How Beautiful Is A Good Belly Laugh: We Expect a Hannibal Lecter but Instead Find Mr. Rogers

Can you imagine or remember a moment when simply looking, listening, or tasting was all you needed in life? When time disappeared and nothing else was desired, nothing was thought missing? Or when something was just so beautiful and unexpected, all you could do was smile or laugh?

 

In No-Gate Gateway: The Original Wu-Men Kuan, the poet and translator David Hinton wrote “once mind is emptied of all content… the act of perception becomes a spiritual act.” It becomes selfless, simply a mirror reflecting what is there before it. Slow, respectful. Letting each thing be utterly itself. No violence is possible. No anger or let down. Closer to an act of love than anything else. Just loving by sensing.

 

Hinton says this perceptual clarity is a way of awakening, of seeing the world and oneself in the same instant. It is a way for one being to meet another.

 

Wouldn’t that be something?

 

We experience such moments in so many ways but lose them somehow in all the bustle of our lives. We stare transfixed at a work of art or nature or hear a song that stops all thought, or we read a poem that takes us to a new world. The beauty clears us of ourselves.

 

When I was younger, I hitch-hiked from New York to California and stopped at the Grand Canyon. I remember standing at the edge of it, just staring, immobile, barely breathing. From behind me I vaguely remember voices of other tourists arriving but didn’t want to turn away from the canyon. A woman I didn’t know approached closely and suddenly saw what it was all about, suddenly saw what was there ⎼and maybe what wasn’t. Whatever idea she had of the Grand Canyon was inadequate or wrong. All she said, and she repeated it over and over again, was “Oh my God. Oh my God.”

 

Mary Oliver, in a poem titled “Mysteries, Yes”, said:

Let me keep company always with those who say

            ‘Look!’ and laugh in astonishment,

            And bow their heads.

 

Or, in the poem “When Death Comes,” she tells us,

I don’t want to end up simply having visited this world.

 

We often expect that life will be like a shove from behind, or merely a bump. Unexpected, yet not, we are surprised and turn around with clenched fists. We build in our mind a Hannibal Lecter but instead find Mr. Rogers. Or instead of a threat or an enemy we find someone as surprised as we are. Someone who openly welcomes us with kindness. We realize the contact was an accident. And we laugh. All the tension dissolves in an instant, and butterflies fly from our mouth instead of curses. We feel delicate and open instead of iced and closed….

 

*To read the whole piece, please go to The Good Men Project.

The Well of Ancients: We Live in a Universe, Not A Room

Have images of someplace you have never been, or of a time or situation you have never lived, ever appeared in your mind masquerading as a memory?

 

Years ago, my parents lived in Atlantic City, New Jersey. One night we were driving on Atlantic Avenue, the main street of the city that runs parallel to and often just a block or so away from the ocean. It was raining and the yellow lights reflected off the wet street. The houses on a long section of the avenue are large, expensive dwellings, some old and going back to the 1930s or before. And suddenly I felt we were back in the 1930s during prohibition when some of the homes were owned by mobsters. The whole mood had changed into a feeling different from any other I have ever felt. This happened two or three times.

 

My great aunt Fanny, sister of my maternal grandmother, died when I was in my thirties. When I think of her apartment, I get something closer to a dream than a memory, and just pieces, not the whole. And those pieces are not from the second half of the twentieth century. They are from sometime earlier⎼ with dark hallways, a bedroom with a wall of ornate glass doors which she didn’t have, a window that looked out not onto modern streets but gray mists, people in dark clothes in a village of wood homes, in the “old country” of Eastern Europe from where my relatives emigrated.

 

And from where do our interests come? Why do some subjects, seemingly from before we were born, excite or shake us up, turn us off or get no response at all? I love the art of Japan, Tibet, Indigenous North America, Central Africa, Ancient Greece, and the Middle East, but other places less so or not at all.

 

Twenty years ago, I was on sabbatical from teaching, and my wife and I went to Greece. I taught philosophy to high school students and looked forward to visiting the birthplace of Western European philosophy.

 

We were on the island of Crete, not far from the city of Chania, driving through the mountains after visiting the ancient City of Aptera. The city had come to an end possibly in 1400 CE due to an earthquake. We stopped at the ruins of a Minoan palace, and Roman and Byzantine structures. My wife saw a herd of sheep grazing on the side of the road and asked me to stop. The sheep were not fenced in but moving freely about.

 

We stopped, got out of the car, and walked over to the sheep. I happened to look down, and there, partly exposed, were ancient bricks, Roman, maybe 2000 years old. An archaeological site was close by unearthing a Roman villa from that time, with sculptures, lintels and other artifacts just lying on the ground. We continued our walk and found ruins of a Roman cistern. Overlooking the Mediterranean Sea, we saw a German bunker from World War II, and later, an Ottoman fortress.

 

What is it like to live in a place where we literally step on thousands of years of human history? …

 

To read the whole article, please go to The Good Men Project.

 

**The photo is of what might be the oldest road in Europe, from Knossos, Crete.

Stories that Free Us from Limiting Thoughts: Turning the Best of What Might Be into the Reality of What Is

The psychologist Milton Erickson was a transformative figure in therapy, using stories as ways to motivate, change, or de-hypnotize us from hurtful and limiting patterns of behavior. When I was teaching, I used his and other stories to make a point and engage students when their attention drifted, or when they needed something real but approachable to appear in the classroom.

 

One example of a story I always loved was how Erickson taught an athlete to win an Olympic gold medal. This version was told by Sidney Rosen in his book My Voice will Go with You: The Teaching Tales of Milton H. Erickson.

 

A high school athlete named in the book as Donald Lawrence had been practicing to set a national high school record for throwing a shot put. But after a year, he could only put the shot 58 feet, way short of the record.

 

His father brought him in to see Erickson, who at their first meeting helped Donald go into a trance and feel his muscles one by one. On the next visit, after repeating the trance for muscle awareness, Erickson asked Donald if he knew a mile used to be four minutes long. The record had stood for many years until Roger Bannister broke the record. Erickson asked, “Do you know how?”

 

Bannister had realized you could win a ski jump by a tenth of a second or a race. Since a four-minute mile was 240 seconds, all he had to do to set a new record was run a mile in 239.9 seconds, or 239.5. One tenth or one half a second faster.

 

“You have already thrown the shot fifty-eight feet…Do you know the difference between fifty-eight feet and fifty-eight feet and one-sixteenth of an inch?” Donald said no. Erickson slowly enlarged the possibility of what Donald could do in his mind until 2 weeks later Donald set the high-school record. He went on to set more records until four years later he brought home the Olympic gold.

 

Erickson, says Rosen, used obvious truths to plant suggestions for personal growth. He told Donald, “You’re four years older now. It would be all right if you take the gold medal.” The first was true; the second could be true. By juxtaposing them, Erickson made the unrealized realizable, the unknown known. He demonstrated the control Donald had when he moved step by step and eliminated the anxiety that can erupt from the past. Donald was left with each moment being the first and only moment to focus on. And then he, or the real person ‘Donald’ represents, won the gold.

 

Likewise, each of us can be freed from many of our fears and limitations….

 

To read the whole article, please go to The Good Men Project.

Living with the Unknown in Ourselves

I was watching the Ken Burns documentary on Ernest Hemingway last night. In the second hour of the program, the narrator was describing the difficulties Hemingway had beginning his first novel, The Sun Also Rises. He had already published a critically acclaimed book of short stories, where each sentence was a work of art. Suddenly, he needed to shift to the length and breadth of detail a novel required. Hemingway told himself, write one true sentence. Then another and another. Which is what he did.

 

Hemingway was both a great artist surrounded by friends and family, as well as a solitary narcissist. There is both a loneliness and a luminosity to words. They can be used to mask as well as unmask, to torture or heal. We have to be totally alone in ourselves to write. Yet, words can fill us with a sense of connection and ecstasy. We might try to hold them to us as if they could warm our bodies with their heat. But when we do so, the words dissolve into air. It’s not the words themselves that warm us but the breath we give them as we speak and listen, and the paths to others they might reveal.

 

Two days ago, in the woods near the top of our hill, maybe 25 feet from a road, my wife and I came upon two circles in the earth. We had never seen these before. The bigger one was about 12 feet across, with a moss and stone foundation and one young oak tree growing inside it. Maybe it was once a silo. And the smaller circle, now a depression in the earth lined with rotted leaves and stones, was maybe once a well.

 

The more we looked, the more we found. There were stacks of old boards, maybe an old wall or roof. Further in the trees was a wood railing on an old porch attached to nothing and leading nowhere. It was like someone had built an entrance without knowing where it led. Even in a forest that we think we knew well, we were surprised. There were histories hidden here we had no knowledge of. What we didn’t know was way more prolific than what we did.

 

The night before we discovered the ruins, I had a dream. It started out understandably enough. I was outdoors at a party, a celebration, but no one was wearing a mask, not even me. I felt naked and more and more afraid. Everyone was acting as if there had never been or wasn’t now a pandemic raging in the land, or maybe they had somehow forgotten. Occasionally someone, usually a former student from when I taught secondary school, called out to me, inviting me to sit with them and talk. I waved and walked on, intent on getting out of there as quickly as I could. But I couldn’t. There were people everywhere.

 

Then everything changed. I was in a new dream, or the old one had transformed itself. I was watching a play, also outdoors. A young, attractive, strong looking woman came on stage. She looked Tibetan. The crowd heard her words, maybe the dream me also heard her. But me, the dreamer, did not. I heard no words, just saw her lips move.

 

Then she left the stage, to return wearing a huge mask….

 

To read the whole article, please go to The Good Men Project.

The Joy of a Tango in the Morning: Even Our Shadow Can Surprise Us

Despite the recent horrendous killings in Boulder and Atlanta,  there were two moments this week when somehow I broke out into a deep smile and dance. Somehow, we must find joy between the sadness.

 

There have been so many large scale downs and ups in recent years. January 6th was an historic down, January 20th an exciting up. Before the inauguration, I too often felt fright, anger, revulsion, grief and sadness about our world.  I had taken refuge from the viruses of DT and COVID in friendships, meditation, creativity, political action and exercise.  But this week, two seemingly small events turned moments of my life from a waltz to a tango.

 

The fact that it’s spring and it feels like multiple winters are ending at once certainly has turned up the volume on life. On Sunday, a blog of mine that referenced morning light and sounds was going to be published and I wanted a photo of the morning to put on my website. So I woke up and went for an early walk. I walked for maybe an hour and a half, taking twenty or so photos, not trying to capture but simply express the moment. And what a moment it was. The clear, almost baby blue of the sky. The freshness of it all. The expansiveness.

 

Part of the joy was the newness. I usually walk in the late afternoon, when the sun is already partly hidden by the hills. But not today. Today I was not caught up in doing things in the house or in cold shadows.

 

Over the last year, I have walked this road so many times, almost every single day, and the familiarity has transformed it into something else, not just a home, but a way of greeting myself. On a steep section of the road, a tree stood on the edge of the bank, three feet of roots exposed, it’s inside turned out. There is an old stone foundation just beyond the pine forest that was abandoned decades, maybe a century ago, a house-sized unknown reminding anyone who looked that even here, where now there is forest, there is a human past.

 

Sometimes, I get lost in thought as I walk. I’d remember passing an old tree that is half rotted, with a metal fence growing through its belly. And then I’m 200 feet up the road, in the oak and maple wood, where an old house lies snapped in half, like some giant named age and abandonment had just grabbed both ends and broke it in half over his knee. I take a few breaths and continue.

 

And then, around a bend in the road, between two trees, I saw my own shadow. It surprised me. It had been tailing me all along but because of the angle of the sun relative to the road I hadn’t seen it. Now, what had been behind me was in front. And my focus deepened. Any thoughts that arose sprouted into reminders to look around me at the snowdrops and other new flowers, or to listen to the sound of water running in the streams and ditches along the road….

 

*To read the whole article, please go to The Good Men Project.

How Does the Wind Move Us?

The wind can storm, tornado, hurricane as well as breeze. It can frighten or comfort depending on what shape it takes, or we take in our response. It can also play tricks on our hearing.

 

I was walking up a portion of our rural road that is forested on both sides, and suddenly I heard and felt a roar of sound, like thunder, or like a massive truck was headed in my direction. I looked around and there was neither a truck nor a storm. All there was to see were the trees, some bending, moving in their own way, and the sky, a clouded blue. But what a sky it was. And those trees, so stiff and yet firmly rooted. And my attention now so awakened by their thunder.

 

A road can become a funnel for sound. When I served in the Peace Corps in Sierra Leone,I lived in the bush off the unpaved main road. Between villages, huge trees covered the road on both sides. I could hear a truck coming from many miles away. Flagging down a lorry was the only way for anyone in the village to get a ride anywhere. So, if I was intent on going somewhere, I could go into my house, finish packing a bag, and walk leisurely out to the road in time to flag down the lorry for a ride.

 

Hearing, like smell, is a sense that spreads out on all sides. We can home in on a sound by moving our head. But unlike sight, which is mostly aimed directly in front of us, or touch and taste, hearing sweeps our entire 360-degree sensory environment.

 

Each part of the day has its own music. We hear the morning, for example, not just see it. In the spring and summer, birds, and in warm weather, cicadas welcome the rising sun. When I lived in Sierra Leone, as sunrise approached, the jungle awoke with an increasing volume and variety of sounds, culminating in a concert of insects, birds, possibly monkeys and other creatures. It felt like the earth itself was waking up, a mouth opening to speak. The dusk is another time the world clearly speaks to us. What does an eye or an ear opening and closing sound like? Is one sense a chorus for another or do different qualities of light have a specific sound component?

 

For some of us, yes. Synesthetes, for example, can see or feel sounds. A strong wind might be perceived as a specific color.  The word ‘synesthesia’ derives from the Greek meaning “to perceive together.” People who have the condition unite or switch sense modalities, hear color, or taste sound. The condition is rare, about one in 2,000 people share it. It is a biological condition, not a hallucination; it runs in families, and is more prevalent in women.

 

What is the weight of thunder? The shadow of a car horn? The taste of the words we speak?…

 

 

*To read the whole article, go to The Good Men Project.

 

Finding Comfort Within: Flying Like A Bird or Setting Like the Sun

What brings you comfort?

 

It’s a wonderful sunny day. Despite the cold temperature, I open a bedroom window and take a breath. The air feels remarkable, clean and tasty. It’s been weeks since we’ve had a day like this.

 

Close your eyes partly or fully, or as much as you feel comfortable doing, take a nice breath in, and out, and taste the air. Just enjoy being nowhere but here for a moment. Then let come to mind a time you felt a deep sense of comfort. What was the situation? Where were you? Were you by yourself or with others? What were you doing? Notice what comfort means to you.

 

When I think about this question, I realize the answer has changed throughout my life. As a child, I remember walking my dog in the wooded area in our neighborhood. Sometimes, we’d take off on a run and all else would be forgotten. All that existed was us, running, together.

 

When I returned home during my college years, to visit my parents in New York City, I remember late nights, after everyone else was asleep and the city had quieted, my mother and I would sit and talk, openly, like at no other time.

 

When I first moved to Ithaca, my future wife and I lived with a group of people near a gorge and waterfall. When I’d go out and stare into that waterfall, I’d see first the flow of water. Then my perspective would shift to focus on one drop, one amongst the multitude, racing down, crashing, disappearing into the current of the creek. Any tension I had previously felt, any thoughts, would be washed away. I’d be left emotionally calm and mentally clear.

 

Now, after getting up and doing basic exercises and stretching, I love to sit with a book that inspires or challenges me. It is a grave mistake to think of reading as an automatic or passive activity that involves simply repeating in your mind someone else’s words. When you give reading your full attention you get to see the world with someone else’s eyes. And this new perspective illuminates depths missed in yourself.  Without a quality reading, the quality of the writing is never perceived. This is why holding a book can feel like holding a mystery or a treasure chest. Reading online or with a kindle doesn’t do that for me no matter the content. In fact, it turns me off.

 

Or writing⎼ I love to write stories, blogs, poems, etc. in the morning, when my mind is fresh. The words enable me to transform into other people, or to fly like a bird, to rain and snow and set like the sun or cuddle with a cat. Creativity can be so satisfying….

 

*To read the whole article, please go to The Good Men Project.

Recovering from the Trauma of DT and Creating A More Democratic Nation

When I listen to the news, I still find myself ready to cringe. We’ve grown used to one attack, one shock after another, continuing assaults on our lives or humanity. It’s been such a relief since President Biden was inaugurated. But the trauma of 4 years of DT, culminating with the domestic terrorist attack on January 6th and his escape from being prosecuted in the Senate for his role in inciting that attack will not go away easily.

 

This is partly because the threat is still here. The politics of hate is all still here. We face a domestic terrorist movement built on hate, lies and a grievance mentality that have walled off about one third or more of this nation from the truth. As Bill Moyers put it, “a democracy can die of too many lies.”

 

And we have a mutating virus that has killed over half a million people. Ken Burns said that we face three viruses: COVID-19, white supremacy, and misinformation.

 

An article by Jeremy Adam Smith from the Greater Good Science Center talks about how to recover from the trauma of the Trump years and the pandemic. These last four plus years have been extremely traumatic, especially 2020. What we face now is grief. We grieve not only the lives lost due to the virus and DT’s malignant mismanagement of it, but the loss of hope, sense of security, and the activities and contacts that sustained us. Many of us have lost our livelihood and home.

 

And we can’t simply let go of grief. Smith quotes psychologist Frederick Luskin, who said, “When we lose something, human beings have a natural reintegration process, which we call ‘grief.” We must integrate it, feel it, suffer it, and understand both the fact of the loss and how we feel about it.

 

We can ignore it for only a short time. We have gone through hell. “January 6 happened, and it can never unhappen. COVID-19 happened. At this writing, 466,000 Americans are dead, and they will never come back.“ “The research says that people who go through horrible experiences but keep it to themselves suffer more, not less.” Sharing the load with others can help lighten the load. Caring, compassion for ourselves and others will lighten the load.  Recognizing how the trauma has affected us can change so much for us all. But even more is needed, more ways of speaking.

 

The DT and GOP attack on our rights and freedom has been building since Ronald Reagan said in his first inaugural address, “Government is not the solution to our problem.  Government is the problem.” Fareed Zakaria, in his book Ten Lessons for A Post-Pandemic World says anti-Federal feeling and distrust in centralized government is in the DNA of this nation and Reagan re-invigorated that sentiment. After all, the American Revolution was a revolt against a King.

 

But Reagan also re-invigorated a concentration of wealth and power in fewer and fewer hands. So his assault on government actually was a masked assault on democracy. It was an assault on the power of the people in favor of the power of the few, the rich. It was in favor of people who want to be kings⎼ or dictators. Or who want a dictator to rule.

 

This anti-federal feeling also led many people to not participate in government. In 2020, we had the highest rate of citizen participation in recent history, 66.7% of eligible voters voted in the presidential election. This was the best turnout since the early 1960s. That means that even in this most meaningful and contentious election, about one-third of adult Americans didn’t (or weren’t allowed to) vote⎼ or speak. According to the Pew Research Center, the U. S. is 30th out of 35 developed democratic nations in terms of the percentage of people who voted in recent years. Since voting is the primary voice of the people, we were censored by ourselves or our government.

 

Our representatives are supposed to represent the interests of all citizens, but they don’t always do that and we’re in trouble if we think of democracy as letting our representatives do all the governing for us. Nor can we allow the GOP to win by preventing us from voting. For example, the lawyers for the Arizona GOP in a Supreme Court case admitted recently that without suppressing the vote, they lose.

 

Many of us hope and/or expect President Biden will get pandemic relief passed, protect voting rights, re-build infrastructure, re-structure health care, free young (and older) people from overwhelming debt from schooling, end Global Warming⎼ and end the concentration of wealth in the hands of the few, end the concentration of privilege and power in the white, rich and male (that has existed ever since, or before, our nation’s founding). Do we intend to hold him responsible if it all doesn’t happen, and quickly? Or hold democracy itself responsible? The GOP would love that.

 

On FB recently there was a meme saying, basically, “Why did we elect Biden if he can’t even get us a guaranteed minimum wage of $15 an hour?”  Why? We know why. Four years of DT is why. Just look at how Biden is managing the pandemic. Despite all the challenges, he is assuming responsibility, one thing DT never did, and doing it with compassion and competence, while recognizing the need to fight inequities in our health care system and government.

 

Biden is a president, not a dictator or wannabee dictator. To pass the New Deal, F. D. R. needed not only Congressional action but the support of the people. And in February the research firm SurverMonkey reported 72% of Americans supported not only pandemic relief but most of Biden’s recovery plan.

 

But as Fareed Zakaria pointed out, our legislative system only works when there’s a willingness amongst our representatives to work cooperatively and to compromise. This isn’t the situation today. The GOP have made cooperation almost impossible. 147 of the GOP in Congress voted to overturn the 2020 election and a few still refuse to recognize that Biden won. Some even assisted in or supported the 1/6/21 assault on our nation, assisted in an attempt at a coup. They are a coup itching to happen.

 

We are still recovering from DT and we need a break. But the forces lined against Biden are powerful and desperate. So, let’s support his efforts while pressuring him to foster policies that sincerely meet our needs. We have a new administration that is more inclined to listen to us and do what serves us, so let’s take advantage of this opportunity. Led by Black Lives Matter protests against the murder of George Floyd, racist policing, and the policies of DT, Americans created the biggest sustained protest movement in modern American history. Millions of voices together can help turn this system around.

 

As we take responsible action to change the state of the nation, to make calls to Congress and find other ways to speak, we consequently act to overcome the trauma of DT and change the state of our hearts and minds.

 

**This post was syndicated by the Good Men Project.

 

 

 

Amidst the Rubble, Flowers Grow

When we’re quarantined with one person, together day in and day out, what happens or can happen between us?

 

The pandemic, magnified by the negligence and mismanagement by the DT administration, has led to isolation and anxiety; it has cost almost one-half a million American lives and over 10 million jobs. It has upset the entire way millions of people live. And losing jobs, losing homes, losing in-person in-school instruction, for example, is not just an inconvenience. It is an unquestioned loss, of stability, of hope, and of income.

 

But can we, at least with our loved ones, re-imagine our time together? Many of us have already begun to do so. Our lives have been simplified. I’m retired and live with just my wife and pets and this is clearly true for me. Are we “stuck” together while quarantined from others? Or are we privileged? If we have less to do and fewer distractions, maybe we can get closer to those we live with instead of taking our fear out on each other. Frightening as it has often been, maybe we can learn to see ourselves and each other more directly and kindly.

 

D. E. Harding, in his book, On Having No Head: Zen and the Re-Discovery of the Obvious, proposes ways to directly encounter our true self. Many of us imagine we are our memories, habits, a self with a head and body standing at a distance and separate from what we see. But one day Harding saw himself differently. He was actually walking in the Himalayas, the sky and air absolutely clear, and suddenly “all mental chatter died down.” Just looking around was completely absorbing. He forgot who he was. Past and future disappeared.

 

And when he looked internally, where he thought his head should be, he instead saw the clear blue sky, the outward scene where his eyes were pointed. He realized he “had lost a head and gained a world.” Or where a head should be situated, he carried the mountains and sky.

 

Imagine looking through a tube, one eye on one end, and our spouse, best friend, lover looking in the other. Eye to eye. This is a startling way to lose a head and gain an intimacy. (The exercise was inspired by Harding but created by Richard Lang, who led workshops worldwide on Harding’s teachings. See the article in the Spring 2021 Tricycle Magazine by Michael Haederle.)

 

There are similar meditation exercises. In sitting position, face another person, eyes to eyes. Breathe in. Breathe out. Together.

 

What do we see when we look in the tube or we face another person directly?

 

Every morning when I get up, after I put on my pants, I go downstairs to look for my wife. 90% of the time she is up before me. I find her in the kitchen or den. And I greet her cheerfully. It’s a promise I make to myself. No matter how well or poorly I sleep I am happy to see her. “Good morning. How are you? How did you sleep? What a day this is!” Being happy with her, I am happy with myself.

 

It’s almost a ritual, or a song we sing to make our house a home. No matter who any of us live with ⎼ children, parents, friends ⎼ or we’re alone, we can adapt the lyrics to fit the situation. But as best we can, make the tune loving, so we wake up to what’s most important ⎼ the nourishment love and kindness give us…..

 

To read the whole post, please go to The Good Men Project.

Freeing Our Minds: So We Don’t Feel Caught in A Place We Don’t Want to Be

In every life, there are moments (or months) that feel endless, when we don’t like where we are but fear we can never get to somewhere other than here, sometime other than now.

 

This is the nature of fear. It can hold us so tight in its embrace that one moment can seem eternal, and we forget all but a tiny fraction of who we are and what we are capable of being.

 

One such moment happened years ago, when I was hitch-hiking in Europe. Today, during the pandemic, it seems incomprehensible that anyone could have traveled so openly. At one point I was hitching from southern France to Sweden with Ingrid, a Swedish friend I had met in Nice, France. I was actually escorting her home, as she had run out of money to fly or take a train and I didn’t have enough to lend her⎼ and I wasn’t ready to say goodbye. The fastest and easiest route was through Germany. We decided to stop off in the capitol, Berlin, and found a ride to take us there.

 

It was 1966. Germany was divided into 4 zones: one controlled by the Union of Soviet-Socialist Republics, one by each of the main Western allies⎼ the U. S., Britain, and France. Berlin was similarly divided but was located in the East or the Soviet zone.

 

When we arrived at the border between East and West Germany, we found it to be a scene out of a war movie. It was heavily fortified. On the Eastern side, not only were there East German troops but Russians. An American troop convoy, with several truckloads of soldiers, had arrived just before we had, and the border guards were inspecting the vehicles before letting them through. This was the height of Soviet-American tensions from the Cold War. Just four years earlier was the Cuban Missile Crisis. Five years earlier, the Soviet-Russians ordered the wall between East and West Berlin to be built to stop people from escaping Soviet oppression.

 

Two border guards stopped our car and told Ingrid and me to get out. We were led inside a cement block building where we were searched and asked to take out our passports. When Ingrid opened her passport, her photo fell from the page to the floor. At that moment, everything stopped, and we froze in place. A large female soldier took Ingrid’s arm and led her to a back room. I was told to stay put.

 

While I was waiting, the driver came in with our back packs. He said he was told to continue on without us and left, wishing us luck.

 

Here we were, stuck at the East German border, with no ride, my friend being questioned in a back room, the authenticity of her passport now doubted by authorities hostile to both our nations. Any attempts by me to ask questions about Ingrid’s status were rebuffed.

 

And it was getting late in the day. Hitch-hiking across the border was difficult anytime, but at night, it could be dangerous….

 

*To read the whole post, please go to the Good Men Project.