Wednesday, January 13, 2010

2010 Birthday Run

I’d like to share with you my 2010 "birthday run." Since the mid-1970s, I have commemorated my birthday by doing a "birthday run," where I go to a local track and run one lap for each year, and recall the events of each year as I run. This year I ran around the casting pool in the Arroyo Seco. I enjoyed the coolness of the Arroyo and the wooded atmosphere.

I carried my little notebook with me to jot down significant memories. This year, it seemed that I was able to somewhat effortlessly get into my life re-view. The details of my life are not especially important (except to me). Rather, I’m sharing this so you can feel the value of doing such a life –review on your birthday.

I began the run and the memories began to flow quickly.

I recall in 1956 being aware of my father, and feeling great compassion for him. I had no idea what challenges he faced at that time, but I realized in retrospect that I always took my parents for granted. And this feeling of compassion was quickly followed by a feeling of fear and dread. "Where am I?" I wondered, here in this new body, being born into this strange Pasadena city.

By 1958, as my awareness began to grow, I felt that there was great magic in the world – real magic and wonderful things – that I was not yet experiencing. I assumed that adults all knew about these truly wonderful things, but I eventually learned that adults did not. In fact, most adults were the enemies of magic and wonder.

By the late 50s, I realized I was "learning" from my older brothers. This means I learned mostly bad things, learning to tame the dark side in order to be "cool," or accepted. I was both attracted to this dark side, and repelled by it.

I also felt a great attraction to the idea of being a priest. This seemed to be the possible path to the magic, and my mother often talked to me about this, though it was not a formal path that I would ever take.

I couldn’t yet read when in Kindergarten, but a Japanese girl in my class would read comics to me. My mind was awakened by the magic of words, and I was spellbound that another classmate had a skill that I lacked.

I realized that I didn’t talk much by first grade, but watched and observed others very closely. I received a lot of attention in October of 1961 when, during art class, I made a picture of a witch flying through the air on a broom, while everyone else made jack-o-lantern images, as instructed. In retrospect, I thought perhaps this was a sign to me of some past-life affinity to Wicca.

While running, I began to talk to Dolores, and looked up to see clouds in the sky that seemed to be Dolores "talking" to me. Then a V-formation of squaking ducks flew by, which made me happy, and made me feel that there is always hope.

I ran through grammar school this way, recalling significant incidents that affected me. But I realized now that I had a very little world, with very narrow horizons. I went to school, watched TV, did homework, went back to school. I felt that I needed, and should have had, far greater challenges even then.

By 1967, there was the allure of drugs, and I recall how marijuana opened my mind to world that was similar to the magic I believed existed. But I quickly realized that the mind-world of drugs was doing me no good: my health suffered, I had no friends, I was unproductive, always late, and unable to keep my word, so I quit taking any drugs.

My parents got a divorce, and eventually they got back together again. I was unable to see my parents as real people with their own life, and realizing this has made me far more compassionate towards them. I went through a period of great depression, and felt alone even though there were always people around. Maybe my parents knew no other way, but children at that formative age really need parents to be with them closely, and guide them into future endeavors. I was clearly ready for a lot.

I healed my pain by becoming a Buddhist, writing poetry, learning to play the drums, and starting martial arts. It was the beginning of a new life for me, and I felt a whole new world opening to me by the time I started 9th grade at St. Francis High School. I looked back now at the ridiculousness of wanting to be "in," and yet I spent a lot of time in that pointless pursuit.

Time flowed so quickly. I went to John Muir High school in 10th grade, and met Janice, who would be my first wife years later. I went to Ohio to get "back to the land" on my grandfather’s farm, and found that there was no life there for me. I traveled to Mexico, studied Spanish, visited pyramids, but still felt that I was not where I should be. I returned home, went to Pasadena City College and studied botany and journalism, and began Wild Food Outings in 1974, and a path of writing that has continued to this day.

I moved to Highland Park and Janice and I married in 1979, and I felt that I was on top of the world, despite my great ignorances. I was deeply involved in my studies with the non-profit WTI, and research and writing, and thought that I was to change the world. My marriage with Janice seemed OK, but we divorced after about 3 years, followed by a short period of homelessness by me.

Now, looking back, nearly all my "problems" could have been avoided if I had followed the principles I was saying I believed in: always keep your word, get it right from the beginning, don’t pursue purely material things.

My relationship with Dolores had begun and we got married when I was working at a Christian Science church in 1986. We had a fantastic first anniversary at our new home. I recall having such an awe of Dolores, seeing such vast potential and ability that she didn’t even see in herself. It seems we never see ourselves as others do. We pursued our dreams together. During our years together, I saw that we often were on slightly different paths, but we took the time to communicate and tried to solve the problems that arose. We did this a lot, as were by no means perfect.

I began to teach at Escalon (for developmentally disabled adults) and Dolores would often pick me up and we’d go shopping together. It was a happy time for me, and I could not help but cry as I ran, thinking back of all the little things I could have done better for Dolores and for our relationship

We had a wonderful trip to Tahlequah, OK for the Commemoration of the Trail of Tears in 1989 –we’d studied the Cherokee language together and wanted to visit our teacher in Oklahoma.
I quit that job and worked with Dolores at her Rainbow Garden Service for awhile, one of the many businesses that she would eventually start.

We began a pencil business, went to craft shows, wrote articles. It all went so fast, like a whir. I was like an observer seeing these events flow by, not realizing how rapidly flows the river of time. Maybe it was the oxygen, and running around a body of water, but I was deeply re-experiencing my life as I ran.

I saw myself take on the editor job of the Mensa magazine, redoing my Guide to Wild Food book, my writing for American Survival Guide magazine, and teaching cooking classes with Dolores at our home. We saw the Y2K fear come and go, and it forced us to put in solar electricity and solar water heating. Both my parents died, and Dolores assisted me in "being with" them during that time. We wrote our Extreme Simplicity book, and appeared on Huell Howser’s show. And I did some TV work, showing survival skills as Nature Man on Fox’s X show.

I always knew that everyone dies. Yet it was so hard to deal with it – my canine pal Cassius Clay died and I felt I lost a part of myself.

I loved it when Dolores came to the farmers market and sold her linens and antiques. It all went too fast. I could not help but focus on Dolores in the last years, our arguments, attempts at resolution, all my errors, and finally Dolores’ illness and my assisting her around the clock. She called it "Christopher’s Heavenly Hospital" as I took care of Dolores, kept the room warm, listened to music, and made plans for our future. I didn’t think Dolores would die, and my life was very dark with inner chaos and unspeakable sadness when she died. We’d become closest, best friends in our final weeks, and during my last year – my last lap of running – I couldn’t concentrate on much else but Dolores, and how I wished things were different. It felt that my tears were scarring my face.

When done running through my life, I sat with Nicole and tried to relate some of this – the "what to do" things, like keep your word, and do the right thing, and how times just flies, all the things we hope we learn before it is too late to matter. Nicole was a wonderful support, and organized a group of friends on the evening of my birthday. It was impossible to relate to everyone all the details of the run – except that I felt it was so good to have done the run. It was not simply a "review," but a re-living while re-feeling what had happened. It was truly as if I’d died, experienced a review of my life, and was born-again. It seemed to be my most significant run ever.

Upon reflection, I realized that all the "sayings" and rules we get from our priests and rabbis and parents were indeed survival tools of the utmost sort, designed to keep us on a straight and narrow path, the only path to real freedom and true peace.