What Is Love?

19247604_10214087925098369_7353269297393069092_nLove is a beautiful mystery, an unbreakable bond of mutual understanding and trust. It is a rapturous experience to know that there is another human being who is our eternal soulmate, someone with whom we wish to share our very lives. Marriage is a promise to honor that love with steadfast commitment, a contract that announces to the world that our feelings are more than just a passing fancy. It is a very public pledge to acknowledge and proclaim our unconditional love.

When two people truly love one another we see and feel their connection. It is in their eyes, the windows to their souls. They are two beings in sync with one another in a very spiritual way. They truly complete each another, and enjoy the happiness that comes from selflessly desiring to help each other to become the best versions of themselves. Theirs is a safe and honest relationship of sharing laughter and tears, joys and sorrows.

Thus it is with Tim and Dickie Windham, two beautiful souls who somehow found one another from among the billions of people who inhabit the earth. Both of them have endured heartbreak and even humiliation as gay men in a world that is often unwilling to understand and accept them. By the grace of God or some unknown cosmic force they met and almost instantly felt that their search for that one special person had finally been rewarded.

It did not take them long to fall into a comfortable courtship filled with mutual interests and the joy of simply being together. They became best friends of the kind who read each other’s minds and complete each other’s sentences. It mattered little whether they were sitting at home assembling a jigsaw puzzle or jetting to some adventurous destination. It was all good, a way of knowing that they were meant to be in an everlasting partnership of love.

On June 16, 2017, the fulfillment of all of their hopes and wishes finally came to fruition as they married under a canopy on a white sandy beach in Cancun with a backdrop of the Caribbean’s aqua and deep blue waves. Their wedding party and honored guests witnessed the beauty and magnitude of their love and commitment as they exchanged their vows and heartfelt promises, some of which came in the form of a sonnet in iambic pentameter. Even the crowd of strangers that had gathered to see the ceremony saw the profound depth of their feelings for each other, and so we all cried and cheered to know that it really is possible for dreams to come true.

The reception that followed in a lovely garden only confirmed just how special Tim and Dickie are and how wonderful their marriage is sure to be. I suppose that I have never laughed and cried so much at any other occasion as the stories of their incredible journeys were shared. I learned that Dickie’s mother Ray had died but his surrogate mom Jane somehow managed via a touching essay to assure us all that Ray was with her son on his very important day just as she had been in the other milestones of his life. From one of Tim’s bridesmaid we heard of the struggles that he had endured in embracing the realities of being gay. We realized as we listened to one tribute after another from friends and loved ones just how wonderful and brave the two men are.

Then the party began and to say it was a blast would be an understatement. Tim danced with his mother and Dickie followed with his honorary mother Jane which of course brought more smiles and tears. After that we ate and drank and danced as cool breezes blew from the sea in our tropical paradise. We were one great big joyful family united in celebrating the happiness of the two men who had brought us together on a glorious night that we will never forget.

I wish Tim and Dickie a very happy lifetime together. I hope that they will always enjoy the same beautiful gift of love that I have shared with my Mike. They will be stronger together as they face the rollercoaster ride of life. It is good to know that they actually enjoy adventures and that they have already learned how to deal with the ups and downs. I am happy that they will now face challenges and fulfill dreams hand in hand. There is no better feeling than knowing that someone who truly and deeply loves you is always there by your side.

I suppose that I shall never forget the joy that I saw on each of their faces as Tim and Dickie took their vows. The love was there in every sense of what that concept means. Thank God we have finally reached a moment in human history when we are able to acknowledge that real commitment knows no bounds or limitations. True love is true love that we should never have to hide and that is all that ever matters. I am convinced that Tim and Dickie will grow old together and share all of the wonderful moments in between. I hope that as the years go by they will continue to honor me and Mike by allowing us to be part their story because we both love them so.

  

Chizen Itza

Chichen_Itza_3.jpgThere was a time when the Mayan people lived in great cities in Guatemala and Mexico. They had developed a syllabic form of writing and created books to record their history. They were advanced in the study of astronomy, predicting celestial events with great precision. Their calendar was remarkable in its accuracy, coinciding with the Roman version in stunning ways. They were among the first people to use zero as a place holder and had an uncanny understanding of mathematics. Their art and architecture was and remains beautiful in its representations. They were a remarkably advanced people but without much reason their influence began to wane around the thirteenth century. Today there are maybe six or seven million Mayan people left living mostly in Guatemala and the Yucatan Peninsula, often in impoverished conditions.

There are many theories as to what may have happened to this once thriving society. Drought may have brought famine. Disease may have decimated the population. War with other tribes like the Aztecs may have resulted in great losses. Mostly though it was the arrival of the Spanish that spelled doom for the Mayan people. They greeted the white men from across the ocean as though they were gods and soon enough found that they were not destined to be treated well by the invaders. The people and their lands were commandeered and they were forced to learn and speak only Spanish, as well as to follow the Catholic faith of the missionaries who came to “civilize” the new world.

There had once been vast libraries of Mayan writing but the Spanish colonists feared the strange hieroglyphs and burned most of the volumes that they found thinking that they were works of the devil. By the nineteenth century the Mayan language was all but wiped out and only a handful of Mayan texts had survived. Many of the great structures lay in tangled mounds in the jungle, seemingly forgotten and laid to waste. The Mayan people were neglected as well, often spending their days growing corn and living in primitive conditions without education. It was difficult for them or anyone to realize how great their ancestors had once been.

In the mid nineteenth century a few people around the world began to take an interest in the forgotten civilization. One by one ruins from the past were uncovered and studies of the mysterious structures commenced. Of particular interest were the strange symbols that appeared to represent some type of writing. It would not be until the middle of the twentieth century for the complex characters to be translated by some very unlikely young people, including a twelve year old boy. Once the secrets of the forms were discovered a treasure trove of history and ideas was revealed to a startled public that suddenly realized how advanced this society had actually been.

During my recent visit to Cancun I was fortunate to be able to visit one of the premier Mayan ruins in the world at Chichen Itza. This had once been a great city that was developed toward the end of the Mayan era. It featured a grand pyramid that was as remarkable for its astrological features as its architecture. It is a mathematical wonder based on a three hundred sixty five day year with a total of three hundred sixty four stairs and a temple at the to complete the total. The pyramid itself represents the three states of existence, including the earthly condition, the underworld and heaven.

The Mayan people believed that when they died they would first visit the underworld which was not a bad place. Instead it was where they would have to complete certain tasks before they would be allowed to enter heaven. Much of their art and architecture alludes to birth, death and the final ascension into heaven with the gods.

During the time of the spring and autumn equinox a shadow appears to wriggle along the main staircases on the sides of the pyramid giving the impression of a snake slithering along. To this very day crowds gather to watch this strange and fascinating  occurrence. It must have been quite magical to the ancient Mayans who saw it as a deeply religious experience.

The Mayans were farmers who depended on the production of corn but they were also great warriors who for a time dominated opposing tribes. They prepared their young men for battle by staging ballgames on a field that still exists at Chichen Itza. It is a long area enclosed by stone walls featuring the imagery of a snake and hieroglyphs and carvings that tell stories of the great leaders and events. The structure was built in such a way that it carries sound quite well so that the audience would have been able to hear announcements without the need of microphones or sound enhancing methods. Along the side walls there are large stone circles through which the athletes were to toss heavy balls using only their arms, legs and feet but no hands. The winners were lauded but the losers often became sacrifices to the gods. It was truly a blood sport and the letting of blood featured heavily in many of the religious ceremonies as well. There was definitely an element of extreme violence even among people who appeared to have so much knowledge about the natural world.

Chichen Itza is remarkably well preserved and features enough buildings to give a real impression of how large this city was. One structure boasts a rather quaint feature. If a group of people clap their hands in unison the sound of a local bird echoes through the air. Yet another wall depicts a man with a beard, a strange aspect given that the Mayans did not grow hair on their faces. Many theories have been developed regarding who this unlikely character may have been. Mayan legends tell of a tall white blue eyed man coming to the land in a huge boat and teaching the people many important things about farming and astronomy. He is said to have told them as he was leaving that he would one day return but he cautioned them to be wary of other strangers who might look like him but would be violent rather than benign.

Chichen Itza is about a two hour drive from Cancun. The best way to go these days is with a tour. Driving alone is not advised because the journey winds its way through miles of jungle and there are still worries that members of cartels may take advantage of unwitting visitors. We chose an all day tour that also took us to an old colonial town where we were able to visit San Sebastian Church and see the modern day Mayans at work. We also stopped at a lovely restaurant for lunch where we had an opportunity to shop for local works of art. After a guided tour of the Chichen Itza site we went to a cenote which is a sink hole caused by the collapse of land around an underground river. It was literally a kind of oasis in the middle of brutal heat and humidity. Many of the younger tourists took a dip in the one hundred fifty foot deep waters cooling themselves after a very hot day.

I’m now on a crusade to learn more about the Mayan civilization. I have purchased books and watched documentaries in an effort to discover the history and the accomplishments of a people who built centers of great knowledge at a time when my own ancestors were probably wandering from one place to another hunting and gathering just to stay alive. Visiting Chichen Itza was a mind altering kind of trip and I totally recommend the adventure. 

Tough People

Tough times don’t last, but tough people do. — Unknown

I have known individuals who seemed capable of walking on glass through fire. I remember hearing about a young man who was in a plane crash with all of the members of his family. He was the only survivor. To put it mildly he in fact appeared to define the idea of surviving. With the support and love of his relatives he somehow managed to grow into a happy and well adjusted man. I wondered how he did so. I imagined myself falling apart and being an emotional basket case for the remainder of my life if I had to endure the same circumstances.

I have often found myself thinking about the survivors of the Holocaust who walked out of those concentration camps with nothing but their own lives. I’ve read that in many cases they were not even given the opportunity to return to their former homes. They were all alone, sick, with only dreary prospects for the future, but they somehow found the courage to not only continue, but to become inspirations for all who knew them. The human spirit is indeed remarkable.

At the same time there are those who are so fragile. Like delicate glass figurines they are sometimes beaten down by the circumstances that befall them. The chemistry in their brains goes awry or they are saddled with such severe disabilities that they are unable to lead anything even close to what we might think of as normal lives.

I had a dear friend who suffered from chronic depression. When she was well she was almost magical. Her talents were extraordinary and she was more generous than anyone I have ever known. Without warning her mind would fall into a dark abyss over and over again. Her melancholy prevented her from working or even handling routine activities around her house. She hated being subjected to the spells that so impeded her ability to maintain a sense of constancy, and in spite of regular visits to doctors and faithful attention to medication and therapies, her episodes returned again and again. It would have been so wrong to imply that somehow she was not a tough person, but in truth she earned a reputation as someone who was undependable. It broke my heart to witness the judgements that she endured because she was amazingly adept at keeping her head above water. She clung tenaciously to life and her faith, never losing hope even in her darkest hours.

We have so many platitudes that seem to eliminate the efforts of certain people. We certainly herald the brave souls who come back full force from daunting challenges, but we often overlook those for whom the recovery is not nearly as simple. Addictions are particularly difficult to overcome. It’s not always easy to just say no. Those who eventually eliminate offensive drugs or foods or beverages fight quiet battles every minute of every day that are not always obvious. We chastise and nag them when they fall prey to the temptations but rarely give them the credit that they are due for making it through one more day without harming themselves with the things that they so crave.

Each of us will face tough times now and again in our lives. We will engage in fights to overcome all sorts of difficulties. We may have to walk away from an abusive relationship or watch someone who is dear to us die. We may find ourselves feeling insecure on a job that seems to demand more than we think we have. We sometimes wonder if our parenting skills are sufficient to help guide our children into adulthood. We will all have those moments of feeling overwhelmed by the barrage of failures, disappointments and losses that beat us down.

Tough people do not handle everything perfectly, but they do keep trying, sometimes with tears of frustration streaming down their faces. They get up each morning and start all over again, but they also know when they need to just stay in bed to rest for the big race that is to come. Knowing when and how to be really good to yourself is part of being strong. There really is a time for tears and another for laughter. Our emotions and anxieties often remind us of just how human we really are and there is nothing wrong with that. In fact, those who are never willing to admit that they are tired, confused, angry or lost are most likely going to explode at some point.

I find it refreshing when someone reaches out for help. It is not an easy thing to do, but it demonstrates great strength and wisdom. I often wish that my mother would have been more willing to accept the help that was so often offered to her. She insisted on denying that she had any problems whatsoever when in fact she was drowning in her efforts to be totally independent of others. I have often suspected that by attempting to control her emotions so tightly she actually made the symptoms of her mental illness more pronounced. Sometimes surrender is the best thing that we might do for ourselves on the road to getting better.

One of the most encouraging things that I ever read was that St. Mother Theresa sometimes questioned her own faith. Such a revelation reminded me that even someone as saintly as she was finds themselves in the very human position of temporarily losing hope. It is not in those moments that we are measured, but in how we pull ourselves out of the dark ditches into which we fall. We are our toughest when we rise from the deepest pits.

The Leftovers

leftoverheader3We humans are so incredibly complex. Even those of us who grow up in the exact same household with the same parents will be unique, just a bit unlike one another. We see beauty in different ways and are attracted to works of art according to our own preferences. We demonstrate our emotions in a multitude of ways, and when tragedy strikes there is no one manner in which every single one of us will react.

An amazing television production completed its final season a few weeks ago. The Leftovers was an offering of HBO that never quite caught the attention of a wide ranging audience, but it became a cult favorite of enough individuals to keep it alive for a year longer than HBO management intended. I am among those who believed from the very beginning that I was watching a masterpiece of theater unfold before my very eyes and I was rarely disappointed.

The Leftovers takes us to a situation in which people suddenly and quite randomly disappear on an otherwise normal October day. There is no rhyme or reason that explains who was selected or why certain people were left behind. Some families were not affected at all and others were decimated. It was a mysterious tragedy that left most of the world bereft and focused on dealing with the emotions that might accompany such a strange happening.

The story that unfolds introduces us to a cast of characters from Mapleton, New York who are dealing with the trauma each in his or her own way. The power of the program lies in the unveiling of the individual emotions of those people, and the actors portray them with a craft that is worthy of every possible award. They bring a humanity and believability to the stories even when they become far fetched indeed.

I don’t believe that anybody ever intended the audience to see the sequence of events in The Leftovers as anything other than allegories and metaphors for life. The plot unfolds in a kind of dreamlike sequence that strains credibility if one demands rational explanations. Instead it should be viewed much as one considers an abstract painting in which reality takes many forms. The best way to watch The Leftovers is as a tour de force of imagery and acting that is superior to most of the simple minded fodder on television.

In its three seasons the story moves from New York to Texas to Australia. I happened to be camping in McKinney Falls State Park in Austin when some of the Texas sequences were being filmed there. It was fun to see the images of places so familiar to me. My granddaughter was called for a role in the program that summer, but when they learned that she was not yet twelve they had to turn her away because the work would have been too dangerous for a younger child. I suspect that it might also have been a bit traumatic as well because The Leftovers is a show that is never fearful of taking emotional climaxes to the very limit.

This series is not for the faint of heart. It ruthlessly studies our humanity and the ways in which we choose to deal with tragedy or attempt to ignore it. Ultimately it becomes a story about love. It looks at questions of faith and portrays true believers as well as agnostics. It does not attempt to provide the audience with any kind of answers, but instead tempts us to think about such things and wonder how we might react if we were to endure a similar situation. I keeps the mysteries of our existence in the realm of unanswered questions, leaving us to decide for ourselves what everything that we see actually means.

I have discussed this series with a number of people who were discouraged from watching by the ephemeral feel of the story. I suppose that they require a bit more closure and reality than I do. I find myself agreeing with Bob Dylan, the most recent winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature, that if the words and ideas of an artistic endeavor somehow sound good to us, we will imprint our own meanings on them. For me The Leftovers is a journey into a kind of hell much like Dante’s Inferno. It shows the dark places that we take ourselves as we search for meaning in an often cruel and confusing world. It provides us with a small taste of optimism as well in demonstrating that it is in the relationships that we somehow manage to build even when the worst happens that we ultimately find our salvation.

Everything about The Leftovers is so carefully considered for its impact. The music is as important as the script. The images are often like great paintings from the most masterful of artists. The acting is so real and intense that it often leaves those of us in the audience breathless. It is like watching a moving definition of beauty and truth.

I am sometimes reluctant to recommend The Leftovers to anyone because it is the essence of a figurative world where every aspect of the show means something and those meanings can be very different for each person. If you tend toward the literal this program probably won’t work for you, but if you are willing to suspend reality for the sake of pure art then you may be in for a treat.

For those of us who are huge fans of this program it is sad to realize that it is no more, but it is also true that elongating the story for the sake of keeping it going would undoubtedly detract from its ultimate beauty. The Leftovers is a masterpiece that will be studied by writers, actors and directors for years to come. I’m glad that I was part of the audience that understood its genius from the very beginning. I will miss Kevin and Nora and Matt and the others, but I am thankful that they came into my life for three years and provided me with a glimpse of brilliance.

Shame Shame

ShameGirlThere was an episode while I was still a school girl when the members of my class grew a bit rowdy. As anyone who knew me back then will attest I generally did my best to be a good girl, and so I was not involved in the mischief even though I secretly would have liked to have been. My teacher was having a very bad time and she ended up reading the riot act to all of us. She told us that we were perhaps one of the worst groups of students that she had ever taught and then proceeded to keep us all after school to complete a grueling punishment.

I was filled with anger because I knew that I had done nothing, and yet I was subjected to a group trial so to speak. On top of everything else it took me longer than most of my classmates to finish the task that she assigned. By the time that I was turning it in to her all but one other student had already gone home. The teacher smiled at me and whispered that she was sorry that I had been part of her humiliating lecture and subsequent sentence because she knew that I had been totally innocent of all of the bad behaviors that had resulted in the group shaming.

I was quietly stunned by her admission and simply left the classroom without saying a word. My sense of fairness had been badly wounded and I lost respect for the harried educator after that. In fact, I’ve spent most of my life believing that indicting entire groups of people because of the wrongdoings of a few is quite horrible. Unfortunately it appears to almost be a national past time of late.

Our society is playing a demeaning and dangerous game of laying guilt trips on whole groups without real thought. Instead emotions are at an all time high rather than rationality. We have created so many “isms” that it is difficult to keep up with all of them. It sometimes feels as though we are being shamed just for existing.

We have those who are criticized for their bodies. They are too overweight or too thin. They eat the wrong things or wear the wrong clothes. They don’t exercise enough or have become too obsessed with attempts to make themselves more perfect. No matter which way individuals choose to go there will be someone just waiting to inform them of the error of their lifestyles. Sadly we now have young children who are constantly weighing themselves and pushing food away because of concerns that they not measure up to some nebulous definition of how we should be.

Some are being told how horrible they are because they vote a particular way or live in a certain kind of neighborhood or house. It often feels that just being born makes one guilty of some egregious crime. Sadly it’s difficult to know what that may be until the accusations start flying. Even just quietly minding one’s own business is often viewed as demonstrating a lack of compassion or justice.

I read an editorial recently in which the author criticized Katy Perry for being too nice. This person felt that Ms. Perry’s attempts at being diplomatic and bridging compromises between people was a sure sign that she was not as “woke” as she pretended to be. In fact the writer asserted that Ms. Perry needed to choose sides quickly or be viewed as a total fraud.

I was stunned to actually read words indicating that anyone who attempts to stride along a middle ground or tries to be kind to everyone is actually worse than those who are honest enough to rant and rave. I found myself wondering what we have come to when common decency is judged to be our biggest problem. I suppose that I sound very old and out of it when I suggest that we might all cease with the judging and name calling, especially when we don’t even know the people that we are attacking.

One truism that I learned as an educator is that if one carries on with continuous nagging and negativity people will eventually quit listening at all. I suspect that we are quite close to that situation. I find that few people want to discuss anything in a meaningful way anymore. They simply want to be left alone to lead their respective lives as they wish. They have grown weary of being misunderstood by people who won’t even take the time to learn the facts. They are eschewing the laziness of judgements like my teacher of long ago made. Such opinions are mattering less and less.

I fear that many innocents are being hurt because they feel overcome by the stereotyping and ignorance of our current ways. I know we have gone too far when we even have a local television station sending out an email headline filled with inuendo that advertises a story about “the confederacy era hero, Sam Houston.” The fact is that Sam Houston had many character flaws but being a confederacy era hero was not one of them. He was the governor of Texas at the time when most of the southern states were seceding from the union and he unequivocally pronounced his opposition to having Texas become a member of the Confederacy. He was ousted from office as a result.

At the same time that we are being so critical of so many aspects of our humanity, our history and our philosophies, we are also becoming less and less willing to listen to opposing points of view. We shut certain people down immediately simply because we believe that we already know what they are going to say and we find their comments to be so offensive that we are willing to deny them their first amendment rights. Journalists whose job it is to bring even horror into the light of day are being ostracized if they allow certain individuals to speak.

We are shouting constantly at one another and putting our heads into the sand at one and the same time. Nobody is exempt these days and we find ourselves wondering what if anything that we hear is true. We have lost our way and it’s time that we found our way back to a sense of fairness and decency and honesty. Not that Katy Perry is a paragon of thought, but we have to ask ourselves what is wrong with her idea of seeking to be nice.

I dislike much of mankind’s actions of the past, but I do not in any way feel responsible for things that I did not do. I refuse to feel shamed or to accept punishment for ideas that have never been mine. I don’t prescribe to wearing a hair shirt and beating up myself or anyone else for that matter. Our history is what it is and the best we can do is learn from it, not continue to divide ourselves over it. Even if we to were remove every last hint of wrong doing from our memories and paste scarlet letters or six pointed stars on those that we fear or despise we will only end up repeating the sins of the past. Shaming has never been an effective means of correcting behaviors, but it often leads to egregious crimes of inhumanity. We’ve used a bit too much of it of late and I suggest that we take ourselves off of this path before we find ourselves in places that we would rather not be.