Difficult Times (an ode to my sister)

The following is a disjointed, rambling stream of conscious blog written in the early early hours of the day. I am jet-lagged and sleep deprived but I persist.

Half political, half sentimental follows.
I was on Facebook overnight unable to sleep and bored. It occurred to me how comforting that my sister hates trump. My whole family actually hates him. But my younger of two sisters I refer to has been the back-up matriarch of our family with her demand for control, her attention to detail and her love and affection. It is a bonus and I love that she is not only an extraordinary care-taker but frequently surpasses me, on social media, expressing her total disdain for trump and her admiration for progressive values.

I am the baby of a family of 4 siblings. I have had my challenges with each of my 2 sisters and one brother. I considered resigning from my family of origin at one time but ultimately decided that I belonged.

It is helpful that this sister has been the glue which was needed as my parents aged and died. I have seen memes for family members to show appreciation for each other but my sister deserves more than a meme.

When our parents pass it often leaves us children, despite being grown, feeling vulnerable and abandoned. It is my gift to be a member of a family that has a core of affection and cohesion which sheltered me from the ill-effects of parental loss.

I am mentioning this because I know so many families now torn by politics and many more who fight with each other over the late-life care and passing of their parents. My family has successfully navigated the loss of both parents and the election of trump. Two potential family crises.

My sister Karen was the rock during my mom’s final health crisis. I am spared long term guilt, about being a son so distant, about my mom’s care because my sister was ever attentive and present. I was constantly assured my mom was in good hands getting the best care.

I am the only tattooed, drug addict, gun toting Buddhist in my family. But no matter how strange and far I stray from my origins, I have never been shunned/rejected by my family. Sadly so many of my peers have not been so lucky.

Values are important to me. My 3 siblings all have humanistic, progressive values at their core. We don’t fight over gay rights or universal access to health care or civil rights for all. (They hate guns but none of us is as rabid as we used to be on the subject)
I don’t envy those that come home to visit a household airing Fox News.

May all families know the affection and respect of shared values. May all families navigate the loss of parents with dignity and love for each other. May all splintered families find healing when the dust of politics settles.

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.

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!

 

“Trust God. Clean house. Help others.”

Dr. Bob’s famed summary of the A.A. program and way of life? “Trust God. Clean house. Help others.”
Another way Alcoholics Anonymous has had of stating its foundation is “unity, service and recovery”. I have expanded these to all parts of my life, in and out of AA.

Will our future as a country be one of expansion, tolerance and progress, or one of intolerance anger and fear. If I did not have AA I would probably be engaged in a battle for my soul because I enjoy Facebook but it is just not a place to keep up on the comings and goings of my friends and the world anymore. More and more it brings an onslaught of hate and intolerance. Righteous indignation!!

Then today this appeared on my Facebook timeline.
“Anti-intellectualism has been a constant thread winding its way through our political and cultural life, nurtured by the false notion that democracy means that ‘my ignorance is just as good as your knowledge.’” ― Isaac Asimov
The truth which runs through that quote frightens me. There have been mass purges of people based on their education. Historically, countries like Cambodia and Turkey, Russia and more have purged the educated, and of course many countries have purged Jews who were generally well-educated. I don’t know of any country which killed people based solely on their lack of education.
The present president has a large segment of our population that keeps trumpeting about purging elements of our society (including liberals). I am too old and too well armed to suffer the worst but the move towards a more tolerant, open and progressive society seems to have been halted at best and regressed significantly at worst.
How could this be in a nation which prides itself on its adherence to Judeo-Christian principles and the Golden Rule?
A large number of people are using Facebook to proclaim knowledge and understanding of important issues based on reading Internet articles which have no truth or even a semblance of truth contained therein. It is as if people are now proud to not have studied hard, read well and engaged in appropriate discourse with other knowledgeable persons. These folks seem to discard the notion that they need skillful teachers because these folks are either too lazy to resume their education or are entrenched in a false belief that these short articles found in cursory glances at the Internet equal knowledge. I confess, I did poorly in school and I dropped out at a young age. But from a very young age my father made me read books and more books. And I listened to everything the teachers said in class. But I didn’t do homework. Hated it. Short attention span. So, I got bad grades.
But being well read is the reason I could navigate law school when I lacked a standard high school or college education. What I mean is, I could read, understand and analyze what I read. If I were were to defend you in court the way some of you defend your political positions, you would fire me or sue me for incompetent representation, and rightfully so. You expect me to show up in court and present your case with skill based on knowledge and facts. You do not need to go to law school to choose a political candidate or choose your value system. But why do you feel free to publish memes that are lies and damnable lies? Why is the standard of choosing our politicians boil down to an adherence to anger and ignorance? It takes open-mindedness to navigate the Internet skillfully. We need a political revolution in this country. We need to loosen the strangle hold that moneyed interests have in our system. But a political revolution without genuine spiritual principles to guide it was called under Mao Zedong, the Cultural Revolution. China underwent a spasm of violence in support of said revolution.
To increase the likelihood of building a greater America and stronger society we may need to look to our adherence to spiritual principles. AA and Buddhism are paths to spiritual progress and liberation from self-will. There are others. I was ready when I arrived at these disciplines to do; the study, the homework and what the teachers who were knowledgeable told me to do. When the student is ready, the teacher will appear. We hope.