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May 17, 2016

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In Left To Myself FOOD FIGHT

In Random Stuff: Darwin’s Still Small Voice

In Not (As) Fat: Hungry & Fat

In Finding Home: The REAL/IDEAL Collision

In The Rules:  Between Rocks & Hard $$$ 

In Home Page: Books & Homes

Dec. 7, 1941

December 7, 2016

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75 years ago, my father awoke on a Sunday morning. He was in his fabulous Manhattan apartment on East 10th Street, with a 20ft terrace outside his living room. I doubt the annual Christmas Tree had been set up on the terrace in preparation for the huge blow-out, come anytime between 8pm and dawn Holiday Party he threw with his wife, my mother.

She awoke next to him, probably tired from dancing and definitely hung over. I doubt they had plans to go to church, as that seemed more a part of their later life – not an east fit wth leaving the Cotton Club at 4am.

On December 7, 1941 my father was looking forward to his 33rd birthday in 3 weeks, a coming partnership in his Wall Street law firm, and in all likelihood, who they would meet up with that night for drinks and dinner.

In an hour or two after a mid morning arousal they turned on the radio and their life exploded.

The bomb that went down the USS Arizona’s smokestack blew up a soon-to-be 33 year old’s life: For heaven’s sake he had spent 12 years in the ROTC at college, and thus the Army Reserve Field Artillery – endless weekends of training, fun and performing on the polo team. It had been 2 years since he fulfilled his obligation and was honorably discharged.

But that was then, this was Dec. 7 1941.

An insane inability to get back his commission as an officer led to 6 months of crisis  before the Navy made him a lieutenant, avoiding the draft. Before the Navy allowed as his training and maturity would make him a viable intelligence officer the panic, fear, and complete break from control rendered a smart, 33 year old Ivy grad a shaking, chain smoking basket case.

The legal career was put on hold. The Holiday Parties were now on naval bases. There were still hangovers, but there was no planning except whatever the Navy had in mind for both of them.

In 4 years it would be over. But so would his career at that Wall Street firm. So would a party-hearty, child-free-by-choice marriage. They did not separate, but they now had to procreate – or so the rest of the world told them. Near death of the world meant a generation spawned like mad, and that meant the Dickinson’s left the terrace for a new thing called suburbs.

Collateral damage comes in many forms.

FOOD FIGHT

December 5, 2016

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Clearly Leader-Elect Trump enjoys a good food fight.

As America wipes the spaghetti sauce off its ears, we begin to deal with the winner of the edible carnage, and I realize that a Gastronomic Fight Club has a base appeal within me – independent of the outcome. In fact I think the spontaneous thrill found in chaos choreography is also within each of us.

In this last national food fight there were only 2 rules for one fighter: the fight began at a date of his choosing and it ended in one final explosion of fats, carbohydrates and ruffage  – Election Day.  Like it or not,”No Rules” beyond the limits of the steel cage is part of who we are as a country. Mixed Martial Arts fighting makes football look like Swan Lake and yet no one is “shocked, shocked” at its ruffian sensibilities enough to ban organized beat downs.

Our embrace of chaos may be due to the fact that America was initiated as a European Home Invasion by groups of Puritanical humans who wanted the oxymoron of the freedom to have Extreme Rules. If you think it was all pumpkin pie and cider in 17th century New England just read the rules of these zealots. There is the same spirit of Devine Authority that makes ISIS the MMA of diplomacy.

Every MMA fighter needs an opponent. Absent Israel and America ISIS might just be a weird compound of lunatics somewhere in Iraq – kinda like the Puritans in what became Massachusetts. Extremity in the pursuit of Heaven seems a natural dance for a few of us.

The 2016 election food fight embodied the desire by about 46% of voters to be free from the shackles of civility, logic or proper procedure. I actually get that attitude. I get this because I caused and won such an edible debacle. It was 1977. At that time I was in loco parent for about 240 Cornell kids here:

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It was the “Gay Dorm” by reputation: it was in fact a place that was dedicated to the creative and performing arts. I love the arts, but I applied to live there (it was selective) because it was 50/50 male/female, and if the rumors were fact, that meant for this 19 year old virginal heterosexual that there would be a certain positive asymmetry of dating opportunities.  If a number of the XY chromosomal options preferred each other (versus the equal number of XX’s) I had a better chance to find expression for the flood of testosterone that dulled most any other cognitive process – (remember in 1977 not even Billy Jean King had yet revealed to we troglodytes that XX’s might like XX’s in similar numbers).

The place came to be the first full-on family experience in my near adult life. Mid-century issues of alcohol and screaming made where I had lived for my first 18 years more threat than harbor until I found this large order family by choice.

I came to be part of this place’s “leadership”-  a Resident Adviser – that counseled all those top 10 students in their high school class who were rejected by Harvard, Princeton and/or Yale to end up stranded in upstate New York. It was a time where sex was often simply a sign of friendship – or the hope of it, drugs were everywhere, the drinking age was 18, and thus there were infinite opportunities for real “issues” that had made Cornell have a high rate of suicide attempts – and sadly successes (I interceded in 2 in my 2 years as an RA).

It may be instructive that this sort of tableau was not uncommon at our enclave (I am lower right):

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The tension was often thick, despite the afterglow of unfettered intercourse and the distraction of drugs and alcohol. So when I went to dinner one Friday, after a classic two day architecture school design charrette without sleep, then having professors pontificate about my work product – I was both spent and surly in this space:

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I grabbed my gruel, sat down and started shoveling it into my gaping maw. Two tables away, at the “Disco Table” – where New York City Centric glitterati actually wore makeup (both XX & XY) and insane shoes and had hair “styled” were in high celebration. It was centered around a 5ft 4in tall Cuban, Miguel, who was holding court. He was hilarious and high or drunk or both: and would sometimes wander the late night halls buck naked lamenting or bragging about any given night’s exploits.

This night he was clothed but regaling his table at high decibel, even given the 150 others around us in high celebration. I could not tolerate it, and bellowed, above the din:

SHUT UP MIGUEL“. Silence fell in the room

Miguel, enjoying theater, screaming at high pitch and volume: “EAT ME!

The momentary hush that followed was broken by my recitation of the Burger King motto:

I WANT A MEAL, NOT A SNACK

An explosion of mass laughter saw Miguel grab a plate of food walk over to me, pull up a chair, stand upon it, looking down upon me,  plate set upon his raised arm:- I was in lay back lounge posture, looking up at him. Knowing that there were no Rules, I instantly reached my arms out wide to both neighboring plates, grabbed the red-sauced spaghetti on both and in one motion flipped two handfuls directly onto Miguel’s face, blinding him.

His plate, thrown, missed its mark, and I leapt up and unloaded the rest of my table’s food upon him, as others rose and joined it, at us, at each other, at Cornell in 1977. Upon that eruption I immediately ran out of the room – the classic sign of Food Fight Victory.

Just like Leader-Elect Trump.

When you write the rules you can declare Victory any way you wish. There is a certain joy in that: the 180 degree reality in distinction to the Puritanical joy found in a surety of “appropriate” means, methods and outcomes. In our post-election deflation millions are nearly bereft, often spontaneously consumed in fear and sadness at a rule breaker’s triumph over normal, realistic and proper expectations.

Unlike those who are so deeply wounded I feel a little like Miguel did 39 years ago: defeated by an onslaught he did not anticipate, by Rules of Engagement that were not objectively fair but practically available to his opponent (me). But Miguel also knew, with his eye sockets caked in marinara sauce, that we were friends, that good theater has a final act, and there would be an after party.

I knew Miguel was a work-study student and would be cleaning up after our mess in his job as one of the student kitchen cleaning staff. So at closing time I went back to the dining hall, and he and I scrubbed away all the flung food. Laughing hysterically.

We may have “faught”, but we were part of a place based in love.  He was an out and proud gay man in 1977. I was a survivor of a Mad Men family. We had both found a respite from a surrounding world that had not always been kind to us. To many there it was just a place to live for a year or two. But to others, like Miguel and me, it was safe harbor.

America has been safe harbor for Puritans and atheists simply because it was based on a larger truth than religious or political beliefs: America is based on the simple reality that fools and saints are humans too – just humans, no more, no less. So when a bizarre human like Leader-Elect Trump creates a food fight and wins, it’s still in the space the Constitution created for all of us: and like the dining hall of my food fight, it exists for us beyond the theater of the moment.

News

December 5, 2016

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Before & After
Leonard Saari B&A Exterior

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Getting Done in San Francisco

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The outdoor chapel at Incarnation Camp in Ivoryton, CT

Click here to read about the project.

CEPHAS Housing 25 Years Ago in Yonkers NY

Click here to read about the project.

READ:

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In New Haven Register: Why spend $60 million on an ugly building

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In Common Edge: Modern Restoration and the Veneration of Its Hero Architects

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In Common Edge: The AIA’s Response to Crisis Call In the Stars

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In New Haven Independent: Visionary Bromances

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In New Haven Independent: That’s It?

In New Haven Register: Battered Homeowner Syndrome in New Haven

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In Common Edge: Why Architecture Needs More Building Architect Critiques

In Common Edge: Architects Design Just 2% of All Houses – Why?

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In Hartford Courant: Deborah Berke, First Woman To Lead Yale’s School of Architecture

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In Daily Nutmeg: Creation Story

In Next Avenue: Aging and Your Home: The Coping Quotient

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In New Haven Register: Forum: Yale, Pearl Harbor bridge projects show branding matters, money follows

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In Hartford Courant (login required): “Christmas in Connecticut” was Perfect for War-Weary 1945 American Moviegoers

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In AIA: It’s not the Media: It’s the Work

In New Haven Register: Quarantining Architecture

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Archive: Real Life Survival Guide

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WATCH:

On WTNH News:  Madison Architect Sheds Light on Solar Solution for Homeowners

On Common Ground with Annette Ross:  She asked “Where is Architecture?”, I answered

On HGTV:  Mercedes Home Diaries       Password: mercedes

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Between Rocks & Hard $$$

December 4, 2016

9There are many reasons to use masonry in building. The single most commonly used reason not to use masonry is cost. Wood, steel, plastic, glass are all cheaper cladding. Even CMU’s and brick are pricier than most other options.

But cost is always relative in construction. What seemed cheap when installed can be pretty expensive if it needs replacement in the short term – and chronic maintenance of any building component is painful beyond the dollars and cents cost.

If installed well, masonry lasts far longer with less maintenance than almost any other exterior building product. Beyond durability, using stone to create surfaces and shapes has unique properties almost no other option can offer

1) Masonry forms curves with ease and efficiency, versus wood or steel – fieldstone masonry forms its own armature for support: its surface is its substraight: being built of independent pieces, stone can easily transition into curves. This applies to openings as well as surfaces.

2) Masonry has zero solar degradation. Wood gets brittle and erodes with sun. All paint fades over time.

3) If kept pointed masonry resists water intrusion better than any other surface, simply because its surface is its core.

4) Masonry’s appearance is either inert or enhanced over time – even dirt, moss and lichens can enhance a fieldstone surface.

5) But if you disdain weathered aesthetics, you can scrub masonry to a completely pristine state because of its tough hard, dense, integral composition.

Beyond the tangibles of money spent initially and over time, almost no other building material evidences the humanity embodied in craft like stone. Wood can be magic in its intricate weaving realities, steel dynamic and precise, but fieldstone can mesh the essence of natural expression and the human hand better than any other building technology.

While cut stone eschews the organic aesthetics of fieldstone, the subtle grain of even the blankest of granite has an irredescence no synthetic material can duplicate at any price – and its durability over time is unmatched. Anecdotally when an extensive restoration of Yale’s Beinecke Library designed by Gordon Bunshaft of Skidmore Owings and Merrill confronted the 50 year old marble cladding, the fear was there could be real issues, given its completely exposed situation: but the restoration just involved cleaning and coating, with a few cracks filled – there was zero degradation.

Everything in building, and perhaps life can be seen as cost-benefit equation. Masonry has the unique visual characteristics of a natural product, but embodies the extreme durability synthetic materials aspire to. When costs are applied to its undeniable benefits, stone can have a value that actually pays for itself over the long haul.

Darwin’s Still Small Voice

November 24, 2016

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As Charles Darwin began defining Natural Selection, his revelatory insight creating the theory of evolution, he lost his religious faith – a faith he had to the point of going to seminary before he became fascinated with biology. Despite apocryphal stories of a death bed reconnection back to faith, Darwin by all factual accounts was at best a firm agnostic, and definitely not a Christian, which he called “a damnable doctrine” – despite firm belief by the rest of his family.

For atheists, Darwin is a true hero: someone that manifests the mind triumphing over the delusions of myth, the victory of Truth confronting the cowardice of his era’s overwhelming religious judgment. Or so say many of my close friends who are at best firm agnostics – some of whom go to church or synagogue as a cultural expression, confident that what they know is sufficient to preclude any Faith beyond what is known. Darwin is the perfect St. Paul for atheists: a Believer who saw the light and ended up providing the tools for conversion from the Folly of Faith to the Truth of Fact.

But, like Jesus, Darwin was just a man. As with any human, tragedies do happen, despite any level of fact-centered living. Charles Darwin’s daughter, Anne died in 1851, at the age of 10 – of either Scarlet Fever or Tuberculosis – despite efforts at the then best science: “Gully’s Water Cure”. Anne was the Darwins’ first born, and exquisitely loved by her dad. Darwin had lost religious faith around the time of her birth. But upon her death, Darwin wrote a gut wrenching letter ending with these words:

“We have lost the joy of the Household, and the solace of our old age:— she must have known how we loved her; oh that she could now know how deeply, how tenderly we do still & shall ever love her dear joyous face. Blessings on her.—“

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“Blessings on her.”

To a dead person. From who? what? where?

In his poignant missive, Charles Darwin cries out in pain at the natural selection of the loss of his beloved daughter – finding no solace or explanation in her death besides the love he had for her – and yet – he wishes, as any of us would, “Blessings on her”. What are these “Blessings”? – Did Darwin think there was some distinct bestower of blessings that could ameliorate her loss in his life?  Or an afterlife emollient to vitiate the pain of her untimely death, salving, if not saving, her soul?

I think the reason for Darwin’s sad wish for his dead child is far less coherent than any reasoned reconstruction. God simply could not exist in parallel with Darwin’s belief in natural selection – but upon tragedy his heart clearly felt something his mind could not rationalize.

When the power goes out on our assumptions, when the grid fails and we lose distractions, when the batteries are at 0% on our “Rationalization App”, when the dead of night renders the photovoltaics of reason juiceless, when we are without the capacity for logical selection of what we want to be, and we are confronted only with the inevitable “natural” end, as all things end in nature, we are left alone. But not alone.

For me, knowledge alone ultimately fails to comfort, because some things are inexplicable. Humans opt to find pattern in the overwhelmingly random aspects of reality. We read our horoscope. We selectively celebrate some birthdays (30, 50 etc) simply because we naturally want a reality beyond knowledge. We connect victories by the Cubs, Trump and Yale.

Darwin explicitly rejected an inbred genetic predilection for Faith – he believed we learned to believe. His life was based on learning, so thats a natural way to see the world. As I am an architect I can be accused of seeing design in everything and thus a Designer for everything. But neither my Cradle Episcopalian status, nor 40 years designing stuff compels my Faith. That’s because my Faith is not based in reason, education or really anything in the temporal world I can defend or promote – despite going to church each week.

Perhaps, despite Darwin’s dismissal, it’s just a hard-wired need for connections that make for Faith. For me, its found in the Old Testament “Still Small Voice”- which is both unreasonable and unavoidable. I have not selected it. It is not factually natural. But it is present. I think hero scientist Charles Darwin was pleading for supernatural “Blessings” for his dead child to that Voice – despite his objective rejection of any source, method or place to send them.

Neither he nor I selected that Voice: it’s just there…

The REAL/IDEAL Collision

November 19, 2016

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When the Real of Michangelo’s mind, a vaulted ceiling and paint attempt the Ideal a pretty cool thing happened. But that is the exception.

The Real/Ideal connection is more often Collision than Jesus.

When the Real college admission for your Ideal child is not Harvard, when the Ideal spouse has Real issues, or just when your Ideal self runs aground on Real life the results are often terrifying because humans ha. The election was too Real for many as Ideal results were not there for just over 50% of voters.

But sometimes the collision of Real-Ideal works: at Yale Ivory Tower Ideal met Homeless Housing at a design studio I critted last week: it worked to get perspective for the Ivy to spread into the street.

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In my calling, architecture there is an extreme collision. Before the explosion of technology has enabled virtual reality to feel pretty real, I and other architects had to build things to make the a Ideal of Design live in the Real of the world – as I did for our family:

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But that’s costs real money. And once done exquisitely brutal judgment for an unchageable physical reality. Cyber buildings are never finished: a click can correct any flaw forever and instantly: and without the Real of a site, or a budget or weather there is only the Ideal to deal with.

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But for non-architects, the Ideal home often means grabbing at the straws of memory and hope to cobble together a home of images, a quilt of features that cover all the bases of defendable desire: a home of aspiration, which is not hope, which may be real, but is clearly not authentic:

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(www.mcmansionhell.com)

But the Real of Virtual can create sad results, even on its own terms. This built thing, by Paul Rudolph is exquisitely real:

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But the Ideal of computer generation often defaults to the extreme limits of human capacity – this is the same function, in the same town, with a larger budget, just not built:

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Humans are Real, we are here, we love, we hate, we die: but we know, or sense the Ideal. But we are not Ideal. But we want it in our lives: so we build McMansions. We make ways to make the Ideal Real: like virtual architecture – and religion.

Religion is not God. Religion is Real, but it is never Ideal. But we want to be. Desperately, so when asked, I run to be a part of my religion’s state level Reality: https://www.episcopalct.org/events/annual-convention/2016/elections/

My reality, like everyone else’s changes, I would never even think of being part of the Diocese, but I was asked, by a person or two, but more the Still Small Voice I cannot shake.

What makes religion meaningful to me is not The Church, not the Real issues of any human endeavor: the petty, snarky silliness of grind and CYA that makes the ideal pretty hard to find. Unlike the Sistine Chapel the Real seldom lives up to the Ideal. But God finds me without the mimicry of the Ideal that organized religion efforts, often so unsuccessfully, because, for me God is Real – every day, often at the least Ideal moments.

Confusing Loss & Losing

November 11, 2016

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About half of America is in self described mourning – many in very fearful, tearful mourning. No one died, but those who are grieving feel the loss of something in an exquisitely tender, personal, and yet very, very public way. I am old enough to have been present for 16 presidential elections. I was old enough to remember perhaps 13 of them. But this election was extreme.

It was between the most mockable freak who has ever won a nomination to run for anything since Jesse Ventura and perhaps the most Establishment-based candidate since George HW Bush. And the Freak won.

Mr. Outside beat Ms. Inside, and yet freakier, lost the popular vote. Trump’s bizarre unsuitability for anything except being a Celebrity did not matter because Hillary was fresh out of the crock pot of 30 years of creating the mess about half the country has basted in – largely without voice save in the last 2 off-year elections. It was epic weirdness gone nuclear and real.

But this piece is not about politics. It’s about the sweep of extreme emotional sharing of loss – best crystallized by John Pavolvitz in his blog. http://johnpavlovitz.com/2016/11/09/heres-why-we-grieve-today/

“Every horrible thing Donald Trump ever said about women or Muslims or people of color has now been validated.”

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When the loss of a potential first female presidency is thrown in, and the fact Donald Trump is a walking spew of uncontrolled oversharing of every and any political thought, conspiracy theory and schoolyard insult that pops up in his cranial Magic 8 Ball, this is as weird an election as I can think of – and, hey, I got an 800 on my American History Achievement test (and a 5 on the AP).

Every campaign’s results angers many: riots at the ’68 Democratic Convention, Nixon, Reagan, Clinton, W, and Obama were loudly loathed, insulted, hated on every level, including the personal variety. Some folk have always taken politics personally. But this year, this week, is different.

Cultures tend to personalize the public – especially upon death. This is reasonable for heroes like Mother Teresa or JFK – but even those passing with pop-presence make for vapor-thin extreme mourning of the distractions in our lives. People deeply mourned Princess Diana’s death and elevated Michael Jackson to saintliness upon his passing. And now, the same depth of insight and breadth of exposure of a Trump tweet can share every emotion into stratospheric overblown self-indulgence.

The Internet can make news out of a picture of your dinner. It can wreck a Wiener, exalt a blubbering fan girl – some say it elected Trump.

The aftermath of this election is different. Worlds of “correct” thinking and prediction became folly. Trump’s obvious tone deafness was mirrored by our “thought leaders”: polls, commentators, political scientists were completely deaf to over 50 million humans, sprinkled about enough states to garner 300 electoral votes.

The national angst of a lot of Hillary voters has been blasted to every cell phone with deep pain, anger and most distressing to me, grief.

The depth and nature of their expressions take on a personalization and emotional intensity that signal a loss of faith. The grieving of so many may snowball as it rolls down Facebook Mountain into an avalanche, but the feelings, and what motivated them are real.

Of course everyone wants to matter, and breast-beating works for that – as does judgmental piety or prejudice. While narcissism is always present in every internet act of uncontrolled pontification, here the swell of grief is based on a large order perception of tragedy.

“Fear” is a universal bonding platform that makes all things threatening. Tragedy usually begats one of two responses: despair in the now or faith in a better future. Despair has won for many, and faith is simply seen as folly. And that mirrors a large order slide into where we become faithless but empowered in emotional expression.

First and less important is the loss of faith in the Constitution. The Founders were excruciatingly clever in creating a freak-limiting format – even with one party governance. With more than a score of Amendments, the Constitution has proven it can accommodate losses of faith.

But what makes the expressions of grief, hopelessness, personal injury and tragic loss so disturbing to me is that it deeply confuses losing and loss.

Losing is the bad side of a calculation. Your team has lost, you lost a job, maybe a romance is lost: all have the ability for redemption or replacement.

Loss is permanent. It is a thing or human you valued gone, forever. Loss in this election could be the final crushing of the “Hope & Change” that rendered more votes than any other candidate in history (a voting level that indicts both of this year’s candidates.) Missing in all this sense of deep personal loss is the reality that there is another election in 4 years – not forever. I still count four year old underwear as “new”.

The deeply sad reality of so many, so publically, so inconsolably bereft, over a presidential election means a great deal more to me than as an obvious indictment of Internet Over Sharing Vanity Engorgement. This gut-wrenched mass of mourning have lost something beyond the election.

Humor is the first casualty of losing and loss. Jokes about death happen at the wake, not in the hospital, so I am sure that will return.

What seems skewed, in the largest vector I can perceive, is that many, if not most, in our culture have no backstops for the moment’s consequences. If something goes well – triumphs are screamed into the Internet ether. But there seems to be nothing under the feet of the bereft.

There has been a slow continuous loss of Faith in the last generation of Americans. Knowledge, and its offspring, technology, elevates humanity from the miseries of disease and oppression. But it’s empowering distractions push us to have faith in knowledge, versus Faith in what we cannot understand.

I know culturally we have absorbed Kubler-Ross/Kessler’s Five Stages of Grief. Here, the glimmer of Denial is overcome by 300 electoral votes – but is alive in a petition to invalidate the Electoral College. Anger is there, as it always has been in politics. Bargaining seems off the table. Depression is so prevalent that Acceptance is nowhere in sight.

So where does that leave us? Some are still grieving, but the entire culture is losing faith in institutions – and, more significantly, we are sliding into the loss in the Faith that passes all understanding. Instead we are skating upon an electronic web, with nothing below us. When what we want does not happen, or we are threatened, or tragedy strikes we are connected to each other – as are all the grieving Hillary supporters are now.

But absent Faith, connecting often only makes for pain greater in the multitude of group depression: private angst becomes public hopelessness with no underpinning purpose or foundation of hope.

We confuse losing, where events betray our hopes or remove barriers to fear, with loss where love is broken, where we are separated, forever from part of our lives. No one has died in the 2016 elections, but grief and mourning is filling the InterWebNets. If a greater Faith was there for more people (versus fewer and fewer) there would be less desperation, less focus on the pain of dashed expectations, less fear of potential consequences simply because God was there before, during and after every event in this world. For the faithful, anyway.

Atheists would say people are overcoming a mass delusion, that only measurable, verifiable reality has hope for each human, multiplied by our common sense of purpose and values.

But as this election shows, more and more humans do not have a central purpose other than survival and personal expression. There is little to believe in when the facts as we know them fail us – unless there is Faith in a purpose we cannot understand.

If facts were the source of all legitimate faith, Hillary Clinton would be our next president. But the same belief beyond evidence that projects a Donald Trump into the presidency for some also can give all of us the understanding that losing is not loss.

Before the election, almost everyone understood, really knew, that Hillary Clinton would, of course, be our next president. That faith in knowing was killed, and the resulting mourning, grieving and sense of loss has no context other than its own pain, absent some greater Faith that seems farther away with each day.