The Schizophrentic Chef

I wrote this on 11/05/15 for a writing class at the Beachside Shepherd’s Center.

“Where do you find them?”, I asked Irene as her new found friend drove away from our Bethesda home. “I don’t! They find me!” Irene replied. “But I’m afraid that one is hopeless.. You just can’t fix someone who doesn’t want to be fixed”

Fixing people was Irene’s favorite hobby, though It never occurred to me that she could be trying to fix me. As for ‘how’ we found each other, it was basically simple enough. We were both recently divorced, relearning to circulate the singles scene in the 70’s, and often looking for a partner with whom to play bridge =- a game we both enjoyed.

Sometimes I think God, if there is a god, likes to relax, in-between deciding where to have the next hurricane, by playing chess-like games — moving us humans around like chess pieces, trying out different mixtures, like some schizophrenic chef creating a new recipe. “I wonder what would happen if I put that guy together with her. He could use a bit more spice in his life!”

Certainly, our backgrounds could hardly be more different. Mine, very prosaic! Small town! Middle class! Father owned a coal and ice business in Southern Illinois near St. Louis. Albeit, I did have the dubious distinction of flunking out of a Jesuit Seminary after only a few weeks — unable to maintain required silence during the mandatory 30-day retreat. It wasn’t that I needed to talk. I just needed to laugh! And my uncontrollable laughter during the meal readings of the martyred saints being tortured and burnt at the stakes was not the fodder for comedy. My body just insisted on release! It wasn’t that I didn’t, at the time, believe and respect that, after they ‘gave up the ghost’, they went on to a heavenly reward. In fact, I realized much later that my body was trying to tell me something. I was a fraud, thinking of myself as someone unselfishly devoting my life to god. It was the greater heavenly reward I was going — not quite thirty virgins, but at least good placement for all eternity, — which is a long, long time — like an ocean compared to this life’s drop of water in the time this life takes— a good investment — like the “delayed gratification” test that promises kids 2 M&M’s at the end of class if they refuse 1 M&M at the beginning!
Contrast this background with that of Irene’s prosperous Berlin family of doctors in the late 20’s and early 30’s. They considered themselves German rather than Jewish. Her father won a contract to provide hospital equipment as part of the reparations dictated by the Treaty of Versailles. When Hitler announced he would not live up to the terms of the treaty, her father not only lost most of his own money, but the money of his friends as well, he chose to commit suicide. Her mother got very ill and died as well. As the Jewish situation worsened, Irene was sent to a boarding school in London, but her funding was suddenly cut off and, at age 14, was on her own. Her sister, Helga, went underground in Amsterdam, like Ann Frank. What is even more ironic about this, my wife, Branka, had been also been a displaced person after WWII, but was not Jewish.

But I don’t want to write about all that horrible shit — even if I knew enough about it now, which I don’t. Neither liked talking about that period of their lives, and I have no desire to do the necessary research to learn more. I had what is mostly happy times with both women. Probably if I had known more, I would have been more understanding in our disagreements. Haven’t you ever been really critical of some person’s behavior, only to realize later they had some handicap that clearly explained their apparent misbehavior? Too bad it seems to take a life-time to really learn how to live.

At the same time, I can’t honestly say I have regrets. Not that I wouldn’t do things differently knowing what I now know. But it’s stupid to argue with reality. Bad things do happen. But if they hadn’t happened the way they did, then all these wonderful other things wouldn’t have happened. And, as a whole, most of my life has been a lark!


Dangerous Beliefs

My purpose in writing these blogs is to capture my thoughts at a given time, and to possibly let others, who might have similar thoughts, know that they are not alone. It’s not my job to get you to believe anything. That’s your job! I myself may not believe tomorrow what I believe today. Daily, I welcome new information, and sometimes this causes me to reevaluate previous beliefs. It is certainly not my intent to offend anyone — particularly those of my loving family and friends with whom I once shared beliefs. But, at my ripe old age of 84, I have become more aware of the dangers of blind faith in some religious beliefs, such as those held by the suicide bombers of ‘Nine Eleven’. How can we ever reason with them? I can no longer believe that God would tell us it is better to believe without evidence. That sounds more like a young addict caught taking drugs, and questioning his mother, “Are you going to believe the police rather than me. If you love me, you’ll believe me!” Wrong! Love and belief are two very different concepts. I can and do love many people whose beliefs I do not share. You may want me to do and think many things, but wanting something from me, particularly something I may not be capable of, is definitely not love.
I can no longer believe in the existence of a kind and loving father-like God, who allows us to kill each other over what he does or does not want us to believe. We live in an age when a young kid on the other side of this world, who wants to get a message to me, can do so on a cell phone. But I’m supposed to believe the way God needs to get a message to me is through hundreds of other humans who claim they know what God wants me to do and hear. This All-powerful, All- knowing, All-loving Supreme Being who created this fantastic universe, needs to rely on other humans with the same limited, fallible, and biased brains as my own to get messages to me? I don’t think so!!!!
I am neither an atheist nor a theist. I am comfortable with the teachings of the Buddha, who taught his followers to question even what he himself was saying, and to notice how happiness can come from recognizing impermanence, and relinquishing acquisition. We live in a society which constantly tells us there is something wrong with us, but they have a fix for it — the ‘booboomyocin’ that will make us happy again. Some religions are no different. You were born with something wrong with you (original sin). but they can fix it (baptism), and by joining and supporting their church (contributing and proselytizing). I was taught, and believed “If one didn’t believe in God, who would reward or punish people in an after-life, people would be like savages, without respect for anyone or anything!”. Obviously, that is not the case, and some of the worst offenders have been people professing a religious belief as their purpose.
I am writing this, hopefully to get it out of the way. I don’t want this blog to concentrate on religion. But, to better understand my thinking, it’s probably helpful to realize I am the product of Catholic schools from grade school through college. in my twenties, I spent a short time in a Jesuit seminary, planning to devote my entire life to my religious beliefs — motivated by a strong belief that it would be a good investment. With a strong belief firmly implanted in my most formative years, this life on earth was just a drop of water in the vast ocean of eternity In retrospect, I don’t see that much difference in perspective between me at that time and the suicide bombers of today. I don’t think I would have gone so far as to kill others innocent people, but had I lived during the Crusades, I could imagine myself volunteering, with belief in Pope Urban’s pronouncement that It would earn me a direct do-not-pass-go ticket to a heavenly reward.
Enough on the religious issue! I actually have had a very happy life, and prefer to write about that. But, perhaps just as gays coming out of the closet, I want to experience the freedom of being open and honest. I respect and love people who don’t share my beliefs, but I refuse to live any longer walking on egg shells, ever careful not to offend. I don’t want to be offended myself. I love my country and am forever grateful for the freedom that allows me to believe or not believe. Our founders may have been mainly Christian, but they were fugitives of religious persecution by religions professing different beliefs.
I am neither a theist nor an atheist. I’m comfortable not knowing everything, and having at least a tinge of doubt about everything. But I have seen no evidence to convince me of an after-life. I often use the word God, as in “Thank God”, which I still say — sincerely thankful for whatever forces go into making the universe what it is.

I do believe in an objective reality (what is), independent of the human mind’s perceptions of reality, which are affected by both physical and psychological factors. If there is a God who created reality, and truth is that which corresponds with reality, then it would not make sense for there to be any conflict between religion and science. True science is a search for reality — at least honest science which follows the scientific method, recognizing the natural biases of the human mind. Unfortunately, too many people professing themselves to be scientists, are willing to say only what they want us to believe. Bad Scientists — Bad Science!

Before leaving this first blog of mine, I want to explain my choice for naming this blog. In grade school, we used to use the term “scatterbrain” for some of the more intellectually challenged in class. Even though, I managed to get good grades, I always sort of thought of myself as a scatterbrain, successfully fooling people into thinking I was someone I was not. Inside, I was always thinking I was a fraud. My internal thoughts were often very scattered and confused. I remember telling a college friend I someday wanted to write a book. When he asked what I wanted to write about, and I responded with a litany of my many interests, he said I was all over the map, and needed to focus on one thing at a time. It was only many years later, when I read some articles on “General Systems Theory”, that I started to wonder if scattered brains might actually be seeing relationships that are not evident to most. Many of the University curricula were combining disciplines, like music and mathematics. There really are such relationships.

Then, just within the last year, I began learning more about “Mindfulness”, and how meditations can exercise controlling the mind — at least, recognizing stray thoughts, and refocusing. I purchased The Great Courses recordings of “Practicing Mindfulness: An Introduction to Meditation” by Professor Mark W. Muesse. It has been very helpful to me, and I continue to re-listen daily. Still a scatterbrain, but much more tolerant, knowing I’m not alone!