Josh and I went out to a bar last night, played some darts with the locals, and then (as is our yearly tradition) went for a late night snack at the local White Castle. We were in the downtown area late at night, and by Indianapolis standards this is somewhat dodgy. There were about three homeless (and inebriated, one quite severely) people inside the establishment. A couple of them were sleeping, but one of them was wandering around in a stupor. At one point he came over to our table and lingered, spouting a lot of mumbled, incomprehensible things. I finally gave him one of our sandwiches and he stumbled away, over to the counter where he tried to tell them he had ordered something and they gave him a drink. The people working at the White Castle were actually pretty nice about the homeless hanging around, and it was below freezing outside, so where should they go? The guy got his cup and wandered over to the soda dispenser where he unsuccessfully pawed at it and leaned into it for several minutes mumbling loudly, at which point Josh went over to push the soda button for him. This must have inspired him, because he came back to our table standing over us and mumbling some more, and we finally shooed him away long enough to eat in peace. Or so we thought. About 2 minutes later, a guy came in off the street and made a bee line for our table. He had the shakes and was asking us something that I couldn’t quite make out when Josh let out a loud-ish firm “No.” and the guy wandered off. I realized at that point he was offering us four dollars for a ride uptown. We finished our meal quickly and left after that. I thought for a bit on our discomfort when dealing with these men. And I realized that other than offering them a little food and drink, there was no (long term) fix for their suffering that was within our power right there and then to make happen.
Talk about things to be thankful for on Thanksgiving. And it really makes you wonder about why our society and its safety net has such big holes in it that allow people to fall so very far through them. In my own family, my older brother, who is on permanent disability due to a number of psychiatric problems, would probably be out on the street were it not for the actions of my family. They have given him a place to live and supplemental income and protected him from the worst. It has put an emotional and financial strain on the family to be sure. But what do people do who aren’t lucky enough to have a family like ours? The social and governmental safety nets we have around us are highly variable and dependent on so many factors, among them wealth, family, geography, culture, ethnicity/race, and luck. And it is so easy for us to look the other way. Our (calvinist/protestant) society seems to have an emotional need to believe that God rewards good people with wealth and health and punishes others with poverty and sickness. This is not terribly different than what many in India and other eastern societies believe about karma and our given place in the world. And even if we do believe that some people are more or less deserving than others, we should wish suffering on no one, and do what we can as a society to alleviate it. The greater the peace and health and happiness of the most vulnerable in our society, the greater our own peace and happiness will be.
For various reasons, my family will not celebrate its normal, all-of-us-together thanksgiving until this Saturday. So today, while technically Thanksgiving, doesn’t really feel so. Plus we are experiencing the most shitty weather at the moment. It is very cold, gray, and raining. So I have taken advantage of this state of affairs to finish up all outstanding work that I had on my plate, and have spent the rest of the day reading a bit and going through an small old file box that I had left here at my parents’ house several years ago. In it, I was pleased to discover a number of odd remembrances (as well as a bunch of old bills, legal stuff and prior tax returns which I tossed in the garbage with great satisfaction). Among the items, I found money (about 80 Euros and 20 Canadian dollars), some gift cards of various sorts (BR, Nordstrom, and a couple of others), old business cards and resumes (testifying to the dizzying number of jobs I have held), and some fascinating old photographs from over 20 years ago. I also found an old (circa 1997) stock grant vesting schedule from Apple Computer from when I worked there. I left before vesting, but had I stayed (and not sold) I would have made a pretty penny. And been pretty unhappy. Come to think of it, I am actually pretty thankful today for how my life has turned out so far. And it has been proven to me over and over how things that we think are terrible can actually turn out to be pretty wonderful, and vice versa. So I hope all of you out there are feeling thankful for something or other. We really don’t have to look too hard to see it.
Josh and I took the same plane back to see our families in Indianapolis last night. We were picked up at the airport by my aunt and uncle, then whisked off to a huge family dinner at a restaurant downtown. It was great seeing the whole gang, if a little overwhelming for all the competing, loving attentions of everyone. I will be here for the next week and am looking forward to hanging out with everyone and catching up. I have fortunately finished up most of the huge amount of work I had over the past couple of weeks, so I should be able to relax most of the time while here.
On the train to the airport, Josh and I had an interesting little conversation about the idea of going back “home”. Although my family is here and I love them dearly, I haven’t had the feeling that this place was “home” for me in a very long time. Josh still does feel it, and he surmised that perhaps because his parents still live in the same house he grew up in, the collected memories through all those years remain somewhat more tangible. In my family, even while growing up here we moved houses four times, and they have moved three more times since I left over twenty years ago. That probably does have an effect on my memories of this place, and thus vague feelings of familiarity from childhood that might impart that feeling. Then again, I have no longing for childhood, it wasn’t an especially graceful time in my life. I am much happier as an adult, for so many reasons, and have always felt that “home” was more a place in one’s heart than a specific location in the world. And on that score, I am always at home, everywhere that there are people I love and who love me.
I had a very odd dream last night. I was with a group of people taking a long hike up to the top of a mountain, apparently to participate in a paramilitary singing contest of some sort. On the way up were were asked if we had our tags, as they were important. All along our hike we kept evaluating each other’s singing until we reached a large old wooden shack near the top where we stopped to rest and prepare ourselves. As we were getting settled in the shack and our trainers were showing us around, I realized I had to go to the restroom and had to go to several of them before I found one that was clean, where the door locked, etc. Once finished I realized I had a small stain on the front of my pants and tried to clean it with water from the faucet only to now have a large water stain on my pants. Embarrassed, I tried to sneak past everyone to my room to change my pants, and yet no one seemed to notice. We then talked in various groups about the contest, and what sorts of things might be expected of us. Separately we all started to make our way up the wooded path towards the competition hall, which was more like a high school gymnasium building. On the way, I noticed one of my friends had transformed himself into a bird and was circling overhead. He stopped on the branch of a tree and asked me to help him practice. I gave him a few pointers and tried to come up with some octave range tests for him. Then he changed back into a person and we walked to the hall. Once inside, we were all dressed in sort of karate black belt outfits and were standing on mats awaiting instructions. Over the loudspeaker system came this booming voice to layout the rules, which were then immediately posted on large flat screen monitors on the wall. While most of the monitors were posting exactly what had been said in English, one of them was all in Russian, oddly. For some reason, I wasn’t nervous at all, I thought it was all kind of interesting. And then as the competition was about to begin, I woke up.
After venting my fears yesterday, I was greeted over the next several hours by many words of wisdom and support from friends. It seriously moves me how blessed I am in this regard. Here is one of the responses I sent back to an email I received this morning:
I appreciate the email. In fact, one of the great things through all of this is to realize what sweet and wonderful friends I have, and I feel very lucky for that.
Yesterday was as much about voicing my fear, pain and frustration as anything. Sometimes, we need to give a concrete voice to our concerns rather than push them down and let them fester inside. So that is what I was doing and it makes me feel a little better. I have a trick I sometimes use with myself or that I give in advice to friends when our fears about things get the better of us. It is: Imagine it happens. The very worst thing. Try to really imagine it, then imagine accepting it and dealing with it. This almost always helps, because worse than something concrete happening is often our fear of that thing coming to pass.
And in my case, I had (and have) a lot of fear about the continuing pain, the failure of all I have tried so far, the feeling of being broke and having nevertheless spent 10K dollars on this operation, only for it to be a failure. And the upset at feeling misled by my doctor who promised that this expensive operation would fix my problem once and for all. And also just venting about being worn down from many months of not getting a full night of sleep, because the pain of my shoulder wakes me up.
Giving voice to all of that in my blog was a useful outlet for me, and yet I know and have known all along the lessons to be taken from this. They are the same ones that India gave me, and they have to do with buddhist equanimity and acceptance in the face of what is. It is funny, I feel much more comfortable after that trip with the metaphysical limitations we face. After India, I was no longer afraid of not existing one day, no longer afraid of death per se. My next round of meditation and acceptance training, which I am still working though, has to do with the physical pain and suffering that sometimes accompany our journey here in the world. Interestingly, it is these smaller, more concrete questions which have ended up being more difficult to deal with than the larger issues of the disappearance of self and our eventual annihilation. And yet it is vital to look at them, to lean into the pain as it were, and to come to peaceful terms. This is, of course, a journey and there are many false starts and switchbacks on our way to that place of equanimity. I may not make it there, and I will have days of frustration, but I do know it is where I must head as I get older. I have had some progress in this regard. And I know that being in the here and now with physical hardship is ultimately as important as being in the here and now with existential hardship.
So thanks again for relating your story to me, and thanks for your continued friendship. I hope you know that I am always here for you as you are for me.
My fucking shoulder. I am so over it. Over the past few days, it has started hurting more, not less, and I am worried that something is terribly wrong. Reaching for things a week ago didn’t cause the jolts of pain I am now feeling at even the slightest extension of my arm. I go see my PT tomorrow and will ask her about it, but I have a yucky, sinking feeling in my gut about it right now. Like something ripped or tore inside. If this damn operation didn’t work, after all I have gone through, I will go postal. If after over a year of increasing pain, multiple failed therapies, and finally (being assured by my doctor that this would be the fix) a 10,000 dollar operation that I can’t afford and still haven’t paid off, this all amounts to nothing? Do I get my money back at least? Do I sue? Or am I likely just screwed, totally screwed? What is the process? I am just venting right now because I need to. Because I am over this pain and many months of never having a full night’s sleep. I am over all of it, and depressed as hell at the possibility that it is getting worse, not better. Thanks, readers, for letting me get that off my chest.