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Continuing Conversations on the Human Spirit

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Amazing Discoveries

I love this job! It has often afforded me the opportunity to take a peek into other’s stories and discover the person behind the moment of meeting. 


There was the Country & Western Singer struggling with alcohol and yearning for one more admiring crowd with whom to share his talent. Then there was the high wire electrician who I met on his daily rounds caring for an elementary age daughter, assisting in classes and helping out at his church.  How did he come to such a tame existence, you may ask? He was blown from a high electrical platform in a Georgia nuclear plant when someone accidentally caused the core to drop into the reactor. Kzroom!  I met him at what turned out to be the end of is life after he struggled and finally succumbed to radioactive burns for over ten years.  He was a kind and heroic soul. There was the baseball scout and world traveller who I met between a trip to Vietnam and planning his next trip to Paris.  Voracious reader, he researched broadly his next adventure. Unfortunately he was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer and chose to heroically meet it head on, without chemo, and make his final journey in style. I have chauffeured ex-talkshow hosts, University Professors, County Deputies, massage therapists, cosmetologists, teachers, ministers, talented and industrious street people and many hourly workers about their daily role serving others in the Grand Valley.


Yesterday, however, I met another unusual rider. He boarded on a previous run to be delivered to a Walmart Neighborhood Grocery. As he returned home we began a brief conversation. I asked how long he had been riding a wheelchair. “Several years,” he replied. He complained about the ravages of old age, a recurring theme among transit passengers. “I worked for a Silicone Valley aerospace company,” he replied. “Was head of HR, drew a six figure salary.”


I looked at his disheveled figure, crumpled in an electric wheel chair with white plastic grocery bags strung over the handles. What a comedown I thought. Six Figures to subsistence living. “What Happened,” I asked as I unloaded him. 


“Had a heart attack, then another. I tried to return to work but I couldn’t keep up the pace. I become a victim of diabetes having lost his right leg just below the knee. We lost our home and likelihood of other employment. The bottom just fell out. It happened relatively fast. Subsequently we decided to leave California and move closer to kids. So here we are.”


“Here he is,” I thought, “living in a subsidized apartment in a strange new world scraping by on a monthly disability check.” 
“I’m 74,” he continued.  No one wants to hire me at my age.
“I can see how it feels the bottom dropped out.”


I finished releasing the anchors on his chair so that he could move toward the lift. I stepped to the door. He turned his chair and three of the six bags he was carrying caught on the safety bar ripping holes in their bottom, a cruel emphasis to his discouraging tale. 


I picked up and repackaged his meager food items, positioned his chair on the lift and helped him de-board. Chairs are the least favorite devices to transport. Drivers have to be very careful and attend to strict procedures to assure safety. Once on the sidewalk my new friend turned and drove off promising to see me another day.


At 77, I understand his observation of old age. I often feel like I am teetering on a quivering precipice uncertain about the future and wondering how much longer I can hold the line. The meeting of our stories, however, was strangely affirming, reminding me to appreciate life daily for as long as it lasts. 

Surprise Submittal

A diminutive hobbled creature leaning on his rustic staff can often be observed waiting to cross intersections or attempt mid street jaywalks in our city. His crinkled emotionless expression appears, patiently gazing straight ahead, depicting Grumpy of the Seven Dwarfs, awaiting a large enough break in the traffic to signal opportunity. One of our permanent homeless personalities surveying the corridors, sorting through dumpsters and quietly offering another view of life to on-rushers hurrying to their next “important” appointment. 


Driving these same streets for nine plus years I have often observed him entering downtown from across Broadway bridge hobbling slowly from some historic injury complicated by age. He is burdening a weathered backpack and clinging necessarily to a sturdy staff scavenged from some river encampment. Occasionally boarding a bus, he mostly walks, looking like the bell ringer of Notre Dame, quietly moving past upscale diners behind wrought iron fences at downtown restaurants or weaving through sidewalk minglers admiring art on the street. Moving slowly and observantly without a word. 


Not long back our friend boarded my bus, fumbled with one freehand to uncrease a dollar bill to pay fare, but to no avail. “May I help,” I asked extending an open palm. He paused, and for the first time, in our sporadic relationship, he handed me the bill. “Some of these bills are so worn that it is difficult to straighten them out. There we go.” I responded as the payment was made.


“Thanks,” muffled his response as he dropped the remaining coins in the machine. 


It was a simple connection that seemed to signal the beginning of a new chance for our relationship. Heretofore my greeting and questions had apparently landed on deaf ears, but now, ever so slightly, something new was beginning. I have learned to take these things slowly, not to blurt in as is my usually gregarious manner. I have learned to watch observant for the other’s lead. 


Our first meeting some years back was in the dead of winter. Snow packed the sidewalks and ice jammed the curb gutters. It was a miserable day for passengers and drivers alike. Our friend stood in a waiting line to board. I remembered seeing the him the previous day as I passed around him from behind coming from the Colorado National Monument. Today, however, I met him face to face. He looked down, as he shuffled slowly forward. Next up, he fingered coins in his worn jeans and plopped the correct change in the machine. My eyes dropped to his feet and caught notice of his toe-less footwear. He wore socks, but had cut the toes out of castoff old work shoes. He shuffled past. Every time I have encountered him since he has worn similarly constructed shoes. On one occasion he had secured some relatively new work boots that would have warmed his feet all the winter, the next day they were toeless.


His grumpy demeanor seams more a defensive strategy than anything else. He has been disabled and homeless as long as I have known him. Both conditions make him vulnerable to quicker stealthier operators.  Homeless persons will not betray their private information to anyone due to the fact that they have been vandalized and abused when they let their guard down. Their major personal protection is what they know that no one else does, therefore they are not forthcoming. When they are asked where they live they may say, “The shelter or the mission.” if they do. Otherwise they may say the river or, I move around, or with friends or nothing.  They have learned the hard way how vulnerable one can be if others know their hangouts. He is not perennially angry or grumpy, to the contrary, he is just meeting life as it comes and feels more comfortable behind the defense.


Passengers generally pay him little attention as long as he controls odor and alchohol. Both are a menace to sociability. Once a passenger exited complaining that he left a wet seat. Another with child in tow, asked if he was alright. Teens after school would complain about his ordor or gruff nature. Our buses, however, are for everyone not just the people you like to be around. There are limits, but drivers are not hygene police and so one may find their personal limits broadened when they board.


This week I pulled into the downtown terminal and saw him waiting on one of the metal benches. Surprisingly he was thumbing the pages of a thick paperback novel as he waited.  “Got a good book” I began. He held it up so that I could see the cover. “Wow,” I said, “it would take me forever to wade through that, though it looks interesting. You are about half through it.” His next response was so precious I just had to write about it. 


He looked up at me making rare eye contact,  “Yeah, I get into fantasy.”


I was floored. A fantasy reading, homeless, disabled, hunchbacked, hobbler. I could not believe the response. That he was reading a novel of that size in and of itself was a surprise to me, but that his reading material was more akin to some millennial student blew me away. In an very quick reality check, I had my own fantasies set straight and felt a subtle sense of hope for the world. 

WHAT IS A PILGRIMAGE?

For as long as humans have walked, they have walked to get closer to their gods.

The Greeks made these quests, as did the Israelites, the Mayans, and the Chinese. Jesus hailed these journeys, along with the Buddha and the Prophet Mohammad. These wanderings have been around forever. Pilgrims made them in the eons before writing was invented. Believers made them in the millennia during which the great civilizations were built. Seekers follow them today.

Six stages characterize every pilgrimage:

  1. The Call: The opening clarion of any spiritual journey. Often in the form of a feeling or some vague yearning, that summons expresses a fundamental human desire: finding meaning in an overscheduled world somehow requires leaving behind our daily obligations. Sameness is the enemy of spirituality.
  2. The Separation: Pilgrimage, by its very nature, undoes certainty. It rejects the safe and familiar. It asserts that one is freer when one frees oneself from daily obligations of family, work, and community, but also the obligations of science, reason, and technology.
  3. The Journey: The backbone of a sacred journey is the pain of the journey itself. In India, pilgrims approach the holy sites barefoot. In Iraq, they flagellate themselves. In Tibet, the more difficult the trip the most merit the pilgrim acquires. In almost every place, the travelers develop blisters, hunger, and diarrhea. This personal sacrifice enhances the experience; it also elevates the sense of community one develops along the way.
  4. The Contemplation: Some pilgrimages go the direct route, right to the center of the holy of holies, directly to the heart of the matter. Others take a more indirect route, circling around the outside of the sacred place, transforming the physical journey into a spiritual path of contemplation.
  5. The Encounter: After all the toil and trouble, after all the sunburn and swelling, after all the anticipation and expectation comes the approach, the sighting. The encounter is the climax of the journey, the moment when the traveler attempts to slide through a thin membrane in the universe and return to the Garden of Origin, where humans lived in concert with the Creator.
  6. The Completion and Return: At the culmination of the journey, the pilgrim returns home only to discover that meaning they sought lies in the familiar of one’s own world.

Sacred Journeys with Bruce Feiler , PBS

Resistance, Human

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Innate in the human spirit, our ability to resist protects us from the on rush of change. We push back in order to give ourselves time to embrace change and it’s meaning for our lives and way of life. The strong encouragement, by health officials, to wear facemasks, in response to the current COVID-19 pandemic has been met with a noticeable degree of resistance disbelieving citizens. The attached CNN article on the psychological roots of such resistance is helpful.

The psychology behind why some people won’t wear masks – CNN

Adults usually bristle if forced to comply with regulations for which they see no immediate need. Especially in the West, the concept of personal liberty is as prized as life itself. Rationalization, avoidance, and resistance to overstepping authority pushes back on those charged with encouraging compliance. The current confusion generated by the fear of gullibility to so-called “Fake News” undermines the credibility of even legitimate health warnings and reports.

Thoughts of weakness, loss, and fear are not comfortable to most apparently healthy persons in our society. Therefore precautions, that emphasize these unwelcome qualities, are instinctively resisted. Even contemplating the personal threat of unseen susceptibility is not compelling enough to break through barriers of resistance. If it is not immediately ravaging our neighborhood, friends, and families we find a way to doubt that what is reported can affect us.

While mask-wearing is strongly recommended by health and state officials, it is not generally mandatory (carrying the force of law) in most public places. The option to ignore “official recommendation” is chosen. Shoppers, passengers, participants in public events generally relish the personal freedom to choose, even though compliance has long been practiced, in many places throughout our culture. Theatres, worship services, sporting events, dining out, driving personal vehicles, and attending learning events generally require certain degrees of compliance and uniformity to improve the quality of the event and safety for all involved. We accept most of these without question.

We do not bristle with requirements to don masks or gloves, even gowns while visiting friends in hospital rooms or quarantine. We accept those measures as specific to the setting and necessary to maintain a safe environment. Many medical offices have long encouraged the use of masks for patients exhibiting symptoms without general resistance. We wear 1masks to protect newborns without a thought of it curtailing our own sense of freedom or personal Constitutional rights. We simply comply.

Public transit drivers have become extensions of local public health officials. Drivers have been asked to encourage riders to wear masks when they ride, thus they have begun to experience noticeable resistance. Drivers are discovering that the added responsibility of regularly reminding passengers to comply adds to the general fatigue of the job. As a result, drivers are becoming more creative in confronting this natural resistance.

Modelling Preferred Behavior

Drivers lead the change in behavior by wearing facemasks when they first come to work. Public life has changed for the unforeseeable future. Maintaining a Social Distance of 6’ or more from other individuals, washing hands properly, and minimizing the risks, encountered in public travel. Drivers are aware and vigilant throughout their shifts: “Please use the hand cleaner after picking up that piece of paper from the floor.” “Please stand back, sir, remember to maintain social distance.”

The Indirect Approach

Most persons would rather come than go, they would rather follow than be pushed. For this reason, drivers are attempting to encourage rather than demand. They are complimenting passengers who are wearing masks and maintaining social distance, “Thanks for protecting others by wearing a facemask!” a driver may say. Drivers will attempt not to make a spectacle of one person’s behavior. They will often wait for non-masked passengers to settle in with others before making a general announcement, “Just a reminder folks, (notice, not order or demand) we are all asked to wear face masks (we are in this together) when we board the buses. The pandemic is NOT over. Please bring yours upon return.”

Recognize preferred behavior

We all prefer reminders of success to goads focusing on failure, we prefer reminders of our common hope to warnings of general disability. As a result, drivers constantly look for ways to encourage desired behavior in passengers without threatening or cajoling: “Way to go with that face mask, Joe. Thanks for protecting others.” Treating the reminder playfully invites others to play along: “So folks, the face mask of the day displayed the message, ‘BE PART OF THE ANSWER.’ Remember, face masks protect ourselves and others from an unseen risk.”

Care rather than criticism

Our lives are never short of critics. Other people seem to know what we did wrong, what decisions we should have made, and how to correct the jams in which we land, even as they appear clueless about their own. There are times when clarity seems elusive and we feel adrift at sea or pushed to the edge. In these times a listening ear is welcome. Even though there is little time for lengthy conversations, drivers may see the same passengers time and again, thus enabling them to listen, advise, and encourage.

A global event, such as a pandemic, changes life on many different levels. It inevitably leaves those who must experience it with unwelcome and confusing feelings. Decisions that involve personal security, job, home, and relationships, that seemed solid, before it started, now appear ephemeral and uncertain. Lives sometimes hang on tomorrow’s headlines. Personal well-being changes suddenly, without notice and, in some cases, promises to never return to its previous state of innocence. Familiar relationships become an anchor as never before.

We are in-the-midst of a gigantic human experience. It is something we have never experienced before in our history and potentially signals a vulnerability that may return in our lifetime. This is a bewildering reality with which we are faced. We are, however, resilient, creative, and persistent people. We will be challenged but not undone by events. This is the hope and the reality upon which we can rely.

Featured post

A Sence of Pilgrimage

In the work of a living poet the dominant personal myth may, in early or even in mature work, be only half formed; the poet himself does not yet know the whole story — if he did, he would stop writing. . . . Yet from the first his bent, his cast of imagination, has declared itself. “THE SENSE OF PILGRIMAGE”

BOB NASH

“I study up on countries that I plan to visit,” responds a boarding passenger. Toting a stack of books. He appears slightly out of his element. He sits quietly in the seat directly behind me. I’ve come go know him as Bob, we remain on first name basis. He daily boards for a brief trip to the library, then home. The Pubic Library is the computer source for many of my riders, seeing Bob board with books under his arm is a relatively rare occurrence sight, since most simply surf the internet or check their email.

Bob, a gentleman of distinguished older age, usually sits quietly half way back as to not invite conversation from the driver. Having, at one time, also been a bus driver, he knows how distracting a simple conversation can be along a busy route. Mine is one of the busiest. Today, however, the bus relatively empty, and the traffic less complex, Bob decides to talk. He re-positions himself within earshot.

Usually wearing a baseball cap, gentleman’s khaki shorts and calf length athletic socks, Bob appears to be more sophiticated than most. I see him daily boarding from the library or the university travelling to a stop that serves small appartments and prebuilt homes.

“In the fall you would call this ‘Indian Summer’,” he offers.

“Certainly unseasonably warm,” I affirm. “Not like February.”

“Nope.”

“What country you researching now?” getting back to his books in hand.

“France. Going to Paris in April … spend a month.”

“Wow,” short response being best. I do have to drive.

“Been to Rome, Vietnam, Thailand, and India.”

“You researched each?”

“Yes, gives me a project and makes the experience richer. Vietnam was the country I have liked best so far … spectacular country, everything is so green … lush.”

I have been Bob’s driver for two years, and have learned that he has been a baseball scout in the minor league, and in more recent years a tour bus driver before settling in Grand Junction. He is an avid reader (over 100 plus books a year, if you can believe it), has completed two novels but not attempted publication. Bob is single and lives alone, does not own a car, does not dine out. He has no local family and draws a meager retirement income which he saves to invest in travel.

Don’t expect to see Bob on your expensive group tour to Paris. He will travel frugally, baseball cap and Bermuda shorts, investing only in those things that will create the experience he desires. He will be finding an apartment off the beaten path in the center of the historic city. He will be the tourist you meet standing quitely in museums for hours actually reading the exhibits and displays. Should you be fortunate enough to encounter him, a simply smile and a cheerful “hello” may illicit a thoughtful round of questions that will happily embellish your appreciation of what you experience. He will then turn and vanish into the crowd having contributed a few moments of delight in your busy itinerary.

Do I sound enamoured with Bob’s approach to life, well maybe a little. His focus on simplicity has enabled him to experience moments deeply. I would more accurately say, I resonate with Bob in many ways, but my interest is really a celebration of the array of passengers that people my life daily. I don’t have time to sit at length with a cappuccino or linger over a latte, but I appreciate the repeated brief encounters and how they enrich the lingering moments of each day.

Epilogue

One day in early September Bob boarded late in the day. The bus was empty and he sat close behind me. “They have found Pancreatic Cancer,” he announced. “I’m considering the options for treatment,” he continued in sober direct tone.
“What are they offering,” I asked.
“The usual,” he replied,

“Radiation or Chemo.”
“What are your chances for full recovery?”
“It may extend my life a few months, but they will make me sick and miserable for much of it.”
“Huh”
“Yeah”
“Lot to think about, huh.”
********

Not long after, Bob boarded a busy bus. He ran his pass and confided, “Not going to take the treatment. Checked myself in to Hospice Palliative Care. I’ll live until I die!”
“Big decision Bob.” I replied.
” good with it,” he went to his seat.
*****
Fall months flowed slowly. Bob would board now and again. Some days he would be waiting for another bus and would cast a knowing glance my direction. Others, he would wave me on waiting for the next bus. As the weather changed he seemed more susceptible to cold and wet. I found him shivering on a bench waiting for another on more than one occasion. His face gradually began to betray weight loss gradually growing more gaunt with each passing day. He, however continued living life much as he had. Ever the sports enthusiast, he would join into conversations about the Mavericks, or the Broncos. Well versed in professional sports, since his years as a baseball scout, others listened to his well studied opinions. Boarding with a hand load of books or his familiar folded Daily Sentinel tucked under his arm, he never flagged in interest of national and world events.
One day, however, in late November, he boarded asking where my bus went. He seemed confused and disoriented. Since that moment his acuity ebbed and flowed. Then, like a great oak falling deep in the forest unnoticed by most hurrying to workday appointments, he no longer came to board.

Brother, I’ve seen some

TRANSLATED FROM THE HINDI BY ARVIND KRISHNA MEHROTRA

Cultutes Collide

Harvey Leakey, writer for the Canyon Country Zephyr, a great grandson of John and Louisa Wetherill, white traders and friends to the Navajo residents of the Four Corners area, wrote the attached thought provoking article

https://drive.google.com/file/d/1LIEWn8ScQqLkucG_YNkveFdw_b2s1eQX/view

Slim Woman of Kayenta…by Harvey Leake | Canyon Country Zephyr

Anthropologist Harvey Leake researches his family myths.

www.canyoncountryzephyr.com/2018/02/05/slim-woman-of-kayenta-by-harvey-leake/

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