Quotes that Say Something

"Please, dad, get down and look. I think there's some kind of monster under my bed."

Life when seen in close-up often seems tragic, but in wide-angle it often seems comic. -- Charlie Chaplin

"And when the cloudbursts thunder in your ear, you shout, but no one's there to hear. And if the band you're in starts playing different tunes, I'll see you on the dark side of the moon." -- Roger Waters, "Brain Damage"

Nov 25, 2010

The Moltman Memorial Home for the Incurably Dead

"So, then, people a thousand years from now -- this is the way we were . . . This is the way we were: in our growing up and in our marrying and in our living and in our dying."
                                                                                        -- Thornton Wilder, Our Town

Molt (verb) -- to shed skin, or feathers, or the like, that will be replaced by new growth.

The moment has just about arrived. Soon I will be travelling back. Not that I have ever much wanted to. But I took on this furtive assignment to return (as a fundraising volunteer) with nearly no enthusiasm, in other words just to try to aid others in a modest way, while thousands of would be conference-goers have eagerly queued up, smiling with anticipation, looking to let the good times roll.

But -- not me. New Orleans was my home for almost 30 years. Then terrible things happened (as people always said they would, like the Big One that many prognosticators claim will someday strafe California's coast and make it sink and disappear). The hot summer ocean tides first in the Bahamas, then over to the Gulf of Mexico, blew up cyclonically in August of  2005-- and all those bad omens and things, that everybody had digested warnings about, came to pass; terrible things (as I said), that all began with the letter K, and then later the letter R. Hurricanes, on Summer break, girls gone wild.

Something undeniable, inexplicable, impossibly morose, flickered inside of my head and heart one day in early 2006 -- soon after I had begrudgingly returned, virtually homeless and heartsick and alone, to a nicknamed, tear-stained, hurricane-reeking City That Care Forgot. The flicker? It was this. I unsmilingly acknowledged the truth that Thomas Wolfe was right, even without taking anti-depressants, mind you, that one cannot fully (ever) return home again. Not really. Not after a horrifying, death-dealing molting season. Especially if your home has been mortally wounded. When a tornado has so ripped and rocked your once-cozy neighborhood that the well-known landscape now looks like a pod of power-mad, mythical nature gods have had a little 'boys will be boys' entertainment at your expense with an olympian-sized eggbeater. Especially if the overall situation, the city itself and its people, now clearly seem akin to a doomed bunch of Neros fiddling away as all in all inexorably sinks into a great roiling gulf, never to be seen or heard from or loved again

In these, my post-trauma thoughts, that little (dimly-lit) flicker started a short and sad little recording in my head -- and it came to me over and over. It echoed like the measured, heavy, squealing, grinding-rolldown of a massive garage door, aiming to settle into its cement groove, at ground zero. Down all the way to the damp, gray, hardshell floor. A cold, clunking, ending reality. A bump in the night! Then, an unseen latch would slam steely (hard) into its slot.

So, I was, and I am, gone, and I don't want to (and I won't) go back. Which gives me some pause. Because it reminds me of the old cautionary line, 'If you want to make God laugh, tell Him your plans.'

The place where we held the wakes for my dead mother and father, 3 short years apart, during the late '80s, was the Moltman Memorial Funeral Parlor. Parlor. What a ghastly concept. What an anguishing set of experiences. I remember staring, as much as I could, at the Moltman walls. They were painted an odd color -- which resembled summery peach in muted, death-respectful lighting. I would just stare; though surrounded by people, I wordlessly would hope the moment would just end. Now and then, a demure or quizzical stranger, or a little-known family member, or someone else, would amble up to inquire if I was the son; say that my parents were good people; and then solemnly add that, yes, it's a sad, sad thing when someone however old passes over to the Great Unknown. There's a thought out of Wisdom Central.

When I try to picture what it will be like to work, for a good cause, for a few days in a house of death, the New Orleans Convention Center, I keep recalling those times at the peachy-clean Moltman Parlor for the Incurably Dead and my parents in their ornate caskets and the emotionally-wrenching stories that I was privileged to hear (post-K), from Convention Center survivors about the injured, the lost, the incurably dead. I think I will attempt to just stare at the wide-reaching peach colored walls -- and be kind and receptive and polite, as if I were in a hushed "at a wake" frame of mind. And maybe I'll only speak when spoken too. See, I have resented deeply that the Superdome in New Orleans, and the Convention Center, are 'back to work, in business as usual' -- seemingly without a thought or care for those who suffered and died in each. About the thousands of folks who continue to suffer traumatically and will never get over it, because their city drowned or the home and livlihoods got washed away. Peach colored walls, purple carpets, the graffitti on the convention-room walls -- tagged in spray paint thier by desperate people feeling hopeless and abandoned, in some cases dying -- covered over, the sound of business being done, laughs being had, drinks being toasted, and money being made. Yes, it's the American way. Molting is a powerful process. In nature, it portends good, and growth, and renewed life. In the hands of human beings, molting, as a metaphor, often tells a very different story, mired deep between the obvious lines.

So, the moment has just about arrived. As I've told you, I am almost back. My bag tags will once again read MSY. Will anyone notice or care. Will I find a way to make it work? Sure. But it's gonna be weird. I suppose I will stare a lot as the days and the people in convention central wander by -- staring straight at any peach walls that I can find. I hope there is good cable and wireless service in my hotel room. But even with such diversions, I am afraid that I'll wind up counting down the hours, as if they will never end, until my homebound plane, with a sense of relief and a mighty thrust of man-made power, wings away from ground, all wheels up and shining in the December sun.

Before I close, though, stick with me for one more plea. Please remember in thought and prayers the thousands of people who died (and others who unfortunately suffer much, to this day, throughout the Gulf region) in the aftermath of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. Some 'girls gone wild' make quite a pair and cause more mischief than others.

'Dad, I'm not kidding. I'm pretty sure there's some mind of monster under my bed.' 

Nov 19, 2010

Early December and the Melancholy Maalox Mashup

CAUTION: To all A Big MonstEr Blog users. This post will be different from my usual overwrought contributions. I am a writer, you know. When the inevitable request comes in, now and then and again, for a piece with a religious or spiritual theme, that will pay actual U.S. $$$, well . . . a blog-driven hack like me has to eat. Tru dat? And so it goes. If I had really cut loose with my real Adventageous sentiments below -- which my editor would have slapped back @ me for a rewrite faster than you could say "Keep Christ in Christmas" -- then I would have written about depth human emotions, such as the fallible Israelites' long, vexing journey thru a never-ending darkness, fear, ambiguity, and longing. And how the biblical Israelites function as symbols of our wayward, wandering, permissive culture. But for most mainstream-religion readers such topics are kinda heavy. And scary. To say the least. And a bit too real. So, I would say most just don't want to go there. And, frankly, I want the $$$. So, here goes . . .

Advent: It's Not Just for Shopaholics Anymore
Recently, a person in the RCIA, at a local Christian church, wondered where the season of Advent came from. I smiled. Easy. Got it, I thought to myself. ‘It’s about a long but hopeful wait among God’s people for their Messiah, their Savior. It’s also about the coming of the Word of God into the human community.’
Some group conversation ensued. Then, I spoke up. “I think Advent’s about wrapping our arms around values that aren’t so popular in American culture anymore. Like, patience. Dealing with uncertainty. Self-denial, prayer . . . It’s not just for shopaholics anymore. Several group members laughed a little. Surprised, I thought, ‘Now where did that come from?’
It’s a Long Story, But a Good One
Advent is a special season of the Church Year, the one that comes right before Christmas. The Latin term adventus means “coming.” It begins on the Sunday closest to November 30, the feast of Saint Andrew. It lasts until December 24.  In any given calendar year, the Advent period will last from 21 to 28 days.
 An advent season was celebrated, by some Christians in Europe, as far back as the year 500. It soon became common, in the Church, make special preparations for the “birthday” of Jesus of Nazareth. This was an echo of the many centuries of waiting and hoping 'in darkness,' by the People of Israel, for the One who’d lead them to hope and liberation.
By the 900s, many Christians had begun to celebrate the first Sunday of Advent as the beginning of the Church’s liturgical year. Later, Gregory VII (1073-1085) taught that the Advent season, throughout the entire Church, was to extend over four Sundays—and he selected certain Bible passages and composed lyrical prayers, many still used today, to help Christians get ready for the sacred feast of Christmas.
Certain spiritual practices cropped up here and there. The Advent wreath, a significant ‘evergreen’ symbol of life with four candles, became popular during the Middle Ages in Europe, then North America. For centuries, families made creative “countdown to Christmas” calendars during December. A serious emphasis on prayer, fasting, and self-denial (central to Advent traditions from the start) remained part of daily Catholic life.
Some of you who read this will recall what this kind of Advent was like. For younger readers, know that the period was a big deal – about hope, and self-control, and watching for something big. Yes, something almost unimaginable – the Word of God becoming part of humanity!
Light a Candle, Say a Prayer
I briefly thought about titling this section “Can You Wait for Jesus at the Mall?’ Instead, let’s go with an ancient Christian saying: ‘Light a candle, say a prayer.’
Every year, as I grow older, Advent and Christmas seem to mean something different. Less about getting the goods. Fewer packed-full parking lot spats. Avoidance of shop-till-you-drop marathons. More about time with family and other relationships -- and a focus on all of our rich, life-giving (often simple) gifts from God.
The key, I suppose, is to discover, yearly, a way – individually or as a household – to make the season of Advent meaningful, so a true celebration of the Nativity can be realized in our corner of the earth.
Of course, one can ‘wait’ for, and ‘watch’ for, Jesus at the local shopping mall. Malls today function like the town and village squares of ages gone by – central points at which common folk would gather, socialize, care for each other, share faith.This Advent, if you watch closely, you will see waves of shoppers in our contemporary‘village squares’ who are harried, who seem to need something – a brief, friendly smile, a helping hand, a simpler and less materialistic lifestyle (but also one of those scarce spaces in over-crowded parkng lots of course). 
Today’s holiday rush often turns ‘the Christmas spirit’ into a mash-up of Maalox moments and empty encounters. So, this is a particularly right time for us to light a candle, symbolically, and say a prayer for everyone involved, in hope that the pre-Christmas hubbub will lead, in the end, to the Right Person and the Right Place.
Advent: When It’s Come and Gone
When December 25 arrives, then the 26th, what will you recall about Advent 2010? By Christmas dawn, for century after century, Church members had practiced the value of patience and prayerfulness.  They had accepted uncertainty – while trying daily to do God’s will. They had made self-sacrifice a December habit to create a bigger open space for the Nativity in their hearts.
When Advent has come and gone this year, what will your story be?

Nov 18, 2010

Is Sisyphus Happy Now?

It's been a while. So, I am back. I guess that near-miss with the little red truck rocked my world a little more than I thought. And it hasn't helped much either that my sullen little Muse has been lurking, wordlessly, in a far corner. They make a quite a pair of aces over there, Dark-Side Butch and the Sullen Muse.

-- (Geez, I think I just came up unintentionally with a name for the next Smashing Pumpkins cd.)

I found myself posting on Facebook briefly yesterday about Sisyphus again. I keep going back to him these days. Likely, that Facebook chirp happened because I was listening once more to the totally sick but sweet Pink Floyd song "Hey You" -- while mired in another epic traffic-jam on the west-side of Hooterville midday, I would add. The song had grabbed me, as usual, by the throat and by the soul, and simply would not let go.

"Hey You?" A sisyphean meditation, if ever one existed, in pop culture. The life sentence 2 which the promising but sin-streaked and mythical royal, named Sisyphus, was condemned is and was, of course, massively absurd. Leave it to a master philosopher like Albert Camus -- in writing compellingly about S's dilemma about a century ago-- to throw new light and new heat on a dark and stormy human situation. Life is like a no-parole sentence. Hard time on a hard rock. Word. Sink or swim, chief. Hold up. Endure. There's a truckload or more of serious nonsense -- the inexplicable, the meaningless, the mystery -- coming your way. He (Camus) then  claimed stuffily but brilliantly (I suppose with a tiny absurdist smile creasing his weathered, European face) that we must accept -- in the end -- that the human struggle itself to endure, literally the myth of Sisyphus, must be enough to fill any person's soul. Now, the trick: believe that poor Sisyphus, though held tight in absurdity's grasp (for eternity), must be nevertheless be happy.

There is nothng more one can say, or hope in.

I then made an quick note, on Facebook, to no one in particular: Don't forget to chuckle over that magical Frenchman's insight.

So, why must we imagine, believe, that Sisyphus, the original Rock Star, must be happy? Well, if he cannot be so, then we will never taste happpiness either. There is nothing more. That says it all. It's a big leaky boat that we're all in, and the seas are foaming with waves. Hold on. Smile when you can. Grab a piece of the rock, as some insurance commercials say.

HEY YOU  -- by Roger Waters

Hey you, out there in the cold
Getting lonely, getting old
Can you feel me?
Hey you, standing in the aisles
With itchy feet and fading smiles
Can you feel me?
Hey you, dont help them to bury the light
Don't give in without a fight.

Hey you, out there on your own
Sitting naked by the phone
Would you touch me?
Hey you, with your ear against the wall
Waiting for someone to call out
Would you touch me?
Hey you, would you help me to carry the stone?
Open your heart, I'm coming home.

But it was only fantasy.
The wall was too high,
As you can see.
No matter how he tried,
He could not break free.
And the worms ate into his brain.

Hey you, out there on the road
always doing what you're told,
Can you help me?
Hey you, out there beyond the wall,
Breaking bottles in the hall,
Can you help me?
Hey you, don't tell me there's no hope at all
Together we stand, divided we fall.