This is the Place – Reflections on the attack at Manchester

I have been avoiding reading about the Manchester attack. I know when I’m too close to the edge to look over, and that’s the way I’ve been feeling since I heard about the tragic event. Today, I looked.

As the saying has it, there are eight million stories in the naked city. Manchester, this time, is that city.

One of those stories belongs to eight-year-old Saffie Rose Roussos, the youngest of the victims. She was caught in the blast after having become momentarily separated from her mother and sister, both of whom suffered shrapnel injuries.

Another one of the stories is that of Sorrell Leczkowski, 14 years old, who was with her mother and grandmother. She died. Mother and grandmother are still in hospital, recovering from their wounds.

Not all of the names have yet been released. But for each name, there are countless stories. None of them explain. They merely convey. Those who will survive this incident will recover, more or less, from their physical wounds. There is no recovery from the emotional wounds.

“A return to a normal state of health, mind, or strength.”
“The action or process of regaining possession or control of something stolen or lost.”

A parent who loses a child to illness, or accident, no matter the age of the child, is a changed parent. There is no returning, though there can be a moving on.

But a parent who loses a child, particularly a young child, to an act of atrocity, and worse – their child was there by their own permission or in fact in their very care – not only cannot return, but can never really regain possession or control. That which was stolen, remains stolen. The fault these parents will naturally assume, whether warranted or not – and here, clearly not – will never let them taste sweetness again without tasting bitterness. All the would-have-been-joyful moments to come will forever be tethered to darkness by the fact of the missing essential element: the child.

There is no justification for what happened. There is no explanation that can complete the puzzle of life for the people who were affected. And we have all been affected. The best we can perhaps hope for is to remember. Remember the path we were on. Remember why we were on it. Remember where we thought we were going. Remember who we were with.

For me, this memory is helped along by “This is the Place,” a poem by Tony Walsh, which he so forcefully read in the aftermath of such loss. I leave you with this thought, in the hope that it helps you to come to a better place, as it did me.

Tony Walsh reciting “This is the Place”Tony Walsh reciting 'This is the Place'

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Is expectation of men’s solidarity misplaced in light of Trump sex tape?

I don’t believe I have any women friends (or any other friends, for that matter) who are Trump supporters. So I don’t believe this jab is directed at anyone I know.

That being said… isn’t it awfully myopic, selfish and xenophobic for a good number of women to say that now, finally, with the discovery of “the Trump tape,” a line has been drawn in the sand and Trump has stepped over it? To say that “it’s a sign of how under-appreciated we [women] are?”

Don’t you think it was true that earlier statements were signs of “how under-appreciated Mexicans are,” or “how under-appreciated Muslims are,” or “how under-appreciated [insert name of any number of groups Trump has slammed publicly] are?”

Were you not willing to stand behind Mexicans, Muslims, the disabled, or others in solidarity because you are not a member of any of those groups? Why now all of a sudden do you expect men to stand behind women in solidarity? They are not members of that group either.

I know that Republicans especially like to talk about the Bible. But they sure like to pick and choose. We could go to Matthew 25:45 for the very lesson that pertains here:

“Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for the least of these, you did not do for Me.”

Anyone who is only now deciding to abandon Trump or – perhaps worse – remains undecided, has to ask themselves what they truly do believe in. Because it surely does not appear to be “love of neighbor,” or “basic human goodness” that they believe in. It must be something else entirely.

This article is in part in response to:
“You deserve every charge of sexism thrown at you”: a conservative activist quits GOP after Trump tape [from vox.com]

Breakfast. Mornings with my father.

Bowl of cereal
Breakfast. Mornings with my father.

[This article was written while on a spiritual retreat at Holy Cross Monastery, in West Park, New York. It’s an exceedingly lovely environment in which to re-find one’s self. I highly recommend it to any of a spiritual bent.]

Here, at the monastery, breakfast falls under the swath of the Great Silence, which began at 8:30 the previous evening and extends until 8:30 each morning. Breakfast is to be eaten silently; no talking, making as little noise as possible. It’s amusing to watch people trying to crack a hard-boiled egg silently. To eat a bowl of granola, silently. To chew, silently. But still, we’re conscious, and we try, and that’s the significant part.

But I never appreciated breakfast with my father, when I was a boy, as much as I did this morning. On the mornings that breakfast was a bowl of cereal, coffee, toast – as it was most weekday mornings – he would not put milk on his cereal until everyone else had pretty much finished reaching for this and reaching for that. When the coast was clear, he would move the milk carton close to his cereal bowl, move the sugar bowl close as well, pause for just a second, and then apply the two to his cereal and begin eating.

The cereal was never swimming in milk. Just enough to give it some fluidity and – and this is most important – a bit of cohesiveness. As my father ate his cereal, you could see a line maintained across the width of the bowl, as the spoon made its methodical advance. And he did this “silently.” Not silently in a way that would call attention to itself, not even like the Great Silence of this place. But silently in a way that you wouldn’t even notice, until reflecting on it some 50 years later.

Today, when I am out walking the dog, and it’s time to clean up after her leavings, I pride myself on being the best poop-picker I know. It doesn’t matter whether it was a particularly good one, or less so… my goal, nearly always realized, is to leave no trace. Obviously sometimes this is not possible. But I think about it. I have a method, which I use; it brings good results, and makes me proud to be a responsible steward.

I am the best poop-picker I know. I know where I got it from.

My father was the best cereal-eater I know. I wonder where he got it from?

“Gay Marriage” already practiced by straight people

An article from a couple of years ago crossed my path this morning, which drove me to write this. It was titled, Starbucks CEO to Shareholder: If You Support Biblical Marriage, Sell Your Shares, and I found it really encouraging. As a sort of open letter to the gentleman who spoke against Starbucks’ open and welcoming policy toward patrons and employees of all stripes, particularly its participation in efforts in support of same-sex marriage in Washington State – and to other like-minded individuals across the country – I would say this:

From a NY Times study conducted last year and published in December, the divorce rate, while still considerable at roughly 35%, has been decreasing since its high in the late 70’s and early 80’s. One of the reasons cited for the drop:

The feminist movement of the 1970s played a considerable role in where the divorce rate is now, according to economists Betsey Stevenson and Justin Wolfer. As women entered the work force and gained reproductive rights, marriage began to evolve into its “modern-day form, based on love and shared passions, and often two incomes and shared housekeeping duties.”

Get that: “based on love and shared passions, and often two incomes and shared housekeeping duties.” That’s the modern marriage!

Folks who feel that “gay marriage” is a threat to “traditional marriage,” you have to embrace the fact, or at least accept it, that your “traditional marriage” is no longer carrying the day. If you have a marriage in which the man goes off to work, and the woman stays home and cooks and cleans and raises the children; in which the family sits down to dinner together at 6:00, says grace, eats a meal; in which once a year the kids and the dog are gathered up into the station wagon for the annual vacation to the Great Sand Dunes National Park or some such place, dad driving, family singing along with a popular song on the radio… then God bless you. Enjoy that.

But understand that that is not the “traditional family,” and has not been for at least a generation, if not longer. There is nothing in the above description of the modern marriage that requires or defines gender roles or a gender basis. If you have been able to live side by side with straight couples and their families, who have come together based on love and shared passions, and a willingness to share in the family duties, whatever they may be, then it’s not a big leap to be able to live side by side with gay couples doing exactly the same thing.

And that, in the end, is what the point to gay marriage is all about. It’s about letting love be the guide, not rules. What could be more Christian than that?

[The NYT article mentioned is here: Modern Families: The Divorce Surge Is Over, but the Myth Lives On]

Bill Maher’s broken record

I love so many things about Bill Maher. But his oft-used tendency to poke holes in religion by citing specific isolated awkward passages from the Bible is just, well, ignorant, and doesn’t show much promise. I really think it’s just his schtick, and that he’s better than that.

But I could be wrong. Maybe he’s not better than that. He seems to believe he’s speaking facts, and truths, simply because he is the one speaking them, and of course he wouldn’t say them if they weren’t obviously true. I get that he thinks he means well, but he comes off with a smugness that makes him seem more stuck than the people he’s attacking.

Stop Looking for Joy

Large block of marble

What if our natural state were nothing but outrageous, uncontrollable, ecstatic, boundless joy? And instead of striving always to reach that, we rather were to strip away all that is not that?

If you have ever done any sculpting or carving, you fully understand the joke, “How do you carve an elephant out of marble?”

“You start with a really big piece of marble, and remove everything that’s not an elephant.”

The joy that we sometimes consciously experience is always there. It’s just been trapped inside a block of our own creation.

We have to learn how to unlearn. We are far less rigid in our thinking when we sleep. At last, the ego shuts its wretched mouth, and leaves the soul to speak for itself. By consciously suspending our ego-coached disbelief, we might glimpse some of that same godhead in our waking hours, and see the topsy turvy world for what it is.

We might, more often, experience the simple joy of drawing breath.

On E. F. Schumacher’s “A Guide for the Perplexed”

I had the opportunity today to introduce to a couple friends of mine – one an episcopal priest and FDNY chaplain, the other a corporate litigation attorney – the book, “A Guide for the Perplexed,” by E. F. Schumacher (not to be confused with the similarly-titled – and not accidentally so! – 12th-century book by Maimonides). He is perhaps more known for his earlier book, “Small is Beautiful,” aptly subtitled, “Economics as if People Mattered.”

Excerpts from the liner notes of the current book:
“what he undertakes is to provide nothing less than a Manual for Survival… ”
“an unapologetic defense of traditional Christian humanism”

For my part, I was hooked at the point where Schumacher picks up the ball with this quote from psychiatrist Viktor E. Frankl, a man whom he describes as “a psychiatrist of unshakeable sanity,” and runs with it:

He quotes: “The present danger does not really lie in the loss of universality on the part of the scientist, but rather in his pretence and claim of totality… What we have to deplore therefore is not so much the fact that scientists are specialising, but rather the fact that specialists are generalising.” [British spellings as in the source.]

From there, he goes on to discuss the four “Levels of Being.”

Mineral: m
Plant: m+x
Animal: m+x+y
Man: m+x+y+z

About “x” he writes: “No one has any difficulty recognizing the astonishing and mysterious difference between a living plant and one that has died and has thus fallen to the lowest level of being, inanimate matter. What is this power that has been lost? We call it “life.” Further on: “Even if somebody could provide us with the recipe, a set of instructions, for creating life out of lifeless matter, the mysterious character of x would remain, and we would never cease to marvel that something that could do nothing is now able to extract nourishment from its environment, grow, and reproduce itself, ‘true to form,’ as it were. There is nothing in the laws, concepts, and formulae of physics and chemistry to explain or even to describe such powers.”

He therefore comes to identify x as an ontological discontinuity, the first of the three ontological discontinuities on the road from mineral to man.

To go any further with this “book report” would take me too far away from where I meant to go, which was simply to introduce it with enough of a hook to catch you. Perhaps we’re there by now. 🙂

Read this book. If you have, let’s discuss. For the record, I’m on page 94 (of 140). Don’t give away the ending.