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Wonder of Wonders… Miracle of Miracles…

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Fiddler

In song, a fictitious fiddler perched precariously on a roof… leaving the wonder of his music afloat in the flaming sunset… the miracle of his existence tenuous…

… in real life, and far less romantically, I indelicately leapt to perch precariously, and smeared some of my own DNA on the Capitol landscape.

It bled like stink and hurt like hell.

Washington, DC – It was stupid of me to attempt to jump up on the concrete barrier in
front of the imposing Lincoln Memorial.

An innocent impulse of childlike enthusiasm and impulsiveness overtook me, creating a slip and gash of my knee and shin, scraping skin and bone across the unforgiving concrete.

I was overflowing with enthusiasm about simultaneously viewing the wondrous Lincoln Memorial, the Washington Monument, and the Vietnam Veteran Memorial Wall… all were visible from one convenient location on the Washington Mall, and in my mind, would be even better so when elevated by about 3 feet on top of the cement barrier.

OUCH!

Are you as wide-eyed intrigued and awestruck as I am by the kaleidoscope of amazing natural and man-made parts of our world?

The skies over us are azure blankets to the countless wonders and miracles in life.

I’ve reflected in blogs past about my successful quest in visiting each Canadian province and territory.

I’ve blah-blah’ed on to outline my desire to touch ground on each of the continents as well as each of the 50 US States.

These fanciful aspirations must have been drifting through my dreams last night – I awoke in the early darkness with mini thought-balloons bouncing between my ears about the “official” wonders of the world.

A word of advice? Never debate your mind-thoughts in the middle of the night, they’re rambunctious and unruly 3 year olds who adamantly refuse to sit still and behave.

My foggy brain meandered in circles of pity, that bastard berating voice telling me how woefully inadequate I’ve been in failing to see and touch so many worldwide miracles that exist.

Case in point: I’ve yet to visit even one of the original ancient 7 wonders.

.

The Seven Wonders of the Ancient World were:

  • the Great Pyramid at Giza, Egypt.
  • the Hanging Gardens of Babylon.
  • the Statue of Zeus at Olympia, Greece.
  • the Temple of Artemis at Ephesus.
  • the Mausoleum at Halicarnassus.
  • the Colossus of Rhodes.
  • the Lighthouse at Alexandria, Egypt.

Yup, nada. Not a one. Sad. Loser.

I mustered a spirited defence and volleyed a response to my sub-conscious: “Wait a minute, I’m able to place checkmarks beside 5 of 7 of the “new” wonders” …
.

The “New” Seven Wonders of the World

  • √ Chichen Itza, Mexico.
  • Christ Redeemer, Brazil.
  • The Great Wall, China.
  • Machu Picchu, Peru.
  • Petra, Jordan.
  • The Roman Colosseum, Italy.
  • The Taj Mahal, India.

.

Still not satisfied with my Wonders’ count, I reloaded further ammunition into my argument. Touché!

I’ve touched, smelled, tasted, absorbed, spoken to, and smiled at earthly masterpieces, experiencing some magnificent physical marvels that, similar to a well-written book or unimaginably beautiful painting, filled me with an overarching sense of reverence and awe.

I’ve seen and breathed in the air of specialness near and far. Personal defining moments.

So today, I give you my own personal life experience 7 Wonders.

 

The “Larry” Seven Wonders

of a Random Baby Boomer’s World

  • Gettysburg, Pennsylvania

&

Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall, Washington, DC – USA

Gettysburg-Nation-Cemetery.jpg

I’ve combined two iconic American war-related sites into one spot.

The Battle of Gettysburg was fought July 1–3, 1863, in and around the town of Gettysburg, Pennsylvania by Union and Confederate forces during the American Civil War.

The battle was bloody and fierce with the largest number of casualties of the entire war (Combined Union and Confederate casualties at Gettysburg totalled 7,058 dead – 33,250 wounded – 10,800 missing), and is often described as the war’s turning point. Union Maj. General George Meade’s Army of the Potomac defeated attacks by Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia, halting Lee’s invasion of the North.

A few months after the battle, on November 19, President Lincoln used the dedication ceremony for the Gettysburg National Cemetery to honor the fallen Union soldiers and redefine the purpose of the war in his historic Gettysburg Address.

The battlefields and cemeteries and museums of Gettysburg imprinted in me the tragedy and futility of war in heartbreaking contrast to the beauty of the surrounding fields and farms.

vietnam vet memorial 2.jpg

The Vietnam Veterans’ Memorial Wall is made up of two seemingly unending 75.21 m long walls, etched with the names of the killed servicemen honoured in panels of horizontal rows.

At the highest tip (the apex where they meet) of the walls, they are 3.1 m high, and then taper away to a height of just 20 cm at their extremities. Symbolically, this is described as a “wound that is closed and healing”.

When a visitor stands before the wall, his or her reflection can be seen simultaneously with the engraved names, a symbolic way of bringing the past and present together.

The wall listed 58,191 names when it was completed in 1983. Simple names that exude power and emotion similar to the aged gravestones of Gettysburg.

This was the war that I “lived and experienced” as a youth each night on my black and white TV screen, watching the body bags unloading from the chasm of monster-sized airplanes.

  • Machu Picchu – Peru

machu picchu.jpg

At the conclusion of an 8 hour mountainous hike, this is probably the most stunning vista I’ve ever experienced, as we surmounted a final hill and spied the Incan citadel from the Sun Gate overlooking Machu Picchu.

The 15th century citadel situated on a mountain ridge 2,430 metres (7,970 ft) above sea level is located near Cusco, Peru, where we studied Spanish for 3 and a half months.

Most archaeologists believe that Machu Picchu – built in the classical Inca style, with finely cut, polished dry-stone walls – was constructed as an estate for the Inca emperor Pachacuti (1438–1472).

If a picture paints a thousand words, Machu Picchu is the artistic soul of a million million words. To experience it first hand is to sip from the cup of spirituality.

 

  • Niagara Falls – Canada

Niagara

Despite being a huge tourist trap, this was a frequent childhood haunt for me. My Ontario family would visit the cataract most summers with out-of-town guests.

There is special magic when you stand just feet away from the parapet, feeling the rumble of the water, and the uneasy sense of being drawn in by the cascading, rushing water as it bravely leaps into the chasm.

  • Igloo Church, Inuvik, Canada

Igloo church.jpg

Our Lady of Victory Church, often called the Igloo Church, was opened in Canada’s Arctic in 1960 after two years of construction.

Brother Maurice Larocque, a Catholic missionary to the Arctic, who had previously been a carpenter, designed the church despite a lack of any formal architectural training, sketching it on two sheets of plywood that are displayed in the building’s upper storeys. Its unique structural system, “a dome within a dome”, protects the church with a foundation consisting of a bowl-shaped concrete slab on a gravel bed atop the permafrost.

I saw this building in the summer of 1978 in the Land of the Midnight Sun (and Winter Darkness). The day was warm and dusty, and any igloo looks out of place in the heat and dry, but I knew then, and now, that bone-chilling, eyelash freezing winter filled with hoar frost and ice is always lurking nearby in the far north.

  • Sagrada Familia – Barcelona, Spain

Sagrada familia.jpg

The Sagrada Familia is a large Roman Catholic church in Barcelona, designed by Catalan architect Antoni Gaudi (1852–1926). Gaudi’s work on the building is part of a  UNESCO World Heritage Site, and in November 2010 Pope Benedict XVI consecrated and proclaimed it a minor basilica, as distinct from a cathedral, which must be the seat of a bishop.

The Sagrada Familia, like any of Gaudi’s many structures, are in the category of “love ’em or hate ’em“… “unique” hardly captures his vision of art and architecture. The church exterior is akin to a child’s pop-up storybook filled with picturesque Bible tales.

Barcelona is a beautiful rose in my bouquet of world cities thanks to Gaudi.

  • Terracotta Warriors – Xian, China

terracotta warriors.jpg

The Terracotta Army is a collection of terracotta sculptures depicting the armies of Qin Shi Huang, the first Emperor of China. A form of funerary art, it was all buried with the emperor in 210–209 BCE. It’s purpose was to protect the emperor in his afterlife.

The buried “army” was discovered in 1974 by two local farmers in Xian, Shaanxi province.

The figures vary in height according to their roles, with the tallest being the generals. The life-sized army includes warriors, chariots and horses. Estimates are that the three pits containing the Terracotta Army hold more than 8,000 soldiers, 130 chariots with 520 horses and 150 cavalry horses, the majority of which remained buried in the pits nearby Qin Shi Huang’s mausoleum. Other terracotta non-military figures were found in other pits, including officials, acrobats, strongmen, and musicians.

The scope and detail of this underground discovery still leaves me shaking my head in amazement.

  • Dachau – Germany

Dachau concentration camp was the first of the Nazi concentration camps opened in Germany, intended to hold political prisoners.

It is located on the grounds of an abandoned munitions factory near the medieval town of Dachau, outside of Munich.  It was enlarged to include forced labor, and eventually, the imprisonment of Jews, German and Austrian criminals, and eventually foreign nationals from countries that Germany occupied or invaded.

Prisoners lived in near-starvation and constant fear of brutal treatment and imminent death. There were 32,000 documented deaths at the camp, and thousands more undocumented.

I stepped through the gates of the camp as a “tourist” in 1979 and immediately felt a heavy enveloping curtain of pain and a huge weight of human tragedy.

 

  • Grand Ole Opry House – Nashville, USA

Grand-Ole-Opry

Music is an important part of my world – music of all types.

And what is more welcoming and friendly and joy-inducing than a beautiful church-like haven (even the seats of the Opry are pews) to sweet sounds of instruments and voice? The Opry House is a modern mecca for those of us who love the sound of the fiddle and the steel guitar.

Listening to the final group song of the evening a few years back, Will The Circle Be Unbroken, left a chill in my spine, even to this day… yes, that’s the power of music.

……………….

And there you have it in wondrous fashion. 1 natural wonder, 2 distinctive churches, 3 war-related memorial sites, and 3 man-made spectacles.

OK, did you notice? You did?

Yeah, I cheated.

That was 8 wonders, 9 if you separate out the Gettysburg and Vietnam Veterans’ Wall. And given half a chance, I could list dozens more spectacular moments and vistas that I’ve been lucky enough to glimpse in my days.

And despite all these incredible facades and edifices sprinkled around the world… if we view our world in another way, there are wonders and miracles to be had without setting alight on an airplane, or a ship, or a train.

I leave you with the following poem to reflect upon:

Seven Wonders of the World

I think the ‘Seven Wonders of the World’ are:
1. To See
2. To Hear
3. To Touch
4. To Taste
5. To Feel
6. To Laugh
7. To Love.

The things we overlook as simple and ordinary and that
we take for granted are truly wondrous!

A gentle reminder —
that the most precious things in life
cannot be built by hand or bought by man.

Author: Unknown

 

 

 

Passions and Reflections …

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Ruby:  Every piece of this is man’s bullshit. They call this war “a cloud over the land” but they made the weather and then they stand in the rain and say “Shit, it’s rainin’!”

COLD MOUNTAIN (Movie)

cold mountain

Certain movies come to have extra meaning for us.

Stories of longing, or joy, or sorrow, or zany moments…

It’s because they reflect ourselves back to us as if we’re standing buck-naked in front of a mirror… we realize, “This is MY story” … sometimes we don’t even realize why we’re feeling this …

Or we watch longingly and tell ourselves, “I wish this was MY story“…

And of course there are many that we view and genuflect, “Thank God this ISN’T my story.”

I think this is why I’m not a big fan of sci-fi or horror movies (But of course I’ll be going to see the new Star Wars!). I don’t see my reflection anywhere in the picture.

And most times I definitely don’t want to see myself there. I don’t feel a personal connection to having a spaceship battle or slashing someone’s throat, spattering pools of hot crimson blood. They can be fine for an hour or two of escapism and entertainment, but they won’t find a place on my favourite flick list.

Movies – when I stop munching popcorn long enough to pay attention –  are often my mirror and where the reflection unearths my passions and what the future holds.

Quotefancy-12466-3840x2160

Throughout life, passion is a result of struggle.

For the young, the struggle is to attain an identity and become a functioning adult.

For the middle-aged like myself, the struggle is to find meaning whilst a blanket of heightened sense of mortality envelopes us.

Meaning and purpose for these years should revolve around issues bigger than which buffet to patronize, or which toilet paper is softest on my bum.

…………………

There are light fluffy Christmas flakes, tiny little daytime shooting stars wafting from the grey sky outside my window as I write this.

Little pillows of cotton fluff adorn the tips of the towering Ponderosa Pines and I can hear chickadees chirping through the chilly air as they forage for seeds to keep their systems running warm and smooth.

December, with it’s shorter, colder days is a perfect month to reflect and take stock …

To me, a balanced, healthy person needs to look after a number of areas within their life to sustain what we might describe as happiness, a calm reflection of what is important to them.

We can wake up each morning and allow life to happen to us, wearing a blindfold while teetering on a cliff’s edge, waiting for a sharp breeze to send us plummeting …

… or we can arise with a determination to shape our direction with our eyes wide open and bright, skipping confidently along the rim of the Grand Canyon, seeking ideas and plans for a vigorous, well-lived life.

Life should be a little like doing core exercises at the gym. It’s not always obvious that as we pile on the crunches, strengthening the middle, it supports all of our other regions so they perform at their best.

In this life that is MY movie, my core … here are just a few of my miscellaneous December life reminders and reflections:

  • look after my own well-being – if you always give those around you the oxygen mask first, what good are you when you’re the first to die?
  • writing – helps me discover the inside me that hides away, even from myself. Life is filled with mysteries, none so great as who we ourselves are.
  • creativity – I have to nurture the seeds and persist in writing, music, cooking, anything that requires imagination and deeper thought. Not every moment, every attempt produces a work of fine art, but fine art will never appear unless my bum appears in the seat to make the attempt. Over and over.
  • investing – the life I live and person I choose to be is not going to come about unless I can sustain a livelihood. Taking time to read and digest, and then make good judgments about investments is critical.
  • physically – life itself is under threat if the physical body isn’t maintained. Our ability to function and thrive in daily life rests on a healthy, fit-based lifestyle.
  • finding growth – the mind needs its workout as much as the physical body. Learning and growing by experiencing new and unique challenges gives us verve and enthusiasm.
  • spiritual peace – a calm place to breathe and reflect – whether through religion or meditation or yoga or laughter – supports and cushions each difficulty we face. Life isn’t ever going to be easy no matter the amount of $$ in our bank accounts, so a steady base carries us past the trials we inevitably encounter
  • love – family and friends are the personal glue that holds our lives together. The Christmas spirit is alive in each of us when love is a part of our days.

Passion of many colours, textures and flavours is what makes my heart beat loudly in my chest.

If Cold Mountain‘s Ruby is right and “Every piece of this is man’s bullshit

… isn’t it reassuring to know it’s bullshit of our own making … finding our own joys in the days we have, choosing to be a true reflection of the person that looks back at us in the mirror?

rockwell_mirror

Did God Create Cream Cheese ?

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cream cheese mug

I don’t personally believe there is a God

…………

but if I did, it would have to be because of cream cheese.

 

I was raised in a household like a million other Canadian households.

We kids went to church on Sunday because … just because. My family worshipped in the United Church of Canada.

And being United was sort of Christianity Light.

You could pretty much be any kind of devil-worshipping witch and the church elders would smile and hand you the tiny glass of non-fermented purple grape juice (I secretly wanted to be Catholic so I could drink real alcohol-laced blood-red wine… c’mon, did Jesus offer Welch’s grape juice at the Last Supper?) and tell you you’re just fine.

Tolerance R Us should be the United Church motto …

Salt and Pepper-haired Reverend Buchanan at my family’s St. David’s United Church in Hamilton spoke in a tenor Scottish brogue that was fascinating to watch and listen to during his tedious sermons – he had a divine way of making an hour feel like a whole day – not because of any amazingly insightful wisdom he brought to the congregation, but it was his teeth.

Words hissed through his teeth that gleamed with gold fillings, front tooth fillings that glimmered in the pastoral sunlight streaming through the stained glass windows of the church.

gold-teeth1

If I found myself dropping off during his sermon, which I invariably did … sorry Reverend… BORING!!!! … a shaft of sharp sunlight would reflect off his golden teeth. Piercing through my eyelids, it was like a blast of tropical sunshine on a Mexican or Hawaiian beach, minus the ready availability of a cold, fluffy drink on my right and the mesmerizing sounds of lapping waves beyond my feet.

At the age of twelve my folks gave me – or more probably I insisted (as the youngest of five kids born to worn-down old parents) – the opportunity to choose not to attend Sunday church.

I jumped at the chance. No more Reverend Buchanan.

I rejoiced when I could park my shiny Sunday hand-me-down leather shoes and stay in my Montreal Canadiens’ wool jersey. I could go play hockey on the outdoor ice rink across the street in the park. I loved the cannonading sound of hockey pucks ricocheting off the wood boards set up by city workers far more than the dull, sonorous tones of Reverend Buchanan.

Unlike myself, many folks find reassuring comfort with a God presence in their lives and I respect and understand that. There is a score of reasons and explanations for believing in a God.

Life can be filled with difficulties and trials where the sense of a loving, helpful, understanding deity is too great to not believe for many.

I’ve wished a dozen times in my life from the days of my mother’s death, to my young son suffering a terrible illness that threatened his life, to crushing romantic relationship break-ups that there was someone, something … anyone or anything that could help ease the pain.

NOW.

But for me, that something, that anything, has always been time.

Well … Time and cream cheese.

Pain doesn’t ever really disappear, it just dissipates… which brings me to the raison d’être of this blog.

My point here is that like a law of physics, pain must always have a corresponding rebound or response in joy … yin and yang …  balancing opposites. Can a meaningful life exist without both?

And what brings the world more joy than, you guessed it … cream cheese. Especially cream cheese icing.

mini-cinnamon-bun

You might think me disrespectful and trite to make a comparison and case for a simple thing such as cream cheese relating to something as soulful and complex as God.  But, as I grow older, I find that simple things are ones that often bring me the greatest joy.

For example:

  • I’ve come to realize just how much I love to sit outside on a mild spring day, eyes closed, absorbing the heady scent of the spring flowers – lilac, daphne, daffodils – and the early warmth of March or April sunlight playing through my closed eyelids.
  • In summer, I thrill to the hugging caress of cool Okanagan Lake water swishing over my torso as I dive beneath its surface.
  • I sense an exhilaration when I read a book chapter where the writing leaves me breathless with its originality of word use and creativity. I had this feeling a number of times reading Stephen King’s 11/23/63, strangely never while reading 50 Shades of Grey!
  • When I munch my way into a gooey cinnamon bun thickly swirled with cream cheese icing, or feel the delicate smoothness on my tongue of tangy key-lime pie, or bite into a crunchy toasted bagel with a swish of cream cheese, or taste a square of carrot cake lushly layered with cream cheese icing.

These are all simple things in today’s complex world filled with luxury cars, Rolexes, and high tech gadgets.

Depending on your belief system, you may tell me that these are all reflections of an omniscient being, a God.

And, you may also say to me that it was the devious work of the devil and that cream cheese icing was the culprit in Reverend Buchanan’s gold-shiny teeth in the era before top-notch dentistry.

But that doesn’t matter to me because I inhabit a world where cream cheese, a perfect blend of nature and man-made wonder – gives me a spiritual lift that lights my days.

You and I and our 7 billion human neighbours will never know the true answer …

… but if anyone would like to convert me, I can’t conceive of a better reason that God just might exist than cream cheese.

carrot-cake

What Happens in Vegas … is it Spiritual?

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Spirituality …

Spiritual

… it’s powerful, it’s all-embracing.

I used to hate, maybe even fear the word and now I hold it close to my bosom (do guys have bosoms … anyone?).

So you ask: “Larry, why would you fear a simple word like spirituality?”

In a nutshell, I’ve shied away from writing or talking about spirituality because it has a way of sounding like a synonym for RELIGION.

And, as you probably know by now, I’m not much of a player on the game field of religion.

Spirituality – 1 … Religion – 0.

A greater omnipotent DEITY just isn’t in the cards for me.

Hang on … just as an ADHD aside: Even though I’m not devout or God-fearing, I like hanging out with people who are religious in the traditional (but NOT Evangelical) sense. There’s a warmth and genuineness and often an atmosphere of “all will be OK” that floats in the mist surrounding a true believer. It’s comforting to be in their company.

But today I’m going to drag up the courage to voice some thoughts –  you may agree somewhat … or you may just hate my perspective.

I’ve spent most of my life refraining from this discussion because I care what you and everyone else thinks about me and so it’s easier to avoid the topic than to offend you.

Today, the water looks inviting and I’m boldly plunging in.

In my mind, Spirituality is the NEWS HEADLINE,

everything else is the Subtitle.

Religion is just one of the subtitles along with

  • nature
  • music
  • dance
  • pets
  • children
  • visual art
  • love

You might have others to add to this list.

What I’m saying is that spirituality is the overarching feeling that plunges deepest into the heart of our personal earth.

There’s an aura or ambient meaning that accompanies something that we describe as spiritual. It’s otherwordly, even though it may or may not be religious.

We all have our outer crust that protects us from the dangers of life, great and small. But way down below there is the molten core that is warm and liquid and exudes the inner strength that rejoices in the beauty and wonder we encounter, and supports us in our darkest troubling times.

I suppose sex, drugs, alcohol, and gambling might be considered as spiritual subtitles too but they’re loaded with downside potential, so I can’t include them. I don’t think that Las Vegas will soon be changing its motto to:

What Happens in Vegas is Spiritually Healing and Good in Vegas

Jesus in Vegas

We all have monsters inside us needing some spiritual calming.

Calm is a good word. I used to think that spirituality and religion were the same thing. But now I’ve discovered, for me, the synonym for spirituality isn’t RELIGION, it’s CALM.

Religion and the other items I’ve listed above are where we find the soothing calm that carries us over the mud puddles that are the bad days, the hard times that inevitably seek us out and try to suck us into the muck.

Doesn’t matter where it comes from, we all need spirituality. When we don’t have it, we cease functioning properly.

As an illustration, the other day I finished reading a book by Jodi Picoult entitled Nineteen Minutes. It’s a wonderfully crafted book about a young teenaged boy, Peter Houghton, who is bullied his entire life before he finally snaps in late high school.

Over the course of 19 minutes, this distraught soul wanders the halls of his school shooting the dozen or so classmates who have made his life a misery, catastrophically changing his life and the entire town’s future. It’s as sad as it is telling.

It tells of his inability to find a source of spirituality to carry him over his miseries, leaving, in his mind, only one way to find calm inside his head, even though it means spending the remainder of his life in a jail cell.

Calm

Here are a few examples of where I find my spiritual base – that impression of heaven-on-earth (I’d be pleased if you shared some of yours too!):

  • I awake at 6 am on an early summer’s day and step outside into my yard. Immediately, I inhale the light sweetness of Lily-of-the-Valley in the air, hear the notes of robins chirping and mourning doves cooing. Then I feel the glow of the just-risen sun striking my eyes and cheeks while a dewy dampness in the air cools me from behind.
  • I’m standing still on my cross-country skis in the frigid mountain airs of January. There’s an unearthly calming quiet as I gaze out on the the sun reflecting brilliant off the snowy banks of the side of a frozen lake scraped clean for skating or sliding.
  • I’m perched in the momentarily-hushed darkness of a movie theatre with the intoxicatingly warm, salty scent of popcorn rising. My mind is floating backwards to my childhood as I sit in the same darkness of the Palace or Capitol Theatre in my Hamilton boyhood where I’m mesmerized by the colourful brilliance of … movie classics of the time like Bonnie and Clyde, Bullitt, Sound of Music, Mary Poppins.
  • The sands of Sunoka Beach are hot beneath my beach towel, my torso is absorbing the heat from beneath as the blazing sun burns decorative red lines through my closed eyelids. I feel the sand sift between my toes while children’s screams of delight zoom left to right by the water’s edge. There’s a mixed aroma of french fries and coconut suntan oils drifting over me like the little wiggly heat lines on a scorched highway.
  • It’s 11 pm and the living room is quiet at the end of the day. I pick up my acoustic guitar and stroke the first few chords of Fire and Rain or Dan Fogelberg’s Leader of the Band and I drift away on a cloud where time is meaningless and my mind is still like the morning surface of Lake Okanagan.
  • Shavasana … the end of a yoga session. It’s the only time I feel comfortable lying prone on a cool, hard surface. The room is semi-dark, filled only with Marsha’s soothing voice telling me to release, relax and let go. It’s also the only time in my life where I get to lay down beside 20 women in the dark and not feel guilty – every man’s dream …

Pets-At-The-Movies

 

CALM … SPIRITUAL …

I’ve finally lost the hate, the fear, the confusion over spirituality … SHHH, please pass the popcorn – real butter, of course –  I can’t wait to see how the rest of this story plays out …