Broken things, some we are quick to cast aside, some are not so easily released.A Van Gogh, a toy doll, a locket, a person; all come into existence with the sheen of shiny fresh brand new ‘here I am.”Over time that bit fades, ultimately replaced by the thing that most often happens to things that persist in the act of existence,some sort of brokenness.A locket or pocket watch have sentiment on their side.If these become broken a fix of some sort is possible if the owner is sufficiently motivated by emotional attachment.What of broken people?As I glance to my left wrist, I see my great grandfather’s watch. He, a broken thing that ultimately could not be “fixed’ left this working timepiece as a memory.
Hearts are regularly broken; so are bonds of friendship, vows, and refrigerators.The casting aside and replacing of broken things happens when we lose faith, often rightly so, in the possibility of repair.Other times we simply must do the work of restoration or so parish, as with our hearts.I have a sentimental streak that has caused a light hoarding behavior at times.I hold onto my collection of five old runner sleds even as the warming of the earth no longer offers winter in my part of the world.The sleds aren’t broken.However, their usefulness is but a memory.Still, like a locket bearing the picture of a loved one, in my case winter, they hold value, hope, promise, or nostalgia, that I am reluctant to release.
I’ve walked some of my days with a broken heart, many adult humans do.Fill in the blank as to the details with your own experiences, and we will likely be in understanding of one another.It is a scar, or a badge, or a shitty outcome that clings to the soul like a limpet to the hull of a sailing vessel.It by itself will not plot the course of a journey though it may slow the runnings.So it goes with we who have minds made of chains that rattle and dance each morning when we decide to once again rise and face the day.
I learned yesterday that my best friend of thirty-eight years, Dr. David, (mentioned in a previous Random Fiction blog post “Free Fall,” irony included) has acute leukemia. He has passed, at least temporarily from the realm of shiny new things into that of the broken.He wore a brave face Thursday as he entered a month of hospitalized solitude to face down his indiscriminate adversary in a firestorm of chemotherapy.
Interestingly, several months ago, before this category 5 shit-storm reared its ugly head, Dave and I spent a weekend visiting the college town where he and I met. Our in the moment state of unbrokenness found us commenting that we both felt as though we were still the same boys that had made acquaintance there those many years ago.Alas, as some friend of Anne Lamott’s said, “we are all born astride the grave.”Acknowledging that fact is ultimately both a curse and a relief… at least for me.That said, I will give any and all of my time, money, and bone marrow to fix this particular broken thing.Love to you my dearest friend.My heart is with you all the way.
Let’s say I’m down to my last dime?Let’s also say that I have to make that dime go as far as I can seeing as it represents the totality of my remaining financial resources.What would I buy?Not much probably, seeing as a dime doesn’t go as far as it used to.I’m not even sure I could buy a gumball with a dime today.So here I am down to my last dime.Let’s also say that you too are down to your last dime.Are you anxious? Scared?Or are you exhilarated, confident, sure that you can turn that dime into a fortune?If you’re the latter, I’ll be wanting some of the magic dust you’ve been huffing.I’d also be curious to know how, with such confidence and aplomb, you came to have a total net worth of ten cents.But I digress.
Back to our predicament, or at least to me, it would undoubtedly feel predicament-ish.Do you have a safety net…family with means, friends, standing by to catch you if you fall, people who care?If so perhaps being down to your last dime is difficult for your pride or ego, but not a threat to your health or safety.If that is the case then ‘lucky you.’Let’s say for the sake of argument that I have a safety net too, puts us on an even footing as we walk this road of destitution.But if we both have a safety net, I submit that we’re not truly down to our last dime.We have the social circumstance of connectedness which we may very likely take for granted day to day. However, that to which we may give little thought, that which seems ‘normal’ to us… is not normal for everyone.If you don’t believe me spend a few minutes researching “poverty” on the internet…wow!
How does one determine the value of a safety net?Unless one actually ‘falls’ the net may as well not exist.Without a slip, a stumble, mistake, calamity, wrong turn, poor choice, bad luck… you get the picture, a safety net is conceptual,. It’s an idea.Does having it help you sleep better at night?I never thought about mine until now…now that I’m down to my last dime… suddenly it’s all I can think about.How grateful I am that people care enough about me to reach out to catch me should I fall.
Back to the notion of “normal.”What if our ‘normal’ was “safety-net-free”?What if this was indeed the last dime.What if by some twist of fate we were falling through the cracks, and no one noticed?How would that last dime feel between your fingers?How would the world around you look as you held it?How would you spend that last dime?Would you find yourself entering a shop meekly asking the clerk to change your dime for ten pennies?Would you find a wishing well?Would you stand there and earnestly make ten consecutive wishes that somehow you would be saved from this fate before you walked away to sleep under a bridge that night?I might!
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.
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.
“There’s a kid in my bed,” I thought to myself.Out of context, that phrase could raise a red flag or two, no?The kid in my bed, however, was my youngest who had asked me several hours earlier, “Daddy, can I sleep in your bed?”To which I replied “No.”
Hmm, perhaps he is a budding somnambulist, or maybe he’s just confident enough in his ninja abilities to believe that he could enter my room, and then my bed without being detected.Either way there he was sound asleep, peaceful, wonderful.
Acceptance is not always synonymous with surrender, or in this case defeat.Acceptance, in my opinion, is one of the pillars of ‘Minimal Damage Parenting.’Minimal Damage Parenting I believe is the best we raisers of offspring can hope to achieve.It’s a foregone conclusion that when it comes to parental duties, we will at some point fuck up royally leaving emotional scars at various depths which will ensure the lucrative futures of those in the fields of psychology or psychiatry for generations to come.So I accepted the fact that I had a sleeping boy inhabiting the easternmost part of my king sized bed, rolled over, smiling about the amazing good fortune of playing father to two truly lovely young men, snuggled my face into my pillow and clocked out.
“Dude…you peed the bed!”
As the words left my lips, I put a last moment spin on my inflection in an effort to remove any note of anger or shaming.
“It’s okay buddy, but please let’s strip the bed and throw everything in the washing machine.”This was not the first time my son had had an ‘accident’…in fact, he was a chronic “sleep pisser.”Some parents get bent about this kinda shit, but I’ve decided that, other than doing more laundry than the average bear family, it’s no big deal.I’m quite confident that it’s not his idea of a good time and that he will eventually grow out of it.
Acceptance, not of bad behavior, sloth, disrespect, cruelty, etc., but of things which ‘just happen’ and will eventually stop happening can only be positive.I believe this is what healthy parenting is all about.Shame is a toxin.As an adult, we may choose to partake in the use of toxins for the purpose of overcoming our inadequate coping abilities, the quelling or social anxiety, or whatever.Children, however, don’t have the same “recreational” luxury.However, they are vulnerable to psychological toxins and are unlikely to choose exposure to them of their own free will.Were you ever shamed by your caregivers?If so, pretty awesome right?
Shame is a prime mover in our society.It’s an under lurker that bears no face on the surface but wears a monster’s mask under the bed.If you feel that you bear no shame you are either lying, unusually lucky or a psychopath.
A painful feeling of humiliation or distress caused by the consciousness of wrong or foolish behavior.
So says the dictionary.Interesting interpretation.I find it curious that this definition of shame put all onus on the one bearing shame and none on any outside influence that may be assigning it.Is all shame real, or is some shame framed for us by those who simply want us to feel bad about circumstances that displease them?Have you ever had a bad day?Have you ever taken that bad day out on someone who had nothing to do with it?I have…ugh!Just writing it here makes my stomach turn.Yes, I’ve been that entitled asshole.And I’ve seen them, at gas stations, in restaurants, in the workplace, and of course, at Walmart.
So back to parenting for a sec.Kids are easy prey.They are vulnerable.They are trusting.They don’t know how to discern the difference between reasonable accountability, and unreasonable judgment.How many apologies for shaming do we get before we’ve cried wolf one too many times?If we are able to ask forgiveness at all?I ask this not in an accusing tone.Rather in the spirit of circumspection.I didn’t have the misfortune of pissing the bed, but holy shit do I have my share of issues.My sons don’t deserve my shame.They don’t deserve any shame at all.Did I mention that shame, in my opinion, is a toxin?
Being a parent is many things.Hopefully first and foremost being a parent is perpetrating the act of helping your children find a path to grow into the best possible versions of themselves.Shame has no part in that journey.If you disagree, well, as they say, shame on you.
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.