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College Of Professional Studies




College of Professional Studies SAMPLE ESSAYS FOR IS 307 AND IS 308 With thanks to the students who graciously allowed us to use their work and to Maureen Aggeler, Kim Connor, Fran Ferrante, Jim McCauley, Norma Quan, and Jane Swigart for submitting the essays. August 2005 1 TABLE OF CONTENTS Autobiography: The Hills of My Life……………….....................................................3 Autobiography: Story Person………………………………………………………….15 Theology: Spiritual Autobiography: Spiritual Evolution……………………………31 Theology: Spiritual Autobiography: Standing at the Gate…………………………..42 Theology: Spiritual Autobiography: A Journey of Beliefs and Values……………..54 Theology: Spiritual Autobiography: Life and God from My Perspective…………..64 Theology: Death and Dying: A Time for Guidance…………………………………..77 Marketing and Sales: Sales: The Field of a Dream……………………………..……86 Communication: Public Speaking: Communicating a Message Clearly……………99 Communication: Adult-Child communication: The Gender Issue………………..113 History: Race and Ethnicity in U.S. History: Experience in a Gang Culture…….123 Computer Science: Computer/Network Operations: Birds and the Demise of a Fighter Pilot……………………………………………………………………………134 2 AUTOBIOGRAPHY The Hills of My Life At age eighteen, my long journey to El Norte (The North, USA) was just beginning. An old milk truck was waiting for me at the school to take me to the next town, from where I could take a bus to Tijuana. My mother was sobbing as she packed my raggedy clothes that fit into one torn, small, duffle bag. With sadness, my father told me to be careful and to come back home soon. When I was leaving town, I turned back to wave to my parents one more time. I am not embarrassed to say that a couple of tears fell from my eyes. Suddenly, I felt like a little child who has been taken away from his parents. I was afraid of not returning home. I contemplated the hills that surrounded the town as if it were the first time I had seen them. A grown boy was on his way to the new adventure he had long wished for. My thoughts kept getting interrupted by the bumpy gravel road. For the next few days on the road, I felt lonely and depressed. I could not depend on my mother to cook my meals or to remind me that it was time to go to sleep. The sleepless nights on the bus to Tijuana were making me think twice about leaving my home and seeking my new lifestyle in El Norte, but at the same time, I was overjoyed about my journey. Finally my dreams were turning into reality. Finally I was moving to the land of opportunity. I was born and raised in a small village in Mexico with no electricity or running water. My first house I clearly remember living in was made of adobe brick. It had only two bedrooms for our large family. My parents would sleep in 3 one bedroom with my three sisters, and I had to share the other room with my six brothers. We basically had to sleep on top of each other. To support the family, my father would work in the fields growing beans and corn. We lived in poverty, we were malnourished, and the working conditions were harsh. Every year, we all prayed for a good rainy season because we lived off the harvest. The place where we grew the corn was a couple of hours away from home. It looked like a morning parade, my father and his seven boys going to work before sunrise, walking through the dirt trails. It was a long walk before the actual work began. I remember that most of the time I was half asleep walking to work. My mother would bring us lunch in the afternoon. Many times that would also be our breakfast. No cereal or Eggs Benedict were on my mother’s breakfast menu. One specific day when my dad sent me early in the morning to throw the corn grains on the plowed land before it started to rain, I felt very lightheaded from being so hungry. I worked very hard to finish my task before the arrival of my dad with some lunch. Eagerly, I opened the lunch bag to see what my mom had sent me for lunch. In the bag were a Coca-Cola bottle filled with warm tea and some plain tortillas. After eating my lunch, I became hungrier than before. How can a twelve-year-old boy work more than eight hours a day without being fed properly? When there was no food in the house, my parents would send us hunting. We would hunt all sorts of animals: squirrels, quails, pigeons, and possums. Pigeons were my favorite birds to hunt. To hunt pigeons, we would go just before 4 dusk and wait for them by the dam. These birds like to drink water before they go to sleep. I remember how we built ambushes from tree branches to hide ourselves, and we would wait for hours until the pigeons came. That was our survival in the dry season when the corn did not last all year. The economic pressures on our growing family drove my father and my oldest three brothers to leave town every summer in search of work somewhere else. My dad needed to generate some cash to buy us the essentials for the house. After the corn harvest, every January, they would leave home and return back in April just in time for Easter Sunday. My dad would come home with bags full of bread. My mother would make capirotada (bread pudding) and arroz con leche (rice pudding) that would last us the entire Holy Week. Easter Week was the best time of the year for me. I was raised Catholic, and we were not allowed to work, ride horses, or play during Holy Week. We simply stayed home, ate capirotada, and prayed all day long. During the summers, drinking water would become scarce. The entire village depended on the rain for its water supply. I recall my mother would wash our clothes at a creek which was an hour away from home. She would take me with her so I could help bring water from the creek to the wash stone. The drinking water needed to be dug from a deep hole. People would stand in line and stay all night long just to get one cantaro (clay pot) of water. Some people would lose their cattle because of lack of water. Of my early school days, my memories are vivid and emotional. Since there were no public schools in my hometown, a priest taught people to read in 5 his house. He would teach the older children so they could help him in the class. My oldest sister was one of the main teachers in the school, and she could hardly read. I learned to read only the alphabet, but I wanted to learn more. I remember that when my uncle came from Mexico City to visit us, he brought with him the daily newspaper. When he was done with it, I picked it up to look at the pictures. I recall thinking about what the words said about the images printed on the paper. I desperately wanted to go to a better school. When I was about seven, the public school opened and a teacher was sent for the entire community. He divided all the children into age groups. Eight years old, I was in the first grade group. I only made it to fourth grade. I repeated many years because I did not want to leave school. I wanted to move to another town so I could go further than fourth grade, but my parents could not afford it. However, I knew that there had to be a way to prevail. I was inspired by my grandfather who was a heroic figure in my hometown. He had lost his life fighting to get a school, a cemetery, and land for the people in the village. He was able to accomplish his dreams before he was shot and killed. As the years went by, I felt that I was just wasting my time working and not learning. Two of my friends were able to leave town to get educated. It was then that I became more serious about pursuing my dream in America. I kept asking my parent to let me go to El Norte. I called my older brother, who was already in the USA, and asked him to send me a book to learn English. I needed to prepare myself for my journey. The little English that I learned was very useful when I arrived at the border. 6 As a young child, I had often heard about El Norte as an endless land, a paradise with beautiful orchards and fields that extended from one hill to the next. I visualized the vineyards, with beautiful green leaves and flowers. My father would tell us about the endless cotton fields that appeared like hand-painted land with striking colors. He told us about the beautiful houses where Americans lived; the houses were made only from wood and not adobe brick. I recall thinking that one day I would try to cross the border and be one of those famous Norteños (Northerners). I knew then that my day would come soon. On Sept 17, 1977, the day finally came to leave my town, my friends, and my parents in search of a better life. From this day on, my life would never be the same. I consider myself very lucky; I did not spend a long time in Tijuana, searching for someone to help me cross to the US. Many people have died in the process of crossing the border. After many struggles, enduring hunger, and sleepless nights, I arrived in Fresno, where my older brother was living. I was fascinated by the nice surroundings on the roadside, the town, and the hills. But to my surprise, the place where my brother was living was a barn. The rooms were made out of hay bales, and the kitchen was outside the door. These were not much better conditions than where I had just come from! Thank God, I only stayed for a couple of weeks. It was then when I felt sad and sorry about leaving my parents and my hometown. My future was not looking any brighter, but my strong spirit kept me going. I did not want to turn my dreams into a disappointment. I wanted to succeed in El Norte, just as many of my friends had. 7 I knew that the values that my parents had taught me when I was a child would give me strength and courage. After a few weeks of picking oranges, grapes, walnuts, and olives, I moved to Ukiah, where another of my brothers was living, along with most of my cousins. I worked in the fields, picking grapes for the next two months. I was living in a two-bedroom trailer along with twelve other people. The job was hard, but I was getting paid. Finally I had some money to buy as much food as I needed. The bad thing about working in the fields was that after the job was done, we had to go to look for another assignment. That same year, I moved to a place near Upper Lake to look for a job. I found work pruning pears trees and a place to stay. For the next few weeks, I was isolated from the rest of my relatives and my brother. I was living with three other strangers. None of us had a car or knew how to drive. It was difficult to get someone to drive to town to get groceries. At the beginning, everything was so strange to me. I had to move around from job to job. I had to move back to Ukiah the next year for the same reason, to find a job. I was unemployed for months before I was able to find work. Most of the jobs I found were just temporary. I had to live with people I had never before seen in my life. I needed to adjust to their customs and their cooking. We all had to share the cooking job. The same cycle repeated every year, but new challenges arose. I had left my culture and my parents, and integrating into a new society was difficult. 8 My lifestyle in El Norte was not what I had expected. I had to work harder, and my parents did not take care of me anymore. A new person inside of me was emerging. I was becoming independent. After more than three years of working in the fields, I found a way to go back to school to learn English. The turning point of my life was when I left the fields to begin my education. In January, 1980, I was able to enroll in a program sponsored by the California Human Corporation that helps farm workers to learn English to get better jobs. Years went by without my realizing the differences in my lifestyle; I was becoming more Americanized. When I began an attending school to learn English, my outlook toward life had a positive change. I was yearning for knowledge. The more I learned, the more I wanted to learn. My English classes were every day for six hours; I was having fun. I was sitting in a classroom getting educated. I liked it. I no longer had to work hard in the fields but could focus on new opportunities. I knew that I was going in the right direction, even though it was hard to survive because I was living on a part-time job. I recall the day I left the fields for school. My boss applauded me for having the courage to take a chance and not settle for less. He was very happy for me. After a few months of intensive learning, I moved to Santa Rosa to take more advanced classes at Santa Rosa Junior College (SRJC) and to find a permanent job. I remember walking in the hallways at SRJC with my backpack on my shoulders and feeling as if I were a little child who is going to school for the first time. My dreams were becoming fulfilled. 9 After three years in El Norte, I returned home to visit my parents. During the time that I had been gone from home, not many things had changed. It was same everyday routine for everyone in the village. Parents took their children to work instead of sending them to school. Women had to walk to the hills to find water to wash the clothes. No improvement had been made in the schools for the children, and no jobs were available for the parents to support their families. It seemed as if the years did not go by in my hometown. It was the same town with no future. Most teenagers older than fifteen would migrate to El Norte. It was their only choice; they had to improve their lives. I saw such huge disparities between the two societies into which I was integrated: my original uneducated background and a culture with many opportunities. Six months later, after being with my parents, I came back to El Norte to continue pursuing my goals. I came back energized and eager to pursue my dreams. More than ever, I knew what I needed to do. A year later, I met my first wife. Born in San Francisco as a thirdgeneration descendent from a Mexican family, she could hardly speak Spanish, and I was having trouble with my English. It was difficult at times to have good communication. A year later, my first-born son, Angelo, was born. At the age of twenty-two, I had to become responsible and independent and support a family. I definitely was not prepared for that. I stopped attending school during the day so I could work in San Francisco in construction, but I continued taking classes in the evening at SRJC. It was not just to get a better job but to have better communication with my family. 10 For several years, I worked in construction and landscaping. I persisted in attending school at night and worked during the day. It was my only way out. I was meeting educated people with different ideas. I listened to what they had done to improve their lives. I was expanding my network. I could set new goals and achieve them. I was able to seek and find higher-paying jobs. For the first time, I realized that reaching for the stars was possible. I was getting through one the biggest obstacles an immigrant faces here in El Norte, the language barrier. I was coexisting with diverse people and not just with members of my own culture. I believe this is what makes us stronger. In May, 1984, I was offered a job in one of the most prestigious companies in Sonoma County, Hewlett-Packard. While working at Hewlett Packard, I met many people from many backgrounds. I learned from them about their own survival. Everyone had his or her own struggles. Many of them came from different countries, but with the same type of aspiration. I loved my first indoor job. I was hired as an entry-level assembler. For the first time in my life, I was part of a big corporation with great fringe benefits. I was able to do my job from a comfortable chair. “What a life,” I thought. Suddenly, all my hard work was paying off. I had the luxury of working all year round, inside a place where I did not get wet from the rain or burnt by the sun working outdoors. I felt disheartened that my brothers were still working in the fields. They refused to go to school. They thought they were too old to go back to school. I remember that I encouraged them to take classes in the evening so they could learn English and get better jobs. I tried to convince them that English is a vital part of our lives and that it becomes essential in our 11 everyday life in El Norte. I was not very successful with them, but I knew what I had to do to achieve my dreams. It didn’t take me long to realize that working as an assembler, I would not be able to make enough money to support my family. After my second son, Marcos, was born, I decided to go to school full-time and work at night. I needed to earn more money to provide for my family. I enrolled myself in the Electronics Technician Program at the SRJC. In June, 1988, I graduated from Santa Rosa Junior College with an AS Degree. With my academic achievement and excellent job performance, I was able to move up to a high-level technician job. Not everything went so smoothly for me. I had to overcome many diverse obstacles at work, and I was facing family crises at home. When I was promoted to higher positions, there were conflicting issues among my coworkers. I had to prove myself over again. No one likes to fall behind. In 1991, I had a severe accident that ended my martial arts hobby. After more than ten years of marriage, my wife and I were divorced in 1993. Confused and disheartened, my kids had to share homes. My four year-old-daughter Veronica felt it the most because she did not understand what was happening to her family. Even through these tough times of my life, I continued working toward my goal. Determined to move up in my career, I enrolled at Sonoma State University in the Computer Science Program. I became energized again with the encouragement and support from a beautiful and compassionate person, Rebecca, whom I later married. I met her while I was working at HewlettPackard. With similar backgrounds and goals, we soon became bonded. She 12 wanted to become an Electrical Engineer, and I wanted to get into the field of Computer Science. She has fulfilled her dream; I am still working on mine. Education gave me many opportunities at work. I moved up from an entry-level position to a software developer. I was able to take business trips and get reimbursed for all the expenses. The company sent me to technical training seminars; I was learning and getting paid at the same time. I could not help but think about the times when I had wanted to go to school in Mexico and I had not been able to. Now I was getting paid to go to school! I now go back to visit my hometown and my parents as often as possible. More than ever, I want to share my success with my relatives. My dad and I take the same trails that I took many years ago to go to work. Every time I go to see my parents, my dad celebrates my arrival. He invites all his brothers and my cousins for a big fiesta at my house. My parents have always been proud of me. The most enjoyable moments of my vacations are when we take family picnics. We take plenty of food, refreshments, and games for the children. The favorite place for me is the hills where I spent my younger years. It is incredible how time changes life! As a child, I did not want to go up those rigid roads, carrying my hoe on my shoulder and a bottle of water in my other hand. How ironic that now every time I have a chance, I love to go back and spend time on those hills. For the past twenty-six years, time after time, I have gone to my hometown, back to the land of my childhood. When I am in my home village, I love to walk or horseback ride and reminisce. Most of the mornings, I take longs walks up the captivating hills. I sit on a rock contemplate 13 the beautiful mountains far away. I close my eyes and see myself as an eightyear-old, looking at the same path, to the north, and wishing I could fly over the mountains where I could find the beautiful land of my dreams, a land where everything is peaceful and there is no hunger. This is the inspiration that drives me to be involved and help the Hispanic community in El Norte. A few years ago, I saw myself at a point where I could help others in my community. I got involved in many community outreach programs. I am now a volunteer for Junior Achievement and Habitat for Humanity. I am on the advisory board for Mathematics Engineering Science Advancement (MESA). Through Junior Achievement and MESA, I motivate and encourage students to explore new educational opportunities and to pursue their dreams. The most rewarding feeling is when I work through these programs to help children from Mexican families who are going through the same struggles that I went through. When I was interviewing the families for a Habitat house, I saw their inadequate living conditions and their financial disadvantages. This reminded me of the road we immigrants go through to succeed in El Norte. 14 AUTOBIOGRAPHY: Story Person I am a story person. I usually cannot remember times or dates, I often will not remember the names or even the exact places, but I always know the story. Everything that happens means something to me and I have been around long enough to know that there is no such a thing as a coincidence. At thirty-three years of age. I find my life to be enjoyable; in fact it's pretty cool to be me these days. In the following pages I am going to attempt to show you who I am and give you an idea of what my life has been like. Please bear with me if the journey seems a bit haphazard or random; that is how I learn. I was born in Yonkers, New York, on February 20,1969. My family moved to Tarrytown, New York, when I was two years old. My brother X (my only sibling) was born in January of 1972. We moved to Summit, New Jersey, in 1982, when 1 was thirteen years old. We moved again to Cincinnati, Ohio, in 1985, when t was sixteen years old. All of these moves were prompted by job opportunities for my father as he climbed the corporate ladder. In January of 2000 I moved to California on my own because it seemed like a good idea at the time. I now call Oakland my home and I have no desire to live anywhere else. The first time I had my recurring dream I lived in New York. I was ten or maybe thirteen. The dream always takes place in a swimming pool but not always the same exact pool. The scene is completely deserted, just me standing by myself in the shallow end of the pool. I am in approximately four feet of water and everything is completely quiet. There is no movement in any direction, not 15 even a breeze. It is never clear how, but I always end up becoming submerged in the water and I realize that I cannot get back to the surface. I am two feet from the surface but for some reason I cannot break free of whatever it is that is holding me under. I quickly become frenzied with the desperation that overcomes a person when he can see death. I struggle frantically, but it is no use. AII I want is one more breath of air; that is the only thing, air. I am trapped. I sense that the force is inescapable, but I don't really accept my fate so much as a new idea occurs to me. It somehow occurs to me that if I lie perfectly still, if I do not move a single muscle, I might be able to breathe under water. It is not a deduction or experience based on trial and error; I suddenly just know this is the answer. I lay floating two feet beneath the surface of the water completely unclenched and I begin to breathe. It is not the same sort of greedy gasping that I would be doing above the water. It is calm, slow, even breaths. I am suspended in some sort of inertia, in complete silence, looking up at the perfectly blue sky. There is no movement, no sound, nothing except my breathing, my thoughts, and the sky. When t was younger I thought this dream was a nightmare. Now I am not so sure. It always seemed to me that I was the only person in the show who didn't get a copy of the script. Everyone else knew their lines, but I was just making it up as I went along, taking my cues wherever I could get them. I don't know if it was my parents, society, or some sort of spiritual malady but I was frazzled as far back as I can remember. Certainly there are the memories that I hear other people relate in their stories about playing, running, laughing as a child; 16 searching for toads and turtles, chasing fireflies on endless summer nights, skating on the frozen ponds in the winter. But I never felt quite right. Those more positive memories are overshadowed by the far more powerful memories of fear, confusion, frustration, and pain. Somehow I just wasn't good enough. I have always felt less than other people but it was more than a feeling. To me it was a fact. I was the only square peg in a world full of round holes but I desperately wanted to fit in anyway. My assumption was that people don't like me and I have to find a way to make them like me. I developed the idea that the key to life was learning how to fake it. Some people set out to prove to the world that they are somebody. My principal goal in life was to hide from the world as many of my heinous flaws as possible and to try and have a life anyway. I had no concept of self and yet I was convinced I wasn't any good, so I had better come up with an acceptable persona that I could show to the world. Living In fear is extremely painful; living a lie is much more appealing when the truth is unbearable. Practice does not make perfect, practice makes permanent. I suffered for years at the hands of a severe case of bad ideas. I have always been a stubborn, rebellious, non-conformist, an instigator, and possibly, above all else, an extremist. These were my defenses. I thought they were protecting me from being exposed as the worthless loser I believed I was. These defenses were not attached to any rational thought; I simply had no perspective on myself. One of my earliest ideas about life was that I needed to be a tough guy. Tough guys were cool; they were strong and nobody messed with a tough guy. This notion has been responsible for more problems than any 17 other single factor in my life. The principle tenets of being a tough guy are that you never cry and you never ask for help, regardless of the situation. As a child I would go to the dentist to have the cavities in my teeth filled. I always refused to accept a shot of Novocain or any other anesthetic prior to having my teeth drilled. Time and again I sat in that dentist chair and endured pain that was nothing less than excruciating because I thought the experience was beneficial. A tough guy must have battle scars, and I was determined to have mine. Most of my scars ended up being self-inflicted, but I took them however I could get them. Approaching my family is never easy; in fact I usually prefer not to. I have learned to love my parents but I would be lying if I said I am comfortable with them. To this day a visit to their house is usually accompanied by insomnia and nightmares. I have realized that my parents are not evil (which I used to think), nor are they saints (which some people think and they definitely think). My father had no father of his own, so he pulled himself up by his bootstraps and climbed to the top of corporate America. The only thing he understands is business and work (not an exaggeration). He was a seven-day-a-week guy until the baby boomers invaded the top ranks and put him out to pasture. As much as I hated the fact that he was never home (he would often go in to work on a Friday morning and come home on Sunday evening), it is hard to see him now stripped of his identity. My mother is cut from the same type of workaholic cloth, but she has three times the intellect that my father has. I remember walking into her study one day when they lived in Ohio (I was eighteen or maybe twenty five), to find her crying 18 behind her desk. This was incredibly unusual because I wasn't the only one not allowed to cry in our house. She looked up at me and blurted out that her mother had been dead for (some number of) years and she was still trying to please her. This was the first time it ever occurred to me that she had feelings. My mother is the type of person who will tell you exactly what she thinks. I have never seen her pull a punch. She is a perfectionist by nature, a musicologist by trade, and there are few subjects in any arena of life that she cannot contribute to a conversation on (if not dominate). Both of my parents have done and said many things that were great fodder for the therapist's chair (I have seen six). I did my best to try and pin my problems on my parents, but that never did anything but increase my misery. Our house was a group of individuals living together attempting to defend themselves (usually from each other). It was often a war zone. When we were together we almost could not stop fighting. Much of what happened in our house is bizarre or simply sad. I could write for days on this subject alone. However, there is no time for that, nor any good reason. Suffice it to say that our family was dysfunctional. Also, let it be stated for the record that today I honestly believe that we all did the best we could considering the burdens that each of us was carrying (which were substantial). I sometimes think that if my parents had encouraged me to give up on school and become a line cook at the local Denny's that I would be sitting in Congress right now. I reflexively rebelled against anything I was told to do. I was a poor student in grade school and became an abysmal student by the time I reached high school. I thought I was dumb. I felt inferior to the other students so 19 my solution was to reject school summarily and not even try. School has been a constant source of anxiety, shame, and frustration my entire life. I just couldn't seem to get it. I didn't understand what was going on and a strange combination of fear and pride precluded my asking for help. This was exacerbated by the fact that I never stayed in one school system for more than three years. I had a hard time meeting new friends at every stop and I hated having my work judged (graded). I viewed every criticism as a personal attack and would defend myself or retreat depending on the situation. A progress report from grade school generally had NI's (needs improvement) and some S's (satisfactory) and usually had comments that said something like "X does not play well with the other children. He is frequently disruptive and cannot seem to sit still." By the time I got to high school my grades were D's and F's and rather than having me sit in the hall (usual grade school punishment), I was regularly suspended and/or expelled. To say the least, I did not excel in school, but that was only symptomatic of my problem. One day around the age of eight or maybe ten I was wandering around the neighborhood in New York thinking about God. I don't know why I was thinking about God. Maybe I saw something on television or someone had been talking to me. I was looking up at the clouds in the sky, the trees, the river, and all of my surroundings trying to conceive of who God was and how he made all this. I recall it being a pleasant experience, just wondering in all directions about this all powerful dude who controlled everything. I wondered what God looked like, what he sounded like, and what he did with his time. As I fumbled with these 20 ideas I came across a bunch of boxes (full of trash) set out on the street to be picked up by the garbage truck. There was one box in particular that caught my eye. It had been a case of Beefeater's gin. There was (and is) on the side of every bottle (and box) of Beefeater's a very stoic looking Scotsman with white hair wearing a smart hat and very noble looking garb. This character on the bottle of gin somehow fit my conception of God perfectly at the time and I decided that this must be what God looks like. I pulled my first conception of God off a bottle of gin and it wasn't long before I found my second conception in the bottle of gin. About this same time I discovered marijuana. I remember in fifth grade the school brought in a police officer to talk to us (very sternly) about drugs and I was scared because I had already been smoking pot. Smoking dope seemed like something I should be doing. I have no idea why, but that is just how it seemed. I didn't know anything about it, not even how to inhale it properly, but the big kids smoked it and so did I. To my parents, things like drugs, booze, sex, and smoking were off limits as topics of conversation. Their favorite tactic for dealing with any uncomfortable topic that happened to come up was to state that I knew better than to mess with it, and thereby avoid it all together. Pot (and other substances) became an important ingredient in my life. A little further down the road once I discovered my true love, King Alcohol. I don't exactly remember how it all got started, but by the time I was fourteen years old alcohol was the most important component of my life. I loved alcohol more than life itself; it was everything to me. Alcohol changed my life and for quite some time it changed it for the better. Within the space of a few drinks I 21 could go from being riddled with fear, chronic insecurities, and social anxieties to being king of ail surveyed. Alcohol gave me confidence. It gave me courage, strength, and it made me smart and attractive. Liquid gold. The elixir of life, alcohol instantaneously converted me from a pointless loser into a bad ass stud who moved and operated with supreme confidence. Alcohol was my first true love and I fell head over heals for her. I was willing to do or sacrifice anything to stay close to her. I was lonely, I was so desperate to feel a part of something, to be loved and to have friends, that alcohol filled the void inside of me perfectly. This was truly a match made in heaven and before it was over I would go from heaven to hell with it. I believe I was an alcoholic before I ever picked up a drink. The actual physical consumption of alcohol was the last part of the disease to take its place in my life. I also believe that if I had not found alcohol when I did I would never have survived my adolescence. Moderation has never been a part of my vocabulary; this is especially evident in my drinking. The first time alcohol almost killed me I was fifteen years old. I had stolen a bottle of Vodka from my parent’s liquor cabinet and taken it to a high school party. I put the bottle on a table in the middle of the room next to the only other bottle of booze in the house. I was nervous about leaving my bottle on the table because there were twenty or thirty other kids there and only two bottles of booze. I tried to be cool and socialize but I couldn't take my eyes off my bottle. I was obsessed with it. I was terrified that I wouldn't get enough because the other kids would drink it all up. I tried to stay composed as I watched a girl pick up my bottle and make a drink. Finally I couldn't take it any longer and I 22 grabbed my bottle and scampered off to a bedroom to get my fair share before all those selfish idiots drank up my booze. I recall turning the bottle up and gulping it down like it was water. I blacked out before I finished the bottle. My next coherent recollection was lying in a hospital bed with a doctor asking me questions and shining a light into my eyes. Evidently someone had found me passed out in the rain somewhere and they were nice enough to call an ambulance for me. Doctors came in and out of the hospital room all day reading me the riot act, giving me facts and figures, ostensibly in an attempt to scare me. They said my blood alcohol content (BAC) had been astronomically high (.33). My body temperature had dropped dangerously low and my heart-rate was down to fourteen beats per minute by the time I was brought into the emergency room. I was too confused to be scared. I had no idea what had happened. I went to a party and the next thing I knew I was in a hospital room with my parents at the foot of the bed and very serious looking doctors lecturing me. I went home that evening and attempted to reconstruct the events of the evening to no avail. Friends of mine called and related stories of my behavior up to the point where they lost track of me but I could remember none of it. I realized that I had drunk too much but I had no idea what to make of the gap in my memory .I determined not to drink that much again, but it never crossed my mind to stop drinking simply because I had almost died. Not drinking was unthinkable. Not drinking was death. I was stuck between the veritable rock and a hard place. Without booze I was suicidal but the booze might kill me. I walked this tightrope for the better part of the next sixteen years. Being young and having a baby face made it difficult for me to acquire my 23 life's blood through traditional means. I heard somewhere that necessity is the mother of invention; in my world desperation was the mother of crime. I got into the habit of keeping track of the comings and goings of our neighbors in New Jersey. Once I determined that a house would be empty for the evening I would grab a bag, smash a window, and rob their liquor cabinet. I didn't take a television or a VCR, I didn't go after money, I just wanted the booze and that is all took, only eighty proof and up. I despised the taste of alcohol in any form; I desired the effect, therefore, I saw no point in wasting time with wine or some syrupy liqueur. I would stash the bottles around the neighborhood so I would have a reliable supply of booze until it ran out, at which point I would pull off another heist. This lasted until moved to Ohio where the drinking age was nineteen and a fake ID was easy to come by. By the time I moved to Ohio (prior to my junior year in high school) my drinking was in full swing and I felt like I was on top of the world. I didn't realize it at the time, but we had moved into one of the strangest places I have ever seen in my life. Bobsville, Ohio, is the kind of place that many Americans think they want to live. It is an exclusive old-money suburb of Cincinnati with sprawling Great Gatsby like estates and absolutely no commercial enterprises permitted inside of its township limits. It is the kind of place where you will routinely run into people whose last names are familiar because it is on the products you purchase at the store or on the stores themselves. Everyone looked good and acted important. The day I walked into Bobsville High School my inferiority complex got 24 turned up to eleven on a scale of one to ten. But I am nothing if not resilient and soon found a way to get by in this new and intimidating environment; this is where I discovered what drugs could do for me. This new environment was loaded with kids who had busy, prominent parents, pockets full of money, and unsupervised time on their hands. A perfect environment for breeding drug addicts and this place was loaded with drugs (The recent movie, Traffic, depicted Bobsville pretty much accurately). I never liked Bobsville very much. I was not comfortable in country clubs or prestigious social functions. My reputation as a bad-ass was useless here because the playing field had changed; it was all about status, power, and prestige now. I felt I couldn't compete in this world and the feeling returned that I would never be anything but a loser. I began to seek out oblivion, and drugs provided what I was looking for. By the time I was finishing high school my patterns were established. If I was awake I needed to be taking something and I usually started right out of bed, often before I even got dressed. I loved drinking, but I couldn't control it. Once I started I had no idea how much I would drink or what would happen; blackouts were frequent and often humiliating. If I had to be somewhere or be functional I could not afford to start drinking. Drugs were the only things that I ever found that were helpful in controlling my drinking. Without them I tended to drink around the clock. Drugs turned down the volume in my head (resentments fueled by screaming insecurities) and made it possible for me to show up and tolerate the day. Alcohol provided self esteem in the form of an exaggerated ego, while drugs provided apathy in the form of a bad attitude. Alcohol helped me to 25 feel good, drugs helped me to not care about feeling bad. My graduation ceremony from high school was a thorough tongue-lashing administered by the assistant principal accompanied by a suspension for the last three days of school and a deal. I had not passed enough classes to have actually earned a diploma, but the last thing the school administrators wanted was to have me around for another year (they had tried to expel me earlier, but my father wouldn't permit it). The assistant principal told me that if I agreed to never let my shadow darken the doorway of that school again (including showing up for the graduation ceremony), he would be kind enough to have my diploma mailed to me. This was fine with me. He no longer cared and neither did I. I never expected to live to be twenty five years old. Part of me always knew that my life was insane, but I had become so accustomed to it that I couldn't imagine my life any other way. I thought the booze and drugs were giving me a reason to live, but in reality all I had done was opted for suicide on the installment plan. The previous seven years had been a blur. I had been trying to put together some kind of a life for myself (in spite of myself) but the booze and drugs retarded everything. It had not all been tedium, it was more like a roller coaster ride. There had been fun and good times, girlfriends, parties, and vacations. A pattern of hope verses hopelessness developed. A new job, new girlfriend, new attempt at college or other event would provide hope and the roller coaster would swing up. Generally my drinking (it had become everything all the time now, it's just easier to say drinking) would ebb and I would begin my new life. Invariably my new plan would come apar1 for one reason or another and the 26 roller coaster would begin to plummet. All of the details are basically the same. I believe the sheer numbers will be sufficient to give you an idea of what the chaos was like. In the seven years since I finished high school I had been through four different attempts at college (twice at the university where my mother was on staff), between ten and fifteen jobs, and three principle saviors (girlfriends), with a number of possible saviors mixed in just in case. These were the good memories. Life on the way down the hill was fragmented, isolated, and often horrific. I almost hate to go back there, but it is impor1ant that I never forget what it was like. I woke up one day in November of 1994 in a detox center down in the projects located off Ezzard Charles Drive known as the "Cat House." I had been going to Alcoholics Anonymous meetings for about two years off and on and a sober member who had befriended me brought me to the detox. I had been there a couple of days when I found myself sitting on the rubber bed in my room thinking about my life. Treatment was nothing new to me; I had once spent for1y eight days in an in-patient substance abuse unit and had run through five or six different therapists. I had been through a lot, I had watched people around me commit suicide, get murdered, and go to prison. I had memories of things that I had done that I hoped would never see the light of day. I once heard that character is defined by what a person does when no one else is looking. That statement turned my stomach. I had been getting by for the last few years by telling myself that I could always end my life if it became too unbearable. Somehow that thought was comforting during times of extreme 27 mental anguish. But, alas, I had reached that point and found out that I didn't want to die. I just did not know how to live. I sat in contemplation of what my life had been like and of it's current status. There was not one thing I could think of that I was interested in keeping. My life was just a confusing mess. I also knew beyond the shadow of a doubt that I would walk out of that hospital and drink again no matter how much I desired to stay sober. Nothing I had tried before had worked. My mind was my enemy and there seemed no way out. I felt hopeless and alone. The AA people always talked about prayer and God, which seemed irrelevant to me, but I had been going to meetings long enough to have the idea resonate in my mind. Certainly I was powerless over alcohol and my life was definitely unmanageable (AA's first step reads: "We admitted we were powerless over alcohol and that our lives were unmanageable"). But the God stuff (step two reads: "came to believe that a power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity") always threw me. I had figured out that God was on (or in) the Beefeater's bottle and that was the last time I really concerned myself with the idea of God. Now this fictional deity created by a bunch of self-righteous assholes was to be my savior? Sitting on the edge of my rubber bed with a past I didn't want to remember and a future I couldn't bear to think about, I felt I had nothing to lose. I got down on my knees and mumbled out a prayer to a God I didn't know or even believe in. I said something to this effect: "God, if you are there and you want to do something with this life then you can have it. I don't care what you do with it, I can't deal with this anymore. Amen." I got up and sat back down on the bed and was overcome by a sense of calm or peace that I had 28 never before experienced. It is the strangest sensation I have ever experienced, like a wave of serenity washed over me. It was accompanied by this strange confidence that I could get sober, that I was going to be okay. The feeling that I experienced that day didn't stay with me permanently or even for very long. It still sounds like half-baked crap to me, but I have never from that day forward had to doubt the existence of God. I cannot do justice to the gratitude I feel for that experience. Finally there was a light at the end of the tunnel, and it wasn't just another train racing towards me. For years my mind had been focused on many of the more negative aspects of life. My life changed that day in the Cat House when I was set on a different footing. It has not all been peaches and cream, but from that day forward I have never felt alone in this world. I have misread-read the signs, taken wrong turns, gotten lost and then found many times. I have learned a lot of things, the most important of which is that I know only a little. Life is a journey and my job is to remain teachable the entire way through. I have learned that I am only in trouble when I refuse to grow, when I dig my heels in and won't go any further. At almost five years sober I did just that and had a relapse back into drinking. I have been sober now for almost eighteen months and I can honestly say that I have never had it so good. I am not a religious person (I don't go to church) but I have been granted a god consciousness. I cannot conceive of God in any tangible way (I have tried and it is silly). I don't know what his will is for me other than what I have seen in retrospect. I do know that God exists and he will reveal himself to us when we honestly want him. My last bout with booze broke 29 the last vestiges of my resistance to spiritual matters. I don't run around spouting off about God, trying to save every person I come across, but I am willing to be of service to anyone that wants help. I no longer have anything to hide. I have unloaded all my secrets and made amends for the harm I have done. I am not perfect and that is exactly as it should be. I have nothing to be ashamed of. I am one of God's creations and I have as much a right to be here as anyone else. Woody Allen once said that "eighty percent of life is just showing up." I believe that to be true. The other twenty percent is God's affair, and is simply none of my business. 30 THEOLOGY SPIRITUAL AUTOBIOGRAPHY: Spiritual Evolution Have you ever heard of a dog referred to as a "Heinz 57"? This term is commonly used to indicate that a dog is a blend of many different breeds. My spiritual history echoes that term. It constitutes a blend of many diverse components: influences from my formative years, childhood religious instruction, extensive reading on spiritual and philosophical subjects, and life experiences. All of these diverse factors have led to my personal spiritual evolution. The foundation of my religious beliefs began during my youth. My mother is not a religious person in the church-going sense, and my father died when I was five. Mom has a philosophical approach to life: she believes wisdom is the key to a successful life. Mom is an avid reader who is always reading at least two books at a time. One of those two books is on philosophy, history, or politics, and the other book is always the Bible. But she is not the typical Bible student. She never quotes verses or preaches, but she does believe the Bible contains wisdom not contained in any other text. When my sister and I were children, Mom would often use an example from the Bible to show us something she wanted us to learn relating to a principle in life. One of her favorite Biblical concepts was "always treat others as you want to be treated." These words of wisdom managed to surface every time my sister and I got into a disagreement. 31 I learned to pray when I was around six or seven. Mom would come in our room prior to my sister and I going to sleep and have us say our bedtime prayers. The usual prayer was "Now I lay me down to sleep." Saying that prayer always disturbed me. Every night I would go to sleep wondering what I needed to be protected from. Mom began giving me philosophy books to read when I was about 12 years old, ranging from Plato to Kahlil Gibran. Although I had no idea of the depth of the material I was reading, it began my life long desire to understand the meaning of life. I started to question my understanding of God. I wondered why, if God loved me, he would let my father die, and whether there was really a heaven and hell? I remember lying awake some nights pondering what heaven or hell would be like, and becoming terrified that I would do something bad and be doomed to a fiery death. I could not make sense of how a God who loved me could also hurt me. While my mother was teaching me her form of wisdom, I had some formal religious teaching. My sister and I were baptized Greek Orthodox, my father's religion. Our mother is Catholic. We practiced neither as children. Three blocks away from our home was a non-denominational Christian Church, and Mom sent us there as soon as we were old enough to attend Sunday school. My sister had little interest in Sunday school, but I liked it. The minister would talk about loving one another and accepting God's will. It felt comforting, just like snuggling in my warm bed on a cold night. When the sermon was over, all the children would be divided up by age and sent to separate rooms for more intimate studies. While in 32 our study room, we would color, read scriptures, and pray. I loved listening to the stories of Jesus parting water or healing the sick. When I was in church, the "place of God," all my fears and questions would go away. I felt safe and loved. I continued to go to church until we moved, when I was around 13 years old. My childhood taught me many things. I learned the basic values of honesty, integrity, and respect. I also learned that prayer was a way to talk to God, that God was omnipresent, and that he loved me unconditionally. Church and my mother's Bible wisdom became critical components in preparing me for the course my future would take. Without this firmly established foundation, I would not have had the basis to grow spiritually or develop the values I have today. As I matured, so did my spiritual interests. I began reading books on various spiritual disciplines. If you were to peruse through my bookcase you would find books on topics such as comparative religions, myth, mystery schools, Egyptian initiation, astrology, philosophy, and physics. The information in these books represented the pieces of the puzzle that was becoming the picture of my life. For example, The Religions of Man, by Houston Smith, offered my first exposure to a variety of religious traditions. It imparted an understanding of how religions developed and gave me their core beliefs. The Tao of Peace, by Diane Dreher, taught me to detach from my problems and discover solutions to bring harmony to my life. The scientific approach was introduced with a book by Michael Talbot, titled The Holographic Universe. This book gave a scientific 33 perspective on energy distribution, which I hypothesized as the explanation of how Jesus could heal the sick. While my breadth of spiritual knowledge grew, my personal experiences added depth to my evolution. There were a series of events which presented me new opportunities for spiritual mastery. For example, a serious illness brought me close to death. This event resulted in a greater appreciation of my family and friends. The pain and anxiety of an unpleasant marriage, resulting in divorce, developed my independence and commitment to seeking peace and harmony in my life. A house fire, destroying much of what we owned, provoked thoughts of the value of material possessions in relation to life itself. Being a single parent raising two children while working full-time and going to school at night sparked the realization of my ability to manage complicated situations. The events strengthened my character and guided the development of my spiritual values. Spiritual teachers also had a significant influence in my spiritual evolution. Pat Corrington, author and lecturer, introduced me to the concept of living in nonjudgment. At the time, living a life of non-judgment was not my approach. I judged events in life as bad, good, right, or wrong. My whole existence was immersed in these polarities. I would blame myself or someone else when things didn't go as I thought they should. For example, when watching television I judged each reported event as right or wrong. I could not accept how governments could allow their people to starve to death, or how a mother or father could abuse their young child. 34 One evening, I attended a lecture by Pat. I thought it would be an entertaining discussion on past life regression. The evening began as I expected, talking about past life regressions Pat had conducted. I can't even remember how the conversation strayed, but all of a sudden we were discussing judging how what we do impacts the lives of others and vice versa. Pat is intelligent, loving, and extremely insightful into divine interpretation. She asked us to participate in an exercise which might offer us another interpretation of events in our lives. The exercise consisted of taking a painful event and evaluating what we learned and how it changed us. I immediately thought back to my unpleasant divorce from my husband of thirteen years. I explored who I had become since the event five years earlier. I was now more independent, happier, and healthier. I had obtained a good job and was back in school. Although every day was a challenge, I awoke happy and ready to face it. My perception began to change as I evaluated the outcome of the event; but when Pat asked me to view the perpetrator of the event as an angel or child of God coming to earth to assist me to evolve spiritually, I almost fell off my chair. Pat proceeded to piece together what turned out to be a pivotal shift in my reality. She began discussing how all events impact us in some ways. For example, a child who loses her mother to a dreadful disease, in turn, grows up and finds a cure saving countless other lives. Pat then had us ask ourselves a question which changed my life forever: what if the people in my life incarnated for the purpose of facilitating the experiences necessary for me to evolve 35 spiritually, while evolving themselves, and assisting God to enable me to explore being human? Thoroughly immersed in the idea that we were all here for a divine purpose, which included events that ranged from reverent to despicable, and that there was some kind of pre-agreement that each of us would play a role in a divine theater of life, was beginning to sound feasible. I imagined my ex-husband and all the other people who had ever disappointed or hurt me as angels assigned to my spiritual growth. As I did, I had what some would call a shift in perception or spiritual experience. I no longer controlled the vision. The angels turned into light and merged with an enormous brighter light, which I immediately recognized as God. I heard a noise, blinked, and was awakened from the vision never to be the same. The exercise left me feeling peaceful and enlightened. My perception of the world had been altered. I viewed life as a series of experiences benefiting the collective consciousness, not as personal failures or successes. Individuals no longer were bad or good; they were only children of God evolving spiritually through a physical experience. I became grateful for each person I had known. I now felt each assisted me by becoming a negative or positive catalyst in my development. My anger, disappointments, and confusion dissipated. I envisioned the love that the spiritual aspect of each of those beings must have for me, knowing that neither they nor I would remember the gift they offered me until we were once again joined with God. 36 Today, I still have judgments and opinions, anything less would defy human nature. The difference now is that when they surface I consciously resist the need to identify events as bad, good, right, or wrong. Instead, I see events as vehicles to serve my spiritual growth and those of the people involved. For instance, I now view my marriage as an important part of my growth as an individual. It taught me effective techniques to deal with difficult circumstances which I now utilize in personal and work situations. I also have greater compassion for myself and those around me. If someone comes to me for assistance, I do not entertain the thought of how he or she got into such a mess? Instead, I help the person focus on the positive that can be gained from the event and offer ideas to turn the situation into one he or she can benefit from. When watching television, I no longer judge what I see as right or wrong. I view the events as information from which I gain knowledge about myself and the world. This knowledge allows me to better serve myself and those in my life. Shortly after meeting Pat Corrington, another teacher came into my life, Gregg Braden. Gregg is an author, lecturer, and tour leader who is a student of the ancient texts. He identifies closely with the teaching of the Essene Brotherhood, believed by some to be those who prepared Christ for his mission on earth. Meeting and eventually becoming friends with Gregg furthered my evolving spiritual growth. I have traveled to many ancient and sacred places with him, and he has introduced me to an abundance of new information and concepts. For example, in one of his seminars, I learned about sacred geometry: 37 the study of shapes, numbers, and proportions, as they relate to creation. In another workshop I learned the rituals of Egyptian initiation. Gregg's book, titled Walking Between the Worlds:The Science of Compassion, lays out his concept for developing compassion in our lives. He believes that approximately twenty-five books were taken from our Biblical texts and reserved exclusively for the scholars. One of these books contained information on the science of compassion. Gregg's book offers information and processes on how to develop compassion for the events you experience and observe in life. The approach is not derived from the traditional definition of compassion as pity or complacency, but rather represents a process or blessing for the event and the people involved. The publishing of Gregg's book was timely. I was feeling ready for new information to further my spiritual growth. Although, I was fully committed to accepting that every event and person in my life was fulfilling a role in the divine plan of life, I was still having trouble staying non-judgment with events such as innocent children being murdered. The process Gregg outlined in his book was the tool that assisted me to move from judgment to compassion. The process consists of three steps: in the first, I was to bless the action, event, or situation that had caused pain or suffering; in the second, I was to bless those who I believed had been hurt, and those who were the perpetrators. The final step was to bless myself in the witnessing or experiencing of the event, action, or situation. The caveat to using the process is that I must believe that there is a single source of all that exists. That was easy for me. My spiritual 38 development lead me to believe that there is a power greater than myself of which I am one aspect: a power I choose to call God. I took the process and added what I learned about being non-judgmental and began to use it. The process resembled the act of forgiveness, but turned out to be much more. I took a situation that I had been struggling with and went through all the steps. When I was done, I found myself not only free of the emotions that the event evoked, but I was giving thanks to God for offering me the opportunity to know myself better. I am still not exactly sure how it worked, but it did, and that was all I cared about. A recent application of using the process occurred when I visited Tibet. It would have been very easy to get angry at the Chinese communists for the atrocities they have committed and continue to perpetrate against the Tibetan people, but instead I used the process. I blessed the Tibetans for being the ones who agreed to have the experience of oppression. I blessed the Chinese communists for taking on the role as the offenders. I then blessed myself for the observation of the event, and gave thanks to both the Tibetans and Chinese communists for having the experience so that all of us would benefit in our spiritual evolution. After using the process I felt peaceful. I enjoyed my trip without feeling angry, sad, or fearful, which was the feeling of many who journeyed with me. I use this process any time I need assistance moving into a position from non-judgment to compassion. As a result, I have developed more compassion for myself and others. I still feel strong emotions regarding events I observe or 39 experience, but no longer do those emotions cloud my remembrance that we are all part of the divine plan of life. Spiritually I feel closer to God and the people with whom I interact. I continue to be committed to my spiritual evolution. The knowledge I obtain allows me to appreciate each day to its fullest. Life seems gentler and more loving. My deep love for God, and those which have chosen to incarnate into this lifetime with me, grows each day. I appreciate the experiences offered to me, even if they do not make sense to me at the moment. I endeavor to live my life with the values of honesty, integrity, respect, non-judgment, and compassion. I consider life to be a precious gift, and I honor it in any way I can. Most important, I see God in everything, and I believe that all life is an extension of God and is perfect in WHATEVER form it may take. 40 Works Cited Braden, Gregg. Walking Between the Worlds: The Science of Compassion. Bellevue, Washington: Radio Bookstore Press, 1997. Dreher, Diane. The Tao of Peace. New York: Donald I. Fine, 1990. Smith, Houston. The Religions of Man. New York: Harper & Row, 1958. Talbot, Michael. The Holographic Universe. New York: HarperCollins, 1991. 41 THEOLOGY Spiritual Autobiography Standing at the Gate There are reports of people who are “Enlightened,” whose lives are forever changed by an extraordinary event. There’s a story that’s been passed on since before recent memory about the possibility of merging with the Infinite (God) through the agency of an intermediary. For some that merciful agent might be a Christ, a Church, a saint, a ritual, or prayer routine. For others, a pantheon of gods and goddesses; or a “Great Spirit;” maybe a metaphysical phenomenon titled “All That Is;” the Force;” or a Buddhist-like force that embraces a psychology of personal dissolution into Nothing. For me the best guiding principle is one with a title I had to make up for myself: I’m a pan-theistic Unitarian. I believe first in the Power of Love to transmute any other energy into God, and from there I delve deeper daily into a range of spirituality and religious studies. I recognize pan-theism, or a system of seeing God in everything, as my mode of travel to Unity–which is not only my destination, but also my source. Sometimes I feel isolated in my religion, but there are other ways I feel different from the majority of society–for example, I’m one of very few women with the name Aubrey, which translates from the Teutonic to “Fair Ruler of the Little People,” or “King of the Elves.” My life began full of symbolism. I’m the seventh child, born at seven pounds and seven ounces weight, in the seventh astrological sun house. The date was 10/16/1961–in numerology this reduces to seven. I’ve always been 42 aware of the multitude of the number seven in the Old and New Testaments, the seven chakras or centers of force in the human body, the seven planets known to the ancients, seven stages in the unfolding of man’s spirit, and that Lucky Seven in Las Vegas that just might be your fortune. Unfortunately all these sevens didn’t help me get a childhood of fortunate introduction to Wisdom by wise teachers aware of the significance of symbolism. Instead my mother increased in her irritability and unloving meanness the month I was born, by sustaining a back injury that provided her with pain for the next thirteen years. This she shared with all of us, delegating my older siblings to carry out most of my care. Finally she had an operation that moved the disc an inch over, thus lessening, but not ending, a regular pattern of misery in our house. Ignoring her lack of loving attention was impossible for me, an exceptionally affectionate, happy-go-lucky Libra , and I spent thirty years in a painful rhythm of moving towards her and moving away quickly again, stung by a rebuff, insult, or physical blow; curling up in pain into myself, licking my wounds in bewildered confusion. WHY was she so nasty and unloving? What had I done? This question of why I was unlovable permeated my being. This question is where my spiritual autobiography begins, where I strove to find a way that Love could overpower Hate; a place where I felt the maternal affection that is for many the basis of security in this life. I wanted to be warmly accepted and even 43 celebrated. I wanted to share affection with everyone close to me. This was not happening at my home. I remember little about my First Catholic Communion, but each Sunday my devout father gathered Eugenia, Mark, Andrea, me, and Peter into the big old car and we went to Mass (the older siblings had already moved out as early as possible); I remember fighting in the car, then counting bald heads during mass from the balcony of the ugly auditorium, bored, as my father ushered downstairs. When I tried to understand my CCD teaching and figure out just why the body and blood of Christ was so important, I failed. I was skeptical of any ritual where 350 people intoned, “God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God, begotten, not made, one in being with the Father. Through him all things were made: “For us men,” with about as much energy as a sloth on the underside of a branch on a hot afternoon. Aware of the imbalance of gender respect, I couldn’t figure out why mass was so masculine, flat, and boring, and why people found that attractive. Boring repetitions of why we celebrated mass didn’t convince me that it was bringing me closer to God. The only things I enjoyed were the stories of Jesus’ life, in which I took a keen interest, since they reflected kindness, acceptance of everyone, and principles that I knew were Truth. We lived in a spacious rural environment surrounded by placid creeks and bays that led to wilder, broader bays ringed with sandbars that led to the Atlantic Ocean. I loved to explore by myself in silence for hours, and there is where I found God, in my Center that Knew. It eased the pain of feeling unloved that burdened me a lot of the time. I heard in my head a definite Voice that I knew 44 was real. I liked to commune with the Voice in my favorite place, the silence of unimpeded Nature. I also knew by the age of ten or so that the Voice was becoming obscured by the increasing volume of information crowding my brain. This Voice remains the Center of me. It is the Youth that still animates me when I dance or make love wildly, swim or do yoga; even when I read something enlivening, and commune with the author the way I did as a child. My family could be the Alcoholics Anonymous poster children, to my dismay. There was a lot of pressure to “party” in my childhood, and by the time I was thirteen I was heavily addicted to cigarettes and marijuana. By fourteen I’d tried many drugs. I detested everything about alcohol; but that didn’t stop me from accepting and embracing everything else the kids offered me. At the time of this experimentation, I didn’t see it as escaping a difficult home life; I saw it as fun, another kind of adventuring into unknown territory. Drugs equaled spirituality and exploration; it took courage and strength to agree to dive into the unknown of a “trip.” I liked that, and I liked seeing God a lot. I learned early to smoke dope and take off in the woods for hours, alone with my experience of God. My first introduction to the vast plethora of spiritual paths occurred when I was eighteen, living in New Orleans. An amazing coincidence landed my best friend, (soul mate) Maria and me in a funky apartment in an all-black neighborhood. This cheap but sunny and warm little railroad flat was fully furnished with all the “coolest” furniture, music, and best of all, an astonishing library. There were a dozen shelves of neatly organized, diverse and fascinating religious and spiritual texts. The day we moved in, I was conveniently thrown ten 45 feet in the air from a motorcycle. Maria moved our meager belongings in a taxi, and then joined me at the hospital–my mother wouldn’t fly down from New York. She recommended I fly home (“where the doctors are decent”) after being hit at 45 m.p.h. and seeing my friend Donna almost die. In four weeks of recovery, nursing my crushed knee, I read every book on those shelves. I was fervently Christian in my faith: when the doctors at Charity Hospital proposed patellar surgery, I proposed three days of reprieve and then I’d return for a new X-ray. In those three days I prayed to Jesus more than I ever had: constantly. I drank a gallon of carrot juice for the calcium, and when I returned to Charity, the X-ray showed the pieces of bone had not separated. They grudgingly let me go, with a crotch-to-ankle cast. I have a photo of myself in a headstand in the painted cast. That month of forced immobility and freedom to read constantly firmly established my future path and cemented my faith that Many Paths lead to the One. I was fascinated with the Sufi ideals and read all of Hazrat Inayat Khan. I studied Zen Buddhism, Tao, Gibran, metaphysical systems and astrology, I Ching, and various other arms of the Ageless Wisdom. I was terribly relieved to discover in the Seth Material that bisexuality and non-monogamy are normal states of the spirit. Already a habitual practitioner of Hatha Yoga, I learned the depths that yogis plumb beyond the physical. Most of these Wisdom Paths, including mystical Judaism, had never been introduced to me at all, and I drank them all in like water. 46 Maria became my mainstay; she’d been present the day our Catholic High School had discovered some LSD in my pocket and invited me to leave immediately. She’d been the only person I was allowed to visit in the ensuing punishing time, and when we took a road trip with her mother I learned that she wasn’t exaggerating: her mother really was insane–unpredictably violent and then sugar sweet. We bonded over a mutual protectiveness from the misery of our homes, and swore to leave Long Island together. I accompanied her to an abortion when we were sixteen, an event that held me in suspenseful terror for the wrath of God coming to get her for murder. Our Catholicism was deeply ingrained, and our guilt was heavy. Our adventure in New Orleans ended after less than a year, and we moved to Berkeley. Soon after, Maria’s mother committed suicide and left a note vaguely insinuating that it was Maria’s fault. Almost immediately she began having debilitating headaches that rendered her unable to move or speak for most of the day. Her boyfriend assumed almost total care of her, and I did what I could. By the time I was twenty, in San Francisco and preparing for motherhood, I’d come to grips with my Catholic guilt about my voracious and multifaceted sexuality. I’d cemented a lifelong respect and appreciation for all religions as paths to the One Goal, and I looked forward to finding a path of Work that could allow me to best use my potential here. I struggled daily with a deep-seated addiction; no matter what I did to convince myself, reason, guilt-trip, or punish, I was unable to stop using cigarettes and marijuana, even while pregnant. It 47 seemed I would die without at least a little of the “helpers” that had seen me through since childhood. I was constantly guilty and in hiding, and I felt terrible that God and my dead Aunt Lu could see me smoking. I was also very concerned about Maria and spent much of my time doing whatever I could to convince her it wasn’t time to commit suicide. She lived with me off and on for the next ten years, as I pursued my goal of midwifery. She graciously accepted and embraced my first lesbian lover, Karen, a soft Jewish woman. She babysat while I worked as a hospice attendant, mostly helping AIDS patients in their last days. With Karen I attended spirituality workshops, and studied Buddhism, read Ram Dass and Steven Levine as a way to accept so much death. I learned that death is only a gate, much like birth, not an absolute end or an invitation to an eternity of flames. The most spiritual seconds I’ve experienced were the moment before two different men left here (actually one was kind of half woman). They both looked me in the eye and communicated quite clearly: this is fine–you and I are one. There aren’t words for that moment. My friend tells me, Aubrey, your job is to comfort the disturbed, and to disturb the comfortable. How true that rings to me when I consider my path of midwifery: I was passionate about the sacred passage of birth, because my own delivery of Megan had been such a natural and transformative event. My kind midwives had let Birth rip through me, unfettered by clothing, machinery or lights. My daughter had slid into loving hands on a wide bed in a hotel-like room. The contrast to the typical obstetrics units I began to work in was similar to The Sound of Music vs. a horror movie. 48 At all the local obstetric wards, women labored in tiny dark rooms. Just before birth, the really magic time when you can feel the power in the air, absurdly gowned and masked ghosts ran down the hall pushing the woman on a gurney into a glaringly lit operating room (think KKK). There the male doctors shouted orders at the nurses and the woman on the narrow gurney, whose baby’s hair showed between her legs. Commanding “Stop pushing!” they decreed a wait until they were ready. She panted in desperate compliance, utterly vulnerable. When ready, they cut her body with metal scissors, and immediately took her blood-drenched baby away from her vision across the room to where a loudly hissing suction machine sucked out the baby’s lungs. Then the nursery personnel quickly wrapped the baby and took it away to the nursery. The new Madonna would first hold her child two hours later. This was so brutal to me that I wept regularly in outraged frustration. My resolve to change the menacing, patriarchal obstetrical system I saw was inflamed. I spent the next ten years working in all the region’s hospitals to decrease the cruelty I encountered (especially the military hospital) and help calm frightened women. The prevailing atmosphere in all hospitals is that of the general allopathic mindset: Fear, and misunderstanding of the benevolence of Nature. The doctors are taught to fear birth as a potential “medical disaster” waiting to happen. I renew my spiritual path each time I work in a hospital, (three times a week) by consciously bringing Love and Light to each room I enter. In a calming voice, I quietly repeat variations of “Everything is just fine.” I repeat it verbally 49 and enforce it by physically by touching my patient’s feet or hands. It’s gratifying to witness the truth of that attitude; to watch as everyone calms down, and the baby is free to find their way out. Very frequently “miracles” happen, to the amazement of both the family and the medical team. I know it’s not a miracle; it’s simply orienting oneself to the Laws of Life. While in Berkeley in the 1990s, to counter my outrage at the maledominated sanctioned cruelty I witnessed daily, I joined my friends in an enthusiastic study of Goddess religions, paganism, and Wicca. I studied herbs and ancient healing ways. I had healing relationships with two different kind women. I taught my daughter all about her grandfather’s Catholic faith as well as the Faerie Faith in Ireland, and I pored over books about the Greek gods and goddesses with her. I spent three weeks in Ireland studying with a midwife, hitchhiking alone from her house to sacred lands–New Grange, the Dingle Peninsula, the Burren, and standing stone circles. I bought a painting of an ancient carving found on a rock in the Irish sea of a “kelpie,” and later I carved my own image of that water spirit in wood. I drummed in circles under the full moon at the Labyrinth in the Oakland Hills, and while chanting an old prayer I carried a large heart-shaped rock–that I’d dragged from a river in Humboldt County–into the center of that labyrinth. Someone stole it later. Also during this time I perfected the use of marijuana as ladder to God. I grew it ritually, and my good friend Lisa and I used it ceremonially, both of us cognizant of the potential power of the plant as a vehicle. We’d smoke and dance for five hours to a live Grateful Dead show (a spiritual event in itself), or drive ten 50 hours to the bleakest desert and lie under the stars smoking and talking, or sleep next to Sierra rivers, musing about the Center of the Universe. Those times are precious memories, but I grew out of it as I realized it just removed me from the reality of my Self. In 1994 I’d experienced hundreds of scary birth situations, and thousands of lovely birth events. At that time I made the conscious decision not to become a Certified Nurse Midwife. My path led elsewhere, to some more global way of helping people, but I couldn’t see which way. A terrible falling out with my beloved Maria sent me into a deep spiral of pain. One day I’d had enough of the angry, desperately urban environment of Berkeley/Oakland, and I needed solitary nature and a safe place for Megan’s schooling. I picked Megan and Simon BoneDog and Tango the Cat up, and we moved over to Marin County. Living in Marin brought me a much-needed re-orientation and respite. Breathing a deep sigh of relief at the silence of the endless wooded trails, I began hiking for hours daily, and returned to a rigorous yoga schedule. Almost right away I found new printings of “The Seth Material,” a pragmatic spiritual path that I’d first discovered in New Orleans so long ago. I looked up the publisher, and found she was in San Rafael. I wrote her a letter, and we became friends. We are still friends; she now publishes The Four Agreements series, by Don Miguel Ruiz. I respect her powerful spiritual path and view her as a mentor. Still obsessed with Celtic mythology and labyrinths, I and a friend built a 60-foot wide earth labyrinth in Novato, atop a hill facing a lake. I carved in wood the original pattern, and also carved a wicked Pan, and a grinning Green Man. 51 While this pagan side was blooming, I was also studying the Nag Hammadi and Essene gospels, Jung and his psychology, and mystic poets like Yeats, Rumi, Hafiz, and Thich Nhat Hanh. None of this seemed counter to my concurrent obsession with amassing great wealth, a goal I put enormous energy into. I was in constant frustration as to which way to go with my career and life path, so I tried many different entrepreneurial schemes, partnerships, and forays. It was great fun, but I’m not rich yet; at least in silver and gold. I was thirty-eight the year I met Richard. In love right away, very soon we agreed to pursue the goal of owning a home and some land. We found it by a river up north, and my dream of security was fulfilled. We went to Italy, where I felt a profound connection with the masters of the Renaissance. Moved tremendously, especially by the Chiesi Annunziata in Florence, I had an “unexplainable moment” within the ornate church. I returned to Italy alone for my fortieth birthday, and journeyed to a remote monastery, the Santuario Della Verna. San Francisco d’Assisi had received the stigmata at this old site atop a mile-high rock, but more than his presence I felt the ancient spring that had once been the shrine to Goddess, Nature. The air and water near that rock are indescribable, and for the first time in years, I heard the Voice. It quietly told me to finish the book, a novel I’d begun about the gritty world of birth. I completed it in the next year, and it was published in 2002. I also developed a love for drawing, and a fascination for and affinity with the great Leonardo di Vinci on that journey. 52 I’ve spent the last four years focused on shedding the addictions I shouldered at such a young age. With the great assistance of my current spiritual path, an Ageless Wisdom Path called the Builders of the Adytum, I’ve left behind most of those old helpers. I can face my family sober, and I revel in the clarity and vigor of my body and mind. Like a snowball gaining mass and velocity, the moment I mustered the will to take control of my personal destiny, doors have opened all around me. The right Bachelor completion program opened up for me on a day that the Dalai Lama touched my hand. My daughter continues to thrive as an insightful and delightful young woman, brilliant and ambitious. My spirit soars when I think of her, and my daily life consists of a set pattern of prayer, meditation, and vigorous action. My path starts today, and I’m willing to follow wherever the Spirit leads. 53 THEOLOGY Spiritual Autobiography A Journey of Beliefs and Values Normal, everyday experiences are the backbones of our spiritual journeys. The spiritual valuation of these experiences is dependent upon the events themselves and the participant’s perception of the event. Each observation alone does not define the spiritual insight; rather, the summation of the deductions defines the spiritual value of the experience. Spiritual journeys have been traditionally associated with a church, religion, or personal experience with God. An underlying association is that of an individual’s nature of his or her soul, the integral core of who one is and what one represents. Spirituality is defined as “relating to, consisting of, or having the nature of spirit; not tangible or material” (American Heritage “Spirit”) while a soul is defined as “the animating and vital principal in humans, credited with the faculties of thought, action, and emotion and often conceived as an immaterial entity” (American Heritage “Soul”). From these definitions, I am comfortable in deducing that my spiritual journey is the evolving collection of my personal beliefs, practices, feelings, and attitudes in and about life without having them directly associated with an organized religion or church or necessarily a personal experience with God. In the innocence of childhood, I believed in God. My parents did not take me to church and I do not have any memories of discussing God or religion with them. I do remember attending Sunday school with my childhood friends, 54 actively looking for the comfort that came from believing in a higher being and interacting with a religious community. I never questioned my belief in God. I had a simplistic faith in His presence and omnipotence, one that the various pamphlets and literature I read reinforced. If it was in writing, I believed that it was true. My early spirituality was based on emotions and naive experiences. Throughout the years of adolescence and young adulthood, this simplistic faith faded away, to be replaced with a desire for a belief based on rational and logical thought. As I have had the opportunity to live in a variety of countries and cultures, I have enjoyed being exposed to different theological and philosophical thoughts and practices. This exposure was the underlying foundation in my search for answers to questions that would help in my spiritual growth. I sought to understand why we have so many different religions, given that some of these theologies purport a “one God only” philosophy. Was there more than one God? Was it possible that God did not exist; that organized religion was actually a desire by men to control each other through organized behavior and guidelines? Ultimately, this quest became my spiritual journey, from the point of exploring my simplistic childhood beliefs and rejecting them because they were not founded on logical deductions all the way through defining my current beliefs and basing my life on them. According to Mike Schreve, author of In Search of True Light, eleven main living religions exist in the world. These living religions are Buddhism, Christianity, Confucianism, Hinduism, Islam, Jainism, Judaism, Shinto, Sikhism, 55 Taoism, and Zoroastrianism (59). Within these eleven, enough contradictions exist to separate these organizations making them distinctively unique with a large number of commonalities that bind them together. All eleven religions promote ‘The Golden Rule” wherein we should treat others as we would treat ourselves (Shreve 1). Another agreed upon theme is that we must separate ourselves from the world in order to become pure and holy. A third tenet purports the need of prayer; in order to become closer to or communicate with God, we must pray. Character development is a commonly taught principal in all eleven schools of thought. They teach that in order to become the best that we can be we must rise above the basics of our human nature. Faith is the preeminent commonality of them all. The lifeblood to any religion is faith. The last teaching that all eleven have in common concerns Love and Compassion; that these healing balms provided meaning and purpose when none was found by the seeker in the world of mankind. Except for faith and prayer, these teachings promote ethical or appropriate social behavior. Of these eleven religions, I have spent time reading the scriptures pertaining to four of them, plus a few others not listed, and I have developed my own list of beliefs that comprise the foundation of my life and value system. My spiritual guidelines are simple and are based on a set of beliefs resulting from the various readings and life experiences I have experienced. These beliefs are similar to the religious commonalities that Mike Schreve found. I believe that we should treat others as we would want them to treat us. People should not lie. We should not hurt each other; rather, when an opportunity 56 arises, we should help others to help themselves. Intellectual, emotional, and spiritual growth is an ongoing exercise, and behind every life experience is an opportunity to learn and grow. Love and compassion are the driving forces behind what makes us good and we should practice them whenever possible. There is a God, but my relationship with God is personal and not for public observation or discussion. I would consider these beliefs to be primarily ethical ones, except on the topic of God. The existence of God is a spiritual conclusion resulting from my inability to find acceptable and logical explanations for the various events I would describe as “miracles” that I have encountered. For example, the creation and birth of a human being far exceeds in cellular complexity the explanation put forth by the theories of random formulation of cells or the evolution of a single cell. Even though I purport that God exists, I do not think there is a divine Plan that guides my life. According to George Norwood, while writing about Occam’s Razor Theory, even though we are products of our environment and heredity, we are also products of randomness. This randomness introduces elements into our consciousness that cannot be planned for or predicted. These elements cause unexpected results in behavior that belies the thought that our lives follow a divine Plan. The ethical beliefs that I live by are a blending of traditional values established in my childhood home and the results of observing and evaluating human behavior within different cultures. My mother had specific sayings that she would share with her children when we made social errors, quips such as “If you can not say anything nice then do not say anything at all” or “Is that how you 57 want someone to treat you?” These comments always made us stop to question the results of our actions or words. In terms of cultural influences, the Lebanese social and community behavior is one of the most generous cultures I have ever experienced. Many times I watched families with very little share their meager resources with others, knowing that they would be giving up their own comfort. In evaluating my various memories, I do not recall ever seeing a person or family turned away in a time of need. This generosity of spirit and consideration for others had a positive influence on me. In a country containing social, religious, and philosophical strife, these people, as a whole, unite to protect and maintain their confessional or sect history, culture, and survival as a unit. To date, when I can help someone I will do whatever I can so long as it does not conflict with my values. This belief system has allowed me the gift of living a life of honor and integrity. Though the tenets of my beliefs are simple, they are the exemplification of my values. As such, when I say that I will do something, I strive to follow through. People ask for my help, as they know I will do whatever I can in helping them to achieve their needs. I strive to treat people with dignity and respect, as that is how I want to be treated and I am a firm believer in “what goes around comes around.” Until recently, I have not acknowledged my belief in God for more than 15 years. In evaluating my lack of spiritual growth, I can see how this has negatively affected me. I now wonder if my ex-husband and I had talked about our spiritual development if we might not have grown apart. As it was, 58 there were no binding values to tie us together as we progressed through our lives. A void existed, characterized by the absence of mutual spiritual values. In thinking over my life, I do not remember having very many religious experiences. As mentioned earlier, I did attend Sunday school with my neighbors, thus participating in an organized religious institution’s rituals. The other experience I remember was being baptized by immersion in the Jordan River. This would have been during my early teens, around the age of thirteen. This event was akin to walking in the steps of Jesus. This path could be compared to the Muslim annual trek to Mecca: a journey to a holy shrine for the purpose of cleansing the soul. Additionally, the act of baptism is the final step of recognizing Christ as your savior and accepting him into your life; baptism is a religious practice specific to Christianity. My response to both of these experiences was an emotional one. The attendance of Sunday school was an ordinary experience with an ordinary response. What made it a religious experience was the pursuance of scriptural teaching from an organized religion within a building representing a holy place. The baptism in the Jordan River was a highly charged emotional experience relating to the spiritual connection I was creating by reproducing steps taken at the time of Christ. This experience was a religious experience as well as an act of spiritual acceptance, defined within the scriptures of the church in addition to a replication of actions taken by Jesus Christ. 59 The science of psychology and teachings of religion have common threads of behavioral guidelines. Mike Shreve’s compilations and observations note that there are “seven pillars of wisdom” common to all religious teachings (1). He then classifies these pillars into three themes: God, The Universe, and Man. He depicts these themes as a pyramid with God at the pinnacle, supported by The Universe and Man. Abraham Maslow, an eminent behavioral psychologist in the late 19’60s, identified man as having “B-Values” which were “truth, goodness, beauty, transcendence, aliveness, uniqueness, perfection, justice, order and simplicity” (Norwood). He arranged these in a hierarchy of attainment within the shape of a pyramid, just as Mike Shreve has organized his themes. Maslow felt that his B-Values reflected the values of mankind, when at their best. George Norwood felt that these observations changed the field of psychology by introducing a spiritual element into a study of behavioral science. Norwood states that Maslow’s observations were based on his studies of mankind’s historically great people and what it was that made them great. The Baha’i community has taken Maslow’s Hierchy of Needs and added one more layer to the top, which they have identified as “spiritual” attainment. The Baha’i’s religious teachings are based on the premise that each of the various religions existing today were founded on a manifestation 60 of God that walked amongst humans at a specific historical, spiritual, and social developmental time pertaining to man’s growth. Maslow believed that through each level of development, man facilitated his evolution to a level of “self actualization,” thus allowing us to become the best we could be. After achieving self-actualization, we would then be able to follow our “calling.” The Baha’ i’s believe that with progressive introduction of spiritual development, mankind can self-actualize to where we could follow our spiritual calling. If we think of it as a school of higher education, we must first learn our lessons of life from the current grade level before being able to move onto the next level of study. My introduction to the Baha’i community was when I came back to the United States to attend a university. I found their approach to spiritual growth to be intriguing and thought provoking. Though I do not follow or practice the teachings of Baha’u’llah (the Bahai’s manifestation of God), I find the logic and reasoning in the thoughts of progressive learning refreshing. This blending of psychology and theology has allowed me to find acceptable answers to my spiritual questions. These answers have helped develop the values and beliefs that I live by. My intellectual being would not have accepted a “religious” experience based on blind faith; nor could I ignore the unexplained “miracles of life” that I encounter within my daily experiences. As a result, I live by a blending of spiritual and logical standards that suits both my intellect and soul. This blending has provided a balance to my life that has allowed me to become a more grounded and harmonious person; I no longer 61 have a sense of spiritual restlessness nor feel that a vital component of my life or character is missing. These standards provide me with a lifestyle foundation that I can use as a basis in my analyses of world events and how human nature responds to these events and/or interacts with each other. Most important, these standards not only provide me with a set of guidelines for my personal conduct but they are a reference point for what I consider to be acceptable social behavior from people that I interact with. The blending of psychology and theology has provided me with what I would consider to be the best of both worlds: reason and faith working together. The experiences in my life have allowed me the opportunity to learn and grow. The fundamental value system that has developed over my life is the foundation for my ethical and social beliefs and is an example of how life’s experiences have shaped me through growth. I do not see an end to this path of self-actualization, but rather it is a continuous journey. A journey I can travel, anticipating normal, everyday experiences from which I can glean gems of wisdom and insight. With these “treasures” of spiritual wealth, I hope to evolve into the best person I can possibly be. 62 Works Cited The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language. Fourth Edition. New York: Houghton Mifflin Company, 2000. ---. Norwood, George. “Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs.” 2001-2003. ---. “The Baha’i Faith.” 9 July 1996 ---. “Occam’s Razor Theory.” Updating Your Religious Vision. 29 June 1996, ver 4.0. Shreve, Mike. “Commonalities in Religion.” In Search of the True Light. 63 THEOLOGY SPIRITUAL AUTOBIOGRAPHY: LIFE AND GOD FROM MY PERSPECTIVE I was raised a Catholic and attended Catholic school for seven years but never became a hard-core believer, let alone a simple church-goer. After seventeen years of living in the Philippines, a predominantly Catholic country, I have come to believe that the human heart is utterly depraved, and that man, by nature, is in love with wrong. I was taught that man had been thwarted by the Devil who, with lies, had deceived Adam and Eve. In his vengeance, God cursed the man and woman with slavery, pain, disease and death. I was taught that God used earthquakes, firestorms, famine, plagues and floods to punish and civilize His children. From my Catholic upbringing, I thought that I not only knew the beginning, but also the end. I thought that life had only two ways: the path and the road. The path led to Heaven but was narrow, lined with thorns and dirt, infested with sufferings and sorrow, wet with tears and stained by bleeding feet. The road led to Hell but was tantalizingly broad and smooth, bordered with fruits and flowers, filled with laughter and dreams of success. I believed that there was a perpetual battle waged between the powers of good and evil for the possession of human souls. God was doing his best to make me take the painful path and the Devil used everything to keep me on the broad smooth road. In Catholic school, I was conditioned to believe that God does not reward people for being honest, generous and brave, but purely for faith. Accordingly, virtuous people 64 without faith deserve to suffer eternal pain. The idea that there could be no salvation except through faith, to me, was a lost cause. The whole concept of being born a sinner turned me away from practicing my Catholic faith. Growing up in the Philippines, I was exposed to several cult offshoots of Catholicism. These cults, ranging from faith healers to channelers, further confused my sense of religion and of what God expects from humankind or from me. I found the acts and deceptions put forth by faith healers and cults to be heartbreaking and sacrilegious. For a price, and at the expense of the desperate vulnerable and gullible people, psychic surgeons used the supernatural to perform magic tricks. Faith healers are prevalent in the Philippines and perform "psychic surgery." Healers, as I've seen mostly on TV, all supposedly have connections with the divine. The Holy Spirit supposedly gave each of these surgeons the gift of healing. The healers used "bullets," which were pieces of animal tissue or clots of blood rolled into small pieces, to fool people. The healers taught and passed on to each other the processes for preparing the material so it would resemble human tissues and organs. In order for the trick to work, the healer would conceal the bullet in his or her socks, under his belt, under his collar, or in her bra and carry it into the surgery room. During the operation, the healer would take one of the bullets and hold it so that it was not visible to the patient or to other people present in the room. He would then implant the bullet on the patient's body and to keep up the show, the healer would knead and press into the patient's abdomen. The psychic surgeon, with his hands folded underneath the patient's abdomen, in an attempt to make the act appear messy and dramatic, would break the bullet open and begin to bring out pieces of tissue bit by bit. 65 Along with faith healers, there were people who subscribed to the Espiritista faith. The Espiritistas believe in divine healing and in the power of the Holy Spirit. Because my mother's side of the family belonged to Espiritista, I gained first-hand experiences with their practices and ways. The Espiritista faith had female priests who performed séances to bring forth the good message of God. Weekly, angels supposedly came down from heaven to spread God's word. During the course of their five-hour session, a number of different saints and apostles took turns in possessing each of the four or more priests. Jesus Christ Himself routinely possessed a priest's body to spread His words of wisdom. The teachings of Espiritista were drawn from the Bible and I couldn't say that the intent of the entire practice was wrong or evil. But the priests' whole act of making people believe that they being possessed by God, I thought, was a lie. Personally, I never bought the idea that Jesus repeatedly came into our town every weekend to preach only to a few chosen faithful. I was totally confused. Was I deserving of the Holy Spirit? I do not blame the people who saw and sought refuge in the hands of faith healers, nor do I malign my mother's side of the family for practicing a cult as weird as Espiritista. If anything, I thought that my loss of faith was my fault. After all, my Catholic upbringing taught me that we are all born into evil. In the desperate need to understand the underlying reasons for organized beliefs, and at the same time, turned off by the notion that I was helplessly born into sin, I formulated my own ideas about faith, life and God. When I consider the short duration of my life, I get swallowed up in the eternities that come before and after my own existence. I realize the insignificance of the space I fill. I am humbled by my frailty and ignorance. To think that my life can end anytime is 66 humbling. My body is so fragile that a car accident can kill me in less than an instant. I cannot begin to think about how long eternity is. The concept of time and space is difficult to understand. Even when I consider and think about the maximum span of my lifetime, the concept of 2000 years is still hard to fathom. My notions of small and big are limited by my mind. A fly, which has a body length of about half a centimeter, is small. An airplane, with a wingspan of about a few hundred meters, is big. Distances in the universe are measured in light-years. Light moves at a velocity of about 300,000 kilometers (km) each second. So in one year, light can travel about 10 trillion km. More precisely, one light-year is equal to 9,500,000,000,000 kilometers. It is humbling to think about a number as big as a light year. I can see that I am ignorant to the immensity of space. The vastness of the universe and the existence of time brought me to a conclusion that there is a God. Because of its immensity, the universe does not make sense. Even life and the world itself are often unpredictable. But because life is short and the time I have to live is limited, I realize that I have an urgent decision to make. I must select and commit to a faith even if I am unable to prove the certainty of that faith. I need to draw conclusions from facts I have available even though the facts themselves are a matter of choice. I believe that I can never hope to understand why we are here, but I can choose a belief system to follow with passionate conviction. I choose to believe that there is something - someone — greater than I am. I choose to believe that my life, my existence, is not just a mere coincidence in the context of the vast space and time. When I go hiking, I pack my backpack with all sorts to things to ensure my survival. I pack my bag with the essentials: food, water, and some emergency kits like 67 Band-Aids and bug repellants. But also I make sure that I do not over pack. Just as with life, in addition to nothing but a mere survival kit, that is the foundation of my Catholicism. I try to take only the essentials but leave behind the things I do not need or do not believe in. I take science into my backpack of life to supplement the Catholic essential—the belief that there is a God. I believe that science is a medium by which the symbolism of religion can be explained. Ever since I can remember, I have been bombarded with scientific theories and facts: from the Big Bang to Newton's Laws of Motion to the biological cause of a common cold. Instead of focusing on the teachings of Catholicism that I disagree with, I find the good by justifying Bible stories with science. I associate the splitting of the Red Sea with low tide that allowed Moses and his followers to cross. With science, I also try to draw some parallelisms. The verse from the Bible: "For dust you are, And to dust you shall return" (Genesis 3:19) equates with the fact that man is created from matter; and since matter cannot be destroyed, when we die, we do go back to whence we started. I practice my own religion in the comforts of my living room. From there, I found that God is as present in the church as He is in the Discovery Channel. Sometimes I find it ironic that I see God in a strange setting. I thought that maybe that's what God has been all along: someone simply waiting to be "'discovered." One night, I intently watched a special about a tiny desert reptile. The animal had hideous horns spread all over its body, ft walked very slowly across the desert and its only protection from predators was its appearance and color. Since it was so slow and tiny, it could not quickly get to a water source and had to rely on rain. As soon as it rained, water was immediately absorbed into its skin and its horns, which are strategically placed apart 68 from each other so that the horns act as a waterway and channel water directly into the animal's mouth. Who or what might have created a wonder such as this horned, ugly, but so well designed animal? God is the all-knowing engineer featured, although never mentioned, in every Discovery Channel show. I believe that the Theory of Evolution is God's way of perfecting his design of life forms. In His every attempt, as in this animal, through its simple, yet genius, design, God is able to nurture his creation and ensures its survival. The Discovery Channel is a display of how far humanity has come in understanding His world. The show is filled with different specials about how man probes into the unknown. Some of the shows include topics like Modern DNA readers or NASA Spacecraft on Mars. Once while watching, I stumbled upon a special about the Hubble Space Telescope. Wow! Humankind is now actually able to view farther parts of the universe and is able to make more theories about its beginnings. But still, all these shows, even if they seem to show how technologically advanced we've become, I believe, are nothing but mere attempts to understand the engineer who made all the diversity, the balancing forces that keep our planets in line and the molecular structures that make up our DNA. Each one of us is connected to the other. I believe that in being here, I become part of everybody else's life. Most of my days are filled with these repetitive motions: I wake up at 6:30 a.m., get my son ready for school, prepare his lunch and breakfast, get myself ready for work, drive my son to school, drive myself to work, work for 9 hours, drive back home, eat dinner with my family, help my son with homework, do my homework, find the time to read to my son before I finally tuck him in bed. The next day, 69 I go on with the same motions with little or no change. On the weekends, after helping my aunt with and doing my own chores, I either take my son to a museum or to a movie. On weekends that my son is at his dad's, I cook for my family and spend as much time as I can with them. Sometimes it is hard to find spirituality beneath the conundrums of my life. But I believe that in taking care of my son, of making sure that I am providing him the best life I can provide, of being there for him in the most boring undertakings of his young life, of making sure that he feels secure that I love him, I am doing my best in contributing to the greater good. I believe that life is a series of concentric overlapping circles, with my inner circle consisting of my son, my family, and the little part of the Bay Area map where my life stirs. The next outer circle consists of my work and school; the next consists of the community. The next outer circles consist of the country, the world/planet, and the biggest circle is everything beyond. I believe that by taking care of my son and spending time with my family, I am filling the innermost circle. Just last week, I attended a conference held by the Society of International Affairs. After the conference, I realized that my little contribution to my company affects the U.S. government and other countries. I realized that Export Administration, which is the department I currently work for, is a result of a long history of U.S. government sanctions put forth upon other countries because of human rights and warfare munitions violations. I realized that events like the Tiananmen Massacre and Iraq's unending production of weapons are parts of the reason why I do my job. In the conference, I learned that world economy affects all of us and how, at least in my company, we do business. All of a sudden, the world shrunk. I abruptly came to a 70 realization that we all are part of one another and that even if it may not be immediately apparent, what we do is part of the next of the outer circles that include all of us. Other than my job, I know I have a long way to go in extending myself to other people and in actually participating and becoming truly involved in the community. But I do feel angered by news on TV and feel especially compassionate for children who have been abused by adults. During the weeks of the September 11th bombing, my son's school asked for contributions for the victims and survivors of the event. My son asked me, even though he has seen what had happened on TV, why we needed to come up with money. I explained, in my simplest way, that there were a lot of people who died in the tragic event and that the people who remained needed some help. My son replied with another question: "Why don't those pilots know how to fly airplanes anyway?" Oblivious to the injustices of the world, my innocent son thought that the whole event was nothing but a mere accident. I savored my son's innocence. I took a deep breath and contemplated a reply that sought nothing but to preserve his guiltlessness. I simply said that those pilots didn't pay attention in flying school. God gives me hope by letting me experience a child's uncorrupt mind. Children, I believe, are our utmost treasures. I believe it is unjust for thinking grown adults to violate our world's future. I am hoping that, while I have my limitations as to what I can do for these children, I can contribute by loving and teaching my own child and caring for the children in my community. As I get older (and hopefully wiser), I know I want to keep stepping out and extending myself into the bigger circles that surround me. Despite the fact that I do not practice Catholicism myself, I send my son to a Catholic school in the hopes that he will, 71 as I did, learn to use religion as a foundation for a belief system for himself. And because my son attends Catholic school, I am learning to reach out to the community and participate in humanitarian efforts in fund-raising. The people who experienced the Holocaust or the bombing of September 11th are connected to me because I learn from the struggles of the people who tried to survive despite their desperate situations. Even those who fall into despair become a part of us. I breathe in their bravery, which, in part, has helped me become a better person. Dead people, because they have spent time with us, become part of who we are. And because we've spent time on this earth, this life, we become part of what feeds life. The combination of my exposures to different types of faith and my experiences has taught me about life and God. Despite this life's complexity and unanswered questions I know that I still strive to live a moral and honest life. I try to keep my contracts, care for my family and child, and make a happy home. In the community, I try to be a good citizen, a patriot, and a thoughtful human. I emerged from highly dysfunctional families, yet the most important values that I hold high in life I learned from my family. There have been times when I questioned my family's concepts of morality. On my grandfather's side, there was an uncle who committed suicide after he shot his wife. On the same side, there were people who loved money. I had uncles and aunts who had sworn off some of their siblings because of jealousy and hatred. On my mom's side of the family was a drunken uncle. I saw my aunts and uncles go through multiple marriages and broken families. I saw neglected cousins suffer from poverty because of the wrongdoings of their parents. 72 My parents divorced when my brother and I were small. My grandparents, on both sides of my family, had to raise a good number of their grandchildren. When my grandfather died, it was my own personal tragedy. My grandfather was the one who had the most impact in my life but had to be taken away. But when he passed away, I saw his children fight over the high medical bills. I thought that my grandfather was better off gone, rather than seeing his children fight the way they did. In spite of the bad, I struggled to see the good. I realized that even if my grandfather was now gone he would always be a part of me. I learned to forgive my aunts and uncles for forsaking their own father, and I learned to move on. My parents eventually changed and became better people. I learned that in time some people do change for the better. I always keep in mind that despite the hardships I have gone through, I did come out ok. In my journey, I'd like to strive to not repeat the mistakes of those who came before me. I practice the virtues of generosity, honesty, and perseverance. Having learned that my aunts' and uncles' love affair with money brought them nothing but misery and cost them their loved ones, I try not to be greedy and simply accept what I do or don't have. I believe that perseverance, which I try practice wherever I am, in school, work, and life in general, must be rewarded; but the reward does not necessarily have to be monetary. Other than the genius behind life's creations, I believe that God is what feeds life. God is a conscience. God is a collection of experiences. In experiencing life, I believe I experience God. The peace I experience in my life is found in the mundane happenings of life and not in booths where I used to confess my sins or begged for forgiveness. I find peace in the snoring of my sleeping child safely tucked in bed, in 73 the company of friends and family eating dinner together. I do not recite the Lord's Prayer, the Creed, or other systematic litanies anymore. But I do find myself appreciating nature and people and the grandeur of God. I believe that by knowing that an abundance of life, other than my own, surrounds me, I am experiencing God. I take pleasure in taking snapshots of people and places because that act is the closest I can come to capturing moments - moments of our short existence. I strive to be good because my life is a gift. I believe that I am only given one chance to live and just one chance to perform. I need to act well. I need to share my thoughts, my emotions, my experiences, and my very life with the rest of the world. I try to make the world a better place by learning from other people's mistakes. Turned off by the injustices that other children, including some of my unfortunate cousins, have suffered from, I take care of my child and make sure that I am always there to provide and to make sure that he feels loved. My world is structured not by fear of God but by appreciation of this one life given to me. I know my own death is inescapable. Before then, I will try my best to live my life the best I can. Born out of the teachings of Catholicism, Espiritista and the other faiths I have seen as I go on this journey, I draw with my own reasoning the basis of my belief in God. I do not claim to know which religion is right or wrong and who, among all of us, will go to heaven or hell. I do not believe in hell. I do not believe in Heaven. Heaven or hell is a state of being. One can choose to be in a state of hell while living. I struggle to be in heaven. My driving force knows that I only have one life to live and apart from the uncertainty of my own demise, my only other fear in life is regret. I have to be happy now or my chance is gone. 74 I know that in my short state of being I'll never fully realize the truth about why we are all here. What sustains me is the faith that by doing my little part in the grander scheme of things, later, much, much later, having learned from all of its past mistakes and struggles to be better, humanity is going to reach its full potential. Maybe that's what heaven is. I don't know. I believe that in sharing my life with circle of family and friends and co-workers, I am already sharing and giving myself to others. Later, I hope to keep stepping out my smaller circles and contribute more the greatness that sustains us. I believe that if I continue on living a good life like my grandfather did, I may be able to impart the practice to others and the ones who will come after me. In that way I become eternal. 75 Works Cited The Holy Bible. New King James Version. Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, Inc., 1982. 76 THEOLOGY DEATH AND DYING: A Time for Guidance A little over three years ago while my father-in-law was preparing his taxes, it struck him, very frighteningly, that he could not perform the simplest mathematical calculations. Several hours later, in the hospital ER, a mass was discovered in his head. Subsequent tests revealed a malignant tumor. Three months later, he was dead. Although his illness was sudden, and his physical decline rapid, he used his remaining time to "tie up loose ends," visit with his family, and otherwise incorporate elements of closure at the end of his life. Aiding him and his loved ones during this transition from life to death was religion. My father-in-law was a devout man, born into a traditional Ashkenazi Jewish immigrant family early in this century. Despite being orphaned with his younger brother very early in life, his religious education was not disrupted. The boys were sent to a Jewish home for children. Later, when my father-in-law entered college, he roomed in a Jewish dormitory near campus. Indeed, religion was not only an essential element in his daily life; it was also its foundation. This paper identifies and analyzes the religious issues and aspects of death and dying using the contemporary Jewish perspective that surrounded my father-in-law, his family, and others during the process of his illness and resulting death. To meet this objective, I identify and examine key religious issues such as the role of my father-in-law's belief system (as well as the beliefs of those around him), his death and burial, and the role of his rabbi and synagogue. I also seek to 77 draw conclusions about these issues from my own interpretation of this moving experience. After the harsh realization of his terminal illness diagnosis, both my fatherin-law and his family stepped readily into the established framework available to them from a lifetime of religious training and observation. Central to their belief system is prayer, and in this case, prayer of petition: "Let my prayer come before You, O Lord, in a time of love and favor" (Psalm 69.14). This ability to reach out through prayer provides positive action for those feeling helpless. This action, along with the tenet that "Judaism teaches us to understand death as a part of the Divine pattern of the universe," can comfort in difficult situations (The New Union Prayer Book, 10). Throughout my father-in-law's brief illness, he, his family, and friends turned to prayer and the comforts and wisdom that their rabbi offered. Since laws and customs in the area of death and burial are most reverently observed, it is frequently true that of all the areas of a rabbi's activities, his relationship to a bereaved family may make the deepest impression and give the most lasting help (New Union Prayer Book, 205). At the time nearest to my father-in-law's death religion took on its greatest importance, not only for his family but also for his close friends. According to Solomon Freehof, there are five salient attitudes of death and burial in the Jewish tradition: 1) Life is precious, 2) Respect for the body, 3) Burial in holy ground, 4) Sacred sorrow, and 5) Consolation of the mourners (passim). Indeed, to begin a discussion of death within the context of the Jewish religion, one must first look to its passionate embrace of life, as urged in 78 Deuteronomy (11:26), "I call heaven and earth to witness against you this day: I have put before you life and death, blessing and curse-choose life." This reverence forms the basis for laws guarding the last precious hours of a life, yet conversely, does not allow interference when death is inevitable. In my father-in-law's case, he held life very close during his final weeks. He used the time to be with his family and friends. He also used this time to talk intimately with his loved ones, and in a very real way, to give of himself as he had not during his life. As death draws near, formal farewell rites are woven into Jewish tradition. This final "good bye" ritual is in the form of a "confession" made by the dying person. This provides an opportunity to the one near death to ask forgiveness of those around him and offer blessings of hope for them. It appears my father-inlaw used his final weeks to say goodbye, still adhering to the purpose of the established tradition, but not through the formal act. Upon my father-in-law's death, specific preparation rituals commenced. In the past, a volunteer group within each community called the holy society, or chevra kadisha, performed these rites. This assured that the body, which is considered alone and vulnerable, is properly respected. Classically, the corpse is cleansed with water and draped in a simple shroud. Prayers are recited. Today, and in the case of my father-in-law, professionals carry out this process. Careful preparation of the body is part of kavod hamet, or the requirement to honor the dead. The corpse is required to be treated with respect and dignity thereby "assisting adherents to show the deepest regard for 79 the sanctity of the deceased" (New Union Prayer Book, 116). As the bodies of the deceased are respected, so must they be buried with honor. As dictated by tradition, my father-in-law was buried in a Jewish cemetery, a place considered holy ground. Within Jewish custom, the role of the funeral ceremony itself further honors the dead and additionally fulfills an obligation to comfort the mourners, or nichum avelim. Through a full range of mourning practices, the sacred sorrow of the bereaved is given both outlets for grief and a structure to keep deep emotions within bounds. All of these were present during my father-in-law's funeral. The mourning stages for the bereaved start during the period between the death of a loved one and the time of the funeral, when mourners are released from regular other ritual obligations. It is suggested that such consideration springs from the idea that those in deep emotional upheaval cannot devote themselves properly to regular religious expression. The rabbi's presence within the home is frequent in this period. As with my experience, we met with the rabbi as a family to talk about my father-in-law and share stories and ideas about him that would help the rabbi in preparing his eulogy. This was an ideal time for each of us to seek solace from the rabbi, to help assuage our grief. As he facilitated these intimate family meetings, it allowed us as individuals to share our grief together as family, fostering feelings of support and slightly minimizing the great loss we each felt. 80 On the day of the funeral, a black ribbon, pinned to a mourner's clothing is cut. This physical act symbolizes the deceased being "cut away" from his loved ones. Within the funeral ceremony, Psalms are read, especially the 90th and the 23rd, concerning the cycle of life and death and the affirmation of life and homecoming respectively. The rabbi conducts the eulogy, which briefly describes the life of the deceased, his values, morals, and deeds, and relates to a broad range of mourners the very essence of the man. At this point during my funeral experience, the mourners moved to the grave site. In a true break from tradition, my mother-in-law asked me to be a pallbearer, which I accepted with great honor. Together, the pallbearers carried my father-in-law up a hill to where the grave had been dug. Here, both visually and physically, the mourners saw the finality of his death and physically placed a handful of earth upon his coffin, as is customary. In conclusion to the funeral, the kaddish or homecoming prayer is recited. It is a prayer that affirms life, while accepting death. After the funeral there are distinctive levels of mourning based on graduating days. The first is shiva, which means seven and lasts one week. The two mourning periods following are sheloshim, "thirty," and the one-year anniversary of the death called the yahrzeit. This structured and gradual process of mourning is designed for the survivors and enables them to ease into a life without their loved one. For the family and friends of my father-in-law, I believe the process of his dying and death was similar from a religious standpoint, as all were Jews. The 81 established framework built into the religion for the specific purpose of guiding both the dying and the living during this poignant transitional period proved indispensable. From the time my father-in-law was stricken, to the funeral itself, and even after that, friends and other members of the synagogue provided support to the family. Delivering food to the house and running simple errands provided a modicum of relief for my mother-in-law. The synagogue and its members offered well-organized sustenance in a difficult time. And the rabbi himself oversaw this seamless and quietly executed assistance. My own experience centered on my role as a supportive wife for my grieving husband. During the entire process, I observed the need for a steadying influence for all concerned. The ordeal of my father-in-law's dying and death set him and the ones nearest him off balance. I believe that the guidelines for such circumstances extant within the Jewish religion provided much needed ballast. The fundamental points of Elisabeth Kubler-Ross's influential stage/phase work, On Death and Dying, outline specific emotional stages that terminally ill patients go through: denial, anger, bargaining, depression and, finally, acceptance (passim). In comparing my father-in-law's terminal illness to the stages, I witnessed several but not all. When the gravity of his illness was quite evident, my father-in-law became angry that he would not be with his wife and family much longer. His anger grew as he lost his facilities, and his wife had to care for him as she would a child, feeding and cleaning him. Foment turned into depression and he refused food, and then drink. Finally, in an unforgettable act, at the very end of his days and in 82 an apparent state of euphoria, my father-in-law fully accepted his impending demise as he conducted an aria from Madame Butterfly from his deathbed. Although Kubler-Ross's work is fundamentally psychological, she believes the traditional role of religion is to "give hope, a purpose in tragedies here on earth, and an attempt to understand and bring meaning to otherwise inacceptable [sic] painful circumstances in life" (15). She too feels that "We have to take a hard look at our own attitude toward death before we can sit quietly and without anxiety next to a terminally ill patient" (269). I believe that these two points, if considered together, the role of religion and analyzing our attitude toward death, buoy us in times of loss. Kubler-Ross's work shows us that in order to truly care for the dying we need to understand the dying process and, in doing so, learn from it. Kubler-Ross also feels that many people no longer believe in a hereafter, an ultimate reward in heaven upon death (14), which is in a large sense the main thrust of Raymond Moody's Life After Life. His book documents the experiences of those who have been near death and may have been medically dead but are resuscitated. There is a common theme among these experiences presented that Kubler-Ross corroborates in the forward of the book. Clearly, Moody is on to something here, but what? Merely a description from the dying patient's standpoint of the physiological/neurological course of death? Perhaps a skeptic could accept this approach. Or perhaps the idea that we continue on after physical life in some other fashion has merit, and Moody's work simply presents fodder for speculation. If it is true that less people today believe in a hereafter, and subsequently are no longer concerned that behaviors in our 83 physical life will somehow reflect upon our life in the hereafter, then perhaps this is one reason why violence seems to be escalating, especially with our youth. Perhaps the sanctity of life as well as the sanctity of death is perceived at its fullest if we consider the existence of afterlife. The notion of the homecoming within the Jewish funerary tradition, and all its accompanying ritual; the preparation of the body, the prayers of affirmation and the kaddish, the homecoming prayer; blossom into full meaning in the light of Moody's work. With this in mind, truly accepting death, as identified by KublerRoss, should become easier. In conclusion, the experience of my father-in-law's death, and my firsthand participation in the process, confirms that the established customs and structures surrounding the issues of dying, death, and mourning, are pivotal within the Jewish tradition. When observed, this well-formed component of the religion proffers guidance for both the dying and the bereaved. It unites these two, the living and the dead, and eases a painful transition, while affirming the sanctity of life. 84 Works Cited Freehof, Solomon B. The Book of Psalms, A Commentary. Cincinnati: Union of American Hebrew Congregations, 1938. Kubler-Ross, Elisabeth. On Death and Dying. New York: MacMillan, 1969. Moody, Raymond. Life After Life. San Francisco: Harper San Francisco, 2001. The New Union Prayer Book. Cincinnati: Union of American Hebrew Congregations, 1975. 85 MARKETING AND SALES SALES: The Field of a Dream One might think there is a genetic reason for the selection of my profession. I was born into a family consisting of many relatives who made selling their life. However, after questioning why one enters the sales game, the only answer is for the love of the challenge. This paper will show how fortunate I was to learn early in my career the "art" of selling and how a person in sales and sales management must continue to adapt to the changing business environment in order to be successful. Starting in the Sales Game When I was twenty-two years old, I thought I was on top of the world. I was recognized as the top inside sales person for a division of a steel service center. The company was on the New York Stock Exchange and was very successful in steel construction and supplying steel to fabricators. I handled most of the large accounts and all of the outside sales people wanted me to be "their contact" for their customers. After spending a few years as an inside sales person dealing with customers' requests by phone, I was promoted to the "outside world." Little did I know that this world was much different than the one to which I was accustomed. The company understood the importance of continuous training and I was taught at this early stage of my new career that in order to be the best, one needs to continue to learn new techniques to sell. I 86 spent two weeks in a training class where people showed examples of ways to approach people, how to dress, how to be "in control" of the situation, and how to be a problem solver. The instructors worked on attitude and goals. They stressed the need for positive thoughts and for understanding the new world I was about to enter. I was beginning to realize the field I had chosen was one of the most difficult in which to make a living, but if successful, it could be one of the most rewarding; both monetarily and professionally. One of the many lessons taught during those early days in my career I still use today in training classes. People who think they want to enter the sales field need to understand the potential mood swings they may encounter. Normally, everyone is happy with his or her occupation eighty percent of the time. They may encounter difficulties in their jobs or unhappy moments about twenty percent of the time. In sales, the opposite is true. To be a successful sales person, we were taught to understand that eighty percent of the people you talk to might not buy your product. In the particular field I was in, if you sold twenty percent of the orders you quoted, you were considered very good. This means a high rate of failure must be overcome. An analogy one might use is with a baseball player. A person who hits three out often balls bats .300 and is considered a great player and is paid a great deal of money. The two main lessons learned after realizing the twenty-percent success rate are how to deal with failure and how to deal with success. The instructors of these courses taught us how to stay focused. First, one must continue to have his or her goals. Maintaining a daily call sheet for the next 87 day shows a future and will not allow one to dwell on failure. The instructors also pointed out the need to not celebrate too long after a successful sales event. Once again, they pointed out the need to stay focused and continue to sell, for one never knows when things might change. They taught us to never sit too long on success. I was taught to use my energy to go to the next opportunity, because body language will tell the story. It is easier to sell after a successful endeavor than trying to sell after a failure. Taking My Show on the Road Utilizing the skills taught by the instructors, I planned my attack. First, I wrote my goals down. Due to the extensive territory I was given to manage, my priority was organization. I plotted out a geographic call list, noting the companies that were near each other. Next, I noted the larger volume accounts in the area that would require more attention and decided to make them a once-a-week call. The volume would determine the amount of times I would visit them per month. I knew I would need to be flexible because an account that may not have been doing a lot of business does not necessarily mean they were a small account. The previous sales person might have had a problem selling to them, and I knew that there might need to be more attention given to them with the hope of increasing the business. My parents use to tell me to stay close to people who were successful. I used this advice during my first year in outside sales. After 88 finding the top producers of the company, I asked to ride along with them during their sales days. Most were willing to share their success stories and show me "the ropes." They were impressed with my enthusiasm and remembered when they were my age breaking into the business. I found these journeymen to be very organized. Customers could set their clocks by these people. If it was Tuesday and 10:00 a.m., you knew where they were. Week after week they never deviated from their call sheet. What I found interesting was the fact that they would keep the same schedule with potentially large accounts. They would continue to call on these accounts and showed their dedication to their profession and that they could be trusted in showing up at their customers' doorsteps weekly. One day while I was traveling with one of the "pros," we stopped at one of his potential customers. As we walked up to the door to the lobby, we noticed the receptionist moving furniture and picking things off the floor. The night before their offices had flooded from a rainstorm. The pro stopped, took off his shoes and socks, rolled up his pants, and told me to do the same. We walked into the lobby and the receptionist started to laugh. She called the person we were scheduled to meet and we were told to proceed to his office. Upon entering the office the contact asked the pro what in the world he was doing there while the building was flooded. My new friend looked his future customer in the eye and said, "Mark, it's 11:00 a.m., Wednesday. This is the time I am always here. It does not matter if you have a flood or not; your business must 89 go on. My company can help you succeed and this is the type of dedication you will get used to." This potential customer looked at him and said, "In all my years I have never seen anything like this. Frank, here is your first order." That first order was the first of many and by the end of the year this was Frank's largest customer. To this day, as the sales manager of the company where I work, I share this story with others in my group. This was one type of selling where territorial calls and the product enabled sales people to drop by for their weekly orders. The knowledge of customers' needs was mandatory in order to satisfy them. Our company knew the customers, the type of product they typically purchased, and many of the people in the organization. I learned the need to befriend the receptionist as well as the President of the company to insure success. "Contacts," Frank would say. "The more contacts you have in the account, the smaller the chance of your losing the business when the players change." Frank understood the lesson that nothing lasts forever, and if his contact was removed from the position for any reason, there was a chance he would have to reintroduce our company. Selling in depth would enable others within the company to do the selling for him. On My Own As I started out in my new territory, I teamed that unless someone likes you, the chances of selling to him or her are limited. I needed to prove to them although I was new. I would work hard and they could trust me. According to Jonathan Evetts (1990, p. 174-178), in Seven Pillars of Sales 90 Success, customers want to deal with honest people. In most situations, the reputation of a sales person is tarnished before the first meeting and must be changed immediately. The salesperson's reputation is one that shows him/her to only care about themselves. Evetts recites his five rules a salesperson should live by. First is to work for an honest company, next is to treat confidential information as one should, offer no bribes, take full responsibility, and set a good example. Frank, my first teacher in the sales field, would check in with me on a regular basis. He always wanted my success stones first. He would tell me to never forget the great sales calls and to build on them, I remember one day when he explained his thoughts on customers he did not like, but who were needed by the company. Frank said you cannot be forced to like the customers, but you need to understand their importance. According to Richard C. Whitley (1981, p. 64) in The Customer Driven Company, "When you become a partner you break down the wails between yourself and your customer." Today, I realize the importance of this concept. If you do not consider yourself a partner with your customer, the chances of success will be slim. As a salesperson, one must show customers you care about their business. There can be no walls or secrets between the two businesses. Your customer needs to know you have to make a profit, and the customer also needs to know you will do everything in your power to give him the best pricing your company can deliver. This was true twenty years ago and it is true now. 91 High Tech Selling After a few years in the steel distributorship business, I was offered a sales position at a privately held company that produced custom metal boxes for the computer industry. This was a drastic change in my career. Going from a nationally known company to a family owned business in the Bay Area of Northern California created a need for me to truly understand how a salesperson can succeed. I entered an industry that was very competitive, very fast paced, and one where sales people were challenged. The challenge to me was entering a position that required more knowledge of the product. I did not receive formal training about how the steel was fabricated for the boxes, and many of my clients were engineers as well as purchasing people. Many times I was forced to take someone from the manufacturing site with me on a sales call to answer questions. I found these people from my company to be very good technically, but in front of customers they needed some polish. We always made a deal that I would take care of the business aspect of the meeting and they would take care of the engineering part. This seemed to work well, as the engineers of the company typically did not want to deal with sales people and the purchasing people of the company did not want to deal with our engineers. Very early in my career at this new company I learned the need to put the right people in front of the customer. In order to 92 have a successful meeting, people need to be on the same wavelength and feel comfortable with one another. Can a Salesperson Become a Sales Manager? Not all salespeople can become sales managers. I have seen examples of people very successful in sales fail miserably in a management role. A few things can happen when this promotion takes place. First, the daily "sales feeling" is lost. No more are there constant gratification feelings that a sales person is use to. Second, if the sales person is use to the notoriety of being one of the best in the company, the status has now changed. Last, managing people is considerably different than managing oneself in a territory. Being a sales manager requires the skill to oversee different types of personalities, egos, and levels of selling experience. One needs to be able to massage the ego of the top producers as well as help the "rookies" along with all of their problems. According to Diane Sanchez (1998, p. 21) in Sales and Marketing, "As a sales manager, you're in the business of developing your people, not just correcting mistakes." She goes on to say, "People want to perform well, but don't always know how to." A manager must be able to see this and correct it quickly. Customers today want to know their contact is empowered to make the right decisions and solve their problems. Sales managers have to learn to work both sides of the street. They tend to sell the customer and turn around and sell the company on the idea. This comes as a difficult task for some and once again can separate the managers from the sales people. I have found many managers decide that the 93 management title is not what they had expected. After a short stay in the position, they choose to return to the life of not answering to a team of managers who question the motives of a sales person. Yes, even on a team of managers, there can be tension regarding the sales person's agenda. Some people will forever think the salesperson cares more about the customer and less about their own company. For this reason it is very important to explain the customer's wishes carefully when returning from a sales call. Knowing How to Keep a Customer I once attended a sales seminar where the guest speaker shared an interesting story. One day on the golf course he was asked how many sales people he had working for him. The speaker shared he employed four hundred sales people. The fellow golfer asked how many employees he had. The speaker told his golf mate he had four hundred employees. As a sales manager today, I continue to remind the team of the importance of knowing the customer. They cannot simply know them by the work we do for them; they need to know them by name and should visit them on a quarterly basis. According to Joan Koob Cannie (1991, p. 27) in Keeping Customers for Life, "it takes the work of everyone in the organization to achieve one-hundredpercent customer satisfaction." Everyone in the organization needs to be aware of their actions and the needs of the customer. From the receptionist to the person delivering the goods on the truck, everyone is a representative of the company. I have used the analogy that we are a family. If one of us starts 94 to act different from the rest, people will notice and not want to associate with us. We need to help each other and insure that if one of us comes back with a story about customer dissatisfaction, it should be taken seriously. Proactivity The successful company today is led by a sales team that is proactive. Knowing the needs of the customer is not enough. One has to be able to think ahead and offer solutions to problems before the customer is asking someone else to solve them. With costs being the buzzword today, any means to reduce pricing will get the attention of the customer. It not only is a door opener for you to see your contact, it is a door opener to have an audience with their upper management. After a recent visit with the salesperson of our largest customer, I noticed a pile of our empty boxes being cut up and placed in the garbage. When I asked our contact about this "waste" he shrugged his shoulders and said this is how it is done. I winked at the salesperson and did not say anything more about this situation. Upon our return to the company, I asked the salesperson to meet me in my office. I explained to him that this was a great opportunity to show our interests in our customer's costs and suggested we develop a presentation for their upper management. We worked for one week on this presentation. The scope of our idea was to show the overall cost of packaging for this project and the cost of labor to unpack, move the boxes, cut up the boxes, and pay for the garbage company to haul it away. We then prepared to show them the alternative. We called to ask for an audience with the senior management of our customer. 95 The trick was to make our contact the hero so he could take some credit for selecting us as his supplier. However, we wanted our company to be the one that shined during the presentation. When the big day came, we had color handouts for all. This was not going to be a sales pitch for our company; it was to show our partnership in their success. We showed them by using reusable packaging we could save them hundreds of thousands of dollars per year. By sharing their concern for quality, on-time delivery, and costs, our presentation covered many of their questions. We pointed out the fact that their other suppliers were shipping product the same way and perhaps consideration for reviewing those methods would result in lower costs. Our audience thanked us for our time and promised to call with their decision soon. Our next call was from the Vice President of their company congratulating us on the presentation and idea. Not only were they going to implement the idea immediately, they were calling in all of the other suppliers one by one to ask them to price their product, utilizing our idea. Proactive. Trustworthy. Partner. These terms were the goals many years ago and remain the goals today. Tomorrow's Sales Manager The future sales manager will have to wear many hats. Understanding marketing will be a necessity, while understanding the daily needs of the customer will also be important. Doing business globally is not just a phrase; it is imperative if one is to stay in business. The computer business is looking for the total lowest cost and will search anywhere for the answer. Thinking 96 you can simply ship from a facility in California will not be the answer. Don Shultz, in an article he wrote for Sales and Marketing Management (1998, p. 86), remarks, "in the interactive marketplace, the organization that listens and responds will succeed, not the one that continuously talks and sells." The sales manager will have to be proactive in coming up with solutions. Networking with others, listening to his/her salespeople, continuing to help the salespeople succeed, are all part of the equation for a healthy company. The sales manager of tomorrow will need to have the love of the profession one hundred percent of the time. Staying one step ahead of everyone will help the success of this individual. 97 References Cannie, I. K. (1991). Keeping customers for life. New York: Amacom. Evetts, I. (1990). Seven pillars of sales success. New York: Sterling Publishing Company, Inc. Sanchez, D. (1998, October). Four tips for better coaching. Sales and Marketing Management, 21. Schultz, D. (1998, October). Reinventing marketing for the 21st Century. Sales and Marketing Management, 86. Whiteley, R. (1991). The customer driven company. Massachusetts: Addison Wesley Publishing Company. 98 Communication Public Speaking: Communicating a Message Clearly I recently attended my close friend's wedding, and the atmosphere was beautiful: soft candlelight illuminated the room, delicate flowers adorned each table, and the view of the San Francisco skyline set an elegant backdrop. The best man's toast to the bride and groom, however, was quite the opposite. He had not prepared a speech, although he had known for months that he would be expected to make a toast. In front of 100 guests, the best man began his speech by accidentally blurting out an expletive, followed by an explanation that he had no idea what to say. He stumbled nervously through his toast, randomly pulling together stories of his and the groom's past. He ended the speech by just sitting down in his chair, without even toasting the bride and groom. Although the bride and groom appreciated his effort, the best man's speech demonstrated what happens when one is unprepared. I, too, have made many mistakes when speaking publicly. In high school, I had to make class presentations, and I prepared several formal speeches. If any coherent message came from my speeches, it was that public speaking was not easy for me. Each time I had to make a presentation, anxiety welled up inside me, and my nervousness overpowered the speech. I would stand in front of the class, my body stiff with fear, and, as quickly as is humanly possible, I would 99 present the topic, rarely making eye contact with anyone. My tone of voice was hurried and monotonous, and my thoughts were focused solely on getting the incident over with. Most embarrassing, however, was that my face would turn red, little beads of sweat would build up on my forehead, and my hands would tremble as I tensely clutched my note cards. I absolutely dreaded speaking in public, and my speeches showed it. It was only through speaking publicly over and over and learning by trial and error that I came to realize that successful public speaking is comprised of allowing ample preparation, analyzing audience needs and expectations, engaging the audience with nonverbal communication such as eye contact and body language, using visual aids and numerous examples, and repeating information again and again to reinforce the point of the presentation. A couple of years ago, I was hired as a new business trainer for my current employer. In a classroom environment, I was faced with training employees on how to do their jobs, explaining how our complex financial products work, and demonstrating the benefits of new technology. Because I had had a great deal of experience training employees in a one-on-one environment, I was promoted to the position, my lack of public speaking experience notwithstanding. I was thrown into a situation where I needed to speak, almost daily, in front of groups ranging from ten to forty people in a standard training room. During the thirteen months I was an instructor, I trained over 700 employees across the country, on subjects ranging from 100 processing new business paperwork, to using the Internet, to using mathematical calculations to determine product costs and fees. The first training class I instructed was a group of Transfer Specialists, transaction coordinators who transfer funds from one account to another. I had done everything possible to prepare for the training. I printed the correct number of handouts, contacted each attendee to remind him or her of the training time and place, checked each computer in the training room to ensure they worked properly, and repeatedly went over my outline, making sure I knew every point in the subject matter. Part of the training required me to enter information into the transaction processing software and demonstrate how each step had to be done correctly before they could proceed to the next. Just as I was about to complete the first step and move on to the next, the computer system went down. There I was standing before twenty-six students who were staring blankly back at me while I clamored to find an alternative way of demonstrating the transaction. Paranoia consumed me; thoughts that I was an incompetent trainer and that I had botched the entire presentation raced through my mind. Finally, at the recommendation of an audience member, I continued the demonstration by verbally explaining how the software would have reacted at that point and what would need to be done in the following steps. Unfortunately, without actually doing the transaction in the system, I did not successfully convey the concept. Instead, I had to wait for a future class period when the system was again running to re-demonstrate how the transaction should be processed. 101 Although I felt I was prepared for the training, my failure to anticipate the unexpected behavior of the computer system resulted in needless anxiety and wasted class time. What I learned, however, was always to expect the unexpected. Prior to the next class, I developed a backup plan in case the system went down again. I created a detailed Power Point Presentation that outlined all transaction processing steps, complete with several screen images of what the system looked like during each step. The Power Point served as a way to continue the training even if the system went down. In case the entire computer network crashed, I also had color handouts of the presentation to provide to the students. This additional preparation provided me with insurance that the training could continue no matter what might happen. One day, another trainer at work recommended to me that I should try analyzing audience needs and expectations when I prepared for a new class. I was thrilled at the results, and I began to incorporate the approach into every possible presentation. According to Gary Mitchell in The Trainer's Handbook (1998), evaluating audience needs before the session begins “allows the trainer to anticipate training needs and prepare a response ahead of time" (p. 86). At least a week before each new training program, I prepared and delivered a needs assessment survey to each student. The needs assessment asked general questions about subjects that would be covered in class and allowed me to gain a sense of each student's level of understanding. Depending on the responses, I altered the focus of the training 102 to emphasize weak areas and gloss over subjects in which students showed a greater understanding. The assessments also highlighted what students expected to learn from the course. This served a dual purpose; I could customize the training to include elements the students indicated they wanted to learn, and I could gauge their interest levels in the subject matter area. If survey responses, for instance, were short and listed only obvious expectations such as "to learn to do my job," I knew that their interest in the training was not substantial, and I would need to do additional work to engage the interest of my audience. As part of the needs analysis, I tried to meet with each student individually to talk about the upcoming course. This helped me learn about the students' personalities and | get a better sense of what each student expected from the training. Additionally, I already knew their names at the first class, and they already had a sense of the type of person I was. This helped create a more comfortable environment when the class started and showed them that I had a genuine interest in their learning. Along with ample preparation, the needs analysis set a strong foundation for presenting a training program successfully. As I had experienced so many times before, the beginning of a new presentation always brought feelings of anxiety and nervousness. One way I learned to break the tension was to begin with a catchy opening, often involving the audience. In a training I conducted that had to do with using the Internet, I was faced with covering a great deal of information in a short period 103 of time. I decided, tragically, to proceed immediately into the main content of the presentation. As I jumped into the outline for the class, sighs were let out among the students, and, instead of good eye contact, I faced numerous rolling eyes. Even though I had only an hour to present the subject, I learned that it would have been more valuable to spend even a couple of minutes opening with a funny story or a casual conversation with the students rather than to jump into the presentation immediately. Since then, I have started each new program by first introducing myself, providing a brief background on my career, and explaining that if I could be any animal, I would be a manatee. This unexpected revelation perked up the audience and usually brought on some laughter. Next, I asked the students to introduce themselves, explain what they hoped to gain from the class, and reveal what kind of animal they would want to be and their reasons for it. This exercise tended to relax the audience while allowing them to have some fun. Additionally, opening with an enjoyable exercise created a positive first impression that set the tone for the remainder of the class. Opening exercises provided the audience with a buffer period between coming to the training and actually beginning the learning process. Without one, I was throwing the audience too abruptly into the presentation. As I gradually became more comfortable speaking in front of large audiences, I became more accustomed to adjusting my styles of speech and body language to maintain the attention of my audience and convey the importance of the information I was presenting. I found that, when I addressed 104 the audience generally, my use of a style indicative of casual dialogue denoted that the subject matter was not urgent and it was not necessary for them to pay complete attention. The feel of the room was more relaxed and stress-free. When addressing critical subjects, however, I shifted my tone to a more formal style, slowing the rhythm of my speech considerably. This indicated that the subject matter was important and warranted their full attention. Speaking slowly also allowed the audience to take in more easily what was being said, and it prevented me from hastily jumping from one important point to the next. Additionally, I learned that my emphasis of key words placed an importance on them that altered or more clearly denoted the essential message of the presentation. Using these varying speech styles, I not only illustrated the importance of the subject matter, but I also varied the tone of the speech to help prevent the lecture from becoming monotonous. When I first started speaking publicly, I found that my posture would be straight, and that I would stand stiffly in the front of the room, rarely deviating from my initial position. Again, as I grew more comfortable with public speaking, I noticed that my body language also played an important role in conveying subject matter importance and maintaining the audience's attention. When speaking casually, I found that my body language followed suit. My stance was informal, and I tended to lean on the podium, sit on a stool, or walk around the room. This helped achieve a more conversational atmosphere in the room. Conversely, when talking about important subjects or critical information, I stood tall and made sure my posture was straight. 105 This style, along with speaking slowly, reinforced the importance of the message. Regardless of the message or my style, however, making eye contact with different audience members remained a constant. Making eye contact with individuals, even for a brief moment, communicated that I was speaking not only to the entire class, but also directly to them. This method helped the audience feel more involved and also kept them alert and focused during the presentation. More importantly, making eye contact immediately informed me whether the individual understood the subject matter. If the audience member carried an expression of confusion or worry, it tipped me off to go back and re-explain the subject, provide an example to illustrate the point, or pause for a moment to ask whether anyone had any questions. Over time, I also noticed that other, less noticeable factors influenced the success of a presentation. During peak training times, for example, I often held separate morning and afternoon classes. I noticed that the time of day influenced audience behavior. Attendees in the morning tended to be more alert and have a greater interest in the presentation. Afternoon audiences, however, appeared tired and less interested. Perhaps it was because it was after lunch, but the difference in audience behavior during the afternoon prompted me to schedule morning sessions as often as possible. When I was forced to train during the afternoon, I had to be more animated and engage the audience more by including additional activities, such as games or breaks. 106 The temperature in the room or the amount of lighting further influenced audience attention. A warm room, for instance, made the audience feel less comfortable and more irritable. A cooler room helped keep the audience alert and focused. Likewise, dim lighting, such as is necessary during video presentations, tended to make the audience tired. To counteract this effect, I tried to follow video presentations with exercises that got the audience moving again. I found that among the most important factors in public speaking is using visual aids, numerous examples to support a point, and various activities to promote audience participation. No matter the subject matter or the length of the presentation, I used visual aids to assist me in communicating the message. "What we perceive with more than one sense has a greater impact on us than what we perceive with just one sense" (Mitchell, 1998, p. 212). To facilitate this, every presentation I made included visual aids either on screen, as handouts, or both. The key to effective visuals aids was to keep them simple. Power Point presentations that I prepared, for example, listed only essential elements and subject headings that I then explained in greater detail. Visual aids helped to simplify the material, make points more memorable, create variety in the presentation, and save time. To reinforce visual components, I also included as many practice exercises as possible to provide hands-on learning. In a training for entering annuity applications into the system, I first explained the concept and then included several exercises that required the audience to enter applications into a test system. The audience appreciated the opportunity to learn the material 107 through a combination of hearing and seeing a lecture with visual aids in addition to entering data themselves. Along the same lines, citing examples to illustrate a point is also critical in a presentation. In training for nearly twenty-five employees, I needed to explain a complex theory about how a financial product credits a client's account with interest. The theory had been a trouble area for several employees. The product credits accounts by using a common interest element and a "Total Return Adjustment," a fund that accrues additional interest based on bond market performance. The adjustment, however, only applies when the client accesses the account. To demonstrate how this works, I used the example of purchasing a rental house. The landlord receives rent from the tenants monthly, just as the client's account earns interest monthly. Simultaneously, the value of the house fluctuates based on the housing market, just as the "Total Return Adjustment" varies. If the value of the house increases or decreases, it does not affect the landlord until he or she sells the house. Similarly, the "Total Return Adjustment" only applies when the client sells the fund. This example clearly illustrated an otherwise complex theory and helped sort out recurrent confusion among members of the audience. Furthermore, I found that mixing a training program with various activities enhanced the presentation and increased audience participation. When training a class about the company's several dozen products and product enhancements, I combined 108 both lecture and participatory activities to enrich the presentation. After describing each product, I broke up the presentation by playing a game with the class. Much like TV's Jeopardy I described the features of a specific product, and I asked individuals in the audience to answer with the correct product name. This not only helped the audience learn the various products, but it also increased their participation in the presentation. This activity helped break up the monotony of the lecture, added value to the presentation, and increased the participants' retention of the information. Group activities also reinforce the message of the presentation through redundancy. I found that when I continually repeated the information during a presentation, the audience better retained the information. When I first began training, did not realize the importance of redundancy .I would cover subject areas one time, only to find that many attendees left the presentation with questions or incomplete information about a certain subject. Over time, and with the help of a great deal of feedback, I incorporated ways to repeat the information a number of times during the same presentation. For example, I first talked about each subject at the beginning of the training by using an outline, describing what it was that I would be talking about. Next, I would cover each subject in detail, citing several examples to illustrate the idea and to support what had been covered. Near the end of the presentation, the information would be reinforced with group activities and games. Finally, I 109 concluded the presentation by talking about what was covered and summarizing each subject area. Redundancy proved to be beneficial to ensure that the audience received the message and had numerous opportunities during the presentation to catch all the information. By no means am I a perfect public speaker; I doubt that many people are. But with plenty of practice and by learning from my often-embarrassing mistakes, I have greatly improved my skills. I now recognize that good public speaking involves clearly communicating a message to the audience. This simplistic approach seems obvious, but I had lost sight of this in most of the bad presentations I made. Too often I had focused on simply getting through the material and hoping the audience absorbed as much information as possible. These presentations turned out to be monotonous, uninteresting, and uninformative. They lost the attention of the audience and unsuccessfully conveyed the appropriate information. I continuously sought to improve my skills and found the best way to achieve this was to solicit feedback from the audience. At the end of each presentation, I gave audience members a survey, asking them to anonymously evaluate my performance. The information I received was invaluable, providing me the opportunity to reflect on my presentation and determine what had gone right and wrong. This aided me in assessing my skills and finding ways to improve them. Equally important, when I concentrated on actually communicating the message effectively to the audience, my public speaking skills improved. The information expressed to the audience needed to be lucid, concise, and 110 memorable. The methods to achieve this goal vary greatly, but I have found that my best presentations incorporate a great deal of preparation that includes analyzing audience needs; creating variety and redundancy using visual aids, numerous examples, and group activities; and reinforcing the importance of the message through voice tone and body language. My political science teacher in twelfth grade once said that public speaking is essential no matter what one does. This could not be more accurate. Although I am no longer a new business trainer, I use my public speaking skills almost daily, from making effective business proposals at work to making memorable toasts at weddings. Two summers ago, I was the best man at my friend's wedding. I employed the public speaking skills I have learned to create an effective, memorable speech. Although directed to my friend and his wife, the toast needed to be appropriate for the entire audience. I wrote the speech, recounting my friend's and my experiences since childhood. I explained how he and his new wife fit so perfectly together and how the possibilities in their life were limitless, reiterating my point by citing examples from the great Dr. Seuss. In front of 200 guests, I jovially presented my toast to the happy couple, communicating clearly and confidently, and creating a memorable message for which I still receive congratulations today. 111 Reference Mitchell, G. (1998). The trainer's handbook: the AMA guide to effective training (3rd ed.). New York: AMACOM. 112 COMMUNICATION ADULT-CHILD COMMUNICATION: THE GENDER ISSUE When my first child was born, and I was told it was a boy, I said, "It sounds like a duck! A boy! What in the world am I going to do with a boy?" Based on the fetal heart rate during my pregnancy, my nurse practitioner had been fairly certain my baby would be a girl. Girls, I knew about. I am the oldest of four sisters. My mother had been only nineteen when I was born, in my opinion, a bit too young for parenting. As the oldest, I became the "little mother" to my sisters and was left "in charge" of them for most of our childhood. Since we had no brothers, there was no gender division of labor. We learned to wash the dishes as well as how to mow. While it did teach me accountability, leadership, and a strong sense of duty, being held responsible for my sisters, for most of my childhood, was an unduly heavy burden. I knew that when I was a mother, it would be different with my daughters. One can imagine then why it was such a surprise when my first child was a boy. When my son was three and half, I had my second child, a daughter. Since the communication was going well with my son, I thought I, "Okay, good. This will be known territory. A girl should be no problem." When I had been a teenager in the ‘70s, at the height of the feminist movement, I had had the notion that until puberty, boys and girls were the same and should be treated the same. It was based on the idea that we tend to oppress our daughters culturally, so we should give "equal treatment" to our 113 children, regardless of their sex. I remember getting on my soapbox and ranting to whoever would listen that there was no j difference between boys and girls. I got a lot of smiling and nodding from people. The parents I spoke to about this had that little grin and slight nod that indicated a huge bubble over their heads with the message in it that read, "Just wait until you're a parent." What I later learned was that boys and girls aren't anything alike, and treating them the same is ridiculous. I had confused "treating them the same" with giving each child equal opportunity to be the best than can be at whatever they choose to be. Like every child, I had had the classic attitude of, "I will never say that to my child when I'm a parent." Well, of course, some of the things my mother had said to me did eventually pop out of my mouth. A couple of my mom's favorite were, "Well, people in hell want ice water, but they don't get it," and, "I don't have to give you a reason; the answer is no because I said so!" As a parent this latter statement came into clarity. It is usually uttered after giving fifty reasons, but the child won't hear any of them. Henry Ward Beecher said, "What the mother sings to the cradle goes all the way down to the coffin" (Carnahan (Ed.), 1998, p. 274). For this reason, I have always striven to be intentional in my communication with my children. I saved any baby talk for when they were actually babies. I remember that children are real live people with their own feelings and set of needs, wants, and desires. Parents sometimes have the tendency to treat their children as if they were property or a task to be completed. Robbins, in the book Organization Behavior, states 114 that communication is" the transference and understanding of meaning" (2001) and it requires a sender and a receiver. Many parents think that in parent-child communication, the roles are assigned. The parent is the sender and the child is the receiver. Thus, I see many parents talking "at" their child as if the child is a vessel to be filled. I find this one-sided approach to parental communication to be appalling. Some of the besting parenting I've ever done is when I simply listened to what my child had to say. My two children once and for all set me straight on any idea I had held about boys and girls being the same. My son, Adam, is a gregarious extrovert, like me. My daughter, Jessica, is a quiet, thoughtful introvert. I learned in Psychology class and in various classes for the elementary school teacher that boys develop their gross motor skills first and their language second. Girls, however, develop their language first and physical capabilities later. My son did not particularly fit this mold. He had well-developed thought processes and language skills at an early age. He is what is sometimes called an "old-soul." At age two, he wanted to know why the moon sometimes appeared in slices. At around three years old, after I had repeatedly told him to get dressed as I prepared to get ready for work, I found him, still in his pajamas, coloring. I lost my cool a bit a raised my voice to say, "Adam, what are you doing! I told you to get dressed." I went back to what I was doing and he came and found me and said, "Mom, you 115 have your brain, and I have my brain. Your brain tells your hands what to do and mine tells my hands what to do, and my brain says it's time to color." Well, what could I say to that? I tried to calmly explain about why Mommy had to go to work and about time constraints, but I nearly busted a gut holding in my mirth. He did have a point. At age five, he asked, "Mom, just what does the man have to do with the baby?" I am of the school of thought that purports that if the child can formulate and articulate the question; then he or she is entitled to a straight and honest answer. After my explanation, he asked plenty of questions and continued to so for days to come. From about age eight, if anyone would ask my son what to do before having sex, his quick retort would be, "Talk to mom and wear a condom." He has deep, soul-searching eyes that will bore into whoever he is speaking with and will connect with that person on many levels. He has the ability to listen to what is being said and not said, and process the information quickly. As a child, I had to stay on my toes because he was a shrewd negotiator. It was, and still is, my habit to say no to my children only when I really mean no. When I need more time to think something over, I use the technique of saying, "We'll see." Once when I had given that response, my son gave a sideward glance and nudge to his sister and said, "That means she's going to say yes. Huh, Jessica?" Jessica nodded assent. 116 Since I divorced their father when I was pregnant with Jessica, Adam and I are bonded and are, perhaps, much closer than many mothers and sons. It was an issue for awhile to my present husband. Having a very distant relationship with his mother, my husband couldn't why we had to be so close. I patiently explained to my husband that no one could ever come between my children and me, not even him. Theodore Reik describes it like this, "Romance fails us and so do friendships but the relationship of Mother and Child remain indelible and indestructible–the strongest bond upon this earth" (Exley), Ed.,1995, p. 1). In the five years while my children and I lived together alone, Adam became the one I turned to for confidence and wisdom. In retrospect, I probably talked to him about things that he shouldn't have been burdened with, but I am not sure how I would have made it without him. My son, who is twenty now, and I were and still are extremely close and can talk each to other about most any subject for hours. My daughter loves language, but it's the written word she adores. She devours books voraciously, and she could read before she started school. I read to both children while they were small. Strangely, when Jessica was a toddler, she barely spoke. She paid a great deal of interest in what was going on around her, but she was oddly not present at the same time. It is not that she couldn't talk, but that she spoke only when she had something to say. She would go about doing what she wanted to do, not really caring whether she had companions or not. She was happy to let her brother 117 have the center stage that he loved, and she would stay in the background. Trying to communicate with this child was extremely difficult. Additionally, she had a quiet voice. If she told someone something twice and he or she still didn't get it, she would turn away, aggravated when she was young, but as she got older, it turned to an aloofness that said, "You are simply too stupid for me to speak to any longer." She had the fairly typical problem saying the "r" sound, and in the third grade she went to speech therapy. She would not speak to us about her therapy, but she was pleased with her progress and its outcome. When she could say a word correctly, she would emphasize it to us by using it and saying it loudly enough for us to hear. Her ability to listen and absorb information is amazing. When she was six, I read a chapter a night to her of Frances Hodges Burnett's The Secret Garden. It had been my favorite book when I was ten or eleven. It was a difficult book for me to read aloud because of the Yorkshire dialects. She listened raptly, with no fidgeting, begging me to read another chapter when it was time to turn out the lights. Later when she was older, she would sometimes read to me. What a joy it was to be read to by my child when I had longed to hear her voice. In communicating with Jessica, it is very important to read her body language Because of her reluctance to share herself with others, she often appeared cold and unfeeling. As a parent, it was unsettling not really to know 118 my child, and I worried about her constantly. I simply continued to speak to her normally, lapped up whatever she gave me in return, and always let her know that she was loved and that I was always available to listen when she had something to say. Today, Jess, who is almost seventeen now, and I are very close, and we love to be together. It is still difficult to get her to completely open up and share how she feels with me, but I honor her privacy and accept that it is her way of being. Karen Renshaw Joslin (1994) in her book Positive Parent from A to Z, gives this good advice about the skill of parent-child communication: Communication is both listening to others and expressing yourself clearly, working with others to negotiate and solve problems. Your child will learn to listen to you when you show your interest and listen to him. When you establish eye, contact, get down to his eye level, he will learn to do the same with others. When you nag, lecture, judge, and criticize, he will become "parent-deaf; he will learn not to come to you and will shut you out. He will learn to negotiate with others to solve problems if you do the same with him. (p. 14) Along with the skill of communication, she lists these additional skills for positive parenting: practice emotional self-control, self-discipline, good judgment, and good choices. When discussing parent-child communication, it is difficult to separate it from parenting. I believe that the number one goal of a parent is to make a child independent from the parent. Our job, as parents, 119 is to do whatever it takes to teach children what they need to know to live in the world and make it on their own. We owe it to our children to give them the skills and tools required needed accomplish this independence. First, we must love our children unconditionally. This love is the first, strongest, and longest-lasting message we must get them to hear and know. To love unconditionally is the easiest and most difficult task to achieve. Love and everything else we want them to know and learn from us will be taught with the use of some form of communication. I love my children deeply, and yet one of the more effective forms of communication I use with them is distancing myself from them. It is so easy to be caught up in the emotions of a situation. As Ms. Joslin wrote, no one, including children, wants to be nagged, criticized, or yelled at. When my children have not behaved appropriately, it is easy to take it personally and succumb to bad behavior in retaliation. A child learns what they live, as the old saying goes. If we expect our children to behave and communicate effectively, we, as parents, must set a good example and model appropriate behavior. By stepping back from a situation and containing my emotions, I am better able to reason with my child and stand firm to my convictions. While rearing and parenting my children, I learned how very different boys and girls are. I also learned that the gender of my children became less and less important to me as their individual personalities emerged: It is important to understand the differences between girls and boys so that, as parents, we can adapt communication techniques appropriately. In my youth, 120 I thought boys and girls were the same. When my children were little, I saw how different boys and girls are. Now I realize that, while understanding the gender issue is important, it is a small part of the total task of parenting. Each child is unique person. My two children are so very different from each other, and yet, have many of the same qualities. My children are twenty and sixteen, and I am pleased with them as young adults. My son lives in Southern California and attends a university. My daughter is a junior in high school and lives at home. Both are bright, articulate people, and I am proud of who they are. Both hold leadership positions at school and church, and they both possess an independent nature, and they value the search for justice. Apparently, I have achieved my goal. 121 References Burnett, F. H. (1911). The secret garden. London: William Heinemann, Ltd. Camahan, M. (Editor). (1998). For mom with love: A book of quotations. Kansas City: Andrew McMeel Publishing. Exley, H. (Editor). (1995). The love between mothers and sons. United Kingdom and New York: Exley Publications. Joslin, K. R. (1994). Positive parenting: from a to z. New York: Ballantine Books. Robbins, S. P. (2001). Organizational behavior. Upper Saddle Rive, New Jersey: Prentice Hall, Inc. 122 HISTORY Race and Ethnicity in U.S. History: Experience in a Gang Culture Gangs have existed in the United States since the mid 1800s. Early gangs consisted mostly of adults involved in theft, illegal liquor sales, or political deals. In the1920s and 1930s, gangs led by AI Capone and other bosses controlled most of the nation's organized crime. Youth gangs of the 1950s and 1960s fought one another in fist, club, or knife fights. Since the 1970s, the increasing use of guns has made gang violence more deadly for members and others (Hagedorn 1). My "club," now commonly referred to as a "gang," never associated itself with any criminal acts. Our sole intent was to develop a circle of close friends interested in socializing and to provide a sense of security to a less aggressive group of teens. We would protect our turf, but only if forced. Little did we know that to be a member of a club in the barrio would immediately tag us as members of a gang, requiring us to protect our neighborhood and friends from other gangs in the area. No matter how we explained our intentions to these gangs, they would not listen. We did not want any turf wars; we were only interested in social fun. They would eventually push us into more violent acts in the defense of our group. Our members consisted of Hispanic teenagers living in the barrio of San Bernardino, California, located sixty miles from Los Angeles. Hispanic gangs in the United States date back to approximately 1910, when there was a large influx of immigrants coming into Southern California from 123 Mexico. As the immigrants settled in Southern California, it was common for them to locate in areas where people from their hometown or home state had already established homes. Rivalries soon developed among immigrants from various regions of Mexico, which led to the first gangs being organized (Landre, Miller, Porter 91). When I was a child, stories were told of the fights for turf in neighborhoods. Gangs would give themselves names of streets such as the "King Street Vatos," "Topo City", and "La Verde Locos." These were common street names in the Hispanic barrio of San Bernardino. The stories were told by older guys, known as "veteranos" (old gang members), of gang fights, stabbings, and killings. They would speak of the bond among them and how these gangs would rule the streets at night. Many of us would mimic them in play and pretend that we belonged to the toughest of them. One story, which has much history, is that of the Sleepy Lagoon murder. This happened in the 1940s when the body of Jose Diaz was found at a reservoir in southeast Los Angeles. He had been murdered, and a group of Hispanic youths were arrested. This resulted in massive riots which were fueled by bigotry and a corrupt trial in which the judge and prosecutors displayed routine disregard for the fundamental civil rights of the Hispanic youths (Sleepy Lagoon1). The trial was an injustice to a group of youths wanting to express themselves by wearing a specific type of clothing known as the "Zoot Suit." The wearing of the suit was a symbol for Hispanic gangs and represented their unity with each other. But many non-gang members were wearing them as a style in that era. The prejudice to Hispanics forced many to fight back to protect their right for freedom of expression. The fights often 124 involved the military personal stationed locally during World War II. The zoot suiters (See attached, Fig. 1) set the tone for other gangs in the future. They had introduced a way of dress that would become symbolic to gangs. Gang would now express their unity by the clothes they wore. Garments such as jackets, sweaters, handkerchiefs, and shirts in assorted colors would identify gang members as members of a specific gang. In the barrio in which I lived, jackets with emblems on the back would symbolize the gang (See attached, Fig. 2). The emblem would include the name of the gang, or the name and a graphic picture showing the power of the gang. For example, a gang called "The Penguins" would have the name in script on the back of the jacket and also a picture of a penguin. With some modifications, the bird could be wearing a hat, smoking a pipe, or carrying a club. Gangs would choose the name and the meaning of their emblem. Jackets were a basic color; black, blue, or green were the desired colors. Hispanic gangs are turf-oriented and will fight to the death for the pride of their territory. Along with turf pride goes gang pride. To the Hispanic gang member, the gang is more important than anyone of its individual members. Members are willing to give up their lives for their gang (Landre, Miller, Porter 99). The gang with which I was associated was no different. The expectation of "one for all and all for one" was always the order of the day. I remember going through my initiation on my first day in the gang. This consisted of what was called, "running the line." Members of the gang would line up opposite each other in a row; the newly voted-in member would be required to run in between 125 them as they would punch and kick the person. This was the final step in becoming a member. If the new member succeeded in running the line, he would become a member. I had witnessed several failures, and it was no pretty sight. After the new member successfully completed this ritual, the club jacket would be draped over him, representing his commitment. This was the final step in becoming a gang member, and the recruit was now committed to all the laws that governed the gang. The brotherhood was now his life. Our gang was started as a neighborhood gang based on pride and respect for family; we also wanted the security of friends and protection from other gangs. The internal organizational structure of a gang provides a hierarchy of power, or at least a method of operating, that extends throughout all membership categories to exercise control over gang members and their activities. Gangs with a formalized organizational structure have titled leadership roles and clearly defined operating rules for members. Gang organizations are classified into three types: traditional, committee, and social (Landre, Miller, Porter 11). Our gang structure was that of the committee; we had elected officials: a president, vice president, secretary, sergeant-at-arms, and leaders. The president was the finale decision maker; he directed all the activities and assigned goals for the gang. The vice president would ensure that the directions of the president were followed and would assign groups to perform the tasks; he would also oversee gang activities if the president was not available. The secretary was the financial person, overseeing the funds raised by the members through dues, fundraisers and donations. He would ensure that all monies were accounted for, and he 126 would responsible for arranging events that would generate money for the club. The funds raised were not through criminal acts but through honest efforts by the club to raise money. Some examples of the fundraisers were dances, cookouts, and car washes. The money raised would go to families of members needing assistance, to funding other parties, and to the purchase of club jackets. The sergeant-at-arms was the bodyguard for the president and vice president. He would oversee the activities of the members while in meetings, assuring that order was maintained. He was the muscle of the leadership. The leaders were the generals; they would be involved in leading a gang fight, protecting the honor of the gang, and ensuring that the membership followed the rules of conduct set forth by the gang. They were the enforcers of the gang and were feared by all. The term of office was one year for president, vice president, and secretary; all other elected official were in for six months. I held the offices of leader and vice president during my time in the club. My gang affiliation was for a term of four years, which ran from 1964 thru 1968, during which numerous historical events came to pass. The Peace Movement was in full swing, Vietnam War had escalated, segregation was becoming a thing of the past, and gang wars were no longer for turf, but for power and money. It was a confusing time for me. Though I wanted to believe in the peace movement, many of my friends were dying in Vietnam. The war had brought back the draft, while desegregation of people, races, and cultures was in full swing. While in high school, I remember the first time we were loaded into a bus and taken to an all-white school because the schools in my area were to be 127 integrated by means of forced busing. The students at the school did not accept us willingly; we were a group of twenty Hispanics and twenty black teenagers, bused to a high school that was miles away from our neighborhoods. To add to this dilemma, I was a gang member, and only a handful of us had been sent to the new school. At this school resided a rival gang, and we knew we would be pointed out and most likely attacked. As mentioned earlier, gang violence had turned from turf battles to the showing of power and dominance. The decision of the US government had put us in a dangerous situation: not only had we been sent to an all-white school, but we were being delivered into the hands of a rival gang. We had no choice but to defend ourselves. For the months to come, we would be fighting with whites and other gang members. Prejudice was the most frightening thing of all; not only were the students against us, but the parents, and other adults were against us as well. We had invaded their turf, so to speak. We were outsiders, individuals who didn't belong. For the gang members, this was not new, but for the Hispanics who were not gang members it was a nightmare. They reached out to us for help and we responded; our experience with violence made us their protectors. We were no longer a gang protecting our turf; we were Hispanics protecting each other from the hate and prejudice we were all facing. The color of our skin was now our emblem; the fight for our civil rights was our war. The race riots of the ‘60s awakened many of our nation's politicians. Fighting and protesting were going on all throughout the country. People of color were all voicing their discontent for the treatment they had faced at the hands of the narrowed-minded white culture. 128 Gangs in the ‘60s were mild compared to the present gang culture. While the gangs in the ‘60s were involved with the turf battles and the desire to be the more dominant in the neighborhood, the gangs during the ‘70s and now, present a far greater threat to public safety. Their involvement in drugs and shootings is more prevalent today as compared to past gang activities. The recruitment of members now starts at a younger age. In the gang in which I had been associated, the youngest one could be to join was fifteen. In today's gangs, I have seen them as young as ten. What was started as a neighborhood gang based on pride and respect for family was turned into an avenue for crime. During the 1950s and the 1960s, young men banded together to protect the neighborhood where their families had lived for years and sometimes generations. This is not the case today. Juveniles now get involved in gangs to accrue the benefits of power and money. Today membership is based more on who one's friends associate with than where his ancestors originated (Landre, Miller, Porter 100). In today's gang, it is not uncommon to find smaller groups of youth comprising a gang. In the past the numbers were larger, the average being about thirty-to-fifty; one club numbered in the eighties. Resigning or getting out of a gang can be almost impossible. The saying among gang members is, "Blood in, blood out," meaning that getting out of a gang can be as hard as, if not harder than getting in (Landre, Miller, Porter 136). However, depending on the gang, an individual who acquires a job, attends school, or gets married has the opportunity to get out. In my case, I joined the military and got married. I was no longer obligated to the gang, but the bond 129 would always be there. By the age of nineteen, I had left the gang, and my military experience would change my life for the better. I was one of the lucky ones. After four years of military service, I would return home to find that some of my friends with whom I had grown up had been killed in the streets, some had gone to prison, and others had moved away. I was now twenty-three and with a family. My goal was to get an education in the healthcare profession. I moved back into the barrio, but only for a short time; when I found a job, I moved to a better area of town. My affiliation with gangs was not by choice but for my survival in a very hostile environment. Not only was I living in a barrio, but our country was going through the Civil Rights Movement, the Vietnam War, and the realization that we as a country needed to re-evaluate our values toward people of color. Riots were breaking out, people were protesting the war, and desegregation was in full swing. As a youth, I may not have understood, or even cared, about all this, but I knew one thing: I wanted to belong. The gang provided me with the family and friends I wanted, along with the security from harm. I would leave for the military and return with a new outlook on life, the realization that my gang involvement had been an experience that would direct many of my actions in the future. I was proud of being a Hispanic-American who lived in a country that allows for selfexpression. I may not change the world, but I learned that I do have a voice in how I want to be treated. My accomplishments in life have allowed me to assist youths of all colors, and help them find a career that will allow them to succeed. My affiliation with a gang helped me understand that it is a mistake to judge 130 someone by his looks without knowing him first. The old saying, "You can't judge a book by its cover," is so very true. Many of the gang members whom I knew who survived that time in their lives are now very active in the community, from organizing a youth center in the barrio, to seeking political office. They are all living productive lives. Yes, a few have taken the wrong path, but to know them one can understand way. They were not the lucky ones; the barrio didn't let them go. I have mentored several white and Hispanic youths in my career and helped them understand the cultural differences in our society. In reaching the top of my career, I have had to break racial stereotyping, and I have established myself as a professional in my field. My family lives in a crime-free environment; my two sons and my daughter are not exposed to the violence and criminal activity that was so prevalent in my time. The gang memories run deep in me; the friends I made and lost while in the gang will never be forgotten. On July 24, 2001 a club reunion was held in San Bernardino. Over 300 were in attendance, club members, their families and friends. The reunion had several purposes; it was to raise money to support one of the members in running for the City Council in San Bernardino, and to organize a new group for the support of a Hispanic youth community .This group would raise money for the construction of a new youth center and provide scholarships for teens wanting to further their education. Most of the members are now in their early fifties, with families and careers. My attitude has changed much since my years in the gang. The anger I once felt has gone, and my 131 respect for life itself is something I win cherish forever. As the fight to eliminate gangs continues, we must look to the root cause of gangs, not fight them with force and deceit. They are accustomed to this, and this approach win only strengthen their cause. We can help the youth by recognizing them as individuals, listening to their issues, and understanding their reasons. Intervention should always be at the forefront of our efforts to prevent someone from entering a gang. The community should be educated in gang prevention; politicians should fight for money for gang prevention, and the youths should be made to feel that they are part of their community. I was fortunate that the gang with which I was affiliated did not always believe in violence as a means to an end. We started out to be a social club, and through all the gang wars, we kept that philosophy. If we had not, we would have been lead to our own self destruction. 132 Works Cited Hagedorn, John M. "Gang." World Book Online. Americas Edition. 19 October 2001.