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Worst Enemy

Worst Enemy

by Marco M. Pardi

Buddhism teaches that joy and happiness arise from letting go. Please sit down and take an inventory of your life. There are things you’ve been hanging on to that really are not useful and deprive you of your freedom. Find the courage to let them go.”

~Thích Nhất Hạnh, Peace Is Every Breath: A Practice for Our Busy Lives

Only those who do nothing…..make no mistakes”, Joseph Conrad

All comments are sincerely welcome and will receive a response. All previous posts are open to comment.

Have you ever been told, You are your own worst enemy? I have right along with, You think too much. If you were told either of those two things do you remember the context? Or did you just shrug it off and go on with what you were doing?

Advanced aging seems to include a process of doing new things less and remembering done things more. How many of us, in our private moments, review the mosaic of our past, focus on some event, and repeat the mantra, What a mistake that was. And therein is the potential pitfall. Sure, we all make mistakes. I made plenty in my primary school math classes, with a Twisted Sister anxiously hovering over me, steel edged ruler in hand. Oh, I learned. And I probably accrued years in Purgatory for my unspoken thoughts about the nuns. But my private lessons were far beyond age appropriate and had little to do with whatever the formula was to that equation. Those lessons crept in from other sources. For example, most of the other boys passed around a copy of Mad Magazine, famous for the What, me worry? Character Alfred E. Neuman. I admit I didn’t get the humor in that magazine, my only interest being in the regular feature Spy versus Spy. Meaningful? Yes. Portentous? Perhaps. A cryptic theme warning against becoming a common dolboyob as so many of those boys were destined for.

Actually, it wasn’t until I immersed myself in the study of Formal Logic that mathematics lost its terror for me. I began to see formulas as relationships of relative power, deeper than the squiggles we derived from Arabic and now call numbers. Power has a past, a present, and a variably potent future all at once. It applies to everything, from those squiggles, to human relationships, to all that we know and all that we think of the Cosmos and its workings in our lives. Cosmos: a Greek term coined in defiance of Chaos, it suggests an orderly and complex system. Unlike frank Chaos, in the face of which we admit the futility of wonder and thought, Cosmos invites us into dimensions where few can or will follow. Cosmology, the study of the Cosmos, presents us with an infinity of pathways marked by signposts beckoning us toward the sciences, religions, philosophies, but ultimately toward a cautious exploration of meaning including a meaning of human life itself.

On those occasions when I have witnessed people arguing with each other two common occurrences stand out: shouting the other person down; and/or “the silent treatment”. Borrowing for a moment from those early years with math, I did learn that equations do not explain themselves and become clear because I shouted my frustration. Nor did they apologize and restate themselves when I refused to engage with them further. Extrapolating from those discoveries I came to view opponents in an argument as forming an equation which required reconciliation, not total victory of one side over the other. Reconciliation here means seeing how the seemingly separate powers of each side blend to form a larger power helpful to all. A discovery that one power and one power make a third, stronger power. You see, human interaction is not a simple math equation where a solution is either right or wrong; fully exploring the power of each side brings out the history of what brought those powers into the present conflict, and what each of those those powers hopes to bring about with the acceptance of their proposed solution.

To be clear, I’m talking about disagreements that are interpretation based, not factually based. If it is Tuesday, not Wednesday, then it is Tuesday and there will be a way to confirm that. However, if to one person it is not the “right” day or the “right” time to do something and to the other person it is, we have an issue needing deeper examination than just a glance at the calendar.

Sure, I’ve been in disagreements wherein I thought of delivering a figurative Genickschuss. But doing so would have deprived me of the opportunity to benefit from understanding the power the other person brought to the discussion. After a brief feeling of smug satisfaction I would have been left standing where I started, knowing nothing more than I had before. And so, I see conflict resolution – reconciliation, as an opportunity for growth open to all involved.

Still, there are those who are seemingly immovable from their positions. A current example would be the deep divide which became known to the world on January 6, 2021. Interviews with people throughout the country have shown deep conviction held with the fervor characteristic of cults. The same holds for anti-vaccination cultists. In social science and medical science these are know as “hard to reach populations”, reach referring to their mindset not their physical distance or physical barriers. In my role as a social scientist I have conducted group interviews on several topics with such populations. At times it just seemed wise to get up and walk out. But, I never did. The best we could do with some of these groups was to find a side door into their logic, turning their own power against itself. Like a match of mental Aikido.

Another current example is Vladimir Putin and his apparent intention to invade Ukraine. So far we feel we have identified the base or history forming the foundation of his present actions; the assumption is that he greatly regretted the dissolution of the Soviet Union and aims to restore Russia to a place of major world importance and influence. So, we seem to have identified the past, present, and potential future of the power situation forming one half of the equation. But unlike numerical sums which can be proven incorrect or correct, we are faced with a mental/emotional calculus requiring changing minds, not changing mere numbers.

I would assume every reader, likely having come into conflict with a significant other, finds this familiar. I would further assume that most if not every reader has been admonished with, You’re reading too much into this, if not by someone else then by that voice within the reader himself. So we’ve come full circle. Back to us as individuals thinking we can operate in society once we’ve learned what formula fits which human situation. Some of us are quick to identify the components of opposing power and we react quickly, earning us the accusation impulsive. Others may be just as quick but have learned to draw out their response, earning the appellation thoughtful or measured. One of the nicer things said about me was, “Like talking to a Black Hole.” But I’ve never been much burdened with what others say. Some have mocked my occasional purchase of a lottery ticket by stating the phenomenal odds against my winning. My response was always: My odds are always 50%. Either I will win or I won’t. And that pretty much sums up life.

Turning Points

Turning Points

by Marco M. Pardi

Everything is determined, the beginning as well as the end, by forces over which we have no control. It is determined for the insect as well as for the star. Human beings, vegetables, or cosmic dust, we all dance to a mysterious tune, intoned in the distance by an invisible player.” Albert Einstein. Interview. What Life Means to Einstein. Sylvester Viereck.

All comments are greatly welcomed and will receive a reply. All previous posts are open for comment.

Though it may not seem like it, I often laugh at myself. Of course, as the years pass the cause of the laughter shifts. Lately, at the end of my seventh decade on this super-sized petri dish we call Earth, I laugh when I remember that the things I’m thinking about are typical for my age; I must really be this old. That’s okay. One day I won’t be laughing, or remembering, or even breathing. Instead, I might be having an Aha moment in which I realize getting a day older was “not in the cards”. Dealer wins. Ain’t it always that way. But who or what is this mysterious dealer?

You don’t know what you’re missing,”they say. (I underline they because they are usually as elusive as the dealer.) Of course I don’t know what I’m missing; that’s because I’m missing it. But how often do I – and here I’m using I in the grand sense that includes the reader – concoct fantasies of what might have been had I, or had I not {fill in the blank}? The silliest part of spending time like that is that, since I don’t know, there could be a universe of other possible actions/inactions and outcomes or maybe just one. Any of those possible actions/inactions would have yielded outcomes that would have ruled out my knowing about other outcomes, including the one I’m living now. I absolutely think the world of my daughter and grandchildren. But had I agreed to the serious requests to extend my time in the military I’m quite sure I would never have met the woman who became the mother and grandmother of these now wonderful people. My daughter and grandchildren would not exist, at least not in the form I know them today. But did refusing the military request and eventually meeting this particular woman mean I didn’t bring other children into existence? I don’t know. And likely never will. Thinking about it is a waste of time. If I get my hands on that f__cking dealer I’ll ……….

Some years ago I read a book titled What If. I had mixed feelings about doing so, but it did prove interesting as the author went into great depth about events in history. One event which particularly interested me, since I was there at the time, was the culmination of WWII in Europe. As the Allies swept across France and into Germany British Field Marshal Montgomery and American General Patton devised a strategy in which Montgomery, from the north, and Patton, from the south would exercise a swift pincer movement on Berlin, capturing the German High Command. Remaining German units in Eastern France and in Germany would be bypassed on the theory that they would collapse once the High Command was captured. But American General Eisenhower, Supreme Commander of Allied Forces in Europe, did not believe the encircled German units would easily surrender. And, he is said to have feared the British would reach Berlin first and claim credit for ending the war in Europe. He refused the pincer movement and ordered a diagonal sweep across Europe. The consensus is that this decision prolonged the war by 10 months, enabling the Germans to vastly accelerate their Final Solution, what we now call the Holocaust, resulting in the preventable deaths of multitudes and the sacrifice of Eastern Europe and half of Germany to the Soviets, approaching from the east.

We will never know which of the two purported reasons influenced Eisenhower more. We know only the outcome. We will also never know how he looked back on his decision, which he likely did.

Still, some people like to say, Hindsight is 20/20. It is NOT. For several years in the 1970’s I was a licensed consultant helping terminal patients and their families. One of the more common sentiments expressed by patients was a variation of, If only I had or If only I hadn’t. One lung cancer patient said, If only I hadn’t smoked for so long. I said, Okay, you did. But cancer often takes years to manifest. It could have been your first cigarette or your first pack. Or, it could have been one of the routine chest x-rays well meaning physicians administer to patients who smoke. There are people who develop lung cancer yet have never been around tobacco smoke at all. You do not know. We will not know. Beating yourself up now will not bring you the answer. And so we talked about now, about what her life and her family meant in its totality and its richness, not about could’a, would’a, should’a. (Note:I did not mention the many hours I had spent within arm’s reach of nuclear weapons. Those things were known to leak radiation)

My point in recounting this is that, as I sit here at 79, were I to look back at a decision I made at, say 29 and wring my hands and tear my hair over which way I chose then, I would be ignoring the 29 years of experience, learning, and development that brought me to that decision, and the 50 years that have happened between that decision and now and how those years have shaped the perspective, the instrument, that I now use to turn back to judge the person I was in the past. And that holds true for any judgmental exercise of the present remembering the past, no matter the time frame. Focusing on the decision and ignoring the context then and now is an error followed by a mistake.

Sure, there will be some who protest that this is a “Get out of jail free” card. It isn’t. In fact, it’s a call to much greater work, the work of discovering and understanding yourself in full context.

In explaining conceptual thought to college classes I used the example of Leonardo da Vinci bringing David out of a block of marble. (My mistake. It was Michelangelo. I apologize for writing this in haste. See Gary’s comments below) Leonardo had a mental image of David, and he walked up to this huge rectangular block and simply knocked off everything that was not David. Can we approach the confusing shape that is us and knock off everything we think is not us? Or would we be producing a person who never was? I think that until we are willing to examine every lump and every crevice we are living a fantasy. Not seeing something doesn’t mean it’s not there. And those things which we habitually do not see can be influencers and drivers of decisions we make, as we later might suspect when asked why we did something; I dunno.

Retirement can sometimes seem to be little more than habitually waking up in the morning. Forty years ago a student asked me if I believed in reincarnation. My immediate answer was, I reincarnate every instant. Being me is just a habit. Twenty years ago a former faculty colleague who knew that student socially told me she (the student) was still marveling over the thoughts my remark awakened.

Reading or hearing about the work involved in understanding the self some might say, Why bother, you’re going to die anyway.” That’s true and I have heard people say it. On the other hand, Socrates once said the unexamined life is not worth living. Sounds sensible. But, in an article published by Cambridge University in 2012, there are different views:

Extract

According to Socrates, an unexamined life is not worth living. This view is controversial. Is the unexamined life worth living or not? Most philosophers disagree about the answer. While some argue for the worthlessness of an unexamined life, others support the superfluity of self critical examination. In his recent article, Jamison pooh-poohed the claim that an unexamined life is not worth living. According to Jamison, not only is an unexamined life worth living; the rigorous examination of life should not be encouraged due to its possible negative effects on the participants and the entire society. In Jamison’s view, a consistent and unregulated examination of human life produces a feeling of ecstasy (a specie of spiritual feeling) in those who engage in it. The feeling, if allowed, could endanger both the thinker and the entire society. For Jamison, “once you get a taste of this kind of thing, you do not want to give it up”. Someone who engages in self-critical examination eventually becomes entangled with it. Socrates became entangled in dialectics, became unpopular, was accused of corrupting the youth and eventually sentenced to death.


TypeResearch ArticleInformationThink , Volume 11 , Issue 31 , Summer 2012 , pp. 97 – 103DOI: https://doi.org/10.1017/S1477175612000073CopyrightCopyright © The Royal Institute of Philosophy 2012

A cautionary note. I would guess Jamison did not have the full context of what Socrates taught or did not understand the political landscape in which he taught. Reading through Plato’s accounts of Socrates’ teachings, I would say a central message was, Don’t get caught up in the could have beens, would have beens, and should have beens. My neighborhood is laid out with many cul-de-sacs, some obvious, some not so. It’s easy to spot visitors; the car which just went that way is now coming back this way. Confusion, frustration, time wasted. What were thought to be turning points proved to be dead ends. Everyone is born equal. A nice sentiment in principle, but inaccurate in fact. There are those who will need guidance in exploring the neighborhood in which they live – their personhood. Siddhartha Gautama, the Buddha (Awakened One), guided us to realize the neighborhood is infinite, it is Allness and therefore nothing in particular.

What do you think? I can’t count the times I’ve been told, You think too much. But over the years I’ve been fortunate in having as personal friends two eminent psychiatrists one of whom knew my family and both knew my work history. I won’t bore you with snippets from conversations, but I will attest that I’m fine. Driven at times, but fine. Of course, you may think otherwise.
Specializing in the study of Death & Dying, and teaching the subject in colleges, I’ve encountered many who say they want to simply die in their sleep. My answer has always been, What? You study all your life for the final exam and you want to sleep through it? Of course, I recognize that not all people study. And answers are neither right nor wrong; they just are.

But there is no escaping that we approach many turning points throughout our days. Do we choose to be the happy-go-lucky wanderer, or do we tie ourselves up in indecision, or do we examine who we are as we consider what appears to be a choice. I would love to read your thoughts. I think.
Note: This will not be on the test.

Societal Apoptosis

Societal Apoptosis

by Marco M. Pardi

All comments are welcome and will receive a reply. All previous posts are open for comment.

A society [such] as ours eventually ties itself up into knots by its inability to put first things first.” Lewis Mumford.

A society can be no better than the men and women who compose it.” Adlai Stevenson.

STATES OF EMERGENCY

The United States is becoming increasingly ungovernable,” Thomas Homer-Dixon writes. “The structural integrity of the country’s once-esteemed institutions is profoundly compromised. What comes next might be worse.”

The Globe and Mail (Ontario Edition)January 1, 2022 LEAH MILLIS/REUTERS

Thomas Homer-Dixon is executive director of the Cascade Institute at Royal Roads University. His latest book is Commanding Hope: The Power We Have to Renew a World in Peril.

By 2025, American democracy could collapse, causing extreme domestic political instability, including widespread civil violence. By 2030, if not sooner, the country could be governed by a right-wing dictatorship. We mustn’t dismiss these possibilities just because they seem ludicrous or too horrible to imagine. In 2014, the suggestion that Donald Trump would become president would also have struck nearly everyone as absurd. But today we live in a world where the absurd regularly becomes real and the horrible commonplace.

Leading American academics are now actively addressing the prospect of a fatal weakening of U.S. democracy.”

Authoritarian forces have seized control of the GOP and are committed to ending democracy in this country, replacing it with an Orbán-like Hungary-style merger of corporate and state leadership.” Thom Hartmann

Readers with a bio-medical background will recognize apoptosis, (Archaic Greek ἀπόπτωσις). Occurring in multi-cellular organisms, it is a form of cell death that occurs as biochemical events resulting in cell changes accumulate, rendering the cell irreparably damaged. While “bad” from the assumed perspective of the cell, it would definitely be viewed as “good” from the overall perspective of the body as a whole. The cell simply becomes one of the many thousands we shed each day and the body goes on without it.

In my persona as a professional Anthropologist – aka Stranger, I find the relationship of individual cells to whole organisms compelling as a guide to the relationship of individual societies to Humankind as a whole. It may be said that at very few times in our recorded history have the events within an individual society, “America”, been as potentially destructive to the whole, the congress of nations, as they are now. This said, we should examine the events not simply in isolation but in the context of human society.

Over the past four plus years we have seen an increasing number of police involved killings, especially of minority group members, in highly questionable circumstances many of which sparked rallies at which “No Justice, No Peace” signs proliferated and the words were chanted. Yet, we rarely heard anyone specify and define justice; it was an assumed value. Among other such assumed values this moved me to peruse my library in search of examples of how the nature of justice is debated. I settled upon my worn copy of Allan Bloom’s tome, The Republic of Plato. (Bloom, Professor: Cornell University, 1968) Considered the most accurate translation from the Greek, and containing his notes and analytical essay, it states, “The relation between justice conceived as one’s own good and justice conceived as the common good is the abiding concern of The Republic; Cephalus and Polemarchus represent the two poles.” (Interpretive Essay, pg. 317)

At this point it is well to remember that, as Bloom points out, the rulers of Athens were not simply against Socrates; they were against philosophers, of which Socrates was a leading light. Philosophers, what we now call “scientists”, questioned the foundational myths which justified the form of government. Thus, Socrates was viewed as a threat to the state. He was charged with disbelief in the myths and subversion of the youth (who attended his schools). In fact, he was a leader in what became the study of the natural sciences. Given the choice of death or exile, he chose death.

Our modern corollary is found in the rejection of science when issues of vaccines, public health measures, abortion, definitions of life and climate change are in play. Where we differ from the Athenians rulers of those days is that one major political party has learned that top-down autocratic measures are difficult to put in place. They therefore are concentrating their efforts at infiltrating local school boards, library boards, county commissions, county election boards, and State legislatures. The goal being to ensure greater numbers of the poorly educated, desperate for any kind of work people upon whom this political party has built its base. Regarding climate change the ongoing effort to curtail or cancel regulations on industries and activities that hasten these changes is putting more money into the pockets of investors and more people into “sacrifice zones” – swaths of the country in which cancer clusters and other health consequences and environmental disasters are to be accepted as “the cost of doing business”. To ensure these and other measures, such as the array of State laws banning or severely limiting abortion even in cases of rape or incest the “Red States” – reliable voters for the party of dictatorship, are enacting rules and laws severely limiting the ability of minorities to vote.

Though science in general is under attack (as of this writing some 850 books and videos have been identified to be banned), individuals are being singled out: our modern version of Socrates is Dr. Anthony Fauci who, along with his family, has been placed under 24/7 guard due to viable death threats emanating from the general public but inspired by this political party and the fundamentalist churches in its thrall.

Within the chaos ushered in by the last Presidential administration we have seen a dramatic increase in homicides, notably in police interactions with the public. In those instances when family members of people killed by police were asked what they thought justice should be their answers commonly wandered but eventually settled on some version of “the fullest extent of what the law allows”. This implies criminal charges but civil suit is not ruled out. But who made those laws, and whom do they serve?

Shortly after the attacks of 9/11 the Pentagon enacted a policy enabling them to shift unwanted military equipment, from fully automatic firearms to armored personnel carriers, to civilian police forces. The materials were provided free of charge, the police departments paid only for transfer costs. Thus, in a not so subtle way the community based police took on the persona of a federal strike force, further alienating them from the population they were sworn to “serve and protect”. Correspondingly, the internal ethics among the rank and file of police forces have shifted toward a view of non-police as “others”. A growing percentage of police officers are former military. As former military myself, I can say the attitude toward “civilians” is markedly different in the military and must be altered before a person makes the transition from military to civilian police. Unfortunately, the public response to the militarization of police was a demand which would fit on a placard: Defund the Police. Of course defunding the police is a foolish measure. But re-allocating police funds away from military equipment and toward more community outreach and mental health resources is a productive measure; it just won’t fit on a placard.

The military, long staunchly apolitical, is increasingly peopled with persons willing to apply “enemy” status to civilians within their own population. A few days ago a CNN broadcast featured one of three retired military Generals who jointly published an article expressing deep concern over the growing number and intensity of extremists in all ranks of the military. And just today CNN released the findings of a significant nationwide poll: fully 62% of Americans expect violence in coming Presidential elections. This can, and likely would include armed insurrection involving members of the military and the weapons to which they have access. Another nationwide poll today indicates fully 1 in 3 Americans feel violence against the government is justified in some cases, though those cases were not specified. Of course, once that particular political party succeeds in severely curtailing or even eliminating voting rights major blocs of the population might feel they have no alternative to violence.

Analysts working with the bipartisan January 6th committee are agreed, and evidence is mounting, that in the insurrection of one year ago the Capitol buildings were not the targets; members of Congress were the targets. When asked why such a large percentage of Americans seem not to understand the threat the common answer is: People still consider such a development as impossible, despite January 6th, what has been called a “practice run” already perpetrated with fatal consequences. We look at films of Mussolini’s Blackshirts and Hitler’s Brownshirts and fail to see hours of live television of Trump’s mob, or even the Proud Boys parading their admittedly neo-Nazi agenda, what Trump himself called “decent people”. And the reality is that there are far more people of this kind than what appeared on television.

Some people fear a civil war. I agree there is very good reason for this fear but I would add that it would not be as clear cut as the North versus South Civil War we learned of in school; although there are “red states” and “blue states” the people who may violently disagree with you could be living next door.

If the analogy of cellular apoptosis to our society holds true, what then are the consequences to the body of Human societies worldwide? Since its inception, the American “experiment” in democratic self rule has been viewed by many throughout the world as a goal to be sought. Yet, as the events of recent years have simply overwhelmed all efforts to suppress or hide them we see many societies that were formerly aspiring to democratic self rule or even achieving it backing away from what they rightly see as ungovernable chaos. As our continued encouragement of them increasingly meets with “Look to your own problems” rebuttals we see increasing doubt even within our own ranks. We are entering crisis fatigue, and the all too common next step is the self generated imposition of and acquiescence to someone who promises “to make the trains run on time.” And as we saw with the Trump administration there is a multitude of handlers, henchmen, and grifters willingly waiting in the wings to support such a dictator.

I was born into a Fascist dictatorship and now, at my age, I wonder if I’ll “book-end” my life by dying in one. But that is only a minor and personal concern; I dread what could easily await my descendants – and yours.

Reflections (complete)

Reflections

Marco M. Pardi 1973

                A baby lay in its cradle, placed upon a sunlit terrace in the cool blue of the morning.  Gazing into the blue mist, seeing clouds as reference points among the hues, the child felt, without knowing, the rim of the cradle sun shade, the clouds, the hues of sky and deep sky as a plane upon which he existed; a point lying within what was at first glance, merely out there.  By turning his head he could see the crystalline shatter of the sun’s light coming through the black silk of the shade.  And in the same, but a different way, the hues, the intensity, which took meaning only by their relationship with all else.  And he knew his body as being.  He knew his being in the warmth of sun-drenched blankets and the cool shade of the deep, deep sky; the blackness which was the balance of the sun.  Too black to see, too bright to see, but holding him in the joined love and harmony of essence, of oneness.  And it was as it was for all things at that moment.

          Many moments… and a small boy in a military uniform ran and walked and ran down a long slope of thick green grass.  To his left was a line of tall trees.  The leaves intertwined to form a solid barrier to eyes that looked but did not see.  They waved and chattered in the gentle breeze of the sunlit afternoon.  In winter they stood mute and quivered in the thrill of the silent, cold, and white shrouded landscape.  The boy’s destination lay several hundred yards ahead.  It was a creek.  Not a special creek.  It twisted and bobbed up and down as creeks do.  It came from nowhere and went nowhere, as creeks are. 

          Every afternoon, unless the rain was so heavy that he was kept inside, the little boy, who was the youngest and smallest in the military academy, ran unhesitatingly from the asphalt playground outside the school building down the hill to the creek.  In winter he could dive onto his sled and streak through the crackling snow like a swallow swooping low over the tops of tall grass.  He never went to the creek; he always came back to it.  He sat in classrooms in the main building; he learned atop the rounded boulders in and around the creek.

          As he walked down the slope the squeaking swing chains, the banging of seesaws on asphalt, and the shouts of children living in games merged and faded behind him.  He watched the ground, the grass, the bugs, the trees, the sky.  Not looking for anything, just watching.  In the fall the creek was just beginning to show life.  Cooler weather and storms brought it forth.  The water gurgled and gushed by, seemingly enjoying itself, but without guilt.  As the days grew shorter the trees grew orange and brown and red.  Stronger winds carried leaves into the water and they spun by atop the waves and bubbles.  But there was something there.  There was an undefinable balance.  A celebration of the course of nature; the separation from the mother tree.  And the vague and murky concern for what is to happen.  Where will the leaves go?  It was the sour joy of being in time.

          As winter came quietly closer the leaves became fewer, and delicate layers of crystalline ice formed along the edges of the creek.  All nature slowly hushed as the vibrant greens, yellows, and reds evolved into browns, greys, and an increasingly large mantle of white.  A cold sun shone through the nude, brown patches in deep sleep.  The creek was covered by ice now, but it was there.  It was always there.  Now the bright colors of nature were to be seen by joyously diving into glistening snowdrifts until the melting snow dropped dozens of watery prisms from young eyelashes into eyes that could see.  And the biting cold was a friendly reminder, a lesson from nature, a hint of that which balances what we call life.  And without sorrow or joy.  With simple and open forthrightness for those who see.  There was unspeakable excitement in courting the cold.  In wondering where one would go, and what one would be.  Winter froze life in the tracks left in the snow and gradually shifted those tracks until they were gone.

          And then the snow lost its strength.  It sagged and dripped before an oncoming sun.  The world of white was growing increasingly brown with living mud.  The creek was running now with melted snow.  This was where the snow went.  This was what it was then.  And soon the last of the ice would give way to the gushing, roaring tumult of life bursting forth in the creek, in the trees, in the air itself.  The muffled presence of winter was overcome by songbirds, insects and gushing water.  One could almost hear the sap bubbling through the trees and bursting out as leaves bright and green and joyous.  The rites of Spring were being celebrated all around.

          One day, while running to the creek, Tonio felt the tree line calling.  His footsteps slowly waivered, then definitely followed him to the base of a particular tree.  There was something to be known there.  As he drew closer he became aware that, as if in slow motion, he was at once looking at a cat and gliding down into a relaxed sitting position by the cat.  The cat was too relaxed.  It lay on its side; legs and neck outstretched as if in sleep.  Its face was almost tucked into the crook of a gnarled root from the great tree which was hovering over its students.  Ribs showed through the fluffed fur.  Fur that had been cared for by the winds and rain.  Milky, sagging eyes gazed out beyond the root and into the deepening hues of the blue sky.  Fleeting images.  The earth and blue.  Clouds and a root.  There were no sounds within the boy.  A sky, a tree, a cat, a boy were wordlessly one.  No joy, no sorrow.  In being.  And there was a gurgling from the creek.

          Toward the end of the school year the late spring rains meant spending recess in the gym.  While others played “battle ball” or some such game, Tonio caressed, and reluctantly threw a basketball at one of the baskets in the far corner of the gym.  The ball had been a Christmas gift from his family.  Faces were hard to remember, but he could always recall the voice that he heard on an occasional Friday afternoon telephone call.  He knew they were far away.  The ball was there though.  He was reluctant to throw it at the basket; it felt good in his arms.

          Suddenly the ball was wrenched from him and as he turned he saw a much older boy dancing and grinning, taunting him with the ball.  Tonio stood transfixed with shock which quickly turned to horror.  This older boy had led the others in dancing around him and taunting him by singing the song, “Baby Face.”  He was the bully who would punch boys in the stomach or kick them during close order drills.  The old Army captain never saw him do it.  He often saw a boy bent over or kicking back and gave the bully’s victim an additional thrashing.  The deepest despair became strongest resolution to destroy the monster.  The young boy was only two steps from the rack in which the wooden practice rifles were kept.  In a move undefined by time he perceived the back of the older boy as he had turned to run.  The young boy knew that his arms were bringing a rifle, stock first, in full swing toward the fleeting back.  In an instant the rifle crashed against the older boy.  The force sent half a broken rifle skittering across the gym floor, and the large boy slamming to his face.  The ball was no longer in sight, no longer in mind.  The barrel end disappeared from the young boy’s hands, and, as quickly, a new rifle appeared.  Again his body knew itself in full swing as the butt end of the rifle went streaking through a high arc over his head.  As the older boy rolled over on his back, blood streaming from his nose, a second rifle butt smashed into the gym floor where his head had been.  The older boy was showered with splinters from a second broken rifle.  Hands grasped and arms clenched Tonio until, in his rage, his captors held only his body.  he could not see through his tears, he could not hear through his sobs; he was totally alone.

          The next morning, in that same gym, the student body was mustered in full military formation.  A dusty looking old captain stood stiffly in front of the cadets and read off the charges against the young boy.  There had been no hearing.  A kindly nun had sat with him a while during the night.  But this was the day of infamy.  As the captain droned on, the boy watched the sun filter through the metal grates over the gym windows.  For the first time he saw in them another meaning.  Then he heard the command to “Front and Center.”  Having so intensely seen himself as front and center up until then, he had no idea why it took so many steps to get there.  He gazed at the silver bars on the captain’s coat as the older man solemnly pronounced him stripped of his rank and confined to the dormitories.  He watched quietly as scissors clipped away his one black stripe from each arm of the gray uniform.  They fell onto the gym floor.  And were barely visible any longer.  The captain ordered him dismissed from the assembled corps to begin his confinement.  As he marched through the companies of faceless boys he knew he should be sorry, he should feel badly.  But his arms were actually lighter.  In singling him out as a failure, the captain had freed him from this nameless mass.  He had an identity.  The voice on the phone changed after that.  It was never the same.  But the bubbling creek knew.  And it laughed with him in wordless love.  The young boy felt old.  He felt trapped in a little body but aware of so much more than even the bigger bodies were aware of.  He wondered what he was to become. 

The mid-September dawn came quietly over Firenze, as if looking for something and hoping not to be noticed. Five weeks short of his 8th birthday, Tonio hopped down the outside steps into the garden. Skirting the large concrete fish pond and fountain, he ran to the base of the high wall separating the property from the street.

Over three months before, his family had packed up everything in Ohio and moved back to Italy.  Grandfather, grandmother, mother, older brother and Tonio had come by ship to spend at least two years in grandfather’s home town.  At first Tonio had missed the monastic boarding school, deep in the northern Ohio woods where he had spent the last two years. He had made a friend there, an odd kid whom the other boys also picked on.  But Tonio’s grandfather seemed to be a friend; at least, unlike the others he actually engaged Tonio in short conversations. And he once took the boys into Firenze to the Thieves’ Market, where they had fresh ham sandwiches and Tonio saw his first amputee. Sitting on a rickety wheelchair, a war veteran waggled the stumps of his legs as he held out a tin cup for donations.

The summer months were eventful from the start. Moving into the large villa they had leased, unpacking twenty four steamer trunks and getting things situated had been greatly facilitated by the household staff. Elvira (el-VEE-rah) prepared three meals daily, her husband “Beppino” performed a variety of heavier chores, and their daughter Anna functioned as maid. Occasionally, Beppino’s brother Ugo would come by to spend time working in the garden. A Partisan fighter in the war, Ugo’s hands had been cut off at the wrist and Tonio watched him as he hooked pails of water over his forearms and went about watering plants.

Tonio and his brother were quickly handed over to Signora Broglio, a widow whose physician husband had been killed fighting Germans as part of Italy’s elite Alpine troops. Sra. Broglio came daily in her Lancia to pick up the boys for the day and refresh their Italian up to grade standards for their entry into school.  As they drove from the villa into Firenze she would point out various buildings and have the boys recite, in Italian, what they could of the history before them. Tonio was fascinated by the number of buildings with numerous bullet holes and other damage. Crews worked slowly each day to patch them. One day Sra Broglio had pointed out that there was a large monastery in the deep forests covering the nearby Apennine mountains. Excited by this enthralling news, Tonio asked to hear more. However, like many Italians aware of the Church’s support for the Axis, she said no more about it. 

In the first couple of days after moving in Tonio had discovered a tortoise living in the garden, near the wall.  Thinking at first it was a large rock, Tonio decided to name it Petra, after the stronghold in southwestern Jordan carved largely from rock. He also decided Petra was female. Beppino told him a tortoise would like fresh lettuce. So, every morning Tonio would bring lettuce to Petra and lay it before her shell, wherein she always took refuge at his arrival. He would lie down nearby, watching and sometimes whispering to her until she cautiously peeked out and nibbled. She never seemed to look at him, but always knew he was there.

A few weeks after they had settled into a routine at the villa, Tonio saw the daily newspaper. The headline for June 26, 1950 announced that North Korea had invaded the south the day before. A few years after the last bombs and bullets had scarred Firenze, the world was being dragged into violence again. Born in Rome, and having survived the war there, Tonio wondered if this was the nature of life, if this was his future.

As summer progressed, adult relatives came, quietly discussed the Korean situation, and left. Even the staff seemed distracted, as if they expected the family to leave at any moment. One of the adults had brought Tonio and his brother a pair of model sailboats, sparking their first real adventure at the fountain. Unknown to them before, a pair of large eels owned that water. As they launched their boats the eels darted away, hesitated, and fell into line behind the boats. Waiting, watching for a careless crewman to fall from the deck. More weeks passed, more lettuce talks with Petra, and a rapidly growing ability in Italian.

Grandfather announced one morning he had to go into Firenze for the day, returning late that evening. The day went as usual. But, as time for the evening meal drew near, Tonio was suddenly overcome with a feeling of deep exhaustion; he needed to lie down and sleep. Elvira looked at him carefully, but no one else minded as he went to his bed and laid down.   

Immediately as he closed his eyes Tonio felt propelled into utter blackness. Feeling more awake and clear than he ever had, he looked back in the direction from which he felt he was traveling and saw what appeared to be Earth, receding in the distance. It was then he discovered he had no body.

What’s happening? Where am I?”, he thought.

Calm down. We’ve done this before. The voice in his mind was his, but somehow different. When you were two you got a virus that almost killed you. At 2 1/2 you got whooping cough and there was no effective medicine because of the war.

Who are you?”

I am you, the real you, the you that people call spirit, soul, essence, and other things.

But I, we, have no body.”

We don’t need one now. We are the real you. Nothing has been lost. Was that man at the market any less who he was for having no legs? Is Ugo not really or fully Ugo because he lost his hands?

Where are we going?”

Nowhere. There is no place to go. The vision you had of Earth, the sense of movement you had, were just symbols to help you understand the shedding of attachment to physical things, and what you think of as real.

At that moment Tonio sensed a presence, a person beside him. But this presence had no gender, no form, and no age. Still, he knew it was a human and he felt it was “dead” and “alive” at the same time, but the person was confused.

Who is that?”

That’s unimportant now. It is important that you be with this person.

Suddenly Tonio saw a ball of orange light in the blackness. He could not tell if it was a small light up close or a big light far away. As it grew in size, he could not tell if it was indeed growing or if they were moving closer.

 “What’s that? Is that God?”

There is God, there is no God. God is nothing, no thing is God. God is everywhere, God is no where. There is no thing you can point to and say it is God. Putting God in one place or person, with likes and dislikes, is taking God out of everywhere and everything else. Even thinking the word God limits God to the meaning you have put on that word. God is like the water to the eels. Do they know they are in water? People make Gods. Then they claim to know what the Gods like or dislike. The reason is simple: Those in charge of knowing God’s likes or dislikes are in charge of judging people’s behavior; it gives them power over other people.

So we aren’t going to heaven?”

No such place as heaven or hell. Think of those words as you just now thought of the word God. Those words are made up of what we like and what we don’t like. Your heaven could be someone else’s hell.

Why are we here? Why are we doing this?”

Because you and this person are inter-connected. We are all inter-connected, but you will sense this in only a few cases. We will do this many, many times throughout your physical life. Some of these people you will know, many you won’t. This person is shedding the attachments to the physical. You are one of those attachments. Being here allows that person understand the transition and accept it.

Do other people do this, like we are now?”

Some people are born asleep and stay asleep. Others are born awake and are put to sleep by society. Some are born asleep and awaken at some point, often suffering for it. A few are born awake and remain awake. Those few are almost never known, never understood.

Are we dying now?”

It is not our time.

As those last words were spoken, the unseen person next to Tonio seemed to pass on ahead, moving into the light. Immediately as he recognized this, Tonio awoke on his bed. Being early evening, it was still quite light out.

Tonio lay on his bed, completely recovered from the sudden tiredness which had brought him there, but so deep in thought that getting up or lying still was not yet an issue. But in less than an hour, outside his room he heard the telephone ring and a rush of voices soon thereafter.

Within minutes his mother opened his door and, seeing him awake, told him his grandfather had collapsed and died in a hotel lobby in the city. He looked at her, saying nothing.

After his mother had left for the hospital to which his grandfather had been taken, Tonio arose and quietly entered the kitchen for some of the dinner he had missed. The household staff were still there, but they were busy hovering near his grandmother and his brother.  He gathered up some left-overs into a basket and, suddenly thinking of something, included some lettuce.

With evening darkening, Tonio slipped out into the garden, skirted the fountain, and went quickly to Petra’s area by the enclosure wall. Choosing the cover of some bushes to reduce his visibility from the house, he sat and looked for Petra.

For the first time, he did not have to go to her. She came toward him with greater speed than he would have thought possible, craning her neck fully out of her shell and seeming to look straight at him. He put the lettuce before her, but she held her head erect, just looking at him.

As darkness fell Tonio quickly finished his food and went back into the house. Unnoticed by anyone, he went back to his room to think. What had happened to him? Why did Petra behave the way she did?

Over the next few days Tonio stayed out of the way as people came to negotiate the breaking of the lease, distant family and friends came to console the widow and her daughter, and a man came from the American Embassy in Rome to prepare the family for a problem on the return to the U.S.

The Embassy official – Tonio did not know his exact duties but he seemed to be an old family friend, explained that since Tonio’s grandfather had been such an immensely wealthy man the family would get extra scrutiny from Customs and the Internal Revenue Service would assign two agents to oversee any and all banking transactions conducted on the grandfather’s accounts.

Tonio had no idea what the Internal Revenue Service was, or did. But, he was pretty sure he would recognize the agents. Eels.

The evening before they were to leave, Elvira asked his mother how Tonio was handling the death. With Tonio standing nearby, his mother had simply dismissed the progress he had made in Italian and answered her that, “Tonio does not understand death.” Touching her finger to the side of her head, she said, “He is pretty slow here. But, he is strong, and when he is old enough the Army can take him and keep him.” Elvira looked at him, something in her eyes he had not seen before.

And so it was that, at that mid-September dawn, Tonio hurried into the garden to say Good-bye to his beloved Petra. She was there. She seemed to be waiting. And, Tonio could not tell if it was the dew, or if she had tears in her eyes.  

         Many moments later… and a young man in a camouflage fatigue uniform walked slowly along a trail between rows of ammunition bunkers.  He had volunteered for assignment to a secret army installation in Central Africa.  During the time when Sub-Saharan African nations were gaining independence dozens of factions roamed the countryside in power struggles for control of the emerging governments.  United Nations “peace keepers” were sent into the more troublesome areas.  One of these was the Belgian Congo.

          The main base was on the coast of North Africa, situated where the right hand of the Sahara touched the Mediterranean Sea.  A few miles to the east of Tripoli, it was a perfect setting for an old Burt Lancaster film.  Tripoli was an unofficially divided city.  Separated by a high wall, the original city wall, were the Old City and the New City.  The New City was built mainly during Italian and British occupation.  The blend of these cultures was reflected in the architecture and the racing traffic; the honking donkeys and Fiats.  In the Old City no streets were wide enough for cars.  Traffic was almost exclusively pedestrian, except for an occasional donkey or Moto Guzzi motorcycle.  Here the streets were named for the occupations of the shopkeepers who filled them with the din of their workmanship and the excitement of their bartering.  Although one had to be extremely careful to avert one’s eyes from occasional “Fatimas,” or Moslem women, one could always expect to be sincerely engaged in friendly greetings and small talk with shopkeepers who spent much of their time in the cool of the shaded streets.  In marked contrast to the New City, the people of the Old City dressed exclusively in the traditional robes.  An outsider was immediately obvious, even in the near total darkness, by the profile of his clothing.  The Old City was “off limits” to all American and British personnel after dark.  Too many G.I.’s mistakenly believed their dollars could buy them anything.  Their bodies floated mutely about the harbour in the early mornings. 

          The young man squatted to the side of the trail, eyes sweeping the horizon for silhouettes, ears straining for unusual noises, or unusual stillness.  While he waited in the blackness for the other three strike team members to catch up to him he thought of the many nights he had spent wandering the Old City alone.  He had no fear of being caught by the Town Patrol.  Being in Special Security was something of a stigma.  The rest of the base personnel knew who these men were by their camouflage uniforms and the distinctive hardware on their web belts.  The young man had noticed that people on base always gave him and the others more room on the sidewalk than they needed.  And it was hard to get more than a passing glance out of fellow pedestrians.  He often wanted to stop someone on the street and ask them why.

          He heard his team long before they saw them.  As usual, they were gossiping about all the other men in the unit.  Assignment to particular teams varied.  But one thing didn’t; each group cut hell of everyone not on it, all night long.  Although a team leader, Tonio’s strong dislike for the gossip drove him to take point alone rather than assign someone the dangerous job.  The others seemed to think he was just “gung-ho.”  He used to wonder what they said about him, but he long since ceased to care.  Whether in the jungle or on the desert he loved the chance to wander quietly and blend with the night environment.  But the trails were terrible risky.  On a moonlight night one could see, or be seen, clearly for several hundred yards.  The ammunition bunkers themselves made perfect ambush sites.  To lessen the risk of blowing themselves up and increase the chances of hitting their targets, the teams carried short barrel twelve gauge shotguns.  As team leader, the young man didn’t bother with one; he carried a .45 automatic and case knife instead.

          As the others drew closer, he let out his characteristic whistle before stepping out on the path.  They were only about 100 yards from a large ammo bunker which had been restocked earlier that week.  Stacked all about the place were empty Conex boxes; five foot steel cubes with hinged doors.  On rainy nights the teams would often sit it out in the boxes.  The attitude generally was that if anyone wanted the ammo badly enough to come for it in the rain, they could have it.  Unfortunately, the noise of a rainstorm on one of these boxes could get so extreme that every tribe in Africa could walk up at once without being heard.  If one were careful, he got soaked.

          The team moved slowly as they approached the bunker.  Conversation dropped to curt business commands as maliciousness gave way to caution.  Carelessly slung shotguns came up at the ready a few paces from the boxes as silent hand signals from the team leader dispersed the group into the bunker.  The sounds of feet, clothing, and breathing grew fainter as the shadows slipped among the stacks of ammunition.

          Suddenly, a shout and a shotgun blast triggered an insane symphony of roaring guns and voices.  In one movement Tonio dove on his face and pulled out his pistol.  But a smashing force landed flat atop him and began to scramble all over him.  In a convulsive jerk he spun over on his back only to feel a hammer-like object slam into his right forehead.  As if in a dream, he recalled prep school and Van Gogh.  He almost laughed as the urgency of the moment brought his now empty hands up to protect himself and to grab at anything that he could.  Crouched atop him, and poised for another blow, was a large torso.  In a single effort he pushed up with his hands and snapped up his knee.  As a groan and slight weakening of the torso encouraged him, he grabbed for its neck.  His fingers clamped on and his thumbs interlocked over cartilage.  Only then, when two steel hands clamped his wrists, did he realize his opponent was also unarmed.  He thought of his knife but it lay under him.  And now those hands were clawing his face, searching for his throat.  He pushed away and clamped tighter, his legs scrambling in the dirt like a giant lizard thrown on its back.  There was no time.  There were no sounds other than the gasping, grating, gurgling of two men locked in struggle.  The young man was adrift on a sea of green, in a field, some trees, the sky.  His hands, the sounds, the dripping and spitting saliva falling in his eyes, now falling from his mouth.  His gasping turned to sobbing, his arms and hands moved automatically as his thumbs crushed into a broken throat and his hands slammed a lifeless head against hard, parched ground.  His tears hid the torso he now sat astride.  He did not comprehend that its chest heaved only from the force he gave it.  And still he slammed the head with a dull thudding sound. 

          Arms closed around him.  Friendly hands took his hands and carefully unlocked them.  He fell against two chests and sobbed as a feeling of nausea grew stronger within him.  His whole body trembled violently as he felt his hands and arms grow filthy.  His tears became a screen upon which played images of a bloody boy lying face up on a gym floor.  And a clean, cool creek whose holy water would wash away his sins, his memories, the blood no one could see.  He cried, for there was no creek. 

          Many years later, by someone’s count, an old man walked slowly through a field.  There was no sign of human life in any direction.  He had left his car where a dirt road ended several miles away.  Behind him, through the years, he had left a trail of humanity:  a wife, a daughter, a son, their mates, two grandchildren.  To each he had felt a singular kind of closeness.  He was always amused by the cultural rules and plans for appropriate closeness in relationships.  During twenty-five years of teaching college students about humanity he often wondered why he spent time answering questions they would have never cared to ask.

          As he slowly wandered through the knee-high grass he remembered the night his daughter was born.  He remembered the bittersweet feeling of being, as the doctor told him he was the father of a little girl.  She lay peacefully in her hospital crib, unmistakably “his,” but not even dimly aware of how alone she was.

          Many nights he would slip into her room to watch her sleep, to listen to her precious breath.  As she grew older and came to know him he agonized over his intense desire to clutch her to him, to protect her; but he knew he must make her confident in her aloneness as well.  He sometimes wished he did not know so much about personality development; he was always figuring out what was best to do, and finding that things worked out anyway.

          Over the years his wife had come to understand and accept his strange ways; above all, his intense need to be alone.  At first she thought this was rejection of her.  Perhaps another woman.  But after a time she came to know, if not understand, that the “other woman” was a quest for wholeness, a holy grail, a journey which could only be traveled alone.  In fact, she saw him quickly develop the ability to be very appealing to crowds of students and colleagues, but close only to a handful.  Even in that closeness, he was to everyone, alone.  Not unkindly so.  Just alone.  Sometimes the fact that he saw this ultimate principle in everyone else was disturbing to people.  There are certain unpleasantries in life that go untalked about. 

          The bright spring sun warmed his sinewy muscles and joints.  Now that his wife had fully realized the quest there was no more demand in her.  She was happy when they were together, but not at all threatened when they were apart.  His children loved him in the same way.  He would be with them as long as they were alive.  The grandchildren were very young yet.  Like the new growth on the trees and the flowers venturing trust in the fidelity of the sun.  They too would stand on their own some day.

          The old man was glad for the sun.  He remembered nights when he was left alone in the house.  His wife and children would visit relatives while he stayed to work on lectures and papers.  On those nights, over the years, he had never been able to sleep completely until he saw the grey of dawn in the room.  He had never quite shaken a deep rooted, vague uneasiness in sleeping alone at night.  On a rational level he knew that having his wife and children in the house was of no help in an emergency.  But this dread had long since sunk beneath the clear water of reason.

          A little tired and sleepy from walking, he allowed himself to be drawn down a gentle slope in the land.  In a sudden moment of joy he realized he was just not surprised to find himself heading toward a gurgling creek.  Stopping at the bank, he sat down on ground still moist with spring rains.  He watched the industrious crayfish and impetuous minnows for a while until the afternoon sun caressed his face into a serenity it had not known for dozens of years.  He slowly lay back, using an exposed tree root as his pillow, and closed his eyes.  A gentle breeze sprinkled him with drops of shade from the tree as the blue sky glowed orange through his eyelids.  The creek whispered to him of many things, for now he knew.  And he never had to fear darkness again.

Probably

Probably

by Marco M. Pardi

Some things have to be believed to be seen.” Ralph Hodgson

All comments are welcome and will receive a reply. All previous posts are open for comment.

While in college I had an acquaintance with a Professor of Mathematics and his wife: he, Ph.D. Princeton; she, Ph.D. Columbia. Although I was in my twenties and they in their sixties we got on quite well. We several times met for dinner and long conversations at restaurants near the university. He did have a somewhat disconcerting habit: Either in appreciation of his meal or in an effort to make room for more he would expel several cubic feet of military grade methane from his large intestine, announced by what sounded surely like a beginning student of the Tuba. This being before smoking was banned in restaurants I did have initial fears of a nearby cigarette blowing the dessert cart across the room or of nearby diners having their then raised eyebrows singed. But I told myself: Probably not.

One evening, as I hesitated mid-sentence, he interjected with the statement that he knew of a computer program which could predict the next word I would speak. This being the late 1960’s I was remotely aware of computers. I was also in my fourth year of field operations with technical support from an agency which did almost all its work with computers. So, I was keen to learn more. But the conversation proceeded and I was left with a simple impression that a probability formula had been programmed into a computer.

However, this aroused my interest in just how much of our behavior is based on assumptions of probability. And what do we learn from surprise. Thinking back, I remembered how my mother, new at driving an automobile, said a prayer before even turning the key. Did she assume that would probably safeguard us from a crash? And that St. Christopher medallion pinned to her sun visor. Would that fetish object perhaps come to life should we take a wrong turn and probably guide us to our destination? I never saw him waving his hands to get her attention so I guess it worked.

The fear of a crash would have been more supportable had we been in the habit of driving places late at night. One State where I lived ran almost nightly public service broadcasts outlining how the risks of encountering a drunk driver increased exponentially with each passing hour into the night. And I actually did witness what appeared to be impaired drivers while driving home from teaching college night classes. Or maybe they were my students trying to regain equilibrium after two or three hours of listening to me. Either way, I seldom caught myself connecting the hour of the night with the driving styles of oncoming traffic. To me, a drunk was just as likely, or unlikely, to be driving home from tailgating at an afternoon football game, at least on week-ends, celebrating some event, leaving Happy Hour, or just supporting an addiction.

Somewhere in my development I began an effort to avoid using terms like: Never, Definitely, Can’t be, Must be, and others when asked to assess the likelihood of an action or event. I preferred to visualize a horizontal axis with the ultimate and seldom occurring negative at one end and the ultimate and seldom occurring positive at the other. The long axis in between allows for a scale running from very improbable to highly probable. While that may seem evasive, like “hedging one’s bets”, it seemed to disarm Life’s malicious habit of springing unpleasant surprises. Thus, when circumstances allowed for marriage, a “soft” disclosure that I had already been the embedded principal whose work had put six men in various federal prisons was called for. These cases being before going completely black, I had been required to appear in court for each trial and each sentencing hearing. Some people serve their sentences and straighten out their lives, some return to their former activities and are either re-imprisoned or killed, and some hunt the person who put them in prison. It was just a matter of weighing the probabilities, and factoring that into considerations of becoming a spouse and a parent.

But drama aside, how many probability calculations do we make each day. Do we buckle our automobile seat belt to avoid a ticket, to minimize injury in a crash, or some scaled combination of the two? How often do we order some outrageous meal at a restaurant while saying, Just this once probably won’t kill me. How many onces do we run up in a week, or a month?

I have never liked gambling although I’ve been in some well known casinos around the world. I was there for things other than gambling. But I observed the rows of cadaverous gargoyles perched atop stools in front of slot machines. Pallid complexion, hooded eyelids, their only necessary sense was hearing, to detect the clatter of coins dropping in the machine tray, ensnaring them to play just a while longer…..probably the next try…or the next. I wondered if some sophisticated viewer was embedded in the machines, reading the faces and guessing when the player was about through, then feeding the tray with more coins to keep them playing.

My point (probably) is that we go through daily life on a steady stream of probability calculations, most of which are other than conscious. After all, we are more often told that worry is bad for us, not good for us. But sometimes we can find quiet amusement in calculating a probability. A decades long interest of mine is quantum mechanics and theoretical physics. Years ago I read that even the hardest substance known to Man is not really solid; the substance consists of sub-atomic particles (which in one perspective are simply waves) that, relative to their size, they are as far or farther apart from each other as the stars in our galaxy. The particles are not fastened to each other; they are held together by an attractive force in a kind of force field which is ordinarily imperceptible to us. I think of this sometimes as I am lowering myself onto a hard chair. My much softer – and getting softer, butt is about to encounter a force field through which, probably, my much less dense butt is unlikely to pass. Probably. But maybe……just this once… I can hear Scotty on the intercom telling Captain Kirk, The force field is holding Cap’n!

Years ago I heard it said, Expect nothing and you won’t be disappointed. Seemed like good advice. But what about all those platitudes advising us to “look on the bright side”, “aim for the stars”, and all that maudlin stuff. A colleague once asked me why I always walk around looking down. I said, I find money that way. He immediately starting walking around looking down. I don’t know how successful he was, but he probably never tripped over anything again. We often hear interviews with people who lived to unexpectedly high ages, as if they wanted to. Oh, what’s your secret?! the interviewer asks. And they reel off some formula like keep a happy disposition, think positively, and consume a quart of Scotch and two packs of cigarettes a day. I talk back at the television and say, It’s probably that the telomeres on your chromosomes are unusually durable. Anyone who has had 9th grade biology knows that. But nobody hears me.

Still, I do tire of people who are consistently negative. I even tire of me as I pound out another monograph on the rapidly emerging AFP, American Fascist Party (formerly known as the Republican Party). It’s objectively a simple fact. Some of us see it as bad, but nearly half the voting public saw it as good in the 2020 elections. Looking at that scale I mentioned earlier, and calculating the likelihood of an awakening of democracy or a complete loss of democracy in the U.S. (or a Russian or Chines style sham democratic election), where would you place the probability that the marker would move toward stronger democracy or weaker to absent democracy? Or would you rather go shopping. Where should I put the marker on the scale for you, toward shopping or toward involvement in calculating democracy’s future?

Another calculation that has me wondering concerns action about climate change. Again, it’s objectively a simple fact, registered in a variety of measures. Yet people, whether major players in the AFP or simply ignorant followers of AFP disinformation, are just not reacting in ways which would suggest they understand they are hastening the destruction of much of life on this planet. If they bother to place the marker on the probability scale – which I doubt unless it is toward the improbable end – do they think severe consequences are improbable? And, even after they have been shown the certainty of gravely deteriorated conditions for their children and grandchildren, are they still unwilling to move the marker – which would be an admission? It may be that some of the uber-rich think they can retreat with their families to protected enclaves, able to afford the rapidly diminishing food needed to survive. But I suspect those people have never lived under circumstances of hardship.

Which is not to say they are reluctant to dole out hardship on others when they think it benefits them. The mock entity formerly known as SCOTUS, the Supreme Court of the United States, is currently leaning toward disempowering abortion rights through most of the United States, even in cases of rape or incest. What’s a probable why? Under the cloak of religion and pseudo-science the AFP would thereby disempower low income women and families in a way which will assure an absolutely desperate work force, willing to accept subsistence wages and deadly working conditions because they were unable to assert control over their own family size. At the same time, the AFP advocates the reduction or elimination of socio-economic programs which would assist these families in raising the children they were forced to bring into existence. But of course they would attack these programs.

An article published in Scientific American November 30, 2021 is titled Humans are Doomed to go Extinct. In precise and clear statements, figures and examples it cites and explains the factors I have mentioned for months if not years. But I’m very far from the only one having done so. Yet, how many people do you think will ever read this article, and who are these people? The problem is we have probably been talking to each other; the AFP, the ignorant masses who follow them, and the growing numbers of people too disempowered to do what they know is right won’t or can’t take the actions needed to reverse this accelerating process. That’s not even a probability; that’s a self evident certainty.

Oh, there I’ve gone and done it again. Some people say I see the worst in people. Er, well, yes. Because it’s there. And probably is simply too dangerous a concept to continue to accept.

Thoughts on Life

Thoughts on Life

by Marco M. Pardi

No man lives without jostling and being jostled; in all ways he has to elbow himself through the world, giving and receiving offense.” Thomas Carlyle

All comments are welcome and will receive a reply. All previous posts are open for comment.

How do you do what you do? Do you have limits?”

With about twelve feet separating their library chairs, Tonio looked over at Maartje and said, “You don’t fully know what I do.”

It’s pretty obvious, even if it doesn’t always make the papers. I seriously wonder if you have any ethics and, if so, what they are.” Maartje had been reading accounts of little children with hand grenades or bombs strapped to them and told to run up to groups of American soldiers and detonate themselves in Viet Nam. She wondered if Tonio would shoot a child or would he try to find cover. She asked him about this.

I don’t get into those situations, though I have been places where children by the side of the road suddenly raised an arm and you had to look quickly to see if it was a wave, or the toss of a rock, or the toss of a grenade. It was always a wave,” he said.

But if it were a grenade, would you shoot or find cover,” she asked.

Tonio thought about that. Of course, with the pin pulled the grenade is active and about to explode. Shooting the person standing close by and throwing it wouldn’t make much difference and would lose time in finding cover. Still, he had always had an unofficial rule: If a child appeared to be thirteen years old or older he regarded them as an adult and acted accordingly. At any age below that he would assume the child was only following directions and he would shoot to wound if he could. “I act upon grown adults and not just any adults. You are well aware there are some truly evil people in this world.”

Tonio had privately been down this path many times before. His first rule in taking an assignment was: Never let it become personal. He knew of predecessors who succumbed to that temptation and then could not escape the endless pursuit of self justification or satisfaction. He did, however, allow himself to consider different levels of culpability. To him, perimeter sentries were just hired Ivans, or Tariqs, or Pedros maybe ex-military maybe not, trying to feed themselves and their families. Almost certainly they had little to no idea of the extent or the gravity of the crimes the person or persons they were guarding were guilty of. If he could avoid these sentries, fine. If he could not, they had to be terminated. Of course, that was not without risk; many were on a clocked check-in schedule. Tonio would observe them to hear if they communicated somehow and he would quickly check over a body for communications devices.

Inner guards and body guards were another matter. They certainly knew the business and likely had accounted for a few casualties themselves. The risk here was that these personnel were invariably recruited from the ultra elite of various military units. Putting them down was not at all a moral issue.

And, of course, there was the target. Tonio preferred to know as little as possible about the justification for the target’s removal. Again, he did not want to develop a personal agenda.

It has been said the Mafia had a ground rule: Never terminate someone in front of their family. Tonio saw several variables in that scenario, but if it was his only recourse then that would have to happen. He would be gone before shock turned to tears.

In a few short weeks much of the Western world will be visited again by an obese old man in a red suit, an old man who likes to visit Malls and entice small children into sitting on his lap while he lulls them with bourbon breath into telling him if they’ve been bad or good. The Malls will be playing insipid Christmas songs, inspiring visions of sugar plum SEMTEX dancing in our heads.

Many cultures, especially through their religions, have developed a concept of Final Judgment, a Hearing in which a supposedly superior being weighs the Rights and Wrongs of one’s life. Apparently this being has been keeping track, and knows if you’ve been bad or good – you know the rest. I don’t know of any reference to being strapped to an early form of polygraph but the Classical Egyptians seemed to have anticipated that with the scarab amulet, a fetish object reputed to calm the heart and conscience of the deceased as he faced his interlocutor. The Babylonians and later the Persians took it further with the invention of Shaitan – later embroidered by the Hebrews during 500 years of the Babylonian Captivity as Satan. Shaitan, that voice in your mind which said “You know that’s not quite true” as you professed your defense, was considered by many to be an advocate, keeping you on the straight and narrow. But as the need grew to deflect blame onto others Shaitan grew as an externalized entity dedicated to winning your soul away from what should have been your just reward. Enter Satan, with greatly expanded career portfolio; no longer just an amicus curiae in the Final Act, he (in a prescient nod to the Me Too movement he could appear as a female) was ever present to tempt you throughout your life, thereby acquiring characteristics such as eternal rivaling the aforementioned superior being.

Okay, but seriously examining the “sin” concept including that most egregious example, “Original Sin”, what exactly is our inner Shaitan up to? Is he (Attn: I’m going to use male sex and gender here) simply a social construct embedded in us, as the Catholic Church says, by age 7, the “Age of Reason”? “Give us a child until the age of 7 and we’ll have him for the rest of his life” Jesuit saying. Is everything we do throughout life judged by standards we accepted and internalized in our first seven years? The Egyptians tell us our heart is placed on a scale held by (Anubis according to some, Osiris according to others) to be weighed against the feather of Ma’at. If our heart tips the scales, loaded with the sins of our life, we are doomed. And we agreed to this by age 7?

Funerary texts, in whatever religion, are interesting. The Book of Coming Forth by Day (commonly called The Egyptian Book of the Dead) even gives us a list of the questions the deceased will face during interrogation. Supposedly, this list helps us guide our lives so we can provide the right answers when the time comes. But what about our daily lives as we live them? A psychological term for certain memories is, Intrusive memories or thoughts. How often throughout the day does something trigger the entry of such a thought? And what do we do with it when it flashes before us? As common wisdom would have it, do we rationalize it or do we bury it, dreading its reappearance which we know is sure to come? Rationalizing is fairly routine while we are awake, but how about during that third of our lives we call sleep. We settle in for what we hope will be a restful night, the dream curtains open, and Shaitan sets the channel to Remember This? Ever awaken in a cold sweat hoping no one else was watching? Just a dream, we tell ourselves, or our bed partner now cowering as we rub the fist we punched into the headboard. Or we awaken in the morning and quickly find something to occupy our minds. The Morning News…. someone else’s problems.

As I see it the most important and meaningful part of my life has been as a parent. And I think many parents would agree that there have been could have and should have memorymoments, especially when, now as a grandfather I see the absolutely marvelous way my child has raised the grandchildren. But I think it’s important to remember the distinction – and it can be a big one, between could have and should have.

Discussing this with my daughter, one of the most helpful things she said to me was, You did the best you could with what you knew at the time. Yes, there certainly are times when that feels like putting a BandAid on a bullet hole. But it gives me the opportunity to honestly examine the context of could and to wonder just how much of my life, all our lives, was described by Shakespeare when, in As You Like It, Act II, Scene VII, Line 139 he has Jacques express:

All the world’s a stage,
And all the men and women merely players;
They have their exits and their entrances,
And one man in his time plays many parts,
His acts being seven ages. At first, the infant,
Mewling and puking in the nurse’s arms.
Then the whining schoolboy, with his satchel
And shining morning face, creeping like snail
Unwillingly to school. And then the lover,
Sighing like furnace, with a woeful ballad
Made to his mistress’ eyebrow. Then a soldier,
Full of strange oaths and bearded like the pard,
Jealous in honour, sudden and quick in quarrel,
Seeking the bubble reputation
Even in the cannon’s mouth. And then the justice,
In fair round belly with good capon lined,
With eyes severe and beard of formal cut,
Full of wise saws and modern instances;
And so he plays his part. The sixth age shifts
Into the lean and slippered pantaloon,
With spectacles on nose and pouch on side;
His youthful hose, well saved, a world too wide
For his shrunk shank, and his big manly voice,
Turning again toward childish treble, pipes
And whistles in his sound. Last scene of all,
That ends this strange eventful history,
Is second childishness and mere oblivion,
Sans teeth, sans eyes, sans taste, sans everything.

Live well, Dear Readers.

QoD

“It has been a tough life.”

– Marco M. Pardi

Letters from Sasha: A Poem

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Note: Sasha would like readers to know she wrote this poem to express feelings about a confusing time in her life. It is not necessarily directed toward anyone other than herself – a self she didn’t fully realize until several years ago. Knowledge is power.

into the void

last night she didn’t sleep a bit

don’t worry she’ll be fine

but once again she’s in the pit

(the void shaped like your mind)

no other mind will ever do

no things can satisfy

no drug is ever shaped like you

the shape that gets her high

it’s not her fault she never knew

she didn’t know her brain

could dig a hole shaped just like you

then fill it up with pain

the Special Interest far beyond

a train, a plane, a map

sometimes she wants a magic wand

to free her from your trap

a bump, a drink, some tears, a song

yet nothing fills the hole

it’s good it’s bad it’s right it’s wrong

confusion takes a toll

most times content but later sad

her tears mixed up with joy

then discontent with feelings glad

the muse the fan the toy

it’s not your fault you couldn’t know

you’ll never know her brain

or places she thought she might go

or wishes wished in vain

she’s better now yet not today

today she’s in the throes

of thoughts that will not go away

so to your mind she goes

she yearns and waits and looks for word

your words can soothe her soul

and leave her feeling reassured

(but words can’t make her whole)

Letters from Sasha: Looking Ahead

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Introduction: There are some people who just keep giving of themselves and their time, without hesitation and without judgement.  No matter what is going on in their own lives, they continue to make time for countless others.  Thank you, Marco.

Dana

12.6.2011

Dear Professor Pardi,

“What this class did for me personally is nearly impossible to put in an email.  The semester was over too quickly, and I am already looking forward to the next! Everyone I spoke to was sad to see it come to a close.

Thank you again, and I will see you in January!”

Sincerely,

Sasha

10.30.21

Marco,

Thank you for this site and for encouraging others to contribute their thoughts.  It is clear you spend your time being available for others, and in between you write things we need to hear.  Unlike you, lately I spend most of my free time thinking about myself, and doing things for me.  You’ve also shared that the majority of your time is dedicated to signing hundreds of petitions and writing letters as an activist.  I wonder how you stay motivated and avoid feeling defeated or giving up.

Aside from writing, I’ve been through counseling a number of times.  No counselor really forced me to look at myself and most of the sessions were spent living in the past.  That was my doing because I wanted to be heard.  They were doing what therapists do, but constantly reliving the past kept me there.  If pain defines me, all I feel is pain.  When I try to ease the suffering, I only make it worse.  

Still, I’m grateful for any progress.  I’m fortunate others were there to listen when I couldn’t trust myself.  Now it’s time to move on and keep looking ahead.  We all have a past and challenging things happen to everyone.  No matter who we are, there will be people who just don’t like or refuse to accept us.. It’s never too late to make better choices despite what we have or haven’t accomplished, or what was done to us.  

Some of what I journaled was filler, by an insecure person still trying to fool herself.  I see no reason to return to that person.  There might be future Letters from Sasha, but they will be nothing like the ones that brought her here. Thanks for all you do!

Sasha

Introduction: A Letter to Marco

by

29 October 2021

Marco,

A former student of yours contacted me.  She had my email address from class years ago; then we had a wonderful conversation about an exciting idea for the site.  She was in your Fall 2011 Intro to Anthropology class with me, and was also in one of your Death and Dying classes later on.  She was initially going to send some excerpts to you from her private journal – one she has been keeping since 2011.  I had forgotten about our old Google Blogspot page, but she’s been following your writing since then.  I suppose we never know who’s lurking and benefiting from your efforts, even if they don’t participate in the comment section.  

The majority of her journal entries are written as letters to you.  How fascinating is that!  Evidently there’s a wealth of material and she said writing has been extremely therapeutic – perhaps even lifesaving.  Over the years there were points in her life she felt suicidal.  Years ago her therapist suggested writing letters to someone, even to herself, without necessarily sending them.  Since she gained so much from your 2011 Intro class, she chose you as the “recipient.”   

Everything I’ll be sharing with you and the public is with her full permission.  Without any pressure I mentioned posting on the site and how that might inspire and help others as well as herself.  I’m elated she agreed to this!  She will have complete anonymity and a pseudonym.  I also assured her that as site administrator I can edit or delete at her request, as can you if she lets you know.  She’ll provide some context to preface each entry, such as what she may have been struggling with at the time.

Sadly, she’s been experiencing a challenging mental health episode, and so began reading her earliest entries to see where she was in 2011 and beyond.  I can relate to the shyness over telling you about the letters; many of us have been starstruck in your presence, as well as anxious about submitting work to you.  My critical analysis essay kept me up at night until it was graded.  Despite how approachable and caring you are, I think the anxiety comes from knowing you can easily detect insincerity and more.

I’m happy and grateful she’s willing to contribute to the site with something deeply personal.  We considered the possibility of reader comments, but for now she declined responding, even through me. Since she’s been lurking on the site she knows you reply to every comment. Perhaps she will eventually contact you as well.  

Oh – almost forgot to include this.  She asked that I suggest some names for her pseudonym, and Sasha came to mind.  Despite the mostly male Russian nomenclature, I like it.  I’ll create a separate section on the site for her entries, but we couldn’t decide on a title for them.  “Letters to Marco” or something to that effect might work, but she’s open to suggestions since you own the site.  

I’m really looking forward to this, and feel I might benefit as well.  You should know how much you have inspired and helped others.  

Dana

Update:  Marco not only agreed to the idea, but also suggested a name for the entries. The author of the journal and I are thrilled with his title:  “Letters from Sasha.”

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