Defined by faith, especially

Many Americans participate in a congregation close to their homes – a neighborhood church, as it’s often called.

For others, though, the decision is more selective and may require travel to gather for worship, communal action, and other events.

Frequently, these members define their personal identity strongly by these religious circles – I certainly do as a Quaker. Still others, like Jews or Greeks, find their identity further enhanced by the use of a foreign language, such as Hebrew or Greek, in worship and possibly also at home, as well as unique holidays on dates the wider public doesn’t celebrate.

I am fascinated by the intensity of this identification for some people or its relative weakness in others. I rarely hear individuals define themselves as, say, Methodist or Presbyterian or even Baptist with the sense of intense core identity I hear in Quaker, Greek, Mennonite, or even “nonobservant Jew.”

Think about the Amish, with their German dialect accompanied by distinctive dress and horse-and-carriage transportation. Or Ultra-Orthodox Jews who also observe the dress restrictions and likely add Yiddish to the mix.

Let’s assume we’ll find similar patterns in new ethnic populations appearing in the nation – Islam, especially. Anyone else feeling some empathy?

What’s your experience of religion and personal identity?

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Facing strands of my remaining male vanity

As a little kid, I hated going to the barber. Was it really that painful?

I don’t know when my mother took over, but I doubt it added any style. This was the ’50s, remember, and then the early ’60s.

Looking at those photos, I see a vast improvement when my girlfriends took over.

And then the hippie movement hit. I let mine grow out. It was wild, felt free, and even attracted chicks. One, who’d known me in high school, kept voicing her disbelief, “You’re so cool now.” Like what happened?

Looking at the photos, though, I should have had it styled. Really. It’s embarrassing, even with the headband.

Sketch of me by the late Douglas Dorph,, 1971 or ’72.

Once I moved to the ashram, it started getting shorter. Not all at once, but by degrees. We were cleaning up our act, as Swami said.

By the time I was back out “in the world,” mine was mostly about sideburns, and then my locks were in the hands of my first wife, the artist.

Flash ahead a decade, right after the divorce, and I was visiting the Big Apple for a job interview. A good friend who always looked great in a new ‘do arranged for me to visit her hair stylist in Brooklyn. The session was quite the revelation, even after he ran his fingers through my mane and declared with disgust, “Dis hair wasn’t cut in New York.” I mumbled a dumb apology akin to groveling.

Well, whatever he did worked. I landed the job.

A second current was running through many of those years. It started at the temples, the receding hairline. Invisible to me was what was happening at the crown. Shortly after I relocated to New England, I was starting to look like a medieval monk there.

Well, when I was walking with a good friend who’s a family physician, he quipped that a popularly advertised shampoo or daily pill wouldn’t do any good in my case. I had the wrong patterning or some such for it to address. Alas.

And then, once I’d remarried, my daughters warned me of dire consequences if I ever grew my ponytail back. So the thinning continued.

After the younger one had gone off to college, my roommate from my own first year after came up for a visit. I was in shock. His eyes were still the sparkling blue and his voice and laughter were as musical as ever but – gasp – that naturally blond Afro he had sported was totally gone, leaving a shiny dome in its place. Something was off, seriously wrong.

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Cutting down on caffeine

My other big dietary change – beyond the Healthy Heart stuff – has been cutting my caffeine intake to one cup a day.

If I’m to take a prescription to counter an unrelated medical problem, the caffeine has to be greatly curbed. Seems it counteracts the medicine.

This has been major. I’m a writer, after all, and a retired journalist. My habitual intake had been three to five mugs a day. Café au lait mugs, a third to a half filled with milk.

It’s the way I wake up and also the way I continue through the day. Or did.

I’m still waking up to a café au lait mug. We use dark-roasted beans or Spanish ground coffee, essentially espresso. It’s rich, flavorful, and stands up to the milk and sugar I add – enough, as I joke, to turn the brew into chocolate.

By chance, I came upon an instant coffee substitute – Cafix – at the local natural foods store, and this serves nicely for the second round.

By midafternoon, though, I’d really like a jolt of the real stuff. That I miss. Many days I find myself taking a nap instead.

Should we go to half-decaf on the real coffee itself? I feel that’s cheating.

Or cut out the coffee altogether? Now we’re talking daily ritual, as in showering or dressing.

Or just use a demitasse and take one quick gulp?

No, I’ll just resolve myself to slowly sipping the one I have. Down to the last drop, without complaining.

Well, then. Salud! And top of the morning to you, too.

Further developments percolate into the revised stories

In the five years since the publication of my Hippie Trails novels and their transmutation into the new and improved Freakin’ Free Spirits cycle now appearing, I’ve learned a lot about the counterculture experience.

Some of it has sprung from comments you’ve made here at the Red Barn, some of it from observations I’ve received after reconnecting with others who shared in some of the experiences I recounted, and some from remarks made by others in casual conversations or online groups.

I’m thinking, too, of how much the nation has yet to learn from the experience.

Despite the emotional devastation of the ill-advised Vietnam engagement, the country went on to launch two wars in Iraq as well as the unending quagmire in Afghanistan. They’re costing us dearly, especially when politicians tell us we can’t afford health care or education – and still insist we can pay for these horrific misadventures.

On a more positive note, there’s much to reclaim in rebuilding community. Cassia’s great-grandfather’s vision of an inner-city village still resonates with me. Are there relationships akin to family we can nurture and sustain? I hope so.

As for her uncle’s guerrilla economix? Quite possibly, especially if you watch were you choose to shop.

Here, then, is to the continuing Revolution of Peace & Love. Cheers!

Adjusting to a Healthy Heart diet  

You vegans out there, take comfort. Your cholesterol levels must be amazing.

After my near-miss non-heart attack, or whatever we want to call it, my diet’s undergone some drastic – even painful – redirection.

Look, I don’t want to sound like a victim or act the martyr, when it comes to food, it seems like everybody has some kind of limitation. Ever try to plan an all-inclusive menu for any social gathering nowadays?

Still, looking at the American Heart Association’s Healthy Heart guidelines has me thinking of perpetual Lent along the Greek Orthodox lines. Heavens! At least I can still have my daily martini, with the definitive stuffed olive.

Red meat is limited to once a week, and that includes pork. Three eggs, which you’ll find hidden in all kinds of food, and a microscopic amount of butter, which is likewise infused, as well as cheese – yikes – they’re are also out! (Well, we have found low-fat cheese. Ain’t quite the same. And while egg whites are allowed in unlimited amounts, it’s the yolks that have all the flavor.) So there went my three main fallback ingredients when I had a hunkering. A good omelet used all three, easily. Thank goodness mushrooms are still OK in other combinations.

Look, before all this there had many days when we didn’t touch any meat – nada – and I was perfectly happy. But now?

Let me tell you about the first time I stopped for fast food at breakfast and thought the muffin was allowed. Bonk! Or a doughnut. Ditto bonk!

At home, the butter I’ve loved has given way to apple butter or jams and jellies. That’s fine, though I still look at that yellow stick on the counter with some lusting. Oh, God, do I!

But six months into this routine, I had lost weight I couldn’t afford to lose. I had lost appetite, too. My wife and I independently came to the same conclusion: I needed to get more fat into my diet. We’re still working on it.

Yes, it’s a sidestroke

So there I was, swimming my laps when one of the lifeguards asked, “Excuse me, is that a sidestroke?”

Like what, I’m doing something wrong … after sixty years of this?

Uh, no. Turns out he didn’t know how to do one. A butterfly stroke, yes. But this essential way of swimming?

So I ask, “Didn’t you need it with a reverse kick to pass lifesaving?”

Turns out, no, they’ve changed the requirements. No more cross-chest carry, either.

Huh?

No, they use a backstroke to keep the victim’s neck and back more secure.

Wow, times have changed.

At least he’d heard the sidestroke was great for swimming distances, as in the ocean. I gave him a few tips.

But, jeez, I hate feeling old. I remember when CPR was the new thing, and it was much, much gentler than what they’re teaching these kids. I can expect a few broken bones if they go for it, and I’ll be grateful.

Yes, even with that, I trust them with my life.