Tuesday, April 25, 2006

The Art of Love
or
When My Life Changed Most, I Think

It was 20 years ago today Sgt. Pepper taught his band to play...

No, no, it wasn't that. It was 11 years ago today and it wasn't something like a hurricane that happened, though it had the effect of an internal category 5 storm and was a catalyst for more change in my life than anything else I can remember. It brought the kind of emotional upheaval that was a mixture of exquisite beauty and excruciating pain. And the pain was so intense that there were times I thought I wouldn't survive it. But I always had the choice to use it for my own growth, and that was my ultimate decision.

What was this catalytic event? You may be imagining something extremely out of the ordinary, but it's was nothing more than a relationship. But it was no ordinary one. Not by a long shot.

As relationships go, there is one particular philosopher with whom I share a perspective: Martin Buber. He wrote of what he calls the I-Thou relationship. In an essay, John Barich describes Buber's I-Thou relationship as follows:
There is an authentic way or a deeper way of relating to world, which Buber calls the I-Thou relationship. This is the place where people come together and encounter one other on the deepest level possible. Buber writes: "The Thou meets me through grace -- it is not found by seeking. By my speaking of the primary word [thou] to it is an act of my being, is indeed the act of my being." We can see from this observation that Buber was not talking about a casual conversation at the local pub or a heated negotiation to resolve a labor dispute. Buber is describing a meeting not only of minds but of souls, of wills, of that which resides at the core of one's being. When you say Thou to another person, you are sharing the mystery of your being, you are responding with the totality of self to the Thou who is addressing you, you are meeting one another on the level of spirit.

Most important for me, as for Buber, is the idea that it's possible to have an I-Thou relationship with God through I-Thou moments with people, nature, art, the world. The relationship of which I write is the one that took me highest into this ideal, a meeting on the level of spirit and a connection to my source.


Another essay from the Jewish Virtual Library adds, "Such I-Thou relationships are not constant or static. People move in and out of I-It moments to I-Thou moments. Ironically, attempts to achieve an I-Thou moment will fail because the process of trying to create an I-Thou relationship objectifies it and makes it I-It. Even describing the moment objectifies it and makes it an I-It. The most Buber can do in describing this process is to encourage us to be available to the possibility of I-Thou moments, to achieve real dialogue. It can't be described. When you have it, you know it."

We had it, without trying. We just did. And we knew it. We experienced it in many ordinary moments throughout our days and we experienced it whenever we spent dedicated time together. But both of our lives were very complicated and those complications made our relationship very challenging outside of the I-Thou experience. I dealt with those complications better than he did, and his fear of them pulled us apart. But it never did anything to the love.

It was in this relationship that I learned the meaning of unconditional love without attachment. It's because I loved him unconditionally that I could set him free and still love and accept him as he was and is today without bitterness and resentment. It's that love that wants only that which is for his highest good. And there was tremendous pain in the letting go, but it was in that pain that I found my way to unprecedented growth, both personal and spiritual. And one of the gifts that this relationship brought to my life (and the lives of my family) is the beautiful little light that is Rachel.

Several years ago, I wrote the story of April 25, 1995 and posted it on the page of my abandoned website, The Art of Love. The site was initially intended to serve a business idea that I had to create customized gifts that told a special story shared by the giver and the receiver. It was inspired by a gift that I gave Rachel's dad and the story was background for it. You can read about and see the gift via a link at the end of the story. Eventually, I thought I'd use the site as a more personal venue to share news, photos, stories, etc., but I never really developed it and it hasn't been updated in ages. (And I have this blog now.) So, if you decide to poke around over there, don't be surprised to find unfinished pages and dead links.

It's hard for some people to understand the effect a relationship like this one had on me without the concurrent assumption that I'll never be satisfied with anything less. But if that assumption were true, it would denigrate every truth I learned about unconditional love and it would violate some of the most important rules by which I've learned to live.

Here's one of the most important: Take nothing with you of the past but the love and the lessons; leave everything else behind. Without this, I'd discard the value of my experiences, both good and bad, and with them I'd discard the beauty of the other human beings that I've been honored to know in exchange for the ugliness of resentment; I'd keep old grievances from the distant and unchangeable past alive, allowing them to rob me of any peace and happiness in the only place where I can truly experience them -in the present moment; and I'd repeat my mistakes.

Honoring the experience of such a love from the past doesn't take anything away from any relationship in the present; it allows me to offer that love in the present. This idea is counter-intuitive to some, but it's something I understand completely. And though the awe of such an experience is naturally something to desire in any relationship, it isn't a condition of love for me, for then I'd be a hypocrite. Unconditional love, by the way, doesn't mean that you have to stay in an unhappy or dysfunctional relationship. It just means that you choose to love differently- perhaps from a distance or in another context. This explains why Willie and I are divorced and still have differences in some of our perspectives and values, but are still friends who love each other. We value each other and our friendship much more than we value our grievances and differences. I'd have it no other way.

I have a lot more to say on the subject of love, particularly as it relates to what many people call love but looks nothing like the real thing to me. But that's one for another day. On this day, I'll just honor another one of my guiding principles, one that's not always easy to remember when times are tough. I'll introduce it in the form of a cliche saying in which I find a great deal of value: Don't cry because it's over: smile because it happened. I can sum this up in one word: gratitude. It's a magical elixer that can help remind you that the universe wasn't required to give you any of the things you have. Consider all of them blessings. Try to count them, then think about how many other people cannot take these same things for granted. I've never known a better formula for peace and happiness than gratitude. Practice it every single day and your life will change, I promise.

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Yes! Something Like This!

Finally, something good-different. Yippie!

Okay, I'm throwing the best out first, not last. My favorite neighbors, Kenny and Angelo have asked me, me, to officiate at their wedding. Okay, gay marriages are not recognized in Louisiana, so technically, it's a commitment ceremony. In any event, I'm so excited and incredibly honored to have been asked to do this! I haven't even known them for very long. They only moved into the neighborhood last summer, not long before The Storm. (Kenny bought and moved into the dead girl's house and also bought a duplex in the next block.) I guess we all just bonded right away. Anyway, there's no date set yet, but Kenny says, soon! And I intend to make the boys very pleased with their decision to ask me to do the honnors, because if there is one thing I understand in this world, it's love. It may be the only thing I really, truly understand.

Kenny also offered us the vacant side of the duplex to move into while we wait for our house to be repaired. I'm not sure if I'll take him up on this or not right now, because I'm afraid that it may take a long time for our house to be habitable and he's been keeping the apartment vacant because he plans to start a business and operate it from there at some point in the not-too-distant future. I don't want to get in the way of that if our house isn't ready by then. Plus, it's unfurnished and we'd have to move our stuff in and I've moved enough in the last seven months to last a while, so I'll wait and see how things progress before I make any decisions.

Kenny and Angelo have also commissioned me to create two pieces of art for their house after they saw something I created for myself as a sort of therapy. Yes, I'm being cryptic, and you'll just have to wonder about it for now. I have my reasons... and you'll find out one day.

All of this happened Saturday night, after the neighbors across the street had an Easter egg decorating party. (For their adult friends.) This was the home of the neighbor who stayed during The Storm, and I got to see the pictures he took of the neighborhood after the flood. They're really something. He's supposed to e-mail me copies and as soon as he does, I'll post them.

Yes, the neighborhood was a happy place this weekend. Except for these things. Remember them from last year? Buckmoth caterpillars. They appear every April and this year they have proliferated such that their numbers almost rival The Great Caterpillar Scourge of 1988. They were so bad throughout the city that year that people walked under the oaks with umbrellas for fear the caterpillars would drop upon them. I returned from work one evening that year to find so many of them crawling on the front of my house that I had to go to a neighbor's for a broom to knock them off before I could open the door to go inside. It was like a Hitchcock movie.

When the neighborhood kids see them they scream, "Oooh!!! Calla-pillas." The pack a really nasty sting. Like fire. (But they've only gotten me once this year... so far.) I've been spending a lot of time at the house working on whatever I can and because the weather has been pretty nice, I've wanted to work outside, but these suckers are everywhere. And I mean that quite literally, as they are also inside the house. I killed five in the kitchen yesterday and found a few near-dead ones in other parts of the house as well. One was on the landing between the first and second floor. Plaster dust is a pretty good desiccant and there's so much of it on the floor throughout the house that it zaps them if they inch around in it too long. They're getting to be about 2" (~5 cm) long now, which means it shouldn't be much longer before they disappear into the soil to pupate. I can't wait.

In other news, State Farm's engineer finally came and in our chummy conversation, he ended up giving me some valuable information on things the insurer should have paid for but didn't, and he advised on what I need to do to get it. And though he's not supposed to share his evaluation of my house with me, he did hint that they only thing about my engineer's report he disagreed with was the part about replacing the entire roof. I don't care about that anyway because I can just get it fixed and it will be fine. And I was told by someone else that there are also so many law suits out there that it's more likely the insurance company will address the foundation, but only as a basic repair and not the kind my engineer recommended. That will do. As long as I can get the place fixed.

One last thing about the house- something I just noticed yesterday when I went on my balcony to water the plants. My bedroom windows have shutters which I closed before we evacuated. Apparently the wind and rain were so intense during The Storm that they blew the paint off the upper louvers of the shutters and onto the top of the windows. It looks like I put a chemical stripper on the paint, they way it's rippled and buckled. (If you click on the picture, you can see it better in the enlarged version.) I'm so glad I wasn't in that house when the storm was raging. I can't imagine what it must have been like, especially with all the cracks and shifting on the foundation.

I hope this week will be bringing us all lots of good-different things.

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Something, But Not Something Like This

The universe works in mysterious ways and when I wished in my heart that something would happen, something would be different, I was really thinking of a good different. But maybe I took it for granted that the universe knew what I meant. Apparently not.

Now, it wasn't a big thing, but a trip to the emergency room is definitely something different. While helping my mom with an outdoor fix-it job on Sunday afternoon, I stepped into the sunlight and found the vision in my left eye to be very white and cloudy. I thought that something was on my contact lens, but cleaning it didn't resolve the problem. I washed out my eye and put my glasses on, but the problem was still there. From the outside, it looked perfectly fine, like nothing was wrong with it, but something was causing light to difuse rather pass through my optical field.

I had been using vinyl cement and turpentine at the time and wondered if one or the other had gotten in my eye, but I thought surely I'd have felt that happen. So, I called an ophthalmologist friend who now lives out of town and asked what he thought was happening and what I should do. "Go to the ER," he said. It was the last thing I wanted to hear, as I have no health insurance. But go I did.

Turns out that I somehow I managed to acquire superficial punctate keratitis. It was described to me as little holes in the cornea and this site describes my case "...as fine, scattered areas of loss of epithelium from the cornea - the clear part of the surface of the eye. The lesions appear punctate (looking like dots or points)..." It can be caused by a number of things, such as overuse of contact lenses (but these days, I hardly ever wear my contacts because I just don't see very well with them - that's another story), by light injury (think of arc welders and UV tanning beds, neither to which I've been exposed, though I was playing around with magnifying optics in the sun the day before...but I was not focusing the light toward my own eyes), and by chemical injury (the vinyl cement or turpentine?). They said my case looked like what they see with arc welders. It's also the kind (when it's not severe) that resolves most quickly. We really have no idea what caused it. I was given an antibiotic ointment to prevent infection and sent home with instructions to see an ophthalmologist the following day, which, of course, I did not. But it was noticeably better the next on Monday and by Tuesday, there was hardly any residual cloudy haze in my visual field.

So, that's something different. Not exactly what I had in mind, but different.

Now, I said in the last post that there have been various and sundry things that I haven't posted about and you guys said tell it! So, here's a few of the things you missed:

  • March 31st marked the 18th anniversary of my status as home owner. We bought it that day and moved in on April 1st, 1988 so the forthcoming baby Alex would have a real home in which to grow up.
  • Renard hit the big 5-0 on April 4th, but shhhhh! Don't tell anyone. I've got to say he's in damned good shape for a 50 year-old. He's got the body of someone half his age, and if you ever perused my Flickr photos, you might have gleaned that from this shot or the other one on page 12 of my collection. These were from my one and only attempt of tasteful nude photography. (No, I've never attempted the tasteless kind.) One of us in this picture is considered black and the other white (except by the folks who don't consider my ethnicity to be legitimately white, a point previously touched on in this post), and I think it says a lot about society's need to characterize us by skin-color, given the fact that in this picture, you can't tell which of us is which.
  • Despite the fact that someone from the cable company solicited me for a contract job and I quickly forwarded to them all the information they requested, I have heard nothing else from them. An insider tells me that they really don't have their shit together over there, so now that becomes my continuing unemployment problem.
  • And speaking of employment, good news from UNO. My department chair contacted me about teaching classes again this fall. I should be able to teach a couple of classes as an adjunct and there is a possibility, though it may be a slim one, that I'll be able to be hired full-time. Full-time means real salary, not the per-class adjunct rate I've been earning while happily paying my dues in anticipation of a more permanent position. Yes, UNO is in an exigent state with post-Katrina enrollment down and a multi-million dollar budget shortfall, and yes, I've been down this road before and I got my hopes up for nothing, but I refuse to remain anything but optimistic about this.
  • Since I can't do anything on the house until the engineer comes, I decided to start scraping the old paint off the outside in anticipation of the new paint-job the house will someday get. Rachel, of course, wants in on the action. She's a good little helper.
  • Le rat est mort. Vive le chat! Yes, it's Ratilda, nevermore. I believe she must be dead because she hasn't been seen since the cat's last stakeout, and the cat hasn't bothered coming by to case the joint for her anymore. C'est la vie.
  • I'm typing these words on the illuminated keys of a new PowerBook. I finally broke down and bought one and okay, not exactly new, but refurbished. Actually, I bought two, because the first was DOA and had to be returned. The second was also defective, but I decided the problem was not major so I returned it to Apple to be serviced and now it's fine. (By the way, this is not the new Intel model.) I have not chronicled the computer problems I've had since The Storm, but they have been legion and no machine or peripheral has been spared of trouble. (I'm sure my house's unfriendly post-storm environment had a lot to do with this.) I hope this trend is over now that I have a working Mac again. Having this machine will definitely bring more of a feeling of normalcy to my life. Now I just have to sell that Windows laptop...
That's all for now. Exciting, huh?

Friday, April 07, 2006

Nothing

I made this little graphic because I like having images with my posts but couldn't find one that communicated my state of mind with any accuracy. Then I decided that I could use this over and over and just change the message to suit my mindset. But this has been it for a while now.

Sure, I have stupid little tidbits of news that I could post, but I just keep asking myself why anyone would want to read about these things. If I imagine myself on the outside looking in, I can only hear myself saying, "who cares..." as I close the browser page and begin looking for more stimulating reading. But then again, I'm pretty bereft of stimulation in general these days and am finding it hard to be stimulated by things that used to hold my interest very well in days gone by.

My whole life seems to be about a big nothing right now. I'm stuck in an seemingly endless holding pattern waiting for the insurance company to play their next card with their engineer's visit. Waiting for contractors and roofers to return my calls. And they don't. Again and again. And while I wait, there is nothing to do. There is nothing new. Every day is Groundhog Day. Nothing changes. Ho hum. Blah, blah, blah. I hate this.

So, rather than bore you with the stupid little things that have come and gone, I'll let this post serve as a notice that I'm still around. Maybe I'll see it differently tomorrow and I will post all the stupid little things. But I still can't figure out why anyone would care when most of it doesn't even interest me and it's my life.

By the way, even if I'm not posting, I am visiting your blogs, though I'm showing up in your stats these days as a visitor from all kinds of non-New Orleans locations, such as Denham Springs or Gretna, Louisiana and Atlanta, GA. It seems my cable ISP has actually gone to dynamic IP addresses, as they've claimed was their practice for years but really wasn't. Now, if I unplug then re-power the modem, who knows what IP address I'll pull or from where it will appear to originate. But even if it says Gretna, you can still tell it's me, (unless you have scads of readers in New Orleans using Cox), because the address looks like this: ip70-171-122-130.no.no.cox.net (Cox Communications) No matter the city shown in the header, that no.no thing is New Orleans. And if I am around, I promise I won't ever use AOL and make myself completely anonymous in your stats. I want you to know I am visiting, even if the null-bug keeps me from commenting.

Sorry for this waste of your time. I'll try to come up with something better to write in the next post. Surely somewhere inside me, there is something worth reading.