The Past in the Present

Winter_MorningToday dawned cloudy and cold. The ground is bare save for the occasional skiff of snow.  Our two-year long snow drought continues, the cold interrupted by warmth and rain.

As we collectively limp towards the inauguration, I find myself strictly limiting my Facebook time. I’ve noticed that I seldom write anything remotely personal, only reposting blog posts and the infrequent photo. I also increasingly limit my reading of Facebook posts and updates, as I attempt to keep up my spirits in the face of the avalanche of alarming news. I’m also avoiding the news on radio and TV.

It’s not that I am ignoring our collective slide into the deep unknown; rather, I am attempting, only somewhat successfully, to avoid becoming either addicted to the craziness or incapacitated. I desire to be useful to myself and others, to pick my battles, and to honor my age and a lifetime of commitment to building a caring society.

This morning I awoke deeply embedded in memories of my Polio experience. Perhaps this journey back in time was triggered by Jennie’s imminent trip to India, or some internal logic that largely escapes my conscious awareness. In any event I awoke into memories of feeling abandoned to the terrors of treatment and the iron lung. My experience was not a thoughtful abstraction, nor a full-blown flashback. Rather, it was a sort of hybrid in which I was both embedded in feeling and engaged in pondering the experience.

I was left with a sense of betrayal, and a profound fear that somehow I had done something that justified my fate. I could not figure out what I had done, and wrestled with the disturbing sense that whatever flaw had landed me in the horrors of Polio treatment, was innate and, therefore, irredeemable. Oddly, those thoughts parallel the beliefs of the incoming administration, and their supporters, who believe that illness, poverty, and hardship are moral failures rather than the predictable stuff of life.

Now, fully awake, I wonder whether were we still, as a culture, subject to the vicissitudes of the Polio virus, an affliction that knows no social boundaries, we might be kinder and more generous. Such a sad thought.


19 thoughts on “The Past in the Present

  1. This gets right down to the heart of the Western/Eastern philosophical difference. A just God who is rewarding the righteous and punishing the wicked OR the first noble truth: Life is suffering. After 47 years living under the first assumption, I began to see the experiential evidence of the second emerge as much more compelling. And now, I see the assumptions of the first revealed as obviously damaging and divisive.

    1. Hi Priscilla! I often think that my family gave me versions of both paths. My mom certainly believed in a wrathful god. My dad was much more Native, and seems to believe that life was a conversation with the Creator, one that included much suffering. I imagine he would not say life IS suffering, though, nor that he would try to get off the Wheel. Rather, he would be curious, as best he could, about how to carry on a conversation with the Creator, and perhaps self, maybe even over many lifetimes. He would agree with you, as do I, that the idea of a wrathful god does much more harm than good. Sadly, we are about to be governed by people who seem bent on being wrathful gods themselves.

  2. Michael, as I read this, I couldn’t help pondering your painful and powerless experiences as a child. I felt intuitively that you were chosen, not because of something you did wrong, but because you are a special soul who has the ability to survive tragic transformative experiences that would deepen the capacity for compassion and empathy.

    I actually just deactivated Facebook, and also avoid mainstream media. I don’t want to waste time on fighting negative things I can’t change. I want to do what I can to envision and weave positive alternatives in whatever small ways I can.

    1. Carol, I am trying to figure out how to use Facebook effectively, given I need to maintain an account for the office. Arghhh….
      I imagine the Grandmothers had a plan, and my life experiences are reflective of that. So strange to be nearly 70 and still working to make sense from something that is so capricious. Perhaps my view would have been different had my childhood prior to polio been less violent. Hard to know. All that said, I am left wondering how one person ends up on a path as a healer and another turns frozen hearted and destructive. Or rather, how the proportions of one to the other end up the way they do…..

  3. I too have avoided the media in recent weeks, trying to separate out my own feelings about what is happening in the world from the negativity that surrounds it. I have also been fighting memories from the past. I wonder if there is something bigger in this. I hope that we would be more compassionate if polio was to happen today – I think to an extent we would, but then when we look back at the climate surrounding AIDS which wasn’t so very long ago, it makes me wonder.

    1. Andrea, I think what made the Polio epidemics so menacing was that anyone could come down with the virus. (Actually, everyone did have the virus. There were only problems when the virus ran rampant.) Even so, people did nasty things to others out of fear. Yet, there was a sense that since no one was safe, a communal safety net was essential to maintain.

      AIDS was/is another matter, as it is seen, for goo or ill, as less capricious and therefore more a matter of lifestyle choices. This is, of course, short sighted and mean spirited…..

      I am wondering about our memories and how they both offer suffering and the opportunity, perhaps, for healing. I am trying to make space for them, to welcome them and allow something new to be created. Yet, of course, accepting, let alone welcoming, so much pain seems and impossible task. You are in my thoughts as we walk this road.

  4. Very thoughtful post Michael and I do have the hope, that no matter which condition we are in, we are all equal souls, we may learn to treat each other with mutual respect and recognize, that all of us have same right to create a good life. Kids are innocent and there can be much philosophy talking about why some get such illnesses and others not, but we can never know, only guess.
    Be kind to yourself, you deserve it.

  5. I was just listening to a permaculture podcast with Mary Reynolds, the author of “The Garden Awakening” ( who acknowledged that while it is important to remain vigilant and aware of the powers that be, turning your backs on them may have the most powerful effect. Feeding into “leaders” schemes only grants them more power. In this podcast she speaks primarily in terms of growing one’s own food in response to mega-agriculture, but her thoughts are applicable to the whole political system.
    Its our neighbors and community leaders who are our strength.

    1. Thank you, David. There is a note in the mail for you.
      I’m not sure how to both resist insanity and not refuse to feed their lust for power. Seems like a major conundrum to me….

  6. I am also avoiding Facebook – soon to disengage entirely::: avoid becoming either addicted to the craziness or incapacitated – yes, Michael, that is it. Love to you always.

    1. Cynthia, you do the same. I’m curious to find out whether we (collectively) can weather this storm and create something lasting from the remains. Nurturing hope, resiliance, and one another might yet lead to survivance.

  7. Oh Michael, here we are again. Our spirits moving to the same place at the same time. In the time between sleep and wake I visited the same thoughts – of being very small, afraid and helpless, and impotent to get the help I needed when something bad was happening to me. And coming to the conclusion that the belief that it was somehow my fault, resulting in shame and guilt that seems to have become embedded in my soul, has been more important to my well-being and development as I grew older than the event itself. I thought I had gained control of it through years of therapy and a bright, logical mind, but just like you, this election has triggered the memories. I will have to ask my mental health friends if they are seeing this happen with their clients. I am contemplating writing a creative non-fiction piece about my experience – maybe I’ll start writing pieces of it, like how reading your post tonight shook me to my core. Your courage is encouraging me to be transparent.

    1. Sorry, Michael. I misspoke when I said the election triggered your memories. It is not what you said and you are right that Jennie’s impending trip to India may be a trigger. If you have more thoughts about this, I would love to hear them.

      1. Oh, Pat! No need for apologies. I am sure the election is playing a role. How could it not? Besides, I did tie the dreams and he election together in the end! Your usual perceptive self at play!

    2. Pat, Yes, we seem on parallel paths. I find that comforting. Tank you for being there.
      I’ve come to the conclusion that I am not really in control of much. Still, I keep trying, or rather parts keep trying.
      I am not sure re the idea of courage. Mostly I am just working to do for self and others. My experience, and that of many colleagues, is that yes, indeed, clients are traumatized by the election. Many of us experience the election as once again having cray, mean people in control. It’s hard to know how to be useful in these circumstances.

      I try to move closer to the fragmented memories. Writing and making art seems to help. I hope you find some way int the deep richness that resides in you. I look forward to hearing of your discoveries.

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