artwork by Nicholas Baz
Parris Island, SC
Sorry it has taken so long for me to write, but things are rather hectic here as you might imagine. It is not really more or less hectic than I thought it would be, but I must say I’m surprised at how some people are handling things (i.e., tears, pleas to leave, etc.). I’ve been made the scribe of the platoon in light of the fact that I am the only recruit with a college degree. The job is not bad and I think it keeps me out of a little bit of trouble, but my duties cut into my free time so my ability to write letters has been severely limited.
This is a very strange and rather bleak place Mom. While I don’t regret coming here, I must state honestly that each morning, there are pangs of unhappiness and longing for home. These pangs generally clear up by mid-morning once the sun begins to shine (we are awakened at about 5:00 every morning). I have had some really good times here so far and it feels nice to be getting in shape.
There are some really nice kids in my platoon and I seem to be getting along well with everyone.
I need to wrap this letter up now because time is short, but rest assured that I am safe and as happy as could be expected. I hope to hear from you soon.
Love Always, Chris
On the autumnal equinox of 1951, September 22, a singular day of equal light and equal dark, I decided to enter into the happy egg and sperm of my mother and father. I was planted in my mother’s womb as the northern hemisphere that was the environment around and about the Pentagon and Fort Belvoir in Alexandria, Virginia, began yet another slow descent into increasing darkness and cold. While most tillers of the soil had months ago planted their seeds in the warm sunshine of early spring and deep summer, and were now reaping the fruits, I guess you could say I was planted at harvest time. For some good reason, I was conceived just as the scales tipped into darkness, though I knew harmony from that first moment. I remember harmony.
The five-sided bunker was the sole place of employment for both my young Air Force ROTC-grad officer father and clerk typist mother. For those ensuing dark nights and windowless days in the cold- lit halls of the Pentagon, I had an embryo-eye view of the cavernous enclosure that housed diligent dark secrets of the United States Military Industrial Complex at its finest operations. My cells multiplied daily in a fortress of secrecy and fear. Surely fear permeated my mother’s and father’s bodies, as if the tribe of that community in which I was so deeply embedded revered some awesome dark force that promised to protect them, reward them, increase them, and so each member of the tribe would daily propitiate the God of Military Secrets through acts of obeisance and Zero Defects, evidence of reverence in the typewriter and cockpit, answering phones and saluting high priests dressed dark blue in winter, and desert brown in summer.
That my mother’s fear was visceral can be assumed without question. Fear flowed in her blood, nourished me and became my essence, bones, spine, and throat clutch. And to this very moment of the darkening moon’s wane on a Passover night nearly 56 years later, I have carried this legacy of fear like an iron shackle around my neck.
And what has this to do with anyone else in the country of my birth? Nothing at all, if we are truly heirs of an American dream of individuality, each of us truly endowed with equal opportunity. But if there are hidden potholes in our inheritance, and we feebly begin to intuit that something has gone terribly wrong with this picture, then a child nurtured in fear and groomed to be silent and obey the orders given in a strict military household, starts to seep out in bloody stains onto others’ lives, at school, at play, at work.
We Baby Boomers sprouted as a result of the age-old effort to erase memories of the carnage of war. My older sister and I were born before a decade had lapsed since the end of World War II, since 1945, leaving the memory of Auschwitz fading in the smoke of chuffing chimneys above huge incinerators roasting flesh of people like you and me. We were born out of a nationwide denial of the horrors of death. My parents seem to have been motivated by a complex and strange feeling as they grasped each other in a clutch with some kind of hope in life that quietly agreed to forget death’s power, and to forget the incomprehensible events that had taken place.
Things here are progressing and that is all I can ask for really. My loneliness has evaporated as the platoon becomes closer and works more and more as a unit. I hope all goes well with your preparations for your journey to Magdalena. It sounds as if you are finally prepared to make the journey safely. How go the Tarot readings? Well, I hope.
We have just won a trophy for marching this last Wednesday. We competed against the four other platoons in our company. This, of course brought us closer as a group and the spirit of giving and generosity continues to grow. It is wonderful to see a group grow together and to be an intrinsic part of it.
While my physical health is not top notch (just a scratchy throat) my spiritual and mental health are superb. Each night, I do my best to meditate in bed and center my being so that my rest that night will be as effective as possible.
On your postcard, you wrote of the pugil sticks and we have already participated in that activity. It is stunning to see the rage and viciousness that some people can summon at a moment’s notice. It is reassuring I suppose that we will be fighting (at least physically) on the same side.
I must conclude now Mom.
Love from your son always, Chris
Because of the conditions in the world right now— the many sentient beings, especially human children, who are suffering in the twelve countries afflicted by the recent Indian Ocean tsunami disaster; the many people who have died and continue to die and suffer because of the decisions made by the United States government in its War on Terrorism; because of the neglect of the desperate situation in Darfur in the Sudan of Africa; because of the devastation on the entire continent of Africa engulfed in the AIDS epidemic that has already killed 37 million men, women and children worldwide; because of the womb waters of Mother Earth being imprisoned behind man-made walls of concrete and sold and controlled for profit and power; because of the resultant diseased and clogged arteries of the waterways on the American continent that have been appropriated for commercial and militant purposes . . . because of these reasons, my heart is greatly troubled and I ponder day and night what I’m being called to do.
I know only this: that I will certainly die, and that in the short time remaining in this precious human life, my every thought word and action must be devoted to alleviating this great suffering.
much love, mom
We have all shackled ourselves in common squabbles . . . difference, diversity, disagreement, divisive ideas about an elusive enemy. Why hope? Why wake in a Midwest morning with eagerness to greet the new day? In a nation of depressed, drugged and sated people, we are staggering stupidly through each day, living out the American dream of gluttonous opportunity. We are all soaked to the gills in booze and pills and cherish the lies of all comers, as did our fathers and mothers of the Cocktail Generation before us, and our grandfathers and grandmothers of the bootlegging Depression, and our uncles and aunts who died alone and drunk in cheap hotel rooms.
And we provide glowing examples to our sons and daughters as we polish off a six-pack of Heineken in a single night, then pop a spouse’s Restoril to drown even the slightest dream of instruction offered unconditionally by a compassionate universal mind. Our child rarely sees us without a green bottle upturned to our lips—an infant sucking green milk, greedily, hungrily, attached and grasping. Those sons and daughters now labor at their own slow suicides in Iraq, in Afghanistan, on hundreds of U.S. military bases around the world, in their own backyards, their moral capacities shattered, putting the barrel of a gun to their tear-soaked lips to suck up their own death.
We have forgotten the overarching bond of sameness, of individual self being the same and equal to all other individual selves—our sameness as human beings, as earthly creatures. All of us were mothered and fathered into life. All of us suffer. All want inspiration, like my neighbor on the third floor above me who blasts and thumps the waves of black women’s voices daily and nightly to disturb my complacent mind.
Only the truth will save us. We know this in the core of our being here in these United States that are not so united as we might wish. The truth, the real truth of the cause for our current nightmarish behavior in this dysfunctional American culture, is only to be found in the inner life of each of us who satiate ourselves with the bulk of the world’s resources. I am not implying that we should hate ourselves for what we are inflicting on the planet so callously, or that we should descend into mired swamps of guilt and the negativity of self-flagellation, but that we should “Banish the one to blame for everything.” If I run out of people to blame for my suffering, I face the tough decision to find the resources within.
We all have to make a choice whether to increase our suffering, or to relieve the suffering of others.
We all know it is right to relieve the suffering of others.
We all know it is wrong to increase the suffering of others. These are truths none of us can argue. We all know that the waves of tides go out and come back endlessly. This is the universal truth of morality acknowledged by atheists and theists that we all lose so easily in the angry chattering of the political realm.
When I come to peace and stillness in my mind for a few minutes each day, I remember this truth. I cry for the tens of thousands of murdered Iraqis whose deaths my people have inflicted. My thoughts are with Gandhi and Martin Luther King on this matter, so I may have to die violently as they did for speaking and living this truth. But that is ok. If it will save my son from killing even one person and having to suffer the grievous consequences of that most heinous negative act in this lifetime and all future lifetimes, shoot me now.
The crying in the night of over 10,000 Arab- Americans imprisoned in this country is my fault. Nearly one million Iraqis and Afghans wounded, dying and dead . . . are my fault. That myself and my son and my niece and my nephew and my father and my grandfather have been and are conspirators in this bloodbath implicates me directly in the conspiracy to conquer the world and greedily consume its resources for me and mine alone.
As a Tibetan Buddhist of Welsh/Irish ancestry, if I do not acknowledge the morally-depraved conditions surrounding me as those of my own making, I am betraying my Marine Corps son, my Vietnam veteran Rand Corporation father, my psychologist mother, my U.S. Army niece, my Marine Corps. nephew, my Atomic Energy Commission grandfather, my reverently Catholic grandmother, my aborted daughter Pietra, my devoted and impassioned right- wing sister, my Rand Corporation Armenian terrorist expert sister, and my fervent and intelligent high- school teaching radical right-wing brother. I am betraying aunts, uncles, cousins, grandparents way way back including Martha Logan who traveled from Missouri to San Francisco in a covered wagon in 1864, and including Mary Todd Lincoln who knew too well her own darkness. The betrayal goes deep, all the way back to Wales and Ireland and Daleys and Hinseys and Morgans and Riesses and Lincolns, and Galbreaths and Thompsons and Logans and Sturgises. I betray them all each day that I perpetuate the lies that inflict such suffering on the earth.
Allowing 45,000 young people whose bodies are maimed inside and out to remain hidden under cover of darkness flown into Dover like dirt swept under a rug is tantamount to putting a gun to my son’s head and pulling the trigger. I think most of us are secretly happy that Bush and Obama are hiding these dead and wounded children because we don’t want to be responsible for them, no more than we want to be responsible for caring for our parents as they age. Tuck them all away in nursing homes and VA hospitals and let’s get on with our patio parties and cocktails, and ball games and channel-surfing and operas and symphonies and movies and health-spas and, geesh, 45,000 is not that many compared to 300,000 from the Vietnam War!
George Bush and Barack Obama are just mirror reflections of my own inner corruption. I put them in office by allowing the vote to be rigged two times as I looked the other way. I’ve done nothing as they’ve committed acts more heinous and impeachable than any previous presidents in this nation’s history back to the first George. Their crimes against humanity are my crimes against my children and my mothers. The truth of this suffering must be comprehended as a first step to eradicating this suffering. I could blame this man and that woman and that corporation, and I could give you reams of paper and articles about terrible injustices and we could all get wound up and fired up and angry and vengeful, enough to go out and inflict violence on those in power over us.
But the real question is . . . How do we stop the suffering? How can we be happy, how can we get back on the path, the pursuit of happiness, the pursuit of life that we initially set out to do? And what is liberty but the freedom from anger and hatred. I believe in a cause-and-effect universe. I believe that negativity causes suffering and goodness causes happiness. I believe that this is a universal law as indisputable as the ebb and flow of the ocean. If I create a negative action, I will experience the negative consequences of that action. It may be delayed, but when the conditions are right, the seed of negativity I planted will have expanded geometrically and will bear its sour fruit and make me miserable. If I have a positive thought, somewhere down the way, I will experience some small happiness as a result. It’s all up to me to create my own reality.
I’m sorry this letter is so late in coming but we have had a busy few weeks here. Let me wish you a slightly belated Mother’s Day and ask now if I can take you to dinner one night in celebration upon my return.
Things here are progressing well. With one or two notable exceptions, the platoon is doing extremely well. We just got done training on the rifle range. I qualified as a “sharpshooter” which is the medium rating. The entire time we were shooting, all I could think of or contemplate was the fact that for some, that very rifle would be used to take another’s life. For me, it was a bit different simply because I will probably never have to fire it in defense or offense [because I’m in front of a computer every day]: for me it is simply a sport that is conducted on the range (for most of the week, I was comparing it to shooting pool).
I had a rather long conversation with our Series Commander, a captain who has taken an interest in me simply because I have my B.A. [in philosophy.] [We talked] about philosophies of killing. It is his contention that when in war, “It is not about political agendas, it is about protecting the Marine to our left and right.” While I must applaud the sentiment somewhat, I also feel that the former cannot be separated from the latter: how can one truly say that political agendas play no part if it is the political that made the protection necessary in the first place?
Being here has, to a great extent, solidified my drive to become a part of the decision-making machine that drives human society.
The two above paragraphs have encapsulated my thoughts over the last two weeks (for there is very little time to think). I hope and pray (yes, pray . . . I am attending Catholic mass each week) that all is well with you Mom. All of my love to you and all those who you love.
My courageous son,
I can feel your troubled heart . . . you have before you the likes of a moral dilemma that has broken many before you and will break other young men and women of your generation after you. Will it break you?
O my love, these are extremely trying and challenging times for you. The existential struggle you are contending with is a microcosm of the macrocosm of this country and its people. What you do, how you behave, what choices you make, matter deeply because, in your position in the U.S. Military that has a chokehold on the world, you have great power.
How one uses such power determines one’s character, degree of dignity and degree of moral discipline.
Yet, I think you are beginning to realize a co- existent powerlessness that potentially pitches you into the throes of paradox. You are impotent and powerful at the same time. You are unable to question the morality of your superiors’ intentions because you are sworn to obey them unswervingly. At the same time, your power rests in your example as a morally dignified critical thinker courageous enough to say no to what you know to be wrong in your heart.
Hitler’s Youth followed his every order . . . how many of them had the courage to question his extermination of the Jews? How many were able to turn their backs on him and walk away with their conscience untainted from the act of mass murder? I imagine there were, out of thousands of young men like you, only as many as you could count on one hand who broke away from the status quo, and they were probably shot in the back as they refused to kill.
I see your dilemma as no less grave. My dear darling one, you have such a difficult task before you and I ache and cry at night and day because of your heavy burden. Here is where I am powerless as a mother to relieve you of any of your current and future suffering. You chose this path and I knew when you chose it that your Highest Self, the Divine in you was guiding you, and I believe that now and forever to be so. That is why I did not panic or try to persuade you not to enter the military which has shaped my entire life since I was growing in my mother’s—your grandmother’s—womb.
Suffering is our friend, not our enemy. Death is our friend, not our enemy. Suffering and Death are our greatest teachers. It is only our Clear Seeing, our Awareness of what is causing the unceasing cycle of suffering, the unceasing cycle of birth, aging, sickness and death, that will enable us to stop going around in circles and getting nowhere but the hell of our mortality. Instead of cleaning up our act in this lifetime, we put it off till the next, or the next, and waste our time by increasing our karmic debt instead of increasing our karmic merit. I wasted 48 years of this lifetime, guzzling alcohol and drugs, greedily eating and grasping and using ten times more than most of the world’s population. I finally understand the depth to which my greed has caused others to suffer.
The quandary you are in is of your own making and yours alone to figure out. Nor can I blame anyone, not my mother or father or sisters or brothers or husbands or son, for my suffering. Neither is anyone else responsible for my happiness, least of all this country’s government, despite giving me the “right to the pursuit of happiness,” (and now I’ve come to believe that any “right” I proclaim to be “mine” is innately a divisive act, increasing hatred in the world.) It is all up to me to relieve my own suffering and find my own happiness without harming others. And so on this basis, I’ve taken up the reins of my life. Only by quieting my mind and beginning to understand why I chose to be in this life is how I experience peace, and love, and sometimes real joy even in the midst of the corruption of war.
One has been told that each of one’s hands has a current of energy flowing through it. The left palm receives this flow and the right one sends the flow coming from this body one apparently inhabits for this peculiar human experience of a lifetime.
According to one Japanese Reiki master, when the left hand receives purely and without obstacle or blockage one’s female energy is working to her full potential. She allows herself to be completely penetrated by all impending forces. Likewise with one’s male energy in that when he sends forth a clear unbroken river of life force, a healthy male action is at work in the world.
Both palms are gently joined as if in prayer—like a positive and negative circuit connecting. The right hand sends forth just enough current into the left hand so that she is not trampled and bent back by being overwhelmed. And yet she has strength to hold her own. Her beautiful restraint is nothing without a tiny seed of maleness undergirding her. She allows his surging life force into her, yet counters and supports him with just enough strength and lean to keep him from tumbling into nothingness.
And he has a seed of femaleness in him that fosters this gentle restraint. And when those palms come to equipoise flush to one another, there is only one river flowing through this body, and it nourishes and inspires and energizes the entire realm. No dams. No fences. No blocked arteries. No clogs in the system of life in one’s body.
As with the microcosm of one’s body, so too with the macrocosm of this suffering realm, the planet Earth. If good male energy is strong, protective, embracing, defining, logical, pragmatic, reasonable, then good female energy is amorphous, creative, spacious, undefined, unconditionally accepting and nurturing. The constructive collaboration of these two essences of life is a universal law of nature fulfilled to its finest potential. So say the Buddhists. So say the Japanese Reiki practitioners, the acupuncture therapists, the yoga teachers, the Native Americans, the monks, the nuns, the lamas, et. al. These millions of beings also agree that the domination of one essence over the other just as surely leads to suffering, death and destruction. And if this is truly a natural law by which we all must abide to have even the slimmest hope for ultimate happiness, it seems a logical assertion that this is a viable perspective by which to view the disequilibrium of the planet Earth in the year 2008, with an aim to correct her imbalance. We do this with all humility, recognizing our egalitarian status within the realms of all living things.
So every morning, one checks the status of one’s male and female energies, the condition of the little boy and the little girl tumbling around one’s inner playground. As with oneself, so with the world, and surely one can do nothing to save anyone until she has freed herself from pain. She cannot balance the world, she can only balance herself . . . just yet. So, better to put one’s attention to inner tinkering. And the sometimes recalcitrant spirit embodied in a lotus crystal pendulum quivers, hangs dully, or meanders weakly back and forth in a straight line over each palm, and very often tells her she’s utter confusion and impotence made manifest. But when she writes, or meditates, or contemplates well, or dreams a teaching dream, or sobs quietly resting her cheek on the heart of a loving man, the lotus crystal sings in proper circles on each upturned hand.
My loving Mother,
Your last letter was wonderful Mom. I intend to re- read it immediately after finishing this letter to you. My time here on the Island draws to a close Mom, and my thoughts have turned back to seeing my family and being with my loved ones again.
I cannot put into words all of the experiences that I have had here, and even if I tried there would not be enough paper on this Island. When I see you, I will do my best to tell you everything that I can.
I am still hoping that you will be able to come to graduation. Beth has all of the information about it so contact her a.s.a.p. Do you think Nancy will attend?
I’m going to cut this short Mom because my thoughts are completely scattered. I’ll see you soon.
Love Always, Chris
Like Linda Hogan, I am a woman who watches over the worlds. Who assigned me this task? How do I know this about myself? And is the pen mightier than the sword? Mightier than an M-16 rifle? In a world where every culture, without exception represses the great virtue of womanhood, our brothers, fathers and sons are awash in confusion as to their role in the well being of the planet.
We are in a state of moral incapacity in this country, the United States of America. We have denied the great virtue of Unconditional Love for so long that we are incapable of remembering it and bringing it to bear on the current atmosphere of world holocaust. The Ven. Sogyal Rinpoche says, “If you want to know who you were in the past, look to your present condition. If you want to know who you will be in the future, look to your present actions.”
It is up to women to stop this. Most men seem to have forgotten the bliss of unconditional love. It is extremely difficult for any of us to stay pure in this realm of corrupted values. Fear is so thick you can cut it with a knife, and it blinds us all to others’ suffering, as it is intended to do. Yet, everything is happening just as it should, and all for good purpose. I believe in the goodness of the universe. I am full of hope always because I understand the path to real happiness is open to anyone who cares to look for it.
If the mind truly creates its own reality, we can create a world of love and understanding and respect and honor for children, for old people, for George Bush and Donald Rumsfeld and Dick Cheney and Condoleezza Rice, for the lost men and boys and lost women and girls that we all are—in a moment, we can create a clean, pure world with sparkling streams of mountain water and birds and trees and fine sunshine warming and healing all of us earthly creatures.
We have this freedom to choose what we think and imagine. Our minds are ours to control yet remain an untapped mother lode of power buffeted day and night by illusory dramas and horrors of war.
Yet let us make the charnel grounds surrounding us to fields of flowers where the beings of Mother Earth meander in sensual bliss, each of us, beings of light wearing crowns of understanding and wisdom. All this can be had in a moment of our minds. We only need to come home . . . home to the truth of who we really are, and why we are here. If love is the crowning glory of understanding, we can start to forgive ourselves, yet only to turn away from ourselves to understandingly forgive and cherish all others. This is a truth worth living for. This is real and enduring
My precious Christopher,
A good rich life is possible, one filled with love and sweet animals, birds, fresh air and sunshine, delicious food, pure water to drink and swim in, mountains to wander over and around, children who don’t know the meaning of the word “hate,” flowers and trees and grass and ocean waves and shells and rocks and friends and comfortable beds where husband and wife hold each other at night . . . this is how I will imagine you in my meditations and dreams.
When your mind is at peace, your world will be at peace. Keep going, Chris, don’t give up your vision. I’ve known all along that you have a pure and secret intention in joining the Marines that you don’t have to justify to anyone, not even your mother, only to yourself. Be strong in your conviction; speak strongly and compassionately from your awakened heart. Nothing can go wrong if you speak from your heart. Goodness and awareness always overcome delusion and ignorance. You may not be able to stop the war in Iraq, or to save the people remaining after the tsunami, but you do have the power to transcend your own suffering and have a taste of real happiness. And if you are happy and at peace, others around you will bask in your glow and you will be helping them by your simple presence. This is why you were born to this American military life, out of such a womb as mine.
from your watching loving mother