OK, let’s be frank. It wasn’t a healthy day because I ended up at McDonald’s eating “ice cream” and drinking Coca Cola (sweetened, possibly, with genetically engineered high-fructose corn syrup). It was healthy in terms of movement away from an awful start.
I met with Rabbi X at her invitation. I had sent her a response to a short essay she wrote about how we know God. We were happy to see each other after my departure and extended absence from her congregation. She graciously allowed me to describe my understanding of the human predicament, and I cried as I outlined my thoughts, a rare thing for me. She could see my passion and my concern. On her part, she expressed concern that I was thinking and writing on my own, rather than allying myself with some established mainstream organization.
At one point she said she was worried that if I became too enmeshed with my ideas, I could become unbalanced. I might go down the path toward insanity. After an hour, in which I gave her a copy of my latest written piece, she deftly concluded the meeting.
I left feeling quite unbalanced. I was very unhappy. I’ll tell you, there is nothing so effective at making a person feel insane as suggesting that he might be going insane.
With difficulty I drove to the college and dropped off some paperwork. I was wound up (or “unwound” as the Brits might say). I felt the urge to withdraw into myself. And then I remembered the historic gardens at Rancho Los Alamitos in Long Beach. There was a healing place that I had not visited in a long time. I arrived at a quarter to one, fifteen minutes before its official opening time. The gatekeeper let me pass anyway. Could he read something in my eyes?
I signed in and chatted briefly with the elderly volunteers. Then, as I strolled through the gardens, I reacquainted myself with some old friends. The tree with the green blossoms. The succulents with the hazy blue coating. The bamboo stand that clacks in the breeze. The lily pads with their buoyant bladders. (Were they waiting for some frog to land? None to be seen.) The fragrant wisteria that had the grace to bloom just when I would show up.
During all this, a daughter returned my call. This also cheered my spirits. As one who is familiar with my “strange ideas” and my journey to express them, she agreed with me that perhaps it is those who cannot see where the world is headed who are the truly insane ones. They live a delusion and call it the truth. As the majority, these misguided ones have “normality” on their side, and they pity the person whose gaze rests a hundred years forward.
Toward the end of the visit at the Rancho, I chatted with Bob Bottomley, one of the volunteers. He gave me a peek at the restored barn area and the almost-completed educational center. He pointed out the old red and yellow “beet wagon”. He taught me that red paint for barns was simply a cheap expedient, being a mixture of iron oxide, linseed oil and milk. And he taught me a new word, midden. It actually means a refuse heap, but it explains the broken sea shells poking through the dirt on the far end of the Rancho. This was where the Puvuu’nga Indians would gather to consume their catch from the sea.
Later I bought a few items at Trader Joe’s and at Target. In the checkout lines I made some friendly banter with cashiers and patrons. Thus, I reveal to you two secrets I have learned. First, the mass of humanity is like a garden with flowers waiting to be picked. We call these flowers smiles. It is a sure-fire way to brighten up the table of one’s mind. And the second secret? Hmm. I forget. Am I a tease, or what?
No, wait! I remember! It is this. You can act cheerful, even when you hurt inside. With luck, the hurt will disappear.
Before I went into Target, I signed four petitions to help qualify initiatives for the November election. The nice young woman admitted that she was being paid to gather signatures. But I took my revenge! I made her sign my petition for the initiative to label genetically modified food. And a by-passer did, too!
Finally, I ended up at McDonald’s. Imbibing the forbidden sweet things, I plugged away at my netbook.
The highlight of that episode was a chance to chat with two British women studying abroad at California State University Long Beach. I boyishly talked about myself and encouraged them on their journeys. Their youth made me smile, and, so I found the tables turned. They were picking my flowers.
They left. I chatted some with a man wielding a Mac about the virtues of relational databases such as MS Access. Off he dashed, and I was left alone to do some more work.
I left feeling drunk. High-fructose corn syrup will do that to you, at least metabolically, if not actually. And a horrible day was salvaged.