I participate in Facebook on various pages and groups. One is for my old neighborhood, in Chicago, Hyde Park. This weekend we had a long exchange about an issue important to me and it stimulated me to finish this dialogue I have been working on. I intended this for public consumption but it may be too personal to all but those that lived it. My previous blog posts have touched on many aspects of my youth and its indiscretions and failures. I fail sometimes to pay homage to the environment which I thrived and drowned in.
When I was 14, my family moved from an area in Chicago called South Shore to Hyde Park (HP) a neighborhood 10 minutes north. Kind of like moving from the Earth to Mars.
So for my first 14 years, I got used to anti-Semitism and racial animus in South Shore. There were white kids in my high school, known as “greasers” that hated Jews and Blacks. Jews were generally not friends with Blacks but there was rarely any hostilities between them. Of course that is a shallow description but all that is needed for the moment. The South Shore high school was populated with the traditional cliques “popular” kids, nerds, athletes, etc. There was an additional cliquish element. Jewish high school fraternities and sororities which mimicked the Greek system. These were ranked by cool. The more popular attracted cooler kids and athletes. I joined a fraternity, Phi Omega Pi, (POPS). We were considered slightly cooler than kids who were unable to be admitted to and rejected from the fraternities. We met weekly, and had social activities like house parties and athletic leagues. I barely navigated the social chasm between my black friends and white friends.
And so it went until I was sent away to New Hampshire for educational rehabilitation. All fodder for more blogging someday.
When I landed upon the shores of Hyde Park, I found a new world. One of the first things I noticed was the presence of the counter-culture which would become known as the “60s” and hippies. The center of this culture seemed to reside on “57th Street”, in the shadow of the University of Chicago.
Shortly after we moved to HP, I ran away from home, again. It was the summer of 1968, I was 15. I was new to the neighborhood and did not know many kids. I had just finished my 3rd year of high school but my first year of a New Hampshire boarding school.
First order of business as a runaway was to seek shelter. I had heard if I went and hung out on 57th street, I would hear about “crash pads”, apartments where runaways would be welcome to sleep.
So I went there and hung out all that day and evening. None of the young people I asked knew of a crash pad. It got late and people started going home. I had no where to go. I had a toothbrush and a few dollars. When the local restaurant locked its doors and the streets cleared, a guy about 4 years older than me named Arsene offered to let me crash at his parents’ home a block away. His parents were out of town and he and his friend Otis were going there. He let me sleep there until his family returned a few days later. By then I had met other kids and had got my bearings. We remained friends and I remain grateful for his intervention and invitation.
Strangely, I do not remember much about the summer after that. I do not know where I stayed or who I stayed with. But I did not go home. I did not go to the Democratic National Riots in Grant Park although it was a short train ride away.
As I integrated into my new hood, I enjoyed some of the differences. Nobody called me a dirty Jew anymore. Black kids and white kids mingled freely. Athletes were rarely held in the highest esteem. Some kids were notably smart without being picked on. Teens and young adults gravitated to this 57th street and shared food and marijuana. The summer of love greeted us. I grew my hair and dropped acid, LSD. I smoked a lot of pot. We walked a short ways to hang out on Lake Michigan and at the famed Museum of Science and Industry. Many of the young men and women were musical, math or science prodigies, gang members, writers and artists. It was by no means a community immune from the ravages of urban ills like racial and sexual violence, police misconduct and addiction. In fact, HP bordered three of the most poverty stricken areas in the United States.
Summer ended. It was time to go back to boarding school. I agreed to meet my mom and a suitcase at the corner by my now beloved 57th Street and go to the airport to go back to boarding school. The local kids were going back to school but I could not stay in Chicago as I was not enrolled in any local school. So I ended my days on the run and returned to Tilton School. That story ought to be good for some more blog posts.
Within hours of getting back to the school in Tilton NH. the hassle started. My long hair became an object of derision just as my being a Midwesterner had always been. I found some hip kids to pal around with but my fate was sealed quickly. I was expelled 3 weeks after school began and returned to Chicago.
The public high school near my parents was called Kenwood. Calling it a high school is a stretch. It was an old grade school which housed only freshmen, sophomore and junior year students. Gym class required we walk 4 blocks to the local YMCA and the lunch room was the auditorium. No lunch tables.
I turned 16 and a few months later I dropped out of school, left home and focused my time researching recreational drugs and their effect on a 16 year old white Jewish male. I shot heroin, sniffed glue and snorted coke and ingested barbiturates. I marched against the war, got arrested for pot and theft, advocated overthrowing the government and offing the Pigs (police). Lost my virginity, aided and abetted the Black Panther Party and was found to be mentally unfit for military service.
Also while I was 16, I met Tony James at a local church, by the University. Inside the church in a large room was a food service/coffee house, where anyone was welcome to buy a snack and sit and study, or hang out. Cheap, warm and welcomed, count me in. More on the church to follow.
Tony was on the run from home like me. We banded together to survive. We hung out till nighttime then slept wherever we could. Sometimes in church basements, friends apartments or the homes of adults that took pity on us. We dodged authorities and dealt drugs together. Tony had been in jail a few times already for theft and he introduced me to burglarizing homes.
We could be relied upon to have stolen stereos and marijuana to sell. I saved money and we got our own apartment and lived as outlaws. He was tall and black. I was short and white. We proclaimed, Mighty mighty Spade and Whitey. Some weekends we would travel the short distance to the famed blues lounges where Buddy Guy and Muddy Waters performed. We stood toe to toe against violent predators. But in the end, like so many youthful HP tales, it ended badly. He and his girlfriend ripped off my money and to hide his betrayal, he spread rumors intended to cause me physical harm.
Hyde Park was my most formative years. My time there was relatively short. I moved on to the north side when I was around 20 years old. My friends still lived in Hyde Park and I visited often but I was slowly pulling away. I did return in 1983 to assume the position of drug counselor to local adolescents for the BRASS Foundation and then as the manager/counselor of the alcohol and drug detox unit at the Hyde Park Hospital. I left again when I was accepted into law school in 1985.
All this to say that I carry the experience of Hyde Park in my blood and bones. It shaped my life indelibly. The rest of my life would be a testament to it. I became a social worker to disturbed adolescents because a local church helped me turn my life around. I became a lawyer because I knew the fear of being arrested at 17 for drugs and facing a lengthy prison sentence. I became an activist for legalization of marijuana, an environmentalist and a humanist. I worked as a drug counselor in the inner-city. The YMCA of Chicago hired me to work in a racially riven community to try and ameliorate and mitigate the ill effects of the racial hostilities there. (That did not work out well.)
I learned in HP that I would never be alone standing up to racial and economic inequality. I saw that the inequality cut into the fabric of our society, schools, courts and jobs. I would never be silent or tolerate bullies. I saw the arising of consciousness and the deadening of souls from drugs.
I am still friends with most of my pals from that time and place. We continue to share compassion and empathy for other humans and animals. Sadly, many lived too fast and died too young. Hard drugs and alcohol decimated my posse. The survivors have a bond that remains unbroken after 50 plus years. We had Lake Michigan to play in and watch sunrises. The University of Chicago introduced us to smart kids from all around the planet and to score drugs from. I burgled and terrorized them. The university was a helluva source of jobs though. I got fired as a dishwasher there.
I know many people who go back to where they were raised and knock on the doors of old pals. I cannot do that. They died or they moved. One of the last of the originals, was an original. His name was Tony Roberts. He was the smartest, hottest mess I ever befriended. He was black, fat and the most prolific martial artistic I knew. He could talk the birds (and ladies) from the trees but he could not abandon a life of lies and fantasies that he surrounded himself with. He could be the epitome of the whole sub-culture of the over under-achievers that proliferated my teen age years. No persons were ever smarter and more talented and did less with their lives than my pals.
Although I have blogged about this institution before, a special word about the University Church for the Disciples of Christ. Also known by its coffee house name, The Blue Gargoyle. It is where I was to meet the seminarian/social worker Loel Callahan who would jump start my return to society. He modeled for me the path to what was to be my career in social work.
The church is where I met the original members of the University of Chicago’s Gay Lib and the Women’s Lib clubs, who came to the church for needed meeting space when the University turned them away as undesirables. I met the young students who became CADRE, the Chicago Area Draft Resistance, an important group of young men who opposed the Vietnam war. The inviting atmosphere was not lost on various black gangs who met and fought each other and really did spill blood inside and outside the church. Most important to me is that I was the first leader of the youth group which was comprised of a bunch of great big beautiful fuck ups, and not so fucked up. While turning me from a life of crime was like turning an aircraft carrier, the role I had in this program was the beginning.
I am about to return to the neighborhood and break bread with old pals. I have been doing this every year as long as I can remember. I don’t have high school reunions to go to, having never graduated, but I have my friends from the teen years in Hyde Park. We come from wherever we now live to celebrate our friendship, community and history.
I imagine every neighborhood has its great moments, good people and love. But for just a brief moment between 1968 and the mid 1970s, I was a part of one of the greatest cultural movements/experiments in history. I was in the right place and it must have been the right time. Simultaneously, I was in the wrong place and it must have been the wrong time.
The appropriate song….
Years later in Arizona an officer was acquitted of second-degree murder charges, and officials released graphic video showing Daniel Shaver crawling on his hands and knees and begging for his life in the moments before he was shot and killed by police in January 2016. Shaver died in one of at least 963 fatal police shootings in 2016, according to a Washington Post database.
The shooting of Laquan McDonald took place in Chicago IL on October 20, 2014, when the 17-year-old African American was fatally shot by Officer Jason Van Dyke. McDonald was reported to have been behaving erratically while walking down the street, and holding a folding knife with a three-inch blade. Initial police reports described the incident such that Van Dyke was not charged in the shooting at that time.
When the police released a dash cam video of the shooting thirteen months later, on November 24, 2015, it showed McDonald had been walking away from the police when he was shot. Officer Van Dyke was charged with murder and was released on bail on November 30. On October 5, 2018, Van Dyke was found guilty at trial of second degree murder, and 16 counts of aggravated battery with a handgun. He received a light prison sentence.
As Sonny and Cher sing,
Grandmas sit in chairs and reminisce
Boys keep chasing girls to get a kiss
The cars keep going faster all the time
Bums still cry, “Hey buddy, have you got a dime?”
Drums keep pounding a rhythm to the brain
La de da de de, la de da de da
I grow weary of trying to stimulate the public into recognizing the deficiency of police training and policies and accountability. But cannot give up. Some shit is too important.
I grew up near the shore of Lake Michigan. To visit the lake requires maneuvering over, or under the highway which runs between the lake and the city.
I am tripping. In my teen years I am usually just traveling in my head, going places I want to be, avoiding places I really am. I see the tunnel (sometimes called viaduct) up ahead. The tunnel goes under the Lake Shore Drive and out to the lake. As I enter the tunnel I hear the echo of my feet. It is that reverb you get only in a shower or in a tunnel. Listen to my whistle. It sounds so full it sounds orchestral. I hear the rhythms in my head. The beat comes echoing off my feet. You know the routine. I whistle while I work. I will walk this road so many times in my life. And I will always listen. The first time I came down one of these tunnels was when I was very young. The light fades and the temperature drops in the tunnel. The smells are more pungent. Sometimes I hold my nose so I don’t have to smell the urine. The kid in me gets excited at the notion of traveling through the dimness. The tunnel provides fullness to my sound, and anxiety to my fears.
One night, Pee Wee and I head to the Point, a lakefront park on the south side. Pee Wee was a founder and member of the Blackstone rangers. He was a short man, several years older than me, and he worked in produce at the local small grocery store. He liked wine and reefer. And he loved being a member of the Main 21. So called the board of 21 leaders that ruled this gang of tens of thousands of young men.
Anyway, we were walking out at the Point one evening. There weren’t too many white people out there at night but I didn’t worry as I was with friends. White people always left the lakefront when it got dark. Then the beach belonged to the black folks. The many conga drums picked up a beat. The radios played louder, the smell of reefer always swirling around here and there. This night Pee Wee showed me how well he could roll a joint even though he was staggering drunk. We wandered around the lake front, people watching and getting our own buzz going which had started that evening off with some Richard’s Wild Irish Rose. For the uninitiated it is a wine whose bouquet is well regarded on skid rows everywhere.
The weather was perfect. Not too hot and not too cold. We left the drummers on the south end, and we began to explore. All of the sudden Pee Wee tells me to “be cool.” There is urgency to his voice. He isn’t loud; in fact he is obviously trying to make sure only I hear him. I say, “What’s up?”
He again urges me to be cool and his voice is strained. He is worried. He tells me to just keep walking and head for the park exit. We move that way. I ask him to tell me why. He explains that he has been spotted by a group of Gangster Disciples, enemies of the Stones, and they are coming behind us. I see the tunnel come into view. It is the way out. But it is where we are most vulnerable to a trap and attack. As we enter the tunnel the urgency of our footsteps reverberates. I start thinking about how loud a gunshot is gonna sound in here. The tunnel is narrow and I know if they move on us in here we are through. But we can’t run. Gotta keep cool. I hear the voices draw closer. If we can make it to the end, there is usually a squad car parked on the other side this time of night. They are keeping an eye on the large number of young black men, most who reside in the tough communities located a short distance away.
In that tunnel, my feet sound loud and the beat erratic. The sound betrays that I am ill at ease. I aged in that tunnel. When I came out of the other end I was surely an older person.
It wasn’t too much longer after that night than I found myself back up at the point at night w/Pee Wee again and JD, my girlfriend, and Pee Wee’s girlfriend.
We were walking around getting high and listening for the drums that were always there. As we approached the circle where the drummers were gathered, JD grabbed my arm and yelped. I turned and looked at her and I could see fear written in every line of her face, her eyes almost bulging and her mouth drawn so tight, almost cartoonishly. Then she told me that the large black guy approaching us was one of the guys that had raped her recently. I had hunted this faceless bastard before, but I had only had a vague description. He towered over us. He was at least 6’3″ and was dressed in an African shirt called a dashiki. He had a dashiki cap on his head too. I looked around and there were obviously some friends of his there, dressed in a similar manner. He came up to us. She was gripping my hand tightly. He began to talk to her and put his hand to her neckerchief and play with the ring holding it on. He commented on what a nice ring it was. I rolled her behind me with my wrist and got my body between them. He stared at me and I at him. I was trying to calculate how we could escape since he had size, numbers and evil on his side.
Black Hercules was there, dancing the way he always did to the drums. He was a magnificent bodied man who dressed as though he were entering or departing the jungle. He wore shorts and a leather vest without a shirt. His hair was like a mane, long, dark, stringy, curly. He rarely spoke and appeared to live on the streets. But he had muscles in places most people got no places. He was always smiling when he would see me, but I don’t remember him ever speaking. I never knew if his silence was the result of some mental defect or simply his demeanor. I wondered if he would recognize the danger to us and intervene if violence ensued. Then Pee Wee stepped in and introduced himself to this large man. Pee Wee had sensed the bad vibes. He nodded to the man, exchanged some greetings then told us it was time to leave. He told the large man “I’ll be seeing you around brother.” It was a strange and ominous departure between the two. I didn’t want to leave because even though I was clearly at a disadvantage I wanted revenge. I wanted to knock the smirk off his face and make him feel Jan’s rage and fear. But Pee Wee was insistent and corralled us.
Then the 4 of us began the long walk across the park to the tunnel. I was uncertain that Pee Wee’s presence would serve to deter anything. He was shorter than I and just wasn’t an imposing guy. But we entered the tunnel and left the bad man behind. We stopped at the first store on 55th and Pee Wee made a phone call. Then he told us he would see us later and goodbye.
Turns out he arranged a war party for the large man, courtesy of the Blackstone Rangers. Not sure of all that transpired after that as Pee Wee was AWOL from the hood for a while. When he reappeared he told me he had been in jail for the attack on the man and his friends. Shortly thereafter Pee Wee offered me membership in the Black Stones. Tempting, but what little sanity I held on to in those days said “no” to the offer of membership in what was mostly, largely, almost exclusively a black gang.
Years later I would walk through a similar tunnel on the North side (Belmont Avenue) to visit the lakefront. Back then I was about 25 and doing street work with teens in the area. This night I was off duty and just walking around with a girlfriend who also worked with young people. We crossed under the road to walk along the lakefront, heedless of what was waiting. I had my resonant whistle going with a happy carefree song. It may have been Up, UP & Away by the 5th Dimension. It’s a great tunnel song. But no sooner had we left the tunnel and come out into the lamp lit night than we were told that Knuckles was freaking out and needed help. Knuckles was an older Puerto Rican gang member I knew, and he was losing control from PCP.
I always liked Knuckles. I spent most of my work hours interacting with gangs. He enjoyed his rep as an older gang member without any of the obligations of ganghood. He was usually high and lazy but he never disrespected what I was trying to do with the kids in the hood. It was his young wife Gail, who approached and told me he was hallucinating. She was distressed by what he was doing and saying. I asked if he was “dusted”, (as in angel dust/PCP, animal tranquilizer)? She said he had done some much earlier but not for hours. She doubted it was the cause of his behavior.
“Hey Knuckles man, what you doing?” “Nothing” he said. “Why are u trippin’?” “I’m fine man, except I had a hallucination. I imagined I had my little brother in my hands and I was beating him. I imagined that I was killing him. Beating him with my fists and kneeing him in his head. It seemed so real.”
“It’s the “dust” I told him. “It’s just your mind reeling from the high, one bad moment in an otherwise good day. You been out here partying with your wife and buddies and the shit is fucking with you.”
“No man, it isn’t the dust. That was hours ago.” his face would contort and his fists were clenching and unclenching. His eyes were wild.
“Hey dude, you are scaring me, I said. I wish you wouldn’t act like that. Makes me nervous to stand here and you looking so crazed. Come back down please.” Knuckles was much taller than me. He was a tall wiry guy with a goatee. He usually dressed in a sleeveless T. He was about 21. He had been in the gang a long time but inactive at present as he actually tried to be a married young man. He had kids and they meant something to him.
Knuckles looked up at me and turned his head to the side as though he were examining me. I was nervous as hell. Guys on angel dust can exhibit unusual strength. Paramedics who are dispatched to transport users of dust to psychiatric facilities know to fear “dust” users.
I figured I stunk of fear. In my experience, persons having a psychotic break get agitated if they get mixed messages. I didn’t want him to get more confused by my acting all brave if he smelled the fear. So I just stuck by the truth so I could keep him listening. “You scare me man when you act like this. I don’t want you to freak out and hit me or something.” “I ain’t gonna hit you man. I am cool.”
“I know you are, but try to breathe deep and relax. Keep your mind right here with me and stop letting it run away with you. You can do it man. You gotta just stay right here and right now man. See, your wife is over there and she is nervous about how you are doing. We gonna take care of you, but you gotta help.”
“Its all cool man, really,” he said. I could see he was trying to stay with me. I told him to breathe deep and he tried. He was talking, successfully struggling to stay in the moment. The hallucinations would start again when he drifted.
Then it got weird. One of his homeboys walked up, a tall blond guy who was horribly alcoholic and not particularly bright. He operated off of one kidney; because one was removed from an accident or stabbing. I can’t remember which. Well he walked up intoxicated, with a beer can in his hand and punched Knuckles in the chest and told him to “stop fucking around.” Knuckles became agitated again and told him to back off. The other guy was trying to make light of it and act as if it was all under control. He was laughing and woofing at Knuckles about, “you ain’t gonna do SHIT!”
I asked the guy to leave but he refused. He said Knuckles was cool and he would hang with him and everything would be cool. Knuckles face was looking taut again. His eyes were hostile and fearful. I kept talking to him.
“Let’s get your wife man and sit down somewhere. You need to relax and these guys are drunk.”
His wife was nervous. She didn’t want me to bring him over to her. She was a small thing and she was afraid he was gonna flip out violently. She was afraid to be there when he got crazy. But I reassured her I would stay and he would be all right. I didn’t know if that was true but I didn’t want to be alone with him either or alone with him and his drunk buddies. I feared he would get nuts and violent too and I didn’t want to be the closest thing. I figured my chances were better at keeping him cool if his wife was there.
It didn’t help that I had a date with me. It was Memorial Day weekend. I couldn’t run if he got ugly if the date didn’t run too. I would have to stay long enough to make sure she was cool and that would be all the time he needed to attack me. When you know an attack may come at any moment, you stay on the balls of your feet. You want to be able to scramble quick and not get caught off-balance. Having a date with you screwed up the escape dynamics.
We hadn’t been out often, and I figured this would be the last time. She could probably find funnier ways to spend Memorial Day. The good part is since she was a social worker too, so she was sensitive to the task before me.
That DUST is some shit man. It can really wig someone out. I have seen it take multiple guys to restrain someone in Knuckles condition. I tried to recruit some other neighborhood teens that I knew that were drinking nearby, in case it did get out of control. What if he attacked me? How much damage could he do before they pulled him off me? I had no confidence these kids would intervene.
I am worn out from the memory of the night. He finally calmed down and lay on the grass lawn at the beach. His wife Gail thanked me.
I took my date and we crossed back under the tunnel and we went to a nearby Asian restaurant for some food and a rare alcoholic drink. I needed a while to come down off the fear. My date, Peggy and I are still friends.
Warning, the word I appears a bunch!
Relationships! I could write the book, “How to not have relationships”.
Laurie and I divorced years ago. Occasionally I will write her some explanation, apology or indictment of our brief history as husband and wife. Each letter supposed it was more insightful than the preceding ones. On my side, I send letters to people as the spirit moves me, so as to explain and/or pardon my behavior that I look back on with regrets. I get very few letters from old flames. Nobody feels compelled to explain their lack of bad behavior.
I am always vulnerable and still fall prey to the need for affection, respect, and acceptance. When I do not get what I want I manufacture petty resentments and righteous indignation. I seem to have two options, to be victim or victor.
Writing a blog is a dicey proposition. It brings into play this concern/need for acceptance. When I blog, I will sometimes hear a kind word about my writings and experience the satisfaction of sharing and being heard. I cannot express how much effort is needed to produce clear written expressions. Unlike in social media where I whip out some quick post, I need long hard hours of producing drafts and thinking hard, asking myself, what will be understood by the reader. Upon publication, if I think I failed or no one read it, I turn on myself.
This idea of being a victim came up many years ago. I saw my inclination to characterize myself as a victim when I did an Alcoholics Anonymous 4th Step self-inventory 37 years ago. Malady identified, treated, case solved and closed. Not so fast buster. Seems the remedy was not a cure, merely remission.
I do not consciously pursue to be a victim or the victor. I am much too dignified and sensitive to allow myself to wallow in self-pity or arrogance. I believe that! But in truth my ability to see me clearly is always clouded. It is the nature of reality, my mind, that there are inherent barriers to self-knowledge.
Last week I had lunch with Ginny, a dear friend. She said I often speak like a victim, ruminating and resentful over old matters. I realize I have talked this way for so long I do not hear it. I do not harbor all the pettiness that springs from my lips. But I am so used to a way of speech, acerbic, biting and aggressive that I hardly hear myself. Despite years of personal efforts at reformation and rehabilitation I have barely put a dent in my speech. I am still more comfortable with a lifetime of verbal aggression than a few years of practicing skillful, compassionate tones. If I let my mind drift, I slip into old ways that can only be described as mindless.
I was born into insecurity and fear. I survived at a cost. The antidote was to become larger and tougher than my tormentors. In the process I locked into many risky behaviors that were maladjusted but seemed to serve me well. Gangs, crimes, drugs, sex, etc.
Addiction was just one of the outcomes of my lifestyle choices. The basic text of Narcotics Anonymous says, “The spiritual part of our addiction is our total self-centeredness. ……..Denial, substitution, rationalization, justification, distrust of others, guilt, embarrassment, dereliction, degradation, isolation, and loss of control are all results of our disease.” I add a touch of arrogance, a cupful of insecurity and a smidgen of hostility.
I do not blame addiction for my lack of social grace. I know many people who have never taken a mood altering substance that fit the above description. Self-centered and selfish is not limited to addicts.
The Buddha described people as “asleep”. When Prince Siddhartha became enlightened, he was there-after referred to as Buddha. Buddha means ‘Awakened One’, someone who has awakened from the sleep of ignorance and sees things as they really are. The obstacles to awakening are,
- wrong views
I am lucky. Because of my addiction to drugs, in my attempts to mature I have invited and been aided and abetted by others. My village is populated with friends and mentors who tend to be smart, spiritual and giving. They see my defects and my corrects from a perspective I just do not have. In exchange for giving honesty, I get honesty.
The moment I think I got it, I don’t got it. “I am the wisest man alive, for I know one thing, and that is that I know nothing.”– Plato
“Selfishness, self-centeredness! That, we think, is the root of our troubles. Driven by a hundred forms of fear, self-delusion, self-seeking, and self-pity, we step on the toes of our fellows and they retaliate. Sometimes they hurt us, seemingly without provocation, but we invariably find that at some time in the past we have made decisions based on self which later placed us in a position to be hurt. So our troubles, we think, are basically of our own making.”
― Alcoholics Anonymous,
Come the solution!
“And acceptance is the answer to all my problems today. When I am disturbed, it is because I find some person, place, thing, or situation “some fact of my life” unacceptable to me, and I can find no serenity until I accept that person, place, thing, or situation as being exactly the way it is supposed to be at this moment.”
― Alcoholics Anonymous,
The Buddhist path comes to a similar albeit more invigorating conclusion. My years of 12 step and Buddhism have been like mentally mixing nitro and glycerin.
So here is what I think about my relationships today. After many years of self-reflection. I can glimpse the depth and breadth of my spiritual malady. My spirituality is not about religion or God, neither of which I have much of a relationship with. My salvation lies in my ability to just be kind and allow myself to be completely confused and disconcerted by life without needing to “fix” my life. In the past I looked everywhere, inside and out for answers but found nothing of value contained therein. In that void though, within myself, there is storage enough for every bad feeling I have ever felt. I can be consistently uncomfortable without blame or bitterness. Mindful meditation opens me up to the awareness that reflecting on loving kindness is a practical practice. I am kind in heart if not yet in language.
My salvation lies in surrounding myself with humble, smart, sensitive people who care enough to share with me but not enable me. Slowly they have shown me in the past couple of years that if one is not naturally sweet and kind, then make the fucking effort to be so. Buddha teaches that by being kind to others I am being kind to myself.
Imagine as described in Alcoholics Anonymous….”My inability to accept the harsh realities of life had resulted in a disillusioned cynic, clothed in a protective armor against the world’s misunderstanding. That armor had turned into prison walls, locking me in loneliness—and fear. All I had left was an iron determination to live my own life in spite of the alien world—and here I was, an inwardly frightened, outwardly defiant person, who desperately needed a prop to keep going.”
What I find stunning about my own life is how much I resemble a disillusioned cynic despite my effort to improve. I have been a sick puppy yet I was and continue to be a good person who always tried to be fair, honest and kind. A man who protected the weak, stood for his truth and truly hated injustice. I never, ever intend to be mean without provocation. I continually trusted others despite the resulting, recurring losses of material and spiritual possessions. Give freely, take sparingly.
Anyways back to my original point. All the years of introspection and confession to my ex-wife and suddenly I do not believe any of it. Not lies. Just ignorance. Oh, some of what I shared was surely accurate and it was all well-intentioned, but it was always an attempt at a depth which the more I plumb the more I realize how over my head I am.
What it must be like to have been married to, or dated a man who carried a gun religiously. Who tolerated no slight from friend or stranger. What is it like to share space with a man who battles passionately every injustice he sees as the passion burns him out from the inside? How do you feel loved by someone who dismisses your feelings as he rescues the next cat or kid or both the day before your wedding.
I am so gratified that sometimes my mouth speaks what my heart feels. I wish I could always be more skillful and mindful in my speech.
The good news is that writing a blog regularly, teaching meditation and going to 12 step meetings is like working out and riding a bike. It results in a mental and emotional aerobic type capacity to keep carrying me up the mountain. So from up here it is uphill all the way, but now when I look back, I see a beautiful vista of where I have been. I am learning not to judge it, me or you. This vessel I call me, has an infinite capacity for memories of pain and pleasure. The idea that I cannot keep going is nothing more than a fleeting although frequent thought.
I think I have written my last epistle to my ex. I have exhausted both of our abilities to have these exchanges. It could never be nearly as revealing as I imagined. And she reads my blog sometimes so she can hear about it with everyone else.
“I am larger, better than I thought; I did not know I held so much goodness.
All seems beautiful to me.
Whoever denies me, it shall not trouble me;
Whoever accepts me, he or she shall be blessed, and shall bless me.”
― Walt Whitman, Leaves of Grass
If there is a me, this might be. Can you summarize a life? I did so much living, I cannot recall half of it. But memories flow when I find that those memories may be helpful to others. I also realize that all I am in many regards, is memory. This moment fades immediately into a memory. Here I lay out the substance of memories which comprise the path I follow to freedom from suffering. I have learned studying the Buddha that the most precious moment in my life is this moment. If you read through I hope it will be worthy of your time.
I am 66 years old. I am recently identifying as a lawyer, meditation teacher and recovering addict. I relate to Marilyn Monroe when she said, “I am good, but not an angel. I do sin, but I am not the devil. I am just a small girl in a big world trying to find someone to love.”
I arrive here by luck and by being very street smart. I spent most of my teens on the streets of Chicago, as a runaway from a physically abusive dad. While my family was affluent, I chose to live in poverty and crime, sometimes living on pieces of foam in the basements of apartment buildings and churches. I spent my teens stealing property, selling drugs, hitching rides and evading pedophiles.
Runnin’, hidin’, losin’, cryin’, nothing left to save
But my life
I made my break and a big mistake, stealin’ when I should have been buyin’
Probability of survival, low.
When I was 23, I created the nonprofit youth agency called Local Motion Inc. because it was the only way I could get a job working with teens. All the established youth programs I applied to declared that my lack of any formal college education disqualified me. So I hired me, I learned how to write grants for funding, and spent most of my time working in the streets with the toughest kids I could find. I was drawn to spending nights on street corners inhabited by gang members. My goal was to draw them away from the violence and facilitate their productive participation in society.
I dropped out of high school at 16. I tested and received a GED, high school equivalency when I was 18. I didn’t see the inside of a classroom again until 11 years later when I began a college program called University Without Walls. I spent 2 years in (and out of) the program getting a bachelors degree. My college program was interrupted when I went into drug treatment. After being clean of drugs for a year I returned to college and social services. Got my addictions counselor certification and my Bachelors in Human Services.
In 1985, at the age of 33, I enrolled in the John Marshall Law School. I was awarded a law degree 2.5 years later. I continued to work as a social worker with high risk populations in the inner city until I began a solo law practice in 1988. My own experiences as a street urchin and a drug abuser made me feel drawn back to the streets even as a lawyer. I could stay with what I had come to know the best, the streets! I have learned most of the tricks of survival by always bringing my work to the streets and the streets to my work.
I have been in numerous life and death encounters, including being shot at a few times. I have been witness to or involved in probably 100 violent incidents. Some days I saw multiple assaults. I have seen hate and most of its permutations. Probability of survival, low.
I am licensed to practice law in Texas, Arizona and Illinois. I studied law with some of the best trial lawyers in America including Gerry Spence and Racehorse Haynes. I loved doing trials and represented clients in all types of criminal and civil cases. I am especially proud of my representation of those accused of murder. The stakes for the accused are almost incalculable..
Moved to Dallas TX when I was 43 with my second wife. She was a corporate executive and I started the DFW Gun Range and Training Center, the largest firearms training center in Dallas. Studied handguns tactics with some of the best, Thunder Ranch, Gunsite Academy, and the Executive Protection Institute among others. I was certified by the state of Texas to teach police and security firearms and the laws of use of deadly force. Survival odds, improved.
I made a best friend of my little brother Ricky when I became a Big Brother of Chicago over 35 years ago. He was 8 years old then. My second and best wife and I became foster parents to Danny, an 11 year old I met when the juvenile court in Chicago assigned me to assist in his criminal defense.
I have owned 7 businesses including 3 nightclubs. I regard nightclubs as a world infused, infested with drugs, alcohol and pain. Probability of survival, low.
So let us summarize what I think I am. I do fail more than I succeed but my failures are so delightful to others that I enjoy sharing them when opportunity knocks. So I identify with my failures. At the same time, my failures were harnessed to create subsequent successes. I identify with that.
If I get past labels, it is because I realize that saying I love biking Dallas or hiking Tucson AZ. is not satisfactory. Teaching Buddhist meditation for several years at the Buddhist Center of Dallas and being present for my daughters/family Annastacia and Alexandria, does not explain who I am now.
Should it be a thing that I relapsed on drugs for 10 years but in 2007 I reengaged with and remain in 12 step recovery? Does my study of Buddhism help sketch out who I am?
Funny story. On my way to losing a fortune during the economic tsunami of 2008, I befriended a Buddhist monk from Thailand who was living in Tucson Arizona. He and I hiked hundreds of miles of mountain trails discussing and learning meditation the next 2 years. Then I ordained as a novice Buddhist monk and lived in his monastery for a little over 4 months. That monk, Ajahn Sarayut, taught me how to meditate and then to teach. Odds of survival, very good.
I eat healthy, treat the Earth with respect and seek the companionship of great spirits. I have two mottos. Do no harm. And, Be humble, because I may be wrong.
I do wish to label me not. I prefer to be what I can be as the moment dictates what is true and right. My study of the Buddha taught me that the path of virtue, concentration, and discernment would lead to a state of calm well-being and to use that calm state to look at all experience in terms of suffering and freedom from suffering.
I am certain that I must be accepting of everything. I may not approve but with a gentleness I never knew, I must accept the pleasure and adversities and how fleeting both are. Drug addiction was a quick way to allay my emotional discomfort. Meditation is a slower, safer more skillful way to free myself from the very torment that drove me to abuse chemicals, relationships and money.
The time I spend trying to be certain of the solidity of things and thoughts the more suffering I have. When I bathe in the uncertainty of everything including myself, while it is bewildering, it is liberating. When I sit a look closely, there is nothing I can cling to with certainty. I was asked to challenge myself as to where my thoughts began and where the went when they left. I was challenged by my teachers to show that my thoughts and emotions were mine to possess by adhering to happy thoughts and pleasant emotions. I accepted the challenge and discovered I could not successfully cling to my thoughts or emotions.
“I am not bound to win, but I am bound to be true. I am not bound to succeed, but I am bound to live by the light that I have. I must stand with anybody that stands right, and stand with him while he is right, and part with him when he goes wrong.” Abraham Lincoln.
If I fail to stand for what I believe I would fail to be who I think I am. When I act mindlessly, not mindfully, when acting selfishly not selflessly, and when my intentions are unwholesome, then I am not who I want to be.
Who am I? Have not a clue. I no longer intend to let the armor around my heart remain there. I have been letting go of the pain of life’s encounters which close me, protect me and subvert me when I wish to love. Breathing in I am mindful I am breathing in. I practice in meditation to be aware of the physical sensation of the breath, in and out. When I am fully mindful, meditating the sediment of mindlessness settles. There is then a clarity which I never had of this moment and all the pain of yesterday and the anxiety of tomorrow is dissolved. I am free to love my family and friends and even strangers without the rubbish of judgment and opinions I love attaching to.
I hate this empathy thing. I drove across country recently. I could not help but notice many cows in fields on extremely hot days without shelter. I ruminated that a mammal is left to fend without shelter. Wild animals can seek shelter. But these cows could do nothing. They were fenced in, no cover in view. Other cows were in fields with trees or structures and they were all gathered out of the sun, to escape the heat. Domesticated mammals are often in the hands of persons who are indifferent to the animal’s comfort or worse exposed to torture.
I find I suffer at these observations. I want to do something. I want to mitigate, ameliorate or prevent the neglect and/or abuse of all living things. I cannot prevent harm to all living things. But do I in some way contribute. Do I create a market place that makes the raising and selling of animals desirable/profitable? Should I worry about the other animals like horses and livestock which are equally helpless? Should I lobby for domesticated animals to have access to food and shelter? Should I advocate to criminalize the farmer who forgoes the cost of providing such? Could our economy tolerate the elimination of meat and chicken consumption and the reliance of so many on the industry.
I do not have answers. I do not even purport to judge consumers. I just want to stop my own suffering by mitigating my contribution to this marketplace. My time eating meat may be coming to an end soon.
Pets are equally helpless. On Facebook this week alone, there was a video of a dog being gleefully hung by a teenage boy. The next day a photo appeared of a dog who had had fireworks placed in his mouth and detonated by another teen. Should I do more to alleviate the suffering of homeless cats and dogs? Is it not enough that I care for 2 rescue cats?
Sometimes I even worry that being a U.S. citizen means I contribute to the suffering of untold numbers of humans worldwide. I have no desire to surrender or denounce my citizenship. But maybe I should do more about resisting the military/industrial complex.
Again, no answers. Just questions today.