315. Waiting for Mohammed

It may seem strange to have a chess partner who is a young Libyan man in Turtle Town, but that’s what the deal is.  Mohammed hangs out at the coffee shop most afternoons. His mother functions as a cross between a social worker and pied piper for the lost ones who congregate around the town square. She is passionately kind to the disenfranchised and very sweet to her son, Mohammed.  I have no idea what their back story is, how they came from London to the U.S. No idea. I do know tenderness when I see it, though.

Anyway, I often wait for Mohammed to show up so that we can get in as many games as possible. We don’t talk that much, though he told me he is a poet. We thank each other at the end of every game– win, lose, or stalemate. Smiles and a handshake. “Good game.” “That was fun.” I tend to mutter Marvin Gaye lyrics while I play… “only three things for sure– taxes, death and Trouble.  Trouble man.”

He says some odd things at times.  A while ago he asked for free advice. (He knows I provide therapy.)  “My advice to you is not to ask for free advice.”

“Oh.”

Lately he said, “I am wondering if God exists. Check.”

I said, “Good, keep wondering. It’s a critical question to answer. Uncheck, you booger.”

“Why do you say that? Do you believe in God?”

“Yes, I do, but whether you do or do not believe, your answer will form a core belief and inform you about your purpose and meaning in life. Check.”

“What does that mean? Not the check, I follow that.”

“Well, have you ever seen a house being built from start to finish?”

“Sure.”

“So one day there is an empty plot of ground and someone starts dreaming and designing a lovely structure that will fit superbly on this spot. A surveyor stakes out the foundation one day and sets the corners. A while later a backhoe operator digs the footers for concrete. Eventually you get a detailed structure. Check.”

“I don’t get it. What does a house have to do with God’s existence? Uncheck.”

“Well, it’s an analogy to building a faith system. Once you break ground, (in your case it’s deciding if God exists) you begin building a structure of beliefs that connect to one another.”

“And what if I decide God does not exist? Check.”

“You still build a structure, a belief system around that core belief.”

“Oh, I thought belief systems were religions.”

“Religions are belief systems, but so are paths in science and political systems. Communism and socialism and fascism are all political belief systems that are not religions. In fact, they often outlaw religion or restrict it severely. Uncheck.”

“Hmmm. Gaddafi was religious, but he was also a total dictator.”

“Yeah, he was sort of a mutant combination of being the tribal chief, president for life, thug godfather, and well, let’s see what Hollowverse says….

“Gaddafi was quite taken with the principle of democracy. To him, multi-party, representational democracy was not truly democratic–nor was a dictatorship, though he was widely considered a dictator. And perhaps he was, but regardless, only three years after Gaddafi orchestrated a bloodless coup in Libya, he stepped down as Premier of the Libyan government, re-titling himself “Brotherly Leader and Guide of the First of September Great Revolution of the Socialist People’s Libyan Arab Jamahiriya,” and instituting a complex series of self-governing citizen bodies with titles like “The People’s Committees” and the “General People’s Congress.”

“Yeah, that’s a delusional belief system. ”

“He was a very bad man for a very long time. Check.”

“Yep. I wonder if he believed in God? or if he thought he was God?”

“The thing about God that stops me from believing is the evil in the world. All these innocent people who are abused and killed. Where is God for them?”

“That’s an old complaint lodged against the idea of a good, loving, all powerful God. Why would He allow evil to flourish? Uncheck.”

“So evil makes me not want to believe in God.”

“Uh huh. That’s evil’s job, though, to eliminate hope and belief in a better world. Evil destroys and pollutes and desecrates. Like Gaddafi. Because he caused so much evil, does that mean that good does not exist? God, on the other hand, if you believe in Him, originates, creates, purifies, redeems, saves. He heals what evil perpetrates. Mate.”

“I don’t think I believe that. Not the checkmate. I get that.”

“So how do you explain beauty and the order of nature? Do you think it’s all the random outcome of a bunch of random stuff? And when you see extraordinary kindness like your mother shows, how do you explain that? Did compassion for one’s fellow man just evolve out of a mud puddle like pollywogs?”

“I don’t know what are pollywogs?”

“They are evolving frogs, uh, tadpoles. It’s a stage between the frog egg and the mature frog. Actually… like you, Mohammed. You are evolving into your final adult form. Seeking the answer to whether God exists or not is part of your spiritual/intellectual growth.”

“You think so?”

“Sure. I remember reading that every thinking person must answer three questions. 1. Where did I come from?  2. Where do I go after I die?  3. What should I do between those two points?”

“I can’t answer those questions yet.”

“That’s okay, Tadpole. Did anyone every tell you that you look like Chico Marx?”

“No, who was that?”

“Groucho Marx’s older brother. Have you ever seen a Marx Brothers movie?”

“No.”

“You’re probably better off without the Marx Brothers experience.  Let’s just say they were some crazy comic brothers back in the day.”

“Do you think they believed in God?”

“Yeah, I do… at least they had to believe in miracles because their movies were incredibly stupid, and yet they made a good living from being silly.”

“Maybe I could do that too.”

“Mohammed, stand up comedy and you… I’m not seeing it.”

“No, here is a keeler joke:  How many Tunisians does it take to change light bulb?”

“You got me. How many?”

“Whole country.”

“Where’s the punch line, Mohammed?”

“Don’t you remember Arab Spring?  The Tunisians changed leaders like old light bulb.”

“Oh, yeah. Keeler, man. Let’s stick with theology.”

“But why?”

“Cuz you’re killin’ me.”

 

 

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280. Point less ?

I was reading a journal article today on mind wandering. The researchers somehow determined that mind wandering actually allows the same mind to focus; and conversely, the focusing mind allows the same mind to wander in a yinny-yangy way. (My words not theirs, trust me here.) I find this finding reassuring, which seems redundant to find a finding and assure again, i.e., “re-“. However, be this as it may, I am a big fan of mind wandering. I do it all the time, to which long time blog followers can all shout a throaty “Amen!” I am a proponent of associative thinking, trusting that there is a theme evolving as the associations build. The tight sphinctered scientists among us do a lot of crisp pointing, like tour guides who point out the most important buildings in Charleston or NYC. They point and point and point so you get the point. Helpful if you are on a tight schedule; tedious if you are not.

Mind wandering is not total abandonment of rational thinking; rather it is like letting a kite have its string, maybe a half mile of string on occasions. Allowing the breezes and updrafts to have their way with a kite over the beach is a small effortless joy. Ahhh, good therapy for the string holder and spectators who are unwinding while watching their kites turn into tiny red dots out over the shipping channel. The kite can symbolize a lifted mood, a soul rising, a worry vaporized… or nothing at all.

What’s the point? Is this an experiment with a key and lightning? Is there a measurable and justifiable purpose here? Not really.

Decades ago I remember my friend Jack flying a kite off the sand of Kitty Hawk, N.C. It was a perfect kite flying day. We added fishing line to the original string when it was exhausted. To elevate the kite’s altitude, we tied shoes and fishing weights to the new line. It became an engineering marvel after a few hours. Only as early evening approached did we take turns winding in the various lines and weights until we retrieved the flimsy kite itself. I was left with a memory, a wonder, a smile thirty years later.

Jack is long dead now; however, the memory is bittersweet and alive. If I choose to focus all my Jack memories, I’d fill the sky with millions of kite strings and confetti. The nights in Georgetown; the weekend at UVA; the trip to Va. Tech; the dozens of dozens of parties and outings. The big red Oldsmobile convertible. The stupid red van. His wedding, wife and kids. Siblings, mom and dad, and friends network. His amnesia episode. It’s endless and yet invisibly attached to the single kite string that wandered up off the beach in 1980 something.

I always listen to Pandora when I write my blog posts. Pick Rolling Stones Radio and you get the entire milieu of rock and roll that surrounded their classic hit songs. Rather than drilling the Stones’ greatest hits into your brain, Pandora floats around the era, filling an aural shopping cart with nice choices from the same aisles and shelves where the Stones live. An atmosphere is suggested to hover in your memory and massage old thoughts and feelings you have not moved in years. “Time Is On My Side” is followed by Zepellin, CCR, Hendrix, a Beatles song, Cream, the Animals, etc. And there you go– 1970 all over again.

I’ve heard more than one tight lipped doctor dismiss dreams out of hand as mere defragmentations of the waking mind, a cleaning process the brain goes through each night, with no other significance. Some even mock the concept of the unconscious mind as an unprovable fantasy construct. These guys point, point, point to their trusty data points that measure something but require no faith. Anecdotal records are simply coincidences and not reproducible, so they would have you believe.  But allow me to disagree.

Years ago I had a boy client who had lost his father to a long battle with mouth and throat cancer. He longed for his father, an avid outdoorsman, to be in his life and teach him how to canoe, and fish, and hunt. He had a repetitive bear dream that disturbed him. In it he was running next to a bear in the woods. As I pushed for details he told me the bear was not scary at all. And they were actually running around a quarter mile track in the middle of a pine forest. He was disturbed by the “nonsense” of the dream. I sketched out the scene to his liking and he colored the bear a reddish brown. As an afterthought I asked, “What color are the bear’s eyes?”

Without any hesitation he responded, “Bright blue”.

Now that’s an odd detail, I thought.

Later on I was processing this dream with the boy’s mother. She told me about her deceased husband. “I used to sponge bathe him at the kitchen table after they took his tongue out. He’d sit in his underwear and make growling noises for yes and no. I understood him, but I think it scared the boys to see their dad that way.”

“What did your husband look like?”

“Tall, six two or so, maybe two hundred and fifty pounds. Handsome, I thought.”

“What color was his hair?”

“Oh reddish brown. And he was hairy all over, not just on his head.”

“Really? Like a bear?” I asked.

“Uh-huh. I called him my big teddy bear.”

“And his eyes, what color were they?”

“Oh, my, the brightest blue you ever saw.”

“Well, how about that? I think we’ve found your son’s dream bear.”

Gasp. Tears. A billion kite strings filled the space around her and wet confetti maple leaves poured down all over her aching memory bank.

 Merely the brain defragmenting, kids. No need to panic. If you can’t prove it exists, then you can’t point to it.
So we point less.