August 16, 2012
Cape Perpetua, OR


When I got back to my campsite at Cape Perpetua, Oregon last night, there was a sheriff’s car with flashing lights. The sheriff with his flashlight out was wondering around the campsite, looking at my stuff. “Who are you?” he said. I just looked at him.

An hour earlier, as I was standing high on the hillside above the Pacific, watching a glorious sunset, I got out my cellphone to call Wendy. The signal was weak and we could barely hear each other. “Are you okay?” she said. Then the signal cut out.

“Mr. Coopersmith by any chance?” the sheriff prompted. Then I understood. Wendy — who gets very nervous about me when I go off on my solo camping trips, had called out the posse!

Anyway, we sorted it out. He was very nice and said he was glad he could come over. Then he left. Wendy, I said to myself, shaking my head. Do you really have to do this?

Today I was chatting with the couple in the next campsite. They’re in their late 50s and travel by motorcycle. He’s big, overweight, and she’s tiny. Both have tatoos and dress like typical hard core bikers.They were curious about what was going on last night. Then the camp host wandered over. She was curious too. It was the evening’s big event at the campground and everyone was talking about it. Was the occupant of Tent Site #8 some kind of fugitive ax murderer? I sighed and told them the story.

The biker rolls his eyes.

“You know, he’s got a heart condition.” the biker woman confides about her husband. “And he’s not getting any younger. Sometimes when he goes off on one of his rides, I wonder if he’s okay.”

“We’ve got great law enforcement coverage here,” chimes in the camp host. “When we need ’em, they come!”

I share with all of them my story about the law enforcement vacuum in Southern Oregon. When I stayed with my friends Bob and Rochelle* down there, they told me about it. It seems that years of refusal by voters to provide the tax base needed had finally resulted in the inevitable — closing police and sheriff’s offices in rural areas. “When you dial 911, nothing happens,” I say.

The biker looks startled. “Really?” he says.

“Really,” I say. “My friends down there say local people are buying more guns to try to protect themselves.”

He stands there in his leather and chains and tatoos, his eyes open wide. “That’s scary!” he says. We all nod.

“Well, the scariest thing we have around here are crows,” says the campground host. “Big ones — not scared of anything! Watch out or they’ll get into your food.”

The biker woman, with a tatooed serpent peering out on her shoulder, looks at me again. “Isn’t it wonderful that your wife called the sheriff!” she said. “You should feel good, knowing someone’s looking out for you!”

The campground host loudly agrees. “You’re very lucky!” she says.

I think about that. Maybe this is blog material.

(* Not their real names.)

Imagine if for Five Minutes You were God

August 14, 2012
On a hillside along the Oregon Coastal Trail, overlooking the highway and ocean.


Imagine if for just five minutes you could be God. You could be anywhere you want, everywhere you want, all at the same time.

You could drive any car You wanted, wherever You wanted, just by getting inside the person behind the wheel. You could leave the driving to the person and kick back and relax while the scenery of Your creation rolled by. The person, unconscious that You were there, would of course have his own agenda — passing the slow poke ahead, looking for a place to stop for lunch, wondering if they have wifi so he can catch up on his email — but none of that would be a concern of Yours. You could just enjoy the view.

At the same time, You could get inside a wildflower up on the hillside above and watch grass and tree branches dancing in the wind, sea gulls circling overhead, white-cap ocean wavelets drifting serenely toward shore, cars speeding by like scurrying ants on the highway below. You could feel Your world from inside someone who stays in the same place for 10 days, and then is gone.

If you were God, You could notice the instant, the one where the person and the flower, so different yet so connected, could see each other. (For You of course, the optics would not be a problem.) Of all the possible thrills on Your travels through creation, imagine this one: in that one instant, looking, seeing, recognizing, reuniting with, You.

A Rough Start


Friday, August 10, 2012

I had the first inkling that this trip wouldn’t go as planned when I was three hours late getting started.

So I consulted Google Maps on my iPad. With the vast information it can assemble about everyplace I’m going, together with it’s GPS function, Google Maps has become my main travel tool. I rarely bring paper maps anymore. And with my car charger to keep the iPad charged, I can use it as much as I want, even when I’m on the road camping. And I’ve been looking forward to using my iPad for my favorite activity when I’m alone in nature and my thoughts are open and expansive: blogging. That way I can put my insights into words, and also be connected to others even while I’m alone.

Google Maps said I could get to Humbold Redwoods State Park by 5:30, still plenty of time to set up the tent, make dinner, build a small campfire, enjoy a nice glass of wine, and have a relaxed first evening of my long awaited vacation.

I set off on Highway 1 north along the Pacific coast in a cheerful mood. Then reality hit me. Traffic. Tons of it. Through each county heading north, bumper to bumper creep: San Mateo, San Francisco, Marin, Sonoma, Mendocino. This was not the light hearted, speeding getaway, with the wind in my face and open country all around, that I had imagined.

What happened? The problem was a basic epistomological error: I was thinking about myself. It was all about what I wanted to accomplish, and the information immediately in front of me about how to get there. The error? Ignoring the larger system of which I’m a part. Mid-summer, lots of families taking off on Friday for a vacation or a weekend, 50% more vehicles in California than 30 years ago and almost no new roads for them to drive on.

I sat in traffic as the hours ticked by, watching the sun get lower in the sky. Then I discovered something that gave me a brand new flash of panic: the iPad car charger was dead. After pushing and pulling it as many ways as I could while manuvering through the stop and go traffic on the freeway, I was forced to accept the inevitable. I’d have to get around with very restricted use of my main travel tool, and to defer the blogging.

As the sun kept getting lower and the traffic barely budged, I was feeling bummed. Get a life, I said to myself, none of this is life and death!

Yeah, came the answer, but this isn’t the vacation I was looking forward to.

I struggled to set up the tent in the dark. After a half hour, I had to admit defeat, take it all apart, and start all over. I was so frazzled I kicked the camp lantern and broke it. So now I had to rely on my two tiny mini-flashlights for light, which made everything much harder. The second try with the tent was worse than the first. On the third, I lucked out.

By the time I was ready to set up dinner it was 10 PM. I was the last diner at the campsite. Everyone else was either asleep, or drinking and partying.

It was Friday night, time for welcoming and honoring the Sabbath with candles, wine, and a special meal. The total point of my leaving on Friday, usually my busiest work day, was to have a Sabbath of peaceful contemplation in the forest. I felt like a total failure at this.

Still, I pushed gamely forward. I managed the wine and candles. Dinner was simpler than planned: a can of tuna. Fortunately I was able to augment it with a few things I had picked up on the way: salad greens, grape tomatoes, blueberries, and a bar of Cadburry’s dark chocolate.

The wine tasted great and so, I had to admit to myself, did everything else. The dark chocolate and cabernet went especially well together. In fact, this was one of the tastiest meals I’d had in a long time! For the first time all day, I had to laugh.

Then I looked up and saw, dimly revealed in the light of the candles and my two mini-flashlights, the tall redwoods surrounding me. In all of my angst, I had forgotten to notice. They seemed like wise, silent, ancient holy beings, welcoming me among them. What a privilege; what a blessing! It hit me how deeply I’ve been wanting to be here, to sit with them. To slip out of the stressed out, driven, judgemental, endlessly busy mind that confines me every day. To re-experience the larger self, the one I know I really am, the one that is interconnected with them and with all the other beings on this planet.

As long as we have bodies, the busy mind, which the Kabbalists call “small mind,” will pull us around through the three ring circus of desire, fear and judgement. And as long as we are the larger, interconnected self, which the Kabbalists call “great mind,” we can stop and notice what’s going on, no matter what it is, and then say, “Okay. Who do I choose to be now?”

My heart was filled with gratitude. For the first time all day, I felt at peace.

Assisted Living


Sometimes we learn the most important lessons from stuff that was right in front of us the whole time. That’s how it was for me today when we moved my friend Mike out of Ruby Plaza and into the Home for Aging Parents. Okay — none of these names, nor any of the other names I’ll be mentioning, are real. That’s so I can respect everyone’s privacy. But the friendship is real, and so is what I learned.

After we got Mike moved, I was sitting at a table in the early afternoon sun, on the garden patio at the Home, eating lunch with Barbara and Tom. They live in Arizona. Barbara is Mike’s sister. When they heard last week about his rapid decline, they hopped on a plane and came out to San Francisco to get him moved.

I came today, tearing away a few hours from an impossibly busy work schedule, to help them move his stuff and hang out a bit with Mike. He stared in amazement at the small army of people who materialized at the Plaza to pack his stuff and carry it out of the room, and finally, when only he was left, to lift him onto the gurney and roll him out the door. Then at the Home another small army showed up to reverse the process and get him moved in.

Mike lay rigid on the bed staring up at the ceiling while people swarmed around him, unpacking and hanging up clothes, labeling each of his possessions and listing it on the Resident Inventory List, checking out his dietary requirements, bringing in his meds, filling out endless forms.

I leaned over him and spoke softly close to his ear. “At least here it looks like you’ll get the kind of care you need now.”

He didn’t look away from the ceiling. “Care I need now … ” he repeated. “I’m not so sure I like this.”

Out on the patio, Barbara and Tom and I sat with our lunch, reflecting on the dramatic and unexpected course of events that had brought Mike to this point. There was the day about seven months ago, when his friend Lisa came to his apartment to help him get to a routine doctors appointment, and found him lying motionless, nearly dead, on the floor. And the long series of twists and turns, adventures and misadventures, which finally landed him here in this skilled nursing facility.

Mike is 70. He spent most of his years living alone in the same San Francisco apartment. His life has been simple and modest. But his kindness and wisdom have earned him many friends, myself included, who care about him, and have been visiting him regularly since he became incapacitated. And he’s also been wise with money, building up a significant retirement investment portfolio.

Barbara and Tom told me how time consuming it’s been for them these past six months, dealing with all of his possessions and all the financial, legal and business issues. Most challenging of all has been navigating the twisted tangle of American health care where everyone involved — doctor, specialist, nursing staff, physical therapist, social worker, administrative staff, Medicare, insurance representatives — everyone seems disconnected from, and at odds with, everyone else.

Mike is unfortunate to have a debilitating and irreversible illness. It’s a terrible situation. But he’s fortunate in two ways. First, he can afford the care he needs. And second, he has the people around him.

His sister and brother-in-law have devoted countless hours to managing his situation from where they live in Arizona. And there are 50+ friends on Mike’s visitors list, seeing him regularly, monitoring his care, making sure he’s treated well by the staff, making sure that Barbara and Tom are always up to date on how he’s doing — and best of all, making sure that his mind and heart stay engaged.

We live at a time of great uncertainty about the future of health care in America. Will the Affordable Care Act survive the next election? Even if it does, will there be enough to provide the care that we’ll all need when we get older – including the majority of Americans who don’t have the financial resources that Mike does? And if not, what happens?

This brings me back to where I started: what I learned today. The family and friends who’ve come together to support Mike – in the middle of a shocking, confusing, and scary situation – have made a huge difference, not only to him, but also to each other. And regardless of Mike’s financial situation, we all would have come together anyway.

At this point in my life, I’ve been preparing to start my next project: One World Lights. I hope to bring together a global network of local leaders which will encourage people in all kinds of places – in a world of so much uncertainty, where so much seems outside of our control – to come together in their own communities to make a difference for each other.

What I learned today is that, right here among my own friends, without my having given it much thought, this vision, which I believe holds an important key to a positive future for our planet, is already happening.

Maybe it’s already happening among you and your friends too.

In the Torah, after a visionary dream, Jacob wakes up and says, “Surely God is in this place and I, I didn’t know.” (Genesis 28:16)

That’s how I feel today. It’s a good feeling.

Community Circles — Part 1

My vision is for Global Citizens to support each other, and to support people in their own communities, through Community Circles.

Community Circles as I envision them are built on the practice of people sitting together in “sacred circle,” which I believe is hard wired into the evolutionary process of all human cultures. One well known and powerful example is the council process practiced among Native American peoples. Another — one with which I am most familiar through my own background — is Torah study practiced among the Jewish people.

There are two relevant teachings in Perkei Avot / Teachings of the Ancestors, also translated as Ethics of the Fathers. It was part of the Mishna, which was based on an oral tradition dating back to roughly 500 BCE, and set down in written form in 220 CE.

“Let your house be a meeting place for people of wisdom; sit in the dust of their feet;
and drink in their words.”
Pirkei Avot, 1:4

“Who is wise?
The one who learns from every person.”
Pirkei Avot, 4:1