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Mother’s Day Note – The Plants Are in Charge

Save your neck;

Or save your brother.

Looks like it’s, one or the other.

~~~ The Band (1970) (watch)


[Update 5/10/10 – I wrote some of the stuff about my personal experiences with the Catholic Church Sunday night, before reading Chris Hedges’ Monday column: After Religion Fizzles, We’re Stuck with Nietzche:

We are rapidly losing the capacity for the moral life. We reject the anxiety of individual responsibility that laid the foundations for the open society. We are enjoined, after all, to love our neighbor, not our tribe. This empowerment of individual conscience was the starting point of the great ethical systems of all civilizations. Those who championed this radical individualism, from Confucius to Socrates to Jesus, fostered not obedience and conformity, but dissent and self-criticism. They initiated the separation of individual responsibility from the demands of the state. They taught that culture and society were not the sole prerogative of the powerful, that freedom and indeed the religious and moral life required us to often oppose and challenge those in authority, even at great personal cost. Immanuel Kant built his ethics upon this radical individualism. And Kant’s injunction to “always recognize that human individuals are ends, and do not use them as mere means” runs in a direct line from the Socratic ideal and the Christian Gospels.

The great religions set free the critical powers of humankind. They broke with the older Greek and Roman traditions that gods and Destiny ruled human fate—a belief that, when challenged by Socrates, saw him condemned to death. They challenged the power of the tribe, the closed society. They offered up the possibility that human beings, although limited by circumstance and human weakness, could shape and give direction to society and their own lives. These religious thinkers were our first ethicists. And it is perhaps not accidental that the current pope, as well as the last one, drove out of the Catholic Church thousands of clergy and religious leaders who embodied these qualities, elevating the dregs to positions of leadership and leaving the pedophiles to run the Sunday schools.


Mother’s Day brings us back to our childhood, I suspect. And that’s a good thing.

Not nostalgia, but love, reverence, and roots.

So, this Mother’s Day finds me in a more reflective mood than since my Mom died in 2003, just after her 74th birthday and just before Christmas.

Since then, I’ve regretted not reaching closure on any number of things (she died somewhat unexpectedly after surgery, but that is really an excuse for my failure to open a dialogue well before death was knocking on her door) and for my total failure to speak out and tell the truth at her funeral.

If I had any balls at all, I would have spoken at her funeral and told the family truth.

My mom was a brilliant and powerful woman who raised three kids without a husband and father. She worked her ass off at one shitty job after another to make ends meet, and yet had time to serve her community in multiple ways, first at the PTA, then Girls Scouts, as founder of the High School Hockey Boosters, as Westchester County BOCES Board member, as longtime School Board member, and ultimately as Tarrytown School Board President.

Perhaps her proudest moment was when NY Governor Mario Cuomo  appointed her to a Blue Ribbon panel to develop a plan for the reuse of the former General Motors plant property on the Hudson River waterfront.

She was the intellectual equal (or superior) to the various professionals (lawyers, doctors, architects, and planners) she worked for as a poorly paid typist or secretary, so it must have been frustrating and very hard for her to maintain dignity. In an age when few women moved into academic and professional roles, she was forced to forgo her own college education and went to work after graduating High School in 1946 due to family finances. But, she ultimately got her college degree, working as an adult student after age 50!

She provided an example to me not only by her commitment to hard work, education, public service, and intellectual pursuits (our house was full of books and even opera on the radio when we were kids). Because I lacked a role model at home, she made sure to show me what professional  men did to make a living. As a child, I often spent my weekends at the well to do homes of the various professionals she worked for.

She took my two sisters and me on vacations in the Adirondacks. These vacations, coupled with her penchant for screaming that forced me out of the house and into the local woods -  quite unintentionally – instilled a continuous and early love of nature. It was lots more fun to be out of the house in the woods than at home with all the pain and bullshit going on there.

But all her life she struggled to escape the shame and guilt imposed on her by her a Depression era Catholic alcoholic family life.  Both her parents were alcoholic, so the Catholic Church was called upon to fill the void. But, tragically, the Church ended up imposing tremendous guilt and shame that scarred my mom her entire life.

The pre-Vatican II thinking in the Catholic Church shamed and effectively excommunicated my mom as a result of her divorce from my dad in the early 1960’s. Mom’s older sister, my Aunt Rosalie, became a Captain in the Salvation Army, and routinely showed up at Thanksgiving dinners or Christmas get togethers to pour on the Catholic guilt and shame. Mom’s younger brother, my Uncle Charlie, was a sensitive man that was wounded in and destroyed by the Korean War. Treatment of his wounds led to  his early addiction to heroin, after which he became an alcoholic. Mom preferred to keep Uncle Charlie’s real life struggles hidden in her family past. Uncle Charlie was gay as well, a fact that was suppressed and that I didn’t learn of until adulthood. I also didn’t know that he was forced into the Army by the Courts as a result of a minor crime he engaged in in High School, when he a a few friends broke into a local hardware store.  I didn’t find out about this until long after Charlie’s death.

These things burn and they get worse – not better – after time.

So – while I tried to raise my kids to be open and honest (and hopefully free from all that bullshit shame and guilt I grew up with) -  just  like I did when I was a kid, I prefer an escape to the woods than the trauma of having to deal with the toxic stuff of my childhood.

Walks in the woods comfort me. But despite the fact that there were lots of blow-down today, I know that the plants are firmly in charge.

Just take a look and see – the amazingly vibrant woods in my backyard are damn near primeval!

Note that although there are lots of historical disturbance and recent tree blowdowns, but that the plants have responded and are in complete charge! And I will remind readers that virtually all of these shots were taken of the Category One buffer of Alexauken Creek!. So, regulatory protections matter!











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