Lazarus sits up and goes on and on . . .

I keep getting gentle prods from readers to write an occasional blog. It’s encouraging to know that there are still a few of you out there checking in periodically. As you can tell, I’ve gone cryogenic as a blogger — not completely dead, but in a state of semi-frozen literary suspension. Now and then someone pours hot water on me and I sit up and stare around. The prods from you readers are the hot water that prompts this post.

First, my own situation. It has been a difficult winter. My mother died on Christmas day. A mother’s death is different from a father’s death. At least for a man, the father is the roof over your head, the mother is the ground beneath your feet. When they are both gone, you float free into the universe. As my wife puts it, you become an orphan.

This experience is worthy of an entire book, though it’s not one I’m inclined to write. Suffice to say that her death on Christmas Day had the unexpected consequence of giving the day a new significance, even sacramentality, that I will always treasure. It also reinforced the naturalness of the experience of death and made me wonder anew why it is that the human animal in its passing cannot mirror the passing of the day — moving into a glorious sunset followed by a gentle twilight that marks the closing of the day. However, I can report with authority that it does not.

So, anyway, I am sad. It is a deep sadness, far beyond any surface emotion. It is a sadness that is almost akin to peace — a quiet resignation in the face of a truth much larger than my own. Like the birth of a child, the death of a parent makes you one with the human family, and that, in the face of the deep sadness, is a great balm.

On the practical front, I am finishing a follow-up book to Neither Wolf nor Dog. I have been working on it for years, but have not spoken of it simply because I have not wished to do so. It will be called The Wolf at Twilight, and will be coming out in the fall. I will say more about it as it comes closer. But Dan’s story has been a conundrum for me in many ways, and I prefer simply to tell it rather than talk about the telling. So those of you who are curious will simply have to wait.

People have also been asking me about my take on the apparent economic crumbling going on around us. So, here it is.

Like everyone, I am worried for the financial well being of myself and my family. And my heart goes out to all of those whose fall has been harder and deeper than my own.

I am filled with righteous anger — anger that banks will be given money without accountability so that they can continue to be economically viable while the people to whom they loan money are allowed to sink and drown; anger at the misshapen world view and confused values that the car companies have shown by using their bail out money to provide low interest loans on car and truck models that cannot sell because they should never have been made; anger at the greed and blindness of corporations and industries who think that they should have money simply because they feel that they need it, while we as individuals feel the same need, but are given only vague promises that less will be taken out of our pockets.

Looking at it analytically, however, I just shrug my shoulders. We should have seen this coming. We are simply witnessing, after thirty years, the real fruits of Ronald Reagan’s paradigm shift in American thinking — that money and favor should be given to those who create jobs — no matter how menial and degrading those jobs are, and no matter how inequitable their pay scales and internal wealth distribution may be — on the curious assumption that corporate self interest, properly funded, will miraculously translate into public benefit and social good as the wealth trickles down to the individual.

An entire generation has grown up under this mirage, either unaware of the fact that it was accomplished by cutting the throat of the union movement and shredding the social safety net, or indifferent to the fact that those things ever occurred. A short-memoried public has been sold the story of individual greed and self interest as a noble narrative of self reliance and the American independent spirit.

Now this all is coming home to roost, and, in the short term, it will not be pretty.

Meanwhile, the pendulum is swinging back toward government involvement without the requisite structures in place to make that involvement work smoothly. The fig leaf will be ripped from our current way of doing the public’s business, and the reality of government inefficiencies and our hallowed history of pork barrel distribution of government funds will become frighteningly apparent as the amounts of government monies slated for distribution becomes ever greater.

But this inevitability notwithstanding, we will be well served by a shift in our national consciousness away from the belief in empire, both personal and political. What that shift will be to depends on the vision of governmental leaders, the reconfiguration of corporate values, governmental operational models, and the revaluing of goodness, kindness, and sharing in our own personal lives.

I have spent my adult life struggling with the hard truth that as individuals we are a giving and sharing people, but as groups, whether governmental or corporate, we are venal and self-serving. I would love to see corporate and government behaviors align with the principles of caring that most of us as individuals try to practice in our lives. But to do that we need to have leaders of vision who refuse to kowtow to systems that have become rancid by hiding greed under the cover of “sound business practices”. And we need to stop those who look for cracks in those systems — both individuals and corporate/governmental entities — that see every situation as a chance to serve their own selfish purposes.

As I said, I believe this will be a hard time. But systems reconfigure themselves only after they are irremediably broken, and many of ours appear to have reached that state. The people who are alive at that time of breakage draw a difficult card. But who are we to avoid suffering not of our own devise? Many other generations have experienced it; many alive now in other parts of the world have been experiencing it for years.

But I see two good things coming out of this disintegration.

First, it will give the young people something to believe in and a chance to demand change. Since the sixties, the younger generations have been forced to simply find their place in the machine. Now the machine is broken. They can help construct a new one with the help of those of us who have always been dubious about the one we inherited. It is a chance for all of us to link hands in pursuit of something larger.

Second, it will force us to turn to each other for help. For too long we have believed that strength resides in those who win, not in those who serve, and the goal of too many people has been to become “a winner.” This is going to have to change, partly because a society that operates on the model of winners and losers becomes a heartless beast, and partly because, in some measure, all of us are going to have to lose. Those who make the shift and decide that they must dedicate themselves to serving — and not the caricature of serving that says that by creating wealth for myself I am serving those beneath me — those people will survive and thrive. The echoes of our parents’ and grandparents’ words, that they think people were happier during the Great Depression when nobody had anything, will begin to have real meaning.

I, personally, think we are putting a good man in the White House. I think he understands what needs to happen. Whether he can make it happen, or whether the systems and mindsets are so calcified that they cannot be moved, remains to be seen. There is not even any proof that anything can set things aright. Perhaps we are simply reaping the whirlwind.

But individuals survive and thrive in the most barren economic and physical environments. They create lives and friendships and societies and dreams. They only fail to survive in barren spiritual environments. And we are not yet a barren spiritual environment. We are a big-hearted people. We are filled with love and compassion and the capacity to hope. Anyone who comes here from another country sees that. But the dissonance between our personal character and our public and corporate behavior has become almost too great to comprehend.

The question now is whether the government can become a mirror of our better selves and an agent of positive change. Personally, I think it can, and, more than any time in my life, I am hopeful. I had no problem with Michelle Obama’s comment that, for the first time in a long time, she was proud of her country.

Overall, I think that this is a great time to be alive, because it is a time of great significance. For those who have come to believe that a life well lived means a fat 401K and a Lexus in the garage, it will be a bit of a shock. But beneath this urge for security and prosperity there has been lurking a feeling in those of good heart that we have been stealing from our children and putting our boot on the neck of much of the rest of the world. And we know that our strange position as magnetic north for the hopes of people everywhere has given us a unique opportunity to serve the better impulses of humankind.

For another brief moment in time, we can shape human aspirations and direct the world’s vision to higher values. This sounds grandiose, but I believe it is true. America is unique because, as a nation, we are founded on nothing more than an idea. The challenge before us is to define that idea — freedom — in a way that serves human good rather than individual greed. We’ve done it before; we can do it again.

We’d better, because a whole lot is riding on us. I, for one, would have it no other way.


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15 comments

  1. Linda says:

    I am sorry to hear of the loss of your mother. When I lost my parents I felt I also lost my childhood. I am now the grandma the older one. But I have found joy in telling my grandchildren stories about my/their family history. My grandmother was a Blackfeet Indian and I do not want to ever let her legacy die. Our ranching family in Montana. My daughter and grandchildren live in England. They go to a private school and are very English. My daughter lost faith in the American education system and moved to the best school she could find. The children, teenagers are very happy there. They are light years ahead of our country. There are downsides to the English schools also. Depending on what school you attend is pretty much what your life is going to be. Not everyone can go to college. It is a long story. Anyway, I know America is a great country and can be fixed and probably is going through that right now. I did not vote for the first time. My heart was not in it. I felt overwhelmed with all the anger and media rhetoric that I really never got a grasp of what each candidate stood for.

    Now I feel President Obama is able to really say what is happening and what he wants for the country. I think he is a good choice and I hope everyone will respect the election system and support the President. I hope congress will really start to care about this country and support and represent the people.

    This past year my husband and I have watched our very successful business drop to almost nothing. We started laying off our employees January 2008. We had 125 employees and now we have 9. Depending on what happens in the next three months we might not have a business. Hmmmm. Well it has been very hard now for 2 1/2 years. They say one year. We and our friends have watched our numbers decline since for awhile. The good news is we have also witnessed some social changes. People are helping one another and coming together. We go to each others homes twice a month for movie night. We have not attended a charity event in 2 years. Now we give of our time and some money to those who really need our help. The charity events were out of control. Who could top who’s last event. I wonder if any of the money really went to the charity. We raised a generation of entitlement children. I think the children going through this crisis will be wiser and make better decisions in their adult life. Our business is going to suffer, but somehow I feel as a country we will be better off to get this gotta have it now idea behind us. What is nice the news is not all about Britney Spears, Paris Hilton. I was really getting tired hearing about their escapades when I felt something bigger was going to happen. Our moral breakdown has arrived with vengeance. I thank the Lord and my husband that he was very conservative with how we handled our money and children. He was strong and caring for all of us. We all are going to be ok. He was able to say no and guide all of us in a very intelligent loving way. He has watched a business that he built decline. He has shown more compassion for the people he has had to lay off than for himself. He took that responsibility on himself. He did not pass it off to others. In one day he laid off 35 people. Talked to each and every one of them over the course of three days. He has remained strong and we talk a lot. Mostly about what we are thankful for. We found we have much more than we ever realized. When so many are without. Our giving is so much more meaningful. God has blessed us with so much and my hope is that those of us who still have our homes and income, even though not as much, will count it as a blessing and use what resources we have for the betterment of our families and our future of our children. On taxes; we are always thankful that we can pay them. We pay a lot of taxes. I feel increase taxes on our business will do us in. That is life. Then we will join the gravy train that got us into this mess (one of the problems) and get some of our money back. hehehe not.

    Sorry I have been so long winded, it was nice to say all of this. I am happy that you are writing//blogging again. Reading what you wrote brought all of this out of me. Thank you for sharing your wonderful insight to life I feel is your gift to this world. We need more like you.

  2. Leigh Austin says:

    Dearest Kent,
    I also, would have it no other way.

    I am saddened by the loss of your mother’s light. However, what a perfect refrain for one to cast, if intentional. Although the true meaning of the Christmas holiday might have been lost or diffused by many Americans, it’s inherent effect remains. The spirit of “the season” is as ineffable and mysterious as it is sacred. What a time to mark the passage, and again, cycle of life.
    Your words are balm; they are the seeds from which sprout new, abundant life (destined for spring). We mark our days by the passage of the mundane, and pick and choose the jewels around which we circumnavigate our lives.
    I remain, ever so grateful, that you have chosen to write – this expression form of art that is measured in words and language – because always encapsulated within your words are the echoes, songs and tones of all you have assimilated, witnessed, and experienced.
    Your words sing in my heart. They thrum on the harpstrings of my soul. I cannot eloquently capture the essence of my wings stretching and taking flight. Yet that is what your writing does for me.
    Please be ever mindful of the lesson in Mexico, whence a young woman was helped to find her husband’s body washed up on a Mexican beach. “We are not saints, we are not heroes. Our lives are lived in the quiet corners of the ordinary.”
    My father tried to teach me that. Your writings have cemented it home.
    Thank you.
    Blessings for tomorrow,
    Leigh

  3. Linda says:

    P.S. We have been in business for 37 years. My husband is 75 years old. He feels he will never see it again at its full potential. He will continue to work, but not as much, and he has maintained a positive outlook and love of his country. Just amazing.

  4. Wendy says:

    Just a brief note to say thank you for the blog. It is good to hear these views coming from the US at this time. I am very sorry for the sadness of your mother’s passing but very much recognise the feeling of being an orphan. No longer being someone’s child for me meant I lost the feeling of being a child sometimes and that in itself is sad

  5. Debby Lynn says:

    Hello Kent! It was so good to ‘hear’ your ‘voice’ again. I am so sorry for your loss. When my mother died, I felt I became a young child again, but with an old soul wisdom. It is sweet and it is hard. I am holding your family in my heart.

    I am very excited about the follow up book you are writing. I have read NWND numerous times and given it to many friends. It will be an amazing experience to read more of the story.

    Thank you for this blog entry which guided my thoughts and expressed some things I haven’t been able to find words for. You have often done that for me.

    Debby

  6. Pam says:

    Kent, I write to add my voice to the eloquent voices that precede me. I, too, grieve for your loss. The loss of a mother….I’m so sorry.
    Thank you for taking the time, at what is clearly still a very difficult time in your life, to share with us your thoughts, and to allow us to share our caring with you. Feel the love and concern that is coming from all of us to you. I think it is our collective hope that we can perhaps help you in the way that you have helped all of us over the many years you’ve been writing. God bless you. We are with you.
    Pam

  7. Harold Rite says:

    Kent- It seems much too long since we last heard from you but todays message clearly explains why. Can never find a way to properly express my condolences, can only say I feel a share in your grief. Your wife’s thought of being an orphan was similarly stated by my sister a long time ago. You have been in my prayers since our first exchanges a few years ago, I’ll now add for your loss to become bearable, even tho todays words indicate you are well on the way there.
    So great to learn we will soon be gifted with more about and more of the wisdom of Old Dan. I can think of no other words I’m more anxious to get in my hands and mind. Thank you for the gift which I personally am accepting as your belated Christmas present to me. I’m not surprised tho. I’ve been quite unwell for a too long period going back into the old year. Very recently everything, emotionally, mentally, and physically has completely turned around, so much so that I am renewed, which I prefer to use instead of the distasteful to me term reborn. Some day I’d love to debate the semantics of those two words with you. The renewal has been so overwhelming that yesterday morning I awoke with tears pouring out of my eyes. The reason being I am so grateful for all the serendipity that surrounds me of late that the tears of joy could not be contained.
    Since I discovered your words and shared them with everyone I could while guiding tours, you have been the beacon for my spirituality and appreciation of all the gifts we are given. I understand you are now in a somewhat sad place and truly hope you very quickly are able to join me in my indescribable renewed joy in life.
    The other day I met a woman I thought was a genius. We were discussing the economic situation and she said, the answer is simple. The government should give every man, woman and child in America, one million dollars, tax free. Talk about stimulating the economy! She said, there are 685 million people in this country so this translates to a lot cheaper solution than the billions that are foolishly being poured into doomed strategys. I was amazed at the simplicity of her suggestion. When I later talked to my son and other friends about this I was surprised at how many people knew of this idea. If you could find the time to comment on this with your view and if favorable, any suggestions on how to go forward to make our inept or possibly corrupt legislators go forward with this idea, it would be more than appreciated. Even though my renewal has led me to a place where almost all my thoughts are positive, like you I am very angry about the situation and constantly going thru my mind is the wise old indian advice,let us sit down and plan what we can do for our grandchildren. Instead we have the constant din of foolish plans and unprosecuted and unpunished wrongdoers who brought this nightmare into our so beautiful world. So I hope you think the idea has some merit, but not knowing when, if at all, you’ll be able to comment, as soon as done here I’m drafting some words for the editor of our local Red Rock News.
    Kent, peace, God bless, and join me in my hope and joy in what is all around us.

  8. Harold Rite says:

    P.S. In my haste to get my words off to you I forgot to sign. Sorry.

    Peace.
    96arold

  9. Eric Read says:

    Each of us experiences loss, and it never seems to come at a convenient time (as if that were possible). I offer my condolences at the loss of your mother. My mother is now in her 90th year and we have been without my father for just over 10 years. I do not look forward to the inevitible. As the others have mentioned, I, too, miss your blog. Please keep it going. And I am very much looking forward to the next book about Dan. Eric

  10. Jane says:

    Hello Kent,
    My thoughts and prayers go with you. I loved your description of what a mother is to a man. Today is the anniversary of my mother’s death way back in 1977. My father had a good number of years more than my mom, but I have been an orphan for a long time and I believe you and I are close to the same age. It takes some adjusting to for sure. Gives you a new place in the universe even, but then so does being a grandparent which is my latest joy. Ah, life! So glad that Lazarus has arisen – thank you for your willingness to share with us.
    Fondly,
    Jane

  11. Anita Biers says:

    I wondered why your blog has not be on my e-mail for a while and I thank you for sharing the reason and am sorry for the loss of your mom. My mom will be gone 23 years this July and my father has passed three years ago. While my father was an alcoholic and did not take care of his family as he should have he still loved us. Losing my mother, however, affects me everyday. Although she had little to give us and we spent much of our life at the time on welfare, she was my best friend and I talk to her today as if she is watching me and still a part of my life. I miss her more than words can say. My only child, my daughter, new a grandmother for only eight years and my sadness is even more profound for her. Thank you for your reflection on what is going on in this country and your new book about NDNW. My thoughts are with you.

  12. pbm says:

    I’ve only just now, thanks to the twists and turns of the Internet, discovered your talent for writing articulate and moving words capturing your experiences and insights. I look forward to reading more of your work.

    I have recently experienced the loss of my husband of 34years and your words of the loss of your mother touched me deeply to help me see connections as profound loss is a tremendously humbling experience.

    My wish is that in times of grief you are encircled by moments of sweet remembrances and love.

    “… It is not given us to know who is lost in the darkness that surrounds us or even if our light is seen…It is not an issue of quality or intensity or purity. It is simply an issue of the presence of light.”

    I am thankful for the presence of your light!
    pbm

  13. Lindsey says:

    Very sorry to hear of youe losing your mother, I too looked at myself as an orphan after losing both parents. There is a void, an empty space without them , but would you want it any differently ? Your sadness reminds of your mother’s love. Who she was, her smile, her words, her mannerism’s , the gifts of advise and wisdom she gave to you throughout her life.
    Such a great loss. When the sadness comes, smile to yourself, because she was, and is, in your heart always… you’d want it no other way, sadness and all…

  14. Karen Lemke says:

    facebook quote-“No amount of security is worth the suffering of a life chained to a routine that has killed your dreams.” -Unknown
    is this yours?

  15. knerburn says:

    Yes. From Letters to My Son, I believe.

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