Dec 27, 2011

Even Drunks Have Dreams

I was named for my father but that’s not the first thing I say when I mention him. 

I say: "He was an alcoholic." 

It's how I refer to him now that he's dead. I say it matter-of-factly, recounting the details of his leaving with impersonal candor. I know it’s unfair to diminish him in that way, reducing him to any stereotype under the sun of an alcoholic - the pathetic old man in a vomit stained T-shirt alone in his living room surrounded by in empty vodka bottles, or the reeking town drunk all the kids know & ridicule or try to trip as he lurches by. It's one-dimensional - an incomplete image - but I'm OK with that.

Now that I'm older and it's practically pointless, I wonder: what did he think of his life as he lay dying? During those final months, knowing he was out of chances to make things right, knowing it was too late to start on another path and redeem the time he had left, did he have regrets?

Who was he? 

He was a drunk. But even drunks have dreams. 

Some part of him wanted to be a hero. Twice he stepped in to raise the children of other men (first my mother’s twin girls and later my step-mother’s twin boys). He aspired to be a good father. But the addicts who also manage to become good parents are far and few between and he was no exception. Especially when you're married to a coke head. 

Some part of him wanted to travel. Two summers ago in Singapore, my thoughts turned repeatedly to my father. It was his dream to go to Singapore. He'd said so to my mother before I was born but he never made it to Singapore. By the time he was dying of cancer, did he even remember that he once dreamed of going there? Did he dream for his children, as I do, to see the world? 

In his late 40s, he knew he was dying and wanted a family reunion so he could see everyone. By then, it wasn’t unusual for me to go years without speaking to my father. I told him I’d just had a baby, so I couldn’t afford to fly to California to see him. Sorry. It was a pathetic excuse but in the back of my mind, I felt justified. Hadn't he told me he couldn’t afford to fly to Washington, DC for my college graduation and wedding 4 years before? We were even.

At 50, the average person probably figures they have another 30 years left. My father died at 50 so he must have had a lot of unfinished business in his life. Now that I’m staring 40 in the face, and struggling with all my own incompletes, I wonder how all his “loose ends” continue to play out in my narrative. 

By seeding the layers of my psycho-emotional terrain with fears of abandonment & rejection, Daddy contributed the essential raw material that fuels most writers -- deep-seated "issues". By failing to live up to his full potential, is it possible he somehow fulfilled one of his purposes on earth? 

Or maybe that's just me creatively reconciling the irreconcilable & giving him the hero's ending he never had in life.

Dec 16, 2011

I Believe

I believe we are all good. I believe we arrive into this world whole. I believe we are born into this world to be broken. I believe we have many tests. I believe our entire journey, beginning to end, every failure, every triumph, every betrayal, every devastation are part of our Creator's plan. I believe we are supposed to be broken and healed. I believe we are all one, a collective one, and all connected. I believe the world is very different than what we can see and touch and hear. I believe love is at the beginning & end of our life & there is nothing more important. I believe love is the essence of who we are. It holds the universe together. It binds molecules. It holds planets in orbit. I believe God is Love.

I believe we can make a difference right where we are. I believe a wasted life is one where you don't strive to make a difference in anyone's life other than your own. I believe a wasted life is one where the person is so shut down, they don't open up for anyone, for light to come in. I believe in God. I believe God is with me now. I believe in the Holy Spirit. I believe God's mark is in my brain, my DNA, in my cells.

I believe terrible times are ahead - that we are entering a season of great turmoil. Great upheaval. Wars & pestilence. Threats great enough to end human existence. But I believe it's not too late. I believe in Hope. I must... or else I may as well lie down & die right now.

I must believe in Hope... without it, what else is there?

Dec 13, 2011

The Cambodian Seduction

Since I'm the only person I know who would choose Cambodia over the Bahamas, I ended up flying to Siem Reap from Singapore alone. I would touch antiquity. Stand in the looming shadow of the sacred. I could hardly contain my thrill.

I descended from the plane into the morning light... and stepped into my steamy Southeast Asian dream. The air, visibly hazy with humidity, fogged my glasses & the lens of my camera. Cambodia's lush beauty & its brutal history of genocide invoked a kind of intrigue that made me feel I was embarking on an adventure or a pilgrimage... or both.

I'm finally here. Oh my God, I'm really here! The entire trip felt pre-destined, like I was being sent (or summoned) to Angkor Wat - the largest religious complex in the world - a UNESCO World Heritage site - the "City that is a Temple".

Strangely enough, I was seduced to this region by John Burdette's unflattering portrayal of Khmers in his Bangkok-based crime series. He paints "jungle Khmers" as violent, illiterate, dangerous & deeply superstitious. In person, the Khmer I encountered possessed an uncommon beauty I found appealing  for the dark fullness of their features and their "unChinese"-ness.

I am accustomed to Asians being smaller than me. The 1st Khmer men I saw were not small. Or maybe it was only the menace that made them seem bigger. None of the male airport officials were small and none of them smiled. I couldn't help but wonder whose side the older officers had been on during the Khmer Rouge Killing Fields years.

I'd read enough novels & travel essays set in SE Asia to know the Khmer still very much believe in magic. So when I would look up and see the male tuk tuk drivers staring with disquieting intensity at me from across the street, I wondered if they were reciting silent incantations. And when the children circled me at the temples, hawking their junk trinkets while chanting "madammm you buy from me madammm okayyyy? you buyyy 4 for one dolla, okayyyy" it seemed even the children had the power to cast spells.

The towers themselves were beyond imagining. Ancient stone temples sprout dreamlike out of a mist shrouded jungle. Partially collapsed towers wrapped in massive jungle tree roots, thick trunks thrust upward through crumbled ceilings & limbs snake over walls. Shaven Buddhist monks draped in saffron robes linger in the shadowy temple interior, praying & making offerings to Buddha, enveloped in  wafting ribbons of incense. Khmer women in Apsara dance costumes glide past, serenely unaware of their unearthly beauty (incongruously, I took a picture with a group of Apsara dancers at the famous smiling faces Bayonne temple for a buck).

If beauty is in the eye of the beholder, then sacred must be in the soul of the seeker. Angkor Wat is every bit as awe inspiring as it seems.

I Am Done With...

I found this anonymous comment in response to a blog I stumbled across one day.  I wish I knew who wrote this... I wish I could find the blog where this comment appeared... I wish I had written it.

Ghandi said, “I like your Christ, I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ.” Christian churches have one problem: They are filled with people. People are imperfect. Christ came to give God's grace to imperfect people. Church is like a private club created only for those unworthy of membership. A person who is done with Christianity, but not done with Christ- seems to be someone who is fed up with the imperfections of Christian people. They would rather relate to people in a strictly secular way. That way they may avoid disappointment by dismissing expectations of perfection. I have also noticed in myself, that I very much prefer to be in the presence of people who are like Jesus, so I don't have to be. The less the people around me are like Jesus, the more I have to be like Jesus (someone's got to, for people to get along), and this costs me a lot in a personal way.

I do not have the luxury of being done with Christianity, because this is the way God led me. It places me where I have to put up with other peoples' imperfections, and where my own imperfections show more clearly. It only works when you find a church where people love one another in spite of ourselves. This happens when people feel led of God, and we're stuck here together for better or worse, so we might as well love each other. Then, when I get fed up with the people, I remind myself that my church attendance and loyalty isn't about people, but something I do to worship God. When you spend time with people for the main purpose of seeking God, you might start to see in the people, in the least of them, the most difficult to get along with, the mysterious thing that God evidently sees in each of us that made Jesus want to hang on a cross and die for us. I guess that didn't work for you. I hope you try it again sometime. God Bless.

August 14, 2010 6:04 PM

Dec 8, 2011

Dead Things Rising

I was born with a longing inside of me. I wanted that kiss - that sense of merging 
body and soul with another being, whether mate or friend or God. I wanted it, 
but I was too ashamed to want it with my whole life. I followed it 
haphazardly and halfheartedly,and I felt foolish doing so. 
(Elizabeth Lesser, Broken Open)

Somehow, mysteriously, just when I begin to believe she has come to a sort of peace, she awakes, still longing, still reaching. She believes in true love, in heart stopping passion, that the kind of romance (lies?) she read about and dreamed about is still possible... and she believes she would rather die than go the rest of her life never knowing that kind of ecstasy (again).

Eckhart Tolle calls her the pain body. Iyanla Vanzant says these feelings are "just energy" that surface from time to time to teach me something. Elizabeth Lesser calls her my shadow self, the one I denied, ignored, buried, wished dead... but who stubbornly who refuses to lay down and die. Whatever she is, whatever her name, I'm certain of one thing: she is my broken me.

As I typed this entry, I had the thought: "Please just let me be"... and then I wondered - is that coming from her or me?

Dec 2, 2011

Ripped Off In Singapore

If I had known the guy trying to scam me on the banks of the Singapore River was going to be the highlight of my trip, I would've taken his picture. I gave him the time of day because I was lost, it was hot as Hades and my feet were killing me. I was wiped out and trying not to look it. (Do not take the warnings about the Singapore heat & dehydration lightly.)

So I'm sitting there drinking my drink and this Indian guy approaches me. He sits next to me on a bench on the river side of the Asian Civilisations Museum. He says he's a holy man and he shows me a picture of his guru in India. He was trim & wiry. He wore slacks and a long sleeve collar shirt and his hair was loose, falling nearly to his waist. I bet he usually kept his hair wound in a turban. But when the task at hand calls for mesmerizing American tourists so they fork over $20 Singapore dollars after he tells their fortune, he knows to use every weapon at his disposal.

Gifted with more than his fair share of charisma & physical beauty, and embarassingly sexy bedroom eyes, I thought  how the hell can anybody believe anything that comes out of this guys mouth? Those eyes have the power to make people long for an encounter, just not a spiritual one.

He spent nearly 10 minutes with me and I can't remember a thing he said, promised or predicted. I can't even remember if the smell of his sweat offended me. That's how I knew he was full of it. I'm a pretty mystical gal... yet he didn't hit on a single thing worth committing to long term memory. Maybe he was a newbie who hadn't acquired mastery in the ancient arts of spell casting & snake charming. Maybe he was thrown off his game because he hadn't managed to "score" with the older White guy he approached before he got to me. In the end, I thanked him for his time but didn't give him any money. Looking back, I kinda wish I did... at least he gave me something to write about. And he left a legacy he'll never know.

From that day forward, I will always remember Singapore as the place where I constantly felt I was being ripped off.


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