Sunday, June 18, 2017

MATERIALIZATION?



  
I don’t know what else to call it.
 
Why it has taken me this long – 74 years – to see myself so clearly is beyond comprehension.  While most of my “ah ha moments” occur in the proximity of my morning shower, I can’t recall when this one poked me in the head. It happened about a week ago.

I cannot let things simply be what they are.  I have this unrelenting need to act on things, to make them more than an experience or knowledge.

Ideas, thoughts, or feelings must be put into words, spoken, written, or both, and more often than not, they must be shared, quietly and personally through conversation, or publicly through writing (blogs, social media, etc.).

In my encounters with the world around me the same phenomenon occurs.  When a particular scene, natural or man made, inspires me, I am driven to re-create it on paper or canvas, directly or via a photograph.  Living with the experience and memory is not enough for me.  I have to make it into something tangible that I can see on demand, and, as is usually the case, share with others.

This is what has been driving me for the second half of my life.

Friday, June 16, 2017

PATIENCE MEETS MY PARENTS


Love can slap your head and knock you silly when you least expect it, and it does so at a time of its own choosing, regardless of your personal circumstances.  It certainly did so with me when I met a young nursing student named Patience during one of my shifts in the ER.  My life at that time was dark, and her radiance gave it light and hope.  After a very short courtship – phone calls, one day-long date, and a walk in the park – I knew we would be spending the rest of our lives together.  So it was only a matter of time that we would be driving the 30 miles from Wilmington Delaware to Landisville New Jersey for her to meet my parents.

When my father’s health prevented him from working, my parents decided to sell the farm and build a small home on a nearby wooded property they owned.  It was perfect for them. It had a large basement where my mother could cook and can (Italian-Americans often had a second kitchen in the basement.), and my father could make his wine, and with enough cleared land for a garden.  My father had two passions, wine making and gardening, both of which he pursued until one year before his death at age 82.

On the day of the big meet we pulled into their drive in my wild and wooly ’65 Mustang hardtop, stopping just short of the garage, which was always open.
Family and friends usually entered through the garage because it opened into the kitchen-dining area, where all the entertaining took place.  This day would be no exception.

Patience, whose 8th great grandfather was Miles Standish, was a stranger to Italian-American culture and understandably was slightly apprehensive.  The first thing she noticed as we entered the garage were large, dark, moldy pieces of something…resembling hams… hanging from the garage beams.  I’m not sure she was reassured when I told her that was prosciutto my father was making.  It looked like nothing she had seen before, and certainly not something meant to be eaten. We did not have prosciutto that day, but we were having manicotti, one of my mom’s specialties, She asked Patience if she ever had “mana gought”, which is the way we pronounced manicotti.  Of course Patience said no, she had never had mana gought; when the food arrived at the table she immediately said, “oh, you mean manicotti” which sounded strange to our ears and brought polite smiles to our faces.

It did not take very long for the unfamiliar to become familiar, and Patience immediately became family.  Years later, when my parents died, mom in 1992 and dad in 1995, Patience was with me at the bedside holding their hands.  I cannot imagine getting through their respective illnesses without her and I thank God for her presence in our lives.

Saturday, June 3, 2017

STANDING ON THEIR SHOULDERS





They had little to give but themselves, which they gave freely and abundantly.  Josephine, who never knew her father, at age eleven had to leave her home, quit school, and move into an apartment with three older brothers to assume all household duties.  Spartaco, known to all as Duke, lost his mother when he was eight years old. The youngest of four brothers, he left school after the eighth grade to work on the family farm, while his brothers and 3 older sisters completed high school and college or business school.  Life on the small farm for my parents was defined by unrelenting hard work, financial insecurity, and more than their share of  personal disappointments and illnesses.  Comfort and happiness were found in their large, extended family and friends.

It took forty years of living for me to fully appreciate all that these two remarkable people have given to me.

 Not a day goes by that I don’t think of my parents.  (My mother died in December, 1991, and my father in the autumn of 1995.)  I don’t know if this is unusual for someone my age, if it is because I was an only child, or if it’s because I am such a sentimental softy.  I suspect the real reason is because they were remarkable people, and that they gave me so much.  Ironically, in spite of all the writing I do, writing about them is very difficult for me.  Perhaps because I’m afraid I will not do them the justice they deserve.

I believe that I am the person I am because of my parents. Whatever I have accomplished of worth, and may yet accomplish, is the result of their gifts to me. 

The greatest of these gifts was a sense of self worth and self-esteem, which have allowed me to choose some of the difficult paths I have followed in my life.  I believe there is no greater gift parents can give to their children than a strong sense of their own self worth.

My parents taught me about love; they taught me about tolerance and forgiveness, and they taught me about humility.  They showed me that a person of worth treats everyone with the same respect and warmth, and that behavior toward others is determined by their humanity and not by their social position or importance.

They never spoke about these beliefs; they simply lived them because that is who they were.  Pretension was foreign to them.

I believe my life is a reflection of these two remarkable people, and I want it to be worthy of them.  My greatest responsibilities have been to live a life honoring their gifts and to pass these gifts on to my children and loved ones. 

After 78 years I’m still standing on their shoulders.


Tuesday, May 30, 2017

IT IS WHAT IT IS





Writing about the presence of so much pain and suffering in the world, a friend asked in his blog post, “… what the hell do we do with REALITY?  What do we do with these Job-like questions and this Job-like anguish we feel in the midst of this REALITY? Like Rilke, I live these questions awaiting the answers that do not readily come.” 

The anguish and the questions are timeless, weighing on the human mind since its emergence into its present level of consciousness. From the very beginning man has turned to God in an attempt to find purpose and meaning in the world and in their lives. Beliefs in an “Almighty” have evolved along with the rest of civilization, but the basic tenets of a transcendent deity has persisted, and today millions of men and women believe in the presence of a loving God in their attempt to understand why there is so much pain and suffering in the world.

Nature has no purpose; it is morally neutral.  Ours is a world of beautiful vistas and exquisite sunsets, as well as swamps, deadly diseases, and natural catastrophes.   Life has no divine purpose other than the instinct for survival.  All life fulfills a role determined by evolution.  Human beings, sitting at the pinnacle of biological evolution, are complex creatures, capable of love and hate, generosity and greed, and good and evil.  History reveals the incredible range of human behavior.

But, humans have the distinct capacity to question, to think abstractly, and to imagine.  We can imagine a world without pain, a world filled with love and not evil, and a world where justice prevails. We are cursed with the ability to imagine a better world, one that does not exist.  We recognize our frailties and helplessness in the face of this world and turn to a loving God for comfort and answers.  We look to Him for the justice that we so desperately need.  But for many, this very belief raises questions and anguish – how to reconcile the pain and suffering in a world created by a loving deity.

We cannot change the ways of the world, and I don’t know how much we can change human behavior. I think the best we can do is to live our lives encouraging, loving, and teaching one another to the extent we can, using whatever skills and/or resources we have.  History tells us we have made some progress, but there is so much further to go. 

I have faith in man’s potential for goodness.  I have faith in people like my friend who has prompted this narrative with his own questions and anguish.  The anguish never goes away, but the questions become how do we make the world better, rather than why is it the way it is.

Thursday, May 4, 2017

RELIGIOUS FREEDOM & MORALITY




“Gentleness and cheerfulness, these come before all morality; they are the perfect duties,” stated Robert Louis Stevenson. “And it is the trouble with moral men that they have neither the one nor the other. ... If your morals make you dreary, depend on it they are wrong. I do not say, ‘give them up,’ for they may be all you have; but conceal them like a vice, lest they should spoil the lives of better and simpler people.”

I am offended by the obnoxious belief that morality is the divine providence of the “faithful”.  The rhetoric of those who seem to cling to their faith, afraid of dissension or doubt, would have us believe that theirs is the only path that leads to moral righteousness and values, (without ever clearly defining either of these).   Love, compassion, forgiveness, tolerance, and a deep faith in the institutions of family and marriage are not restricted to any single faith or doctrine, in fact there often seems to be a decided absence of tolerance and love in cases where there are extreme followers of one or another doctrines.

Freedom of religion also means freedom from religion.  I am free to define God as I experience God.  I am also free to deny God; that is my choice.  Embracing the values described above is not contingent on either position.


Wednesday, April 26, 2017

CULTURE OF PROFIT GROWS STRONGER When is enough enough?



America has thrived on free enterprise, an industrious work force, and a powerful spirit of entrepreneurism.  At its inception, the philosophical foundation of capitalism was the belief that given the opportunity to acquire wealth (goods, money), people would be satisfied when they achieved enough to live comfortably, and cease to pursue wealth beyond their needs, resulting in a balanced and stable social economy.  Unfortunately the insatiable drive to acquire more was under estimated, and the notion of an equitable distribution of wealth was threatened.  Ideas had to be revised.  Eventually the avarice of greed became acceptable because even though wealth was being accumulated in excessive amounts the system was still contributing to the economic health of all citizens, a position that some have labeled a bargain with the devil.

The result of this bargain is evident today when fewer and fewer people control more and more of the country’s wealth, and the middle class is being driven down the economic ladder.  The drive to acquire wealth is growing increasingly excessive, enticing both individual and corporate behavior to cross ethical, moral, and occasionally, legal lines.  (Think EPI Pens, VW and emission controls, and Wells Fargo, to name just a few.)  For some, devotion to the gospel of the free market has become almost religious. Apparently, making an honorable profit is not enough, it has to be more every year, and it has to be more than the nearest competitor.  The mantra seems to be, “If there is money to be made…let’s do it”, regardless of the affect it may have on the environment and the people.  Growing the profit margin appears to be all that matters, trumping social concerns, community interests, and employment security.

There are those who measure everyone and everything by monetary standards, making the accumulation of wealth their life’s goal.  For them, a successful life is measured by material gains, the size of one’s house and the cars in the driveway.  When the world is viewed primarily through fiscal lenses, and everything and everyone is judged by the bottom line, something vital is lost.  We are unable to appreciate those expressions of the human spirit that are beyond objective measurements – compassion, caring, charity, the arts, and all of the immeasurable human endeavors that serve to create a better life for individuals and community.

I don’t know how the culture of profit over everything else can be muted; government can’t do it, and religion seems to be disinclined to do so (some churches have even embraced a theology of prosperity.).  Perhaps it is an ingrained part of the human character: the drive to achieve the most and to have the best, to be in the front of the crowd, as well as the desire for the power associated with wealth. 

I am not suggesting the abandonment of capitalism, nor am I advocating for socialism. I believe that hard work should be rewarded, and am well aware that millions of lives depend upon the return on investments in private enterprises.  We need the enterprising spirit and the drive for profits by our industrial leaders to grow our economy, create jobs, and improve the lives of our citizenry.  They have served our country well in all areas of endeavor, health, transportation, communications, entertainment, and more.  The jobs they have created have enabled generations of Americans to improve their lives and the lives of their children.

But this is not an either-or situation, although partisan politics quickly makes it one. Consider the question of  “regulations”, those restrictions and guidelines imposed by government on corporations and other private enterprises to protect natural resources, clean up air pollutions, and keep workers safe.  Businesses dislike them because they are cumbersome and costly. It doesn’t matter how noble and worthwhile the regulation’s purpose may be, it is the bottom line that matters. I have no doubt that there are some regulations that are excessively cumbersome, poorly thought out, and accomplish little, and that they should rightfully, and thoughtfully, be thrown out.  However the government has a responsibility to its citizens and to the land, as well to businesses and corporations.  Freewheeling capitalism, without any restraints, is an invitation to disaster.

Capitalism in America is strong and secure enough to withstand critical examination of it moral and social obligations.   It does not need to feel threatened by appropriate restraints imposed by a central, democratic government. Their moral and ethical responsibilities to the citizens of our country are no less than their fiduciary responsibilities to their shareholders.

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

HAPPINESS & WORK



 From time to time someone will ask me if I am happy.  The easy answer of course is yes. Saying no would require an explanation that no one would be interest in hearing.

When everything is going well in my world, I usually don’t think of myself as “happy”; it is too general a word to convey what is important to me.  In fact no single word or term serves that purpose.  Some that come close are: engagement, purpose, & meaning. And of these, engagement works the best.  However, when things go south, and I am angry, discouraged, or depressed, I readily describe myself as unhappy, rather than “un-engaged”.  Go Figure.

Try to create this image in your mind.  Imagine a sailboat on a very windy day - its sails billowed taunt with wind, and the keel buried deep in the water - as it moves swiftly across the surface, harnessing the forces of nature. All the elements are working, and the boat is engaged in doing what it is meant to do.

This is what I strive for, to be engaged in doing the work I am meant to do, work that gives me a sense of contentment, as well as purpose and meaning.  So isn’t that happiness?  Perhaps, but I avoid that description because engagement doesn’t necessarily mean serenity, joy, and peace of mind.   This work is often accompanied by anxiety, stress, and a roller coaster of emotional states, from elation to despair.

Let me define what I mean by “work”, a word I use frequently to describe, in a broad sense, what we do to give our lives meaning and purpose.  It is work that we feel called to do. It chooses us; we don’t choose it.  This is the work that replenishes the energy it consumes, work that may leave us exhausted, but with a sense of satisfaction and fulfillment.  In my years of medicine, creating art, and writing, I have been engaged in this good work.  In each of these endeavors I have experienced the fullest range of emotions, from extreme despair to joy and satisfaction, and I remain grateful for the experience.