“I Have No Idea What’s Going On”

One of life’s biggest enigmas — for me anyway — is when to rely on reason and when to follow my heart (not that they are mutually exclusive). Sometimes our minds betray us. Sometimes our intuition is completely insane. As a kid, I learned not to trust myself, but who knows us better than we know ourselves? Each life is its own pathway to the self. The one consistency in our lifetime is that we are there for the whole show.

When I was trying to figure out what to do in 2014 after my job had been “given away,” and I was 62, old enough to retire, my neighbor (one of the sanest people I’ve ever known) Andy Lopez said, “Follow your heart, Martita.” I listened to Andy, and I did what he told me to do. I listened to my heart. Anyone who could talk to a horse the way he talked to Brownie, or raise kids as brave, smart and free as his, was worth listening to. Still my mind was involved saying, “You won’t have enough income to sustain your life here, Martha.” That was the push and it didn’t take Andy or my intuition to see that.

As I type, I have two photos in front of me. One is of a restaurant in Zürich that’s decorated for Christmas and has a painting of Goethe on the front with the words that Goethe had stayed there with the Duke of Weimar in 1779. It was once the home of Caspar Lavater who was a famous phrenologist in the 18th century. He was also the pastor of the church that shares a square with the restaurant, St. Peters. The photo is important to me because it was this painting that awakened me to Europe. I hadn’t read anything by Goethe when I first saw this building, but it was enough that I could realize — suddenly — how many feet had walked on those streets and for how many centuries. That is NOT America.

As far as I’ve been able to understand, phrenology was an attempt to understand the human mind by evaluating the shape of a person’s head. It is now called a pseudo science, but back in the 18th century, when modern science was just beginning, it was not pseudo. While it sounds absurd to us today, it was a start. Still, it is pretty absurd to think that the outside of the head can be an indication of moral values, intelligence. He didn’t invent this. The theory that the shape of the head indicated all kinds of metaphysical attributes had been around thousands of years already. Lavater systematized it and traveled to various cities talking about it. He and Goethe were friends. I guess he had good things to say about the shape of Goethe’s head…

I have a kind of dent in the top of my head. I know exactly what it signifies. It is symbolic of the time my brother hit me in the head with a hammer. He watched too many cartoons.

The other photo in front of me? 27 years ago. One of the greatest days of my life, and I — thankfully — knew it at the time. In the photo, the day is just beginning. The sun is rising over the desert. The sky is cloudless, early-morning blue. The people in the photo are smiling, excited to be setting out. The photo says nothing about the turmoil behind the smiling faces, the silent battles between head and heart.