by Stephen Michael Murphy
I lived in the lower Florida Keys, northwest of Looe Key Reef on an island, in a solar house made of cedar. We were two miles by Boston Whaler off Little Torch Key on a patch of Eden sparsely populated by ship builders, artists, musicians and smugglers called Cook Island. Out there on the Atlantic it was wild, I mean literally.
One sunny morning in May, an eleven foot lemon shark shocked us cruising by the dock in one meter of water seconds after big Jim climbed the ladder out of its path. His knees went weak after realizing how close he had come to being chum. Pairs of six foot tarpon would dart back and forth in the shallows 30 feet off shore half out of the water during mating season. On the east end of the island, a 45 foot schooner was slowly being built with hand tools (no electric) by master ship builders from Nova Scotia. Martha was alone on Cook when nine Cuban refugees came ashore on inner tubes, being from Appalachia she chased them with a shotgun. On our luckiest days, we’d land the elusive square grouper, which was a high point for everyone. Each day was different, pristine and impressive. To attend church on Sunday morning I would just cut the engine on my flats boat and slowly but silently pole thru the s-curve cut between Hopkins and Cook Islands. The soft April sunshine, snow white egrets with an occasional bone fish breaking the water’s stillness was without second in this breathing cathedral.
There is no owning of these inclusive moments. No one can certify or copyright them, they come and go and hopefully we’re grateful. As a performing musician in the Florida Keys, the only real asset I had in the world at the time was the Selmer Mark VI Tenor that I played for my supper. The less I need, the lighter I can be was the logic. The objects of our attention have seductive qualities though; the need to own them breeds division and resentment, haves and have nots, spiraling debt, underwater mortgages, wars over land and resources, winning as necessity, environmental catastrophe and ultimately entities who strive to control the planet. What a bizarre waste of the short time we have here. You’re probably getting by now that I’m not a big fan of our economic system. I’d rather see the money motivated amply rewarded but with healthy limits to allow a base of support and education for all. I’m not speaking from somewhere up in the clouds. There exist today viable alternatives (in real estate for example) like community land trusts that take land out of the owning equation. This is a powerful concept that could change the world and leave each of us with a place to hang our hat.
Today, there are 540 billionaires in the United States, the most in the world. As the song on the radio goes “I want be a billionaire so freaking bad. Buy all the things I never had. I want to be on the cover of Forbes Magazine smiling next to Oprah and the queen”. OK, Travis McCoy has some issues, but really how many cars in the driveway, how many homes, how big does the bank account have to be? How much power is enough to fill the emptiness? Having and wanting more than we need has its roots in colonization, slavery and an endless cycle of dependence and poverty. The massive exploitation committed by European Christian elite affects policy and the collective psyche of Third World countries 500 years later. Today Madison Avenue is busy keeping us just neurotic enough to remain productive and just out of the reach of court appointed therapy. It’s funny how our worst qualities make heaps of cash but leave us short on happiness. Reality is though; we can and will see the forest in spite of the trees. Moments of freedom and peace will always be hip, always be radical and always be more valuable than gold, no matter what your bailed out banker says.
“When the Breathing Cathedral turns half away, welcome home to your garden take a few moments to pray, cause we’ve all got a long long way to go.” (lyric and music by Stephen Murphy – “Breathing Cathedral” on the Spirit In all Things CD, Give it a listen