Monday, October 02, 2017

Dolores' First Birthday Run


 

An excerpt from "Til Death Do Us Part?" available from Kindle, or the Store at www.SchoolofSelf-Reliance.com


            Dolores came into my world around 1979 when she began to participate in the non-profit organization (WTI) I’d been working with.  At the time, Dolores was starting a business selling food storage systems for emergencies, and she contacted the president of our non-profit because of their interest in all aspects of survival.  We had many points of common interest, and she became more involved in the classes and activities of our non-profit.
By September 1980, as her birthday was approaching, she decided that she’d try doing the “birthday run,” an activity devised by the founder of the non-profit.
            Briefly, the birthday run involves going to a local track on your birthday, and running one lap for each year of your life. Friends join in the run at the year when they met you.  The runner mentally reviews each year of their life as they run each corresponding lap. A circular track is ideal because you can mentally divide the track into month or seasonal divisions to help you remember what happened month by month as you run.  One would also write brief notes during the run to record significant memories.  It is not about running, per se, but about remembering and reviewing your life. Afterwards, it is traditional to take a hot “memory bath” and to then share one’s insights and goals for the year with gathered friends.
            I was asked a day earlier if I’d be willing to go with Dolores and run with her. Since I met Dolores only a year or so earlier, I had not planned to run with her until she’d already run her first 33 laps, and then I planned to run only her 34th lap with her.
            Late in the afternoon on October 2, I went to the Eagle Rock High School track where Dolores planned to run.  It was around 4 p.m., and it was dark and overcast, and seemed much later than it was.  When I arrived, I expected to see a group from our non-profit there, but only Dolores was there. 
            “Where is everyone?” I asked her.
            “I don’t know,” said Dolores.  “I don’t know if anyone else was planning to run,” she said as both a statement and question.
            “Oh,” I said dumbly.
            “Look,” continued Dolores. “I don’t really know if I can even do this.  I haven’t been running much and I don’t feel in shape.”
            I encouraged Dolores to try the run anyway.
            “Why not just do at least a few laps – review a few years of your life, and just see how it goes,” I said encouragingly.
            Dolores was quiet, obviously thinking about it.  Then she said, “OK.”
            We waited a few more minutes, and after no one else arrived, we went into the school yard. 
            I explained to Dolores that she should pick a starting point that would correspond to October, and then she should try to divide the lap into 12 monthly sections, so she would know where she was in each year of her life as she ran. 
            “At the very least,” I explained, “divide the lap into the four seasons, so you can try to remember what you were doing in the fall, winter, spring, and autumn of each year.”
            “OK,” responded Dolores.  She decided that the southern end of the track where we’d entered would be January, the beginning of each year.   We then walked to a point that Dolores called October, and she put her water bottle on the benches by the edge of the track. 
            “Why don’t you run with me?” asked Dolores.  “I don’t really expect to finish, so you might as well run and I can ask you questions if I have any.”  That wasn’t the normal protocol, but I figured it would be OK if she was asking me.  Plus, it would be cold just sitting on the benches for her first 33 laps.
            “OK,” I said, and Dolores began her slow running around the Eagle Rock High School track.  I ran to her right and slightly behind, and didn’t say much.
            By the second lap – age two – Dolores began to relate incidents in her life.  Where she grew up, what her mother was doing, getting lost as a child and having a policeman on a motorcycle take her home,  growing up in Altadena, things about her sister.
            She ran steadily and talked in a low voice as if narrating the scenes of some inner vision.  She asked me one question about how to run, and I told her that this was not about running technique, only about getting fully into the details of reliving her life. 
            There was a slight pause about age 20 or so, as Dolores drank a longer drink of her water, and jotted a few notes with a small flashlight.  It was fully dark by this time, and the track was completely empty.
            Dolores continued to run, and related her various world travels – going to Germany to live with her husband, her daughter Barbara, getting divorced, traveling to Hawaii, to Virginia Beach, to Colorado, and her various spiritual pursuits.  I was hearing a lot of these details for the first time, so it was all new to me.  I listened, thinking to myself, what a fantastic life this woman has had! 
            We were getting to the end and she spoke of how the est  training changed her life, and how she wanted to start her own “survival food” business and travel around the country marketing it to communes and ordinary folks. She got to the point where she met the folks at our non-profit, and before you knew it, her run was over.
            “Wow,” said Dolores when she was done.  “I didn’t believe I could have done it without you.”  “What?” I thought to myself.  I only ran along with her, and didn’t realize that my being there gave her the needed support to do her own running.
            Dolores jotted down some more notes in her notebook, and we both departed. 
            I presume Dolores went to her home and did a hot “memory bath” by herself.  There was no gathering for Dolores that night – it was a weekday and someone else determined that the weekend would be a better time for a gathering.
On the weekend, I went to the birthday gathering for Dolores where she shared some of her life review, and some goals.  It was quite interesting to hear many of her life’s details again, though she shared only the highlights of those things that impressed her the most. 
            “I didn’t think I could do the run, but it helped to have Christopher run with me,” she said in her shy way of thanking me.  It made me feel good to know that what I thought was merely my passive presence had a significant positive influence on someone.  On Dolores.  It was the beginning of my feeling close to Dolores, and the beginning of our life paths co-mingling.
            Though I had already done the birthday run for a few years, it was only that night that I learned the birthday run was one of the methods designed to assist in reviewing one’s life.  In our non-profit organization, there was much focus on reviewing what had just occurred, whether it was a critique of an event we’d just done, or the review of what just went wrong on a desert field trip, or our annual New Year’s Eve “year review.”  Participants in our weekly spiritual studies classes were also advised to carefully review their day each night before sleep, and determine what was done right, and what needed rectification. 
            These methods of review, including the birthday run, were designed to assist us in living a better and more fulfilling life, with great cogency.  But this also helped us to deal with, and to prepare for, death.  I had not been aware of this facet of the birthday run until that night’s discussion after Dolores’ birthday. 
Though “preparing for death” and “thinking about death” may seem dark and negative to some folks, we never saw it that way.  Such discussions invariably led us to constantly ponder the consequences of each action, day by day.  Far from a dark and gloomy topic, our constant concern with The Law of Thought and the consequences of our actions led us to – in most cases – make better choices for a fuller and more fulfilling life.  Since death was, and is, inevitable, we choice to not ignore it, but to make our awareness of it a constant fixture in our daily life.

Thursday, September 28, 2017

On Socratic Dialogue



[Nyerges is the author of 16 books, founder of School of Self-Reliance, and an outdoor field guide. He can be reached at Box 41834, Eagle Rock, CA 90041, or at www.schoolofSelf-Reliance.com.]

I am not an academic authority on “Socratic Dialogue,” but I believe that I have a good general sense of it.  When reading Plato’s account of the life of Socrates, and the events leading up to his trial, we get a good sense of how Socrates interacted with others.

Socrates would ask a series of questions, and each subsequent question was based on the answer to the previous one.  It was a true dialogue, where Socrates listened carefully, and responded appropriately.  Socrates said that he was trying to get to the “truth,” the “truth” that others claim to have found. His questions attempted to draw-out from the other person the knowledge or facts that were presumably available within that other person.  That is, Socrates was doing sometimes called educing – the root of the word “education.”   This suggests that all knowing can be acquired by thinking, and careful research.

I’ve had at least a few teachers who were skilled in educing, constantly engaging in a give and take, where eventually a full picture emerges about a subject. 

In the beginning of undergoing this process, I felt silly and frustrated when I was asked to draw these answers from within. But by attempting to be a part of the dialogue, rather than simply listening to a teacher, I learned that I knew a lot more than I realized.  In time, I realized that I began to think more clearly and systematically about things. I learned that there were ways to know if I only applied my mind to a given subject with research, application, and concentration.

I once went to lecture at a renown metaphysical center. The topic was Socratic Dialogue.  The lecturer was clearly in love with himself and the sound of his words, which is not necessarily a bad thing. I raised my hand to ask a pertinent question and he shushed me.  “No, I’m composing,” he said, and then went on with his monologue.

I sat there thinking about this for a few minutes, and realized that I would learn nothing about the Socratic Dialogue from this man.  I got up and left.  His demonstration with me was the opposite of Socratic Dialogue.  To be fair, this had been billed as a “lecture,” not a demonstration or practicum of Socratic Dialogue.

In my classes, I have tried in my limited way to employ Socratic Dialogue.  When I am asked a question, I am inclined to ask the student, “What do you think is the answer?”  Sometimes I get blanks, or, “I don’t know; that’s why I’m in this class.” But occasionally a student will try to answer their own question, and then we go on from there, step by step, working together to draw from the student the answers – or bits of answers—that were already there inside.  (And for the record, I may or may not know the answer, but that’s not the point.)

A man who once attended my classes mentioned me in his book called “Emergency.” It was an excellent book about his quest to learn about survival in the broadest context. In his book he described my teaching method, suggesting that I didn’t want to give answers to students but just wanted to lord over them that I knew it all!  He didn’t quite get what I was doing, unfortunately.  

Things didn’t go so well for Socrates either.

Even though Socrates changed the life of his lead student, Plato, and the millions of “followers” who read about Socrates through Plato, those leaders and priests who brushed up too closely with Socrates felt that he was somehow exposing or disrespecting them.  These “leaders” of ancient Greece trumped up some charges that Socrates was “corrupting the youth of Athens,” and put the philosopher on trial. Socrates lost, of course, was imprisoned, and fulfilled the death sentence by drinking the prescribed hemlock tea.

I’m still a big fan of Socratic Dialogue, not because of how it turned out with Socrates, but because it is a method that can open us up to our own inner mind, and allow us to experience true education.

Public schools are too large with too many students per teacher, and too controlled, to do Socratic Dialogue.  Public schools tend to fill the students minds with facts that they must memorize. 

Anyone today who comes through the “school system” as a clear-thinking, creative individual does so in spite of the school system, not because of it.

Monday, September 04, 2017

Remembering Vicente Gomez: Pasadena legend and Bicycling champion






REMEMBERING VICENTE YNFANTE GOMEZ –
A Pasadena bicycling legend and Vietnam veteran hero

Vicente Ynfante Gomez, October 24, 1946 to August 4, 2017
[by Christopher Nyerges]

Great people always walk amongst us, yet most of us are too busy in our very narrow lives (me too) to recognize and acknowledge them for who they are.

Vicente and Rafael Gomez were the famous Apache Brothers racing team, brothers who won numerous state and district bicycle racing championships, often defying all odds on their tandem bicycle.

A bit of background. Lifelong Pasadena resident, Vicente was a cross-country runner at John Muir High School, and graduated in 1965.  Both Vicente and Rafael were Vietnam vets.  Vicente was an Army paratrooper with the 101st Airborne’s “Hatchet Brigade,” serving as a ranger in the recon.  He was decorated with the bronze star for valor in combat during the 1968 Tet Offensive. But he never talked about it much – you remember how terribly returning Vietnam vets were treated?  Younger brother Rafael entered the service when Vicente returned home, wanted to follow in big brother’s footsteps.

For 40 years, Vicente and partner -brother Rafael were competitive members of the U.S. Cycling Federation.  Vicente was one of the two only masters (age 55 and older) to win four national track racing championship medals in the elite mens’ tandem.  With the help of Sport Chalet in 1984 (where both brothers worked)  Vicente and Rafael were instrumental in establishing bike racing practice around the Rose Bowl.   And they mentored many other up-and-coming bicyclists, including women such as Katie Safford,  who became champions. 

Those of us who knew this unique brother-team got to witness the rarest form of true and pure brotherhood. They lived together and supported one another through thick and thin. Vicente was the quiet brother, and Rafael loud and gregarious. They represented the totality of the yin and yang, not as opposing forces, but as a duality representing the totality of the whole.  As Katie Safford stated at Vicente’s funeral, “Yes, I know Rafael is still alive, but ‘The Gomez Brothers’ have died,” referring to the inseparable nature of the dynamic brother team.

Safford – who won 53 district championships and 5 nationals in racing – had many bicycling mentors.  “But most of the men weren’t so keen having us race with them,” she explained, “because we were faster. But Vicente and Rafael were always kind to us.”  She describes the Apache brothers as constantly encouraging her, and congratulating her, even when Safford beat the Gomez brothers in the Southern California/ Nevada District Championships at the velodrone in Encino.
Here is a part of what Kathy Safford said at Vicente’s funeral mass:

“When I was 26 I found bicycle racing…. My life changed.  I was competitive. Someone said I should try track racing on the velodrome – you know, no brakes and high speeds. I borrowed a bike and headed to Encino and the Gomez brothers.
“I didn’t know them but I had heard about these two crazy brothers who raced.  They drove a van. They were fast. They were fearless…. We got along from the first moment… They protected me and all of us on the front lines. They liked me and took me in as their little sister, their ‘hermanita,’ as brothers and mentors.
In track racing, it’s all about the lead out-block the wind for your sprinter and let her win.  The Gomez brothers would come from the back and Vince (never loud) would say ‘Vamos, hermanita, al frente’ – come little sister to the front.  And there would be Rafael helping me get situated at 35 mph.  Go little sister, go, he yelled.  And I would follow those wheels and I won!  I won every race they helped me win.  And Vince would smile, ‘good hermanita,’ always a man of few words.  And Rafael would scream ‘You did it, little sis! You won!’  I would offer to split the cash winnings -- $20.  ‘No, m’hija, you won it, you keep it.”
There were district championships for bragging rights and a California Bear jersey.  I gathered a team of fast women and entered the team pursuit event – in the men’s category.  There were not enough women to have a women’s category.  Can you guess who we were up against?  You got that right – The Gomez brothers, my brothers, my mentors. We beat them – the chicks beat the boys. And what did Vicente say?  ‘Good hermanita, good.’  And what did Rafael say? He screamed and whooped with pure joy and pride for us.  Those are some really good guys.”

During a few of the radio interviews I did with ostensibly both brothers, Rafael would do most of the talking and it took a major effort to get Vicente to speak about his love of bicycling, herbalism, and his roots. But speak he did, though slowly, and with great intent. Sometimes, he presumed that one well placed look at me was enough to answer my questions, as if radio listeners can hear the look!

Vicente was surfing on Friday, August 4 at San Onofre State Beach with his brother Rafael and friends.  He died that day in Rafael’s arms, at age 70. 

At the wake for Vicente, “The Function at the Junction” (as Rafael called it), I took the time to “be with” Vicente at the little shrine out back that Rafael had created for his brother.

As some of you may know, I talk to the dead all the time.  Usually there are no responses.  I burned sage to Vicente, and sat with this quiet giant at his shrine, this Apache “medicine man” now gone.

Finally, Vicente had a lot to say. He was happy that I was there with him.  He wanted me to pass along a message, letting me know that everything was different for him now that he no longer had his body to deal with. He was light, but still serious as ever.

I’ll paraphrase, from memory, what he wanted me to know.  “Look, we didn’t live for money, but we took care of each other, and others in need.” Then he went on another track.  “Tell people not to be so pre-occupied with their bodies, and just pleasures of the senses. That’s not really who we are,” Vicente communicated.  This quiet brother was often deep in inner thought each time I met with him and Rafael.

“I see so clearly now, that anything we do that is not moving us forward spiritually is a waste of our precious time and energy.” 

I’ll miss such thoughtfulness and insight from Vicente, and will do my best to follow the spirit of what he told me. 



Friday, August 25, 2017

"LIGHTS OUT" by Ted Koppel


“Lights Out” by Ted Koppel


[Nyerges is the author of 16 books on self-reliance and preparedness, including “How to Survive Anywhere” and “Self-Sufficient Home.” He has been conducting survival field trips since 1974.  He is an advocate of perma-culture and local farmers markets, and he frequently consults to the movie industry. See the Schedule and booklist at www.SchoolofSelf-Reliance.com]

Former Nightline TV journalist Ted Koppel has written a hard-hitting, compelling book called “Lights Out: A Cyberattack, A Nation Unprepared, Surviving the Aftermath.”

What if, asks Koppel, terrorists decide to strike the power grid of the United States? How, after all, does one “attack” the complex, inter-connected group of thousands of independent companies, in order to take out the ability of the U.S. to have and transport power? 

Koppel does his homework and tells us how the electrical system works today, and how power is transmitted.  Koppel asks the hard questions to power executives, and lays out the strengths, and weaknesses, of our system.  Koppel does not say that this would be an easy task, but someone with the know-how for hacking, with a laptop computer, could conceivably disable any of a number of the transformers throughout the country. 

Though the power company executives and Homeland Security officials tried to assure Koppel that this could not happen, or that it would be fixed quickly, Koppel traces the steps to replace a disabled transformer.  Replacing transformers, he points out, is not like replacing a battery in a flashlight. Transformers – one of the weak links in the system, according to Koppel – are huge custom-made pieces of equipment, each costing in the neighborhood of $3 to $10 million, and enormous, anywhere from 400,000 to 600,000 pounds each. They are not readily transported, assuming there was a backup ready to use.

Knowledgeable hackers could access the system other ways as well, causing havoc in a number of ways.  Indeed, Koppel provides clues that hackers have already been exploring digitally, and physically, various aspects of the U.S. power grid.  And there are several nations hostile to the U.S. who could launch such a digital attack any day, without the need for any troops, and with a high degree of deniability. According to CENTCOM [Central Command] Commander General Lloyd Austin, “It’s not a question of if (this will happen), it’s a question of when.”

Finding that a cyber attack is a distinct possibility, Koppel starts to ask government officials and power executives what can be done. Some deny there is a problem. At least one official indicated that he hoped nothing like this happens anytime soon because he was due for retirement in a few years!

Koppel asked Howard A. Schmidt what someone could do.  Schmidt was the former cyber-security co-ordinator for the Obama administration. According to Schmidt, “There is no answer,” says Schmidt, saying that no government agency has any guidelines for private citizens because Schmidt believes there’s nothing an individual can do to prepare. He adds that “We’re so inter-connected, it’s not just me anymore. It’s me and my neighbors and where I get my electricity from. There’s nothing I can do that can protect me if the system falters.”  Koppel describes this answer as very fatalistic, implying that the individual can’t do anything, and that the government won’t do anything.

Part of the reason that the government won’t do anything, according to Koppel, is that government tends to react to emergencies, and nearly all the emergencies that organizations such as FEMA and the Red Cross prepare for are nearly all natural disasters: floods, fires, earthquakes, hurricanes.  A cyber attack taking out the U.S. electrical grid would be very different.  No electricity over  a large portion of the U.S. would be unprecedented. Normal communication systems would be severely hindered; people would not be able to access money; purchases would be very difficult; problems would arise with sanitation systems and water delivery.  Refrigeration would go out.

To determine the potential severity of a nation-wide blackout, Koppel asks then-secretary of Homeland Security, Jeh Johnson, to define the threat-level of a cyber attack. “It is potentially very large,” he responded. “It is potentially devastating.” 

Isn’t there something that ordinary citizens could do to prepare for such a possibility as a knock-out of the electrical grid, asks Koppel.  Shouldn’t the government be trying to get the message out to people of what to do in the first few days?  “I suspect there is a message that is out,” said Jeh Johnson.  “It’s just very few people are actually paying attention to it.”  According to Koppel, the level of interest in government preparing for a grid-down situation has not yet risen to the level of apathy.  And government officials to who Koppel spoke believed that there is nothing to worry about, as there is a very low probability of this ever happening.

The only plans that Koppel was able to discover had to do with either getting the power back on, or evacuating millions of people.  Evacuation of millions of people out of cities would be a logistical nightmare, of course, and the only reason that would be considered is because all the natural disaster plans typically involve some evacuation. But a grid-down scenario would be very different than a natural disaster. According to Koppel, the best thing to do would be to stay in one’s homes, in most cases.

Most FEMA officials interview by Koppel admitted that there is only so much FEMA could do, especially in a scenario with no electricity nation-wide.  Some feel that the only way to defend against a cyberattack is by a close coalition between government and industry.

But there are people – many of them – who are doing something. Some of these plans are band-aids, and some are more extensive. Koppel introduces us to survivalist and preppers in the latter part of his book.  He introduces the reader to folks with large ranches, with lots of guns for defense, and to the Mormon Church, perhaps the single-greatest non-government entity that has consistently focused on all phases of survival preparedness. You could describe the operations of the Mormon Church as a country within this country, for they own farms, canneries, storage facilities, and distribution networks that take care of their own so that the government doesn’t have to – assuming it could.

I found the “Solutions” chapter quite useful, and Koppel doesn’t ignore the old standbys for emergencies that everyone should have: stored food and water for six months, grinders for beans and wheat, extra supplies, lots of extra cash, medicines – basically, extra of everything you need, and especially the things that you quickly run out of.  Plus, there is the encouragement to create, or become a part of, a social-financial network where people can work together in good times or bad. Everyone is also encouraged to take CERT (Community Emergency Response Team) training wherever you live.

The directions for any associations, even very loose associations, should be to locate and establish the needs of the most vulnerable, and determine the skills and assets of those who are willing to share either or both. As Koppel says, “Once disaster strikes, it is already too late.”

Koppel is one of our greatest journalists, and he doesn’t make his call-to-action without thorough research. “Lights Out” is interesting and entertaining to read, painting a clear picture of the possibility of a cyber-attack, as well as providing many details for individual action. 


Monday, August 21, 2017

THE ECLIPSE



[Nyerges is the author of several books, including "Til Death Do us Part?" and "Ancient Writings on Rock," both Kindle books. He can be reached at www.SchoolofSelf-Reliance.com.  IF YOU ENJOY THESE BLOGS, PLEASE FOLLOW! Thank you]

Astronomical events have been observed with awe, ceremony, and even fear for millennia. I choose to regard such events as opportunities. Whether or not the heavens and the positions of celestial bodies effects us will be debated forever.  Yet, we know that our reality is also created by the thoughts of others, especially the collective thoughts of “good,” “bad,” and any of the types of thinking and desiring that creates destiny.  That is, I acknowledge that the thinking (passive or active) of humans collectively does affect our reality, and in particular, my reality.

During our partial eclipse in S. California, we took the time to acknowledge the guardians of the 6 directions, and ancient ones, and our own teachers and mentors who have gone before us. While burning herbs and sharing our impromptu prayers, feelings, and desires, we spoke to each other of our hopes for our future, and for the future, and of those things (people, habits, stuff) that we would do well to leave by the wayside if we are to evolve.

The subdued light outback was noticeable, and we felt a different atmosphere as we spoke our words and shook rattles. Two green California scarabs buzzed about during the time, and a line of small birds tweeted their song as they sat in the bottlebrush tree.  A breeze began to flow through the yard.

Of course, everything in our life and in the world can be viewed only in the most mundane of interpretations, but we choose to also view their symbolic aspects.

The sun – the source of all life on this planet, and viewed nearly as a god by so many ancient civilizations – is temporary blocked out.  A symbolic death. A moment to think, to choose, to decide. And then, the light returns, and the darkness fades. Life, death, resurrection, reincarnation. Everything is there.  Today is the first day of my new choices, and wherever those new choices lead.

That’s what the eclipse meant to me.

Monday, June 26, 2017

The Nature of Love and Relationships



[Nyerges is the author of such books as “How to Survive Anywhere,” “Self-Sufficient Home,” and “Extreme Simplicity.”  He teaches at Pasadena City College and through the School of Self-Reliance. He can be reached at www.SchoolofSelf-Reliance.com.]

 NOTE: This article will appear in Awareness magazine, and has been published in the Sierra Madre Mountain News.  It is part of an unpublished book by Nyerges.


One day I went to the Coffee Gallery in Altadena and started talking with my friend Michael, who was reading a book about love. Love, one of the few topics you can study your entire life and never really “get it.”

“The problem,” I told Michael, as if I knew what I was talking about, “is that we think about this way too much, whereas the animals – at least some animals – don’t think about it. They just act.  The basic fundamentals of what most of us mean by love – protection, providing food for the young, some training – are simply done without all the considering and evaluating and vacillation that humans are so famous for.”

Michael nodded.  He didn’t talk a lot but he listened, and when he spoke, he asked a deep question or he had a pithy comment.

We agreed upon certain things that every human should know about “love” and its many facets and tangents.  A man cannot have more than one woman at a time, whether wife or girlfriend. OK,  some try and seem to get away with it, and some are even involved in consentual polygamy.  But that seems to be  the exception, not the rule.  One woman at a time, period.  That works and other arrangements do not.  Even when people try to have “open” arrangements, they all seem to fail in the long run.

We agreed that the Masai men in Africa might have four wives there and “get away with it,” because that is the social norm.  It is done in plain view with everyone knowing that’s what’s happening.  But it won’t work here.

Don’t have sex if you’re not prepared for children.  Don’t have children until you’re ready to devote the next 15 or so years to them, as a child without involved parents is part of the formula called “How to make a criminal.”

Michael and I agreed on some of these basics, and we occasionally brought up the principles in the “Art of Loving” book by Eric Fromme.

I liked chatting with Michael because he was not dogmatic, and listened in a conversation as much as he talked. It was clear that when we talked, he was seeking answers as much as he was telling me his opinions.

We tried to clarify the difference between “love” and sex in a relationship, and how they are actually very different things. Michael brought up the case of a man who divorced his wife because he learned she’d had plastic surgery, and was therefore not as naturally beautiful as he’d assumed.

“The man was in love with the woman’s body,” said Michael with a bit of anger in his voice. “He wasn’t in love with the person – just her body.”  Unfortunately, we both agreed that most people are hopelessly confused about this, often falling in love with a body and never really getting to know the person inside.  “I mean,” said Michael, “ a meaningful relationship can’t be built on just good looks and sex.  You’ve got to have a lot more going for you than that!”  I agreed.

We tried to define those traits that make a good relationship.  It wasn’t hard. We identified many traits that are desirable, and many that were not.  We both started shouting out the traits as I tried to write them down.  “You’ve gotta really like the other person,” said Michael. “And you absolutely must have some common interests, whether it’s religions, or TV shows, or exercise, or academics.  Something!  And I still don’t know what love is,” laughed Michael, “but I think even more than love is basic respect.  You’ve got to have mutual respect.”  A few people from the next table were listening, and begin to add to our lists. 
Here’s what we came up with:

Things you want in a relationship:
Affinity to one other, for whatever reason. 
Respect.
Communication. We both agreed that men and women can barely communicate with each other because they see the world so differently. But at least – if you want a good relationship – you have to work at communication, and continue to resolve issues whenever they come up.
Courtesy.
Caring about the relationship, per se, and working on it.
Clarification about how you deal with money.
Religion and politics: Some relationships work when there are diverse religious and political beliefs, but it is a strain. Stick to those who share your core beliefs.
Someone who shares your core beliefs about life, hygiene, use of time, etc.

Things you don’t want in a relationship:
Jealousy
Possessiveness
Immaturity
Extreme focus on outward appearances.
Incompatability with money.
Each person always trying to be the Alpha dog.
Lack of cleanliness.  Yes, we agreed that no one wants to live with a slob.

After a while, we realized that neither of us brought up that nebulous word “love,” nor did we include sex in our list. We both agreed that mutual respect is at the top of the list to cultivate, and that jealousy and possessiveness will kill any relationship.

[This essay is part of an unpublished book written by Nyerges, about growing up in Pasadena.  He plans to publish it in the next few years.]