Tacking hard back and forth across the teeth of the wind.Spray filling my eyes as the bow plunges into wave after indifferent wave.The imprint of rope on my clenched fingers may by now be permanent.The going is slow and my destination still so far off that I’ve almost forgotten its original allure.All I know is that the safe harbor I’ve been seeking seems to lie at the birthplace of the relentless headwind.“Perhaps it is time to choose a new course,” I think as another wash of spray wipes my brow.“Perhaps.”
The stories any of us can recall about sailing downwind are few for their lack of incident, even scarcer if one has never actually sailed, but let’s say its national metaphor day and roll with it. For most of us, our many days are marked in turn by periods of smooth runnings, threatening waters, and periods of the listless, anxiety-provoking doldrums. Each it seems has their time and place on the nautical map of our journey, and I imagine a reason they’ve found us, or we’ve found them. Few milestones rise up in monolithic fashion while we are enjoying the momentary gift of easy passage through this life.It may be that the cursed wind, or lack of it, thwarting our efforts at any given moment is also the very gift that aids us in the writing of a story finally worth telling.
Absolute darkness is hard to come by in this modern world.Light leaks through nighttime windows from streetlights, headlights, searchlights, the moon, lightning storms and even fireworks on the occasional holiday.Electric clocks, power strips, TV and stereo power lamps come to life in a ghostly glow once the sun has gone down.For some such lights are a nuisance, for others these dim reminders of day are insufficient.There are those who are uncomfortable in the dark and those for whom the realm of sleep cannot be deep black enough.Which are you?
I believe, and say “believe” because I cannot remember for sure, that as a boy I favored the company of a night light.Things that go bump in the dark might have been, at that time in my life more manageable when seen rather than merely heard.Now I find that the best sort of night is one in which I can find nothing; no shapes, no glimmer, no semblance of the living world.Perhaps the days are now so full of goings on that the only way to achieve true respite is in the nothingness of absolute black.Odd because nothingness is a constant topic of internal dialogue that I bandy about in the face of the ceaseless onslaught of is-ness that has become the definition of this modern life.
Fear of heights, fear of snakes, fear of the dark, fear of anything, all, in my opinion, are the children of the fear of death; fear of that which we cannot avoid no matter how we twist and turn.I like the dark, I actually like snakes, but I have a dizzying visceral breakdown when faced with heights.That last issue must be the reason I learned to skydive.Interestingly when one falls from umpteen thousand feet the prep time between plane and landing allows for some free will and planning.As I write this I’m happy to say, though clearly it needn’t be said since here I am, that the process has been survivable. Its been amazing actually.I like-ish facing fears; it’s fascinating, life-affirming and potentially boundary, if not leg breaking.But what if I were afraid of something as unavoidable as the dark.
A power outage leads the prepared household to a closet stocked with flashlights and candles, perhaps even a battery powered radio.For the well-to-do who’ve prepared for The Purge, it may even lead to a generator or a full-on panic room.I like a good power outage, except for the havoc it may wreak on whatever frozen food I’m hoarding at the time in my ancient fridge.I even have a few decent flashlights and a couple candles hidden away just in case.I still have kids at the house, so I have to be ready to turn whatever happens into an adventure that isn’t entirely lived out in abject what-the-fuck blackness.
But back to night lights for a sec.They do serve a purpose, for some, for a time.They may alleviate fear; affording calm to those needing a tinge of day in their night. The also can make it possible for a nearly comatose person to reach the fridge for that super unnecessary midnight snack, without breaking a toe.Not my thing, but to each his or her own.Have your night lights if you will, and may they bring peace and restful sleep. I’ll be the one dancing with my vertigo, dizzy and sweating on the ladder in broad daylight cleaning a gutter, hoping I’m able to make it back to earth alive.
Parents! If you’re lucky enough to still have them around, excellent! If they can on occasion be challenging, that’s not uncommon; look who’s talking. If you think they did a less than perfect job of playing god to you and your siblings if you have the pleasure of sisters or brothers, you’re possibly right…they’re only human for fuck’s sake.
For the longest time, I held my parents responsible for crimes against humanity.Humanity, consisting primarily of me.Not everyone is so fortunate to experience the “victim/narcissist” posture that I somehow adopted at an early age, but some of you may be able to identify what I’m talking about.Ugh, so embarrassing!Anyway, my folks were young when they got into the kid-having business, and they set out to do their best, whatever that means.
We all do our best right?No, we don’t all do our best, a topic for another time.However, if we do our best, well done us!That, in my opinion, is how we give ourselves the best odds at getting through this monkey parade in one piece.To my youthful affronted mind though “my parents best” was less than acceptable.Precious snowflake boy? Or perhaps, ungrateful asshole? You decide.
These days I am a parent.Actually, I’m on the downhill side of the child-rearing experience with two healthy, happy-ish teenage sons.I love my role and have learned a great deal about what my parents must have faced during their “adventure in child rearing.”Unfortunately, like my parents, I found that my wedding vows could not withstand the weight of the union itself.Thus, I’m deunionised, or as we say in the vernacular “divorced.”I’m a single parent 182.5 days a year; the best 182.5 days of any given year I might add.Raising kids is like most experiences I’ve encountered.Attitude is everything!
Being married is work, work that unfortunately does not always bring to bear the fruit of one’s labor.Circumstances as they turned out to be I’ve come to realize that I have not always been the best reader of the more subtle aspects of certain human personalities.I do believe that I hear and see people clearly when ‘they speak their truth’ and glean the essence of who they are, perhaps more so than they themselves at times.Ego talk? Probably. Though if my relationships with my sons, friends, colleagues, etc. are any indication, and if I’m not wholly deluding myself, it’s possibly true.Still, I have a lot to learn yet about how to be my best.As for my misread on the choice of life partners?Romance seems to be my kryptonite, also a topic for another post.
I bring up marriage only because the majority of parenting is done, or at least initially undertaken in that construct.All of the great, and not so great parts of a marriage inform the parenting of the children in a family.What relational skills do we unwittingly gift our progeny as they bear witness to our matrimonial dance?Could we have done better? Certainly.The adage about living in a glass house while hoisting stones comes to mind again and again.No blaming or finger pointing here.
Back to my parents. They worked hard, or at least my pops did. On top of that burden, they had to figure out how to raise kids; manual not included. Dad provided us (sisters not pictured above because they were still a twinkle in the old man’s eye when the shutter snapped) with way more than anyone had a right to expect. To put it mildly, we never wanted for the basics. Dad delivered grand family vacations, money for college, and bailed us out when our youthful dances included gross missteps. My father was extremely driven and excelled in a high-stress profession his entire life. The intensity must have been nearly unbearable. Reflecting on his situation as an adult, I can’t imagine how he handled the pressure. No wonder things weren’t always Lavender bouquets and yoga mats around the house.
My father and I are different people, to put it mildly, with decidedly different relational needs. We didn’t see eye to eye on much during my childhood. It’s no one’s fault, just how that particular cookie crumbled. In school, work or social life situations, one can choose to step away from relationships of that nature, but in the confines of the family structure, we just have to make the best of the hand as it is dealt. We didn’t get to choose each other or browse the “Family Relationship” version of Match.com before we committed to a life together. So it goes.
In my twenties, I moved away from my hometown. I left with the hope of escaping my stuckness, neighborhoods with six homes to an acre, traffic, and my roadblocked relationship with my family.With all my possessions in a subcompact car, I journeyed across the country in search of the life I’d always felt I was meant to live.“Wherever you go, there you are” notwithstanding it ultimately worked.My life and my sons’ lives are good, whole, full of love, mutual respect, and acceptance.Phew!
By moving away, and thereby breaking the cycle, I was able to discover that a new relationship with myself and my parents was attainable through the grace afforded by distance.Distance allows perspective.Perspective provides the chance for healing.Healing allows courage to blossom.Courage creates the possibility of change.Change creates the opportunity for forgiveness.Forgiveness is a universal gift.
Becoming a parent affords one an opportunity to experience the disruptive effect of ripples on the pond into which the Narcissus in all of us gaze.It offers a moment for those of us who have not yet discovered selflessness to awaken, and so be humbled.Parenthood provides the chance to accept, atone, forgive, and appreciate those whom we may formerly have held in some form of blame.
I love you, mom and dad!I now see clearly that you did the very best you could.Your hearts, not mine were in the right place, and for that, I am eternally grateful.
Distant lightning flashed. White light careened through the skylights momentarily illuminating the dark bedroom. The air bristled with discomfort, disquiet coursing through my mind, through every cell in my body. Thunder rolled across the night, and the wind rose to a harsh whistle at the windows. The unease that filled the night was not however born on the wings of the coming storm. It was of my own making; a rising tide the origin of which was a mystery, unknowable and ominous.
As the first huge drops of rain began to hammer the skylights, I huddled in the darkness wrestling with the sense that everything in my world seemed beyond control, beyond the possibility of repair, beyond hope. The spread of this darkness began to envelop my mind, strangling my thoughts, paralyzing any ability I once would have used to still the maelstrom of doubts. For reasons the genesis of which escape me, there are times in life when the smallest thing, the largest thing, everything seems overwhelming.
As the storm overtook the house in its full force, I lay still in the darkness. Fear of living is not something I choose to dance with, but there are times when the music comes up, and that fear reaches for my hand and pulls me out onto the floor despite my resistance. This was such a night, such a dance, spinning around the room I moved to the tune of unfounded fear.
The sound of the hammering rain drew my eyes in the direction of the skylight. As I stared wide-eyed into the blackness a lightning bolt struck, once again blasting the world with white light. At that moment I saw the myriad raindrops exploding against the glass. That’s when it dawned on me.
The raindrops are a metaphor for life. Moments before they had not been raindrops. From an ineffable particle field of clouds miles above they had formed, born into the shape of a water droplet; a singular entity created from the ether. They live in individual form hurtling through space and time; their unique existence real and measurable, for a moment. Upon striking the skylight, the rooftop, or the ground they were transformed; no longer individual drops, returned to the shapelessness of rushing water, washing away to be absorbed by the earth. There they are assimilated and redistributed as means for growth and current for streams and rivers. After a few hot days, any evidence of their unique existence is diminished and finally vanishes.
So it is with life. A beginning from nothing followed by a meteoric plunge through the universe of existence; and finally a return to the fathomless whole of all things. Everything that has a beginning has an end. Once placed in this perspective no journey is without hope, without relief, or without its own particular brilliance. The storm of disquiet within dissipated, understanding washing over me in a gentle wave of acceptance and appreciation. I pulled the covers over my slowly relaxing body, rolled to my side and fell into a deep, dreamless sleep.
“No fucking way!” Les blurted, staring through the passenger window at the sitting Grizzly.During his time in the mountains, he had only had two encounters with bears, in as many days, yesterday and today.A wave of uneasiness swept over him with the intensity of a mountain storm, swift and ominous.Deciding that McGee Creek would not be his fishing destination de jour Les turned the key to fire up the Cruiser.The always reliable starter whined, but the engine did not catch.
“Shit!” he exclaimed, “Not Good!”Les released his twisting pressure on the key momentarily then tried again glaring imploringly at the ignition.The starter whinnied on for seconds like an anguished electric horse, but the familiar roar of the engine did not come.
“Slam” something hit the driver side window with such force that Les closed his eyes, certain that he would be covered with broken glass.His right hand shot to the passenger seat wrapping his hand around the grip of his pistol.As he took up the .45, he saw through the passenger window that the bear was no longer on the river bank.He whipped around to face the driver side window weapon raised.A surprised Shash took a step back, showing a mix of amusement and concern in his dark eyes.
“Jesus!” Came Lester’s muffled voice through the closed window, “You scared the shit out of me!”
“My apologies,” offered Shash, taking another step away from the Cruiser to allow room for his enormous frame to execute the slightest of bows.“Sounds like you’re having engine troubles.I knocked to offer my assistance.”
“Knocked?” Lester thought, “The blow Shash had landed could have crushed a lesser car!” Les’ mind was swimming.“Bears, giants, dead engines, what the fuck?Did someone drug my Bourbon last night?And what the hell happened to my truck?”
He laid the Browning back on the passenger seat and unbuckled his seatbelt.He reached for the door handle then hesitated.What the hell was this Shash doing here and where the shit-hell had he come from?Les hadn’t seen anyone, other than the Grizzly when he’d pulled to a stop here in the middle of nowhere, and there were no other cars at the turnout.
“Pop the hood,” Shash commanded in his deep rumble of a voice, “I’ll have a look.”
After a pregnant moment of consideration, Les smiled weakly and complied.As the giant made his way to the front of the Cruiser Les noticed that he appeared to be wearing the same oversized mad-max, bounty hunter regalia that he’d worn last night at the Sierra Springs.Les glanced at the Browning resting on the seat beside him, considering the bizarre, disconcerting nature of his current situation, then decided to leave where it lay.He took a deep breath, wiped the sweat from his brow, opened his door and stepped out onto the dusty gravel ground of the turnout.
Shash had opened the hood and reached into the engine compartment with a mechanic’s confidence.“Try it now” he bellowed not realizing that Lester had left the cab and was now standing two feet from him.Les jumped, “Jesus!” He exclaimed.
“How much coffee have you had this morning friend?You seem a bit edgy.”Shash grinned.
Lester looked up at him with a mixture of indignation, awe and thinly veiled alarm.Without saying a word he turned and marched back to the cab.
“I’m definitely taking a nap today” he muttered to himself.
Les swung into the driver’s seat and turned the key.Sweet internal combustion music sprang from the now purring engine.Shash closed the hood. “Loose spark plug connections.All good for now, but you may wanna look at replacing them before winter.”Les, sitting in the driver seat with a bit of a glazed look on his face nodded slowly. “Safe travels Lester” Shash said.Then he turned and strode across the road.
“Thank you,” Les yelled at the closed window, his words bouncing loudly throughout the cab.He fumbled for the window switch, but by the time the window was opening Shash had crossed the road and was heading for the woods.Les watched mutely as the giant made his way into the beginnings of a cedar grove and vanished.
Lester McClain sat motionless gripping the steering wheel; feeling the gentle vibration born of the purring engine on his damp palms.Eventually coming out of his stupor he turned his gaze to McGee Creek.No sign of the bear.Releasing the wheel, he ran his hands through his hair leaning back with a long exhale.“Jesus!” He exclaimed for the third time that morning.He put the cruiser in gear. Fishing was no longer on the agenda.No, if fact Les was suddenly and overwhelmingly motivated to pursue indoor activities for the rest of the day. With a spray of gravel, he wheeled out onto the road, made a hurried U-turn and headed back down the mountain.
Days can lose their given names when one has no particular thing that must be done or no particular place to be.Every day can be a Saturday or any day for that matter.Lester McClain had managed to put himself in a position where the names of days had little relevance.He had been unlucky in love, a story for a later time, but lucky in the realm of finance and so he had opted for an early escape from the American grind.
Overlooking his remaining days from a fiscally secure vantage point, Les had decided to liquidate most of his holdings and deposited the substantial proceeds into a low-risk mutual fund.He then sold most of his possessions, keeping only what he could fit in his silver 1996 Toyota Land Cruiser and moved from San Francisco to Lee Vining California to take up a quiet life in the mountains.The ghosts and demons that followed him were unwelcome, so as most of us do he relegated them to the dungeon of his mind and went about his life as though they had never existed.
For several years now his routine had been simple, probably deathly dull to most, but mostly satisfying to him.Hike, fish, read, avoid dealing with any personal issues, hike some more, have a drink or three in the evening, sleep, repeat.That much time alone will make a man his own best friend, trusted confidant, or his own worst enemy.And so it was the case that Lester McClain had the habit of talking to himself out loud on a regular basis.
Les sat up blurry eyed on the old brown leather sofa opposite the kitchenette in his tiny cabin.The summer sun had demanded his attention at 5:30am.At that unreasonably early hour, his reluctant body rose to the ritual calling of his morning routine.
“I need some fucking curtains!” he muttered to himself.
Cold, fucking cold, water splashed on his face, mostly to force the eyes into focus. That focus revealed bloodshot blue eyes with a faint ring or yellow around the iris, greying, unkempt blond hair falling in tangles to his collar and a three-day beard. Having finished the unpleasantry of cold water coupled with a mirror prior to 6am Lester commenced a staggerer’s walk toward the kitchen to start the coffee.As he sat on the sofa waiting for the percolation to complete, he found himself regretting that last glass of bourbon, five drinks were not his custom.
“Nice to see you?” he remembered. “Who was that…guy?”Les had, by his own choice embraced a life a relative solitude.He had not, to his recollection, ever met this Shash who joined him last night at the bar, yet the giant had seemed to know him.“Ugh,” he thought, “I need coffee.”He made his way back across the spartan cabin floor, smooth worn pine boards seamed loosely to allow for the breathing of the seasons, to the kitchen counter and poured a tall cup of deep black waking.His hand rested on the chipped white tile countertop as he took a deep, tongue scalding gulp.“Ahh!”
The Land Cruiser engine roared, 6:15am time to be somewhere that was not here.“What day is it?” He thought.“Ah, does it matter? Nope.”He said to the steering wheel.He guided the shift lever into reverse and backed down the driveway.The sound of off-road tires on the gravel had become music to Les; the soundtrack to his comings and goings.
As he drove toward the Narrow Canyon, he remembered the bear.It had appeared way up river as he hooked the last of his three trout the day before.As he worked the line, he had seen out of the corner of his eye the massive shape of an upright full-grown Grizzly bear.He reeled the large rainbow hard but not so hard as to break the line then let it run a bit under the deep bend of the graphite rod, keeping an eye on the fish, using his peripheral vision to monitor on the bear.Les had seen bears before on the river and did not take such encounters lightly.As the fish fought for its freedom, the bear seemed only to watch.Les’ mind wandered to the holstered Browning .45 on his right hip.So fixated did his thoughts become on the gun and bear that he almost lost the fish.
When the fish finally surrendered, he looked directly at the bear.The bear too seemed finished and stepped away from the river, vanishing behind a stand of pines.Les netted the fish and turned downstream.He creek hopped thirty yards or so in the direction of the Land Cruiser then turned to scan for his possible pursuer.Nothing but water, stone, forest, and sky.He took the fish from the net and quickly ran his knife through to end it’s suffering.
“I’m sorry I made you wait” he whispered to the now at peace fish.“Thank you for the gift of your sustenance.”
Les checked again for the bear, no trace.He placed the third rainbow in his creel, secured his fly to the rod anchor and made for the safety of his truck.
Les, not being a superstitious man had not attributed anything to the incident with the bear other than a man and a bear happening by chance to be at the same place at the same time.Following that logic he decided while driving to change course, abandoning Narrow Canyon for a morning at McGee Creek.“No need to go where the bear is fishing,” he said to the dashboard, averting his eyes from the blazing morning sun that careened down the slopes of the Sierra Nevada mountains.The Cruiser slowed to a stop at a small parking turnout adjacent to McGee.Les turned the key and was about to pull it from the ignition when he saw it,the bear.A huge Grizzly bear was sitting by the river, pensively watching the water play across the rocks. As he watched, stunned, the bear looked up. Les thought he saw the faintest hint of a smile on its face.
Lester McClain sat at the bar, gazing over his glass of single barrel Four Roses bourbon at the glittering array of bottles along the mirrored wall.His hands rested on the worn oak bar top, its lacquer nearly nonresistant in places where for decades patrons had leaned their elbows, set their belongings or held on for dear life as the countless drinks had taken hold.The bartender passed back and forth, no more than an blur; a ghost drifting this way then that serving the spirit needs of the living.
Les had been fly fishing the Narrow Canyon Creek that day.It had been a good day for such adventure.Not too hot, the water was crystal clear as it hadn’t rained in a week, and the trout had been in the mood to be deceived.He had cleaned and packed the catch of three rainbows on ice before walking the pine-lined lane from his cabin to the Sierra Springs Tavern for his nightly cocktail.It was a relatively normal day, except for the bear.
The faintest scent of tobacco wafted in with the opening of the door. Les loved the aroma of tobacco, cigarettes, cigars or pipes; which was odd because he couldn’t stand the taste of any of them and so did not partake.
“Mind if I sit,” rasped a deep voice from behind and to his left.
Lester turned to see a man of substantial presence, heavy brown beard, bushy eyebrows, long wild hair and usually large deep brown eyes.So dark was the brown of the man’s eye color that it was hard to tell where his irises ended and the pupils began.
“Be my guest,” Les offered, sliding to his right to make room for the unusually large man.
The old stool groaned as the stranger sat and the bar flinched to a near buckle under the weight of his massive forearms. He seemed familiar, in an odd, not particularly comfortable way, as though Les had met him in a dream but never in waking life.He thought it curious that this fellow had chosen the neighboring seat at the long spacious bar.Perhaps he was in need of companionship.From the wild look of him, Les surmised that he might have gone quite some time without conversation or at least a conversation with someone who wasn’t concerned for their personal safety.
The phantom barkeep materialized in front of the two men but took a half step back when he focused on the newcomer.
“Shash,” he blurted, “long time no see.” His tone teetered between conversational and disconcerted.“What can I get you?”
“Old Rip Van Winkle 25, double.”
“No.”As an afterthought, Shash added, “thank you, no thank you on the ice.”
The barkeep vanished.Les turned to his new companion, who seemed suddenly lost in thought, “Name’s Lester, Lester McClain.”
“Yes,” agreed the stranger.Silence.Perhaps he wasn’t interested in conversation after all.The keep set the glass of Rip down on the bar; it seemed to emit the faintest glow.
“I’ve never heard of Old Rip Van Winkle” Les offered. “I’m a Four Roses man myself.”
“It’s not sold here, Old Rip Van Winkle,” said Shash.“Junior keeps it in a hidden cabinet at the end of the bar.”
“Junior?” Les thought, the guy’s name is Dillon.Though he surmised, compared to this substantial gentleman, everyone was a ‘Junior’ of sorts.
“How was the fishing today?” The giant asked.
“Ah, good.How did you know I was fishing.”
“I can smell it.”Shash offered.
Lester raised his glass as if to take a sip, which he did.More of a gulp really, but it was the sniffing of his hand, which he had thoroughly washed that was his true intention.He smelled only soap and bourbon.
The brown-eyed man raised his glass, swallowed the double in one gulp, set the glass down gently on the bar.
“Nice to see you, Lester.Be well.”With that he rose, his stool exhaling a sigh of relief.He adjusted his enormous brown leather coat, turned and walked out of the bar.
“Nice to see you, Lester?”Les thought, did I get too much sun today?
Dillon returned.“Everything okay?” He asked, a bead of sweat escaping his hairline.
“Yeah, ah, yeah, fine.Can I have another Four Roses please?”
“On the house.”Dillon offered, pouring quickly then darting off.
“On the house? That’s a first!” Les thought, swirling his bourbon in the glass. He watched the amber liquid cling to the walls of the cylindrical vessel then slowly fall in viscous waves under gravity’s pull.Dillon scurried outside for a smoke break.Les sipped his bourbon, considering the odd moments that had just passed, trying to conjure any waking memory of his curious new acquaintance.The sweet smell of Dillon’s cigarette wafted through the open front door of the Sierra Springs Tavern.Les inhaled deeply, raised his glass and took a long pull.
Night fell hours ago.As dusk settled over the barren desert landscape, I switched on the headlights.The hum of the engine seems to drum in rhythm with the broken white lines that define the two sides of this strip of desolate highway.Darkness envelopes the world leaving only that which is directly before me to consider.The interior lighting of the console wraps me in a soft amber glow.The high beams offer about one hundred yards of insight into my future; my immediate future to be specific.I drive on in what I believe to be relative safety; confident in the precept that, though I cannot see my destination I will, in ever forward moving hundred yard increments, ultimately reach it.
In truth, though night fell years ago, decades ago, a lifetime ago, metaphorically speaking.The droning of the engine is comforting here in the desert, a white noise lullaby.One of my favorite memories from childhood, prior to the wise institution of seatbelt laws, was be to curled up on the bench back seat of my parents’ station wagon on the way home from some night time gathering.There in the darkness, I’d find comfort in the purr of the Dodge Polara engine and the gentle pitch and sway the given roadway afforded.The gatherings themselves were sometimes fun, sometimes awkward, these were my parents’ friends, who often happened to have children around my age.Regardless of how the evening went, whether I enjoyed it or simply endured it; I always looked forward to the comfort of the slow strobe of street lights reflecting off the vinyl upholstery. I would bury my face in the seam between the seat and backrest, welcoming the warm decent into dream state.
The white lines whip past me, ticking my journey off in nanoseconds.I see little more than these in my given hundred yards of illumination.An occasional signage alerts me to a coming lonely intersection, or town if one could call a desert gas station and closed motel a town, but that is about all I know of my next few minutes.So it has been with the daylight of my life as well.Many of us take life day by day, week by week or month by month.I count myself among that number.I drive through life using the throw of metaphorical headlights to see just far enough down the road to keep my foot on the accelerator.This approach has gotten me here, now, halfway across the southern border Joshua Tree National Park eastbound on U.S. Interstate 10 in the dead of night; speeding I might add, 95 in a 70mph zone.
What if instead of headlights I had searchlights?Of course, mounting searchlights to the roof of my car and plowing through the night might be perceived as incredibly inconsiderate by oncoming drivers, and likely more illegal than my 95 in a 70.But I think as I fly by another desolate rest stop, what would my life be like if I used searchlights to illuminate the future?How would my understanding of this present moment change?Hundreds of miles of possibilities, opportunities and choices would suddenly be illuminated in the space that was once a desert of impenetrable darkness.Some have done so, or we wouldn’t have electric lights at all.
Sometimes things feel so spot on, so figured out. Other times things feel so fucked! Honesty is both beautiful and ugly, so here we go. Glass half full, glass half empty, glass whatever until shit hits the fan. You’ve had a bad day right? You’ve had some good ones too? I’ve had both and can unequivocally offer my opinion of the difference between them; I don’t dig the darkness. It’s easy for me to be up when I’m fortunate enough to awaken on the right side of the bed, if something truly wonderful has happened in my life, or if I have an audience to entertain. It’s also easy for me to find the shadows when the hall is empty, or the vicissitudes of fate choose a game of random misery.
Spirit, soul, perspective, blow with the wind when no one is looking. We’ve all likely found darkness shrouding our path at some point. We’ve also probably been fortunate enough to know lightness. I experience both in a relatively favorable measure, but today it is the darkness that accompanies me as I make my way. Odd that a life I feel to be so fortunate should seem so dismal at this moment. History tells me it will pass. And thank god! A funny expression emanating my lips “Thank god,” as I do not currently ascribe to conventional western religious doctrine. Still, I feel it, the meaning of “Thank god,” balls to bones because I have faith. Faith not in books, nor figureheads, but in “It!” The “It” that binds us all together in this life.
How are your dark days? Mine are daunting. Sometimes I feel fearful in my solitude. Afraid that I will fail those I love. Worried that I will fail me! Ha, shouldn’t I have included myself in the numbers of the former? How will I fail? By not showing up, not delivering the promise of optimism and perseverance to which I have committed?
Depression is the antichrist to hopeful endeavor, and some days when I feel it’s weight bearing down on me I find no solace, no sense of possibility for escape. For context, I do not suffer from the type of debilitating depression that some struggle with. Fortune smiles on my brain chemistry in that regard. I am talking about run of the mill, “get over yourself” feelings of depression. The emotional state one simply has to face, and vanquish.
It is to a great extent the way in our culture to have ears only for, “Fine” or “Great thanks,” in response to the question, “How are you?” Who has time for the real answer right? To avoid pariah status, when I find my soul cloaked in crushing darkness I lie, “Doing well, thanks. You?” Perhaps being born in the United States where the concept of “Rugged Individualism” is a historical cornerstone, this automatic response is coded into my DNA. Though from what I’ve read, Rugged Individualism is a walk in the park relative to the DNA encoding that the English have saddled themselves with! Interestingly, my genealogy leads in no small way to that tight-lipped isle of rain-soaked woe. Not super surprising that an occasional down day should find me.
Today I listened to a Tim Ferris Show podcast featuring the renowned psychologist Jack Kornfield. Jack’s career began in the jungles of Thailand where in his twenties while serving with the peace corp he decided to become a Buddhist monk. As he explained, it was a painful but enlightening (pun intended) journey that lead him to new perspectives on self, self-hatred, and self-love, compassion, and empathy. I bring this up because his words struck me hard. Hard as in repeated blows of a mighty love hammer. Multiple times while listening I spontaneously began to weep. Something in his message hit trigger points over and over again. This experience crescendoed during his closing comments which left me clutching my heart, crying full voice on the futon in the family room. Futon? What am I, a college student? Whatever!
Jack’s wisdom and his message of loving-kindness (insert “snowflake quip here) touched me deeply. It afforded me a window through which I saw metaphorical rays of sunlight. The darkness that had enveloped me for the last few days seemed to cower and then diminish. Tim’s conversation with Jack somehow pierced the black veil of my personal manifestation of Rugged Individualism. It reminded me that we are not, or do not have to choose to remain alone in our struggles. Jack’s words reasserted the possibility of choosing to breach the norm of, “I’m fine.” The chance to reach for connection, and more importantly offer connection, with compassion to those we find wrapped in the solitary binds of darkness.
If you struggle alone with your demons, you can share that burden. You have options. Check out Jack’s thoughts on the subject via the link provided below. Write a comment. Please share your story. Together we are strong enough to shed light on the darkness. Together we can create brilliance!
The patience cat came to stay on an unusually warm Saturday in late July. She was accompanied by two siblings who clearly regarded her as the least significant of their clan. The serial cat rescuers we acquired these new family members from defined her as the runt of the litter. Funny word for living things, “litter!” Kittens come into the world in one, cats relieve themselves in it, and humans prone to indiscretion cast it from the windows of speeding cars along the highways of America as a malevolent gift to society at large. Anyway, the three kittens, two silver tabby girls and one-half tabby, half polished polar bear boy crawled tentatively over the edge of their cardboard limo to explore the new world. “Ugh, linoleum,” thought the patience cat at first touch, what have we gotten ourselves into?
Interestingly that was also one of my first thoughts when I bought the place. That said, Linoleum is an amazing substance, tackiness notwithstanding. No offense meant to lovers of the flooring option. It (linoleum) is an amazingly forgiving, and down-the-road money-saving choice. For instance, when the 1970’s fridge that came with this fossilized house offers up a couple of quarts of “where the hell did that water come from” around its base, or one of the cats yacks their morning kibble and half the lawn on it, its cool. Linoleum saves the day via its impermeable countenance. A few rags or paper towels solve the problem, and no one has to lose sleep over absorbency. Excellent! The fact that someone actually gets paid to create the god-awful designs featured on most plastic flooring products must rank high among god’s jokes, but I digress?
As human children grow up their personalities being to emerge, or if their ways of being have been made clear early on, they magnify. The Patience Cat was no exception. Being a firstborn myself, by many years actually, (only child until I was six), I can’t imagine what it must be like to be the weakest among seven born within twenty minutes. In the litter arena, I imagine getting food, let alone parental nurturing has a gladiatorial survival essence about it. So yes, she was slight of build, to put it mildly. In fact, she looked like a bobblehead. That said, unlike many of her kind, she survived. In her little cat way, she found footing in a loving home and made a place for herself, possibly due to the three, well-distanced food bowl placement strategy employed at our place.
So it was that the Patience Cat became a teenager. The intersection of safety with dependable continuity from day to day allows one to spread their wings. The Patience Cat found this to be true for her. The unruliness and demands of a teenager manifested in her every action. The quirks this girl displays make for regular conversation fodder around the house. Which for context I must say is a house inhabited by three men two teenagers and yours truly.
This kitty girl, with all her issues, is a gift to us. For one thing she is a lovely little soul. On top of that, her style of interaction provides a constant reminder that patience is a choice. Patience was in short supply in the halls where I dwelled during my early years. So it is I imagine in most households featuring young, busy parents and challenging offspring. Though I was first born, and therefore not classified as a runt by traditional definition, I was not remotely familiar with golden child status, nor accustomed to patience as a guiding hand during my assent to adulthood, (an assent which I’m not sure I’ve completed). The apple, as they say, does not fall far from the tree, unless a benevolent tornado has been involved in logistical reassignment proceedings. As a result, the expression “patience is a virtue” comes to mind in no small way on a daily basis for me. The Patience Cat then has become something of a guide, a guardian angel if you will, to remind me of my choice to be accepting of others. In particular, she has reminded me to make space for those who, by no fault, or choosing of their own, do shit that makes me want to go volcanic!
Do you remember that kid in school who tried way too hard to get attention? Everybody shunned that poor desperate bastard or bastardette right? That’s the Patience Cat! Working at the laptop, perched on the couch with a cocktail, I’ll be intensely focused on a project. Then here she comes, sliding her dripping, enthusiastic nose across my arm, ensuring a typo as she works her way toward obscuring my view of the screen. Even now as I am typing this piece, she has been nudging and nuzzling my arm with that running nose to the damp tune of a multitude of “red underlined” typos. Ugh! But wait, she just wants connection. That’s not a crime. So I have to take a breath and chill, in lieu of my automatic response which would be to escort her from the couch physically, possibly to a neighboring county. Yes, I can be an insensitive ass. The boys, who have had similar experiences, find her to be equally intrusive and disruptive. We discuss it, regularly. Good for her though, we ultimately decide, grudgingly. She goes for what she wants. Plenty of humans never find the courage to quest for the fulfillment of their needs. Again, the Patience Cat is a guide, a role model even.
Though she can be trying on multiple levels, she is family. The name Patience Cat, which I might add, is her most flattering nickname to date, arose from her curious behavior at the threshold of our patio door. It was late December, the temperature hovering at 7º. She wanted to go outside, sort of. She meowed at the door; I opened it wide offering unobstructed passage. She backed up, timid, uncertain. Confused, I closed the door. She again meowed and approached the door. Once more I pulled the door open allowing the winter chill to wither the already wilting kitchen. Again she backed up and declined the offer. This time I Thought, “well what the fuck cat?” Then it dawned on me; she has an issue with crossing the threshold. Perhaps she’d been hit in the ass by that door at some point on her proverbial “way out.” Not on my watch, but we have had cat sitters while on vacation. Hmmm? I mustered a patience flame from deep within. Standing there freezing my ass off, while hundreds of dollars of central heat poured into the leafless, frigid backyard I waited.
I spoke gently to her, assuring her that she could exit safely, and would be let back in should she change her mind. She looked at me as if to say, “I don’t speak English, you silly fuck!” I stood still, recognizing at that moment the opportunity to undo a lifetime of patience-less perspective. Slowly she moved, one tiny, cautious step at a time across that insanely hideous greenish plaid-ish linoleum toward the doorway. Minutes passed, hours, days, lifetimes. Suddenly she rushed the door. As she approached the threshold, she leaped several feet in the air kicking her hide quarters to the side like a freestyle motocross rider and flew out into the winter night.
Stunned, I watched her dash across the frozen grass, then realizing my shiver along with the icicles forming on my eyelashes, closed the door. Click went the latch. There in that dark, cold, horribly neglected 1950’s kitchen I stood stone still. Moments passed. A smile slowly crossed my lips; then laughter burst from me. The Patience Cat, the smallest and least likely to survive had delivered a late Christmas present. Patience grew where once there was none. It is a choice that can manifest, a gift, a survivable option for one to whom it had formerly been no more than a myth. Who knew?
If you’re still stuck on the 7º bit, fear not. I did a lap or two around the house turning off lights and saying good nights, returned to the kitchen, and called the little girl in.