Camping in the Garden of Good and Evil

 It’s summer. And I got what I wished for. Peace, quiet, warm days, cool nights, and Silence. Silence. Silence. Hardly even a bird chirping out here in Indianola, Washington, where stimulation comes from the inside out or it doesn’t come at all. The sounds of silence are everywhere. Broken only on occasion by music or memory. Then, out of the blue, I hear from someone with whom I went to summer camp over 50 years ago.

I have no idea who he is, or was, but we were in the same place at about the same time. And that means what? That we remember the same things? We don’t! That we shared the same experience? We didn’t. But it leads me to join a google group of others who also went to this camp. This strange place of good and evil, where I lived for eight weeks each summer from when I was seven to when I was seventeen.

What seemed good, inside and out, existed right alongside something rotten

A discourse evolves. What I discover is doubt and a wrinkly thread of closed mindedness. People don’t want to hear anything negative about a time in life that they recall as idyllic. They don’t like it when the layers are peeled back to reveal worms that ate away at the apple at the same time they were biting into it, discovering that what seemed good, both inside and out, existed right alongside something rotten.Who can blame them?

One person comments on my experience of disciplinary overkill and verbal abuse by saying “Hmmmm. . .”  But Hmmmm smacks of disbelief and questions the validity of someone else’s (in this case my own) experience.

Best to keep an open mind

Think about it and see where that leads. When another’s experience doesn’t jibe with our own, best to keep an open mind. To listen without judgment. To suspend the Hmmms and dispense with the self righteousness. While one person remembers warmth and camaraderie, another recalls getting smacked on the rear with a hairbrush and left alone in the woods. Many recall both good and bad. But it’s the dark and hate-filled words, that burn holes in my consciousness and resist forgetting and forgiving. Though not directed solely at me, I felt every one of them. At thirteen your memory is good and your sense of justice remains uncompromised.

Many years later, I meet up with an old camp friend at a tennis club at Candlewood lake. As we sit at a table by the clubhouse, we recall those troubling days of yore while people gather round and ask if this is fiction or fact. No one knows whether to laugh or cry. This woman and I haven’t seen each other for almost twenty years. We have a lot to say.

English was a second language
My first year at  camp was 1944. War time. Most of the kids came from refugee families. English was a second language. There was a dual allegiance to the country left behind,  and the country they fled to, a split personality. For some, physical discipline was an acceptable child rearing tactic. But not in my home, nor in the homes of my friends. Our parents accused us of having big imaginations. Since they wouldn’t do this  they thought others wouldn’t either. That’s how naive they were.

A real and present danger 

As I read the commentary of “Hmmm’s,” the  disbelief bubbles to the surface, And I realize once again, how discounting other people’s experience is the seed/core of a world in discord. A world out of harmony — tone deaf and in need of re-tuning. A real and present danger for all of us.

For those who would like to open and attune themselves to the wholeness of life’s experience, including the parts with which we’re not familiar, here’s an imagery exercise to serve that intention.

 Tuning In

Close your eyes, breathe out, and See yourself as a radio tuning your antennae to the wisdom of the universe. Know you are receiving vital information directly off the airwaves from a station that’s broadcasting the truth. All of it.
Listen carefully. Then respond without question, or trying to figure it out. See what happens and how you feel. Then open your eyes and return.


Vanity’s Children: Beauty and Age

At fifty I got carded as I waited to get into a dance club in Killington, Vt. My ego coasted on this for several years. A couple of weeks ago a cab driver asked me about Medicare. He wanted my advice on the ins and outs of the senior health care system. How did it work? Which plan was best?

When did the age fairy wave her wrinkled wand and turn me into an elder? Who is that woman in the mirror? And why does age-vanity enter, stage right, once you turn sixty, and never make her exit until you know when?

 On Becoming Joan  Rivers 

I have no answers. Neither, it seems, does anyone else. You go with it or become Joan Rivers and keep fighting gravity till your skin splits open from all that collagen.

While watching reruns of “Dexter” the other night, I saw this woman who reminded me of a beautiful actress I recalled from years back. But this woman wasn’t beautiful. Not at all. It turns out that the “not beautiful” woman was Charlotte Rampling. The same person as the beautiful actress.

Baez and Burstyn, Forever Young

I’ve seen the this story play out with other beauties to the point where they can’t be recognized, and all I can manage is a head shake and a sigh. And then there’s Joan Baez and  Ellen Burstyn, Baez in her seventies, Burstyn in her eighties, both ageless and beautiful as ever.

Who knows what the Aging gods have in store for us. Best to enjoy our time here without getting stuck in that stuff. But why so much harder on women? Why such disdain and  disrespect for the crinkled, crumpled gnome or the flabby, chin-challenged dumpling who  thirty years ago may have been a fashionista — Who forty years ago was flirting with guys as she drove down Madison Avenue in the mid afternoon rush, while they waved her over to join them at an East side eatery, white tablecloths, flowers, and sexy vibes, as she sailed by laughing. And thinking about it. Seriously.

Recently a client sent me some photos of  beautiful old trees. I sent them out to friends. One of them wrote back saying:

“Why is it easy to see the beauty in aging trees and miss the beauty of our aging selves?”

 Lenses of Gratitude and Love

Great question. So, what might happen if we looked at ourselves through lenses of “love, gratitude and forgiveness, instead of through lenses of vanity, disdain, and judgment?

When I was a young mom, living in Peter Cooper Village in Manhattan. I sat at the playground and chatted daily with my neighbor-wives. One morning a woman arrived, new baby ensconced happily in her pram, her other two offspring tripping along at her side.

“Her children are so beautiful. She should have more,” I said.

The woman sitting next to me, several years older than I, and far wiser, asked me if I thought that was a good reason to have children (that they came out beautiful). She had   caught me treading water in my own shallow pool of vanity. I don’t recall what I said. Probably nothing. Sometimes it’s best to keep one’s mouth shut and pray for better luck next time. Or at least a more thoughtful head and a wiser heart.

 It All goes By Too Fast

But beautiful or not, it goes by way too fast. And those of us whom beauty holds in its thrall, suffer mightily as the years take their toll.

Age and beauty. Beauty and age. Time will tell. It always does .

Should you be so inclined, you may use the following imagery to create a new relationship with vanity’s children: beauty and age:

 The Magic Mirror

 Close your eyes, breathe out one time, and imagine you are holding a two sided mirror in your hand.

On the first side, see yourself as you are now. Look carefully and notice your reaction. How do you feel? What do you see, as you look at your reflection? Observe the judgments you make, and anything negative you say to yourself, or think or feel.

Now quickly turn the mirror over and look again. See yourself now through the lens of gratitude and forgiveness, of beauty, love, and inner peace. What happens? What changes? How do you look and feel?

Then breathe out, open your eyes, give thanks,  and return.