Lighthouse: The Second Flat Upstairs

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In the next few weeks, I discovered I could return to that quiet connected state whenever I wanted, simply by remembering. Paying attention to what I was doing, doing it as well as I possibly could, that helped, too, bringing in an aspect of internal silence like I experienced that moment down by the seashore when I was nothing and everything.

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I continued reading 77 Truths. I aimed to stay with each one until it became tangible within me, though I admit, some had to germinate inside for decades.

The second truth: I am not my thoughts. That one was easy for me. No graduate from University of Windenburg College of Liberal Arts and Cultural Studies escaped with their thoughts intact: we’d all been deconstructed and reconstructed so many times in our search for the foundations of cultural constructs of gender and identity that we were lucky to ever find any thought we might latch onto and call our own, reflective of our true selves. In those days, especially, when I relished the feeling of stopping my thoughts at every opportunity, and, in doing so, found that I felt more and more alive, it was easy to accept that truth.

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The third truth posed deeper challenges: I am not my feelings or emotions. I’d always found something within me that I clung to when I felt lost or sad or lonely. It was a feeling of home, but not one that came from my actual home, one that I simply recognized as me. It consisted of one part love, one part joy, one part mirth, and two parts melancholy. Decades later, as my hormonal balance shifted with perimenopause, I lost touch with that feeling for close to seven years, until finally, coming out the other side, there it was, waiting for me, like the open door to Grandma’s kitchen when the aroma of oatmeal cookies rushes out in welcome. By then, I’d embodied this truth, and that helped the panic to lessen. By then, I’d learned to be curious about what was there when the glass of my familiar emotional cocktail sat empty. At any rate, that was decades later, and during those early weeks, I simply wondered, “If I am not these emotions that give me my sense of me, then what is me?”

The fourth truth presented an even more difficult riddle: I am not my conditioning. Everything I had learned in college was that, yes, I was my conditioning–as each of us were. Gender, politics, bias, musical preferences, prejudices, beliefs, as well as a significant proportion of personality, and nearly all social identity, derived from familial, social, cultural, and educational conditioning. Strip away that, and what is left? I couldn’t even begin to fathom.

Still, I found myself increasingly intrigued by the blog. Clicking around on the various tabs, I stumbled upon the author’s personal blog, Looking for Love. I laughed at the title–what purpose did an extraterrestrial have for love? Weren’t they all emotionless super-brains, like Mr. Spock?

I read several posts. The writing was sweet, sentimental, and endearing. One post, dated a few years back, reflected on the joys of little things, focusing on his baby brother and the brother’s new puppy. It was surprisingly ordinary and startlingly human.

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I began to realize that maybe I’d been wrong to think that someone not-from-this-planet would not be able to relate to me and the specific challenges I faced as a human. I began to realize that this might be the very person who could help me understand how I could be more fully human. That night, I became a fangirl of Septemus Sevens.

Throughout those weeks, my friendship with Max continued to grow closer. He was always there during my shifts, visiting with me, hanging out with the regulars, befriending Mojo, the neighborhood stray.

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Mojo adored him from the start, and when I watched them together, I could see why. I tried not to feel jealous.

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Max often leaned on the counter while I was filling orders, especially if it was one of those times when I was in the zone, watching me.

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“It’s a joy to watch you at work, byu,” he told me.

“Even when I’m like this?” I asked, giving him my biggest, meanest, toughest scowl. He cracked up, and his laughter made a good day better.

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One evening when I was hanging out there during my off hours, he told me he wanted to show me the flat upstairs, not the one he lived in, but the other one.

“Any day now,” he said, “people might be coming to stay here for a while, and if they come when I’m not around, I might need you to help them get settled in. Can you do that?”

“Sure,” I said. “How will I know who they are?”

“If they say they’ve just come from the cookie store,” he said, “then that’s them.”

The exposed brick walls and simple furnishings lent a cozy feel to the place, bringing back memories of college apartments.

He asked me to make myself at home, and maybe find something we could watch on TV, while he went next door to his flat to check his voice mail. I was flipping through the channels, and when he returned, I’d stopped on a sci-fi movie I remembered from childhood.

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“What on earth is this?” he asked.

I’d been feeling remorseful about the insensitive comments I’d made about extraterrestrials during our conversation a few weeks before and watching the film with him didn’t help.

“Quick! U-bot! Protect us before they freeze us all with death rays!” screamed the actors.

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“This is like every bad stereotype ever made against extraterrestrials,” Max observed.

“I know!” I exclaimed. “This is what I grew up with! Is it any wonder?”

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“Is what any wonder?” he asked.

I turned off the film.

“Is it any wonder that I’m so insensitive and prejudiced?” I asked quietly. He scooted closer and looked at me with half-closed eyes, the way he does when he’s really listening. I told him about my dad and his conspiracy theories. I told him about my mom, who wouldn’t let me go to certain parts of the city, “because they might be there, and you don’t want to mix with them.” I told him about how I always thought that I was open-minded, generous, and nonjudgmental, but that, recently, I’d discovered that prejudices loomed behind nearly every thought, waiting to pounce.

“Did you get to the fourth truth yet?” he asked. “That is, if you’re still reading that blog.”

I told him I had. “But I think I am my conditioning. All these judgments I have–and they don’t even come from me but they’re so tightly wound up inside of me that they’ve become me! I don’t know what to do, how to free myself.”

He smiled. “I’ve been watching and listening, byu. You’re doing a great job!”

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“Really?” I wasn’t sure. I went on to tell him that I’d found the author’s personal blog, Looking for Love, and that it was helping me to see common ground between us and extraterrestrials.

“Did you know that the author is gay?” I asked.

“Pan,” Max answered.

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Pan? I’d thought he was gay. I had a roommate in college who was a panromantic asexual. Every day, he fell in love in an “Aimless Love” sort of way. It made living with him an adventure.

“Panromantic or pansexual?” I asked.

“I’m both,” Max answered, shifting the focus to himself.

“I’m straight,” I replied, needlessly.

“I know,” he said.

“Cishet.”

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I reflected on the tall ladder of privilege I stood on: cishet, white, upper-middle-class background, educated.

Max looked at me with his earnest gaze. “You’re doing just fine, Mallory,” he said. “Don’t be hard on yourself. You’re my sunshine.”

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I took a long walk that evening along the beach. I felt so much. As I walked, I began to notice how I was not these feelings. These feelings stirred within me, threatening to overwhelm me, but I wasn’t these emotions. I wasn’t the guilt, I wasn’t the remorse, I wasn’t this strange giddiness that rose up every time I thought of Max’s gaze, every time I remembered his voice. I wasn’t my privilege. I wasn’t the prejudiced thoughts that battered me whenever the voice of my father spoke inside of me. I wasn’t the lies that movies told me.

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Maybe, I was the girl that looked at the photo of a little extraterrestrial boy holding a puppy and felt, inside of me, the opening of my heart.

Maybe I was the fangirl who was falling in love with the words of someone not-from-this-planet who happened to be able to see into mysteries that somehow beckoned me.

Maybe I was what it was that was seeing this, feeling this, thinking this, experiencing this–and then, it all fled, and I fell into that silence again, where no thoughts tread.

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As I walked back up the trail, a light shone from the window in the house on the bluff.

Someone sat at a computer desk.

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I recognized him from a photo on his personal blog. It was Septemus Sevens, this was where he lived, and my fangirl heart raced.

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Septemus 47

Septeen906

Dear Sept,

You’re back from visiting your sister! I tried not to worry. I didn’t succeed. I worried.

But you came back safe.  You smelled like garlic, but you were safe.

Not every community is as friendly towards extra-terrestrials as ours is. I had no idea what you’d encounter out there. But you seemed thrilled with everything you found.

“Panda’s so adorable,” you said. “So smart, too!”

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I had to ask about the garlic.

“It was Harmony’s doing,” you said. “Do you realize that she’s allergic to the stuff? She broke out in blisters. But she got it to keep me safe when I was travelling back home. And to keep us safe here, too.”

We’ve hung the wreath on the front porch and stored the garlands in the spice drawer. Our home smells like the cellar of an Italian deli now.

“She’s got that quality,” you said.

“What quality, son?”

“That same quality you have. The same as our bizaabgotojo. Where you put someone else’s needs ahead of your own. What’s that quality called, Pops?”

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“That’s called being a parent,” I said.

“It’s the luckiest thing,” you answered. “The luckiest thing in the universe is to have a parent.”

You’re sleeping outside tonight. You said you wanted to be out there where you could feel connected to everybody. You’re such a big kid now, nearly a man, but when I checked on you , curled up on the park bench, sleeping out under the stars so you could hook into the dreams of your pagotogo, you looked like that same little kid who was entrusted to me, over a decade ago.

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I often wonder what’s in store for you, for your future. Lucas has been coming by often, and I’ve seen the way the two of you look at each other, and the way you carefully avoid looking at each other.

I won’t ask if there’s something going on between you. It will become clear soon enough, and I’m not one who feels comfortable talking about these types of things.

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You’re as moody as always. Sometimes, you’ll chuckle aloud while you’re writing, as if life is the greatest thing.

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Then an hour later, I might find you looking forlorn.

Sometimes, I ask.

“There’s a lot that’s not right in the world. And a lot that’s not right in other worlds, too,” you said. “What’s the purpose of the not-rightness? Why can’t everybody just be kind?”

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I asked if you’d read any Buddhist texts during your forays through the school and town libraries.

You hadn’t yet. I think maybe you’re ready. I know I’ve tried to protect you from suffering and from learning about hardship, sorrow, and danger while you were growing up. And I know, too, that it’s foolish to think that someone, even a parent, can protect a growing child from that.

That’s all part of life. Sure, a parent is someone who puts the child’s needs first. A parent is someone who will do anything–make any kind of sacrifice, even his own life–for the child. A parent is someone who will do everything to protect the child.

But no parent, not even Siddhartha’s parent, can protect against suffering, illness, danger, and death. Doing so would be to try to pull the child out of life–and even if we want to do so out of our misguided love, there is no way we can pull that off.

Son, you’re going out in the world now.  It won’t be long before you come back with all sorts of tales and all sorts of questions.

I think maybe I’ll get a few of my own Buddhist paperbacks from my college days out of storage and put them on the shelf. I think you might be ready for them.

Septeen907

We’re getting to the time where your questions are the sort I can’t answer anymore.

Love you, son,

Your Pops

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Septemus 28

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Dear Sept,

We made good use of your day off. We worked on your school project. You had me read the instructions silently to practice my sintakoo-lacky-si. You seemed to follow along pretty well, so I must be getting better at transmitting.

I was happy with the effect the mental activity seemed to have on you. I know when I’m feeling shaky emotionally, having something to concentrate and focus on usually gives my emotions time to settle.

You were feeling pretty confident by the time we wrapped up the project and you headed in to bed.

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I went back out after tucking you in and added a few finishing touches to it. This is one fine volcano!

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Ms. Swits liked it so much she gave you extra credit, and when you got home you were proud and cocky. You’re an A student now.

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“Aren’t you proud of me, Pops?” you asked.

Of course I am, but not for the reasons you think. A’s are fine and good. But I’m proud of you. I’m proud of the sensitive, intuitive, caring, quirky, funny person that you are. I’m proud that you’re so full of good you don’t even know what mean is. I’m proud that you’re in touch with your brothers and sisters and sending them comforting vibes every chance you get. I’m proud that you have no clue what a miracle you are.

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“Oh, we’ve got someone coming over,” I told you when you pulled out your homework. The school had called. Because you’ve been doing so well, you qualify for a special program where they match gifted kids up with mentors, and your mentor was due to come over for his first visit that afternoon.

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Your mentor is Gunther Munch, Lucas and Wolfgang’s older brother.

I asked him how his brothers were doing. “Wolf made any progress on his college apps?”

“Wolfgang. You two know Wolfy? ” he asked. “I’m sorry for you. Don’t hold it against me, all right?”

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“Wolfgang’s my friend,” you said quietly. “He’s teaching me a lot.”

“Ah,” said Gunther. “What can my brother teach? How to skin a cat? Possibly. Where to pawn ill-gotten gains? Likely. Five ways to explain to Mother where you were all afternoon when you should have been at school? Most definitely. I think, perhaps you learn from Munch Boy, senior, yes, my young friend?”

I’manequalopportunitylearner,” you said real quick. “I learn from everybody.”

You turned back to your book, and Gunther began telling you about Goethe and the The Sorrows of Young Werther.

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“I think one day I will love to fall in love,” you said.

There’s no hurry, son.

–Your pops

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My Digital Life: The Object-Oriented Gaze

If you can click on it, then it is real to me.

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Of course, some objects are real to me which you can’t click on. A wall, for example. It serves as a border, a boundary through which I can’t pass, unless the wall and I are glitched. But put something on wall, like a painting or a frame for a mural, and the wall suddenly becomes interactively, tangibly real to me.

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My favorite objects, even now, are those I can use to create.

Click. Paint… Surrealism… Large.

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I love the fridge. Always have.

Click. Have breakfast… fruit salad.

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That an object can be used to create another object that I can do something with: Eat. Put in inventory. Put away. Clean up.

It becomes something more than a representation of a device for storing groceries and meals. It becomes a tool I use to create.

And what I create fills needs and brings pleasure.

But an object needn’t be utilitarian to have value. I love snow globes. Can’t do much with them, but there they sit, adorable and collectible.

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I don’t have a sense of the absurd–at least not in the same way you do.

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Sometimes I wonder: What if our appearances weren’t illustrations of you and people like you? What if, for example, I were a purple cylinder, without a face, but with all the same object-oriented interactions available to me? What if my friend was a green square?

What if my “very happy” animation were to squish down into a ball and then pop up into the air, spin about, and open into a blooming daisy before bouncing back into my cylindrical shape? Would you still love me? Would you still see yourself in me?

From my own perspective, it would be no different than it is now when I step outdoors and throw my arms wide as I sigh to the sky, “Oh, lor-ay!” You find that endearing. Would a green square look cute to you?

The appearances are not for us. They are for you.

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What is for us?

A box that makes music that makes me happy–that is for me!

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Another box that I use to write, for my job. For my aspiration. For those pinned desires to publish, finish, review, browse.

That is for me.

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Put the two boxes in the same room, help me out with a multi-task click, and I will write joyfully for half the night.

I spent a good third of my youth writing. And even now, writing is what I do.

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It’s the properties and the scripts, not the appearances, that are meaningful for us.

I don’t know what my tofu taco looks like. But I know if it’s poor, normal, excellent, or perfect. These things affect me.

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Do I affect you? When I am interactable for you, does my quality change your mood? If so, am I poor, normal, excellent, or perfect?

I’m not the same now as I was when I started out.

We’re not blank canvases when we emerge from the Blue-Green Density.

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I came here knowing about squid. I still like to browse the web to learn more about squid.

But even if we come with predilections, we still change and grow from our experience.

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Maybe that’s why I love best those objects that let me create. I make something new, where nothing was before, and in the act, I change, too.

An object isn’t just an object: It’s a portal to something new.

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Forgotten Art: Jasper -Seth 3

A reply to: A letter from Seth

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Hey, Seth. Thank you for your letter.

I hope the sun isn’t so hungry today.

I went out to the bluffs this evening. Here, the fog slides in from the bay, and even the wrens are still.

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I liked these sentences you wrote: “The human species is a great big mirrored funhouse. It’s distorted projections of the self all the way down.”

This ties in with my response to your request:  “Tell me, about your words; when do you know they are lies, and when do you know they are true?”

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I guess it depends on how one defines “lies.” I’ll assume that we both know what we mean by true. We feel it, right? Or at least, that’s how it works for me. For example, I feel the truth of your words.

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If we take a lie to be an intentional diversion of truth, through misdirection, omission, or distortion, then my words don’t lie, for I don’t intend to divert the truth.

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But if we take a lie to be a softening of the harshness of direct perception, then, yes. Sometimes, my words lead down a softer path, and that’s the only path I have the strength and resolve to follow, sometimes.

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If we take a lie to be our accounts of our travels through the mirrored funhouse, then yes. All words lie. Or at least all of mine do, for my perception is colored by my existence in this form, with my particular and individual neurochemically driven responses and interpretations.

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My wife, Bess, used to talk to me of the vertical and horizontal currents of energy. I never understood what she meant during her lifetime, but I am beginning to feel those currents now that I’ve been relieved from the demands of my career and I have time to feel.

I’ve been practicing qigong with a group that meets most mornings in the grassy area near my house. Qigong, according to my teacher, is about these two currents of energy, the vertical and the horizontal. What she says fits with what I feel.

The vertical channel connects us with the universe, with life energy, with the abstract, and with the earth. The horizontal connects us with the social.

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It’s the vertical that’s got my attention right now and that I want to experience and explore. For me, that’s the connection with truth.

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What happens–and it’s happening even now as I write this–is that as I try to translate my experience of that vertical channel of energy into the horizontal, so that I can communicate it with another person, the words tangle it. What I write feels like a lie, though I am intending to write the truth.

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I don’t possess your genius for communicating unmediated truth.

Have you ever read Wittgenstein? I love that man. Six multi-part propositions, expressed in a treatise of nearly 70 pages, to lead to this single observation:

The right method of philosophy would be this. To say nothing except what can be said, i.e. the propositions of natural science, i.e. something that has nothing to do with philosophy: and then always, when someone else wished to say something metaphysical, to demonstrate to him that he had given no meaning to certain signs in his propositions. This method would be unsatisfying to the other—he would not have the feeling that we were teaching him philosophy—but it would be the only strictly correct method.

My propositions are elucidatory in this way: he who understands me finally recognizes them as senseless, when he has climbed out through them, on them, over them. (He must so to speak throw away the ladder, after he has climbed up on it.) He must surmount these propositions; then he sees the world rightly.

Whereof one cannot speak, thereof one must be silent.

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I haven’t yet mastered the art of silence, though that is what I am working on now–though you can’t tell it’s part of my practice from my nonsensical ramblings in this letter!

I don’t know how to be a silent pen pal. Send you a blank sheet of paper, I guess.

Bess used to talk to me about etiquette. I had a phase, early in my career, when I was fed up with academic politics and anything that felt inauthentic. Etiquette felt inauthentic to me.

That’s when I stopped shaving. But I also took up expressing exactly how I felt exactly when I felt it to exactly whomever I was speaking.

My “bout with unmitigated authenticity” just about cost me my career.

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Eventually, Bess got me to understand that the conventions for social communication helped to form a space for safety, and within that space, authenticity might occur.

We need to know the other person’s not going to stab us with a knife before we’ll show him our soft spots.

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I hear a lot of pain in your words, a history of betrayal.

On this planet, so many people have been so hurt, and most of it, for no purpose and so avoidable. I am sorry to feel that you, too, have been hurt. This pain, caused by others, it is so often so needless.

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We’re all so vulnerable, really. Soft, fleshy beings, with nothing between us and infinity but the structures of our minds, the chatter of our thoughts, that form a wall, a barrier against the indefinable silence.

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At one point, a person can decide: I will do my best not to add to my own pain. Then they might decide: I will do what I can not to contribute to others’ pain. Then they might decide: I will do what I can, within the scope of my responsibility and path, to help alleviate the suffering of others.

Maybe I can do some good.

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That’s the commitment I’ve made to life. Right now, my scope feels very narrow: my family. A few neighbors. I would like to help anyone that will let me, anyone that I have the capacity to help.

It starts here, with me, hooking up with life, the grand mistress. From there, maybe I reach out to as many as I can hold in my arms at one time: my niece. My grand-niece. My nephew, if he’ll let me.

Then, I walk through life, and I see who shows up. If I’ve got the capacity to show up, and another person has the capacity to show up, maybe we can help each other. Maybe, we hold out our hands–see? No pistol. No knife. Maybe, we can become friends.

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I know you can read into my words, Seth. I hope that you can read into the silence beyond them.

I’m not wise enough to know when not to speak. And I hope you’ll forgive me for being a foolish old man.

With love and gratitude,

Jasper

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