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The Heart Of The Matter

August 16, 2011

The markets; the London riots. Shelley’s health. It may sound odd, but for me, it all ties together.

To begin with, look at what happened in the world: The President and Congress were locked in a struggle all summer long to come up with a solution for the debt crisis, to avoid another blow to the economy. They come up with a compromise at the last minute, avoiding a default, and then the country’s credit rating gets downgraded and the markets go berserk.

And in the midst of this, London, of all places, explodes into riots and looting. How stable is their society at all…or ours for that matter? Could this happen here? How much class rage is lurking just beneath the surface?

What’s going on here? Anyone who’s certain they know the answer is probably wrong.

As for Shelley – she’s still experiencing symptoms that are heart-related when she exerts herself – but not always, and different symptoms at different times. And the doctors shrug.

What it all means for her and me and the life we’ve made I can’t say.

Surveying all these things, I’m reminded of that Paul Simon line — “Everything put together falls apart”. The only question is one of velocity.

But the thing is, concerning our world or our home, one never knows if things are going to, by tomorrow,  get better or worse, thereby leaving us looking back on these days as those tough times that finally eased up, or as the good old days.

I suppose that if I accept the changes I cannot change, I may find more serenity.

Shelley and I decided to go away this past weekend to visit our friends Joan and Arthur up in Rhode Island. We get to have a very special few days with them, luxuriating at Joan’s cabin. It gives me a chance to relax, and think. On Saturday evening, we go to a nearby beach, to catch first the sunset behind us, followed immediately by a full moon rising directly in front of us, right over the breaking waves as the sky darkens.

With the water playing the moonlight sonata, I think of Shelley, and how much I’d miss her if I lost her, miss having her like I do right now here on the beach. Except, I suddenly realize, right now on the beach I’m busy thinking of how I’d miss being with her, instead of  being with her!

I realize then that living in fear of loss isn’t living at all. It subverts the moment. Indeed, all my fear and worry seems to be based on leaving the now for some possible then. In the moment, I’m fine.

Joan Juggling On The Beach

The next day we go to the Narragansett Pow Wow. Arthur is Native American, and he and Joan have been attending or participating in Pow Wows for decades, so Shelley and I learn about it from an insider’s point of view.

The opening ceremony is hard to describe. The writer in me is too modern and intellectualized to adequately describe what went on here, or how it moved me. But try to imagine — this is the 336th consecutive annual August meeting of the tribe (of recorded history), on land that is perhaps the only Indian land in America that has remained in tribal possession this whole time. We’re asked to remove our hats. Photos are not allowed for the opening ceremony. The chief and those that follow enter and move in a circle. Indeed, the entire day is done in a circle. (By contrast, when do we other Americans ever sit or dance or convene in a circle?) The elements are so simple – the drums are beaten, the elders come, then the “young bloods”, then the children. The 4 directions are invoked, and the spirits. There’s a fire in the center of the circle.

Songs are sung by those beating the drums, out of our sight. Voices in song to the beat. Men’s voices, then women’s.  Various dancers in full regalia move slowly clockwise, their feet drumming the ground. Sometimes a circle of dancers closes inward around the fire, and call out fiercely as they feel the heat, then back away again. The power emanating up through their roots, up from the earth, and informed from the sky above, is brimming with dignity born of time-honored traditions. Honoring  the land and the ancestors and the ground beneath us all.


At one point, all families in the tribe who have lost loved ones in the past year are called into the circle. They are asked to dance around the circle, each family together and distinct within the circle, to honor their departed, while the rest of us stand outside the circle honoring them. The drummers and singers drum and sing. At one point, the families stop and turn to face each other in the circle, and then join together and continue their circular dance as one family of mourners.

No wonder I feel these natives know something we don’t. Maybe many things. There are some in these tribes who stayed close to their ways while we built a gargantuan civilization all around them, one that may now be slowly falling apart, and maybe not so slowly.



I feel glad I’m sharing this with Shelley. It enters our bones in some speechless way. The power and the simplicity of it all.  Maybe there are answers for me and her in that circle. And maybe not just for the two of us. Perhaps if society in London were more like a circle and not so much like rigid lines and class and glass ceilings, there would have been no riots. Perhaps  if we knew how to honor the earth and the elements instead of trying to forge them into money and power, we’d be living in more stable times.

And perhaps heart disease, which kills more of us than anything else, is an apt metaphor for what ails the body politic.

And I wonder: If Shelley and I would live more simply, whether she — and I — would simply live longer.

On the beach, her voice cracking, Shelley points to the ocean and says, “Look at how we both love the water!  How it soothes us!” She’s right. It heals us, along with the sky, the sun and the moon. Maybe the way we’re living, especially here in the city,  is the problem — for Shelley, me, maybe all of us.

8 Comments leave one →
  1. August 16, 2011 1:43 pm

    Hi Charley, a beautiful post…I have often taken note of my worries and fears and had to stop myself mid thought to realize that yes right here, right now I am fine. Even though this sounds selfish, it is where I must start. I’m remembering a quote I just read.

    “This world is a strange world, and the strangest thing is that we go on trying to change the inner by changing the outer ― and it is not possible in the very nature of things. You can change the outer by changing the inner, but not vice versa.” Osho

    It sounds like your inner is changing and so too the outer will change. I look forward to visiting you on the beach!
    love niseema

  2. Emily permalink
    August 16, 2011 4:01 pm

    beautiful post charley! so heartfelt! love the photos too… glad you had such a great experience connecting this past weekend 🙂

  3. Arthur Donovan permalink
    August 16, 2011 5:36 pm

    Charley, first of all let me say that its always great to visit with you and Shelley either here in RI, or in NYC. We always click when we’re together. But what I really want to comment on is the line: “Perhaps if we knew how to honor the earth and the elements instead of trying to forge them into money and power, we’d be living in more stable times.” Many people, Native American and not, don’t get this insight after countless Powwows, gatherings and ceremonies. I’m not a teacher or a preacher in things that pertain to the culture, but I love when someone “gets it”. And you and Shelley get it. Love to you both,
    Arthur Walkingturtle

  4. August 16, 2011 6:00 pm

    If Shelley can retire NOW you will never regret it. If she doesn’t, you may very well regret it deeply. I retired about a year and a half earlier than planned. went through all the $$ worries. Did it anyhow, made things work, never a moment’s regret, as i began doing what was most important to me. Terence McKenna used to say “Worry is preposterous.” He said he was quoting a Chinese sage. But who cares what the authority is? We were righter when we did the 60’s in terms of worry. The personal, useless kind. F-k that sh-t.
    Magical moments are free.

  5. gary telfer permalink
    August 16, 2011 8:09 pm

    charley, you might write this after midnight, but when i read it in the morning it puts the day in perspective with inspiration and insight

    diana, thanks for the early retirement advice. shelley and i spoke about it the other day as i’m thinking of taking the plunge too, and it helps to hear from someone already swimming with no regrets

  6. dave abramowitz permalink
    August 17, 2011 5:29 am

    More and more, I see how much a deeper sense of the poetry, the poetry of life and our Creator, is entering you . . . and you are becoming the poetry . . .

  7. Laurie Yankowitz permalink
    August 19, 2011 4:19 am

    Charley, I do believe you’re on to something….I too love the photos, especially of the dancing woman in white….I’ve been doing some internal work to let go of worry, and occasionally succeed – a most liberating sensation – and also trying to remember to wear my life like a loosely fitting garment – when I remember to do do that, aaaaahhhh…..
    not as easy to do in fluorescent light while looking at a computer screen or reviewing files for paperwork compliance as it is when cylcing along hydrangea bordered, sea-scented side streets, but it can be done!

  8. August 23, 2011 4:53 am

    “…trying to remember to wear my life like a loosely fitting garment…”
    Thank you, Laurie.

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