“Egomania coupled with an inferiority complex”

Looking toward Lebanon from an archaeological site (I don't remember the name--that's my main problem with travel pics).

Looking toward Lebanon from an archaeological site (I don’t remember the name–that’s my main problem with travel pics).

There’s nothing egocentric about me? A certain organization I’m a part of speaks of “egomaniacs with inferiority complexes.” I think if that shoe fits, I ought to wear it.

Well, it does, and I have it on. Both feet.

In a week I’m off on a visit (my third) to Palestine. The group I’m going with is made up of Christians (I assume everyone in the group although I don’t know for sure) going with the Sabeel Ecumenical Liberation Theology Center in Jerusalem.

I have been to Sabeel’s headquarters before. Samia Khoury, a member of the Center, is an acquaintance (no, a friend) whom I discovered on the Internet several years ago and had a correspondence with long before we met in Jerusalem in 2008.

A couple who will be part of the visit to Sabeel are seasoned proponents of Liberation Theology as it applies to the Palestinians, as well as political support for the Palestinians. I have known them since 1985 when he was interim rector of Grace Church in Salem, MA, where I was music director.

The first time I was in Palestine I was with a delegation from the Fellowship of Reconciliation. An independent organization has been created from FOR with the purpose of leading delegations to Israel/Palestine, Interfaith Peace Builders. I count three of the people from that first trip, two of whom are now on the staff of IFPB, as friends and colleagues.

The second trip I took to Palestine was with a group mainly of members of Lutheran churches from the Dallas area. It was led by Ann Hafften, long-time advocate for peace in Palestine/Israel and member of the ELCA leadership devoted to that cause.

My first trip to Palestine was prompted in 2003 by my increasing puzzlement about the situation there as we Americans were told about it in the media. Somewhere in one of my blogs is the story of my meeting (and teaching) a Palestinian student at Bunker Hill Community College in Boston in 1987. He did more teaching of me than I of him. He told me first-hand the story of his and his family’s exile from their home. That was my first real knowledge of the “facts on the ground” in Palestine, and when we Americans began hearing the horrendous news about the First Intifada, I knew in my heart of hearts that we could not be hearing the whole truth―or even very much of it.

So I decided to go there and see for myself.

The rest, as far as my knowledge and involvement is concerned (shudder at the cliché), is history. I challenge anyone reading this to stand beside the Apartheid Wall―you don’t need to tell me I’m biased: someone has to be―in Jerusalem and not be shaken, moved, horrified, disgusted. I have no “right” word for my weeping that first day in 2003. And the wall wasn’t built yet at that particular place in Jerusalem. We stood overlooking the great miles-long gouge in the earth that would soon be the Wall.

There is nothing unbiased about my feeling, speaking, writing, acting on the situation of the Palestinian people.

On my first trip there, I had no expertise with the Internet. I came home with hundreds of pictures and no way to use them. The idea of posting online was a pipedream.

My second trip was different. These days I quite frequently post pictures I took then.

This visit will be different still. I will have both my smart phone and my iPad with me, and I will be blogging probably every day.
Here’s where my egocentricity comes in.

Where to post? Here on this blog that had its inception as a humorous look at growing old? I doubt there will be much humor to write about although I will have a good time, and I will be joyful in being with old friends.

No, the hookah did not make me hallucinate (I don't know how my friend managed this). A restaurant in Bethlehem.

No, the hookah did not make me hallucinate (I don’t know how my friend managed this). A restaurant in Bethlehem.

Should I post on the blog where every day I post news from and about Palestine, a digest of news accounts (and a poem by a Palestinian poet just because I can’t help myself)? That hardly seems sensible since my postings will be personal and immediate.

Or should I post on a blog I have kept for years, one that I have not used much since “Me senescent” began? It is much more about personal opinion and reaction to circumstances and events.

The name of the blog is my incorrect pidgin Latin (intended to be humorous, or at least tongue-in-cheek) for “I am not crazy.” Sumnonrabidus.

I’ve decided that all of you and the whole world (there’s my egomania) will want to read my personal account, so I will be blogging as “Sumnonrabidus” beginning a week from today. I am not crazy. Just a little wacky and opinionated.

My opinions, as anyone who reads this blog knows, include my agnosticism bordering on atheism. Being with a group of Christian Liberation Theologians for ten days may be as much a challenge as getting to and through Ben Gurion Airport alone (I have never left the country for any reason—ten times now—by myself). But I assume I can trust that the hotel taxi will be at the airport to fetch me to Jerusalem. And I assume that there is a place for me in a religious atmosphere. At least I can focus on the “liberation” part of the discussion and the experience.

Watch Sumnonrabidus beginning November 3.

The Fearless Bedouin, 2008.

The Fearless Bedouin, 2008.

This technological (digital) stuff is for the birds (as my dad would have said)

Early last spring I was taking a walk during a break from tutoring at the Academic Development of Student Athletes center at SMU–walking around the Ford Football Stadium. It was one of those spectacularly clear North Texas days–chilly but with the sky a deep almost shimmering blue as I think I’ve never seen anywhere else. The result, as one might guess, was spectacularly clear shadows on the pavement.

I’ve been working at getting myself up to speed on my digital devices–iPad and iPhone. I don’t want to lug my computer on my trip to Palestine/Israel. I started by trying to figure out what the “cloud” is and how to take advantage of it. No progress. But in the process I found a plethora of photos on my phone that I had forgotten about (even more that I’ve forgotten who or what they are). This great picture of my shadow on the football stadium plaza is one of them.


This old hippie-days shot is another. It’s a scan of a pic from about 1970. Some time, at any rate, before I was old enough to know better. Better than what? Anything. The question is, “Why is the pic on my phone?” How did it get there? Must have something to do with that “cloud.”

I at least know who these people are and where the pic was taken


I’m with Maggie and Sarah (surnames omitted to protect the innocent) at after-service-sherry-hour on Christmas Eve about 1976. I think I know how that ended up on my phone–I took a picture of the old picture.


Not too long ago I went to Bed Bath and Beyond to get a hand-soap dispenser for my kitchen. I could not resist buying this simply because of that poster. Of course I had to take a picture of it. Isn’t that why one carries an iPhone? This simple human needed something calling itself “simplehuman.” It’s too simple, however. It stopped working after about two weeks.

Selfies. Ah! selfies. This one is from the Perot Museum of Nature and Science in Dallas.


I’m going to have to learn how to resize pics on my iPad. I love this pic. Am I being formed as a fossil? Is that what happens when you turn 70?

And finally, one that means something, something important. I know how it got onto my phone – I asked someone to take it because I want to remember the moment. For a long time.

I’m volunteering to register students for the fall semester at the Aberg Center for Literacy, where I teach a class to prepare adult students to take the GED exam. It’s the great joy of my life right now. Who would have thought that an old guy like me could find something so useful, so enjoyable, so unselfish to do in his “retirement?”


This one I don’t want to shrink (although I’d like to know how). Perfectly selfish I am. If I’m going to do something that might benefit someone else, I want to have fun doing it – LOVE IT!

The one task I apparently didn’t figure out on my iPad is making hyperlinks. I’m sure I did it correctly, but the link would not connect when I opened this blog post on my computer. It’s the most important line here.

ABERG CENTER FOR LITERACY.

I think I’m blessed, lucky, happy. All of these memories, all of the sweet nonsense, all of the friends–shall I get really sentimental here?–all of that stuff would have little meaning if I could not continue–could not participate in something important, something greater than what I have already known. I’ve been given a task to keep me from fossil formation!

(I would be grateful if you’d take a look at the other project that keeps me from being “cast in stone.”)

“. . . I think something weak strengthens until they are more and more it . . .” (Kay Ryan)

The organist as a kid.

Portrait of the organist as a young man.

If anyone had asked me, say 20 years ago, if I thought I’d live to be 70, I would have said, “Of course.” The problem is, I didn’t expect it to happen so soon.

There’s no rule book for getting older (or, eventually, old). One of the unspoken regulations, however, is that you don’t talk about being old. If you want people to think of you as a person instead of a relic. Or don’t want people to think you’re asking for attention or special treatment.

I don’t think of myself as old. My friends hear me talk about being old all the time. What they (many of them at any rate) don’t understand is how much fun I’m having when I say I’m an old man. I didn’t expect it to happen so soon, and very little of my mind can actually comprehend that I’m 70.

When my father’s father was 70, my father was 40, and I was 10. When Granddad died, he was 92, my dad was 62, and I was 32. When Dad died, he was 97 and I was a few months shy of 67.

I’ve written here before about my cane. Yes, I fell, damaged my hip, and had to have surgery (not a replacement). Then when I was almost healed from that (physical therapy and the whole nine yards), I fell again. No surgery, but another 6 months with the cane. Now I’ve been without it for six months, and have been working with a trainer and getting stronger than I have been in 20 years.

The funny thing (“peculiar” not “ha-ha” as my mother would have said) about my cane is that it didn’t occur to me until I was at the fitness center working with the trainer, seeing myself in the mirrors that line the walls (are fitness freaks narcissists or masochists that they need to watch themselves?), and realizing that’s what others saw when they looked my way, that I look 70 years old. Not only 70, but not in good shape.

Who ever―except those fitness freaks―thinks realistically about what they look like?

“Realistically,” I said.

The cute guy in the picture at the top of this page is me. I was University Chapel Organist when I was a senior in college. 1966 and 21 years old. I think that’s what I think I look like today. Yes, that’s what I look like.

I can get away with that self-deception because looking out from this body, I don’t feel any difference in the structure or coloring or shape of my face. Or of the color and thickness of my hair. Or. . . . Unless I’m looking in a mirror, I can carry the memory of my 21-year-old face around with me and never notice that I’m fooling myself.

That may be one of the dangers of growing old. A certain ability to ignore reality. Or it may not be a danger. It may be a necessity.

Learning to live in my body as it is at 70 instead of how I imagine it to be is as elusive as it is necessary. Notice, I did not say learning to “accept” my body as it is. Part of living in my body is learning to take care of it. And learning that I need always to be trying to make it stronger, not always giving in to the natural weakening of old age.

My diet has been healthier for the last two years than it was for decades before that. I exercise. The basic is walking 2 miles every day. I have other routines that I do regularly a couple of days a week.

So my body and I are working together to make my image of myself as healthy and strong something of a reality.

But there’s something else going on.

Kay Ryan (she’s also 70, but she’s been Poet Laureate of the Library of Congress, and won the Pulitzer Prize, and has all manner of accomplishments) says that “As some people age they kinden” (they get “kinder” in case you don’t get the wonderful poetic license with the language).

I’m not sure I’ve ever been kind. In fact, I am a bull-headed, blustering, judgmental loud-mouth. I don’t like stupid people (if you are stupider than I am, you are a threat because I’m afraid I might discover that I really am as stupid as you are).

“Something weak strengthens.”

I hope so. And I hope it’s not just my glutes so I don’t fall again.

I hope it’s my kindness. I hope it’s my generosity. I hope it’s my ability to empathize with folks (all folks). I hope it’s my willingness to be vulnerable. I hope it’s all those weak things about me that looking in the mirror doesn’t show. Those things others see and like and might even be helped or inspired by.

I want to kinden.

“AGE,”  BY  KAY  RYAN
As some people age
they kinden.
The apertures
of their eyes widen.
I do not think they weaken;
I think something weak strengthens
until they are more and more it,
like letting in heaven.
But other people are
mussels or clams, frightened.
Steam or knife blades mean open.
They hear heaven, they think boiled or broken.

――Persimmon Tree: An Online Magazine of the Arts by Women over Sixty. Web. 2011.
http://www.persimmontree.org/v2/summer-2011/sixteen-poems/

(I would appreciate your visiting my other blog. Thank you.)

Portrait of the organist a couple of years later.

Portrait of the organist a couple of years later.

From the foundation of the world?

Come ye blessed of my father. (Michelangelo, Sistine Chapel.)

Come ye blessed of my father. (Michelangelo,
Sistine Chapel.)

In a little more than two weeks I will be in Jerusalem. I will spend ten nights in Palestine and Israel―in Bethlehem, Nazareth, and religiously important places in the Galilee, as well as Jerusalem. I have been to all of these places before. The first time I was in Palestine, I also had the remarkable experience of spending two days and a night in Gaza.

In the late ‘80s-early ‘90s I was in therapy with a Jewish Jungian psychiatrist in Cambridge, MA. He is about my age (we were both very young at that time). My neurologist referred me to him because he had experience working with persons with Temporal Lobe Epilepsy, the condition with which the neurologists at Harvard Medical School had recently diagnosed me after I had lived with it for 40 years.

One of the presentations of TLE is a propensity for heightened religious experiences. Out-of-body experiences, strange feelings of transcendence, seeing visions. All manner of mystical experience.

I have had quite a few of those experiences, but I have never exactly attributed them to being in touch with God or the gods or the meaning of the universe as some TLEptics do. From childhood I have had what might be called a “mystical” bent―having deep experiences of connectedness to reality of some kind. I have tried to explain those experiences many times.

In a folder on my computer desk top I have a miscellaneous assortment of documents with stuff I want to be able to find if I ever need it. Somewhat like my last year’s tax return―it’s here somewhere. One of those documents is a quotation from Fyodor Dostoyevsky describing his seizures (I have no record of the article that quotes Strakhov).

Nikolay Strakhov, a philosopher and literary critic, and a friend of Dostoyevsky relates Dostoevsky’s description of the aura: ‘…Often told me that before the onset of an attack there were minutes in which he was in rapture.’ “For several moments,” he said, “I would experience such joy as would be inconceivable in ordinary life―such joy that no one else could have any notion of. I would feel complete harmony in myself and in the whole world and this feeling was so strong and sweet that for few seconds of such bliss I would give ten or more years of my life, even my whole life perhaps.” Frank J. Goldstein. Selected Letters of Fyodor Dostoevsky. New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press (1987).

I don’t know if the experience on the Oregon coast I linked to above was a seizure, a mystical experience, or simply the way anyone who hadn’t a care in the world for the moment would experience the ocean and the cold air and the solitude. My guess is that many (most?) people have these experiences, but they don’t feel compelled to write about them. And they don’t think of them as “religious.”

I should note here that the times I know for sure I am having a seizure are not wonderful. A month ago, for example, I was walking at the fitness center and suddenly had no idea where I was or why I was there (which is a much more frequent experience than being at one with the ocean). It’s more difficult for me to explain that kind of experience than the mystical ones (or whatever they are). Fortunately at the fitness center I was able to get to a bench and sit before I checked out completely. I came to (after probably 2 or 3 seconds) and knew someone named Chris was nearby and that I should see him.

But I had no idea where or who he was or why I needed to find him. It took me a few minutes to remember he is my trainer, and I had an appointment with him in a few minutes.

So that’s the sum total of my mystical experience.

For the most part.

Since I find it almost impossible to say I believe in God these days, it’s just as well that I don’t have experiences where I think I’ve run into her.

When I was working with the Jewish Jungian psychiatrist in Massachusetts, he told me he hoped I would someday have the experience of standing at the Western Wall (the “Wailing Wall”) in Jerusalem. He thought anyone who had had so many “mystical” (I’ll call them that for want of a better description) experiences needed to be in that place where so much of the Western religious tradition had been centered, supposedly, for 2,500 years.

When I finally touched the Wall in 2003, I had nothing like a religious experience. Perhaps that was because on my way down into the courtyard I was greeted by a teenage girl and boy (Israeli soldiers carrying assault rifles) obviously looking everyone over with suspicion, and it was difficult to feel anything other than wariness. I was not wearing a yarmulke as the other men in our group were.

I am fairly certain that when I am in Jerusalem in a couple of weeks, I will have religious experiences. I don’t think William James would have classified them as religious, however. But it’s the only way I have of participating in or knowing or experiencing anything “transcendent” or of “God.”

The purpose of my trip is to join, as best I know how or can figure out, the cause of justice for all people. If God exists, I have only one way of knowing God. That is by doing my level best (which is pathetically inadequate and probably misinformed) to be of service to other human beings, especially in the cause of justice and mercy. It is only then―not by belief or prayer or meditation or good works―that I expect to have anything like the experience of hearing, “Come ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world”―in this life or any other.

(Some of my reasons for going to Palestine/Jerusalem.)

The new

The new “Wailing Wall.” (Photo, Harold Knight, 2008.)