd rail. 

Grief, sorrow, loss, regret, emptiness is all that's left me now. If I so choose. There are still two aunts, two uncles, a score of cousins, several siblings, a couple of nieces, a nephew, a son, a mother, and a partner. And if I'm lucky, a few more tomorrows to be a better niece, cousin, aunt, mother, daughter, and partner. 


Monday, October 22, 2018

On Religion...

I was recently asked, "are you religious?" On the surface, this would seem to be a pretty straightforward, even binary, question. But this is not a surface question, and my answer is nuanced.

The question is two-pronged in my thinking: Do you believe in God? And do you believe in or adhere to an organized religious tradition. The latter question is a little easier: I don't believe in the dogma of any religion in so far as it stipulates that it is the only way to recognize or worship God. To be right in that respect definitionally means all others are wrong, and that just cannot be the case.

Nearly everyone is born into a religious tradition, no matter how loosely or closely held: I was brought up Catholic. I made most of my sacraments, attended mass, baptized my son, own a rosary, and my grandmother's crucifix. That crucifix has hung on the wall of every place I have ever rested my head. I love the ceremony of the Catholic mass (I can recite most of it from memory), the majesty of cathedrals, the music. Midnight mass is my absolute favorite. The fireworks that the Greeks set off at midnight of Easter Sunday to announce, “He is risen!” gives me goosebumps. There is a part of my spirit, soul, or psyche that is deeply touched: I am uplifted, filled with joy, and affected to the point of physical goosebumps. 

I don’t believe in a paternalistic, perturbable, jealous God who must be appeased in order to bestow blessings, or metes out punishment to those who fall short. I don’t believe God, if there is one (and I side with yes, there is) in his heaven, gives a flying fuck whether a Jew puts on his yarmulke, whether a Muslim has a drink, whether man lay down with man, or woman with woman. There are nearly 8 billion souls to look after. Some with their finger on the nuclear button. There are bigger fish to fry, so to speak than to punish the Catholic who had a BLT on any given Friday during Lent.

We have a rulebook in the Commandments as described in the old testament. I can’t say I believe they were written by the finger of God onto a stone tablet on Mt. Sinai and given to Moses to bring to the masses. But it IS a rulebook, and we are accountable. I can get behind every one of them except the first: I am the Lord thy God, thou shalt have no God before me (yep, typed from memory), or the one about false idols. I believe we are accountable to each other in the present more than we are striving for a favorable position in the afterlife.

I do believe humans make questionable moral decisions, most of which are venal and eminently forgivable. Most of those lapses are against our fellow man, not against God per se, so to ask for forgiveness of sin should be both a human humbling, and a spiritual acknowledgment of weakness, with effort put into strengthening. Those egregious acts such as murder, robbery, rape, assault, go well beyond the venal, and we have a penal system for that. I would imagine the hereafter was NOT on the mind of the perpetrator.

I do believe Jesus Christ walked this earth, that his mother’s name was Mary, his father was Joseph, and both men carpenters. I believe there was a group of people that believed he was the fulfillment of prophecy. I believe Jesus had a ministry, and traveled around trying to teach people how to be good to one another, and was somewhat displeased with the religious establishment at that time. I believe he was put to death in part for his religious “heresies” and political beliefs. He was a perceived threat to church AND state.

I do NOT believe that Jesus was Mary’s only child whether or not his conception was virgin notwithstanding. Even if it were, that would mean Yahweh both cuckolded Joseph AND emasculated him. I don’t buy it. I do NOT believe Jesus didn’t take a wife. I do believe Mary Magdeline was said wife.

I have no issue with the basic tenets of the Christian faith. My issue is with how generations upon generations of humans have perverted it to serve their needs of the moment. I have a HUGE problem with the fact that Christians systematically wiped out nearly every single indigenous religion it encountered. It is horrifying to me that anyone has the hubris to come into someone’s land and not only take it and all its resources, but rob inhabitants of their religious practices. I have called Christianity, as practiced in this way, a scourge. A virus. What else invades and conquers like that? Let’s not even mention the crusades. The acts committed in the name of God, in any of his incarnations, are appalling.

I believe that Allah, Yahweh, Buddha, Krishna, and Christ are all names for the same deity. And they all stand for love, peace, joy, sacrifice, honor, kindness, and compassion.

I practiced yoga for a few years. Based largely on Sanskrit/Hindu teachings, the basic tenet is to recognize the divine within, and that there is balance in all things: Masculine and feminine; creation and destruction, and that each of these things resides within us. I believe that you and I are as much a child of God as Christ was. Just as imperfectly perfect. I believe once we understand that that divinity is within us, and not some external force, we can be more compassionate with ourselves, and therefore to others. It is so much more difficult to desecrate another when you recognize that God lives in them, too.

I believe heaven and hell are personal as well as societal constructs. I believe in reincarnation, a recycling of souls. We come back until we get it right. Then hopefully we can in some way assist less enlightened souls to reach that same height.

I do believe in God. I do believe I haven’t yet gotten it right yet so will be back around a few more times. I do believe in feeding my spirit: in breathing deep, in being present for each moment to the best of my ability without reaching for the next or holding on to the last. I believe I am here to be of service in some way, even if it’s simply to walk one person safely across the street. Or steer for a man who fell asleep behind the wheel. We are all walking extensions of God and his angels. And his demons.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Long Vs. Short Form

It's hard to believe I have been away from my blog for nearly a year. I was surprised to learn that before January of this year I hadn't written a post for two years. In fact, since 2008 my postings became increasingly sporadic.

I created a Facebook profile in 2007. Conversely, my postings there became very frequent: sometimes 4 or 5 status updates in a 24 hour period. I haunt my news feed looking through others' activities and updates. I post news articles, photos, you name it, and voraciously consume those posted by others. I confess, I have even tailored postings with likes and comments in mind.

This blog is as close to a journal that I have ever come. It allowed, and allows, me to flex my expository muscle, to reflect, and explore without regard to audience. I am able to delve deeply into whatever is on my mind, and in so doing purge, or at least expose some demons. I have a long list of blogs written by some seriously talented people. They were, and are, a source of inspiration. Their writings let me know that I am not alone in my search for answers and meaning. I see the same love of writing and clarity of thought I struggle to achieve. Some have gone fallow. Others continue on, as rich as ever. When I abandoned my writing, I also abandoned my reading.

Brevity is the hallmark of Facebook, Twitter, and similar platforms. Social networking sites are excellent vehicles for disseminating information quickly to a wide audience, whether it's family updates or world events: witness the Arab Spring and Hurricane Sandy coverage. Information traveled far and wide in words and pictures. In such situations, this is a good thing. It brings much-needed awareness to the plight of the day. However, as a means of significant personal expression, there is nothing that can be fully explored in 140 characters.

I have read my recent Facebook posts. My grammar and usage have gotten sloppy, and it is not possible to edit posts. I can edit my comments on other people's posts, but not my actual posts. My blog posts are constructed differently: I write, read, edit, revise, edit, revise, then post. It is not an instantaneous process. It is deliberative. And, if, months later, I find an error, I can correct it.

The introduction of these short-form platforms has influenced not only how we, or at least I, write, but how we consume information. More snippets, headlines, and soundbites. Less in-depth analysis. Less critical thinking. While we decry ADD in kids, we cater to it in adults. We bounce from thought to thought, story to story, without actually assimilating the information, discerning its veracity, and assessing what it actually means to us as individuals, or citizens, for that matter.

Let's be clear: I don't want to abandon my social network. I do want to take a more balanced approach to my online options, both in terms of input and output. Actually, I want to take a more balanced approach to my LIFE, but that is another post...


Wednesday, January 18, 2012

On Needing a Good Cry

I need a good cry. And it seems that the universe is conspiring to ensure it happens.

Seriously. Here is my case:

• I have had a keen sense lately that I have lost my way, or at least my sense of equilibrium
• My husband of 21 years was drunk when I arrived home from work last night at 7pm
• A Facebook friend posted THIS story from CNN on her wall
• My 15 year-old named me his model of faith for the essay portion of his religion midterm exam
• I came across this Huffington Post article on child rearing and nostalgia in my email
• I accidentally found out that the father of a new friend of mine most likely went to high school with my mother (you know, the presumably living parent I have not seen or spoken to for over 10 years now. I mean how cool would it be to call her up and say, hey, guess WHAT?!?!?!)
• Let's not even mention the 20 pounds I've gained, or the last song that played on my iPod.
I'm not menstrual, or even premenstrual. I am just plain sad. And tired. And lost. And forty-fucking-five, wondering what the hell to do about it that won't involve more pain, injury, collateral damage, or isolation.

I've read through previous posts. I am not prone necessarily to self pity, and certainly not martyrdom. But I am prone to these bouts of restlessness, and they generally fade. Maybe I just need to wait it out. But I don't think so. Something feels broken. It is the slow walk home from the train. The realization that going to the gym at night and getting home at 9 or later might not be so bad after all. I always looked forward to going home. Less and less now is that the case, unless the house is either empty or my son is the only one there.

Oh, and I learned a new word: Kairos. Author Glennon Melton defines kairos as God's time. It's time outside of time. It's metaphysical time. It's those magical moments in which time stands still. In Greek mythology, Kairos, the youngest child of Zeus, was the god of opportunity. In rhetoric it is the opportune time and/or place, the right or appropriate time to say or do the right or appropriate thing. I think I like God's time best. As opposed to Chronos, ordinary time. Even in these muddled times, I have moments of Kairos. They will have to do for now.


Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Under The Influence

I know the second I walk in the door that he is in his cups. It is evident in his posture, the barely perceptible slackness in his face, the slight change in speech patterns. I ask him how far in he is, he says not even close. I know better. He becomes so much more impassioned in his viewpoints, shouting over any that oppose his. Though he isn't, he seems angry, and can easily become so if the rebuttal is too persistent.

Watchmen is on HBO, a story about which he has very strong feelings. Among other topics, it touches upon the Vietnam War, a subject he is now expounding upon vociferously to his son, along with other references the child is too young to fully grasp. I remind the boy that he has homework and studying to do before winding down for the night, as much to get him to do his work as to remove him from his father's cross hairs. He isn't in any danger, but I don't like him experiencing his father this way. I try to keep my efforts from being obvious. The boy finishes his work, and heads for the shower.

With me, he is overly solicitous, maudlin in his expression of affection. This makes me uncomfortable so I retreat, but not too far. To do so would fill him with a sense of rejection which would make him either morose or defensive, depending on the day. Citing office work to finish up, I head to the bedroom but leave the door open. It is important to appear accessible. He comes in the room to impart the news of the day, then goes back to his movie. I wait for him to fall asleep in front of the TV, then quietly push the door closed.

I am no teetotaler. After I finished my dinner I poured myself a glass of wine, and enjoyed it fully. One small glass from a bottle I opened 3 days ago, and still have not finished. There was no alteration of my personality or demeanor. Nothing to cause confusion or worry or discomfiture. That is not to say I haven't had nights of binge drinking that very much did cause these things—I have. And the child has seen some of it, much to my chagrin.

There is something about being the only sober person in a room that makes the whole spectacle so damned sad. Every nuance of drunkenness stands out in stark relief. It makes me want to protect my child from it, and run from it at the same time. It makes me consider more carefully my behavior under the influence, or perhaps ensure I stay just a bit less under the influence.


Friday, January 08, 2010

I Might Still Have Something to Say...

I thought that perhaps I was out of words. Or maybe the words were no longer making sense. Or maybe there were just too many other distractions. Or maybe I just got too close to something too big to face. But lately, I find that I might just have something to say. That there are now words and thoughts to commit to pixels. Stories to tell. There are still too many distractions, but I am learning to manage them better. When last I visited this place, I was writing from a ego driven place--writing for the comments that would be left for me, and feasting my ego upon them. Since I have been away a full year, my "audience" is gone. I can write from a place that is more pure.

I have bits of me scattered all over the blog-scape and now Face Book. It is a funny thought, really. At one time, those bits would have been actual pieces of paper--letters and cards sent and received or journals kept. Now they are pixels. If someone pulled the plug, any evidence of my thoughts and stories would be lost forever. Having just really committed to that thought, I am unsure how I feel about it. Maybe I will print out the stories posted here, and put them in a binder of sorts. The posts I have written about my son are stories he has heard, and I am sure he knows how much I love him, but in years ahead, when I am no longer here, it might be meaningful for him to read them. Or to read the full measure of who his mother was at one point her her life. I don't think that is ego...I would have loved to have read my mother's words at any point in her life. It would have been illuminating to say the least--a part of her that was never accessible otherwise.

So, here I tentatively stick my toe back into the writing/journaling pool. This time, I think it is an extension of my yoga practice...just off the mat. We'll see. If I come face to face with a really big truth, I hope this time I have the courage to face it, rather than retreat.


Thursday, January 22, 2009

Core Strength

I recently experienced a new yoga instructor. I considered not attending the Friday noon thirty class any longer, as I really enjoyed the former teacher's style. He could be tough, and he had a wicked sense of humor. But I had two sessions left on my class card. So I attended her class. Her style was vastly different than what I expected. She was a little tough. A little gentle. Encouraging. And delivered one hell of a workout.

She emphasizes core strength. Several days after class I got to thinking about her emphasis on core strength. While I work out almost daily, and do core work, I don't concentrate on my belly and back. Arms, shoulders, chest and legs are easier to work, more obvious targets and visible results.

It occurred to me that just as there is bodily core strength, there is also personal core strength. That part of your person-hood that forms your core, your sense of identity and boundaries. And all the other forms of strength—the external, easy obvious signs of strength. A bad-ass attitude. A knack of taking on too much. The warped notion that I can fix things or people. That is not real strength. That is is not a strong core. That is strong legs, strong arms, shoulders and back. But one swift punch to the gut, and I would fold in. Too soft.

This needs thought. This needs work. Maybe I can work the body and spirit together.