Max Hanke

September 16th, 2020

Max would have been 100 years old today. He was born in rural Silesia, which in 1920 was part of Germany. Max was born into a world filled with political uncertainty and social chaos. He was born into a world where the old values had been swept away and people feared what the future might bring.

If Max had been born a century later, in our time, he would be in the same situation as he was in 1920. Much has changed in one hundred years, and some things haven’t changed at all.

Timing is everything. Max’s growth marched hand in hand with the growth of Nazism in Germany. The Nazis came to power when Max was only thirteen. Max was sucked into the Hitler youth. At eighteen years of age, Max was drafted into the German military. That was in 1938, when the Germany swallowed up Austria and Czechoslovakia. Max went with his Kameraden in Poland in 1939.

Max served as a radioman in the Luftwaffe. He spent much of the early part of World War II in Italy. Then he was sent, along with thousands of other soldiers to the Russian front. He stayed on that mobile killing ground for years, freezing in the bitter winters. He was on the Russian front until it finally moved far enough west to be in central Germany. That is where Max was shot, almost right at the end of the war.

Max wound up in a Red Cross hospital, a Lazarett. His life was saved by a cigarette.

The story goes like this:

Max was in the field hospital with a chest wound. He asked a nurse for a cigarette. She reprimanded him by saying,

“You have a lung wound! You can’t have a cigarette!”

A doctor took the nurse aside, but he didn’t take her far enough away from Max’s bed. The doctor told her, “Just give him a damn cigarette. He’s going to die anyway.”

Max heard that. Out of sheer stubbornness, he decided to live.

Max never went home. He was a refugee after the war. so was the rest of his family. His parents and his sister fled Silesia in April of 1945, with sound of the Russian guns behind them. Max’s father had an old jacket with him. It had Reichsmarks sewed into the lining. Being absentminded, the old man gave the jacket with the money to another refugee who had no coat at all. Max found his family in the West. They started their new lives with nothing, in a part of Germany that was foreign to them.

Max was sickly after that. He didn’t take care of himself. He drank too much. He smoked too much. He did what traumatized veterans generally do. He eventually married. His first child was a girl. Max and Erika named their daughter Karin.

I was stationed with the U.S. Army in West Germany in 1983. That is when I met Karin. At the time, she was a feminist, environmentalist, pacifist. I was not. I was an Army officer and a helicopter pilot. We made for an interesting couple. We still do.

I met Max shortly after I started dating Karin. Max and Erika lived in Edelfingen, a tiny village in the Taubertal, a wine producing region in Baden-Württemberg. When I first saw Max, he was the same age that I am now. It feels strange to realize that. He was a thin, wiry man, with no fat at all. He combed what was left of his black hair straight back, in the old European style. He had a gruff, smoke-roughened voice and a ready smile.

I knew very little German and Max knew no English at all. However, we hit it off well. I learned German quickly as I dated Karin. When Karin was busy with her mom, I would hang out with Max in their living room. We would sit across from each other at the table. We would talk. Max would chain smoke and I would drink beer. Max rolled his own cigarettes. He used some nasty Turkish blend of tobacco that eventually caused the low-ceilinged room to fill with bluish smoke. He would tell me stories.

Because we both had military background, Max would tell me about the war. Some of it I understood. Some I didn’t. Most of his tales were funny. Veterans usually tell comical stories. An army, regardless of the nationality, is always filled with absurdity. The jokes are universal in their own way. It is easier for a soldier to laugh at his experiences than to take them seriously.

Once, and only once, did Max tell me a something serious. It was a story about his time on the Russian front. From what I understood, Max’s unit was on the front during a harsh winter. The Soviets attacked and pushed the German forces several miles to the west. In doing so, they overran a field hospital. The Germans counterattacked and drove the Russians back. When the Germans returned to the Lazarett, they found that all the wounded soldiers were dead. The Soviets had hosed them all down with water and left them to freeze to death.

I never asked Max any more about it.

Max treated me like his own son. We never had any arguments. We never had any issues.

Max passed away in 1994. He died peacefully.

Karin says that our oldest son, Hans, resembles Max in a lot of ways. She tells me that Hans moves like her dad, talks like her dad, smiles like her dad. When Karin looks at Hans, she sees her father.

Hans went to war in Iraq. He was tested in that crucible of violence just like his grandfather was, and he came out of the experience with similar problems. It seems strange that this sort of thing happened again in our family. It’s like seeing karma in action. Max overcame his demons. I hope that Hans will overcome his.

Hans has a little boy now. His son, Weston, is almost two years old.

Weston’s middle name is “Mack”. First Max, and then Mack.

That sounds almost like an echo.

No Names, Just Addresses

September 9th, 2020


“Hans plays with Lotte, Lotte plays with Jane
Jane plays with Willi, Willi is happy again
Suki plays with Leo, Sacha plays with Britt
Adolf builts a bonfire, Enrico plays with it
Whistling tunes we hide in the dunes by the seaside
Whistling tunes we’re kissing baboons in the jungle
It’s a knockout
If looks could kill, they probably will
In games without frontiers-war without tears
Games without frontiers-war without tears”

from “Games Without Frontiers” by Peter Gabriel

Ayuda Mutua MKE has its act together. It’s a grassroots community group, and I had never heard of it until a few weeks ago. Ayuda runs a food pantry on the south side of Milwaukee. Most of the people involved are young; well, younger than me. A friend of mine, Joanna, told me about the organization. They need volunteers to work in the pantry, and they need people to deliver food to people who, for whatever reason, cannot get to their location.

It is my understanding that Ayuda Mutua MKE came into being as the pandemic started. The COVID virus hit the immigrant communities on the south of Milwaukee very hard, at least in an economic sense. Many of the inhabitants of the south side are Latinx, and some of them may be undocumented. These people not only lost their jobs, but due to their immigration status, they cannot access government resources to alleviate their financial distress.

Ayuda does almost all of its organizing online, mostly through Facebook and a site called “SignUpGenius”. The people at Ayuda have an email address which they check infrequently. They also have a phone number which they seldom, if ever, answer. Their operation is very 21st Century.

I signed up with them to deliver food to families on Tuesday evenings. On Tuesday morning, Ayuda electronically sent me a list of drops. The list consists of addresses and phone numbers. No names. Ever. Typically, a volunteer is given five to ten deliveries. Whoever is assigned the drops routes them for the driver. I am impressed by that. If a driver follows the order of the deliveries as presented by Ayuda, it is pretty efficient.

Ayuda wants a driver to follow COVID-19 protocol: wear a mask when delivering, use gloves if you have them, etc. The idea is to drop the food/diapers on the porch of the recipient. The driver sends a text to the family just prior to arrival, and then sends another text after dropping off the supplies.

For example, since nearly all the recipients are Spanish speakers, I first send a text saying: “Te traigo comida de Ayuda Mutua. Diez minutos.”

I set the bags on the stoop at their front door, and then I text:

“Está en tu porche!”

Some of these areas are a little sketchy. Something left on a porch may not stay there very long. Hence, the texts.

Then off I go. I seldom see or meet anybody. With the virus, the deliveries are planned to work that way. I have occasionally spoken with a recipient, but the conversations have always been brief, partly due to my limited Spanish vocabulary. However, I do get texts back from people:

“¡Gracias!” or “¡Que dios te bendiga!”

This Tuesday I got a list of nine drops. I have a good understanding of Milwaukee’s geography, so I often have at least a vague mental image of where I am going. My grandparents lived for years on the south side, back when the population there was primarily Slavic. Now it is mostly Latinx, but the landmarks are still the same. St. Josephat still proudly stands at the corner of 6th Street and Lincoln. St. Stanislaus towers over the freeway exit on Mitchell Street. The south side is familiar turf, and I have an deep affinity for the area.

The neighborhoods on Milwaukee’s south side are not all the same. I can look at an address and tell what it’s going to be like. The neighborhood on 6th Street near Ayuda is solidly middle class. If I go north to the streets near Lincoln Avenue, they are more struggling working class. If I keep going north toward National Avenue, I am in the midst of poverty.

I like to drive my beater when making deliveries. It’s a car that my son, Stefan, rebuilt. My ride is a 2005 Ford Focus. It’s dark blue with bright orange rims. The front bumper is slightly askew. Stefan installed a turbo and a kick ass sound system. I have never dared to turn the music louder than halfway up the dial. He put in an industrial strength woofer for added bass. The car belongs in these neighborhoods, even if I don’t.

Stefan is a welder. He often works with Latinos. Stefan told me about a conversation he had with one of these guys. The Latino lived on the south side, and he was a bit concerned about white gentrification of his neighborhood. He didn’t want these outsiders taking over his place. The guy told Stefan:

“You know, my neighbor and I, we take turns. Every once in a while, at night, one of us pops a couple rounds in the air. That keeps those people away.”

The man was joking. Maybe.

Anyway, when I looked at the list, I saw that my last stop was near 48th Street and North Avenue. That is not on the south side. That is across the viaduct on the near north side. I immediately had a racist moment.

“Why the fuck am I going there?”

The north side of Milwaukee is predominantly Black. The odd thing is that I know this area. We have friends that live near that address. So, why did I have this twinge of irrational fear?

It goes way back. They say that nobody is born a racist. True, but the training for that starts really early. I heard from early childhood that the north side was bad news. Even after fifty years, that twisted information still sticks with me. It doesn’t matter how rational I try to be. I still get this flutter in my gut when I go there.

Years ago, a Black man at my work place asked me point blank if I was a racist. I told him “no”. Upon reflection, I would have to say that I am. How could I not be? The prejudice is buried so deep in my psyche that I will never uproot it all. That’s just a fact.

On Tuesday evening, I went to Ayuda to pick up the food and diapers for my deliveries. There was a nearly endless line of cars full of people waiting to get the groceries that they could not afford otherwise. I waited in the queue for half an hour. Then I pulled over to the side as the folks at Ayuda got my stuff. There was a car behind me with two older white people in it. The car was a new-ish Subaru. It was a classic white, liberal vehicle. Now that car did not belong in those neighborhoods. It made me laugh.

I did my drops on the south side. Then I drove up to the last location north of the viaduct. It felt a bit like going to a place on the ancient maps where it was written:”Here be dragons”. My logic and my emotions wrestled on the drive.

I got to the house and made the drop. I sent the family a text in English.

As I walked back to my car, I saw a young Black man on the other side of the street. He was eyeballing me, as I was with him. Our eyes locked for a moment. He didn’t smile or wave. Neither did I.

I was a stranger and an alien there. He knew it. I knew it.

Is it all in our minds? How do we learn to see things for what they really are?

As Peter Gabriel wrote, “If looks could kill, they probably will.”

On the way home, I got a text from the last family. It said,

“Thank U.”

Here and There

September 14th,2020

The Capital Times in Madison, Wisconsin, published the following letter today.

“Much of the current campaign for president revolves around the issue of mayhem and destruction in our cities. Both Trump and Biden tell us that they deplore violence. Do they?

Our country has been at war for nineteen years. We have wreaked havoc in various nations across the globe, in particular Iraq and Afghanistan. I don’t hear either of the two major candidates speaking about the suffering and death in those countries.

My oldest son fought in Iraq. He killed people there. He destroyed their property. Our government rewarded my son with medals for his efforts. We, as a nation, have honored what our soldiers have done overseas. We have applauded people like my son.

When we see videos on the news that show burning cars or street shootings, and we find out that these events occurred in Baghdad or Kabul or Aleppo, we collectively shrug, and say, “These things happen in war.” However, if we find out these actions happened in Portland or Kenosha or DC, then we react with shock and horror.

Why is that? It is because we don’t care what happens in a neighborhood ten thousand miles away. We only care what happens in our neighborhood.

How did we ever think that we could export violence around the world for two decades and not have any of it come back home to haunt us?”

Patterns

September 6th, 2020

Years ago, my parents had a formal dining room in their house. That meant the room was never used. It was more of a shrine than anything else. Besides a large, heavy table in the center of the room, there were numerous black and white photos scattered about. These framed pictures were of various relatives, most of them long dead. Many of the photos were from weddings, or from other significant life events. I could recognize some of the faces in the frames. I did not feel like I knew any of the people well. Some of them I didn’t know at all.

I remember asking my father once about the people in the pictures. I asked him if he had ever written down anything about their lives. He shrugged and said, “No”.

I remember my parents meticulously putting together a family tree on a large sheet of paper. I was quite young then. The family tree did not mean much to me at the time, because it was just a list of names connected by carefully drawn lines. I knew very few of the people, and I still don’t.

Both the photo collection and the family tree were useless to me. I can find the faces and names of my ancestors, but very few histories. These men and women are, and always will be, strangers to me, and that is a shame.

The life stories of these individuals are of interest to me, because I want to understand who they were, so that I can understand who I am. Patterns of behavior persist through the generations. These patterns affect me, they affect my children, and they will affect my grandchildren. But I don’t know enough to see these trends. I can’t see the connections.

Maybe I just haven’t lived long enough. Age is no guarantee of wisdom, but a person can learn a few things if they pay attention.

My father’s mother lived well into her nineties. She had wisdom. Her mind was sharp until the end of her life, and she had seen enough to recognize the patterns. She was able to discern what was important in life and what was not. I could go to her for advice, and know that it was based on her observation and experience. She understood.

I am only in my sixties. I see events unfolding in the family in ways that are similar to what happened years ago, but I don’t know why the cycles are repeating. Is it all hereditary? Is it genetic? Is it environmental?

I would like to understand. Maybe I will, or maybe I won’t . Perhaps it doesn’t even matter.

Maybe it just is.

Unicorns and Mermaids

August 31st, 2020

“In the Blood of Eden
We have done everything we can
In the Blood of Eden
So we end as we began
With the man in the woman
And the woman in the man
It was all for the union
Ohhh The union of
The woman
The woman and the man”

from “Blood of Eden” by Peter Gabriel/Regina Spektor

 

We had trouble finding the clinic. Karin and I had never been there before. We were meeting a few people. Two of them arrived when we did. They were a young couple. The girl was about seventeen months pregnant, and she was going to the clinic with her fiance. The young man’s mother and sister showed up too.

The clinic was hard to find because it was just an office tucked away in a bank building. Seeing that it was a Sunday evening, the bank’s parking lot was almost empty. We only figured out that the clinic was there after we saw a small sign that said, “My First Peekaboo”.

“My First Peekaboo” provides ultrasound images for pregnant women and their families. It is a chance to learn the baby’s gender. Up to eight people, including the mother-to-be, are allowed in the clinic to see the pictures of the baby. We went inside the office and spoke to the ultrasound technician, who was also the secretary. Actually, the tech was the only person there. I paid the entrance fee, and the lady ushered us all into a darkened room nearby.

The room had a number of fake electric candles flickering in the dim light. I felt like I was at a seance. There was a bed on one end of the room. The young woman lied down on it. There were a few chairs and a sofa. The tech sat next to the ultrasound machine. The wall opposite from the bed was basically one enormous projection screen. That is where we would all look to see the baby’s image. The young woman’s fiance sat in a chair next to the bed and directly faced the screen.

The tech had a prepared spiel. She got the machine going and said,

“Heart rate for the baby is 134 beats per minutes. That’s perfect.”

Then the Peekaboo lady asked us, “How many of you think it’s going to be a girl?”

There were a few voices saying, “Yes”, in the shadows.

“Anybody think it’s a boy?”

Silence.

I didn’t know what to think, so I said nothing.

The young couple had decided, long ago, that they were having a daughter. I don’t know how they came to this conclusion, but they were certain that a girl was on the way. In fact, they had already decided on the girl’s name, and they had given little or no thought to what they call a son.

The lady projected the image of the baby on to the screen. It was silver-grey in color. My eyes were drawn to the pulse of the beating heart. It fascinated me.

The tech spoke again. “Okay, there we are. It’s a little boy! If you look closely, you can see his boy…uh, parts, on the screen.”

I couldn’t really tell. I looked away from the screen at the young woman. I couldn’t tell at the time, but she was quietly crying. Her man was staring fixedly at the screen, dumbfounded. He looked like he had been slapped.

I heard the girl say to him sweetly, “It’s all you fault.”

The tech chimed in, “Well, that’s true. The male determines the gender of the child.”

Ouch.

I turned back to the image. The tech had displayed a picture of the baby that was colored  a dull gold. It was difficult to make out the features of the child, but I couldn’t look away from the moving, living figure on the screen. I was amazed by what I saw.

I thought to myself, “For now we see through a glass darkly”. (1 Corinthians 13:12)

Who was this child? What a wonder he was!

The tech printed up some photos for the young woman. The show was over. We all left.

Later, I talked to the young woman.

“You know, your baby is beautiful. He’s a miracle.”

She asked me, “What do you mean? Why?”

“I don’t know. Seeing him was like watching God at work.”

She shrugged.

I told her, “You can start the shopping now.”

The young woman smiled ruefully and rolled her eyes. “They don’t have anything for boys.”

I sighed. “Oh. I guess no unicorns or mermaids?”

“Nope.”

Later, Karin came to me and said that the girl had spoken to her.

I asked Karin, “What did she say?”

“She said that I can start making baby clothes with dinosaurs.”

 

 

 

 

 

Dumb

August 28th, 2020

“Evil isn’t the real threat to the world. Stupid is just as destructive as Evil, maybe more so, and it’s a hell of a lot more common. What we really need is a crusade against Stupid. That might actually make a difference.”
― Jim Butcher, “Vignette”

“There is more stupidity than hydrogen in the universe, and it has a longer shelf life.”
― Frank Zappa

“[In the Universe it may be that] Primitive life is very common and intelligent life is fairly rare. Some would say it has yet to occur on Earth.”
― Stephen W. Hawking

I have been following the news reports about the shootings in Kenosha with great interest. I don’t live in Kenosha, but I have spent a lot of time there, probably more than I wanted. Kenosha is only a half hour drive from our house so, like it or not, it’s in our neighborhood. Kenosha isn’t necessarily a place to avoid. It has its good points, and its bad, just like anywhere else. It’s just that I am very familiar with some of the areas that have been highlighted on the news recently. The violence that has erupted during the last few days has made me think about a lot of things.

I think mostly about stupidity, and about those people whose actions seem to exemplify it.

I won’t write anything about the Kenosha cop who wounded Jacob Blake. I am not a cop. I have never been a cop. I have no desire to ever be a cop. So, I am not going to judge the guy who pumped seven rounds into the back of Jacob Blake. I will let the the Wisconsin Department of Justice work on that issue. Good luck to them.

However, one person I think about is Kyle Rittenhouse. Good God, where do I even start?

Here is a seventeen-year-old from Illinois with a loaded semi-automatic weapon going across state lines to do something in Wisconsin. He sure as hell did something here. He killed two people and wounded another.

It can be argued (and it will be argued in court) that Mr. Rittenhouse was exercising his 2nd Amendment rights, and shot three people in self-defense. After all, a guy attacked him with a skateboard, and before that, with a plastic bag. At least, that is what I have read in the news. So, these vicious assaults apparently required Mr. Rittenhouse to blow two people away.

Really?

Yeah, really.

Why were there no adults involved with any of this? Where were Kyle’s parents? It appears that the only adult interested in Mr. Rittenhouse was the cop from Kenosha who handed Kyle a bottled water and told him how much the police appreciated his presence.

Christ.

Mr. Rittenhouse should not have been wandering the streets in Kenosha that night. He should have been at home with his mom.

Now, he’s screwed. Totally screwed. Wisconsin is trying him for first degree murder. That’s ugly. Even if he beats that rap, what will he do? Kyle is marked for life, just like Cain in Old Testament. Mr. Rittenhouse, at age seventeen, will always be known as the guy who killed two men during a hot August night in Kenosha. Always.

I have never been a police officer, so I will refrain from commenting about the cops here. However, I have been a 17-year-old white boy from a racist neighborhood. I know from my experience that my parents would have kicked my ass from here to Michigan if I had tried to do the shit that Kyle did. Somebody would have stopped me. Somebody would have cared.

Mr. Rittenhouse had no adult supervision.

What he did was dumb.

He will pay for that.

 

 

 

Kenosha

August 26th, 2020

The two of us were driving this afternoon in my 2005 Ford Focus. I had bought it from Stefan. He had completely rebuilt it from a salvage vehicle. It has a kick ass turbo, but no air conditioning. The car is blue with orange wheel rims. If nothing else, that makes it easy to find in a parking lot. We had the windows wide open as we drove through Grant Park near Lake Michigan. The breeze was blowing the young woman’s hair into her face. She kept pushing it back.

We talked about Kenosha. The young woman has a lot of experience in that town. Because she has experience there, so do I. Both she and I have had extensive interaction with Kenosha law enforcement, which makes recent events cut close to the bone.

I told her, “You know that this shit going on in Kenosha isn’t just showing up in the national news. I read the news online from sources outside the U.S. You know what the lead stories are in the BBC and Al Jazeera? The shooting by the cops in the Kenosha. Kenosha is now known planet-wide.

She looked at me and replied, “Well, that makes the place’s rep even worse. You know what they say about Kenosha, right?”

“Uh, no.”

“They say: ‘Go there on vacation, leave on probation’. That’s about right.”

We talked some more about the police in Kenosha.

I made the comment, “I guess there really is such a thing as a white privilege.”

She smiled grimly and laughed, “Damn straight.”

Then she asked me, “Do you know how many times I slipped off the handcuffs in Kenosha?”

I paused and said, “I probably don’t need to know.”

She was on a roll, and said, “Twice.”

She looked ahead for a moment and then she asked me,

“What do you think would have happened if I was a black guy and had done that?”

I had no ready answer.

She did. “Probably seven bullets in the back.”

And a city burns.

Kenosha isn’t a bad place. It simply suffers from the same economic problems that other Rustbelt cities do. Kenosha used to be a manufacturing powerhouse. American Motors had a huge plant there. When I was young, AMC built muscle cars in Kenosha, and the company employed throngs of people. Now AMC is gone, and so is a lot of other industry. However, the people remain, and they long for the good jobs that were there.

Kenosha, like other cities on Lake Michigan, is hollowed out. The area right next to the water is beautiful, and it is prosperous. Go a few blocks to the west, go inland, and things change quickly. Poverty becomes apparent. It is only several miles further west, near the freeway (I-94), that business picks up again. The old part of Kenosha struggles. I know this because the young woman riding in my Focus lived there while on probation.

There are places in Kenosha that I really like. My wife and I enjoyed going for breakfast at The Daily Dose Café. It was/is this microscopic coffee shop that served awesome focaccia. Kenosha used to have a heavy Italian influence, and it still shows up at times, especially in the food. The waitresses at the restaurant often wore Daily Dose t-shirts that said on the back: “Yes! I would like a double espresso vodka Valium latte!”

Indeed.

I also loved going to Frank’s Diner. That is a place near the lake that has specialized in soulful breakfasts since the 1920’s. It is built inside of an old railway car. They only take cash there. The employees are friendly and helpful in a slightly obnoxious sort of way. I had one guy come up to our table and say to me, “You need more coffee!” He brooked no contradiction, and filled my cup.

Ah, but my mind wanders. I shouldn’t reminisce while a city burns.

It is hard to read or watch the news, and to recognize buildings that have been damaged or destroyed. It is not that property has more value than human lives. It is just that I know these places.

Hans called me later today. He just finished a 18 hour shift, pumping concrete in eastern Texas. He sounded very tired, and he was just waiting for the hurricane to arrive.

We talked about work. We also talked about Kenosha.

When I spoke with Hans, I mentioned that punk kid from Illinois who decided it was a good idea to to go to Kenosha and fire up a couple guys. I was a bit irate.

Hans took a drag off his cigarette and said, “Well, Dad, if you look at the video of the shooting, those guys attacked him. He fired in self-defense.”

I replied, “That fucker shouldn’t have been there at all.”

Hans paused, “Well, yeah, that probably wasn’t a good idea. But he still fired in self-defense. I mean, he’s still going to get charged, but it wasn’t really murder.”

“Two guys are dead.”

I know that, Dad.”

Hans thought for a moment and said, “I support police who are not criminals, and I support protesters who don’t loot and burn.”

It got quiet on the phone for a bit.

I told Hans, “I agree.”

Meanwhile, Kenosha burns.

What do you do when you see both sides?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Transience

August 23, 2020

“Like vanishing dew,
a passing apparition
or the sudden flash
of lightning — already gone —
thus should one regard one’s self.”
― Ikkyu, Japanese Zen Master, 1394-1481

“Nothing endures but change.”
― Heraclitus, Greek philosopher

“There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under heaven:
a time to be born and a time to die,
a time to plant and a time to uproot,
a time to kill and a time to heal,
a time to tear down and a time to build,
a time to weep and a time to laugh,
a time to mourn and a time to dance,
a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them,
a time to embrace and a time to refrain,
a time to search and a time to give up,
a time to keep and a time to throw away,
a time to tear and a time to mend,
a time to be silent and a time to speak,
a time to love and a time to hate,
a time for war and a time for peace.

(Ecclesiastes 3:1-8, NIV)”

Every spiritual tradition that is worth its salt has struggled with the notion of impermanence. In a way, the transient nature of the world is obvious to every human being. Things are constantly changing. Something new arrives, and something old passes away. Everything is a state of flux. The universe is dynamic by its very nature. Nothing is static.

However, many of us try to deny this fact.

If some random person asked me, “Do you know that all things must pass away?”, I might agree, but I would probably add, “except for myself and the things that I love.”

Change implies a death of some sort. It also means a new sort of life.

The scary part is that any new sort of life might not include me. 

There is the rub.

 

Yesterday we emptied out the Zen Center. We put everything into storage. It made total sense to do so. Our Zen group (sangha) has not met together in that space for meditation practice since before the pandemic struck. We did Zoom meetings, but that was all. We were paying rent for a place that we never used. So, we gathered up, as best we could, our accumulated belongings. Some people brought pick up trucks and trailers. Some of us just brought our strong arms and backs.

Be advised that the Great Lake Zen Center is not a large organization. Buddhism, especially Zen, is not particularly popular in the local Milwaukee area. It’s a rather esoteric activity/philosophy. I was impressed that so many people actually showed up to move all of our crap. Much of it had already been boxed by willing volunteers, but there was still a lot of stuff to be transported to a storage facility.

Yesterday morning was very warm and humid. That made it a bit difficult to move large, heavy objects. We had a number of large, heavy objects. It is noteworthy that the age of the Zen Center members tends to skew old. I am sixty-two years of age. I was one of the youngest and most physically able of the movers at yesterday’s event. I’m not complaining. I am simply stating that we did not have many young people to do the heavy lifting. I did a lot of the heavy lifting. I’m glad that I was there and able to do so.

After the end of two hours (more or less), I was coated with sweat and I felt exhausted. I had been wearing a mask during this whole process. We had already completed the lion’s share of the work, so I felt okay about leaving. There was another load of stuff to transport, but it was made up of the residual things that people usually have at the end of every move. The folks remaining there told me that they could handle it.

I left.

Did we do wrong by abandoning the site? No. I don’t think so.

The location of our meditation center was in central West Allis. I grew up in West Allis (an old industrial suburb of Milwaukee). It was basically a ghetto fifty years ago, and that hasn’t really changed since then. We were never in a place that might attract a budding Buddhist. I don’t think we ever attracted anybody in that space. Maybe if we had also operated a liquor store and/or a gun shop, we might have introduced a few new people to the dharma, but certainly not in the place as it was.

I was loading some furniture into one of the trailers when a local resident asked me,

“Hey, are you guys finally giving up and moving?”

I answered out of breath, “Yeah.”

The man looked a bit ragged, and he was a smoking a cigar at a rather early hour. He had that “low life hustler” vibe to him. I’d seen that before. Actually, he didn’t really look much different than I did. It was just a matter of degrees.

The man carefully scoped out our belongings on the curb, and asked,

“Do you want those lamps you got there? I could take care of those.”

“Yeah, we want them.”

The man looked a bit hurt. He said,

“Things are rough here. The real estate guy on the corner, he just folded. Lots of places going out of business. It’s bad.”

I nodded. I felt for him all of a sudden. He walked away puffing on his cigar.

He was right: “It’s bad.”

Where will the Zen Center relocate to? Will it relocate at all? Or, are we done?

Things change. It’s all transient.

Nothing is permanent.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chance

August 19th, 2020

Abraz:
Bullshit. Who sent you here, boy? Did that chickenshit asshole Rafael send you, boy?

Chance the Gardener:
No. Mr. Thomas Franklin told me I must leave the old man’s house. He’s dead, you know.

Abraz:
Dead, my ass. You tell that asshole, if he got somethin’ to tell me, to get his ass down here himself! You got that, boy?

Chance:
If I see Rafael, I will relay your message.

Dialogue from Being There, a 1979 comedy starring Peter Sellers. Sellers played the part of Chance; a simple, illiterate gardener who suddenly becomes involved in DC power politics. Sellers said that he based his performance on the films of Stan Laurel.

 

The doorbell rang on Monday afternoon. Our doorbell never rings. Well, I exaggerate. It doesn’t ring very often. It doesn’t ring unless somebody forgot their house key, or the overworked UPS guy drop kicked a fragile box on to the doorstep, or maybe the cops showed up for some odd reason. The cops have come to visit us repeatedly in the past. The police are usually good about ringing the doorbell, rather than just kicking the door in. I have to give them credit for that.

In any case, I was hanging around the house, all alone. I went to the door quickly. Our two dogs are cowards, but they do love to bark. They will make a racket until I greet the potential intruder. Once I arrive at the door, the dogs run and hide.

I opened the front door. Standing there in the hot afternoon sun, was a strapping lad, at least a head taller than me, well built, at the very cusp of adulthood. I asked him,

“Uh yeah, so what do you want?”

The teenager gave me a his pre-rehearsed spiel about raising money for the Oak Creek High School football team. There was a lot of blah, blah, blah. Eventually he finished and took a well-deserved breath.

I was curious, so I asked him the obvious question: “You play football?”

He smiled slightly and said, “Linebacker. I’m one of those guys that gets hit a lot.”

“What year are you?”

He replied, “I’m a senior.”

I dug out my wallet. Oddly enough, I had $20 hiding in there. I handed it to him.

He thanked me, and he tried to hand me a game schedule.

I told him, “Don’t bother, man. I’m not going to any of that shit.”

The young man stiffened noticeably.

I asked him, “Do you have time to talk?”

He gave me an eye roll, and said, “Well, yeah, a little bit.”

Then I asked him, “So, what’s your name?”

He replied, “Chance.”

“You mean like the word ‘chance’?”

“Yeah.”

“You mean like C-H-A-N-C-E?”

“Yeah.” Another eye roll.

For some reason my mind suddenly went a lot of different places at once. The synapses in my brain misfired like the spark plugs in an old Civic with a bad timing belt. I thought about Chance the Gardener from the movie Being There. I also remembered the film from the 1990’s, The Music of Chance. I watched that with my late brother, Marc, many years ago. Even now, I find that movie to be profoundly disturbing. But I digress.

I asked him, “Do you like football?”

He nodded, “Yeah.”

“What do you want to do after high school?”

“I plan on joining the Marines.”

It was then that I looked up and saw his cap with the Marine emblem on the front. I had at first thought that he was wearing a MAGA hat. I can deal with a Marine cap a lot better than something from MAGA. I respect Marines.

Against my better judgment, I asked the young man, “Why do you want to join the Marines?”

He smiled, “I want to do something for my country, and I will get money for college when I am done.”

I stared at him. “You know, I was in the Army for a long time.”

Chance got interested. “Really.”

“Yeah. I was an officer. I went to West Point.”

“Wow. Really? I heard that’s a good school!”

I sighed and slouched. “It was. It was also a mind fuck.”

Chance looked at me with concern. “Oh.”

I went on, “Hey, my oldest son, he joined the Army too. He fought in Iraq. That did him no good.”

Chance got serious. “I’m sorry to hear that.”

I told him, “Well, there are costs involved in signing up for the military.”

“Like what?”

“My son, Hans, killed people. As in plural. As in up close and personal.”

Awkward silence.

I asked Chance, “Look around. Do you see a lot of American flags hanging in this neighborhood?”

He got worried. “I didn’t really look.”

“Look NOW.”

He did.

“So, do you see a lot of flags up and down the street?”

“Yes, I do.”

“Do you see one hanging at my house?”

“No.”

“Why not?”

There was the slightest beginning of an eye roll, but then Chance said, “I don’t know.”

I told him, “I don’t have a flag here because I’ve already been a patriot. I did my bit. My son did more than I did. I don’t need to prove anything.”

“Okay.”

“Chance, do what you need to do. I am just asking you to think before you sign up. Can you do that?”

“I’ll think about it.”

I sighed and I paused. I said to him, “Hey, I’ve wasted enough of your time. I’m glad that you took the time to listen to me. You were patient with an old man. With the COVID, I don’t know if we should shake hands or not.”

He replied quickly, “I’ll shake your hand.”

We did.

Then he said, “Thanks for your service, Sir.”

I flinched. The word ‘sir’ stung somehow. I told him,

“I haven’t been a ‘sir’ for a long time.”

He nodded.

I went back into the house.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Pagan Rituals of Satanic Worshipers

August 16th, 2020

“Six-foot distance and wearing masks are pagan rituals of satanic worshipers,” Heidi Anderson said. “My kids are Christian. They are not subject to wearing masks.”

Heidi Anderson made these comments at an Elmbrook School District board meeting in Brookfield, Wisconsin on August 12th, 2020.

Good Lord…where does it all end?

There’s even more to this lady’s rant. Did she stop with just accusing mask-wearers of being vile devil-worshipers? Noooooooooooo… she went on to badger Dr. Mushar Hassan, a member of the school board and an internal medicine specialist at Ascension Brookfield Hospital. Ms. Anderson pointed out that Dr. Hassan was a leader in the Muslim community, and then she let it rip:

“Okay!” Anderson said. “Well, listen. My kids are Christian. They are not subject to wearing face coverings. Christian children should not be forced to wear face coverings, any more than children who are Islamic or Muslim should be forced, as you put it, be subject to the American style of sexualization of children and have to be wearing less clothing than you’re comfortable having your children wearing.”

In the same emotional vein, Anderson then discussed her family’s war record before working her way back to the mask issue. “My family has for generations fought for freedom all the way back to the Civil War. I have relatives who have fought and died and paid the ultimate price to ensure that their children and grandchildren and generations to come could live in a free, representative republic that guaranteed life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. These draconian measures, for a disease that has very low morbidity, which is much less likely to happen to our kids than their getting in a car accident and dying or their grandparents falling in the nursing home, is draconian, socialist tactics and overreach. You are employed by the people of Brookfield and Elm Grove. You are elected to serve. The Elmbrook School Administration works at our pleasure. You do not work for Madison or any other unelected entity.”

Her voice almost breaking with emotion, Anderson continued, “Our government is of the people, by the people, and for the people. This is one country. One nation under God. And we look to God for these answers when we can’t figure it out. And I would suggest that you all do that. There’s a wonderful prayer He taught us to pray. It’s called the Lord’s prayer, and you can find it in your Bible.”

Note: The last three paragraphs are all taken from an article posted by the “Wisconsin Muslim Journal”.

You know, a person like Ms. Anderson makes me embarrassed to say that I am a Christian. The fact is that her words bear no resemblance to Christianity as I understand it. However, there are certainly secular people who will read her comments and conclude that all Christians are bigoted fools. I resent that. Ms. Anderson, who loudly claims to be a follower of Jesus, has inadvertently done some reverse evangelizing. If somebody confronts me with this woman’s words, the best I can do is say, “We’re not all like that.”

Brookfield is only a few miles from where I live. It is a affluent community. People there are generally well educated. Very Republican. Conservative. My friends who live in Brookfield are thoughtful, kind, and generous. We sometimes disagree about politics, but I am proud and grateful to know these people.

Then there is this lady at the board meeting…

You know, I have my own deep, unreasoning prejudices. If somebody had shown me Ms. Anderson’s words, and then asked me to guess where she lived, I probably would have replied that she was from Alabama or Mississippi or eastern Kentucky. To my mind, her words scream “hillbilly”. But, she’s not! The woman is from here!

Now, I really feel embarrassed.