Wild Nights are Calling

And all the girls walk by
Dressed up for each other
And the boys do the boogie-woogie
On the corner of the street

And the people, passing by
Stare in wild wonder
And the inside juke-box
Roars out just like thunder

And everything looks so complete
When you walk out on the street
And the wind catches your feet
And sends you flying, crying

Woo-woo-wee!
Wild night is calling
Alright

–Wild Night, Van Morrison

Like most of us, I have sweet memories of my childhood Halloweens. I still have photographs of my various girlie outfits, such as dressing as a princess or a fairy. But come adolescence, my peers and I were over Halloween. We saw ourselves as too grown up and cool to adorn ourselves in silly costumes. Same with college. . .as well as onward into adult years. Halloween was child’s play, a time for kids to just be kids.

Fast forward a few decades. Now Halloween is no longer a day focused on the children. The teens and the adults have gotten into the act. At some point, Halloween became a Wild Night for adults of all ages to let their primitive impulses run wild. College girls unleash their inner hookers, as do some of the boys as well. Playboy bunnies, strippers, French maids. . . nothing is off limits as Halloween becomes about pure, decadent fun.

Of course, it’s also okay nowadays to mock political and authority figures on Halloween; nothing is too mean-spirited as to be off limits. Growing up, it would have been unheard of to scorn those in authority with a contemptuous costume. But the 60′s ended all of this, with its animosity towards police, the military, and anyone else who takes on a grown-up role.

Robert Bly, in his insightful book called the Sibling Society, says that we’ve become a society of siblings, with very few people willing to step up as true men and women. I imagine that in your neck of the woods, there are many grown-ups; perhaps you are one of them. But out here, it’s perpetual adolescence, and a holiday like Halloween magnifies this. Throughout society, it has become harder and harder to find true blue adults. And those who take their places as society’s elders open themselves up to humiliation and scorn.

Why has all of this happened? Why such a drastic change from what was the norm for centuries, that is, appropriate boundaries between the young and the old? There are so many possible reasons why. Of course, the 60s unleashed a genie in the bottle of primitive impulses, most of which are not healthy for self or others. The music, media, and schools have all programmed people to believe that anything associated with the older generation is bad.

But along with the social engineering, there are, I think, other, deeper reasons for the forever Peter Pans. It has to do with un-anchoring people from the parts of life that offer meaning and hope: God, faith, family, love of country. With people left to fend for themselves without any belief system aside from their own, they are untethered, lost. Deep inside, they remain terrified about life and maybe even more than that. . about death.

For so many people this existence only means the now, pleasure, fun. Halloween personifies what we have become as a culture and a people: stunted, shallow, self-indulgent.

Halloween is no longer about children having a sweet, little holiday all of their own. On this day, many lost and lonely souls will create a different persona than their own. . a mask to hide behind, and an outfit to crawl into because this life, and feeling so alone in it, evokes the scariest of emotions. And those emotions are far far, scarier than any costume or Haunted House on Halloween.

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Who Are You?

Every day I get a bunch more people registering for my blog. Even though I’ve gone through long periods without writing, even though my blog is as bare bones as you can get, still I keep getting new registrants. It makes me wonder, “Who are all of you?”

Of course, I could find out more if I posted comments. But been there, done that. The problem with the back and forth dialogue, as wonderful as it can be, is that for a minority of folks it’s a hate-a-logue, with language used that would have gotten the mouth washed out with soap in the olden days. So discussion is not on the table for the moment. As Carly Simon sang, “I haven’t got time for the pain.”

So I’ll just have to wonder. I see that you all have usernames and email addresses, which tells me that you’re real, not some computer glitch. It’s kind of amazing to think that you’re out there, and have somehow found your way to my blog. You even took the time to register. It makes me feel a bit like Sally Field in her famous Oscar speech, when she gushed, “You like me, you really like me.” [except, in my case, for the people who hate me, really hate me.]

I wonder if you have been keeping an eye on me since I wrote in the past. Or maybe you did a google search, “Most horrible place to live in the USA,” and somehow my blog about Berkeley et. al, popped up.

So I’m thinking about all of you today, feeling grateful, and a bit humble, that you’ve taken the time to sign on. Again, it makes me wonder: who are you? How do you spend your days? What and who do you love? What gives your life meaning and purpose deep in the darkest night, when hope can feel so distant and life, overwhelming?

Having you with me, reading my rambling thoughts about this, that, and the other thing makes me marvel at the connection among all of us. Even if we exist on opposite sides of the political fence, or on opposite sides of the country, we’re all together in this strange and magical thing we call life. We’re all in the Body together. You might be the hands; I might be the voice; someone else might be the feet; with God being the connective tissue that keeps us all nicely stitched together, as much as we sometimes try to bolt.

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Real Men Don’t Yelp

Everyone is Yelping these days, that is, using the website, Yelp, to play critic. But in my opinion, the name “Yelp,” is a misnomer. Instead, it should be called “Whine.”

Because that’s what most people do on Yelp, complaining about this restaurant or that physician’s office. As a bumper sticker I saw aptly put it, “Yelp. Ruining small businesses since 2004.”

Take “Becky from Oakland.” She ordered her burger from the local bistro medium rare, but it came well done. Did she politely speak to the waiter? Complain to the manager? Try to work things out like, I don’t know. . . a grown up?

No, Becky typed out an incendiary attack against the restaurant and posted it on Yelp. In that moment, as Becky seeks revenge for her disappointing dinner, the restaurant owner isn’t a person like her, someone with dreams and feelings. He is just a vehicle for her to unload frustration and bitterness.

Yelp plays to basest instincts for vengeance, imparting a false sense of power and bravado. In that online moment, Becky becomes a mini, online Rambo.

Then there’s Jim. He didn’t like the attitude of the person at the local dry cleaners so decided not to use them. Rather than simply bringing his garments to another shop, he gave the place (which, by the way, he never actually used) a nasty review and one star. In the age of Yelp, business owners can’t be in a bad mood because of a troubled marriage or a sickly child. Every potential customer is now a Secret Shopper, scrutinizing all possible wrong moves.

I suppose Yelp isn’t all that different from many sites on online, with the trolls and the hostile, sometimes obscene, comments. Virtually, people can brandish words like knives to attack anyone who dares to disagree. It’s all anonymous, of course; one can say things that would never be allowed in polite conversation. And the recipient of the abuse isn’t a quite a person, but an objectified, disembodied thing, someone different than oneself.

Maybe I’m touchier about the subject than others. My father owned a very small store post-WWII, when leases were easy to get and red tape nil. I can still recall the worried dinner conversations between my parents when business was slow. My dad fretted not just about our family, but the families of his employees. It hurts to imagine how many lives could have been ruined if Revenge of the Yelpers had existed back then.

Because ultimately, it’s not about burgers and fries or dry cleaners; it’s about something deeper and more essential: dignity, and a culture bereft of it. No longer do we treat others with basic dignity. The business owner isn’t someone’s father or mother, not a person who has sacrificed to carve out his little piece of the American dream. No, the other is an obstacle in our way, a barrier to our achieving our own perceived rights and privileges.

I propose something radically different, something that harks back to a bygone era, that is, the one prior to the creation of the World Wide Web. How about if someone has a problem with someone else, that he speaks to them? If Becky doesn’t like her burger, she should send it back. Speak to the manager, if necessary. Worst comes to worst, she can order something else from the menu.

How about if everyone stops Yelping and Whining, and returns to talking to each other with basic respect. We’re all in this human soup together.

In my opinion, real men (and women) don’t Yelp. And real human beings don’t seek revenge on each other, by trying to destroy reputations and businesses on impulse. Real people see that we are all connected in some mystical way that none of us can really understand. And when we operate out of anger and a thirst for revenge, ultimately the person we destroy is ourself.

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Check Out Time at Berkeley’s Hotel California

There she stood in the doorway
I heard the mission bell
I was thinking to myself
This could be Heaven or this could be Hell
Then she lit up a candle
And she showed me the way
There were voices down the corridor
I thought I heard them say
Welcome to the Hotel California.. .

This is the sad tale of a friend of mine. I’ll call her “Jane.”

Jane came out to Berkeley from a small town in Iowa. She was raised with home grown values: church, school, wholesome activities, and respect for others. An excellent student, Jane chose a prestigious university, Cal Berkeley, for her doctorate in education.

It was hard at first for Jane to get used to what is commonly dubbed, Berzerkely. Jane was surprised by the roughness and the toughness and the whole urban vibe. The road rage scared her, as did the psych patients who torment residents on the street. Eventually, she got used to it all, and what once seemed abnormal was now the new normal.

A year after moving here, Jane met Brian, a native of the area. The two of them started dating and within a year they were living together. Brian was very different than the boys at home: he loved to party late into the night at SF clubs. He also abused drugs. Soon the two of them were using ecstasy and coke. Jane’s grad school studies suffered as she existed under a continual haze of substances.

When Brian wasn’t around, Jane hung out with other boys. She had a few random hook-ups, something that she never did in her small town. Some of the casual encounters ended badly, for instance, the guy who stalked for her for weeks afterwards.

With Jane’s grades plummeting, her advisors spoke to her and told her that she would be expelled from her program unless she cleaned up her act. Unfortunately, Jane was too far gone at this point. She was advised to leave school, and Jane left Berkeley and returned home.

Jane’s story may seem far fetched, unbelievable. How can someone come to the SF Bay Area a relatively stable human being and end up in the drug and hook-up culture? Well, I am here to tell you that I’ve seen many Jane’s (and John’s), a few with even worse stories. For some, the temptation may not be drug and booze but the very dark underground sex scene, with its whips and chains and leather. Then there are those hook-ups with random strangers, as well as the ever present polyamorous and/or gay scenes. Some people don’t get involved in high-risk behavior, but become depressed, even suicidal, from the nihilistic spirit around them.

Such a lovely place
Such a lovely face

It’s not just the females who can go spiraling downhill. Plenty of males get into behavior they’d never even consider at home. The problem with Berkeley is that behavior unacceptable in Kentucky or Utah is not only tolerated here, but promoted. No activity is too extreme. . . and there’s no reason to feel any shame about living like some sort of baboon in the wild. And if a previously stable person like Jane could spiral downward, can you imagine what happens to the more vulnerable? They, of course, find unlimited ways to feed destructive tendencies.

Mirrors on the ceiling
The pink champagne on ice
She said, “We are all just prisoners here, of our own device.”
And in the master’s chambers
They gathered for the feast
They stab it with their steely knives
But they just can’t kill the beast
Last thing I remember, I was
Running for the door
I had to find the passage back
To the place I was before
“Relax,” said the night man
We are programmed to receive
You can checkout any time you like
But you can never leave.

Luckily, Jane’s story has a happy ending,

When she left Berkeley and returned home, her sanity was soon restored. Before too long, she snapped her out of her hypnotic trance altogether. She found a great job, friends, and a man who treated her right. Now married with three children, Jane looks back on her time in Berkeley, as in, “What on earth was I thinking?”

Not thinking is Berkeley and SF in a nutshell: people can become so intoxicated by all of this so-called “freedom,” that they are no longer rational human beings. Even though troubles keep mounting, they continue to indulge every primitive impulse and twisted passion. They just can’t stop themselves.

Plenty of room at the Hotel California
Any time of year
Any time of year
You can find it here

But the happy ending to Jane’s story is proof positive that one can snap out of the delusion that is Berkeley. The key is to check out of the Hotel California before it’s too late. Given the severe housing shortage around here, this Hotel may appear like the only affordable digs in town. But it comes with a gigantic price. For some people, it is their soul.

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How Berkeley Has Made Me a Worse Person

It was a classic case of road rage that I engaged in not that long ago. It happened when I was running late and en route to a doctor’s appointment at a nearby suburb.

I was in a rush; I was wrong. . and I was lucky. Had I been in Berkeley or Oakland, I may not be alive to tell the tale.

Details aren’t important (and way too embarrassing to recount). Let’s just say it involved lots of road rage on my part, such as, leaning on the horn and making various gestures. (Proof positive that you can take the woman out of Berkeley — but not the Berkeley out of the woman.)

After I arrived at my destiny and my tantrum dissipated, I found a parking space in the medical pavilion. Unfortunately (or fortunately, depending on how you look at it), the driver of the car in front of me was also going to the same address and parked a close distance from me.

Legitimately angry, the suburbanite headed over to me. He chastised me and asked why I kept honking at him. I immediately said that I was sorry. Luckily, he accepted the apology and walked away. I felt appropriately embarrassed and contrite.

Many inspiring stories have been written by survivors of catastrophic diseases and other near-death experiences about how the event made them a better human being. I take my hat off to all of them. But from what I witnessed from me that day in civilized suburbia, Berkeley has made me a worse person.

Now it would be very unfair to blame my bad behavior completely on Berkeley. No one forced me to lean on the horn. But there is something contagious about all the anger and negativity a person is subjected to on an almost minute-by-minute basis.

It’s probably not a coincidence that before heading off to the civilized suburb, some crazed driver swore and honked at me — for no good reason. So I started out my trek in a bad mood. And not a day goes by that someone isn’t shouting and gesticulating madly at each other.

It’s not just driving that inflames the temper around here. People can become unhinged for the slightest reason. A line that takes too long; an appointment that isn’t at the desired time; someone (horrors!) trashing a plastic bottle; anything or anyone can make someone go off the deep end.

To me, Berkeley isn’t just one of the most dangerous areas of the country — it’s one of the saddest. While all of this insanity is taking place right before our very eyes, residents maintain that they live in a sane and safe. . no – a superior part of the world. At least the residents who have the misfortune to live in downtown Detroit are under no illusions that they are “lucky.”

It’s like the story of the Emperor with no clothes. Somehow most Berkeley-ites can look beyond the trash-filled streets, the continual street harassment, the astronomical crime rates, and the hellish schools to boast about their great fortune in living around here. I suppose the alternative is to have to accept that one’s utopian dreams and aspirations are all a figment of one’s imagination.

That day in the suburbs, I had a glimpse of how the other half lives — and a reminder that what is considered normal in Berkeley is not. It was startling and humbling to spend time in an area so different than Berkeley and its surroundings. People were polite — and even smiled. No one looked so tense and frustrated that they were seconds away from blowing a gasket.

On the line at the lab, in fact, several people even joked with each other and laughed. This was a complete culture clash for someone who has spent decades operating Berkeley-style: avoiding all eye contact and assuming the worst about the next stranger.

I realized that while negativity is contagious, so is positivity. From my time in the ‘burbs, I felt more relaxed for the rest of the day. I found myself smiling at people, and being a more considerate driver — even when I got home.

The good news about my bad behavior is that I had the sense to apologize to the other driver. And I experienced quite a bit of healthy guilt afterwards about my immature outburst. I’ve also made it a point since then to try not to be another enraged Berkeley resident. I’ve had my ups and downs on the way. . but I’m trying.

So maybe Berkeley hasn’t made me such a bad person after all.

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Parents, Don’t Let Your Children Grow Up to Be Berkeleyites

There once was a popular Indian teacher named Papa G, who drew students from far and wide. People flocked to see him and hear his words of wisdom. One lucky man who was able to attend one of his retreats spoke to Papa G, with camera in hand. The visitor asked the guru what he’d like to say to the multitudes all around the world vying to come to India to see him. Papa G smiled an impish grin and said, “Stay home.”

Papa G’s words remind me a bit of Dorothy, who journeyed all around Oz, only to find that the best place of all was home. This isn’t to say that relocation isn’t sometimes in order. It may be better, at times, to move somewhere different, to see the world, if only to return, as Dorothy did, with a fresh set of eyes. But the point I want to make here is don’t, and I mean DON’T, come to Berkeley.

OK, if you want to do so for a day or two, maybe a week, come on by. Walk the mean, lean streets of Telegraph, Shattuck, and University Avenues. . hang out in SF (our “open psychiatric ward”). . .check out the drug-addled folks at People’s Park. . . and then you can judge for yourself. If you agree with me, don’t, I repeat, DON’T, let your kids or anyone else you care about move here.

I say this even if you have to practice the toughest love imaginable with your beloved progeny. If your son or daughter insists that they want to go to UC Berkeley or SF State, do a Nancy Reagan: Just Say No. I realize that, if they are over l8, they are free agents. But you still have power over the purse strings. If you won’t contribute a dime to their education, they may reconsider.

I don’t say this to be harsh; but to give you advice that may be some of the best you’ve ever heard. It comes from someone in the trenches, who came here and has since regretted it as one of the biggest mistakes of my life. I suppose I should have gotten a clue when the first moment I landed here, a straggly, homeless guy was clearly eyeing my backpack. It was only my New York City street smarts that prevented him from obtaining it.

Now, in my ripe older years, I may not be able to get out of here so easily, unless I win the lottery (which I suppose I’d have to actually play to win). But at least my time here wouldn’t have been wasted if I can warn a few people.

And if you are already here, go home! If you have a parent somewhere else, a distant cousin twice removed, it doesn’t matter, go live with them for a while until you get situated. This is not a good place to settle down. In fact, it is one of the darkest places around.

Stay here long enough, and you may be mugged, maybe worse. Certainly you’ll have a close friend who will be. Rampant street crime is an ever present reality here, like the much heralded fog.

Or, if not outright bloodied, your car will be stolen or burglarized along with your phone and/or computer. (A recent study showed that the Bay Area boasted most of the cities with the highest car thefts; just another reason for the ordinary citizen to feel proud!) Perhaps even worse, you may become so psychically numb that when you see an old man with a black eye, or hear of a friend with a concussion, you’ll just pass that off as part and parcel of living in such a “wondrous” place.

There isn’t just street crime around here, as bad as that is: there’s violence so sinister that it’s pure, unadulterated evil. A teacher beat up by students in her own classroom. A high school girl gang raped and beaten unconscious by a gauntlet of boys. An elderly woman raped, beaten unconscious, and dumped amidst the pile of old tires at a car repair station (she died after being in a coma for a year).

All this crime has been covered up, by the way, by people who don’t want to see what they don’t want to see, and, therefore, have their balloon busted or (God forbid!) witness their real estate values plummet. This is nasty, vicious stuff that can only be explained by a dark force so powerful that it’s controlling much of the place.

It’s not a coincidence, I think, that the Church of Satan opened in SF in the 1960s (the “Hotel California,” was purportedly written about the “church.”). And Patty Hearst was kidnapped in Berkeley, around the same time that the city of Oakland was held hostage by the mayhem of the Black Panthers and other radicals. This area has a long history of extreme violence, much of it excused and tolerated. Not much has changed.

I don’t get the allure of this God-forsaken place. . .oh, wait, yes, I do! It drew me here decades ago. But one of the saddest sightings is a teenage, hippie couple sitting on the streets of the filthy downtown or Telegraph Avenue. They came here from a decent place like Minneapolis with high hopes of peace and love and flowers in one’s hair. Their haunted faces show what they found instead.

Your son or daughter or your beloved nephew may have heard the same hype, that the Bay Area is a truly happening place to be. As I said, reality is suppressed and reconstructed. But if your loved ones are California Dreaming, there are far saner locales. Check out the private colleges down south, as well as nicer public ones: UC Davis, Santa Cruz, Santa Barbara, San Diego, UCLA.

But there’s something menacing in the air around Berkeley, and it contaminates the whole place. Mark my words: if you child comes out here, he will change. Even if he doesn’t become part of the darkness, something inside of him will die. Perhaps it’s his spirit or his innocence; but the light inside of him will dim. It may revive if he has the wherewithal to get out of here before it’s too late. But he may never be the same.

So I say this, not simply as someone coveting all the nonexistent parking spaces. I speak out as a veteran of a war that no one seems to know is going on. Parents, don’t let your children grow up to be Berkeleyites. Remember the immortal words of Papa G, “Stay home.”

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Sounds of Silence

Unless you’re a rich cat living high up in the Bay Area hills, most people around these parts hear the BART trains day and night. The sound may be background noise if you’re far from the tracks. If you’re close by, the noise can stop conversation and interrupt sleep. The sound of BART is just one of the many indignities that Bay Area residents face in their extraordinarily overpriced dwellings.

Yet, the other night, as I was quietly thinking and meditating before bed, I noticed that the air was thick with silence, and yet the reason escaped me. I am surrounded by very noisy neighbors. Had the whole crew of them gone away on a 4th of July sojourn? And then the realization hit me: the BART trains are on strike.

It was a strange feeling to realize this. .. an unsettling mixture of relief (finally, some blessed quiet!) and also fear, foreboding, a strange, almost apocalyptic, feeling. It was like the silence bellowed, “This is what it will be like at the end of the world.”

That type of penetrating silence can make a person wonder: How will this world end and when? No human being has any idea when, though some have tried (unsuccessfully) to predict it. I have no inside knowledge. However, things are so bad in this country, so insane and out of control, that one has to wonder when that final tipping point will be crossed.

I wonder what the sound will be like when this world system ends: will it be noisy, as in mass hysteria and chaos; or it will be like the eery and unsettling silence that I experienced the other night? So many people feel unsettled these days. I hear it from people all the time — something just doesn’t feel right, though they don’t know what it is; and then there are others with a pasted smile on their faces or a blank look, who would never admit it, but somewhere inside, in a place they only travel in their dreams, they know it too.

And, perhaps I’ve heard too many conspiracy theories, but I have to wonder if the whole thing is rigged, BART and everything else; if this subway strike, rather than being about money and pensions and other nickle-and-dime issues, is really about social control. Are we in the Bay Area, home to so many social experiments, being manipulated, like puppets on a string, to see just how much pummeling we can take? Are the endless traffic jams and the daily indignities of life in a major metropolis a daily way to remind us how insignificant we are and how significant they are?

And I think of the national push for public transportation; how people are cajoled to get out of their cars and hop on trains and buses. And yet ironically, tragically, those same obedient people who try to save the environment by enduring BART and our bus systems (with their unpredictable eruptions of the deranged; or the more routine leering and touching by the indecent) are being punished by not being able to get where they need to go.

And I envy people in other parts of the country, those saner locales, where people don’t depend on public transit — or insane highways — to get to where they need to go. Amazing to think of people simply getting into their cars, driving on clean, pothole-less roads and — voila! — in less than a 1/2 hour, they are at work, without getting into verbal or sometimes physical altercations with their fellow drivers.

Yet, here, it’s a full-time job to actually get to work, a form of twice-daily Mortal Combat, with Bay Area warriors battling traffic and other angry drivers, all suspended together in space in a kind of Kafkaesque nightmare. It’s one of the many assaults on the spirit of dwelling in the Bay Area (A tax on paper bags? Really?) which most people cover over with a smiley, “But we’re so lucky to live here!”

This mindset has been called by many names before (“Groupthink,” “mass delusion,” “Stockholm Syndrome”), where people come to accept, even love, their oppressors. Perhaps it’s simply denial. Human beings are simple creatures; we don’t like to see what we don’t like to see.

Meanwhile, what I sense deep down in my bones is this: something doesn’t feel right, it isn’t right, both in the SF Bay Area and all over this country. I’m not saying that it’s Apocalypse Now. I have no special knowledge or insight about such things. All I know is that a creepy silence has descended on this particular area, but not a comforting one as some silences may be. In fact, this one feels downright deadly.

And in the naked light I saw
Ten thousand people, maybe more
People talking without speaking
People hearing without listening
People writing songs that voices never share
And no one dared
Disturb the sound of silence

“Fools”, said I, “You do not know
Silence like a cancer grows
Hear my words that I might teach you
Take my arms that I might reach you.”
But my words, like silent raindrops fell
And echoed
In the wells of silence

And the people bowed and prayed
To the neon god they made
And the sign flashed out its warning
In the words that it was forming
And the sign said, “The words of the prophets are written on the subway walls
And tenement halls”
And whispered in the sounds of silence

(From the song, Sounds of Silence)

____________

I hope this piece finds you well.

You may be wondering about my own sound of silence. I’m okay: stressed, but blessed. I’ve felt moved to write many times but. . .ultimately, what is there to say? Those who have ears will hear; those with eyes that can see, will see.

Unfortunately, I’m unable to post comments at this time.

Best to you and yours.

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Old Friends

My best friend has been stricken with a catastrophic illness. If the doctors are right (and I keep praying they are not), she will be gone within a few, short years. In the meantime, she will lose all her faculties, including her mental ones.

My friend, “Teri,” is not just my closest friend, but one of my oldest ones. We met the first day of college, and were joined at the hip from that moment on. Other people knew that if they invited Teri to a party, I would be coming as well. Guys wouldn’t be dated unless they passed muster with the other of us.

We told each other all of our secrets, which were many back in the day. Having been raised on sex, drugs, and rock and roll, we did all sorts of things we shouldn’t have, took all kinds of ridiculous chances. Somehow, somehow, we survived intact, and confided all of the details to each other.

After college, we grew up, got jobs, and found good men. We each moved several times, always farther away from each other. But that didn’t stop the intimacies, and the sharing. We’d speak by phone each week, even as life became more difficult and complicated.

I dealt with various medical issues, as well as a mugging on the mean streets of Berkeley. She had the trauma of nursing her husband through a fast-growing cancer, which left her alone to raise their young son. Fortunately, Teri had her inner resilience and a close extended family to help her through.

Her son grew up to be a happy and confident young man, now starting his second year in college. Teri managed to put the pieces together of her life, finding another soulmate. They made each other incredibly happy, having found love again in their later years. And then came the diagnosis, a year ago this last fall.

Her love still comes by, though her foggy brain is having trouble placing him. Teri is losing so much so quickly, but the hardest one is that she’s losing her will to live. I pray for her every night, that she knows that God hasn’t abandoned her. I pray that somehow there’s a miracle, and Teri gets better. I pray for her family, for her son, that they get through this ordeal intact. Mostly, I pray that Teri, a nonbeliever, finds her way to God before the end is near.

A few months ago, I saw an article in a magazine on how to relate to people whose minds are being ravaged by a disease. The author suggested using photographs to help the person to remember.

Towards that goal, I assembled a bunch of pictures of Teri and me throughout the decades. I put them together in a photo book, one that allowed me to write next to the picture who was the person in the frame. I’d write, “Here’s you and me and that hot guy, Jeff, that you dated.” Or, “Here we are looking all young and happy, the world being our oyster.”

I can’t ever imagine losing Teri, not just her but someone carrying our memories. I need someone else to hold with me the remembrances of when we were young, when we were carefree and naive, of all of our adventures and misadventures. I suppose I will one day be the one to hold the memories myself, which I will carry as close to my heart as I possibly can.

I recall reading a poignant book by a man who was suffering from ALS, another devastating disease. He talked about being at a party once and looking around the room, and realizing that in time, everyone of these people will be gone, including himself. Even though this realization is common sense, it shocked me at the time, startled me back into reality from the sense of denial that most of us walk around with.

I have to wonder what the world would be like if we all contemplated this fact every day: that everyone will some day be gone. I wonder if small things would bother us as profoundly; if people would be at each other’s throats politically, rather than realizing that we’re all in this world together?

Would there be such random violence, the flash mobs, the “knock ‘em downs,” the domestic terrorists, if people understood how precious this life is; and that one day it will all be gone and our actions will be judged? Would we overlook an opportunity to be kind and loving if we understood the true nature of this existence?

Sadly, it often takes disaster to snap us out of denial; it generally takes a loss or a potential loss to make us realize what life is really about: love and truth and strengthening our relationship with God every single day. And that true love never dies; that it remains alive in our hearts even when bodies turn to dust.

These days, my conversations with Teri have radically changed. I end every conversation with Teri by saying, “I love you.” And she generally says the same back to me. When she feels so despairing that she doesn’t know if she can go on, I remind her, “You’re my best friend; I need you. Remember, we never went anywhere without each other.”

I’ll end here with the words of an old Simon and Garfinkel song that keep ringing in my ears:

Time it was,
oh what a time it was,
It was.
A time of innocence,
A time of confidences.
Long ago,
It must be,
I have a photograph.
Preserve your memories,
They’re all that’s left you.

“Old Friends”

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