Some acronyms become all too well-known. I’m thinking now of PTSD. Having to kill in combat and being in constant danger of being killed or wounded oneself leaves a psychological scar on surviving warriors that may never go away. More than 20 U.S. veterans a day now take their own lives. Frequently, recurring nightmares and daytime paranoia, among the symptoms of PTSD, are driving factors. Talk therapies and drugs can sometimes soften these symptoms, but complete cures seem few and far between.
“Foolish wisdom” sounds like a major-league oxymoron. How can someone be wise and foolish at the same time? Yet the Mullah Nasruddin, a real-life Turkish Sufi, or spiritual practitioner in the Islamic tradition who lived around 1300 C.E., is a notable example of such a person.
Once someone was said to have asked him, “Mullah, which is better—the sun or the moon?” After stroking his beard a few times, the Mullah answered,
Several years ago, my state, Colorado, passed a death-with-dignity law. It is now among a small but growing number of U.S. states which authorize very ill people to utilize medical aid in dying. The option is limited to those who are dying anyway but who wish to avoid a drawn-out, painful death by performing medically assisted suicide. The law requires two physicians to agree that that is in fact the case and for one, a Colorado-licensed doctor, to prescribe the required medications: two anti-nausea drugs and the “tea” itself.
Eighty, huh? When I was a kid, that sounded impossibly old. But that’s what I became today, November 6th, 2019. It was never a goal of mine but just sort of snuck up on me. My dad died a week after his 81st birthday. My mother made it to 95 and some months, but her last dozen years were clouded by increasing levels of dementia. My sister, now 88, who heroically cared for Mother during all those twilight years, is doing well and is still mentally fit. I take comfort, moreover, in speaking—and using—a number of world languages. Research I read about found that people who speak at least one language other than their own have a reduced chance of contracting senile dementia or Alzheimer’s. Let’s hope that’s true. Por favor.
For all the writing I do about wisdom, you’d think I’d define it one of these days. Well, the day—or week—has come. Here goes.
When I taught sailing at a boys’ summer camp back in the 50s and 60s—though a counselor, I wasn’t much more than a boy myself—I would emphasize the triangle. As we remember from geometry, triangles all have three angels adding up to 180 degrees. My point was, there are three things, or angles, we need to attend to in sailing: speed, safety, and direction. If you increase any one, you take away from the other two. So, you can go very fast, say, but maybe not in the direction you want to go and with less regard for safety. Or you can go slowly, perhaps in the right direction, with considerable safety. You’ve got to get your balance just right to get safely to where you want to go in relatively good time.
When she was a young hippie, my wife had a heated discussion with her Uncle Paul, at the time the head of the Drama Department at Wellesley College. The spark that got things going was the familiar saying “Enough is as good as a feast.” Uncle Paul insisted that a feast was, by definition, excessive and thus went well beyond making do and being satisfied, i.e., having enough. Cedar countered that even the greatest feast can’t do more than bring you contentment with perhaps an upset stomach as a bonus. But, if you can get that same contentment without the upset stomach from an ordinary meal, that might be even better than a feast with its temptations to overindulge.
Early summer 2017. My wife and I are finally doing it—the Holy Pilgrimage of St. James the Apostle in northern Spain, AKA the Camino. I was 77, Cedar 72. Except for a few lame people—there were some—we would be the slowest pilgrims under way. “Buen Camino!” others would tell us as they left us in their wake: “Have a good Pilgrimage!” In mid-afternoon, though, we would pass these folks. We had a couple of hours to go. They were now sitting outside a café, enjoying their tinto, the red vin ordinaire Spaniards call “ink.” Still, we managed to walk 200 kilometers, or 120 miles, in nine days, with one rest day in the middle. Not bad for two geriatric peregrinos!
For Marianna’s Birthday – September 1st
Let me be like the leaves on the trees,
Moving only with the breeze.
Or like the flicker family,
“If you feel like you don't fit into the world you inherited it is because you were born to
help create a new one.”
~Ross Caligiuri (found in Alan Cohen’s “Daily Inspiration” for 8/11/2019)
The world we are born into is our family. In traditional societies it is an extended one. For those of us in the so-called developed world, it is the nuclear one. And of course, for too many these days, it is a fractured or fracturing one, generally headed by an overburdened, under-resourced mom.