Your Shadow on the Wall

Dancing in the dark

Photo by Martino Pietropoli on Unsplash

I’m just another ghost
In this lonely ghost town
Searching for what I’ve lost
Hoping to avoid a meltdown

Streets that once contained substance
Now avenues of by-gone memories
Oozing ethereal persistence
No longer resembling terrestrial reality

I drift among the pictures hung
Upon the hallway walls
Where many songs were sung
When your touch was my cure-all

Now it’s your shadow on the wall
I see it plainly, a shining landmark
My love’s port of call
As we dance in the dark

©2022 Joe Merkle All rights reserved

Originally published on Medium.com https://medium.com/p/5866c375a5d6

A Lover’s Fairytale

Image from Stock Nation Royalty free

He was in no hurry. On a beautiful day such as this, every moment was one to cherish. The breeze was rustling through the palms ever so gently as the white willow wisps of clouds painted ghostly shadows on the gently rolling hills.

It had been a long time, lifetimes to Paul since he strolled through the narrow cobblestone streets of this tiny seaside fishing village. The villagers were just now beginning to start their day. The women could be heard in the houses trying to stir their families into action. Most of the men were already out to sea, hoping for a good catch to bring to market.

Paul left the road, taking his time strolling out towards the hillside that overlooked the azure waters. He stopped on the hilltop to enjoy the ocean breeze in his face and the gulls frolicking overhead that instilled a feeling of great inner peace and oneness with creation within him. He had forgotten how good it was to relax and not take the world so personally. After all, I’m just a traveler at a rest stop, not the conqueror of empires.

The laughter of the children playing on the beach that spread out below him snapped Paul from his revelry. What greater joy could be found than in a child’s laughter. And then he saw her. From this distance, it was hard to tell if she was one of the children. Round and round she raced with the kids, laughing and splashing in the surf that caressed the white sand beach. “I do believe this merits investigation,” he said to himself. Without further hesitation, he ripped off his shoes and ran down to the beach.

Paul was stunned. She was drop-dead gorgeous. She had a timeless beauty that would have been stunning in any century. Her long blonde hair and soft pastel dress lent an air of radiance about her. As she approached him her large green eyes and marvelously sculptured lips broke into an irresistible smile that could melt the polar ice cap. The web was already cast, and Paul was the contented victim.

“Hi, there. A beautiful day is it not?” said a voice that could make angels jealous. While Paul tried to find his voice all he could do is shake his head in the affirmative and grin stupidly. “Would you like to play tag with us? Oh, I’m sorry, let me introduce myself. I’m Keeri, and you are?”

“P-Paul,” he managed to stutter over a still handicapped tongue.

Keeri had a questioning look in her eyes, thinking to herself that Paul must be new around here for she could not remember seeing him before. And she would most definitely remember that event. As she studied him more closely she came to the conclusion he was attractive, h-m-m, extremely attractive, she thought. He stood about six inches taller than her, she being five foot nine. His body was, well, perfect. He had deep-set blue eyes that exuded a penetrating strength but a sense of serenity at the same time. His chin was strong with a sexy cleft, his nose slightly bigger than ideal, and his brown hair looked as if it hadn’t been cut for some time. But it was his smile and lips that caught her attention as she found herself wanting to kiss them a few thousand times at this very moment.

“Sure”, said Paul. I’d love to play with you, and, uh, the kids.”

As they played and laughed and shared their love of children their admiration for each other grew. Their glances grew longer until they could no longer keep their eyes from one another. No longer did they hear the water lapping on the shore or the gulls screeching overhead. They became a world unto themselves, living for the moment, afraid to ask questions better left unanswered.

Never had either of them felt such a powerful connection before. It was as if there was no beginning or end to this crazy love, it was simply waiting for fulfillment.

Keeri took Paul to one of her favorite secluded spots along the shore. With the sound of the water breaking on the shore, they spent what was left of the morning making love and making friends. Keeri then suggested they grab a morsel of food and some homemade wine.

As they wound their way through the mostly deserted, narrow village streets Kari asked, “Where are you from Paul?”

Paul stifled a laugh and replied, “Well to tell you the truth I’ve never lived in one place long enough to call home. If I had to pick one I guess it would be Chicago.”

“How about family, friends, or maybe a wife?” laughed Keeri with a mischievous gleam in her eye.
“No family alive. A few friends scattered all over the globe. Negative on the wife.”
“Sorry about your family. I never did catch your last name.”

“Winter, what’s yours?”

“Sorenson.”

“Have you lived here all your life?” asked Paul.

“Since I was three. We moved from Minnesota. My parents have been dead for some time now. My older brother and sister got me through my teen years. And, they have the scars to prove it. My sister married and followed her husband to St. John’s and my brother John went back to the States. It gets lonely sometimes but there are always stray sailors coming ashore to entertain me” joked Keeri. “Here’s the place I call home.”

It was a small but quaint bungalow with colorful red bricks that matched the cobblestone road that led to it. “Come on in and take a load off,” said Keeri. Paul had other ideas and swept her into his arms and carried her through the small living area into the bedroom. Several hours later as Keeri was throwing some dinner together she asked Paul, “Have you been on the island long?”

“Just got in yesterday,” was Paul’s brief customary reply.

“What do you do that requires so much traveling?” she asked.

“I’m a writer.”

“I didn’t know writers traveled so much. I know, you’re a travel writer, right?”

Trying hard to suppress a laugh Paul said, “No-oo. I was a news journalist for many years. It was a very exciting job at first, but it became limiting in the sense that the media considers all the negative aspects of life as news. It was becoming harder and harder for me to smile and laugh. So I quit, bought a sailboat, and set out looking for fairy tales to write.”

Keeri just sat staring into his deep blue eyes which reflected a certain ageless quality while trying to figure out just what she was getting herself into. “You’re a strange man Paul Winter. I’ve known you for less than a day and I love you like I’ve known you for lifetimes. I feel like a giddy school girl.”

Paul’s typical blunt response, “Hey, let’s eat and head out to catch the sunset with some of that wicked wine of yours.”

“Sounds good to me.”

They both ate in silence, consumed with the notion that something very special was happening. Paul had never known love such as this could exist for him. God, she’s beautiful. She is so alive. I’m the firewood and she’s the match.

On the other side of the table for two Keeri was bubbling over with wonder over this whole crazy affair. Nothing like this had ever remotely entered her mind. Never had she met a man with such quiet strength and at the same time such an easy laugh. He had a contagious laugh that was irresistible. And the eyes, so mysterious, as if there were so many secrets he could share if only…

“Dinner was awesome. What fish was that?”

“Mahi Mahi, with coconut rice and my homemade mango salsa,” smiled a proud Keeri while she twirled like a schoolgirl.

“Wow! That was so amazing. She can cook too!’ exclaimed Paul with a laugh. “Come on. We’re going to miss that sunset. Grab the wine and let’s head for hills.”

It was an idyllic evening. A warm tropical breeze toyed with Keeri’s hair, which seemed on fire, reflecting the crimson hues that were painting the sky with reds and oranges. Not to be outdone, the thin, wispy clouds were mirrors reflecting the beautiful colors.

“It’s as if God has painted a picture for us tonight,” said Keeri. They sat there on the hilltop in silence, awed by the spectacle surrounding them.

Paul, lying on his back, began to write something in the air with his finger. Wondering what weird thing he was up to Keeri could not hold back her curiosity. “Now what are doing?”

“I’m writing our initials in the sky,” said a very serious Paul who may have been feeling the effects of the wine.

“A little tipsy Paul?” laughed Keeri.

“No, really, come here and I’ll show you,” stated the still serious Paul. With Keeri lying next to him cheek to cheek Paul pointed to a cloud in the sky and said, “there, you see it? Plain as day, K.S. and P.W.”

“No,” said a suspicious Keeri who was beginning to wonder if she fell for a madman.

“Watch, I’ll trace it for you.” He took Keeri’s hand, pointed her finger, and began to trace their initials. Now it seemed to Keeri, lying there in total wonderment, that their initials were forming in the clouds. “Yes, yes I can see them now!” exclaimed Keeri.

Paul rolled over, giving her a big kiss, looked deeply into her eyes, and said with a snicker in his voice, “Who’s feeling a little tipsy now?” With that he slapped her fanny, leaped up, and began to run down the hill laughing, not forgetting to grab the wine on the way.

Keeri followed screaming, “I’ll get you for that!” When they were both exhausted they fell on the beach laughing in between gasps for air.

When she was finally able to squelch the giggles Keeri asked, “Please take me to your boat. I’d like to see where the famous Paul Winter, spinner of yarns, makes his home.”

They took their time getting to the pier where Paul’s boat was docked. “What’s her name?” she asked as they mounted the deck.

“The Winds of Mer Kailesh.” “Where’s Mer Kailesh?” asked Keeri. Paul responded with a glimmer in his eye, “That’s another fairytale. Come on, I’ll show you around.” After a brief tour and some moonlight skinny-dipping, they sat on the deck finishing the wine while being lulled by the gentle waves caressing the boat.

“Stargazing is lovely for a while, but let’s go to bed,” whispered Keeri seductively. “Yeah, I’m really tired,” laughed Paul.

Keeri rose along with the sun. She had not slept all night thinking about this strange and wonderful man. She found some paper and a pen and began to write.

Dearest Paul,
Never have I known love could reach such heights. My time spent with you was like heaven on earth. It is funny, but I was afraid I would fall in love with you and be crushed when you left. But I’m aglow and blushing with a radiance I’ve never felt before. My love for you will never end — I think you know that. See you when I see you.
Love Keeri
PS Write about us. It will make a great fairytale. She walked down the small pier feeling silly, laughing out loud. Besides, I get seasick. And I did see those initials.

Paul’s effort to open his eyes was like a drawbridge struggling to raise its heavy load. For someone who rarely drank alcohol, the wine had certainly taken its toll. “Hello, anybody home?” There was no response. Maybe she went for a swim. He saw the note Keeri left sitting on the deck chair and began to read it. Amazing. I’m sitting here for this great depression to descend upon me, and all I can do is sit here with this silly smile on my face.

Paul dove into the crystal blue waters for a swim, thinking all the while of the love that had blossomed in him. The perfect lady on a perfect day. He dried himself off and picked up the note and read once again. PS Write about us, it will make a great fairytale. “Yes it would,” he said to the seagull gliding overhead, sure it was Jonathan. He picked up his pen and wrote.

Lover’s Poem

When we meet
We shall touch the stars
The little children will laugh at us
And to each we shall teach love

And we’ll float on the soft summer breeze
I’ll carve our initials in the clouds
And in a fleeting moment
That which is not tangible shall succumb

And our love will become inimitable

Will explore the silver moon
And search for the silver man
And we’ll mix the colors on the palette
And paint the world

Then we’ll say our goodbyes
And no regrets will there be
Only happy memories we share
And our initials in the clouds

Dedicated to a Golden Lady with eternal love
Paul Winter

Originally published on Medium.com

It’s Only An Illusion – And You Created It

Image by Vasilli Pixaby

What makes for a great illusion? One that is so convincing you have no doubt it is real. Any master illusionist who has mastered the art the illusion will tell you that confidence and attitude will help sell the illusion. It is easy to sell the trick to an audience that is a willing participant. But the illusion itself is what stands the test of time.

This is not unlike what we as souls create for ourselves time and time again. We, souls, are a fun-loving, playful, experimental bunch. Not unlike a child. As beings that have eternity to entertain ourselves, we must create our own entertainment.

Children role-play to experience both sides of their imaginations. One day a group of young boys could be playing cops and robbers and they will experience what it is like to be the robber being shot and killed and the next day being the cop doing the killing. And they are highly creative and have fun with both roles. They go home as friends, having had a great time “just playing”.

Then, sadly, they grow to be adults, and most will lose their playful self to the illusion they themselves created…their grownup lives. All of us without exception create the world we live in. It is simply an illusion that seems so real we find ourselves trapped within it. Only with the help of good friends we have known through countless incarnations can we eventually break free.

Now, what I mean by good friends is this. We as souls attract like-minded beings to play with. These souls are often good friends and family members in your physical incarnations because you all like to play the “cops and robbers” game. One of your best friends may be the one that murders you in this lifetime because that was the experience you both wished to have this time around.

I know what I am proposing may seem blasphemous to many. So be it. Every spiritual master that has walked this earth has been considered a blasphemer in his/her lifetime. Not that I am proposing I am one. I, like you, am no different than them. They simply are more evolved souls trying to tell us to break through the greatest of illusions, that being that we are fatal creatures that die. Nothing could be further from the truth.

We are eternal, loving entities on a journey to God-realization.

Having gotten that out of the way the question that remains is how do we go about our daily lives once this realization dawns upon us? This is the tricky part. We are so utterly consumed by this great illusion that all of us will need help from one that has seen behind the curtain.

No, I am not referring to some religious figure. I am talking about a real person or persons in your life that through their example they take you by the hand and expose the illusion for what it is. One that is close to you and demonstrates a love that rises above the pettiness that often shows its ugly face in human encounters. A divine love that touches everyone around them.

If you think hard, I am sure all of you have met someone in your life that fits the bill. A person who rarely has anything bad to say. Easily forgives. Smiles so bright it hurts your eyes. Seems never to be controversial. Makes you grateful just to be in their presence.

I have been fortunate enough to have known several such souls in my life. But none more than the woman I married. For 47 years we spent a wonderful life together until she chose her end to this particular illusion of hers by creatively using dementia as her excuse. Like she did for me every day in our shared world we created she is most likely lighting the way for me towards our next adventure. I cannot wait to see what’s in store for me.

Needless to say, this scenario crushed me. Tore at my very existence. For two weeks I could barely breathe. No, I did not want to breathe. And then, on that fourteenth day, and no doubt with her assistance, I had an awakening. This is MY illusion. This is the role I created. This is what in my make-believe play world I wanted to experience. Now, we can laugh together again at how much fun this adventure has been for us.

Faster than a hummingbird’s wingbeat speaking cosmically, we will again be together, planning our next adventure. But I will insist on perhaps both of us dying together in a crash while flying a glider over the Grand Canyon at sunset. Doesn’t that sound like fun? I know we would both be laughing our asses off.

Who Really Runs The World

Jacob Rothschild Image by Vanity Fair

What if I told you approximately 150 people run this world? How could such a thing be possible? Why would global citizens allow such a thing to happen? Who could possibly believe such a thing?

Well, 150 people are running this world. They are the elite members of NGOs. You just don’t know it. Or worse, you have chosen to ignore it. They have no loyalty to any country. They operate from a global viewpoint.

They decide who runs governments, banks, stock exchanges, companies, and even religious institutions. They decide which countries will thrive. Nothing at the highest levels of government occurs without their influence.

These men (yes, they are all men) use their enormous wealth and/or power to manipulate the masses for their own ends. They incite dissonance if it is to their benefit. They promote lies through social media outlets that sway public opinion. They also generously donate funds to non-profit organizations. On the surface, this provides them a cover for their global, and often criminal actions.

There are crimes of passion, debauchery, violence, greed, pride, envy, theft, child trafficking, murder, and the list goes on. The men that run this world have become experts at one or more of these. They learn to like it, no, they become addicted to it. Many are born and raised to wear the crown of power. Global control is their mantra. Greed is their only motivation. Power is their elixir.

They hide in plain sight. That is of course if you live in a very, very wealthy neighborhood. They give generously to good causes, not to ease their guilt, but to gain tax benefits. But the real reason for their generosity is to lend themselves a sense of legitimacy. This is such an effective yet simple ploy they use to gain the trust of the people they are stabbing in the back.

NOT FOR ONE MINUTE

That is how much thought they give to anyone or anything outside their circle of like-minded friends. Starving children in Africa. Nope. Kids in cages. Nada8.8% of people living in poverty on a global scale. Too bad. Climate change. Let them all die; we have our bunkers. They exist simply to gain treasure.

Since Homo Sapiens have walked the earth clever men have manipulated the masses through lies and deception. The first such one would have schemed to make others believe that he alone controlled the rising and setting of the sun. Hence, the first ruler rose to power using a lie while promoting fear. Sound familiar?

But now our rulers have made a quantum leap in the use of deception. Today’s 24-hour news media allows them to manipulate the masses into believing that murder at the hands of law enforcement is justified. Or the disappearance of dissonates is just a mystery. Or a deadly pandemic is just a hoax. And that a crash in the stock market is horrible and the global economy will tank. One can write volumes on these alone.

What is far worse is their manipulation of faith. This is without doubt the most powerful weapon in the game of deception. Name me one faith-based institution that is not dripping with money. Go ahead. I’ll wait. The greatest scam perpetrated on humanity is religion. Do you really think Christianity, Islam, and Buddhism would have been viable institutions for over a thousand years if others did not profit from them?

I am not denying that spiritually advanced souls have incarnated on earth to provide us guidance. I am quite sure they had no intention of their messages being highjacked by profiteers. How do I know this? It was never the intention of Jesus, Muhammed, and Buddha to control the masses. Nevertheless, this was the result derived from their messages by men hungry for power and wealth. Buddhism largely escaped this takeover. Islam has been weaponized. Christianity was highjacked by the Catholic Church for untold riches and influence.

No president, dictator, or autocrat has risen to power in the last 100 years or more without their influence. These pre-selected heads of state have been chosen to perform certain tasks. Those could be to have a beneficial or catastrophic influence. Whichever benefits the band of 150 brothers.

Do not believe for an instant your vote matters in Presidential elections. No matter what country you live in. The candidates have been proffered to the voting public.

Yes, this article is most likely not what you wanted to hear. Knowledge is power. Perhaps if enough citizens of the world realize that a small group of men is largely determining our fates, we can begin to be less gullible, more inquisitive, and start a groundswell revolution.

A Human Life In Perspective

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is 5ef8de4f374c91b032fcaf4b8c1f05e6-1024x530.jpg
Photo by StockNation

There are 700,000,000,000,000,000,000 planets in the universe. That’s 700 quintillions. The universe is 13.8 billion years old. The average lifespan of a human is 79 years. To put a lifetime into perspective that is 0.0000005724637681% of the age of the universe.

So, in reality, a human lifetime fails to register as even an insignificant speck of time. A beat of a hummingbird’s wings is universally speaking much longer than a lifetime. It doesn’t matter if you are an illiterate person or a historically famous one. Your life is simply an illusion, a moment in time, which is also a creation of the human mind.

In their conceit humans generally think their lives are significant. No matter what you think, you are still a speck, proofing that yours or anyone’s opinions or achievements simply don’t matter. The only way to escape from these illusions is when you expand your consciousness beyond the limits your physical senses place on you.

And really? Do you really believe that with 700 quintillion planets in the universe we are the only intelligent (jury is still out on that) species? Or that the God you choose to pray to or believe in has a special place for just humans? Talk about arguing for your limitations.

Keeping this mind, the wise thing to do as a human would be to explore beyond your earthly bonds. To look for answers that can’t be explained in a book. To expand your consciousness beyond the physical world. In other words, to put your existence into perspective beyond your senses.

As humans, we become aware of only one thing that doesn’t perish, love. When a loved one dies our love for them lives on. Yet, you can’t see love, or touch, taste, or feel love. But what we most often do is wrongly classify love as an emotion, therefore limiting something that has no limits or boundaries. We attach emotions that throttle all the possibilities that love presents to us.

Divine love is the thread that binds all of creation at every level of existence. To try to put it in words is impossible. As your awareness expands it continues to trickle into your consciousness subtlety at first, providing hints as to what awaits. You begin to slowly let go of attachments and beliefs once held as truth. Things that were once important are exposed as tethers holding you back from self-realization.

Not unlike a six-year-old that has mastered simple addition. He is rewarded with praise from his teachers and parents. He becomes important in his own eyes. If that same six-year-old chooses to become a quantum physicist he will have to unlearn those early lessons that will now become an illusion to him.

The realization begins to envelop your consciousness that what matters most is helping those get ready to start a most spectacular journey of discovery. This can take many forms, most of which are subtle suggestions to sow the seed of greater awareness. Everything else becomes the means to succeed in this endeavor. The only reward is the submersion in divine love. Nothing could be greater.

WARNING, this is often a bumpy ride.

Wonder – The Greatest Human Attribute

wonder

The greatest achievements of humanity can be traced back to wonder. How many great historical figures asked themselves…What if I could…why does that happen if I…where does this path lead to…who was the first person to…how can I…you get the point.

Wonder or curiosity to humans is like water to a fish. We cannot survive without it. Now don’t get me wrong, there certainly are those of us that choose utter ignorance as their lifestyle choice. They rarely stray from a beaten path, never wondering what may occur if they stepped into the forest.

Imagine if the ancients Greeks Pythagoras and Aristotle failed to wonder why the night sky rotated the closer one was to the equator, concluding the earth was spherical. Almost 2,000 years before Magellan’s proved it by sailing around the globe. Or what was Magellan thinking by embracing such an adventure?

A question that has stumped archeologists and mathematical scientists for centuries are how did the ancient Egyptians build the Great Pyramid. The Great Pyramid of Giza is built on the exact center of the earth, where the parallel and meridian intersects each other. The chances of that happening. One in three billion!  Books have been written about the stunning mathematical genius of the pyramid builders. To this day we cannot achieve much what they did with all our modern technology. But, by continuing to ask themselves how they may find the answers.

When did you become self-aware? When did you realize yourself as unique? When did you have that first moment of realization that came crashing into your consciousness like a tidal wave? Or have you not reached that stage of development. The more you ask yourself why, when, how, where, and what the greater your self-awareness will become.

Who wrote the first language, the first song, the first book, the first mathematical equation? Who created the universe, or Cracker Jack? Who invented time? Or the Hoola Hoop?

Imagine yourself standing on a shoreline, looking out to sea, and asking yourself where the other side is.  Before boats were invented. Could such a person have been the first to hollow out a tree and venture into the ocean blue? Setting the stage for humanity.

The above mentioned are rather substantial situations. If we allow ourselves to wonder we will have aha moments every day, such as I wonder if I should do laundry now or read a book. Or where did I leave my keys now? Or when was my doctor’s appointment or how did I get into this mess I’m in, or why do I keep going to this job I really hate? Or who will I become in a week, month, or year from now?

Be curious. Surround yourself with wonder. Become childlike again. Challenge what you think you know. Ask yourself where would like to be in a year from now. Why do you feel a need for change? When exactly will you pursue your dreams and how are you going to take those first steps to a new you?  

“No matter how qualified or deserving we are, we will never reach a better life until we can imagine it for ourselves and allow ourselves to have it.” ~ Richard Bach

Trump Doesn’t Need Death Camps — He Has COVID-19

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Auschwitz – Photo by The Guardian

Stalin and his predecessors have killed nearly 62 million people in Russia/Soviet Union. Hitler and his Nazi cronies killed 6 to 7 million in the death camps they built. A recent report puts that number around 20 million. But Trump, in his infinite callousness, simply must ignore science to reach death tolls of approximately 7–8 million people.

The sheer convenience of this should escape no one. Trump does not have to spend tax dollars building death camps, nor does he have to round up millions of Americans and have them work for slave labor. Nope, he just needs to convince enough people that “it will just go away”. What wannabe dictator would not love this scenario?

Like so many that have fallen under the spell of promises made from power-crazed politicians, we have seen 35–40% of Americans be blindly led to the edge of a cliff. They are willing to leap without a parachute into the abyss created by a false prophet.

And just like German citizens who recognized what Hitler was and stood silently by while their country was hijacked, so too are many Americans doing the same in their complacency regarding a lawless president.

Trump has simply given up pretending that he cares. Every time he speaks regarding COVID-19 he brings up herd “mentality”. Just three days ago in a town hall meeting, he once again gave no other solution to the pandemic. He is promising a vaccine will be available by the election (how convenient) when all the science says otherwise. Several scientists have stated that at best it would take until late 2021 to manufacture and distribute a vaccine to all Americans, assuming one has proven safe and effective.

Let us break down the math of herd immunity. To reach a herd immunity threshold 70% of the population would have to recover from the virus. Keep in mind that COVID-19 is a novel virus and scientists still can’t be certain that reinfection won’t occur in those that already recovered from it. Using this template approximately 245 million Americans will need to recover from COVID-19 to reach herd immunity.

The current positive test rate of the virus in the United States is 8%, far short of 70%. The current death rate is 3.3%. Taking the death rate of 3.3% and multiplying that times the 245 million needed to reach herd immunity we come to the conclusion that approximately 8 million Americans will need to die in order to achieve Trump’s solution to the virus. EIGHT MILLION!

That is more dead Americans than the Civil War, WWI, 1918 Spanish Flu, WWII, Korean, Viet Nam, and Afghanistan wars combined. This scenario does not consider the introduction of a successful vaccine that would drastically reduce this number. But because of Trump’s lies and constant reprisals of his own CDC, many Americans may simply not trust a vaccine and simply not get one.

Just who will feel the brunt of this cruel strategy? Trump supporters. Yes, the very people that support this derelict of a president will be the ones most affected. They won’t wear masks, they won’t socially distance, but they will suffer far more than those trying to keep safe. The vast majority of those making up “the herd” will be from Red states largely supporting Trump. Rather ironic, don’t you think?

The level of contempt and disregard for the lives of Americans displayed on a daily level by Trump and this White House is also a novel virus that needs to be immunized this November. VOTE.

Imagine If You Would

Imagine if you would. You were born into a very wealthy family. You have never known a hard day in your life. You learned very well the lessons your father taught you, greed, hate, the love of power. You learned them so well you went to see a movie instead of going to your brother’s funeral.

You spent your life in pursuit of money and fame no matter the cost to obtain them. You put hundreds of small business owners out of business so you could pocket a few thousand dollars more. Your love of money is only trumped by your need for adoration. You’ve created a life without friends, just associates who share your avarice towards anyone unlike them. You let nothing stand in your way of achieving the destruction of those that interfere with your lust for riches and power.

Can you put yourself there? REALLY, REALLY TRY. Is this the life you cherish? The one you’ve always dreamed of? Would you be happy with such a life? Would you want such a person as a friend or mentor? Would you vote for a person like this to ascend to the most powerful position in the world?

Think about it. Think of what you could do if you were just like that and had control of the most powerful government in the world. Nothing would stop you from destroying all your supposed enemies and “cutting deals” to enrich yourself beyond your wildest imaginations. The wreckage you would leave behind would be like a speck of dust to you because you would force the downtrodden to bow down to your almightiness. Doesn’t that make you lick your chops just thinking that could be you?

Trump-tower
Trump’s Ivory Tower

Isn’t this the most wonderful life you could imagine? Being adored by the downtrodden, concerned every minute of the day where your next dollar is coming from as you sit isolated in your ivory tower surrounded by portraits of yourself? Making devious plans to slander anyone with enough gumption to expose your heart of callosity? What could be better than that? Doesn’t that sound like anyone’s dream come true? Who in their right minds would not love such a life?

Love and companionship are so overrated. So is the feeling of accomplishment after a hard day’s work. And who really likes helping a friend or neighbor in need. We all know that is just another burden to bear. And really, who wants to drive their own car when you can be chauffeured everywhere? How boring would that be?

I am sure I have gotten my point across by now. We would all love to have a life of money and fame at the expense of all else. Right?

Democracy The American Illusion

No one is welcome in America anymore. No one wants to come to America anymore.

Democracy has become an American illusion under the auspices of President Trump. Americans have watched with rose-colored glasses as Trump has systematically dismantled their cherished democracy. Gone are the days when Americans took to the streets to defend their cherished Bill of Rights. Now, today as you read this, Americans have decided that instead of fighting for their holy Constitution they would rather spend their time on Facebook and Twitter. As if that would somehow sway a dictator in waiting who has caged children, or attacked every American no matter their race, religion, or political affiliation that does not bow before the lord and master. One who has put Gestapo like troops into the cities of America.

Democracy is messy. I was fortunate to see that mess in action as a young American man in the late 60s and early 70s when I marched in Viet Nam protests. The youth of that time were far more aware politically and historically. It was not just the war we were protesting. It was the government’s actions to send our young to die in a war only fought to protect American mining interest. I am still so proud to have lived in a time when the youth, black and white, fought for what is spelled out in the Constitution.

Today, America’s youth seems far more content to let their country collapse in the sinkhole that is Trump’s Washington. From the first day in office, he began to dismantle the government by replacing non-partisan diplomats that had decades of experience with loyal lackeys that only care about pleasing the king while enriching themselves in the process. This led to his takeover of the Justice Department and State Department. The capable men and women that were not let go quit after trying their best to keep things afloat. Their moral character would not allow them to participate in the destruction of what they had fought and worked for most of their adult lives.

And like any good authoritarian Trump has used the apathy Americans have displayed to put a stranglehold on what was once the “shining city on the hill’. No one is welcome in America anymore. No one wants to come to America anymore. Many Americans’ with the means to do so are retiring out of the country. The world looks in horror at the destruction of America. They simply cannot fathom why the American people are not surrounding the Capitol every day demanding Trump’s removal. The answer is relatively simple. And no, it is not the fact that Americans never had to stand up and fight for their democracy like most of the global democratic countries, although that is certainly part of the equation. It is simply this, the rich and powerful have become far richer and more powerful under Trump’s guidance.

There are exceptions. There are people in government and in corporate management that still fight for the civil rights of Americans. Day by day their numbers are dwindling, and their efforts are being attacked or stifled at every turn by the autocratic machine now running the government.

black-lives-matter-protest
Black Lives Matter Protest

Most Americans have shuttered the portions of their brains that are screaming at them 24 hours a day to wake up. They stutter as if sleepwalking while being quite content in their nonchalance. If not for the Black Lives Matter movement one would think the whole country’s water supply was being drugged with sedatives.

The atrocious handling of the COVID-19 crises by Trump is unquestionably intentional to anyone willing to look past their nose. It was a godsend for Trump. It was a perfect distraction to hide all the machinations he has done behind the scenes to gut the government of the dedicated, professional employees, only to replace them with his cronies willing to do anything to defend his defenseless actions. These attacks came at the expense of the departments that were the bedrock of American democracy, until Trump. The independent Justice Department that is the first line of defense from autocrats. The National Security organizations that protect the country from outside influences. The FBI, the leading law enforcement team. The United States Postal Service signed into law by George Washington. As an American, I can firmly state that no government organization has operated more efficiently than the Post Office. Trump went to work immediately on all these institutions. Institutions created to keep the country’s democracy safe. Are you beginning to see the picture now?

If Trump is still in office at the time of the election, he will tie up the results in court while at the same to securing his wall of defense around the White House. His and his buddy Putin’s propaganda machine will be raging on Twitter and Facebook 24/7 and he will be encouraging his rabid followers to arm themselves and take to the streets. For those who lack historical context we have seen this movie before, and it is about to play out in the streets of the United States. The ending is never pleasant and always leads to authoritarianism.

This is your future Americans. This is what will happen if you fail to grow a conscience and march in the millions to Washington D.C. The only way to get your country back is to frighten the rich and powerful and make them understand that without you they have nothing. If you believe you have too much to lose by doing so, consider how much you may lose by not doing so. Just your country. No big deal, right?

Democracy Is On The Verge Of Extinction

Most citizens of earth have never heard of Freedom House. They are a wonderful and necessary watchdog for all freedom lovers. Their organization has been around since 1941. Over the last 14 years, they found that political freedoms and civil liberties across the world are in decline more often than they are improving. Its opening statement in the 2020 report by Sarah Repucci stated, “Democracy and pluralism are under assault. Dictators are toiling to stamp out the last vestiges of domestic dissent and spread their harmful influence to new corners of the world.”

As the world stutters in disbelief by how Americans are allowing Trump to obliterate democracy in the United States, many other countries are also seeing the same attack on their democratic governments. This is the history of democracies. They all fail. When those in office learn that they can enrich themselves at the expense of the citizens their greed and lust for power becomes the driving factors over concerns for their constituents.

This was on full display not long ago historically speaking. Democracy nearly died on a global level in the 1920s and 1930s. The world experienced a short burst of democratic governments after WWI when the several new nations were birthed from the peace agreement. At the time there was a subdued euphoria that as more democracies formed throughout the globe the world would become less tyrannical. But this was noticeably short lived indeed. Albania, Lithuania, Hungary, Poland, and Yugoslavia all had short lived democracies.

This also affected more established democracies in Europe that were suffering mightily from the effects of the WWI. It took just a matter of months for Mussolini to take over Italy in 1922. By 1930 there was a global discussion that society as whole may break down and cease to function. In 1932 Mussolini was quoted as saying “The liberal state is destined to perish”. And it was. By 1933 Hitler rose to power. Authoritarian regimes took over Portugal, Spain, and Uruguay. Democracies cratered in Greece, Estonia, Latvia, and Romania.  

Mussolini Captures Rome

It was not all peaches and cream in America. American democracy was brought to its knees from corruption, inequality, racial injustice, indifference, corporate monopolies, massive unemployment, and a starving population.  Fascism and Communism were growing in America. Blacks were questioning democracy. Rightfully so since they had no role in it since the founding of the country. Make no mistake, American democracy was on the brink of extinction.

The same year Hitler took power FDR gave his first inaugural address when he stated, “We have nothing to fear but fear itself”. America needed to hear that as fears were rampant throughout the country. Most newspapers and radio broadcasts were questioning if “it could happen here”. Business leaders were skeptical of the New Deal as they saw it as a means to check their cozy deals they built through past administrations, attacking it as unconstitutional. The black and brown communities felt again left out, at best.

Does this look familiar? America is in the throes of this right now. Massive employment, an economy just a hairs breath away from collapse, a Republican party so inept it cannot even settle anything within its own factions, and company owners of Facebook and Amazon profiting billions during all of it. Just as I write this article news came out that the United States just had the worse quarter ever in its economy, seeing a 32.9% drop in GDP. After all the years that passed, America still has racial injustice. And Trump is following Hitler’s playbook as if he wrote it himself by stoking fear and unrest throughout the country by targeting “others”, using federal agents (just like Hitler’s SS) to stoke aggression in American cities, and caging children. In modern history only two countries have caged children, Hitler’s Germany, and Trump’s America.

From his first day in office Trump has made nice with the autocrats of the world while dismissing and denigrating our democratic allies. In an international television broadcast, he sold out his own intelligence community to make Vladimir Putin look good. He nearly took down NATO. And throughout all this the Republican party has been complicit. Their only interest in the last 30 years has been to profit from their positions in office by delivering drastic tax cuts that largely benefitted their rich donors. History will not look favorably upon them.

And now the world is faced with the worse pandemic in 100 years. It has put a strain on every country no matter politics. Just this week the United States death toll passed the death toll of the 19-year Vietnam War. And it only took six months! Trump has led America to the #1 standing in the world. How many Americans do you think are proud of that?

Trump is doing everything in his power to abolish democracy. I believe his poor response to the pandemic is intentional, hoping it affects the election. His utter contempt for the people of his country is on full display. His policy regarding the Post Office is slowing mail delivery, thus hoping to hamper the voter count in November. Americans need to see what’s right in front of their eyes. And they need to wake up before Kris Kristofferson’s lyrics “freedom’s just another word for nothing left to lose” that Janis Joplin made so famous becomes our reality.

Rural America Is Not In Decline

Rural America is not in decline. It is already dead. For years now there have been countless articles from multiple sources contemplating the dire situation of rural America. The typical questions raised were, can rural America rebound, can rural America recover, will rural America ever return to its glory days, why don’t rural Americans relocate?

All good questions. All bad answers. Let us face facts, none of which rural communities across the country want to hear. It is too late. Yes, too late for rural communities to return to their heyday. For a quarter of a century the state of rural America has been experiencing a shrinking and aging population, less productivity, incomes on the decline, growing drug use and rising crime rates. To make matters even worse the trade policies of Trump’s administration has devastated farmers across the country, many selling out to the corporate giants.

Rural America, for all the reasons previously mentioned, is also bleeding their best and brightest. Students fortunate enough to go to college rarely return to their hometowns. While at university they were exposed to a new world. One that included people that did not look like them, that shared experiences they never dreamed of, and opportunities they never knew existed.

Most rural Americans will look to find blame for all of this elsewhere. But it is the rural mindset that is the major reason for the death of rural America. The vast majority want their neighbors to look like them, think like them, share their faith and politics and are less than inviting to those that do not. In other words, they are set in their ways. The problem they face is that the world around them is growing in ways they refuse to adapt to. What business would want a workforce that is less educated and less likely to adapt to the modern and ever-changing technologies and socioeconomic diversity in today’s business world? Very few, unless they want to take advantage of the lower wages they will pay in rural communities.

The last time rural counties experienced a significant economic growth rate was in the early to mid-1990s. Since then all those gains have been decimated. In an article penned by the New York Times in 2018, the author made a striking observation still relevant today. “No one – not experts or policymakers or people in these communities – knows quite how to pick rural America up.” Two years later it is safe to say rural America is dead.

Rural Americans are not doomed to the same fate. They have a choice. They can stay and try to eke out a meager living where job opportunities are shrinking, healthcare facilities are limited, and hope for a brighter future for themselves and their children is just that, hope. Or they relocate. They take that scary step to build a better life for their families outside their comfort zones. For decades now a large percentage of economic growth has been achieved in the metropolitan areas of the United States. This should be no surprise as these areas have greater tools at their disposal. High-speed internet, greater educational opportunities, union trade schools, superior infrastructure. Everything that businesses use to their advantage.

I retired from Chicago to a small rural community of 12,000 in the Ozarks ten years ago. I like the area. It is beautiful and the winters are mild compared to Chicago. But, to make a point about the aging of rural America over 50% of the population is over 50 years old. I have seen small businesses come and go with a surprisingly rapid rate. I also see a level of mediocrity within the business community. They can settle for being “okay” because there is not a high level of competition. The vast majority of those doing business in this rural town would not last a month in Chicago. I only mention this to drive home the fact this is just one more example of why rural America is dead. It is not meant to disparage those working hard to keep their businesses afloat.

Like the businesses they patronize rural Americans are settling for mediocrity. They make excuses as to why it is so great to live where they live. I have heard them all. Less traffic, less crime, more freedom, blah, blah, blah. Let’s break this down. No doubt there is less traffic. It is because there is nowhere to go and far fewer people going there. There is less crime, but not necessarily per capita and this will be especially true as poverty continues to grow in rural America. And more freedom? Really? Freedom to do what exactly? Work for poverty-level wages even if you can get a job? Freedom to fly the flag or own a gun? You can do that anywhere.

Now, to be honest, as an old retired guy, I am grateful for the ease of which I can get around. It takes me ten minutes tops to get anywhere I need to go. And that is why rural America is aging. More retired folks are relocating to areas like the one I live in for a less hectic life where taxes and real estate are less costly.

I and others in my position have several advantages over most rural Americans. We came from areas where decades of high wage earnings and in many cases pensions that allowed for comfortable retirements. We do not work for low wages unless we choose to just to keep busy. We have the freedom to travel when we choose. We are not bound by our surroundings.

Because of my rural experience I have come to understand that for most younger rural folks making a move to “the big city” can be a daunting task. That is largely due to a mindset that is reflecting on what they would miss if they moved.

What they fail to focus on is what they can gain. The opportunity to have more fulfilling careers, a chance for greater educational opportunities, better schools for their children, a growing social environment with world-class museums, theaters, sporting events, travel options, and more.

The emergence of COVID-19 will exacerbate the problems rural America will now face. Cash strapped states (more likely to be rural ones) will need to allocate their tax dollars where it will benefit the most people. That will be in their metropolitan regions. Any infrastructure projects in rural communities could very likely be put on hold or abandoned altogether. Rural school districts that receive state aid could find themselves in dire straits. In any case, the COVID economy will most certainly hurt small-town America harder.

Sadly, most rural inhabitants will never experience all the advantages a metropolitan life offers. They simply don’t know what they don’t know. I fear that soon they will have little choice as rural America is dead. It won’t be long before America will have more ghost towns to visit.

The Office Halloween Party

Never argue with the boss

Photo by Kenny Eliason on Unsplash

I hate fucking Halloween office parties. Or any office party.

I will be just one more employee pretending to be having fun while Susan, the company owner, revels in false praise from her drunken underlings. Just a bunch of adults acting like six-year-olds. I take that back. Worse. At least the kids are not drunk.

I made a terrible mistake last year when I went as the Jolly Green Giant. I thought it would be perfect, but it made it impossible to be inconspicuous when you are 6’5” and all green. I had nowhere to hide.

My only goal this year was to wear a costume so that I could disappear into the crowd without anyone knowing who I was. Something easy…hmmm. I got it. Casper! Casper the Unfriendly Ghost. One white sheet. Holes for the eyes, nose, and mouth. Five minutes and I’m done. And if I play it right, I can hide out in her laundry room and no one will be the wiser.

Five minutes into my costume project I realized I would never be doing costume designs in Hollywood. I couldn’t even make a damn Casper costume. I didn’t realize I could feel any more worthless since my wife left me. I was wrong. Now that I look back on this it was probably the Jolly Green Giant costume that was the final straw for her. That was a lot of work.

“Hey, Charlie.” Charlie is my big sister who inherited all our mother’s homemaking skills. “Do you have time to help me with a costume?”

Now you call me? Three days before Halloween when I am making the kid’s costumes? Really Jim?” At least she didn’t say no. 

“Sorry, sis. I thought I could pull this one off by myself. I lied. But it is super simple and will take you ten minutes tops,” I implored with my whiny baby brother voice.

“Oka-a-ay. I will be home all day. Bring what you have, and I’ll see what I can do.”

“Thanks, sis. I will be there in an hour. Love you.”

“You better. I don’t do this for just anyone,” she joked.

One hour later I pull up to Charlie’s house. I almost didn’t recognize it. It looked like something from The Adam’s Family tv show.

Where do these people find the time to do this shit?

Her husband Shannon answers the door. I know what you’re thinking. Shannon? My sister and her husband should switch names. “Hi, Shannon. You’ve been busy,” I say pointing to the Halloween decorations. “Keeping up with the Joneses?”

“You know your sister. Halloween is her thing. And Christmas. And the 4th of July. And Thanksgiving. I should be grateful I get a day of rest for Labor Day,” he says in his still lingering Irish accent.

Charlie greets me with a hug as I come in the door. “This is it?” she says looking at the sheet I am holding. “I said it was simple,” I respond.

“Let me guess. You are going to find a bed at the party and go as Rip Van Winkle?” she said half laughing.

“Wow! That’s a great idea. I wish I would have thought of that. The guests would throw their jackets over me. It would be my perfect cover to be anonymous. But I’m not that clever. Just Casper.”

“Wow,” she says with a shit-eating grin. “You must have racked your brain coming up with that plan.”

“Hey now. I had to devise the perfect costume that was so boring no one would want to talk to me. And one where they could not recognize me. Hence, Casper.” I waited for her praise for my decision.

“Oh really? Just how does a 6’5” man hide anywhere? I think you did it. I think you’ve finally gone off the deep end, dear brother.”

I hate it when she’s right. “Don’t even. You have no idea how horrible these company Halloween parties are,” I say with all the vitriol I could muster.

Her sympathetic response? Laughter. Gut-busting, tears-down-your-cheeks laughter. When she finally contains herself, she gives me a big hug and stands on her tiptoes to kiss my cheek. “Okay, my antisocial little brother. Let’s get to it.”

Shannon and I plop down with some beers to watch the Bear’s game. He still prefers soccer over American football. Even so, we have become good friends. He is everything I hoped I would be. A great husband and father. Maybe someday some poor, destitute, Hollywood starlet will see what a catch I am and take pity on me. One could hope.

The night of the dreaded party arrived. My boss Susan loves to put her beautiful multimillion-dollar home on display for us peons any chance she gets. She even had two greeters by the front entrance dressed as Elon Mush and Jeff Bezos. The gods she prays to every night.

When I walked into the three-story-tall foyer, I realize my costume choice was perfect. Not a soul turned to check me out. Of course, we all had to walk what seemed like two blocks to get to the “party” room. During the enlightening trip, we were all exposed to Susan’s wealth dripping from the walls. I would be okay with it if it weren’t for her let me rub this in-your-face attitude.

While all the attendees begin to mill around “the Ballroom” I wisely use this time to scope out the best hiding spots. I even begin to formulate my escape plan. If I could talk King Kong, Godzilla, and Puff the Magic Dragon to run interference for me I think I could make it out alive. Yeah, I know. Not very imaginative costumes. Not like mine.

Butlers were roaming the room like chess pieces on a checkerboard offering glasses of champagne to the huddled masses. I, being a huddled mass, quickly took advantage of said offering. Now where would I find a nice cubbyhole to hide in, I wondered.

I was on my trek for a hidey-hole when the queen of the ball made her entrance. I have to say I was shocked. I suspected Cinderella in her ballgown flowing down the two-story staircase. Instead, the one hundred or so people all stared at her in shock. Her costume was…wait for it…Moaning Myrtle from Harry Potter. Just what this party needed. Another ghost. In truth, the costume was amazing.

As she floated down the staircase her eyes were like guided missiles looking for an unsuspecting target. One she could attack with her Moaning Myrtle malevolence. She hit the floor and floated directly at me. I was trapped, my back against the wall. Wishing I could do a Casper escape and just walk through the wall.

“You. What are you supposed to be?” And the interrogation has begun.

“Casper the Friendly Ghost.”

She looked me up and down. Charlie did what she could, but it was unquestionably one of the worse costumes at the party. “Do you work for me?”

“Yes. In accounting.”

“Did you not see the memo that stated no one was to wear a ghost costume? Now, look what you’ve done.”

“I’m sorry Myrtle, uh, I mean Susan. I didn’t see that memo.” I swear to God she was about to put a hex on me. And then a miracle happened. No. Really. An honest to God miracle. She laughed. I mean, like a real laugh.

After her giggles came to an end she looks me up and down and says, “That is one bad costume.”

“Thank you. That is what I was going for. Trying to be inconspicuous.”

“How’d that work out for you,” she said with a smile.

She was freaking me out. I knew she had no clue who I was so why was she being nice? “Too early to tell. So far you are the only one here that has noticed me.”

“Okay accounting guy. Do you have a name?”

“I’d rather not say.” I was smiling by now but I doubt she could tell through my costume.

“H-mmm. I guess I’ll just have to fire everyone in accounting,” she says in her I’m the boss voice.

“You’d do that?” I blurted out in surprise.

“In a hot minute,” was her response.

Well at this point I’m thinking I already lost my job so what the hell. “I guess everything they say about you is true.”

Her eyebrows raised nearly to her hairline. Her eyes were prepping to shower me with dragon’s flame. “And just what is it they say about me? And who are they exactly?”

I realized I had let my pending job loss get the best of me. Now she will go on a witch hunt to find all those that have ridiculed her. “I’ll be going now. It’s been nice working with you,” I lied.

She stepped in my path—a dangerous thing for a 5’8” thin woman to do. “If I could rip that costume off you right now I would. I want to meet the man that would talk to me like that.” Here’s the weird thing. There was no anger in her voice. She wasn’t even using her I’m the boss voice.

I side-stepped her and began my two-block trek to the exit. I didn’t get more than five feet from the wall when I was yanked backward. She had grabbed my sheet and was trying to disrobe me. I spun and ripped the sheet out of her hands, causing her to lose her footing and fall right on her ass. For the first time since I first met her, I noticed it was a nice ass. I reached down to give her a hand up. She took it. She was so light I threw her right into me.

“Look, Susan. I really didn’t want to be here. I hate office parties where everyone is expected to suck up to the boss. This is my third one. So, I don’t have to tell you that this is true. I will be in the office on Monday. You can make a big display of firing me in front of the entire accounting department. Will that make you happy so I can get the hell out of here?”

“Your name?” she asked.

“Jim Rogers.”

“Well take that stupid costume off so I can see you and recognize you when you come to get fired.”

“I can’t.”

“Why not?”

“I’m in my underwear underneath this.”

The big eyes again. She was biting her lips in a poor attempt to suppress a smile. The smile won. “Your serious.”

“What can I say? I run hot. Having this sheet on is rather suffocating.” I lifted the bottom of the sheet to my bare leg above my sock.

Now she is giving me one of those this man is totally nuts looks. “How did you ever get hired here?”

“I’m really good at ensuring your company is profitable. If you got off your high horse once in a while and met some of the lowlifes, you might know that.”

She grabbed my hand and said, “Come with me.” She led me through a maze of rooms to an elevator that took us to the second floor. Not a word was spoken. Now, what the hell is she doing? Is she going to throw me to my death?

She opened a door large enough for an elephant to walk through. “You first,” she ordered.

“Is this where you bury the dead bodies?” I joked. Not really. I was beginning to believe it.

“Only when I am done torturing them. Now take off that stupid sheet so I can see your face.”

“I am rather shy. I really don’t want you to know what type of underwear I wear.”

She points. “The bathroom is through that door. Grab a towel to cover your, uh, underwear so I can FREAKING SEE YOU!”

“Look. If I am going to be nearly naked in front of you, I think it’s only fair you strip down to your undies.” It’s amazing the feeling you get when you know nothing’s on the line.

“What? I just want to see your face. And besides idiot. Can’t you tell with this costume I’m not wearing a bra?”

“Honestly, I wasn’t checking you out,” I said. “You’re my boss. That would be inappropriate.”

Her arm flies up in a near-Nazi salute and points again to the bathroom. “Just do what you have to do so I can see your face,” she screams.

“Yes, master.” I clicked my heels and headed to the bathroom. How did I get into this mess? Just minding my own business and now I’m getting fired. I will never go to another company party. EVER.

I walk out of the bathroom wrapped in a towel to an empty room. “Hello?” My life flashes before my eyes. I scan the room for security cameras thinking she is showing this to everyone at the party. Fuck it. I head back to the bathroom for my sheet but before I could get there I hear another door close.

“Hello?”

“I thought about it. You were right. I should not have asked you to strip down like that. Unless I was willing to do the same,” she said with the sexiest damn smile I have ever seen. Of course, the fact she was naked may have enhanced my opinion.

Never argue with the boss.

© Joe Merkle 2021

Originally published on Medium.com

A Promise Kept

A Promise Cherished

Photo by Denis Agati on Unsplash

There are promises.

I promise I will be good today.
I promise to pick you up on time.
I promise to finish the laundry.
I promise to quit smoking.
I promise I will always be your best friend.

And then there are PROMISES.
December 18, 1976. On that cold December day in a suburb of Chicago, a young man and woman were just beginning to understand the most sacred of promises. To love honor and cherish till death do you part.

Yes. That promise. The “I do” promise. Not the easiest to keep. It takes work. More importantly, it requires deep, unconditional love to have any hope of keeping it.

How do I know this? Was it something I read in a book? Or an article like this?

No. I have lived it nearly all my adult life. I was that young man. A young man who made the most significant promise anyone can ever make.

How many promises have you made in your life that completely altered your life? Unselfish promises that while the benefits for yourself would be great, the promise made was for the benefit of another?

The opportunity for such a thing rarely happens in an average lifespan. Marriage and parenthood lead to many such promises. Some are broken. Some should never have been spoken.

The instant I said “I do” I felt the most significant change I have ever felt in my life before or after that moment. In a moment, one frozen in time, I was overcome with love that I could not have imagined at that point in my life.

A singular moment that will be shared for eternity. That and a mile-wide smile on my face when I think about it.

JUST ONE PROMISE…LOVE ME FOREVER
That is the promise we made to each other. No conditions. No limits. My advice to whoever may read this is simple. Love. Love like your life depends on it. Love like your lover’s life depends on it. It does.

Originally published on Medium.com

Going Back Home

Ripping off the biggest bandaid

Photo by Ozzie Stern on Unsplash

Ten days from now I am heading to the Chicago area. Home. The place where the vast majority of my most treasured moments occurred.

This is it. The BIG BANDAID I need to rip off. I have never been so conflicted in my life. I’m looking forward to seeing many loved ones. I also know I will be surrounded by Nancy’s presence everywhere I go. I will see her in the faces of my children. My daughter is her mini-me.

This may surprise some of you. At my advanced age, I have never been on a road trip alone. Prior to meeting my wife I traveled cross country with friends. She and I had hit the road ten times. I have no pretenses this is going to be easy.

It will be one of the hardest things I have done in my life.

I also know it is something I have to do in this venture of self-discovery. I’ve already learned that grief does fade in time. It is replaced by its cousin, emptiness. The sense of loss. How do you replace such a large part of the person you’ve become? I have no clue.

I do know that my family and friends will be supportive and understanding if and when things get tough. I am intentionally going to make it get tough. To visit all the trigger spots in an attempt to have great memories overshadow the loss I will be simultaneously feeling.

Ripping off that bandaid.

As I write this I wonder if I am ready for this. Or if I’ll ever be ready for this. And I just got my answer…no. So I might as well get it over with. Take one more step into a most uncertain future. I look at it this way. I have a good chance I will be laughing more than crying. That is certainly an upgrade.

Thanks to all who have been following me on Medium for being my sounding board over this past year. My gratitude is boundless.

Note: This trip will likely keep me from spending much time on Medium. Again. Don’t give up on me. I have already promised myself to get back to serious writing and reading after this trip. Wish me luck.

© 2022 Joe Merkle All rights reserved

The Day Before, The Day After

A sequel

Photo by Jp Valery on Unsplash

This article is a sequel to Going Back Home.

The Day Before

The day before I left for my trip home to Chicago I had grave reservations. I almost backed away from the trip, afraid to face what was surely going to be tough times. I would be constantly reminded of the person that no longer walks beside me.

At the same time, it had been too long since I have seen my children, grandchildren, and other family members there. I knew I would get plenty of love and laughter. Two things I desperately needed.

Then I realized what this trip would really be about. Moving on. Ripping the biggest bandaid off. It was in fact a selfish move on my part. This trip was for me. And although loved ones would benefit from my appearance it was me who had the most to gain.

I was fortunate that on the first day of the trip I went to an Eckankar event. For those not familiar with Eckankar it is a spiritual path based on the science of soul travel. Simply put, gaining inner self-awareness as soul. So the event was very uplifting and sent me on my journey feeling blessed.

Day two was the trip to Chicago. Eight hours on the road. Alone. No copilot. And yes, it sucked. But, I have nearly mastered the art of holding back tears. It came in handy on this trip. When I was within an hour of my destination, a trip I’d made many times, I had a strange sensation. It did not feel like I was going home. This was immediately followed by the realization that I will never feel home again. Home is not a place. It’s a person.

I arrived at my oldest child’s home on a Sunday afternoon. Chris and his wife Kristin greeted me with hugs and smiles. My 3 1/2-year-old granddaughter Scarlett had her doubts. I had not seen her for over three years. It was the first time I got to meet my 8-month-old granddaughter Savannah. Scarlett warmed up to me by day three and Savannah is one smiley, little girl. Love all around. They were wonderful hosts.

On my second day there I spent the day with my daughter. I took her on a tour of my life starting with the first home I remember living in. Taking her to all the places I lived in, where I met her mother and fell in love, and the history of us. It was a wonderful day for both of us. Both laughter and tears. Kelly is my wife’s minny me.

In the following days, I spent time with old friends, my brother, sister, nieces and nephews, and cousins. It was all wonderful with much laughter. And moments I could barely hold back the tears. It wasn’t right she wasn’t there. Everyone loved Nancy. You couldn’t help it.

I then realized on day three that my son’s home is about a ten-minute walk from the first home my wife and I purchased. It was a condo. Bordering the condo complex is a park that we walked in with different dogs through the years.

Every morning I walked the park and condo complex to get my three miles in. It was a means of self-torture to some degree. But, that’s the selfish reason I made the trip. To walk that walk. Pain is a byproduct of ripping a bandaid off. It’s worse when you have hairy arms. And even worse if you have gray hairy arms.

The Day After
Upon returning home from my trip I immediately realized it didn’t feel like home either. This confirmed my suspicions earlier that I will likely never feel “home” again. The first night I was busy unpacking, going through three weeks of mail, and otherwise keeping busy before bed.

Day two was everything I expected it to be. Really, really hard. It was a tortuous reminder that I was alone again. It came as no surprise. What did surprise me was my response. The realization was that behind that bandaid I ripped off was a gaping wound. Then came a terrible backslide into self-pity, a sense of loss, and the desire to totally withdraw from life. I just don’t give a damn. I pretend, play the game, and try to convince myself time will heal me.

I realize to become human again will require a supreme effort on my part. That is highly unlikely to occur. Not anytime soon. Not until I actually find a reason for wanting to occupy this body.

I have spent hours over the last month or so attempting to write and publish more on Medium. Most of the time I sit and stare at the screen. My heart’s not in it, which most likely shows while reading the few things I have published. To be honest with you the readers, and myself, I have no idea what my future holds. I want to write. These days, I think my brain is too occupied with just keeping me breathing. What a waste.

Peace. I haven’t felt that in nearly five years. Would I even recognize it if it slapped me in the face? I rather doubt it. Like everything in my life. So what is my goal now? I am going to try to do my best to write myself out of this dark place. Wish me luck.

©2022 Joe Merkle All rights reserved.

I want to once again express my gratitude to those here on Medium that has been so helpful to me in these trying times.

You Can Only Be You

That is a good thing

Photo by Ben Robbins on Unsplash

As a child, I dreamed I wanted to be Superman, The Flash, Spiderman, Willie Mays, Sandy Koufax, Zeus, Davy Crockett, Tarzan, Zorro, Paul McCartney, and others. It is my firm belief that I was not unusual. There is nothing like a child’s imagination when it comes to creating fantasies. Or is there?

Then we leap into the world of teen madness. The Twilight Zone, where children’s dreams go to die. Yes, the brave new world where that horrible word responsibility enters our vocabulary. I am a firm believer that the average life span of a human should be twelve years. Yes. I know. There would be fertility issues.

As a teen, I wanted to be…uh-hmm, hell if I know. Though I was a good athlete, I was not going to get drafted by the Yankees. I was average. I managed to get good grades without trying. I was socially adequate without trying. I found girls attractive. But not enough to have to convince me it was worth the effort. The greatest achievement I attained in high school was having a modicum of success without trying.

Realizing this I began to ask myself challenging questions. What’s the point of all this? Why am I here? What am I missing? It certainly was not love. I lived with and was part of a loving family. I was not destitute. My family was typical middle-class. Back when that meant something. So, I decided to go on a mission in my junior year.

A spiritual exploration. I was raised Catholic even though my parents seldom went to mass. Did I believe Jesus was the Son of God? Well…yes. But no more than any of us. I considered him and his message to be from a highly enlightened soul who chose to be a coworker with God and make the supreme effort to share his spiritual knowledge with the world. Not unlike many such souls that have walked this earth since the beginning of time and continue to this day to work behind the scenes to help us all.

I and a good friend of mine explored Buddhism for some time. I began to see a common thread. Highly evolved souls that incarnate on earth do not seek earthly rewards. If they do attain material riches they are not attached to them. In Buddha’s case, he walked away from great wealth and influence as a prince to live the life of a beggar taking charity from others. This raised an interesting question in my mind. Does one have to give up the pursuit of material things to reach spiritual enlightenment?

Then one day I was in a bookstore exploring the spirituality section and came across a book written by Brad Steiger, In My Soul I Am Free. In it, the author spends many hours with Paul Twitchell who was the modern-day founder of Eckankar. It delves into the life of Paul and discusses in length the teachings of soul travel and so much more. It has come to light through the years that Steiger was being Steiger and some of what he relates in the book is rubbish. But in the end, the result was bringing to light a most important message to the world. We are souls and we don’t have to die to experience it.

I was given a gift that day in 1972. The most precious of gifts. The realization that I am soul. Not that I have a soul. I am soul. Temporarily using this body. This changed my life in so many ways. It began to slowly sink into my thick skull that it was not an accident I happened to be in that bookstore on that day. That my life was about to drastically change. Scary stuff for a nineteen-year-old. Finally, I had something worth trying.

This all led me to my exploratory years. Those young adult years when everything is on the table. College, sex, drugs, alcohol, travel, work. It was a busy, exciting, life-altering, period of my life. During all of this I had read In My Soul I Am Free several times. Each time brought more moments of enlightenment. Was it the book? Or was I awakening to the fact I am soul? Or both? I can’t really say. In the end, it doesn’t matter. It all led to a most amazing life.

A life filled with great love, adventure, misadventures, and a greater understanding as to why I have been so blessed in this life. It really is a simple formula. It goes like this. Love God (by any name). Share God’s love.

In good times and bad times. All the time. Realize you are soul using a body to accelerate your learning curve. We learn the most from the lessons that test us. Each lesson is just a step toward graduation. There are always teachers guiding us, placing us in positions that test our resolve which eventually opens us up to greater understanding. Most often we lack the awareness of their most generous guidance.

How does one gain that awareness? Do you remember when you first learned to drive? Your parents or driver-ed teachers guided you and helped you master what would become an amazing world-changing event. Your outlook and understanding of the world around you grew exponentially. You traveled to places you had never been to.

It is no different when traveling the inner worlds. Spiritual guides help us maneuver through amazing, consciousness-raising experiences throughout higher planes that exist for the benefit of our enlightenment. Most often this is done in the dream state. Why do they choose this task? Love. And so one day we may follow in their footsteps.

On earth, as it is in heaven.

So often throughout human history ignorance and misunderstanding of the role these advanced souls play in our journey home have shined a light on the purpose we are all here for. To learn to rise above ignorance, prejudice, and hate. We will continue to return to the physical plane for countless lifetimes until we learn the only lesson worth learning.

LOVE GOD ABOVE ALL ELSE. BE AN EXAMPLE FOR OTHERS TO FOLLOW. THE REWARDS FOR THIS? INDESCRIBABLE SPIRITUAL AWE.

© 2022 Joe Merkle All rights reserved.

Originally published at https://medium.com/for-awe/you-can-only-be-you-302018f7f5d1

Come With Me

Sail the cosmic seas

Photo by Jeremy Thomas on Unsplash

Venus ignored the gusting winds that were trying to turn her long dress into a sail. It did not make her descent down the steep, grassy hill to the shoreline any easier. She was consumed by the Siren’s call, “Come with me. Sail the cosmic seas,” which held her in a hypnotic spell. She was helpless to ignore it. She was no longer in control.

As she neared the shore an oarless rowboat appeared from the mist. “Really? This is the best you can do?” Venus questioned her unseen tormentor. “We are going to sail cosmic seas in this thing?”

No answer. No reply was forthcoming. None was needed as a spectral form appeared in the boat, holding his hand out to encourage her to board.

Okay. I’m either losing my mind or dreaming. In either case, I can either cower and run for cover or accept the possibility I am about to have a grand adventure. Hm-m-m, what to do?

Now Venus was never one to run from a challenge. At the age of twenty-five, she had already traveled most of the globe and had extricated herself from some precarious situations.

This should be interesting, thought Venus as she grabbed the helping hand and entered the boat. She could not help but notice the wind instantly died down as she stepped into the boat. At the same time, the spectral form morphed into a man. He appeared to be fortyish with short-cropped black hair and eyes so dark they seemed to contain all of creation within them. Even though he wore a monk’s clothing from centuries ago she could tell he was chiseled. Despite his odd appearance he looked familiar to her.

The man spoke. “Hello, Venus. It is nice to formally meet you.”

“Do I know you? Have we met before?” she asked.

“Many times. Am I that unforgettable?” he said in jest.

For the first time in her life, Venus was speechless. I would never have forgotten meeting this guy, would I? she thought. “Okay. Which one of my friends put you up to this?”

This was greeted by a guttural laugh from the monk. “It was a group effort. You have many more friends than you are aware of. They all have your best interests at heart.”

“Okay…okay. I’m getting weirded out here. Can you get me back to shore please?”

“Look around Venus. You will find there is no shore. But you may leave if you desire.”

Venus looked down. The boat was gone. The water was gone. They now stood on a path leading towards a white marble building that appeared to be…a temple? I must be dreaming. I just need to wake up she thought as she pinched her arm.

“Take a step back. Look around you. Does anything look familiar?” said the monk.

Venus took a few deep breaths to calm herself. This helped her to realize that she did not feel threatened in any way. As she took in her surroundings a sense of familiarity began to sink in. Not the now I remember this place so much as I feel as if I have been here before. “Kind of,” was her reply.

“I don’t know your name, but you know mine,” she said.

“I apologize. Rebazar Tarz at your service,” he said with the slightest bow.

She could not explain to herself why his name seemed familiar to her. “I have to say sir that this scenery does not look like any cosmic seas I might have imagined.”

“Hm-m-m. So, you have imagined cosmic seas?” he said with a smile.

“I guess so. Like I am floating in space. Bodiless.”

“How did that make you feel?”

“At first it scared me. Then I had a profound sense of freedom. I never told anyone about this before.”

“Excellent! You will make a fine pupil. Let me tell you about myself and those that work alongside me. Many others and I are what many would call Godmen. Simply put, we have reached the state of God-consciousness. Our only objective now is to help others do the same. We have been helping you along the way for many lifetimes.”

Venus could not help herself. She broke out in laughter. “You have the wrong girl. I am not religious. You need to go save someone else.”

Rebazar laughed along with her. “We are not in the business of saving anyone. Nobody needs to be saved. We are simply guides that walked the path and share our knowledge with those that are ready to attain higher states of consciousness. This knowledge is never shared with the masses. Most are not ready to walk on a path that challenges your every step. Nor is it smooth sailing. But the destination is indescribable.”

“You have a choice to make Venus. One is you can return to your globetrotting on the planet earth. I can tell you now all the seeking in the world will not satisfy you. You are a restless soul that needs more. Your second choice is to allow me and other guides to help you obtain the greatest of gifts. To know that you are soul. The choice, as always, is yours to make.”

“How do I know you are who you say you are?” she asked.

Instantaneously she was alongside Rebazar looking at the Milky Way galaxy from a point of view that somehow made them appear to be above it. He points to a star and says, “That is your sun.” Immediately they were hovering over the sun while he pointed to Earth. “That is your planet. Keep in mind this is the least spectacular plane of existence created by God.”

Upon returning to…wherever she was, Venus could not find her tongue. How does one respond to this?

“The offer is good for all eternity, Venus. As I said before, it is always a choice each of us must make. Only the bold inherit heaven. It is not an easy path,” said the serious Master.

Venus had been in predicaments like this many times. The first time she went ski jumping. Sky diving. Swimming with sharks. She could have turned her back on all of them. Venus never turned her back on anything exciting.

“I’m in.”

“Walk with me. Your next classroom session is about to begin,” said the monk as they walked towards the Golden Wisdom Temple.

Originally published at https://joemerkle.medium.com/come-with-me

Loving Her

Just some stranger I met through a friend
Who had too much to drink
She sat on my lap, gave me hug
Didn’t know who she was, but I was in love

Thought about her for a few days after
Decided to return to look for her
Found her sober, had a few laughs
She gave me hug, still in love

Chorus
Loving her is the best thing
Loving her makes my soul sing
Giving her that wedding ring
Guaranteed what love brings

Took some time before we dated
Knew on our first kiss I lost the fight
Wanted to stay for the rest of the day
Ended up staying all through the night

Come home from work and she’s still there waiting
Seventeen years of loving stronger
Growing inside, beside as souls
Looking towards what all the future holds

Chorus

Life Is Love

My Wife Circa 1974
I had learned the easy things
how to laugh, and cry
how to work and play
but what a miraculous day
it was...

when I first laid eyes on you
and my mind abandoned me
went bounding light and fancy free
any sanity escaping me
it was...

the singular greatest event in my life
which as till now and forever shall remain
the miracle of you, my wife
the holy grail of my life
and so...

these words seem empty compared
to feelings so beyond explaining
all the blessings that you've brought to me
the greatest being that
life is...love

as this great adventure continues
and news horizons await beyond
windows filled with mystical vistas
you and I will step through the thresholds
unfettered by doubt, anchored by love

and so, my love, hand in hand
off we go to Adventureland
engulfed in crazy puppy love
still, after all these years
and so...let's go