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There Is No Health In Us

October 27, 2020

If you are feeling fully outraged, you are full of yourself. If you are deeply, deeply hurt you are a victim. If you are loudly righteous, you are with a greater good, and you just know it. We are, mostly, hanging ten on the surfboards of our egos.

Where is the humility in all of this?

It is Crock Pot Time in America. The main ingredient is Covid19, the fear of which, or the anger over it, or your unfollowed wisdom is the roast in the pot. No matter what other ingredients are added, the overwhelming funk of fear poisons the stew.

We may have an election, a Supreme Court nomination, any number of sports, arts, education or romantic seasons – but all have gone from crock pot to pressure cooker. The meal will be terrible. I can taste it now, and I am nauseated. I even know the days, perhaps months, of indigestion that follows.

In all of this, I, and countless others know, just know that we deserve better. We know that someone, something, did this plague, this political freak show, this cultural outrage. We are hoarse being full throated, chests blooded by breast-beating, exhausted to the point of being absent humor. I want this time to end.

What, besides the litany of grievances that are unavoidable in every post, every conversation or media platform, is with each of us in this Screech Time? Well a key ingredient has gone missing.

Humility is MIA. Humility is MIA.

In each outrage, in each victimization, in each empowering justification, we, the focal point recipients and expressers of what we know and await forget that we are given life, we do not earn it, let alone make it, and certainly do not deserve what we want.

We deleted “and there is no health in us” from something some said every Sunday, because the editors of what we said thought it betrayed our possible redemption. We thought that we had progressed enough that that love of our creation was more important than our guilt in a confession.

But I know that I am, daily, “a miserable offender” – but in this Outrage Time no one believes that they are the offenders – they are either victims or saviors. At least the loudest are.

Confession has vanished, because humility has vanished. We now know, fully, that we are owed our lives and thus we are entitled to make our lives, our culture, we make we ourselves.

But soon (very soon) about half of us will be very, very wrong. Either way. The ranting and virtuosity and hate will run up against the reality of all of us, not just you. Not just me. Of course half will be justified, vindicated, empowered, even validated.

Or maybe, when the widest spread Covid Fever breaks, even the winners might see the damage done. No, not to the losers. But the damage we have done to each other, and most painfully, ourselves.

There has been no humor in these months, because there has been no charity. We are have come to be in agreement with a toast given at our wedding rehearsal dinner “May we all get what we deserve.”

We only deserve the one thing that made us, Love. God made so much complexity that in the eyes of his creations we come to believe that we are God. At least on Facebook.

Humility is a base reality, not an affect of greater ego. Humility is born of the guilt of being human, of thinking we are the center of righteousness, when we are the product of love.

Guilt is in short supply in the valley of victimhood. It is easy to believe that we deserve what is owed to us, because we have been given everything but this last few century’s illusion of control. We gave that illusion to ourselves,

Guilt is in short supply in the valley of victimhood. It is easy to believe that we deserve what is owed to us, because we have been given everything. The last few century’s technological advances simulate control enough that we think we have it. There is less prayer. There is less worship of anything beyond ourselves. The faith in control belies the reality that humans only control the edges our lives. We have no ability to fabricate joy on demand, let alone end death

If we did control things, there would be no Covid19: no impeachment/SCOTUS/election anger. We would have carefully considered options, not the clarity (and terror) of the hangman’s noose found in every new stage built for righteousness.

We would have humility.

.

Jackasses

October 25, 2020

18 members of the Yale Hockey Team brought Stage 3 Yale back to Stage 1. They partied until the plague danced with them. No museum for you. No gatherings (including sports). No reason to be at Yale or anywhere with anyone else. The best and the brightest have feet of clay inside their skates.

I sit, for minutes, at red lights with no other cars or pedestrians in sight, I am to be chastened. I should not be driving at all. I should train into the city. With people who may (or may not) have the plague. Don’t I see the other plague, the earth baking carbon my Honda Fit sighs out into the streetscape – while I am stopped at a traffic light for no other reason than to discourage me from driving by a very responsible city. By standing still, pumping carbon in the air, because we are pumping too much carbon in the air.

I wear The Mask as packs of the young roam, without looking at their phones, in fully joyous irresponsibility, walking somewhere, with the only carbon spewing is that with each exhale, perhaps with a few thousand plague bits.

Connecticut is one of 2 states (the other being Vermont) that has outlawed the playing of public high school football. Fair enough. But Connecticut is allowing high school wrestling. Inside, face pushed into the body, heavy breathing on top of each other is less dangerous than outdoor running around and knocking each other down. Really?

We remove our masks to avoiding spreading disease to smoke cigarettes, eat junk, drink alcohol that we know, know, harms us, and those around us.

What we want and what we have may never be the same thing. Aspiration is the essence of having life. Expression is the basic product of aspiration. It is just that expression, Right Now is its own reason,

The medium, screaming, is its own message. One candidate for President is simply the the reason to have him be the President, or it is the reason to vote for the Not Him. It is Scream Over Substance. It is an ALL IN CAPS World.

I find myself longing for lower case.

Built Beautiful

October 22, 2020

Sometimes connections happen. I see a book, I use it in a talk (or six). The author and I meet. Then dozens of others connect. Then a movie. Maybe a movement, or least a stream of ideas we have ignored. This is good. Watch for it on PBS. “courtesy of Built Beautiful: An Architecture & Neuroscience Love Story with Narration by Martha Stewart.

Antique HOME

October 18, 2020

NOON! THURSDAY, OCTOBER 22: LIVE 89.5FM, STREAMING wpkn.org

Homes should be our most trusted possession. Where we live should protect us. We would not drive a car with bad brakes. We would not wear split pants, even on a Zoom call. But many of us truly love, and love living in, very old homes.

Time compromises everything. Everyone has a parent, a friend, a pet – even themselves – who has seen age degrade a once fully functional body. Homes are no different. Like our bodies, every building is a collection of systems. Use and time wears on every system that is used to create a home.

Just like old cars, there are two types of old homeowners: Those who, themselves, can fix the building’s failures on a moment’s notice, with confidence and determination, and those who have enough money to pay others to do the dirty work, leveraged by the homeowner’s dedication. But some truly like the liabilities of antiquity, and the triumph over them, however temporary.

As an architect I am often asked if a place is worth owning, and my response is always that you cannot build the site. How land lays out, its features, its orientation, its soil, the available infrastructure is not created, it just is. Similarly the community, neighborhood, environs are what they are, they are not made by anyone.

You could say that the same holds true for old homes. They are their own site, and their history is an isolated community made of its own provenance – of all those who lived there before you did. No one creates time, time creates itself – we call it history.

Bill Hosley, created the website “Creating Sense Of Place For CT” describes the appeal of antique homes: “It’s almost like asking why would anyone want to have children. Some don’t. But the value and necessity is beyond much debate. Stewardship is the heart of Historic Preservation and the basis of authenticity that is so fundamental to places worth caring about.”

Early Light Late

October 17, 2020

I drive this morning to see a client in the early bright light of late year.

The startling beauty of early light at 65 driving 65 miles per hour is made explosive by the trees that have all their leaves, but undeniably in mid-change.

I am old but seeing the beauty made by what has happened in the leaves, bright now brightly lit in time. We are given the beauty of age, to see the beauty of what is before us.

Like Faith, or children, or life itself, we can’t see as much early as we cannot avoid in time. Driving hard, on a road made 90 years ago through fallow open farmland, the travel may be through the fully treed landscape, from and towards, is inevitably about time.

The moment, becoming day. The year, becoming winter. The time – I am 65.

The joy of beginning is perhaps best known with a perceived end. The going is immediate, the start, is forgotten, but the end is undeniable.

Humanity is at the end of a year, in fear of the end of us – in America on cultural levels alongside a season of plague. Humanity is also at the ending of an epoch of religion, perhaps realizing the inevitability of faith.

Not much is known but the going.

An end is known, but what the end is is unknowable. It is hard to feel good about the unknowable, but we have no choice.

We have no choice but to feel the awe of low light, of the season changing, of the exquisite desperation of beauty. We have no choice other than faith. 

“…they do not spin…”

October 14, 2020

No, the flower is not a lily. But it is a Rescue Flower.

Bought for $5 from the back shed of a garden store, just prior to being put in the mulch pile, a few months ago, a fairly dead hanging plant was at the right price. And a summer of MiracleGro inorganic, industrial grade, feeding and the one spot of sun on our near 2 acres, transferred it, and a bunch of other Rescue Flowers for a full season of blooming, for a gardener that loathes feeding, weeding, and all the things gardeners are supposed to love.

I love fixing. The 23 “gardens” (or 27 if you count the replanted failures) at our place are really impositions of desired plants supplanting (no pun intended) indigenous poison ivy, jewel weed, and sumac. They survive or die, unwatered, unweeded, but loved A few even flower in a dark, salty, rock filled landscape.

But that’s not the point.

Beyond my planting nothing that grows on our place cares anything about anything except growing. “Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they toil not, neither do they spin…”. They have one life purpose: Life.

We, on the other hand, care deeply, fully, maniacally, about purpose and outcomes. I care that these plants are not mulch. I care, even though I used pretty heinous means, that they flower.

It gives me unexpected joy. Every day.

So much so that I will miss them when gone, even though I understand that they will be gone, soon.

Maybe it is that I intervened, I saved, I nurtured and I allowed extension of life even though we simultaneously cut down a blighted 180 year old maple and see that the plague just keeps ravaging along. Oh, and Corona19.

In a sea of 2020, our intentions mean almost zero. Our desired outcomes are either dumbed down to distantly seeing a couple of friends, or we congratulate ourselves for our careful responses and thoughtful meanings applied to this complete freak show.

But I do like the flowers. They are, well, beauty. In a sea of not beauty.

This will be over. Hell, all of our lives will be over soon enough. But “over” is not the issue, either.

What is the meaning of even these patrician problems? I see no meaning other than beauty. And God. Who made the fact that I love flowers (that are given to me) for zero discernible meaning other than its undeniable joy. No matter who is on the Supreme Court or elected President.

I was completely transfixed at a 3 year old playing with her mother’s hair in the safely distanced, outdoor waiting line at Starbucks this week. She just loved her mon. Her mom’s hair. The morning. She was safe, and loved. We are all she, we just forget.

For each moment, we are safe, and loved. In a sea of noise and threat. In the aggregation of tempestuous fears, we only have the fears that flowers cannot see, let alone care about. We can lose ourselves in these righteous fears.

Or we can see the lilies and play with our mother’s hair..

Paved With Good Intentions

October 4, 2020

Our lives consist of intentions and outcomes. We just confuse the two.

It has been a season of reaction. We are Covid-born out of control, so we desperately try to claim it back with politics, judgement and righteousness in our affect and announcements.

The president getting sick is now Devine moral judgement. He is reaping what he has sowed. He is fulfilling Karma. We have gotten what we wished for: Justice.

Or:

He is courageously working and showing his strength. He is a victim of others’ hate and is repaying it with untiring effort from the hospital.

But his intentions (for good or ill) have caused a flood of outcomes that are completely self justified. All of those involved, all of us, are people – the outcome of a creation so complex that we will not be distracted from our outcomes by considering it’s intentions.

What we believe is becoming what we do, without actually doing much of anything at all. Vile and violent Internet anger, hugely silent, fully engrossing, effecting anger, umbrage and glee is enough for more and more of us,

Our lives before the Internet were full on about outcomes. What school. What job. What spouse. What house. What resume.

Virtue signaling in extremis, in the full flowering of social media has made intentions pre-eminent in more lives. Not being a “Racist.” “Socialist.” “Snowflake.” and declaring that others are is justification.

But feeding the poor, comforting the afflicted, protecting the weak are outcomes, not intentions. Wanting to do something or valuing it, is not doing it.

And stupidities in life are not sentences, either. Prior bad acts do do cancel your worth in God’s eyes, or mine, but make you irretrievable in the minds of more and more.

Matasticizibg around Donald Trump, a Human, hatred of those hating him and plain old hating him, fully expresses our righteousness, to a point of extreme happiness at his illness or anger at those happy at his fallen state.

When I reminded folk of the danger of hate by stealing the line “I like presidents who do not get Covid.” in memory of the words used against John McCain being captured in war, those reading it on Facebook launched into hatred and death wishes towards Donald Trump , or were outraged that I had shown hatred toward the President. (Which I did not.)

Intentions are not outcomes, but they become that when thought gives way to reactions. We pave the way away from what we know to what we want. We want control, but we know that we do not have it.

Perhaps that faith in intentions is why faith in God is seen as insufficient for more people. Acknowledging inadequacy without losing your mission and values is a hard task without Faith that something is more important than you, and the you’s everywhere around you that validate, anger, depress or inspire you.

Our intentions are almost meaningless without any outcomes, but the hard fact is that your outcomes lose meaning unless they fulfill your intentions.

Is our intention to be protected, or to be be free, or both? Is our outcome to be loved, or to be able to love, or both? Is our life, limited as it is, about expression or about giving, or both?

Rather that living outcomes or intentions, why not live both?

The Power Of Absence

September 27, 2020

We have been absent from each other, famously, these last two seasons.

But we have been closer to ourselves. Sometimes depressingly so.

In this sequestration suicides are up, divorces are up, and anger is blowing up in ways that challenge the Hell status of 1968.

We were, for a season, outlawed from going to many places, as disease would spread. Then we were allowed to do some things in some places for some of us. Numbers limited, spacing enforced. We were not alone, it was each of us completely changing our lives for the rest of us. We are allowed to do even more in this season, but the limits have succeeded in relieving fear in most people. But not all.

Worshipping together was among the worst offenders of our social liability. Right up there with movies, and probably more people in New England go to movies than religious services.

Where I attend, a church that seats 1,000, 50 can, now, come together.safely distanced. Masked. Hands disinfected. Walking up and down the right aisles.

The first gatherings in 4 months were once a month. No singing, no recitation, no Eucharist, just listening. I have never heard an organ as well as these mornings. It was good. 20 would come In these 2 months. Now, in the fall season, it is every week, and a few more come. We engage light common reading. Today a distant voice sang a hymn alone.

We wept.

But even together, we are alone. Three weeks ago, a stranger rode his bike to the front of the church, where I offer masks, gloves and disinfectant. He stopped, on the plaza in front of the front doors, bowed his head for 5 minutes. He looked up,  I waived, he nodded. And biked away.

Last week he rode up to the side, not before me, but alone, sat on the bike, and was silent, head bowed, for 10 minutes. He raised his head.  I said “Next week?” He nodded, and left on his brightly yellow bike.

This week, after others came up to the church’s front door and asked for a meal, a mask, the Rector, the biker showed up, 10 minutes into the service, and immediate said “Can I leave my bike here?”

“Sure.”

He came up the steps, had a Security Guard uniform on. I asked “You want to bring the bike up into the lobby?” (I knew “Narthex” was nothing that meant anything to him.)

“No.”

“No problem, I will watch it.”

He went in, leaving his lock on the bike frame. I watched his bike. He stayed for 15 minutes, before the service ended.

“See you next week.” I said.

“Thanks.” and rode off.

We are now over 30 folks being together each Sunday, in absence.

Riding the bike of sleep, every night, my daily insanely vivid dreams have transitioned from the night terrors that were with me every night for 60 years. Now, sagas of depth, imagery, even thoughtfulness are disturbing in their complexity, sound, story. Alone, in sleep, I connect to something. It is of me, but not me. I am on a bike of my making, sleep, but my mind is not planning, executing, doing, as I am now.

When life imposes absence upon us, we can curse it, violate it and attempt to force what was onto what is.

Or we can listen.

“Accessory” HOME

September 22, 2020

NOON THURSDAY SEPTEMBER 24! LIVE! 89.5FM, STREAMING wpkn.org

Forgive the sexism, but once upon a time it was said that “A man’s home is his castle.” That ownership imperative meant that “Single Family Zoning” was the Law of Suburban America for three generations after World War 2. In the 21st century, Climate Change, Sustainability, New Urbanism and now COVID 19 have all raised the question of “Density” – more people living on each acre of land.

Connecticut has some of the most established and built-out suburban communities in America. There is now precious little land left for residential development – so little that “tear-downs” has become a word. That scarcity has meant that housing costs, and taxes, are among the highest anywhere in the country as well.

When need butts up against opportunity change happens. But change, as someone once said, is hard. In the light of a pandemic the density of living in mid and high rises in New York City is now newly dangerous. In the full apprehension of climate change more people living closer together creates less carbon and thus lessening the cost on infrastructure. The competition between property value and social good is coming to a head in one building type, not new, but newly important.

Across the country the legality of “Accessory Dwelling Unit”’s (CDU) is being debated, and zoning laws changed. There is a growing drumbeat to modify local zoning codes to accept greater flexibility beyond the freestanding single-family home zoning that has dominated suburban life for three generations. The larger wheels of sustainability, diversity, and increasing the value of our homes have meant new ways of thinking about how we protect communities in the ways zoning codes restrict uses.

The issues are complex. What about the benefits of intergenerational living in one place? Why shouldn’t you be allowed to expand your home without “adding on” and killing trees and making massive homes? Should zoning promote income diversity? As parents age, and children cannot afford to live separately in Connecticut should several generations of families be allowed to live on one site in their own dwelling units?

Beyond that, the post pandemic economy will be different from the one we have now. We may need to expand the use of single-family homes to recognize home offices. Costs may increase to the point where the homes purchased generations ago provide an income stream (for both property taxes for towns and rental income for homeowners)?

As we come out of sequestration, get vaccinated, and look to the future, the landscape will change. Like the three bear’s porridge, the density of The City may be “too hot”, the isolation of the single-family home may be “Too Cold”, but something in between may be “Just Right”.

HOME PAGE welcomes those on the cutting edge of this evolving landscape: Homeowner Paul Czepiga knows the issue as one who is creating a “CDU” for his family, Joan Arnold directs Allied Community Enterprises in Westchester and has worked in all forms of housing prototypes and reinventions, and Carrie Makover is on the Fairfield Affordable Housing Committee, and served as a planner in Westport for over 11 years. JOIN US!

 

No Sense

September 19, 2020

Life is not politics.

That was not so obvious in these months. Everything is qualified (or disqualified) by whether you want the President to be our president or not. There is less and less tolerance, more and more nullification of any validity of any credibility depending on what you believe was best for our government. People speak of revolution and “saving our country” and fascism – when we are having an election in a month.

But love does not respect those concerns.

We are not built by our beliefs, efforts, or achievements. We are made, wholly by things we cannot explain. Sure, a sperm meets an egg, a cell divides, a being results. But the complexities of what we see, feel and do has no legitimate causation, no formula of manufacture.

We are not the sum of our parts, we are the mystery of life. To me that means we are children of God. Answerable to the completely impossible possibilities of love and sacrifice. That we are all given.

Antonin Scalia and Ruth Bader Ginsberg were fully politicized. One was a rock of conservative thought, the other an icon of liberal theory. Both went through the full vetting and voting of the US government to be on the highest court we created. Both got over 90 votes out of 100. Both never let a contested decision go uncommented upon, with extreme rigor and passion. This was serious business. The future of our culture was being wrecked or saved by their votes – and they almost always disagreed.

And they loved each other.

Why? One a robust Catholic, fully Christian. The other a devoted and observant Jew. One a hunter. The other a thinker. One a white male in a time when we ruled. The other a woman in a time of oppression and prejudice.

But they loved each other.

Those who knew them say they loved opera, food, and, of course the law. But that is not why they and their spouses loved being together.

They laughed.

In the dark, intense moralizing of knowing and imposing the Truth through Law, the intense arguments of history and logic, the ethical breast beating of dogged belief, they just loved each other.

It is because, in the end, they knew that their passions did not define them. God had already done that. You can laugh when you know that while you may know your truth, the greater truth is not yours to know. The greater truth is our humanity, and that is the clearest ring of God’s bell that we can hear.

There is no reason to laugh. Pain, injustice, fear, danger is all around us, every day – amped up by our megaphones in technology and systems.

But we laugh.

It makes no sense.

If the world was ours to make we would do nothing but make it, be with those who wish to make it the way we wish to make it. We would not waste our time, denigrate it, even validate what we reject, by being with it.

But they loved each other.

My best friend in high school was fairly much oppositional to me. I volunteered to be in NROTC (unsuccesfully). She wanted the soldiers out of Vietnam. Now. I loved football, deeply. She hated it. She had a near ideal family. I was alone.

But we love each other, after 50 years.

We do not choose love, it chooses us. Because God made us, not we ourselves. We simply can effect the gifts that we were given and refined, or not. We can close our minds to others because it threatens our belief in our righteousness.

Or we can love those we love. Not everyone. (Sorry, Jesus). But we can love those that for no reason are dear to us.

The greater truth reunited Ruth and Antonin yesterday.

I know they are laughing.