Living for Today: Necessary Choices in My Emerging Journey – a Personal Reflection by Dennis

three-roads

Three Roads: Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow. Which One Shall I Choose?

The reason most people find themselves stuck in a rut is because they insist on seeing tomorrow as an extension of today, and today as an extension of yesterday. This has been the most difficult, and necessary, lesson of the past year and a half of my life. My ignorance in adhering to this faulty belief invited me to voluntarily step into mental leg irons that have no key. It has hobbled me in everything I have striven to achieve, for it is a false assumption and a dangerous one at that.

Yesterday is a story that has already been told. The book is closed. The lessons, oh dear God, hopefully, learned. No amount of regret can change the ending of a story that is now complete. How can I ever hope to begin a new chapter if I continue to dwell upon an ending that cannot be altered? My past has served its only purpose, which was to instruct and to deliver me to today. My only regret, my biggest regret, is that the lesson came at such a cost to another.

Today is all that truly matters. Today, I write the story, big or small, dull or incredible…the words are all there – and it is up to me to arrange them as I see fit. I am the protagonist. Only I can determine whether I turn left or right, whether I move forward, stand still or retreat backward. I have come to the realization that to stand still or move backward is to settle for a weak plot. Only in moving forward can the inspiring stories be written… and written well.

And what of my tomorrow? It is nothing more than a blank piece of paper not yet ready for my pen. If I live with one foot planted in today and the other in tomorrow, all I will have managed to do is straddle the fence of possibility. To be stuck on that fence is to surrender half of the possibilities of today. I have chosen to get off of the fence and plant both feet firmly on the path of “ Now.” The fallacy of tomorrow is the falsehood that I need to “plan for.” Plan for what? All the things I missed today?

This worldview is not clever or unique. I did not come up with it. Smarter minds than mine have been advocating this for eons. I am just serving as the echo of their wisdom. If I choose to live fully at this moment which is today, I have no choice but to surrender yesterday to the sweetness of memory, and tomorrow to the providence of faith.

Beginning now, I choose to immerse myself in the wonder and infinite possibility that is today. I do so with the humility to comes from the sacrifices of others who helped me find my way.

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Living for Today: Necessary Choices in My Emerging Journey – a Reflection by Dennis

Three Roads: Yesterday, Today, Tomorrow.  Which one will you choose?

Three Roads: Yesterday, Today, Tomorrow. Which One Should I Choose?

The reason most people find themselves stuck in a rut is because they insist on seeing tomorrow as an extension of today, and today as an extension of yesterday.  This has been the most difficult, and necessary, lesson of the past year and a half of my life. My ignorance in adhering to this faulty belief invited me to voluntarily step into mental leg irons that have no key.  It has hobbled me in everything I have striven to achieve, for it is a false assumption and a dangerous one at that. 

Yesterday is a story that has already been told. The book is closed. The lessons, oh dear God, hopefully, learned. No amount of regret can change the ending of a story that is now complete.  How can I ever hope to begin a new chapter if I continue to dwell upon an ending that cannot be altered?  My past has served its only purpose, which was to instruct and to deliver me to today.  My only regret, my biggest regret, is that the lesson came at such a cost to another.

Today is all that truly matters.  Today, I  write the story, big or small, dull or incredible…the words are all there – and it is up to me to arrange them as I see fit.  I am the protagonist.  Only I can determine whether I turn left or right, whether I move forward, stand still or retreat backward.  I have come to the realization that to stand still or move backward is to settle for a weak plot.  Only in moving forward can the inspiring stories be written… and written well.

And what of my tomorrow?  It is nothing more than a blank piece of paper not yet ready for my pen.  If I live with one foot planted in today and the other in tomorrow,  all I will have managed to do is straddle the fence of possibility.  To be stuck on that fence is to surrender half of the possibilities of today.  I have chosen to get off of the fence and plant both feet firmly on the path of “ Now.”   The fallacy of tomorrow is the falsehood that I need to “plan for.”  Plan for what?  All the things I missed today?

This worldview is not clever or unique.  I did not come up with it. Smarter minds than mine have been advocating this for eons. I am just serving as the echo of their wisdom.  If I choose to live fully at this moment which is today, I have no choice but to surrender yesterday to the sweetness of memory, and tomorrow to the providence of faith.

Beginning now, I choose to immerse myself in the wonder and infinite possibility that is today. I do so with the humility to comes from the sacrifices of others who helped me find my way.

We Are the Mercy We Seek…

The Victims of the Boston Marathon Bombings

The Victims of the Boston Marathon Bombings

Krystle Campbell. Martin Richard. Lingzi Lu.
Three orchids withered on the vine this week.  They never had a chance to fully bloom.

This week, a nation grieves after having once more stared into the bloody, gaping maw of death and destruction visited upon the city of Boston.  Promising lives and futures were swallowed whole behind a cowardly and senseless act of terrorism, and the survivors now begin their struggle behind the unanswerable “why?”

As a nation, we will rally around the families of the dead and maimed and will embrace our brothers and sisters in Boston with action, thoughts, and prayers.  And despite their heroic efforts, the first responders will need our support as the floodgates of emotions finally catches up with them. We will be there for them as well.  But what about us?  What does the average person across America do to navigate the hopelessness and despair we feel in connection with these continuing acts of horror?

What can we do but personalize it?  To extend our support and love to those within our own sphere of influence.  While there is little most of us can do to directly help those who were caught up in the actual nightmare of Boston, we can certainly look around us and see ample loss and suffering in our own communities.  We can take that sense of hopelessness and turn it around, extending our compassion, our strengths, and our love to those who can use it best.  To feel a broken, aching heart for the victims of the Marathon bombing, yet remain blind to the suffering and pain of those closest to us is a cheap, selfish emotion.  We are better than that.

I had a back and forth with a writer friend of mine this week, before the bombings, about the need for each of us to take our gifts, whatever they may be, and assume responsibility for confronting the evil that is so prevalent in our daily lives.  She made what I thought at the time to be a defeating comment about how little we could do to combat all the evil that surrounds us.  I responded to her, perhaps a bit more harshly than I intended, that to accept that and do nothing was, in my opinion, an even greater evil.  She is a powerful writer with a gifted, compelling voice, and I reminded her that with that gift comes responsibility.  She already knew that…but I think my words caused her to stop and reflect for a moment on how powerful her gift really was.  Through the power of her writing, she can galvanize and motivate others into action.  She can do something!  And I know she will.

I often turn my own readers off when I chasten them not to look to earnestly for God’s mercy in times like these.  It isn’t that I don’t believe in God. I do.  I just don’t think He’s as merciful as we are lead to believe.  I believe He expects us to be the channels of that mercy.  But too often, we convince ourselves that falling on our knees in prayer is action enough, and nothing could be further from the truth.  We keep searching for God’s mercy while withholding our own.  And the acts of mayhem around the globe march steady on.  God has no stake in this, or at least none that my weak mind can discern. And if I spend my time looking for his tender mercy in these horrific acts, I’ll be spending most of my day walking in circles.  His mercy is not evident.  But ours can be.

Wow!  As I write this, the radio news channel is reporting a massive explosion in the city West, Texas.  15 people, including first responders, are dead.  Entire city blocks are leveled.  There are over 150 people wounded, and the count has just started.  Say a prayer, if you must, but once you get off of your knees, take then a step toward just one person whose life you can impact and do something.  If you want to honor the victims of far off tragedies, do so by embracing and helping those in equal dire circumstances nearest you.  Figure out what your “gift” is…and extend it to others.  Then, and only then, can we each do something about the relentless evil that invades our lives.

For Better or for Worse: I Am a “Dark” Writer

dark writer

For better or for worse, I am a dark writer.

It isn’t something I wanted to be as I grew up…it is more something that had to be done to give my inner grief a voice so that the pain and suffering did not overwhelm me. The events of my life have consumed me like maggots feasting on the carcass of a dead child. Have you ever wondered why the best of Irish writers are so dark and depressing? It is because they were flayed by mental anguish  They were compelled by lives lived in abject poverty, disease and general disrepair and despair. Bram Stoker, James Joyce, Samuel Beckett, Frank McCourt, …all suffered from severe moral disintegration, from morbid ideations brought about by the unrelenting ugliness that this so called “good life” thrust upon them.

The French poéts maudits; François Villon, Baudelaire and Rimbaud? These were simple men forced to live their lives outside or against society, awash in the abuse of drugs and alcohol, insanity, crime, and violence. They all died pitiful, painful deaths. Or how about the Americans? Sylvia Plath, Edgar Allen Poe, Charles Bukowski…each caught up in what life does best…grinding their souls to dust in the absence of any lasting hope until the merciful fist of death grabbed each by the ankle and pulled them under.

You may think I’m just cynical and indulgent…but I tell you, for every ray of sunshine you can conjure, I can show you ten bolts of lightning that rip and destroy. I am glad others have happiness….but I myself was pushed through this veil of insidious despair without my consent, and I’ve learned to navigate life in the absence of hope. And yes, I find some comfort there. It’s what I know.

People are always saying, “try and look on the bright side,” and to them I say, “ Look around you, for fuck’s sake!” There is an ocean of pain, agony, and suffering washing over the majority of the earth’s population…and you think platitudes and sweet rejoinders make a difference when the crows peck the eyes from a dead child who has starved in the Sudan? Or when 20 beautiful innocent children in Sandy Hook have their precious lives snuffed out, or when entire populations are being systematically wiped off the face of the earth for political expediency? Get real. Take off your rose-colored specs and take a deep look around you! Evil flourishes upon a people’s unwillingness to see. They are blinded by their blazing sunshine and forced optimism.

Yes, we live in the same world, but I see the shadows where you see the light. I don’t write this kind of crap because I have something to say…I write it because something which must be said has me to write it. My apologies for the rant…but I get so ill in my gut when people say, “there, there…the world is a beautiful place. Just try harder to be happy.”

The world is obscene and delusional. And it hurts.

The Case Against “Fluff” Pieces on WordPress

human_suffering_141-500x218

I might safely estimate that well over 80% of the material I have read on WordPress is what we writers might call “fluff” pieces. A “fluff piece” is a news story or pieces of writing which are essentially feel good op-eds.  The writing is meant to be cute, funny, or something like that. For example, if a writer does a story about kittens, it is a “fluff piece”.  Stories about kittens are essentially unimportant (oh, I can hear the hate mail churning!) The writer chose to write about kittens, not because it was important, but because it is cute and may help his/her viewer stats.

Fluff may take on numerous guises.  Aforementioned kittens?  Fluff.  Family travel logs?  Fluff.  Best make-up products on the market?  Fluff.  But to me,  the most offending piece of fluff on the WordPress market today are the countless stories that try desperately to convince the reader that the universe we live in; the planet we inhabit; the relationships we take shelter in – all of these somehow rotate within and upon some essentially pleasing spindle they call “goodness.”  Mostly, this goodness online is ego-defined as some omnipresent benefactor lovingly watching over us, raining upon our precious little heads measures of good fortune, benevolence, and unconditional love.  Yeah…fluff!

You have to travel far and wide into the ether of WordPress to hear an opposing viewpoint to this endless vomiting of “goodness.”  While the writer of such pieces may feel justified because he or she just can’t contain the fact that something made them happy, they have to purposefully put on blinders so as not to disturb their nirvana with snapshots of the truth.  The world is not essentially “good.”  Fluff is fleeting.

More than 5/8ths of the world’s population live in impoverished and violent conditions, whether that violence is nature driven or man-made.  To them, this vaporous concept of “life is good” is like a fleeting but violent wind that passes over them and cuts them sharply to the bone.  They are as aware of the “goodness” showered upon the fortunate few as we are willfully ignorant of their pain and suffering.

If you are fortunate enough to own a computer and have the luxury of spending your free time posting online, chances are these people live in the periphery of your vision.  You only glimpse them briefly on sensationalized news channels that can be quickly turned over to a “fluff” program like American Idol.  It just “feels better” not to notice.  Don’t lie…we have all been guilty of looking away to ease our conscience.

Yet there they are…the majority of the earth’s population starving, dying of treatable disease, buried to their necks in the fire-ant-ridden blazing sands of poverty and violence as the majority of us munch away on cheese-laden nachos while watching the Super Bowl.  It just feels better not to notice.  We need the “fluff” in our lives with which to stuff our ears and block out the infernal screams of our dying brothers and sisters.   By the way, if the term “brothers and sisters” offend, I’ve made my case.

You need proof?  Admit it.  Most of those who started reading this post have surfed to another WordPress freshly-pressed site about kittens, or dating advice, or how-to-be happy sites because, well…it simply “feels better.”  We need our goodness fix.  We need our fluff.  The only people who will read this through to the end are the artists and poets who understand that life is anything but benevolent and “good.”  They recognize, in their works, the crush of human apathy and indifference toward the brutal suffering of the “least” of our brethren.  They know because they don’t run from suffering…they run toward it.  Not to shun it, but to embrace it and evolve as human beings.

It appears the editorial staff of WordPress is complicit in the spewing of “fluff” when you consider that poets and artists are freshly-pressed much, much less than the feel-good article writers.  You won’t read this on WordPress because it feels “bad.” It probably isn’t a conscious decision on their part; it’s basic fluff survival 101: who wants to read depressing shit?  It just doesn’t sell!

The artists and poets of WordPress may be less visible, but they are there.  Shame on WordPress for making them enter in the dark and through the back door.  They struggle in vain to instruct a worldview that is ultimately a call to action.  They use their words to scatter the razor-toothed rats that gnaw on the emaciated bones of the poor, the hungry, the murdered masses. Poets and artists know there is goodness out there…they truly do. They see “goodness” descend upon the more fortunate, while the bulk of humanity suffers in despair and agonizing isolation.  They just refuse to wear the blinders.

For myself, I no longer really give a damn about this fleeting goodness. I’ve been shot, stabbed, robbed, and violated in a thousand ways that more than fill one lifetime of despair. And yes, in case you’ve ever read my writing, I have buried my grief and pain in ample cups of amber absolution and beneath the press of fentanyl patches.  I, too, am a coward. If there is goodness in my life, it is only there to mock the other 99.9% of my existence so far. I’m not happy, that is true. But I’d rather spend eternity locked in the pages of Baudelaire and Rimbaud than spend another minute reading about your “kittens.”

Perhaps that’s why most of my postings are poems.  Poetry allows a writer to scream invectives to an unjust, unhearing, apathetic God (who, in my opinion, is the ultimate piece of “fluff)  I’ve seen others (Sandy Hook, Aurora, Iraq, the Sudan comes to mind) who have seen their human potential snuffed out by either extreme violence, (human against human) or natural disaster (famine, floods, disease).  I’ve seen the children of Syria and Libya and Somalia, and, well…spin the globe and press your finger upon it.  It will almost certainly stop at one of these hellholes devoid of human compassion.  The majority of the world’s populations are simply ground to dust by the merciless millstone of life.

I am happy for those of you who believe the illusion that “evil” is the transitory state of humanity and that “good” is the true, permanent human blessing. WordPress appears to exist so that you can dine on a steady diet of “fluff.”  I just don’t see that wide-eyed gorging of “feel good” backed up by facts.  I’ll continue reading your fluff because people like me are more in need of a laugh than just about anybody. I just can’t join you at that particular ”hallelujah” table.  Enjoy the fruits of this “goodness”, but never forget that even more of your brethren have never known such feel-good promise in their lives…and “fluff” just won’t fill distended bellies or bind up the bleeding wounds.

Is God a Heavenly Voyeur?

Helpless-Children

History is strewn with the wreckage of broken lives of those foolish enough to believe God really gives a damn.  There are those who fall to their knees in silent, unheard prayers when suffering threatens to consume them.  In the absence of reasoning, they fall back on a blind faith, a belief that there is some higher meaning behind their loss.  But their faith has never been anything more than the posture of not pulling the alarm when the fires of evil begin to spread. They relinquish their involvement or complicity, their grief, to the dark void of a silent, impassive God.

Waiting for God to intervene is both foolish and tragic. Like many people, I have been struggling to align my faith (or lack thereof) with all the insidious tragedy in the world today.  How is it, we doubters ask, that a compassionate and loving Father (God) allows an endless flow of hate, violence, death, and destruction to inundate our world?  Where is the omnipotence conveyed in the Bible?  The promises and the facts just don’t seem to come together.

How do we accept the “free will” argument of devout Christians who, in lieu of a meaningful discussion, always fall back upon stories in a Holy Book as evidence that God does not interfere in the affairs of man.  The good book is full of examples of Divine intervention.  He saved David from the Philistine Goliath, Daniel from the Lions, and Jonah from the whale. But He simply could not find the time to save 20 young first graders from the wrath of a scrawny, disturbed young killer in Newtown this past December.

Newtown victims

If intervention exists, why did the children of Aleppo, Aurora, Columbine, Iraq, Syria, Chicago, Los Angeles and Joplin, MO, and even the children of the  Holocaust, perish in such horrible deaths?

GermanyHolocaustChildrenPoland

Why the continual absence of settling answers? Not having answers certainly does not disprove the existence of God.  However, it certainly begs the conclusion that if there is a God, he is neither merciful or compassionate.  If His sole purpose is merely to sift through the wreckage of mankind and pick up the pieces,  this would seem to suggest that He serves more as a melancholy janitor and not the all-powerful deity we are urged to embrace through prayer and communion.

Faith requires that we enter into a relationship of God as Father and we as children.

God-The-Perfect-Father

I have to reject that offering.  A true Father figure allows his children to grow by painfully sitting back and letting his loved ones learn  through their mistakes, Yet he intervenes when the child is on the verge of mortal consequence. In that moment, I, as a father, would give my life to protect my children from lethal harm.  But God, it appears, sits back and watches, up to and through the bloody end of it all. Sure, He sacrificed his Son, His most precious gift, so that whoever believes in Him might one day know peace and love…just not today!

Christians are quick to point out that it all comes back to the miracle of faith.  They claim that to know is irrelevant and a false journey, and the only thing that matters is that we “believe” there is a sound celestial reasoning for the evils we encounter as we journey through this life. But it just doesn’t add up.  Believers respond that the reason I cannot find an answer to this and similar questions of Divine indifference is because of my lack of faith. I would argue that my lack of faith stems from clear evidence that God, in allowing such horrific events to shape our lives offers a  path toward reconciliation that is too great a burden for any of us to bear.

Ask the parents of the Sandy Hook shooting tragedy.  Ask the Mother of the child killed by collateral damage in a drone strike in Pakistan.  Ask the orphan who not only loses his biological parents, but is then placed in an abusive foster home.  The examples of pain are endless.   The examples of God’s alleged compassion can fit in one book.

bible

More importantly, believers argue, while we may openly seek understanding and purpose, it is only through the power of prayer that we can even begin to approximate resolution.  On bended knee, we utter our fealty to our Creator, accepting without question that He knows what’s best.  We should leave off our incessant whys. And so many, including myself,  refuse to accept tragedy through supplication and prayer, and continue to stand up and question.

no-prayer

It is somewhat patronizing to suggest that God is tolerant of our doubt and ultimately forgiving of our lack of faith.  He cannot be both the architect of this grand design of free will and demanding that we surrender it at the same time in order to achieve a more perfect union with Him. 

free will

If in fact we are flawed from the cradle due to the original sin of Adam and Eve; if we are offered salvation through the sacrifice and blood of a crucified Son, why then not completely deliver us from evil today rather than offering a rain check for peace and happiness only once we expire?  How is that compassionate or loving?  Why do we call Him Father and not the great Procrastinator?

Proverbs 21:30 offers, “There is no wisdom nor understanding nor counsel against the Lord.” I don’t enjoy struggling with faith.  I wish I could take the easy path and just turn everything over to His “voyeuristic” style of non-intervention.  But I can’t. More than anything, except truth, I want to believe that this all means something. Yet, I would rather confront the evils of this world from a position of knowledge and sympathetic understanding than to close my eyes in prayer and call that a day.

Our Creator put us in a scientific world but left us with an instruction manual no better than the Ikea assembly sheets that serve only to baffle and confuse.

science vs religion

I do not believe, or want to believe that He is nothing but a heavenly voyeur when it comes to our pain and suffering.  Unfortunately, that does seem to be where the evidence points.

I can already anticipate a Christian response for my questioning the “wisdom” of God.  I will be counseled to seek Him in prayer.  I’ve done that, to no avail, for 40 years.  How about instead of my falling to my knees in prayer, you Believers fall to your knees and help a parent mop up the blood of his/her slain child.  And please, don’t ask why.  Just have faith that somehow He knows why.  Your job is to accept and live with the pain.

The Reluctant Father: A Serial Novel Where the Reader (You) Determines the Next Chapter

What follows is my first attempt at utilizing WordPress to write a serial novel (a novel printed in installments.)  You, the reader will play a significant roll in the evolution of this story.  Read the current chapter and leave a comment briefly letting me (the author) know where you think the characters and story should go next.

FATHER

THE RELUCTANT FATHER

Chapter One: Tatiana and Irina

Had she shot me point blank in the heart, she could not have done more damage.

I met Tatiana eight years earlier.  She was sitting alone in an Armenian café on the corner of Santa Monica and New Hampshire.  This was the “Little Russia” enclave of Los Angeles. Not the safest place for a 28 year old red-headed Anglo to be perusing at fifteen after midnight.  People disappeared in this neighborhood for a lot less than satisfying a piroshki craving.  Reflexively, I patted my .32 Baikal pistol tucked beneath my sweatshirt. My stomach gurgled with hunger.

She was stunningly gorgeous. And well, she wasn’t exactly alone.  Clutched  close to her ample breasts, wrapped in a coffee stained tattered blanket with “LA Children’s Hospital” emblazoned across the hem, was a baby.  Normally, this is when I tune out and continue on my way, but she was too fucking beautiful.

“привет,” (hello) I whispered, not wanting to wake the child.

“ебать с,”  (fuck off) she whispered back, glaring at me with the softest brown eyes I had ever seen.

“Why?” I replied, in full voice, hoping I would wake the child just to annoy her.  “Is Daddy coming…ever?”  I felt mildly ashamed at offering such a cruel comeback, knowing full well she was probably a single mom struggling just to keep her sanity for one more night.  Now she had to further her misery with flirting from some asshole the likes of me.

As if it were possible, her soft brown eyes turned even softer, as tears started to well.

“I’m sorry,” I said, “you didn’t deserve that.”

“I’m sorry, too.” she replied, in broken English.  “My name is Tatiana.  This is Irina, and no, Daddy isn’t coming…ever.”

“Tony,” I offered. “So, where’s Daddy?”  I looked at the sleeping child.  She was so pink and I swear there was a smile on her cherub face.  A beauty, just like her mother…but without the stain of a hard life that her mother was wrestling with at midnight in an Armenian café.

“In prison, “ she replied.  “He doesn’t even know he’s a Daddy.”

“Well, he couldn’t have been in long.  How old is she?”

“One month.  We broke up when he was arrested.  I was two months pregnant.”

It was a bit of an uncomfortable introduction, but we meet people how we meet them.  It was obvious that Tatiana was starving for some contact other than the baby she held.  Without thinking it through, I offered:

“Do you need help?”

“Help?  How can you help me,” she spit.

“Do… You  …Need … Help? I repeated, softly.

She looked away for a moment, lifting the corner of the baby blanket to dab her eyes.  After about 15 seconds of silence, she replied,

“Yes…we need help.”

———————————— end Chapter One