A Brief History of Gravestones and a Dream Awakening: A Chronicle of Pandemia

I left Lawrence (Kansas, don’t know any Lawrences currently) a little bedraggled–emphasis on the “draggled” with very little time to “be” in bed, at least asleep. It seems an Odyssey leaves little time for wanting to if not actually sleeping. It just seems more fun to see a world you’ve seen before with an eye for, well, different detail in contrast to meticulous detail. I didn’t really spend much time through Kansas and Oklahoma, except for the approximately 9 arduous hours of flat and open space. It isn’t surprising to see how . . . .uneven people have become here and how much many, though not all, cling to the ownership of land and privilege so thoroughly wrested from other more original inhabitants, but who nonetheless were migrants and immigrants themselves. I had breakfast at truck stop (takeout to my car) and was struck by the generally Latino/Latina workforce, most serving food, but others taking care of the “grounds” cleaning up the parking lot so that truckers and drivers don’t trip over all the trash they offhandedly throw everywhere but in the trash bins. It was as if I was transported (sic) to a different time; some slaves taken from conquered tribes by Mayans or Aztecs, cleaning the steps to pyramids and markets so that artisans and farmers of the “nation” could do their business without the filth they were prone to create. Here, today, were the descendants of the progeny between Europeans and indigenous people, having mgrated back to what were likely the ancestral lands of their native forbears. Returning to clean the pyramids to the gods paying tolls on a highway and feed the mouths and privilege of the “citizenry”.

Both Kansas and Oklahoma are lands that have special relationship to the Midwestern “Breadbasket” despite just being two among the many with the same kinds of story. As the Kansas Historical Society puts it:

“The land we now call Kansas had been home to many American Indian peoples. The Arapaho, Cheyenne, Comanche, Kansa, Kiowa, Osage, Pawnee, and Wichita are tribes that are considered native to present day Kansas. The area has also been inhabited by many emigrant tribes. Emigrant Indians are those people who have been moved to a new geographic region after being displaced from their original homelands. As non-native peoples became more numerous in the eastern part of the United States, plans were developed to move Indian tribes farther west.”

In short, Kansas was home to many native peoples, the originals were eiher eradicated or colonized and were joined by “emigrant” native people removed from their ancestral lands and made to live with the originals of what is now Kansas, a melting pot, emphasis on melting. Some of the people that came, and went, live on in names of creeks, rivers, and state counties. Driving through from Lawrence through to Fort Worth (Texas), you could see some of those that came and went, Osage, Pawnee, Wichita, a town in Oklahoma called Comanche.

Oklahoma is even more special, for much of early U.S. history, Oklahoma was the buddng nation’s open prison house of indigenous nations where people who were defeated and displaced to serve European settling ended up becoming “emigrants”, that is, a Leavenworth Penitentiary for the inconvenient in the way of “American Progress”.

The stories and history are just too numerous to tell here (there are many books on the topic, one very comprehensive one is 1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus by C. Mann. All I really want to say is that driving through these often barren lands was a bit like driving through a cemetary with only names of the gravestones written on county road signs and highway markers. Perhaps, the land seems more stark in coming winter and knowing how so many nattive people have suffered disproportionatelty in the pandemic. It was not lost on me to remember the effect of previous pandemics of Europe that were brought here by settlers, sometimes the virulents laced into blankets given to native people as part of “initiating” into . . .civilization.

The Kansas and Oklahoma territories were the last stop for many people who tried too vainly to forestall Pax Americana.

I say all this because this now second day in what I know will be a long journey is really a gateway to a history I need to feel and touch, see and hear on the wind, in the heat of day, and light of a moon. It’s also, likely most important to me, a gateway to the anger and despair we all live, but that is meaningful to understanding at the deepest level my own anger, despair, misbelief.

Wakefulness Into Dreaming: A Twist Before Dying

I said at the beginning of this post that today started off a bit bedraggled. I got to sleep very early. In the morning; about 5 am and slept fitfully until about 10 am. Maybe it was because of a strange bed, or because I didin’t follow my well established regimen for sleeping, ‘honed” in my retirement. It’s amazing the things you need that you packed in your car so you wouldn’t have to buy them on the road; my new iPhone charger (yes, I’ve entered the dark side. Blame my daughter for that. ), charger for my headset, mouthwash but in a different bag, some clementines and crackers (don’t ask) to settle your stomach when you take some medications. . . and, oh yes, your favorite pillows from home to supplement the six available in your twin queen bed hotel room (you really don’t want to know). Hence, what you could have brought in one trip upstairs, ends up being three (the distance between room and parking lot in a large, mostly empty hotel will surprise you) . All around 2 to 3 am. And then sleep, perchance to pretend with your eyes closed hiding the fact that you are wide awake.

I finally did get to sleep, woke up to my alarm at 8 and then promptly decided to just close my eyes awakening about 9:43 after an amazingly deep but brief REM (like) sleep.

And here’s the point (and you thought there wasn’t one, didn’t ya?). As, well, some may know, your dreams come to you after a REM sleep in the period just before waking. They sometimes feel like they are longer but they aren’t. And, of course, there are many good and not so good theories about dreams. You can believe of them as you will. My view, is that everything you dream, everybody in it, is really all about you and the parts of you that people in your mind seem to represent (yeah, you may think otherwise, analyze away for yourelf). For a very long time, I have had several recurring dreams. I know they are because many of them I wake remembering only the most general details; some murderer finding ways to kill me that are only effective if he finds a way to saw through my spine–from the front, a house that holds all my family including my deceased mother (but not my deceased father), a young alternatively blond, sometimes brown-haired girl who has become my new love (yeah, there’s lots there, not the point here, pay attention), and a young dark-haired angry, desperate, self-loathing boy. Even now, the images are receding, which tell me that this dream is by no means over for me. But in my dream last night, I struggle with this boy, fighting with him for being such an angry louse, such a petulant, emotionally manipulative child and how he has ruined just about everything including any chance at love. . . I only remember the struggle. And the conclusion. I kill the boy in the most visceral way, taking hold of him and jumping off the building (it’s a building this time) to our common death, a death that somehow I know we will survive, so, just before we leap, I snap his neck so that I know that he is dead.

And this dream has been recurring for a very long time. It comes as no surprise to me that it occurs during a time of what has been emerging resolution, especially in exposure of a “core hurt” (a word borrowed from a friend) that has resurrected itself for yet one more time in my all too not so young, but very youthful (that is to say, immature) life. I’ve been struggling for a while with fear of acceptance that often manifests as coming on too strong in connection to relationships that are promising but really only just beginning; the fear that you will lose out if immediate full gratification doesn’t show itself right away. Or, when gratification comes but then you wonder if it isn’t real, or you’re not “ready” or a myriad of other ways that some people call an issue with “object permanence”. When you’re a smart guy, you can fool a lot of people that you have it all together. When you’re a caring guy, you spend a lot of time wishing you could be better. And it can be . . . .enlightening when you meet some caring and very smart, loving people and they call you on all of it, sometimes in soft ways where their unconditonal positive regard humbles you and sometimes with a clear rejection of your hurting and emotional self-manipulation, which to them is just manipulation.

I am here on this journey knowing the very real danger that is out here in a pandemic that is running rampant. I only recently became clear that I face another danger, one that is not a problem of acute mental health (at least I don’t think so), but because while I have tried, often with apparent success, “killing off” that angry, distraught, emotonally stunted little boy (sure, you can insert dad issues, mom issues, whatever. But I’m a grown-ass man, so, you know, no) , I think that killing him off has been exactly the problem. Last night, or rather, somewhere between 8 am and 9:43 am today, I sensed something a little new. At the very moments just before waking, I heard myself say something, not to problem child, but to me directly. Only one word, and it has blossomed into ever growing thoughts around, Compassion.

I’ve made lots of emotional errors, and, if today is any indication, I will continue to do so. But I think that what I might try to do more is show myself compassion as I try to do better. I think it is best to be self-compassionate instead of seeking to eradicate a part of me that likely serves other purposes, my anger at the historical injustices of the world we inhabit and species we represent, my disbelief that just because you’re “smart” means you can be complacent in not learning more, and the recognition that just because we’re old, doesn’t mean we are completely mature. Smart is as smart does and mature does as mature is.

Well, like I said, it’s a long journey into this dark night fueled apparently by sharing, really baring, deeper recesses of your soul. I’m not sure it’s what I’d counsel anyone to do. Hell, I’m really very tempted just to set this off permanently into “draft” mode. But I think I have learned one thing about myself. I’d rather choose honesty and truth. We may not know the entire truth and we may not always succeed at being completely honest (some people may argue that hiding some is a good idea, ’cause, you know, creepy otherwise). I do know that I’d rather all of you within the “sound” of my voice hear me being honest and as truthful as I currently know to you. You deserve that and I no longer wish to have you like me without this rather unendearing transparency.

If I walk alone. It’s ok. I’ve been so fortunate to know, some a lot, some too precious little, such wonderful humans. I believe that our problems, certainly regarding me, are not that we are men or women, but that we are humans. We often say something similar in the positive, that “we’re only human”, so, we can’t expect perfection. That is true, but it is also true that because we’re human, we make such terrible mistakes. . . I almost said “unimaginable” mistakes, but you know that isn’t true. We imagine horrific mistakes, make them, and then chalk it up to being human, so, “do over”.

And still, I think our greatest tool out of all of that is for us to be gentler with ourselves, with each other, compassionate. Because in our compassion for ourselves and for others, there is the chance that we can imagine, and then do, better.

I’m gonna try.

Maybe tonight, a dream, perchance to sleep.

2 thoughts on “A Brief History of Gravestones and a Dream Awakening: A Chronicle of Pandemia

  1. This is very powerful with such deep sharing. Your desire to be transparent and “bare” comes shining through. And what a beautiful being you are.


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