Is Your Soul Stored in the Rafters?

“Imagination is more important than knowledge. For knowledge is limited – whereas imagination embraces the entire world, stimulating progress, giving birth to evolution” – Albert Einstein

As a child I often imagined a door in my mind. Even though it was closed, from underneath it a golden light beckoned, trying to entice me to open it. But my heart would pound as I crept near, forcing me to stop in fear of what might lie behind the door. And even though the light glowed warmly from the crack along the bottom, for a long time I withheld my trust. Not long before this a terrible thing had happened in my life, something that had taken the innocence of my childhood and introduced me to death and poverty, and I had learned to be afraid. But in recent years I’ve likened that yellow light to a flow of inspiration and imagination that I gradually began to draw on during my lifelong search for meaning. I view it now as a spiritual gift from the Universe, which even during my childhood, saved me from despair.

As for the mundane things in life, I often had to struggle to understand them. I learned acceptable behavior for the most part by imitating others. Well, I thought, if this is how things are done, I guess I will do them–but why? The world made no sense to me, but I was stuck here so I made the best of it. And since the first step in learning how to be is through learning how to do, I learned how to do, although often getting it wrong. It took me many more years to learn how to be–and I’m still learning yet. I made a great leap forward when I was finally able to make my outside more closely match my inside, but it sometimes requires a conscious effort not to get distracted by too much of the deadening doses of what is often referred to as reality.

According to Carl Jung “All the works of man have their origin in creative fantasy,” and Immanuel Kant said “Happiness is not an ideal of reason, but of imagination.” I’ve heard people say they have no imagination but I think they mean by this the ability to create fiction. When they tell something they believe to be factually true they do not think they are using their imagination since the story they’re relating is “real”. I wonder how many of them limit themselves to the facts and miss out on the beauty of their own existence when their imagination is engaged? How many, like myself, have years of feelings stored in the rafters because they haven’t yet found the tools with which to express them?

King, Kennedy and the American Revolution

All of us, from the wealthiest and most powerful of men, to the weakest and hungriest of children, share one precious possession; the name American. — Robert F. Kennedy

I’ve been thinking a lot about Bobby lately. In watching still another year end as I go further into my dotage, I’m reminded of other years from the past that cry out to be remembered, the year 1968 being among the most poignant. When the announcement came over the television set that Bobby Kennedy had died from the assassin’s bullet, I called my husband at work, tears streaming down my face. “Now they’ve killed Bobby,” I cried.

Who were “they”? I didn’t know, but like many Americans I felt the presence of evil. A black miasma skulked amongst us as if waiting to see what we held most dear as a people so “they” could take it away. The feeling had lingered since that shocking day four and a half years before, on November 22, 1963, when our beloved president was taken down by an assassin’s bullet. As a nation we had never recovered, the shock still reverberating throughout our psyche like a terrible wound that would not heal.

Then another wound, the assassination of our great Civil Rights leader, Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King on April 4, 1968. Senator Robert F. Kennedy, younger brother of our fallen president was on his way to a planned campaign rally in his bid to get the 1968 Democratic nomination for President. Just after he arrived in Indianapolis, he was told of King’s death and advised by police not to make the campaign stop. It was in a part of the city considered to be a dangerous ghetto. But Kennedy insisted on going. He found the people in an upbeat mood and realized they didn’t know. In breaking the news of King’s death he referred to his own loss of his older brother and quoted from memory the Greek Poet, Aeschylus. “He who learns must suffer, and, even in our sleep, pain that cannot forget falls drop by drop upon the heart, and in our own despair, against our will, comes wisdom to us by the awful grace of God.”

Just two months later, on June 5, 1968, while celebrating his victory in the California primary Bobby said to his supporters only minutes before he, too, was gunned down by an assassin’s bullet. “I think we can end the divisions within the United States. (W)e can work together in the last analysis. . . We are a great country, an unselfish country and a compassionate country.”

Some say that in 1968 America came close to political disintegration. Millions of people opposed the war and the military announced in early 1968 that it would draft 300,000 more troops. Americans were dying in Vietnam by the hundreds and young people lost confidence in our leaders and in the official version of reality. There was a movement afloat, a revolution at hand before our beloved leaders who had brought hope to the country were cut down. Although the war was later ended and the troops brought home, after 1968 many of us detached ourselves from the painful public square and turned our attention on matters closer to home.

Surprisingly, though, we ended up rearing children who became educated, sensitized and responsive to their natural and political environments. Adult children who were able to agree or disagree without rioting in the streets, who also have inculcated and are passing down the dreams that King and Kennedy inspired in their lasting contribution to the ongoing American revolution.

New Year Grandma with a Tic in My Eye

Be at war with your vices, at peace with your neighbors, and let every New Year find you a better person. – Benjamin Franklin

I’m still trying to come up with a New Year’s Resolution by December 31st that won’t finish wiping me out. The ones I made last year turned me into a gum-smacking grandma with a tic in my right eye.

You know how it is when you think you’ve arrived? For instance, let’s say you’ve lost five pounds and now it’s time to celebrate with a cup of hot chocolate, marshmellows on top, and a delicious doughnut – or two. Or three, or four. Come on, this is a party, let’s celebrate. Whee! Next day you get on the scales and – what? You’ve gained five pounds? On one doughnut? Or two, or three, er four doughnuts? Geez! Life isn’t fair.

That’s the way I was feeling a short while ago. Although I’d kept my resolution from last year not to smoke another cigarette, I’d become addicted to nicotine gum and had to break that habit, so I quit the nicotine gum habit by switching to sugar free Dentyne. And I will not–I repeat, I will not quit my Dentyne gum.

As if quitting smoking and quitting nicotine gum was not enough, I also made a retroactive resolution (not a good idea, retroactive) to go on a tight budget in order to replenish my savings account slush fund. It had sprung a leak while I was chewing all that nicotine gum, which cost as much as cigarettes and one motivation for quitting smoking was to save money. I had saved even more than I thought because the cost of cigarettes had gone up another dollar a pack. The only problem was I spent it on comfort food, rewarding myself for all the stress I was going through from quitting everything, including spending money, and the next thing I knew I was not only broke, I had to go on a diet.

As you can imagine, by this time I was really in a black mood. I was so tired of all these restrictions I almost threw my bathroom scale in the dumpster and would have if I hadn’t thought of something better. I moved that little circular thingamajig at the bottom that corrects the scale. Ole! Down five pounds.

Now, this morning when I got on the scale and looked at my weight a wise-guy sitting on my shoulder snickered while he added five pounds to the number I saw. I started to wallop him one, but the nicest thing happened. The sweet angel who sits on my other shoulder told me not to pay any attention to him, that he was the last of a dying breed who doesn’t realize he’s become defunct. He’s now sitting in a trash heap along with my bathroom scale.

In following Ben’s advice, I’ve won a battle against some of my vices, and I believe I’ve stayed on good terms with my neighbors. If I don’t begin the New Year as a better person, at least I’ll be healthier, if you don’t count that darn tic in my eye.

God, the American Dream and the Select Few

It’s not enough that the rich have co-opted the American Dream. Now they are trying to co-opt God. Forget all that stuff about the poor inheriting the earth, it being easier for a rich man to go through the eye of a needle than to get into Heaven, or that Christ tossed the usurers out of the temple–the rich are not worried.

Because they don’t believe it. They believe God is on their side. After all, He made them rich, didn’t he? And He lets the poor live in poverty, doesn’t he? Which obviously means He finds the poor undeserving. Old Rockefeller said “God gave me my money!” and it is more obvious than ever before that this is what the rich believe.

Until recently I had not realized how pervasive the idea of the deserving rich is in our society. I mean, I knew money bestowed power, but I had no idea it also created and supported such a belief system. For the very rich, according to the Congressional Budget Office, the after-tax income of the top one percent rose 228 percent from 1979 through 2005, while the earnings of men in their thirties, based on a study released by the Pew Charitable Trusts, have remained flat over the past four decades. Improvement in family incomes during that time has been mostly due to the increase of wives and mothers in the work force.

I guess you could blame my naivete on my birth as a member of the undeserving poor. I was born into coal, on the excavating side. My father was a coal miner for twenty-five years before he pursued the American Dream by getting out of coal to become a barber, upward mobility to much cleaner and less dangerous work. Meanwhile, families who had never seen a coal mine lived wealthy lives provided by royalties from coal while romping beneath the golden Sun on the French Riviera.

This belief system of the rich that God gave them their money works as well as it does because it is supported by other belief systems that are working in tandem. One, built around the theme of entitlement, inclines the believer to acept the rich’s approbation of themselves as deserving of their immense wealth because they think that with time and chance, they too can belong to the select few. Although the second group hasn’t yet arrived at the very top, they, like the rich, feel entitled to the best of everything. Based on what? Their looks, talent, intelligence, education? Culture? Their sparkling personality?

When my father died, my family was thrown into poverty. Despite how hard my older siblings worked to keep us together–warm, fed and clothed, I remember one day at school having nothing to eat for lunch and I hid from the other children until lunchtime was over so they wouldn’t know. I was ashamed of being hungry.

Except for a small group who provide much ammunition to the welfare critics, most of the poor do not feel entitled to anything, and even blame themselves for not doing better than they are. After all, this is America, land of opportunity and the American Dream. Or was. But even though the Dream has died for many, God cannot be co-opted. He lives within the heart of His people. His love shines on us all.

Bah Humbug Revisited

Well, yippee! The release of my built-up negative emotions lurking behind my feel-good front has cleared the air once again and I’m ready to take on Father Christmas, the presidential candidates and the winter storm coming in for the weekend. I mailed my last Christmas card yesterday, giggled about Romney fudging his facts, watched Huckabee trying to walk on water (and drowning) and stocked up on groceries. I’m cozy in my little house and have parked my guilty conscience in the back of my ingratitude journal until it’s time to call it out again. Gee, I can’t do everything at once.

When I was a child my baby brother and I decided we no longer believed in Santa Claus. Of course this was in July. I think we had first begun to doubt the Christmas before, but as December drew closer our disbelief began to waver. Maybe there really was a Santa after all (and if we didn’t believe in him he wouldn’t bring us any presents). That turned out to be the happiest Christmas of our childhood. The following March our Daddy died. And the Christmas after that, we no longer doubted, but knew. There was no Santa.

Except that we learned the true meaning of Christmas through our older siblings. They cared for us, saw that we did not go hungry, and shared their loving spirit with us. If there were few gifts at Christmastime, they were lovingly made and although the tree they found in the woods was so tall it had to be topped, and took up far too much space in the tiny house, we created room for it.

As I enter my second childhood and romp with my wonderful grandchildren, I try to balance my good memories with the harsh ones, for the world requires a balance. Between what I perceive as the good and the bad I hope to see the truth. I’ve watched goodness take on the badness of self-righteousness. I watch the future leader of America and the free world, one of those people on the stump who are making asses of themselves, and I feel discouraged. I watch them attempting to usurp the glory of the birth of the Christ child and claim God’s sponsorship, and I know that He will not be persuaded but will only give us the one we deserve. And that scares me most of all.

So let’s try to be deserving of a strong leader who will truly lead the American people, who will not force his/her own personal beliefs on us but will help us to live up to the ideals of America and the American Creed. And let’s celebrate, each in our own way, the beauty of God’s earth and His gift of the Christ Spirit.