August 17, 2007

Holistic Expo; A Tour of the Strange

Category: News — Ira @ 6:32 pm

“Did you ever see the customers in health-food stores?
They are pale, skinny people who look half dead. In a
steak house, you see robust, ruddy people. They’re
dying, of course, but they look terrific.”
—Bill Cosby

When I was a child, we used to make fun of “Organic” people, because of their insist-ence that naturally grown foods were healthier (I know, I know, it was uncouth and we were brats, so save it). The ones I remember were usually thin and wan and reeked of garlic and ate lots of nuts and other legumes. Meanwhile, we were scarfing down large amounts of starchy potatoes, noodles, meat and homemade white bread. But now, as an adult, the organic concept makes a lot of sense to me. I try to eat healthy, salads and such, with occasional splurging on anything I like (especially ice cream). I have now taken Superfood (see Links Page) daily for more than two years and don’t know what I would do without it. I also take a variety of daily vitamins and have for a number of years.

I believe today that there is a natural cure for almost any illness, including most cancers. I don’t know for sure, but I believe if I were diagnosed with a serious disease, I would seek a natural approach to healing first. But the holistic approach (Holistic medicine attempts to treat both the mind and the body., once one digs deep into it, is riddled with a vast array of New Age spiritualism, mumbo jumbo and snake oil. One has to sift through a maze of theories and claims and decide what is legit and what is not, what is helpful and what is useless (or dangerous), and whether the source is from darkness or from light.

A good friend of mine from the Bob Jones years in South Carolina, Elizabeth, worked in the holistic healing field after her graduation. She once told me she was leaving her then-current job because her boss, a lady, was openly calling her Spirit Guide, a demon named in the Bible, onto the premises where she worked. Elizabeth was completely freaked out. And got out.

Some months ago, I found an advertisement for “Celebration of Life!,” a Holistic expo and conference in York, PA, and decided to attend. The event was scheduled for this past Saturday, August 11th. I arrived at about mid-morning, walked in and paid my $5 entry fee and received my bag of goodies. I began a slow tour around the perimeter, examining the booths without making eye contact so no over-eager vendor would assault me.

The place was busy. A lot of people. Eighty vendors. Exotic aromas from incense sticks and spices drifted through the air. A drum beat softly from somewhere in the middle of the building. A lot of people, and they all seemed to know why they were there. Many of the women were dressed in colorful, natural fabrics. Some men had long full beards. Back to the earth, Birkenstock people. Some looked peaceful. Some looked blissful. Some looked harried. And some just looked worn and tired.

Two items seemed to be in about every other booth. Magic stones and dragons. The stones were of all colors and types; one vender even offered “energized” stones purported to ward off evil from the wearer. Cost: around $30. The Shambhala Meditation Center booth had a metal pyramid set up. Clients paid to put on some kind of ear phones and several at a time sat on the sides of the pyramid. Lights flickered, and they seemed to be meditating profusely. Across the aisle, the Aura booth was doing a brisk business. Have you seen your Aura lately?, blared the sign. “No,” I thought to myself, “I haven’t. And don’t intend to.” Patrons sat before a computerized camera to have their photos taken. The picture when developed showed the colors of their aura. For $30 to $45, depending on the length of the session, they could sit and be consulted on the meaning of those colors.

Shambhala Meditation Center pyramid

Magic stones and masks

Palm reading session (client’s back to camera)

Tarot cards and palm reading booths abounded as well. Customers paid for and sat somberly for their readings. One of the busiest booths was the Energy Wellness table run by Amy Valazquez. The client would lie flat on his back while Amy made many gesticulations around and above his body. She would then sit beside the table and rub a stick around a brass bowl for some minutes. It made a humming sound. For complete harmony, I guess. The sessions lasted for a good fifteen minutes. The clients walked away unburdened, both of their bad vibes and a good chunk of change.

Amy Valazquez dispensing energy wellness

In another booth, Willow Earth, a female Native American seer, stood beside her caged white dove and held (eagle?) feathers to each side of her client’s head and chanted. Willow Earth claims to be able to see the future. I’ve always been curious about such claims. If you can see the future, why go to all the hassle of setting up a booth at some two-bit expo and charging a pittance to tell people theirs? Why not “see” next week’s winning lottery ticket? But then again, I suppose the Native American seers exist on a different platform of values and want to “help” others. For a fee, of course.

Willow Earth (with back to camera), Native American seer.
Cage holds a white dove.

I walked around and observed and tried to remain unobtrusive. I stopped at different booths and examined stones and trinkets. I wanted to ask questions as to the import-ance of stones and dragons, but decided not to call attention to myself by showing my ignorance. I was definitely an observer, a novice, a babe in the woods. In the middle of the building was a space with chairs for people to sit and rest. A blanket with a labyrinth pattern was spread out and taped to the floor. I sat and rested quite a bit and watched the people flow by. During one such sitting session, an attractive young woman approached and asked politely what time it was. I told her, then asked her to take a few pictures of me, using my camera. She obliged happily. I thanked her. She had a large dragon tattooed on the back of her left leg, just above the ankle. I thought briefly about asking her what the dragon signified, but figured she might expose me as a heretic. So I held my tongue.


Pictures taken by the dragon lady. Woman and child
behind me are walking the labyrinth.

Although I had my camera with me, I decided not to openly take pictures of the various booths. Instead, I surreptitiously snapped a few with my cell phone camera. The quality isn’t quite as good, but it beat the suspicious glances and protests that an open camera would have generated. It’s more exciting to sneak pictures anyway.

At a booth just outside the lecture room, Dr. Barry Helm was giving massages on a portable massage table. I watched. It looked very relaxing and beneficial, and I was tempted to sign up. With all the stress in my life lately, I could use a good massage. About that time, he had the client lie on his back on the table and placed one small rock on his (the client’s) forehead, one on the stomach and one by his feet. Then he made many fervent gesticulations above and around the client. He jabbed the air like a mad man. I decided not to avail myself of his services after all.

Soul Calling booth

Other booths included Signature Cell Healing, Numerology/Handwriting analysis, Soul Calling, Hypnotists, Angelic Connections and Alternative Therapies. I wondered about the “Angelic Connections.” Is there such a thing? Or something else posing as angels? What about soul calling? Snake oil or legit? Whose soul is called? Could I choose? I was disappointed that there were not more “natural foods” booths. Maybe one or two, and they were staffed by aggressive-looking persons, mostly women. I felt no urge to engage them.

I overheard some startling conversations. Two women discussed their previous lives. They talked openly, freely and believed it completely. I listened and tried not to look astonished. It struck me that most of the people attending (I saw one or two rednecks walking around forlornly and sympathized with them.) were in search of or believed they had found the secret of life. Yet all were aging. Many were elderly. All will die. And none will return in another life to walk this earth, despite their beliefs and deepest desires to do so.

A lot of the people walking around were thin, almost emaciated, and had the pasty, white unhealthy glow of the Vegan. Some, mostly female, had hard, set facial features, as if they were expecting to be challenged and/or rejected because of their lifestyles and beliefs. Or had dealt with such challenges and rejections in the past. In this place they didn’t have to worry; they were accepted. There is no question in my mind that I was mingling with people who belonged to covens. Wiccans and warlocks. I had conversations with three people, a rotund, jolly bearded man, the dragon lady who took my picture, and one of the ladies discussing her past life. Our conversations were not in-depth.

At around 2 o’clock, I decided I’d about had my five bucks’ worth. I did one more quick walk through the expo. The tempo had picked up a bit. The crowd was growing. The drumbeat in the middle of the building was joined by a second. The booths hum-med with activity and earnest consultations. The dragon lady sat in deep discussion with a psychic, the Rev. Corrie Mitleid, at the “Fire through Spirit” table. Maybe that’s why she’d asked me what time it was, so she could keep her appointment. A young monk was immersed in fervent conversation with a seeker at the Kalpa Bhadra Buddhist Center booth. The rotund jolly man wandered by and smiled at me. I smiled back and walked on toward the exit. And so I left them.

I believe there exists around us a spiritual dimension inhabited by beings we cannot imagine. I believe that world can be tapped and its powers harnessed to the desires of humans. Many of the vendors at the expo emphasized good things, such as diet and healthy lifestyles. Others were no doubt charlatans, hawking snake oil to their gullible customers. But some, I am convinced, were tapped into that spiritual world. What they had was real. They stood at the open gates and offered passage into a world I chose to leave unentered and unexplored.


In the first year of our marriage, Ellen and I went shopping and bought a brand new vinyl couch at Unclaimed Freight. A very nice green couch with a hideaway bed. Several months ago a friend gave me a beautiful “furry” full-color New York Jets throw blanket. The blanket was proudly displayed on the couch back. It stayed there pretty much untouched for months until last week, when I decided to remove it. I blithely tugged on the blanket, but it strangely remained glued to the couch. Annoyed, I tugged harder. It finally dislodged with a ripping and tearing sound. Sadly, a good bit of the blanket remains attached to the couch in a thousand little “fringlies.” I was horrified. They won’t wash off, and they are immune to the lint brush. I suppose they will attach to any guests who might happen to sit on the couch in the coming months. I had no idea such a thing could happen. Who’da thunk it?

This week I have been battling a savage head cold. I get about one a year, sometimes less. I can’t figure out where I picked it up. Maybe at the Celebration of Life Expo.

Finally, I received a call this week from an out-of-state reader of this blog. He asked me if he was permitted to print out hard copies of my blog for some friends who didn’t have computer access. He didn’t know; he thought the copyright sign at the bottom perhaps prohibited him from doing so. I appreciated that he checked with me, but as far as I’m concerned, anyone is welcome to make hard copies of anything on this site. What you may not do is publish it elsewhere or reproduce it in any way without my permission.


August 10, 2007

Memories of a Tragedy (Sketch #2)

Category: News — Ira @ 6:53 pm

“Adversity is like a strong wind. It tears away from us
all but the things that cannot be torn, so that we see
ourselves as we really are.”
—Arthur Golden

On August 3rd, my family observed the 25th anniversary of an event that deeply affected all of us, although few of us have ever expressed it much. My older brother, Titus, on that warm and muggy Iowa night in 1982, dived into a pond on his future father-in-law’s farm and hit the bottom head first. He never walked another step. He was 23 years old. My father has written a book about the event and its aftermath, “Through Deep Waters,” and I will not rehash here the details of the accident. But on this particular day, this year, it struck me anew that Titus has now existed on a wheel chair for more years than he walked. And that’s something to ponder and absorb.

Titus Wagler in rehab in Waterloo, IA, 1982-83.
From L, Rhoda, Titus and Friends.

In my opinion, the Amish have a one of the strongest and most efficient support structures in existence. The community rallies around and provides whatever physical and financial support is needed, and did so for us. But the system is also lacking in at least one very important aspect. It offers no real way to cope with the emotional after-effects of tragic events, especially unexpected ones. This is not a criticism, but an observation. It’s just the way it is. Things are not said. Communication is sparse or nonexistent. Feelings are quashed. One is expected to accept and bear one’s burdens in silence. One does. And the years move on. I still look back sometimes and think it cannot be that my brother cannot walk. It’s just a bad dream, a thing that we have all accepted over the course of many years. It’s not really true.

But it is true. And will always be.

At the time, I was a troubled and unsettled young man, a few weeks shy of my 21st birthday, and I will never forget that day or the days and weeks that followed. I remember the night it happened quite clearly. It was dark, and I had already gone to bed. I was not asleep. A vehicle came barreling into our long lane at a high rate of speed. My window was open and I could hear the engine roar and tires crunching on the gravel. Shadows from the vehicle’s lights bounced and pitched on my bedroom walls. It slid to a halt in our driveway. A truck door slammed. A staccato of footsteps up the walks, then a great clattering of footsteps up the stairs. I was annoyed. Didn’t whoever it was know that it was bedtime? People were trying to sleep here. Then my sister Rachel’s voice, speaking a rush of words so fast I could not grasp what she was saying. A terrible accident. Titus. Dive. Pond. Hospital. Bad. Can’t feel anything. My Dad’s voice, calm and disbelieving, then hurrying steps in the house as he and Mom prepared to leave with Dick Hutchins, the “English” man who had brought Rachel to our house. I got up and went out. I was quickly told what had happened. They left. I returned to bed but did not sleep that night.

The next morning we learned that Titus had been flown to Iowa City in a helicopter. A helicopter. It must be bad. Dad returned later that day. Mom stayed at the hospital. Dad looked drained. He tried to put on a good face, but I could tell he was shaken. The doctors’ diagnosis had been grim. Titus was paralyzed. They would do what they could. Feeling might return. But they thought not. In fact, the head doctor stated affirmatively that it would not. We listened in a haze of disbelief. The words were clear, but we could not grasp them. The first full day passed in slow motion.

The second morning dawned. We got up and did the chores, then ate a somber break-fast. No one was really hungry. Only four were present; my sister Rhoda, my brother Nathan, Dad, and me. Dad would leave that day for Iowa City. As was the custom in our home, after breakfast Dad took his German Bible and read a passage out loud. We then knelt for Morning Prayer, which was always recited from a little black prayer book. Dad didn’t use the book, because he knew them all by heart. He got through the five-minute prayer with no trouble until the end, which closes with the Lord’s Prayer. With barely a pause, he began the familiar refrain, his rich, mellow voice rising and falling in the rhythmic, comforting flow we’d heard a thousand times before.

“Our Father Who art in Heaven…..Hallowed be Thy Name…..Thy Kingdom come…..”
“Unser Vater in dem Himmel…Geheiligt verde dein Name…Zu uns komme dein Reich..”

Abruptly, his voice broke and he faltered. He struggled silently for some moments. Through the vast gulf that separated me from him at the time, and in the grip of my own shock and grief, my heart cried out for him. A tough, stoic, hard-bitten old Amish man. Broken. Hurting. In anguish before God. For his son. Fighting emotions he could not show. He wept silently and cleared his throat. Began speaking again, then stopped. Silence. Struggle. Cleared his throat again. But then he said the words, and I have always believed from the bottom of my heart that he meant them with all of his.

“…..Thy will be done on earth as it is in Heaven.….”


In 1998, I lived in a little ramshackle trailer house along Peters Road in the Welsh Mountains. I stayed there for almost two years. In retrospect, it was one of the best periods of my life. I putzed around on about an acre of ground and had a large yard to mow. Soon after I moved there, I went to Wal Mart with my friend Allan and bought the cheapest lawn mower there for the whopping price of $99.99. It was no-frills, not self-propelled, light and quite sufficient. No bagger, no gizmos, just a motor and blade. I used that mower exclusively to mow my yard since. Every spring when I took it to my young Amish small-engine repairman, Nathan Stoltzfus (who I’ve known since he was a child) to get it serviced for the summer, he always chuckled and asked if this was still my Wal Mart mower. I always proudly said “yes, and good as ever.”

Sadly, as I was mowing last Saturday, there was a loud clunk and clatter as the mower hit a large rock. The engine revved up all by itself, but nothing seemed to be happen-ing. I finally diagnosed the problem; the blade had fallen off. Even more alarming, a small hole was knocked into the platform beside an engine mount. I couldn’t believe it. After all these years. After surveying the carnage, it became clear to me that an era had passed. I observed a moment of silence, then loaded it on my truck and trundled off to Nathan’s shop. He wasn’t there, but his boss was. He said the mower was not repairable; the shaft was bent. I looked around the shop and picked out a nice little green mower that was serviced and sitting there waiting for a new owner. Price: $125.00. It’s light and not self-propelled, no bagger, no gizmos. But it’s a bit heavier and clunkier than my old one. I took it home and finished my mowing. And so a new era begins.

Last Friday evening, I went with a friend to the late show and finally saw The Simpsons at the new theaters in Lititz. Very nice, the seats are comfortable enough to camp in. The movie was about what I expected, a string of slapstick events tied to a longer plot. The producers take equal opportunity pot shots at the entire spectrum of sacred cows, so there’s plenty for everyone to laugh at and/or to take offense, if so minded. I was very surprised that Ned Flanders, the sappy fundamentalist Christian, was generally treated quite sympathetically.

The dog days of summer have been unleashed. The sun beats in full force. Heat, heat, heat. I am thankful each day for my air-conditioned office. I can’t imagine doing much outside activity of any kind, including hiking or camping. The strain of the heat is showing in baseball too, where many journeyman pitchers are being knocked about a good bit. The Braves could use a few good upgrades to their bullpen and a new closer. They’ve lost more than one game lately in the late innings.

Speaking of baseball, Barry Bonds finally did it, and I didn’t even see it live. It was a late game against the Nationals in San Fran, and I watched his first at-bat, then went to bed. He clobbered the historic home run in his next at-bat. The baying bloodhounds of the press have been persistently denigrating him in the worst way for his supposed steriod use. Bonds is surly and defiant. He may have used steriods. It’s not been proven. I used to depise Bonds, but I’m so sick of the press preaching to me about how terrible he is that I have actually been rooting for him. (The Michael Vick lynching is even worse. I’ll opine about that another time.) Way to go, Barry. Whatever else is ever said or written, the fact remains that you have hit more home runs in the major leagues than any other player in history. And no one can ever take that from you. Except the guy who breaks your record.

It’s a bit hard to grasp and very exciting to think that in less than a month, football season will be in full swing. That’s always the first reminder to me that summer is ending; fall and the harvest season will come soon. NFL Preseason has begun. I love to watch the Pros, but am also a big fan of the college game. No particular team in college, although I cheer for Iowa when I can because I lived there years ago. At work, the Eagles fans are stirring with their usual clamor about how great the team will be this year. That’ll last until about the third or fourth week, at which time McNabb or some other indispensible player will collapse and be out for the season.


Congratulations to Glen and Leann on their engagement
A March wedding is planned.

Lester and Rachel (my sister) Yutzy and family visited our area over the weekend. They live in Hutchinson, KS and were in VA last Saturday for a wedding. They stayed at Steves and we had many gatherings over the weekend. Monday evening I hosted everyone for ice cream and coffee. We all sat around out by my garage and just hung out and had a great time catching up and recounting old times and discussing the world’s problems. Lesters left for home Wednesday morning.

Sunday lunch at Steves

Rachel, Lester, and Ira

Titus and Sheri

Ira Lee and Rosa