A welcome to readers

As a resident of this planet for more than four fifths of a century, I have enjoyed both successes and disappointments in a wide variety of vocations, avocations, and life experiences. This blog satisfies my desire to share some thoughts and observations--trenchant and prosaic--with those who are searching for diversions which are interesting, poignant and occasionally funny. I also plan to share recommendations about good/great movies I've watched and books and articles which I've found particularly mind-opening, entertaining, instructive. In addition, I can't pass up the opportunity to reflect publicly on how I am experiencing the so-called Golden Years. Write anytime:

Friday, November 1, 2013


A day or two ago, as is my habit, I went to Starbucks at 6:45 am for a cup of Pikes Place and, hopefully, some conversation with friends or the young baristas who know me so well and laugh at my lame early morning attempts at humor. It was a grey morning, drizzling, cold, and overcast, and I could see my breath for the first time this winter. As I approached the cheery, lighted facade of the warm store, inhaling as I did the goodness of baked bagels from Einstein's Bagel Bakery next door, I spotted a man sitting on one of the new outside "all weather" couches that the company recently installed in its attempt to improve the seating options for its customers. 

The man was dressed in a grey, old fashioned overcoat, buttoned to the top with collar up. Stubble covered his coarse red cheeks, and he was drinking a Venti coffee. I looked his way and greeted him with a typical "Hey, how's it going?" and was surprised by his answer.  "Great," he replied, "I've got my coffee here to warm my belly." "I'm homeless, you know,  but don't let that scare you." 

His coffee breath came out in great puffs.  So, I asked, "So, how'd ya like another?" and he replied, "That'd be great. With cream and sugar, if ya don't mind." Minutes later I emerged from the store with his coffee and mine, handed him his steaming white cup, which he took  as he held out his other hand for me to shake, saying "Thanks.  My street name's Kenny, from County Kilkenny in Ireland, but my real name's Mark." 

When I heard that his name was the same as mine, I was instantly overcome with some indefinable emotion, spontaneous, deep, and immediate. I choked up and felt my tears begin to flow. Quickly, with an embarrassment engendered in early childhood ("Johnson men don't cry"),  I wished him "Be well," and headed for my car, hot tears streaming down my face.There I sat for a while without turning on the ignition, let the tears run their course, watching the emergence of the pink dawn over the King Sooper sign, while pondering what in the world had hooked my emotions so deeply.

I guess the honest answer is that I have always known that there is only a hair's breadth  of difference between my life with its moderately comfortable status and a life of being homeless or worse, and that my condition is mostly a matter of luck, genetics, time and place of birth, and some good fortune (yes lots of hard work and skill too) along the way. But it is tenuous at best/

I have often thought since I retired and was no longer able to generate new  income that it wouldn't take too much of a hiccup in the Stock Market to render me penniless--as 2002 and 2008 demonstrated. While the specter of being penniless and of living in a cardboard box under I-25 is not likely to become a reality, sometimes --like my chance meeting  with the "other Mark"--  I realize that I do not devote enough time and attention to being grateful for so much that I do have and enjoy in my life whose existence has been totally out of my control.

This morning while enjoying a hot shower for example, I reminded myself that there are countless millions who do not have running water, hot or cold. That took me to thinking about my warm apartment with its soft mattress, of the clean clothes I was about to put on, and the plentiful, hot oatmeal breakfast I was going to enjoy(?) with fresh apples and prunes brought from Kings Sooper nearby.

Those thoughts, in turn, made me realize how fortunate I am to have been born in America, to have been the wrong age to fight in wars, to have been born with all my limbs in tact, to have reasonable eyesight and hearing, a body free from inherited disease, and only a minor non-fatal flaw in my heart. All these are quite out of my control or choosing.  I was born to non-addicted parents who had worked hard and made enough money to send me to college, who valued and passed on to me  their love of books and education and music, and civility. Also out of my control was the fact of being born in the USA, upper middle class, and white, with a family name that was mostly untarnished by the deeds of my ancestors (so I was really free to be me). I didn't have to live down anything--although I did have lots to live up to.

I was also blessed with a magnificent marriage, two healthy, productive, compassionate, responsible and stable daughters, wonderful pets, great employment, invigorating and loyal friends, and on and on. The voyage of my life has, in large measure, been on a ship which I did not build, which I have mostly  tried to keep repaired while underway, and which I've barely been able to steer through oceans and weather patterns out of my control toward an unknown destination.

So, this morning, All Saints Day, I celebrate all the Saints in my life--past and present--who have helped keep my little ship safe, mostly dry, sails mended, and I also celebrate and give thanks for my blessings, especially the unearned ones.

And speaking of voyaging through life, here's some food for the trip.

For the Traveler

Every time you leave home,
Another road takes you
Into a world you were never in.

New strangers on other paths await.
New places that have never seen you
Will startle a little at your entry.
Old places that know you well
Will pretend nothing
Changed since your last visit.

When you travel, you find yourself
Alone in a different way,
More attentive now
To the self you bring along,
Your more subtle eye watching
You abroad; and how what meets you
Touches that part of the heart
That lies low at home:

How you unexpectedly attune
To the timbre in some voice,
Opening in conversation
You want to take in
To where your longing
Has pressed hard enough
Inward, on some unsaid dark,
To create a crystal of insight
You could not have known
You needed
To illuminate
Your way.

When you travel,
A new silence
Goes with you,
And if you listen,
You will hear
What your heart would
Love to say.

A journey can become a sacred thing:
Make sure, before you go,
To take the time
To bless your going forth,
To free your heart of ballast
So that the compass of your soul
Might direct you toward
The territories of spirit
Where you will discover
More of your hidden life,
And the urgencies
That deserve to claim you.

May you travel in an awakened way,
Gathered wisely into your inner ground;
That you may not waste the invitations
Which wait along the way to transform you.

May you travel safely, arrive refreshed,
And live your time away to its fullest;
Return home more enriched, and free
To balance the gift of days which call you.

~ John O'Donohue ~

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