Birthday Reflections

At Harbin Hot Springs on my 71st birthday looking forward to my future, I feel relaxed, confident, and clear: for the first time in my life, my priority is to make money.

Thanks to Uber, which has hurt the San Francisco taxi industry enormously, I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to sell my taxi medallion, or how much I’ll get if I do. And because I lived on “movement wages” my whole life, Social Security is far from adequate.

So, facing a reality I can neither change nor escape, I resolve to drive taxi as much as possible, write less, cut back on organizing, limit my spending, and save as much as I can for my old age.

What to do about vacations remains open. An old friend and I are going to New Orleans April 7-10 for the 2016 French Quarter Festival (if you want to go, get a room immediately, for hotels in the Quarter are already almost sold out for that fantastic, free event that presents all kinds of music on 23 outdoor stages.) After that vacation, I don’t know.

In about five years, I should move to the top of the waiting list for a Section 8 subsidy, which will lower my rent substantially. If I’m able to sell my medallion for a net of $160,000 (the current price) by then, I’ll probably be able to live comfortably and travel extensively. If not, I’ll keep driving taxi as long as I can and if necessary rely on the Food Bank and cheap meals at Senior Centers.

With regard to my commitment to social transformation, I may have found what I’ve been looking for: a community of political activists dedicated to transforming our social system into a truly compassionate society, while supporting one another in their personal growth by setting aside special time for that purpose. The Purpose-Driven Community project is headed in that direction.

The responses to my volunteer-interest form and subsequent emails have been encouraging. The organizers and I are on the same wavelength. Their success with Generation Waking Up reflects their competence. And I’m particularly encouraged by their commitment to maintain diversity by growing deliberately.  I look forward to their first exploratory event. This development makes it easier for me to shift to full-time cab driving. Rather than being a lead organizer, I can play a support role.

Pulling back from the Western Park Residents’ Council also eases my transition. Though challenging and time-consuming, serving as President was rewarding. I helped to revive the moribund Council and establish policies and procedures that will hopefully enable it to continue with new leadership. The Council has been much more active than it was for at least ten years and we eventually established a cooperative relationship with management.

Unfortunately, several residents are prone to impulsively attack the nearest authority figure, whether it’s the Building Manager or the Council President. At times I let those attacks get under my skin. More seriously, that negativity steadily discouraged participation in meetings. Hopefully after the August election, the Council’s new leadership can establish a more positive tone at meetings.

Regardless, I anticipate engaging in rewarding activities with residents with whom I have established a good rapport through my work with the Council. In order to avoid wasting time with “poisonous playmates,” to organize those activities we may form self-perpetuating teams by invitation only, rather than formal “committees” open to all residents (though others may continue to organize such committees). In this way, perhaps we can help the Council with its primary mission: to nurture compassionate community among our 200 residents.

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Looking back on my 71 years, Mother comes to mind first. I wish she’d lived longer so we could’ve overcome the gap she created by smothering me with her love, which undermined my autonomy. She even tried to stop me from reading the “wrong” books. More deeply, her judgmental moralism led me to see humans, myself included, as essentially bad. To find myself and my essential goodness, I had to fight her overbearing protectiveness.

But from her, I learned to pursue Truth, Justice, and Beauty and for that, I’ll be forever grateful.

Though it seems longer, it was only a year ago that I distributed My Search for Deep Community: An Autobiography. One reason I did so was to enable friends and acquaintances who want to do so to know me more fully. Another reason was to liberate myself from shame by being open about matters about which I had been secretive. On those counts, the project was successful.

I also wanted feedback that might help me re-work the book to make it more marketable to the general public. And I did receive lots of valuable feedback, which I very much appreciate. But I’ll probably be unable to re-write it so long as I drive taxi full-time.

The major event of the last year, however, was the death of Leonard Roy Frank, my dear friend for more than 40 years. After the manager of his building let me into his apartment and I found him dead, draped over the bathtub, I sat down on the stairs and cried. For the next month thereafter, while dealing with his affairs, I cried every day, often convulsively. After I gave the manager his keys, I cried more than I had for the whole month. I haven’t cried since.

Fortunately, the memorial service at the Church for the Fellowship of All Peopleswas very healing. Every word spoken by the ministers, Dr. Dorsey Blake and Dr. Kathryn Benton, was perfect. The speakers and the music were beautiful. Wanting to do Leonard justice, I worked hard on the eulogy, which was well received. But I still think about Leonard often, especially when I have something to tell someone (he was almost always home and available). I doubt that any soul mate will ever replace him.

Two other highlights from last year stand out. The first was an early August sermon on “intimate direct action” at Fellowship Church by Rev. Yielbonzie Charles Johnson, who called for “uncircumscribed engagement in the world” without fear.  This appeal rang a bell for me. It amazes me how rarely people ask one another, “How do you feel about that?” or “Would you like to say more about that?” I understand some of the reasons people are reluctant to be more open or more inquisitive. We often have good reason to be afraid. But if we shut down too much, it becomes a habit and we become frozen. It seems we need to find safe places where we can be intimate with at least a few trusted friends.

Even more inspiring were the exhortations offered by the Lawson brothers at a day-long intergenerational teach-in honoring Vincent Harding. First Rev. James Lawson urged activists to promote personal nonviolent struggle in order to become more fully nonviolent as individuals and more effective as activists. He called on the audience to work on “how we treat each other and ourselves and how we work together” so that we better “learn how to respect each other.”
Later, Rev. Phil Lawson echoed that theme when he asked, “Who is the enemy?” and answered that it is “a spiritual power that has captured everyone” and fosters a wide variety of destructive “addictions.” To counter that force, he said we need a new spiritual power of our own: a profound commitment to nonviolence as a way of life, not as a tactic. “Everyone is an addict and we need to be in some program of recovery from the addictions of our society. We need a long-term, disciplined project.”

Those words were music to my ears.

The most liberating event of the year, however, was reading the transcript to “The Power of Vulnerability,” the fourth most popular TED Talk ever. After struggling at length with my mother’s “you will be a great man” programming, this talk prompted me to affirm, “I am good enough (to be better).” .

The benefits of that insight persist. I feel much less need to prove myself, to others or myself. I look back on my efforts with modest pride. I planted some seeds and achieved some success, along with numerous failures. But I would rather have tried and failed than not have tried at all.

Now I need to save some money. So, if you don’t hear from me for a while, wish me luck.

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