Rob

Finally, I have finished a manuscript for publication, and I have a breather while my collaborators have their turn with it.  The story of shapeshifting shall return next time.  This is about a friend who has recently passed, and will forever remain unknown, but was no less in stature than Lincoln, sitting eternally in the National Mall in Washington DC.

Their family has owned the land since the 1920s. Or rather, the land owns them. They are so native to it as to have sprung out of the Michigan clay. Pasture and woodland, accompanied by a nearly feral sense of ancientness and renewal–the land still remembers the footsteps of the Ottawa and Potawatomi across it. The farm isn’t too far out of town, far north enough to have lots of whispering firs, but still a good smattering of leafy trees, glorious in autumn. Out a couple of miles on a dirt road, it’s frozen in time; it’s the same now as it was thirty years ago, and probably has been for longer than that.

I showed up when they needed a roommate. The older son, Kevin, had built a house next door to his parents’ farmhouse, and needed someone to help with the bills. My problem was that I had a dog. A big dog, who didn’t necessarily get along with other dogs that well. Kevin didn’t have a dog, but he did have a rabbit, whose name, pragmatically, was “Rabbit.” On walking in the door, Yiannis immediately poked his head in his pen, and slowly wagged his big flag of a tail. I took that as a good sign, as did Kevin. I moved in the following week. Kevin and I immediately slipped into an easy familiarity as roommates. We’d known each other for lifetimes, except we had just met.

Rob was Kevin’s Dad. Dark curly hair, wire-rimmed glasses, he had sort of a nerdy look before there really was such a thing.

 

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He and his wife, Jan, had lived on the farm their whole lives. Rob was born there, his father had been a dairy farmer. As well as the surrounding land, they owned a pasture that was just up the street; Rob walked the dairy cows up to graze up and back every day to be milked from the time he was in grade school until his Dad retired.

The land feels bigger than life, with a sense of the slow swing of the seasons that quietly pulls you into its rhythms. Surrounded by woodlands, ponds and creeks, the squirrels, skunk, deer, and fox are more common than people, even nowadays. You can still run into the occasional ramshackle one room schoolhouse overgrown by trees and brush. Even as late as the 60s, they were still in use. It can get fairly forbidding in the winter, as is usual for Michigan, and driving the mud slalom out to the main road in the spring means you have to put your foot down hard until you hit the tarmac, or you’re going to need a tow.

Rob didn’t follow in his Dad’s footsteps. This was the center of Ford country, with memories still remaining of the excitement and innovation of the early part of the 20th century, and the resourcefulness of those first generation immigrants. The sprawling old Ford plant downtown, and the science museum in Dearborn memorializing its industrial Golden Age, still has the feeling of the bustle of their former glory. His Dad worked for Ford intermittently, and would bring Rob to work with him–so he learned about gas reciprocating engines from the moment the first “combustion driven contraption” rolled off the line. This suited him better than cows, which Rob had a tendency to lose track of, as his eyesight was very poor. Cars were less unpredictable, and didn’t need milking.

It wasn’t long before Rob could strip and rebuild in an engine in a day or two. He had a engineering bent that defied logic–he had what most people would call a naturally scientific mind. To him, it just made sense. His two sons are the same way, all three of them could be considered mechanical engineering geniuses, they could build or create anything. And they were always helping Rob build something as they grew up out in the metal shop behind the house.

They had pole barns full of miniature steam engines, reciprocating motion machines, popcorn makers–the big ones you see at the Fair–every conceivable kind of gas-powered vehicle–and tractors. Rob like to rebuild antique tractors. These were from the times when these stalwarts of the farm were made to be beautiful as well as functional. Red and green with graceful curves and high seats; Ford, Farmall, Case, others no longer in business, usually nothing more than 10 horsepower. Marvelous creatures that reminded you of plow horses, each with its own personality, snorting and blowing to get to the day’s work. I used to go the engine shows with them, where you’d come home sunburnt, stuffed with cotton candy and home-made bologna sandwiches, hoarse from yelling over the perpetual grunt and bellow of the engines.

They also adopted strays; animals and people. They had tons of cats, dogs, chickens, geese, bunnies, you name it, they took them all in. They took stray people in, too. I had just moved out from a roommate situation where all three of us were crazy, to put it generously, and in the case of threes, one usually gets pushed out, which in this case was me. When I showed up on Rob’s farm, a peaceful bit of land and a family were exactly what I needed. It cast its spell, as it does to everyone who comes there, and I was hooked.

025_25The land is the reason they are the way they are, quiet, tough, hard-working and big-hearted.  Later when Kevin was a teenager, Rob would get up in the morning at five AM, take Kevin in early to school, then he went back to the dealership to sleep until it opened.  Kevin would attend school until noon, then go back to the dealership to work. They would then rebuild engines till quitting time.  Like most Americans, it was a busy life.

He met his wife Jan at a roller rink; she still has the white high-tops–wooden wheel contraptions, stowed away in one of the barns out back. Their wedding pictures are typical of the times, she looks happy and a little scared, he looks ecstatic, she in a white lace gown, Rob in an dapper tuxedo. It was the one time he would ever wear one; he was buried in his blue suit. Just to remind you of gender roles of that time, he bought her a new General Electric stove as a wedding gift, which she absolutely still loves, to this day.  Some sixty-odd years later, it still works.

Both were of Germanic stock, so the idea of arguing–or even expressing your feelings–was a foreign concept to both of them. Dinner at their house was always interesting. Nobody ever said a word. Until I became used to it, there were times I was tempted to slit my own throat with a blunt dinner knife, absolute utter silence was the ruling theme. But it also taught me something; silence is a not an enemy. Theirs was a peaceable silence, no drama, no strangled, venomous resentments so common to other families. Just together. Having grown up with the complete opposite, it was an odd feeling at first.

One day after I’d been there for a month or so, I dropped by the screened-in porch where Rob and Jan were sitting, enjoying the first burst of mild Spring weather. The daffodils in the barnyard poking their heads out were visible from the picnic table, which took up a large portion of the space. Not knowing my place yet, I felt a bit timid to drop in on them unannounced, but this was the country, they invited me in.

We were just sitting around the table and chatting, when Rob spoke up and said that he and Jan had been talking, and how glad they were that I had moved in. I came to realize later how unique this was in the midst of their usual taciturnity.  An early spring day, a vinyl tablecloth with a floral design, and new flowers blooming in the yard is what I remember. It was my first really good day in a long time.

Rob was a union man. Rather, he was one of those dauntless pioneers that brought the union to his dealership. The guys in the factory were already making a living wage, but the workers in the dealership were being forced to work long hours for very little pay and free overtime. He managed to get a vote of the guys that worked there in favor to join the local union, and faced considerable opposition from management doing so. He got his car vandalized, tires slashed, the works, more than once, with the bosses turning a blind eye. At the end, corrupt union officials killed the initiative on a technicality. But Rob was way more than they reckoned for.

He knew the dealership was double-dipping the plant downtown for engine rebuilds, so Rob hatched a plan. I don’t recall the details, but the manufacturing plant in Detroit was paying for full rebuilds on defective motors within warranty, and the dealership was only partially rebuilding them. The mistake they made is that they kept records of it. So what Rob did was a little “social engineering,” before there was such a thing. He used to work odd hours, and on the weekends, he had the run of the place. He made friends with the secretary, who filed all this paperwork. He took Kevin in with him one day, as he often did, to help with the engine work. As a teenager, Kevin liked to wear those tall cowboy boots. He often went out back to the parking lot for breaks, or to fetch tools for his dad. He often swung through the front office, so no one really paid attention to the fact that Kevin was stuffing reports of overcharges in his boots, supplied by the secretary.

Somehow or other, these reports ended up at the main office in Detroit. They were of special interest to the bosses, who then billed the dealership for all these overcharges. Rob eventually got his union representation in the shop. He wasn’t someone to be monkeyed with.

Political battles were his thing. He confronted the neighborhood, the city council, his union. They kept him going. Like most Americans, he didn’t put up with much. Smart, tough, a pragmatic thinker and talker, he rarely didn’t get his way in the political arena. He loved children, though, and was a patient teacher and storyteller.

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One of Rob’s contraptions

He was a solid Oak tree, tall and wide, who covered all with his tough, brilliant mind and compassionate heart. When I look at the issues we face as a society today, I remember where I came from, and those who came before me. Their footsteps are large to fill, and the stride they left behind is wide, but those of us gifted with such people have their strength forever knitted in their bones. Whatever we face, whatever the outcome, people like Rob were the prototype, and the example. We will do it together.

 

From Here to There

A few weeks ago, we were in New York City, the kaleidoscopic queen of all cities.  At last she seems to have recovered from that awful day, now close to 16 years ago.  This was not the first time I’d been back; but it was the first time that her lightening-paced ebullient energy was evident again.  In my past trips, her residents were still wounded, obsessing about the past.  Passing conversations, still traumatized, books about the falling towers read by subway riders, for them, the awful loop of those images had not passed.  The ghosts of that day still wandered the streets.

Not this time, her swagger is showing again.  One thing has changed, though, the Lady in the harbor still holds her lamp aloft not only for the living, but for also for those who passed through another golden door so many years ago.  The quiet pools near Battery Park whispering gently of those who have passed is a perfect memorial.  Nearly 3000 people died that day; yet it was also the largest rescue achieved up to that time, and beyond, 15,000 people were successfully evacuated from the buildings before they fell.  The robust new World Trade Center now speaks to the future–we have passed the test.  Americans are tough critters.

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Not long after 9/11/01, I was in a healing session with a client, both of us were grieving and obsessed with the events of the past weeks.  I had a vision while working on her, it involved her as well, as you will see.  I became aware of them again as I walked the WTC Memorial.  Their voices were not silent.

We face another test now, two families; A poet, well-versed in the human soul, once said:

“From ancient grudge break to new mutiny, where civil blood makes civil hands unclean.”

It is an old tale, one that we as humans have not yet grown past its dark absurdity.  We now wield the power to create that ball of slag, and we have no place to go from here.  Each of us has our own to add to heal the rift, however unorthodox, and so we are being called.  So as I was in meditation this morning, again, they made themselves known to me, all 2997 of them.  I saw the multi-colored balloons and golden towers, and heard their collective voices again, but now with a sense of urgency.  “Speak,” they said.  And so I will.

Here is the story of that vision from so long ago.

Here to There

This story is about dying, to be sure, but perhaps from a longer perspective. We must face the possibility as a species as well as individually. In between birth, death and immortality, there is the washing and the ironing, isn’t there?

Three weeks after September 11th, 2001, I was about to begin a Reiki session on a client who is a first generation Japanese-American, Carol Yamasaki. All of us were still pretty much shell-shocked, Carol and I had talked about this before we began the session. The burning images of the collapsing towers kept looping in our collective mind, I could feel it. From my experience nothing happens in a vacuum, cause and effect is unavoidable, but there are times when you are definitely reminded you were not named supervisor of the Universe any time recently. That was the only answer I had for her, there weren’t any guarantees that we would ever find out why this had happened.

A healing session begins by the practitioner taking a few minutes to relax and focus and I was having a hard time doing this. I was going to have to find a way to let these images go, at least temporarily. As I asked to connect to that energy that allows me to do my work, I also asked for some way of putting in perspective what we had all just seen and heard, and seemingly lost.

Immediately I heard a voice say very compassionately but detached, resonant, clear,

‘This doesn’t matter, you know.’ Aside from feeling shock at being spoken to directly, my response was immediate.

‘What do you mean, this doesn’t matter, thousands of people died in that attack, are you crazy? Of course it matters!’ I heard the voice again.

‘Not to them, it doesn’t. Most of them didn’t even realize what happened. It only hurt for a second, they’re all fine now.’

‘Well, it matters to their relatives then!’ I had been haunted by the thought of how many people had no resolution, no visit from the police, no body, no nothing. Their loved ones just never came home.

‘More understand than you think.’

Ascending into another level, I again saw the images of the falling towers, but this time they were pure white rimmed in gold, they gleamed in the sun as they fell. The buildings were a chrysalis, a sacred place, a place of accelerated evolutionary motion. There were millions upon millions of souls watching as the buildings crumbled. The building occupants changed form and just simply stepped out and joined their companions in spirit. It was a joyous meeting, a celebration, multi-colored balloons and confetti flying into the starlit expanse and crowds cheering in welcome, they had come home a hard and fast road. The images were shifting so rapidly, I had no time to be amazed.

The scene flipped, I was now myself out in the enormity of space. The Sun and his mighty train of followers, the planets were all laid out before me on the black velvet of limitless space marked with the twinkling of the living stars. It brought tears to my eyes, it was so beautiful, I realized with a rush of joy, this is our home.

But something marred the view, I became aware of a horrible stench, it was choking me. I was reminded sharply of a smell that I used to chance upon when I was working as an EMT. When there is a very bad car accident, particularly if one or more of the cars have burned, there is an odor at the scene that is very distinctive. The smell is of burning oil, radiator coolant, rubber, plastic, blood, and one more thing, if there were occupants trapped in the burning vehicles, the smell of burning meat. It is a very penetrating odor, it stays with your clothes your hair, your mouth, you never forget as long as you live. It didn’t make any sense at first, but I could smell that now, out in the boundless expanse of space.

The Earth was outside of my field of vision, but as I slowly came around the sun and my perspective widened, a brown marble, streaked with black and pockmarked slag came into view. It was still slowly spinning, but the day and the night now fell on it without meaning. The bitterness of the burnt-out fire was in my mouth and I fought the realization that this was the source of the stench. I nearly vomited from despair when the realization hit me that this was the Earth. My heart and mind were slapped into complete silence. I heard the voice again.

‘This is what you can do to yourselves in 17 minutes. This is not a given, this is only one road. These people gave up their lives so that you could understand that you have another choice. You can do this, or you can choose to understand that you are all in this together. It is up to you.’

The scene flipped back to the two towers in white and gold and the souls who had just left it, whom I knew now, had done what they did knowingly on some level to change that line of possibilities. But this time, a rather short Japanese man, was standing next to the towers. He gesticulated to the buildings and then to me rather impatiently, and then he spoke.

‘This is what these were designed for, this was their purpose, to change our path,’ he said.

Now I was confused, who was this man? He looked sort of like my client, Carol. There the vision ended, and I came back to the room where she was lying on the table waiting for me. I told her what I had seen, described the little Japanese gentleman and asked her if she knew who he was. She bolted upright on the table, her eyes wide and her face pale.

‘That was my father, Minori Yamasaki. He designed the World Trade Center Towers.’

We were both stunned. All I know is that human nature being what it is, we rarely learn the lesson easily or remember it for long. It may get worse before it gets better, but perhaps a longer view may be in order. We have a Winter so Spring can come.

Namaste’

Death–The Next Great Adventure

The Anatomy of Death: Notes from a Healer’s Casebook

So I have written a book about my experiences with the dying as a psychic-shamanic practitioner. I call it shamanic practitioner, as although I am part Native American, I cannot say that I learned of my calling and how to do it from a Native American Shaman, so I am not a shaman. I would call my mentor one, but she would not. She calls herself a student, as I do of myself.

What is this book about?  Who is Sarah? As Dumbledore might say, “To the well-ordered mind, death is but the next great adventure.” In conducting NIH-funded research in Reiki for chronic pain and in my own private practice as an energy healer, I found that some people who came for Reiki immediately got better, some did slowly over time, and some did not.  Others met with that final door we call death progressing through a distinct set of steps common to all of them, but in a relaxed and joyous way.  How and why was this?  In the course of their dying process, what had we done that was different?5031814-lg

The Buddhists have studied these processes over time and possess a finely tuned understanding of the function and meaning of death within their culture. For them, death is merely a punctuation mark, a single brushstroke in a much larger picture that goes on forever.   It’s all well and good that the Eastern perspective has come to such resolution about this process, but in a culture that worships youth and believes science has the answer to everything, how can death be looked at as anything other than a defeat?

I am primarily a storyteller; after a lifetime in the hard sciences, I now believe it is our stories that hold the ultimate power to transform. Though I have been given permission both by the patients and their families to tell these stories, their names and even some of the extraneous facts have been changed to protect their privacy. So attached to this post is Sarah’s story, which is about her journey through that final door.

The book will be published shortly on Amazon, The Anatomy of Death: Notes from a Healer’s Casebook. Feel free to print it, hand it around in its entirety.  Take it as allegory, if you like, or as an interesting, What If?

Photo: beckycockrumphoto.com