I Don’t Want To Hear It!

You’re sad. Oh, you’re “depressed.” You don’t know how to deal with the world anymore. I don’t want to hear it. This, by the way, is me responding to myself during a particularly unflattering week of personal WTF! But it’s pretty true, right? We as a species generally don’t want to hear it.

Have you ever responded honestly to the question, “How are you?” when you feel like shit? The person who asked most likely takes on facial attributes that resemble a rotten onion crossbred with a blobfish. No one wants to hear it! Hearing it means that some of that contagious misery might infect them. It shames me to say that at times, I am “them!”

Loss and the ensuing grief are inevitable in this human life. Interestingly, inevitability doesn’t necessarily lead to acceptance, and certainly not to the sometimes desirable outcome of a warm, comforting embrace, a willing listener, or just someone to sit with. Hard things are hard. Who wants to deal with that shit?

Vulnerability, compassion, empathy are rare breeds in this kill or be killed world that some, if not most of us imagine we live in. Rare breeds that nonetheless may hold the key to our communal dialogue, emotional health, and survival. The next time someone answers honestly about how they are “not doing well,” once the involuntary wince has passed, I hope I will have the wherewithal to think twice before succumbing to the universal reactive response, “I don’t want to hear it!”

Pillars

Independence [ in-di-pen-duhns ]

Definition: Freedom from the control, influence, support, aid, or the like, of others.

Freedom [ free-duhm ]

Definition: The state of being free or at liberty rather than in confinement or under physical restraint.

Society [ suh-sahy-i-tee ] 

Definition: An organized group of persons associated together for religious, benevolent, cultural, scientific, political, patriotic, or other purposes.

Coexistence [ koh-ig-zis-tuhns ]

Definition: A policy of living peacefully with other nations, religions, etc., despite fundamental disagreements.

Survival [ ser-vahy-vuhl ]

Definition: The act or fact of surviving, especially under adverse or unusual circumstances.

The Summit

June 1997 – Mammoth Lakes, California.

It was a sweltering summer day in Mammoth Lakes, California. In anticipation of my pending nuptials Dave had taken me to the Gyepes family condo for my bachelor weekend. No party, no strip club; just two best friends in the mountains spending quality time before the first of us got married. We went running in the high desert heat. We took long hikes each day. But mostly we talked. We talked about the state of the world, about our childhoods, about our dreams, and about the change my world would undergo on my wedding day, and of course. Because it was Dave, we also talked quite a bit about food. We spent endless hours of sharing thoughts and ideas. That’s what I miss most about my best friend. I call him my best friend because he was, though since he was so special Dave had more than one best friend. I imagine many people felt like I did about Dave. They probably felt he was their “best friend” too. Dave’s special gift was making everyone who came in contact with him feel special. A rare talent to be sure. But I digress, Back to the story at hand. The Summit.

It was probably 90º when we pulled into the parking lot at Lake Mary. We were dressed for the heat, wearing shorts and hiking shoes. Dave probably had his UCLA cap on, and probably made me apply sunscreen like the big brother he was so good at being. We hadn’t planned a single thing for the weekend; with the exception of dining as often as possible at Roberto’s. So it was with this adventure. No plan, no map, no worries. It was the conversation that we came for, and it was conversation that had formed the bond which at the time of these events had been in place for 17 years. Dave held so many interesting perspectives on life, love, triumph, and tragedy that I was always learning from him. Also, he was the best listener I’ve ever known, and always had something wise to offer when it came to advice. 

So it was this day that the hike was a way to make time to talk while walking off our burrito-based overindulgence from the previous night. We struck out down the trail dripping sweat as though in a sauna. The relentless summer sun hammered away at that UCLA cap. As we walked along the forest path we spied through the trees the monolith that had been our winter playground for so many years, Mammoth Mountain, peak elevation 11053 feet. It was around noon when we decided to leave the forest trail and climb. We had the self-assuredness of two thirty-somethings with Peter Pan complex and decided we would climb to the top. How hard could it be, right?  Typical of optical illusions the peak seemed easily within reach when we started our ascent. We climbed and climbed through woods, then past the tree line and onto boulder fields. Much to our dismay after an hour and a half of climbing the mountain top looked nearly as far away as it had when we started. 

As we climbed the temperature dropped steadily. Our breathing became labored and our conversation waned. Still, we climbed, minute after minute feeling like hour after hour. I finally stopped and sat on a boulder, cold and tired. “Maybe this wasn’t a good idea,” I said, beginning to think longingly of chips and salsa. “We can make it Borden!” I loved Dave’s optimism. “Alright,” I said and hoisted myself up off the rock. We climbed.  And we climbed.  Snow patches began to appear between the boulders as the temperature continued to drop. Dave took a break. “Maybe you were right B. Maybe we should turn back.” “Dude, we’re so close, we can do it,” I said. He issued an exasperated sigh, then up he rose, and up we went. I don’t remember how many times each of us dropped to the ground, convinced that we should give up, but those moments were many. We stumbled. We fell. We climbed.  Each time one of us decided we’d had enough the other found the words and the will to turn the tide. I’m not sure why reaching the top became so important to us. Perhaps we had both decided on that afternoon, on that mountainside, that the outcome of this challenge would become a metaphor for our lives. Failure was not an option. 

Hours of climbing passed, the last few of which involved much heavy breathing and very little of our precious conversation. We were now in the clouds. The 90º swelter at base camp had given way to temps in the 30s. Finally, breathless and bruised we found ourselves on the snow-covered top of the mountain. We had reached the summit. We hugged, laughed, wrote Dalai Lama-esque messages of peace in the snow with our frozen finger tips then paused. We took a moment to drink in the majesty of the world, of our accomplishment, of our unwavering commitment to each other’s success.  

Many years later Dave and I discussed our memories of this day.  We agreed that reaching the summit had been one of the pivotal moments in our lives. Not many people are so blessed as I have been in the realm of friendship. In my relationship with Dave, I was gifted with true companionship, support, loyalty, and love. If the world were flat and held no mountains to climb my friendship with Dave would have always been, and will always be my definition of reaching the summit.

In Memory of David James Gyepes, 1962-2020

Taking Flight

Some baby birds jump, others are pushed.  The ensuing moments involve either falling, flying, or most likely a bit of both.  Regardless of individual baby bird trajectory the outcome is two fold; a new adventure, and an empty nest.  We’ve likely all found one, an empty nest.  Pruning a tree or shrub, or walking through the woods, we spy it.  An abandoned nursery.  Quaint.  A little bird home that served its purpose and now sits vacant, slowly succumbing to the ravages of the time and the elements.  How different it feels when it is our own nest that becomes empty.

Today my youngest graduated from high school.  Like his brother before him he is taking flight.  Adult life beckons and shines with opportunities and possibilities, the denouement of which I will hopefully not witness.  Funny how we nurture and coax, guide, and when wisdom prevails know how to remain silent in the run up to this taking of flight.  Funny because we pour ourselves whole heartedly into the shaping of a story, the final chapters of which we release unfinished to the wind.   It’s a beautiful, heart wrenching, bittersweet reality.

Go in peace my sons.  Fly high and free.  From here the journey is yours to define. That said, please know as you make your way that you have always been, and will always be loved beyond measure.

Milestones

Early on the future seemed eternal.  Summers held the world in endless, sun drenched glory.  Possibilities fell like autumn leaves on a windy day, dancing and beckoning in the brilliant blue sky.  Winter came on like a white Christmas coupled with anticipation of the new year to come.  We were forever young.  Untouchable. Unbreakable.

Along the way we unknowingly passed a milestone.  It laid at the side of the path covered in moss and shrouded in vines.  Something had changed, not for better or worse, but for the fact that life can be no other way.  The time had come to leave the world of endless summers behind, whether reluctantly, or otherwise.  

With each milestone passed, the world has changed little, yet looks very different as we ramble on.  The paths we walk began from an infinite number of starting points and scatter hither and yon on the wind of randomness.  Free will plays its part, but is no match for the unseen forces that command the unexpected taking of one path over another.

With many mile markers behind us we may now find the same autumn leaves to be the clear and present harbinger of coming winter.  Each year has it’s four seasons and they are not shy about the play they are acting in honor of the cycle of life.  As we journey from year to year that cycle becomes ever clearer in our own reflections.  

Milestones passed mean we leave some things behind, and if we are lucky, take new treasures with us.  Though some would beg to differ, there is no more true beauty in youth than in old age; for not all that is beautiful manifests in a looking glass.  In passing the stones, walking the road, we make trades of old thoughts that no longer serve us for new ones we can carry as a guiding light.  A light that becomes ever more comforting as true winter approaches.  We have no choice but to continue the journey.  Knowing the way is not an option.  Knowing ourselves is.

Keys

Keys, where the hell are my keys? The door shows no sign of sympathy. My pockets shrug as I grope desperately. Nothing! A dark porch, a locked door, and no fucking keys. Inside my home, on a wooden end table in the living room sits a bowl of keys. Keys to all sorts of locks, doors, ignitions, secrets. Yet, standing here in the dark, on a cold late winter night, alone, none of those keys are within my grasp.

Break a window, I think. Sleep in the car, call an Uber, go to a motel, or face the truth. Locked out of my own life, by my own mind, or lack of its presence. I sit on the stoop, head in hands reviewing the events that have lead to this moment.

Birth, yeah I don’t remember that, but based on research I’m sure it sucked. Childhood, silver fork in my mouth. The good fortune commingled with the reality of human roulette. Relative safety assured, emotional security compromised. Blame is easy, responsibility is a hard-won badge, that doesn’t find its way to many a sash. All the accusations in the world won’t unlock this god damned door, even if they have basis in truth.

How has humanity continued to flourish in this world? Programming is the only answer. Biological imperative. We’ve all felt it, and in moments of bliss, or terror, acted on it. When in our prime we perceive ourselves as having so little to lose. Unbridled passion, lust, imperative win the day, and life is created anew.

Aging reveals new perspective. The misery of yesteryear has lead to the creature comforts of today and yet still misery abounds. Where is the key? The key to happiness, contentment, calm, joy? Based on experience we understand that it is not secured by amenity or safety. Perhaps it is found in acceptance of the true essence of existence. The act of living in which joy plays a part, but is not a given. The reality in which comfort is fleeting, and to be gratefully appreciated as it passes through. Perhaps that is the key.

Father and Son

My father and I have by no means seen things eye to eye throughout the years. One could even go as far as to say we had a rocky start, that lasted half a lifetime. That second half of a lifetime is however better than many people live to see. My father and I are of the same threads yet woven into different cloths. For that reason, we shared distance for many years. The beauty of that, as with any epic tale is that somehow we closed the space between us, we reached common ground, and became friends. We overcame.

My father, unlike many people older than us who are set in their ways, proved to be adept at psychological evolution. He has continued to grow and change through his many years. That alone is unusual, and praise worthy. I too, eventually began the process of maturation, albeit later than most. I then came to see that I too, needed to change my perspective on our relationship. We have been able to meet in the middle. We’ve come to love and appreciate one another deeply and fully.

It took a long time for me to take a hammer to the pedestal I had placed him on, to allow him to be human. Viewing our relationship from this equalized perspective did wonders. My father has become my mentor, my advisor, my confidant…my rock. When times are difficult he is there to listen, support, and offer sage advice. When times are good he is there to celebrate with me.

Not all sons have challenging beginnings with their parents. Sadly, many sons never find their way to reconciliation and fulfilling relationships with those who brought them into this world. I consider myself lucky to have journeyed this lifetime with the man I call Pops. The man who carried the torch of principal and honor. The man who showed me what it means to be a man. The man I love, and whom I am proud and grateful to know as my father.

Sledding In the Dark

Long hair in a half up pony. 17º chill in the air. A turn of the key locks the black ’96 Land Cruiser, a trusted companion. Boots crunching in the snow I walk my Flexible Flyer runner sled, a gift on my 5th birthday, maybe the greatest I’ve ever received across the park. It’s been dark for over an hour and the crowd that played on the hill while I worked through the day is thinning. They’ve done the good deed of packing the snow to make for fast runnings.

A small group of college-ish types take turns pushing each other down the hill in a white plastic laundry basket. Making the best of what they have to celebrate this frosty winter gift. This night they have companionship, camaraderie, and a memory that will replay each time the have to wash their clothes. Nice! Parents stand at the top of the hill as their children ride plastic toboggans, saucers, sheets of cardboard, etc.. “One more son, my toes are frozen. Time to go.”

As I walk by I sense accessing eyes. A few years ago I came to this same place with my boys. Now they are grown and off on their own adventures. My former snow play partners have girlfriends and/or social engagements, and so I revel in this winter sport opportunity alone.

I find my way to the highest point on the hill and set the sled to run. If I aim just so I can hit a bridge that offers safe passage across the creek at the bottom of the slope. If I miss it’s a three foot drop over a limestone ledge into a partially frozen stream riddled with sharp rocks. Holding my old friend by the left handle and the right rail I push off in a sprint and dive on.