As the crocus petals fall

A close friend has been at the hospital the last few days tending to his mother. She injured herself severely in a household fall by tripping on a braided rug that her husband has long refused to throw out in their bedroom.

Such are the vagaries of old age, and sentiment. Her broken ribs and swollen brain are being treated at the hospital, but she’s not sure it’s a good idea to go on. There is fear, and there is pain.

Her son is also in pain, of the emotional kind. There has been no more faithful a son than he. For two decades he has tended their garden. Mowed their lawn. Taken them to church when necessary. His own life is intertwined with that of his parents. Because he cares.

And because he cares, he is suffering now at the thought of his mother’s passing. She is alive, but barely. Sooner or later most of us go through this experience with a parent. A spouse. Or a friend.

I know people that have even lost children. Such abrupt dissolutions.

Crocus

As I entered the house today, I glanced down to notice that the crocus in the front garden are already starting to drop their petals. We wait all winter for the first signs of spring. Then spring comes and sheds these bright signs of life as if they did not matter at all.

I have watched my mother die. I was there when she passed away 10 years ago. Recently I watched my father die as well. We emptied their house this past week. Filled a three-yard dumpster with all their former belongings. Kept a few keepsakes and practical items for our own.

My brother said, “I’m going home to get rid of 25% of what I own. If this is what happens to us when we die, I don’t want that.”

Time passes

Three years ago this March 26 my wife passed away after an eight year go-round with cancer. She lived fully right to the moment she passed away. I have always said that I am proud of her for that. But life itself sheds its hold on us like petals on a crocus.

We are reminded of all this come Easter time. According to Christian tradition, even the Son of God shed those petals of life here on earth. The faith holds that our souls are borne into heaven if we have accepted the grace, and shed the brand of pride that prevents it.

Instead, we should hold pride in the mercies we can show others. I told that to my friend, the selfless man that has cared for his parents all these years. “You are in pain because your love is wrapped together with her life. That is pain your have earned through caring. God knows that we feel that pain, and it’s the knowledge that we are loved that sustains us through it.”

Walking right into the pain

Three years ago on Good Friday, I walked into the church I attend with tears barely concealed behind my eyes. My brother asked me why I attended the service so soon after the death of my wife, and I told him, “I’m walking right into the pain.”

That’s really the only thing we can do. You can’t escape it by walking around. It follows you like a shadow. And when I walked up to meet the pastor for a blessing that Friday evening, he was the one shedding tears in my family’s name. “You are in the right place,” he told me.

That does not cure it all. There is still the absence and the loss. The profound depression knowing that someone is gone, for good. That is grief. It must be reckoned with as well. But first we must acknowledge the pain. All else is folly. That can take time. It cannot be rushed. Yet neither can we dwell in the past, lest we forget there is life to be lived.

Preaching to the choir

I understand that church is not for everyone. I get that more deeply than you might think. My own father relinquished his churchgoing ways. He loved the camaraderie of the choir, but the words ultimately didn’t mean that much. It doesn’t mean he did not have a soul. And I do not worry for it. That is not the brand of faith to which I ascribe.

We are all flawed people, who need forgiveness for the things we do. And, we should do all the forgiving we can muster. Because the real purpose of those falling petals should be to let go the lies, and the hurts, the harsh words and the lost opportunities to say that we love someone.

That is the faith to which I ascribe. It is ultimately transcendent, even in all its fallen glory. It is not keeping the crocus past its time, but knowing that its coming and going is the real sign of hope, and of caring, and of things planted for the right purposes.

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My father’s house

Back in October 2015 when my father passed away in his hospital bed, I was proud to think that we’d managed to keep him in his house in the ten years that passed after my mother died in 2005. As anyone with caregiving responsibilities can tell you, there are challenges to protecting the freedoms of the elderly. And when we love them, those challenges only increase when emotions and old relationship patterns cloud decision-making.

My father’s house was purchased in 1977 or so. It sits on a hill in St. Charles, Illinois where my brother and I used to chase grey partridge around the fields where hunters had released them as wild game.

Those birds are long gone, replaced by the suburban sprawl that created my dad’s place. The house is nothing special in any way. A split level with peach and apple trees planted in the back yard by my dad and mom years ago.

But my folks made it home for 30 years. Then my father had a stroke in the early 2000s and the home turned into a caregiving facility. In fact, caregivers lived in the home with my father all 10 years that he survived after my mother’s passing.

That’s all done now. And soon my brother will be coming out to Illinois to go through all the family archives left in the home. That includes albums both musical and photographic. My dad chopped up lots of pictures and pasted them into collections, so it’s a mixed bag. But it’s our bag, and I trust my brother of all people to handle that process.

Before leaving after a walk-through today I noticed a videotape on the shelf that took me back to the period when my dad had his stroke. He was out East on a reunion trip when the stroke hit. That threw our family into turmoil. It was my job back here in Illinois to keep the home safe and pay the bills.

The home itself has never had much sentimental value for me. But my father’s house instead was the symbol for caring and concern. We’ll be cleaning it out and selling it soon. But there’s no need to give up the former for the latter.

Love on steroids

A friend on Facebook recently posted a meme about what to do when a woman says “Do what you want.”

It then says, DO NOT DO WHAT YOU WANT. Stand still. Do not blink. Do not answer. Don’t even breathe. Just play dead.”

Ah yes. Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned.

But three years ago this week, I was living through a different brand of experience. My late wife was deep in the throes of treatment for a brain surgery stemming from ovarian cancer that had somehow circumvented the supposed brain-blood barrier and made its way into tumors that needed to be surgically removed.

That was in January 2013. Then the treatment was followed by a bit of radiation. And then steroids. That was when things got really interesting.

You’ve all heard of “roid rage,” which is when athletes get so hyped up they have no control over their emotions? Well, it’s real. And while my wife on steroids was not subject to steroid-induced rage, she did become absolutely fearless.

And let me tell you something, an absolutely fearless person can be a very scary thing. It was impossible in some ways to tell when she was being serious or not. We spent some money we did not really have. We bought a new vehicle when I wasn’t even working (thank God for my 960 credit rating at the time) and bunches of other things. I thought the money was coming from some unknown source, perhaps a gift from her very giving parents. But no.

A wife on steroids also cleans a lot. A whole lot. And then cleans some more. Entire shelves of formerly peaceful dishes were offloaded and wiped clean and put back in their places. Rooms got painted. She could not lie down for more than 10 minutes. “I feel great!” she’d enthuse.

The steroids also bulked her up. This was a bit disconcerting on a couple levels. She was already a tall, big-boned German girl. I felt like there was no room in the bed. And then she started snoring too. So I moved to the front room and slept there. No choice. It was like a freight train coming through the bedroom.

None of this do I blame her for. She was a wife on steroids. But it had a cost outside the home. Her judgment was impaired on many levels. Aggressive driving, for one thing. And her work as a teacher at preschool ultimately had to end. She was too spacey to do her job properly. Our close friend and her preschool manager called me one afternoon. We talked quietly about the fact that it was time to give it a break. Linda was simply too charged up.

And then the prescription for steroids ceased and she wound down like a clock. Peacefully with friends and family around she passed away in March of 2013.

But that month with a wife on steroids had its gifts as well. We purchased a painting by an artist whose work I’ve grown to love. Now I work in the same studios that artist once did, and it reminds me to take my work seriously. Yet joyfully.

In the long run, there was no way for go out of this world other than the way she did. But it was like an intense tryst with a powerful spirit, those 45 days with a wife on steroids.

Women have always seemed like intense creatures to me. It does not pay to mess with disrespect or lack of trust. But I do have to laugh when thinking back on what it might have been like to try to continue living with a wife on steroids. I really don’t wish it on anyone.

Most women don’t need steroids to be strong. They’re strong enough already. And if you think you’re tough, just give it a go. Push them to the point where they say, “Do what you want.”  See how far that gets you. But I recommend the advice in that Facebook meme first. “Stand still. Do not blink. Do not answer. Don’t even breathe. Just play dead.”

When I was very young, perhaps 14 years old, I loved the song by Cat Stevens called Hard Headed Woman. Something in me recognized the virtues of a woman that could both encourage you and hold you accountable. I’m dating a woman like that now, and grateful for it.

I’m looking for a hard headed woman, headed woman
One who will make me do my best
And if I find my hard headed woman
I know the rest of my life will be blessed, yes, yes, yes

Yesterday I also spent 45 minutes talking with my mother-in-law, who is a hard-headed woman in her own way. Her life has been spent exploring the difficult path of following Christ. Her search was so intense, she has crossed over the bridge to Judaism and back. This has been an illustration to me of the fact that normalcy and expectations are not adequate measures of a person’s true heart.

Nor the desire to love, and be loved. I wish that for all. My children. My friends. My family. My readers. If love were the thing on steroids, perhaps the world really would be a better place.

 

 

The thing with being an artist

images-togetherThis month at Water Street Studios, a trio of artists is featured in the Main Gallery and the Kane County Chronicle Gallery upstairs in the building.

Watching the show being hung downstairs in the Main Gallery was fascinating. The prep of the walls. The line to level the work. The careful choice of images on paper by Jesse Howard and sculptures by Todd Reed to create a resonating whole. It’s a little like preparing for a wedding. But it is a marriage of ideas both contradictory and challenging.

And while that was going on, Krisa Varsbergs was upstairs with her husband and a friend mapping out a display of her compelling paintings.

But it’s not an Upstairs Downstairs thing like some show on PBS. Quite the opposite. This is the next step in a new beginning for Water Street Studios, which recently raised $50,000 in donations from community leaders committed to the arts. And that money was matched by an anonymous donor. So the total came to $100,000, money that is targeted for ADA compliance and arts education initiatives.

So the three artists launching solo exhibitions tonight are symbolic of these outreach efforts, the goal to make connections in the community.

Jesse Howard

Howard Work.jpgThe work of Jesse Howard is visceral. His portraits are larger than life testimonies to the character of the people he draws. Working in a wet charcoal method that is part painting and part drawing, his work bears multiple thought signatures that bring out the complexion and complexity of the people he portrays.

At times he takes that intensity further than life, narrowing the face of a character to emphasise the crushing pressures of life. At other times, the liquidity of the eyes in his portraits stops you in your tracks.

These are drawings and paintings to be encountered, not just viewed. They speak volumes about people, but also about race. And how race is no way to measure people. It honestly can’t be done. Every swooping brush stroke beyond the faces and the body is a movement toward that end. And every deepening black within the charcoal grey speaks of the anchoring (and anointing) heart of the people within, and how they overcome all that they face.

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Todd Reed

The work of Todd Reed will always escape consideration from those who see fit to see sculptures as simple shapes and colors. For as all artists know, nothing is simple except that which you decide. So his decisions about shapes and landscapes are meant to both absorb those reflections, and emit them as well.

So understated that they calm, his sculptures in metal with their cool sheen and carefully combined colors are the opposite of a Rorschach test. They don’t test your personality so much as they question it. Are you aware of simplicity? Are you aware of the complexity that lies within. Can you handle a world that is reduced to its elements, so that a couch could also be a vista?

This is the world most of us occupy as children. Our imaginations are allowed to come and go between spatial planes. Only as adults are we trained to categorize by force of habit. So Todd’s work takes you back and releases these notions all at once. Take it slow. Don’t move from each piece until something strikes your mind. You will find it a rewarding experience.

Krista Varsbergs

VarsbergsIn looking closely at the work Krista has presented in her solo show, it becomes clear why her work has such an earthy foundation. It is painted directly on unprepared wood. The grain of the wood shows through in places. Sometimes stained with a glaze of black paint. At other times etched, removed, or broken into hanging strips.

All these expressions of engagement contribute to the overall impression of the pieces she paints. Her women stand starkly, or pose ever so slightly. This tip of the hat to expected behavior is an irony…and we find that shoes, if painted in perfect detail, likely represent a closet full of them. But without that detail, and no flouncy skirt to match, the sexuality of the subject may be too much even for the object of the image to handle. Instead, the fashionable patterns of a simple dress are crossed by textured swipes of the brush. Paint flows down these passages, arrested by its own drying motions. These might be the attentions of men. Or they might be fears. Or they might be imagined. But likely not. The hollow eyes of life are all around her.

In Varsbergs other works, a jangling framework of lines to surround and sculpt the face, body and spaces both define and defy the heart of the figures. These lines take over the paintings at time while negative space pushes the commentary even further. Is this the figure of Christ? And is this a latent post-modern Madonna of the City?

It is this resonating balance between figurative suggestion and surface and space that takes Varsbergs works beyond mere abstraction, the trap of senseless artists, and works that do not let you go away easily. Her pieces all have the feel of night and consternation. Yet there’s a catharsis going on.

These three artists are worthy of the new “exploration” phase of Water Street Studios: Engaging the community in art that both rewards and challenges the senses, and expectations. That’s the thing with being an artist. It’s our job.

 

 

Childhood

Somewhere in the past year, or five years, or maybe over the last decade, I elected to take back my childhood.

The facts are simple. We all have pain in our lives. Some of it stems from aspects of childhood that are not so pretty. We get hurt in some way. Suffer some criticism or abuse. It sticks with us through our twenties and thirties. Then one day we wake up and realize the source. Then the work begins. Digging in the dirt. Just like a kid again.

But that brings back memories. Behind our garage in our Lancaster, Pennsylvania  there was a patch of clay exposed to the sky. It was a tremendous place to take an old household spoon and create real tunnels through which our toys cars could pass. We spent many afternoons digging entire cities into that soil, and then rain would come along and take them all down.

Yet that would make puddles along our long driveway. These could be dammed up with leaves and sticks and mud. Then we’d release the dam and watch the satisfying flow of water from one side of the puddle to the other.

These simple occupations of time were dreamlike. There were creeks to explore as well, and salamanders to catch.

Then one day a sparrow hawk landed on a laundry pole above my head. It was so close, and so alive. It flicked and jittered on the post, staring at me with a dark eye. Instantly I was mesmerized, and my life’s interest found its focus.

All of nature called me. From then on, I wanted to see more. Know more. Do more. Childhood expanded and carried through my adult life.

But not before all those baseball games played on makeshift fields. And basketball games played on cold, wet macadam. We naively imitated our heroes. Sports felt real.

Yet something of the pain caused by a single incident in my youth remained. A day when my loving father erupted in anger with my brothers and delivered a sound beating in the kitchen. Something in that moment really harmed me, and combined with the teasing and exasperation passed down the line, really did cause harm, and led to consternation as an adult. That needed healing.

Having courage to admit that is key. Yet it is just as important to understand that not all anger stems from being hurt as a child, or even wronged as an adult. Some anger comes in response to the ignorant angst of the world, where selfish aims and political evil too often reign.

People too easily forget that they have a responsibility to be angry with some things in this world. To avoid that job is to remain too much a child. We see that in the shortsighted notion that a childlike faith is to only think like a child. That is wrong. To have a childlike faith is to trust that even when you are wrong or wronged, God is still with you. That is the true role of any father (or mother). To correct and to forgive.

That brand of childhood relationship needs to continue throughout life. It is the trust that despite persistent pain and lack of mercy wrought by the world, there is justice to be found.

Freed from the need for retribution or revenge, we can go on being excited and thrilled by the world, and by creation. We can dig in the clay of our imagination, and wonder at the wilderness of light that reaches us from beyond. That is childhood.

Sex drive

Amy Poehler BookWhile reading Amy Poehler’s funny book Yes, Please, it has been amusing to follow her course through pregnancy. In one section, she talks about how difficult it can be for some women to get pregnant. I’ve known several women that have gone through that. Tried all kinds of treatments and submitted to clinical trials. Sometimes it’s a problem with the woman. Other times it’s a problem with the man. At some point, sex drive is no longer the issue at all. You just wish it would happen. Immaculate conception would be fine. You reallly can get tired of f****** on demand. The human sex drive has its limits.

I know a woman that had all kinds of trouble conceiving because she was in her thirties. Then she had acupuncture treatment for a back problem and she was warned that the procedure could increase chances of pregnancy. She laughed bitterly at the thought.

But lo and behold. Her acupuncturist was right. She did pregnant. And was quite happy and relieved about that. So was her husband, as I recall. Because the effort of having programmed sex is quite exhausting. It can also take quite a bit of fun out of the sex act itself. And sex drives can disappear.

And sure, there are all kinds of sex acts, which have become more acceptable as our society has become enlightened to the fact that not everybody has the same types of sex drive. Or to put that different, some people do have a same sex drive.

In any case, sex drive is a pretty strange and mysterious thing. For one thing, being horny interrupts all kinds of other thought. As a young man, there were days when it was impossible for me to think much about anything else but sex. Boys of a certain age wake up thinking about sex in the morning and keep their eyes and minds out for reminders of sex pretty much all day. In that state of mind, sex is nearly a complete distraction.

The only way to temper sex drive when sex is not available with other people is to take care of business yourself. Jackson Browne wrote a great song about that, and being a young man left alone after striking out at a rock concert. The song is called Rosie. The refrain goes like this:

Rosie, you’re all right
(You wear my ring)
When you hold me tight
(Rosie, that’s my thing)
When you turn out the light
(I got to hand it to me)
It looks like it’s me and you again tonight, Rosie

It’s only been in recent years that the female equivalent in masturbation and orgasm has been brought to light, so to speak. The intrigue of female orgasm was originally explored in songs such as Mystery Achievement by The Pretenders. Yet when Lucinda Williams a few years back tried to sing one of her lyrics about a woman masturbating out of loneliness and grief for her lost lover, the singer was forced by TV censors to change the lyrics for a “general audience.” Williams was disgusted.

Girls rule

Consideration of female sexuality is changing rapidly thanks to the Internet. Sex drives and objectification and female empowerment are on display all over the place. Can anyone say Miley Cyrus? Women do know what they want. They’re talking about it, and showing it, and gaining tens of thousands of Likes on site like Reddit. But many also wind up getting exploited and having their privacy invaded. So sex drives can go quickly out of control.

It’s true therefore with both boys and girls. To whit: I’m not sure how I’d handle this new world if I were a kid today. But I do know that my own children have rationally explored this world and made sense of it in their own way. More knowledge is always better. With sex drive, curiosity and the taboo are almost worse than the prevalent display of sexuality. You can get sick of it after a while if it’s everywhere, and move on. But curiosity and ignorance are never, ever satisfied. That’s what the real trouble starts.

Sex and religion

The church has always preached that our sex drives are only for one thing: a motivation to create children. And to keep boys from resorting to the grip of Rosie, the church even falsified a Bible passage about a character named Onan to suggest that “spilling your seed” was a sin of ungodly proportions.

Yet from experience and having fathered two children, I can only say that fathering children is actually very different than having sex. I believe being a father or mother is an important thing if that’s what you want to do. But you should really want to do that, or you should not become a parent. Not on your life. Sex is only incidental to that greater decision.

That’s why I think it’s fine to have sex even if you’re not planning to become a parent. I also think women should have all the access to birth control that society can muster. I think birth control should be legal, free and readily available. That’s because I know how men think when it comes to sex drive. And the fact is, they mostly don’t. Think. So women need to be able to protect themselves from men who don’t think it matters if a women protects herself or not. The Catholic church for years has maintained that birth control goes against God’s word. But Catholic women in droves ignore that patriarchal mess of a dictum and do what they need to do in planning their parenthood.

Great moments

My testimony about the difference between having sex and fathering children comes down to one singular moment in my life. In our late 20s, my wife and I decided to have our first child. We had nice sex. And a couple weeks later she came to bed with no clothes on, and her hair all wet. She hugged me and kissed me and said, “We’re gonna have a baby.” And that my friends, was one of the nicer moments of my life. And it was true again with our second child.

Sex was a very small part of the picture in either case. Because what follows is profound. Having babies is no easy enterprise. Pregnancy is hard. Delivering the child can be difficult. I will never forget practicing Lamaze and then having my wife blow on my index finger for 15 consecutive hours of labor contractions every three minutes. I thought to myself, “This is insane.” Lamaze was insane. The whole thing. We had a guy that came to class bragging that he went to bed with Oreos ever night to enjoy with his wife’s breast milk. All of it. Was Nuts.

Making babies and other things

So I have a healthy respect and a somewhat divisive opinion about sex and babies. And I greatly respect women for being able to go through that pain and glory. One of the awesome things my companion Sue told me… is that she delivered two of her three children at home. That is so in line with her character and practical approach to life. She’s both tough and tender. A true woman, in other words.

Which is what makes so much of what we find on the Internet a bit difficult to comprehend. Sexuality is everywhere, and pornography is easy to view. There are literally millions of women and men putting their bodies on display. Some engage in sex on video. Amateurs tape themselves in the bedroom or on the beach, and share it on sites for millions to see. One young woman rose to instant fame by recording herself naked in the college library. And all that has raised the question of just who has the greater sex drive, men or women?

Relative sex drives

The answer of course, is that it’s more subtle than that. There are obviously times in life when women and men differ in their relative sex drives. That can put pressure on a marriage, such as when a women does not feel much like having sex after the birth of a child. And if a husband loses his sex drive for emotional or physical reasons, or fails in his ability to “perform,” that can cause problems as well.

So while complaints about the damaging effects of pornography and overheated sex drives get all the press, the quiet pain of those struggling with sex drives within relationships gets far less press, yet is perhaps the far more important aspect of the sex drive when it comes to maintaining stable, trusting relationships. Because without that, there’s cheating to contend with, which leads to conflicts and distrust.

Gender and sexuality

Then there is the issue of people trying to figure out their sexuality at all. The bitter retorts against Caitlyn Jenner by those uncomfortable with her decision to affirm herself in the female gender point out the fact that while sex is celebrated in our society, actual sexuality remains taboo.

That explains in part the continuing discomfort with homosexuality. People who are attracted to the same sex aren’t weird or different though. Not any more. Sure, there are social control freaks who contend that homosexuality is a “lifestyle choice,” while clinging to ancient fears codified in the Bible. But none of those hold up under rational scrutiny. The fact of the matter is that we’re all part of the same species in the human race. Homo sapiens. In other words, we’re all homos. So deal with it.

Most often complaints in the bible about homosexuality relate more to wanton behavior and abusing other people than they are about sex acts. The biggest confounding bible passage is that a “man should not lie with another man as with a woman.” But you know what? That’s impossible. Men don’t even have the same parts.

And some people have parts from both genders, and like it or not, they deserve consideration and respect. They did not choose their gender any more than you or I chose to have blue or brown eyes, blonde or black hair. People are born the way they are born in terms of gender identification and sexuality. And either you believe God doesn’t make mistakes or you don’t. And you’re a hypocrite if you try to parse that.

Sex drive math

Where that leaves us in terms of healthy, honest, moral response to sex drive is this. There are billions of sperm in every ejaculation. There are hundreds of eggs in every woman’s body at birth. These are not all designed to be used to create children. That’s both impossible and stupid.

The sex drive itself can be similarly wasteful. So there’s nothing wrong with masturbation. Not for men or for women. There’s also nothing wrong with premarital sex if two people take precautions to prevent unwanted pregnancies, and protect themselves from sexually transmitted diseases. This notion of forced abstinence is somehow holy does nothing but repress healthy urges. Today’s medical doctors even recommend that men of all ages ejaculate with regularity. That can help prevent prostate cancer. And orgasms are healthy for a woman’s reproductive organs. So go enjoy yourself. You’re doing God’s work.

Jesus, Mary and Joseph

Sex drive is about far more than making children, and that’s a fact. Yes, it’s wonderful when it contributes to the process of creating a child. But only if you are prepared and able to manage that decision. Otherwise, you should stay away. Don’t overpopulate the world.

But we’ll close with one provocative notation about sex drive and holiness. Even Jesus was ostensibly conceived without Mary ever having had sex. What are we to make of that, really? If sex is only for having babies, why did God prevent that from happening with a girl, a young virgin supposedly, and put Joseph through all that hell?

Some scholars have suggested that Jesus knew the company of women in his life, or was even married. Which would mean one of two things. Either there is holy blood floating around out there in the world or there are some unholy little bastards running around.

Or, none of the above, and Jesus avoided his sex drive altogether. Did the Son of God never ejaculate, even at age fifteen, or in his sleep? That would be one of life’s miracles indeed.

 

 

The ch-ch-ch-changes we need to make when talking about cancer

We read news of the death of David Bowie from cancer and what does it tell us? That he “lost his battle” with the disease.

It’s time for some changes in that sort of language. I’ve watched several people dear to me die from cancer, and they did not lose the battle. They won time instead.

Time to live. Time to consider the importance of the people they loved. Time that mattered.

Cancer is an indiscriminate condition that can cause death eventually. You don’t get it because you’re a bad person, but bad habits like smoking can cause it. Yet cancer can also come along because you’ve spent too much time in the sun, or had the bad luck to carry a certain cancer-causing gene. So to suggest that you’ve lost the battle is to make a pitch that the battle was lost before we ever knew it was begun.

Well, that’s rather true for all of us, isn’t it? Life itself is a pre-existing condition. Yet in defiance of that truth, we’ve all been living with a health insurance business that parses that fact for its own profit. And we deal with drug companies that jack the price of life-saving drugs simply because they can. It goes on and on.

Pushing through the market square,
So many mothers sighing
News had just come over,
We had five years left to cry in

News guy wept and told us,
Earth was really dying
Cried so much his face was wet,
Then I knew he was not lying

That means it can be an expensive battle to live, to pay for the right to continue one’s life. That’s immoral on its own, of course. But every time someone dies from cancer it seems we repeat that meme about “losing the battle” ad hominen (against the person that died) and ad infinitum (there but for the grace of God go I.)

david-bowie-5-1024x616.jpgSo stop it. Make the ch-ch-ch-change in yourself when you speak of someone dying from cancer, or any other reason. They did not lose a battle against a disease or anything else. They won time to the best of their ability. And we should all honor that.

As for the memory of David Bowie, many of us had no idea he was sick. But even famous people deserve privacy. Perhaps something reached out to me through the cosmos however, because two weeks ago I printed out a bunch of chordsheets of his music and began playing his songs. Moonage Daydream is a tremendously cathartic bit of music to rip on guitar. It brings us back to those moments in life when music props us up against the perceptions of the world.

18345-david-bowie-637x0-1Bowie and I go back to the Ziggy Stardust album, which I revered as a sophomore in high school. The androgyny of the character and his person both fascinated and terrified me. At the time, it was not acceptable in any form to be considered feminine by those terms. Not in the tiny farm town where I lived.

I didn’t necessarily have the instincts to publicly display my curiosities. But like many young men I tucked my manhood between my legs and looked in the mirror wondering what it would mean to look like or be a woman. I have photos from that period when my facial features were delicate. Not yet a man. But no longer a boy.

To some people, such behavior and curiosities are abhorrent, wrong and unbiblical. Yet the courage of people like Bowie to bring those instincts to grace and acknowledgement have indeed changed the world, and for the better. The very idea that people all fall into plain and distinct categories is false and dangerous. It is the fascism of singularly self-directed purpose, and not godlike at all. Art, by contrast, explores the unspeakable. It sings it loud. Brings truth into the light.

Nature as well is both creative and forceful in its diversity. A society that collaborates with the forces of nature is a healthy one. The elements of the world that suppress and tries to murder the fact of diversity is one that fights against none other than itself. Men like Adolf Hitler, for example, made up their own version of reality. They try to cover their fears and insecurities with willful terror and murderous intent.

david-bowieAnd that’s why David Bowie matters. His music and his leadership together changed the world. If anything, he battled a few  s0-called demons in the process. But given the fact there are actually no such thing as real demons, he battled what the world threw at him instead. And in many respects, he won. And that’s the right kind of pride.

That’s the inspiration we can take from the passing of David Bowie. He forged a creative path that enabled him to overcome many fears about the world. He was born David Jones and chose his stage name from the inventor of a knife, it seems. Then he used it to cut both ways. There’s a powerful lesson in that.

A friend just texted me lyrics from the song Heroes. “We can beat them, forever and ever. We can be heroes, just for one day.” And that’s the best example of all. Thank you, David Bowie.