In the Beginning

God created man in his own image, and god looked like an ape, or a reptile, or.., I don’t know anymore. For mainstream science to ask the question if there’s evidence out there of a civilization that predates our own is fascinating. Fascinating in it’s implications, and fascinating in the fact that someone in the mainstream has the balls to ask it? The question alone throws half of what we believe in the fire sale dumpster, and is sure to bring condemnation from those who would rather all science be nice, neat, tidy, and tied to their belief systems. Me? I think our history is stranger than what we’ve been taught. Hell, most of what I was taught about our own evolution has changed, and like humanity itself, knowledge is evolutionary. I suspect God planned it that way, whatever he/she looks like.

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Honor and Respect

A co-worker asked me last night how long I had been married.

’30 some years.’

‘Quite an accomplishment’ he stated, ‘How’d ya manage?’.

I really don’t have an answer, but I like to think it has something to do with the truth that I married my best friend, and that friendship has endured. Friendships are built on trust, mutual respect, understanding and compassion.

Given that it’s International Women’s day, I think it’s appropriate I be reflective of the women in my life. When I think about it, it’s been the women in my life who have shaped who I am today. Sure, my dad was a huge influence, but in my house, growing up, the dominate influence and lawgiver was my mother. My father and mother had a working relationship, an equal foundation to raise their children, but my father was gone a lot. I didn’t always get along with my mother, and I find that my role today as a primary caretaker for her, is one that I cherish. In a lot of ways, I’m closer to her now then when I was growing up, raising my own family.  I have an older sister who I love, but don’t talk with much, and I suppose that’s on me. Barb has a good heart, has always been socially aware, and a lot of my social beliefs, to strive for social justice, derive from her, and I’ll always be thankful for that. Her daughter, Shelby, an army vet, now grown with a family of her own, is a lot like her mom, and that inspires me. I’m simply impressed with how Shelb manages such a full and rewarding life. I remember my grandmother, a farmers wife, who put up with a ton of emotional abuse from my grandfather in the early years. Things I didn’t know about till I was much older, and things I didn’t want to believe. Then there’s my Aunt Lil, who always had a brewing pot of coffee, and a kitchen table ready for me when I wanted to talk. Lil was my go to person, and when I think of compassion and understanding, my Aunt comes to mind. Her passing was my first real sense of grief and sorrow.

And then there’s my wife, Theresa. I’m a good ten years older than Teri and I met her when she was babysitting for my sister. She was only 17, and I was 26. Her mother, Jeanette, had me over for a roast beef dinner, and asked me bluntly what my intentions were, with her daughter. Teri didn’t fall far from that tree. Deeply religious, steadfast in her convictions, Jeannette was shocked when she found out Rock Hudson was gay, but she simply refused to be judgmental. She loved Rock Hudson. I remember that conversation over dinner, I’ll always remember her love and faith in me, to treat her daughter with respect.

My wife isn’t perfect, I’m not either, we both realize that, admit it, talk about our mistakes, then move on. Together. If you were to ask me what love is, I couldn’t put it in words, but I would hope her mother is smiling down upon us, knowing that I’ve honored her simple request to treat Teri with honor and respect.

I owe all the women in my life that.

Cafe Conversations at the End of the Universe

I watched the dying embers of the universe, lost in a millennium of thoughts. Time had been lost, I reached for my coffee, felt the coldness of the ceramic, and left it.

“So you’re not happy with how it turned out?”

I turned to God, who shared the cheap Formica café booth, and just took his presence in. There was nothing left to say, it was all gone.

“It was meant, by design to end like this.” God was saying as I lifted my coffee cup to the thick, tank like woman who was our sole waitress among empty booths, “There was a thought, to let it continue, but there was no purpose in doing so.”

I met the woman’s eyes as she filed my cup, and gave a slight nod, then turned to God. “But what was the purpose to begin?”

“Loneliness.”

I saw a shifting pattern of stars in the eyes of God, and noted the sorrow.

God tapped out a quick forefingered rap on the chipped Formica, and raised his white mug, didn’t drink, and then sat it down.

“Have you ever wondered why you’re setting here with me?” he asked.

I had, but never asked.

“Because you’re lonely?”

The corner of my eye caught a galaxy dwindle to dust, scattered by the remaining cosmic winds.

“Not in the sense, of being alone, of being without companion. More in the sense of purpose.” God replied turning his head toward the great window we were seated at. “Existence is futile without purpose.”

I furrowed my brow, wrapped my palms around my cup, not wanting to look God in the large void of now starless eyes.

“You created existence to give meaning to your own? You didn’t find it, and now it all ends?”

“Or perhaps I found purpose, and I no longer have the need I once had?”

God smiled.

I frowned.

God noticed.

“You had a good life, why the frown?” A star exploded, and died in his pupil.

“Because apparently I had no purpose of my own.” I answered as the last light of the star dwindled into darkness.

“Purpose is not given. Purpose must be found, my old friend.”

My sight crossed over to the waitress, who stood behind the counter wrapping silverware in pleated napkins, laying each bundle neatly in a row.

I wondered who she was expecting?

Rob Paxton

The Outside, Looking In.

Most people I know will spout off and snicker that they don’t give a crap what other people think of ’em. Course, it’s not true, cuz we all wanna be liked, and it’s painful when someone comes along and sets us straight to some truths about ourselves we don’t like.

This report is hard to read, in that it’s heartbreaking. There’s good stuff in it as well, but overall it lays bare the problems we face as a Nation. It’s worth reading, worth thinking about, and if it doesn’t piss you off, there’s just no hope.

www.robpaxton.me

The Hoarding of the American Dream

We hoard people.Closet our elderly in nursing homes, minorities to the other side of the tracks, the working poor to apartment complexes. We box them up nice and pretty and say, this is your place, and if you don’t like it, pull yourself up by your bootstraps and solve your problems, but in the meantime, we’ll embroil and entangle your life in a social welfare system that won’t allow for you to buy the boots.

I am not a rich man, I live paycheck to paycheck, in an older middle class neighbor comprised of repetitive ramblers in a small town along the Mississippi. It’s kind of a bucolic life, peaceful and quiet, lights go out at 10, everyone works for a living. There are no minorities in my neighborhood, they’re relegated to the older homes, the ones with clapboard siding and showing their age. The poor are congregated in conglomerations of apartment complexes where drugs are dealt with occasional gun play. We have several retirement communities, well kept, maintained and full of the elderly who slip, fall, mandating a visit from someone who cares, if they have that someone.

The larger city across the Ol Miss ain’t any different, just on a larger scale.

Twenty some years ago, we lived in an apartment. With 3 little boys! That was a trip. Across the hall, a young banker and his schoolteacher wife. Down the hall, an auto mechanic with his family. All working to climb the ladder known as the American dream. Most of us succeeded for the most part. We still have Apartment complexes like that, and they even have minorities, people of color, living in them. Unfortunately, we also have complexes where drugs rampage through the occupants lives, where police calls are daily occurrences and the truth is, those people will only move from one complex to another. That is their life. There’s way too many of them. They are essentially a prison without escape.

At face value, retirement communities, nursing homes and independent living facilities are good ideas, good ideas where we relegate their care to strangers making minimum wage. The cost is outrageous, and for most, any assets they have are gone in a matter of months. My mothers rent is raised annually, can barely afford the home healthcare she needs, and she’s charged incessant fees for a toilet overflowing, a smoke alarm going off, or losing her keys, or a parking space, or a garage. It’s not that families don’t care, it’s that we don’t really have much of a choice, our hands our tied. We do the best we can.

I don’t have the answers, I don’t know if there are better choices out there. But I do know this, we segregate people in this country. We worry if an African American buys the house next door, the value of my house will go down, if a poor family moves in down the street, the neighborhood will degenerate.  And we don’t have the time, the money, the space, the emotional responsibility to take our elderly parents into our homes.

It just strikes me as wrong.

60

I lay flat on my back in some old pasture splotched with brown grass, a cows head is hung nearby, nibbling, and I’m watching a single, insignificant puff of a cloud wander about a lazy blue sky. Like smoke, the clouds journey is buffeted by the wind. East, West, North or South, the destination is the same, dissipation. A return to oblivion to begin anew.

Even the cow has similarities.

I smile with the thought, the irony. Of a cloud, a cow and a human, the path remains the same.

My hands are folded across my chest, a mosquito lights on a forearm, and begins to feast. I let it. Not because I don’t care, not because I’m not irritated, but because for this moment in time, I think it’s the right thing to do. To give sustenance to some lesser being derived from my personal suffering.

Gorged, full, filled, fat, the insect whines and buzzes off, probably toward the cow, I think. A bloodsucker is never satisfied.

I do not know how I came to be here. There was no direction, no manual, so signage along any path I ever traveled, so I stumbled, missed a turn here and there, wandered from time to time, to end up here. I have regrets, unlike the cow, although the cow may disagree. I wouldn’t know. Regrets only because nothing is preordained, no path laid out in stone. If life was concise, an arrow bent against this blue sky, I would have no regrets. I would not know the meaning of the word.

My thought is interrupted by the cow. A loud, lingering single word sound of base, tone, and reverberation. Perhaps the cow is talking to me, and I smile as I wonder what that damn animal would say. There would be no commonality, no foundation for words to speak with each other. Then I ponder, the cow might be the smart one.

I have never been the smart one. I think back to the desert, the jungle, the firepit, and ask if they were, indeed signs along my path, but settle upon acknowledgement they were nothing more than the mosquito, an intrusion. Intrusions, I perhaps, allowed. And if they were by chance, guideposts, they were as human signage often is, vague, offbeat and of little value. The map I’ve been looking for was bigger, laid out in the heavens, written by the hand of God. Intelligence is the ability to quiet the confusion, to discern the word of God from the voice of man. Perhaps it is the breath of the almighty that drives the cloud, than the cloud has no choice. The cloud has no choice, regardless.

My life has always been the world. That is what has meaning. What lies beyond the boundaries of my sphere is of little consequence, and lesser meaning. I have always explored my world. Turned every rock, listened to every bird song, sought answers to unknowable questions, and now I find myself wondering if those answers are to be found beyond the borders of my own private universe. As vast as my existence is, here in a field with a cloud, a cow and a bellicose bloodsucker, might there be more?

I do not want to grow old. I’m not afraid to grow old.

I’m afraid of not being able to take another walk down some ill-defined path, of passing through the door without the right answers, without the knowledge that allows that entrance to call out to me asking for my tome, to verify my life.

Is that what life is? To find meaning? To have meaning? To be able to claim when the far world reaches out, I have answers. I have knowledge. But what knowledge could I possess on my death, that old friends would care to hear? None, I suspect.

There is, I think, a larger question. I do not follow it, I don’t like the thread, the texture of the thought. For one who lies in a field with questionable associates, the question is sour. If I am that guide, that marker along your way, I have failed miserably. The cow wanders off without discourse, the cloud dissipates without direction, and the bloodsucker is justly swatted.

Life Got you Down?

I want you to know, I understand. Your backs up against the wall, there’s no where to turn, no one to ask for help, you’re stressed to the max, and you don’t have an answer. You flutter into a restless sleep, and when you dream, your stress makes them weird. You’re days are spent praying to God for an answer that never seems to come. Personal relationships, work, financials, or all three, sometimes life just dumps on you. There are times you see it coming from a mile away and just refuse to believe it and when it impacts, you’re still bewildered, stunned by the gale force. There are times too, when you are unable to see that gale force  coming and when it hits, it changes everything in a passing, remarkable and memorable second, often in the most tragic of circumstance.

As if life’s demon has his foot in the small of your back, grinding your face into the dirt, and to make it worse, he’s laughing at you. You spend your days on the edge of tears and you begin to question, everything. You wonder what’s wrong with you, question where your friends are, and more than anything else, you wonder what the point is, of anything. Your favorite refrain is now, ‘why me?’.

There comes that time in all our lives where the pain and suffering seems overwhelming to overcome, you’re just too tired to fight, much less to stand, if not outwardly, certainly inwardly. Your soul aches behind every smile, wondering why you’re even bothering to force a smile.

Like I said, I understand!

Here’s a bigger revelation. Most people will understand, most have been there to some degree or another, and survived. In it’s way, suffrage and troubled waters go hand in hand as a rite of human passage. None of this makes it any easier for you, or anyone to bear their burden. It makes for us an easier way by our experience, to understand, but that doesn’t necessarily calm your waters.

There are things you can do. I’m not a self hep guru, a therapist. and some will say I’m the last person alive to give advice to anyone, and they might be right. But I do have experience in surviving my own personal ocean of troubled waters.

First and foremost, know that life is walked on a thin line between sorrow and happiness, that everyone walks in one direction today and the opposite direction tomorrow, all to different degrees. There’s a huge amount of truth that we are more alike than not. The biggest difference between you and I? How we look at things, our perception. That perception is based on genetics, our current environment, our education, our ego, self esteem and a lot of other factors.

The takeaway, perception can be changed. Some change their perception of the world around them by finding God or engaging in professional help. Some merely through friends or through books, some by grit and determination. Changing perspective on the world, in your life isn’t that hard once you decide to change it. Deciding to change is the hard part. People will argue that the decision is the easiest part, but ask yourself this, if you can’t follow through on a decision you’ve made, are you really committed to that decision?

But what the hell is perception? Well here’s a surprise. It’s not how you view the world and your life, perception is who you are as a person. So if you want to start walking a bit more on that thin line in the direction of happiness, it starts with you.

Start with that recognition, own the troubled ocean you’re drowning in. Once you own that perception, you can mold it by writing about it, by talking to others, by research, by sharing. By even, OMG, by asking for help. Asking for help and understanding can be humiliating, I get that, but what you’re not getting, is that asking for help, asking for a friend to listen, can be one of the most rewarding human experiences in the entire catalog of human experiences. It can be, and often is, the first step in an experience that is transformational.

It ain’t easy, it never is, and like I said, I understand.

Than again, maybe I don’t know nothing and I oughta just slap a piece of duct tape over my big mouth.

A Path Forward

Minnesota has a unique political history with the Democratic party. While many Democrats in Minnesota identify with Democrats, we’re known as the DFL. I grew up believing the principals of the Democrat Farmer Labor party, I still do.

In the early 1920s, the Farmer Labor movement became a powerful political force earning State legislative victories over Democrats and Republicans with their simple message. ‘Agrarian reform, protection of farmers and unions, public ownership of our natural resources, utilities, railroads and a belief in social security legislation’.

Ideals that benefited people’s lives. Ideologies that common folk could understand.

Not only was the Farmer-labor party successful in Minnesota’s legislative seats, from 1921 to 1944 this party elected 3 Governors, 4 United States Senators, and eight United States Representatives.

In 1944, with Hubert Humphry being instrumental, the Minnesota Farmer-Labor party merged with the Democratic party becoming the Democratic Farmer Labor Party of Minnesota.

Today’s Republican party have all but merged with the Tea Party, Libertarians, the Alt-right, and far right Evangelicals giving them a powerful, political voice that drowns out Democrats, Progressives and Liberals.

There’s a history lesson here, and we should learn from it.

Democrats should ask themselves, ‘Why are people who hold our values, our belief in unions, in our environment, in social justice, turning from us, and seeking representation in third parties such as the Progressives, the Green Party, the Independence party, and even Libertarians?’.

We should ask also ‘Why does America have one of the lowest voter turnouts of any modern nation?’.

I don’t have to parse the questions into a thousand data points to find the answer. It’s there, clear, concise.

People don’t vote, simply because there’s nothing to vote for. Nothing new, nothing challenging, nothing that speaks to their future. Not because they don’t care, not because they’re lazy, but because they have heard it all before, with no real-world results.

The Progressive party will continue to grow, as will the Green party, the Constitutional party, the many state Independent parties. So will the Tea Party in some form and fashion, and the Libertarian party, and as they grow, the Republican Party will grow, and become much more of a force than they are now.

At face value, the Democratic Party will claim that they echo the voice of Progressives, that they believe in public ownership of our natural resources, that the Party believes in our labor force, that corporations have grown too large, their influence too great, but if that were all true, Bernie Sanders would have been our nominee.

And here’s the rub, rank and file Democrats, believe in all those things. People in general believe all these issues. Yet, half our nation will not vote.

For the Democratic Party to become sustainable, they must do more than echo repeatedly their concern for issues. They must reach out to people with third party affiliations, bring them into leadership positions, incorporate some of their platforms into theirs, cut ties with corporate donors that contribute to both political parties, and they must learn how to message their belief systems beyond simply attacking Republicans.

While we live in a different world than those of the 1920s and the Farmer-Labor party, some things don’t change. The need to change, the ability to change, the desire to change are always with us.

Politics are, after all, always rooted in being local.

www.robpaxton.me

Along a Rural Road

I was driving back from Duluth yesterday, late afternoon. The sky was blue, the rural two lane lined with burgeoning shades of spring green. Small farming communities came and went faster than the elderly old farmer who I was stuck behind, and couldn’t safely pass. I grumbled at the slow pace, deciding I needed a break, and gas. Like any farming community, the next gas station was there, right along side the road, the pumps standing isolated not in pavement, but dry, dusty gravel that my explorer crunched and crushed over, rolling to a stop shrouded in dust.

The convenience store was small, old, and as I walked in there was a group of young adults, farm kids, gathered around the front counter, talking with the tall women who was taking their money. I made my way to the bathroom, and by the time I walked up to the counter, the kids were gone, the store was empty. I gave her my credit card, and while it seemed like an eternity to verify the card, I didn’t mind, I had a nice conversation with a delightful Indian women.

Not a Minnesota Indian. A women from India. East India.

In the middle of nowhere, Minnesota. In the middle of white, Lutheran, Christian, German, Scandinavian farmland.

I do not know this woman’s life story, don’t know if she owned the store.

I do know this, her presence in that small town store exemplifies what America is all about. What we are capable of as a people, as a nation. I love diversity, I love the fact that diversity is creeping into our smaller communities. And it’s a creeping feeling that some people don’t like, the kind of person who hasn’t ventured far outside their own state, much less county. The kind of person who probably has a twenty some year relationship with their bar stool. Might be I’m being somewhat obnoxiously judgmental about some folk, but the thing is, that’s been my experience.

Not a lot of things piss me off, but ignorance shaded in stupefying knowledge usually sets me down the path of obnoxious judgement. The kind of ignorance where a stool sitting, beer drinking man shrouds his ignorance in world affairs and cultures, with knowledge gained from today’s media. The kind of ignorance with out thought, without experience, that leads to some universal knowledge about the world far removed form where they sit. They have become experts in the world, because they have been told about the world. Never studied it, never experienced it, never thought more than half past the news, about the rest of the world, but they are a god given expert about the world.

And that’s why I love America. As ignorant as we can be, as self centered and isolated in our thinking, our humanity, our tolerance nullifies all that. With every Indian woman that works in some dusty rural gas station, change happens. She changes us, she makes us better. Better people, a better country.

 

 

 

A Common Man

common-manThere was a time when I thought I would change the world. Not could, but would, as in that was my sole purpose for being born. For a very long time, I believed in destiny, in fate, in God and in myself. So much so, I thought myself somewhat special. Not special in the sense that I was better, but special in that I had a specific job to do. Specific and special, assigned by God (or perhaps by aliens but that’s a different story) to make the world a better place.

I’ve always had a personal view of how the world should be laid out, along political, social, cultural and religious veins and the relationship of each, to the other, and to the body. Always thought my ideas were somewhat solid, even if they were somewhat simplistic but I think it’s a fair and substantive question to ask if a Nation should seek respect before power, if belief proceeds needs and determines ritual, if education enhances compassion, and in what way?

30 years ago, I really believed that by the time I was in my fifties, we’d have a moon base, moved on to Mars, beaten back poverty, experience the beginnings of a spiritual awakening as well making inroads into prejudice.

I guess I kind of figured the human race didn’t need my input. That you’d all be alright, that you’d get to where you need to be with out my help. I kind of haven’t worried about humanity for the last 30 years as I went about raising my kids, working and having fun but a funny thing happened the other
day.

I woke up!

I realized I really don’t like the world we’ve made for ourselves simply because I know we can do better, a hell of a lot better. Thing is, I’m a dreamer, and I do happen to believe that dreams do come true, but I’m also smart enough to understand, that they don’t come true without hard work, sweat, hard faith and diligence.

Maybe my destiny is still in play? May be, that I’m not a common man?

And You?