I noticed him as soon as we parked. Short and bent, his lank mane of greying hair and months-old beard spilled over a loose black rain jacket that appeared to be fashioned out of a can liner. I remember noting that he carried nothing.
Let’s talk about this year for a moment, shall we? Wait, you’re burned out on that? One more 2020 meme and you might junk social media for good? I understand, I do. But the below is a conversation that seems to be showing up just about everywhere in my life right now, and I think it merits unpacking.
I finished a nine day cleanse yesterday, and to celebrate I walked myself around the park (naturally). This was the only movement I had any real energy for, and even then I could only manage one loop.
The temperature was perfect on my arms. I let myself feel it. The sun was as soft as warm cotton, the grass smelling of seed. The soccer kids were all practicing their artful crosses, balls sliding into goals. Perfect.
Most of the cleanse felt nothing like this.
The other day I drove home from work with the radio on as usual, avoiding potholes and generally disappearing into the glaze of sun off my windshield. The sky pulsed blue and dogs lifted their legs at trees. A summer evening like many others.
I made it home as usual and parked. My partner, Kate, appeared from behind the front hedge with her bike. I got out of the car to greet her.
If you’ve been watching the news, you know that Portland has had a hard time of it over the past months. Our downtown, once an eclectic hub, is now a dystopian pantomime. There appears to be conflict everywhere. A lot of us are homeless and others unemployed, writing our futures not in pencil but in sidewalk chalk that fades fast with the rain.
On nice evenings the park two blocks away fills up with people enjoying the outdoors. They circle with their dogs, sit on benches, and spread out their picnics. It’s essentially a Norman Rockwell scene with every turn of the path. Or as close to Rockwell as gritty Portland, Oregon, will ever get.
There are daredevils at the skate park and high schoolers playing a pick-up game of sand volleyball. I sit on the hill above them to watch these youngsters fly up concrete walls and fling themselves into volleyball nets, reminding the rest of us what it is to inhabit a body so new it can still forget its edges.
I believe that as humans we are built for all things. All feelings. All experiences. I believe this with the fervor of someone who has swung the pendulum of experience pretty wildly for most of my 40 or so years.
Joy. Passion. Victimhood. Oppressive control. Hilarity. Co-dependency. Murderous rage. Apathy. Profound, spine-tickling inspiration. The range of experience here on earth is enormous, and we are wired for all of it.
I first heard this poem about the cow that eats all day, only to starve at night on her fear, when I was in my mid-twenties and searching.
A man read it aloud on a CD in that lilting, irregular way Rumi is often performed. I hated the poem when I first heard it. The stanzas made me ache with self-recrimination. How often had I been this cow? Safe when I trusted, but oh when I fed on doubt…
The world of woo has changed pretty radically in the past 10-20 years. Slowly, surely the occult has become less other, and today we have influencers and celebrities freely endorsing their preferred mediums and shamans. CEOs now take vision quests and share these experiences with their leadership teams. Certain astrologers and their kin have even become celebrities themselves. Practices that were once strictly supernatural have become… well, kinda super regular.