Most people who participated in the original Summer of Love in 1967 would agree it was a profound, life-changing experience. Over the last few weeks, as many have celebrated the 50th anniversary of that iconic time, I’ve discovered a range of impressions and memories from those who were there.
For many, that remarkable summer was all about the music. The Monterey Pop Festival kicked it off with Janis Joplin, Jimmy Hendrix, the Jefferson Airplane, the Mamas & the Papas, the Who, the Grateful Dead, and dozens more. The Beatles’ “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” flooded the airwaves as love-ins sprang up in the San Francisco Bay Area and other places across the nation.
For those who formed the hippie culture, pot and acid defined the transformation of thought that questioned society’s antiquated status quo. Seeing life through this revealing lens gave birth to a renewed women’s movement, accelerated the civil rights movement, and fueled the anti-war (peace) movement.
“Make love not war” became our battle cry and led to protests that rocked the country. The music of the time inspired and fueled our pursuit of freedom and justice for all.
Of course, the Vietnam War and the draft affected a wide swath of American youth. If you went to war, you didn’t come back the same. If your consciousness was jolted by drugs or the rebellion of thought around you, you struggled with the draft and your responsibility to weigh right versus wrong. Several chapters of my book Groovin’ describe my own emotional roller coaster with this issue.
If you were among the brave fighting in the jungles of Vietnam, there was no Summer of Love. Just so you know, those of us who opposed the conflict weren’t against you—we were against you dying in a senseless war. And we saw no reason to add our own lives to the carnage.
When I think of the Summer of Love, San Francisco’s Haight-Asbury district often comes to mind. As a wandering, rag-tag group of youngsters living on love, many of us stopped at “the Haight” for a short time, and we experienced a high-hearted, magical place. People embraced one another in a great experiment of tolerance and cooperative living. Scott McKenzie inadvertently became Haight’s pied piper with his song “San Francisco (Be Sure to Wear Flowers in Your Hair).”
Things were great in the Haight for a while—then that piece of real estate became too well known! That’s when the rascals and vermin moved in, lured by the promise of free love, food, and drugs. Too many came to take advantage of a gorgeous attempt at utopia. If you experienced the Haight at the arc of its rainbow, you probably walked away with a beautiful memory.
But if you were there through the whole evolution, you probably remember its decline, plagued by overcrowding, violence, bad drugs, and deprivation. As with all of nature, every flower has its season.
Many never comprehended what the essence of that unique occasion was all about—or worse, they have forgotten the magic or dismissed it as a youthful ideological whim. For me, the Summer of Love was never confined to music, or a place, or even a time in history. It was about the evolution of thought, freedom, and adventure.
And it was about discovering the wonder that surrounds us and the beauty that resides within us—a life-affirming mindset that is more important today than ever before.
Believe it or not, we’re getting close to the 50th anniversary of the Summer of Love. If you were there, immersed in the magic as I was, you might be saying, “Fifty years? How can that be? What a trip!” It was a time when Scott McKenzie’s “San Francisco (Be Sure to Wear Flowers in Your Hair)” was blasting from our AM radios, an era when thousands were lured to Haight-Ashbury, marching to the refrain “turn on, tune in, drop out.”
In 1967 I was 22 and thirsty for adventure. Wanting to spread my wings, I turned my back on the city by the bay and hitched east to the world's fair in Montreal, riding on the breeze of compassionate drivers, supported by an underground community of welcoming long-hairs. The feeling of family fueled a fearless strength that spread far and wide. We were brothers and sisters in love with life and hell-bent on fighting injustice and changing the world.
Along the way, I participated in an Aspen love-in and war protest, plunged naked into a steamy hot springs, ate the absolute best BBQ ribs ever in Kansas City, had a run-in with an ornery carnival boss, and nearly shook apart in a super-rattly semitruck ride.
The pinnacle of the trip was a steamy romance with a lovely maiden who studied in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Together we toured the world’s fair, awestruck by the AT&T Picturephone, a futuristic device that would actually allow you to see the person you were talking to. Wow!
That summer was an intoxicating romp, full of freedom, enthusiasm, growth, and optimism, as were the several years that followed. It was an iconic cultural turning point that reshaped American history in profound ways. The sixties were so special to me I wrote a book to give readers a taste of what it was like to be a part of it. Unlike books outlining the history of the sixties, Groovin’: Horses, Hopes, and Slippery Slopes offers people the chance to experience what it was like to live during those transformative times. For those who were there, I also hoped to trigger a few treasured memories.
This golden anniversary is not going unnoticed. San Francisco is pulling out all the stops—over 60 different organizations (cultural, civic, arts, music, and social services) are celebrating the Summer of Love. A painted magic bus complete with music and projections is touring Haight-Ashbury, North Beach, Hippie Hill, and other attractions. The famous de Young Museum’s exhibition includes a psychedelic experience, and the Conservatory of Flowers in Golden Gate park turns trippy at night with light projections seen from afar.
San Francisco isn’t the only city jumping on the band wagon. Museums, universities, libraries, county fairs, musical events, and even ballet groups in cities across the nation are themed to this flowered anniversary. There are even Summer of Love celebrations planned in the UK.
Unfortunately, the most authentic event might not take place. Efforts to stage a free Summer of Love concert in Golden Gate Park, like the one they did back in the day, were turned down twice by the San Francisco Recreation and Park Commission. Bummer, right? Not so fast. The city of San Francisco just announced they will host a smaller free event, the Surrealistic Solstice, on June 21.
It’s great that this iconic time is being recognized, recaptured, and celebrated, but let’s not forget what it was originally about. The summer of the flower children, along with its wacky happenings, was about promoting peace, embracing individual freedom, fostering harmony, caring for others, protecting the environment, and viewing all flavors of humanity as equals. Those were the elements that made that magical snapshot in history so unique and beautiful!
Were you there during the Summer of Love? I’m collecting stories from that time, and I’d love to hear yours. If you have a memory you’d like to share, please submit it here. Those with the best stories will receive a free copy of my memoir, Groovin'.
HAPPY ANNIVERSARY, FLOWER CHILDREN!
I recently watched the documentary Unbranded, which follows the course of four young cowpokes who tame and ride wild mustangs from Mexico to Canada—a notable feat. Their intent was to raise awareness of the plight of tens of thousands of wild horses held in pens awaiting adoption.
The film was recommended by a friend who knew of my own month-long trail ride through the Rocky Mountain wilderness in the sixties. Of course the four fellows traveling to Canada were seasoned horsemen, while my friend Mitch and I were total greenhorns—just a couple of hippies with a thirst for adventure and a love for the outdoors. We had to learn on the fly, leading to some runaway craziness and near disasters as our horses tried their damnedest to return home.
As the cowboys in Unbranded continued on their 3,000-mile journey, they developed a strong relationship with their horses. It reminded me that even though my horse, a buckskin roan I called Geronimo, was only with me for a little more than a month, we connected on a level I had never expected. Almost wild when we first met, he transformed into a half-ton puppy dog, tagging along without being tied.
Over the time Mitch and I rode together, the differences between my horse and his became more apparent. They say dogs take on the characteristics of their owners, but I hadn’t considered that it could also apply to horses. Geronimo even learned a few things from my dog, Charlie.
Here’s an excerpt from my book Groovin’: Horses, Hopes, and Slippery Slopes to illustrate:
I saw a difference between Mitch’s animals and my own. Perhaps it had to do with our temperaments. My partner’s industrious nature lent itself to hasty, fast-moving mannerisms—at least compared to mine. Simply put, someone once paid me a compliment when he said, “If Rich was any mellower, he’d be dead.”
Unbranded reaffirmed my admiration of fine trail horses and their ability to traverse unforgiving terrain. Geronimo and Doña would dance through trees and forest debris that seemed impassable to us. But later, similar to a scene in the movie, Doña slipped on the loose dirt and shale leading up to Conundrum Pass and tumbled backward. By some miracle, she survived unharmed.
Check out Unbranded. The scenery is magnificent, and the cowboys will keep you entertained. It’s a must-see for all who love horses and the West.
And for someone who knows what it takes to ride a long distance through rough territory, the film offered renewed inspiration to set lofty goals and see them through to completion.
Note: One more thing. Some people believe that wild horses shouldn’t be removed from the wilds, that breaking a horse for riding is cruel, and that this film is a BLM propaganda piece. I respect their opinions and salute their efforts to protect animal rights. At the same time, having experienced the bond a man and a horse can share, I know that a horse can be broken, ridden, and cared for with both a firm and kind hand. When I watched this film, I didn’t witness any cruelty.
Today, I listened to some soothing music, which I often do. My old body has gotten, in the words of a friend, “a bit rickety” as I age, so I like to put on a beat and move to it. I typically run or dance on a mini-trampoline to work out the kinks.
As I exercised, I started thinking about the ideas people hold on to.
It’s difficult not to have opinions about almost everything around us, based on both our life history and what we’ve been taught. At the same time, we need to be careful because those beliefs can limit us, keeping us from enjoying new experiences and meeting new people. I’m sure we’ve all felt the pain of being misjudged when someone makes an off-base assumption about our intentions or about the type of person we are.
That applies to many of the opinions people have had about hippies. If you’ve read my book Groovin’ or some of my blogs, you know I was immersed in that scene back in the sixties. The conventional thinking then was that hippies never worked or bathed, were unpatriotic and always stoned, and had perpetual sex.
That’s still the common perception.
Some hippies might have been like that, but not the ones I hung out with. My friends were hard-working free thinkers who appreciated good hygiene, got stoned occasionally or not at all, loved their country enough to protest injustice, and, even with the sexual revolution, were discerning about who they jumped into bed with.
The hippie movement had much more diversity than most people realize.
For example, I listen to a variety of music, but you’d probably be surprised to learn which type I preferred in the sixties and still do today. Acid rock was the favored music among my peers, and I liked rock and roll just fine. But what I really grooved on was country music. I was attracted to its simplicity, even though I was a city boy who rarely heard country tunes when I was young—except for maybe in Western movies.
My appreciation for country began in my early twenties as I drove long distances listening to the AM radio in “Evergreen,” my old pickup truck. I’m not talking about country rock but rather the original sappy storytelling type of tune, filled with raw emotion and plain, understandable lyrics.
I even know the exact moment it happened. In 1970, on a very cold, drizzly Thanksgiving Day in the high Sierras, my friends Sam and Lil got five of us ripped on acid, stuffed us into their VW bus, and drove off into the woods on a dirt logging road. One of my friends spent the afternoon trying in vain to get soggy wood to burn. Sam opened the door to his bus and put a cassette into the tape deck. I slipped inside to warm up and found myself listening to Tammy Wynette singing “Stand By Your Man” in her velvety voice—and I fell in love.
I know what you’re thinking. Sexist pig! Yeah, the lyrics of that song are sort of rank, but that wasn’t what grabbed me. I fell in love with the music, the voice, and, most of all, the singer’s love blasting out of those primitive speakers. True, the lyrics of many old-time country songs can be comical but most contain some truth.
I even delighted in Merle Haggard’s “Okie from Muskogee,” which seriously trashed my hippie-hood. The first time I heard it, I laughed out loud. The music was good and the lyrics were clever. What was there not to like?
Music evokes feelings that touch us, just as the beat moves us. This is true whether we like rock and roll, classical, blues, jazz, hip-hop, rap, or other sounds.
I tend to listen to country when I need to be introspective—it’s everybody’s love and heartache, everybody’s loss and longing, but it’s also everybody’s joy and pride. The feelings of a human being whittled down to their bare essence. That’s why they were hit songs.
The emotions haven’t changed. We still long for a carefree world filled with down-home, friendly folks enjoying being alive. Hopefully we can learn to embrace that dream without focusing on differences—without excluding anyone.
I’m definitely not trying to sell you on country music. I realize it’s an acquired taste. But I am attempting to illustrate how we don’t have to be limited by the opinions of others. Even an old hippie weaned on rock and roll and civil rights protests can become a country freak.
If we resist putting people in a box, we might be pleasantly surprised.
As I sway to a country song, I remember who I was at a simpler time in my life, and it helps me get in touch with my authentic self. We all have a rhythm, and there’s music to match it. I urge you to take time from your busy life to indulge in your favorite tunes—the ones that help you forget the world’s problems and connect with your heart.
A while back I wrote about the importance of turning work into play. Of course, all work and no play can lead to a very dull life, but it can also lead to stress and burnout.
So how do we find a balance? This is especially important right now in our political climate, when we must work hard to preserve our democracy amid the fear and uncertainty that can wreak havoc with our sanity.
As a US citizen, I have often taken my freedoms for granted, so the fact that many rights are on the line has turned my world upside down. Everywhere I look, be it social media, TV, conversations with friends, or the worry recesses of my brain, the subject of Trump comes up and the content is often distasteful. This constant barrage can wipe me out, so recharging my inner batteries becomes necessary.
For me, it’s key to avoid accelerating to a speed beyond the limit, where I’m prone to miss crucial messages from my internal guidance system.
We all have this mechanism, but without connecting to the stillness within, we can miss the subtle whispers designed to keep us on the path toward our humanness, the place where we fulfill our purpose. I aim for the aware state that offers clarity, compassion, appreciation, and an ability to be guided by my higher self—or if you prefer, by God as he resides in my heart.
To experience peace and calm in a tumultuous world, we have to remember that everything is relative. Our situation is a far cry from what those in other countries have to deal with, like living in a war zone, surviving as a refugee, or existing under the restrictive thumb of a dictator. I can empathize, but in reality I can only imagine how difficult those situations would be. As bad as it has been, life could be worse.
When you have a lot to do or something weighs heavily on your mind, look for ways to stay in balance. When I’m writing, which is my work, and it ceases to be enjoyable, I take a break. If I have a deadline, I take a short break. I’ll take a walk, play with my dog, meditate, watch a movie, read a good book, or find some other distraction that will allow my creative juices to regenerate and reset the connection to my heart.
I don’t want to downplay the need to address a crisis in your personal life or fulfill your responsibilities as a citizen. I simply want to stress the importance of stability. When things become shaky, don’t use it as an excuse to harden your heart. We don’t want to become like those we oppose. When there’s tough work to be done, embrace the challenge while dealing with the problem—leaving time to appreciate the compassion and beauty that also exists.
Easy for me to say, right? I must admit finding balance has been a test of late, what with our beloved leader charging around like the proverbial bull in the china shop, toppling freedoms and breaking alliances. As feelings of anger and helplessness spring forth, I often find myself shedding my pacifistic persona for a more reptilian one. Instead of conjuring up images of neck-wringing, I came up with a plan to alter the picture.
I keep these three things in mind:
1. In my opinion, our new president is reckless.
2. Reckless people tend to make mistakes that sooner or later come back to bite them.
3. Visualization can lead to manifestation.
The first two points are self-explanatory, so let’s explore the third one. From personal experience, I know that when we create a firm mental picture, one we hold with confidence, it quite often comes to pass. When I replace the image of the president boasting, bullying, scowling, or shouting with an image of him being led away with his shackled hands behind his back, it takes the charge out of a grim situation. This technique can turn paralyzing despair into a freeing sense of hope that justice will prevail.
If this resonates with you, consider sharing my vision—who knows what could happen.
Visualization is only one weapon in any opposition arsenal. All of us need to evaluate what we can do and find the most effective tools for making our voices heard. That’s what democracy is all about.
Arianna Huffington offers wonderful advice and steps we can take in her post “How to Get Out of the Cycle of Outrage In a Trump World”:
The goal of any true resistance is to affect outcomes, not just to vent. And the only way to affect outcomes and thrive in our lives, is to find the eye in the hurricane, and act from that place of inner strength. . . .
Public Service Announcement: If you need an escape from the uncertainties surrounding us, read my fun sixties adventure book, Groovin’: Horses, Hopes, and Slippery Slopes. It will get you laughing while taking you back to a time with similar real-life issues.
I don’t know about any of you, but I’ve experienced a long list of emotions over the past 18 months. And I’m a pretty even-keeled guy, so mellow in fact that one friend said I was only a step away from being a cadaver. With that as my base point, I can’t believe what I’ve been feeling.
Too many brave Americans have fought and died on the battlefield and protested in our streets to protect the values we stand for—those values I have cherished all my life. We, as a people, need to learn from every setback that it’s critical to keep moving forward and never tolerate anything less than freedom and justice for all.It all started with amusement as I first watched a Bozo impersonator, complete with tufts of orange hair, declare he was going to run for the highest position in the land. Even my brother-in-law, a staunch Republican, considered this joker a buffoon.
“Coulrophobia” is the fear of clowns. Although phobias are seldom a good thing, it would have been the perfect time for all of us to develop this one.
The next emotion to hit me was overload from being bombarded by this clown’s image and voice as he bullied, degraded, and spouted lies at the blink of an eye—or the click of a tweet. I was amazed to see he had a following, but surely decent folks couldn’t take this man seriously.
As time went on, repulsion set in. I watched him insult and attack Hispanics, Muslims, women, the LGBT community, the physically challenged, war heroes, and anyone who opposed him. I took solace in the fact that no way would his outrageous, disgusting, and fraudulent behavior appeal to my countrymen. After all, he railed against everything we stood for.
Surely the disenfranchised understood that this man who had spent his life taking every advantage for self-gain would never actually rescue the little folks, no matter what he promised.
During the fall as the election approached, I felt dismay that his numbers had grown. Were there really that many people willing to buy his snake oil? I felt a powerful patriotism grow within me, wanting to protect the values I attributed to our nation. For the first time in my life, I prayed for my country.
The day after the election hit me hard. I was overcome with paralyzing shock and disbelief. I have lived through many elections and suffered disappointment when my candidate lost, but this was something else. This was an assault on everything I held dear, on the very foundation upon which our country was based: honesty, integrity, freedom, and equality.
I believed that Republican voters also appreciated these aspects of decency. I also hoped that the religious right, in spite of their strong pro-life beliefs, would use discretion when choosing a leader, rather than turning a blind eye to despicable words and deeds.
A Christian missionary woman on the radio said she voted for him so he can bring back family values. Really? A man who boasted about grabbing women’s genitals without their consent?
For the following week I fell into a depressed funk. How could my fellow citizens dismiss this blatant attack on respectability? Realizing that despair is not productive and definitely not enjoyable, I went deeper inside, using meditation to find some peace and clarity.
During his first week in office, our new president took away a mortgage discount that would have helped 16 million people and threatened to cut funding to the DOJ’s Violence Against Women programs, the Civil Rights Division of the DOJ, the Minority Business Development Agency, the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the Office of Electricity Deliverability and Energy Reliability, Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy, the National Endowment for the Arts, the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, Planned Parenthood, and a host of other services.
He ordered the resumption of construction on the Dakota Access Pipeline and effectively put a gag order on the EPA and the USDA, demanding they stop communicating with the public through social media or the press and freeze all grants and contracts.
And that was just the beginning.
Then came his Muslim ban. Needless to say, this sparked outrage, not exactly my favorite sentiment.
Wake up, America! As the world holds its breath and our allies back away, could it be that our president poses the greatest threat to our national security?
My wife is a Swiss immigrant. Her friends and family want to know how we could let this happen. For Europeans, the dangers of having an unstable person leading a powerful nation are still too fresh in their memories. Are we going to let this band of billionaires plunder the treasures of our democracy?
I’m still not finished with this emotional avalanche. My fear for people of color and other minorities can’t be ignored. And hatred. In a previous blog, I wrote that I was involved with draft resistance during the sixties. At a certain point, I had to step back from all of it because I found I was fighting for love with hate in my heart (check out chapter 30 in my memoir, Groovin’).
Here I am, facing this danger again. I started to despise a man and his actions while knowing in my heart that positive change never comes from hatred.
It has been a struggle finding my center as I’ve trudged through the five stages of grief, shaking my head in disbelief along the way. Every day I have to make a firm commitment to keep a steady course.
Over the weeks since the election, I’ve learned a few things. I realized how much I love my country and how determined I am to fight for my principles without compromising them. I also discovered that a whole lot of folks feel the same way. The worldwide, multi-million-person women’s march attested to that, offering hope.
As I reached the last stage of grief, acceptance, I recognized how dangerous it was to complete this process. Yet I’ve had to accept the state of our ailing union to some extent so I can stay calm and clear about where we are and what we can do.
But I cannot under any circumstances accept injustice. I need to hold on to just enough anger to fuel my resolve. Too many brave Americans have fought and died on the battlefield and protested in our streets to protect the values we stand for—those values I have cherished all my life. We, as a people, need to learn from every setback that it’s critical to keep moving forward and never tolerate anything less than freedom and justice for all.
What Can We Do?
Here’s something positive I did this week. I called the offices of the Republican representatives listed below and left voice messages with my name and “I voted Democratic but I support your opposition to the immigration order. It’s refreshing to see a Republican standing up to President Trump. I just wanted to thank you.”
You can do it too. The more phone calls they get in support, the more likely they will continue their opposition, not only on this, but in other areas.
Rep. Charlie Dent (R-Pa.): 202-225-6411
Rep. Justin Amash (R-Mich.): 202-225-3831
Rep. Dan Newhouse (R-WA): 202-225-5816
Rep. Elise Stefanik (R-NY): 202-225-4611
Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick (R-PA): 202-225-4276
Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL): 202-225-3931
Rep. Carlos Curbelo (R-FL): 202-225-2778
Rep. Barbara Comstock (R-VA): 202-225-5136
Sen. Ben Sasse (R-Neb.): (202) 224-4224
Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME): (202) 224-2523
Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.): (202) 224-4521
Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz): (202) 224-2235
Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC): (202) 224-5972
Sen. Rob Portman (R-OH) (202) 224-3353
Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT) (202) 224-5251
Sen. Bob Corker (R-TN): (202) 224-3344
This list comes from Jimmy Camp, a Republican consultant, posted on Facebook. Please share it.
In just a few days, a historically unpopular president-elect will be inaugurated. As we brace ourselves for perhaps the most radical leadership transition our country has ever seen, I know I’m not alone when I ask myself, “How did this happen?”
How could we as a people ignore the very ideals (honesty, integrity, freedom, equality) we hold dear? After mulling over this subject many uncomfortable hours, I ask myself another question: “Could something positive come out of this?”
I’m reminded of another tumultuous time—the 1960s—during my early hippie days. Most of society then was much more rigid that it is today. In general, it was taboo to behave outside socially accepted norms. No one talked freely about sex, spoke out against the government, wore unusual clothing or hairstyles, or questioned religion.
There was a great deal of pressure to follow a prescribed course of life: school, career, marriage, children, house with a white picket fence. Many young folks began to question the dictates of society, and with the introduction of mind-expanding drugs, they realized that more was going on than met the eye, that there were better, freer ways to live. As they saw through society’s ill-conceived concepts, some of them rebelled. (Unfortunately, as we are seeing today, a whole lot of folks didn’t jump on that train.)
It’s a common belief that drugs created the free thought that backed the hippie movement. I have a different view. I believe human beings are basically good, sensitive, and empathetic. When we are born into this world, we don’t have a religion, political affiliation, nationality, or creed. We are simply loving beings.
When I was growing up in the 1940s and ’50s, we were taught to respect authority or face punishment. We were told that “children should be seen and not heard.” Our parents, teachers, and peers dictated the way we thought and looked at the world.
So drugs didn’t create the hippies’ aversion to war and the establishment, but rather they helped us see who we were at our core. When we discovered we weren’t alone, that others felt the same way, we were emboldened to express ourselves!
We stood behind our battle cry “Make love, not war” and marched into the world intent on change. And plenty of things needed changing, fueling the antiwar movement, the civil rights movement, the Native American movement, free speech, and free love. And we also needed to challenge the conventional mindset that didn’t place a priority on enjoying full, heartfelt lives.
Psychedelic rock bands created anthem after anthem to fuel our movements. Bob Dylan’s The Times They Are A-Changin’, The Who’s My Generation, The Byrd’s Eight Miles High, everything the Beatles did or sang, and many other similar beautiful gifts urged us on.
But it wasn’t a matter of drugs influencing us—they just revealed who we were—pure love!
So what is a hippie? Is it somebody with long hair and beads? I don’t think so. In my memoir, Groovin’, I talk about visiting friends in Kansas City during the 1967 Summer of Love. The only people I saw with long hair at the time belonged in a rock band—but for sure my short-haired buddies were hippies too.
Even though I decided to shave off my mustache one morning about twenty years ago, it didn’t change who I was. If you believe in justice, equality, peace, honesty, and compassion, in my mind, you’re a hippie too.
Now I’m excited to see what a new generation of hippies can accomplish when confronted with this blatant assault on decency and the values honorable people hold dear. Will we fight the institutions that threaten to diminish our personal freedoms?
I believe our diversity-embracing millennials and gen Xers will surprise us. And unlike in the ’60s, they will be backed up by many of us geezers who haven’t forgotten what it means to stand up for what is right.
Last week, a good friend of mine passed away. I’ve known Jeannie since high school, over five decades ago. She was one of the few I stayed in touch with when I left my hometown and blasted off to discover who I was. Until recently, we connected by phone a couple of times a year.
I posted a notice on my high school website, and many were saddened by her passing, as most people are when responding to death. Though I knew I’d miss her, I didn’t feel like I was mourning. I know that sounds insensitive, irreverent, or even blasphemous, but I’m simply grateful for all the laughs we shared over the years. Why not find satisfaction in the fact that she was gifted with a long life? Jeannie herself told me more than once, “I can’t believe I’m still here.”
The value of death is that it makes us reflect on our own vulnerability and how important it is to live life fully every day. Jeannie’s passing also made me ponder how I’d like people to respond when I kick that almighty bucket. I sure don’t want folks moping around. Sure, we lose future stuff like conversations, hugs, smiles, and the comfort of friendship. But being a glass-half-full kind of guy, I’m all for focusing on the beautiful friendship that existed.
During the time we knew and loved our dearly departed friends, we collected treasured experiences—flashy little items we stashed in a little jeweled chest deep in our minds—one we can open and indulge in whenever we want. I hope when I transition, my friends will focus on cherishing the good times we’ve shared, not walk around feeling glum.
I’ve never been too serious about death, though I am certainly in no hurry to go on that adventure. I have always been more comfortable with death than with pain, sickness, or suffering. In high school I took a test to see what vocation I was best suited for. Mortician. Go figure. Sounds grim but those who know me can verify that grim is not my demeanor. I expect at worse, death is a peaceful nothingness and, at best, an ocean of infinite possibilities my puny mind can’t fathom.
Life’s too damn short to not enjoy it as much as we can, even when it takes a sharp turn and throws us through the windshield. There are so many luscious things to see, hear, taste, feel, and do, I hate to waste a moment indulging in grief if I can help it.
I’ve always maintained that if people want to have a memorial service when I die, make it a party—sing and dance and celebrate for God’s sake. I told my wife a while back, “I know what I want you to say at my post-croak-memorial get-together. Get up there and tell the crowd in a strong voice, keeping a straight face, ‘Damn! ... He’s dead!’” I imagine after the shock wore off and she revealed that I told her to do it, I’d get people laughing. Then they could enjoy the day as much as I was.
And knowing Jeannie, I bet she’d feel the same way.
This is Rich Israel speaking to you from a soft spot in my heart. I’d like to use this space to share inspiring musings and anecdotes about joy, honesty, friendship, integrity, and other subjects that can enhance the quality of our lives.
Because work occupies a good part of our time, I wanted to launch my blog with thoughts on how to adjust your attitude to make it more fun.
Most people distinguish work from play. But some dance to a different paradigm. The lucky ones do what they love, which is always best and at the very least should be a long-term goal for everyone. The smart ones who aren’t that lucky shift their attitude to love what they do. If we don’t take one of these tracks, we’re destined to live a dreary existence.
Sure, lots of jobs aren’t ideal. I’ve had plenty of them. But life is too short to spend any more time suffering than we need to. The trick for me is to turn work into play. Play is something we all inherently practiced from birth. And play has this great side effect called enjoyment, and any word with “joy” in it is worth pursuing. The happiest people I meet are grateful to just be able to work.
I’m not saying I always take this road, but I do make an attempt. When I signed with Sandra Jonas Publishing for my new book, Groovin’, the first thing I said to myself was, OH SHIT! WHAT NOW?
Actually, at first I was excited. At least for a few hours. Then reality set in, and that excitement turned into sheer terror. You see, selling a book these days of media overstimulation is a bitch. Letting people know your book exists takes a lot of effort, and even if you manage to get the word out, people don’t buy books the way they used to.
Nowadays you need a website and a blog and a mailing list. Then you need to produce interesting, helpful content if you want folks to take notice. Even though I love to write, I wasn’t keen on another career in marketing. I wrote my book because I had a bunch of fun stories I knew people would enjoy. But to get those stories out in the world, I was going to have to do some heavy lifting.
The thought of coming up with more content that people would take the time from their busy lives to read was overwhelming. I’ve worked with energetic medicine over several lifetimes in this body, so I started looking for something to give me the courage to combat my wimpiness. I have a lot of tools in my arsenal to help with emotional balance, but I didn’t see anything that quite hit the mark.
I went around and around and finally realized—and not for the first time—that only one thing would help. The answers we always seek are right inside. When I’m in balance, I have clarity, and when I have clarity and balance, I have everything else I need (including courage).
So I turned to meditation. I went inside and I meditated . . . and I meditated . . . and I meditated some more.
And when that clarity came, I was ready for the challenge. I no longer looked at the road ahead as an insurmountable task but as another adventure in the journey of my life. And damn, I love a good adventure!
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