Friday, July 14, 2017

The Gypsy in All of Us

I will not be
another flower,
picked for my beauty and left
to die. I will
be wild, difficult to find,
and impossible to forget.
~ Erin Van Vuren

The Netflix series, “Gypsy,” which debuted in June of this year stars Naomi Watts as Jean Holloway, a middle-aged Manhattan psychotherapist whose life is slowly unraveling.

She is married to her successful attorney husband, Michael (Billy Crudup), and she has her own flourishing therapy practice with established patients. Jean and Michael have a young daughter, Dolly, who is starting to show signs of sexual identity issues. She likes to dress like a boy and is thrilled when her mother cuts off her beautiful blonde hair in order to play Peter Pan in the school play.

Outwardly all seems placidly fine with this little family, though some of Jean’s friends are critical of Dolly’s burgeoning identity choices, and, are clearly insensitive and catty about it. Jean struggles to fit into the crowd of country club women who underneath their extensive salon care are shallow, judgmental and harshly opinionated.

Things go wrong when Jean wrestles with her own identity issues and begins getting too involved with her patients. Sam (Karl Glusman) is a troubled young man trying to let go of his girlfriend Sidney (Sophie Cookson) who has broken off their relationship. His descriptions of her arouse so much curiosity in Jean that she actually goes to the coffee shop where Sidney is a barista. Jean says her name is Diane and this begins a journey into deceit and compromise that sends her spiraling into an illicit affair with Sidney.

She also interferes in the life of an older controlling patient whose grown daughter has left to join a commune and get out from under her mother’s confining and obsessive attention. Jean lies to the daughter as well and presents herself as a casual stranger in order to insert herself into this woman’s and her mother’s deep conflicts.

This all sounds quite deranged and yet Jean is seen by most as a professional woman, poised, attractive, a caring mother and devoted wife. But murky, objectionable emotions stir within her and she dares to explore them. And yet, underneath her aberrant behavior is a need to help and feel fulfilled.

The series is about our human vulnerabilities and the challenge to be ourselves. We see in Jean the strains of married life, the difficulty of aging in our culture, the pressure of a demanding career, and our emotional entanglements with spouses, children, co-workers, and friends. Normally, this is the arena men are portrayed in, but here we see that women too have sexual frustrations, fantasies, emotional exhaustion, and the need to get more out of life and relationships.

Jean’s behavior, though clearly inappropriate and violates a landscape of professional boundaries, is indicative of someone in personal crisis. She is not a monster. She’s not even sociopathic, though she’s dangerously close. Yes, she is selfish, reckless, and irresponsible. But she is also lonely, bored, and conflicted about who she is and what she wants out of life. 

Her most troubling behavior to me is the betrayal to her patients and using their personal private information in sessions to go behind their backs and live out her own desperate urges. 

Her experiences are a warning to be honest with ourselves and with others. They are a lesson in making meaningful choices that enrich our lives, not careless ones that complicate them. 

“The line between good and evil,” writes psychologist Philip Zimbardo, “is permeable and almost anyone can be induced to cross it when pressured by situational forces.” 

The power of this kind of television series is that it challenges us to face our own emotional weaknesses and the inner struggles we, too, wrestle with in life. Lost dreams. Failed relationships. Moments of shame and regret. Dishonorable acts. Betrayals. Hurting people we love. Most of us have walked through these experiences on one side or the other of them, or perhaps on both sides of them. 

The gift of television dramas, movies, plays, even music, is that they can give us a richer, more profound grasp of human needs and the often messiness of our own inner world.

Philosopher Martha Nussbaum has written that the ethical life is “based on being more like a plant than like a jewel, something rather fragile, but whose very particular beauty is inseparable from that fragility.”

There is a gypsy in all of us; the wild and roaming need to explore our deeper selves and find meaning to the longings that are a vital part of our humanity.

© 2017 Timothy Moody

Saturday, July 8, 2017

Libya is a Moral Warning

National Public Radio (NPR) had a segment this week on the chaos in Libya. With more than forty years of rule under Muammar Gaddafi, Libya had become a thriving country. There were limited freedoms and an unbending system of laws, many of them harsh and restrictive. But the country held together while Gaddafi entered strategic partnerships with the U.S. and European powers, striking deals with defense manufacturers and oil companies. We were apparently fine with his dictatorial rule as long as there was something in it for us.

Then, in the fall of 2010, revolt was moving through the Arab world. The U.S. government saw, once again, an opportunity for regime change. The rich oil reserves in Libya and other resources would be the spoils of a limited battle fully supported by the U.S. but mostly fought by NATO troops. Removing Gaddafi was never admitted to as a U.S. mission, but it was carried out nonetheless. It all went bad quickly, however. Gaddafi was beaten, sodomized, shot, and then drug through the streets like an animal. Enraged soldiers and civilians went berserk. Human life was cheapened to meaninglessness and remains so now. To this day the U.S. government refuses to accept responsibility for the mess that is now Libya.

There is no central government there, just a bunch of brutal factions clawing for control, all of them viciously corrupt and violent. The people are mercilessly exploited and abused. There are endless kidnappings, tortures, rapes, and murders. Human trafficking is carried out by criminal organizations without any threat of law or punishment to stop them. Once there was no easy way to manipulate the country to our advantage, we pulled out and left Libya to be ravaged by beasts and bullies perpetrating the worst acts of inhumanity imaginable while mauling their way to power and wealth.

Journalist David Talbot has written, “Our country’s cheerleaders are wedded to the notion of American exceptionalism. But when it comes to the machinations of power, we are all too similar to other societies and ones that have come before us. There is an implacable brutality to power that is familiar throughout the world and throughout history.”

We want to believe we are somehow better than other countries and perhaps in some ways we are. But in the realm of using others for our own benefit, we are no different from countries that harm and brutalize and ruin the lives of millions of innocent people all in the quest for profit. Iraq and Afghanistan are prime examples. As well as Libya, Honduras, Yemen, and others.

We’ve been given for years now warnings of fear and dread believing we had to entangle ourselves with those countries in order to defend ourselves against terrorism; when in fact, we have so damaged those countries in our attempt to control them to our advantage, that we have actually increased the threats of terrorism against us. And in the process, we have left a trail of human debris that stains us with the blood of countless innocents.

The world is becoming an increasingly dangerous place. The countries with nuclear bombs have grown to include the United Kingdom, France, China, Israel, South Africa, India, Pakistan, and soon, North Korea. And of course, the U.S.A. Interestingly, Japan, the only nation ever attacked with nuclear bombs, does not have any. They have kept to the longstanding Nuclear Non-Proliferating Treaty signed after WWII. They have seen the unutterable devastation. They know the horror of this madness.

Whatever happened to the search for peace? Why is there seemingly no interest anymore in treaties, in negotiations, in the dismantling of nuclear weapons? What kind of lunacy have we allowed so that all we consider now is the accumulation of more sophisticated weapons of destruction and death?

Libya is a moral warning to us. Stay out of the affairs of other nations. Stop pretending to initiate democracy in countries that aren’t ready for it or don’t want it, while the real mission is to take over the country to advance some hidden agenda of our own.

Hyping us up for war, praising war, incessant talk of war, wanting war, from our leaders and others has to be resisted. Gandhi’s great line must be our mantra, “I will not let anyone walk through my mind with their dirty feet.”

© 2017 Timothy Moody

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

The Light in the Faces of Our Incredible Human Family

National Geographic Journalist Paul Salopek is walking across the world on foot to trace the pathways of the first humans who wandered out of Africa in the Stone Age to claim the earth as theirs. His journey will cover 21,000 miles and is estimated to take 10 years. He is four years into his massive expedition and already he has discovered that humanity is mostly kind and generous, welcoming and caring, hard-working and disciplined.

I watched a brief piece about Salopek’s journey on the PBS News Hour this week. I have included a link below.

What is extraordinary about his adventure is his realization that in spite of all the wars and turmoil across the globe, he has learned that “The world is an incredibly hospitable place.” In following the ancient trade route called “The Silk Road,” Salopek has gotten to know a variety of people young and old. And though he has so far encountered a few dangerous situations where he had his water supply stolen, was once ambushed by raiders, and was shot at, he says the vast majority of people have been “fantastically positive.” He says, “Most people are good and will help you out even if they don’t look like you or speak like you.”

Salopek has already crossed into 12 countries and has met hundreds of people, experienced many languages, cultures, and religions, and has been convinced that people all over the world are instinctively decent, altruistic, and humane.

Watching this brief report on this fascinating man and his incredible journey reminded me that in industrialized countries, in nations of influence, power and wealth, including the United States, we are being fed throughout various media outlets, through our corrupt political systems, through a bankrupt moral code worldwide, a treacherous and mostly false picture of humanity.

It is true there are terrible people in every country, unscrupulous, cruel, vicious people full of hate and selfishness, meanness and violence. But they do not represent the majority of the people in the world. They do not represent the majority of people in America.

We are continuously assaulted by messages that say most Muslims are deadly people-hating terrorists; that most Blacks are thuggish violent criminals; that most Mexicans are job stealers and illegals; that most Whites are arrogant and bigoted, are raging Rednecks and ignorant jerks; that gays destroy family values; that women are weak and inferior baby killers; that the educated are snobs; that the poor are inhuman; that cops are beasts; and that we are surrounded on every corner by malevolent, depraved people out to harm and destroy us.

Paul Salopek says that is hogwash. His brilliant and courageous odyssey is revealing a world of beautiful people, uncorrupted, benevolent, courteous and honorable. And they are the majority of the world populace, not the stingy, wicked, devious few who make the news every day, who capture the attention of greedy capitalists who use those despicable people and their actions in order to make money off of their provocative behavior and are then made to scare the rest of us into thinking this is our world.

Someone has said that the heart of humankind is a cactus in bloom. It is an apt image. There is of course good and bad in all of us. But today we only see the needles and the rough, thick covering. We miss entirely the flourishing flower.

We have to take responsibility for how we view others. We must dismiss all of the angry hype the news feeds us, the violent images, the endless acts of wrongdoing, the hurting of people over and over again, without ever telling us about the boundless examples of decent goodness and transforming love in the hearts and lives of so many around us.

We are larger; we are better people the world over than we are given credit for. But most are too often unrecognized, dismissed, and forgotten in the obscene world of graphic violence, hate, greed and murder that has become our only reality.

I think of Milton’s great line, “O dark, dark, dark, amid the blazing sun.”

It is time we stopped listening to the harsh naysayers, the manipulators filling us with nothing but darkness and dread. It is time to discover, as Paul Salopek has, the light in the faces of our incredible human family.

© 2017 Timothy Moody

Friday, June 23, 2017

The Magic in the World

“It's all a matter of paying attention. The magic in this world seems to work in whispers and small kindnesses.” ~ Charles de Lint, Canadian Writer

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Our Children Are Amazingly Wonderful

Ingrid, who will be 15 next month (unbelievably), is at dance camp this week. This one is two hours away in a university setting. This is her first time to be away by herself from her family and from me.

We went shopping the other day for some outfits for her. Each day of camp has a theme and the girls were encouraged to wear things that fit with those themes as they work on their routines. So she picked out some things.

Ingrid rarely likes what I like for her. Maybe it’s a girl thing, or just being a teen. I’d pull something off the rack and say, “What about this, sweetie?” She’d hold it up in front of her and say, “I’m not feeling it.” And hand it back to me.

That happens a lot, actually. But, I don’t mind. She has good taste and besides, I love her independence, the fact that she knows what she likes and it doesn’t have to be what I like.

She found things that fit her feelings, that express who she is, things that out in the middle of the dance workouts, will feel good on her.

I have been the only dad she knows. Her biological father abandoned her shortly after her birth. She has never heard from him or seen him since. He has never made any effort to know this beautiful child. She came to me when she was two years old and watching her grow up has been so rewarding.

Swimming lessons. Learning to ride a bike. Discovering the joy of reading. Playing catch together. Watching her on the soccer field. Ballet lessons. Dance class. Arts and crafts. Painting. Writing private thoughts in her journal. Learning to hit a golf ball, and a softball. Fishing. Making friends. Getting on the honor roll. Being in Student Council. Going through the process of Confirmation. Taking her first Communion. Experiencing Confession. Finding her way to a faith that is hers. Dealing with boys. It’s all a part of growing into the young woman she is becoming.

We’re going to the beach for her 15th birthday. She didn’t want a quinceañera, which is actually the fiesta de quince años, a celebration of a Latino girl’s fifthteenth birthday. The roots of it come from Latin America and it is often celebrated in the U.S. in Latino families.

It’s a rite of passage for girls, which I think is a fantastic idea. But many of them turn into very elaborate festivities, some of them more like a wedding with all of the expenses. Ingrid did not want that. She wanted a quiet time with her family at the beach. So that’s what we are doing.

I raised two great sons. They were a delight to me as boys, so full of life and their own interests, and yes, some mischief now and then. They turned into gifted, loving men and they were and are a profound part of my life and my heart.

Some people ask if girls are harder to raise than boys. It seems a pointless question to me. Children are amazingly wonderful, whatever their gender. Yes, they have obvious differences, likes, and dislikes. But they are these priceless little lives filled with so much potential for talent and intelligence, compassion and love. They require a lot of care in those first years, incredible care; tenderness, kisses, hugs, security, joy, and the awareness they are safe and cherished and provided for.

I now have two beautiful grandchildren, and they too, are stars in the firmament of my sky. Brilliantly alive with affection and curiosity, fun and glee. I hold all of my children and grandchildren to my heart and keep them there with such endearment. I want so much for all of them. Mostly to know they are abundantly loved by me.

Ingrid will return home soon. I have talked to her each evening to hear how it’s all going, and all has been well. She loves camp. All the nerves of going disappeared in the excitement of her arrival. The day's activities and routines have kept her busy with fun and learning.

These beautiful human beings trusted to our care. It is such an incredible responsibility, and honor. Can we ever love them enough?

© 2017 Timothy Moody

Friday, June 16, 2017

“Before you learn the tender gravity of kindness,
you must travel where the Indian in a white poncho
lies dead by the side of the road.
You must see how this could be you,
how he too was someone
who journeyed through the night with plans
and the simple breath that kept him alive.

Before you know kindness as the deepest thing
you must know sorrow as the other deepest thing.
You must wake up with sorrow.
You must speak to it till your voice
catches the thread of all sorrows
and you see the size of the cloth.

Then it is only kindness that makes sense anymore,
only kindness that ties your shoes
and sends you out into the day to mail letters and
purchase bread,
only kindness that raises its head
from the crowd of the world to say
It is I you have been looking for,
and then goes with you everywhere
like a shadow or a friend.”

~ Naomi Shihab Nye, Poet/Author

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

The Hard Fought Truce Within

There are secrets that are frozen
In the deepest places of our soul.
They cannot be unearthed,
Yet they cannot be unknown.
We have dreams that are lost
In the recesses of our sleep.
We have longings too deep to reach
Across anxieties we cannot breach.
There are spaces for love
We hold for future opportunities.
They are kept in the privacy
Of our simple soulful duties.
We have a heavy broken burden
That we carry through the years.
It’s a wistful painful memory
Of our losses soaked in tears.
There are questions we still can’t answer,
Things we wearily want to know.
But life is not an easy equation
One can quickly solve and own.
There are journeys alone to take
And experiences with others to share.
There are changes we have to make
And realities we have to bear.
And finally accept the mystery of things
We cannot ever know.
And find the hard fought truce within
That if we honor lets us grow.

© 2017 Timothy Moody