Sunday, September 26, 2010

What the Broccoli Says

The cover story in Time mag this week is about how the life of a baby in utero impacts that baby’s life. The article goes beyond conventional approaches to prenatal care. For instance, an Israeli study shows that the children of women who were in their first trimester of pregnancy during the Six-Day War in June of 1967 grew up to be significantly more prone to schizophrenia than the norm. Babies born to women who were under a lot of stress when pregnant have difficulty dealing with stress and are more prone to depression and mental illness. Maternal starvation (caused by famine or extreme poverty) during pregnancy is directly linked to heart disease in the babies they carried. The belief is that with limited nutritional resources, these deprived fetuses directed resources to brain development rather than heart development because the brain is a more important organ (although we clearly need both). Environmental pollutants, nutrition/food, the mother’s mental state, and, in fact, the state of the world, all have documented impacts on the unborn child. This goes beyond playing nice music to the baby in utero. This is about the state of the world the baby is coming into and the baby’s anxiety level in relation to entering that world. They have also drawn connections between low birthweight babies and heart disease, obesity in pregnant mothers and obesity in their offspring, and diabetic mothers disrupting the metabolism of the unborn child and predisposing the child to diabetes. The article explains why this research goes beyond genetics (since we all know that diabetes is genetic). I’m not going to go into detail about that here. I was excited to hear that research shows that babies born to women who ate a lot of broccoli when they were pregnant are significantly more resistant to cancer. I built my children out of broccoli and the broccoli says they should be healthy. But the whole article gave me pause about how much unborn children already know or sense about the horrifying state of the world which they are about to enter.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Yom Kippur Reflection

If there is a design to life, to the sequence of events that occurs in the known world, and it is a design orchestrated by a deity or omniscient spiritual entity, then that deity or entity must be both infinitely good and wretchedly evil at the same time. That would be the only way to characterize our experience since the same entity that produced the giant majestic Redwoods also produced the Holocaust. And if there is a design, then our actions are meaningless since they have been pre-ordained. That is why I don’t believe in fate, destiny, or god. Perhaps it is comforting to assume that everything happens for a reason and that there is a greater meaning to all things, a meaning that we humans just don’t understand. I find that too simplistic.

Alternatively, if there is no method to the madness, no plan, and no design, then what we experience is random chaos. The sequence of events is a cause and effect progression with no significance and we are at the whim of chance. Once again, this renders our actions as meaningless. If our existence was set in motion by a higher entity, which then withdrew, then we are basically a failed science experiment, which I suppose is possible (anything is, really), but not likely. In any case, our actions are still meaningless. In a random universe, we can only celebrate with and console each other as we pass through the delights and tragedies of life. If events occur randomly then we have good cause to rise to anger at some of the pointless tragedies of the world. But I don’t believe the world functions in utter chaos and that we have no impact on it. I find that too easy.

It is certainly possible that both a divine design and random chaos co-exist in a tension or balance that is beyond the comprehension of my feeble human mind. That lets me off the hook. I can press the autopilot button and go on faith, not a bad option.

What if there is a design of sorts, but it is changeable? What if there is a way to influence the course of events? If fate does not exist, if all things are not necessarily “meant to be,” if the progression of events is mutable, then despite the tendency toward random occurrence or loose adherence to some mysterious design, we have a way to change the course of events and steer things to a different course from the one originally set in motion. How do we do that? I believe that everything, seen and unseen, here now and here in the past, living in this world and present at another level, has spirit and spiritual energy can never be destroyed. It can be changed and moved. It can never be uncreated. The universe is laced with spiritual energy, which interpenetrates our lives as spiritual beings, throughout the course of events. We can make an impact by the inter-penetration of spiritual energy. We have the opportunity and the potential to change the course of events with the energy we create, channel, invite, elicit, emanate, and conjure. So then our actions do have meaning. In which case, at Yom Kippur I pause to contemplate the fact that I am an imperfect being and to set for myself the improvements I wish to make in the coming year so that my impact is more positive and so that I can do a better job of connecting with spirit.

I will end with a true story. During the last summer of her life, when she knew she was dying, my friend Nan called me up on the night before our family left for our annual vacation at Manresa Beach in Watsonville. She said to me, “Say hello to the dolphins for me.” I promised I would. Sitting on Manresa Beach, I remembered her words and laughed about it since I had never seen a dolphin at Manresa in ten years of family vacations there. But I went to the ocean’s edge and called out, “Hello Dolphins. Nan says hello!” Later that day, you guessed it, a school of dolphins swam past the beach, jumping high out of the water so that they were clearly visible. Astonished, I called to them, “Nan says hello!” And from that time to this, I have seen dolphins at Manresa on every single visit I have made to that beach. Although Nan is no longer living, I always send the dolphins her regards.

Sunday, September 12, 2010


My friend Tal fell off his roof yesterday morning and died. I’m still trying to wrap my mind around that. Today was the first morning since his birth that he did not wake to see. I saw him Friday night at synagogue. We sat next to one another, close enough that I could hear him singing some of the tunes with his lovely voice. We ate dinner together later. He was in his early 60s and left behind his wife and their two grown children. He and his wife have been together forever. I can’t imagine how she will cope with such a sudden loss. No illness or preparation. No time to get used to the idea, just having the finish arrive. Her husband is abruptly gone. Tal worked in construction his whole life and would likely be one of the most sure-footed people on a roof. I don’t know the details of what happened, but must still wonder that one misstep, one off moment, one blip, sent a good man beyond the reach of those who love him. Ironically, he and his wife had just moved her mother, who is in her 90s, here to be near them. So how does one person live into their 90s while another falls off a roof in his early 60s? My new meditation on death comes from watching all of LOST: Love, Remember, Let Go. Loving is easy, what we do every day. Remembering will happen on its own, whether invited or not, and will often break our hearts. But the letting go is the most difficult one.

Sunday, September 5, 2010


I confess. I have turned into a LOST junkie. I never watch TV (except for football). Really. Never. I read about LOST in a magazine in May when the six-season sci-fi adventure series ended and it sounded intriguing. So we watched the first show of season one on Netflix instant play and we were hooked. That was the beginning of the end. The end was three months later, this past Friday night. Since June, we have spent the entire summer watching old LOST episodes every night. One weekend in July, we spent the entire day on a Saturday glued to the TV. But now we’re done and we know everything that happened. I could quarrel with some of the choices the writers and producers made, and I could fault them for getting themselves in a corner with plots that had to be abandoned or were not fully developed, and I could complain that character motivation was off in places, but the bottom line is that they had me and I couldn’t let go so they did a lot of things right.

This epic adventure was so brilliantly well-written that I shouted with glee sometimes at the genius of it. LOST works on several levels (including a mythic level), has many plots going at once, and travels marvelously through time and space. The characters have real depth; and there are lots of them. Several years ago I paid a professional book editor to read one of my novels and critique it. She said it was “overpopulated” – too many characters. One of the things I loved about LOST was that it had so many characters that it felt like a real world. Filled with people. Kind of like Harry Potter. The reader/viewer gets to go to another place and meet all these people and, through imagination, participate in their lives and their struggles. The viewer is far from passive in LOST. Unless you engage, and work, it makes no sense.

At the end of the final episode of LOST, Jack’s father tells him that he and his friends from Oceanic Flight 815 made a community together and that he has finally arrived at a place they created where they can come together “to remember and to let go.” Many questions are left unanswered, but the big unanswered questions are basically the big questions about life that have a habit of remaining unanswered. The best that we can do is remember those who have passed over and then let go of them. As we will be remembered and then cut adrift by those we leave behind when we pass over. The most powerful human moments in the final episode are the points where characters exchange their love for one another. So that in that final episode, the most moving images are those of the people who loved one another embracing. And that is what remains, what we remember, what must be let go. It was a good ending for six years of drama and adventure (although for us it was completed in three months). And even though Christian Shepherd assures his son Jack that “it was all real,” I was left wondering if perhaps no one ever survived that plane crash to begin with. Of course, by the end, it didn’t matter if they had survived the crash or not.

At the end of the last Harry Potter book, Harry asks Dumbledore: “Is this real? Or has this been happening inside my head?” And Dumbledore answers: “Of course it is happening inside your head, Harry, but why on earth should that mean that it is not real?”