Tame the Savageness of Man and Make Gentle the Life of This World

The frogs were in full symphonic mode as I walked through the arroyo on Thursday evening.

It was the first warm day this year — warm enough that we could have the windows open in the evening. A soft breeze drifted down on me as I lay in bed, descending on me like a fine mist.

This is the other side of spring — the one that heralds the coming of summer.


On Wednesday, we had dinner with Tom’s college friend, whose wife had died the week before. They had been together forty years. We hadn’t known she was ill. It all happened very quickly. Diagnosed in early February with an advanced cancer, options quickly ran out. She was ready to exit, she told him, the day before she died. He spent the last two weeks of her life by her bedside, holding her hand, providing comfort care as her life ebbed in the final days.

On Thursday, after I returned from my walk in the arroyo, Tom and I listened to Vaughn Williams’ Third Symphony as we ate dinner, the music providing a cushion for the intimacy born of the fresh awareness that one of us could be the one left behind.

Yet, we were grateful.

I remembered a Russian skater who at 28 years old collapsed and died from a congenital heart defect as he practiced with his 24-year old wife. They had been thrown together when he was 14, and she 10, fallen in love, got married, had a child, and skated together. The kind of skating that is ballet on ice.

Their names were Sergei Grinkov and Ekaterina Gordeeva. She was an Olympic champion, and  together they were four time World Champions in pair skating.

About a year after his death, the professional figure skating community paid Sergei tribute with a televised show titled, “Celebration of a Life.” She performed the routine she and Sergei had been practicing the day he died. It was beautiful, but I remembered thinking that something was missing. Perhaps, I thought, she wouldn’t be as powerful on her own – that she had spent so many years being part of a duo, that she didn’t have the chops to be a solo skater.

Then, she performed her solo piece to the Adagietto section of Mahler’s Fifth Symphony in tribute to her husband. The power of her grace and beauty was unquestionable. And I understood that what had been missing from the routine she and Sergei had been practicing, was Sergei. What a brave woman she is, I thought, out there in front of a live audience showing us what it means to lose the man she loved and with whom she had spent half her short life.

The phantom limb that is grief.

I had a conversation about God recently with a woman who had lost a child. She wept because, she said, God loves us in spite our being human. I wanted to scream at her, “No! God is in awe of our being human, of our willingness to love even though we might have to endure loss.”

Loss is the price for loving, yet we love anyway. If we’re smart, we don’t hold back.

Our friend recounted to us the first time he saw his wife. She passed by him, dressed in a blue velvet miniskirt and blouse. He turned his head to enjoy the view. Just before she left the room, she turned her head and smiled at him, letting him know that she noticed that he noticed.

Forty years later he was with her as she left the room, the visual not as enticing as the day he watched her sashay by in her miniskirt. It’s not easy to watch someone leave her body behind. And yet, love compelled him to be there with it.

Most of us at some time, and many of us many times, have to dance solo the dance we planned on dancing with another. Even if the relationship was troubled, there is the palpable sense of something missing for which we need to learn a new dance.

It’s what it is to be human.

We owe it to each other to recognize this very fundamental vulnerability of our lives. We owe it to each other to have this recognition be at the core of the debate about entitlements, so that when death does come to claim us, we can leave with dignity, and those we leave behind can find a gentle clearing in which they can endure the price of loving.

Robert Kennedy, when he delivered the news of Martin Luther Kings’ death to a mostly African American crowd in an Indianapolis ghetto, quoted Aeschylus, “In our sleep, pain which we cannot forget falls drop by drop upon the heart until, in our own despair, against our will, comes wisdom through the awful grace of God.”

He concluded with this, “Let us dedicate ourselves to what the Greeks wrote so many years ago: to tame the savageness of man and make gentle the life of this world.”

I’m Angry. I’m Damned Angry

I am watching waves crash against the rocks as they reach the western edge of the continental United States.

The northern California coast is magnificent. Yesterday, the wind turned the ocean sea green, the white-tipped edges visible to the horizon, and pierced you with its ferocious chill. The wind is not so powerful this morning. The air is cold, but it does not penetrate the way the chilled wind did. The ocean is back to being Mediterranean blue, its undulating beauty much less ominous.

Still, some waves crash over the rocks down below that rise three stories above the surface.

I forget that spring can bring that bracing chill with it some days. It is often more bracing than the winter’s chill. I don’t know why that is.

I have been on blog silence for nearly three months, suffering from butt-not-in-chair syndrome caused in part by patella-femoral syndrome. My knee got out of alignment and sitting for longer than 15 minutes made it ache so much I could not concentrate on anything other than the pain.

So, that was the proximate cause of my silence.

But, I also just plain didn’t know what to say, as a small group of young Republican men have begun their assault on common decency in the name of fiscal responsibility and freedom.

As I have said on Facebook they remind me of an old joke: A small underdeveloped country, in an attempt to become relevant, calls a news conference to announce they are sending a man to the sun. Won’t the man burn up, the reporters ask? Don’t be silly the country’s official says, we’re sending them at night.

These boys (and an occasional mean girl) seem to be hell bent on making sure women remain barefoot, pregnant, and muzzled, and the poor and middle class are so focused on daily survival that we don’t have time to participate in democracy.

They seem to have no sense of history – no understanding of what the world was before they came into it – while being simultaneously ignorant of how decisions today affect the future. Not to be trite, but they either don’t get the concept, or don’t care about seven generations.

I’ve heard Joe Scarborough belittle the notion that the BP oil spill hurt the Gulf because the Gulf is so large, it can’t be ruined. Well, except for those dead zones that have been created.

I’ve heard Scott Walker refer to public employees (teachers, police, firefighters) as the haves while the taxpayers are the have-nots. Perhaps he doesn’t realize that public employees pay taxes.

I’ve heard history being rewritten to sanitize our history of slavery.

And then, of course, there is the absurd notion that denying a woman the right to make choices over her body and health is a pro-life position. Cut funding for abortion, cut funding for maternal health, cut funding for children’s health, cut funding for education, cut funding for childcare services.

I don’t call that pro life – I call that anti-life.

I’m pissed. I’m damned angry. These are not brave courageous men, these are boys who have been given license with no regard to consequences.

So what has this got to do with my knee and waves crashing into the edge of the continent?

Take a leap with me.

You could not tell by looking at it that my knee was out of alignment. I suspect that its misalignment would be measured in – whatever miniscule measurements you could imagine. But that tiny, indescribable change in alignment made a huge difference in my daily life, in my sense of well being, and in my understanding what it means to live in a body that is mortal and must be paid attention to.

Our planet is like our bodies. A small temperature change can have repercussions far beyond our ability to discern the change in temperature. Who can predict the repercussions of a dead zone in the ocean?

Right now, the rocks stand in the way of the waves’ inexorable ascent on the shore. But little, by little, the water wears down the rock and some day, they will be gone.

These men who are imposing their agendas on us are little men. Smart and clever they might be, but wise they are not.

Send in the crones. You don’t have to be old or a woman to be a crone. But you do need to have the humility borne of life experience and compassion for what it means to be human, and what it means to be a part of something bigger than one’s own ego. Morgan Freeman said he would live another 30 or 40 years and still he wouldn’t see the end of the universe. He’s a crone.

I’m angry. I’m damned angry.