Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Farewell to One of My Own

When I sat down to think about it today, I realized I didn’t know how old he was. Between my decaying brain cells and the sheer numbers of animals we have called family, the exact adoption dates have blurred and jumbled in my mind. He was seventeen. Born sometime in the spring of 1989.

In those days, we were the keepers of one very homesick niece who had moved halfway across the country to make a point to her parents…and came to live with us. In an effort to cheer her up, we got her a kitten. She and her uncle cleaned up this tiny, flea-infested scrap of fur…indeed, nearly killed him with an overdose of pesticides, trying to rid him of his cast of thousands. Then she considered the now soggy, slightly groggy mite, with an eye toward giving him a name. Upon hearing his tiny, high-pitched kitten squeak, she laughed. "I was going to call him Willie (after Willem Defoe, her then-favorite screen star), but he sounds more like Beaker (after Muppet character Dr. Bunsen Honeydew’s language-challenged sidekick.)" So Beaker it was.

But even the little mostly-white-with-a-striped-tail-and-matching-nose-splotch kitty couldn’t entice the niece out of her funk. Before he reached his first birthday, his young mom packed up and moved back to the midwest (where she promptly got another cat, which she did name "Willie." Who, coincidentally, died just last month.) Beaker was left behind like a discarded toy. It was a less than amicable parting, and we had to fight with her to keep her from packing him off to the shelter (out of spite?) instead of leaving him in our care, in the only home he’d ever known, where he was perfectly welcome to stay. Eventually she relented, and left him with us to raise as one of our own. And so we did.

We had read all the books when we brought him home. And all the books said to put a pillow or a scrap of cloth in your new kitten’s bed to ease the loneliness he would feel being newly separated from Mom and littermates. So we put a gigantic red wool sock in his bed for him to snuggle. He nursed and nibbled on that old thing for months. Unfortunately, for the rest of his life, wool was Beaker’s "comfort food." We quickly learned to ascertain the fabric content of any upholstery or clothing material that might, unattended, find itself at the mercy of his oral fixation. He licked bald spots in wool rugs, gnawed wool fringe on pillows, and ate holes in my favorite wool jacket. He was like a giant furry moth with whiskers.

When Beaker was only a few months old, we acquired yet another member for our "pride"—a mink-tipped, blue-eyed little acrobat we named "Ming," but has been known for most of her life as "Bebe." From the moment she crossed the threshold, Beaker accepted her as his own personal kitten. The four older cats hissed at, spit at, or ignored the lowly youngsters. But they couldn’t have cared less. The two of them ate, played, and slept together, twenty-four/seven. Their favorite toy was a "Tinkerbelle": a little spot of light, either accidentally or purposely created, that inspires cats to fly off the ends of couches and skitter across glass end tables... I have archive footage of the two of them, rushing from one end of the living room to the other, up speakers, over television, across carpeting, chasing a flashlight beam.

And then there was "kitty fishing"—the toy which consisted of a pocket-sized fishing rod loaded with kitty bait, usually a feather or a catnip mouse, which you would cast across some large open space in the house—across the family room or down the hall. Then reel in any cat who happened to be in the vicinity. Beaker’s favorite lure was a giant jingle bell that had fallen off some ancient Christmas decoration. He would chase that bell until he was too tired to stand up. Eventually, that toy was lost in the bottom of a closet somewhere, but for years afterward, Beak would come running whenever he heard a bell jingle.

How the years have stacked up, one upon another, since those days. Beaker and his mates moved with us from that home to another, and another, and yet another. Hugged the woodstoves in dismal weather, stretched out in the rare sunspots on the winter carpet, sniffed at screen doors and raptly followed the ever-changing cast of Kitty TV in four different back yards. From the "pig tree" to the pines to the Dougs to the poplars. Chickadees and thrushes, finches and grosbeaks, hummers and squirrels, jays and siskins.

Upon the demise of our beloved Andrew—the last of our Illinois cats—Beaker stood to inherit the title of "alpha male" of our brood. He was fat, happy, middle-aged, and ready to rule the roost. But something went wrong. He suddenly dropped a bunch of weight, began to look hollow-eyed and scruffy. A trip to the vet told us he had developed diabetes. At the ripe old age of eleven, he began the two-shots-per-day insulin regimen that he would follow for the rest of his life. And so he became our "problem kitty." The diabetes gave him continence problems, an insatiable appetite and unquenchable thirst, and clouded his eyes with cataracts. Still, for five years, he lived quite comfortably in spite of his condition. Until a couple of months ago, when his appetite tailed off, his eyesight got noticeably worse, and he started having "spells" that were almost like seizures. The vet discovered gum disease and pulled two of his teeth, but warned us that there was probably something more sinister going on with him, since he was showing signs of kidney failure and was anemic. He was a sixteen-year-old cat who’d been an insulin-dependent diabetic for a third of his life. His systems were just starting to wear out.

Last week, it became obvious that old Mr. Beak was probably not going to last much longer. I laid him a bed of an old towel in his favorite spot—under the china cabinet in the dining room. From there, he still had a view of Kitty TV, was close to me as I prepared for my upcoming event, and the other cats could snuggle up to him and lick his head from time to time. He was just…winding down. Didn’t seem to be in any pain, really. I had it in my mind to let him go naturally, in familiar surroundings; spare him that traumatic last car trip to the vet.

But cats are so tough. They don’t let go of life easily. He lingered and lingered, dying by centimeters as the days passed. I had to leave for my job on Wednesday. I knew, one way or another, he wouldn’t be there when I got back. I crawled under the china cabinet, petted him and said goodbye. Told him to go ahead and join his brother Andrew, and grandpa (my dad), and that we knew he would be waiting for us on the other side of the bridge. Husband came home from work on Wednesday, saw how sick he was, and made the tough decision that I had been trying to avoid. He packed him in the cat carrier and took him out to the vet. Mr. Beak was too sick to object. And a few minutes later he died in his dad’s arms.

In the end, we broke down, pushed Nature aside and arranged the death of a beloved pet to fit our crowded schedules. I hate that life’s frantic busyness doesn’t allow us time to deal with the really important things. With all the other colliding agendae going on in our lives right now, neither of us had time to sit vigil beside a dying cat to ease him on his journey. But we didn’t want him to die alone.

I picture him today, sprawled on a wool rug, occasionally rousing himself to chase a gleaming fourteen-karat jingle bell cast by my dad’s expert hand…

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Have You Heard About It?

Inspired by the United Nations’ designation of June 26th as "International Day in Support of Survivors and Victims of Torture," a "who’s who?" list of national and international human rights groups have gathered to endorse June, 2006 as "Torture Awareness Month." Did you ever imagine, in your wildest dreams, that you would see such a grisly reprimand directed toward the United States of America? We were always the good guys, the liberators; the ones who shook our fingers at Moscow and Beijing and Hanoi. That halo turned brass a long time ago. But, apparently, there are those who prefer that Americans continue to think of ourselves as the guys in the white hats. How much have you heard or read about "Torture Awareness Month" in the American media to date? I personally learned about it from Andrea at A Small Group of Thoughtful Concerned Citizens.

Groups of no less stature than the American Civil Liberties Union, Amnesty International, and Human Rights Watch , to name just a few , have designated next month as a thirty-day campaign to focus awareness on the Bush Administration’s penchant for playing fast and loose with international law when it comes to torture. In woefully transparent stabs at political sleight of hand, our government has either shipped detainees off to other countries where torture is performed as a matter of course (a process known as "Extraordinary Rendition,") or simply declared prisoners "enemy combatants"—a designation invented by our government as a vehicle to strip detainees of their Geneva Convention rights as "Prisoners of War."

The Bush Administration has irredeemably damaged our stature among the nations of the world with its swaggering, ham-fisted, America-centric foreign policy. And we, the American citizenry, are guilty by association. As long as we find the truth too shocking or too depressing to contemplate; as long as we avert our eyes from the evil we know in our hearts is being perpetrated in our nation’s name--in our names; we might as well be applying the electrodes with our own hands.

Make some noise. Get involved. Make it stop.

Friday, May 19, 2006

And Now, We Wait...

I feel like I have just run a marathon. Today was THE day. The day to quit the hedging and second-guessing and put my money where my mouth is. Or, try to get someone to put money into my mouth. Or something.

This morning at 3 AM, I was stacking and patting down the last of the documents I had collected, copied, polished and printed for my presentation to the bank. To get the money. To buy the business. I had assembled, as best I could, snapshots of my life—old and new—that I hoped would tell the story of a competent, experienced restaurant manager on the threshold of realizing her lifelong dream of buying a place of her very own. It felt like walking down the runway in the bathing suit competition at a beauty pageant. Half-naked, exposed, wishing real life could be air-brushed…

I dragged myself out of bed at 8:30, attended to my chores, and rushed upstairs to get ready. It was so bizarre…superstition ruled my toilette. I hunted down my "lucky" shirt and built my dress-for-success outfit around it. I thought about lucky earrings, and realized I had one small pair left from the days of my late lamented dream job. They’re tarnished, bent and sticky with old hair-spray residue. But they had to be part of the ensemble. I even found, under my vanity, an old bottle of the cologne I used to wear back in those days. After a cursory test-sniff to determine whether it had gone off from age, I splashed that on as well. Liberally. Like holy water.

In the end, after all that trouble, I never even got to see the Loan Officer. She was busy with another client, so I just dropped off that folder full of my life’s blood at the front counter. She never saw my casual-yet-conservative power outfit, never glimpsed the sticky little onyx hearts that dangled from my ears, never got a whiff of Victoria’s Secret’s "Her Majesty’s Rose." It didn’t matter. All that mumbo jumbo had comforted me. It made me feel as if I had wrapped myself in a robe of positive ions. Old positive ions, but positive ions, nonetheless.

Arriving back home, I had a moment of panic that the ineffective-looking receptionist might not realize how hugely momentous was the information that I had entrusted into his hands. How direly it needed to be relayed to the all-powerful Loan Officer. I walked around the house,making coffee, scrounging up breakfast; but it was no good. I couldn’t get shed of that electric knife in my gut until I made the phone call. Called the Loan Officer, made sure she knew the packet—my life—was in her hands now. Casually, she laughed. "Oh, I haven’t seen it yet. They must have put it in my box." In your box? I wanted to scream. Go get it, woman! Have you no ken of how vital this is to the continued existence of the universe? But, no, that wouldn’t do. So I merely stuttered, "Well, I just wanted to make sure you knew I had dropped it off…"

I hung up the phone, and felt like all the air had just gone out of me. Like someone pulling the plug out of one of those big multi-colored punch balls we used to play with as kids. You’d pull out the cork, it would make that loud, flabby flatulence noise and go limp. And everybody would giggle.

Yep, all the spunk has just farted right out of me. Right now, I’m going to sit with my feet up and stare at…well, maybe nothing. Even television doesn’t sound appealing right now. I don’t want to think or worry or even move. For about an hour or so. And then I’ll blow some life back into myself, get up and go on to the next thing. Carrying around that little knot of apprehension in my stomach. Which is not likely to become untied until about 4:30 Monday afternoon. When I get to hear what fate the mighty Loan Officer has assigned my dream.

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

CBS Hearts Moms

I should know better than to watch anything on television that touts itself as a news program. This past weekend, it was CBS' "Sunday Morning" that curdled my non-dairy creamer. I'll assume Sunday's show was intended to be a Mothers' Day nod to American women. Charlie Osgood stepped aside in favor of veteran commentator Leslie Stahl. Happily, we were not regaled with 60's-esque segments on keeping your family happy, healthy, and well-fed, while remianing the petite size 4 that attracted the husband's lacivious eye at senior prom. Program directors are way too savvy for that, regardless of the political preferences evidenced by media ownership these days.

So what did the network deem of supreme interest to today's American woman? In one segment, a reporter displayed two different diamond engagement rings to interviewees and asked them to make certain judgments--about the man who gave the ring, the woman who accepted it, their relationship, and their social status --based on the relative sizes of the diamonds sported by each ring. Big rock--"He's got a good job." "He really loves her." "She's confident, knows what she wants." Little rock (less than 3 carats)--"Well, it's a nice promise ring" "He's trying, but not very hard." "She's a nice girl, not materialistic." Who knew that we were all wearing little crystal balls on our third finger, left hand? Oh..and the median cost of a diamond engagement ring in today's market is $4900 and change. Let's see...that would buy two dozen copies of my 1970's vintage bling.

And then there was the report on handbags, where we learned that a purse is not merely a purse, it's a status symbol. That the guts of your life--the fruit roll-ups, pampers, current novel, and the bic from the teller's counter at the bank--need to be enfolded in an artfully arranged assortment of fabric, leather, buckles, zippers, and handcuffs, preferably displaying a conspicuously evident designer logo, that cost roughly as much as my first new car. And that there are $12,000 handbags which women will endure the ignominy of being placed on a waiting list in order to possess.

I don't know...maybe we are not up for images ofwomen grieving at the gravesides of their young sons or daughters who returned from Iraq in flag-draped pine boxes, or mothers in Darfur lovingly cradling lethargic, emaciated, dying babies, at nine o'clock on a Sunday morning. But surely there is more to American women than this program--this disgusting celebration of shallow materialism and rampant consumerism--contrived to suggest.

I hope you had a happy Mothers' Day, America. And please, contact CBS News and let them know how much you appreciated their "gift."

Friday, May 12, 2006

Opposites Attract

red coil
steady glow
welcome reliable
burning warming
he is electricity

surging dying
too hot one minute
winking cool the next
she is fire

to him
she is wild
to her
he is constant

never quite comprehending
but forever

Thursday, May 11, 2006

Looking Forward Through the Past

Eleven years ago, the world I knew came to an end. In 1995, I might have been gearing up for my fortieth birthday, and all the changes, real or imaginary, that would take place in my life when I exited my thirties—the last decade during which I could be credibly called a "young" anything. Looking back, I sincerely wish that were all I had to worry about. Because my fortieth birthday in July of that year faded into the background of upheaval and grief that was the final desperate illness and death of my big sister. And my misguided notion that I needed to sink every ounce of strength I possessed into comforting and binding the wounds of her bereft family.

Another thing that got buried under that load of sorrow was the demise of my "dream job." After spending fifteen years bouncing around like a pinball on the game board of my chosen profession, in 1986 I fell, quite by accident, into the best job situation I had ever encountered. Possibly the best anyone could hope for. In the next eight years, I accomplished more than I ever thought I could, grew more and in more directions than I had ever thought possible, mentored and guided and taught, spoke my mind and worked my butt off. But I was good at what I did, I was successful at what I did, and for the first time in my life, I felt like I was fulfilling some kind of real purpose. I never realized how much employment success affected every aspect of life. I was happy at work, happy at home, outgoing and magnanimous and on top of the world.

Then the roof caved in. As it often does in the restaurant industry. Times change, fads fade, concepts come and go. When the corporation I worked for started to fall apart, the first guys to take the hit were we managers who had carried it to the top by the sweat of our brows and had been able, for a couple of years, to enjoy the fruits of our labors. All at once, we became an overpaid liability and were targeted for "redundancy," as the Brits so aptly put it. But it was not a quick and merciful severance. It was a traumatic, year-long pummeling process that felt like being beaten to death with a tack hammer. By the end of 1994, I was unemployed, exhausted, and emotionally trashed. And for a little extra added excitement, I was scheduled for major surgery.

I was still recovering from my own health disaster when my sister began her abrupt slide toward death in the early days of 1995. It could be argued that my sister’s illness "saved" me from going down into the pit of depression my own pack of troubles had been pushing me toward. I needed to rouse myself, stiffen my spine and "be there" for her and her family. That mission, that determination to be strong for someone else, actually kept me going for several years. I put my own trauma on the back burner, stepped up for the people who "needed me," and never looked back.

But my relationship to the working world never recovered. Still wounded and shell-shocked from the demise of my once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, I could never quite muster the confidence or the courage to get back on the horse and just…ride. I’d scramble up, but I’d jump off at the first sign of a rocky road. I changed horses so many times over the next several years that it got to the point where they would lock up the stables when they saw me coming. Eventually, the other half of my life began to fall apart, the part where I was supposed to be this rock of support for my sister’s husband and kids. Then, in 1999, my dad passed away, and my remaining sisters and I went through the tortures of the damned trying to deal with that loss.

As my relationship to my family took a nosedive, I realized that in the course of less than five years, I had lost virtually everything I believed I’d gained during that halcyon time when I felt like Queen of the World. I thought I had "arrived," but the place I’d arrived to had crumbled and faded before my very eyes. I was living the darker reality of the old cliché, "Life is a journey, not a destination." I tried to run away from my troubles with my family by running full-tilt back into the world of work. It was then that I found that I had no "world of work" to return to. I was pushing fifty, my resume was crap, and the doors of opportunity in the restaurant world, that I had always slipped through in the past, were only open to younger, happier people who weren’t afraid of their own shadows. Restaurant work is not for the faint of heart.

I tried office work for awhile, attracted by the nine-to-fiveness of it all, but found I absolutely hated it—from the enforced physical stagnation, to the back-stabbing, credit-grabbing, passive aggressive nature of office politics. The more I tried to put my restaurant past behind me, the more it rose up before me as the luminous icon of the only thing I had ever put my hand to that made me happy.

So in 2002 I started my own business. Something I probably should have done a decade or two earlier. But the time was never right, the money was never available. Once again, death changed my life. This time, it was the deaths of my husband’s parents…which provided us with the few extra dollars that made it possible to scrape together my concession business. Scared to death, but with no other real options open, I sallied forth into the world of the small business owner. It’s been a frustrating, enlightening, back-breaking four years. I’ve been able to pick up and dust off some of the scraps of myself that I had thought were irretrievably lost. It’s been a proving ground for me…showing me that I still can do this and I’m still damned good at it.

But the seasonal nature of the business has been at once a godsend and a handicap. Where it’s allowed me to creep forward at the snail’s pace that seems to be all that I can handle, it has also allowed me to be picky and half-assed about the challenges I want to take on. I can back away when I become intimidated by what the next move forward might mean, hit the brakes when I get frightened of putting my heart into yet another doomed effort. I love my little business, but I’ve come to realize that my complete healing lies in the direction of something much larger, much more engaging, and much more challenging.

And there it is, creeping up over the horizon like a late-autumn sunrise. A real restaurant. A roof over my head, a floor under my feet, a full-sized three-compartment sink in the kitchen. A place to go every day, to scheme, to strive, to formulate and refine. Every day. It’s been years since I’ve allowed myself to want anything this much. I want it so bad it hurts. But it’s a good pain…a pain of promise. Not unlike labor pains, I would imagine. This may be the closest I’ll ever come to the privilege of that pain. The pain of wrestling something new and vital into the world.

A snarky whisper in the back of my head mocks me about this. It taunts that what I am actually doing is preparing to lay out what amounts to three years of my dream job’s wages to…buy myself a job. That over the years, I have so trashed myself that I am not fit to be employed by anyone else. That little voice had me going there, for a minute. But I managed to put a sack over its head and conk it with a sledge hammer. Now I’m on my way to drown it in the creek. Because no stinking negative little demon is going to rob me of this opportunity, or tarnish the promise and anticipation. And I refuse to entertain fears that I’m too old, or too rusty, or too timid, or too anything to make this happen. This is my time, for the first time in a long time. And I am going to rise.

Saturday, May 06, 2006

My Life's Music

I was nine at the start of the British Invasion. But I was also the youngest of five sisters, and wherever they went, I followed, as fast as my skinny little legs would carry me. Sister D was fourteen—a high school freshman—in 1964. The perfect age for a Beatlemaniac. And so she was, and dragged the rest of us right along with her. When a Beatles song would come on the radio, we would let out ear-piercing screeches and scramble into the living room to the vintage console stereo that we had got second-hand from some old aunt. The kind that looked like a piece of furniture. The record player, not the aunt. Four girls, ages nine through fourteen, ears glued to the booming tweed-covered speaker, leaving half-eaten plates of food cooling on the dinner table, to my dad’s immense annoyance.

We sang all the songs. Knew every word, all the harmonies. Sang while we cleaned up the dishes after dinner, or in the car on those six-hour station-wagon odysseys to campgrounds in the North Woods. The Beatles, of course—When I was younger so much younger than today… But there were others: Chad & Jeremy--…but that was yesterday, and yesterday’s gone… Peter & Gordon—Woman, do you love me… Herman’s Hermits –Mrs. Brown you’ve got a lovely daughter… Every Simon and Garfunkel song ever recorded. I handled the Garfunkel harmonies. At the ripe old age of ten. Hello darkness, my old friend

You were either a Beatles fan, or a Stones fan. Never both. I remember seeing the Stones on Ed Sullivan…the same place we had seen the Beatles for the first time. We had swooned over the Fab Four…and complained that the Stones were "ugly." Even in their sterilized, censored Sunday night American TV personas, the Stones were too high test for our vanilla suburban souls. To this day, I’ve never been able to warm up to Mick Jagger… And then along came the Monkees, spurned by the older, more refined fans, who were by now…seventeen. But, hell. I was twelve. I went for them ass over teakettle. Take the last train to Clarksville, and I’ll meet you at the station…  When I think of the old music, that's what comes tomind. My brain shorts out when I realize exactly how old it is.

Then there were the seventies…the longest decade of my life. From high school and graduation’s emancipation to marriage and a mortgage in ten jam-packed years. Rocky Mountain High to Saturday Night Fever. John Denver ‘round the family campfire to BeeGees disco lessons with the handsome young husband.

After that, my musical history smears to a blur. We threw over mainstream music for Christian Rock for half of the eighties. Though Heart of Glass and Sweet Dreams are Made of This penetrated sinfully past the halo. The Cars and the B52’s, Devo and Ten Thousand Maniacs dented my consciousness. And after that…I seem to have fallen off the face of the earth.

These days, my "new music" is a collection of New Age, Celtic and Acoustic CD’s. Which, I now realize, I started collecting in the early nineties. I wish I could say my musical tastes have become eclectic and refined. But I know the truth. I have finally gone down into the tarpit of old farthood. And I wonder how I look… On second thought, I don’t wonder; I know how I lookto twenty-first century fourteen-year-olds (I cannot possibly be old enough to be their grandmother.) Rolling my cart down the grocery store aisle singing out loud with the muzak tape--And as we wind on down the road, our shadows taller than our souls, there walks a lady we all know….

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Losing Religion

My personal religious history has led me to a state of profound agnosticism. Raised Catholic, “born again” as a twenty-something; baptized in The Church as an infant and in an elder’s swimming pool as a consenting adult, I have been steeped in both the dogma and the charisma. But, battered and beaten by years and tears, the core concepts of religion became harder and harder for me to swallow without question. Eventually, I arrived at a place where I was so deep into unbelief that nothing short of an intimate chat with a burning bush was likely to penetrate my skepticism.

Milestone birthdays have a way of causing sudden, urgent reevaluation of one’s past, present, and future. Turning fifty touched off an odd chain reaction in what is left of my mind; I suddenly realized that mortality was all too certain and (relatively) imminent. I felt an urgent need to explore the concepts of spirituality and the afterlife, if only to keep myself from becoming paralyzed by the fear of death. Also, I’d been suffering from a feeling of real isolation in my life; I envisioned that becoming part of a community of believers would be a side benefit of my search. I believed I craved that “human connection.”

My spiritual odyssey came to an abrupt end when I realized that the timing—not just my personal timing, but the universal timing—for such a quest was all wrong. Human connection? What was I thinking? What connections do today’s organized religions offer us? War? Murder? Ostracism? Ritualized bigotry? Hatred? Turn on the television or radio. Read the news. From every window on the world, violence and hatred in the name of some group’s perception of God devastates the landscape.

Christians hating Muslims. Muslims killing Jews. Sunni despising Shi’ite. Evangelicals bashing Catholics. Fundamentalists straining to drag us all back into the Dark Ages. It’s painfully obvious that the path to peace, progress and harmony does not lie in the direction of organized religion. It’s entirely possible that the continued existence of the human race might depend upon us eschewing religion altogether.

Yet, old habits do die hard. For years, even as my agnosticism grew, it was important to me that the Christ I had been spoon-fed from birth retain some aspect of deity. I held to the conviction that for Jesus Christ—or any prophetic figure of any faith—to have been remembered, much less venerated for so many centuries, there must have been something, some mystic connection to the Creator that gave his story such amazing staying power. But even that rationalization has been given the lie by the bizarre happenings here in our own country over the last five years.

We have witnessed first-hand the power of groupthink and political pressure, and the ability of talented individuals with hidden agendas to manipulate the emotions of entire populations of frightened or disillusioned people. We have seen for ourselves what happens when a party gathers unto itself enough power to literally turn its every whim into the law of the land. We’ve seen them turn lies into truths which people will embrace to the point of martyrdom.

The antics of our current national leadership have given us a glimpse into a degree of domination and corruption we never thought to witness in this society which touts itself as the beacon of freedom and enlightenment to an errant world. But, beyond that, they have made me completely re-evaluate the phenomena of historically prominent spiritual figures. Like Jesus Christ. Or Moses. Or Mohammed. Or Baha’ullah, or the Angel Moroni, or Jim Jones. The right political climate could make any society desperate for a savior. Or make a prophet out of almost anyone. Even George W. Bush. Just ask him.

How sad that the human race is on a course to destroy itself with the very code it created to keep from destroying itself. Religion is ever the double-edged sword. Perhaps the edge that refined and controlled human behavior has been wielded to the point of permanent bluntness. And now we hold the other side of the blade to our own throats.