Masks of Morality

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Chapter 23


Caryssa had been job interviewing---again. She was pleasantly surprised, after taking a decade off her professional marketing career to have received so many bites.

She was offered a position heading up marketing efforts for a high tech startup and told she could work from home, come into the office when needed, work whatever hours she wanted…as long as she brought value.

On the surface, this sounded great. Yet she had been with enough tech startups to realize it might be too intense for a mother in her fifties with a preteen. She didn’t want to lose sight of Tyler’s day-to-day struggles, what was going on with him in his hormone changing world.

After the final interview and verbal offer, she went home and then out for an invigorating walk in the San Francisco Bay hills. Then did Yoga stretches in her beautiful back garden. She needed to clear her mind.

She had recently attended a Spiritual Spa workshop with deep meditation, music, and healing techniques for inner peace. One thing the workshop stressed was in every decision you make in life, think in terms of “does it make me feel heavy, or light?”

And with the tech startup, she felt something heavy beyond the intense schedule. She knew right off what the problem was. It was their target market. Their product would serve massive military overreach. The servers, routers, robotics warfare, and computers to connect all the bases would make the company, and her, a pretty penny. But at what social cost to society? At what cost to her moral conscience?

She declined the offer, wanting to work for a business that would benefit communities and the planet. Not destroy them. An organization that made a profit with a positive purpose. She needed a fresh perspective and some time away.

Her little family decided on a road trip along the scenic California coastline from San Francisco Bay to San Simeon. They took their time, stopping to see friends and filling the days with camping, hiking, and biking.

The drive was breathtakingly beautiful. She had driven this coastline long ago when she first arrived in California, but in the company of her son and husband, it was even more magical. The sound of awe and laughter drifted from Tyler, filling the car with youthful wonder. The ocean cliffs, forests, and highway hugged the coastline. The sea breeze from her open window. The salt sea air and the sunshine. It all immersed her in an ocean of tranquility.

She had packed golf clubs so she and Tyler could play when they were in Monterey on 17-Mile Drive. George dropped them off at Pacific Grove Golf Course and then went exploring local shops for provisions, including a tasty bottle of wine. Caryssa was not sure Tyler was ready for playing holes, so they went to the pro shop to get a couple buckets of balls to practice driving and putting.

While on the practice green with Tyler, Caryssa tipped her head back and gazed at the clear blue sky. A profound sense of her father’s presence swept over her. They once stood at this exact spot. His presence wrapped around her, warm and strong—a fierce celestial hug. Caryssa reveled in the sensation, clinging to it as tears filled her eyes.

“Wow Mom, check that out!” Tyler had sunk a putt all the way from across the green, after meticulously sizing up the shot and taking his time with follow-through.

Caryssa was impressed. “Great, Tyler!” Then she gave her ball a tap and it slowly made its way towards the hole, stopping just short. She smiled at her boy. “Can you give Mom some putting lessons?”

The sensation of her dad’s nearness was still there a few minutes later as they made their way towards the driving range, buckets of balls in their hands, golf bags over their shoulders. Caryssa felt her father’s presence often, but especially while doing something he had loved, like golf or playing cards or eating a good piece of fish.

As the trip continued, they enjoyed the rustic quaintness of Carmel, the Mexican-type charm of Santa Barbara and the splendid surreal beauty of Big Sur. The climax was seeing the grand opulence of William Randolph Hearst's Hilltop Castle. Tyler, a lover of history and medieval castles, seemed entranced, his voice echoing across the enchanting hill. “Wow, check it out! The coolest mansion ever!”

To Caryssa, Hearst Castle is to California what the Eiffel Tower is to Paris. She glanced towards Tyler’s adored mansion. Exquisite. The views of the ocean, breathtaking. They did the two-hour tour and watched the movie about the castle’s history, then walked around the terraces and into the splendid gardens. Caryssa admired the magnificent pools and the Spanish-Italian-Moorish style architecture of the mansions and cottages.

At one point while dashing through the gardens, she and Tyler locked their hands and danced in circles, laughing with glee at the sheer beauty and splendor of it all. Caryssa was living in the moment, fully present, no other thoughts in her mind. The most beautiful thing of all, her child. She was especially happy that at nearly ten, he'd still be goofy with her.

Together, she, Tyler, and George admired the roses, bright pink bougainvillea climbing terraces, and a myriad of flowers Caryssa could not name. Hundreds of butterflies flew from flower to flower as if to call attention to their own beauty. “Look at me! I am as pretty as that flower!” Hummingbirds buzzed all around them. Caryssa tried several times to capture one on camera, but they would flit away as quickly as they arrived, over beautiful Italian terra cotta and palms.

The sun was a great tranquilizer, and time passed in a haze of wellbeing, long, relaxed moments and almost torpid hours when it was so enjoyable to be alive that nothing else mattered.

Caryssa realized she always felt this way, not merely at this beautiful place. It was the icing on the cake. She had this inner joy since Tyler had been born.

As if such peaceful thoughts don’t blend with our violent history, Caryssa’s subconscious momentarily unlocked. It dawned on her the origins of this magnificent castle came from an unscrupulous bloodthirsty newspaper magnate. Hearst started the Spanish-American War to sell his newspapers and become powerful. It was our first “media war.” He used his own twisted propaganda machine, purposely demonizing Spain to get the American people angry. Money, manipulation, and power like today. She chased the thought away, back to Tyler and his happy place.

She sat on one of the benches thinking of the most recent parent-teacher meeting, and the beautiful writing Tyler’s teacher had shown her. The children had been asked to write a piece about what makes them feel important. Tyler wrote “My mom and dad make me feel happy. They spend lots of time with me hiking, biking, skiing, and helping me do homework. They are always there for me, and make me feel safe and loved.” He wrote that he feels like “a person.” It had brought home that this was her most important job in the world, and she was doing it well.

Shortly after they returned from this fabulous road trip, Caryssa started packing for another upcoming trip across the continent to her beloved home city of Boston. And that’s when it happened—or the media frenzied version of what happened. The modern propaganda machine will forever refer to it as the “Boston Bombing.” History repeats.

While some let this tragedy deepen their misplaced anger, the serenity that Caryssa felt did not dissipate.

When she saw her sweet-natured, beautiful son running back and forth in the sunshine laughing with one of his buddies, throwing water balloons at each other, her heart wrenched. She watched him, this child of hers who has flown to and from Boston twice a year since he was three weeks old to visit family.

To Caryssa, the response of some—more shocking than the event itself—spoke volumes about the state of the American soul. A tinder-box of unwarranted bitterness. Her heart will always remain in Boston. Yet her conscience has expanded

People remain locked into localized beliefs, our culture of extreme ‘patriotism,’ the sense of American exceptionalism, and can’t look beyond that. And our soldiers are propaganda pawns, the biggest victims of all. Why not think beyond our superficial conditioning?

When she mentioned to George later that afternoon how she had tried to create awareness about this for a long time, he simply said “Yes, Caryssa. But remember the quote from the Arcturians? ‘Your work is not to drag the world kicking and screaming into a new awareness. Your job is to simply do your work, sacredly, secretly, silently…and those with eyes to see and ears to hear will respond.’ It’s good to keep that in mind if you can.”

“While millions more die? Come on George!”

She glanced at one of the many inspirational quotes she had hanging in her home, and reminded herself of the one that read “Let go, or be dragged.” She’d had that fridge magnet for over a decade, and strived to live by it. Specifically, she wouldn’t let herself be dragged through our politically incorrect system itself.

That night she slept deeply, calmly. But not without one of those recurring dreams of trying to help people…trying to mold the intersection of people, planet, and profits into a better form. In those dreams, she went from school to school, city to city, spreading peace and love and sharing her heart. She picked up trash, helped the small farmers use organic seed.

She always awakened, as she did again at five the next morning, to find herself in her own bed.

Her first thought that morning was Yes George, your wife is even trying to save the world in her dreams.

“Am I the intense one George? Is there something wrong with me? Or are those sliding through the madness without noticing and embracing it as the norm? When half the American people support our horrific drone strikes to ’stop terrorism,’ we should suspect a something isn't quite right.” George just shook his head and walked away.

Just yesterday volunteering in the school library, Caryssa came across a book teaching young kids to draw military tanks. How horrifying to see this on the library shelf in her sweet child’s elementary school! A glaring example of the violent values instilling cruel “norms” within innocent, fragile, developing minds. Did nobody else notice this? Did nobody else object? How could that be?

It was Saturday. Caryssa strolled out to the kitchen, where George was making coffee. She gave him a hug and then slumped into a chair at the table.

“Rough night, honey?” George placed homemade muffins on the table. “Coffee will be ready soon.”

Caryssa breathed in the homey aromas of Peets and pumpkin spice. “Thanks, hon…I swear, I work so hard to save the world in my dreams I wake up exhausted some days. And this whole Boston Bomber thing just has me…aaaaagggghh. People don’t understand they’re living in a military dictatorship and nothing is as it seems! They just open their mouths like baby birds waiting for the predigested worms of corporate media sanitized information and then they swallow it without a second thought.”

“Honey, it’s seven in the morning” Focused on his fingers, George tore a napkin until a paper mountain stood between them. “Must we start with the conspiracy theories before coffee?! And as you know…I don’t totally agree with you that America is a military dictatorship.”

“Come on honey, don’t you of all people go into denial as well! We have a weapons transfer program militarizing our police forces, and people have been brainwashed into believing it’s for their ‘protection’. Unless they’re people of color and live in the inner cities. Those folks aren’t fooled, because they’re getting mowed down almost every day!” Caryssa snapped.

“We are global police, and it’s not right,” George poured two big mugs of steaming coffee and set one in front of her. “More like global exploiters. You’re preaching to the choir here. But I don’t consider America the dictatorship you say.”

“Oh come on George, we have high school kids being hunted down by military punks! Who is number one in selling deadly weapons to all sorts of governments around the world? The USA! We are number one! What is this doing for anyone? It endangers all of us is what it does. Arming the world to the teeth is not the path to world peace!”

“Drink your coffee, honey. I’m going out to the patio to read the paper.”

“You mean the propaganda,” Caryssa picked up her mug. “Watch out you don’t get brainwashed! And check out the militarized police violence ‘protecting’ all our citizens!”

George laughed and blew her a kiss. “I’ll do my best,” disappearing around the corner.

Caryssa sat there nursing her cup of coffee. Sometimes I wish I could be like George. A recent conversation came to mind. Some parents and teachers were standing outside the school, talking about our increasingly oppressive police state surveillance. She heard them going back and forth.

One parent said it all. “With this overdone ‘If you see something say something’ thing, I’d like to say something myself! I see an orchestrated twenty-four-hour propaganda machine spinning our minds until we are too dizzy to think for ourselves. I see current events in a dazed maze of pop infotainment and fatuous opinion sold as fair and balanced objectivity. I see our federal prisons gorged with nonviolent drug offenders while war criminals walk. I see a system privatizing everything from education to water. I see media-manipulated false panic and paranoia turning people against each other!”

Caryssa had wanted to high-five the guy as she walked past. He had laid it all out perfectly. No denial there

One mom simply smiled, her light-hearted bounce of a step in tune with the beautiful child beside her, while balancing another beautiful child on her hip. “We are an Orwellian Society!” she laughed in passing.

This community, living in modest houses they own, with good jobs, great immediate family situations---happy, productive citizens. No direct experience of oppression. Yet, they can discuss this openly, out of a healthy awareness and concern for our next generation.

What the next parent said struck a chord with Cayrssa’s concern about New England’s overly patriotic stance. “It’s easily explained why so many people on the East Coast hold on to the radical military perspective. Massachusetts alone has twenty of the nation’s top defense contractors. It’s a ‘way of life’ there, how they make a living.”

The next afternoon, Caryssa was sitting out by the bay in a quaint little café with some girlfriends, drinking espresso and eating paté, grapes, brie, and crackers, and the topic came up again. Michelle—who had been a co-worker in Silicon Valley and made similar life decisions after starting her family—said “Hey Caryssa, what an awful thing happening in your hometown Boston! Wow! How are you doing with all that?”

Carrysa took a sip of vanilla latte. She had just finished Jazzercise class, then did Yoga and felt fabulous. “What shocks me more than it actually happening, however it ‘happened’ we will never know, is how people responded to it. With unwarranted anger, unable to look at our own violent culture coming back to haunt us—”

Michelle interjected “Wow! I am amazed a person from Boston could say such a thing! I mean…I mean this in a good way. As someone from Italy who has traveled around the world twice, I was thinking the same thing. But I was afraid to say so in case you took offense—.”

“Come on Michelle, you’ve known me for over twenty years!” Cayrssa blurted. “You know I don’t get offended easily! I just think it shows how desensitized to violence we have become as a people, to not even be able to think rationally about the ordeal.”

They sat staring out at the beauty around them. The winter sun setting over the bay, sailboats still gliding across the water in the late afternoon breeze. Gladys, from Argentina, added “How humble for you to see this, Caryssa. Does this mean you won’t be wearing one of those ‘Boston Strong’ T-shirts?”

“Oh no, I already bought one of those. I wear it, and so does Tyler. I consider it a motto for healing as a people and coming together for support. I’m just a big picture thinker.”

“Oh yeah?” Gladys asked. “And what does the big picture look like to you?”

Caryssa took another sip of her latte. “You sure you want to know?”

Her friends both nodded, a bit wearily.

“Okay,” Caryssa put her latte down, spreading her hands into a globe like an arch. “Here’s the big picture as I see it. The Wall Street banking cartel controls Capitol Hill. Capitol Hill controls the world, holding it hostage with the American dollar. Big banksters lower the American dollar to the dark side through conspiracy, fraud, and manipulation of interest rates around the world. Clang Clang Clang!! Wall Street’s opening bell. There’s that hero again, cash. Every dollar, euro, peso, yen, and whatever coinage is called elsewhere in the world goes on a lightning speed pilgrimage to downtown Manhattan…driving the war capital of the world. That’s the big picture. Aren’t you glad you asked?”

The sound of a foghorn blew in from the bay, causing them all to glance out at the beauty of the sky, landscape, and water. The fog was starting to roll in over the Golden Gate and Bay bridges. The sun was setting in its majestic bright orange streaks across the misty sky and the rains were finally predicted after a long drought. Nobody spoke for a few minutes.

Caryssa wondered if her big-picture analysis shocked them. “Michelle…do you remember way back when…when I first moved to California to work in the Silicon Valley office with you?”

“Well of course I remember, Caryssa, how could I ever forget? In walked this leggy blond bombshell and all the guys drooling. But when you started showing how much technical knowledge you had, watch out! This was no dumb blond here! No wonder you were among the first in the department to get promoted!”

“Well, I was good at faking my knowledge, ha! That’s what marketing people do! We talk all techy on paper! Anyway, a couple years before that, before I moved to California, the Gulf War was going on, remember? And I didn’t give a shit. I was too busy getting ahead to even think about it, much less care about what was going on in that far, far away land.”

“Of course you didn’t, me either. We were young. We were ambitious. We were single. We didn’t have kids to think about. It didn’t affect us in that safe little dot-com bubble we floated in.” Michelle’s cell phone rang, but she merely glanced at it and let it ring. “And we didn’t see then how we are selling our neighborhoods to Wall Street.”

A light breeze swept over the women, and Caryssa took a deep cleansing breath of the fresh bay air. Everything enchanted her. The sun hanging like a ball behind the Golden Gate Bridge, its light glistening off the water in sparkles like brilliant diamonds. The simple and sheer beauty of it all. And the people surrounding her, with social grace and calm, able to churn through this topic with ease and eloquence.

“I know you’re right. “It was a different time for us. But…just…I’d love people to stop enabling what our corporate media and special interest lobbyists are selling to their souls—their ideas, their version of history, their wars, their weapons, and their notion of inevitability. I’ve got to believe another world is not only possible but on the way.”

“Amen, sister,” Michelle intoned. “Amen to that. People remain docile, because…well, the bombs aren’t dropping here.”

“Yet they are. Our financial weapons of mass destruction, while America’s youth are in the arena.” Caryssa rolled her neck, taking a deep breath of the fresh bay air.

Michelle leaned inward, eyes locked with Caryssa’s. “Well Caryss, you and I both worked our cherished Silicon Valley circuit, seeing firsthand how at least a handful of those multinational tech corporations are an invention of DARPA. This so-called defense agency on the dark side. The internet and certain tech giants deep into futuristic robotic sci-fi inventions addicted to military contracts.”

“How were we to know then that merely four years later, we would be holding newborn babies, frightened for their future mainly due to this military madness?” Caryssa was adjusting the bistro umbrella, as the sun was in her eyes. “How disheartening to know even the multinational internetworking tech giant we worked for blended good with evil.”

“At least neither of us worked directly with those contracts” Michelle reasoned.

“No, but plenty of them passed my path while I supported the sales force.” Caryssa slathered lavender scented sunscreen on her face and neck. She couldn’t believe the sun was still as strong after starting to set an hour ago. “My life outside work back then was magical. Snow skiing, water skiing, golfing, rollerblading, biking, running the calming palm-lined streets. Concerts in Saratoga, parties in Palo Alto, wining and dining in Los Gatos, nights in The City. I traveled to and from New England, throughout California, to Hawaii, business trips around the country and abroad”

“And your life now?” Michelle would be surprised if Caryssa thought her life was any better then.

“Oh…now, at least as wonderful, but in a different way.” I guess…a more…I don’t know. A more caring, humane way?”

Michelle nodded; all ears.

“While I was nursing Tyler, everything clicked. My eyes popped open to the political, social, environmental, and economic woes of the world—along with Corporate America’s pivotal role in it all. This was the world, I realized, that my child would inherit. The more I read, the more news reports I saw, the more horrified I became about what it might be by the time he was grown.”

Michelle merely nodded, her sincere eye contact validating these emotions. Gladys, who had walked closer to the water’s edge to feed the ducks, came back to the table. She glanced towards Caryssa “I am really surprised you can be this open-minded, knowing your parents were on an early morning flight out of Boston the day of the attack on the World Trade Center.”

“And if they were not grounded safely? I’d still be saying this--- NYC and Boston happened due to our own historic political doings. Not because anyone hates us for our freedom!”

The conversation turned to ski trips, family golf and camping outings, fun stuff at their children’s schools. After a while, the group paid their bill and departed to move on to picking up the kids, supervising homework, getting to sports activities. This wonderful thing called life.

When Caryssa got home, Tyler was still at his twice a week daycare to give her extra time and him social interaction. She saw an intriguing job posting. A startup focused on building a new stock exchange paradigm—to value natural and societal assets, rather than destructive. Things like clean water, clean air, and human potential. She checked the time. She had an hour left before she had to pick Tyler up. Time enough to get her application in. She went into her home office, fired up the computer, and began.

Yet, two weeks later the new stock exchange paradigm the young moral tech geeks tried to start, was crushed by Wall Street.

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