Transitions

So if you know me it is no surprise that I am writing about transitions the day my pal Jerry died. But the subject is not really about Jerry but about me. I have been transitioning before your very eyes. Social media, specifically Facebook has been the playground you can see me play, fight, grow.

When this all started, I had issues and my issues had issues. I had skills but I had at least one specific deficit, dealing with pain. Jerry’s dying has given me an opportunity to see my own transformation. Sometimes I am directly connected to my shifts, at other times I find myself merely a keen observer.

Like everyone I know, I have suffered losses in my life. Family and friends die Colleagues die. Physical, psychological and emotional pain are often my constant companions. I have mad coping skills sometimes. I am seriously good in a crisis. Like everyone I know, I also must suffer through loss. It is inevitable.

What is weird to watch is a pronounced absence of a type of suffering which I experienced which I think was caused by two things. A lack of tools and spiritual ignorance. That type of suffering has evaporated. In its place, for now, is an acceptance of thoughts and feelings that previously went undetected, ignored or silenced.

While I find nothing positive about Jerry’s death other than a release from physical suffering, I do find that the journey has been with purpose. Jerry’s death in my life has brought about a willingness to be present with my feelings. I am willing to cry (while still thinking “if you make fun of me crying, I will kill you). I am willing to just be. I have demonstrated to myself and others that I can subjugate my anger and fears in order to be of maximum service to others. Subjugation, crying, acceptance, and being present were not concepts I was interested in exploring before.

Facebook creates this public arena for pain and suffering, joy and happiness and kids photos. In the past, if someone close to me had died, I knew instinctively to share. But I didn’t always know with whom. Or if I knew, either I couldn’t find said person to share with, or I waved off the idea. When my boarding school roommate died years after school was out, I felt quite alone because no one in my world knew him and I couldn’t find anyone that did. Eventually over the years, I heard from two people who went to that boarding school with us, and have reconnected. They helped me bring closure to losing my roommate some time back and now, today, they help me embrace my new loss.

Some of Jerry’s friends are my friends. Facebook has become an outlet for the community to grieve. I do not feel alone in the least. ( I will overeat today. Powerless to resist food when hurt.) Unlike the past where I felt a loss of this type was my loss, today I see it is a community’s loss. It is a loss to Jerry’s community and family as well as to my community and family. My friends who never knew Jerry are still sharing their intimate acquaintance with experiencing losing a loved one.  They are empathetic and sympathetic. If I made this about me it would also be about how shallow I could be.

I am uncertain of the value, especially in the long run of exposing ourselves on social media. But in this moment it is quite apparent to me that it is serving me constructively. This blog is a way to harness the thoughts and feelings that come in waves. And then the blog will post to Facebook. Then I think I shall revisit my pain in a healthy way in days ahead versus the neurotic coping I see in people who can only see their pain in a very small context.

Pain and suffering are not the only feelings that are arising. My friends and I share joy, passion and anger also. And in some slightly more mature way than before, I am here for all of it. Sometimes I gloss over Facebook posts about new boyfriends/girlfriends. I skim over hundreds of photos my daughter posts from Korea. And most recipes and book reports go unread. But many life events are noted. Many of those I reply to. Sometimes I even get the right feeling to match the event when I post. (Sometimes not)

So I post photos of my family, friends and I, having fun, surgery, passages and disasters. I sell and buy stuff from Facebook. This is not intended as a promo or an advocacy of the utility of Facebook. It is merely to observe that I am transitioning before your very social media eyes. But big shout out to 12 step recovery, meditation and Buddhism for facilitating the change for others to observe. By the way, if you scratch your head and think, “I don’t get it”, that’s cool too. If you think, “Bull, Facebook and social media are for sissies” or some such, I hear ya. I do not think I care that much what you think.

Today is my little brother Ricky’s birthday. I woulda forgot without the FB  reminder. I texted him a greeting as a result. Sometimes I give a birthday shout to mere acquaintances. It just seems reasonable since I was already at the computer and seems a nice thing to do. Mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers have been lost. Pets have died and I sent condolences to the owners. I am not half-bad at it and sometimes I say something which strikes a chord with someone in the midst of their own difficulties.

Meditation has shown me that feelings and thoughts arise, and they depart. I have no investment in managing or controlling when and how. I need not crumble in the face of great emotional pain. My feelings are simply appropriate and to be expected. My anger is especially interesting as I struggle to put it in perspective without nurturing resentments or feeling guilty. It is just anger I feel. I am not the anger. But it is only by observing these thoughts and feelings that I resist the time old tradition of acting as badly as I feel. Interesting to watch people I resent and know in my heart that most of what I feel is all about my choosing to feel that way. Just as I can choose to feel pain without embarrassment and joy without clinging, I can also let anger arise and leave without the need to exacerbate it.

I hope my growing up in public serves more than a voyeuristic moment for the observer. I hope it stimulates interest and action to spiritual pursuit. Maybe it will encourage the practice of metta.  Metta, loving-kindness meditation, is the simple practice of directing well-wishes towards other people, and all living beings. It would be reasonable to think, if Ken can do it, anyone can.

Jerry Cichon passed away today. He was like a brother. We traveled what was frequently and arduous and tortured spiritual journey together in AA and elsewhere. After the 3rd or 4th hour of talking our way up a mountain, you tend to go deeper, to connect deeper. The small talk is long out of the way and straight talk kicks in. I may have known Jerry better than even my oldest friends because Jerry was so raw when we met. I was his lawyer, friend and brother. He was my first new friend in my new sober lifestyle who died in such a way (cancer) that sometimes it felt like we faced it together. It was not sudden for Jerry. It was not without great suffering. But as with most things in his new sober life, Jerry saw it was an opportunity to practice his spiritual and religious beliefs. Circumstances preclude me from sharing with his family the many things he shared. Such a day may come. Jerry said to me in recent days that I was spiritual perfection. Imagine that. Even if it isn’t true, can one man say anything kinder to a pal?

Getting to know me, getting to know all about me.

If you befriended on me on Facebook as a result of having mutual interest, shared groups, but you do not know me personally, I have to disclose the following. I carry a firearm for personal protection. I am probably carrying a knife also. I will resort to violence in defense of self or family. I have never nor do I intend to ever hunt an animal. I do not judge hunters, I simply am not one.

I am very liberal about taxes and social welfare programs. I believe in being an active part of helping persons less fortunate than myself. I welcome immigrants just as my Russian immigrant family was welcomed.

I had personal violent experiences with Muslims when I was young which caused me to hate them. For years, I hunted trouble with Muslims. I did not serve overseas. I did not serve in the military. I have dozens of friends who have killed in countries far away. Some of my friends were US military in Viet Nam, Iraq and Afghanistan. Some of my friends are private contractors and they too have killed in countries far away. I love my friends. I do not approve of some things they chose to do or felt forced to do, but I love them for who they are not what they have done.

But as I aged I decided to stop hating the Muslim. He is my brother. I forgave the Catholic school bullies who chased me and beat me regularly for being Jewish. I forgave Christ for whatever it was he taught that made others hate me. I learned to love. I love legal and illegal immigrants. I love those that have everything I ever hoped to have and those that have nothing. I pray for those who are being oppressed and I pray for their oppressors. So, with this glimpse in mind, you may wish to abstain from arguments about kicking anyone out of the US or demolishing welfare, or eliminating the minimum wage. You can not persuade me with fear or venom. I know you are tired my brothers of waiting for your way of life to be shattered by some Muslim extremist. I know you may fear illegal immigrants sucking the fiscal well-being right out of the marrow of our economy. I hear your bravado when you sound the alarm, blow the bugle…CHARGE!

Why you ask, am I not with the program? What is wrong with Ken that he cannot see the threat, the magnitude and depth and breath of the seriousness?

I have never spent one day in this country free of the fear that the anti-Semites will rise up angry and accelerate their attacks on Jewish institutions and persons. You want me to get excited now. Where the fuck were you when I spent years in grade school trying not to get caught by believers in Christ. Who green-lighted the murder of Jews in Spain, Russian, Germany, Austria et al. Who convinced country after country to throw out the dirty Jews?

It is the same attitude that empowers so many Americans to select the scapegoats amongst the American population. Jews are still very much at risk. There are extreme organizations plotting to destroy Jews in the US. Many are part of the same organizations or thinking that permits us to deviate from core American values and insist we purge Muslims and immigrants from our country.

Someone is convincing so many of you that our precious resources are being squandered teaching Mexican children to read and write. That same kind of thought convinces some of you that the Muslim effort to preserve their religious and cultural identity is a threat to our safety and our culture. Just like the dirty Jew and his yarmulke on his head and his tzittzit which the orthodox Jew wears under his shirt.

I believe it is possible in my lifetime that I may have to defend the life of someone who will face grave bodily harm for what they are not, or for what they are doing. (I do not mean those that commit acts of terror upon others.) I made the decision long ago to not be   force-marched to an oven to be incinerated in a Nazi type attempt to extinguish the culture of the Jews. Nor will I stand by if the day ever comes where this country starts to cattle drive others to internment or concentration camps.

If you are my friend and an American, then stand with me as we resist intolerance. Let us speak out against any oppression visited upon those who cannot properly defend themselves. Please don’t cherry pick which groups are worthy of our help. Let us be heard. Let my Christian friends lead in the spirit of Christ.

Matthew 11:28-30  “Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest. “Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and YOU WILL FIND REST FOR YOUR SOULS. “For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.”

And may the day come when hate filled websites like this one below do not proliferate, do not find audience, but die like an aged and toothless beast who must starve for the winter has protected his prey from his old eyes. Please go to this website I have linked. Perhaps it will awaken you to the hate that thrives amongst us!!!!! (Don’t let the title fool you.)

http://www.realjewnews.com/?p=881

Hurt people, hurt people.

The title is a statement about what hurt people do to others. Hurt people in turn often hurt other people. So follow along as we stroll through my mind, surprised by what we might find.

I was driving to my AA meeting this morning and as usual I was watching the car behind me to monitor how close it followed me. I get agitated if I am tailgated. I decided I should really just look forward and wondered why I pay so much attention to the cars around me. It struck me that I have always driven this way. I walk this way. I am in a constant state of vigilance.  I wondered how did I get this way. I had sudden recall back to 1966. I was standing in the hallway of my high school. I was supposed to be in class but I had pretended I was going to the toilet so I could stand in the hallway. 

A young black kid approached whom I recognized from another class. I said hello to him. He didn’t say a word but he quickly struck me in my chest and knocked me down. Some change fell out of my shirt pocket. He picked it up and walked away without ever saying a word. I was stunned by the swiftness and the silence of it. I never told the school just as I never told them about the other assaults on me. Importantly, I was not stunned by the violence of it. 

I have tried to remember the number of times I was robbed or assaulted in high school. I can recall only a few. Maybe 20 or so. A lot of it was black on white crime but I had my fair share of white on white, greaser vs Jew assaults. But the assaults started with my dad when I was about 4. It continued in grade school as I was jumped by other kids starting in the second grade. The assaults increased when I lived on the streets. Most didn’t result in much harm. I either escaped quickly, bluffed my way out or won against the attacker(s). I would guess that I could have avoided some of these encounters had I been where I was supposed to be and generally speaking less openly. Like do not hang out on the streets at night, do not go to the go-carts without an adult, and do not walk by the drug store that the Catholic kids have claimed for themselves. Do not talk back when tough kids threaten, don’t mock hoodlums and don’t scoff at threats.

As an adult I faced dozens of violent incidents working with street kids. Kids that I talked with one day could be dead the next, always from gang violence. What is manifestly clear to me is that hurt people, hurt people. Abused children often become abusers, sexual victims especially men, become sexual predators. It probably always has been and probably always will be.

So, is there a way out of this hyper-sensitivity and vigilance which I practice without intention? If my experience is any measure, the answer is no. At best damaged people will find healthy, new ways to cope. They will find mentors and techniques which will serve them well. Or they won’t. And they will suffer addiction, institutions, incarceration or simply have a gnawing sense of insecurity which follows them into everything they do. 

If you have a friend or family member like me I would look for opportunities to introduce them to 12 steps, or meditation or something which has been shown to successfully be a catalyst for change. I am convinced I will have to live with my demons despite every effort to shed them But I am also sure that my demons serve me well at times. I have known danger was imminent when most others were unaware. I have been heard by very damaged humans who could otherwise not hear. I have intervened and helped facilitate change in the lives of persons believed to be beyond reach.

My demons will go anywhere with me. Physically or mentally or spiritually they have staked a claim to a portion of my brain, heart and soul.  Dark alleys or sunlit mountains, they have treaded fearlessly with me. (Along the road of happy destiny)Always protecting and always threatening my well-being.  And it is this awareness that grants me an ability to understand that hurt people, hurt people. 

Can a Jewish lawyer and handgun expert be a Buddhist monk?

The Thai monk, AjahnSarayut Arnanta of Tucson AZ. posted a photo of us together one day on Facebook. He made an accompanying comment which I wish toordination day address. “When you hang out with the monk, you do things like the monk.”

It is true that the time I spent before, during and after living in the temple had a profound effect on me and the way I do things. I do things differently than I used to. It was almost 3 months of living in the temple before I stopped hounding the monks about how they should run the temple. Then I had an epiphany and realized that I could best serve the temple by offering simply and only to do what was asked of me….nothing more. The next 45 days were spent practicing humility and service and meditation.

I wish there were opportunities like that for other spiritual seekers. Unless and until you take the vows of a monsatic, and wear the robes and live amongst fellow monks 24 and 7, I do not know that you can understand the power inherent in such an experience.

The monk seemingly assigned to monitor my behavior in public was Ajahn Preeda Jaiboon. Although he didn’t speak English he was relentless in guiding me in the protocols of monastic life. (For instance I never did master the proper way to wear my robes in the formal fashion.) He had great patience, warmth and humor. I am not sure the monks could be as satisfied by having the likes of me in their midst. I am hard for any Anglo to manage, so what a challenge it was to provide the appropriate environment for an American who was a lawyer, pistolero, head of household and older than the oldest monk by 10 years.

Given the opportunity I would re-enter tomorrow to complete the transformation that began with the shaving of my head and eyebrows, followed by the recitation in the Pali language of the vows which were to bind me to the monastic community and the Buddha.

I’d rather attempt to do something great and fail than to attempt to do nothing and succeed.

I dared to become a Buddhist and then to become a monk. As a novice monk, I took vows, chanted in an ancient language, Pali, every day twice a day. I never ate past the noon meal. I didn’t have physical contact with my wife and daughters. I never wore jewelry, I slept in my robes, and never appeared in public without being fully arrayed in the saffron colored robes. I left a large house and bed to sleep nightly in a small room on a small bed. I never gave that much effort to being a religious Jew. I was never inspired by Judaism to expend the energy to ever be referred to as a “good Jew”.  I do not expect to become enlightened before I die. But my death will be all the better for my Buddhist practices.

When your time comes to die, be not like those whose hearts are filled with fear of death, so that when their time comes they weep and pray for a little more time to live their lives over again in a different way. Sing your death song, and die like a hero going home.

Read more at http://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/keywords/die.html#CMBWztwhxSbD32cD.99
Read more at http://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/keywords/fail.html#7RyPuLbbsdfTLErv.99

Is a Ghetto always to be a Ghetto?

Just returned from Chicago and I was reminded why I left. The traffic, the cost and the crime. I was there to work.

So I am working a case of a police officer shooting and killing a 20 y.o man who I shall call Damon. The bullet entered in through Damon’s back. The young man was allegedly shooting at the plain-clothed police officer, but no gun was ever recovered. No debate that the officer fired 16 times at Damon. No debate it was his bullet which killed Damon. No doubt that at some point Damon was running away from the cop. He died about a half block from where the officer says Damon was shooting at the officer. But this post is not about Damon per se, but about where he lived.

My investigation took me into an area of Chicago which is depressed. It is called West Englewood. Up until the early 70s I believe it was a white community. Now it is 98% Black/African American.

Where my time was spent is an area of mostly single family homes. Some homes were so very well-kept. Many others were boarded up. I interviewed about 20 people or more. This is what struck me. Most of the residents have been in prison, which includes men and women. Most are jobless. Most know someone or themselves have been shot. Most would probably qualify as suffering from some level of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder based on experiencing or witnessing traumatic events.

This community and many others have been distressed a long time. It is brutally ugly to come face to face with. I ask, where are the governmental concerns, plans and objectives to improve the community. Why would Chicago news media not have constant stories about the task forces, resources and enhancements to the community? Why are the lake front and the North Side so gentrified and beautified and the South Side so bereft of assistance? When school gets out in Englewood, there are yellow- vested personnel everywhere who are part of Safe Passage. http://www.suntimes.com/news/education/19113214-418/cps-to-hire-more-safe-passage-patrols-to-watch-over-kids-going-to-different-schools.html#.VE7Q8_nF98E

The reason for these people is that as schools are closed and students transferred their lives are in jeopardy. So, these Safe Passage folks have to try and facilitate the safe transit of these children. A neighborhood so dangerous that people are hired to stand on the street and try to get the school kids home safely!!!

Well Chicagoans often can be heard bemoaning the prevalence of guns in Chicago. Those are not ghetto folks generally. You can’t hear the bemoaning emanating from the inner-city. It is drowned out by tears, poverty and violence. Where is your fucking indignation at the conditions that your fellow Chicagoans are living in? How can the mayor advocate for health, safety and welfare of his town without holding press conferences about the persistent, consistent and massive efforts to help those in poverty?

I see it this way. A prison record can hamper someone from getting a job. Lack of jobs requires resourcefulness. Drug dealers are resourceful. Drug dealers get busted and get prison records. Prisoners become ex-prisoners who can’t find jobs. Jobless people get hungry and are required to be resourceful. Resourceful people often become drug dealers. Drug dealers get busted.

Good houses must be boarded up as soon as they are vacant to prevent being sacked by thieves. Boarded homes are unattractive. Property values are not as high in unattractive communities. Lower property values in neighborhoods where local citizens can’t afford to buy property leads to predatory practices by outside landlords. Ex-cons without jobs sit on stoops drinking beer all day. Fathers are in prison. Children grow up without dad. Boys without dads often land up in prison. 4 generations later, boys have no relationship with Middle America. Their relationships, value system, and education are derived from their experience in prisons and streets. The prevailing social system in prison is gangs. Gang members return to the community and further blight the already depressed community. They prey upon other gangs and the innocent. The innocents move away or join gangs for protection. They adopt the values of the gangs. They are no longer innocents.

Stores have a higher cost of operation in the inner-city because of crime and poverty. So major stores abandon he area because of the difficulties associated with operating there. Instead, small convenience stores owned and run by daring immigrants become the primary providers of dry goods, prepared foods and restaurants. They charge more money because they have less buying power and more risk. The people in the community have less spending power, spend more for what they do get and have they fewer choices in products.

So the politicians convince the Haves that the Have Nots are a burden on society. They convince the Haves that the Have Nots are just sucking at the tit of society, parasitic and ungrateful to boot. The solutions is often to cut welfare as if then poor people will suddenly jump in their make believe cars, drive to the make believe jobs and bring home the make believe pay. Notwithstanding the lack of education, mobility and money, what could possibly be wrong with such a plan?

If we start right now, it will take generations to unravel the Gordian knot which is the inner-city. You can hate Blacks and other inner-city dwellers. You can cast aspersions on their ethics, values and lifestyles. But if you do not expend the resources to bring up the least of us the chickens will of necessity come home to roost. Inner-city dwellers have higher birth rates than others. They have a greater propensity for violence and crime. They run the drug trade at the street level. At some point you will be unable to gentrify them out of existence. They will not leave the city to become farmers nor will they relax and while away their remaining years on the porches of the new suburbs you push them to.

So if it were up to me, I would harness the best brains and capital and I would invest in these communities. I would empower the people to work and derive income in their communities. I would make it so attractive to businesses to relocate and hire the locals that someday, some day in the future, the mindset of the inner-city dweller would be very much like that of people not confined to the ghetto and gangs. In a future I may not live long enough to see, there would suddenly be born a generation that breaks the inclination towards incarceration. Someday, a new generation would adopt a value system and pride itself on education and production. Someday we would have a generation where gang kids are an aberration not a logical outcome of the environment.

The people I interviewed were just lovely.  Most all had been convicted of crimes thus they were criminals by societal definition. But all were more likely to know their neighbors than any other community I have worked in. These persons who were generally kind to me, a stranger, were used to gunshots. They expressed fear of violence and theft. They shared a sense that cops were there to protect society from them not protect them from predators.

 I do not have the psychological mindset to face, as a lawyer, a system that lacks concern for the salvation of the lives brought before it. It is a system which emphasizes punishment at every turn versus rehabilitation and reformation. Hell, you should be very afraid of all the convicts and ex-cons who have been required to survive an environment where dog eats and rapes dog. Some of my clients deserved prison but most didn’t deserve to be sent to a hell which was controlled externally by the government. The crimes which loom largest are those of a government which makes laws which work to the advantage of criminal cartels and their bankers.

Oh well, I am tired and you have read stuff like this many times before. I didn’t write anything new. Just cannot understand how years and years go by without the recruitment of the best minds, (not political hacks) and a monumental commitment of financial and intellectual resources to solving the dilemma that is our entrenched acceptance of persons residing in poverty with its attendant assault on the mental, psychological and physical well-being.

My pal, Chuck Horn memorial

If you didn’t know Chuck and you have come across this writing, excuse me. Chuck died suddenly. Just shy of 60 years of age, he had struggled with addiction for several years.  He died while actively participating in 12 step recovery. Likely he died of causes related to his health.  I am to speak at the memorial for him today. In anticipation I wrote of him and for him….

I assume that Chuck skated into heaven, Valhalla etc. without a glitch. But there is a possibility that there were obstacles to Chuck’s passage. Like most people Chuck had a flawed character. The most prominent flaw was his proclivity for substance abuse. In his addiction he harbored thoughts and feelings that were negative and destructive. These thoughts ate at his core and caused many a day to be spent in darkness, abiding only his demons. When these demons of darkness descended upon him, he surrendered to his defects of character. However, we would not be here if addiction summed up Chuck’s life.
What really characterized Chuck was his propensity to care for, provide for and stand by people in need. Even people who were in better straits than Chuck were treated to his grace and his generosity. No one was beneath him and no one undeserving of his affection and charity. People who I would never have lifted a hand to help because I saw no value in them, he would reach out to. In the depths of his addiction he would take time out to offer solace and sustenance. It was a remarkable thing to see and hear.
We spoke for hours about justice and kindness. We spoke about spiritual bankruptcy and the consequences. We spoke about life’s trials and tribulations. Life’s joys and life’s disappointments. He wanted to be pure. He deeply desired to be free of his resentments all the while nurturing them and strengthening them. He manifested powerlessness in every breath. Honesty eluded him and then slammed him against the wall.
We are gathered and in doing so present the argument, the defense that demands that Chuck is entitled to admission to the finest club the afterlife has to offer. The evidence of his actions in the balance persuades us to stand by, advocate for and remember our friend.
I traveled with Chuck, ate meals and meditated with him. He was no less a student of spiritual health than the Buddhist monks I lived with. What he lacked was discipline. What he lacked was focus. What was missing was the mental toughness that once came so readily to him when he was young. Of late he fought to reclaim memory, physical acuity and compassion. He battled to forgive and to be forgiven. Thus did his condition rob him of the ability to shine spiritually.
I sit in AA meetings and I hear various dead persons quoted ad infinitum for their wise homilies and aphorisms. Chuck will not be remembered thusly. His good words resonated in the moment but he wasn’t around long enough to be touted as an AA guru. But to the lives he touched, he will be remembered as a man with a strong moral compass and backbone who but for his addiction would have loomed far taller than his height restricted.
Chuck was born into a large family of 5 siblings. He often talked about how he didn’t need or have lots of friends in his early years because his family was full of kids. His mom is often described by Chuck and siblings as a rageaholic. His father as a solid hard-working man of the middle class. Chuck would excel in sports in high school and always lamented that he had to leave his high school in Amarillo, where he had friends and respect, to attend school elsewhere. He returned to Amarillo his last year but never seems to have recouped the status he felt he occupied in his earlier years. His college life was memorable for him. He loved to tell me what a great school Richland Community college was. He loved its diversity and campus life. Then it was onto U T where he created some bonds that would waver but endure the rest of his life. Sometimes described as a genius oftentimes described as a rascal, Chuck entertained and befuddled everyone in his world.
Nancy and he met early on but didn’t marry until later in life. While they didn’t have kids, they had dogs. The home would never be considered full unless there were their dogs yipping and leaping about.
When Chuck finally got sober his one certain daily task was to care for the dogs. And this he did with diligence. He knew that his wife Nanci would not abide his neglecting the dogs the same way he neglected himself. And he loved Nanci. He feared she would realize she was better off without him and leave. He fretted that his life would be empty without her. But like most people who drink and/or drug he couldn’t stop the train once it left the station. He could not help disappointing loved ones as his addiction gave no quarter. A masterful liar in the beginning, Nanci says he finally gave up the lies and just resigned himself to being an addict. Henceforth, when I met him, he would confess, upon interrogation, to his slips. I was amazed that he could relapse at night and be at a meeting the next morning. I was stunned that he could have nothing left in his addiction, no friends, money or health and yet return there after fellowshipping each morning with us. Why were we not enough to keep him sober? Who is this man to frustrate my every attempt to carry the message? Equally important is why did I bother after repeatedly babysitting him through his detoxification?
Chuck lured his loved ones back with a hug and a puppy dog face. And his sincere remorse after each slip and the guilt he expressed made me stay the course. It kept Nanci by his side. It drew everyone here to his side despite the frustration and anger we felt with each failure.
Unlike many addicts though Chuck had a distinguishing feature about him. In the depths of his addiction, despite self-will run riot, he never forgot the less fortunate and he was always willing to help a friend. When I was an addict I never had time for anyone outside my immediate family. I stayed cloistered. But Chuck would always make the offer. I would say to him, you worthless asshole, what can you do to help me. You cannot help yourself. And he would hang his head and say half apologetically, I know, but I’ll do what I can”.

And in this way did we find ourselves driving to Tucson to see my family and detox Chuck. He was by my side 18 hours a day. Trying to help and getting berated at every turn because his idea of helping was most people’s idea of hindering. He wanted to help perfectly and in so doing was a nuisance. Paralyzed by his wannabe perfection, we would throw our hands up and take the task back from Chuck. His addicted mind could not perform what his heart so wanted to do. I offered him every resource, tool, and support that I could think of and muster. He was a drowning man who could not be certain enough he wanted to live to grab the life raft. He flailed about in the water. I would get mouthfuls of splashed water trying to reach him. I would swear off trying and then swim again towards him for one more attempt.
We were both tired of his struggle. He begged me not to give up on him. I threatened to kill him for his own good. If not for Nanci and his love for her I think he and I could have reached an agreement to finish him off.
So we drove back to Dallas from Tucson. Another 17 hour ride, 1000 miles with only ourselves for companionship. He lamented how everyone near and dear to him had fucked him over. How many times I heard this lament I cannot say. But this time I spoke with conviction and heart. I told him to stop! I told him to listen to me with every fiber of his body. And I related to him that I had been put in his life by God to help him. That I was his messenger and that God could not be any louder or any clearer. That God wanted him to let go of his resentments because they were killing him.
I believe in Karma. I believe as Buddhists do, that everyone and everything comes into our life as a result of cause and effect. I met Chuck because our lives dictated it. We needed each other. I needed to be taught patience and tolerance. I needed to be reminded of the power of unconditional love. He needed someone who would amplify the message that he had been told many times but couldn’t hear. My voice broke through the background noise of Chuck’s addiction. But for Nanci though, Chuck would have slipped and died in the abyss before I ever met him. But for her steadfastness and relentless love for Chuck he could not have mustered enough concern or esteem for himself to stay alive much less thrive. All of us here who offered a hand to Chuck would never have had the opportunity if not for Nanci. He just didn’t care enough about himself to have made the effort. The care and concern he showed all of us would never have shown through his craziness if he didn’t have Nanci at home waiting with love and compassion for his sick soul.
I do not expect to ever meet another person like Chuck in my life. I know everyone feels unique and I am sure you are. But Chuck will resonate with me always. I will revere him as my teacher. I will curse his untimely demise. I will lament the briefness of his sobriety. I will always celebrate his humor and presence. I will miss him at meetings, breakfast, on the road, at the dozen movies and the myriad of other places we ventured like Hamm’s Peach orchard. His seat will always be empty at the twice weekly meditation. His car will always be missing in his parking spot. But he will never be missing in my heart.
Thus do I say to the powers that be, God or Gods, to the gatekeepers of the heavens, my friend shall proceed unimpeded into your care! He has earned his place in a way few ever will. The content of his character even in the midst of great illness qualifies him for the status reserved for the deserving. His presence with his family and friends has come to an end. Let him now reside in the sunshine of God’s everlasting love.
I imagined Chuck sharing this Irish prayer with us
Don’t grieve for me, for now I’m free!
I follow the plan God laid for me.
I saw His face, I heard His call,
I took His hand and left it all…
I could not stay another day,
To love, to laugh, to work or play;
Tasks left undone must stay that way.
And if my parting has left a void,
Then fill it with remembered joy.
A friendship shared, a laugh, a kiss…
Ah yes, these things I, too, shall miss.
My life’s been full, I’ve savoured much:
Good times, good friends, a loved-one’s touch.
Perhaps my time seemed all too brief—
Don’t shorten yours with undue grief.
Be not burdened with tears of sorrow,
Enjoy the sunshine of the morrow.

And may we pray for Chuck Horn
May the road rise up to meet you.
May the wind always be at your back.
May the sun shine warm upon your face,
and rains fall soft upon your fields.
And until we meet again,
May God hold you in the palm of His hand.

And for those he left behind
May God give you…
For every storm, a rainbow,
For every tear, a smile,
For every care, a promise,
And a blessing in each trial.
For every problem life sends,
A faithful friend like Chuck to share,
For every sigh, a sweet song,
And an answer for each prayer.

musings

Death is so special. It is final, inevitable and for most of us frightening. My friend Chuck died, suddenly. I get it, I know it. But this morning, I looked for his car at our regular meeting place. And when I realized he wouldn’t ever be there again, I felt weird and sad. I can hold him near and dear. I can tell his story. But he will fade into the rearview mirror. One day I will try to talk about Chuck and no one will know who I am talking about. Just so, this will be my fate also.

Not only do I want the story of Chuck to be told, I want it to be my version. I am uncomfortable if I find out there is a different Chuck story out there. I want my story of my life to be the one that is told. I am afraid of the alternative version.

I want to sit with Chuck before he goes. I want us to get our story straight before it is too late. Even now I struggle with how to memorialize him and honor him. I intended to ordain in my Buddhist tradition for a short time to give my pal the best chance at a good rebirth. I want to share with Chuck how the Buddhist system works and how beneficial it may serve him. I want to comfort him that I will be there for him in death as much as I was in life. I want to talk about how he will be remembered, solidify the story such that the memorial will create itself.

I want to be a spiritual companion in death as I was in life. But reality is intruding in my wants and wishes. The opportunity to create the memorial I wish is severely limited by my lack of credentials, training and experience. It is limited by existing social structures, religious institutions and spiritual communities.

Death is just so challenging to the living. I have no clue what happens…heaven and hell, rebirth, reincarnation, mere energy, or what. I do not hold a concrete idea about after. I can freak myself out meditating on death. I meditate on how I will have a dignified exit and my loved ones will be comforted by my dignity. I want to take the fear of death out of my family’s life so they won’t have to concern themselves with scary existential issues. Let them enjoy life without fear of death. As if!

I just quit a year of hellacious entrepeneurial activity. I am stressed, tired and soul weary. Today was the first day of liberation. I am free to spend some time as I wish. I want to go back to Chicago and spend more time with my mom. At 97, she should have the gift of family. Her friends are long gone. Amazingly, all her kids are still here. And I am a bright light for her. I can sense her appreciation for my existence, which appreciation often eluded both of us.

I want to take my spouse and vacation. I want us to both feel the yolk of financial desperation lifted. Ditch the kids. Let her enjoy some time doing stuff now while she is young enough to be mentally and physically capable and present.

It is time to regroup. It was a regrouping which Chuck was undertaking also. He was making the effort to improve spiritually. He was working to be there for his spouse. Had he known a year ago of his untimely demise, he would have put the pedal to the metal. As the Buddhist say, death is certain, only the when is unknown. To be continued……

Thought for the day. (mine silly, not yours)

I rode about 24 miles on my bicycle today. I have 3 bicycles. Two were pricey. I ride the heavier slower one now. Reason being, I am no hurry to get anywhere. I am riding for fun and health, neither of which requires speed. My body is doing what most aging peoples bodies are doing. Aging! It is taking longer to recover, to heal and all that from shorter lighter burdens than before.

I do not want to die. But I do not want to spend my life in fear of this inevitable moment. I can get quite maudlin sometimes just thinking about dying. I imagine the nothingness, the absence of loved ones and the inability to protect loved ones. It gives me goose bumps sometimes. At other times I can be quite stoic and gracious at the thought of my demise. After all, it is not like I will be the first person I know to die. And my extensive research on the subject would indicate that no one, not no how, is getting out alive. Not the good people, or the smart ones or the saintly ones or the evil ones.

I take good care of myself. I exercise and eat right. I do not go into risky situations, least ways not like I used to. All that effort may simply mean that I have a nice looking corpse when I get hit by a truck or contract virulent forms of cancer while minding my own business. Steve Jobs couldn’t buy his way out of death and lord knows he had the money to do so.

So, I rode my bike and smiled at everyone I met. The walkers, runners and bikers that like myself don’t want to die. So they drag themselves to the trail and harness this intensity born of fear of mortality. But sometimes my smile distracts them for a brief moment and they smile back, forgetting that they are about the serious business of defeating death. Miles and miles of smiles and smiles.

God grant me the serenity to accept the things I can not change. When my time comes, let me have the courage to go with dignity and acceptance.

Writing and thinking tire me.Or maybe it was the bike ride. Or really, it may just be a function of age.