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.
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.
A salesman came to the door yesterday.I was drinking black coffee in the living room when I heard the knock. We don’t get many uninvited callers on our long dead-end street, which works out well for me.I slowly set down my old white porcelain mug and rose from my writing perch on the dark brown leather sofa.Click went the lock. We have no peephole so the next bit would have to be a surprise.There he stood, in a smart black suit, attaché case in his left hand, right hand cupped to his mouth.Think he was checking the state of his breath.
“Hello,” I said.
“Good afternoon,” he replied, quickly lowering his hand.
“My name is Xavier Mulligan, may I please have a moment of your time to present a most irresistible opportunity?”
“How irresistible?” I asked, wreaking of doubt.
“Exceedingly irresistible sir, I assure you.Give me but two minutes to introduce the offer and if by that time you are not interested I will vacate directly,”he said with unwavering confidence.
“Ah, okay.” I reluctantly mumbled.
“May I come in?”
“I suppose,” I said.My hesitation painting my face into a near grimace.Though truth be told, I was a tad intrigued.
“Thank you kindly,” he said accepting the opening door with a quick step forward and then there we were in my living room.My cooling coffee cup reminding me of traditional hosting duties.
“And how would you like to be called?”
“Excuse me?” I said.
“Your name?” He nodded.
“Oh, Landon, Landon Cooper,” I said.Then with the slightest of disarmed stutters, “Would you like a cup of coffee Mr…?”
“Please, call me Xavier,” he offered politely.
I almost laughed thinking that calling him “Xavier” seemed a thousand times more formal than using any surname I’d ever heard.
“Alright, coffee then Xavier?”
“No thank you, but I would love a spot of tea if you happen to have the leaf in-house.”
“I do,” I said fighting the involuntary raise of my eyebrow.“Will Earl Grey do?”
“Oh yes, that would be splendid,” he said, running his free hand through his silvering dark hair.
I realized that by asking for tea, he had cleverly extended the original terms of his ‘two-minute pitch cap.’What had I gotten myself into?
As I microwaved the water for his “spot of Tea” I found myself thinking, “spot of tea?”“Did this guy come to the neighborhood in a Tardis?”My next thought was, “This fucker may be completely psycho and looking to eat my liver with those beans and a fine Chianti.”
I mentally checked in with the baseball bat in the hall closet, then the shotgun in the laundry room; took a breath, set the Earl Grey tea bag in the steaming mug and returned to the living room in the full bloom of questioning my sanity for letting this tea drinking stranger into my home.
“Thank you, sir,” he said, taking the mug and bouncing the bag to encourage the darkening of its brew.
“Again I don’t want to waste your time, so I’ll get right to it.” He said, adopting a serious tone and looking me straight in the eye.
“I’m in the business of unique opportunity.”He began, “extremely rare opportunity actually.”He paused, sipping his tea, eyeing me with a calm, confident smile.
“I see,” I said.“And what sort of opportunity are we talking about?” I asked with a hint of polite aggression.
“I’m in the business of second chances,” he offered, taking another sip of tea.
I stared at him.No words formed.
“Yes, it is an unusual product, to be certain.”He offered,“In short supply and little known on the open market.”
My blank stare slowly transformed into an open-mouthed “huh?”
“Mr. Cooper, if you had it to do all over again would you?”He asked.
“Do what all over again?”I’m sure my tone of voice unveiled the blend of curiosity, incredulity, and consternation coursing through my mind.A mind that had minutes before been at relative peace.Which for me is saying something.
“It, all of it, your life!” He stated matter of factly.
“Okay, what the hell,” Was all I could come up with.
He stared into my eyes, took a long sip from his mug then spoke.“I’m am authorized to offer you a do-over; a second go at this very life you are living right now.
“How…what the…how the hell would that work?” I sputtered.
“Very simply actually.You sign a few documents acknowledging your desire to indeed “Do it all over again” then poof, off you go to take a second run at this one life.”
I gaped at him in total disbelief, absent-mindedly spilling a bit of black coffee into my lap.
“Poof!” I stammered.“What exactly do you mean by poof?”
“I mean you would be born again into this world to have another go.Don’t you think it would be amazing to have a second chance at a lifetime here on earth?Think of all the things you could do, create, accomplish with a second chance!”He settled back on the sofa opposite me and waited, unblinking.
“What about this life?” I thought to myself.“I love this life.”I took a gulp of lukewarm coffee which suddenly seem not nearly strong enough.
“Forgive the language Xavier, but what the fuck are you talking about?How the hell would that work and why should it?More importantly, why have I of all people been selected for this, and I quote ‘unique opportunity’?” My voice rising to a crescendo of insolence by the end of the sentence.
“You’ve earned it,” he offered politely.“I understand that this is, well, odd at the very least but I assure you this opportunity is most legitimate.Please take a moment to sit with it.May I refill my tea?The kitchen is just through there yes?”
I nodded.Xavier rose and headed toward the kitchen; the clip-clop of his dress shoes on the hardwoods gradually fading.I fidgeted on the couch, uneasy, certain that I was either dreaming, crazy, or had accidentally made myself an unbelievably strong midday Irish coffee.Not my habit.
“As a rule, there are knives in a kitchen,” I thought.But if he came here for that purpose, he’d most likely have everything he needed for the job in that attaché case of his.I accepted the likelihood that he was not going to the kitchen for a knife and turned my thoughts the far more ridiculous reason for his visit, offering me a do-over!
Was he offering me a second chance at life because I’d fumbled this one?Was the offer a reward, an act of charity, or on a more sinister note, was it a punishment?Was it a test?I took quick synaptic inventory of my many years and saw ample flashes of regret.Yes, I found things I would have done differently if I had them to do over again.I also found moments, hours, years that I would not trade for all the Earl Grey in China or anywhere else.I sipped the now cold coffee.
There are a million ways to do life; to lose and to win, to surrender and just let it happen. There are moments of triumph and moments of regret.There are memories to wish away, others to celebrate. Perhaps, most importantly all those instances are available to make peace with.Though I’m sure these thoughts have lived in my subconscious every day, I realized in that instant that I’m not proud of everything I’ve done, neither am I ashamed of the life I’ve chosen.Are we here to be perfect, or to learn, and grow?And there was the answer.Crashing out of my flashback trance, I released a deep sigh.Mr. Xavier Mulligan returned with his tea, smiling.
“So,” he said, “What’s the verdict?”
“Hmm, Mr. Mulligan?”
“Please, call me Xavier.” He corrected
“Oh right, Xavier, I’m, ah, I’m going to have to say no to your kind offer,”I said with a new found smile.
“Really,” he said taking a sip of what seemed from the copious amount of steam to be scalding hot tea, without wincing.
“Yes,” I said.“I’m grateful for the gesture, and I do believe this is a most rare opportunity indeed.That said, I also realize that the very trip I’m engaged in at this moment is also a rare opportunity. An opportunity to experience my ‘one’ life, complete with all its gifts, and its share of misfortune; experiences which I’m not likely to recapture should I abandon it now.”I said raising my mug to swill the last bit of room temperature clarity.
“I see,” he said.“Understood, understood.Well then, I suppose it is time for me to take my leave as we have no further business here.Before I go, are you absolutely sure of your choice?”He asked.
“Yes, I am,” I said.Then in what appeared to be a choreographed moment we rose simultaneously, his steaming cup still holding court on its coaster.He lifted his attaché, gave a slight bow, and strode toward the front door.I followed and reached to open it as he buttoned his coat.
“Thank you for your time Mr. Cooper, I’m sorry to have wasted it,” He said.
“Not at all Mr. Mulligan, if fact it seems you’ve given me a gift.”I offered.
“Have I?” He smiled.“Excellent!”He said crossing the threshold and making his way down the front steps into the brilliant sunlight of the late spring day.
Apologies. I’m guessing I haven’t offered enough of them in my lifetime. Neither I’m sure, have I received some that might have been deserved, but that bit is beyond my control. “Deserve’s got nothing to do with,” or so I’ve heard Clint Eastwood say, and so I’ll leave that be for now.Apologizing is the most potent acts of healing in the human relational inventory.A heartfelt apology can repair seemingly permanent damage. The act can even spark the rebuilding of ostensibly terminal relationships.Apologizing is a two-way wonder drug.So why is it that when it’s needed most this seemingly simple choice can appear so utterly unavailable to us?
Hello Ego!The pride-o-meter sits pinned at eleven.“Sorry?” I spit.“Ha, I’m not sorry, I’m fucking pissed!”Sound familiar?“It’s they, not I who should be asking for forgiveness.”Here I am once again, facing a barricade I’ve built obstructing the pathway to reconciliation and so created the need for the other person’s permission to move forward.Waiting for an apology is just that, waiting.Waiting in lieu of acting, of taking the chance, of creating an opportunity for resolution.
Pride is a fickle mistress.It can afford us the intense bravado needed to inflate our personal myth of invincibility, which in a fight or flight situation can be useful.However, when the peak intensity of such an engagement subsides, we are left with the stance we took based on pride, not on love.“Love,” where did that come from?Hmmm, from the idea that if we truly want peace, we have to choose it.Peace is my favorite, but clearly not a universal choice for ‘state of being.’Have you ever apologized to someone only to find that the words had no effect on them?Come to understand that your act of contrition bore no fruit in your effort to create healing?Me too!Some people thrive on conflict, and that is either a nature, nurture or both thing, over which we have no power other than a heartfelt, “ugh!”
Sometimes offering an apology is not a practical option.In such downward spiraling relationships, we may find the right answer to be ‘cut and run.’Sometimes we have to let things go.The real challenge lies in determining, and owning the difference between circumstances beyond our control, i.e., dealing with an ‘unreasonable’ person, and situations in which we have been party to the wrongs that might well be righted by a diminishment of our own ego posturing.Difficult yes, but not insurmountable. It is painful to think about lost friendships or loves that might have been saved by an apology. Could they still be?
These days I find myself apologizing rather frequently; though I’m sure I still miss some prime opportunities to take responsibility. I say “I’m sorry” to my sons when I’ve wrapped up a solid performance of being less than the father I’d like to be. I can see in their eyes that it lands, and moves them. Perhaps, more importantly, it may someday help them with the task of owing their own spells of less than stellar behavior. Hopefully, it will instill in them the notion that choosing to initiate the making of amends is not an act of weakness. Rather, it is an act of strength, or so I believe, survivable and often enriching.
Heartfelt apologies spring from a bottomless well within us. They are an infinitely renewable resource. The courage to make the first move of reparations may be buried deep. At times it may seem utterly impossible to grasp. Even so, I believe it is always worth the reach.
Right now I am not…in the company of chaos that is. If I choose that the boundaries of my home are the ends of the universe all seems to stand in a state of relative calm. However, should I venture into the realm of online news, social media, or wander into the wrong place at the wrong time I find myself in a veritable shit storm of well…chaos.
As a rule, I choose peace. Am I in the minority? More and more it would seem that whether chosen or not, some manner of war is the order of the day. Why? Why stir things up? Why choose a harsh word, or a bullet instead of lending a hand, or kind word? Why indeed? Why choose to inflict harm, be it physical or psychological, instead of help or even, as a commitment to the possible benefits of non-action, resort to silence?
Human drama, a sport, a whim, perhaps a necessary evil? Is it evil? To me, it feels that way, but I have been most fortunate in my life to always have Maslow’s hierarchy met, so who am I to say. Some in my same situation seem to feel more alive taking stands on behalf of those who sell division as a commodity. Ego is a tempestuous mistress. I feel more alive when more people have the chance to join me in that act; the act of feeling alive that is, and at peace.
Balance is ancient. Historically, balance seems to be the adversarial antidote to chaos. Chaos in turn, seems to be a human psychologically supported virus of sorts. A virus by nature identifies, attacks and overtakes its host in order to survive. Curiously when the virus has accomplished its goal the host is ultimately brought down, and so comes to an end. ‘The virus’ having attained its goal of domination ensures by its success its own demise. Chaos, if viral at its core is calling to the “Dionysian Being” in all those who will listen. We cannot live in chaos for long, pursuing chaos we ensure only our own temporary fix of adrenaline, followed then by our unavoidable ruin.
Does the desperate need for meaning lead to this ‘run of the lemmings’ in our human species? Some behavior I’ve witnessed would lend credence to this hypothesis. Could the need for meaning instead lead to a reach for calm, peace, perspective…a pause? One would certainly hope so. But where would we get our precious drama?
It is easy to imagine solutions when not under fire. Corrections or right answers seem so obvious in the tranquility of a placid, comfortable familiar repose. Many people struggle in ways I cannot fathom. Others live opulent lifestyles afforded them by hard work, commitment and no small turn of good fortune, for which they most likely take full credit. I’m not saying these beings don’t work for what they have but are we not all members of this world, and so potentially capable of perspective, empathy, and humility? Be these situations as they may, chaos stirs, in and around us all.
Do we look, or look away? Hiding our heads as long as we presume ourselves safe. If the floodgates that have until now kept chaos in check finally burst, there will be no hiding from its faceless wrath. What then? What solutions will we wish we had committed to when we had the chance. What sacrifices will we wish we had made. What courage will we muster when the gun barrel finds us, be we armed, or empty-handed?
Have thoughts on the subject? Please comment. Life is bigger and better with shared experience!