Listening to Sting's song this morning, a vague image and memory popped into my head. I was about 5 years old, I think, and that spring my dad took me for a few walks in a patch of golden wildgrass prairie not far from our house. I was at the age where all things were wondrous and magical. I loved to walk through those plants as tall as myself, I can, at this moment, recall the smell and the breeze. Or think I can anyway. On the edge of that memory is Dad, walking quiet beside me, sometimes answering questions, mostly just wisely leaving me to myself and my discoveries. One time we walked along a nearly-abandoned railroad line, out there where we could see for miles so there was no danger of a train sneaking up on us. It was also -- believe it or not -- at the tail-end of the steam locomotive era, so we would have heard the train from far away.
We came upon a small trestle, spanning perhaps a small creek, more likely just a draw or gully. Dad started to cross it, but I was afraid, seeing movie images of people caught on bridges as the train came inexorably upon them. Dad assured me, calmly, that there was no danger, and we crossed, me still anxiously listening for a warning whistle midst a burst of steam.
We of course made it. No train, and sort of lesson learned for me. Magical as this world might be, there were keys to understanding it, and voices of experience to heed. Mostly, though, it was a minor part of those wondrous walks.
Not long after the train/no-train incident, we ceased taking those walks. I think that Dad, being a busy man who was home only on weekends, had a lot of other demands on his time. Or maybe he just lost interest in them.
Which was my loss, though I gained a primal and visceral memory. I don't think I ever told Dad how much I valued those walks, either at that time or in the following years, which was a loss to both of us. He was a quiet, socially-shy, cerebral man, not much for expressing emotion, so those hours when I had him to myself, when we walked in fields of gold, were special for me. Moments like this make me miss him terribly, as much a longing for lost opportunities with him as for him himself.
My own parental self also feels some pangs of regret about raising my own kids -- it's so easy as an adult to get wrapped up in daily life, and forget that for the little ones, everything we do is memorable, and it's so easy to forget to show them wonder and let them wander in it, let them walk in fields of gold.
And assure them, with adult confidence, that no train is going to sneak up on them.
December before last I was talking to a friend in the locker-room of the Y. Turned out both our wives had a form of slow-growing cancer, and both of them were scheduled for update evaluations with their respective doctors. Two weeks later he told me his wife got a great report -- the new medical approach they were taking seemed to be working wonderfully, almost miraculously.
My wife was referred for further testing. Which of course sounded ominous.
A few weeks later my friend told me something shocking. It appeared that his wife's data had been somehow misinterpreted -- her cancer was not only back but growing aggressively. They were told to prepare for the worst, that palliative care was all that remained. He of course got a second opinion, even though his doctor, an old family friend, was one of the best in the area. The second opinion was the same. Bad, terrible news.
Meanwhile my wife got her final results back. Her cancer was and is almost totally in remission. It's one of those forms that grows so slowly that odds are she will die of something else. Great news.
Early this last December I saw my friend at the gym. He'd been there only sporadically over the past year, spending much time simply caring for his wife (we are both officially retired). We'd talked briefly in those sporadic visits, but in December he said he was doing okay. I asked about his wife. He said, in a flat sad tone, "Oh, I thought I told you. She passed away two weeks ago." I offered my sympathies. He accepted and asked how my wife was. I said, feeling awkward, that she was fine. He said "Glad to hear it." He took my email address so he could me the obituary.
I got and read it over breakfast the next morning. She sounded like a fine woman, though of course obituaries are almost always black-or-white, making good people sound perfect and bad people sound perfectly evil. Truth is even the best of us have flaws and foibles, but, on balance, and on his report, hers was a life well-lived.
I looked up and across the table at my wife. She is a fine woman, in a life still living. I realized how lucky I am to have her here alive, flaws, foibles and all, instead of having her memorialized, polished, and honed, in media and memory.
Groovin' up slowly. Paraphrasing John Lennon.
Flatfoot is a cottontail rabbit with a bad rear leg, with whom I have a sort of relationship. I've mentioned him before, how he would sometimes take a cracker from my hand. We first met a couple years back, when I found him rummaging through the birdseed I tossed out when cleaning my lovebird's cage. FF's back leg had been recently damaged then and he left bright red spots in the snow wherever he went.
I didn't expect him to be around long, since even fully-functional cottontails have brief lives, being such succulent sources of energy for almost every predator.
But he came around almost regularly for two years, and we began sort of watching for each other every morning, I enjoyed the kinship with a representative of the wild animal kingdom, and he at least enjoyed the ritz crackers (and I hope more). Sometimes I'd be sitting in my screened back porch in nice weather, and he'd lope by, and, if he heard me in there, might stand up on his hind legs and look in. The damaged leg had long ago stopped bleeding, but it stayed deformed and he was careful not to put much weight on it.
Several months ago he seemed to disappear, and I put it down to the inevitable. That suggested images of how harsh nature can be, and I pictured him either dying a slow and private death somewhere (the best alternative), or under a car, or being caught and dismembered by a coyote, dog, hawk, owl, or whatever else. Morbid speculations.
Early last week I looked out the back window and saw a large, fluffed up, cottontail, sitting on the back step of the porch. I thought I recognized him, and went to grab a cracker. By the time I returned the step was empty, and I wondered, kind of hoped, it was one of those spiritual manifestations I hear about, good ol' FF showing up to say goodbye.
But yesterday he showed up again, in all his fluffy, gimpy, glory. He stuck around while I fetched a cracker, and calmly ate it as I stood a few feet away, as "the winds of the old days blew through our hair" (Joan Baez).
Gave me an unexpected blast of warmth on a cold winter's day. Nice to know the Grim Reaper seems to have given FF a temporary pass, for which, I think I can speak for both of us, we are grateful.
Wandered into my workshop two days ago with an unspoken, undefined need to build something. Gathered up various pieces of leftover lumber and glued and fastened them into usable boards, and built a simple, but interesting box, 12 inches by 20, with a lid. I used a pair of leftover hinges to attach said lid, which doesn't quite close, because the wood used to make it was a bit warped, so there's a slight gap between the lid and the front of the box. Doesn't matter to me because I have no intention of locking it. I used two types of wood, mostly pine but darker oak accents, so it's sort of attractive, if I do say so myself. I won't put any stain or varnish on it because it's not going to be out in the elements and my inner urge turns out to demand a rustic unfinished look. It's going to sit quietly and unostentatiously in a corner of my living space.
Once the box was completed, I had to wander into my subconscious to decode the next step of the project. I realized my purpose is to use it to hold print copies of my various writings, as many as I can gather. I understood that having them all in cyberspace is unsatisfactory -- first, because if something were to suddenly happen to me (more and more likely as time goes by) the stuff might be forever adrift in the ether, because passwords change and the people who I have entrusted with them might lose them or otherwise not have access (presuming they had any desire to do so). Even though I know in my heart that all human accomplishments are transitory at best, I still want these assemblages of my time and thought and sweat to be accessible and to last at least a while longer than I.
The more solid reason for building the the box and filling it with paper is a rewarding and concrete one -- I like the smell and feel and heft of the box and the texture of the paper, and I like seeing the writing down on said paper, not to mention the satisfaction of watching the pile get bigger as I find and print more and more of it. Finally, there's a sort of romantic feeling about it all, the idea that my survivors going through my stuff and finding will find the box tucked away in a corner, open it with a sense of curiosity, and (ideally for me) rummage through it all with a growing sense of, "hey, some of this stuff is pretty good." There's not much more a low-key writer like myself can ask for, since it's increasingly unlikely I will be getting any of this stuff into a formal format.
Simply gives me a feeling of accomplishment and promise and, again ideally, maybe some motivation to get back to writing again. In the meantime, if you'll excuse me, I have to get my clunky printer moving and convert a lot of stuff into real readable print; including some, but not all, of my blog posts.
My lovebird and I have a complicated relationship. I often let him out while I'm home alone, and he, wings unclipped, flies to his perch, then does little preening and looking around, and once he determines that I'm the only member of his flock who's around, he ultimately,usually, settles on my shoulders as I write, studying me and the room, lost in his own thoughts (or lack thereof). Sort of like Poe's Raven, but in a good way. Calming and sometimes inspirational, a sort of feathered muse. And like Poe's raven, he speaks, sometimes in very loud manner, sometimes a quiet affectionate chirring sound, or simply clicking his beak.
Mostly, then, we get along, and value each other's company.
But he definitely has a mind of his own. Sometimes he wants attention, a demand I usually fulfill by talking with him, saying anything, calling him names and so on. Sometimes he wants more, and will nibble at my ear or walk down my arm and nip at my hand, cocking his head and chirping at me until I focus solely on him. Fortunately I rarely use a pen or pencil, because he has been known to grab said writing instrument and drop it on the floor.
Yesterday, though, he took his performance to a new height -- or depth. Me being lost in thought and writing, he decided he had enough. He dropped onto the keyboard and, using his Swiss-army-knife of a hooked bill beak, he pried the "ecks" button (you know, that letter that looks like a cross on its side) and pulled it off, then flew away with it. I yelled, he dropped it, and settled on the kitchen faucet. From there he looked at me, not remorseful, simply waiting for me to calm down so he could return to my shoulder, knowing that I realize it's useless to hold a grudge against him. He simply is what he is.
But I can't get the letter back in place, though I have learned to make it work by simply pushing down on the white bump where the key was. xxxxx. Not nearly so smooth an operation as pressing a key.
I'm just glad he didn't go for the "e" but settled for a much more rarely used letter.
BTW, he is on my shoulder as I type this, quiet as the proverbial mouse, with his back to the keyboard, either lost in thought or planning some other shenanigan.
As I mentioned in the "That Moment" thread, I've reached a point of existential crisis or perhaps opportunity, the realization that we not only have a lot of choices to make, we in fact are condemned to make choices, because we have no other options. In my life, to this point, I have made choices, right or wrong, good or bad, effective or wasteful, always in the shadow of the idea there is a "right" way to act.
But I no longer think that's the case. One can live according to religious tenets, but that means one makes the choice to follow that religion, on the unverifiable assumption that there is some truth to that religion.
I spent a bit of time two years back in Vienna Austria and saw a monument to Jewish survivors of the Holocaust -- it is a statute of a bearded old man down on his hands and knees with a scrub brush in his hand. Old Jewish men were condemned to spend days outside scrubbing the tiles of the town square, being harrassed and heckled by the passing crowd. The tour guide said it had taken years to get the city to acknowledge what had happened during those times, noting that the prevailing sentiment was, "What else could we have done but cooperate with the Nazis? We were powerless to resist them."
No doubt whatsoever that the choice to refuse to cooperate with the Nazis would have been a perilous choice, albeit one that a few people did make. The others, by not acting, chose to not act or even chose to cooperate. Everyone chose, and I, not a Jew, have serious qualms about what I would have done. There may be, there are, general and theoretical guidelines that make the choice "obvious" in theory -- but when it came down to the nitty-gritty consequences of incurring State wrath and punishments, and consequences to one's family, the choice became far harder. I condemn no one.
That's the most drastic situation, obviously. What about simpler things, like finding bundle of cash on the street -- turn it in or pocket it? Working for a company that dumps dirty water into the nearby stream. Filing income taxes with an opportunity to claim a shady deduction -- or refusing even to look at shady deductions, Taking the time to listen to your lonely elderly neighbor tell you the same story over and over. Driving around a crowded parking lot late to a court appearance, and seeing an unoccupied disabled parking spot when you are not disabled.
Again and ultimately, it seems we are back to the choice of choosing. Endorse something unverifiable and try to absolve oneself of options, sorry still a choice. Settle a divorce by agreeing to terms provided under state law, but obviously unfair to the spouse -- still choosing to make the better choice for yourself under the aegis of man's law; or give up terms so that your spouse is treated morally better, still a choice, that may make you feel better, but has no ultimate reward, unless you follow some aforementioned religion or pattern of thought.
And it's not really a "what if" question, because it's more of a "when" question, as long as we are alive we choose.
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