Friday, August 26, 2016
I could feel a warm rain falling about me in the darkness. Points of brightness winked at indeterminate distances, like light coming through holes in black velvet. I felt unencumbered by gravity and the downward flexing of my feet met no resistance. I became aware that air was rustling up through what appeared to be a coarse black cassock that I did not remember putting on.
Something was beating about my face, tickling my nose and triggering fears of suffocation. My hands grabbed hold of thread-like tangles and tugged them sharply away from my face. A sudden pain from my chin and neck brought tears to my eyes. Further pulling and grabbing brought on the painful realization that it was hair, my hair, and growing from my face.
Despite these strange sensations and an inexplicable predicament, the overall feeling quickly morphed into one of peaceful resignation, to fall as far and as long as circumstances would allow. It occurred to me that I'd always wanted a long hoary beard that social propriety had discouraged and my wife had forbidden. I sensed a slowing of my apparent descent as my beard settled back onto my chest.
Below me the faintest spot of warm light appeared in the darkness through wisps of clouds and grew in size as I fell to meet it. By this point I felt I was floating downward as much as falling, wondering if the cassock was somehow functioning as a parachute. I perceived dark and irregular shapes beginning to form on the ground below, spreading out from around a singular light source. The sound of waves could be heard crashing in the distance.
The rain continued to fall, but there were no signs of dampness. The descent slowed to almost a halt, though still not on terra firma. From a vantage point of about fifty feet in the air I could see a scattering of dilapidated stone buildings visible in outline only, flickering in and out of shadow. The light source appeared to be a small flame swaying above the floorboards of a devastated hovel directly below me.
I closed my eyes and allowed my body to relax, limp like a rag doll in a child's hand. I eventually felt my feet touch a floor, but I offered no resistance or pushback, legs folding, waist bending, torso laid out flat. So deposited, my eyes remained closed. The patter of rain and distant sounds of the sea lulled me to sleep. Thoughts washed over me, "How can one fall asleep in a dream? Where am I..."
I felt my cheek pressed against a hard flat surface. A pale light was creeping in under partially closed lids. It came into my awareness that the rain had stopped and left me curiously dry. I thought I must have slept a good while for this to happen, but then remembered falling with it in the darkness and not getting wet. Eyes still closed, I rolled over onto my back and lay there for a moment, drinking in the strangeness of my situation.
It was quiet and I tried to pull in as much information about my surroundings without using my eyes. I caught the smell of burning incense and my ears detected the sound of surf hitting a beach a good way's off. The rough grain of wooden floorboards could be felt under my palms. I opened my eyes and looked up at the light gray sky of a high cloud cover.
The hovel had no roof and no wall on the front side where a door should be. The two side walls were partially collapsed, but connected to the back wall which was still intact. In one corner was a scattering of straw next to a stone fireplace and on the other side of the fireplace was a glassless window. Between the window and the side wall hung a largish icon of Christ with a golden lampada suspended in front of it with a burning taper.
The icon waited patiently for me to fully awaken and approach it. The flame flickered a greeting, inviting me to gaze upon the holy image as I took my place in front of it. The eyes of the Savior were calm and dispassionate, drawing me into a sense of timeless presence. The mouth was small and full of silence. My eyes continued downward over the elongated form and lit on a small weathered prayer book next to a brass bowl of burning incense perched on a narrow wooden shelf below the icon.
The book fit expertly into my hand, opening to the Morning Prayers... "Glory to you, oh God, glory to you. Heavenly King, Comforter, Spirit of Truth who are present everywhere and filling all things. Treasury of blessings and source of life, come and abide in us, cleanse us of all stain, and save our souls oh Good One." Prostrations were made in multiples of three, forehead pressed to the floorboards, and the sign of the cross made repeatedly from head to belly, arm to arm.
Prayers finished, I stepped to the window and peered off into the distance. A breeze filtered through my long facial hair and brought with it the smell of the sea. I raised my hands to adjust a simple black skull cap and pull it down snugly to the tops of my ears. It was cool, but not cold. It seemed an appropriate time to explore this place and figure out where I had been deposited so gingerly the night before. It was likely a dream, an exceedingly pleasant hallucination in all aspects, though quite melancholy.
I was missing my glasses, but could see with a startling clarity. My hovel was surrounded by other crumbling stone structures on what appeared to be a wide grassy plane that sloped off to the sea on one side. The other three directions led to rolling hills, then mountains with a few peaks lost in the clouds. Grass was growing up and around the rubble making it difficult at times to walk without stumbling. I began clearing a path seaward, piling rocks to either side.
One particular rock was lighter in shade than the others and smoother in its roundedness. It was partially buried and required some loosening of the grass and dirt surrounding it in order to pry it free. It suddenly popped loose and I found it to be light and hollow with two symmetrical holes staring at me. It was a skull that I held in my hand. I felt strangely comforted by this find and understood it to be someone very much like myself who had come to this place. I placed it in my prayer corner.
Once the path reached the edge of the sloping grassy expanse, I continued onward and downward towards the sea. In the distance I could see the water lapping up onto a sandy beach. Wind swept in bending the grass in waves, an extension of energy from the great expanse of water. The cassock shuddered and snapped while I held down the black cap with my hand. It felt to lift me back up into the air on a reverse journey, but instead forced a weaving path as I stumbled back and forth fighting it.
The sound of a massive bell being struck rung out and stilled the wind and waves. I stopped in astonishment as its reverberations set my bones to vibrating. There was no visible source for this phenomenon, but my attention became focused on the complete flatness of the sea, like a sheet of glass was laid over it. As the ring diminished, the wind began to pick up again and the water sparkled once more with shining wavelets disappearing into the distance.
The clouds had started to become patchy and disperse as the sun set on the water. It was an epic tapestry of intense oranges and pale blues covering the horizon and spreading to just above my head as the light skipped playfully from cloud to cloud. I turned to head back up the slope as the light continued to fade. Just above the mountains a scattered line of brilliant stars marked the edge of a galaxy spinning in its immense silence.
Out of the corner of my eye I caught glimpses of stooped and shadowy figures also headed up the slope. I fought the temptation to turn and try to take them in more directly. We crossed the border of the ancient village together. The darkness swallowed them up one by one so that I quickly found myself alone again, though I knew that not to be wholly accurate. The flickering light from the lampada marked my abode and greeted me with its warm glow.
I found some wood pieces along the outside wall and arranged them in the fireplace. This was followed by gathering up all the straw scattered over the floor and piling it in the corner. I chose a strand with a frayed end and lit it at the lampada, then lit some kindling with it. Once a nice crackling fire was going I stood once again in front of the icon and read the evening prayers, "Into Thy hands, O Lord Jesus Christ my God, I commit my spirit..." The straw pile became a nest for sleep and I settled in for the night.
I awoke to the distant sound of thunder. Some straw had worked its way into the neck of my cassock and I stood to shake it out in the flickering light of the lampada. At the window I could see clouds gathering out over the water with flashes of light illuminating their insides. A wall of wind that preceded it hit the small hovel and threatened to further loosen its ancient stones. The lampada remained lit despite the fact it was swinging vigorously on its three thin chains. "Most holy Theotokos save us," I whispered.
I abandoned the hovel to set out across the sprawling grasslands that stretched out behind the ruins. A half ring of hills in the distance set the boundaries for this plane and formed a circle with the ruins forming the seaward side. I could feel the clouds rolling in at my back, like a tremendous stampede of mythical creatures jumping over each other in a manic race to the mountains. I raced in front of them, falling frequently and feeling some urgency from an unknown source somewhere deep inside my chest.
Nearing the center of this wide open space, a swirl of wind seemed to whip around the inside of the natural bowl and come at me head on. My forward progress was brought to an abrupt halt and my cap was swept off of my head. I turned to watch it fly up into the sky and my eyes were drawn up to the clouds that had been pursuing me. They filled the circle of sky forming an upwardly curving canopy while flashes of lightning revealed elongated figures leaning centerward to a point directly above my head.
I extended my arms and rotated in place to take in the spectacle. As if in response, clouds at the four points of the compass began to swirl and extend fingers earthward from the edges of what I now recognized as a dome. The sound of fluttering wings filled the air as the tornado-like funnels extended to the ground, thickened, and formed pillars. The flashes of lightning were coming more frequently, almost one on top of the other, with faces all around looking on dispassionately.
The sound of a massive bell rung out as before and all motion ceased. The pillars turned to granite and the roof of the sky became a golden dome ringed with icons. At its apex was Christ the All Powerful, his halo crackling with energy. I felt the hairs on my arms and the nape of my neck begin to rise as a prickling sensation covered my entire body to the point it became unbearable. A deafening crash knocked me off of my feet as a lightning bolt struck and left me on my back staring up at the face looking down...
And blackness once again, falling in some unknown direction, points of light twinkling. I felt someone leaning over me and heard a concerned voice asking questions. The lights consolidated into a single circle which grew in size, like coming up through a tunnel. A face above me was talking and slowly came into focus. It was Deacon Paul and around him stood some of the parishioners leaning in and forming a circle around his head. I was back in the church, but still somewhat disoriented and could not speak.
"Aaron, you had a seizure. You're going to be OK. You were out for about 10 minutes and we called an ambulance which is on the way. Squeeze my hand if you understand what I'm saying." I squeezed his hand, then closed my eyes again and wondered if there was a way back to that place. The smell of incense and burning beeswax candles was thick in the air and comforted me. The prayers were still there in my head waiting to connect me to something bigger, deeper, and wider than myself.
Monday, August 22, 2016
With eyes closed I feel the air moving past me and hear the drone of the box fan perched in the window beside my bed. My mind is clear, expectant, poised between worlds. I feel myself bobbing on the surface of time, a small boy at its base, a man at the crest, growing, shrinking, growing, shrinking, like a human accordion. There is music above the drone, or so I imagine, reminding me of a candle lit Vespers where psalms are sung.
"...as for man, his days are like grass; he flourishes like a flower of the field; for the wind passes over it, and it is gone, and its place knows it no more..."
The boy's head is bowed and his eyes are closed as the swing rocks him gently back and forth. He is alone on this playground, alone in this small town, alone in this world.
[My God. It's me as a child, maybe ten or eleven, the same age as my son. He looks so small, so thin, so vulnerable.]
He looks up when he realizes the world has gone completely silent. The cars that had just been circling the town square are gone. He looks around for the kids riding their skateboards on the basketball court, for the teen smoking at the empty fountain, but no one is there.
[Look at those bangs, the freckles, the missing tooth, the sunburned cheeks, "Hey! Aaron! Buddy!" He cannot hear me. I know he is me, but I can't help feeling like he is my son as well.]
He drags his feet in the dirt to stop the swing, then rotates himself on the chains in a full circle, releasing, spinning back and forth. The birds are gone, the wind is gone, the ants on the anthill are gone, and the sky is a uniform gray.
[This is the town I grew up in and everything is just as I remember it.]
The look of confusion on his face transforms into a curious smile as he heads over to the small circular bandstand on the East side of the square. It sits next to the main street that cuts the town in half. A windowed door is in its base, slightly below ground level with stairs leading down to it. This is the police station and he finds the door unlocked. Inside is a desk, a few chairs, filing cabinets, and a rack of radio equipment. He plays with the knobs and switches, turning it on with a crackle and buzz. Keying the hand mic he whispers, "Break one nine, break one nine, this is the Karate Kid. What's your ten twenty, over?"
[My Dad had a CB radio in his van and I liked to call up truckers when we were out and about, asking their location and inquiring about the time using the number codes I'd learned from the back cover of a semi-truck themed coloring book. Everyone that used a CB had a "handle" they used instead of their name. Mine was "Karate Kid" which referred to the classes I was taking in a church basement in the town just south of ours. My older cousin, who was very serious about his handle, came up with "Lost Coin." Even as a little kid I knew this was an impressive choice and had some flair to it. The handles I had come up with were prosaic in comparison.]
There is no reply on the radio, so he heads out of the office and across the street to the corner drug store. His bike is leaning against the front plate glass window and just inside the front door and to the left sits a rotating rack of comic books. Every Wednesday the new ones come in which gives him some time to collect empty pop bottles and exchange them for a dime a piece at his local grocery store. His favorites are the X-men and Daredevil. He has seen the rise of the Dark Phoenix and the destruction of an entire planetary system. He has seen Bullseye proclaim that he is "magic" and defeat Elektra with the flick of a playing card. And at this very moment he is riveted by a panel from the Swamp Thing where a little boy is swimming with friends in a lake. His head bobs on the surface, a look of frozen terror on his face. His friends are asking him what is wrong. Below the murky water a vampire has latched onto his leg, sucking his blood, like a human leech. The boy shudders and puts the comic book back in the rack.
Outside again, he hops on his bike and heads for the curb, pulling up the front wheel to fly off of the sidewalk and down onto the street. Just north of the square he catches something moving out of the corner of his eye and slams on his brakes causing the bike to swing around to face it. The street in front of the library is completely in shadow and the shadow appears to be moving directly towards him. It is creeping along at a slow pace and he feels himself a bit mesmerized by it as his heart begins to race. His eyes climb to the sky and he can just make out the outline of a massive dirigible. It appears to have a reflective surface that is mirroring the grayness around it rendering it nearly invisible. He does not know what it is or what it is for, but he has no plans to come anywhere near it.
He turns his bike and heads east, over some railroad tracks, and eventually reaches his elementary school. The parking lot is empty except for one car. It is a Firebird Trans Am, brown with an orange-red flaming bird emblazoned on its hood. The driver's door is unlocked, so he opens it and climbs in.
[This is a fourth grade teacher's car, Miss McClure. I did not have her as a teacher, but I was in her classroom during our "famous person" project as Astronaut Gus Grissom. I wore dark green coveralls, black snow boots, and sported an aluminum foil covered motorcycle helmet with matching box on my back to represent the astronaut's life support pack. I was there to read the report I'd done on the life of Virgil "Gus" Grissom. I was told, though I don't remember by whom, that I'd been one of the few chosen to present because Gus Grissom grew up in the town just north of us and not because of my costume or the quality of my report. It must have been Miss McClure who told me that and, in retrospect, seems a cruel thing to tell a little boy.]
He sits in the seat and stares out through the space between the dash and the top of the steering wheel thinking about the disappointments and frustrations of his time here that came from teachers who did not know what to do with his energy and inconvenient curiosity. Almost in a trance he leans forward and turns the key and nothing happens. Then he remembers the clutch, that odd third pedal that requires coordination with the shifter to make a car go. He depresses the clutch and turns the key. The car roars to life and he guns it a couple of times, being careful to keep the clutch down. He releases the clutch a bit too quickly before the engine can wind down and the car lurches forward, nearly taking his head off of his shoulders, and stalls.
He has seen his Dad drive a shifter and tries to remember the movements. After several failed tries he gets the car to moving around the parking lot and then out onto the road headed back to the square. By the time he hits the railroad tracks he has found second gear. The radio is blaring through the open window as the car catches some air, "Hey! Teacher! Leave them kids alone..." The landing is a bit harder than he anticipates and dampens some of his enthusiasm for carjacking. Foot off the pedals, it slows, bucks a few times, and dies. "All and all, you're just another brick in the wall."
It takes him a few minutes to jog back to the school and reclaim his bike. Instead of heading back to the town square he skirts the school, heading south, and passes the baseball diamond where he plays third base for the Holland Dairy Cardinals.
[Boy, what a team that was. We had the best pitcher of our Little League and two back up pitchers that were good as well. It was an embarrassment of riches. We won the league championship two years in a row and a few travel tourneys that added some trophies to my book shelf, trophies that have been lost to time and too many moves. Also lost were my wooden Louisville Slugger wrapped with black electrical tape for grip and a red leather mitt.]
Looking west he sees that the massive dirigible has reached the square and continues its slow plod southward. A sense of urgency floods him with adrenalin as he stands to pump the pedals harder.
[Now I am seeing him from a high above, like a bird, and following his progress. He is paralleling the path of the dirigible and once he is considerably farther ahead of it he turns to head westward again and snakes his way south and west until crossing the main road several blocks below the square near the southern edge of town. This is my old neighborhood. The street leading into it is Haney Street, a peculiar coincidence considering that that is our family name. I always thought it a shame we didn't buy a house on that street.]
Turning the corner onto his street he slows and stops in his friend's driveway. There is a staccato-type sound coming from up ahead that he can't quite place. He can see the front of his house a few houses farther down the street. Movement once again draws his eyes northward to see the tip of that massive structure just starting to come into view over the trees. He feels a chill run up and down his spine and begins rapidly patting his thigh as a nervous gesture.
[Our old house sits on a hill with another street splitting off to head south, forming a Y around it. This street curves around the back of the house and constitutes the southern border of the town. Beyond it are cornfields and patches of forest. The driveway descends from behind the house to connect with this side street. Hidden from view in the back is a concrete pad with a basketball goal that we acquired from the church we used to attend two towns north of us when we first moved here. There had been a problem with local kids playing on it during church services and so my Dad had agreed to remove it with the help of the pastor and some other men and permanently install it behind our newly built house.]
As he approaches his house, the boy recognizes the sound as a bouncing basketball. It is his first indication that someone else is around since opening his eyes on the swing. He stops at the corner where the road splits and tries to stare through his house to see who is shooting hoops there. He is hesitant to go any farther but feels the inexorable crawl of the shadow at his back.
"Hello?" No one answers. Just the sound of the ball. He rolls his bike forward and finally commits to the decline of the side road and whips it up into his gravel driveway. A backwards punch of the right pedal puts his back tire into a skid and then an abrupt stop, throwing gravel and raising a small cloud of dust.
There is a bespectacled man playing basketball on the court. His long pants and short sleeved shirt flutter on a thin frame as he makes jump shots that look like hiccups. Black canvas Chuck Taylor hi-tops finish out the outfit as his sole piece of athletic apparel. He does not notice the boy at his back as he makes a Cousy-esque running hook shot that banks in smartly.
[The boy's thoughts and my own are starting to meld as I am sure he does not know who Bob Cousy is. This is his Dad. Our Dad. I feel his awe at seeing our Dad playing basketball so enthusiastically. I feel some of my cumulative disappointments and bitterness melting away in the child's mind, love crowding out judgement.]
A shadow moves over the boy and then covers the man as well. They look up simultaneously to see the dirigible coming in to hover over them, lower in the sky. A deck is suspended below it and I recognize my Grandpa Haney in his overalls leaning over the edge unfurling something that is inching its way down towards us. There are countless faces peering over the sides watching us and I recognize some of them. They are people I have loved like Caroldine, Roy, and Dorcas along with others that look familiar but whom I can't quite place. The something is a rope ladder that is now hanging suspended beside my Dad. He grabs hold of it with his free hand and gives it a tug.
He then turns to me and makes a crisp one-handed bounce pass that I instinctively grab with both hands. He smiles and nods, then turns to ascend the ladder. Its swinging motion takes me in and lulls me as I watch him climb. The dirigible emits a swelling drone as it surges to gain altitude...
He once again feels the air from the box fan moving past him and smells the scent of flowers and cut grass being pulled in from the outside. The stars are winking in the night sky as the crickets chirp in synchrony. In the distance he sees the gray outline of a large cloud making its way over the town and hears the distant roll of thunder. Within minutes raindrops begin to pat at his window lightly.
Wednesday, August 10, 2016
It was a banana seat bike that belonged to my sister in the 70's, and I loved it. It was blue with big U-shaped handlebars that curved up to meet you sitting high on the flower-patterned seat. That seat was wide, padded, and curved down at the edges to provide comfort and a feeling of stability. I had my own bike that was more easily identified as a boy's bike but in almost all ways I preferred the bike with flowers on its seat. It was lighter and fit my skinny frame like something custom designed. I could pop wheelies effortlessly and fly over ramps with good air, landing expertly on the back wheel and then smoothly dropping the front tire to the ground like a fighter pilot, usually. On the back of the seat was a looped bar that passengers could grasp behind their back when getting a ride. This was the bike I kept close to home, not venturing out more than a block or two.
My sister had gotten a new green bike with a beige sparkly banana seat and three speed shifter with large knob on the end that protruded upward from the main bar connecting the seat to the handlebars. It was flashy but clunky, not like the beat up flower bike that handled like a sleek jungle cat. The reason I did not ride this bike far and wide as I did my other bike had to do with an incident that happened the summer between first and second grade. I was riding that bike several blocks from home and I saw a boy who was in my class, Chris Mumaw. He was short, a little on the chubby side, and had an infectious laugh. When we started second grade the teacher had us all share what we did for the summer. When it was Chris's turn he broke out into a huge grin as he reported seeing me riding on a bike with flowers on the seat.
The risks of being seen riding such a bike eventually became too great and riding it stopped altogether when I got a dirt bike for Christmas that was beyond my wildest dreams. This bike was all black, had large shiny chrome shocks in the back and smaller shocks on the front fork with a thin rubber covering to keep dirt and mud out of them. The seat had a motorcycle styling to it and hand grips to match. I was well aware that no one else in our town of 2000 souls owned such a thing. For years it was my prized possession, but in the back of my mind I knew it was too heavy, that it was almost impossible to pop a wheelie on it, that you had to slouch forward to grasp the handlebars and pump too hard to really get it going. I imagine my younger sister who came along six years after me eventually acquired the bike with flowers on the seat. Only now, in my forties, do I truly appreciate it for what it was and can pay due homage.
PS: After finishing this reminiscence I googled "banana seat bike with flower pattern" and I'll be darned if a picture didn't pop up of the very bike. I added it to the top of this blog posting.
Monday, August 08, 2016
And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters.
He had seen it hundreds of times before, yet it fascinated him anew each and every time.
It was a burbling sea of pure white and from above it looked like a bowl of milk tremoring on a cherry table top. Wisps of the soupy fog flicked skyward and dissolved in the warmer air above, the rising sun reflecting brilliantly off of the milky surface forcing it down layer by layer in the climbing heat.
A spire poked through the surface and grew steeple-like as the fog fell. Next to appear, the stubble of treetops dotting the whiteness and outlining a large circular area within which the spire continued to grow and take the shape of a simple rocket with a port window, widening out in the middle then thinning at the bottom where wide fins flared outward and held the ship aloft.
The forest continued to fill out and spread in all directions as other structures began to appear within the treeless circle; a cluster of evenly spaced boulders, a bulbous headed alien with large eyes and small mouth, a silver saucer with spindly legs, and, at the dead center, a red dome that appeared to be a sphere half planted in the ground. The last bit of fog flowed around these structures licking at their bases before dissipating to reveal the artificially greened fairways of a putt putt golf course.
Nothing stirred within the circle. Thin red-bricked paths formed concentric circles around the painted dome to give the appearance of Saturn-like rings. The circular paths interconnected the putting greens to funnel the flow from the outer entrance to the final green near the center.
A creaking sound disturbed the silence as the smooth surface of the dome was interrupted by the opening of a hidden door. Out stepped a peculiar fellow who had to stoop slightly to get through the doorway. He was tall and lanky with a red beard speckled gray, his hair in a pony tail poking out from under a faded black brimless cap. A matching cassock flapped around his legs as he limped briskly to the head of the inner most green, using a putter as a cane.
A small painted sign marked this green as "The Shooting Star" and in smaller print reminded putters that this was the last hole. He reached into his cassock and pulled out a golden ball which he placed on the designated spot. It sparkled in the sun and absorbed his attention. White lines on the green ran from the ball to a starburst pattern that surrounded the hole. He used these to line up his shot, glancing repeatedly at the hole and then back to the ball. He took a few practices swings, then scratched at his beard and adjusted his cassock.
He had made this shot innumerable times as a morning ritual, the swing more of a reflex than a thought-through thing. As the putter moved downward to the ball a high hooting call escaped from the forest and disconnected the reflex. He hit the ball in a slightly different spot than he'd intended and watched it roll down the long green. The flow of his routine had been interrupted and his thoughts seemed to become more disorganized as the ball approached the hole slightly off-center.
He felt tears begin to burn in his eyes along with a rising sense of panic in his chest. The golden ball blurred as it continued towards the hole, unaware of its role in the ritual. It rolled right up to the rim of the bottomless cup and stopped, balanced between the sun and the black hole. His mind touched the abyss inside himself and tottered. A violent shudder seized him as a cold wind swept in out of the forest and up through his cassock. It was enough to give the ball a gentle push, sending it down into the darkness.
Visibly shaken, he rubbed his eyes and smoothed out his beard, then made the sign of the cross over himself three times. He rotated his putter and firmly grasped its head, making his way over to the innermost bricked path. A black knotted prayer rope appeared in his free hand as he followed the circular path and whispered softly to the still morning air, "Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner." It was repeated carefully with each slip to the next knot, finding a rhythm with his steps, the tap of the putter-cane, and his breathing. These words calmed him as he circled his domed home. His eyes remained focussed on the path as he resisted the urge to look up, wrapping himself in the protection of his prayer.
Friday, August 05, 2016
My son and I are
finding our legs
on paddle boards
in the choppy waters
of Lake Michigan.
We start on our knees,
too wobbly to stand,
and oar our way
farther and farther
from the sandy shore.
Initial attempts to stand
meet with comical
falls into the chilly water,
coming up with a gasp
and barking laughter.
After half an hour or so
we are standing more
confidently in defiance
of the rise and fall of waves,
a test of our newfound balance.
Several minutes go by
without incident or accident,
feeling like we are kings
from shore to horizon, until
an unexpected shift
humbles us once more.
Wednesday, July 27, 2016
Limitations, always limitations. They can break your back. With limited time and resources to pursue all the possible things I enjoy or feel are worthwhile to pursue, so many things in my life just end up being shut down. And along with this there is the fear that I will reach my limits too quickly and I need to mete out certain aspects of myself in miserly ways.
Part of it has been my lack of focussed discipline and a tendency to daydream. Medical School was a major challenge to these personal attributes and, as a byproduct, I believe it also shut down some of the most vital parts of who I am; parts that have taken me years to recover. I was not that person who had massive cognitive reserves and the intensity to handle the avalanche of material to learn and have time left over to pursue other interests. My one trick to continue reading non-medical books was to use my time in the bathroom as a kind of time bubble. I read The Brothers Karamazov in its entirety from a porcelain chair in this way. It was my soul crying out for sustenance.
My interest in sports also took a major hit. I was not playing basketball. I was not running as I had in High School Cross Country. Medical School was all consuming and it consumed me body and soul. The long slog left me a bit lost and bewildered when my time as a student and student-doctor came to an end. Unaccounted for time suddenly became available but then went away again with a second child. It wasn't until Elias got old enough to become seriously interested in sports that I rediscovered my love for basketball. I even had the opportunity to coach his third grade basketball team which is something I'll always treasure.
And above all of this has been my desire to write since sixth grade Composition when I first had the opportunity to create an actual story or two. These were stories that I also illustrated and received a good deal of praise from the teacher. I was eleven, which is my son's age now, and it wasn't until about three years ago at the age of 43 that I started writing with any kind of regularity. This was sparked by an idea for a novel and the realization that it was now or never. I still hardly read books, but I can thank the internet for that.
This idea in my head of limitations, both outwardly and inwardly imposed, also extended to love, or the ability to give of one's self. I still limit myself in a multitude of ways due to obligations at home and at work, but something about love has been creeping into my awareness. It has manifested in a joy of interacting with others and appreciating their uniqueness and essential place in the grand scheme of things. It seems that the more I pour it out, the deeper the bottom of the cup grows. And for the first time in my life I am learning not to fear limitations, because in what is most important, limitations do not exist.
Saturday, July 23, 2016
He saw her outline through an open fogged-over glass door in the frozen foods section of the grocery store. Like a restless ghost she rummaged through pizzas and hot pockets mumbling to herself while her two small children stood guard at the cart. Hidden within layers of winter clothes they waited for their mother to finish adding to the pile of processed foods, counterpoints to her frenetic energy.
The little girl grasped the lip of the cart to steady it while the smaller boy stuck his finger through the metal lattice to touch the cold boxes and scrape off some frost with his fingernail. The door to the freezer slammed shut causing the boy to jump and pull his finger back quickly.
Locks of bleached blonde hair dangled from under a hand-knit cap framing a face that had once been quite beautiful before time and the cares of the world had taken their toll. He could read in her careworn features that she was alone and that the father of her children had decided he wasn't ready to grow up and assume the responsibilities he'd created.
He looked down at an ornate pocket watch that he had produced from his vest pocket and watched the second hand tick along its circular path. The hour hand stood at three and the minute hand was just a sliver shy of twelve. When the thread-thin piece of metal aligned with the minute hand he depressed the crown. He heard the little girl sneeze, but it stopped instantly. A popping sensation jarred the scene like an earthquake lasting only milliseconds. The outline of his form untethered from his corporal self which remained perfectly still.
He stepped forward, his ethereal self now separated from his motionless and more cumbersome twin, and made his way over to the three. The little girl's eyes were tightly shut, tiny droplets suspended in space formed a funnel from her pursed lips. The boy was flinching as if expecting a blow. The mother's eyes were focussed far and away from where they stood.
It was the mother he'd come to see. The point of interest for him was the contours of her forehead. A v-shape was seemingly chiseled there in her brow. It had deepened over time and become an intrinsic feature of her face. He took it in from different angles, judging its depth and intensity. Its point was sharp and pricked him hard when he touched it with his finger. It would not come out easily.
He brought the thumb and first two fingers of his right hand together placing the point on her forehead, then belly, right shoulder, then left to loosen it. Pincher-like they snatched hold of the v-thing and pulled out and away from her head. It pierced his fingers with a terrible ferocity but he continued to pull slow and steady. This measured application of force allowed the tendrils deeply anchored in her to unwind without breaking off to regrow anew. A lifetime of disappointments and poor choices came flowing out of her in damp and dripping threads. The slowness of the process protracted his pain, filling him with a cold and desolate fire.
Time passed without time passing, an eternal nowness that had him feeling a little disoriented. When he thought he could take no more, it pulled free and her features visibly relaxed. It was astounding how much younger she looked and he quickly forgot the pain that had just been threatening to overwhelm him. The troublesome creature pricked at him and fought to free itself, but he held firm.
A few aisles over he found a large jug of bleach that he opened and forced the prickly thing down into, sealing it up with a turn of the cap. He shook the jug until there was no further movement coming from it, placed it back on the shelf, and returned to where his body stood. The split selves reunited and he found himself once more looking down at his pocket watch frozen at three. With a push of the crown, time resumed once again without a hitch.
The mother's focus retracted and fell to her daughter who was just finishing her sneeze. She knelt down and cleared a strand of hair from the small face. "Are you OK, sweetie?" The girl, unaccustomed to such attention, simply nodded her head "yes." The mother then turned her face to her son, "How are you, little man?" He fell forward and grabbed her around the neck in a hug. The mother seemed taken aback at his response, but then pulled both children into the hug and squeezed them tight.
He shut the cover of his watch, tucked it back into its pocket, and left the store.