Category Personal Reflections

Transplanting the Catalpa (and Other Notes on Life, Love and Death)

The great illusion is stasis. That what and who we have today will be the same tomorrow. This is ridiculous, of course, when we permit ourselves to think about it for two seconds, but it hangs on with utter tenacity in our psyches, allowing us to face the short-term tasks of our day with relative equanimity while the specter of every last thing’s impermanence is shunted to the background.

Whatever it is—our people, our pets, our homes, our jobs, our health, our wealth—there they are, ready and available and alive in perpetuity. Until they’re not.

That illusion of permanence goes double, it seems to me, for our trees.

Sturdy, rooted, unmovable, voracious, trees upend our sidewalks, shade our homes, drop their leaves then grow them back—season upon season, decade after decade, through heat, cold, and various degrees of neglect from the humans who make use of them.

And there they stand, towering an...

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Brewpubs, Coffeehouses, and the Conundrums of Income Inequality

How much is income inequality baked into human existence as a hard-wired legacy of the Darwinian struggle for survival and its associated desires for security, comfort and joy? Even in modern democratic societies with supposedly flourishing economies and a stated intent to seek justice and the common good, is there any true escape from the radical wealth disparities that persist right in front of us whenever we open our laptops or take a walk beyond our front door?

One of the many conundrums facing those of us in the 1-, 10-, 25-  or even 50% of the population that lives in relative comfort is that however motivated we may feel to be generous and compassionate toward our fellow suffering humans, the plain truth is that all of us have to make hard and often discomfiting decisions in how much of our own comforts—in housing, food, drink, entertainment, future security and other aspects of the good life—we are...

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In Defense of Gawkers and Looky-Loos

Local news reports here in Sonoma County  tell us that many people who lost their homes to the October fires are upset that the fire tourist “looky-loos” now descending on the rubble of their streets are adding further insult to the grievous injury they have already suffered. This is an understandable response, and I feel for them.

But it seems to me there is much more to this phenomenon than mere voyeurism, so I would like to offer another perspective.

I do so as someone who did not lose his own home but, like most all residents of this area, know many friends and acquaintances who did. And who, like everyone connected emotionally to this beloved landscape and community, shares in the grief of so much loss.

Within the collective trauma, each person, in the privacy of their own fears and anguish, still has to reckon with their sense of loss, still has to make peace with the images now seared into memo...

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The Conundrum of God As “Father”

The names of God—the idea of the infinite reflected in a nearly infinite number of images and words— was the subject of the day in my church this morning. Following are some remarks delivered there by yours truly.

***

I’ve been mulling the 99 or the 9 billion or however many names of God there might be. But I find myself coming back to what has historically been the most prominent of those names: Father. The male of the species.

The mystics might speak of the alpha and omega, the unmoved mover and the fathomless void, but in everyday parlance among the masses of humanity throughout history God has mostly been: a man.

At his best, a benevolent all-embracing father figure. At his worst: a raging avenger constantly threatening to lay waste to his creation.

This line of thought has been dogging me in the wake of about 9 billion recent news articles...

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Dodging Bullets, Traffic, and the Fire This Time…

You are at a country music festival, the weekend’s final act.

It is late and you are feeling the love.

For the artists, the music, the atmosphere, those you came with, all those you didn’t come with but with whom you are now bound and bathed in a warm bubble of what will surely be a lifelong memory.

Then there are alien sounds, rhythmic but not musical—and not coming from the stage.

Then comes the chaos, the confusion, the sudden mad scramble and cowering amid bullets and falling bodies all around you, blood spattering your clothes (is it your own?), screams of fear, of anguish, and death for 58 people.

And for some reason, you are not among them.

You are alive.

***

You are driving down the three-lane highway with a childhood friend on a sunny afternoon, fast lane.

You need to get off, so you move toward the middle.

A driver in the slow lane has the same idea, same time.

You don’t notice, until you d...

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