I wandered out of my neighborhood proper this evening for my regular walk, out of the familiar realm and into another, past the new-ish houses that line and dot the area and into the older parts, the more ancient, if that is not too exaggerated of a word for the homes and hearths that rest and belong in this other area. I walked past houses with fireplaces lit and burning and the myriad smells of different woods burned and smoking and was cast back into my childhood with the smoky meat and sausages of German towns and cobbled streets and gutters, wood-burning stoves lit and burning and casting their familiar aromas into those long-ago icy nights, snowflakes falling past slated roofs and through the beams of yellowed street lights. I was there in moments and out again as I beheld the gorgeous and modern houses that lined other streets, an elementary school with the shining SUVs and minivans leaving the parking lot with raised and lifted and monstrously-tired trucks as they left the evening conferences or whatever, pulled out of the parking lot and made their way and ways to their various houses…anyway, down those dimly lit roads that went to those other neighborhoods, not mine, but away.
I walked those miles and then, and came to the cemented ribbons of commerce and travel, that freeway beltway that circles the town and valley. On this side is the neighborhood, on the other are the stores and restaurants filled with people spending their time and money doing whatever it is they’re doing, shopping and eating and being and not wondering at what I was doing out there on the middle of the pedestrian-bridge those twenty-some and thirty feet above the freeway looking down at the passing cars and trucks and minivans, some of which might have just left the evening’s activities at a local elementary school, some of which might be passing homeward, so late, from their working days, or heading back, or to work as I stood there and looked at them passing so. My gloved hands slid their fingers through the chain link arched fence that covered the bridge and hung loosely there as those semi trucks and full and midsized pickup trucks and whatnot sped along.
I wondered at peace and how it could be found there, wondered if it was there, not just there to be found, but could it be there, suspended so high above those cemented passageways, four and six lanes heading their separate ways, four and six lanes times east and west, so eight and twelve lanes in their coming and going. Would it be possible to sit there above the traffic, suspended there above those passing vehicles and people, and have the hum of tires and motors become a relaxing and whitened noise that might calm a troubled soul? Standing there in that odd place, that suspended place that caused my steady soul to wonder at the fastness of the cement pillars and pilings, the metal rods that must be deep inside those cemented somethings, and the architectural skills and engineering genius that must have been utilized to allow for sway and movement and the natural jostling of wind and the shifting of potential liquefaction of the substrate and the contracting and expanding of freezing and warming concrete in their seasons and other things…it did wonder, my steady soul.
It wondered, too, at the darkness that must reside, I would say live, but that would seem to involve an effort to do so, to live, that is, but to reside could be equated to existing and that, it would seem, might not take too much effort…but I wondered, anyway, at the darkness that must reside in the hearts of other people, in their souls maybe, such seemingly impenetrable blackness that would cause them to join me on this midair walkway and look for ways to violate and pass-through the chain-link and then hurl themselves onto those concrete ribbons and under all of those passing vehicles that I mentioned and didn’t, just above in those earlier lines.
My mind wandered back, too, to an earlier life and an earlier occupation that was occupied, was occupied, indeed, so to speak, with concerns, with others’ concerns and our own concerns, mine and my co-workers, with those troubled souls and darkened hearts that found themselves up on those suspended places over the rushing traffic. I wondered how they could have come to that place in their lives, and so near their deaths, that they sought the heights so they could soar up and out from their own inner depths and fly and fall into a light that meant release from so many torments. I wondered what happened to that last loved one or friend, the last one of either, whose patience ran out, whose loving words finally failed that other one on the pedestrian-bridge. Were they scorned by lover or friend, by their oldest child or youngest child or their mate of one or two years, of two or three decades, or was it failing health or lost dreams or used-to-be’s? What did they lose…to find themselves there? It could be anything, I suppose…or everything, too. Their equilibrium, purpose, drive, meaning, orientation, world-view, or whatever…they might suddenly be in a place where nothing makes sense, where things aren’t where they used to be, where even the light is different than it’s supposed to be in their world, or in the place in their world that they used to occupy, maybe. Maybe if their shoes were on my feet, maybe, I might understand more than I do or can, maybe I would understand what it’s like to be them, if I could understand such a thing, but I don’t know. I didn’t walk in their steps, didn’t share their heartbeats, didn’t lay my head on a pillow next to theirs at night, maybe, or didn’t lose what they lost, or suffer the abuses from monsters’ hands like they did, or might have…I didn’t feel those things, maybe I didn’t, so I can only try to understand, as I might.
So, I wondered about all of that and some, and more, as I stood there and listened to those tires and motors speed away from beyond and beneath me as I looked eastward in the darkened night and beheld the lighted forms of the mountains sitting there and understood and knew that they offered perspective to some people’s lives, but not others, that some problems are bigger even than mountains, or seem to be, and therefore are, and that comfort and peace might only come to some at the end of a brief flight from a pedestrian-bridge. Not my personal choice, mind you, and nothing that I condone…but I do understand…in as much as I am able.
The Mormon Temple in Salt Lake City was built from blocks of white granite that were “mined” from a “quarry” near the entrance to Little Cottonwood Canyon, just south and east of the city. When I imagined what a quarry might be, I pictured a huge hole in the ground, or at least a huge scar on the rocky side of a mountain. The blocks for the temple were actually carved out of boulders that fell from the mountainside in the canyon. I’m not advertising for the Mormons or the beautiful architectural feat of their showcase temple, I am, however, sharing the natural beauty of the place where this people gently obtained what they needed to build it.
You can see a boulder in the very bottom and center of the picture that came from the mountain above.
It’s probably easier to see the size of the boulders that were used from this picture than the last one.
Frozen waterfall from the snowmelt on the side of the mountain. There’s not normally a stream there, so I imagine it’s just from the melting snow on a few warmer days.
This is the snowy canyon at the base of the mountains. The creekbed/streambed is in there somewhere…not running now, but frozen and diverted further up the canyon.
It’s crazy what the fog does when it freezes on the branches and poles…beautiful crazy….
Took this at the end of the hike…heading toward early afternoon and the winter sun was just creeping over this part of the Wasatch range…beautiful.
Go Sun Devils!
Yesterday morning, on my drive home from the store where I had just purchased the week’s food and other household supplies, I was looking at the neighborhoods I passed and at the smoke and steam coming from roof-top chimneys and vent pipes. I also caught sight, through and beyond the clouds, of parts and pieces of the white and enormous mountains that line our eastern horizon. It was and is still amazing and weird and wonderful to find myself in this place in the middle hours of this last day of the year, in a place so new and strange and removed from where I was last year. As I drove those snow-lined streets back to our neighborhood proper, I happened to notice a mile-marker sign that was posted along the road. It said “Mile 11.” Now, I am familiar with state highways and roads that leave their freeway confines and become or pass along the same route as a city street, like US Highway 60 in Arizona that becomes or passes-along on Grand Avenue, bisecting the Valley of the Sun to take travelers on their way to Wickenburg or beyond, and I know of US Highway 89 that takes us from Flagstaff to Page, and to Kanab and Panguitch, and then marks a parallel course to I-15 as it leads north to Provo and Salt Lake, eventually becoming State Street that runs the central length of our city, but I was not familiar with any such state route or US highway that had turned into 700 East as it made its course through the city.
Seeing the sign made me wonder about the eleven miles that had passed on the other side of that mile marker and how many other miles existed in the opposite and other direction, whatever and whichever way that actually was. It struck me as odd, too, and maybe allegorical even, in the processing of what yesterday was and what today is in the marking of time in a year and this present time or era or segment of my life and my family’s lives in this time of crazy and dramatic change. We’ve come to this station and place in our lives, taken such drastic steps to find ourselves in a new state and locale, and work and living and natural environment and our heads and hearts and sometimes emotions are spinning and wondering and looking for something familiar to grasp and hold-on to as we attempt to regain our balance and direction. And here we are then, eleven miles from somewhere, remembering and thinking about the past and wondering about the future, holding-on to each other, leaning against one another in our little relocated family, awaiting the arrival of others and missing those who won’t or cannot join us…and our friends, of course, we remember and miss them too, those precious ones who, even from outside the circle of our family and intimates, loved us and brought us joy and companionship for the past twenty years and more.
So it’s not only us, but you, too, and then, who on this first day of a new year are eleven miles from somewhere. Where are you going, what are you doing, how are you, and we, too, going to measure this year when it’s gone, like we’ve done to the one that is just passed and passing?
The notes dropped softly into the quiet air of the darkened room, falling easily like thick snowflakes on a wintry and wood-smokey night. They slid sometimes in icy wonder up the scales and tinkled down again and pattered along the floor like a baby’s footsteps as he’s learning to walk, all wobbly-legged and unsure, patting his bare toes in sprinkled notes and laughs of fancy and then. They remind the man of a music box that used to sit on the shelf in other babies’ rooms in days and nights of a past that is thin and fleeting. Cars and cars pass and the furnace clicks on and a smell of warm dust and human dander swirls against the cold walls as another tune steps from the stereo and moves him further along and into the night. The muted lights from something moving on the quiet television that glow through his closed eyelids make him wonder for a second why it’s on, but then it doesn’t matter…as the notes keep rising and falling like a tiny heartbeat. A tiny heartbeat that is just below the other notes and endures with its tender strength and doesn’t go away even when the music ends, that one little note that lay underneath and within and kept on with its steady, un-fading ping ping ping ping, and then, that heartbeat. There is an Indian running swiftly in tinkling notes of raindrops and teardrops of gentle cadence, a rushing of golden tango-notes like freckles falling on a fair and tender face, and a person dining alone in a happy sadness that isn’t sad, with a movement and sway that comforts and soothes in its quietude. They are notes in their touching caress and the passing of the minutes and hours of a night that lure the man into a wakeful sleep where his heart beats slow and calm and there is nothing else, just the song.
Life changes as it does and sometimes brings with it a peace that goes beyond words. My new home and new environment have returned my soul to the place where it was born. It is not the same locale where I fell in love with the outdoors, but the geography and essence are the same. Gone are the big city and desert…and here are the mountains…and peace restored. These are some of my new favorite places:
I saw Superman walk down my hallway today and he didn’t and doesn’t care what you think about him. He was a white-boy with dread-locked hair that’s long enough to tuck behind his ears and he smelled like the stink and rot of unwashed bodies in tight and closed places. I’ve smelled his kith and kin in hovels bare and small. I’ve sat and listened to their stories of life and things passed-by and wondered at their truth and then found that it didn’t matter, those things and they, well…they became true in the telling. And today, as he shuffled past me in his coke-bottle glasses with scratches and old and yellowed tint from age and sun and wear, the arms hooked over ears with huge and fearsome gauges stuck in the lobes causing holes that would be large as a ring on my thumb, he shuffled past in that mess and whatnot with torn jeans and ravaged converses as he huddled his face into the small baby of two months or less and whispered his whiskered and loving words into his tiny self. He whispered kind nothings and stink and I didn’t smell his breath, but neither did the baby as he lay there cuddled and warm against that chest in the torn and fake-leather jacket and was loved by him in all that it meant to him. That baby there was cherished in those moments where he existed in my life and Superman had him and rocked his world…and I hope he remembers that love when life comes on him hard and rough as it sometimes will…I hope he remembers that his Daddy loved him, then.
We get into our habits and routines and go about our lives in the steps and ways that become familiar to us and comfortable in their sameness, or we live differently and make chance and opportunity exciting, grabbing at anything different and charging full-steam toward that unknown end, relishing in the adrenaline of “what if” and laughing all the way to the inevitable end with whatever conclusion comes, made by our hands or not. We might find peace for our souls in that raging unknown, the unpredictable change or risk that we embrace in our fullness to invigorate our modern selves and lives…throw us into the wild and unknown to make us know that we’re alive…make the ledge we’re standing on give way beneath us and drop us those several yards or meters with our hearts hanging and nerves tingling in anticipation of what’s going to happen when we hit the ground again, and when we’re finally there intact and whole, we can look back up to where we’ve fallen from and have all of our senses awake and alert and buzzing with that rush of living, of being alive in that moment.
And then sometimes our habits and routines become too known, or at least observed enough by shadowed opportunists who contemplate our rhythms and mark us as prey, knowing when we’re here or gone, home or away, and how we go and return, on foot or bike or in a bronzed-colored four-door returning at this and that time, at night when the lights are out and the sun has fallen in its course or in the graying dawn when it’s rising again from its sleeping….
A few years ago, and in the second week of October, I returned from an evening class at the university to find the screen from the front window of my house propped-up against the outside wall next to the front door. I had never seen the screen in that location before, and in that immediate rush of thought and memory and consideration of the screen in that unusual spot, I knew that I hadn’t left it there and that nobody else was living in the house at the time who might have done so either. My wife and kids were living out-of-state for a while and it was just the dogs and cats and me residing in our home and house.
I had turned-off all the lights when I left for class some four hours earlier, knowing that my housemates wouldn’t need them. Why have the lights on when nobody’s there? Maybe the answer to that is precisely because nobody’s there. I/we want to give the illusion that someone is actually in that sacred place keeping watch over all that is special and dear and identifying and wrought with the history and histories of the people who live and have lived within those several walls. We want the boogie-man to understand that it’s not ok to come in right now because we’re actually there, even when we’re not.
I backed-out of the driveway a little bit and then pulled back in at an angle so the headlights of the car would be pointing toward the front door that was tucked into its alcove and darkness. As I then walked up to the door, I saw that the window whose screen had been removed and placed so neatly against the front wall had been kicked-in…kicked-in and inward and glass lay all about the tile floor of the entry-way and even up the stairs, and I could see that the “security” door was unlocked and opened, as was the front-door proper…the means, of course, of the bad-guys’ exiting the house. They were too encumbered to step or climb through the broken-out window frame with all of my “stuff” in their hands and arms…actually in my pillowcase and the seat cushion cover from “my” seat. My heart was pounding and my mind racing as I walked back outside after turning-on the front porch light. I called that ever familiar “9-1-1” and told the folks that I had just arrived home and found my front window kicked-in and didn’t know if anybody was inside or not. Those were the key words, I knew, from working where I did and “answering the call” when people called 9-1-1 in the city where I worked. “I don’t know if anybody is still inside.” I didn’t hear anything, and given that I had been gone from the house for over three hours, I didn’t know if they had just left or had been gone for hours. At any rate, my town’s cops were there in less than five minutes, really, and were rather professional, in their way, as they walked their dog through the house (on a leash so he/she/it wouldn’t attack my cats) and then had me walk through with them to identify what was missing or otherwise damaged or out of whack.
Working where I did, I had taken probably a couple hundred calls or more from people who were reporting that their homes or businesses had been burglarized. The situation itself sucked, listening to someone describe how they felt violated, how they were frustrated that the cops were not going to rush right out there, and then how they felt that someone had stolen more than their property from them. The people felt and knew that their sense of security was stolen, too. I suppose, in truth, their “illusion” of security had been stolen. They were probably never really secure to begin with, but it was comforting to them to think that they had been. And now the shoe was on the other foot, so to speak. I had made that call. I had asked for help. I had beseeched those armed and uniformed somebodies to come and check my house to see if they could find the bastards still inside who had the gall to break-in and steal those fine and important things that they had stolen. I wanted my city’s “finest” to loose their dogs on the shit-head who had stolen my illusion of security. I wanted to hear them clear on the radio and say “Hey Boss, we’ve got to do some paperwork tonight,” which would tell me and their boss and their dispatcher that the dog had found someone inside and taken a bite or two out of him. That would have been sweet.
So, aside from the two computers and monitors and modems and router and pillowcase and seat cushion cover and DVD player and birth-certificates for myself and my older sons, and the adoption papers for my older daughter, and my and my wife’s marriage certificate, and the savings-bonds for my little one and the CD case with the hundred and more CDs and the intact window…the bad guy or guys also stole my sense of safety in my own house. Actually, I don’t think I was fearful that they would come back when I was home, but I never drove away without wondering if they were going to come back when I was gone. Nobody else was going to be living in the house with me and be there during my odd hours away for another ten months or more. My “stuff” was going to be as vulnerable to being stolen again as it was the day or hour before it was stolen this first time.
I did manage to sleep that night. After the “emergency board-up” window/glass guy left sometime around midnight and after I had managed to clean-up probably 98% of the glass that had been kicked into the corners and crannies of our furnished living room, my racing heart finally settled and the waning level of adrenaline finally allowed my mind to slow to a calming pace…sleep finally came to my wondering self and brought a needed semblance of rest.
Morning found me walking through the house again looking for what I might find that would help in identifying the person or people who had broken-into my house, my home…our home, my family’s and mine, the sanctuary in which we worshipped and loved the people who were and are dear to us…the hallowed place where we believed we were safe from the evils and uncertainties of the world…that sacred place that had been violated by some unknown person or people who had left behind a single glove in his or their passing. He took all my stuff and only left me his glove and a sense of being wronged, a sense of wondering each time I drove away, what I would find when I returned, a feeling that hasn’t left me yet…three years later.
The morning light revealed the black smudges of finger-print dust that the cops had left behind after their attempts to find identifying clues as to who had been there when I was gone…black smudges and powder on my bedroom closet door, on the drawers to the filing-cabinet inside the closet, and on the front door in the living room. It also caught and reflected itself from and in the many tiny shards of window glass that I had missed the previous night. I found splinters for months, tiny pieces and large, laying under furniture and in the cracks along the baseboards…clear across the living room and under the piano, four and five steps up the staircase in the thick carpet…tiny sharp prisms of who’s been here and gone.
So what then and what now, these few years hence? I would drive away and wonder, as I do now. Living in the solitariness that my current situation demands, I know where everything is in my little apartment “home.” I know when I leave a closet door slightly ajar and remember where I laid the remotes the night before when I turned off the TV. And I have the serial numbers and model numbers for everything electronic and so labeled with those numbers of identification logged in their special place so that if they’re taken again, I can say which exact one is mine and ours. The phone calls I took from complaining citizens after I had been in their shoes were slightly different from the ones I had taken before…as I understood in my core what they were going through. I knew what they meant when they said they felt more wronged by the act and intrusion than they had ever felt before. I understood the loss of the illusion of their security…their extreme sense of violation, as it was also mine.
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.
It’s amazing sometimes, how we can be affected by the people who come into our lives, and vice versa. Whether they or we are there for years or months, days, or even moments, the interactions and actions can leave a permanent mark that is felt and known, sometimes only by the bearer, for the rest of our/their lives. People have studied the human attachment and socialization processes for years, and in an objective sense, we can all understand and relate to the academic ponderings and writings that filled lectures and library shelves over the span of curious and inquiring time. We can perceive that we begin to learn to be a human and a social person within the boundaries of our homes. We understand, too, that we continue that learning when we step outside of our homes and have those first interactions with other kids or adults out on the front porch step…and down the sidewalk that leads to the park or the neighbor’s house…and then further down the sidewalk and street toward our first school experience…and it goes from there. The people in our surround begin to touch our lives, sometimes good, hopefully most-times good, and sometimes not-so-good…and many times not necessarily either, just touched. Just enough of an imprint or lesson was left behind, or maybe just an impression, a feeling, or even a suspicion, is left in our memories, and that represents the “touch” that was theirs, or ours, on us or them, me or you.
When we continue to read those journal articles, psychology books, sociology books, or whatever, and then compare their essential content to our lives, the subjective part of our studies, we notice that there are, indeed, similarities between the texts and “real” life. We comprehend the depth of impression and effect when we look at the patterns of family and work-life that repeat themselves from generation to generation. Our experiences are full of knowing people whose fathers and grandfathers were physicians or mechanics or plumbers or academics or military men or police officers…just as they are, those people we know – or their mothers and grandmothers were physicians or nurses or teachers or professors or seamstresses or military women, just as they are, those people we know. We notice the same movements or gestures or uses of words and phrases, or even similar postures or habits of a family member, or ourselves, returning home from their or our workday as they stand there in the kitchen eating from a bag of chips just like their father did. We know, too, that some of our friends or co-workers, or clients, or family members, or other people with whom we are familiar, also have substance abuse or violence problems just like their parents did, their father or their mother and alone or together, those pairings of influence that leave a permanent mark, a dent, a troubled soul, a perpetuating something that wasn’t good when it started and hasn’t been good since it’s been passed along and along. People never learned to listen or care or nurture, or they were suffocating and rigid and unbending and unforgiving…or they weren’t…and they weren’t. Sometimes people learn the most and best how to love from their families, their moms and dads, their brothers and sisters, grandparents, and then. And sometimes they learn to love from other people who come in and touch their lives, other people who come in and accept them for who they are, love them for and with their faults…and encourage them to grow and look inside and outside, to see how their own actions are affecting others and others, and eyes open and open over time and see and learn, and still err, but learn and learn and strive and try and hope and work and love and watch and enjoy and cherish and endure and love…and get tired and fed-up and say “screw it” and so…and they still love and cherish and endure and hope…. And sometimes love comes late, or it becomes known late, but it is still love, and can still touch us the right way, so that we can still pass it along, and along.
Sometimes those touches that come to us are not good, but they turn to good when we recognize them and remold them and twist them and apply them as lessons in what not to do, or what not to allow, or tolerate, or what not to be; they become things that we specifically do not want to repeat from one generation unto another, from home to workplace to home and mine and yours and another.
And then sometimes, sometimes, regardless of the lesson, regardless of the example, regardless of the impression, or whatever, we do things or other people do things that go so strikingly against the examples and lessons and intentional impressions, that we and you and the other observers are left scratching our and your heads, thinking “What the…?” And then what of the examples, what of the lessons, what of the conversations and explanations and illustrations and demonstrated failures and successes, and hopes and yearnings, and shared strivings and conquerings of indefatigable foes and odds…what happens to all of that when a person or that person or some people or those people choose to go and do or be something so different or choose or pursue something so unlikely, or whatever…what then? What then? Where is that touch? What happened to that touch to sour it so, to corrupt it unto repugnance and scorn? “Who freaking touched your life after I did or we did, to turn you so?” we wonder to ourselves and then. Or the righteous mother looks at her unrepentant and atheistic child and wonders where her touch went, wonders at the child’s soul and eternity, as the child doesn’t wonder at hers. Or the touch is horrible and malevolent and wrong and that touched-one becomes or remains pure and upright and motivated and enduring and patient and tolerant and the most empathetic and understanding and…how did that happen, from a wrong touch and impression and example and…? In the end, after all the analyzing and hypothesizing and considering the bad and what must have been there, somewhere, as good, it just did.
How did your life become as it is? How did you or I, you and I, become as we did? Those people in our lives touched us in little ways and big and their touch and impressions are still with us. Someone touched a second-grader’s heart and caused that little one to want to grow-up and help others, someone else touched another second-grader’s heart and caused that little one to seek solitude in the hills and the woods, someone else touched another second-grader’s heart and caused that child to want to fly planes or study bacteria or write music or stories or make jewelry or build cathedrals or shape metal into cars or design hospitals or cure cancers or find new stars or…to shampoo dogs or plow fields or sail ships or paint pictures or…because they were touched so.
How did we affect someone’s life today or yesterday or last year or then…how did you and I?
Several years ago, a friend asked me to write something about my thoughts and feelings pertaining to the transition from employee to supervisor within our workplace, from 9-1-1 operator and dispatcher to Radio Supervisor. When contemplating the paper, I thought I would discuss the relationships with my immediate co-workers, the relationships with peer supervisors from other shifts, the relationship with my supervisor, the aspects of the performance of my job that my supervisor evaluated, the relationships that I had with my employees and the employees of other supervisors, both on my shift and other shifts, and related to and intertwined with all of the above, the political nature of written communication, things said and/or not said, actual and implied or perceived intent, and the ever-present need to actually consider and weigh one’s reaction to any other word, intent, omission, look, possibility, idea, etc..
After discussing the changes in relationships and interactions with all of the people in the workplace, and when considering those changes, there was also the immediately personal aspect to look at – my evaluation of myself inside myself, the changes in my thought processes that included moving from a solitary person to one of community and all that it entailed, i.e., what I lost and gained, etc. And then more – my thoughts of the bureau, the department, the officers, the citizens; my responsibilities to my co-workers, my employees, my boss, the department, the citizens; how my perspective of liability had changed or remained the same; my dedication to the job; my thoughts of other people’s dedication to the job; my sense of belonging and not belonging; it was just a job, a means to a nice paycheck that provided for my family and the commitment I had to making sure I deserved what the city gave me for compensation; and then my occasional thoughts of demoting, or other thoughts of trying for another promotion where I would supervise my then co-worker supervisors.
All of that processing of my transition within that particular workplace got my mind going in similar yet unassociated areas and caused me to wonder about the different and many transitions that one undergoes in a lifetime – which I then applied to myself and the many aspects and experiences of my own existence that have led me from one place to another, both literally and figuratively. My mind went in directions ranging from being an innocent in every sense of the word and passing into and through the stages of gaining knowledge that removed the innocence and replaced it with experiences that changed me forever, even if only in the slightest ways. My thoughts wandered, then and now – if I’m going to have this current and up-to-date, down the trails of my childhood turning into adolescence and adulthood; the paths that led me from the Air Force to the health department, from the health department to the police department, and from there to my present workplace in another health department in an altogether different state and locale; from carelessness to concern, or selfishness to awareness; the journey from being a solitary person, as I mentioned earlier, to one who out of necessity or yearning became one of community with a participatory audience, be it large or small; the change from being a young father with little children to being an older father with young and older children; from being a Believer to being a non-believer or disbeliever…and…. So I wondered at change and transition.
And then a friend of mine sent me a link to another article about a man who tossed caution to the wind and left his steady and secure job that paid well, but wasn’t fulfilling, and bought a boat and started a charter business and sailing school…and changed his life. He left the security for something he loved, something that spoke to or moved his “soul” or the core of his being. And I thought of transitions again and still. I thought of how I have done something similar to the guy who “quit” his former job and bought a boat so he could pursue his dreams, however unsteady they might have been. I thought of pursuing a simpler life, one less complicated, without and within, one that was rewarding and fulfilling and wrought with a different and compelling potential that didn’t exist in another place, for me and mine, anyway. I thought of how making that change will cause other transitions to occur within me as so many transitions and changes were occurring outwardly in my life.
Yes, I’ve only been there for a few weeks, but I actually look forward to going to work in the morning. I also look forward to waking and seeing that big beautiful mountain down at the end of my street, knowing that at the end of my work week, or even some afternoon after work, I will be out there driving or hiking among its hills and valleys, listening to its streams trickling or rumbling over its rocks, and hearing its scolding squirrels and singing birds touching the otherwise quiet and clean forest air. No…the monetary rewards won’t be there at work; I’m not going to be rich or even “well-to-do” after working there…but then I don’t have dreams of making millions. I’m looking for peace that lives within.
So the other day, when I was in the turn-lane to merge into the lane of traffic that was going to take me out and into Mill Creek Canyon, I suddenly saw and heard, racing toward me, three police cars in a line with their lights and sirens going full blast, “Code-3,” with a fourth one coming a minute or so later, flying so fast that they shook my truck in their passing. In my mind, and in my memory that has formed over the past eleven years, that many cops heading in the same direction, so close together, with lights and sirens screaming and blaring, could only mean one thing…someone got shot…some police officer got shot and the others were driving there as quickly as they could so they could render aid and catch the bad-guy. My heart nearly jumped out of my chest.
The view of the big beautiful mountain in front of me was suddenly absent as my former life and concerns came crashing and screaming into my very real and present and different life. I almost went back to my apartment to await the news flash on the television. But, I didn’t. I did, however, ask the mountain “Why?” and then sat there for another half-minute or so before venturing out into the traffic on the road that would take me away from my immediate concern and anxiety and out into the green embrace of that lush and welcoming “other world” that exists a few miles down the road from the everyday. I did watch the news that night, which I normally don’t do…and…regarding all the cops in a line with their lights and sirens and my imagined tragedy that struck or befell those brothers in blue…nothing. It was a “Big Fat Numba-Three.”
And today, with the “new employee” orientation that touched on emergency preparedness and the talk of 800MHz radios and interoperability and incident command and chain-of-command and what if our cell-phones won’t work and the radio towers are down and they’ve got two new fancy trucks with mobile antennas for the radios and stored rations and a cache of this and a cache of that and a 72-hour kit and we need to get help to those in need and 9-1-1 will be out of business and so will we and…and…what does all of this have to do with gonorrhea?
So…I am still somewhere in-between the past and the present, the “used-to-be” and the “is.”
My ears are still ringing and my head is still buzzing or humming from the road-wind and travel and my arms and legs can still feel the pulling and turning and little bumps in the roadway that have embedded themselves into the corporeal memory of my day and afternoon. We have traveled, I and me, from the south to here again and have resumed the new habits and routine that have become mine in these last days and week. I have returned to here from there, from my home and home to this place of preparation and waiting. The long road and miles took me back to that place that has been mine and ours for these many years, that place of rest and sanctuary from the world and its assailing us and me. I have found myself here again after being there for only a couple days and my mind is still there as these keys type and start and stop and wonder at the words as they come and go and form and don’t and retype themselves as the clothes tumble in the dryer and I wonder at who’s sleeping and not. I wonder at who has cried today and not. I wonder at the quiet here and the eyes in the pictures and the empty pillow and the couch that used to be there in our bedroom and is now here in my living room. It’s tall and large and greenish golden brown and fit in that first and intended place and is now huge in its occupying of space and then. It looks like it belongs somewhere else as I think of tomorrow and the people who will be in mine and the other people’s tomorrows in which I will not be in substance and form.
Words came to me in the turning of the wheels and the passing of the wind and sahuaros and stands of shoulder-high sunflowers in their patchiness and grounded and monster junipers with their blue-berried cones all jumping and a-gaggle in their hodge-podge placement and positioning on the hills and passing landscape with the prickled-pears and cow-tongued cacti that clung neatly and a-jumbled along the side of the carven hillsides that bound and bordered that twisting ribbon of concrete and asphalt for those many miles from there to here. Those many miles that spoke in sundry tongues and painted images with their palate of words and thoughts that fled in happenstance at and in their impermanence, their scattered thoughts and round again and between glimpses at the guardrail and the mountains that command in their presence, Do come and stay and make anew that home and home and prepare the way for those to follow like the earlier pioneers who made their trails and forded streams and were the first and first as they went away.
I pondered the thought of this not being home yet and the gentle pressing of keys that told of hating the place where lonely lives, that ghosted realm of things and people gone from where they used to be, gone from where they’ve always been and not within reach or touch or the distance of a cross-room glance, but gone…and it lives alone there and waits the knocking door, the familiar step, the simple look, and the…rolling tears and the empty chair.
And the images of faces known and voices left behind, those Sunday mornings of yesterday and what they held and laughter and friends and none await me yet and the past is full and the present bare and the mountains beckon me and tell me that they will be my first friend here, as I think of my first friend there and my last one, too, and note the passing of time that was short and the leaving soon…and here we are, wondering at what tomorrow will bring.
“Goodbye brothers! You were a good crowd. As good a crowd as ever fisted with wild cries the beating canvas with a heavy foresail; or tossing aloft, invisible in the night, gave back yell for yell to a westerly gale.” – Joseph Conrad
“Here lies my past. Goodbye I have kissed it; Thank you kids. I wouldn’t have missed it.” – Ogden Nash
“No distance of place or lapse of time can lessen the friendship of those who are thoroughly persuaded of each other’s worth.” – Robert Southey
“Can miles truly separate you from friends…. If you want to be with someone you love, aren’t you already there? – Richard Bach
“Not to understand a treasure’s worth till time has stole away the slightest good, is cause of half the poverty we feel, and makes the world the wilderness it is.” – William Cowper
“Only in the agony of parting do we look into the depths of love.” – George Eliot
“The reason it hurts so much to separate is because our souls are connected.” – Nicholas Sparks
“You and I will meet again – when we’re least expecting it – one day in some far off place – I will recognize your face – I can’t say goodbye my friend – for you and I will meet again.” – Tom Petty
“Some people come into our lives and quickly go. Some stay for a while, leave footprints on our hearts, and we are never, ever the same.” – Flavia Weedn
“As contraries are known by contraries, so is the delight of presence best known by the torments of absence.” – Alcibiades
“Absence diminishes little passions and increases great ones, as the wind extinguishes candles and fans a fire.” – Francois Duc de la Rochefoucauld
“Ever has it been that love knows not its own depth until the hour of separation.” – Kahlil Gibran
“Don’t cry because it’s over. Smile because it happened.” – Theodor Seuss Geisel
“Sweet is the memory of distant friends! Like the mellow rays of the parting sun, it falls tenderly, yet sadly, on the heart.” – Washington Irving
“If I had a single flower for every time I think of you, I could walk forever in my garden.” – Claudia Ghandi
“How lucky I am to have something that makes saying goodbye so hard to do.” – Carol Sobieski & Thomas Meehan
In the age-old conversation about work and life, are you one of those lucky or fortunate ones who stumbled upon or pursued and captured the job that drives your passions, or is driven by your passions? Did you have that childhood dream become a reality, and now, in your adulthood, you wake each day and can’t wait to get to your job because you just absolutely love it…because it so fulfills you, rewards you, or gives you the satisfaction at the end of the day in knowing that you participated in something that was so much bigger than yourself, or that you touched at least one life in a way that will be felt positively by that one life for their life’s duration? Or did you wake in the night and rise to embrace your creative dream and not stop until you were famished and your strength gone as you beheld the object of your creation and were able to say “Yes, I did that, I made that, I created that…and the world, or my own corner of it anyway, is all the better because I did so”? Is that you? Is that me? Or are we in the middle of a muddle where we just get up everyday and go to our jobs, walk the walk, go through the motions and maybe even have moments where we actually care about what we’re doing, maybe only to be rewarded every other Friday with a few more bones, or many more bones in our checking account? Or worse, are you in a job or place that you can’t stand, but you’re too numbed by your personally dissociated indifference to do anything about it? Is your job killing your sense of who you are or want to be? Have you resigned yourself to the daily grind and live only for the paydays that finance your weekends and postponed or neglected dreams? How do you live then? How do you do that? How do you surrender yourself so completely to someone else’s bidding? For the money only? Are we whores, then, when we resign ourselves to such a life, sacrificing our bodies, health, our minds, dreams, or our very souls, for that paycheck? What would we trade or willingly sacrifice, to have a job that we love, so that it is no longer work, but actively living and flourishing in ourselves and our dreams as we participate in that “making a living?” What would we sacrifice so that we don’t have to surrender…and what do we become if we don’t?
“Each friend represents a world in us, a world possibly not born until they arrive, and it is only by this meeting that a new world is born.” – Anais Nin
“The one absolutely unselfish friend that man can have in this selfish world, the one that never deserts him, the one that never proves unfaithful or treacherous, is his dog…. When all other friends desert, he remains.” – George Graham West
“It takes your enemy and your friend, working together, to hurt you to the heart; the one to slander you and the other to get the news to you.” – Mark Twain
“A friend can tell you things you don’t want to tell yourself.” – Proverb
“A friend is one who knows you and likes you anyway.” – Proverb
“Love demands infinitely less than friendship.” – George Jean Nathan
“No person is your friend who demands your silence, or denies your right to grow.” – Alice Walker
“The friendship that can cease has never been real.” – St. Jerome
“Let there be no purpose in friendship save the deepening of the spirit.” – Kahlil Gibran
“A friend is, as it were, a second self.” – Cicero
“In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.” – Martin Luther King Jr.
“One friend in a lifetime is much; two are many; three are hardly possible. Friendship needs a certain parallelism of life, a community of thought, a rivalry of aim.” – Henry Brooks Adams
“What is a friend? A single soul dwelling in two bodies.” – Aristotle
“We cannot tell the precise moment when friendship is formed. As in filling a vessel drop by drop, there is at last a drop which makes it run over; so in a series of kindnesses there is at last one which makes the heart run over.” – James Boswell
“The most I can do for my friend is simply to be his friend. I have no wealth to bestow on him. If he knows that I am happy in loving him, he will want no other reward. Is not friendship divine in this?” – Henry David Thoreau
Several weeks ago, I stumbled across a blog posting that discussed the author’s discomfort with all of the hyphenated identities that are present and becoming more common in our modern, globalized, and shrinking world. The article caused me to think, again, about the salient characteristics of the self and our awareness of that self within us and how we deal with naming it…how we identify it…ourselves. Why does it matter what or how we call ourselves? Why does it matter how people “know” us? What is in “our” name that is sacred or worthy of remaining so? Our identity…we are and identify ourselves as a combination of things, a coming together of diverse origins, and a hybrid of things gone and now. We’re Irish-American, African-American, Mexican-American, Bosnian-American, Iranian-American, Rwandan-American, German-American…and many other mixings of American…and we’re proud of those other parts while still being proud of our American self. No matter how much we celebrate our American heritage, we do so from a core that speaks with a different accent, one that has a different birth-place and history. Yes, we are proud, we want to be here, we want to relish in all that being American means…while still being from somewhere else, while having primal roots that dig deeper and hold longer truths than our infancy of citizenship in our new country. We can’t divorce ourselves from our earlier histories and the nation of our nativity…we simply can’t. We are what we are and our blood is fluent in the tale of its ancestry and we cannot remove it from our beings. The hyphen in our identified ethnicities joins our past and our future and creates a bed in which our children will be born and live and know from whence they came and understand the price of sacrifice that was paid to inform their lives and make them what they are and will be in the many tomorrows of their future.
Being a White male with a western European lineage, a few remaining drops of North American indigenous blood, and a family history of having existed on this continent for documented hundreds of years, I don’t have a need, personally, to identify myself as belonging to a particular culture or country of origin. At times, I have wished to be anything other than a White male because of the history associated with being such…on this continent and in this particular country. But my identity doesn’t revolve around the color of my skin, gender, or ethnicity. I think this might be an unspoken luxury of being born into the country’s majority. If I had been born into any other status and worked hard to remove certain stigmas or economic situations that have been common to my “kind,” I might feel differently…and I might feel differently very strongly, especially if I were still witness to others of my “kind” being discriminated against simply for having been born with a different color of skin, or on the proverbial other side of the tracks…or river.
Why do we celebrate St. Patrick’s Day, or Cesar Chavez Day, or Martin Luther King Day? Why do we have Black History Month, or Chicano History Month…or Gay-Pride Day…or for that matter, or any matter in this discussion, why do we have Mother’s Day, or Father’s Day, or Grandparent’s Day, or Secretary’s Day…or Valentine’s Day…aren’t we simply celebrating some part of ourselves or honoring a part or role that someone else plays in our lives in their given or chosen identity…doesn’t it all come down to that…identity…who we call ourselves? Maybe….
Keeping the name or identity of our and our forbears’ nationality is somewhat akin to when we take the name of our new spouse or partner and keep our own family’s name; we’re proud of both. We’re keeping the label or tag that informed our earlier existence and life, we’re honoring our history…and we’re keeping a substantial part of ourselves; we’re not forsaking all for the mate or partner that we’ve chosen…our identity remains intact, not sacrificed on the altar of tradition.
When we get adopted, we hope to keep at least a part of our name so that we have something of our primary identity, the person we were first…even if we didn’t know it or weren’t yet aware of it, but it was still who we were, and now we might have a new last name or some kind of, or part of a new name, a promise, almost, that we can be or will be someone different, that our potential has changed and we’re going to be something that we probably couldn’t or wouldn’t have been if we hadn’t been adopted and had our name changed…and become part of a new family, become a new person…or at least a person with a newer part of themselves…and after all the legal mumbo-jumbo or mumble-jumble, we’re still able to say, “I know my name is….”
And lastly, what about when we finish school after those long and many and tiring and trying years…and decide to put that B.S., or M.A., or PhD after our names? Aren’t we further identifying ourselves, telling people who we are, what we accomplished…and hope that they might see us as a person who accomplished something…maybe…we set out to complete a task, to succeed in reaching a goal…we endured somehow…we were driven to learn or know…and now we know how little we know…and how much more there is to learn…about life, ourselves, and who we are…and others and then.
While our identities are often fluid, transforming in kind and character within moments or seconds in response to some stimuli, environmental or societal factor, or the presence of some other person or personality, they are often as solid as bedrock in the core of what they represent in our souls…the deepest reaches of our inner-most being. Sometimes those hyphenated names speak to the completeness of what it means to be us, you and me, as only you and I can be.
I finished my shopping, paid for the coming week’s food supplies and other staples and then passed through the automatic doors and walked out of the store and into the waiting parking lot. As I turned the corner from the entryway, I passed an alcove or recess in the building’s architecture and was surprised to see a small woman-girl tucked into it. I was caught off guard, naturally, as I wasn’t expecting to encounter someone hiding there.
She was a smiling, brown-eyed version of that hauntingly beautiful, green-eyed girl from that National Geographic magazine cover those many years ago…and had a sort of soft falsetto type voice that somehow reminded me of the one used by a certain dead pop-star when he talked to the media and tried to be so convincing of his innocence.
It’s hard not to respond to someone’s greeting when it’s something that you normally do, even when alarmed out of your reverie or processing of thoughts about your day or whatever.
I wondered if she was going to step-out and ask for money…just enough to buy some milk for her kid or gas for the car…but her eyes were too bright and the skin on her face was too clear…and still, the “Hello sir” wasn’t empty. It felt like there was something more coming…as I kept walking away, pushing my cart. No footsteps followed, not another sound, just the rattle of the cart’s wheels over the cobbles and into the parking lot.
I turned to look back and found her still there, tucked into that small spot, hugging herself into the slight corner of the building, wrapped in her brown or black or whatever colored jacket or hooded sweatshirt or whatever. I kept walking to my truck, pushing my cart ahead of me, and then turned to look again and saw that she had left. I didn’t see her walking anywhere and assumed…I don’t know what I assumed. I figured she was just gone.
I beeped the remote on my keychain to unlock the truck and then opened the front passenger door to load the groceries. I looked again through the other window, and through the palo-verde trees in the parking-lot medians, and back at the entrance to the store. She wasn’t there, by the store…she was in the backseat of my truck, just sitting there, smiling with her medium dark eyes imbedded in their pure whiteness and further enveloped in her slightly darker skin. She might have been 13 or 21 years old, I couldn’t tell. She smiled an easy smile.
“What are you doing in my truck?”
I’m just sitting here.
“I can see that. Why? Who said you could get in?”
You left the door open.
“I unlocked the truck so I could put my groceries inside and then get in myself and leave. I didn’t open the…I didn’t unlock the door for you.”
Well you must have left it open then. It was open when I approached your truck.
“You just got in on your own. Now…what do you want? Who are you…what are you doing here?”
What do you want?
“I don’t want anything.”
“Yes, really, I don’t want anything.”
How can that be…that you don’t want anything?
She leaned forward a little and slowly slid her hand into her jacket and held it flat against her chest…looking at me with that little smile, white teeth peeking out from between her full brown lips.
“I have what I want…so I don’t want anything. Now get out of my truck.”
Why were you at the store this morning? Didn’t you want something, didn’t you came here to get it?
“No…I needed some things. My family needed some things, so I came here to buy them.”
And you didn’t get anything that you simply wanted and didn’t need? You needed everything that you bought today?
“No. I bought a couple things that we didn’t absolutely need, but that I decided to get anyway…or I wanted them, yes. Wait. Do I know you? Who are you? What…why are you here?”
She leaned back into the seat and turned to look out the window and toward the front of the store again. I was still standing outside of the passenger front door and slowly placed one and then another bag of groceries on the front seat. She turned back and met my eyes again.
What else do you want?
“I want you to answer my questions…why are you in my truck and what are you doing here?”
I’m here to see if you want anything…to see if you have any desires…in life. That’s why.
“Who are you? I don’t know you. I’ve never seen you before. You need to leave. Go on. Get out of here.”
You’re just uncomfortable talking about things you want…and you don’t want to confront yourself and your personal issues.
“Look…my personal issues? I don’t know you, ok. You followed me out to my truck and then got in without my asking, without my permission, and now you’re asking me about what I want, about my desires. I don’t know you. I don’t talk about those things with most of the other people in my life who I do know, so I’m certainly not going to talk about them with you…or…. Oh, I gotcha…you were talking about other wants and desires?”
She smiled and turned her head away again. She pulled her hand out of her jacket and started to reach for the door handle, hesitated, and then put her hand down into her lap where it found its mate.
Maybe I’m an opportunity…or a challenge? Aren’t you looking for a challenge…something to test you?
“Or to tempt me? Are you looking for a date or something? Trying to pick-up older guys in the parking lot of a store…so they can take you home or to a hotel somewhere and abuse you or share some of their own forsaken love with you, give you some money and then you go away and look for another person, another victim?”
Is that what you think, really…that I followed you out here to proposition you? You think I’m…a prostitute?
“I don’t know what you are, but I’ve seen it before. I’ve talked with young women or girls like you, or girls who conducted themselves like you just did, so…yeah, I guess that’s what I was thinking. You’re someone who needed some money and wanted to trade for it. I already asked you who you are and what you want and all you did was ask me what I wanted. You’re playing word games…like you’re trying to get me to ask you for something…all innocent-like.”
I’m just asking a question. What do you want? Is that so hard to answer?
“Are you in the habit of following strangers from a store and then climbing into their vehicles uninvited, simply to ask them what they want? That seems rather odd to me. Seems wrong, fake, misleading…certainly not on the up-and-up.”
“Yeah, like you’re up to no-good, trying to cause trouble…trying to get something…money for drugs or something. Or food, maybe, I don’t know.”
I had loaded all the groceries into the front-seat of the truck and still stood outside of it, talking to her through the open door. It started to drizzle again and the water drops were beginning to land on the inside of my glasses, blurring my vision of the little girl-woman sitting in the backseat. I couldn’t see if she was smiling or even looking at me, though her head was still turned in my direction.
You don’t know what you want, do you? You have no idea. You’ve got your nice life, your family, probably a couple nice kids and a good job that you might not even like anymore…and you don’t know what you want. You’re stuck and you don’t have a clue.
“What are you, my conscience…my soul…some undreamed dream or a ghost from a previous life…a guardian angel or an apparition from the future…coming back to save me from my own destruction or something?”
Maybe I’m you. Maybe I’m the question that you don’t ask yourself every morning when you look in the mirror…that question that haunts you as you sit in the nighttime darkness and wonder what you’re going to do with yourself…that quiet voice inside your heart or head that asks what you’re going to do with the next 20 years of your work-life…your career…and the other 30 or 40 years of your non-work life…maybe I’m your future. So…what do you want?
I was standing with one hand on the open door and the other on the edge of the door-frame near the top of the truck, kind of bowing my head to look into the truck at her. I looked down at the ground and kicked one of the pieces of landscaping rock or gravel that had gotten knocked out of the median.
She didn’t say anything, just kind of adjusted herself in the seat…maybe leaned forward a little.
“I don’t believe you. I don’t believe in this kind of shit.”
Again, she didn’t say anything. After a few seconds I looked up and she was gone. She hadn’t opened and closed the door, hadn’t made a sound…no smoke or vapor, no lingering scent, and no residue or smudges on the back-seat or window…she was just gone. I leaned into the truck and looked through the driver side front window toward the front of the store again, but she wasn’t there. I un-leaned myself from the truck, stepped backward and closed the door, and then walked around to the other side of the truck, looking out and through the parking lot, turned around a couple times and scanned the full distance of the store’s property that I could see…but nothing. She was gone.
I got in my truck and drove home. The store was less than a mile from the house, so the drive only took a couple minutes, even as I drove slowly and scanned the sidewalks and neighborhood looking for the girl.
After I put the groceries and other items away, I went into the bathroom and looked in the mirror. I took off my glasses and brought my face closer…and looked into my eyes, one and then the other…looking…searching…the brown was different than hers…the whites not as white…not as young.
“What do you want?”
I couldn’t answer her…couldn’t answer myself….
One of the defining characteristics of the human animal is that of self-awareness, being able to understand the notion that we are an individual entity, a separate person, and are different and exist apart from other individual people and animals, or other given entities…we have a sense of “me” or “I,” and are likewise able to name “you” and “they” and “other.” When we look at those others and others who populate our lives, who accompany us in our temporal existences, we see and understand those others in the roles they play and the contexts in which they abide, sometimes as a continuous presence, and other times as singular or occasional appearances or presentations. We identify people and sometimes think of them only within the contexts that they appear in our lives. We forget that the mail-carrier is a mom or dad, sibling, child, or college class-mate of other people. They aren’t just the people who drive around in those little ass-backward steering-wheeled white jeep-type-truck things that deliver our bills and catalogues and letters and junk-mail…they are people who exist as we do, getting up in the morning, showering and shaving (?), making or buying coffee to drink on the way to work, rushing home or to the day-care provider to pick-up their child after work, buying groceries on their day-off…all those things, just like us…but we usually see them only in the roles they play. It makes us pause for a second to see the mail-carrier or postal employee who we normally only see behind the counter at the post office walking down the aisle in the grocery store in non-postal-worker clothes. They catch our eye and we search our brains for a second and then realize who they are…and we wonder for a second second if it’s weird that the postal employee buys Mountain Dew.
How often do we think about ourselves in relation to the others in our lives? How often do we see ourselves or examine ourselves as our siblings’ sibling, our parents’ child, our supervisor’s employee, or our employees’ supervisor, our child’s mom or dad, our neighbor’s neighbor, our professor’s student? When we do actually do that, though, what do we see? Who are we or what are we like as that “other” person in another person’s life? If we were to look outwardly from within their eyes, what and who would we see when we looked at ourselves? What things or aspects of ourselves would we still find appealing…what things would we suddenly not like…could we stand to be around ourselves if we were actually someone else watching us or living as a family member or co-worker of ourselves? How would we describe ourselves through that other person’s eyes? And then, how have we acted in the past to make them see us as they do…? What would they identify as our strengths and weaknesses? Where would they say we need improvement? Where would we say we needed improvement if we looked at ourselves, if we watched our interactions with others through those others’ eyes? Could we stand ourselves? Would we call ourselves a phony, a two-faced bitch, a back-stabber…or someone who was genuine, dependable, sincere, and respectful…all while being real?
What about when we look at ourselves through our own eyes? Who are we when we examine ourselves in the roles that we play? Who is that person who exists behind the façade of “Dad,” or “brother,” or “spouse or husband,” or “employee,” or “friend,” or “coworker”? How much of our true selves do we reveal to the other people in our lives? Do the characteristics that combine to make us “Dad” or “Mom” show themselves when we are in settings that demand that we conduct ourselves as “employee” or “boss” or “neighbor” or “student” or “bank-customer” or “citizen who got pulled-over by a cop for doing 45 in a 30”? Does our real persona show itself in all the social contexts in which we move and exist? When a person looks at us in one role, are they able to see or know how we behave or exist in one or all of the other contexts of our lives? Are we shallow in some settings and deep in others; are we obtuse or dense in crowded public settings and witty and intelligent in more private settings; are we tough and strong in one place and weak and needing protection in another; are we confident and fearless at work and meek and doubtful at home; or are we arrogant and cock-sure in front of our friends or at work in front of our employees and coworkers, but really a “fraidy-cat” when we’re home and among our intimates where we can let-down our guard? Are we really unsure of ourselves, unconfident, unfocused, unbalanced, lost and wandering in our deepest soul, but we put-on the opposite face and appearance when we’re out with anyone else and everyone else who crosses our path, intimates, familiars, or strangers?
So, who are you when the world looks away and you are only accountable to yourself? When the day is done and the house is quiet and you are alone with your thoughts and reflections, examinations and recriminations…who are you as you sit there in the dark and wonder at the faces on the wall, the family portraits and school pictures whose members’ faces are staring at you and the beyond…who are you? What ghosts come loose from their hiding places and moorings and remind you of the dreams that you put on hold or forsook for whatever reason? What pieces of yourself that you sacrificed along the way come out in the dark and dance and wave their hands and banners of “What about Me?” and ask where you went; where did you hide the promises you made to yourself about the things you’d do when…? And what injured child of yourself crawls into your lap and wonders what you learned since you were your own little self…and asks you why you didn’t do things differently?
Who did you turn-into as you were becoming who you have become? Who are you?
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.