Friday, January 20, 2012

How’s Your Moral Compass?

I work part-time at a Japanese teashop.  This is where I dust, vacuum, arrange unique gifts, greet and assist customers and the way cool thing about this job,
is I also get to read a lot, write a lot and meditate; well, my own special kind of meditating that emerges from being an open wound out in a ferocious world.  Basically, I get to turn it all off and sip Genmaicha Extra Green.

It was a slow day at the shop Monday.  I’m hoping the reason being that Americans were gathering, marching, honoring Dr Martin Luther King; whose words insisted on action; whose bold passions cost him his life.  The part of me that is optimistic accepts those possibilities and in doing so, suddenly I am able to walk a little lighter on the planet. 

January 16, 2012 was somewhat boring of a Monday and I found myself, after completing my required “shop duties," passing the time by reading, writing, sipping tea and trying, with full-force effort, to not eat the matcha shortbread cookies.
Staring out the window at the bushes and trees surrounding the closed post office,
I noticed a large man seemingly setting up tent amidst the foliage.  He wore layers upon layers of filthy rags.  His jeans were several sizes too big.  His hair was matted.
He held up his pants with one hand and drug an old sleeping bag through the dirt with the other.

Suddenly it occurred to me that he was seeking privacy to relieve himself; a simple corner of dirt where the bushes could serve as bathroom doors.
I watched the few passersby’s try not to look at him.
It’s uncomfortable to see homeless people, isn’t it?  Especially in a touristy town such as ours.  As he ducked down, I found myself hoping hard that no one would call the police.  “Just let him take a leak in peace god damnit.” I kept thinking.
And then I thought of Dr. King.  His messages that now are simply quotes to ponder.

I watched him make his way to the inside of the parking garage, where he stuffed his sleeping bag behind a set of lockers for safekeeping.  He pulled tightly on his pants and continued walking up the street.  He mumbled and scratched his head a lot.  In fact, he scratched his entire body a lot.  He needed a hot shower and a toilet.  Pretty basic stuff, eh?  Yet, it’s all uncomfortable to witness.
I went to the steaming pots and made him a cup of our finest Gyokuro; the tea that has a velvety aftertaste.  Then I grabbed a bag of shortbread and $5 from my wallet, closed up the shop and walked at a fast pace to catch up with him.
 It’s not much but it looks as if you could use a little help today.”  I said.

His hands were rough and swollen; his face gnarly; yet, I saw a glimpse of a once handsome boy.

“Thanks.  I spent last night in Salinas police station …they beat the shit out of me…I just wanted to go to church…you know, mass.  When I was an alter boy they hurt me but I still want to go…”

He may or may not have been abused by Catholic priests.  You and I know there’s a good possibility he was, but regardless if the whole interaction was fantasy or non-fiction, clearly; Timmy needs basic 411.

I wished him well which felt like an absolute sucky thing to say.  We parted; heading in opposite directions, heading to opposite worlds.

Then I went online, only to discover a quote from the smartest man on the planet and it's such a right-on a message:

Clearly, Timmy didn’t cause our deficit.   Check out this article (and don’t skip the graph) put out by Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.  All the stats are based on 2010 and future taxpayers will pay people these debts for years to come for sure!

Timmy gets very little.  Timmy may get a free meal, once in awhile, if he can get to a shelter on time.  But his head’s so fucked up, he doesn’t even know how to tell time anymore.  If he’s lucky, he might get a bed; suffice to say, if he’s in a town that even has a shelter.  For sure, Timmy will get taunted, harassed and possibly hit with bottles; that is, if he doesn’t get the shit beat out of him.  It’s all in a day’s work for Timmy.  And whether Timmy was molested by Catholic priests or saw Viet Nam or has a severe alcohol problem, you can rest assured that your tax dollars, are not going in great excess, to care for or enable Timmy. And if we don't give a damn about the                                   Timmys of the world, we become face-less shells;  
wig head by Bridgett Spicer
nothing short of soul-less, moral-less casings.   

Now, hold up, little buckaroos! Let’s take out our moral compasses and position them straight ahead.  I do believe, even with increasing crime, poverty, abuse, wars…we all have one.  
Dr. King had one, though he was no saint. 
Hopefully, we all have a natural feeling that makes us know what is right and wrong; guiding our actions as to how to behave.  I try to take out my moral compass everyday.  Some days, it’s out when I first open my eyes, while other days, quite honestly, I forget about it briefly.  Then some situation or some person reminds me to take it out of my pocket.  
And I do. You do too.  We have to because if we don't, our skin turns to steel, our hearts to foil and nothing matters but the paycheck, the new pair of brand name boots and The Super Bowl.  

Our moral compasses guide us to the very face of humanity, all the while, allowing for a plethora of free choice opportunities… 
To the north: a trailer park filled with lonely elderly folk on fixed incomes.  
To the south…tortured and starved greyhounds, no longer able to race, tossed by the side of the road. 
To the east…millions of homeless families whose houses were foreclosed upon.  
To the west…kids going to school in space suits in order not to breathe the radiation in their air.  Across your street…someone like Timmy.  
Under your feet…a spider to crunch or spare.

Westerners consider the Dalai Lama as a man of abiding wisdom and compassion, an inspiration and moral compass.
But, like Dr. King, Dalai is no saint. (Uh oh…stepping on Buddhist toes.)
The Beacon of Calm in a frenetic modern world and I disagree on a couple of compass directions; specifically, abortion and homosexuality.  In his 1996 book, Beyond Dogma, he was strikingly explicit in his sexual prohibitions: "A sexual act is deemed proper when the couples use the organs intended for sexual intercourse and nothing else."  Hmmm…sunset on that.  Moving right along…

Although I’m often in your faces about rednecks, some do have moral compasses.
Joke (sort of)
The out-of-state couple is camping on the shores of a creek near a tiny hamlet.
The young wife, stunningly built, decides to give the local town folk a thrill by sun bathing in the nude.
"That's OK with me, honey," says her husband. "I'll go get some wood for the fire."
About thirty minutes later, the husband returns to the campsite and finds his wife in tears. One of her breasts has been painted green, the other red and her ass is blue.
"What on earth happened to you dear?" he asks.
"Some of those rednecks from the trailer park came over and told me they don't allow any nakedness around these parts.
Then they gave me this paint job!"
"Damn those assholes! I'll fix them!" the husband shouts.
He rides into town and finds the rednecks at the local bar.
"Who is the SOB who painted my wife red, green and blue!"
he shouts.
A huge redneck, about 6'-8," steps forward, a shotgun in his hand. "I did it," he bellows. 
"What you got to say about it?"
The husband answers meekly, "I just wanted you to know the first coat of paint is dry."

In seriousness, if you don’t have moral compasses, Getchooosome!
There’s a quote by John F. Kennedy that stands out for me.  It’s what I’ll end today’s blog with and it’s one we can all hopefully chew on a bit in the days to come.

“I look forward to a great future for America - a future in which our country will match its military strength with our moral restraint, its wealth with our wisdom, its power with our purpose.”


P.S. Oooh and if your moral compass is for the birds, make one of these from an old Slinky!  Way cool.


  1. Riveting commentary. I read the piece about the budget, studied the pie chart, the descriptions of where our money goes. I'm no fan of Ron Paul for Pres., but his wanting to get out of the wars and trim the defense budget and close our military bases flung all over the globe makes great sense. And is also compassionate. And Sen. Sanders, I-VT quote publicized by the Christian Left to not balance the budget on the backs of the elderly and children, the sick and the poor says it all for me, too. Timmy's plight was touching; your actions sterling...truly MLK-like. That's why your prodding, poking perceptions really DO help me keep my moral compass aligned. Thank you for that. Keep those blogs coming.

  2. Val, just when I think how funny and warm your blogs make me feel, you invite me to step into the cold reality of the world outside my window. Thankyou for prodding my heart and conscience with your wit, wisdom, and words. I will read your blog as long as you keep writing it. - Amy Jane