Friday, April 17, 2009

Not Thinking, the Grateful Dead, and God

This week I've been thinking about stuff...yeah, I know what you're thinking, but this is different. I've been thinking about not much. Thinking about rest and sleep and other activities where thinking drifts out of gear and into neutral, at least in theory.

Have you ever tried to not think? Try it. Right now, stop thinking. I heard that. Stop thinking!

I don't know about you, but the more I try to not think, the more thoughts crowd into the vacated space I just cleared out. Like throwing a huge bucket of water on some nice innocent gremlins to settle them down - the two become five, and then twenty something, and then thousands of them are taking over a small town, watching movies, and marching in sync...what was I trying to do again?

So today, I decided to stop thinking for a while. Just give myself, my mind, a short vacation on a nice tropical island in the South Pacific. It could have been a couple seconds, but probably more like a couple milliseconds before my mind drifted into a memory from days gone by...

Once upon a time, my wife and I lived life from toke to toke...and did pretty much whatever the hell we felt like doing. For example, one day we loaded up the car and headed toward a town a couple hours away to catch the all important Grateful Dead concert. We heard an ice storm might be heading our way, but a couple of joints later and the ice storm didn't seem near as dangerous or scary...almost seemed an appropriate accompaniment to our grand adventure - turn the music up and all will be well.

We made our way onto the interstate heading North into the darkness, feeling pretty relaxed…pretty darned relaxed. Thirty minutes later I commented about how few cars there were on the road, and what’s that stuff that keeps making a tick, tick, tick sound as it hit our windshield. And then it started really coming down. I had trouble seeing more than a couple car lengths in front of me. Finding myself behind an 18-wheeler spewing even more frozenness at me, I moved into the passing lane and almost ended up in the median. Sweating my way through getting around the truck, things only got worse.

A few hundred swerves later, and a little late, we pulled into the parking lot at the concert. Noticing a group of police affectionately welcoming each concert goer with a nice pat up and down their bodies, we decided on the most strategic hiding locations for our bags of pot. I mean, come on, no self-respecting deadhead would even consider not bringing something to share with the crowd. Seriously! Surviving, and even enjoying, the physical attention I received from the cute female cop, we headed to our seats…which of course were taken by someone else who had no idea what planet they were on much less where their seats might be.

We didn’t care. Nobody cared. It was all one happy family - “hey maaan”, “have a hit, dude”, “this is awesome”, “I think I’m in heaven”, “don’t bogart that”, “I know you”, “sorry about that, I thought my hand was in my pocket, not yours” etc. We squeezed in like a group of brothers and sisters, a stoned out of our mind family. I looked up at the stage, through the smoke-filled haze. I could see Jerry singing like he was in his living room and forgot that the rest of us were there. I loved it, we all loved it…even the cops loved it…a pretty docile crowd…yeah, that’s it, docile.

I still remember thinking it was special. Everyone there had fought through dangerous conditions just to be there. The Grateful Dead tourist didn’t even try…only the hardcore fans…the real brotherhood. And when they started singing, “I will get by, I will get by, I will get by, I will survive" everyone perked up…well, perked is probably too strong a word, but most of us stopped passing joints long enough to join in on the chorus, “We will get by, We will get by, We will get by, We will survive…”

The concert ended much too early for everyone who hadn’t yet passed out. We filed out of the building and onto a solid lake of ice. People fell down left and right. Everyone laughed and then smoked some more. Every car without chains waited its turn to be pushed out of the parking lot by the few trucks with chains. And I’m not exaggerating. Maybe 45 minutes later our turn came and the truck pushed us a hundred yards or so out of the parking lot and into the street…also made of ice…and we headed back to wherever we came from.

Which, of course, brings me back to my main point: we did get by, we did get by, we did get by, we did survive…somehow. The miraculous evening ended with no serious injuries or deaths recorded in next day’s newspaper, which did record that the freeways and all the major roads had been officially closed down by the highway patrol several hours before the concert began. Think about it: thousands of stoned, at the very minimum, fans make their way through deadly conditions to hang out together for hours on end while becoming even more stoned than when we started. Then that super-stoned, and now exhausted, group of barely functional individuals headed out to our cars, started them up, realized they were in the wrong car and had someone else’s keys, found the person whose keys they had somehow accidentally ended up with, entered the right car, spun their tires for ten minutes, waited for the truck with the chains, were pushed a hundred yards on a solid sheet of ice which eventually shoved them out onto another huge solid sheet of ice, and made it home or to somebody’s home…in one piece.

That fated night, the Grateful Dead, under the leadership of the amazing Jerry Garcia proved beyond any shadow of a doubt that God does exist and that he cares about a bunch of complete idiots who wanted nothing more than to risk their lives and the lives of others to see a concert.

Nice job, Jerry. Nice job, God.

See what happens when I stop thinking?

Friday, April 3, 2009

The In-Loves

In the late 70s, I met Stacy. Alive, vibrant, sweet to the core, beautiful, funny, smart…I never knew what hit me. The next thing I realize we had just finished our walk down an aisle together and committed ourselves to one another…for life.

In the early 80s, I met Jesus. Not church, not religion, not moral fiber, not doing the right thing, not being the right person, not anything even resembling anything else...and I gotta tell you, I fell for him - hook, line, and sinker.

I've been in love, for real, only twice in my entire life. When I met my wife (technically she wasn't my wife at the time...and yet in some other reality I think she already was), and then the second time when this guy, out of nowhere, invaded my hurting world, my brutal emotions, my vacillating conscience, my fear of life and death, my thinking - good, bad, and ugly...and said, "I want that one…the one cowering in the dark corner."

As I write this, I’m listening to a bit of musical melancholy entitled Circle (Edie Brickell & the New Bohemians)…over and over. I’m not in love with her, although I’ll admit to a small crush. She’s singing, “…I quit; I give up. Nothing’s good enough for anybody else, it seems…Being alone is the best way to be. When I’m by myself, it’s the best way to be…when I’m by myself, nobody else can say goodbye…everything is temporary, it seems…”

If I spent the rest of my days on this planet working full-time at expressing what the In-Loves have meant to me, I’d finish my time here a mere few feet into the marathon of that work. When Edie sings about the circle of change and loss and starting over and hope and disappointment, it strikes a chord with me – philosophically and experientially.

For me, this coming Sunday, April 12, is all about the rarest of the rare, the purest of the pure…that which doesn’t change…the non-temporary, the eternal. Profound personal days rarely come my way, or I rarely notice them. I grew up in a tough world where profound personal days meant profound and personal hurt, loss, and pain. I eventually chose to be by myself…it was “the best way to be…it seems.”

Healing came, and comes, in all sorts of different flavors and seasons and avenues - the looked for, prayed for, begged for, the dream…the unexpected, the unrealized, and even the nightmare. But it comes. Even though the count of vessels bringing mercy into my life may have reached the thousands or millions, the In-Loves stand apart. She and He never left, never departed…never looked in distain at the wreckage. He and She somehow knew that more than anything else in all of creation, I needed someone, anyone, to stay with me…walk with me…believe for me…hold onto to me…always…no matter what.

I’m not a big believer in serendipity…let me correct that: I’m a huge believer in serendipity, I just don’t believe it happens, ever…okay, rarely. But 2 days from now the major celebrations of my In-Loves happen on the same day – Easter is my wedding anniversary. I can’t help but think that somehow this day, these very moments, were arranged many, many, many years ago. That one day I would wake up, the stars and the celebrations aligned, and truly appreciate how the aroma, the texture, the color, the flavor, the sound, the reality of true friendship chased me, embraced me, sustained me, and held me…day after day after day…

Happy Resurrection Day, friend. I love you.

Happy Anniversary, Stacy…my friend. I love you.

P.S. After reading this, it occurred to me that I did fall in love 3 other times. Maybe not the traditional sense, but from the first moment when I discovered that each of my precious children swam around in Stacy’s growing tummy, I fell in awe and in love with each of them…and remain forever so.