I battled with the idea to make this an entirely separate blog focusing on being the Dad of a transgender son, but decided that Live, Love, Listen is the appropriate place. This blog is about the things that are important to me, and the self-centered person I am, or maybe a the person I am who wants to see a better world for all thinks it should be important to you. So it remains here among my music, running, and humanist posts.
We recently came out publicly about our son, and now I find myself in a time of Listening. I’ve been overwhelmed since he came out to us, then to the family, then to his school, and now us coming out to everyone, and overwhelming expresses itself in form of depression for me. It has been a struggle, I’ve been overeating, not exercising, buying pop tarts and birthday cake fudge stripes. I’ve been binge-ing on Netflix, and distant. Fortunately I had to go to the ADK with Amy and that got me hiking. And, fortunately, I am now in a place that I recognize my depression and the things I do to myself. So currently I’m engaging in running again, took a couple of my kids hiking at Stony Brook State Park, and getting to sleep a little earlier by only watching one Netflix episode of the many shows I’m following. I’ve got some gigs coming up too that I’m excited about. So I am engaging in taking care of myself. This is the result of learning how to listen, listen to others, my therapist, and my body/mind (sorry about the dualism there).
Other things I’m listening to are the responses to our coming out. (Names omitted):
– Sky is very lucky to have been born into such a kickass family. And hopefully the world is changing quickly enough that he won’t have to experience the hate and fear that his predecessors endured.
– I liked this post. If i could like it numerous times without it actaully unliking it i would..sending my love and support
– I have learned over the years that it is the most important thing to be yourself, and be true to yourself no matter what. Sky has done one of the best things for himself.
– Dan & Amy, I’ve yet to meet Sky, but I already adore him because he is your child & I do so appreciate the 2 of you. And I admire all 3 of you even more now. Count me among the legion surrounding you all with love and support. Bravo!
– I am truly impressed by you as parents stepping out into YOUR Authenticity. Many parents of a TrueGender child are not willing to join their child on the frontlines of their life in such a way
For those of us who are living in our Truegender, our actions are acutely tied to the support system that embraces or expels us. We have known who we are for a longer time than those in the ever widening circle of our lives and our choice to Reveal and live our True Life should be as simple as pulling back the curtain. Sadly, that is not possible in every community. Sky will benefit from your continued Unconditional Love and he will also thrive in the local LGBTQ community and the larger public community of Upstate NY, which is exceptional in its acceptance of gender diversity. Sadly, locality and environment really do impact our progress and future success in realizing our intentions. I honor you, Dan and Amy, for YOUR commitment to transition in YOUR life as Sky approaches a fuller understanding of his own challenges.
For my part, I can attest to experiencing no external pushback which has been instrumental in my own measure of Self Confidence in processing what I need to and proceeding to actualize my hopes, dreams and ambitions. Continued therapeutic guidance has been essential for me to staying on track, but I am sure you and Sky are well aware of its benefits, judging by the strong United front you present.
My sister is an active board member of PFLAG in Chicago and force of nature in the LGBTQ community there. If you haven’t already, I invite you to join PFLAG and add your energy to its mission. We are also blessed by having the Gay Alliance of Greater Rochester and The Empty Closet as such a strong resources locally.
The timing of this announcement could not be better timed, coming just before our annual Pride Celebration. I will not soon forget being a Pride Parade participant months after I initiated my full disclosure and experiencing the love and affirmation radiating from the sidewalks 2 years ago. For me, after decades of self-imposed suppression it was a triumphant tear-filled coming home at last. I can only hope Sky feels the same welcome I experienced and banks that joyous validation.
Please accept my offer of availability to you and Sky, should you need counsel, confirmation and companionship on your journey. We are all pioneers, representatives of a larger Global initiative that invites every Human Being on the planet to live Out Loud, Unapologetically as who we really are and embrace the opportunity to evolve to a new level of Human Understanding and in the process, Change the World.
– I don’t often love facebook posts, but, when I do, I love facebook posts.
– He is so lucky to have you. You must have created a loving and supportive environment for him to be so brave, so young. Congratulations.
– Congratulaions on the freedom this will bring for him. You should be so proud of him. And what great parents to be so supportive (as it should be).
– His ability to be comfortable in his own skin and willingness to share this with others stems from your acceptance of who your children are and allowing them to be themselves. And loving them all the same. I hope my girls will feel this love from us too as this is the most important job as parents. Nice work, Dan. And your Sky is a little brighter today.
These fill me with hope. But I still get stuck and look for the bad; like digging to see who hasn’t “liked” our post, and routing out all of the anti-LBGTQ news, and recognizing that the Pope believes the Church should ask for forgiveness but refuses to change doctrine. Still, even with all the negative, I look at court cases, I look at responses to my post, I look at the great State of NY (We are fortunate to live in the Greater Rochester Area which has been called the San Francisco of the East), I look at the rest of the country, and I am convinced at times that the war has been won. What we are witnessing is the last, desperate dying cries of bigoted people hiding behind their “Holy Books” while the majority of us see right through their thin veneer.
Yes, Trump, the GOP, and Religion are still extremely dangerous to the health and safety of the LGBTQ community, but the courts are ruling with us, public sentiment is on our side and we will win. Remember that vitriol was just as intense during the Civil Rights fight, and even though we still live in a racist society, the laws were changed and the Civil Rights war is won with constant changes to make things better, and we all know who the bad guys were. We are witnessing this again, and if I believe the arc of the universe curves toward justice, “We Shall Overcome” again.
Romans 1:27-32 New International Version (NIV)
27 In the same way the men also abandoned natural relations with women and were inflamed with lust for one another. Men committed shameful acts with other men, and received in themselves the due penalty for their error.
28 Furthermore, just as they did not think it worthwhile to retain the knowledge of God, so God gave them over to a depraved mind, so that they do what ought not to be done. 29 They have become filled with every kind of wickedness, evil, greed and depravity. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit and malice. They are gossips, 30 slanderers, God-haters, insolent, arrogant and boastful; they invent ways of doing evil; they disobey their parents; 31 they have no understanding, no fidelity, no love, no mercy. 32 Although they know God’s righteous decree that those who do such things deserve death, they not only continue to do these very things but also approve of those who practice them.
Leviticus 20:30 (NIV)
“‘If a man has sexual relations with a man as one does with a woman, both of them have done what is detestable. They are to be put to death; their blood will be on their own heads.
Quran (7:80-84) – “…For ye practice your lusts on men in preference to women: ye are indeed a people transgressing beyond bounds…. And we rained down on them a shower (of brimstone)”
Abu Dawud (4462) – The Messenger of Allah (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) said, “Whoever you find doing the action of the people of Loot, execute the one who does it and the one to whom it is done.”.
Abu Dawud (4448) – “If a man who is not married is seized committing sodomy, he will be stoned to death.” (Note the implicit approval of sodomizing one’s wife).
Bukhari (72:774) – “The Prophet cursed effeminate men (those men who are in the similitude (assume the manners of women) and those women who assume the manners of men, and he said, ‘Turn them out of your houses .’ The Prophet turned out such-and-such man, and ‘Umar turned out such-and-such woman.”
al-Tirmidhi, Sunan 1:152 – [Muhammad said] “Whoever is found conducting himself in the manner of the people of Lot, kill the doer and the receiver.“
2015 started the year off pretty great, working with Orange Sky, The Fools, and Genesee Johnny. I thought the mix was perfect, good people, good music, good times.
I fooled myself.
Orange Sky and I had a falling out and separated in quite an ungraceful way. Much had to do with my approach and attitude, but the whole process has left a deep wound and hurt from a place that is supposed to be “healing.” I have serious reservations about the larger organization, First Unitarian Church of Rochester, as a result of this divorce.
I have edited the above, as my earlier words were still fueled by the anger and resentment that remain from this process. But more on Spiritual Matters in a later blog.
The Fools have been a blast. Mary Ellen Hayden’s voice is a force of nature, Mickey’s guitar is mindblowing, Ken’s rhythmic stylings are second to none, and Jack’s ears on the soundboard are impeccable. These guys are the real deal in classic rock, and it has been a privilege to share the stage with them. Not only that, but as people, they are sincere, honest, caring, fun, humorous, loving, sensible, etc. they are great people and great musicians, which is the magic formula I’ve been looking for in a band. Unfortunately, my playing has been adequate at best. The loud playing in small rooms through the years have taken a toll on my ears. I recently had them checked and as far as low frequencies are concerned I have suffered some hearing loss. With loud low frequencies bouncing around in tight spaces I have been losing pitch recognition in these scenarios and have found to my dismay that I would be playing a half-step off for periods of time without even recognizing it. This not only embarrasses me, but brings the entire band down. I am investing in custom earplugs to help remedy this situation and prevent further hearing loss, but am not as optimistic as I might have been when I was younger. We will see what happens next. Regardless, The Fools are setting up another incredible run next year so check them out whether or not I am playing with them.
The Genesee Johnny Trio is tremendous with Jenna (Jenna and the Hops) stepping back for a while, Aleks and I needed to shore up our Pultneyville Grill residency, so we employed Johnny. Playing string bass between these two guitar geniuses in a laid back low volume setting is magic. Just like The Fools, these guys are great people as well as great musicians. Aleks is the best, tastiest blues player in the northeast and Johnny’s slide technique and vocals harken to an era long past. The Pultneyville Grill will be reopening in March and you can find us there again, we would also like to play other rooms and settings so please talk us up to your favorite establishment.
Also on the trio front, Aleks and I also approached Hanna Klau, an amazing pianist and vocalist from Korea who does standards, blues, and original material, and we have been playing around town as well. (We will be playing Sticky Lips Henrietta from 7:30 – 10:00 New Year’s Eve). Look for Hanna to be releasing a CD soon. This trio combined with the Genesee Johnny trio plus Tim Brindouse on Harmonica and Tony Hiler on drums will make up a new band that rocks and swings the area. We already have a big date in July in Geneseo. Stay tuned.
Finally, other than one offs with bands like The Flexitarians, and subbing, I was invited to play bass in a pop trio called Crabapples. This is fronted by Jon Gary who is a bass player I have followed for years in a band called Woody Dodge, but he plays guitar and sings in this band. Also Brooks Langkans on drums and vocals is a child of the eighties who shares my pop-sensibilities and taste. Most of the songs we play are originals, and I would say they have a brit-pop feel, (think XTC, The Jam, Split Endz etc.). It’s really fun to play this music, although it is a departure from the blues, jazz and rock for me. It is teaching me (and I’m applying it to other bands) how to play much more within the tune. I tend to be a really busy player, thinking that adding more is adding more to the song… but really, adding less adds more in many, many cases. Love these guys, love this band, they even let me sing a Ramones tune live for a benefit concert. Keep your eyes open for this band as we start a new year of composing and recording.
2015 was year of learning, 2016 is shaping up to be another great year. I think I’m finally in that place where I’m playing the music I want to be playing with the people I want to be playing it with. It is no longer a job, it is a joy.
Looks like I will still be reviewing the year after the new year rolls in. But hey… whatever, you don’t have to read t if you don’t want to 🙂
Next up Part III
You don’t climb mountains without a team, you don’t climb mountains without being fit, you don’t climb mountains without being prepared and you don’t climb mountains without balancing the risks and rewards. And you never climb a mountain on accident – it has to be intentional
~ Mark Udall
13 years ago, filled with piss and vinegar, running away from a failed marriage, behaving in unseemly ways that contradict my morals and ethics (which are socially, not religiously bound) I arrived at a mountain certain that I would finish a 103.7 mile footrace on it…
Fast forward to May 16th-17th this year, I arrived at the same mountain, with the intention of finishing the 103.7 mile footrace on it. Spoiler alert, I made it just under 70 miles in 24 hours before being pulled from the course…
Yes, I covered fewer miles this year. Yes, I didn’t achieve the intended outcome. Yes, I still don’t have a buckle from Massanutten Mountain 100 Miler. But I still succeeded.
On May 15th at 6:00 AM Amy and I headed to Massanutten Mountain for my return engagement with Virginia Happy Trails Running Club’s (VHTRC) premiere event. This return engagement was a long time in the making and made possible by a generous scholarship from #TrailsROC, the running club I belong to in Rochester. I don’t just mention #TrailsROC because it is my obligation to as a result of the scholarship, it is because this group and its members are indicative of the larger reason why I consider this outing a success.
Amy was coming along because she wanted to crew for me. This alone is a new experience for me, I was nervous because I have never had a crew before, I have always just relied on aid stations and drop bags in the past. This change in behavior was going to be different, I was worried about feeling responsible for my crew, I was worried that Amy was going to take my gruffness the wrong way, I was worried about a change in routine. Some of this was founded and some not. It took some getting used to as I was expecting bottles to be handed to me right as I passed through the first aid station, but waited for them to be brought out of the cooler. Also, I ran right by where Amy had set up shop going into the Elizabeth Furnace aid station because it was before the aid station and I was concerned about getting to the aid station and having my number recorded so I had to walk about 50 yards back to Amy’s set up. And then there was the little dispute about a buff vs. a bandanna. All of that was minor… the actuality of the situation is that I have never had better care and attention through aid stations in my entire ultra career. Amy knows me, she knows when I’m feeling good, and when the wheels are off. She made sure that anything I needed or asked for was at the ready. She got me coffee, chicken broth, socks, shirts, shoes, bandannas, buffs, headlamps, batteries, pepperoni jerky, ginger root, ginger ale, tailwind, trekking poles, mountain dew, turkey sandwiches, pierogis, quesadillas, bacon, water, bag balm, chocolate covered espresso beans, and she made sure that officials knew I was on the course still when they thought everyone had come through……. Just amazing!
3 AM is an early wakeup call, but it happened, I threw on my #trailsROC shirt, my sleeves, my Northface Nearly Naked Long Haul shorts (which elicited some great comments later as I was pulling little bottles out of hidden pockets all over the place at an aid station), 2-Toms chafing solution (which doesn’t work well if you’re wearing cotton underwear… there’s a lesson learned) SmartWool Socks, NB MT110v2 shoes, Ultimate Directions AK Race Vest with bottles, and a buff. I headed down to the start to check in and they were cranking “Get up, Get on Up” James Brown J Hanging out I got to see fellow #trailsROC runner Yoshi and get his picture with me. The scene is surreal, you have a PVC pipe made start/finish line with a clock counting down to 4:00 AM and tons of people just leisurely sitting in seats under a tent. It wasn’t until 3 minutes of 4:00 that anyone got up to get near the start line, and then promptly at 4:00 AM Kevin Sayers says “go” in the most unassuming start for one of the most epic races ever. I have seen the cannon shot and start at Kona, I have seen the Boston and NYC marathon start, I have felt the immense power of the understated simple “go” at the MMT 100 mile footrace, and it is no less spectacular than any of those others.
I don’t want to get into a play by play here, but I just want to mention that the first four miles of this race is a gentle uphill (600ft) of road. A guy I was running with quipped, “This is Bullshit!” which became quite the code for, “Yup, this is what I signed up for, let’s have fun with it.” Heard it while climbing Short Mountain, heard it while climbing Kern’s Mountain, heard it while descending into Elizabeth Furnace (Where I saw fellow #trailsROC runner and now VHTRC runner Angie K.), even said it while not being able to run the ridge at the top of the climb out of Elizabeth furnace. A bunch of us were having fun with this as we went along.
We also had a ton more in common, I wish I could count the number of times I heard people talk about that reason we were out there was to grapple with our demons. Not that I actually believe in demons, but I do have issues in my life and my psyche that I grapple with: alcoholism (in remission for 23 years), chronic depression, crippling self-doubt, and anxiety. These come out at the worst times, dealing with work, family, bands, household economics, marriage relationship, socially, politically, etc. One of the things about an ultra of this magnitude is that it is a tangible experience that reveals how wrong I am on so many counts when these “demons” rent space in my head. Part of the reason for this is that they show up during the event, and that happens usually at about 4.5 miles in a stretch of 9 miles without an aid station. What am I going to do? Sit down in the middle of the trail and cry/die because no one is going to lift me out? No, I put one foot in front of the other until I reach the next aid station. Usually around 6 or 7 miles in that stretch I realize that I continued to move forward even when I thought I couldn’t, and realize that my worry, self-doubt demon was just a false thought.
While I had the intention of going the distance, I also realistically knew that it might not happen. I told Ron Herkeens Jr. before the race that the only way to get my off of the course was to pull me off, even if it meant crawling. Mile 54, Habron Gap Aid Station, I was greeted by a volunteer who asked how I was doing, and if I was okay (must have looked dazed after 4 miles of exposed road running from the last aid station (that had guacamole). I just looked at him said, “Yeah, I’m okay, tired is not an injury.” He laughed and said that was the best quote he had heard all day. I had beat the cut-off by about an hour at this point and was told to sit and fuel up for a while because the next climb, Kern’s Mountain, was 2.5 miles and 1300+ feet of climb. So I took some time, changed my shoes, socks and shirt, got a buff, ate some broth, got my trekking poles and set off. Kern’s is really tough, not just because it’s huge but because that four miles of road traversed before climbing it, affords a daunting view of the mountain to stare at. It’s breath taking, not just because of the beauty and anticipation/fear of the climb, but because breath is already gone from traversing 50 miles to this point. But tired is not an injury, and with numerous rest breaks I climbed this thing through the night and traversed this section to Camp Roosevelt with 15 minutes to spare before the cut-off. I didn’t dilly-dally, but I didn’t know that I had another 1000 ft of climb ahead of me, and a steep descent. I missed the next cut off at Gap Creek by 45 minutes, happy, grateful, sad, disappointed, proud, humbled, basically every emotion I own except one, the one that is my truest demon, the one that dogs my every step every day… Anger. There was no anger. THIS IS THE SUCCESS.
It is not the mountain we conquer but ourselves.
~ Sir Edmund Hillary
What did me in? My feet which were blistered pretty badly and in pain with each step. I was exhausted, there was no gas left in my tank, even though I fueled and hydrated really well. Basically out of the quote at the beginning of this piece, I was not fit. I can blame all sorts of things for this: long cold winter, rolled ankle in October that never completely properly healed, job/family constraints, new medication… but those are just excuses, the real reason is that I didn’t devote enough time to my fitness. I am 20 lbs heavier than I was last year when I ran Cayuga Trails 50. I have not been paying any attention to diet, which I never do. I have rationalized all of my missed workouts away. But as Steve Prefontaine said, “A man can fail many times, but he isn’t a failure until he begins to blame somebody else.” I have myself to blame for not finishing.
But of my success the reality is because I have so many incredible people around me, my life is completely different than it was 13 years ago, I am not finished with this event by any stretch of the imagination, I did not quit.
My demon is not the DNF, nor the rock that goes with it, my demon was/is my anger that does not allow me to see the beauty. The voice that says I’m not fast enough, I’m not good enough, nobody likes me, I’m a second-rate bass player, I’m not an asset to ROCSPOT… this is the voice that obscures the vision that sees: the community of #trailsROC, and Oven Door Runners, the community of my Soul Matters group at First Unitarian, the community of ex-drunks and druggies that infiltrate all areas of my life (work, music, First U, running), the community of my family, my kids, my incredible ultra-babe wife, the community of like-minded scientists and activists in ROCSPOT. This is the voice that obscures the vision of the beauty of the trail, the vista at the top of the climb and during the climb, the ridiculous finds of neat notes buried in old books at Sibley Music Library, the thrill of being a part of helping Rochester out of energy poverty and hopefully economic poverty, the smile in my wife’s face, the achievements of my oldest, youngest and in-between children. For a moment, for 24 hours, this demon was slayed.
And that is the magic of the mountain. It doesn’t care, it is just going to stand in my way and everyone else’s way and knock us down until we find a way up and over in order to see that incredible vista of all the things surrounding us and supporting us.
I’ll be back. Will I finish? I hope so. Does it matter? Yes, but not as much as all of the things I find along the way, and hopefully give back.
I owe so much to this one:
A few more pics, all pics are courtesy of Amy Lopata:
Stats and splits can be found here at Strava.
Yeah, so two posts ago I mentioned, “training plans are basically suggestions.” To prove my point, I threw mine out the window this week. Last week I was on target, running my 6 miles on Tuesday, 5 on Wednesday, another 6 on Thursday then gearing up for 14 on Saturday. But, I got a sinus infection and a really nasty head cold. Combined with that, the kids had to be everyway, everywhere, everytime over the weekend and I had three gigs from Friday night through Saturday night. Thus my weekend long run plans were screwed.
Justifying my lack of getting out there I tallied up my time on feet playing gigs from Friday to Saturday and it totaled 10.5 hours, enough in my mind to equal the 20 miles I was supposed to cover from Saturday to Sunday.
Sunday I was laid up, Monday I was laid up, Tuesday I intended to go 14 trying to play catch up and I chickened out, but this morning I regrouped with the Wed AM trailsroc crew, and plugged in a nice and easy 5K.
So this is what happens frequently to me, I miss some time due to circumstances, I look at my plan and I formulate ways to play catch-up. This is a BAD idea. So I missed some mileage, does that make it necessary for me to get an injury? The next thing that happens is I take my idea for making up the mileage and say “I’m going to run 14 on Tuesday,” Tuesday rolls around, it’s raining and I’m scared that I don’t have the fitness level needed to go 14, and think “what if I hurt myself?” I then opt to watch TV and get another big fat 0 in the books (not even the 7 planned on my schedule). So I think, “Yes, Wed AM trailsroc crew is running from the start of the 0 SPF course, I’ll meet up with them and then when they turn at 1.5 miles I’ll run to the 7 mile turnaround and get my 14! This plan is AWESOME!”
Wednesday morning rolls around, and it’s 5 AM, and I think, “what am I, stupid?” But because I told Ben Murphy that I’d see him in the morning, I’m committed to at least showing up. So I go, get my 3.3 miles in (.8 miles short of 1500 miles for the year, so maybe I’ll go out later… I say knowingly that I won’t) and feel great. I realize that my fitness level (which is still at a low point) after 5 days off, has not really suffered, that I can plug some more miles in later today possibly and get my 7 in tomorrow then be ready for 16 on Saturday, and it’s all really okay that I didn’t get the miles in. I don’t need to make them up. I have over five and a half months to get ready for this event and this is no big deal. It would be a big deal if I continued to talk myself out of running by continuing to talk myself into some stupid plan to make up lost time. And, this is where the importance of groups, training partners and accountability come into play for me.
If it weren’t for trailsroc’s Wed AM crew and my word saying that I’d be there, I might have just slept in this morning and taken another goose egg for the day. But it’s these people that carry me when I can’t carry myself, and they do it because I have committed myself to them; to be there to lead or co-lead when Ben has another obligation, to share in the sunrises (when they come back, hopefully in three or so weeks), to review our races, and share in each other’s running and personal victories and failures. These are my people, and when I’m running with them it is less about training and more about community, and yet it IS ultimately about training, because they get me back on track.
I love long solo runs, I think I am an introvert with a vocal exterior that I use as a shield. But I also love group runs, as they remind me that I’m not the only one who enjoys long solo runs. There is a spirit amongst like-minded people, people whom I may not agree with politically, or musically, or religiously, but the like-minded love of the outdoors, of using our bodies to move through the environment and become part of it, and the sheer enjoyment of our surroundings pulls us together. Something about the base simplicity of foot against dirt levels the playing field and makes all of the other things of life insignificant. We are all just humans moving from point A to point B in the simplest, purest way, and that reduces us all to being nothing greater or less than being human.
I like it, and suspect you do too.
A big shout out to trailsROC for being the community that keeps me and many others moving with relentless forward progress.
I’m actually not a fan of human beings, they are so destructive. A friend of mine has started a new running company with a mission of people first, environment second and profit third, and while I think his aims are commendable I think the priorities are out of order, I think the environment should be first and people second. But really, it’s hard for me to even say that, because if we were really putting people first, we would inherently putting the environment first as people do not live in a vacuum. When we destroy ourselves either through global warming or nuclear annihilation, we will all be gone, but you know what will remain? Yup, the earth will still be here, and better off that we are not.
The AHA (American Humanist Association) defines humanism:
Humanism is a progressive lifestance that, without supernaturalism, affirms our ability and responsibility to lead meaningful, ethical lives capable of adding to the greater good of humanity.
I suppose I can get behind this statement, and there are other interpretations and definitions that talk about how reason, experience, science, and the environment from local environments to the universe affect our experience as humans. I also understand this, but I find it all far to human-centric, like we are the most important thing in the universe, and that is where I question if I am a true humanist, because I don’t believe we are.
Other than thinking about how out of shape I am and how overdressed I was during my 5 mile run this morning, this was the topic that I mused on.
Part of the reason I think about this question is that when it is just me and the trail, far away from humanity, I see what else the world has to offer and how insignificant humanity is. I am surrounded by trees that are far older than me, I watch the cycle of life with fat squirrels gathering nuts and getting ready for winter, and deer getting their winter coats. I see the leafless trees seal off their branches to conserve water through the winter, and I watch the streams and ponds freeze over and realize there is still life teaming under the surface.
And even though we continue to pollute this world, contribute to global warming, cause the extinction of plant and animal species, lop off the top of mountains to grab coal, and explode oil rigs in the ocean, I am convinced that life will prevail long after we have killed our own species. This actually falls right in line with natural selection; when the genetic makeup of our beings is no longer able to support us in the environment that we have created we will cease to exist and the genetic makeup of species that have mutated in order to live in that environment will prosper. So in the words of George Carlin, “The Planet is fine, the people are f@cked.” And so I present his routine:
Okay, after watching that I think I’m a humanist after all, one of those self-centered white liberals who doesn’t like plastic, but that’s because I think it’s an eyesore; one of those do-gooders that cares about the bees and the whales because I do want to live in my own little perfect habitat. But isn’t that just the nature of being human? I am self-centered, and when I’m not self-centered I’m still usually human centered doing service for other human beings. But I am most at peace (which is self-centeredly my greatest concern, ironic huh?) when I do service to nature, cleaning up trails, and observing what the world/universe has to offer that is not of human concern. At the same time, just like establishing National Parks and ecological habitats, I think these self-same environmental actions are what is best for humanity, and therefore humanist actions.
5 miles alone in the woods certainly helps with perspective. And, the answer to the question… I’m still not sure.
P.S. The idea of the earth defending itself with viruses is just one way it does it, another way it does it is through cloud cover and global warming when we keep extracting and burning the resources in the earth.
As I was running this morning and stressed my ankle again, I got to thinking about how I can’t really afford physical therapy. My mind then wandered to people who are born into situations where they can’t afford anything, including food and shelter.
This of course made me reevaluate the concept of a gift that is not deserved. The gift of the circumstances you’re born into. This is another reason I don’t believe grace is a god given thing, because why would a god grace me with being born into an upper middle class, white family with all of the advantaged opportunities inherent to that fortunate event and not grace someone who was born into an underprivileged circumstance?
That said, if grace is given by us, as I postulated in my last post, it becomes even that more important that we extend grace/opportunities to those who aren’t born into it.
One Universalist Unitarian description of Grace as found in Soul Matters Material is
“Despite all its theological baggage, at its core the idea of grace simply celebrates a gift. Or maybe it’s more accurate to say, it celebrates the giftedness of life. The deepest and most sacred experience of joy comes from encountering a gift you didn’t expect, earn, create or even deserve.”
But a gift from whom, or from where? This is the struggle.
I recently won a sponsorship to run a footrace that costs a substantial amount of money. My wife asked me if this wasn’t an expression of “grace” or being “blessed” (I will save the blessed debate for another time). As I didn’t necessarily expect to win this sponsorship or create it I was meeting at least one if not two of the criteria of the definition above. That said, I noticed that there was an application process, and that I could absolutely not expect to win if I didn’t enter. I ran many races and worked for the sponsorship organizer’s events and I filled out the application which is to say I did what was necessary to earn it and also to create the environment in which it was possible to win, and in hindsight I believe I do deserve it. That it happened at a time that finances are tight could be merely a coincidence or just the fact that finances are always tight in my life.
As I think about all of the instances that I might even consider using the word grace with this definition, upon further examination I find that what really happens is that opportunities emerge from circumstances created within myself as well as outside myself whether it is jobs, gigs, marriages, etc. The sponsorship was created by an entity that was not me, but the taking advantage and doing what was necessary was created by me. I believe that these opportunities are always present. The idea of Grace to me then becomes an exercise of recognizing the multitude of opportunities that surround us and doing what is necessary to take advantage of them. These opportunities of course change through time as we gain more knowledge and skills in life and not everyone is afforded the same opportunities depending on their circumstances.
I also believe that I can be on both sides of this equation. The organization of the sponsorship was the outside catalyst creating the opportunity for me to capitalize on it. I can be that outside catalyst by extending myself to others, by creating opportunities for them. And those opportunities don’t have to be the big ones like creating jobs, sponsorships, or gigs, they can be opportunities to teach skills, or bolster confidence in someone else so they can capitalize on the greater opportunities.
“But what about the times that something just falls I your lap?” You may ask. They say even a broken clock is right twice a day. Can this not be chalked up to coincidence? Also, those things that “fall into our laps” can only be received if we are prepared for them, like a job… if we didn’t have the skills a job falling into our lap wouldn’t mean very much because we couldn’t perform the requisite skills. A loved one who falls into our life can’t be accepted unless we are ready to accept other people in our lives. (ad I not had the experiences of a former marriage, divorce, and opening back up to the world, Amy’s and my relationship would not be what it is today.
Now, none of this is arguing that one should not be grateful (as both the words grace and gratitude have the same etymology gratia). In using another definition of grace, a sense of gratitude allows us to be graceful and thankful when recognizing and taking advantage of the myriad opportunities that constantly surround us. It is this grace that is the impetus for us to extend grace/opportunities to others.
So where does it come from? It comes from us, from our personal evolution of skills, interactions, and knowledge, from our environment and from the circumstances that are presented to us because of the evolving skills, interactions, knowledge that others and the world are constantly going through. So in a sense it is larger than us, but that does not mean it is a god giving it to us, it’s us giving it to us. The key is recognizing it, and knowing it’s here, right now and all of the time… even when it changes.
What are you willing to do?
Listened to a talk yesterday (happened twice again today) about morality, accountability, punishment, systemic failure, “and”…
The question was put forth, “Yes Ray Rice is guilty and needs to be held accountable…and….?”
The “and” is in reference to the system, and our responsibility to it.
There is a graph circulating around social media with NFL teams and how many arrests there have been on each team. I’ve seen people say, “Well my team isn’t as bad as The Vikings” But let’s be clear, EVERY Team is on the list, and the need for the list at all is quite telling. Here is an organization that doesn’t pay its musical entertainment, is rife with concussions, domestic violence, drug scandals, dog fighting, alcohol related incidents, bullying to the nth amount inside and outside the locker room… and these people are paid OBSCENE amounts of money… why? because we keep watching, buying tickets, buying product from sponsors, saying “The bad apple is a bad apple” without recognizing that the soil the apple grew on makes it much easier for bad apples to thrive.
We can see this with regard to allowing concentrated poverty in our cities (particularly here in Rochester) which produce desperate violent people that recently resulted in the slaying of an upstanding Police Officer (don’t get me started on the problems with the Police system, this guy was a good apple).
We see it in companies who refuse to pay a living wage, yet reap the OBSCENE profits off the backs of these workers.
These are just a few examples of where the system or “soil” conspires to create bad apples. So how do we till this soil so it weeds out the bad apples? Well that is the question, “What are you willing to do?”
Are you willing to give up your NFL tickets? to stop watching your Bills or your Packers? No one says you have to, but would you be willing to give up your weekend sport to protect the next victim of financially privileged domestic violence or the next 9 year old’s concussion?
Are you willing to give up some or all of your guns so they don’t have the possibility of falling into the wrong hands? No one is telling you that you have to, actually it is your right… but it is a right that may not be the best one to exercise to the extent that we see it?
Are you willing to support the inner-city financially? or buy supporting the school system, or by creating a real transit system that provides access? Yes it will mean more in taxes, but it will mean less in the way of disaffected, desperate people who are systemically shut out?
Are you willing to give up your McDonald’s Coffee, your Burger King Whopper, Your Wendy’s Fries, and support businesses that pay their employees $15/hr or more? Will it cost you a little more? Sure, but it will also send the message that promoting in-humane business practices by underpaying employees is not a profitably business model.
What are you willing to do?
Me? I don’t watch the NFL or play Fantasy Football anymore, I don’t go to businesses that don’t pay their employees, I advocate for stronger city systems, and I don’t own a gun, so no one can obtain it from me.