The Chicken Eulogy

Dear Friends,

My favorite hen died yesterday. She was by far the most social, the most curious of the flock.  If I was outside, say digging a hole, she’d run up and in impeccable chicken talk ask, “Whatcha doin’?”  I would reply in California English, “I am diggin’ a hole.” And, then she’d say something like, “Ok, I’ll just hang around you so I can get some easy-gettin’ worms.”  I would say, “Ok, but get your head out this hole or you’ll be sorry.”

She got sick a few days ago and started walking strangely around the chicken run and soon she couldn’t walk much at all. Not having gotten very far in Chicken School, I was slow to narrow down a diagnosis to osteoporosis which was due to a calcium deficiency, or so the book said.  I drove down to the local drugstore and bought an eye dropper and some Tums with the plan of crushing up the Tums for the calcium carbonate. When I got home though, she had passed on…to what or where I don’t know.  I actually got tears in my eyes and dug a final hole for her.  I guess it is the worms who are happy now.  I certainly am not.

I started raisng the chickens two and a half years ago because I love watching them be chickens. I love watching them run to get fed. I love watching them brag about laying an egg, every single time they lay an egg. I love watching them wander the yard constantly hunting and pecking…like the way I type!  In short, watching chickens brings a sense of peace to me. They bring a sense of order. They calm me down. It is part Zen. My breathing slows down. The tightness in my shoulders starts to loosen up. All seems right in my world as I watch the chickens be chickens. There is order and that feels good.

Yet, one thing I have learned in my sixties is that life is really anything but orderly. It is chaotic, disorderly. Now I don’t claim to know diddly squat about the Laws of Thermodynamics, but I think the 2nd Law basically says, “Whenever order increases, disorder increases somewhere else.” It is a physical fact of  life. Things happen in a day that you have no idea will happen when you wake up in the morning, enjoying that first sip of coffee. – or in the afternoon if you happen to be a Las Vegas entertainer. You think you’re healthy one minute and the next minute you get a serious health diagnosis. You think you have a few extra coins in your pocket and then the most expensive appliance you own craps out on you. You think you’re safe, and within minutes you might be running from an out of control wildfire. Don’t even get me started on earthquakes, hurricanes, tornadoes, flash floods, tsunamis, and the flu viruses.  Hell, some people actually do get hit by lightning. The other day, while out by the chicken coop admiring the orderliness of the chicken life (before Laverne got sick), a small, but very dense, tree branch came down from high above at the speed of gravity and it just missed landing on my head. No warning, no sound, just me going, “What the hell?” and then realizing that thing could have killed me. Then last night, not knowing the electric current had been connected to the 4 strands of electric fence that surrounds my chicken run – it hadn’t been plugged in for a couple of months- I firmly grabbed a wire in each hand, at the same time, and got a jolt up to my elbows. My teeth felt funny afterwards. Disorder.

What do we do about all this disorder? Well, we create manicured lawns and very well maintained public parks for a couple of things. We obsess about Plan B’s, C’s, and D’s. We strategize. We analyze. We immunize. We clean house, especially the corners and the junk drawers. We focus on self-improvement. Jigsaw puzzles are pure disorder when they come out of the box and we rescue them from the chaos usually while other parts of our lives are getting more disorderly, but that is exactly what the 2nd Thermodynamic Law predicted would happen. Disorder is a real headline-maker. I live on the edge of a very steep canyon with thick vegetation. Yes, a wildfire is waiting to happen and when it does someone will describe it as “All Hell broke loose.”  Where I am employed, concrete paths spring up like the intricate patterns of freshly spun spider webs whenever a dirt path gets created informally by students walking from Point A to Point B. Students like the shortest route, but the disorder created is intolerable. A new concrete path is the go-to solution.

Another thing happens with all this disorder in our lives. Someone comes along with a message of hope for us. They have a solution. It is usually a fairly simple one, often a slogan goes with it, and we fall for it… every single time. We promote the problem solvers to a position of leadership, often on a national stage.  It doesn’t matter the political party affiliation. These people come from everywhere.  These promises of order also may come with terrible consequences. People can die because of them. “Things are chaotic. Let me help put order back in your life. I have the answers,” says the temporary hero.  They are like the travelling medicine shows of the American West that promised Hamlin’s Wizard Oil will solve your issues with constipation and liver cancer too.  The world is full of current examples of ‘Wizard Oil’ solutions to the the uncomfortable chaos in our lives.  In fact, lately it feels like we just run back and forth to the competing travelling medicine shows as we search for answers.

I have spent a lot of time over the past few years trying to understand what I believe and why I believe it. I have been in search of an authentic, personal faith. I lean heavily towards Christianity because that was the tradition I am most familiar with – not necessarily always comfortable with though. But, it still it works for me, if I discard some of the dogma. I am very suspicious now of religious traditions that attempt to provide a remedy for the chaos in our lives by following a certain set of strict rules. “Believe this and everything will fall into place.”   I don’t believe in that anymore. I am, however, still a Believer.

I believe that it is not in avoiding the disorder that we find peace. Perhaps that is exactly where we find anxiety. The trick, which is counter intuitive, is to acknowledge the disorder of life.  Fact is, we pretty much wouldn’t want it any other way. The orderly life is not a very interesting life. For me, the story of the Garden of Eden seems to be about humanity’s exit from the orderly to the disorderly. We indirectly chose to leave the garden through our rejection of the spiritual version of the Robert Rules of Order. And, yes, all Hell did break loose after that moment.  Maybe a better approach is to try dancing with the chaos. I think mountain climbers do it all the time along with many other risk takers. Artists do it. Creative teachers do it. Snowboarders do it. I even think, somehow, someway, my favorite chicken did it too. These dancers are usually younger in age. Us older folks, we think  it is too risky to dance with chaos. We know what might happen. And, the risks are very real. Yet, when I think about every older person I know who seemed young at heart, they all appeared to be the ones who didn’t avoid the chaos of life. They had learned to dance with chaos, even at times with their deepest grief.

What does all this have to do with my chicken’s eulogy? Uh,…I don’t know. Maybe there is some important message here about disorder and chaos – or maybe it is just another travelling medicine show passing through town. All I know is I miss that damn chicken that is buried here at my feet in the flower garden. I think the rest of us chickens in the barnyard could learn from her and she deserved some words to be spoken over her grave.

Thank you for coming to this service and the family asks you to join them now in a meal of fried chicken and potato salad.

 

Anger Management

(When I first started writng this particular piece on anger, I trashed it. I was afraid it was both too real and also not real enough. I became concerned about how I would be viewed. I also realized that I needed to think more deeply about this topic. I have done so.)

I don’t remember much what people have asked me or told me, certainly not word-for-word, and most certainly not after a year has gone by.  But, I remember, with absolute clarity, what one person asked me 20 years ago.

“You have a raging murderer inside of you, don’t you?”

I was shocked. Now to understand this question, here is some context. I was dealing with some depression, lots of it actually, and it was getting pretty bad…very bad, actually. So, with lots support and loving and firm prompting, I found a therapist that I could relate to and I spent about two years relating to him… once a week.  I had no problem in presenting myself as someone who needed some help, but I was careful not to present myself as anything but your normal, depressed person. I wasn’t crazy, for God’s sake.

One day during a session, I told him about a recent incident where I was rocking my grandson to sleep in our living room and 15 feet away someone was stealing the wheels off of my car, which was parked just beyond our front door. When my daughter came to pick up her baby and told me about my car being up on blocks, I got angry, very angry. Not only did someone steal from me, but they did it just a few feet away while I was rocking my grandson.

I had a number one suspect, or I think today they would say ‘a person of interest’ and he lived just down the street.  I marched off, in the dark, down the street, and surprised my suspect with a  direct confrontation. I was furious. This was the story that I shared with the therapist.  He listened carefully, and then asked the question I have never forgotten.

At first I tried to demonstrate how my anger was justified. I left his office still convinced that I was justified in my anger. Yet, his question continued to echo in my mind. Did I have a murderous rage inside of me? He said that he had one too. When he said that I thought, “Well, you’re screwed up. I am just depressed a little.”

It took some time, but I reluctantly, finally had to admit, “Yes, I do.”  I continue to think about that question. I have thought about anger, rage and hatred. I know anger can be a very appropriate response and nothing to be ashamed of. Even Jesus got really pissed off at the money changers outside the Temple as he took a whip to them. (Actually I don’t know if he used a whip or just turned their tables upside down. I wasn’t there.) But, did he hate them? Was he near an uncontrollable rage?

I am not the only one who in a rage confronts other’s words or actions. I see it all the time. I saw it yesterday at Home Depot. I see it on social media platforms. I see it with mothers and fathers, and children. I see it in politics. I see it in religion.  I see it in sports. I see it on the road. There is an incredible amount of anger being shared, regardless of one’s opinion or perspective, that has morphed to a rage and a form of hatred. In a verbal or literary context, people are demonstrating a “murderous rage” exists within them too, even by those who present themselves as  enlightened, highly thoughtful, artistic, peaceful,and loving people. It is disturbing. When I lose my temper – and I don’t as often anymore, but when I do…oh boy – I can see the look on the faces of the people physically close to me. It disturbs them, even if I have a so-called right to be angry – you can see that I have deeply disturbed their spirits. Where does anger stop and rage begin? I don’t know, but the ones around me do.

This anger thing is really tricky to manage.  I’ve gotten so angry that it actually  used up all my energy to correct a situation before – well, honestly, many times before. Anger is really helpful in standing up for oneself, although on social media it seems like such a small response to complex issues that require so much more than an angry little emoji response… and many folks seem to be raging beyond anger.  I’ve wondered how Gandhi would have handled his independence movement in the age of Facebook? Would Martin Luther King have marched as much? Would his speeches even have been given? Would Jesus have still gone with the 12 disciples strategy or chosen the 200 million social media followers? Would Jesus have posted his Sermon on the Mount and then sat back and waited for those blue thumbs pointing upward to start coming in?

I don’t know much about anything. Shit, I don’t even know why I blog. I’m basically an idiot. Yet, I know if I can still remember my therapist’s question from 20 years ago, it was a damn good question. Do some of us have raging murderers inside of us?  Is that a good thing? That I don’t know, but I am certain it can be a very bad thing.  I have tried to remember one single situation where my anger has improved the situation. I can’t.

By the way, I came out the bushes and I surprised my number one suspect of stealing my wheels that long ago night. He had a history of distributing drugs throughout our town. He was a smart ass, a bully, and he was destroying young people’s lives simply because he was too fucking lazy to work at a legitimate job. He’d rather sell drugs. I had known him for a long time and he had crossed my line. I indeed was in a blind rage, saw him as nothing but a piece of shit and if things had gone differently, non-premeditated murder was a possibility, perhaps even my own.

I often wonder if I have been able to diminish the rage my therapist recognized in me? Will the right circumstances bring it out again?  I have worked at learning to breathe. I have sought to recognize God’s love in hope of transforming my thinking, to become more loving of myself and others.  I read. I think. I observe. Still, deep inside of me…what lives there? Is it better, safer, to acknowledge the possibility that I am a lunatic? Ever been around an aggressive dog that seems to hate your guts for some reason and the owner says, “Oh, don’t pay attention to him. He won’t bite.” But, both you and the dog know that just ain’t so. Given the right situation, that dog will indeed bite your ass off.  I think it might be better to recognize that than to trust in the potential saintly nature of the dog. I really do have to manage my anger. Maybe in doing so, I will have more emotional energy left to actually deal with what is pissing me off?

Oh yes, guess what? That punk didn’t steal my wheels. Someone else did. My anger was justified. My rage was not. My hatred overwhelmed me and I targeted the wrong person. Whoops, my bad.

Secrets

I had a few minutes with my 17 year old grandson and we decided to set up a couple of Iphones and see if we could make a quick little video. This is just for learning how to do things like this. We want to make video of both of us singing a song and this shows us what we need to learn – such as, sing with your eyes open! I just jotted down some filler lyrics, so we’d have something to work with…by the way the camera adds 50 pounds!

Summer Miracles

Where we live it gets warm in the summer, actually bordering hot. Not unusual to get 14 days in a row over 100 degrees Fahrenheit.

The upside of our summers are the fruits and vegetables that grow around here. These are peaches that grow on our deck on a dwarf peach tree.

Look at the size of these tomatoes from our local Farmers Market!

Those flowers are from our yard.

Fresh salsa ready for some tortilla chips!

A couple of days ago we went blueberry picking up north. We picked 30 pounds of blueberries. Who picks 30 pounds of blueberries???

Then today they became jam along with a batch of delicious peach jam too.

Last night I picked bell peppers and tomatoes from our yard for a salad with dinner. And, zucchini grows like weeds in the summer heat.

I know there are scientific and logical explanations for all this, but I choose to view it all as a miracle. I am much happier that way. What a gift.

Bullet Points

  • I am a bullet point kind of guy
  • I hate, I mean, really hate long, descriptive literary pieces.
    • I don’t care about the particular knitting pattern for an argyle sweater that hangs like a stricken dove in the protaganist’s closet which is lined in red cedar in order to prevent the invasive larvae of the cloth moth from doing its insidious damage.   I like Elmore Leonard.
  • I know this person who, before they get to their question, must set up the entire context and sub-plots before getting to the actual purpose of the conversation.
    • As an example, imagine being asked a question about a verse in the Book of Revelations, the last book in the Christian bible, but the question begins with the first verse in the bible, “In the beginning…” and continues through all the biblical verses before getting to the actual question. Kind of like that…
      • As they begin talking. I first feel like strangling them and after overcoming that initial desire, I find my mind wandering far, far away… beyond the known universe.  When they finally get to the question, which is often an important one, I am clueless what it is about.
  • I’ve noticed that many popular ‘advice giving books’ really don’t have much to add after the first chapter or two.
    • One book I read didn’t have much to add after its title. It was a great title, but it should have ended the conversation right there. Later knowing the pain it was going to create for me reading it, I would have bought it if it just had the cover and no pages. Paid full price and moved on with my life.
  • I am currently reading a book on meditation. It is making me anxious.
    • I actually can feel a tightness in my throat as the author repeats the same ideas, over and over and over and over again. Unfortunately my obsessive compulsive tendencies will not allow me to quit reading until I have finished it. Agh…the tightness in my throat!
  • I have noticed that when I give an answer with a simple “No” or “Yes” that the inquier just stares at me and eventually turns away thinking I am a disgusting individual.
  • Why do they have to be called “Bullet Points?” That is just a bad rap.
    • Let’s call them Loving Points or Get to the Point Points or Attention Deficit Disorder Points.
  • Thinking is hard. Your pupils actually dialate and your blood pressure increases.
    • I am taking blood pressure medicine. Maybe if more Bullet Points were used, I wouldn’t even need the medication?
  • I have to go now. I think there might be some kids on my lawn.
    • “Hey,… you kids…get off of my lawn!!!”