Friday, April 24, 2015

Soldiers, Old and Young

The young Marine stood in the alley of my family’s house on Senator Street and told me all about his haircut.

His commanding officer was very strict, he said, and demanded that this young man get a most severe crew cut.

The Marine was friendly, happy to tell someone his story. I listened and nodded politely as he spoke.

None of this was real, of course. I no longer live on Senator Street and I don’t know any young Marines. This was a dream I had a few nights ago.

The scene shifted, the young Marine disappeared, and I was inside my family’s house, tending to my elderly father, which I did up until his death in 2007.

However, unlike reality, there was none of the stress, worry, and anger in the dream.

Instead I was calm and in control and my father was cooperative—all the evidence you need to show that this wasn’t happening in the real world.

I was getting my father his breakfast and he said he wanted to go outside.

“Put on a jacket or you’ll catch cold,” I said, sounding an awful lot like my mother.

Now I think it’s pretty obvious that the Marine was a stand-in for my father as a young man.

Some part of my mind was trying to remind me that my dad was once a young man with hopes and dreams who was suddenly thrown into the middle of World War II. The life he wanted to live had been brutally derailed.

And that mellow breakfast scene with my elderly father was a bit of revisionist history that I believe was intended to put the bad old days to rest.

That was such a difficult time in my life. My father was suffering from dementia and I was feeling trapped, hating myself for not doing more with my life. As bad as things were, I did my best to make them even worse.

I had this dream on the day I had gone for my energy session, an incredible experience that drew all this tension right out of me.

I was feeling so relaxed, so free, that my subconscious apparently wanted to keep the good will going after I went to sleep.

I know that it’s important to put the painful memories behind me and I think a lot of the resentment I feel is just a reflex action. I’m so used to being pissed off about one thing or another that my mind doesn’t react well to tranquility.

That’s why meditation has become so important to me. Each morning I set the timer on my smartphone for 20 minutes, give myself permission to relax, and put aside any and all angry thoughts.

My mind does wonder and I do slip back into my old hostile habits. But I believe the mellow moments are getting longer and my heart is slowly opening up to the idea of making peace with the past.

Sunday, April 19, 2015

The Caged Heart

The voice came from behind while two loving hands held me up.

“You have a lot of sweet energy,” it said. “I could feel it while I worked on you.”

The person speaking was Kathryn Davis, a healer, teacher, mystic, and all-around miracle worker as far as I’m concerned.

I went to see her on Sunday for a private energy session and that turned out to be one of the best decisions I’ve made in years.

“You have a good heart,” she told me. “It loves you.”

I have a notoriously low opinion of myself, so hearing that some part of my being actually loves me was so hard to believe that I started crying.

“Is this unusual?” I asked while fishing a tissue out of my pocket.

“No, not at all,” Kathryn said.

I feel so relaxed, so peaceful, and so unlike my usual uptight self. My body is loose, a nagging pain in my right shoulder has faded dramatically, and I feel like I’ve had a massage that reached right down into my soul.

My misdeeds, missteps, and mistakes all seem so distant now. They represent who I was; not who I am.

It’s nice to put down my emotional baggage, step away from years of negative programming and get in touch with my real self.

I find I’m craving water instead of the usual vats of diet ice tea that I guzzle each night. Salty foods like pretzels don’t sit well with me at all, and while I usually put on music when I write, tonight I’m really enjoying the silence. After this session, it seems that my body doesn’t want to be needlessly stimulated.

Kathryn draws from such disciplines as Qigong, Reiki, the Sandlin Technique and others to create a fabulous spiritual experience.

Time For You To Leave

She shares an office with my shrink, which is a mere 10-minute walk from my house.

As soon as I entered Kathryn’s office, I took my wallet, cell phone, and keys, out of my pockets, removed my shoes, and stretched out on her massage table.

Then I closed my eyes and allowed Kathryn to work over my body while soothing music filled the air.

She proceeded very slowly, holding on to various parts of me for several moments before moving on. My breathing became so deep and so steady, as if I were stepping into my body for the first time.

I think I nodded off at some point during the session, but Kathryn assured me that “your spirit was still awake.”

Kathryn said that while my physical body is in good shape, I have a lot of trapped energy that she’s trying to move throughout my system.

“Your heart is in a cage,” she told me. “You have to visualize melting away the bars so it can love you.”

We talked about my difficulties with relationships and Kathryn said she felt that I might have been a monk in a past life because she felt this great sense of devotion.

Only now instead of directing that devotion toward religion, Kathryn suggested I focus on something creative, like writing.

Any other time I probably would have burst out laughing at the idea of being a monk in this or any other life. But now I was ready to receive any insights and advice that Kathryn had to offer.

She also told me that maybe relationships aren’t for me. Please understand she wasn’t telling me to give up looking for Miss Right. It’s more like I shouldn’t put pressure on myself to be with someone if that’s not the direction where my sprit is headed.

As my shrink likes to say, I have to get into a relationship with myself first.

I feel like I’ve been on a long journey, but I realize the journey is just beginning. My inner monk will walk through the byways of my psyche, exploring, discovering, and healing.

And I will use my sweet energy to melt those bars around my heart.

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Precious Moments

In 1974 The Three Degrees hit the top spot on the adult contemporary chart with the song “When Will I See You Again.”

The song, which poses a series of questions about the early stages of a relationship, was a big hit in England, too, and the Philadelphia soul group performed it at Prince Charles’ 30th birthday party in Buckingham Palace.

I always liked the opening of the song where the trio comes in behind the strings to sing the line “Precious moments…”

Lead singer Shelia Ferguson said she hated the tune when she first heard it and angrily declared she would never sing it, believing that “it was ridiculously insulting to be given such a simple song.” She would later admit she had called that one wrong.

And from now on, whenever I hear this song I’ll think of a girl named Janet.

I met Janet—or Jeannette as she liked to be called—at a friend’s party in the Bronx some 40 years ago. She was a lovely young girl who was so funny and so outgoing and we just hit it off.

“When Will I See You Again” was climbing the charts at the time and every so often Janet would sing out the single line “is this my beginning or is this the end?”

It would be nice if I could tell you that this evening was the beginning of a beautiful relationship, but that’s not how things worked out.

Will I Have to Wait Forever?

Janet and I spoke over the phone a few times after that evening and there was even some discussion of me being her prom date, but that fell through, we drifted out of each other’s lives, and I never saw her again.

I hadn’t thought about her in decades and then I learned that Janet died last weekend after a long illness. The hostess of that party in the Bronx posted the terrible news on her Facebook page and I still can’t believe it.

The funny teenaged girl that I knew so briefly went on to be the mother of four children, the owner of her own real estate business, and treasurer for the Board of Realtors in Westchester.

I barely knew the girl she was, never knew the woman she became and now she’s gone.

When I think back on the party it is with a strange kind of double vision, where the memory is both hazy and quite sharp at the same time. It was a very precious moment indeed.

It’s frightening that someone who was so full of life can be snuffed out like that. “When Will I See You Again” poses a series of questions, but I have just one: why? Why did this happen?

Of course there’s no answer to that question. Life is not fair and rarely makes sense.

If there are any lessons to be learned here I guess it would be the basic ones that so many of us never seem to get: be thankful for what you have and enjoy every moment of your life because tomorrow is promised to absolutely no one.

I keep telling myself to follow these simple rules, but then I turn around and find myself getting all twisted over some bit of nonsense that will be forgotten in no time.

Share those precious moments and don’t wait forever because right now is all you have and there are some people you may never see again.

Sunday, April 05, 2015

Goodness and Mercy

Every morning when I ride the bus to work, I settle in my chair, close my eyes and silently recite the 23rd Psalm.

The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want…

This prayer is so comforting and I say it to clear away any workday jitters that might be gnawing at me. If I can walk the Valley of the Shadow of Death without fearing any evil, then I think can handle anything at the office.

And instead of worrying about my health or my future or anything the other several dozen other things I fret about, I turn to the Lord who resoreth my soul and leadeth me in the paths of righteousness.

Today is Easter Sunday, the perfect time to contemplate spiritual restoration and righteous paths as we celebrate resurrection and rebirth.

Easter wasn’t a big deal for me when I was a kid. I was much more enthusiastic about Christmas and all the great presents that came along with it. Back then Easter meant little more than some new clothes, chocolate bunnies, and a baked ham dinner with my family.

Now I’m completely fed up with the shameless commercialism that has leeched on to Christmas, so I appreciate Easter’s spiritual experience.

I’m feeling a touch of the holiday sadness as I think of the loved ones who are no longer here, but then that’s hard to avoid if you’ve put in enough time on this planet. I think celebrating renewal and remembering those we have lost actually compliment each other. We’re moving forward without abandoning our roots.

I Tell You the Truth

I went to Trinity Church on Wednesday to hear the good word from Father Mark. At the opening of the service we praised God, saying in unison “His mercy endures forever.” Those are very reasurring words in a world that seems terribly short on anything resembling mercy.

During his sermon Father Mark talked about Judas’ betrayal of Jesus.

He told us that we all betray Jesus and while that may sound harsh, he certainly didn’t mean it that way. Rather Father Mark was acknowledging our frailties and flaws as human beings.

We’re all susceptible to some pretty ugly emotions and when we betray Jesus, when we turn away from unconditional love in favor of some emotional version of 30 pieces of silver, we really betray ourselves.

And, as Father Mark always points out, after Judas leaves the Last Supper, he goes out into darkness. We want to stay in the light so we can find those paths of righteousness.

The last line of the 23rd Psalm says “surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life.”

I love those words, but they also make me think about my own actions. It’s not just a matter of goodness and mercy following me—they must also proceed me. You just don’t see the light; you have to be the light.

And just like God, our mercy must endure forever. This is a good day to start.

Sunday, March 29, 2015

Where is the Love?

A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.” --John 13:34-35

The Black-Eyed Peas were right—something really is wrong with the world.

In particular I’m looking at Indiana and Virginia and their disgusting legislation that allows bigots to hide behind their alleged “religious beliefs” and refuse providing services to gay people.

Make no mistake, people, these atrocities are not laws; they’re hate crimes in drag. They give extremists a legal excuse to inflict their vile views on the rest of us.

It’s shocking that someone could actually invoke the name of Jesus Christ in defense of these horrible bills. They need to stop thumping the Bible and actually start reading it.

What would Jesus do? Not this bullshit, I can assure you.

I wonder what world these holy idiots live in where the biggest problem you face is making a cake for a gay wedding.

Must be great to live in a place where there’s no crime, no poverty, no homeless families, no sickness, and no pollution, a place where the only thing to fear are same sex coupkes.

I get so angry when I think of the good, loving people in my life who stood by me, who supported me in some of my darkest moments and who just happened to be gay. They all have more goodness in their little fingers that this bloviating hypocrites have in their entire bodies.

If that sounds like the old “some of my best friends are gay” line, well, you’re goddamn right. Some of my best friends are gay and if you don’t like that, you can go straight to Hell.

Send Us Guidance From Above

What is happening to this country? We used to look to the law for guidance and protection. We used to pass legislation that brought out our best qualities, instead of reinforcing our most base emotions.

And we looked to religion to make the world a better place, to open doors, not to build walls and breed hatred.

I feel like we’re entering into another dark age, where religion is being used as a cudgel to batter science, logic, and love. It is a very ugly time and I don’t see things turning around any time soon.

There are people whose religious beliefs call for crashing airplanes into buildings and chopping off the heads of nonbelievers. Shall we write laws catering to them as well?

For the record, I go to church and pray every morning, and my God loves everyone, no matter what their sexual orientation may be.

Governor Mike Pence, the Republican imbecile who signed the license to discriminate into law, claims he didn’t expect “the hostility that’s been directed at our state.”

The Indiana bill has rightfully sparked calls for a boycott of all things Hoosier and Pence is sputtering about how it is being misinterpreted, but he, of course, is full of shit.

He completely miscalculated the reaction to this law and got caught with his pence down. Now he’s doing a coward’s two-step and suggesting that he’s open to another bill that would “clarify” the original law’s intent.

It’s time for a return to sanity and we can start be dumping these laws and really listening to what Jesus had to say.

We only got one world, people. That’s all we got.

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Crossing Paths

I didn’t see the well-to-do up and down Park Avenue, but last week I almost collided with a first class schmuck on that famous thoroughfare.

I was on my way to a meeting at Fidelity Investments’ midtown office at Park Avenue and 51st Street in an attempt to get a reading on my finances.

I’ve had an account with them since 1980 and while I’ve been making annual contributions to my IRAs I had no real handle on their worth.

I had been relying on my brother, who had worked at Fidelity for years, to manage my money.

But he left the company a while ago so now I was trying to make some shaky steps towards adulthood before senility sets in.

I have to confess that my knowledge of my holdings is shockingly limited. When it comes to any discussion of this topic I tend to go into full-on Butterfly McQueen mode and wail, “I don’t know nothing about managing no mutual funds!

This had to change. Two weeks ago I met with my bankers at JP Morgan Chase and now it was Fidelity’s turn.

I got permission to come in a little later on Wednesday morning, took the express bus up Madison Avenue and walked over to Park on a morning that was much colder than it should’ve been. But I was determined to shake off the bonds of dependency and denial and take on the mantle of maturity.

And then some prick walked right in front of me.

I was stunned. This--this…putz came strolling out of an office building on 50th Street pulling a wheeled suitcase behind him. He looked healthy enough, though apparently his peripheral vision must’ve been on the blink because he crossed my path as if I were the Invisible Man.

Are you shitting me, pal?

This bum was in his sixties with perfect white hair, wearing an immaculate blue suit, and wielding an attitude that could burst the top off a steamer trunk. He was heading to the curb presumably to hail a cab or climb into a limo.

White Spats and Lots of Dollars…

I couldn’t believe it. Is it possible that this douchebag hadn't see me coming up the street? Was he completely unfamiliar with the phrase “excuse me”?

I pegged him as banker-broker One Percenter parasite who had been born with silver spoon in his brain and didn’t deign to recognize people who made less than six figures and didn’t go to prep school.

“Nice going, asshole!” I muttered.

I kept on walking, wondering if I should’ve yelled louder. Or maybe I should’ve crashed into the idiot just to show him what it feels like to be ignored.

I’m just some faceless peon who doesn’t deserve any respect because I take a bus instead of a taxi? Bite me, Rockefeller.

That would’ve been quite a scene: two middle-aged men brawling all over Park Avenue over some imagined insult.

The whole point of this expedition was to hang with the grownups and now here I was acting like an aging juvenile delinquent.

And to be honest, Suitcase Boy might’ve been genuinely distracted and wasn’t aware that he had invaded my space. God knows I’ve been guilty of that myself.

But even if he was a self-centered dick—and I’m pretty sure he was—there was no reason for me to join him.

I reached the corner of 51st Street and locked eyes with a man who was just crossing Park Avenue. I stopped and bowed slightly.

“After you,” I said.

The man nodded his thanks and proceeded. That’s all I want, I thought, just a little respect.

My meeting at Fidelity was embarrassingly informative as I learned that I know next to nothing about my savings.

Over the weekend I received two packages of financial information from my bank and my broker, which means I have a long overdue appointment with reality.

I want to increase my knowledge of my financial affairs so I can enjoy a stress-free retirement. Then some day I can strut out of a Park Avenue building and people can get the hell out of my way.

Sunday, March 15, 2015

The Dad Project

I was standing in the men's room line during intermission at a theater in Union Square last week when I had this flashback to a terrible fight I had with my father when I a young man.

It happened nearly 40 years ago and yet it came popping back into my head like a poison mushroom.

I was getting ready for school one morning when my father came walking in the bathroom without knocking—something he did quite often.

I got angry—something I do quite often--we both started yelling at each other and then it escalated to a point where he was lunging at me while I started smashing karate chop blows to his face. It was horrible.

My mother was right in the middle of this hideous confrontation, as she usually was, the poor woman, and I would give anything to undo it. But failing in that, at least I’d like to stop replaying the goddamn thing.

My sister, auntie and myself had gone to see the Irish Repertory Theater’s production of Da by Hugh Leonard, which I’m sure helped resurrect this particular nightmare.

The play tells the story of an Irish writer who is visited by the ghost of his recently-deceased adoptive father.

My sister and I both thought the hero’s father was a bit of lightweight when compared with our experiences, but in view of the play’s subject matter I guess it’s not surprising that I had a ghostly experience of my own.

There was a time when I would’ve grabbed hold of this foul recollection, held it close to my heart, and either relived the rage or withered in shame at the memory of my past deeds. Either way I would have done a real number on myself.

Curtain Call

But this time I did something quite different. As soon as that nasty encounter came roaring toward me like a runaway train, I took a mental step away from it and silently announced the incredibly obvious.

“That’s a bad memory,” I told myself.

Yes, I know, instead of Da, this sounds more like Duh! It’s about as profound as saying water is wet.

But I’ve never made an acknowledgment like this before. I always blindly accepted the painful past until it polluted my present. This was just a bad memory—and nothing more. Why relive it?

It wasn’t real, it wasn’t happening anywhere except in my head. By actually naming this demon I was able to rob it of its power over me.

Isn’t it amazing what great ideas you get while waiting to go to the can?

My subconscious mind has an incredible ability to dredge up the ugliest memory at the most inappropriate times, but if I can just keep calling them out, naming these mental mirages for what they really are, I think I’ll be a much happier fellow.

I’ve embarked on yet another self-help effort that I call “The Dad Project,” where I rewire my memories of my father.

Whenever I recall something unpleasant about my dad, I deliberately search through my brain for a pleasant memory of my father and play that one in my head. It’s a conscious effort to change the way I think.

I know I did have good times with my father. I just have to work a little harder at recalling them. It's like unscrewing a faulty light bulb from its socket and replacing it with a good one.

If I keep this up, I’ll be shining brighter than a theater marquee on opening night.