Monday, August 14, 2017

Beyond Nostalgia

Nostalgia is a cheap street drug. When you first inhale it, you get a fierce rush - Lenny Bruce at the Fillmore East! Dylan at Gerde's Folk City! Then comes the inevitable crash and you are left weak in the knees. You find yourself in the graying present, wandering through bound albums, the images strangely diverse, an English garden of photographs not at all like the manicured files of the digital now. Everything so long ago. You look back through a reverse crystal ball at all the hoopla, sometimes not even believing you were there in that time when both you and the world around you were so raw and unfiltered. Adolescent anguish, art and sex flying in all directions, rocking and rolling off the wall like so many billiard balls. No time to sleep. No idea that you would some day grow old and no longer be the headline.

Still, here you are, Dustin Hoffman's 80th birthday just past, in a world constipated by plastics, somehow still alive despite your various transgressions. You and the world both. At a recent reunion lunch with a dear old friend, you find yourself asking, as each name from the past is wondrously conjured up....Is she alive? Is he still with us? Remarkably, all the people you ask about have survived. They are out there in Brooklyn and Boston and Berkeley, a whole generation of clocks winding down. All you can think about is the two of you and a third friend, in life an anthropologist, waiting for a bus one night in Sunnyside, Queens. The other guy said something so hysterical that the three of you laughed right up to the borderline of wetting your pants. You actually remember the joke, but you can't repeat it. Not because it's tacky or sophomoric, but because it makes no sense. It's embalmed back there in 1963.

Your friend says that seventysomethings hit the jackpot, growing up in the Howdy Doody fifties and coming of age in the hallucinogenic sixties. It's a kind of demographic exceptionalism that may or may not be true, but is probably not possible to evaluate from the inside. You only know what you know, but you're fairly sure there was more to it than tie dye. The problem with nostalgia is that it's all about yearning. It wants what it can't have. It wants to stay up till the early hours carousing even though sleep is now its bestest friend. It draws its oxygen from the treacly belief that there is such a thing as the good old days, leaving out the inconvenient Freedom Summer murders, the massacre at My Lai. It is vulnerable to commercial exploitation. Only 731 days left till the Woodstock golden anniversary! Nostalgia wants to be reassured that nothing has really changed, even though your mother and father are no longer here to advise and cajole you. Even though you are now the spirit guide.

To really cash in on the jackpot, you would need to consider its impact on the present, to recognize the cellular imprint of the raucous times you lived through on who you are now. To your simmering genetic stock, your ancestral and family history, you would need to add the peppery spice of those improbable times of your becoming,  back then before you knew anything about anything, anything about life. There was no cookbook to explain the process, no freeze-dried ingredients to reconstitute. Everything was made from scratch. Everything was improvisatory. You made it up as you went along which made you deeply foolish, but also somewhat brave. You accumulated experience and squirreled it away for possible use at a later date, going to college in 1962 barely able to find Vietnam on the map, ending up marching on the Pentagon five years later. You graduated into a vast blankness, having no idea what to do with your life, but understanding somehow that it was precious and finding yourself thirty-five years later attending the death beds of hospice patients.

You came of age in a time of expansion, of dissolving boundaries, of greater permission and this permission to wander without a plan, without a map, has made of your life one big seminar, Lenny Bruce and Dylan two of your many teachers. Learning has been the hidden paradigm, the holy book, and this gospel, this Torah, has sustained you and lifted you out of a conventional girlhood. It has carried you through loss and disbelief and will deliver you wherever it is you're going.


seventysomething now has its own Facebook page. I will be posting the blog there as well as poetry, prose, photography and other work by wonderful older artists. Please Like the new page. 

Please share seventysomething with other interested parties. I welcome your comments on email, Facebook or on this blog. If you do not have a gmail account, comment as Anonymous, but please tell me who you are in the body of the remarks. Click on comments (it will say how many there are), select Anonymous from the drop-down menu, enter your comment and hit publish. If you do comment, I will respond on the blog, so please check back so our conversation can continue. 

Sunday, July 30, 2017

Breaking and Entering

Birthdays are like party crashers. They show up in your life uninvited and start making demands. More drinks, more cake, more attention. New shoes with your $5 off birthday coupon from Famous Footwear. Sometimes, you just have to invite them in and pretend you know them.

The other day, in an attempt to make friends with my 72nd birthday, I decided to treat myself to a half day at Kripalu, the yoga center. They were hosting TEDxBerkshires 2017, a program of TED talks by local luminaries accompanied by the usual gourmet vegan lunch offerings, yoga classes and meditation. I am by nature an underdeveloped consumer and almost never buy myself anything. This may be an area of self-improvement I'll want to focus on going forward. Maybe I'll make it part of my spiritual practice to indulge in some unusual self-gifting in every remaining year on or around the 2nd of August. In any case, I was terribly pleased with myself for whipping out my VISA card to make this purchase. Entering my card number filled me with a great sense of reckless abandon. So much so that I ran into the kitchen and grabbed a handful of almonds to further feed myself. I bit down on a hard, resistant nut and immediately cracked off substantial chunks of tooth and old filling, crumbling teeth being an inadequately acknowledged aspect of aging. What are we to learn from this episode? Nuts can be bad for your teeth? Impulse buying is a sign of poor character and must be punished? The jury is out.

About four days before the Kripalu incident, I was sitting in my meditation sangha, experiencing a particular serenity. Outside the building, it was high summer in the Berkshires. Not wall-to-wall-traffic-in-Great Barrington high summer, but the lilies-blooming-and-bullfrogs-croaking kind. Inside, seven or eight people I don't know well, but feel connected to in a way I can't explain, were practicing in the tradition of Thich Nhat Hanh, the Order of Interbeing. After the sit, there was walking meditation and dharma sharing. At the end of the 90 minute gathering, I went out to the parking lot in the late afternoon mid-July sunshine, got behind the wheel and backed into someone else's car. As I am in thrall to the need to uncover meaning in events, my first thought was - you better watch where you're going. My second thought was - I'm probably not as serene as I think.

Glimpses of serenity appear like weekend getaways from a pervasive underlying grind of vulnerability. No matter how many planks and bridges I execute on the gym floor, I am fragile. I am open to criminal mischief. I am human and I can be hurt. I am mortal. I will not always be here with my narrow shoulders and wide hips the way I am now. The reality is I have almost no control over anything. I can be more careful in parking lots, but sooner or later there will be damage, maybe even blood. Considered in this light, these petty larcenies are God's way of breaking and entering me, barking at me until I recognize what I am determined to resist. Nothing is forever. Serenity would be advised to learn to tolerate its noisy downstairs neighbor vulnerability.

Once, when I was 40ish, I was sitting in a restaurant in West Stockbridge with a group of friends, eating and drinking, partying in that moony, indifferent way we used to party. The table was set with burning candles. In those days, I had an unruly head of frizzy hair, my unkempt curls extending in all directions. When I leaned forward, the better to share the vodka-marinated moment with my friends, my hair caught on fire. But because the split ends were so far away from my scalp, I didn't feel the heat. I wasn't aware that I was seconds from immolation, from going up in flames like yesterday's papers, until my friend, Jimmy, himself dead only a few years later, threw his jacket over my head and extinguished the fire. I guess you could say that was a wake-up call. Now, I'm wondering, what was the common parlance for this light bulb effect before hotels offered wake-up calls and do we need a new word now that we are all responsible for our own getting woke?


seventysomething now has its own Facebook page. I will be posting the blog there as well as poetry, prose, photography and other work by wonderful older artists. Please Like the new page. 

Please share seventysomething with other interested parties. I welcome your comments on email, Facebook or on this blog. If you do not have a gmail account, comment as Anonymous, but please tell me who you are in the body of the remarks. Click on comments (it will say how many there are), select Anonymous from the drop-down menu, enter your comment and hit publish. If you do comment, I will respond on the blog, so please check back so our conversation can continue. 



Monday, July 17, 2017

Common Sense About the Common Good

There are still some people in public life who believe in the common good, however antiquated that may sound. In spite of the libertarian, market-intoxicated invisible hand that keeps clutching the holy grail of individual rights, some people see a bigger, more nuanced picture. They're out there with legislative and regulatory graders, trying to level the field so that everyone can play. These people are accused of the sin of supporting income redistribution. They come under blistering fire for harboring gasp socialist sympathies. I call them public servants. A few such women and men remain in Washington, despite the irresistible pull of greed that motivates most of their colleagues to get out of bed in the morning. Public servants sustain a vision that struggles to calibrate the rights of individuals against the well-being of the whole. It's like marriage or parenting on a grand scale. How do I get my needs met while paying attention to your needs? Elizabeth Warren brings that vision to the Senate.

Warren cleans up good. I first saw her in 2011 at the Itam lodge in Pittsfield when she was running for office. She was smart, but seriously wonky, in keeping with her career as a Harvard professor with the snoozy specialty of bankruptcy law. She stood behind a lectern in a dark outfit and delivered a well-crafted speech on the decline and fall of the American middle class. Fast forward to earlier this month when I heard her again at a Town Hall at Berkshire Community College. Elizabeth, in an orange silk jacket that seemed to illustrate the fire she was radiating, bobbed and weaved around the stage like a featherweight prizefighter, quick, on target and lethal. At 68, she is on the brink of seventysomething and she is not taking no for an answer. Not when it comes to healthcare, student debt or any other aspect of public education currently presided over by her nemesis, Betsy De Vos. Warren has even launched a website called De Vos Watch to keep us focused and informed about the rightwing seizure of our schools and the threat to opportunities to our grandchildren. She is unapologetic in her recognition that a society that refuses to educate its children or provide healthcare for its sick, its disabled, is a society that is already writing its own eulogy.

It's a big step for me to attach to Elizabeth Warren. Much easier to identify with outsiders. The women I've most admired throughout my life have been rebels, noisemakers, people who thumbed their noses at convention. Marge Piercy and Grace Paley, who immersed themselves in political activism even as they wrote luminous and idiosyncratic poetry and prose. My Aunt Julie, who never married, had a string of lovers when that sort of thing was frowned upon, and carried her prized possessions around in a duffle-sized handbag. These were messy women, maybe even nasty, certainly not camera-ready.

Sitting in the stands yelling at the umpire, generally raising hell, is sometimes easier than occupying a seat at the table where you have to show up every day and do whatever you can to actually solve problems. In the past five years, Warren has settled into her seat and made it her business to read the weaponized fine print that those in power use to squeeze the lifeblood out of everyone else. The minutia of consumer protection, student debt, financial services reform, and now, healthcare. Through it all, she talks about the social contract, the unwritten law that constitutes the foundation of our commitment to the common good and the irrefutable evidence that the foundation is cracking.

The social contract is frayed, she says, without sugar-coating it. If we don't see ourselves in the anguished expression of the overworked single mother next door, we are not seeing either one of us. We cannot continue to drive over the same structurally compromised bridge and expect it to last forever, or collapse under the other guy's car. If we do not even believe in the common good and do not care to contribute to it, then it's a given that the air will become more toxic for everyone, the water will become less potable for everyone. More people will suffer from poor health and be less able to afford medical care. More children will grow to adulthood without the most rudimentary skills that are needed to survive in 21st century America. Hearing Elizabeth Warren speak earlier this month reassured me that belief in the common good is an ailing, but not yet endangered species. We must protect it as if our lives depended on it.


seventysomething now has its own Facebook page. I will be posting the blog there as well as poetry and other work by wonderful artists. Please Like the new page. 

Please share seventysomething with other interested parties. I welcome your comments on email, Facebook or on this blog. If you do not have a gmail account, comment as Anonymous, but please tell me who you are in the body of the remarks. Click on comments (it will say how many there are), select Anonymous from the drop-down menu, enter your comment and hit publish. If you do comment, I will respond on the blog, so please check back so our conversation can continue.





Monday, July 3, 2017

You Belong to Me

I have a cousin in New Jersey who is 83. He and his wife meet us for lunch in Rhinebeck once a year. Because of the age difference, my cousin went off to college when I was only seven, so I barely knew him growing up. But now, I look at him over the chicken salad and I see my mother's nephew. When it's time to say goodbye and drive home, I'm bereft. It's like losing my mother again and again.

You belong to me, I think, watching him walk to his car, and I belong to you. This yearning to connect has always been with me, lurking in the background, often unnoticed. I hardly know it's there. It was the thin air I struggled to breathe growing up on the fourteenth floor of the apartment building on 83rd street with all of the other strangers in all of the boxes stacked high off the asphalt. No neighborhood children in the yard asked me to come out to play. No paper boy tossed the funnies onto the porch steps. When the front door slammed shut on 14E, the separation was complete. It was cozy in winter when the sleet drummed against the windows and the sun went down at 4:30. But in summer, you could see people through the gauzy curtains, out on the street far below, in the lingering daylight savings twilight. You could see them strolling by eating ice cream cones and you wondered...why are they so far away, so untouchable?

It could be that the flavor of this childhood, coming-of-age in Manhattan cooped up and sorted like an advertising flier into a post office mail slot, informed my resistance to joining. On one side of the scale, the breathless desire for belonging; on the other, the fear of it. Fear of membership, of the expectations of community, of choosing an identity that somehow excluded other identities. What would it mean to be unconditionally a Jew, a woman, those weighty nouns? I have crouched low in the trenches of that battleground for almost 72 years, but now I see a new story cresting the hill, a detente between desire and fear. The new story arises out of the discovery that communities are constantly in motion, more like verbs than nouns, while the nouns themselves are mercurial, gender identities unfolding on a spectrum, spiritual traditions freely borrowing from one another.

Communities merge and diverge like the reflecting surfaces of a kaleidoscope, each of us belonging to a great many shifting configurations. Just think of the temporal and spatial axes for starters. We belong to our families, from the mothers who cut our toenails and painfully combed the knots out of our hair, all the way back to someone foraging for mushrooms in the steppe. We carry the backpack of their genetic material wherever we go. My cousin is part of that baggage of blessing. Our stories interpenetrate their stories in the white spaces between the lines of text the way every line of Torah resonates with all the interpretations of all the readers across the millennia. This awareness of belonging to the line of kinship, passing the inheritance along from generation to generation for better or for worse, is a familiar understanding, a sometimes deep, sometimes maudlin acknowledgment of origins.

My belonging to all the world in the present instant is a more recent, a more radical discovery. It turns out that the skin on my belly is a membrane somewhat arbitrarily separating what I have already known or digested from everyone and everything out there that I could come to know. Costa Ricans, horses, the sky and the surf in varying shades of blue. With so many possibilities, belonging is not an imprisonment, an irrevocable condition. Belonging is an ongoing series of decisions to cultivate curiosity and trust, a recurring dream. Children know this. Once, I walked the length of a porch with my granddaughter when she was, maybe, 18 months. At the end, we came to a big step that led to the yard. Without a word, she held out her tiny hand for help. We took the big step together just as I take the big step with my cousin every year, drawing him close then letting him go. The communities that I belong to are affiliations of the heart. The people I make art with, the people I meditate with, the people I break bread with, the food I eat and the people who harvest it. I belong to you and you belong to me.
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I posted this link to an article in Orion Magazine on the seventysomething Facebook page...but in case you didn't see it, please read.
https://orionmagazine.org/article/speaking-of-nature/

seventysomething now has its own Facebook page. I will be posting the blog there as well as poetry and other work by wonderful artists. Please Like the new page.

Please share seventysomething with other interested parties. I welcome your comments on email, Facebook or on this blog. If you do not have a gmail account, comment as Anonymous, but please tell me who you are in the body of the remarks. Click on comments (it will say how many there are), select Anonymous from the drop-down menu, enter your comment and hit publish. If you do comment, I will respond on the blog, so please check back so our conversation can continue. 

Monday, June 19, 2017

Coming and Going


Blessed shall you be coming in and going out....Deut. 28:6


"London isn't what it used to be."

"Oh my word, no. People are afraid of each other," said the husband, his monstrous camera hanging from his neck. "It's wonderful here in America. Nancy and I love Cape Cod, don't we duck? I even got a good shot of a great white shark. Just the dorsal fin, of course."

Marjorie recalled that the sign had said the waters off Herring Cove were shark infested. The sharks preyed on the seals. She and Peter had seen the seals swimming parallel to the shore, very close in. They must be skittish, she thought. Like English people riding the tube late at night hemmed in by the residue of empire. She remembered how they had walked in the great city, near Piccadilly, trying to identify the languages spoken by women in saris, turbaned men talking into their phones. Urdu, Bengali, their alphabets decorative, each letter its own universe. London was like an animated atlas, the original sound cloud.

Here, at the beach, all they heard were gulls overhead, the slapping of the surf. It was such an immense space. Not a space really, more like an expanse. Behind them, the scrub and rose hips. Under, to each side and in front of them, the sand dotted with shells, salmon-colored, pale green, mother-of-pearl. Facing them, the sea, stretching to the horizon, beyond which people in pubs, black, brown and white, were drinking their pints. The sky above was the color of cornflowers, the October sun resilient and proud of itself.

Marjorie thought of the offhand remark of the English woman, casually dropping snarky social commentary into the otherwise perfect afternoon, like a pebble disturbing the glassy surface of a lake. Fear. Fear will do that. She remembered an earlier trip to Europe, before she had even met Peter. She had only just arrived from New York, her city-girl instinct for self-preservation still fine-tuned. It was early December. Traveling alone on the train from Stockholm to Uppsala, she picked up a magazine and a container of coffee and settled down in an unoccupied compartment. Doing the continental, sitting behind the closed door of a railway compartment watching the flat Swedish scenery out of the smudged window. Marjorie leaned back into a vintage movie fantasy, something Cary Grant-ish. Then the door opened and a man entered the little room. He wore a dull brown wool jacket. He was gray, not his hair which was straw-colored, but his actual lined and pocked skin. Two watery blue eyes made fleeting contact with hers. The man was carrying a brown paper bag, maybe a bottle of aquavit. Marjorie buried her head in her magazine and took a sip of coffee. After a few minutes, she felt his hand grazing her knee. The unexpected touch rampaged through her like an electric shock. She jumped to her feet, and spilled the scalding coffee all over her skirt.

"Pepparkakor?," he asked, taking his hand out of the bag and offering her a ginger snap, traditionally served during the Christmas season in Sweden.

"I hate fucking tourists," Peter said, brushing the crumbs out of his beard from the sweet potato trutas they had picked up at the Portuguese Bakery. "They're the real sharks. The real invasive species."

"Look," Marjorie pointed. "There's another seal." She wondered if they would flipper up onto the beach if she and Peter weren't there, sprawled on the sand with their Kindles and their water bottles. Someone is always moving in on someone else's turf, re-defining the rules of the road.

Marjorie thought if you took the long view, all of human history, not to mention the sorry saga of our activity in nature, could be boiled down to people pushing ahead on line, elbowing each other out of the way. It was either people from somewhere else with less money moving into the neighborhood, looking dangerously different and depressing real estate values, or, alternatively, people with more money, waltzing up the produce aisle in country-weekend designer clothes, making an ordinary head of lettuce a major investment. It was either pesticides going after bees and butterflies or deer showing up in suburban supermarket parking lots.

"We're all just passing through. We're all migrants," Marjorie offered in her standard fortune cookie style. This was the wide angle lens she tended to use when considering the larger questions.

"Not me," Peter said, lying back on the towel they had lifted years ago from a hotel in the Caribbean and zooming in on the moment. "I've got my ass on the beach and my face in the sun and I'm not going anywhere."

......This story was originally read at the open mic, IWOW, in the fall of 2015. I was developing another piece on the archetype of arrivals and departures when I consulted my files and noticed that I already had a piece entitled Coming and Going. This must mean something.

......For more on migrations of individuals, species and peoples I strongly recommend Mohsin Hamid's brilliant new novel, Exit West. mohsinhamid.com

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seventysomething now has its own Facebook page. I will be posting the blog there as well as poetry and other work by wonderful artists. Please Like the new page.

Please share seventysomething with other interested parties. I welcome your comments on email, Facebook or on this blog. If you do not have a gmail account, comment as Anonymous, but please tell me who you are in the body of the remarks. Click on comments (it will say how many there are), select Anonymous from the drop-down menu, enter your comment and hit publish. If you do comment, I will respond on the blog, so please check back so our conversation can continue. 

Monday, June 5, 2017

Paleolithic Father's Day

My mother and father slept in separate beds. Between them, a stack of detective novels and crossword puzzle books teetered on the night table. In the morning, my father would sit on the edge of his bed, fish around for his slippers and shuffle into the kitchen where my mother was boiling water for the instant Maxwell House, mixing the Minute Maid and tearing apart English muffins. Never cut an English muffin. Once he settled in at the grey formica table, he added the non-dairy creamer and the saccharine to his coffee and turned on the crackly transistor radio. He had gone all the way with Adlai back in '52, but most Americans liked Ike and some even had a soft spot for Joe McCarthy. It was best to keep your head down, go to the shop, come home from the shop, eat your dinner and watch Father Knows Best, though he could hardly identify with the cleanshaven, suburban protagonist and certainly not with the sentiment conveyed by the title. When I think about my father, the pendulum of my memories swings from affection to discomfort and back again. He was a decent man, but his animal nature, his essential wildness was somehow attenuated, left behind in a remote corner of a prehistoric past life.

While he listened to the news, my mother would lay out his clothes - boxers, sleeveless undershirt, trousers, belt, shirt freshly pressed at the Chinese laundry, tie and tie clip, sports jacket, socks and cordovans. She bought and dispensed all of his clothes. He did not say "I feel like wearing the green tie today." She managed his wardrobe like a pitching rotation, varying only in the event of injury, a
spot of pot roast gravy on the scheduled tie. In the wall-to-wall mid-century malaise of the apartment on upper Broadway, there was no room for Daddy. Everything had its place. Dinner at 6.

My father didn't drive. A few times a year on a Sunday holiday - could be Father's Day - Uncle Jerry or Uncle Leo would chauffeur us in a two-tone Chevy and head north and west, crossing the George Washington bridge into the untamed wilderness of Englewood or Nyack where people had basketball hoops attached to the sides of their garages and barbecues for roasting marshmallows and kosher hot dogs. In the kitchens, resplendent with breakfast nooks and the glossy patina of waxed linoleum, the women would arrange bowls of potato salad and dishes of pickles while in the backyards the children swatted at mosquitoes and the men tended the fire. You could see my father, eyes watering from some combination of smoke and wistfulness, staring into the blaze like Paleolithic man the day he first discovered the sorcery of rubbing two sticks together. Pinochle games would come and go. Someone would have a second drink and tell a very bad old joke, salacious enough to induce smirking, but obscure enough to leave the children bewildered. Someone else would make a thinly veiled racist remark. And still my father would be staring at the fire.

His fixed gaze left you wondering what he was looking at in there. Some vision of the hunt, a large carnivorous animal tramping around in the brush while he, Sidney Rosenberg, stands behind a leafy tree, waiting for just the right moment to hurl a rock that fells his prey and provides the family dinner. There he is in Bergen County with his hands clasped behind him, rocking back and forth on his heels, the blood in his veins mingling with the dimly remembered blood of a creature he would eat, the smell of the flesh rising to his nostrils with the grilling Hebrew National franks. He sees his haunches draped in the skins of some previously slaughtered beast. He is close to them, the animals, eating them, wearing them. Always on the look-out, his vision and hearing sharp, penetrating the deep silence of the forest, not overwhelmed by the wailing of sirens on the Avenue, the constant burbling of the television. After all, the survival of the family depends on his acuity, his speed and strength. He is his most authentic self singeing his eyebrows in front of the fire. But then, with regret, as the light begins to fade in some cousin's backyard, my father drags himself away from the embers and submits to Manhattan, a short man engulfed by tall buildings.

https://orionmagazine.org/judges-citation-becoming-animal-by-david-abram/
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/David_Abram

seventysomething now has its own Facebook page. I will be posting the blog there as well as poetry and other work by wonderful artists. Please Like the new page.

Please share seventysomething with other interested parties. I welcome your comments on email, facebook or on this blog. If you do not have a gmail account, comment as Anonymous, but please tell me who you are in the body of the remarks. Click on comments (it will say how many there are), select Anonymous from the drop-down menu, enter your comment and hit publish. If you do comment, I will respond on the blog, so please check back so our conversation can continue. 




Monday, May 22, 2017

On Stillness

I'm sitting on a white Adirondack chair very early in the morning, peering into the distance across a quiet lake. I can just about see two geese or swans gliding along the far shore. A small girl in a pale yellow sundress is dancing dreamily on the lawn behind the family summer cottage. Further south, a man is sitting on the dock with his feet trailing in the weedy water drinking a cup of coffee. It's too early for speed boats, jet skis. All you can hear are the birds storytelling. The surface of the lake is free of ripples, undisturbed, an essential calm.

The girl in the yellow dress, the man drinking coffee, the birds, even the lake itself are all inventions. I go to that place when the sheer volume of the political static demands an exit strategy. When the pace of events becomes untenable. Sometimes, this fantasyland appears in my mind unbidden. If, for example, the person posing as our president decides to play Monopoly with the Saudis, I might suddenly find myself staring at the distant horizon, taking in a wider geometry. I know this place like I know my grandchildren, their smiling, their crying. It's a comforting, elemental rest stop I will always recognize, but for some reason I do not choose to visit it as often as I could. I remain as yet mostly in the noise, both the external noise and the internal noise. Comey, Comey, hear me, see me.

We are always excavating the waxy build-up of our own concerns and regrets. But now, there is so much more to worry about. Not only are we responsible for our own sanity, we're on the hook for the safeguarding of the rule of law, the survival of the planet. It's a one-two punch every day, the political right jab, the personal left cross. Stillness is a matter of self-preservation. Stillness and mercy.

Stillness is precious and fragile. It needs loving protection, old blankets to wrap around the ancestral crystal. It is easily damaged. The stories that barge into my mind uninvited when I give them an inch are boorish and self-important like Trump. They aren't mindful of the pain they cause, bouncing off the walls, knocking over anything that gets in their way. They are willful, infantile and grandiose, demanding their say. You know the type. They shout over everyone else, convinced of their own rectitude. I'm right! He's wrong! At the same time, the flavor of my old persistent stories is sweet and nostalgic like chocolate pudding. It's not the bad taste that lingers after a day of consuming retrograde Republican fast food. It's the pleasure of scratching an insect bite till it bleeds. I wouldn't open the door for these stories, these thuggish guests, if I didn't somehow enjoy having them around. Even in my dreams, some surly narrative is always elbowing ahead of me to get to the bar. To resist the hostile takeover of the American enterprise, I will need to fortify myself with stillness, a merciful stillness that furnishes a safe house for righteous anger. Without it, the rage will tear right through me.

The other day, I sunk down into a lower level of silence. I sat in a funeral home for several hours watching over the casket of a man who would be buried later in the day. This was in fulfillment of the Jewish observance of shmira, or guarding. People who sit shmira take turns attending the deceased person through the night and into the next day from the time of shrouding to the time of burial. I didn't know the man. He was not a friend or a family member. My role was simply to keep him company and witness the deep silence that enfolds us when the noise of life has run its course, the peace that can be so elusive while we're here on hold, listening to the canned playlist. Every now and then, I could hear a phone ringing, a murmured conversation far off in the building, but mostly nothing. The shouting match, the name calling, the physical and verbal violence and the lovemaking end in a carpeted hush.

And I thought....What was all the fuss about? Do our minds maintain a constant carping chatter just to distract us from the galactic silence that waits for us? And is that what he's thinking about, somewhere on the back porch of his non-awareness, when he's up tweeting before sunrise?

Something special from my friend Deb Koffman
http://www.debkoffman.com/tag/mindfulness/


Please share seventysomething with other interested parties. I welcome your comments on email, facebook or on this blog. If you do not have a gmail account, comment as Anonymous, but please tell me who you are in the body of the remarks. Click on comments (it will say how many there are), select Anonymous from the drop-down menu, enter your comment and hit publish. If you do comment, I will respond on the blog, so please check back so our conversation can continue.