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I’m blind as a bat

Friends Meeting: the B sides

#2 A dream from November 15th 2007

Good morning friends. I had a dream this past Thursday night which troubled me.

Earlier that day I saw and read some things which trouble me too. But it was not until after I awoke from my dream, and sat down to ponder and write that a few loose ends got tied together.

Because of my recent divorce, and because of uncertainty about funding for my current job, I’ve been a bit depressed lately.  Last week my now-ex-wife and I came to an agreement on alimony, and then we got divorced.  What seemed like an impossible negotiation just fell into place, I suppose, because we talked and listened to each other. 

A few friends of mine here at meeting asked me about all this, expressing their concerns, and one friend told me by email that they were holding me and Kathy in the light. I emailed back last Thursday evening that apparently holding someone in the light just might work because the divorce went more smoothly than I could have ever expected.  It included me giving Kathy a ride to and from the courthouse, and what one might expect to be the most awkward, painful and silent car ride, to and from a divorce, for the most part turned out to be a leisurely conversation about her higher power – Buddhism, and mine – Quakerism.  I definitely did not plan that.

At any rate, now that I’ve signed and sworn, I mean affirmed, before a judge that I will pay a sizeable sum every month, I get to worry about losing my job in the volatile biotech market, and then not be able to pay that monthly sum on unemployment assistance which would pay only half my salary.

That’s depressing.

But I ask my higher power for help to keep putting one foot in front of another, even at a job which I don’t know will exist 7 weeks from now.

I also follow through on my basic habits of exercise, prayer and meditation, and 12 step meetings.

On my way into work I wondered where I might go to a 12 step meeting tonight. Around 10 am I got a call from a friend in my 12 step program asking me if I could lead a commitment to an inpatient program at a Veterans Admin hospital, and find a guest speaker.  The recovering addict who normally covered that presentation was sick and wondered if I could take care of it on such short notice.  I thought to my self: I guess now I know where I’m going to a 12 step meeting tonight.  I made a few phone calls and lined it up.

During my lunch break I read about an investigation into Veteran Suicides conducted by CBS. http://www.alternet.org/blogs/video/67852/

A recent Veteran Affairs Department estimate says some 5,000 ex-servicemen and women will commit suicide this year, largely as a result of mental health issues, and Keteyian says, "Our numbers are much higher than that, overall."

My reaction was “Holy Shit!”  I thought I was used to bad news and expecting more bad news, but even I get surprised sometimes.

I continued through my day.

My first attempt at an experiment, transient oxidative stress on H9C2 cells was partially successful.  And I know I won’t be bored tomorrow.

I jogged after work, a cheery new England autumn run, in dark cool rain.  I remembered to stretch.  I grabbed fast food on the way to meet my guest speaker for the commitment.

And all of a sudden I find myself shaking hands with a few patients at the V.A. while I’m set up meeting lists and literature for our 12 step fellowship.  Generally the vets are glad to see our commitment come in, and it is kind of a subdued group, understandably because we are in a hospital, hello?!  But tonight there were a few men who seemed more responsive and optimistic.

I always feel a little intimidated when sharing my story of recovery from drug addiction, but I asked a higher power for help and I meditated a little bit while my friend shared his familiar story first, and that helped.

I wanted to emphasize that beyond not using drugs, a whole new life is possible for anyone who wants it.  I tried to describe how by changing my habits and behaviors and attitudes one step at a time, one day at a time has added up.  And that asking for help can mean prayer and meditation, talking to a sponsor, seeing my therapist, or asking a doctor for help, and following directions.

I have some practice at speaking about recovery, and there are guidelines, including 12 traditions on how to do it.  But occasionally I worry about how what I say might be received.  I often include this momentous truth, which I actually borrowed from a grand-sponsee: “I did not quit using drugs, I surrendered”. 

I can not imagine how “surrender” might sound to veterans.  I just know that for recovery it’s the key, so I try to explain it and give some personal examples. The 12 traditions also stop me from endorsing any outside enterprise, and so I'm not inclined to tell them about how Quakerism has helped me recently, but then again, that might be as well received as the concept of surrender!

Apparently our one hour presentation was appreciated because we got more handshakes and a “thanks for coming out here on such a miserable night”.  I thanked my co-speaker and drove home.

Reading some of Marcus Aurelius’ meditations before bed sometimes feels like a chore, but again the habits help me through.  Every now and then the emporer and stoic philosopher has a quote that grabs me:

Adapt yourself to the environment in which your lot has been cast, and show true love to the fellow mortals with whom destiny has surrounded you.

Book 6, #39

I guess I chose Aurelius’ mediations because of its classical reputation and apparently stoic philosophy had a large influence on early Christianity.  Henry James wrote about Aurelieus’ statue in Rome: ‘in the capital of Christendom, the portrait most suggestive of a Christian conscience is that of a pagan emporer’.

Finally I drifted off to sleep and had a dream.

I was somehow following the footsteps of my brother who graduated from West Point. In fact I had enquired with a guidance counselor about the military academy when I was a senior in high school but for various reasons never followed through with that. 

I’m not sure how much this might have been an excuse, but one source of self-doubt arose from an eye injury I have. Around age 10 or 11 when I asked my parents about whether or not my eye injury might stop me from being a marine corps pilot like my father, my mother suggested that perhaps I had an eye injury because God had other plans for me.

Getting back to my dream, I was going through the motions of some kind of military training, but it was not quite real.  Somehow I was told that it was more of a practice run, that I might not actually go to war like everyone else, but that at some point I could choose to or not.

So I followed along the training and apparently did pretty well at it.  After a period of isolation from outside influences, and after progressing in the military drills, I was allowed some contact with family.  And there seemed to be some expectation from the instructors that a certain momentum would just keep me going to “decide” to go to war.  I wondered if my family also had this expectation.

And right about the time I was to call my family in my dream I woke up.

The pieces of my day slowly came together.

One realization was that there was a new presence at the VA.  The men who were more responsive and optimistic were young.

Young like the statistic about how the 20 to 24 year old age group of Vets has the highest risk of suicide.  It was particularly veterans of the Global War On Terror who are most likely to kill themselves.

I had just shaken hands with some of them, patients in a mental ward at a V.A. hospital and I was only vaguely aware of the significance of this.  While “just doing my job”, a volunteer job, I had seen in real life a connection to what had been a statistic in the news.

I’m blind as a bat! 

All kinds of things happen right in front of me and I have no clue what they mean.

A field of blue stained nuclei appear in front of me in the dark room where I use the fluorescence microscope at work and I don’t bother to interpret them.  I just take the photos from each well and I’ll get to them later. It’s a process, and I trust that method eventually pays off.

I pondered more pieces of the day’s puzzle.  Something else has been bothering me, and what was it?

Adapt yourself to the environment in which your lot has been cast, and show true love to the fellow mortals with whom destiny has surrounded you.

Marcus Aurelius, you wrote this in camp with your legions by the Danube after crushing the revolt of Avidius Cassius, and then fought barbarians.  Do you really have any clue how to show true love to the fellow mortals with whom destiny has surrounded you?!

And you and your stoic philosophy has such a stamp over the earlier oriental mysticism, the roots of Christianity.

An ability to kill for the state, fight for the glory of Rome, and yet talk about loving your fellow mortals I suppose is indeed quite useful for American Christianity.

But what if I surrendered instead?

And asked for guidance, and ‘practice these principles in all of my affairs’? 

Could I find a way to communicate with those who disagree with me?

And would we find a way to come to an agreement?

And pledge in a neutral court of law to follow it?

And with God’s help pay alimony, even if I’m afraid of losing my income?

I suppose I can do that, one day at a time.




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