“You Americans and Your Guns….”
the Canadian border official as he was confiscating the two pistols I
had forgotten I had behind the seat in my truck. I was traveling to
Victoria, BC on a sightseeing venture after a Men’s Weekend on Whidbey
Island, Washington. It was part of an extended road trip that
originated in San Antonio and wound up through Chicago, Milwaukee,
Casper, Wyoming and then Whidbey where I was the sweat lodge leader for
the weekend. The guns belonged to my San Antonio daughter and I had
totally spaced that I had stuck them in my truck and hadn’t really
intended to be carrying them on this trip at all. And now they were
gone, and they were sort of expensive and, as noted, didn’t even belong
Embarrassing, and a costly oversight. But what
stuck with me, even all these years later, I’d guess that was in the
early 90’s, was how we were seen by people outside of our culture. “You
Americans and your guns.” Yeah. What th’ hell is that all about anyway?
Well, we know damned well what it’s about. It’s
about our being sold on the concept of fear beginning with the gun
manufacturers, the gun lobby, the “Second Amendment” fanatics (and the
gross distortion of that bit of our Constitution which serves their own
ends) the fear-mongering media, the politicians who have their own
vested interests to serve, and our romantic notions of what and who we
are as a nation. i.e. we got where we are by virtue of having more and
better guns (don’t forget “guts”) than the other guys. We outshot the
Brits, the Indians, the Mexicans, the Spanish, the South, the outlaws,
the Germans, the Japanese, the Italians….then we got outsmarted by the
North Vietnamese…..uh, but let’s not get into that.
Fact is, GUNS, more and better GUNS will keep
us and our families “safe”. (It says that right here in this gun ad and
in our Wild West culture.)
No matter what the statistics say, we are all
safer when we are armed and ready. “…..if we’re trained!” says one gun
advocate friend of mine. (Let’s not get into the fact that cops are
“trained” and yet that hasn’t prevented a few of them from shooting
unarmed people when they feel threatened.)
“All those mass shooting wouldn’t have happened
if there had been some good person present who was armed!” goes another
claimant. The fact that Gabby Gifford was shot when three “good people”
who were armed stood around her and made no difference in the outcome
doesn’t seem to enter into this pattern of thinking.
When that border inspector said what he said, I
(sort of) remember thinking, “Hey, I’m not like those gun nuts
Americans. I just happen to have a couple of guns in my truck. I don’t
do this routinely.” That was true in that scenario. But it wasn’t true
a few years later when I did routinely carry a gun. And it changed me
for a time.
If someone got aggressive in traffic there was,
somewhere back in my thinking, a thought that went like this, “Hey!
You’d better not get pushy, I’ve got a gun.”
That’s a different response than I would have
had if I hadn’t had a gun. Sans fire power I would, and do, think,
“What a clown. I’ll just stay away from that one.”
As it turned out, I preferred the latter
response because I realized that the only way the former thought was
going to take me would be a road to greater and greater escalation.
Seems our society is having the same experience.
The fallout for me from the Men’s Weekend, 2016
well I’d think, that by the time I hit my 8th decade in life I’d have
it all figured out……the “all” being Life & Me of course. But no! It
took yet another Men’s Weekend to dredge up some hauntings from the
past and exhumations of long buried feelings to make things
“interesting” yet again post gathering.
To wit; despite being told, even assured quite
often of late, that I, yes ME, I have made quite a positive difference
in a number of lives it was only after “owning” that affirmation in
front of people that I was then plunged into some deep work on myself.
The circumstances were that in the midst of our
regular Give-Away Ceremony at the end of the weekend I stood up to have
my say about how I saw and experienced the event and somehow got around
to admitting that maybe, just maybe, some people came to these things,
Long Dance, Vision Quest, Men’s Weekends, etc. not only because we,
Elizabeth and I, do interesting stuff, but because of me and what I
have to give or “teach”, though I still shrivel at the “teach”
thing…offer maybe, but teach, that seems like a stretch too far. Seems
Anyway, there I was, standing up in front of a
bunch of people saying, not from ego but from honesty, that maybe some
would come to experience……me! This is a tough claim for me to stake.
Of course I know what I want to do ALWAYS is to
be clear and authentic. I know I’m not really the brightest bulb in the
Spiritual chandelier, maybe I’m simply a clever guy, not in the
manipulative sense, just that I’m able to tell a pretty good story and
have got a memory storage unit full for just about any occasion. (None
of them fictionalized or embellished to suit some hidden agenda.)
I’ve got some wisdom about life too, and I really, really want to
help. I take that Emerson line, “…to know one person has breathed
easier because you lived.” to heart. In the end I want that to be said
about me. I can’t imagine a higher honor.
And, as with any of us I’ve got some crap in the closet, so my
work is to keep trying to clear that out, sometimes by ‘fessing up,
sometimes by just letting it go. I chose what works best for me and
don’t believe in a one-size-fits-all approach.
But my standing up there and saying that I
MIGHT have to accept the possibility that some people being attracted
by how I do me and thus how the workshops I, and we, present have some
power to support change, seemed incredibly risky. But I did it………and
then Pandora’s box was opened. By me.
And here came the flood of guilt and shame.
First of all, whenever I end an email to
someone I close with; “Love from our OZ! to yours.” I capitalize both
letters in Oz to create a picture of those emerald towers, and I add an
exclamation to communicate its singular importance, i.e., that the
Emerald City represented Hope, and that’s what I “hope” our place and
what we create here represents for all who experience it. After all,
that’s what it has been for us. But…!
Yes, there was a “But”, a fly in the ointment,
a shadow in the spotlight that always bothered me about that allusion.
In the end, the Wizard was unmasked as a fraud and I wondered if deep
down inside I wasn’t one too.
Why would I think that? Because one of the
themes of the weekend, or for that matter, many a weekend I and we have
created, has been “Who do you THINK you are?” because in that question
there is both the power of self-delusion and the potential for change.
And who did I think I was? Over the years; a kid who was dancing as
fast as he could, working on an honest choreography of life. A kid with
so-called shameful secrets, in short, the guy behind the curtain. By
the way, in my experience that “shameful secrets” thing is usually very
subjective. Though there might be some things any of us would concur
ARE things to be ashamed of, many are, objectively, quite ordinary
blunders that we, standing outside the experience might see as having
little or no real shame potential at all. Often confessions of these
things to others might be met with, “What’s the big deal?” responses
which are not helpful. Because though the event itself may not
objectively seem to be something we would consider to be worthy of
condemnation, the power of how we have felt about it, over time,
becomes more and more discomforting. What may have been a small weed,
fed with enough guilt food, becomes a sequoia.
So! The guy behind-the-curtain; his being
exposed as a fraud, I came to realize, wasn’t the end of the story nor
was it how it turned out. In fact he was an honest man, a bit of a
bumbler to be sure, but an honest man who had taken on the task of
creating a place of Hope, and the job he took on was the promotion of
that idea. He didn’t work for personal gain, unless you consider his
role as The Great and Wonderful Wizard of Oz! a kind of ego payment. He
felt the need to create that fašade because he had little confidence
that his simple personage would be able to sell the concept. He wasn’t
a “fraud”, he was a man with a great heart who wanted to help in the
only way he knew how, with showmanship. We can fault the smoke and
mirrors, but certainly not the intent.
Well, that’s not me, i.e., I don’t do smoke and
mirrors, I just do me and I hope there’s enough communicated about the
value of honesty and the power of personal risk in the service of
highest purpose to be worthy of the title, “The Wiz”.
As my Italian grandmother used to say to me
over and over again, “Non cha be shamed!” At the time, I thought is was
something that came out of her experience of being an immigrant in a
time when Italians were were seen as “….lower than Negroes.” (an
observation made by W.B. Duboise). But now I know that it’s a
one-size-fits us all.
I’m owning that one, and gifting it to you as
well. No matter what, when it comes to our self imposed and inflated
sense of guilt about ANYTHING; “Non cha be shamed!” and love from
us here in OZ! and from the guy who stands in front of the curtain.