December 2, 1995

Spiritual Geography

The sky was the thing. At least I think that maybe it was. Here, in New England, we do not know about big skies. Oh sure, we can travel and climb the White Mountains on foot or by ski lift and look down on a vast expanse and see the sky all around us. But that is not a big sky. You have to be on the regular terrain where you live, on the land where you spend most of your time. Traveling to see the sky does not count. It just is not enough of a part of every day life to qualify.

I do have one place where I regularly travel where the sky bursts forth. I travel south on Route One from Topsfield to Danvers and intersect the Mobil and the Exxon Stations to the interchange at Interstate 95. There it is. The sky opens ahead over the Sheraton on the hill. It floods above and over me and if I am lucky enough to hit it during the evening rush hour at the right time of year it will bite my eyes. Those clouds in many hues stretch and spread. They speed up the highway to past Portsmouth to Portland, stringing some of these New England states together. But they only stretch south to the curve in the road where the Green Apple used to be. Dreams have to stop somewhere, sometime.

This interstate epiphany is short lived. The interchange circles and cars hustle to enter and exit. Too many decisions to make to concentrate on the sky. But it was there for me today. That is enough. If I live in New England I do not expect more. I do not deserve more.

Epiphany is a word that seems to conjure up something spiritual. And spiritual is what I am talking about here--not religious, but spiritual. This is about spiritual geography and the geography of the spirit and perhaps the spirit of the geography. I cannot quite figure it all out.

I am of the land and the land is of me, and I do not like that. I want to be free of its influence, but I am not. Except for a brief misplaced excursion for a couple of years to college in the South, it has been here, in New England, that I have spent all of my forty four years. I want to write about how it has fed and nurtured me. I can see, taste and feel the marshes of South Carolina in the books of Pat Conroy. I want to bring my microcosm of the world alive for you in the same way, but I am not convinced that it is alive, at least not in the same positive way.

When I write of New England I lie. I am not from New England. No one is really from New England. It is a fiction created by people living elsewhere. No, I am from Massachusetts. Do you think that I have anything in common with people who live a half hour up the highway in New Hampshire or up another twenty miles into Maine. Just because we share interstates and a coastline does not mean we are similar. And Vermont with all those cows and frozen spaces? That is really just a suburb of Montreal. And what about Rhode Island and Connecticut. Well, Rhode Island is not big enough to really be anything, and Connecticut is just an extension of New York--sort of a Northern Long Island.

No. I am from and of Massachusetts. There, that is another lie. I am really from the North Shore of Boston. I do not want to be mixed up with those folks from Worcester and Springfield. I have heard stories of those far away cities and I have never been there anyway. And do not include me with those folks from the South Shore. That is where people went when we would not let them into the North Shore any longer. And then there is that other part of metropolitan Boston known as Metro West. People wedged into that area when both the North and the South Shores filled up. It is only recently that they received a name and they got one from the telephone company. They needed something to put on the cover of the phone book. Otherwise they would remain nameless displaced persons. No, do not mix me up with them.

I am from the North Shore--at least I used to be. I was from Winchester. Ah that name sounds so good to me. I spent the first twenty three years of my life there and I was so proud to be of there. Winchester had some money and had some class. I needed both. Years later I still tell people that I grew up in Winchester and I expect that they will be impressed. Perhaps in my heart I am still of Winchester.

I live in Topsfield. I must check some directory some day to check if that truly qualifies as the North Shore. Certainly the nearby towns of Danvers and Beverly qualify, but Topsfield is just a little far out from Boston. It is on the edge. Until recently there were not enough people from here to qualify as part of anything. But now that we have enough, where are we included? We are also on the edge of the dreaded Merrimack Valley. If we get included in that, with cities like Lawrence and Lowell, I will have to move. I do not live in a valley. A valley has sides and there are no sides around here. Everywhere you look you will see only non-flat. I wanted to say hilly but that would not be true. It is only true some of the time. Rolling would also be a good description, but it only rolls part of the time. Above all, it is never flat. Yes, I live in non-flat country.

In this non-flat country is where my spiritual geography begins-- in this country where the big sky does not exist. I feel hemmed in. On the narrow back roads the trees knit together from each side of the road to block the sky. The sun darts its way through, but that fact that it has to dart says something. I cannot see far ahead. The roads constantly turn and the dips and rises, hills and swales can swallow. I am a pinball and the landscape regularly corrects itself to keep me in place and to stop me from where I want to go. Yes, that is it. This is about going where I want to go. No, it is about being how I want to be. Movement is part of how I want to be, but I am not defined by movement or doing. I am defined by how I am in this world.

There is a place which I call home which has never been home to me. Oh, I have lived there, but only for two months and my family was not with me. My home is on the high mesa outside of Prescott in Northern Arizona. I wish it were closer. I visit once or twice a year and I drive up the highway from Phoenix. Phoenix is in the Valley, in the low desert, which does nothing for me. But about one hour north, when the road finishes its long slow climb, the tears come to my eyes. My throat chokes the word “home.”
The town of Dewey sloping down from the hills, flashes by. The grass is brown and wide interrupted only occasionally by wiry shrubs. And yet my heart quickens. A mesa rises to the West. The land rolls and thunders in silence. The big sky engulfs. I am home.

Wallace Stegner has said that the remaining western wilderness is the geography of hope. There is a sense of the limitless ability to create something from nothing. And it is not really something from nothing because the nothing is itself awe inspiring. At least it is for me.

The wide open spaces are places of safety and safety means a lot to me. My favorite places near home are meadows and golf courses--large and expansive pieces of land. No one can sneak up on me in places like that. I do not have to live defended. I can relax. If they come, I will see them coming. I will be safe.

Out there on the mesa I can go where I want to go in safety. I can be who I am in safety. Without safety I have none of these freedoms. I will spend my life defending and not allow my self to unfold. If I do not unfold, then I will have no spirit. Remember, we are talking here about spiritual geography, because I am of the land and the land is in me.

Then why do I not just up and move. Why would I remain in a place which is holding me back? Why? Because what I have written is all a lie. Oh, the facts are correct. But my conclusions are wrong. I am of the land, but the land is not in me. Wendell Berry says that if you do not know where you are, then you don’t know who you are. I think that he is wrong. The terrain which limits me is inside of me. It is my mind. Yes my mind has been shaped by where I live, but I choose how to allow it to affect my future.

The courage to be who I am is not a product of the landscape. It is a product of my imagination and of my vision. Freedom is a choice and it is mine to choose. At the foundation of my choices is hope, which is the essence of spiritual geography. The West may be the geography of hope for some, but for me the maps of the geography of hope lie within.

November 30, 1995

Virgin Fashion

Last night in my dreams I attended a Catholic Mass. It was exactly as I remember it from thirty years ago except that it was held in mass-in-the-round, sort of like theater-in-the-round. Also, there were four priests celebrating. They did their usual genuflecting, kneeling and hoisting in almost unison.

At the time for the homily, a new, modern plan was announced. There would be a topic and discussion from the congregation. I could warm up to that real quickly. It would be just like a support group meeting.

The priest on the corner nearest me stood facing away from me. He announced the topic with a flourish: “What did Mary wear?”

What a great topic-- pointed and accessible. Not controversial like women in the priesthood, abortion, or transubstantiation. And not unfathomable like faith, hope and limbo. No, this would be a good first topic for this kind of thing.

A woman a few rows up raised her hand. The priest who gave the topic did not turn his head, but he caught her out of the back corner of his eye.

“And what do you do?” he said, tilting his head back slightly.

I almost jumped to my feet and screamed, “What do you do? What kind of question is that! What does that have to do with anything? Why are we measured by what we do?” But I did not. I stayed in my seat, although my gyrations and half utterances were drawing stares from all around.

“And how long have you been a member of the Church?” he asked her.

My chin recoiled from my chest. “What kind of question is that?” I again half said. “ How long does it take to learn what Mary wore?” Why is he putting down this woman without a chance? Why is he measuring her before even listening to her answer.

“You’ve been a member for less than a year haven’t you?”

The collection plate interrupted and I was flustered. I tried to put in a dollar bill, but I think a five and a ten got stuck to it and my donation surged. I was not sure if the extra bills were mine, but they were both purple, the color of the money in my wallet. And I did not want it to look like I was stealing someone else’s donation, so I let it go. I probably am behind in my payments anyway.

By the way, I know that Mary had only one outfit--a white hooded robe covered with a blue cloak. I wish he had called on me.

November 25, 1995

Cold Sweat

In the movie, “The American President,” President Andrew Shepherd receives a blistering personal attack by his opponents and he sits for months and does not respond. Then, finally, he has had enough and he appears before the press, answers the charges and gives a rousing speech about character and the American Presidency. I wanted to stand up and cheer. It raised my energy levels to the sky and made me sweat on a cold November day.

“Go get him Andy,” I wanted to say.

“You showed them. You’re a man. This is what men do. Men show up, rise up and GO GET THEM.”

They go and get them. They do something about it. They do the big thing that needs to be done. That is what manhood is all about. It’s about getting off your ass and going out and doing something big no matter what is in the way and no matter what the cost. That’s warrior energy. That’s the real thing.

I left the theater ready to start a new career--something BIG! I could do it. I did it before. That is what a real man would do.

I find this energy manic and unreliable. And yet it is the energy which our society glorifies and accepts. By failing to act on this energy, I lose my place in the mainstream. I do not belong in the same way that I belonged before. It is a loss.

I know all too well what is on the other side of the mania. I recognize its false promise so quickly now. I am no longer fooled--at least not for too long. That energy is merely on the surface and it does not compare to what is down inside. Underneath is a quiet, raw power being stoked by the ordinary of the every day. I am preparing so that I will be ready. I do not know what I am getting ready for, but when it comes I will be ready. I feel kind of old to be in training, but age is one of the requirements for my future work. And I am getting more and more training each day.

I wanted to yell, “I’m with you Mr. President!” but I am not. I am by myself, yet not alone. I am waiting and plotting an unknown crime against inhumanity. It will be worth the wait.

November 12, 1995

The Blind Leading the Blinds

I am being invaded by the forest. Usually, one invades the forest. At least one did in the days of Robin Hood. No, I am being invaded--by forest green, the color. I have not had a prior intimate relationship with forest green. Since I moved, it now greets me every morning when I wake up. It’s on the shower curtain and the shower curtain liner--a double whammy. It’s on the scatter rugs. It’s on the damned window blinds. It’s on my towel, my personal towel! And, it’s on me. Don’t you hate it when your new towel leaves its fuzzies all over you? Those fuzzies are now intertwined with all three of my chest hairs. This is all to much too soon for me. Where are the soft pastels of my past, my roses and yellows? I do not like change.

Why do windows have blinds? Why were they ever invented? Can you imagine how many people it takes in some third world country to assemble all of those slats? What is wrong with shades or curtains?

These things never work. That mechanism on the long string (that gets stuck on every thing) never works. When you pull it down, do you push it to the right or to the left to get it to work? I can never remember. It’s like that hot and cold water thing. I grew up in a house which had one bathroom with the hot on the right and another bathroom with the hot on the left. No wonder I cannot work the blinds. I do not like them. Did I mention that they are green - forest green?

This is not my first encounter with blinds. You probably guessed that this was another one of those childhood things and you were right. You see, my house was covered with venetian blinds--fourteen rooms with venetian blinds. Should the Venetians have to take the heat for inventing these things? Obviously, they must have taken some legal action to get their name off these things. Now they are called levelor and other fancy, non-ethnic names.

Did you ever try to clean blinds. Nowadays, they have little panel trucks which run around town and are dedicated solely to cleaning these things electronically. Electronically! What do they do? Plug the blinds in? Emit a screeching sound that scares the dirt off? Come on.

In the good old days, when I was young, I use to dust those suckers by hand--slat, by slat, by slat. I think that my fingers were the only ones small enough to fit in the holes between the linen straps and the taut string. That taut string was made with at least two strands of cotton. It was the key to the whole mechanism. Snap one of those and the slats would be every where--wooden slats which would break. Mom and Dad would love that.

Do you want to know what is wrong with shades?

November 8, 1995

Living on Purpose

The title of my talk today, “Living on Purpose,” comes from a childhood memory of sitting at the dinner table and spilling my milk. That seemed to be a regular, major event in my life and I would always cry, “I didn’t do it on purpose. It was an accident!” Well, sometimes when I have been knocked down again by life I want to say, “I didn’t do it on purpose. It was an accident!” And that is the problem. My life is happening by accident. If I lived a life planned to be consistent with my purpose, life would be better.

I remember leading a life filled to the gills with work, more work and then the things that I needed to do in between the times of work. This was exciting for awhile, but eventually it became just a very busy routine. Life was like a giant merry go round and I did not even know it. I could relate to the character in the book The Soloist, by Mark Salzman,who says, “That’s what my life has been since high school--boring, more boring, and then on the weekends a little less boring.”

In the pace of today’s world, it is easy to get caught up in the flow of life and live life by accident--to do whatever is in front of us. Life is so fast paced and filled with stuff that we are overwhelmed by the flow and we lead a reactive life. Instead, we could be leading a proactive life in which our days would be filled with purposeful activities which we have chosen.

The nineteenth century Polish poet Cyprian Norwid wrote, “To be what is called happy, one should have (1) something to live on, (2) something to live for, (3) something to die for. The lack of one of these results in drama. The lack of two results in tragedy.” Lives in our culture can easily reach the level of tragedy.

If boredom does not get to us, then change and instability will. We no longer can stay in the same pattern of living for our whole life. Life changes too quickly and too often. We live in a society wherein change and instability have become hallmarks. Change no longer necessarily comes through choice. We get laid off, downsized, divorced and uprooted more often than ever before.

We also have many more choices open to us. Job changes are more usual with a mobile workforce. We can decide when and if to get married. We can decide when and if to have children. Some days the choices seem endless.

This combination of choice and external change leads us to a life which is often in transition. The stable life of the Cleaver family from “Leave It To Beaver” fame no longer exists. And life in transition is turbulent and stressful. It takes us to places where we get stuck and lost. We need a compass to get out. Our life purpose is our compass.

What is a purpose? It sounds like one of those mystery words, but it really is a simple concept. A purpose is a reason for being. It’s as simple as that. A reason for being. It seems difficult because we are not accustomed to working with purpose. We are accustomed to having our lives governed by whatever pops up in front of us or whatever feels good. We are a feel-good society. If and when we have the time to break out from the routines, we look for quick hits and light-bulb joy. But these do not last. We need a sense of purpose and meaning which will root us in our deepest values. It is there that we will find true happiness and satisfaction.

We need a purpose because without one we will get stuck and lost. This is happening to people of all ages, in all stages of adult development.

In “City Slickers,” Billy Crystal’s character, Mitch, is stuck and lost as a salesman of commercial time on a radio station. In his own words, he “sells air.” His view of the stages of life is very funny but at the same time it has a strong ring of truth for us. Many of us worry that our futures will be spent in a wasteland, without purpose and meaning, because we see our present lives in that state.

The 61 year old public relations man from the first reading today faces for the first time the thought of managing his life beyond age 65. He had never thought about it. Life had been too busy. Most of us will face this same issue. The average life expectancy in 1920 was 53 for men and 54 for women. Today it is 74 for men and 81 for women. And if we make it to age 60, and the great majority of us will, it jumps to 81 for men and 84 for women. That is almost a 50% increase over 1920, about 30 years. We are leading longer lives than ever before. Will those years be reactive and empty, or will we fill them with purpose and meaning?

Purpose is not just a mid-life issue or just a retirement issue. It runs through the entire path of adult life. Young adults getting out of high school and college are also stuck and lost. Everyone needs to pay attention to purpose, but particularly people in transition: the unemployed, the mid-lifer, the empty nester, the survivor of major illness, the divorced, the retired, and the widowed. These times of transition are the most critical times for us to tap into the creative energy of purpose.

What is your purpose? Ah, that is a difficult question. That one really stumped me. At some point a few years ago I realized that my life had no purpose. I had known it years earlier on some level. I used to ask one of my law partners, “Is this as good as it gets?” Eventually, I became sick and I stopped working. Later, when I was feeling better, I was ready to get on with my life. I was not working, but I had an income, and I had what looked like the ideal situation. I could wake up in the morning and do whatever I wanted to do for the whole day. Wouldn’t you like that? Sounds good, doesn’t it? Doesn’t it sound like complete freedom, the freedom to do any thing you want?

It was awful. I would go from one activity to the next using as a yardstick what would make me feel good. Sure, for awhile it was great. But eventually, repeating the same feel good measures no longer felt good. And sometimes I could not decide what to do. Should I read a book or eat a jelly donut? Which would make me feel better at that moment?

The answer was neither. I could produce a short term hit, but I could not produce happiness and satisfaction because my activities were not tied to the power source of purpose.

During this time I was searching for some answers. I knew that the way I was living was not working. I came across the writings of David K. Reynolds who has a program called constructive living. Reynolds said that if you knew your purpose, then you would know what to do next. I thought that I had finally been saved. This made sense to me, because I had been wandering around not knowing what to do next. So I went looking for the chapter in his book about finding your purpose. I could not find it. I checked the index. I followed up every reference to purpose. Well, it must be in one of his other books. It was not. I knew that I needed to find my purpose but I did not know how to start to look for it.

Do you know your purpose or purposes? I generally use the word in the singular for convenience, but recognize that we all can have many purposes. I am going to make it easy for you, as it was made easy for me. I am going to give you a list. This list was developed by Frederic Hudson of the Hudson Institute of Santa Barbara, California. It is a great list and it will be available to you today after the service.You will have sixty four purposes to choose from. I am going to ask you to choose only ten of these as the purposes which will be important for you during the next year.

Let’s take a look at some of the items on the list:

· living in the present
· being committed to a significant other
· following my dreams
· faith: trusting beyond myself
· bonding, caring and relating
· inner peace
· reforming the world
· being a volunteer
· appreciating beauty and wonder.

You even will have a couple of blank wild cards. If you have a purpose which is not on the list, add it as a wild card.

So that is how you will easily be able to find your purpose. But do you care? Why would you want a life filled with purpose? A life full of purpose is a life full of energy and passion. If we can tap into our current purpose, we will have a vast power source within us. Purpose is our compass to lead us to passionate destinations which we have chosen. In the words of Mary Catherine Bateson, it will lead us to “horizons in shades of blue we have not learned to name.” I love that image -- “horizons in shades of blue we have not learned to name.”

How do you find your purpose? The list will help a lot. But what you really have to do is to stop doing, take some time out and listen. I recently received a card from a friend which said, “When the heart speaks, take good notes.” So get in touch with your heart, your soul, your spirit and listen. I believe that all of the answers are inside us if we just take the time to listen. The answers may not come all at once, but they will come when we are ready to hear them.

So now you are all set. You have your purposes and you know what to do next. What will you do next? You need to connect some activities, some action steps, to your purposes. It is nice to have purposes, but if they remain abstract they are wasted.You need a plan to build the mosaic of your future.

I suggest that you write down one action step for each of the ten purpose statements which you have chosen. Let me give you some examples.

· For “living in the present” maybe you want to notice the sky each day.
· For “being committed to a significant other” you could schedule a weekly date night with your partner.
· For “following my dreams” you could start that new business that you have always wanted or maybe take that trip to Alaska.
· For “faith: trusting beyond myself” maybe some sort of daily reflection would work.
· For “bonding, caring and relating” you could make a phone call to a friend or relative with whom you have not spoken recently.
· For “inner peace” yoga twice a week would help
· For “reforming the world” send one letter to a senator or run for senator. Whichever one suits you best.
· For “being a volunteer” read the newspaper weekly for volunteer opportunities
· For “appreciating beauty and wonder” adopt a plant and try not to kill it.

Most of these actions steps which I have listed are small steps. It is important to choose steps which we will be able to accomplish. All big changes start with small steps. Mother Teresa said, “We do not great things, we do only small things with great love.” This provides us with a good motto for this purpose work. Do small things with great love--love for others and love for ourselves.

Living on purpose requires a new orientation to life. It requires that we follow that compass of purpose. You may be skeptical about your ability to change. I know that I was. I used to tell any one who would listen that people do not change. I now know that is not true. I have seen too many people make changes and launch dreams which they never had dared to dream before. There is a security in continuing to live out the patterns of the familiar past. But a refusal to change leaves you stuck in the past and you lose the future. And more importantly, if you do not believe in your ability to change, you diminish your capacity for hope. And I believe that hope is the most important ingredient in a happy and satisfying life.

Living on purpose is about composing a life of hope. It is about staking a claim to our part of the future. Reuben Alves said “Hope is hearing the melody of the future. Faith is to dance to it.” We can place hope in our lives and compose the melody of the future by living on purpose, instead of by accident. Creating our vision of the future, and courageously changing our lives, is faith. May we all have faith in ourselves, in others, in God, in the Spirit, in the Mystery, so that we all may dance with hope to the melody of the future.

Choose 10

1. living in the present

2. working with a team or group

3. using my skills and abilities

4. bonding, caring and relating

5. faith: trusting beyond myself

6. using my creativity

7. being committed to a significant other

8. having close friends

9. being generous and service oriented

10. trust in the flow of things

11. having alone time

12. dreaming and being visionary

13. being self-confident

14. being free and independent

15. having career satisfaction

16. being a friend

17. obtaining new training and learning

18. feeling my work really counts

19. following my intuition

20. being spiritual

21. eliminating sexism

22. environmental caring

23. being a caring sibling

24. being a close family

25. being in a position of authority

26. having adventure and excitement

27. working for racial justice

28. inner peace

29. leaving the world a better place

30. following my dreams

31. following my bliss

32. playing and being playful

33. sex and sexuality

34. being in front of the crowd

35. being a potter to my own clay

36. feeling my life counts

37. reforming the world

38. reverence for life

39. finding inner wisdom

40. just having fun

41. traveling and seeing the world

42. prefer flow and spontaneity to structure

43. finding more safety and protection

44. working for world peace

45. being a volunteer

46. finding wholeness and integration

47. having a meaningful love relationship

48. reaching goals

49. living on the edge of my abilities

50. alleviating world poverty

51. ability to forgive

52. kindness and love

53. feeling connected to all things

54. appreciating beauty and wonder

55. more freedom in my life and work

56. owning a fine home

57. having new and unique experiences

58. having good health

59. working toward diversity

60. active in church or religious group

61. loving my inner child

62. more recognition



November 2, 1995

Things I Hate Doing

1. Making my bed. What is the purpose of making a bed when all you are going to do is get into it and mess it up again that very same day?

2. Putting away my pajamas. See above.

3. Making an appointment for a haircut. This is not a big enough event in my life to require an appointment. I have tried to support the barber in my town, but she is now so busy that you need to make an appointment. So I have gone back to my old walk-in barber. She is cheaper and the hair always grows back anyway.

4. Getting a haircut. Isn’t it stupid to pay someone money to cut something off your head? Think about it. You are not getting anything new. You are only losing something. You are paying money to create trash for the landfill. All of those hair sweepings must go somewhere. And then your taxes go up because your landfill is too full. So make sure that you go to another town to get your hair cut.

5. Buying a toothbrush. Why does anyone buy one when you can always get it for free at the dentist? I go to get my teeth cleaned every six months like I am told to do, and they always give me a new toothbrush. And I can get any color that I want! So why buy? Does your toothbrush wear out within six months? What do you do with it???

6. Picking a color for my toothbrush. I like blue. I have always liked blue. But now I like purple so I have purple. But I miss blue, so the purple is starting to make me sad. But if I go back to blue I will miss the purple and I will lack the variety which is so important to my life. Also, if I change color I may forget which brush is mine and use my wife’s brush by mistake. Because once she put her brush into my hole on the toothbrush holder. My hole is on the right. I am not sure that we have ever discussed this but I know where mine is. It is on the right which is the opposite of the side of the bed which I sleep on, unless you look at the bed from laying down, all of which is another story.

7. Throwing out a sponge. A sponge almost never dies. You have to be doing something radical with it to wear it out. This is especially true if you buy Excello which rhymes with Jell-O which is one of my favorite foods. So the sponge gets chucked because it looks dirty. But what do you use a sponge for? You use it to clean dirt. So sponge and dirt are suppose to go together! Then why is it not OK to have a dirty sponge?

8. Picking up the bottle dish soap. Yuk! It is always so gooey. I hate that slime that penetrates in between my fingers. Oh sure, this all is not true during thet first few days of using a new bottle. There is always the hope that this bottle will be different, but I am always disappointed. And have you looked under the bottle? Wherever you store it is also slimed. And if you do not place it perfectly back in the same place every time, then the whole region will be slimed. I thought I had the solution to this problem. At one point we were using reusable bottles, so when one was empty, I ran it through the dishwasher to deslime it. It worked, but if soap bubbles spilling out of your dishwasher and across the kitchen floor is not your thing, then I would discourage you from repeating my bright idea.

More will be revealed.

October 19, 1995

The Leslie Test

Her statement did not seem large at the time. Nurses had been grumping and barking at me for two weeks and I had learned to tune them out. The orange carpet interested me more as I wore a path around the edge of the corridor of the L-shaped psych ward. The carpet was much nicer than the gray linoleum of the ward in the other hospital which had first protected me.

I had become a visitor because dying seemed better than living. There were many reasons, but they do not seem important any more. I was on the seesaw of life and there was this weight at the other end which was much heavier. My end was all the way up and I was just barely holding on. I was ready to fall off at any second. It was just a matter of when. Not if, just when.

The doctors have a cure for all of this: medication and all different kinds. They helped to raise me up so that the seesaw was stable and after ten days I went home. But the medication continued to surge and I rose into mania and then crashed again.

I returned to the hospital and they shipped me to another--the one with the orange carpet. The orange carpet became my friend. I was a pacer. Sometimes it seemed like rush hour in those halls because pacing is an important activity of visitors. They did not actually call me a visitor, but I thought of myself that way. I was just temporarily passing through.

The day that I was transferred was a long one. I had to spend several hours breaking in a new doctor. He allowed that I had a lot of problems any time a new medication was introduced. We agreed that no new medication would be given to me unless he first discussed it at length with me.

The time after dinner and before bedtime is a long one in a hospital, especially if you are hardly sleeping at all. When the mind cannot slow down, pacing fills the time.

I was making my rounds in my own way, but I was not doing it conspicuously. I was not making military turns at the corners. I was not talking to the walls. I was not even talking to myself. I would not have been able to speak fast enough to keep up with the chatter going on in my head. I did have to pass by the nurse’s station twice on every lap, but I was not bothering any one. I was not noisy on the carpeted floor. Oh sure, there was a little sound of the flip flop of my running shoes since they had taken away my shoelaces, but it was not much.

“Jim, come here.” It was Nurse Leslie breaking my concentration.


“Here. Take this.” She plopped one tiny white pill down on the countertop.

“What’s that,” I said, frozen in fear by the suggestion.

“It’s Ativan.”

“I’m not taking that.”

Exasperation flew at me over the counter.

“What do you mean your not taking it. You need it. Now just take it.”

“But my doctor said that I wouldn’t have to take any new medication until I had talked it through with him.”

Clearly, she did not want to have this conversation.

“I talked with your doctor and he wants you to take it. So come on, just take it.”

Then I got the look, the “For christsakes, Jim, it’s late, you’re marching up and down the halls like an idiot, I’m tired and I don’t have time for this!” look.

“I’m not taking it.”

Leslie gritted her teeth and curled, “Jim, no one ever died from one Ativan!”

That pronouncement grabbed me. She now was talking in terms that I understood. Death and dying spoke to me.

“OK, I’ll take it.”

Her statement all of a sudden made my decision easy. I was in this hospital to stay alive and if this pill would not kill me, then I would be willing to take the risks of any other side effects it might bring.

Thus the Leslie Test became part of my life. Fear is a consistent thread which weaves through my days. But there are big fears and little fears. What goes in each category shifts on a regular basis. There were days of darkness when everything was was a big fear. But now that category pops to the surface much less frequently. But when a big fear does show up, I pay attention and I give it the Leslie test.

It’s simple: “Has anyone ever died from this?” If the answer is no, I can move forward. I have applied the test to many big fears. Do I want to lead that workshop? Should I accept the invitation to speak at the church? The answer was no to the Leslie Test on these questions so I agreed to do them. These were questions which had been turning over in my mind for a long time. I know it is a big fear if I cannot make a decision and the question keeps reappearing.

Will I do the firewalk? My answer to the Leslie Test was yes, people have died and I will probably die. This answer came leaping from the depths of my insides as soon as the question was asked. It came so forcefully that I knew that the answer was right for me at that time. My answer may be irrational and illogical but it was mine. Sometimes a big fear must be honored.

Howell Raines, in his book Fly Fishing through the Midlife Crisis, speaks to the issue of facing one’s fears. He was embarrassed that in his late forties he was still afraid of his boss. On his desk, next to his intercom, he taped a small piece of paper with this sentence: “It is a good day to die.”

Raines points out that “It is a good day to die.” was the battle cry of the Dog Soldiers, the warrior class of the Cheyenne Indians and the most feared fighters among the Plains Indians. Crazy Horse borrowed this cry and used it to prepare his troops for the battle at The Little Big Horn.

When he spoke to his boss through the intercom he would look at that sentence. The sentence freed Raines from the fear of his boss and it did more. “Somehow, when that fear left, other anxieties began following it out the door.”

Raines understood, and now I understand, that the cry of the Dog Soldiers and the Leslie Test are not about death but are about freedom--freedom to walk through the big fears and do what needs to be done.

I keep my shoelaces tied today because I am moving quickly.

October 12, 1995


It’s back again. Why am I always surprised. And why do I call it “it”. It is too forceful and animated to be an it. Maybe it is only a cold. Maybe I just ate some bad food. No, I know that it is back. It is squeezing the back of my eyeballs, always a sure sign. Turned mayonaisse does not do that to me. Only one thing does it--the dreaded “D” word--depression.

It did not sneak in this time. I saw it coming three weeks ago. It is payback for three glorious high energy weeks. I knew on day one of my energy spurt that it would follow and I was powerless to stop it.

Three weeks ago I signed on the bottom line to sell my house. We have raised our children here for ten years. Many personal profound events happened here. I knew it would not be easy to make the transtion. I have always read that moving is one of the more stressful events in life. I guess my body read the same things. As soon as I signed that document, my shoulders and neck began to ache and they have not stopped.

I have accomplished a lot in the last three weeks. The house is so cleaned out that my family is still spinning in the whirlwind. I have read countless books and written many pages. I even conquered the mountain called going online. The energy has surged and pulsed and danced but never waned. I have been riding a horse at full gallop knowing that I would tire and have to stop. My only hope was that I would not fall off and get hurt. The extent of my injuries has not yet been determined. A few more days will tell the tale.

This is not new territory for me. At one time I had the diagnosis of manic depression, but that diagnosis has been removed. It arose from a medication induced manic state and a crash from those lofty heights. Some day I will write about it. So I know what highs and lows are like and I fear them.

My pattern is that high stress induces hypomania, which is a state lower than fully blown mania. which really is a fine state to be in. You would not believe the creativity and productivity of this state. But it is always followed by depression. My body just runs with it for as long as it can and then it collapses. Depression is the antidote. I wish there were another.

I had hoped that I would stay flying until the move was over, but I have another week to go I knew the jig was up yesterday. We were having an eightieth birthday party for my mother-in-law and I was near tears trying to do small tasks like arrange the food on the table. Decisions were too difficult. And I wanted to run from this room which would soon be filled with relatives and friends. I wanted to be alone.

The World Series started last night. I am a big baseball fan and I was looking forward to the pitching duel. But I was asleep before the game started at seven o’clock. Eleven hours later I arose neither refreshed nor invigorated. It is a sunny fall day outside, but I probably will not make it out there.

A friend just called and it was good to hear her voice after several months. I am scheduled to meet some old friends for dinner tonight and I hope that I can get there. The love of others is a strong help through these times.

I am surprised that I am writing this today. Sitting at the computer takes a lot of energy. But this time the depression seems different. It feels like an unwanted invader instead of an old friend. Maybe the tide is turning.

I do not know how long it will last, but I do know that it will end. Knowing that it will end is an enormous step forward for me. In the past I would go for months not believing that it would end. Hope would be gone. Now, hope is a certainty. I will try to be gentle on myself. Maybe it will end quickly and all of these musings will become unnecessary.