"Mindfulness and Meditation allow us to open our hearts, relax our bodies, and clear our minds enough to experience the vast, mysterious, sacred reality of life directly. With Practice we come to know for ourselves that eternity is available in each moment.

Your MMM Courtesy Wake Up Call:
Musings on Life and Practice
by a Longtime Student of Meditation

Sunday, May 26, 2024

Blowing in the Wind

"O-o-o-klahoma, where the wind comes sweepin' down the plain,
And the wavin' wheat can sure smell sweet, 
When the wind comes right behind the rain."
from "Oklahoma" by Richard Rogers and Oscar Hammerstein

"The water’s waves are churned up by the winds, which come and go and vary in direction and intensity, just as do the winds of stress and change in our lives, 
which stir up the waves in our minds.”
Jon Kabat-Zinn, Wherever You Go, There You Are: Mindfulness Meditation in Everyday Life
 

I don't know how much research Rogers and Hammerstein did as they wrote the musical, "Oklahoma,"but they sure nailed one thing: the winds in the South Central Plains are amazing.
 
Unlike the powerful winds that show up for a good old New England Nor'easter, or the intense but relatively brief blasts accompanying the squall lines and whizzbang thunderstorms of the Midwest, the Oklahoma prairie winds even sweep their way through high pressure systems -- for days and days at a time!
 
The National Weather Service characterizes this type of weather as "fair and breezy." Without a cloud in the sky, steady winds often clock in at 20+ mph.  With gusts ranging 35 to 45 mph, "fair and breezy" seems like an understatement.  After chasing my hat down the street a number of times, I finally learned to secure it more firmly to my bald head before stepping outside.  
 
And to be sure, the South Central Plains of Oklahoma sweeps numerous severe thunderstorms and tornadoes across the landscape as well.  It may well be that the Answer is blowing in the wind.  Most everything else is in Oklahoma.
 
The Winds of Fate
 
A few weeks ago, I returned from a three week long stay in suburban Oklahoma City attempting to support my older brother.  At age 86, Skeets (his family nickname) had spiraled down into living in filth and squalor as a hermit.  For a long, long time, it appears that he'd spent most of his days and nights laying on his couch either sleeping (often with his C pack mask on), watching Public TV, or listening to NPR.  No longer preparing meals, his daily bread faithfully delivered to his house by the local meals on wheels program, he eats on the very same couch, sometimes augmenting his food intake with hamburgers from a nearby drive-in.   
 
When I arrived, several inches of paper and plastic bags, cardboard food containers and decaying food covered the coffee table --and the wall to wall carpeting of his living room.  Misha, his somewhat feral cat, hadn't been confined to using a cat box for ages.  The windows were closed. The shades and curtains drawn.  The air in the shuttered house stung my eyes.  Skeets resisted my attempts to open the windows.
 
As I had discovered in a series of telephone calls before I came, my brother had been hospitalized, then referred to a rehab center.  My brother's longtime next door neighbor, friend -- and landlord for the past seven years -- was quite concerned.  Skeets appeared no longer willing or able to take care of himself.  He had trashed the house and property.  Steps were underway to evict him.

Yikes.
 
As fate would have it, I blew into town just in time.  I arrived at my brother's once beautiful, now trashed, four bedroom home in a rural/suburban cul de sac of high priced  homes and large lots just about fifteen minutes before two workers from Adult Protective Services knocked on the door.  The Sacred Serendipity gave me a chance to, perhaps, forestall what my brother characterized as his "worst nightmare" -- spending the rest of his days in a nursing home.  
 
In my dreams, I thought I could actually be enough of a Bodhisattva to forestall that nightmare.  Yet, as it turns out, when called on to be my brother's keeper, I don't know if I'm able.  Skeets started raising Cain whenever I appeared to be "telling him what to do."  
 
My attempts to help him face his situation, get his affairs in order, and move into a safer and healthier living situation usually evoked agitation and anger.  Like many deeply wounded men in our culture, my brother  can't readily see past his own ego-sense of "independence." His arrogance and intellect are his ancient shield against feeling sadness, insecurity, or confusion.  His anger his sword. 
 
My time in Oklahoma was exhausting, frightening, frustrating -- and profoundly sad. 
 
He Ain't Heavy, He's My Brother -- Not.  (Sigh)

When I was a kid, Father Flanagan's Boys Town was quite famous. 
An orphanage founded in 1917 by a Catholic priest with five boys in a house in Omaha, Nebraska  had grown to a village of hundreds of boys and staff on a farm outside of town. Then, in 1938,  a fictional story inspired by Father Flanagan's effort became a blockbuster Hollywood movie.  The movie provided Spencer Tracy with an Oscar, a young Mickey Ronny with a role -- and brought Boy's Town to international prominence.
 
For decades, the centerpiece of its quite successful fundraising campaign was a painting of a child carrying a younger child on his back.  The caption read, "He ain't heavy, Father. He's m' brother."  By the time the Hollies recorded a song with a similar title and theme in 1969, most Americans knew of Boys Town.

I sure did.  
 
As I grew up, it seemed like a utopia. I yearned to experience something approximating the idolized form of brotherly love and supportive community that was portrayed.  
 
I didn't.
 
Instead, my three siblings and I careened through an ever-changing kaleidoscope of tenement buildings, apartments, hotels, detention centers, and the unofficial "foster homes" that my father found to care for us as my mother was swept into the Hell Realms of state mental hospitals in Elgin and Chicago.  
 
Throughout our childhood, my mother disappeared from our lives, then reappeared to take custody for a time, then disappeared again in the grips of a rotating list of diagnoses and treatments.  Our childhood was chaotic -- and traumatic. 
 
Obviously, a secure sense of home and belonging was not part of our physical or emotional reality.  As best as I can recall, Skeets, the oldest and seven years my senior, first went to live with my dad when he and Mom separated as I entered kindergarten.  My younger brother and I went to live with a family in nearby a nearby town. Mom had been hospitalized and then, I believe, was sheltered in a Catholic convent as my younger sister was born.   Then, Skeets returned to live with Mom and the youngest three for awhile when she surfaced from the hospital.  Then he left to be with my dad again.  Then he joined the Navy.  
 
Later, after living in Alaska as a communications radio tech rep,  then fixing TVs and being a theater lighting tech in Greenwich Village in NYC, then in the Hyde Park neighborhood on the south side of Chicago, Skeets circled through to live with us again.  By then, Dad had rescued the three younger siblings from a detention center near St. Louis, MO in the summer of 1959.   Moving us to Lake Zurich, a small town about 35 miles northwest of Chicago, dad got a factory job, and our life began to approximate some semblance of working class normalcy -- at least in outward appearances.

Each of us bears the scars of our collective trauma. Each of our personalities were formed as adaptations to a lack of fundamental emotional stability.
 
I'm grateful that I stumbled into the practices and the support that have at this stage of my journey.  The spacious graciousness of the Universe has  allowed me to encounter my conditioning with an increasing degree of compassion, insight, and skill.  My heart aches with the realization that Skeets appears to be still driven by his demons -- and there appears to be nothing that I can do to help him.