Reality Check Two

“I refuse to be intimidated by reality. What is reality anyway? Reality is nothing but a collective hunch.”

From “The Search for Intelligent Life in the Universe,” written by Jane Wagner and performed by Lily Tomlin

In the book “Sacred Contracts,” author Caroline Myss describes the archetype of the Saboteur as the Guardian of Choice. The challenge of making a good choice is governed entirely by the clarity of our perception. If our perception is sabotaged by projection, prejudice, pride, fear, anger, distortion, insufficient information or insufficient reflection, the likelihood of making a wise and clear choice is severely diminished, hence: sabotaged.

I spent much of last Friday at the Norris Cancer Hospital at the University of Southern California. I had fasted from 8:30 AM in the morning in preparation for both a PET-Scan and a CT-Scan which were scheduled for 2:30 PM.

When I was ushered into her office, the lab technician and I recognized each other. She said, “I remember you.” Then, as she poked a needle in my arm in preparation for an IV line, she said, “We have to stop meeting like this.” I loved her for that.

As Joan Crawford once famously said, “This is not my first rodeo,” and yesterday was not my first scan. I’ve been getting them annually for several years.

After my arm was IV-ready, she led me to a curtained off room with a gurney and a television monitor. It was now time to drink a large glass of radio-active chalk. The technician offered me a choice of flavors—banana, vanilla, berry, or mocha. I’ve tried them all: banana doesn’t taste like bananas; vanilla doesn’t taste like vanilla; mocha tastes neither like coffee or chocolate; berry doesn’t taste like berries but it at least gives you a taste to guess at, so I chose berry; they all taste like chalk. After I finished the drink, I laid back on the gurney; the technician brought me an extra pillow, covered me with a warm blanket, and told me she would be back to get me in about an hour after the radio-active mixture had time to circulate through my system.

I actually look forward to this hour. It’s the best part of the procedure. The television monitor is programmed to show slides of nature, baby animals, and spectacular photos of outer space from Cal Tech. The first series of slides showed vistas in Monument Valley, Arizona, one of my favorite places on earth; these were followed by scenes from the Rocky Mountains where I lived for the first 26 years of my life; then there was a series of wondrous photos from the Seattle Aquarium followed by a series called “Zoo Babies” which features shots of infant birds and animals from zoos around the world.

After spending an hour contemplating these wonderful images, I find it impossible not to be in love with life.

Before I knew it, the hour had passed and, just as the series of photos of outer space was beginning, the technician poked her head through the curtain to tell me it was time for my scans.

The hour I spent watching the slides, while occasionally dozing off, provided me with a wonderful and much-needed reality check. I was occasionally distracted from my reverie by the patient who went for his scan ahead of me. His wife went into the room with me. Every few minutes he would ask her to scratch behind his ear or above his eyebrow or the tip of his nose while he complained about how long the procedure was taking. (The patient is directed to hold perfectly still during the scans.) When the technician strapped me into the machine, I told her that I hadn’t known I could bring my own personal scratcher so I would have to buck up and bear with the predictable itches.

In my two previous posts I delved into the world of Trumpian politics and the mad and mindless gun violence that pervades our nation. My perception of reality, I realized while watching the slides, had been seriously distorted by too much exposure to 24 hour news cycles—and not enough exposure to what makes me wake up with hope every morning.

As I’ve written before I worked for the talent management company that represented actor John Travolta during the period of Saturday Night Fever and Grease, the time of Travolta’s ascendance into a brief period as a super nova. During that period, John became the center of the universe for all of us in his orbit. The gravitational pull was irresistible. John’s every want, every need, every whim, became the unquestioning priority for everyone around him. It wasn’t his fault. He was barely out of his teens and he was, perhaps more than anyone in his orbit, hypnotized by this illusion.

When, after nearly five years, I left—or, more accurately, was released—from the Travolta orbit, it was like awakening from a spell. Where did the time go? What was I thinking? I don’t regret either the time spent or the experiences, I’ve just never been able to figure out quite what happened. Who cast the spell? The ability to make clear choices based on life-long values and priorities was, during that period, largely sabotaged. I was willingly seduced by what Caroline calls “the spectacle.”

Donald Trump—particularly Donald Trump as presented to us in the 24 hour news cycles—has the same gravitational pull of a super nova and the same power to pull us into a consensual reality that is in fact not reality at all.

“One of the definitions of reality is the ability to tell real from unreal. Soon we’ll need a new definition.” -Alvin Toffler

Someone very dear to me speaks often of “consensual reality” which is, I imagine, what Eastern philosophies refer to as “Maya”, illusion. What is marketed to us as reality by business interests, political interests or tribal interests—any special interest group, is, in fact, not reality at all. When I’m not vigilant, I forget and fall under the spell of consensual reality and find myself longing for a new car, new sneakers, or any one of a thousand home improvements which Angie’s List e-mails to me each day.

As I spent the hour on the gurney looking at these slides and at the simultaneously infinite variety and minute detail in each of them, they put me in touch with the absolute beauty and timeless majesty of creation. The hour’s experience filled me to over-flowing with gratitude, joy, and humility for this almost miraculous, experiential awareness of my place in the scheme of things. The spell of the last two weeks was broken.

On my drive to the appointment I was anxious and irritated by the bumper to bumper freeway traffic. On the drive back home in the midst of Friday afternoon rush hour traffic, I was peaceful and serene. I won’t know the results of the scans for several days and I am not in the least anxious about that.

I was recently asked if I’ve ever lived through a worse time in history. I thought of the Cuban missile when I was in high school; the disillusionment followed the assassination of John F. Kennedy during my first year of graduate school; and, worst of all 1968: both Reverend Martin Luther King and Bobby Kennedy were assassinated, the My Lai massacre took place, the Tet Offensive was launched, violent riots disrupted the Democratic Convention in Chicago and Richard Nixon was elected president.

I don’t know if the 1960’s were any worse than today but they were certainly not any better.

This weekend, CBS Sunday Morning did a segment commemorating the release, 75 years ago this month, of the great classic film, Casablanca. The narrator noted that the film was shot entirely on the lot at Warner Brothers, about a mile away from where I live now. There were only three American-born actors in the credited cast—the rest were immigrants, emigres and refugees, many of them Jewish who were displaced by the war in Europe—some of them escaped concentration camps, others lost relatives there.  I was a little more than a year old at the time and have no memories of the period but I have met plenty of people who will attest to that being the very worst of times.

Most of the action in Casablanca takes place in Rick’s Café Americain (Humphrey Bogart, of course, is Rick), a nightclub that attracts both the Vichy French, German officials and the German military.

A particularly powerful scene, half way through the film, has been dubbed by film critics and connoisseurs as the “battle of the anthems”

Drunk German soldiers begin to sing “Die Wacht am Rhein” (“The Watch on the Rhine”), a German patriotic song. Members of the French Resistance, in what at the time was a

Madeleine LeBeau

neutral territory, respond by singing the French national anthem, “La Marseillaise” until the intoxicated German soldiers are drowned out. Most memorable in this sequence is the performance of actress Madeleine LeBeau. She plays a prostitute who is flirting with the German soldiers when the singing battle begins. As the voices singing “La Marseillaise” become stronger, Ms. LeBeau leaves the Germans to sing with her countrymen. Her performance is subtle and powerful. Ms. LeBeau, a French national, and her husband fled to the United States when German forces invaded France. Ms. LeBeau’s husband, Marcel Dalio, who also has a small part in Casablanca, had been a major star of French cinema prior to the war.


S. Z. “Cuddles” Sakall

Hungarian-Jewish actor S. Z. Sakall, who fled Hungary with his wife when the war began, makes one of his earliest appearances in an American film in Casablanca. Mr. Sakall, nicknamed “Cuddles” by the publicity department at Warner Brothers became a fixture in Hollywood providing comic relief in several films of the 1940’s and 50’s. After the war, Mr. Sakall discovered that all three of his sisters had died in concentration camps.

I think of last week’s election in Virginia—within the greater framework of the Rocky Mountains, Monument Valley, and unidentifiable (at least to me) baby zoo animals, the turmoil of the ‘60’s and great sacrifices of those who lived through World War II—and I hear “La Marseillaise.”  I see the grassroots defiance of the transgender candidate who defeated Virginia’s self-proclaimed #1 homophobe, a man whose fiancé, a television reporter, who was gunned down on camera, defeating a member in good-standing of the NRA, and, in particular, the victory of a woman, who marched in the Resistance the day after the presidential inauguration, defeating a man who mocked the marchers and hoped all of the women would be home in time to cook dinner for their husbands. Sweet!!! I embrace hope!

“Hope is always most necessary precisely when everything, spiritually, seems most hopeless.”  -Thomas Merton, November 27, 1961

I’d like to end by sharing two blessings I received via e-mail on Monday morning.

The first e-mail began,

“Hi Jim, Sitting here in dharmasala home of Dali Lama under a tree on a beautiful a.m. . . You keep coming into my mind so I said I’d make contact . . .”

The second e-mail forwarded a poem by the great Mary Oliver. The last line of the poem is,

“Joy is not made to be a crumb.”

There is always beauty to be found in life.


Editors note:  And if that’s not enough here are a whole bunch of adorable baby animals:


I have never before heard or read the introductory verses to the song, “As Time Goes By.”  (They are in italics.) They are as timely as ever.

[This day and age we’re living in
Gives cause for apprehension
With speed and new invention
And things like fourth dimension.

Yet we get a trifle weary
With Mr. Einstein’s theory.
So we must get down to earth at times
Relax relieve the tension

And no matter what the progress
Or what may yet be proved
The simple facts of life are such
They cannot be removed.]







You must remember this 
A kiss is just a kiss, a sigh is just a sigh. 
The fundamental things apply 
As time goes by.

And when two lovers woo 
They still say, “I love you.” 
On that you can rely 
No matter what the future brings 
As time goes by.

Moonlight and love songs 
Never out of date. 
Hearts full of passion 
Jealousy and hate. 
Woman needs man 
And man must have his mate 
That no one can deny.

It’s still the same old story 
A fight for love and glory 
A case of do or die. 
The world will always welcome lovers 
As time goes by.

Oh yes, the world will always welcome lovers 
As time goes by.

© 1931 Warner Bros. Music Corporation, ASCAP

6 thoughts on “Reality Check Two

  1. I’m a bit slow in getting around to reading the full text of this wonderful message. For me, the timing could not be accidental or more appropriate. On this Saturday of the Thanksgiving weekend I am cocooning at home to avoid crowds and the frenzied shopping madness. My husband is working long hours for the next few days, providing me lots of quiet time to reflect. Never the less, I am bombarded by reminders that I am missing out on stupendous bargains for things that I don’t want or need if I check my email or read the paper.

    I will use images from your message to embellish my musings, especially the reminder that we have live through traumatic times before and that there is still beauty all around us when we take the time to look for it. Thanks for reminding me about my Saboteur, Guardian of Choice, while I am navigating the politics and the excesses of our culture.

    I pray that your scan results are good. Hugs to you. Melanie

  2. Hi Jim, I just read this masterpiece. The last few days I’ve been especially dis-spirited and horrified. Your post experientially put me back in touch with reality – oh the beauty! It started with the amazing photo of the elephants, and that baby giraffe! Oh, my heart overflows. Thank you! Sending you lots of love, Kay

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