Every Individual

As it tends to do, my mind has been riding along in an audio book I just listened to. Trying out the different characters, testing their thought processes, blurring events in reality with events in the book. Sometimes this is inconvenient but occasionally it leads somewhere. See if you can follow…

The book (fan fiction story) was about Lex Luther and his careful methodical task of protecting the human species from the threat of the alien superman. It showed well the overwhelming power of the man of steel and how little could be done to stop him. Luther proceeds to find a way just in case superman should loose his cool and attack everyone. The book offers a view of superman the antagonist, the threat, the creepy monster that sees everything and everyone in the world. It tries to show the psychology of what it might take to tip superman away from his nonviolent protection of humanity and explores the paradoxes of his power.

So I got to visit this glacier which looks a bit like a fortress of solitude in that it is made of ice….so that’s why I filled this post with glacier pictures.

Superman can see through walls. He can hear conversations 10 miles away even mixed with millions of other conversations. He can see all the evil and hurt and pain and sorrow in the world. He works like crazy to end violent crime and make the world a more loving and peaceful place. Even so, he can only be in one place at a time. He misses people. Sometimes he sleeps. Sometimes he does Clark Kent stuff. Lois doesn’t understand how he can so casually spend time eating spaghetti with her while still hearing the screams and cries around the world without intervening.

When it comes down to it Superman isn’t God. (ignoring many possible illusions here). He can’t save everyone. He has to take time off for himself, even if it isn’t so much a physical need as a psychological one. He values personal time and personal relationships and they require time off from wearing the suit. Time off while the world suffers.

How can he deal with the guilt of knowing that as he slowly types on his Daily Planet typewriter someone is being mugged? or crashing into a tree or…..whatever accident which could have been prevented with Kryptonian strength? There isn’t an easy answer. Of course he doesn’t owe anything to humanity. He doesn’t save kittens because they owe him money or even because he knows them. Its not his rent for living on the planet. Each act is charity, given without being deserved. So why should he feel guilty for not giving enough charity?

The truth is that all of us COULD give more than we do. We could pass more money into charities or do a few more acts of kindness. Even the best of us, or perhaps especially the best of us, can be haunted by the small acts of goodness we failed to perform. And it seems the more aware we are of the world around us, of the people who cry and suffer and weep, the more that desire to help demands of us.

Today was one of the days where I found I had a slightly elevated view of the people around me. It happens sometimes, and thinking like Lex Luther may have upped my processing speed. I saw all of these new college students swirling around me. I’ve been expecting them for a few months now, recording details about them like majors and housing and helping them get settled and moved in. Each one comes to the university with a bundle of expectant hopes and lonely fears, often to a place where no one knows their name.

Because of my access to information I know their names. I get small snippets of their divers stories. One is from Montana, one from southern Indiana, this one has three siblings, that one has a medical condition, this one has worried parents at home, perhaps they picked an engineering major. And this little introvert easily gets overwhelmed by it all. How can I act on all the whimpers that I hear? How can I protect and comfort and encourage them all?

I think I have something of a need to serve. I’m not sure where it came from but a friend pointed it out a few weeks ago by asking if I felt like they needed help or if I needed to help.

Sometimes people need help.

But most people can handle their own problems. I step in because I need to help. Somehow I attached my personal value to my ability to be of use to other people. While I’m sure there are worse things to which you might attach your self-esteem this troubles me a little. What happens when I can’t help? I don’t have superman’s strength of speed or time traveling skills. Just my own plodding determination and a car I use rather liberally. What happens when my car or my body breaks down and I can’t be the first to arrive or the last to leave anymore?

And besides, you can’t earn your way into heaven or love anyway, it can only be given undeserved, for none of us are perfect enough to deserve it. This is what grace is all about.

In the story, Superman passes his ultimate morality test and chooses to be the symbol of hope and goodness in spite of all the paradoxes and personal harm done to him along that path. He chooses to be the best good he can figure out how to be, even if he can’t save them all.

I can’t save them all. Not even close. I get to watch my friends and peers face the terrors of this life. Fighting the entrophic victor as they age, fall in and out of love, fail mentally and physically and socially. Sometimes I can help. Sometimes I can slow the inevitable decay but I can’t reverse Multiple Scleroses, I can’t turn back time, I can’t save them all.

I can’t even save me.

I need a superhero too.

He’s coming you know? A hero, a savior we don’t deserve. Someone who can see all the sorrows and tears and can heal all the hearts. Healed hearts can feel the joy and the peace and the wonder of life, even if the sad parts don’t disappear. Somehow the healed heart loves the good even better because it has been hurt.

I’m not a superman in an ivory tower. I’m not a mouse in a tree even though I feel like it sometimes. I’m in the race with everyone else. Maybe I sometimes have a better view or a longer sight (I am rather tall) and I can do small things to help individuals, one by one, find a bit more healing and hope than they had before. I would like to say I don’t do all these acts of service for secret Luther-motives, but I think in part I do them for me as much as I do them for anyone else.

Still, fortress of solitude makes for a pretty sweet ivory tower.

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I hate running. I mean, not like…people who run. I know lots of great people that run. And as a form of exercise I respect it. It’s environmentally friendly, encourages people to go outside (I realllly hate treadmills), provides good cardio, and requires very limited equipment. What I hate is when I am running, the sensations of it. I hate running out of air. I hate the burning feeling in my lungs after the first 3 minutes or 30 seconds depending on the weather. I hate jostling my brain around and knees that aren’t as reliable as they once were. I hate the constant internal comparisons between my speed and say…the bike that just passed me, or the car, or the train, or the dog, or my clock, or an old telephone-base modem. I hate my utter inability to gage distance or time while running.

I went running yesterday. Because maybe I could learn to love it, lots of people have, and it would be good for me! Okay, actually, I went running so I could justify not going to the gym, which I find even less pleasant than running. I made it down one hill and few blocks before I felt the burning, the fire down my throat and into my lungs. But I had a goal, so I pressed on.

My dislike of running was so intense that when I was 15 my scout leader asked my brother in disbelief if I had ever run before. We were at the local track so I could run a mile for some rank requirement and he was utterly disgusted by my lack of form. I think I cut the remarkably generous time limit precariously close. I think it had something to do with my arms but I still have no idea what I did wrong.

In a freshman physical education class I found myself once more on a track with a mile and a half goal. A sympathetic neighbor basically dragged me to the track (at my request) and pushed me around it for however many minutes it took. In spite of all his talk about starting an exercise regime that was the last time we tried running.

In one college apartment we posted the famed Garfield comic on the fridge that decried why one would ever run just for the sake of running. Surely there must be some barbarian with a spear looming behind or else why would one run? It’s still my first thought when someone mentions the idea.

Although to be fair I always told myself I would run for a girl. I think I was jealous of the couples I saw running together. I think I even tried it once although my lack of memory of the event suggests a certain degree of suppression has occurred. It certainly only happened once.

Yesterday I made it maybe half of mile (downhill) before I justified shifting to a walk. It hurt. It raged. My blood pounded through me like a constricted hose scouring itself free of 9 months of grit and grim. Walking. Walking I could handle.

I love hiking. Long walks by rivers or through forests or parks. I could walk for hours. Walking was surely good exercise, a chance to let the nature brush through your hair and thoughts and put you back on the sunny side. Preferred was up some steep mountain trail where you crossed altitudinal zones and were met with vista after perspective crushing vista. I could walk forever.

Okay, maybe not true. But I have done 26 miles in a day. Marathon? Not a chance. But give me 11 hours and I’ll finish the route. Didn’t I walk from France to the western coast of Spain that one time? (okay, I did hitch a 200 mile ride during that trip but shhh). Isn’t walking enough? Doesn’t it get you where you want to go?

I walked over the rail bridge and tried to jog again to the dog park. Some construction project left a backlog of semi trucks waiting in the road and I carefully pretended they didn’t see me wobble pass them.

Reaching my rain-drenched dog park goal I gloried in my imperfection. My body, while not the perfect peak of health, still appeared functional. I was breathless and horribly late to whatever writing project I was avoiding that day. I could pretend whatever water soaked me was due to the rain and not my body’s desperate attempts at climate control. I turned around and started a slow jog/walk back home.

I learned something. I mean. I already knew it, but sometimes I need forcible reminders. It’s okay to walk sometimes. Indeed, it’s better to walk then to sit down and give up. How many times have I sat on a mountain trail, deprived of water, energy,hope, and oxygen to find that the only way to keep going was to slow down. Yes, sometimes you can run, sometimes you should run and you will be the better for it. But when you can’t run, when everything inside burns with guilt or lactic acid or despair or whatever it is. You can slow down. Keep your goal in mind, but catch your breath. Don’t stop. Walk.

And its amazing what mountains you can climb just by walking.

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Odes to Indiana, vol 1

Your ears are long and golden
your hair as fine as silk
so we all are now beholden
to your sweet and sappy milk

You make my world so verdant
and stretch to fill my eyes
In this land none is more puissant
all listen to your lies

I walk besides you daily
you scrape along my arms
in every bit of melee
you dish out all the harm

Not all is bad and wrong
You feed us and provide
In your humid summery songs
We rejoice to be your side

No Soy Mais

Soy soja
si soy verde
si estoy por todos lados
si soy muy importante
si crecio aqui
si produjuo acete
y tambien semillas
pero no soy mais
Soy soja


Ribbons always in the long-shadowed land
cutting deep into the flatten plain
nourishing feeding providing, guiding
but also removing, dividing, cleansing.
Fountains of life, teaming with life
babbling now, whispering, roaring.
Never settled, never sleeping
Forever carving, shaping, defining
Rivers of mud, sand, rocks, boulders
The surging current of Hoosier land.

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Start with the smallest seeds.
The kind where few can thrive
Some soil well-prepared,
plus windows full of sun,
And last for those who care
A lifetime made of dreams
Wet soil urged the seedlings up
Bursting to the light
Green and lanky, yearning to grow
They battled for life and significance.
Leaves followed, then retreated
Making room for small and desperate blooms.
They soon outgrew their sheltered space.
So came the day of moving.
They panicked then,
but had to leave the safety of the known.

Some found homes in larger pots
Some in sunlit gardens.
But those stems they had
were too long, too thin.
They had placed their hope
in a few flowers and no roots.
The summer heat roasted the weakest plans,
And rabbits ate up the rest.
In two short days the winter promise
died in the blistering summer

Only the potted forget-me-nots held on.
With large leaves and no blooms
they resisted the urge to grow fast and flashy.
They stayed close to the ground,
held onto their leaves,
devoted to permanence once established,
they clung to life.
After the devastations of the summer,
they fled the unknown hazards.
Safe at home once more,
and growing bit by bit.
Nourished so carefully,
they survived too anxious attentions
And some serious neglect.
They were forgotten at Christmas
And most died,
Bitter they had not grown fast enough.

In the frozen waste of January only one survived.
When large summer leaves died back
this plant sent new leaves.
New hopes for life and growth.
Small it was, small as the seedling a year before.
But it clung on.
Drinking in the water
Tolerating all the cold.
Month by month
Leaves grew out,
and died back.
Beaten back by elements,
no longer did it try to attack the sky,
it survived by delaying lofty goals
Saving them in memory
Until the conditions were right.

But the conditions didn’t come.
The leaves grew slower then they died.
The plant withered.
Spring came breaking back,
Fighting through the late season snow.
The world began to green again,
but the flower had forgot.
It forgot the dream of sunshine and light
Of flowers bursting into life
Without the dream
the last green leaves lost their way
and so faded…
Back to the dust…
nothing but an empty pot.

But I remember,
the promise of a winter night,
of future sundry summers.
And I will not forget
the lofty dreams the seedlings lost,
and my errors as a gardener here.
I failed to fix a broken heart
and raise a healthy plant that knew
the hope it held within.

I will plant another seed
And water, soil, seed,
Heat and heart.
Will send shoots into the sky
And one day,
flowers will appear.

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