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Some time back I wrote a few vignettes of my days as a Brujo’s apprentice. Some of you reading this may remember them. It is a somewhat true tale, though much my recollections of those days were spent in a psychotic haze, a sort of PTSD fueled by street drugs and bad ideas. It can’t be a true tale, because people need to be protected and, of course, the daze brought on by psychedelic compounds doesn’t lend itself to strict timelines. I lived in a timeless void of vignettes then.
It oddly mirrors Carlos Castaneda’s “The Teachings of Don Juan”, though my mentor wasn’t quite as accomplished or noble as Castaneda’s. Ben was more of a huckster and a drunk than he was a spiritual man, a medicine man more than a Brujo, but there were times when I shared uncomfortable visions with him of the many native-indian sprites and deities. And Ben read me with an unnerving accuracy.
Most of spiritual entities that surrounded me were hardly benign, and Jews and Christians might rightly see them as out and out demonic. They had all the attributes of demons. If the sorcerer wasn’t accomplished, the demon could and did turn on him. It is not an exercise for the dilatant, nor the careless. I was nearly destroyed, and an inner voice not intervened at the very last moment, I certainly would have been.
Winter had come to the high New Mexico mountains, and I had returned to the kiva/hogan in Ranchos de Taos. I sensed that the end was near, and it wasn’t going to be a pretty one. I walked with the gaze of a dead man, and many of my friends did not recognize me when I went into town. Not that I wanted to be recognized. I was isolated in my mind and life, and was merely going through the motions of a living person.
Oddly enough, though, one evening I washed up and went to town, and with my few remaining dollars, bought a beer at the La Cocina, a restaurant and local watering hole in Taos. Several months earlier while visiting a nearby commune and consuming a number of peyote buttons, one of the residents looked at me and said, “Do not go to Denver!”.
It didn’t make a lot of sense to me as I had no intention of going anywhere at that moment. But this night, I met a tourist who lived in Denver who offered me a ride, and I agreed. I knew that was a decision to die, and I didn’t want any friends around me when that happened. Denver seemed to be the best place to go.
I knew the shabby parts of town, and knew how to survive there. My intention was to get a ‘flop’ and a nothing job, and wait for death.
I don’t remember much of that ride, other than I spent the arrival night in the hosts home in a residential part of Denver, and arising early that morning to walk into town.
In time, I might chronical the miracle and transformation that occurred during that time, or as much of it as I can recall, but for this morning, all I remember is the walk in the aching morning sunshine to meet my anonymous doom in the inner city. Time briefly appeared on that walk, and I remember the passing landmarks as I plodded down the sidewalks. Oddly, I cannot see people or traffic in that remembrance, though surely there must have been many. But the texture of the asphalt, the cracks in the sidewalk, the mason’s marks in the cement, the crumbling curbstones stand out in sharp relief in my mind.
I often go back to that man in my musings. He is almost incomprehensible to me today. I remember snaps of the ten-year walk back to sanity that started that morning. A minor miracle here, a minor miracle there dots the landscape, each one arriving at a nexus between life and death. Just for my own curiosity, I would like to lay it out in some sort of cohesive way.
Teshuva, and the Art of Not Dying
A blog friend wrote recently of narrowly avoiding a killer because she payed heed to a moment of clarity in a bar, and fled when he went into the bathroom to smoke a joint with a friend. That got me to thinking of my life back when I was living on the edges. I was with bad people in a bad era, but an inner voice always alerted me when things were about to go wrong, and I would instinctively flee, sometimes with mere seconds to spare.
I don’t know if all people have that inner voice, or even if they need it. The old saw goes; God looks after fools and drunks, and I certainly qualified under both categories. I needed that voice. But one bitterly cold January morning I awoke in second-floor hovel in a decrepit neighborhood in Denver. That inner voice that protected me all those years was gone, and I became easy prey to evil. That mental house I lived in was not a very pleasant place to dwell.
There is a concept in Judaism called teshuva. It means to turn, return, or to turn back. The thought was that when you are lost, you go back. A long time ago I was teaching two young people how to drive a semi truck. The mechanics of driving a truck are really quite easily learned, but the ‘smarts’ you need are a bit more difficult to master. Getting lost is a given when you are driving, and you need to know what to do when things go bad. Novices will invariably think that if they just keep going, they will eventually become unlost. Of course, that doesn’t work. What you need to do is find a place to turn around, and go back to a point where you knew where you know where you are. That is the concept of teshuva.
But the point where I became lost in life was long before I started living on my own. I couldn’t hardly go back to the sixth grade and start over, as attractive as the concept was. But I could stop, and I did. In surveying my life, it became apparent that my life was like the aftermath of a tornado, when you step outside after it has passed, and find your world is just strewed piles of building materials. You really can’t do much rebuilding with that, but you do have to clear the debris.
I did need help, though, and a mentor appeared who carefully kept me on track in clearing the rubble, as well as introducing me to the source of that missing inner voice. I didn’t know it was going to be a decade or more before I could even be marginally considered sane. Had I known, I would have quit. But I persisted in clearing the debris, board by board, scrap by scrap, boards over here, scrap over there. I was still homeless, however, both mentally and physically. Meaningless jobs came and went, disastrous loves sored and fell, artificial religious constructions toppled with distressing regularity. And all I had to guide me was a voice that reassured me I was doing the right thing.
Not too long ago, that heard that voice again. It wasn’t so much a voice telling me to flee, but rather telling me that I had placed my confidence in the wrong place, and it was time to turn back to that point where I knew where I was. Again, there was the wreckage, and again there was the rebuilding, but this time the voice stayed with me. I am not so confident this time that the new house is a lasting structure, but maybe that is a good awareness to have at this late stage of life.
Look. I really am not a big booster of Trump, nor did I ever have very high expectations for the Republican Party. I voted against Hillary, and she didn’t win. In that, my expectations were abundantly met.
And I don’t give a rip about the ‘Freedom Caucus’. I knew that the Congressional Republicans couldn’t govern to begin with. They proved that during the Obama era. So, I am not surprised at the failure of the Republicans to do anything at all about ObamaCare, much less repeal it OR replace it. Quite frankly, the less that the Federal government does for us, the better off we are anyway. Democrat or Republican.
I am not anti-government. I simply feel that the wonderful presents that government bestows on its subjects should come from the State they reside in. I hate seeing the Feds in education, healthcare, welfare, retirement, birth-control, police, or disaster relief. If the liddle pipple neeeeed that much security, the should get it from their local government. That way, if the State gets too greedy, I can flee to a State more of my liking.
The Freedom Coalition is not going to get what they want. There aren’t enough of them. They are merely a minor if but vocal faction in the party today. Yeah, the Republicans need them. And yeah, they need the old guard too, if they wish to retain any relevancy in politics at all. But what we have today for a GOP is a gaggle of power sluts who don’t understand power nor its use. Endearing, in a bumbling yokel sort of way, but not the substance of political reality.
So they killed a bad bill. Big hairy deal. There will not be another day. The real power brokers in the Senate have already said so. The House just sang its swan song, and now needs to go back to sleep and dream of glory days that will never happen. If you do see a bill come out of the House now, you can bet your sweet arse that it will die in the Senate. Dead.
So here we are. A lot of chiefs in Congress, but the only Indian is a self-described one. Getting Gorsuch nominated may well be the only bright spot in the 114th Congress. Unless Ginsburg takes the long nap, that is. Then maybe there will be two shining stars on their epitah. I would love to see the Democrats go apoplectic if that happened, and they had already forced the Senate into the nuclear option. (Reid option for those who get squeamish with term nuclear)
So here I am, and there you are. Most of you will disagree. I care, of course. Here is a caring face for you.
Sunday is my day to fix the meals, and I had nothing in mind for the evening when mealtime rolled around. Taco Bell is my go-to emergency meal, so slipping on a pair of dusty crocs and loading up my keys and wallet, off I drove into town for ersatz Mexican take-out.
My hearing is getting much worse now, and I do not even try to understand anyone under 30 anymore. So when I pulled up to the order kiosk, I carefully annunciated my rehearsed choices.
Kiosk: Wemon o ako ell. M itak yer der?
Me: I would like two beef chalupas, and two five-layer burritos.
Kiosk: Tu ef hupus n tu ivlar uritos. Wu u ike ot aus we at?
Me: Yes, the mild sauce please.
Kiosk: Tu ef hupus n tu ivlar uritos n ild sau. Nay ting els?
Me: No that is all, thank you.
Kiosk: A be nine twin ive et tu seco wheno. ‘Lees pu fowerd.
I am starting to work up a mild crank at this point and pull forward to the second window. The cutest young Asian girl is at the widow. Flawless skin, bright eyes filled with excitement at the universe that is opening up for her. Her perfect white teeth gleam from a smile that banishes the gloom that surrounds me.
She leans out and asks: Tu ef hupus n tu ivlar uritos n ild sau. Sat ur order?
*sigh!* The cranky feeling evaporates as I hand her my credit card.
Me: You will have to speak slower. I am hard of hearing.
Cute Asian girl: Tu ef hupus n tu ivlar uritos n ild sau. Sat ur order?
Cute Asian girl: Wu u ike ot aus we at?
Me: The mild, thank you.
She hands me back my card and the sack of ersatz Mexican, and gives me another absolutely stunning smile
Cute Asian girl: Ank oo fer oping ako ell.
Me: Thank you!
And I drive off feeling old. Very, very old …
The days flit by like slides in a projector, changing from slide to slide before I have had time to absorb the vision. Shabbat leads to Shabbat, and the coils of time have become a winding blur as I spiral down the corridor of the helix.
Praise music from some unknown Israeli group swells and ebbs from the PC. The mornings news feeds fail to interest me, and I stare idly out the window into the sweet potato vines that hide my front door from view.
I have piled up scripture in undigested heaps in my head. I am weary of words, and suspicious of dreams. The world goes on without me. I am a spent coal, a fragile glowing ash that will scatter into a million bits at the merest breath of adversity.
Truth beckons to me from across a wide and lonely gulf.
I have become an unenthusiastic spectator in my own play, the lines go over my head, and the dialogue waits not for the applause. I am consoled, but not alone.
An ancient prophecy comes to mind. “He who slays with the sword is slain by the sword. He who is destined for captivity, into captivity he goes.”
I mutely await my fate.
It has been a difficult morning for me on the social sites, and I have had to restrain my hand several times from correcting careless comments. We may no longer call evil out. We may no longer counter frothy platitudes with facts and logic. The door has shut behind us, and a voice resolutely says, “You shall not pass this way again.”
The tares have been covertly sown and watered. Hiding in plain sight, they quickly ripen, yet no one notices.
The recent massacre is but a minor portent of a far deeper malevolence that is soon to arrive.
Dark days are ahead of us, my friends.
There is a sun in Texas, and it finally came out to dry things off. It was a great morning out on the porch, with the mourning doves and their plaintive cooing, warning of the heat to follow.
But we are ready for a little summer now. The land never fails to impress me with its resilience between drought and floods. Puny man frets and fights against it, but the land feral quickly reclaims his efforts when he ceases the struggle against it.