Sunday, February 23, 2020

Our Journeys Intersected

“You channeled that painting.” Amy said, looking intently into my eyes. 
We were standing in our kitchen after she came home from a remarkable experience at our gallery. I thought about her words, and wondered “Did I?” Then remembering how the image felt like a baby needing to be born and I had to give birth, I said, “Yes, you are right.”

I have seen images in clouds and made paintings of landscapes with clouds resembling flying geese. I have photographed heart shapes in the formations of clouds drifting over the horizon. Last summer I responded to a yearning to make a large painting that included clouds forming a heart above our terrain—and included two horses, grazing peacefully under the symbolic heavens.

A few days ago Amy came home from work and told me of a remarkable interaction which occurred. A couple arrived to the gallery and within moments revealed some events that had led them to her. The woman, Cyndi, explained they lived in Colorado and she had been browsing at an outdoor rummage sale and saw my book, A Heart Traced In Sand. I wrote it after my daughter Naomi died at age nineteen. It has won two awards and found its way many places. She was immediately drawn to it because of the heart on the cover, and explained that ever since her 11 year old daughter died she had been surprised seeing hearts in strange places and thought the symbol was a sign of love sent by her angel. She took the book home and while reading the story was astounded that our daughters shared similar fates. Each had the same rare form of cancer called Ewing’s Sarcoma.

The book deeply moved Cyndi for our shared narrative.

When she came to Santa Fe with her husband Jim for a get-a-way, they somehow found my gallery to connect with me.

“They are returning to the gallery tomorrow to meet you.” Amy said. “Both loved the painting with the heart in the sky. He said it was too expensive and they found another one they liked. But she really loves the heart one.” 

The next day the couple arrived again and I felt warmth immediately. We talked at length about our shared experiences. I learned that their daughter Maggie took 7 months to die before passing away six years ago. Naomi struggled two years and left this world 20 years ago. Like me, Cyndi wrote a book. When little Maggie learned she was terribly ill and might not live, she started a journal. Her mother helped her be brave and know that life goes on after death of the body. The journal became inspiration for the book. 

After Maggie died, the parents started a charity in her honor and have helped many terminally ill children be able to receive hospice care and die at home among loved ones.

When it came time to decide on a painting, Cyndi looked longingly at the heart painting. We talked about the symbols; her attraction to the heart in the sky and also the horses. "They are spirit beings and represent freedom and power." I said. 
"We own horses." she said. 
Meanwhile Jim stood in front of the little landscape painting of sunflowers. 
I felt they should have the big piece and decided to come down considerably on the price. They looked at each other knowingly, took a deep breath and said, “We will take it.”

I knew it belonged to them from the time it began in my own heart.

“Today is the anniversary of Maggie’s death.” Cyndi said. 

How remarkable that our journeys intersected in such profound ways.

Interestingly, for the last week I have been totally absorbed digging into Naomi’s journals and diaries, and going through photographs and artwork. Soon, A Heart Traced In Sand, Reflections on a Daughter’s Struggle For Life, published in 2001, will become available as an eBook. The eBook version will be able to include examples of her original works, thoughts and historical family photos from her beginning to end.

“Yes,” Amy said, “the painting came from spirit and and arrived to them by spirit.”
I feel the truth in what she says.

In every heart there is a deep sorrow, one that edges in like a whisper on a cold night. The delicacy of a person who is outwardly strong is as delicate as a rose before a frost inwardly. —Naomi Boone, from her journals, age 16

Sunday, February 16, 2020

Chain of Life

When I go to my fitness club to swim I often meet friends who arrive around the same time. Furthermore, by the time I get to the hot tub, usually a person I know is there.
The other day during my routine of using the steam room, showering, using the tub and then swimming laps, I met Carlos and Daniel in the hot tub. We talk and relax. Carlos is an atheist of sorts. I used the word “God” and he objected that "God" is nonsense. Like many other non-believers, he insists God is an invention of man’s mind.
Carlos and I went back and forth about it for a few minutes before I went to the pool to swim, and he went back to the lockers, calling to me, “Steve! You are God!”. I grinned back at him, “And so are you!”
For a few moments as I swam laps, I thought of Carlos and I as God. It felt good to be so powerful. 

I am not under any delusion that I am God. 
When I was a young adult, I was a non-believer without religion. Then in my freshman year at college, my soul talked to my mind and asked, “Do you believe in God?” For days, as I walked the university campus and attended classes, I grappled with the question. Looking around at creation, including my own life, I thought, “Something Greater must have made this world and it’s beings.” Scientists cannot create even one blade of grass. I struggled thinking that many gods might exist throughout the limitless universes. Why not? 

At last, I concluded that if God exists, then His attribute of being All-Powerful would preclude any opposition—since if there were a power outside of Himself that existed it would mean He was limited. I knew from the philosophy class I was taking at the time that this would be an a-priori contradiction in terms.

As Carlos and I spoke in the hot tub, I asked, “Where do you think humans come from?” He answered from “nature” through “natural selection.”

A couple days later, while thinking back to Carlos and his view of evolution, an image came to my mind of humans evolving from worms. Simple forms had to evolve to more complex. Worms came into existence 518 million years ago. Man is only about 200,000 years old. 

So where did man come from? He descended from simpler life forms such as worms.

My view is God made humans and gave us powers not unlike His own. Our evolution is such that at one time we may have looked like a worm, or a reptile, or other mammal. Just like in the womb, at one time we looked like a tadpole, or something with a tail, not resembling human. But in time, a beautiful human being is born. 

This is the chain of life; by divine plan and the Hand of God.

Sunday, February 02, 2020

Fists Against The Wall

Last weekend was the 75th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz, the notorious German concentration camp in Poland where in just two years over 1 million innocent people were put to death: men, women and children. The anniversary comes and goes each year and there are memorial events at the former killing grounds that attract fewer and fewer survivors and many visitors. For some reason, this year I began reviewing more about what happened. In high school, during a period when I read dense and important world literature, I also read The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich, by William Shirer, (1245 pages). It is mostly forgotten in my mind after 50 years. 

Amy saw that I was studying and getting emotional about what had happened. She pulled a book off of her bookshelf, a small hardback. Saying nothing, she put it on my dresser. Within a day I had begun reading Night, by Elie Wiesel (September 30, 1928 – July 2, 2016). "In Night," Wiesel said, "I wanted to show the end, the finality of the event. Everything came to an end—man, history, literature, religion, God. There was nothing left. And yet we begin again with night.” ( In the above picture, he is in the second row, seventh from left.)

Simultaneously I looked online at pictures of the holocaust and the Nazi perpetrators. Photos of mothers and children being herded off boxcars to take them to the gas chambers, of skeletal forced laborers in horrid conditions, of despicable ghettos imprisoning isolated Jewish populations before being wiped out. I found myself getting angry and researching what became of the Nazi commanders, then seeing them hanged and thinking, “It serves you right.”
A page from Naomi's journal

“Auschwitz is outside of us, but it is all around us, in the air. The plague has died away, but the infection still lingers and it would be foolish to deny it. Rejection of human solidarity, obtuse and cynical indifference to the suffering of others, abdication of the intellect and of moral sense to the principle of authority, and above all, at the root of everything, a sweeping tide of cowardice, a colossal cowardice which masks itself as warring virtue, love of country and faith in an idea.” 
Primo Levi, (Italian, 31 July 1919 – 11 April 1987)  Auschwitz survivor

I grew up in a non-religious household. No mention was made of God or religion. My father worked hard as a social engineer, alongside Robert Kennedy and Sergeant Shriver. HIs time was spent constructing solutions to injustice and implementing them. Once when a teen-ager and I had recently found God, he quoted Karl Marx to me: “Religion is the opiate of the masses.” I took exception, noting all the good that has come from Christian charity and the spread of principles of equality and love.

At nineteen I became a Baha’i, a religion teaching the essential worth of all religions, and the unity and equality of all people. Established by Baháʼu'lláh , (Persian, November 12, 1817 – May 29, 1892) in 1863, it initially grew in Persia and parts of the Middle East, where it has faced ongoing persecution since its inception. 

A beloved Baha’i prayer by Abdul-Baha, the son of Baha’u’llah includes the exhortation, “I will not dwell on the unpleasant things of life, nor will I let trouble harass me .” But what if life itself is cataclysmic without hope? What if there is no pleasantness to enjoy? 
Certainly there were those in the concentration camps who had seen their loved ones marched to the gas chambers, had felt the sting of smoke in their eyes from the furnaces incinerating bodies, and lived without hope in wretched unthinkable existence. Some, like Job’s wife might have thought “Curse God and die!” They are forgiven. Wiesel himself, after surviving the death camp spoke in an interview: “Some people who read my first book, Night, they were convinced that I broke with the faith and broke with God. Not at all. I never divorced God. It is because I believed in God that I was angry at God, and still am. The tragedy of the believer, it is deeper than the tragedy of the non-believer.” (See )

When my beloved daughter Naomi fell victim to cancer at seventeen, I had to watch her endure her own holocaust. Dreadful pain spread itself in her body. Doctors said she had little chance to live and she began torturous chemotherapy treatments, locked away from the world at large. Many times, during my own “dark night of the soul,” I found myself thinking, beseeching, how could a loving God allow this? Alone, I beat my fists against the wall and wailed. 

Naomi had to meet her own point of no return. Many times in fact. Did she not wonder perhaps if God had forgotten her? She once said, “I hope not to die a slow, painful death.” But that is exactly what God had in store for her. That was her fate. She fought hard for life, weeding out any semblance of negative thinking that might interfere with her healing. Yet the slow, inexorable death march toward the gas chamber continued. At one point, exhausted, she sought to take her life and be done with it. Like in the Jimi Hendrix song, Castles Made of Sand, where he sings: 

There was a young girl, whose heart was a frown,
'Cause she was crippled for life, and she couldn't speak a sound
And she wished and prayed she could stop living,
So she decided to die
She drew her wheel chair to the edge of the shore, and to her legs she smiled
"You won't hurt me no more"
But then a sight she'd never seen made her jump and say
"Look, a golden winged ship is passing my way"
And it really didn't have to stop, it just kept on going.
And so castles made of sand
Slips into the sea, eventually . . .

One fateful evening in Santa Barbara, California, Naomi swallowed pills, arrived to a lonely beach and walked into the Pacific Ocean to drown. She was saved when she saw a stranger walking and her conscience would not allow her to take her life in front of an innocent person.

She went on to live another seven months before dying at home with peace in her heart. Just before, she had a dream of being on a blissful cruise. In feeble handwriting she managed to write it down on a scrap of paper.

A number of times during the ordeal I found myself down on knees praying fervently for help. I could see the innocents being herded toward the ovens, clutching their little ones and asked, “Please help.” Several times the veils parted and to my surprise I saw angels, in complete tranquility, smiling. Over in a flash, I thought, “but how could you be smiling?” 

After Naomi died, we bathed and dressed her in her bed and put a ring on her finger. It is part of the Baha’i ceremony for the deceased. The ring says: “I came forth from God, and return unto Him, detached from all save Him, holding fast to His Name, the Merciful, the Compassionate”. 

And this is my belief, that this life is a sort of veil and it is lifted when we die.

For those millions who died during the holocaust, the experience was inscrutable. 

Death reaches us all. Some are born and live but a few moments, others longer, but in eternity, this life is but a blink of the eye for everyone.

On that glad night,
in secret, for no one saw me,

nor did I look at anything,

with no other light or guide

than the one that burned in my heart.
This guided me

more surely than the light of noon

to where he was awaiting me

— him I knew so well —

there in a place where no one appeared.