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Jun. 21st, 2010

music score

Broken Hallelujah

Well baby, I’ve been here before.
I’ve seen this room and I’ve walked this floor.
You know, I used to live alone before I knew ya.
And I’ve seen your flag on the marble arch,
And love is not a victory march...
It’s a cold and it’s a broken hallelujah.
(Hallelujah lyrics by Leonard Cohen)

Once you've experienced the divine, once you've touched the unreachable... and then lost it... what is left?

Last evening I spent some time with the greatest love of my life. Our relationship changed from lovers to friends nearly ten years ago. In between, there was an eight or nine month period when we didn't speak to one another, a time of re-adjustment, a time of licking our wounds and waiting for the scars to form so that we could move on with our lives without bleeding all over everything and everyone around us. After that healing time, we - at first, awkwardly- redefined our relationship. It wasn't long before this woman, my friend, meant as much to me as she did as this woman, my lover.

As broken as I was at the time of the shift, I knew that I had no choice really... this woman would always remain a part of my life in some shape or manner. By whatever name - fate, destiny, divine intervention - it was meant for her to be a part of my experience for the remaining days of this lifetime. Sometimes you just know this. No one has to tell you. No sign from god is needed. It just is what it is and there is no doubt that it is.

I watched her lips move as she spoke to me last night and I remembered the minutes and hours and days those lips explored every inch of me.  I noted the gestures of her hands, the way she slightly tilts her head to the right when asking a question, the way she gently brushes my arm with her fingertips when she is revealing something to me she has told few others. Her fingertips remind me of moments she and I, together, will never be able to recreate with another living soul. I saw the newly-emerging lines around her eyes, where once my lips brushed only smooth, soft and pearly skin. When she threw back her head and laughed at something I said, I was transported back to so many years ago, so many memories ago.

And I realized that I will never be in that place again. I will never experience that same ecstasy again. No other person will ever touch me in that same way again. My soul will never reach those same heights again. Nothing will ever compare to what we once had.

I met her at a time of great despair. I was broken and dirty and used and full of shame and fear and regret. I was raw and bleeding, no doubt. Her love transformed me. She didn't save me, please know this right up front. Only I could choose salvation. No one could do that for me. But her love motivated me. It inspired me. It sparked within me a flame that had long ago been extinguished. Before her, love was not about intimacy.  It was a word, a feeling. Love was the word I used to describe how I felt about my favorite TV show, my favorite radio station, the ocean, the land, chocolate ice cream. Love was what I felt for my children, my parents, my friends. It had nothing to do with intimacy. That was a brand of love that could only flourish in a part of myself that I had long ago walled-off from the rest of me. The capability, the capacity of experiencing that type of love was stolen from me when I was twelve years old. It was snatched away before I knew what it felt like, before I formed a clear idea of all that it might entail. Just as my virginity was lost to me before I ever knew the meaning of the word, so it was with this intimate and foreign kind of love I'd never know until the mid-point of my lifetime, until I met her.

I learned everything about her. I probed and dug and explored the realms of her psyche, her body, her spirit. And then, suddenly, I offered her this same access to all of me. I was frightened, terrified really, but for the first time in my 34 years, I trusted, and in doing so, I began to heal. When the physical intimacy came to an end, when the relationship shifted into what it has become today, I emerged and went forth as something different than when I began. I left with more than what I brought to the table. I was no longer broken and dirty and used. I lost my shame and my fear and my regret. My wounds were no longer raw and bleeding, but scarred over and not nearly as evident or blatantly obvious to those I encountered from that point on.

And even though I was reminded last night of all that I lost when our relationship shifted those many years ago, even though her voice, her eyes, her skin, her laughter, her integrity, her friendship, her mere presence in the world, sometimes reminds me of what we no longer share, it also reminds me that I now have the capacity to go that far, to be that connected, to love that deeply.

As I drove home last night, I was thinking of these things as I turned on the radio. Once again, as is customary, the universe added the punctuation to my thoughts as Jeff Buckley's voice filled my car...

...well, there was a time when you let me know what’s really going on below, but now you never show that to me, do ya? But remember when I moved in you, and the holy dove was moving too, and every breath we drew was hallelujah!

Ah, halle lu jah.





May. 25th, 2010

music score

Defying Gravity

Drivin' and cryin'.  Yeah, I know, the name of an 80's band out of Atlanta, but also something I need to do much more often than I make time to do. 

I drove the 6 hour drive to St. Augustine last week to attend the memorial service for an an incredible man name Stephen Parker who died of stage IV colon cancer.  He was 46.  I am 46.  I drove there and back alone.  Others in my family were traveling the same route at the same time, but I needed to make the trip alone.  I needed the drivin' and cryin' time.  There's something to be said for long, solo trips in the car with the music turned up to just shy of speaker-blowing volume, no one there wishing you'd turn the music down, no one there to hide your tears from, no one there to clutter your already-cluttered thoughts.  On the way back I decided that I need to do this a lot more often.  I used to.  I plan to do a lot more of it from now on. 

I had a Jennifer Nettles Band CD playing on the way back to Georgia.  Jennifer Nettles is now a member of the country band, Sugarland.  Before Sugarland, she fronted her own band in Georgia.  The first time I heard the Jennifer Nettles Band was at a concert at a place called the 40-Watt Club in Athens, GA.  It was love at first listen.  At that time in her career she was the absolute best southern female rocker I had ever heard.  And the lyrics - as well as her delivery of them - nothing short of amazing.  They spoke my soul.  She spoke my soul.  I'm not a big country music fan, but I do tolerate Sugarland now just because Jennifer Nettles is the singer.  The new genre and the new lyrics of the new songs are, sadly, watered down in comparison to her previous work, but like I said, it was love at first listen and once I fall in love I tend to be loyal even through all the drastic changes that push us all through our lifetimes in varying directions.

On that drive last week, these lines from a song called Gravity sucked the air right out of me:

And I know I'm at the brow of my being
And I know it's hard to look down
And I'm probably as free as I ever will be
Still I choose to live like I'm gagging and bound

Well I wonder what it's like to walk around weightless
To jump for your heart and never come down
To know the potential of true human will
Without all of this gravity just dragging us down


Maybe it had something to do with the memorial of Stephen's life.  Stephen was a guy that really lived.   He didn't just exist, going from one day to the next, living from paycheck to paycheck, planning his future, getting stuck in the ruts of human existence.  He lived.  He traveled to all the places in the world he wanted to visit.  He played music with all the people he wanted to play with.  He loved his wife and his step-children (my two nieces) with a passion rarely seen.  He lived.  And he loved doing it and he did it consistently and naturally. 

I've had glimpses of that in my own life.  I've experienced times when the gravity of life didn't drag me down, didn't keep me from experiencing what I define as the spiritual side of life.  Spiritual, as in what lies beneath the surface, not in a religious sense.  The line in that song, And I'm probably as free as I ever will be, still I choose to live like I'm gagging and bound, really describes where I am, and have been for nearly a year, in my own spiritual life.  In the past several months, that very sentiment has brought me close to reverting back to what I can only call my old, no longer needed, broken coping mechanisms to move through life.  In the last dozen or so years I've been in recovery from a 22-year-long alcohol and drug addiction.  And recovery to me means a lot more than remaining clean and sober.  Recovery has been about discovery.  It has been an unveiling, a retooling.  It has been the difference between exisitng and living.  It has been a resurrection from a spiritual death.  Melodramatic?  Not really.  Just the truth of my experience. 

So, to have come to that place in my own life, that place where gravity doesn't drag me down, that place of true freedom, to have come there and worked so hard to get there, why do I find myself in this other space now, in this space where I feel as if I'm once again gagged and bound and unable to live and feel the freedom that keeps me wanting to move forward, wanting to live effortlessly and gravity-free? 

That kind of freedom, though it seems effortless and light, takes work.  There are things one must do, things I must do, to maintain it.  In the past year, I've neglected every one of those things.  In the process, as I let one after another of those things fall from my life, I've watched, I've been aware that it was happening, of what I was neglecting, of what I was doing.  Yet, I didn't stop it.  Sometimes I talked about it.  Many times I thought about it.  But I did nothing to stop what was happening to me and in me.  And now here I am... having known what it means to be as free as I ever will be, yet still choosing to live as if I'm gagging and bound. 

Today... just for today... I will defy gravity.  I will remember that freedom, the freedom that means living, that literally means life to me, and I will do my best to to walk around weightless, and jump for my heart and never come down.

Oh, I know it won't happen all at once.  There is much work to do to find that place again.  But today is as good a day as any to start jumping.

To hear the song, go to http://www.jennifernettles.com, click on the music tab and then click on the album cover pictured here, where you will find the song Gravity listed and available to preview.  

Apr. 2nd, 2010

music score

Amy, What You Gonna Do?

I've known Amy for about 12 years.  She comes and goes, in and out of my life, depending on whether or not she is using drugs or clean and sober.  Right now, she is back in my life.   She called me and left a message last week to tell me she had just gotten out of the hospital again and she was looking for a place to live. She couldn't go back home. I got her message, but there was no number to call her back. She called me back the following day and this time I was able to take the call. She had checked herself into a women's recovery house and wanted me to come see her, so I did. She looks bad. Rough, raw, strung-out and sunken-in. I have missed her. Someday, if she doesn't stop living as she is, I will lose her forever. Of this I have no doubt.

Today I went with her to retrieve some of her things from the ratty trailer she had been living in with yet another charming man in a long string of charmers. I hate to be so judgmental, but these guys she attracts are bad, bad news. The other day she asked me if I'd accompany her to get her things. She was afraid of this man she had been living with for over a year.

How can you live with someone you're afraid of? I just don't get this. I know, on an intellectual level, the dynamics of such relationships, but I still can't wrap my head around it. I told her I'd go with her only with a police escort, so that's how it went down. A sheriff's deputy met us at the trailer to stand guard as we gathered her things.  As soon as we pulled up, the guy came out and shook the cop's hand and then mine, introducing himself like this was a social call. He was sickeningly polite and really overdoing the charm.

He looked at me and said, "It's nice to meet you. I am going to ask that you not go into my home, though. "

Amy said, "But I need her to help me get my things."

He said, "No, you can get your own stuff. She waits outside. I don't want strangers in my home."

Amy started to protest... I told her to just bring the things out to me and I'd take them from the porch and pack the truck as she brought them out. The cop walked into the house, which I could see really irritated the guy. Then the cop sat in his air conditioned car while I waited for the first load to come out. The guy went to his shed and started shining his motorcycle. While I waited on Amy, the guy said something to me, but I couldn't hear him so I walked over to where he was. He started telling me how grateful he was that Amy was finally getting some help, that he knew he broke her heart when he booted her out, but he had his self and his family to think of. All well and good. He talked about how he had been sober for 13 years and how he hoped the same for Amy. Now, maybe he was telling the truth, but I know for a fact he got a DUI last month so I'd sure love to hear how that happens when one is sober. He said a lot of other stuff, most of it bullshit.

He tried hard to get me to reveal where Amy was now living. He talked about how he had worked in "Human Rights" for years and how just this past Spring he and his organization had raised money for a local "battered women's shelter... you know the one? The one over there on Prince Avenue? Or is it on King Street? You know the one I'm talking about?"

I didn't answer. That's not where she is, though she certainly would qualify to be there.

Then a few minutes later he said, "It sure is amazing how many women's recovery houses have sprung up over the years. I think it is wonderful. Women didn't have a place to go when I got sober.... and if a cop came with a woman to pack her stuff to leave her man, the cop would take the guy aside and counsel him on how to keep his woman in line. Sure glad things have changed so much for women these days!"

I told him he was a fucking low-life creep. Not really. I didn't say that, but god how I wanted to!  Once, when Amy was handing me a load of clothes and I was standing in the open doorway, she pointed to a huge hole in the hallway wall.

I said, "What happened?"

Amy said, "My body happened, that's what. He threw me against that wall and I nearly went through it."

I looked at the hole in the wall again and I could almost make out the shape of Amy in the outline of the hole. As I was putting the clothes in the car, the cop motioned me over and asked me if I thought things were under control enough for him to leave.

I told him, "Absolutely not."

That hole in the hallway wall was burned into my retinas. An hour later, her Explorer full to the ceiling, we drove off. This wasn't the first time I've helped Amy make her escape from just such a situation. I hope it was the last. I'm not sure she has another escape left in her. I'm fairly certain, given her current physical and mental state, she doesn't have another relapse left in her.

Oh, Amy, what you gonna do?

Apr. 1st, 2010

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Life Uncommon

Set down you chains
And lend your voices only to sounds of freedom
No longer lend your strength to that
which you wish to be free from
Fill you lives with love and bravery
And we shall lead a life uncommon.

-Jewel, Life Uncommon

It has been years since I heard the song, Life Uncommon, by Jewel. Last weekend I came across a box of CD's that I forgot I had. There were about 30 CD's in the box, including three Jewel CD's. I took the whole box of them and put them in a CD case and put them in my car. I've been listening to new music - that is actually old music - all week long. And let me tell you, I've been jammin' out and rackin' up some soul satisfaction. Most of the CD's in the box come from eleven or twelve years ago, a time of great and profound change in my life.
When I first got into recovery, I made a list. When I wanted to get high, I had to complete all five things on my list before doing so. It was a little exercise I made up for myself. I had a lot of experience getting clean, but very little experience staying clean. I was trying to come up with a roadblock - a rumblestrip, if you will - to deter myself from getting high just because every fiber in my being was screaming at me to do so.

Here was the list I made:
1. Call somebody in recovery and tell them I'm seriously considering using/drinking.
2. Buy a CD and listen to every song on it.
3. Buy a roll of film, take all 24 pictures, take it to a one-hour developer, wait for the pictures, take them home and create a collage of some sort using at least half of the pictures.
4. Go to the next scheduled NA or AA meeting in town.
5. Go see somebody in recovery and tell them I'm still seriously considering using/drinking.

Needless to say, I bought a lot of CD's that first year in recovery. I don't know how many... I know I sold over 200 on Ebay a few years ago. And that was just the ones I didn't want any longer. I also created a lot of collages, called a lot of people, went to a lot of meetings, and hung out at a lot of people's homes. I utilized everything on my list often and religiously. 

Listening to this oldnewly discovered music, has filled me to the brim spiritually. Music has a way of doing that for me. I remember when that Jewel song, Life Uncommon, was my mantra... and lend your voices only to sounds of freedom; no longer lend your strength to that which you wish to be free from... that line meant everything to me back then. It was exactly what I had to do every minute or every day.  A whole lot of effort (strength) goes into finding the money and means to stay high, and I had to learn to redirect those efforts, lend my strength, to finding the ways and means to live clean and sober and unaltered.  When I heard that song this week, my heart skipped a few beats as the memories - and fears and difficulties and pain - came rushing to my forefront.  Today, all these years later, it is not nearly the same struggle as it was then to not get high. It doesn't take all my strength nor my constant attention. That's not to say I don't do what I need to do to maintain my recovery... I do. But it is not like it was in those early days, in that first year where every day, many times a day, I craved that high, that drug, that state of mind that had become my 'normal.' Now the thoughts are fleeting and the cravings are psychological, rather than both psychological and physical. Now I have tools to get through anything. Now I live the way I know I was meant to live, and for me, it still feels abnormal and uncommon, no matter how much time passes since the last time got high.

Today, I can say - and really mean it, rather than just dream it - I am finally living a life uncommon.

Mar. 20th, 2010

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I'm Goin' Straight to Hell

Organized religion baffles me. One religion claiming to have and know the exclusive Truth, while another religion claims the same, makes my head hurt. And the same religion, broken up into hundreds and thousands of smaller sects, each claiming to have the true and correct interpretation of the very same text, throws me into full-blown migraine-status.

Growing up in the Christian religion, attending a Protestant Christian church, raised on a specific doctrine of a specific sect of Protestant Christianity, I was taught that there was only one way to God and we (Christians) had found it. End of discussion. Case closed.
Question dogma and risk the label of "doubting Thomas." Interpret Biblical scripture differently and risk exclusion. Denounce or disbelieve any part of Biblical scripture as interpreted by said denomination and you've just purchased a ticket to hell.

But don't forget, God is love and all that, you know.

We love you, as long as you're one of us.

Once, when I was in high school, attending a private "Christian" school (of a denomination different than the church my family attended) I brought up a question about some missing books of the Bible. Neither my church or my school taught me about these missing books. I discovered them in a “Catholic Bible.” I wasn’t sure if this Bible was actually called a "Catholic Bible," but a friend of mine, who happened to be a practicing Catholic, owned this Bible. One day, while at his house I was flipping through it. I later learned the Bible that contains these excess books is called Apocrypha, and both Catholics and Protestants are likely to own one, though Protestants much less likely it seems.

There were strange books included in his Bible: Judith, Sirach, Tobit, Solomon, Baruch, and two books of Maccabee. What the hell? Er, I mean... huh? So I asked about this at school. I was told that this Bible I had seen was not the True Word of God. I asked about this at church. I was told that this Bible I had seen was not the True Word of God. But wait, I said... what I am learning at school and what I am learning at church is different and both claim to be using the True Word of God, and in fact, use the same translation of the Protestant Bible.

Stop being a doubting Thomas! Just trust in the Lord.

Okay...which Lord?

A couple of years ago I read an article that talked about a seminary student, Jonathan Merritt, who said his mind was changed about an environmental issue because his professor at seminary compared destroying God's creation [the earth] to "tearing a page out of the Bible."

Merritt said, "That struck me. It broke me, and that was the impetus that began a life change, a shift of perspective for me."

Something about this guy's logic didn't feel kosher. Well, not 'kosher' in the Jewish sense of the word (God forbid, right?), but 'not kosher' in the sense that the thought process leading to the logic seemed a bit off to me. Was this guy saying that tearing a page out of the Bible would be worse than, say, polluting the air we breathe, contaminating the oceans with crude oil for months and months on end? Tearing a page out of the Bible would be worse, than ripping through rain forests and potentially destroying cures for countless diseases? Tearing a page out of the Bible would be worse, than global warming?

Not very logical thinking, really, when you consider all the pages torn out of the Bible already - you remember - those books of Judith, Sirach, Tobit, Solomon, Baruch, and two books of Maccabee? Or what about all those "lost books" of the Bible that keep turning up all over the world?

Okay, that's it. You've gone beyond being a doubting Thomas. You are now excluded from this body of believers!

Wait... what about love? What about how God is love and all?

God is love, silly... but you're going straight to hell.