Perchance to Dream

What Dreams May Come

Fortune Teller2

When I was all of seventeen I accompanied some friends to a carnival in Santa Ana. One of the girls in our little troop insisted that we each pay to have our fortunes read by a Gypsy fortuneteller that accompanied the carnies. Well, I never put much cotton in the idea that a person could predict the future and resisted but was finally pushed inside as the last of our group, all of which had previously exited her tent with smiles on their faces.

Inside the dark, yet colorful, tent I was encouraged to sit and offer my palm. The dark woman took one look at it and any vestige of mirth that might have been on her face immediately disappeared and was replaced by a look that might have been called horror. She then proceeded to consult the cards I selected from a Tarot deck and then some runes with peculiar markings that she had me warm inside my cupped hands and then release as if I was throwing dice. None of this brought a smile to her face but in the end she told me that she was sorry but I was going to die before my twenty-first birthday.

Now I often wondered if one of my so-called friends at the time slipped her ten or twenty dollars and said: “When Sam comes in you tell him he’s going to die soon.” I cornered them with that accusation and they all swore “cross my heart” they didn’t. Okay, if they didn’t then why would a Gypsy woman who made a living giving people good news would tell me I would be dead within the next three years? It didn’t make sense to me and after a period of what might be called grief or depression I decided I wasn’t going to let her fortune change my life, which is not to say it didn’t cross my mind a lot over the next several years.

I recently went to an Asian restaurant with my wife and two youngest children (21 and 19) and when we opened our fortune cookies my little slip of paper was blank on both sides. On our previous visit I had opened my fortune cookie only to discover that it was empty. Both of those incidents took me back to that Gypsy fortuneteller from so long ago and this past Sunday my wife and I had lunch at the Canton Palace and when I went to open my fortune cookie it was with hesitant trepidation. I opened the cookie, found a fortune, and read: “You will be healthy and wealthy in your old age.” That was so much better then no future at all.

In A Course in Miracles we are told that we are living in a dream and none of what we perceive is real. My friend Jerrie, who is in his eighties and refers to himself as a recovering Catholic, says that we are really lying on a grassy bank beside a river in Heaven having a dream about not being an eternal spirit. At sixty I have been thinking more about the end that is inevitable and, like Hamlet, I wonder if we will still be able to dream when the heart and brain stop functioning but the analytical side of my intelligence says no while the hopeful side wonders maybe. Then there is that other self who worries that what happens after death is exactly what we believe will happen. That’s just too frightening but would make a good story in the vein of The Lathe of Heaven.

In the Course we are told that Death has no power unless we choose to identify with it and that Death is not real. Yet, I look around me and I know that it is oh so real and oh so inevitable. Thirty-eight years ago tomorrow, the thirteenth of December, my cousin and my first best friend Carol took her own life and some seven years before that my dear friend Marsha had had enough of life and at sixteen she stepped in front of a truck to end the pain.

Are they dreaming now?

Cooperation

Why, Indeed?

My 22-year-old student, who continues to inspire my writing, asked me just this morning: “Why is there so much evil in the world?” I found the coincidence curious as I was thinking about the very same thing on my way into work. I was asked only yesterday what my political views were, which has triggered a significant amount of gray matter to develop a inoffensive answer, but the frankness of her question begged me to throw caution to the wind and answer her query as I would see fit and I did. But first, a parable, if you please, from a millennia old story:

“There was once a man,” Grandfather began, “who lived in the old countries and was deeply loved by his family, his clan, and by all of the people as all of the people loved each other in those times before the great change. One day the man built a fence around a bit of our Mother Earth and said ‘mine.’ Now his neighbors had never seen a fence before and did not like the man’s audacity in claiming that a portion of Our Mother, who by birthright belongs to all, was his alone. The people sought the advice of the wisest of the Elders who concluded that the man had a sickness of the brain and advised the people to leave him be lest he cause injury to them. However, one of the Elders was also a gifted and trusted seer who warned the people of a great calamity coming to all and encouraged them to kill the man immediately, and tear down the fence and forget about it, out of their unselfish love for all of the people.”

“Grandfather,” his daughter asked, “what did the people do?”

“They left him be and damned all of mankind forever more.”

I explained to my student that I perceived the root of the evil that lurks in the hearts of mankind to be one of greed that is greatly exacerbated by the private ownership of our natural resources. I further observed that if we all worked together and shared our natural resources I do not see how things like starvation, homelessness, disease, and none of the poverties could exist. Not economic poverty. Not spiritual poverty. Not nutritional poverty. Not even the poverty of inadequate Love.

I was once telling a relation of mine this same basic tenet and when I was all said and done she looked at me in earnest seriousness and said: “But, I don’t want to share.”

If only we could get past all of the “I don’t want to share’s” and the “I need more, more, more’s” even after the accumulation of billions. To slightly paraphrase Eleanor Roosevelt: “No one needs to be rich but all persons need to live with dignity.” I think Eleanor was a very wise woman and worked hard to secure the blessings of dignity for all. Though that we could all be as wise.

Touched By An Angel Songbook2
 
 
Many years ago there was a television show called “Touched By An Angel” that many people know about. Fewer people know that there was also an album called “Touched By An Angel” that included the song “Dignity,” written and performed by Bob Dylan, that has always moved me. You can listen to this song on YouTube here: Dignity. For those of you who might be interested in the album it is still in print. The Songbook, however, has been long out of print and I feel fortunate to have a copy in my music library.
 

Here are the lyrics to Dignity:

Fat man lookin’ in a blade of steel
Thin man lookin’ at his last meal
Hollow man lookin’ in a cottonfield
For dignity

Wise man lookin’ in a blade of grass
Young man lookin’ in the shadows that pass
Poor man lookin’ through painted glass
For dignity

Somebody got murdered on New Year’s Eve
Somebody said dignity was the first to leave
I went into the city, went into the town
Went into the land of the midnight sun

Searchin’ high, searchin’ low
Searchin’ everywhere I know
Askin’ the cops wherever I go
Have you seen dignity?

Blind man breakin’ out of a trance
Puts both his hands in the pockets of chance
Hopin’ to find one circumstance
Of dignity

I went to the wedding of Mary-lou
She said ÒI don’t want nobody see me talkin’ to youÓ
Said she could get killed if she told me what she knew
About dignity

I went down where the vultures feed
I would’ve got deeper, but there wasn’t any need
Heard the tongues of angels and the tongues of men
Wasn’t any difference to me

Chilly wind sharp as a razor blade
House on fire, debts unpaid
Gonna stand at the window, gonna ask the maid
Have you seen dignity?

Drinkin’ man listens to the voice he hears
In a crowded room full of covered up mirrors
Lookin’ into the lost forgotten years
For dignity

Met Prince Phillip at the home of the blues
Said he’d give me information if his name wasn’t used
He wanted money up front, said he was abused
By dignity

Footprints runnin’ cross the silver sand
Steps goin’ down into tattoo land
I met the sons of darkness and the sons of light
In the bordertowns of despair

Got no place to fade, got no coat
I’m on the rollin’ river in a jerkin’ boat
Tryin’ to read a note somebody wrote
About dignity

Sick man lookin’ for the doctor’s cure
Lookin’ at his hands for the lines that were
And into every masterpiece of literature
for dignity

Englishman stranded in the blackheart wind
Combin’ his hair back, his future looks thin
Bites the bullet and he looks within
For dignity

Someone showed me a picture and I just laughed
Dignity never been photographed
I went into the red, went into the black
Into the valley of dry bone dreams

So many roads, so much at stake
So many dead ends, I’m at the edge of the lake
Sometimes I wonder what it’s gonna take
To find dignity

20141204-Good Neighbors

Good Neighbors

20141204-Good Neighbors2

I mentioned in a previous post that we are in the process of buying property and moving for the second time in one year. If that doesn’t sound completely crazy it will when the fact is that our family has three real estate transactions in the works. It all started when we decided to sell our four plus bedroom house to our oldest daughter so she, her husband, and their four children would have adequate housing. That led my wife and I to purchase our present mobile home in an over fifty-five community where we now live, our daughter and her family moved into our vacated home, and our two youngest moved into their sister’s vacated two-bedroom house.

One would think that would have calmed things down for a while but then our son moved back in with us for an unknown duration causing us to look for a house because he is of course not fifty-five and older and is not supposed to be here. Then our daughter put her house up for sell and now we have three properties in escrows that are not always running so smoothly. In fact, they are downright frustrating.

The home my wife and I are purchasing is a fixer-upper that I like to refer to as a Diamond in the Rough and we are still up to the challenge. The house we left behind was also a fixer-upper and we basically gutted it and rebuilt it into a very fine house replete with Craftsman touches. We planted fruit trees and gardens, put in patios, landscaping, and had a wonderful home for our youngest to grow up in from their pre-school days on into college.

The house we are selling to our daughter was supposed to close escrow two days ago. It didn’t. Ours needs to close soon because there are repairs that need to be completed by the 29th else we will have to pay penalties. Also, we need the funds from our sell to fund our new purchase. Alas, all we can do is pray that everything comes together like it is supposed to.

Our new Diamond in the Rough is going to take a lot of hard work to make it sparkle but sparkle it will. We have visited our purchase-in-process a few times and have been fortunate to meet our neighbors to be and we have discovered that the neighborhood we are moving into is a quiet, safe, and tight knit. The way one neighbor to be expressed it was by telling us that when he moved into the neighborhood the fellow who owned the house we are buying kept his cherry red 1968 Mustang parked in the driveway unlocked and with the windows down. He knew he had come to a good place.

Our neighbor to be also commented on the work that needed to be done by saying: “My father always told me that you can repair anything that might be wrong with a house but you cannot fix your neighbors.”

I’m looking forward to my new neighbors.

Off the Radar

Off the Radar

I read a report recently that claimed fewer than 50% of the children who enter into California’s Public Education System ever graduate from high school yet high schools all across California report fairly low dropout rates. What is the dichotomy here and where did all those children end up?

California’s Compulsory Education Statute says that all persons 6 to 18 years of age are to be in school with very few exceptions and yet it appears that many thousands, perhaps a hundred thousand or more per year, drop out of the educational system in California. As an Adult School Teacher I get some of these students who dropped off of California’s Compulsory Education Radar and have accepted the fact without question that some how they were forgotten by the System. That is, until now.

I have had discussions with my wife who is a K-12 educator about the reasons children disappear from a system as robust as California’s Educational System and it got me wondering about the student I mentioned in my last post and so I asked her. Her response was that the family lost their house and they experienced a period of homelessness from which she never returned to school, until just recently. It makes me curious about what goes on in a school where Dick and Jane are in attendance one day, then they’re not, and I can only conclude that there is not enough money to pay people to follow up on every child who goes missing. Who remembers Truant Officers?

A 2004 report on the California Legislative Analyst’s Office website indicates that in 1997-98 there were 412,604 students enrolled in the eighth grade and five years later during the 2001-02 school year 325,928 students graduated from high school in California. Of course a few may have moved out of state and a few migrate workers may have returned to their homes or found migrate work elsewhere but at the same time many others were moving into California for various reasons. What is clear to me and to the analysts who wrote the report we have a problem keeping our youth in school.

I don’t know what the final solution is but I do know that we will not achieve it until we all, as a society of citizens “equal in dignity and rights,” are assured “jobs, education, housing, and an adequate standard of living.”

It is the same call for a global human Bill of Rights.

Bill of Rights-Assembly

Bill of Rights

Bill of Rights-EmblemI have a twenty-two year old female student with a young son who is afraid she will soon become homeless with the passing of her great grandmother with whom they reside. I understand now from my wife that there are services that might be available to help the two them from ending up alone on the streets as winter approaches and we have already had near freezing overnights. This dilemma though tears at my heartstrings and I fight back at the anger when I think of how John Locke’s early statement of human rights that everyone was entitled to Life, Health, Liberty, and Property was perverted by the richest men in America to Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness. Obviously, our founding fathers weren’t much interested in sharing their coveted property with the Indians, Slaves, Indentured Servants, and Unpropertied Citizens of their great experiment.

My student’s challenge made me think back to our U.S. Bicentennial when in 1976 several protocols and statements of human rights came together and were adopted by the United Nations and ratified by a significant number of world nations as the International Bill of Human Rights. To many of us who once wore our hair long, marched in the anti-war protests, and sang peace and freedom songs this adoption was a great hope for the future. The International Bill of Human Rights begins with Article 1, which reads:

All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.

Article 25 contains a further prescription that, like many of the Articles, is a direct consequence of the first Article. It reads:

Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social services, and the right to security in the event of unemployment, sickness, disability, widowhood, old age or other lack of livelihood in circumstances beyond his control.

Many countries, including the United States, have not completely ratified the International Bill of Rights because the forces of power believe (in the words of Jimmy Carter): “governments have no obligation to safeguard the rights of their citizens to jobs, education, housing, and an adequate standard of living.” What a sad state of affairs for a country whose Constitution declares the it is “to promote the general Welfare” of its citizenry. My Merriam-Webster dictionary has several definitions of general the second of which is: “involving, relating to, or applicable to every member of a class, kind, or group.” Welfare is defined as: “the state of doing well especially in respect to good fortune, happiness, well-being, or prosperity.”

Wouldn’t it be something for a society to interpret “general Welfare” such that no individual, family, neighborhood, or community was left undernourished, underclothed, underhoused, underemployed, or underserviced?

I think it would be wonderful.


International Bill of Human Rights

U.S. Finally Ratifies Human Rights Covenant by Jimmy Carter, June 29, 1992

It's a small world

E-Ticket Ride

E-Ticket

At our A Course in Miracles meeting yesterday we were reading Chapters 8 and 9 in the Manual for Teachers but were having a lot of asides and discussions about why we are here in this plane, on this Earth, in this life, and in this dream. We talked about our ongoing challenges, or opportunities, as a previous mentor of mine liked to impress upon his grasshoppers. Now some of my fellow travelers like to point out how we must have chosen to be here in the first place, which got me to thinking that as furious and intense as this roller coaster journey is that: “Life is the ultimate E-Ticket Ride.”

Now, not all of my fellow travelers knew that the E-Ticket Rides were the premium rides at Disneyland in Anaheim but a quick explanation from one of my dear friends clarified the metaphor and we were back to the discussion on whether or not we chose to have this experience. It’s that ancient musing that always begs the question: If I had known then what I know now – would I have chosen life?

There are a few personages from history who have garnered my utmost respect and one of those giants in my esteem was William Blake who addressed the question with elegance in The Book of Thel. Now Thel had the opportunity to leave the Vales of Har and see first hand what awaited her should she choose to be born. What she saw disturbed her greatly and when she came to her grave she asked herself a series of questions, shrieked, and fled back into the Vales of Har.

One of my dear friends remarked that she, like many of us, have earned far too many scars on this pilgrimage, which got me to thinking about the Boogeyman from Tim Burtons The Nightmare before Christmas. What can I say? It was a very visual discussion. Anyway, the Boogeyman was held together by a thread that when pulled released the consortium inside that without there was no substance, or even existence, to the feared Boogeyman. In some ways I think we can view our scars as the badges of honor that we have survived the challenges hurled at us and actually can serve to be the bindings that hold us intact – given our perception.

I believe that, had I been in Thel’s singular position of perceiving life before she had to endure it, I would still have chosen life as long as I saw that along with the pain there was also the happiness. As it was pointed out in the ACIM Manual for Teachers we perceive because of contrasts, which begs the question: Could I know joy without knowing misery? Not that I know the answer but the philosopher in me believes that it is worth pondering.

When I was a kid the E-Ticket was the most treasured in the booklet. Indeed, to the extent that junk drawers all over Southern California held numerous unused A, B, C, and D-Tickets without an unused E-Ticket in sight and I wonder if the junk drawers in the Vales of Har look the same.

Life, the ultimate E-Ticket Ride, replete with its Tunnels of Love and its Chambers of Horrors. Yes, I have my jagged scars and my wretched nightmares but I also have Love and all is well.

Demons

Demons

Many of us that carom through this life are occasionally plagued by demons and I am no exception. My latest demon goes by the name of Pavor Nocturnus and he has been tormenting me since August. I have read that Pavor Nocturnus (aka Night Terrors) is quite rare in maturing adults (affecting less the one percent of the population) and is most likely caused by stress.

I wrote earlier about downsizing and moving in to a 55+ community. As a result of that move I have had, for the first time in my life, episodes of sleepwalking, sleep talking, nighttime panic attacks, and now night terrors. At first I thought I was having nightmares that I simply did not remember but I mentioned the episodes to my doctor at my last physical. Given these episodes and the other unusual sleep episodes he concluded that I was experiencing night terrors and so now I have been taking Esitalopram to combat this condition and finally did have several peaceful nights this past week. That is, until the night before last, I had my worst episode to date and even screamed in my sleep.

Needless to say I am absolutely tired of and so through with these episodes but I am pretty sure what caused this last violent one. We moved only a few short months ago and now given conditions over which we have no control we have to move again and although my conscious self accepted the necessity of the move with grace and calm I believed my subconscious selves revolted at the idea.

The house we looked at Sunday is a fixer-upper but is in a quiet, well maintained, neighborhood. In fact, this house is likely considered the local eyesore but is full of potential and, after all, I have done this before and there is really nothing I cannot do myself, although my wife says I’m too old to be climbing on roofs anymore.

My wife’s prescription yesterday morning was to resume the practice of meditation, which is something I haven’t been doing as of late. I noticed the cover of my recent issue of Scientific American featured an article entitled: The Neuroscience of Meditation: How it changes the brain, boosting focus, and easing stress. Well, I gave it a little try and last night was much calmer although not without some night terrors.

Demons are indeed all about us but I do believe we have the power within us to triumph over them.

Well, at least I hope so.