Best year…EVER

It’s true: 2020, for me, was the best year ever.

How can I possibly say that? Am I on drugs? (No) Did I spend the year on a different planet? (No. Well, not technically. Read on, Macduff…)

This is the year it all became clear. It was the perfect year to test my new-found ability to maintain inner peace and happiness, what with fires, floods, political shenanigans and betrayals, death, separation from loved ones, new (and old) health issues, racism and inequalities galore.

The inner peace and near-constant joy I experience now become more extraordinary in light of my 50+ years of depression. For more than fifty years, I experienced suicidal thoughts: my first suicide attempt was at age 14. The most serious attempt, which landed me in a psych ICU in 1991, taught me to never EVER let health professionals know how depressed I was, and make sure I succeeded the next time. For I was sure there would be a next time. I learned to bring myself back from the brink, though, by such methods as planning a trip to Ireland (I believed I was happiest there), or moving (to Ireland or, if I couldn’t afford it, to somewhere else), and finally by telling myself I had to clear out and organize all my papers and things so my kids wouldn’t have to do it. (That, actually, was the most successful deterrent. You have no idea how much I hated paperwork.)

Then, in 2020 — and thanks to COVID isolation — I saw the light. At first daily, then hourly, then minute by minute, I deeply learned these truths: that happiness has nothing, absolutely NOTHING to do with money, health, religion (or lack thereof), “life purpose” or even family and friends. It has NOTHING to do with where I live, be it the street or a mansion, or what the weather is like, or — and this was a very big one for me — how much I got “done.” It has NOTHING to do with how much education I have (indeed, I wonder if higher education got in the way of my learning these truths sooner), or where a person is on the ladder of success (there is no ladder; it is a fiction), if you’re crippled or an Olympic athlete, if you clean toilets for a living or run a Fortune 500 company.

As incredible as it may sound, I see no problems in the world anymore, for my world is what’s right in front of me and its nature reflects my thoughts and perceptions. If I experience any anxiety, frustration, or sadness, I know it is because I’m believing a thought that’s untrue for me, and I question it. I find it rather funny that for so many years I wrote articles and blog posts and whatnot about my life’s journey, exhorting others to try this method or that guru. Now that I’ve actually found peace and happiness, I can offer no lessons or instruction, hence the paucity of blog posts this past year. I cannot give you peace of mind: only you can do that.

Peace in your time is possible. It’s not “out there,” it’s within. It’s accessible to all, free of charge.

May 2021 be your best year ever.

Where there’s smoke…

This morning I finally had the opportunity to remind my neighbor not to smoke when he sits outside his front door because it goes straight up to my living room. He knows the rules well enough; he was just trying to get away with it a bit longer. (I’d been in Portland for several weeks, and he made the most of it.) I had to come within a few feet of him to relay the message and he became agitated. “We’re supposed to maintain distance!” he said. I said, “Of course you’re right,” adding under my breath, “I’m not that worried though.”

As I walked up the path to my patio, I wondered why I wasn’t worried. I should be! His cigarette smoke (and that of residents much further away) was his breath for heaven’s sake. All those germs! I live in a place full of vulnerable seniors with no means of escape. Alcohol-tinged smoke seeps through the walls and my apartment reeks when the residents, totally against the rules, take refuge from the pouring rains of Reedsport to puff away inside their homes. While I hate the smell, I can see how the stress of this pandemic has led even people who’ve been off cigarettes for years to start again, let alone the at-risk population with whom I share air.

That’s when it hit me. I’d forgotten my science in the fog of fear surrounding us all: the air we have is the only air there is. There’s no giant source of fresh air outside our world we can pump in. We’re breathing the same stuff as Aristotle, Shakespeare, and Hitler for that matter — only ours is much dirtier. We’ve been systematically, carelessly, selfishly destroying it in the name of “progress” for centuries. We’ve conveniently forgotten that this air is all we’ve got.

It’s not just stinky cigarette smoke that alerts us to what’s in the air. When I was looking for house-share accommodation, I noted some potential roomies allowed “no essential oils.” Whaaaa??! I laughed at that then, but now I can see their point. It’s as pervasive as the smell of cinnamon buns. Or farts, for that matter. A silent, violent one can be detected in church, let alone an elevator!

COVID-19 doesn’t smell like freshly baked pizza, unfortunately, nor do some of the world’s most dangerous gases, pollutions, and infections: carbon monoxide, air pollution like that in Salt Lake City, Ebola, AIDS/HIV. And while there’s no way to smell the danger, we know it’s here because people have died from it. Like the canaries of old used in the coal mines, the victims of COVID-19 have made the ultimate sacrifice for our insatiable consumerism.

Their deaths need not have been in vain. Already the positive effects of early containment policies are clearing the airways and circulatory systems of our ailing, suffocating planet. Yes, millions are out of work and economies have ground to a halt, but now we have a chance to do things differently. Humans are nothing if not creative and resourceful — especially when it comes to their survival — once fear has been dispelled.

Economic survival is not the same as physical survival: that myth must die so we can live. Investments do not, hate to tell ya, “grow.” People do. We’ve treated money as if it were alive for so long, we’ve forgotten that it isn’t. It’s a tool and nothing more.

Our real wealth lies within, with the knowledge that we’re all on this earth-ship together and linked inextricably by the air we breathe. I get that people want to do something about the virus, but “social distancing” (there’s an oxymoron if I ever heard one) is not the answer. We’ve been breathing the same air — stewing in our own unhealthy juices, one might say — for years. We’ve gotten so used to it, we don’t notice. Fact is though, folks, our shit does stink. No one of us is stink-less. We might not get the coronavirus, but we are nonetheless infected with false beliefs, one of them being that money can save us.

COVID-19 gives us the perfect opportunity to clean up our act. Since we’ve all either been exposed or will be soon enough, let’s stop avoiding each other and instead pool our resources and talents. There is no need to fear; it’s already here. And look at you! You’re reading this article. You’re surviving quite well, if you care to notice. You’ve got this.

We need clean air, folks. This isn’t a Chinese problem, or a Spanish problem, or even a medical problem. It’s our thinking that’s the problem: thinking that what we do individually is not affecting anyone else; thinking that economics will save us when it’s the very thing that caused the infections in the first place.

Do we really need governments to force us to take measures to protect ourselves? How much better to choose to consume less, to curtail our driving, to forgo the holiday that requires air travel. We can act like adults and stop behaving like spoiled children, with no thought for anyone but ourselves.

I’m so grateful for that smoking neighbor of mine, for he triggered the factoid from my fifth-grade science class: this is the only air we’ve got. We can’t run from it; we can’t hide. Not for long, anyway. It’s all around us, rich and poor alike. And instead of succumbing to the air of fear surrounding us, we can rejoice that we have another chance to save our world. We can let our innate compassion spill out to help our neighbors instead of shun them. With fear out of the way, our creativity and ingenuity will shine and new ways to move forward into a kinder, more inclusive world will emerge.

We can come out of this smelling like roses. It’s up to us.

Warped (II)

Inset from Bayeux Tapestry, 11th Century

Guns—
like greed, poverty, pestilence,
violence to women and children—
form part of the Great Tapestry.
The first weapon-threads were embedded so deeply
so early
(surely warped, not weft?)
ancient weavers remember not their origins.
No way to unpick the fine wools now,
though present weavers try.
With magnifying glass held in hopeful hands,
they kneel at the feet of history
and look in vain.
Behind the artisans the gun-lovers crouch—
nicking needles
stealing scissors
taking tufts—
distracting the peace lovers from their task.
They are all too close to the hanging.
From a distance
I laugh, sadly.
For it’s easy to see what violence has been done to the Tapestry.
I look not at the grass roots; my eyes travel upward.
Do you—
can you—
see what I see?
Areas of grayed, frayed wool
(inferior stuff)
mar the precious pattern; they
grin ghostly
sneer sickly
from the red-lipped mouths of history’s generals;
their tombstone teeth,
once woven in gently
by duped women
stooped in sorrow,
now hide openly, in a place too lofty
for the searching souls at their feet.

Published in Jan/Feb 2020 issue of 99E

Original of “Warped” appeared in broccoli4breakfast after winning first place in Weber State University’s poetry competition, April 2013