This continued blog-journey from Part II was inspired by and liberally borrowed from a classic book and well-known 19th century American writer you may recognize. I’ve added some modernized twists.
Pilgrim Life, Amusements, and Opinions At Sea
For a week or so there were no conflicts of jurisdiction between the many various captains onboard, surprisingly on such a pleasure ship at sea. However, there was as much sameness as there was intrigue. Many pilgrims began acquiring sailor terminology:
“Half-past six was no longer half-past six to these pilgrims from New England, the South, and the Mississippi Valley, it was “seven bells”; eight, twelve, and four o’clock were “eight bells”; the captain did not take the longitude at nine o’clock, but at “two bells.” They spoke glibly of the “after cabin,” the “for’rard cabin,” “port and starboard” and the “fo’castle.””
I feared we’d soon have as many Ensigns as we had Captains and most were still miserably seasick. Where is the pleasure in that? Many found various games to play such as dominoes and identifying distant ships through opera-glasses. One very popular game was “Horse-billiards,” though popular I suppose only if winning or as a casual spectator. Horse-billiards “affords good, active exercise, hilarity, and consuming excitement. It is a mixture of “hop-scotch” and shuffleboard played with a crutch.” What makes the game so entertaining is scientific timing and calculations. With a long gangly crutch players vigorously thrust their wooden disks forward — right, not what you’re thinking — for different points in different squares; no points if your disk stops on a line. You must cross the line or stop short of the line. Easy, right?
No. One must account for the reeling of the ship starboard, port, fore, or aft. Many a scientific calculation resulted in a disk going off the entire hopscotch board, down a gangway, or worse slip back to where you thrusted… or apparently not. The ladies seemed to enjoy this mishap the most.
By half-past 7 o’clock when the bell tolled for… prayers, we pilgrims would promenade to the handsome saloon, otherwise known as the “Synagogue” by the unregenerated. Our “hymns were accompanied by parlor-organ music when the sea was smooth enough to allow a performer to sit at the instrument without being lashed to his chair.” Not too unlike those twitchers in front of long-winded ministers I suppose.
“Several times the photographer of the expedition brought out his transparent pictures and gave us a handsome magic-lantern exhibition. His views were nearly all of foreign scenes, but there were one or two home pictures among them. He advertised that he would “open his performance in the after cabin at ‘two bells’ (nine P.M.) and show the passengers where they shall eventually arrive”—which was all very well, but by a funny accident the first picture that flamed out upon the canvas was a view of Greenwood Cemetery!”
On the upper deck we performed what should appear as ballroom dancing underneath the canvas awnings with rows of lanterns hung from the ship’s deck-posts. But with all the brilliant lighting underneath the glittering stars, the dancing was not so brilliant nor graceful.
“Our music consisted of the well-mixed strains of a melodeon which was a little asthmatic and apt to catch its breath where it ought to come out strong, a clarinet which was a little unreliable on the high keys and rather melancholy on the low ones, and a disreputable accordion that had a leak somewhere and breathed louder than it squawked—a more elegant term does not occur to me just now. However, the dancing was infinitely worse than the music. When the ship rolled to starboard the whole platoon of dancers came charging down to starboard with it, and brought up in mass at the rail; and when it rolled to port they went floundering down to port with the same unanimity of sentiment. Waltzers spun around precariously for a matter of fifteen seconds and then went scurrying down to the rail as if they meant to go overboard.”
In order to save some level of dignity, we gave up dancing.
It seemed quite appropriate that what should follow our meager attempts of ballroom music and dancing would be a mock trial. Naval tradition dictates a dummy crime, law-enforcement, an accuser and defendant, a courtroom, a judge, and of course witnesses. Witnesses that are unsure of what they witnessed which makes for gripping amusement onboard a presently mundane pleasure excursion on the high seas. The judge hammers his gavel.
“The purser was accused of stealing an overcoat from stateroom No. 10. A judge was appointed; also clerks, a crier of the court, constables, sheriffs; counsel for the State and for the defendant; witnesses were subpoenaed, and a jury empaneled after much challenging. The witnesses were stupid and unreliable and contradictory, as witnesses always are. The counsel were eloquent, argumentative, and vindictively abusive of each other, as was characteristic and proper. The case was at last submitted and duly finished by the judge with an absurd decision and a ridiculous sentence.”
Shortly after the guilty purser was catapulted overboard for his overcoat crime, a debate club was formed to argue the benefits of human catapults. But it failed. It was no less successful than the evening’s dancing, for there were no oratorical talents to be found anywhere on the ship. Perhaps the fear of being catapulted into the raging sea for lack of oratory skill or grasp of an elementary vocabulary — reminiscent of an American President who can’t read a teleprompter — dashed their ambitions.
Had the debate club been successfully created, the first issue addressed would most certainly be the singing. There are some passengers that question the quality of song, myself included, and its consequences during our precarious voyage. Many a superstitious sailor and unregenerated passengers would attribute our strong head-winds to unhappy muses of Apollo. Should this mockery of song and dance continue, there could be retribution to pay:
“There were those who said openly that it was taking chances enough to have such ghastly music going on, even when it was at its best; and that to exaggerate the crime by letting George help was simply flying in the face of Providence. These said that the choir would keep up their lacerating attempts at melody until they would bring down a storm some day that would sink the ship.
There were even grumblers at the prayers. The executive officer said the pilgrims had no charity: “There they are, down there every night at eight bells, praying for fair winds—when they know as well as I do that this is the only ship going east this time of the year, but there’s a thousand coming west—what’s a fair wind for us is a head wind to them—the Almighty’s blowing a fair wind for a thousand vessels, and this tribe wants him to turn it clear around so as to accommodate one—and she a steamship at that! It ain’t good sense, it ain’t good reason, it ain’t good Christianity, it ain’t common human charity. Avast with such nonsense!””
Land-Hoh, Sketchy Mathematics, and Cheer Restored
The twenty-four hundred nautical miles from New York Harbor to the Azores was in good naval terms: “by and large“ pleasant. Yes, disgruntled sea gods blew unfavorable head-winds upon our vessel and asthmatic singing. Yes, well over half our passenger manifest were seasick from the Quaker City being thrown to and fro — which ironically enough helped with our ballroom dancing. But for the most part, the first leg of our journey had temperate summer days and finer evenings under starlit heavens with a full moon that followed us at the same hour every night. “It was becoming an old moon to the friends we had left behind us, but to us Joshuas it stood still in the same place and remained always the same.” This caused quite the stir to some unknowing gazers as if we had the celestial white balloon tethered to our mast.
Then the trip’s charm ended at a most unfortunate hour.
“At three o’clock on the morning of the twenty-first of June, we were awakened and notified that the Azores islands were in sight. I said I did not take any interest in islands at three o’clock in the morning. But another persecutor came, and then another and another, and finally believing that the general enthusiasm would permit no one to slumber in peace, I got up and went sleepily on deck. It was five and a half o’clock now, and a raw, blustering morning. The passengers were huddled about the smoke-stacks and fortified behind ventilators, and all were wrapped in wintry costumes and looking sleepy and unhappy in the pitiless gale and the drenching spray.”
Why a mound of mud in the water was such a sight to sacrifice sweet slumber, I can only guess. Perhaps the fine entertainment on our tossing and turning ship had been enough to find hope and relief on land? For the unregenerated, sleep can easily serve the same purpose.
We pilgrims soon moved on to the island of San Miguel and Fayal. Mr. Blucher was so overjoyed that we were finally on firm, unmoving ground that he proposed a grand feast with fine food and flowing spirits.
“[Blucher]had heard it was a cheap land, and he was bound to have a grand banquet. He invited nine of us, and we ate an excellent dinner at the principal hotel. In the midst of the jollity produced by good cigars, good wine, and passable anecdotes, the landlord presented his bill. Blucher glanced at it and his countenance fell. He took another look to assure himself that his senses had not deceived him and then read the items aloud, in a faltering voice, while the roses in his cheeks turned to ashes:
“‘Ten dinners, at 600 reis, 6,000 reis!’ Ruin and desolation! “‘Twenty-five cigars, at 100 reis, 2,500 reis!’ Oh, my sainted mother! “‘Eleven bottles of wine, at 1,200 reis, 13,200 reis!’ Be with us all!
“‘TOTAL, TWENTY-ONE THOUSAND SEVEN HUNDRED REIS!’ The suffering Moses! There ain’t money enough in the ship to pay that bill! Go—leave me to my misery, boys, I am a ruined community.””
All seemed lost for the Blucher lad. What prison cell awaits this pilgrim? As the clichés go, a dropped pin could be heard or a mouse sniffing in the corner the silence was so deafening. Blank stares everywhere at one another, wine glasses slowly returned to the table-top, their paletted beauty untasted. Fingers no longer held their cigars dropped into their smoke-trays. There seemed no looks of hope or encouragement about, only thoughts and glances of a quick escape, scatterment through the nearest exits. Blucher stood up and exclaimed loudly:
“Landlord, this is a low, mean swindle, and I’ll never, never stand it. Here’s a hundred and fifty dollars, Sir, and it’s all you’ll get—I’ll swim in blood before I’ll pay a cent more.”
Our spirits rose and the landlord’s fell—at least we thought so; he was confused, at any rate, notwithstanding he had not understood a word that had been said. He glanced from the little pile of gold pieces to Blucher several times and then went out. He must have visited an American, for when he returned, he brought back his bill translated into a language that a Christian could understand—thus:
10 dinners, 6,000 reis, or $6.00 25 cigars, 2,500 reis, or $2.50 11 bottles wine, 13,200 reis, or $13.20
Total 21,700 reis, or $21.70
Though one might wonder in bafflement the mechanisms of Christian mathematics, and that foreign exchange rates serve a particular purpose, and that it is indeed wise to have at least a basic understanding of these global concepts, happiness and frolicking returned to Blucher’s party and another round of drink was ordered!
Three cheers for native math and ignorant travellers! Hip-hip… HOORAY!
Now for my modern version of fine Victorian ballroom dancing as our pilgrims progress to Paris… “Giuchie, Giuchie, ya ya dada.”
This continued blog-journey from Part I was inspired by and liberally borrowed from a classic book and well-known 19th century American writer you may recognize. I’ve added some modernized twists.
Pleasuring and Measuring Sea, Passengers, and Crew
All day and night our ship was anchored in the Upper Bay. Yes, our great pleasure excursion had traversed a full two (2 I say!) nautical miles so that we may take in the rain-drenched shores of Brooklyn to the portside, New Jersey to starboard. Ahead of us beyond the Lower Bay and out to sea the storm was not yet finished with its mayhem. Waves churned up hills of sud and seafoam at the harbor’s mouth, beyond there only the bold and daring would ascertain. Thus, with no quarrels from one single passenger it was “unanimously” decided the Quaker City’s second departure would begin the following day should the sea and weather accomodate.
Our Sunday view from our quaint restless cabin port
This idleness allowed for more heavenly prayer and church hymns making us all more idealy situated should any misfortune befall our voyage. Up at first light I briskly made my way to breakfast and with good reason.
“I felt a perfectly natural desire to have a good, long, unprejudiced look at the passengers at a time when they should be free from self-consciousness—which is at breakfast, when such a moment occurs in the lives of human beings at all.
I was greatly surprised to see so many elderly people—I might almost say, so many venerable people. A glance at the long lines of heads was apt to make one think it was all gray. But it was not. There was a tolerably fair sprinkling of young folks, and another fair sprinkling of gentlemen and ladies who were non-committal as to age, being neither actually old or absolutely young.”
As hoped, a day later we heaved anchor and set out to sea, the storm less than mighty than the day before, yet unwilling to subside entirely. It appeared we elustrious passengers would be “tested” first to measure what fibers we had during the self-conscious hours and the ruckus sea would oblige. Finally departing there was a cheerful sigh on deck: we were headed eastward and the American coastline began to fade. The broad and rolling ocean ahead had a different sort of welcome in mind.
“One could not promenade without risking his neck; at one moment the bowsprit was taking a deadly aim at the sun in midheaven, and at the next it was trying to harpoon a shark in the bottom of the ocean. What a weird sensation it is to feel the stern of a ship sinking swiftly from under you and see the bow climbing high away among the clouds! One’s safest course that day was to clasp a railing and hang on; walking was too precarious a pastime.”
However, should you have in your possession a mess-hall serving tray and a bar of deck soap, given the present seas you could easily travel from one end of the ship’s corridor in the stern straight to the bow (almost) in a most expeditious and harrowing manner — if timed just right with the troughs and crests. But fair warning, ill-timed starts would result in ill-timed endings. One’s most astute calculus is recommended, for the safety of self, property, and select others targeted.
To my pleasant surprise and good fortune I was not seasick. I found great joy in their gastronomic state and my lack of — for I had not always been so lucky.
“If there is one thing in the world that will make a man peculiarly and insufferably self-conceited, it is to have his stomach behave itself, the first day at sea, when nearly all his comrades are seasick.”
It was about that moment, while outside near the after deck-house door, that one of our esteemed travelers of some age and great wisdom, heavily wrapped like a mummy from chin to toe, lunged out with the ship’s downward plunge right into my arms:
“Good-morning, Sir. It is a fine day.”
He put his hand on his stomach and said, “Oh, my!” and then staggered away and fell over the coop of a skylight.
Presently another old gentleman was projected from the same door with great violence. I said:
“Calm yourself, Sir—There is no hurry. It is a fine day, Sir.”
He, also, put his hand on his stomach and said “Oh, my!” and reeled away.
In a little while another veteran was discharged abruptly from the same door, clawing at the air for a saving support. I said:
“Good morning, Sir. It is a fine day for pleasuring. You were about to say—”
I thought so. I anticipated him, anyhow. I stayed there and was bombarded with old gentlemen for an hour, perhaps; and all I got out of any of them was “Oh, my!”
I went away then in a thoughtful mood. I said, this is a good pleasure excursion. I like it. The passengers are not garrulous, but still they are sociable. I like those old people, but somehow they all seem to have the “Oh, my” rather bad.
While climbing up the stairs to the quarter-deck from the many rushing and thrown to the side rails to share the day’s meals with the sea, the bow of the vessel reaching up to the sky, I took a big puff of my cigar feeling quite bold that Poseidon kindly favored me rather than our geriatric Oh-my’ers, when someone shouted: “Come, now, that won’t answer. Read the sign up there—NO SMOKING ABAFT THE WHEEL!” It was Captain Duncan, the excursion’s chief. I damped out my tasty tobacco, nodded in acknowledgement, and continued my way forward. In a pursuit to discover and understand ways of naval travel, I found a spyglass in an upper-deck state-room behind the pilot-house. Ah, another ship off the horizon. Then another shout: “Ah, ah—hands off! Come out of that!” I exited as commanded, found a lowly deck-sweep and inquired:
“Who is that overgrown pirate with the whiskers and the discordant voice?”
I loitered about awhile, and then, for want of something better to do, fell to carving a railing with my knife. Somebody said, in an insinuating, admonitory voice:
“Now, say—my friend—don’t you know any better than to be whittling the ship all to pieces that way? You ought to know better than that.”
I went back and found the deck sweep.
“Who is that smooth-faced, animated outrage yonder in the fine clothes?”
“That’s Captain L****, the owner of the ship—he’s one of the main bosses.”
Realizing that the port side of the Quaker City was overcrowded with more Don’ts than Do’s, I took my curiosity starboard. There on that side of the pilot-house lay a sextant on the bench asking for my close examination. I told myself, they look to the sun as such, and I had hoped to relocate that ship in the distance. With my eye and hands on the instrument no more than three innocent seconds, a tap on the shoulder followed by yet another detesting voice:
“I’ll have to get you to give that to me, Sir. If there’s anything you’d like to know about taking the sun, I’d as soon tell you as not—but I don’t like to trust anybody with that instrument. If you want any figuring done—Aye, aye, sir!”
I began deducing there was apparently very little a paying passenger could tinker with save your cabin’s lavatory toilet-tissue and soap, and perhaps there too one required first a full naval inquiry. I ventured to find the deck-sweep once more for more future Don’ts.
“Who is that spider-legged gorilla yonder with the sanctimonious countenance?”
“It’s Captain Jones, sir—the chief mate.”
“Well. This goes clear away ahead of anything I ever heard of before. Do you—now I ask you as a man and a brother—do you think I could venture to throw a rock here in any given direction without hitting a captain of this ship?”
The wise sailor advised against given that the Captain of the Watch — a vessel’s sheriff if you will — was standing just over there quite interested in my probing curiosity. With my tour of investigating dashed…
“I went below—meditating and a little downhearted. I thought, if five cooks can spoil a broth, what may not five captains do with a pleasure excursion.”
Aristippus of Cyrene once said “The vice[of pleasure]lies not in entering the bordello, but in not coming out.” Let us hope there are not so many captains disembarking at our destinations. As a wise Irish friend once told me, some cause happiness wherever they go, and others whenever they go.
This blog-journey was inspired by and liberally borrowed from a classic book and well-known 19th century American writer you may recognize. I’ve added my modernized twists.
The Programme and Bombastic Hubbub
The travel itinerary had been released months earlier. The 163-day voyage would make port in The Azores, Britain’s Gibraltar, Marseilles, Rome, Athens, Constantinople, Odessa, Smyrna, Beirut, Jerusalem, Alexandria, Tangiers, Bermuda, and home to New York harbor. Only a few select passengers would be chosen for this fashionably grand journey across the Atlantic. It was to be a who’s who list of celebrities to far away places that most could only dream. Quickly the trip was the talk of the country as much as the names to be offered tickets of passage.
“It was a novelty in the way of excursions—its like had not been thought of before, and it compelled that interest which attractive novelties always command. It was to be a picnic on a gigantic scale. The participants in it, instead of freighting an ungainly steam ferry—boat with youth and beauty and pies and doughnuts, and paddling up some obscure creek to disembark upon a grassy lawn and wear themselves out with a long summer day’s laborious frolicking under the impression that it was fun, were to sail away in a great steamship with flags flying and cannon pealing, and take a royal holiday beyond the broad ocean in many a strange clime and in many a land renowned in history!”
So how does one finagle himself past the stringent bowelless “Committee On Applications” and onto a prestigious vessel with numerous notable travelers? Voilà! Utilize a popular Shakespearian tactic known as inflated nothingness:
“I referred to all the people of high standing I could think of in the community who would be least likely to know anything about me.”
Having miraculously been selected as one of the traveling “select,” a supplemental programme arrived in the postal box. It informs the passengers boarding, the Quaker City will be graced by the celebrated Plymouth Collection of Hymns for heavenly song. A more joyous activity can scarcely be found. There were more pragmatic items to be addressed:
“This supplementary program also instructed the excursionists to provide themselves with light musical instruments for amusement in the ship, with saddles for Syrian travel, green spectacles and umbrellas, veils for Egypt, and substantial clothing to use in rough pilgrimizing in the Holy Land. Furthermore, it was suggested that although the ship’s library would afford a fair amount of reading matter, it would still be well if each passenger would provide himself with a few guidebooks, a Bible, and some standard works of travel. A list was appended, which consisted chiefly of books relating to the Holy Land, since the Holy Land was part of the excursion and seemed to be its main feature.”
With such acclaimed fanfare and America’s social prominents and acolytes, surely there was more ornation to be done! A renown physician and reverend upon the passenger list perhaps? Someone from the Ben Carson and Billy Graham family lines would conflate this voyage nicely and return America To Greatness in the eyes of the world, yes?
“Reverend [Carson] was to have accompanied the expedition, but urgent duties obliged him to give up the idea. There were other passengers who could have been spared better and would have been spared more willingly. Lieutenant General [Rex Tillerson] was to have been of the party also, but the [Russian deals and collusion] compelled his presence on the plains [of Siberia]. A popular actress had entered her name on the ship’s books, but something interfered and she couldn’t go. The “Drummer Boy of the Potomac” deserted, and lo, we had never a celebrity left!”
Alas, the August proportions of wonderous pomp and circumstance and snazzy names were pruned down or rescued despite the vivacious programme to the City of Amour, the Sultans of Constantinople, the enlightened Greek culture of Smyrna, the hallowed martyrs of Jerusalem and Jericho, concluding with native Bermudians. With such effervescent destinations, nay, what chance there be for any fuss?
Final Preparations and Bon Voyage
Curious about the goings on at the slip where the Quaker City underwent some refitting, questions about the additions and non-additions were about and murmurings of why. As departure loomed the details of the steamer, amenities, and personalities of the “select” versus the unselective rattled ears and out of mouths. It seemed the adventure had already begun and the great ship had no more cargo than it had when her builders laid the keel, let alone cast off from port. What more could possibly add to the anticipation?
“I was glad to know that we were to have a little printing press on board and issue a daily newspaper of our own. I was glad to learn that our piano, our parlor organ, and our melodeon were to be the best instruments of the kind that could be had in the market. I was proud to observe that among our excursionists were three ministers of the gospel, eight doctors, sixteen or eighteen ladies, several military and naval chieftains with sounding titles, an ample crop of “Professors” of various kinds, and a gentleman who had “COMMISSIONER OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA TO EUROPE, ASIA, AND AFRICA” thundering after his name in one awful blast!”
Clearly I have found myself outclassed and outgunned. If I hadn’t so little to offer, I would reconsider my risks among such company, but the allure and majesty of a Mediterranean excursion complete with all possible luxuries, history, spirit and drink had transfixed my compass beyond reason or caution. Why was this particular organic cargo necessary? How many enemies has this gaudy, trumpish man bred?
“I fell under that titular avalanche a torn and blighted thing. I said that if that potentate must go over in our ship, why, I supposed he must—but that to my thinking, when the United States considered it necessary to send a [trum-pity] dignitary of that tonnage across the ocean, it would be in better taste, and safer, to take him apart and cart him over in sections in several ships.
Ah, if I had only known then that he was only a common mortal [posing as an orange Zeus], and that his mission had nothing more overpowering about it than the collecting of seeds and uncommon yams and extraordinary cabbages and peculiar bullfrogs for that poor, useless, innocent, mildewed old fossil the Smithsonian Institute, I would have felt so much relieved.”
Soon enough the call went out, the Quaker City was ready to receive her illustrious seafaring men and women and those higher ranked. The pier was congested with carriages, luggage, porters, and hats of every sort all scurrying to unload, load, and embark. The traveling costumes were quite the unattractive sight as the rain and drizzle fell revealing molty wigs and toupees not even a Wall Street umbrella could hide. Even the glorious Stars-n-Stripes was limp along the ship’s flag pole. Yet, the time was nearer for casting the ties off the pier, the gangways retracting…
“Finally, above the banging, and rumbling, and shouting, and hissing of steam rang the order to “cast off!”—a sudden rush to the gangways—a scampering ashore of visitors—a revolution of the wheels, and we were off—the pic-nic was begun! Two very mild cheers went up from the dripping crowd on the pier; we answered them gently from the slippery decks; the flag made an effort to wave, and failed; the “battery of guns” spake not—the ammunition was out.”
USS Quaker City
Apparently, while threatening the North Korean leader with never before seen fire and fury, someone forgot to first check the inventory of gunpowder and shot. It was too late. All bark and show, but no bite or brains. And if that shouldn’t clamp a bigly Chihuahua yap closed:
“We steamed [ten minutes?] down to the foot of the harbor and came to anchor. It was still raining. And not only raining, but storming. “Outside” we could see, ourselves, that there was a tremendous sea on. We must lie still, in the calm harbor, till the storm should abate. Our passengers hailed from fifteen states; only a few of them had ever been to sea before; manifestly it would not do to pit them against a full-blown tempest until they had got their sea-legs on. Toward evening the two steam tugs that had accompanied us with a rollicking champagne-party of young New Yorkers on board who wished to bid farewell to one of our number in due and ancient form departed, and we were alone on the deep. On deep five fathoms, and anchored fast to the bottom. And out in the solemn rain, at that. This was pleasuring with a vengeance.”
Pleasuring with a vengeance indeed. All the steamy, drippy expectations of a grand exit, a phenomenal finale had all the pow and distance of a little trum-pity cap-gun. So much hoopla for hasty idleness. You might imagine how utterly relieved I was to hear the ring and hail for the prayer meeting and hymns to soothe our drab, wanting souls — like intestinal gaseouness sitting on a Buloke-wood seat atop a trotting donkey — I was thrilled.
Lulled by the to-and-fro sway of the ship, and the wavering chatter of voices outside my cabin hallway…
“I soon passed tranquilly out of all consciousness of the dreary experiences of the day and damaging premonitions of the future.”
Would tomorrow hold more tantalizing surprises, more peculiar intrigue? Was more even possible and of what recipe, what flavor? Sweet or sour?
Finally! It’s here. The end. The last part! You are welcome to laugh with me, please. I am. Find a lounge chair, this is the last epic(?) post in persnickety. 😉
A Quick Prologue
I am completely aware that this post is over 11,000 words long. It is extensive to say the least. But I’ve written this much because I feel all the points covered are important, no, critical to drive home just how much day-in and day-out we humans miss so much detail, so much little and large bits of intrigue, mystery, and unrealized joy waiting to be seized and experienced. I encourage you to read the entire post. Read it in portions over two or three days, but please complete the entire post. There is likely something new for you that you had never considered which might catapult your existence into an entirely new dimension.
* * * * * * * * * *
Previously in Untapped Worlds – Retooling I closed with two suggestions. The first was to realize what compersion is and is not, and how we should embody its fullest meaning. Embracing a mostexpansive form of compersion is critical. The second suggestion plays off the first. While learning exactly what compersion means, open the flood gates of your lifestyle and deathstyle. Yes, you read correctly. Make your life practically inseparable from death! Sounds spooky and insane doesn’t it? Sounds contradictory doesn’t it? Shush! Hold on…
Put aside tendencies to understand death literally. Put aside for a moment the fear and obscurity civilization’s foreboding institutions have trained your brain to “escape” and disengage death. Now let’s ask the question once again, What does it mean to be more human?
What is personality? How it is formed. Is it set in granite from birth or is it molded throughout stages of life? In my May 2013 post DRD4-7R I shared what geneticists had found as the chemical brain messenger — the 7R variant of DRD4 — linked to curiosity and restlessness found in 20% of the population. This would suggest that a newborn infant comes with a basic blueprint, but one which expands (or retracts) in stages based upon external stimuli or influences, but interpreted by the internal (neurogenetical) reckoning birth-print. Many modern cardiologists and addictionologists would argue not a basic birthprint, but a familial-print or hereditary-print. Religious clergy, rabbis, and imam/ulama most certainly take it much further. They fall on the side of the ‘granite’ birthprint.
The spectrum of personality’s origin and expression probably falls somewhere in between the two extremes of the nomothetic and idiographic schools. Personally, I fall squarely toward the idiographic for two major reasons. One, human conception and gestation lasts only about 9-months. Granted, there is no denying that those genes passed down from approximately 500,000 generations over the last 200,000 years (start of Homo sapiens only), after those 9-months the experiential influences such as culture, social, and situational factors then interact over an average lifespan of 71-years by today’s figures. Two, psychological states such as PTSD clearly and unequivocally reveal just how sweeping an impact external factors effect personality.
As I also covered in Untapped Worlds – An Intro and Departure, the first two parts of the series, the human brain and body are quite malleable by environment and individually reckoned by our neurogenetic familial-print. As science becomes increasingly useful for verifying the Nature of life it shows the human brain and body are less influenced by general or monistic laws of exoteric or esoteric existence. Human personality is significantly formed and moved like a river which to exist requires tributaries, a landscape, a mouth, and its sea or ocean.
James G. Ballard. Abraham Lincoln. Or the some thousands listed in the Fathers Hall of Fame at the National Center for Fathering who did or now live and practice intimate intensive relationships nurturing and expanding their domestic responsibilities. There are a cut of men, fathers, who make great mothers. Many of them are single, waking early to make breakfast, drive their kids to school or extracurricular activities, and then in the late afternoon do the same and get them to bed. Repeat in the morning.
I did all the domestic duties for a year-and-a-half with my two children; one 7-years of age at the time, the other our newborn just home from hospital. Those 18-months were without a doubt the most exhausting and fulfilling times of my life. I will never again take for granted what millions of mothers do day in and day out. They never get near as much acclaim as they should.
A Lost History of the Full Household
How many of you men or fathers have managed a household with multiple children? Can you remember those late late nights and wee-morning hours? Sleep? What sleep.
Managing a romance and a household is really beyond a full-time job. It is your own small business but with your entire life savings, retirement, prospective growth-plan, budget, and all three areas of personal health invested… for better or worse. Talk about walking the edge, the fine line, it’s more than enough to put many a man into panic mode. Dads of the West Congo, called the Aka Pygmies, know exactly what I’m speaking about. The Arapesh of New Guinea also know. In the African Ituri the Mbuti are superb fathers. In Tahiti women can be chiefs of their entire tribe! What we industrialized workaholic Westerners see as primitive, they share all responsibilities of child-rearing and parenting equally; right down the middle. In some cases the fathers happily do more! In these “primitive” cultures, sharing domestic duties are not determined by biology or gender. That is a foreign concept. Their dynamic lives are full of everything humanly possible. Parenting and romance to them are embraced art forms in the same context and pragmatism as their neighboring animal counterparts. Long ago the peoples of the Western hemisphere had the same setups. But three major events changed the family households for centuries to come.
The industrial revolution was the first culprit of the household’s demise. In a mechanized civilization long setup to serve/benefit the males, the Western nations would soon see the wide-ranging consequences of fatherless households. The other contributing events were birth-control and rightly so Feminism. With these three changes came a complete revamping of Western families. But recently slight changes have started a small return to our specie’s natural equal roles. In Sweden fathers get 1-year off for paternity leave, unpaid. Though only around 14% of the leave is actually used, it is a percentage that is slowly growing.
Expanding and returning a man’s domestic roles are required. In those parts of the post-Industrial Revolution world like the U.S., it is more dire given our domestic violence, criminal, divorce, and homeless statistics. Since the early 19th century overhaul of the old traditional households, returning the husband/father back home seems today like an Untapped World.
How many elderly people have you heard reminiscing of lost family dinners and family time together? How many people do you know, myself included, that enjoy and look forward to family meals of an hour or more? What about for family reunions?
In our American culture of convenience, declining motion due to pay-others-to-do-it, and less patience for perceived problems, have we lost the benefits of friction-to-resolution which leads to a growing art of deeper adaptable conversation and understanding? Family conflicts are rarely solved unless people learn to talk WITH one another not at, and investing the necessary time and energy to do so. But how accurate are our great grandparents memories of a family closeness gone by?
Lost family time is probably a figment of the imagination by earlier generations. Before or after the industrial revolution, birth-control, and Feminism three historical barriers kept families detached:
Segregation. From Socratic Greece to Europe’s Black Death and industrialization, to the Nuer of East Africa or the Baikairi of Amazon, one’s age and gender determined what you could or couldn’t do with the men and family.
Silence. Foreign visitors to Elizabethan England, Beatrice Gottlieb writes, were silent occasions. Italian etiquette dictated that ‘talk is not for the table, but for the piazza.’ And the Rule of St. Benedict taught ‘days are to be spent in silent prayer, avoiding evil words and conduct’, and family meals were for listening to Scripture readings in reverence of God, not idle talk. The same reverent silence was found among Quakers and Buddhists of the time.
Emotional repression. By the 18th century the social norm of European conversation was one of intellect and wit turned into an eloquent social art to be displayed. One’s plumes could be presented in such coffeehouses where educated MEN could gather and match their show with colleagues about politics, business, art, literature, and current science. One such example was Turk’s Head Tavern, Soho, where women and children were strictly prohibited.
If 18th century social conversation was about cerebral edification for the men, the 19th century was about hidden emotions scratching, clawing, and pushing out the nails and hinges of their locked basement doors. There is much irony found in the title-given period: the Romantic Movement. Though we find glimmers of primal passion in the poetry of Coleridge and Keats, for example, open displays of affection and emotions by men were reserved for paper only. Expressions of such raw instincts was considered irrational and a lack of masculinity! This was absolutely the case at home during family dinners at the table. All topics and conversation were lead and managed by the man of the house. The childhood and life of John Stuart Mill is a sad ‘family’ testimony of the repressed Victorian Era represented by his father.
Expanding Sympathy into Deep Empathy
Many might feel the Golden Rule catches the essence of empathy: Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. Though it is a popular notion, it is not concentrated properly. It centers on you — your own experience, your own subjective views — and thus how you feel you should be treated apart from a wider general view or consensus. The Golden Rule falls quite short. Empathy requires much more. It requires putting yourself into their life, their shoes, and metaphorically (or literally?) walking in them 100-miles.
Claiborne Paul Ellis (aka C.P. Ellis) was born into an impoverished North Carolina white family in 1927. His father was a white supremacist and active member of the Ku Klux Klan. C.P. inherited all of his father’s world-views and like Adolf Hitler hated all Jews, C.P. blamed all blacks for his socio-economic and occupational woes, indirectly the birth of his own youngest son born blind and mentally impaired, and finally despised the civil rights movement all throughout the South and his native state. When a $78,000 federal grant was given to North Carolina to aid in public school desegregation, as acting president of Durham County’s KKK chapter C.P. was asked how to spend it. Ironically Ellis was elected a member of that committee along with civil right activist Ann Atwater. What followed is nothing short of spectacular:
Because of a simple 10-days long collaboration at the same table as your “hated enemy”, your entire world-view and life can be overturned and done with the most incredible benefits: spending quality-quantity time with other humans, especially those very different than you, and a lifelong friendship begun. C.P. Ellis and Ann Atwater are proof that truer unabridged empathy unites.
Love and Compersion
A historically conservative United States as well as some similar nation-cultures have a general and quite limited notion of love and how it can be more fully received and expressed. The ancient Greeks had no such constraints but one. They recognized at least six varieties of love. Roman Krznaric, an author, cultural philosopher, professor of sociology and politics at Cambridge University and City University, London, and advisor to the United Nations on using empathy and conversation to create social change, describes these six Greek forms of love — notice the difference of Athenian eros versus modern notions of love or romance:
Eros – The first kind of love was eros, named after the Greek god of fertility, and represented the idea of sexual passion and desire. But the Greeks didn’t always think of it as something positive, as we tend to today. In fact, eros was viewed as a dangerous, fiery and irrational form of love that could take hold of you and possess you — an attitude shared by many later spiritual thinkers, such as the Christian writer C.S. Lewis. Eros involved a loss of control that frightened the Greeks. Which is odd, because losing control is precisely what many people now seek in a relationship. Don’t we all hope to fall “madly” in love?
Philia – The second variety of love was philia or friendship, which the Greeks valued far more than the base sexuality of eros. Philia concerned the deep comradely friendship that developed between brothers in arms who had fought side by side on the battlefield. It was about showing loyalty to your friends, sacrificing for them, as well as sharing your emotions with them. (Another kind of philia, sometimes called storge, embodied the love between parents and their children.) We can all ask ourselves how much of this comradely philia love we have in our lives. It’s an important question in an age when we attempt to amass “friends” on Facebook or ‘followers’ on Twitter — achievements that would have hardly impressed the Greeks.
Ludus – This was the Greek’s idea of playful love, which referred to the playful affection between children or young lovers. We’ve all had a taste of it in the flirting and teasing in the early stages of a relationship. But we also live out our ludus when we sit around in a bar bantering and laughing with friends, or when we go out dancing. Dancing with strangers may be the ultimate ludic activity, almost a playful substitute for sex itself. Social norms frown on this kind of adult playful frivolity, but a little more ludus might be just what we need to spice up our love lives.
Agape – The fourth love, and perhaps the most radical, was agape or selfless love. This was a love that you extended to all people, whether family members or distant strangers. Agape was later translated into Latin as caritas, which is the origin of our word charity. Lewis referred to it as “gift love,” the highest form of Christian love. But it also appears in other religious traditions, such as the idea of mettā or “universal loving kindness” in Theravāda Buddhism. There is growing evidence that agape is in a dangerous decline in many countries. Empathy levels in the U.S. have dropped nearly 50 percent over the past 40 years, with the steepest fall occurring in the past decade. We urgently need to revive our capacity to care about strangers.
Pragma – Another Greek love was pragma or mature love. This was the deep understanding that developed between long-married couples. It was about making compromises to help the relationship work over time, and showing patience and tolerance. The psychoanalyst Erich Fromm said that we expend too much energy on “falling in love” and need to learn more how to “stand in love.” Pragma is precisely about standing in love — making an effort to give love rather than just receive it. With divorce rates currently running at 50 percent, the Greeks would surely think we should bring a serious dose of pragma into our relationships.
Philautia – The final variety of love was philautia or self-love. The clever Greeks realized there were two types. One was an unhealthy variety associated with narcissism, where you became self-obsessed, and focused on gaining personal fame and fortune. A healthier version of philautia enhanced your wider capacity to love. The idea was that if you like yourself and feel secure in yourself, you will have plenty of love to give others (today this is reflected in the Buddhist-inspired concept of “self-compassion”). Or as Aristotle put it, “All friendly feelings for others are an extension of man’s feelings for himself.”
And that is compersion.
What struck me the most about the Greek’s emotional diversity was they sought it, embraced it, and refined it in its many forms with a wide-range of people, not just one. They extended it to friends, colleagues, immediate and extended family, spouses, lovers, strangers, and equally to themselves! Krznaric goes on to explain that this approach to human connection would be practically unrecognizable in today’s social circles — or relentlessly chastised for its pluralism and depth. The ancient Greeks would be shocked by our extreme narrow-mindedness and ideals.
Another modern extension of the Greek philia love (or pseudo-storge?) is the little known form of compersion. This love-form also combines possible sexual (eros) and/or emotional joy (philia) discovered outside a traditional binary monogamous commitment, but the compersive joy is experienced by the Giver or the one not literally participating within the outside relationship of their partner/spouse. The Urban Dictionary gives an excellent commentary stating:
“Compersion can be thought of as the opposite of “jealousy;” it is a positive emotional reaction to a loved one’s other relationship. It is analogous to the feeling of joy a parent feels when their children marry or that best friends feel for each other when they are happy in a romantic relationship.”
Personally, I have experienced this form of love numerous times not only with my own children, but with several of my partners and a spouse. The deepest impact it had for me was not just the pleasure and joy I had watching mesmerized by her unfiltered primal passions lost in the moment, but also how profoundly gracious she was for my comfortable willingness to indirectly enjoy it with her. “I have never known” she described “that level, that form of liberation — without any shame or fear — or deeper sharing-companionship with any man!” She fell into the soft couch as if all her breath was taken while melting in pure bliss and awe how much I loved seeing her so happy. This deeper love was ‘returned’ to me several times as well, and she raved about how pleasurable it was for her. That wasn’t all either. We both learned other aspects of each other we may have NEVER discovered on our own, together as a closed-off couple. What followed for us was the strongest trust and bond either had ever experienced. Gone was one social-romantic stigma neither of us had to fear anymore.
Yes indeed, a fictitous dragon was slain. A previously unchartered Untapped World now tapped.
Living vs. Alive
Should an extraterrestrial scientist decide to study the human species and our daily routines, it would quickly realize that a few similar mechanized devices were the cornerstone of our organization. Case and point, the Lilliputians examining Gulliver:
“Out of the right fob hung a great silver chain, with a wonderful kind of engine at the bottom. We directed him to draw out whatever was at the end of that chain; which appeared to be a globe, half silver, and half of some transparent metal; for, on the transparent side, we saw certain strange figures circularly drawn, and thought we could touch them, till we found our fingers stopped by the lucid substance. He put this engine into our ears, which made an incessant noise, like that of a water-mill: and we conjecture it is either some unknown animal, or the god that he worships; but we are more inclined to the latter opinion, because he assured us, (if we understood him right, for he expressed himself very imperfectly) that he seldom did any thing without consulting it. He called it his oracle, and said, it pointed out the time for every action of his life.” — Jonathan Swift, Gulliver’s Travels
We are indeed slaves to insufficient time! Our clocks, watches, cell phones, are all idols of religious worship or talismans to scare away Chronos and all his hungry minions! Working mothers in the West are perhaps the epitome of daily famines of time. Can you blame them as the father’s are away obsessing of gaining “more”? Time has become tyrannical in the U.S. and losing to it is a most sensitive and shaming fear.
You may be surprised how time lives in your language. ‘Time is money. Give me a moment of your time. Living on borrowed time. My time is my own. Take time off. It’s time to move on. What time is it? How much time do you need?’ Time has become a commodity; something to barter with to own or give. How ridiculously ego-centric to think we have ANY sort of time-management control over a cosmological force which is completely immune to our petty desires.
In western Texas near the town of Van Horn, writer Stewart Brand and musician Brian Eno founded The Long Now Foundation. They are two of many behind the constructions of prototype clocks and the final 10,000-year clock in Ely, Nevada. The concept and proposed paradigm shift offers “In a world of hurry,” explains Brand, “the Clock is a patience machine.” Its long slow bongs ring out only once every thousand years.
Since the Industrial Revolution humankind has been appallingly obsessed with minutes and seconds, the hear-and-now, and ‘Friday evening can’t arrive soon enough!’ The Long Now Foundation and Clock encourages our caffeinated species to bring it down several notches, to thinking bigger and broader in much longer terms, thus being more responsible and implementing an attitude against our environmental ravaging.
Put on a 10,000-year watch and think about the next time its chime resounds from your wrist. What will your home look like then? Hmm, another Untapped Worldtimeframe to explore! Are you simply living day-to-day, week-to-week or are you alive inside these 1,000 years? Both worlds are completely compatible.
If you had been born in the Dark or Middle Ages, in all likelihood you would not have been a noble prince, princess, a knight with full armour with Clydesdale underneath, or a Lady-in-waiting. Despite our civil-social evolutions into the modern era from fate and family necessity to freedom and choice with our labors and spouses, there are still obstacles for some who do not enjoy a robust life in the 21st century.
In today’s labor markets it can often feel as if your duties and performance merely contribute toward the success, status, and wealth of a few owners, shareholders, or top executives. In most free-world economies this isn’t far from the truth. Losing one’s sense of purpose, much less finding one, has some devastating effects. How might purpose be protected and cultivated? How might losing it or neglecting it be avoided? Here are four ideas…
Value – Albert Einstein once said, “Strive not to be a success, but rather to be of value.” Albert Schweitzer understood exactly what that meant. After gaining many accolades in philosophy, theology, and music, Schweitzer’s life and social status were set and waiting. Instead of a life of comfort, luxury, and popularity, at the age of 38 he founded a hospital in French Equatorial Africa. He died there doing what he loved best: attending to other’s needs. “Even if it is a little thing,” he said, “do something for those who have need of man’s help, something for which you get no pay but the privilege of doing it.” In medieval times or centuries after, doing such things would have required your holiest vows to make such work and values coincide. Not today.
Calling – While in the Nazi camps Theresienstadt, Auschwitz, and Dachau between 1942 and 1945, Viktor Frankl learns firsthand the meaning of life. He notes that between prisoners with a vigorous nature for the present do not survive as well as those less hardy but with an unfinished calling beyond the walled fences of barbed wire. On one such prisoner he wrote was an accomplished scientist who had not yet completed writing a series of books before the war started and his arrest. This author/scientist realized no one else could finish his work and write it correctly — he had to stay alive. He knew his calling and it was not dying in the concentration camps.
Respect – if there is anything in today’s rat-race that rivals wealth/money, it is surely recognition. Simply watch a live news interview, TV sporting events, or a tourist recording a trip to a landmark, and you’ll witness the popular act of “bomber-invasion” from random strangers wanting to be seen. It seems to be human nature to achieve some level of status, good or bad in some cases. Deeper respect and admiration are found through meaningful thriving human relationships. They are not found in corporate cubicles or on a factory-line as a cog-in-the-wheel where no human interaction exists. And real respect is rarely found within the mega-efficient lean-staffed corporations of 500-800+ employees spread out over 20-acres, or many sky-high floors, or regional-global offices unless the owner(s) strive and spend their “pocket-change” to make those intimate employee off-the-clock activities between coworkers and supervisors happen on a regular basis.
Talents – What does it mean to be a High-achiever rather than a Wide-achiever? One is extremely specialized and educated in one or two specific areas. The other is a craftsperson, a jack-of-all-trades capable of beginning a project, completing every phase, and finishing it all with little or no outside assistance. Diversity, or what financial investors term spreading out your risks or hedging your bets. From the 2014 film Interstellar, a 2-minute clip about the need for a diversity of talents:
Become a virtuoso like Leonardo De Vinci was of many fields transferring your natural and learned talents across a labors of love spectrum. Be a generalist happy to learn more in order to do more for others.
Job with Spirit – Everyone has a spirit, a youthful zeal just waiting to come out and play or work. But due to social occupational fears and low self-confidence, that enthusiasm rarely gets released, at least in public and at work. Why? Why must your spirit be left at home or for private enjoyment only? The days of feudalism and medieval strictures are long gone! Overcome those fears. Gain more self-confidence. Start or expand a new Renaissance! “Fear stifles, courage fulfills.” Tap into your youthful creative energy, that Wide-achiever and simply smile at naysayers as you pass them by. In fact, invite them to come along!
Our Natural World
In the first two parts of this series we explored how our brain imperfectly perceives our surroundings and others. Though our many senses — the organisms that feed our cerebral organ for interpretation and organizing — accurately pick up the details around us, but unfortunately the brain can create in various degrees a distorted reality. This happens more often than not.
The Myth of Five
To say our bodies have five senses does not do justice to how incredibly complex our body’s sensors really are and how ‘sensitive’ they should be in picking up information. Though neuroscience is still in its adolescence, many neuroscientists assert there are at least 12-14 different sensors and possibly up to twenty. A quick rundown:
Light sensors in the eyes; 2 types: rods and cones for intensity of light stimuli.
Sound sensors in the inner ear.
Orientation-Gravity sensors for your sense of balance.
Nerve sensors in your skin: heat, cold, pain, itch and pressure.
Chemical sensors in the nose for different odours.
Chemical receptors in the tongue for taste.
Muscle & Joint sensors telling the brain about motion and muscle tension.
Bladder, Intestinal & Colon sensors to inform the brain it is time to urinate, when you’re full, and when to excrete.
Hunger & Thirst sensors indicating those needs.
Various body sensations tell the brain when one of your legs have fallen asleep — a lack of proper blood circulation, for example. When your about to sneeze is another.
There are many people which have extra-sensory perceptions like sensing approaching weather changes, or psychic abilities such as clairvoyance, mediumship, precognition, or remote viewing that many law-enforcement increasingly use to solve otherwise unsolvable cases.
“Failing to nurture our senses not only detracts from our appreciation of the subtleties and beauties of everyday experience, but also strips away layers of meaning from our lives. Yet curing ourselves of sensory deprivation is not, as you might expect, about indulging in luxuries like dining on truffles or locking ourselves in a dark room and listening to a Beethoven symphony at full volume, exhilarating though this may be. It is much more about gaining a deeper understanding of how our various senses have come to shape, filter and even distort our interactions with the world — and also how culture has moulded our sensory experiences.” — How Should We Live?, Roman Krznaric.
Becoming more acutely aware of these additional sensory systems is the start to a more enhanced human experience. Yoga or juggling on one leg can refine the equilibrioceptors. Having someone pinch you, bind you, or spank you can refine the nociceptors. Varying temperatures like a cool bath/pool followed by a hot tub then repeat, refines the thermoceptors. Closing the eyes or being blindfolded while moving refines the proprioceptors. Embracing and expanding ALL of the human senses only widens and deepens one’s awareness and full interaction with this spectacular world! Tap deeper into it.
Over the last 5-6 centuries the visual cortex has become the dominant and largest sensory bank in our brains. “We have fallen into a sensory decline” says author and cultural historian of the senses Constance Classen. And it might be worse than imagined.
Everywhere around us is non-stop visual bombardment. Mass advertising relies heavily on imagery — television, billboards becoming increasingly eye-catching and illuminated at night, websites are packed with pics and motion — more than any other medium. And our cell phones? Almost all iPhones and Androids are graphically interactive. In supermarkets produce is a kaleidoscope of vivid colors (genetically?) designed to please the eyes. Wealth and status are paraded by glitzy high-end vehicles, lavish large homes, and landscaping rivaling the Château Versailles. We often judge people by their appearance, facial features, the shape of their body, or the clothes they wear. As the popular diction goes ‘love at first sight’ represents how our English language is pervaded by visual idioms. How often do you hear ‘love at first sniff’ or ‘love at first honk/blast’? Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, look before you leap, a sight for sore eyes, and seeing is believing are all common jargon. Vacations today are incomplete without an album of photos or phone video-clips. We now swim in a world largely governed by surface appearances.
What happened to the nose and ears? How can we return them to their natural equality with the eyes? One quick easy way is to close our eyes…more! Keep them closed for extended periods of time. Doing this on a consistent basis forces us to heighten the ears, tongue, nose, and other sensors and receptors. Return to the days of the 14th and 15th centuries when spices, perfumes and pomanders prevailed every day. Sitting in an arboretum or botanical garden, eyes closed, and breath long breaths picking out all possible aromas. If it is outdoors and secluded from noisy traffic and commotion, listen for every tiny insect or bird that sings. If you must, blindfold yourself or your companion to really absorb everything around you which isn’t visual. Do it for much more than 10 or 15 minutes; more like a half-hour or hour to genuinely tap into a world we too often ignore, take for granted, and eventually lose.
The remarkable, mysterious, and later refuted tale of Kaspar Hauser, the imprisoned German boy deprived of any light in a dark 2-meter by 1-meter cell most his childhood, and the narrative of Helen Keller — blind and deaf her entire life since almost 2-years old — can both teach us about how acutely compensating the other human senses develop when one is denied or deprived of sight or sound.
In a post several months ago I shared the rising popularity of new restaurants serving in complete darkness. Here are Restaurant.com’stop 10 establishments for pitch black dining enhancing the body’s other multiple sensory receptors! Tap into their little world of alternate sensor-ramas! If you don’t live near these major cities, check for local or nearby 3-star (or higher) restaurants that might host the event once or twice a year.
Travel & Cultures
When you leave home for a long week or extended vacation, do you go looking to deepen your soul or suntan and gift baskets? The Roman poet Horace warns against merely getting from point A to B: “They change their climate, not their soul, who rush across the sea.” Visiting strange lands and its inhabitants should be the fullest experience possible, not just tolerated until B then back again to A. What are four methods of being a cultured traveler?
Prior to the mid-19th century very few people had the means or luxury to travel beyond their region, much less their country or crossing oceans to far away continents. Tourism didn’t explode into a thriving market until the last third of the 19th century as the middle class began earning enough money for railway passenger trains and ocean liners. As this market began entrepreneurs like Karl Baedeker and Thomas Cook (of Thomas Cook & Son) stepped in to capitalize but with very contrasting ideas of travel. The former published step-by-step sequentially numbered tour guidebooks of exactly what to visit at what precise time. The latter, however, organized packaged trips to find literal sojourns to God with the assistance of pious ministers, pseudo-sabbaticals if you will.
Packaged tourism today with a tour guide isn’t much different. Visiting famous landmarks, museums, festivals, beachfront resorts, or hotels in mountain tops, are quite popular vacations. When you travel though what do you do? Follow an airtight itinerary by guidebook or tour group, or do you discover the human landscape, the human story behind and within the landmarks, museums, and inanimate objects in your camera?
There are living monuments not only in foreign lands, but just as well in your own backyard and hometown! Grand hotels should have as a standard feature open nurseries and playground where children of guests interact with native children while parents converse sharing family and cultural stories at nearby benches and tables. In Denmark and followed later in the U.K. social activists came up with an ingenious project in 2000 called Human Libraries where actual people share a story of their life from personal experience to a guest/visitor. The guest then interacts with the storyteller breaking down prejudices and other barriers that typically divide, cause unfounded fears, and subsequent fabricated contempt. Tap into the experience of being a living library for visitors.
Pilgrims are perhaps the original traveler. The word travel is derived from “travail” which means to suffer or toil without much relief, conveniences or luxury. Matsuo Bashō and Satish Kumar are two perfect examples of pilgrimages. Both men set out on walking journeys without consideration of provisions, possible relief, or shelter. They began with just three destinations: deep significant self-meaning, very challenging, and cultivate the Wander spirit. In other words, find the roots of yourself as well as the journey’s and destination’s. Find the tiniest details of life and the world around you which are too often lost in convenient rapid travel. Have no strict dates or times. And do not obsess about arrival; find the art of living, not motion! Tap into the world of a pilgrimage.
When you think of nomads how would you describe them? One popular image are the Bedouins of the Syrian and Arabian deserts prior to the 20th century. They were known to be traveling camel and goat herders across vast regions of North Africa, the Arabian Peninsula, to the Middle East covering 21 various countries. In today’s highly urbanized and flourishing societies, these nomadic cultures are slowly being swallowed up by encroaching civilization. How then might we experience in the 21st century what is meant by gypsy or nomadic living according to necessity like the Bedouins? What might be the closest thing to Bedouin life?
It isn’t RV’ing like many retirees do trekking across the continent from national park to national park with all the amenities of a fully furnished 45-foot or larger $200,000 Class A motorhome. It isn’t even staying in a luxurious 3-room log-cabin with massive kitchen and hot-tub/sauna. No, the closest thing today to gypsy nomadic life is basic camping. In other words, throwing a light tent onto your large backpack and hiking to isolated locations camping for a week or two with friends or your tribe; living IN and with the land without your iPod, hairdryer, and television. All you need are what nomads and gypsies had over 100-years ago: some food, matches or fire-starter kit, a knife, and wet-weather gear. Everything else you might need find in or on the land. At night, have your fire going and gaze above, listen to every single sound, and smell the Earth around you — and perhaps your fellow hikers too (wink). Simplicity is the essence of the gypsy-nomadic experience. Tap into the simple world of basic camping.
As a young boy I was spellbound by the stories and travels of the 13th century Venetian explorer Marco Polo along with his father Niccolò and uncle Maffeo. The vivid details of all their stops and their encounters with diverse peoples and cultures utterly captivated my imagination. The Travels of Marco Polo was not like the other romanticized tales of Columbus, Magellan, or Drake that we learned in school. It didn’t take too much reasoning to realize that most of the textbook stories of the Age of Exploration and Colonialization were simply about exploitation laced with racism. None of the 15th to 18th century world Empires had the least bit interest in being taught or enlightened. Neither should our modern desires to explore reflect the Age of Exploitation.
Instead, modern exploration should be derailing ourselves from local daily routine. This can be just as easily accomplished in a 10-mile radius as it can transcontinentally. The power of existential exploration — going without a specific destination — is a strange mix of certainty and uncertainty. Going but not knowing where. You feel compelled to leave the past (and its knowledge) behind, but in not knowing the destination you remain open to embrace other ways of living, thinking, and interacting beyond anything you could’ve possibly imagined. Ask yourself, how many world cultures have you experienced firsthand? Did you know that according to UNESCO World Heritage List there are over 800 cultural sites/regions around the world? Forty-eight of them are endangered of becoming extinct.
Jump off the ordinary vacation of “time off” and sit or walk firmly with time on travels tapping into the world and journey of the intrinsic and extrinsic explorer!
In the January 2016 issue of National Geographic magazine journalist Florence Williams wrote her article This Is Your Brain on Nature. The magazine issue and Williams’ article complimented the Jan. 10th Explorer television episode Call Of the Wild on the NatGeo Channel.
“Nature nurtures us. It boosts our mood too. According to the attention restoration theory, spending time in nature relieves the stress and mental fatigue caused by the ‘directed attention’ that work and city life require.
Directed Attention is the ability to voluntarily focus attention and ignore distractions crucial to solving problems and completing tasks. But modern life sometimes requires more of this resource than we have — and once it’s depleted, prolonged and concentrated effort leads to mental fatigue, loss of effectiveness, and stress.
Involuntary Attention is attending to the stimuli in peaceful, natural environments — trees, flowing water, mountain shadows — is a different type of experience. It doesn’t require a prolonged effort or an act of will to avoid distractions. Researchers say this kind of focus allows the brain to disengage and restore its capacity for directed attention.”
Williams continues stating that nature improves human creativity by up to 50% and every walk through a park and forest decreases stress hormones by as much as 16%. What does this tell us about too much hectic civilization? After all, aren’t we humans part of Nature since that is exactly where we originated? Is it any wonder that research studies are finding that human mortality rates are indirectly connected to an area’s forestation or trees? Millions of years ago they were literally our homes.
“In a ‘forest kindergarten’ in Langnau am Albis, a suburb of Zurich, Switzerland, children spend most of the school day in the woods, regardless of weather. They learn whittling, fire starting, and denbuilding; they’re able to explore. Supporters say such schools foster self-confidence and an independent spirit.”
Sounds very much like another school in England founded by A.S. Neill doesn’t it?
How should we view Nature today? Is it friend or foe? It wasn’t so long ago that humankind decidedly viewed it as foe. Throughout the Middle Ages, particularly in Northern Europe, the outside world was seen as owned by Darkness, very feared, and home to all sorts of hungry wild beasts, evil spirits, ogres and trolls. In Anglo-Saxon folklore like Beowulf, nature clearly was menacing and completely opposed to human happiness. J.R.R. Tolkien picked up that legacy in the 20th century with stories of hobbits being petrified if passing through the haunted Fangorn Forest or eery Mirkwood. Our words savage and panic are derived from these ancient and Medieval imagery: savage is from silva, meaning a wood; panic comes from the Greeks’ fear of encountering Pan, the half-man, half-goat Lord of the forests. When William Bradford — a conservative Separatist from Plymouth, England and the Church of England — first landed at Cape Cod, Massachusetts in 1620 he described his impressions of the scene as a “hideous and desolate wilderness.” In many parts of 17th century Europe mountains were criticized as deformities, warts, boils and monstrous excrescences, likely due to the harshness to cultivate. It wasn’t until the Romantic Movement that this view of nature significantly changed and it became no longer foe, but friend. And more than just friend.
Our Biosphere, Biodiversity, and Biophilia and the Ecological Self In the previous Untapped Worlds I introduced Harvard sociobiologist and naturalist E.O. Wilson. I was particularly intrigued by his definition of eusociality. But the social human side of Nature is only part of the story.
For more than 3-million years we have lived and survived in an intricately connected environment. Tibetan Sherpas and Buddhist lamas say that we and all living things on this planet are always touching like smoke reaches everywhere in the wind. They would be absolutely correct. Every second of our lives we touch unseen elements and forces like the air we breath, the sound waves to our eardrums, and the traveling light-photons our retinas pick up. We are therefore very vital, integral, active parts of our biosphere. Whether we grasp this reality or not, we are effecting Nature even when we are not literally out in Nature. At any given time every single day we directly and indirectly influence our lithosphere, geosphere, hydrosphere, and atmosphere. Think about that impact for a moment. If you think your wood and brick home is ‘your home,’ think again.
Biodiversity isn’t just the categorization of living species on Earth. We must distinguish between genetic biodiversity and ecological biodiversity:
“Genetic Biodiversity is the variation in genes that exists within a species. A helpful way to understand genetic diversity is to think about dogs. All dogs are part of the same species, but their genes can dictate whether they are Chihuahua or a Great Dane. There can be a lot of variation in genes – just think about all the colors, sizes, and shapes that make up the genetic diversity of dogs.
Ecological Biodiversity is the diversity of ecosystems, natural communities and habitats. In essence, it’s the variety of ways that species interact with each other and their environment. The forests of Maine differ from the forests of Colorado by the types of species found in both ecosystems, as well as the temperature and rainfall. These two seemingly similar ecosystems have a lot of differences that make them both special.”
How important are every single genetic and ecological systems we live within? For starters the National Wildlife Federation lists these six reasons:
Foods and materials to live healthy and happy. Without the diversity of pollinators, plants, and soils, our supermarkets would have a lot less produce.
Medicinal uses. Research into plant and animal genetics and biology have allowed humans to live extended lives and cure diseases. Every time a species goes extinct our genetic diversity is lost, we will never know whether research would have given us a new vaccine or drug.
Ecological services. Biodiversity enables the cleaning of water and absorbing of chemicals, which wetlands do, to providing oxygen for us to breathe — one of the many things that plants do for everyone.
Ecosystem rebalancing. If given enough time, adjusting to eco-disturbances allows for ecosystems to adjust to interferences like extreme fires and floods. If a reptile species goes extinct, a forest with 20 other reptiles is likely to adapt better than another forest with only one reptile.
With genetic diversity disease prevention is more successful. This allows species to adjust to changes in their environment.
Sheer wonderment and intrigue. There are few things as beautiful and inspiring as the vast diversity of life — between 3-30 million species, possibly over 100-million — that exists on Earth. And that diversity is constantly changing.
Biophilic office space
Biophilia is a term and concept that E.O. Wilson popularized in the 1980’s. Earlier I was mentioning a few facts about how much Nature reduces stress hormones and significantly increases human creativity. Because we humans inherently enjoy the diversity of natural life, this is called biophilia. If we as a species do not become much more aware, educated, and a responsible part of Nature’s delicate interacting systems, we will permanently cut our and our descendant’s virtual umbilical cord to life. Period. It is (way?) past due that everyone become a scientist, a member of the Biophilia Foundation, a Naturalist that cares deeply about a quality life today and for our children, grandchildren, and the human species.
The real possibility that Nature could end should move us away from a high-carbon consumerist ethos and closer to a sustainable intimate ecological relationship with our fragile world. Tap into the many varieties of a low-carbon lifestyle and become a Conservationist rather than a programmed Consumerist.
Conventions and Baggage
In the scientific world, especially Quantum Physics, it is often said that the only thing that is permanent is impermanence. Fighting or denying this law is futile. Embracing it and working within it brings liberation and contentment. Progress is achieved by movement. Stagnation is achieved by an accumulation of heavy baggage. History has repeatedly shown that breaking away from antiquated socio-economic and religious norms begins small until it grows into an inevitable movement with sweeping change and enlightenment. But the overhaul and liberation cannot start without a few courageous movers and shakers; the “radicals” if you will.
What You Trust
When you purchase a computer or laptop, it typically comes preloaded with the newest MS Windows operating system, all the many drivers to run various external devices, programs to do office work, Norton or McAfee protection, perhaps Netflix for movies and TV shows, and also personal duties like online banking, perhaps home security and monitoring, and a few games that you and the family enjoy. Basically the computer/laptop is setup to hit the ground running moments after booting up. Seconds after birth the human brain is not setup to immediately perform adult tasks; not in the least.
The human operating system, the brain and neurology, are gradually programmed in through our 10-14 receptors over the span of about two decades. This is not to say that we are prenatally blank. We do receive a very basic genetic coding, a few simple sequences of 1’s and 0’s if you will, that give our bodies the necessary information to stay alive — or attempt to — with the mandatory help of our mother and (perhaps?) father.
The implications of these pre-natal facts are probably far more reaching than one realizes. It means that during those first years we learn an emotional risk-reward protocol; this behavior results in that reward or consequence. In the latter portion of those two decades based upon our parental, familial, and community, we develop the core of our beliefs on religion, nationalism — perhaps monarchy in certain countries — our young opinions, politics, various mechanisms of emotional relationships, and depending completely on our birthplace and the influences during the first two decades we develop how we “fit in” this world. Much of what we think are truths are simply shaped by our first 10-20 years.
To say it more poignantly, religious, political, and social beliefs are largely an accident of birth, geography, and history. There are degrees of “truth” scattered throughout those three accidents.
Facts and Impermanence
All throughout recorded history there have been monumental events or discoveries that forever change human civilization. For at least 100,000 years or more humans assumed that walking or running were the only means of transportation over distances. That truth was overturned around 3,500 BCE with the domestication of the horse. For about 4,500 years humans assumed precious metals or merchandise were the only forms of commercial trading until China began using paper currency in the 7th century CE. For some 50,000 years or more humans assumed the world and their entire existence entailed only what they could see with the naked eye, until the 13th century CE when magnifying lenses were invented. For approximately 4,500 years humans assumed there were only two methods of higher learning: verbal stories, pictographs, or from slow scribed papyrus that only ‘divine’ authors could record from the god(s). That truth was overturned by the invention of the printing press in the 15th century CE. For probably at least 5 or 6,000 years humans assumed that diseases, ailments, and physical malformities were from angry god(s) until the 19th and 20th centuries when antibiotics were introduced, followed by a growing plethora of other medical cures and treatments today.
I will not go into how monumental Galileo Galili’s confirmation of Copernicus’s heliocentric theorem was to humankind. It literally changed everything European and Near Eastern religious and political leaders had believed and taught their subjects and all the masses for almost three millenia. John Maynard Keynes is perhaps one apropos example of just how profound impermanence molds human facts or truths. During the Great Depression, Keynes shifted his position and monetary policy more than once and came under heavy criticism by other fellow economists. His response was “When the facts change, I change my mind. What do you do sir?” How often do we scrutinize our own beliefs, let alone change them, as so many forces, factors, and limitless diversity exists, moves, and evolves into newer forms? Often facts and truths are a matter of human perception, not necessarily universal permanence.
Beliefs vs. Practice
How much are your beliefs and practicing those beliefs worth to you? Can you put a price on them? Henry David Thoreau said “The price of anything is the amount of life you exchange for it.” When you consider all the various definitions of what life is I believe Mr. Thoreau was spot on. What is most valuable to you in life? Why do people hold certain beliefs? The majority of the human race believe in a Divine Being or God. Why? Regional Director for the Council for Secular Humanism and a former Publicity Coordinator for the Campus Free-thought Alliance, Austin Cline lists seven reasons from his research:
Indoctrination — The high and consistent degree of religious concentrations suggests that people believe their religion because that’s the one they were indoctrinated into and which is consistently reinforced around them. People acquire a religion before critical thinking skills and that religion is promoted without most people noticing.
Indoctrination into Anti-Athiest Bigotry — questioning or going against social norms can be very risky; e.g. being a Zionist Jew inside Syria. Children learn in public schools that America is a nation for people who believe in God and this message is reinforced throughout their lives by preachers, politicians, and community leaders of all sorts. This leads to number 3…
Peer and Family Pressure — People who step outside [social] expectations are not simply choosing a different way of life, but can in fact be perceived as rejecting one of the most important bonds which keep a family or community together. Even if this is never communicated in so many words, people do learn that certain ideas, ideologies, and practices should be treated as vital to communal bonds and should therefore not be questioned. The role of peer pressure and familial pressure in maintaining at least a veneer of religiosity for many people cannot be denied.
Fear of Death — This is self-generated hope out of fear of what will happen after dying — either going to hell or simply ceasing to exist. People don’t want to think that [the possibility of] physical death is the end of all experiences, emotions, and thoughts so they insist on believing that somehow their “mind” will continue to exist without any physical brain in an eternity of sustained bliss — or even will be reincarnated in a new form.
Wishful Thinking — Many Christians seem to wish quite strongly that there exists a place of eternal punishment awaiting all those who dare to deny them political and cultural dominion in America. Many conservative believers from many religions seem to wish that there is a god which wants them to exercise unchecked power over women and minorities.
Fear of Freedom and Responsibility — I personally find this reason very telling. It promotes lack of ownership. [Believers] don’t have to be responsible for ensuring that justice is done because God will provide that. They don’t have to be responsible for solving environmental problems because God will do that. They don’t have to be responsible for developing strong moral rules because God has done that. They don’t have to be responsible for developing sound arguments in defense of their positions because God has done that. Believers deny their own freedom because freedom means responsibility and responsibility means that if we fail, no one will rescue us.
Lack of Basic Skills in Logic and Reasoning — Most people don’t learn nearly as much about logic, reason, and constructing sound arguments as they should. Given how important believers claim the existence of their god and truth of their religion are, you’d think that they would invest a lot of effort into constructing the best possible arguments and finding the best possible evidence. Instead, they invest a lot of effort into constructing circular rationalizations and finding anything that sounds even remotely plausible.
It has been my personal experience living most of my life in the Deep South (Texas is on the fringe of the Bible Belt) that the most common foundation for fundamental beliefs once a person reaches their 20’s and 30’s is a question of convenience really. What do I stand to lose or gain with these beliefs? What is worth dying for or spending years in prison? What is my personal integrity worth? How would this belief-system benefit me? In my opinion, those are the more pragmatic questions the majority of adults ask about religions and not anything concerning a consensus of truth or what extensive scrutiny reveals.
Transcendence Things are very often bigger than ourselves. We cannot possibly understand all extenuating factors that contribute to human behavior. Though the weight of peer pressure, governments, family, social trends, money, or global dynamics can push us to apathy, paralysis, or disillusionment, we must find ways to take the higher road. A blind ideologue or unexamined do-gooder is not enough. Healthy scepticism should always remain active. Fortunately Gandhi and Galileo understood this risky concept for the eventual betterment of all.
Tap into the unexamined life and your belief systems beyond your own tiny world.
Many Fortune 500 companies have latched on to the new idea that creativity within their workforce is a valuable asset and should be encouraged. Modern psychologists are in general agreement that a blue-sky attitude at the office and home have many health benefits. But what exactly is the act of creating and creativity? What are the best ways to cultivate a thriving ambiance of creativity? Let’s start with what isn’t.
Conformity: The Subtle Virus
The Renaissance of the 14th through 16th centuries undoubtedly ushered in a rebirth of classical learning and values. It ushered in a broader spectrum of science, language, and literature. For the most part feudalism and religious dogma crushed any spirit of self-expression or free thinking throughout the Middle Ages. But the Renaissance brought about greats such as Da Vinci, Machiavelli, and Dante. However, it also created an eventual elitist and disempowering movement by the 17th and early 18th centuries: individual creative genius. In other words, touched by the divine and untouchable by mediocrity. Michelangelo and Mozart received this illustrious title with full honors postmortem too.
Fortunately for all aspiring virtuosos and maestros, by the 1960’s the history of creativity shifted from innate, divine genetic gifting… to ‘technique’ that could be learned just like typing, riding a horse, or playing an instrument. The trick was to learn all the various techniques to find your own unique style! Instead of God’s favour, creativity (within all of us) stems from a grounding of appropriate techniques and hard work through extensive broad education or training. For example, Edward de Bono’s technique-based approach to “lateral thinking.” See exercise below:
Have you tapped into the untapped worlds of non-conformity? How many technique-based creativity skills have you really unleashed?
A long held practice in Buddhism is to seek out life’s marrow in mindful awareness to ordinary routine tasks like brushing your teeth or singing in the shower Need You Tonight by INXS. This is how it should be with creating too. Whether it is cooking, spice and/or vegetable gardening, learning and playing an instrument, writing-blogging, beginning new friendships and romances outside of convention, painting, making wood furniture or interior decorations, walking the family pet, give yourself a daily or at least weekly varied dose of complete self-expression. Tap into that simmering creativity and let it all burst out and consume! Homo faber is good… very, very good!
Creativity and creating has been one of the most historic heavily mythologized aspects of human endeavor. Too many people still believe it is the preserve, the jurisdiction of a small group chosen or born with a ‘special gift’ whereas fuller history tells us it is so much more inclusive! And the methods the elite geniuses implement to keep their lofty social, religious, or economic status is cunningly specialized through guilds, dominions, or foundations. Yet real joy, real fulfillment, real challenge, and real accomplishment doesn’t strictly depend on current convention, especially within a macro and subatomic existence that is always impermanent. Fear stifles, courage fulfills.
There is an old saying in professional sports that you are only as good as your last defeat. In other words, in the highly competitive field of modern professional sports and coaching resting on your laurels is very bad for job security, even if your overall record is worthy of an eventual Hall of Fame induction. There is literally just a miniscule amount of grace to be mediocre, let alone losers. I argue up and down, sideways and backwards with U.S. men’s soccer fans about our national team performances, players, and coach Jurgen Klinsmann all the time because they ignorantly feel that the United States should now be competing for the World Cup semi-finals and soon the World Cup Championship — hysterically being in the world’s top four or top two TODAY! — like we dominated in baseball and basketball decades ago, and like we will dominate if the rest of the world starts playing American football NFL style as they are promoting (in hopes to expand the revenue markets) in Great Britain and Europe.
What fair-weather naive American futebol fans don’t realize or thoroughly understand is the intrinsic value — and to a degree extrinsic value — Jurgen Klinsmann brings to our USMNT and youth feeder programs. They have no clue as to what and where Klinsmann grew up inside (Germany), played with and against, and intimately understands about world class futebol/soccer in Germany, and Europe inside UEFA. That wasn’t something the average American sports fan was even remotely interested in the 1980’s and 90’s. American sports fans and the financial backers/sponsors are mostly (only?) concerned about revenue and profits via high winning percentages and dynasties. Today, I think pro coaches, their staff, and general managers have less than 3-years to make it all happen. Win, win, win; nothing more than extrinsic value. Period.
Measuring something or someone’s value cannot and is not strictly done by a dollar amount or the win column. And it certainly cannot be accurately measured in one or two years, let alone a few months.
Have you tapped into both the intrinsic and extrinsic values of yourself, someone or something?
Death is always as close and real as life. The minute you are born, every subsequent minute gets you closer to death. In the Western mindset death has become more distant, more detached from every day life than any other point in history. I feel this growing separation is undermining our ability to live more fully.
The rise in medicalized death in hospital or hospice and the erosion of old funeral and mourning ceremonies attended by all family and community have pushed death into an invisible state in modern society. Death and dying has become a taboo topic of conversation or awkward silence at a dinner party. Why? Why has ‘out of sight, out of mind‘ become so trendy and expected? What has become of the old deathstyle of growing old, facing our mortality with courage, dignity, honor, and dying well? First of all, this can only be reintroduced if we talk about death openly and frankly, as if it were our intimate dance partner. It is a little known fact that being equally obsessed with death as we are with an inspiring life, creates an INTENSE appreciation for the value of life.
A Danse Macabre
In medieval and Renaissance Europe as well as Native North and South American tribal cultures, death was viewed as an unavoidable bed partner. Cemeteries of medieval London, Paris, and Rome were popular meeting places where wine, beer, and linen tradesmen, especially on Saints Day when pilgrims travelled through, were the busiest bustling places in town. People strolled, socialized, and made merry amongst the graves — children played with human bones in the charnel houses by the churches because skeletons were stacked to make way, make room for new residents. Auguste Bernard, historian of French burial locations, wrote cemeteries were “the noisiest, busiest, most boisterous, and most commercial place in the rural and urban community.” The morbid fascination with skulls, arm and leg bones, and cadavers that filled medieval life is more than a historical curiosity: it holds a crucial lesson for us today. It is the same concept, the same lesson as appreciating something immensely valuable when you no longer have it.
The Reach of Death
There was a time when a death in a community affected everyone in the community. Before the 20th century in Western countries, death of an individual caused a major social occasion altering the space and time of everyone in town. It was part of everyday life like the passing of the seasons. In the 21st century this is no longer the case. Death is treated like an unwanted guest and should be ignored and out of sight of our youth and children.
If life is to be respected, cherished, and held as momentary, then death should be equally respected, cherished, and held as a visiting next-door neighbor.
Caring For Our Elderly
There is no denying that the modern longevity of life has increased exponentially. Medical advancements have improved the quantity of extended years, but in Western nations has the quality of life for eighty, ninety, and centurion aged retirees kept up? Prior to and during the 1950’s many elderly moved in and lived with their children. However, this practice has been in steady decline as more and more women entered the workplace and left behind the traditional roles as caregivers to the children and grandparents. This accounts for the extraordinary rise in nursing homes and hospice. Are there alternatives?
Yes there are alternatives. In Japan and China the Confucian lifestyle of filial piety as lived by the great and learned emperor Han Wendi in caring for his ailing mother at the expense of his own luxury and convenience, is one alternative. If one or both of your parents were emotional or illegal causes of tremendous hurt and instability in your childhood and reconciliation is an impossible outcome, there are plenty of other good, funny, and deeply wise elderly patients without family visitors and caring loving treatment at their nursing home where both of you would benefit immeasurably. Otherwise, there are few legitimate reasons not to invite your parents or grandparents to live with you or for you to move in with them. Much life-and-death wisdom can be shared and learned with those on the doorstep of death; any nearby St. Jude’s Childrens Hospital could teach the same lessons. But our parents helped bring us into this world, survive it, and grow to be adults so we can help them leave it with contentment and dignity whether we always saw things eye to eye or not.
How much have you tapped into the world of the aging and elderly? How immediate, frank, and open is a dignifying death promoted and taught in your house? Do you have a danse macabre that deepens the beauty and frailty of life… the paradox of death giving more life?
* * * * * * * * * *
“He who cannot draw on three thousand years
is living from hand to mouth.”
— Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
“To be ignorant of what occurred before you were born is to remain always a child. For what is the worth of human life, unless it is woven into the life of our ancestors by the records of history?”
This final message from Goethe and Cicero is this: if we truly want to change how we live, to be more human, live a fuller extraordinary life, there may come a point where we simply stop thinking, stop planning, and act, go, just do it. There is another aspect to this command: giving is very good for you and those around you. Examining 3 – 4,000 years of history enable us to rethink our habitual (blind?) ways of loving, creating, working, and dying and are NOT the only choices facing us! All we have to do is throw open the wonderbox of all life, people, and Nature and discover a perpetual art of better deeper living.
Live Well — Love Much — Laugh Often — Learn Always
“Let’s not mention grandchildren right now. I’m only just grasping that my little Tori married her middle school Sweetheart!” I replied to my new father-in-law.
Holy Sh*t! I could soon be a grandfather! Noooooooo! This does not make me feel invigorated, or young, or ready. Her mother and I didn’t marry until I was 35-years old and she 25-years old. Why, why, why did she start two months into 21!? Her new husband is only 22! Who in their right mind thinks they’re truly ready for marriage so young? Really?
Then I met and spent time with the groom’s parents and family… and the laughter almost never stopped.
* * * * * * * * * *
Rewind Several Months and Hours
Over Spring Break 2014 my daughter and son were with me and my family. What we all suspected was confirmed by Tori: she and Riley would indeed marry in May 2016 after they both finished undergraduate studies and received their Bachelor’s degrees. Everyone thought it a very good idea, especially me. I wanted to talk about so many things because I’ve essentially missed out on the majority of my daughter’s life due to our 2002 divorce and then their mother remarrying and moving over 300 miles away with both my daughter and son. I’ve missed out on 14-years to be exact, and counting. I had been LONG WAITING for the days she and I could become closer, talk more, without the subtle influences and distractions of her maternal family and religious fundamentalism. Now I must share her again and more. No, not what I had in mind!
But how does one compete with deep young love? How can I compete with a boy — now a man — who’s had my daughter’s heart since 10th grade? I am a little jealous. He has no idea how long I’ve been waiting for her! I raise my arms to the sky and let go a roar and scream that would make Tarzan cower!
Then the summer rolls around and SURPRISE! “We are getting married this May!” she tells me on the phone and everyone else. My jaw hits the table, my eyes bulge and I don’t breath. The very first thought that comes to mind as to WHY they feel they must rush it and push it up a year is… well, all of you are probably thinking the same thing I’m thinking.
Tori begins to chuckle, “No Dad. I am not pregnant.” Whew! I didn’t even have to ask because given her mother, her father (me, not step-dad), and BOTH grandparents, out-of-wedlock babies run rampant in our families. Apparently we are all highly sexually energized and she has had this driven into her brain most of her life! 😮
Unplanned difficulty #1 avoided. Long exhale. Now for #2: I am so not ready for an expensive wedding a year earlier! I am a long-term but Substitute teacher working two other part-time jobs just to make ends meet! This is not going to develop well… for me. Traveling over 300-miles, lodging, meals, gas to and from, are not cheap especially on my meager wages. I’m stressed for the next several months, cutting more corners financially to save… somehow. I have no clue how.
Cats, Dogs, Cows, Elephants, and Even Whales!
Fast forward to May 22, 2015, the Friday before her wedding weekend. Not since around 1989-90 has north Texas — and many parts of the state — seen such record rainfall in a matter of hours and consecutive days. Getting 7″ to 10″ of heavy rain in two hours is unheard of in the annals of Texas weather. As I’m preparing for the trip down toward Houston, the local police and fire departments are explaining all the evacuation procedures for our park. Most all the lakes including the one I’m living on and near, are less than 1-foot from spilling over their dams. The river basin they pour and dump into runs all the way into downtown Dallas, beyond Houston, and into Galveston Bay on the Gulf of Mexico. My park, our RV park sits less than 1,500 feet from the banks of this river. Meteorologists are expecting the heavy storms to last until the following week. If I leave, I may return to a flooded out (or floated away) RV. I can’t miss my daughter’s wedding. I decide to go anyway. Saturday night is her (non?)rehearsal dinner.
My daughter in her wedding dress
The trip to Conroe is about three and a half hours down… down river that is. My ex-live-in-girlfriend, who spent much time with my kids when they still lived in the Dallas area, is also going with me. For the first two hours we drive in such heavy storms that I can’t see more than 45-yards in front of my car. To say it was raining cats and dogs is a gross understatement! The entire animal reserve was coming down on us, even sperm-whales! Yes, that was an intended family pun. The highway (I-45) is normally a 65-75mph speed limit. During three different long phases of the trip, we move no faster than 40mph. We left the DFW area at such a time as to allow us two to two-and-a-half hours to check-in, unpack, shower, and relax before the huge dinner. Two hours until the dinner begins, we are not even halfway there… still on the interstate. My wonderful ex-girlfriend/soul mate suggests calling my mother and we quickly shower and change in her room since their hotel is much closer to the restaurant. Fantastic idea!
With about 20-minutes to spare, we arrive at her hotel, unpack our suitcases, grab the key they left at the front desk, shower, change, pack our stuff BACK into our suitcases, run back out to the car, repack the trunk, then roll into the restaurant only 10-minutes late, somewhat dry and out of breath. My hands are sore from holding the steering wheel so tight. Simultaneously, my ex and I both say, “I need a DRINK!” We don’t mean water! We’ve had enough water for one full day. We’re about to devolve and grow ‘effin gills and fins!
The (Non)Rehearsal Dinner
My ex and I walk up to two rows of tables of 40 guests each. Our empty chairs are across from my Mom, her boyfriend, my sister, my paternal aunt and uncle, and next to the step-dad who is next to my ex-wife. Further down to my right is the maternal grandparents and two of the uncles and wives. To my left are cousins of the groom and their family. Everyone has started on drinks and appetizers. My daughter is the first one to stand and hug me. Her fiancé shakes my hand, they both hug and greet my ex-girlfriend. “I’m so glad you both made it!” she tells us. “We swam some of the way” I grinned. Then the groom’s father stands from across their table to shake my hand; we reaquaint ourselves from my daughter’s high school graduation three years earlier — in the back of our minds we’re thinking drinks, DRINKS please, as we smile and chat. He introduces his wife to my ex, they exchange greetings. We can’t seem to sit down just yet.
Then my son grabs me, gives me a huge hug “You two finally made it!” It seemed he had grown another inch or two since last Xmas. Ethan gives my ex a big hug too; he really liked her when we were together. My ex loved him immensely and missed them both. She too was amazed how tall he had gotten. We turn toward our chairs, but then face more family to greet and exchange formalities with — grumbling in my head, we still have no drinks. We can’t sit down to even order them. Meanwhile, everyone else seems to be on their second or third cocktail.
After we’ve said hello to all of my family, I turn to my kid’s step-dad and shake his hand hello. Quick and pleasant, like it should be. Now we finally get to sit! But there are no staff to take our drink orders because they are serving appetizers to everyone. My ex and I look at each other with crazy-eyes, “are you kidding?” as we both laugh. We’re both ready to steal drinks from family or guests gone to the bathrooms! Clubbing someone over the head is not out of the question either!
Minutes later I finally corner one of our waitresses and order four margaritas, two for both of us. When they arrived not soon enough, you would’ve thought we were inhaling the finest nectar on Earth as we moaned with pleasure. My ex leaned over and whispered “I want to gulp my down, but I don’t want to look like a lush or alcoholic!” I looked at her with this puzzled expression, “Don’t worry” I explained, “the divorced-in-laws (i.e. my ex-wife’s family) probably think we drink too much and have too much fun anyway. I’ll gulp if you’ll gulp!?” Ahhhh, we both smiled setting our glasses down. She whispered again to me, “Did you bring in the bottle of tequila?” If it wasn’t so big, I would have!
Though those were very stressful hours on the highway — what highway we could actually see — the drinks, dinner, conversation, and food were superb. Unless this post becomes 4 to 5,000 words long, I can’t go into detail of just how much we enjoyed the evening. Those two-and-a-half hours were a lot of fun, especially as the groom’s father moved around talking with everyone and making us all laugh. He encouraged us all night to order whatever our hearts desired. It was exactly what we needed after the boat-ride down in the USS Professor.
The Wedding Ceremony
Some of you who know me well know that my ex-wife, the step-father, and the maternal family are ultra-conservative evangelical Fundamentalists. The wedding ceremony and vows was most certainly going to be representative of my ex-wife’s beliefs and as such my daughter’s and how she was raised by her mother. My daughter by now may or may not have the full picture of how… how can I put this(?)… over-bearing “over-seeing” her maternal grandfather is and interjects his and his own family’s long-line of beliefs into her mother’s life as well as her own. But I knew preparing for this wedding she would get a more pronounced idea.
Yet, even I was amazed how super Fundy and overly-biblical the ceremony turned out to be. All sorts of Paulian theology and New Testament quotes were flowered into the marriage-ideals and vows as her maternal grandfather was the presiding minister. That surprised me greatly. I expected one of the staff members of her own church to do the honors! In hindsight, I can probably explain why the grandfather did it: he happily did it for free since the “biological father” couldn’t afford the expenses of the wedding. With equal reason(s) the evangelical Fundy beliefs had to be presented.
It was a VERY serious wedding. Fortunately, the reception afterwards was not as… stuffy? (wink) I have included a few pictures of the ceremony here because my daughter looked amazing! Her new husband Riley is also a big futebol/soccer fan. We always have tons to talk about when together. I like that! Score major points there Tori. 😉
Groom’s Father and Family
Now I’ve reached the most pleasant, the most enjoyable and relaxing part of the wedding weekend: the groom’s father and family. Correction, the second most pleasant, enjoyable, relaxing part. Being with my daughter at her wedding and having my ex-girlfriend with me was clearly the first! But me and my Mom were wonderfully surprised by how much fun and how moderate the groom’s family turned out to be by comparisons. They knew how to have fun and laughed so easily!
They were all staying at the same hotel with my Mom, her boyfriend, my sister, and my aunt and uncle. Consequently, we had an opportunity to spend some time with them away from wedding-stuff and post-wedding. My Mom had the chance to spend much more time with them — my hotel was 30-minutes away in the next town, sadly. But we did manage to chat with them Sunday night.
As it turns out, my daughter’s in-laws are not so religious and serious. Or to put it another way, they are not so heavily convicted or obligated(?) to preach or “share the gospel of Good News” with everyone, especially sinners — which turns out to be good because me and my family are jovial “well-known” sinners. We were quickly drawn to them and as it also turned out, the groom’s father and my Mom’s boyfriend had a lot in common. Both of them grew up on the farm in the country. He up in the state of Iowa, my Mom’s boyfriend here in Texas. They both knew a lot about hunting, guns/rifles, and gutting, skinning, and cooking your kills. Listening to them all talk and laugh, I realized that they were just regular people who seemed not to care much about anyone’s religious beliefs or non-religious beliefs. It was so liberating to discover! For the last ten or more years I had assumed that my daughter, along with the close help of her mother and step-dad, would have to date a “like-minded” like-committed boy/man, especially to marry him. This may not be the case.
However, I can’t jump to certain conclusions, yet. As I’ve mentioned, I’ve missed out on the last 14-years of my daughter’s life. Riley’s personal beliefs and those of his family’s might be as hardcore as Tori’s mom and her family. They just didn’t show it over the weekend. Nevertheless, this was a fantastic start, from my perspective, for my daughter’s new life… and perhaps my future grandchildren.
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Above in the slideshow of wedding pictures, there is one with my son walking Tori down the aisle. That is when my eyes welled-up and I started sniffling. When she arrived up on stage, I had to wipe away one or two tears. Yes, as any father would say about his daughter at her wedding, she looked stunning. But not only do I mean it, but she truly does/did! She has inherited some great genes! Not only genes of beauty, but of high intellect too. Tori is indeed a fabulous girl woman and Riley, as well as his Dad, told me how lucky they feel to have her in the family.
Toward the end of the wedding reception, Tori was making her goodbye rounds before changing into their traveling/honeymoon clothes. We looked at each other, took deep breaths, smiled, and I told her…”And it begins.” I grabbed her and didn’t want to let go holding her for several lengthy seconds. I felt as if I might have to wait longer now. She chuckled at the thought of trying to escape me.
But then again, how long can a single, twice-divorced father hang on to his daughter when “a lifetime of love” awaits? What a strange funny thought. But for a husband and/or father, isn’t that life?
Live Well — Love Much — Laugh Often — Learn Always