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Playlist: It's Not What You're Given. It's What You Do With What You Get

Compiled By: Susan J. Cook

...it's what you do with what you get.. Credit: Susan Cook
Image by: Susan Cook 
...it's what you do with what you get..

These days, from the new fascination with genetic endowment and Ancestry to the moral entitlement of any number of religious sects, what you are given is grabbed to like a brass ring. Enough to make a difference. Turns out though, as the lyrics of a great Maine jazz singer remind us, it's not what you're given, it's what you do with what you get.

The Happiness of the Human Family and Its Familiar Enemy

From Susan J. Cook | Part of the The River Is Wide series | 04:45

All happy families are alike, each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way, Tolstoi wrote as the first sentence in Anna Karenina. The epitaph he chose to precede it , though, is from the Bible, Romans 12 verse 19. ‘Vengeance is mine. I will repayeth, saith the lord.’ There is no family that quite fits Tolstoi’s juxtaposition of these two observations as well as our very large human family because the variations humans find to reap unhappiness in their own deliberate vengeful acts against others seems endless. We witnessed this most recently in San Bernandino.

But we have seen these cold deliberate acts disregarding human connection before. They are not new. Remembering might help us acknowledge this couple’s deliberate creation of unhappiness is a familiar enemy of the human family- vengeance- in the same family that Tolstoi said so casually and yes, sometimes, monotonously carries out its happiness.


The Happiness of the Human Family and Its Familiar Enemy

-Susan Cook-


All happy families are alike, each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way, Tolstoi wrote as the first sentence in Anna Karenina. The epitaph he chose to precede it , though, is from the Bible, Romans 12 verse 19. ‘Vengeance is mine. I will repayeth, saith the lord.’ There is no family that quite fits Tolstoi’s juxtaposition of these two observations as well as our very large human family because the variations humans find to reap unhappiness in their own deliberate vengeful acts against others seems endless. We witnessed this most recently in San Bernandino.

But we have seen these cold deliberate acts disregarding human connection before. They are not new. Remembering might help us acknowledge this couple’s deliberate creation of unhappiness is a familiar enemy of the human family- vengeance- in the same family that Tolstoi said so casually and yes, sometimes, monotonously carries out its happiness.

Please remember the murder by hooded Ku Klux Klansmen of a quiet civil rights supporter Emmet Till in the 1960‘s America. Please remember the Holodomar, Stalin’s deliberate starvation of millions of Ukrainians in the rich fertile farmlands of Ukraine in the 1930’s. Please remember the Nazi Doctors who willingly used concentration camp prisoners as human subjects in cruel sadistic medical experiments. Please remember the Rwanadan genocide in which one million Tutsis were murdered in 100 days by the Hutu majority. There are many many examples of cold indifference to the human consequence of deliberately created unhappiness.

A peculiarity of the San Bernadino massacre is that parents of a six month old girl carried it out, deliberately disregarding their connection to her. That peculiarity of the perpetrators might even raise the question of whether the parents alleged motivator Isis, carries such force as to untie one of the human family’s most primitive instincts, to bond with and protect a child.

We, after all, worry about the abandonment of a six month old, who by the time they left her that morning would have developed the stranger wariness that attachment brings and now, in her six month old way, knows in her typically human family way, that the most familiar faces, those of her parents, have not come back. These odd parents, concerned enough about the continuity of their membership in the human family to leave a descendant have now out of their vengeance left her alone. One wonders if they were becoming so attached to her and she to them that thoughts of leaving her were becoming- as they do- intolerable- thus pushing them to act soon, before the enormous power that six-month old babies attached to their parents have to keep them close thus rendering parents powerless and unable to tolerate abandoning the child. A six month old’s need for others and their need for the six month old is one of the places the human heart can not withstand pressure no matter where it comes from to leave someone behind. The bond is too powerful.

The vengeance of Isis and these terrorists has been seen before . But it has not yet succeeded in undoing the wistfulness of a six month old looking for her lost connection or our acknowledgment of that distress. That, may be, after all what keeps the effortless unfolding of unremarkable happiness in the human family in the first place, a sensibility no vengeance has ever succeeded in doing away with.

"All Happy Families are Like One Another; Each Unhappy Family is Unhappy in Its Own Way" : The Holidays and the High Conflict Divorce

From Susan J. Cook | Part of the The River Is Wide series | 08:12

Some holiday recommendations for divorced parents, the American Bar Association and all who re-cast the spell of Santa Claus every year.


All Happy Families are Alike; Each Unhappy Family is Unhappy in its Own Way:

Some High Conflict Divorce Holiday Recommendations

-Susan Cook-


Children know that holiday giving, receiving and sharing does not alone dispell the hostilities of high conflict divorce. "All happy families are like one another; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way" Tolstoi began in Anna Karenina (p.17, 1961. Original 1877) . The traumatic severing of high conflict divorce inflicts an unhappiness different for each child . Bessel Van derKoerk, MD identifies Developmental Trauma as one of its outcomes. Like Post Traumatic Stress Disorder - an array of nightmares, flashbacks, hyper-vigilance, disruptive anxiety and the self-deprecation of depression- are now carried internally by the child. It is one of the most under acknowledged emotional traumas of our time.


Lawyers know high conflict divorce litigation is a rainmaker. The 40-60,000 dollar divorce means victory- after all that money is spent- becomes the priority- and often cost to the child uncomplaining but internalizing it all, knowing that intense protest all by itself breaks relationships.


After all; hostile divorce threatens the childhood spell that a family never really stops being a family. I use the word spell not to make light of psychological experience- but rather to emphasize the magic of its refuge. My doctoral dissertation research (Cook, S.J. A Sense of Belonging, A Sense of Place: The Child in the Family and the Perspective Taken. Harvard University, 1986. ) included interviews with about 90 children and adolescents about their conceptions of family continuity and attachment. A longitudinal study of children who were between 7 and 11 when I first began the study formed a small, matched sibling subset of the larger project. All children answered questions like: Does a family ever stop being a family? When you're 50 and your sister is 53, will you still be a family?


Astonishingly, 96 percent of the girls held that a family never stops being a family- even if parents divorce. Seventy six percent of the boys held that view. These particpants were in 1st , 2nd and 3rd grade.


The children I studied longitudinally, between age 7 and 11 at time one, were young adults, between 19 and 23, the third and last time. By the third interview, parents of half of the sibling pairs had divorced.


The findings were curious, heartening and worthy of a good listen by every divorce judge and attorney. If anything, time made the children studied longitudinally even more a captive of the "spell" of unconditional family attachment.


Here is Sam who I talked when he was seven, ten and then at 19.

At seven, he told me that family is always a family " because Mom and Dad still remember you and they have pictures of you when you're young and stuff and you will always be a family and even when Mom and Dad die, we'll still be a family because I'll always remember them."

Then, at age 10, "We'll still be a family but we won't get in each other's way and well forget about them more, much more...You'd get in touch with them once in awhile, like Christmas."


By 19 yrs., 9 months, Sam's parents had divorced.


But Sam said, "Even though marriage isn't for life, parenting is. So it's always a family I think no matter how tight they are...no matter how much turmoil is going on,in a certain family, at a wedding or a funeral, everyone would be there....Because it really reasserts who they, who they are. I think like touching base. Like coming home, for me today, I came home. I hadn't been home in awhile and I just sort of lay down where my bed used to be and it was calm, it was soothing, it's protection then you carry that with you. That sense of knowing you always have some place where you can just go and you don't have to look behind your back."

A few Christmas or Hanukkah or Kawanza caveats, for divorced parents- made with the mental health of children in mind.


Cast the spell over yourself that children - especially girls- hold onto. "You are always a family. And you were once a family. Make what the remembering of this season memorable. Do not let this year be the year the hatred exchanged with your ex- be - who knows- just enough to break that spell and make that family- once and for all- no longer a family.


Secondly, for the American Bar Association, please publicly disclose state-by-state the amount of revenue raised by attorney divorce fees- attorney by attorney. There are children who need protection from abusive caretakers. They also need protection from indifferent litigators.


Third, the mental health consequences of family dissolution are not Christmas fantasy They are found for real not just in the broken spirits of children torn from caretakers at the US/Mexico border. A 9 year old I interviewed had been taken from her biological mother when she was 3. In a foster home, she had formed a very close attachment to a foster mother. Now 9, I asked if she had a mother. She told me she thought she did but she thought she had died. She brought a torn and wrinkled photograph, of the mother who was not dead but had been denied contact with the child for several years through a detached, distant legal decision by a court appointed guardian who distorted almost all the facts.


Any one adult can offer real life examples of the hostility that buries family connection. But just like adults world wide collude in the play therapy of someone named Santa Claus, how about taking on this one- even in the most contemptuous divorce . That once upon a time, there was a mom and a dad... now remember the good parts. and keep your hostilty at bay- if only for a day.

The Thickness of the Moral Skin of the US Senate: To Be the Catcher in the Rye

From Susan J. Cook | Part of the The River Is Wide series | 08:19

The thickness of moral skin is sometimes measured in the willingness of its inhabitants to take on the risk of being the catcher in the rye- the one who protects the children running toward danger. The US Senate during the hearings to vet a Supreme Court nominee stepped aside- almost to a one. The spectacle was almost like watching the ingenuousness of Holden Caulfield falling away after encountering the world's indifference- this time right in front of us.


The Thickness of the Moral Skin of the US Senate: To Be the Catcher in the Rye


"You know that song 'If a body catch a body comin' through the rye? I'd like-"

"It's 'If a body meet a body coming through the rye'!" old Phoebe said. "It's a poem. By Robert Burns."

"I know it's a poem by Robert Burns."

She was right, though. It is "If a body meet a body coming through the rye." I didn't know it then, though.

"I thought it was "If a body catch a body'," I said."Anyway, I keep picturing all these little kids playing some game in this big field of rye and all. Thousands of little kids, and nobody's around-nobody big, I mean-except me. And I'm standing on the edge of some crazy cliff. What I have to do, I have to catch eveybody if they start to go over the cliff-I mean if they're running and they don't look where they're going I have to come out from somewhere and catch them. That's all I'd do all day. I'd just be the catcher in the rye and all. I know it's crazy, but that's the only thing I'd really like to be."


After Holden Caulfield has this conversation with his little sister, in his sojourn before entering a psychiatric hospital, he calls up Mr. Antolini, the Pencey Prep teacher . "He's the one that finally picked up that boy that jumped out the window I told you about, James Castle. Old Mr. Antolini felt his pulse and all, and then he took off his coat and put it over James Castle and carried him all the way over to the infirmary. He didn't even give a damn if his coat got all bloody."



In the aftermath of the confirmation hearing of a prep school alumnus who left a trail of nightmares and unresolved trauma in the emotional web of one 15 year old, the thickness of the moral skin of US Senate members comes to mind. I'll talk about the 2 from my state since I know most about their moments of moral cowering.


In 2007, I was interviewed and quoted by a reporter for Current.org , a public broadcasting newspaper. Susan Collins had contributed mightly to the firing of a popular Friday night jazz host who had criticized the Iraq War- in a genial, understated. way Turns out that the Maine public broadcasting Board of Trustees was comprised of members who together gave over $160,000 to the Republican party. I said (look it up) that Mainers would work hard to defeat Susan Collins in her next go-round she being someone who engages in activities that usually get legislators thrown out of Washington. Now, Senator Collins does not like anyone making reference to her pre-marital relationships in her first 50 years of dating eligibility or recreational activities. That off-sides view that Susan Collins endorses about her own past, may explain her minimizing the testimony of Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh's sexually assaulted victim. Indecent exposure is also illegal. Instead, she insisted his distortions, lies and beligerence toward his 2018 Senate questioners had nothing to do with his judicial temperament. By Collins' side, as she announced her choice, was Maine's recent failed GOP gubernatorial candidate, former DHHS Commissioner Mary Mayhew whose cost-cutting adminstration co-occurred with an almost unparalled number of deaths of children at the hands of their foster, biological or step-parents.(https://www.pressherald.com/2018/05/14/letter-to-the-editor-mayhews-dhhs-neglected-maines-children/)


Senator Collins usually hires out her thin moral skin and backlash toward those who threaten. Her one-time Director of New Media Matthew Gagnon was a player on the Maine political commentator scene whose willingness to bully has been documented on the front page of Maine's largest newspaper.


Then there's Maine's other Senator Angus King who ires quickly when anyone calls him out on his - ahem- purchase - when he was governor- of a state-owned oceanfront parcel of land abutting one of Maine's pristine ocean-side state parks. I even a wrote some lyrics sung to the tune from "America the Beautiful" which his purchase decidely was not.The purchase was documented in the Times Record and noted there was no "public bidding" on a piece of property that any one knew would do nothing but increase in value. It is now worth many times what he paid for it by encouraging the right state employee .


"Oh beautiful for spacious me, for land I'd like to buy,

that borders on state property in Georgetown or nearby,

that suddenly the state of Maine would like to sell to me,

the ocean deep, the price real cheap, what better guy than me?"


The morally thin skin of US Senators created a Brett Kavanaugh nomination and hearing that has left millions of sexual assault survivors in this country with a deep sense of moral betrayal. While survivors are compromised because of the emotional fissures trauma creates, many have stepped forward to disclose, despite the insistent cacophony of shame and the self-doubt that the assault is their own fault. Withstanding that self-blame requires morally thick skin which the moral imperative of the Kavanaugh hearing creates.


I do not trust Senator Collins or our other Senators- to be- we all hope they might- the catcher in the rye. Only one came to Holden Caulfield's mind- the teacher who carried the suiciding adolescent boy and didn't even care if he got blood on his jacket. Senator Collins and her GOP Senators minimized the belligerance, hostility and denial of his past of a Supreme Court nominee accused - not in a trial- but a job interview. In the wake of that dismissal, many, many sexual assault survivors who the equally morally thin-skinned Lindsay Graham said "have a problem"( hint: are flawed, damaged, mentally ill) will go home and direct the damage toward themselves- in self-harm, self-mutilation, if not suicidality.


Not one of these Senators can be trusted to be the catcher in the rye- nor can this Supreme Court nominee-. They are far too frightened of getting blood on their jackets or their morally thin skin.

"It's Not What You're Given, It's What You Do With What You Get: An Antidote to Donald Trump World"

From Susan J. Cook | Part of the The River Is Wide series | 05:57

Recently, two Washington Post reporters looked at how human beings are valued in Donald Trump world, now, and as he turned the $200000 his father gave him into billions. The values of Trump world are very different from a rural state like Maine where deer, beavers, fish, rare endangered wildlife , serene forests, trucks that work, no traffic and enduring cold, long winters well have special value. There are Maine virtuosos who celebrate the values of rural life. Listening to them is an antidote, to the queasy feeling left in the stomach by the lip-smacking exclusionary greed of Donald Trump world.

"It's not what you're given. It's what you do with what you get," the bootstrapping virtuoso blues singer, Pat Pepin, sings. She riffs about free Wal-mart’ overnight parking for campers and RVs , and cherishes her “long-haul trucker”. Another virtuoso is Robert Skoglund, The humble Farmer, whose oldtime jazz radio program is now making its way into New York City radio air waves. Humble’s program was removed from Maine public radio for - I guess you could call it - political insubordination - for criticizing the Iraq War. Humble has all the qualities necessary for a Donald Trump world antidote because humble really does value money, not quantity, but every breathing atom and neutron and ounce of chemical valence on its surface.

We hope his listeners will drink deeply of this antidote, the radio detox- for the money culture-the Donald Trump world that’s forgotten that $.99 can be far far better quality than several billion because, as Pat Pepin sings, it isn’t what you’re given. It’ s what you do with what you get.


"It's Not What You'reGiven, Its What You Do With Wat You Get: An Antidote to Donald Trump World""
-Susan Cook-

Two Washington Post reporters recently looked at how human beings are valued in Donald Trump world, now and as he carried on while turning the first $200000 his father gave him into billions.

In Donald Trump world, quantity of money takes precedence over quality of money . Thus the welfare tenants of his New York apartments and Mexican immigrants are devalued because they don’t have any money. If he allowed welfare tenants into his apartments, Trump said , “there would be a massive fleeing from the city, not only our tenants but the community as a whole.“ In Donald Trump world, people shouldn‘t get caught. Thus, he said Senator John McCain is not a hero because, as Trump said, he likes people who don’t get caught. The measure of the man is his money, no matter how he got it; the woman, her physical appearance, no matter the cost in self-devaluation or sexual exploitation. After all, he told the reporters, as a young man, he dated often. “These were beautiful women. but many of them couldn’t carry on a normal conversation.“ One might ask, why then seek their company, because in Trump world, the true measure of success is not getting caught -without physical attractiveness, money or by the atrocities of war, or I suppose, a good lie.

The values of Trump world are very different from a  rural state like Maine where deer, beavers, fish, rare endangered wildlife , serene forests, trucks that work, no traffic and enduring cold, long winters well have special value. There are Maine virtuosos who celebrate the values of rural life. Listening to them is an antidote, to the queasy feeling left in the stomach by the lip-smacking exclusionary greed of Donald Trump world.

“It’s not what you’re given, it’s what you do with what you get” Maine’s bootstrapping virtuoso blues singer, Pat Pepin sings. She riffs about free Wal-mart’ overnight parking for campers and RVs and cherishes her “long-haul trucker” who’s in it for the “long haul” Another Maine virtuoso is Robert Skoglund, The humble Farmer, whose oldtime jazz radio program was removed from Maine public radio for - I guess you could call it - political insubordination - for criticizing the Iraq War. Like Donald Trump world, “humble” values money, every breathing atom and neutron and ounce of chemical valence on its surface, but he goes for quality. On his early American jazz program, humble, immodestly complains about how expensive Goodwill stores have become- what with shirts that used to cost $.99 now going for over seven dollars. And his gustatory taste well satisfied by a can of spaghetti uncooked. Eaten. And then there is his trademark reference to his wife Marsha as “the almost perfect woman” which - raised the hackles of our assertiveness trained Maine feminists who assumed his remarks were drawn from the one to ten scale of physical attractiveness of Donald Trump world. And yes, Donald Trump regaled the days when he observed several “well-known super models” in a fast-track New York night club engaging in let’s say- physical actions on a bench in the center of the room “each one with a different guy”. But, no, “humble” wasn’t referring to a Donald Trump world one to ten rating. When finally asked what would make his wife perfect, humble said, “If I was 19.“

And thus an 80 something man valuing a woman in the same way Adam and Eve did is an antidote to the Donald Trump world, which is not exactly like the garden of Eden- even if he was only watching.

Recently, The humble Farmer has announced that his radio show is indeed bound for the New York City radio waves. On WFDU at 89.1FM . There we hope his listeners will drink deeply of this antidote, the public radio detox- for the money culture-the Donald Trump world that’s forgotten that $.99 can be far far better quality than several billion because as Pat Pepin sings, it isn’t what you’re given. It’ s what you do with what you get.

It's Not What You're Given, It's What You Do With What You Get: My Supermarket Monopoly Game and The Pentagon Budget

From Susan J. Cook | Part of the The River Is Wide series | 08:36

Fifty-four cents of every federally appropriated dollar goes to the Defense Department budget. Exactly where, the Pentagon auditors find "impossible" to track. Maybe they should hire some Supermarket game auditors to help out.


It's Not What You're Given, It's What You Do With What You Get:

My Supermarket Monopoly Contest and the Pentagon Budget


In my state, the annual "Shop, Play, Win Monopoly"game, a"Collect and Win" game offering" "over $250 million in prizes and money saving offers" after 3 months of fabulous opportunities at every checkout moment at my local Supermarket is winding down.


Fingers crossed . I finally went through the hours long process of tearing open (along the perforated lines, of course) each potential gold mother lode held in each small folded square (one for each 10 dollars spent) and then placing each individual rectangular stamp (after meticulously moistening the back) on the "Monopoly Board.


The one million dollar cash prize required that you randomly receive 6 certain stamps each with an assigned number (333A1, 334B1, 335C1, 336D1, 337E1 and 338F1) of bewildering complexity.

I knew it would be tough to win that. So I set my sights slightly lower, the $100,000 cash prize maybe with only 5 specifically numbered stamps .


In every single category I came up one stamp short with the exception of the One Million Dollar prize in which I came up 2 short. Correction, I also came up 2 short for the $500 Portable Grill and Groceries which I didn't really want. Last year, almost the same thing happened. I won nothing.


But how is it that a supermarket chain presenting the same contest in several states offering 28 different prizes manages to precisely track the distribution of millions of these tiny rectangular stamps and confidently state that 3 lucky shoppers "might" win the million dollars or 250 "might" win the $500 Portable Grill and Groceries?


This is in stunning contrast to The Nation magazine's article (November 27, 2018) "Exclusive: The Pentagon's Massive Accounting Fraud Exposed". Independent auditors Ernst and Young and others hired to externally audit the Department of Defense reported it impossible to have a reliable audit because of a completely flawed Pentagon accounting system. The audit request came because The Pentagon for 26 years failed to internally audit themselves despite the 1990 Chief Financial Officers' Act requiring all departments and agencies to reliabily internally audit. Only the Pentagon has failed to comply. Impossible to have a reliable Pentagon audit? So, why doesn't the Pentagon hire auditors who took the same statistics classes the people who design the "Shop, Play, Win Monopoly " game did? In the supermarket game, "impossible" probably means one person getting all the little stamps to win "the Million Dollars" and "the $500 Portable Grill and Groceries" and the "$30,000 Jet Skis" . Maybe the "$20,000 College Tuition". And, you know, the Supermarket statisticians know exactly the impossibility of one person winning all 4 of the prizes .


Now, the bookkeepers at the Pentagon have far better benefits and far better salaries. than the Supermarket chain contest makers, let alone the benefits and salaries of the high school kids and young adults who work as baggers and cashiers. But those Supermarket statisticians still figure out these complicated probabilities and get every penny the Federal government levies on the workers in taxes.


By the way, The Pentagon receives $.54 out of every dollar of federal appropriations.

It has a 2.7 trillion dollar budget and no one knows exactly where that money goes.


The Deputy Secretary of Defense Patrick Shanahan said at least they tried and the Pentagon didn't think they would pass anyway. That attitude would not be tolerated at my local supermarket chain. They after all track those millions of rectangular stamps and insure that only 75 of the "$7500 Family Vacation" prize will be available. Or have the where-with-all to hire auditors who can. No way will more than 75 people ever become lucky winners of that prize- unless- through some miracle in which Pentagon bookkeepers are suddenly cast down the ladder of success and hold jobs at the Supermarket Chain corporate headquarters. And then more Family Vacations then you could imagine going to the unsuspecting shoppers who- it turns out- with the same stroke of Pentagon incompetence have a major lucky day.


The Nation article went on to say that years of fraud in the Pentagon books works like this. Quote "When the Dept of Defense submits its annual budget requests to Congress, it sends along the prior year's financial reports, which contain fabricated numbers. The fabricated numbers disguise the fact that the DoD does not always spend all the money Congress allocates in a given year. However, instead of returning such unspent funds to the US Treasury, as the law requires, the Pentagon sometimes launders and shifts such money to other parts of the DoD budget." All of it a violation of the US Constitution. And thus the Pentagon's budget increases every single year.


Congress does not demand that the Pentagon enforce the 1990 Chief Financial Officers Act . Each year, the cost of the military budget goes up and up.


Going through the Supermarket Checkout line is very poignant sometimes. Food is our life blood. Sometimes, there's the young mom trying to keep a baby quiet and a 4 year old engaged while waiting to see the cost of all the food piled high in her grocery cart. Food is a largely unsubsidized commodity in this country or at least never subsidized at the $.54 cents of every dollar that the military receives. Until Congress demands that the financial record be set straight, no one knows exactly what the Pentagon spends on what. But you can bet, when military conflict comes, the Pentagon is more than willing to entice the low-paid , no subsidized college tuition - federally taxed supermarket workers- to enlist or - be drafted- to place their lives in the the lottery that every military bloodbath inevitably creates.

One small correction. I did win won thing this year. A free bagel.

Compassion and Its Blindspots: Women's Turn for No Compassion in Alabama

From Susan J. Cook | Part of the The River Is Wide series | 08:09

A Buddhist teacher talking about Compassion told the story of the leader ripping open his vein to feed a starving stranger. Bodily acts coming out of compassion to prevent suffering are found in many spiritual traditions. The blindspots in compassion in this society it appears may now prevent recognition of the decision to end a pregnancy as one of those acts.


Compassion and Its Blindspots: Finding A New Dedication to Merit


I heard a Buddhist teacher talk recently about Compassion, he born in Bhutan. In Bhutan, wealth is measured by Gross National Happiness, not a Gross National Product. There is no military. Hatred, anger and suffering the teacher said are dispelled by compassion. He explained the origin of a Buddhist liturgy that like in any other tradition people will repeat without really understanding its significance. The liturgy recited after a lengthy practice session or teaching goes like this,


By this merit may all obtain omniscience,

May it defeat the enemy wrongdoing,

From stormy waves of birth, old age, sickness and death,

from the ocean of samsara may I free all beings


A variation of this liturgy says,

By the confidence of the golden sun of the Great East

May the lotus garden of the rigdens' wisdom bloom

May the dark ignorance of sensient being be dispelled.

May we all obtain profound brilliant glory.


The merit , he explained, comes from an example set by the ruler of a mythical and beatific country where establishing compassion was the standard by which everyone lived. Some very dark evil carnivorous beings came who had no compassion and because this was a country where killing to eat was not tolerated, they had nothing to eat. They came to the ruler, starving and on the verge of death and asked him to given them food. And the ruler ripped open his vein and gave them blood to save them and from this he created the Dedication of Merit.


From the beginning of time, war and conflict between men (largely) has been the source of blood sacrifice that is considered noble, patriotic, beyond question as an act of valor. Compassion rarely comes from that. Rather, we are more familiar with body strewn images of the Civil War, World War I and II, the Vietnam War, any war that comes to mind. and the misery of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder so closely associated with those who survive the horrors of war. Somewhere along the line, the ripping open of the veins to feed the starving as an act of compassion to end suffering has been subverted: the patriotic encouraging the blood shed unaccompanied by compassionate intent.


This brings us to the current vitriol surrounding the termination of pregnancies. There is much more beyond conception to creation of compassionate care for the breathing born 40 weeks or less later. This is not a secret. Women know what is not available to the unborn, the deprivations of the unborn in utero that psychological and emotional despair, poor nutrition, poverty, alcohol and opiod use, and abuse of the body of the woman carrying the child creates. Who bears the deprivation of care most significantly, if the infant survives to a breathing birth, is the child.



The decision to terminate a pregnancy is the ripping open of the vein like the king in the Dedication of Merit origin- a choice to bear the suffering oneself rather than 40 weeks later pass the deprivation, the abuse, the harm onto a being only able to breath on their own at birth.

Like the leader, it is an act of compassion in which one bears the consequence ones self. It is only in white Western elite societies that sophisticated medical technology allows survival of some infants after birth that in third world countries without medical sophistication do not never survive.


The "merit" that Donald Trump know endorses as a criteria for immigration to this country reifies the White Western elitism seen in births that survive because of sophisticated medical technology and the absence of that "merit" in third world countries.


There is no license granted in any spiritual tradition to my knowledge to reserve bodily sacrifice for the War dead. The ruler ripping open his vein to feed those filled with hatred and contempt as an act of compassion is not unlike those ending a pregnancy who openly acknowledge their own inability to provide compassionate care because no mystery here- society or family do not or will not provide the care either. The deprivation of care after birth is passed on after a 40 week gestation period- if a breathing being endures the deprivations. Many do not feel entitled to make the zygote, the embryo, the fetus bear the suffering of the deprivation. Like the Buddhist leader who chose to bear it himself, they choose to bear it themselves and terminate the pregnancy.

There is a spiritual blindspot in the pronouncements of the Alabama and Missouri governors who pass legislation to ban termination of all pregnancies because- this is no mystery either- they fail to acknowledge "the life" they alledgely are saving needs much much more to survive to a live birth let alone grow to and through a healthy childhood. In keeping with the Dedication of Merit, we could establish a new merit rating for each for these states that pretend to glorify life by assessing these qualities:

-availability of free birth control to all conception-eligible women to prevent unwanted pregnancy

-provision of housing, food, medical care and employment at a living wage scale for women during pregnancy

- provision of safe, reliable, well monitored child care immediately after birth

-Medicaid and Medicare for all

- Food stamps distributed without shaming or race-baiting

-psychological and psychotherapy intervention widely available 

-healthy, safe foster care if a mother cannot provide care

Men or family may well not be willing or able to provide care. In the United States,society is not- no surprise- our extended family. And for the woman who is victimized, incested, raped, shunned, broke, abandoned, partner-less, or damaged in body, mind and spirit, ripping open the vein, terminating a pregnancy may be the only act of compassion available and she chooses it.


Seeing Consequence Before It Happens: Asking Questions about Children who are Suffering, Noticing the Answer

From Susan J. Cook | Part of the The River Is Wide series | 05:20

We know the consequence of indifference.In the last few months, Maine has witnessed 3 murders of children: 2 by foster care-takers, one at the hands of the nonbiological partner of the parent and a pregnant parent. Just-like-that. Although we know it was not just-like-that. It was consequence. And we have to say, from the Commissioner of the Dept. of Health and Human Services on down, ours to be accountable for.


Seeing Consequence Before It Happens: Asking Questions, Noticing the Answer

-Susan Cook-
In Buddhism, samsara is the Sanskrit word for the endless cycle of suffering: birth, death, rebirth, misery. They poach some of their  agony about this onto "karma" which is regularly misinterpreted to mean "What goes around , comes around." That is a misinterpretation of karma. Karma says, quite simply, there is a consequence from cause and effect. That doesn't mean that we dismiss the possibility of a user-friendly existence. Samsara says, quite simply, "We know."
I am reminded of this as yet another child has died in a foster home deemed safe by Maine's Department of Health and Human Services Commissione,  the head of the organization so yes, the karma is the Commissioner's to bear, ultimately. 
I run out of ideas about how we help people become more vigilant about watching children to make sure they are cared for and not in harm's way.  I say that in the wake of an active and engaged interest in child abuse and neglect that stretches back to 1976. I worked then as a home visitor to children aged 3 or under who were considered "at risk". Bearing witness to parents barely able to provide warm shelter in rural Maine winters and watching children take second place to their parents' inability to see beyond their own needs set me on a path of inquiry. Why do some parents end up in that circumstance?
Now, sometimes it seems others deign to ask that question. That it is not for us to ask why but ours to watch when it happens and say the karma lies elsewhere.
I was in a training chock-full of clinicians, guardian-ad-litem (those appointed by the court to assess the best interest of the child), lawyers, judges and state Child Protective officials.
Back then, a child had been murdered by another foster parent, who also had been a child welfare worker. I asked what seemed an obvious question of the Child Protective official. What has changed since the child's death?
Vipers don't recoil more quickly than the Child Protective Official did.
"Maybe you should tell us what you think should change, " in a tone that even in a cold Maine winter was icy and mocking. 
I have to say, it was, at that point, that I wondered if there was still any interest in asking "why" anymore.
Rather, as time has progressed, care for what happens to children is directed toward the zygote - immediate post conception- or the embryo stage- the first 10 or 8 weeks of pregnancy. Terminating an unwanted pregnancy at that point is now vociferously protested  as indifference to well-being. 
When a spiritual tone envelops the discussion,  the view becomes even more unambiguous about what is or is not protecting a child.
When I told one clinician who was  outspoken about his deep sensitivity to zygote/ embryonic pregnancy, that I worked with children in high conflict families, often with abuse present, he said, "Oh, that's big of you. If you're drawn to that kind of work." I asked myself how an avidly outspoken clinician, keenly sensitive to zygote/embryonic pregnancy could not be drawn to working with children at risk for abuse  in those situations.
That is karma. Without being drawn to the consequence of zygote, embryonic, fetal development, labor, delivery, birth, neonatal health, developmental stages, and the context of parental and family care, the karma  may well become indifference.
We know the consequence of indifference. Maine now has another child murdered by a foster care-taker. Just-like-that. Although we know it was not just-like-that. It was karma. And we have to say, from the Commissioner on down, ours.

Why Women Don't Tell, Part 2: July 20, 1969 for Some Women Means Remembering Violence

From Susan J. Cook | Part of the The River Is Wide series | 06:29

The 50th anniversary of the Moon Landing reminds some of us that violence toward women and girls is still minimized. The President of the United States has been inciting violence toward 4 members of Congress.


Why Women Don't Tell: Part 2
This Time It is Not the Victim Who Is Silent
Everyone was remembering where they were the night Neil Armstrong took his first steps on the moon on July 20, 1969.
I was too. That 1969 night, I was upstairs in my bedroom  cowering, full of fear at the family home  where I grew up.  Not fearful for Collins, Armstrong or Aldrin  but for myself.
My brother who had beaten me up a few weeks earlier after, drunk, he drove the station wagon off a small dirt road was sitting  in the living room downstairs, drinking. No one else was home and as I came downstairs to see one small step for man, one giant step for mankind, I could see he was very drunk. He was a violent drunk. I had no way of knowing whether he would draw his fist again.
I was 17. I had never been beaten up before. I always thought it fortunate that I was able to open the passenger side door and get out .  I was able to outrun him. 
As I watched the American Experience and Nova programs about the Apollo flights, I was wondering  how many other women and girls on July 20, 1969 were cowering somewhere , fearful that a relative, a boyfriend, a stranger passing them in a subway station late at night would turn and assault them. 
And on July 20, 1969, as  so many were remembering that night 50 years ago, how many girls and women were cowering that a male known or unknown to them would attack them.
Out of all that technology has brought us since then, most men are still stronger than women and certainly physically stronger than girls. And violence against women and girls is still to be expected. The assault, the public shaming and humiliation, the denigration of credibility, the character assassination , the demeaning  and the implicit passivity these are all met with when they are directed at females persist.
The President of the United States has taunted. demeaned, and encouraged violence toward  4 women - they are women first-  and few in Congress have spoken loudly and yes- aggressively- spoken out against the violence toward women this President has encouraged.
They have instead focused on the correct political rubric- let's see... is it racist or sexist- and um signed  a resolution. A stranger walked by me the other day in a  store the other day and commented " He's going to end up getting someone killed." He took more a risk in saying that to me than Maine's Senator Collins has. She has said nothing against the violence.
"We're always going to feel strangers to these men," Eric Sevareid, the television commentator said after the landing. " They will in effect be a bit stranger even to their own wives and children. Disappeared into another life we cannot follow.." 
But they were not strangers to us at all, nor were the leaders who rushed to congratulate them. They divorced, wrestled with celebrity.  Never corrected the omission of woman kind from the first words spoken. Richard Nixon, who until recently was the least admired President  in the history of the United States, greeted the astronauts as quickly as he could. Just a month earlier, on June 21, 1969, his Vietnam War- it had become his- killed the first boy my mother ever let me go on a date with - in his car By 1974, Richard Nixon had violated every ounce of civil political discourse imaginable- authorizing a burglary at the Democratic National Committee Headquarters. Shifting funds to silence the perpetrators. A pettiness so earthly and easily avoided such that no moon shot could cast a shadow big enough to  cloud the small minded self-serving-ness of it.
Eleven billion dollars was spent getting the first men to the moon.  Corrected to present dollars-  it is accurate to say that in the 50 years following the moon landing - eleven billion dollars has not been spent on preventing and solving violence toward women   and girls.
As so few condemn the incitement  of violence by this President (Does he mean to drag them back to "where they came from" by their hair? Or at gun point? )  we have to ask why  we tolerate his encouragement of tacit character assassination, attacks on credibility, and oblivion to violence toward women. 
And we have to ask why in not speaking loudly, vociferously, we tolerate the complicit postures of our Senators and Congress members. Because this time, they are the ones who are silent not the victimized this President is taunting.

Death of a Paddler

From Susan J. Cook | Part of the The River Is Wide series | 06:41

Those who sign on for white water rafting trips, fishing and hunting day trips are hoping to find a few hours or so of Great Abandon, an experience too often missing from the lives of many Americans. Providing health insurance for the well-being of those who craft those Outdoor experiences sustains these vocations.


Death of a Paddler


A white water rafting guide died on July 24, this year, four weeks after being diagnosed with an aggressive cancer. "Sully" was a white water rafting guide out of the West Branch of the Penobscot slightly northwest of the place where the flow of the East leg joins it to become the Penobscot River.


When I was told that he died of a very aggressive cancer four weeks after initial diagnosis, my first thought was, "I wonder if he had health insurance." White water rafting guides, registered Maine Guides, commercial fisherman, small family farmers, all the self-employed seasonally based vocations that are the bristling heart and soul that Maine's natural resources offer up, do not have a reliable, affordable health insurance network. Going without means avoiding medical check-ups.


I only knew this particular guide because he was a guest at a relative's wedding, the groom and his bride, both White Water Rafting Guides. The wedding celebrated every aspect of Maine's outdoors. The vows were exchanged on "Miss Moggin", a lobster boat decorated with white tulle, moored off Pumpkin Island Lighthouse, at the southern end of Eggemoggin Reach. Other wedding guests reached the wedding location on a boat formerly used as an island mailboat which tied up on the port side of the "Miss Moggin" and the "Millie", a smaller lobster boat tied up on the starboard. The officiant, a commercial fisherman, donned his white Captain's shirt, trimmed with gold braid epaulets along with a white dress cap loaned to him for the occasion by the local Fire Department chief. Under blue skies, with a fair wind, over sixty guests on the mailboat, 30 others on the Miss Moggin and 10 on the Millie observed as the couple vowed "to love and cherish" "til' death do us part" noting that "marriage is a vow not to be taken lightly". The bride wore a white, empire-style wedding gown, with beaded bodice and lace overlays. Both the bride and groom wore boat shoes. The Miss Moggin, despite the white tulle, still looked like a lobster boat which the groom's soon-to-be-mother-in-law noted, to no one in particular, “She knows I don't like boats.”


At the reception, the couple's engagement with the outdoors was on full display: the two tier wedding cake, decorated with fishing rods, canoes, moose, deer and white water rapids, a collage of the couple with the moose which the bride had shot when she won a permit through the Moose Lottery, with the groom as co-permitee. Several photos of the couple with deer and various fish they shot or caught together were included, along with one photo of a rafting run in which the groom served as stern paddler with the bride paddling at the side. The best man congratulated the groom on sharing his life with a bride willing to lather herself up with fly dope, to walk 2 miles through the woods to fish for trout.


The bride invited the crowd "to party it down". Sully and the white water rafting guides, dressed in their semi-formal wedding attire: water-proof sandals, short-sleeved shirts and dressy water-proof shorts,took her up on it. Their gift to the bride was a bottle of "Hot Damn", a Made-in-Maine liquer. The female rafting guides decided to move away from the stuffiness of the dance floor to the less restrictive area on the top of their table (#11 in the Guest Seating Guide) from which the dishes had been cleared. They were joined , shortly thereafter, by their male rafting guide companions, Sully included. They danced with great abandon until the groom's maternal aunt tapped the dancer closest to her on the ankle, pointing to the table that looked like it might break. "Thank you", she said, and they got down. The party was, one of rafting guides said, "A Ray-jah (spelled R-a-g-e-r).


Great abandon moves a body through a landscape far different from a cancer diagnosis that ends a life in 4 weeks.Great abandon is what day trippers try to get a taste of when they sign up for a rafting trip. Maine legislators, if they want to insure that young people cultivate careers as Outdoor Crafters of Great Abandon, need to make health care available and affordable to them, maybe even allowing them to buy into the Maine State employees' health plan. Maybe even at the same rate that legislators do. "In wildness is the preservation of the world", Thoreau wrote. He too relied on the expertise of Maine Abenaki guides to craft his trip into the Maine Woods. Someone needs to be looking out to preserve the health and wellbeing of Maine's Outdoor Crafters, who create the rafting, bird hunting, fishing trips, Great Abandon moments for those lacking those opportunities in their everyday lives.


It turns out Sully had moved to Alaska from Maine and found his dream job, calling on his knowledge of the wild,that maybe even gave him health insurance. Twenty years and four paddlers later, the now very married couple drove to the Forks. They missed the spreading of the ashes but got there in time for the party.

As American as Apple Pie: Domestic Violence and The Abuse of Power to Tarnish Victims' Credibility

From Susan J. Cook | Part of the The River Is Wide series | 09:31

A new exhibit at the Holocaust and Human Rights Center in Maine called "Finding Our Voices: Ending the Silence of Domestic Abuse" opened just before Domestic Violence Awareness month. From the halls of the US Senate to a poetry reading, readiness to silence the credibility of the accuser persists.


As American as Apple Pie:  Domestic Violence and The Abuse of Power to Tarnish Victims' Credibility
-Susan Cook-

The other day on a radio call-in program, Susan Collins, Maine's Senator, justified her vote for Judge Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court because (she said this) even though she thought something awful happened to PhD Holder and Academic Scholar Christine Blasey-Ford, Susan Collins didn't think it was Brett Kavanaugh who did it. In other words, Susan Collins just can't bring herself to grant Dr Ford credibility. Playing both ends against the middle, this time with Dr Ford's credibility, like she has in the US Senate. At the same time, Susan Collins said that to believe Dr. Ford threatens the entire judicial standard of innocent until proven guilty. What she didn't say is that by automatically granting credibility to a Job Applicant over his accusing victim, she replicates an abuse of power that keeps victims silent.

Two of the most agonizing moments for assault victims are when it happens and when the victim discloses. For women, credibility is immediately questioned- with or without professional accomplishment, with or without the scrutiny of a large audience.

On men's side, and on the side of Susan Collins who has gained longevity by playing the middle against both ends, is Power and the fact that men require less Proof to back up their statements than women do. We have seen the backwash from men finally held accountable for their abuse of power in the #Me too movement. Many of those men remain "miffed" or staunch in their refusal to take responsibility for the abuse of that discrepancy - financially, culturally, physically, in professional hierarchies ( 80.7 cents for women for every dollar men make). Indeed, many fall back on their reverence for "Power" to justify the reluctance to continue to fight #Me too.

The Public Radio host whose host public radio organization distanced themselves rapidly finally published his NOT "Mea Culpa" column, advising the reader to "look what happened to me" over a "harmless flirtation". Discrepancy of power places whoever was on the receiving end of the "harmless flirtation", in a subjugated position. Power interferes with saying "No", further undermined when, as the Pubic Radio host said, "she worked for me but it never happened in the office." He called upon his concern for the powerlessness of children in the NOT "Mea Culpa" piece to explain how he has managed to water down his anger toward #Me too which remember "Look what it did" to him. A negligent out not unlike Susan Collins claiming herself the better judge of what happened to Christine Blasey Ford. The magnitude of the discrepancy in physical power of adolescent boys and adolescent girls is not that hard to fathom.

This call-in program preceded the opening of an exhibit called "Finding Our Voices: Breaking the Silence of Domestic Abuse" at the Holocaust and Human Rights Center in Maine, encouraged by Patrisha Mclean, the ex-wife of the singer Don McLean of "Bye, bye, Miss American Pie". He was convicted 3 years ago of domestic violence criminal threatening, criminal mischief and criminal restraint.

One of the women in the exhibit, the wife of a man named "Charlie" who took out a gun and threatened to shoot her after she told him she had almost suicided, did not speak for years of the domestic abuse in her marriage. She left, still not disclosing until two years after she left, at 65, 43 years into the marriage. Had she disclosed before, her credibility would be on the line.

Many years ago, I was a colleague of the man who physically assaulted his wife for those 43 years. With 3 other Professors, we flew to a northern Maine University to teach graduate students. I taught life span development, always including sections on childhood sexual abuse, abusive relationships and abusive parenting. Those were topics that I had a deep commitment to, and still do. In one of the videos I always showed in the class, the victim said "Sexual abuse is about power. The abuse of power." Thirty three years ago, the reality of incest was not broadly acknowledged. Nor was wife battering or domestic violence. Or child abuse. Or parents who gave themselves license to terrorize or abuse. The college where I taught was sexist. I complained about the job inequities of assigning me to teach 4 courses I had never taught before and The "Dean" clearly made a mental checkmark against me for speaking out about that.

No one would have guessed that this quiet man had his own private target when his power was challenged. His wife. And to this day, abuse of power to keep victims quiet persists. The Edna St Vincent Millay Poetry and Arts Festival began a day or so after Susan Collins' radio appearance. It included a Poetry Slam and reading held at night at a local bar. The organizers felt compelled to include a Caveat to poets and artists taking part.

"Please be advised. As participants will include people of all ages, please be sensitive to content and language that might be of concern, scare children or trigger trauma."

No one wants to scare children or trigger trauma. The accusatory nature of the statement was inflated and not necessary in this context. Even when that was pointed out, the organizer still would not take it off the website.

And with it, the perpetrating "Charlies" and the adolescent "Kavanaughs" go about exercising their power. Yet, one more time, those who have experienced trauma will question if they have the power to speak about it or will say it "right" or won't "upset" anyone. Even at a Poetry and Arts Festival. The contributions to the power that diminishes women's credibility are many and varied. From the US Senate, to the dimly lit bar at night, credibility of the victim takes second place to the protective tidings of the powerful. I noticed that a person featured in that video many years ago had signed up for the poetry slam. I made the decision not to take part. I don't know if the person who appeared in the video 33 years ago did.