Change the World: It’s easier than you think

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The world is a dangerous place.  Life is unfair.  People are cruel.

We must all unite together, stand up and demand change!  Politics, the global stage, war, business, arts, society, economy, all are rife with cruelty, abuse, and inequity.

These things have existed since the dawn of civilization, and it is time that they STOP!  Join with me and we will make the world the place it is meant to be; safe, secure, prosperous, equal, joyful, and compassionate, once and for all.

In an uncertain world, there is one thing for which we can be virtually certain.

We will not succeed in this.

We can look back upon ten thousand years of human evolution, seeing where we have come from and compare it to where we have come to and know that the world has not changed at all.

It is essentially the same as it has always been.

Despair?  Maybe not.

Let’s reframe.  Let us take the evidence at face value and concede that perhaps the world is not SUPPOSED to change.  This is a high-altitude view, so get your wings on.

PERHAPS, struggle is the nature of the human experience.  Struggle is why we are here.  Struggle is our gift.  The innocent mind will discover the cruelty of the world, rightly conclude that it is wrong, and falsely assume that it is the world that must change.

Maybe, just maybe, in the heart of our hearts, the home of our homes, the self of ourselves, our mission and destiny are only to find our course through this world of marvels and maliciousness, danger and wonder.  What if we are here only to learn for ourselves to make the right choices, turn the correct turns, find our own small, safe, and sacred beauty in this world.

Does that sound too selfish?  Too easy?  Instead of only being satisfied with a changed world, can we be satisfied with just our changed self?  It’s easier to blame the world than to task ourselves.

The truth may be that we do not own the world and that we may have absolutely no right to it.  We may only own and have the right to our individual path THROUGH it.  Within the part of my path that touches yours resides my experience of the world.  I don’t need to change the entire world, I just need to make your’s and my experience of it better.

We all can make ourselves mad with anger and despair by living with the mindset that nothing is right until the whole world changes.  We can split our guilty consciousness with a thousand worthy causes, ten thousand, and ten times that.  We can maim our spirits and throw away all belief in the goodness of life by refusing to accept that the world is the way it should be.

What if the world were not the insurmountable “task” we imagine it to be, but a “garden”; a garden of love and fear that we get to pick our path through.

Instead of insisting that the world change for us, that every wrong should be righted, every problem solved; let’s instead, from this high-height, understand that the context of the world will never change.  Light the path in front of you, and avoid the darkness.

What would the world be like, I wonder, if we all chose ONE CAUSE that resonated deeply for us, aligned with our own personal destiny, and strove for that one achievable goal, being at peace with the rest; knowing that the rest is for others to choose.

I would rather help one person utterly, than a thousand imperceptibly, and let the collateral goodness fall where it may.    

But I guess that’s my path.

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A Greater Voice: The Power of Our Intention

angel-gabriel-1986When I was five years old I was suddenly tired all the time, then I got a bad cold. After a week in bed, I was taken to the doctors and ended up in the Children’s ICU at a hospital in Rochester, NY. I had contracted mononucleosis complicated with double pneumonia. I stayed there for a month, and I left with not only my health, but also a strange experience and an early lesson I have kept with me.

In my family, you pretty much had to have a limb dangling in order to be taken to the doctor’s. My mother was not big on doctors. When I was thirteen I broke my back playing football. I lived on the couch for weeks before I could walk; Mom never took me to get it checked so I only learned years later that I had broken a piece of my lower vertebra off and that my body had eventually dissolved it.

I had two younger sisters and two very loud older brothers then, so I was very happy for the quiet, and more than a little happy with all the attention. There was only one other boy in the ward; his name was Robbie. Robbie had a tracheotomy, and once he could talk we had many pleasant conversations between nurse and doctor visits and being hauled out for x-rays and tests. I was always better one on one. My bed was right by the door and there was a picture window on the wall alongside it, allowing me to watch the comings and goings in the hall when they didn’t have the curtain drawn.

Robbie left after one week, but I had to stay, having only gotten worse. (I still wonder what became of Robbie; he was a fine fellow.) I was alone the rest of my time there. Funny how you don’t retain the parts that hurt when you are that young. Between painful shots of vitamin C in my butt each day (I remember that part), and a nose so continually stuffed that my upper lip was bloody and blistered from blowing, I had a delightful time of it. I had plenty of attention and felt kind of special; I didn’t get that at home.

The long hours and days were filled with the singular bliss of reading my Little Golden Books! You may remember Little Golden Books, they were a popular children’s book series with cardboard covers and a distinctive gold-leaf spine. Every time my parents visited, they asked me if there was anything I needed, the only reply I remember was, “More Golden Books!” The long days were filled with pouring over them again and again. I amassed quite a stack of them. They lived by my side in my bed at all times. I would wake up a lot during the night, and they were my constant companions.

As weeks went on, my condition worsened. My nose and sinus had gone completely solid. I thought I must have been getting better because I didn’t have to brave the blisters and blow my nose anymore. One day the doctor came in with a bunch of nurses and my mother. He was carrying a length of wire that was glowing red-hot. He explained what he needed to do and promised me he would not touch the wire to my skin, and then proceeded to put the wire up one nostril then the other, straight up into my sinus. It smoked, and it sizzled inside my head. It was not at all comfortable, but true to his word, he never burned me.

Some time after that, the doctor called my parents, who were both visiting together, out into the hallway. I watched them through the window talking, but could not hear what they were saying. I remember noticing that my parents looked very serious, and when they came back in to say goodnight seemed unusually nice, said a lot of nice things to me that I don’t remember, and didn’t seem to want to leave. They promised that they would be back first thing in the morning, and kept asking if I’d be alright. “Why wouldn’t I,” I thought, “I’ve got my books, I’m fine”

Years later, my mother told me that the doctor had told them that I probably would not make it. It must have been a hard night for them, but my night was quite different.

The late nurses were gone, the dim lights were on, and I was completely alone and awake in the middle of the night, my trusty Golden Books by my side, just looking around the room when I heard a voice. It is difficult to describe the sound of it. It was at once the most powerful and the gentlest voice you could imagine; I thought of it as a male voice, but it was neither male nor female, it was every voice; it was a great voice. It was not a voice in my head; it was outside of me and filled the room. It seemed to come from behind and above me, I remember looking to see what was there, but there was only the wall.

It called me by name, and I asked it if it was God. I don’t remember the answer, but my little catholic brain concluded that it must be God. It explained to me that I was very very sick and that I was not getting better. The doctors were doing everything they could, but they could not do it without my help. It said that it understood how comfortable I was here, but that I was not doing my part. The only specific words I retained was this sentence, “It is not enough that you are comfortable, you must try little one, you must try to get better.” It made me promise that from here I would pay attention to this and that I would remember that I must try to get better.

I promised.

I got better.

I was elated and didn’t sleep the rest of the night. I couldn’t wait to tell my mother, that God talked to me last night and told me that I had to get better and that I was going to get better. My mother was a devout Catholic, and I can’t imagine what she must have thought of this; I never got to ask her.

Years later I asked a well-known trance psychic about this during a reading and he said “Yes, call it the Angel Gabriel if you like, there are those who look after us and he is the one who sends us messages when we most need them, this is why he is depicted with a horn.” I am not a devout Catholic, but I practice openness devoutly enough to be certain that there are greater voices to be heard and heeded. Certainly this was. And, to be honest, I kind of like the idea that the Angel Gabriel came down to blow his horn for me.

There have often been times in my life when things worked well enough, and I settled into a kind of complacency that kept me in one place, not happy, only merely content. It is always then that things fall apart, forcing me to remember my promise.

Life will never happen to you without the power of your own intention. Had I not heard that greater voice, I would not be here to tell you this: “It is not enough that you are comfortable, you must try little one, you must try to get better.”

I will try.

I am trying.

I have done.

Circles: Why we end up feeling like bad friends.

3479d297f2b1b0afac12e07e401f17bf-d4uft42Social media puts every circle of friends we ever had right in our faces, every day. I love seeing the tiny slivers of their lives, it reminds me of who they are and who we were together, but it makes me feel inadequate somehow. That gladness of being able to peek at them now is tinged with a remorse that I can’t quite place. Why aren’t we closer? Why did we grow apart? Why wasn’t I a better friend?

The easy excuse I give myself is that it’s because they moved away, went to school, got a different job, got married, had kids, but I know that isn’t true. Many of my current circles live away, and I am still in touch. I tell myself there are only so many people I can fit in the lifeboat of my current life, and that makes sense, but I will resist even sending them a poke. Why? It’s so easy.

If I am truly honest with myself, it is because I regret who I was. The person I am now is a richer, deeper, newer, truer version of me. I couldn’t give that to them then, and maybe I didn’t know how. So I let them fall out of orbit. My curser hovers over them, but does not click. I am secretly asking myself; why wasn’t I better, more honest, more present, how did I fail them, why did I let them drift away? Perhaps it is not them I resist, but the person I was, the one I don’t care to revisit?

I realize now that these questions are self-involved, those in my distant circles have their own experience and make their own choices, perhaps they secretly ask themselves the same questions. With a different perspective, I can see that we all grow, change, evolve, and follow our own specific destinies. All these circles taken together flower in a way that is mirrored in nature; husks and pedals fall away as each seed fulfills itself.

My limited belief is one of lack, “Why didn’t I love them better?” Our true failure, however, lies in not seeing the good in what we were to them, why they loved us, what we gave them, and how we were the best that we knew how to be for them, then. One thread remains, always, the love that connected us. As they are forever a part of who we became, so we are forever a part of who they became. From an even greater perspective, that love became a part of someone else in their circles, and circles, and circles and circles. Like pollen it spread, and they made us a part of everyone, even you.

I would like for my distant circles to know who I became, maybe I’ll try a bit harder now, but if I can’t, I hope that they understand that the memories, the laughs and the adventures we had still ring inside me.

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PART VII: Father/Daughter Stories–Proving Santa.

Santa petrogliph“Daddy guess what, there is no Santa Claus, my friends at school told me!” Two years ago December, my then seven-year-old daughter Madi came home from school to start Christmas break with the inevitable story of how her friends at school said that there really was no Santa Claus. “Their Mom and Dad said so too.” I was caught off-guard and didn’t expect to hear this quite so soon.

Too many parents these days are careless or apathetic about Santa, and it shows. The statistical age of a child losing their belief in Santa Claus has dropped in the last 30 years from 11-12 years old to 8-9 years old. We are losing something here; our information age is missing some important information.

The question parents should be asking is not whether we believe in Santa Claus, but why we believe in Santa Claus. Some of you may know my view of the importance of childhood wonder, (see PART V: Father/Daughter Stories October 23), the ability to be inspired by the unseen and unknowable is a cornerstone of a happy adult life. The knowledge that there is a benevolence in the world that knows, cares, and provides for us no matter who we are is a basic human necessity. How some parents can be so attached to their rationality that they are willing to rattle the wonder and magic out of a child’s head is beyond me.

Thus confronted however, I had to think fast. I fell back on my improv training. First rule of improv, agree with the premise. I answered without hesitation.

“Well of course there isn’t.”

“There’s not??” She was surprised and a little alarmed.

“Not for them anyway. The reality is that if you don’t believe in Santa Claus then he doesn’t exist. And, he won’t leave you presents. These kids who don’t believe in Santa anymore, do they get presents from him?”

“I don’t think so, they say it’s their parents are doing it.”

“Exactly! Presents from parents pretending to be Santa, but not really from Santa, because he doesn’t come to their house, because they don’t believe.”

“Ooh.”

“You get presents from Santa, because you believe in Santa, right?”

“Right!”

Success for now, but it was only triage, doubts still lingered with her. If Madi stopped believing in Santa Claus, then Santa would stop visiting our house, and that would be sad. I needed a longer-term solution, something that would stick, but how do you fight the kids-at-school, the modern, empirical, verifiable, sensible, rational, mundane of the world. Ironic isn’t it? How readily some give up the Santa myth, but not the merch.? –Black Friday indeed.

Christmas Eve came, Madi was snug in her bed, Clement Clarke Moore’s “Twas the Night Before Christmas” read, and visions of sugar plumbs already dancing in her head. I went downstairs to put out MY presents to her.

I had found no solution. Upset and bereft, I stood staring at the tree puzzling like the anti-Grinch with his finger to his chin.

“I must save Santa, but how…?”

When in doubt, follow the premise, if this then what?   Improv had spoken, it was clear that what I needed was PROOF, but how can you prove the un-provable?

“Screw this, I’ve got work to do.”

I had unfinished business at my computer. I didn’t have the resources, the program, or the technical expertise to finish my work, so it took me another four grueling hours before I was satisfied. I went to bed near three am.

At five thirty Madi bounds into my room, ready to go downstairs.

“Hang on a minute, let me check my iphone first.” I thumbed through my phone as her impatience roiled.

“C’mon Dad!!!”

“Okay, let’s… What the f**k is that!! Wait…! Holy sh*t! I can’t f**kin’ believe this!!”

DADDY!

“Oh, sorry sweet pea, pardon my French. (still staring at my phone) You just won’t believe this picture!”

“Lemme see!” she reached for the phone, and I yanked it away.

“Wait, I’m looking!”

“Daddy lemme see lemme see!!!”

“Okay, let me tell you first… Last night I was finishing up some work on my computer, it was a huge pain in the butt you would not believe… but anyway, I heard this thumping from upstairs. I thought maybe you fell out of bed, but when I checked on you, you were fine. So I went down stairs to set out my presents to you, and stopped to take a picture of the tree. You know that ornament that your aunt and I used to say was our favorite that belonged to your great grandmother? I took a shot of that, and here’s the picture.” I handed her the phone. She stared intently at the photo.

“So?”

“Look carefully.”

“I don’t see it”

“Look at the window behind the tree.”

“I don’t see it!”

“Look in the lower right hand corner of the window, what do you see there?” Suddenly her eyes snapped wide and she inhaled like she had just come up from deep underwater.

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This cropped version doesn’t have Great grandma’s ornament in it.

“WHO IS THAT!”

“Whom does it look like?”

“Oh my gosh it’s SANTA! It’s Santa, it’s Santa daddy, you got a real picture of the REAL Santa, an actual picture of the actual Santa!”

“It sure looks like it.”

“Did you do that?”

“Hell no, I’m as surprised as you are. (I enlarged the picture.) Look at the glare on his face from the reflection of the tree lights. They are in front of his face. Whatever is there was outside the window. Let’s go down and see what he brought.”

“I can’t believe you got a picture of the real Santa, daddy you have to send this to the Smifso… Smifisonio…”

“Smithsonian Museum?”

“Yes!”

“I’ll email the curator tomorrow, they’re closed today. We must be the only ones Madi.”Santa Window close p

When we got downstairs we looked from the same position I took the photo. I went outside to stand in the garden to judge his height, and then came back in.

“From the look of it, he is between four and five feet tall, and has a pretty big head; the only tracks where right by the window, so it couldn’t be somebody else. He must have just come down from the roof, and that thumping sound I heard was probably him landing on the roof.”

I checked the NORAD map of Santa’s flight we track and concluded that the photo was taken at roughly the same time that Santa hit North America. After we examined the milk and cookies, and read the note from Santa wishing us a merry Christmas, telling Madi that she was a good girl this year, and suggesting that her dad get to bed earlier, we ransacked the presents under the tree.

Later we sat on the couch and mused over the photo again.

“You know what I think Madi? I think that nobody sees Santa unless he wants to be seen. I think he meant to be in that picture, came down from the roof for just that purpose, because he wanted us to know that he is real.”

“That must be true Dad.”

The next Christmas Madi used that photo to make her own Christmas cards to her Mom and Dad.  When this question comes up again, I will be prepared, I am saving this…Virginia clipping

It’s also for you, dear blog reader, a Christmas present from me, and here it is…

If you have never actually read, in its entirety, the September 21, 1897 editorial in The New York Sun, by Francis Pharcellus Church, here it is for you.

This is a photo of the actual clipping. In it, Church answers an important question from an eight-year-old girl by the name of Virginia O’Hanlon. She wrote to the newspaper at the suggestion of her father who assured her that, “If you see it in The Sun, it’s so.”

Church’s answer to this ubiquitous childhood question is the most profound and enduring answer to a “skeptical age”, which you or I or anyone since can come close to.

For our children, Santa is real; for us he is a metaphor for something that is as real as you or I.

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Virginia O’Hanlon’s home at 115 West 95th Street as it appears today. Notice the plaque out front.

Have a very merry Christmas everyone!

PART V: Father/Daughter Stories–Magic

I know that there are some things a father just cannot give a daughter (this haunts me), but of the things that I can, one of the most important to me is to inspire a sense of Magic. Acquainting Madi with Santa, the Easter Bunny, the tooth Fairy, leprechauns, sprites, and a host of others has been a huge delight for me. I know a time will come when these particular characters will begin to fade, and I am not concerned. In fact, I am dauntless. I will bear their torches straight through Middle School if I have to.

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To me, Magic isn’t a trick. Magic isn’t a Disney princess. Magic isn’t a frivolous childish thing. A sense of Magic is a willingness to consider the unseen, an innate knowledge that something doesn’t have to be actual in order to be real. If we lose this willingness as we grow up, we lose our ability to recognize beauty. We will never notice the gossamer threads that hold our existence together and give it meaning; the invisible, unknowable things like chance, truth, trust, and love. It doesn’t matter if there is anything at the bottom of Loch Ness; that same quality of openness allows us to believe in ourselves, to imagine our own potential, and consider our own possibilities as real.

Granting this gift to a child takes good slight-of-hand and some fast thinking, but that’s the fun of it. As Daddy moments go, this was one of my best ever:

It was a rainy Sterling Renaissance Festival day. I don’t mind a rainy day in general, but a rainy day at Sterling is absolutely my least favorite kind of day. Some people like it, but to me it is nature taking a piss on my show, making it unnaturally long, cold and uncomfortable, and giving me hours of dullness punctuated with having to make decisions that are always the lesser of a variety of evils.

Madi’s Mom was dropping her off to me at the Festival on this day, and it was to be one of the first chances I had to just take her around the Faire myself. Since I had the option (and not the will) I did not get into costume that day. I wore my yellow raincoat as my sole source of comfort. Before we opened, I wandered bleakly through the Remembrance Shoppe, which is the place we keep all the decidedly un-renaissance souvenirs, trinkets and treats, thinking about my kid and the day we might have if it wasn’t raining.

It was Pirate Weekend, and before long Madi and I were sitting on wet benches at the Merchants Bend Stage listening to Empty Hats play delightful Celtic music. There were the usual dedicated fans, seasons pass holders mostly, and many dressed as pirates. Madi was four and not yet versed in the sanctity of a live stage performance, so she was busy chatting up the pirates in the second row, who also seemed inured to the sanctity of live performance and the indignant glances from the band. I noticed. I did my best, what the hell, it was raining.

I suppose that both parties could be forgiven, because for the pirates, Madi was impeccably cute, and for Madi, the pirates had gold coins. Those big plastic shinny gold doubloons were being passed about and Madi just had to have one. A kindly pirate gave her a few, and I used the exchange to settle her back onto her wet bench to listen to the show. It didn’t last long.

Madi Coin_08_1177cNext, she was all on about getting herself some candy. For some reason I will never know, she was insistent on me buying her a lollypop, not just any run of the mill sucker mind you, she wanted one of those big multi-colored ones made of the rolled candy set in a spiral. The old fashioned kind that are the size of a tea saucer. I kept telling her that it was too early for candy and that renaissance festivals did not sell that kind of candy, in fact they didn’t sell candy at all. She was desperate for it, kept whining on about it and was starting to make a scene, so after putting up the good fight, I caved.

In truth, I was dumbfounded at the very specific request. I was thrilled. I could not believe my luck. I had a daddy moment in the making that would never be forgotten. I told her that if she really wanted a big lollypop, I would have to make one by Magic.

“Really?? By magic?”

“Yup, but it’s not easy, and it’s going to cost you that gold doubloon.”

This was a no brainer for her, and she thrust the coin in my face and said, “Do it Daddy!” I took the coin, hefted it, rolled it through my fingers and told her it would take an incantation, then expMadi Coin_8_1192clained what an incantation was. She repeated after me, “Lollypop, lollypop, pretty and sweet, turn this coin into a big fat treat.” I then placed the coin very deliberately into my big raincoat pocket, so that she could see that it was in there. Palming coins is not my specialty, but I did it.

“Okay, reach in and see what you can feel.”

The look on her face was something between surprise and terror. She pulled out a big old-fashioned lollypop exactly like the one she described.

“OH MY GOD! OH MY GOD YOU DID IT!!”

“Oh my GOSH Madi, say gosh.”

“HE DID IT, HE DID IT, HE TURNED MY COIN INTO A MAGIC LOLLYPOP!!! HOW DID YOU DOOO THAT!!!”

(Boom. Magic.)

Madi was truly beside herself. She took off, stopping at everyone she saw to exclaim that her dad turned her coin into this lollypop. I mean that quite literally, she ran from stranger to stranger, like a deranged candy toting Paul Revere. I had to chase her down. She spent the day showing anyone who would stop, her progressively smaller magic lollypop. The magic lollypop has been done many many times since, with a variety of gold coins.

Last week I was setting up a Halloween show on the festival site on another wet and miserable day. I had dug my old raincoat out of the trunk, the same one I wore years earlier. While walking the chilly site, I put my hand in my coat pocket and pulled out the original coin I had used.

Do I believe in magic?

What would YOU call it when a child asks for exactly the same thing her father saw in a gift shop that morning while thinking of her?

I call it Magic.