Archive for May, 2011

An eternal presence in the Eternal City

May 27, 2011

I am vacationing in the Eternal City of Rome, Italy. The Romans believed that Rome would always exist as the ruler of its empires so that is why it is called the Eternal City. Rome continues its eternal presence in the world, but its empire consists only of a frenzied concoction of busy streets, closely stacked buildings, and crumbling ruins. Within all of this confusion, though, is a populace of people who work hard, play hard, and take siestas.

I visited the Colosseum and its neighbors, Palatine Hill and The Forum. The Colosseum was not the most important part of Roman rule, but it gets the most press. It is a vast stadium (not much unlike the present day football stadiums) where gladiators (usually slaves and criminals) dealt death to each other and thousands of animals captured and imported from faraway lands. It was difficult to find quiet and silence among the hundreds of people visiting, but it was too easy to imagine that I still heard the cacophony of cheers and jeers that smothered the weeping and cries of the condemned. Looking down, I could see the walls and corridors where the animals were kept. They must have been consumed with confusion, fear, and rage. None of them would live to return to their homeland.

These games ended about 1500 years ago, but we still like to gather in stadiums and witness victory and defeat in the fields below. The difference is that most of our gladiators will live to fight another day and retire into old age.

Only a few of the homes and buildings of Palatine Hill and The Forum, where Roman law was enacted and high society lived, still exist. The foundations of long-deceased structures can still be seen in the ground as excavators sweep away years of sand and grass. My eyes consume the same scenes as ancient Romans: the Colosseum in the distance, the bricks of the house of Octavius Augustus Caeser, a stark and brilliant sun in a sky-blue heaven . . . it is the same, but it is different.

We are different, but we are the same as those Romans. We are still barbaric in the way we feast upon the misfortunes and deaths of others, yet we have built an infrastructure of sewers and cities that are marvels and miracles. The Romans built their plumbing from lead, however, and it is supposed that many of the elite suffered from lead poisoning. We, too, have poisoned ourselves and continue to do so in ways we have yet to discover.

My presence here feels like a weary breath. We are revisiting what we have already created once–a way of being that did not . . . could not . . . last. My question is: can we restructure what we have built or do we let it crumble into ruins to build upon it again?

©2011 by Barbara L. Kass

The presence of me

May 21, 2011

I wonder where our old ways of being end up after we have let go of them?

We all have habits, attitudes, and personas that we embrace and reflect, calling these features our “personality.” Some people cling to their personality no matter what the cost even when it does not serve them well, but others of us only tolerate our ways of being until something better comes along. Life demands growth. Some of this growth is manifested in physical changes, but most of it is a remodeling of our internal structures out of experience, necessity, or enlightenment. Who we were one moment ago is suddenly awkward and out of place. We discard the facets that no longer fit.

I used to smoke cigarettes. And I wasn’t casual about it either. I was a deadly serious smoker. Two packs a day for 16 years. When I was 28, my life circumstances congealed into this mass of complication that made smoking uncomfortable, inconvenient, and unnecessary.

I was serious about quitting, too. It took me four years and all sorts of experimental new behaviors before I knew I would never pick up another cigarette. I was six months into being a nonsmoker when the realization hit me that I was finished with cigarettes. I no longer desired to inhale smoke and nicotine, nor did I miss twirling a cigarette between my fingers. I knew my withdrawal and adaption to being a nonsmoker was complete when I no longer felt as if I was going to strangle any person who looked at me crossways. At that moment, I discovered that the old wives’ tale was really true: smoking does stunt your growth. I was happy to embrace the new non-smoking me. The me who I became then has lived life in a way that the smoking-me never could have.

But I still wonder where that smoker person I used to be ended up – the one who never went anywhere without cigarettes and a Flick-your-Bic lighter. And where is her cousin . . . the one who walked around flexing her fists and making red-hot eye contact with anyone who dared speak a contrary word?

Are they waiting in some kind of life antechamber for the next unsuspecting soul who requires a method to make it through adolescence? That is why I started smoking in the first place. The high school I went to was more of a teenage zoo where the teachers and principal were sometimes worse than the students. Smoking put me inside a crowd where most of those nitwits did not want to venture. I needed to cope and smoking-me came into my life. Her cousin came along to reinforce her presence. Anytime I did not have a cigarette when I wanted one, the cousin would twitch and snarl until I fed her some nicotine.

I have no desire to ask them to come back, but their absence makes me wonder: what other ways of being am I ready to say goodbye to? And because life is ruled by the third law of Newton’s physics: to every action there is always an equal and opposite reaction, I have to believe that there are other me’s waiting for me to invite them into my life.

Okay, this blog is already too long and I have digressed in three different ways. More to explore in the days to come – I need to visit that antechamber and meet me.

©2011 by Barbara L. Kass

The presence of cycles

May 12, 2011

Last week, I had a birthday. My best friend from high school sent me an e-card that encouraged me to celebrate completing “another trip around the sun.”

All this time, I have been doing nothing more than running around in a big circle. Two circles, actually.

It’s a pretty fast ride. First, the earth is skyrocketing around the sun at about 67,000 miles per hour. Second, our solar system is rotating around the center of the Milky Way galaxy at about 490,000 miles per hour.

At the same, time we are spinning on our axis at about 1,070 miles per hour (although the people at the poles travel slower because their circle is smaller . . . and, no, it does not make you age any slower).

Motion on such a grand scale feels as if I am standing still, yet I am attached and very much a part of these cycles. Motion on a molecular level (my cells dividing, consuming, dying) also feels like I am standing still. I can honestly say that I have never felt my body produce a skin cell.

But I can feel the momentum of one brilliant flash of insight and I am never the same again, no matter how hard I try to go back to me. I am simultaneously more and less than I was the moment before. Some neural energy reached across a synapse and sealed my consciousness to something new . . . something more than I used to be. At the same time, that connection loosens its hold on something I no longer need to be.

The earth is never the same from one day to the next either. The sun has spent energy that it can never recover. Minute by minute, the sun is diminished. I say this, but it would not surprise me if someday we discover that the sun is actually refueling itself. We are just so limited in our human minds that what we cannot conceive must not exist, and that is why we come to many of our erroneous conclusions about our existence.

Back to my point. My cycle of existence is very much a part of, within, connected to, and sustained by the cycles and circles of galaxies and a sun that burns so fiercely, it sustains life 93,000,000 miles away. This immense power has always sustained me and always will. I am changing, evolving, becoming just the same as any star in the universe.

To complicate matters, our Milky Way is zinging its way toward a specific point in the universe. I hope I am ready once we get there.

©2011 by Barbara L. Kass