All Roads Lead To…?

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;

Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim
Because it was grassy and wanted wear,
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,

And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I marked the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way
I doubted if I should ever come back.

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I,
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

I was a freshman in high school when I first read Robert Frost’s poem, “The Road Not Taken”. While finding it interesting, I can’t say that it evoked much feeling in me. Then again at the age of 14, I hadn’t found myself at a crossroads requiring a decision that would affect the rest of my life. Throughout the years, I’ve re-read this poem many times and it has conjured up a myriad of feelings depending upon where I found myself in my life and how I felt about where I was.

Sometimes I thought that I had taken that less traveled road and I was proud of myself for that. Fast-forward to another moment in time, and that less traveled road found me feeling lonely and isolated. Then there were all the times that I felt like I had traveled the well-worn path along with the masses and that belief left me feeling bored and not at all unique.

Recently I began to ask a different question when thinking about this poem and the proverbial “road not taken”. What if there are no un-taken roads? What if we manage to take each of the roads instead of choosing only one? How is that possible? It may be possible if the theory of parallel lives is true.

For a long time I’ve sensed that there is more to our existence and reality than what we can gather from our five senses. It has seemed to me that our relatively short time here on Earth, even if you live to an old age, is minuscule compared to the age of the universe. Why, then, would we only have 40, 50, 80 years of consciousness and then either nothing or an eternity of bliss or anguish? It doesn’t make sense to me.

Therefore, I’ve thought that the idea of reincarnation makes sense. I tend to believe that we keep learning and growing after our life on Earth ends. Whether that means coming back to Earth or learning some other way, I don’t know. I just know that I don’t believe in a “one-shot, you’re in Heaven, Hell or nothingness” approach to the afterlife.

Even this has not completely satisfied me when I think about all the “missed” opportunities within one lifetime. So, what if whenever we come to one of those “fork in the road” decisions, one part of us chooses one path and somewhere in a parallel universe, the other one of us goes down the other path? Paths then fork again and again with parallel lives having all kinds of experiences all benefiting the enlightenment of the soul.

Have you ever wondered how your life would have been different had you made a different decision? What if you had chosen this person instead of that one? What if you had majored in college in something you really wanted instead of what you thought would get you a job? What if? What if?”

What if the only choice is which lifetime you consciously remember?

Baring My Soul About Bearing Arms

This is a 9 mm Smith & Wesson M&P. I bought it three and a half years ago and I’m not sure I want it anymore. The gun itself is very nice. The recoil isn’t too bad and there are interchangeable grips; a helpful feature for someone with small hands like me. The dilemma regarding ownership is purely a moral one.

Just like I didn’t come from a camping or skiing family, I didn’t come from a hunting or shooting family either. Oh sure, my Dad had a .38 Special he kept in his dresser drawer for protection living in the ‘hood and for shooting cans when we’d go on vacation to Guerneville on the Russian River. Luckily, he never had to use it in self-defense. It was never locked in a safe, or had a child lock on it. He did keep the bullets somewhere else, however. Back then, child-proofing involved a talk from Dad:

Dad
(showing me the gun)
This is Daddy’s gun. It’s not a toy.
Don’t touch it. Do you understand?

Kelly
Yes, Daddy.

That was it. He did try to teach my mother to shoot it once while we were on vacation. It didn’t go well. Even with such a tiny gun, Mom kept dropping the barrel and Dad worried that she’d shoot her foot. Or his. Hence, the lessons ended. When he died, Mom and I didn’t want the gun around since neither of us had the skill or the desire to shoot. So, we turned it in to the city of San Francisco for cash.

Fast-forward to 2008 and I found myself contemplating learning how to shoot. Part of my reasoning had to do with not wanting to be afraid of firearms. There was a lot of talk at the time about the Second Amendment and gun rights in general, so it got me to thinking that I should give this “right to bear arms” thing a whirl.

I took classes, bought the gun and for about a year, I went to the gun range almost every weekend. I found it empowering and humbling. Until you’ve fired a gun, you have no idea about the power that it expends. There is definitely a skill to target shooting and I loved challenging myself. I was also pleasantly surprised that the stereotype I had in my mind about “gun people” wasn’t what I experienced. At the range I frequented in Silicon Valley, the demographics included all age groups, men and women, and all different races and ethnicities. I realized that this was the Bay Area, but still, it was refreshing.

Over the past couple of years, I’ve found myself not only disinterested in shooting but actually pondering the karmic ramifications of gun ownership for me. The main question is, am I inviting unwanted violence into my life by merely having a gun? I’ve always been someone who gave credence to the belief that we manifest what we focus on. And if my focus is on shooting a gun and getting better at it, am I somehow inviting the universe to provide me with an opportunity to do just that, but not at a paper target? It’s a frightening thought.

I’ve wondered if I’d have the same karmic dilemma if I decided to take self-defense classes or martial arts. Is there a difference between these two situations? I honestly don’t know. I do know that I’m really curious to get some input from any readers who have an opinion one way or the other.

Lighten Up Your Enlightenment

Is it possible to be spiritual and funny at the same time? This has long been a dilemma of mine that I recently shared over the phone with my friend and fellow blogger, Adele Uddo. We were discussing blogging, life and being on a spiritual path.

Like Adele, I’ve always been a spiritual seeker. 12 years of Catholic school provided me with a good head start. At the very least, studying Catholic Church history during my junior year in high school enabled me to answer “Charlemagne” for the pie in Trivial Pursuit years later. Take that, you public school kids!

What I didn’t find spiritually while growing up Catholic, I tried to find in other ways. I’ve had Tarot cards read. (22 is a powerful number for me but I don’t recall why.) I’ve had my natal chart done and discovered that my Leo sun is buried in the 12th House (probably along with those three Gillian Welch CDs that I can’t find). I went to a psychic who told me that my dream man was a swarthy Greek. The only time that I’d want a man, let alone a swarthy Greek one, would be if I needed a waiter because I ran out of ouzo on vacation in Athens.

So, I have the curiosity but I’m afraid to really embrace my spirituality because I don’t want to become one of those annoying people. I’m not talking about the Tim Tebow types. That goes without saying. I’m talking about those perennially blissed out, airy-fairy types who are always spouting New Age fortune cookie advice at you. You know the type.

New Ager
Money is an illusion.

Kelly
Tell that to the credit card company.

And spiritual people can be so serious! I can’t imagine that anyone ever sat down with Mother Teresa and told her a joke.

 

“So a priest, a rabbi and a duck go into a bar…”

 

 

How can I find inner peace while not losing my desire and ability to poke fun at the absurd aspects of everyday life? Will I lose my satirical streak if I meditate and commune with the universe? If any of you have any ideas, please let me know. I’ll be over in the corner with the Dalai Lama, a martini and a karaoke machine.

Yes, Sister Gabriel, There is a Santa Claus

This is me back in 4th grade in 1974. I can hear the giggles and see the pointing all the way across the blogosphere. God, that was a bad look for me. Although, the hair and sweater may have made me an excellent candidate for a spot with the Bay City Rollers. All I needed was a little tartan and a Scottish accent. What do you think?

It was before Christmas when this woman, Sister Gabriel, my 4th grade teacher, decided to drop a bombshell. No, she wasn’t retiring immediately and thus making 4th grade safe for children once again. That would have been too wonderful. Her announcement wafted over our heads menacingly like the smell that occurred when she made a boy named Tony sit on the heater to dry his pants after he peed them. And it was just as disturbing.

I can’t remember what led up to it but this is what she said:

Sister Gabriel
There is no Tooth Fairy. There is no Easter
Bunny, and there is no Santa Claus!

 Miscellaneous Children
(Whimpering and Screaming)
No!

As you can imagine, we were distraught and all ran home crying to our parents. Kids back then weren’t as jaded or grown up as kids are today. Our childhoods, and in many respects our innocence, lasted longer. All of my friends still believed in Santa at the age of nine, so Sister Gabriel’s announcement caused a bit of a moral dilemma. On the one hand, there was this authority figure, and a nun to boot, telling us this “truth”. On the other hand, she was a mean old biddy who hated children. What to think, what to think.

When I informed my mother what Sister Gabriel had said, she was very upset, saying that Sister Gabriel had no right to say such a thing, who did she think she was, etc. Then Mom calmed down and proceeded to dazzle me with her explanation.

Mom
Well, I feel sorry for Sister Gabriel
because the only thing she’ll get in
her  Christmas stocking is coal.

That was an excellent passive-aggressive response, wasn’t it? Fake concern for Sister Gabriel’s stocking contents while delivering an insult. Give my mother some props! Mom then went on.

 Kelly
But, is she right? Is Santa a lie?

Mom
Let me ask you a question.
Do you fill your own
Christmas stocking?

 Kelly
No! Who fills their own stocking?

 Mom
That’s right. Mommy doesn’t fill
hers and Daddy doesn’t fill his.
Let me ask you another question.

Do you see how my mother has mastered the art of deflection? Like a smooth politician, she never answered my original question but went on to distract me with other questions and answers. Brilliant!

 Mom
(continuing)
Do you fill Daddy’s stocking?

 Kelly
Of course not!

 Mom
How about Mommy’s stocking?

 Kelly
No! You’re silly.

 Mom
Well, if you don’t fill your stocking and you
don’t fill Mommy’s and Daddy’s stockings
and Mommy and Daddy don’t fill their
stockings, who fills them? Hmm?

This reminds me of those annoying word problems in math class that would include lots of extra information not needed to actually solve the problem. Instead of focusing on the trains traveling in opposite directions, I’d always get hung up on what the conductor’s name was or what kind of sandwich he was eating. Now I see why.

 Kelly
Well, it has to be…Santa!

I proceeded to hug my mother and I ended up believing in Santa Claus for another couple of years. Mom gave me more than answers that year. She gave me the permission to continue believing despite the protestations of others.  And she gave me love. These two things have always been the most treasured gifts. They certainly beat coal. Do you hear that, Sister Gabriel?

Welcome to Bizarro World

In my never-ending quest to not just entertain, but to enlighten you, I came across this interesting article today. Apparently, British theoretical physicists are attempting to find evidence of multiple alternative universes, aka, “multiverses”. You science fiction and comic book readers are very familiar with the idea of a multiverse. (See DC Comics Infinite Crisis and 52, for just two examples.)

In essence, the thought is that we live in a multiverse in which new universes form each time they collide with each other. What really piqued my interest was the theory that these universes could possibly not adhere to the laws of nature with which we’re familiar. For example, time could move backward instead of forward. Freaky, right?

This is just like Bizarro World. For the uninitiated, Bizarro World, aka, Htrae, is a fictional planet in the DC Comics universe. In Bizarro World, society lives by the Bizarro Code in which everything is done the opposite way it’s done on Earth. I had a dream that I woke up in Bizarro World.

Someone named “Snooki” who inhabits Jersey Shore, supposedly makes $100,000 an episode. According to a website called PayScale, high school teachers in New Jersey earn between $35,269 – $73,705 per year. Snooki must be doing something really impressive.

Then, I hear a creepy disembodied voice talking to me. I’ve heard it before but I have a hard time placing it at first. I realize that it’s Michele Bachmann.

Suddenly, I wake up shaking and covered in sweat.

“Good thing that world isn’t real,” I mumble. But then, I turn on the television and see:

“No, no, no!” I scream. “This can’t be happening. It must be Bizarro World!”

I hear another voice, this time emanating from inside my own head. The voice says, “Kelly, this is your world, for better or worse. Just because it’s not Bizarro World doesn’t mean it’s not bizarre.”

Death and Catholics

To those of us who grew up Catholic, especially of the Irish and Italian variety, funerals and cemeteries were as much a part of growing up as playing CYO (Catholic Youth Organization) sports and dodging a nun’s fury. The first significant death in my life came while I was in utero. When my mother was seven months pregnant with moi, her best friend, who was her brother, was killed by a drunk driver, He was 36 years old and the father of seven. Can we say that the last couple months of her pregnancy were stressful? There are no pictures of her pregnant because she was crying all the time. For years I insisted that I was either (a) adopted or (b) the next Immaculate Conception. With my mother, the latter was definitely more plausible.

From 1965 to 1976, there were at least seven immediate family members who died. I must admit that I didn’t attend the rosaries and funerals of these relatives until my maternal grandmother’s funeral in 1976. You see, a traditional Catholic rosary features an open casket which, to many, let alone a child, is a tad gruesome. So, when Nan died, my parents wanted to spare me the trauma of kneeling in front of her, seeing her decked out in one of her prettiest dresses with hair and makeup perfect. It never occurred to them to just CLOSE THE CASKET. No. Not an option.

What I was required to do on practically a weekly basis was to schlepp between four cemeteries with flowers for the various dead relatives. In those days, the Catholic Church didn’t allow cremation; so getting scattered to the wind wasn’t an option. You were buried in the ground and that was that. The dead needed a place to go that the rest of us could visit. Kind of like that one rich kid in school or a rich relative who had the summer place you got invited to occasionally. As with the rich kid or relative, the cemetery served as a reminder to the living to pay some damn respect. Jesus, the Virgin Mary, the saints and the dead relatives were ALL watching. Guilt does survive the grave. Don’t you forget it.

This sentiment is why it’s so ironic that my mother doesn’t visit the cemetery anymore. The change seemed to have happened when her mother died. After that initial pilgrimage following the funeral Mass, she hasn’t been back. She doesn’t even know if the headstone has been updated. And when my Dad died 20 years ago, she has only visited a handful of times. I haven’t really asked her why mainly because I haven’t wanted to get re-acquainted with the weekly cemetery crawl. I don’t need to visit a plot of ground with a stone slab on it in order to think about my father or my grandmother. I have my memories and that is enough. Maybe after a lifetime of open caskets, chanted rosaries and funeral plots, it’s enough for Mom too.

What’s in a Name?

I’m named after a priest and a saint. And not just any priest, but the one who married my parents. And the saint? None other than the grandmother of Jesus, St. Anne. If this isn’t either (a) pressure to be really, really good or (b) a damn good reason to rebel, I don’t know what is. (In case you’re wondering, I practically wore a halo until college.)

Anne is my middle name because of infertility. You see, it took my parents nine years to have me and it was during those nine years that my mother and grandmother would go out to St. Anne’s Church in San Francisco and attend St. Anne’s novenas. Apparently, St. Anne is the “go-to” gal for women who want to have a child. So, for nine days every year for nine years, my mother and grandmother made the pilgrimage and prayed for a baby. I’ve told my mother that St. Anne must have gotten tired of seeing them and finally had a serious chat with Jesus. I imagine it went something like this:

Jesus
(sighing and rolling his eyes):
If this is about my hair again. I can’t help it if
hippies like it. I’m not getting a “Beatles” cut.

St. Anne
But you would look so cute! Like Paul! But this
isn’t about that. It’s about a baby for the Reiterman
woman. It’s been nine years and it’s getting depressing.

Jesus
Well, it sounds like she’s been devout. Have you spied
on her and her family? Are they sane? Loving? Amusing?

St. Anne
Yes, yes and yes. And if they have a girl, they will
name her after a priest and a uh, very special saint.

Jesus
Oh, really? Let me take a wild guess. You?

St. Anne
Well, I have to take the naming where I can.
It’s not like my own daughter honored me that way.

Jesus
How could she? I’m the Messiah and a man! Can you imagine
the teasing I would have suffered with a girl’s name?

St. Anne (pouting)
Still.

Jesus
Okay, okay. I’ll put in the requisition. Happy now?

St. Anne
Yes, dear boy. But, really, just a little trim…

In case you’re wondering about my last name, I’ve been told that Reiterman means, “man riding a horse” or a “horseman”. So, in addition to being named for a priest and a saint, I’m descended from a German jockey. That certainly explains why I’m short.