What Dreams May Come

After reading about uranophobia, or the fear of heaven, a friend of mine asked me why, or rather how, people could be afraid of heaven. We both realized he was asking the wrong question. To be, or not to be. That is the question. We all live with fears, but living with a fear of the inevitable is something we can not live with. Most religions live for, and out of, what comes when we die. 70 virgins? Reincarnation? Heaven? My coach always said you eat to run, not run to eat. I think I finally know what he was talking about. "Whether tis nobler in the mind to suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune or to take arms against a sea of troubles, and by opposing, end them. To die, to sleep, no more; and by a sleep, to say we end the heart-ache and the thousand natural shocks that flesh is heir to? This is a consummation devoutly to be wished. To die, to sleep; to sleep, perchance to dream; AY, therein lies the rub. For in that sleep, what dreams may come, when we have shuffled off this mortal coil, must give us pause."
Remember Flubber
For the entirety of all our lives, from birth, inception, until the end, right before death, there is one question we can never answer. What happens next? People have spent thousands of years questioning and pondering the possibility of the afterlife. Do we get another chance? Are we reincarnated based on our past transgressions or are we rewarded for our good deeds? If we were terrible while on this Earth do we come back as anal beads, or worse, chickens? If we are good do we come back as eagles or dragons? Maybe. Or do we arrive at the golden gates? Facing down the almighty bouncer. Does old Saint Pete check the guest list, make sure we aren't wearing white sneakers, tell us we are "GOOD" and finally move his velvet key. 
doorman, Doorman, DOORMAN
Do we only then enter paradise? Where we get to live forever with all our old friends and loved ones, people we haven't seen in years, or maybe we get to meet people we have never met before? We get to ask all our heroes what their life was like. You get to see your dog again. I hope. But, then again, maybe it simply ends. Darkness, oblivion, the long sleep. The dirt nap. Maybe we do only get one chance. Are you ready for that realization? What know you about ready? A long time I have watched. All our lives we have looked away. To the future. To the horizon. Never on where we are. What we were doing. Hmph. Adventure. Excitement. A Jedi craves not these things. We are reckless.
The answer to these question is that it doesn't matter what happens next because we have the chance, the opportunity, the means, and God-given right to have Heaven on Earth right now. Most of us hold the ideas of Heaven in disdain because of hardships we have faced in our own lives. If there truly was such a place, that would mean that things on this Earth happen for a reason. And to most of us, that concept is not only confusing, but frustrating, and even painful. Maybe someone was taken from you. Maybe something was done to you. How could this happen if there is meaning in our lives? How could someone let you go through that? It's not fair. The truth is our judgment, our reckoning takes place within ourselves. We know when we do something wrong. Even the worst of us know when we do something truly wrong. Maybe there is too much pain coming from somewhere else that blinds us from our conscience. What we need to realize to survive together is that no matter how hard it gets, there is a place we can live together in harmony, without pain, sorrow, or judgment, and it isn't called heaven. It's called Iowa. I jest. But, it is here. All around us. And it is now. 
This that Cryptochroniccunalight
Death comes to us all. We can't stop it from happening, but we can challenge it. We can rival its omnipotent presence and looming shadow by engaging in the ancient ritual which is the horrible beasts only weakness. It's kryptonite. What weapon could we possibly possess that could challenge such a force? The same one that happens to be the greatest obligation we have...
To live, grasshopper. To live.

The Good Samaritan

       Today I had off work I wanted to do some writing at the Philadelphia Free Library. I got a hoagie and a soda and walked to the fountain to sit down and eat. I sat and ate my lunch. I could see the Art Museum, home of the Rocky steps.  I looked around and noticed there were only a few others enjoying this spot. One was an older woman eating a bagged lunch. She had a sandwich in a plastic bag and a small juice box. After she was done eating she got up and left. A few minutes later a man came wondering, more like stumbling, into the park around the fountain. Judging by his disheveled appearance and dragging feet he had obviously seen some hard times. He walked to each separate trashcan placed around the fountain and looked inside. He didn’t find anything. Each time he searched one of the bins he came up empty and his demeanor dropped even lower. He staggered over to where I was sitting and I knew he was going to ask me for money. I thought about how much I hated people like this. They were everywhere in the city. They line the streets laying in gutters begging for change. They hound you and guilt you into giving them money.

O how wrong I have been! As a kid, I hated asking my parents for money. I did it out of necessity. Or so I thought. I thought I needed things. If I didn’t have the money to pay for it, I’d beg my parents to get it for me. Most of the time, I’d end up losing whatever it was anyway. Then I got a sick feeling in my stomach. This man, these people, don’t ask for money because they want to, they do it because they have to. Could you imagine asking for money to eat, let alone beg for it? Imagine asking your parents for money to pay rent, for groceries, and then imagine asking a complete stranger. How low would you have to be? How desperate? To ask someone you don’t know to help you feed yourself. The shame of that concept, the embarrassment, made me put down my sandwich and prepare to hand it over to this man. I couldn’t imagine letting someone into my life like that. To let a stranger know that, “Hey, I’m broke and can’t even pay for food, can you help me.” Think about the information that comes with that admission. Divulging intimately personal secrets that most of us would guard against our lives. Think about the assumptions that come with that knowledge; probable drug addiction, degradation, zero home life, no family, no friends, no hope. These people are alone. And there are a lot of them. As he approached I put my hands in my pockets, in a preemptive motion to empty my pockets. I didn’t have that much on me, but I was willing to part with the rest of it, my BBQ chips, and the end of my sandwich. Then the unthinkable happened.

 He walked right past me. He walked over to the bench recently vacated by the woman with the juice box. In the exact spot, she was sitting there was a tiny pyramid of plastic juice and snack boxes and a sandwich. The man picked up the sandwich and pocketed two of the boxes. Leaving one apple juice. He unwrapped the sandwich and tossed the bag on the ground. The woman had left food, without any knowledge that a mere minute and a half later, a man would come along and she would have satisfied his painful hunger. Maybe she did know. Either way, she had done something selfless. No thank you, no pat on the back, and no tax return. We often do things because we want people to know we did them. I don't know who this woman was, but she should be canonized. 

Doing something without an ulterior motive, without the possibility of recognition, without a reward, is what it's all about. 


Have you ever had that feeling, you know, like you're being watched? It's a worry or slight apprehension. Sure it's agitating, but it's nothing to be scared of. Probably just nerves. Classic butterflies in your tummy. But that anxiety turns to unease as the floorboards creak. I'm talking about the creeps, the willies, the Heebie Jeebies! All it takes is a tiny twinge of angst like a pinprick or a bee sting to send a bucket of ice water cascading down your spine. I'm talking about dread. Shiver as a moment of foreboding gives way to alarm and panic inside you. Fright warps your mind which throbs as the walls close in around you. Then, finally, when everything is quiet, the moment you've been worried about has arrived at your doorstep, danger knocks! Consternation, perturbation ominous trepidation! Skin crawling, teeth chattering, and blood-freezing terror! A coffin opens, nails claw the wood, and a wolf howls on a mountaintop in the distance silhouetted by the full moon! Womp Womp Wommmppp! Oh, the horror! Muwahaha. Lion, tigers, and bears, OH MY...

No, not the type of fear you can buy for $15 bucks at your local cinema, $20 if it's in 3D IMAX. I'm not talking about the fear of flying or spiders or snakes. Not even crowds, clowns, or foreigners. Not talking about tight spaces. Not talking about water. And definitely not talking about the dark. Did you know that aibohphobia is the fear of palindromes? Erythrophobia is the fear of blushing, embarrassment, and red lights. Ergasiophobia is the fear of being employed. I personally struggled with this for many years along with alektorophobia, which is the fear of chickens. For obvious reasons. There is something called Eleutherophobia which is the fear of freedom. I'd say this is the least of my worries. In fact, I'm rather an eleutheromaniac!

Erotophobia is the fear of being in a sexual situation, while fenophobia is the fear of sex in general. Mormons are predominantly affected by this disease. Just kidding. And for reference, geliophobia is the fear of laughter. I wonder what the fear of oral sex is? Tinaphobia? Ba dum tss. Gerascophobia is the fear of growth, progress, or evolution. A bibliophobe is someone who is afraid of books or libraries, while uranophobia is the fear of Heaven. If you can believe there are actually people that are literally afraid of Heaven! Whether you believe in it or not is one thing, but to be afraid of the actual idea, is downright horrifying. Atychiphobia is the fear of failure, which I hear has the largest percentage of undiagnosed cases in the US. 

   I’m talking about THE FEAR. The one we all have. The one we don’t have a name for that stops us dead in our tracks like a Deer transfixed by the blinding pearlescent fog lights of your Audi. Put yourself in that animal's hooves, somewhere along the entire navigational timeline of your life, you made a decision or decisions that brought it to this point. Did it let fear dictate direction?Standing with its pants down in front of a fast-moving, rapidly approaching metallic beast made of not four but four hundred horses barreling down upon you, eight thousand RPMs, screaming move or watch your entire existence come to an end. I am Shiva destroyer of worlds. Do we let it destroy us? Do we cower in its shadow and let it dictate the direction of our own lives? An enemy stands at our gates and the last white flag was just used to bandage your arm. So, I ask you, dear friend, what do we do now? Do we run? Or reload? The Belroq rises from its ashen tomb, breathing fire into the air, standing between us and our path, threatening our very existence, our very freedom, our very lives. Sure, we face total and absolute annihilation, but will we let it ruin that which we have worked so hard for? Will we give in now after we've come so far? 

You shall not pass. When caught between two choices, two opposing forces, two complete and utter antithetical anathemas, do you cut off your arm and live, or die? Forget the odds; remember the stakes. When the walls close in and Chewie's banging on the door and Luke uselessly tries to barricade them with a pipe, everyone is screaming and freaking out what do you do? Situations often arise that we find ourselves in not quite sure how we arrived there. We can either turn around and go back the way we came or we can hop the fence. We stand frozen while it grips us, shaking us down. It slams us into submission so fast you’d think it was Royce Gracie or Kurt Angle with the Anklelock. When faced with the Sleeper hold, The  Figure Four, The Sharpshooter, or dare say it the LION TAMER, do you tap out?

Second WWF picture used in this blog. Suck it.
When you turn around face to face with fear, do you run away? Turn on a dime, scoop up your pants, and leave a Roadrunner-esque puff of smoke where your body used to be. Peace, see ya later, no thanks, I’m outta here. It could be taking that job, moving to that city, or just asking for her number, but for that split second let your mind wander to what would happen if you just, uh, excuse me, but the moment is gone. The prospect of doing something and failing, the shame, the disappointment, the pain, is often too much for us to gamble against the quiet safe comfort of our own ineptitude. Are we willing to take the risk? Sure it may backfire and blow up in our faces, but at least we went for it right? What if we shot for the moon, bet the house, swung for the fences, sure it's a long shot, and maybe we were being a bit foolish, but at least we weren’t afraid?

The judges of fate toss our lives onto a heavily weighted scale every single day. Somehow of the countless chances, you had to avoid this moment, you now stuck with only two options. Two weapons left in your vast strategic arsenal, two plans, neither of which were A or B. Do we let it hammer us, stomp and tramples us into the ground? Do we let it take the bridge? Do we die without a clutching embrace from a fallen comrade with a speech of faraway seas and misty childhood nostalgic reverie, cue Taps, and BUH BUH BUH...

No. We stand and fight back because fear isn't real. It's an invention to make our lives easier, like money or the internet. It's an efficient and expedited route to the end. An unobstructed EZ-pass lane to a life of blindingly bland boredom and missed opportunities. How do we combat this dark shapeless force with inexhaustible resources? You may think simple confidence will help, or mental fortitude, but you'd be wrong. The left side of the brain can't help you. It's nearsightedness clouds your vision. And the right brain especially can't help. It tells us to be reasonable, use logic, compute the risks, tally the total, and the odds always come back heavily favored against, but you can't destroy, eliminate, or even subdue fear. It will always be there and we just don't have time for false dichotomies. Slam the over. Roll the dice. Why not? Who cares? Fuck it. According to Mark Twain, there is only one resistance to fear and it's not logic, reason, or confidence. It's conqueror, it's vanquisher, it's courage, and that comes from someplace else.

Measure of a Man

A few years ago I was in a big chain bookstore looking for a copy of Portrait of an American Rebel. I had to order a copy because they didn’t have any in store. I found myself assailed by manuals. Bombarded by books that layout the best pick up techniques to use at bars. Molested by magazines that describe the best “look” for the fall. These manuals take away the last piece of a man’s incarnation. They deteriorate a man’s learning that is essential to his maturity. Because of this deterioration, a man is now manufactured not grown. Faux masculine robots constructed out of the pages of GQ and Esquire. Then I came upon a tiny old distressed copy of a book entitled The Measure of a Man. It was so small it could fit in my pocket. It was barely over sixty pages. Then I read the front cover. It was written by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. It was published in 1968. The same year he was assassinated. In it, he attempts to calculate the value of a man. He explains that a long time ago a group of scientists worked out the worth of a man based on today’s market value. A man has enough, “fat to make seven bars of soap, iron to make a medium sized nail, sugar to fill a shaker, lime to whitewash a chicken coop, and phosphorus for about 2,000 matches.” The total of which came to 98 cents. Adjusted for inflation it would be $1.98 in the 60s or roughly twelve bucks today. Twelve whole dollars for the physical make up of a man. I’m sure if you wanted you could get a few extra for your organs and body parts. I will ask the same questions he asked over 40 years ago. Can we explain the artistic genius of Michelangelo in $12? Can we explain the poetic genius of Shakespeare in $12? Can we explain the spiritual genius of Jesus in $12? Can we explain the mystery of the human soul in terms of $12? “There is something within man that cannot be reduced to chemical and biological terms, for man is more than a tiny vagary of whirling electrons. He is more than a wisp of smoke from a limitless smoldering.”
“What a piece of work is man! How noble in faculty! How infinite in reason; in form and moving how express and admirable; in apprehension how like a God; in action how like an angel! The beauty of the world, the paragon of animals.”
- Shakespeare’s Hamlet
A boy used to have to learn the hard way, by asking his father. If that didn’t work, and the kid didn’t have an older brother, he’d have to figure it out on his own. Tree houses, go-carts, firecrackers, seem like things of the past. Those that don’t take blueprints. No directions included. These sacred vestiges need to be protected. I feel bad for our younger generations, kids raised on a constant onslaught of social media. They suffer from a constant barrage of advertising. They are bombarded worse than London. A blitzkrieg of Justin Bieber, Twilight, and Facebook. 1 in 5 relationships start online. Connected through wires. Mystical mainframes that make them feel and live their relationships’ through pictures and text. It’s our own version of The Matrix. Ironic, I can never accurately convey an emotion in texts. I’m glad for that. Twittering their lives away. By now you know it takes more than 140 characters to get my point across.
Where are the role models that made boys want to be men? Charles Bronson, Clint Eastwood, Steve McQueen. Ran five miles every day, worked as an oil rigger, a carnie, a lumberjack, and even a towel boy in a brothel. All served in the military. McQueen spent 41 days in the brig for going AWOL for two weeks with his girlfriend. He died in Ciudad, Juarez, a known hideout of John Dillinger. Men who knew one thing. Livin’. Cars, guns, action movies, and women. A man used to have to QUIT smoking. As a kid, we didn’t have anything special. My dad always talked about the muscle cars he used to have. He got rid of them in exchange for something more practical. The fuel-efficient, economically sound, family mobile. Just being around him, watching him tinker with the engine, was fascinating. Here was a guy with zero actual mechanic experience and yet he was comfortable. It wasn’t a chore; it was therapy. I know this now because I see cars for what they truly are; freedom. Freedom on wheels. They are a gateway to new places. My dad gave up part of that freedom for his family. He had a Karma Ghia and a GTO at one point in his life. Like most men of that generation, as a father, he had to forfeit his prizes for soccer practices and family trips to DC.
There are certain lessons and trials one must pass to enter the ancient fraternity known as the brotherhood. Sisters are welcome too. None of that “He-Man-woman-hating” nonsense. Mankind is an equal opportunity employer. But today it seems these ancient rituals are lost. Can we survive when most guys can’t change a tire? Role models now are metrosexual prepubescent males, who sing in musicals, and talking robots. We lived through boy bands. Why the hell do I know the dance to Bye Bye Bye? In spite of all this, we have the desire to be more. The desire to live in a better time or be a better person. A time where standing for something wasn’t a cliché.
I read a story the other day, a kid ran from the cops after stealing a car. He was on the run for weeks. People were outraged. They interviewed his teachers who said naively, “I couldn’t believe he would do something like that.” In my father’s time, that was called being a teenager. Being an outlaw or rebel isn’t about a look or style. It’s an action. It’s a way of life. It’s doing something outside the laws of conventional society to better your own or someone else’s situation. As a kid, we are obsessed with movies. I saw everything. Kids in school would say, “I want to be Harrison Ford or Matt Damon.” I wanted to be Jason Bourne, I wanted to be Han Solo. We want to be pirates, bank robbers, and samurai. We want to be cowboys, soldiers, spies, and revolutionaries. We wanted to be heroes. Somewhere along the way, we lost that. But we have that chance again, no matter how small the act. Growing up, however, you did it, kids always going to give you trouble. We all struggle with people saying we are a certain way when we aren’t. They want you to be the person they want. You need to be the person you want to be. And give the big middle one to anyone who says otherwise. My father always asked, “Well what do you want to be when you get older?” I would say, “I don't want to be anything, I want to grow old on a beach surrounded by my family and friends.” It’s a pretty paradoxical answer, but life is a paradox. We spend most of our time thinking about who we want to be instead of simply being that person. The old coyote would say, “Why to pretend to be a great man when you could be a great man?”
Jam of the week:
Bonis nocet quisqus malis perpercit.

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