An open heart? A heavy heart!

I been trying to write this post. I have the feelings clear but have struggled days/hours for words. I discovered over the years that I had a secret from myself. Something strange happens to me constantly. I have an issue with empathy or in my case, maybe over empathy.

Years ago, when I was small, I knew a psychological and emotional pain deep down. I was afraid of my dad, of other kids, and of teachers. So early on I began to empathize with suffering. Around the age of 17, I began to fill out physically. And then I began to fight back. But it was mostly psychological.

If I see a dead animal by the side of the road, I imagine their death and I pray it was swift and painless. I see so many dead squirrels and rabbits on my bike rides. Also armadillos, and opossums. I hit an animal on the highway in Missouri at 70 mph and it messed up my mind for hours.

When I see films of animals in the wild being killed I feel empathy and pain (and change the channel). As a lawyer, when I lost clients’ cases I felt empathy and pain. If they went to prison, I tell you it felt like a part of me went too.

The world is now experiencing a series of crises. And I have trouble on a daily basis with the consternation and frustration that I am losing the world I seek to occupy. In its stead there is an ambiance of fear, anger and open hostility towards the values and communities that I hold dear.

I am not aligned with conservative values and ideology. But I never harbored such hostility towards the actions and speech of the conservative leaders. At the helm, is now Trump.

I have spent the past 10 years doing the Buddhist practice of generating loving/kindness, and the development of compassion. I made tremendous progress in the way I thought and acted. I learned to pause when agitated. I learned to think before I retaliated. Retaliated for some offense that often was merely my perception and not reality.

I do not hurt any living beings intentionally. I do not feel superior rights to the animal kingdom. I have not earned the right to practice dominion over the earth and all beings contained therein. I do not believe that my need for gasoline means I can justify or support the military actions against oil states. It can get murky at times. Do I have an open heart for terrorists, child abusers, opioid manufacturers?

The Buddhas did not seem to be too troubled by the bad actor. They would continue to have compassion for the evil, mean-spirited, the greedy and the profane. I am no Buddha but I can aspire to be like one.

I do not know how long I will aspire to an open heart. I was on a good run until recent political events. But the Buddhist vows I took, which I take seriously are as follows

To refrain taking life
To refrain from stealing, taking that which has not been freely given
To refrain from sexual misconduct
To refrain from lies or false speech and To refrain from taking intoxicating substances.

Buddhism is a very moral practice as is 12 steps. The Buddhist meditation is to develop wisdom and reflect on loving kindness which is designed to develop compassion.  I am committed to grow in a moral and compassionate manner. Very much like other moral dictates found in religions.

What is your practice? Are you Christian? Jewish? Do you Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’  Do you ‘Love your neighbor as yourself. There is no commandment greater than these.”

Do you exclude foreigners as “non-neighbors”? Do you exclude homosexuals? Do you exclude criminals?   “When an alien resides with you in your land, do not mistreat such a one. You shall treat the alien who resides with you no differently than the natives born among you; you shall love the alien as yourself; for you too were once aliens in the land of Egypt. I, the LORD, am your God.”

Are you truly on the path? Do you know the path? 

The LORD said to Moses Speak to the whole Israelite community and tell them: Be holy, for I, the LORD your God, am holy.

 Each of you revere your mother and father, and keep my sabbaths. I, the LORD, am your God. Do not turn aside to idols, nor make molten gods for yourselves. I, the LORD, am your God.

When you sacrifice your communion sacrifice to the LORD, you shall sacrifice it so that it is acceptable on your behalf. It must be eaten on the day of your sacrifice or on the following day. Whatever is left over until the third day shall be burned in fire. If any of it is eaten on the third day, it will be a desecrated offering and not be accepted; whoever eats of it then shall bear the penalty for having profaned what is sacred to the LORD. Such a one shall be cut off from the people.

 When you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not be so thorough that you reap the field to its very edge, nor shall you gather the gleanings of your harvest.

Likewise, you shall not pick your vineyard bare, nor gather up the grapes that have fallen. These things you shall leave for the poor and the alien. I, the LORD, am your God.

 You shall not steal. You shall not deceive or speak falsely to one another. You shall not swear falsely by my name, thus profaning the name of your God.i I am the LORD. You shall not exploit your neighbor. You shall not commit robbery. You shall not withhold overnight the wages of your laborer. You shall not insult the deaf, or put a stumbling block in front of the blind, but you shall fear your God. I am the LORD.

You shall not act dishonestly in rendering judgment. Show neither partiality to the weak nor deference to the mighty, but judge your neighbor justly. You shall not go about spreading slander among your people; nor shall you stand by idly when your neighbor’s life is at stake. I am the LORD.

 You shall not hate any of your kindred in your heart. Reprove your neighbor openly so that you do not incur sin because of that person.

Take no revenge and cherish no grudge against your own people. You shall love your neighbor as yourself. I am the LORD.

Keep my statutes: do not breed any of your domestic animals with others of a different species; do not sow a field of yours with two different kinds of seed; and do not put on a garment woven with two different kinds of thread.

 If a man has sexual relations with a female slave who has been acquired by another man but has not yet been redeemed or given her freedom, an investigation shall be made. They shall not be put to death, because she has not been freed.   The man shall bring to the entrance of the tent of meeting as his reparation to the LORD a ram as a reparation offering.   With the ram of the reparation offering the priest shall make atonement before the LORD for the wrong the man has committed, so that he will be forgiven for the wrong he has committed.

When you come into the land and plant any fruit tree there, first look upon its fruit as if it were uncircumcised. For three years, it shall be uncircumcised for you; it may not be eaten.    In the fourth year, however, all of its fruit shall be dedicated to the LORD in joyous celebration. Not until the fifth year may you eat its fruit, to increase the yield for you. I, the LORD, am your God.

Do not eat anything with the blood still in it. Do not recite charms or practice soothsaying. Do not clip your hair at the temples, nor spoil the edges of your beard. Do not lacerate your bodies for the dead, and do not tattoo yourselves. I am the LORD.  You shall not degrade your daughter by making a prostitute of her; otherwise the land will prostitute itself and become full of lewdness. Keep my sabbaths, and reverence my sanctuary. I am the LORD.  

Do not turn to ghosts or consult spirits, by which you will be defiled. I, the LORD, am your God. Stand up in the presence of the aged, show respect for the old, and fear your God. I am the LORD.

Do not act dishonestly in using measures of length or weight or capacity. You shall have a true scale and true weights, an honest ephah and an honest hin. I, the LORD, am your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt. Be careful, then, to observe all my statutes and decrees. I am the LORD.

Look up Leviticus 19:9–18: if you need verification. Examine the 5 Book of Moses

I close as usual with blessings for all. May all beings be free from all harm. May all being live their lives free from danger and may they be safe and comfortable,  Free from disease, disaster and pain. May all who have physical and/or mental limitations be aided by those who do not.  May all who are lonely find companions. May those in areas of great turmoil, famine and terror find peace and comfort and may those who create conflict and suffering be transformed.

Mom’s first birthday away.

I am not prone to melancholy. I am generally even keel. But today is the first time my mom is not around on a September 13th to wish her happy birthday. Today I am reminded that it took me too long to become the son she could be proud of. It took me too long to see the chaos and difficulties I imposed on my family especially back in the old days with jails, addiction and academic and economic failures..
I have no reason to fear going to jail again but I will fear that my mom is not around to bail me out. Because she is the only person I could trust to help me out of any jam. I rarely asked but she never failed.
I never fucked up enough for her to give up. She could be indifferent and aloof emotionally to family and friends. Why? I do not know. But she physically tried to protect me from bodily harm and tried to put herself between me and my father the one time when he seemed to have lost control while disciplining me.
My dad could be violent but the only time he put a hand on my mom was that day And that same day I tried to kill him. Yes, I mean that on that day when I was 10, I made an full on attempt to poison him. 
I never doubted from that day that if he got physical with her again, I would do him great bodily harm. But that was the only time he touched her in anger and we never had to find out if I could improve my plan.
I am in full-on melancholy that I made so many apologies and amends to so many people over the years and it never occurred to me to do the same for her. Yes, I changed and acted better and was a better son. But it would have taken many more years of right behavior to have begun to make up for what I put my mom through. Not just as a kid but with my divorces, money problems, fights with family members in front of her and more.
From early grade school my mom had to visit school teachers and listen to the myriad of complaints about my lack of scholastic accomplishments and my behavioral issues. She heard it all but all she seemed to remember from it was the part where they said I was smart and she did not dwell, at least openly, about what a shame my behavior was.
Nothing prepared my mom for taking me, when I was 17, to the Cook County felony courthouse and watching as the judge admonished us that I was facing 6 to 15 years in prison. What was she to think as the plainclothes Chicago Police officers warned her on the way out of the courthouse that I was living amongst a criminal element that would get me killed or result in further charges.
Imagine having a teen-age son who only comes home when he is physically broken with mono and has no place left to go. And imagine that shortly after you get him health care and bring him back to good health, he disappears back into the streets.
Yea, I owed. I will always owe.
Remember To Sir With Love. Some lyrics,
“And as I leave I know that I am leaving my best friend
A friend who taught me right from wrong and weak from strong
That’s a lot to learn, but what can I give you in return?
If you wanted the moon I would try to make a start
But I would rather you let me give my heart “
The melancholy is impermanent. It will fade. More often I will remember my mom’s last 5 days and how she looked so pretty to me. I will recall how I would talk to her early each day after the caretaker left and my sister had not yet arrived, I would speak to her. She was already in a drug stupor when I arrived so we did not converse. But in case she could hear me, I talked to her. I like to assume that somewhere in that drug addled mind she heard love from me and my sisters.
I tell you that she died the perfect death. She was getting good medical care. Her kids were with her. Her granddaughter was laying beside her and she just stopped breathing. It was a month ago.
The point is not that I suck at being a son or that I dwell in recriminations. The point is that when my best caretaker died, then did I have to face my fear of living without a security blanket. Now I know that when I am called to be an adult I am, more than ever, keenly aware of how much of a child I still am. The narrative about me as a son should highlight that when I stroll down memory lane, there will always be ample evidence that I am one of the lucky ones who got a mom who will always be remembered with great love and affection, because she earned it.

I don’t even know who I am not. (I grow slower than grass. Much slower.)

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,

  1. greed
  2. hate
  3. delusion
  4. conceit
  5. wrong views
  6. doubt
  7. lethargy
  8. restlessness
  9. shamelessness
  10. recklessness

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

Who am I?

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.

Fightin’, killin’, wine and women gonna put me to my grave
Runnin’, hidin’, losin’, cryin’, nothing left to save
But my life
Stood on a ridge and shunned religion, thinking the world was mine
I made my break and a big mistake, stealin’ when I should have been buyin’
Uriah Heap

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.

 

“What can ever equal the memory of being young together?” ― Michael Stein, In the Age of Love

“Life is all memory, except for the one present moment that goes by you so quickly you hardly catch it going.” Tennessee Williams
If memory serves me well, I was born a baby on the South Side of Chicago. I admit I tend to recall trauma better than the “good” times. Around 5th or 6th grade, I discovered the presence of prejudice. I found I was an object of religious hatred in my neighborhood followed by couple of years later by racial hostilities. More on that in a later blog.
When I was 15, we moved a mere 10 minutes away to Hyde Park (HP), home of the University of Chicago. It was a community which, I was surprised to find, was not consumed with religious and racial animus. I arrived just in time to join the emerging drug culture. (Drugs and fellowship did dull my trauma.)
Shortly after my family moved to HP I became a runaway living on the streets. The street in front of a local coffee house, the Medici, seemed to be ground zero for the hippie generation on Chicago’s south side just as Old Town served the north side. It was not uncommon for me to arrive there and hangout from lunch-time to police-gonna-arrest-me-for-curfew time.
I thought that everyone who smoked pot, dropped LSD and was cool hung out or visited 57th Street where the Medici was located then. I acquired another peer group around the same time. A handful of newly met friends were more, or at least as, immersed in crime as drugs. My choice of crimes was burglary, taught to me by one of my new pals.
Many of the kids I met in HP were already old friends with each other, having gone to grade schools together. I never went to grade school in HP as I relocated from South Shore after 2 years of high school. I actually arrived in HP after my expulsion from boarding school and briefly attended the local high school which was really a dismal former grade school. I dropped out almost as quickly. In any case I was a late arrival to the scene and labored to purge my already heightened paranoia of the religious and racial hostilities I had come to expect.  
Annually I return to the scene of the crime called the teen years. A handful of pals gather to meet and catch each other up to date. This week, I posted to a Hyde Park Facebook page that I would be visiting from Texas soon and maybe we do a get together. The group has a few thousand members and folks I do not know chimed in. My first reaction was
I mentioned that I know a core of “classic” Hyde Parkers but few beyond that circle. (I define classic HPer as one who grew up in the late 60-early 70s).
I now discover there are clearly many “classics” who never frequented 57th, who were likely just as cool as my pals. Being 66 years old, I find it challenging to connect to new people. But I find a delight into connecting with the semi-stranger with whom I share the bond of being a teen in HP.
I have lived in many places and visited far more. Only a handful of times have I found people sharing a fondness for their old hood as strong as that shared fondness for Hyde Park. There is a strong streak of pride at growing up in a diverse community which housed mediocrity and brilliance side by side in a contented drug stupor.
Like many, I grew up and left the hood. I returned for a couple of years as a drug counselor but my clients were either younger than or older than my age group.
So if there is a neighborhood get together, I may be in the presence of many persons this summer who I never met and will only share the bond of growing up in the same time and place together. I am confident of the bond which ties us together as much or more as I would find in a school reunion.
God willing no one will recall that I was the person who burglarized their parent’s home or sold them a weak grade of marijuana. Pot was not as reliably good back in those days. I myself smoked many a joint which may have been half oregano.
Anyways to the title of this blog. I consistently have affection for my early disturbed, traumatic upbringing and all the players who participated. Maybe this year, I will introduce the memories of those who were not really there in person but were there in fellowship because they will have strolled the same streets, entered the same churches and dodged the same police. In other words, when I go back to the old hood, I will be open to the universe of strangers and the camaraderie of shared adolescence.

Am I the purveyor of Vitriol.

Someone I am friends with accused or maybe simply observed that many of my Facebook posts are vitriolic, that is caustic and cruel criticisms. I think I replied by saying these posts reflect my observations but that I personally am not consumed with bitterness as I thought that was his suggestion. His response was multi-layered but what got to me was his statement that he was more concerned about my words effect on others.

I am concerned and it stimulated me to reflect on my activities. Here is my view point which I fantasize is a valid view point.

I declared on Facebook on many occasions that I was going to abstain from trump-centric posts. In fact after the election of 2016 I urged restraint and caution and giving trump an opportunity to demonstrate he had the right stuff. Alas, he failed every single time he opened his mouth. Every single time. So my hope to remain non-partisan quickly faded. And to remain silent in the face of his statements, policies and actions seemed like acquiescence and endorsement.

I read and watch the news daily for articles that might interest me. I am willing to read non-partisan editorials and articles and even a significant number of partisan, left and right. I read studies on subjects for the sole purpose of ascertaining the truth of the matter asserted. I read studies to determine my own opinions on issues. As a result, sometimes I abandon my position and other times I find I am bolstered by the empirical and anecdotal evidence.

Myself, my parents and siblings, nephews and nieces are Jewish. My siblings and I grew up in the aftermath of the Holocaust. We were introduced to the horrors at an early age, through, film, books and first person narratives. My Hebrew school teachers were Holocaust survivors. We can’t do anything about the Holocaust now. But we can be loud and resist any attempts to sow the seeds of hate of any religious, ethnic, or racial community. One thing that marks the early days of the Holocaust was the silence of the neighbors and countrymen of the Jews and even Jews themselves.

I grew up being called Kike and Christ killer and Yid and more. These are intended as hateful appellations for a Jew. It happened to me in my neighborhood, in my high schools and especially in the boarding school I was sent to in my early teens. I hear the slights in business by people saying well-meaning but prejudicial statements about Jewish business people.

“Never Again” means something special to Jews. It is a declaration that we will never be silent again and allow a holocaust. I should not think that we would remain silent when any minority is threatened. When I see the rise of White Nationalists/Supremacists (nazis), I get hostile. Even when I see these movements divert focus from their hate of Jews and attack people of color, gays, Muslims, I take it personally.

Do I slip into vitriol? Clearly I do. Must I? Yep! There are others I admire who can walk the line of dignity and diplomacy. They can use their oral and writing skills to persuade and/or object. I engaged in counseling with a Catholic priest in Chicago in 1983. He was a wise and sober man. We talked about my approach to counseling others and the way I spoke in personal relationships. He offered that my style was a gift of God in that my propensity for bluntness and unpleasant roughness was “God’s way of turning up the volume”. His opinion he explained was that what I say to people in earnest is something others have said to them before but may not have been heard. So I was God’s way of turning up the volume so that if something needed being said, it would be heard.

We were referencing my counseling style and personal including romantic relationships. But I found that even in my radio career and social media participation, my style also gives voice to many who agree with me but do not feel permission or comfortable expressing their feelings.

Is it un-Buddhist to say things that are not loving or kind? I do not purport that my caustic or sarcastic remarks are Buddha like. But I do state unequivocally that it does not reflect negatively on my Buddhist practice. Monks would possibly disappoint me if they were to behave as I do. On the other hand I know monks who dislike trump and the types of values he espouses.

Budgets express values. The trump budget is a values statement. Budgets require choices, and when something is funded rather than another thing we reveal the values that drive us. The new presidential budget may reflect trump’s values but it does not reflect mine. So I criticize. And to the extent that the burden is going to fall on the least able of our country, I rail against the allocations it calls for. I argue for the health, safety and welfare of the “us and the “them” instead of a border wall between us versus them.

So am I the purveyor of vitriol? I cannot deny it seems so. Am I guilty of harmful intent? Nope. Could I do better? Maybe. Do I believe as Buddha taught that speech should be true, necessary, kind and spoken at the right time? Absolutely. I promise true and always to be accurate. I think it necessary to criticize and resist when I see values taking hold in my country, state, community which I believe to be harmful, hateful or unwholesome. That to me is a form of kindness.

I ask, when is the right time to speak if I first pass the thresholds for right speech? No matter what I decide, it is a subjective standard. No one can say for me when. They can suggest based on their perception but it is just another subjective application.

I believe, the time to speak out against this administration, is now. Lest we forget and give their values space and time to take root and grow. I have never been driven to be so partisan before. I was raised a democrat but prided myself on being independent. A liberal who owned the gun range and advocated for gun owners right to carry and other gun rights. I advocated for responsible fiscal management. Now I am unable to straddle partisan lines as gun owner groups do not relinquish nor compromise in an effort to find reasonable regulations. Many fiscal conservatives now advocate the elimination of poverty programs and oft times the oppression and disenfranchisement of the vote of the have-nots.

I apologize that words which I find descriptive of my opinions are sometimes harsh, virulent, even mean-spirited and bitter. My bad!

 

When I was young.

I grew up on the south side of Chicago in a very nice house. My dad owned his own company and we were not rich but we were well-off.

When I was 14 and in my second year of high school I met Marv Kirchler who remains my friend 52 years later. We used to roam the south side in his father’s Dodge Coronet. This was just one of many dangerous acts I did as Marv took years to polish his driver safety skills. Marv is older than me by 2 or 3 years and had a drivers license long before I could even apply for one.

From time to time, Marv and I would walk at night from my house to the end of the block, to the corner of 71st and Jeffrey.  There was a tavern right on that corner. In preparation for going there, we would buy a big bottle of root beer, grab our drum sticks and off we went. Marv and I shared an interest in drumming.

The root beer would stay in a brown paper bag like a wino carries around his bottle of wine. Marv and I would stand outside the tavern and watch through the tall plate glass window the live jazz combos on stage. The drummer would be right in front of us, with a stand up bass player to his side. And a keyboard or guitar in front.We would take turns drumming along on the red brick exterior under the glare of the early Mercury vapor lights. Inside, the patrons and performers were almost all African-American.

Jazz drumming is such a simple/complex, beautiful art. The drum set was comprised of a snare, bass, and a tom tom, with a high hat,  2 cymbals and maybe a floor tom. Nothing like the drum sets in popular rock bands that had lots of accouterments.

Marv and I were joyfully mimicking the Black musical culture around us. We listened to the Monkees and the Temptations. Janis Joplin and Diana Ross. What a marvelous environment.

About my pal, Marv was born on the other side of the tracks from me. Blue collar family. His dad was gruff, with a gravely voice and a drum set he played when he was not working at a printing press. Marv’s mother was the salt of the fucking earth who never turned me away when I showed up on her doorstep, under-age and fleeing the brutality of my own upscale home.

Growing up on the south side had such benefits. Marv lived in a classic white area which harbored many families tainted by anti-Semitism and racism. But rough and tumble young Marvin was more likely to attack a long-haired hippie than a black boy.

We had a third pal, Kerry. We shared 3 characteristics. We were Jewish, middle-class and smart. Together we transitioned from typical high school kids to early members of the pot smoking milieu.

When high school ended, Kerry went to college, Marv became a political operative and I became a criminal. Kerry fell in love, dropped out and moved to California. Marvin won elections for people and I became a social worker.

52 years later, I have never heard my 2 friends utter words of hatred towards others because of their religion, race or sexual orientation. (I hated Palestinians for years but I already blogged about the incident and how that happened.) I attribute that too the cultural diversity we embraced as young lads.

When I was young and molding and modeling behavior, I was lucky enough to be exposed to a world which was smart, colorful, diverse, violent and then more diverse. I could walk a few blocks and visit friends who were Black, Irish, Polish, Italian, Middle Eastern and more. Some were wealthy, some poor. A short drive away was the University of Chicago, home to the children of world renowned physicists, psychiatrists and scientists of every type.

The pizza parlor, barber shop, movie theater, bowling alley, produce store, supermarket, the aforementioned tavern and hardware store were within a block or two of my home.

What would I be like if I had been raised in a more homogeneous world, lacking in diversity instead of a world filled with rich characters of every ilk. The commuter train at the end of our street would take me to the heart of downtown Chicago in 30 minutes.  Lake Michigan was an easy 2 mile walk. Bonus, when I was 18 years old my father gave me a job working on demolishing buildings/flop houses on Chicago’s Skid Row where resided the largest collection of men, marginalized by poverty, alcoholism and drug addiction ever assembled in the Midwestern United States.

My early world included swimming at the Jewish country club at 10, bar mitzvah at 13, standing on a street corner, imagining I was the second drummer in a jazz combo at 14, school dropout at 16 and facing 6-15 years in the Illinois Department of Corrections when I was 17.

 

Itchycoo Park  where, It’s all too beautiful.

I’d like to go there now with you
You can miss out school – Won’t that be cool
Why go to learn the words of fools?
What will we do there? – We’ll get high
What will we touch there? – We’ll touch the sky
But why the tears there? I’ll tell you why
It’s all too beautiful, It’s all too beautiful
It’s all too beautiful, It’s all too beautiful

And the Animals singing

“When I was young
It was more important
Pain more painful
Laughter much louder
Yeah, when I was young”