It’s amazing sometimes, how we can be affected by the people who come into our lives, and vice versa. Whether they or we are there for years or months, days, or even moments, the interactions and actions can leave a permanent mark that is felt and known, sometimes only by the bearer, for the rest of our/their lives. People have studied the human attachment and socialization processes for years, and in an objective sense, we can all understand and relate to the academic ponderings and writings that filled lectures and library shelves over the span of curious and inquiring time. We can perceive that we begin to learn to be a human and a social person within the boundaries of our homes. We understand, too, that we continue that learning when we step outside of our homes and have those first interactions with other kids or adults out on the front porch step…and down the sidewalk that leads to the park or the neighbor’s house…and then further down the sidewalk and street toward our first school experience…and it goes from there. The people in our surround begin to touch our lives, sometimes good, hopefully most-times good, and sometimes not-so-good…and many times not necessarily either, just touched. Just enough of an imprint or lesson was left behind, or maybe just an impression, a feeling, or even a suspicion, is left in our memories, and that represents the “touch” that was theirs, or ours, on us or them, me or you.
When we continue to read those journal articles, psychology books, sociology books, or whatever, and then compare their essential content to our lives, the subjective part of our studies, we notice that there are, indeed, similarities between the texts and “real” life. We comprehend the depth of impression and effect when we look at the patterns of family and work-life that repeat themselves from generation to generation. Our experiences are full of knowing people whose fathers and grandfathers were physicians or mechanics or plumbers or academics or military men or police officers…just as they are, those people we know – or their mothers and grandmothers were physicians or nurses or teachers or professors or seamstresses or military women, just as they are, those people we know. We notice the same movements or gestures or uses of words and phrases, or even similar postures or habits of a family member, or ourselves, returning home from their or our workday as they stand there in the kitchen eating from a bag of chips just like their father did. We know, too, that some of our friends or co-workers, or clients, or family members, or other people with whom we are familiar, also have substance abuse or violence problems just like their parents did, their father or their mother and alone or together, those pairings of influence that leave a permanent mark, a dent, a troubled soul, a perpetuating something that wasn’t good when it started and hasn’t been good since it’s been passed along and along. People never learned to listen or care or nurture, or they were suffocating and rigid and unbending and unforgiving…or they weren’t…and they weren’t. Sometimes people learn the most and best how to love from their families, their moms and dads, their brothers and sisters, grandparents, and then. And sometimes they learn to love from other people who come in and touch their lives, other people who come in and accept them for who they are, love them for and with their faults…and encourage them to grow and look inside and outside, to see how their own actions are affecting others and others, and eyes open and open over time and see and learn, and still err, but learn and learn and strive and try and hope and work and love and watch and enjoy and cherish and endure and love…and get tired and fed-up and say “screw it” and so…and they still love and cherish and endure and hope…. And sometimes love comes late, or it becomes known late, but it is still love, and can still touch us the right way, so that we can still pass it along, and along.
Sometimes those touches that come to us are not good, but they turn to good when we recognize them and remold them and twist them and apply them as lessons in what not to do, or what not to allow, or tolerate, or what not to be; they become things that we specifically do not want to repeat from one generation unto another, from home to workplace to home and mine and yours and another.
And then sometimes, sometimes, regardless of the lesson, regardless of the example, regardless of the impression, or whatever, we do things or other people do things that go so strikingly against the examples and lessons and intentional impressions, that we and you and the other observers are left scratching our and your heads, thinking “What the…?” And then what of the examples, what of the lessons, what of the conversations and explanations and illustrations and demonstrated failures and successes, and hopes and yearnings, and shared strivings and conquerings of indefatigable foes and odds…what happens to all of that when a person or that person or some people or those people choose to go and do or be something so different or choose or pursue something so unlikely, or whatever…what then? What then? Where is that touch? What happened to that touch to sour it so, to corrupt it unto repugnance and scorn? “Who freaking touched your life after I did or we did, to turn you so?” we wonder to ourselves and then. Or the righteous mother looks at her unrepentant and atheistic child and wonders where her touch went, wonders at the child’s soul and eternity, as the child doesn’t wonder at hers. Or the touch is horrible and malevolent and wrong and that touched-one becomes or remains pure and upright and motivated and enduring and patient and tolerant and the most empathetic and understanding and…how did that happen, from a wrong touch and impression and example and…? In the end, after all the analyzing and hypothesizing and considering the bad and what must have been there, somewhere, as good, it just did.
How did your life become as it is? How did you or I, you and I, become as we did? Those people in our lives touched us in little ways and big and their touch and impressions are still with us. Someone touched a second-grader’s heart and caused that little one to want to grow-up and help others, someone else touched another second-grader’s heart and caused that little one to seek solitude in the hills and the woods, someone else touched another second-grader’s heart and caused that child to want to fly planes or study bacteria or write music or stories or make jewelry or build cathedrals or shape metal into cars or design hospitals or cure cancers or find new stars or…to shampoo dogs or plow fields or sail ships or paint pictures or…because they were touched so.
How did we affect someone’s life today or yesterday or last year or then…how did you and I?
Several years ago, a friend asked me to write something about my thoughts and feelings pertaining to the transition from employee to supervisor within our workplace, from 9-1-1 operator and dispatcher to Radio Supervisor. When contemplating the paper, I thought I would discuss the relationships with my immediate co-workers, the relationships with peer supervisors from other shifts, the relationship with my supervisor, the aspects of the performance of my job that my supervisor evaluated, the relationships that I had with my employees and the employees of other supervisors, both on my shift and other shifts, and related to and intertwined with all of the above, the political nature of written communication, things said and/or not said, actual and implied or perceived intent, and the ever-present need to actually consider and weigh one’s reaction to any other word, intent, omission, look, possibility, idea, etc..
After discussing the changes in relationships and interactions with all of the people in the workplace, and when considering those changes, there was also the immediately personal aspect to look at – my evaluation of myself inside myself, the changes in my thought processes that included moving from a solitary person to one of community and all that it entailed, i.e., what I lost and gained, etc. And then more – my thoughts of the bureau, the department, the officers, the citizens; my responsibilities to my co-workers, my employees, my boss, the department, the citizens; how my perspective of liability had changed or remained the same; my dedication to the job; my thoughts of other people’s dedication to the job; my sense of belonging and not belonging; it was just a job, a means to a nice paycheck that provided for my family and the commitment I had to making sure I deserved what the city gave me for compensation; and then my occasional thoughts of demoting, or other thoughts of trying for another promotion where I would supervise my then co-worker supervisors.
All of that processing of my transition within that particular workplace got my mind going in similar yet unassociated areas and caused me to wonder about the different and many transitions that one undergoes in a lifetime – which I then applied to myself and the many aspects and experiences of my own existence that have led me from one place to another, both literally and figuratively. My mind went in directions ranging from being an innocent in every sense of the word and passing into and through the stages of gaining knowledge that removed the innocence and replaced it with experiences that changed me forever, even if only in the slightest ways. My thoughts wandered, then and now – if I’m going to have this current and up-to-date, down the trails of my childhood turning into adolescence and adulthood; the paths that led me from the Air Force to the health department, from the health department to the police department, and from there to my present workplace in another health department in an altogether different state and locale; from carelessness to concern, or selfishness to awareness; the journey from being a solitary person, as I mentioned earlier, to one who out of necessity or yearning became one of community with a participatory audience, be it large or small; the change from being a young father with little children to being an older father with young and older children; from being a Believer to being a non-believer or disbeliever…and…. So I wondered at change and transition.
And then a friend of mine sent me a link to another article about a man who tossed caution to the wind and left his steady and secure job that paid well, but wasn’t fulfilling, and bought a boat and started a charter business and sailing school…and changed his life. He left the security for something he loved, something that spoke to or moved his “soul” or the core of his being. And I thought of transitions again and still. I thought of how I have done something similar to the guy who “quit” his former job and bought a boat so he could pursue his dreams, however unsteady they might have been. I thought of pursuing a simpler life, one less complicated, without and within, one that was rewarding and fulfilling and wrought with a different and compelling potential that didn’t exist in another place, for me and mine, anyway. I thought of how making that change will cause other transitions to occur within me as so many transitions and changes were occurring outwardly in my life.
Yes, I’ve only been there for a few weeks, but I actually look forward to going to work in the morning. I also look forward to waking and seeing that big beautiful mountain down at the end of my street, knowing that at the end of my work week, or even some afternoon after work, I will be out there driving or hiking among its hills and valleys, listening to its streams trickling or rumbling over its rocks, and hearing its scolding squirrels and singing birds touching the otherwise quiet and clean forest air. No…the monetary rewards won’t be there at work; I’m not going to be rich or even “well-to-do” after working there…but then I don’t have dreams of making millions. I’m looking for peace that lives within.
So the other day, when I was in the turn-lane to merge into the lane of traffic that was going to take me out and into Mill Creek Canyon, I suddenly saw and heard, racing toward me, three police cars in a line with their lights and sirens going full blast, “Code-3,” with a fourth one coming a minute or so later, flying so fast that they shook my truck in their passing. In my mind, and in my memory that has formed over the past eleven years, that many cops heading in the same direction, so close together, with lights and sirens screaming and blaring, could only mean one thing…someone got shot…some police officer got shot and the others were driving there as quickly as they could so they could render aid and catch the bad-guy. My heart nearly jumped out of my chest.
The view of the big beautiful mountain in front of me was suddenly absent as my former life and concerns came crashing and screaming into my very real and present and different life. I almost went back to my apartment to await the news flash on the television. But, I didn’t. I did, however, ask the mountain “Why?” and then sat there for another half-minute or so before venturing out into the traffic on the road that would take me away from my immediate concern and anxiety and out into the green embrace of that lush and welcoming “other world” that exists a few miles down the road from the everyday. I did watch the news that night, which I normally don’t do…and…regarding all the cops in a line with their lights and sirens and my imagined tragedy that struck or befell those brothers in blue…nothing. It was a “Big Fat Numba-Three.”
And today, with the “new employee” orientation that touched on emergency preparedness and the talk of 800MHz radios and interoperability and incident command and chain-of-command and what if our cell-phones won’t work and the radio towers are down and they’ve got two new fancy trucks with mobile antennas for the radios and stored rations and a cache of this and a cache of that and a 72-hour kit and we need to get help to those in need and 9-1-1 will be out of business and so will we and…and…what does all of this have to do with gonorrhea?
So…I am still somewhere in-between the past and the present, the “used-to-be” and the “is.”
I set out early and found that the sun was already risen and over the far ridge by the time I got out onto the trail. Although I had passed the trail-head probably half a dozen times or more, I had never been this particular way before. A steep path and rocks and scrub oak with their tiny, shiny acorns greeted me and caused me to wonder at the endurance that I had only a few weeks ago when I could and would play racquetball for three hours at a time. The intense climbing soon had my lungs and legs burning as I continued up the trail. Above and beyond me, the foothills and mountains rose in their way, causing a beautiful backdrop of scenery for my hike.
By the time I seriously needed a breather and had reached a relatively flat stretch in the trail, I came across and older man who was also catching his breath and admiring the view. We greeted each other cheerfully and commented on the hike and the scenery. He asked me how far I was going and I responded that I didn’t know yet. I’d never been on the trail before, I told him, so I was just going to walk until I needed to come back. We stood there for another five minutes or so as he told me the names of the reservoirs I would encounter on the trail, which way to turn if I wanted to go to such and such a place, etc. After another couple of minutes of talking about the area and the trail, he introduced himself to me by name and said it was nice to meet me…on a hike out on a trail in the middle of nowhere. Welcome to Utah.
We parted ways and I continued on my morning hike. I soon found the first reservoir the man had mentioned and took the easternmost trail that skirted the lake and was up against the gaining mountain. I sloshed through the soggy, rich black earth and new grass and then found the dirt and rocky trail that led off and into the forested heights onto and along the mountain.
As I marched up and down the trails and looked at the hills and mountains around me, always searching for a good spot for a photo, I thought about my life and family and choices and preparations and how I would share with my Little One how to find the words to describe his feelings when he was alone or amazed or overwhelmed by whatever life was bringing him.
I thought about perspective and problems and turmoil and how the squirrels left behind a pile of shredded leaves and husks after they got the seeds out of a pine-cone. I pondered the folding of the mountains into cups and ridges and rocky slabbed sides on their ever reaching heights. I thought about pleasures in life that remain and don’t, about what today is and has been in the past several years, and about what the future holds for me and my family. I thought of those words again that I’d share with my Little One that come from the core of our being and know pain and suffering and joy like the heights of these mountains, of a close communing with the heart of a loved one, and the peace that comes sometimes when looking out over mountain ranges that help define perspective.
And then I remembered the words of a friend of mine when he said, “Climb a beautiful mountain for me.” Here you are, Sir Byron. And thank you.
My ears are still ringing and my head is still buzzing or humming from the road-wind and travel and my arms and legs can still feel the pulling and turning and little bumps in the roadway that have embedded themselves into the corporeal memory of my day and afternoon. We have traveled, I and me, from the south to here again and have resumed the new habits and routine that have become mine in these last days and week. I have returned to here from there, from my home and home to this place of preparation and waiting. The long road and miles took me back to that place that has been mine and ours for these many years, that place of rest and sanctuary from the world and its assailing us and me. I have found myself here again after being there for only a couple days and my mind is still there as these keys type and start and stop and wonder at the words as they come and go and form and don’t and retype themselves as the clothes tumble in the dryer and I wonder at who’s sleeping and not. I wonder at who has cried today and not. I wonder at the quiet here and the eyes in the pictures and the empty pillow and the couch that used to be there in our bedroom and is now here in my living room. It’s tall and large and greenish golden brown and fit in that first and intended place and is now huge in its occupying of space and then. It looks like it belongs somewhere else as I think of tomorrow and the people who will be in mine and the other people’s tomorrows in which I will not be in substance and form.
Words came to me in the turning of the wheels and the passing of the wind and sahuaros and stands of shoulder-high sunflowers in their patchiness and grounded and monster junipers with their blue-berried cones all jumping and a-gaggle in their hodge-podge placement and positioning on the hills and passing landscape with the prickled-pears and cow-tongued cacti that clung neatly and a-jumbled along the side of the carven hillsides that bound and bordered that twisting ribbon of concrete and asphalt for those many miles from there to here. Those many miles that spoke in sundry tongues and painted images with their palate of words and thoughts that fled in happenstance at and in their impermanence, their scattered thoughts and round again and between glimpses at the guardrail and the mountains that command in their presence, Do come and stay and make anew that home and home and prepare the way for those to follow like the earlier pioneers who made their trails and forded streams and were the first and first as they went away.
I pondered the thought of this not being home yet and the gentle pressing of keys that told of hating the place where lonely lives, that ghosted realm of things and people gone from where they used to be, gone from where they’ve always been and not within reach or touch or the distance of a cross-room glance, but gone…and it lives alone there and waits the knocking door, the familiar step, the simple look, and the…rolling tears and the empty chair.
And the images of faces known and voices left behind, those Sunday mornings of yesterday and what they held and laughter and friends and none await me yet and the past is full and the present bare and the mountains beckon me and tell me that they will be my first friend here, as I think of my first friend there and my last one, too, and note the passing of time that was short and the leaving soon…and here we are, wondering at what tomorrow will bring.