Friday, October 31, 2008


I went for a short walk in the woods today and had an odd thing happen. I was with Ginger, (The Poorly-Shorn Golden Doodle), and we came to a place in the trail where the woods on either side backed off a bit, forming a small clearing surrounded by fifty- to seventy-foot tall trees. We stopped and I had the same feeling I get when I walk into our house and can somehow tell that Erica is already home from work.

Do you ever have that feeling? I am unable to put it into words that carry much actual meaning; but if you have felt it, then you know what I mean. It is as if there are sense organs (beyond those that account for the usual five) and these sense organs react when there is another person around, even if that person is not visible. I picture these sensory receptors almost as magnets.

When the opposite poles of two magnets come into proximity there is an attraction created that pulls the poles toward each other across the gap.

THAT is the feeling I had out in the woods. Only, I knew there were no people around. I stood still and just allowed myself to feel the feeling. It soon came to me that it was the presence of the trees I was feeling. I am generally not a spiritualist, so I am not prepared to claim the trees had anything like what some might call “souls”. But at that moment in those woods I did have the strongest sense that I was surrounded by sentient beings.

And, oddly, I had the very specific sense that those trees had a sense of humor about humans and our short-term worries and overblown egos.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

A Place Called Hope

I am a teacher and a firm rationalist. I work hard to get my students to go beyond their initial reactions to things in order to examine WHY they feel the way they do. I admit that this can sometimes be a fool’s errand, since humans are notoriously opaque—especially to ourselves. But our opacity is no reason to settle for the surface.

Which is why I find myself admitting somewhat sheepishly that my bottom line reason for supporting Barack Obama is that he makes me feel hopeful.

There. I have said it out loud. I like the way Barack Obama makes me feel. I always have, from the first time I saw him speak. If I am fully honest with myself, I have to admit that it wasn’t WHAT he even said so much as how I felt as he was speaking. Later, as his campaign picked up steam, I started paying closer attention to his policy positions and was happy to find that I agreed with him on many issues.

But even if I hadn’t, I get the feeling I might have convinced myself that I did.

My reaction to Senator Obama tells me a lot about my state of mind over the past four years. I am an optimist who still believes firmly in the innate goodness of people when they are led by a leader who appeals to our finer natures instead of one who plays upon our fears.

Ever since September 11, 2001 I have felt that our President is simply scared poopless. He is way out of his depth and his reaction to the slaughter of innocent Americans on 9/11 has been one of endless fear. He is afraid of another attack. He is afraid of appearing weak. He is afraid of asking anyone for help. He is afraid he will be shown for the shallow party boy he is.

And he has found that his fear is useful. He has found that spreading his fear—amplifying what we already felt and even turning his fear into OUR fear--keeps him in office. Well, I don’t want to be afraid. In fact, I refuse to be afraid. And I certainly don’t want a President who makes all of his decisions in fear.

Barack Obama is not afraid. In this long campaign for the Presidency—first against Hillary Clinton and now against John McCain and the vaunted right wing electoral apparatus—Barack Obama has been poised and steady. He is not afraid of anything they throw at him. And he would not be afraid of anything circumstances, (or the Iranians), would throw at him as President.

I agree with Barack Obama’s health care proposals, his plan for removing combat troops from Iraq in 16 months, his tax reductions for 95% of U.S. Taxpayers. I agree with most of his positions. But honestly, I will vote for Barack Obama in three weeks because he makes me feel hopeful. I get the sense that many, if not most, Americans are tired of living in fear.

We want to pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off, and face the future knowing that it won’t be easy. There are a lot of problems that we have been avoiding for too long. It is time to stop avoiding the future and to start shaping it in a way that is good for our citizens, the country, and the world.

I trust Barack Obama to have the guts to do that. I don’t think that the John McCain of the past three months has it in him to get down to business and do what is needed.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Saved By Zero

Erica has been out of town for the week and as a result I have been living my days close to the bone. There is not a lot of wiggle room in my schedule, what with work and a daughter and a dog. It feels as if each moment is already accounted for before I even get out of bed. As a result, I have not had any time to run. No time to think, either.

Until today, that is. Today I made time for BOTH running and thinking. Isabel had gymnastics from 4 until 5:45 and I made damn sure to bring my running clothes with us. Her gym is near the Farmington Canal trail, so as soon as her bare feet hit the padded floor to begin warm-ups my sneakered feet hit the macadam to begin my six miles. It was sunny and cool and perfect for a relaxed run.

A few Fridays ago I stumbled into the joys of an end-of-the-work-week run and now I am hooked. I have never had a problem just letting my mind drift while running (see my most recent blog entry) so my Friday afternoon runs become a sort of moving meditation for me. Today was no different in that for much of the first mile my mind was noisy with static left over from the day. But as my body warmed up and I settled into a comfortable pace my mind became quiet…


Floating around through the quiet in a sinuous, twisty sort of way was the song “Saved By Zero” by The Fixx. If you know the song then you may remember that it was a hit back in 1983. I don’t think I have heard it since the eighties, but there it was today, providing the soundtrack to my run. In the interest of full disclosure, I have to admit that I liked the song back when it was a hit so its presence in my head was not UNwelcome. It was just a little surprising, that’s all.

Surprising enough that I snapped back to a more focused level of consciousness and tried to think about what may have invited The Fixx into my run. After a half mile it came to me. I remembered seeing an interview on MTV in the fall of 1983 in which the lead singer, Cy Curnin, was asked to explain what the opaque lyrics to “Saved By Zero” mean. (Please, please don’t even ask me how I still know the name of the lead singer of The Fixx—I just DO, okay?)

Mr. Curnin talked about being in a mental space where he could, in effect, cancel gravity in his brain and allow all the things on his mind to become weightless and just float up and out of his stream of thought until there was nothing--zero. He said that he could then pay attention to see which thoughts fell back into focus first and most insistently. It was a way for him to prioritize.

I hadn’t done it on purpose, but as I ran I had done the same thing Cy Curnin did. My mind had been full of competing concerns, each buzzing around, calling for my attention. But then by mile two they had all been thrown up into the air, where they were floating momentarily in zero-gravity while I just ran. And into the empty space (that had been so annoyingly full a mile ago) stepped my memory of Cy Curnin and his paean to meditation.

I decided to look up, (metaphorically), and see what was floating around so compliantly as I ran mostly empty-brained. I could see my students up there—each begging me to think about how their week had been and what I could be doing to challenge them more. I also saw my daughter and my worry that I had been on auto-pilot with her this week instead of really being with her. And there was my wife and my excitement for her as she explores where to take her many skills and gifts. I also caught a glimpse of myself and my growing anticipation for whatever will come next for me in life.

There was the Dow Jones Industrial Average off by 18% this week and all of the repercussions that has on our retirement “savings.” There was also Barack Obama with his growing lead in the polls and my growing fear that he will be killed before he can become President. I also thought I saw our roof and its leaks and its shockingly high replacement cost. Oh, and even though it was hiding behind all the other floaters, I am pretty sure advancing middle age was up there too.

Being able to examine them all dispassionately from a distance was a real gift. And it got me through three miles of quickish running with nary a thought of pain or shortness of breath. As I neared the beginning of the last mile I decided to let the thoughts fall as they would and just notice what came down fastest and first to claim my full, refocused, relaxed attention.

And there it fell, unnoticed amid all the weighty issues and the clamor and hubbub of events: What should I make for dinner?