Here, There and Everywhere

Archive for December, 2010

Our Kin In Rwanda

The two-lane paved road kept climbing higher, past waterfalls, lush cultivated valleys and terraced hillsides. Kermit the Frog, from Sesame Street, would feel right at home with the abundance of green foliage that simmered before our eyes.

The river that followed the road to Ruhengeri in the north of Rwanda provided a beautiful contrast with its brownish-red colored waters.

Our family was traveling with a group we worked with at an orphanage in the capital Kigali. We were taking a break to visit the rare mountain gorillas that live in the Virunga National Park, which borders The Congo and Uganda in Eastern Africa.

The scenery during our two-hour ride along the Ruhengari Road (built by the Chinese) was spectacular, but even that lovely assault on the senses didn’t prepare us for what was to come.

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Quilting Mama in Rwanda

Daisy Gale doesn’t take any guff and is a straight shooter or should I say straight quilter? About her trip to work with children at the ROP Center for Street Children in Kigali Rwanda, she says, “I’ve been trying to get here for sixteen years. Four of my children are adopted. I look at the kids I’m working with here and they remind me of my own. They can be a pain in the butt, but I love them to pieces.”

Daisy, a Salt Lake City mother of eight “that look like the United Nations” and master quilter, has been volunteering all of her life and quilting since she received her first 1928 White from her grandmother at the age of fourteen. Along with a team of medical personnel, trauma specialists from the Association for Thought Field Therapy and community organizers, Daisy ventured to the other side of the globe to share her skills with some of the 150 children who call ROP Center for Street Children their home. Most of the children at El ROP (Rwandan Orphan’s Project) are survivors of the 1994 genocide or their parents died from the AIDS pandemic.

For almost three weeks Daisy worked day and night to set up a quilting program for some older students, who would soon be leaving the orphanage and have no other means of support. The beginning days were challenging, as many of the machines were broken or malfunctioning and some of the young men “had no idea what they were doing,” Daisy says, “but they took in everything I said and were determined to get it right.” She taught them the basics of machine maintenance, safety, cutting, sewing, block assembly, sashing, applique, color use, hand quilting, as well as how to infuse their personal creative genius and design. “I swear,” she says like a proud mother, “that these young men’s quilts will become collector’s items.”

She and her students also went on a fabric safari, “which was a trip in itself,” Daisy snickers. “With all that finagling and bargaining, they were yelling and screaming as much as I do back home on the soft ball field!” Their persistence paid off when they found a shop in the capital (Kigali) to buy natural inexpensive one-hundred percent African cotton fabrics and arranged an ongoing relationship with that supplier.

“Each of these young people have their own strengths,” Daisy states. “One is good at cutting, another at design and yet another at sewing. Language is our biggest barrier, even though Marseilles is a great translator. I have people taking the class that speak Kinyarwanda, French and Swahili and Marseilles can speak them all!” She claims that the boys have their idiosyncrasies and quirks, “But who doesn’t,” she laughs.

Daisy helped set up bank accounts for the children, taught them how to manage their business and connected them with another quilting teacher from Kigali, who continued their quilting education. Other women from The U.S. (including Suzanne Connolly and Dottie Webster), also play a major role in supporting and marketing the young men’s quilts. “They’ve already sold several at Hotel Rwanda,” states Suzanne Connolly, “and have had buyers in the U.S. who want to buy everything they make.”

“I’m hoping what I took away from there and what I left will keep going,” says Daisy. “If these young men and women leave the orphanage without any skills, they’ll end up starving and being back on the streets in the same position they were before they got to ROP.”

“This entire project was the result of an idea by Sandra Bagley, who used to be the medical officer for the U.S. Embassy in Rwanda,” says Daisy. “Sandra helped me adopt my kids and asked if I could teach the children at ROP how to quilt.”

“I don’t care if people know anything about me,” Daisy clarifies, “I want people to know that it doesn’t matter if it’s these kids or somewhere else. It doesn’t matter how much you get involved or where, just get involved! Give a little each paycheck; donate time and/or energy. You don’t have to travel overseas. Go ahead and get your hands dirty.”

Daisy Gale not only got her hands dirty, she got her heart split open every time she saw one of the boys faces light up with understanding or they did something that reminded her of one of her sons back home. Like most languages, the word “mama” is the same in Kinyarwanda (the native language of Rwanda). Daisy Gale has now added to her Utah family of eight and become Mama to a new generation of Africans she birthed into the quilting world.

If you would like to contribute to this project please contact The Rwandan Orphan’s Project.

No More Secrets

I thought I understood the devastation that keeping child abuse a secret can cause. I had grown up with eight foster sisters, who were all placed in our home because of some kind of abuse in their home of origin and I had worked in mental health programs with countless survivors of abuse. Even with those experiences, the full impact never really hit me in the face until my wife and I became foster-parents to our then fourteen-year-old foster-daughter. The reality of her life broke through any illusions we may have previously held. I would have sworn we were prepared for her moving in and knew just what to expect. We were gravely mistaken.

Night after night, we heard her crying herself to sleep. It alternated between soft weeping to heart-wrenching sobs and wails. As hours turned into weeks, we did our best to comfort her with our presence, words and actions. She needed to know she was a person of value, strength and beauty. In addition to her physical and sexual abuse, she had also endured extreme emotional trauma. Slowly, the tide began to turn. She got involved in school, plays, attracted friends like bees to honey and appeared happy and sure of herself. But, just as all seemed quiet on the western front, a new internal assault flooded her mind and began to wreak havoc on her heart and soul.

It was midnight when we heard a loud thumping sound coming from her room; shrieks and screams followed. As we got to her bedroom door we heard her yelling, “Help me, help me, help me. I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m sorry. Stay out, stay out.” We tried to open the door but she’d locked it and would not let us in. We tried everything we could think of shout, beg, bargain, demand and still no luck. Finally we jimmied the lock and got in. As we entered, she was lying under a blanket, hiding in the closet. She refused to look at us, and we saw that her hand was black and blue from slamming the wall. She was having a flashback and was grabbing at her throat and clawing at her face.

That night seemed to last an eternity. After hours of holding, talking and crying, she slowly came out of her hell. She told us of suicidal thoughts and actions. We called her therapist for help and over the next few days did the best we could. A little light began to seep back into her consciousness.

And so it went. Day after day; week after week; month after month. Far from being experts on parenting and abuse, we discovered that we were more like babes in the woods.

Fortunately, our adopted daughter is one of the lucky ones. She had enough strength and courage to leave her abusive environment, break through her denial of the abuse and begin a new life. She went on to graduate from UC Berkeley, is now married, is an amazing tutor and pregnant with a baby girl. Her abuse had lasting impacts on her and those around her, but she hasn’t let her past define who she is or limit what she can become.

There are many times I still forget or choose not to think about, the secret abuse that remains in the dark recesses of thousands of lives (women and men) and is kept close to the vest and under wraps; for some, until the day they die.

Specters by Radwa Ashour

My review of Specters by Radwa Ashour, for The New York Journal of Books.

If Specters were as good as its opening line “The valley was full of ghosts” it could have been intriguing, but it is not. The remaining story is a mishmash that moves from first person to third, past to present, young to old, and fiction to nonfiction. Rather than adding depth and nuance to the book, these devices distract from the flow, storyline, and telling of the tale or tales, as the case may be.

Egyptian born and American educated author Radwa Ashour begins by stating that the book is about two women born on the same day: herself and another woman she calls Shagar. Shagar’s life is summarized in the first five pages, with more details interspersed throughout.

One of the more enlivened and affecting scenes is when Shagar meets a new teacher in sixth grade, Fawzi, who tells them to “Ask and think.” He disappears suddenly, and Shagar learns from his family that he was arrested, most certainly for having such revolutionary ideas as to tell his class to question and think about what they are taught or believe. MORE

Are We There Yet?

My review of “Are We There Yet? A Zen Journey Through Space and Time” for the New York Journal of Books.

“To rest in the present is a state of magical simplicity, although attainment of this state is not as simple as it sounds.”

This remark, in the preface to Are We There Yet?, captures much of the essence of this photographic journey, which took place in 1982. Are We There Yet? is actually a republication of an earlier edition that was first published as Nine-Headed Dragon River. It follows Peter Mattiessen and Peter Cunningham, as they follow Bernie Tetsugen Glassman to Japan, where he visits his Soto Zen teachers and various sites and monasteries.

If there is a message in this work, other than providing an historical record for students in this tradition, it is the importance of lineage and one’s willingness to cut through all illusions of self to find our true nature or Buddha Nature (awakened state).

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My Dream Girl

Cindy was a mature woman of sixteen. I was an immature man of eighteen. We met in the afternoon at a teen drop-in center, gazed hopelessly into one anothers eyes, like puppy dogs and within hours were talking about hooking up. That night we slept together for the first time and I was in heaven. I’d had several previous relationships, but none had ever been this intense or instantaneous.

Within a week Cindy had her mother’s permission to live with me and my grandmother said we could rent her trailer. Everything was set. Life was good. Cindy taught me the joy of sexual freedom and living in the moment and I obediently followed her every wish and whim to “make her happy”. I was so enmeshed in the sensations of the relationship that I failed to recognize my co-dependent and needy behavior. In my mind sex and love were one and the same.

I continued working at a counseling center and Cindy finished up her last year of high school. I studied Eastern religions on the side and she enjoyed drawing and working part-time at a florist shop. The only “minor” issue was that I couldn’t “make her happy” or give her the answers she was seeking. We were two young teenagers growing up together who had no idea what we were doing, what we wanted or where we were going.

After two tumultuous years we figured the answer to our dilemma was to get married. Why not? Wasn’t that what you were supposed to do? And even though it didn’t mean much to us at the time, we figured the worst that could happen is that we’d receive a lot of cool presents! Getting married was “just a piece of paper” we reasoned. Both of our parents had divorced and we knew we’d “always be together” regardless of any societal contract we may sign.

The wedding turned out as planned. All of our friends and relatives showed up at the reception, we got plastered and received a lot of money and presents. But after the money was spent and the wedding hangover wore off, the realities of what we had done creeped into our daily lives. We didn’t know what being married meant. I thought it implied getting a “steady job” and having children. So, I obtained a nine to fiver at the local phone company and we talked about having kids and buying a house. Lukily, neither the house nor the kids worked out because a year later it was splits-ville, as in divorce, finale, kaput, the end.

Screaming was the only thing that finally got my attention. Slamming the door shut behind her, Cindy entered the living room late one evening and yelled at the top of her lungs, “I can’t live with you anymore. I want a divorce!”

“Why,” I pleaded. “What do you want me to do?”

“Nothing,” she said. “Why don’t you stand up for yourself? Will you be real with me just once?”

“OK,” I replied, “What do you want me to say?”

“You don’t understand do you?” she replied. I sat silently with my head in my hands. After a deathly silence she quietly said, “I just need some space to be by myself. I moved in with you right from home. I’ve never been on my own.”

“So it’s nothing I’ve done or said?” I asked, my lip quivering.

“No, its not you,” she said.

In fact, it had a lot to do with me. She moved out a few days later and in a month was living with another guy.

Her decision to leave was not entirely out of the blue. Although I didn’t realize it at the time, she had been trying to separate for months. Other than running away, she had given me every clue possible, but I was blind. Her anger and judgments were an attempt to alienate me. She had thrown every name in the book my direction, at one time or another, assuming I’d leave. But like a faithful lap dog I had kept coming back for more.

At one point she insisted I sleep with her friend Lewellen and that we have an “open relationship”. I tried to do as she wished and acted like it was all cool, but it wasn’t. It turns out that the reason she had wanted me to be with other women was because she had already been having affairs with some of my best friends and I assume would have felt less guilty about her own behavior if I’d done the same.

When she left my bubble burst. I thought it was the end of the world. My dependence on her “being happy” as an indicator of my well-being had been total and complete. In the process of making her “OK”, I’d forgotten about myself; my wishes, desires, joys, ambitions and dreams. I had no sense of who “I” was or what made me happy.

Time didn’t heal anything, but it did give me some perspective. Clearly, I had sacrificed what little sense of my self I had ever had for Cindy. As long as I left all decisions to her it would be “her fault” whenever something didn’t work out. I was absolved from all wrong doing. I could blame her for everything. I could wallow in my self-pity and externalize all my troubles. “She did it, not me. She lied to me. She left me. She hurt me.”

I slowly recognized that I had made decisions by not deciding. I had lied to myself. I was equally responsible for our breakup. She tried to force me to be honest and state my needs, but I had cowered from the task. Shock tactics and reasoning never worked. Getting a divorce was what it finally took for me to wake up. It was the brick wall I needed to run into. If Cindy had not had the courage to leave I may have been lingering in a false identity for eons.

Like a snake that sheds it’s skin but still longs for its security, I kept aching for Cindys return. Even though I learned many things about myself since the divorce, images of us getting back together still lingered with sweet agony. Intellectually, I understood such images were fantasy, but my dependence on her for my well-being had been so complete that it took constant reality bites to loosen my grasp and let go of her as my emotional crutch.

Attachment is a strange thing; it can cause bliss and joy or pain and sorrow and you can’t have one without the other. When I grasped for love with Cindy I actually pushed it away with my wanting and neediness. She lost respect for me. The thing I wanted most didn’t want me. There was no substance or core to who I was. I decided to never put all my cookies in one jar. Until I knew who I was and what I wanted, I would not become involved with another woman. I silently swore that I’d never become so dependent on another for my happiness and well-being.

Such self-promises proved to be fruitless. Three more women entered my front door over the next three years and sooner or later left out the back porch. Each time I “knew” it was different than before. But sure enough, as each relationship ended and I had some perspective, it become clear that I couldn’t hide a wolf in sheep’s clothing. No matter how much I wanted to think I had changed, my basic behavior in response to each situation had been the same. They decided when to do what and when the relationship was over; not I. It wasn’t until a conflicted eight-year marriage ended, that I took responsibility and made a painful choice to leave.

After many years I believe I’ve finally figured out how to love and be loved, but I know that isn’t the most original idea that’s ever been planted in my head. I’ve been known to tell myself the most wonderful stories; and they always have happy endings. Every woman I met was the girl of my dreams. It wasn’t until I became more of who it was I was looking for, that I woke up and found the partner I’d been seeking in all my fantasies.

A Picture of Success

An excerpt from the book Don’t Just Sit There, Do Something! Grief’s Wake Up Call. Interview with Sybil Anderson-Adams.

Her life was the picture of success. Her husband was an attorney, they were drawing up plans for their dream house and she recently quit her teaching job to spend more time with their three young, healthy, happy children. Suddenly, the rug was pulled out from under her feet and before she knew what hit her, her life was turned upside down. What started out as a headache in court, turned out to be a leaking aneurysm. In spite of the doctors’ assurances to the contrary, within three weeks Sybil Anderson-Adams husband, father of her children, was dead. Without comprehension or time to have said good-bye, she struggled to survive and make sense of the incomprehensible.

As a result of her desperation and need to find answers, she reached out to her friends, neighbors, doctor and church and formed a support group for young adults who’s partners had died. The first meeting brought together twenty-five people who’d previously thought they were alone. With her need and ability to communicate her process and grief to others, she continues to open the door of life for those who thought it had been slammed in their face and locked shut forever.

SYBIL ANDERSON-ADAMS: When I arrived at the hospital the doctor said, “I have some bad news to give you. Your husband stopped breathing.’ I’ll never forget those words. ‘He stopped breathing.’ He finally said, ‘I’m sorry . . . he’s passed away.’ It was then that it hit me . . . like a wosh. (she hits her chest with the palms of both hands). I doubled over . . . just like you see in the movies.

After the shock had subsided I realized I didn’t know who I was anymore. It was the loss of identity. I was the type of person who always had my entire life planned out. Before Neal died, I’d never really had a traumatic event. I had things all figured and scheduled . . . which, as you know, gives you a sense of control. But I had no control over this one and that was my undoing. I had to decide where I was going; who I was. There was an urgency. I remember going to a counselor and saying, ‘When will I not feel this way? When, when, when?!’ The reality was so strong that I wanted it to be over. I didn’t want to cry anymore.

Then one day I remember making a decision. it was something one of my kids said. You know, ‘Out of the mouths of babes!’ One of my sons says, ‘If you hadn’t stopped and talked to Dad that one day long ago, you might never had known him or gotten married.’ I said, ‘You know, you’re right.’ And I had this vision where I decided that whatever came up I’d say, ‘Yes!’ That I would do things no matter how hard it was. When my kids had stuff they needed to do . . . cub scouts, swimming . . . I made a decision that no matter what, I wasn’t going to hide at home anymore, I was going to go. And what I found was that doing that made me stronger, even though a lot of the events I attended were absolute disasters! Taking some kind of action made me feel brave. it gave me confidence.

I remember sitting with another friend who was at that same juncture. She said, ‘I hate this. I want to be out of here.’ I felt the same at the time and replied, ‘Yeah, just get me out.’ And that’s one of the reasons I started a support group and keep it going to this day. I needed those people so bad. They were my reality. If somebody else could make it, so could I.

For awhile I could only live for the day. The future was nonexistent. I’ve met many people throughout the years that say the same thing. hey said, ‘Good-bye” in the morning and their spouse was dead by the afternoon. It changed my whole concept of how I look at things. I laugh more often now. We’ve got three teenagers and one in early adolescence. They can make you laugh or cry. If I wasn’t able to laugh once in a while our life would be one miserable hell.

I think all survivors make that decision at some point. You have to decide to live. My kids forced me into it. I’d be in bed with the covers pulled over my head, not wanting to get out and one of them would come in and say, ‘What’s for breakfast?’ What are you going to do; I couldn’t stay in bed? I had to get up. I was the only one they had left.

We had a saying in our house, ‘Life sucks.’ It was kind of our motto for awhile. The kids would say, ‘Life sucks!’ and I’d look at them and say, ‘Yeah, then what?’ They’d answer, ‘Then you die.” I’d continue, “So, then what are you going to do about it?’ They’d look at me, roll their eyes and say, ‘Come on Mom.’ It’s made them real. They see a different reality then most kids.

Life has become a really interesting place. Neal’s death and where my life has gone since, has added another dimension. God knows I wish it hadn’t happened, but without it I could have lived until I was eighty-five and never discovered this! Life is such a gift, though I’m not thrilled with the way I had to really find this out. I love being in this state of mind. I’m doing things that I never knew I could or would do. There was a point two years after he died when I realized, ‘My God, I can do anything!’ I survived something that at first glance seemed like an endless hole of despair. I didn’t think I’d ever climb out . . . but I did.

Meeting Her Parents

After going out for a year and a half and living together for four months, it was time to meet my wife’s parents. Her parents lived in Chicago and we lived in California. The day of reckoning had arrived.

One day, as Audrey was talking on the phone with her mother (which she does every week for hours on end), her Mom told her that they were coming out to a convention in San Francisco and wondered if they could meet us for dinner. Audrey had replied, “Yes, we would love to.” and then informed me of it afterwords. I was reasonably shocked, but as ready as I’d ever be. She had told me a little about her parents and I’d talked to them on the phone, but had never met them in person.

Her mother is originally from Germany and (to me) sounded like the psychologist Doctor Ruth, who was always giving advice about sex on the radio and TV. Audrey insisted that she didn’t sound like her at all, but I could never get the image of a small lady with white hair and a strong German accent telling us about body parts, relationships and orgasms.

“Actually,” Audrey had told me, “my Mom and Dad are both pretty conservative and old-style European”, which I discovered meant they always dressed nice, expected “proper” etiquette and manners and admired those who were “cultured and sophisticated”. They were in for quite a shock, let me tell you. I have always liked books, movies, music and art, but not necessarily interior design, opera or classical paintings. Her mother could speak German and English and her father spoke at least four different languages. I’m lucky to get by with English!

Another small matter or glaring fact, was that I was nine years older than their daughter and already had three children from a previous marriage! Audrey had never been married, was only twenty-four and had grown up as an only child. And even though I had a Masters degree, at the time of our meeting I was working as a nursing assistant, which was as far away from their daughter’s previous boyfriend, who was going to medical school, as possible.

The meeting took place at what is now the Sheraton Hotel in downtown San Francisco. We met them in the lobby. I had on the one good suit I owned, that looked like something from the seventies and just as tacky. Audrey looked beautiful, as always. Her parents looked just like I had imagined, though her father wasn’t as tall as I’d expected. We exchanged formalities and went outside to get on the cable car and go down to Ghirardelli Square, where we went to a fancy Hungarian restaurant.

After being seated and making sure to follow everything they did, such as eating with the proper utensil and delicately sipping the wine, her father asked about the work I did and what I had done in the past. I tried to make health care, counseling and massage sound important and exciting, but I could tell it wasn’t going over real well. Then her mother asked about my kids. I gave her a glowing report and tried to convey how different that relationship had been, from the one her daughter and I had now embarked upon. Her anxiety and fears seemed to increase, despite my good intentions.

I must admit, if my only daughter was involved, at age twenty-four, with a man in his thirties who already had three children and worked as a nursing assistant, I would have had my doubts, concerns and clanging sirens of apprehension!

As we all stood on the trolley car, on the way back to the hotel, her father unexpectedly asked me where I lived. The one thing we hadn’t told them yet was that we were living together. Not sure what to say, I finally said, “I live real close.” Luckily, he didn’t ask where or how close. I’m not sure I could have pulled off another stretch of the truth.

As we were driving home that night Audrey said, “It will take time, but I think they like you. They’re just scared about my future, that’s all.”

“That’s all!” I exclaimed. “That’s quite a bit, your future.”

I admitted that in spite of all my preconceptions and notions about her parents, that I liked them as well. I also clearly saw where Audrey’s need to talk about certain events of the day in minute detail came from. Her mother also likes to talk and explain what happened, why it happened, what she thought about it and how it made her feel. Luckily, at least most of the time, they both talk about interesting, relevant and important matters.

Audrey and I have been married twenty-one years now and her mother and father (who has since passed away) are both close to our hearts and lives. They have loved all their grandchildren and great-grandchildren, including the ones that didn’t come through their daughter and even accepted their American son-in-law, who never became a lawyer or physician and still only speaks English.

When Animal Friends Die

They say cats have nine lives. I wish that were true, but the facts contradict such myths. Everything dies, including the felines, dogs and other creatures we choose to care for and have in our lives. Most animals tend to have a shorter life span than humans, thereby increasing the chances that our beloved friend will stop breathing long before we leave our mortal bodies behind.

To add insult to injury; is the often callous or dismissive attitude and comments of others when we’ve lost a non-human friend. People don’t always understand the emotional impact losing a pet can have. They disregard our pain when we try to talk about the cat or dog we’ve had for fifteen years getting sick and needing constant attention. They scoff at our tears, when our affectionate tabby is lost or killed by a car. They belittle our sense of shock and disbelief when the dog we loved and cared for tenderly for the last eight years suddenly dies.

Yet, for some, pets, animals, and companions (which ever you prefer to use as a label for non-human creatures) are some of the closest and endearing connections we experience in life. Being responsible for any of the varied creatures placed in our care takes time, attention and devotion. And, just like people, such continued time and attention creates attachment, bonding and lasting imprints.

The love and commitment we give and receive from our animal friends, in some respects, are quite unique from that of other relationships. Sometimes, they are the only living beings that love us unconditionally and don’t argue, judge or hurt us in any way. They also provide forms of communication beyond words. There desire to be touched, patted, combed, and talked to provide warmth, softness, connection, meaning and continual reminders of enjoying the present moment.

A lady I recently met was shocked when told by her veterinarian that their beloved kitten had cancer and should be euthanized. She refused and is currently seeking a vet that will give Hospice-type services for her cat and provide whatever is needed to make sure her family friend dies comfortably at home enjoying as many precious moments that remain. Like human beings, there should be an alternative for animals beyond that of further treatments or mercy killing.

Losing a pet also reawakens other losses we’ve experienced; whether recent or long ago. When a cat of ours, named Sushi, was killed by a dog a couple years ago, I unexpectedly found myself remembering my childhood collie, named Pinky and the grandmother I used to visit when Pinky was still alive.

The loss of your animal friend should be treated the same as that of a human.
Talk about the loss; share your pictures, memories, tears and grief. Walk, run, swim, workout, hike, bicycle, dance, play or listen to music a couple of times s a week by yourself or with a friend.

Breathing exercises, visualizations, relaxation, stretching, meditation, affirmations and yoga have all been shown to relieve stress, anxiety and positive endorphins to help the body heal.

Relax in a hot tub, hot bath, shower, sauna or sweat lodge and let the emotions seep from your pores and evaporate with the steam.

Put together a collage, altar, memory book, picture frame, treasure box, video or CD of your cat, dog, bird, horse or rabbit.

Have a service or gathering. Memorials and/or funerals; provide validation of your relationship with that being; acknowledgment that their life was of value; and societal affirmation that all living creatures are to be honored and respected.

If you’ve lost an animal friend, at any time in your life and would like some additional support (outside your circle of family and friends) contact the SPCA (Society for the Prevention of Cruelty Against Animals), an empathetic therapist or your local grief-counseling center.

Erotic Geography

It is no easy task to study geology and geography, without becoming sexually aroused. Sex not only inundates the media and pervades human consciousness; it is intricately laced through college science textbooks. That is the wonderful secret I discovered when my sweetheart went to graduate school at San Francisco State years ago and majored in geography. It was an unexpected, but thrilling side dish to the usual graduate school fare.

As I helped my partner with her studies, it soon became apparent that the most innocent scientific phrase was brimming with sexual innuendo. She found it increasingly difficult to have my “help”, as it usually turned into fits of laughter or charged our libido to such volcanic heights, that any further study for the evening would focus on one another’s anatomy and not the required text.
She would innocently read aloud, “Sedimentary rocks may be horizontal, tilted, or folded, and together with igneous and metamorphic rocks may be divided by joints, broken by faults, or thrust vast distances horizontally. All of these varying conditions are reflected in local and regional landforms. Strong deformation of rock masses producing complex geologic structures is usually associated with present or past margins of interacting lithospheric plates and results from the sea-floor spreading process.”

This quote about geologic structure, from Essentials of Physical Geography Today by Theodore M. Oberlander and Robert A. Muller (1987), may sound innocuous and matter-of-fact to the casual reader, but it is chock full of sexual references and innuendos. “Rock . . . horizontal, tilted, or folded,” has numerous love-making connotations. “Thrust . . . strong . . . interacting” and “spreading” are intricately connected with the erotic.

“Heat energy is the energy resulting from the random motion of the atoms and molecules of substances. The hotter a substance is the more vigorous is the motion of its atoms.” (Oberlander & Muller). These references were, once again, quite amorous. “Heat energy . . . random motion . . . substances . . .” and “The hotter a substance is the more vigorous is the motion of its atoms” are aphrodisiacs of geological proportions.

Geologists, meteorologists and geographers have little knowledge of their sexual promiscuity. Take a gander at this statement from Nyle C. Brady in The Nature and Properties of Soils (MacMillan, 1984). “As water moves through the soil to plant roots, into the roots, across cells into stems, up the plant xylem to the leaves, and is evaporated from the leaf surfaces, its tendency to move is determined by differences in free energy levels of the water, or by the moisture tension.” Give that titillating sentence a repeat read, keeping in mind male and female anatomical response during intercourse and the sexual references drip off one’s tongue.

When I look at the world through desire and wanting, that is all I see. At the time my partner was in her geography program, my senses were fossilized on sex. I saw everything around me as acts of creation and gender. We were all atoms of various persuasions attempting to be absorbed and interconnected through sexual union, while we floated through space on a gigantic uterus called earth. Luckily, not everyone has their lens focused on sex all the time, but with some it would definitely be an improvement.

People, who believe life is essentially unsafe, random and bad, see everything and everyone they meet, as threats or problems. They find the negative, disparaging aspects in their environment and their relationships and are convinced that they are the ongoing victims of a cruel and unjust world.

Folks who think there are limited precious resources and that one can never have enough, experience life with a grave sense of fear and foreboding that supplies will run out before they “get theirs”. Instead of seeing that “limited” and “precious” does not mean “absent”, they scramble to horde and obtain all the material, emotional, intellectual and spiritual wealth possible and are convinced that they will be left high and dry.

Others, intent on obtaining “perfection” and wanting to belong, compare and judge themselves as better or worse than others and are never content to be who and where they are. They believe that so and so is ignorant, stupid or inconsequential, compared to what they themselves have accomplished or vice-a-versa, are envious of those they perceive as being “greater than” or more accomplished than themselves. These judgments fluctuate and change on an hourly, daily basis and leave one mired in the quick sand of separation and isolation.

If we are looking at human beings and the world in which we live, through the lens of hate, we despise everyone and everything. If we peer through the lens of love, we see goodness and beauty. When I maintained the narrow focus of sex, it was the only thing I saw. When I acknowledged my deepest intention and realized that it was not sex, but love and interpersonal connection that I desire, I began to see the love and perfection that already existed. The need to attract, hold and control others to fit my narrow view of love and “being complete” began to diminish.

There are times that I seemingly can’t resist to give simple words and phrases unexpected meaning and my wife and I still can’t read or think about the physical sciences without laughing about our past study experiences and erotic connotations, but somehow, in spite of myself, I can now see the big picture. Yes, the big picture includes the erotic, but it has changed from “nothing but sex” to “everything and communion”.

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