— From EF —
I was sitting with a friend in a magical place near Occidental, the Grove of the Old Trees. It’s 33 acres of spirit, situated on a ridge-top within smelling distance of the ocean, and since it’s way down a winding narrow road usable at only 10mph, you don’t hear traffic. Once upon a time it was destined for severe logging, and you can still see the blue-paint death sentences around the trunks of those who would go first. Underfoot, along the broad bark-chipped paths, there are profuse trilliums, ferns of varying sizes, bay laurel, and poison oak pretending to be trillium. The air is spacious and fragrant, and the canopy starts way high up.
There are many beings here who are known for their power. There is one I call the “cathedral tree” because it has a fire-hollowed interior accessed through a twelve-foot gothic arch in its trunk. If you stand for a minute in the center of the broad circle inside, the top of your head will be blessed with a drop of water dispensed courtesy of the redwood’s wicking action.
There is another that appears to be a redwood circle, the aftermath of the death of a mother-tree supplanted by a ring of daughters. This is different. These trees are not youngsters, they are huge, and at ground level they are all connected by a ring of massive muscular aboveground roots. It suggests nothing so much as one connected living tree with multiple trunks, and that’s where I was sitting with my friend.
We had come to this place to envision healing, and the fact that these giant beings have germ plasm that goes back countless centuries is a good ground for a meditation. We are made from what they are made from, after all.
And sitting there, tuning in to the very slow conversation that old trees have, I remembered an experience I had when I was sixteen. Alone, in my beautifully-decorated prison cell of a bedroom, I suddenly experienced what I can only call existential vertigo. I was suddenly unable to understand why what I called “I” was within the familiar flesh-envelope and not at the heart of a boulder. I sensed that every single thing I was capable of perceiving had an equal claim to being an “I”. I damn near fell off the planet.
So here, among the Old Ones, I once again courted existential vertigo. I saluted the mitochondria, independent beings within my cells who enable energy, without whom I could not exist. I gave a shout-out to all the organisms who call my gut home, without whom my dinner would mean nothing. I said “yo, dude” to all the millions of very diverse bacteria who live on my skin and in my mouth, with different tribes living on the outside of the teeth from those on the inside, let alone under the tongue. I tried to expand my grateful consciousness to the multitudes who live within me, whether single-celled or confused.
And I didn’t fall off the planet. I fell into its heart.
— From the Fool —
I tried to do some business on the Web. I bought some toothpaste on Amazon. They used to sell just books but I guess these days there’s not much difference. But the tube came in plastic armor, I guess to keep it secure so the terrorists wouldn’t spike it with sugar to rot out America’s teeth.
The plastic was new & improved. I tore at it, ripped it, drilled it, tried a hacksaw, bolt cutter, borrowed my neighbor’s pit bull — nothing worked.
It must be password-protected, I thought. So I went to the website to get this worked out. It took me quite a while to wander through the labyrinth, thinking what I’d say when I got to the Minotaur. I kept hitting pop-up ads for toothpaste. They’d targeted me as a guy who still had teeth, at least for a while.
I got to where I could do a return or look up global shipping rates or manage my account or get a Kindle Five-Way Controller, but all I wanted to do was brush my teeth.
Finally I found where I could send an email to Contact Us. I could have checked with Ask the Help Community, but they’re probably busier with saving refugees or stopping forest fires. So right away I got an email back. Thanks for creating a new case, it said. I never thought it would come to that.
But I remembered, hey, this isn’t just the Web, it’s the World Wide Web. So my question goes to some little guy in Calcutta with a cow rambling through the office and he clears it with the CIA in Baghdad who bumps it to a CEO on a private jet to Miami who shoots it to the plastic factory in Beijing that blew up last Tuesday.
Meantime, my teeth are collecting barnacles and, where I lost a molar, cobwebs. My mom always swore by baking soda. I’ll try that.
— From CB —
I’ve never had a moment in my life when I actually had to decide whether or not to kill a person. I’ve delegated that decision and that task, as have my friends and neighbors.
Probably it’s entirely different when it’s a particular person involved, your wife or your dentist or the old landlady, or just a generic decision — this terrorist training camp, that movie audience, this kindergarten class. In the former, I’d think, there would be more ambivalent anxiety; in the latter more a sense of pure power. But I’ve never had occasion to make either sort of decision, so I’m thoroughly unsuited to high public office.
Is this not the basic qualification for a multitude of offices? The cop or the soldier has to pull the actual trigger; the President merely signs his name, and indeed the pen gives might to a whole lotta swords. The congressman votes on the budget resolution. The nurse cleans up the results.
A basic tenet of civilized life is that you don’t have to do your own killing. It’s outsourced to professionals. We want the President to regret the collateral damage — jaws torn away, screams, meat flung about — but to have no hesitation in issuing the next command. And they should never appear to take pleasure in it, apart from celebrating “Mission accomplished!’
Once, we elected generals because they’d proven their capacity for ordering death. But even John Kerry’s combat record couldn’t stand up against his rival’s Texas accent. That accent, cultivated at Yale, guaranteed a sociopathic disconnect of decision from deed from blood. Coriolanus was forced to show his war scars to the populace; today’s candidate needs only to convey belligerence and a great big smile.
To date, so far as we know, no President has murdered his wife. We probably wouldn’t stand for that. Other people’s wives, no problem.
Our categories of murder need redefinition. We punish premeditation, though we’ve taught our kids always to think before they act. We allow insanity as a valid defense against punishment for insane acts. Juveniles are held to a different standard unless their deeds are hideous enough to qualify them as being adults. So perhaps we should rank the degrees of killing to the degree they impact our emotions. First degree: an ax to a family skull. Second degree: shooting a total stranger from across the street. Third, fourth, and so on, down to involuntary manslaughter for holocaust, a traffic ticket for genocide, and a warning citation for Armageddon.
Provided that it’s justified by economic need and doesn’t involve bigotry or hate.
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© Bishop & Fuller 2015