Thursday, December 27, 2007

Old Life, New Life, and Benazir Bhutto

This morning, my clock radio woke me with the unhappy news of the assassination of Benazir Bhutto. I’m not well-informed about the politics of our "ally" Pakistan. I know I don’t trust Pervez Musharraf any further than I could throw a tank. I know I feel a little soiled, a little jaded, every time I hear Dubya go on about what a great partner Musharraf is in our "War on Terrah." It doesn’t seem to matter that Musharraf’s government presents only the flimsiest pretense of democracy, and only when it doesn’t inconvenience Musharraf.

Benazir Bhutto, as the leader of Musharraf’s chief opposition, was many things. She was loved and revered, discredited and exiled, and tainted by corruption. Who can say, entangled as she was in the political strife inherent to Pakistan, what Bhutto really was. I can only believe that to have become Prime Minister of an Islamic nation—even an unsuccessful and ultimately deposed Prime Minister—she must have been a remarkable woman. I admired her. And I feared for her life when she decided to end her exile and return to Pakistan. May she rest in the peace she was fated never to know in this life.

I considered posting a quick tribute to Bhutto this morning, since I thought I didn’t have to work until 11 am. My life being what it is, however, half my crew crapped out on me today, so I had to give up any nobler aspirations and run to the café.

I get to work, and thoughts of Mrs. Bhutto are still swimming around in my head. I say to my counter girl, "So they killed Benazir Bhutto…!" And she says, "Who?" I say, "Benazir Bhutto." Totally blank face. "Do you know who Benazir Bhutto is?" "Uh, noooo…"

Okay. Counter girl is only nineteen. But she is also in her second year of college. What made me think a college student must have somehow heard of Benazir Bhutto?

Toward the end of this exchange with clueless college student counter girl, my cook walks through the door. Cook is in her late thirties, never struck me as being particularly well-educated…but I also know she is a total internet junkie. "P, do you know who Benazir Bhutto is?" "Who?" No surprise there, really. Apparently, cook zaps right past the news blurbs on her home page…

Over the past year and a half, I’ve had such a hard time letting go of my "old life" and embracing my new life as a (completely lost-in-the-weeds) entrepreneur. And I’ve been trying to figure out what my problem is. Though I’m inching closer to the total immersion I think I need in order to be successful, I really feel like I’ve been dragged to that place kicking and screaming. After today, I have a little better idea of why that is.

I work in the freaking Twilight Zone. I’m surrounded by people who have absolutely no idea what is going on in the world beyond the ends of their own noses. For someone who has spent much of the last four years nurturing and immersed in her personal political identity, this is a particularly bitter pill to swallow. I feel like I’m finding a life, but losing myself. And I’m not entirely sure that’s a trade I’m willing to make.

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Christmas 2007

Around Thanksgiving (was that only last month?) I predicted a hard holiday for my family, and wished for Spring. It did indeed come to pass, that sad and difficult season. Thanksgiving was a non-starter…we were even then in that watching and waiting pattern that establishes itself as a loved one dwindles. Mom passed away on December 3. Her memorial service, and our ability not to tear each other to shreds in the preparation of it, was the single shining moment for the Baldwin family this season. We sent Mom to her rest with love and dignity.

We didn’t feel like celebrating the holidays, but we thought that not celebrating would be too sad and empty. After the funeral, and the unhappy task of cleaning out Mom’s apartment, sifting through her prodigious angel collection and her sixty years’ accumulation of costume jewelry brought us the comfort of fond memories. Each of us chose one or two pieces to hold and remember. By mid-December, that business was mostly concluded, and we tried to scrape together some kind of family holiday. But we just…ran out of gas. Yesterday saw some of the sniping and the anger and the tears that we had worked so hard to avoid.

In the end, maybe it would have been better to just…give Christmas a pass this year. It was so hard not to compare last night’s somber little celebration to "The Good Years" and find it pitiably wanting. No one was really in the mood to count our blessings and put a good face on it. Mostly there was a lot of food that nobody needed, and a few presents that nobody really wanted. Christmas 2007 is just about over now, and nobody in our family is going to miss it, I think.

Hard to believe that the bright spot of my life the last few weeks has been…the café. That thing which has been more inclined to kick my butt than feed my ego for the past nineteen months…

This may be the worst Christmas since the Grinch licked his evil lips over Whoville, but Old Town Café is chugging along at a record pace. Not world record, of course, but record in relation to our own history. The first week of December, while I was in Eugene tending to my sad family business, my crew piloted the good ship OTC to its highest December sales week in its three-year history. And we’ve repeated that performance in each of the last two weeks. As of today, we’re showing a 1% increase in sales over last year’s total December sales, and we still have six sales days remaining. And I haven’t laid out one dime in advertising money all month. I’m having a hard time believing we’re the same restaurant we were one year ago.

Oh, do I remember the goings on of a year ago, though I’d rather forget. 2006—the year of the chronically sick, reliably unreliable and/or disappearing employees, and sales so bad it didn’t really matter whether I had employees or not. The year of no mercy, which threatened to chew me up, spit me out, and grind me into the pavement. The year where the best I could say of it, as it dwindled into its final hours on New Years Eve, was that I had survived. (And yet, I felt giddily victorious to be able to say that much…)

Last year, my family was my life preserver, the thing that kept my head above the waters of my foundering business ship. This year, my business is the thing that my hands are grasping as the waves of grief and loss toss me about. I suppose I should be grateful—and I am—that there is always something to keep me afloat. But I’m still hoping that next year will be a little less tempest-tossed.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Vanity, Thy Name is...Uh, What's Thy Name Again?

Even had it not been for the sad events of the past couple of weeks, this holiday season was destined to be different from the last several.

I just couldn’t consider tearing every room in my house apart and reconstructing the "Christmas Zone" I’ve enjoyed over the last few years. And not really because I don’t have any time to DO the decorating (though I truly don’t...) More because the thought of UNDOING the decorating come mid-January left me absolutely cold.


No five trees in the house; we’ve cut the population to two. And neither of these is in my bedroom. The bedroom will remain holiday neutral this season. No tree, no snow-kitties on the mantel, no candles in the fireplace, no glitter stuck to my face when I wake up.

Nor will the family room get bedecked this year. Hardly seems worth it, since we spend about two hours a week relaxing there anymore.

The living room will harbor one barely over-decorated tree. Easy up, easy down…

Worst of all, one of my favorite holiday indulgences has finally been made redundant by the hands-on nature of living the dream…


Friday, December 07, 2007

My Mother's Hands

All through preparations for my mom's funeral, I knew that what I needed to do was to give of my talent, from my heart. An artist would paint, a photographer would snap, a seamstress would sew...and I--needed to write. Something. But the words refused to come.

Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday went by... I understood the imperative, but could not find the inspiration.

The funeral was this morning--Friday. It was now or never. No time to fuss, no time to edit and re-arrange and tweak. And it came, in a rush...

I remember my mother’s hands
Not elegant nor slender
But stout and strong and
always busy

My earliest memories are of those capable hands
Wielding a dust cloth, a dish rag, a scrub brush,
Feeding laundry through the wringer washer
pegging it out on the line to dry
Dipping a spoon into the magic paste
that would become the lumpy dumplings
in our favorite chicken soup

We coveted the gentle stroke
that would calm a fevered temple
And dreaded the near-scalping
when those hands came in contact with
any object surrounding a
shock of hair attached to the backs of our heads
("It’ll only hurt for a second…!)

Those hands, nearly forty years old, were introduced
to the steering wheel of a station wagon in 1961
and carried on a love/hate relationship with that object
for the next thirty years
And in 1966, they traded the dust cloth and mop
for the pencil and the adding machine
The kitchen table for the desk at Woolworth’s--
another love-hate relationship that lasted nearly twenty years.

I remember those hands
fussing with the filmy folds of a veil around my face
taking needle and thread to the great hole in that veil
after I wrapped it around a barberry bush fleeing the rice-throwers
on a chilly October morning in 1976
Those loving hands…those mother’s hands

In retirement, those hands
Clutched a fishing pole or a handful of playing cards
("I’ve got a hand like a foot!!")
Tipped a watering can into one green thing or another
that always responded enthusiastically to her touch
stroked the soft fur of the latest adoptee
or sneaked forbidden bits to furry family members
waiting confidently at her feet under the dining table
Wrapped around a pen, dispatching volumes upon volumes of word puzzles
heavy with the rings and bracelets she loved to pile on
But busy…always busy

I hope now, wherever her spirit is going
they give her hands, as well as wings

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Elsie B. 1922-2007


Fold thy hands sleeping!
Angels are keeping
***Watch o’er thee now.
See, it is dawning!
Light of the morning
***Falls on thy brow.

White wings are flying!
No more shall dying
***Darken thy day.
Leave thou Death’s portal!
Spirit immortal
***Speed on thy way!

When skies are paling
And clouds are sailing
***Over Earth’s night,
Only in dreaming
Shall thou be seeming
***Lost to our sight.

Dream mists are drifting!
Fingers are lifting
***Curtains of space!
Framed in its splendor
Wistful and tender,
***Smiles thy dear face.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

I Cannot Be That Match

Sister "D" called me on Friday to talk about Mom’s deteriorating condition. Eventually, she got around to saying, "I suppose you should come down…" The unspoken completion of that thought being, "…if you want to see her before she dies."

I don’t know why I was brought up short by the suggestion. I hadn’t even really thought about it. We made the trip down to Eugene three weeks ago, when Mom first became so sick; and we trekked down again the following weekend, on her birthday. We visited with her when she was…as good as it appears she’s going to get, these days. So the first thing that popped out of my mouth when D communicated what amounted to the deathbed call was, "Why?" I think dear sister was a little taken aback. And then I found I couldn’t articulate my non-intention to attend in any way that sounded sane, even to me. I hung up the phone, having made no commitment I wasn’t prepared to honor.

Why, indeed?

I hardly remember getting ready for work that day, because my brain was so focused on nailing down my feelings about…everything. Mom’s approaching death. My sisters’ total involvement in her care. My developing philosophies about life and death and the journey between the two, which my sisters find difficult to swallow. My impatience with Western medicine’s inability to allow nature to take its course. My commitment to a business that has depleted my emotional and physical reserves to the point where I am consistently running on fumes. Taking all these factors into account, I balanced rushing down to my mother’s bedside against…not. And the scales tipped heavily to "not." What, after all, would be the real reason for going?

For Mom? Most of the time, she is incoherent. She’s regressed to the point where she is more often interacting with her memories than with what is actually happening around her. When she does come out of the fog, and she recognizes my sisters, all she can say, is "Get my shoes. I want to go home. Take me home." At one point, sister D told me she wasn’t sure whether her presence with Mom was more upsetting than comforting. So, why would I want to add to that potential upset? And even if Mom does come to herself enough to realize where she is and that we were all gathered around her, she wouldn’t be the least bit interested in saying goodbye. Because she still has no intention of going.

For me, then? Will I hate myself for the rest of my life if I don’t run down there, cling to my mother’s hand and weep? Well, no. I’ve come to terms with her impending death. I’m sure it’s been easier for me, because I haven’t been involved in her daily care for the past eight years, as my sisters have. I’ve done the deathbed thing. I held my Dad’s hand as he passed from this life. I didn’t plan to, didn’t even think I could. But since I had been chiefly in charge of his care, I felt that I had started the journey with him, and I was by god going to finish it. And I knew that was what he wanted. So I know how my sisters feel about sticking in there with Mom. And I don't feel bad about letting them do it, without any interference from me. Considering my non-existent emotional and physical reserves, I’m convinced the right choice for me is to stay quietly on the sidelines.

Well, then. That leaves one last argument in favor of making the trip. "Support," I am told. "You go down to support your family." Okay…no. In my family, that’s the one thing you definitely DO NOT do. We have no clue how to support, uplift, or even be nice to each other faced with life and death upheaval. We proved that beyond any doubt when my dad was dying.

I will never forget the things we did to each other during and in the months following Dad’s illness. Gloves came off, claws were unsheathed, fangs were bared, and we tore into each other wildly and relentlessly. The collateral damage of that awful time was what drove me away from the "heart" of my family…one hundred-plus miles away. I needed to re-establish my own life far enough away from my sisters that we couldn’t hurt each other any more. It was a wise decision. It brought a peace among us that never would have been accomplished if I had not given up and walked away.

I know with absolute certainty that if I rushed down to Eugene today, I’d have to be on guard every minute. I’d have to watch every word I said, every move I made, lest it be interpreted as a threat or some kind of criticism of the way my sisters have handled Mom’s issues. Any attack, however unintentional, will be met with the most vicious and poisonous counter-attack. At my best, I’m hopelessly impolitic; in my current depleted condition, I am certain to be the match applied to the powder keg. And I cannot go through that again.

The best service I can do for my sisters—for all of us—is to stay away. And honestly, I don’t feel bad about it. I don’t even feel the need to explain my decision to anyone; not that they could or would understand anyway. Their disapproval of my absence will not amount to one tenth of the potential fallout of my presence. I simply know what I need to do, for many reasons that I have judged are best for me and for everyone involved.

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

go in peace...

i dreamed of him last night
he was clear
his voice was strong
and he said i
was the only one who knew
but i don’t know
what i’m supposed to know…

i called out to him today
told him to come for you
told him you needed him
to lead you

will you go
light and new and free
or will you stay
sad and tired
frightened and burdened
wizened and stubborn

did he hear
i don’t know
will he come
i don’t know
i can only look at you
and cry out
and hope

Thursday, October 25, 2007

More on End of Life

Thank you all for your virtual hugs and understanding nods about my mother’s plight. I wonder how many of you are thinking, "Why did she not just have a signed DNR (Do Not Resuscitate) order available for any medical personnel called in an emergency?"

Very simply—Mom is not the least bit interested in dying. She’s old, she’s ill…her body is worn out and failing. But Mom isn’t ready to go. And I don’t think she ever will be. Any more than I suspect I will be, when my time comes. The specter of the unknown is just too overwhelming.

A while back, some bloggers did an exercise expounding upon the concept that "Anything I’ve ever let go of in my life had claw marks on it," or something like that. That is my mother, in spades. Her emotional attachments to places and things are more of Super Glue than of Velcro. She never made a change in her life that didn’t leave a psychological crater the size of the Sea of Tranquility. She is not remotely ready to consider the idea of the most profound and final change she will face on this earthly plain. Not long ago, when my sister approached her with the idea of signing a DNR, Mom, in her uniquely mom-like way, deftly changed the subject. Immediately.

Of course, like it or not, at some point she will have to go anyway. Western science seems to be on Mom’s side, standing ready to prolong her life to the nth degree. But Someone, be it God, the Great Spirit, the Almighty, or the Universe, as I’ve taken to calling It, understood my mother’s issues. On the day when she just…slowed to a stop, the Universe had said, "This is the transition appropriate for this soul." And stupid, bumbling human hands snatched it away.

Now…who knows what’s going to happen? She has her good days, and her bad days. At her best, it looks like she might just get sprung from the warehouse of human suffering she is in; maybe even be able to go back to her Assisted Living apartment…or at least somewhere a little more like home. At worst, it looks like the dreaded call from the nursing home staff, "Elsie didn’t wake up this morning," could come tomorrow. Actually, maybe that wouldn’t be the worst. The worst would be for her to linger in that awful place, between life and death, for weeks or months.
And it pisses me off to know this isn’t what the Universe had in mind for her. But arrogantly stupid western medicine had to interfere.

Sometimes It's a Good Day to Die

My mother died last week.

Two seeks shy of her eighty-fifth birthday, her failing heart slowed to a trembling twenty-five beats per minute. Her care-givers became alarmed. "Elsie, do you know where you are? Elsie, what day is this? Elsie, what’s my name? Elsie? Elsie!" They called an ambulance.

On the ride to the hospital, her heart went silent. The paramedics zapped her. A few more miles down the road, her heart stopped again. And once again, they shocked her back to life.

So Mom, robbed of her peaceful, mercifully muzzy exit from this life, spent four days in the hospital receiving the "gift" of a pacemaker, which will keep her heart bravely pumping while she dies, by inches, of kidney failure. Her doctor gives her three to six months before her kidneys give out completely.

Oh, yes; she’s alive. But she can’t go back to her apartment now; she shares a room in a nursing home with two other women in much the same state as she: mostly cognizant, thoroughly miserable, and afraid.

On top of that, it seems my mother was rudely yanked back into this life only to be at the mercy of the 21st century American health care system. A system rife with absentee physicians, overworked office staff, and so many layers of responsibility that it’s impossible to know whom to call when for what condition. And whether that person will deign to call you back if you do figure it out. Mom’s orders have been lost, her meds have been screwed up, her doctor has gone AWOL. Her care since her miraculous rescue can be accurately summed up with the old WW II army term—" FUBAR."

But, hey. She’s alive. In pain, afraid, and not receiving a tenth of the attention she needs. But she’s alive.

Everyone knows that I am hardly mankind’s foremost cheerleader lately. We’ve screwed up so badly that I honestly don’t know why the Almighty doesn’t just rear back a huge celestial hand and squash us like the poisonous insect we are. Every day, in millions of ways, our science merely proves what ignorant control freaks we are. That we have poured a disproportionately immense amount of resources into our ability to physically control our world, and not nearly enough study and effort into learning the intangibles. We’re not interested in why things happen, we just want to know how to change them.

Doesn’t anybody get the inkling that there’s a reason why bodies shut down as they do? Why has modern science "advanced" only to the point where it feels ethically bound to interfere in the dying process, whether it should or not? And why does our system keep a heart beating only to warehouse the body somewhere and allow it to die of neglect?

And why does my mother have to suffer through all this arrogant ignorance?

Tuesday, October 02, 2007


crow on the gutter
across the street
cah! cah! cah! it cries
good morning!
I call to the rooftop
black eyes black face
look down, head cocks a tick
cah! cah! cah!
the halloo echoes back
and I reply

we spend some moments
in polite conversation
‘til I turn to the door
of my morning’s work
while crow soars off
to the walnut grove
for breakfast
we shan’t sit down for coffee
but we’ve shared
a bright good morning
in spite of the drizzle

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Passions Part 2

"I know that feeling. That feeling that even the dirtiest, meanest task performed in the place you love, the place you belong, is like an embrace. Just to be where you know you are the perfect fit, is a harmony matched only by the most exquisite, exalted music. Anything you touch there is sacred; anything you do, a masterpiece."

So. If my sanctuary is not in the kitchen, where is it?

Outdoors. Pretty much anywhere not constricted by four walls and snuffed by a ceiling, not supplied with mechanical air.

The sun. The breeze. The rain. The moon and stars. Earth. Sand. Water. Snow. Trees in all their seasonal finery. Flowers, grasses, brambles and bracken. Animals, from the tiniest beetle to the greatest whale.

And my personal altar in that boundless sanctuary—my garden.

The kiss of the sun for pardon,

The song of the birds for mirth,

One is nearer God's heart in a garden

Than anywhere else on earth.

--Dorothy Frances Gurney

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

A Quiz Borrowed From Cynthia

I found this quiz at "Sorting the Pieces."

I find the results fascinating.... I have to admit,

some of the questions baffled me a bit.

Maybe that's where the 19% fundamentalist part came from(!) :D

Some people I know will not be too surprised

about the "still feels as if there is something

greater than ourselves" part...

You scored as Cultural Creative, Cultural Creatives are probably

the newest group to enter this realm. You are a modern thinker who tends

to shy away from organized religion but still feels as if there is something

greater than ourselves. You are very spiritual, even if you are not religious.

Life has a meaning outside of the rational.

Cultural Creative
















What is Your World View?
created with

Thursday, July 19, 2007

walks in the wild

i go out
to visit the spirits
and soothe my own

he was a kestrel
and she a swallowtail butterfly

they met me
at the gate
hovered a moment
then tipped wings
and returned to heaven

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Memorial Day Plus One

Through my family room window, I caught the movement of a car in the drive next door. This is not a usual occurrence; "next door" is a cemetery. Not much going on with those neighbors, generally. Every Tuesday during mowing season, the guy with the industrial earmuffs guides his John Deere respectfully around the markers. Any more activity than that usually means they are fixing to plant a new neighbor.

The nondescript white sedan negotiated half the circle drive in the graveyard. It pulled to a stop just shy of a spot where a crypt-shaped rectangle of recently replaced sod was evident; a green wire tripod sporting the tired remains of a funeral spray stood sentinel at one end of the patch of yellowed grass. A woman got out of the car and opened the trunk. From my vantage point, I couldn’t tell exactly how old she was. Older. Over sixty…under eighty. She was tall and lanky, sportily dressed in a pair of slim black trousers, a t-shirt and cropped jacket. Not stylish, but not outlandishly outdated. She looked practical and unfussy. A woman on a mission.

From the yawning boot of her car, she extracted a triangular vase—the kind with the sharp point made to poke into possibly unyielding consecrated ground. It held a big pink flower…Fresh? Silk? I couldn’t tell. Any more than I could tell why I couldn’t take my eyes off the little scene. I was held captive by the wondering… Who lay in that all-too-fresh grave, and who was he to her? How would she conduct her visit?

Would she remove the old dead plant, hold it for a moment with a tear in her eye, tuck it solemnly into the trunk? Would she tenderly sink the new offering in the dirt, tap it upright, fuss a bit with the placement? Would she kneel by the grave, hold out her hand as if to touch the loved one below, close her eyes and let the tears silently flow down her cheeks? In short, would she behave as I do, on those less and less frequent occasions when my parents’ sense of duty possesses me and drags my unwilling feet to the gravesides of my dear departed?

She did not. She stabbed the point of the new vase into the ground, strode to the other end of the grave and uprooted the old, faded wreath. Nearly pitched it into the trunk, then took a second look and retrieved some small pieces—baby’s breath, perhaps—and tucked them into the new planter on either side of the big pink flower. She spoke; I pondered the monologue. Was she describing the lovely new plant to the dead loved one? Telling that person how things had been going since he went away? Or she could merely have been ticking things off her errand list—so calm and unruffled was she. Focused and businesslike. Try as I might, I could not spot a hint of a sigh or a tear.

As she drove away, for a moment, I envied this woman, this stranger, this person I don’t even know, and upon whose private moment I should not have been spying. I almost wished I could be like her…so reserved, so matter-of-fact and in control when peering into the great void, searching for some trace of a loved one gone away.

No, I told myself with a sniff. She seemed cold and unfeeling; I am not that, and don’t ever want to be. But, truly, it was like watching a silent movie without subtitles. It’s not good policy to make judgments based on stolen three-minute film-clips with no sound. Below her unruffled surface, perhaps she’s as soppy and sentimental as I am, but she keeps those untidy emotions under control. Even when she’s alone…or thinks she is.

Silly, I suppose, to play guessing games with someone else’s grief. But perhaps I needed the diversion…from the ache of loss and welling of tears that threatened to overwhelm me as I struggled not to imagine myself in that woman’s shoes.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Double Post: A Somewhat Different Ten Things

What a pain in the &%#*! I decided I wanted to come back here and double-post something I particularly liked from "Coming to Terms..." and I practically had to trade my first-born male child to access the stupid thing (neener-neener, Blogger...I don't have a first -born male child...)

Anyway, since "Better Terms" was supposed to be for my "next level" writing, and I finally have enough brains in my head again to actually produce better writing (at least, today...), here it is:

Awhile back, NPR ran a series called, "This I Believe." Listeners were invited to submit essays describing some important aspect of their personal moral code. Those judged the best were read on the air by the authors.

Being the negative, glass-half-empty type that I am, I decided a better approach for me would be "This I Don’t Believe." You see, it’s not that I don’t believe in God. There are simply several important things I don’t believe about God. So I thought I would use my "Ten Things" format to list some of the highlights of my unbelief…

1.) I don’t believe that God honors, ordains, blesses or in any way sanctions human beings doing violence to other human beings. Ever. For any reason. I don’t believe we were created to inflict suffering upon one another. We do it. We seem to derive some kind of perverse pleasure from it. But let’s leave God out of it.

2.) I don’t believe the Almighty put us upon this wondrously intricate, inconceivably beautiful planet so that we could destroy it with our astonishingly lethal weapons. And…

3.) I don’t believe we were given Earth so that we could alter it to the point of uninhabitability with the filthy by-products of our daily existence. Eons ago, as an infant race, we could reasonably depend upon our Creator to deal with our temper tantrums and our excrement. We have (arguably) grown well beyond that point, now. With "maturity" comes responsibility. Reject the responsibility, and extinction looms large. And rather sooner than later, I expect.

4.) I don’t believe the Author of the Universe has any particular preference for with whom I choose to perform the sex act. Admittedly, having indiscriminate sexual intercourse with anything or anyone can have serious public health ramifications; so mankind long ago created social codes to deal with this issue. Unfortunately, whenever man needs to put teeth into any legislation, he declares it "God’s Law." But I don’t believe that the Great Mastermind of planets and star systems and galaxies far beyond our ken, is all that invested in our puny sexual antics.

5.) I don’t believe God whips up famines, earthquakes, floods or other natural disasters as punishment for evil. Once again, "God" takes the rap for things we don’t understand and can’tcontrol. The Earth is an amazing and fearsome entity in its own right, a living thing. Our job is to live on it, to love it, to respect it…and, sometimes, to die when its life force overpowers our own.

6.) I don’t believe that humans are any more specially connected to the Creator than the rest of creation. We may indeed have been ordained to "communicate" with the Almighty…but who is to say that other creatures were not? Perhaps they even do so with much greater facility than we do, unencumbered as they are by the interference created by our so-called "intelligence." Perhaps an eagle, or a hamster, or even a cockroach has a much more direct line to God than I have…

7.) I don’t believe in the conventional concepts of "heaven" and "hell." There is an aspect of the universe which we encounter occasionally…only enough to be confused, intrigued, intimidated and frightened by it. Call it "the spirit world," or "the other side" or "the after-life." Mankind has brushed against it for millennia, and in many cases has made it part of—if not the basis for—various religions and belief systems throughout history. We will go on to…something at the end of this life. But the idea of a big garden where I will reunite with all the people I have ever loved (what about the ones I didn’t like so much?) seems, in the end, much too…corporeal. Even though the "unknown" aspect of it can frighten me to insensibility if I dwell on it too much, I have it in my mind that, wherever we go, it must be…can there be a word for it? Inconceivable?

8.) I don’t believe God takes sides in human disputes. Once again, backing one horse or another in the endless squabbles, great or small, in which human beings delight in engaging, does not seem worth an eyelash bat from the Creator of more worlds than we have numbers to count…

9.) I don’t believe God randomly answers prayers, or that sometimes the answer to prayer is "no," or any of those other platitudes that various religions have concocted to explain why God is so often indifferent to human suffering. I’m sorry…it doesn’t make sense to me that there is a Being who has ultimate power to alleviate suffering, to heal illness, to create peace, and doesn’t. It’s not that I don’t believe the Author of the Universe is without power. It’s just that I don’t believe the Almighty uses (or doesn’t use) that power in ways we can explain or understand.

10.) I don’t believe that God is going to strike me dead, or smite me in some other nasty way, for my unbelief. Consider the one great aspect that seems to distinguish us from all other life on our planet—our ability, no…our compulsion to ask, "Why???" We are meant to quest after knowledge—knowledge of ourselves, knowledge of our planet and our fellow passengers upon it, knowledge of the universe beyond our own little speck of dust in our own little corner of our own little galaxy. In gaining that knowledge, we come to know the greatness and character of the Entity from which all things sprang forth. I don’t believe that is not what the Almighty intends.