Selected Journal Notes

By Bob Litton

Summer 1990

People who want too much to communicate — intense people, I suppose — are ironically the most alienated.  Perhaps that is because the majority of people are more satisfied with the briefest, most superficial, and even untrue talk

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The curse of the Human Being is his/her ability to anticipate pain and a tomorrow.  I wonder if any experiments have been done to determine lower animals’ sense of futurity.  After all, birds build nests; and a dog, from past experience, knows you intend to throw a stick or a Frisbee for him to catch.  But, anticipating probable immediate events is not the same as expecting another tomorrow, another sunrise.

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In previous decades it was common enough for scholars to relate of someone that he or she “flourished” between such and such years.  I like that word; it is sympathetic of flowers and it doesn’t have the terminal connotation of “lived”.

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We have several terms for an habitually angry woman: virago, harridan, shrew, and vixen; but we have not even one term, that I know of, that specifies an habitually angry man.

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We do not try to hear the worms; we never see our backs.

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I feel something approaching comfort when I stand before a sign which says “You Are Here.”

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I did not want to grow up to become a businessman; I couldn’t stomach the image of myself in suit coat, tie and jowls.

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I’ve  kept this old body company a hell of a long time.  Following, when considered in increments of time, appears like torture.  Fortunately for us perhaps, we cannot remember increments of time.  Or maybe those whom we call crazy became so because they had that ability.  Have I led my body or has my body led me this half-century?

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Young mother and her two-year-old daughter are eating in a cafeteria.  Daughter in a high chair, with food on tray in front of her, reaches for portion of roll her mother is about to bite into.  “No!” her mother says, “You have your own food there.”  The little girl begins to squeal.  The mother puts a palm to the girl’s cheek as though pondering whether to slap or to squeeze the girl’s mouth shut.  “Mommy has to eat, too,” the woman says.  The girl continues to fuss.

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I have talked and talked to women — perhaps overly much about serious subjects — but always with the purpose in mind that I might eventually understand one of them and then loving her would be much more comfortable for me; I could be ardent in my love-making.  But, invariably I angered them or gave up the task shortly after beginning it.  I don’t really know why.  In some cases, I believe, it was because they developed a kind of chameleon appearance for me, at times attracting me, and at other times repelling me, physically.  But, that doesn’t explain all instances.  Perhaps I couldn’t clearly conceive what I was trying to accomplish.

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Why do we want a god?

(1)    To explain the duality of Good and Evil

(2)    To offer an abiding place after death.

(3)    To alter the future in our behalf.

(4)    To console us in our grief and to reassure us during our anxiety attacks.

(5)    To explain the existence of intelligence.

(6)    To serve us as an image on which to pattern ourselves: the created creating the creator.

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When tragic events occur, is it because God wants them to happen; accepts and thus abets their happening; cannot prevent their happening (either because the events are too many or too powerful); does not know they are happening; or is actually preventing them from having worse effects?

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The Alcoholics Anonymous’ “Serenity Prayer” asks for the ability to accept what we cannot change, the courage to change the things we can, and the wisdom to know the difference.  Our group always talks about acceptance, but never about courage and wisdom, at least not in the context of the Prayer.  To be called “wise” makes most people blush; to be called “commonsensical” is more easily swallowed.  And if one is characterized as “courageous”, he has reason to fear that he might have to substantiate it someday.

O that the “Serenity Prayer” used the term “discernment” rather than “wisdom” and “equanimity” rather than “serenity”!  Also, that it said “change the things that should be changed” rather than “change the things we can”.

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Don’t feel guilty when happiness strikes.

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9/29/90 – We never question the necessity for sleep; we only quibble over how much sleep is appropriate.  The fact that we sleep roughly a third of our life away does not carry over in our consciousness as a comment on the worth or urgency of waking activities.

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10/17/90 – We human beings are very slow-witted creatures, really.  We have to smell our eyebrows singeing before we will recognize that our house is on fire.

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 12/04/90 – With God’s will clearly before us we have no freedom; without it at least “at hand” we have no meaning.

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12/31/90 – I feel that I have so exhausted my friends that they must have an after-image of me when I leave them.

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1/15/91 – Spiritual Over-ride: A friend of mine recently gave up chewing tobacco. That reminded me of my only experience of the stuff.  My mouth burnt for a long while after I spat the tobacco out, which was shortly after taking it in.

Our bodies tell us when we’re doing something wrong, but we can over-ride their warnings with enough practice.

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2/05/91 – The Next Right Thing:  Usually, when we (in AA) talk about doing the “next right thing” we are talking about long-term goals, or steps that are anticipatory of long-term goals.  And we want to know that what we want to do is also what God wants for us.  The problem with knowing God’s will is that, were we to know it definitively, we would not be acting out of faith, but out of dictation — off a blueprint, so to speak.  We would no longer be free.

Our prime option is to act out of instinct, to trust our instinct grounded in honesty, especially honesty to ourselves.  For short-term issues, this is easier to do than for long-term ones; because the latter require, usually, more steps, more sustained effort.

A preacher on the radio one morning said, “God provides food for the birds, but he doesn’t put it in their nests.”

Then there’s the anecdote of the man whose house was situated on a hill.  A flood came into the valley below.  When one of the townspeople called to warn this man that the waters were rising, he replied, “The Lord will take care of me.”  The water level got higher, and a boat with a rescue team came to the man’s house.  “You’d better come with us,” one of them said.  “The Lord will provide” was the man’s response.  Just as the water was washing away the man’s house, a police helicopter appeared overhead.  The pilot signaled for the man to climb into a pontoon attached to one of the copter’s runners, but the man shook his head and yelled out through cupped hands, “The Lord will watch out for me.”

Finally, the man stood alone on the roof of his house with the water swirling at his feet.  He cried, “Lord, Lord, why aren’t you helping me?”

Suddenly a voice like thunder roared down from Heaven, “What do you mean?  I had somebody call you and I sent a rescue team in a boat and another in a helicopter.”

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2/15/91 – Intellect can get you far provided you don’t become prideful of intellect.  It can carry you only to the highest point of Purgatory.

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3/10/91 – Which of us recalls the effort, mental or physical, he expended on his own behalf in being born into the world?  How many of us can plan our own leaving it?  Why then do we insist on controlling our day-to-day experience?

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3/12/91 – Contact with God:  We naturally desire that this contact be constant.  Yet, how many of us are constantly aware of our own heart beat, although nothing in the world is more constant, more regular?  Moreover, we little realize that we can have too much of God.  If we had the experience of Him in anything like His fullness we would go insane.  In this regard, look at Samuel Rutherford’s letter, dated 1637, to Lady Gaitgirth: “He could not let out His rivers of love upon His own, [for] these rivers would be in hazard of loosening a young plant at the root, and He [knows] this of you.”

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5/08/91 – Cattle in a meadow, mooing, munching, moving with the shade.  What a mercy!

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6/13/91 – On this day, a clear, warm day, when I had thirty minutes to wait before entering the Kelly Temps office to pick up my check, I sat on the grass with my book about Euripides, a very pleasant situation.  After reading a brief while, I noticed the sound of what seemed like many hands clapping.  Curious, I looked up and across the vast lawn toward the expressway, where several cottonwoods stood by the highway’s high substructure.  The clapping I was hearing was the sound the trees’ leaves were making, very much like human hands clapping!

Sometime later (can’t recall if it was weeks or months), I was reading in Isaiah, preparing for a Bible study class, when I was startled by coming upon this verse (55:12):

You will go out with joy
and be led forth in peace.
Before you mountains and hills will break into cries of joy,
and all the trees in the countryside will clap their hands.

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7/03/91 — Getting into “dire straits” is an excellent way to weed your friendship patch.

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9/01/92 – Just completed reading John Wesley’s Journal, which gave me encouragement to return to this, my own.  Much has happened to me and through me since I left off, a fact which has heretofore hampered me from writing.  Another hindering influence is the overwhelming impact of time.  I am so conscious — so exceedingly conscious — of how much time I have wasted in my 52 years that a sort of horrifying burden of guilt blocks me from what little I could be doing now.

We in the city don’t simply kill time; we murder it.  We are surrounded with movement and clocks, and it seems we are constantly matching one against the other.  Our self-esteem, even the very value of our life, is determined by how we fit the clock.  I am a very slow person, and so I am a misfit at work and in the social whirl, for even in the latter quickness of “wit” is a prime factor.

How different out in the Big Bend country! And that is why the land of mesas and cacti is in its way terrifying.  Just imagine how many sunrises and sunsets, how many thunderstorms and sandstorms, those huge rocky cliffs have experienced; and yet they just stand there, dumb and still.  It is awesome and strangely depressing: that sublime prospect.

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10/27/92 – Playing God:  I sat on my front porch step, drinking coffee and watching a beetle as it tried to bring itself upright.  The black creature’s legs flailed impotently in the air.  Once, having moved itself against a dry, brown magnolia leaf, it managed to get halfway on its feet again, but quickly fell back over.  I pondered whether I should intervene and set him upright.  That would be interfering with Nature’s course, I reasoned, but I am part of Nature, too, and perhaps my intervention would be part of “Nature’s course” simply from the fact that I happen to be here witnessing this event.  Then I imagined a god who studied such a problem all day, from dawn until he could no longer see the beetle in the twilight’s deepening shadows.  Perhaps this god would seek to help the beetle, using a twig time after time, to set the creature on its feet; and immediately after each “help” the beetle would collapse right onto its back again.  Finally, at the end of the day, no longer able to see the beetle, the god would surrender his notion in disgust.  Then, suddenly, an insight would strike the god.  “Perhaps,” the god might say to himself, “…perhaps the beetle was not to die because he fell, but rather his falls were due to the fact that he was dying.”

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11/09/92 – Sunday:  Ken Shamblin’s sermon today dealt with the problem of God’s non-intervention.  Does God play favorites?  Rev. Shamblin quoted biologist J.S.B. Haldane as responding to a query as to why one-fourth of the creatures on this planet are species of beetles: “I don’t know,” said Haldane, “I suppose the Good Lord has an inordinate fondness for beetles.”

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2/23/93 — Clear Tuesday, cold but clear and no excuse for not taking my constitutional around Winfrey Point.  As I came around the western bend I noticed a pair of mallards calmly cruising near the shore at my right.  Suddenly, out of some rushes a male mallard came, skimming the water.  As the couple turned away and were taking off in an effort to elude him, the rogue caught the female’s tail feathers in his beak, detaining her so that he could mount her.  The cuckolded “husband” circled on the water and came up to the coital scene, where he pecked at the rapist’s face.  As the two males engaged in a brief wing-flapping altercation, the female took off in the air eastward.  The males likewise became airborne, the injured husband in pursuit of the Lothario.  Initially following the female, they circled off to the right and back toward me…and the rushes.  The assaulter dove into his hideout in the rushes, while the husband winged overhead and went off to find his mate.

Later, I wondered whether he ever found her, how their communications went afterwards, whether the rogue had had time to impregnate the female, and whether the cuckold would accept any of her ducklings as his own.

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6/09/93 — A Parable In The Making:  Walked around Winfrey Point this morning for the first time in a week.  Was rewarded with some fresh observations.  First, there was the long-necked, white water bird — a tern, I suppose — who stood in the shallow water near shore.  The water level, probably actual, was just above the bird’s “ankles”.  However, the wind was making waves, and as each wave came up to the bird, the result was that he seemed to be squatting.

Next, I heard a whole variety of birds chorusing up in a single tree, and nearby — aloof as usual — a mockingbird, perched on a utility line, gave out notes that sounded like nothing so much as the clatter of a telegraph key.  Was that his own song?

A squirrel sat on his haunches in the shade of an old cottonwood.  He watched me with cautious but not unfriendly eyes as I strolled past.

Leaving the jogger/cyclist path, I crossed a natural drainage ditch toward the alley leading to my apartment.  On the farther bank of the ditch I saw a fish head — more truly the upper half of the fish.  He might have been brought there as a water fowl’s repast which was interrupted for some reason.

Then, noticing a tree that looked like a young fruit tree, I thought of a parable about a garden, a very large garden dedicated to a community of urbanites by a wealthy landowner who felt that his city needed some place to which neighbors could resort.  He has fruit trees planted in the garden and in other ways prepares the spot — “tames” it — so that the citizens would want to go there.  Some people dig up the fruit trees and carry them off to their private yards.  Some people pee and throw fast food leftovers in a pond and the stream that feeds it.  Dope dealers transact business there at all hours of the day.  Eventually, the police have to close the garden.

Finis

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