Footsteps echo down the hall and a belt buckle jingles as a drawer closes and cigarette smoke wafts from somewhere outside and in a memory maybe, a goblin walking, a haunt, something.
Thomas, say the prayer.
I said say the prayer.
But I don’t usua….
That’s right, I do, but since you’re so perfect, you get to say it tonight.
My cheeks burned like I’d been smacked just sitting there…but then that had happened, too, during a prayer that he was saying, just reached over and hit me full in the mouth as he offered the blessing to his god and the god of our family…and my mom sat there on that Sunday afternoon much like she was sitting here on this one, whatever day it was…just sat there with her head bowed and her eyes closed, folded hands near her forehead, waiting…listening to her man…witness to the results of her betrayal, one that she wrought on some morning or afternoon after we had sat here at the same table, those two or three evenings ago as the house was quiet in sleep and we alone were awake, sharing moments of conversation and…shared trust…. I looked at the side of her face for a couple of seconds while my little sister looked across the table at me and wondered how I was suddenly so perfect…wondered why such sarcasm was brought to the dinner table when there had been no hint of anyone’s wrongdoing before we had all gathered there, me in my seat and all of them in theirs where they belonged…where we all belonged in someone else’s imagination of family and unity and the way things are or ought to be…beneath the decorated sign on the wall that said as for me and my house we will serve the lord.
I stumbled across prayed words said by rote, empty requests and thanks for whatever and bless the hands which prepared it, in jesus’s name, amen…and the words were there and the prayer said and dinner commenced and mouths moved only to eat and I looked through the back window at the gray concrete wall that separated our yard from the alley and the cemetery beyond with desert behind that and more…a slag heap of desiccated wreaths and green plastic covered stands all in a jumble as the ceremonies had passed and the tears had been shed…loved ones gone and buried and I wondered in my seat…cracks in the gray wall and mourning doves cooing beneath the young palo-verde…yellow feather-petals dropping lightly in the warm breeze, landing on the top of the wall and tumbling, scurrying away, floating to the yard below and remaining stuck in the un-watered grass, brown against the waning sun, forks scraping on plates, and water forming and glistening on the sides of glasses in the too warm air, becoming heavy with breath and rolling downward in a single droplet avalanche to pool on the polished wooden tabletop.
Kind of tuned-out there for a while, keeping my eyes forward, watching his hands and hearing him swallow, feeling the tightness of the tiny dining room, a nook really, feeling the desk and cabinets behind me, lightly pushing against the carpet beneath and the dog rang the bell at the back door to go out into the yard and do her business. I rose from the table and took those steps to the door and went out with her, stood there against the porch post and looked up at the dry-rotting wood of the overhang. No voices came through the door and I caught glimpses of arms moving in the window…I saw eyes behind their glasses behind the window watching me watching the little dog walk down the brick pathway towards the back gate, sniffing at the grass beneath the bottom edge, wondering at what might have recently passed down the alleyway.
My footsteps were loud in the dry brown grass as I crossed the yard walking toward the back wall, toward the tree stump that was my perch when I stood and gazed out into the alley and cemetery beyond, my haven and place where I didn’t need them anymore, where my heartbeat slowed and I learned not to care, to remove myself…they didn’t talk back out there, didn’t have glaring condemning eyes stuck in their empty faces…they were taking care of other things, being away…with echoes of a conversation ringing, bouncing in my head…why doesn’t he pray about it, ask god to help him stop…that’s what you guys say we should do…ask for his help…he’s done it since he was a kid and you don’t understand what it’s like…but it doesn’t seem like that should matter…isn’t he supposed to be stronger than our cravings…isn’t he supposed to help us overcome whatever it is that we need his help in overcoming…of course he is…then why doesn’t he…?
I don’t know anything about it, but I’ve seen it before and it struck me as strange and beautiful…and ironic, as it is just down the road from the Mormon Temple in Salt Lake City…we are not all Saints….
It rained again in that place where memories are stored, where the synapses fire and storm and lay things waste and then they are gone again or whole again and the images and sounds and scents live in the memories where we laid them those years ago, where they got tucked away somehow and have been waiting, if memories can wait, for us to rekindle them to their cogent prescience, for us to make them live again.
Those pictures lived, then, they were images and words wrought together with footsteps down hallways, belts rattling into their drawer at the end of the day, a rough hand on a cheek, the smell of gum and tobacco smoke, and the image of a big yellow car slowly easing itself into the driveway,Vitalis in his hair and the shuffle and hitch of the arm or hand into his waistband, keys and coins rattling and black-framed glasses surrounding the dark, sad eyes again…and the gift of a shiny red pocket knife…and after sand through the glass, a car in a time of need, a gesture, an attempt…what can I do? Moments and years and two or three lifetimes and the breath stops and the cheeks are tucked into place with clay or toothpicks or whatever the embalmer uses, and a little smile lives and holds that rictus shape until the crematory’s fires take it away. He was an old man early, and gone, limiting his life by wanting to live only so long, so that’s what he did, just for so long…testify, prophecy…. And I wonder what he really wanted, what he really desired and didn’t quite get. What dream remained unfulfilled, what heights weren’t reached? I don’t know. I have tainted memories and the taste of ocher, but that was my experience…what was he to someone else, what was he to his friends, what redeemed him when nobody else was around, or when he was in some others’ eyes, and not mine? What unconfessed sins tormented his soul, or what happiness lived there, even, beyond others’ eyes and mine? I don’t know what made him happy, or sad, or what left him feeling empty, what defined loss for him, or love…what stranger did he long for, what living or dead person didn’t fill a void that he needed filling, what or whom did he mourn, or caused him to smile when nobody was watching? Did he really believe in a god, did he really believe that he was going to live with a heavenly father when he died, that he would walk on streets of gold up there when his life was informed by asphalt and broken concrete…was that going to be his reward, really, did he actually believe that…did he have to turn off a part of his brain to do so, or did it just come naturally, did he like flowers or football, or what about weeds and wild grasses that grow along rushing mountain streams? Did he love his father, or even know him…or forgive him…or sin against him and not forgive himself after all those years? I don’t know…and at the end of it all, it’s for naught anyway, the deeds are done, the tears fallen, the regret swallowed and poisoned the body to the marrow, and maybe the only redeeming truth is that he didn’t know how to be what he was, didn’t know how to be what he wouldn’t have chosen to be, and he had no guide along the way to steer him out of the footsteps that had been laid before him….
And it rained again as the thoughts fired upon themselves as the fingers tapped the keys and as the neurons kicked themselves and rocked themselves and curled around their own shadows again and shot again into the void, into the primordial abyss of eternity that ranges in the wasted spaces between the fibers and strands of the cerebral mass.
Why are you crying, Daddy?
*neuron activity photo found via google at www.darkgovernment.com
In those many orbits around the sun, and the moon around ourselves, in that figment of time and space that we call months and years, and in those days of our passing, in that time that I’ve been gone from that place where I had worked and worked and wondered for other years and gone, things changed and progressed and grew and became other things that someone else had imagined. Technology and practice and practice became new and better and more precise and less invasive in a personal sense, for some, for those in the practice of this medicine and art and then. Time has changed some of the occupants, too, of the circles in which and around which the plagues are passed and given and shared and transmitted in knowing and unknowing senses all. While some advances have been made in several of the related realms, some of the old and tried and true remain and serve as beacons and exemplars of what works and what lives still in our humanity and theirs. A handshake and an eye-to-eye look of greeting and acceptance or a touch on the arm or shoulder or a shared smiling frown still connects their lives and ours as we mix and meld in our humanity and striving so. There is the unknown and the fear and the real pain of their physical pain and non-understanding and guilt and shame and glistening eyes and downcast, as they ask questions and await answers as they stare at the lines in the tile on the floor. No quivering today in that unshaven and rugged chin on that young man, little boy, who described his estrangement from his parents, their disapproval of his life and his mom’s fears for his future and health and physical living. He spoke of church bonds that are harsh and unforgiving and uncompromising and are tied harder and faster and sharper than a love for a child. He said, too, that there is a sister of mom or dad who still loves and accepts him and will always be there. He wonders at what a test result might mean, in that it changes the way even friends look at you. They don’t joke the same, can’t tease the same way…maybe like stepping on an un-dug grave, so he couldn’t share it with them either. “You are so young,” I said, “and that is both good and bad. You believe in your invincibility, still, and in your right to conquer the obstacles in front of you, but you’re not old enough to remember your friends wasting away and dying from what they contracted during the fun and love of an earlier time. Your brain tells you that the others’ memories are true, but you live in your actions as if they aren’t.” We think it can’t happen to us, he said, unconsciously squirming at the sensation of what was leaking out of his front and back-sides as he has waited so long to come in for a simpler malady. He was quick to respond to my call that he’d been exposed and needed treatment. Whatever he had scheduled was suddenly less important because he now knew and understood that what he had been feeling for weeks and weeks was real and could be ignored no longer. And so he was there…and so was I.
No radio was in the background and I had no concern for a status-list. I couldn’t feel a headset cord at my side and there were no black-banded badges or shields on posters on the wall reminding me that it wasn’t how they died that made them heroes, it was how they lived. My heart wasn’t beating with an anxious pulse waiting and waiting for someone to clear that it was Code-4, it was beating in sympathy and empathy for the distraught young man who sat in front of me who was wondering at test results and the fact that his father hadn’t spoken to him in over three years because of who he loved, yes, both the father and the son, the “he” in their each and solitary selves…and the men they loved.
Many things have remained the same…since I’ve been gone.
Yellow flowers sway on the stems of bushes whose names I do not know in gardens of other flowers and shrubs of Rosemary and Mexican Fan-Palms and large chunks of purple, volcanic stone. The cement is gray like the January sky and the blue of the water is calm with no breeze ripples. The handle on the black and iron gate clinks with its signature sound as the rod slides back in the guide; the gate swings open and my oldest walks in. He stood without for several minutes calling my name, or Mommy’s name…. “Let me in!”
Peach, white, and yellow paint chips were sealed in the garage floor and the smell of gear oil and fiberglass and tools hung in the air. The large, black wheel with its pedals still…I don’t know what color the ‘Big-Wheel’ was. The not tiny, but small form of my second son lay floating in the corner of the pool – beautiful, blue water, not moving. I was wearing my brown corduroy overalls and I consciously ran to the other side of the pool instead of jumping into its February chill. Did I grab his arm or his body? I don’t know. I clutched him to my body and yelled “Oh my God! Oh Shit!” I saw the gray sky and the garage in the rear of the neighbor’s yard. “Oh my god!” This can’t be happening…what would I do with only two sons? I pounded on his back then lay him on the gray, cement patio…blew into his mouth…turned him over again…why isn’t he holding his head still? His forehead banged on the cement as I turned him over.
His mom was hysterical…long, blonde hair, panic-stricken face, gray eyes, red face, screaming, hitting herself…starting her period as her soul clenched down upon itself inside…and the blank, gray eyes, wide open…I wondered what they saw. I wonder what they saw. What was his almost two-year-old mind thinking? What rush of terror-induced hormones were crashing through his body as he sank below the air into the beautiful, blue water? As he was floating when I found him, how much air was in his lungs? The water being so cold would have caused him to gasp-in the air as he fell into it. Maybe that’s what saved him. And how many minutes had passed?
And where was God? This is when I first began to doubt. All I wanted was to be closer to Him…and He ran away. He became less. Bad happens to the good and the bad alike. Then why pray…why pray if He isn’t going to listen anyway…?
It seems that way, sometimes, like there’s nothing worth saying, and in those times, I usually don’t say anything. I’ve been accused or esteemed as not being involved or wishing I was somewhere else when everyone else around me was talking and chatting up a storm…but sometimes there’s simply nothing that needs to be said, or nothing that needs to be said by me…or anybody else, really. So it’s been a few days since I posted and I’ve felt kind of guilty about that, guilty because it seems that I should be here. I’ve hoped to have something of a regular readership and have hoped that I could maintain some type of stream of worthwhile material…and today it’s kind of dry…not much happening in the old noggin. When I’ve tried to measure my postings against those of my fellow bloggers, the ones that I read regularly, I see that they have several days or a week or more between some of their posts…and some show-up once a month…and they have no comments, nothing shared by their readers…maybe because the readers kept coming back to find nothing there more often than they did find something…and some folks start their blogs with a firestorm of wonderful stuff and then fizzle out and leave us hanging, hungering for what might have been…and there’s nothing there for some reason…and others started out wonderfully and poetically and covered their observations of the minutia of life and the beautiful happenstance or collision of events and thoughts and right-brained or youthful creativeness that was breath-taking and they have become daily rants on their discomfort in life with parents and school and their unhappiness and one even with combinations of words that would make a sailor or miner blush…no offense Noble Sailor…and from a youngster with all of their wonderful and exciting life ahead of them, living in a foreign country with ample opportunities…and my one blog-friend who started posting about a month or so before I did and filled her pages with absolutely wonderful, beautiful, ambiguously personal thoughts and sharings and then one day disappeared and went away…and we/I start to miss them when they’re gone and I check every other day to see if she’s brought it back again…and…anyway…so I didn’t have anything to say for a few days…my last post was about my grandson and what I imagined the thoughts that his dad, my son, had during the rather stressful process…and I’ve read that post so many times over the last few days that anything else almost seems like drivel, insubstantial empty hogwash that isn’t worth the time to type into this journal…so I’ve been dry…uncreative…and wondering.
So I thought about contrasts and perspectives and the things we compare our lives to when we look around at those who inhabit our lives…I wondered about having and not having, the fickleness of fate or the gods who do and don’t do the things we want them to do in our lives…sitting and watching the divisional playoffs for the football season and noting quietly the commercials about donating $10 to the relief efforts in that island nation that was so devastated by the earthquake the other day…let’s give $10, all of us…as we sit in the comfort of our homes and sports bars watching millionaire gladiators or ‘warriors’ run up and down the field catching a ball or slamming themselves and others into each other trying to prevent the other from crossing a certain line…as they show pictures of the homes and neighborhoods that were/are crushed and fallen…and ruined…and I wondered about the woman who called today to complain that her two year-old daughter was pepper-sprayed by our police officers as she carried her while marching in a demonstration against how the local sheriff treats his immigrant prisoners…a demonstration where four people were arrested for assaulting police officers who were trying to physically control the unruly crowd with two police helicopters and dozens and dozens of cops and sheriff’s deputies trying to maintain order…and her baby got pepper-sprayed by a woman cop on a horse…of all the places I would take my two year-old child, I cannot imagine taking him or her to a demonstration march…but then maybe my life isn’t deprived enough where I feel I need to do that…or my family members aren’t in that sheriff’s jail…or something like that…couldn’t she have found someone else to watch her for a few hours? It must have been really important for her to be there, I’m hoping…it must have been really personal, must have really meant something to participate in that protest march…and good for her…good for her and the other thousands of people who were pissed-off enough about something that they spent their Saturday afternoon en masse showing that they were so moved…I’ve never participated in a protest march. What would it take for me to do that? I don’t know.
As I sat in the comfort of my own home and watched the home-team lose a sad contest, I kept track of the commercials that the network showed during the last quarter of the game. Noticing repeated commercials for the same show in the earlier quarters of the game compelled me to keep track toward the end…and the network and sponsors want us to purchase their home, auto, and life insurance, eat their subway sandwiches, drink their various beers, eat their brand of sour-cream, drink their soda because it’s the official soda of the football league so it must be good, use their package delivery company, buy their trucks, use their brand of medicine to fix our erectile-dysfunction so “you can be ready” the same day or every other day or something…which made me think about the beer and condom theft today at work…the guys stole their suds and prophylactics in a stolen car…wonderful…and Burger King tells us that even a grown-man sized baby who was born yesterday knows that their quarter-pound double cheese-burgers are bigger and better than McDonalds’ burgers of the same style…and we were encouraged to watch a show that claims to bring us our nation’s idol…one painful episode and week at a time…and one car company told us that they’ve been environmentally sound and concerned since way back when peace-signs and tie-dyed shirts and long hair were in vogue and another car company told us that the economy sucks so badly that they’ll accept the car back that they just sold us if we lose our jobs…because while the news and politicians tell us the nation is recovering, it isn’t really recovering until every last goddamned one of us is financially recovered…and the dead Michael Jackson’s song about needing someone to trust and “I’ll be there” was used as a marketing ploy by State Farm to tell us that we should trust them and buy their insurance…and the network wants us to laugh tonight with the Wanda Sykes show…and Tuesday night we’re supposed to be in suspense with them as we watch “The Human Target” show which appears to be a rich-guy’s version of the drive-by shootings we encounter in our western and southern city neighborhoods on a near-nightly basis…or we can use a certain broadband 3G or 4G network to talk on the phone and check our email simultaneously or find the capital of Peru while talking to our friend who’s a contestant in a game-show…and we can trust that the particular ‘chubby’ lady really did lose 54 pounds by eating the light menu…the “Drive-thru Diet,” from Taco Bell and so should or can we…and there were 26 commercials in the last quarter of play…and that’s more than enough for me.
Maybe I should have stuck with the first thought…sometimes there’s nothing to say.
I started my evening walk earlier than usual tonight, as my little one and his mom were on their way over to our other son’s house where my youngest would/will spend the night and day tomorrow until I retrieve him after work and go to yet another son’s house for his son’s birthday party. Over the many years that we have lived here, we have found a circuit through the neighborhood that is exactly one mile in length, as measured by our various cars and trucks over the same years to make sure that we were accurate that one or several time(s) that we thought we measured it correctly and determined that it was really a mile…and it is almost a habit of sorts to make two rounds of the path or circuit of an evening, maybe once or twice or sometimes three times a week, if I’m in that particular habit at the particular moment, or week or month or whatever. So, again, I set out early tonight as the little one and his mom are gone and I knew that if I sat in my esteemed and favorite chair to begin reading a book, it would be only a matter of minutes until my already heavy eyelids would close and close and bother me in their desire to sleep and I would fall that way and then, and then I would be hitting some serious sleep several or a few hours before I needed to go that way for the evening…so I went walking earlier than normal, as I’ve said.
And the smells of our desert winter Friday evening ranged from someone frying some kind of food with nice spices to accent the flavor or cover their wanting skill in the kitchen, the wonderful something or other that they were preparing in the Chinese restaurant kitchen down the road and around the corner…maybe the empress or emperor’s chicken with sweetened brown hot sauce and smothered deep-fried chicken chunks or something that hopefully isn’t cat or dog or something we don’t normally eat…but it does look like chicken when you tear it open or cut it in half…and I noticed when passing the mobile-home park down the road from our neighborhood that all the fan-palm trees were leaning southward…really, they’ve got that lean. I understand their reaching upwards to the sun, but I guess they have altered their stretch and yearn to the south where the sun is more direct, I guess, and not exactly overhead…and some of the passing vehicles on my rounds were very quiet, some mostly quiet, and only one or two that were loud enough to make me want to get out of the street and stay on the sidewalk as I pondered my life and the smells of my evening walk…and one of the louder trucks had an exhaust that was a bit rich and I could smell the heavy gas linger in the cooling evening air as I looked beyond the leaning palm trees and watched the flaming orange and pink clouds of this January sunset roll into themselves from their vaporous lines and trails and become fat-bottomed and darkening masses of pink and gray cotton batting that would coat the underside of our nighttime sky…as I smelled dryer sheets and dust that one of the neighborhood dogs was kicking-up on the other side of his gate in his feisty demonstrating and complaining that I should be trespassing in his line of sight or within earshot with my worn tennies occasionally scraping the asphalt or kicking a loosened pebble as I made my way past his house and along the road and track and measured pathway of my walking, as I pondered my life and smelled what the approaching night offered me…in the way of corn tortillas being warmed or cooked on the raw burner of someone’s stove…or others that were being stuffed with some type of carne or another and wrapped and fried in the Mexican food restaurant just around the same different corner as the Chinese restaurant.
There were oil stains in front of some houses that had and have been rented two and three and more times over the last several years and have yards with weeds sticking up through the gravel and plastic and gum wrappers and the blown G2 bottle from someone’s careless aim at an open-lidded garbage can/dumpster that was parked on the sidewalk, and another house that used to belong to a lawyer and her pool-builder husband and their clan of dark-skinned and beautiful children and their grandmother, that had a lighted multi-tiered fountain in their front yard and beautiful queen palms and ocotillos and a sweetly-clipped lawn and flagstone walkway now has dead palm trees that have folded-over onto themselves and collapsed in their dying onto the dirt that remains from the not-watered lawn that has broken and blown away and they used to have a parrot in a cage on their backyard screened-in porch that would talk and squawk in the sweet sunrising spring-time mornings…and many of the other homes do not have oil stains in front of their curbs and their winter lawns are manicured and coifed and otherwise trimmed to an obsessive’s perfection as the living room or family room lamps illumine and reflect into and through their decorated rooms and offer window-framed glimpses into their comfy sanctuaries as their white and spotted boxer stands at the security door and huffs while their own little ones run pell-mell through and around the kitchen and living room and “I told you to settle down already” mixes with the boxer’s huff and the pebble that rolled under my shoe as I consider my children and the drama of life and my daughters-in-law and sons and daughters and coworkers and my sisters and mother and the things and situations that I have passed-through and observed in my figurative times around the block and wonder again or marvel again at the pink and closing sky and remember the images and renderings from the book I just finished, The Good Soldiers, that chronicled a year in the life of a battalion of soldiers in Iraq and the horrors they endured every single day over there, the lives and limbs and dreams that were lost in what I and some others perceive to be a senseless war as my eyes tear-up again and my throat is tight as I swallow in the evening air, and wonder again at what is significant and what matters and how we can write hurtful words that express our deepest thoughts, our truest thoughts, and somewhere along the line we should have learned that we’re not supposed to do that…sometimes we aren’t supposed to tell the truth because it is going to hurt too much. We’re not supposed to say anything…we’re not supposed to write those things…we’re supposed to keep them to ourselves…we abhor the game, yet we commit ourselves to playing it to spare the others’ feelings…and the one soldier had both of his legs blown off above the knee and his one arm at the shoulder and his other arm just below the elbow and a piece of shrapnel tore off the bottom of his jaw and his ears and eyelids were burned off and his 19 year-old wife and his mother sat at his bedside for months hoping that he would again be the husband and son that he had been those six or eight months ago before he went off and fought his fight in a country that didn’t want him there and did their goddamned best to get rid of him and his buddies who had taken that oath to defend the Constitution of the United States against all foes, foreign and domestic…so help me God…SO HELP ME GOD!!!
And I noticed the one house that has a huge satellite dish on its roof with an accompanying smaller dish right next to it and even an old-timey UHF/VHF television antennae close-by…they must be a multi-generational-multiple-television-technology-viewing household, and while there were a handful of houses that still had their Christmas lights affixed to their roof trim, doors, and landscaping, only one house still had their lights on…blue-ish white lights strung and twisted around the columns in front of their door…that blue-white light that looks like the projector-lamps that you see on some cars…Merry Christmas brought to you by after-market lighting…and my one daughter-in-law/daughter is due to deliver her first child in two days, and my other daughter-in-law who is due in June learned today that her spotting or bleeding is due to the placenta having attached itself to the interior side of her cervix…which isn’t supposed to happen…and bed-rest and no nookie and no picking-up of her other child and no scooting of the laundry basket down the hall…and really take it easy, so said the doctor…and it’s a boy…at 20 weeks along…five grandkids and only one girl…and the one soldier who said he fell in love with the Army because of the testimony and promises of brotherhood and the friendship of his recruiter, one of the guys who had been there to uncover the spider-hole where Saddam Hussein was hiding, this soldier received a letter from his mom or girlfriend telling him that his recruiter friend had killed himself…he couldn’t deal with the pain of what he saw and did over there…all these years later…and the second time around the block or measured mile brings a breeze and the smell of my wife’s perfume from my hoodie as the black and white long-haired cat scampers in a low-crawl from the front tire of the red suburban and up to the house where the people are always sitting on the bench outside their front door smoking in the dark…the cigarette smell is there, the glowing tip of their smoke in front of their face, and the productive cough that speaks of sand in the glass and the ticking and tocking of the clock of their life as the guy across the street from them grinds something or other in his garage, making a shower and cascade of orange-yellow-white sparks and noise as the SUVs and passenger cars and full-sized and mid-sized pick-up trucks come around the corner and pull into their respective driveways and garages beneath winter mesquite trees and mercury-vapor lights that reveal or otherwise prevent from hiding what might be hiding in the shadows as the pink is wholly gone from the western sky and a dense gray has come to take its place as the lights from the jet-liners appear in an arc in their blinking and circling from that northern pathway and down to and around the western city and into the metropolitan middle where there is a sky harbor in the middle of an asphalt and literal desert.
And holy mother of Buddha! It was 30 years ago tonight that I first held the soft hand of that 17 year-old, tall, blonde, and gray-eyed little-girl-young-lady who became my girlfriend and wife and mother of my six kids…and I thank you, Lori Kim, for your love and patience and wisdom and understanding and forgiveness and guiding hand in bringing me from where and what I used to be to where and what I am today. I do love you so….
What do we really mean when we say ‘I hope so?’ Do we use the word ‘hope’ so casually that we have diminished its fullest meaning, or is it another one of those enigmatic things like love, that defy definition and measure, even though we find it clearly described in dictionaries? The American Heritage Dictionary defines the verb form of ‘hope’ as: “to wish for something with expectation of its fulfillment; to have confidence; trust; to expect and desire.” We hope we make it to the gas station before we run out of gas; we hope we win the lottery in tonight’s drawing; we hope our sick dog is soon restored to full health; we hope we can keep our same days-off at work in our annual shift re-bid; we hope our adult children can be happy in their new relationships; we hope our kids’ chicken-pox sores heal before they have their school pictures taken; we hope our wives or husbands get their businesses up and running and that all the years of work and sacrifice pay-off and that our collective dreams finally come true; we hope so many other things that would make our temporal lives or circumstances however much better…we hope….
And then…a new cancer treatment gives hope to those suffering from likely terminal conditions where nothing else works; we hope that we can rescue victims instead of recovering bodies from the mine collapse or plane crash; we hope our co-worker and friend gets back to Kansas City before her father passes-away; collective prayer among believers and a favorite passage or two or ten from their holy text gives them hope when facing the end of their biological lives that they will continue to exist in the hereafter…even when there is no scientific or empirical evidence to even suggest that such places exist, be they heaven or hell or something in between or beyond; and we hope so many other things that are coming to a final or terminal end.
When we hope against hope, we are hoping for something even though there is little or no chance of our wish being fulfilled; we are hoping with little reason or justification. Yet, we hope…again, for that eternal resting place above and beyond the stars with our Savior and family members and other loved ones and pets (really, pets?)…we hope beyond hope that a lifetime of unhealthy living and destruction of our own bodies will be bettered by technology and medical ‘miracles’ and that our loved ones’ bodies will continue to persist against the abuses that they have wrought against themselves…and when they live or die – and ‘whether’ they live or die, it’s somehow seen as ‘God’s will’ regardless of our hopes. Well then, in that overly broad context, isn’t every single possible thing boiled-down to His will? That’s kind of lame when there’s no differentiation between what is/was His will and what is or wasn’t. It sounds rather like a cop-out or an easy resignation because either way it happens, you say that it’s His will. Why not just call it fate then…just give-up any connection with the Big Guy whatsoever…just bring it down to what it really is…shit happens…good happens…stuff happens…life just freaking happens, whether we surrounded ourselves with prayer or didn’t…stuff just happens, and depending on one’s mindset, I guess, we can give all the credit to a meddling God who isn’t too busy with all the shit that’s happening in the universe, actually in the millions of universes out there…really big stuff, like keeping all those planets and stars stuck up there in their orbits or stellar placements, preventing all the black-holes from vacuuming every damn thing into themselves, keeping the planets, in our lifetimes anyway, from continuing in their expansions away from their stars at an even faster pace that would cause our little speck of dirt and water from freezing its inhabitants to death…we can give all the credit to that meddling God for the things that He does and doesn’t do in our little insignificant lives…or…we can accept that we are just another organism that managed to survive and reproduce and evolve/change into something that could withstand the environmental pressures and struggles long enough to get to where we are today…and whose continued existence is dependent upon what miseries and poisons and precautions or preventions that we manage to bring to and upon ourselves. In the billions of years of the universe’s existence and in the lesser billions of years in which life has existed on our planet and in the millions to hundreds of thousands of years in which bi-pedal type homo species have existed, our lives as the general type and specific species that we have become isn’t squat compared to the numbers of species that have come and gone in the eons before us…we’re just another bug in a jar…but our arrogance causes us to devise such quantities of illogical hope for something so far beyond our biology…just face it…we’re bags of bones and dirt and minerals and star-dust…that’s probably the closest we’re going to get to heaven…it was in our celestial origins that our ‘stellar’ elements combined to ‘create’ life as it exists here on our floating, orbiting, chunk of rock and water…and still we hope; we hope against hope and ask God to hit the ‘pause’ button on the laws of the universe, that some believe He created/devised, so that He can answer our prayers and make the sun stand still (pre-Galilean understanding of the cosmos), make disease-ridden bodies suddenly free of pathogens and associated damage, and cure the addict’s arrested brain chemistry and change him/her into a mature contributing member of society, etc. We somehow hope against all the laws of nature that God will hear our prayers…that’s rather arrogant of us, isn’t it? Doesn’t that speak of a specialness or consideration that isn’t warranted by our measly human insignificance in the broader context of all of our universes’ lifetimes and existences, that we should hope for such things and that they be granted by our God above? While “hope is a good thing, maybe the best of things” (according to Andy Dufresne in The Shawshank Redemption) that might help us endure some shitty circumstances, ‘hopefully’ temporal ones, shouldn’t we be more reasonable in our hopes? Shouldn’t we consider ourselves within the scope of our existence? I would hope so….
What is the self that is not explored, a half-lived life, unknown, abhorred.
The chastening call of reflection –
I am unknown. There is
You know what I mean –
You’ve been there too.
Behold the guise behind which lies
The hidden part that seeks its not self.
You are unknown. Behind my face –
There is me. I am mixed.
It’s a loathsome hideaway.
Repentance made – there is no God to forgive.
The soul is the self all connected –
To one not me inside of another.
You flee. I am found.
Dark wing flies to the hidden shore
Of remembrance held, gone not away.
Be not still in your finding.
Long nights of trees and lost beginning.
Where did he hide the newling that was
Not yet? Don’t ask for it’s not had.
Where is the newling not yet?
Ask around the place she could have
Been made. How Past.
What strange thing. The fog uncovered in its
Thinning. The shadow shape unmisted, ungone.
You are weird. You are that I find. To see
Two ways. Unbecoming, am.
“Matt,” he said, walking to the door, where he looked out the window for a couple seconds, nodded to someone, and then turned back to face me, “can we talk now?” He leaned against the doorjamb, eased his hands into his pockets, and then stood there with his legs crossed at the ankles, waiting for me to respond.
“Sure, Reverend,” I responded, still reclining against the yellowed, brick wall. Crossing my arms, I looked over to the nightstand where I noticed that he had placed the book face-down on the nightstand. Leaning over to right it, I continued, “Yeah, we can talk now,” I said, after clearing my throat. “Where’d you like to start?”
Without even pausing to think, he said, “Why don’t we start with why ya shot that man.”
“I thought you came here to talk about God?” I tossed back.
“Well, I did, but I tried that already and it didn’t work out too well,” he said, shifting onto his other foot, looking past me at the wall, “so this time, I wanna start with why you shot the guy…and then maybe we’ll try to bring God into it again.”
“Ok,” I started, “Why did I shoot him? Because he needed to be shot, that’s why. He was a murderer and he deserved it. And besides…I just snapped…remember? The witnesses and the newspapers and the shrinks all agreed that I just snapped. So, I must have ‘just snapped.’” I smiled at him, fixing his blue-gray eyes until he slid them from mine and sought the inanimate comfort of the nightstand and the red chair.
“I don’t believe ya,” he said, while he walked over to his seat, drew it a foot closer to the wall behind him, and then sat down. Adjusting his shirt, and then his belt, he leaned closer to me and said, almost in a whisper, “I just don’t believe ya, that’s all.”
“And that’s your prerogative,” I snapped, sitting upright again, quickly, “You don’t have to believe me.”
“The way you’ve been talkin’ here makes me wonder if ya really ‘just snapped.’ You’re mad and ragin’ one minute, sad and almost cryin’ the next minute, and then mad again…I wonder if ya didn’t do it on purpose. Anyway… will ya tell me how ya knew him…yes, or no?”
“I don’t know if I should,” I said, as I got up and walked to the door. “You’re certified as a counselor by the state, aren’t you? I mean, in order to be employed by the department as a counselor, you’ve got to be certified, right?” Looking out the window, I saw the deputy in the control room and hoped that he’d be coming to the door to tell the Reverend that he needed to leave soon.
“Well, yeah,” he said, leaning back in the chair. “I have something called a CPC certification with the state that says I’m a professional counselor.”
“In addition to being a minister, or a reverend,” I said to the window, “right?”
“So everything we talk about stays right here… and you can’t talk about it with anyone else, right?” I turned to face him and fixed his eyes again.
“Right,” he almost stammered, “Why do ya ask?”
“Because I need to talk about it…I need to be able to purge what’s inside…unburden my soul…let it all out…right?” I said, smiling at him, “Isn’t that what you said?”
“Well, fine then…I’ll talk with you…and it doesn’t go anywhere.”
I walked the few steps back to the bunk, kicked-off the pink flip-flops, slid up next to the wall and crossed my legs Indian-style. I folded my hands and leaned forward to place my forearms on my knees, and staring straight into his eyes again, I started to talk. “Alright…I knew the guy from a call I went out on last March. It was a domestic violence call and things were pretty messed-up in the house when we got there. The place looked like shit, garbage everywhere – holes in the walls, the light fixtures had been ripped from the living room ceiling, and the bedroom doors had been torn from their hinges. Crappy diapers and dirty dishes were laying everywhere. The guy had been beating his girlfriend and throwing the kids around…three kids in the house and none of them were his. This fucker was about five-eleven and weighed close to one-seventy-five…not really big, but wiry and strong in a dangerous kinda way. He’d been gone for three days doing meth and came home to get some money from the girlfriend and she was givin’ him shit for being gone so long. Like I said, the kids weren’t his and they were yelling and screaming…scared of him…you know? He’s pissed-off and starts destroying the place. The neighbors said he was yelling that ‘the fuckin’ kids are always screaming and can’t she make them shut up’…an’ it never seems to end with them. Anyway, we got there and tried to calm everyone down…my partner took the guy outside and one of the other officers took the girlfriend and a couple of the kids into the family-room and tried to get the girlfriend’s side of the story. I was sitting in the living-room with the youngest one watching Tele-tubbies and Barnie videos…the baby was about eighteen-months-old…didn’t deserve to live in shit like that….”
“So, it upsetcha….”
“Yeah, it upset me,” I said, as I stared at the yellowed bricks behind the Reverend’s head, “…but it was ok…things would be alright there. We’d take the guy away and maybe things would turn out ok…it didn’t usually happen that way…but maybe this time it would.”
“Why this time?” the old man said, leaning his head sideways, trying to connect with my eyes.
“Because maybe it was due. Maybe it was over-due,” I said, scooting off the bunk and standing-up again. “It can’t be shitty all the time, so maybe this time it would turn-out alright.” I walked to the door and looked out the window again. “Maybe your God would see fit to have the girlfriend press charges this time and we’d be able to lock the guy up and she and the kids would be safe.”
“And…?” he asked, looking down at the ring he was spinning around his finger again.
“She just wanted him to leave the house…first she was mad that he wasn’t there and then she just wanted him to leave…for the night. So we took him to a friend’s house, didn’t make a report, didn’t file any charges…just took him away,” I said, still looking out the window.
Looking at the back of my head, the minister asked, “And whadya think about that?”
“I figured we’d be back again anyway, in spite of what I hoped…” I said, turning around, but looking past him, “I thought…”
“I thought it was going to be the same as it always is…this shit never ends…it’s all fucked-up,” I whispered, “…and we’ll be back.”
“And were ya?” he asked, looking for my eyes again.
“Oh yeah…about a week later…” I stared at him, “this time he was hitting the kids…and literally throwing the little one across the room. Said it would never shut-up…always crying…following the girlfriend around the house crying…and it just wouldn’t stop. We took him to the station this time and booked him for child abuse…but since the kid’s injuries weren’t life threatening, the bond wasn’t set very high and he managed to make bail within a couple days. And then we were called out there again….
“Ya don’t have to go on if ya don’t want to,” the older man said, getting up and standing next to the nightstand.
“Right,” I glared, “…and it was Sunday. I was off-duty and doing a five-oh-eight detail for the church around the corner from their house….”
“A five-oh-eight detail?”
“Yeah, you know, traffic control,” I snapped, “…anyway, I’m waiting for church to let out and my radio goes off with the hot-tone and dispatch says there’s a drowning at an address right around the corner…yeah,” I said, staring at the space between the old man’s eyes, “…at their house. I’m the first one there and no-one else knows CPR…so I start it…on this same eighteen-month-old baby that I was watching Tele-Tubbies with a couple weeks earlier…doing fuckin’ CPR on him….”
“And where was the mom and her boyfriend?”
“Mom was there freakin’ out, almost fell into the pool herself, and the boyfriend was standing in the background with a beer in his hand trying to look all sad and shit. He would watch me and then look toward the back of the yard. I glanced up at him a couple times, standing there in his thin, worn-out t-shirt that had yellow rings under the arms, wearing tight, faded blue- jeans that had holes in the knees and were frayed at the bottom, holding his goddamned beer, tapping the side of the can with his middle finger as I was hunched over this baby trying to make him breathe…I hated the guy…I FUCKING HATED HIM!,” I yelled. “I blew two times into the baby’s mouth…and then did five chest compressions…and two breaths…and five compressions…and Fire got there pretty soon and I was able to stop…and I was hating that mother-fucker with every ounce of my being…and crying…and clenching my fists…and wanting with all my soul to shoot that fucker in the face for killing the baby…and hating YOUR God in his FUCKING heaven for being a lousy, piece-of-shit protector for this baby…where was the baby’s goddamned guardian angel? They said nobody had been in the back yard for months…the guy wandered out there to look at how green the pool was and the baby must have followed him out there…RIGHT! The baby is going to follow him out into the back yard…and the plastic toys in the pool? ‘Oh, they were left there from the summer.’ “BULL-FUCKING-SHIT!” I screamed, “…there were no algae marks on them from where they had been floating there for months…they weren’t faded and cracked from the fucking sun, and there were fucking beer cans all alongside the pool…with beer in them…the same kind that mother-fucker was holding as he stood there watching me do CPR on the baby….”
“Matt,” the old man said, trying to soothe me, “…God is in control of everything….” Walking over to me, reaching out a tentative hand, he said, “He isn’t going to allow…”
“You are SO full of shit!” I said, turning away, “God isn’t in control of a FUCKING thing! Are you blind…are you fucking stupid…are you even listening to anything I’ve been saying to you!!?? Shut the fuck up and get out of here!”
“But, Matt…,” he said, pleading, “Matt…please….”
“Get the FUCK out of here and take your FREAKING God with you!
“So, you didn’t just snap…you meant to kill him all along…Matt…?”
I turned around, walked over to him and got right into his face, “You’re goddamned right!” I whispered. “I meant to do it! I wanted to scream with joy as the bullets tore through his chest! ‘There, mother-fucker,” I still whispered, “how do you like that?!’”
“But…but, the Bible tells us in Romans that…‘Vengeance is mine; I will repay, saith the Lord’…”
“Yeah…well God is DEAD…so vengeance is MINE!”
I returned to my bunk, sliding my pink flip-flops across the black- speckled, white, linoleum floor and sat down to the accompaniment of the complaining bedsprings. I leaned against the wall and folded my arms, pausing mentally to process his words and formulate my response. There would have been a certain pleasure in unleashing my rabid thoughts like a crazed hound and letting them bite the old guy…hoping that they would infect him with my disillusion and disgust for the God that he apparently loved.
Still leaning, almost haughtily, against the yellowed wall, I responded, “You know something, Reverend…I don’t think you and I know each other well enough for you to broach the subject of God in the context of my life and the situation that I’m in…it just doesn’t seem right…I mean…in this regard, you don’t even know me, and it’s presumptuous of you to assume that we’re on the same page where God is concerned….” I paused again to let the words hang there like loosed dog-hair in a faltering breeze.
Thinking this was an opening, he started, “But I thought….”
I wasn’t ready for what he thought, and this was one topic that I didn’t need to discuss with someone who was nearly a stranger to me…angry at everything, I didn’t want to listen…it was still my turn…the acid thoughts that I had been brewing for the last several months still needed airing…I didn’t have any patience…so I interrupted…after looking up at the mismatched fluorescent light tubes in the ceiling, I leaned over and grabbed my ankles, trying to hold-on to myself, trying to keep my confined, yet racing mind under control; and then, with my chest pressing against my legs and my hands, white-knuckled, squeezing my ankles, I elbowed my way into his words…it was unexpected…I was embarrassed and scared of myself, but I couldn’t stop…red faced and with my pulse pounding in my temples, I nearly growled, “What if I told you that GOD had commanded me to kill that man…that mother-fucker…what would you think about that?” Staring at the black speck in the floor that was directly in front of his left shoe, I rushed on…“Or what would you think if I told you that your God is DEAD and that’s evident by how fucked-up the world is…what would you say THEN?!” I yelled… “WHAT WOULD YOU FUCKING SAY THEN?!” The words echoed, and bounced, and ripped through the air, thrashing the currents of rage and inconsideration and pretence and posturing and falsehood and all the other evil and imagined shadows and ghosts that plundered and dashed in the black silence between us. The taste of algal mold flashed in my mind as my aching jaw and lips pressed together, restraining my urgent, pulsing tongue…baby flesh coated in verdant bubbles and slime and his diaper soggy with green water that was running across the dirty pool-deck…making little rivers of thickly flowing mud that redirected themselves around beer cans and the dirty tennis-shoes of the man standing there…. “Yeah,” I growled through clamped teeth, “you thought we had talked before so I must be ok with God and all of that, right? Well…I’m not.” My raging, fiery-brown, tear-filled eyes slung themselves back up at him, daring him to respond…I whispered, “So, do you really want to talk, Reverend?”
His huge eyes were staring at me and I could see the delicate tip of his fat, pink tongue running back and forth across the edges of his top and then bottom teeth. The light glistened on his scalp through his thinning hair and I noticed again the bulge that hung over his belt. The minister had his hands resting in his lap and the middle finger and thumb of his right hand absently spun the gold ring that was on his left hand. He swallowed hard and licked the thick cotton from the corners of his mouth and looked around the room like he had forgotten where he’d put the iced-tea that he didn’t have but desperately wanted at that moment. He cleared his dry throat and hesitantly began, “But…but you’ve got to think about God…” he said unsteadily, “you’ve killed a man…and…things aren’t going to be the same…never again.” His bewildered eyes sought the remote ends of the ceiling, and then the bedpost, and then the wall behind me, and finally, reached nervously over to my own eyes. The man swallowed again, then licked the corners of his mouth again, with his eyes still timidly on mine…waiting….
“You’re right, Reverend,” I leaned forward again, “they aren’t ever going to be the same. So what?” I snapped, “We’ll all go on living. You’ll live your life and I’ll live mine. I’ll deal with whatever comes my way and you’ll deal with whatever comes your way.”
“But what about your soul?” His words stumbled as he swallowed thickly, still spinning the ring on his left hand, “What about your eternity?” he asked urgently. “Aren’t you concerned with that?” Now I was looking around the room like I’d lost something. I know I had thrown the words out there…they were still echoing in my own ears.
Exasperated, I said, “Haven’t you been listening to me?” I looked sideways, eyes wide with searching, first one way and then the other, like the words might have landed somewhere on the floor, or maybe on the bed or nightstand, and I could pick them up and throw them at him again. “Haven’t you heard a word I’ve said? LISTEN! I don’t believe in your God, therefore, there’s no SOUL to consider and my ETERNITY is going to consist of rotting in the ground…you know…worm food, just like YOU!”
Again the silence became tangible in the cell. The minister sat there on his red chair, looking at me and then looking away. His eyes sought the corners of the ceiling again, as though they could provide him some sort of comfort…or maybe he was looking up there to find reassurance from his God, I don’t know…but after several long moments, when I thought he was going to excuse himself, possibly offering to return at some later date, he stood and walked the two steps over to the night-stand and picked up one of the books.
“You know anything about Cormack McCarthy?” he asked, looking sideways at me. Not waiting for a response, he continued…looking at the back of the book, “Mostly western stuff, huh? You like his work?”
“I do like his work,” I said, leaning back into the wall, trying to decompress a little, “and, no, it’s not all ‘western stuff.’ His stories are beautiful written, and violent, and real to life, yet they help me disengage from my own life for a while, that’s all.”
Turning to me again, he offered, “And become involved with what’s rotten in someone else’s life, huh?”
A little smile touched his mouth and I wondered for an instant if he had been putting on an act earlier…there was a little too much intelligence in his eye as it caught mine in that smile’s moment.
I leaned forward to rub my eyes, not wanting to start-up with him again. “Yeah, you could say that,” I answered into my hands, “I can become involved with what’s rotten in someone else’s life without actually becoming involved. It’s safer that way” I mumbled, while pressing the heels of my hands into my eyes.
Replacing the book on the night-stand, he turned to me, “What’d ya say? ‘Bout bein’ safer?”
I removed my hands from my face and said, “It’s safer that way…becoming involved in someone’s life without actually becoming involved. Stars swirled in my eyes as I turned to look at the man. The department insignia on his shirt was dancing with the stars in my brain and I had to close my eyes to answer him. “You can care about what happens and know that you don’t have to do anything about it because it’s just a story. It’s from inside someone’s imagination. Yeah, I can read about their shitty life and then put the book down and they go away. It’s that easy,” I said, almost choking, wiping my blurring, tear-filled eyes, “…it’s that safe…inside the book.”
To be continued….
The cold eyes of the courtroom cameras didn’t blink or flinch in alarm as I un-holstered my department-issued sidearm, rose from my seat and emptied the magazine into the chest of the man on the witness stand. The spectators and court officials, silently watching in absolute confusion and disbelief, sprang from their seats and respective positions and either ran from the room, hit the floor looking for cover, or did what their official duties required of them. Two of the sheriff’s deputies tackled me from behind as I stood there like the crucified Christ with my arms outstretched and my head thrown back looking into a heaven that I no longer believed in. My knees were jammed into the floor as I felt the deputy’s shoulder crash into the small of my back. My head slammed into a dark, wooden bench and stars burst into my eyes like nighttime sparklers on the Fourth of July. The gun that had been dangling from my right hand had fallen to the carpeted floor and lay there, spent and empty and trembling in my eyes as if it were the violent beast itself who had executed this tragedy. “It’s Code 4!” I yelled into the carpet. Blood and lint and dust found my tongue as I yelled again “It’s Code 4!” The burning and peeling of scraped-off skin from my cheek was numbed by the pressure the other deputy applied to my back as he drove his knee into my spine and pushed my head into the floor as his partner pulled my arms behind my back and grabbed my own hand-cuffs from the black leather pouch attached to my utility belt and secured my trembling hands…. “It’s Code 4,” I whispered to the floor, “It’s Code 4….”
No doubt you’ve heard reports or watched the news and seen stories about people who have just snapped and gone ballistic on someone. It is usually a complete surprise, otherwise the person wouldn’t have been said to have ‘snapped.’ The people around me that day might have believed that I snapped. If there had been someone privy to my thoughts for the past several months, they would have seen this as completely premeditated, calculated, and intentional. But there were no such people. There was no other person who knew what had been mulling over in my mind since March of last year. They were thoughts that I tried to hide even from myself. I was embarrassed when I looked in the mirror. It was difficult to meet my own eye. Other times, I just ignored the storm that was brewing inside and tried to conduct myself as normally as possible. I caught my wife looking at me a few times with an almost puzzled look on her face. She said that I looked like I was somewhere else and the looks on my face kept changing, contorting as I had whatever imaginary conversation with myself. I would quickly smile and ask her what was wrong and she would give some bland answer like, “I thought you said something,” or “Are you alright?” This only happened a few times in these months, so I think the recent events probably caught her off guard too.
I’ve seen three psychologists and a couple psychiatrists since the shooting. It was kind of bland psycho-talk, asking questions about my childhood, my parents, the job, my marriage, and the relationship I have with my kids, etc. They concluded, somehow, that I must have broken-down from the pressure of the job and the disparity of life…and on and on. The last psychologist said that a condition of temporary insanity was definitely a strong defense…again – he went on and on.
And, of course, there was the department chaplain. Reverend Ron, as everyone called him, came to see me and offer his counsel, words of wisdom, prayers, understanding…or whatever. He and I had talked in the past so he must have thought we had some commonality of thought or experience and that I would enjoy talking with him, or be able to derive some kind of peace from the words and testimony that he would share with me. He came to see me after I’d been in jail for about a week…had to see me in my cell because they didn’t want to let me out of PC, or Protective Custody; an officer who was now a prisoner wasn’t safe among the general population.
Reverend Ron had entered my cell with a less-than-confident look on his face; it was almost sheepish, somehow. The dark blue polo-shirt with the Department emblem over his heart was stretched tight across his over-sized belly and he had to adjust his belt as he sighed and sat across from me on one of the red plastic chairs that had been brought in from the control room. I had stood as he entered and greeted me, and then sat again on the metal-framed bunk that was bolted to the wall on the far side of my cell. There were a few awkward seconds in which we both looked at our surroundings and wondered if we could each feel more uncomfortable in the others’ presence.
“Ya doin’ ok in here, Matt…are they treatin’ ya alright?”
“Yeah, I’m doing alright, Reverend, and aside from the occasional green bologna, I don’t think the food is any worse than I was used to eating before I came in here.” After a brief chuckle, I added, “It could definitely be worse, though…I mean…I could have a big, hairy cell-mate who thought I was cute, or something, heh, heh, heh….”
The older man just smiled, and looking at my crisply made bed and the gray, metal nightstand, he said, “Ya got anything good to read in here?”
“Got a couple magazines, some Cormack McCarthy, Tim O’Brien…and a Bible…of course.”
“Ya doin’ any reading in that Bible?” he asked me, with hope, raising his shaggy eyebrows.
Shifting a little on the bunk, I responded, “No…not much…can’t seem to get into it lately. Somehow the material doesn’t go with my environment, if you know what I mean.”
“Yeah, I understand. Your mind’s kinda boggled-up with everything that’s goin’ on?”
“Yeah…kinda boggled-up,” I mimicked, smiling at his country tone.
“Well, that’s kinda what I come up here to talk with ya about, Matt. Thought ya might want to just open-up…ya know…kinda like purgin’ yourself of what’s inside. Ya know what I mean?”
“Oh…I don’t know, Reverend. I don’t know that I should be talking with anybody about what’s goin’-on inside my mind. I already talked to the psychologists and psychiatrists…they came to see me within the first couple days…said things would probably be rather unsettled for a while…you know…adjusting to my situation and the new surroundings.”
Reverend Ron sat there, nodding his large head…looking at one side of the cell, and then the other, finally looking at me again, “Yeah, I figured they’d a been here already, that’s kinda why I waited as long as I did to come and see ya.” Leaning forward now, the older man effected a genuine look of compassion and said, “And how are ya really doin,’ Matt? How are ya doin’ way deep inside…ya know what I mean…way down in that quiet, private place that we don’t often go?”
I stood and turned away from the man, faced the glossy, yellow-white of the brick wall and responded, “I’m doin’ just shitty, if you really want to know.”
The older man sighed and adjusted his belt. “Oh…I imagine ya are…and have ya talked to God at all while you’ve been in here?” I turned to meet his beckoning eyes, and with a quizzical, sardonic lilt to my voice, I said, “Have I talked with God?” Piercing his eyes now… “Yeah, I talked to God…but…” pausing, wondering for a moment if I should embark on this endless train ride… “but I don’t know what the hell good it would do. He’s not going to answer me….”
And now, near angrily, I said, “Because I’ve tried talking with Him before and He didn’t have anything to say back to me…that’s why.”
The guy leaned forward and, donning his practiced, sympathetic air, he countered, “I know it’s probably hard to see through any of this right now…probably hard to hear Him talkin’ with ya…but He’s there… just waitin’ for ya.” He leaned back again and gave me his yearning, thoughtful attention; now it was him, and not his God ‘just waitin’ for me.
To be continued….
What are we really saying when we offer that ‘everything happens for a reason?’ Are we suggesting that our lives and the lives of those around us have been pre-programmed in every possible way so that absolutely everything that happens in our singular and collective lives happens because it was ordained or determined to happen as such? Or does it mean that once something has happened, we can take a retrospective glance or study of the event or happening and see that it might have been caused by a combination of events that came together in the moment of whatever it was that happened? ‘This’ plus ‘this’ led to ‘this,’ and then when ‘this’ happened, it led to ‘this,’ and then when ‘that’ happened it led to ‘thus and such,’ and then ‘those things’ combined to cause ‘this and that’ to happen, which led to this person doing ‘this particular thing,’ or led to ‘this particular something’ happening to ‘this specific person?’ Is that what it means?
In my ‘quest’ to discover some possible meanings for this rather commonplace saying, I found another blog that mentions the book Everything Happens for a Reason: Finding the True Meaning of the Events in our Lives, by psychologist Mira Kirshenbaum. When I followed the link to Amazon.com, I read what Publishers Weekly had to say about the book –
If you believe that “everything happens for a reason,” you might find solace in this well-written self-help guide by psychotherapist Kirshenbaum. Her premise is that “that no matter what happens to you, not only does something valuable come out of it, but it’s just what you need.” Kirshenbaum details…10 possible life lessons one might learn from unhappy life events, ranging from self-acceptance, feeling at home in the world and letting go of fear to finding true love or your hidden talents…Kirshenbaum is careful to note that what you learn doesn’t make up for what you have lost…If you don’t believe there is comfort to be found in life’s worst events, this book isn’t for you. But if you’ve undergone a tragedy and are desperate to find meaning in it, Kirshenbaum’s smooth, comforting tone may give you some direction. (Underlining added)
The “10 possible life lessons one might learn from unhappy life events” are listed in the blog as:
1. To help you feel at home in the world
2. To help you totally accept yourself
3. To show you that you can let go of fear
4. To bring you to the place where you can feel forgiveness
5. To help you uncover your hidden talent
6. To give you what you need to find true love
7. To help you become stronger
8. To help you discover the play in life
9. To show you how to live with a sense of mission
10. To help you become a truly good person
Another reviewer, Gavin de Becker, the bestselling author of The Gift of Fear, said that, “In a loving universe, everything does happen for a reason, and in Mira Kirshenbaum’s book we are persuaded that the universe always has our best interests at heart – even in our darkest moments.” I’ve got some comments to make about that statement, but it will have to wait a bit.
While I haven’t read the book (yet?) and will concede that neither the blog nor the book reviews could possibly do the book every justice or injustice that it might deserve, it appears that the author is suggesting that a retrospective look at the events of our lives can be analyzed and suggested to fit into one or more of her above-named categories. But having said that, it appears that she is also saying, in her premise anyway, that no matter what happens to you/us, something good is going to come from it…and that something is going to be just what we need…which means, to me anyway, that someone or something is directing the events and circumstances in our lives…in essence, good and bad things are brought to us by the universe (God?) because we need them.
Let’s run with that for a second…we got a good job after working shit jobs for 15 years building our resume while going to school…and we didn’t earn or acquire that ourselves…the universe brought it to us? Our in-laws were killed in a car crash when some drunk crossed the line and plowed into their vehicle head-on…and he lived…and the universe brought that to us for some good reason? Or did that happen so that we could learn to live our lives with a sense of mission? Our client’s three and four year-old daughters were raped in their private parts, bottom, and mouth…both of them were raped in all three places…and the universe brought that to the client and the little girls for their own good? Or did that happen so the mother could be brought to the place where she can feel forgiveness? We finally won the lottery after spending $20 twice a week every week for 23 years…and the universe brought that to us? Our son or daughter joined the military to fight against some fabricated threat somewhere across the world and got killed while trying to save the people who don’t want us there from themselves…and the universe brought that to us for our own good? Please tell those 3,600-plus families who lost their loved ones in the events of September 11th that the universe brought them that experience for their own good…for a particular and specific reason…because the universe is a loving universe and only gives us what we need…please tell them and me how that could be true….
In my searching for other possible meanings or examples of this saying that ‘everything happens for a reason,’ I came across some other ‘comforting’ words from the Christian scriptures -Ecclesiastes 3:1-8 says that:
To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven: A time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up that which was planted; a time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up; a time to weep, and a time to mourn, and a time to dance; a time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together; a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing; a time to get, and a time to lose; a time to keep, and a time to cast away; a time to rend, and a time to sew; a time to keep silence, and a time to speak; a time to love, and a time to hate; a time of war, and a time of peace.
So, there’s right time for a four year-old to be sexually abused by some monster of a person? There’s a right time for people to be killed by a drunk driver and have the drunk live? There’s a right time for planes to fly into buildings and kill thousands of people? There’s a right time for crazed white people to hang black people from trees? There’s a right time for hurricanes and tidal waves and volcanoes and plagues to wipe-out thousands upon thousands of people? There’s a right time for carbon monoxide leaks to kill entire families as they sleep? There’s a right time for mothers suffering from post-partum depression to drown their children in their bathtubs? There’s a right time for one tribe of people to massacre another tribe of people because they believe in different spirits and gods? There’s a right time for men and fathers to cut the labia off of their daughters’ vaginal openings so they don’t experience any pleasure in the sex act? Everything happens for a reason? There’s a right time for freeway snipers to shoot unsuspecting people as they went about the mundane tasks and routines of their lives, or for a disgruntled mate to barge into city council chambers and start shooting employees, or for a disenchanted veteran to load a rental truck full of explosives and kill 168 people because he didn’t like the way the government handled certain incidents…there’s a right time for all of that? There’s a right time for 50yo men to ‘marry’ 14yo girls to have them as second and third and fourth and fifth wives? There is a right time for a US Army major to open fire and kill 12 people and wound 31 others on a US Army base in the middle of the United States? All of those things happened because the loving universe brought them to people and to us for our own good and theirs, Gavin de Becker? What?
Or this, from AOL News:
A British hospital wants to remove a 1-year-old boy born with a rare neuromuscular condition from life support, but the child’s father is fighting to keep him alive.
The baby’s mother agrees with hospital officials, who sought High Court permission Monday to remove the boy from the ventilator that allows him to breathe, British media reported.
“RB’s mother has sat by her son’s bedside every day since he was born,” her lawyer, Anthony Fairweather, said in a statement, according to Sky News. “In her mind the intolerable suffering experienced by her son must outweigh her own personal grief should she lose her child.”
The infant, known only as “Baby RB,” was born with congenital myasthenic syndrome, a muscle weakness that limits the movement of his limbs and his ability to breathe on his own. He has been in the hospital since birth.
Doctors treating the baby say he has such poor quality of life that it’s not in his best interests to keep him alive. But lawyers for the father argue that the child’s brain is not affected by the condition and that Baby RB can see, hear, feel, recognize his parents and even play with toys.
“This is a tragic case. The father feels very strongly that Baby RB has a quality of life that demands the trust should continue to provide life-sustaining treatment. The father clearly adores his son and hopes to demonstrate to the court that the trust’s application should be rejected,” Christopher Cuddihee, a lawyer representing the father, told the Sunday Telegraph.
The parents are separated, but both have been living in a special dedicated family accommodation near the hospital since Baby RB’s birth. Their identities were withheld for legal reasons.
If the hospital’s application is granted, it will be the first time a British court has gone against the wishes of a parent and ruled that life support can be discontinued or withdrawn from a child who does not have brain damage, the Guardian newspaper said.
Congenital myasthenic syndrome is the result of a rare gene abnormality that affects the link between the nerve and muscle, destroying the “signal” between the two when the nerve wants the muscle to contract.
Only 300 people in the United Kingdom are believed to have CMS, and they are affected with varying degrees of severity.
Please tell the mother and father in the article above that this all happened for a reason. Tell them and me that the universe was looking out for this baby, this mom and this dad, and that it is all coming together for some good purpose…for a reason and one that will benefit everyone involved, because that’s how the universe is…it just is, right? Please tell the mother and father in the article above, Mira Kirshenbaum, that not only will “something valuable come out of” this situation with their little baby…but that it will be “just what [they] need;” I fucking dare you.
Forgive me, but the universe doesn’t give a shit about us. We’re life forms that happened to have survived the thousands of thousands of years and have managed to do so despite what we’ve done to ourselves as cultures and as a species…the universe doesn’t bring anything, things just happen. Genetic mutations occur and people die…just like other animals do out in ‘nature.’ This mom wants her baby to be taken off the respirator so he can stop suffering physically, so his body will cease to live and he will pass away…and his father wants him to continue to exist physically because his brain is aware and present…and is aware that he is hurting as his body is fighting against itself and that some of the people who love him want him to continue to be in this state…shit…love him and let him go.
Everything happens for a reason? I don’t think so. Good happens and shit happens and that’s just the way it is.
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?
Does it ever exist in a pure form? If we are not deaf, can we really experience it? If we are deaf, do we really experience it at all? I cannot answer for the deaf. Their response may depend on the level or nature of their deafness. It may be that, for it to truly exist, one must have never heard words to have them become thoughts. For the hearing, however, I do not believe it exists. We are only familiar with its silhouette, the mere image of its self. This shadow is what we call ‘silence.’
When it appears that there is nothing present to stimulate our hearing, when we would normally say we are in the presence of silence, something creates a sound. Even when it is just our thoughts, fears, imagination, or blood coursing through our lobes urging a tingling hum, true silence is not there. Its image, however, is a normal part of our lives.
Sometimes, it enters with a sly, tiptoe step; other times, it is so vivid, one would think it is the resounding tromp of a platoon of soldiers. Casual circumstances, anticipated events and unexpected tragedies are all tinged with silence.
Walk with me…into the penumbra….
Overhead, the loudspeaker commanded certain somebodies to go or come to such and such station on the third floor. Swinging doors crashed open and closed, before and behind her. The gurney banged into the delivery-room table, jarring her through the pain, making her wonder, again, if this was all worthwhile.
A multitude of thoughts sped through her mind while she was lying there, exposed with disregard, looking up at the ceiling, pushing, breathing, hurting, waiting. But what about during that pause in her heart’s beating, in that long silence before the doctor spoke, what was she thinking then? Did that interminable moment incubate the seed of anguish or jubilation?
Agitating the silence was the lazy humming of the overhead lights, the clanging of instruments into stainless-steel bowls, the beeping of the baby’s monitor and the rustling of paper gowns. It seemed to go on forever. The silence was too long.
The doctor was quiet, he didn’t say a thing; he just worked. With swift, confident hands he untied the cord from their baby’s neck. Still the silence, a moment more. Did she dare breathe when her child had yet to take his first gasp of air? Could she live if he didn’t?
Finally…the tiny cry! “He’s fine – you’ve got a little boy!” Happier words were never spoken!
He was just standing there, trying to be someone or something that she needed, telling her how beautiful their baby was, how beautiful she was, asking her, awkwardly, how she felt. Snap-shot photographs of the last several months crashed through his mind as he watched with awe, this orchestration of birth. Tears of relief and happiness streamed down his cheeks. The silence was over!
For the last two months of his life, he would have spells where something inside of him would cause him to cry out, almost scream with a nameless pain. At first, they thought it was probably kidney-stones; then, they thought it might be his hips getting worse – they had known for years that they were bad.
Their veterinarian was businesslike in his description of a not-so-uncommon immune-disorder that affects older dogs. This miracle-worker for animals went on to detail the possibilities of tumors, intestinal bleeders, etc., that could be causing the myriad problems.
After their dog was on mood-altering, immune-system-enhancing medications for about four or five weeks, they came home one day to find the evidence of internal bleeding in several locations throughout the house and yard.
One more trip to the vet. One last trip to the vet. The doctor explained how there was really nothing he could do to fix their dog. There was nothing he could do to restore sound health to this old man of a canine they called their pet. It was time for him to go on – to go wherever it is that old dogs go when they die. After that last injection, that last yelp, that last beat of his heart, he just lay there. He was gone.
Normal sounds of life still ring throughout their home. The children and the other animals are still there; the planet hasn’t ceased its orbit; life still goes on, but…it is quieter than it used to be. He doesn’t follow the man up the stairs or down the stairs, out into the yard or around the yard and back into the house again. He’s not there waiting for a morsel to drop to the kitchen floor, not there to nudge a hand for some love. No longer is he heard breathing, lying next to the bed at night. They still step over his sleeping form when they get out of bed, but he’s not there. He is gone. Except for the quaking in his master’s heart, he is silent.
One could describe her life as very busy. There was seldom time for her and her husband to be alone. Hell, there was rarely a minute that she had to herself without interruption, without someone or something demanding her attention. Managing a house-full of children and pets, attending the university with a full schedule and perfect grades while holding down a full time job required an enormous amount of time. A full life. One with many facets. One with many colors. A life with many concerns.
Not a torment, but a near constant preoccupation with the deeper, heart-wrenching aspects of other people’s lives filled her mind. The lives of children. Not only her own kids, but the rest of them too. The ones whose lives were documented in the newspapers and chronicles of the day. Children whose lives were put to paper in big binders with case numbers attached to them. Innocent ones whose lives were casually thrown away by the give-a-damn adults who ran the world. These were the ones who filled her mind.
Most disconcerting to her was the fact that she could not do much for these children at the time. She still had to finish school. Until it was over, she was bound to her current occupation. Nowhere else could she make the kind of money she did and nowhere else could she have the time off from work to do the things she wanted to do. Essentially, she was indentured to her meaningless, mindless, of-no-consequence job. She would continue to be a flight-attendant until she had reaped every possible benefit from the company while pursuing her goal; until school was over.
From her occupation, one would be inclined to think that she liked dealing with people. One would think she was a people-person. One would also think she enjoyed the hundreds of faces and personalities she ‘mingled’ with every day at work. One could not be more wrong. She thought people were okay in the right setting, but not in those amounts and not in the confines of an airplane.
Where is refuge when one is inside a Boeing 737, traveling at 535 mph, at 35,000 feet? Where does one hide from the constant analyzing, discriminating and stereotyping eyes of everyone aboard the plane? Where does one go to flee the leering eyes of half-drunk, red-blooded males? Where does she go to escape? She locks herself in the bathroom. In that closet-sized hideaway, she finds solace from the airborne hundreds. She mutters oaths at the closed door and cries tears of anger and frustration in the company of her only friend, the woman in the mirror looking back at her. Aboard the plane, locked in the bathroom, she finds it. It has been there waiting for her. It removes her from the meaningless chores and takes her home, if only for a few minutes, where she is important, where she is loved. In spite of the engine noise and the storm of people on the other side of the door, it is there. She has found her silence.
They arrived on a Thursday afternoon in the last week of January. Nobody answered their knock at the door, but they knew where the extra key was hidden, so they let themselves in and made like they were home. In a sense, they were. This was where she had spent the last several years of her childhood and this was where they had started their courtship. Now, this was their haven from the adult world. They felt safe here. It was always a pleasure to come home after being away.
He went to visit some friends for a while and she stayed there with the kids, recuperating from the trip. After a bit, her sister came home from school and there was the usual heartwarming reunion that made the long drive worthwhile. It was so good to be home!
An hour or so later, he came home and went out to the shop to put together some toys that her mom had bought for the kids. Meanwhile, the older son was out in the acre, beyond the walled-in back yard, playing with his trucks. The younger son was following her and her sister around the yard and house, visiting and wondering at all the things that fascinate two-year-olds like himself. The phone rang and she and her sister went inside. In what may have been minutes later, the older son called from outside the gate for his dad to come and let him into the yard.
Leaving the shop, where he was still working on the toys, he noticed the big-wheel floating upside down in the pool. He let the older son into the yard and then went to see if he could reach the toy – floating out there, near the middle of the pool. He noticed that the big-wheel was just sitting there, upside down, not moving and not causing even the slightest ripple in the water. Just sitting there. Suddenly, everything was quiet. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw something floating near the opposite side of the pool. Not something, but someone, a very small someone, face-down in the pool.
Rushing to the other side, he noticed again the stillness of the pool. How long had his little one been there? What period of time would it have taken for the water to calm after he had ridden the big-wheel into the pool? How many minutes had his son been floating there in that god-damned silent pool? Where was the noise that water is supposed to make when someone falls into it? Why didn’t he hear the silence of the big-wheel? Why in the hell wasn’t he watching his son?
No! What would he do without his son? It wouldn’t be the same. Life would never be the same. No! He couldn’t die! He fought the numbness in his mind and began to do what he’d studied so many times in the past. Just last month he had taken a refresher course and he specifically remembered not to breathe too hard into his baby’s mouth. Pounding on his back as if there was something stuck in his throat, he cursed and prayed for him to come back. God, how long did this take? Over and over again, breathe into his mouth, not too hard. Push onto his tiny chest. Now flip him over and pound on his back some more. Come on! Breathe! Please, come on! Yes! Cry! That’s it! That’s it! Breathe! Come on – that’s it, cry, come on! Damn the silence – Cry!
The excitement of graduation night paled somehow in comparison to the spectacular event that would take place the next morning. She and her family were going up north for a vacation and they had asked him to go with them. Each of her sisters was bringing a special friend – and she invited him, her special friend. The trip was a graduation present from her parents. As a family, they had been to the lake several times in the past, so they knew he would enjoy it.
They left home early in the morning, hoping to reach the lake with enough daylight remaining so they could work on the boat when they got there. In return for letting them borrow the houseboat, her mom’s boss had asked them to replace the carpet and fix some things that needed to be repaired.
The six-hour drive seemed to pass in less time than it actually took. New scenery and friendly conversation caused the miles to slip away without notice. Before he knew it, they arrived at the lake-town, located the boat and started to work.
With all of the work completed and only an hour of daylight remaining, they set off to find a suitable spot to spend the night. When they pulled away from the marina he turned around and looked at the sky. It had been brushed with magnificent hues of orange, yellow, rose and gold. This sunset would have made the sun-god proud.
The whole experience was an adventure to him. In his seventeen years he had never been on a vacation with anyone other than his own family. Now, he was there, at the lake, with his girlfriend and her family preparing to enjoy one of the most memorable events of his life – ten days on a houseboat with absolutely nothing to do but relax and enjoy life and its offerings.
Their days were filled with leisure. They would cruise through the waterways of the lake’s filled canyons staring in awe at the massive boulders and rock lining their passage. At different times of the day, they would pull over to the bank, tie up the boat and go hiking. Climbing the rocks to the highest point they could reach and then just sitting there, admiring it all, wondering at the forces that combined to create such a marvel. Other times, they would get out the inflatable rafts and go off by themselves, paddling along, enjoying the theater of nature before them. Whatever they wanted to do, they did. Sleep, eat, drink or swim. Whenever they wanted to do these things, they just did them. No schedules were allowed.
One of the best things about the whole trip was the time the two of them had together. Uninterrupted, they could talk for hours. If there was nothing else to say, they would sit in the quiet splendor of their retreat and simply be together. Saying nothing, just being together. Near enough to touch, near enough to feel each other’s spirit within them. A time of true communion.
At night they would lie next to each other on the roof of the houseboat and watch for stars shooting across the sky. They felt as if they were in a cathedral, looking up past the darkness of the canyon walls to see the ceiling of stars overhead. It was truly a magnificent sight. The greatest artist ever commissioned to paint a chapel ceiling would have balked at the thought of trying to recreate the incredible brilliance of this heavenly portrait.
To say it was quiet on the lake would be an understatement. Barring all other experiences from their memory, this place would be the origin of silence. There were no clocks or schedules on the lake. There was no screaming society telling them what to do and when to do it. Silence ruled…and because it ruled, they were free.
Once again, I do not believe true silence exists. For a hearing person, I do not believe there is a condition possible where there is absolutely no sound. We can only recognize the shadow of silence, its image. Whether it is tarnished or golden, blatant or subtle, mediocre or spectacular, the silhouette is what we call ‘silence.’