Category Archives: love

Every Age is the Best Age to Be

Engaging while aging.

Iris Apfel- Fashion Icon- is 96

“You’ve got to move to change the state you’re in.”- The Levins

My parents recently shared a marvelous HBO documentary with my wife Julia and I, titled, “If You’re Not In The Obit, Eat Breakfast.” The quote belongs to George Burns but show is the inspired by Carl Reiner, writer of The Dick Van Dyke Show, among other amazing accolades. It spotlights individuals in their 90’s, who are actively doing what they love and exemplifying the phrase, “still going strong!”  It featured not only Carl’s fellow comedians, singers, actors, and writers but runners, painters, sky divers and more.

As a performer, any time I see someone decades older than me still rocking it, I am seriously heartened. If it is being done, it can be done.

Dick Van Dyke- 91, Carl Reiner- 95, Mel Brooks- 91, Norman Lear-95 years young

When I was young, I joined a band of merry makers who performed comical skits for a local nursing home. We didn’t “knock ’em dead” but we didn’t stir them to life either. The truth is, we weren’t very good but this was my first real exposure to older people sitting around, seemingly lifelessTo my young mind, they had been attacked by the spiders of time, who had consumed their vitality and left them covered in cobwebs. It terrified me.

When I came home, I told my mother about the experience and began to cry saying that I did not want to get old. My mother hugged me and told me not to worry. She suggested that I continue to focus on doing what I loved. Then she said something that sent up a flare in my mind that has never gone out: “Every age is the best age to be.”

Betty White, actress and animal rights activist is 95

My fear was assuaged and I remembered my grandmother. My grandma Ida was filled with vitality and so were her gingerbread men with their raisin eyes and buttons. These cookies were always preceded with a mighty hug and practically leapt from the dish, rising up with the love that had gone into baking them. Here was the difference. My grandmother’s vitality was not inspired by fulfilling some stereotype or motivated by winning my affections, but was driven genuinely by merely offering love.

One of the points made in the film was that one key to vitality was spending time each day in face to face engagement. Not on the computer or phone screen, but face to face with someone in conversation. Face to face engagement with life itself. Actively enjoying life is its own vitality generator.

My family exemplifies this. My mom, in her eighties, does Kundalini yoga, meditates, swims, does her crossword puzzle, and laughs with abandon. Her older sister Phyllis is still auditioning and acting in LA.  My dad remains an avid reader, actively studies history, goes out with friends, and is the classiest host of life’s party that I know. His older sister, Bev is 89, volunteers at a pre-school, plays mahjong, and just got back from seeing her 98-year-old cousin whose catch phrase is, “We’re on the move!”.

Before we saw the documentary, Julia and I were pondering all the time spent in youth, pining to be older. She conjectured about how much more constructive life could have been or how much fun could have been had instead of yearning for the things that could be done when we were “old enough”. That yearning is supplanted, for many, with a new yearning for all the things that can be accomplished once we are sufficiently prepared. Life can be postponed with the thought that everything must be “in place” before we begin to live our dreams. Conversely, we can miss opportunities, telling ourselves that we are no longer in our twenties, thirties, forties, etc.

Ursula Le Guinn, author is 87

The documentary mentioned how much energy we now spend as a society trying to remain young, not allowing ourselves to see how beautiful we are, where we are.

Over the past few years, when Julia and I have gone to sing for local assisted living residents, we have witnessed drooping spirits rise up and bloom as they start to sing along with songs that they remember. This isn’t just a remembrance of the past but a shared connection with others in the moment.

Tony Bennett, celebrated singer is 91

Active engagement with something or someone we love, puts the wheel back in our hands. Whether we are blessed with examples within our circle of family or friends or take heart from documentaries like Carl and his friends, we can choose to do what we love, with love and share that love at any age. When love drives the boat, we can navigate the waves with pleasure.

“Hope brings motion. Motion brings change. Change is your friend when the going gets strange.

The going gets strange.”- The Levins

Thich Nhat Hanh, Buddhist monk, peace activist is 90

Empathy Closes the Gap

Finding ways to relate to the “other”

Bring anger and pride under your feet, turn them into a ladder and climb higher.- Rumi

In the wake of the events in Charlottesville, I believe we each have been deputized as ambassadors of good will. When things become so ugly, it is easy to get drawn into the rabbit hole of fear and contempt. While it is certainly important to speak out strongly against hatred, it is vital to stand as love. That is the strongest aspect of our being. Being able to align ourselves with our compassion will allow more people to recognize and come back to their own humanity.

Isis, neo Nazis, the KKK and similar terrorist groups represent a cancer that can claim us if we become disenfranchised from our hearts. Many people are drawn into those groups because of a prolonged isolation from love.

It becomes all too easy to put people out of our hearts when we are confronted by violence and atrocities fueled by ignorance, greed and fear. The motivation for us to strive not to give into hatred ourselves, is the toll it takes on our internal being, peace of mind and overall health. If we allow fear and loathing to dictate our speech and actions, the outer circle that we banish our “enemies” to, will start to contaminate the inner circle of our loved ones, as well as everything we hold dear.

I have talked to friends who have survived family abuse who said they finally came to forgiveness, not because they would ever condone what was done, but because it was the only way they could survive and have any semblance of wholeness.

One of the things, I believe, that has opened this floodgate of hate crimes is our increasing inability to talk to one another across a widening divide. While leaders have used fear of the “other” to gain personal power, average citizens are drawn into factions. They are carefully segregated and become calloused towards folks with who they might otherwise have been able to find common ground.

Professor of Sociology, Rob Willer, points out in his TED talk that many of us are going into our separate ideological silos. We watch different news, have different friends, we are reluctant to date someone from a different party and don’t want our children to marry across political lines. His suggestion for bridging the gap between us is what he calls “moral reframing.” It is recognizing that everyone has their own moral values. When you are speaking to someone about a button-pushing issue for them, use language that embraces their morals. Certain terminology that will allow them to let down their defenses long enough to actually listen to you.

I believe that life is, in part, a game of semantics. We all have a set of vocabulary words that we feel define our beliefs. We also have a set of words that set off flares for us. The key in this game is not to have the person you are trying to reach pull up the stakes of their circus tent and hit the highway on you.

“Moral reframing” will obviously be much harder to practice with people who have been indoctrinated into a hate group, but even within those dark circles, there are those who can still be reached.

I used to watch To Kill a Mockingbird every year, to remind myself what it means to be human. In one of the most powerful scenes, a small girl innocently dispels a lynch mob by talking kindly to one of its ring leaders, who seems to wake up and remember that he is a family man and a decent person at heart.

The time is now to start reaching out to those who have not yet reached the place where they are susceptible to becoming inhuman. This tragedy in Charlottesville, and the one in Barcelona, have shaken us up. There is a window of opportunity for us to start a conversation. I am not suggesting we start with the people perpetrating the violence but with people we know, maybe within our family, who belong to a different political party, who may be feeling the need to reach out as well.

We all feel innately that we are in the right. I was taught in theater school that when playing a villain, you do not play them as if they are choosing to be evil but make the audience feel, “But for the grace of God, there go I.”

Rob Willer ended his talk with the words, “Empathy and respect.” These are the pillars that hold up the building we are all sharing. They are the key to every philosophical and religious understanding.

It is also only natural that, with the tensions we are retaining, with all we encounter in the news, that we will use humor to lighten our perspective. While I am a fan of certain political comedy, and applaud the comedian’s ability to spotlight truth in the face of tyranny, I also know that there is a certain point where I can find myself tipping into vindictiveness.

I recognize that when we continue to insult and hurt one another’s feelings, it escalates our collective antagonism. The result has become increasingly more violent. We can begin to find ways to relate to those we consider to be “other” in small ways. The Hindu teacher, Yogananda recommended that we become “smile millionaires.” I have personally found that a genuine smile offered without an ulterior motive, can dismantle walls.

Perhaps practicing “moral reframing” even before we look for the right words to say to one another starts with a willingness to admit that those “other” people are still people, even when they are consciously or unconsciously identifying as monsters. If we are not at the place where we can admit that yet, then we can start by becoming more human ourselves.

 

“I can see you are me in disguise, let me wipe the tears from your eyes.”- The Levins

 

Lumpy crossings going up the hill of harmony

Finding where we connect with those who seem so different

I have believed the best of every man. And find that to believe is enough to make a bad man show him at his best, or even a good man swings his lantern higher.”- William Butler Yeats

This year to celebrate the Judaic-Celtic connection, instead of drinking green milkshakes and Irish whiskey, my love and I watched The Secret of Kels and listened to Krista Tippett’s On Being podcast with Pádraig Ó Tuama.  Mr. Ó Tuama is a poetic theological social healer.  He is the leader of Corrymeela, Northern Ireland’s oldest peace and reconciliation organization. It is a refuge for people around the world. It is a space for people to share cups of tea and listen to one another while learning how to ask themselves the right questions.

When Corrymeela was founded in 1965, they were told the name meant “hill of harmony.” It was 10 years before someone pointed out the Irish word roughly means, “a place of lumpy crossings.” Once we are able to stay centered in an uncomfortable interaction, harmony will arise.  This is a role model we could really benefit from in America right now.

Mr. Ó Tuama illustrated how two groups, seemingly at odds, sat for two days within the heart of Corrymeela before this kind of breakthrough occurred.  A man that considered himself a “fundamentalist” Christian asked those he referred to in the room as “homosexuals” if his words had bruised them. He was told they had.

“Are you telling me that it’s painful for you to be around me?”  the man asked.

He was told that it was.

Mr. Ó Tuama noted that this man “chaplained himself”. That is, he was the one that brought himself to ask that question and was transformed by the answer. No one else could have pointed this out, it was something he had to come to on his own.

This same “fundamentalist” mentioned that he loved a political show on the BBC. Mr. Ó Tuama told him “My partner produces that.” That opened up amazement, curiosity and the capacity to ask the question mentioned above.

This exchange changed not only the “fundamentalist” but Mr. Ó Tuama who said he wanted to see the ways “in which I’m the perpetrator of real hostility and lack of understanding and lazy thinking. I want to be someone like him, who says, ‘Tell me what it’s like to hear the way I talk because I need to be changed.’ ”

This podcast went along splendidly with the animated masterpiece, The Secret of Kels.  The film is a mythical legend about the creation of the Book of Kels, a book that is the most prized treasure in Ireland. It is a Gospel whose illuminating illustrations were started in Scotland and finished in Ireland while the Vikings were ransacking villages for gold. The film suggests that the boy monk who becomes one of the book’s illustrators, is helped by a girl who is the spirit of the forest. The girl is the feminine. She is what would be considered pagan. She is the Goddess, she is the earth and life itself.  Within in this tale, the boy of faith and the girl of nature are able to steal one of the eyes of the serpent of darkness. The eye is a crystal that allows the illustrator to see the miraculous in the ordinary.

This symbol suggested to me that when face our inherited fear and see through the eyes of our ‘enemy’, we can gain a perspective brings light to the darkness of our hearts.

There was a art historian named Sister Wendy Beckett who talked about cultivating the “Gaze of Love”.  That is, placing your love into your eyes and seeing the world that way.

At a time when we are in a place of lumpy crossings with one another, perhaps we can cultivate this “Gaze of Love” to see those whose political, religious, cultural, philosophical and orientation are different from our own. We might even be able to join in a conversation over a cup of coffee or a mug of tea.

“Are there human connection points where quietly you can say to people, ‘Can you help me understand this?’” And maybe then you’ll participate in this fantastic argument of being alive in such a dynamic way that it’s great fun or really enlivening. And you can have a really robust disagreement. And that is the opposite of being frightened of fear because you can create that.” – Pádraig Ó Tuama

We can help one another up the hill, even if we disagree.

 

Life is your Valentine

The Seed Cracked Open

It used to be

That when I would wake in the morning

I could with confidence say,

“What am ‘I’ going to

Do?

That was before the seed

Cracked open.

Now Hafiz is certain:

There are two of us housed

In this body,

Doing the shopping together in the market and

Tickling each other

While fixing the evening’s food.

Now when I awake

All the internal instruments play the same music:

“God, what love-mischief can ‘We’ do

For the world

Today?”

–          Hafiz rendered by Daniel Ladinsky from The Gift

Good afternoon Sweet Hearts,

Today is named after a Roman saint who defied an emperor’s ban on marriage and united scores of young lovers in matrimony. He was executed for this on February 14th. “Valentine’s Day” then supplanted Lupercalia, a Roman fertility festival.

Later, Shakespeare and Chaucer weaved Valentine’s day into their work and exchanging romantic handmade paper cards became popular in Brittan during the Middle Ages. This gave way to big business in our modern Hallmark age. But Valentine’s is also a day for true love to flourish like flowers coming out of the February snow. Love is certainly not restricted to couples, or even a traditional love affair with God, which is why I chose the Hafiz poem above. Making life our Valentine allows for a sweetness that lingers longer than an everlasting gobstopper.

“The waters of life are right there…wherever you are- if you are following your bliss, you are enjoying that refreshment, that life within you, all the time.”  -Joseph Campbell

Since you are a beautiful vase filled with the waters of life, let me offer you these-

Roses

Everyone now and again wonders about

those questions that have no ready

answers: first cause, God’s existence,

what happens when the curtain goes

down and nothing stops it, not kissing,

not going to the mall, not the Super

Bowl.

“Wild roses,” I said to them one morning.

“Do you have the answers? And if you do,

would you tell me?”

“The roses laughed softly. “Forgive us,”

they said.  “But as you can see, we are

just now entirely busy being roses.”

-Mary Oliver

However you spend today, know that you are loved!

Cherish your current beautiful manifestation.

Paradox Parade

Making peace with that which seems to be contrary

“When I am in tatters and about to cave, in elementary matters: be the particle and the wave.”- The Levins 

This weekend, my wife Julia and I gathered within a wonderful community to see Joe Crookston, a master musician, songwriter and beloved cheerleader of humanity. Before the concert, I had a conversation with a friend who has a different political point of view. We agreed on many points but in the end, there was no swaying her from her stance. I had to say that I was grateful that we were willing to converse at all. Our beliefs can become a citadel from which we are unwilling to emerge. Recognizing that I care for someone who does not see or feel as I do, awakens the love from which all things become whole.

Of course, there is a process that takes place before love comes into the picture. There is a gambit of emotions that come into play that must be honored before I can authentically facilitate a greater understanding. Sometimes, however, I can find myself going down the rabbit hole with bad feelings and I have to remind myself that love is an option. That way I can manually shift gears.

We are the awareness that animates everything and yet we seem to be in a separate form from everything around us. What can bring us peace is quietly observing the drama of life as it unfolds without needing to over-identify with it.  Swirling around duality, our consciousness can silently become unified.

For a long time, there was a scientific argument about what light consisted of. There were proponents of the Particle theory who said that light was made of particles. There were proponents of the Wave theory who said light was made of waves. They were like two political parties attacking one another. Each side said they were right and that the other was wrong. Now we know that light is both a particle and a wave. It has both properties and depending on how you look at it, it may change from a particle to a wave. It may do the opposite.  All that time arguing may have been wasted, or it may have provided the breakthrough in understanding. It is a paradox.

Paradox comes from the Greek words para and dokein which mean “to seem contrary.”

We live in a world where there seems to be endless conflict without the hope of us reconciling our differences. Perhaps, if we can use the idea of the particle and the wave, we can learn to embrace the paradox and find a way to live in peace.

Here are some examples of paradox found throughout the world’s wisdom traditions:

In Judaism, a cherished practice started by Rabbi Bunim of P’shiskha, urged people to put these two statements in their front pockets. One on the left and one on the right:

“The world was created for me.” ( from the Talmud Bavli, Sanhedrin 37B) and

“I am but dust and ashes.” ( from Genesis 18:27)

Saul, a man who killed Christians then became Paul, Christianity’s chief proponent. He said:

“For God has bound everyone over to disobedience so that he may have mercy on them all.”- Romans 11:32

A mystic Sufi was executed for proclaiming, “I am the Truth.”  Paradoxically, some saw this as a man claiming divinity, while others saw it as a humble denial of the ego which allowed divinity to shine through him.

The Taoist Lao Tzu said: “Heaven and Earth are long-lasting. The reason why Heaven and Earth can last long is that they live not for themselves, and thus they are able to endure.”

The psychologist Carl Jung had this to say: “The paradox… reflects a higher level of intellect and, by not forcibly representing the unknowable as known, gives a more faithful picture of the real state of affairs.”

The poet, TS Elliot said: “Except for the point, the still point, There would be no dance, and there is only the dance.”

Mooji, a teacher of the Hindu Advaita Vedanta (which means “not-two”) says: “Paradoxically, the most powerful force in the universe is doing nothing at all.” And “Without the physical, the spiritual cannot be known or experienced. Go deep. Find and Be the Real!”

As a fitting last float in this Paradox Parade, here are the lyrics to one of Joe Crookston’s songs, which both did and did not revive the Buddhist poet and leader, Thich Nhat Hahn from a coma:

Fall down as Rain

When my life is over

And I have gone away

I’m gonna leave this big ole’ world

And the trouble and the pain

And if I get to heaven

I will not stay

I’ll turn myself around again

And fall down as the rain

Fall Down as the rain

Fall Down as the rain

And when I finally reach the ground

I’ll soak into the sod

I’ll turn myself around again

Come up as goldenrod

Come up as goldenrod

Come up as goldenrod

And then when I turn dry and brown

I’ll lay me down to rest

I’ll turn myself around again

As part of an eagles nest

Part of an eagles nest

Part of an eagles nest

And when that eagle learns to fly

I’ll flutter from that tree

I’ll turn myself around again

As part of the mystery

Part of the mystery

– Joe Crookston

We may never understand one another or ourselves and that in itself is a reason for rejoicing.

 

Women marching in solidarity with all of life

Wild Geese

You do not have to be good.

You do not have to walk on your knees for a hundred miles through the desert repenting.

You only have to let the soft animal of your body love what it loves.

Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.

Meanwhile the world goes on.

Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain are moving across the landscapes,

over the prairies and the deep trees, the mountains and the rivers.

Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air, are heading home again.

Whoever you are, no matter how lonely, the world offers itself to your imagination,

calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting -in the family of things.

-Mary Oliver

Julia and I were grateful to be a part of the Women’s March in NYC on Saturday. I hold the conviction that marching for something is always more powerful than marching against what you do not want.  This is spurred by the story of Mother Teresa saying she wouldn’t march against the war but would march for peace. However, what we experienced on Saturday was confirmed by everyone we talked to, in DC and around the world. The feeling on the street was not one of anger, hatred and rage.  Certainly people were protesting and expressing themselves fully but good will was the prevalent feeling.  In DC alone there was 1.2 million people and as my friend Ashby said, “everyone was so kind to one another.” People were considerate to the police and there were no arrests. Over 3 million people around the world marched in solidarity to peacefully demonstrate the love of freedom, the love of this planet, and the drive to not be satisfied with less than equality for all women. For, as one of the many signs said:

“Women’s rights are human rights.”

“People are realizing that our needs can be met without destroying our world. We have the technical knowledge, the communication tools, and material resources to grow enough food, ensure clean air and water, and meet rational energy needs. Future generations, if there is a livable world for them, will look back at the epochal transition we are making to a life-sustaining society. And they may well call this the time of the Great Turning. It is happening now.”

– Joanna Macy

I believe The Great Turning is happening and what we are experiencing now is a reactionary clinging to the old age.

We are being told to fear.

If we really want to combat terrorism around the world. Educate girls and honor all women.

Malala Yousafzai, the girl who was shot by the taliban for daring to stand up for a girl’s right to education, is still standing.

“The extremists are afraid of books and pens, the power of education frightens them. they are afraid of women.” – Malala Yousafzai

This country was founded by brave people who were willing to face down tyranny,

“…in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity…”- Preamble to the Constitution

As Gloria Steinem said at the DC March on Saturday:

“The Constitution doesn’t begin with, ‘I, the president, it begins with, ‘We, the people.’

“One child, one teacher, one book, one pen can change the world.”

– Malala Yousafzai

You make the difference. We, the people, have the power to usher in the change we wish to be.

Mary Oliver asks: “Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?”

I will sing in solidarity with all of life. Not just for its right to be here but in harmony with the love that it gives form to.

March on!

MLK and “interrelated structure of all reality.”

How MLK stayed connected to love.

It really boils down to this: that all life is interrelated. We are all caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied into a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly. We are made to live together because of the interrelated structure of reality. Did you ever stop to think that you can’t leave for your job in the morning without being dependent on most of the world? You get up in the morning and go to the bathroom and reach over for the sponge, and that’s handed to you by a Pacific islander. You reach for a bar of soap, and that’s given to you at the hands of a Frenchman. And then you go into the kitchen to drink your coffee for the morning, and that’s poured into your cup by a South American. And maybe you want tea: that’s poured into your cup by the Chinese. Or maybe you’re desirous of having cocoa for breakfast, and that’s poured into your cup by a West African. And then you reach over for your toast, and that’s given to you at the hands of an English-speaking farmer, not to mention the baker. And before you finish eating breakfast in the morning, you’ve depended on more than half of the world. This is the way our universe is structured, this is its interrelated quality. We aren’t going to have peace on earth until we recognize this basic fact of the interrelated structure of all reality.

-Martin Luther King Jr.

 

Today we celebrate Martin Luther King Jr.- a man who utilized his stream, or what Mooji would call, “the cosmic current of existence,” to help expand our universal understanding.  MLK was a man of action. His actions were blockbuster without having to shoot his way into enemy territory, punch out the bully or watch as the villain plummeted from a great height. Instead he actively connected to love, to the energy and awareness that manifests as all of us, to help us to see, feel and experience this, “Interrelated structure of all reality.”

You could say that MLK was selfless. He was willing to sacrifice even his life to get us to know that our differences are not only skin deep, mere pigmentation, but that our true Self includes everything that we perceive, and can conceive.

Again, I will quote Mooji to show how the actions of MLK stimulated a whole generation to work together towards our greater freedom.

“If you study and learn as a person, you can only function as a person- maybe as a good person, a skilled person- but when you awaken… you start moving as a whole environment. When something arises that needs to be done, that need is recognized, and a movement to fulfill it begins, and other streams join in until it becomes a river. You see how the forces join together.”- Mooji

How did MLK do this?  Martin did not allow himself to be defined and filled in with hatred of injustice but he would daily pray to be used by love, to live in the manner of love. He made sure to perform regular services for others. He strived to stay in good bodily and spiritual health. He meditated on the teachings and actions of his spiritual leader.  Most importantly and the hardest of all, he prayed for the oppressor.

His knew that love was a non-dual reality that transcends our limited clinging to the black and white.

This morning I ran across this Joseph Campbell quote:

“The Indians addressed all of life as a “thou”- the trees, the stones, everything. You can address anything as a “thou”, and if you do it, you can feel the change in your own psychology. The ego that sees a “though” is not the same ego that sees an “it.” And when you go to war with people, the problem of the newspapers is to turn those people into “its.” “ – Joseph Campbell

Matt Khan in talking about surrendering to love says it starts with taking a vacation from concern.  Not denying the things that are wrong or unjust, just taking a vacation from filling ourselves, our mind and body, emotions and cells with what is wrong.  Allowing ourselves to connect or surrender to love allows for solutions to our concerns to come through so when we come back from vacation, we can get back to work refreshed.

We are all a perception away from being able to act as a unified field.  The victory of MLK is not a victory for the church, or for one people but for all of life.

He knew who he was and his most constructive actions came from that knowing that he was, “free at last.”

Today is a chance for reflection and for being aware of the work that needs to still be done.  Still, in the midst of it all, may we be able to connect to love so that our concerns can be faced without anxiety but with the expectation of solutions we will usher in together. 

 

Committed to choosing one another

Love and creativity within the wedding ceremony.

“I love you without knowing how, or when, or from where. I love you simply, without problems or pride: I love you in this way because I do not know any other way of loving but this, in which there is no I or you, so intimate that your hand upon my chest is my hand, so intimate then when I fall asleep your eyes close.”
– Pablo Neruda, 100 Love Sonnets

“You know you’re in love when you can’t fall asleep because reality is finally better than your dreams.”
– Dr. Seuss

“Love recognizes no barriers. It jumps hurdles, leaps fences, penetrates walls to arrive at its destination full of hope.”
– Maya Angelou

“A successful marriage requires falling in love many times, always with the same person.”
– Mignon McLaughlin

********************

 

This weekend I had the sweet honor of officiating at my nephew Ian’s wedding down in Jupiter, Florida.  My uncle Jeff performed the ceremony for Julia and I at our wedding. Both Ian and I penned our services with our partners, to better reflect our beliefs.

Julia and I based our service on a Jewish ceremony. We did our best to supplant entrenched patriarchal ritual and language with egalitarian and mystical inclusiveness that honored tradition while bridging the gap between our families and the Catholic-Judaic divide. (As a kid I used to say that Judaism and Catholicism were a synapse apart; both of them were motivated by guilt. ) We found the common thread was love.

My nephew Ian and his beautiful bride Claire are best friends happily growning and intertwining their lives together. Their ceremony did not have any religious overtones but recognized that their union allowed them to “understand, support and nurture eachother without sacrificing who they were.”  They lifted the egalitarian spirit high, focusing on their love, which spilled over into splintered factions of the family and embued us all with tangible hope.

They didn’t promise anything  in their ceremony as they don’t believe marriage is about permanence but adaptation. “People, emotions, relationships change.” So, they didn’t vow to always feel exactly the same as they did standing together before us, but they commited to choosing one other every day, moment to moment.

I got to ask Ian if he chose Claire “to be his partner through all of life’s adventures, valuing her being, her growing and her happiness alongside his own.”

Claire got to ponder if she choose Ian in the same way. Both of them responded with those two words, that when uttered in complete earnest ring out like bells: “I do.”

Claire walked down the aisle to music from Wes Anderson’s Royal Tannenbaum’s soundtrack. They led the procession away from the alter to something from A Life Aquatic. Their ceremony and the whole wedding had the colorful triumph of a Wes Anderson movie.

Ian proposed to Claire with our Shakespeare-inspired song “God’s Spies”. Julia and I were further honored by getting to sing it as they swirled just above the Loxahatchee river for their first dance.

The wedding coordinator said she had managed thousands of nuptuals but she hadn’t seen a couple who only had eyes for each other the way Ian and Claire had. As she said this it was hours later. Claire and Ian were both still  dancing. They were reaching out for one another, connecting, twirling and the stars were laughing.

“We are telling different tales. Secrets falling from our lips. When our eyes are free from scales, we can see what was eclipsed. 

… So we’ll ‘pray and sing and tell old tales and laugh at guilded butterflies and take upon us the mystery of things… as if we were God’s Spies.’ “

-Shakespeare/ The Levins

My parents celebrate their 60th wedding anniversary on Ground hog’s day but they also got to dance and have their own festive feast the next night with all their loved ones around them.  A bunch of us sat around late that night sharing stories from our various wedding experiences.

Julia and I head back up to New York today, back to the cold of winter. We face the prospect with the strength of love renewed, choosing one another moment to moment.

May your connection eclipse the cold of tragic headlines and bring you to a place where all you hold dear dances with you in earnest delight.

Beauty has claimed you

Caravan of dawn

There’s a caravan of dawn. Always on the curve.
  Always moving on…
Breaking up the darkness with an aviary song:

“Beauty has claimed you.
  Seasons are changing.
Love makes its debut.  Bowing your heart strings”

Side by side- wide as the horizon,
  
giddy as a bride; the universe inside them. 
Lighting up the streets.  Lighting up the fields.
Splash the sky in streaks of azure, lilac, gold and teal.

“Beauty has claimed you.
  Seasons are changing.
Love makes its debut.   Bowing your heart strings.
Splendor reveals you.
   Nothing conceals you.
Beauty has claimed you.”

Breaking up the darkness with an aviary song, singing:
River of broken hearts
“Gather up all of the broken hearts.
Pour them in a river of tiny parts.
Set them in motion, lighten their burden. 
Head for the ocean. Flow out and over, away from the falls. 
Rising  like mist ‘til  they can’t recall,
Not being  kissed  by sunbeams. 
 Separation is only a morphine dream.

Authentic joy and honesty cut a path right through to me.
Splendor reveals you.  Nothing conceals you.
Beauty has claimed you.”

I close my eyes and breathe you in as if I’ll never have to leave again.
– The Levins
hearts rising up
 

Making friends with the monsters

“All that we see or seem is but a dream within a dream.” -Edgar Allan Poe

“There are four questions of value in life, Don Octavio. What is sacred? Of what is the spirit made? What is worth living for and what is worth dying for? The answer to each is the same. Only love… Love will find a way through paths where wolves fear to prey.”- Lord Byron

Dr. Frankenstein

As Human beings, we have been given access to and are a part of the expansion of the universe, our potential is godlike, we rise, we grasp, we even gain glimpses of the infinite. Still, the one thing we cannot control and that happens to us all is death. It is the great leveler and it drives us. It stirs in us like a phantasm, it dances with us, it calls to us. It causes us to build empires, to reach for the stars. It stirs our longing to create poetry and songs to court it, to postpone it, to live after it.  The true dancers are augmented by it and live before it. But the mad scientists in us long to create something that will defy it. Because love ones are lost, the captain Nemo in us arises to take revenge on all of the war machines that rob others of their loved ones, blind to the irony of this destruction. The poet William Blake said Eternity is in love with the productions of time.  We are all part of the grand play and because we long for the light behind the veil, we are fascinated by the shadow play rippling on its surface.

Our fascination calls to us from the Mountains of Madness* to procure something unexplained, something beyond our mortal frame. We long to face our fear- to see and feel beyond it, to be assured, even beyond faith that there is something more than the terrible treadmill emptying into the void.

Yet Friedrich Nietzsche said, “If you gaze long enough into an abyss, the abyss will gaze back into you.” The void can appear to be an abyss instead of an invitation to recognize our identity beyond form. If one clings too tightly to this mortal coil, the inevitability of shuffling off can lead to despair or worse to a rage that leads to malevolence. Nietzsche also said, “Whoever fights monsters should see to it that in the process he does not become a monster.”

My Uncle Jeff said when he was a boy, he would make friends with all the monsters so they wouldn’t get him.

On a Saturday night while my folks were out, I would arrange all of my stuffed animals on the couch so they could see the TV and watch Creature Features with me. I too made friends with the monsters. My favorite universal classics however, had elements of pathos in them. It was when Quasimodo, the deformed bell-ringer said to Esmerelda the gypsy, “You ask me why I saved you? Oh, I tried to carry you off, and the next day you gave me a drink of water and little pity,” that I knew we were all capable of being monsters and heroes.

HUNCHBACK-OF-NOTRE-DAME-1939-2

Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein monster echoed this understanding 145 years before I was born, “I do know that for the sympathy of one living being, I would make peace with all. I have love in me the likes of which you can scarcely imagine and rage the likes of which you would not believe. If I cannot satisfy the one, I will indulge the other… I was benevolent and good; misery made me a fiend. Make me happy, and I shall again be virtuous.”

Brideoffrankenstein

Many of the classic monster movies offered insight and compassion for the monsters inside us, thrust into life and yearning for love’s absorption.  One of my favorites was The Wolfman.  Maria Ouspenskaya, playing Maleva, the gypsy, alone had the ability to transform poor Laurence Talbot back from his wolf form while the moon was full because of the empathy she had for his suffering.

Maleva and the Wolfman

Maleva:The way you walked was thorny through no fault of your own, but as the rain enters the soil, the river enters the sea, so tears run to a predestined end. Now you will have peace for eternity.”

Because my father was a radio man, he was able to introduce me to the host of Creature Features. At the time, it felt like I was meeting Abraham Lincoln. I thought my dad was the coolest guy in the universe for knowing him. Looking back, I realize that the hosts of these shows were our link to movies that would open the door to exploring the unknown, the chance to make peace with our monsters.

Last night the cool ghoul pioneer host Zacherley passed away at 98.  He not only had a laugh to rival Phyllis Diller but he was important enough to leave us, not in January or a month where he might have been overlooked, but right before Halloween.

zacherley

Long live Zacherley and those who get us to recognize that our abyss isn’t all that terrible. It can be laughed at; it can become a part of the firmament that inspires and thrills us at night.

Zacherley archives:

https://youtu.be/tiTkGiVNt_8

Zacherley on Mike Douglas:

https://youtu.be/Xb5J7qB5w-0

May your All Hallows Eve be merry and dance within your void!

*- a reference to HP Lovecraft’s book At the Mountains of Madness