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Snake Meadow

Snake Meadow

After the horrible news of yesterday’s school shootings we have been mourning the losses and feel numb. Today The Chalice newsletter of the Unitarian Church of Barnstable arrived – the church we just joined last week — and Reverend Kristen Harper included the opening stanza from a poem by Ralph Waldo Emerson to introduce her paragraph about mourning losses during the year. Unfortunately it is very apt today.

Threnody by Ralph Waldo Emerson

THE SOUTH-WIND brings
Life, sunshine, and desire,
And on every mount and meadow
Breathes aromatic fire;
But over the dead he has no power,
The lost, the lost, he cannot restore;
And, looking over the hills, I mourn
The darling who shall not return.

I mourn all the little darlings who shall not return because their lives were cut short. I will look for them in the hills and valleys, when walking through a meadow I will remember and mourn. I will see them in the sunrise and sunset and along the beaches we walk on old Cape Cod. I will cherish my children and the children I meet in my travels all the more. I will be patient with them all and with my self. I will look for them as I look for Walt Whitman who wrote in Leaves of Grass:

Failing to fetch me at first keep encouraged,
Missing me one place search another,
I stop some where waiting for you.

I hope the sweet martyred babies will wait for us until we have the wisdom to see them again.


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The moon was full over Brooklyn last night, more specifically over the Gravesend neighborhood. It cast a lovely, ghostly light as always. Spiritual or macabre depending on your mood.

Gravesend is a unique place, the spot in Brooklyn where immigrants tend to first settle. It was settled in 1643 by Lady Deborah Moody and a merry band of English Quakers – the first of many immigrants to follow. I know this because of the plaque at the historic cemetery nearby (fitting).

Fifty years ago it was an Italian neighborhood. Now it’s Russian, Chinese, Korean, and still has some Italian residents. My in-laws’ neighbor is from Albania – he is a Muslim and a wonderful neighbor – something my Italian in-laws thought was an oxymoron.

Gravesend is a no frills place. There are no fancy expensive shops. Ok – there is a pretty fancy liquor store, run as many of the liquor stores are by Russians. When our 25 year old hip daughter visited last year she was tickled by the proprietor who was quite suave and elegant with a cultured Eastern European accent. Asking me to swipe my credit card he simply gestured and said “pleez.”

The avenues are for shopping. Avenue ‘U’ and ‘X’ and 86th street – ok not an avenue but under the ‘EL’ it functions like one. 86rh has many shops of all sorts – including a very large and well stocked oriental market. (86th street is probably in Bensonhurst officially anyway.)

On Ave ‘X’ there are a few blocks of mostly utilitarian shops Bagels and Beyond, a corner connivence store with a perpetual hot dog special – $1.50. But my favorite is a new coffee shop – Amore & Baci – very pretty and unlike it’s surroundings.

The Rite Aid drug store just announced that it was renovated and new – we did some shopping there today – Tucks and nasal spray. The store seemed a little cleaner but we couldn’t see any renovations.

Cuccio’s was another story. Completely renovated, it’s an old Italian bread store and pastry shop. Until recently it was pretty dirty and run down but over the holidays it was redone. And the result is much nicer. But the display cases weren’t full and they didn’t have any sfgyadelles – tomorrow the baker said . We think might always be tomorrow for sfgyadelles at Cuccios. The biscuits I just had with espresso where great though so we’ll give them another go.

I’ll continue this post when I’m back at my computer and can post photos more easily. The one of the moon is a photo of the screen on my camera taken with my iPhone. It’s still a picture of the moon thou, eh?

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15 Dunstable Road Westford, MA - $419,900

We are retired — both of us. we live in a beautiful house in a wonderful town — Westford Massachusetts. Our plan is to sell out house and move to Cape Cod. Its a plan we’ve had for a few years now. The thing is though — our house isn’t selling. In the past we’ve sold three houses together. They all sold right away. The last one sold nine years ago two weeks before it was to go on the market. Some folks saw it almost by mistake and made a better than full price offer twenty minutes later. So as prepared as we were for a tough market — we weren’t prepared. We take excellent care of our houses. The one we have now in not an exception — its is in much better shape than when we bought it. The infrastructure is in top shape, it is esthetically beautiful and very comfortable. It is larger than it looks at 2156 square feet, cozy yet spacious. Yet it is currently listed at the same price it was nine years ago — $419,900.

Right now my wife and I are in a kind of limbo — waiting for someone to buy our house. The real estate market is log jammed with people wanting to move on and buy a new home but unable to do so because they can’t sell the one they own. This market is stagnated to the point of near non-existence. At least that’s how it feels to us.

Our house is priced at almost exactly the mid point for houses in our town. In other words its not a cheap super buy and its not excitingly, over the top luxurious. Its a well kept, comfortable home with four bedrooms, two bathrooms on a treed builder’s acre. But it doesn’t draw many potential buyers nor is it the subject of criticism. In other words there is little to do except wait.

We work at maintaining the house and did repaint our kitchen and family room recently on the advice of new brokers. Our most recent project has been to clean up the damage to trees due to the October storm.

We withdrew from all of our activities in town, resigning from the town and church committees we belonged to. I resigned from the art gallery I helped create. So we wait. Organize and get rid of stuff and wait. We can’t afford to just move, leaving the house to be sold in our absence. So we wait. We look at listings on Cape Cod where we want to live, visit there once in a while and we wait.

Meanwhile the occupy Wall Street movement has taken hold and many of the non-rich or less rich also grow impatient. Dreams deferred dry up like raisins in the sun. The economic crisis was created by the greed and arrogance of the investment banking world. The lawyers and professional investors who have milked the working public for decades have finally gone too far. When we were kept happy with an acceptable share of the spoils the system seemed to work. But behind the gloss of daily economic life there always were the bankers and investment pros buying IPO stock at 10 cents and selling it at 10 dollars. Securitizing near worthless mortgages and then betting that they would fail while at the same time selling the securities to the great unwashed masses. I’ve spoken to some of these ‘gentlemen’ and heard them speak of how stupid the public is, how easy a mark we all are.

Now we in the middle are afraid to act. Housing prices have rarely been more attractive. Interest rates have never been lower. Yet the market doesn’t move. Not in the price range of our house. The less expensive and more expensive homes do seem to sell at a faster rate. We are still waiting. Of course its “only” been 6 months but with so little traffic coming through our house we are likely to wait a while longer.

Once we do have a buyer I wonder if we will have the courage (or the capital for that matter) to buy. We may stay out of the real estate market for the rest of our lives becoming renters. Will that put us in a lower class? I doubt it — I think we will have plenty of company.


Chicago

Chicago Street at Night


I came across this quote “Anxiety is the fundamental mood of existence” — attributed to Martin Heidegger — in Wittgenstein’s Mistress by David Markson. Markson also wrote that Van Gogh could make everything — even a pair of boots — seem to have anxiety. I don’t remember who he attributed that to.

Wittgenstein’s Mistress is a marvelous book — the height of the experimental novel, according to David Foster Wallace who committed suicide — probably due to his anxiety. But I don’t want to write about the book right now. I want to think out loud about the idea of Heidegger’s about the fundamental mood of life. Is it anxiety for most people? Is anxiety the fundamental mood of your life?

I discussed this with my wife. At first Aurora was skeptical. She is a very positive and cheerful person so ideas like this don’t usually sound right to her. Then, later after thinking for awhile she said something like — “you know it makes sense. We are in a mode (not mood) of survival — always deciding to flee or fight when pressured. And we are often pressured.”

Many of us feel like we are fighting a war. Business is war. The economy is survival of the fittest. In America when its time to file your income taxes it is always anxious time for most of us. We speak of the dog eat dog world. Even our holidays create anxiety. Getting away for a vacation is a source of anxiety for most of us too.

So is the purpose of philosophy and religion to help us over come this anxiety? There is another cause of anxiety — a kind of background noise for our existence as super-sentient beings — the knowledge of our impending, inevitable death. As I read about Buddhism I am learning that one purpose of meditation is to figure out how to deal with knowing that we will certainly die but at a time that is unknown and not of our choosing. Some Buddhists meditate on that daily and afterwards decide how to spend the day — which could be the last one for any living person.

Mortality is one of the truths about life Buddha woke up to. Its a pretty fundamental truth but many mortals do not face it until late in life if ever. By face it I mean think through what it means and how this knowledge should inform our daily life. Buddhist thinking has it that we can only be sure of the present moment. The past is gone, tomorrow may not come and is unknown if it does. Some western religions ask us to focus our attention on ‘the next life.’ Live in a way that will ensure entrance to heaven. Of course Buddhists — some Buddhists — believe in Karma and reincarnation. Karma = actions and the associated reaction of the laws associated with Karma. So this amounts to the same thing, I think.

Meditation is good practice whether dealing with mortality or trying to calm jittery nerves. So is being in nature if one really is there to enjoy it. Real work can also relieve anxiety but there isn’t as much of that around as there used to be. By real work I man doing something for the joy of the work itself and what it will accomplish. Some of us still have that kind of work, others seek it and make it out of an avocation. But there is no doubt that real work is a big help. And maybe the most favorable way to calm down to to help others. I think after meditation there are Buddhists who decide to do just that as well as Catholics, Unitarians and atheists as well.

I recently read a book entitled “Buddhism Without Beliefs” by Stephen Batchelor Its a condensed introduction to Buddhist practice and thinking without the mysticism. A little like Thomas Jefferson’s bible — Jefferson cut out all the mysticism and miracles from the New Testament and made a book that was mostly the sayings and wisdom of Jesus. I highly recommend it. It might help you deal with your anxiety — it helped me with mine.


We dimly remember our fear

This is a holiday season because we have always feared the darkness. Not so much now with electricity and enlightenment. Yet still we fear death because it is the dying of the light and might be painful. Today marks the longest night and shortest day. We no longer believe that our ceremonies and rituals are needed to ensure the rebirth of the light on earth, but what do we believe about death? James Carroll wrote a good column today in the Globe “Religion, science, and the solstice.” He concludes that knowledge is holy. But what of our knowledge of the soul and its rebirth after death? Is  — as Carroll writes — today’s darkness tomorrow’s” light, or is it just more darkness?

Is our lack of knowledge proof that no rebirth is possible? I don’t think so. Yet we are in the dark about this in the same way as our ancestors were in the dark about the cycles of the earth thousands of years ago. I have faith in the economy of the universe — that nothing is wasted and that our essence has a future. Whether my consciousness survives remains for me to see (a contradiction — yes this is a contradiction and paradox). None of the proofs of the immortality of the human soul seem to work for me. And I observe no rituals to ensure its progress after death. Maybe I should seek some potent rituals designed for this purpose. Or maybe I should simply live my life knowing that I will eventually experience death and transfiguration — a process not to be feared because it is inevitable.  As  Baha’is chant — in the end “We will all verily abide by the will of God.”

What do you think? Do you fear that the light, once extinguished will not be reborn?


The human condition is a frail one. We have difficulty separating reality from the phantoms of dreams and nightmares. There is an article in today’s Boston Globe about a man who strangled his sweetheart and wife of 40 years while he dreamed that intruders were attacking the couple in their camper. He was found not guilty because  he was having a nightmare and was acting automatically, as if under a spell. Under the control  of something he could not resist. I past times he would have been thought to be possessed by the devil.

Tragic, ironic beyond what anyone on earth could possibly bear, this story highlights our fragile grasp of reality. You see they had camped in a strange place and their sleep was disturbed by cars racing nearby. They where fearful. Frightened. Sleeping uneasily, he had a nightmare of the worst kind — the kind that doesn’t feature unreality but reality — it was a dream that seemed real. They were being attacked. So he defended himself — by strangling his beloved wife. Sad beyond comprehension.

Of course maybe this fellow is a master of deception and murdered his wife purposefully covering it with a bizarre story and getting away with an atrocity. But I don’t believe that. I think this is human nature biting  once again.

I hope that we can guard against occurrences like this. How? By being aware of both our surroundings and our feelings. By thinking past the dark and the fear. By having faith in our destiny. This is my belief and hope but I’m not sure it will always work. In any case I continue to try not to be afraid of anything…..

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