40 Years After High School: Our Lives So Far

Success-Free-Download-PNG

1979. Hard to believe it’s really been 40 years since we walked out of Elgin High School for the last time as students.

In that time, we’ve seen 7 presidencies. We’ve witnessed U.S. military involvement in Grenada, Libya, Panama, Iraq, Somalia, Bosnia, Afghanistan, Iraq and other places. We endured the tragedy of 9-11 and its social/political aftermath. We made our way through The Great Recession.

The Walkman became the Discman which became the iPod which became your cell phone.

Lynyrd Skynyrd was reborn. Van Halen broke up—over and over. Lennon, Marley, Harrison, Stevie Ray, Prince and Petty died. (Somehow, Ozzy and Keith Richards are still alive!)

A whole lot of stuff happened in four decades. Good, bad, and in-between.

In the meantime, we lived our lives.

And here we are.

Sadly, some of our friends and classmates didn’t live to see this day.

We did. Lucky us.

40 years out seems like a good point at which to contemplate Our Lives So Far.

Maybe your life has been (and is) largely very good: good health, a strong marriage, happy and healthy kids, career success, personal happiness, and financial stability. Maybe, as Jack Nicholson once put it in one of his famous roles, your life has been mostly “boat rides and noodle soup.” I hope so. If that’s you, I’m genuinely happy for you. You have much to be grateful for, and much to feel a sense of personal pride about. Kudos and a serious high-five to you!

That describes some of us, certainly. But … probably not most of us.

Where do you and I fit on the “It’s A Wonderful Life” continuum?

Well, we’re closing in on our sixth decade of life. That’s enough time to have assured that most of us have gotten our asses kicked somewhere along the way. Probably more than once.

A divorce we hadn’t planned on. An illness that scared the hell out of us. A prodigal child (or two). Unexpected loss of security. Deaths of people we loved very much.

Some bad stuff happened because we made poor choices. Some bad stuff just plain happened, regardless of how sensible our choices may have been. Same with good stuff.

I don’t really have any interest in comparing houses or cars.

Maybe that’s because it’s a comparison I wouldn’t come out looking too spectacular in. I’m honest enough to admit that. I haven’t reached a point where I’ve transcended all ego-driven thinking. Not by a long shot. I’d kinda like showing up in a pearl-white Escalade with my supermodel girlfriend. But, I’d have to rent both of those!

Really, I don’t care about your car or your house. I mean, if they’re super awesome? That’s great. It really is. It doesn’t make me resent you. It’s totally cool. You should appreciate and celebrate those kinds of things, enjoy them for all their worth.

“Happiness is fleeting. Grab it like a firefly and never let it go.” I love this quote. It’s both beautiful and true.

40 years out of high school, we are everywhere on the Happy and Secure continuum: from “Thriving Ridiculously” to “Almost Not Making It.”

We are each of infinite value, we each hold infinite promise, regardless of where we are on that imaginary line.

Our lives are always in flux. Blessings and hardships come and go. And they will just keep doing that. Until we breathe our last breath.

This breath, the one you’re pulling into your lungs right now, that’s the one real, tangible thing you and I have. Learning to see each one as an incredibly profound, magnificent, and mysterious gift … that’s our primary duty to ourselves and those we love … whether we live in a mansion with our lovely family, or are temporarily crashing on our cousin’s couch wondering if anyone in our family of origin has thought of us today.

I’d love to make myself the hero of this story, but that would be dishonest.

I’m just like you. I got some stuff right. I got some stuff terribly wrong. I’m a mixed bag. I’m still figuring it out.

I am, however, incredibly grateful. I was given so much. I still have so much. I am super fortunate and blessed in a thousand ways and I won’t allow myself to forget it.

I want to be a better person tomorrow than I was today. I want to grow as a person, in every way I can. I want to be less selfish and more loving. I want to hoard less, and give more.

I look forward to seeing Elgin High School’s Class of 1979 this weekend. If we can be open, warm, and kind towards each other, wouldn’t that be a great 40th anniversary gift to both give and receive?

That’s all I got.

Oh yeah … if we’re very fortunate indeed, we’ll see each other in 2029!

–Jim Wormington

Peculiar Effects of Travel

ce-travel

The tyranny of the necessary has a way of gobbling up our one true (and most fleeting) possession: time.

For this reason, and others, I haven’t made travel a priority in my life.

I did, however, commit this year to get up and go adventuring, at least a few times, beyond the borders of Illinois (my home state).

Early in 2019, I flew with a friend to San Diego for a few days. We casually biked and strolled along the ocean shoreline, walked in an exotic garden, dined and drank a little, shared some laughs, and just hung out.

This summer, I drove to Minnesota to meet up with a group of church friends for some pretty serious cycling on gorgeous trails that had once been railroad tracks. We pedaled, coasted, chatted, laughed, shared, philosophized, and encountered some lovely pies.

Just yesterday, I returned home from a visit with a friend in Denver. We hit a bike trail in the mountains, went hiking at Red Rocks in Morrison, saw Bruce Hornsby at a beautiful outdoor music venue, and enjoyed deep conversation and warm companionship.

Each of these small adventures was a nice break from the well-defined rituals and necessary chores of my daily life. I got to see new places, have some fun, and enjoy the company of people I like and admire.

But there’s something else about these travels that make them unique among human experiences.

The movement itself, the traversing of distance … watching mile after mile of American topography pass by … brought some things into sharper focus for me.

I’m on a planet.

Duh, right? Of course, this is something we all know; but, when you’re mostly occupying such a very small and familiar patch of ground, it can start to feel like this is it. Like, my reality is this fifty-sqaure-mile zone. We make the mistake of sensing that the truth is what we can see.

Ah, but no. The truth is bigger. So much bigger.

Vast, stretching plains, forests and farmland, rolling hills, creeks, lakes, rivers, mountains … it’s all out there under the sun, visited by wind and rain, beautiful and alive, teeming with every variety of plant and animal life, humming and thriving. Whether we see it or not, it’s there.

Our home isn’t just the structure over our heads or the geography of our hometown.

We live in a state, in a country, on a continent, within a hemisphere, on a planet with a total surface area of about 197 million square miles.

You feel that just a little more when you actually see a stretch of 1,000 miles—one moving image at a time—in a single day. I’ve been reminded of my world’s glorious expanse, and that reality hums in my head now like a newly discovered favorite song.

Telescope out, and we see that we’re in a solar system that’s in a galaxy that’s in a universe … and we start to feel pretty small.

Yet, here we are. Living, conscious beings, uniquely equipped to take in and translate all this natural wonder through the astonishing gift of sensory perception. Lucky us.

Truth is big.

The other thing that came home to me as I zipped through all that territory, is the subtle reality of impermanence.

There I was, moving on a highway at 70-80 miles per hour, across a planet that is spinning (if you’re on the equator) at 1,000 mph, as it hurtles through space at 66,667 mph. So, every micro-second my position in the universe is … well, radically shifting. I’m virtually never in the same space for any kind of measurable time. Which is much like the present moment. It comes and goes at lightning speed, already fading away as soon as it arrives. This is the impermanence of time and space.

The gift we get is now. Right now. This very second is the only opportunity we have to live on this spinning sphere. It isn’t when the workday is over, or when the weekend gets here, or when our vacation arrives, or when we find love, or when we retire. It’s NOW. Always now. Always fleeting, and always a gift beyond comprehension. This breath. This heartbeat. This step. Seize it, squeeze it for all it’s worth, baby … ‘cause it’s whizzing by faster than the speed of light!

We can convince ourselves that this material world is solid, because that’s how we experience it. Your body, a table, the ground under your feet, mountains … you can touch them, push against them, and feel their substance. You forget they’re composed of invisible particles in constant motion. Every visible thing is made up of madly-spinning invisible things. Crazy.

Your body loses and gains atoms, all day, every day. Ninety-eight percent of the atoms in your body are replaced yearly. You are literally, materially, a new person, every year. It’s an invisible truth, but truth nonetheless.

This is impermanence.

I want it to remind me of the stunning miracle of being alive. The incomprehensible gift that belongs to me every time I draw a breath. I want to see that there are no mundane moments. They’re all amazing. I want to feel that there’s no such thing as a wasted breath. Each one is an unrepeatable and miraculous occurrence. It’s mine. And it’s yours.

So often we seem to be seeking comfort in what we think we can know about our world, looking for “facts” to shape our reality, as if this were where comfort and safety might be found.

As if what our intellects can grasp, were the truth.

Ah, but no. The truth is bigger. So much bigger. In the realm of human experience, accurate data are very useful; but meaning is what we crave, not some sort of list of ingredients of which material reality is composed.

What does impermanence tell us about what life means?

What matters? What’s critical and what’s trivia?

A question for us all to ponder as we make plans on a world that spins at 1,000 mph, as it hurls through space at 66,667 mph, no two micro-seconds alike.

How, then, shall we live?

HOW TO BE FREE FROM ALL YOU HOLD AGAINST YOURSELF

freedom

NOTE: The following applies to most ordinary bullshit. HUGE bullshit, like a terminal disease, or a loved one who is suffering profoundly … these are struggles of a different magnitude. Our discussion here pertains to regular old human suffering, so much of which has to do with the ego and its endless needs.

And so …

1. TAKE INVENTORY OF ALL THE THINGS YOU SEE AS YOUR DEFICITS.

This includes all perceived body flaws, personality flaws, financial situation, living situation, relationship issues, perceived state of success/failure, moral/spiritual failures, past choices you see as regrettable.

Go ahead and make that list. The whole enchilada. Leave nothing out. Write it down, if you like. Or just make a mental list. I’ll wait.

Okay. Done?

2. NOW, IMAGINE YOU ENCOUNTER YOUR PERFECT PARTNER AND THEY ACCEPT AND LOVE YOU EVEN THOUGH THEY KNOW ALL THAT STUFF YOU JUST LISTED IN THE ABOVE INVENTORY.

Think of what that would do to you. What a colossal relief, right? You can stop pretending you have it all together. You can quit “putting on a happy face.” You’re done with all that bullshit. You can just be who you are, and you’re absolutely accepted and loved. Imagine how you’d carry yourself with this person: no fear, no worry, no self-consciousness. You’ve won the Inner Peace Lottery, right?

3. NOW, FORGET THAT PERSON. YOU CAN’T BE SURE YOU’LL FIND THEM. IF YOU ALREADY HAVE FOUND THEM, QUIT YOUR WHINING AND GO GIVE THEM A HUG. IF YOU HAVEN’T (ON SECOND THOUGHT, EVEN IF YOU HAVE), THERE IS SOMEONE ELSE YOU KNOW WHO CAN ACCEPT AND LOVE YOU JUST AS YOU ARE, DESPITE ALL YOUR PERCEIVED ISSUES/PROBLEMS. AND THEIR OPINION OF YOU IS FAR MORE IMPORTANT THAN THAT OF YOUR FANTASY LOVER/FRIEND/PARTNER.

That person, of course, is YOU.

Can you do it? Can you look at that list and say, “I accept and love myself just as I am in this moment?” If you can, then you’re off the hook you’ve placed yourself on! You’re free!

This doesn’t mean you don’t try to improve yourself. If you are bothered by some aspect (or aspects) of your life that you have the ability to affect? Go ahead and make plans for improvements. But don’t wait until you’ve accomplished your plans to approve of yourself. If you do, you’ve placed unnecessary emotional tension in your way. You are in conflict with what IS. That’s a surefire setup for unhappiness. ACCEPT what is, even as you engage in a plan to improve what you can.

Easier said than done? Yes, it is.

The truth, though, is that MOST people are holding a lot of things against themselves. Their lists look much like yours (and mine). Maybe the details vary, but the general idea is the same: “I am unacceptable and unlovable for these reasons.” And we carry this in the form of many thoughts that build up into one helluva destructive emotional snowball … we’ve given that fast-rolling sonofabitch SO MUCH power! The power to sabotage our happiness in the here and now, and on through the rest of our lives, right to our graves if we let it! LET’S NOT LET IT!

Unless and until you accept and love yourself unconditionally, radically … you will be stuck in a bad place, somewhere between mere discontent and full-on depression.

The power is yours, and yours alone. What will it take for you to LET GO of all that bullshit you’ve been holding against yourself? When will you get around to unlocking the chains you’ve put on your soul?

Examine each item on your list. Say each one OUT LOUD and say you accept it, as it is in this moment.

Examples:

“I accept how my body looks and feels right now in this moment. I am letting go of the desire for my body to look and feel any different than it does right now in this moment.”

“I accept my job situation as it is right now in this moment. I am letting of the desire for it to be any different than it is right now in this moment.”

Remember, this doesn’t mean you shouldn’t look to drop a few pounds or get a new job. If you deem those things important, start mapping your strategy RIGHT NOW, even as you accept things as they are, right now, in this moment.

Do this with every item on that list.

And mean it. In your heart. This is not just an intellectual thing, not just an acknowledgement thing. Maybe it starts as that. But it MUST BECOME something you believe and feel to be true in your heart.

IF you can do this, then you are free from your bullshit, it no longer has to be an impediment to your present happiness or future growth.

Congratulations on the first day of the rest of your life.

Now. Full disclosure.

I believe everything I’ve just written. The ideas aren’t mine, they are very old ideas. I’ve laid them out in my own way, but they’re in a million self-help books, spiritual and non-spiritual.

I wrote them down this way FOR ME.

Because I hold so many things against myself. I’ve given these things COLOSSAL life-killing power over decades. And I still struggle with them. Every day.

I feel I’ve made important steps forward. I have begun with the acknowledgement of the truth that my holding on to these things has been, and clearly is still, sabotaging my happiness. I have spoken this struggle out loud to others I trust, even disclosed some of it to my entire church community in a video sermon. I am actively engaged in a process of radical self-acceptance, even as I recognize that I have far to go.

So, I’m still working on it.

I hope you are too. If so, tell me how.

And, if you’ve conquered it, if you’re surfing the waves of radical self-acceptance right now in your life? I bow to you and congratulate you! Tell me what has been the most helpful insight for you. Together, we can lift each other up.

I’m pretty sure that’s the highest thing we can do as humans.

Love each other to wholeness.

May it be so. Peace to you.

Continue reading “HOW TO BE FREE FROM ALL YOU HOLD AGAINST YOURSELF”

Lopsided Indiginity

duplicity

I describe myself these days as a “political atheist.” By this I mean I don’t believe in any political party.

Like you, I try to sort out what I believe about the moral and social issues that matter to me then vote for people who claim to believe in principles that (more or less) are in alignment with that.

Problem is, I don’t believe most politicians (of any party) truly give a rat’s ass about what you or I believe, want, or need. I just don’t. If the show were really about us (ordinary Americans) and not about power and greed (this refers both to the politicians who are busy preserving their gig and the ruling class who are busy preserving theirs), then things would be radically different.

All of the outrage over the lies spewing forth from High Office in 2018? I get it. I do. But let me pose a question.

Which do you find more disturbing: the lies that are so obvious a seventh grader can point them out, or the lies that are so carefully crafted and eloquently delivered that you’re applauding and wiping away a little tear as they reverberate in your ears?

They’re equally disgusting, yes? The clever lie is being delivered by a Statesman, likely one with a formidable academic background, and the obvious lie is being delivered by a delusional fool. At the end of the day, it’s the lie you believe that presents the greater danger, though both are a great offense.

Do you really imagine that “your party” and its leaders are the good guys and “the other party” and its leaders are the bad guys? You weren’t lied to about the Watergate break in? You weren’t lied to about what was really happening in the Viet Nam war?

Do you think your party’s leaders aren’t lying?

Do you believe what you read in history books is unvarnished truth? The whole truth?

What is CNN telling you? Or FOX news? You think there is no agenda, no pullers of strings, no money influencing “your” media while “the other guy’s” media is a pack of filthy lies?

Follow the money.

What do you or I know?

We know the story someone else is telling us.

By all means, fact check. By all means, call out bad behavior. Go ahead and be indignant.

But never forget that, within the framework of history, “your team” is as guilty as the other guy’s team. If we catalogue all the lies and crimes of our political leaders, neither party comes out looking saintly.

It’s the “lopsided indignity” that chafes me.

If you’re gonna hate one man’s misuse of power (and you should), you must hate the other man’s equally. Even if he’s better looking and more intelligent. Even if he accomplished things you thought were good. If you’re going to despise one man’s womanizing (and you should), then you must despise the other’s with equal fervor. Even if your guy was the leader of a cause you believed in. If you’re gonna hate one man’s approval of torture, you must hate the other man’s approval of Napalm. Even if your guy said a bunch of neat stuff and wrote a lovely book. One man’s collusion is another man’s drowned mistress. Don’t idolize these people, don’t make of them anything more than they are.

Be an equal opportunity hater of injustice, lies, and misuse of power. That’s all I’m saying, people.

The endless self-righteous political talk (from both sides, from all sides) is incredibly tired and terribly lacking in context.

“I don’t wanna live in a world of darkness, I wanna live in a world of light. I don’t wanna live in a world that’s heartless, I wanna live in a world of sight.” – Steve Miller

Yes, that’s right. All the best wisdom has been summed up in pop music lyrics.

 

 

Travesty of Modern Language Use

rs

Lexicon mystery: could someone explain the modern (as far as I know, it’s a modern development) habit of people dropping the letter “t” in certain words?

The first time I remember hearing this was in The White Stripes song, “The Hardest Button to Button.” Most of the time, when Jack White sings this phrase within the song, he drops the “t” out of the word “button,” so we get “buh in.” Thus, “the hardest buh in to buh in.”

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=K4dx42YzQCE

Regina Spektor does this, too. In her song, “Fidelity,” she sings the word “better,” dropping the “t,” rendering it “beh uh.” As in, “All my friends say that, of course, it’s gonna get beh uh, gonna get beh uh…”

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wigqKfLWjvM

When I was in Pennsylvania a while back I was asked in a Dunkin Donuts if I wanted my iced tea “swee-ened or unswee-ened,” thus the removal of “t” from a description of tea, which must be some sort of linguistic irony that would make the King (of “King’s English” fame) get all flustered (if he were a real person and not just the name of a book published in 1906).

Recently, I heard a guest on NPR drop the “t” from the word “certain” to give us “cer in.” NPR. Where I thought, maybe, language was safe from such absurd frivolity.

What is this???? Is it regional? Did it start in pop music?

Who can I blame for this? Do you know someone who does this? Do you?

Truthfully, I don’t really care. I’ve just noticed it and find it amusing/puzzling/intriguing. I haven’t heard anyone address it.

These are the times that try men’s souls (and women’s, probably more with the women’s souls being tried, to be accurate).

If someone would just explain to me this horrifying language travesty, I’d feel so much beh uh. You know?

Word Love,

JW

Art Made by A**holes

220px-Dustin_Hoffman_Cannes

What would you do if you spent an hour in an art gallery, found an exhibition of work that astounded you, moved you, made you laugh and cry and think so hard that you were exhausted and elated by the time you’d seen all the pieces … and a week later you found out that the artist was a chauvinist jerk, or a misogynist, or guilty of sexual harassment? Can you still admire the man’s work? Or has everything he’s done as an artist become so tainted that it’s no longer worthy of a spot in the gallery?

Can you still enjoy a Harvey Weinstein film? A Woody Allen film? The work of Dustin Hoffman? Kevin Spacey? Bill Cosby?

It’s weird, isn’t it? The curtain gets pulled back and people we may have thought highly of turn out to be assholes. Or worse. Maybe they’re assaulters. Rapists.

Still, there’s this body of work out there: movies we love, television shows we love, albums we love, books we love. Has it all become shit in light of the moral failures of these men (let’s face it, it’s mostly men doing the harassing)? Does it depend on how great the failure is? Is there a scale?

While I would never, never, never attempt to in ANY way excuse these moral failings/crimes, I think there are issues here worth exploring before we simply relegate all of these creative works to the entertainment trash bin of history.

It almost seems a given that men who are driven to seek fame have intense power issues. And once they achieve it, once the adulation starts to puff up their egos, rises them to “rock star” status, is it really a surprise that they abuse their celebrity? Especially if they start getting treated like little gods who can do no wrong. Power corrupts, as we know.

Even folks we might be tempted to valorize can fall mightily. Right, Bill Clinton? JFK? MLK? Here’s your power and … whoops, you abused it. Whaddaya know? It takes a strong man indeed to react with restraint, remain faithful to his wife, when he has scores of young, beautiful women falling at his feet. (In Weinstein’s case–and others’ who are guilty of assholery–they weren’t “falling at his feet,” but rather they were vulnerable in the shadow of his perceived power.) The onus of responsible, moral choice remains on the man, clearly, but I don’t think it’s a great shock that the area of sex and sexual attraction is an Achilles heel for most men. Kingdoms, literally, have fallen.

Was it a mistake for us to have supposed these beloved (by many) figures were particularly good, decent, moral men? It seems pretty safe to assume that a fair amount of the art we enjoy is being made by assholes of varying degrees … but, in many cases, we just don’t know it. No doubt, there are authors of great works of literature written long ago who we will never know were abusive jackoffs.

We now live in an age where it’s getting harder and harder to have secrets. Hell, ya can’t even run a stoplight at 3 a.m. without some damn camera taking your picture. Phones with cameras are everywhere. News spreads Twitter-fast. And, while men still have way too much institutional power, the voices of women are, more and more, being heard, respected, and believed. Men can’t just dismiss women as “hysterical” and get away with a wink and a nod. These are all good things (except the red-light cameras) for most of us, but not so good for men who believe they ought to be able to behave badly and never be held to account.

The #MeToo movement is a hopeful sign of our times.

We’re likely at a cultural turning point. More and more diversity (of race, gender, and sexual orientation) in our world means ever-more diversity in our businesses, politics, and art. Sexism, racism, homophobia, ageism … these ideas have been falling out of favor in the wider world for decades and this will probably only accelerate. The kinds of values and attitudes that helped “create” men who thought they could touch any woman or girl they wanted because of their status as an actor or director or artist or politician are ever-diminishing. This, too, is all to the good. As it should be.

But we still have the creative legacies of many fucked-up men; quite an archive of art made by assholes that’s unlikely to disappear in its entirety any time soon.

Films are not singular efforts. Weinstein may be an unforgivable monster, but if writers and actors and directors have made something memorable that happens to bear his name … do we refuse to watch it? Do we never watch “Rain Man,” or “Kramer vs Kramer,” or “The Graduate” again?

Tell me, where’s the line for you? How bad can a man behave and yet you are still able to admire the body of work he leaves behind? Is there a way in which you would feel comfortable separating the jerk from his work?