Stranger In A Strange Land

23,731 Days I’ve Been Alive

How many days till I die? *  Yes. Today is my birthday.

One might suppose it’s a ghoulishly morbid obsession to be making believe that I have but one year to live, or less. Au contraire, it’s quite fun. It’s traveling through time.  I don’t think time flies at all. It’s I who flies through time.

By October I began to feel rushed. Approaching The Annual Review it’s easy to forget how important it is.  I may have still been in my 30’s when I realized that life was teaching me the same lessons, over and over again: patience, generosity, gratefulness, clinging to nothing –  even life, how to get-along, and the impermanence of all things.  Impermanence, that nothing stays the same and that everything is constantly changing, has been a dominant theme this year. Impermanence in the grip of challenging experiences that demand focused energy and honest reflection, “How did that work out?”  And then it’s gone; it’s memory. And I’m still moving through time.

Generational Memories

One of my favorite pastimes  is asking people what they think were the most important

Stranger

Stranger

events, or observations, of their lifetime. This time I answered my own question but not before weeks and weeks of mulling it over and keeping my sensors up.

Of course, computers and all things related come easily to mind.  Followed closely by scientific and medical research and applications. But it’s culture and religion / spirituality that fascinate me the most.  This is where our deeply held beliefs begin to inform our actions. My own research focused on the influence of social, political, and religious environments on the evolution of social policy in the U.S.  Our 20th C. was an era of Unequal Rights. Peoples were being displaced by war, famine and disease.  Waves of immigrants flooded our shores. The Irish, the Germans, Italians, Eastern European… My Parents were Strangers in a Strange Land.

And they, too, had to adapt, acculturate, assimilate. We saw the rise of Labor Unions, Fair Labor Standards, the repeal of Prohibition, women got the right to vote, social security and the war on poverty, women’s reproductive rights, Title IX, Harvey Milk… to name a few. By the second half of the Century mainstream / traditional religions were seeing dramatic declines in attendance. The mass introduction of  Eastern Culture, martial arts, Buddhism, Taoism was simultaneous with the increase of fundamentalism among the Christian denominations.

All Things ChangeHere Today Gone Tommorow

Look at the world today. I guess I was a bit rattled to realize how rapidly social change can take place and how our ignoble behaviors seem to not. It’s definitely a different perspective than from age 40 and I’m learning that it helps to travel lightly when flying through time.

Welcome The Stranger

In 1994, a nervously courageous young writer walked into the offices of Farrah Straus & Giroud to review a submitted proposal to write a life story about the spouse of a famous Jewish author.  It was a pencil skirt suit and stockings kind of occasion and she startled when the greeting received was “Oy Vay! they send me a shiksa”.  She was welcomed none the less but later called to ask what a ‘shiksa’ was.

Although only 7 years my younger, we grew up in different cultures and, thus, it was my mitzvah to welcome the gentile into the fold.  A tradition was born with the First Golden Bagel Award for being a “Shiksa with Chutzpah”. A stranger once but now is not.

The Golden Bagel Award

Exodus: 2:22 “And he named him Gershom, for he said ‘I have been a stranger in a strange land’.  Robert Heinlein’s book of the same name about a Martian who comes to visit. And then there’s my man Leon Russell with a same-named song.

Golden BagelThe Golden Bagel Award, aka BGA, became what we like to call a ‘little philanthropy’, a way to acknowledge folk who personified the essential nature of the bagel. The shiksa and I fasted ate bagels and pondered: define the essence of the bagel.

  • Bagels are ‘manna in the desert’: giving nourishment to all and good for only one day. It must nourish afresh, with each dawn.
  • Bagels are simple yet complex; they’re humble yet strong.
  • Bagels are versatile, adaptable, yet true to their essence, their true character. There is no longing to be a croissant.
  • Bagels give nourishment to others at their own expense.

Seven Golden Bagels were awarded over eight years.  Each recipient a living essence of the bagel:  B.P. “for being solid as a brick”; M.E. “for having great gobs of patience”; M.C. “for being a shvartze mensche”, J.D. “for having a heart of gold”; H.H. “for being born on the 59th St. bridge and saying Harvard Schmarvard, I’d rather bake bagels and ride my bike”; and L.S. “for being the Flower Lady from Rock-O-Gibralter”.

Alas, the GBA Is Also Impermanent

Impermanence = Change. Does that mean that Death is also impermanent?  I think that, maybe, there’s more I don’t know than I do.  And so I keep wondering.

I met a gentleman, or so he seemed. His face wore the hues of his body’s decline. His words, well chosen from his years in academia, were laced with a terror of the unknown. While four others in silence sat, his eyes held mine as he begged the question: Do you mean to tell me that if you could live forever that you wouldn’t want to? 

I felt the sucking sound of eternity and visions of vampires dancing through my head. What if? I just don’t know.  Maybe yes, maybe no.

Going Beyond The Awe

Right around the same time, close friends from an earlier time experienced the suicide of their 42 yr. old child and it was time to write a note.  As I ruminated on the life and times of this child, all the thoughts and feelings and questions coalesced into, just, awe. That for which there are no words, there are only concepts: reverence, fear, wonder.  Out of the maelstrom emerged another, and it was supplication.  A humble asking, of who or what, or that which cannot be named, may she rest in peace, after all these years.

I don’t know.  ‘Tis strange, indeed.  A hermit wannabe practicing wherever the breath is, and in the space between the breaths, one breath at a time until there isn’t one. Who knows?

How many days has it been
Since I was born
How many days until I die
Do I know any ways
That I can make you laugh
Or do I only know how to make you cry

When the baby looks around him
It’s such a sight to see
He shares a simple secret
With the wise man

He’s a stranger in a strange land
Just a stranger in a strange land
Tell me why
He’s a stranger in a strange land
Just a stranger in a strange land

How many miles will it take
To see the sun
And how many years until it’s done
Kiss my confusion away in the night
Lay by side when the morning comes

And the baby looks around him
And shares his bed of hay
With the burrow in the palace of the king

He’s a stranger in a strange land
Tell me why
He’s a stranger in a strange land
Just a stranger in a strange land

Well, I don’t exactly know
What’s going on in the world today
Don’t know what there is to say
About the way the people are treating
Each other, not like brothers

Leaders take us far away from ecology
With mythology and astrology
Has got some words to say
About the way we live today
Why can’t we learn to love each other
It’s time to turn a new face
To the whole world wide human race

Stop the money chase
Lay back, relax
Get back on the human track
Stop racing toward oblivion
Oh, such a sad, sad state we’re in
And that’s a thing

Do you recognize the bells of truth
When you hear them ring
Won’t you stop and listen
To the children sing
Won’t you come on and sing it children

He’s a stranger in a strange land
Just a stranger in a strange land

Holiday Greetings

Vive Bene, Spesso L’Amore, di Risata Molto

P.S.  Thank you for being a friend 😉  Facebook Page for things you find of interest. If anything, take a glimpse at Marina Abromovitch’s performance art – beyond seeing and hearing – well worth the breaths.

(Bagel photo via Shutterstock.com)