Sunday, September 28, 2008

Being and Doing

Except for the past three posts I have been inactive on this blog. I'd like to let you in on a little of where I have been during those intervening months.

It all started several months ago in the depths of Winter. I was really enjoying hunkering down and staying in the cave and close to the fire. I'd be doing this and that but mostly it was a time for going within, for delving, for conserving. It wasn't the time for projects.

Then when the winter ended I started my second year of work on my vegetable garden and enjoyed the planning, building the frames, building the raised beds, enhancing the soil, and finally planting the seeds. At the same time, however, I didn't feel the urge to start writing again. It's as if my body was moving forward and my mind was active, but my spirit was still taking its own sweet time coming out of winter's cocoon.

I was reflecting on my ongoing pattern of moving between periods of activity and inactivity. In the past it would be like feeling stuck to be followed by a burst of energy which would focus on one activity or another. Sometimes those times would be brief, sometimes prolonged. After the activity I would sometimes just drag myself home to collapse, as it were, and wonder where I had been and what I had done.

But this winter I reflected more thoughtfully on that pattern and came to describe it more as being followed by doing followed by being. You can see how mindfulness can be present in both sides of that coin, and when it is there, it enhances the entire process; it makes it more present and real. The activities were sometimes purposive in a goal directed way across time, oftentimes for many years at a stretch,sometimes just a latest flash in the pan.

In the past I would be upset with the not-doing part of the cycle. Now I'm more comfortable with experiencing it as being in a space where listening is more prominent. I used to want to be pulled towards something but now it doesn't seem as important; it will happen when it happens and in its own time. Of course during either end of the dance there are certain things which have to be done of a maintenance nature but the bigger pattern is with the flowing from poised within to the directing outwardly and then the return.

It is in this context that I started thinking (for the umpteenth time) about purpose. In mid-August I was again wondering / asking what was holding me back, what the blockage was, and out of the silence came an awareness - that I do not have a central unifying principle which could give me a focal point, something which would give me a way of looking at, comparing, exploring, analyzing, experiences, events, ideas, perceptions, etc.

On reflection I came to see that the "blind spot," "the incompletion" has been there all along, certainly during my entire adult life. I have taken on others perceptions, etc., but never my own "something unique to me" (at least in a visceral way of experiencing) manner. It might be described as what my "beat" is.

In spite of this, I have been aware of hard earned lessons over the decades. Each of these learnings has been vital for my overall growth and they have served as course corrections; pivotal in fact. As these things go, they mostly came out of my own pain which in turn was coming from a wrong minded perception of how the world was or how it was supposed to be. Heroes are flawed; They have their own agendas and your best interest is not central if it does not support their agenda; a sense of power which comes from someone else, or a group, is, or can be, fundamentally manipulative; I claim the right to make mistakes, but not repetitively; I will rush no more!

All of those learnings, and others, have helped to bring me back to a sense of self but they did not go to the central unifying principle. They have helped to prepare but they have not revealed that principle.

For example, The Good Life as espoused and written by the Nearing's led to exploration and discovery and as such has been an ongoing "project" - it could even shift into a lifetime project -but it is not the principle.

Let me say it again, the core statement of my life to date is that: I am lacking a central unifying principle.

At first this freightened me but then it excited me in the quest to open, to ask for, to decipher, to find, to become aware of that central theme. And along those lines, how have others discovered their purposes. Is it "given?" Is it discovered? Is it uncovered? Does it always happen?

Now when I think of my mantra "I will rush no more!" I see it as a tool, an attitude, a way of being and doing which also lays the foundation for freeing myself up.

To be continued.

Monday, September 22, 2008

A Recent Dance With Pain

A week ago today my right leg was screaming. I had been having some previous twinges, some more intense, but mostly manageable, bearable. I had a recent evaluation which indicated that the hip was not involved and that the most probable diagnosis was either a pulled muscle in the groin or bursitis of the right hip, or both.

Well, three days later, at the end of the day the pain numbers kept ratcheting up and by 10 P.M. I simply turned to my wife and said: "you have to call the ambulance, now!" Whatever was going on, it was not right and the pain was continuous at that point.

The EMT's were great. They put an IV line in and gave me some Fentanyl which helped with the transport. They were focused, very helpful, asked all the right questions, and explained to me each step of the way what they were doing.

In the E.R. things seemed to be going fairly slowly, but at that point the pain had subsided to the point where I wasn't saying ow, ow, OW! over and again. Then the pain came back to the original plateau of "10" and that repeated several times for the next several hours.

Interestingly, as I recall it now, I never asked them to relieve the pain, or to do something about it; my primary comments were "Man this HURTS!" and what is causing this? At that point also, I wasn't freightened because my own assessment was that "I" was ok but my leg and maybe hip wasn't. Another way to say that was that the core of me was safe and well, but a peripheral process was in real trouble right then.

After several doses of a powerful narcotic (dilaudid), the leg started to quiet down. During that time I had a CT with contrast, and I later found out that many of the major nasties had been ruled out: i.e., broken bone, tumor, kidney involvement, deep vein thrombosis, etc. The diagnosis was still fairly vague but the recommendation was clear, admission to the hospital. No argument from me.

I was placed on morphine and started on another medication Toradol. Thankfully the pain subsided after about 2 days and I was able to back away from the narcotics. My sense is that the Toradol was very helpful as both a local analgesic and also a potent anti-inflammatory. The black box warning on the medication states that it in NOT to be used for more than five consecutive days so I knew that it would have to do whatever job it was going to do and either help to resolve the still undiagnosed problem or something else would have to be used.

The money seemed to be going towards a diagnosis of hip problem and that led to a cortisone shot into the hip. I was discharged from the hospital after a total stay of 4 days.

For now just two additional comments. First, in retrospect, I was amazed how rapidly the process of pain, effective immobilization, separation from my usual surroundings, some grogginess from the meds, etc., my world shrank. At one point I found myself sitting with my head down, and just rhythmically running my hand through my hair, all the while wondering where this was all going. My world shrank both inside and outside. Pain can do that to you. Immobilization can do that to you. It's hard to keep your attention on the horizon when your world shrinks. I will have to think really hard on the implications of that process for me and others.

Maybe another way of looking at that is that, thankfully, I / most of us don't have that much experience with intense pain. But based on my experience of those four days, I am aware that I need to learn all the lessons of that experience in that (thankfully) unusual-for-me state of pain. It will help to develop resources and "tools" for dealing with it in the future should the need arise.

Thankfully, I had a great roomate and we became great supports for one another. He has had much more experience with intense pain and his kind and supportive and understanding comments were as powerful as the medicine in some ways. Also, my family and friends were right there for me and the staff was almost uniformly excellent except for one nurse who was too invested in starch and efficiency.

Secondly, after the intense pain subsided, I was left with an apprehension over whether the pain would come back again. That's understandable, of course, and with each day, the nagging vigilance and the emotional vulnerability is subsiding, thankfully.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Get the Word Out - For Anyone Who Drives For Work And/Or Heats Their Home With Oil

This is off my usual topic lines, but the enormity of the oil problems in the near future as a result of hurricanes Gustav and Ike, must be looked at by anyone who chooses to look at and deal in reality. The time frame, depending on where you live in the continental United States will shift, but this posting from TheOilDrum outlines a dire scene over the next several months.

For those of us here in the North East, who are already concerned about the very real consequences of the price of heating oil and what happens if we have a praticularly nasty winter - well the thoughts are chilling.

For example, look at insight #5

Insight 5. One of the biggest refined product pipelines, Colonial Pipeline, is now reported to be shut down, because of lack of refined product input.

Colonial pipeline is one of the largest pipelines, with a capacity of 2.4 million barrels a day. It serves the Southeast and the East Coast.

(Apologies, but I tried to copy and paste the graphic into this posting but can't figure out how to do will have to go to the original posting listed above at TheOilDrim. I'd appreciate it if anyone can tell me how to do it back channel.)

Beyond all of this, I am glad that there seems to be a more coordinated and concentrated response by the citizens and agencies involved to all those who have been directly affected by Ike. Good luck and best wishes!

Finally, I have written about "what-if" scenarios in the past, but this material appears to have current and near future reality value...but may also be used as a template for considering how things develop across time to events with truly enormous implications.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

In Memoriam: Of Love and Honor

Muriel Siskopoulos: 1941-09-11-01

"Birth, life, and death -- each took place on the hidden side of a leaf." Toni Morrison

For Muriel Siskopoulos, the birth side of that leaf presented itself on a fall afternoon in 1972. With an eight year old son and a five year old daughter already in tow, Muriel welcomed her twin daughters into the world. Born on September 11, 1972, the girls were named Laura and Terri. Every year on their birthday, Muriel would call the girls, in the order they were born, to wish them a happy birthday.

But on the girls' 29th birthday, September 11, 2001, the phone call never came.

Muriel Siskopoulos was probably like so many women we know. She was a mother and a grandma, 60 years old. She was working as a secretary just a few years from retirement. She didn't have to work, but she liked to earn a little more money so she could splurge on family members.

"She took shopping to a new level," said Mark Siskopoulos, her husband of 11 years. And by all accounts, her children and grandchildren were regular recipients of Muriel's beneficence. When she wasn't buying something for them, she was knitting something for them.

On the morning of 9/11, Muriel was at her desk in the offices of Keefe, Bruyette & Woods, located between the 85th and 88th floors of the World Trade Center's south tower. At 8:46am, American Airlines Flight 11 crashed into the north tower. Many in the south tower began to evacuate the building. Muriel was last seen boarding an elevator to leave. But she never made it out, because at 9:03am, United Airlines Flight 175 crashed into the south tower between the 78th and 84th floors. In addition to the twins and husband Mark, Muriel was survived by son Thomas, 37, daughter Donna, 34.

To read the memorials to Muriel Siskopoulos is to glimpse devastating loss.

"It has been 2 years since I have last spoken to you and I am still unsure as to how I should feel." wrote daughter Laura, the older of the twins, on September 11, 2003. "Like Terri, how ironic it is that you were taken away from us on the same day you gave us life. I was waiting for you to call me last night to be the first person to wish me happy birthday, but that never happened...."

No one is ever prepare for sudden loss. And no one can accept when loved ones are wrongfully stolen from them. As much as the life of Muriel Siskopoulos reminds us of love, family, and a life fully lived, so too her death reminds us of the pain that loved ones endure when tragedy emerges. But Longfellow reminded us that the soul is enduring.

Tell me not, in mournful numbers,
Life is but an empty dream!
For the soul is dead that slumbers,
and things are not what they seem.
Life is real! Life is earnest!
And the grave is not its goal;
Dust thou art; to dust returnest,
Was not spoken of the soul.

So as we remember those lost on that awful Tuesday five years ago, let us remember Muriel Siskopoulos. And if you should light a candle today for those victims, light one for Muriel. And if you should say a prayer, say one for her family and friends who struggle on. And remember the plaintive call of those for whom lives were shattered, but whose hope ventures on.

Who else am I going to call when I am sick? Who else can you hang up on and still laugh about it? Who else can make you smile when you really don't want to? Only your mommy can get away with these things because she knows how to make everything all better.

No matter how old I get, I will always be your little baby (even if it is by 4 minutes).

I Love You and I can't wait to see you again. (Someone needs to make sure I am all ironed and my ponytails have little curls in them)

Forever your baby -


Colonel Cyril Richard “Rick” Rescorla (May 27, 1939 — September 11, 2001)

Born in Hayle, Cornwall, May 27, 1939, to a working-class family, Rescorla joined the British Army in 1957, serving three years in Cypress. Still eager for adventure, after army service, Rescorla enlisted in the Northern Rhodesia Police.

Ultimately finding few prospects for advancement in Britain or her few remaining colonies, Rescorla moved to the United States, and joined the US Army in 1963. After graduating from Officers’ Candidate School at Fort Benning, Georgia in 1964, he was assigned as a platoon leader to Bravo Company of the 2nd Battalion, 7th Cavalry, Third Brigade of the 1st Cavalry Division (Airmobile). Rescorla’s serious approach to training and his commitment to excellence led to his men to apply to him the nickname “Hard Corps.”

The 2nd Battalion of the 7th Cavalry was sent to Vietnam in 1965, where it soon engaged in the first major battle between American forces and the North Vietnamese Army at Ia Drang.

The photograph above was used on the cover of Colonel Harold Moore’s 1992 memoir We Were Soldiers Once… and Young, made into a film starring Mel Gibson in 2002. Rescorla was omitted from the cast of characters in the film, which nonetheless made prominent use of his actual exploits, including the capture of the French bugle and the elimination of a North Vietnamese machine gun using a grenade.

For his actions in Vietnam, Rescorla was awarded the Silver Star, the Bronze Star (twice), the Purple Heart, and the Vietnamese Cross of Gallantry. After Vietnam, he continued to serve in the Army Reserve, rising to the rank of Colonel by the time of his retirement in 1990.

Rick Rescorla became a US citizen in 1967. He subsequently earned bachelor’s, master’s, and law degrees from the University of Oklahoma, and proceeded to teach criminal law at the University of South Carolina from 1972-1976, before he moved to Chicago to become Director of Security for Continental Illinois Bank and Trust.
In 1985, Rescorla moved to New York to become Director of Security for Dean Witter, supervising a staff of 200 protecting 40 floors in the South Tower of the World Trade Center. (Morgan Stanley and Dean Witter merged in 1997.) Rescorla produced a report addressed to New York’s Port Authority identifying the vulnerability of the Tower’s central load-bearing columns to attacks from the complex’s insecure underground levels, used for parking and deliveries. It was ignored.

On February 26, 1993, Islamic terrorists detonated a car bomb in the underground garage located below the North Tower. Six people were killed, and over a thousand injured. Rescorla took personal charge of the evacuation, and got everyone out of the building. After a final sweep to make certain that no one was left behind, Rick Rescorla was the last to step outside.

Rescorla was 62 years old, and suffering from prostate cancer on September 11, 2001. Nonetheless, he successfully evacuated all but 6 of Morgan Stanley’s 2800 employees. (Four of the six lost included Rescorla himself and three members of his own security staff, including both the two security guards who appear in the above photo and Vice President of Corporate Security Wesley Mercer, Rescorla’s deputy.) Rescorla travelled personally, bullhorn in hand, as low as the 10th floor and as high as the 78th floor, encouraging people to stay calm and make their way down the stairs in an orderly fashion. He is reported by many witnesses to have sung “God Bless America,” “Men of Harlech, ” and favorites from Gilbert & Sullivan operettas. “Today is a day to be proud to be an American,” he told evacuees.

A substantial portion of the South Tower’s workforce had already gotten out, thanks to Rescorla’s efforts, by the time the second plane, United Airlines Flight 175, struck the South Tower at 9:02:59 AM. Just under an hour later, as the stream of evacuees came to an end, Rescorla called his best friend Daniel Hill on his cell phone, and told him that he was going to make a final sweep. Then the South Tower collapsed.

Rescorla had observed a few months earlier to Hill, “Men like us shouldn’t go out like this.” (Referring to his cancer.) “We’re supposed to die in some desperate battle performing great deeds.” And he did.


Muriel, I will call Donna and Mikey. Love, Tim

Addendum: Several things. First, I took these memoriams from websites I do not frequent but chose to use them because they expressed some powerful themes. I was originally going to put the New York Times obituaries in the posting but when I looked at the copywrite text, I saw that I would have to pay for their use, and that seemed just too terrible to consider. Their lives, especially in the manner of their last moments, well, it's just obscene to think that any would have to pay for that usage.

Second, I did not personally know Rick Rescorla, as much as I would have liked to. When I finished my sitting ritual this morning, the idea for this post came to me "in a gush" and both names came to me to be included.

I learned of Colonel Rescola through a good friend of mine, Dr. Carolyn Smith. She is a trustee of Oberlin College and during one of their trustee meetings, she was talking to the person next to her and it came up that she has done extensive work with survivors of trauma and 9-11 came up. It turns out that the person next to her was a pulitzer prize recipient, James Stewart. He took the opportunity to give her an autographed copy of his book about Rick Rescorla: The Heart of a Soldier.

I like to think the reason why both of these names came together in my mind this morning was that one of the reasons why he chose to re-enter the South Tower on that fateful morning was to try and bring Muriel out.