Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Cain's Question

Despair pervades throughout. Television, the Internet, radio and print media feed us a litany of horrors each and every day. Food shortages, collapsing economies, political strife, war, disease and pestilence, the savaging of the very Earth we walk upon, the whole, sad human condition plays out before us. We become numb to the pain, indifferent to the suffering. Governmental leaders talk incessantly, casting around for blame. Religious leaders are divided between calls for prayer and patience on one hand or rants against the “System”, whatever system that might be. Hope is on the wane.

Here, at my own wit’s end, I perceive the problem. In our rush to hide or throw a patch on the ills of this ailing planet we have forgotten the most basic of questions. It is in that question and in our response to it that the salvation of our home and the family of Man lies. What is the question, you ask? It is Cain’s question to G-d.. “Am I my brother’s keeper?” This is the question at the root of all Western Religion and is as applicable to every other belief system as well.

And what, then, is the answer?
It is simply this, “Yes; A most resounding 'Yes'."

We all, and I do mean “all”, literally, must stop looking to protect ourselves, our slice of the ever-diminishing pie, and start helping those around us. Jackson Browne, the singer/songwriter may have said it better than can I:

Oh people, look around you
The signs are everywhere
You've left it for somebody other than you
To be the one to care….

We cannot leave the task for others. It is a task for all of us. Of course, this is not a task we can do alone. But, neither can we wait for someone else to get the ball rolling.

The time is now.

The place is where you stand.

Look around you. You will see what needs doing.

Start locally, move on from there. There is plenty to do; plenty of need.

Get your hands dirty.


Monday, April 28, 2008

Saying It Like It Is

I get it that the English language is a living, changing phenomenon. A dictionary purchased today contains a lot more words than the dictionary I used in high school. For example, that dictionary does not contain the word internet. It goes from internecine (extremely destructive to both sides) to interplanetary (between planets). I know the word internet isn't in my high school "Webster's New World Dictionary of the American Language" because I just looked it up in that dog-earned, stiff paged paperback brittle from age and use. That old dictionary of mine, always on my desk, is impotent testament to the carnage wrought on the English language throughout the years.
Not even the most current, most complete dictionary, however, can corral and tame some of the inexplicable directions this living, changing language travels. Must it go to places of nonsense just because popular usage guides it in that direction? Has a language no internal mechanism with which to say "Stop it. Don't even speak me anymore! You are corrupting me into senseless drivel!" Apparently not for if it could it surely would.
I refer specifically to the phrase which has replaced "You're welcome." "Thank you," back in the days when words mattered, was followed by, "You're welcome." Not so, these days. "You're welcome," has morphed (another word not in my Webster's American....) into the inexplicable and unforgivable, "No problem." What kind of a vacuous response is that? I ask this rhetorically because even the remote possibility of an answer is unfathomable.
In the cafe the food server brings me the meal I ordered and for which I shall pay. I say, "Thank you." The server responds, "No problem." I could see quite clearly that there had been no problem. I was sitting mere inches from the kitchen. Events seemed to transpire from my order to the arrival of the food without incident.
This response has become ubiquitous to the point that I have stopped thanking people for anything because I can no longer tolerate that vapid reply.
If this type of blatant abuse of the English (American according to my dictionary) language continues, the next thing that will happen is that people will start truthfully answering me when I say, "Hi. How are you?". When that happens society will no longer be able to function because we will all be compelled to sit and listen to how people are doing. The only joy in that scenario is that when they thank us for listening, we can lie through our collective teeth and reply, "No problem."

Friday, April 25, 2008

Testing The Waters Of Mortality

They are called 'routine' medical tests and examinations, one would imagine, because they are....well...routine. They happen at regular intervals not because of something suspicious but because they are the inconvenient intrusions to which we regularly submit all in the name of well being. These annual excursions into medical phenomena can be routine only to the staff performing them. And those well intentioned, attentive and kind professionals intent on the minutiae of their pursuits surely have not one solitary clue about the scrutiny given to their every movement and expression. Otherwise why would the technician have paused and cleared her throat as she studied my film? Pondering, perhaps, justification for the extra taco eaten at lunch, her second of reflection put in motion my life review and desperate promises of mended ways if only....if only what? If only she hadn't cleared her throat? If only I had walked more or eaten less? If only I had written all of those best sellers? If only I had said I love you more often than several times a day? Forget the quiet logic telling me that she does not read the film but only examines it for clarity before sending it on to someone, unseen by me, who actually does read it and call my fate. She paused and cleared her throat.
I now see another value to these annual, routine medical 'things' beyond information essential to physical well being. At regular intervals we get to scream with every molecule of our beings that life is precious and we want it so badly that we will eat less and exercise more and write regularly and say I love you with every breath -- at least for the rest of the day.
And maybe tomorrow we'll turn down that extra taco, too.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

My Uncle Walter

I have a cat named Scraps. An oddly arranged creature, Scraps, I discovered from the on line encyclopedia 'wikipedia', became domesticated in either ancient Egypt or the near east anywhere from 8,000 to 9,000 BCE. That's a lot of generations in the making of Scraps. Because of all of those felines domesticated before her, Scraps is able to use the litter box and be, if not a consistent comfort, at least good company most of the time. Until, that is, her behavior regresses a few thousand generations. Like last night. I thought we were having a pleasant human/cat moment. I sat in my chair. She sat in my lap. I scratched the top of her head. She purred and did that thing with her front paws. And then for no reason that I noticed, she sprung into the air, bit me, ran in circles for a few moments, and finally raced into another room where she remained for the rest of the evening. Aside from the couple drops of blood lost, no harm was done. Scraps is, after all, a cat and that's what the species felis catus (house cat) does from time to time. And that after the process of social adaptation in the works for thousands of years.
An animal trainer was recently killed by a grizzly bear. In fiction and fact, the grizzly bear is presented as one of the most ferocious animals around. They are not the product of even one generation of domestication. There has been no generational process of social adaptation. The grizzly, unlike my cat Scraps, does not need us in order to survive.
When Scraps bit me, she was behaving like a cat. My few drops of shed blood compare in no way whatsoever to the death of the trainer and the loss to his family. However, the grizzly was behaving like a grizzly bear.
When my Uncle Walter goes waltzing with bears, the entire family worries. He comes home covered with hair and the new coat we gave him is shredded. We fear we might lose Uncle Walter for good.
Even anticipated tragedies are, nevertheless, tragedies.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

By My Footprints Shall You Know Me

In celebration of Earth Day, I've learned to levitate. Only with levitation can I be absolutely certain of leaving no footprints.
It seems that the old back packing adage of 'leave nothing behind you except your footprints' is no longer sound and should be changed to 'leave nothing behind'. Stated another way, take all of your garbage with you.
My mother was big on footprints. I never entered our home without first wiping the soles of my shoes or, in the summer, wiping my actual feet on the mat. She wanted no footprints tracked into her home. She had the right idea. Too many muddy footprints spoiled the quality of our home.
Now we discover footprints far more ominous than those of a careless child coming home from muddy play and they are destroying our global home. A carbon footprint is the tell tale track we leave on the environment and gives us a measurement of the amount of green house gases we're producing. Thus we measure global warming and track our path toward catastrophe.
Things we once thought helpful to the environment turn out to leave big, ugly carbon footprints and things we once thought harmful can actually leave smaller footprints.
While this is all being sorted out, it seems to me that the most respectful thing I can do is keep my feet off the ground. That and, of course, keep my head out of the sand so I can learn how to walk without leaving such lethal footprints.

Monday, April 21, 2008

passover dining

what does a supposed-to-be-dieting, diabetic vegetarian eat during passover? as far as i can see, that would be celery (which apparently takes more calories to digest than it has within it).

Cleaning for Passover

Cleaning for Passover makes me feel like I am stripping down to the essentials.

I go through my cabinets and find that in the last year I have acquired not one but three cans of cannellini beans, and have eaten no cannellini beans during that time. Off to the food bank, where someone who can’t afford to buy cannellini beans will hopefully appreciate them. The refrigerator is the hardest part. I see my year in review reflected in stubborn little ridges of spilled ketchup and a particularly moldy avocado that had been bought and forgotten. When I am finished with the refrigerator two hours later, it is clean, sparkling and fresh. It contains four apples, a container of milk, a carton of eggs and some kosher for Passover sliced cheese. Gone is my illusion that I can eat whatever I feel like. For the next week, I will make meals out of what there is.

Home Is Wherever We Hang Our Hats

Unfortunately, because most of our hat racks were imported from countries no longer willing to do business with us, we find ourselves holding our hats and scratching our heads. Having no place to hang our hats, we have entered a national housing emergency. Or perhaps it's not that simple.
A recent report from SAMHSA (Substance Abuse & Mental Health Services Administration) tells us that over a five year period 3% of the population of this country will experience at least one night of homelessness. Should that seemingly small percentage happen to become homeless at the same time, eight million people will be looking for a safe place to sleep.
There was a time when explanations for homelessness could appear -- at least at first glance -- simple: Mental Illness. Drug Use. Financial Irresponsibility. Sometimes Plain Old Bad Luck. Those of us secure in our homes could look out curtained windows and feel a special exemption from those ragged, dirty, frightened souls who clearly were at least partly responsible for their plights.
Recent events have surely left us dwindling numbers of snugly housed fortunates sweating in our Barcaloungers. Families are the fastest growing homeless population soon to be followed by the homeless elderly. At least five percent of the youth in the country will be at one time or another -- before they enter adulthood -- homeless. In California about two million working families have incomes well below the federal poverty line. In addition to not earning living wages, more workers in California are less likely to have job related benefits than they were a generation ago. Since everyone knows that 'as goes California so goes the country' we see the horrifying reality that more and more of us are living from paycheck to paycheck with limited financial reserves to deal with crisis such as unemployment or illness.
Homelessness can now be seen as a plague of horrific proportions from which no one is exempt. Renters who lose their homes because the owners went into foreclosure frequently must give up their pets. The Boston Globe recently highlighted the Salem, New Hampshire, Animal Rescue League for its efforts to find new homes for animals tearfully surrendered by those unable to move to new residences or to cars or to streets with their pets.
If home is wherever we hang our hats, the solution to homelessness is not to stop wearing hats nor is it to manufacture more expensive hat racks. The solution to homelessness is as complicated as the etiologies of homelessness.
Perhaps an important first step for the seemingly secure is to internalize on the deepest level possible the fragility of shelter and the speed with which the housed can become the homeless.

Sunday, April 20, 2008


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