There is no book that falls down from the sky that gives you all the answers to the questions you will have in life. You have to find them on your own. The contexts will vary and cannot be summarily covered in simple platitudes and phrases that can be molded to fit any and every circumstance.
When you find that your explanations aren’t understood by the ones to whom you are offering them, you dig into yourself and find other words, you make stories or render analogies that the other person will perceive as pertaining to them; you keep looking until you find those other words.
When your heart is breaking, you have to tell the ones who broke it that they need to stop doing whatever it is that broke your heart. You need to trust and love them enough, sometimes, to make yourself that vulnerable.
If it seems that only one side is heard in a contest, in an argument, in a positioning of hearts and souls, you keep looking for ways to make the other side heard…but you look for the signposts that tell you that they and you have passed those same and other markers…again and again, so you find other words, explore other pathways and avenues of thought and reason to express that other side…and sometimes you keep your mouth closed and listen with the ears of your soul and hear things that your brain doesn’t want to hear…and sometimes you learn, you understand that the other side has already heard and understands the side you defend and knows in their deepest hearts that what they say is true…and sometimes it hurts.
When your loved ones don’t understand you, they still love you, they still cherish the air that you breath and their hearts still beat with yours…they just don’t understand…and you love them, too, anyway…and you find the words….If it’s you who is speaking, make sure your family knows it’s you, and not someone else. If they think it is someone else, a someone else who may be pulling your strings and making you dance or sing or writhe in pain, find the words to help them understand that it is your heart speaking…only yours….
If the day comes and you find that your family isn’t fond of the person you’ve chosen (or who has chosen you) to be your life partner, sometimes that has to be ok. Your aching heart can love both of them, your family and your partner. They don’t have to love each other…they didn’t choose each other, you did. And you don’t have to choose only one or the other…you can love both, separately. Sometimes that’s just the way it is…sometimes.
Understanding will come to your family that you do actually love your spouse and that your spouse makes you happy…if it is visible in your life…if the part of your soul that you reveal to them contains that joy, if they are able to see that unmistakable joy outwardly in your life. If they hear you say those words, but only see you living your life in a contrary manner, or under a burden that isn’t yours, and one not joyfully borne, they aren’t going to buy it…they will not believe your words and they will not share in the understanding of your love.
Family is, they will, they are going to talk to each other about some things before they talk to you or the other ones involved in whatever the situation. They find out what each other thinks…they find out what they themselves think…before talking with you. It’s like writing in your journal; you give voice to your thoughts in a safe place before delivering them to the one who is the intended receiver.
Sometimes you’re supposed to be uncomfortable. Sometimes the un-ease is what makes us reflect more deeply on what is being said to us…in love. Not to oversimplify, but growing-pains hurt…because we’re growing…sometimes it sucks, but you endure and learn and grow and continue loving…because you love.
When nobody wants to talk and it is important that you do, then talk. But talk with new words that haven’t been dragged around the block several times and now only have ragged holes in themselves and are empty of meaning.
One tells their spouse that it’s “ok” by saying and meaning that it’s “ok.” Sometimes “ok” is all there’s going to be…and sometimes “ok” is the seed for a better future….
When someone says they can’t be more cordial to your spouse, I believe they really can be…maybe not today or tomorrow, but with the passing of time, they will be able to…because they, too, will endure and learn and grow…and continue loving…you.
You already know that life isn’t fair…it isn’t fair in opportunity, in love, in war, in simple living…in complicated living. Sometimes what makes the difference is compromise, sometimes it’s concession…sometimes it’s in changing one’s perspective, cherishing what one has and not what one hasn’t. Sometimes it’s in understanding that your strength complements the other’s weakness and with the two of you, even in that unfair situation, whatever it might be, it is good…but don’t expect life to be fair, don’t even ask it to be.
When family speaks-out hurtfully, out of line, out of turn, uninformed, inform them. They aren’t speaking-out that way “to” hurt you, but because they are hurt, too. Even when your side is so crystal clear to you, so goddamnably crystal clear, the other side carries hurt and love and emotion inside of themselves, too, and sometimes that is what’s speaking. Understand them, too…even if you don’t like what they’re saying, understand them.
When one family compares itself to another, that’s normal; it simply is. They want to identify things in themselves that make them distinct, that make them family, that make them Them; and that is done, sometimes, at the cost of naming what is wrong or different in the other, identifying in the Other what is not Them. It makes them feel more secure in their Them-ness, and that’s not good or bad, it just is.
When it’s important, when it’s important, to respond to the one family about identifying the other family’s Otherness, then respond. Tell them what disturbs you about that identifying process. It might not change anything, but don’t sit and say nothing…silence equals complicity.
Speculation and rumor are going to fuel concern…the concern might turn into action, and something good might come of it. Something good will certainly not come of it if there is no action. And loss doesn’t have to happen. It seems, in this context anyway, that loss becomes the result of choice…someone chooses to turn-away, someone chooses to abandon, someone chooses loss.
In a place where boundaries have never existed, their sudden appearance gives the indication that they are full walls. In a place where boundaries existed, but were often stepped-over with ease and back again, the sudden and marked appearance and enforcement of boundaries gives the impression of fortified walls. When the observers have known in the context of their lives, all of them, that boundaries are honored when they become sensitive, but otherwise danced around, to have them suddenly guarded with force makes the observers wonder at what changed…for they know that they haven’t.
If your family ever feels or says they feel that you throw your relationships away, make it clear that you don’t, or didn’t. How could they feel that way if they didn’t get a clue from you that you did? Look at it through their eyes…just like you ask them to do…and really look. How could they, loving you, come to such an erroneous conclusion if that was not the message that you sent? How could they, loving you, adoring you…really?
In whatever situation, you show that you tried by doing…and doing…and doing…not just trying…and doing again.
If you feel that your family has given up on you, let them know that that’s the message you are picking-up from what they’re putting out there…call them on it…love yourself enough to do it…love them enough to do it…even if it hurts or confuses. Chances are…they haven’t. Chances are…you are so deeply mired in your own situation that you can’t see what they’re doing, really…so call them on it.
And if you’re ever called to the task, you show your family that you really care…by really caring; yes, do actually say the words…because the words are important, but make sure your action, your attention, your attending…speaks louder than your words…consistently.
Those are just some of the things that my father never told me….
He also never told me to change the oil in my car’s engine every three to five thousand miles. My father-in-law told me that…after I had driven about 17,000 miles without an oil-change…in the first car that I owned that I didn’t have to add a quart of oil to the engine every week…but that’s for another posting.
Is the distance of the past determined by the one looking or by the mirror into which the one looks? And what is that mirror, but the reflections of recollections wrought by the looker? Those recollections that are drawn-up by the one’s present state and circumstance that would bring forth something so deeded to the past. As with the observer’s effect on a phenomenon when it is being studied, how does a memory of the past change simply because it is being recalled? And how are the recollections touched and remolded, but with the present’s gaze backward? They are impure in their recollection because they are touched by the current remembrance and the state or circumstance that brought them back. Was it the emotion of the past circumstance that brought them back, or was it the event itself…and are the recollections actually recollections of the event or of other remembrances…and those recollections that are recalled, are they pure or laced with the state and circumstances and emotions of their earlier recollections, or of the present? Do we really “remember when…?”
Do you ever wonder sometimes, or have you ever wondered what your life would be like if the words went away? Not all words, really, and not anyone else’s words, just yours. What would your life be like if you no longer had the ability to express yourself with words, if they were gone, somehow? And no, not if you simply didn’t have the desire to speak with anyone, or otherwise communicate with them, any particular someone or other somebodies, but across the board, what would your life be like if you lost the ability to simply express yourself with words, as if they vanished from your brain somehow, in concept, in application, in their entirety…gone. I had this thought this morning as I was making my way back from another bike ride along the waterway that I wrote about in Skunk Creek Crossing a few weeks ago. I was looking over the watered and watery plain that exists within the confines of the natural and man-made walls of the river or creek bed and was discussing with myself the many colors of green and brown and velvety silvery gray and yellow and pink and orange and others that were within my view and wondered suddenly how I would feel if I couldn’t describe them as such. I wondered how my life would be so different than it is now if I couldn’t express myself with words…again, not just any words, but mine. I was drawing up one of the last hills that would bring me to the Rio Vista Community Center with its fountain and desert flora, playground, picnic area, etc, when the thought came to me. I almost had to stop riding for a second there as the magnitude of what just occurred to me began to sink in, as it nestled itself and drew its roots down into the fiber of my being and the curiosity became more of a frightening worry as those colors fled past me in my riding, as they moved from my suddenly unfocused forefront and into and beyond the periphery of my view as my words worked themselves frantically to describe themselves and themselves and what they were and meant to me. They struggled against the pumping of my legs as I shifted into a lower gear and pumped faster and harder to make the top of the hill as the sun shone on my back and made the navy blue zippered sweat-jacket hoodie thing that much hotter as I wasn’t moving as fast and making enough of a breeze to cool myself as the words fought themselves still and my throat got choked up as I looked to my left and saw the ugly brown of the washed river bed and looked again and harder and thought that “ugly” wasn’t a good word as the browns and greens spoke to me, as the grays and browns and black and slate and rolled and tumbled porous lava-looking something type river rocks and gravel mixed with some kind of basalt-like something or other as they lay all a-jumble in their bed and touched and rubbed and bumped the little weeds that were so green and bright in their newborn-ness and living and processing of their light energy in their chloroplast-ic photosynthesis factories in their cells and the little fuzz that radiates and collects the warmth and the moisture depending on the time of day and the clouds and the humidity and my fingers are typing wrong and awry as I search for the words that I want and they’re hiding and a-mix in the wash of the fan near me and the cat on the counter meowing as the jet passes overhead and the computer hums; again and still. The top of the hill… and I looked at the scarlet and pink trumpet-shaped flowers on their almost bare-leaved stems and stalks of a bush and wondered how I could tell anyone or myself what they looked like when I had passed them and they existed only in my mind and those little neuronic snaps and fizzles that connect and fire and live in the passing of images into what used to be words or might be “used-to-be” words as I contemplated them and their existence or non-such. I reached the top of the hill and I was sad and I looked again and hoped that my brain wouldn’t be starved of this expression, this vent and outlet and necessary contrivance from our evolutionary past, those things and symbols and articulations that express, and sometimes don’t, the thoughts that ride and ramble and hide away and gone in my cerebral recesses and processes and solitude when they are searched for and longed for by loved ones and others when I keep them inside myself with my reluctance to share and speak and open my mouth and emit those sounds of whatever that make and mean and are words from the inside where they are born and live and hide and rejoice and are mixed and lost and find themselves and me inside themselves and then. I made the top of the hill and didn’t stop but kept pedaling and came to the place where the walking or foot bridge goes to the other side of that river and kept pedaling and came to the playground sidewalk and I thought of words and writing them here and I looked at the rock tower and saw the little brown haired girl standing up there and leaning and looking down at her dad and realized that I knew and know her dad and how could that be, for I don’t know many people and I don’t often see the ones I do know outside the contexts of my knowing them, but yes, it was Elmo, Saint Elmo, my friend from the gym, the one whose mom I met in November or June or some other kind of month, as we shopped in Walgreens, both of us looking for cards for some occasion, as Elmo introduced us and we talked and I was anxious because we weren’t in the gym and I didn’t know what to say, but my friend did and his mom was gracious and laughed at what her son and I said to each other in that nervous exchange for me…as my words hid themselves and I felt the sweat form on my brow and hoped it wouldn’t start to pour like it does sometimes when I don’t know how to bring my words out and use them and share them and have them make sense to those around me…when they usually stay inside and I hurry to do something else or away. And Elmo was gentle with his little daughter and her friend as he played with them and reached up for them and carried them down fast in a “Whoosh! There you go!” as my words jumped and bounced from the yellow sunflower type selves of themselves to “Hey there!” His words came easy again and I marveled at how warm it was and still and it was truly nice to have a friend out there on the path and in the world and be recognized by someone other than my bike seat and “I’ll see you next week; my wife has to work tomorrow,” he said…. “Ok, take care….”
And my words came again and tossed themselves around in my brain and I wondered again and still at what I would do without them. I didn’t think of the commas and periods and semicolons…or even the ellipses and blanks or dashes and whether I should use a single or double quotation mark…but I did wonder about what the color orange looks like and how I would tell someone or you what it was or meant when I said that word, that orange word, orange. I wondered how, if my words were gone, how I could convey what the vibrant orange of an Arizona born, rain-washed, February orange looked like on its tree when that tree had been planted with or near a bougainvillea bush that had mated or entwined itself with that tree and became a collage of scarlet purple blood-red flowers and rich green leaves of both beings and those vibrant oranges and orange that struck out and beckoned to me in my passing, trying to seduce me with its richness, and I had to look back quickly to avoid the parked car along the roadway and circle about again to ride past one more last time as the bright freaking yellow Hummer with the “For Sale” sign taped to the windshield announced in its pregnant yellowness that the oranges were orange and not yellow with the scarlet purple blood-red flowers alongside them and among and with them; it was a rich and fire-blown orange from the great orb in the sky that sheds and imbues the hues and ranges of what is color and then…not the wanna-be orange of a Little Caesar’s pizza box laying in the roadway flattened and smashed and lost of meaning, a has-been with the road film and dirt and grime of tires and sand and oil and asphalt and cheese-grease smeared into the cardboard of a used-to-be sometimey kind of orange. How could I share that without my words?
If they went away, those words and mine, how could I tell you and myself and other somebodies that my mind rushed back to my childhood and young adulthood in Germany, again, as the scent of wild grass and weeds and the wet fecundity of that riverine plain dragged me back to where the outdoors came to live in my deepest heart and mind, to where the staunched soul of my child-self escaped, and where solace was gained and given in the smell of the rich earth and pine sap and crushed leaves and needles and ferns and the scrap and ruin and rant of the forest’s floor in thick mulch and pondering earthworms with squirrel scat and scrape along and beside the trees’ trunks and bushes’ shadowing cover and form. Images and emotions flooded from the smelling parts of my brain and memories born there comforted me strange and new as the words thought in their fleeing of their fleeing as I couldn’t grasp what I wanted to say again as the asphalt moved under the bike tires’ turning and brought me into the same and other regions of the morning ride.
As I and we, the bike and me, and I and my memories rode past and along, we encountered people on their rides and walks in the scented fields and plains and long grasses and wild flowers and the desert bed and we said “Good Morning” to each other as those from my past would mumble or brightly start with their “Guten Morgen, or “Morja,” or “Ja” as we went along, cheerful or not, wanderers that marched or stepped or glided along those hillside roadways in their knitted and woolen pants and tweeded jackets or knit sweaters from the colors of the earth and antiquity and from among the nestled sheep and lambs and the Alsatian dog that sat in his long brown golden red hair with perked ears and watched the tree-line with black brown eyes and lifted quivering nostrils that snuffed and blew in our passing and at the other scents that populated his springtime morning in hill and vale. My desert-ed pathway led past bushes with yellow buttercup type flowers that flashed back to Germany, again and still, and covered the wandering meadows and sundry hillsides with the same and other flowers, those of dandelions and milkweed and bluebells and daisies along black dirt and rutted tractor and wagon roads that paralleled hedges of rock and twisted fences with apple trees in bloom and falling and fallen pink and white petals with bees’ buzz and hum and then. This walkway along the floodway brought the dark-skinned soldier in his desert and storm hued combat boots and overstuffed and loaded green and gray digitized camouflage patterned ruck-sack backpack with his crew-cut and dark wrap-around sunglasses with a march and a cadence that told me he was a new soldier and maybe home on leave and not one tested and fired-upon, not the veteran who might instead be at home curled up in the comfort of his blanket trying to hide from his dreams or racing down the freeway on his crotch-rocket in defiance of normal things that scare us, as the sun glistened in the sweated drops on his forehead and how, I wondered, would I say those things, could I describe those things, if the words were away and gone and had left me in my quaking?
How would I describe those things or the happiness that grew and now hides in a staunched soul that seeks forgiveness and light and wonders at fun and joy if it’s not spontaneous and then, if it enjoys things and others but doesn’t call them so, doesn’t name them so, doesn’t record their lasting imprints and touches as those and then. It sees and smiles inside and changes names and lines of sight in diverting and looking askance and it wasn’t a glare, but a look away and that’s not what you’re thinking; you’re wrong. A shuddering and questioning self bred in scorn and grown aside and apart and not the same as it was then and not, and wonders at the lies and lived agonies of past and forgiveness’ dream as the cycles ebb and flow in their drawing, and if that was a lie is it all a lie, as the driven sands slip through their glasses and the words flee into their surround and marvel and rage as their quiet rings and hums and becomes something they were not, as a muted love screams at the loss of touch and sound and reason as wisdom departs for other seas and oceans of abide and then, if the words fled and died and were lost and gone.
I happened upon two viejitos today. A former gangster in knee length “Dickies,” also wearing his telltale sweat-rimmed straw hat. A rock pipe was recently put away and the cigarette in his nervous hand twisted and rolled with a life not its own. Surging varicosed veins edged nearer the outside of his moreno skin. “Ay, bueno Senor. Estoy buscando a un hombre que se llama ‘Jessie.” Una persona me dice que El vive aqui. Conoce el Senor Jesse? Es Usted, no?” My source had been right as rain, jellied as jam. And correct. Then came his friend, Victoria, la otra querida de la pacienta original. She shares needles and sex with the original patient, Sylvia. The two, lovers and needle partners times seven years, also take their wares into town to sell on the street. Anything to get that extra bit of rock or heroin. Anything. Stifle life and ruin hope. Cease the smile. Encourage no light thought. It is gone. Recapture love and affection. Effect. Affect. El otro Viejo fue en un otro lugar, hablando con una Negrita, si, una prostituta, con quien el tuvo sexo anoche. This man was much darker-skinned than the other and wore the style of clothes often seen on an older Mexican man living in this country – dark tan work-pants and a shirt of matching color. Bare-footed, he followed me into the yard where we could talk out of ear-shot of the young, black woman sitting on the couch in his “living-room.” Proudly displaying the lengthwise scar in the center of his chest and the other scar that divided his right calf, the old man denied suffering from any malady other than the ones which had delivered his proud scars. He, too, lived exactly where Sylvia had told me that he could be found. In the projects behind the Edgewater Apartments, “It’s right there off the road, number twenty, and it has a black screen door covering the regular one. You can’t miss it.” And, so, I didn’t. I found his hovel, his nest, which smelled like unwashed hair and cigarettes. I found his home. Home. Where the heart is. Sweet home. The place like no other, adorned in reflection of the lives therein, or gone.
Traditionally, the New Year is a time of renewed hope and heightened expectations for the next twelve months – sort of a new beginning – readdressing old resolutions with a revitalized desire – at least looking for the New Year to be better than the past one.
January 6, 1993 was a first for me. According to my physician-assistant friend, Bob, it was also a precursor for things to come – the beginning of something that is not filled with hope and wonderful expectations or any of that other “new year” hype. Bob says that it is a glimpse of the future, when it will be the norm for STD patients to be co-infected with HIV.
January 6, 1993 was the first time I conducted an HIV pretest counseling session with a patient I felt was positive. Without knowing much about him, I had a suspicion that John was positive and already suffering the effects of AIDS. He was a contact to syphilis in March of 1992. His lover was treated for the first stage of the disease, primary syphilis, in Tucson. The contact paperwork was sent here because John left Tucson, supposedly to move back up here with his parents.
I talked to John’s mom, Shirley, two or three times, trying to locate him. The only information she had was that he was in Tucson. As it turned out, nobody really knew where John went until May 1992 when he showed up at his folk’s house. He was only there for a couple weeks when he disappeared again, this time for six months.
The day of John’s birthday, November 17th, he called his mom from Houston, Texas and asked if he could come home. Shirley said he didn’t remember how he got to Texas, but he came home on a bus. John was welcomed home with open arms again.
Shirley told me that John’s biological mother was an alcoholic and he was born with fetal alcohol syndrome. His thought processes and reasoning abilities might be equal to those of a small child. Sometimes he appeared to grasp certain ideas and was able to repeat what has just been said to him – but the context or meaning of the words seemed to be lost somewhere in the mist of his confused mind.
John appeared to live his life in complete reaction to everything around him. If he got hurt or scared, he just left – sometimes returning in a few days or a couple weeks – sometimes returning in several weeks to several months. The last time he left home, in May 1992, he said he was going to the store to get some cigarettes – he didn’t call or write or anything until November 1992. John got his courage from alcohol. Usually he was a timid person, not challenging anything – allowing himself to be trod upon or abused by whoever was around and willing. His father, Jim, was particularly adept at unsettling him. Evidently, Jim had a hard accepting his son and his problems. Nothing was ever good enough – John never met his dad’s expectations. So, John takes it for a while, goes out and gets drunk and then leaves. One time he left school at lunch time, got drunk, and then passed out in the middle of Camelback Road on the way back to school.
When John came home in November, he was very thin. His mom said he had always been on the skinny side, but this time he looked unhealthy. Shirley all but forgot about me until she took John shopping for clothes at Christmastime. She had told him about the health department looking for him when he was home in May – he told her he’d take care of it – so she put it out of her mind. Now, in the changing room at the department store, she remembered me. John’s torso was covered with bright red, crusty spots. Some were fresh and others had started healing already. Suddenly, things began to fall together. Now maybe there was a reason for his weight loss, for his thinning hair, and for that “look” that said something just wasn’t right.
John called me around 9:30 on the morning of January 6, 1993 – he said he had my card now – he’d just gotten back into town. I vaguely remembered his name – it had only been nine months since I had been looking for him. When I asked him what date was on the card I left for him, he said it was April 1, 1992. Now I remembered him. I told him why I was looking for him and stressed the importance of him getting to the clinic ASAP. He said he’d probably be able to get to the clinic the next day, but couldn’t do it today. Again, I told him what was going on – still not fully understanding me, he put Shirley on the phone. She mentioned the rash and I told her that John needed treatment now – today – not later. They were to ask for me when they got to the clinic.
An hour or two later, I was paged to the front desk. As I entered the waiting room, I looked around at the faces of whoever might be waiting to see me. I spotted John and hoped like hell that it wasn’t him. In that two-second glance, I saw the image of what my mind might conjure-up if I asked myself what a person with AIDS would look like. The shell of what was once a body – thin, almost ghost-like with sunken eyes and hollow cheeks.
That scene above is done, yet unfinished. Until some tidbit of news is uncovered or until I become brave enough to call Shirley and ask her about John, that story has ended. It is alive only within the confines of my memory – and separately, in a very detached way, it goes on still in John, Shirley, and Jim’s lives, but to me the story travels unawares. One of the disadvantages, or maybe true benefits, of working in the clinic as an investigator and not as a caseworker, is that we don’t see the end of the stories in people’s lives. We don’t often know how they come to an end, as we don’t know how they come to be delivered from the circumstances that could so easily swallow them into nonexistence.
Originally posted October 23, 2009
There are hideaways in this desert world. They must be searched out or stumbled upon by chance, but they are there. Sequestered locales against time and her demands are tucked away amidst the crush of life, safe havens to cushion our occasional fall. Quietude and rest after a storm, the breeze laced with a fine scent of creosote. The air, now pure from her cleansing, is free from the residue of our modern advances. Gone are the particles and emissions of our progress.
The primary element of our being and the nest of our origin, offering and return, withdrawal and offer again. Standing on this littoral plain, I feel the tugging on my soul; my being is drawn nearer to the mother of life. Filling my ears are the whispers and stirrings of her core. In her arms there is peace.
All that flies against me in every day is gone, with only her stirring presence around me. Crashing waves and the gentle tide, purging the shore and offering her rest. Salty mists are her kisses, the waves are her liquid embrace, all consuming, touching everywhere, a healing salve to my weary soul.
How do you know that you’re loved? What tangible something can you label as being a sign or indication that someone loves you? Or is it not tangible? It’s a feeling, right? Is it that knowing or sensing what the other feels for you? Is it the comprehending of their appreciation, your importance, their need for you, what you know in your homecoming, what you sense in your going-away, or their homecoming or their going away? Is it real? How enduring is it? What things or events or forgetting or betrayals can damage that love beyond all repair or healing? How temporal is it? How can one/we say it will last forever? Will it be the same in its enduring? How will it change with the passing of days and months and years? How will the love of today resemble the love that you/one had a decade or more ago? What trials actually make it stronger or weaker? What little ‘nothings’ or ‘somethings’ will make it stronger? How does it fade when there are no trials or challenges to it? How does it grow when there are no trials or challenges to it? How does it stay the same or remain constant when there are no trials or challenges to it? How do celebrations make it stronger? How does participating in others’ love make yours stronger? How does participating in a second love make your primary love stronger or weaker? How does loving your spouse make your love for your children stronger? How does your parents’ display of love make your own love stronger, both as a spouse and as a parent? Does an atheist sense and feel love the same way as someone who believes in God, or a god? Does an atheist sense or feel love more on a gut or human level and a believer more on a supernatural level? Does a Christian experience love the same was a Muslim does, or a Hindu, or a Buddhist, or a Jew, or a believer of any other religion or belief-system? If a Christian and an atheist fall in love with each other, does the Christian love the atheist more than the atheist loves the Christian? Does the love of a potential God make any and all of your loves stronger or weaker? Does the love of a potential God make any and all of your loves stronger or weaker than the loves that you would experience if God didn’t/doesn’t exist? How does the possibility of suffering in Hell make one’s love for God stronger? How do you actually ‘love’ a god who threatens you with an eternity of suffering in Hell if you choose not to believe in and ‘love’ him/her/it? How do we choose to believe or love? We can decide to be ‘committed’ to someone or something, but how do we decide to actually ‘love’ someone or something? Doesn’t love either happen or it doesn’t? If one has a poor relationship with one’s parents, or father in particular, how does that really affect one’s ability or willingness to accept and love a potential heavenly father? How do you know when your parents love you? How can you tell that your mother, mom, mommy, or ma loves you? How can you tell that your father, dad, daddy, papa, or pa loves you? And your siblings, how can you feel their love? If you’ve been estranged or moderately distant from your siblings for the majority or entirety of your adult life, do you really still love them? Do they really still love you? You don’t know each other, so how can you say that you ‘love’ each other? Does having a shared set of parents and childhood mean that you’re ‘supposed’ to love each other? What does it mean if you don’t ‘feel’ that love? Is the love you might/do feel from your siblings different than the love you might/do feel from your best friend? Is the love you feel from your siblings different than the love you feel from your best female or male friend, when you’re a male, or when you’re a female? Do you feel love differently when you’re a guy or a girl? Isn’t infatuation really the same as love? Can love grow out of infatuation if it’s not the same thing? Can love grow out of hate? Is there really, or actually a fine line between love and hate? Are they actually so closely related emotionally? Do you feel love differently when you’re a man or a woman? Do you feel your mom’s love greater when you’re a boy child or a girl child? Do you feel your father’s love greater when you’re a boy child or a girl child? Do you feel your mom’s love more than you feel your dad’s? When you’re an adult, do you still feel the love that you might have felt as a child from your parents as strongly as you did when you where younger? How do your adult experiences as a parent affect the love that you remember feeling for your parents when you were a child? How do your adult feelings of love for your parents affect the love that you have for your young or adult children? Do we dare love our in-laws in the same way or more than our own parents? Is it ever okay to identify more with them than with our own parents, or is that a betrayal? If we think we love our in-laws more than we love our own parents, does that say more about ourselves or about our parents? What if we can’t stand our spouse’s parents? What if we can’t imagine how they could possibly love their parents? How do you measure the love that your spouse says they have for their parents against the strength of love that they say they have for you? How do we claim to ‘love’ people when we don’t really like them? How can we say that we actually love someone when we don’t like them? How can we not like someone when we say that we actually love them? Is it even possible to love someone if we don’t like them? Is love like belief? Do we love the idea of love without actually loving the way some people believe in belief without actually believing? Is it possible to love someone without them knowing that we love them? Or, can we love them without letting them know? Is it possible to be loved or to feel loved without knowing who’s actually loving you? Rather, do we feel or know it if someone loves us but leaves no outward indication of that love? Does love leave a mark or a track somehow? Is there some type of electromagnetically-spiritually-staticky-kind-of-powersurge-kind-of-chemical-something-or-other that one can sense or know when in the presence of someone who loves them? When we ‘feel’ that someone loves us, what are we actually feeling? Is it love or desire or lust or infatuation or like or compassion or similarity or dependency or co-dependency or co-survivorship or co-spirituality or oneness? Is it possible to be co-spiritual or ‘one’ with someone and not love them or be loved by them? Can you share ‘soul-mate’ status with someone and not love them or be loved by them? If you love your same-gendered soul-mate does that mean you’re gay? Do gay people love as intensely or as deeply as straight people? If you’re straight and come to love a person who is gay, does that make you gay, too? Isn’t it possible to want someone so strongly, or intensely, physically that we think we love them? Or isn’t it possible to be so intensely wanted by someone physically that we think they love us? If someone treats us like shit, how can we still love them? If someone kills, abuses, or treats our child or children poorly, how can we still love them? How can we even like them? Does a parent who leaves with their children to prevent/stop physical or emotional abuse of themselves and/or their children by their spouse/partner love their children more than the parent who doesn’t leave to prevent/stop the same abuse by their spouse/partner? Will the children of the parent who left with them love more strongly than the children of the parent who didn’t leave with their children? Will the children of the parent who left with them love their parent more strongly than do the children of the parent who didn’t leave with their children? If we were abused or neglected as children and missed-out on something like ‘true-parental-love,’ is our measure of any kind of love ever accurate following our childhoods, or will it only be experienced in the extremes? Do foster children love the same way biological children love? Does a foster child who gets adopted feel love the same way a biological child feels love? Does a foster child who ages-out (turns 18yo) of the system without having been adopted understand love the same way another foster child does who did get adopted? Will the love of the aged-out foster child be as strong or as enduring as it would have been if they had been adopted at some time? Do the adoptive parents love the adopted child the same way they love their biological children? Do adopted children love their adoptive parents more than their adoptive parents’ biological children love them? Do people who cannot reproduce biologically and adopt children love their adopted children the same way parents do who were able to biologically reproduce? Should parents admit, even to themselves, that they love one of their children more or less than they love another or the rest of their children? Should parents admit, even to themselves, that they like one of their children more or less than they like another or the rest of their children? If we had a crappy childhood, but had a dog or cat that we loved and felt loved by, will that pet-love be a reliable or appropriate measure to compare other non-pet loves to if and when they occur? If we had a relationship that started with both of us ‘loving’ the other and things went sour along the line somewhere and our love came to nothing or came to be something so far removed from what we had at first understood to be love, how does that tainted ‘love’ effect any subsequent loves that we might come to know? Will the subsequent love be more real or pure than the first one was, even though, at its inception, that other love was understood to be real and pure? Do we measure our friends’ love for us against what we know of love as a child or as a sibling? When there are social power differentials between the people in a relationship, does one actually love the other more? Does the lesser-powered person love the higher-powered person more than the reverse? Is this like a child-parent love, but twisted somehow into whatever it is? Does a preacher love his congregation more than the members of his congregation love him? Does a child love a teacher more than the teacher loves the child? Does a priest love God more than his God loves him? Does God love Satan and his fallen angels? Do Satan and his fallen angels actually love anybody? Can an evil person love other people? Can an evil person feel love from another person? Do the answers to these two questions depend on the definition of this particular ‘evil’ and the context in which it exists? Did Hitler actually love anybody? Did he sense Eva Braun’s love for him? Did she actually ‘love’ him? Did she know everything about him and still love him? Did the serial-killer ‘Son of Sam’ actually love someone? Did he sense anyone’s love for him? While a psychopath doesn’t or can’t empathize with others, are they capable of sensing love for themselves? Did Adam love Eve even though he didn’t get to choose her? Did Eve love Adam even though she was formed or brought to substance from one of his ribs…and didn’t get to choose him as her mate? Did Adam and Eve still love Cain after he killed his brother, Abel? Did Cain and Abel love their wives the same way Adam loved their mother, Eve? (Don’t ask me where Cain and Abel got their wives; that’s another essay.) Did Adam and Eve love God, even after he had them chased out of the Garden of Eden? When our babies look at us while they’re nursing or being fed a bottle, can we know their love for us when we’re looking into their eyes? Are they capable of loving us or knowing that we love them…or is this pre-verbal state or place where love actually begins and is undefined and is pure and has no measure? If Abraham really loved his son, how could he put him on the altar and be prepared to sacrifice him for God? Is it right to love God more than we love our children? Is it right to follow the rules that our church has established, to love our church, more than we love our children? If our church tells us to stop ‘fellowshipping’ with our child because they no longer believe the things that the church teaches, should we choose our church over our child? Does love allow us to dis-fellowship our children, or should this be a sign that we should dis-fellowship our church from ourselves because we love our children more? Would God’s love for Himself demand that we turn our backs on the children we love if they no longer love or believe in Him? Does God still love a person who was brought-up in the church and got ‘saved’ when he/she was a child, and then reaffirmed his/her love for God and rededicated himself/herself to God and his service when he/she was an adult and then slowly came to doubt and no longer believe in God and His word, but instead believes that the notion of God/god is a myth, does God, if He really does exist, still love that person? And does God, if He exists, love that person as much as He loves a person who never questioned or doubted His existence, but lived and ‘loved’ Him faithfully? Do Christian parents love their Christian children more or less or the same as they love their atheist children? If we perceive that we are loved by a certain person, but that person doesn’t actually love us, are we still loved because we perceive or feel that we are loved by them? And if someone actually does love us but we perceive that they don’t, are we still loved? Does a person who loves another person in spite of knowing the worst thing about them, which wasn’t horrible, love the person as much as someone else who loves another person in spite of knowing the worst thing about them, which was horrible? Does a serial-killer’s mom love her serial-killer son as much as another mom loves her son who isn’t a serial killer? Should a serial-killer’s mom still love him? Should anybody still love him? Does he deserve love? Given that people often don’t get what they deserve and just as often get things that they don’t deserve, should the serial-killer be loved? Should/does Jesus still love the serial-killer? Should God forgive the serial-killer? Should/does Jesus still love people who murder their girlfriend’s children? Should God forgive that person who murdered his girlfriend’s children? Was Jesus’ blood shed to wash-away the sins of serial-killers and people who murder their girlfriend’s children? Really? Is that the ultimate in love, to be God/Jesus and have your blood shed, or to give your life to wash-away the sins of people who have done absolutely horrible and disgusting things and that if they believe in you and the cleansing power of your love, they will be forgiven and join you and the other believers in your eternal heaven or paradise? Really? Does the horrible sinner who has a lot to be forgiven love God more than the average sinner who has only an average amount of sin to be forgiven? And does that super-sinner then know or sense a greater love from God than the average sinner? Does God love the super-sinner more than He loves the average sinner, given that He’s forgiven/forgiving more of the super-sinner’s transgressions? Does God love the prodigal more than He loves the one who never left? If you fell in love with someone forty years ago and then split apart and married someone else, and that someone else died or left you somehow and you reconnected again with that first someone with whom you had fallen in love and fell in love again, would this second ‘being in love’ be as strong as it was those forty years ago? Would this second time really even be falling in love, or would it be falling in love with the totality of the memory of having earlier fallen in love? Does a soldier returning from a war in which he killed people, up close or from afar, experience a different intensity of love than he did before he went to war? Do the children of a soldier returning from a war in which he killed people, up close or from afar, love him/her as intensely as children love their soldier parent who didn’t go to war or aren’t soldiers? Do prostitutes love their children less than people who are not prostitutes love their children? Do prostitutes who later get married experience a different intensity of love than do people who were never prostitutes and get married? Does marrying someone mean that you love them more than if you didn’t marry them but lived with them for the rest of your life? Do parents of an only-child love their child more than parents who have multiple children? Does an only-child love his/her parents with a greater intensity than do children from multiple-child families? Does an only-child love his friends more or less intensely than do children from multiple-child families? Does an adult who was an only-child love his children any differently than a parent does who came from a multiple-child family? Do only-children feel cheated by their parents from experiencing sibling-love? Do single-sons feel cheated by their parents from experiencing true brotherly love, or do single-daughters feel cheated from experiencing true sisterly love? Is love the same to me as it is to you? Does my feeling of love feel the same as your feeling of love? Can I know love the same way that you can know love? Will or does the list of questions about love ever end?
The man sat in the dark and thought of the pictures on the wall and the eyes that looked out from their frozen images of faces and whatnot in the chemicals that held them in such places from their making until they left in some manner or other, moved to another wall, moved to another house, passed among the things that leave when he would leave on that unknown date and then. The eyes that could bore through their selved-images into the eyes of the man who sat in the chair with heavy lids and pondered those things as night wound into itself and him and the sounds of day’s passing had become the creaking and yawning of the presence of its neighbor and twin, the one who exists on the other side of the thoughts of himself. Picture frames glowing or reflecting the light that sneaks in through the windows from the posted light in the yard, that one thing that illuminates the darkened corners where what was present in the day has crawled into itself and themselves and exist only in shadow form or memory, but not sight, as they are hidden in the black and gray of their shadowed selves. Those eyes accuse and remember in their fixed gazes and the man stares at the blank middles of the frames at what he knows is there but cannot see for the passed and past day and the dark inside the four edges covers but doesn’t hide the faces he knows. Night doesn’t cover his heart and his wandering soul and it doesn’t relieve the ghosts that walk in his mind and in the fibers of the carpet and lay like a film inside the paint and wooded textures of stair railings and benches, those things that capture sounds and emotions as they are fleeing in their shouted births and deaths of echoes and remain. Hollowed eyes and grins and thoughts and cheekbones and lips that lie in a stuck rictus, like painted and dead clowns and he doesn’t know who is inside, who is behind those portals of life and then, and he turns away and closes his eyes and hears the ringing in his ears as the cat talks not walks down the hall and a hidden beam somewhere in the wall creaks or sighs as the house wonders at the man in the chair in the dark, wonders at his thoughts and sitting there while others sleep and dream and think of nothing in the passing of the stars and moon in their circuits as the heater kicks on and whines through the vents and blows in its blowing and warmth of breath and stops with a shudder and how, as the man’s foot twitches as sleep tries to pull him deeper into the chair as his heart beats and beats and his eyes open at the cat’s passing and scratching on and of the one corner of the rug that has its frayed spot and spot as the eyes on the walls sleep in their openness and hide their thoughts in front of him as he looks away and remembers a younger self that fled a smile in furrowed brows and pursed lips of anger and rot, his eyes scorned and shaken and cast away and aside and down and away from any who would look. He remembered the thick hand that smacked his mouth when his eyes were closed and thought the Divine was blind as the prayer was stuck in the swirl of ceiling paint as the black eyes bored into the smaller one’s eyes as his mouth throbbed and his heart ached and his mom sat at arm’s length away as her man’s hand smacked her child’s mouth and she kept her eyes closed as the sound echoed in her ears and she squeezed her eyes closed as she smelled the dinner cooling on the table in front of them and wondered how the paint could keep the prayer inside the ceiling as it rolled about and thinned against the summer air and finally withered and faded and was gone in the tears that rolled down his cheeks as hate breathes by itself in blank picture frames and white rocks cast along the way, tripping the travelers who dare not watch where they are walking, who are blind to the path and stumble in the dark footsteps that lumber ahead of them.
The old man sat in his chair, waiting for his grandson and the boy’s new wife to show up. They were supposed to be coming down so he and his wife, the boy’s grandmother, could meet the new relation. They said they’d be here around ten or so, but it was pressing eleven and the old man’s patience was wearing thin. He’d been to the doctor again yesterday and was made to sit for hours and there was nothing he could do about it. The doctor had been called out shortly before the old man got there and he had to wait till the doctor returned because he, and only he, could give the older man his test results. At any rate, the young upstart doctor, when he finally got to the office and had taken care of the two patients ahead of the old man, had told him that all the tests were looking good, but that he still had to take it easy and to make sure that he came back for the follow up tests in three months. So, the old guy was still tired of waiting from yesterday, and now he had to wait for the kid and his new wife to get there today. At least he was home, he told himself, and not waiting in a small, plastic waiting room with a bunch of old people who could do nothing but talk about the weather and the treatments they were receiving. The old man reached up and removed his U of A baseball cap to scratch his head. The cap was an odd adornment that he’d taken to wearing since they’d put him on chemo and his hair started falling out. The only times he’d worn a ball cap in the past was when he was in the service, and that was only so he’d be in uniform. When the decision came to buy a cap for everyday use, he didn’t know which one to choose because he didn’t give a damn about anything, and knowing this about himself, he didn’t want to appear as such, so he chose a cap that showed he supported the local university, the alma mater of people who were a bit more initiated than himself, the innovative ones, or the ones whose parents were footing the bill for their advance. “What the hell,” he thought; it was a sharp looking hat, clean and crisp white with the red and blue logo. It almost even looked patriotic. He pulled the hat off his thinning pate and rubbed his scalp with the old, chubby fingers whose nails were thick and hard and yellow with many years of cigarette smoke. Their jaundiced hue matched the yellow stripe under his nostrils where he still sported a thick white moustache. For some reason, the chemo had only affected the hair on top of his head and his beard and moustache were untouched. Go figure. He had been sitting in his recliner for going on an hour and a half and the reflected heat from his body into and back out of the Styrofoam cushion was beginning to make his scalp sweat. His fingers were glistening as he removed them from his hair and looked at them, noticing the little scab that had come loose from his scratching and was caught under his index finger’s nail. Unconsciously he wiped his hand and fingertips against the slate blue, crushed-velvet upholstery, and after that, against his crisp, dark denim pants when he discerned that the velvet didn’t absorb the sweat from his fingertips. He looked into the kitchen where his wife was sitting at the little desk making calls to citizens from her list, checking to see if they had anything to donate to the Lighthouse Foundation. The local charity sponsored an elementary school of the same name that was exclusively for developmentally disabled kids and ran a couple thrift stores that were located in strip-malls in the poorer sections of town. He didn’t mind her being on the phone for several hours a day. “It keeps her off my ass,” he thought. Since he retired and she stopped taking her anxiety medicine, she’d been riding him to do something more constructive with his time. Putt-ing around in the garage and spending ten and fifteen minutes walking around the yard trying to kick the weeds loose from the rocks while he picked up the dog turds just wasn’t cutting it for her. He would go outside and smoke on the patio while reading a book, but that would get tiresome quickly as the days were still warm and the humidity still up a bit too high. He didn’t need to go get his hair cut since he’d started the chemo and he couldn’t go to the commissary at the base nearby as he’d just gone last Friday. And besides, the kids are on the way down. “Maybe they won’t stay too long,” he thought, “I’m ready for a nap.”
While driving to work the other day, I thought about having skeletons in our closets, those sins from the past, forgiven or not, and thought about the things and experiences that inform us and our lives, the baggage that we carry, the wounds and scars that have created us as we are. I thought about these things, somehow, in the context of the book by Tim O’Brien, The Things They Carried, a collection of war-stories from his time in Vietnam that told of the things the soldiers carried in their bags and in their hearts, the things they saw that they couldn’t forget or get out of their minds and ended-up causing them to be different people, or people who thought about things in a different way. Again, I wondered at the things that we carry…our constituted parts and pieces…the luggage of our lives. Our childhoods inform our present, the way we deal with things and people. Relationships with those in our past cause us to be careful or heedless with the people in our present. Former bosses, friends, lovers, co-workers, children, even books or articles that we read or hear about can impact our lives or the way we conduct ourselves…from novels to scriptures and myths and horror stories. They become part of our load, part of our burden and the expectations that we have of ourselves and others. Those skeletons in the closet cause us to suspect or doubt others and their intentions. We wonder at what they have in their own secreted places that touch their thoughts, words, actions, etc, as they deal with us and others in their or our realms of life and the everyday. Our successes and failures also color our thought processes and behavior. And the guilt of our sins, likewise, molds our words and their expression, shapes them into the things that they’re going to be, or used to be, or are. So too, does the forgiveness and love from the offended and others. It heals our broken spirit and helps us do better, to think differently, and to behave in other ways. The love and kindness from expected and unexpected sources can and do open our hearts and minds, allowing us to accept ourselves, to love ourselves and others when we would be inclined to do otherwise because of the guilt and other things we carried and carry. The forgiven sins and assuaged guilt are still inside of us and still inform our beings, but hopefully in positive expressions and not as anchors that keep us tied to our past miseries…the forgiveness can be turned as keys opening doors to new things, possibilities, loves, and wonder, providing new opportunities to add other things, good things and then, to our life luggage and the things we carry.